Friday, April 30, 2010

Wednesday, 4/28/10 – Level 3 Day 6 (Poissonnier)

We were all standing around the front of the classroom watching our fill-in Chef for the night - an Italian woman who is a foot shorter and 20 pounds lighter than me yet looks like she could bring a jail of murderers to tears – demonstrate the particulars of the lemon tart dough. There was no laughing, no smiling and absolutely no breathing; we were all on our best behavior, standing straight up with our arms crossed behind our backs listening intently. All of a sudden, the door opens and one of my classmates walks in…30 minutes late. "Are you in this class?" she asked him. "Yes Chef, I'm sorry I'm late." "Stand there and shut up…you and I are going to have a conversation later." Ohhhhhh snaaaapppppp. There was a collective sharp intake of breath, and when she dismissed us to our stations to get started we all miraculously found something to do to stick around the front of the room and witness the carnage. As I was unnecessarily inspecting a leek, I kept thanking my stars that I had been on time (unlike last Friday…)

We started our first dish, grilled salmon fillets with a white wine sauce, served with sautéed spinach and roasted mixed mushrooms. My partner handled the fish this time, so I started the sauce. It was going beautifully; Chef even came around, tasted it and said it was "delicious." Soon enough, it was done cooking so I kept it warm in a water bath. I sautéed each of the three types of mushrooms separately: oyster, domestic and shitake, then stuck them in the oven to roast. The last stop was the spinach, which was quick and easy: high heat, smashed garlic and a little oil/butter mix, throw them in and take them out when they're starting to wilt. Chef also tasted my spinach, and made an "mmm" face, slowly nodding her head. Ok, she's loving it, good start. By this time, we were down to the wire, with only minutes until presentation time. We got our plates nice and warm, my partner seared the salmon on the grill and we began to plate: a pile of spinach, a pile of mixed mushrooms, a salmon fillet. We grabbed the warm sauce, still shimmering in its delicious glory, and at the last second poured a nice channel around the plate and over the fish. It was beautiful, and we were so proud to present it (and couldn't wait to eat it). Wait a minute…something's wrong…very wrong. As Chef was walking around checking out our dishes, she screamed at us, "You're missing your herbs!" Oh s*$@, we forgot to put the minced parsley, chervil and chives in the sauce and finish it with a few squirts of lemon juice. We hadn't even gotten the herbs out of the fridge yet, nevertheless cut them down into tiny specs to throw into our sauce BEFORE plating it. We frantically ran to the refrigerator, grabbed the herbs and chopped them haphazardly, sprinkling them on as much of the sauce on our plate as possible. We both knew we had ruined it – the flavor of the herbs makes the sauce what it is, and the lemon juice neutralizes the flavor. It was too late, so we had to just let it go. She took out her fork, took a piece of salmon and dipped it in the sauce, placing it slowly in her mouth with a look of complete dissatisfaction. She swallowed the whole thing, which is more than I expected, and was silent…then it started. "No. This isn't right, you've ruined it." Oh crap. "I'm not even going to taste this, it's terrible. I'm not going to lie to you…" she paused, and then she walked away. We were bruised, big time. My partner took three of the plates (I guarded one of them) and they went straight into the compost bin. All of that work, the great encouragement along the way, the perfectly seasoned spinach and the roasted and browned mushrooms. It was all ruined because of a moment of brief forgetfulness. It hurt, oh how it hurt. I felt such a need to impress this miniature Chef, I was longing for her approval, and she wouldn't even look me in the eyes.

We had a short pow wow, vowing to leave this behind and concentrate on making our next dish, bass cooked en papillote (in paper), the best we've ever made. Since we had about 20 minutes, we had already made the tomato fondue, the mushroom duxelle and the meticulously julienned celery, carrots and leeks, cooked a l'etuvee. (We had done all of this as we were ruining our salmon…) We prepared the parchment paper, and placed a pile of tomato and a pile of mushrooms, covered it with a fillet and draped the julienned vegetables over the top. It is finished with a splash of white wine and a thyme sprig and then sealed and folded with an egg wash. After a few minutes, our bags were puffed nicely, meaning the fish had cooked, so we took them out and threw the whole thing onto plates as fast as possible. Chef approached us, gave us a look like, "I should just skip you" and broke open one of the bags. I detected a hint of change in her face, yet she still wasn't saying anything. She took another bite, gathering up as many of the fillings as she could fit on her fork. She opened another bag, and poked around some more. Finally, she looked at us. "It's good. It's very good." Oh. My. God. My partner and I smiled at each other, and I felt a relief like none I have ever felt since starting school. Apparently my partner was feeling a little bold, because he said what we were all thinking. "Have we redeemed ourselves?" he asked quickly. She snorted, shrugged and said, "Yes, I'd say you have." As she walked away, assistant Chef Janet gave us a smile and a wink.

I decided that I really, really like this new Chef. She was tough, like a drill sergeant, but the desire inside of me to impress her drove me to make one of my best dishes ever. I honest-to-God witnessed her stick her finger into a pot of boiling water, taste it and say, "This is not salted enough….did you even taste this water?!" As she walked around the room, yelling at various groups, "You're doing that wrong," "Why are you doing that?" and "Stop that right now," I also noticed something I hadn't before – for every criticism she doled out, she had about three positive comments to make as well. I remembered that she had come to me, looked inside my pan of mushrooms and said, "Those have a great color on them, good job." Or how she watched Garde Manger cut their vegetables, commending them on their knife skills. Her strict personality and demeanor had caused me to only remember the negative and assume the worst, making me nervous and fidgety. I didn't realize, however, that she is actually incredibly supportive and helpful; she just doesn't put up with any antics (or someone not following directions). In fact, I'd like to think she's like the smaller, older and wiser version of the Chef I hope to be some day.

For now, we say goodbye to fish. Next, it's on to Saucier, where we'll make Julie Child's favorite: Beef Bourguignon. Chef gave us a lecture about how we're no longer students, we're cooks - no more following recipes exactly and down to the minute; we're expected to adjust, add and change until we're happy with the result. Isn't that a valuable life lesson? If you're not happy with the result, just adjust, add and change. But never forget the herbs…God help you if you forget the herbs.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Monday, 4/27/10 – Level 3 Day 5 (Poissonnier)

Our first day in the fish station (pwa-sahn-yay) went surprisingly well. I'm not going to lie - it was actually really fun, and we were pretty ahead of ourselves for a good amount of the time. I butchered two fish that I have never even touched before, which was COOL. It almost felt like a scary science experiment, but I find I'm experiencing new things every day at school that blow my mind.

