Friday, March 30, 2012

Chicago Bound!

This week has been particularly awesome but that means busy, busy, busy. We've learned all about meat antipasti and the many amazing products that entails, stocks, sauces, soups, legumes and, the best by far, an introduction to pasta! Yes, my friends, that's what you call heaven on earth. I feel like I say that all the time (and will probably kick myself come pizza/focaccia day) but I really mean it this time as pasta ranks high above everything else for me. Even cheese. There's nothing better than fresh pasta. It's spongy, delicate and has the greatest texture. It's perfect for light (as in weight, not calories), thin sauces like cream or butter sauces because it soaks so much of that deliciousness right up. I'll explain more about different pastas later but man, let me just tell you how my fresh angel hair in sage butter turned out... Divine, I say! If I weren't actually Italian, I'd think my parents were lying to me due to just how much I connect with this cuisine. It's in my blood, people. I can't help how much I actually need cheese, salumi and pasta in my life.

Several fun posts are coming your way, I promise. I haven't had a chance this week to do it and I fly out to Chicago right after class this evening. Yay, ladies' trip! So, I leave you in total suspense for now. I really hope that doesn't ruin your weekend. I mean, I know how riveting this all is so just try to contain yourselves, please. Have a fabulous weekend and a big happy Friday to all! Rachel, you better be P'ing up that J, as usual. I expect a lot out of you in my absence, woman.

PS - Today is stuffed pasta day so you better believe I'll have delicious tales of lasagna and ravioli and tortellini, oh my!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Under The Sea

If any of you out there has ever had a bad oyster, you can join my shellfish hating club. Rather, the shellfish hating club I used to belong to up until two years ago. I had my first raw oyster when I was 19 years old down in good ol' Jacksonville, FL. I'd been excited to try them and man, was I disappointed. It was rotten and made me very sick for nearly a week. I swore I'd never eat another one the rest of my life so it was kind of a monumental evening when some friends and I went to Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar to reintroduce me to the suckers. I ended up really liking them and have since enjoyed a few more oyster extravaganzas.

In addition to the oyster thing, I also was never big on raw fish. Yes, I'd enjoy going for sushi and occasionally trying something raw but it just didn't appeal to me. Once again, I have to reference my trip to Sicily and credit that with changing my mind totally about raw fish, too. We ate almost nothing but raw fish everywhere in Sicily with the exception of one or two meals that involved different salumi. That is the cuisine on the island and some of the fish they have access to is rare and amazing. Here is but the smallest example of a few dishes we had (and this is only on day one of our trip!):
I'm pleased to say that I was really excited for seafood antipasti day at school now that I'm a new woman when it comes to things of the sea. Mainly, I was pretty psyched to work with octopus for the very first time.

We had the last round of our ServSafe lectures on Friday but we had to interrupt it to prep the octopus. It needed to poach at a low simmer for about two hours so we had to take a break and get it prepared, eeek:
That is one slimy dude. The octopus, not my partner, Mo. As we were prepping this thing, I couldn't help but think about how incredible an octopus is. I mean, it's the single weirdest creature yet one of the most fascinating. God has created some spectacular things on this earth and I must say the octopus is one of them. 

After ServSafe was finished, we got down to business with making tartara di tonna (tuna tartare), carpaccio of tuna, crudo and oysters. I wish I'd snapped a photo of the tuna and how gorgeous it was. I feel most fortunate to be working with the ingredients that we have access to. For those who don't know, tartare or ceviche are dishes where you're using raw fish but it's ultimately cooked by the acid in whatever citrus fruit or vinegar you use. I've known that's the process since I first tried ceviche but I had no idea just how fast the acid really does cook the fish. This is my tartare just before plating and you can see how the tuna has already turned a bit grey:
That's because it started cooking immediately when I added my vinaigrette! I was shocked at how fast it happened. This can serve as proof for you raw fish phobes that tartars and ceviches are not truly raw. Regardless, it was delicious and I ate it in a blink. 

