Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Magic Flutes

Now, I love me some Valentine's Day. I love the Dollar Tree. I really enjoy the Just a Buck series on HelloGiggles. Hilarious. So tonight after we had some delicious Shalimar, I could not resist a stroll through the dollar store. Check out these beauties:

I just wish we would have had these in time for our wedding! I bought the pink ones too to enjoy on Valentine's Day.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pizza making class at King Arthur Flour, VT

Today I went to a pizza making class at King Arthur Flour that my parents signed me up for as a Christmas gift. They are located in Norwich, VT. I had a great time driving out there with all of the beautiful scenery populated with ski resorts and small cheese farms.

I got there early and checked out the store. Browsing the store was a great time for me, as I am sure it would be for anyone who is really interested in baking. They also sell supplies online, and you can order a catalogue. They had pretty much any kind of flour you can think of, probably 10 different kinds of vanilla extract, endless decorating supplies, bread cookbooks, and much, much more. They also sold some local Vermont products. I bought some Grafton cheddar cheese, Vermont Smoke and Cure bacon, and some tart pans. Then I went to their cafe. I got a spinach and feta croissant and a coffee. The croissant was very flaky, very fresh, and totally amazing.

The Baking Education Center was really professional and comfortable. They had a wood fired oven roaring away, and ready for our pizza.

We made two different pizzas. For one of them, they had the dough already made and rising from earlier in the morning, and the other (a semolina dough) we mixed together right there. It was great because they had all the toppings all chopped up and ready for us, and everything was really organized. I thought that I am basically on the right track with my pizza making (they were even using the same mozzarella and pepperoni I used the last time I made pizza), but there were some things that I learned that seem like good ideas.

  • When you measure out your flour if you are not using a food scale you need to fluff up the flour before measuring it out. It can settle depending how long it has been in the container, and if you end up with too much flour your crust will be too dense.
  • It is a good idea to saute your toppings briefly in olive oil before putting them on the pizza. This is good for taste reasons, but also because you don't want too much moisture weighing down your pizza. 
  • They brush olive oil over the whole dough before topping it with sauce. This is done for flavor, and also to seal the crust. 
  • I told the teacher about how I like to put half wheat flour in the dough recipe because it is healthier. She said this does sound like a good idea, but if I did a fourth or a third instead I might get a better texture and some of the same benefits. 
  • The teacher also made a dessert pizza, which I never thought of doing before. She put marscapone on the pizza dough, tossed some sliced green apples in cinnamon and sugar and arranged the apples over the cheese. Then she put it in the oven, and it turned out really delicious (and was really super easy to make).

Overall, this was a super fun time. The woman who was sitting next to me has taken 18 classes from there. She lives in Pennsylvania, but gets a hotel room and takes many classes in a row. A couple people there were looking to open restaurants, and it was really fun hearing about their plans. An 18 year old was there by herself because she just really wanted to learn how to cook (adorable). There were a couple people (a 23 year old and a 50 year old) who had received the class as a birthday present. There was a couple there where the boyfriend is the one who cooks and the girlfriend was trying to be supportive of her man (actually her pizza looked pretty good for someone who doesn't cook). One of the teachers walked by, looked in my bowl and said "nice dough" very casually. That made me super excited - more even then when our coordinator at the venue for our wedding called me the "craftiest bride she had ever seen". That compliment made all the weekends I spent making bread totally worth it.

I was really happy I went, and I would love to be like that woman who goes back over and over again and become a pro at croissants, eclairs, and all kinds of bread. I loved the interaction with my classmates too. They were really serious and engaged with the process of baking. It was fun being able to sample the pizzas the teachers were making as we cooked too. What a fun way to spend a Sunday!

Check out what I made at my class (the first one is margherita pizza and the other has roasted garlic, zucchini, mushrooms, roasted onions, and pepperoni). They had pizza boxes so I was able to bring them home with me:

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Party at The Mount, Lenox, MA

My fellow book-clubber Elizabeth and I went to Edith Wharton's 150th birthday party at The Mount tonight. There were some beautiful flower arrangements from Gillooly & Co. Design, and some great food from SoMA catering. The gardens are obviously not nearly as exciting as they are in warmer weather, but the inside of the house is amazing. We especially loved her library, and wanted to sit and hang out there reading for hours. Her bed seemed too small for a modern person. The historic toilet had a big sign on it that said "NOT A FUNCTIONAL TOILET", and we thought that was very funny. Some weird guy kept following us through all the rooms, and we thought at a party where the average age was about 65 maybe we were the hot ticket.

The food included chocolate covered strawberries (amazing), chocolate hazelnut macarons (fabulous), and lots of cheese. I had pieces of manchego and a soft and pungent cheddar from Rubiner's Cheesemongers. They were also serving Saratoga water and some tasty wines. The cupcakes from Barrington Bites were very moist and had these adorable little pearls on them with edible glitter.

There were some toasts and interesting and funny readings of Wharton's prose. We could tell who were the VIPs because certain people were very sharply dressed (robin's egg bow-tie matched with a tweed suit, anyone?), got lots of attention from everyone who walked by, and seemed to be really focused on drinking as much wine as possible (perhaps they were trying to get their money's worth as donors to the institution?). They had space heaters on the terrace, and it was really beautiful and very warm out there on a winter's night. If you are planning a wedding, I can let you know that the Mount would be a fabulous choice even in winter.

The company was great too! Apparently some people don't love Valentine's Day as much as I do! I went on and on about MWF seeks BFF, and we tried to chase off the weird guy who was following us by yelling out gross things. To top it all off, there was a party bus that took us back to the parking lot that made us feel like we were at a bachelorette party at an author's house who was born in the 19th century. All in all, a ridiculously great time that made me really want to support the institution and try to be involved for a very long time. I think I read this week that the Mount is the only institution on the the U.S. Register of Historic Places based on the life of a woman. Virginia Woolf's house was torn down in London, and a hotel was built on top of it (I know this because I tried to find it, and only found a statue of her head), and Jane Austen's house is a private residence in Winchester, England, so I love that at least the Mount is actually a museum dedicated to celebrating a woman author's life that is open to the public.

Friday, January 27, 2012

My favorite vegetable is pizza

Recently, I stumbled onto the White House Food Blog. It is really interesting because it includes a lot of information about recent discussions about school lunches. Also, apparently steak is big in the Obama white house.

