Some people thought I was crazy, and when 20 women and 0 men initially signed up for my “Fondue and the City” singles mixer at Murray’s, I thought I might be way off track, too. Luckily, we put the word out that any man interested in 1) women, 2) cheese, and 3) beer should head on over to Murray’s one cold Friday night in January et voila… If you melt it and serve it with beer, they will come. My theory that fondue ultimately leads to love still stands.
Category Archives: Crazy stories
Did I mention that I hate flying? I also hate waiting to fly and being stuck on a plane in general. So right now, as I’m sitting on my American Airlines flight at the gate, where I’ve been sitting for almost 45 minutes, I’m about as annoyed as I can get short of someone putting their finger near my face and repeating, “I’m not touching you. I’m not touching you,” over and over again.
I’m going to see my Grandpa-in-law, aka “Grandpa Lvoff,” aka just “Grandpa.” For all intents and purposes, I think of him as that relative I didn’t get by blood, but always wanted. He’s just a grand and dapper man who has enveloped me with warmth from the first moment that I met him. Like all good grandfathers, he has the best stories that weave through decades, wars, countries, languages (consider him a walking Rosetta Stone), triumph, love, and heartache. His wingspan is enormous, making his hugs that much more prolific, and he has that faint, dusty cologne smell that I adore so much.
It’s been a tough year for him and this is the first time my husband and I will be seeing him in 2009, which is awful since it’s almost over. I’ve loaded my bag with 2-year Comte (oh hello delcious, nutty, pineapplely, french onion soup in a cheese wedge) and Tomme Crayeuse (what? did you say something about a rough, nut-skin-flavored natural rind protecting both pliable and cakey layers of savory yet balanced cheese goodness?) and many a Francois Pralus dark chocolate to pamper our Grandpops with. Oh yeah, and I got him a Murray’s-made Ring Ding which I can’t wait for him to try. They’re my obsession and I try not to indulge in one daily…
So, add to the fact that I am now pusing almost an hour sitting on this damn plane to my concern for the well-being if my precious cheese cargo, and that every minute delay is keeping me from a Grand-diddy huggle, and I am about to rage blackout in this piece! Luckily, I did think ahead. I brought 2 extra Ring Dings. I may ben give one to my husband, but it’s best to first eat one and then see how I feel. He’d agree that if my rage isn’t significantly quelled by the first Ring Ding, I’d best partake in another… It’s for the good of group.
Here’s just a quick post about my first experience with St. Maure Chevre…
First, I am not a food snob. Sometimes I’m obnoxious, but I assure you, it’s without any other reason than that I’m oddly particular. I don’t judge food and I don’t judge your tastes (intentionally) because frankly, food to me is about both comfort and nostalgia. So, when I tell you that my first experience with goat cheese was on a chevre-producing farm outside of Tours, France in the Loire Valley, it’s not because I’m showing off, it’s because I had truly never been exposed to goat cheese before this time.
I was 19 years old and had followed my friend, Amanda, to France to study abroad for the summer. This was my first trip abroad without my family, and I was thrilled and terrified for the adventure. About a week before taking off, my then-boyfriend took me to see the movie “Final Destination,” about a class field trip to Paris where the plane crashes… Needless to say, he’s an ex-boyfriend now. I don’t know if it was that movie or just the fact that it was my first flight sitting all by myself, but that was also the first time that I realized that I am terrified of flying. That’s a dandy little peak into just one of my MANY increasing phobias and superstitions – oh, just remember to touch the outside of the plane before boarding… that helps keep in the air, you know… as do crying babies on your flight… because what kind of a God would kill babies in a firey plane crash???
Back to the cheese. One of the many excursions worked into my study abroad program was to a small goat farm that produced Saint Maure Chevre. At the time, I was convinced that I might be allergic to the goat cheese since I had only recently discovered that after years of riding horses, I had developed an allergy to them. And to me, goats and horses smelled EXACTLY the same. I peeked out of our coach bus upon arrival at the farm and was slapped in the face by the overwhelming heavy, slightly sticky sweet, hay and animal sweat scent of goats galore. My first instinct was to run.
