Sunday, 29 January 2012

Blissful, hopeful, and powerful.

This week started off with a head ache! It was Career Day on Tuesday, a day where all of the big wig restaurant and hotel employers came to Holland College to convince us to work for them. Among the selection were Delta Hotels, Algonquin Hotel and Golf Resort, Stanley Bridge, Hoffman Hotels, and Mission Hill Family Estate Winery. It was an overwhelming day but a great opportunity to get to know potential employers. I left school that day with my head swimming with possibilities and opportunities. I didn’t feel like doing anything when I got home but sitting on my bed and crying. The prospect of working in PEI for a season would be great. I could live on site at some of the resorts or stay in Charlottetown. I could have a wonderful summer baking pastries by day and strolling the beaches and warm Island evenings by night. But, I want to go home. I want to work in Ontario, be close to my family, and settle down somewhere familiar. But I feel like I am abandoning the Island if I leave so soon. Shouldn’t I stay for another year at least, build more on the friendships I have formed, spend more time with the people I have to come love? What do I do?!?! After talking to the Chef about my dilemma he gave me some very reassuring advice, “This is only the first step. You don’t know if you got the job yet. Just apply and see what happens. And what happens, will happen.” If only all of us could benefit from such rich Austrian wisdom. With those sweet words still ringing in my ears I didn’t waste another thought about what my future holds, I got this far, everything else is just a bonus.

Thursday was one big finger nail biting day. I was informed that my sister had started labour contractions early in the day and my niece was on the way. All day I kept my phone on, checking it every 10 minutes, making sure the volume was audible and loud enough for me to hear over the noise in the kitchen. Impatiently I texted my mother demanding updates. The reply came back the same, “Nothing yet, these things take time, be patient.” What made this day especially hard was the reality of my distance from my family. When my nephew was born, I was only and hour away and I saw him 3 days later. But three provinces lie between me and my family and I don’t know when I will get a chance to meet my niece. Although my family is only a phone call away I am missing the tangible joy of a new life coming into the world. I’m not there to hold my niece and tell her about all the trouble her and I are going to get into. I’m not there to hug my sister and family and play trains with my nephew so he doesn’t feel left out. To ease my anxiety I alerted the good ol’ prayer chain and placed my concerns for the health of my sister and niece and my grief of being so far from home in the capable prayerful hands of my Island church family. With no news of the baby, I went to bed heavy hearted and exhausted. However, an hour into a glorious and deep sleep I was woken up by the sweet sound of my phone ringing. She’s here!!! A precious little girl, Kenzie Catherine Elizabeth, 7 lbs 4 oz, born 8:15pm January 26. I am an aunt again!!! To sweeten this news just a little I won a bet with my roommates on what time she would be born and what gender. Thanks Kenzie, I am $4 richer now, you and I are going to get a long just fine.

The rest of the week was ten times better! Friday night was a wild night out with Charlottetown Community Church, we hit up the bowling alley like a herd of uncoordinated cackling geese. I haven’t been bowling since I was 16 but it came back surprisingly quick. The night was a success for me with 2 strikes, 3 spares, a handful of gutter balls, and one sore left butt cheek from all the awkward bowling lunges. It was a great night and I came to the conclusion that I need to go bowling more often. There is nothing like strapping on someone else’s shoes and rolling a five pound ball down an over zealous polished wooden floor to knock down 5 pear shaped pins. Sign me up any day!

Sunday was a truly fabulous and pleasant day. The morning was filled with rich and tangible holy moments. The church service was dedicated to diving out of your comfort zone and plunging into elongated and abandoned worship. We sang what felt like a dozen songs, spent a lot of time in quiet prayer and reflection and let God speak to us. I felt His presence thick and strong on my heart. I felt His hand guide me into His rhythm to steady and reassure my heart.

In the afternoon I spent two glorious hours getting reacquainted with my favourite parts of the city. I took a long stroll down by the wharf, zig zagged leisurely through some quaint and quiet streets, absorbing the colourful houses and breathing in the elegant age of Charlottetown. It is on these quiet walks when it’s just me and the city that I feel at home and that I could fold into a permanent life here without a seam.

As I rounded one scenic street I was awestruck by a magnificent, three story, stone grey, red roof and evergreen trim house. I just had to stop and stare at it. When I walked down the street a little further I found out my dream home was for sale! Upon further investigation I discovered it had 8 bedrooms, 7 full bathrooms, 2 half bathrooms, a dinning room, library, den, chef kitchen a.k.a dream kitchen, and 3 car garage. And it’s only $1,100,000. That dream didn’t become a reality today but I still hold onto to the hope that someday it will.

