Monday, 26 December 2011

Merry Christmas

The Christmas season has arrived. We have spent days, hours, and minutes preparing for this holiday. Decorations are up, the fridge and freezer are over stocked with holiday munchies and crunchies, and if you run out of room there you can also store excess food outside, just be careful that no critters get into your honey glazed ham. Gifts are tied up in string and nestled under the tree, Christmas music is ringing through the house like a chorus of angels, and holiday specials plaster the television with visions of Santa, Jesus, and family.


It is my favourite holiday, and to be quite honest for all the reasons and preparations mentioned above. Fellowship of family strides hand in hand with a well planned dessert platter and leg of turkey. And while conversation of any topic under the sun segues from one into the other guided by laughter and affectionate teasing, a ribbon of Christmas music ties itself around the room adding melancholy melodies. As dinner folds into the dish washer, the anticipation and surprise of opening gifts resounds through the house. My parents have a tradition of giving each of us children 3 gifts to represent the gifts the wise men gave Jesus. Long past are the days of when I asked for toys, stuffed animals and trinkets that won’t see past New Years. I have sharpened my Christmas list to request culinary tools, art supplies, and other useful gadgets and gizmos that will keep my creative hands and imagination thriving. As the night crawls closer to slumber, I curl up on the couch to catch the last ten minutes of Bin Crosby’s “White Christmas”. The timber of his voice serenades me to sleep and I slide into a dreamless repose.

I wake up the following morning and ponder all that has happened. Who was it all for? Why is this holiday the be and all and end? To simply say “Jesus is the reason for the season” is cliché, dull and doesn’t go deep enough. A couple weeks ago I was intently listening to a sermon in church about the Christmas season and what it’s all for. The pastor put it like this:

“Jesus didn’t need to come down to earth to have more people worship Him. He didn’t need to get more gifts and feel like the center of attention on heaven and earth. There was nothing in Him that was longing to be longed and to be loved by humans. And to put it bluntly humans are crappy lovers anyway. We have a conditional, wounded, fear of acceptance, untrusting love. Jesus didn’t come down to earth for Him. Jesus came down for us.”

Think about that for a moment. At the very end of Jesus life on earth, who was it all for? From the beginning of His ministry to the end, who did He direct His message to? Did He spend hours in the synagogue eyes lifted to the heavens talking to the angels that only He could see, rather than engaging in conversation and debate with other religious leaders? Did He come to the earth just to show off His divine royalty? Did He walk beside humans, drenched in imperfections, just to compare His squeaky clean reputation? No. Jesus came down for us.

Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus of course, and the benevolence of others, and the joy of family. But let us rejoice in the fact that this holiday is the beginning of healing, the step into trust and the move forward to accepting ourselves, and that is all made possible by the love of Christ Jesus, who did not come down for His own gain, but for us. Whether you believe in Him or not, He believes in you.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Mama Jo comes Home for Christmas

 As you can see I am late on getting this post out to the internet masses. However I have no shame in my tardiness, as I am home and enjoying a delicious time with my family.
But there are stories to spin and share and thus I will unfold a few favourites from this past week.

On Tuesday afternoon I marched into the kitchen with a different stride to my step. Today would be a good day, Mama Jo is in charge. It was my turn to have the opportunity to lead a group, and the group in question under my care was Lucy Maud Dinning Room, Dinner. I dumped my knife kit and note book on the command center, actually it is a stainless steel table with a wobbly leg. My team strolled in and we were well under way by 12:30. On the menu tonight: Orange Chocolate Pudding (made by yours truly), Baileys Chocolate cheesecake, Wine Poached Pears, Citrus Trio Sorbet, and Duo Chocolate Lava Cakes.

My team and I worked vigorously and joyously all afternoon, often breaking out into holiday song to lighten the mood and encourage Christmas cheer. It was a very different day for me. I made two batches of pudding and a dozen short bread cookies but I spent the majority of my time filling out menus, organizing and delegating tasks, communicating with the Chef, checking for reservations, writing lists, scribbling instructions and drawing blue prints on how to plate the desserts for presentation.

After class was over I had an hour of leisure time before I had to be up at the Lucy Maud kitchen ready to plate and serve the desserts. However, that leisure time was spent doing homework and even once in the kitchen I spent the majority of my time chatting with my classmate Hanna, and piddling away at more homework. It was an exceptionally slow night in the dinning room with only 6 orders for dessert. I was excited to plate the desserts for actual paying customers. It made my work and the work of my team feel extra special to have customers buy our edible masterpieces.

Wednesday night brought an eye burning display of over zealous Christmas festivity. North Rustico is the place to be when you want to take in Christmas lights, festive music and get into the general Christmas spirit. My dear friend, Lisa, invited me to accompany her and her family on their annual tour around North Rustico. Like a kid bouncing on her parents bed on Christmas morning I bounced into the back seat of their car and we made our way to the north shore. Along the way we saw houses decorated in colourful strings of lights, Santa and Nativity scene wood cut outs on front lawns, and Christmas candles in the windows, but they were just a prelude to the awesomeness that would unfold.

North Rustico is a beacon of Christmas hope as it sits cradled in a small valley by the ocean. A sail boat strung with white Christmas lights greeted us as we arrived in town, and several houses were decked out in extravagant Christmas displays. However, on the far side of town, shining like the star of Bethlehem was a house that quite literally outshone all the rest. Rather than attempting to describe the grandeur of it, I will simply show you:

Even though the house clearly had the most elaborate and complex Christmas display, my favourite was the house across the tree. The only lights shining from this humble residence was a Christmas tree in the living room window. Soft coloured lights glowed happily and hand crafted decorations hung from sturdy ever green branches. It reminded me of home.  

Class on Thursday whizzed by and before I knew it I was sitting in the Charlottetown airport, feeling very educated and independent as I read my Time magazine waiting for boarding call. Charlottetown airport has two “terminals” 1A and 1B, actually there are two doors 9 feet apart from each other but they both lead to the tarmac. After all the ice had melted off the wings of the plane we trudged out into yet another weather bomb, boarded the plane got comfy and waited for take off.

I love take off! I love the roar of the engines as they power up. I love the thrust of power as we barrel down the runway. I love the sudden gasp of inhaled breath as the land falls away and we rise higher and higher into the sky and I love the jolt and bounce as we battle turbulence reaching the cruising altitude. It became clear that was I alone in my exhilarated bliss during take off, other passengers gripped the arm rests until their knuckles turned white and kept there eyes screwed shut.

When the plane touched down in Toronto I felt an over whelming wave of excitement.  Home. Ontario soil! The benefits of Charlottetown’s petite airport means it is actually impossible to get lost. Toronto airport is massive and it only occurred to me as I stepped off the plane that I was traveling alone. Where do I go? Where is baggage claim? Why don’t those signs correspond with my boarding pass? Where am I!? I followed the small herd of passengers that shared the flight with me and found my bag and then before I knew it was outside looking for a familiar face. After walking around arrivals searching face after face, off in a distance I saw them. Like in a scene from a movie I saw my dear friend Eric and Liz, my pace quickened, I squealed with joy when they saw me, dropped my luggage and ran into their arms in a sweet embrace. We loaded into the car and drove to Waterloo where I would stay for the next two days visiting with friends, making apple bands, and talking until my jaw fell off.

On Saturday my brother, Chad, sister-in-law, Danielle, and their dog, Dixon, picked me up from Grebel and took me to the Ritsema Homestead. On the drive home I noticed several differences between PEI and Ontario:

Differenece #1: Ontario is relatively flat. PEI is hilly. Ontario is no prairie scene, but PEI has considerable more geographical texture.

Difference #2: Ontario houses remain in a monochromatic colour sheme. PEI houses are bursting with colour and snap.

Difference #3: Ontario is surrounded by land. PEI is surrounded by water. In PEI you can drive in any direction for 45 minutes or less and always see ocean.

