Right foot forward…

I had my last class for this year…this year…

I still have to tell myself that it has been a little over a year since I started this blog…a little over a year since I started to cook professionally and here I am…a little over a year later.

But, it wasn’t very long since I started to teach the group of kids at the Thrive house to cook.  And it wasn’t very long that I had learned how awesome it is to cook for those who truly appreciate your presence and your food.  I love those kids and this past Monday was my last class with them for 2009. Lets go through the past weeks of cooking.

Week 1- Introduction – 4 girls gave them a questionnaire, introduced myself, felt uncomfortable, continuous giggling.  One girl stated that she watched Lydia Bastianich on PBS, “Lydia’s Kitchen is my favorite show along with Cooks Kitchen”.  This got me so excited for the rest of the classes….

Week 2- Turkey meatballs and a home-made marinara sauce, Green Salad with carrots and red onions and a balsamic vin.  Taught the kids the ratio of avinaigrette…an acid…an oil…seasoning (salt pepper).  Taught the students to taste as they go, and let them season the all the food.  Taught them to salt their pasta water that “it should taste like the sea”, taught them to chiffonade basil leaves.  Let them roll the balls, brown the meatballs, they minced and diced and sliced and the meal was a complete success.  Cleanup was a bummer for the coordinators.

week 3- Smoked Turkey and kale soup.   Found out that There was NO BUDGET for the classes.  Went to the SF Foodbank for the first time to pick out ingredients for the class that morning; Cabbage, potatoes, onions, kale, daikon, garlic, carrots, apples.  That day boiled some water with the turkey wings 3 hours, added some chicken stock for more richness, roughly chopped the daikon and put it in the broth for extra warmth and body, 5:00 set up whiteboard with list of ingredients.  Desert?  Yes.  Apple Crumble? Yes ! Apple crumble it is.  taught the kids to slice, chop, dice, and grate.  Took out the turkey wings cooled them and let them strip off the meat to put back into the soup.  Sliced some apples, brown sugar and cinnamon flour and butter and a bit o salt 30 minutes for desert & 30-40 minutes of simmering the soup, some cheesy garlic bread and yes, dinner was served.  Timing?  Still not so good. Out of class at about 8:00.

Weel 4 – Still had the leftover turkey in a tube from the foodbank.  Hmm....still had potatoes…hmmmokay well lets do mashed potatoes and turkey gravy. OH AND BISCUITS! 3 weeks of turkey so far what to do next.  Taught the kids to boil potatoes, mash potatoes, season,  and how to make them creamy and delicious.  Next, saute meat with onions and garlic and some sausage taken out of it’s casing.  Carrots, celery, onions, bell peppers, cornstarch (other ingredients…I know I am forgetting a few)…soon changed to a variation of Shepherd’s pie with buttery flakey biscuits on top.  NO TIME!! took the biscuit dough off the pie, but luckily had 14 mini biscuits already cooking.  Oh no! Oven temp went down…Oh no! pans were too large for the oven!  With some last minute improvisation and yes, dinner was finally done.  Kids ended up leaving at around 8:30.  I don’t remember making a desert for this class.

Week 5: Sloppy Joe’s with an apple and carrot coleslaw! This recipe is in a previous post titled “A MESSAGE TO YOU…)  This was also a great hit with the kids, even the ones that thought that they would never eat this type of coleslaw.  Desert: Candied pecans (with butter and brown sugar and cinnamon with a little bit of nutmeg), Vanilla ice-cream and warmed peaches. The kids were really loud so no one ended up having desert.  This class nearly gave me a heart attack.

week 6: TACO MONDAY- Cumin Citrus and Soy marinated flank steak tacos with fresh guacamole and salsa fresca, fresh shucked corn saute with garlic and butter, and black beans.  Dinner was done in exactly 1/2 an hour. Taught them to; sear, chop, cut, julliene, squeeze, toss, mash, how to use a bundt pan cake to shave corn, why tortillas should be warmed and kept in a towel, how by using some of the same basic ingredients such as onions, garlic, salt, pepper, lime juice, and cilantro can become guacamole or salsa, also showed them how easy it is to have fresh corn taste so good with just garlic, butter, salt and pepper. Best class yet.  I felt so invigorated after this class.

