Category Archives: Pastry Cafes Weekend Rendezvous

My Dear Visited Me in Houston …

(This entry was started on Sunday, 2 November… and never got completed till now … even now seems to be forever…

I wrote the above on Wed, 5 November, and now is already 8th …  This is the longest stretch I have not updated my journal entry, I have 2 other updates but let me finish my wedding cake first – it is due next Tuesday.)

~~~

2 November 2008, 10pm

BK called to say he had just arrived into the hotel in Boston, he would be in Boston for the next 2 weeks.  And he would be back for my graduation in 3 weeks time. 

~

How time flies … We had a chat while he was driving yesterday – even though I miss the familiarity of home and having him around, I already miss the familiar warmth and faces of the many people I met at the culinary institute whenever I thought of leaving Houston in a couple of weeks time.  The strange feeling is that for the many people I got to know in last 17 weeks, we may never meet again.  For a few others, there is always a probability our path will cross again.  I feel sad whenever this thought comes about… 

30 October 2008, 8.30pm, at the Culinary Institute

BK flew into Houston to join me on Thursday 30 October.  When he arrived late afternoon, he spent some time working on an online test which was due by midnight for his product training the following week, he was to score at least 85 points??!!  That evening, he drove me to the culinary institute and I just had to introduce him to my Chefs – both Chef Philippe and Chef Sebastien.  I guess both Chefs have huge influence on me and my work during my learning at the culinary institute.  BK remembered the 2 Chefs by sight from his last visit in July when we first arrived in Houston. 

Earlier in the morning, Chef Philippe asked if I would be attending class the following day.  Yes.  That question never crossed my mind.  That evening, Chef Philippe again told me (us) that if I were to miss class the next day, I could make up the class the following Tuesday with Jill who would miss Friday Chocolate Final with her trip home to Colorado.  I would be in class on Friday, and I was darn sure about it.  BK knew and understood I took my objectives too seriously to miss a single day of learning, and he wasn’t expecting me to take time off either – he had wanted to sleep in at the apartment as it was barely 48 hours after his return from his 2 weeks of reservist training in Australia that he boarded the flight to Houston, with his work objectives to accomplish as well.  That night, I fell asleep while waiting for him to fulfill at least 85 points for his online test by midnight.  He scored 81 and was too tired to try again.

31 October 2008, 2pm, at the Culinary Institute

Sarah asked if BK would be joining for lunch, and if they would get to meet him.  I would like him to meet my classmates too – friends I made and spent the last couple of weeks with at the culinary institute.  Indeed, he came, joined us at the lunch room, they met, we chatted and now he got to put a face to things I shared with him ~ and they were surprised I had only shared good things about each of them … but of course – somehow I view many things positively coz I strongly believe things happened for some good reasons.  BK was wondering who Krystine was – our youngest Bébé in class – and soon she popped into the Pastry Lab with a big smile.

It was BK’s 38th Birthday … and it was Chef Philippe’s 36th Birthday.  They wished each other a Happy Birthday!

  

~ with the hibiscus bouquet borrowed from Elizabeth ~

~ with the hibiscus bouquet borrowed from Elizabeth ~

 halloween

31 October 2008, after class

Of course, we have got to go Swirl for yogurt.  Asked Jennie and Rafaella to join, both couldn’t come along – Rafa had pedi-mani appointment, and Jennie said she was too full from lunch??  I don’t like ice cream but I love the taste of the refreshing yogurt (not the tart and fruit range though, except for lemon), topped with a load of palm seed and some pecan nuts … and the relaxing environment…  I just have to bring him there.  Then he went with me to Sur La Table to replace my thermometer…  then back to the apartment for an afternoon nap.  BK has severe sleep debt from last 2 weeks of reservist training.  We finally got up at 8.15pm, oops!… our dinner reservation at Rudi Lechner’s was at 8pm.  Nevermind, we were easy and arrived at 9pm.

