Rosemary Beer Bread

Rosemary Beer BreadGenerally, I ignore social commentaries and political remarks from nescient soap-box orators on Facebook – as the saying goes, opinions are like assholes…

However, yesterday I saw three re-posts from a “friend” on FB that started with his defending his right to fly the confederate flag (fine, you are allowed your ignorant beliefs) and grew increasingly hateful and racist.

Usually I would roll my eyes and move on, not wanting the drama, but I realized that doing nothing is the equivalent of condoning his comments. So, this morning, I posted the following:

“The confederate flag is part of our imperfect history and as such, should be discussed in history classes, used in Civil War re-enactments and displayed, in the appropriate context, in museums. It should NOT fly over government buildings. It is a reminder to some Americans of a painful and unjust past (and present). The Nazi Swastika is also part of “history”. Should government buildings fly that flag as well? I believe in everyone’s right to free speech – if you want to defend the confederate flag on Facebook, I won’t stop you. If you want to make stereotypical racial slurs about African Americans and Welfare, have at it. You prove that we are still a country divided. However, I will un-friend you immediately as I am not “friends” with bigots and racists. Peace Out!”

It feels energizing to dissent in my own small way; to say “this is not okay with me.” I exercise that courage in my career, but seldom in my social realm. In honor of my “uprising,” I’m baking super-easy, super-quick, beer bread.

Rosemary Beer Bread
Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients

3 c. All-purpose flour
1T. Baking powder
¼ c. Sugar or Brown sugar
½ t. Salt
1 T. Fresh rosemary
12 oz. Beer
3 T. Butter, melted
2 t. Flaky sea salt

 

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a loaf pan (I used butter). Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and rosemary. Make a well in the center and pour in beer. Mix with a wooden spoon until combined, but do not over-mix. Pour batter into prepared pan. Drizzle butter over dough and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake for 45-55 minutes until bread is golden and sounds ‘hollow’ when tapped with a finger. Cool for 10 minutes in pan, turn out and cool until slightly warm on a cooling rack.

W.W.W.D?

What would Walter Do?

 This weekend, I gorged myself on Breaking Bad, the final season. I can’t help but want to kick some ass and take some names after eight hours of that show. No, I don’t want to kill 10 people in 2 minutes, but…my niceness and desire to be liked does no one any good, lest of all, me. Fuck you, I want my share!

 For example, for the last six months, I’ve been dealing with the smell of human urine coming from my neighbor’s backyard. Yes, human urine. My neighbor’s drug-addict, highly volatile son and wife have been sleeping in the garage for the past few years. If his son needs to relieve himself, he uses his backyard as his urinal. I’ve actually heard him when my bedroom window is open. It’s disgusting, but I’ve been afraid of his son, who has robbed various neighbors’ homes and has taken a swing at more than person, so I’ve kept my mouth shut. This weekend, I called my neighbor out – asking him why his backyard smells like human urine. If it doesn’t get cleaned up in the next few weeks, I’m filing a complaint.

 And, speaking of neighbors, I also wrote a letter to Animal control regarding another neighbor who’s incessantly barking dogs have ruined gardening in my backyard, my quiet evenings reading and my attempts to fall asleep. I’m sick of it.

 And, I’m pissed off at my cleaning company, who do a half-ass job AND took about five pounds of nectarines from my tree without even asking – I wanted to make jam. I’m firing their asses.

 While not even close to Walter White status, It’s a start, anyway. It’s a start.

The lactose intolerant can go to Starbucks®

“People will always have opinions about your decision because they’re not courageous enough to take action on their opinion.”
― Steve Maraboli

I made the mistake of sharing my gelateria concept, should I ever get to that point, with my best friend and sisters on 4th of July.  In return, I received opinions, opinions, opinions.

“Well, then you have to serve coffee and become a full café.  What about all the lactose intolerant people who can’t eat gelato?  You need to have something for them.  There are so many people who can’t eat gelato. You can’t just serve gelato.”

It’s great that I surround myself with amazing women who have strong beliefs and are unafraid to speak their minds, but sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I could find a support system rather than a mob ready to mutilate my every hope, wish and dream, leaving them splayed and vivisected in the gutters of the street.

Fuck the lactose intolerant.

After the onslaught of comments, it’s been difficult for me to get back to the necessary preparatory work to make my dream  into a reality – my computer has sat, unused, on my kitchen table all week.  I know that I shouldn’t let this derail me.  There will always be the naysayers and detractors – the more negativity I hear, the more likely it is that I have a good concept.    But, the pessimism, especially from friends and family, deflates me like a balloon.

