Small (featuring Mini Cheeseburgers)

I will not complain.  I will not complain.

I was going through a dry spell with work.  It happens when you’re self-employed.  My work as a private chef and caterer ebbs and flows with the seasons and the economy, just like most luxury services do.

I know this.  I know this. 

But it hurts.  And it’s scary.  And this city, this place where I grew up, that inspires me more than anywhere in the world, becomes more unfamiliar every day.vanishing new york

I will not complain.  I will not complain.

I needed to get back in the kitchen.  I needed to run my knife through some onions and get my floury fingers in some dough.  It’s easy for a chef to think that time off means time out of the kitchen, but I’m more certain of who I am when I’m cooking than any other moment.

My insecurity was high though, because work had slowed.  Thumbing my way through recipes, I felt only terror.  I decided to get myself to the store and find my inspiration there.  It was a good plan, except that my eyes were bigger than my body or my wallet.  My momentary thrill became terror again as the checkout girl rang up the bill and packed heaping grocery bags.

I will not complain.  I will not complain.

speeding-taxi-216x160My large haul seemed to grow with every city block and I got smaller and weaker.  I switched the positions of my bags every half block, feeling relief for only a moment. The store had kind of screwed me again too.  Every time I go shopping I feel like I’ve paid a higher price for poorer quality.  I started to cross the street and a speeding cab almost slammed right into me.

I will not complain.  I will not complain. 

The traffic light turned red and I set my bags down on the corner, massaging my raw fingers for a second.  The light turned green.  I picked up my load and crossed Broadway.  That’s when I saw it.

It was an old flower store, left vacant for years and years, which had been brought back to life.  The remodel was vibrant and tasteful and small.  It wasn’t a bank!  It wasn’t a Starbucks!  Someone had rehabilitated an old Harlem flower shop into a new, gorgeous plant store with soft lighting and glorious Spring-inspired bouquets.  Honest to god, I almost started crying.Ode-to-Spring-Bouquet-detail

It’s going to be ok.  It’s going to be ok.

I would build a relationship with these people, these optimistic florists in troubled times.  I’m not someone who buys flowers for myself, because honestly I can’t afford them, but maybe this would be a start of something new.  My bags seemed lighter.  I felt the sun on my back.  I felt my perspective shift and my senses blossom.

I cooked well that day.  I felt connected.

The next day, I chose to grab the train at Broadway and 125th street so I could walk by my new local inspiration.  Something was happening.  There were people everywhere and they all seemed to be staring at the flower shop.  There were cops and stopped traffic and parked trailers.  I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw.  There were no new optimistic small-business florists in the neighborhood.  It was a set for a movie.  They had decorated the building perfectly – lured in to the location by the sweet old sign I’m sure.  They filmed for the day and then left the corner vacant and lifeless, just as it had been for many years prior.

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Empty.  This city is empty.  And so was I.  My tailspin took a tailspin.

I want to complain.  I will not complain. 

Two weeks later, I booked a small job downtown.  It was a birthday dinner party for 4.  They were young and sweet and couldn’t afford much of a blowout.  It was hardly a windfall for me, but work is work and they were very appreciative of the service and the food.  Afterwards, I was on the 1 train, headed uptown.  I had my catering bags with me– a saute pan sticking out of one, my chef jacket in the other– and the woman sitting next to me struck up a conversation.

“Are you a chef?”

“I am.”

She drew me out about the menu and my services and my history.  Sometimes you get the chance to clarify yourself for others and you realize it’s actually an opportunity to see who you are and how far you’ve come.  I’m a chef.  In New York.  Imagine that.

The nice lady, who mostly just wanted to talk about how she loves to cook salmon, got off the train 5 stops before me.

Two days later, I was at my local CSA (my crop share, or, more specifically: community supported agriculture).  I was filling my bags with locally farmed kale and beets and looked up to see the woman from the train waving at me.  She is a member of my CSA too.  Imagine THAT.

These small, magical moments might not be a big deal in a normal place, but here in Gotham, you take notice.  They are everywhere, actually.  They happen all the time.  And no matter how frequently you feel abused and disheartened by this place, there are a million tiny connections that electrify the fabric.

Maybe this city is not empty.  Maybe this city is rich with people like me.  I am small. I am a small, female business owner in New York City.  I am constantly washed away by commerce and upheaval.  But I’m not going anywhere.  I am the motherfucking fabric of this city.  I am what keeps New York vibrant.  I am a small, female, business owner and I kick ass.  I am New York.

I really can’t complain.

Here’s another thing that’s small and awesome… mini cheeseburgers.

For the burgers, I use 80/20 lean to fat ratio ground chuck and I always add about a tablespoon of duck fat and a tablespoon or two of Worcestershire sauce.  I lightly season the beef with salt and pepper before I make the patties and then sprinkle it with a bit of salt right after I grill them in a very hot, large saute pan.  Flipping after about a minute (they cook very quickly) and popping some thinly sliced cheese on after the first flip.  Truthfully though, good sliders are all about the buns.  If your buns suck, so will your burgers.  These buns are soft and tasty.  Be sure to not overbake them, as they will dry out.  You want the bottoms to be light brown.

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Mini Burger Buns with Rosemary

Makes 65 buns in smallest scoop

  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 1/3 cup water (warm, but not over 110 degrees)
  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 2 2/3 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/3 cup instant potato flakes
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  1.  Stir the yeast into the water and milk and let sit for 15 minutes.  The mixture will become foamy.
  2. Place the flour into a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Stir in the yeast mixture, the melted butter, the potato flakes, the sugar, the salt and the rosemary.  Mix until the dough forms and then knead on a lightly flowered board for 10- 15 minutes.  If you’re using a standing mixer, mix for 7-10 minutes on medium speed.
  3. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover.  Let rise for 1 hour.
  4. Punch dough down, recover and let rise for another hour.
  5. Preheat oven to 350.  Place parchment or a Silpat mat on a baking sheet and then scoop the dough out with a small ice cream scoop (obviously, the smaller the better—I used the ½ tablespoon scoop for these) and put them onto the baking sheet.  Gently flatten the tops of the scooped dough with the bottom of a glass.
  6. Brush the tops with melted butter and bake 15 minutes or until the buns are lightly browned.

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