Give Me Sleep!

Deplorable… I skipped an entire month. However, this time I’ve been having a life. Novel concept, right?

Since the last time I wrote, I’ve visited the littles (and their parents), spent four days in Phoenix on business, flew home to Colorado for a weekend and to celebrate the peanut’s first birthday, camped at Chris and Joanne’s for a weekend, spent a weekend cooking (scratch made chicken noodle soup, chicken chimichangas, chicken tortilla soup, and almond-crusted chicken–all packed up for lunches and dinners to be consumed over the next two weeks), and worked no more than forty-five hours a week. I know! Right?! Forty-five hours a week? Actually, I’ve even pulled a 40-hour work week. More novel concepts…

Suffice it to say, I’m loving the new job. And the lack of a jangling telephone on my desk. I have a phone on my desk, but it rings only about one time a day. AWE-SOME!

In the midst of all of this, I have a sneaking suspicion my body has decided it’s no longer in peril and allowed to relax… after two years of extreme stress and sleep deprivation. I start yawning at 4:00 p.m. and am ready to go to sleep around 7:30 p.m. every night. I stretch it out a bit longer because I don’t relish waking at 2:00 a.m.–sans alarm clock. No bueno. But I have been sleeping like a champ!

In between the traveling and sleeping, I’ve been chipping away at my audacious movie list. There haven’t been any new additions, so here goes the list:

  • 42
  • 50 to 1
  • American Sniper
  • Argo
  • The Best of Me
  • The Best of Men (not a redundancy with a typo, it’s a real movie)
  • Black or White
  • The Book Thief
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Far from the Madding Crowd
  • The Final Season
  • The Flying Scotsman
  • Foxcatcher
  • Fury
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Hundred-Foot Journey
  • The Imitation Game
  • Inside Out
  • Into the Woods
  • Invictus
  • John Wick
  • The Judge
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Leatherheads
  • Madison
  • Maleficent
  • McFarland, USA
  • The Mighty Macs
  • Million Dollar Arm
  • The Monuments Men
  • Philomena
  • Spare Parts
  • Taken 3
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Trouble with the Curve
  • Unbroken
  • United
  • We Bought a Zoo
  • When in Rome
  • When the Game Stands Tall
  • The Wolverine
  • Woman in Gold

If not for the travel, I would’ve made it further through this list, but I’m okay with my current status. And the combination of films is interesting, to say the least.

I watched Far From the Madding Crowd just this evening. Based on a Thomas Hardy novel, it stars Carey Mulligan as the primary protagonist, Bathsheba Everdeen. Poor thing, her folks died before she could find out why they christened her with such a handle. Bathsheba, not Carey. The film is a period peace and I enjoyed it… aside from the whole marrying-the-wrong-guy thing. You know, she married a pinhead who has honed the skills of jackassery while being unknowingly in love with a noble, humble fellow. Oops. Ms. Mulligan was completely believable in the part, as were the various gentlemen cast in the film.

Taking a broad turn, I also saw Foxcatcher. That is one seriously eery and disturbing film. First, it’s based on the true story of gold medal freestyle wrestlers for the United States, Dave and Mark Schultz, and the murder of the elder brother, Dave, by billionaire John DuPont. What makes the film eerier is that my dad sold a VW bus to Mark, prior to Dave’s murder. I grew up around freestyle wrestlers. Olympic wrestlers. Dave and Mark were friends and teammates of a dear family friend. A friend who is a beloved member of my honorary family. I’ve heard about the Schultz brothers every so often for all of my life. I distinctly remember DuPont’s murder of Dave and his attempts to barricade himself in his mansion in January of 1996. Weirdly, I think of it whenever I happen to see Jeff Gordon’s car in a NASCAR race (no, I don’t make it a point to watch NASCAR, but Gordon used to have the prettiest car on the track… the DuPont car… yes, I called the car pretty… I went there). Watching DuPont psychologically devolve was disturbing.

I also saw John Wick. I know, I know… you’ve never heard of this film. Well, take Sam Mendes’ masterful Road to Perdition (it starred Tom Hanks, Paul Newman (he was robbed of an Oscar!), Jude Law, and Daniel Craig (he wasn’t very James Bond-y… he’s pretty despicable!)) and recast it with Keanu Reeves in 2014. Yeah… about that. Just watch Road to Perdition. The acting will be far superior and the story line a bit more plausible. A bit.

Million Dollar Arm is the next film in the based-on-a-true-story-Disney-sports movies. A sports agent, J.B. Bernstein, got the crazy idea to run a contest in India wherein cricket players were scouted for potential as Major League Baseball pitchers. It ended up successfully finding two gentlemen with skills. As expected, I enjoyed it. Invincible, MiracleRemember the Titans, and The Rookie are better, though.

