Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Booze, Bongs & Bed

On Thursday of last week, we left the bake shop and headed for the classroom to study Hospitality and Restaurant Management. This is another of the courses designed and offered by the NRA (That's the National Restaurant Association - not the National Rifle Association [which should not be confused with the American Honky Tonk Bar Association]). The course, with a textbook of over 240 pages and only four days to cover it in, is far from exciting. I've been nodding off since day one, and another certification hangs in the balance. The online exam for said certificate is tomorrow afternoon, and here I sit blogging instead of studying.

The highlights of the last few days have been breaks and lunches, for it's during these times that my real education begins. It's during these times that I hear comments like, "Yeah, I'm kind of a bong connoisseur" and "Man, that blunt I smoked this morning didn't help. Just made me tired." The bong comment didn't really surprise me. It was spoken by a younger person who frequently discusses not remembering what happened the night before. The sleep inducing blunt comment did catch me a little off guard though. It was spoken by someone older and came at me while I was dining on a peaceful lunch of MexiDip & Chips. Sure, I probably shouldn't have been surprised considering the fact that I have on more than one occasion thought the guy returned from breaks smelling as though he had found the school's stash of cooking wines, but my mind didn't immediately grasp the blunt comment. I was thinking Blunt (as in James Blunt and You're Beautiful [and it's parody - my cubicle, my cubicle]) or a blunt object (as in Mrs. Peacock in the study with a candlestick). When it dawned on me what he said, I thought I'd try to mask the incredulous look and go with it. So I said with some semblance of a straight face something along the lines of "A blunt. What is that? Marijuana?" I honestly didn't know. He told me that it could have been marijuana among other things, and the conversation changed shortly thereafter.

I share such outtakes to help reinforce an earlier post discussing the completely new to me culture that I experience on a daily basis. Between the discussions of drugs, alcohol and the incessant profanity that would, as the saying goes, make a sailor blush with shame (Mississippi Squirrel Revival, anyone?), I sometimes feel as though I've inadvertently staggered onto a reality television show. Stay tuned, folks, to see how the conservative church boy reacts when a student uses 18 four letter words in one sentence! And one more related thing... A student got sent home last week, because she (yes, a very lady like female) threatened another student (a male) with a knife (I will cut you). If I ran the sous, er zoo, Lizzie Borden would have been expelled, and the instigator suspended for a day or two, but I don't, and she reported back to school the next morning. Thankfully this did not take place in my class. Culinary (not pastry) students were involved, but this just goes to show what a different environment I now reside in.

To my knowledge we never had associates threaten peers back in the corporate world. I had an awesome team of individuals to work with, and I don't say that just because they minded their manners (or because some of them read this blog). They rocked (my world, you know you did, and everything I own I give), and while I understand and am okay with this huge life change, I can't help thinking fondly of the past every morning when I race down the highway and glance up to see the 1215, 1400 and 1437 buildings. I stopped by the Memorial location of the corporation today to deliver a few leftover tarts as a surprise for a friend who just took a job there. It may have been the chef costume or the elapsed time, but the security guard acted like he didn't know me. It was like I was a bother to him, and somehow I think it bothered me more than it should have.

Please don't take this walk down memory lane or cry for yesterday (yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away) as a slam to my classmates. They are good people, good people who like illegal substances in some cases, but good people nonetheless, and I usually enjoy their company. Aside from the knife wielding crazies down the hall, I don't think any of them are excessively malicious. It's just that I'm still adjusting to the less than professional atmosphere. A kitchen is a far cry from a conference room or cubicle.

But moving on. With the start of the new course comes the final grades of our last course. The previous course was Classical Pastry, and pictures of the class projects were posted a few days ago. Though I was able to maintain an A, my percentage dropped from the Introduction to Baking course. I think the biggest reason was that I bombed a quiz in the middle of the pastry course. It may be rationalizing, but I think the reason I bombed the quiz was because I overslept on the day of the review, missed it and earned a tardy (immediate loss of points) at the same time. The score of the quiz was something like a 62%, and I was devastated but not surprised. I hadn't prepared for it and deserved the low grade. Luckily the quiz scores made up only 10% of the final grade, and I actually studied for the final exam.

I hadn't shared the tardy in any blogs for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that it happened on the insane week of three cakes and during the 12 day break from blogging. The second reason is that I've been irritated at my lack of discipline in the mornings. I'm a night owl and I like to sleep, and this makes for terrible mornings (I don't wanna get [pronounced git] up, baby, let's turn off the phone). When I was younger I tried to condition my body to function on very little sleep. I thought I could be a completed project producing machine if I worked more and slept less. Now that I'm older I still wish I could consistently make it on four hours of sleep a night, but I know that such a feat isn't realistic. I was contemplating all of this while rushing to class this morning, and a classic Joan Jett song came to mind, so I dedicated the tune to my bed, cranked up the volume and put the pedal to the metal (I hate myself for loving you, can't break free from the things that you do...).

