Saturday, April 27, 2013

A cup of joe.

I am LONG over due for a post, and each morning I wake up at 10:30, I am discouraged that I will not have time to write. Here are a few things that I may note if you were to have a quick phone conversation with me, or a cup of joe and a muffin. Now I want a muffin.

Lately I have been getting out of class after midnight. It pretty much drains me. Being in class for ten hours is a lot, but I am really happy with what I am doing. Fabricating meat and fish everyday has increased my speed and made me more familiar with the products. Although I am not a station who takes part in service, it's really cool to hear them call out the orders and think about how I took part in the making of each plate. The cleaning was horrible at first, and now it is just second nature. Because the kitchen is brand new, it has such high standards. We clean for at least three hours every night in order to keep it spic and span.

I am graduating in less than a month, and it is a little scary. Chris has an interview lined up for next weekend. I have not heard back from the place I sent my resume out to. A few things could happen that would decide where I am going to be moving my things in the next few weeks. But it is all a little stressful. The one big thing I am worried about however, is that where ever I end up, I am not going to be able to jump in the lake when it gets hot. There is no place like home.

I am a little home sick. It may be because my family is vacationing in Florida next week and I wish that I was going with them. But it has been about 6 weeks since I was last home. My dad has already started to mow lawns, and baseball season has started for my brother. Meanwhile my sister is a horse superstar and is training for the International Games competition which will take place this summer. My mother tells me that she wakes up at six every morning to ride her horse before school. I know I never had such motivation. I'm pretty proud of her. And of course, I miss my mom, but let's not make this a tear fest.

The weather is making me very happy.  Although apparently the sun keeps waking me earlier each morning, which I guess is a good thing. I love being outdoors and luckily the warmest days this week are supposed to be Sunday and Monday (the two days I have off). It's very difficult to be indoors cooking and see the sun shining through the windows begging me to come outside. But this is life.

I am currently hooked on the show Lost. Many people have different views on the show, but Chris has got me hooked. I just finished the first season on netflix and I am eager to continue. When do I find the time to watch tv with all of this life going on? Well when I come home at night and need to wind down and fall asleep, I try to by watching Lost. Which is the worst idea ever because the show is such a mystery, that I end up going to bed with a million and two thoughts running through my head.

Recently I have fallen to the Cheez-its trend. Never before have I understood why people eat these small cheese crackers. But the trick is to find which flavor suits you. Seriously, when you go to the grocery store, there is a section solely dedicated to Cheez-its because there are so many flavors. My favorite obsession is the "Du-oz" box. "two flavors-one box" Brilliant as far as I am concerned. The smoked cheddar and the monterey jack complement each other just enough that the contrast works. I am sure that each time I pop one color into my mouth, the other shade is right beside it. The only concern that I have is that the ratio is completely skewed. Unless Chris is secretly chomping down on all of the smoked cheddar crackers, when I get to the bottom of the box, there are at least thirty monterey jack squares without the smoked cheddar cracker to go along with it. Now I make it sound like I eat box after box (which is far from the truth), but over the past month and two boxes, I have taken note of this. I am about to write a complaint to the company, telling them that people really do notice- or at least I do.

The rollerblading thing is going so well. Last weekend, Chris did a little research and round the "rail trail" or that they had paved over where the railroad used to be. They are still working on the construction, but we bladed over both parts that have been paved, resulting in eight miles over a span of two days. We can feel our legs strengthening. It's a great way to get some fresh air and exercise at the same time.

Everyone always asks what the plans are for the weekend. Not many plans these days, relax mainly. The drive in movie theater opened yesterday so a few of us were talking about going. Luckily I have been multi taking this morning and have four loads of laundry in. This way tomorrow morning Chris and I will not have trouble finding something to wear, and we will not have to spend our weekend doing laundry. (It's a pretty big deal when you do not have the luxury of your own washer, and have to wait on other people's laundry to finish in order to rush to the laundry room in hopes that someone else has not stolen your spot.) We will definitely however, spend a lot of time outside that's for sure.

Well, it looks as though my cup is empty. And one and a half blueberry muffins later...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Precipitation Station

This past weekend was a three day weekend. Normally Chris and I head Upstate on such weekends but because we just started a new class we were a little overwhelmed. After tripping to New York City we were quite tired, but we could not stop adventuring with another day to spend together. We got rollerblades. I was a little weary about the rollerblade situation until Chris assured me that we would use them more than we thought we would. He told me that last year when he was living in the city he thought about buying rollerblades in order to get where he needed to go at a faster pace. He wanted to get the rollerblades for us. And so we found them. 


When I was a young girl, my parents got me rollerblades for Christmas. I ended up rollerblading all over the house; climbing up the stairs and back down in my blades, leaving wheel trails on the carpet because it was not warm enough to go outside. But once it was, I remember rolling along side my brother and sister on their bikes right down the road to the park where we would spend hours outside wheeling about.

