From the Memoirs of a Hippie Chef

When Life Give You Lemons Take Some Pills
With just a month left of school before our last official summer vacation we had become psychedelic travel agents. We tripped on Acid, Peyote, and our favorite, mescaline. Mesc. Ken was selling a lot of mesc lately and one particular batch was cut into Nestles Quick and half the student body was buying little containers of milk to make “chocolate mesc.” It was so cool, drinking chocolate milk that exercised your laugh muscles to near exhaustion and stretched the boundaries of your mind. We laughed and tripped for two weeks straight drinking chocolate milk mescaline everyday. You could tell who was tripping and who wasn’t just by looking in their eyes. Ken and Artie had become closer and closer and Ken had become his number one salesman. Anyone wanted pot or pills or hallucinogens went to him. I was beginning to get just a little worried because he was not as careful about it as he had once been. Its not good for too many people to know, but he was making pretty good money and he always had plenty of buzz. He bought a scale to keep in his room and now he was weighing the drugs out himself. He had become a full fledged dealer and people were getting more and more demanding of him. I was really glad summer was coming because school had just become to dangerous. Carrie and I had completely cemented our relationship and everyone was sure we would get married after school. Marriage wasn’t in my immediate plans because everything would have to wait until Ken and I cruised across Rt. 66 and documented the journey. Maybe then I would send for Carrie. She knew this and was not happy about it, but she also knew Ken and I had planned this long before we started going out. For now we would enjoy the summer baking our bodies in the sun at the beach, water skiing, swimming, and just cruising the Long Island Sound by day, and partying our asses off at night. Cavalieri’s slowed down for me as well because the managers son worked there part time in the summer so my days got cut. It didn’t bother me too much, of course I had less money, but I had more playtime.
Carrie and I had gotten very serious and I felt like she was the love of my life. So funny that someone who has been a female friend for years suddenly becomes the most important part of your life and you begin to make your plans around them. But that was exactly what I did. We tripped together, went to concerts and movies either high from pills or so stoned we sometimes forgot where we were. I had become a cooks assistant and head suds buster at Cavalieri’s. This was promising to be the best summer ever, and it was just about to begin. Still, I was looking forward to going to work on this warm spring evening if only to get away from the chaos of daily life. At Cavaliers I was in a separate world which had a total different set of characters that somehow seemed somewhat refreshing. I had become a central figure in the restaurant and had achieved the enlightened feat of reaching a new plane of visiting a parallel universe. It was a culinary Mecca which absorbed my inner spirit and astral projected me to another world.
I had learned quite a bit at Cavalieri’s, Jimmy had sort of taken me under his wing and shown me his paternal side. He had become my sensei, my benefactor of cooking. Even Andre had begun teaching me although I suspected his motives were more about getting me to do his work. But I had become the kitchen protégé in line to one day have dominion of my very own kitchen. All the basics plus some tricks on soups and sauces. The more he taught the more I absorbed. I became a gastronomic sponge soaking up the “tricks of the trade”. I was learning as I was earning.
When I walked up to the back door of the kitchen I was surprised to find it locked. I peered in the grease smeared window but it appeared all the lights were off. I double checked my watch then looked to the parking lot. Jimmies car was parked in front with a few other cars so I walked around to the front. Fuck man I hope Jense isn’t gonna yell at me again for using the front door but what else was I to do? I opened the door and what I saw was rather perplexing. Across the dining room at the bar sat Jimmy, Andre, Didier, and even Rod the bus boy all getting served by the bartender John. I walked up and noticed an almost deathly glumness in the room and on their collective faces. “Hey, whats up? The back door is locked.” Jimmy broke the ominous silence and said “Zeet down JD. We gots some bad news today. Johnny, give JD a cervesa .” My happiness was rapidly being replaced with worry as John poured me a cold beer. It was Didier who spoke up next. “Jense and Laura have run off with all the restaurant’s money. They broke into the safe, took all the cash, emptied the cash registers and disappeared.” I felt my face turn a whiter shade of pale. “WHAT??” If I told you I was stunned I would have been doing the emotion a terrible injustice. More accurately I was shocked, flabbergasted, bewildered, in a funk and totally blown away simultaneously. My entire world and every world within a hundred light years had been rocked! I looked intensely from face to face hoping one of them would reveal the fact that they had played a fabulous joke on me but none offered a scintilla of a smile. “Jeeeeesus fucking shit! When, what, how did, did you call the cops?” Didier being the manager took control again and explained everything as the news slowly seeped into my cerebellum. He had come into work this morning and found the front door open and the alarm shut off. The cash register was open, there was an empty bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne on the bar with two empty glasses. He ran to the office which was also wide open as was the safe door. He called the cops first, then Jense. Jenses wife said he left for work early and should be there by now. Didier started doing the arithmetic and called Laura whom he had expected of having an affair with Jense. The cops came and took away the champagne bottle and glasses but it was pretty obvious what has happened.
It was a lot to digest. So many things raced through my mind. “Wow! Laura and that fucking airhead asshole Jense? They took all the money? They took ALL the money? Wait, what does that mean?” “It means JD that we ain’t got no more restaurant. No mas trabajo amigo.” I looked at Jimmy with an empty confused stare. So that was it man. No more job. No more Laura. No more money coming in. No more Cavalieri’s. It was painful. Didier explained that the restaurant would have to withhold my paycheck until the investigation was over. The six of us sat at the bar and drank for hours until finally it was time for everyone to leave. We said good bye to each other, and Jimmy and I talked at his car for another 30 minutes as he assured me when he found another job he would call me. But I knew this was the last I would ever see of Jimmy, or any of the other people who had become such an integral part of my life. My restaurant family was getting divorced. Now they would all just be a speck in my memory bank. Feeling sad and somewhat broken I walked home. Actually I sort of stumbled home having consumed more than my share of the free flowing beer. The summer was barely beginning and Cavalieri’s was done, over! I stopped off on the way at Kens and scored some ludes to help me forget all the bullshit of the day.
When I got to Kens room he was flying high and slurring even worse than me. “Hey bro, what’s the matter? You look like you been crying or something. Here, take 2 of these.” Ken had handed me two white tablets that looked like huge aspirins. “Jesus shit man, what the fuck are these monsters?” I trusted Ken to the end so I downed the tabs without waiting for a reply, but still I was curious. “Those were morphine tabs bro, gonna kick your ass six ways to Sunday.” Artie crushes them and snorts em up his nose. Says it gets him way fucking high. I think he shoots them in his veins sometimes too, but fuck that man, none of that shit for us.” I was beginning to wonder how much he really meant that or of he was only trying to convince himself, but that shits for another time. “Hey man, fuckin’ Cavalieri’s closed. That chick Laura ran away with the dickhead floor manager and took all the fuckin’ money. They even downed some Dom Perignon before running off. Now I ain’t got no job. Sucks man!” Ken seemed shocked but had a hard time convincing his face to respond that way. Almost vacant. “Whoa! Holy Jesus fuck man! Oh you are really gonna need those fuckers tonight. Here, take some weed home too.” As always Ken knew what I needed and he lit up a bowl and handed me a small baggie of preamo weed. We puffed the weed in his chamber pipe and in the middle of talking I saw Ken nodding off and falling asleep. I couldn’t help but notice some fresh bruises on Kens arm and it made me sad. I snuck out of his house quiet as a mouse and walked home. I had no doubt his old man was beating him now. Man things were changing way too fast. But for now, I’ll just head home, smoke another bowl, and dig this new morphine high.
……………………………………PEACE

