Monday, January 28, 2008

I Love Puff Pastry So Much

Berry Galette

Palmiers - these are the best non-soft-and-chewy cookies I've ever had.

Poire aux Cage - or Caged Pear, but it sounds prettier in French.
I'm actually about to enjoy this right now, with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Mille-Feuilles (pr. Meal-Foy)
Chef Kir thought I did an excellent job on this one, and remarked how straight the sides were and how great my branding was. He even brough Chef C over to look at it. I love moments like these.
Chef Kir hard at work.
Pineapple Bar Tart - called so not because of the shape, but because Chef Alain (I think) loves it so much that he requested one always be kept at the bar.

It is always so hard to get moving on a Monday morning, and this morning I was running much later than usual (I'm so ready for Luke to come back and take over Molly morning business!). But, once I saw what we were making in class today (the berry galette and the caged pear, plus another yummy non-pictured item), I knew it was going to be a fun day. The pear looks like it would be incredibly hard to make, but we simply traced around a pear shape cardboard cutout, and the top was done using this tool that I now have to go buy because I love it so much. You just roll it right over the dough, and it cuts slits in it...when you gently stretch the dough, you get the lattice effect. The leaf I made freehand and attached it on there before baking.

Chef C was out sick today, so we had Chef Laurie again - she's always fun to have in the classroom...she's very patient and has a lot of good tips for us, plus she's young and fun. But, we have another test this Friday, so I'll be glad to have Chef C back, since he's the one who grades everything.

The weekend was fun - went to see 27 Dresses, which was cute, although the ending was kind of lame, went to the Brooklyn Brewery for a tour, but left pretty quickly because the place was nothing but a big frat party, and then off to Lobo for Tex-Mex (they've got the salsa right, but the cheese enchiladas need some work), and then dinner with another friend.

Just so you know, I'm now accepting care packages of mexican food, BlueBell ice cream (just about any flavor), Soraiya's french macaroons (any flavor) and/or her biscotti, Whataburger, Sonic cherry-limeades, Chick-fil-A (although rumor has it there is one hidden in an NYU dorm, so I'm going to find it soon), and anything else that Texas has to offer that New York doesn't.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Exam 2, New Unit, and Other Stuff

My products for Exam 2 - a Paris-Brest in the middle,
which is cream puff pastry + praline flavored pastry cream, and éclairs.

Tomato Tart - super yummy!

What my apple galletes were supposed to look like,
but there was a mishap in the oven.

Fruit Strip - puff pastry crust, pastry cream, and fresh fruit.
Still working on my presentation skills.
I aced the written portion of exam 2, and if I didn't mention it before, I did very well on my first exam (even after all of the mishaps that day). We should get the practical portion of our grade back tomorrow, which is always can't flip back through the book and calculate what you might have missed like you can with the written portion. But - Chef C had some very positive comments to say when I was presenting my products...not about the products, since I obviously didn't have enough pastry cream for the Paris-Brest, and my éclairs were too wide, but more about how I'm doing overall in the class. He was impressed by my writing skills (those of you who read this blog might laugh at that, since my writing style is quite basic, unfluffy, and simply spits out information, and thought that I should look into food writing. Maybe people just don't know how to write a complete sentence. Anyways, I felt so relieved after speaking with him, and I'm super pumped about the grade on the written portion.
I've been lonely here, as Luke is on a business trip. Molly has been a pain in the patooty this week - she sulks because Luke is gone, and she's difficult on walks (as always) because there are so many dogs to bark and whine at. She takes forever when doing her business, which makes me leave the apartment late before class. I hate walking her at night by myself, so it's a fight to get her to hurry up in the evenings. And she circles a tree about 12 times, as if that would make any difference, so I look like an idiot following my dog around a tree over and over. Though Luke isn't here, I've had fun hanging out with the girls from class, and we've got big plans for the weekend.
So, Luke is in Texas for work...Austin for a few days, and then he gets to visit with my family and his family before he flies out for the next leg of his trip. However, I do get to go home next month for a weekend - not much time to visit with everyone, but I can't miss any days of class, so I'll take whatever time with the family that I can get. Also, Mom and the cousins are coming up in March!! Not sure how we'll fit 5 people and a dog in this tiny apartment, but the cousins have never been to NYC, so we're going to hit the ground running and see everything we can. Mom's cousins are AWESOME, so I can hardly wait till they all come up here. Just wish Debbie could make it too.
It's always exciting to me when I have a celebrity sighting, just because it never happens back in Texas. Today Katy and I were walking down my street when we saw this redhead gal approaching us. I kept thinking she looked familiar...she was dialing someone on her cell and said, "Hey, it's Molly...." Holy smokes it was Molly Ringwald!!! Who didn't love 16 Candles and Pretty in Pink and the Breakfast Club?!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Croquembouche, or Crack the Jaw

