now that the olympics have begun…

we can unleash our patriotic spirit.

and on that note, today i participated in my own olympic sport: packing. at least it felt like an olympic feat because i was exhausted and just wanted to sit on the sofa and watch the games in London (and not go through boxes and drawers and everything and decide the fate of our belongings). but since i did clock some good olympic-watching, it was probably a good idea to get a move on with the move (on) since it is approaching so quickly. also, despite having lived in (basically) one room with my husband in my parents’ home for the past two years, it hit me that somehow our Philly apartment is going to be more compact than i realized. but, it will all work out… as my suitcase instruction manual once said: “don’t stress, compress.”


last friday night

my classmate, ann marie: where’s the sorbet?
me: it’s in the freezer… the freezer under the British girl.
(5 minutes later)
ann marie: the British girl moved. and i didn’t know who she was. she wasn’t talking.

————
that was last friday night, during my first floor shift at Friday Night Dinner. (translation: we have to serve people food two different times over the course of this next year… And that was friday 1 of 2.) when i was in kindergarten, i said i wanted to be a waitress when i grew up because that’s what my friend said and i wanted to be cool; but somehow i never got a chance to try out food service, so i’m pleased to say that is now checked off the bucket list (sort of).

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this week, however, is my first foray into kitchen shifts for NGI’s dinners. it is exhausting and at times tedious (um… oh hello there, shipping container full of kale! how about I do nothing but wash, season, and bake you for six hours?), but exciting and rewarding nonetheless. the fact alone that i spent the better half of the train ride home trying to decipher the exact pronunciation of “timbale” (as in the little stack of food, not the latino-american drum) shows that i must be passionate about this culinary gig.

and with that, i’m off to another night of chef-ing and kale-prepping. huzzah.


car(t) shopping

is it weird that i am THIS excited about getting one of those old school grocery carts? you know, the ones that you can walk to the store or corner market and tote all your goods home in and look awesome while doing it? and everyone will look at you and just know that you must be a city-dweller? to me, those fold-up push carts are the epitome of urban life. while searching for one to buy, this brand definitely stood apart… and people, be warned. this is not your typical granny cart:

did anyone else get that feeling like they were watching that spinning Will Ferrell clip in Zoolander (“relax..relax..”) or was that just me? anyway, this video totally won me over on the Go Up cart. and the demonstration video in Dutch sealed the deal, too. after seeing the price tag, husband Jeff raised the question that “wasn’t walking our groceries home supposed to save us money?” but… alas, this just might be the cost of looking metropolitan. that and, of course, helping us to not break our backs if (when) we get carried away at the grocery store. we don’t want to be those hobbling “young people” in the video with “heavy grocery bags” pulling them down. that’d be uncool.


on the menu.

 

on last night’s menu: lots of grains. classic tabouli (bulgur wheat) with parsley, mint and lemon; a variation on the traditional Jewish dish kasha varnishkes; curried couscous with carrots, raisins, and caramelized onions (NB: couscous is actually a pasta not a grain); wild rice salad with radish and celery (another misnomer: wild rice is a grain but is not actually rice); buckwheat soba noodle stir fry with jalapeño and bok choy; and finally the amazing kasha-potato loaf, served with delicious vinaigrette. i’m relatively new to some of the grains that we experimented with (ryeberries, kasha, and millet, for example), but i will definitely be revisiting them soon, as it is always nice to expand my meal options and squeeze in more whole grains. i’ll also be revisiting them soon because i took home a tote bag full of food last night. “no grain left behind.”

and that kasha loaf, man… it was amazing! it had potatoes, onions, celery – it reminded me of stuffing, and Thanksgiving, and comfort. if you’re not familiar with the incredible buckwheat groats also known as kasha… well, get familiar. they are cool little dudes. (and if i’m allowed to post the recipe here, i will definitely do that ASAP, too.)