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When The Saint Comes Marching In

Don’t Pee On My Parade and Tell Me Its Rain
There’s a parade coming to my town Saturday and I don’t want to be the one to rain on anyones parade, but someone has to do it. So as they elected the Grand Marshall of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, I have elected my self the Grand Marshall of questioning what all the shenanigans are about. More importantly just who is this Patrick dude, why is he a saint, and why are we celebrating him anyway?
The Feast of Saint Patrick. Celebrated in many parts of the world, The UK, Canada, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and of course here in my county, America. Even more localized the parade in my town of Nutley New Jersey will be this Saturday, because that’s the only day the bagpipers had open. Apparently here in America there is a shortage of men in skirts squeezing a bag with various pipe sticking out of it that makes haunting sounding music. New York City has the monopoly on pipers due to the huge going-ons in the city. It’s an official celebration here in New York every year beginning with the famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade. They love their parades in Manhattan, and more than that they love the party and revelry that is mistaken as a free pass to exercise extreme inebriation and tomfoolery. “Step out of the road my dear lady there’s a parade coming through.” Every Irish pub is filled to the rafters with either Irish or temporary Irish folk singing Irish tunes. Maybe I should say slurring Irish tunes, many in manbraces swaying to the country sounding tunes of Ireland. People come in buses, trains, and cars from all around the area to get drunk and share overplayed jokes like “More like Erin go Braless,“ or “Kiss me I’m drunk.” After the parade the city is packed with people who celebrate the day by excessive drinking which somehow translates into being Irish. The bars serve green beer which as I’ve heard it told, turns ones urine a pastel lime green. But allow me to back up a little and investigate why March 17th became such a decadent celebration here.
Patrick is the patron saint, or heavens advocate, for the Republic of Ireland. He lived from AD 385-461 and passed away on March 17th. That explains some of the heavy drinking and carousing and basic mayhem surrounding this day as it’s a ginourmous multi-country funeral repast. If you’ve ever been to an Irish funeral you know what I mean. When a friend or family member passes away we throw a party and instead of sitting around crying we have copious amounts of raisin‘ the glass. I guess it a kind of last hurrah and we get drunk, sing songs, stuff our gullets with food, and remember all the great times we had with the deceased. Clearly Patrick is more than just a passing acquaintance because the party returns year after year. What makes him so special?
Not much is known about this mysterious saint, but from what I was able to find out he was born a Deacons son in an area once known as the Romano-British culture and not in Ireland at all. This has led to all kinds of confusion, the Romans claiming he is Italian, and the United Kingdom assuring he was a Brit. Whatever! He was kidnapped by some Irish raiders and held prisoner. While in prison God talked to him and told him to escape and go back to his home which he did. There he became a bishop. As a Bishop he went back to Ireland, moving diagonally as Bishops do, and was told by God this time to help convert the Irish into Catholicism. In a vision he was asked to be the “Voice of the Irish”.
So it was that Patrick headed into Ireland and began what today would be called “Bishop Patrick’s Catholic Revival,” He set about baptizing, ordaining, and basically teaching the doctrines of Christianity to the Irish people. One particular lesson was the teaching of the Holy Trinity and its rumored he reached down and plucked a three leaf clover as a visual aid. So impressed were his students they embraced the shamrock as a national symbol and it remains synonymous with Ireland to this very day. The wearing of shamrocks on their clothes and patches strengthened the resolve of that symbol and long after Patrick was gone in 1798 Irish soldiers took it a step further and wore all green uniforms. That gave us the famous “wearing of the green” ritual. Patrick had become the icon of Ireland. One of the more dramatic claims of Patty was how he banned the snakes from Ireland. Truthfully, snakes would find it difficult to migrate there so its true there are no indigenous snakes, so methinks it was a metaphor for evil assholes. Anyway, according to Eugene O’Neil, St. Patrick tossed all the snakes of Ireland into the Atlantic Ocean where they swam across to New York an became cops… What? It could happen!
Here in America along with the drinking and parade we also celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner. This I find amusing because there is not a huge following of this meal in Ireland. It’s about as Irish as apple pie. You will however find it very often in a New England Boiled Dinner. I believe it is jut a small touch of confusion. Ireland is largely a farming and herding country. That means hours and hours in the fields working hard. The women folk worked even harder, taking care of all the chores around the house as well as some of the farming or herding tasks. They were responsible to have food on the table at the end of the day and like many hard working women completed it by making a slow cooked stew or boiled meal. Dinner was created in a one pot vessel on a stove. One pot meal. A casserole. The meat in first, later the potatoes, then the carrots, and so on. Like Goulash, Tagine, Duchie, Bourguignon, Cachupa, and tons of cultural stew dishes were born this way. Corning, or curing was popularized during the industrial revolution but even before that meats had to be preserved somehow on the long boat trips across the Atlantic to America. So early colonist in America likely ate a lot of cured and pickled foods. A more traditional Irish dinner would include seafood like prawns and salmon around the area of Dublin Bay, or lamb with potatoes and sausage in the farmlands. I imagine Patrick himself would get a kick out of watching us celebrate being Irish by drinking green beer and eating corned beef and cabbage. I’m relatively certain he would more likely have some advice for us along the lines of kiss my Irish ass but we party the way we party.
Or maybe he would prefer the wise Irish advice I got from my Mum and Dad. My dear old Dad always told me to celebrates it with an Irish seven course meal. A six pack of Guinness and a baked potato. My Mum told me the Irish are exceptionally good at one of two things, loving or fighting. At six foot four you might think I would be a good fighter, but alas I am not. But lover? Many would be green with envy but that’s a horse of a different color!…………………PEACE