Week 7- Taleya brought in a shrimp fried rice recipe from her grandmother.  With some suggestions from the program coördinator Thuy, the class would consist of Shrimp fried rice, with a Chinese inspired cabbage salad with wonton crisps, and strawberry shortcake for desert with fresh whipped cream. Some peas, carrots, corn, garlic, onion, butter, soy sauce, cilantro, champagne vinegar, green onions, pepper, chinese sausage, cabbage, wonton chips, peanut butter (for the cabbage salad) and yes OHHH yes dinner was right on time!! The kids got home at 7:30.  And cleanup was a breeeeeze.

One of my most memorable moments was when a young girl named Tatiana came up to me and told me “I like you…”.  “So why do you like me?”  I replied “because your nice”  “well what didn’t you like about the other teacher”  “she was mean”….  Can I mention she also played the kids world music?  I doubt you can connect with young kids now a days with drowning sounds of world music from the Putamayo series when they have Lady Gaga or Jay Z on their Ipods. Another memorable moment had to be when Joanna exclaimed at the table “YO, this is HELLA GOOD.”  I also get so excited when the kids go for 2nds and thirds.

And Oh yes…feel good song of the day:

Alexander McQueeeeeeeeeeeeen

I was inspired to draw a connection with the recent Spring/ Summer 2010 Alexander McQueen runway.

sp-about-mainimageHE IS AMAZING.  His conceptual response to fashion and the runway is major with it’s Avante Garde staging as an installation.   Going through his archival of runway shows I find myself saying over and over again “WOW” or “Oh my GOD!” even “WOWIE” was proclaimed.   Each show is  a meeting of massive multi dimensional morphing! Pure visual imagery and pleasure.  MY GOAL is to go through each runway show and create a multi faceted menu:

Just read the didactics from Fall/Winter 08: “

Based on the British Empire, the Queens of England, the Duke of Wellington, toy soldiers and punk princesses, this fashion fairy tale is dominated by an ancient tulle-wrapped tree referencing the work of the artist, Christo. For the first half of the show our heroine is dressed in beautiful rags: nipped waisted jackets, Victorian-line dresses with S-bend corseted tops, textured, hand-knitted mohair and washed tweeds all in dark or neutral colours lend a make-do-and-mend feel to the proceedings. It isn’t long, though, before our Princess meets her Prince Charming, at which point she descends from her treetop habitat and finds all the riches of the world at her disposal. Her clothing duly explodes into colour and references everything from the wardrobe of the young Princess Elizabeth –crimson velvet New Look dresses, ermine wraps and a bastardised Union Jack print – to the palaces of the Maharajas – a draped, predominantly empire-line silhouette finished with paper-flat embroidered slippers, each pair bespoke and created to complement its own outfit.”

Brilliant!  Is there a possibility that food and the runway can go hand in hand?  Of course!  The dark into bright juxtaposition of layers and layers evolves and just conjures up so many ideas that I could play with.  But with my food knowledge being only so modest what will I conjure up?  His details and his thoughtful selection of staging is just so inspiring.  The other day at work someone offered me a taste of Vietnamese yogurt to which I replied “It tastes like Hello Kitty…Theres that artificial sweetness” . I often times will taste and see food, which is why I have to close my eyes from other distractions and to focus on my palate…

In this link is McQueen’s 2010 line titled PLATO”S ATLANTIS I find playful inspiration sparking up inside me again. Haunting and awe inspiring, it revives my imagination so that it doesn’t relocate to a less creative space…and that BUILDUP!

YUMM.  This futuristic, reptilian, aquatic and hedonistic, fetish bound concept of this particular line sparked a vision of what I would be able to do with food.  Most the time food at its purist form is the most attractive and this connection with wildly exotic can conjure up rich stews, pastas, bountiful and beautiful greens layers of flavor, seafood game meats…It’s beautiful really, it evokes a playful passion that imparts the same attraction when viewed, and surely enough thats relevant with food.

Spellbound. WOW

I get choked up.