Luckily, my dear friends mocked my fear and forced me from the bus to confront the odor-producing fiends face-to-muzzle. Damn, they were cute. They stank like there was no tomorrow, but those little cud-chewing bastards were super adorable. While my friend played with stray kittens that she found scampering amongst benches of hay (insert every stereotypical, bucolic image that you can), I hesitantly petted the coarse foreheads of a pack of rank goats. Their oppressive, syrupy stink was about to chase me away when someone called to me to come and see the baby goats…
Oh… sweet… cheezits… These soft, poodle-sized (although I’m not a fan of poodles – they seem arrogant), puddle-eyed mini-goats were endearing in the way that they stumbled over one another, trying to stand upright to get closer to my waiting hand, ready to caress those buttery ears. They just killed you in the way that toddlers stumble around, their legs not yet strong enough to fully cope with the enormous weight of their bowling ball noggins. Even their annoying, staccato calling was heart-warming… if only they didn’t stink… Yet still, I pet away, enjoying their adorableness and thinking slyly, well, how much worse does this really smell than anything else in France. (FYI – that’s a terrible joke – I’ve never actually met a stinky Frenchman. Their cabbies smell MUCH better than most of our regular citizens do).
Finally, we walked into the cheese-making facility for the shock of my life. After smelling the goats and swearing that I would forego tasting the cheese (even though up to this point, I LOVED cheese and had trouble refusing any food in general), I was completely surprised when a stocky French woman donned what looked like a hazmat suit and led us into a stainless steel, white, sterilized cheese-making facility. There, I learned about how goat milk was collected, coagulated, and molded into a tube surrounding a straw that was both traditional and used to help the tubular cheese maintain its shape — to this day, I sometimes think “paille” instead of “straw” when I see a singular piece of hay. We were then led into another room where the goat cheeses were coated in vegetal ash (although I didn’t recall it being vegetal ash at the time, but just know it now from the Murray’s affineur giving me a “it’s vegetal ash, you dumbass” look when I asked later), and aged for 1 week, 3 weeks, 7 weeks, and then 10 weeks at its oldest.
As we sat at large, wooden picnic tables set over hay in an outdoor barn area, I anxiously awaited what this “chevre” would taste like. Part of me hoped that it wouldn’t smell or taste anything like the goats that I was trying to rub from my hands onto my jeans (remember, this is before the days of Purell… whoa, right? Yup, I’m THAT old). When the first, 1 week aged chevre arrived, sliced into a round with just a small hole interrupting the snow-white, ridged perfection of the cheese, I leaned in and sniffed. Yup, still smelled like goat, but not in the sweat-covered coarse-haired fur-ball way that the goats had. The scent was milder, a little sour, but not in a bad milk way at all. Now that the cheese lay in front of me with just the faint wisp of a bloomy rind circling its outer edge, my normal food-cravings set in and my mouth began to salivate. I grabbed the disk and bit in…
Delicious. Yes, it still tasted a little like licking a goat, but damn, that tangy mild-creaminess could not be disliked. It tasted fresh. I was completely perplexed by how something that came from an animal that smelled anything but could taste like fresh-picked flowers, vegetables and fruit. As the aged versions arrived, each one becoming a little more plastic-y, somewhat resembling stained glass, I was intrigued by how the animaly-ness actually changed into nutty, almost meaty notes. In fact, the 10-week aged St. Maure was quite nice and snackable – it was like al dente pasta, its texture providing a lovely break from the soft creaminess of the younger versions. While the cheese was enlightening, the apple cider that we were then served (also produced on the goat farm) was unfortunately NOT what I had been hoping. It was as if an apple had been rolled across the back of a sweaty goat before being pressed and fermented…
After that trip, I ate “salade chevre chaud” as much as possible before leaving France. In fact, I ate it almost daily following my daily infusion of a pate de campagne sandwic and fromage blanc with fraises du bois. When I returned home, sadly, I couldn’t find my St. Maure again. I found other, delightful Loire Valley chevre varieties in different forms/shapes, but never that beautiful, tubular bundle of goodness complete with paille core. In my complete ignorance, I had no idea that it would be hard to find in the states.