Hey Babe, Take A Wok On The Wild Side

My Wok Down Memory Lane
True enough you have to crawl before you can wok. I was reminiscing with my daughter about some of her toddler escapades and through the myriad of cobwebs of the memory banks crawled the story of my first wok. That and the glass bottle of sesame oil she found. The wok is a remarkably versatile piece of kitchen equipment and now I use it with an above novice status. But before I could Wok on the wild side, both my daughter and I had to crawl.
My kitchen has always been a sort of laboratory for me. It’s where I have created many culinary delights that bordered on creations born of divine intervention. Frankenstein’s monster was created in a lab. Thousand of real creations came out of labs a well, like Edison’s lab, Curies lab, Pastures lab, and Hoffman’s lab. Okay Hoffman created LSD and maybe shouldn’t be in with the other labs, but it was still a creation. Actually many creations when I think back on some hallucinations, but that’s for a different blog entirely. But back to my lab. So I love to experiment and I encourage anyone who loves to cook or bake to widen their horizons and always be willing to try new equipment, techniques, and food products. So back in the 80’s when the western world was finally figuring out what those huge metal cooking bowls in Chinese restaurants were, woks became all the rage.
I did what I always do when experimenting. The very first thing I did was intensive research so I would understand what a wok is, and how I could best put it to use. The wok is a cooking vessel from China and has way more uses than I had thought. Not just stir frying, but one can pan fry, deep fry, boil, poach, stew, and sear. The gifted eastern chef can also braise, roast, and even smoke food in a wok. But my intended use was to stir fry like a “real” Asian cook. I bought all the proper utensils, and various oils and seasoned my wok for one week before even attempting to make anything. Then I began to stir fry and I turned into a stir fry maniac. I stir fried everything, everyday for about a month. I went into my wokking with my trademark well informed reckless abandon. It was ideal for me as I had a gas stove and could regulate the heat pretty well. It was also very efficient, using the sole vessel to create entire entrees worthy of an aspiring chef. I was going to cooking school at the time and was the envy of my classmates. I lived off campus because I had a wife and a two year old at the time.
I had a special place where I kept all my wok experience enhancing accoutrements. In a cabinet along the floor I had my bottle of sesame oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, soy sauce, tamari sauce, fish sauce (that took some getting used to) oyster sauce, hoisen sauce and a slew of flavor agents like Sirachi sauce. Yep, thats right. I used Sirachi BEFORE it was a thing! I was having the time of my life preparing all sorts of dishes. I was also an involved father so my daughter spent much of her time with me in the kitchen. Crawling around, pulling on my leg, attempting to engage me in the never ending game of peek a boo, climbing in and out of the cabinetts, and all the usual practices of a toddler times two. Time two because she is a true Gemini and as fast and adventurous an two kids. On one particular day her attempts to make me chase after her were on the extreme side. I was making some spicy shrimp stir fry which cooks exceptionally fast. It became eerily quiet which unless its nap time is very rarely a good thing. Thinking she had snuck out into the living room I tuned off the stove and went in search of my rebel baby. Not under the table, not behind the couch. I listened carefully to ee if her constant state of energy would betray her hiding spot. The silence ended its frightening reign with impunity and evolved into an even more frightening stage. The loud crash and sound of breaking glass followed by a shriek. That shriek was the familiar cry of my little girl calling DDDaaaadddddy!!!! Into the kitchen at lightning bolt speed. I turned the corner into the kitchen the sight made me question my parenting skills. My baby girl on her hands and knees surrounded by broken glass and some dark brown liquid. With my rapid surefire detection skills I ascertained immediately that it wasn’t blood. But what the Hell is it? My keen detective skills immediately focused on the olfactory glands for confirmation. Sesame! My baby girl was kneeling in a puddle of viscous dark brown sesame oil.
Of course I quickly scooped her up to avoid the broken glass and held her tight as some of the strong scented oil jogged own her legs and jumped onto my jeans leaving a noticeable stain. I changed my sweet little explorer and then turned my attention to the mess in my kitchen. I was able to remove the glass and most of the oil but a very faint remnant of oil had settled in the tile floor and created an almost invisible community that would give off its treasured sesame smell for weeks to come. That sweet stench of a community thrived and serve as a reminder to me for the rest of my parenting while cooking regime. My wife commented daily that our kitchen smelled like a Chinese restaurant and I secretly smiled a smile of pride because my food had also taken on the status of being compared to restaurant food.
To this day my daughter calls me whenever the smell of sesame make an appearance near her and it’s a story we laugh about constantly. I have since become very prolific in wok cooking, both Asian an American style dishes and although as durable as a wok is, its not the same wok. I highly recommend cooking and experimenting with woks, I use it as a deep fryer, making sides like rissole potatoes, and lately sauté veggies and chicken or appropriate protein, a sauce of my choosing and pasta. Let me tell you, stir-fried or sautéed angel hair pasta from the wok is a tasty and versatile entrée. Explore, try new things, break rules, and constantly challenge yourself. Do yourself a favor and if you don‘t own one, go out and buy one. Then you too can Take a wok on the wild side…………PEACE

