Weekend In Pictures……

This weekend was a wonderful whirlwind of friends, exploring the city and celebration mixed in with a few tears……..

Friday I traveled up to The Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, CA to attend their graduation.  Many of the friends I made during my stay at the CIA were graduating and I wanted to say congratulations and goodbye to a few of them as they head to amazing futures in the culinary world…….

I sped home after graduation and tore through some work before The Partner came back from New York and our weekend house guest arrived…….

And being the good boyfriend I am, I greeted the love of my life with the most seductive and romantic welcome dinner I could imagine……

Saturday morning found my on a job site overseeing a closet install for a client, welcoming my friend from DC for the weekend and drinking at least two of these to unwind……

Sunday, The Partner and I proudly showed off our “home town” of Oakland to our house guest……

Then headed into San Francisco for a bit of fun in the sun……

This week looks to be jammed pack of more of the same….which I am secretly so excited about that it isn’t even funny!  So what did you do this weekend?

And if you haven’t noticed, I have added Instagram to my social media mix, just in case you can’t get enough of me from Facebook and Pinterest as well as Twitter.

Talking Out Loud: Kim Kaechele

 “Talking Out Loud” is a series of short interviews with friends, strangers, family, etc that focus on how they are living their lives out loud and to the fullest. I have trawled self-help web sites, read countless books and worked with a few coaches to find out how I can better myself.  However, the advice I find the most meaningful, the most inspiring and most sincere is that of every day people; their life experiences have given them insight and perspective that I lack. In “Talking Out Loud”, I use the subject’s own words and thoughts to present what I think it means to live out loud. 

I am happy that my culinary school friend Kim Kaechele agreed to participate in Talking Out Loud.  The first time I really talked to Kim was during our Product Identification class and I was struck by how thoughtful she appeared.  She seemed deliberate and fully conscious of those around her.  When I talked to her, I felt for the first time someone was listening and not merely waiting for their turn to talk.  She turned into the “heart” of our class and eventually was elected our group leader.  I may have called her “Momma Bear” due to her maternal nature, but rest assured she was quite able to swing with the boys in the kitchen and repeatedly  proved herself as the voice of reason in hot-headed situations.  And did I mention she is a cutie and a half?  And she has the music hook-up thanks to her many years working with music agents for some of today’s hottest bands?  So from backstage concerts with Dave Mathews to gutting squid, I will let Kim tell you about her journey….

Name: Kim Kaechele

Occupation: Culinary Student, Culinary Institute of America

1) What is your earliest memory of food?

This is less of an actual memory and more of a memory that I’ve formed because it has been told and retold at family gatherings for years. My mother was extremely proud of the fact that I was an adventurous eater, even as a baby. I never fussed over food and always ate everything she put in front of me.  She began to experiment with giving me more bold and challenging flavors, including thai bird chilies that we grew in a window box outside our kitchen. To her amazement, I’d chomp them down and appear to be perfectly happy. A few months later when I started to talk, she realized that maybe I wasn’t quite so adventurous. My first real word came out during my dinner time as she put some fresh picked chilies on my tray and I very loudly and clearly said “No” 

2) Your Mom is a chef/owner of a restaurant ….how did that affect your decision to attend culinary school?

My mom is my personal hero. She is an amazingly talented chef and I am always amazed by her ability to prepare sophisticated dishes that are comforting, yet refined. She has always supported me, but made sure to let me know that the life of a chef and restaurateur is not an easy one. It’s a physically demanding job, one that doesn’t afford you much in the way of free time. Chefs rarely get to spend the holidays with friends and families and are often on the complete opposite schedule than the rest of the world. I am grateful for her wisdom and the fact that she is always honest with me. Her insight and experience will just help me on my path and having her as a resource gives me a distinct advantage, especially for our upcoming class “Cuisines of Asia.” My mom is the type of person who has infinite patience for my endless questions and always humors me, a culinary newbie, as I discover new techniques and ingredients that she’s been using for years.

3) In a prior life you worked in the music industry.  The folklore of the “musician rider” is mythic…..first are all those silly requests true?  If so, what is the strangest thing you have ever seen written into a contract?

