Monday, June 29, 2009

A Year Without a Kitchen

And so, as unceremoniously as I disappeared one year ago, I return.

I have been thinking about restarting the blogging process for some time now--since about April, if you must know--but I haven't had the fodder, both actual and intellectual, with which to do so.

One year ago, I signed a contract with the Palm Beach County School District and began teaching high school drama. One year ago, I left the kitchen with the intent to reenter it every so often. One year ago, I sold my soul to my students and the drama department and baked exactly three times, and never anything of consequence.

Now, don't get my wrong: I love those kids. There was a lot of good that came out of my experience being a teacher...We put on three incredible shows, won several awards at both District X and State Thespian competition, and we even won a Cappie (check for Best Featured Actress in the nominee list; they haven't updated their site yet)!

One of the toughest parts about my being a teacher was the age gap (or lack thereof) between myself and the students. Several of them have known me since time immemorial, when I was a summer camp counselor, or else they went to elementary school with one of my sisters (etc). I had to navigate the difficult line between friend and authority figure, often failing to establish the authority part. It's hard enough, as a teacher, to gain the respect of your students without being 3 years older than they are.

So there's that.

But I am terribly proud of them and their accomplishments, and I am going to miss them a lot. I am not, however, going to miss the headache given me by the school and the county and the bureaucracy that feeds on teachers' time and energy. I honestly don't understand why the schools in South Florida are run they way they are. Students and teachers have to put up with incessant standardized testing--so that means that teachers have tons of extra meetings, paperwork, outside training, and lesson plan restructuring all dedicated to middle-of-the-road directed multiple choice questions. On top of that, the arts are given the fuzzy end of the lollipop** because they're "unnecessary." The arts are the icing on a cake that, according to the bakers, tastes just fine without icing. The arts are the dumping grounds for the over-full Phys. Ed. classes and filled with problem students because the Hallmark channel tells administrators that the arts "do problem children good." Drama especially. Apparently it's not a real craft, it's just a place to play improv games filled with sexual innuendo and stereotypes.

Even worse, the school only hired one person to run the entire drama department. So not only was I teaching 5 classes and writing all of the lesson plans (since none had been left behind, and I was not trained in Drama education--I just held the certificate having passed the ridiculously easy drama certification exam), I was running a theatre company, from production to direction to publicity to design. The kids tried to help, but trust me, both they and I had no idea what we were doing. I learned the whole process on my feet...Now, having learned what I did through trial and error this year, I am confident that, if asked, I could run an entire theatre company on my own. I learned more about the process than any intern ever could--in fact, I'm almost grateful for the headaches and mistakes, because they've forced me to become a professional. Unfortunately, because I was so overtaxed and pulled in so many directions, I didn't get to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish in the classroom. I know that there was a lot more that I could have given my students in the way of theatre education--I almost feel guilty, because I know that they got gypped out of a lot because I was busy having a breakdown in the office when the choreographer didn't show up or the tickets weren't selling or the power was out on the night of the final dress rehearsal. For example.

All in all, however, I would say that this terribly negative experience was actually positive, in that I can now consider myself ready for a professional career in the theatre--and I ended up making some wonderful friends (Kim, Mindy, Ana--and my kids!).

As you can probably tell from this conclusion, I'm not returning to my position next year. I was accepted to Columbia University's School of the Arts program in Theatre, so I'll be spending the next three years working toward an MFA in Dramaturgy. So I'll be spending some time in NYC, with the goal of working at a Shakespeare festival (like the Public Theater, Colorado, Oregon, or any of the biggies) and then eventually starting my own theatre company or becoming a theatre professor...or starting a bakery. (Although that's not what the degree is for. He he.)

Speaking of Shakespeare and baking, that's sort of the reason I'm back. Besides the fact that I miss blogging, I also miss being in the kitchen--and having a reason to bake.

On 4 May, I auditioned for the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival and was cast as Hermia in this summer's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Last year I established myself as their resident baker, bringing in all sorts of goodies during the show, since I love keeping my fellow actors fed and happy (as you can probably tell from the posts made during my tenure at the University of Florida) I've been baking like a mad woman for the festival this year(and trust me, no one has complained about that fact so far). I'd like to share the fruits of my labor with you once again. So here goes:

First up: The First Date Cookie (aka The Green Tea Cookie with Pomegranate Icing)

On my very first date with my boyfriend we enjoyed an utterly amazing cup of tea--green tea infused with pomegranate. I don't know what it was about this tea--but the delicate flavor of the pomegranate (just sweet enough without being cloying) combined with the light, nutty flavor of the green tea made this one of the best cups of green tea I've ever had. (Or maybe it was just the company. That probably helped. he he.)