As the years passed and my waistline increased, I’ve found my delicious St. Maure many, many times. But nothing prepared me for the day that I stepped into the caves at Murray’s as an intern and was asked to pat down the fuzzy, penicilium candidum mold surrounding the delicate and tender goat-milk cheese forming on a fresh log of St. Maure. Mike, the affineur, is not one for displays of emotion, so I hid the chills that ran up my spine and sniffed in the tear forming at the corner of my eye, quickly patting, rolling, and flipping the fragile logs.
It’s such a small thing, literally. It’s a log of goat cheese for Christ’s sake! Yet for someone like me, who everyday questions whether or not leaving my old career (and paycheck) was the right decision, it was a silent confirmation that I’ve chosen the right path. Sometimes I forget to savour moments like these, but luckily, a little thing like the scent-memory of a stinky goat welled up enough emotion to make me stop and be thankful.
What’s a swine floozy? It’s someone who gets the swine flu and then just spreads it around town like it’s going out of style.
True to his Asian paranoid roots, my father sent me a matrix today that tells you the difference between the common cold, the seasonal flu, and our good friend Swinesy McGiggles. Long story short, swine flu is like the common cold and the seasonal flu in that in all 3 cases, you’re sick; except with the swine flu you apparently run 101+ fever, your chest burns like you’re stuck in a desert AND swallowed a cactus, and oh yeah, you get a riotous bout of the runs. Grrrreat!
Listen, all kidding aside, that actually does sound pretty bad. It at least sounds bad enough that if someone so much as hiccups on the subway, I will trample your baby carriage to get to the other side of the car. Actually, I have a very unfortunate ability (or disability) to be acutely aware of human odor… not in the BO kind of way, but just in a weird way where everyone has a unique, personalized smell. Sometimes that smell is great, and sometimes it’s not. Don’t worry, you’ll know if I’m not digging your scent cause I’ll be holding my breath and trying not to make eye contact with you while doing one of those exaggerated back-bends away like we’re playing limbo, and you’re the stick. Where’s this going? So glad you asked! When people get sick, they smell sour to me… I swear, when people are congested, they just have a very odd, very distinct, sour smell. Not good sour like pickles, either. Bad sour, like spoilage.
So if I so much as smell old, chunky milk emanating from you, I’m booking it as far away as possible. And if you have the magical combo listed above that means you’ve just won Swine Flu Bingo, do us all a favor and keep your leaky butt at home. Sure, I know, if I have such a phobia and a scent problem, I should just embrace my Asian roots and don my face mask. You know what? I’ve thought about it and even though I know I would get those, “Hey look, I know that person’s Asian cause they’re wearing a face mask!” looks from tourists in matching “I’m with stupid” shirts, it still beats the hell out of the swine flu. The only thing stopping me is that a face mask would really inhibit my ability to slurp up ramen noodles…
Is anyone still out there? I know, I know, I’m a bad blogger. Add this to the list of things I’ve tried, been gung-ho about for a few months, and then fizzled on. You know, like my juice diet, work out plans, sobriety… Consider this post my Valentine’s day cactus-gram to apologize for being lame.
But that cactus-gram line from Juno isn’t just an homage to how much bone-dry sarcasm tickles me, it’s because I have Juno on the brain. NO! I’m NOT pregnant (although human gestation seems to be on everyone’s minds these day, which is great, as long as my uterus isn’t involved). No, it’s because my husband has actually succumbed to illness. Every once in a while, he gets a cold, but it’s usually well-timed right dab-smack in the middle of a weekend or holiday, never during capitalist/market hours. After all, that’s not his own time, that time belongs to “the firm.” My husband, being the finance/work-machine that he is (the man has a calculator collection with he, himself being the largest in his collection), he usually doesn’t allow himself to get sick during his 6/7 workdays per week.
Yet today, he worked from home in the morning. Yes, that’s right, he took an ALMOST sick day. It took my insisting that he should not go in with a 102 fever for him to sleep an extra hour before running to the computer to make an 8AM conference call wearing no less than 8 layers of clothing and a winter hat. After a brunch of Theraflu, takeout soup, and 2 Mucinex D, he disappeared into the bathroom and emerged 30 minutes later fully dressed and heading out the door to go into the office for the rest of the day, deliriously mumbling, “so much to do… so much to do…” I don’t know if anyone on his team reads this blog, but if they do, they might want to invest in Purell.