I also stumbled on the online portion of an exhibit at the National Archives about Uncle Sam's influence on the diets of the American people. I love all the historical photos. Also, cool images like this one:

They also have a tumblr about the exhibit.

It is all very interesting. All I know is that pizza is my favorite vegetable. Although, my second favorite is french fries.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Vacations I would like to go on

It is that time of year where it gets dark outside much earlier than one would hope, one dreary day can sort of meld into another, and sometimes I can go the entire work day without ever feeling warmed up no matter how many layers of clothing I'm wearing. It is the time of year when I randomly will type in "hot, dry desert" into Google images to make myself feel better.  So let's talk about something fun - good ideas for vacations! Pretend it is no longer winter- instead, it is a perfectly mild day, and I am wearing something like this:

And off we go!
  • I want to go back to Mackinac Island so bad.  There's lots of fudge and ice cream. You rent a bike and ride around the island. There are no cars. It is beautiful, and then you get back on the boat. Tons of fun. Then, if you are lucky you can go on over to St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula and eat a pasty and some amazing Great Lakes white fish. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Merry Monk

Scott Lemieux says:

Albany Jane speaks the truth. I'm sure Ms. Garlic will have more, but she brought me back some of those boar short ribs after dining there earlier this week, and despite the disadvantage of spending 20 minutes in the car they were exceptionally good. I don't know what I would have thought of the sour cherry sauce in theory, but in practice is worked exceptionally well. I will need to get back soon to try the mussels, which by Ms. Garlic's account were also outstanding.

Update by Ms. Garlic:

I agree. Actually, they not only traveled the 20 minutes in the car, but also a 5 minute cold run through the snow, and unfortunately probably sat on the counter as my friend and I paid our bill and talked about the Republican primary race for a while  - so the fact that they were still really good after all of that is something!

I was down there because my friend and I attended a lecture by George Rickey's son Phillip about his dad's career. It was interesting to me because we have one where I work, and I remember when the installed it last spring. My friend suggested the Merry Monk because she had been there recently and had really enjoyed it. Apparently it has not been open very long.

We started out with an appetizer portion of the above mentioned wild boar short ribs. Perfection! They were delicious and the perfect appetizer portion for two people who also have huge amounts of fries coming their way.

Here, Steve Barnes has a picture of some of the mussels. I had the beer steamed mussels with Belgian Amber Ale, shallots, garlic, tomato, butter. My friend had the bacon and bleu cheese mussels, which also have baby spinach, fresh lemon, white wine. Check out more mussels from their menu posted on Tablehopping. Delicious! My friend's boyfriend tried the Thai Curry the previous time they went there, those have Lemongrass, curry, fresh lime, coconut milk, white wine, fresh basil, and cilantro. She said he thought those had a nice kick to them. I thought the frites were great, and I am normally not very into fries. You get a choice of two dipping sauces. I had sun dried tomato and garlic & herb. My friend had coconut curry and garlic & herb (they are all mayo based). They were all great.

We had some great beers too. I had the Liefmans Cuvee Brut to start out with. My friend thought it had too much carbonation (it is a little unusual), but I thought it was interesting. She had the Ommegang Belgian Pale Ale, and I finished up with a Ommegang Witte.

I also felt really comfortable in the space. I like the way the televisions are set up, and there is something about the lighting or the vibe of it that makes it feel like an unpretentious but classy place to hang out. It felt like a real find, and I couldn't wait to go back upon leaving. $8.99 for the pound of mussels definitely seems like a good deal. The waiter was also really interested in whether we liked everything or not - "Yes! Yes, it was really good!" I kept saying to him. I loved it!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Valentine's Day Inspiration

I love Valentine's Day. Are you one of those people who hates Valentine's Day and thinks it is just for marketing purposes and making single people feel bad? If I bake you a red velvet heart shaped whoopie pie will you shut up about it?

I am a subscriber to Martha Stewart Living magazine, and while the December holiday issue makes me feel anxious every year, the February Valentine's issue always gets me excited. The cards! The amazing desserts! The cheesy little presents you can make for your love! I know Caitlin Flanagan is weirdly against date night for couples in relationships, but some people who are in long-term relationships or married actually do enjoy their partner's company - imagine that! Now, I am a person who likes to stay home for New Year's Eve,  but I always, always like to go out on Valentine's Day. And by this I do not mean actually on Valentine's Day - that would be too crowded, no doubt. I mean the 13th or the 15th, when it is easy to get reservations, and no one is stressed out. There is something about the idea of it being a holiday where you get to feel pampered that cooking seems like too much work.

We aren't sure where we are going to go, but here are some ideas.
  •  The Melting Pot. Cozy, intimate spaces. Melted chocolate. Dipping your forks into the same fondue pot. It is all very reminiscent of the "Lady and the Tramp" eating off the same plate of spaghetti.
  • Cafe Capriccio. We got engaged there. They've remembered that about us many other times and send us home with extra desserts and bread. Very romantic. I am sure many couples get engaged there every year.
  • Provence. Chocolate mousse, sparkling wine, all the butter oozing off of the escargots, butter, butter, more butter. Really, enough said.
  • Nicole's on Delaware Ave. I think this place is great for Valentine's Day. It is dark and cozy. All the cheese and tasty sauces. The entrees come with a salad too, which makes a good deal.
Those are some ideas I have. If you actually want to go out on Valentine's Day perhaps you should make up your mind soon and call for a reservation. Otherwise, Martha has some ideas of appropriate desserts you can make for your sweetie.  I love the idea of making the hearts with the little messages only on cookies:

Also, I secretly hope for a box of heart shaped chocolates from Isn't It Sweet? (in our house we go for the Ralph Wiggum style of romance), but I think has some very nice Valentine's appropriate gifts for men.  For example, how adorable is this print of a couple on a tandem bike? Here are some ideas for gifts for women (how amazing is that heart shaped Le Creuset dish?). I thought this post was interesting about Valentine's fruit, but somehow it doesn't seem like a holiday without too much sugar. Happy planning!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Best Pizza I've Ever Made

