Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Christmas 2014

It seems a bit silly to be rehashing Christmas when it's finally blue skies outside, but it was a pretty good Christmas so it seems a shame to skip it.


After graduation, I still had a few weeks left before I was LA bound for the holidays. I had a ton of last minute shopping and baking to do for all of our peeps here in London, and I got to work!


I baked, while Casper wrapped the gifts.


J also had a poker game at work, and I agreed to make a bunch of treats for him and his crew. It went down a storm so I was pretty pleased even if a bit disappointed that there weren't any leftovers.


Pretty soon, it was time to fly back home to LA and get to work on Christmas dinner. On my first morning back in LA, I headed straight to Whole Foods and picked up our goose!


I think it's so much better than a turkey or a ham, and I got to work on that along with all the fixings. I think it's safe to say I spent all of this year's holiday in the kitchen.


But it was totally worth it, since I was also cooking for my soon-to-be-born niece!


I always bitch and moan about the long flights and especially during the hectic Christmas season, but there's so few things as good as spending the holidays with your family. As always, we had a great time opening all the gifts, and I bought a bunch of patisserie books for myself.



We weren't there long before it was time to head back home! But I made sure to leave lots of treats behind for my future niece, who was due to be born in March.


And I didn't stop baking once I got back home either!





I was so happy to see my little rascals again, and I swear Casper gets bigger and bigger every time I go away! J thinks he's a stress eater.


Anyway, I started experimenting more with stuff I'm not familiar with - standard cake baking and decorating. We learn all the fancy techniques and styles of classic and modern patisserie, but we only have a class or two on cake decorating in school. I've been trying to teach myself as I go along with the help of some books, and I think I'm doing as well as can be expected.




I'm pretty lucky, since I actually ended up going back to Le Cordon Bleu for a few weeks to assist for chef Matthew for the cake decorating course, so I could ask him any lingering questions I had. And it was a treat seeing him and all the other chefs again! I missed them!


Monday, April 20, 2015

A Graduate of Le Cordon Bleu London

It's been a while since my last update, and I promise I have a good reason. When I started this blog, I thought my time in London would be limited, and I wanted a record so that when I was back in LA, I could look back and enjoy those memories. However, the circumstances of our stay have changed, and we have no plans to move back to the US in the foreseeable future. In that case, it seems like this blog has no particular purpose - I don't really want to maintain a record of my day to day life. BUT, I also feel that I should maintain this window into our lives that we lead so far away from our loved ones. In any case, the moms have asked me to keep it going, so I'm going to try my best.

Since my last post, I've graduated from Le Cordon Bleu with honours in Patisserie!


After the pulled sugar module, we had Restaurant Desserts, in which we had to plate two identical desserts for our assessment. As silly as it sounds, making two identical plates is ridiculously difficult! We had to include piping on the plate, a tuile, and a tempered chocolate design. I was pretty pleased with the way mine finally turned out, but let's just say I never cursed so much in my life.


Then it was time for our team to throw the tea party! Each term, the patisserie students throw an epic tea party, and we get to invite outside guests to come to the school and eat as much as they can of all the various desserts that we make. The chefs selected me as team captain, which was pretty stressful, since I had to make sure all of the desserts were ready on time and met the chefs' exacting standards. I'm happy to report that our team kicked major ass, and the tea party went off without a hitch! 



We also had a bread module, which meant we had loads of bread to take home for a while. I was lucky since I had assisted the chef for the short bread course, so I already had an idea of what we would be making.


We made lots and lots of brioche, which was delicious, but I especially enjoyed making our bread surprise! It's a box made of rye bread and decorated with bread flowers and wheat. The inside of the box is carved out and made into tea sandwiches. Functional and beautiful! I brought mine over to J's office for his lunch, and it mostly survived the trip on the tube. 


Our last module was chocolate. I hate working with chocolate since it's exhausting tempering chocolate by hand, and it gets everywhere. Don't ask me how, but I usually end up with chocolate on my hat, in my pocket, on my back - basically everywhere! But my chocolate box came out pretty alright - I designed it to look like a grand piano, and the lid comes off so you could fill the inside with truffles! We're supposed to showcase five different techniques, and I think I managed to get them all.


Another chocolate item we made was the chocolate egg. None of us were quite sure what to do with this one after we were finished, but it looked pretty nice so I took it home. I'm glad I took a picture since we had one of those rare sunny days in London, and my egg melted! Oh well. 


We were all pretty excited about the candy making session. It was basically chocolate and candy as far as the eye can see, and we all took home loads and loads. I think we were all pretty popular with everyone we saw that day. I dropped mine off at J's office, since I was already sick as a dog from sampling everything during class. 