No matter the differences between Ontario and PEI nothing can compare to the Ritsema Homestead. As we crested the hill just before the farm I saw the pond with a thin layer of ice crusted over it. The fields were dusted in snow, and the house was gently glowing. I walked into the house, inhaled a long breath and drank in the delicious scent. It smelled like cranberry and cinnamon, maple logs burning in the wood furnace, and excessively loved furniture.

After dumping my luggage in my room I dedicated the day to plummeting myself into farm fun activities. My nephew, Landon, came over and to my disappointment he didn’t recognize me at first, but in no time at all he was on my coat tails begging me to play with him. My brother and father pulled out my cousins four wheelers and we circled the back yard like a brood of gleeful children. After lunch we all settled down for a nap and then were up and bouncing around the house once again. Landon and I decorated the downstairs Christmas tree and then assembled the same puzzle 3 times.

It was a wonderfully exhausting day. I slept well that night, in my own bed, wrapped in my own covers, and surrounded by my own walls.

It is so wonderful to be home.

                                           Christmas crazy!

                                                 Me trying to eat te gingerbread house.

The truck reads, "Humane removal of bats, skunks, raccoons, squirrels etc." Only in huron county would see something like this. I have a humane removal tactic as well, it involves a piece of lead and a big bag!


                                    Landons decorative genius.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

I'll be home with bells on.

This was my week in the kitchen. If there was a season of cooking I know how to succeed in it is the Christmas season. I came into the kitchen Tuesday morning itching with excitement armed with all my favourite family recipes. But today I would make an especially wonderful Christmas treat: gebakjes. Not just any gebakjes, but my families secret recipe. Two weeks ago I asked my friends on Facebook, my sister, and best friends mother for their gebakje recipe. Several different recipes floated in but my sister’s was the best. I promised not to tell anyone the recipe and as a security precaution copied it down in my note book in Dutch. My classmates often looked over my shoulder and asked what I was making, my answer remained the same, “Gebakjes, secret family recipe.” No more questions were asked about the recipe but conversation was opened to my Dutch heritage.

Chef Richard wandered over to check my progress and I had to tell him the specifics on what I was making. He didn’t seem to care what it was or who it came from. I was offended! How can you not care about gebakjes? He’s from Austria he must have something similar to a gebakje there. He speaks German and I thought for sure he would know what I was talking about. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Don’t mess up.” Thanks Chef, no pressure eh?

After two days of making the gebakjes, one day dedicated to the base and the second to the icing, I had completed 96 gebakjes. I suppose now is a good time to tell you that this past week was the first time I have ever made gebakjes. Sure I’ve been in the general vicinity when my sister was making them, and I know what the texture and taste is supposed to be like, but I have never actually made them before. I was extremely proud of them. They looked exactly how there were supposed to look, and tasted how I remembered them. Chef tried a piece and was equally impressed. It was a good day indeed.

Have you ever biked home in a weather bomb? I had the experience, no, the opportunity to do such a thing this past week. After a productive day in the kitchen and scribbling away at some home work in the library I decided to call it a day and go home. I glanced out the window saw sunny skies, a few clouds, and flags ruffling in the breeze. However after retrieving my backpack, coat, hat and mitts, an activity which took no more than 10 minutes, I came to the front doors and stood aghast at the scene unfolding in front of me. The sun had been swallowed by angry clouds pouring down an assault of driving rain, flags were pulled tot as long fingers of violent wind attempted to rip them off their poles, and the once gentling rippling ocean was now churning and seething, thrusting its full weight onto the red rocks.

The thought did cross my mind that I should just sit it out, but who knows how long this attack could last for, and besides I am missing my tea time! I suited up, pulling my hat tightly around my ears, securing my back pack snuggling on my back, and equipping my coat pockets with my bike and house keys so I could dash outside and onto my bike quickly. Several people told me not to it. They advised me to call a cab, wait it out, or walk home, but I was ready for an adventure. I didn’t come to this Island to watch adventures pass by I came to jump into them, hit the ground running, and skin my knees a little. Ready to face the weather I leaped out the front doors, bounded down the steps and ran to my bike. I hopped on and pedaled home fast. It was exhilarating! The streets of Charlottetown were like rivers, the wind blew against me and pushed me into on coming only a couple of times. Puddles were the size of small lakes and unavoidable, I splashed through them my shoes and pants getting drenched.

I arrived home a soggy smiling mess. What an adventure! Tea time was extra special that day. I spent it not alone but with two beloved and dear friends from church, Natalie and Chantale. Natalie had invited Chantale and I over to her house for an afternoon of Christmas baking. As I’m sure any body can attest to, baking with friends is far better than baking alone. The kitchen is a symphony of electric mixers, egg timers, and rolling pins. Through the measuring of ingredients, stirring, and kneading of cookie dough a ribbon of laughter and conversation floats through the air accompanied by the sweet aroma of short bread cookies, peanut butter balls, and coconut cherry bombs.

Wednesday night was the first annual Holland College Talent Show. As always an hour before any performance I was beside myself with nerves, terrified but excited. I practiced my introduction to the song as well as the piece, pacing back stage, humming my scales, breathing, and speaking with Jesus, allowing Him to speak assurance and truth into my heart. But when my feet touched the stage and I looked out over the audience faces, some smiling in anticipation, some texting, even others slumped over barely awake, I completely relaxed. I wasn’t there for them. I don’t care about the $1000 prize that was to be won, I just wanted to sing. I came to gain experience, improve my talent, and perform simply because I love it. My performance was flawless and I was pleased. I wished the audience a Merry Christmas, thanked them, took a bow and exited. My heart was lit with peace and joy, “That was for us, Jesus.” I whispered. I felt a smile in reply pressing on my heart.

While I thought my performance went well, even though the sound system was worse than awful, the mic crackling and peeking, the other performance did not think it went so well. In fact concern was raised that the lack of adequate sound system would interfere with their chances of winning. With only two acts left in the night, the sound system finally started to work properly and we all got the chance to perform again. First up second time around was me. I hopped onto the stage smiled at the judges and said, “Thank you judges for letting us go again. We really appreciate your grace in these technical difficulties. Sure has been an adventurous night!” I sung my song again and wished everyone a Merry Christmas a second time and went back to my seat to enjoy and encourage the other performers and wait for the judges results. I won’t keep you in suspense as to who won the $1000 prize, it was not me, but I didn’t care. Several people complained that I didn’t win but it didn’t bother me any, I came to sing.

It is my tradition that after finishing a performance I celebrate by indulging in a few spoonfuls of ice cream. As a vocalist the first rule to keeping your voice clear and perfect is not eat any dairy the day of a performance. So having abstained from cheese, milk, yogurt and other delicious dairy products I dove into a pint of Wowie Cowie, a favourite flavour from Cows ice cream.

Fruit cake. What an odd dessert. You take as much dried fruit and raisins as you can manage, soak it in brandy till it smells like a distillery, add some flour and eggs and pop it in the oven. After it’s baked you take it out of the pan and soak it in rum, and then you slice it no thicker than a finger nail width and eat it with coffee and Baileys Irish whiskey. I’ve never made a dessert that can make you more sauced just in the process of making it than drinking shots of tequila.

My task on Thursday was to make a huge order of fruit cakes. Ugh! It was awful. I don’t know why they call dried fruit dry when it is as sticky as honey on a hot day. My hands were covered in a sugary sticky mess. Wiping my hands on my apron proved futile as I ended up sticking to it. After rooting through the liquor cabinet for brandy and coming up empty handed, Chef handed me a bottle of whiskey, rum, and vodka, each with only eight ounces of alcohol left in them. “Just use these up, who cares anyway?” He said. “Wow! Now it’s a party.” I replied dumping them into the bowl of fruit and stirring it together. The stench of the mixed alcohols burned my nostrils and eyes. I felt like I was getting drunk just stirring them. Imagine explaining a wobbly bike ride home to a police officer that you weren’t drinking but just making fruit cake. The fruit cake turned out beautifully and we had extra’s that Chef insisted we take home and give to our family and friends. Not that anyone would eat it anyway, as Chef says, “Who the hell eats fruit cake anyway?”

