Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Day to Remember...

It's been a long week and, thankfully, the holiday weekend is here. I'm so looking forward to having a day off, sleeping in and spending time with my family and friends. I hope all of you have have a great weekend too and have some time to spend with the ones you love, enjoying the summer-like weather. (And don't forget - PLEASE be safe and responsible)

At some point during what will hopefully be a fun and relaxing weekend, I encourage all of you to take a little time to remember the reason why we celebrate Memorial Day. I can only speak for myself, but I too often think of Memorial Day as a day off from work or the unofficial start of summer or a great time to barbecue with friends, and the real meaning of the holiday gets lost.

Memorial Day is truly a time to remember and honor all of the men and women who've died defending the freedoms we so often take for granted. Maybe we could all light a candle, visit a war memorial, or take a moment to just say thank you. (you all know that, as far as I'm concerned, those who've passed on are still with us in some form - so they will hear you) And please say a prayer for all of those who've lost family members or friends serving in our military, so they can feel comforted and know their loved ones will never be forgotten.

Thank you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thank you for your support...

I'm sure that those of you who came here from That's Church know what an overwhelming response of support the Treehouse has received in the past few hours. I thank you all for speaking out and allowing yourselves to be heard.

I have personally spoken with Doug Shields and we have opened up the lines of communication to try to move forward in a positive way, meaning everyone will get to say what they need to say and all sides of the story will be heard. That's all I've ever wanted - to be positive, allow everyone to voice their opinions and to do what's best for EVERYONE - and I mean that. So I'm happy to say that it looks like that will happen. It may not have happened without all of you so again, THANK YOU!!!

Additionally, the Parks Conservancy has issued a statement I'd like to make you aware of. Please take a moment to check it out.

I promise to keep you updated on any new developments but now have to go write a paper on The Blue Foot Chicken - did you know a salmonella-free chicken exists that can be used for sushi? Ewwww is all I have to say about that.

I know I keep repeating myself, and the words seem so inadequate, but thank you again! Pittsburghers are the best!!!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Kate and Peter's Treehouse - the good news and the maybe not-so-good news...

Because I tend to be an optimist I will give you the good news first. We have received some design proposals (by we I mean me, the Parks Conservancy and some other awesome people who have agreed to help with this project) and have selected some design teams to interview. This is pretty exciting - we've seen some examples of what these creative landscape architects and artists can do and soon they'll be able to tell us how they plan to make Kate and Peter's Treehouse the coolest treehouse ever!

And because I want you to feel really good before I tell you the not-so-good news, I'll tell you that the amount of money donated to this project continues to grow - a fact that constantly overwhelms me with people's kindness and generosity. Recently, while looking over my records of donations, I figured out that we've received donations from almost 700 individuals and businesses from 30 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and Australia. That's pretty darn amazing!

(By the way, some of you have emailed me and requested information on how to donate online. You can click on Kate and Peter's Picture where it says "Kate and Peter's Treehouse" on the left side of my blog or you can click HERE. Be sure to designate that you're donating to Kate and Peter's Treehouse. Thank you so much for your interest and for you donations!)

So here it is, the not-so-good news:

It seems as though there are some people who don't want this treehouse to be built in the part of Frick Park we have been considering. This certainly isn't the worst news in the world, nor is it any sort of deal-breaker or project-stopper, but it is concerning. To me, it's confusing and disheartening.

I will certainly admit to the fact that I am naive and tend to see the world through rose-colored glasses, despite all the stuff life has thrown at me, but it never occurred to me that people might not want Kate and Peter's Treehouse. Since hearing this news I've had to take a couple of steps back and consider why people might not want a play space for kids in their neighborhood and if I'm just being selfish by wanting to build it there. At this point I don't know the answers to these questions, but i do know that it's certainly not all about me.

The reason I first thought of this area of Frick Park, which is known as Turtle Park - located in Regent Square next to the site of the Environmental Charter School, is because my kids really enjoyed playing there so it has a special significance to me. It's a very accessible part of the park, located in a neighborhood with a lot of kids. Kate and Peter's Treehouse would provide a state-of-the-art, educational play space for neighborhood kids, school students and other community members.

Right now there is a picnic table, a couple of benches, a big grassy area and a large turtle (which is why it's called Turtle Park). I walk through Turtle Park all the time and I know lots of folks in the neighborhood use that grassy area for picnics or pick-up football games so I certainly wouldn't want to change that space. However, behind the turtle is a grove of trees which, in my opinion, would be a great place for kids to run and climb and play in the trees. But again, my opinion is not the only one that counts.

