06 1 / 2013

My first Winter Break since 1978 is coming to a close. Just as in my college years, I had big plans for all I was going to accomplish. Yet I mostly wasted time.

I did manage a few events whilst on break: Our staff Christmas party on December 22 for 17 people at Redd Wood in Yountville was a lot of fun. Check out the photos of the staff riding home in the bus. The meal was underwhelming and our supercilious waiter prompted me to write an email to the management. I don’t think it sounded like a menopausal screed, but who knows?

We hosted Christmas dinner for 15 and managed to destroy several trays of gougeres. They looked like bellybuttons, and we called them “cheese nipples”. The table looked nice so I took photos to share with you.

Two birthdays were celebrated with an intimate dinner party for six. Gorgeous, puffy gougeres were served. (applause)

And into this mix I managed endless, obsessive Christmas cookie baking. I’m not kidding; I still have two tins of cookies left!

Christmas decorations at the dental office and at home were packed back in boxes and although the white poinsettias are still in the house, all traces of the Season are extinguished.

I do love the Holidays and am always sad to see them go.

Monday finds me back at Tante Marie, in my chef’s jacket, attractive checkered pants and comfortable black shoes which look just like nun’s athletic shoes.

My knives are being sharpened and I still haven’t practiced cutting up chickens, which I bet are going to be on our upcoming practical test on January 14.

Since I last posted, so much has happened in this culinary journey.

Took our first practical about five weeks ago, and I did manage to make my items look like food. Scored a bit higher on my writing skills than my cooking skills, but all was fine.

We are over half-way through our course. Hard to believe.

I have a great camaraderie with soufflés, emulsified sauces, stocks, braising, roasting, sautéing, pan-frying. My fear of pie crust has diminished, and I can poach an egg like a pro.

So much has been learned, and so much to learn. Food knowledge is a life-long process and I’ve just begun. And I better hurry up.

Friends and family ask what I’ve learned, and I can honestly say that it’s the people that make it worthwhile.

Our relationships are like a summer romance; intense, vibrant and memorable. Everybody comes together with so much back story, so much life being lived, and so much energy.

Our bonds are immediate and we are fully in one another’s lives.

I learn about children, parents, boyfriends, husbands, ex-husbands, previous jobs, current states of mind, future plans, past jobs, current dating status, good restaurants, bad movies, travel plans, life plans.

We have cried together over illness, spilled milk, and even the passing of a beloved parent.

I want these relationships to go deep and have meaning, because life moves so quickly and now we are together and now is the time our lives are intertwined.

So we laugh, hug, bicker, support and care about one another. An ad-hoc family, if you will.

Sure, we know that most everything we cook will need more salt, that’s a given.

I just want to make sure I season these friendships properly.

Happy New Year, here’s to lucky 13!

And remember, it’s a cooking class, not an eating class.

06 1 / 2013

Fwd: Christmas Dinner

Fwd: Christmas Dinner

06 1 / 2013

Fwd: Office Christmas Party

Fwd: Office Christmas Party

25 11 / 2012

On Monday, Frances, took the day off. God knows she needed it.

We had a lovely pastry chef, a graduate of Tante Marie, substitute for her.

The tasks at hand that day were rather simple, make pate brisee (pie dough) and souffles.

Twelve students all making the same items at the same time.

Sounds simple, right? First, we all made our dough, so that we could get it into the fridge to cool.

It was soon after that we all devolved into a flour-smeared rendition of “Lord of the Flies”.

I think I may have been Piggy.

This excruciatingly long day ended with me going home, downing a stiff shot of vodka, and sending two apology emails.

What happened that day? How did it go so bad so quickly?

We did not have Frances to guide us.

It was so apparent how people need a leader, a captain, a coach, a voice of calm and reason.

Some of you know Frances Wilson, our head chef and instructor, so you know what she brings to the mix.

Asking fellow students what they would say about Frances, there is a general feeling that emanates from them when thinking about what to say. It’s a centered, gentle-breathing, calming, steady vibe that comes off everybody when thinking about her.

Alisa said it’s her essence.

I agree.

Frances runs a tight ship in the Tante Maire kitchen. In addition to teaching the twelve of us in the culinary program, she organizes the food for Food Runners, a charitable company started by the owner of Tante Maire. Frances provides meals twice a week for the full-time pastry students, since they have evening classes. She orders all the food, staples and wines for the school, and often goes shopping herself to pick up food. She once brought in two cases of Strauss milk; glass gallon bottles, no less. She does at least two cooking demonstrations when, in two hours, she creates no fewer than 4 dishes. These same four dishes will take the twelve of us three hours to make, and we each only make one dish!

The patience of a saint, is often said of her. She tirelessly answers all our endless questions, never making you feel like a stupid idiot for asking.

Her hand gently steers our little ship through choppy waters and we have never lost a man overboard.

Her guidance and encouragement help turn a dessert disaster into a beautiful confection and an incorrectly cut-up chicken into a delicious meal.

Before I started this program, I took many cooking classes with Joanne Weir. I was a bit intimidated by Joanne because I worship and adore her. But what I remember most from these classes were her assistants. Three women, who were these oasis of calm in a small, busy kitchen. They were several steps ahead of the process, yet present with what we were doing. A colander appeared just as you needed it, the micro plane was on the counter near your cutting board just as zest was needed, a parchment lid for a pot on the stove was made (!) and none of them ever broke a sweat.

Who were these culinary goddesses? Where did they train? How did they glide so gracefully through the kitchen? Yes, you got it! All were Tante Maire grads and each of them had Frances as an instructor. If only I could be like them. If only I could work without drama and failure. If only I could…

So I clicked my heels together three times, and now find myself learning from the master.

Yes, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief on Tuesday when Frances returned.

07 11 / 2012

Admist all the wondeful food, and a field trip to boot, it looks like Berous/Barry went shopping.

Good Grief!

Week 7 begins with some moderation, I hope!

07 11 / 2012

What the hell?

What the hell?

07 11 / 2012

Uh-oh!

Uh-oh!

07 11 / 2012

Yum

Yum

07 11 / 2012

And raviolis!

And raviolis!

07 11 / 2012

Homemade Ricotta

Homemade Ricotta