Hmmm…this is a great question and I wish that I had kept a running list of these things while I was working as a promoter.  I did sign a NDA while working there and so I wouldn’t be able to give away anything super juicy, but there are a few websites out there that post these things for those that are super curious 😉 One thing that people don’t really think about is that musicians and their crews only request certain things to make their environments feel more like home. The real working bands of this world, the ones that tour relentlessly and often spend weeks and months away from their families and friends. Some venues don’t put a lot of care and thought into the variety of food options that they offer. Could you imagine having to choose between pizza or hot wings every single night for weeks on end? I have a couple of great friends who are “roadies” and one trend that they’ve done over the past few years to ensure that there is some variety in their lives is to break up requests by days of the week. As an example on M, W, F they ask for turkey deli meat, tortillas, and cheddar cheese to stock their bus. Tuesday and Thursday it’s hummus and pita and veggies trays. My friend will joke that it’s a way to create a constant, he’ll wake up in his bunk without a really clear idea of what town or even what state he’s in, but once the bus stock arrives, he’ll at least have a fighting chance of knowing what day it is. 

4) What is one of your favorite dishes?  Why? And where do you get it?

Pho, hands down is one of my favorite dishes. I only really go to one place to get it and that’s a tiny Vietnamese owned café near my parents house. I make it a priority to go there every time I go home. It’s become a tradition for my mom and I to go there and we chat for a few quick minutes before steaming hot bowls arrive to the table and then we doctor up the soups with as many chilies as we can stand (yes, I grew out of the “No” phase of chilies) and slurp them up in blissed out silence. My mom always has jasmine tea and I get cafe sua da – an iced drip coffee sweetened with condensed milk. 

5) For many people, their perfect moment of happiness seems to involve friends, family and food (the “F”s of life)……what meal would you serve to your friends and family in that perfect moment of being?

This is probably the hardest question that you’ve asked so far. There are so many factors to think about, things I’ve learned in school that I didn’t consider before starting my culinary education. I paid attention to seasonality before coming to school, but never gave it as much emphasis as I do now. I wouldn’t be able to create a dish or meal without seeing, touching, smelling, and tasting the products available to me. I like to shop at a small, family run grocery store near me in Napa and one of the things I love most about them is that all of their produce is labeled with a small sign telling me where it was grown. It makes me think twice about buying a product if I see that it came halfway across the globe. Now that I’ve worked a little with volume production, I understand more about how to balance dishes with items that can be prepared in advance or hold well, so that I’d actually be able to sit down with my friends and family instead of being in the kitchen preparing a million things a la minute. My perfect meal would likely be served family style and would have garnishes, salsas, chutneys or condiments so people can play around with flavor profiles and dynamics. I like the idea that each guest can discover how salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami can play off each other. It’s something that we cover in each of our classes, but flavor combinations are endless and I hope that I never get to the point where I feel like I’ve exhausted the possibility of experimenting with flavor. I know whatever I’d prepare, I’d want to serve it on my favorite piece of furniture – an amazing modern glass table that I purchased in Charlottesville that has a built in reversible chrome and black lazy susan. I like the idea of giving the guests dishes that they share with each other and the opportunity to serve themselves or their neighbor, I think it creates conversation and interest which is also accomplished by seating people in the round as opposed to a long rectangular table. 

6) You are now 5 months into cooking school….what is the most difficult thing you have experienced since being in class?

Wow, there are a few things that I can think of…knife skills was particularly challenging for me – Courtney, you know the look I’d get on my face during knife cuts. People describe it to me as a cross between terror, panic and “don’t talk to me because I might kill you.”  I like to call it my “focused” face…I really don’t want to kill anyone, except for maybe the French who decided that round vegetables need to be cut into perfectly even and symmetrical squares and rectangles, I mean WTF? We as a class have had a few challenges – being late with food, setting things on fire, being unprepared for class, but that’s why we are in school, in a safe environment. We may make mistakes, but we always bring the heat and always shoot for a singular goal – to be proud of the food we put out.  

7) I ask this question of all the people profiled.  This blog is about many things but at its core, it’s about living your life to the fullest or living life out loud as I say.  So what does “living life out loud” mean to you?

