Archive for the ‘What’s this all about?’ Category

One Hundredth Post!

January 15th, 2013 | Rachel

I’ve had this blog for a little under two years now, and today I finally hit my centurion milestone.

One hundred posts.

It doesn’t feel like I’ve written that many (probably because almost a third were dedicated to my {Thankful November} 0f 2011), but going back through the past two years to write this post was a treat.

It’s hard to believe how much has changed in my life since that first post back in March 2010 when I declared that I’d rather be in France. [If you’re curious about why I chose that as my url and the namesake of this blog, check out my first anniversary post.] For the first few months, I was pretty nervous about having a blog, worrying that I’d spell something wrong or that the whole thing was a silly idea, and it took a while for me to develop some sort of identity for this outlet (which drastically changed a year later). I was so terrified of my job finding out about my alternate career musings that I didn’t dare mention the fact that I was litigation attorney at a large law firm in New York City. Mass lay offs were rampant in the industry at that time.

It was only after I received a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking that I realized how much I love cooking French food and dedicated my posts accordingly. Like with the blog, I entered the field of French cuisine hesitantly. My first dish was boeuf bourguignon, and it was delicious.

I made some wonderful dishes during that first year, including a beautiful savory gâteau de crêpes. I learned how to slow-cook scrambled eggs during my “Petit Déjeuner Pour Une,” and I’ve been using that technique for Sunday brunches ever since.

It wasn’t all success, however. My massive failure at macarons still stings, and I haven’t gotten up the nerve to try again.

Of the past 99 posts, two have maintained internet relevancy. Strangely enough, my early short post on the movie Amelie is a constant source of daily traffic. The other staple is the tutorial I posted on building a hanging window herb garden. It had a brief moment of fame when it was posted on Reddit last year, and it has gotten slow and steady traffic from other urban herb enthusiasts ever since.

As I progressed with my French cooking, I developed an obsession with making the perfect roasted chicken. This led to four separate posts on the subject:  Perfectionism and Poulet Rôti; The quest for perfection continues…; Third Time’s The Charm?; and Roasted Chicken, Revisted. I still think a great roasted chicken should be in every cook’s culinary arsenal. It is cheap to make, is versatile, and always impresses.

The theme of my posts started to shift when my boyfriend and I took a trip to France in April 2011: On The (French) Road…; On The (French) Road… Again; Roadtrip Update: Cote d’Azur; Au Revoir, La Belle France… For Now.

This wasn’t just any trip. Although I didn’t write about it at the time, I had been laid off from my law firm right before we left. When I started this blog, I also started putting together a plan to quit my job at the firm, move to France, and open a bed and breakfast. Seriously. When we went on the trip, I suddenly was no longer fantasizing about what I would do instead of my current job. Instead, as uncomfortable as it was at the time, I was forced to really consider my options and make a decision.

My life took an even more unexpected turn when I happen to take another trip that summer with my mom: Napa: The Game Changer? I had never been to California before, and even though I always suspected I would fit in pretty well on the west coast, I never realistically thought about moving there.

Let me tell you, it was love at first sight.

The sun. The fresh air. The cool, laid back people. I was sold. It didn’t hurt that Napa and Sonoma reminded me a lot of the French vineyards I saw outside of Bordeaux. Steve was already on board for a change in location, and he immediately signed on for California.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there was that fateful day when I met Arthur for a cup of coffee and ended up getting a job at an amazing bakery in New York City’s Upper East Side. Over the course of that year, the dream of opening a bed and breakfast had been replaced with visions of more complex entrepreneurship, preferably involving food. Working at the bakery was an instant affirmation. I loved the food. I loved the customers. I loved the business. And for the first time, I really started to see my layoff from the law firm not as a failure but as a necessary step towards something else.

Six months later, the chapter at the bakery came to a close, as did the much bigger chapter of my life in New York City.

I chronicled the move, which spanned a month, in four parts: The Big Cross-Country Move, Part I; The Big Cross-Country Move, Part II; The Big Cross-Country Move, Part III; Home Sweet Home?.