Trouble with the Curve is a film I’ve seen before and love. Saw it again. Still love it. It has a great story line involving the dysfunctional relationship between an aging baseball scout and his highly successful attorney daughter, played by Amy Adams. John Goodman and Justin Timberlake have additional rolls of import in the film. It’s very well acted, humorous, poignant, serious, and very baseball-y!

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I The most impressive film of the group is Woman in Gold. Starring Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Jonathan Pryce, Frances O’Conner, and Elizabeth McGovern, it is the true story of a Holocaust survivor who, with her husband, fled Germany with literally the clothes on her back. They ended up in Pasadena, California. Upon the death of her sister, Ms. Altmann decided to reclaim a group of Gustave Klimt paintings owned by her family prior to their illegal seizure by the Nazis. Ryan Reynolds plays attorney Randy Schoenberg, whose family also fled the Nazis and have known Maria’s family for four generations; he represented her throughout the process. The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was the most impressive of the Klimt paintings, and a portrait of Ms. Altmann’s beloved aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer. The painting is also referred to as the Woman in Gold, thus the movie’s title, and was one of the most famous of Klimt’s works even prior to the case. And a bit of trivia, Klimt was a dear family friend. The film was absolutely fantastic. Fan-tas-tic. Well acted, compelling, true. <sigh> I bawled like a baby at the end of the film. Like. A. Baby.

So there you have it… progress.

And now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to sleep.

A Sad Precedent

I’m fairly certain this is the longest stretch my blog has ever gone without an entry. Over a month. It’s very sad. (This from the person who swore off journaling or diarying (just pretend it’s a word) from an early age.)

In my defense, I worked three consecutive weeks of 13- and 14-hour days at the office. It wasn’t pretty, friends. I was grumpy, exhausted, and short-tempered. My friends, Chris and Joanne, rescued me after the third week of 60+ hours in the office. Joanne had called me on a Friday afternoon to talk about some other stuff and then said, “Do you need to come to our house so you don’t go to the office tomorrow?” Tomorrow was Saturday. My answer was quite succinct, “Yes.” Two weekends later, I was back at their house. Granted, it was to celebrate the thirteenth birthday of my eldest niece, but I came over Friday night and left late Sunday night. Because that’s how we roll.

I was talking to another of my bestests on the way to their house that afternoon. Jackie and I were catching up and I was telling her that as much as I’d love to be married with kids, I had realized recently that the Lord has singularly blessed me. He has given me friends who consider me family. I can arrive at their house and not pretend that everything is peachy keen or that I’m not exhausted. They tease me, I tease back. They love on me, I love back. Being single is a challenge because you don’t always have someone to “do” life with. But I have been so blessed because I have people in my life that allow me to “do” life with them. I join theirs and they join mine. They are surrogates, of a sort, but when I tell you that I love them like family, I’m as serious as a heart attack.

And it’s not just Chris, Joanne, and the girls… all of my closest friends are cut from a similar cloth. This is one of the many reasons I’m so blessed.

Once I stopped trying to kill myself, I started back in on my movie watching… here’s the list as it currently stands:

  • 42
  • 50 to 1
  • American Sniper
  • Argo
  • The Best of Me
  • The Best of Men (not a redundancy with a typo, it’s a real movie)
  • Black or White
  • The Book Thief
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Far from the Madding Crowd
  • The Final Season
  • The Flying Scotsman
  • Foxcatcher
  • Fury
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Hundred-Foot Journey
  • The Imitation Game
  • Inside Out
  • Into the Woods
  • Invictus
  • John Wick
  • The Judge
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Leatherheads
  • Madison
  • Maleficent
  • McFarland, USA
  • The Mighty Macs
  • Million Dollar Arm
  • The Monuments Men
  • Philomena
  • Spare Parts
  • Taken 3
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Trouble with the Curve
  • Unbroken
  • United
  • We Bought a Zoo
  • When in Rome
  • When the Game Stands Tall
  • The Wolverine
  • Woman in Gold

As I’ve said from the gitgo, this list is a work in progress. I’m so far behind on movie watching that I’m figuring out more movies I’d like to see as I go along. Now, to be clear, I do have a couple of movies I have seen before that are on the list… The Final Season, Leatherheads, Invictus, The Monuments Men, Trouble with the Curve, We Bought a Zoo, and When in Rome. However, I’ve only seen them once or so long ago that I’d like to see them again.