We also made our own tuna carpaccio and crudo plates using flounder as the fish for the crudo. We had to make up our own flavor combinations and we were under a certain time limit so that was a bit stressful. For the tuna, I did a "salad" of black olives, pickled onion, parsley and lemon zest which I chopped together finely and plated in the middle of the tuna so you could take a little bit with each bite. Um, I forgot to salt the tuna which is the first thing you do with any meat, grrr! I had to go back three times when presenting to Chef because I couldn't get the flavors right. 

My crudo plate, however, was much better. I was running very short on time so my mind blanked on what to do. I knew I wanted to make a lemon vinaigrette but I didn't get farther than that. So, I whipped that up with finely chopped fresh parsley and fennel prawns and I ended up using that as the vinaigrette for everything. The other requirement for the crudo was that we each shuck two oysters and that really tripped me up. I started to get stressed out at that point because time was out so my plate ended up being a whole lot of white - white flounder, white plate, white fennel, "white" oyster - but the green in my vinaigrette popped nicely and Chef Guido's feedback? "Divine". I was definitely pleased with that review.

Before class ended, we all took our octopi and added them to one ceramic terrine to be refrigerated over the weekend. I could not believe how small the octopi cook down. There are five in this terrine:
It was definitely an experience to do seafood antipasti day but very cool. I've learned so much already in my first two weeks of school and it's honestly awesome. Oh, and we had our first Italian test after kitchen and I think I actually did well. YAY! That was a nice way to round out the week and head into my birthday weekend. :) 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I Could Become A Vegetarian...

...if all vegetables tasted like caponata. Yep, it was time to take a mini trip to Sicily and make the very authentic caponata dish that I love so much. There are versions of caponata all over Italy but it's native to Sicily. The base of it is typically the same everywhere but there are lots of things you can add in to it that may not be the authentic way of doing things. No matter what version you have, it's sure to be completely delicious.

I love that so much of Italian cuisine is vegetable based. In the old days, meat was quite expensive therefore the Italians didn't have a diet heavy in it. It was more of a luxury so most of the dishes you find that are truly Italian are actually vegetarian! I tell you what, I could give up meat tomorrow if I were eating a strictly Italian veggie diet. Caponata is almost like a sautéed stew, if that makes sense, with the main ingredient being eggplant. It's lightly shallow fried and the star of the dish. From there, you add in lots of veggies like bell pepper, celery, and onion and then you build on that with capers, raisins, olives and even chocolate! Add in fresh herbs like basil, parsley and thyme and then it's finished with the quintessential agrodolce, which is the bitter or sour and sweet sauce that makes it truly caponata.

I mentioned before that finding the proper balance between salt and acid, or in this case salt and sweet, is very very tough. It's a fine line and you can really mess it up if you're not paying attention. The agrodolce part of this recipe is the most important thing. It isn't truly caponata without that so it was a little trial and error for me to get it right. I think mine was a touch too sweet but it really was fantastic overall. The photo is nothing to look at but man, it's bold, hearty and so yummy:
I've realized quickly that most of my photos will not be very pretty. We're under time constraints while in the kitchen so I have to get things plated quickly and presented to Chef, so taking photos is obviously not a priority. However, I do want to try and take them as much as possible so I can remember what things look like, well plated or not.

We also did a couple of other vegetable antipasti dishes that were to die for. Peperoni arrostiti con acciughe (roasted peppers with anchovy), verdure miste sott'aceto (mixed vegetables in marinated vinegar) and carciofo sott'olio (artichokes under oil). They were pretty simple dishes yet the peppers are insanely delicious. Things like that and the roasted tomatoes from the other day are staple items you can make to have on hand for either snacking or creating a main dish centered around them. As usual, some fresh, crusty bread would be amazing topped with them. Moving on from there, it was awesome cleaning and prepping fresh artichokes (these were baby chokes) for the first time:
It was much easier than I thought! It's sad how little you actually use of the artichoke. 