Now I am a big fan of the Cook's Illustrated Pizza Margherita recipe, as discussed here. But I recently tried Mark Bittman's pizza dough recipe from the New York Times Essential Cookbook, and that is very good too. I like the idea of mixing half wheat flour and half white flour in a lot of bread recipes because I feel you get some of the health benefits of the wheat flour, and some of the texture benefits of the white. I think it is a good mix, so I've been doing this in my pizza dough too. I went to Wild Oats Market in Williamstown, MA (as discussed here) earlier in the week and got some Maplebrook mozzarella and no joke - the best pepperoni I have ever had in my life. It is from Vermont Smoke and Cure and oh my goodness was this good. I cannot wait to try all of their other products like summer sausage, ham, bacon, and sausages. So delicious it was unreal. The same day I bought these products earlier in the week I had one mishap after another - through bad planning I had to stop again after the Wild Oats because we were out of tomatoes and garlic, the flour container had somehow got smashed in, pieces of plastic were in the flour, so I went to the Stewart's where they had a spot for flour on the shelf but no flour. It was funny a recipe that takes only about 5 or 6 ingredients was looking like it was going to take me 4 different stops. So I gave up that day and made English muffin pizzas- like we did here. English muffin pizzas are fun and quick, but really not as good as real pizza. Having to stop at Hannaford for the can of tomatoes and garlic, though I was also able to take a look at their pre-cut pizza toppings (discussed in this post also). I am a big fan of this at Hannaford because you don't have to commit to a pizza topping - you can get a small amount for 99 cents and I think that works out great (also a bit like having your own salad bar at home). 

So anyway, having used some of the mozzarella earlier in the week I wasn't going to have enough to actually make my pizza recipe. Yesterday we bought Adams Reserve cheddar cheese (from Adams, NY), because we had the idea of mixing together the cheddar and mozzarella.  So our finished product had the world's best pepperoni, great mozzarella, delicious cheddar, onions pre-cut from Hannaford, the sauce from my Cook's Illustrated recipe, and Mark Bittman's pizza dough only with half wheat flour. Check it out (the recipe makes two pizzas):

For more delicious looking pizza check out this post. My parents paid for me to go to a class at King Arthur Flour as a Christmas present, and next weekend I am taking the pizza making class - so perhaps I will get even better!

After being away from home dogsitting for a couple of weeks, it was really nice and relaxing to spend a Saturday night at home watching the South Carolina Republican Primary eating pizza. It's nice to have the rush of the holidays over. It's just nice to be at home, and nothing adds to that feeling more than pulling something that is hot, steamy and smells delicious out of your oven, even if it somehow took 4 different trips to grocery stores to pull it all together (bad luck on that one).

Then, I decided to make Dorie Greenspan's chocolate mousse from Around My French Table. I really love  this cookbook, and I made a great cod thing from it for my husband's birthday last year. We were out of eggs (which was again bad planning since we had just been at a grocery store to get the cheddar), so I walked to the Stewart's in the snow and got some. It was such a beautiful clear night, and even though I've started to look forward to the summer again (despite knowing I'll eventually get sick of summer too when it comes again), there is something refreshing about the crisp, brisk night air. Check out my mousse (I topped it with the delicious salted caramel sauce my friend Elizabeth gave us for a hostess gift on New Year's Eve):

This all proves that sometimes staying in on a weekend can be just as fun as anything else!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Caitlin Flanagan & Taylor Swift

Now for a break from our regularly scheduled programming I'd like to take some time to defend my girl Taylor Swift's good name.

For fun, go take a listen to this interview here. Check out what our friend Amanda has to say about it. Here is Irin Carmon, the woman who was on the radio with Caitlin Flanagan, and what she has to say about it.

Now, it is clear to me that there are many, many things wrong with Flanagan's arguments. She clearly doesn't pay much attention to facts. But two things that she did hold up to support her arguments were Taylor Swift and Disney Princess movies. I might argue that those princess movies don't even send very constructive messages to young girls. Belle in "Beauty and the Beast" has to leave her community and family to be locked in a cell by a beast that growls at her, and then in the end when she decides to stay there because he turns better looking, and we are all supposed to cheer. I feel a lot of my friends pick this one to defend the most because it has a beautiful library and takes place in France, but still it isn't that great to be Belle really. Ariel in "The Little Mermaid" can't even talk for the whole time her and her prince are dating. In fact as Disney movies go, even as an adolescent I thought "Mulan"  had a way better message for young girls because she goes out and accomplishes things in the world, but I guess she isn't a princess exactly so Flanagan probably wasn't referring to that one.

As far as Taylor Swift goes, when she brought her music up in the interview I am sure she was talking about "Love Story". One problem with Flanagan using this song as one of the few specific examples to support her arguments is that the character in the song sneaks out of her tower to go run off with the boy. Clearly, even in her most idealized example of a "fairy tale" this style of parenting she recommends doesn't even work. The song portrays a relationship that her father does not approve of, and one of Flanagan's main points is that parents should be more involved in teenager's dating lives. There is also "White Horse", but that is a negative portrayal of too high expectations ("I'm not a princess, this ain't a fairy tale, I'm not the one you'll sweep off her feet").

What is more important though is that most of Taylor Swift's music does not even mention princesses at all. In fact, the reason she appeals to millions of young girls is that she has a conversational style that talks about specific details of real relationships. She seems like a real girl who talked about cheating, breaking up, and wanting to steal ex-boyfriend's pick up trucks a couple years before she came out with "Love Story". In songs like "Back to December" she even admits to her own wrongdoing in relationships. Also, Taylor is a tough girl from a business standpoint and largely grew her own brand through MySpace (probably because she had an internet connection in her room), pounding the pavement in Nashville, and word of mouth. According to Flanagan's view, Taylor herself should be just now emerging from her tower she was locked up in, not traveling the world building a successful career for herself.

I might offer a couple other Taylor Swift songs that not only represent her better, but also portray more clearly the reality of lives of young women. I like "Ours". Here's some lyrics from the song:

"And life makes love look hard
The stakes are high, the water's rough
But this love is ours.

And it's not theirs to speculate
If it's wrong and
Your hands are tough
But they are where mine belong and
I'll fight their doubt and give you faith
With this song for you

'Cause I love the gap between your teeth
And I love the riddles that you speak
And any snide remarks from my father about your tattoos will be ignored
'Cause my heart is yours"

Taylor just recently moved out of her teenage years, and yet she has a view of relationships in her songs that is genuine and complicated. She talks about real connections with boys as human beings, and seems to enjoy who they are. She isn't at all like Flanagan expects her to be - just sitting around for a prince to carry her off in the sunset. Her romantic relationships seem to be based on friendship first. The boys in her songs are usually not bad people, and with the exception of John Mayer, they didn't seem to have done anything too awful to her (when they did she has her songs to help her deal with it). She often mentions it doesn't matter what her parents say about her love interests. Of course "the stakes are high and the water's rough" - but it is like that with everything in life - your health, female friendships, work, school, getting what you want in life. Everyone, including young girls, do the best they can to deal with what they encounter in life the same way everyone else does of every other age - usually with the help of good friends, exercise, literature, music, and sometimes dessert (and with older people maybe wine). But short of physical abuse I don't think it is the parents' business, like when she says in the song "They can't take what's ours". I happen to think even teenage relationships are a private connection between the two people involved, even if adults think they are too young to feel those things. No one thinks high school relationships are great, but often one's first job isn't great either. It doesn't mean the connection wasn't genuine at the time. That doesn't mean that the relationships weren't important in helping young adults grow as human beings.