He’s promised not to work late today and to have soup at home vs. his daily infusion of Chipotle. That’s right, people, I work at a gourmet cheese shop (ooo, so fancy!) and my husband subsists on a steady diet of mass-produced burrito. What can you do? Not tonight, though. I have a chicken in a pot and am making him a week’s worth of chicken soup with bow-tie noodles — if you know my husband, you know that he loves the bow ties. And not in that fake, metro-sexual, hipster chic way that looks RIDICULOUS. No, he came out of the womb loving bow ties and I think it’s a major part of his 20-something going on 70-something charm. Bow-ties and long, slow walks through the park for exercise… Someday he’ll grow into these quirks.
The problem with being well-intentioned and horribly short-sighted is that it all usually ends in tears. I decided sometime last week to finally tackle that giant bag of black, line-dry laundry that I’ve been accumulating over the last few months, and then since I only have one drying rack, I hung most of it to dry over any and every surface of my apartment — where it still hangs to this very day. Do you know where this is going yet? Juno references, chicken soup cooking, apartment upholstered in clean laundry…
“She smells like soup. Have you ever smelled her? I mean, her whole house smells like soup!” Yep, that’s me. I’m Soupy-Sales. Basically, everything I wear for the next month is going to wreak of chicken stock. People will stop referring to me as “that girl who smells like stinky cheese” and start referring to me as, “that girl who smells like stinky cheese and chicken noodle soup.” EVERYTHING smells like soup!!! Between that and the ridiculous amount of heat being pumped through my co-op (only between the MOST useless hours of the day, shutting off right in time to leave you shivering in the wee-hours of the AM), I feel like an ever-plumping matzo-ball simmering in an apartment of chicken soup… and yes, I’m getting more spherical by the moment.
Oh, and by the way – I’m not giving you the stink eye, that’s just my face.
…well, I’m not quite and eagle, I’m more like an overweight, lazy, park-grazing pigeon. It’s not important. What IS important is that I’ve found a new home! I have just completed my first week at Murray’s Cheeses where I will be organizing their classes and special events. I would have written sooner, but finally learning from all my past luck, I figured it was best to wait until the ink dried and I was actually there before letting it be known.
On top of my cautious announcement, I’m also holding back on the effusive elation, even though the job sounds like and has so far been pretty damn cool. Why? Well, I’ve learned that if you walk into a job with ridiculous expectations, you usually get spiked like a free-floating, unaware volleyball. So this time, I’m going in hoping for the best, excited for all the incredible things that come with the job, but extremely aware that this is, at the end of the day, still a job.
This path, the way of cautious optimism, allows me to experience every little benefit of my new Murray’s life as it happens, vs. trying to anticipate all of my enjoyment at once at the waaayyyyy beginning of the job the way I’ve done in the past. For example, the very first day I started work, my job was to taste 6 different cheeses, totaling about 1/2 lb, paired with 6 different wines. That was my JOB. I had to take a class about cheese for free – no, wait, I was PAID to take a class about cheese & wine. With every bite that I took, my mind frantically tried to wrap itself around the moment. It just couldn’t be. Someone was paying me to eat a 1/2 lb of cheese… It’s like all those times I wished upon a star didn’t fall on deaf ears.
And then the next day, when I ate another 1/2 lb of cheese and paired it with hard cider, which was even BETTER than being paired with wine, I considered that maybe this was all a cruel dream and I would wake up elsewhere… Here I was, tasting amazing American-made ciders that on their own were pretty damn good, but when paired with the right cheese, basically sang in your mouth (and not my karaoke singing). Could this really be happening or was I being punked?
The following day, when I ate an entire pound of cheese, I saw that there could potentially be some negative consequences to this job… I told myself that when sampling cheeses, I should only smell and nibble enough to understand the flavor, texture, and appreciate its pairing if it had one. Yes, this is what I told myself even as I devoured the last ounce of my 12th cheese of the day and happily washed it down with a glass full of Brooklyn Local 1 pale ale. At this point, I may still be dreaming, but who the hell cares, I’m going to live it up. Right now, I hope for but never expect an incredible day, which means that each day ends up being a little like a surprise Christmas morning, except there’s no tree, just lots and lots of cheese presents.
