Over a year has passed since my last entry. In that year, some of the most significant events in my life happened. I am at a loss for where to even begin.
I suppose a brief sum-up will have to suffice for now: Since February 16th, 2011, I graduated culinary school with distinction from The French Culinary Institute in New York City and worked at De Gustibus Cooking School where I was humbled to work alongside the likes of Chef April Bloomfield, Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his son, Chef Cedric Vongerichten, Chef Jeffrey Zakarian and Chef Gabrielle Hamilton. I got engaged to the love of my life and moved with him to California, just outside of L.A. I managed a small cafe, quit and I am now getting ready to start a new job at a local bakery.
After typing all of that, only now do I realize just how much has happened in the past 13 months. It’s difficult to comprehend, in a way, because my life today is so different from what it was only a year ago. I could never have predicted the series of events that would unfold to lead me to this moment, but I finally feel that at last I have a clearer vision of what I want to make of my life.
I should back up a little and explain why we decided to move to the opposite coast! Jordan, as many of you know, is an actor and last year while we were in New York, he accepted an invitation to attend graduate school at California State University in Fullerton. Jordan’s heart has been set on the west coast for a long time, since it is the ideal place to pursue his dream: film acting. When he was accepted, I had hesitations about moving so far away from the city I had just started to get used to. We would not only be about 2500 miles from our families, but there was also no guarantee that I could find a job that would support us. It was strange though, because despite my fears and anxieties about the move, I felt so naively intrigued and excited about the prospect of living in California – the land of avocados, sun and barely noticeable seasons. Jordan and I did both agree that we weren’t in love with New York. We had gotten comfortable with living there, but it always felt like an impenetrable entity – it just didn’t feel like a home. Everyday felt like a battle just to get around, forcing you to sort of robotically shut yourself down just to survive the chaos of it all and hope to come out the other end at least partially intact. Even the simple pleasures of strolling the market were often beaten and bruised at the relentless crowds, the inescapable hum and rumble of noise from every direction.
I make the city sound miserable. My apologies New York: you are incredible and few cities can compare; there are parts of you that I miss dearly and with all sincerity, but you don’t really get to know someone fully until you live with them. It’s not you, it’s me.
As if the universe heard my nervous thoughts, with an amazing stroke of luck, a friend of a friend knew someone – well, not just anyone, the District Manager more specifically – of a corporate food management company that has accounts all over the United States, including about 9 miles from where we were moving. He got me in touch with her, we did a couple of phone interviews, and before I knew it, I had been hired sight unseen to begin as the Assistant Manager for a small cafe subsidized by Whittier College for the students on campus. I had no previous managerial experience, and only a little over a year of “real world” food industry experience. But I must have a trustworthy voice – or maybe this friend of a friend was just deeply indebted.
Moving so far away from my parents was probably the hardest thing I have ever done. I still feel homesick everyday. Before I knew it, every belonging we could fit into our CRV was packed, including the kitties, and we were west coast bound. I had only been to the west coast twice: once to Pasadena and once to Portland. The moment we hit Colorado, my mouth hung open until we got through Utah. Nothing felt real. Every mountain was more breathtaking and more terrifying than the next. I felt as though we had driven across the galaxy and landed on a completely different planet. I felt like I can only imagine the first pioneers did as they rode wearily toward the west, suddenly confronted by the fearsome reality of the power and age of the earth, the simultaneous danger and inexhaustible beauty of it all. I felt as though I were looking at dinosaurs.
I still cannot believe how easily everything fell into place. My amazing mother deftly found us an apartment on Craigslist less than three miles from CSUF. But the entire time we were driving across country, there was a tiny voice in the back of my head worrying that the apartment was a scam and we would drive up to a parking lot or an abandoned strip mall, homeless and helpless. To our delight, we had in fact put a deposit down on an actual apartment that was so much larger than we were expecting – well, I guess even a shoebox would feel larger than a studio in New York. Within two weeks, the apartment was almost completely furnished thanks to garage sales and friendly neighbors, we pretty much knew where all the important places were (grocery store, school, post office, friendly neighborhood bars), and we had California drivers licenses and license plates.