I don’t want to build this business in a bubble – I want opinions, but I need constructive opinions, opinions from experts who have been there and know what I’m talking about.  I want to ask a million questions of my restaurant-owning friends and of chef.  My sisters and friends, on the other hand, can tell me what they think of a flavor combination, once I’m fine tuning it, but, for now, I want them to keep their mouths shut.  Let me dream, let me research, let me explore, let me fine tune – and, unless you’re going to invest in it,  please keep your negative opinions to yourself.

The Rebuttal

The view from the hotel

The view from the hotel

It astonishes me that two people can experience relatively the same thing and walk away with absolutely disparate opinions.

I’ve held off writing this post to allow the blush of Italy to wear off from me a bit so I didn’t completely lash out.  In February, I was irritated when a reader named Luka sent me her post describing her time at ICI as analogous to culinary hell.  Deposits had been paid – I couldn’t back out now and go to Carpigiani’s sunny Gelato University where each Facebook post shows crowds of happy students making heavenly gelato.  I thought, “Well, I’ll just suck it up, learn what I can and get through it.” I was going to Gelato School in Italy – and this was how I was approaching it – thanks to that post (bad me for being so easily influenced).

Maybe she set the bar so low for me that I couldn’t help but be pleased. And I was pleased – with the hotel, with the food, with Chef and the class.  It was so much more than I imagined.

The Location
Luka called the town “deserted”.  It’s a resort town during low season. I didn’t go there to party and pick up on swarthy Italian men so I didn’t mind the lack of nightlife.  Days were spent in the kitchen until 4 pm – sometimes until 6 when we were having pasta lessons. Sure, I would have liked a nearby restaurant or bar that I could pop into for a pre-dinner aperitivo, but a quick 10-minute walk down the hillside found me on a beautiful, quiet beach where I could sun, swim and have some “me” time.

The hotel was described in her post as “mostly uninhabitable”.  It is a typical quirky Italian 3-star hotel (as it was described on the ICI website).  The hotel is a bit “Faulty Towers-esque” – the staff is a bit bumbling and it was iffy if breakfast was going to be available.  When I checked in, however, I found myself in a 2-bedroom apartment with a dining room, living room, kitchen, bathroom and balcony looking over the Ionian Sea. My room was clean, the water was hot and the views from the balcony were amazing.

The Food
Luka called the food “fit for a dive bar- primarily pasta with broccoli, a sauce make by cooking the hell out of the cheapest thing that was a the market until it fell apart and tossing that with noodles”.  She complained that the wine was cheap and limited.  During my first night, I was afraid this part may be true – I arrived a day early and was served the banquet food that was prepared for the wedding going on in the dining room – I’ve eaten worse, but it definitely was not good.   But starting the next day, once Chef John and Chef Andreas were cooking, we were fed handmade charcuterie, freshly made cheeses, sweet marmelata, marinated vegetables, crepes, handmade pasta, pork, veal, fresh fish, beef, and eggs with bright orange yolks.  One pasta dish was loaded with big flakes of freshly shaved black truffles – my mouth is craving it right now. Wine was good and plentiful.  Breakfast was meager (supplied by the hotel) – I would drink a foamy cappuccino and smother a sad croissant with Nutella, which satisfied me until Chef would announce it was “time for a snack” – usually around 10ish, followed by lunch and dinner. We ate well. Food was fresh, varied and plentiful.

The Class
I found chef to be fun and engaging and willing to pace the class to our needs.  Luka called him condescending and verbally abusive.  She said he threw things, had tantrums and that he was unpredictable with a possible personality disorder.  He’s an Italian from the Bronx – of course he’s not Mr. Rogers (what chef is?) – but I saw none of this behavior during class.  Admittedly, the daily curriculum can be loose, which can be good (Chef John and Chef Andreas stayed late for an impromptu pasta making lesson at my request) but can also mean topics are forgotten or we ran short on time on others. It’s impossible to learn everything about gelato in one week so I don’t feel like we were short-changed.

From my time at Culinary School, I’m used to doing things myself – from preparing the midday meal to peeling apples to cleaning the kitchen – Gelato school was more focused on demonstration than participation.  I was gently chided more than once for cleaning up after myself and was reminded that  I didn’t “have to” help prepare lunch (for me, it’s not “have to,” it’s “want to”).  I would call the class “low sweat and low mess” – closer to a cooking vacation than the rigors of professional Culinary School.