As I reflect on my week and sum up my adventures I must confess that my thoughts are elsewhere. In 3 days I will be home. All week I have been counting down the days, writing lists of things to pack, and arranging air port drop off and pick up times. I can not wait to go home. It is everything I can do not to leave my computer right now and run home. It is the first time I will see my family in 4 months. I wake up wide eyed, powering through my day at school, skipping to school and day dreaming about coming home. As I meticulously stir pastry cream I dream about stepping off the plane, running through the air port and into the arms of my loved ones. I know I will cry and laugh and I can’t wait to be overwhelmed with emotion. I can’t wait to collapse onto the carpet floor in my house, walk around the pond, laugh hysterically at my fathers silly jokes, and swing my nephew into my arms. I can’t wait to see my Grebel friends and stay up all night talking and baking with them, sharing stories, and rolling on the floor in incapacitating laughter.

In the wise words of Dolly Parton: “I’ll be home with bells on, trim the tree and wrap the presents, turn the Christmas music on, this Christmas I’ll be home with bells on.” Alert the media, call Peter Mansbridge, you have 3 days to get ready Ontario, Mama Jo is coming home for Christmas.

                             Gebakje's. Het is heel lekker!

                              It's a Christmas baking party!

                                  Chantale, Natalie, and myself.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Foxes and Rosemary Clooney

I started the week off with a nerve racking bang! Holland College is hosting a Talent Show and auditions were being held on main campus. When I woke up Monday morning I didn't view the audition as something to enjoy and to get pumped about it, I saw it as another thing to accomplish on my to do list. So I didn't get my usual nervous excitement until, quite literally, right before my audition. I was pacing in the front hall, going through vocal scales, breathing and praying, and practicing the song in my head when I was called in. I walked through the doors and was led to the stage. As I strapped on my guitar and stood in front of the mic I was suddenly hit with a wall of nerves. However, I see nerves as a good thing, they keep me sharp, humble, and aware. I sat down and played a minute and a half of one of my songs. When I was done the judges were smiling and they complimented me and said I did a lovely job. I thanked them, bowed, and left.

On the way home I paused and blinked for a second. I was done? I didn't sing three songs like I normally would? There was no monologue I had to perform? This is so odd. But I am glad for the experience. I know it was a flawless audition because I don't remember what I did. If I were to have a bad audition I would constantly be thinking about where I messed up, how I shaped my words differently, or where I accidently changed the arrangement because I got lost, etc. But I got home and thought, "Where have I been for the past 15 minutes?" That is a good sign.

Tuesday woke me up at the glorious return hour of 5:00am. Sigh. Oh 5:00am where have you been? How I missed you. I missed the slow wake up, the rhythm of getting ready for school in the 45 minute time line. I miss walking outside my door, lifting my eyes to the sky and seeing stars twinkling like shorting out Christmas light bulbs. I miss seeing the early bird workers and confused drug dealers at why a wholesome girl like me would be biking to school, singing no less, at 6:00am. Ahhh, yes it is good to see you again dear friend. I jumped out of bed on Tuesday, glad to reunite with delicious 5:00am. I got to school right on time and was in the kitchen in record time. It was so good to be there early. Chef Richard was just as giddy as we were to get in the kitchen at the crack of dawn. On my menu for the day I had crème caramel, hazelnut meringue cookies plus their filling, and short bread cookies.

By 7:00 am my crème caramel was in the oven and happily baking. I started on the shortbread cookies and had a triple batch baked and cooling by 8:30. Chef Richard, thinking we had nothing better to do, threw an exceptionally large order of chocolate mousse at us. There was a function of prospective students coming for lunch and a tour and we needed something quick, easy, and decadent to feed them. But we worked together and by 10:00am all the desserts were plated, the mousse was poured into individual glasses, and the shortbread cookies were ready to spread Christmas joy, however the batch was a cookie short do to ‘taste testing.’  

Wednesday was much of the same however I received some very good news today. I passed my audition and am scheduled to sing at the Holland College Talent Show!!! I am very excited and pleased that I made it. I am more looking forward to seeing the other varieties of talent than singing, but the opportunity to sing in front of a new crowd is a blessing.  

Thursday brought the challenge of making a bajillion sponge cakes for the base of an eggnog mousse for Friday. When I started out to make the cakes I multiplied the recipe by 2, knowing that we would cut the cakes in half to essentially have 4 cake bases. Chef over looked my work and then said, “Oh times the recipe by 6. Go for it!” Times the recipe by 6?!?! Ok Chef. I put away my regular sized mixer and loaded the industrial brute with eggs, sugar and vanilla. After whipping the eggs on high speed for 20 minutes to the point where they were almost jumping out of the mixer I used a whisk as long as my arm to fold in the flour. It was a decent work out and I had 6 beautiful, fluffy, delectable sponge cakes to show for it. I felt very proud and although the task of making 6 sponge cakes sounded unreal and unnecessary at the time we now have a decent stash that can be used at any time next week. We had to plate 300 desserts for the Lucy Maud dinning room lunch buffet as well so energy was placed more on detail, placing and balancing the components of our displayed desserts. While I was cutting up fruit cake to put in between the mini cheesecakes and Nanaimo bars Chef Richard informed me to make them small, bite size and more like an accent. His reasoning was, “Who the hell eats fruit cake anyway?” I for one had never tried fruit cake, Chef was shocked and we split a piece right then and there. “What do you think?” He asked. “Tastes like Fruit-to-Go. Not bad, but not good either.” Chef concurred describing it as tasting like leather fruit.

When Friday dawned I was ecstatic at its arrival. Friday. The start of the weekend. After today I nothing ahead of me but long strolls, endless hours of pleasure reading, and miles of crocheting bliss. The good life.  

On a usual bike ride to school I have limited company and despite the early hour I usually pedal through Charlottetown singing to keep myself awake and joyful. As a drove through the park singing Rosemary Clooney’s “You Make Me Feel So Young” I noticed something moving 60 meters ahead of me. As I neared I discovered it was a fox! How delightful! On my to do list while on the Island is to pet a fox, however this little guy did not look like he was in the affectionate mood. He crouched down, obviously trying to hide, however his particular hiding spot was directly under a street lamp. After he noticed that I had noticed him, his posture tensed and his bushy tailed wiggled in anticipation. Uh oh. Suddenly he was on his black sock feet chasing me! I was shocked for several reasons. Reason number one: I’m singing, why would you chase a goddess song bird like me? Reason number two: I’m singing Rosemary Clooney! Only crazy and deprived people don’t like Rosemary Clooney. Reason number three: Couldn’t the fox see I was its friend? Obviously the fox had other things on his mind. I pedaled faster all the while yelling, “Don’t chase me! I’m your friend! Why are you chasing me?!” Having chased me out of ‘his’ park the fox let me go and I pedaled to school at land breaking speed records.

Safe in the kitchen, still giggling from my odd encounter, I got to work on finishing the eggnog mousse cakes. I have never made eggnog before let a lone eggnog mouse, we had tried it earlier this week but it had failed so we were hoping that today would be our day of redemption. Chef suggested we multiply the recipe by a bajillion but I talked him down to 3. After all it was my first time and the recipe hadn’t work out for us before and we wanted to play it safe. The Chef guided us the entire way, encouraging us, giving us pointers, and allowing us to fall into our own rhythm with the recipe. After holding my breath all morning and praying fervently Chef came over to check my work. “Excellent! You did a very good.” I responded with a boisterous, “Praise Jesus!” Chef paused, looked at me sideways, and then burst out laughing. What I don’t think Chef realized is that I whole heartedly believed that it was Jesus that made the eggnog mousse cake turn out. I was simply the vessel that He used to make a fabulous Christmas dessert. He’s good with wine, I don’t see why He wouldn’t be a smash with eggnog.  