Our first rollerblading adventure was across the walking bridge. Now I have been across this bridge a handful of times before and each time the weather has been quite bright. But today our fate did not look so luminous. The clouds were gathering and the other side of the river looked rough. But we bladed on. Across the river, joyful as could be. We watched as people turned back, worried that they would get stuck on the other side once the storm hit. But we pressed on. We felt droplets hit our cheeks, but it was not until we were close to the other side that we turned around. It was invigorating. Flying between the rain drops, surpassing all of those walkers who had turned around before us. The rain was almost unnoticeable because of the speed we were traveling. I slowed down to take in the moments we were on the bridge. Chris complained that I was wearing denim and he had on a synthetic fabric so the rain was effecting him more. I hushed him. Those gradual uphills that are disguised as a flat, are unveiled when on rollerblades. You can really feel the hill when you are pushing against the wind. By the time the roads of Poughkeepsie were below the bridge, the rain has ceased. We reached dry land. We swiveled to a stop by the car and removed our blades. 

The rain always refreshes me. I liked to stop and smell the air after it rains. The dampness around me and the freshness of the vegetation. Last summer Chris wrote to me a passage I would like to share, "It's raining, it has been for a couple of days. Yesterday someone asked me, "Did you ever notice how clean the air feels after it rains?" and I told them I love that feeling. They said, "It's like every once in a while God gives the Earth a shower." It seemed really insightful at the time, and its dramatically ironic I think- like in the movies, the storms always coincide with something turbulent happening. With us, the rain seems to come when we need to clear out our unproductive thoughts." 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

CIty Slickers

Yesterday Christopher and I decided to venture into the city. It is an hour and forty minute train ride from Poughkeepsie into Grand Central Station and we caught the train just before ten am. It was exciting, I have only been from school to the city one other time, although Chris has traveled to the city many times from school, and even took an interest in living there- which did not turn out so well. But I was enthusiastic to ride the train and see the sights. I mentioned to Chris that I felt like I was on the polar express, to which he replied "did you ever see that movie? the train was way better than this." It made me start to think about the different perspectives people have based on their own experiences. I took a moment to glance around me. To my left, was a man and wife both asleep on the train- just passing the minutes by, so familiar and comfortable with the train they must have been in order to just start snoozing. In front of me was a young girl, just learning to spell because she sounded out each word she took on reading and spelled it. She was interested in everything, "Grandma, do you ever take your earrings out?" "Grandpa, you were sleeping!" I wondered if it would be her first trip into the city. And then there was Chris next to me, staring out the window, counting the minutes of the ride. That train ride just gave me a moment to step back and wonder at how miraculous each person's different experience may be.

Once the train began to enter the tunnel, people packed up their temporary "train" lives and started hustling to the front. Some even passed through the car and beyond the door that was signed with a warning to not stand between the cars while the train was still in motion. Where were all those people going? Why did they have to get there so fast? Well, when the caboose squeaked to a stop, every one of those people flooded through the doors in the same direction. I felt like a guppy in a school of fish, following the current. After climbing a few sets of stairs, all of the people who had been striding towards the same exit, broke off in millions of different directions. I marveled at the ceiling as everyone does, and insisted on wearing my camera around my neck. Chris seemed embarrassed, he didn't want to look like tourists. But we rushed out onto the street and he knew exactly what direction we were headed in. I walked swiftly, a step ahead of him, and he reminded me that I had nothing to do until Wednesday when we had to be back in class. I relaxed, I guess I was just trying to fit in with all of the fast paced New Yorkers who knew where they were going- of which I had no idea.

Chris pulled a quick right, and I followed behind him, wondering what we were going to do on the carpet warehouse street. He stepped inside a building and headed for the elevator. Behind door number one, on the eleventh floor, was JB Prince; a culinarians haven. There were a number of shiny knives laid underneath polished glass, many different sharpening stones, a variety of top notch books, and modern equipment all around. I marveled at the knives while Chris went for the stones. He mentioned that he had browsed the internet and found the same stone for twice as much, and he asked my opinion. Luckily we left the books and the stones and only went for a couple pairs of tweezers, for fear that by the end of the day we would break our back with the weight of a stone.

We proceeded to the street and avoided the oversized pigeons, marveling at the trees that were blossoming. The pace you walk in the city is very important. The locals must get it down to a science, but unless you continue the same steady pace for blocks, it is possible that you may catch every single stop light in the entire city. I noted that some people looked timid at a curb, and looked both ways even if the walking light was green. Others glanced from side to side and walked across even when they did not have the right of way. I found that one way streets are convenient, because you only have to look one way, and if there is not any traffic then you can make it. I often found myself bounding across the street only to realize that there were four people halfway across by the time I made it to the other side. I was an obvious tourist, but it did not really bother me. I remember back when my family travelled to New Mexico for one of my fathers business trips. I was probably fourteen, and my mom bought me a cow girl hat. I distinctly remember talking in a (horrible) southern accent and pretending that I was from New Mexico visiting with my family from New York. I think back and laugh about it. Any of those who have seen my mom, know that I must've been crazy because I am unmistakably her child.

