I've been awol. I didn't think it would happen, but I found myself unable to write. You wouldn't be upset about it though if you saw the circles under my eyes (cause I'm tired, yo). And you'd be even less upset about it if you lived here in San Francisco and I was bringing you cakes and pastries and breads every other day. It's made me friends. Yes, that's plural. I have bought myself more than one friend with treats and I am not ashamed to say it.
The bread portion of pastry school is over. After weeks, which were often physically and emotionally exhausting, we're done. I know this sounds dramatic, but I think it's fair to say the last four weeks kicked my butt. And not just mine. This week we were short three people almost every day of class. We're dropping like flies, getting felled by a variety of ailments from the flu, to allergies, to a tooth infection. Okay, the last two are not baking-induced, but they are afflictions nonetheless. And more importantly, they inhibit the baking process.
Fortunately though, our instructor seemed to recognize our falling apart at the seams and wanted to reward us for making it through so many grueling days. Friday he got the entire school together for a huge and fantastic party. Our class was in charge of the bread. We got full use of the wood-fired oven, which is easily as big as two-thirds of my kitchen at home. That may mean nothing to you. Let me put it this way, it may be a small kitchen, but it's a huge oven. In that magnificent beast we baked, at no less than 1000 degrees, pita bread, manoosh, na'an and pizzas. The school's faculty made the real food (for us! at home! how sweet!!). We had dhalpouri, curried cauliflower, some sort of miraculous okra something, baba ganoush, hummus, tabouli, tzaziki, ghee, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, chutneys and more chutneys and beer and wine... and of course, it being a pastry school, three massive chocolate cakes with chocolate buttercream frosting and chocolate ganache. Holy bread feast. The day ended with, and I kid you not, us sitting around one of the interns at the school playing guitar and singing, all of us together. I so wish I was kidding. But I am not. It started with Johnny Cash and ended with Bob Marley. After that I drifted off to the pastry lab and helped one of the instructors there make tiny fondant baguettes, batards and croissants. A fitting transition into pastry, I would say.
To say yesterday was necessary is perhaps the understatement of the year, or the month anyway. I don't want to get carried away with myself. I've gone from a highly functioning, relatively active and engaged member of society to an exhausted mess. This is nowhere more evident than on my train rides home from school.
Riding the train to school is always the best time to people watch, mostly because I'm strangely alert and observant at 6AM. My typical observations generally culminate in, holy crapola there are some crazy people riding this train. The usual suspects range in quirkiness quite a bit. There is the oft present friendly alcoholic. You can really smell them across a train first thing in the morning. And let me tell you, as one who is not accustomed to tipping the bottle at that early hour, the smell first burns your nose and then creeps into the pit of your stomach in the most unsettling way.
There is the talker. There are ever so many talkers. My favorite was the woman who insisted on shaking my hand the moment I grabbed the seat next to hers. She immediately launched into the story of her vacation, onto the book she's writing, and finally telling me that I have a deeply wonderful soul. I am not sure how this was evident to her as I did not say a single word to her. However, I am grateful that my soul can speak without a voice. As I got off the train she shouted to me, "Look for me on Oprah!". For real.
Oh, and what would the train be without the creepy old man? So far I've gotten off quite scott-free as far as this character is concerned (as compared with some of my classmates here), but there was one morning. I was ever so sleepy, it being 6AM. I just wanted to sit down and read my book. I grabbed my seat next to a harmless looking fellow. And that fellow, he just harmlessly put his hand on my knee. It was so friendly and innocent, honestly, it took me a moment to even register the invasion of my space. He didn't even glance at me as he made the move. I was so stunned I just looked at him and said, "No, no, please." And then he looked at me, equally stunned, as if he had no idea whatsoever that his hand was on my knee instead of his own. He removed the offending hand and then mumbled incoherently for the three minutes until his stop. Like I said, I think I got lucky with that one, all in all relatively innocent.
And finally, there is me. I never thought I was much to gawk at. I try not to be anyway. Somehow though, I seem to have forgotten myself in all of the hubbub that is baking school. The first week of school I was orderly and neat, morning through night. I packed my tidy little school bag up in the morning and I packed it neatly for the trip home, denying myself much more than a baguette a day. Over the weeks I've come home carrying increasingly more and more bread for my already over-stuffed friends and roommates. Early on I merely had flour speckling the toes of my shoes. That flour began creeping up my pants legs, onto the sleeves of my shirt, and finally this week, it was head to toe flour-flocked, a dusty, musty mess. I tumbled into the train on Wednesday, lugging a paper sack intended to hold 50 pounds of flour. It instead had 25 pounds of bread in it. My face was dusty with flour, my hair blown out by the wind. I had flour coating my paints straight to my waist. I had to shuffle my 25 pounds of bread around every stop for new passengers. It was ridiculous. And once I got home I realized I had dough stuck to my face. Perhaps you've seen me on the train? Please say hi. I'll gladly share some pastry.
My point being?? We needed that sweet mother of a party Friday. We needed it hard. I'm kind of over being the dough-splattered, flour-covered exhausted mess of a thing I was last week. Not because of how I looked, but because once home, I tumbled into bed, too tired even for a decent meal. The last time I cooked dinner for myself was two and a half weeks ago. I don't remember it because it was such a big production. I definitely don't remember it for its looks. I remember it because it was so simple and delicious and fresh and I've just been too tired to cook like that since. So thanks for the memories garlic bread soup. Maybe I'll see you around the bend, because I sure wouldn't mind another taste of you. You sure did right by me.
Garlic Bread Soup
Adapted from the Martha Stewart website
1/4 cup olive oil
8 large garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups stale, toasted sourdough bread (4 ounces), torn into small chunks
5 cups vegetable stock
1 cup canned chopped tomatoes, drained of their juices
1 bay leaf
3 large eggs, beaten
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until hot but not smoking. Add garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until very fragrant but not browned, about 10 minutes.
Add bread, and stir to coat and fry until crispy. Stir in stock, tomatoes and bay leaf; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes.
Stir in eggs. Cook, stirring occasionally to break up eggs, about 10 minutes.
This recipe and other fantastic bread recipes can be found weekly at Yeastspotting on Wild Yeast.