Poaching Austrian Cherry Dumplings

Chef's Croquembouche

Collection of croquembouches from the class, with Alain Silhac in the background. It's always exciting when he comes into the classroom, and today he was so impressed by our work that he sent a few of them down to be displayed at the restaurant.

My half-finished croquembouche - ran out of the choux puffs to taper it to the top.
So I creatively hid the hole with a bird's nest of sugar.

Chef liked it so much that he decided to add his own touch to my bird in a nest -
an egg fresh from our fridge.

I need to brag for a few minutes. Chef liked my sugar topper so much that he took it next door (with the egg in the middle of the nest) to show the pastry 2 class and chefs. He complimented me personally on the way out the door this afternoon and told the class that the next designs he makes professionally are going to include bird's nests...that's how excited he was about it. I'm so psyched!! This is a HUGE confidence booster, as Chef is somewhat reserved when handing out compliments of this nature.
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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Best of Times, Worst of Times

It has been the longest week ever, and I still have one more day. Some fantastic moments were thrown in amongst the stress. Let's get the bad out of the way test was stressful, as you read about earlier. However, Chef told me today that I made an A on it...woohoo! I'll get the actual exam back tomorrow to look over, along with my Unit 1 evaluation. People are starting to get snippy in class, because we're all exhausted. Understandable, but frustrating. Today was a rough day...things kept going wrong on the production side, so Kathryn took me for a walk to buy a diet coke at lunch, just to get out of the building for a few minutes so I could have a good cry. Tomorrow is Friday, which means time with my girlfriends at our favorite hangout. I'm so thankful that God has brought them along. In a month I've made more friends here than I did in the year that I was in Austin.

Okay, enough complaining...I've done too much of that this week. Onto the fun and the good! Tuesday was the demo with Jacques Torres. Meaning...I assisted him, talked to him, tasted his amazing croissants. The FCI is fantastic about bringing great chefs in for demonstrations, plus Jacques is closely associated with the school on a regular basis anyways. I walked out of there on cloud nine - he was fantastic, and absolutely friendly and patient with us. And, around the holidays (Valentine's Day and Easter), I'll be able to go work for him for a few days in his chocolate factory! Here are some photos of the event:
Me and Jacques

That is LeAnn Wong next to Jacques - you might recognize her from Top Chef (season 1, I think)

The master at work

Finally, a picture of me in the uniform. You can't see the dashing checked pants here, but trust me, I'm a looker in this! Ha.

Also, we have started a new unit - pâte a choux. It's actually not as hard as I thought it would be and quite fun to make. Essentially, it's all variations of a basic cream puff pastry can do the most amazing things with it.

Paris-Brest (in honor of a bicycle race between the towns of Paris and Brest)
Puff pastry ring with praline cream in the middle. I missed the demo on how to pipe the cream, so that's why it looks crazy.

Isn't he cute? Yes, I made that incredible swan neck.

Eclairs - didn't like these until this day in class. They are amazing! From top to bottom...chocolate, vanilla, and coffee.

This is actually from our last unit - I just forgot to post a picture of it. Linzer torte - absolutely delicious.

From our last unit as well...lemon ginger sablée cookies representing the Lone Star State.