Another Taylor Swift song I might offer up as a counterpoint to "Love Story" is "Fifteen". Here are the lyrics. Sure, things don't always go well:

"When all you wanted was to be wanted
Wish you could go back and tell yourself what you know now
Back then I swore I was gonna marry him someday
But I realized some bigger dreams of mine

And Abigail gave everything she had to a boy
Who changed his mind and we both cried"

Long after Taylor Swift was famous she would talk about her best friend Abigail and take her to public appearances with her. Taylor has gone through a lot of different men at this point, but she seems to have kept this same friend. While Caitlin Flanagan wants girls sequestered in their rooms writing in diaries, maybe they should be going through these potentially difficult experiences, but also being able to talk to other girls about them. Very few people marry their high school boyfriend, but I think many woman have their high school girl friends as bridesmaids in their weddings years later. One of my favorite parts of my teenage years was meeting my future Matron of Honor in my wedding. Of course I didn't stay with any of those guys, but even Taylor Swift would tell you that is so not the point. We all turned out fine anyway. Sometimes we even laugh about it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pasta Making Class at Different Drummer's Kitchen

As a Christmas gift I signed my husband up for a pasta making class at Different Drummer's Kitchen in Stuyvesant Plaza. The instructor was from MezzeNotte in Guilderland. We sampled some food from this restaurant at the Albany Wine & Dine for the Arts and really enjoyed what we tried. He said they made some risotto, ricotta gnocchi, and a couple kinds of long fresh pasta. He said it was all hands-on and that the staff was very helpful. He said that in the class he learned the having a Kitchen-Aid mixer with a pasta attachment is the easiest method of making fresh pasta at home. He said that the hand crank ones really need two people - one person to feed in the pasta to the machine, and another to crank it (sometimes a third person is also needed to keep the device steady on the counter).

Check out some of his photos - it all looks delicious! Apparently it was not difficult to learn.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Duncan Hines, the cake and the man

So I have mentioned that I am dogsitting in a house that has a kitchen that is equipped for cooking with mixes and not from scratch. The dogs' owners come home from Florida tomorrow, so I decided to make myself one of these mixes to test out how they are (and because I feel celebratory because it is almost time for me to go home). It is usually my feeling that mixes are more expensive than cooking from scratch, and also may have other unwanted ingredients included like preservatives. It is also usually my feeling that all a mix really does is give you the dry ingredients already mixed together (which takes about two minutes to stir together yourself). I guess it also saves you having to look up a recipe. I always doubted if they tasted very good. Well, here I am to tell you that actually the Duncan Hines Devil's Food cake mix is not bad. It is just about as good as a homemade cake as bread made from a bread machine mix is as good as bread made from scratch. You get a lot of the same benefits as a homemade cake - it is warm, fluffy, and your house smells like cake all night, with a little bit less effort - ok fine. I like to make things myself as you get more control over the ingredients, and you can customize things a little more, but I am here to tell you it is not bad. I bet I could bring this cake made from a mix to my friends and coworkers and I am not sure they would know it was not completely homemade.

We had a book by Duncan Hines in the archive at my work, and I wasn't sure if it was a man or a company. I looked it up, and if turns out he was an actual man. I've become more and more obsessed with him the last few days. He was a traveling salesman who went all over the U.S. and Canada. He started out with just a list of good restaurants he saw along his way, and so many people were interested in his list that he ended up writing a book "Adventures in Good Eating" (1935). I was reading the book today, and what I liked about it is how friendly he is through his writing. He writes as though he is writing to a friend, and in fact there are all kinds of little asides between the restaurant reviews that say things like "Even if you don't have a lot of money you deserve to eat in a clean restaurant" and "I wish I could meet each and everyone of my readers." Reading his reviews you feel like you are right there with him traveling throughout the country. It doesn't matter that most of these places do not still exist - it is still a good read. I also liked all the pictures of the 1930s outfits and cars, and the fact that most meals are about 65 cents. He said that he felt like a friendly host in writing the restaurant reviews. He also wrote a book about where to stay for a night (1938), and a book about cooking (1939). All in all, his name was associated with the highest standards of quality in food and service. By pointing out in his books which restaurants were good, it pushed the restaurants he visited to keep their standards high in regards to taste and sanitation so that they could be included in his guidebooks (or at least he claimed in the book). I'm sure if he were around today he'd probably have a blog, and probably have a huge following just like the Pioneer Woman. (In fact, anyone think she may be likely to sell a brand of cake mixes one day?)

You can read in the Wikipedia entry how he got involved in the cake mix business, but he died only a few years after they started being produced. His face was taken off the boxes after he died in 1959 to be respectful. Here is a commercial for the cake mix from 1960.

When I looked through the copy of "Adventures in Good Eating" we had at work today, I thought it was really interesting. He reviewed some restaurants I have been to that still exist. Peter Luger "only has steak, but it is good steak", he said. "Grand Central Oyster Bar shucks more oysters than any restaurant in the country". He visited many cities in upstate NY including Troy and Schenectady. He talked about two sisters from Albany who ran a restaurant in Lenox, MA. He called Bennington, VT "one of the prettiest towns in the country". He reviewed the Williams Inn, where my boss had her wedding reception in the 1990s. He enjoyed three restaurants in downtown Albany that didn't sound familiar to me at all. He did give exact directions, so it could be fun to show up at those corners and see what exists there now. His writing makes him feel like a great travel companion whose adventures you can enjoy from the comfort of your home (in the tradition of Bill Bryson)Here is someone who has retraced some of his steps. There is a museum exhibit based on him in Bowling Green, KY. Here is a story from Saveur about him.

