productivity: a (small) study

Last night I was telling a friend that, recently, I feel like a total world champion when I accomplish the most basic tasks. Things that should come easily to me, as they do for other people who have about 100x more things on their plates. Running a load of laundry, calling the dentist to give them my new mailing address, getting my glasses repaired, buying stamps, doing my taxes. Why is this? Why do I feel like I deserve some big applause when I have a relatively short to-do list each day, especially considering that I am caring for one, living, human being: myself. If I could make one observation, the things I do accomplish normally happen during what I call the "golden hours" - between 3 and 6PM. It's when I've always been most productive at work, and I doubt there's any coincidence that I like to finish up around that time so I can pour my first glass of wine for the evening without feeling guilty.

This tells me one thing: I need to get busy.


it's a new day, it's a new dawn

. . . .

Well hello! School's over and I'm back in the saddle. I'm happy to say that I had a very tame holiday and don't really need to dry out the way I normally do this time of year. I'm dog sitting while my parents are away, paying bills I've been ignoring, reading blogs I've missed for months, and trying to find a job for little old me. It's been years since I had to do this, but I'm feeling very inspired and encouraged by many things right now.

I'm sure you've heard or read this a million places already this week, but I really believe that 2012 is going to be a monumental year. For me, I hope it will be one of great confidence, self-discovery and transformation. I've determined that the only way I'll be able to achieve any of this is to organize my life in every category. I'm not making any promises, but these are my goals:

I will try my best to keep my living space clean
I will try my best to put my health first
I will try my best to not over-indulge, whether it's on food, wine, television, gossip, or the computer
I will try my best to get rid of what I don't need
I will try my best to give to the people I love and my community
I will try my best to read more books
I will try my best to be creative (seeing this really knocked me on my ass)
I will try my best to trust people and open my heart again
I will try my best to go easier on myself

That there is a list. Something new I'm trying.


clown shoes - very funny

First they come out with Tramp Stamp (one of my favorite IPAs), and now Steve Greenlee is writing about Ipswich, MA-based Clown Shoes' latest hybrid beer, Muffin Top. Not sure I'd be caught drinking one in public, and based on the description in the review, I'm not sure it's really up my alley.

"Syrupy and heavy, this beer -- 22 ounces of it anyway -- would be difficult for one person to finish in one sitting, especially given its alcohol content of 10 percent by volume."

Image via 99 bottles

Still, I love hearing about local brewers doing cool things. I don't think Clown Shoes offers tours, but they have a pretty entertaining blog. It could be fun to check them out at the Beer Summit next month, especially if they've released their next IPA, dubbed Supa Hero, by then.


coming up for air/where I've been

Five weeks of school have passed and I have 780 unread items in my Google Reader! Each time I sit to start an entry here I feel overcome with anxiety. And so, I stop. It's all been very overwhelming, in the best way possible. I've snapped over 500 photos that need to be uploaded (having issues with iPhoto at the moment), scribbled over 50 pages of notes, filled an entire three ring binder with recipes and cooking techniques, and each night when I get home, I fall into bed in an exhausted pile. Plus, the last thing I want to do at the end of the day is put more food in my mouth. Wine, of course, is a different story.

A question I keep getting is whether cooking all day keeps me from wanting to make food when I get home. The answer is no. I'm just so gosh darn tired, and I eat all day. ALL DAY.

Take Thursday, for example.

Morning Quickbreads lesson:

sweet potato donut hole
maple syrup scone
blueberry muffin
corn bread

Afternoon Frying lesson:
french fries
potato chips
fried apple
fried Oreo
fried Twix bar (just wrong)
fried clams
tempura cauliflower

As for what can be expected from the blog.... when I started school, I had pretty ridiculous ambitions and my goal was to update every day. Just writing that makes me laugh. I've since decided that I'll update - at most - on what I've done in a week, focusing on the key lessons I've learned. There have truly been a few "ohhhh, AHA!" moments over the past month or so. Moments that further confirm that I'm where I'm meant to be, and continue to inspire me to keep cruising down this butter highway. What comes yet is still to be determined, but I think I'm off to a good start.

Stay tuned.


butter mountain (or my life as a culinary student)

Sung to the tune of Sugar Mountain by Neil Young

oh to live on, butter mountain
eating clarified fat by the spoon

you can gain twenty, on butter mountain
if you don't control your tasting size real soon

your tasting size real soon

now you're underneath the heat(lamp)
your pants feel tight on the seat

and the bakers that you've met
say you ain't seen nothing yet

oh to live on, butter mountain
eating clarified fat by the spoon

you can gain twenty, on butter mountain
but it tastes so good, you're sad to leave so soon

you're sad to leave so soon



day two - stocks

Yesterday we made a fish stock and a chicken stock. I can't believe how savory and delicious the fish stock was. It smelled like lobster bisque, something I had never tried until about seven years ago, but thanks to a family friend with an amazing recipe, I'm now a bisque lover. Too bad we won't be making bisque at school.

