The Exit is This Way!

Have you ever been on an amusement ride as it burst into the light of day after having spent a good deal of time inside of a dark tunnel? As we move from the darkness into the light, it can be somewhat uncomfortable. As our eyes squint and strain to adjust to the bright light, it can cause headaches and a sense of weariness…yet the bright light can be equally invigorating and enlightening (no pun intended). It’s a great feeling for some to know that they survived a rough ride and are almost home.

Truth be told, that’s how I’m feeling right now…

Please don’t misunderstand, though – I’ve absolutely loved my adventures at Fox Valley Technical College, and I wouldn’t trade the past 2 years in for anything! It’s true that I’ve faced some enormous challenges physically, financially, and emotionally during my time in school… but I’ve learned and gathered a lifetime of information, acquired skills and cooking competencies that I never imagined I’d be able to grasp the concepts for, met some amazing people, and formed friendships and networking circles that will lead me to wonderful places in my career. My point is that graduation is finally in sight and I’m finally at a place where I can see it clearly. In just 14 short weeks, I will walk across a stage and receive a certificate to memorialize my great achievements in higher education. What an amazing accomplishment that will be for me! I’m not going to stand here and pat myself on the back until I’ve actually crossed the finish line, but what a great feeling it is to be proud our own efforts!

When times are challenging, it’s hard to believe how much we can achieve when we are firing on all cylinders. So many of us beat ourselves up and fail to stop and take an inventory of our accomplishments. What’s worse is that we never congratulate ourselves for the successful moments. Overcoming obstacles is hard work, so when you jump a hurdle, take a bow and pat yourself on the back…you deserve it!

One of my final classes is Advanced Culinary Development. The class is a comfortable blend of knowledge, fun, and downright terror. The final exam is a pass/fail, which means that no matter how well I do on assignments and quizzes all semester, I MUST pass the final exam to pass the class. If that’s not considered pressure, I’m not sure what would be.

The final exam consists of prepping for and cooking a 5 course meal within a 2.5 hour window of time, without the use of recipes or calculators. Of course, we aren’t being asked to prepare easy things like buffalo chicken dip or macaroni and cheese. Oh no siree! The items that my classmates and I will be required to prepare take a major amount of preparation time…dicing vegetables into uniformly sized pieces, filleting a fish, THEN cooking it, butchering a whole chicken to create an “airline breast”, etc.), very little of which we’ll be allowed to prepare for prior to the exam. To make the exam even more stressful (yes, that’s possible), the dishes will be judged by a selection of industry chefs and instructors. Obviously, the next few weeks of classroom time will be spent learning how to make and perfect the dishes we’ll be required to cook for the exam, but I’m not taking any chances. I’ve already prepared Brian to the fact that by the time Halloween rolls around, he may never again want to see another piece of pan smoked chicken, broccoli with hollandaise sauce, or delight his palate and senses to vanilla crème brulee. No worries… Brian’s nickname will hereinafter be known as “Hoover”…

If you’d like to join the culinary fun, why not hop on the crème brulee train with me?! There are many different variations and flavor profiles that you can prepare this dish with, but in my opinion, nothing quite matches the creamy texture and silky smooth vanilla flavor that is found in a traditional crème brulee. Rather than try to improve upon perfection, I think it’s best to show you a tried and true recipe from a great food blogger that I follow. Just click the link and/or photo below to be transported into a dimension known as the world of delectable treats!

VANILLA CRÈME BRULEE

A Student’s Guide to a Successful Semester


“It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life does not lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy of life lies in having no goal to reach.” Dr. Benjamin E. Mays

Photo credit: GregFellows.com

This is truly a historically significant moment in my life! August 26, 2009…Two years ago to this very day, I was a non-traditional college student who decided to put on my big girl undies and wade out into deep, dark waters… in pursuit of higher education. Mind you, it had been 27 years since I had last set my eyes onto the insides of a school textbook. Thoughts of failure were lurking, but I had goals to achieve and a dream to live, so I refused to let them stop me.

“Consider the postage stamp:  its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.” – Josh Billings

As I opened the doors at entrance 10 of the FVTC campus, I was timid, fearful…and truthfully, a bit nauseous. I was afraid of swimming with the barracuda… classes like Business Math and Culinary Applications, and downright terrified at the thought of bumping into the ravenous sharks -the younger generation of students who would surely tease, point, and poke fun at my expense as I fumbled my way through cooking rotation classes.

Despite my fears, I was incredibly excited at the opportunity to learn and hone skills that would help place me back into the workforce, but still… I silently sobbed inside. The inner tapes of my mind were playing ancient messages. (The “voices of the devil” as I would later learn to tag them.) The tapes were blaring negative messages at me, telling me that I had no place or right to sit in a classroom and learn. They told me that I had been given an opportunity for a successful life…but that I had blown it. I had mapped out a life of failure for myself through my past actions.

“The cycle of God, the good, is broken by a single act of negativity. The cycle of negativity is stopped by choosing the good — not just once, but again and again until it is goodness that prevails in your life and in our world altogether.” – JOHN MORTON; “The Blessings Already Are”

This is for all of you new students out there…The ones who are afraid to try, or who are fearful of change. This is also for those of you who are facing difficult challenges in your life. You know who you are…You’re secretly wanting to give up that dream of yours. You’re afraid of embarrassment and/or failure, so you’re about to quit. I’m pleading with you to keep your dreams and goals alive!

As I’ve stated time and time again, (at times more for my own heart to hear than for others)… life is for the living. Make the most of EVERY day you are blessed with. Set goals for yourself and then act upon them. Use baby steps if you must, but start the adventure now…before it’s too late.