Anyways, my new appreciation for the man makes me in some weird way like the brand more. I know he sold the rights to it, and then died, and then the name carried on - but the man himself was a food writer who wanted to express his opinions in an open, honest, and friendly way. He wanted people to have high standards about food, and he seemed to enjoyed discussing what exactly that meant to him. Duncan Hines turns out to feel like a kindred spirit to me, who knew? I like that he approached eating like an adventure. He didn't want to spend an enormous amount of money on his food, and he liked meeting friendly people who worked at restaurants throughout the country. I think I would have liked him if I had been able to meet him.

One thing that is funny is that he had a comment in his book about how a lot of cooks fail because they try to improve on "good eggs, rich milk, butter, and a loving touch, and it just can't be done" - which makes it a little ironic his name lived on being associated with cake mixes. Anyways, I am happy to be going home tomorrow, and I'll eat some of my Duncan Hines Devil's Food cake in celebration.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Albany Wine & Dine for the Arts

Today I took a break from dogsitting and went to the Albany Wine & Dine for the Arts, at the Hotel Albany, (formerly the Crowne Plaza) where we had our wedding almost exactly six months ago. In fact, the Grand Tasting was in the very same room where we had our wedding reception. It really made me appreciate our wedding all over again. Sure, there were issues I had with weddings relating to materialism and gender, and it is silly the way people expect weddings to be this "one perfect day". But going back there and remembering everything - the Prime booth was where our wedding cake sat, the Taste booth was where Erin Harkes performed Adele's "Make You Feel My Love" for our first dance - I thought it actually was about the most perfect of a day as I could ever experience. Wedding planning can be so difficult and require so many different skills that not everybody has, but if you do it right and follow your vision and don't compromise too much, it can really feel like a total expression of who you are as a couple. Its really about the people in your life most of all. From my dad's awesome dance moves to Ne-Yo, to my friend's great speech about us laying around in NYC watching "Entourage" marathons, consuming large amounts of wine and cheese, to my husband's friend's speech about how he imagined my husband would end up with someone one day, and that I was about what he imagined - it all had to be about the most fun I'm ever going to have all at once. Going back there was so fun partially because it reminded me of our wedding. The last time I walked in that very room there were about 100 people watching me dance in front of them all, and I was just adjusting to the word "husband". At the end of the Grand Tasting today, I wished we could have stayed up in the bridal suite like we did six months ago.

Here's Scott in front of the computers where we updated our Facebook status to "married" (because we all know relationships aren't official unless they are "Facebook official").

Here we are standing in front of the room where our wedding ceremony actually took place. Today it held a seminar about vodka instead. The random people who took the picture were very congratulatory about us having made it through 6 whole months of marriage.

Anyways, here were some highlights of the Grand Tasting for me:

  • I really liked the food from The Hungry Fish Cafe and Country Store in Wynantskill. I liked their peppercorn pale ale beef jerky. I loved their chili - it was really hearty and had some garbanzo beans and black beans in it. They also had a great baked french toast. They were super nice too.
  • I enjoyed the Strawberry Field Confections. I wonder if there is a tiny part of every girl who likes to bake who wishes she could have a business like this. I tried a couple of their concoctions - my fav was the cheesecake stuffed strawberries with a champagne blueberry compote (oh yeah!).
  • So obviously, St. Germain is so delicious. Their representatives were making cocktails, one of while was St. Germain, tequila, lime juice, a lime garnish, and a salted rim with chili powder. It was totally delicious, and it made me feel that it was not my fault I had a little too much to drink on New Year's Eve because it was the St. Germain's fault for just being way too delicious.
  • I really liked the Blue Spice chicken salad - it had lime, cilantro, and little crunchy noodles on top. I'll be sure to check them out in the future.
  • I enjoyed a lot of the wines, especially the Washington State ones. I would love to make it back to the west coast and tour the Walla Walla area. 
  • I had some Lapsang Souchong from Divinitea. It was amazing and the woman had some really interesting things to say about tea. I am interested in trying their Earl Green with Lavender in the future (they didn't have any of it there, but I think that sounds delicious). 
  • So the grilled cheese from All Good Bakers may have been a top highlight for me. These people were incredibly nice, and the grilled cheese had some kind of delicious jam on it. I just kept telling them they were brilliant. They also had a raw beet salad with pecans, and cilantro that I loved. My husband decided to embarrass me by telling them I had a food blog, to which they said "oh you're outed now - we know different people have different monikers, but we can at least guess you aren't derryX!" (which was pretty funny).  
  • I particularly enjoyed the butternut squash from Shogun in Delmar. I know there was a lot of butternut squash at this event, but this booth had my favorite variation of it. I' ve never been there before, but I am likely to try it in the future.
  • Then we spent a while at the Remy Martin table trying different scotches. The man there also had some St. Germain and made me a cocktail with some of that, scotch, and bitters. Some blonde woman who looked like she belonged on the Real Housewives came and tried it too, and she liked it even though she said she usually only drank vodka. She was a good time, and towards the end it was funny how friendly everybody was. Speaking of friendly, as we were leaving I saw two middle aged women in the lobby pretty aggressively making out while what looked like their husbands looked on in amusement. I think a lot of people were really enjoying all the wine booths.

All in all, it was a great time. I was really disappointed not to be able to go last year because I was dogsitting in North Adams, MA and there was a blizzard that day. $50 sounds like a lot for the Grand Tasting, but you get to try so many foods from so many different restaurants and so many different kinds of drinks, I think it is totally worth the price. My only regret is that last year my husband got to meet Ric Orlando, and somehow I missed out on that this year. It is also for a great cause. I'm looking forward to visiting a lot of the participating restaurants, and I am looking forward to going next year!

More bad food

So I am out here dogsitting, where the kitchen is mostly supplied for making things out of mixes. I've eaten a lot of salads from the salad bar at the local Stop & Shop (there should be more salad bars in the world - in offices, and schools), but I really miss my kitchen, I gotta say.