Its Who I Am, Not What I AM!

Zen and the Art of Cupcake Making

I’m just a man who makes cupcakes. That’s my job, it’s what I do. Everyday I set out on a quest to achieve cupcake Nirvana. I begin my quest by assembling an assortment of biodegradable food products in an attempt to get them to form an allegiance with a single goal in mind. To reach out and grab your taste buds by the hand, take them out to the dance floor and have them spinning and tapping into a deliciously satisfying frenzy of a Tango that leaves you with a blissful smile and lasting memory. No small undertaking is this. I enter into this task every day with enthusiasm and optimistic energy .It’s a responsibility we take very serious at Jarets Stuffed Cupcakes. Each and every day we combine a variety of foods that if left on their own would be relatively insignificant and transform them into 1,000+ taste bud pleasing treats. That’s over 1,000 blissful smiles produced daily. We make vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, lemon, coconut, and peanut butter cupcakes. We take flours and flavors and mix them with other organic foods like eggs and milk, and lay them carefully in a bed of paper inside a special cupcake pan. We subject these mixtures to extreme heat for the perfect amount of clicks of the clock and they rise to the occasion. Exposing them for the proper time is like getting the perfect tan at the beach but avoiding a painful sunburn. Once the cupcake has achieved its full and even body tan we cool them down and give them a rest. Fully cooled the time has arrived for them to be injected with another flavor concoction designed to unite with the chosen cake and create an even more complex structure of flavors. It might be a mousse or custard, a jam or jelly, or any number of creative and innovative treats. One cupcake actually gets a hand chopped portion of apple pie, crust and all. But we’re not finished yet, as if that weren’t enough we then top it off with something sweet that compliments the final product. “Your hair looks great today cupcake, and you haven’t changed a bit since the good old mixing bowl days.” “Thanks for the compliment icing, now lets go take some taste buds on the dance floor and cut the rug!” At this point the cupcake has become a tower of deliciously harmonized flavors clamoring to complete the task of brining your taste buds into perfect balance with the universe. That’s what this unassuming cupcake maker does. I create astral symmetry using every ounce of culinary training I’ve experienced. I’m The Existential Baker who balances the universe by making pleasurable sweet treats. I make cupcakes.
But The Existential Baker is just a name and making cupcakes is just job, it describes what I do. It doesn’t define me. It does give me a few titles though. I’m a chef, a baker, a business owner. I’m also a hippie, a rock and roller, a writer, a culinary poet and an existentialist. We go to great lengths to try and identify categories to stick each other in. The butcher the baker the candlestick maker. It’s what we’ve been taught since we were young and it just gets more complicated as we age. In school we were nerds, jocks, hippies, greasers, stoners, or just plain losers. In the workplace we were grunts, stockers, sweepers, laborers, supervisors, managers or bosses. That wasn’t enough so we created sub-categories and we get downright obnoxious at times. She’s a slut and he’s a ladies man. He’s an aggressive go getter and she’s a bitch. Pretty one sided for a double standard. We try to compartmentalize each other based on opinions or beliefs. Are you a liberal or a conservative? God fearing or Atheist? Winner or loser? Rich or poor? Gay or Straight? Male or Female? Every one of those categories have one common denominator. They can all fit into the category of human being. All too often we work so hard to find our differences we forget how similar we are. We focus so much energy on what sets us apart that we forget how alike we are. For some people its an attempt to somehow make themselves feel superior. That seems rather insecure to me. In reality we are living breathing snowflakes. Not any one of us is an exact duplicate of any other living snowflake. We all have special points that make us unique and beautiful. When snowflakes co-operate and band together they create beautiful landscapes, blankets of slick snow banks that thrill many a skier, or even a powerful storm, but when they fight each other they melt and become droplets of water destined to become lost in a river or sea. Snowflakes are innately beautiful in part because a snowflake by nature is an existentialist. Without question or complaint they are constantly working together and helping each other out with total disregard of compensation. We could learn so much if we paid more attention to all the other snowflakes. I believe if I could learn how to make cupcakes as incredible as snowflakes I could be a cupcake deity. But then I would be put into another category and we sure do have enough of those.
The Existential Baker is just a name, it’s what I do. But now, as soon as the first person read a post of mine I was transformed into an existentialist philosophical cupcake making hippie hipster business owning blogger. How many of us are out there?…Never underestimate the power of a cupcake. Peace

