Bridging the Gap

When I started this blog in October 2011, I had just left my job as a genetic counselor in Western Massachusetts, and was transitioning back to my home in Pittsburgh. I had been working in genetics since graduating college in 2006, and after five years was still not finding the fulfillment I always thought it would bring. I started CookingScraps as a way to explore cooking, writing, and to keep in touch with family and friends. IMG_1749

That first year back in Pittsburgh, I tried to involve myself in the local food movement, volunteering with SlowFood Pittsburgh at their weekly farmers market. I’d flip mini-pancakes made with Western Pennsylvania grown and milled wheat, and topped with Pennsylvanian maple syrup to help promote the producers of those products. I took a job at a local food co-op, making bee pollen peanut butter smoothies, faux chicken salad (with seitan!), and almond milk lattes. I cooked relentlessly at home, experimenting with cooking as seasonally and locally as I could. I tried my hand at making dumplings and pasta from scratch, Indian food, soups, and sauces. I learned that I liked dill, mustard, cilantro, and goat!

As the spring came, I contemplated what my next steps should be and realized that those steps should be quite literally steps! To clear my mind I decided to return to the outdoors for the summer, as the year before college I hiked 300 miles of the Appalachian Trail and was hooked on backpacking and hiking. Opportunity came knocking, as my old camp had heard I was back in town, and wanted to see if I was interested in leading some more of their outdoor programs that summer. I packed my bags, tied-up loose ends, and spent the summer of 2012 biking with teenagers from DC to Pittsburgh, and backpacking in the IMG_1113Laurel Highlands. Inspired by the sudden satisfaction I had been looking for with the change of scenery, I applied to a seasonal job I had always contemplated, working as a naturalist for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) in their High Mountain Hut system. It corresponded perfectly with the end of camp, and that August I found myself driving myself to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, wondering what I had just gotten myself into. I was stationed at Mizpah Hut, 2.7 miles from the nearest road, and just below the summit of Mt. Pierce. The job entailed teaching informal naturalist programs at night to our guests. I worked on a staff of five, and each day we served up to 60 guests a full breakfast (think stacks of pancakes, bacon, OJ, huge bowls of oatmeal) and dinner (homemade bread, salad, soup, a full-meal, AND a homemade dessert). The fresh ingredients we packed in twice a week, carrying loads on a packboard. This is how we get things up and down the mountain!We each took turns cooking, and I found that I really enjoyed cooking for our guests. I got positive feedback from my coworkers, friends, and guests, some of whom encouraged me to apply for a cook position in the AMC’s Maine Wilderness Lodges that winter. I got the job, and that December, found myself driving in a snowstorm towards Greenville, Maine. IMG_1685

When I arrived in Greenville, it was another 45 minute drive on logging roads to Maine’s 100 mile wilderness, and a 10 mile snowshoe, XC-ski, or snowmobile ride into Gorman Chairback Lodge. When I got there, I met my manager, Garrett, a man I’d met a few times before working for the AMC in New Hampshire, and had always been fond of. We found we worked well with each other at the lodge, and enjoyed each other’s company when we worked together. That summer I was promoted to head cook at Little Lyford Lodge, 7 miles away. IMG_2942No longer working directly together, Garrett and I started to become real friends, and eventually started dating. Meanwhile, I had been honing recipes in the kitchen, and building my cooking confidence. I started to think that I might really want to cook for a living, perhaps in a more traditional non-woods setting! A guest forwarded me a job listing for the chef manager of The SchoolHouse Cafe in Harpswell, Maine. I applied, and in late August 2013 learned I had been hired for the position!  IMG_1902Again, I packed my car (and two cats, who had recently made the journey from my parents house to my cabin in the Maine woods, which are accessible by car in the summer) and was on my way to Harpswell to start the process of opening The Cafe, and providing school lunch for Harpswell Coastal Academy (part of The Cafe’s mission, along with using locally sourced seasonal food, and cooking from-scratch whenever possible). Garrett soon followed and was hired to run the front-of-house of The Cafe. That was September 2013, and now, 2.5 years later, I am a bit older, a bit wiser, and finally feel like I have found my calling. It has been a joy to cook for this community. IMG_3233I feel as if Harpswell has really embraced us, and has been wonderfully supportive of our efforts to provide a community gathering space and good food. On both a professional and personal level, I have found the love of my life, and I’ve once again started looking towards my next steps, but this time, with Garrett.

The time has come for us to move on from The SchoolHouse Cafe. Garrett and I have decided to get married in April, and before we settle down, we’d like to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Afterwards, we’d like to return back to Harpswell to see what will be next for us. We’re not sure what that will entail, but will have plenty of miles to contemplate our next step. In deciding how to best keep in touch with Harpswell, our friends, and family while we’re away, it seems like I should return back to this old blog of mine, as it has always been an outlet for me to chronicle my indoor and outdoor experiences (and, my cats). In my last blog post, in August 2013 right before I applied for The SchoolHouse Cafe position, I ended it with “much, much more to come!” I had no idea HOW much more was to come, and I imagine this time it will be no different.

I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing, and that this will help bridge the distance while we are off on our grand adventure.