August 2011. I fly to Chicago, go to see the Chagall Windows at the Art Institute, have dinner with my favourite Chicagoans, Paula and Toph, site see, and then, on Monday morning, I rise at 0600h and go to my Jam making course.
A good first day. 12 people in the class 5 of whom worked in health care at some point. One person who asks a million questions and most of them over and over because every class seems to require that action. We had lectures this morning and then cooked all afternoon. Broken into teams of two, one half the class made 5 recipes and one half did the other five. My partner and I made Dill Pickles, Candied Ginger, tart dough for a mincemeat tart tomorrow, and the mincemeat and apricot jam. Some of which were prep work for things we will make this week sometime. We really had to move. They were just a little disorganized but everyone got done in time so no big deal. My partner, who took the serious 6 month course which was graded is a neat freak. She says that the course did that to her – that one was graded on a clean work station. So she had the bottle of disinfectant out every 10 minutes. She is a worrier with not much sense of haha but is an 11 year liver transplant survivor so I suppose one can forgive her level of earnestness.
Cooking is a great equalizer. A Master’s Degree or a physician’s license isn’t much good when you are filling jars. One of the docs, who is a retired genito-urinary surgeon says that she finds it all meditative. Which is what I get from making jam – I call it my working meditation. Steady, careful with measured movement. Enjoying the zen of the day – in and out, up and down, stir and chop. The callus on my middle finger from stirring – the mark of the jam maker. I did learn today that when my chocolates get bloom on them (yes, I make chocolates too) it means that I got the chocolate too hot when I melted it.
After class, I was going to hop a cab but decided that I would head in the direction of the hotel as long as my ankle held out (osteoarthritis – severe I’m told). It was a glorious summer day. And I wanted to explore a bit – see if there were any hidden gems between there and here. But no. Just retail and beggars.
I need a nap then I might go out and explore a bit more. Sit in the park perhaps and watch the world go by.
P.S. I did not get one spot or splatter on my white chef’s coat. This is an achievement for me. Usually I’m all Miss Piggy cooks.
The rest of the week speeds by in a splattering of information, a stirring up of questions, and a satisfaction of competency. We make all kinds of things – some well, some badly. The last day, I cannot bear to cook one more damned thing. I halfheartedly stir the home-made ketchup with the addition of honey, lavender and what I think are far too many spices that I am to turn into BBQ sauce. I was too lazy and I guess rebellious to chop the onion that was required so tossed it. Sneakily of course. I look at my partner who says “I don’t want any” and I think, well niether do I. I make perfectly good BBQ sauce at home and my already overweight suitcase cannot take ONE MORE JAR. I stop stirring and slink to a sink in another room, far from the eagle eyes of our instructo to dump it out. My classmate/physician to the left discuss the wisdom of putting lavendar in BBQ sauce. We agree this is a stupid idea. Later, a dish is put out for us to taste. Ever game, we try it. We look at each other and have to bashfully admit that we like it. Teach me to have a closed mind.
We eat some scones which are really just a vehicle to get the freshly made lemon cream into our mouths, trade jars with each other. I give away most of my jars because again, I can’t take 40 jars of product with me. And then it’s over. We disperse to waiting cabs, family members, the subway. And it’s over. I learned a lot. I got some sublime recipes. And I had a great time. I will say one thing – any nice fantasies I was harbouring about ever doing a 6 month course at a real cooking school are tossed. I could never take that discipline. I will not be told what socks to wear or be chastised for talking when Chef is talking. It actually makes me laugh – I’m too far gone. But again, it was a great course. And a wonderful experience. Jam rules.