Wednesday, April 8, 2015

I wasn’t hibernating

In the past, I’ve put up posts around this time of year sort of apologizing for a recent lack of activity here on the blog. This year I’ve had a longer absence than usual, but for once it wasn’t from a lack of energy. No, rather than hibernating, I’d say I’ve been pupating.

It doesn’t sound very attractive, but I’m imagining a butterfly’s chrysalis. Wrapped up out of sight, the intriguing caterpillar within seems to be sleeping, but actually all kinds of interesting changes are happening inside. While I’ve been off this page, my three-dimensional life has been, well…interesting.

What has been going on since my last post in January? I have to turn to my photos to recall…thus the risk of letting my blog go unattended.

In February we had one of the area’s infamous ice storms.

Storm 02 (2)

Not having a regular job to head to, it didn’t inconvenience me much. In fact, since Miss Chef’s classes were cancelled for a day or two, we had a lovely little mini-vacation together. Although, to be honest, Miss Chef was itching for some alone time. Having an under-employed family member is hard on everyone.

I say underemployed instead of unemployed, because I’m carrying on with my freelance writing gig. February also saw me visiting a farm I know well, for a lengthy interview. My two-week trial as a delivery girl for Tega Hills’ lettuces turned into an article about the behind-the-scenes action that gets local food from farm to table.

Tega Hills 02 (1)

Tega Hills 02 (9)

I’ve had several other stories going out recently: a personal favorite about a chef who hits three local farmers markets every Saturday morning, promotional pieces about a couple of chef-owned restaurants, a farmer profile, and some coverage of a dining event that will become relevant a couple paragraphs down.

While writing kept me from sinking permanently into a pile of fragrant pajamas and potato chip crumbs, March was the big climax of my pupation, when everything seemed to coalesce at once. A former colleague from my old banking job recommended me for a temp-to-perm position through a staffing agency, doing the exact kind of work I’d been doing before. For 9 years. While everyone in my life told me I needed to do something more meaningful with my talents. Still, my savings were dwindling, and the prospect of a good, regular paycheck floated in my imagination like a desert island in a sea of impending bills. So I grabbed on—did two interviews in one day, got the job and signed on the dotted line.

At the same time, I was invited to a press event for the beginning of an annual chef competition here in Charlotte. This was a remarkable, eye-opening experience for me. First, I was invited—I didn’t have to hunt this story down, it came to me! Second, I’d never been to an official press anything, so it was interesting to see how these things roll. It was a little surreal seeing some chefs I consider good friends put on their PR faces for the cameras.


Third, people knew me. One of the other well-known food writers in town—who I wasn’t sure even knew who I was—greeted me as a colleague and complimented my writing. Two or three chefs I knew via Facebook or reputation approached ME just to say hello and shake hands. It certainly gave my spirits a lift, and I drove home giggling, “I’m famous! People know me!”

Don’t worry, I won’t let it go to my  head.

Still, this event highlighted for me how important my mini writing career has become to me, and that I’m actually starting to play a role in Charlotte’s local food scene. It was going to be tough arranging interviews and menu tastings around an 8 to 5 job, but I was determined to keep a toe in, and keep that creative bug alive.

Then things got interesting. A position I’d been hearing about at a local farmers market was finally posted for applications. The local spice shop where I’d inquired in December about part-time work suddenly had an opening. It was temporary, maybe 6 months, but it created a possibility I hadn’t had before. I’d been very occasionally delivering bread for a baker I’d done my first print story on almost a year ago. If I could get him to promise me a steady number of hours, maybe I could pay the bills with two part time jobs, or hold on to see if the market manager job came calling, and still keep a flexible schedule for writing.

I’ll spare you the drama—and it was a ridiculously dramatic week—and tell you that’s just what I did. I opted for 13 hours a week doing deliveries, 16 to 20 hours at the spice shop, with random interviews and deadlines in between. All paid well under the hourly rate I’d have gotten sitting on my ass in front of a computer. (The farmers market job is still up in the air for now.) For the third time in my life, I made a decision based on my heart rather than my head. The other two had made me happy, so I was hopeful this would too.

Then we Gathered.

Guests (3)

Yes, it was time for our next quarterly underground dinner, and I was fully in charge of “Front of House” again. Miss Chef was concerned with some execution problems we’d all had at the previous dinner, so she limited this one’s ticket sales to 16 guests. That made things easier for me, plus she had a former student come along to help out wherever we needed her.

The dinner went very smoothly, and I was pretty happy with my side of service. The tables were set before our first guests arrived (a big change from our fall event), and I was more or less ready to handle any hiccups along the way. I even had time to cut some daffodils and greenery from our front bed to make the tables elegantly festive. Or festively elegant.


I don’t want to fill this post with all the food pictures from the evening, but I have to share the inspired dessert table that Miss Chef and Chef Lynn came up with. The venue has a huge work table in the middle of the room, so they covered it and created edible art with the flavor profile of chocolate, orange and ginger.

6 food art (5)

There were smears of chocolate, dustings of cocoa, dribbles of caramel, oozings of toasted marshmallow, pillows of nougat, pillars of gingerbread, and smashings of orange cremeux. We handed our guests dessert spoons and glasses of port, and watched as an otherwise genteel dinner turned into a party full of laughter and lingering conversation.

I’d call that a success.

Then I took advantage of my last week of unscheduled freedom and bugged out for a visit my parents on Jekyll Island. I only had 3 days or so there, but it’s always good to check in. Besides, they needed some dog time, and Rosie can always use some beach time.



I worked remotely a bit too, pitching stories, finalizing edits and managing the donation station I run at a farmers market (another little side job that nets me about $50 a month). But once I came home, I hit the ground running and haven’t stopped since. I’m adapting to having a schedule again, after nearly a year of controlling my own time. I’m getting used to standing for eight hours at a stretch, learning new roads around the outskirts of Charlotte, memorizing 170 spice blends (and where the over 400 pure spices are arranged on the shelves and in the storage room), and trying to figure out how many half-days I need to write a story.

Somewhere in there, I got the spring garden started.


It’s a bit sparse looking, but you can just see my peas coming up under the trellis. There are also about 50 onion bulbs scattered around (not to mention the bajillion marigold volunteers and hundreds of ‘mater volunteers sprouting too). The greenish clumps in the pots are my herbs that wintered over, and the fringe of green around the edges is my beloved garlic crop I planted in the fall. You can see one of my broccoli plants on the bottom left corner, too. I’m hoping I have enough space for tomatoes, beans, peppers and squash when it comes time for the summer garden to go in, which will be soon.

Between digging in plants, lifting crates of bread and standing for hours at a time, my feet hurt, my back is sore and the rest of my muscles are stiff. I spend my days trying not to forget emails, phone calls, meetings and deadlines I mustn’t miss. Mornings usually find me waking early and lying in bed worrying about how to craft a lede or whether the Piri-Piri spice is in Exotics or Curry.

And I couldn’t be happier. I was really worried about whether I’d regret the stability of that desk job—and I still don’t know if I’ll meet May’s mortgage payment—but I’m thrilled to be working with like-minded people again. I may be earning a pittance, but my employers respect me and I finally feel like my professional life matches my personal life. I guess I feel whole again.

And now this newly-emerged butterfly has to flit off to another interview. Who knows when I’ll be back here? I hope it will be soon, if for no other reason than to keep track of the garden’s progress for my own future reference. I’ve got to have some consistency in my life, after all.