Making the fish stock basically involved chopping up a ton of fish bones (haddock) that we got from Captain Marden's, and combining it with mirepoix of onion, leek and celery that had been sweated, as well as water and a sachet of herbs and peppercorns and simmering it for about 45 minutes. We then strained it and chilled it in an ice bath. For our tasting, we reheated a small amount, first without salt, then with a little salt added. It's amazing how much more flavorful it was with the salt. I learned that you should never salt a stock until you're ready to use it because it can reduce in volume after being heated, leaving it a lot saltier than you might want. That said you should always add at least a teaspoon of salt to a stock or broth before you refrigerate it. This helps act as a natural preservative, allowing you to use the stock for up to seven days versus five if salt had not been added.

I learned a lot about the importance of properly chilling stocks to prevent the growth of bacteria. At home we leave our chicken soup sitting out for hours (sometimes overnight!). I'll try to be better about this in the future because it's pretty freaky when you realize how easy it is for something to start to grow and get funky. Everything in the refrigerators at school is very clearly marked with a date.

Here are a few photos from yesterday.

Preparing sachets for the stock
Mirepoix for the fish stock (left) and chicken stock (right) plus a few fun cuts of carrot and lemon
 Chicken stock simmerin' away

 Straining the fish stock

Oops, I forgot to take a photo of the final product, but it was a lovely, clear, light color. Sometimes things are strained multiple times or through cheese cloth to clarify the stock of impurities.

Today we are making beef stock and veal stock, then four separate soups from the stocks. I believe the soups will be a consomme, a cream of broccoli soup, a miso soup and a cold cucumber soup. I'm really nervous beacuse I've been assigned the job of sous chef for my group of five (the class has 11 students total - one group of six and one of five). I'm sure it will be fine, it will just involve a lot of delegation and division of jobs etc. You chop 8oz of carrots, you fill this pot etc. And then keeping track of how long everything has to be cooked. I'll give a full report as soon as possible!


back to school

Yesterday was my first day of culinary school. After ten years of talking (or at least thinking) about doing this, I really can't believe the time has come and I'm now enrolled as a student.  The first day was really an orientation where we walked through the syllabus for the term and toured the kitchen. I got a little teary-eyed with excitement reading through some of the outings we'll be taking to places such as a winery, an oyster farm and a commercial butchery. Also, I got to see the names of some of the chefs who will be guest teachers. We will be spending three days with the one and only Jacques Pepin, one of the program's founders!

I'll give more specifics once the practical part of the program starts, but I thought I'd share a photo of the main text we'll be using. I just love the cover! It is monstrous but this is one school book I think I'll actually enjoy reading.

One quick story, we had our first cooking snafu yesterday.  Our meat vendor, Kinnealey Meat (the gold standard in the Boston area) was supposed to bring us fresh chopped veal and beef bones for us to roast to make our stocks today. Unfortunately, when we we received the delivery we discovered huge, uncut frozen meat parts. Our lead chef/teacher was not happy and called Kinnealey Meats in front of the class to ream them out! It was rather awkward to witness ("You promised me fresh meat!! Fix this or this will be the last time we do business with you!"), but I guess it was a good lesson in the kind of oh shit moment one might face working in a restaurant kitchen.


flowers and my old friend john

Would you just look at these beautiful paper flowers by Livia Cetti at The Green Vase? Two of my favorite stores, John Derian and Anthropologie, are her clients, and while I've seen "more realistic" faux blooms made of silk, I think these are fun and whimsical.

Images via The Green Vase

I especially love the poppies and can't wait to see some of these designs when I visit the John Derian store in Provincetown next week. I'll be heading there with my mother on Tuesday, and other than poking around the many haunts of this sweet, old Cape Cod town, the John Derian store is our main destination. A friend recently visited the shop and said it is teeny tiny, but if it's anything like I imagine, I'm sure I'll still be able to spend hours exploring its many treasures.

I am so accident-prone, I'll really have to be careful in here.

The store is only a short bike ride form John's 18th century home, once owned by a ship captain. Talk about a dream home tour. I wonder if he'll be around when we are there next week. I dream of having another chance to meet one of my creative idols!

Here are some interior photos of his home. So much pattern, texture and muted color. Wouldn't you just love to cozy up to that fireplace on a winter's night? It's doubtful that this relic of a home is winterized, however I've read that John uses it year-round.

I can't tell if this is a twin or full bed, but I don't think I'd have any trouble sleeping cozily in it. That is, if the creaking of the old walls and floors wouldn't keep me awake.

John lounging on his porch. What a genius. I'd love to live in his world for just a day.

 Images via shelterpop

As we all brace for Irene here in New England, I pray that everybody makes it safely through the weekend. I take heart thinking of how many storms John's home has weathered. 

Have a safe weekend, wherever you are.