Maternity Pics…and Happy Thanksgiving!

I was tempted to start this post by writing…”where has the time gone?”  But, actually, I know exactly where it’s gone! Since writing my last post, I worked my tail off finishing my externship hours, wrapped up things with the ol’ day job, and (as of last week) I started my maternity leave. Our little lady still isn’t due for another three weeks, but I am beyond relieved to finally (FINALLY!!) be able to rest, relax, and await her arrival.
 
Needless to say, we are more excited than ever to welcome in this holiday season as it means we’re another day closer to meeting our baby girl. I hope you all have some fun Thanksgiving plans in store with the loved ones in your life!  We’re staying put in SF this year since, as my doc says, “she could really come any time now”….eeeeeek!
 
I also wanted to say THANK YOU to my awesome sister, who paid us a visit last weekend. She was so helpful getting some of our last minute “to-do’s” done and even volunteered to snap some pics of us. I wasn’t planning to have maternity pics taken, but I’m so glad we took some time to capture these. Thank you, Ginger!!
 
 
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My Experience at SF Cooking School

For most of this year, I have been on an amazing journey…and, while it’s not quite over yet, the end is drawing very near. And that makes me pretty darn excited, but pretty darn sad at the same time. That journey is called culinary school, and it all started when a crazy idea popped into my head about a year ago.
 
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A girl and her dream.

 
On an otherwise normal weekday, I found myself perusing the recreational class schedule on the SF Cooking School website. I’d visited their site a number of times in the past and, admittedly, daydreamed about entering their professional program. But, given my full-time work schedule, I always filed that fantasy away under “maybe someday”. But this time, an update to their website caught my eye with the announcement of their first ever part-time culinary program. And, thus, a seed was firmly planted…I could finally pursue my dream of culinary school, while still holding down my day job.
 
That was August of last year, and by this January, I had entered a whole new world of professional culinary training…a world that, in so many ways, was exactly what I’d hoped for, but also full of surprises.  I thought I’d share a little bit about my experience to answer many of the questions friends and family have asked along the way and also to help those that may be considering a similar journey of their own.  (Warning: it’s a long one…)
 
 
The Application Process
At SF Cooking School, there is an application process to be accepted into the program, and one of the key qualifiers is having genuine interest in pursuing career interests in the culinary realm. That’s not to say, you must pursue the “traditional” chef path working in a restaurant kitchen; it can also include peripheral interests such as recipe testing, cookbook development, food styling, or my personal favorite (of course) food blogging! The bottom line is, it’s not the place for bored housewives to just hone their dinner party-hosting skills.
 
After requesting an application through their website, not only did I receive the application via email, but also a personal call from the founder of the school herself, Jodi Liano.  We had a great chat about the application process, the format of the program, expectations of students, and what many alumni had gone on to do. Feeling very excited, I quickly turned in my application (which included two letters of reference and a short essay), and was thrilled when I was invited to the next stage of the process: the interview. That sounds like something that could be very intimidating, but in actuality was a lovely chat with Jodi and the Director of Admissions, Caroline, who are both genuinely interested in ensuring the school is a mutual fit for potential students. Shortly after the interview (a day or two), I was notified of my acceptance via an anxiously awaited call from Jodi.
 
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With my classmates and our instructor, Chef Kirsten, on the first day of class.

 
The Cost
If you’re someone who has ever looked into attending culinary school, then it won’t be news to you that it’s an expensive endeavor. In fact, cost is pretty much what kept me from pursuing other culinary programs when I first looked into them about 10 years ago.  Thankfully, while by no means would I call it inexpensive, SF Cooking School has a much better price tag than some of the larger, “traditional” culinary schools I had looked into before (as much as 50% less). Plus, the part-time program allows the ability to maintain a day job (ie. keep the cash flow coming in) while attending school.  After all, as became my mantra this year “culinary school isn’t going to pay for itself.”
 
For the part-time program, your tuition gets you eight months (14 hours per week) of classroom education, two uniforms, a tool kit (which includes a set of Wusthof knives), your student recipe binder, and a few reference books, including this tome, which is as close as we got to a textbook. The only required additional out-of-pocket expense is the purchase of black kitchen-appropriate shoes of your choice (I sprung for these puppies and have been very pleased). For additional information and specifics on tuition, I would recommend reaching out SF Cooking School directly for the current rates.
 
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A scene from the well-stocked classroom kitchen.