All I know is vegetarianism could be on the horizon for me sooner than later. That is, of course, until we get to meat antipasti day in which I'll promptly squash any and all such ideas. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cheese, Glorious Cheese!

Cheese making and tasting day. Need I say more?

I'd been looking forward to this since the minute I opened and thumbed through my kitchen book. I didn't realize we'd be getting to do a thorough tasting so, when Chef Guido mentioned it before we left class Tuesday, I got more excited than I've been in a while. We've been doing this ServSafe lecture in the mornings which is all about proper food handling, cleanliness, what food borne illnesses can happen...just all the things you need to know and be schooled on when it comes to serving food to people. It's been boring but necessary so I was happy as a clam when the rest of the afternoon was spent in the land of cheese.

After we came back from lunch (which I didn't eat because I was focused on cheese), Chef Guido had put out this glorious spread:
13 different Italian cheeses that we studied, had lecture on and tasted. Every tiny thing we learn, such as the true proper way to taste cheese, makes a drastic difference in how you proceed forward with that ingredient. It was fascinating to learn about the different souring agents that are used in cheese making and what animals produce whatever milk, etc. I never even knew this but cheese itself, not just blue cheese, is a mold. Period. It was happenstance that cheese was ever made in the first place! It was a total accident and man, that's the best accident that's ever happened in my opinion. 

After we finished the tasting, it was time to make some ourselves. We did ricotta and mozzarella and I had a blast doing it! I've made ricotta several times now on my own but it was great to learn a different technique which is actually easier. Yay for that! Making the mozzarella was so much fun. Pulling and stretching the curd made you feel like you were a little kid playing with silly putty. It was fun tearing off pieces and molding them into balls, just like you see in the market. I speak for each of us in saying we really enjoyed that part.

We were left to decide on our own how we'd plate and present both cheeses so I kept it simple with the ricotta and topped it with olive oil, salt and pepper. Chef Guido had some amazing suggestions though that I want to try next time such as drizzling it with honey and a dash of cinnamon to make it sort of a dessert. I think that sounds wonderful! With the mozzarella, I stayed simple but dug into the fresh herbs. I finely chopped basil, rosemary and parsley then added olive oil, salt and pepper. Voila:
I overworked the curd a little bit so it was a touch rubbery but tasty, nonetheless. This was certainly my favorite day in the kitchen thus far, that's for sure!

Anchovy & Veggie Fun

I referenced in my last post that I've become a lover of anchovies and sardines after visiting Sicily last year. It's amazing what totally fresh ingredients will do to change your mind about something. I was talking with my classmate, David, yesterday about that very thing and how you can go years not eating something wonderful because you never had a good version of it to begin with. Being that we'll be working with anchovies a lot going forward, it was fitting that Tuesday would involve a recipe that got us quickly accustomed to filleting them.

Before I go into that, I've been asked by several people for a photo of me in my uniform. I feel like a little kid posting this but what the people want, they get. So, here you have me in what I'll be living in for the next few months:
Yep, there I am. The future Chef Valerie. Oh, and I hate that hat, just so you know. 

Back to the recipe and the anchovies. We made bagna cauda, which means 'hot bath', and it's a very authentic Italian dip for veggies. It's a really different recipe that I wasn't too fond of because the base is butter (a LOT of it) and olive oil. Something about dipping veggies in that didn't appeal to me at all so it wasn't my favorite thing. You add anchovies, garlic, dijon mustard and some lemon in as well so it's definitely an interesting recipe. All of these suckers went into that little cup o' dip:
It was potent, to say the least. Give me some crusty bread and I'd sop that up in a minute but I just didn't care for the veggies with it. 

