This week was the week of tears, for me. It started off well enough – my pastry at the beginning of the week was pretty spot on, despite the fact that I forgot to add the salt to the pastry in my treacle tart (SHOCK, HORROR – in my defence when there’s that much going on and the salt is waaay down at the end of the table it’s easy to forget these things… but I did chastise myself plenty, don’t worry), but my leek and bacon flan was delicious, even though the crust was a tiny bit on the thicker side, but still blind baked perfectly. My teacher even said it, “melted in the mouth” so pretty happy with that!
And then everything went downhill from there.
In all honesty, I’m not too sure what happened. I think it was a combination of not being very well this past week, combined with the sheer exhaustion of being in full-time study again, but I cried not once but twice this week. The first time was whilst I was waiting for my salad to be tasted when all of a sudden I started feeling a bit dizzy and very, very sick – I don’t want to sound pathetic but guys, seriously, I had the nastiest cold. I mean, really. It was horrible. I know, it sounds like man flu but the day before when I was making my treacle tart pastry I’m fairly sure I had a fever (which is what I’m going to blame for forgetting the salt!) and then the following day, though I’d started off the day feeling mildly healthier, by the time it got to the end of the cooking session I just wanted to lie down on the cool, cool floor, huddled in the foetal position, willing my body to get better. My immune system is already horrible as it is and with my hyperthyroidism I really don’t think high stress situations are doing me any favours, but I felt horrific.
I leaned on the workbench for a minute to get my breath back, at which point one of my teachers started telling me to do some washing up, until she saw my face and realised that I was not a very well bunny at all. I was sent to the dining room to sit down for a minute out of the kitchen, despite protesting that I was fine and just needed a minute, and for some reason, as soon as I got in there, tears started streaming down my face.
Yeah, I know, I know. I don’t know why. I think I was just so tired and sick that I couldn’t hold it back any longer and yes, I felt like a total idiot as I sat there feeling incredibly rubbish and sorry for myself. Thankfully, one of the teachers who was working in the dining room kitchen that day saw me and hurried into the back room to find me something to nibble on as I hadn’t eaten that day either, emerging moments later with – of all things – amaretti biscuits! Bless her heart, she was absolutely lovely and made sure that I ate a few biscuits and drank lots of water, whilst reassuring me that over the course of the year there would be plenty of people who would be sat in my exact same position.
Well, I thought to myself as I composed myself and headed back into the kitchens, now I’ve cried and I won’t do it again!
Oh how wrong I was.
My first school foray into bread making went very well, as did stock making – I absolutely love kneading bread, it’s one of my favourite things to do, just have a good old knead and let your mind drift – but the second bread session? Not so much.
You see the sad little loaf, second from the right? Yup. That was mine.
One of the most difficult things about Leiths is just the sheer amount of things you’re making in two hours. You make maybe four different things in a session and you have to time all of them meticulously, making sure that somewhere in the process you’re washing up as you go. Lord, is that difficult, especially when you have four people on a table all doing the same thing so washing up isn’t just a bowl and a spoon, it’s four bowls and four spoons and probably four chopping boards, four whisks, four identical very sharp knives and an assortment of teaspoons, all of which then need to be dried and put away, as well as your table wiped down and whatever’s on the stove or in the oven checked on to make sure they’re not burning. Oh, and did I mention that this week our hot tap on the sink was broken? So every time you washed about three things you had to empty out the hot water basin and go hijack somebody else’s sink to get some more hot water. Very frustrating.
It is, in a word, overwhelming. So it was no wonder then that when it came to my white loaf, though I kneaded it very well, knocked it back well and had a great first prove, when it came to the second prove my poor little baby loaf was totally forgotten about amidst a flurry of Caesar Salad, meringues and washing up. It was also outrageously hot on our side of the kitchen that week, meaning that whilst the breads on the side of the kitchen by the window underproved, my poor bread completely overproved, developed gas bubbles on the surface and then, when it came time to bake it, completely deflated.