Monday, January 14, 2008

First Exam

I had my first pastry exam today, over tarts and cookies. It was the WORST day EVER, at least for awhile. I'm on target, everything is going smoothly, I sailed through the written portion, and then I burned the caramel for my nut tart. It's supposed to be a light golden color, but it was the color of dark molasses. And smelled horrible. Everything went downhill from there. I made the wrong cookie dough - I was supposed to make vanilla crescent cookies, but I started making spritz cookies. So dumped one dough out and had to scramble to get the correct one going. Then I halved the caramel nut recipe for my big tart, instead of doing the full recipe - we were supposed to halve all of our other recipes, and I just kept on going. So I made the caramel a total of 3 times today. Then the caramel hardened up too much, and it tore a HUGE hole in my tart. It only covered half of it, so in a moment of either brilliance or stupidity, not sure which, I filled the rest of it with almond cream, which is what was supposed to go over all of the caramel filling. I prayed so hard that they would cut into the side that had the caramel filling, rather than the all-almond-cream side. Once it was baked, you couldn't tell that only half of the tart had caramel. I overcooked my bacon for the quiche lorraine. I was delayed on everything because I had so many messups in the beginning, and I wasn't sure that I was going to finish by our stop time of 1:30. Thankfully, by the grace of God, I managed to pull it off.

So now we arrive to judging time. Everything is plated nicely, and from the surface you can't tell that I have a huge secret waiting in my caramel nut tart. Chef Laurie called my name, and I start to sweat bullets, with a huge smile plastered on my face. She went for the caramel nut tart first...moment of truth. Would I look like a total idiot? Would I pull it off? I had angled it so that the caramel side faced her, but then she turned it to examine the edge of my tart shell. Sweating more. She took a knife, and cut a LARGE slice of the tart, and I wasn't sure if she would dip over into the all-almond-cream side. She pulled the slice out...and...caramel filling appeared. I almost did a jig right then and there. My crust needed to be baked a little longer in her mind (although I contest that it's just uneven browning from the really bad ovens), but she said it was perfectly thin and I had the flavor just right.

Moving onto the vanilla crescent cookies: she thought they were a tad uneven, but I'm going to go with what Chef Christopher, the hardball, said about them, that they were "beautiful" and I should make some extras up for the restaurant if I have any down time this week. Phew. Past that. Just the quiche remained. The quiche only has 1 minute once it sets to be taken out of the oven, or the proteins overcoagulate and turn to curds. Quiche lorraine is supposed to be soft and silky smooth. I had pulled it out of the oven and worried the whole time that I had underbaked it. But when Chef Laurie cut into it, she exclaimed with delight at how perfect the texture was, and that other students had been bringing her curds.

So, overall the day and exam ended well, but I never want to do that again. Unfortunately, our next exam is a week from tomorrow. I have the biggest headache, my legs and lower back are killing me, and I'm kind of smelly. I feel so unsure of my abilities now as a pastry chef-to-be. Maybe I'm just not meant to make tarts for a living. And I know that I'm definitely not meant to work in a restaurant under that kind of stress.

A few of us went out after for lunch, and the other gals just wanted to relax. We picked our favorite little restaurant/bar near the school. Sometimes we order a glass of wine, but today, we were craving diet coke. We like to sit at the bar because the GM of the place comes out and talks to us, and the other staff are super friendly and chatty - it must be all of the desserts and quiches we give to them everytime we go. Last time we were there, we met Will Goldfarb, a fabulously well known pastry chef here in town. Ok, so we have a great time chit-chatting and comparing notes about the exam, and I'm feeling fine. But when I got home today, the stress of it all just kind of washed over me and I started bawling. Right now I just don't feel cut out for this. I know I'm good at it, but I had visions of going in, and surprising myself with this unknown talent of perfection for all things pastry, and then at graduation I would be handed the most amazing job and you'd see me on the Food Network one day, and immediately rush out to by my cookbooks. Okay - I didn't really envision quite that much, but I thought that I would be doing better than I am at this point. And really, I'm doing quite well, but under stress like today, my products just didn't exemplify what I can really do. Or - maybe we are only as good as what we can do under stress. Which means I'm actually a terrible pastry cook.

Will I get better? Or maybe it's just a matter of finding my niche in the pastry world. Or finding confidence in myself.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Molly rocks, the Japanese and counterpoint

One of our biggest concerns in New York is Molly's ability to make friends. On walks, she has been lunging and growling at dogs. Recently she's mostly quit growling but lunging is still a favorite behavior.