The next thing we did was pomodori arrostiti or roasted tomatoes. We made these to use as one of the layers in our third recipe, verdure sott'olio or 'vegetables under oil'. Oh my goodness, they were heavenly. My favorite part about Italian cuisine is the simplicity of it. The ingredients themselves are the star, not some crazy sauce or heavy garnish you add to bring it all together. This dish consisted of simple tomatoes, orange and lemon peels, fresh thyme and some olive oil (which, going forward, you can assume is in absolutely every Italian dish on the face of the earth). You roast it on low heat and it produces something amazing. The most important part of making most Italian dishes is the balance in flavor of salt and acid. Now, I will say that finding that balance can be incredibly hard so I'm in no way saying making simple Italian food is easy. Sometimes, it's actually way harder than something else that's technique driven because there's no rule book for it, you simply have to develop the right palate to execute it properly. That said, these came out deliciously sweet, tangy and lively:
You could use these for anything, truly! Throw them in with pasta, make them a topping for fresh bread, toss them in a salad or with spinach as a side dish...I mean, they're so versatile and totally delicious so you can bet I'll be having these as a staple in my home going forward. 

The verdure sott'olio was just as wonderful though not much to explain about them. We grilled off eggplant and zucchini, layered them with the tomatoes in a pan and covered it all with olive oil. That process is actually something that was used as a preservation technique in the old days because covering something with olive oil keeps oxygen out therefore keeping food fresh longer. You refrigerate it all and it'll be good for a week or so! You honestly never knew vegetables could be so delicious...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tournage? Boooo!

Yesterday was our third and final day of knife skills in the kitchen. We learned 'tournage' which is the technique used to make cuts resulting in faceted, oval shapes with seven sides. There are several cuts that can be done this way with different lengths but we focused on doing cocottes which are 5cm long. During the demo, Chef Jessica's cocottes were perfect and she made it look so's NOT. Let's hope I really do get better at this as time goes on because it ain't so pretty right now! I can tell you that it gives me a huge appreciation for when I've seen these lovely shapes of vegetables at various dinners I've been to. I understand much more what hard work is behind a lot of what I've had the pleasure of eating, that's for sure. We practiced tournage on patate (potatoes) for a while before getting into our recipe for the day, panzanella or bread salad. It's a lovely red wine vinegar based dish made with day old bread, fresh tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, scallion - it's a summer dish typically and great for picnics and so on. I really love it so I had fun learning how to make it!

The cool part of this panzanella is that we added anchovies. I was never an anchovy or sardine person until I went to Sicily last year. I had some of the most amazing dishes made with one or the other. It surprised me to no end that one of my very favorite dishes from the entire trip was fresh anchovies in lemon juice and olive oil, that's it. You wouldn't believe how delicious they were. Of course, they were basically pulled right out of the sea and put onto our plates so that certainly had something to do with it. We'll be working with anchovies a good bit in this program so yesterday was the day we learned to fillet them. I have never filleted anything in my life so, while an anchovy is quite a small fish, it still has a spine you have to pull out, eeeek. There are a ton of small pin bones in anchovies and it's impossible to get them all out. However, it was pretty cool to do something like that for the first time!

Unfortunately, there are no photos from today because I was slow as molasses in plating my final product. I needed to present to Chef Jessica and get my station cleaned up so you don't get to see the pretty panzanella, booo. She said my composition was really good overall and it was just lacking an extra bit of salt to make everything pop. I'll be quite excited to make it again when tomatoes are truly in season.

On an unrelated note, I have to share this awesome gift I got in the mail from Michael and Wynn when I got home. There was a cute little package in my mailbox and I opened it up to find the most beautiful leather luggage tags they'd had engraved for me. It's a congratulatory gift for basically having the balls to do this whole thing and I wasn't expecting it at all! The note said they were to help carry my new luggage (a lovely Christmas gift from Allison!) into my new life. How fitting! :) Aren't they awesome:
Such a thoughtful and special surprise!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

One Week Down

I can probably speak for our whole class when I say we're itching to really start cooking. It must be our tool kit. It has us all giddy and we want to play!