Right now my aforementioned thirty something need for sleep is showing, so I'll stop the rambling for now.

Happy Grubbing.

Oh. One more thing. (Do you say PS on blogs? What's the rule?) I'll be doing some happy grubbing myself in June when the first 24-hour restaurant in town opens. While it's just an IHOP, it's less than five minutes from the house, will be open all night and will likely spur further development! Did I mention that it will be open around the clock? Wi-fi is also available in the area. I could sit and blog (or stalk people on Facebook) over pancakes at any time.

Happy Grubbing indeed.

Progress at last - IHOP construction site.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Sadly the weekend is officially over in 10 minutes, and I need to give a quick update.

The good in the title is referring to a lemon curd recipe from our textbook. I attempted the curd for the first time yesterday and was pleasantly surprised when I liked it. There is something about (the way you look tonight) the word 'curd' that simply doesn't sound good. A friend who was nearby while the stuff was being made kept hearing and thinking of a word sounding like and rhyming with but very different from curd when she or someone else asked what I was making. (I won't share it in writing. We have standards to maintain here at the cake whiskerer.) Lemon just hasn't ever been my favorite flavor. I mean I dig the smell in cleaning products, and they look nice in a bowl (or apothecary jar), but I've never been a fan of consuming them aside from drinking their juice in beverages. The lemon curd may be one of my new favorites though. It was made yesterday to be used in fruit tarts that were being donated to a baked goods auction (Sold to the lady in the second row, she's an eight, she's a nine, she's a 10, I know...) at the church house. There were six three-inch tarts and one 10-inch tart, and if my memory serves me correctly, they sold for just over $150. They were made of a from scratch sweet pastry dough crust, a thin layer of white chocolate to provide a moisture barrier for said crust, the lemon curd, random pieces of strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, blackberry and kiwi and a glaze made of white wine and apricot preserves. (Yes, I went back to the liquor store for the wine, and yes, I used alcohol in the food for the church auction. Needless to say we had some good church tonight!)

One of the smaller tarts before glazing.

The bad news is that my main oven stopped working last night. I say 'main' as though I have multiples. Unfortunately I don't. What I have is a normal household oven that happens to be split into two - a smaller one atop the bigger bottom one. The bottom oven is the one that I prefer for baking, but last night it decided to put on a small fireworks display and then stop warming properly. I'm not sure if it's a lost cause yet. I'll hopefully be able to find something out from Maytag in the next few days. I'm holding out hope (to you even when this world breaks your heart in two) that it will be an inexpensive fix. Though it was of the 'scratch and dent' variety when I bought it, the stove isn't very old, and I'm not ready to replace it. Until it's fixed or repaired, I'll be making do with the smaller oven. One good thing is that I don't have any cake orders for a week and a half. Between the water leak last week and the stove acting out this week, I'm beginning to wonder why I'm a homeowner. An apartment with maintenance workers and lawn care sounds pretty good some days.

And now for the ugly. This weekend's cake was a small double layer 12-inch round cake. This was for an old co-worker/friend who is aware of my situation. She understands that I'm still in training. She was gracious enough to be practiced upon. The only stipulations given were that the cake needed to be marbled, and it needed to say, "Happy Birthday." Well, marbling isn't something that I've done much of. I know it's a simple concept, but I ended up not getting a very good marble effect. I'm thinking of using piping bags or dueling funnels to marble the cake batter next time. The other issue with the cake was that it was unattractive. The writing was small, sloppy and off center, but it was in melted chocolate and there was no erasing it. If I had known the name of the birthday person (it was an in-law of the friend), it possibly could have been added to help correct the spacing issue, but I didn't know the name, and the cake wasn't made at a time of day conducive to calling folks and retaining their friendship. In the end I delivered the cake on a complimentary basis. I can't accept money for something that I wouldn't want to serve or pay for myself. So the client got a free less than pretty cake, and I got a few more lessons and things to try differently next time.

The cake is pictured below, but it isn't without some level of consternation that I share it. I don't like it when stuff doesn't turn out as it should, and I like even less letting other people see my mistakes. I believe that presentation makes a huge difference (Use the linen over the plastic. Use the china over the styrofoam. Sit in every chair in the classroom and adjust the height before the new trainees arrive so that the chairs are uniform). I realize that this blog was intended to chronicle the journey 'from baking mediocrity to wherever it is that I'm headed' and that there are already other pictures of far less than perfect projects posted, but piping errors simply shouldn't be happening at this stage of the game. But the error did happen, and so I'll swallow my pride (and bite my tongue, pretend I'm okay with it all, act like there's nothing wrong. Is it over yet?) and post the pic. If nothing else it will serve as a reminder to do better next time.

