Thursday, September 29, 2016

I'm still here!

I don't think I have a very large audience yet, but I haven't forgotten you!  The last few months have been full of so much information I wasn't sure how to choose what was important or what people might want to read about. 

The first two weeks were nothing but exhaustion.  Pure physical and mental exhaustion.  I have never been so spent in my life, not even back when I had a newborn, a toddler, and was working full-time.  There was so much information I wasn't sure if my head could contain it all.  But then I got used to the new schedule and being back in school and I ran with it. 

So now, readers (if there are any of you out there), I am asking you what you want to know!  What is it like to be the second oldest person in class?  How many times did I cut myself?  I have tried to narrow down what would make a good blog post and was reminded once again that I am not a writer, so I'm reminding you not to expect miracles.  But if I can amuse you for a little bit that's enough for me.  So give me some guidance and I will try to sort it all out and put out a post or two before I start my next class on Monday. 

Thank you for hanging in there with me!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Are You a Student?

Yesterday was orientation for culinary school and while I am still processing everything, it was in many ways exactly what I expected and at the same time nothing like I expected.

First, some perspective.  When I was growing up the most important thing in my family was education.  I took college prep courses in high school and went on to get my B.A. and M.S. from well respected universities and most of my life has been spent in on form of academia or another.  Needless to say the orientation for this small art school was very different from what I've experienced in the past.

The main messages we were given in the first part of the orientation was "go to class" and "don't procrastinate".  You'd think that these were obvious lessons, but the reasons that we were given were not what I expected.  We were encouraged to create relationships with our peers and teachers to have a support system.  You can't create community if you aren't present in class.  Also, most assignments require the creative process and when you are working in art you have several bad products before you get it right; if you wait until the last minute you can't get past the bad ideas to turn in the good ones.  Also, you need time for the paint to dry. 

I started to really appreciate the fact that I was in a room full of artists.  The majority of the students were young, either just out of high school or in their 20s, which is why every time the staff were passing out materials they would pause by my chair and ask, "Are you a student?"  Many of the 18 year olds brought a parent with them so it wasn't a bad question.  There were some students my age or a little older so I wasn't alone.  It was a colorful room.  The creativity was oozing out of everyone and it was both inspiring and intimidating.  I have never thought of myself as an artist or very creative and the more I listened during orientation the more I realized that I was going to be a part of a very different community from what I was used to. 

Yet some things don't change.  In college the first question asked when meeting someone new was "What's your major?"  Here it was "Which program are you in?"  And it was a lot of fun trying to guess and then remembering that you can't judge a book by its cover.  I sat with a young woman who was tall and elegant, thinking she must be in the fashion design program.  Wrong:  animation and video game design.  When one of my culinary cohorts was asking a fashion design student if he could sew because she needed her chef pants hemmed he pointed to an older bearded man in a leather jacket holding a motorcycle helmet (Industrial Design Program for sure, right?) and said "That's the guy you go to for sewing." 

In the afternoon we split into our program groups and met our teachers.  The chefs that will be teaching me have worked with some top names in the industry around the world.  They expect commitment, they expect us to work hard, and they expect us to communicate with them.  They don't expect us all to own restaurants or be the next Bobby Flay.  Chef W said that some of us might be food bloggers, food photographers, own a bed and breakfast, or be an executive chef.  I breathed a sigh of relief that my thoughts of owning a food truck weren't going to make me the joke of the school. 

Now I just need to get my pants hemmed, buy work shoes, duct tape my knives, and get ready to being the adventure on Tuesday.  I have already become friendly with a few other students both in my program and in others.  I have a better idea of what my teachers expect of me and I am committed to learning everything I can and being inspired by the creative community that I am now a part of.  And one day I hope that I can consider myself one of those "creative people".


Sunday, April 17, 2016

History and Heritage

Last week for Spring Break we took the family to New Orleans to visit B's family.  You'd never know from talking to him, but B grew up about halfway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge (the linguistics major in me is fascinated by the fact that he has virtually no dialect).  We hadn't been to Louisiana since Peach was 4 months old so it has been about 6 and a half years since we our last visit. 

When friends heard I was going to New Orleans I was surprised at how many people commented about the food down there.  New Orleans is known for their Cajun and Creole cuisine, but many people just think spicy cayenne pepper when they think of Louisiana food.  Not true!  While most Cajun and Creole cuisine (yes, there is a difference) features red, white, and black pepper the spice is not supposed to overpower the taste, a fact that has eluded many chain restaurants in the North (I'm looking at you, Applebees). 