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It’s the start of a New Year.  Excitement is in the air and so is change and I am looking forward to new endeavors.  With that being said, I am letting go of a $1200 studio apartment.  I am finding it harder and harder committing to such a  heavy workload with such little pay.  I am going to go full force at this in hopes of learning more, without the stress and burdens that rain on me financially…we all know the kitchen is stressful enough.

So…Roommates.  Everyone knows what a task it is to find a room.  Particularly daunting is the thought of having somewhat crazy psychotic or worst a hippie vegan with staunch political views that won’t let me cook in the kitchen with animal products.  Those people exists.  Those people also wouldn’t want me as a roommate.  Roommate postings can range from sane to completely outrageous.  Vegans not wanting to share pots and pans, roommates wanting Taco TUESDAYS, must like this must like that must not do this must not do that.  It gets too much.  Viewings take on another rabid spirit.  When opening a door into a new apartment, there is sometimes that scary screeches from a soundtrack of a horror movie.   Think Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. I don’t want to live with Normal Bates.   Then again it’s San Francisco I also don’t want to live with a Cheech Marin who will wreak of Nag Champa and patchouli.

I will miss my large and new kitchen.  I will miss the oven, where I have created shortbread, and cakes, and roasts, and toasts when I lacked a toaster.

On to a new journey.  More twists more turns.

The other week I cried.  I snorted and blubbered through a moist towel.  I sighed and breathed and got choked up.  I was watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. I don’t obsess over many things, or many humans, but I can sometimes obsess over food.  While watching the episode on Spain, I had a bit of an intense reaction to the beautiful philosophy that a culture had on food.  The innovation the soft beauty that was present in each family story.  Adhering to their roots…their culture, and transforming culinary traditions to create new ones.

It got me to thinking. I wanted to travel.  I yearned to.  I ache to.  I want to taste and savour the splendid tastes and aromas of regional cuisine.  I’ve gone on interviews with various chefs and talked about food, and when asked, “WHY?…do you pursue this…do you want this…what is it about food that you like…”

I’ve stated before that I can get pretty emotional with food, as well with art. But I was not expecting it to suddenly overwhelm me when I was watching the show. It evokes so much emotion in me.  A wonderful spirit.  Maybe it’s my fathers spirit lighting new hope within me ,when at times I thought all there was to this world was making my mother happy, and making money.

I couldn’t stop crying.  It wasn’t sadness, maybe it was envy maybe it was jealousy.  I wasn’t there to smell the wood burning, I wasn’t there to taste the seasonal farm fresh ingredients, overwhelmed with the sights and sounds of a different country.  The aromas, the language the sun all tied in a bundle around my heart.  Squeeeezing it sooo tight, that I really thought that my heart was about to burst.

It was just so beautiful.  And I want to experience that.  I love love love that.  The excitement the passion, and the tactile and sensory experiences.

I am exciting about this years change.  With $1200 of rent away…with getting my deposit back.  I am ready to move with no excuses.  With no looking back, no regret.  To be able to travel, catch that bug that my friends talk about.  Focus on expanding my palate with travel.  I can’t wait.  It will be a bit till I am able to save up for my culinary journeys, but it’s definitely going to happen.

I hail a toast to 2009 and beyond.  May the wine be bountiful and aromas be bright and warm.

Muy Facile…

There is so much that I am usually passionate about but nothing compares to my love for food taste and flavor. The whole plethora of taste and the wonderful senses that sometimes nearly levitates you.

It’s like love.

I find that passion with each kitchen that I have had the opportunity to come across. The sometimes stoney high that you can get from smelling the sweet wood smoke from the brick oven that turns out rich and moist roasted chickens, with their white linen table clothes and jazz fillng the air. The clean and casual smell of fresh fish that mimics the smells of the ocean only to be found in a very small boutique sushi restaurant. The loud ambiance and rush of smells that rush at you when you enter one of san francisco’s punk rock urban Italian ghetto dining spots. The corporate streamlined chaos of a kitchen filled with every South American male within reach, the white linen clothes, and the loud crowds. The RUSH THE RUSH THE RUSH!