Friday was our second kitchen day and we spent a fair amount of time practicing our cuts again. Um, it's gonna be a while before I'm good at that, yikes. Anyway, in reading through the lesson to prepare, I drooled a little bit because bruschetta would be the very first thing we'd make. I love bruschetta when it's done properly. It couldn't be more simple yet it's so fresh, vibrant and delicious. I think I could really live on that and wine alone. The process that we'll abide by going forward will usually be a demo from the chef, we'll cook and then present our dish to be tasted and critiqued. I was actually excited about the presenting part because I really thrive on feedback when I cook. I'm much harder on myself than I probably should be but it's well-intentioned. I just want to be the best I can be but I do need to learn not to be so serious sometimes.

The way we learned to prep the tomatoes made every difference in the world as this bruschetta was totally delicious and hey, I made it! I surprised myself by how tasty it was but this is precisely why I'm in culinary school learning how to do things right. It thought it didn't look half bad either:
It was neat for me to make something and have such a well respected chef taste it and critique it. I got nice feedback from Chef Guido and that was a boost of encouragement that I needed more than I thought! Granted, this is a very easy dish so I anticipate lots of bumps in the road later on but it doesn't take away from feeling happy about it. :)

So, one school week down and my, what a fabulous, tiring, intense, educational and exciting week it was. This 'preview' into what life will really be like going forward was totally awesome. I'm in for probably the hardest work of my life yet I couldn't be happier about it. I suppose that solidifies how 'meant to be' I feel this all is, eh? Lots to look forward to!

On a side note, I had a super fun St. Patrick's Day with great friends! Colleen had invited me over for a waffle brunch at her apartment to start our day which was so sweet and different. It's been ages since we did something like that! We had a wonderful time catching up and I give a big thumbs up to the chef:
The rest of the day was just as nice filled with beautiful sunny weather, laughs and lambrusco. Yep, we managed to actually have an adult, civilized St. Patty's celebration for the first time in all of our lives, heehee. It was fun and a great end to a hard week!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I'm A Weakling

Ok, I'm not a weakling. I'm a kitchen weakling. At this point, anyway. Today was our first full day of school, combining language + kitchen. Obviously, we all knew we'd be tired but I think I seriously underestimated how much. Part of it is definitely just the adjustment all around to a new schedule, different energy and brain power exertion and keeping up with getting to know new people. All of this is super taxing so I certainly leave room for that when it comes to how I feel physically. Everyone felt the same way though after today was over so it's nice knowing we're all in it together.

Today went better for me in language class overall. I feel like I'm catching on and sincerely enjoying the process. It's been ages since I've been in a class setting like this and let's face it, I was always asleep on my desk when I was there. I had a tough time in school no matter what age I was. I always struggled with giving up immediately when something got tough or I couldn't understand the material. I hate to say it but I have those very same inclinations as an adult and I feel that creeping up. Clearly, the difference is that I'm passionate about what I'm doing and I have a desire to be there instead of sitting through algebra class not having a damn clue what was going on and hating life. I'd say that's a plus for this situation, eh?

This morning, we worked on really conversing with one another and writing out verb conjugations by memory. It's tough work, I tell you. There are some rules of the Italian language that come so easily to me and effortlessly stick in my mind but there are other things that I simply do not understand. I'm not worried, though. Even after one week in Sicily, I picked up a bunch of stuff so I think, once we're settled in Italy, it'll be much better as we speak continuously each day. Here we are working on those tricky little conjugations:
I wish Stefania was facing the camera in the first photo so you can see how cute she is. Each one of us is obsessed with her, seriously.

On to kitchen day one! I mentioned before that I was psyched to finally get our knife and tool kit so today was a big day, heehee. Without exaggeration, I haven't been so excited about something in quite a while. Behold, our bag o' joy:
I get weak in the knees just looking at it. Professional, top notch equipment that's mine. Allllll mine. It's a bag with three compartments housing all of my tools and we got to break a few things in today! We have three days of knife skills so today we focused on the different types of cuts most common in the kitchen that'll we'll use all the time. 

