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!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Brioche, apple band, hurricanes, oh my!

This past week was an adventure. First of all class was dizzy with more trial and error baking, mishaps, successes and proud acheivments, but it was also the week that a hurricane came to town.

Now when I say hurricane I don't actually mean a hurricane, although from the way islanders treat bad weather you wouldn't be able to see the difference between a hurricane and a tropical storm. In Ontario if a hurricane were to blow through, windows would be boarded up, bottled water would fill houses, and people would be preparing for the apocolypse. On the island hurricane preparations consist of cracking open a Rickards or Hieneken, slipping on your warm fuzzies, putting your feet up and watching it blow by.

For three days Charlottetown was attacked by heavy winds, rain, hail and for a good hour, even snow! But would you have noticed? Not at all. Islanders went about their business, shoulders hunched more than usual, protecting themselves from the torrential rain. Coffee shops and liquor stores had slightly more business, soup and stew was a popular dinner item and people lived their in sweats and fuzzy bunny slippers. For me this hurricane experience was exhillerating. I'd never been an Maritime storm before. I woke up to the sound of rain pounding on my window at 4:00am and a shiver of excitement wriggled down my spine. The air was cold and fresh and the added lullaby sound of rain made sleeping glorious. In such aweful weather walking to school was an obvious mode of transportation rather than biking. But it was too to windy to hold an umbrella so I folded the collar of my coat up to my ears, bent my hat down just above my eyes, burried my hands in my pockets and trudged to school in the rain, wind, and hail.

When the hurricane had finally blown itself out, the clouds dissipated and the sun came out in golden glory and smiled on drenched Charlottetown. Finally having a dry enough bike seat and roads, I indulged in an evening bike ride. The air was so crisp and sharp, the smell of autumn swirled around me and the faint aroma of wood burning fire places settled warmly into my lungs. It is true what they say about the calm before and after a storm.

Amidst all this excitement the art of pastries carried on and every new day in the kitchen seemed like a storm of its own. This week I learned how to make puff pastry, brioche, savarin, creme anglaise, and choux paste. Puff pasty is the most versitile of all pastry doughs, not only can you fill tiny brochees with whipped cream and hazelnuts but trade whipped cream for cream cheese and substitute hazelnut for sundried tomato pesto and you got an irresistable appitizer. The most challenging dish I made with puff pastry this week was apple band. (see below photo). In its unbaked state my first one looked deformed, sad and lonely. I looked at and wailed, "It looks aweful! I have no future as a pastry chef!" My classmates encouraged me with their laughter. But when my little apple band was pulled from the oven it was love at first site. It was beautiful, golden and crisp, flakey, and begging to be eaten. The next day a classmate and I teamed up and finished off as much of our puff pastry dough as we could, we were making apple bands left, right, and center and they all looked beautiful! Between the two of us we must have made at least 10, Chef Richard was beaming and commented, "You guys are machines. Oh my goodness. Wow!" We were so proud of eachother and it was a very good day in the kitchen.

Brioche and Savarin are two types of dessert breads that are best served with a drizzle of creme anglaise and coffee after a salmon dinner. Choux paste is the base for cream puffs, eclairs and profiteroles all of which I got to make this week. Looking back it was a very full and adventurous week in the kitchen with only 2 mishaps. First I messed up my savarin ingredients and had to start over, but thankfully I caught it soon enough that there wasn't a huge loss and Chef Richard didn't see. Second an entire bag of milk had gone sour, but we didn't realize until six of us were crammed around the stove top stirring butter and milk when we noticed all of our milk had curdled. I felt so bad, even though it was nothing I did, I still felt bad that we had to through out all that milk and 16 batches of choux paste. I was more upset for Chef than for myself. But he shrugged it off, made a note in the shipping log, and told us to start over. The second batch of choux paste, for all of us, was perfect.  

If there is one lesson I learned this week, one golden peice of advice that would make the world a better place, it would be this: rubber boots are essential. Strapping on a snazzy pair at 5:50am make walking to school a joyous occassion. You don't have to avoid big puddles or tip toe down the street to keep your feet from getting wet. Rubber boots are not only an obvious foot attire choice but empowering. With rubber boots and apple band we can save the world.

                                                                 Apple band

                                     I had to cut up a bajillion apples for the apple band.



                                      Cream puff with butterscotch ice cream and nutella.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Inside Chef

I have just completed my first week of kitchen time in the pastry shoppe. I cannot begin to explain how amazing it feels to be up to my elbows in flour and butter, to have blue berry stains all over my apron and to come home at the end of every day smelling like bread or carmalized sugar. It is a tremendous opportunity, one that I dive into a little more every day. I will do my best to describe the sheer joy of kitchen life in the pastry shoppe.