Every kitchen has its different rush and I am excited and maybe a bit hesitant to see whats to come. I remember reading one of Anthony Bourdain’s books when he explains the kitchen like a beautiful dance, and well at the salad stations when things can get slow and the saute guys are sweating profusely, the grill guys are supposed to cook the meat Justttt right the pasta guy, to the guy that has to plate alll of the salumis ( thats me sometimes) hey…so far the salad kids have it easy. I’m learning every second that I’m there.

Sometimes when I get off of work I smell like salumis. I spend my days at this Italian restaurant slicing various salami’s and salumis. Difference? A salami is a dried sausage stick, salumis are really all cold cuts and cured meats! That’s how I get it. Sometimes my fingers are blackened from picking and choppin cured black olives, sometimes they take on the bright red qualities from the roasted beets that I peel and slice.  Sometimes unattractively they smell like vinegar when I continuously toss salads with my hands all day, and all of this I truly find invigorating.   When I am at the station–It’s a total sensory experience.  That beautiful tactile experience you get when you make a simple crudo plate or when you can feel the glistening fat off a piece of mortadella. The gentle touch to a salad, being careful not to bruise the leaves.

The other day I learned that my first investment in a kitchen knife wasn’t sharp enough, after I sharpened the knife the sound of slicing a scallion was completely different. This is what I mean by sensory. You adapt to so many things in the kitchen…once you experience the good you never want to go back. Now I want to sharpen my knife whenever my ears tell me to.

My ears also allow me to listen to the tunes that are playing, swimming through my mind with whatever task  that’s in the kitchen.  I will hum the tune of Julieta Vinegas in one kitchen,  while another it could be the buzz of Stereolab, and while slicing salumis I could be using that Berkel to the catchy rythym of the Ramones. The other day I couldn’t get this particular Spits song out of my head.  My mornings breakfast and baking cravings and dinner nights could be played alongside a soundtrack of Nirvana, The Smiths, or a streaming Podcast of lovely classical music.

I am passionate about food because words cannot simply express what it is that I feel deep inside when I adapt to my kitchen environment. I am passionate about food because when I first came into contact with my favorite pasta maker we connected through broken Spanish, and mainly body language.

No No…Muy Facile” he told me when I became to rough with the pasta… Gentle Gentle...

He was a kind kind man with who reminded me of a Latin American Luigi.  He had a bit of a belly, slightly curly dark hair and that signature upper mustache of the Mario Brothers clan.  “PARP-PARR-DEHL-LEH!” He would explain…“RAH-VEE-OHH-LOH” it was as if an Italian soul was locked inside him. From him I learned the gentle hand of a not so rough man. We barely could comprehend one another but eye contact smiles and simple words, we forged a silent bond that was inspiring to me.

WELCOME – The beginning Oct 2008

Lets start off by admitting that I was hesitant to enter the world of food partly due to fear.

I was fearing losing my femininity, I was fearful of the long hours, I was also fearful of the financial burden and questioned whether I would be able to sustain myself.

We’ll see.

This is new to me, the long hours on your feet, the concentration, and the chaos. Coming home smelling savory, cuticles dry.

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Lets get it straight…all those things aren’t really new to me, more or less I have been witness to the long hours on my feet as a waitress, the concentration (fairly new) and well the chaos. I’ve always liked chaos, but what I like in a kitchen in the organized chaos. The dry cuticles on the other hand have intensified.

I currently live in San Francisco in a small studio with a very large kitchen and a separate bathroom. It’s pretty cute and its my own. With that being said, it is also expensive. What I said earlier about being able to sustain myself, I also neglected to mention that I have to admit I have a shopping habit.  I have a certain lifestyle that I find comfortable but never high maintenance. I like my Jo Malone Mandarine and Honey Blossom cologne, and I am probably one of the only cooks you know that will carry her knives in a Marc (by marc) Jacobs bag.

So far It has been 8 months since my official layoff from a 9-5 and 7 into my attempt at this cooking career. And so far I’ve accomplished much. Yesterday I was passing through a couple of waiters counting their tips as my 5’2 small framed self was carrying stacks of hotel pans through them.  I thought to myself “Damnit what am I doing?” seconds later as I headed over to my station I realized NO REGRETS! This was something that took 27 years in the making and now I have a chance to pursue it!