We were introduced to Chef Jessica, one of our three chef instructors, and we went over a lot of basic kitchen safety and protocol. She showed us where everything is in the kitchen and talked a bit about her history and what brought her to this program. She's so accomplished and so very skilled. You could see that in the first five minutes of the demo she did on how to chop. We practiced on cipolle, carote e patate (onions, carrots and potatoes). Um, I suck at it so far. It's amazing how different it is to learn the correct way of doing things vs. how I've always worked in my own kitchen. I thought I kinda knew my stuff but nope, I've been doing it all wrong. 

After going through what felt like a pound of each vegetable,  I actually produced pretty good work according to Chef Jessica:
It's hard as balls to cut down a carrot into a square or rectangle, just so you know. The perfectionist side of me sure did come through as I kept trying to get it done just right. Will I ever learn that most things in life are a work in progress? Sigh... I tire myself out sometimes, I swear.

It was a long and tiring but fantastic day. I have a lot of studying to do tonight after I decompress a bit. 6:00am comes quick, man. I'm very ready for day two in the kitchen, though!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Buon Pomeriggio!

In other words, good afternoon!

Before I talk about school, I just have to say that it honestly is such a good afternoon. We started class early this morning so we got out early which is a-ok with me, especially on such a gorgeous afternoon! I was out of school by 12:30pm and couldn't have been happier. It's 70 degrees, sunny without a cloud in the sky and the perfect day for a run...or margaritas. Lucky for me, I'm doing both. You can do that kind of thing when you're a student again.

I've had quite a few setbacks with running over the past year so I never know what I'm gonna get when I hit the road. My most recent tumble down the bus steps has left my ankle messed up so, after seeing the podiatrist to make sure there wasn't a stress fracture (there wasn't, just a sprain), I've been taking it as easy as I can. I've just been running on the treadmill recently since it's softer but I absolutely had to take advantage of this pretty day so I ran 4.5 outside. I just have to say it...I love running so much. I hate that my knees and ankle aren't in the perfect health they once were but I just have to work around it. Here's where the margarita reward comes into play. I run through some pain then treat myself to a refreshing, cold margarita. See how that works? Don't worry, I'm not just gallivanting around the city without a care. I'm going to bring my notes and homework to study so it's productive. I love my logic with things sometimes.

Since all of you can't join me for cocktails, I thought I'd share what I'll be studying with you so we can feel like we're with each other:
These are just a few of the many pages of notes I already have to study - after just three days - so you can see a small glimpse of the intensity. We're already doing verb conjugations and it's really really tough. The introduzioni (introductions) are the easy part. Putting everything together to create sentences and sound like we're not four years old is the tough part. Of course, it's only day three so none of us are expected to be at a different level yet but there is a high expectation of our progress. This program isn't esteemed for no reason, you know? 

While overwhelming, it's also very fun to be learning this beautiful, romantic language. Something really cool that I didn't know is that 99% of all Italian words end in vocali (vowels). It's so neat! Also, if you've ever heard an Italian person speak, you know that certain syllables are deeply emphasized or dramatic, if you will. There's absolutely a reason for that! Certain words, such as pomeriggio as I wrote above, have double letters that draw out the way a word is spoken so that you're able to tell how to spell it. When you pronounce pomeriggio, the 'gg' part is emphasized and focused on. On the contrary, serata in the phrase buona serata (have a good evening) is spoken with a very quick 't' sound so you know there's only one 't' instead of two. One other fun tidbit is that in words with one 's', such as risotto, the 's' takes on a 'z' sound whereas with the word rossa (red), the double 's' makes a true 's' sound. Does that all make sense? It's kinda hard to get that across in writing, haha. I always thought Italians were just dramatic by nature, which of course they are also, but there is a true reason why the language is spoken as it is. 