Living out loud means to me that I’m living my life unafraid. I’m someone who has wrestled with this over the past year in quitting a career that I loved, moving 3,000 miles away and starting over from scratch. Sure we all feel fear and doubt at times, but when you look at the sum; the complete story of your life I want to be able to say that I honestly that I didn’t let fear hold me back. 

Year End Review…..And Looking Forward

So the last day of the decade is before me and as I sit and ponder what 2011 holds for me, let me take a quick stroll down memory lane….

January: I quit my rather stable and well-paying job.  For what? Because I hated it, I hated it with such a passion that I would have rather been intimate with a cactus than continue working there. Actually, I hated my boss…the job was fine.  My boss was wacko.  Sorry Boss Person…you are a good person outside of work, but in the four walls of our office, you were belittling, didn’t know the concept of work/life balance and at times just plain mean.

February – June: I floated around the house doing various projects to occupy that hole formerly occupied by work. I posted everything I did on my Facebook page and my brilliant friends told me that I should start a blog.

July: I started CourtneyOutLoud.wordpress.com.

August: I started culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, CA. On my first day I was harassed by an instructor and heard my neighbors having very loud sex.

September – November: Questioned my decision to attend culinary school all the while writing about all my experiences on the blog.

December: Quit culinary school after the epiphany that I love cooking, but not being a chef.  I love setting a beautiful table, cooking a nice meal and entertaining friends and family. Find me a business model that lets me do the without going $70K into debt thanks to schooling and allows me to pull in what I was making as a marketing manager, and I will gladly pay you $10K for your efforts!

So that brings me to the last day of the year. I typically don’t make new year’s resolutions because I am easily distracted.  I tend to like the new and the pretty rather than the old.  However, 2011 is going to be different from what I did in 2010, for starters I will be working part-time but also because I will be doing something I enjoy, blogging about design and cooking.  So for 2011, here are my top five goals:

2011 Resolutions

5) Continue to build relationships with my family and friends: I tend to be myopic in my scope when it comes to people in my life.  Out of sight many times meant out of mind but the blogging has taught me something different. I have met a vast number of people who I have never interacted with in person……but I think about them often. I care about their lives, their accomplishments and well-being.  If I can care that deeply about a group of people I never met, then I can definitely dig a little deeper and maintain connections with my existing friends and family.

4) Maintain me: No excuses. As a friend of mine says “Don’t let your big ‘but’ get in your way….” I need to take care of my needs on both a physical and intellectual level. On  a physical level, I need to seek out how to get my work out. Simply put, I want to take classes, in particular dance classes that will get me in active and in a group of like-minded people.  I also am going to give concerted effort to the vast array of workout DVDs I have in my collection.  On an intellectual level, I am going to take courses to continue my learning.  I am signing up for two courses through U of C Berkeley’s Extension program in their interior design certificate program.  If design is a passion, then I need to become educated on the topic matter.

3) To know my own self: I make no excuses that I have suffered from bouts of depression and at times anxiety. In 2011, I want to see what I can do to tackle these demons, because I honestly believe that they are a part (not the whole cause) of why I am not excelling to the level I believe I can achieve. So with that said, I am looking to enroll into ongoing counseling to address these issues head on.  I think it will be good for me to look at them head on …… these issues will no longer define my path in 2011.

2) Network: I need to network. I must network. I am going to network. By nature I am shy and the idea of approaching a random stranger and starting a dialogue scares the bejesus out of me. However, I need to do this if I am going to pursue a career in new media and design. I have decided that as part of this goal I need to attend three industry events and get business cards from 10 people at each event. Maybe its a bit ambitious to go from zero to 30, but I need to push.

1) Grow the blog: I love blogging. I honestly do. I love the feedback, sharing and the idea that I below to a greater community.  I started the blog as a way to share my journey through culinary school.  However, the blog helped me find a part of myself that I didn’t know existed.  The blog has given me focus, clarity and a sense of purpose; things I have lacked for a long time.  In 2011, I am looking to bring in more of my marketing and event background into the blog as well as challenge myself to do projects that scare (but also excite) me.

So there you have it…..my year in review as well as my year looking forward.  These last several months have been a whirlwind but I am honored that so many of you have decided to join me on this journey.  Thank you for your support and I am looking forward to sharing many more projects, mishaps, rants and the like in 2011.

