Sunday, December 18, 2005


Growing up, my family wasn’t much for wearing their emotions on their sleeves. We were a pretty tight knit group – and still are – but relied more on the knowledge that we loved each other rather than saying it at every possible opportunity. Not a very sappy bunch, my family… We had our traditions though… Every Christmas we would get up at the same time, go downstairs at the same time, take turns opening presents in the same way, and even have Christmas dinner with the same family every year… still do, as a matter of fact…
One of the traditions I was never fond of as a kid though, was the distribution of the family Stollen. For those of you who don’t know, Stollen is a German sweet bread (awesome with butter, and even better when it’s sitting next to a heaping plate of eggs and scrapple) that is traditionally made over the Christmas holidays. Love the Stollen, but as soon as I was old enough, I was charged with giving them out to our friends, teachers, bus drivers, babysitters, and what seemed like everyone else we knew. Not a pleasant chore really, because I was subject to countless kisses on the cheek from grey-haired relatives, snickers from my classmates as enormous breads were deposited on teacher’s desks, and the occasional wedgie after getting a hug from my middle school bus driver.
Every year I would hear the same stories coming out of the kitchen as my mother kneaded loaf after loaf… “my mother used to make 75 of these every year, and her mother would make 100 at a time…”
In the past few years, she hasn’t made as many as she used to, just enough to keep the family satisfied, and a few extra for the people who come looking for a fix every year… and every year my sisters and I talk about someone taking over the tradition and spending a day making them, but we never really got around to it. This year my lovely wife (who has been hopelessly addicted to Stollen since their first meeting) decided it was time for someone to take over, and spent a day with my mother just making breads. I watched mostly, but couldn’t help steering the kids into the kitchen every once in a while so I could watch the process I’ve seen every year of my life. Again, I heard all of the same stories, listened to the two of them laugh about the bus driver, watched the batches – three Stollen at a time – rest on the pans before they went into the oven, and smelled the yeast, fresh crust and hints of caramelized sugar that’s pure Christmas for me. All day they lingered in the kitchen, baking and talking about our families – Sam and Lily, my sisters, grandparents, cousins, in-laws – the whole lot of them…
… and for the first time, I got it. All these years, my normally stoic German mother wasn’t really giving out Stollen just to torture me or wish our friends a happy holiday. All this time she was giving the best holiday wish she had… thank you for watching over my children, for protecting and teaching them, for keeping them safe from harm and for being a friend.
So here I am with a family of my own, two children who have shown me what life and love are really about, and a wife who understands more than I do that the smallest things sometimes mean the most – and I can’t think of a better holiday tradition.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


There are moments, you know, that are frozen into memory. Some profound, some foolish, and some completely random. I remember my first kiss (and the first time I actually enjoyed one)the first time I met my wife, first beer, first complete and utter humiliation, first heartache... swim meets, car crashes, dinners, mistakes... all mesh into one big memory soup.
Anyway, I'm right in the middle of a swamp of work. I got into the weeds a few days ago, and I've yet to get out. I have so much food sitting around in so many different refrigerators & freezers, I spend every waking moment running through menus in my head... timing things out... if the pork goes in at 2:00 I need to make the napa slaw by 2:15 because I can clean ten pounds of chicken in 11 minutes so the 40 pound case will be done and I can get the breasts in the oven by 3:00, do the fruit till 3:25 and the flatbreads till 3:45, antipasto veggies broiled by 4:15... and on and on... Today I spent 14 hours like that, planning my next moves, revising by a minute or two in one direction or another. The problem is, I can't stop. I left work at 10:00 and thought - ok, gas station by five after, home by 10:15, food unloaded by 10:30, ask Sara about her day by 10:40, email & menus completed by 11:00, blog by 11:30, bed by...wake up at... its maddening.
This morning though, for a brief shining moment, I escaped. Up and in the shower by 6:15, out and dressed by 6:40, kids ready and downstairs by 6:55 - and I turn the espresso machine on so the boiler can heat up to about 203 degrees in the time it takes me to get breakfast and lunches ready... here it comes... almost ready to go, I start my morning meditation. Fresh roasted Black Cat blend Vienna roast beans from Intelligentsia in Chicago go from the hopper to the low speed gear reduction burr grinder, into the heated portafilter, lightly tamped, refilled and tamped with 30 pounds of pressure, portafilter snugged back into the grouphead, heated cup goes under and the vibration pump goes on... and this morning... perfect coffee karma. Godshot. Crema from the start, a little tiger striping in the drip, and it was perfect. For a moment I lost track of time and stared, sipped, admired, and left the house a little late. For the first time in days, I lost track of a few minutes, didn't adjust my schedule, and it was just what I needed. Finally quiet in my head, I'm good to go, refreshed, and ready to begin again... In the kitchen by 8:05, set-up by 8:30 soup by 9:05, oven on, beef cleaned by 9:20....
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