I've eaten things this week I wouldn't normally buy or eat (my friend once told me that bad food doesn't count if you didn't actually buy it yourself). I don't think of myself as a snob. I'm also not crazy about calories or anything but I usually think you can have anything you want if you make it yourself. Like ice cream - it takes a while to make it yourself and you don't want to eat it all at once because it took a lot of effort to make. I do feel like some people my age wouldn't normally eat junk food or low brow foods, but if you change one thing like make the hot dogs out of Wagyu beef all of a sudden it is gourmet and acceptable to eat . One thing I thought this week, was why can't we just eat what we want because we feel like it and because it sounds fun once in a while? Like my coworker had Price Chopper brand ice cream sandwiches. Would I ever buy them? No, but they turn out to be delicious. The cookie part is really soft, and the ice cream part almost seems a little more like a soft serve texture. Also, onion rings. I wouldn't normally eat these at home, but why can't I eat onion rings for lunch? Add ranch dressing and BBQ sauce and it is a lunch worthy of a five year old. I actually thought this frozen Alexia brand of onion rings was pretty good. You bake them on a baking sheet in the oven (I have to admit that I actually bought these myself).

That being said, we all know Paula Deen is ridiculous. I am watching her on the Food network right now and she is making this Pizza Dip. What's gross about it to me is that they are melting butter, putting in three different kinds of fatty meat, and then adding two packages of cream cheese. Ugh! Here I thought cream cheese was just for bagels. Then, her and her friend got out a frozen pizza dough from the grocery store, rolled it out, and wouldn't stop talking about how much it looked homemade. Look, I know I am unique in making bread so often, but it is really so easy. You put a few ingredients in the food processor, you can even make it the night before - it is way easier than people think. But the thing is - that is fine they want to buy dough from the store, I won't judge them, but don't make a big deal out of saying how it looks homemade. I think when they sliced up the dough Paula's friend said "We are basically making a store-bought product into something homemade!" What? That doesn't even make any sense. If I make crescent rolls into a veggie pizza is that homemade? No, that is assembling premade products. Ok, now Paula and her friend are making "tiramisu" and they added a pound of cream cheese to heavy whipping cream. Call me crazy, but I didn't know you could make an appetizer, dinner, and dessert all for the same meal that all used two packages of cream cheese each. She's just made one meal with 6 packages of cream cheese! Where does this tradition come from?

So I guess I say about this that I am not obsessed with calories, diets, and constantly trying to lose weight. But of course you should try to eat vegetables and eat balanced portions. Of course I wish Paula Deen well, but if one day she has a heart attack do you really think anyone will continue to buy her books and watch her shows? Sorry, but her and her friend who I just watched on the show are probably technically overweight. I know the idea with French food is that it is rich but you are supposed to eat small portions,  but do we think any of the people in Paula's cohort in the south eat small portions? I doubt it.

Anyways, I guess I have appreciated being out here how much eating well at home really requires a whole lifestyle. At our house we have a lot of cookbooks, a well organized kitchen, a food processor, and a pot rack so everything we need is right at our finger tips. Eating well at home requires a lot of effort, thought, and some commitment or enthusiasm. Otherwise you end up with crackers, canned soup, and ice cream. This isn't the first house I have been in in my life that has that grouping of processed foods. In fact, I bet there are millions of households like this throughout this country. There's only a Keurig machine too, which my coworker's son left here, and which is actually a step up from the instant coffee that was the only choice last time I was here.

I feel the way that you eat can really change your life. There are the taste, health, economic, and social aspects of course. But there is also some connection to your food you feel when you cook everything yourself that you don't get from opening a bag of something frozen or a can of something that goes in the microwave. I probably just miss my house. And also the city of Albany.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Crescent Rolls, Mayonnaise, and Velveeta

Just for fun I'd like to talk about some foods that sound gross to me.

So I am out here dogsitting in Massachusetts, and my coworker cooks almost exclusively with mixes. As a person who cooks from scratch frequently with actual ingredients,  I didn't even know half of these mixes existed. Call me crazy - but I didn't know you could have a box of dry ingredients that makes a dish of scalloped potatoes if you just add water! How, exactly does that work? She has tons and tons of slow cooker mixes, but I am not going to judge those because they just seem like packets of seasonings. I shouldn't make fun. Her doctor is always telling her to eat healthier, and we are always trying to come up with healthy foods that she may like. But she really seems to be the type of person who judges whether foods are good or not based on what is not in them (spices, vinegar, anything mushy), than what they contain (healthy ingredients with actual nutrients).

When I was over here on my lunch hour letting the dogs out I decided to do some recognizance. My coworker's son is a good cook, and when he is around expensive balsamic vinegar and racks of seasonings seem to show up. While I ate my lunch I read a shrimp biryani recipe in my Food52 cookbook. Turmeric, does this house have turmeric? No. Oh no, food processor - do they have a blender, anything? No. Ok forget that. I could roast a chicken. Although then I might want to make stock from the bones because it is a fun, relaxing activity for me, and it seems a shame to waste the bones. Is there a sieve? No, no mesh strainers.

I decided to wander around the grocery store in hopes of figuring something out. Usually I just focus on the outside aisles of the grocery and not so much the internal aisles with more processed foods, but for fun I decided to take a look (also I had minimal equipment to actually cook anything). I used to eat a lot of Lean Cuisine when I was younger, and I always remember them being expensive, not filling, and not actually very good. I saw a California Pizza Kitchen frozen Hawaiian pizza. Does anyone know if these frozen pizzas are actually good or not? I saw Texas Toast I had when I was younger. I don't doubt the Texas Toast is as delicious as I remember (like Toaster Strudel), but I bet it is pretty unhealthy. Anyways, in the end none of these options seemed like a good idea. I got a salad from the salad bar.

But in the spirit of bad food I have got some fun recipes for you. Check out this whiz kid. Take care to especially read the "veggie pizza". We had such a good time reading this at Thanksgiving this year I was laughing until I had tears in my eyes.

Also, my coworker has the Red Hat Society Cookbook. Amazon basically gets it right: "a few too many read like they came from the back of a package. Plum Luscious Roast requires a can of plums and a box of soup mix, and the mildly sweet result tastes faintly chemical. Slap-It-Together Beer Cheese Soup tastes almost entirely of Velveeta, and In-A-Snap Crab Bisque tastes much like the two cans of condensed soup of which it's comprised." What is this "Slap-It-Together Beer Cheese Soup" you ask?

1 envelope dry packaged leek soup mix
1 envelope dry packaged French onion soup mix
6 cups plus 1/2 cup water
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 pound Velveeta cheese, cut into cubes
1 cup beer

Combine the two dry soup mixes in 6 cups water in a large pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for 15 minutes. Strain, reserving the broth. In a blender process the chicken and celery soups and the remaining half cup water. Add to the broth. Add the cheese and beer. Cook over low heat until the cheese is melted. Makes 10 servings.