I haven't heard directly from any of the people who oppose Kate and Peter's Treehouse, but I'd definitely like to understand their concerns. The last thing I want to do is disrupt people's lives unnecessarily or do something detrimental to their neighborhood. What is confusing to me is that I thought playgrounds and play spaces raised property values and benefited nearby residents, but maybe I'm wrong.

The most important thing now is that peoples voices be heard. Obviously, hundreds of people support this project. And now it is apparent that some people oppose it. It is vital that both sides speak out so we can figure out if this location is the best place for the Treehouse or if it would be better to build it somewhere else.

There will be a presentation and question and answer session at the Regent Square Civic Association meeting on Monday, June 7 at 6pm at the Wilkins School Community Center. This will be a great opportunity for people to voice their support or opposition about Kate and Peter's Treehouse. If those of you who live in Pittsburgh and/or use Pittsburgh Parks feel strongly about this project and can get there, I would love to see you at this meeting!

If you can't make it to the meeting, but want your voice to be heard you can Contact Doug Shields, the City Councilman whose District includes this part of Regent Square, at 412 255-8965.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

And now I feel like this...

The research paper is done (hallelujah!), but after much procrastination I had to resort to one of my old college "study habits" to finish it. I wrote until midnight, at which time I could no longer see straight or think clearly so I went to bed. I got up at 3:30am to finish writing and finished at EXACTLY 6:30am when it was time to leave my house and drive to school.

I was hoping I wouldn't have to resort to such tactics because now I'm older and wiser(?), but I did. And now that I am most definitely older, I don't bounce back as easily. So I'm going to take a very long nap so I can be prepared for another day in the kitchen tomorrow. And I have been warned - we will be tournéeing vegetables! Ugh!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

This is how I feel...

...about writing research papers:

I do feel like I'm turning into quite the whiner, but I'm gonna whine anyway.

I have a six page (minimum) research paper due tomorrow. I have to write about the narrow topics of coffee, tea and water and their importance in the food industry. How do I even attempt to do that in six pages?!! I could write six hundred pages on coffee alone and how important it is in my life and in the lives of all of my loved ones and, hell, in the lives of all of the people of the world, but who has time for that? So six pages it is.

I didn't realize when I started culinary school that I'd have to write papers. I did enough of that in college and grad school, thank you very much. I'm sure somehow it's good for me and I should just shut up and write already, but I wanted to share my frustration and angst with all of you.

AND I am the queen of all procrastinators - if there is a way to procrastinate, I will find it. Now I have a new one: blogging!

On that note I'm going to attempt to write a few more paragraphs before my next scheduled procrastination interlude. Thanks for listening, I feel better now.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

breakfast is served...

For those of you who love breakfast like I do, here are some pictures from yesterday's breakfast buffet. No complaints this time, it was a lot of fun.

Garden frittata and home fries:

Pancakes, french toast, crepes and a tower of yogurt granola parfaits (which literally had a tablespoon of yogurt and close to a cup of whipped cream):

As fun as it was, I do have to tell you that not everything went smoothly.

I was in charge of making Quiche Lorraine and Huevos Rancheros. We were instructed to roll out the dough for the quiche then blind bake it (without any filling) for a few minutes to set the crust. I rolled it out once, put it in pie pans and watched as the dough shrank so much it fell back into the pans. I took it out, re-rolled it leaving a pretty significant amount of dough hanging over the edges of the pans and popped it in the oven. That didn't work either. It still shrank and slid back into the pans. I was left with oblong discs of pie dough, not suitable for quiche.

I tried again. This time I decided to forgo the blind baking and just fill the raw dough with the quiche custard - ensuring there would be no way for the crust to shrink back into the pan again. As you can see...the crust did not cooperate. Oh well, it tasted pretty good. And now I'm on a mission to try to create the perfect quiche.

After my crust catastrophe it was time for the Huevos Rancheros. I've never made this before, in fact I'm not even sure I've ever eaten it, so I had no idea what I was doing. We didn't have a recipe so my instructor said "go find some veggies in the fridge and make some chili" as he handed me two cans of beans.

Let me explain something to you. I don't make anything without a recipe. Ever. This is why I'm in culinary school. So the instruction "go make chili" doesn't help me much.

