Archive for July, 2011

What’s This About A Bakery?

July 31st, 2011 | Rachel

First day at the new job

Last Friday afternoon, I had plans to meet up with my friend Arthur for a cup of coffee (since his job is cool and gives him half days on Fridays during the summer).  At the last minute, we scrapped the coffee plan and instead met for cupcakes at a bakery in the Upper East Side called the Three Green Ducks.*

I arrived first and immediately noticed a sign on the front door advertising an open position for a full time employee.  The thought of applying crossed my mind and I felt a flutter of excitement in my stomach, but the pragmatic side of my brain quickly brushed it aside and I blamed the gastrointestinal reaction on hunger.  College students work at bakeries.  People who are still paying for their law degrees do not.

When Arthur arrived, he mentioned the sign.  Again, I waved off the idea, saying it was too crazy.  We each purchased our mini-cupcakes and sat down.  The subject of the help wanted sign came up again.

Arthur, like many of my friends, has listened to me ramble about my bed and breakfast dream on many occasions and has always been supportive despite his otherwise very practical nature.  “There’s only one way to learn how to run a business,” he said over his red velvet cupcake.  “You just have to jump in there even when it means starting at the bottom.”  The wheels in my head were spinning.  He had a point.  He then walked back up to the counter and ordered two lemonades and an employment application.

The humbling part about filling out that application is it quickly revealed how under-qualified I was for the job.  Previous employer: Big Anonymous Law Firm.  Skills used: research, writing… and, uh, cite checking?  I was starting to doubt my odds of even being considered.

“Looks like another unemployed lawyer trying to figure out what to do with her life.”

“Toss it.  Let’s hire the high school student who actually knows how to work an espresso machine.”

I left the box for previous salary blank.  The pay discrepancy was nothing short of comical.

Nervously, I handed the application to a friendly-looking person behind the counter.  She looked it over and told me to wait.  She disappeared into the kitchen.  A few minutes later, one of the managers came out and asked if I had time to talk.  We sat at one of the tables, and I tried to explain that I wasn’t insane and actually had legitimate reasons for wanting to work there.  I told her about my future bed and breakfast and California and my love of baking and Martha Stewart.

Since the only employment experience I’ve had since college was in an attorney capacity, she asked a lot of questions about how my lawyering experiences and skills could translate into the bakery environment.  As I discovered while I was talking, there are a lot of ways.  I was getting a good vibe.

She asked if I could hang on a few more minutes and disappeared into the kitchen.  Moments later another manager came out, and I gave my I’m-not-crazy-I-just-really-want-to-work-here speech again.  He talked about the hectic pace, the ornery customers, the dismal pay, the working holidays and everything else that might make me change my mind.  He said he wanted me to have a clear picture as to what I was getting myself into.  In my head, however, I was picturing myself at my desk, the 5 a.m. nights, not being able to have dinner with Steve the night before he went back to the ship because there was a doc review crisis, the thankless partners, the neon lights, the coworkers that never said hello in the hallway, the stale office air…

Suddenly I felt a light bulb turn on in my head.  What was I afraid of?

I was afraid that taking a job at a bakery would ruin my chance of getting a job at another large law firm — something I didn’t even want to do.  In being scared, I was shutting out the myriad of good possibilities that could stem from having this job — a job I’ve actually fantasized about ever since I picked up cake decorating as a hobby in law school and discovered my knack for baking.  Maybe it will help me run a bed and breakfast.  Maybe I’ll open that pie shop I’ve always talked about.  Maybe I’ll write a book about it.  Maybe I’ll be a food writer.  Maybe I’ll work for Martha Stewart.  Maybe I’ll be the next Martha Stewart.  And whatever it is, it doesn’t have to exclude being a lawyer too. Maybe I’ll be a lawyer for small, creative businesses.  Maybe I’ll run a bed and breakfast and have my own solo trusts and estates practice.  Maybe (or, perhaps, probably) I’ll do something completely unexpected.

The second manager asked me to hold on and disappeared into the kitchen.  I turned around and apologetically told Arthur he could leave if he wanted.  We had been there for an hour at that point.  Arthur said he was going to stay.

Then the first manager came back out and said, “We’d like to hire you.”

A new chapter began.



*The bakery isn’t actually called the Three Green Ducks.  Out of respect for them I’m not going to use the real name because I don’t want my personal viewpoints to be mistakenly attributed to them.

Save Yourself A Trip To The Market: Build Your Own Hanging Window Herb Garden

July 30th, 2011 | Rachel

This hasn’t been a how-to blog so far, but due to the dearth of information available on urban herb gardens (herban gardens?), I am going to share with you my (so far) successful design for a hanging window herb garden.  Even if you do not lack private outdoor space like I do, this could still be a good use of a particularly sunny window or an easy way to get all of your cooking herbs within reach.

I purchased all of the materials for this project from Home Depot (for the New Yorkers in the house, I went to the 23rd St. location).  I got the herb plants from the Chelsea Garden Center (11th Ave. @ 44th St.).