Wednesday was the first official day in the kitchen and it was a mad house! I have never been so confused, stressed and so over come with joy at the same time. Chef Richard gave us a run down of how the ovens opporate and vaguely told us where everything was. His intentions for us that day were for us to hit the ground running and learn how to get to the finish line on our own. After giving us a mischievious and giddy smirk he said, "Ok guys, go make bread." Somewhere an inaudible starter gun shot off and we scurried through the kitchen like aunts trying to reasemble their hill after it being kicked. Mixers were flying off shelves, people crowded around flour and sugar, and we all got lost in the dry ingredient storage closet. I took a moment to stop and look around at everyone and we all looked like a herd of deer caught in head lights. General conversation consisted of, "Where is the cocoa? Have you seen the lemons? What does this do? Am I supposed to mix the egg in the flour before the yeast? Where is the Chef? WHAT AM I DOING?!" I burst out laughing! Of course we all knew what we were doing, and we all knew when to mix the egg with the flour, it's before you add the yeast in case you are wondering, and we eventually found the cocoa but in those first 30 minutes of glorious confusion we felt like babies learning to stand. Wobbly but adrenline rushing with the anticipation of the goal at hand. As the morning went on we found our groove, got into our element and the energy in the shoppe shifted from terrified to comfortable. Between mixing flour, measuring vanilla, and kneading dough we found moments to encourage and tease one another and slip into comfortable conversation. An air of comradery and support wafted through the shoppe, mixing with the fresh aroma of bread.

Chef Richard is excellent teacher. His enthusiam makes the kitchen an enjoyable atmosphere to work in. If you should make a mistake or mix up the steps he doesn't scold you, rather he "over zealously corrects" you. I was the recipient of such correction when I began kneading my danish dough after it had rested in the frigde. Chef Richard saw my mistake and said, "Ah! Stop! Your danish dough is a baby, don't knead it, or you will have to let it rest again and it will take longer." He then announced to the class my mistake but left my name out of it, however the sheepish look on my face let them know it was my bad, but I didn't mind, Chef patted my back and encourage me to keep going.

Chef Christian is quiet and moves around the shoppe on stealth mode, observing you closely, but not scrutinizing. I was having issues with my Vienna rolls and he showed me an easy way to get them to roll perfectly. It took me a while but he stayed by my side until I got the swing of things. Before he drifted to another struggling student he said, "Don't rush yourself or get upset, focus on quality first, speed will come later."

After the last challah loaf had been baked, and all the Vienna rolls were snug and safe on trays ready for the dinning room, we left the pastry shoppe, holding a small selection of the fruits of our labour, feeling immensly proud of ourselves and of each other. We were beaming and Chef Richard and Chef Christian looked like proud parents. I felt at home.

Thursday was spent making danish dough and fillings. What makes danish dough so amazing is the layer of butter between the first fold. After spreading it out evenly you fold the dough over three times, let it rest and repeat ever 30 minutes for a total of 4 times. The continous rolling out and refolding allows the butter to spread throughout the entire dough making it flakey and irresistable. Between foldings I made the fillings: hazelnut, blue berry, and pastry cream. The hazelnut and blue berry filling were a success right away but my pastry cream was stubborn. First of all pastry cream involves boiling milk which is already tricky, I have never used a propane stove before so that in itself was an adventure, not to mention extremely hot. I stood there for 10 minutes patiently waiting for my milk to come to a boil, finally my patients broke and I yelled, "Stupid milk why aren't you boiling? Get your ass in gear!" Such abuse didn't make my milk boil any faster but it gave my classmates a good laugh. Eventually the milk boiled and eggs, vanilla, and sugar were added, and the most delectable Christmas vanilla tasting pastry cream was created.

Friday was a big day for me. On the menu was croissants and danishes. As I rolled out my danish dough one final time it suddenly hit me: "I am making danishes today. Legitimate danishes. Danishes that you buy in the store, not at Tim Hortons, or Coffee Culture, but real danishes that you buy from a bakery. A legitimate, real life bakery. I am making danishes! I am a pastry student! I am at the best culinary school in the country and I making danishes!!!" I felt terrified, exhilerated and proud. Before I formed my first croissant I asked Chef Richard to show me how. After he rolled out two perfect looking croissants I stared at his creations and felt an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. "I'm terrified!" I exclaimed as I gently held the formless croissant triangle in my floured hands. Chef Richard replied, "Terrified? Why? You're not going to the moon. It's just a croissant." However in that moment space travel seemed more achievable than croissants. To top the morning off I had my first kitchen injury. I was unsheathing my chef knife, a glorious culinary weapon with a gleaming 8 inch blade, I looked up for a second to listen to Chef Richard explain glazing a danish and when I looked down again there was a decent cut on the palm of my hand. I shrugged my shoulders and went to the first aid station to grab a bandage, hoping to avoid hysterical reactions. But to my discovering the glazing station was conveniently located beside the first aid, as I held a paper towel against my hand to stop the bleeding Chef Richard, who was now at the glazing station miming glazing techniques, saw my injured hand and looked at me as if I was dying. I was touched by his concern but assured him I was fine. After administery first aid to myself I went back to work and in the end my croissants and danishes turned out beautifully.

This week has been amazing. I have learned so much in the three short days I have been in the kitchen. Every day I learn something new, add another recipe to my files, and improve my skills, and it's only been a week. Imagine what 8 more months will do.

                                          Lemon cinnamon challah bread & Vienna rolls

                                  Chocolate hazelnut challah bread, croissants, & danishes

                                       I have a pastry brush and I'm not afraid to use it.