Finally and on an unrelated note, I want to send a message to any readers who were affected by the corporate FEP move on Friday. You know who you are. While it may seem like your world is in shambles, try to think positively. Try to enjoy your first normal business day of unemployment. Get some rest. Have a nice lunch. Take a nap. Visit the zoo. Do something that you've been too busy to do. (Ooh, that rhymes!) Sure, you may need to find another job soon, but don't stress yet. You've been on a roller coaster of emotions for nearly eight months and working hard for much longer, and you could use some rest. I'm not suggesting you become a junkie or let those around you support you forever, but take a minute to breathe. Doors of opportunity are bound to open soon, and when they do you'll be off and running on new tasks and responsibilities - and you'll be wishing you could take a break (You're gonna miss this, you're gonna want this back, you're gonna wish these days...), so take one while you can. That's all.

Happy Grubbing.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Twenty Thousand (plus a few) Words

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Considering this and the fact that I was told I'm quite wordy (again) after the last post, I'm uploading a bunch of pictures (Dim the lights, lock the door, spread your pictures on the floor) tonight of some recent school projects, Monday's Chef's Ball and yesterday's Grand Buffet.

Chef's plated version of a poached pear from last week.

Our unglazed petit fours from class.

My first attempt at making an edible rose. It needed another petal around the bud in the center.
When we got in the car at lunch, I couldn't help introducing my passengers to Tanya Tucker and Delta Dawn in honor of the days flower making. That's one song that always gets stuck in my head. (Delta Dawn, what's that flower you've got on? Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?) Neither my lunch buddy nor the candy selling passenger scrunched in the back seat were impressed.

Creme Brulee was a ton of fun, and I'll be buying a blowtorch in the very near future.
(They call me the fireman, that's my name...)

A tray of assorted eclairs, profiteroles and petit fours that the class made (except for the small red striped squares - those were purchased. In the business they're referred to as convenience items).

Puff pastry strips wrapped around cream horn molds and waiting to be baked. The P was just an extra strip.

Tarts that were baked with the puff pastry dough atop apples and then inverted. Not too appealing to the eye but they tasted okay (Not as good as Mawmoo's apple pie or Nanny's apple cobbler, but okay).

The ice sculpture from the Chef's Ball.

A small sampling of the seating at the Chef's Ball. I was impressed by the Silo Event Center.

The completely chocolate centerpiece that Chef made for the Grand Buffet.
I knocked it over at one point. Thankfully it didn't break, and Chef didn't see it.

Spinach Souffle en Croute
(Spinach, cream cheese, seasoning, pastry crust, goat cheese, red bell pepper)

Salmon Mousse Horns

More Spinach Souffle en Croute with Chicken, Apple & Candied Walnut Gourgeres lining the edge

Cinnamon Creme Caramel

Caramel Chocolate and Pear Mousse Towers with Drageed Hazelnuts

Balsamic Poached Pears with Gorgonzola Mousse

Dark Chocolate Pots de Creme with Brandied Cherries

Lemon Meringue Tartlets

Frangipane Petit Fours

Assorted Petits Fours

The above is not an all inclusive list of the offerings at the Grand Buffet, but it is all of the pictures I snapped.

Happy Grubbing & Happy Friday.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Twelve Days of...

When I got in the car and began today's race across Tulsa to get to class, the first line that came blasting through the speakers was 'Man, I been workin' too hard, ten-hour days and I'm tired (pronounced tard)'. The song then used the term 'knuckle bustin', back breakin' no paying job', and I thought that it was appropriate. The twelve days that have passed since my last post have been insane. It seems that I make similar statements at the start of many posts, but they're all true. I thought that I'd be living a life of leisure for at least a few months when I left the corporation back in January. How naive I was. Let me explain.

First the song from this morning. I feel like all I've been doing for the last week and a half is running, racing from one task to another just to keep my head above water (we'll be discussing water further in a bit) and meet deadlines. I would have traded any one of the last twelve days for a ten-hour day. The knuckle bustin' is appropriate based on the condition of my hands. Because I've taken up residence in a kitchen, I've been washing my hands more times than I care to count. This is actually a good thing other than the fact that the school must buy the cheapest hand soap available to man, and my hands have taken to cracking and bleeding. (Somewhere near the end of the week I started using Neosporin as hand lotion. It seems to be working better than anything else I've tried, so I plan to stick with it.) Politely suggesting to Chef and the Culinary Director that we shop around or spend more funds on soap led to Chef sharing her old lady smelling Mary Kay hand lotion with me today. When she walked over with it and said to stick out my hands, I thought it was a tube of purchased icing (like that found on aisle eight at Walmart), and I wondered what was going on. Then it hit me (and by it, I mean the stench), and I accepted with disgust her kind gesture. A man's hands should never smell or shine the way mine did today, and there was nothing polite or respectful that I could do about it. Back breakin' - Even the special kitchen kicks couldn't keep the back pain at bay last week, and it's no surprise considering I was probably on my feet more than I wasn't. This was due to multiple cake orders in addition to the frenzied footwork at school.