The first creature, a standard round fish called barramundi, was pretty straightforward. We've butchered these types of fish multiple times now, so it didn't take long for me to nip out the gills, chop off the head, make some slits and work out the fillets, one on each side of the body. I put the fillets aside, de-bearded a bunch of mussels and de-veined a handful of shrimp. The recipe called for us to make a lobster stock for the base of the sauce, which was not surprising at all and wouldn't be too complicated. It was, however, the majority of steps in the recipe, so we gathered our mise en place for the stock and got ready to start. I couldn't find the tomato paste, so I asked Chef where it was stored in this new kitchen. "Oh, the lobster stock is already made for you, it's simmering over in the corner." Now, these were words I thought I'd never hear, as stocks are usually our responsibility for our own dishes (with the exception of veal and beef stock, which take about 8 hours to make). This notion didn't seem to sink in, so I said, "Ok, well is the tomato paste in the refrigerator or the cabinet?" "You don't need tomato, it's already made for you…it's the big pot simmering in the corner marked 'lobster stock'." Hmm, now that's strange, I could have sworn I heard Chef say the lobster stock was already made for us…that's so silly, ha ha ha. I must be dehydrated. Sure enough, the big pot simmering in the corner did in fact hold lobster stock, which made our dish unbelievably easy. We reduced it to full flavor, added it to some sweated shallots and mixed in a little double cream. We pureed the mix to make it super soft and silky, put it back on the fire and poached the barramundi fillets, shrimp and mussels in the sauce. When each piece was cooked we removed it and placed it prettily in a warm bowl, doused the whole thing with the pink/red sauce and garnished it with some cooked potatoes and parsley. Delicious! It almost tastes like lobster bisque with mixed seafood, and having the lobster stock already done made it unbelievable easy.

The next dish involved a pan-fried skate wing. Skate is…scary and gross. It looks like a smaller cousin to the stingray, and the slime that comes off of that thing is out of a horror movie. As I was handling the wing (the skate was split down the middle, so each team got a half), I kept hearing a quartet playing an ominous and macabre tune, like the audience knew something I didn't, and I half expected the thing to come alive and spear me with its razor sharp spikes. It didn't even look God-made, nevertheless edible. Its skin was so rubbery and slick, my sharp fillet knife wouldn't even cut through it. I ended up cutting the perimeter with my kitchen shears, and slowly working my way down its ribcage to release the fillet. Every few minutes or so I felt a spike attempt to spear through my palm; thank goodness there was a layer of brown-slimed rubber glove in between.

Seriously - this is Skate (Image courtesy of Kathy Sosebee of the NEFSC)

The skate wing produces a feathered, fingerlike fillet that fans out like an accordion. We portioned four pieces, floured one side and pan-fried it in clarified butter. We served it with a classic Grenobloise, a brown butter sauce with capers, lemon juice, lemon slices and parsley. We also threw a large potato football on the plate, with each side dipped in minced parsley. Kind of hilarious looking, but it brought a fancy touch to the plate.

After the whole skate experience, I'm a little weary of the unknown creatures of the sea. Like I said, always new experiences at the French Culinary Institute…some are slimey, some are salty, some are bloody and some are just plain gross.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Friday, 4/23/10 – Level 3 Day 4 (Garde Manger)

Garde manger is finally over…even though we'll be back at it in a few weeks anyways. Who ever thought soups and salads would be so hard?? In my defense, I think the hard part was that we were always the first to present, and therefore had to high-tail it around the kitchen, throwing vegetable peels and salad spinners in our wake.

We made a vegetable soup called Potage Cultivateur, which includes many many carrots, turnips and potatoes cut into tiny tile shapes. We cooked a vegetable stock with the scraps, sweated some leeks and celery in butter and poured in the stock. Then we added cabbage and our potato tiles, cranking the heat so that the potato would semi-dissolve and bind the soup into a thicker consistency. We served it with some baguette slices and grated gruyere, and got it to Chef right on time. Phew! The taste was fantastic, and he even commented on our perfect taillage, or knife skills, while cutting the little tiles. Dish one down, one salad left.

We then got started on our Salade Nicoise, the classic French composed salad with tuna, olives, anchovies, tomatoes, green peppers, hard-boiled eggs and potatoes. Sounds easy enough, but each item has to be cooked separately, seasoned and cooled, and we had about 15 minutes and two burners to do everything. Unfortunately, our potatoes were still a little raw, but that may or may not have been what we intended…you don't know me!! I was actually just really happy to have made it to class that day, as my afternoon had been a little nuts, to say the least…

I decided to take a temporary receptionist job on Friday that ended at 5pm. I like to get to school around 5:15 to get dressed and ready, so in order to make it on time would simply need to hop in a cab, New York City's fastest mode of transportation from areas not close to a subway, and zoom down Broadway to be dropped off at school. Seems simple enough, of course this will work! I got out to Park Avenue at about 5:10, already running a little late. Can you drive 60 blocks in 5 minutes? I sure hope so! It was rush hour on a Friday evening, and although a million cabs kept zooming past me they were all occupied or off duty. Ok, I'll just walk to Lexington Avenue, which is a one-way downtown street, where I will surely catch a cab. Not so much; it put me on an emotional rollercoaster, calling Steve every five minutes sobbing telling him I was just forgetting it all and coming home. No, I'm going to stick it out, a cab will come eventually. No, I am not putting up with this I would rather not go than be embarrassingly late. Oh crap, we have a test today…TAXI!!! No, I'm coming home I need a drink. I have to get to school, I can't skip it!!