The amount of change that occurred between April 2011 and April 2012 still boggles my mind. Most of the time I forget how much had to happen for me to be where I am right now. When I get nervous about the changes still to come, I just try to take a deep breath and have faith that the same windy road that led me here will continue to lead towards wherever I am supposed to be.

The rest of 2012 was not without its fair share of events. I agonized over finding a job to sustain myself while I figured out what I was doing, and I ended up with two. The restaurant gig only lasted a few months, but it offered a few good lessons and friends. My role within the legal job has changed a lot, but I can’t imagine a more perfect employment situation for where I am right now. Somewhere along the way, I realized my business pursuits would be more enjoyable and probably more successful if I shared them with someone of equal passion and different skill set. Cue Arthur.

I don’t even want to mention my biggest failure to date, but I guess any list of ups should also include the downs.

And here we are at one hundred. Thank you for coming along for the ride. It’s impossible to predict what the future will bring, but I suspect the second hundred is going to have a new bout of twists and turns, so stay tuned :-)




Introducing… Arthur!

September 18th, 2012 | Rachel

Let’s get back to business, shall we?

While it may appear that I have been gallivanting about all summer — taking a bar exam here, camping in the desert there — there have been some pretty exciting things going on behind the scenes.

If you are familiar with my story, then you will know that I moved to California with the mindset of opening a bakery.  The idea of starting my own business had been going strong for almost a year (I was actively learning French in preparation for opening a bed & breakfast in southwest France), and then working six months at Three Green Ducks bakery confirmed I want to be involved in food — something I had joked about doing since law school.

I even picked a name and developed a logo for my bakery (neither of which have formally been announced, so I will save them for another day).

Then the serious business planning began.  Almost instantly, I realized how much better the experience would be if I had another person with whom I could share the inevitable emotional roller coaster and with whom I could share the responsibility of making smart business decisions.

Enter Arthur.

The California sun suits you, Mr. Chang

You’ve actually heard about him before.  It was Arthur who suggested we meet for a cupcake at Three Green Ducks that fateful day last July, and it was Arthur who talked me into asking about the “help wanted” sign on the door.  I think he thought he was just getting an inside connection to free baked treats at an amazing bakery only a few blocks from his apartment, but ultimately he got a regular napper on his sofa after my early-morning opening shifts and, eventually, a loft full of furniture between the time I moved out of my apartment and moved to California.

Arthur and I first met at church.  He attended the University of Tennessee for undergrad (boo!), and I, of course, attended the University of Georgia.  We were instant rivals with the deep connection of SEC sports.

Arthur grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, so we also had sort of a cultural connection of being from the south and having a lot of shared southern values but also finding a natural fit in the diverse and fast-paced city environment. A little known fact is that Arthur actually went to law school for a year, but then changed paths and ended up in the finance sector.

Although we do have a lot of things in common, our personalities are very different, and it was sort of an unlikely friendship.

Who’s this guy?

It’s a strictly professional dynamic

I can’t remember exactly how the idea of starting a business together was born.  I think I’ll have to get him to write a guest blog to tell his side of the story and maybe fill in some of these holes.  I do know it started off as a joke.  Arthur had a fried chicken party in his little backyard every summer, and I started teasing him about moving to California and selling fried chicken.

Around the time I moved out here (or perhaps because of it), Arthur started reevaluating what he was doing with his own life, and somehow came to the conclusion that he was also an entrepreneur at heart.

One of our regular Skype meetings

Our initial conversations about starting a business together were purely hypothetical.  If we did have a business, what would it be.  After a couple of months, the conversation shifted to, “Hey, maybe we really should do this.”  Arthur, being the careful and calculated person he is, weighed his options and booked a trip to San Francisco and to visit me this past July.  By the end of the trip, he was convinced that west coast was calling him (although he thought Santa Cruz was a little too small-town).