There were four cakes since the last post. The first was a simple chocolate cake with three layers. This was a small cake that looked awful when photographed. It was completely purple per the customer's request, and no, I wasn't going for a smooth look. This cake was delivered on the 12th.

The other three cakes were all due on the same day. All three were to be delivered within a span of about three hours on the 20th, and not one of them was as simple as the purple one. As the pictures show, there were extra shapes to be cut out of fondant, and rice cereal treats needed to be sculpted well in advance of the delivery date. Each night last week I worked on some non-baking aspect of the cakes. I would have had less stress if I would have started baking the cakes earlier, but I can't wrap my mind around baking cakes four or five days before a client is going to eat them - even if my professional chef/instructor says that it's fine so long as they're wrapped and stored properly. Instead I wait as late as possible in an effort to maintain freshness (in my uneducated opinion) and end up being incredibly stressed. As a result of this I had to bake 17 pans of cake in one night (yes, 17). This was a first (and hopefully a last) for me. The baking took place on Thursday evening. After class on Friday I hurried home to frost and assemble the cakes. Luckily two friends agreed to assist on the project. Without them I would not have made it. Even with their help on Friday night, I had to pull an all nighter to get the cakes finished on time, and even with no sleep I came very close to not making it (I, Dustin, do solemnly swear [by the moon and the stars in the sky] to never attempt three cakes in one day again).

To make the weekend even more fun, I had a water leak. It was discovered around midnight on Friday night. Water had somehow managed to escape the back bathroom and infiltrate my master bedroom closet, part of the dining room and hallway. The flooring in the dining room and hallway is the wanna be fake wood and is not moisture resistant. As I stepped on the planks and watched the water rise through the seams, I wondered just how much I could handle in one weekend. Unfortunately there was nothing I could do but shut off the water supply to the back bathroom, put out towels and get back to the cakes while hoping that it wasn't enough water to severely damage the floors. The clock was ticking, I'm no handyman and the cakes had to be delivered come hell or high water (literally). Since Friday night the water has dried, but the floor is visibly damaged in places. I'm debating on the next move to make (rug or repair?), and the back bathroom still has no water supply.

The first cake was for a lady who was celebrating her 50th birthday. I was told that she likes flowers and working in her yard. The customer said that I could do whatever I wanted with the cake. In the end I attempted a flower pot made from a stack of cakes. The cake had two layers of white and two layers of chocolate, buttercream, fondant and Oreo dirt. The flowers were made of fondant and glued on heavy gauge floral wires, but I thought they flopped around too much and made delivering the cake on snowy roads even more stressful. With every movement of the car, I feared the flowers were going to fall, because the royal icing used for glue wasn't great. The customer was pleased, and the cake was well received according to a Facebook message received later in the day.

The second cake for Saturday was for a sports themed baby shower cake. My main issue with this cake was the fact that I failed to come up with a topper until the very last minute. The white fondant used for the baseball was a little too soft and caused a flat spot on the bottom of it. The red stitching on the baseballs on the middle tier was also too light. The three tiers were made of white, chocolate and cinnamon cakes.

Saturday's third cake was the largest cake dimensionally that I've ever done. I had the board for it cut at Home Depot. The base cake was 33x15 before frosting. There was also a 10" round cake that sat atop this base. The theme was western or cowboy (shoulda been a...), and the customer chose the design of the larger base and round center. They also wanted a cowboy hat and boot. The hat and boot were made of the rice cereal treats and covered with fondant. The cakes were white, chocolate, strawberry and cinnamon.

I was told that the customer would provide a cowboy with a lasso to add to the center. Upon arrival I was given all manner of cowboy items to add to the cake. I didn't mind doing it, but it wasn't what I had in mind. On one hand (I could stay and be your lovin' man) I wondered why I went to the trouble to make the edible hat and boot if we were adding plastic toys. We could have added a plastic hat and boot and saved alot of time. On the other hand (there's a golden band to remind me of someone who would not understand) I thought it was the customer's cake, and they were paying for it, so if they want it to look like Atwood's threw up on it, so be it. The ornamented cake is below, and I guess the toys weren't bad. They probably helped to be completely honest. I just wasn't expecting so many.

After this cake was dropped off, I headed to Sonic and almost fell asleep while waiting for the food to be delivered. I made it home and stayed semi-conscious just long enough to eat most of the meal before staggering to the couch and falling into a coma.