That evening I took a long delightful sunset stroll around Charlottetown. I walked along the board walk searching for my favourite bench but realized that it was gone! All the benches were gone! I concluded that they put the benches in storage to avoid winter damage. So I had to find a new favourite place to sit where I could over look the bay and let my dreams simmer. I gravitated toward the canons and found a pleasant grassy slope by the artillery house to recline and watch the sunset. I look forward to spending many afternoons with my new favourite haunt.

As a meandered home I walked passed the governors house admiring the rich amount of sparkling Christmas lights. I turned up toward the lane hopping to walk up to the house to take some photos when I spotted a dark and fidgety creature sitting on the steps of the gatehouse. Another fox! He looked at me mischievously no doubt thinking he could get a good laugh out of me and chase me across the street to Beaconsfield. I turned in the opposite direction and walked away, but I didn’t feel safe yet. I saw a pedestrian and her dog come walking down the road toward me and the fox. The dog sensed the fox and gave a loud warning bark, it startled the fox and he scampered off, no doubt disappointed that his fun for the evening was spoiled.

After dilly dallying my way home, stopping every few meters to take a picture of Christmas lights, I rounded the corner to my house and there, a block down the street was another fox! How is this possible?!?! For those of you that are counting that is three fox encounters in one day, three! I can only conclude that this morning’s fox had so much fun scaring me witless that he had to tell his friends I was good for a gag. Spread the joy right?

Saturday was superb. I dabbled in reading, crocheting, and even pulled out my sketch book to scribble down a few wedding cake ideas for my pastry portfolio review in March. During my weekly afternoon stroll I came across an astounding little boutique called Cordelia’s. It is small but surprisingly packed with all sorts of crafty one of a kind items , everything from Christmas decorations, jewelry, paintings, soap, candles, preserves, and odd nick nacks. It is an eclectic smash up of the funky and modern, elegant and vintage. But the best part is that all the items are Island handmade! PEI has an astonishing amount of local artistic talent that is encouraged and promoted by shops like Cordelia’s all over the Island. As I perused the shelves of fancy dooda’s I was especially impressed with a display of filigree jewelry. The attention to detail and imagination behind each piece was remarkable and I just had to lay my money down on snowflake shaped ring. For those of you that know me well you know that I rarely buy jewelry and I seldom wear it. I would much rather make it myself and save it for special occasions, so you can imagine how impressed I must have been to purchase such a treasure. I have worn continually since acquiring it.

As I come to a close and reflect on my week I feel like amidst the stress of Christmas baking at school, mischievous foxes, and numerous strolls it has been a week of hidden delight. The kitchen was a haven of divine cookery, I had the opportunity to serenade a fox, I found a new place where my dreams and imaginings could grow, and had the joy of supporting a fellow artist. So remember that when you feel like you are getting washed along with the busy current of life, whether the flow be fast or slow, there is always a splash of blessing waiting to refresh you. Keep your chin up J    

                                                    Yule logs

                               On of the trays for the dessert buffet for Lucy Maud Dinning Room.

                               Gazing at the sunset from my new favourite place in the park.

                                       Province House all decked out for Christmas

Sunday, 27 November 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like . . .

It is less than a month away from Christmas and Charlottetown has thrown itself into preparations for the festive season. There are Christmas trees on every street corner in the downtown hub. They are simply decorated with ribbon, white lights, and Christmas balls. Large Christmas light displays are hung on the Confederation Center walls and front yard of the Anglican Church. Province house has a huge filled out Christmas tree on each of their balconies and rich sagging pine boughs under the windows with deep red ribbons nestled in the centers. Homes of Islanders are dazzling with Christmas lights and Christmas trees are sitting in front windows. Confederation mall is a bustle with holiday shoppers and a Santa village sits on the top floor complete with a huge maroon sleigh brimming with brightly wrapped gifts. The ground floor is not home to one but 2 massive 14 foot Christmas trees with gold and silver Christmas ornaments. Walking around Charlottetown I feel like Cindy Loo Who gazing up in wonder and awe my toes and fingertips tingly and a smile bursting from my chest.

Wednesday marked the first real snow fall of the year. When I woke up I could just see a sliver of morning sun struggling to break through the heavy clouds before being swallowed. As I walked through the park to school I counted all the trees that were completely naked of leaves. All 48 trees were stripped, their colourful garments laying at their feet in a rumpled mess. The trees looked sleepy against the bland sky. No doubt they were in deep slumber dreaming of spring and were unaware of the threat of snow against them.

At lunch time I sat in the cafeteria facing the window looking out into the bay as I always do. The water was uncomfortably still. I have never seen the ocean this quiet before. The sky and water matched in colour and the horizon bled into each other, making it difficult to know where the sky began and the ocean ended. The tension in the air rose, and it seemed like the whole Island was holding its breath in excitement and dread. At 2:00pm the first snow flakes fluttered down from the sky and continued their glorious assault on the Island until the next morning.

As the day folded into evening the roads thickened with heaps of snow and the only sensible activity to partake in was sitting by the window to watch the winter scene play out. But sitting there, watching impatient snow, I felt immensely sad. My heart turned down cast, my eyes welled up with tears and I curled up in bed, holding Super Bowl tightly against my chest and I wept bitterly. I was homesick. I missed the first snow ball fight of the year on Waterloo campus. I missed the sound of people running through halls to dash outside and frolic in the fresh fallen fluffs. I missed the way school work would get discarded for an entire evening and the only thing that made sense was to sing Christmas carols around the piano until your voice was spent. I missed the smell of my mothers kitchen after putting up the Christmas tree, and the sweet aroma of apple wood burning in the furnace. I missed home.

But one cannot cry forever. After drenching Super Bowl in salty sorrows I moved onto drying activities. I attacked the kitchen table with wrapping paper, ribbons, and boxes and flung myself into the art of Christmas wrapping. I tuned my iPod to my "Christmas Epic" playlist and spent the evening in wrapping bliss.

The next morning brought a new set of challenges. Charlottetown lacks in sidewalk removal skills but I'm sure a lesson from my dad would sharpen them up. Having no clear sidewalk to walk to school on I did what the locals so confidently did and walked down the middle of the street. Oh sure there are cars coming but a kick step out of the way prevents you from being run over. Motorists seem to expect the increase in pedestrian traffic and have adjusted their driving accordingly. That morning stroll to school was delicious. Fresh fallen slow lightly covered houses, trees, and play ground equipment. The air was fresh and crisp and tingly. I wanted to play hooky and crunch through the snow all day.

On Thursday evening I had the opportunity to see a real live NHL Hockey Game! Well not exactly but it was the closest I was going to get while on the Island. PEI is home to the Rockets a hockey team that holds as much prestige and talent as the OHL. It was the PEI Rockets verses the Moncton Wild Cats. The first period was slow and uneventful with Moncton scoring two goals. But by the second period The Rockets had a fire under their ass and brought the game up to 4-2.

A fight almost broke out in the third period but the refs broke it up before it got started, much to the crowds dismay. I had seats right behind the penalty box and as the two angry players entered the box, they exchanged a sharp signal that suggested they would finish what they started. But unfortunately they didn't keep that promise, perhaps next time.

The third and final period came to a close and the crowd erupted. The Rockets took home the glory with a stunning 7-4 win. Good job PEI. What makes the red sand red? Blood! Moncton blood!

What would Christmas be with a Santa Claus parade? On Saturday night, just as the sun slipped into dreamless slumber, the 13th annual Charlottetown Santa Claus parade commenced. The evening was chilly but not too cold that we couldn't enjoy the parade and with most of the snow from Wednesday melted the streets and sidewalks were clear and dry. For an hour and a half University avenue was a stream of brightly coloured floats, free candy canes, marching bands and fire engines decked out to the nines. Thank goodness there were no house fires that night, imagine a fire engine with a giant Frosty the Snow Man showing up at your house to rescue you. I’m not sure which would be more terrifying: your house going up in flames or a 12 foot inflated Frosty. But of course the parade wouldn’t be a parade without the big man himself: Santa Claus. It was a magical evening.