By that time, our hypothetical baby had a menu and a name (which will be revealed in time).  Some serious discussions were held, promises made, schedules set, and then Arthur took a leap of faith and quit his job.

Now that the bar exam and Burning Man are over, we diving into this project head first.  It will be a month and a half more of Skype meetings, and then Arthur’s going to make his own big move, first to San Francisco and then to Santa Cruz.  I’ll save the details for future posts, but we are very excited about the business and what the future holds.  I’m also excited about this new partnership.  I don’t know anyone more trustworthy and dedicated than Arthur, and I think that the two of us together have an unstoppable skill set.

Let’s all give a big welcome to Arthur…. you’ll be seeing a lot of him from now on.

Business partners

Happy Belated Anniversary, Readers!

May 14th, 2012 | Rachel

Oh dear.  I don’t know how I could miss an anniversary as significant as that of my first blog post.  Please accept my sincere apologies and know how much I appreciate you for joining me on this journey.

I had toyed with the idea of having a blog for several years.  My fledgling culinary efforts were being documented on Facebook, but I wanted something that could reach a wider audience and be better archived for posterity.

The question, then, was what to call it?

I had been growing increasingly dissatisfied with my job at the law firm, and the vision of running a bed & breakfast in French wine country was slowly diverting my already-established career path as an attorney.  I was taking French classes and attending a lot of one-off wine classes.  I was currently reading Julia Child’s memoir, “My Life In France,” which had inspired me to request a copy of “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” as a late Christmas present from my parents.  Steve and I were were two months away from our heavenly two-week road trip around France and had started discussing possible routes and sites to see.

I had spent three amazing and life changing years in New York City, the Center of the Universe, but at that moment, I was certain my destiny was pulling me somewhere else.  I was having visions of sunlit fields and fresh air and vineyards and dusty old chateaus and country roads.  I felt drawn to a people who were less concerned with deadlines and money and status and running themselves ragged and more focused on quality of life and community.

And then it hit me… I’d rather be in France.

At first it was a very literal statement.  I love France.  I love the food.  I love the language.  I love the wine.  I love the geography and history and even the stereotypical snooty attitude.  I still think running a bed & breakfast in a small town outside of Bordeaux would be absolute heaven.

After my first trip to California last July, however, “France” turned out to be something bigger.  Today, in the context of this blog and my life, “France” represents the life I want to live.  It represents my priorities and realizations of the things that make me happy and fulfilled — and it represents actually doing those things.

Maybe one day I’ll return to the original intention of this blog, which was to write about my love of French culture in the context of my Southern, New Yorker and now Californian life.  To this day, the most continuously popular blog entry is the snippet I wrote about the movie Amelie back when this blog was just getting started and I didn’t know what else to write about.

So thanks for coming along with me this far.  It is my hope that my journey to “France” will inspire you to take inventory of what is meaningful and fulfilling in your own lives and make those things a priority.

Happy Anniversary!

Exploring Pacific Grove, California (outside Monterey) with Steve

On Citrus Trees And Maître D’s

April 6th, 2012 | Rachel

Baby Trees

Last month, Steve told me I had a package coming my way: a cocktail tree, which is a single tree that produces different kinds of fruit.  In my case, it was going to be a citrus tree that grew lemons, limes and oranges.  Steve’s mom has one in her front yard that I have been coveting ever since we visited her last December.  The trees arrived, but I was surprised to find not one but three tiny trees, each labeled as a different, single citrus species.

I dutifully researched the best way to care for my new plants.  I gave them plenty of time to adapt to their new environment before repotting them in two-gallon pots of cactus and palm soil.  I even splurged on the $8 citrus plant fertilizer that the guy at Home Depot said I probably didn’t need.   I fretted over how much water to give them and how often, and when I determined from the color and droop of the leaves that my little trees were depressed from insufficient sunlight from my north-facing windows, I researched plant light bulbs and started giving them supplemental artificial light.  The leaves perked up and turned a bright shade of green, but weeks later the “trees” still more closely resembled twigs and only had the leaves they arrived with (or fewer, since I removed some that were damaged during shipping).