Last night was the Chef's Ball, an annual charity event supporting local chefs in training. I was asked to work the event on a volunteer basis. Other than making for a long day after a long weekend, it wasn't bad. I left school and reported to the Silo Event Center (which is impressive) for duty. I was assigned to assist the waitstaff. Waiting tables is not my forte. I know this after attempting it as a part time job some years ago. (I lasted all of a month before walking out in the middle of a shift one night.) Since last night was an upscale event attended by the who's who of the local chefs and food purveyors, they wanted it to look fancy (Here's your one chance, don't let me down). Groups of five carried two plates each, followed the leader to and around a table and then placed the dish from their right hand in front of a guest when given the cue. Then the dish from the left hand was deposited on the table. Things were going smoothly until we made it to the soup. I spilled half a bowl on the first table (There's no use crying over spilled perfume). Thankfully it all went on the table and not a patron, but I was mortified. I didn't really know what to do and handled the situation very poorly by doing nothing but apologizing and trying to avoid that table for the rest of the night. That type of environment is totally out of my league (I dine at Bueno five times a week). A little later I tried to take an empty plate from a different table only to be corrected by the person to the right of the person whose plate I was trying to bus. The person who corrected me was none other than Mr. Devin Levine, the Executive Chef of Southern Hills Country Club. Before the end of the night, Chef (who was in attendance as part of a group of 10 from school) told us that she had spoken with Chef Levine earlier, and he told her that he wants to hire ten students for the summer. She strongly suggested we apply. I didn't have the heart to tell her that he may not be interested in someone who couldn't differentiate between a bread and butter plate and a near empty saucer with a few crumbs of bread on it. In the end the other student volunteer from class and I sneaked out as early as possible.

Because of the above schedule of events (and I haven't even really mentioned school yet), I've been away from the blog. I've also nodded off multiple times while typing this, so I'm going to close for now with hopes of returning tomorrow.

Before I go I feel the need to clarify something. For those who may be confused by the seemingly random phrases that appear in parenthesis from time to time in my ramblings, I want to let you know that the phrases are often song lyrics. For some reason words of conversations trigger lines of songs, and I feel compelled to share. It happens all the time (in this crazy world of mine) and has for years. Situations remind me of songs. It's as though everything has a song that goes with it (To everything turn, turn, turn, there is a... song, turn, turn, turn). Sometimes the lines lead into other lines (turn - turn up the radio, let freedom ring in harmony, I hear the healing go - healing - Pick up your heart and carry it to healing hands - hands - there was always love in daddy's hands - daddy - smile for me daddy, I wanna see your grill...) It just happens. The lines flow (pouring like an avalanche coming down a [go rest high on that] mountain), and I can't shut them off. I just wanted to explain, so that you don't think I'm crazy. I'm not. Really. But I am tired.

Happy grubbing... especially if you visit the free Grand Buffet available from 11:00 - 2:00 on Wednesday, March 24th, at Platt College at 3800 South Sheridan in Tulsa. I hear it's gonna rock (forever, rock, rock, rock).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Tractor & Weed

Tonight's homework is done and sitting by the door, the frosted bowl of cereal is finished and I'm in the mood to ramble after an unplanned three hour nap that caused me to miss church and be up late. Since most people I know don't appreciate ringing phones after midnight, here I sit. Let's see...

It hit me the other day that I talk about going to school, but I've never posted any pics of my new home away from home. This information really should have been posted after the first day of class. Hindsight is 20/20 (but I'm nearly goin' blind from starin' at her photograph and wishin' she was mine. It's that same old... wait. Focus). Though we spend a small amount of it in a classroom, most of our time is spent in the kitchen these days, and the kitchen is impressive. I'd be thrilled to have one just half as big for personal use. I'd say the only negative about the place is the fact that it has windows along two walls so that people can stand, stare, point and discuss what we're doing at any time. We're like chimps at the zoo.

I work at the table just to the right of the trash can in this photo.

On Thursday of last week, we had our first practical exam. This was due to our completion of the first section of kitchen training, Basic Baking. Everything that I've posted from the kitchen up to this point has been a part of 'Basic Baking'. The practical exam was hands on and every man for himself. We had five hours to make 25 creaming method cookies, two classic sponge cakes (one left uncut, one split into three layers, soaked with a simple syrup, iced with Italian buttercream, bordered and piped with Happy Birthday), 50 profiteroles and 50 eclair tubes. For those who may be wondering, the profiteroles and eclair tubes are just different shapes or outputs of the same recipe. The recipe is called eclair paste by some (certainly not by chef - or us if we want to pass class), but it's technically called Pate a Choux. This is pronounced 'Pat A Shoe' (and should not be confused with Pat E Cake or 1, 2 Buckle My Shoe).