 
The Classroom Format
One of the first things that drew me to SF Cooking School was the small class size. My part-time class had just a dozen students, which meant plenty of personal attention in the classroom. Our 14 hours of class time per week were broken up as Tuesday/Thursday nights from 6:30pm to 10:30pm and Saturdays from 9:00am to 3:00pm over an eight-month period (full time students do about double the weekly hours in just four months). In addition to the regular coursework, students must also complete 30 “elective” hours, which may consist of culinary volunteer work outside of the classroom or assisting/attending some of the recreational classes publicly offered at the school. For example, I did things like assist a Macaron Baking class, volunteer at a La Cocina gala, and take a Candy & Confections Making class to contribute toward my hours.
 
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Perhaps my most serious moment in class ever, tending to chocolate.

 
A typical day in class looks like this…arrive about 15-20 minutes before class starts to change into your uniform and set up your station, which involves laying out your cutting board and whatever tools you’ll be using that day (typically a chef’s knife, paring knife, and a peeler). You also collect any new recipes that “Chef” (our instructor) has laid out, and then class starts promptly on time. The first 20-30 minutes or so are typically quasi-lecture format where recipes are reviewed and any new techniques are explained or demoed. Depending on difficulty level, lecture/demo lengths will vary. (For example, the chicken de-boning demo is a heck of a lot longer than the whipping egg whites demo). Then we break into teams (usually teams of two, sometimes four) and spend the next few hours cranking out recipes, pausing for any necessary help or ad hoc demos from Chef along the way. Once all the cooking is done, the table is set, and we sit down to feast together. Tasting of the food is an important (and required) aspect of the cooking process, and meal time is a chance to disucuss how certain ingredients or cooking methods effect the finished product. After the meal comes clean-up, where all surfaces are sanitized and the kitchen is left sparkling for the next day’s class. Then it’s back into street clothes and time to head home. (Important to note, with the exception of meal time, every minute spent in class is done on your feet, which prepares you for life in a real kitchen. It’s tough at first, but you definitely adjust to it quickly).
 
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Table is set, and dinner is served.

 
There are three exams over the course of the term, which are broken up into written and practical sections.  While there isn’t necessarily a formal grading process for the class, the results of these tests are a good way for both you and Chef to guage your progress, identify areas of weakness, and just generally make sure you’re not totally clueless and/or a hazard in the kitchen. My classmates and I always got unnecessarily stressed over exams, but each scored just fine (if not, excellent) on all of them.
 
 
Guest Speakers
One of my my favorite aspects of the curriculum and what makes SF Cooking School such a unique place is the roster of guest instructors, industry panels, and field trips that are sprinkled throughout the course. Aside from learning the practical applications of cooking alone, we were exposed to industry professionals on a regular basis, who could tell us directly what they expect of new cooks, the decisions they made to build successful careers, and what kinds of opportunities await beyond culinary school, both in and out of the kitchen. One day we might be making pizzas with the Delfina team or hearing from a panel of local food writers, while next we may be getting a behind the scenes look at Greenleaf, touring the Williams Sonoma test kitchen, or foraging with a James Beard Award winner.
 
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A favorite day, dumpling workshop with guest instructor, Andrea Nguyen.

 
The speakers each possessed diverse experiences, yet all shared a common thread of relentless passion for what they do and, beyond that, a desire to share that passion to inspire the next crop of culinarians. Not a single person left without sharing their personal email address with us and encouraging us to reach out in the future (and we’re talking about seriously busy people running some of the most popular restaurants in San Francisco). One thing is for certain, when you leave SF Cooking School, you do so with a well established network of contacts throughout the Bay Area that includes the school administrators, your classmates, and all of the guest speakers…and, in my opinion, those interactions and relationships are a great deal of what your tuition pays for.
 
 
Restaurant Week
Near the end of the eight-month “classroom portion” of school, preparations begin for an exciting two nights of farewell dinners hosted for friends and family. Aptly titled “Restuarant Week”, the school is converted into a faux restuarant where new skills are put into action. Although the dinners occur over just two nights, preparation takes about two weeks leading up to the event as menu ideas are tossed around, tested, and finalized. The final offering is a three course meal with four options guests may choose from per starter, entree, and dessert course. The class is split up into two groups, with each group manning front of house one night and back of house the other.
 
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Line-up of plates ready for tasting before Restaurant Week service begins.

 
Restaurant Week is such an exciting time to see all of your hard work and ideas cranking out of the kitchen in the form of actual food being eaten by actual guests. But it’s bittersweet as well, knowing you’ll soon be seeing far less of all the amazing classmates you’ve grown close to.
 
