Dough!

Dough!

I have now taken two bread making classes thanks to whatever entrepreneurial genius is running things at the best deli and bakery in the area (and possibly the world).

IMG_7753 copyDo I know anything about baking bread? Absolutely not.

Do I feel confident enough to attempt to bake bread on my own? Certainly not, which is not good because my sister is expecting an assortment of challah rolls that spell out her name for her birthday.

What did I learn instead? That baking bread is actually super fun, provided someone else measures out all the ingredients ahead of time, preheats the commercial oven for you, and cleans up afterwards. Trust me, whatever it costs to take these classes is worth it for that alone.

My first class was called “Hooray for Challah!”

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The bakery provides everything, from an apron to a multi-page handout with all the recipes you’re about to learn, even a pen for taking notes. I had a name tag written in the official font of the entire business, and I may have shrieked a little bit.

We went around the room to introduce ourselves, and the very first lady in the class was a professional chef. She already knew how to bake bread, because that was part of her actual paying job, but she just liked good challah and wanted to learn a surefire recipe.

That was kind of intimidating. I can’t boil water without panicking.

But there was also a family with two young teenagers, and I knew for sure that I could bake a better loaf than those kids.

I didn’t understand algebra in ninth grade. I wore overalls in ninth grade. I could certainly make a loaf of bread better than any ninth grader.

The dad in this family very loudly proclaimed that he was missing a football game to be at this class, and ordered everyone not to spoil the score for him.

I rolled my eyes at the chick next to me in a silent “Oh masculinity, why so fragile?” exchange, but she didn’t notice, because she was transcribing her recipe handout into Mandarin.

Did you have to be that smart to learn how to bake bread? If so, I was in trouble (but the teenagers were in more trouble, so at least I had that).

We spent a good 45 minutes learning how to braid a challah loaf with these handy rope tools that the real actual bakers use. Since I have wasted many valuable minutes of my life wondering how challah braids work, it really freed up some good brain cells to learn that it’s a six braid strand, you need a diagram to figure it out, but the braiding won’t work unless you intone to yourself, “1 becomes 6 and 5 becomes 3 and 3 becomes 1” and so on until you have a loaf of bread. Or a loaf of rope.

We made two challah loaves: the braid, and the turban. Everyone got a tub of rum-soaked raisins to put in their challah turbans. The teenagers got chocolate chips. They were smug and awkward about it in the way that only ninth graders could be.

In ninth grade, I wore overalls because that’s what Julia Roberts wore in the movie Runaway Bride, and she was really into hardware projects and ambivalent about heteronormative marriage ideals, and I thought that was great . . . for reasons that would not become clear until many years later.

I should have asked for chocolate chips in my turban, but I wanted to seem cool in front of the professional chef.

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The secret to a good challah is the egg wash. That’s what gives it that color. Most bakers are strapped for time and do one layer of egg wash, but if you want to do it right, you have to do two.

My two challah loaves were so well-received, even by my raisin-hating sister, that they were gone within a day. They were pretty delicious, but they were also baked in a professional oven and monitored for the correct internal temperature.

I have the correct internal temperature written in my notes. I think.

My second class was “Rockin’ Rye!”

IMG_8339-1 copyThis class was a higher degree of difficulty, and when everyone introduced themselves, I was the only one who wasn’t an experienced bread baker. One guy had come all the way from California to take this class, because there’s no good rye bread in California and he’d been having the rye from this very bakery shipped across the country to his home for years, so why not learn their recipe?

Other people had come from various parts of the state, driving two or three hours just to make rye bread. I felt kind of guilty because I only woke up an hour before the class started and I was still early.

During our four-hour class, we made three different loaves of rye bread: pumpernickel, onion rye, and vorterkaker. No, my keyboard did not just sneeze.

Vorterkaker (it’s so fun to say!) is a Scandinavian flatbread. You’re probably thinking, “I love flatbread! Naan, pita bread, tortillas, I’ve never met a flatbread I didn’t like!”