Since we were going to be spending some time in the French Quarter I thought it might be nice to try a local cooking class so I signed up for a Demo class at the New Orleans School of Cooking.  B took the girls to explore the French Quarter Festival while I had two and a half hours to learn all about the history of New Orleans cuisine. 

First, the menu.  We learned how to make corn and crab bisque, shrimp creole, bananas foster, and pralines.  We also got some yummy homemade biscuits with cane syrup.  The food was great and the instructor was engaging and explained technique very well.  The most interesting part of the class, however; was the history lesson that went along with it.  While he was cooking, the chef taught us the history of Louisiana, immigration, and how it directly impacted the food. 

Chef taught us about how Napolian Law, the French Catholics and Spanish Catholics, and the emigration of people from Africa and the Canary Islands impacted the way people made food.  It made so much sense and showed how New Orleans was a true melting pot of cultures in the 1800s.  I enjoyed the lessons so much and it made me reflect on how cooking is more than just making food to eat.

Cooking is how we tell our story.  Every year around Passover I see posts from my friends on social media talking about how they are making their Bubbe's recipe for matzah ball soup.  Or in December the traditional Christmas cookies their mom made when they were little.  Last February a friend of mine from Poland taught me how to make paczki, a small jelly filled donut traditionally eaten on Fat Tuesday.  While we were cooking she told me the story of how she came to the United States alone when she was twenty years old without knowing any English and cleaned houses to earn money.  Before that day I only knew that her as my kind neighbor with three kids and family in Chicago. 

One of the most important stories I learned while cooking was when I was in sixth grade.  I went to a private school and one of our teachers was a Holocaust survivor.   One day we were making challah (egg bread) as a class project and our teacher told us a story of how as a child in the work camp she befriended an older woman who told her how she would shape challah bread into roses instead of the traditional braid.  One day while working in the fields my teacher noticed the ground was like clay and begged the woman "show me".  The woman quickly showed her how to roll challah into a rose. There we were, decades later and our teacher was showing us the same thing.  Now when I make challah with my daughters I teach them how to make roses along with braids.  It may not have come directly from my family, but it is a story from my culture.  While the old woman in the camp may not have survived to tell her story, I can pass on a piece of it. 

Cooking is so much more than food.  It reflects who we are, where we came from, and outside influences on our lives.  What's your story?

**3 months until Culinary School begins!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What's for Dinner?

Like many families, dinnertime at Chez T can be a challenge.  My kids, like many others, are picky.  Peach isn't so bad and will at least try new things.  Pumpkin on the other hand, refuses to eat any fruits, vegetables, and many proteins.  The child is made of carbs and dairy.  In fact last summer we took a family cruise for the first time and, deciding I didn't want any food battles on vacation, I let Pumpkin eat whatever she wanted for the most part.  She proved that a 9 year old can survive for 7 days on nothing but desserts.  It's not my proudest parenting moment, but parenting isn't always glamorous and I am far from Supermom. 

Aside from picky kids there's another challenge.  Food allergies.  B (still looking for that clever nickname suggestion, folks) is allergic to....well, it's easier to say what he is not allergic to.  Five years ago he was diagnosed with 14 food allergies.  FOURTEEN.  It took awhile but we got used to accommodating his dietary restrictions.  Recently B noticed some new reactions so he got all new testing done and when the bloodwork came back he called me laughing (because if you don't laugh about it you cry, or he was amused at the new dinnertime challenges I was facing).  Out of all the foods they are able to test for he is NOT allergic to legumes or soy.  I'll just let that sink in for a minute.  Did I mention he's a picky eater as well?

Now I refuse to be a short order cook and make 3 or 4 different meals each night.  In our house it is "eat it or wait for breakfast" and my kids are great about not complaining about that policy.  B could take a lesson from them.  So now I am trying to navigate this new world of (in addition to the more common food allergies) no chicken, no steak, limited pork, limited fish, and "no I do not want to become a vegetarian" while I sit back and wait to start culinary school.  The irony of the situation is not lost on me. 