Anyway, I liked the flavor combination so much that I was compelled to spend a couple of minutes at Teavana in Town Center Mall (<--one of the worst places in Boca Raton) purchasing a small canister of Matcha powder. I also made a pomegranate molasses from scratch and combined that with some pomegranate juice and powdered sugar to make the icing. The cookies were delicious and a big hit at our first reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream two Sundays ago.


Next up: Oatmeal Cookies with Candied Ginger (and optional Dried Blueberries)

I actually made these cookies before I made the First Date Cookies, because I made them for our second date. On the first date, I asked what flavors he liked, and then combined them in a custom cookie for the second date as part of a picnic dinner that I made for us. These cookies are SO good--they have just the right amount of chewiness...and the candied ginger is not overpowering, so it adds just enough spice to brighten up the traditional oatmeal cookie flavor. And the blueberries, if you're a fan, are a really nice touch.

I candied the ginger myself. It's not as difficult as it might seem, although it is a rather lengthy process. If you have about an hour to spare, try it. (Instructions can be found here.)

Candied ginger, drying in granulated sugar.

The cookies

This has also been a crazy week for birthdays. Both my stepsister and my half sister are Cancers, and their birthdays are three days apart. So I, of course, had to make some pastries for them.

For Jordan, who has been begging for S'mores cookies for the last I don't even know how long, I made a S'mores cake, substituting graham cracker crumbs for the flour, and pouring in half a bag of small jet-puffed marshmallows and a whole bag of Nestlé chocolate chunks. The cake was pretty awesome--moist, dense, and utterly decadent, especially because it was covered in homemade chocolate ganache.



Jordan does a taste test before dinner:

And decides it's good (Yay!):

I also attempted to make Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes for Allie's birthday, since she's been asking for those for an entire year. The problem I ran into (because I followed my recipe to a "T") was that, when we moved this past October, I had to leave all of my baking supplies in my mom's garage. So I didn't have my deep, non-stick muffin pans. I had to make do with a much shallower muffin pan that appears to be made out of tin or some such material, which was floating around my stepmom's kitchen. The shallowness of the pan meant that the cakes cooked through very quickly, and so the molten-ness of the cakes was not as apparent. In fact, they're very, very dense...and surprisingly amazing. I guess they were more like fudgy brownie bites. Either way, A+. And the espresso in the brownie really made the chocolate pop. A+ indeed.


Okay. Last but not least: the Green Tea Cheesecake White Chocolate Brownie.

I jacked this recipe from here. I don't usually like using other people's recipes, but this one intrigued me--and turned out quite nicely. I'm not sure how I feel about the texture of the white chocolate brownie. Before I refrigerated the brownie, it was almost cake-like. I prefer my brownies on the fudgy/dense side, but I guess the white chocolate makes the difference. I want to play with this one and see what can't be done about the texture. On the other hand, after everyone at the Shakespeare Fest got over the green swirly stuff on top (the green tea cheesecake part) it got overwhelmingly good reviews. The flavor isn't all that rich, but I guess that actually worked out pretty well...I'm not sure if one would want to EAT an overly rich green tea anything. So, don't mind the green's actually a pretty good recipe:


I've also made several of my standbys in the last two weeks: the Better Than Chocolate Chip Cookie, the Carrot Cake Cookie, the Peanut Butter & Jelly Cookie (sans jelly, though), etc. I didn't take pictures because you've seen 'em all before. (And, if not, feel free to time travel through the older posts!)

Today, because strawberries were on sale at Publix yesterday, I will be making the Strawberry Shortcake Cookie. I usually end up having a TON of (homemade) whipped cream left over, so I'm going to experiment. So we'll see how that goes.

And now, if you're interested in seeing some of the insanity that was this past year at Olympic Heights, I present some videos for your viewing pleasure:

Virginia Woolf:

Kiss Me, Kate:


(Tom, Dick, or Harry)

**On the "fuzzy end of the lollipop" clip, scroll forward to about 1:23 to see the reference. And then go out and rent Some Like it Hot, because if you haven't seen it we can't be friends.