It was taking a huge toll on me; I yelled at a tourist mother and daughter troupe because they were also trying to get a cab. "Do you see me here?? DO. YOU. SEE. ME. HERE??" (They'll never come back to New York.) I finally got a cab…at 5:45 pm, the exact time that class was starting. I was now on my way…slowly. The kind and understanding driver (not) decided that driving out of his way to go through Times Square would be the ideal route…on a Friday evening. While it inflated the fare, it added about 20 minutes onto the trip…a lose-lose situation for me. We finally pulled up to school at 6:25pm, a full 40 minutes into class. I was so apathetic at this point, I didn't even care. I swiped my credit card and gathered my things to get out. What's that, an error message? Ok, I'll swipe it again. He claimed that the machine didn't have a signal, so he'd have to drive around the block. To make a long story short, after three credit cards and seven blocks, the machine still wasn't working. We got in a little tiff because he told me my cards were bad and I had overdrawn my account…and I kindly informed him that his machine was obviously broken and that he would need to take me to a bank if he wanted his fare. He agreed to do so, because I think he saw the foam starting to form in the corners of my mouth, but then tried to charge me again for the ride back to school. Keep in mind that at this point we were in the heart of Chinatown, fighting tourists clamoring for their knock-off designer goods and fish markets piling more ice onto their rotten fish, so it would be about another $6 to get back to school. Nope, not on my watch. I explained to him that the police man standing on the corner would LOVE to get involved in this mess (by mess I mean - My Life in Song), and as I started to roll down my window and call to the cop the driver turned off his fare machine. Ok, small victory. He pulled in front of school, I threw him some cash (but made him give me $1 change ha…ha…ha) and ran into school. I got changed and walked in the kitchen…at the exact moment they were wrapping up lecture. I didn't miss a single minute of cooking - what are the odds?? I got incredibly lucky, and although I missed a good amount of lecture it won't be hard to copy someone else's notes. And the test? Postponed…unbelievable. Looking back on the fiasco, I was obviously not meant to get to class on time with all of those ridiculous obstacles. Imagine my surprise when we checked our online accounts and found that each of those card swipes had in fact worked…and we're being charged multiple times to each of our cards. Don't worry, Steve has already put a call into the bank and I will be alerting the local news as soon as the charges clear. Dear Yellow Cab: I may look sweet, but I pack a big bite.

I love you, New York.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wednesday, 4/21/10 – Level 3 Day 3 (Garde Manger)

It was a hard night in the world of simulated-restaurant-situation appetizers and salads. So hard, in fact, that we threw in the towel…several times. Seriously, we literally threw in the towel that was used to wipe up the massive spills and mess that we created in such a short time. Our station looked like a war zone – there was cheesecloth soaked in an unidentified brown liquid stuck to the flat top, tomato scraps and seeds shoved under my cutting board and a pile of metal bowls taller than my hair con
bump-it. We were late on both dishes, which was very disappointing because we were doing so well all night up until the last five frantic minutes. Sure, it is only our third day, but the two dishes seemed so easy at first.

Our first dish was a consommé made with veal stock. A consommé, if you remember from Level 1, (Eh? Eh?) is a clarified and fortified stock soup that is served with miniature cubes of mixed vegetables. The process of clarification kind of sounds like a joke: 1. Hand-mix ground beef, egg whites, chopped tomatoes and raw julienned leeks, carrots and celery in a bowl. 2. Slowly add the warm veal stock, then put it all back into a large stockpot and bring to a slow simmer, stirring. 3. A "raft" of the cooked meat and eggs will form on the top, and you help to form it into a doughnut with a wooden spoon and ladle. 4. After simmering for an hour, ladle the clear soup through the middle of the raft and strain through cheesecloth. Wow, that is gross. Consommé has such a rich and warm flavor, though, and it's perfectly clear from the extensive clarification process, making the little vegetable cubes stick out. It is served incredibly hot, often in a side pitcher (in those fancy establishments) and poured over the vegetables in front of the diner. Our dish was seasoned well and overall pretty good except that the green beans were undercooked. Not the end of the world, but hearing that criticism out of a tall French man's mouth (Chef Marc again) makes it seem life-ending.

Our second dish was not as great. Sure, a poached egg on a bed of vegetable cubes covered in hollandaise sounds easy. Piece of cake! We'll just take our time poaching eggs, arranging vegetables onto the plates like little obnoxious round pillows. We've got all the time in the world to make the hollandaise! Go, grab a drink and use the restroom, we're walkin' on sunshine here. WRONG. The dream sequence ends here. Before we knew it, we were 10 minutes from go-time, hadn't yet reheated the eggs and hadn't even started the hollandaise, therefore losing all possibility of it being the creamy, runny, warm delicacy it's supposed to be. We ran out of time, understandably so, and…I'll just say this – when we presented, Chef rolled his eyes and said, "Oh yum, cold poached eggs with mayonnaise." Ouch. I ate a little bit of it – he was being kind.

It's the curse of garde manger, I swear! The last group in our position got verbally reamed in front of everyone, and the station behind us had to re-do their consommé two times! What is it about appetizers and salads that stress us out? We've survived organ meats, finicky pastries, precisely cut carrot cubes and killing innocent crustaceans*, yet we cannot serve a complete hollandaise or a hot poached egg? It's like we're regressing from the progress and ladder-climbing we've been doing over the past 3 months. I only hope we can pull it together before our midterm. But hey, you can't be too hard on yourself; maybe we're letting the pressure take hold of us, and we should just relax and get to work. Easier said than done, but I plan on showing that Salade Nicoise who's boss on Friday.

*among many other untold tales of love and loss

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Monday, 4/19/10 – Level 3 Day 2 (Pastry)

Monday was my second and last day in pastry before moving on to the next section of the kitchen. We finally got to meet our real live Level 3 Chef, who made it clear to us that he'd be "tightening the belt" very soon. He was much more understanding, though, and had many positive and encouraging remarks for our delicious desserts. Since learning my lesson last week and starving to death in the 3rd floor stairwell, I packed a snack and had the energy to make it through the frantic evening. I miss having family meal and the opportunity to take a 30-minute break to chat with my classmates. Real world schmeal world.

We made a delicious lemon tart in a shortbread crust and topped it with sugared raspberries – YUM! It was definitely bartering gold with my classmates, and I got a delicious piece of grilled salmon and half of a seared pork chop for one of those little lemon goodies. The crust was beautifully browned and the custard was just right – perfection. We used the cutest little tart molds (Miss Ginger probably has a million) which made the perfect dessert size that would probably cost $18 in a fancy restaurant. If only…

We also made the classic dessert Pots de Crème, a baked vanilla custard much like Crème Brulee without the caramel crust. We baked them in little ceramic ramekins and served them with a single chocolate cigarette. The chocolate was a last-minute addition from Chef, and starts with a batter that is very similar in taste/consistency to brownie batter. It is spread into shallow round molds, baked for a few minutes and rolled over a pencil while still warm. While there are many things about pastry and I that don't mix (get it? Mix?), my main issue with the desserts are that their ingredients are always very messy. Whether it's icing, flour, egg yolks or chocolate, I always always find a way to ruin a perfectly dry-cleaned uniform or smear something messy across my face. Case in point: I spilled a small amount of cocoa powder on my apron, and after 5 minutes of shaking and rubbing I had a massive brown spot the size of my head down the front of me. Thank goodness I didn't SIT in cocoa powder…awkward! The very nice lady at Sun Cleaners & Laundry probably judges me and my messy piles, but I'm sure she's seen some interesting stuff.