The second stop was Eataly. Of all the times I have visited NYC, I have never really visited the food part of the city, which is odd. But Luckily Chris was there to tour me around. It was incredible to walk around and see all of the fresh meats and fish, watch them make the pasta, etc. We found ourselves in the middle of a restaurant and had to find our way out of the maze in order to continue throughout the market. Having been through the Italian restaurant on campus, we were happy to recognize some of the terms not so familiar to other tourists. We also found some interesting honey. There were nuts dispersed throughout the jar of honey. Chris asked me if I thought that the nuts tasted like honey, or the honey had the flavor of the nuts. I guessed the latter, but I would suppose that it really is both. If you ate the nut, it would be coated in honey and therefore taste like honey. Again we looked at a couple of books, but decided to save our backs- or rather, Chris' back.

We decided to skip China town and maybe circle back to it. I am not all that interested in Asian flavors and although Christopher insisted that it was the central point of food in New York City, I decided we would catch it later. We strode on towards Chelsea Market, which I had the wrong idea about. I assumed it would be a mix of the market I saw in Seattle and Eataly, but it was very different. Inside was a variety of stores from clothing stores to bakeries, butcher shops and ingredient based shops. We walked into the fish market where they were just cutting some salmon. Four guys manned the cutting boards; one took off the sides and passed it to the next man who took out the bones and cut off the belly fat, the fish was then thrown to a gentleman who pinboned the fish and the last man skinned the fish. They were not as gentle as my fish instructor insisted we be, and it left an impression on me. But those guys glanced at me thinking, who is she? She has probably never even seen a whole fish in her life. The really neat thing about the fish market was that the lobsters were in cages but there was a waterfall running over them so that they would continue to stay fresh.

As Chris and I continued to stroll through the market, we gazed fondly upon all of the cute pictures of food art which was created by Bill Wurtzel. Some people just zoomed on by through the market with their own agendas, but we side stepped those people and just laughed at all of the funny food art. I got a little irritated in the kitchen store when I was interested in buying a knife and no one paid any attention to me. "That girl cannot possibly want to buy a knife from behind our counter." But I finally was able to grab someone's attention and I purchased a sharp boning knife with enough flex to help me through whatever I have to face in Bocuse on Wednesday.

Chris surprised me with an interest in rollerblades. He had mentioned it a couple of days before, and we had stopped at a few shops, but I thought maybe he was thinking ahead to when we move after school. Instead he had hoped the day before to rollerblade across the bridge over the Hudson with me, and now he had wanted to go rollerblading in Central Park. We rushed around to a few sports themed stores, but none had a wide selection of blades. When traveling to the city, I had a couple of things in my mind besides the knife as far as purchases were concerned. At Grand Central, Chris had pulled me into the Swatch store so I might find a collection I liked but it was too early in the trip for me to buy anything. And we stopped in a few places where I was hoping to find a denim vest, but the few I found were extremely out of my price range- well, what was I expecting. After grabbing a piece of pizza as a snack, I looked up to see the biggest TJMaxx ever, and I insisted that we rush in. I was overwhelmed by how many things were in the store. It was not however, a good overwhelming feeling, more of a "howtheheckamIsupposedtofindonethingthatmatchesmewhentherearesomanyotherthingstryingtohidethatonethingfromme?!" feeling. I did however, find one of my favorite Life is Good shirts yet, too bad it was not in my size.

As we headed towards Broadway and 42nd street, hoping to get lucky and score tickets to an evening show, my mom's name came up on Chris' phone. Immediate panic crossed over both of our faces. I answered and told my mom my coordinates in the city as she asked. She told me not to get excited but that there had been a bombing in Boston and that she thought it would be a good idea to get out of the city. I grabbed Chris' hand and we headed towards the station. We had no clue when the next train was leaving or what had happened in Boston and we were both nervous and frustrated. On one hand, I wanted to get the heck out of the city; I was scared and did not want anything to happen to Chris or I. I was worried but relieved that nothing had happened to my family. On the other hand, no one else seemed to know that anything was going on. Everyone seemed oblivious. It upset me that our day of fun had to come to an end. I felt out of my element and uncomfortable in the terminal and luckily the train was ten minutes from leaving. The train was packed and I wondered if others were headed home due to the high alert warnings in New York. I asked Chris what high alert meant, and he explained that they bring in more forces. I thought about how there is no real preventative action that can be taken. I was happy that we got out of there. But I was disappointed about our day.  I drifted off to sleep with Chris' arm on one side of me and the passing scenery on the other.