I realize now that I didn’t put a word in about what I made this week in the kitchen. Better late than never. Due to awkward scheduling and I only had three days in the kitchen this week because of Career Day. Within those three short days I managed to make apple crisp, orange chocolate pudding, cookie dough cheesecake and chocolate cupcakes. I’m disappointed that I didn’t challenge myself more but three days is a small window to conjure up a new recipe and bake it to perfection so the general masses can enjoy it. I won’t have a chance to bake for another two weeks because I am in chocolate rotation next. Just in time for Valentines Day too, yeehaw it’s gonna be a busy two weeks.  

Well that’s all for me folks, I have had a blissful and full week and I need me some sleeps. Good night J

                                                  Apple Crisp

                                        Chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese icing.

                           Orange chocolate pudding with chocolate drizzled hazelnut biscotti.

What poor soul is walking around with only one flip flop. And what idiot is wearing flip flops in the dead of winter??

                   Jaw dropping dream home. Think of the Christmas parties I could host!!

There is nothing more quaint and enticing than an empty rocking chair on a blue front porch.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Bread Gone a Rye

This week was productive, exciting and practically flawless, that is until Thursday came around.

It started out as a regular day in the pastry shop. I strolled in half awake and seriously considering hooking up a permanent coffee IV into my arm for my next morning rotation. I stumbled to my station, plunked my knife kit on the counter and looked over my list of duties for the morning.

To do:
-          Kaisers
-          Rolls
-          Bread of your choice

Simple enough and straight forward. There should be no problems. With the Kaiser dough comfortably rising at the end of the counter and the rolls in the proofer, I had time to make the bread of my choice. I had prepped and copied out a recipe for a delicious cheddar and onion rye bread I had found the night before. Step one was to find a large and delicious onion. I said found onion in the culinary kitchen dry storage, a favourite spot of mine. I love sneaking in there to steal sun dried tomatoes, peek at all the assorted spices, and sample any yummy tidbits that might be lying around. The hunt for cheddar cheese was less than fruitful as there was none to be had in the fridge. Grumpy, still a little sleepy, and frustrated I pulled the chef aside and explained with a pout that there was no cheddar cheese in the fridge. I had found mozzarella and spiced havarti but they didn’t have the right sharpness I needed to compliment the onion. Chef Richard disappeared for a moment and returned with a delicious Swiss cheese. But before he handed it over to me he borrowed my knife for an instant and cut off a piece and popped it in his mouth. “Research purposes.” Chef explained.

With all my ingredients in front of me I pulled up my sleeves and started with the onion. I am the worst at cutting onions, mainly because I cry buckets when I do. However, this morning I was the only one in the kitchen not crying. I have the beginnings of a cold and so my sinuses were stuffed, a perfect defense against the potent vegetable. My classmates were at the mercy of the onion. The onion won.

Finally the onion was chopped, the cheese was grated and all the ingredients were happily whipping around the mixer. Like magic they came together, bonded by flour, water, yeast and the G-forces from the mixer. I covered the dough to let it rise and tended to my other duties.

After baking out the Kaisers and rolls I could devote the remainder of my morning to my precious onion Swiss cheese rye bread. Using my chef knife I cut the massive dough into 4 equal parts, they looked just about right, not to big and not to small, I was pleased. I popped them in the oven and walked away to help clean up.

While I was sweeping up excess flour that had spilled onto the flour by the weighing station I suddenly heard a gasp from the direction of the oven. “Who’s bread is this?” Someone asked. My head snapped up and I ran to the oven. My bread, who had once been a normal size had grown to Mutant proportions. I was deeply embarrassed and prayed that the Chef wouldn’t find out. I seemed to be in luck, class was nearly over and Chef hadn’t said or noticed anything. Then, just as I was slinging my knife kit over my shoulder, Chef walked to the cooling rack pulled out the tray with my Mutant rye bread and asked, “Who’s bread is this?” I sheepishly admitted it was mine. “Did you weigh your loaves before you baked it? 540 grams?” I looked at him confused. I was supposed to weigh them? I thought to myself. “Umm, no Chef, I just cut them in half until they looked even. They were normal sized before I put them in the oven.” I sputtered trying to save my dignity. As always, Chef laughed, gave me a wink and said, “Next time you weigh them. Remember, things grow in the oven.” I hung my head, cheeks burning red with embarrassment, “Yes Chef.”

