Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Constant change is a way of life for a small business."

Dear fortune cookie,

This is only a little bit eerie.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Stranger than Fiction
"Dog Days are Over" by Florence and the Machine on repeat
Louisville-bound tomorrow!


Starry-eyed, wishful-thinking Erica. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bakery Inspiration: Baked NYC

Deb at Smitten Kitchen mentioned Baked NYC's cooking of delightful baked goods, and of course I had to check it out. Things I really like about Baked?
  • Branding. The owners both worked in advertising and graphic design, so naturally, the website is slick yet inviting, the photographs are artful, and the storefront itself is quite clean-lined and distinct.
  • Diversity of Products. This is one thing I certainly want to achieve in a future business--a flexibility in the goods I offer. I love that they offer elegant cakes alongside made-from-scratch marshmallows, whoopie pies, seasonal tarts, scones, monster cookies, lemon bars, and so on. It's exciting to me to be able to offer a variety of baked goods. The more, the merrier!
  • Unpretentious Products. One of the owners, Matt, "wanted to open a bakery that celebrated American desserts beyond the cupcake." I agree with this sentiment. I want to baked goods I offer to be a reflection of what people really eat and enjoy, comfort foods. This does not imply that I don't want to branch out on any limbs or try anything particularly sophisticated, but overall, I want the feel to be relaxed and homely.

Does anyone have particularly good bakery suggestions for me?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Kind of an Important Update

Dear reader,

This weekend was astoundingly busy--after all, I drove to D.C. with 70 other members of my college to attend the Rally to Restore Sanity. But I sort of neglected to update you all on a kiiind of important even that happened this last Thursday:

I was let go from my job.

As you probably know, I work(ed) at a small cake shop here in central Kentucky, which only opened its doors this past January. The turnover for employees has been incredible, and I was a veteran, having worked nearly seven months (which, I realize, is not a very long period of time, but it is for a college student.)

The, erm, firing was actually fairly amiable. I did cry, but I felt sort of relieved. I can set myself in my boss' shoes and understand her thought process on this, even though I think she made a mistake--though I do not want to seem at all like I'm going to get all cocky about it.

Some her reasoning was quite faulty: for example, she held me responsible for tasks around the shop that I was not hired nor trained to do. I was the only jill-of-all-trades around the shop besides my boss, but I did not know the finer points of anything but my detailed fondant work. I guess I could be angry about this, but she didn't step on my toes too much.

Beyond that, she argued that I seemed spread too thin, and though I don't want to think she let me go out of the goodness of her heart, I appreciate this realization. She wants an employee who is more flexible. It's true--I've got classes and meetings to attend! But recall that I am otherwise nearly as flexible as I can be without totally snapping. I routinely stay until 3 am. In the summer, I regularly worked overtime. I can't get much more flexible, and if this is something to still call me out on, I laugh at its absurdity.

Since I am supposed to kind of keep track of my moods and thoughts with my depression, here are my thoughts regarding how the firing played out:

I'm a little proud of myself. I handled the situation with dignity, and was honest and assertive when I felt it appropriate. I cried, but nothing's wrong with crying. The work had been a huge part of my life, for better or worse, and I appreciate the paycheck. Mostly, though, I learned a lot. I learned I really, really, really like creating things, especially things that bring smiles, warm tummies, amaze the eyes, or all three. I learned distinct ways I would NOT want my business to progress, and ideas to inspire me. The firing was a slap in the face, certainly, but I managed to remain calm and reasonable. For that, I think I can be proud of myself.

P.S. I'm in the process of switching over from Celexa to Prozac, and so far I really, really like it. I am feeling glimpses of what I used to feel like fairly often, and it makes me very happy.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Potential Name: Brown Paper Bakery

Any feedback is welcome!

All in the details.

It's interesting. Although I am vague about my actual plans to start a bakery--in that, well, I'm in college, and I can't exactly start this very instant on painting the walls and working in quickbooks--I do get excited/obsessive about the details of the business. I need to name the place, first of all--I guess that's a bit of a big deal, right?! And in the meantime, I like to think about things as packaging design, and custom stamps, and making business cards.

It's all very fun, yet kind of tiresome. It's like... when I was imagining my future wedding in middle school. It was and exciting creative mental exercise for me, but as with anything I get too preoccupied with at an inappropriate period of my life, I start feeling weighed down by all that is in my head compared to so little that is concrete and before me. I feel an intense frustration when my mind is filled with so much passion and color as a Holi festival, and yet I feel powerless to create something with my own two hands. How can I channel this energy into something productive and creative?

I've thought about selling royal icing flowers on Etsy. I don't think it would exactly be wildly profitable, but it's a start. You know, I could even sell homemade marshmallow fondant! But, my mind remembers, I live in a dorm, and I certainly do not own a stand mixer. Yet!

Do you have any thoughts or suggestions? What are good ways to channel my creative energy?