So You Want Your Just Desserts?

www.stuffedcupcakes.comCulinary Karma

I started out my culinary adventures busting suds for a restaurant in my hometown, and from there the homicidal chef taught me to make salads and finally hot foods. An odd assortment of strange characters assured me this was the world for me. No running off to join the circus for this young lad, my destiny was to be found in the freakish family which would be come to be known to me as “Restaurant People.” Maniacal chefs, egotistic managers, sexy waitresses, drug dealing bus boys, and the legion of pot washing, shrimp peeling, meatball rolling minions of the back of the house. The rest as they say is history. Once I realized I had taken it a far as I could on my own I needed to up my game. A friend suggested I go to the CIA. When I told them I had no interest in become a kitchen spy they informed my naïve ass that I should enroll at the Culinary Institute of America. So I trotted off to cooking school for two years of studying under even more maniacal chefs who probably should never be allowed to use knives outside of the school. But what an education! I was at the top culinary university in the nation, learning the dynamics, science, and art of cooking and culinary management. After years of working for chefs with vein bulging foreheads that seemed in a constant state of sublime irritation, and two years of continuing that line of abuse at school I was ready for the real world of foodservice.
The time had come for me to fine tune the skills and knowledge I had acquired and I wanted to go straight to the top. That’s how I ended up with my first position as a line cook at Windows on the World way up on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center in NYC. Look Ma, I’m on top of the world! The work was incredibly hard and the kitchen reached temperatures approaching the sunny side of hell. I worked my proverbial ass off and could be seen ordering a new one from the ass store at least once a week.
But it wasn’t all bad, not by a long shot. Maybe it was because of the high level of the ass busting and the pressure of getting over a thousand meals served in 4 hours or maybe just experiencing the same culinary drudgery as all the other cooks but a camaraderie developed that rivals the most prestigious of fraternities. The other cooks have you covered and would give the chef coat off their backs if it wasn’t so sweat soaked. And I would do the same for them. It was a tight nit family of sweaty hard working aspiring chefs. The line, the area of cooks stations with stove tops, topped out at about 800 degrees with eight ranges blasting constant heat. It was so hot that a cold beer clause was written into the union contract. True story. We each got two cold beers at the end of service. If you did screw up there was a punishment that was above and beyond the realm of mere cruel and unusual. You got sent to “The Cold Kitchen.” The cold kitchen sucked because it was a constant, repetitive everlasting list of tedious tasks designed to send one on an asylum train. Perhaps three and a half hours of placing small pieces of chicken and scallions on skewers followed by the slicing and breading 5 cases of zucchini. It was the icy version of hell and just as feared. None of us enjoyed being sent there. We loved the high pressure of sauté or grilling and despised time in the cold kitchen.
Either way during the two years working at Windows I learned more than I would ever learn anywhere and it set me on a course which would eventually find me as an executive chef, complete with high stress level and mandatory vein popping forehead. I was certain I was headed for one of the top chef positions in the city, or at least a real good ‘B‘ level chef job. I was an excellent saucier and that was my specialty. Back then like everyone else I knew everything. Now I am older, not much wiser, and instead of the top of the world cheffing on a hot line I have become a baker. Making cupcakes day after day, specializing in cold food. I am not complaining, jut pointing out the irony. Not quite as tedious as the dreaded cold kitchen but still a kind of Karmic revenge. Yes Karmic revenge served to me as it should be, COLD!. That’s right, revenge is a dish absolutely best served cold, after you’ve had time to make your plans. But I did misspeak when I said karmic revenge because there is no such thing as revenge in Karma and I have come to love baking cupcakes.
Revenge is a human emotion. But I did want to somehow incorporate Karma in my cupcakes so I took a closer look at just what Karma is. Its something many people say they believe in. I believe in Karma but I feel it has gotten a bad rap these days. Many people believe Karma to be the universe exacting revenge, but revenge in and of itself is a negative. Karma focuses on the positive. I hear people say things like “ There can’t be any true karma because bad people get away with shit and good people get shit on.” That has nothing to do with Karma guys, that’s life. Karma isn’t payback for doing wrong or reward for doing right. Doing the right thing is its own reward and Karma is just the positive energy that goes along for the ride. The universe isn’t sitting there waiting to avenge people. That would go against everything that’s good about Karma. If you choose to do the right thing because you want good Karma to reward you don’t hold your breath because Karma doesn’t work on demand. When something bad happens don’t wish bad Karma on the person that screwed you because your just festering negative energy. Let the universe take care of things. You may not see it but lack of Karma will surround negative acts with negative energy. Concentrate on keeping your life positive. Distance yourself from negative people and embrace positive people. Walk away from negative energy and walk head first into the positive. No one should need a religion to tell them how to live the best life, the “Golden Rule” is just common sense. I’m not saying abandon your religion and stop the rituals, by all means if that’s a positive action for you embrace it. Take all the positive vibrations your religion grants you. But don’t rely only on your religion to tell you how to treat others, that’s your responsibility. When my 9 month old daughter was very sick and so very helpless a quote I heard has always resonated with me. “A person is never so tall as when he bends to help a child.” That’s Karma!
I have a deep love of rock and roll and that is reflected in many of the cupcakes I have engineered at Jarets Stuffed Cupcakes. (stuffedcupcakes.com if you want to take a peek) . When I saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show way too many years ago it changed my life. I evolved politically and philosophically along with them and other rock stars and that’s where I got my interest in Eastern religions and concepts like Karma. To this day I embrace the many lessons I learned from “Eastern Philosophies” I live a positive life and surround myself with positive people. I don’t fight negative people I avoid them. They bring nothing to the table. I truly believe the positive I put into my baking remains there until consumed, at which time its absorbed by the one enjoying it. One of my best selling cupcakes is inspired by both Karma and my favorite Beatle, John Lennon. We call it “Instant Carma” the “C” intentional as a play on words. it’s a vanilla cupcake with an intense caramel mousse, topped of with vanilla and praline icing. I know, I know, shameless plug, but hey….Instant Carma’s gonna get you, gonna knock you off your feet.
Plug aside, embrace Karma, don’t expect it to exact revenge for you. Stay positive, lend a hand, pay it forward, live your best life, and spread the love……PEACE