Dinner at Rudi Lechner’s was pleasant and comfy, accompanied by live country music.  It is a wonder that the restaurant has been in operation for 33 years and still get good crowds in the evenings.  We had a chat with Chef-owner Rudi – he came out to meet us after we inquired about his tableside dessert.  He asked about my background, and recommended me a book to read for inspiration ~ Bread Alone.  We decided that the next time we visit Rudi Lechner’s, we would only savour desserts, no room for main course.  Tableside dessert will be done by Chef Rudi himself ~ at the tableside!  Order must be place 24hr in advance so that he can plan the slots.  This time, we ate too much of the main (and it was a platter for one?), and had no room for dessert.

After dinner, at the exit, we met Susy, Barry and their son Alex – they were passionate about food and recommended us a Mexican restaurant Teotihuacan and a Mexican Bakery Cafe Rustika.  They told us that even though Chef Rudi came from Austria and serves German food, his restaurant has since adapted his food to American-German since it first opened.  Hmm… the full name of the restaurant is Rudi Lechner’s German American Restaurant?  We planned to keep in contact, as 17 year old Alex may pursue his graduate course in Singapore in the future.

1 November 2008, 10am

matt-orchard-persimmons

We had just celebrated BK’s birthday with a home-made cake, yup 1 day late since I fell asleep the night earlier.  We planned to go to Matt Family Orchard, only persimmons were in season.  It was about an hour drive to Tomball.  We picked a total of 33 persimmons, and I only contributed a precious 1;p  The tool used was a long bamboo with an attached metal basket at the top end.  We were supposed to push upwards, not downwards to prevent injury to the tree  It looked easy but I left all the picking to BK after a tedious one… and a ripened fell as well and splashed me with its pulp … ha!  The weather was warm compared to the week earlier, so I wouldn’t say it was exactly comfortable picking the fruits.  But it was a great feeling picking fresh fruits.

joys-bk-orchard

 

matt-orchard

Once done, we had intended a trip to Spring, but I could see that BK was tired and sleepy at the wheel, so we decided to return to Houston to enjoy Coco’s Crepes @ Gray Street.  We had savory crepes this time, and sat al frescoNice.  We love to nua (laze about, do nothing) at pastry cafes … rather it started that I love to do that, and he got influenced by me (I guess he chose to join me and soon grew to like the feel … and the company as well ;p) and we enjoy cafes with casual atmosphere where we can empty our mind and get inspired ;p  Back at the apartment, it was own time own target.  habaneroWe skipped dinner … not really, we replaced a cooked meal with “junk food” – Tostitos tortilla chips + Spicy Mango habenero sauce, recommended and given by Krystine… Yum!  BK said the the “junk food” recommended by Krystine was yummy!

2 November 2008, 9am

BK left for his flight to Boston at about 3pm.  That morning, he joined me at Rustika Cafe, a Mexican Bakery Cafe.  With him around, I could try more things.  He liked stronger tasting and richer food and he had a Mexican seafood lunch – the red snapper with the sauce tasted really good, the mexican rice was not the usual I like with tomato base.  I ordered mushroom tacos, it came with a nice salad.  I also tried spinach empanada – the crust was just so so.  Usually on my own, I could only try one thing and I reserve that for pastry.  I read while he was supposed to be reading his notes for his product training … but he was surfing the net for F1 updates instead :~  It is quiet time for us as usual in pastry cafe.  It is nice to have him around, the only side effect is I eat and munch too much!  The few days he was here, I deviated from my dinner of veggies for Texan cheesesteak, German meat platter etc … I told him I will cook the next time he is here, ok … at least once or twice … it is difficult for me to digest the type and portion of food when we eat out.  But it was enjoyable … I tend to munch more too! 

Before he left, he tasted the sweetness of his labour – persimmons.  Hmm, they were sweet surprisingly, just like the orchard owner Matt told us … I never liked the fruit coz I thought they have a bitter taste…

 

sunday-with-bk

A week has passed since he left, I was too pre-occupied with finals.  See him soon in a week’s time … which also mean my graduation week … the feeling is so mixed – it is indeed possible to be happy and sad.

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Lessons from a Diamond Setter

I was reading at the bus stop, saw the bus turning about the corner … I stood up, and next it went past me?  My first reaction – my gosh.  My reaction the next second – I can continue to read and was to complete 2 chapters over the  1 1/2hr I was at the bus stop – I was too early and waited 40min for the bus that went past me, then another 40min for the next.