Oh the misery. How much misery can a loaf of bread bring you, you may wonder? Quite a bit. Especially when everybody else’s breads look so very lovely.
But even then I didn’t cry – I actually laughed. I semi-jokingly asked my teacher if we could just not taste it (the following day for we were out of time that afternoon), but then all night all I could think was, “why didn’t I put my bread in the oven sooner?” I dreamed of my poor bread and slept fitfully, still trying to kick the cold and get all of my homework done. So the following day, with roast pork with all the trimmings and mushroom soup on the menu, it’s no surprise that my head wasn’t quite in the game. It also didn’t help that a worrying phone call that morning before school had completely distracted me.
The mushroom soup went decently enough but the stress of having to pull together an entire roast dinner between four people for a very specific service time, the mountain of washing up growing all the while and not enough blenders to go around, proved to be a little too much for me. I batoned my carrots wrong the first time and had to be brought two more from the store room, lost the plot on more than one occasion and had to keep asking my fellow classmates questions, overcooked said carrots, forgot to salt the water (we all did, rookie mistake), didn’t manage to get the parsnips browned in time and then, on top of all that, my poor little bread loaf had to be tasted.
I completely shut down. I listened silently to criticism and praise, didn’t join in with the usual washing up chatter, didn’t even eat my roast dinner and even though the things I’d done wrong were entirely minimal, I was quietly berating myself for messing up on the most basic of things. It didn’t matter that the roast potatoes I was in charge of came out perfect or that the meal as a whole was a success, all I could think was that I’d not only let myself down that day, I’d let my entire team down.
So when my friend Sophie made a harmless jokey comment in the changing rooms about how I’d been off that day, trying to get me out of my funk, what did I do? I burst into tears. These weren’t the silent tears of earlier in the week, this was full blown sobbing. Over what? Over carrots. Do you sense a theme here? It’s like carrot trauma. The worst thing was that I was so upset with myself that for the next hour, whenever anybody tried to talk to me and ask me if I was okay, I would start crying again.
Thinking about it all in retrospect, I really didn’t do that much wrong and it was only week two so nobody could expect me to be perfect! But I expected much more from myself, if not perfection then near perfection… but there I go again, putting too much pressure on myself. It was just so frustrating that I messed up something so simple, something I really should know better about and I was so annoyed at myself that I couldn’t help it. Sophie had said to me at one point that at the end of the day it was just a carrot, which is true, but to me it wasn’t a carrot, it was what the carrot symbolised. It was my entire life, it was my career which was dissipating before my eyes. If I couldn’t baton a bloody carrot properly then what the hell was I doing at professional culinary school?!
My poor classmates really didn’t know what to do with me and when I burst into tears again in the dem room when my friend Steffi offered me a hug, I’m sure the other people in the room thought I was insane, and I was. But that’s totally what this environment does to you – it makes you go a little insane over things like carrots.
On the plus side, thanks to all of the piping I’ve done recently for my brother’s engagement cake and the wedding anniversary catering job, when it came to piping meringues it was easy. Sure, they kind of look like anaemic little poos, but that’s only because we were told we had to use the round tips to pipe and not the star tips… but don’t they just look like the cutest little anaemic poos ever?
And another thing I’m discovering – I may be a baker. White bread fail aside (which was not entirely my fault), I am loving pastry and greatly enjoying bread and fiddly details like piping. So that’s a complete surprise to me, especially as somebody who used to hate baking and who once told Mitch Turner, that I couldn’t bake to save my life… at her cake decorating masterclass. Incidentally, that was also the first time I ever piped anything, so how far I’ve come since then! Mitch would be proud… and she probably wouldn’t tell me to put glitter on anything any more.
So some positive and some negatives this week but overall a really good learning experience. And the dems this week have been fantastic, too. It must be said, even when I’m stressed up to the eyeballs and bawling my eyes out over carrots, I’m still loving every single moment. Maybe this next week I’ll be able to keep it together a little more, though. Cross your batons for me.
Until next time, peace and love,