A Sweet Distraction

When January 1st arrives, and sweeps cooling winds throughout the way, there’s a shift that is uniquely shared outside of any other time. The air smells crisp like stark citrus, cleansing and refreshing. There’s a special pocket of time where invigoration condenses like clouds across the sky, new with each sunrise. This is the time of year where anything is possible, and doubt has been chased away by swirling flakes.

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lavender skies

The start of the year is dear to my heart, but only because fresh starts in general are. Finding peace in clean slates creates a similar feeling as opening a new journal. Primed for endless creativity, and ready to humbly accept the best version of these rampant thoughts and ideas.

This past year was overflowing with delightfully hard work; between the day job, personal endeavors, In Whites, and quiet, hopeful planning for the future, there was little time to r e s t. As the book began to close, this protagonist was incredibly proud, as well as exhausted. Among all of that bright, sparking, explosive creativity, there was also an omnipresent cloud of self-critiquing. Fraught with a constant voice yelling to do more, try harder, take on more, say yes more, there was another one saying to be harder, toughen up, grow a callous, deal with shit. Next to that voice, was the mental checklist waving in the winds of those demanding breaths, with unmarked boxes of previously determined goals.

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Bitterly elegant endive

I’m not one for resolutions – they give the impression that there was a problem requiring a harsh fixing. A total tear down and rebuilding. After 24 years, I would rather accept the foundation and tools that I have, and make better. In that vein, intentions feel a bit..more comfortable. A little softer around the edges, like me.

I would not describe myself as “tough”. The complete opposite, I’m like an over-ripe peach. Fuzzy, soft, and prone to going bad if not caught at *just* the right moment. For the longest time, I longed to grow into something harder. Refined and polished into a razor sharp point, I wanted to be someone that could handle the harshest of criticism, could let any small issue bounce off…a coconut? I wanted to be a coconut. Rough, hard, pretty indestructible from the outside.

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Veins.

Alas, I am still just a small peach. Sounds cute, probably smells good, but soft and mushy.

While there are still aspects of this personality that I would like to gently mold into something stronger and more durable, I’ve reached a point of embrace. Instead of ignoring the obvious, willing something into existence that just will not be, I want to fully learn and enjoy those soft, squishy, over-sentimental parts of myself.

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Since food has never been just a source of income for me, any fluctuation in life and mental/emotional fortitude has an effect on the product I create. Dulcet Daydreams is meant to be a much more open and honest reflection of that. (Yes, I choose the most obnoxious names I can – they’re my dinners, I can do what I want.)

dul·cet
/ˈdəlsət/
adjective
  1. (especially of sound) sweet and soothing
    synonyms : sweet, soothing, mellow, honeyed.

Honeyed…doesn’t that sound nice? Floral and delicate, perfumed, unctuously slow and in the moment.  That is a tone worth striving for.

day·dream
/ˈdāˌdrēm/
noun
  1. a series of pleasant thoughts that distract one’s attention from the present.

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While it doesn’t pay off to dwell in such fantasies, part of me truly believes that it is healthy to indulge a slight drifting towards a plane of wishful, higher thinking. It helps broaden the mind towards what could be. When those daydreams are wandering their way towards a brighter, healthier, more balanced existence, I stand by it even more.

I suppose a large part of this dinners theme finds itself settled among the self-care/self-love trend that has taken over. If 2018 was filled with goal-setting, and “hustling” towards a more evolved career space, 2019 is meant to be about balance. Having the desires of an accomplished career meet in the middle with that of a slow, fully enjoyed life outside of work.

Softer, slower, nurturing to body and heart. That’s the theme.

In less vague terms, I want every course of this meal to leave one part sense of wonder, and one part sense of fulfillment. A balance of the practical and whimsical, self-care through the basics of more caring food, and delight of the senses.

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By February we will be heading towards the end of winter. It will be time to gently wake up from a deep slumber, encased in blankets of snow and chill. Thawing, awakening, stirring, all helped by the aid of seasonal, local foods doing the same.

Regardless of whether you decide to join us for dinner come February, I truly hope everyone finds what they are searching for this New Year. Remember that even when January ends, and there is no longer that crisp, fresh smell of newness, you can make any day, any moment, your fresh start. If, however, you would like to know more about the dinner, and how to attend, please subscribe to my newsletter here:

https://mailchi.mp/7b8042faa10a/get-in-the-know

In the next week you will get a menu release, along with information on how to purchase a ticket, and what else to expect with this pop-up.