So, the next time you see me, I hope it’s at Murray’s where you’ve come to take a class! I plan on introducing some great hands-on classes taught by all of the great cooks I know who I’ve wanted to learn from and now have an excuse and venue to do so! And when you do see me, if I’m a little more solid, don’t blame the cheese… it could very well be the ridiculous Francois Pralus chocolate that my friend Taylor introduced me to on our way out of work last week. More on the dark chocolate Infernal Bar tomorrow.
(And if you’re still reading even though I’ve been delinquent with my blogging, thank you for your support!!! I will definitely be better in the future, and will most likely be posting shorter, more pointed posts given my lack of time… the new brevity will most likely make it a better blog anyway.)
…Because I’m officially done with FCI. After basically living within the walls of 462 Broadway for the past 2 years (plus a few days), I’ve officially said goodbye to the place that trained me to cook and gave me my first job after my career change.
This past weekend, I finished up my last job with FCI as the Guest Chef Coordinator for the New York Culinary Experience. Months of planning culminated in an amazing (and exhausting) weekend where I not only ran around like a chicken with my head cut off to make sure that the Guest Chefs had what they needed for class, but I did so without much of a voice since true to being a disaster, I got terribly sick the week leading up to the event.
There was chaos, yelling (on the part of a particularly diva chef and her sous-chef), and crying (mostly on my part quietly in the corner of the storeroom), but in the end, it was the perfect capstone to my career at FCI. Basically, every different division of the school, from the student volunteers to the Admissions department, worked together this weekend to make this event happen, and it warmed my heart in a cheesy girl scout kind of way – not that I was much of a girl scout, I think I made it to Brownies before I pulled a, “Bitch, peddle your own damn cookies” to my troop leader. Of course, this weekend, I was more of the troop leader and my girl scouts were an army of student volunteers who helped me keep my sanity, most-likely preventing a hypoglycemic rage blackout on my part. Basically, these student volunteers probably saved more than my life this weekend.
I also had the chance to witness Chef Jonathan Benno and his team from Per se teach a 2 hour class on using every part of the lobster, serve up multiple appetizer-sized tastings, bring with and cook their own lunch (Cuban sandwiches), all the while not making a single peep or showing any perceivable signs of stress. Damn. That’s freaking elite. I don’t think they ever verbally communicated… maybe there was eye contact or SWAT-like hand signaling going on, or maybe, just maybe, they run like the freakishly efficient well-oiled machine that you would expect them to be. Even if it was to be expected, witnessing their stealth and precise movements and harmonious interaction left me in complete awe. My jaw would have been hanging to the ground if not for the fact that I had to chew the extra tastings that his team plated up for volunteers and staff in the kitchen. Yeah, they had time for that, too. Without FCI, I would never have witnessed something so unforgettable. It was like an exit bonus, minus a whole lot of zeros.
After the frantic energy of this weekend, I spent a few quiet moments finishing up some work in a dark office Sunday night and it hit me all at once – FCI has been my home away from home for 2 years. I’ve spent more time there than anywhere else since moving to NYC. There have been amazing times, and then there have been terrible times, but in the end, I’m so happy and thankful for the friends that I’ve made and all the experiences that I’ve had. Where else could I have become so completely addicted to cocktails (which I believe is called alcoholism…), Swedish meatballs, consommé, blogging, and the best damn baguette this side of the Atlantic?
This event represented the best of my time at FCI, and it made it both easy and difficult to say goodbye to the school. You always want to go out on a good note, but going out on a good note sometimes makes you wish for more. You know, like that perfect dessert that makes you want to stay and order just one more plate.
Oh. Dear. God. Somebody please make this week end. When I decided to take on a job helping to organize guest chefs for the fabulous New York Culinary Experience event, I thought, “How bad could it be?” That should have been my first clue. From now on, I will only take on jobs where I’m filled with anxiety and trepidation from the mere mention of the opportunity.
