what is a garlic clove? (and other downfalls of a long commute to culinary school)

 so…how do i begin? well, let’s just say that i had some other posts planned to come before this one, but after last night’s debacle i felt i needed to divulge the darker side of commuting to culinary school (from Philadelphia to New York). in the summer, while still living in the garden state (in Princeton), i took the NJ transit train into the city. it took about 1.5 hours, with 10 minutes to walk to school once in manhattan. sometimes, after class, i would have to wait around a while for the next train, but in general the commute was fine. nothing to write home about. (actually the only part to write home about was getting to decompress and talk food and life with ann marie… that part was good.) sometimes i felt there were too many stops along the northeast corridor. and there was no wi-fi. and not so comfy seats. and sometimes crowded trains. but overall, i got to class on time and that was what mattered.

jump to living in Philly: i start taking the (Bolt) bus. i love it. the seats are comfy. there is wi-fi. the walk from the drop-off in NYC to school is more or less the same (about 2 blocks more actually), but it usually gets in earlier than anticipated, which always feels good. but then, in the last few weeks, i start noticing changes – the honeymoon period was ending. the wi-fi started getting spotty. the bus no longer arriving ahead of schedule. until finally…. last night happened.

i arrive for a 3 o’clock departure and there is no sign of the bus. i stand around with restless passengers. 15 minutes go by. then 30. finally a bus appears. we don’t push off until 35 minutes behind schedule. then, no wi-fi, so my productivity immediately diminishes (and the risk of overloading my data plan increases). we start hitting traffic far too early in the commute – not even out of Philly yet – and i panic. the bus driver must be panicking, too. he knows he has already blown it by being late to work (although technically, even with his delay, i could have still arrived on time for class). so, being concerned about traffic, the driver takes us on a route i’ve never seen before. and i’ve been through the Lincoln tunnel many times. but the driver goes his unusual way, and instead of avoiding traffic, he drives right into even more congestion.

long story short, what should have been a 2 hour bus ride (or less) becomes a 3 hour 40 minute disaster. and at this point, i’m already late enough for class that i am considered “absent.” fortunately, i arrive in time to partake in all the cooking (and i have the option of making up the class if i want), but i’m so frazzled and disappointed to be arriving late for the first time, and for one of my favorite chef instructors. [while on the bus in traffic, contacting classmates about my late arrival, my face literally fell when i heard the news of who was teaching and knew that i would be late. ann marie and susan (my classmates) knew my disappointment before i even said anything.]

and then, this is where the really painful part happens… i enter the classroom. frazzled. ready to work. ready to make up for my late entrance. i realize that my neon pink shirt is completely visible through my white chef’s jacket and i didn’t have time to change it. ugh… fail. and i don’t even say “fail” but seriously… fail. i start working with my team to figure out who is making which sauce, and as i read my ingredient list and go up to grab the produce, i pick up a bunch of scallions and in a befuddled way start to say, “this is…” and, before i finish, the chef says “scallions.” right. of course. i knew that. “so….. what are…..[my eyes scan the bowls of produce]…..garlic cloves?” i can’t believe the words have come out of my mouth. she picks up the garlic and starts to point to a clove, most likely as confused as i am about the question, but generously she doesn’t reveal what is running through her mind. i’m so ridiculously embarrassed and baffled by my own question – i think i even touched the chef’s hand apologetically as i explained that, of course, i’m completely and totally 100% clear on what garlic cloves are and that she needn’t worry about my garlic competency. i slink away to my table with my garlic.

i later asked my teammate if “any other onions were being used” when i meant to say “ovens” – so clearly something was going on with my brain. [i mean… i don’t remember ever playing on a football team… and i don’t think i was concussed on the bus ride… ?] all that to say, the night definitely could have gone better. but many of the sauces turned out really well. and i enjoyed working with my group (thanks lee, jennifer, trinette!), and really appreciated their patience. i noticed ann marie and susan going out of their way to make me feel better, too. (thanks for cleaning the blender and for covertly snagging me some burn cream!) oh yeah, i burned my hand a bit. that happened, too. but all that to say, there will be bad nights with anything. just like there will be bad dishes or meals or social situations, and you always have to make the most of them. and in this case, i still got to enjoy three hours of cooking with a chef that i admire, and with classmates whom i am grateful for and really respect. thanks guys. NGI wouldn’t be the same without CTP 215.