I ate a little piece of the demo vorterkaker (as in made by the professionals! They all have degrees in baking!) and it had the essence of a really good cardboard.

In fact, go bite off a corner of the nearest Amazon box, and you can say you’ve tasted vorterkaker.

Baking rye bread requires two things that my brain does not like—”old,” which is a term for crouton-sized chunks of stale rye bread soaked in water, and rye starter, which is mold. Or it’s essentially mold, it’s more like yeast, I guess?  Either way, it looks like this, and does any part of my brain like things that look like this?

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This particular starter came from a culture that was 27 years old—older than our instructor. He seemed very excited about that. I was much less excited.

If a lifetime of watching evening news bumpers has taught me one thing, it’s that mold wants to kill us all.

I put my gloppy rye starter and gooey stale bread in the bowl and tried not to flashback to all the times in kindergarten that I came home crying from papier-mâché day. And I went to hippie school, we had a lot of papier-mâché days.

I took a deep breath and pressed on. The flour made quick work of drying things out, thank goodness, and I was ready to knead.

Kneading bread is super fun, but it requires a lot of muscles that I don’t use very often. There’s a very precise technique to it—you want stretch the top of the bread so it naturally forms a smooth skin that’s just tight enough to hold its shape, but not so tight that it’ll crack in the oven.

Between the three loaves of bread, I kneaded for two hours straight. I felt ready to open my own bakery. My muscles would catch up after a few days of non-stop kneading, right?  IMG_8344 copyThe vorterkaker (it sounds like a swear word but it isn’t!) was pretty easy—more rye sour, some fennel and anise seeds, flour and water. The Scandinavians aren’t exactly working with an ecological bounty up there. The teacher explained that vorterkaker is a very old bread, always made in a disc shape with a hole in the middle, so that farmers could hang them up and eat them throughout the winter, and the Vikings would tie them to their boats and just rip off chunks with their teeth during a voyage.

The Vikings did not care about dental health.

After all that work of kneading and shaping and deciding whether or not to sprinkle poppy seeds on top of the onion rye, we got to relax . . . by making our own rye starter. Yes, this bakery is so hip and on top of it that they will even teach you how to make mold.

It’s just flour and water and onions and magic. Nature is horrifying.

We were given detailed instructions for how to care for our starters. People take this really seriously. A told me that in Denmark, there are bread starter boarding places that will take care of your starter while you’re on vacation.

You have to water your starter and feed it once a week with fresh flour, and then it grows exponentially. You know, like a monster.

The guy from California looked really sad to have to give his rye starter back to the instructor. “It’ll never get past the TSA,” he said.

These loaves came out huge. For scale, the vorterkaker is 16 inches in diameter.

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I sent this picture to my parents, and my dad texted back, “I just bit into my iPhone.”

The next day, I took the two loaves and rolled the vorterkaker to my parents’ house for everyone to try (hoping to unload most of it). The vorterkaker got the most attention. My sister’s boyfriend, who will eat anything, loved it.

“Is there fennel in this? I can taste fennel,” he said.

“Me too!” said my mom, and they high-fived.

“Are you sure you like it?” I said. Maybe they were just being nice.

“It’s like hardtack! Like what the pioneers ate on long journeys,” said my mom. “Here, you eat some!”

I have played enough Oregon Trail that I sometimes hunt animated buffalo in my sleep to this day, and even that wasn’t enough to get me to eat this thing.

“How did you do the little dots?” asked my sister. I explained that we each got a special rolling tool covered with metal studs, like a massage roller, or a Play-Doh toy for adults. No wonder it was so satisfying.

So, even though it’s a ton of work and sometimes requires interacting with mold, I’m getting the itch to bake again. There’s a Danish pastry class coming up right after the holidays. Between that and my Scandinavian doorstop bread, we should survive the winter just fine.