 
The Externship
One of the biggest details not to be overlooked in pursuing a culinary education, is the completion of an externship. From what I’ve heard, externships are required by most culinary schools, and SF Cooking School is no exception.  With our classroom education finished, we must complete 240 hours of unpaid work in a real-life professional kitchen, and that’s where I am now – about halfway through my hours, working at Prospect, a fine dining restaurant in downtown San Francisco. And let me tell you…it is no joke. While kitchen life can definitely be exciting, interesting, and fun, it is also very hard work, long hours, and fast paced. Oh, and you’re on your feet the whole time. (Not to mention, most of us part-time students are carrying on full-time day jobs in addition to externing 20 or more hours per week…and did I mentioned I’m 28 weeks pregnant? Ya, minor detail…)
 
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I can’t blame this belly on overindulgence alone.

 
For students that plan to continue down the restaurant path, these externships often turn into paid positions, once the gratuitous extern hours are complete. Personally, I’ve known from day one that the culinary school end game for me was never to work full-time in restaurants as my interests lie on the food media side. However, I’m so appreciative for the opportunity to round out my education with this professional kitchen experience. It’s been very eye opening for me to step away from my computer and away from the comfort zone of the classroom. There’s simply no substitute for the learn by doing approach, and, working the line during a busy dinner service, that’s exactly what you’ll get.
 
Externing deserves a whole post of its own, and I plan to share much more when I’m all finished. I would just stress now, when considering a culinary education, don’t underestimate the importance of the externship and your school’s ability to help you get placed at a respectable establishment. At SF Cooking School, they partner with some really amazing restaurants throughout San Francisco (and some of the nearby suburbs), and I would have been thrilled to work at any of them. In terms of choice, you don’t have final say on the exact restaurant you are placed at, but you are able to provide input as to cuisine and geographical preference, and they do their best to meet your requests. My classmates and I were all really happy with our placements, which included the likes of Frances, A16, Commonwealth, Locanda, Spruce, and many more.
 
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Final farewell…newly trained cooks ready to ship off to externships.

 
The Case for Culinary School
There is ongoing debate across the industry as to whether culinary school is “necessary”, and it really depends on each individual. The reality is, sure, there are some kitchens out there that are willing to hire inexperienced cooks, particularly as most jobs start with a trial period or “stage”, which allows both the restaurant and cook to test each other out to determine if it’s a fit. If you work hard, pay attention, and show progress, chances are that restaurants will keep you on. Over time, you could certainly gain much of the knowledge that is picked up through culinary school and grow into a successful and experienced cook. (This approach works particularly well, if you have youth on your side).
 
However, given the choice, I personally think there is a huge advantage to “learning the ropes” in a condensed format via culinary school prior to setting foot in a professional kitchen, partularly if you’re getting a late start in the game (like me and most of my classmates). Externing in a professional kitchen today truly makes me appreciate the ability to have first cut my teeth learning in the calm, controlled, and relatively stress-free environment of the classroom, with the ability to ask lots of “dumb” questions (and trust me, I had like a million of them). While by no means did I learn nearly everything I need to know in school, I did learn a ton about kitchen equipment, ettiquette, terminololgy, technique, culture, safety, organization, cleanliness, food quality, ingredients, prep…and all of this made me a thousand times more comfortable the day I first walked into a professional kitchen than I otherwise would have been.
 
Additionally, since my end goal wasn’t simply to secure a cooking job in a restaurant, I really went into this hungry for the technical cooking foundation. My whole motivation was to become a more knowledgeable, credible cooking authority for the benefit of my blog and whatever opportunities may arise from my blog, and I do feel that I’m on the path to accomplishing that. So in my case, yes, I give a resounding thumbs up to culinary schoool! (And, actually, most of the cooks I’ve met in the professional kitchen so far have all been to culinary school as well).
 
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Excited to see what the future holds for this amazing group of people.

 
So Now What?
My main focus now is full steam ahead to crank through my remaining externship hours. I jokingly call it “the race against the belly” to finish up before my pregnant belly inhibits me from navigating safely and comfortably in the kitchen. So far, I’ve been handling it pretty well, but also allowing myself ample down time to recouperate between shifts. If all goes according to plan, I should be finished around the end of October, when I’ll be about 33 weeks along.
 