Before putting the loaves out in the cafeteria for sale we weighed them, just out of curiosity. I plunked a loaf onto the scale and watched in horror as the numbers climbed higher and higher. The scale stopped at 2.30 pounds, that is twice the weight of what they are supposed to be. Not only did the bread weigh 2 pounds but it was approximately the size of a new born baby. I didn’t make bread, I made mutant onion cheese babies! I learned a valuable lesson in the importance of weighing your dough that day.

The next day was German Pretzel Friday and to my surprised I was placed in charge of making them. However, before signing on to complete the task I had to promise I would weigh the dough before baking them out. I am pleased to tell you that each and every pretzel came out of the oven golden, crispy, and all the same size and weight. No mutant German Pretzels today.

This past week, with each early morning walk to school, I have noticed another layer of Christmas remnants vanish from the streets of Charlottetown. Province house has taken down it’s two big beautiful Christmas ever greens, as has the street corners from Grafton to Queen, King and University. The festive Christmas lights have been rolled up and stored away for next year and wreaths have left front doors naked. However, what remains is not dismal. The promise of snow lingers in the air and to my delight it has snowed on and off all week, we have not met our 12 foot quota yet, but I remain hopeful. A crisp snap is in the air and follows you every where. However, the cold here is invasive and sly. Unlike an Ontario cold that would rather hit you in the face and knock you on your ass, a PEI cold greets you with a deceptive smile as you walk out the door. As you linger in the streets and walk to your destination it follows you silently getting closer to you with every step you take. Before you notice your bones are rattling, your shoulders are hunched forward trying to meet in the middle of your chest to hold the heat in and your step has slowed. A PEI cold absorbs into your body, wraps its wet icy fingers around your joints and is reluctant to let go. A well brewed cup of coffee or tea is the only defense against this enemy. 

But the ocean climate isn’t all bad in the winter department. When it snows it is magical and breathtaking. Snow floats down in soft fluffs, lazily meandering through the air, until it settles on your nose and eye lashes. Sigh, it’s like Narnia and Road to Avonlea all rolled into the perfect world.

Despite the hiccup with the mutant onion cheese baby bread and the bitter cold weather, this past week has been quite enjoyable and full of other bread triumphs. I made some fabulous French baguettes, perfected my Italian bread I made last week, and created another signature Mama Jo style bread: Apple cinnamon bread. All in all I'd say it was a Mama Jo approved week :)

                                            French Baguettes

                                                 Apple Cinnamon Bread

                     Mutant Onion Cheese Rye Baby Bread. Two whole pounds of it!

                               German Pretzels the size of your face!!

          Perfected Italian bread with sundried tomatoes, oregano and parmesian cheese.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

A Piece of Cake

It’s that time again, the bi-weekly department switch. This past week I began my fold into the bread department. Being in the bread department is delightful. I wake up in the morning and go through my regular morning routine, half asleep as always, until the first thrust of bitter Eastern Canadian winter air hits my face as I step out the door, and wakes me up.

My walks to school aren’t as lonely as they used to be and the risk of being chased by foxes has significantly decreased. Instead of briskly walking through the park singing Rosemary Clooney songs by myself and dodging curious foxes, I have a plethora of snow plow drivers, trackless operators and men and women scrapping off their cars to wave and bid a good morning to. However, I am disappointed with the lack of snow that PEI has. I was promised snow in apocalyptic proportions and we only have 6 inches of snow on the ground. Mama Jo disapproves of this weather pattern.

Bread department starts 15 minutes earlier than the other morning departments so I have to be in class by 6:15am. Like any other department we have our regular duties. We have to make Vienna Rolls, Kaiser Buns, and Biscotti for the Chef upstairs managing Lucy Maud Lunch and Sticky Buns and German Pretzels for retail on Tuesday and Friday. Once our regular duties are taken care of we are free to bake any bread we want and as many as we want to sell in the cafeteria during lunch time. Once our breads are cooled, packeage and ready to sell we have time to work on our portfolio’s and skills and technique stamps. And if we still have time after all of that we feed Sebastian, our sour dough starter. A sour dough starter is a vat of yeast, water, and flour that constantly feeds, ferments, and festers. I have never seen something so disgusting and yet so beautiful at the same time.

What did I bake this week? I’ll show you:

                         Italian bread with orgenao, sundried tomatoes and cheese

                                                   Kaiser Buns

                                                Rye bread

                                             Hazelnut and Orange Biscotti

                                           Whole Wheet Honey Oat Bread

                        Sebastian, our sour dough starter. Grow Sebastian! Grow!!