Here is my tried and true method for goal-setting:

  • Set weekly, monthly, and term-length goals – Make sure to set goals for effectively managing the time needed for classes, studying, family time, and work commitments. Oh, and don’t forget to plan for some social time, too. All work and no play quickly leads to stress and burnout. If you don’t own a day planner or have a calendar program on your computer or Smartphone, now would be a great time to invest in one. I happen to love Evernote. The best part: It’s FREE!
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Keep your goals achievable and realistic so that you won’t be disappointed if/when you can’t achieve them.
  • Reward yourself when you accomplish a goal. This doesn’t have to be anything expensive, and it probably shouldn’t be…base the size of the reward on the size and depth of the goal. When you finish a small goal, rent a movie, treat yourself to your favorite coffee drink, spend some extra time in a bubble bath, or take the family out for dinner. When you make it to the finish line of a long-term goal, then it’s appropriate to go all out with a big reward.

Please learn from my mistakes and don’t waste any more precious days, weeks, months, or years. There will never be a “perfect” time to do anything. Just DO it! The kids will always come first and you will always have commitments that are seemingly more important that bettering yourself. Your significant other will always need you, and there will always be bills to pay. If you’re worried about finances, you should be, but there is a large amount of scholarship money just waiting for someone to ask for it. Before I started school, I used every excuse in the book to avoid going. The excuses got old as I started regretting my life more and more.

NOW is the time to make time for YOU! Mistakes are never failures if we learn from them. Live and learn from every experience. Jump in to the deep end and start swimming toward those goals. NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAMS! Don’t let anything stop you…especially yourself.

I’m forging into my final semester of an educational experience that has been nothing short of miraculous and wonderful. In a million years, I would never have guessed that little old me would be embarking on graduation. But I persevered and decided to swim below the murky, dark waters. Once I did, I found that there is a beautiful sea down there to behold. Jump in my friend…the water’s warm and wonderful!

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

I follow a lot of people on Twitter.  When I say a lot, I mean in comparison to the people I know personally in the physical sense.  I’m following nearly a thousand.  The fact that nearly half of them are celebrities or brands who could care less that I’m their 35,005th follower is beside the point.  They accepted me as their follower and I am therefore part of their entourage….that’s good enough for me!

Anyway, where was I going with this thought….ah yes…One of those celebrities is Dr. Wayne Dyer (a/k/a “The Father of Motivation”), and he shared something yesterday that I think bears repeating:

“Refuse to ever use the term ‘failure’ again about yourself or anyone else. Remind yourself that when things didn’t go as planned, you didn’t fail, you only produced a result. Then ask yourself this powerfully life-enhancing question, ‘What am I going to do with the results I’ve produced?’ and proceed to act in such a way as to be grateful rather than resentful for those less than glorious results.

What a brilliant thought!  In his awesome way, I think Dr. Dyer is telling us to be this little guy…

Be persistent!  Be resilient!  Be a fighter!  Be all that you can be… JUST NEVER GIVE UP!

Another great thought I had today was in regard to a game of sorts that we sometimes play with ourselves. I call the game the “Coulda-Woulda-Shouldas”.  For those of you that aren’t verbose in the definition of an inner guilt trip, let me enlighten you.  Here are some shining examples of how the game is played:

I overslept, missing the bus (and the opportunity to sit next to that really good looking guy who always rides the #15)  = I shoulda rolled my butt out of bed when the alarm went off instead of hitting the snooze button 10 times.  Now I have to walk to school, but at least I’ll get exercise!

I woulda met you for lunch but… = I was otherwise engaged in the art of a working lunch at my desk (because I planned to fail by failing to plan?)  But hey, maybe now I’ll get that raise I’ve been trying so hard for!

I coulda been a rock star but… = I chose to take home economics in middle school instead of participating in the glee choir and taking guitar lessons.  However, I know how to make a freakishly delicious pan of caramel brownies and sew a hem in my pants!

What is important to note in any of that?  I believe, plenty!  Life is about choices.  Sometimes the choices we make are good ones and other times not, but I don’t think we should ever resent the decisions we make.  Why? Well, because they are uniquely ours, and there is a reason and purpose for everything that happens to us.  What’s more exciting is that at the end of the day, we have an opportunity to look back and do a play-by-play.  If we care to, we can take mental notes of the highs and lows, the good, the bad (and especially the ugly).  When I reflect and take those mental notes, my planning includes trying to repeat the good outcomes at least once more before I die…and planning to avoid the bad outcomes like I’d avoid an encounter with a rattlesnake!

I coulda spent hours writing about the purpose of taking financial accounting and business law classes, but… = I’d rather give you a yummy recipe to try! 

 

Peanut Butter & Pretzel Truffles

From Eating Well:  January/February 2010

Yield: 20 truffles

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup crunchy natural peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped salted pretzels
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips, melted (see Tip)

Preparation

  • Combine peanut butter and pretzels in a small bowl. Chill in the freezer until firm, about 15 minutes. Roll the peanut butter mixture into 20 balls (about 1 teaspoon each). Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper and freeze until very firm, about 1 hour. Roll the frozen balls in melted chocolate. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.

Nutrition

Per truffle : 64 Calories; 4 g Fat; 1 g Sat; 2 g Mono; 1 mg Cholesterol; 5 g Carbohydrates; 2 g Protein; 1 g Fiber; 53 mg Sodium; 65 mg Potassium

Tips & Notes

  • Make Ahead Tip: Store airtight in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
  • Tip: To melt chocolate, microwave on Medium for 1 minute. Stir and then continue microwaving on medium power, stirring every 20 seconds, until melted. Or place chocolate in the top of a double boiler over hot, but not boiling, water. Stir until melted.

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