Week Nine: Indulgence
Ahh Fall, what a lovely time of year. I skip through most of the year suppressing my sweet tooth and sugar’s primal control over my willpower. Then on Halloween night, with good intentions of buying candy for the neighborhood ghouls, I trip on a wire of candy necklaces, face planting into a cage of Reese’s and trapping myself in the pumpkin custard pies of Thanksgiving and the gingerbread cookies of Christmas. Fall becomes an endless loop of lollypops that only ends in the cleanse known as January. The Christine of December thinks pecan pie is an acceptable breakfast — nuts are filled with important nutrients! — where the Christine of August would only eat the pecans and skip that glorious sugar pie. This Fall began the same as every other year (except now I don’t have a pillowcase full of trick-or-treating candy hidden under my bed sure to last a month). But thanks to the Seattle Culinary Academy, the candy tripwire just became a fiercely powerful bear(claw) snare. Cakes, sticky buns, cookies, pies, custards, tarts, ice cream, toffees — a high pressure sugar flurry with 90% chance of whipped cream and flaky pastry! The bakery students put these delicacies in the student lunchroom if they contain any slight flaw. The picture-perfect treats go on sale to the public for pennies — gorgeous eye candy causing a never ending traffic jam.
So I’m not saying there’s like one peanut butter cookie that all of us stare at unblinkingly in the lunchroom. I’m talking about whole chiffon cakes, whole pecan caramel pies, quarts of cardamom ice cream, some kind of chocolate fudge thing covered in another kind of chocolate fudge! Everything fresh and fragrant and tantalizing. On Fridays, this row of sweets extends the length of a buffet table. Ten feet of treats I’d like to hide and stockpile for my own secret consumption, pulling me in closer to their delicate layers and sweet frosting. And they’re all free! (I mean, we probably paid for the ingredients with our tuition…but we don’t have to pay EXTRA!)
One day, maybe, I’ll get past it? Perhaps one day in early Winter I’ll think, “Lemon cheesecake with ginger cookie crust? Oh, who needs it?! I’ll have a dry egg white scramble,” or “Dark chocolate mousse? Oh I couldn’t possibly fit that into my 1150 daily caloric intake;” pinky out and posture perfect, a crisp leaf of kale impaled in my fork tines.
Sure. Maybe I’ll get used to it. Or possibly I’ll have to size up my chef pants to account for the freshman 45.
The first week of school I went to the gym after class and decided I’d be an exemplary healthy culinary student. That was the week we didn’t set foot in the kitchen and learned from our desks eight hours each day. Class dismissed, books in locker, stretchy pants on; I lifted, I ran, I rowed, and made it uncomfortably clear that I didn’t know my left side from right at Zumba. I practically merengue’d right into every sassy hip shaker in the mirrored room.
Then the next week in Culinary Practicum, production began and I sweat a gallon each day from the hustle, the heat of the burners and ovens, and lifting 50 pound pots full of 200° chicken stock. I sweat when I did something wrong or when my team was behind. I sweat during knife skills practice and when taking written tests. I sweat whenever the chef instructor is watching…which is every second, he’s like Batman Santa Claus. We sweat so much that one of my classmates actually wrote her sanitation factsheet assignment on the subject! As clean and convenient as the school gym is, my stretchy pants haven’t been back since that first week. My imaginary 6-pack fades farther into the distance and the balance between sweat and sweets leans toward the muffin top.
Oh, but if sugary temptations were the ONLY indulgence I had to circumnavigate during my first quarter back in college as a full time student. Let’s see, I graduated with my bachelors degree what…12 years ago? In a dozen years since framing that diploma I have slipped into habits of activities I find enjoyable…*gasp*! Things like reading books for my own interests, not topics that are assigned. I have given into the allure of travel for pleasure and exploration purposes *shocking!* I cook and bake for fun *look away!* I haven’t owned a television set in ten years but I will hang my head and admit that last summer I stayed up WAY past my bedtime binge watching Stranger Things. However, when you’re a student, these activities don’t have a place in the schedule.
In culinary school, if I get behind on my reading for Food Theory, the chef instructor will notice (remember, he sees all — even when you’re sleeping… in class). And he will know when he’s in the middle of a lecture, that I don’t have the faintest idea what he’s talking about. “Sachet d’êpic-what?” If I don’t write tomorrow’s plan of action with enough detail, my teammates won’t know what menu item their brunoise carrots are for…and the chef instructor will ask them…in his best Lego Batman voice. And heck if I’m going to stay up figuring out what happened to Barb’s red mop of hair when I can prepare my team to answer “the lentil salad, Chef!”
I’m making it sound like this is an easy switch for me. One day I have lots of hobbies and free time, spending entire afternoons watching videos of piglets and puppies online, and the next I am a perfect student — straight A’s and not a hair out of place. Well let me tell you, there are some days I feel like flailing around on the floor throwing a toddler temper tantrum because I can’t focus on homework. Darn Snapchat and the Wikipedia wormholes! Gah! Some days I really feel like I can’t get anywhere with my schoolwork, papers, and studying. Some days I blame those twelve glorious years of *only* working full time, enjoying my time off with all those shockingly indulgent activities.
But here I am: every day facing a wall built of cheesecake, fantasy novels, Netflix, and weekend getaways. Putting one shoulder into it, sweating like my life depends on it, holding plank position while reading my textbooks, studying my heart out, knowing my teammates are doing the same. Because it’s worth it. Pushing past my own indulgences is worth it. I know my willpower can hold out a little longer. I know Chef Batman Santa Claus will push me to be even better. Soon, we’ll get a rest.
Warm up the internet baby — Winter break is coming.