To make a hanging window herb garden, you will need:

– 6″ plastic flower pots

– 8″ adjustable pipe clamps

– Screw-in wall hooks

– Chain

– Small screws

You will also need:

– Measuring tape

– Drill

– Pliers

– Screwdriver

This project is best suited for a tall window with plenty of sun exposure… a window kind of like this one:

I decided to make my herb garden with three hanging columns of two flower pots each, but you could make yours with any number or configuration as long as your hooks can handle the weight of the plants.  Before your trip to the hardware store, measure your window and the space you wish to use for your garden.  You will need to know how tall your columns are going to be before you purchase the chain.

Once you have the proper supplies, the first step is to mark and drill pilot holes and install the screw-in hooks.  I got my hooks about halfway in before my wimpy hands couldn’t turn them anymore.  They seem pretty sturdy already, but I am going to get Steve to finish the job when he gets back.

The hooks I got per the recommendation of an employee at Home Depot

The hooks should go directly into the window pane — NOT the wall

The second step is simple: hang the custom-cut chains on the hooks.  It probably won’t make a difference, but I looped two links on the hook instead of one to distribute the weight.

I had wanted to get a smaller chain, but the guy at Home Depot said he didn’t think it would be strong enough.  This particular chain is intended to be used with plants.

Chains are ready to go

The third step is to tighten the pipe clamps to fit the flower pots.  This perfectly suited part was suggested by one of the employees at Home Depot.  I showed him my drawing and explained what I was trying to do, and he simply said “Follow me,” and led me to the plumbing section.  He then introduced me to the pipe clamp and explained how I could adjust the size of the circle with a screw driver.

Adjusting the pipe clamps

Turning this screw changes the circumference of the clamp

The fourth step is to attach the pipe clamps to the hanging chains.  You first will need to determine how far apart you want your flower pots to hang.  Then use pliers to pry open the designated chain links just big enough to slide in the pipe clamp.

After this step, your neighbors will start wondering what sort of kinky torture device you are building in your kitchen.

I tried placing the flower pots into the pipe clamps at this point, but a design flaw became immediately apparent.  The flower pots inevitably tilted, and the chains slid around to one side of the pipe clamps causing the flower pot to tilt even more to the point that the contents of the flower pot would assuredly end up on the floor.  This was a frustrating discovery.

However, I then decided to put on my problem-solving lawyer pants, and added an anti-tilt device.  I got out Steve’s magic bucket of odds and ends and found twelve small screws.  I then drilled holes into adjacent sides of the rims of the flower pots and inserted the screws.  The result were little Shrek-like ears that catch the links of chain above the pipe clamp and prevent the flower pot from tilting.

Steve’s Magic Bucket

Anti-tilt device

Anti-tilt device in action

The final step is to place the flower pots into the pipe clamps.  You might have to adjust the size of the clamps the first time you put the flower pots into the rings.

Hanging Window Herb Garden

Now all you need to do is add your herbs!  The beauty of this design is the flower pots are easily removed for planting and pruning.

Thyme, mint, chives, rosemary, lavender, dill and basil

Urban Gardening

And that is how you make a hanging window herb garden!  If you have any suggestions or other ideas, please share.  If you make your own hanging window herb garden, definitely share that too.  Here are a few photos of the finished project:

Do You Know The Mushroom Man?

July 28th, 2011 | Rachel

I have a lot of free time on my hands these days, and now that New York City isn’t sizzling from the recent heatwave, I’ve stepped back into the kitchen.  The other day I recreated a fantastic cold corn chowder with dill that I had at Butter last week… but its not very French, so it doesn’t belong on this blog.

During the trip to the Columbia University Greenmarket this past Sunday to pick up corn and dill for the soup, I found myself chatting with the Mushroom Man.  There are a number of items that are considerably cheaper to purchase at farmers’ markets rather than the grocery store, and mushrooms are one of them.  You also oftentimes get the added bonus of speaking to someone who is directly involved in the creation of your produce.

Feeling adventurous, I told the Mushroom Man that I usually purchase crimini mushrooms (also known as button mushrooms), but I was in the mood for something new.  He asked what I was planning on making with the mushrooms, and I said either a sauce or a soup (actually I had no idea what I was going to make but those were the first things to pop into my head when he asked).  Then the Mushroom Man, with a twinkle in his eye, handed me one of the long, narrow mushrooms pictured above and told me to give it a sniff.  This was a piopinni mushroom, he said, and had a strong flavor perfect for soups and sauces.  It smelled wonderful.  He then lovingly selected a small pile of piopinni mushrooms for me, put them in a paper back, and told me to report back.  The grand total was $3.50.

I thought about these mushrooms for several days, trying to choose a worthy dish to make.  I entered the grocery store this evening with a plan to poach a fish in white wine and serve it with a mushroom sauce.  Then I passed the rice aisle and had a flash of genius.  Of course!  Risotto!