 

The Apocalyptic Succulent Sale

The Apocalyptic Succulent Sale

Confession time: I am a crazy plant lady. I take good care of them and they make me happy, so it’s okay, right? When I’m a little down, I repot a plant or two and I feel great. When my anxiety is ramping up, I buy a new plant. Or two. Succulents are like five bucks. They’re cheaper than ice cream and they don’t have any calories.

I may have too many plants.

So when I drove past one of my favorite spots in town, the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, and saw this sign, I did the full cartoon slam on the brakes and shouted to no one, “Put that on my calendar!”

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This sale kept me awake at night for two weeks. When it finally arrived, I got to the gardens at 10 on Saturday morning, because I wanted to see the good plants before they got sold (anxiety!). I wasn’t planning to stay long, or even buy more than one (or two) plants. I’ve been to the orchid sale and bonsai sale and the flower basket sale so I know these events get crowded, and then I get nervous, so my trusty strategy has always been “get in, get plant, get out,” and it’s never let me down .

But there’s regular crazy and then there’s succulent crazy.

At only a few minutes past 10 in the morning, I found myself at the end of a rapidly growing line that had already spilled outside the actual building.

Now, if you’ve read my previous post you know that I’m a Disney veteran who does not get thrown off by a line—but they don’t sell exotic plants on Peter Pan.

People on their way out were passing by every few minutes, carrying giant boxes full of plants that. I. wanted. A man the size of a linebacker hustled by with his arms full of air plants. A girl with a giant Amazon box full of plants said, “Can’t wait to get them home and introduce them to their brothers and sisters!” and I almost cried.

MY plants needed new brothers and sisters!

This was not the usual plant crowd either. Sure, the requisite elderly ladies in sun hats and purple sweatpants were there (aka my heroes) but there were also hipsters with too many tattoos and questionable blue hair stripes, people with kids who were not psyched to be dragged to a plant sale, babies in strollers, and college kids excitedly planning where to put their plants on their single windowsill.

I texted Stella, “Good news! I’m not the only crazy plant lady. Bad news: the crazier plant ladies are going to take all the good plants.”

“Yeah man, you gotta get in there,” she said. “The plants need you!”

The young couple behind me were in full complaining mode. “We don’t want to spend our whole Saturday waiting in line,” they agreed, and bailed.

Those people wouldn’t last long on New Year’s Eve in Epcot, I’m just saying,

I was now about halfway to the entrance.

I focused on my phone so I wouldn’t have to look at the people leaving and the plants they had bought, but still, I was consumed with anxiety. What if they run out of plants? What if I get in there after all this effort and all the plants left are gross and dying? What if my dream plant is in there? I don’t even know what my dream plant would be, but what if I have one and it’s in there and someone’s buying it right now who won’t know how to take care of it and it’ll die

An elderly woman with pentagon-shaped glasses—yes, pentagon-shaped, five sides—brushed past me and stopped to address the entire line.

“It’s worth the wait!” she said. “They won’t run out of plants, I promise. I’m only leaving because I have too many. But it’s worth it!”

I watched her head out the door, wondering what adventures awaited her.

“I want to befriend this person but I can’t leave the line,” I texted Stella.

I have worn glasses since second grade and I have never seen pentagon-shaped frames. They were tortoiseshell. Where does someone buy pentagon-shaped tortoiseshell glasses? What experiences has this person had that made her go, “You know what? Rectangles and ovals are boring. Life is short. I’m going with pentagons.”

I would buy her whatever drink she wanted to hear her life story.

After a good 25 minutes (which as my dad will tell you, is not that bad, especially for a big ticket ride. We could do 25 minutes for Toy Story Mania in our sleep), I was at the entrance to the sale. My muscles started to tense, ready to run in as soon as the young volunteer who got the job of “bouncer for the succulent sale” deemed me worthy.

“This is pretty crazy,” I said, flashing my best smile.FullSizeRender-12

“It always is,” she said. “You can go in now.”

I swear I heard a choir sing.

There was a table full of cardboard boxes and I made sure to take the smallest one, as an attempt to counter my hoarding tendencies. At this point, I swear I was only going to buy one plant, maybe two. Stella wanted a little succulent, and A needed a new hanging plant for her office, so I had two missions to complete.