So here I sit, with just under a month to go before Christmas and only 2 and a half weeks until I see Ontario soil. My homesick has been replaced with excitement, my Christmas shopping almost done, and the realization that this week starts a new rotation. Starting Tuesday I will be back on morning shift and rotating into the Lucy Maud lunch department. I will have an opportunity to make exceptionally fancy desserts for well to do paying customers. I am looking forward to shifting my attention from chocolate to crème brule and gebakjes, and to tell you the truth the 5:00am wake up call doesn’t look too shabby either. It is all one step closer to Christmas. One step closer to home.  

                                                       Go Rockets! Go!

                                        Misbehaving Monctoners

                                         Raspberry filled dark chocolates

                                                 Chocolates are messy

                                      Old school fire engine all decked out.

                              There's that 12 foot Frosty I was telling you about. Yikes!

                                              Here comes Santa Claus!!

Sunday, 20 November 2011


If I were to sum this week up in with one word it would be: full. I have been blessed with an overwhelming amount of adventures and to be honest I've had one too many pastries this week and I feel like the only thing that will fit me are my Friday pants. Sigh. But amidst this bounty there were lessons learned. 

Lesson #1: You can kicked out of class for anything!
It's happened folks. I got kicked out of class for excessive giggling. In my defense it was the second test of the day and my brain was a little batty from studying. On Monday afternoon I had a test in my business communications class. It went quite well and I am confident that I passed with flying colours. After I finished writing the test and handed it in, I sat quietly at my desk and doodled a sketch of my future wedding dress in my notebook. My friend, Kendra, having finished her test as well turned to me and we engaged in whispered conversation:
Kendra: "I want to go home and check my marks."
Me: "You want to go home and check your bird?"
Kendra: "What kind of question is that?"
Me: "You could have a chicken roast in the oven. It makes sense!"

Needless to say that little miscommunication tipped the scale and we erupted in giggles. Aware that fellow classmates were still writing their tests we tried desperately to stifle our giggles but it was excruciatingly difficult. Unable to hold it back any longer I burst out laughing! My teacher, walked over to me slowly, and asked in a low dissaproving voice, "Joelle, do you need to step outside for a moment?" I nodded sheepishly and shuffled out of class embarrassed. I ran to the bathroom and giggled and laughed until all my smiles were gone. After calming down, I timidly tip toed back into class and continued doodling, avoiding eye contact with Kendra. Hey! How come she didn't get kicked out? She started it!

Lesson #2: How to work with Chocolate
I'm sure the idea of working with chocolate stirs up fanciful images in your mind. Huge bowls full of velvety chocolate. The rich aroma filling the air intoxicating your senses and seducing you until you have no choice but to stuff your face. Even when your stomach is screaming for you to stop eating your tongue and cheeks are begging for more of that luscious flavour. Sigh.

Now getting chocolate to that perfect flavour, snap and texture is a whole other battle. First you have to melt the chocolate to 50 degrees celsius using a double boiler and then tempered it to 31 degrees celsius using the tabling or seeding method. If the chocolate is not tempered right it will not set, be difficult to work with, and will dry with ugly streaks and spots. Once this happens you have to start all over again, something I had to do all too often this past week.

After several melt downs, a few shed tears, and more than one vicious growl at my chocolate, by Friday I finally got the hang of it and was making chocolate cigars left, right and center like a pro. The Chef even commented on my craft and said it look professional. It was a good way to end the week.

Lesson #3: Oats and kitty litter.
On Tuesday we had a lock down drill. I have never had a lock down drill in my life so the prospect of experiencing something potentially dangerous was exhilarating. The alarm sounded and we had instructions to hide in a dark corner away from any windows or doors. Chef Christian explained lock down drill as playing hide and seek. Although if you are sought you get shot.

The alarm sounded and like a herd of 12 years at a birthday party we scrambled to find the nearest hiding place. Half of the class hid at the far end of the kitchen by the stoves, while the rest piled into the dry storage room. The dry storage room is no Hilton sweet, it's about the size of the average bathroom. So imagine shoving 8 people in there all giggling and squirming, with the lights off and door shut. My friend Jillian, took this moment to give some useful and yet random advice: "If this were an actual lock down and we were stuck in here for 4 hours we could pee in the box of oats. Oats are like kitty litter. Just saying." Thanks Jillian. We erupted in cascading laughter! Needless to say if it were an actual lock down our laughing would have given us away and we would all be dead.

Lesson #4: Out crafting the craft fair.
I would consider myself a seasoned craft fair goer. This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending another craft fair. This one in particular is hailed as the be all and end all of PEI craft fairs thus making it my third successful craft fair outing. At each one I have gained perspective, wisdom and tricks on how to survive. It is my pleasure to impart this knowledge onto you.

Step 1: Shop with a friend.
It always helps to have a second opinion and someone to share the experience with. When you feel fatigued and restless they are a companion, encourager and voice of reason. Grab a friend and be prepared for an afternoon of treasure seeking.

Step 2: Pay in cash.
Venders that accept visa and debit as payments are few and far between. Hit up your bank before heading to the nearest craft fair with at least $100-$200 cash in a variety or small to large bills and change.

Step 3: Dress for success.
Overheating at a craft fair can make you antsy, short tempered and make you loose your focus. Stay cool. While the temperature outside is festively chilly, temperatures in the craft fair can reach tropical proportions with all those people milling about. Take advantage of coat check if they have one, leave the coat in the car, or wear light layers. Allowing your body to breathe comfortably will enable your brain to think clearly about your purchases.

Step 4: Working the system.
Craft fairs are overwhelming! Usually held in gymnasiums, cafeterias or community centers they are wall to wall with hundreds of original work. However hobbies are bound to over lap, jewelry, hand knit tea cozies, bird houses, and Christmas ornaments are popular, so don't drop all your money on Vender #2's hand woven beaded necklace when Vender #17 may have a better product and better price.

The trick is to walk around the entire craft fair at least once. Walk in a counter clockwise or clockwise direction working from the outside in. Stay at each vender for no more than 2 minutes. Quickly evaluate the product they are selling and keep in mind two important things: price and craftsmanship. Vender #2 may have better prices but Vender #17 secures his product with wire rather than hot glue. The number one thing you have to remember about craft fairs is that you are paying for craftsmanship and quality. Any yahoo with a hot glue gun can whip up something craft like but it takes skill and patients to make a masterpiece.

Step 5: Make the kill.
Having looked over the venders and evaluated each product, you have made your decision. March confidently and swiftly to the vender of choice and lay your money down. Grab the star fish shaped tea cozy and hold your head high. Well done, well done.

Lesson #5: You are never too old to colour. 
Last Sunday I had the privilege of helping out with the kids ministry at my church. For a solid half an hour I bounced around like a bunny, played ring around the rosie 8 times and laid on my stomach to colour a particularly goofy picture of Noah’s Ark. The simple joy of swiftly moving a blue crayon back and forth on a page was delightful. Colouring is a joyous activity at any age. So run to your nearest dollar store, grab that colouring book off the top shelf, you know the one, with the big daisies and puppies on the front. Buy 3 boxes of crayons and stretch out on your living room floor for an afternoon of childish bliss. Here's an added bonus: we're old enough to know how to stay in the lines! Look what I can do mommy!

Yes, this week was plump with laughter, chocolate, tea and vicious craft fair goers. I laughed, I cried, and I had to out smart more than one spunky old lady before they snatched up the sparkling green and brown Christmas ornament I was admiring. But as each week slowly folds into the next, the air gets a little colder, the sky is constantly held in a dull purple grey, snow a very real and delightful threat, and with every stroll to Starbucks for my caramel macchiato I notice more and more Christmas lights and decorations adorning the streets of Charlottetown. All these are delicious signs that my favourite season is soon to arrive.


