Midterm Reflections: They Come Right in the Middle! Midterm Reflections: They Matter Quite a Little!
January 20, 2003

If there's one thing my tenure in culinary school has taught me, it's patience. Don't laugh, Mom, I'm serious.

That's not to say I always stop and carefully consider every move I make in the kitchen. For example, during the midterm practicum, had I paused to catch my breath I could have added dollops more Dijon to really get that hint of mustard that was supposed to be in the reduction sauce, but I didn't. I followed the recipe, got the technique down perfectly in black and white, and between you and me, I was just chuffed not to turn the pork medallion into a piece of bark or give the tasters trichinosis. It was a tough thing, too, under all that scrutiny -- it was like the Eyes of Laura Mars in there. As I tested the sauce for seasoning and texture, I didn't exactly feel relaxed enough to think "Hmm, now what can make this mustard sauce dance across the tasters tastebuds?" No. I was just making sure it wasn't BLAND!

Except for some nastily nitpicky things here and there (I mean, who ever thought of PEELING their mushrooms, anyway? The finicky little fungi tend to fall apart as soon as you look at them!), I did pretty well. And got smacked with the four leaf clover much harder than others, I can tell you!

Anyway, patience. Yes, well, there are feats of pastry I never would have attempted before because the recipes were so long and involved and had an intimidation factor of about a tri-trillion. When I was a kid mucking around in my mother's kitchen, I took a lot of shortcuts. I dumped stuff together, completely regardless of timing and procedure, since, I figured, it would all be going into the same mess together, right? Wrong. I have learned much of the delicate balance between flour, eggs, and liquid, and the complicated menage trois butter, vanilla, and liqueur get into every time they're introduced. Individually, each plays an important and specifically scripted role, and now I finally understand the operating instructions. That's not to say, now that I've proven I can do them all and never be afraid of another recipe that calls for tempering chocolate or making a sugar cage, that I'm going to perform these feats daily. Not at all. They are terribly time-consuming and terrifically tiresome and, well, it's pretty hard to ignore the brute force all those pounds of sugar and dozens of eggs will eventually have on my wardrobe. My pocketbook just can't take the abuse of having to buy new clothes every month.

Another thing I've learned is the serious value of a good pair of shoes. I'm usually loath to spend more than sixty dollars for a pair of things that spend most of their time kissing the filth of the world, but the sixty-plus dollars I spent on my clogs were the best-invested sixty-plus I ever could have lavished on my tootsies. No back pain, no aching legs, and very acceptable protection from falling knives and boiling stock.

Now with both exams behind me -- the written was pretty easy after all the prep I put into the practicum -- I can look ahead with genuine and undiluted pleasure to our Italian gluttony for the next few weeks. Not to mention the five-week-long wine seminar!

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