So here’s my opinions on the new batch of films I finished:

Black or White is interesting. The concept of a biracial custody battle involving a successful, single, black grandmother with a blind spot involving her son, and an alcoholic, widower, white grandfather accustomed to a life of privilege is certainly something that can quickly go off the rails. Octavia Spencer is absolutely fantastic. She takes no prisoners. As one might expect of such a film, everything works out in the end…

The Final Season is the true story of a high school baseball program in small town Iowa that won their state championship year after year, sending a few players to the pros… and its final season. The school board voted to combine their schools with a larger district, thereby killing their programs. The movie is about their final season playing ball for their local high school. It’s a pretty incredible story. Then again, I’m a sucker for a based-on-a-true-story-sports-movie. Totally. I admit it. It was a passion project for Sean Astin and I think he should be proud.

The Flying Scotsman is a little bitty film that I stumbled over. Another true story. Another sports-related true story. Like I said… sucker. Graeme Obree is a Scottish cyclist and he has a story that is equal parts inspiring and tragic. Afflicted with bipolar disorder and an engineering genius where cycling is concerned, he pioneered many concepts in the sport and twice broke the world record for the longest distance cycled in an hour by a single person. Along the way, he has attempted to take his life on multiple occasions and been shunned by the governing body of cycling, Union Cycliste Internationale. They took exception to the remarkable changes in performance times from his newly designed bikes… think Speedo’s NASA super suit that had swimmers going body lengths faster than they had previously, shattering world records left, right, and center. The now-banned super suit.

One of my new favorite films is The One-Hundred Foot Journey. I absolutely adore this film. It’s charming. Indian culture and cuisine crash headfirst into a classic French, Michelin 1-star fine-dining restaurant. Life and humor ensue. And should I ever open a restaurant, I’m hiring this fictitious family to manage the marketing, advertising, and public relations. They are so funny! And highly effective. I finally returned the Blu-ray to Netflix. After almost of month of watching it. Yes, I binge-watched the same film over and over.

I have wanted to see The Imitation Game since the first time I saw a trailer… I mean, come on! First, Benedict Cumberbatch. Second, true story. Third, Benedict Cumberbatch. Fourth, World War II true story. Fifth, Benedict Cumberbatch. Did I mention Benedict Cumberbatch? Oh, well… Benedict Cumberbatch. Yes, I have a well-documented celebrity crush on the man. The good news is I’m not a crazy nutball… I wish him all the happiness and success in his marriage and raising a family. I just enjoy his work and think he’s incredibly compelling on the screen. So I saw it… now, as you can see from the list, I haven’t yet seen The Theory of Everything so for the moment I’m completely shocked that Benedict didn’t nail the Oscar for Best Actor. (I retain the right to retract this opinion after I see Eddie Redmayne in TTOE.) But Benedict was that good. There’s a line in the movie that I absolutely love… “Sometimes it’s the very people who no one imagines anything of, who do the things no one can imagine.” That’s something to remember and live by…

I watched McFarland, USA this morning… refer to my aforementioned enjoyment of based-on-a-true-story-sports-films. I’ve seen most of the films produced by the guys who made this one. You may have as well… The Rookie, Miracle, Invincible, Secretariat, Million Dollar Arm. These guys found the formula and have cranked out a number of good films. This one is no different. The story is fantastic! Watch it.

I’ve seen Leatherheads before, but not for many years. It’s a slightly ridiculous film, but I enjoy it. And it was so long ago that I forgot many things. There was much laughing. Much. I know George Clooney likes to do serious roles that have an effect on mankind, but he really is a hilarious comedian. He has fantastic faces and impeccable timing. I enjoy his comedic turns.

Now for more movie watching…

And I’ll try to stick my head up a little more often.

An Auntie Sandwich

Life has been fairly busy since graduation. My parental units were here for almost a full week, something we greatly enjoyed. They had a lot of time with the littles and had a blast cuddling the rosebud and playing with the small fry and baby girl. The littles charmed the socks off of their grands.

The Saturday following their departure, I was at the farmers market to get strawberries and visit with my cousin, Amanda. While there, I was invited to family dinner at her house. I told her I’d bring dessert as long as she snagged me some strawberries. I baked fresh pound cake and a batch of brownies before driving the hour to her house. I walked in and found another of my cousins. Neither John nor I knew the other would be there. It was fun! The last time I saw John was at my grandmother’s funeral. We had a good time visiting and I didn’t take off until just a little before ten o’clock. Prior to leaving, John invited me to family dinner at his house the following week. Originally, I had a scheduling conflict, but it ended up clearing the following Saturday… sooo… I went to John’s house for family dinner and we all played Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit and then Pictionary. It’s an hour to his house as well, so unless I have no plans on a Sunday, dinner is out. However, I plan to attend at least once a month, preferably two. We didn’t get to do this as kids because our families lived two hours away from each other growing up. (And that’s two hours without traffic.)