Sunday, 13 November 2011

Go big or go home

The best part of this past week was my weekend. Not to say that school wasn't enjoyably challenging as usual, but it had its fair share of bumps and EGRM's (Extra Grace Required Moments). However I do have an excepionally well crafted birthday cake to show for it. I made a delicious marble pound cake for a 90th birthday party. If I turned 90 I'd want chocolate flavoured butter and a wheel of gouda cheese but to each his own.

My weekend started with a bang on Friday morning, Remembrance Day. My friend Sam has a boyfriend who is in the army and he had the honour of firing off the canons for the salute at 11:00am. I have never seen the firing of a canon before so I jumped at the chance to see it in real life. Despite the hurrican speed winds and driving rain I braved the weather and walked with a delightful spring in my step to the wharf. I found shelter behind a post 50 feet away from the canons. A handful of soldiers were setting them up and directing the twelve other civilians that had come to watch to a safe distance. Sam arrived and like a pair of army wives waiting for our sailors to come home we bunked behind the post, leaning out occasionally to wave at the soldiers and get some choice photos of the canons. The soldier in charge gave us the signal to cover our ears and yelled a command and the first shot of the canon was fired. The delicious sound of the canon blast ripped through the air, the shock wave ripple through the cobble stone and shook my legs, it took my breath away. My reaction was the same for the following shots.

After it was all said and done Sam and I ventured up to the cenotaph and managed to catch the end of the parade. I have never felt more humbled and proud of my country. When the veterans drove by my heart exploded in gratitute and I applauded vigorously. Sam and I placed our poppies on the wreaths at the foot of the cenotaph and then parted ways, each of us pondering what this day means for us on the walk home.

Did you know that Remembrance day is a stat holiday in every territory and province except Ontario and Quebec, according to Wikipedia? Odd and frankly, irreverant. I can understand why Quebec doesn't observe it as a holiday, they are just a whole other world, especially when driving, but Ontario? We are home to the capital! So here is my thought folks: let us make a motion to recognize Remembrance Day as a nation wide stat holiday. Let us over fill Parliments mail box with this request. No, let us demand it! I am not saying this because the island character of finding anything to celebrate so there is a holiday has rubbed off on me, I am saying this because I am Canandian Day. Remembrance Day is a dedication to the memory of past veterans and the support of present ones. To all you pacifists out there this does not suggest that war is to be celebrated, it recognizes that war is hard to understand and as long as we are human war is inevitable in any capacity. But this doesn't have to be the final answer, I believe that one day war will be snuffed out, however long that may take. So for the time being let us show our respect for the people in the war and not the cause.

Saturday and Sunday were a blur to me. I spent most of them shopping at what better place but an island and east coast craft fair! Saturday night was filled with browsing antique tables, sampling island potatos and cheese cake, and riffling through piles of treasures. All the while jaw dragging on the floor as I gazed at the continual wave of island creativity and craftsmanship. I had many educational conversations with venders about their porduct, how was it made? Where was it made? How long have you been doing this? Most of the answers that came back were similar. "It was made in my basement on my moms old kitchen table and I've been doing it for 20 odd years."

Though Saturdays craft fair was lovely, it favoured to the antique side of things and already found objects. Sundays craft fair was handmade crafts wall to wall. I have never seen so much creativity in one room and it was all local! I wanted to support every artist there and if I weren't a student I probablly would have. There was pottery spun to perfection with crisp artistic detail, jewlery crafted so eligantly it would have sold millions at Tiffany's, wood workings so delicate and stunning it took my breath away, and paintings vivid and saturated in rich colour it looked like a scene from a Disney film. I didn't want to leave, I wanted to stay wrapped in this air of original and imagintive craftsmanship. But what I loved most about these craft fairs is the connection between the artists. Venders would leave their stations and wander over to venders of a similar craft. They would trade secrets, stories of how they came to be a business, and what inspires their work. When asked why they do it the resounding answer is: Because I love it.

The next best thing about these craft fairs is that every artist there is two pennies shy from being as poor as a church mouse and yet they all buy each others work. It's not about the money, it's about supporting and encouraging one another. Being a starving artist myself I could not resist the erge to support these artists. I didn't just buy their product and walked away, I engaged in converstation, complimented on their work, and encouraged them. Sometimes genuinely marvelling at and appreciating an art piece is just as wonderful as buying it, although shelling out a few bucks to help pay the bills doesn't hurt either, wink, wink. Did I mention I was a starving artist?

After a successful day at the craft fair I headed home, my new found treasures tucked under my arm. As I stepped outside I heard a ribbon of music drifting through the air. My first thought was that it was some comfortable back ground music for a cafe near by, but as I rounded the corner there was a man sitting there dripping the streets of Charlottetown in sonorous clarinet melodies. My heart melted and it was the perfect ending to my day. I gingerly walked up to him, pulled out a few dollars and plunked them into his open case. He stopped playing immediately, stood up and introduced himself to me, "Hello darling, how are you? My name is Joseph, thank you so much. Very kind of you." His voice was as melodious as his intrustment thick in a chocolate Italian accent, his eyes kind and genuinely grateful. We chatted for a minute he told me his life story, he embraced me and then went back to doing what he loved to do.

I was all smiles on the way home my heart bursting with inspiration. Could this day get any better? Yes! While sitting on my favourite bench in the park, sipping an exceptionally well made carmel macchiato, I witnessed a dazzling PEI sunset. The sky looked like plums in winter and pink ballet shoes on the windowsill with loud streaks of gold. Like something out of a Hitchcock film, hundreds of crows came to roost in the trees by the Governors house, and across the water down by the army base a marching band was practicing. The whole evening was loud and resounding. It's as if the world was celebrating and taking pride in itself and so it should be. The world is a work of divine Craftsmanship. Molded, woven, painted and spun in so much tremendous detail that not even the most gifted artist can capture.

So here is my charge to you: wander aimlessly for an afternoon, absorb the texture of sunlight on rocks, spend hours following the map of viens on a maple leaf, and simply sit still and drink in your surroundings. And when you think of it breath a prayer of thanks to the Artist. The beauty around us is a divine gift.   

                                             Me icing the cake with chocolate butter cream.

                                                    Loading the canon

                                                Crazy weather. Crazy girl.

                   That is a loaf of bread, chiffon cake, and chocolate cook book. Just a regular day.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

A Change in Command

As October folds into November, so too does my life fold into a page of adjustment and change.

The start of this week marked the change of a new kitchen rotation. I am no longer on the morning shift and will be in afternoons for the next month. This means no more waking up at 5:00am but do you think my internal clock knows the difference? Not a chance. I find myself waking up between the hours of 5:45 and 6:30 most days, which to be honest I don't mind. I don't want start going to bed at 12:00am and waking up at 9:30am because it would make going back to morning schedule exceptionally brutal. However lingering so long at home is difficult, I don't want to wake my landlords but staying in bed is impossible. I tip toe downstairs, crocheting and iPod in hand. After breakfast I curl up by the window and work away at my newest crocheting project while listening to soft Christmas music.

November also marks the start to a new season: Christmas! As many of you know my enthusiasm for Christmas starts the minute I wake up on November 1st. On the eve of October 31st, after the last of the trick or treaters have trudged home, carrying their body weight in candy, I sit down at my computer and organize my Christmas playlists so I am prepared for every possible Christmas music scenerio. For example this year I have themes like: Christmas Soft, Christam Rock, Christmas Driving, Christmas Epic, Christmas Funky, Christmas Bedtime, Christmas Dinner Party, Christmas Stories, Christmas Adventures in Odyssey, Christmas Silver Screen, Christmas Favourites, Christmas Tree Sitting and Christmas, Chrristmas, Christmas. Phew! I should be committed. To add to my gaiety it snowed for a whole day this week! Sadly by 10:00am the next morning it was all gone but for those brief delicious 24 hours it smelled like silver and blue, frost and wood fire places, Christmas melodies and golden ribbons. I look forward to the time when the scent of Christmas lingers indefinately.

