Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Feeling Refreshed

A three day weekend and a new class always helps to lift my spirits a little bit. The extra rest helps me to refocus and it's nice to get out of the old routine and into a new one!

Since I'm moving out in a few weeks, I thought my day off would be a good time to start going through my belongings here and decide what to keep and what to chuck!

Here's where I started:
The pile on the left is to toss and the pile on the right is to keep. Wowee! Those are all papers from my time here at school - about two years' worth! It's mostly recipes, some lecture notes, and a TON of information that I hope will prove to be valuable in the future. As much as I like to think I have a photographic memory, there are things I forget. It will be nice to have something to look back through when I need new ideas or if I've forgotten how to do a certain technique.

I felt refreshed after I'd packed up most of my desk and lightened my load by throwing some unnecessary items out. This is only the first phase of lightening my load. I've got about 25 office filing boxes full of "stuff" waiting for me in California. I'm looking forward to sifting out the important things from the junk, organizing like items, and condensing my life. There is just something so refreshing about organizing! :) (but only when it's my stuff - not the attic or garage, M&D!)

We're getting more snow (finally). This has felt more like a brown winter than a white one!

Taking out the trash with my classmate in the snow. Too bad I'd zipped off my hood the other day and forgot to re-attach it. My head was wet by the time we got back inside!

I like it when trees look like this!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Maybe I Should Try...

and grocery shopping could be more fun?? :)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

3 Years --- And more to come!!!

Today is our 3 year dating anniversary! And while it is sad and hard to be away from each other, I am so grateful to have K in my life who is truly an amazing person! He has been supportive of me and my dreams to go to culinary school since our first date, three years ago! The letters and text messages he sends me often remind me how much he cares about me, and I look forward daily to the phonecalls and voicemails I get as well! I am so ready for our time apart to be over, but I am thankful and realize how much of a blessing this long distance has been for our relationship. It has strengthened us and grown our love daily. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, and I wouldn't ever want to do it again, but I do see the good that has come out of it!

I love you honey! Can't wait to make it official on 10-9-10!!!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Three Weeks to Go!

Wow, I can hardly believe it myself! My last class started today. The class ahead of me had their graduation and I kept thinking to myself, "Next time, it will be my turn!" I will be the one celebrating and moving out! (I have been suuuper jealous of all the people moving out every three weeks!)

Back of the house in the cafe was so killer! I managed to make it through the class only burning one thing! Whew! That whole day was bad and some say I was jinxed by Chef M because he had said it was a miracle I hadn't burned anything. Earlier this week, I had to train the person who would be taking my spot (ahhh!!!). When Chef M and I had sat down before to go over my evaluation, he brought up an interesting point. The actual bake is not something that can be taught in a book, or done with just a timer. So it was definitely interesting trying to teach someone else what to look for when baking our products.

Also this week, I had to spend about 6 hours doing cross-training for the last class (front of the house: aka customer service) in addition to my regular class hours. It was awful! I had to change my sleep schedule yet again, and I was just exhausted.

Today was Day 1, and it was a graduation day, so we all knew it was going to be hectic! We had a sort of orientation with the instructor back in December to go over some things and she said the one word that would describe our Day 1 would be "inhumane". I laughed to myself and thought that we were a good group, we could handle anything!

Ha. Ha. Ha. We totally got rocked this morning! Setting up was easy. My station is "tray up". I will coordinate all orders before they go out to the customer. The way the cafe operations are set up is a little funky in my opinion and nothing I have ever seen before. I worked behind the counter at a restaurant for three years, and I did all the coffee drinks, to-go orders, and general packaging and customer service. The cafe here on campus is the busiest of any restaurant, and there actually IS enough work to do to have each job be its own station. We have two students who bag up and plate all desserts and venoisserie (pastries, danish, cookies, etc). We have a barista and also a cold beverage student. There is one person who does the savory station expediting (they coordinate the hot food), and then there are several dining room attendants.

The first thing I have to do is go down to our school's storeroom to pick up the food order for the cafe. It was the most massive thing I have ever seen! On a huge cart. Just me and the cart. Yay! It took me over an hour to get things inventoried and put away, then I had a little bit of time to get my station organized before the doors opened.