I ventured into the fray, carrying my little empty box in front of me for protection, and a third mission made itself imminently clear: survive.

If you’ve ever been in a crowded elevator and then the elevator stopped and another dozen people got in, and the elevator was also full of plants and also an actual greenhouse with glass walls that, you know, conduct sunlight, you would understand the vibe of this sale.

In other words: claustrophobia officially triggered.

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There was a line around each plant table, a line to get into the line for each table, a line to pay, and plenty of people were in a line but had no idea what the line was for so there was a ton of confusion and “Is this the line to pay or the line for air plants?” “I don’t know, i just got in it!” and people jostling for position and it was far from the chill and relaxed ambience that you usually get in a botanical garden.

This was Black Friday for succulents.

A woman behind me loudly complained that she had just set down a plant she wanted to buy for two seconds and someone had grabbed it. No one around her looked sympathetic.

It was every plant person for themselves.

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I don’t remember when I transitioned from “buy two plants” to “buy every plant” but it must have been somewhere around the time that a guy tried to sell me this rare little beauty—for 45 dollars!

I put that sucker right back. Do I look like I started buying succulents yesterday?

Of course, I almost bought a rare plant from Indonesia that depends on ants colonizing its root pod for nutrients. I almost bought three.

I thought A might like one as well, and then I would have to get one for Stella too, because who wouldn’t want a super-cool ant plant?

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When I told A about this, she was horrified.

“If your plant lived that would mean you had ants! In your house!” she said.

“I thought they looked cool!” I said. “And they were only 7 dollars!”

“You’re paying 7 dollars TO GET ANTS!”

Fortunately, sanity prevailed in the moment, and I put the ant plants back.  Still, I was in frenzy mode. I picked up a plant that I just had to have, then put it back a few minutes later. I grabbed a plant for Stella, fell out of love with it, then got her a different one. All the while I’m weaving in and out of endless lines of hot, sweaty people, their faces all dawning with the realization that humans are indeed animals and we will resort to our most primal instincts in mere seconds.

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Perhaps the more evolved being is . . .the humble succulent?

Fortunately, Disney trained me well, and I worked my way through the crowd with a minimum of panic symptoms. I did have a quick fantasy about bumping into my first anxiety therapist and saying, “I did it! Look where I am right now!” But then I would have had to shove her aside to get to the plants.

And then, I saw it—the Holy Grail of the succulent sale—the only hanging basket left in the entire joint. I grabbed it before I could even read the tag to know what kind of plant it was. And not to brag, but I read very quickly. That’s how heightened my reflexes were.

“That’s a really nice one,” another seller told me. “Just don’t overwater it, and it’s almost indestructible. Hey, and it’s my last one! You were lucky.”

I clamped down on this thing so hard that you’d think I was trying to sneak it out of the country. And getting it out of the sale was almost as hard.

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Now that I was struggling to make my way through the throng with this basket on my arm, people were whipping around to look at me and loudly ask if there were any left.

When I squeaked, “Sorry, this was the last one!” they looked at me the way my cat does when he’s hungry and about to bite down on whatever skin I’ve made the mistake of exposing to get me to feed him. The narrowed eyes of, “You have something I want. Prepare to die.”

My box was now stuffed tight with six little plants—one for Stella, one for A, and (cough) four for me. A volunteer very kindly offered to get me a bigger box and that’s when I realized, “I gotta get out of here.” You know, the way that Dorothy or Coraline or whoever is having a great time in the other universe until something makes them realize, “This isn’t right! I have to go home!”

This was my Auntie Em moment. But getting out was even rougher than getting in, plus I had this hanging basket on my arm, and it was the last hanging basket in the entire sale.

I finally understand the expression, “People were on me like I had the last bump of coke at the party.”