How do you effectively plan for events in the far-ish future? That's really the question I'm interested in. I have a hard time planning anything at all. Advice?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Time out for me.

Though I am hot and cold about my current place of employment, I naturally always enjoy the pay off. This time I bought a passel of books, and I am so pumped about them. This is not about my future business or creative endeavors directly, but, uh, my own personal self-improvement can only help those things, right?! Right.
So, I bought:

As per Lauren's suggestion on her guest post on APracticalWedding, I'm hoping this book will inspire and empower me. In gender studies, I come across a lot of depressing literature, and this, I hope, will be refreshing.

I bought Bluets, by Maggie Nelson, The Ethics of Ambiguity and The Second Sex (in a beautiful hardcover of the most recent translation) by Simone de Beauvoir, and Giovanni's Room, by James Baldwin, for a class. I am very excited. If only I had time to read anything beyond assignments for class!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lessons From Real Life: Practicing the Golden Rule

In customer service, of course, of course, it's true to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. But there's something about this I-You relationship (okay, you must read I and Thou by Martin Buber, as I am for my Theological Existentialism class) that is beyond general politeness: it's where we step off from our high horse and realize that perhaps other people's greatest desires are not so different from our own, and we should act in consideration of that.

For example, it's happened many times at work when someone orders a very expensive cake for their infant's first birthday, and is very picky and perhaps a little neurotic about the whole ordeal.

In the back of the shop, my boss will roll her eyes and remark about how absolutely selfish humanity is, or about these crazy new moms, or how everyone just expects her to do everything they want, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.

At first I reacted in a similar, cynical fashion. But I've certainly tired of it. I can't help be realize, that, geez, these people just want to do something really nice for another person. And they want it done perfectly, in the best way possible, just because they want the best for this person.

It's idealistic, and I realize that many people ordering extraordinary cakes for painfully ordinary events perhaps are doing it for less than humble reasons. Nevertheless, something in me wants to think that people generally have good intentions--or perhaps the Biblical aphorism my mother always tells us (particularly when we're having to do chores!): Do everything without complaining or arguing. That, by itself, is a lesson from real life to remember.


I'm sure that a lot, a lot, a looot of the stuff I'd love to make at my shop are things I am personally obsessed with--and you know, why shouldn't they be?!

Well, anyway--I love Mexican food. In fact, I lived in the Yucatan for a semester in college, and I adored all the lime and habañero eaten as condiments with meals. And I loved, loved, loved drinking horchata with lunch. For those of you, readers, who are not familiar with this wonderful beverage, horchata may look like milk, but it's actually not milk at all. It a rice drink flavored with cinnamon, served cold. It's sweet, but like, say, chocolate milk, people still drink it alongside their meal, not as dessert. I love it ice cold with some spicy fish tacos, just like my host mom, Doña Carmita, made them. Mmm!

Lessons From Real Life: Taking Shortcuts

When I first started working at my current place of employment, I was hired as a baker. Now, at the time, I was incredibly nervous--sure, I make cakes from scratch a fair amount on my own time, but I've never been trained, and I've never done it professionally! I dreaded coming in to work, certain I would be fired within two weeks.

But, it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. We mostly use cake mixes. Really?! Really. And we pick them up from Wal-Mart, like practically anyone else.

I was appalled.

I took cake decorating classes at a Hobby Lobby last summer, and each week we had to bake, torte, and fill a small 8" cake. Someone asked if the cake should be made from scratch or if using a mix was okay, and my teacher said that she usually just uses the cheapest mix she can find--and not just for the purpose of teaching techniques to the class, but for cakes (wedding cakes, even) she makes for others.

I think this is a really, really common practice among small-time cake decorators--you know, the kind that may have a website (but usually not a storefront), the kind for whom cake decorating is a pseudo-artistic hobby like scrapbooking, and something that brings in "extra" income.

But! I don't want to be a small-time cake decorator, nor do I want to just work with cake. I was reading an article in a magazine for cake professionals once that counseled decorators that it's okay not to actually have any idea about how the cake comes together--that that is the job of someone who has gone to pastry school. It bothered me that there was a lack of interest in what made the cake good, as opposed to what superficially made the cake look good!

I don't want to seem all-knowing, but I don't think it's a lot to ask that I expect a cake I order from a bakery to be made from scratch, with care, and not from a mix I could also pick up from the store and bake myself. Taking shortcuts like these certainly save you time, but they chip away at the integrity of a business.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Brainstorming My Ideal.

See, I'm a Religion major, and I have little idea how to approach forge a business in the economic sense (And geez, that's a really large part of it, huh? Uh-oh.)

BUUUT. I do like to think I know something about aesthetics and values, and how I want my future business to tangibly feel to people.

One night I wrote down 20 adjectives that I would want to describe my business. Then, I narrowed that down to five.

