Entry 2

Entry 2

Entry 2
A weeklong electronic journal.
Dec. 17 2002 5:24 PM

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The BreadLine
The BreadLine
Working the mixer
Working the mixer
Dough in the mixer
Dough in the mixer

Last evening, I ate dinner with a friend at a venerable Washington restaurant. At the end of the meal I ordered an espresso, and after leaving to make it, the waiter returned to say, "I'm sorry. We've run out of espresso." My dinner companion may have been surprised that a restaurant could run out of coffee, but I wasn't. I arrived at the BreadLine at 4:45 this morning to make doughs for two of our holiday breads—stollen and panettone. First I checked the sponges (dough starters) that Miguel made last night before he left. Then I went into the walk-in to bring out the 11 pounds of butter I need for both doughs. There I found a nearly empty carton with two pounds of butter; there was no more. I couldn't make the doughs. It is a typical restaurant frustration. Greg thought that Gwen had ordered the butter. Gwen thought that the pastry guys would tell her that they needed more. A lot of people, I have learned, have fantasies about opening a restaurant. They think about entertaining their friends, eating good food, buying wholesale wine, making money, and being creative. In fact, three young men want to buy the BreadLine, and we're discussing it seriously. One of them said the other day, "I really love to cook, and I have lots of ideas about new recipes we could put into the restaurant." That reminded me of a woman who wrote to me a couple of months ago offering to work without compensation for the BreadLine. When I asked her exactly what she would like to do here, she said that she would like to create recipes for us. If only my job consisted of that! Alas, here is how I am going to spend my morning: First, I'll find out when the butter is going to arrive. Then I'll negotiate with Joel, who arrives at 7:30 to begin mixing bread doughs for tomorrow, to get some mixing time for myself later in the day. Then, I am going to leave the bakery and get lost trying to find some shopping mall in northern Virginia where a former colleague wants to open a bakery and wants my advice. After that, I will return to deal with the exterminator, who tells us he can't do anything about the fruit flies that still—in mid-December—are flying around the restaurant. Then I will focus on lunch preparations to be sure that the spicy peanut soup is spicy enough, call a potential wholesale customer (we bake bread for 37 other restaurants), and work with Kari, our new manager, who is properly appalled by our labor costs. Then I'll see whether the oven, which was repaired last night, is baking more evenly than it did yesterday. By that time, for sure, there will have been an eruption: Perhaps Rosie will have insulted Robert. And I'll have to remind someone to change his apron before customers begin arriving for lunch. Later, much later in the day, I will make the doughs; and because they will be made late in the day, I will have to come in really, really early tomorrow morning to pull them out of the walk-in so that they can proof in time to be baked tomorrow. We'll have lost a day of sales. And then, if there is time after the doughs are made, folded, cooled, folded again, and put away for the night, I will go to work on recipes for Christmas. This is an odd time of the year for restaurants like mine. The Caucus Room, Kinkeads, and other high-end Washington restaurants are doing a huge party business—lawyers and lobbyists entertaining their customers grandly in the private dining rooms of those restaurants. But the BreadLine is an everyday lunch restaurant that attracts the same customers day after day, some of whom come here four and five times a week. And because we aren't open on holidays (we are in the downtown, a block from the White House and across the street from the World Bank), we try to make up for the 19 holidays on which we must close by making holiday foods that customers can take home for their own dinners. This year our Christmas menu includes some regulars like oyster stew, a savory bread pudding with vegetables, and potato gratin. But I added some new foods to this year's menu: toasted couscous with butternut squash, and a Christmas pudding made with dried fruits that we have been marinating in brandy for several weeks. Later this week, I will reward myself for having endured yet another week. I will begin here and at home experimenting with the recipes for those new foods. That's when I can start imagining how I want the dish to look and taste, try it, taste it, correct it, try again, taste it, and correct it. It will be fun to do those things—that is, if there is butter in the house.