My Brush With Greatness

My Brush Wiyh Greatness

For those who remember Harry Chapin and Taxi. I was a supermarket worker in the town Harry lived and shopped in and saw him on many occassions. On very busy days we got called up front to bag groceries and he was in my line. As he walked past I lost me head and said rather loud, “Harry…..keep the change” as it was in the song. Humble and nice man he was he laughed, shook my hand and said, “Good one kid.”

No Matter How You Slice It

Looking Through a Glass Onion

The misunderstood onion is the multiple personality disorder victim of the culinary universe. Is it yellow, red, or white? Spanish, pearl, or cocktail? One minute a flavor enhancer and then quickly a breath altering son of a bitch. Sometimes a taste bud joy bringer and oft times a tear jerker this mood changing bulbous veggie staple is a well known in kitchens throughout the world. People are often compared to these versatile ever popular alliums. “He is a complicated Person, with as many layers as an onion.” Indeed concentric in nature the royal onion is as complicated as a vegetable can be. “An onion a day keeps everyone away” That man was so ugly he could make an onion cry.” “ A cat has nine lives but an onion has seven skins.“ “An onion by any other name will never be a rose.” Okay, I made that last one up but you dig what I‘m saying.
Ranging in size from tiny pearls to giant softballs the onion can in fact be peeled one layer after another. A staple in nearly every culture despite having an essence so peculiarly strong and venomous it rivals the skunks ability to cause one to pinch their nose shut tight. It can turn ones breath into a date breaking whiff of “please don’t call me ever again.” Alfalfa was turned away by Darla on occasions when he had recently indulged in scallion chewing. It has a unique ability to coax salty droplets of liquid from our tear ducts which are normally saved for more emotional occurrences. Only the slightest provocation of cutlery piercing its flesh brings teardrops scampering down our cheeks in a sometimes uncontrollable frenzy. This audacious vegetable permeates our olfactory senses in an all out assault that challenges the garlic’s long standing reign as king of tasty but offensive vegetables.
The reason these bulbous alliums make tears come to our eyes is because of a chemical reaction that is much too scientific for me to memorize. Suffice to say the onion contains amino acids in the sulfur family that gets released into the air. These guilty gasses travel up into the air and rub their irritants into our eyeballs prompting the tear ducts to come to our aid and flush out the acrid acid with a tear or two. I have heard many methods that “really work”. Keeping your mouth open will indeed work for a while because you will inhale the noxious fumes into your lungs via your oral cavity, but eventually so much gas will enter the atmosphere you will still tear up and have onion breath on top of it. Other methods such as running water, cutting near a flame or on the back burner of a stove produce even less successful results. Keeping something in your mouth is the same principle of an open mouth but for the less disciplined of us. The only real advice I have on this is to keep the onion as cold as possible or keep a small fan blowing away the fumes as you slice, dice, mince, or chop.
Once past the tear inducing cut up stage the onion performs its intended task, the enhancement of flavor to almost any dish. In Cajun cuisine they call the onion and its often present partners peppers and celery the Holy Trinity of cooking. It is the basis of nearly every soup an stew in the world, it adds umpf to pilaf, zing to zucchini and pop to popcorn shrimp. Its in sauces and sides, dressings and dinner entrees, salads. In appetizers and entrees, starches and sides, veggies and meat combos. Fried in rings or just bloomin it makes solo appearances and it even has a starring role in cocktails. Yes the onion has a many faceted personality and it brings tremendous flavor enhancement to just about any dish. With a presence so pronounced in the culinary world you may think it deserves a birthday celebration all its own. Only problem is, we have no idea exactly when that would be.
Some botanists say it was born in Iran and Pakistan, others argue it is originally from Central America, but the omnipotent onion seems to have been around forever. Many anthropologists believe it was used by our cave dwelling ancestors, so a birthday would be next to impossible. They have seen evidence of onions in ancient Egypt where they believed it potent aroma could bring the dead back to life. Perhaps until the first unfortunates soul tried shredding the much more aggressive horseradish which may very well have the ability to awaken the non living. The onion made its way into Bible passages as well. The book of Numbers has the Israelite children lamenting of a diet filled with leeks and onions as they traveled the desert. The Romans, Greeks, and Indians all recognized the healing power of the vitamin rich veggie. The Olympians of ancient Greece fortified themselves with onions before their grueling events. Even the Middle Ages showered glory on these globes of culinary prominence. The three main foodstuffs of that era were cabbage, beans, and onions. Sounds more like weapons of mass stinkation. The magnificent onion was believed to have incredible medicinal properties curing everything from mouth sores to insomnia. I can only assume the happy sleeper was in bed alone! These special kitchen necessities were even taken on board the Mayflower, adding a special flavor enjoyment to the first Thanksgiving. It was one of the very first botanical treasures planted by the pilgrims on American soil.
Yet with all of this, still no mention of a birthday celebration for the used and abused reigning king of culinary staple foods. This then has become my New Years resolution for 2013. I will do everything in my power to raise awareness of the injustice we have bestowed upon this essential aid in recipes around the world So I am asking you to join me in wishing the fabulous culinary workhorse, this noxious bulb, this fortune bringing, tear coaxing stench maker of the vegetable kingdom a very happy birthday the very second after the ball drops in NYC. Don’t cry for me Argentina, just slice me a few of those birthday onions to have with my champagne. Happy Birthday you many layered edible gem you……PEACE

