Monday, March 8, 2010

Putting NY Far Behind Me

Although we are still seeing a lot of snow on the ground, the scenery is changing and it is nice to be away from New York, finally! We've driven over a thousand miles but have taken our time and had a lot of fun already.

We left Gettysburg early on Sunday morning and headed through the rest of Pennsylvania, taking a route through Cleveland, Ohio and along Lake Erie:
We stopped at a random family restaurant in a small town called Lorain. The advertised special was Lake Erie Perch Dinner, so I figured I should give it a go! It was actually delicious - hand breaded, too! Then we had hours and hours to go through Ohio and Indiana to get to Chicago, Illinois.
My mom and I met up with some friends for dinner at The Grand Lux Cafe - it was soo good! Great company as well. After a good night's sleep, we started our morning off with a walk to the beach (what these people call the beach!) on Lake Michigan. Lakeshore Drive parallels the shore here and it was full of traffic. It was a super foggy day so we couldn't see much of the lake.
We stopped for breakfast at The Corner Bakery and hit the streets looking for fun shops on our way to Sears Tower. Unfortunately, it was too foggy. The elevator attendant advised us that we would be unable to see anything, so we passed up the $15 trip to the top and kept walking. Too bad - they've got a new glass "ledge" you can step out on and look down to see the street beneath your feet. Freaky!

Next up was what everyone refers to as "The Bean", a piece of local art. It is SO COOL! I was glad that there weren't too many people around checking it out as well so we could get some good pictures.

Along the way we stopped into some chocolate shops (of course!!!). One of my chefs had recommended that I check out Vosges Chocolates since their headquarters are located in Chicago. We didn't get to the headquarters, but we were able to see another location. We picked up one of their famous bacon bars and a box of other assorted chocolates.

I'd never heard of Fannie Mae chocolates and my mom informed me that it is the equivalent of See's Candies, so we went in and had a look, and exited with some more chocolate! I was like a happy kid in a candy store, literally! It was mostly cool to see the chocolates and know that I knew how to make them. Fannie Mae is known for Mint Meltaways and Pixies so we made sure to get a few of those.

Our last stop was Sarah's Candies, which I just had to see based on a recommendation from my future mother-in-law. It was cute and I checked out her portfolio of cakes. Quality stuff! I think she's only 30 years old too and has a thriving business.

The afternoon was full with a little bit of White Castle (not as good as In-N-Out!), a short tour of the neighborhood where my mom grew up, and more driving to our next destination!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

And Here We Go!

One of the things I have been wanting to do since I became an adult was a cross-country road trip. There was something exciting to me about driving from one end of the country to another and "seeing it all". When I was younger, we took quite a few roadtrips as a family - the more memorable ones being to Oregon and also Colorado. Kids these days may see being trapped in a car without their favorite video game system or internet readily available as a fate worse than death. In those days I think we loved it and loved seeing the scenery change. Yes, we did have our Gameboys, but those 4-doubleA batteries would only last so long!

Now I have the chance to do such a trip and am taking full advantage! I may never have this opportunity or time again! My mom is coming with me and I am so excited to see it all.

We left NY, cut quickly through the Dirty Jersey (as my school friends refer to it!) and into Pennsylvania - a new state to check off for me! It was exactly as I pictured it - two lane highways and LOTS of farms. Unfortunately this time of year is not that picturesque.

Here's a few pictures of the sights we took in when we stopped:

The Crayola Factory in Easton, PA
Gettysburg National Military Park
one of the thousands of monuments there
Pennsylvania Sunset

Friday, March 5, 2010

Finally - It Came!

I had been anticipating this day for two years, and finally, it came!!!

My graduation was SO awesome!!! I graduated from a university two years ago and mine today was nothing like it - so much better and more personal, especially since it was less than 70 students. By pure luck, my seat was on the end of the front row closest to the podium, and our guest speaker was Emeril Lagasse! It was the best front row seat imaginable. I remember watching his shows when I was younger so it was cool to actually see him in person. He shook all of our hands after we received our cordons (medals basically instead of a diploma for the ceremony) and said congratulations.

I also received two awards!!! I earned the highest GPA in my graduating class and was the only person to get high honors (over a 3.75), so I received an award for that. I also received an award for excellent performance in the management classes. I was so amazed and proud of myself!!! I'm glad that my parents were here to support me as well.
Then at our luncheon afterwards, a few friends and I approached Emeril to take a quick picture with him and not bother him too much. While we were taking the picture, he started asking us all what our plans were, starting with me. I told him that I was moving back home, and that I had applied somewhere where I saw he is doing a food show at next month! He told me to contact his chef organizer (who was there) about coming to assist him!!!!! Even if I don't get a job out of it or even work alongside Emeril, it will still be an amazing experience, so I got a business card out of that!
What a truly amazing day! I am so proud of myself and my accomplishments here. It once seemed like going to culinary school was lightyears away. Then, it felt as though my time here would never end. Now, I am ready to go out into the world, and bake my mark!!!