Our day in the city made me think about how everyone's lives are touched differently by their experiences. I don't think it's possible for any two people to experience the same things. I have been a New Yorker for the majority of my life, but I have never been a NYCer. When ever someone asks me where I am from out of state and I say New York, they automatically assume that I am from the city. Not everyone knows that New York is not just a city. But the city is a big part of it. Half of those residents of New York State live in New York City. That's crazy. So many lives in such a small little area. Those that live there are very brave. Which train would they rush to if their mom was worried about them? Do you know I saw three blind people in my five hours in the city. Of all the places I would want to live if I were blind, the city would not be on my top one hundred list. I am definately not a city girl. No way, no how. I would rather stack 450 bales in a barn than be able to touch my neighbor through my window. Brave people. They really are.

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Mama Butcher"

Recently I have been quite busy. I finished my time in the Catarina Restaurant on campus and the six week mark has passed. I am now a member of the Bocuse restaurant kitchen crew. 
There are four restaurants on the Hyde Park CIA campus; two contemporary and two fancypants formal restaurants. As part of the curriculum, we must work in two of the restaurants, first the contemporary and then a formal restaurant to finish our schooling here at the CIA. The formal restaurants are Bocuse and the American Bounty restaurants. Bocuse is brand new, and was just opened in February, when Paul Bocuse himself visited the restaurant for the grand opening and to celebrate his 87th birthday. The restaurant was transformed from the Escoffier into Bocuse between the time we left for externship last May and January of this year. It has been a pretty big deal for our school, and Chris and I have seen publicity everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to Food Arts Magazine. Christopher was interested in the Bocuse restaurant because he is enthusiastic about the modern approach to food, and this kitchen has them all. Chef Remolina explained to us yesterday all of the costs that went in to opening the restaurant. The kitchen is equipt with an Irinox: a combi oven/ blast chiller. Which can freeze anything within 20 minutes and cook them with a push of a button the next. A pressure cooker tilt skillet: which "seals things in, cooks them at a higher pressure, at a lower boiling point, yadayadayada...yada.yada." in Chris' words. Two rational ovens, which are top notch combination ovens. We use sous vide cookery on all of the vegetables made in the kitchen and  liquid nitrogen is used in the dining room to create ice cream to order at each table. This new and exciting stuff has attracted many customers and the restaurant is booked for months. 

The kitchen is divided into many different stations in order to accommodate all of the needs and act as a realistic kitchen environment. There are specific people who create family meal for the "staff" each day, there is a saute station, a soup, roast, garde manger, fish, hot appetizers, canape, entremetier, and butcher station. When I was deciding on which station would suite me, I tried to picture myself in each position. Luckily the odds were in my favor because I found the perfect fit for me. I am the butcher. When you first think of a butcher, what pops into your head? blood, cows, smelly, fishy, beards, yuck. Well it's not all false, but it's actually really fun. 

The first day I arrived with lots on my plate. It was fish day. Whole lemon sole, skate wings, and real live lobsters had come in on the fish order, and Chef was adamant that it all be cut that day. I had my work cut out for me, and I started with the skate. Not sure if I mentioned this before, but when I was in fish fabrication class I enjoyed it so much and I would stay after class to help cut the extra fish for practice. One day while cutting skate, Chris decided to stay and help. This was before our relationship kicked off, and I taught him how to cut the skate which was pretty cool on my part. Anyway, skate is a ray from the shark family, and is a dangerous fish. It has spikes on its skin in order to ward off predators, and so when fileting the fish and removing it's skin, your hands tend to get a little beat up. After cutting around 40 pounds of skate, my fingertips were cut up and I had tape wrapped around four of my fingers. The skate had poked through my skin like thorns and released inconvenient trickles of blood which I had to cease with masking tape. Also I should mention that when cutting skate your hands may start to itch. Because the skate is so fresh, the uric acid is still present on the surface of the skin, which may cause a reaction with your skin. After cutting all of the skate, I then had to skin it and portion it. The really cool thing about this modern kitchen is that it enables us to be very efficient and use new tools. I am issued this ingredient called activa which is meat glue. Those filets of fish that are not the correct weight can be glued together with another under sized fish in order to make the right portion. Another example is that all of the edible waste that is trimmed from a tenderloin can be glued together to form a new tenderloin which we can cut filets from. This enables us to create portions that would have gone to waste. Utilization is key in the kitchen. 
Cutting the sole was quite easy, also I was expecting a small fish and instead was a ginormous flat fish probably two feet in length and one foot in width. It was near ten o'clock when I had finished the first two fish, and Chef said we would leave the lobster for the next day. Luckily the Manager In Training had helped me all day with the fish and it was impossible to get it all done even with the two of us. After cutting fish from 2:30 until ten o'clock, we were then told to clean for a couple of hours and were released to go home at 12:15am. Long day, and Chris and I were both exhausted. I think I slept eleven hours that night, got up and went to class the next day right away. My body was just physically drained. So. Many. Hours.

