Happy Holidays!

Frank dresses for the holidays.

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Have cheese, will travel.

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.

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Like Licking a Goat…

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.

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Queso Serious???

So I’ve been trying for weeks to get Murray’s to do SOMETHING with the phrase, “Queso Serious?”  I’ve gone so far as to carve it into a pumpkin with an image of the joker underneath!  (Disclaimer: by “carve,” I mean that I liquored up my Japanese friend, Keiko, and put her little OCD attention-for-detail hands to work carving out lettering while I painfully chipped away at the Joker’s face)  In truth, the title of this post has nothing to do with anything, but damnit, a corny Spanglish pun that good just cannot go to waste!!!

Beware, ladies and gentlemen, Murray’s is about to let me loose from my cage.  I am about to roll out my first 2 months of classes, complete with a newsletter that I’ve had to design in Photoshop, a program I have about 2% knowledge of — think the computer equivalent to me drawing a newsletter on the back of a napkin in crayon…  I’ve leaned HEAVILY on my friends for the upcoming 2010 class schedule, pulling chefs and drinking experts from here and there to come in and bail my sinking ship out.  Thanks to them, there is an outside chance that I may not be fired (or quit) within the first quarter of 2010!

I will definitely post more about upcoming classes next week when my brain will hopefully start to emerge from the cheese fog that it’s been engulfed in for the past few weeks… or has it been months?  Apologies to the handful of readers still actually clicking on my sad, dwindling blog…

where my brain has been... aging in a cheese cave.

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Don’t be a swine floozy.

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…

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This cactus-gram stings even more than your abandonment…

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…

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“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.

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The eagle has landed…

…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.)

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