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.

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