Well. Big news. I took her to the dog park today and, in spite of the lunging and in spite of the long time it took her to make peace with my in-law's dogs, she did great. Immediately, she was acting very friendly. It was all tail wagging and inappropriate sniffing. Huge weight off of our chests.

And for those of you who enjoy the antics of Japanese television, here's a clip. This show brings hopeful comedians on and subjects them to various trials and tribulations. There's no prize other than 15 minutes of televised exposure.

My previous post was about paranoia. I talked about the drastic reduction in violent crime. What didn't occur to me until someone brought it up via e-mail is that, despite the drastic reduction, there's still a 1 in 17 chance of an American getting robbed every year. That's a sobering statistic and I shouldn't have referenced it as flippantly as I did.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Peek into the Classroom

I hear that everyone turns the mixer on high speed with a bowl full of flour at least once.
My tablemates got that out of the way early.

Peek into a Caramel Nut Tart.
I think this is my favorite one so far!

Family Meal, also known as lunch.

Today was the hardest day yet, not because of the pastries we were making, but in terms of how much they crammed into the day. I felt like I couldn't catch up to everyone else today. I'm exhausted, starting to get grumpy, and now my work ends up sloppy. My doughs come out nicely, but the finishing touches are losing their finesse.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Deliciousness and Fabulosity

Fig Newton logs, before they were cut

Chef Lauri and Chef Kir and classmates

Rustic Onion Tart: sautéed onions, tomatoes, walnuts, and blue cheese

Chocolate Bavarian Cream tart
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Chocolate Ganache Tart - what my tart was supposed to look like. Instead, I dropped my (clean) whisk into the center of my tart after it was finished. Sigh.

Ceci-Cela Patisserie - fabulous atmosphere, yummy desserts and light breakfast/lunch dishes
Our first adventure for Pastry Wednesday research trips

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The perception of safety

Physical safety. Will I be mugged? Will I be assaulted? Will I be raped?

I hope that very few of my decisions are motivated by questions like these. I'd rather be motivated by something else. Will I get a warm fuzzy? Will my friends be glad I did this? Will I have a good story?

The degree to which you are motivated by safety concerns is the degree to which you suffer from paranoia. If everything you do is in the service of safety, you're paranoid and you're not pursuing joy.

Two things are getting me thinking about this. First, I watched a video of Geven Tully. He runs a summer camp that helps kids be budding engineers. He thinks we should let our kids do dangerous things. Play with fire. Carry a knife. He personally gives power tools to second graders. He makes sense to me. If you shelter kids and don't let them experience situations where they can make mistakes, they grow up to be paranoid.

Second, I was reading an article which was exploring the statistical link between watching violent movies and porn on one side, violent crime and rape on the other. The article is interesting but not very compelling. Some of the facts from the Department of Justice, on the other hand, are very compelling.

I wouldn't have guessed it but crime rates have dropped by 50% from 1993 to 2005. We went from 6% of the population being a victim of robbery to 2.6%. Aggravated assault dropped from 12% to 4.3%. Rape dropped from 2.5% to .8%.

Excuse me while I exaggerate a bit. We are living in an America which is safer than ever before. I'm sure much of the credit for the improvement goes to increasingly paranoid behavior. Still, how much comes from more effective policing? Better infrastructure? Community efforts? I don't know, honestly. But my gut tells me that, while paranoia has its place, there's no longer a compelling need for personal safety to be the driving motivation behind our decisions.

When you ask a Christian why they are a Christian, might get one of these types of unhelpful responses. Timid: my parents are Christian. Self-referencing: because the Bible is truth. Vague: because Jesus has done so much for me.

I'd like to contribute something helpful. In part, I'm a Christian because Christ's actions freed me from paranoia. Regardless of whether or not I live in a safe place, I am confident taking serious risks with my physical, emotional and fiscal health because Christ has made me right with God. Because I am unconditionally accepted by the foundation of everything, I'm not worried about losing a few somethings. I am a Christian because it allows me to pursue joy and not be hindered by the potential price of pursuit.