All during superior term, we were all thinking of our final - the entremet. We were each given a list of ingredients and requirements and instructed to come up with our own entremet to present for our final exam. I did a lot of experimenting at school and at home, and I planned and planned so that I would be able to finish my entremet within the 4 1/2 hours we were each allotted.




I was really nervous about the time, and with good reason; I ended up using every last second! It didn't help that I dropped my tray of tuile during the exam, and I had to remake it. It was pretty funny when I dropped it, as I was pretty irritated, but everyone (including the chefs) rushed over to make sure I was okay and wasn't going to cry. Trust me, I wouldn't be the first if I did, but I'll be damned if I was going to cry over some biscuits. In the end, it all turned out okay since I passed!


Graduating was really bittersweet. I loved school and everything about it - all the new techniques, the chefs, my fellow students. It was hard to realise that I wouldn't be coming back - I had already assisted for most of the short courses, and I didn't really have any interest in taking any cuisine classes. So this was really and truly the end of one of the best experiences of my life. I would do it all again without a doubt!



Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sugarland

The last two weeks have been all sugar, all the time.

I've been hard at work on my pulled sugar rose, and it's really encouraging since it feels like there's definite improvement the more I work with it. Thankfully, we had ample time to practice before our assessment at the end of the sugar module.

The actual assessment was pretty low key, and we had loads of time to form a rose and three leaves. Most people had enough time to make more than one. I made two, and I hemmed and hawed a bit about which one to present, but I think I chose the right one.

My very first sugar rose (over cooked due to wonky thermometer, hence the yellow colour):


My final rose for the assessment:


I didn't have long to relax as our centrepiece assessment was the following day. Luckily for me, we had another practice session after my first disaster, and I was pretty pleased with what I managed to produce. 


I tweaked a few things in my plan for my piece for the assessment, but of course things didn't go according to plan. My arm caught on my large background piece, and the thing fell over and smashed to bits. I rescued what I could, and I had to rethink how I was going to put all the pieces together. Fortunately, I managed to cobble something together that wasn't horrifying and showed six different techniques of poured sugar.


The small blue piece on the right is the salvaged piece, and I was a bit sad since it was my favourite. It had swirls of blue, violet, and green, with a clear piece on top to mimic a foaming wave. Sad.

In any case, I'm glad that the assessments are done, and now I could play with sugar at home! One of the chefs managed to finagle me an awesome deal on a proper sugar lamp, and now I've got one at home!


I still need a few more things, but I'm really excited to play around with things on my free time at home. Sugar is no joke, most of the kids in my class really, really hated it. It's very difficult and demanding work, and there's always the fear of something shattering beyond repair. However, the nice thing is that it does feel like you're improving the more you work with it and understand how it behaves. 

I'm eager to see if I could improve on my ribbon and blown sugar on my own time. We had some fun sessions where we just made some stuff that weren't going to be on the assessment.

My blown apple (it's hard to tell from the pic, but the thing turned out to be a monster!):


And I think I'll work some more on my ribbon. The one I did in class was just silly looking - word to the wise, it's better for just one person to pull sugar. Especially if the other person hates sugar work.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Back to the Real World

Summer's over, which means it's back to business as usual in London. Everyone's back from their August holidays, and the city feels like its usual self again - busy, hectic, and on-the-go.


Luckily for us, things didn't kick up to high gear straight away, so J and I had time to join a gym to try to undo some of the damage of being fat and happy. The pitfalls of a happy marriage is an ever expanding waistline and a preference for a cuddle on the sofa watching Sherlock over a workout at the gym. But we're working on it and going to the gym together has become our new weekend activity.


We may have undone all of our hard work when we went out to Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental in Kensington to celebrate J's birthday. But we agree, it was worth it! We went there last year, and it has firmly cemented itself as J's favourite restaurant. It's a good thing we go only once a year, as I don't think I would like to have more chins in addition to the one I've got.



I also made a cake to celebrate the occasion. J told me he just wanted something chocolatey, which isn't really much to go on. I ended up making a chocolate cake with chocolate mousse and ganache with a salted caramel glaze and a toasted italian meringue topping. Whew. I dropped it by J's office, and I got a good workout just from carrying that cake around. It was ridiculously heavy, but everyone said it was yum so I guess it was worth having my arms just about fall off.


Autumn also means I'm back in school to finish up my last term at Le Cordon Bleu. I was originally planning on returning in January, but I got a bit anxious to get back and finish the damn thing so I decided to return at the last minute. My old classmates just graduated, so I'm joining a different group.