Until next time,

Colleen // In Whites

The “Process”

[All photography is by the talented Nicholas Occhino]

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If you have ever wondered how I create my menus, let me explain.

It starts out with anxiety. A steady leak of comparison drips through my mental barriers, and slithers down to smolder inside my chest. Fueled by the scrolling of Instagram posts and Facebook feeds lead by my peers, it thickens like a tar. Smoke fills the cavity of each rib, making it feel as though I can’t catch my breath. The anxiety grows in the form of sweating palms, sleepless nights, and snapping at those around me. I fall behind at work, I make stupid mistakes, I get trapped inside my brain. It feels as if I need to purge some sort of toxin from my blood.

Am I good enough? Is what I’m doing valid? Is it right to stay here? Am I failing? Am I valid? Is this “purpose” I’ve found really true at all?

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Then a pen is grasped, and paper is found, a napkin, back of the grocery list, anything, and sketching begins. It may not even start as a real idea, just a few lines and some shading, from there I can discern what it is. Flavors, textures, nuances begin to take form, all melding into a cohesive dish. It isn’t necessarily done in the correct order, in the proper form, but I find it eventually – the message behind the chaotic lines.

The pulsing and pounding that lives behind my eyes so often starts to soften, the rushing inside the ears dims, and the hazy smoke seeps out from my fingertips. There is clarity in the chaos for a few precious moments, and it doesn’t matter if it is good enough in the grand scheme of things, because it is salvation, and peace, and purpose internally.

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Another sketch, another moment. Another sketch, another message. Originality isn’t the focus, nor are any of the rules of what constitutes “correct” cooking. I am not a chef, nor have I ever claimed to be (unless you count the required line on my business card), because I know I never will be. I will never give particular care to whether or not my knife cuts are precise enough, if my soubise is done in the classical form. I have never been in this industry because I love it, or revere it, I am in it because I use it. I use it as a way to selfishly find my way back to me, through food. I do not claim that to be right, or worthy of respect, simply true.

From each sketch comes a certain focus, there is something that I can successfully work on, edit, and polish. Not perfect. Perfection is unattainable, but emotion is. Connection is, storytelling is, creating an atmosphere, an extension of myself, sharing the goddamn narrative is. Those things I can reach for, and grab.

 

This is not a flowery metaphor about menu making, it’s honest. The three dinners I have put together thus far have been fueled by equal parts anxiety, worry about whether I can fool people into believing I know what I’m doing, and an insatiable need to create. An indescribable, unending desire to imagine, build, and share something of myself to others, to show them something new in the process. There is so much more to food and eating, than just food and eating.

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There is a story behind every farm that contributes to a plate, every cook that prepares the meal, every hand that serves, every voice that weaves the night together. There is an entire troupe of human hearts trying to find their way, their passion, and their bigger purpose in life, putting these nights together. When I design a menu, all of that is pushing and pulling it’s weight inside me. There is a certain responsibility I put on myself to create something worthy of the time, and effort, everyone so humbly puts into these things; these things that are a very part of me, that they all show up for, support, and give themselves to. They may not even love food, cooking, or hospitality, but they show up. So it has to be right, it has to.

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There is also a need to be different, not for the mere sake of it, but to showcase to the audience that I have, what is possible. There isn’t a bone in this body that believes what I do is unique, or special, but it is different for where I am. That is important. That is needed. Pushing the boundaries of an area in the one way I can is something I feel a call to do.

There’s a rivulet of one hundred emotions coursing through myself, from pen and paper, test plate to completed course; There are countless edits, and revisions, all encompassing an inner monologue. I wish I could accurately explain. I struggle daily to find the right ways to turn what happens internally, outward. There is shouting and screaming, anger and excitement, hope and frustration, all running rampant in my brain and heart. There is no moment of real rest, except for the times I’m planning and performing these dinners.

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When I create a menu, I am desperately trying to curate a small piece of my journey, in order to give it to someone who may be going through similar moments. A small reflection turned into connection, that is the goal. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if the diner simply enjoyed a lovely meal, because they’ve also shown up. Something about the menu pulled them into the dining room, made them decide to partake in the night at hand. They decided to join the troupe, to become apart of the menagerie for one evening.

