Category Archives: Houston Special

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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Back Again … After another 24hr of Internet Outage!

What can I say?

Right now, Thank You, of course.  The AT&T guy just left.  I couldn’t leave my apt as I was waiting for the service guy to come between 12-5pm.  Now I am back on – He said that the main building for internet svcs (didn’t get the full thing but nevermind???) is still running on generator and my connection weakened when the power went down.

I realised life without internet is very straining – coz I have got to read a lot from books.  With internet, I can make phone calls and sms my loved ones, surf for information, make purchase, check meaning of words, download pictures … and of course update my journal.

Fingers crossed.  I am back on virtual world.

I am back … after 79hr 26min of Power Outage from Hurricane Ike

This post is going to be short (oops it wasn’t that short after all).  More of a message to my family and concerned friends back home in Singapore and everywhere else –

I am well, everything is fine.  Now I really feel very hungry … there was a power outage from 13 Sep 2.30am till 16 Sep 9.56am.  Yes, I just got back the electricity!  So thankful!  I pray that everyone else affected by Ike one way or another is safe and warm. 

(I was walking out to charge my phone somewhere, wouldn’t know where but somewhere … joined a group of residents for updates … about 10 min into conversation, someone shouted from level 3 apt unit – “We’ve got power” – everyone was so happy, hi fives all round and we all went back to our apt.)  

~Entertaining myself during power outage~

~Entertaining myself during power outage~

First thing I did was to turn on my laptop and called BK, but his mobile phone was not turned on.  He should be in Hong Kong now, and my mum confirmed it.  Mum said that BK couldn’t contact me last couple of days, he called CIAML and apparently there may be no school till next mon… NOooooooooooooooooo.  It is a blessing electricity came back, coz I was going cranky already.  I was supposed to start Baking & Pastry Arts Level 2 on Monday. 

I am now charging my mobile phone, it went dead the morning after Ike hit – how smart.  I missed my brother’s birthday celebration that very morning which was 10pm Singapore time, I couldn’t join in the cake cutting celebration coz power outage simply meant no internet connection – no skype webcam.

I have been reading for the past 3 days within the 12 hour daylight I had.  I realised opening my blinds and doors were so welcoming.  In darkness and stillness of the night, it was difficult to dream in colours and feel the energy to make plans.  I was comfortable with darkness for last 3 nights, I always have this fear but no more … no choice too.  Water pressure was low for the 2 days after Ike visited, I showered my long hair from a plastic container, just like childhood days.  Have not showered in cold water for the longest time.  I have recovered from sleep debt, I have enough sleep to last me a long while.  Imagine what a 12 hour darkness meant to someone who sleeps only a couple hours each night.  Somehow I woke up past 10pm for the last 3 nights.

My inbox was flooded with many messages from my friends.  Thank you, I am doing well. 

~My Dinner with Warmth!~

I wanted to thank this special lady – she is Andrene, living by the next block.  We met when I decided to get out of my apartment and take a walk yesterday.  She knocked on my apartment door an hour later, “I thought you would like something warm“, and she brought me an iced tea, a hamburger, 2 cookies and hot baked beans – “We should look out for each other in times of need“, she said as she made her way slowly down from my second floor apartment.  I was really touched by her gesture, she didn’t even know me.  I only knew she is the aunt of this guy who was visiting from Orange and for the last 2 days been providing me with Ike updates of surrounding areas like no school for Monday etc.  I just saw her walking by again and went out to say hello.

I am just glad electrical power got back on.  I just chatted happily with my sis and bro-in-law on skype – David said that if they still couldn’t get me, he was going to call Singapore Embassy, ha ha ha.  Walah, luckily they found me when power got back on. 

Ohsurprise, suprise … DHL just came and delivered a parcel, I was expecting moon cakes from Singapore from BK – one week late, it came with a note Emergency Action Notification … Article Name: Edible Eggs and Egg Products: Moon Cakes … Action TakenPartial Destruction … so I have got no moon cakes, but I have the other half of the package 老婆饼!from Hong kong … Yipee

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.

Sharing a Dessert with Strangers

I am no fan of sweets, I never enjoyed sugar high and the sweet after taste, I love desserts with texture, and a tinge of full bodied sour-sweetness. 

When I arrived in Houston, I decided to supplement my Baking & Pastry Arts education with a weekly visit to a bakery cafe.  I will get to explore areas in Houston, educate my taste buds, and understand the depth and breath of product offering and concepts in these businesses.  If I commit to this schedule, I would have visited at least 20 bakery cafe businesses by the end of my 20 week education.

One evening, I chanced upon Houston Dessert Meetup Group while doing a search on cafes.  Why not?  At least I get to go places I may otherwise miss during this journey.  My first date with the group was The Sweet Factory @ Hillcroft on 26 July.

I would usually research on the bus route during the week for my weekend outing.  The total journey to my destination would take about an hour and a half.  I was engaged throughout the journey and  noted many interesting cafes and places along Westheimer and noted on my map.  I arrived 2 hours ahead of my meetup time.

~A halal supermarket~

~An halal supermarket~

Jerusalem Halal Supermarket?  I walked in and found familiarity, eg. milo, among the middle eastern goods.  I emerged an hour later with a packet each of chick peas, rice flour, basmati rice and a box of masala tea.  I have no plan on how I am going to cook them but I just found the products very Asian and homely.  An hour more to go, and with no other shops to venture, I was tempted to have lunch at the only restaurant along the middle eastern stretch.

Guatemala is in Central America, I learnt.  I decided on Pollo En Amarillo, the menu stated “chicken in yellow sauce with rice and vegetable”.  It tasted like homemade curry, minus the spices and was sweet.  I wanted a traditional drink and the wait staff recommended me Atol De Elote, it was under Hot Drink section of the menu.  Is it a tea?  No.  Is it a milk or yogurt?  No.  What is it?  Hot.  That was my conversation with her.  Okay, I will have one.  I wasn’t too sure how I was convinced, I guess because it is an authentic Guatemala drink.  A yellow drink came.  I took a sip and it tasted good though a little sweet and starchy.  Good?  I told her I liked it, so What is it?  I asked again.  Corn.  She answered me this time.  So I downed sweet curry rice, and a big cup of corn puree for lunch.  That makes up 2 full portions of carbohydrates for lunch.  Burp! 

I walked into The Sweet Factory, a Lebanese bakery cafe, smiled at 2 persons who looked at me expectantly.  They are Michelle, and Bella of the Meetup Group.  Amanda joined us shortly.  Michelle is a practicing attorney in Family Law, Bella will graduate with a degree in Marketing in 6 month’s time, and Amanda is a paralegal assistant who also teaches belly dancing.  We each bought what we like and shared with the rest. I bought butter cookies, and 2 other jam-filled pistachio cookies.  I don’t like cookies, I bought them because I read in a review about the cafe that the cookies were good.  A lady by the next table came over, I didn’t even get her name, she looked at what we ordered, decided we were missing the real stuff, and bought each of us a cream filled filo pastry, and left the cafe happily.  Oh!  That was really yummy!  And who was she again, we really had no idea but we knew she had exactly 3 cream-filled filo pastries. 
~The Sweet Factory~

~The Sweet Factory~

It is interesting how we experience new things when our heart accepts the invitation readily.  I wouldn’t have known this middle-eastern town exists, that Guatemala is a place in Central America, that it is a joy making friends with strangers of common passion, that I can accept sweets from a stranger which I was taught never to since a child, and that a cream-filled filo pastry taste so good. 

Later in school, Chef Sebastien told me we may make filo pastry in class if we have time.  Smile, that is another sweet treat!