Be safe, be well and prosper!

Making It Official…..

I am going to keep this short and sweet.  After some soul-searching and some really hard thinking, I have decided to withdraw from the Culinary Institute of America.  Over the last few months, I struggled to find my niche at the school and the greater surrounding community.  The CIA possess an abundance of opportunities for its students and provides a level of hands-on education that many of classmates found enthralling.

I did not.

However, my time at the school is one I will treasure less for the education and more for the amazing students who I was surrounded with every day.  If anyone is curious where tomorrow’s culinary leaders are being made, take a trip to St. Helena, CA and talk to some of my classmates.  I respect their passion and their drive. I envy their focus and determination and wish I could bottle and drink it myself.

What is next for me? A little down time to lick my wounds, recenter my focus and then get back on the saddle to see what is out there. The Partner has been fantastic in all of this and has been a bedrock of support.  Aside from being cute, he is amazingly wise. As I lamented to him on feeling like a failure because I was considering leaving school, he said “You are not a failure. School isn’t always  learning about what you like. It is also learning about what you don’t like, what your limits are and what is important to you as a whole. Sometimes school isn’t about learning the skill, but about getting to know yourself.” Deep stuff huh?

So with that, I am closing the door on one thing and seeing what lies behind the next. Just like 2010 was full of surprises, 2011 appears to be just as packed full of twists and turns.

The Journey Is At Times More Important Than The Outcome….

Last night’s class opened up a can of “whoop a**” on me.  From the knife cuts (fluted mushrooms and tourne potatoes), the dishes we cooked for presentation (glazed beets, braised cabbage, duchesse potatoes) to kitchen clean-up (we stayed until 9:30pm cleaning) it was a stressful situation (in my opinion).  Over the last three months, I have had highs and lows in my affinity for culinary school and have  seriously doubted everything from my ability as a chef to my aptitude for remember information. My first day in this new course brought back all the feelings of inadequacy I felt the first time I stepped into the kitchen two months ago.

I have a tendency to psych myself out and to over-analyze situations — in essence, I scare the crap out of myself for no good reason.  This self-created anxiety is one of the issues I work with my counselor with because it tends to block progress in my case.  Modern psychology states that small amounts of stress are good for running at peak levels of productivity. I am unique that the thought of stress actually creates unhealthy amounts of stress.  I find it amusing that my classmates are always complimenting me on my calm demeanor in the kitchen.  It isn’t that I am calm at all — on the inside I am doing cartwheels but I know that if I don’t focus and try to control the internal chaos, it will have detrimental effects.  Once rolling, the stress compounds and that is when you find me a sweaty mess talking to myself in the corner or angrily yelling at my classmates over small things.  Neither is a good scenario, hence why I try hard to go in every day with a game plan and really not get too shaken up.

Because of this tendency, I often get lost in the moment.  For some that is a state they aspire to embrace but for myself it’s something I avoid. Many times in my life, I get caught up in the here and now, but never look at the path I am have or the journey as a whole.  As I get older, I am appreciating life as a whole rather than compartments. Yet, somehow this “whole perspective” is not translating to culinary school – this is a journey I need to remember because it has informed me about some much regarding myself. In life we can take many different roads, but those roads we take, well in particular, the road I have taken, I need to pay attention.  Yeah, sometimes we deviate or go off path – but that is the beauty of a well-lived life.

Last night, as I laid in bed exhausted, I thought of the poem by Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken”. I memorized it in elementary school for a contest and still remember it to this day, considering I can’t remember my Mom’s birthday, it’s no small feat.  Little did I know that some 20 plus years later, it would have such new meaning to me……

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Practice Makes Perfect……

My back aches.  My fingers  marred with knicks.  Burns cover my wrists and forearms.  And my shoulders have permanently connected with my ears.  I am nearing the end of my Skills One-Kitchen Basics class and it can officially be said that it has kicked my behind from here to China and back.  This is the first time in my life where I have felt defeated, elated and satisfied in the span of six hours.  Each day starts with lecture in a classroom for about 30 minutes, then we move into the kitchen where we are placed into groups to complete a set of assignments dealing with stocks.  From there, we complete our knife cut drills and proceed into our individual work that we present to the Chef for a grade.

