Sunday, January 24, 2010

embracing the cupcake and crazy people

Wouldn't you know it...once the cupcake caper went down, Irene decided to whip out a batch or two of cupcakes. Well, they are selling like hotcakes! Some are filled with carmel, some with chocolate. The ones I made today are filled with whipped cream and a few of those I topped with chocolate ganache, channeling the days of eating hostess cupcakes for lunch every day in 7th grade. It's crazy how people go crazy over cupcakes. It's a phenomenon that's been scorned by many. I understand....I, too have resisted the hype of the cupcake. But they sell...and now that I think about it, they have a pretty good shelf life, especially if they are filled AND I don't have to cut them. So, there you have it, cupcakes it is!
Now crazy people, that's a whole 'nother form of acceptance that we came to pretty early on here at the bakery. Every year has it's cast of characters and for some reason they really come into their own around the end of January. A big part of opening a place like this is that, while you fantasize about those cool customers your going to attract...and don't get me wrong, alot of them are WAY cool, there is still going to be the little assortment of truly wacky people who decide you are they're new best friend. No, we're just trying to be nice, but,'s too late. They're hooked and it's gonna take awhile to wrestle them free. Take the paranoid schitzophrenic dude with narcisistic tendencies. He's writing a book called the 'Illiad and the id' ...can't wait for that one. His Dad used to send me money, to go on an account for him, I'm sure it was so that the money would get spent on food and not drugs, but when the guy started asking me for cash advances against his credit, I had to stop. Last winter it was a fellow we dubbed Andy Warhol because of his thick head of grey hair. He was married and his kids went to school with mine. We would watch with concern as he sat for hours talking to himself, and wondered how his frazzled wife kept him and them all together. Turns out she couldn't and they eventually sent him off. For the most part these folks are fairly harmless, mostly we feel a responsibllity to be there for them, as long as it doesn't interfere with our regular customers. This winter it has been a little less of the really crazy and more of the just annoyingly clueless. One particularly frustrating group of folks is from the local chapter of the Church of the Rock. It's headed up by a couple of guys (I call them the Bible Boyz) in their late 20's or early 30's who come in the afternoons and take up our only four top to swill vanilla white chocolate lattes (um...I'm sorry, but those are some pansy-ass coffee drinks) and grill their younger guests on how much they are sinning. It makes me want to walk up their table and in my most pissed off tone, say calmly "Could you please take that shit somewhere else?" Oh well, I hear they have just embarked on a mission to india, maybe I will be over it by the time they are back, but I doubt it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rising Tide of Hunger...