Mandy is the other cook of my generation of the family. We’ve spent a lot of time over the past year and change bonding over food. She’s marrying a chef later this year, so we’ll have company in the food club. When her fiancé ate the brownies and my strawberry shortcake, he had a such visceral response to the food that I couldn’t help but laugh. It was quite comical.

This past weekend was spent out in Corona with my good friends. Chris, Joanne, and their girls are the family we choose. I’ll never be related to them by blood or marriage, but as far as any of us are concerned, we’re family and related. I headed to their house after work on Friday and had two strawberry cakes with me, along with the stuff needed to make a strawberry cream cheese frosting. (Nope, I didn’t stutter… strawberry cream cheese frosting.) We were celebrating my birthday (which occurred in April) and my graduation. Joanne makes me birthday dinner whenever I’m in California for my birthday and we had colossal scheduling conflicts in April. We ate chicken fried steak (it’s in my top five favorite foods of all time!) with two sides… watermelon and green beans, salted potatoes, and sautéed bacon tossed in bacon grease. Hey… if you’re gonna go southern, you may as well go whole hog. There were five happy people at the table (niece #2 was at a friend’s for the night so we didn’t have six happy people). Then we pulled out the Strawberry Dream Cake… also a southern thing. I do want to redo the cake recipe because it’s heavier than I’d like. The flavor is fantastic, but I’d like a lighter cake… I’m thinking an altered chiffon cake recipe. It’s on my to-do list. I perfected my blueberry cookies and need to alter the apricot cookies a wee bit… then strawberry cake.

Side note… I’m watching the Ed Sheeran special from Sunday and they just asked about his favorite person at his second show at Wembley (there were 80,000 peeps at the show)… his answer? “My grandmother came. She’s my favorite person who came to the gig. Hundred percent.” Good answer, young man. Side note over.

I baked a second cake Saturday night and finished it off yesterday before leaving my friends’ home for my brother’s house. Our aunt arrived from Colorado yesterday, so my sister and I headed to my brother’s home for family dinner (she’s not on the same side of the fam as Amanda and John). Her sixtieth birthday is next month so we surprised her with a birthday cake because we won’t be able to be there in Colorado to celebrate with her. She was absolutely delighted.

During dinner, we had what we jokingly refer to as an auntie sandwich. The small fry was sitting on the bench between my sister and I… thus the name, auntie sandwich. The little dude is a character and spent too much time talking and not enough time eating so all of his food got cold. You would’ve thought someone died when he was asked to eat cold food. I had him touch my potatoes–which were cold–to confirm their temperature and then I ate it. I had to do the same with my corn-on-the-cob and my chicken. For the love of Pete… he finally ate his food. Four-year-olds, humph.

While we were sitting there, he patted my leg and said, “It’s Auntie Beth’s chubby part.” (I wasn’t offended, I DO have big shins… I have never found a single pair of hooker boots–you know that’s what you secretly call them!–that fit my shins… even at my skinniest. <sigh> And, kids really do say things like this with no intention of hurting you or malice. They simply observe and report without any filtering.) I was wearing a skirt. He then looked at my sister, who was wearing a tank top, and patted her arm, saying, “And this is Auntie Julie’s chubby part.” There was some eye-rolling and laughter at the table. But he wasn’t done. He then pats my upper arm, ensconced in a sweater, and says, “This isn’t your chubby part,” and then he pats my sister’s leg, which is encased in jeans, and says, “And this isn’t Auntie Julie’s chubby part.” So, according to a four-year-old’s logic, body parts that are clothed aren’t chubby and parts that are bared for the world to see, are. Who knew? So apparently, all it takes for my parts not to be chubby, is clothing. As I’m rather modest, this plays to my advantage. But you have to love the littles and the things that spew forth from their developing minds. Now to teach him tact…

The good news is that ever so slowly, my “chubby” parts are getting less chubby. I’ve been working a lot of ten- and twelve-hour days, but I’m eating foods with fewer calories and a few salads here and there. Slow and steady works. It took two years to put on the thirty-five pounds I gained during culinary school. I’m not expecting to take them off in two months. That’s just crazy talk.

All Graduated

Graduated!Whew! Make-up off, a cold shower, and clean hair… I feel human again. Graduation was fantastic and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but it was 92°F (33.3°C) with about 40% humidity. I realize there are places in the world with far worse humidity, but when you’re wearing black chef’s pants, a long-sleeved chef’s smock, and have long hair, that’s 40% too much humidity! I escaped with only a light blush of sun across my cheeks and nose because I was able to angle myself to the side and my hair took the brunt of the sun instead of my skin. Yeah!