The Next Great Cupcake

Kiss Me, I’m a Cupcake
It was once said that a cupcake poets work is never done. Okay so it was me that said it, but its not without some inkling of truth. No sooner has the satisfied sweet treats of Valentines specials been fully consumed when the question comes. “What’s up for St. Patrick’s day chef?” After a few hyper-ventilating breaths, a fair amount of Pinot Noir, and a meditative clearing of the creative chasm in my head I am ready. A very successful array of valentine treats have been digested by my cupcake foodies and now I look towards what will be coming up in the next few weeks here.
I know, I know, its not until March 17th, but around here in Jersey the parade celebrations start early. Apparently its hard to engage a good bagpipe band around St. Patty’s day because everyone needs one in their town parade. Due to the scarcity of good pipers the demand is high and it has become necessary to hire the bands on alternative Saturdays in different towns. I call bullshit! Sounds to me its all about having a four weekend celebration of partying in various towns in the area. Regardless, I take on my normal challenge of coming up with something special for the extended celebration as serious as the consumers of corned beef and green beer take theirs. So today I begin working on my 2013 St. Patrick Day Cupcake.
To begin with I will remind you of our regular specials which have become standard fare due to popularity. We presently have four cupcakes that will be making cameo appearances over the next few weeks. “The Screaming Banshee, a chocolate Guinness cupcake with whisky custard and whipped cream topping (my fave), “The Danny Boy” , an Irish cream vanilla cupcake with Irish cream custardf an whipped cream, “The Shamrock and Roll,” chocolate cupcake with clover honey whiskey custard and cream cheese icing. And “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” vanilla cupcake with oatmeal cookie bottom orange mousse an vanilla icing. Those are the four horseman of St. Patrick’s treats. But as a cupcake engineer its my responsibility to have something more 2013-ish.
Creating the proper cupcake isn’t done in one sitting. It begins with a concept and continues as a work in progress. First the working title. This year I want to pay homage to the great Irish population of Boston. Loud and Proud the Bostonian Irish community have a strong voice in pop culture, and our cupcakes are largely inspired by pop culture, especially the music. So the name. House of Pain is a terrible name for a cupcake as is Dropkick Murphy’s. The dropkicks do however have one song that I absolutely love! Ergo, my working title is “Shipping Off To Boston”. The finished product hasn’t been determined yet but to reflect this wonderful communities culture the cupcake will be filled with Indian Pudding, a staple at Boston’s most famous restaurants. Of course this too can change, but for now it sounds really promising to me. It sounds so damn good it makes me wanna…..Jump Around, jump up, jump up, and get down! Stay tuned….PEACE