To be honest I went into the practical thinking that it wouldn't be bad. It's not like I've never been in a kitchen, and we had portioned out ingredients the day before. (This portioning out early process is called Mise en Place, pronounced 'miz a plas' and is French for 'put in place') How hard could it be? We started at 9:00 sharp. Prior to that we weren't allowed to do anything except turn on the ovens, fill the sinks and put on an apron. Things started out smoothly, but by the time we hit two hours in, sweat was literally running down my body, and it was disgusting. I was thinking 'where is my desk and EDD and payroll and huddle?'. During the practical exam, each student was given the use of one table, one speed rack and one Kitchenaid mixer. There were no questions allowed. The chef, previously known as Hitler but now referred to simply as chef, walked around with a clipboard, looking and taking notes. She would call out time updates every so often. She offered no clues or assistance though I did hear her warn a student early on that she would flunk him if she saw another piece of his trash on the floor (This was the same student that has the personal hygiene problem that we will get to later in this post).

Our completed products had to be placed on our assigned table in a second room by 2:00. Anything not on the table wasn't scored. If you were a moment late, you simply lost the points. Of the 11 students tested, only three completed all tasks. Thankfully I was one of the three, but it was a very close call. I literally had seconds left when I placed the last cake on the table. It was like I was on a Food Network Challenge. What was worse is that after the rush of cooking, we had to clean the kitchen and the mountain(s) of dishes (since certain people failed to clean as they went, but I'm not bitter). Needless to say tension was high, and people were cranky after stressing and getting no breaks or lunch. Looking back it's a miracle that no fights broke out (I believe in miracles, where're you from, you sexy thing?). While we worked on cleaning the kitchen, chef called each of us in one at a time to sample, critique and discuss our baked goods. Class ends at 3:00 on a normal day, but we didn't get released until 4:20 on the day of the practical. On the following morning, we had the written portion of the test. This was a total of 37 questions and included calculating a recipe conversion factor and then converting it.

We were given our scores for both the practical and written exams today. On the practical portion, I was disappointed. Yes, I finished on time but the buttercream looked more like cottage cheese (I added too many pureed strawberries too quickly), and the cookies were a little too crisp for me - though chef wanted them crunchier. I ended up with an 88.33 on the practical. I really wanted an A, but I don't think anyone got an A. Of the other two who finished their tasks, one got an 83 (though I judged by looking her stuff to be far superior to mine), and the other score I don't know (but he was the guy throwing trash on the floor, so I'm pretty sure he didn't get an A). When I whined a little to my lunch buddy about wanting an A, she told me that people in hell want ice water (I'm now open for lunch tomorrow if anyone wants to meet up). On the written test, I made a 100%, and we should get our total grades for the 'Intro to Baking' course tomorrow.

This brings us up to this week. We started a new course called 'Classical Pastry', and it should be fun. We'll be doing many of the small but fancy desserts that have hard to pronounce names. Our homework has moved to the next level (meaning it takes longer), and we drew numbers for new teams. I now have two females on my team, and both are competent - though one likes to smoke weed. She told me so yesterday. We were sitting in the break room enjoying our Bueno takeout, and the subject of snacking and munchies came up. She told me that she doesn't really eat much or get the munchies. She can 'smoke weed all day' and not get the munchies. I made a valiant attempt to turn on my poker face (hate that song) but failed miserably. In a split second I was mentally back in room 11.210 of the 1437 building trying to maintain the same poker face while an expectant trainee named something like Tijuana told me that she thought she was losing her baby and that they had to spray for roaches over the weekend and that her father had filed a restraining order against her and that she was trying to find a place for her 18 year old sister to stay the night. In both cases I was just trying to eat my lunch, and there are some things that don't need to be shared.

My normal lunch buddy was not so lucky when it came to the new team drawing. She got stuck with the messy and smelly guy. I've probably mentioned him in previous posts, but he has an issue. It may be medical in nature, or it may be that he just doesn't shower or wear deodorant. His code name is Bo (That's B.O.) for discussion purposes. Multiple students have noticed and held conversations about his odor, but nobody had mentioned it to chef - until Friday. The secret (strong enough for a man, but made for a woman) is out. Chef was informed of the situation during a break on Friday and will now have to find a way to deal with it. I don't envy her or my now ex lunch buddy who will spend the next two weeks trying to work with the guy. She has already made the comment about the difficulty of soaring with eagles when you work with turkeys.

Aside from school I've been busy making cakes for folks. I've had a cake every week for the last month and have orders for the next three weeks. Last weekend I had two - one for a two year old boy and one for a 12 year old girl.