That means something to me.

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Resurgence

[All photos courtesy of Nick Occhino]

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July 20th, 2017, is going to forever remain a pivotal moment in my life. It wasn’t perfect, in retrospect it was quite amateur, but it was a shift. An internal inertia turned physical reality, right in front of my face, proving something true.

I can do some really cool shit, with some really amazing people.

The one thing that I have always craved, since day one of finding this passion, was a means to translate the chaotic, incessant, overwhelming amount of fascination and love I feel for food. Beyond immature goals of becoming a “chef”, climbing the social status ladder of the industry, or finding someplace “real” to work, that has remained constant. There’s a reason for that – it’s the real, humble, and honest goal at the root of my place in this field.

Attaining a certain job title no longer has the same appeal, grande reputations of established restaurants or cities aren’t the carrot anymore; connection is. Connecting everyday people to the ingredients before them, and individuals with opportunities for expression, is what seems like a truly exciting endeavor. The night of my dinner was so incredibly invigorating and adrenaline filled not because it was mine, my food, my ideas, my night, but because of who I was performing it with. People that I’ve grown to love and care about showed up to help and support me with something that up until now was a carefully avoided dream, because it never seemed possible. It lit me up in ways I didn’t know life could.

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There were moments that needed more preparation, aspects that could have been enhanced, and parts where I should have gone out to the diners to interact more, but I don’t want it to have been perfect. I want to look back, a year from now, and see growth. To be a better line-cook at my job, a better chef who plans dinners that create an atmosphere, and a better student who learns faster.

When I first started this blog, I was searching for a chance and avenue to express myself. I was past the point of “recently graduated college student”, well into my new job, and felt a nagging pull. I hadn’t created something purely of my own volition in too long, and felt myself drifting in too many directions. In some karmic cash in of good deeds, I had a mentor who trusted and believed in me enough to present me with a huge risk. A chance to jump far and beyond my comfort zone (or his, I’m sure) in order to grow, to do something big not just for myself, but for the cafe, and the food scene of where we reside as a whole.

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Seeing a certain part of your story come full circle, a particular chapter ending, and a page turn, is gratifying and exhilarating. The menu for the dinner was comprised of dishes that I had already created, when I was working at my college’s restaurant, but with the additions of what I had learned in a years time. A little more finesse, a little more attention to quality, and a lot more humbleness, added up to what I like to believe was a satisfying meal. Not a spectacular one, but hopefully that will come sooner than later. Just a meal that showed one persons growth, as both a cook and an individual.

If asked to, I could flip through the pages of my worn out cooks notebook, and find versions of each course from one to two years prior. I could point out what was lacking in the first editions, which would usually be a mental or experience based flaw. The two courses that were personal favorites however, the main and the dessert, were total examples of what environment and influence can do to a person. The main, essentially coffee, bacon, and toast, was meant to thank the second Darrow I’ve been lucky enough to have as a teacher. The dessert, a combination of summertime fresh fruit, herbal gin, and everything sweet, was intended to recognize the influence of a fantastic baker boss, and ultimate grown woman goals.

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Despite the kinks, mishaps, or unavoidable amateur nature of the night, I hope that everyone who attended as a diner enjoyed themselves, and want to experience another in the future. I hope that everyone who was apart of the production felt the same sort of passion and adrenaline that I did. Things need work, I need work, but I can only pray that everyone will want to grow and go further together. This shouldn’t be merely a beginning of a new chapter in my story, it should be a part of something much bigger. For the people around me, the people I have the gift of feeding, and a certain, small, city that deserves a chance at something more.

Take risks, run further, work hard for yourself – but bring others with you. The next phase isn’t as fun without them.

 

Reach.

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Looking for the Line.

I thought it was fairly clever, when I first thought of it (especially compared to “a checkered past”…cause, pants). It rings true in ways I didn’t realize until recent weeks.

Though I can’t fully remember the turning point, there was one, back in college, where I looked at a plate of food I had made and thought “I can do this.”  There was no timidness in the dish, no meekness in presentation, no over compensation masquerading as cockiness. It was just a damn good plate of food, that looked beautiful, of it’s own accord, that I had helped craft together. It was one of the first times I wasn’t focused on the idea of the plate representing me, but of me properly presenting the ingredients. It was an evening free of outside or internal pressure, a relaxed, meditative flow of food.