I started looking frantically through my textbook for a recipe. (if there's one thing I've learned so far, it's that you have to work quickly) A couple of minutes later my instructor came back and said, "What are you looking for?" I looked at him and said, "a recipe for chili - I have no idea how to just make chili". He chuckled and said "just sweat some onions and garlic, add a little stock, throw in a couple tomatoes concasse (tomatoes that have been blanched, shocked, peeled and seeded) and here's some turkey you can add. We'll season it later."

Alrighty then. That helps, but still - no recipe. How much of each thing? How long do I cook it? In what order do I add the ingredients? Oh, and I'll go get on that tomato concasse business, but this is gonna take awhile!

It actually wasn't so difficult once I just started chopping and cooking. And it turned out pretty well. And, most importantly, it helped me get over my fear of cooking without a recipe. When the chili was complete, we served it on top of chive scrambled eggs and voila - Huevos Rancheros. (sorry, I was so caught up in the non-recipe stress I forgot to take a picture)

Next week we're on to whole chickens. I have no idea what we'll be doing with them but I'll be sure to let you know.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

You want me to do WHAT to a potato?

I'm in week 6 of my first quarter of culinary school and I've learned so much already, in such a short period of time.

I've learned how to chop, dice, mince, julienne, battonet and create a bunch of other crazy shapes with foods.

I've learned how to make mayonnaise, then turn that into salad dressing and make salads look nice and appetizing.

I've learned how to make potatoes 300 different ways (ok, I'm exaggerating a little, but not much). Here are some Dutchess Potatoes which are mashed potatoes mixed with egg yolks, piped into little "potato towers" then baked until they're golden brown. Pretty yummy.

I also piped some garlic mashed potatoes into cute little spirals which was fun:

All was good, enjoyable, educational and tasty...until we attempted to tournée a potato. Tournée is a term for a type of cut. For example, a battonet is something cut 1/4" by 1/4" by 2". A julienne is 1/8" by 1/8" by 2". These are simple, concise geometric shapes. While it may be challenging to be consistent, it's at least possible.

A tournée is a football shape, 2" long with flat ends and 7 equal sides. I mean, seriously?! 7 EQUAL SIDES? Are you kidding me? Who comes up with this stuff? I could maybe attempt 8 sides, but 7?

Why? I just want to know why!

After some discussion with my classmates, we came to the consensus that someone somewhere had smoked a little too much of something and had some potatoes and a knife on hand. He (or she, though I'm guessing it was a he) decided it would be fun to make little footballs. And now the tournée is done with all kinds of vegetables in high-end restaurants. In my humble opinion, the vegetables don't taste any better that way so when I become a personal chef I will not be preparing them that way. Just sayin.

Our instructor demonstrated the tournée and made it look easy so I thought "maybe it's not as difficult as it sounds". Wrong. It is nearly impossible, from what I can tell. Here are my first two attempts:

They definitely do not have 7 equal sides.

A little later (the word little is used loosely):

And after 3 hours. I kid you not, it really took me that long:

My tournéeing technique improved, but not to the point where I'd like to try it again, ever. And as far as I know I don't have to, at least not anytime soon.

This week is breakfast week which, I have to say, is pretty enjoyable. Today our class learned to make eggs a bazillion different ways - Benedict, over-medium, french omelettes, etc. Tomorrow we'll be making a breakfast buffet including pancakes, french toast, crepes, granola parfaits, more eggs and home fries...for starters. And no tournéeing! Can't wait!!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Just for today...

I've had a bunch of school-related things I've wanted to write about but literally have not had a minute to sit down and write them, until now. And now I realize that it's Mother's Day and I don't feel like they're all that important. I'll save them for another day.

Unfortunately, I don't have much to say about Mother's Day except that I know a lot of real great moms, including my own, who deserve to be appreciated and have a fabulous day.

Last year Mother's Day was sad because it was the first one I spent without my kids. I think this year may be even more sad because I feel so far removed from being a mother.

I know I will always be a mom and can always call myself a mom, but I don't get to do mom things anymore. So while I still have the "title" Mom, I no longer have a role as a mom, at least not in any practical way. I hate that.

Just for today I'm going back to bed to cry and be sad and feel sorry for myself (and hopefully sleep so the day goes by faster). But I promise that tomorrow I will get out of bed and try to have a better day. Really, I will.

And while I'm in bed feeling sad, please don't doubt for one second that I will also be feeling grateful that I've had the chance to be a mom at all...if there is one thing that will ALWAYS outweigh my sadness it is how fortunate I feel to have been Kate and Peter's mama for any length of time.

I sincerely wish a Happy Mother's Day to all the other moms out there - to those who are with their children today and to those who, for whatever reason, are not.