In about half an hour, we totally got rocked. I had about 30 tickets laid out on the counter, the barista was 15 deep in hot beverages, and the slow guy on cold bev decided to polish glasses instead of give me a hand. It was out of control! Customers were getting upset because it was taking 15 minutes to get a coffee, and of course I am the one who gets to take the brunt of all their complaints! We sorted everything out, yet still kept getting rush after rush. I think the flaw in this system is that the cashiers take orders faster than we can fill them (customers come in, order and pay first, then sit down or wait for to-go's). I don't think this is a good system, but it works okay.

At the end of our very long day with no breaks :( we had a short meeting and our instructor said we did a great job! No one froze up or broke down, we just kept going! She said that she is pretty certain that we made our sales goal of the day. The deal was that if we made $10,000 on our first day, we wouldn't have to take the final! I'm pretty sure it's in the bag seeing as we were busy all day long!

Day 1 is the hardest and I am so glad it is overwith! We got slammed and now we know what to do to prevent mistakes and get through rough patches. It's not going to be a walk in the park, but I can tell you that I am rounding the bases and running hard to make it to the finish line!!!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Womanning the Oven

My class is more like a job. I am constantly reminding myself to never take an overnight job like this - the hours are horrendous and it's hard to have any sort of normal life. I have finally gotten some sort of sleeping pattern going though, which is great. I'd be a wreck without sleep. My strategy is to take a nap for a few hours after class, wake up and get some food, hang out for a bit, and then sleep a few hours before class. When I wake up, I'm a little disoriented, but at least I'm rested enough to get through my work/class.

My job is baking and finishing. It's cool because I am really getting good at working an oven. Sure, each part of the baking process is important, but the finishing can make or break the product too! I am learning that not all ovens are created equal. I am in charge of two convection ovens. The idea behind the convection oven is that it has fans which help to evenly circulate heat around the oven. It also doesn't need to be as hot as a traditional oven and cooks a little faster. Traditional ovens (like gas or electric) have hot spots (and some may argue that there is "natural" convection - air currents inside traditional ovens). Convection ovens are "supposed to" eliminate hot spots with forced air currents. However, I have found this to be quite untrue.

The ovens I work with tend to cook items on the bottom racks quicker. Also the side closer to the door gets color faster. The edges cook faster than the middle. So it is a constant battle of rotating and reducing fan speeds to get items like muffins to all be the same color. I'm learning how to place things in the oven. For example, I bake three trays of muffins off at the same time - one each of bran, banana, and corn. Chef M doesn't like the corn muffins to have too much color (which is such a shame because it gives it an amazing crunchy outer layer!!) so those get put on the top rack. The bran is super moist, so I usually stick it on the bottom rack and the banana goes in the middle.

The bottom oven has the steam feature, and this is where I bake all the laminated doughs (alternated layers of dough and butter rolled and folded together). I do croissants, pain au chocolat, apple danish, banana danish, monkey danish, and a meyer lemon danish. The steam coagulates the starches in the dough, making it crusty. Then once the danish get a little bit of color (browning), I pull the vent open in the oven. This dries the starches and gives it a beautiful shiny finish.

One interesting thing that I have learned from culinary school is to not use a timer. Some of you may think that is scary, and it would be for me if I were running off doing something in another room. The good thing is that my station is right next to the oven, which has clear doors, so I can peek in and check on the product whenever I want. It would be a hassle to have to keep setting the timer for one minute more, or thirty seconds more, etc. It's done when it's done. And that is really the skill that I am learning - to know when it's done.

Every day, Chef M comes in at 5:30 am on the dot! Like clockwork, very predictable. The head baker (a paid employee) reminds us to clean up our stations and make everything presentable. It's a pain to have to stop and do this, but I think it shows respect to the chef and it's always a good idea to work cleanly. He'll come in and say hello to everyone, check his e-mails, and then he'll head straight to my speed racks. He pulls out every single sheet tray and looks over the finished products. It is crazy nervewracking! But it is great because of course I want to get better. It is a challenge to always be consistent and that is what a good baker should strive for, I think. The other day, Chef M asked me, "Are you nervous when I do this?" to which I answered, "Yes, of course, Chef!" He said I had no reason to be nervous; I was doing a great job. What a relief!

I can see how my job in a real bakery would be important. If each person was responsible for baking off their own products, it would be a mess! An oven coordinator is a great idea. So far I haven't burned or dropped anything! I think my mind is wired to multi-task and I feel really comfortable with what I'm doing . . . womanning the ovens. Now if only I could get them to bake evenly, all my baking dreams would come true!

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