Thanks to all of you who have supported me along the way - whether it be directly or indirectly. I know I didn't do it alone! And most of all, I thank and praise God for bringing me through and giving me the strength!

Time to celebrate!!!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tastings 1 & 2

Hello again! I've been busy here, getting packed and resting up. This class has got me tired out at the end of the day! Last week I rotated from the morning shift to the afternoon shift and it makes the day seem a little bit longer.

In addition to working the afternoon shift, I also have to attend a lecture given by our instructor for an hour before class. She explained that we would be tasting different items every day. At first I thought that it was going to be a lot of useless information. Yes, I know about tea, coffee, wine, etc. But it has proven to be interesting!

On Thursday, we had a coffee tasting. I am in no way a fan of coffee, unless it is paired with milk and laced with tons of chocolate... aka: mocha! It was hard for me to keep a straight face while tasting the cafe's coffees. She also had us describe the smells and tastes of each cup... "Hmm... tastes like... coffee?" wouldn't pass for an answer. Darn!

First we learned about the decaffeination process - something I had never considered. This happens during the "green" state of the beans - beofre they have been washed and roasted. There are three ways to do this. The first is by the use of chemicals, which is damaging. It is the least expensive and also the least efficient, as 5-15% of the caffeine can remain on the bean. The second way to decaffeinate is by the "natural" process - the beans are steamed to remove the outer shell. It is the most cost effective method and removes 95-97% of caffeine. The third method is the CO2 method which is patented. Basically, the caffeine molecules are removed and replaced with CO2. It is the most expensive, but also the most effective.

We also learned about roasting. Roasting = flavor, and each batch of coffee beans can be roasted to an individual level and blend to get different intensities. We briefly touched on grinding and brewing and then had our tasting. We tasted automatic drip regular and decaff, which I found to have a smoky flavor. The brand our cafe uses is Green Mountain Coffee, which has coffees from many pricepoints available and is a great quality, mainstream company.

Then we tasted press pot regular and decaff. I had never seen press pot coffee before this class and was interested to see how it worked. This coffee tends to have a smoother flavor because the natural oils of the beans remain in the coffee instead of being filtered out through a paper filter. The beans we use for this come from Counter Culture, an artisan company based on the East Coast that is committed to organic and sustainable coffee. The regular press pot coffee came from Sidamo, Ethiopia and the decaff came from Jagong, Sumatra. So cool! I also got to try my first espresso. I cannot see how people drink that stuff straight up! We had to take it like a shot and it was just not pleasant at all.

On Friday we had a tea tasting, and I was very much looking forward to this because I am becoming a bigger fan of tea as I get older. Our cafe also has a really good selection of teas from Harney & Sons. We tasted:

-White Vanilla Grapefruit
-Sencha Green
-Jasmine Green
-Pomegranate Oolong
-English Breakfast
-Earl Grey
-Black Current
-African Autumn Red
-Chamomile Tisane
-Valentines Tea (black)

All teas come from the same tea plant, they just differ based on the harvest time and processing. The four types of tea are white, green, black, and oolong. White is made from the bud of the tea leaf and is packed with antioxidants. Green comes from the mature green tea leaf and it is believed that if you drink it regularly, it will help stave off plaque from your teeth! Too bad green tea is not one of my favorites! Oolong comes from the fully mature green tea leaf that goes through partial fermentation, allowing some tannins to develop but rendering it still palatable. Black tea is made from the fully mature green tea leaf that has been fully fermented. The tannins in black tea are extremely high, making it very astringent. The British soften these tannins with fat (milk) and Americans tend to brew it strong and cut the tannins with an acid (lemon wedges).

We learned about tisanes as well - this is not tea, but is a botanical infusion made without tea leaves. It can come from dried flowers, fruit rinds, spices, herbs, etc and is typically caffeine free.

Of the ones we tasted, my favorite by far was the Jasmine Green. I was surprised because I typically stay away from green tea, but this one smelled soooooo good!!! It smelled like jasmine but not too perfume-y and tasted clean and sweet. I like teas that are sweet enough to not need any sugar or milk added. I believe that they should be enjoyed in their purest form. This jasmine green took me straight back to the summers of my youth - when the air was permeated with jasmine that would waft through my bedroom windows at night. So lovely!

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