Just as Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech told of the people of color in America getting a check drawn on insufficiant funds to deliver them equal rights, so have the poor and unfortunate of this country gotten a bad check written by the legislators and big agro-business and leaving their bellies and pocketbooks and dreams empty. The USDA released it's data for hunger and it shows 49 million people in America as being 'food insecure' in 2008. (that's up from 39 million in 2007, we can only imagine what the 2009 numbers will be) Women and children suffer the most in these statistics and overall the numbers should be a wakeup call to get very serious about food security and hunger issues that plague every corner of this country. Hunger is everywhere, and many of our neighbors are suffering so quietly, we may not even know...
As a very young adult I landed on the beach in Homer. Someone I trusted told me I could live cheaply and get work here. It was a long way to go on what were really just flimsy assurances, but lucky for me, it was a good suggestion. Since I spent that whole summer living in a tent on the beach or on couches, it was a huge learning experience in humilty and perseverence. At the time I told myself I was an 'adventurer' but in reality I was homeless. Going back to the Detroit area to live with my very messed up family was an unbearable step backwards, I needed to start over. When I lived on the beach, I got up every morning and made my way to the public bathroom to huddle underneath the hand drying blowers. It took me a little longer than I expected to get a job, money was running out. I ate simply...crackers and cheese, cured meats and an occasional piece of fruit. I hitchhiked the five miles to town for basic services and affordable groceries. When I finally did land a paying job, I had just enough money to buy a shower at the laundromat so I could report for duty not smelling of campfire. It was as a part time cocktail waitress at the Salty Dawg Saloon (thanks gals, I'm ever grateful!). I made $60 bucks that night, more than I'd landed in Homer with originally. Things turned around for me after that. Word got around that I was a good waitress and I eventually scored the job I originally came to town for. Though, through my my time here I have learned to become a part of a community, I am also aware that any unfortunate accident could put me back into that tent. People that cared enough to trust me taught me to pass those same values along to others as I made my way in this tightly knit little town. That, I believe is the secret to solving the hunger problem that looms, both in our nation and globally. Realizing that we are all a part of a community, and we have a responsibilty to maintain the health and wellbeing of all involved. Today I came across a trailer for a new movie being made called Hungry in America. It is a documentary film by Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobsen. ( also being produced by some heavy hitters: Mario Batali and Tom Collichio) Focusing on the many problems of feeding ALL the people in our current society, the film is only 20 percent completed and already there is a media buzz. (You can watch some of the clips here on youtube)
On the local scene, The Kenai Peninsula Foodbank serves a growing number of children and families struggling to make ends meet here at the end of road. Many people come here trying to live the dream and are quickly overwhelmed by high prices and difficult living conditions. We also applaude the Homer Food Pantry their efforts and support them every chance we get.
Covering global hunger issues, I recently discovered Frederick Kaufman, a freelance writer who publishes in Harper's, the New Yorker and Gastronimica. He recently published an editorial called 'A Reasonable Proposal' that appeared in the British Medical Journal that uses commodity markets to explain why so much of the world is going hungry. It appears here on his blog where I also discovered he is the author of "A Short History of the American Stomach" a book called 'a Bourdain meets Pollan tour of the American gut' by Gastronomers Bookshelf. (That was enough for me, I'm ordering it tonight.)
Here are some other resources for joining in the fight and staying informed:
Share Our Strength
Feeding America
US Food Policy
The Ethicurean

p.s. Thx to @kitchenmonki and @ruhlman for giving me the heads up on the Hungry in America documentary...I love twitter!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Cupcake Caper

January is usually a slow month...due to this, Sharon scheduled a three week trip to China (!) Sadly, I found out too late about the food blogger camp in Ixtapa, Mexico or I would have been out of here, too! To ease my disappointment, I decided to close for a couple of days to clean and get ready for the busy season ahead. Wouldn't you know it, as soon as Sharon got on the plane, I got this email:
"I will like you to bake me chocolate and Vanilla cake of 5 tier that can serve approximately 300 guest or more , and I want the cake to be decorated with pink roses and the cake should be covered in fondant or in butter cream, and there will be an inscription writing on the side of one of the tier as “HAPPY MARRIED LIFE” and i want you to pack them in different boxes to be ready for pick up at the said time and date.. 14th of Jan 2010, 3 O'clock PM. Reply me back and let me know if you can fill in the date for me....??? then i can forward all the details and the picture sample of what i will like you to bake for me.
Thanks and God bless."
S. N.*
(*names have been changed to protect the investigation)
I don't know if many of you have visited our cakes page on the website, but there isn't a fondant cake among them. We prefer to conspire with mother nature to make our cakes special, growing many of the flowers we use in our own gardens. A fondant wedding cake with frosting flowers was the last thing I wanted to take on right after we closed for two days of deep cleaning. So I responded thusly:
"I'm sorry, we are not taking wedding cake
orders for the month of January. 2010.
Our wedding cake baker is on Holiday.
Best, "
The next day, this e-mail greeted me:
"Can you make me 350 cupcakes for the date instead.
Some chocolate and som strawberry. let me know what it will cost me.
I shall be very grateful if you consider this done, for me.
I have already told most of my special guest that you are baking for my wedding.
So please do not let me down."
Reluctantly....VERY reluctantly, I responded:
"That we can do....they will be $3.50 each. Decorated with pink rose on top.
($3.00 w/out rose) Same amount of each? What flavor frosting?
He got right back to me:
"Thanks for the update. I want pink rose design on each cupcake.
And I want chocolate frosting.. So let me know what will be the
total cost for the 350 cupcake.
Await your soonest reply to proceed with the order.
Thanks and God bless."
Okay, I think...1225 bucks for a bunch of cupcakes? I have Ryan, the master, and Irene fresh from a pastry certification class...we can do it, right? So I give him the totals:
"That will be $1225.00...Dark Chocolate Frosting? Sounds good...let us know!"
His swift response:
"Hello , thanks for the swift re Iply to my order request, and for your concern as well, i want you to know that am very grateful, and am really inspired ever since the first time I tasted your cake, that is why I will prefer you bake for me..or i rather not bake a cake for my wedding.