I wish I could say the next six months were as fluid. Though I am and will always be grateful for having a job lined up even before we moved, it was in no way a dream job. My statements should not be applied as an assessment of the company I worked for as a whole, but unfortunately, the particular account I was employed at was, how shall I put this…in short, it was a place where the few honest, hard work employees were often overlooked, underpaid and unappreciated. In short, it was a place full of management that could not manage, who could not be trusted, who did not have a passion for food and who constantly searched for ways to put a bandage on problems instead of finding lasting and sustainable solutions. In short, it was a company supposedly dedicated to the sustainable food movement who spent thousands of dollars on a garden for the campus that is now a tattered mess of weeds and sadness. In short, it was a company that I could no longer be a part of.
Despite all that, I learned many very important lessons – lessons one can only learn at a job they do not love. I did meet a few people who were wonderful to me and who I consider to be friends. I never expected the job to perfect and I don’t expect any company to be perfect, especially one whose overhead is so enormous. The real reason I left was because I didn’t feel happy or fulfilled and I did not want to continue to grow with a company that I didn’t feel passionately about. Life is too short and I am too young to feel like I have to settle for something.
After I resigned, I took a couple of weeks to unwind and detox from the whole experience. I turned down two jobs before I finally accepted a job as a cake designer/consultant at a local bakery that is literally a five minute stroll from our little apartment. Believe you me, I know how fortunate I am to have had so much opportunity and so much support. As Regina Spektor sings, “Must have been kind to the kittens and birds/In a previous life must have thought happy thoughts…” Most days I feel like I don’t deserve this fortunate series of events.
Jordan and I both feel very blessed that his graduate class is full of completely different, at times starkly opposite personalities, that somehow all meld into a cohesive and hilarious whole. I adore every single person in his class – and their spouses. And that’s saying something. It’s crazy when you meet a group of people that you know are going to be your friends for a very long time.
I have a few goals that I want to accomplish in the next few months, but one is a long-term goal and I have to rely on you to hold me accountable. I, Samantha Doan, on this day, Sunday, March 11th, here-by swear to post a new post at least once a week for the foreseeable future. I promise to do my best.
And so until the next post, I will leave you with a recipe in honor of my new job: Vegan Chocolate Almond Cupcakes. Here’s to the sweet life…
Vegan Chocolate Almond Cupcakes
(Adapted from Sweetapolita)
Yield: 24 cupcakes
225 g all purpose flour
100g cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
450 ml/ 1 3/4 cups unsweetened almond milk
2 tsp red wine vinegar
320 g caster sugar
256 ml/ 1 c unsweetened applesauce
64 ml/ 1/4 c canola oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp instant espresso (not the straight powder, the liquid)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Fill muffin tins with liners and set aside.
In a large bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt twice. In a separate bowl, combine the almond milk, red wine vinegar, caster sugar, applesauce, canola oil, vanilla and espresso. Briefly whisk the liquid ingredients just to combine and then slowly pour and whisk them into the sifted dry ingredients. Whisk until smooth. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin lined with paper cups, about 3/4 full. Tap the tin against the counter to even out the batter and release some air bubbles. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool for ten minutes or so in the tin and then remove them and let them finish cooling on a wire rack. Meanwhile, make the frosting.
Vegan Vanilla Almond Frosting
227 g vegan margarine
200 g confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
60 ml/ 1/4 c unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp salt
*Toasted sliced almonds and Turbinado sugar optional for garnish
Combine the margarine, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, almond milk and salt in a large bowl. Beat until smooth and creamy, about two minutes. Feel free to add more confectioner’s sugar if you like it sweeter and stiffer. Pipe onto cupcakes, then sprinkle each cake with the toasted sliced almonds and Turbinado sugar for crunch. Serve.