I'm finding that school is starting to take a toll on the health of my sleep schedule (big surprise). I usually have the opportunity to blabber about school gossip and rattle off the night's activities to my adoring husband when I get home late at night, way past his bedtime. Understandably so, since he gets up very early in the morning, he had already fallen asleep by the time I got home Monday night. I tried talking to the cat, who just got confused and thought she was being fed, so I pried her off my bare leg and went to bed with many things unsaid. I had a terribly hard time falling asleep, and kept tossing and turning with visions of fruit tarts and serrated knives dancing through my head. I finally fell sleep after a while, but I'm luckily I didn't have to be anywhere in the morning. I'm just nervous for the next chicken recipe I make…that'll be an interesting night.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Friday, 4/16/10 – Level 3 Day 1 (Pastry)

I love Fridays. In whatever job, situation or city I have been, Fridays always take on a special quality, an air of excitement and anticipation. In a past career, when Friday would finally come I would pack up my things, quietly sneak through the hallways and leave the miserable atmosphere of that office, and the minute I stepped outside, no matter how terrible the week had been, I was happy. The same holds true these days, although my Friday Freedom starts around 11pm and I am in a completely different state emotionally and am thrilled and fulfilled with my life.

Since completing our Level 2 practical exam last Wednesday, we knew we'd be leaving the comfortable world and kitchen we had come to know only to be thrown into a stressful, unsure and unwelcoming environment. So on Friday we approached the Level 3 kitchens, tucked away down a long hallway across from the bread kitchens, with much trepidation. It was a very different set-up, and we spent the first few minutes checking each cabinet, closet and refrigerator for the items and tools we needed to bring back to our noticeably smaller work stations.

Level 3 is all about timing and consistency. We are given 16 recipes to memorize, and will practice them over and over and over, each time being expected to complete them faster and better. We are split into the four main sections of a kitchen: Garde Manger (appetizers and salads), Poissonnier (fish), Saucier (meats) and Patissier (pastry). Within each of the four sections, there are three pairs working on two different recipes per night. We get two nights in each section, then move on to the next for two nights, and so on.

My partner and I started off in pastry. Of course. So there I was, measuring out flour to the exact gram and whipping heavy cream again…my two favorite things. I had the benefit of being semi-familiar with the night's two recipes: Apple Tart and Cream Puffs with a chocolate sauce, but was still unsure of the format and flow of the evening. To top it all off, we were graced with Chef Marc's presence, the very kind yet intimidating Chef who won a competition on Food Network a few weeks ago and would be filling in for our regular Chef on this Friday, our very first night in Level 3. There were very specific times on the board next to each recipe/section, and we were expected to present four plates of the recipe, all perfect and identical, to Chef at the specified time – no earlier and no later. The problem was that the times next to our two recipes were scarily close to each other, so we had to think very far ahead and basically complete the cream puffs before even presenting our apple tart. I did some quick math in my head, calculating risk vs. stress vs. sweat level and got to work.

The dough was beautiful. It rolled out nicely, we filled it with a yummy apple compote and spread out the little slices in a pinwheel design around the top of the tart, creating a little rosette in the middle. Lovely. It got brushed with butter and thrown into the oven, and it was on to the cream puff dough. About an hour later, our tart was looking nicely browned and tender, so I decided to play it safe and enlist the advice of Chef before crossing the burn point of no return and ruining the entire thing. The interaction went a little something like this:

Me: Chef, how might we know the exact point at which to take our tart out of the oven? (a.k.a. Can you tell me if my tart needs to come out of the oven?)

Chef: Ah oui, zis all about ze feel.

Me: Hmm?

Chef: You must know ze feel.

Me: Yea…

Chef: Ze feel.

Me: >blank stare<

Chef: Ze feel!

Me: Um…

Chef: ZE FEEL!!

Me: I have no idea what you're trying to say to me.

Chef: >walks away<

Yea, he must really like me after that. Apparently his advice was that we will just have a feeling when it's done. That doesn't work in the Life of Jackie, as my cautious ways would have had the tart out too soon and raw. We took the tart out anyways and it ended up being great, so we cut four even slices and placed them on small plates. We gave each plate a star of vanilla whipped cream and a mint leaf and presented all four at the exact requested time. Phew! It was now 8:51 in the evening, and my partner and I were starving. The smells of beef bourguignon and chicken Grand Mere had been swirling around us for the past 3 hours, and the only thing I had eaten was a "reject" cream puff, an apple scrap and a few animal cookies. As Chef was visually judging our tarts, I was busy staring like a rabid dog at the beautiful chicken that had been presented before us. I quietly commented to my partner "Oh man, that looks so good." All of a sudden, Chef looks up and says, "Good? You teenk zat smells good? Nuzzing I have tasted tonight ees good! Zis ees sheet…get zis out of my face!" And he pushed the chicken plate towards me. "Fantastic," I thought, "more food for me!"

As each savory dish was tasted and judged immediately, the pastries were kept until the end to show the class. Apple tarts and cream puffs are pretty straightforward taste-wise, and very very hard to mess up too terribly, so we were scored on presentation instead of taste. Apparently the apples on our tart looked rubbery, and we were "stingy" with the whipped cream. Fair enough, although every single recipe since starting school has been presented in a minimalist and elegant fashion. We even count out vegetables when plating a dish for goodness' sake. Next time I will just slop a pile of whipped cream the size of Texas on that plate and call it Fannie Mae's Blue Plate Apple Pie Special. Lesson learned.

With the cream puffs, we made a nice and neat zig-zag design on the warm plate with the chocolate cream sauce and placed three confectioner's sugar-dusted puffs in the middle. Lovely, again. Yet again we were "stingy" with the chocolate sauce. Next time: Sallie Jo's Lunch Buffet Chocolate Cream Puff All-You-Can Eat Special. If thee wants it, thee shall get it. The "stingy" remark was nothing compared to some of the comments received by other groups who had made the night's savory dishes, though. There were a lot of embarrassed groans and sheepish "ouch"es, but the best way to perfect yourself is by hearing the awful truth. I'm used to being told that my dish needs more salt, but being told that the soup is tasteless and the vegetables look like crap might be hard to swallow when the time comes. (Ha ha…get it?? That food is hard to swallow?? Nevermind.)