That dinner shift, with that flow, and that plate of food, is the Line.

The one that meanders back and forth between passionate, frenzied excitement, and a peaceful tide. The one that creates a sense of rhythm inside me that I can understand, and accept to the point I don’t think about it anymore. It isn’t forced, it isn’t diligently acted out, it just happens. My rhythm. My reason for being here. The Line that lets me be the version of myself that I don’t feel I’ve reached yet, but am nearing.

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This version, some girl that isn’t a girl but a woman, some cook that isn’t a cook but a chef, knows herself. Knows her food and footwork, in equal parts, are what make up the song and dance of #kitchenlife. Knows that a white coat doesn’t define the chef, but the reaction to being asked for food by a loved one at 1 am, after a shift, at home, is. Knows that it’s OK if she is the only one that knows her.

Close, but still reaching. Up, up, up, we must all go.

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Up, at first, started as staring. A lot of it; at the wall beside my couch, the ground as I walked past that same bookstore, in that same town, that I’ve walked by since I was five. Finally, progressing to the ceiling above my bed. Staring, mulling. Whining. We didn’t get this job, or that opportunity, or their praise, or our wishy-washy wish of the week.

Then it turned into rolling. Rolling over to the other side, because that side of the bed always resulted in dreams of places we hadn’t been to yet. Rolling a pen between the fingers instead of against paper. Rolling bitterness from one chapter over into the other, then wondering why it stained new pages.

Finally, Up became marking. Pages full of scribbled marks, remnants of flexing a creative muscle gone lax. Marks in an abandoned notebook, curling swiftly into pushes on a plate. Word documents littered with the marks of a wannabe blogger, inner forearms with that long-forgotten bouquet garni tattoo idea, scraps of paper with dreams involving pop-ups stuffed into the dryers lint catch.

Then there was a calendar mark.

7.20.17

Then a menu.

Another menu…..then one more.

Timelines, production schedules, PO’s. Ticket sales.

All a bunch of marks, reaching up, a steady incline on my life graph chart.

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It feels like a moment of resurgence, and a hurdling, forward vortex of creative ammunition. It’s the most humbling of the heart experience.

A troop of misfits, with their own lives, problems, events, and opportunities, want to help. I’ve never experienced such sincere goodness like this before, with a combined hope for success. It makes it better. Makes it what it is, which is the most exciting, liberating, and exhilarating exertion of effort. A spring being tapped, a season changing, whatever other metaphor or simile there is.

It’s late, and per my now routine method of writing, I’ve lost the original point that started this journey of written word. Final notes though –

Experience isn’t what it is because of location, accolade, or reputation. It’s due to the hands involved, minds met, and hearts befriended.

 

Sometimes luck steps in, and makes that known early.

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Bloom.

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Finding purpose has never been an easily hit target, at any point, for myself. Murky waters of doubt surrounding the source of my intentions tend to cause anxiety, and spur retreat. Am I doing this for a real, true, sincere and honest reason? Or is it selfish, rooted in a deep and tangled web of thorny thoughts that demand safety for me, security for me, fulfillment for me, me, me. Has staying here really been a product of outside sources slamming down the windows of opportunity, or have I just drawn the curtains closed? Been surrounded by my own self-imposed serenity of dark, that I don’t recognize light anymore.

Light being change, movement, forward motion. Light being the reason I’ve landed in the desert of adulthood, with a compass called passion.

I don’t think it matters anymore, what it started out as. Selfishness, honest belief I could change the thinking of the place I grew up, all those reasons are just scraps now. Little bits of paper torn from diaries kept by a much younger girl, with a much emptier schedule. Stars aligning, Gods good graces, dumb luck, whatever it is, between the cracks of self-interest and selfless hope, a purpose popped up from the dirt.

Take to give, accept to share, learn to teach. Try to fail and fail to win.

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Everyone enters this field for a different reason. Some want to live out the archetype; brash, rude, intense, a 0-60 personality that’s allowed and embraced because of the environment. It gives license for emotional junkies to let loose.

Sometimes a kitchen is the only haven for an individual that isn’t accepted anywhere else. Records, rap sheets, addictions, disorders – hardly ever are they discriminated against. Kitchens need warm bodies that can punch in and do the shit, they don’t need pristine business models that wear ties.