 The fun thing about these last six weeks of school is that we have class on Saturdays. So when we arrived to class on our normal weekend, we got right to work. Luckily there is no order that can come in on Saturday so I knew what I had to do already. The lobsters had been fabricated in the morning, so I will have to defeat my first live lobster another day. But I got to clean the lamb racks, and cut tenderloin, and cure some duck breasts. When all that was finished I started to clean and clean and clean and clean. So the first day was more exciting than the second, but I will say that I am happy to be cutting meat and fish for hours while service is going on. I'm not on the line, not in the heat, not being screamed at, or burning anything, not doing the same task every minute of every day, and not under too much pressure. Although, one thing I do like about my job, is that I contribute to all of the stations. If I wasn't there, a lot of people would be in trouble and I think I play a crucial role in the kitchen. I wish that other people saw it this way, but unfortunately some think that my job is unimportant, and they treat me as such. Everyone needs to be appreciated in a kitchen; if the man who washes the pots you use to cook in was not there, then everyone would have to wash their own pots, and if the family meal station was sick, then none of us would eat. I hope that as the block rolls on, people begin to understand that all the cogs in a wheel are important for the wheel to work to its full potential. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Lunch Date

Today Chris and I decided to run out for a lunch date at a local deli which is said to be great.

We enjoyed this nice weather that Mother Nature has finally decided to give us as we munched on our more than filling lunches.

Chris ventured for the daily special, a panini with Prosciutto Cotta, roasted red peppers, arugula, and mozzarella, balsamic and olive oil. 

He only got halfway although he insisted the sandwich really did fill his belly. 

As you can see above, I ordered the Rossi's salad with grilled chicken. It had artichokes, marinated mushrooms, roasted peppers, olives (which Chris indulged on), rounds of mozzarella, and a house made dressing. 

There was no way that I could finish my salad, look at the size of it, HUGE. 

And because Chris and I have been avoiding soda with 2013, we have been able to discover some new drinks on the market. I am enjoying the new array of beverages, and together- Christopher and I have lost nineteen pounds since January, one!

It was nice to share some seconds with my favorite person under the sun on a fine Saturday afternoon. 

Practically Perfect

I mentioned earlier this week that I was busy studying for my cooking practical. There are two cooking practicals you must pass in order to graduate from the CIA; one is a second term practical which is comprised of six possible menus that are all dishes that you are taught to make in the class prior to the practical. Both practicals allot 2.5 hours to complete a first course, main course, vegetable, and starch. Last year, Chris and I spent the thirteen hours before our practical detailing every timeline we would need in order to be the most successful. Chris and I both passed the practical last year with a 74- "twinning". It was not our best, but we both found that working under the pressure and to the preferences of the Chef you are assigned is very difficult.

This year, our practical was composed of two parts; an oral section composed of ten questions out of a possible 300+ (all of the knowledge that we have learned in the past 15 months of school). While for people like Christopher, this is easy because of a photographic memory, I am more of a hands on learner, and unless I made a consomme last week, I probably could not repeat the ratio of the ingredients without much studying. The other part was again a possibility of six different menus, ranging from Pan Fried pork Cutlet, Shallow Poach Salmon with Sauce Vin Blanc, Chicken Fricasee, and the "normal" "traditional" sort. Now as I stated, last year, we took a whole class that helped us prepare and practice for the dishes that we may "pull" on the practical, but this year- no such luck. The only time I have ever poached a chicken breast was to make chicken salad, I have never before made ratatouille, and sauce piquante is foreign to me. Luckily, Chris and I came up with the plan to practice for our practical over Easter in my mom's kitchen. She was generous enough to provide us with the ingredients we would need (of course we promised to work it off), and we took a couple hours away from the family and started Cheffing. I insisted that we pretend that I was taking a first time class, and Chris teach me like he was my instructor, in order for me to pick up all of the tips and assumptions that I had forgotten. It was pretty fun. We broke down two chickens, made three different hollandaise sauces, and experimented with three different ways to sear a steak. It was much more effective than listening to a chef lecture on about the eight pieces you cut a chicken into because Chris was able to hold his hand over my hand and control the knife so that I could feel the cuts that needed to be made. I think my dad walked into the kitchen when Chris was explaining that I was whisking wrong, and stood behind me using my arm to whisk in order to show me the correct technique. Pretty comical. I'm not really afraid to admit that I could not make a hollandaise by myself, it's tough stuff. And while most people have mastered it, I find there are more important things in life. But luckily I made two batches that came out alright after Christopher demoed the first. We tested out three ways to sear a steak; 1) salt and pepper sear 2)floured 3)smothered in beef base. After tasting each steak, I decided that I enjoyed the taste of the floured steak best, and we moved on.