I had planned to visit another pastry outlet this weekend – to have a breather, relax over my book and have a dose of caffeine.  I planned to visit a Mexican bakery cafe, never been to one…   Outside the cafe, a hand written sign read that the cafe was closed for renovation and apologised for the inconvenience.  Oh?

Undeterred, I decided to go Empire Cafe instead.  It was crowded, I decided not to go in as I was looking for a comfortable place to nua (a.k.a. idle), to hibernate, be myself and read, and have my dose of caffeine.  A block down I found Agora – a Greek cafe or maybe more of a late night drinking place – it has outside seating, garden-like, with shrubs and trees creating a shade separating the road and the garden cafe.  The cafe doesn’t serve food, has a limited range of Greek pastry bites and coffee during the day, and drinks at night.  Anyway, I liked the spot outside.  Most of the people there were there alone having late morning breaks and a read, there were 2 ladies working on the laptop.

You want to have The New York Times?  I am done with it.”  A guy turned around and handed me the papers.  Thank you, I have a book with me.  “What are you reading?”   I was reading Food Jobs – 150 Great Jobs for Culinary Students, Career Changers and Food Lovers by Irena ChalmersWhat do you do?  Where are you from?  What did you do before?  What would you be doing when you go back to Singapore? etc.  At the end of our conversation 2 hours later, I finally learnt that he is Bertrand Clerc, a Swiss who adopted Houston, Texas as his home 15 years ago.  He is a diamond setter.  I did a google search on “bertrand clerc diamond“, … he was featured in Texas – Beyond the Alps – 8 Swiss Artists exhibition.  From the article, I read that there are 9 Swiss Artists known to the Swiss American Houston Society residing in Texas, and 8 of them agreed to participate in the exhibition,  “… each artist expresses him/herself in a very different way and yet, their work side by side, reminds us of the cultural wealth of the small country that is their home land.”  I checked out his work on the website of one of his clients “Ernesto Moreira”, … cool, simple elegance.  He asked me to view the Smith Gem Vault collection at the Houston Museum of Natural Science if I have a chance.

Geneva, nice place … why did you leave and make Houston your home?”  Because it is different living and visiting there.  The home town he described with explosive property prices reminded me of my own home in Singapore, coupled with high cost of living … Most do not own their own home in Geneva – a standard home cost about US$1.5mil Home prices were driven artificially high by expatriates brought in by MNCs.  He chose living the quality of life in Houston even though “Geneva has the alps“.

I like the term he used about “Qualified Hands” in his diamond cutting trade, what he described reminded me of the French chefs I know at the Culinary Institute.  Being great in their craft.  In Switzerland, their apprenticeship started between 16-18, for about 7 years or so … how familiar…  The current education system is not supporting the country’s needs for good craft-men, as most would go for their bachelors,  education is free and paid by taxpayers.

We spoke about his industry which I drew some learning as well.  I asked if he caters to direct clients, he does not.  He shared the factors to consider about doing wholesales or retail business ~

1.  Know your own character.  He prefers not to deal with customers who do not know the craft, and dislike the resulting headache in such discussion.  He deals with professionals in the trade.  Usually he would work with the designers in wholesales contracts.

2.  Retail dollars > Wholesales dollars.  Know what is the typical margin and volume for each plus overheads.  In wholesales, there is a constant flow of contracts, but be cautious of the risk of depending on a single big client.  He advised that for wholesales market in any industry, to consider saturation (if the market is accounted for by large players already) or if there is still room for entry.

How he charge clients depends on uniqueness and complexity of designs, and the estimated hours he would spend.  For some complex designs, he can only provide an estimate to the hours he would spend to complete the job. 

Food for thought.  We may arrange to meet again for late morning coffee on one of the few Saturdays I have left in Houston.

