Captivated by a Squash Blossom?

Markets of fresh local produce are completely captivating. And a sunny Colorado Saturday piled high with greens and seedlings, flowers and sprouts was definitely welcomed after what my neighbor has wittingly dubbed “Cake Week 2012.”

And I’ve heard rumors that he’s made quite an incredible cake this week himself, so I’m feeling lucky to be living where I do. And I could probably squeeze in one more bit of cake this week. You know, if I had to.

But to be honest, a market can lure me in no matter what I’ve been eating. Or what else I probably should be doing.

Last October, I spent an entire day wandering through Mercato Centrale– a mind bogglingly huge and well-stocked farmers’ market in the center of Florence, Italy. As the first time I’d really traveled anywhere on my own, I had the leisure to do exactly what I wanted. And change my mind on a whim without consequence.

I’d planned to take a quick stroll through the market and consume most of the day in the Uffizi Gallery, as any self-respecting cultured visitor on her first trip to Florence should.

But I was fascinated in the market by whole chickens with their talons stiffly and eerily waving from the cold cases. All parts of cows and pigs were available to turn into dinner- snouts, tails, organs, tongues, ears, tripe.

Cheeses made from sheep, cows and goats from farms I’d ridden by on my bicycle just two days earlier were neatly stacked around a hanging scale. Red currants, plump and fresh, were still lined up like little soldiers on their tiny branches. Heirloom varieties of vegetables and fruits so unique I couldn’t even place them all were around every corner. Squashes and zucchinis still had the blossoms attached. Incredible.

I never made it to the Uffizi. I stayed at the market that day until it closed. And I left with a mildly unsettling confusion. And cheese, and oils and fruits. But I also left knowing something in me had changed. For the first time in far too long, I’d unconsciously chosen to do what captivated me instead of what I thought I should be doing.

So I’m a different person because of a market. Yesterday as I bought arugula for dinner and red onion starters for a few patio pots, I couldn’t help but also leave with a reminder to do what captivates. And somehow, I think everything else will fall into place~

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I tried to ‘mise en place’ my Sunday

Today was a bit of an experiment of sorts. You see, if you’ve gotten the impression- either from knowing me in person or from journeying with Terrified Tastebud- that I’m meticulously organized, detail-oriented, goal-driven… you’re mostly right. Often for better; occasionally for worse. However, if you envision me as the epitome of efficiency and balance in the kitchen or life in general, then you’re dead wrong.

In the kitchen, the French term mise en place translates into “everything in place” or “put in place” and it refers to all the preparation and organization that must be achieved before actual production can begin. Picture your favorite Food Network set with everything imaginable already measured, diced, washed, trimmed… whisk right under the counter just where and when you need it. You get the idea.

first buds on my Urban Columnar Tangy Green apple tree

So why not try that with any random day? Today began with a tease of intermittent sunshine- hence photos of my patio flowers- that quickly turned into a bipolar mix of rain and hail, snow, sleet… and more sunshine.

Knowing this impending forecast, I organized a productive day of writing, studying for my every-Monday exam, baking bread for a week of breakfasts, revamping my budget (happy tax day, by the way), organizing the towering stack of mail/recipes/photos that’s been loing on my bar, catching up on emails… all those things that would be nice to accomplish on a rainy day.

dwarf sugar peas, happy in the morning sunshine

And the verdict at the end of the day? About three-fourths of it has been completed… fairly close to what I’m guessing is average for me. Perhaps I’ll try to be more specific with my mise en place next time- include time frames for each item instead of just a priority order. Organization has markedly improved my work in the kitchen, so I’m not quite ready to give up on mise-ing the rest of my life just yet. Maybe I’ll try to mise en place my Sunday again soon.

single red tulip that made its way trough my ground cover

But for the rest of tonight, I’ll enjoy the single red tulip I rescued from the hail as I study.

Weekend food review

Friday’s menu at school kick-started a weekend that proved to be laden with food in every conceivable manner. We made rack of lamb au jus over a bed of herbed spaetzle served with a medley of seasonal vegetables; gnocchi in roasted garlic creme with gorgonzola and crispy leeks; vichyssoise- a chilled potato leek soup; and pear blackberry gelato as well as candied ginger lime sorbet.