As I mentioned earlier I am in the afternoon rotation at school. I have also been rotated into a different department: Function. Function Group inlcudes preparing sweet trays, speciality goodies, and other fancy things for various conferences, functions, and groups that are hosted in Holland College. Most functions lean towards the last half of the week leaving Tuesday and Wednesday almost empty of kitchen responsibilty. I was very uncomfortable with this new found freedom and felt like I wasn't pulling my weight in the kitchen even when there was nothing to pull. Shouldn't I be making something? Are you sure I don't have get started on my cheesecake until Wednesday? Can I clean something? What on earth do I do with myself?! Most would take this freedom as a gift and an opportunity to doddle but I did not. I copied out recipes, adjusted measurments and conversions in my notebook and preped the ingredients for the next day. Determined to keep myself busy I flagged a page in my recipe book eager to revisit some favourite recipes and to sharpen my skills when spare time came available.

And how can I forget about that glorious little gift called Daylight Savings? A whole extra hour of sleep that I didn't even have to bargin for. With the sun rising at a more liesurely pace and setting practically at 3:00pm I will be biking to school in daylight and coming home in the dark. A curious turn of events.

Before I sign off for the night and tuck myself into bed, as mentioned before my internal clock needs some adjustment as I still find myself drifting off by 9:30 despite my attempts to push it to 10:00, I would like to share one hilarious and miraculous story with you. This past Thursday, as I arrived at my apartment after a long day of school, I discovered the key to my bike lock was missing. I knew I had it when I unlocked my bike at school which meant it was between my apartment and the college. After searching every pocket on my clothing, my back pack and even the random crevices of my bike I retraced my steps and biked all the way back to school. It wasn't hiding under the bike rack or around the school, it was indeed sitting patiently in the middle of Queen street. Queen street! So like a hobo diving for dropped change I ran into the street between cars grabbed the key and ran back to my bike. I felt like a fool, but a victorious fool.

Yes November is saturated in the unsettling air of change, but like a sea bird I welcome the challenging flight.  

Sunday, 30 October 2011

A Lesson in Weather

I've heard the stories but maybe I just didn't want to believe them. I've asked people but they've held back, perhaps not wanting to deter me. But I've found out for myself and I'm not beating around the bush today. Here's the down and dirty on PEI weather.

#1. When it is gorgeous out side it is gorgeous! The sun is shining and its warmth is wrapped around you like grandmothers shawl, there is a feather light sea breeze in the air and it makes you feels like you were written into a page of Anne of Green Gables.

#2. The only way to watch the sunset is sitting on a red sand stone rock down at the wharf. Sun beams splash the sky with hues of vanilla, tangarine and peach. The board walk is virtually deserted, only a few elderly couples stroll past and the odd energetic woman speeds by on a power walk. 

#3. When the wind blows it blows in every direction at once. One particular morning as I was making my way to school a wicked ocean gale whipped up Weymouth street and took my breath away. I knew that once I was safely on Sydney street the wind would be cut off by the houses on my left hand side. However the wind miraculously got worse once on Sydney. On my way home I figured the wind would be on my back and would essentially push me home but I was gravely mistaken and the wind seemed to have grown in its bitterness and anger. How is this possible?! I remembered that back home in Ontario all the worst weather would blow off Lake Huron, thus I came to the conclusion that large bodies of water equal wretched weather . . . and then I realized that PEI is an island. Enough said.

#4. Sometimes the sun is just there for decoration. 

#5. When the forecasts calls for snow, every other province around you gets hit but you. How unfair is that? Yes, I am one of those people, nose pressed against the window hoping for the slightest hint of snow.

#6. When it rains it pours for 24 hours. The rain is thin, sleet like and vicious and the air feels like a damp sweater that can never get dry. The wind blows at such a force it rattles the glasses in the cupboard and any autumn leaves that were holding on to spring are thrown into the street. The day is dismal and dreary, but there are advantages to such a time. There is no guilt in wearing your comfy sweats all day or not changing out of your pjs. Soup and coffee are hooked up to you like I.V's and you can curl up on the couch and catch up on some doodling. I for one love sitting by the window, wrapped in my shawl, slowly nursing an exceptionally good cup of coffee and watching the rain pelt silly pedestrians on the sidewalk below. My iPod is tuned to my "Writers Block" playlist and soft ribbons of melodies drift through the air like a fresh aroma.

#7. The news forecast has no hold on what the weather will do. If it says it will snow the sun will shine, and if it says partly clowdy with a chance of rain you will be shoveling 2 feet of "partly clowdy" the next morning. Yes PEI weather is shifty and charming, brisk and beautiful, magical and mischievous. It is a character all on its own, like a captivating bipolar middle aged woman who still wears sparkly butterfly clips in her hair and pant suits to work. But I wouldn't have PEI any other way. 

Sunday, 23 October 2011

So You Want to be a Pastry Chef

Ever wanted to know that exact in and outs of the pastry world? Have you ever thought to yourself, "I wish I could be a fly on the wall in a pastry shop." or "What goes through a pastry chef's mind?" Well ponder no further I will take you on an exclusive detailed look at the inside world of the Pastry Chef.

Your alarm goes off at the ungodly hour of 5:00am. Depending on whethere you have a clock radio or good old fashioned ringer the sound of Journey's "Wheel in the Sky" or an obnoxious beeping will be the first thing your ears hear. You roll out of bed and slip into your slippers, you're half awake so they are obviously are on the wrong foot but you neither notice nor care. Time is precious so you morning becomes an Olympic sport in multitasking. As your blueberry bagel toasts you get dressed and go to the bathroom. As you munch away at your cream cheese smothered breakfast the coffee machine is brewing your favourite drug and by the time you are packed and ready to go coffee is brewed and you are out the door by 5:50am.

You hop on your bike, if it's not raining, and zip through the streets of Charlottetown, in the middle of the road of couse because only crazy people are awake that early. Don't forget to say hi to the "city workers" cleaning up garbage on the sidewalks (pretty sure people working for the city at that hour are on parol).

Once you have arrived at school you fold into your chef whites, arm yourself with knives, measuring cups, kitchen toys, and camera and are in the kitchen by 6:20. After thoroughly scrubbing your hands and work station you recieve the morning to do list from Chef and from your team leader. With recipe in hand you dive into flour, sugar, butter, and eggs, and if you're lucky Dutch cocoa, hazelnuts and dark chocolate. In no time at all your station is filled with bowls, whisks, and spatulats, you measure vanilla, sift flour, and whip eggs. You become beguiled by your culinary masterpiece unfolding infront of you and as you put the finishing touches on your chocolate sponge torte, the Chef leans over your shoulder, observing and inspecting your work and in a thick, dripping Austrian accent says, "Oh my goodness. Wow! That looks good enough to eat. I am going to try it." Terrified you stare as Chef lifts a spoonful to his mouth. You hold your breath as he lets the textures and flavours spread around into every corner of his mouth. Finally his posture buckles under the sheer deliciousness of your creation and he says between smacking lips, "Very good! Awesome! Good job." Your spirit is levitated to pastry heaven and you are beaming with pride.

With your dessert a success you carefully wrap it and store it in the fridge, not without having a bite of it yourself of course, ready to bless others in the cafeteria. After cleaning your work station you slowly walk to the locker room, stripping off uniform as you go. What was a chef white is now a chef chocolate brown with splashes of raspberry. You trade in your chocolate covered uniform for a new super starch infused chef white, grab your note book and pastry bible and race up to theory class. You watch as the chefs make crepes, Italian butter cream, and caramel before your very eyes in the demo kitchen, the very things that you can look forward to making tomorrow.