I ended up trading some cream puffs for a bowl of beef bourguignon and a half-eaten chicken Grand Mere, which I sucked down while scraping flour out from underneath my fingernails. This new level is going to be rough, emotionally and physically. They say never trust a skinny chef, but you should never trust a hungry chef either!

Friday, April 16, 2010

RANDOM RECIPE OF THE DAY - Vegetable Puttanesca Lasagna

Serves 4

You Will Need:
1 packet easy-bake lasagna noodles (hey, I'm lazy)
1 jar puttanesca tomato sauce (Or capers, anchovy paste, red pepper flakes and olives to fortify a regular tomato sauce to your desired taste)
1/2 lb. ground beef (optional)
16 oz. low-fat ricotta cheese
1 T basil
1 T parsley
1 T oregano
2 T garlic salt
1 egg yolk
2 c grated mozzarella
3 T vegetable oil
1 medium zucchini, cut into 2"-long sticks
1 yellow or red bell pepper, cut into small strips
4 small portabello mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 medium white onion, sliced widely
1/4 c vegetable stock or broth
1/2 c grated parmesan
kosher salt
Ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Season ground beef with salt and pepper and brown in a pan with 1 teaspoon vegetable oil. Drain off grease, mix into tomato sauce and set aside.

Heat 2 teaspoons vegetable oil in a large pan and add onions. Season with a generous amount of kosher salt and cook for 3 minutes, or until they release some of their moisture. Add bell peppers to the pan and cook, stiring frequently, until onions begin to look translucent and peppers begin to soften. Add mushrooms and zucchini and cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until all vegetables are soft and there are bits stuck to the bottom of the pan (but not burnt). When the vegetables are almost ready, add the vegetable stock to the pan and scrape the bottom, releasing the flavorful bits (if the bits are too burnt, omit this step). Cook until the liquid evaporates and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix basil, parsley, oregano, garlic salt and egg yolk with the ricotta. Cover and set aside.

In a 6" loaf pan, spread a small amount of meat/puttanesca sauce on the bottom (to prevent the noodles from sticking). Place a single lasagna noodle and spread it with the ricotta mixture. Place 1/4 of the cooked vegetables into the pan, making sure to get some of each kind, and pour a large ladle of puttanesca sauce over the whole thing and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with mozzarella, and repeat the layering.

The 4th sprinkling of mozzarella will be your last. Sprinkle the entire pan with parmesan, salt, pepper and basil and bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and light brown.

Serve with a beautiful loaf of wheat bread and some olive oil for dipping!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wednesday, 4/14/10 – Level 2 Practical Exam

I did the worst thing possible…something I promised myself I would never ever do. The regret I feel is monumental, but unfortunately there's no turning back. I have done something so terrible that it has ruined my life; I will never be the same. I have watched "Food Inc."

"Food Inc." is not your average documentary. The producers go undercover in the United States' food industry, from beef processing facilities to corn fields and from McDonald's kitchen to the Perdue chicken coops. It wasn't incredibly gruesome – no bloody headless chickens spraying salmonella everywhere or human fingers falling into the meat grinder; it was, however, very psychologically horrid. The things that are said, or not said for that matter (as most of the huge companies refused to comment) are very upsetting. The choices I make for my own family are my own business, but I really think you should see it if you haven't already. Things are not great in the food industry, and you absolutely must understand what you're eating and feeding your body. You may choose to do nothing about it, but you owe it to yourself to at least understand.

Moving on. We watched the film after taking our Level 2 written exam, a comprehensive test on the entire craziness of the past 6 weeks. I got sidelined by a pastry question, since that felt like so long ago, but did really well overall on the test. We had a lot of time to hang around afterwards before starting our practical in the big kitchens downstairs, hence how I was forced into watching that terribleness.

After dinner, we went downstairs to the ground floor kitchens, right next to the restaurant, and got set up for our practical exam. It's a very different environment down there – we're shoved in right next to each other, elbow to elbow and back-to-back, and since we don't know where anything is kept are left to run around like crazy picking up ingredients and clean bowls. First, we cooked a recipe of crème anglaise, a delicious vanilla sauce. It is a very fickle sauce that is pretty difficult to make, so I'm glad I got that over with in the beginning. It involves blanchiring egg yolks and sugar, or whisking them together until they turn pale and creamy, and adding boiling vanilla milk slowly, careful not to curdle the yolks. The whole thing is then put back on the stove and it is cooked slowly until it's at the perfect consistency, slightly thickened yet not grainy. It sounds easy, but the problem with this delicious sauce is that the egg yolks curdle within mere seconds, and once they do the entire thing is ruined. It's tricky, because you have to pay very close attention to the minute changes in the sauce and monitor the temperature, and then quickly strain it onto an ice bath to stop the cooking. I was so afraid I'd go too far and curdle the entire thing that I stopped a little too early, I think, but it's better to be safe than sorry. We then had to whip up a batch of crème Chantilly, or just vanilla whipped cream. The trick was that we had to make enough, or whip the cream well enough, to be able to pipe it out into 24 different shapes. I was originally worried that I wouldn't have enough because I couldn't stop dipping my fingers into it and tasting it, for science's sake of course (don't tell Chef), but I turned out to have plenty. I'm rocking this whole whipping thing…maybe I should do it by hand every time instead of using my beautiful new KitchenAid!...........yea right.

Finally, we had 15 minutes total to peler a vif an orange (slice off the pith so it's just flesh) and extract the supremes and also create 8 cocottes (little footballs) out of one potato. I wasn't worried about the orange, that's easy. In fact, I taught Steve how to do it and he's now the Citrus Fruit Pith Removal and Supreme Extraction King. It was the cocottes I was worried about, and was fighting like crazy to shape and sculpt those stupid little footballs out of a small Idaho potato – not the easiest thing in the world. In the end I was extremely proud of what I had produced - the best cocottes I'd ever made. Even though it's all about the total exam score, I don't think I did too terribly.