~

Reading my book and enjoying my second cup of coffee.  A guy had earlier recommended I try either Triple Bean Vanilla or Texan Pecan.  Good recommendation.  I have Triple Bean Vanilla for my first cup and Texas Pecan for the second.  These were the most flavourful coffee I have had in all the cafes I visited in the last 14 weeks (huh?  4 weeks have past for level 2 … my gosh.  Ike really made my time here fly faster).  I ordered a Baklava and Pistachio Caramel – both are very sweet and nutty.  The pistachio caramel tasted better with each bite, though I didn’t like it at first.  I didn’t get to finish it

Sir, you are making too much dust.  Do you have to do it now?”  The guy sharing my table said to the man sweeping the area.  He literally swept dust into the coffee, my leftover bites and onto the books we were reading … and I guess it should be all over us since my little note book was covered with a layer of dust.  A moment ago, I heard some rustling sound, and I thought the strong wind blew dust onto the book I was reading, I just dust it off, … then more… I looked up.  The same man was standing on the 2nd storey shelter opposite us, sweeping dried leaves and dust down the aisle, onto us.  I forgot about the coffee I just refilled, only remembered my book and brushed the dirt off – I do not like spots on my book.  Oh my coffee?  I looked in and there were some black spot floating in it.  I covered it with my little note book I had with me.  The guy sitting across me smiled and I guessed we decided to live with it then.  Then I guess it really got to us he continued sweeping the aisle.  Stirring up more dust, he replied “I am sweeping so that the wind does not blow dust towards you” … Oh, that was sincere and helpful??!!  I found it funny.  Anyway he completely ignored us, continued stirring more dust till he was done with sweeping the aisle pavement, mumbling to himself.  Other than the dust, the environment was conducive for late morning drink and a good read.

Felt better for the day.  Still recharging my battery.

~

Linda and George, the Singaporean couple we met a week earlier, had proposed lunch at Nonya Grill tomorrow and adjourned to their home at Pearland for desserts and coffee after.  Decided to give it a miss to continue recharging

Afternoon Tea, Dinner Under a Tree and Good Company

Last Saturday, Jennifer and I planned to visit Cafe Decapo’s together after her work.  The cafe has been on my list for sometime but I never found Studewood on my map, and I didn’t think of using the bus map as a reference too, I just knew it is in the Heights.  I also knew Jennifer lives in Heights.  That was about it.  Then somehow this conversation came about after we partnered each other for about 2 weeks now, so this was our first time meeting outside school hours.

I realised we live about 10 minutes from each other, connected by 1 direct bus or if she decides to ride her bike, or longer if I decide to walk.  Cafe Dacapo’s was easy to locate along 11th St @ Studewood.  We decided on Raspberry Tres Leches and Banana Split with Strawberry because the reviews said so, and also we were just introduced to Tres Leches last week in Chef Kris’s class (Thanks Chef!which? hmm… thanks Chef Sebastien for coming up with a Mexican cuisine them and for “deserting” our class to do so, and we got to work with Chef Kris on pastry and he came up with Tres Leches to match the theme!), and Jennifer had Tres Leches cake when she was little.  Alas!  No Banana Split cake by piece that day, and I was recommended German Chocolate cake – I guess the cake must be nice because Jennifer liked it, and the last time I tasted it at Drew’s Pastry when someone ordered the group liked it too – I recognised the taste now but I am not sure if it will be something I will order based on my own instinct.  The only qualm I have about the place and it affected my pastry appreciation was that they served cakes in plastic to-go boxes???  Why?  A simple plate would have better the total experience.

The cafe was crowded that afternoon.  We got a corner couch seat by the glass pane (nice!), with the warm sun ray streaming in.

We just got to know each other.  During school hours, we only knew we were comfortable working with each other, and we share similar working style in class – we were not afraid to ask or let chef know we made some mistakes and we wanted to know why things turned out as such.  Chef Sebastien has commented last week that Jennifer changed after we partnered each other … whatever that means ha we took that as a compliment, but we indeed worked well together and still do.  The old Jennifer we knew was quiet, in her own world and … doesn’t talk back to Chef (ha!).  Our level of comfort showed in our partnership.  As a working pal in class, she is quick, quiet and silently humorous.  In the last few days, she had been repeating (or rather imitating?) what Chef Philippe said to me last Thursday – keep your ___ (fill in the blanks) in the bowl!  There are too many mixtures to name – somehow, my stuff kept falling out of the bowl since then whether I whisked, stirred, sprayed or even poured (beats me!).  Jennifer offered me a quiet environment I need, she is soft-spoken and silently encouraging with her comments and words, and silently funny too which always makes me laugh out loud out of the blue.  I told Chef Sebastien today, I’m gonna miss her – Jennifer is in assoc degree course, and she will spend the next 10 weeks in academic lessons instead of moving on to Pastry level 2.  At least we have another couple of days working together before level 1 final.   