My family had a fun discussion during the ceremony in which they decided if the school’s president isn’t married, we need to date because he can cook, is a fan of food trucks, and LOVES the Dodgers. Ha! I have to admit I was amused! And if someone wants to do the footwork to figure it out, more power to them!

When I was signing in, I realized they had me down for the gold cord (3.75-4.0 GPA), but not the red cord (exemplary attendance). EXCUSE ME?! I looked at the chef checking us in and said, “I was rear-ended twice, had neck surgery, and used crutches with a knee brace… I missed work, but I didn’t miss a single day of class.” She altered my card and I got my cord. The lady who announced me didn’t mention the attendance, but she said my name correctly and I have the red cord in the photos, so I don’t really care. I still can’t believe they didn’t have my perfect attendance on there. Sheesh!

Weeks ago, I was contacted and asked to submit a possible speech for the ceremony only the gold-cord students were solicited for speeches. We were instructed to keep it to two minutes. Mine wasn’t selected and it was better than the one that was (and poor thing, she wasn’t a great public speaker either)… had mine been selected, this is what I would’ve said:

Food is a language.

Goodness knows, and my classmates will attest to this, beyond English, language is not something at which I excel. I’m fluent in English, American, Texan, southern, and Californian. There’s a smattering of German and Spanish that exist in my vocabulary, but languages, in general, are not my strong suit. The language of food doesn’t fit in that category. We’ve all chosen to study this language, be it through culinary or baking and patisserie, or for a few brave souls, both. As we pursue our dreams, the language of food will become more fluent for each of us.

Combining our dreams with the language of food doesn’t make for an easy road, but the one thing we have going for us is that as long as there are people, there will be a need for food. We need food and water as much as we need oxygen. But food doesn’t have to be bread and water. There’s an entire world of flavor at our disposal. It’s ours for the taking and using. The work we’ve done at school is part of the foundation of our future successes.

You’ve all heard the phrase, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Well, it wasn’t. It wasn’t built in a year or even a decade. I’m not trying to burst any bubbles or depress anyone here… after all, you’re not trying to reconstruct Rome. However, look at Rome. Founded around 753 BC, it didn’t hit its stride for a few centuries. But when it did, Rome became the center of one of the most powerful and impressive empires in history. To Rome, we owe a debt of gratitude for art, philosophy, food, sport, and, basically, culture. The work was worth the outcome. Nothing you or I do will touch the expansive reach of Rome, but we still have the power to affect people through our dreams.

What are dreams?

A dream can be that abstract storytelling adventure our brain embarks on while we’re sleeping, yes. They can take on the form of regret as we look back on our journey and wonder what might have been had we turned left instead of right at a fork in the road of life. But most importantly, they can embody all of life’s possibilities.

Dreams aren’t limited to a certain demographic. They inspire all of us. Men, women, old and young, all of us.

They compel us to pursue things outside of our comfort zone. They dog our heels, urging us forward when we want to hold back. They give us something to look to when we’re feeling defeated.

Don’t ever let anyone step on your dreams. They are yours. They are valuable. They are something to be protected as you work toward them.

And make no mistake, achieving those dreams involves work. A lot of work. Back-breaking, sweaty, uncomfortable work. Hard work is the underpinning of success. If you want to achieve your dreams, be prepared to work for them.

The truly magical part of achieving a dream is the extreme satisfaction of knowing you’ve earned it through blood, sweat, and tears. It’s yours. You own it. No one can take that away from you.

And failure happens. And let’s be honest, failure sucks. None of us enjoy it. But it happens. I recently saw a quote, “If at first you don’t succeed… you’re normal.” That’s right. Failure happens. And it’s normal. However, it’s not the actual failing that defines you, it’s how you respond. Do you get back up and go at it again? Or do you just sit there nursing your wounds and whining about your circumstances? Do you attack or retreat? It’s okay to lick your wounds for a few minutes, but you have to pick yourself up and conquer the obstacle. Sometimes it’s baby steps.

While there’s still a lot of work ahead of us, we are equipped to start pursuing our dreams. And, hopefully, we’ve got some big dreams. Some of us may become a name associated with a television show–that won’t be me!–while others may be known for a standout restaurant in a major metropolitan city. Some of us may prefer to work behind the scenes, the driving force behind a successful juggernaut. Some of us may work together toward a common dream. There are so many options before us.

The important thing to remember as we graduate from our various programs is that we have dreams. Great big, audacious dreams. They are ours for the taking, with a bit of elbow grease and perseverance. There’s room for creativity, innovation, and imagination amidst the determination, ambition, and good old-fashioned hard work.