With theory class over, it's back to the locker room to peel off your uniform and slip into your street clothes, or if you didn't bother to change that morning, your pajamas. Lunch is being served in the cafeteria and today's menu is lemon pepper haddock, island potatoes, mixed greens, and for dessert the very chocolate sponge you had made not an hour before. After lunch you drag your pastry bible to the library or home and prep your recipes for tomorrow.

As the hour creeps toward 9:00pm you crawl into your favourite pjs and flop into bed. As you fall into slumber your dreams are filled with dancing cup cakes, mouth watering caramel and rivers of butter. And before you know it your 5:00am alarm goes off and you start all over again.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Up to my socks

Wow! What a week. Let's take it one day at a time shall we?

Thanksgiving in PEI. Being away from home for this holiday was a little heart breaking but I soon found a flourish of people folding around me inviting me to turkey dinners so I wasn't alone. On the Saturday before I was invited to a turkey dinner with some young adults from church, it was full of shenanigans and silliness complete with whiskey ice cream to accent the apple tarts I brought. The following Sunday my landlord inviting me to her families house for another turkey feast. I was so excited to get out of Charlottetown and spend some time in the open country. It was so refreshing to walk the grounds of her homestead and breath in the crust of autumn air and feel the crunch of leaves under foot. On Monday I decided to spend Thanksgiving pilgram style; outside! I packed a delicious lunch, a good book, and sauntered my way to the park. The weather was gorgeous! Sunny, breezy, and a comfortable cool. I sat on my favourite park bench, wrapped in my shawl, immersed in my book and savouring every bite of my turkey, summer saugage, lettuce, tomatoe and cheese sandwitch. Never under estimate the power of a good sandwich. On the way home I noticed the gate to the Govenors house was open. After looking for gruff looking guards and savage watch dogs and tip toed in. I soon discovered a sign that read: Pedestrian Traffic Welcome. I thought to myself, "I'm a pedestrian. I'm traffic. I'm welcome!" The gate house was renovated into an information center with maps and historical information so I grabbed a map and took a self guided tour around the grounds. It is a beautiful estate! I felt like I was in a whole other world. The house itself is breath taking and the grounds  inlcuded an ornamental garden, kitchen garden or more commonly known as a vegetable garden, a shrub garden, patch of birch trees, several tall and healthy maple, oaks, and willow trees, not to mention the 3 acre woodland and they even have a rose garden. A rose garden! A garden dedicated to roses! It was the most fantastic way to spend thanksgiving. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, stepping through the looking glass to find myself in the back yard of the Queen of Hearts. I could have spent all day there.

On the way home from the Govenors house I stopped by St. Dunsants Basillica and took the opportunity to take some pictures. There was zero tourist traffic so I had the santuary pretty much to myself, except for the occasional vaccuum. Vaccuums and 30 foot vaulted ceilings do not mix, the acoustics are a nightmare, the vaccuum sounded like a 100 swarms of livid bees. Despite not being able to spend Thanksgiving with my family I thought of them often, picking a favourite memory from multiple thanksgiving and pondering on them. Such memorable moments include: the time I broke my arm, the time I almost rolled my cousins car, and the time we had dinner on the front porch and every time a car past we would raise a glass and shout "Happy Thanksgiving!".

I made 3 cakes in as many hours. Wow! We made sponge, pound, and our choice of a chiffon or angel food cake. All of the cakes except for the pound cake involved beating egg whites until they were meringue. I've never made merignue before so tuesday was very much uncharted territory, slightly nerve racking but each cake turned out more beautiful than the one before it. We had so much time left over that we attacked the kitchen with Mr. Clean enthusiam. You can eat off the kitchen floor it's that clean.

Cake assembly hell. Chef took an hour to show us how to assemble our cakes probably. How to make butter cream icing, how to slice the cake, spread a crumb coat, and soak the layers with simple syrup to add extra flavour and moisture. Today was dedicated to craftsmanship and we started out assuming we had hours of time, which we did, but butter cream takes an unnessacary astronomical amount of time, and then you have to let the crump coat sit in the fridge for a bajillion years and then you have to ice and decorate it, and while all this is going on you are constantly reminded to take your time with your artistic design but to hurry up. With an hour left of class Chef constantly reminded us every 15 minutes that are cakes had to be done soon. The energy in the class broke into panic, will we get our cakes done? What if they don't look good? After the Chef announced the 10 minute mark until cake completion I nearly shouted at him, "I'm not a diamond! I don't work well under pressure, stop yelling at me!" The Chef just laughed and slapped my back and complimented on my cake and combination of flavours. Sigh. In hindsight that little bit of pressure from Chef was prepping us and encouraging us for friday. But at 10:00am all the cakes were done and not a single one was the same. I was amazed at the extend of creativity, they looked professional and Chef was beaming with pride and so were we.

And to top it all off I walked to Bibly study tonight. It was a good hour walk but it was such a beautiful night and I wanted to take in the sunset. Now to get to Bible study I have to walk across the bridge that connects Stratford and Charlottetown which is a 4 lane highway. I felt like a fool walking across the bridge in evening traffic carrying a bag of apple tarts. Plus I was dressed nicely, if I were dressed like a hobo people would understand why I would be walking around, but who walks across the bridge in their favourite sweater and scarf with apple tarts. This is ain't no Grimm fairy tale. I felt selfconcsious and silly. About half way over the bridge I finally said to myself, "I am allowed to walk across the bridge with apple tarts. I am allowed to go for a walk and enjoy the sunset. I am allowed to be me!" It was so refreshing to speak those affirming words to myself and silence words of judgement and belittlement. I saw so many amazing things on my walk; a blue heron, a sea bird stretching his wings sillouetted agains a vanilla sky, a cruise ship lit up like a Christmas tree leaving the harbour, and a glorius sunset. I even enjoyed the smell of the ocean. Plus I was the first one to Bibly study and I walked. That makes me feel pretty darn good. 

Instead of waking up at 5:00am we were able to sleep in until 6:30. Glorious! All morning we discussed the flow of rotations and what was expected of each department. The chefs made it clear in the first five minutes of class that if you are late for class for any reason at all you are not allowed in the kitchen, and you have to come to every class unless you are dead. So in essence play time is over and the real work begins. There are 6 different departments in the pastry arts program. Cafeteria, bread, and lunch for Lucy Maud dinning room are scheduled in the morning from 6:15 to 10:30. Chocolate, functions, and dinner for Lucy Maud dinning room are scheduled for the afternoon from 12:20 to 4:30. We are broken into departments and stay in that department for 2 weeks and then we rotate so we get a well rounded experience in the pastry world. Thursday was a lot of mapping out menus, discussing fine details with the chefs, ordering supplies and prepping recipes. I went to bed early that night.

Armegeddon. All the dessert we made today went straight to everyone but us. I am in the cafeteria department for my first rotation which means that along with my group I have to make 3 different desserts everyday that will be distributed to the cafeteria at lunch time. We also have to prep 3 different desserts for the next day which means we are essentially making 6 desserts everyday. Example: today we made apple crisp, pumpkin cheese cake pie, brittle, caramel sauce, blondies, devils food cake, and sponge tortes. Phew. And it was all accomplished in 4 hours. I am so proud of my group. Cafeteria is going to be a great department to be apart of. The morning was stressful, but it was a good stressful and everyone in class accomplished what they needed to, Chef was on top of the world.

Slept in until 8:30am, mmmm, had laundry done by 11:00am and spend the rest of the day at the park. Praise Jesus!

Apple picking with the church in the rain. Glorious! I came away with twenty pounds of apples for $9.00!!! I'm making a ridiculous amount of apple sauce and apple crisp with that.

So to recap:
A very eventful and joyous week.I was stretched academically and spiritually. I learned so much, and I built relationships. The whole week seemed like a good novel sitting by the fire place. I tingle all over with gratitude. And if and when I have a series of bad days I will know they will pass and there will be a fresh 7 days to be grateful for again.

                                                             Mocha Hazelnut sponge cake

                                                            Charlottetown at sunset

                                                                           Apple picking!