The two year old's was a John Deere tractor theme that I wasn't thrilled with. This was my first attempt at a tractor and watermelon patch. The tractor was shaped from rice cereal treats, and the watermelons were made of fondant and striped with the vodka/paint mix. I was told that the kids were fighting over the watermelons and that the birthday boy and his brother ate every bite of the tractor. The tractor ended up being heavier than anticipated, so it settled into the cake too far, and I've never really used a leaf tip while piping so the watermelon patch wasn't stellar. The piping of the words was lacking as well. It's one thing to pipe on a homework board, but there is some sort of mental block or shift when that board becomes a cake that is going to someone's house. To top it off the cake was iced with the pre-culinary school frosting recipe that isn't very smooth. I've decided that I'm using the new buttercream recipe from now on (Frooooooooom thiiiis moment...). Though it is more costly and time consuming to prepare, it looks and tastes much better.

The cake for the 12 year old girl wasn't really themed other than it's colors and stripes. It was a three tier (white, strawberry & chocolate) with Italian buttercream under marshmallow fondant. This cake would serve approximately 70 people. I can't believe that I'm saying this, but I was okay with this one. The fondant could have been rolled thinner for the stripes, and the purple may have been a little dry, but I was okay with it. The birthday girl was pleased, and the mom made me pose for a pic when I delivered it.

This week's cake will be much smaller and simpler. This is a good thing, because next week will be intense. I've got three large cakes due on the 20th. Can someone say NoDoz?

For now, though, I need to doze.

Happy Grubbing.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Disclaimer, Dentures & Drives

Disclaimer: I just opened and downed part of a new bottle of medication. This may get interesting. Please accept my apologies in advance.

This week was just as much of a blur as last week, and I'll start the commentary by closing out the shuttle saga. I've told you about the lady who I stopped driving to class (and therapy sessions) for various reasons (including but not limited to she has a long history of mental disorders, carries very sharp knives and my car is a small confined space). I called and gave the news to her on a Sunday and struggled with it on Monday. You've read that story. What I have failed to share up to this point is that she didn't show up to class on Monday. Or Tuesday. In fact she didn't show up all week. When another student got the number from me and called to check on her early in the week, she stated that she didn't have gas money. None of my classmates volunteered to pick her up, and I stood firm in my reasoning that if your unemployed husband has money to drive to the casino on a daily basis, then you can find a way to class. One obvious solution could be that if neither you nor your husband have teeth (which is the case here), you could allocate the money saved on dental hygiene and care toward fuel expenses. Well, that last sentence isn't completely true. She does have a set of teeth that showed up for two days during the second or third week of class, but she decided that they were too painful to wear. (There it goes again - that pang of guilt that jumps at me whenever I say something mean and tacky. I know that I could be right there in her situation if not for the grace of God [insert Clint Brown song here], and I should watch my mouth). I just think that you should try to help yourself first. Persevere. Wear the teeth. You'll build up a resistance to the discomfort, you won't stand out as much in a crowd and you'll be more likely to get a job. That's all. As a result of the missed week of class, the lady was so far behind that there was no way she could pass. She has to stay home and rejoin when the next class starts. This is a good thing and brings us to the next topic.

When we started working with Hitler (I need to come up with a nicer nickname for her), we were assigned teams randomly. I was assigned the lady that needed transportation, an 18 year old fresh out of high school girl and the 17 year old kicked out of high school boy with the lip ring and attitude. The no transportation lady's absence was welcomed by me, because I wanted to avoid the awkwardness of having to work with her after dropping her. So we had a group of three - for a few days anyway. The body jewelry guy had attendance issues and was removed from our team so that he didn't weigh us down. A few days later his attitude got the best of him, and he got into an argument with the chef, left and has not been back. I believe that college can now be added to the list of places that he is no longer welcome at. Unfortunately he left before I got a chance to ask him for the paring knife from his kit. I've misplaced mine (or someone snatched it), and he won't be needing his any time soon.

When things settled down, we made bread. We will have an entire class on breads later in our curriculum (pronounced kricklem according to one of my old bosses), but in my unlearned opinion, I thought what we did was pretty good. We made scallion rolls, breadsticks, brioche (pronounced bree-oh-ssh) and foccacia on the first day. My favorite was the pepperoni foccacia. On the second day of breads we worked with challah, a braided bread. Challah is pronounced holla and led to a full day of shouting 'Holla!' and corny reworkings of songs like ChallahBread Girl (which led to a walk down memory lane to the 1215 building where a friend first played the original version for me years ago. It was a fond memory - not of the profane song, but the old friend). The braiding of the challah was easy enough. Getting the bread (of any variety) to roll out into strands to braid is what I struggle with. I haven't figured out what makes it more difficult than play-doh, but there is some elusive trick. Rolling the breadsticks was the same misery.

Up close & personal with a scallion roll.

More scallion rolls, pepperoni foccacia and breadsticks.

A shout out to the challah.

There is much more to share about the last week, but I'll stop for now.