I was watching a news editorial in March on late bloomers who pursue career changes or dreams at a later age in life. There was one particular comment in an interview that struck a chord as we’re preparing to embark on our various journeys. Scott Barry Kaufman is a professor and the Scientific Director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Imagination Institute–yes, that’s a real place–and his parting shot was, “You’re only limited by how many years you have on this Earth.” I take that as a personal challenge, and so should you. Let’s see just how much we can accomplish in however many years we’re granted on this Earth.

So, dream big, work hard, and congratulations on jobs well done!

There. That’s my speech. Truthfully, I’m not overly disappointed that I wasn’t selected. While I can speak in public, it’s not my favorite thing to do. I don’t particularly enjoy being the center of attention. At least, not when I can look into the eyes of the people paying attention to me.

My parental units arrived from Colorado yesterday to commemorate my big day. My sister, Julie, and my brother, Ethan, and sis-in-law, Adrianna, were there. Only one of the littles came as it was hot and landed in the middle of nap time. The littlest little came, so I have pictures in my make-up, chef’s do-dads, and cords, holding the little rosebud.

After the ceremony (which occurred at Santa Anita Race Track), we drove into Glendale to eat at Trattoria Amici at The Americana. The staff was great and the food fantastic. Everyone enjoyed it. As a congratulations on my graduation, they served us an appetizer and desserts on the house. They didn’t have to do this. But it was incredibly kind of them. I’ve eaten at this restaurant before. It’s where my boss takes management to dinner. It’s on the cusp of Italian fine dining. The ambiance is wonderful and the food delicious. Usually, I get their filet (the Filetto Di Manzo alla Boscaiola, a filet served with mashed potatoes and a very rich wild mushroom sauce), but today I enjoyed their Rigatoni alla Norcina. It’s an incredibly rich dish of pasta served with a cream sauce that’s infused with truffle oil, and tossed with delicious sausage and sautéed mushrooms. Everyone enjoyed their meal immensely!

It was a great way to celebrate a great day. And I saw most of the school family. It was delightful to see them all, to catch up, and to do the same with a few of the chefs.

Degreed, Diplomaed, and Done (Almost)

It is finished. Officially. Done. Fine. Complete. Nothing left.

It’s been a long haul, but I did it.

I laughed, learned, I cried (not in class, I did that at work… to my poor boss, no less… terrified the man), I conquered.

And truly, I loved it. I may have whined and complained, but I really did love it. I have no regrets and would do it all again.

Tomorrow, I graduate. Top of my class. Perfect attendance and a 4.0 (and if you could rate 4.0s, it would be a spectacularly high 4.0 considering the number of classes I achieved 96% and higher for the cumulative score).

My favorite class was breads. In that class, I learned to make croissants, something I couldn’t have taught myself to do with this degree of speed and precision. I experimented with creating my own bread from scratch. I made challah. Then I made bread pudding with challah because… bread pudding! And bourbon, brown sugar sauce! I mastered the art of baking the perfect baguette. I came to appreciate my family’s cottage cheese bread (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it… it’s one of my absolute favorites!) even more than I already did. My nephew helped me with “science bread” (a.k.a. sourdough starter) and learned that yeast “poops beer” (which it does, gentlemen)–he took great joy in announcing this to his father, who wasn’t the least nonplussed–and then he was absolutely ecstatic when I brought him some “science bread” so that he could have it for sandwiches.

I miss seeing certain chefs and getting to visit with them… Chef B, who had a passion for breads that was completely infectious and stories about his kids. Trading kid stories and sharing photos was as important in our class as pounding out breads. Oh, and making sure our mise cups weren’t greasy (if you want to good and truly irritate me, don’t wash your kitchen tools properly and leave oily mise cups for me to use). Chef M was one of my favorites, and we had her twice so we had plenty of time to get to know her. Her skinny little Tennessee-born self… a tiny little thing full of life, knowledge, and serious southern sass. (She was the first person to start yelling at Shirley. And she introduced a game whereby we passed the time by determining which celebrities we would strand on a desert island and leave for dead… Justin Bieber, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, and Little Wayne were perennial winners) Both of these chefs encouraged us to experiment as we learned and made class incredibly fun. Chef M helped me figure out how to make a custard-based mint ‘n chip ice cream based on my family’s recipe which uses crème de menthe liqueur. Sooo good. She and I also brainstormed how to prepare a baklava cheesecake (no, you didn’t read that wrong… baklava cheesecake, people… and it’s to die for). Both of these chefs proved to be the most influential and encouraging of the chefs we had the opportunity to work with. Oh! And Chef W, who helped lay the foundation, literally, for what we would learn. We can’t forget Chef W! Such a gentle man. And incredibly sweet. He was persnickety in his critiques, but not in a way that made you feel like a failure. He had high standards, but was very constructive in his criticisms.