Ugh! Sounds awful. That is not even the worst. Even worse sounding are all the appetizer recipes that tell you to start out with crescent rolls, mix together mayonnaise and ranch mix, pour some cream of chicken soup on it, add pimientos, cheddar cheese, cream cheese, bacon and put it all in the oven at 350 for half an hour. I exaggerate. But apparently crescent rolls can be the basis for any food - it doesn't matter if it is a breakfast food, an appetizer, entree or dessert. Who knew? My first night here I read almost this whole book. I went into work the next day reporting on all the disgusting recipes. My boss said her mother is in the Red Hat Society, and that the idea is that members aren't supposed to fuss over things like food - that they have all spent their lives caring for their families, and they just want to have fun now. But I will say that you don't have to fuss over food for it to be good. An amazing caprese salad in the summer can be made with 4 ingredients and can take barely any time at all. These awful concoctions with 10 different soup mixes mixed with cream cheese on top of crescent rolls actually do take time to assemble. I don't mean to be too harsh, because some of the recipes in this book seem ok.

There is also this really weird thing where they advise to cook most things in the microwave that would clearly be better suited on the stovetop since you have to stop the microwave every thirty seconds to stir it. I was going to leave you all with one last good one, but I can't decide. I guess I feel lucky to have a collection of cookbooks that don't tell me to combine cake mix with pudding mix and cream cheese, or roll up bacon and cream cheese inside white bread and bake it. I guess I am also thankful to have a food processor - and maybe also good taste.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Things I Love About the Berkshires

This week I am dogsitting in North Adams, MA. (Last time I was dogsitting I took myself out to breakfast at the Blue Benn in VT.)  I love the Berkshires, and it is not just because three different museums out here have employed me, compared to none in Albany. I love the Berkshires for a lot of the same reasons I love the Napa Valley. Sure it is very rural, and you often feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, but it is still relatively culturally sophisticated. James Taylor lives here. What is often ranked as the number one liberal arts school in the country is here. Emily Dickinson, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Herman Melville are all from western Massachusetts. The scenery is incredibly beautiful, and yet the one movie playing in town is likely the same artsy movie you saw at the Spectrum last week. Our friends who live in Seattle and Boston talk about how they want to go to MassMoca. People who hear about me having an hour commute always feel really bad for me, but it is very beautiful - so beautiful it is a tourist destination for people from NYC in the fall. There are farms everywhere, and people wear a uniform of artsy scarves, cozy sweaters, and colored corduroys. The combination of beautiful scenery, delicious local ingredients, and world class museums make Berkshire County a must-visit destination for people in Albany. I can't believe how many people I have talked to in Albany who have never been to the Berkshires. It is only an hour drive. The opposite is true too. There are people I work with who haven't been to Albany in 15 years, and always act surprise when I talk about great things in Albany like Elissa Halloran's quirky little shop. I feel I have the best of both worlds. I can live in a place where we have shopping, an actual downtown, ethic restaurants, and easy transportation options for out of town. Then, I can work in a place that has a breathtaking landscape, sophisticated museums, and amazing ingredients. I get the benefit of having cultural institutions around that find my skill set useful, and yet I don't live in a place so much in the middle of nowhere that it is sort of stifling. Here are some things I love in the Berkshires:

  • Cricket Creek Farm - The cheese from this place is amazing. They also sell beef, eggs, milk, and baked goods. You drive back on this dirt road up on a hill, way up to the farm stand that is run on the honor system, which means you give yourself change from a wooden box as the cows wander by. The cheese is amazing. They serve cheese from here at many of the Berkshires best restaurants. They also have a cheese CSA, which I am never sure is a good idea or not from a health point of view.
  • Wild Oats Market - This market sells the above mentioned cheese. Also Maplebrook Mozzarella, which I think is great. They have great bread, an amazing salad bar, an interesting bulk section (I love garlic sesame sticks), and every high quality brand you might want (King Arthur flour, Muir Glen tomatoes, Colavita olive oil). The produce here in the summer (all from nearby Bennington or within Berkshire County) is so great that you don't even need a recipe in mind. You can walk in with the idea of making a salad for dinner, and walk out totally impressed with yourself. Now since it is winter,  of course all you can get for produce are things like squash and kale, but they have a selection of frozen vegetables from nearby farms that are actually very tasty. It is sort of expensive, but as a treat, a trip in there for some local cheese, delicious olives, or New England hard cider can be really fun.
  •  Castle Street Cafe -We love it. Ruth Reichl doesn't. Local ingredients with the source written on the menu. Charming atmosphere. Old New England-style charm. What is not to love? I can't ever seem to get enough of this place the few times a year I end up in Great Barrington.
 Check it out! Don't be one of those lame people who say "The Berkshires? Isn't that where rich people from New York City go on vacation?" "Yes! And it has a lot to offer!"  Or "Isn't that in another state?" "Yes, and it is only an hour away!" 

Food and Growing Up

 This weekend we saw the movie Young Adult. I enjoyed it much more and laughed much harder than I probably should have. I'm turning 30 next month, and to me this character really hit home in that she sounded like half of my friends (of course if you ignore the whole over-the-top-crazy thing). Some people come up with names for their future children when they are 8 years old, get married right out of college at age 22, and don't understand at all people who don't want kids. Some people, on the other hand, are well into their 30s, wear Hello Kitty shirts, gulp Maker's Mark, and refer to babies as "it". The first group of people think that the second group just need to meet the right person, have a couple of kids and settle down, but the truth is that if this character (as a member of the second group) had a kid she would probably treat it as negligently as she treats that poor little dog of hers.

I thought that it was interesting the way food was treated in this movie. She wakes up in the morning and swigs a liter of Diet Coke straight from the bottle. She eats Lean Cuisine, KFC, or nothing at all for long periods of time. This reminded me so much of myself as a single woman (without the whole trying to get back with my high school boyfriend thing). I would eat a box of chocolate eclairs for dinner (discussed here), Campbell's Tomato Soup, or skip most meals all together. The character in this movie is basically the equivalent of a teenager whose parents have gone away for the weekend, except she just happens to be 37 years old. She gets Ben and Jerry's from the gas station and can't even wait until she gets back to her hotel room to start eating it straight from the carton. Hilarious. I remember when my friend and I turned 25, and we were talking on the phone and the thing that made us feel more grown up than when we were in our early twenties was going grocery shopping. She said that the couple of years before that she only bought beer and chips, but after turning 25 she was going to the store to buy bread and mayonnaise, and she thought that made her feel much more grown up. I tell you - nothing in the world made me feel more grown up than table linens - wanting them, getting them, using them, even just touching them in the store. Perhaps that feeling was because they were all wedding presents, but I think it was also the thought that I could someday serve a meal classy enough to deserve place mats and linen napkins.