Happy gumming.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Gold Diggers & Guilt

Wow. So much for more frequent posts, so much for putting this new old computer to work and so much for keeping my word. It's been nearly a week since I've rambled about anything on here, and I'm not sure where the time went. Looking back I guess I have been quite busy. No, I don't have a job, a spouse, a pet or kids to keep up with, but I was busy. (Don't get me started on the whole 'single people have nothing to do but help me with my needs' theory that too many tend to accept as fact). Before I climb atop a soapbox, let me just get to what I can recall of the last six days.

You may remember that I shut down the shuttle service that I had been operating. This was not without a high level of guilt. Sure, it felt nice to sleep a little later and to have the freedom to bust out in song uninhibited while driving, but I was still feeling a significant level of remorse on Monday morning. To make things worse, I overslept. So I was speeding across town (how many times have I posted that same basic phrase in the last month?) and trying to out maneuver the putters around me. The music was blaring what I'll loosely call an inspirational song (Don't Stop Believing), but I wasn't much for singing along. I was feeling like a dog and thinking that I should have reversed the 'no passengers' decision and picked up the person who had asked for daily transportation. I kept thinking WWJD. Didn't mom raise me to be a giver? Am I being a jerk? And then a miraculous thing happened! The song ended and the next one that came on was surely heaven sent (She take my money when I'm in need. Yeah, she's a triflin' friend indeed. Oh, she's a gold digger way over town that digs on me). It was as though a higher power was speaking to me and letting me know that it was okay. (Before you start hating or thinking that I'm terrible, it could happen. He used a donkey, didn't He?) So I let it go. I'm over the guilt of not wanting to drive a near stranger around. It's okay to look out for myself sometimes, and I'm through with being used. I turned up the volume, bobbed my head while the song finished and then replayed it. The guilt had been replaced with something close to glee, and if you think that's terrible, I apologize.

After the epiphany on the drive over, I made it to class before the door was shut and entered into the world of Hitler. For those who may be new to the blog, we started class on Monday with an instructor/chef who was allegedly a tyrant. The war stories shared in advance with my group had us all frightened. I've spend the last five class days with her, and if she is a female Adolf Hitler, then I must be a male Eva Braun, because I'm in love. The lady (instructor/chef, not Eva) rocks! Yes, she is structured and demands a clean kitchen (I scrubbed a trashcan this week and have never had such sore hands), but she knows her stuff. I've caught myself wishing that time would slow down so that we can stay in class longer to learn more from her. Between the quizzes, daily homework and countless recipes, I feel like we crammed ten days into five. I worked less when I had a job (especially after August 12th). This fact coupled with my increasing age may explain the tiredness and the lack of posts. Then again I could just be rationalizing (a certain old friend says I'm quite adept at it).

We made sponge cakes the first day - and not the Amelia Bedelia kind either. These were edible - not my favorite but edible. We made a simple syrup and buttercream frosting to go with them. Chef's method of making Italian buttercream was intense. It involves boiling sugar with water until it gets hot enough to form a soft ball when rolled between the fingers. Chef doesn't use a thermometer to test readiness. She sticks her hand into the boiling mixture and pulls out the sticky sugar on her fingers to test it. I did not type that incorrectly. She puts her hand in the boiling pot to grab the hot sugar with her bare flesh. After demonstrating her extreme cooking method, she stepped aside and allowed each student to mimic her. And by 'allowed' I mean 'forced'. Talk about fear factor. It was either go against everything that your sane brain is screaming at you or lose points and face the wrath. In the end we all stuck our hands in the boiling sugar and lived to blog about it. There were only three cases of second degree burns.

Just kidding on the burns. Though were was some outright screaming, we were fine other than the anxiety. The most important part of the method is dipping/holding your hand in ice water immediately before and after the hot dip. My finished cake is below (classic sponge, vanilla simple syrup, strawberry buttercream, questionable piping).

I've heard of 365 days of Christmas, but if you didn't know better, you would think that every day is my birthday, and the same could be said for every other student in the class. The happy birthday and your name line is required practice on our cakes and homework.

I've mentioned the daily homework a few times, but let me expound a bit more. We have math homework. An example could be something like this: This recipe (listed and shown on the paper) yields 24 6 oz servings. We need 132 4 oz servings. What is the recipe conversion factor? Based on the original given recipe, how much of each ingredient will we need for the new recipe? It can get confusing at times. Aside from math we have our cake boards that we practice piping on. The cake boards are like Big Chief tablets for grown ups. The required verbiage is happy birthday and your name, and we recently added a few basic borders and rosettes to the board. This is a nightly practice and can be either calming or infuriating depending on my frame of mind at the onset.

Also since the last post, we were assigned groups (mine then dropped by one), a certain someone missed an entire week of class, I ate funky food, baked bread and delivered another birthday cake, but I'll save that for the next post (Hopefully it won't be another six days before I make it back). It's late and I want to have a little better sleep pattern this week than last - and I don't want to be called wordy.

Happy grubbing.