I also miss the smiling faces that I saw five days a week for eighteen consecutive months. My honorary little brother, David. Roxy, my lovably wonderful walking HR violation. My Mexican little brother, Luis–and his hellos to Betsy (that’s me). My ornery Mexican brother, Sergio, and his girlfriend, Michelle (who encouraged me to keep Sergio in line, the big oaf). The only Asian in our class from start to finish, Shirley! (And yes, you must yell her name.) And a host of others.

Even if I never work a day of my life in this industry, I’m ever so glad I stepped out on a shaky limb and enrolled in culinary school. My life is forever enriched by the experience and the learning. It was worth all the blood, sweat, and tears.

Catching Up

For the first time in umpteen months, I not only have a desire for home cooking, but I’m doing the cooking. On Friday, I made a killer pot of chicken noodle soup. Then, today, I made chicken tortilla soup. I still intend to bake some cookies this evening, blueberry cookies.

That’s right, ladies and germs… last weekend, I finally tried out my apricot cookies and blueberries. To rave reviews, I might add.

I spent the Fourth of July out in Corona with friends. I went out Friday morning and didn’t come home until late Sunday night. We cooked, we baked, we swam, and we had an absolute ball. On Saturday, we got up and walked to the parade route. Yup, Corona has an annual Fourth of July parade. We ran into friends of my friends and we all sat together and had a ball. My friends have a pool in their backyard and with the heat, it was enjoyed by us all. Aside from my beloved fireworks, my favorite part of the weekend was making s’mores over the fire pit in celebration of our country’s independence (so sorry to my friends in the UK… there may have been a few, “Down the British!” and “No taxation without equal representation!” yelled by our masses). I haven’t had s’mores in years and they were delightful. I admit this goes through my head whenever I think of s’mores:

It was one of the most relaxing enjoyable weekends I’ve had in years. And I baked the apricot and blueberry cookies and everyone kindly taste tested them. They proclaimed both cookies to be great. The blueberry cookie was pretty spot on, but I need to jimmy the apricot cookies a bit. They need more moisture. I’m thinking a bit of milk to soften them up and add the moisture.

This weekend has been relaxing as well. As I said, I made chicken noodle soup on Friday night and chicken tortilla today. Both are packed up in individual containers for nine remaining servings that I can take with me to work. Since my office insists on sitting at 65°F, those packaged up servings will go with me every day to help keep me warm. The fact that I love both soups is just icing on that cake. I also decided to continue tackling my movie list. Here’s what we have so far:

  • 50 to 1
  • American Sniper
  • The Best of Me
  • Black or White
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • The Final Season
  • The Flying Scotsman
  • Foxcatcher
  • Fury
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Hundred-Foot Journey
  • The Imitation Game
  • Into the Woods
  • John Wick
  • The Judge
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Maleficent
  • McFarland USA
  • The Mighty Macs
  • Million Dollar Arm
  • Philomena
  • Spare Parts
  • Taken 3
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Unbroken
  • When the Game Stands Tall
  • The Wolverine

There’s something very satisfying and very normal-feeling about spending some free time cooking, baking, and watching movies. I haven’t had time to do this in two years.

As for the three newest films, 50 to 1, American Sniper, and The Best of Me are remarkably different.

50 to 1 is the story of Mine that Bird, a horse with 50:1 odds that shocked the field and won the Kentucky Derby. It had the potential to be a great film, but it was over and underacted in various capacities. Even worse, there were some good actors in the film, but it was clearly a low budget movie and the lack of money for a full, competent cast was apparent. And tragic.

Clint Eastwood did not suffer that fate when he put together the cast and crew for American Sniper. I actually forgot I was watching Bradley Cooper and saw only Chris Kyle, a man who fought the demons of war and a boatload of guilt after becoming the deadliest sniper in U.S. history. He served his country well, but he paid a steep price. Unless you have lived under a rock for the past few years, you’re probably aware that Kyle was murdered by one of the men he tried to help move past post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When they showed his casket with so many Tridents punched into it… oh gosh, that’s what drove me to tears. That’s what SEALs do for fallen SEALs, they punch a Trident into the casket lid. Kyle’s was covered. And the state of Texas did it right. They shut down the freeways and gave a police escort to take him home. Classy.

The final film of choice for this weekend was The Best of Me, an absolutely girlie movie based on the book by Nicholas Sparks. Sometimes a girl just needs a wee bit of romance with a male lead who is fallible, but admirable. A man bent on doing the right thing. But it was a bit depressing at the end. I really am not one of those girls who has a problem with “happily ever after.” (The single best part of the film is the card catalogue the female protagonist has in her home. It’s my dream to have a library in my home and I want to take an old wooden card catalogue, strip it, and put it to work.)