1. Honest. I mean this in all regards. I want people to get what they pay for; I want the ingredients to be top-notch. I want to feel good about my dealings with customers. I want to take breaks for me when I need to, and I don't want my employees to feel like they need to bend the truth to get time off when they need a little break, too.

2. Wholesome. This goes a lot with honesty, too. I want to use good ingredients and support local farmers. I want to make each scone and torte with a sort of simple diligence and delight in just how good it is: as cheesy as it sounds, I want things to be made out of a love for warming people's hearts (and tummies), not to snatch a profit or in an attempt to save time. It also means a lot to me to cater to various food allergies and restrictions. I would like to regularly offer both vegan and gluten-free selections that are just as appetizing as those full of milk and wheat.

3. Homely. I want my storefront to be cozy and comforting. Though I love minimalist design--and it would be absolutely striking in a bakery--I want my shop to be warm and inviting. At home, I am messy, and my design style is fairly eclectic. I imagine that, realistically, that's how my shop would turn out, too (though I'm working on the messiness part!) I want the experience of my shop to be truly enjoyable for many different types of people. I love the idea of having chalkboard walls or butcher paper and crayons for kids to draw with and enjoy themselves, and it is also important for me that the elderly and disabled feel comfortable in my shop, too.

4. Sustainable. Last semester, I lived and studied in Mérida, México, and I took a class in sustainability. Now, it's extremely important that my business is sustainable and environmentally-friendly. I want to create little waste, and have my business serve as an example to the community. I certainly will discuss this more in later posts!

5. Happy! I know a lot of this is me touting really, really high ideals. But! This one is really important. The vibe of the place needs to be happy and creative, joyous and welcoming. I mean, though parts of owning a small business will be really, really hard, I hope I always keep in mind how great it is create something that I love. I want to spread this love to my community, and them to get all sorts of yummy good vibrations in my shop, too.

Okay, okay. It's nearly 3 am now, and I think I can rest. My counselor would be proud of all this, I think.

An Introduction.

I'm debating with myself whether or not I should right this now, as it nears two in the morning, but my I realize my stubborn side won't let me sleep if I don't dive in to this new little venture of mine. So, who am I? And why am I here?

I promise, I'm not having an existential crisis--or, well, I suppose that if I am, it's nothing new.

So, okay. Who am I, dear reader? My name's Erica, and am a college student attending a small liberal arts college in the South. I'm majoring in Religion, and I am hoping to accrue minors in Gender Studies and English, but from what they tell me, minors don't really matter all that much, so I shouldn't stress about it. At this point, I'm wondering how I can cease to tell you my entire life story--or even just my academic life, which would be a doozy of a conversation, too.

Anyway! So! Though I am at college, I work part-time at a local cake shop. I started off as a second-shift baker, but my cake decorating skills prevailed, and now I do the vast majority of the special fondant work we put on cakes.

As a child, I loved cooking and baking, and I was very much interested in the intersection between food service, hospitality, and design. While other children wanted to be veterinarians or astronauts, I thought I'd like to be a waitress, or maybe a chef. I would draw menus of our family dinners for everyone at the table, and I loved planning food and table arrangements for my birthday parties. Though my family lived on a dead-end road in the country, far from any passing traffic, I painted a cardboard box and made myself and bologna sandwich stand with cold off-brand sodas fora sale, too, and got grumpy when my own mother wouldn't pay my asking price.

The entrepreneurial streak didn't end there. I've always been kind of artsy, I guess, and I really enjoy working with my hands, whether or not the finished product is mostly butter and sugar. So, in middle school, I roped my little sister in to making soap with me. I sold some to a supportive (perhaps pitying?) science teacher of mine and gave some as gifts to others for Christmas, but it never really grabbed hold of me--or I was too young to really do anything about it myself.

Nowadays, I'm 20 years old and facing a quite uncertain future.

I haven't been feeling like myself for nearly two years now, and at the beginning of this summer, I was finally diagnosed with depression. I am anxious, and I am oftentimes unable to make a decision, even at the cost of setting myself up for failure. I was always an excellent student and writer, but in recent years this has proven to be less true. I need to stoke a new fire in me and become more confident in my personal value and to feel as though I am able to make real progress towards achieving my goals. Journaling is one way to help in this--but oftentimes, when I journal, I weirdly feel very self-conscious. Typing is faster and more accessible to me a lot of time, and a regular font is not as distracting as my erratic handwriting. I keep a personal blog of sorts--it's more of a mishmash of stuff I find than a lot of deep thought. I was thinking about starting a more purposeful blog, but I wasn't sure what it should be about. Today, after ranting to my counselor about some happenings at my work, she suggested that I start a log of all the lessons I'm learning there. She's perfectly right.

My goal is to open my own creative business (a bakery or otherwise.) And in the meantime, I hope to learn more about myself, and improve myself, and grow in my writing. Are those too lofty of goals?

It's true. This is where we start.