Holiday Jewels, Part 2

“Is there somewhere we can put our things,” I asked. 

“Yeah, you can put your purses over against the wall,” Rhonda said, waving in a general direction as she coughed and walked away. “Hillary, I’m off at five, so I’m out.” 

Hillary stopped the power washer in the sink and turned to face both us and Rhonda. She was the youngest of the three by far, with only faint faint creases in her face. Her warm, blonde hair tufted away from her cheeks in waves. 

“OK, Rhonda. You have a good night. Yeah, you two can put your bags over there in the corner,” Hillary said to us. “A couple of my girlfriends came to that holiday demo last year and said it was real fun. They made some par-fit kind of thing for Christmas and it was a big hit.”

“Oh, yeah?” I said. I was out of steam. We had exactly one hour to make all of the recipes and I had eaten exactly one protein bar and a coffee for the day. 

“It’s perfect for parties,” said Paige. “The recipes are really crowd-pleasers.” Thank goodness for Paige and her positive attitude. I had lied for one sentence and gave up. 

Paige and I left our things in the safety of the bakery and wandered the aisles of the full grocery store, shopping for all the ingredients we would need for the demo. Some for actual cooking, and some for the display. The experience was sponsored by a big-name food company as a way to plug their products for the holidays. Everyone knew to buy the trusted brand of sugar or the big-name spices, but did you know that you could combine these products to make a huge lump of sugared, spice bread and call it something weird? Neither did I. 

By the time we returned to our home base at the bakery section. Hillary had left for the day. We stole as many tall racks as we could find to house our materials and finished products. The demo went in order of the recipes. For each one, I would chat up the crowd with small facts and anecdotes as Chef Paige whisked and mixed and prepped. Then we would take finished products from the racks and hand them out as samples. 

It had been a month since Paige had called me and asked me to help emcee this project. She had already been hired as a chef to tour around suburban Chicago grocery stores. I called her after she put out a Facebook message asking for people with entertainment backgrounds to apply for a new gig. Entertainment was a stretch - I was an independent contractor teaching mostly art-based workshops to students and teachers through a museum. Though, I had a background in theater circa high school and college, and I wasn’t afraid of talking in front of large groups of humans. 

I don’t have a “how yoga saved my life” story. I’ve been doing yoga since I was a very strange 12-year old and I’ve never had an issue with substance abuse. In the fall of 2010, when I started yoga teacher training, I was also living with terribly mean people, having just abruptly ended a serious relationship. I had taken this job as the host of a grocery store cooking demo because, while it was sort of acting, it was definitely paying me enough to eat just more than one protein bar and a cup of coffee per day. 

So, yoga didn’t save my life. And it made me pretty broke. And the fact that I was the most sad just before and during teacher training would be what you would call “circumstantial.” If you want a “how yoga saved my life” story, you will have to read a different story. But, before I was a yoga teacher, I had one million weird jobs. And this was one of them. 

“Does the rack have enough room for the rest of these buckeyes,” asked Paige. 

“Um, I think? I’ll check,” I said. I walked into the walk-in freezer adjacent to the wash pit in the bakery. The bakery, as evidenced by our sprawling co-option, was the hub of the Jewel. The fridge, the wash pit, the counter space, the massive oven, all cordoned off with a sweet little swinging door behind the cake display. The bakery women, called girls, were the envy of the store, and it was obvious we didn’t deserve to play in their space. 

“Yeah, we can fit like four more trays,” I called from the walk-in. I swung around the rack taller than me to face the chilled shelves. Piles of paper sacks labeled “cookies,” “oatmeal cookies,” “chocolate chunk cookies,” all stared back at me in their miserably disheveled state. The bakery deal was a scam - none of these baked goods started from scratch. They were all portioned out and pre-packaged. They were the frozen tater tots of desserts, passing off as a real operation due to their surroundings. 

I shuffled out of the walk-in with my careful, metal taps. I had just discovered Santa wasn’t real, and his stand-in had bought toys at a wholesale, discount retailer. But we had a show to do, and no one but me was surprised that the Jewel bakery did not measure sugar by hand. 

For all of its false old-world charm, the bakery also did not have a microwave. In order to melt the butter, I had to take a bowl to the break room, up the stairs and around the corner. The stairs were lined with cardboard stars, reminding employees to smile, help out the customers, and most importantly, shine. 

Every microwave is a little different, but they all smell vaguely like soup. I’m not sure if I learned this from the script or from Paige, but to accurately melt butter and/or chocolate, you use 10 second intervals and stir it between rounds. 

“Employee of the Month” Erica stared at me from above the microwave as I waited. There were no criteria listed, so I had to assume that regardless of her mugshot, Erica must really “shine like a Jewel” as the stairs instructed. 

No one seemed concerned with me or my bowl of butter on my way back down to the bakery. Although judging by the strong scent of soup, employees seemingly walked around with mysterious bowls all the time