Risotto is one of my favorite non-Southern comfort foods, and yet I had never made it before.  I whipped out the All-Recipes app on my iPhone and was soon schlepping two bags of groceries, in addition to the two bags of organic potting mix and window-hanging-herb-garden supplies from Home Depot, up the hill to my apartment.

Julia Child actually has a recipe for mushroom risotto, but she bakes hers and I wanted to stick to the traditional stove top method for my first attempt.  Sorry, Julia.  You can find the recipe I used here.

Apparently you are supposed to use Arborio rice for maximum risotto plumpness, but I only had the options of long grain, super long grain, or sushi rice.  I went with the sushi rice, and the result was fantastic.

Chopped Piopinni Mushrooms

Onions, Garlic, Celery, Mushrooms, Milk, Cream

Homemade vegetable stock simmering in the back

Last step: mix in Parmesan cheese

Mushroom Risotto

Making risotto is actually very simple.  It takes a little patience to slowly mix in the liquid to achieve the right consistency, but the dish is otherwise very forgiving.  I’m already excited about the butternut squash risotto I am going to make this fall.

Napa: The Game Changer?

July 13th, 2011 | Rachel

The whole idea behind this blog is my belief that my destiny lies (at least in part) in running my own bed and breakfast somewhere in the French countryside surrounded by vineyards.  This belief was further cemented into my brain (and heart) after my boyfriend and I took a two-week road trip around France and spent three days touring wineries outside of Bordeaux.

Its not that I don’t love New York City.  I think this is one of the greatest cities in the world, and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to live here.  Still, I am drawn to a culture focused more on quality of life than on one’s bank account balance or job title.  I love sunshine and fresh air and good food.  Throw in a great bottle of wine, and I am in heaven.

This past weekend I went on a trip to California with my mom.  We flew into San Francisco and then drove up to Napa where we spent our first two nights.  We then spent two nights in Sonoma and one night in San Francisco before returning to the east coast.  During the day, we toured a dozen or so wineries and drove around the countryside.  In the evening, we ate at three amazing restaurants in Napa and Sonoma: Bottega, the girl & the fig, and El Dorado Kitchen.

Downtown Sonoma at Dusk

View from the Napa Valley Wine Train

Accepting the challenge of eating an unripe grape

I had never spent any time in California before this trip, and yet I’ve always wondered if I would like living on the west coast.  Now that I have had the chance to see it for myself, I know the answer is yes.

The people definitely have a laid back attitude you don’t see too often in native East Coasters.  As someone whose only work criticism has been that I am too laid back, I think I might have found my kindred spirits.

I talked to owners of both of our bed and breakfasts at length — one has been in business for 21 years and the other 15 — and now a storm of new ideas is brewing in my head.

Hillview Inn in Napa

Sonoma Chalet in Sonoma

Cute kitchen at the Sonoma Chalet

In my element at the Sonoma Chalet

Don’t worry… this isn’t the end of the France dream.  It might be a practical stepping stone on my way to France or perhaps an opportunity to take my obsession with French culture and create something unique here in the United States.

Stay tuned.

The Wines of Saint Émilion

July 7th, 2011 | Rachel

In honor of an upcoming trip to California wine country with my mom, here’s a few notes on one of my favorite French wine regions.

I’m no expert on the wine side of things (for a more detailed assessment, you could start here), but I can testify to the fact that the town of St. Émilion and its surrounding countryside are gorgeous, and the wines are DELICIOUS (albeit a little on the expensive side).

St. Émilion

Two of many wine stores in St. Émilion

Steve and me in St. Émilion

 St. Émilion is the name of both the town and the appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) for wines originating in the surrounding region, which is located about thirty minutes west of Bordeaux.  The wines are predominantly made from Merlot grapes as the base with varying proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

The wineries in this region take great pride in the classifications that are unique to the region and are reevaluated approximately every ten years.  These classifications are the Premiers Grands Crus Classés and the Grands Crus Classés.

Upon the recommendation of our innkeeper at Chateau De La Moune (more on it later), Steve and I spent a delightful afternoon at Chateau Fonplégade, a St. Émilion winery.  [As a reminder, you can click on the photos to view them larger.]

Chateau Fonplégade

This winery was purchased in 2004 by American billionaires Denise and Stephen Adams.  It is currently classified as Grands Crus Classé, but they are trying to achieve the higher classification of Premiers Grands Crus Classé.  The Adamses spent $7 million renovating the facilities and installing state of the art wine-making equipment.  They also have switched to organic farming methods.

The facilities at Chateau Fonplégade

Whatever they are doing, they doing it right because the wines were so delicious that Steve and I joined their wine club (a concept the French we spoke to had never heard of).  With the exception of their rosé (also a relatively new concept for that region), many St. Émilion wines have to age ten or more years before they reach their true potential.  We hid the bottles we brought home with us and are trying to forget about them for the next eight or so years so we don’t accidentally drink them prematurely.

We tried to visit Chateau La France, pictured at the top of this post with the giant metal chicken, but sadly it was closed that day.

What about you?  Any favorite St. Émilion wines we should know about?