Then one day I noticed with great delight a tiny light green bump on the stalk of the naval orange plant.  I stopped and inspected it every time I walked through the kitchen that day.  Something was finally happening!  The next day, the bump had turned into three small, distinct leaves.  The day after that, the leaves were suspended by a slender green stem, and the day after that, the leaves had reached full size and more tiny leaves were emerging.

The Meyer lemon tree was also experiencing a transformation.  At the center of each cluster of dark green leaves were little neon green fingers that quickly turned into branches.   A week later, even the key lime tree showed its first sign of productivity when small leaves appeared at both the base of the branches and at the very top.  Now, the new stems and branches are growing so fast that I have had to cut them back to encourage thicker, fuller foliage.

One day these little guys will bear full-sized fruit!

My experience moving here was pretty much the same thing.  Steve and I arrived in fury of excitement.  New city, new ocean, new apartment, new life.  We scrambled to get the basic necessities set up in the apartment, and then he went back to his ship and I dove into a job search.  I spent hours every day revising my resume and replying to job posts.  I visited stores and cafes and handed out my resume.  I subtly or not-so-subtly told everyone I met that I was looking for a job in hopes that they might know someone who was hiring.

And then I waited… and waited… and waited.


By this time I had been living here a month and unemployed for two.  The fear of draining my meager nest egg that was earmarked for my nonexistent business grew, as did the uncomfortable thought that this was all a huge mistake.  I expanded my job search — which had been focused on the food and beverage industry — to include everything from paralegal gigs to hotel reception.  I registered with a temp agency and obsessively checked Craigslist and  I also spent more than one evening crying over the phone with Steve, who remained supportive and reassuring.

Then one day I got an email from a legal support start up company asking me to come in for an interview.  A few days after that I was offered the job, which paid considerably more than any of the food jobs I was hoping to get.  Best of all, this new job came with total flexibility.  I work 30 hours a week whenever and wherever I want.  The “office” is located on a small farm about a 10-minute drive from my apartment.  I share it with two other people and a dog named Kaya.  So far my work days have been filled with the sounds of chickens clucking, Kaya barking, and my coworkers singing along to the soundtrack from The Book of Mormon.

A week and a half into my new job, I got a call from a chic restaurant in Santa Cruz where Steve and I ate during our visit back in October.  It is owned by a nearby vineyard and winery and focuses on locally-sourced ingredients.  We were so impressed by this restaurant — the menu, the food, the wine, the staff, the decor — that it was one of the first places we visited when we returned, and it has remained at the top of my list of food and drink establishments where I would like to work.

The manager who called said he had seen my resume come across his desk a couple of times and wanted to meet me.  I remember his Craigslist ad was unusual in that it said it was looking for people not with experience but with an inherent sense of hospitality and a love for serving others.  I replied with a long email about growing up in Charleston, South Carolina where hospitality runs in the water (or is it the sweet tea?) and about my love for throwing parties and entertaining friends.  I also said I couldn’t emphasize enough how much I LOVE (in all caps) good food and wine.

I went in for a  meeting the next day and had a great conversation about food and local ingredients.  At the end of the “interview”, the manager told me he thought I seemed like I presented myself well in front of people and had good eye contact and a great smile.  And he wanted me to join his team.  On my first night of work as the host of this wonderful restaurant, the manager explained his philosophy of the role and of the “temporary relationships” built during the course of the evening.  In many ways it sounds more like a maître d’ than a typical restaurant host.

So now I have two jobs: one that exercises the analytical side of my brain in a calm, country, quirky environment and one that exercises my customer service and hospitality skills and that hopefully will give me more insight into the inner workings of a successful, well thought out restaurant.  I also finally have a place to reuse some of my chic New York lawyer clothes.

