Thursday, August 30, 2012

No Doubt About It...

This culinary school thing will, by far, be the most challenging thing I've ever done.

Truly, I'm about to have my mettle tested.  You know, see the stuff I'm made of.  Find out my quality.  And all those other heroistic cliches you've seen in pop culture.

Yesterday, the head of our program brought in foie gras for us to try (no apologies, animal rights activists).  He said he wanted us to expand our palates, try new things, expand our horizons.

And frankly, it was delicious.  Rich and savory, I was still tasting it ten minutes later.

Which brings me to my own, limited food experience.  I don't really mean eating-wise...I mean, I'll try anything new any day of the week.  But I'm beginning to understand that I am definitely lacking culture...and that I must have it in my life to feel whole.  And by culture, I don't mean Lays potato chips dipped in cottage cheese (which is that example that one student used to support his claim that "I love trying all kinds of crazy stuff").

 I consider myself a decent cook, but I am about to have my limits, not to mention my skills, pushed to their boundaries.  Am I ready for that?  I would like to think I have the humility to accept with grace any criticism about my kitchen skills (which I've been practicing much longer than many of the other students).  And I know they will be criticized, and I will have to change or get left behind.  I'm going to have to work harder than I ever have in my life, and I will be swallowing a lot of pride to get where I'd imagined myself being.

I'm definitely outside of my comfort zone.  But, if it means trying more things like foie gras, or working in Spain for six weeks, or feeling awesome after missing only two out of 34 on a math test (a subject area I have not thought about for a long time)...then I think I'm ready for the challenge.

Like a friend of mine reminds me, the (amazing, life-changing) journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  And I can't help like feeling this is the best thing I've done for myself in a long time.

Monday, August 27, 2012

First Day of School

I slept poorly.

I left my house, only to return five minutes because I'd forgotten important parts of my uniform.

I've been wandering about campus since nine, attending various orientations, checking out various clubs, eating a free lunch, and whiling away the hours until my two o'clock class.

And all I can keep thinking right now is can class please, pretty please, just start?  And I sure don't remember thinking that on my first day of classes at Iowa State, way back in the good ol' fall of 1993.  In fact, I don't really remember paying for my tuition at ISU (which of course I must have, how else would they have given me a degree?)...but I certainly know I am paying that bill now.

And that will make all the difference, I suspect.

Not that I didn't appreciate my college education back then.  I did.  Sort of.  It got me a job.  The job got me money.  The money allowed me to start a family, buy a house, etc.  But one day, I dunno, the money wasn't enough.  The job wasn't enough.

So...here I am back at Culinary Arts school in a local community college.

And four hours into this whole thing, I can't stop thinking this is SO weird.  To be jockeying for space with all these young people.  Will I be able to compete?  What makes me more special than any of these other culinary students?  Can I do this while I continue to manage my house, family, and job?

And it is on a day like today that I remember the title of this blog here:

To thine own self....be food.

Friday, August 24, 2012

KitchINsanity

A little bit of a departure today from food.  Quelle surprise, I know, but with my culinary arts classes starting next week...I figure from here on out, you'll be hearing more than you want about food and whatnot.

So, today...something different.  My kitchen (and maybe even your kitchen too).   My kitchen equals my happy place.

However, after my kids leave for school in the morning, that happy place looks something like this:

Not a happy place

Breakfast detritus
Not that my kitchen is filthy, but it's distressing.  It looks messier and more cluttered than it really is.  The number of open cabinet doors (not to mention the lazy susan in the corner) are appalling, because the jumble of colors, shapes, and features of the items inside cuts up the neat streamline of the brown wood's continuity.  Likewise with the neutral countertops - chaos explodes all over the place as items that Don't Belong are strewn all along the beige Formica landscape.

But, in these Days of Our Lives, time is short, and who wants to spend it rearranging and cleaning their kitchens?  I mean, seriously, do I want "Kept an Immaculate Kitchen" engraved on my tombstone when I pass into the Great Beyond?  No.