Time to get creative!  I have 4 months until classes start so look for some more food related posts regarding my at-home culinary adventure.  Thanks for sticking with me, I can't wait until the REAL adventure begins and there is a lot more to write about!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Epic Dinner Parties

I am great at keeping other people's secrets, but when it comes to keeping my own life under wraps I leak like a sieve.  I announced my first pregnancy before I even saw the doctor.  With my second pregnancy I think I was able to keep it to myself for maybe two days.  Or maybe it was two hours.  So it was pretty impressive that I didn't tell anyone about wanting to go to culinary school until after I completed the application.  The only reason I told B (I really need a clever nickname for him-suggestions?) before that was because I had my school tour appointment on my calendar and he could see it. 

Once I submitted the application I started to tell people.  Everyone was really supportive and considering how insecure I can be it was a pleasant surprise.  Following words of support people's reactions can be divided into two groups:  a) "What are you going to do with your culinary degree" and b) "We should start a business together!"  It never occurred to me to use culinary school as a vehicle to increase my popularity but I'll take it.

So what am I going to do after school?  I have no idea, but I do know what I DON'T want to do.  I don't want to own a restaurant.  I don't want to be an executive chef at the newest Seattle hot spot.  I don't want to "Beat Bobby Flay".  Maybe I'll find something I'm really good at and open a booth at a farmer's market.  Maybe I'll take my friend up on her idea to get a food truck together once our kids are out of the house and we have time to invest in it.  Maybe I'll get a job at the local bakery so I can surround myself with the delicious smell of yeast and fresh bread.  I have no definite plan other than to learn as much as I can and see where this journey takes me.  But people want an answer so when I'm asked what I want to do once I finish culinary school I just tell them, "I'm going to throw epic dinner parties". 

Now that the initial announcement is out of the way all there is to do is....wait.  There was some mix up with my transcripts arriving at the Institute (note: when applying later in life to college and having previous transcripts sent, make sure they know to look for your maiden name.  Specify it, even if you had already mentioned it on your application) and other than that I just have to go through orientation.  Classes don't start until July for me but in the meantime I have been gearing up and getting mentally prepared for this adventure.  Blog posts will probably be few and far between up until I start classes unless there is something interesting and culinary related to write about (like my one day class a the New Orleans School of Cooking!).  In the meantime I might even learn how to post pictures on here!  Until then, thank you for being patient and checking in with me.  Stay tuned and hopefully we can find some humor in this together!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

How Did We Get Here?

Hello and welcome!
Let me start by saying I never really thought I would write a blog.  I have led a pretty normal life.  Now to me a normal life is fantastic, it just doesn't give you much fodder for blogging.  But there I was at forty years old and I had this itch.  We'll get back to that in a minute.  Here is a little bit of how I got here.

For fifteen years I worked as a pediatric speech-language pathologist and I loved it.  I worked mostly in education but I also had some experience in clinical practice.  I was passionate about my students' success, and all things speech related.  During that time I got married and had two daughters.  I continued to work full time and couldn't imagine not having my career.  And then I burned out.  Increasing demands on educators, especially those of us in special education, combined with a husband whose job required him to travel 80% of the year left me with very little energy.  I lost my motivation and passion for my work and wasn't doing my best.  I'm ashamed to admit it, but it's the truth.  So I decided to try the stay at home mom thing for awhile, spend time with my daughters who were ages 5 and 2 and recharge my batteries.

It turns out that change is just what I needed!  I was able to spend more time with my daughters, volunteer at their schools, and work on myself for a bit.  Then my husband took a new position in his company and didn't have to travel anymore.  My daughters continued to grow up and now they are both in elementary school.  Pumpkin is ten and Peach is 6 and they are becoming more independent each day.  I started to get bored. 

It didn't look like boredom to me at first.  I napped a lot.  A LOT.  I had trouble focusing on the books I usually love.  I started to worry that I was depressed, but I felt happy and found joy in a lot of things so that wasn't it.  I wasn't at a loss for things to do, I mean there is ALWAYS laundry to do, right?  My husband B listened patiently and then pointed out, "Not that all you do at home isn't important, because it is, but it's not engaging your mind.  You're bored."  Holy cow, that made sense!  So what do I do about it? B's answer was simple.  "You don't have to go back to work if you don't want to, but find something you love and pursue it."

And here we are at the proverbial fork in the road.  If I take the road to the right I could play it safe and go back to work, or get more involved in my kids' school, or do something that fits in with my normal life.  Or I could step outside of my comfort zone and do something unexpected.  I chose the road to the left and applied to culinary school.