They should be ready for pick up by 3 O'clock PM on the 14th of Jan 2010...and a private shipper will be coming to pick them delivery to my wedding reception in Canada and i dont want you to be worried about the safety delivery of the cake. Regarding the shipping ,I have a private shipping agent that will take good care of pick up and the delivery consignments.. The Shipper will come for the pickup arrangement of the Cake at your place, at the pick up date and time.

And as I have told you previously, you don’t have anything to be worry about on the shipping of the cake it will be well secure and in a good condition on arriving the location of my wedding reception in Toronto Canada, the shipper will be coming with there refrigerator Van for the pick up and it will be ship under the fragile shipping insurance scheme, a friend of mine has use them before for a shipping consignment of this such and they are well reliable, dependable and secure…..

So I want you to calculate for me what will be the total cost of the cake order plus tax if included, and also I want you to add $780 for the cost of the pick up and the shipping, so once I have your reply for the total I will remit my credit card for you to charge for the total cost…so that you can have the order book right away. And once you have the order secured, I will have the shipper contact you for the pick up schedule arrangement, also i will instruct you further on how you will pay the shipping fee to the shipper as to confirm the pickup arrangement of the cake. Willingly Am also offering you an extra $100 for taking care of my order properly and for any less stress you will go through for completing the transaction for me due to my absence.

So please do calculate altogether the total cost of the cake + tax + $780 for shipping charges, including the $100 am offering you, then get back to me with the total for all, so once i have your reply for the total cost i will remit my credit card for you to run for the charges, also let me know is you accept Visa or Master card.
I will be waiting to have your reply for the total cost then we can proceed from there, hope to hear from you soonest."

It was at this point that I really started to wonder...a wedding in Toronto? Are you serious? WTF? So, I brought in my peeps, asked them to read the e-mails...should we go through with this or what? The opinion all around was that, hey, if the card numbers go through it must be legit, right? So we make the cupcakes, and as long as we get paid, what difference does it make how it goes down, right? Sure enough that night an email came with credit card numbers (it was to be divided onto two cards...not that unusual for a high ticket item, but still, another red flag!) so Sunday morning I ran them through the processing machine without a hitch. Or so I thought. On Monday morning the phone rang as we were getting ready for school. It was the Homer Police Department, letting me know I'd been involved in a credit card scam. One of the frauded card owners had caught the transaction and alerted the authorities. (All I can really think at this point is how relieved I am I don't have to make the cupcakes!) I cooperated with the officers gave them the e-mails I had and aksed them what to do next. They requested that I lead the guy on and try to get more info out of him. So I sent along this note:
"I will make 1/2 choc and 1/2 strawbeerry and all with chocolate frosting with a pink frosting rose on top. They will be ready by Thursday at 3pm. Can you give me details on the shipper? I would like to check on size of boxes, etc. Also, I will need your phone number and address, to further process this's not everyday we make 350 cupcakes for a wedding in Toronto!"
He Responded ever so promptly...
"Am using E. L. ..a private shipper for the consignment...You are not to arrange any special packing for the cakes... just have them ready for pick your regular packing. Once everything is set, I will update you with the pick up schedule, and I will have the shipper contact you for the pick. Below are my details you request for me...133 East Bunnell Avenue,Homer, AK 99603, Tel xxx-xxx-xxxx.
I just wish to monitor the pick up arrangement myself, so as to avoid any error. And once the cake leaves your store, its off your responsibility, so you have nothing to worry about.
So make sure you check email on the 14th Morning for the details. Thanks and God bless."
Between all this we have the bakery ripped apart painting and scrubbing away, I'm calling the bank, who doesn't really know what to think. They finally tell me it's okay to refund the transactions, so at least the money is out of my account. I stress about the coming e-mail and possible sting operation going down. Finally Thursday morning brings this communication:
"Hello good morning!.
How are you today and business. Sorry for the late respond, hope all is well ?, I really appreciate all your effort and concern toward the success of my wedding. And also thank you for your prayer support through my surgery, may the good God bless you. More also I want to notify you of the shipping arrangement, the shipper has advise payment for the delivery charges should be made via the western union to enable the the processing for the pick up schedule immediately, so as to proceed with shipment, to avoid any disappointment or delay for the delivery of my wedding cake. So now please I want you to proceed to any Western union outlet with the $780 for the delivery charges in cash and send it to the shipper below information as advise:

