Our family moved to Juneau when I was a freshman in high school. It was exciting to leave our small pond and jump into a slightly larger one. Juneau’s population, at nearly 31,000, more than triples Sitka’s 9,000.
When I came on the scene, Juneau had long since hopped on the coffee bandwagon. I readily tuned in to coffeehouse culture, undeterred by the fact that I did not actually drink the stuff. In fact, I would not regularly drink coffee until I turned eighteen and no longer held out hope that I might still be growing. Mom had convinced me that coffee would stunt my growth and that it may have been partially responsible for stunting hers. In the meantime, I drank Italian sodas which are said to originate in San Francisco, not Italy. Whether authentic or inspired, Italian food was the go-to cuisine of the 90’s, with pesto, paninis, focaccia and fettucini alfredo all prevalent on menus everywhere. Juneau’s restaurants followed suit and I was eager to expand my edible horizons.
Never a fan of brown bagging it, I was thrilled when my high school changed their policy and allowed students to leave campus for lunch. Without a car, I was limited to the lunch options within walking distance; thus, my newfound freedom only got me as far as my two legs would carry me. Most good eats were in town but that took up half the lunch hour, leaving little or no time to eat and return for class. I came up with a creative solution. I would walk to town with friends, share a fabulous lunch and then hop in a cab, making it back just before the tardy bell. It worked like a charm with one exception. While no one would bat an eyelash at the sight of a cab in New York City, Juneau was a different story. A bright yellow cab parked in front of my high school might as well have signaled the arrival of a foreign dignitary. I would step out, greeted by blatant stares and mouths agape, and try to remain composed. Never mind what they thought, I was going to have a respectable lunch and that was that.
Baking gave way to dining out during my high school years as I found far more interest in experiencing food than in creating it. Weekends were spent babysitting and a fair amount of my resulting income was funneled into my preferred eateries. One year, I decided that I would take dad out for a fancy birthday dinner, just the two of us. I offered to take him to the Gold Room at The Baranof Hotel. Dad agreed to go, in part, because he knew that the Baranof offered patrons a free entree on their birthday. It is possible that I had considered that when suggesting said locale. For dinner, we ate tender, juicy steaks and fresh king crab legs with drawn butter. The meal was excellent; the evening, memorable. High school is not an easy time for parent-child relations but dad and I could always bond over our mutual love of good food.
When my second year French class organized a Fete de Rois celebration, I decided to pick up my apron. Leafing through mom’s dated French cookbook, I settled on a recipe for galette de ménage, a yeasty cake with custard filling and an orange glaze. It was my most ambitious culinary endeavor to date. The end result was a flying saucer of golden goodness, an immense disc, oozing vanilla cream. Its heavenly scent, a mixture of homemade bread, orange zest, sweet vanilla and rich buttery cake. When I placed the cake on the dessert table, it dwarfed the store bought macaroons, croissants, and pirouettes in a can. Every morsel was devoured before I had a chance to taste it. My consolation was a generous helping of praise from my classmates and teacher.
During my senior year, I took a job as a barista at my favorite coffeehouse. It was there that I learned how to make good coffee and to build the perfect sandwich. My manager had an illustrated book titled, ‘the art of sandwich making’, with detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to create a sandwich masterpiece. It was a requirement that every employee read the book and adhere to its sandwich-making principles.
I loved showing up after school, clocking in, putting on an apron, and possessing the belief that what I did, making food and cappuccinos, was an art form. I loved the camaraderie I shared with my coworkers and the rapport I established with our regular customers. It was not my first job but it was my first job working with food and it would not be my last. I still make sandwiches the way I learned back then: build a foundation with flat ingredients, such as meats and cheeses and end with the least stable items, such as lettuce, sprouts, bacon, etc… My most recent creation was this BLT with avocado and homemade mayonnaise, on Essential Baking Company potato bread.