It took three different attempts, but I finally got in the right line to pay. It took all my strength not to duck out and take one more look-around or grab one more teeny tiny plant that was only $2 and needed a home where it would be loved . . . anyway, I cashed out, and honestly it was cheaper to get seven plants than to go out to brunch, so I did really well.

As I made my way to freedom, past the now even longer line, people looked at my hanging plant with envious eyes. “Did they have a lot left?”

I hustled past before anyone could offer me money for it.

The line was easily three times longer than when I went in—instead of extending just outside the building, the line now went around the building and into the parking lot. So if I waited 25 minutes, those people were in for about 90. That’s a Space Mountain during spring break wait.

I made my way to my car, which was parked a full nautical league away, carrying this box and heavy hanging plant. My arms were shaking by the time I made it.

I had been at the gardens for two and a half hours.

When I got home, my cat was waiting for me with an expression of, “What did you bring home this time?”

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A Tiny Piece of the Biggest Wheel of Cheese

A Tiny Piece of the Biggest Wheel of Cheese

A and I consider ourselves to be on top of the local food trend—just the other day, A and I rescued some tomato cages from someone’s curb.

“Pull over! Put your flashers on!” she cried, nearly spilling our leftover Thai food, because some lesbian stereotypes are true. Then she just jumped out and grabbed them, and now we have tomato cages. The circle of life continues.

My point is that we like locally grown food. And we like supporting local businesses. Especially the greatest deli in the world, right here in our little college town, a deli and bakery so great that President Obama and Oprah have praised their sandwiches, so renowned that people are all over the world order their food through the mail while all we have to do is drive into town and find a parking spot (which to be fair, sometimes takes longer). A has been hinting with all the subtlety of a hammer that I should take their regularly offered breadmaking classes. I’m 100% into it but I’ve been pretending to mull it over just to hear her attempt to pronounce “challah” correctly.

Stella and I went there for her birthday one year, and I bought us a piece of cake to split, since their cakes have six layers and a half slice is enough to put you in a sugar coma. We were mulling over which flavor to get (we went for “Death by Chocolate” of course, because we live dangerously) and a skinny college girl behind us, wearing one of those cute floral dresses that only young and skinny college girls wear, said to us, “The hummingbird cake is my favorite, that’s what I’m getting.”

“That does look good,” I said, since the hummingbird cake is toasted coconut, bananas, pecans and pineapple covered in the best cream cheese frosting you’ve ever had. These people know their frosting. There are classes where they teach you the secrets of their frosting.

We ordered our chocolate cake because we are old, post-college ladies who are stuck in our ways.  Stella went to the bathroom while I waited for our single slice, and the girl behind us stepped up to order.

“I’ll have the hummingbird,” she said.

“Just a slice?” said the cashier.

The girl thought for barely a moment. “No, the whole cake.”

“The whole cake?” said the cashier.

“The whole cake?” I whispered.

“The whole cake,” nodded the girl.

Both the cashier and I were genuinely impressed. When I was in college, I had to work up all my courage to ask for extra onions on a sandwich.

Stella and I had already started digging into our one measly gargantuan slice by the time the girl’s cake had been all wrapped up in its fancy signature box (this business has its own font and loves to show it off). The girl put on her sunglasses and strode out, confidently holding the box with one hand.

“Did she get a whole cake?” said Stella.

“She got the whole cake,” I said reverently. “It cost forty-five dollars.”

“But it’s Monday.”

“I know.”

“Is it exams week?”

“Some of the classes must have finals around now, don’t they?” I said. “I mean, what else could make someone go, ‘To hell with everything, I’m getting an entire cake on a Monday at four in the afternoon.’”

Anyway, our local internationally famous and beloved local institution was celebrating its 35th anniversary last week with an evening street fair in the farmers market offering samples of the best cheeses and meats from around the country—all for free!

cheese copyI got a sample from a gigantic wheel of Parmesan cheese, which was honestly the best Parmesan cheese I’ve ever had. It was just crumbly enough to melt on the tongue, had a nice little flavor kick to it, delicious. And I’ve never seen a bigger wheel of cheese, so I feel some sense of accomplishment just knowing that I’ve both seen and sampled a wheel of cheese the size of a car tire.

popcorn copyWe tried some artisan salted popcorn made Pennsylvania Dutch-style (I think it means that the person making it has to wear a jaunty farmer hat), and it was delicious.

