No one puts together a care package like mich'l.
I've mentioned her before, but her story bears repeating....
I've known mich'l since the late '90s, when we both were at the Four Seasons in Atlanta. I was expecting to hate her, as I expected her to be another pastry chef go getter, the type of person I usually scared out of the kitchen (my ego had a body count - I think I effectively scared two cooks out of our kitchen with my abrasive, unfriendly style - what can I say, I was rather aggressive in those days. I assure you I've relaxed considerably since then - all it took was quitting the kitchen).
mich'l had been an itinerant Four Seasons cook, moving from property to property working her pastry magic along with her boyfriend, X, who worked the front of the house (he managed and assistant managed in the restaurants and in banquets in those days). She was easy-going (though frantic at times) and and extremely knowledgeable, having worked under Sebastian Cannone and En-ming Hsu (among others) when they were both still with the Four Seasons. Her favorite stories from her time at the CIA were of toasting Pop-Tarts to perfection on the expensive rotating deck ovens in the pastry shop there. She loved great food and she loved junk food. High and low coexisting in her pantry were not a contradiction to her.
She and I only overlapped a few weeks in the pastry shop at the Four Seasons. I didn't like our boss, he didn't like me, so I moved on to the fish station on the dining room line. Somehow mich'l and I started talking and I realized I actually liked her. She had a cynical streak, spoke her mind, and raced around the kitchen as if on fire. She loved sweets, too, and we talked a lot about sugar. She introduced me to my favorite chocolate cake recipe. And though you would never have guessed it if you saw us now, we also shared a love for extreme music, though her salad days were shows at Gilman Street in Berkeley, when she was a punk, and mine were in Boston and Japan, where I developed a love for noise.
On our overlapping days off we would go junk food browsing - we'd hit the local Target and walk its aisles, reminiscing about our favorite candy. We didn't buy much - it was more about browsing. We didn't have much money to spend, either - the Four Seasons didn't pay well at our level, though they did supply benefits and a 401K.
Mich'l and I haven't lived in the same city since 2000. I always try to visit her wherever she lives, but since she and X moved to Egypt it has been hard. Once a year mich'l puts together an amazing care package, full of Japanese treats (she knows I love them, and she does too) and goodies from wherever it is she has traveled to.
This year it was a Turkish/Japanese care package. Right before coming back to the US for a several-month visit, mich'l and X went to Istanbul. She picked up a few treats for me - a bracelet to ward off the evil eye (lord knows I could have used it in 2008 when I was laid off twice), gum with both coffee and mint flavor (stinks and freshens breath at the same time!), chocolate halva (how did she know I love it?), and some fresh ground Turkish coffee from one of the premier roasters in Istanbul (too bad that they didn't offer to vacuum pack it for her - I know it will be a mere shadow of what it was a week earlier). She also raided her local Japanese goods shop, and sent me a mochi-center candy surrounded by toasted soy powder-flavor white chocolate (kinako mochi candy!), a little plastic set of Kyoto-style pastries (I collect tiny Japanese pastries in plastic...the sets are so fun!) and heart-shaped caramels with a tiny hamster-sized children's book.
If I had to choose one thing that I adored about the care package (other than the thought and care that went into it) is the packaging on the kinako mochi "chocolate":
The ghostly mochi character looks remarkably like...the SHMOO!
If the Shmoo were made of mochi, I think I'd actually like him. Or, rather, I'd like to eat him. Especially if he were filled with sweet azuki beans and rolled in kinako.