Friday, it's on to a new kitchen with a brand new Chef. Gone are the days of Chef Phil's hilarious stories, Chef Ray's calm guidance and the liberties of trying new recipes in a learning environment where mistakes are welcomed. Level 3 is all about time and precision a.k.a. it's going to be a war zone. I better press my uniform and polish my shoes…I have a feeling I'm being shipped off to boot camp tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Monday, 4/12/10 – Vegetable Dishes

It wasn't the most excited day in my life. Scratch that, every day is the most exciting day of my life. (You have no idea what goes through my brain whilst idle.) The recipes were alright, I guess; just two standard and classic vegetable mixes. Everyone knows the beauty of ratatouille, mostly thanks to the 2007 Disney namesake film. It's basically a hodge podge stew of vegetables, and can be made with anything you have available, for the most part; we added eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions and green peppers to ours. Since it's usually made in large batches, Chef said his favorite way to use up ratatouille leftovers is by adding eggs and making an omelet. Sounds yummy! I think it would also be good wrapped in a savory crepe, perhaps one made with wheat flour and topped with gruyere.

We also made a layered/baked vegetable dish called Confit Bayaldi, which is simply sautéed onions and peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, Japanese eggplant and tomatoes layered in a pinwheel and sprinkled generously with thyme and garlic. It's doused with olive oil and baked, covered, for a long time, or until the layers start to blend together and compress. I mean, it wasn't that mind-blowing. I probably wouldn't really make it again, unless I had the exact ingredients, and only those ingredients, available in my kitchen and they were all going bad at once. Or if it was a matter of life or death, like if I got an anonymous call from someone who claimed to have taken Ellie hostage and the only payment they were requesting was Confit Bayaldi…only then would I consider making it again. I'd have to weigh the benefits and risks, because right now the only thing Ellie really does that's worthwhile is scream outside our door all night, puke on the rug and sit on the coffee table when we're not home. All I'm trying to say is that I'd consider it.

We only completed two recipes on Monday because we spent the first half of class taking a painfully long and boring HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) exam to be ServeSafe certified. It's training through the National Restaurant Association (NRA) that teaches food handlers how to be safe in the kitchen, including preventing food borne illnesses and proper storage and kitchen procedures. It's not a required certification, and is actually a perk of the school to give us the opportunity to be certified, but the information is very bland (not like our food!! Ha…ha…ha…) By the end, I was so ready for the test to be over that I swear I indicated on my scantron that yes, food handlers should still come to work if diagnosed with Hepatitis A, should never cover their hair and should always store food at room temperature uncovered on the counter. Now, I don't know if those are correct, but….it was worth a try. Maybe I'll be the first food handler to be ServeUnsafe certified. That's a resume builder!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Special Celebration: 6-Month Anniversary

Life is full of celebrations, small moments that give you the joy of reminiscing, allow you to do something sweet and make new memories. I know it’s hard to believe, but the ‘ole Mister and I were married just six months ago, as of Saturday! We’re always looking for things to celebrate, whether it is a sunny day, a new pot or something really special, like a milestone in our marriage, so we decided that Saturday was going to be a day to remember. In lieu of spending ridiculous money on a fancy schmancy restaurant, we visited the local gourmet grocery store, Eli’s, and picked up a few ingredients that we would normally not buy.

You never lose with surf n’ turf, so we bought a huge 2.5 lb fresh lobster. If you remember, I had some issues killing the lobster in class a few weeks ago, so I decided to man-up and just get it done. I tried to not hold him too close to my body on the walk home, lest our hearts desire a deeper connection. I placed him on the kitchen table in his tight plastic bag, only to find him 3 minutes later with both arms draped over the side, looking down at the wood floor below contemplating suicide. I decided the moment had come, so I took him out of his bag and looked him one last time in the eyes. They were nostalgic, no doubt reviewing his short yet fruitful life as a 2.5 lb. lobster in captivity, yet I also saw a hint of regret – perhaps he needed to do some silent healing before the moment of truth. I respected his privacy, and a minute later drove a knife through his brain, quickly and with the force of generations of lobster eaters that came before me.

Respectfully closing the eyes of the corpse

Our ‘turf’ was two grass-fed filet mignons, and we also picked up a few jumbo prawns for shrimp cocktail and gourmet kalamata olive tapenade for fresh French bread. The end result, an amazingly delicious gourmet meal, is below.

Lobster and Asian Pear Salad

Filet Mignon on a bed of portobello mushrooms, topped with a Tarragon Compound Butter
Twice-Baked Cheddar & Chive Potato

Strawberry Chocolate Mousselette

Although the night was overshadowed by the remnants of innocent blood on my hands, all was forgotten after the first bite. I wonder what our next excuse for a celebration will be...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Friday, 4/9/10 – Rice & Pasta

We made my favorite thing ever on Friday – pasta. Now, I understand that I'm often not very discerning with the "favorite thing ever" award (i.e. fuzzy socks, spring and "Milo & Otis," among others), but I truly love pasta. Growing up as an Italian American, I think I've eaten almost every single type of pasta ever made, and even remember my mom renting a pasta maker when I was a kid and pumping out miles of spaghetti. I was dying for Friday's lesson, though, because I felt that learning to make pasta by hand would take my cooking to a whole new level. While dried and boxed pasta is just fine, there's nothing like beautiful, fresh ravioli or fettuccini, especially with homemade tomato sauce.

We started class with a delicious saffron risotto. Risotto is my deal; my schtick. While I don't get to cook it all that often, I love to experiment by adding different flavors to the creamy rice – my favorite being a butternut squash and fresh sage risotto that was so good it put Steve in the hospital. Literally. (Long story). I rarely cook with saffron (because it costs an arm and a leg) but in this recipe it gives the risotto such a savory and exotic taste; it also makes it amazingly yellow! We then prepared potato gnocchi and served it with a sage and pine nut butter sauce, which we ate for dinner. Wow, delicious. The gnocchi were fun to make, because the little potato pieces need to be texturized in some way before cooking so that they cook more evenly and allow the sauce to adhere. This was traditionally done with the tines of a fork, by rolling the piece with your thumb down the fork, causing it to roll back on itself; these days they have gnocchi boards with grooves to make this a little easier. I like to experiment at school with the tools I also have available at home, so that I don't get used to using special equipment yet can't reproduce at home because I don't have the proper stuff. I used the fork tines, and although my gnocchi were a little messier than the ones made with gnocchi boards they were delicious and tender, complemented well by the crunch of the pine nuts.

