Monday, July 8, 2013

Toast w/ Lemony Pea Mash // On Raising Our Business As Our "Baby"

When it comes to relationships, I've learned that people find comfort in milestones. Almost immediately following your first date, the litany of questions begins. Are you two moving in together (we did one year in)? Do you think you'll get engaged (it took us about three years)? What date is the wedding (we agreed to a solid 2-year engagement)? Are you buying a house (, no, no...the thought of all those extra chores right now is enough to make me break out in hives)? And, of course, my personal favorite: when will you have a baby?

What I often want to say to these people is this: we already have a baby. Our baby. Our business. But I know that's not the answer they're looking for and so instead, I'll usually take a sip from my (alcoholic) drink and respond with something charming like, "soon, we hope, but not just yet."

When you are a married woman of a certain age (specifically one that begins with the number "3"), this whole baby thing seems like a pretty valid question, one that the chef and I have put a great deal of thought into. Don't get me wrong. The chef and I are totally psyched to eventually start a family. However, in the meantime, in many ways, our business truly is our baby these days (does that sound totally crazy or insensitive? I sincerely hope it doesn't). 

Two years ago, after a whole lot of contemplation about whether or not we were ready to pursue our dream and start our own business, we decided we were in need of a getaway to clear our minds. We took a quick weekend trip to Chicago to try out a few new restaurants that were on our radar and to find some time together to really discuss the pros and cons related to this little dream of ours. Isn't it kind of amazing what a change in scenery can do for your mind and sense of perspective? 

When we returned from that trip, feeling totally inspired and completely reenergized, the chef and I began a several-month long soul-searching process in which we really evaluated the state of our lives: our living situation (how much longer were we both willing to rent), our financial situation (how much of our savings account were we truly willing to risk), and our support system (which friends and family members could we really count on to help us out -- both physically and emotionally -- as we took this journey together).

The picture above was taken in November 2011 on the morning that we opened up our first pop-up stand in Brooklyn. God, just look at that place. We didn't know what in the hell we were doing, let alone have the foresight to craft a more professional looking sign. I like this picture because I think it really captures the emotion of that morning for us (that's our business partner and longtime friend to the right). Though neither of us admitted it at the time, the chef and I were both totally terrified, though we both tried to hide it to keep each other calm. We didn't know anything yet about POS systems or permits or how many attorneys it would eventually take to make this thing legit. Truth be told, on that first morning, we weren't even totally sure what it was we were selling (something about braised meats, a whole crap load of funky condiments and freshly baked bread from a bakery up the block that we had discovered, literally, two days before). The only thing we did know that morning, shortly before our first customer arrived, was that we were already knee-deep in this thing. But by the end of that opening day, one pretty unexpected fact was clear to us both: a new member of our family had arrived. 

For the next two years, from the time we opened our eyes in the morning until the time we closed them at night (admittedly, there wasn't much sleeping back then), our life was a bit of a whirlwind, one in which every breath we took seemed to revolve around nurturing this new baby of ours -- this thing we had created together that we believed in and were terrified of and loved more than anything else in life. We watched as our baby took its first steps, and cried together the first (few) times it tumbled, both terrified that it would be broken forever due to our own negligence. We teared up every time someone said a kind word about her, trying to remain entirely humble, but unable to hide the fact that we were really, really proud. We fought with each other when we disagreed about how we should be raising her, and called family members in the middle of the night, frantic and begging for their wisdom. 

And now this...

In so many ways, it feels like we just sold our first sandwich and yet we are faced with an undeniable truth: our baby is finally growing up. 

We've officially had the keys to the new 2nd Avenue shop for about three weeks now and the renovations are going fast. Trust me: this is a good thing. A really, really good thing. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just slightly overwhelmed with emotion. 

Based on stories my mother has told me, I imagine my current emotions are somewhat like those she felt the first day she sent me off to kindergarten. Sure, I had a year of preschool under my belt and, despite a few scraped knees, had always returned home at the end of each day happy and healthy and generally unscathed. But, that was the big leagues. 

I like to think of those many early pop-up markets we took part in like our shop's pre-school of sorts. There was still plenty of room for trial and error, a healthy dose of coddling from those around us, and (despite the amount of money we had already poured into things) the strange sense that things weren't quite real, the sense that if we screwed up we could still recover from our mistakes and walk away Scott free. But now we're entering the real world, one that involves burst pipes, lighting fixtures and an actual permanent address. And with every wall we paint, or tile we repair, or permit we secure, I'm reminded of this fact -- our baby isn't really a baby anymore. She's growing up and, as a result, we are too. 

If I were able to freeze time, I think this would be one of those periods when I would (only slightly) abuse the privilege. Despite all the stress and long days, it is one of those rare times that I feel pretty confident we will look back on with a great sense of nostalgia and likely some tears (hopefully the good kind). In just a few weeks, the training wheels will be gone. I don't know for certain how our baby is going to do out in this crazy, cutthroat world of ours, but I'm hoping that the foundation we've raised her on will be enough to support her and get her through.

This recipe is borrowed from the April 2013 issue of Bon Appetit. It relies on one of my favorite ingredients of all time, petite peas, which, kind of like this crazy dream of ours, are so small and delicate and yet, with a little bit of creativity, are capable of being transformed into the most beautiful, unexpected things. 


Toast w/ Lemony Pea Mash
adapted from Bon Appetit

- 1 garlic clove
- 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus more for serving
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for toast
- coarse salt
- 2 cups frozen petite peas, thawed
- 2 tablespoons fresh chives
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for serving
- freshly ground black pepper
- Ciabatta, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the ciabatta slices on a baking sheet and brush both sides with olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. 

Combine garlic, parsley, 1 tablespoon olive oil, a pinch of salt and 1/2 cup cold water in a small saucepan. Add peas and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, reserving cooking liquid. 

Transfer pea mixture to a food processor; pulse until a coarse paste forms. Transfer to a medium bowl; mix in chives, lemon juice, lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir in reserved cooking liquid by tablespoonfuls until the mixture is thick but spreadable. 

Spread pea mash onto cooled slices of toast and garnish with olive oil, parsley, crushed red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper. 


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