Kitchen Burnout

If You Can’t Stand The Heat

Restaurant life is a love story. Right from the start it shoots its arrow and takes you under it’s spell. It casts a love Jones on you that grabs you by both cheeks. Once its in your blood a life sentence without parole begins. Possible time off for regeneration if you stay at it too long. I began my journey into the world of restaurants at the not so tender age of 14. I busted suds, cut lettuce, plated desserts, peeled shrimp, rolled meatballs, and did all the chefs culinary biding no matter what the request. I worked my way up the kitchen ranks and was feeling great. Then I went and hit a plateau. I was a line cook and it seemed that was as far as I would get. Along with a friend one night after an evening of substantial alcohol consumption we went to a diner. Behind the grill were two old relics of cooks, like bald 80 somethings, cooks frying eggs and flipping burgers. I turned to my friend and said, “Shit man look at those dudes. I don’t wanna be flipping no damn eggs when I get that old.” My friend suggested cooking school. Of course! So off to the CIA I went to get a culinary education. I received an associates degree in culinary arts and I secured a job at Windows on the World. But there I was still just a line cook. I learned a helluva lot there, more even than I did at school, and it opened quite a few doors for other jobs. I worked in 2 or 3 other restaurants and continued to learn, mostly through screaming chefs an blubbering angry managers. I learned to sauté, roast, some butchering, sauces, and a ton of culinary “tricks” but was still just a line cook. An experienced one in great restaurants , but I still hadn’t made the jump towards being The Chef.
So I moved back to my hometown on Long Island and took a job an hour away as a sous chef. Now I was moving up and things were getting better. Soon I was in charge of the operation of a very big conference center in the famed “Gold Coast” of Long Island. A huge mansion that sat on 55 acres of beautiful land in Glen Cove Long Island. The conference Center housed about 400 people in an old Pratt mansion, quite possibly one written about in “The Great Gatsby”. I answered directly to the chef who saw very little actual kitchen time. We did weddings and ceremonies on the weekends. I worked 6 days a week, from one in the afternoon until ten at night. The kitchen staff then went out to party. No cell phones, no idea where friends may be by then so we all just kind of stuck together. Party we did! Gallons of beer, pounds of weed, and whatever “special enhancers” came around. We worked really hard and we played even harder. Too hard. Most of us were just beginning to raise families and it was bad enough to miss family celebrations, but to stumble in at 3AM half in the bag an wake up late in the morning with hangovers took its toll. Our marriages broke apart and we spiraled out of control. Basically we were all a mess, but we had each other. Eventually that faded too, as cooks took different paths on their careers. Being a chef can be a seriously burnt out profession, and almost every chef I know has left the business at some point or another due to burn out. Most returned but a few casualties managed to switch careers, or go the way of asshole managers. I was burning out quickly because one of the lures of restaurant life is constant party and fun times. Fun times never seem to last and I had to get out. I was beginning to HATE the industry I had fallen so deeply in love with. I met up with some old school friends who got me a job in construction.
Me, in construction? I sucked at building Lego structures. But this offered me a 9 to 5 life with weekends and holidays off. I was in career heaven. Coffee breaks, lunch hours, a few beers after work, I felt almost human. The trade off? I had to perform mundane tasks like putting together hundreds of clothes racks, and lining the entire parameter of Filenes Basement store with floor boards. It didn’t take long to hate the monotony of the work but I didn’t want to go back to restaurants. Service time in a restaurant is an intense drama that unfolds different each night. Wait staff yelling at cooks, cooks screaming at wait staff. A total vortex of chaotic high pressure.
I continued my patch of escapism and hammered, screwed, tiled and did a plethora of things I had neither the proper talent nor the slightest desire to accomplish. I was miserable I thought, but not as miserable as I was in a kitchen. Yet in some bizarre way I kind of missed restaurant life. I did stay in touch with people working the food industry and one good friend in particular understood what I was going through. She accused me of being in denial, of wanting to go back to working the high pressure world of cooking. I of course told her she was crazy and I had no intention of going back. She invited me to a faux opening of her uncles restaurant. In a faux opening the guests are all family and friends and the cost of the meal is a full critique of service and food. It’s used by many restaurants to get some of the kinks out before opening to the public. She asked her uncle to sit us at a table as close to the kitchen as possible. He put us right next to the kitchen doors where I could hear the ceramic clanging of dishes, the whirling machine sound from the dishwasher, the near tears plea’s and the multi lingual cursing that is the noise and clamor of service time in the kitchen. Ordering 2 beef, 3 chicken, picking up table 5, where is my chicken, all the familiar sights and sounds I had grown up around.
Like the song of the sirens in Ulysses the ceramic clank of plates sang out to me bidding me to return. Seeing the intensity of action just inside those two way kitchen doors screamed out ‘I miss you”. I noticed how those doors always worked flawlessly, in on one side out on the other and stood in stark contrast to the juggling of foods and emotions inside. How the wait staff would be screaming profanities and shouting poisonous darts of anger in the kitchen, then transform instantly into a composed happy waiter driven to make the diners experience as content as possible in the hopes they will return the favor in an over 15% tip. That e transformation occurred in the kitchen doorway, like a magic portal between heaven and hell. Then as the greasepaint is to an actor, all these sights, sounds, and memories whirled around tugging my emotions and I truly did miss that shit.
That was it. all she wrote! The next morning I went straight to the classified ads and began looking for a job in a restaurant. I admit, part of it was because I was sure it was the one thing I was really good at, but I also know that it was my first true love and I just could not live without it. Despite all the bullshit, the horrible epochs of time in which I was completely and utterly debased, despite the long hours, weekends of working and missed family holidays, I was gonna stick with my love. I wanted back with my ex and my ex welcome me back with open arms. A chef position was open at a Cajun restaurant so I studied up, consumed a shot (or two) of vodka, put on some nice clothe and laid on my charm and charisma. I landed the position. It only lasted for six months which was okay cuz I’m not a Cajun cook but it was all I needed to get back into the field. The rest as they say, is history……..PEACE