A had some acorn-fed prosciutto that was well-worth the wait in line. Even the line for crackers was at least seven minutes. The farmers market was genuinely stuffed with people, including all the requisite yoga moms and tattooed dads calling for kids named “Sterling.”

The gay dudes in front of us in the line for balsamic vinegar samples were already talking about the after-party at the gay bar across the street. We looked at each other hopefully, but A said, “Oh, that’s after 10, we’ll be asleep by then.”

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But the hottest ticket by far was the 20% off coupons at every stall—anything at the deli, from a meal to groceries to the hardcover books written by the super-hippie awesome owner of the whole business about how he runs his company with kindness and groovy vibes—was 20% off, for one day only.

One. Day. Only.

A was already strategizing. She could lead an army if their sole objective was to take over an organic produce store.

“If we each get a sandwich and I get all the groceries I’ll ever need, we’ll save so much. I’m going to try a bunch of new things. This is my chance to make this place my official bean purveyor.”

So A got two bags of beans: small bags, the size that you could comfortably hold in your hand, but they were still like twelve bucks. She also got some coffee and tea and I got some ten-dollar graham crackers (they’re worth it, trust me, you’ve never tasted a more amazing graham cracker).

We waited a good thirty minutes just to order our sandwiches (A busied herself by running around looking for more beans to try) and then another thirty for our sandwiches. The joint was jammed.

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Because the founder of this business is a hippie, the employees are actually well-paid and taken care of, and as such they are always exceptionally cheerful and eager to help. But the girl who brought out our sandwiches was uncharacteristically flustered. She apologized for the wait and I said, “It’s no problem, we knew what we were getting into by coming tonight!”

“We weren’t expecting this many people,” she said, in the hush tones reserved for hospital corridors.

I really felt for the staff, but if they hadn’t prepared for this level of insanity, they shouldn’t have tossed 20% off coupons to thousands of people like Evita Peron throwing money from the train car.

That night, in a graham cracker-induced frenzy, A realized that the heirloom beans she’d bought were a quarter of the price on Amazon.

“I gotta return these beans,” she said gravely, as if she’d just decided to storm a beach.

I was skeptical, but like I said, this business is run purely on groovy vibes and exceptional customer services, so the very next morning, A was able to return her bags of beans.

We weren’t the only ones in line to return something. In the light of day, people had re-evaluated their purchases and realized, “I can’t eat this entire slab of cheese, I’m lactose intolerant.” “Why did I buy a full side of ham for two people?!” “I can’t keep a 200 year old bottle of balsamic vinegar in my dorm!”

“I exchanged my beans for bread, butter, and cheese,” reported A. “It’s a good trade.”

“It is a good trade,” I said, like a reverent Amish farmer. “It’d be an excellent trade on the Oregon Trail.”

God, I loved that game.

“Their bread is so expensive,” said A, through a mouthful of bread. “You gotta take that bread class.”

Long story short, I am taking a bread class. If all goes well, I’ll be just like Evita, handing out loaves of bread to random people on the street.

 

Mongolian BBQ for 2

Mongolian BBQ for 2

In our college town, we encounter a lot of students working their first real jobs. Some are hungover, but most of them are adorable, like the cute little hipster with ear gauges at the co-op who says “I’m not emotionally prepared for this big a transaction!” if you buy more than a muffin, or the masseuse that A went to at the gas station that was converted into a massage parlor who said, “You have a ton of tension in your head!” and then never did any work on her head.

And then there was Tiffany.

We rolled into the Mongolian barbecue place for a late lunch, having never been there before. It was a dreary Sunday, and we both had beanies on because we were too lazy to fix our hair, that kind of day.