Because Buzzelli is close to the top of the alphabet, Christopher's practical was scheduled for the first day, which was Wednesday and he stayed up late Tuesday night preparing his mise en place. Early the next morning he set out to defeat the practical. Wednesday was pretty tough for me. Usually I am in the kitchen with him, and I get to see his reactions to situations. From 6:30-11:30 I heard nothing. I had no idea what menu he pulled, if he had cut his finger off, whether or not his expression told everyone he could handle his dish, or if he was running around like a chicken with it's head cut off. (For those of you who do not know Chris, he is a very calm individual, who has never been caught running around like a chicken with it's head cut off, and can handle any situation, but still how was I to know what was going on?) I received a text message that said 72, and immediately I let out a breath. He then sent me a message explaining that he had pulled the Shallow poach sole with sauce vin blanc, and Roast Beef Jus Lie with potatoes au gratin, broccoli rabe, and grilled vegetables. This was a pretty difficult menu that we had both hoped to avoid. In order to make the sauce for the fish, you had to take the bones from the fish and create a fish fumet, which needs to cook around 40 minutes, from that you were required to make a veloute, which is the fumet mixed with cream to make a sauce, which needs to cook around 40 minutes as well. Then you must shallow poach the fish in some of the fumet, add the veloute and continue to make the vin blanc sauce. Very labor intensive, and plus that is not all you have to complete within the two hour time period. When he returned I welcomed him with open arms. Chris is the best cook I know, and he was exhausted. He told the whole tale as I eagerly hung on each of his words, flooding him with questions. I felt a little better knowing some of the parameters of the kitchen, and ingredients available etc. I started adjusting my timelines and recipes to fit the updated information I had received from Chris. Still I was nervous.

Friday morning I woke up at five fifteen and leapt out of bed, only to cover back up because I still had an hour to rest. Later, I jumped in the shower and dressed quickly. Chris had allowed me to borrow his knife kit, and as I slung the over sized heavy over my shoulder. He sent me off with well wishes and with a hop in my step I started out for the practical kitchen. I wasn't the first to start, and I helped others get set up before I was called over to complete my questions. I struggled through the first few, but once I got rolling I was golden. I ended up completing all of the questions and ending up with the correct answer for each; my day was off to a good start. I pulled the card for station two which was the Sauteed strip steak with ratatouille, string beans, french fries and marchand de vin sauce. For the first course, I would have to prepare a deep poach salmon with hollandaise sauce- gulp. I set up my station before my start time and got all of the equipment I would need. My entire stove top was filled and I was minutes away from starting.

I started out skinning a salmon side and cutting what I needed for my deep poach. I then got my court bouillon (a stock of vegetables that I would use for poaching) on the stove and started my reduction of shallots, wine, and vinegar for my hollandaise. I cut all of my vegetables for my ratatouille and trimmed spinach, green beans, and potatoes. I found out that two and a half hours is a lot of time. The first hour I just took deep breaths, and made my way through the prep making sure to stay clean. I made my ratatouille and put it on the back burner, being sure to remember what an instructor told me once-that ratatouille is all about eggplant and not so much about the tomato. When I had one hour left, I kicked it into high gear and strained my stock as well as my reduction. I seasoned my steak and then floured it just as I had practiced. The chef immediately turned to me and chanted "You NEVER flour a steak, NEVER. NEVER." I was shocked, because of course I didn't just decide to flour it on a whim, I had practiced and tasted the floured steak. I removed the other two steaks that were reserved in the fridge and seasoned them. That threw me for a little loop but then I got back on track, started my deep poach and then started to sear my steak. After about six minutes I removed the salmon and was unhappy to see that a corner flaked off. Over-poached: darn. Oh well I kept moving. I rested my meat and got my ingredients ready to make my hollandaise. I threw some garlic in a pan for my spinach, and finished my sauce for the steak. After two batches of burnt garlic, I got the spinach down and started with the hollandaise. In my head Chris was saying, don't slap the whisk down on the bowl, use the shape of the bowl to your advantage." I just kept hearing his voice in my ear telling me that I could do it, and encouraging me to whisk a little longer. Then I started to add the butter and it came out great. I was beaming with pride. Even if I failed my entire practical, I made a hollandaise by myself, and it tasted good too. I plated my bed of spinach in a ring mold, topped with the tranche of salmon and yellow hollandaise cascading down the fish. I rushed up to the judging table and scurried back to my station to finish my steak. I dropped my fries into the oil, having already blanched them once. The oil was obviously too hot because I immediately heard the bubble when the potatoes hit the surface. I hurried to remove them and they had just achieved a good golden color. I tasted one, but they were not cooked through, so I dropped them again finally achieving the golden brown and delicious that I had been looking for. I heated my steak and green beans and started to plate. I looked around to see what I was missing. I had placed a pan on top of my ratatouille pot and almost forgot about it. Luckily it was still hot and I spooned it onto my plate arriving at the table two minutes after my expected time.