At any rate, it's been a marvelous week so far. By the way, I'm only rubbing in the fact that I got out early today because it will never happen again, haha. Tomorrow is our first language + kitchen day so I basically have to relish in the fact that I could enjoy this pretty day, don't you agree? I'm definitely very very excited to get into the kitchen, though. I think we all can't wait for that! 

Ok kids, time for margaritas. Um, and to study, of course. ;)

Monday, March 12, 2012

I Miss My Lunchbox

I woke up this morning with all the same feelings I used to have when I was a kid and the first day of school was exciting. Remember that? A new outfit, fun school supplies, your lunchbox and thermos all ready to go, complete with a bag of cool ranch Doritos and a Little Debbie oatmeal creme pie if you were lucky... I remember those days so clearly and I always felt so overjoyed at the thought of a new school year. Even as a kid, I somehow knew the value of a new beginning and a fresh start.

I miss that 'lunchbox thrill'. I think we all get so far away from those childlike feelings as adults and it makes me sad. Bryan and I talk about these things a lot because I envy his ability to relax and enjoy the simplest things in life, much the way a kid does. He's got a calm nature that's a very good balance for me and it's one of the things I appreciate most about him. So, when I woke up today feeling free and giddy, it brought back a lot of those things I'd like to feel on a more regular basis and that made me happy.

After more years than I'd like to admit, I had yet another 'first day of school' and it was terrific! There isn't much to tell about today because this week is a bit different than how our normal schedule will go. For today through Wednesday, we'll only be in language class and then Thursday and Friday, we'll have language plus the addition of knife skills in the kitchen. So, we won't be in a regular, full format class until next week but I can see why after today. We had a full four hours that was intensive and in depth so I can understand the need to separate a language for the first week, at least.

Our teacher, Stefania, couldn't possibly be more adorable or wonderful. She's very sharp and serious but so spunky and fun, too. In just one day, she's brought the Italian language alive for us and, because she's so passionate about teaching, she truly catches our attention authentically. It's really going to be a pleasure learning from her!

I know that's not much of an update but fun all the same. I'm genuinely excited for day two and that's encouraging! With that, I've gotta get back to studying so I'll simply say buona notte, all. More soon!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Orientation Day!

I didn't go the traditional college route when I was younger. I was definitely rebellious and thought college was for suckers. I was totally a 'fight against the man' kind of personality and needed to do things my way regardless of how people advised me. I failed five classes my junior year, didn't take the SATs, had every punishment you can think of - including things the administration had to basically make up for me since I ran the gamut of what existed as known punishments - I mean, I was a problem child to the extreme. I didn't know that I was even eligible to graduate high school until the night before when my parents got the call saying I was cleared. It was an adventure being my mom and dad back then, that's for sure. What's funny is that I was extremely responsible in other areas of my life, such as work, so it made it tough for my parents to deal with me since I had such a good head on my shoulders with other stuff. As my dad will tell you even now, he just didn't worry about me even with all the shenanigans I pulled. Somehow, he knew that my passion and drive would lead me somewhere, most likely out of Georgia, and that I could take care of myself. I suppose that's why he didn't freak out when, at 19 years old, I told he and mom that I was moving to good ol' NYC. I was headstrong then and certainly am now.

I say all of this because, even though it's culinary school that I'm beginning, it's still school and a structure I'm very unfamiliar with. I think that's why I'd been feeling so nervous about orientation this week. I never did the dorm thing, I never dealt with professors and I certainly never went to an orientation of any kind. My only degree (and one I'm very proud of!) is an Associates degree from University of Phoenix and that required no on-campus registration or orientation. So, two days ago when I was heading down to orientation, I wasn't sure what to expect.

Well, it was awesome. It was information overload for three hours but really amazing and exciting for me. The class size goes up to 20 but get this...there are only 9 of us. I think that's incredible because I believe each of us will get some of the best personal instruction that just can't be possible in classes of a larger size. For me, it was very surreal to meet these 9 individuals who will essentially become my family over the next 7 months. What an adventure! We didn't have much time to mingle with one another but I got a really good feeling about the people I did talk with. I can't wait to get to know them more and to begin this journey together. As one of the instructors put it, we're together for better or worse so all of us are going through it as a team. There's something comforting about that, for sure.