A tiny ball of dynamite and shiny teeth bopped over to our table.

“Hi! I’m Tiffany! Welcome to Mongolian Barbecue! Have you been here before?”

“Uh, no—”

“That’s great! Don’t worry, I’ll tell you what to do! You start with the meat at the far end there, then go to vegetables! THEN YOU PICK YOUR SAUCES AND SPICES! BUT GO EASY ON THE SPICES! DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS?”

“Actually, where’s your bathroom?”

“THAT’S A GREAT QUESTION! Go to the far left wall, then turn towards the back wall! IT’S NOT ON THE LEFT WALL! What would you like to drink? And would you like tortillas or lettuce wraps with your stir-fry? Never mind! It’s your first time here, I’ll bring out everything! BECAUSE YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU LIKE YET!”

“Okay, that’s a good idea,” I said, very calmly, like I was negotiating with a frightened deer who was also trying to sell us a car. “Can we have rice?”

“YES! I’ll bring two bowls of rice! If you get overwhelmed, don’t worry! There are recipe cards on the back wall! Okay? OKAY! GO UP WHENEVER YOU’RE READY!”

Tiffany had on a bright blue Underarmor headband and a ponytail that was completely vertical. She was the kind of girl who perpetually looks like they just got out of field hockey practice.

After getting our stir-fry bowls, and being treated to a very interesting story about how our cook was kicked out of school on the last day of senior year for starting a food fight (“You think they’re just fun! But people get hurt!”), I returned to the table while A went to the bathroom—which was labeled, “mongals,” clever—to find our drinks, our tortillas and lettuce wraps, and one bowl of rice.

I wouldn’t have said anything since I trusted Tiffany with my life at this point, but she happened to roll by on a skateboard to ask if we needed anything, and I said, “Just another rice when you get a chance,” to which she chirped, “Oh, I didn’t forget! They’re making a new pot! I’ll bring it right over when it’s done!” and merrily skipped away.

A came back from the bathroom and before she sat down, immediately started a conversation about health and the law, as she does. “It must be hard for places like this to stick to the health codes,” she said. “I mean, we dropped a ton of stuff on the floor, and I spilled my sauce on the counter. I handled a lot of slip and fall cases as a litigator!”

“I’d assume that their first problem would be food poisoning,” I said. “They have ten different kinds of seafood just sitting out all day.”

“Ooh, I didn’t even think of that,” said A, reaching for her first spoonful of rice.

Out of nowhere, Tiffany screamed, “DON’T EAT THAT!”

A and I froze in place, like she’d ordered us to hit the deck for incoming missile fire. But Tiffany just gave us two new bowls of rice and explained, “That was literally the last scoop of rice in the whole pot! I had to scrape it off the sides! These are freshly cooked!” and then she zoomed away so fast she left a shadow in her place.

A’s spoon was still quivering in mid-air, like the Jello scene in Jurassic Park.

I’m pretty sure that in food service, the number one thing you’re not supposed to say is “Don’t eat that!” Even in a friendly, casual manner, it just doesn’t come off right.

“Hey, don’t eat that, no worries!” Doesn’t work.

Tiffany took the drink order for the table behind us while we were eating—a woman ordered a Bahama Mama off the menu, and Tiffany said, “Oh, I don’t know how to make that, but I’ll Google it and bring it right out!”

A smacked her own forehead and whispered, “Oh my god, Tiffany, you never tell the customer that you don’t know how to do something.”

Tiffany whirred back to the table and said to this woman, “A Bahama Mama has coconut liqueur in it, is that okay? Is that what you want? DO YOU WANT THAT?” She leaned in super close and got really intense about it—like this was a secret transaction. The woman said, “Yes, that’s fine!” the way that people being interrogated say, “I’ll tell you whatever you want! Just call off the hounds!”

Tiffany would actually make an amazing spy.

Fun fact: less than two months later, I got food poisoning from that very restaurant. Tiffany wasn’t there to protect me. I guess that’s on me.