 I sat with the Chef and listened as he critiqued my food. He loved the french fries right off the bat and said that they were perfect crispness. He then started over with the first course. He asked me what I thought and I admitted that the fish was over cooked. He and I agreed that we could see the albumin remnants. He awarded me with a 4.5/5 for my hollandaise which made me so happy, and docked some points for my spinach being grainy from lack of proper cleaning. I got a perfect score on my ratatouille, and french fries. My steak was unevenly cooked and I had garnished my steak with the sauce on top when it should have been beneath the steak. My sauce had too much butter in it and therefore did not stay emulsified so I got some points off there, but it tasted good. The string beans were seasoned well and cooked satisfactory. I held my breath as he added up the points. "station was pretty clean, you worked well, and were about four minutes late all together. Six here, a few points off here, point five because you floured the first steaks and.....Eighty two." I let out the same breath I had been holding since Chris had told me his score. I happily cleaned up and rushed off to send Chris the message. He responded with, "excellent, so proud, you're a super star!" I was very proud, and I rushed to cleanup and get back to him. It was a glorious day outside and we went for a walk as I told him the story of the day.

Luck was definitely on my side that day. If I had been the one out of the two of us to take my practical first, the nerves probably would have gotten to me. And if I did not have Chris's voice in the background easing me through my test, I am not sure that I would have made it. Out of the two of us, Chris is a way better cook than I am. Luckily, I did not receive the same menu that he did, and I pulled an easier one. The prayers my friends and family were sending my way helped, and with Christopher's help, I was happy to pull away with a win.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Mia Famiglia

So everyone asks me what I am planning to do on spring break. Well, the honest answer is that we are not really able to enjoy spring break in Florida or the Bahamas because they do not give us a spring break here. But I am able to get a tan (or freckles really) just by looking at everyone's pictures of the sun/beach on their marvelous vacations (that's a joke). Luckily this year, the CIA gave us Good Friday off, and then there was a special project day on Monday, which meant that we had to complete an assignment but did not have to be in school. Since we were able to have four days off, which is very rare, I offered to drive to Michigan with Chris. Christopher is a very low stress, hassle free type guy and insisted that it would be too far to travel in that amount of time and that we needed to relax and enjoy the days we  had off together. This would mark one year that Christopher had first met my family and traveled to my house.
Last Easter

Family is very important to me and so are traditions. I am very adamant that the same ornaments be put on the tree by the same person each year, that we always color eggs, and that our family traditions live on. I was able to reflect on this in a conversation with Chris this past weekend. I think that following traditions help me with my memory. It triggers a thought of something wonderful that happened on a past holiday, and helps us celebrate the glorious family that we have. I am also a creature of habit and routine, which probably adds to the reason that I encourage everyone to follow the traditions that we have. These practices help keep our family close knit and help us to appreciate one another. And I guess that even though my family is together now, I know that one day my family will be spread out and the comfort of continuing those traditions will help me remember how much I love my family and how lucky I am to have them. 

Sophia and Savannah coloring eggs
Earlier in the week, my mom called me to sort out all of the plans for Easter, and discuss the menu. She and I had a secret, but I did my best to conceal my answers to her questions because Chris was in the room. I woke Chris up early Friday morning and we started our journey Upstate to the place I call home. I would say that although Chris does not call it home, he feels as if he is home when he is there. My mom is very accommodating, and Lansing loans his room out whenever Chris and I come home. My mother often cleans out a drawer for him, and of course sets out the towel with the same hotel soap that he never uses. We arrived home, and from behind the chimney popped out two mini misses. Chris was so surprised that his family had traveled from Michigan to my home to spend Easter with him. His Dad, Step-mom, Sister Stephanie, Sissies- Sophia and Savannah were there to stay the weekend. Christopher was very overwhelmed by the unexpected and that satisfied me. 
The Miller family