So as you can see I had very productive week and I didn’t even break a sweat, I guess you could say it was a piece of cake J

Chocolate pound cake with rasperry jam filling and raspberry buttercream, glazed in dark chocolate ganache, a.k.a yum!!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Back in the Saddle!

I am back! Back on the Island, back in the kitchen, back to my favourite PEI haunts and hideouts. Mama Jo is back in town, Charlottetown!

I have missed the brightly painted houses, the gentle sway and rhythm of the Island and the ocean air. I have definitely made a second home in PEI and it is good to be home again.

I have folded seamlessly back into the flow of school for the second semester. This term is going to full, I will have to be on my toes twice as much and be extra speedy in the kitchen. Before graduation day in April I have to make a special occasion cake, wedding cake, chocolate sculpture, and chocolate box. On top of all my regular duties in the kitchen I also have to complete a skills and technique chart. This includes making specific types of bread, sauces, syrups, cakes, plating techniques, etc. I also have to compile a portfolio that will showcase specific finished desserts and their recipes. As you can see this term will be jam-packed with baking fun!

This past week was excellent. I was once again leader of the Lucy Maud Dinner department. This week on the menu: Lemon Meringue Pie, Frozen Strawberry Mousse, Opera Torte, Chocolate Walnut Torte, and Strawberry Shortcake. My team really had their A game on and by Thursday we had enough desserts to see us through the rest of the week, which meant we had lots of play time! We spent the last half of the week working on our portfolios, skills, and techniques and just having fun.

I tried my hand at baking Vienna rolls but added my own special twist to them. Rather than keeping them plane and classic I folded grated Gouda cheese into the dough, and before popping them into the oven I sprinkled them with more cheese and a dash of sea salt. They came out of the oven fluffy, golden and wrapped in a rich aroma. Once they had cooled I offered them to my class mates and the Chef. Unknown to me Chef had already snatched one while they were cooling and had an afternoon snack at my expense! Sneaky, sneaky. I didn’t mind in the least, it is a huge compliment to have the Chef steal my dessert to satisfy his hunger.

I worked two nights this week in the Lucy Maud Dinning room. The first night was slow and we only sold 5 desserts, but Friday night was bustling! My class mate and I plated 17 desserts and the last customer didn’t leave until 9:45pm, which meant I didn’t get home until 10:30pm. I was at school for 12 hours! It was a long night but it felt good to be busy and I love having the opportunity to plate delicious desserts for paying customers. It makes it all worth it when a customer sends compliments back to the kitchen and is satisfied with their dessert.

Although this week has been a great kick off to the New Year, I have some very sad news to share. Upon my departure from Ontario last week, I was informed that my friend, Elinore, had a stroke while recovering from a broken hip in Charlottetown hospital and she had slipped into a coma. I met Elinore at Charlottetown Community Church and we attended the same Bible Studies, chatted and laughed at church, and she even came to visit me at school one day. She was a vibrant, spunky, sharp and overwhelmingly beautiful 83 year old woman who befriended me without hesitation. An elder at the church had organized a schedule where members of the congregation could take a shift and sit with Elinore at the hospital. I was going to visit her one evening, when ten minutes before I was supposed to leave the pastor called me and told me she had died. I was stunned. It took me the rest of the week to digest what had actually happened. At church this week we dedicated the service to Elinore, sharing stories, memories, prayers and tears. My last memory of her was the Sunday before I left to go home to Ontario for Christmas. She came into church smiling, giggling, radiant. I embraced her, stood back and said, “Elinore, you look especially spunky today.” She replied, her eyes glistening with joy, “I feel spunky, so watch out!” We shared a laugh and later during the service I could feel her presence over me and I knew she was praying for me as I prepared to go home for the holidays. She was a prayer warrior to the core, answering any trouble or blessing with prayer. She invested so much of her energy into relationships with people, building friendships, and being attentive to them and genuinely caring about them. Her beautiful life has led to a beautiful death. I will miss her, but I am so happy that she Home.

This past week has been rich in happiness and rich in sadness but I do not feel weakened. I feel infused, strong, determined, and divinely empowered. I know that this will be a thundering 4 months. I have to be extra prepared, use my time wisely, and not waste a moment of it. I will be up to my eye balls in butter and flour, but I hope to be over my head in adventures, new lessons, and treasures. Mama Jo is back.

                      Lemon Meringue Pie with Almond Spritz cookies and blueberry coulis.

                           Gouda cheese and sea salt Vienna Rolls

                                     Radiant. Spunky. Beautiful. Inspiring. Elinore.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Happy New Year!!!

