Ok, I’m a bad, bad blogger.
I’m reading Julie/Julia, the book about the Julie/Julia Child project and blog that the Meryl Streep/Amy Adams movie coming out in August is based on and I feel appropriately ashamed. Julie took on completing all the recipes in the Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year and pledged to blog about it all. According to the book she did the recipes at night…sometimes not sitting down to eat with her husband until close to midnight…then got up every morning and wrote her blog entries before work. So she did all this cooking, shopping for ingredients, working full time and blogging every day….and I’m going on nearly two weeks since my last blog entry.
My original plan was to make entries three days a week, after each class, detailing everything we cooked and learned along with my very witty and insightful observations. But one month into this Mrs. Fabulous Goes To Cooking School adventure I’m up to my nose in the reality of what I’ve taken on here. Just to illustrate my mental state let me briefly describe to you two consecutive dreams I had last night:
In the first dream I’ve agreed to be part of a group attempting to swim across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to England. The atmosphere of the dream is sort of film-noirish…black and white…shadows and dark clouds hanging over the black water of the endless ocean stretch. As I am being pulled out to sea by a line attached to an ocean liner (very possibly the Titanic) I am experiencing an all-encompassing panic and sense of dread about what I have gotten myself into. I know I will drown or be consumed by a shark.
As dream sequences are wont to do, one second I was taking on saltwater through the nose, the next minute I was on the floor of a super busy country-side restaurant and asking a large party seated at a big rustic table if I could take their order. I must not have been the regular waitstaff because I wasn’t prepared and had to rip a page from one of the diner’s address books and borrow a pen to do so. I wrote down what the party wanted to drink, then went back to the kitchen to fill the order. Once there, I found I couldn’t interpret what I’d written, or couldn’t find what I needed in the crowded fridge. I was sweating and confused and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t figure it out and pull the order together. I called out to a young waitress to please help me get the order out. She looked at me in a mocking, angry sort of way and said “Why should I? I’m not helping you!” Whereupon I shouted the only appropriate answer: “Well, Fuck You, Bitch!” When I finally got back to the table with my tray of drinks, they were all wrong and everyone was rolling their eyes at my complete and uncool failure as a person.
I don’t think we need to call in Dr. Freud to interpret these somnolent panic attacks. It’s safe to say that 4 weeks into this I’m feeling just a tiny bit overwhelmed.
I know it’s only 15 hours a week of classes…but what you don’t plan for is everything else that goes along with it. For instance, there is homework. I’ve got to read the lesson chapter before each class and copy each of the lesson’s recipes out on 3×5 cards and bring them with me. It doesn’t matter that Chef X promptly changes all the recipes…the ingredients, the procedures, declaring “I’m not very agreeing with how dey do do dat, so we going to do it my way…” and we have to copy his recipe down once we get to class and then follow his demo for the new altered procedure. Why then, you ask, would you have to waste time copying the recipes at home, when there is a good chance they will be changed or that you may not even cook all the recipes and in fact, end up cooking totally different ones? You waste this time because Chef X will randomly go around the room and check to see who does or doesn’t have their recipe cards prepared and if you don’t have them you get point off on your evaluations.
Then there are the tests, every 5-6 lessons that you have to study for…drill the vocabulary both French and English…the cooking terms, the product distinctions (round fish like bass and salmon have two filets and up to 27 pin bones that have to be removed when fileting, while flat fish like flounder have 4 fillets and no pin bones…what IS the difference between a bi-valve and a cephalopod?) I usually study by re-reading each chapter, underling and reviewing class notes and then reducing it all down to a one or two page study guide. There goes THAT day.
Then there is the practicing. Since my hollandaise debacle I’ve decided I need to be trying some of these skills at home to avoid future embarrassment and to hone my skills for the looming black shadow of the practical test (this could be what that Titanic image was all about) that’s coming up. For this test we will have 70 minutes to complete some mystery plate of food (we find out only the day of the test) and present it to a panel of judges. We’ll be graded on technique, execution, plating, cleanliness, organization, and taste. So…I’ve bought bags of carrots and turnips and onions and stood, shoulders hunched in my kitchen, trying to master the ciseller (a small dice) or a julienne (a thin strip) or an emincer (a really thin slice) without slicing off my fingernails; making a sabayon (an egg custard base for sauces and deserts) that fluffs up the way it should over a cold bath (or is it hot bath?); and sliding my fish knife in at just the right angel to separate the delicate trout flesh from the bone without making ribbons of it.
How about the uniforms? I always have to have a cleaned and pressed uniform ready to go. Chef’s jacket, checkered pants, neckerchief, apron, side towel and hat. I iron daily now, it seems.
And the commuting? I have to leave a window of 2 hours to get to class because though the drive time is really only about 70 minutes, the traffic into the city is always unpredictable. And if I get in to SoHo by 4:40 I can get street parking just 6 blocks from the school as opposed to using a garage and paying to park. Since this saves me about $250 a month, I try to always get a street spot. So, this means I MUST leave my house by 3:00 for a 5:45 class start time, or earlier on Saturday when the bridge and tunnel crowd decide a summer afternoon in the city is just what they need. And my nap…I have to have a 40 minute nap the day of class…(yeah, right!) or else I might fall asleep on the drive home…THERE GOES THAT DAY…
Now, as for the drive home…class is supposed to be over at 10:45 pm. Due to the extended charming and sometimes repetitious anecdotes that make Chef X’s demos run long, combined with our overall beginner’s skill level, we have never finished class on time. We usually finish between 11 and 11:15. Which means after changing out of my uniform, packing my nerdy wheely bag with my dirty clothes and knives, filling up my water bottle for the drive, taking one last pee before I go and dragging a wet paper towel over my face to swath through the layer of sweat and grease that has accumulated on it over the last 5 hours, along with the 6 block walk back to my car, I never get on the road home before 11:45. With the late-night construction going on on the I-78 I get home about 1 am and finally wind down ( I should say “wine down” since I inevitably need a bit of the grape to settle down) around 2.
On my sleep-deprived days off I’m rushing around trying to get done everything related to school plus all that I was doing before I started this, like taking care of my house, my kids, the dogs, our banking, bills, gardening (forget it…the weeds win), finding my son an apartment in the city for his 4-month externship and dealing with slimy, craigslist scammers, laundry, feeding everyone, and driving my daughter and her friends every where on demand. Because of his schedule, I now actually only see my husband Friday nights for a few hours, Sundays, and Monday nights. Depending on your view on long marriages, this could be a good thing, a schedule that enforces separation and therefore deeper appreciation for one’s life partner, or it could make you feel like “who are YOU?” when some guy comes up behind you in your bathroom and scares the shit out of you don’t because it’s been so long that you don’t recognize him.
All this and FUCKING BLOGGING TOO.
OK. DEEP BREATH. IN. OUT. IN. OUT.
I’m done whining. I promise. And I’m done with this entry. I’ve got some Sunday left to try and figure out who that guy snoring on my couch is.