Among the endless list of other reasons, some people just really love food. Waking up to thoughts about peaches coming into season next month, going to bed with the a plate mock up. Meandering the avenues of daily life with the next meal (to eat, to serve, doesn’t matter) on their mind. That’s my reason. That’s my why.

I don’t stop thinking about food, ever. I don’t stop considering whats next to eat, try, experiment, give, force feed to someone, etc. I could give two shits about the ‘culinary field’ as a whole; that’s the selfish part. Restaurants and kitchens are just venues for me to live out a life that is constantly surrounded by what I love.

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At the crux, that’s the reason I haven’t ventured out of the safe abode of hometown living yet. Food, cooking, serving it (even a certain style, to an extent) is what gets me going day in and day out, but the place in which I do it is less important. The city setting, address, or restaurant name doesn’t hold the same appeal as sharing said passion with people I know, names I care about it, face I see everyday.

When opportunity arises to blend the deeply personal love of the art form, and the fulfillment of sharing it among those closest, it feels validating. More than validating, it feels humbling. Just a nobody, with a mediocre talent level and beloved Sabatier, when given allowance to dive in, is probably going to drown, but will do so in blissful happiness.

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Learning to feel where two feet are currently planted, digging fingers into the soil surrounding them, small of the back against this particular patch of Earth, inhaling the air above and around – it focuses everything. Brings you into the moment, and lets you realize there’s more. You can be selfish and selfless, you can strive for yourself, and give example to others at the same time.

Time to leave that safe, quiet, dark space.

Light is peeking in. It’s time to bloom.

 

Dig.

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I want to want a lot of things.

I want to feel the push for fine dining, for Michelin, for “greatness” in this field. I want to want the move, the one that would take me out of small town, into big city. The desire to work for a chef that will break me until I can’t make a mistake, because I don’t know how to anymore. The adrenaline and anxiety, screams pounding into my ears across a ticket line, faster, harder, more plates, covers, turnovers. Dexterity of hands, numbness of mind. The hardened shell that lets all the bullshit of an outdated industry roll off like water. I want to want all the things it would take for me to become a chef. 

But I don’t . I just wanna cook.

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To make good food, then better food. To learn more about how it brings people together, deeper into their relationships, culture, life in general. Food does that, in some of the most instinctual, archaic arches of humanity. Gathering around a fire started it all, and the smoke that rose from cooking those kills, is the same that rises in kitchens today.  That’s the part of this field that I desire, the intrinsic history buried in how we cook, how the blades we hold carve in ancient ways.

It’s hard though, to not compare. To appreciate, but not envy, the moves and changes my peers are making, that are more akin to what I described before. In reality, I’m not jealous of what they’re doing, but how it will be easier for them to be seen as a success because of it. And it will be a success, a high and worthy one….just not the one I want anymore.

That’s the line I’m looking for; in literal terms, a hotline to work that appreciates the softer, smokier edges to food. One that isn’t about marrying a restaurant and sacrificing your life for a shitty paycheck, shitty environment, and “haute cuisine” that makes it “worth it”. In looser terms, the line between the traditional aspects of this field that can make any heart race (the dance of a crew that’s worked countless nights together, the sound of a ticket maker pushing you further, brainstorming menus that mean something) and still being present in this life to enjoy it, and take advantage of it.

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It closes in around me a lot, the wooly, suffocating pressure to pack my knives and leave. Leap into a city that I don’t know, and “begin”. I don’t think it’s what’s meant for me though. Time and time again I’ve tried to leave the place I’m planted in; from internships, to trips, to moving out of my childhood home. Nothing worked out the way I wanted it to, and perhaps it wasn’t supposed to. Each of those efforts were done in desperation – and I mean gross, anxious, cold sweat desperation that clung to me.

Leave, leave, leave, go, go, go. Otherwise you never will. Otherwise you’ll be that sad story of a girl with potential in college, who gave up, and gave in.

It’s a lie though, the idea that you have to leave everything you know. Bloom where you’re planted and all that shit. The summer I was “stuck”, I learned the most. It was the act of embracing the moment I was in, that led me to finding the deeply buried seed of creativity I cling to most ardently.

Roots grow stronger the deeper they go, and maybe I should attempt the same.

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