Lansing and I

We spent the weekend at church, building bird houses, in the kitchen, touring waterfalls, hunting eggs, and enjoying each others company. The girls were able to get some pony rides from my sister, and they walked around in their little          
The Buzzelli Family
 high heels waving their magic wands and enjoying "Bobo" <--What they call Christopher. Friday we dined at my parents' restaurant as a family of twelve, there was only a few minor water spills, but the amount of smiles overpowered the spills. Saturday my mom treated Margot, Stephanie, and I to pedicures which was nice- my toe nails have been bare for a while. Then I enjoyed watching my curls fall to the floor as mom and I visited the hair salon. We shopped around a little at TJMaxx, where I bought a dress for Easter, picked out a shirt for Christopher, and found a gift for my dad's birthday. Then the Chefs put in some practicing time for our upcoming practical (stay tuned for a post soon regarding this practical). And when we returned home we started to dye the eggs; a whole flat. Then off to church where the girls fell asleep in their darling dresses. I should mention that I was sleeping on the couch in the living room, which is connected to the kitchen. So it was not a surprise that I heard the pitter patter of hooves--wait wrong holiday....the hippity hippity feet of the bunny sorting eggs at five o clock in the morning. And then I was excitedly awakened at seven to hunt for the eggs. The Easter bunny luckily put some tea in my basket which my partner and I enjoyed as we are trying to get over a cold. Chris rushed outside to race Lansing and collect the most eggs, but mid-race he saw Sophia's eyes looking up at him and forfeited his title in order to assist his sister with the eggs that were out of her reach. We then got dressed for mass and celebrated the real meaning of Easter together as a big family. 

Claire surfing through the eggs
We made egg salad for lunch and then the cousins arrived. Unfortunately my Uncle had taken ill, but his girls- Sarah, Claire, and Aunt Kim made the trip to spend Easter afternoon with us. Claire is my god daughter, and it is always a pleasure to be able to play with her. She just turned one yesterday, and after a year full of growing, strength, and love- she is a healthy little girl (who by the way, keep your fingers crossed, is going to be quite a tom boy). I just cannot wait until she can walk with me and talk to me. Sarah on the other hand is doing all of that. She is even potty trained and told me that she enjoyed the "cheesy-potatoes" that I made for dinner. The comic relief of the afternoon was when my mom tried to sneak away with the baking soda to put out an oven fire. Nothing burned- but the house was smoked out a bit, and my dad decided that was when he wanted to turn up the music, and children started crying, and the kitchen was getting crowded.. It was all a little overwhelming to say the least, but all you can really do is laugh. Another hit at dinner, was a trifle that I made. Chris was not a big fan, and I would say that the alternative version I made was not as good as the normal version I create, but we were going a healthy route because of all the chocolate that had been consumed earlier that day. 

Monday was my father's birthday, "71-wow". My dad is a great man, who has raised (is still in the process of raising) six children and is enjoying life. Most of his time is spent mowing lawns of numerous rental properties, commuting to and from New Jersey to support his family, and helping to manage the King Ferry Hotel. A lot of people are surprised to hear that my dad is "old", but I think the term is relative. Yes, we listen to the radio, read the newspaper, are taught manners, and religiously go to church- but without these values we would not be who we are today. And anyone who has ever met my dad, understands that he is a child at heart, and maybe his body is 71 years old, but he has a long way to go. A year ago my father had a heart attack which slowed him down. He is not good at being sick and staying home; he is always moving, active, and ready to start a new project. He has recovered and has even graduated from cardiac rehab, which he is very pleased with.  I am very proud of my father, he teaches me every day and always reminds me to not forget who I am. We celebrated his birthday by making an angel food cake, grilling steak and salmon, visiting some of the near by parks, and assembling a birdhouse that he received from my uncle. It was a celebration that he is sure to remember.
Sarah and Claire 

Chasing waterfalls

When Chris and I wheeled out of the driveway on Tuesday morning, we were both solemn. My mom was in tears and I had to hold my tears back, as always. It's always bitter sweet returning to school, getting back to reality, but this time was a little more bitter. We are in our last eight weeks of college, forced to find a job, and a home. Growing up, crazy stuff. Christopher and I both expressed our fears to each other, and we thanked each other for the wonderful weekend that could not have happened without one another. We are facing the scary world together: Real Couple vs. Big World. End of Transmission. 

Easter Trifle
1- 9x13 yellow cake
1box -vanilla pudding (can be replaced with greek yogurt for a healthier option)
1pt heavy cream
1 bag frozen mixed berries

1. Thaw the berries in the bag, reserving the juices.
2. Bake the cake. Many insist on making cake from scratch, but Betty Crocker has been doing it for years, so I let her do the work, that way I know it is sure to be consistent.) 
3. Make the pudding, or mix the yogurt with a bit of honey for flavor. 
4. You will need a big bowl, usually glass bowls are used for trifles- they are layered so it looks pretty in a glass bowl. 
5. Crumble the baked cake in your hands, I always layer the cake first, followed by the berries, then the pudding, and I continue to follow this pattern. It is to your advantage to use frozen berries because they delicious juice soaks into the cake. 
6. Top with whipped cream. 

This is a very easy and simple recipe which I think is delicious. It was the first time that I substituted the yogurt for the pudding, and I have not mastered it yet, but it is doable. This is my mother's recipe. It can easily be altered. Best of luck.