School Updates

We've been working hard on mastering our pate sucrees and pate brisees, creme patisserie, creme de almandes, custards and meringues. Our first exam is next Monday, consisting of both a written portion and a practical. On the practical, we'll have to reproduce one item from our list of pastries we've worked on in the past couple weeks. We've made the doughs plenty of times so I'm not worried about those; it's the fillings that make me nervous, since we've only done each individual recipe once.

This week:

Spritz Cookies
Fig Newtons

Claufoutis aux Cerises

Lemon Tartlettes

Tarte Aux Noix (Nut Tart, with raspberry jam)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Esther - the first engagement

This afternoon we had tea with Esther, poet, painter and sculpter. 84. Is in love with being in love but her closest love has passed away.

The Lamp, Held High

Early every morning, an old woman puts
Her leftovers in a garbage can,
Because she has seen delving there
A hungry homeless man.
In that street can, at breakfast time,
He finds tasty, home-cooked food,
As when the neighbor holds the lamp
To lighten up his load.


Because her old one broke, an old woman
Bought a graceful new television.
The stand she had wasn't wide enough,
And, after investigation,
The stand she chose weighed fifty six pounds.
How did she bring it home?
As when a young man held the lamp
To lighten up her load.


Graggle, Gloggle. Midnight song.
Full sixty minutes. I long to sleep.
Is my young and elegant neighbor
So very dirty? I could weep.
We talked. "Is eleven o'clock at night
And bathing for ten minutes good?"
As when the neighbor holds the lamp
To lighten up my load.

Esther Lazarson
December 17, 2007

Inspired by Emily Dickinson from poem 419:

We grow Accustomed to the dark--
When light is put away--
As when the neighbor holds the lamp
To witness her goodbye--

Shortly before 17-Dec, Meghann and I were riding the free bus back from Ikea. The bus was packed above with consumers who had perused the Swedish selection and selected their wares, packed below with the wares. Packed. The ride is from Jersey to the center of Manhattan and people were standing in the aisle.

We had one bag of wood panels stored below. Esther, whom we did not know and did not notice, had a TV stand stored in the neighboring luggage compartment. "Excuse me young man, can you help me with my box?"

It took a second to realize she was talking to me because, when I'm in a crowd, I feel like I don't exist in any substantial way. I'm one drop of water in a stream, an indistinguishable part. Anyways, the luggage compartments and about two feet tall and seven feet deep. I did a monkey crawl to the back of the hole and pulled out her box. It felt good to assume a position other than the big three (standing, sitting, laying). We exchanged phone numbers and that's how we met Esther.

She called a couple weeks later and said that she had written a poem. She read it over the phone. It takes time for me to process a conversation which is part of the reason I do well with the written word and the simple childlike games but so poorly sometimes with more serious conversation. Anyways, I didn't understand all of the poem but she sent us a paper copy.

I was blown away. Most public acts of politeness live short lives and bear no young but my box retrieval bore a spoken poem. Esther immediately became an inspiration for me. She recognizes good deeds with heart. And she takes the time to convert her heart into craft. I learned tonight that she paints and sculpts as well.

It's because of her that I've been posting here. I've always wanted to express myself but never had the discipline to learn how. I painted one painting and found great worth in it, despite its modesty. I sculpted one sculpture and that was good too. And I've written some but never written enough to like what I write.

So I post here with the hope that, one day, words and plots and characters will flow naturally. One day, there will be no barrier between my thoughts and my words.

I pledged to Esther that I would bring her a poem at our next meeting. I'm not a poet. I can't rhyme or meter myself and I'm too short-sighted to consider an unmetered poem that doesn't rhyme anything more than prose with a healthy mix of pretension. But I would love to match the earnestness of Esther's poems with and earnest poem of my own.

I'll probably post a draft of two.

In Response

I'd like to defend myself after reading through Luke's last post. I had to exchange something at the Gap...I didn't go there because I thought it would be more worthwhile in NYC. And it's right after Christmas...Anthropologie is bound to have good sales, which is the only time I can afford that lovely store. I'm not a dummy that moves to a new place and only goes to the stores and restaurants that one would find back home.