One of the most exciting things I've done since entering culinary school has been the making of fresh ravioli on Friday. We made the dough, kneaded it, let it rest. Then we used the pasta presses to make nice long sheets and made small pockets, filling the pockets with the ricotta we made on Wednesday mixed with some fresh herbs and cheese. After pressing the little ravioli out into beautiful shapes and pinching the edges to secure the filling, we dropped them into boiling salted water. We also made a fresh tomato sauce, with which we served the ravioli. Yay! It sounds easy because it is! The best part is that you can experiment with the filling, creating any flavors, savory or sweet, that you want! How exciting…to me at least.

Finally, we learned the perfect rice pudding recipe. Oh happy day, oh happy day. Rice pudding all around! It was so delicious, but then again I have a soft spot for the pudding of rice. In college, there was a dinky Chinese buffet on campus that we used to go to for "special occasions." In addition to the most delicious MSG-laced bourbon chicken, they had killer rice pudding. So naturally I made friends with the nice hostess, and they would sell me quarts of their rice pudding for $3. We had a little problem with food stealers at the sorority, so I would store my quart containers in the basement fridge labeled, "Maggots – Science Experiment." No one went near my secret treat…suckas. Sometimes you gotta fight for the right.

I am just having a blast at school. Well, I think that's an understatement, but don't tell Chef or any of the school administrators because it might hurt my street cred, something I am constantly trying to defend. Having a face tat won't help if you can't perfect your external apathy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wednesday, 4/7/10 – Cheese

No more cheese. Please sweet Lord no more cheese! I’m seeing it everywhere and it is always accompanied by the music from “Psycho,” that jarring crescendo of violin strings. A billboard near the highway, a sign in a McDonald’s window, in my own home for goodness sake! Since class last night, I can’t seem to get away from cheese. I’ve only overdosed on a handful of things in my life (Oreos, “Sex and the City” reruns and IKEA) but last night was the first time I have ever OD’d on cheese. Too much of a good thing usually makes it a great thing, but too much cheese just leaves you feeling bloated, nauseous and smelling like farm. I was proud of myself, though - I usually cannot come within two feet of blue cheese for fear of the mold smell burning a hole through my nose, but last night I made the conscious decision to try many new things from many new animal teats, and it did not fail me. Someone made the inevitable, “I have nipples, can you milk me?” “Meet the Parents” reference, and that pretty much made my day.

Our tasting schedule was split into three categories: cow, goat and sheep; within each of the animals we tasted the full progression, from fresh milk to very aged cheeses. The one item that was missing was sheep’s milk, as it is apparently incredibly hard to find this time of year and was unavailable. It was interesting to me that although each of the products was different, each animal tasted the same. For example, when tasting the cow milk and cow yogurt, then the goat milk and goat yogurt, it is easy to pick out the taste that is cow and the taste that is goat. Same with the sheep, so by the time we got to the end of the tasting it was pretty obvious from which animal the cheese came, depending on its basic foundation taste.

We can all say with some certainty that we like milk, yogurt and cheddar, as those are the most common milk products in the U.S. Unaltered yogurt, however, is much different and is much, much more bitter and sour than Dannon or Yoplait. We also had something called a goat log, fromage blanc (cow) and feta (sheep) before moving onto the serious cheeses. The list sounds like role call at a meeting of the Forgotten European Villages meeting: Brillat-Savarin, Chabichou, Ossau Iraty, Monte Enebro, La Serena, Parmigiano Reggiano, Tomme du Berger and Roquefort. Of the 18 different milk derivatives, I truly enjoyed, and would probably purchase, about 6 of them. The others were, for lack of a better phrase, hard to swallow. I will never, ever be able to eat anything with mold on it, no matter how cultured or pasteurized or controlled it is, but I was very glad I ventured out of my comfort zone to try several new things.

We also made cheese! No, there were no goats or sheep brought in to produce fresh milk (that would be hilarious), and we did not stand for hours over a bucket churning the curds; it was a little more scientific than that. To make ricotta, we heated milk, citric acid and sea salt over very low heat until the curds separated from the whey. We then strained it into cheesecloth, wrapped it up and let it sit. We’ll use that ricotta for our ravioli on Friday (!!!). We also spun mozzarella curds with boiling water to form them into balls and shapes, which was very therapeutic. I brought home several balls of fresh mozzarella, which Steve combined with tomatoes, herbs and a vinaigrette to make a yummy caprese salad for dinner last night. Since my project at the bank ended on Wednesday, we were fortunate enough to eat two meals together yesterday, both outside! There’s nothing better than a picnic in the park with your sweetheart, times two!

Although the weather was amazing, I spent all day with a gurgling stomach, a lactose headache and the strange feeling that my intestines were solidifying. I think I even had a nightmare I was drowning in a field of sheep manure. My palate might not be sophisticated, but at least I got to spit out some incredibly expensive cheese.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Monday, 4/5/10 – Flounder Your Way

This was an exciting night. A night when I would have the chance to shine my own light, prove my worth, stick it to the proverbial man. The options were as endless as the Great Wall of China…to an extent; the creativity was gearing up to flow like the Colorado River. We were given a flounder, lots of vegetables and 1.5 hours to create something/anything. We had to use the techniques we’ve learned so far in school and were told to not “recreate the wheel.” It was only after I got over the unavoidable sense of panic and swabbed my dripping underarms with a clean rag did I realize that this was what I had been waiting for, what it’s all about. Being a chef is not only having the ability to follow a recipe; it’s being able to create something aesthetically and gustatorily pleasing with the ingredients that are available. Sure, creativity is key, but the basics have to be present and the tastes have to complement each other.

We were originally going to be given whole fish to butcher for our recipe, but due to the holiday weekend the fish market was closed so we were given pre-cut fillets. This raised a few problems for me, considering I needed the fish bones for my recipe, so I was left re-thinking my entire plan within the first 10 minutes. I made some major changes, gathered my new ingredients and mise en place, then found out we were being given a few large fish carcasses from the restaurant downstairs… it was back to the drawing board. I ended up deciding on a variation of my first ideas, and quickly got to work.