And yes, I’m going through the movie list in alphabetical order. I started in the middle, but decided I’d just start at the top and continue to the bottom, adding movies if something new strikes my fancy. Which I did, because they did. Besides, I’ve got the time now.

Alright folks, it’s time for me to do a load of laundry, eat a little something, and take a cool shower because it’s hotter than blazes in this house and that’s the only way I’ll be able to get to sleep tonight.

Goals

Graduating from culinary school, living through it, surviving work and school and internship has pretty much been my sole focus for the past twenty-one months. As I’m ramping down, I’m beginning to set new goals.

The most important goal is to get back to Colorado. As much as I’ll miss seeing my brother, sis-in-law, sister, the littles, and a small group of friends–and believe me, I will!–I want to go home. I want to see blue skies every morning. I don’t want to drive through traffic every time I want to go some place. I want to see my mountain (alright, it’s Pike’s Peak… it’s technically not my mountain).

I also have a goal to continue slimming back down to my pre-culinary school weight. Don’t get me wrong, my weight isn’t out of control… it just isn’t what it was before I embarked on my big adventure.

One of my less than laudable goals (it’s not bad, it’s just not earth shattering) is to catch up on my movie watching. Here’s my present list (no, prior to last night, I hadn’t viewed any of these)–and no judgement! I have eclectic taste in film, am running grossly behind in my movie watching, and apologize for no film choices on this list:

  • 50 to 1
  • American Sniper
  • The Best of Me
  • Black or White
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Foxcatcher
  • Fury
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Hundred-Foot Journey
  • The Imitation Game
  • Into the Woods
  • John Wick
  • The Judge
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Maleficent
  • McFarland USA
  • Million Dollar Arm
  • Philomena
  • Taken 3
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Unbroken
  • When the Game Stands Tall
  • The Wolverine

I watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier last night and it was the fun romp one expects from a Marvel film. My favorite part was Stan Lee’s cameo… so funny! And Sebastian Stan is a good looking fellow. Especially with stringy, scraggly long hair and a five o’clock shadow. Not too shabby. (Don’t judge. This is a judgement free zone. The whole movie is eye candy, admiring the scenery is okay.)

Fury, on the other hand, was far more emotional. I studied history in college. It’s one of my two favorite subjects. (NERD ALERT: The other is math.) My favorite eras are the American Revolution, the American Civil War, and World War II. For this reason, I’ve been wanting to see this film since I first saw the trailers. Ohmigoodness… it’s a harsh film, to be sure. What do you expect from a film about a tank crew in WWII? If you don’t know, the movie follows a tank crew and their newly assigned rookie replacement.

In the thick of the war, replacements had a tough row to hoe. They were sent in to replace someone who was killed or injured in action. Further, they were usually fresh off the boat with zero combat experience and being thrown into the fire fight with heavily seasoned soldiers who had very little respect or patience for rookies. The battle weary soldiers were often very hardened and the rookies completely green. The “education” of young Norman at the hands of Fury’s crew (Fury is the tank’s name, like airmen name planes and sailors ships) is tough.

The crew itself is interesting, you have a very seasoned commander in Brad Pitt, but he’s clearly suffering on the inside. Although he appears impervious to his subordinates, he’s dying on the inside. One of his crew, Shia Lebeouf’s character, is a Christian. This movie had the platform to make a mockery of Christianity, but doesn’t. While he will preach at his fellow soldiers, he’s no less of a warrior than they are. He fights side-by-side with these men, giving every ounce of courage. He wants them to be saved because he’s concerned about their souls, but he’ll shoot to kill because he’s concerned about their physical bodies. His outlook often provides a foil for the harshness of what they’re going through.

I enjoyed both films and am looking forward to catching up on the rest of those movies. And the list may grow as I cross off additional films and find others.

One movie I did manage to see this year is Chef and I LOVED it! Watch it to see why…

Okay… hafta finish my laundry (one more load to go) and pack for Boston. I won’t have time during the week, so I’m packing now. Then I have to head to Old Navy to see if I can find some capris to wear on vacation. I don’t currently have any and we’re heading into the hot summer months. Meh. Looks like I also need to pick up a swim suit because this summer is going to boil and I’ll be parked at some friends’ house at least once a month and they have a pool. However, to minimize the burning (it’s inevitable when you glow in the day), I prefer board shorts. I’m also considering a rash guard this year, as another layer of protection. So if I’m going out to get part of that, I may as well go after all of it, right? Right.

Alright… gotta scoot!