Break dancing and death

Meghann and I were determined to do something fulfilling yesterday so we devoted the day to shopping at chain stores (the Gap, Macys and the peerless Anthropologie). We were thinking, just wait until the yokels back home hear about all the great stuff you can get at a New York Gap!

Turns out it's all the same.

Luckily we experienced something worthwhile while in transit, which is often the case. One of the things I like about New York is I don't have to be particularly creative about the activity that I'm setting out to do. As long as I take public transportation, I'll see something that I've never seen before. This time, it was public break dancing.

The good stuff starts at the 1:29 mark.

I work at home (lucky me) and that gives me the freedom to listen to whatever I want. Which is good because my tasks only utilize 10% of my brain. Listening to the news engages the rest of my tiny brain and staves off boredom.

I was listening to the White Horse Inn which is an ostensibly non-denominational radio show about Christian theology. I've never heard a show whose message wasn't reformed so take non-denominational with a grain of salt. Anyways, in this show they were discussing the virtues of churches who are nearly always positive. (think Joel Olsteen).

They began discussing funerals and the consensus was that funerals were not a time for celebration. They were a time for mourning. Death is not a natural part of the cycle of life. It is not the natural and inevitable last leg of the journey. Death is an aberration of God's intent, a bad consequence of bad deeds.

My life changed just a little bit. In theory (I haven't been to a funeral since I was old enough to have theories), I've always believed funerals should be a time for joy and celebration. The thought was that nothing wrong has happened. This is the way it should be and we should learn to always find joy in those things which should be. Any mourning comes from a selfish Scrooge like hoarding of all the good things that person provided.

But death is a tragedy. It is the price we pay for betrayal. Not a time to be giddy.

In retrospect, my old theory was haughty and removed from the reality of suffering because I couldn't explain why we felt the suffering. The best I could come up with was that it was motivated by selfishness but I think I knew that the suffering was more intrinsic, more fundamental than that. This suffering is caused by the second deepest reality of humanity: betrayal.

The good news? Love came before betrayal and love comes after betrayal. Love is the deepest and third deepest reality.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

More New Year's Eve fun

So Luke posted a funny video that we took in the subway on the way home New Year's's on YouTube, but that was taken courtesy of Luke. This crazy guy was playing drums and a few girls decided to be his backup band...quite funny. We missed the train, which was running REALLY slowly that late at night, and had to walk home. At least we were already in Manhattan, and not still out in Brooklyn.

We spent our evening with new friends Kathryn and Ben...Kathryn is a fellow classmate, and Ben is her boyfriend, visiting from the Chicago area. Prospect Park in Brooklyn put on a great fireworks display, so we rang in the New Year there, as opposed to the wildness of Times Square. Mom calls me an old lady because I don't like crowds.

Lost my Metro Card (worth a full month, which I had for all of 3 days) somewhere on the streets of Brooklyn, so Luke and I spent 45 minutes retracing our steps. By the grace of God I found it, only to find out later that they'll replace that kind of card if you paid by credit card. C'est la vie.

Today we reached a high of 25 degrees - I'm sure everyone back in Texas is wondering how we're surviving this. We've actually grown quite accustomed to the cold, and have learned to layer layer layer. When I left for school this morning, it was 14 degrees outside, making it a VERY fast walk to the subway station, with a stop at Starbucks for hot tea on the way.

There are some mornings, like today, where I become so astounded, and even more thankful, that we're actually here in NYC. At seven in the morning, the streets are really quiet...this is my favorite time of day here. I know you don't move to this city for peace and quiet, but down in Soho, where the school is, the buildings are so old and beautiful, and I'm able to really take it all in and appreciate this experience when the hustle and bustle isn't in the way.

We miss you all! Come visit us soon so we can share our favorite spots with you.

Past Couple Days of Desserts

Alsatian Apple Tart - apples flambéed in brandy in a baked custard tart
Yes, that's a beautiful pâte brisée that I have now mastered.

Fruit Tartlet

Chocolate Pot de Crème with a Vanilla Crescent Cookie and Chantilly Cream

Pineapple Tart with Pastry Cream
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A small taste of our New Year's Eve

Subway entertainment.