I'm really lucky as the new group turned out to be lots of fun, and it made the transition a lot easier. Most of them are fast-trackers, which means that they've been doing the same course as us regular folk but on a compressed schedule. Everything we've done in six months, they've done in three! But everyone has to go on the same schedule for the last bit, Superior term, so we're now all in the same boat. This term is a bit different from previous terms in that we no longer have demonstrations followed by practicals. Now, we go straight to the kitchen for a workshop, which consists of a short demo and lots more time with hands-on work.

We started our term with the sugar module, which is focused on creating centrepieces made with pulled/ poured/ blown sugar. It's really, really hot work. You're cooking sugar to really high temperatures and working under a heat lamp most of the time, which means I've been sweating buckets. I'm pretty sure my partner must be grossed out by the puddle of sweat at my feet at the end of every workshop. Oh well, some things just can't be helped.

My hands were really red and raw after the first day of pulling sugar, but things have improved with the addition of a few things - cotton gloves with multiple layers of latex gloves on top, with a set of rubber dishwashing gloves on top for when the sugar is really hot. I'm actually pretty happy with the pulled sugar rose that I've made, but I think there's still some room for improvement.

First attempt.

Second attempt.

Most recent attempt.

The poured sugar centrepiece was a complete fail the first time around. My thermometer was going bonkers, and I ended up overcooking the sugar, which meant it took on a ugly brownish tone. That wasn't so bad, and I managed to rescue it with some food colouring, but then the whole thing kind of slowly keeled over when I wasn't looking. I'm not sure if it was the humidity or if the sugar was too soft from overzealous blowtorching. Sigh. I'm looking forward to next week when we get to have another go at it, and I've got a brand new thermometer all ready to go.  Fingers crossed!

Here's what chef made to give us an idea of all the different techniques we can use in poured sugar.


I got to keep chef's centrepiece, so I took it to J's office so he could use it to decorate his shelves. People do tend to look at you funny when you're carrying a sugar sculpture through the city on the tube, just as a warning. 




A Wedding in Paradise

There was nothing on the schedule for Saturday, other than the wedding later in the afternoon, so J and I had a chance to sleep in and enjoy breakfast before heading out to the city to explore. We got a map from the concierge that outlined a historical walking route, and we started out in the hot and humid weather to see what we could see.

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Cartagena is absolutely beautiful, and most of the colonial architecture is still intact even though some of the buildings are in desperate need of repair. The colours suit the Caribbean climate, and the profusion of flowers growing on the balconies lend a romantic air to the city.

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There are lots of open plazas scattered throughout the city, and we came upon one that was charmingly populated with metal sculptures.

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The city itself is surrounded by a wall, with the ocean just outside the perimeter, and you can see people hanging out on the walkway on the wall.

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The only fly in the ointment is the constant barrage of solicitations. And it really is constant - it gets really tiring to keep turning vendors away, and some of them don't take it well that you're not interested in whatever they're selling.

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the hotel to get ready for the wedding! I think we all scrubbed up rather well!

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The wedding ceremony was to take place on the solarium of the hotel, and it was beautifully decorated in white flowers.

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And the view? Amazing!

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We weren't waiting long before the beautiful bride made her entrance. She was just glowing, and my uncle looked so happy to be walking her down the aisle.

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It was a lovely and emotional ceremony, and it ended with the guests throwing white rose petals over the happy couple as they walked back down the aisle as newlyweds.

We all then marched out into the city for a parade! Yup, a parade. We were led by a quartet of musicians and a group of dancers throughout the city as we all cheered and boogied down the streets.

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And we paraded for a while! My feet were killing me from walking in heels on cobblestone, so I held onto J the entire time. We made it all the way to the city walls before turning back to the hotel!

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Then it was time for a well-earned rest poolside where we downed drinks and nibbled on delicious local specialties before the actual reception.

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The reception was great fun, and the food was amazing! We ate until we couldn't budge and had a great time hanging out with our family. We were much too full to participate in the dancing that followed after, and we called it a night after watching the newlyweds cut the cake and dance their first dance.

The next morning, we were all packed and ready to return to the airport to fly back to Bogota, then on to Madrid, then finally to London. Whew!

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It was a lovely trip, and everything I could have hoped for. Colombia is a beautiful and amazing country that has such a great variety of things to offer. I never felt unsafe the entire time I was there. I was glad to have a smattering of Spanish, as I think it would've been much more difficult otherwise. Everyone we came across was so accommodating and patient with our struggles with the language, and I would definitely return in a heartbeat.