But, the kitchen is the heart of the house.  Or maybe the stomach.  Anyway, it's a place where my family spends a lot of time...and it's important.

So.  Three minutes.  Give yourself three minutes everyday to do these four or five steps, and your kitchen transforms into a place you can reasonably tolerate.  Until you find the time and energy to really clean it.

1.  Put away all major "out of place" items.  These are items like breakfast cereal, milk, butter, jelly, etc. that actually have another primary residence (pantry, top of fridge, inside the fridge).

2.  Close all cupboard doors (pantry, closets, etc).  Shove things around inside to get the door to fully close, if needed.

3. Pile dishes neatly into sink - to be loaded into dishwasher later (by oldest child, or similar).

4. Give countertops a quick swipe with washcloth or damp paper towel.

5. For Eat-In Kitchen Only: push all chairs in at the table.  Seriously.  You will be amazed at how much this makes a difference.



Yeah, you'll notice there's Stuff still on my counters.  And yeah, some of that will remain there for awhile (i.e. the plastic tub of water bottles - hello soccer season!).  But the difference between the two sets of photos is now this place, right above here, is somewhere I can move around in without wanting to tear out my eyes out (the way I feel when laying eyes upon the chaotic clutter in the first two pictures).

I can devote three minutes every morning for that kind of peace of mind.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Honoring a Great

If she were still alive today, she'd be 100 years old.

Happy Birthday, Julia Child!

As I begin (in less than two weeks) this journey into the Culinary Arts, I've named her my inspiration.  Because...I did some research and found out that she attended cooking school in Paris sometime in 1949 or 1950...which places her...

...right around the age of 37 or 38.

Holy vache.  I myself am around that same age.  She did exactly what I am doing now.  And look at what she did!

Also, she's famously quoted, and a couple of them strike at the heart of the matter.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” 

and

 I know now who my hero is.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

My First Bento

Bento.  Not Barbie.

We are in our ninth year of school-starting preparations here.  School clothes and supply shopping, setting alarm clocks, resetting normal schedules...you know, all that jazz.

But, here's what different.  The kiddos aren't the only ones heading back to school.  Their mama's going too...back to college!  And she's had to do her own fair bit of school supply shopping herself.

And that includes a new lunchbox.  While I am quite partial to the classic metal lunch box, I decided to go with something a bit cuter and more...well, portioned.

Enter Bento Box.  (mine purchased at www.laptoplunches.com)  Bento is traditionally Japanese, and is usually a single-portion home-made meal carefully allocated into neat little serving sizes.  This pic, courtesy of Wikipedia, shows a typical bento. 

Depending on who you ask, obesity is either a.) out of hand,  b.) all the school's fault, c.) all the parents' fault, d.) b and c, e.) irrelevant, considering what's happening between Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.

What does obesity have to do with my new lunchbox?  Not much, except Americans are combatting the obesity problem by developing lunchboxes that will effectively portion their lunchtime foods for them.  Because we simply can't be trusted to eat an appropriate amount of food, I guess.

Well.  Call me untrustworthy and ignorant, then.  But, I'm a sucker for anything black and pink...and I also like lunchboxes...and, I really did need a new one.  And heaven knows, I probably need all the help I can get portioning out my food.

  

One of the large containers holds cherry tomatoes (because vegetables are our friends, people), and the other holds sea salt crackers and Brie cheese (protein, carbs, and French culture, people).  About eight grapes were crammed into the top left box, and I actually did not use the lower right two boxes (the smaller one would hold what? one-two Hershey's kisses or fifty mini chocolate chips?).

I'm pretty excited.  It's neat and compartmentalized and definitely appeals to my sense of order and aesthetics.  A sweet insulated sleeve also accompanies the bento box, as well as some sterling silver flatware (definitely Oneida quality, at the very least).

I assume that this lunchbox will make me pretty popular on campus, and I wouldn't be surprised if I am nominated Homecoming Queen this fall.