until next week… and here’s hoping for better bus fortune from now on. [and the pictures above are from some nicer moments on my commute: sunrise over Philly from the Bolt bus; and morning light on the US Postal Service building in NYC.]


apple cider vinegar (tea)

on the subject of tea, i thought i’d post a quick little shout-out for apple cider vinegar tea. i drink this whenever i’m feeling the early signs of a cold (or even allergies, because i’m not very good at diagnosing which is which), and after drinking some a few days ago i think i am now completely in the clear in terms of being sick. so, i thought i needed to share.

it’s not really tea, but it’s oh-so-simple to make. the ratio of ingredients is up for discussion, but i usually start with a mug, and first add apple cider vinegar. the technical amount that i would suggest is “as much as you can stand so that it is still palatable and/or pleasant to drink.” you don’t need a lot, really, but anywhere from 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon should work. if your throat is in need of something warm and soothing, you can fill the mug with hot water, but sometimes i just add filtered water and call it a day. for sore throats or that itchy feeling indicating that you’re getting sick, you could also add a dash of cayenne pepper (just a tiny dash. you can always increase the amount, but if it’s too much you won’t be able to drink it without crying.) lemon is another option – i usually just squeeze half a lemon or drop in a slice. and lastly, if you want it a bit sweeter, add a teaspoon-ish amount of organic maple syrup, too. you could use honey, but i’m a maple syrup gal and since it contains zinc, i figure that it must also be good for fighting illness (and it tastes so much better than those Zicam or zinc tablets.) anyway, that’s it. quite simple and it really has been effective. (also, if you are in a rush, you can always just put several splashes of ACV into a glass of water and drink it straight up. that’s how i did it earlier this week and it still worked wonderfully.)

[i first got the idea from here, and have been doing this for several years now. i don’t claim to be a doctor, but i know what seems to work for me.]


why tea is magical

love this illustration from THIS FOLDEDMIND, found via the Kitchn:

…and even more cutesy, illustrated tea info: global tea etiquette.

p.s. we ate lots of sea vegetables yesterday at NGI. here is a peek at my smorgasbord of sea veg. (and that’s right, sea vegetable, not sea weed. these guys have enough trouble gaining popularity without being called weeds.) 


an oatmeal day…

…is a good day. there’s something about it that just makes me feel extra productive. like, i know i’m being responsible by taking the five minutes to prepare it or something. i went wild this morning and prepared the “chewy” version (by waiting to add the oats until the water is boiling) as opposed to the “creamy” way (starting the oats in cold water). that simple change makes all the difference. it was one of the first things we learned at culinary school… and that lesson alone may be worth the tuition… maybe. well, even if not, it’s really good that i learned it. i thought i preferred the creamier-style oats – and i often make it that way – but i realized that the chewy version brings back a wonderfully distinct taste memory of eating oatmeal at my grandparents’ house. i love that memory. [grandmom, do you make it that way? by waiting until the water boils? it definitely tastes like that in my mind.] my very own madeleine de Proust.


also, now that i’m taking part in my friend ann marie’s challenge to go thirty days without refined sugar, having my oatmeal with a bit of organic grade A maple syrup has been nice. (natural sweeteners get a pass for this challenge, in moderation. and by the way grade B is good, too, but A is a bit less refined, so less processed/concentrated and therefore less sweet.) husband discovered that there is “evaporated cane juice” in his otherwise healthy-looking granola, so it turns out there is some sugar sneaking up on us. anyway… i’m not really a sugar-all-day kind of person, but i do have those intense moments when all i want to eat are cookies and ice cream. so there’s that… and i’m hoping this challenge will help me quit those cravings. or at least, learn how to substitute the majority of refined sugar with less-processed, healthier alternatives (maple or brown rice syrup, blackstrap molasses, maple crystals, and sometimes agave, to name a few). oh and in case you were wondering: i also added raisins, ground flaxseeds, a tiny bit of unsweetened light coconut milk, and a few almonds to my oatmeal. i’m sure you were totally wondering that.