on uniforms

one comparison that has emerged since starting culinary school is that of the school uniform and the chef uniform. the experience of adhering to a school uniform and that of wearing chef’s whites are fairly similar, particularly in the way that – with both – there is an innate desire to adjust/tweak/modify the uniforms in order to make them look as cool as humanly possible… and/or to make it look like you know what you’re doing. for school uniforms, it seems there was always a set of unspoken rules about how you were supposed to wear it. some things were so basic… like, for example, not wearing your formal uniform (with all the matching pieces that the school provides)…EVER. not ever. not even on the first day of school. (i didn’t get that memo and had an embarrassing first day of 8th grade, but fortunately found some amazing friends who overlooked my faux-pas.) later, i learned about other rules: always roll your pleated skirt, wear socks as low-cut as possible without actually breaking the “visible socks” rule; make sure your hair looks great but like you rolled out of bed and weren’t trying at all; and, wear boxers underneath your skirt, too. i failed at a lot of these rules. i rolled my skirt but never quite achieved the look i think i was aiming for; it came out looking more like a tutu and less like a stylish skirt, and the boxers just gave a diaper-like quality to the whole thing. i’m not sure where my classmates were getting theirs, but mine didn’t cut it. and my hair was almost always, without fail pulled up into a wet bun, because i really had just rolled out of bed, but never had enough time after a shower to make it look great… in the winter, my hair even froze sometimes on my four-block walk to school. the one thing i did do well was wearing stylish low-riding socks (because it was so uncool to wear ones over your ankle), but… i sometimes got called out for it. alas, my school uniform days were numbered – it was only three years until i moved to a high school without them. but they were informative (and invaluable) years nonetheless.

but now, at culinary school, i find myself wearing uniforms once again and learning how to tweak them for that optimal cool/”yes, i know what i’m doing” factor. i’m not claiming that i look oh so very awesome in my chef’s whites; i’m sure there’s room for improvement. but i can’t help but be completely enamored of them. there’s something so classic and mesmerizing about the whole tradition of the chef’s uniform. it just makes me want to watch Mostly Martha, and the American remake No Reservations (which yes, i actually love even more), and of course, Ratatouille. seriously, sometimes i watch our chef instructor demo a technique or dish for us in class, and in the background i hear French music and imagine a little rat chef. (yes, i know how old i am… no, i’m not embarrassed that Ratatouille is in my top five films.) and so as i learn to adjust and tweak my uniform – fold the apron here, tuck my bar towels there, and continue to play around with my hat until i finally…hopefully…find the sweet spot – i daydream about all the chefs who have come before me, and all the ones yet to come, and i’m excited to see how i fit into that story and tradition. i’m sure the desire to tweak uniforms says something about human nature: individuality, or rather conformity, vanity, comfort… there is probably some big sociological commentary to be made… but for now, i’m just grateful to be wearing one.


chiffonade.


oh yes, the importance of how to roll herbs (and other leafy things) for chiffonading. i love everything about these little drawings from illustrated bites. i may just re-post them all. also, a proper chiffonade not only makes leafy food manageable to eat, but it can totally change the appeal of something – like stir fry with collards and cabbage. recently, my default is to throw everything green into a wok (celery, leeks, broccoli, etc.) and add liquid aminos or shoyu sauce. fast, healthy, good.


food hoarding

not long ago, i mentioned an epidemic sweeping culinary schools everywhere: food hoarding. actually, i have absolutely no idea whether this condition is present anywhere except at the Natural Gourmet, but i do know that i find myself having succumbed to it, and i’ve seen the symptoms in fellow classmates, too.

it’s not all that extraordinary, really. we see food. we want food. the food is free. we take it home. win-win-win. it just makes sense, right?

often i will joke with my fellow classmates about our tendency to bring home massive containers and bags of food, making remarks about how it feels like the Great Depression and i’m coming in from the “fields” as the family oohs and aaahs at my spoils (or maybe i’m the only one oohing?). still, we make jokes – “look at this onion! we shall share it amongst ourselves!” as my chef friend Ann Marie put it – but it is, quite frankly, awesome. i really like bringing home food from culinary school. no, not just because it is free and saves on the grocery bill, but because a) it saves the food from going into the compost and, more significantly, b) it gives me this constant little reminder throughout the week of the fun i had while chopping and cooking in class. it tides me over until i can start the process all over again the next weekend. learn, chop, cook… bring food home. repeat.

 

see? food hoarding. win-win-win.

[top row photos: produce from basic cook tech and a sampling of our dishes including braised leeks and fennel, tofu-vegetable stir fry, and butternut squash & carrot stew; bottom row: some acquired goods on a particularly plentiful night, and one of many meals made with food brought home. p.s. i really like braised fennel.]