Friday, June 25, 2010

The Prodigal's Return

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was..." the last six weeks of my life. I've been away from the blogosphere, and it hasn't been pretty, but I'm finally back and ready to share what's been going on. Grab a snack and get comfortable, because this may be lengthy - even by my standards.

The last post went up in the middle of May, and I had to revisit the blog (newly found typographical errors and all) just to see what was last discussed. As far as school is concerned, we completed a short course on interviewing and resume building. It was much better than I thought it would be going into it. The instructor presented some new information in addition to revisiting some old with a different perspective. She was professional and helpful. She gave extremely long lunch breaks, so of course I'm going to sing her praises. She rocked.

After her class we moved into the Tortes and Gateaux (AKA cakes) course. This was a course that I had been looking forward to, because I hoped to learn alot about cake decorating, and I wanted to try some new 'from scratch' cake recipes. In the end I was a little disappointed. Aside from one wedding cake project, the class didn't focus much on decorating. We spent a good deal of time on layered mousse cakes and such. These cakes are visually appealing because of their multiple layers, but they're very time consuming and tricky to create. Because of the multiple layers, we had to make up to five different recipes just to finish one cake! It's insanity - especially considering the fact that they don't taste that great. Frankly I'd be happier with a plain chocolate cake.

There were a few good recipes in this course. My favorite was probably the cheesecake. Who knew that you could make a cheesecake with just three basic ingredients (eggs, cream cheese and sugar)? The only other thing you need is your choice of flavoring. Mine was orange and vanilla for a dreamsicle taste. The first time we made it we cooked down some orange juice to assist with flavoring. We also used some vanilla, orange extract and some orange liquor. The second time we made the cheesecake was during the practical exam of the course, so I skipped the time consuming cooking down of the OJ and just used the other flavorings. It was about the only edible thing I made for the test.

Another good thing about this course is that we made a pear mousse for one of the cakes. This mousse involved an old friend, the poached pear, from a previous course. There's just something about the poached pears that I like. It's probably a mix of the smell of them while they're simmering or the flavor of them afterward, but I'd rather just eat the poached pears instead of pureeing them for a mousse. To poach the pears I used a water/sugar base and flavored it with vanilla and almond extracts and some amaretto. I'm not an alcoholic, but the smell of the amaretto made me consider becoming one. The amaretto also made me think of a song. Amaretto. Amarillo. Amarillo By Morning. Or Amaretto by morning, but that makes no sense.

For the wedding cake project in the course, we had to design a cake and present it to the chef as though she were the bride. We could do any basic design we wanted, but we had to incorporate two tiers, three marzipan roses and some filigree piping work. We used Italian buttercream frosting over pound cakes with lemon curd filling (gross). Because I had alot going on with cake orders outside of class, I wanted to keep it simple at school. The less work involved the better off I'd be in my opinion. I strategically used the two smallest sized pans to have less to decorate and opted for a plain white on white frosting to avoid the mess and extra work of tinting. The design included extensive piping for a classic (almost gaudy) wedding look. In the end my cake became more of a yellow on yellow look, because the buttercream changed colors. It had something to do with the air and the fact that I didn't re-whip the frosting before decorating after leaving it sitting overnight. It hadn't been refrigerated, so I didn't realize it needed the additional whipping. As far as scoring of my cake project goes, I got 21 out of 25, and I was a little disappointed. Chef said I used too much icing for that size of a cake, and she would have liked to have seen color (even though she seemed fine with and approved the design plan prior to it's execution [but I'm not bitter]), so taking strategic shortcuts didn't work out too well. Pictures of the wedding cakes (mine and my peers') and my cakes from the practical are below.

My yellow on yellow but not enough color too much icing gaudy cake.

My Dreamsicle Cheesecake from the practical.

Top view of my Chocolate Caramel Pear Mousse Cake from the practical.

Side view of the same cake.
The swirl look is achieved using a joconde cake. The mousse layers and more joconde are housed within.

My ganache glazed cake from the practical.

During the tortes and gateaux course, our class size dropped. One guy transferred to the night program, and another quit school altogether. I hated to see the guy drop out, because he was talented, and we're very close to the end of our program. We're down to nine students, and we rarely have everyone there at the same time.

The tortes and gateaux course was my least successful course, and I ended up with a C. This was my first non-A class, and while it was hard to accept, it was completely understandable. I'll try to explain. It's been awhile, but I remember it all (very well looking back, it was the summer I turned 18).