So far, I’ve gotten yelled out 3 times by 3 separate guest chefs, all for different reasons. My coworkers warned me that this would happen as the event drew near (it’s this weekend), but I thought, “No way! Couldn’t happen! Not to me!” Well… obviously I seem to have some sort of reasoning disability. My coworkers keep reminding me that these chefs aren’t yelling at me specifically, that they’re just venting their frustrations and stress. That’s grrreat. You know what, though? No matter what anyone tells you, getting yelled at just isn’t fun. This is like when my mom told me, “Mindy, someday when you go to give birth, the doctors will tell you that contractions are a good pain. That’s a lie. Pain is pain. It’s not good.”
So consider this week 7 days of labor after a particularly difficult pregnancy. Hopefully, at the end of it, I will have given birth to a beautiful event.
I decided to just post a quick and fun how-to on making a chopstick stand out of your disposable chopstick wrapper. My friend Keiko does this when we eat out and now I can’t help but do it every time someone places cheap balsam-like sticks wrapped in a paper tube down in front of me. It’s cuter and more authentic when Keiko does it because she can hold a conversation at the same time. Me? I’m usually completely withdrawn from conversation, staring at my paper folding, chewing on my bottom lip in frustrated concentration.
The activity keeps me distracted and calm so that I don’t sit there, bobbing my knee or tapping my foot, anxiously waiting for my food. My husband thinks it’s like Dog Whispering, where Cesar Milan gives unruly dogs a task to accomplish so that they don’t attack people and small animals. Kind of like how blogging keeps me from going upstairs and telling my neighbor that her child is annoying and could he stop running laps with his iron feet back and forth and back and forth. It also helps me from angrily and loudly spraying Oust outside my other neighbor’s door who smokes like a chimney and refuses to crack a window, causing the hallway and my apartment to smell like a college dorm room from the 90s. Yep, I’m that neighbor. Now all I need is a gaggle of cats…
Fancy Shmancy Disposable Chopstick Stand
- Start by folding your chopstick wrapper into thirds like you would fold a piece of paper to fit into an envelope, folding the left 1/3 over the center, and then the right 1/3 over that.
- Fold your new, smaller rectangle (that is 1/3 the length of your original chopstick wrapper) in half lengthwise and then unfold slightly, forming a kind of tent.
- Start at one side of the tent and push the pointed edge of the tent down and pinch the sides, making an inverted Isosceles triangle that’s bisected by the top of the tent. Repeat on the other side until you have created your own chopstick stand
First of all, let me just say that I wrote this whole post out on my WordPress app on my iPhone… which then deleted it as it was trying to connect to the network. Awesome. Probably for the best as I still can’t type very well on the touch screen and am just Fanny Fat Thumbs, typing 8 letters at a time by accident. That post would have made even less sense than the rest of my posts.
So, for the second time… Murray’s Affineur, Mike-aroni & Cheese, is in New Orleans this week to take a little time away. Unfortunately, the caves seemed to have sensed that he was about to leave and threw every malfunction that it could muster at him, almost as if they were saying, “Where do you think you’re going, Mike Anderson?” with that creepy Sigourney Weaver evil computer voice. Who moved my cheese? Mike Anderson did. The poor guy had to empty out an entire cave and transfer all its cheeses to a different cave, and then do the whole thing again. By the time he actually did make it out of there, he had earned his vacation about a million times over. It’s weird, the caves didn’t seem to have any problems until about 3 weeks ago, which ironically enough, is when I started working there…
And what was I doing in the midst of the cave hauling? I was patting down and flipping my cheese pets in Cave 3, aka “my happy place.” The one time I offered my help in lifting a 50lb wheel of cheese to my fellow intern, Isak, gave me a look that said, “The day that I need a small Asian woman to help me, a giant Scandinavian, lift something is the day I kill myself.” Actually, his look said that but he also said it out loud in case I missed it.
Isak thinks that my Asianess is also the reason behind why I love the fuzzy cheeses in Cave 3, because apparently, Asian love cuteness… Yeah, alright, it’s true. What’s wrong with that??? Isak and I have decided that fuzzy bloomy rind cheeses will be the next rage item in Japanimation – all they need are little googly eyes and some sort of super power, like the ability to be delicious. Don’t be surprised if furry cheese toys are the next big thing coming out of Tokyo.
At least my iPhone helped me take these pictures… although it probably wasn’t a great idea to touch my phone with my mold-coated hands. The answer to your question is No, I will never learn.