Saturday morning marked the sundress-and-flip-flop welcomed first Farmers Market of the season in Boulder. Not a plethora of produce yet- as to be expected for Colorado April- but enough to have me contemplating if my patio could possibly hold one more vegetable tucked in a terra cotta pot.

By noon Saturday I’d made my way into the kitchen of Frasca Food and Wine for an ‘observation’ shift. I was hoping to spend a few weeks working with this incredibly talented team again later in the Spring, so an introduction to how they operate was definitely in order.

I spent thirteen hours Saturday peeling, chopping… and watching the magic happen in this highly acclaimed kitchen. The impeccably fresh produce, sustainably sourced meats and fish, pasta being hand made, baguettes taking their turns in the ovens… all under the orchestration of world renowned chefs and sommelier.

My external composure was calm- I think- but inside I was definitely terrified. Describing the intricacies of the kitchen, the food and the people would warrant another quite entertaining post altogether. And for some reason- I won’t ask; I’ll just be grateful- they are letting me come back to join them for my internship in May/June. Quite thankful.

Sunday turned out to be a complete treat and highlight of an already food forward weekend. A fellow blogger and his wife invited me to join them for Easter dinner (see some of his pics of dinner here). This was no ordinary Easter meal: it was a multi-course Italian feast. Literally. It took us six wonderful hours to eat and drink our way through. And the company even overshadowed the food and wine. When my cheeks hurt from laughing as much as my belly hurts from eating, that’s a win.

Happy late Easter, and here’s to many wins and even more gratefuls~

Love and Passion… and BBQ Ribs

Photos of today’s meal will be the visual entertainment as I write about something even more fabulous than tender BBQ ribs. Or fresh berries. Our focus in class this week is regional American cuisine. New Orleans stole the spotlight yesterday through well-executed blackened catfish, shrimp étouffée, grits with sweet corn and chili purée, collard greens and pecan pie with bourbon caramel sauce… would have made any true Cajun proud.

And today explored regional barbecue variations- along with spicy aioli and onion sliders, classic grandma’s meatloaf, and corn with poblanos. It was wonderful. But the truly incredible moment of the day wasn’t a bite of anything.

It was simply getting to read a small string of emails. Emails that I would never normally even know existed. The content was simple- someone has decided to make a complete career change and join our school… because he was inspired by this blog to do what he loves.

Is there anything in life more fulfilling than inspiring a positive change? Even just one change in one other human being? It’s hard for me to imagine anything better.

I loved food before I began Culinary Training. Really loved it. I wrote this in my entrance essay and meant every word of it:

“…I absolutely love food! Everything about it. I want to grow it, prepare it, plate it, stage and photograph it, serve it, eat it, write about it, market it… I am finally exactly where I want to be…” 

And it is true today one million fold. I had absolutely no idea it could be possible to know- genuinely know– that I am doing exactly what I’m supped to do. And as the tomorrows pass, details will inevitably change. Opportunities will arise, and doors will close. Challenges will come and go. As overused as the words love and passion can be, I can’t seem to find a better substitute. There’s nothing greater in life than having love and passion for your everyday. You simply can’t resist sharing it with the world.

I hope this can help inspire. Maybe it only inspired you to barbecue some ribs. That’s a start. But while the grill’s heating, pause to realize what brings you passion. Commit to acknowledge that in some way. Every day.

Cheers… to love and passion~

Season of Change

Something about the first few warm, sunny days heralding the arrival of Spring lends a bit more gratefulness than what I consider my respectable baseline. As far as I can remember, this has happened every year.

And it’s been a relief to find this Spring is turning out to be no exception. It has been a year of so many changes- location, career, relationship- and a winter that carried its share of bitter cold. But new growth seems to be sprouting all around me, and somehow it seems to be taking me with it.

With yet another uncharacteristically early but beautiful weekend in Colorado, I’ve spent most of my time outdoors. I realize I’m fortunate to live surrounded by amazing landscapes. And I wake each day entering a kitchen and a new career that I genuinely love in a way that I didn’t think possible.

New opportunities are starting to bring encouragement that I may be leaning toward the preferable side of that fine line between brave and foolish. I’ll be working at Boulder’s Farmers Market this season with incredible outlets to educate people about sustainable living and meet many others who know so much more than I do. And I’m thrilled to be spending time in the kitchen this summer with some of the most talented chefs and sommeliers in the country.

So I can do nothing but return to grateful, and hope that a grateful season of change will be yours as well.