happy weekend!

p.s. interestingly – and fittingly – that cute ceramic zebra that sits on our dining table came from my grandparents’ house. a nice visual complement to my taste memory.

p.p.s. i’ve been tweeting more these days.


what’s been going on

there is so much to update… august was a very busy month, and i am still in denial about summer being over (although i can’t help but be excited about fall weather), but in a large nutshell (like a walnut-sized shell?), here’s what happened:
     
culinary school took a break for a few weeks, but that vacation was filled up very quickly – celebrating family birthdays in princeton, lots of meals from the garden and many prepared by mom from these cookbooks, my cousin visiting from upstate NY (a fun week of picnics, a trip to Philly, The Dark Knight Rises, and running to get my cousin ready for cross-country season), as well as the daunting task of moving into our new home in Philadelphia. the latter event took much longer than anticipated. there was the actual moving-truck-and-friends-wearing-workout-clothes-getting-our-stuff-in-the-truck day (and we are so very very grateful for said wonderful friends and mom and dad), but there was also that long lingering, gradual transition (the “oh, on second thought, maybe we should bring that step ladder / box of scarves / cologne / other thing”), which i guess inevitably happens when you are moving out of your parents’ home and there is no concrete deadline. there was also a lot of “homemaking” to be done, including cleaning, re-touching the paint, organizing, and a handful of do-it-yourself projects.
     
but once all that settled down, we realized, “oh wow, we just moved to Philadelphia. we are starting new jobs, a new phase. even bo (the dog) has a new park.” even as i write that, it still surprises me. there are moments when i feel very used to this new phase already, but other times when it still feels new and temporary. i think my opinion of culinary school is already pretty clear: i absolutely love it. i look forward to waking up at 5:20 am on sunday mornings to commute to manhattan. and this city, dear philly, i am learning more and more of each day, and quickly developing a real soft spot for it. i kind of gush nostalgically about our neighborhood whenever people ask (e.g. the other night, on one of the first beautiful fall nights we’ve had, there were even a few guys camped out around a mini fire pit on one of the cobblestone half-streets. how.cool.is.that). and teaching at community college (no, i don’t watch community, but i love how that is one of the first things i am asked when i mention my job) has been interesting, terrifying, enjoyable, and overall rewarding. i am grateful to have the experience, especially since teaching has always hovered in the back of my mind as something i might be good at and/or enjoy. i love encouraging people to push themselves to think outside their normal parameters, to follow a thought process through to its logical end, and to engage in discussions they didn’t even realize they were passionate about. these have been the positive aspects of teaching, so far. the same qualities i love about teaching could also apply to my passion for food and for community development. it’s all a bit connected, really. i do look forward to to the day when i can channel my energy in one general direction, but i think having varied interests and causes will always be part of who i am. and with that, i need to go prepare for tomorrow’s lesson and bake up some okara chocolate chip bars.

p.s. okara (or soy pulp, a.k.a. the stuff left over from making tofu or soy milk) is just one of the many leftovers from culinary school that i’ve been cooking with recently, and i plan to post some of those recipes here soon!


kitchen shift

this past month has been so nuts (moving to Philly, chef-ing, teaching, celebrating the last moments of summer), but to get myself back into the blogging rhythm, here are a few shots from the kitchen last night at NGI.

working the appetizer line at my second friday night dinner, with Ann Marie (on the right). she had the task of plating the stir-fried bok choy, and i topped it with spiced peanuts. my job was to keep the peanuts from wandering all over the plate. and to make it even more of a challenge, i tried keeping them in a neat little row, intersecting the bok choy right down the middle. i think that was just my little secret, though – by the time it reached the guests’ forks, it probably looked rather freeform. but still a fun way to pass the time.

more updates on what i’ve been doing this past month to come…


I’m a bit frightened by…

“I’m a bit frightened by the prospect of a world where being a professional and having a home-cooked dinner are incongruous, or at the very least, considered a lifestyle luxury.”

[read more here from Sarah at The Yellow House.]