In late May I kicked off a long string of cake jobs. They were every weekend, and some weekends contained multiple orders. Such was the case on the weekend of June 5th, the weekend that seemingly everything changed. There were two wedding cakes and two groom's cakes that had to be completed and delivered on that Saturday. I had enlisted mom's help with the baking piece of the cakes, and I stayed home from school on the Friday to work on icing and decorating. Even with the extra time it was going to be a close call on getting them finished on time. I was stressed. Things were going fairly smoothly when the phone rang at about 8:00 on Friday night. It was my sister who asked if I wanted a ride to the hospital. I had no idea what she was talking about, so she explained. My grandfather who had been at the lake was very ill and was being transported from the Eufaula area to Tulsa in critical condition. The details were sketchy. Nobody seemed to know what was wrong. All I was told was that it wasn't good. I had a long way to go on the wedding cakes, so I waited for more news. When more news came it was still sketchy. They had stopped at the Henryetta hospital to save time, but Papa needed to be in Tulsa. The air ambulance said that they couldn't fly to pick him up because of weather (though everything around the area seemed calm), and there were no ambulances in the town of Henryetta. The nearest one was in Glenpool and would have to make the drive from Glenpool to Henryetta to pick up Papa and then backtrack past Glenpool to Tulsa. My brother who happened to be at the lake with my grandparents had driven them to Henryetta while his wife and daughter stayed at the lake with my young cousins who were there camping with the grandparents. When the phone rang a third time at about 2 AM Saturday morning, it was my sister strongly urging me to get to the hospital. Papa had made it to Hillcrest, but things were going downhill fast. I was still in the kitchen surrounded by unfinished wedding cakes, and there was no way that I could leave and still finish them on time. As much as I wanted and felt like I needed to drop the cakes and be with family, it was impossible. I don't have a Plan B or a back up cake person to call for emergencies. I was alone and in a dilemma, but I didn't see how I could leave the house. The next time my sister called it was after 4 AM, and Papa was gone. I never made it the hospital. He had passed while I stood 12 miles away in a kitchen that he helped build.

As I worked on the cakes I was feeling guilty for not being there. And I was angry. I was mad at the people who ordered the cakes. I hated them for partying and celebrating while my family hurt. I was mad at myself for taking so many orders. I blamed and hated HCSC for putting me in this situation. I was mad at myself for being alone. I was thinking of my grandma. How would she cope? Fifty seven years of marriage is a long time. I hated cakes. And yet I worked. I had to. As mad as I was, there was no sane way to get out of it. I couldn't ruin a wedding - much less two in one day. That would have been wrong. What would I do? Pick up the phone and call the bride to say I'm sorry, but your cake isn't coming?

A good friend came over a little after 10:30 on Saturday morning to help. Between the two of us, we got the first two cakes delivered to Mounds on time. The cakes weren't great, but the bride was happy. It was then a mad dash to get back home to finish the other two cakes and get them delivered to Skiatook by 3:30. I was an idiot for taking the two orders that were so far apart. In the end I had the friend driving, while I sat in the back of the SUV trying to finish the cakes along the way. I was spreading icing and sprinkling brown sugar to look like sand while she sped down the highway and tried to avoid throwing me into the cakes. It was insane. After getting lost and driving around Skiatook Lake for over 30 minutes, we found the wedding site in a pavilion by the water. We dropped off the cakes just in time and headed for home, exhausted in every possible way. After a shower and a short nap, I finally made it to my grandma's (Mawmoo's). The same friend who helped finish and deliver the cakes also cleaned most of the kitchen while I showered. (Looking back I would not have made it without her that day. I'm blessed with great friends.)

The next three days were spent with family. By the time I made it back to school, I had missed four days of class, and that's how I earned the C. Attendance and participation is huge. While the chef gave some make up work to me, I was in no mood to do all of it. I did a great deal of it but still earned a high C. In my opinion it should have been a very low B, but I'm not in charge. There was an option to just go an a leave of absence for the rest of that particular course and then retake the whole class over again later, but I didn't want to do the makeup class at night. Looking back I should have. I went back to school the day after Papa's memorial, but I wasn't ready. I hadn't slept much, and I had no desire to be at school. The weekend cake and dessert orders hadn't stopped, and I simply needed a break. Because I went back, I've been tired and in a funk (ow, we want the funk, give up the funk) for weeks. Needless to say the three day holiday weekend with no orders for July 4th can't get here fast enough.

The cakes from the June 5th weddings are below. There are plenty of imperfections in them, and I'll point out a few, but part of me is just glad that they got finished.

A close up shot of the side of the first unfinished wedding cake.

The worst part of this cake is the fat globby border between the green and white on the layers. Once it was on, I couldn't take it off without messing up the green paint. I was more than slightly embarrassed by it, and it detracted from the shapes, which I was mostly okay with. Thankfully the bride was happy, and I've an idea to fix it next time.

The finished cake. The pink color really scared me, but when we arrived to deliver, it actually matched almost perfectly. Thank God for small miracles.

The Superman groom's cake.

The second wedding cake. This one is sad mainly because of the oddly placed flowers on top, but I've also decided that square cakes are off limits until I can get someone to show me how to make good 90 degree angles.

Side view of the groom's red velvet pig cake.

Front view which shows more imperfections... like the missing nostrils, the running mascara and the blue eyes piped with the wrong tip (while in the back of the SUV). The cake was outdoors, and strong winds had blown away many of the flowers.

There have been other cakes and all sorts of interesting events (ambulances, fights, cuts, sales, etc.) at school in the last six weeks, but I'll close for tonight. Those items can wait until the next post - which will happen soon. It won't be another six weeks. I promise. I'm getting back to the basics (these are the basics, we need to get back to the basics of life).

(Uumm.... Who knew that this blast from the past was filmed in Tulsa?)

Happy Grubbing.