Cooking School Journal: Oil & Vinegar

Oil and vinegar

Oil and vinegar

I missed the “Game ” class, and then we had the Independence holiday off.

Sweet relief.

I was worried that everyone would think that my absence meant that the ‘Pastry Cream Incident of 2004′ had gotten the best of me. Well, honestly, I was wondering, too.

But, no. Like clockwork, Monday the 12th came around and I started to prep the girls’ and Joe’s dinner (I set the BBQ on fire). Joe came home shortly thereafter,we all kissed goodbye, and it was time to go back to school.

I changed from my tank top and shorts-scary I know. I put on my required long sleeves, long pants, closed-toe shoes and grabbed my baseball cap. The cap is an horrendous piece of ‘Swag’ from one of Joe’s eight-million events that says on the brim, “We CAN win!”

Ouch! But, it perfectly matches my Gap tan cargo pants. So, whatever!

It was 400,000 degrees in L.A. on Monday.

I thought the class was going to be “puff pastry II”. The thought of 4 industrial ovens set at 400 degrees was totally bumming me out. I’m already over-heated.

But, when I arrived, greeted extremely cheerily by all: Sabrina the Home Schooler, Ashley, Nora the Locksmith, L.A. Gear Alice, Not Gay Lance, Cameron, Anna and even Crazy Linda. I was shocked. Did they miss me? Or am I about to be voted off of the island.

PLEASE vote me off!

I learned that tonight was “Salad II”.

Oh thank God. Something Cold! And after the heavy dishes of the last few classes I have to add: Oh thank God. Fiber!

We spent the first two hours listening to a very long lecture by Chef. They keep seeming to get longer– or maybe it’s just getting hotter. We also had a blind tasting of several flavors and varietals of vinegars and oils.

We each had a plastic cup filled with forty pieces of cut straws, a tiny cup of sugar and Chef was passing out one ounce samples of vinegars and separate cups of oils. With our fingers on the top of the straw, we trapped a taste of each sample to drop onto our tongues.

We were supposed to blind taste and identify each drop like a Master Sommelier.

“I taste almond or no– hazelnut. That’s definitely hazelnut oil,” I said confidently to the first sample.

Chef’s eyes rolled, “That’s supermarket-grade olive oil,” she said.

It went on like that for forty minutes.

“I taste notes of fig,” I would exhort.

“Yeah. That’s malt vinegar,” she would explain, unable to even look in my direction.

Obviously I had too many Marlboro Lights in the 90s  to distinguish the taste of anything except a Marlboro Light.

Alice was sitting next to me. She was a blind-tasting god. 70% Wow! Even faced with a combo of grape seed (as I learned, any oil that is bright pale green is obviously grape seed oil) lemon essence, mango, and coconut extract. She nailed it.

Show Off.

To save the day…

Lance gave us the most beautiful homily about sherry and sherry vinegar.

Our tax dollars brought him via the U.S. Navy to a wonderful 20 months in Andalusia.

Yeah, yeah, protecting the world, living on a boat, less than minimum wage, prepared to die for my family…whatever. I was totally jealous. Sipping sherry from barrels in the “Sherry triangle” sounded like heaven to me.

I could have listened to him all night, but suddenly Linda was chiming about her latest crazy experience that had nothing to do with any of us or anything we had to do tonight. I was annoyed. Chef was getting annoyed too.

As Crazy Linda clamored on about an ongoing fight she’s been having with a “Japanese Buddy” of hers, regarding the smoking point of sesame oil (which one should never cook with anyway), Chef finally cut her off. Then, she passed me vinegar number 15A.

“Thank you!”, I said looking her straight into her eyes. We, for the first time, agreed.

I took my taste. “Balsamic, of course.”

“Apple cider,” she replied. Damn!

When the tasting was over, I scored a very below average, and we broke into groups.

She divided the room in half and told us to cook.

I quickly donned my chef’s coat and washed my hands.

When I emerged from the ladies room, I saw Chef yelling to the room, “Where is Jules?!”

“Jules?!” she bellowed.

“Oh God!,” I thought. Not only was I going to get it for having the lamest palate in North America, but now she’s going to ream me for being a total bitch at the “pastry cream” class.

I tentatively approached her.

“Yes?” I said meekly, prepared for the worst.

“Jules, I need to know. Was I totally rude?”, she whispered.

All I could think about was how sh*tty I felt last class.

“Uhh, What?” I replied in all of my eloquence.

“To Linda,” she said.  “Was I too rude?”

Oh thank God. It wasn’t about me! She was looking for some sort of sorority-like bonding moment.

My reply…

a bold, flat, ” I don’t think you were rude enough.”

She nodded happily in my direction,

For one weird, sick moment we were on the same page.