Thursday, August 27, 2009

End of Summer

The days grow short and cool, and winter looms before us once more. It's officially my favorite time of year. With the coming of autumn, people return to the kitchen for warmth and company, to reminice on seasons past, and to prepare foods to warm the body and spirit. I was doing my grocery shopping the other day when I saw a notice posted on one of the shelves: there was a bad crop of pumpkins this year, so we all must suffer for it. Those with the money to can buy the expensive organic canned pumpkin, but the rest of us must do without. That's one of my favorite things to cook in the fall and winter, normally reasonbly priced as well as versitile, but unless there's a late harvest of them this year I may have to go without. Maybe I can substitute sweet potatoes or acorn squash. With the right seasonings it could work. I've always loved this time of year, even the smell of the heater in my car makes me think of it.

I've been at my job at Champps for over a month now, and I think I'm getting along all right. One of my co-workers is off on maternity leave, so my duties have changed slightly to fit. I had been on the line for the past few weeks, on the salad station, now I'm back to preparing soups and sauces, plus the odd banqueting gig on the weekends. Still the hours are good and the tasks are enjoyable. For the most part. Last Saturday I had a bit of an accident, and hit my thumb really hard on the vegetable dicer. I'm only lucky that I didn't cut it against the blades, that would've really hurt! But with this device, even the handle can do some damage. I cut myself pretty deeply with it and ended up fainting! I was surprised that I reacted that way, I've never fainted at the sight of blood before, it's never bothered me. I think it was caused by a mix of being overtired and underfed, plus being scared that I was hurt worse than I was. Anyway, to make a long story short (too late) I woke up in the chef's office, feeling very disoriented and none too sure what had happened. It was all okay, though, I rested up for about 20 minutes, got my bearings back, and went back to work. Luckily, it was a split shift that day, so I only had to work till 2 to get a break, before coming back at 5 and working till 10. I was glad to get a little time off.

Over the next few days after the incident, I took a little ribbing from my coworkers, but apart from that, nothing noteworthy went on after that. This will be a short week for me since I needed time off to be maid of honor at a friend's wedding. Hopefully, my hours will pick up after the blessed event.

I've had little time for cooking for pleasure this month, with the new job and occasional double-shifts, but one thing I was pleased to have made was Oeufs a la Bourgigngoin. I'd sampled it in a restaurant in France, as an alternate vegetarian entree for one of my classmates (which she was good enough to share!) and from that moment I wanted to find the recipe for it. With my veritable library of cookbooks, I knew I must have it somewhere. There it was, in good old faithful Julia's "Mastering" Volume 1. I'll definitely be making it again soon, it was very easy and good!

I'm very glad to be back in a town large enough to have grocery stores that suit my needs. Too long have I lived in small towns where there's nothing besides the bare essentials. My first shopping trip resulted in discovering an ample supply of bone marrow! I can make enough bordelaise sauce to keep me happy all through the winter! And the wine departments--I found a bottle of chardonnay that I'd had on my class trip to France, I'm saving that for a special occasion. And the cheese counter, it's delightful! I'm glad to be back in civilized country :-)

It also occurs to me, that two years ago today I started culinary school at Indian Hills. The things that happened between then and now just amazes me :-) Thanks to all who helped me along the way: my parents, Chef Gordon, Mark, Mary, BJ, and everyone else. I hope I keep in touch with you all and have great stories to share along the way.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Back in the workforce!

After months of fruitless searching, I finally got a job last month in my hometown of Dubuque, Iowa. Ever since I moved away when I was 9, I always wanted to get back to civilization, and here I am! It's a nice sized town, plenty of restaurants and businesses to keep me happy. Another good thing about moving back here is that I'm close by to my grandparents in case they need anything.

Work is off to a good start, I'm making friends among the ranks, and the chef tells me that I'm doing a good job. I've been placed on the salad station on the line, it sure gets busy during the lunch rush! I haven't seen it during dinner hours, but I will next week! It seemed hard at first, but after a few days it's becoming second nature to me. There are just so many different salads to remember. One day, Chef John was on the other side of the line, and he kept shouting out questions to me about the different recipes, and I was able to keep up, while making completely different ones! If I get backed up, the guy on saute is there to help me, so it's good to have someone there if I get a lot of tickets at once. Still, I'm learning a lot about working the line. It's hard work, but it can be fun, too. There's a feel to it when it gets hectic, I think I'll do just fine. On weekends I get put on the banquet side of things. The restaurant is connected to a hotel, so we have weddings booked up for the next few months. Last night was just 100 people, but we've had parties much larger than that, with prep to do for other events first thing in the morning, so working at the Bridge View Center was good preparation for that sort of thing! My first day there I was working a wedding, I remember feeling homesick for my old group at Bridge View, but I'm learning how this bunch does things. I already feel like I'm part of the team. I'm glad I took four years of Spanish in high school, most of the crew are Mexicans, and not all of them speak English. I remember some, enough to convey what's important "!Ayudame, por favor!" (help me please) "?Tiene usted un boligrafo que podria a usar?" (do you have a pen I could use?) Stuff like that. I'm sure it'll get better with time and practice.

Another thing I've gotten to do at work is make the many different soups and sauces that they use on the line. As with everything, it gets easier with practice. Two weeks ago, I was down to work that station, and had about 12 things to do on hot/cold prep. I felt like I barely got it all done in time! Then, the next week, I had probably the same size of list (and some of the same items) and I got it done with time to spare! Chef John walked by my station and asked me "What's left to do?" "Four batches of the white queso, then just sweep up." "Damn!" he replied, he must've been impressed :-)

I was lucky enough to find an apartment close to work. It's just a 5-minute drive, if I hit the stoplights just right. I'm on a street that's just one block removed from the main drag, it's nice to be in the heart of town (within walking distance from Village Inn!) Moving in was kind of rough, I needed to rally the troops. My parents, and my aunt and uncle all pitched in to get me squared away. It was obvious from initial inspection that the previous tenants didn't get their deposit back! They'd left quite a mess in the kitchen to clean up before it could be anything close to liveable. But after lots of time and effort, it's now a place I can call home. I even got my cat back! I'm not sure if he likes it, he's used to living at my parents' house, that's where he lived while I was in school. Their place is much larger and has a yard. He'll adjust, I'm sure.

So things are off to a good start, and I hope they continue going this way. When I was about to graduate, I was worried about making it in a real restaurant. Now I'm a real line cook! It says so on my timecard and everything, I feel like I can definitely do this!