A month ago when I was crying over my seemingly hopeless job search, I knew deep down that things were going to work out in some magical way that I couldn’t imagine.  Still, my human brain couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with doubt, anxiety, and fear.  It is unfortunate because even being unemployed comes with its own very unique benefits.  I had ample time to unpack and organize the apartment and explore the area.  I had more time to spend with my mom when she visited.  I only wish I could have enjoyed those things without the pervasive and sometimes paralyzing anxiety.

I guess the best I can do is add this to the archives of Things Just Working Out and maybe worry a little less the next time I am uncertain about the future.

Another Chapter Comes To A Close

January 14th, 2012 | Rachel

Today marks my last day working at the Three Green Ducks (which, as many of you already know, is not the real name of the bakery).  If you haven’t read about how I ended up with the job, here’s the back story.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been a paid member of the baking industry for almost six months now.  Its even harder to believe that I haven’t done any substantial lawyer work (outside helping a few friends) in almost eight months.

I can’t say I’ve missed being a lawyer.  I guess that is a good sign that I am onto something better suited for me.  Don’t get me wrong, working as a corporate litigator was really interesting sometimes.  I know I loved the job when I first started.  I liked how mentally taxing it was.  At the end of a great day of work, my brain would be exhausted from processing and analyzing so much information.  When people asked what I did, I usually told them I was a professional problem solver.  The client would come in with their million dollar problem, and the partner(s) would divide it up into multiple layers of very specific problems, which were then assigned to us associates to solve.  As the case progressed, you got to see how your work product fit together with everyone else’s to solve the headlining problem.  Of course that was usually just saving one giant corporation’s money from another giant corporation, but it was still an interesting intellectual exercise.  It wasn’t something I could put my heart into.

In contrast, as I have mentioned before, I really believe in working at the bakery.  I believe in the physical product itself, and I believe in what it means for the people who buy it.  I believe that operating a bakery is a direct service to the community, and I believe it adds to people’s quality of life.

When I get sucked into wondering how my bakery will ever be as successful as the Three Green Ducks, I get overwhelmed and discouraged.  However, when I start thinking about the individual components — the recipes, the presentation, the message I want to communicate to the customers — and why I want to start my own business, I get excited and energized.

My only complaint about working at the Three Green Ducks — and I hope none of my coworkers take offense to this — but after a few months I did start to feel like my brain was starting to melt.  This shouldn’t come as any surprise.  After all, I was hired to be a physical body behind the counter… not a brain.

There were little opportunities here and there to think creatively.  I pointed out an inconsistency with the price of pie slices that led to a new pie-pricing scheme.  I made a protective shield out of shopping bags and packing tape to protect a stack of cake boxes that would get dirty every time someone emptied the coffee grinds into a nearby trashcan.  For a couple of months I tried to convince the Powers In Charge that putting everything in the cake case perpendicular to the window and leaving the case facing the window empty discouraged people walking by from stopping in.  If the first thing someone sees when they peak in the window is an empty cake case, its unlikely they are going to investigate further.  (The explanation I was given for not changing the placement of the cakes was that they didn’t sell as well when put in the case facing the window.)  On slow days, I recalculated what I thought the price of certain products should be.  For example, if you sell a 10″ cheesecake for $53 whole or cut it into slices that sell for $4 each (totaling $54 for a whole cake’s worth) even though it takes an employee a good 30 minutes to cut the slices, then you are making less money off of the slices and should keep more of the whole cakes in the case to sell.

Of course, it is easy for me to sit back at a distance and poke holes in my employer’s business model when I have no idea what goes on behind the scenes.

I’m excited to tackle these kinds of issues of my own, and I am looking forward to the intellectual challenge of creating and running a viable business.  There’s really no end to the subjects I am going to have to learn: building codes, food safety regulations, employee issues, advertising, finances, business-related technology, in addition to the chemistry of baking in bulk.

I’m sure I will continue to reflect on all of the things I learned while working at the Three Green Ducks.  It was very enriching experience, and I felt like I had a lot of sincere ‘goodbyes’ today.