After that, we’re on to the home stretch, with the baby due mid December. I’m planning to take it as easy as possible in my final weeks of pregnancy, and I’m sure I’ll be buried in new motherhood fog over the holidays and early next year. After that, I’m hoping/planning/preparing to get back on track with regular posting and figuring out the long term plan for Serving Seconds or other food media avenues I may want to explore.
 
I’m also really looking forward to the final culinary school wrap up when I reunite with all of my classmates at our graduation ceremony in January…crazy to think I will be a mother by that time, and my little one will be attending with me!
 
Needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind of a year full of interesting experiences, tons of new lessons learned, and, like so many new challenges in life, plenty of hard work. I’m grateful for the chance to have embarked on this journey and so excited for what’s yet to come…
 
If any readers out there have questions about SF Cooking School or culinary school in general, please feel free to reach out. I’m happy to share any additional info that you may find helpful. Good luck and happy cooking to all!!.
 
PS…thanks to Nancy, Bettyann, and SF Cooking School for a few of the borrowed pics.
 
 
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It’s Been Forever…and Here’s Why!

It’s been almost two months since I’ve published my last post, and I’m finally checking in today to share the biggest news ever!  In the past, whenever I would mention “having news”, people would always say, “Oh, I thought you were pregnant”…seriously, a girl in her 30’s can’t mention “news”, gain a few pounds, or skip a glass of wine without raising eyebrows. That used to bug me before, but now I really do have “that” news to share…there is officially a bun in the oven!
 
In truly one of the busiest years of my life, I figured, “hey, why not throw a new family member into the mix?” I have a knack for great timing, eh?  I know this news comes as absolutely no surprise to those that follow me on Instagram, but I’m finally taking the time to share the news here, along with a few details about how things are going so far…
 
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How I’ve been feeling…

I owe huge thanks to some greater power out there in the world that bestowed zero morning sickness on me.  It’s like, they knew I had absolutely no room for sickness in my life, and I am eternally grateful for this hall pass.  I couldn’t imagine getting through these past few months of work and school, if I also had to deal with sickness and nausea. For anyone that’s ever witnessed me with a hangover, you can attest to my tolerance for nausea (pretty much nonexistent).
 
There have definitely been some very tired days, but now that I’m into my second trimester, I’ve gotten some of my energy back.  But naps are also my new best friend, and I give myself permission to take them every chance I get…like the good kind, where you get in pajamas and crawl into bed…not the crappy kind curled up on the couch.
 
There may be some moodiness happening from time to as well, but (ahem) you’ll just have to ask Kevin about that…
 
 
The body situation…

I’m just at 19 weeks now, and there is no denying that the belly has arrived. It is the strangest thing to see these early changes, and mind-boggling to imagine how much further there is to go.  It’s pretty much a nightly occurrance that I stand to the side, showing the roundness to Kevin, saying “isn’t is it weeeeeeeeird?” Because, I know it’s a beautiful thing and all…but it’s also super weird.
 
I’ve sort of always known I wouldn’t be one of those “I love being pregnant!” girls…and, while I can confirm that this is turning out to be true, I also don’t totally hate it.  Although, I could stand to pee about 10 times less a day (not joking).
 
 
Food & drinking…

One of the most common questions people ask me is whether I’ve had any weird cravings, and, to be honest, I’m not exactly sure. I’ve definitely been on a serious noodle kick (any kind of Asian noodles will do), but I’m not sure if it’s truly “cravings”, or if that’s just my excuse to eat noodles up the wazoo. I’m sticking with the cravings story.
 
The drinking situation has been a total surprise. I thought I would miss those precious glasses of wine after a long day at work, but I really don’t miss drinking at all.  Every now and then, if Kevin’s having a glass, I’m like “let me just smell it”, and then I’m like “meh”.
 
I will say though, those early days of pregnancy where you can’t share your news yet and you have to hide the “no drinking” thing…kind of my nightmare, and I pretty much went into hiding. Seriously, if you ever witness a female not drinking, just cut her a break, don’t call her out, and pretend like it’s the most normal thing in the world. We all know you know the truth, but just pretend for her sake.
 
 
The deal with culinary school…

The school situation is definitely about to get interesting (that’s code for “holy crap”). My last day in the classroom will be August 24th, but that’s not nearly the end. Immediatly following that, I start an externship, where I’ll put all my fancy new skills to use actually working in a restaurant…for 240 hours!! I’ll be about 5 months preggo at that point (and hopefully not too humongous), and the plan is to just start cranking out those hours as fast as I can. I really want to finish up before the baby comes, but I’m going to just do the best I can. If I need to finish next year, so be it. My mantra is to just “take it day by day”.  (Still waiting to hear where I’ll be placed, btw…should know by the end of the month).
 
