Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You're having a bad day, and then...

Things right now aren't great.

My family just made the decision to call in Hospice for my father, and now it's just a waiting game. Which, no matter how prepared you think you are, is impossible to be ready for.

Beyond that, things have also been tough on other fronts (though not work, or family, woo hoo!), and I'm just feeling beaten down.



Then, my husband forwards an article in today's Frederick News Post about tools in the kitchen by the lovely Susan Guynn. He didn't read it, but thought I may be interested.

Lo and behold, I'm actually quoted in the article. Hey...I remember talking to Susan a few weeks ago. Cool! And I even sound like I know what I'm talking about! Here, see for yourself:

"The one thing I couldn't live without is my KitchenAid mixer," said chef Christine Van Bloem. "It's the ultimate workhorse." Van Bloem received hers as a gift after graduating from Peter Krump's New York Cooking School (now known as The Institute for Culinary Education) 15 years ago. Van Bloem teaches others the pleasures of cooking at The Kitchen Studio on Buckeystown Pike in Frederick.

"I can walk away from it and it keeps working." She uses it when making baked items and for making pasta. "I'm dying for the meat grinder attachment," she said, along with the sausage stuffer attachment. "I want to make homemade sausages."

A less expensive kitchen tool is the microplane grater/zester. "I tell my students it's like hundreds of tiny little knife blades on a stick," Van Bloem said. It's perfect for grating nutmeg, chocolate and Parmesan cheese.

"And it goes without saying you need an excellent knife." She recommends Edgeworks Knife & Supply Co., a downtown Frederick store, as a good resource for choosing the perfect knife. "It's a great place to go and learn about knives," she said. "If you spend a little more money on a knife, you'll have one that will last for years."

Her 95-year-old grandmother recently gave Van Bloem her favorite knife -- one she used for more than 60 years. Sharpened so many times over the decade, Van Bloem can no longer identify the type of knife it was. She plans to retire the knife and display it prominently in a shadow box.

So, I'm sitting on the couch, rubbing my calf (because I stepped off a curb funny today and
strained, sprained, or cramped the sucker), trying hard not to feel sorry for myself when I see someone on the front porch.

I open the door and there is my neighbor Kathy. And guess what she has in her hands...

No, really...guess.

I'll wait.

Ok, ok! Kathy magically appears on my front porch, bearing a gift for me. Out of the blue:
Dear, lovely, sweet, kind Kathy walks into my living room carrying a brand new meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer.

A present.

For me.

Because she read the article and knew she had one she had never used and thought I would enjoy it.

Timing, as they say, is everything.

I'm very emotional right now, but still can't help but squeal with delight. And then tell Kathy about my dad, because it's the overwhelming presence in my life right now. She shares the story of her own father's passing, along with a few words of wisdom, and somehow, peace. We both tear up, feeling a little awkward, but also like we both understand what the other is going through, or has already experienced.

I know that the next few days, or heaven forbid, weeks, are going to be a symphony of discord, with waiting and praying and suffering.

But I also know that I'm not doing this alone. And that over a meat grinder, I've found not only kindness, but someone who understands this end game.

And for that, I will always be grateful.

Thank you Kathy. Thank you so very, very much.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I Don't Want to Judge, But: Evening on the Riviera

Evening on the Riviera, the upscale fancy-pants Fredericktonian party was held this past Friday at the fairgrounds (did I say upscale?). Evening on the Riviera is a major fund-raiser for local charities and features food & wine generously provided by local purveyors of food & drink.

One of the components of the evening is a competition between all of the purveyors for best savory dish, best dessert, and best display.

I was asked to be a judge last year, and just couldn't quite make it, but this year, when I was asked again, I jumped at the chance. And you know what I learned?

It's really hard to judge other people's work.

The folks who provide the goodies for the event do so at their own expense. For A LOT of people. Sure, they get the publicity and get themselves in front of an audience that may use their services in the future, but it's an expensive proposition. Working in the food business, I can't tell you how many times folks think they're helping me by letting me provide them with free food. Uh, not so much.

But anyway, I couldn't help but think about that as the other judges and I sat in back, behind curtains, doing a blind judging. Here's how a blind judging works:

  1. The judges do not look at booths beforehand. You don't want to cloud your judgement. At this point, you're judging solely on the food.
  2. Servers, in this case students from the culinary program at FCC, bring you food, in random order, in 5 minute intervals.
  3. You taste the food and then assign a point value based on presentation, taste, & difficulty.
  4. The judges can discuss taste, appearance etc., but not points or ratings.
  5. The food just keeps coming.
I know what goes into preparing food for an event like this, and I know that it's not easy to do. And I hating picking apart the nuances of each dish. But the one thing I really liked was having absolutely no idea where the food came from. Whew!

In the end, the best savory dish, and hoo-boy was it delicious, was a braised short rib on mashed potatoes from The Comus Inn. So very, very tender and dare I say, succulent. Short ribs must have been a theme, because the wizards at Canapes took second place with their delightful short rib on sweet potato hash. What a wonderful fall dish!

I got a bit overwhelmed on the sweets (I know, I find that hard to believe too!), but The Perfect Truffle won first prize for an assortment of lovely chocolate truffles (my fave was a pear-ginger truffle).

For display, well, that was a tough one. Gourmet with Paula had a striking, simple display, and seemed to clearly be a first place winner. I really liked the clean lines and lighting in the display. Completely beautiful. For second, well, that one spurred debate among the judges. All of the displays were terrific, and you could totally tell that everyone had put their best foot forward. There were displays showcasing stunning treats, and displays true to the business itself, and in that case, Home at the Braddock Inn took second place because their display really reflected who they are. It was homey, authentic, and just, nice. All in all, a tough pick, and display is certainly my weakest area as a cook, so I really appreciated all of the effort that went into making everything not only taste great, but look great too.

So judging other people's food? Stressful, but delicious. I can't wait to do it again next year!