I worked feverishly for the full hour and a half, and produced a dish that I thought was nothing short of wonderful. I cooked white rice and tossed it with a mushroom duxelle (mushrooms and shallots sweated in butter) and zucchini cubes steamed with butter. I made a fish stock with the bones, thickened it with a roux and added tomato paste and seasonings. I then covered the fish fillets with a light coating of flour and pan fried them in vegetable oil and butter. I served it with a mound of vegetable rice in the middle, the fish/tomato sauce dripped around like a moat, two small crispy fillets on top surrounded by caramelized pearl onions and zucchini sticks. We presented two identical plates, one for “judging” and observation by the class and one for our own dinner. I guess I had to make it good – it was the only food I ate last night. Joke’s on you, classmates who made something yucky but pretty. News flash: my dish was DELICIOUS. I cleaned my plate, and this is after I added all the leftover vegetables and rice, essentially eating two servings - two servings of complete and utter self satisfaction. Chef said my dish was “excellent” and had a nice mix of colors and portions. Wahoo! I had so much fun that I’ve decided to use divine right to implement a new rule in the Lindsey household: whenever she feels it necessary, the Queen can declare a last-minute cooking challenge during which participants, both working on the same team, must create a complete yet beautiful dish with ingredients available in the kingdom’s kitchen at time of said declaration. The default winning team, always The Lindseys, will get to enjoy the meal they’ve created and can allow themselves one Cadbury egg (pending availability) as a prize. It’s good to be Queen, especially since I’ve got my King by my side.



I cooked this little ditty up in my mind while salivating over a picture of steak at work today. Seriously.

Serves 2

You Will Need:

-1/2 lb. thinly sliced or shaved beef

-1 Tbs. vegetable oil

-1 head of romaine lettuce, chopped into edible pieces

-1 cup fresh baby spinach

-1/4 cup red onion, diced or sliced (whichever you prefer)

-1/2 cup cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced

-1/4 cup green or red bell pepper, diced or sliced

-4 Tbs. crumbled feta cheese

-1/8 cup Worcestershire sauce

-1/8 cup olive oil

-kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat a skillet until it’s very hot. Season each side of the beef with salt and a generous portion of pepper, according to your taste. Sear the meat in vegetable oil for 30 seconds on each side, or until brown. When meat is done, remove from the pan, turn heat off and pour in the Worcestershire sauce, deglazing the pieces of meat with the sauce. Stir it well with a wooden spoon to loosen the bits, and pour the Worcestershire sauce in a medium bowl. Chop the meat into edible sizes.

Combine all vegetables and the feta in a large salad bowl. Return to the Worcestershire and season it with salt and pepper. Slowly add the olive oil in an even stream while whisking. Toss the salad with the dressing, put into a low bowl and top with the beef. Serve with garlic bread or breadsticks.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Wednesday, 3/31/10 – Purchasing & Receiving

I thought I had escaped the death trap of math. Surely a chef simply needs to know how to throw ingredients together and make it taste good, right? Wrong. We were sidelined Wednesday with a short course in calculating costs, and it made me want to poke my eyes out. It felt like that time my parents told me we were going to the circus, yet we really went to the dentist…the ‘ole switcheroo. It didn’t help that I had been getting about 2 hours less of sleep per night the entire week – I found myself playing those silly mind games and finding ways to give in to my drooping eyelids. Oh, I’ll just close my eyes while I scratch my head - 30 seconds tops. No, I’m not spacing out I’m thinking deeply, It’s no problem, I’ll rub my eyes again so I can get a 15 second power nap. Bottom line: it was boring, but Chef couldn’t help it. The lecture was actually a very important one that will make or break those of my classmates who have considered opening their own restaurants. Knowing how to calculate the cost of your ingredients and how to properly price out menu items is essential, and has been the sole downfall of many famous restaurants in the city. You could have a full house every night of the week, but if you’re undercharging and overpaying you will fail. Another essential lesson involved the importance of knowing your vendors and how to properly receive food at the restaurant. Chef told horror stories of beautiful, glossy boxes of tomatoes whose bottom layer was completely rotten; or fish that sat on the loading dock in the sun for 2 hours, were sent to your restaurant and spoiled the next day. If you signed for it, it’s yours. Paying for $400 worth of spoiled flounder will not help your business.

We completed a yummy and classic roasted chicken with vegetables and jus and were tasked with pricing out the entire recipe and calculating the yield on each of our vegetables (i.e. paying for a whole carrot yet only using 90% of it). I was on autopilot most of the time, but eventually was able to grasp some of the simpler equations and concepts. I guess I’ll have to practice the math…unfortunately.

In addition to a lack of sleep added onto my consistent yet endearingly foggy brain, I also had Spring Break on my mind. Friday’s class was cancelled to simulate some sort of non-denominational spring/Easter vacation, so Steve and I hopped on a bus to Washington, D.C.! We were fortunate enough to stay with one of my sorority sisters in Bethesda, Maryland, a very quaint yet urban town about 30 minutes northwest of the city, and had an absolute blast following our full itinerary of site-seeing, hanging out in parks and generally doing all things that warranted the excuse, “Hey, we’re on vacation!” This weekend was the height of the Cherry Blossom Festival and the weather was incredible, so the city was full of fresh blooms, green grass and cold beer. We took in a Washington Nationals game, hung out on the waterfront for evening fireworks, walked a million miles and visited almost every single monument or destination on our list. D.C. holds so much of the nation’s fascinating history, and three days is simply not enough time to absorb everything there is to see.

In front of the White House

We took a nice walk in front of the White House and the surrounding area, where they were setting up for the annual Easter Egg hunt. I wonder if the Secret Service was listening in on our conversation...

A beautiful day at Arlington National Cemetery

The cemetery is just beautiful, and it is quite an experience to see the thousands and thousands of graves of our servicemen and women. We stuck around for the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, and took a nice walk through the different areas, usually arranged by war and starting all the way back to the Civil War!

Tourist Central at the Washington Monument

Being so close to the cherry blossoms, the National Mall was packed with tourists like us visiting for the nice weather and beautiful scenery. Due to the high volume of visitors, the only vendor on the mall was kind enough to charge $5 for a hot dog...


View from the Top - Overlooking D.C. from Arlington

Julia Child's Kitchen at the Smithsonian

I got to see Julia Child's kitchen!! In real life!! It was so exciting, seeing her organization, gadgets and personal style. She is the queen of my kingdom, and although I am just a little too young to remember her TV show and the height of her celebrity, she'll always be special to me.

We had such a great trip, thanks to Jess, Dan, Ashley and James. The city of D.C. is clean, friendly and organized, unlike the chaos and stress of our city. I was lucky enough to get one last Spring Break, a privilege I thought was long gone, so we ate, drank, laughed and visited - just perfect.

It was so nice to spend time in a different, peaceful world, but the minute we crossed through the Holland Tunnel, got caught in a traffic jam, watched police chase a perpetrator and smelled the sweet stench of human refuse, we looked at each other and said, "It's good to be home."