Everyone has different preferences as to how traditional they want to be as an adult, whether they want kids, a 9-5 job, or even a long term relationship (and in what time frame). What makes this character seem like a teenager is that she doesn't take any responsibility for cleanliness, health, nutrition or any of the ways her actions might affect any other people. I think all those things combined are part of what makes caring about food seem grown up. There's something grown up about feeding other people, probably because a host is supposed to be considerate of the needs of others. There's something grown up about eating regular meals (not like this), and vegetables (you will not see even one leaf of spinach in this movie).

The movie had problems, but the first hour was freaking hilarious. She does what she wants. She's grossed out by babies. She never grew up, but to me there was something liberating about watching it. Who wouldn't want to be able to go eat at KFC and not feel guilty? I have a 9-5 job and probably act reasonably grown up, but would I like to drive around listening to 90s music, eat some horribly unhealthy fried food and watch some trashy TV once in a while? Sure! This movie to me was a good time.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Working Retail vs. Food Service

This year I decided to take on a part-time job during the weekends throughout the holidays to make some extra cash (because weddings, no matter how much you try not to spend a lot of money and make everything yourself are freakin' expensive). Back when I was an unpaid intern at the American Museum of Natural History, the archivist told me as I was taking on tons of debt to basically hope to be like her one day, that it would be a long while until I made a lot of money. Of course, it is also really satisfying work, and I knew what I was getting into. One main reason that I went to graduate school was so that I didn't have to be a waitress anymore. So when I came up with the idea of working weekends during the holidays, I really didn't want to go back to that.

So I showed up at a craft store, let's call it Mary Jo's Crafts, which is next to Emperor's Wine and Spirits. To their credit they hired me, since most places like that see that you have a Master's degree and think you will leave. Of course you won't stay there, but who stays there anyway? Shouldn't you have a chance to make some extra cash despite being an educated person? At the interview I talked about how much I loved crafts, how much I made every last detail for my wedding, and how much I loved talking to people about crafts. I was sure to make new friends who loved crafts projects. It was going to be great (or not horrible - or at least get me some extra cash).

So it turned out my moderate expectations were too high. I don't even like going to that shopping plaza on a weekend not during the holiday season, why would I think it would be an ok experience to work there? Of course it was ridiculously busy. I can at least report that they follow New York State labor laws when it comes to breaks, and letting people leave when they think they are going to leave (this is more than I can say about any food service job I ever had in New York City). There were a few problems like their computers never worked. The thing with technology is that if it doesn't work you are more helpless than if you weren't trying to use it to begin with. They don't have any database for cashiers, so if some random pinecone with glitter on it has no price tag you have to stop waiting on a mile long line, go look for a glittery pinecone somewhere in the store and scan that. If you cannot find any glittery pinecone, well they tell you to find something that looks like the same price and scan that. Would it be impossible for them to have a database on the computer where the cashier could look it up? Would it be impossible to make it so the cashier could call up someone in the floral department who would know where one is? Yes, that would be impossible because there is no one working in the floral department. In fact, there is barely anyone on the floor in any department. They give seasonal people really no training at all, so when you walk through the store to use the bathroom and 10 million people want to know where clothing line twine, battery operated fake candles, appliqu├ęs, make your own puzzles are - you have no freakin' clue. Anything I knew where it was located was only because I found it as a customer when I was planning my wedding. There is no one to ask, and there is no reason an untrained seasonal employee would have any idea.

Then there are the coupons. There are people who would rather have 30 items rang up separately so that they can save 10% off of $2.00 than take less than 20 minutes to have their order rang up. These coupons got so ridiculous that I thought "If you cannot afford this otherwise perhaps you should have just stayed home!". Crafting is a hobby, right? It is not a vital life expense. Also - Christmas decorations are not a vital life expense. The person arguing with you until they are blue in their face about how they should get 40% off of a tube of penguin wrapping paper that is already 50%  off is just enough to make you hate Christmas all together. The other weird thing about it was that almost no one who worked there ever introduced themselves to me. I'd go in, wait on millions of customers who complain about the prices, can't believe they have to wait,  best case scenario give I'd at least get some entertaining anecdote about some customer's granddaughter's birthday party, I'd leave, and almost no one remembered I had even worked there. In fact, the day I went in to pick up my last pay check, the girl who was at the service desk didn't realize I worked there (even though I had seen her probably 20 times), and certainly didn't know my name. My gain for giving up most weekends in the fall I probably would have otherwise spent making bread or something: $882. That is $882 I would have not had made otherwise, so of course it was a gain. I also got 20% off of the fondant and supplies for this project, so that was a bonus. 

I guess working 7 days a week made me appreciate the notion of hard work. So many people have it so easy and do not appreciate it. Also, there is something weird about the world where my  pleasant, rewarding, and interesting employment pays double something that was awful, exhausting, and sometimes  demoralizing.

It made me appreciate certain aspects of food service. I worked in food- related jobs from the ages 14 to 26. The longest job I ever held in my life still was four and a half years at a Blimpie. I do not think I could have lasted that many years in a retail situation (three months was enough). And in fact, even since having a professional job I enjoy, there are aspects of food service I feel nostalgic about. You actually meet people in food service, on both sides of the counter. I got a husband out of it. I worked at a Starbucks for a few weeks when we first moved here, and I at least met a handful of interesting people. People talk around food and coffee. In a large retail store, you are really a cog in a machine, and not even an efficiently running one. There is something about food the brings people together. Sure, restaurant work is dirtier and sexual harassment seems to run rampant. I think back on eating lunch for free every day of my undergrad career,  all the people I met, actually enjoying the work, and I think that it did improve my college experience. Perhaps there are enjoyable retail experiences out there - but this was not it.

Most of all the experience made me appreciate having other skills and a Master's degree. Sure, I will be paying off student loans for 25 years, but at least I am doing something I like. There will always be a tiny part of me though that misses food service. In fact, weirdly enough when I think of my own retirement I imagine working at a coffee shop or bakery or something. I still believe that there is something honorable in bringing people their food. Retail on the other hand, is probably something I will never try out again.