 
How Kevin’s handling things…

Um, like a champ. Seriously, he has been a picture of calm. It’s almost eerie. We even went into one of those monstrous baby stores, and I was waiting for a spaz out moment…which never happened. I asked him, “how can you be so calm right now?” And he was like, “I don’t see how stressing out would help the situation”. Damn, he can be so rational sometimes.
 
He has also been COOKING!!!, which is one of the biggest surprises of my life. We started ordering the Blue Apron dinners, and one night he asked if he could take a stab at it. I was like, “this should be interesting”, but he kind of nailed it and hasn’t let me make a Blue Apron meal since. It’s actually really nice to get some help in the kitchen, and pretty cool to see how much he loves it.
 
 
On blogging…

I’ve had a few people ask me if the blog is donezo, and I promise it’s not! I’m sure this post sheds a little light as to why I’ve been so nonexistent of late, but I’m not ready to be done with Serving Seconds quite yet! I’m still thinking about what it all will eventually lead to, but those are decisions for another time. For now, I’ll just keep popping in whenever I can…which will hopefully be a bit more often than it has been.
 
 
PS…finding out the gender this Thursday, which I’ll be sharing on Instagram!
 
 
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Zesty Lemon Strawberry Shortcake…and a Giveaway (Closed)

If there’s one thing I’m religious about in the kitchen, it’s whipping my own whipped cream.  There are certain things I’m willing to cut corners on, but nothing beats the heavenly fluffiness of just whipped cream. It’s one of those tasks that sounds a lot more complicated than it is, but it actually happens really fast…especially with the help of a mixer…the job is done in less than a minute. Which brings me to an exciting announcement…not only do I have a yummy Strawberry Shortcake recipe to share with you today, but I’ve teamed up with Hamilton Beach, and I’m giving one lucky winner TWO fabulous mixers (more details on that below!).

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I prefer shortcake that’s not overtly sweet.  While I do add a bit of sugar (adjusting the amount, depending on the sweetness of my berries), I also add some fresh lemon zest and juice along with some chopped mint to give it fresh and zingy flavor.

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Let all those ingredients sit together for a bit, and the strawberries start oozing a luscious syrupy juice. It’s divine.

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With a stand mixer, it doesn’t get much easier than tossing whipped cream, sugar, and vanilla into the bowl, and letting the machine do all of the work for you. I loved testing out this great little machine. It’s sturdy, but still lightweight so it’s easy to manage, and it was completely simple to operate. Plus, it’s easy to dismantle, and I had just two parts to wash after…the bowl and the whisk attachment. (The cream could easily be whipped with a handheld mixer as well).

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Here’s a little tip for testing the doneness of whipped cream….you know when they say beat till “stiff peaks” form?  Well, sometimes it’s tough to tell when you reach that point, but if you flip over your beater, and the cream stand in a stiff point (instead of dropping over), then you are good to go!

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Zesty Lemon Strawberry Shortcake

You’ll need:

  • 1 pound strawberries, cut into bite-size pieces
  • About 1 tablespoon sugar
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 5 mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 pound cake (or other cake of your choice)

For the whipped cream:

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

To prepare:

  1. In a bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar, lemon, lemon zest, and mint. Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes so the juices release.
  2. (optional) Using a ring mold, cut circular shapes from slices of pound cake. (Or serve with the whole slice of cake).
  3. In the bowl of a mixer, add the whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla.  Beat at the highest speed until stiff peaks form.
  4. To serve, arrange the pound cake in the center of a plate, pile on a generous serving of strawberries, and top with a dollop of whipped cream.

Serves 4-6

 

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Giveaway Details – CLOSED

 

***Congratulations to contest winner, Heather D!!  I’ll be reaching out via email with more details!***

Now’s your chance to get your hands on the Hamilton Beach 6 Speed Stand Mixer AND the SoftScrape 6 Speed Hand Mixer.  I’ll be giving BOTH to one lucky winner!!

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There are a few ways to enter, such as leaving a comment or tweeting, but you must be logged into Rafflecopter for tracking purposes. You can log in below via Facebook or by entering your email address. The giveaway ends on Sunday, June 8th at 12:00am, and the winner will be contacted via email. U.S. entries only. Must be 18 years or older. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

As a brand ambassador for Hamilton Beach, the products I tested were provided on a complimentary basis.  All opinions are my own.

 

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