Our chat topics were varied.  The cakes we ordered – we liked the Tres Leches recipe at Dacapo’s better than what we did in school, the sweetness was subtle and the cream cheese icing complemented the soaked cake.  It didn’t have the “condensed milk” taste which I dislike.  I would eat this again.  Next time, we have to try the Banana Split with Strawberry.  Our partners – we share similar views in Asian guys vs local guys (err.. okay maybe too much of a generalization – her one guy and my one guy?).  Something she said made me laugh, when her man asked what she needed, she said “detergent”!!??(LOL, published with permission) …  Our chefs – our chef in class and the chef next door (hmm… I shan’t write here for now … also about an unpublished post I had about a chef which remained unpublished when I realized the school found my blog … hee) …  Our growing up years – I guess her teen years were just a year or 2 back while mine was 20 years ago.  OMG… we have a 15 year age gap!  And yes, her name – I always think her last name Ramos makes a good brand name, she likes her middle name Lynn, and if she ever takes on another name Ly in her last name, she would really sound very Asian indeed.

When Jennifer was giving me direction to the place, she said Dacapo’s was opposite Someburger.  I went “Someburger?“, I read that on someone’s post recently and it was a must try, it said.  We decided to have a burger before dessert but was too late for that so it was dessert before a burger for dinner.  Someburger is a regular mom & pop outlet, I told Jennifer I wouldn’t have eaten at one if we were not there together or didn’t read about it, she had it only when she was little.  Just realised Jennifer lived in the area all her 21 years, moving about 8th St, 10th St, 11 St… and we were surrounded by her elementary, middle and high schools.  And this was her first time to the cafe and a long time since her last visit to the burger joint.

About Someburger.  The bread was fabulous though the pattie was nothing to shout about. What was interesting though was the experience munching and chatting away at the green benches under a tree and Jennifer described aptly it reminded her of childhood.  We took some pictures but couldn’t do justice to the nostalgia and childhood memories we both experienced.  But the experience and the company more than compensated.

By evening, we were on our way back home.  It was about 7pm and I received a text from Jennifer – “… had fun and we should meet again”.  Indeed.

My Final Verdict of a Donut

I arrived a couple of minutes earlier than usual at the bus stop along Ella Blvd yesterday, I decided to pop by Mary Lee’s Donuts across the street.  As in my earlier post, I never liked donuts since a child, I did not like the after taste of sugar in my mouth but I concluded I will try one from the shop one day since I look into it from across the street every morning.  As I entered the shop, I was surprised to find them doing a brisk business serving a breakfast crowd.  From where I stood across the road, I never knew they were so many people munching donuts in the early morn.

I looked at the trays of donuts in front of me,  I did not like those dusted with sugar, and I also did not like the coloured butter cream icings, so I asked for 2 original donuts to go.  I chomped on one immediately before the bus came, the taste was nice, maybe lightly scented with vanilla essense or extract.  It had an off-white tinge to the flour mix and a slight crumbly texture which is full bodied to each bite.  It was different from the donuts I had in Singapore, it appeared like a cross between “hum ji peng” (a local sweet dough fritter in Singapore) and bread.  The bus came, the sweetness stayed in my month for a long while.

My verdict on Donuts:  I would recommend Mary Lee’s donuts to anyone because I think it will appeal to the taste buds of many.  Personally, I am glad I gave it a shot … I still won’t miss donuts if I don’t have one, I still dislike the lingering sweetness even though the sweetness was not apparent with each bite for a Mary Lee’s donut.  I will go for something else at Mary Lee’s though, I overheard someone ordering pancakes that morning, I love plain pancakes, belgian waffles and french crepes anytime – with a huge dose of maple syrup, yes just maple syrup – no ice cream, no fruits.  Or crepes with a citrus sauce and sprinkle of sugar … yum, bring it on anytime!