E. L.
387 N Wright St Champaign, IL 61820

I believe you should know how to get this done. All you need to do is go to any western union outlet with the amount in cash, on getting there , you will fill a form for the transfer, your name and address to the senders info column. And the above details in the receiver column. You will be giving a western union receipt for confirmation after the transfer. The receipt or the information on the receipt is what you will write out and email to me, and I will forward it to the shipper, and once they confirm the fee, then shipment follow immediately. I want you to know that I have once use the shipper and I don't have problem using them again, because they are well reliable and dependable, as you are, so you don't have anything to be worried about, and once the cake leaves your store, it's off your responsibility and you will not be liable for any error that turn up for you following my instruction.

Please get this done as soon as you can, and after you have send the fee to the shipper as I have instructed you, write out the below details and email it to me, to proceed:


You can as as well email me the western union receipt, the information's is what I will provide the shipper, and once payment is confirmed , shipment follow without any delay or disappointment. Please kindly get this done as soon as you can, and email me back with the details of the western. I shall look forward to your email for the western union details soonest as the shipper are waiting on me.
Thanks and God bless."
So, that's alot of trouble to go through to get me to cough up $780! I forwarded this note to the police and we agreed that no one was probably going to pick up any cupcakes. They recommended that I tell them I have alerted the police and so far we are off the hook. I'm ever so grateful for the guy who dilligently checked his credit card balance, because if those transactions had not been found out until they got their bill, I would be out not only the $780 paid to shipping, but the other $2200 would have had to be returned also...costing us almost $3000, not to mention making the f-ing cupcakes!
Wow, we are still reeling as to why, better yet, why US?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jam news from the front lines.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick, the garden writer for the Homer News, and most excellent friend, brought me a little gift today. This book by Tod Davies...Jam Today. I was so intrigued by the publisher, I had to look them up online. Exterminating Angel Press, and they seem to be on to something. Also, Michael Pollan was on Jon Stewart the other night, here it is in case you missed it. While we're at it, my buddy Michael Ruhlman woke up on the wrong side of the bed the other day...check out his rant on why America no longer bothers to cook. We think that there is a revolution afoot...what say you?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Menage aux...carrots?

These carrots have some serious entanglement issues...

Don't they make you blush?
We are using up the last of the locally grown root veggies that our neighborhood farmer has been storing up...can you imagine why he saved these for last? Just in time, a new CSA is starting up and this one is in state, Glacier Valley CSA , which obviously makes it more local. It's the first year round CSA in the state, they are trying to expand to the Homer area and are looking for drop locations, so let them know if you can help. We are still acting as a drop location for Full Circle Farm. Either way, good fresh veggies for your family and support small farming at the same time!

Musical interlude:
Vampire Weekend, one of our favorite new bands has a new album can hear a sample on NPR