I have been very upfront that by nature nervous when it comes to my kitchen skills.  From the very  beginning, I have doubted whether I could hang with the “big dogs” but I am happy to say that for the most part I have held my own.  While I may not be a “natural” in the kitchen, I have worked diligently on my knife cuts, slowly raising my scores and increasing my speed to where I am able to cut several cups of julienne, diced, brunoise and minced vegetables in under 40 minutes.  To understand where I came from, I started three weeks ago barely  able to cut a half cup of three vegetables in an hour.  I am far from proficient and am still in awe of certain members of my class who sail through these knife trays with time to spare.  Honestly, one person in particular who I will call “Milo” has amazing knife skills.  His cuts are precision and simply beautiful to look at – he is my inspiration and where I aspire to raise my level.  However, he is never 100% pleased with his scores and has on several occasions questioned the Chef on why he did not get a perfect “10”.  I respect that he believes in his work to the degree that he will argue its validity.  I, on the other hand, am normally just quite proud to finish all my cuts and to not have lost a finger.

If you read the blog often, you may have noticed that I have posted several inspirational quotes in the last few weeks.  I find that these quotes are almost mantras that I say in my head as I am doing my knife cuts and assignments.  The above quote from Aristotle is profound in its depth of meaning and simplicity.  I have seen the fruits of my hard work.  I  have challenged and pushed myself to do better.  When I have not pushed myself to the point where I thought I  could not go, I did not achieve superior results.  I now know that I am stronger than I was yesterday, yet I still have more to go.

I have tried hard not to compare myself with my classmates because their journey is different from my own.  The barometer I set to measure my success needs to be based on my own goals and mandates.  I won’t fool myself into thinking that my work is stellar, but I know my attitude towards my work exceeds my own expectations.  I have found a zen and contentment that I believe comes from putting it all out on the table every day and holding nothing back.  It’s exhausting and draining, but then I never assumed culinary school would be anything less.

Recipe: Mushroom & Soft-Cooked Egg Salad with Hollandaise

I am currently taking the Skills One course at school which consists primarily of learning “cooking fundamentals” ranging from thickeners, stocks, grand sauces and their derivatives.  The class also has the dreaded knife cut demo trays where each student gets a variety of vegetables that s/he must fabricate into different classical cuts within a time frame.  Let’s just say that of the 9 items on my tray the first day, only 4 got done in the hour and a half they gave us.  Thankfully, I have sped up  since then and yesterday received my first 9.5 out of 10 on one of my cuts!

 

This is my life for 40-50 minutes every day.....jealous?

What  I am finding most interesting in the course are the sauces, which is something that I always avoided in my home cooking as they scared me.  After a solid week of them, I have come to realize they are not that mysterious or difficult, just a bit time-consuming.  However, the October issue of Sunset Magazine has a simple and delicious recipe for a mushroom salad using a quick hollandaise sauce.  I think it would make the perfect brunch salad on a weekend as it combines all the elements of a brunch menu onto one plate.

Enjoy!

Mushroom & Soft-Cooked Egg Salad with Hollandaise

Serves: 4

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

4 large eggs

3 teaspoons melted buttered

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

8 ounces cremini mushrooms, stems removed and quartered

4 ounces each of chanterelle and oyster mushrooms, cut into 1 inch pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup crème fraîche

1 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

pepper

About 6 cups watercress with stems removed

Instructions:

– Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil.  Using a slotted spoon, gentle submerge eggs into water.  Simmer 5 minutes.  As the eggs cook, prepare a cold water bath for eggs.  When eggs are completed cooking, carefully immerse them in cold water bath.

– Heat 1 teaspoon of butter with the oil in a 12 inch frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add mushrooms and sauté until browned, about 8 minute, then season with salt.

– Whisk together crème fraîche ,mustard and lemon juice with zest in a small bowl.  Gradually whisk in the remaining 2 teaspoons of butter to make the hollandaise sauce.

– Divide watercress among plates.  Top with warm mushrooms, then drizzle with hollandaise.  Crack an end of each egg and peel a quarter of the shell.  Using a spoon, carefully loosen eggs from their shells and scoop onto salad.

– Season to taste with pepper and salt.