Despite it not being as fast, furious and hands-on as I was expecting, I found school to be highly enjoyable – and I’d return to ICI in a heartbeat. Now, I just need to decide between charcuterie and cheese-making.

a sampling of the “dive bar” food:

Baked Ricotta

Baked Ricotta

Caramel Crepe with Fleur de Sel

Caramel Crepe with Fleur de Sel

Pears

Stuffed Poached Pears

Kindly keep your assessments to yourself

Last month, I received a comment from a reader named Luka who wanted to “warn” me about the culinary school I will soon be attending.  It seems that her experience was less than ideal – in fact, in her eyes, it was “a disaster.”  My initial reaction was to attempt to brush her assessment off, but, in reality, her review of the school hit me in the pit of all my fears.  Did I just make a huge mistake? I was affected to the point that I considered canceling my trip; forfeiting both my tuition and airline ticket.

I DETEST myself for this reaction – trashing my dream based on one review from a stranger whom I know nothing about.  This school came recommended from a fellow culinary student who currently runs a flourishing restaurant.  Whose opinion, really, should I rely upon?  I write this post tonight as a challenge to my hesitations regarding school and my approaching experience.   It may be that Luka is 100% correct and this will be “a disaster,” but one person’s folly can be another’s life-shaping moment.

So much of  an experience is fashioned from our expectations and perceptions.  I wonder, exactly, what she was imagining when she states the school depicts the accommodations as “a fine hotel overlooking the sea in a popular resort town.”    That is not how the accommodations are described (at least in my reading). To me, they sound “utilitarian,” with the sparse amenities of work desk, telephone, TV with remote control (living large!), in room ironing press and hairdryer.  This is a Mobil 3-star hotel.  Three stars in America equals a Holiday Inn – In Italy, it’s a crap shoot and should be regarded as such.  All I need is a bed (sans bed-bugs).  I spent an amazing week in Tuscany living in a 14th century farmhouse – with spiders the size of my thumb and a wasp’s nest in the old hearth.  I’ve spent fondly-remembered weeks in a yurt without electricity, a reliable lantern, or heat – and with a communal bathroom about a half-mile away.  Everyone else in my group was snuggled cozily in the main house while I gladly chose to make my home in the yurt.  If I had not, I would never have been an arm’s length from deer grazing outside my door nor would I have seen the swath of Milky Way when I had to pee at 3 a.m.  in the cold, brightly lit night.

Luka goes on to say that, on some occasions, she lacked hot water or heat in her room.  I have dealt with both – neither left me with irreparable damage and, in fact, my current home is without heat in the bedrooms (an odd design flaw I didn’t notice until after the mortgage was signed). She talks about the location – “a deserted resort town with not a soul around and the nearest functioning town a $20 taxi ride away.”  The wifi was only available sitting in the unheated lobby and then… “so slow it was almost pointless to use.”  I thank her for that tidbit as it’s good information to have – sounds like I can leave my iPad at home and make room for my “good” camera – there must be plenty to photograph in a deserted, crumbling, sea-side town.

Should I go on?  She comments that the chef required the students to address him as “Chef”. He was condescending, treated the students badly, threw tantrums, and served family meals of poor quality.  The students were worked hard and sometimes didn’t taste the results of their labors.  Welcome to the culinary world!  This school isn’t a “cooking vacation” – nor does it profess to be.  This is a school for “advanced culinary professionals” which means most of us have attended culinary school where our Chef (yes, you DO call the instructor “Chef”) most likely was condescending and threw tantrums.  I’m not saying this behavior is appropriate or professional, but it is fairly standard.  Wait until you’re working the line in a kitchen – one needs to grow thick skin (or balls), ignore the dreadful behavior and cull the education you need from the presented material.  Cooking isn’t for sissies.

Luka goes on to say that this Chef “is not the teacher for young impressionable kids. Like the 20 somethings that attended.”  Maybe that’s just it! It probably isn’t the school for coddled, 20-something kids whose parents paid for them to go to Italy and play at “cooking” in between partying at the Italian disco and lazy afternoons on the Calabria coast, never far from their iPhone and wifi.  I’m neither 20-something nor am I looking for an Ibiza experience in Calabria – I want to learn how to make gelato, in Italy.

I don’t mean to be hard on Ms. Luka.  She expected one experience and decidedly found herself with something quite different.  I’m not even annoyed that she felt a need to press her experience on me – I’m sure she believed she was doing me a good turn.  I am, however, furious at myself for allowing her slant to darken my expectations. I will love it or hate it,  and, even if she is accurate and I do hate it,  it will not kill nor scar me – and it will be a wellspring of splendid stories that I can share with you here…once I’m back home, where there’s wifi (grin).