We didn't get our knife and tool kit yet - um, something I am so freaking excited about - but we did get our uniforms and books! I swear, I'm so giddy about it and it finally feels real:
What a truly awesome new journey I'm embarking on. I really can't wait and I feel so blessed to be at a place in my life where this opportunity is possible. Bring it ON!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Down Time

It's still hard for me to believe but, as of last Friday, I'm officially finished with work. I actually still feel like I'm on vacation and will be going back. It's a very surreal time, to say the least. I'm not sure why it feels like such a big deal that I've quit my job but man, it really does and it's taking some getting used to! 

I had an extremely busy last week of work and I was trying hard to focus on the fact that I'd be rounding it out by heading back to Denver. I hadn't had time to focus on my trip so it really wasn't until I was finally boarding the plane that I was able to relax and concentrate on having a few days away. I realized as I got toward the end of the week that I was feeling very very overwhelmed and in need of down time in a big way. So, I happily shifted my thoughts toward seeing Bryan and having a wonderful weekend back in Colorado.

The trip certainly started off fantastic with the sweetest surprise. He had a gift for me when we got in the car at the airport because he thought I might be sad still about my last day at work (he was right). He'd hand-carved me this awesome linoleum block with my name on it and a little garlic bulb and herb. You buy particular paint that you roll on and then stamp it onto cardstock to make notecards! It was such a thoughtful, very "me" gift. I love it:
From the airport, we headed to The Cheeky Monk for dinner. Such a cute place with an amazing beer list!

Saturday, he cooked me breakfast and we sat and talked over coffee for a couple of hours. After, we went into town and walked all over the place all day, it was great! A huge highlight was that he took me to this balsamic and oil shop that was SO freaking awesome. It's called EVOO Marketplace which is a tasting shop and they have the most amazing infused balsamics and oils in these cool stainless steel barrels called 'fustis'. I wanted to buy out the shop: 
We'd also gone into this super cute little bookstore called Tattered Cover and had lunch at Illegal Pete'sWe walked around some more to an area called Larimer Square which is so cute with shops and so on. We had sushi at Go Fish with friends for dinner and rounded out a fantastic day!

Sunday, we got up super early to go to Wildflower Cafe, which was awesome as usual, and then we drove for a bit and came back to sit outside for a while. It was so amazing out! Denver weather is incredible. The sun is warm, the air is crisp and there's often not a cloud in the sky. We decided it was very necessary to go for a motorcycle first in years...and I loved it!!! I think I need to hang up the road bike and take up a new hobby: 
We rode around for a bit and then came home to hang out before getting stuff for dinner. I cooked curried lentils with sweet potatoes and swiss chard and we drank some lovely cabernet. We also got some ciabatta and different cheeses to try which were so good. My kind of evening, that's for sure.

Sadly, Bryan had to work on Monday but I still had a terrific day. I spent the whole day outside until he got off work and it was fantastic. It was nearly 70 degrees so I read outside at Starbucks for quite a while. When I wrapped up there, I navigated the light rail (so easy!) downtown and walked all around aimlessly. I got some frozen yogurt with apples and strawberries and read again until I met Bryan. He had to drop off some work equipment across the street from a good friend's bar so we went in for a coupla beers and then we had delicious Mexican that is exactly what you can't find here in NYC.

It really was just the kind of weekend I needed before coming back to the city in anticipation of school orientation. I had a lovely mixture of relaxation and fun so I definitely felt like I cleared my head a bit. Bryan comes back to the city the first weekend of April so I'm already so very excited for that visit, as well. 

Now, it's time to focus on starting school! I feel really great about it and finally have more excitement than nerves, yay! Just a few more days...