I’ve been a big tease lately. I mention secrets and new endeavors without as much as a hint. Truthfully, I wasn’t doing this to build suspense or for any other weird reason. I just have this theory that it’s bad luck to say you’re starting something unless you’re pretty darn sure you’re starting something. So today… I’m pretty darn sure that Marge is actually happening. Health permits are filed. Logos and menus are finished and Sam is working his magic on a lovely, more detailed website.
So Marge. At the beginning of the summer I decided I’d open a bakery. I had a teeny bit of money saved that I’d always wanted to use to buy a house. But then it occurred to me, post-breakup, that it probably wouldn’t be a whole lot of fun spending my entire life’s savings to go and sit in a little house all by myself and stare at the white walls. So instead I decided I’d put it all into a business. A baking business. The thing I’ve always loved to do. So I set out looking at real estate. It was exciting. I met with brokers. I researched architects and small business loans. I started getting quotes on vintage wallpaper (expensive, by the way).
And then: reality hit. Building out a kitchen in a bakery takes a whole lot more money than I had scrimped and saved. And after a series of events, I realized it was best to tackle this one on my own rather than involving family with the financial piece of the business. So, a little change of plans. I found a lovely commercial kitchen to bake in, and I’m still pounding the pavement looking for a teeny little storefront where I’ll sell my sweets.
So where does that leave me now? Well, I’ve done a heck of a lot of recipe testing over the last few months and people are starting to place orders. People I know and people I don’t know. It’s delightful to think that numerous doctor’s offices in Marin will be eating my apple pie this week. I’m taking catering orders, going to start appearing at local food events and festivals and am working my booty off trying to get a table at one of our competitive farmer’s markets. And of course, continuing to look for that sweet storefront. I know it’ll happen. Just not tomorrow.
Why Marge? I specialize in classic American baking. I’m not drawn to fancy French-style desserts or elaborate plated creations. Instead, I’m really inspired by nostalgic flavor profiles and old-school recipes: American bars and cookies, darn fine pie, housemade oreos and pop-tarts, a heavily tweaked version of this amazing granola, and lots of lovely breakfast treats. And Marge is such a great classic American name. Fitting. It’s also my grandma’s name. She’s awesome. I’ve inherited my sweet tooth from her, for sure. When I was little and my family would visit my grandparents back East, we’d go out on picnics or boat rides and my grandma would always sneak in a few Twinkies or Ho Ho’s for the afternoon. My mom never bought that stuff so I always thought this was basically the best thing that had ever happened to me.
It’s been funny telling people about the business. When you have a solid physical location, it seems really real. You can say definitively to people: I’m opening a bakery! With Marge at this point, I’m not quite opening a physical bakery yet. I guess I’m just approaching it in more of a non-traditional way for awhile. The funniest thing happened a few days before Thanksgiving. I got a call from an old freelance client asking if I’m free to take on a big project. A few hours later I got a call from a local high school and there was a potential job opening. Then the bakery where I’ve been helping out on Sundays contacted me to ask if I wanted some holiday hours.
Don’t think I didn’t think long and hard about the teaching job (benefits!). But Marge needs me right now. This is the path I’m on. It’s now or maybe never. And of all the people I’ve talked to about Marge, I’ve been so excited to formally announce it to you all here online. Many of you who live here locally have become my real life friends, and so many others of you are cherished online friends. You guys have my back. And that’s what I need as I turn down more logical job offers and tread into unknown territory full of baker’s twine, a mess of flour, and a large crate of hundreds of aluminum pie tins that just arrived.
As I embark on this baking adventure, I really want to keep ya’ll posted on news and events, recipes and menu additions, and where to find me around town. And if any of you local folks know businesses with a sweet tooth who tend to order catering/deliveries, email me or leave a comment here. I’d love to chat with them and bring them a sample (or two)! Now then, please, please, please stay in touch!
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)