An Unintended Walk Home

Another weekend has arrived.  I woke up at about 9 and I remembered I needed to catch the bus to NW Transit Centre, I was only familiar with the 9.50am bus which will connect me to bus 33 and take me to Post Oak Blvd @ Westheimer with the shortest connection time. 

I had wanted to go to French Gourmet Bakery, I did not take down the address or check the location before I slept.  It is alright!  I will walk the Westheimer stretch towards downtown and check out whichever pastry cafe I chance into.  This was in the opposite direction from what I did the week before to go Kolache Factory @ Chimney Rocks.  Every weekend I will visit 1 pastry cafe as part of my exploration.

Bus 82 came when I was on Westheimer, I hopped onto the bus and let it take me to wherever I fancy.  I haven’t been to Central Market, so I got down and continued my walk.  I love supermarket shopping – rather I love to see what are on the shelves, products that are new and unfamiliar to me, new ideas … and of course I will buy something back, I just couldn’t resist.  I got a good excuse this time, my whisk disappeared in class, yes, it vanished… I bought one with white silicon that looked totally different from my classmates and I do not expect this to be mis-“taken” anytime.  I fancy all things Jalapenos, and there was a Hatch fair going on – I got a bottle of Green Chile Salsa Verde and another of Jalapeno Hatch Chile Jam … I also got a couple of Jalapenos recipes for cake, choux and sorbet etc (interesting!) from the sample booth but they were not placed into my bag at checkout (sob!it is okay, I will get them back!)  I also got excuse to indulge in bakeware in order to practise what I learnt in the lab …

Back on Westheimer, again bus 82 arrived immediately.  I hopped onto it again and let it take me to wherever.  Passing Kirby, the road sounded familiar enough, I got off and started walking, clueless where I was. Alas!  Just across the street, it was French Bakery Cafe!  I began to believe when I think hard enough, things will manifest itself…

The French Gourmet Bakery did not have a gourmet feel to it, even the cake display did not look gourmet enough.  But I love the spacious seating and a nice touch which include table seating by the windows with tiny curtains … the ray of sunshine gave a level of comfort for reading and my day dreaming.  Of course, I day dreamt with an order of Chocolate Croissant, a coffee, and a shortbread called Thumbprint.  I don’t think it is classic French, is it?  The coconut shortbread has a depression in the centre piped with chocolate fudge, the depression should fit the thumb size of the French chef who owned the bakery cafe.  I would like to know all the chefs behind the pastries I tried every weekend but was too hesitant to speak to one.  I spent some time reading The Secret, and day dreaming my vision.  I was served by Bethany, got to know she is also a Pastry student, doing an associate degree at the Art Institute.

I decided to walk to Sur La Table along Shepherd, the street at the next junction.  It was hot and sunny, though the walk was enjoyable along the shady pavement.  I indulged myself at Sur La Table, finding a reason for every buying decision – and there was always one!  I checked and confirmed that I would get a 10% discount for showing my culinary student card, I didn’t have one.  I have not gotten a replacement for the one to get my first name corrected.  I left my purchase behind to collect another day with my student card, and soon I found out the reason why.

I didn’t care to check how long I waited for the bus.  It was a long, hot and wet wait – I was perspiring profusely.  I managed to finish another 56 pages of The Secret.  Finally I got to enjoy the air-conditioned ride.  I guessed it was so comfortably that I didn’t remember if I was thinking of anything in particular.  I remembered seeing Kroger, Popeyes… Some time later, I noticed the bus was passing by W 18th St.  Gosh!  I was to have gotten off the bus at 11th St opposite Kroger and Popeyes.  I took out my map and oriented myself, the bus was going toward E 20th which is opposite way to where I lived.

 

I got off along 20th St @ Lawrence.  I made my way walking back toward W T C Jester since walking back to 11th St would take as much energy.  I convinced myself that my destination is just the next red line on the map.  I don’t know why, but I was smiling as I walked … I was thankful I didn’t have the bag of Sur La Table purchase with me … Restaurant Depot was in sight, and I knew I am near home.  At last.  In front of me a Central Bank sign read “Strong, Independent, Focused on You”, I smiled.  The comforting thought was I have probably digested the Chocolate Croissant and the little Thumbprint.