In true New Years fashion allow me to look back at this year and sum up what it has meant to me, what my accomplishments were, and share with you some insights and fears to the coming year. But before I dive into the heart of this year I realize I never explained how I ended up in PEI. Let me end the mystery now. Here is the story:

It was my third year in university, my banner year! I was living with 4 wonderful, encouraging, spontaneous, loving men, the best roommates, friends, and confidants a woman could ask for. We had many adventures together: trudging through snow, epic grocery outings, decorating for Christmas with deer heads and snow shoes, trading a spatula for a piano, and countless late night conversations sharing our "feelings." But with all these adventures none were more heart warming, dangerous, or deadly than our culinary endeavors. Pots were thrown, spoons shot across the kitchen like missiles, and we used butter like it was going out of style, but amidst all that we challenged ourselves, we dove into recipes, we conquered, we fell, we learned, we conquered again.

The boys were especially encouraging as I challenged myself both on the cooking and baking side of things. Although I love grilling a good steak, making garlic bread, and spicy mushroom chicken my palette always favoured and excelled in the art of cakes, cookies, tarts, and pies.

As third year folded into its second semester the idea of going to culinary school became quite tempting. I spent a lot of time thinking and praying about it and one delightful afternoon I took a stroll to Student Services and Careers to inquire about culinary school. The professor I spoke with was very encouraging. She helped me rifle through books, pamphlets and course calendar’s and answered any questions I had. However, my search came up some what empty so I walked home, made the best dinner I have ever made in my life and then searched the internet for more answers.

I plunked myself in front of my computer and typed: Culinary Institute of Canada into Google. The first school to pop up was Holland College, PEI. Intrigued, I clicked on the link and spend the better part of an hour flipping through the site. I like to have options so I stumbled upon two more culinary schools within Canada, one in Vancouver and one in Niagara.

When third year came to a close and I was at home for the summer working and spending time with my family, I began to compare and contrast all three culinary schools quite seriously. Vancouver was a little too far away from home for my comfort zone, Niagara looked promising because Anna Olsen’s husband was an instructor at the college and it would be a wonderful opportunity to work with him, but their website was confusing and when I asked if they could send literature on their programs they did not provide any. That left PEI on the table. When I contacted Holland College the staff replied right away, they sent literature, an application form, course calendar, the works!

I began my fourth and last year at university with the decision to apply to culinary school and forgo my original plan of going to teachers college after graduation. I took a risk, jumped in and sent my application to Holland College PEI.

On January 19 2011, I had been accepted into the Culinary Institute of Canada for the Pastry Arts program. I got in!! News like this was hard to keep to myself and ran through the apartment shouting the news. Among the reactions of congratulations, best wishes, excitement, and some sadness there was this gem of encouragement from my dear friend Jonathan, “Oh crap. Now I have to pay $7 for a piece of your cheesecake when before it was free.” Haa haa, thank you Jonathan. A week later I sent my confirmation reply and 8 months later I planted myself in PEI, and the rest you know.

As I look back on the year 2011 it was a year of big decisions for me and accomplishments. I graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Bachelors in Fine Arts, the most useless degree you could ever receive, but it’s mine and I love it!

As a graduation present to myself, I took a road trip out east to PEI with my best friend Rachel. Driving across the east side of the country was a blast! Canada is beautiful! It has also become my measuring stick for when I am faced with new challenges, for example I tell myself, “If I can drive to PEI and back, I can make caramel.”

I drove through Montreal twice and survived both times. This ties into the above statement but any accomplishment involving Montreal deserves its own paragraph.

I wrote an original Christmas song for my Christmas album EP that I co-produced and recorded over the summer. Writing an original Christmas song is hard, it feels like they have all been written and you have to be careful not to rhyme snow and mistletoe a thousand times. But on November 29th I released my “Christmas Teaser” with 4 delightful and heart warming songs.

I have also decided this year that once I graduate from culinary school this April, I will officially end my occupation as student. I am hanging up the books and ending my formal education career. However, I will always be learning, willing to take on new challenges and keeping my mind and heart open.

Now that 2012 has begun I have thought about what this year will look like for me. For starters I have a list of things I would like to accomplish on the Island:
-          pet a fox
-          go on a sleigh ride
-          visit Sea Cow Head light house

The rest of my New Year resolutions haven’t come into focus yet, but I will keep you posted. I do have fears of what the end of this school year will bring. Where will I be when I slip on that graduation chef jacket? Will I find myself home in Ontario baking up a storm? Or will I permanently fold into the gentleness of PEI? What ever path I find myself strolling I know I am exactly where the Lord needs me to be. I will be fine.

Happy New Year every one! Reach for the impossible, hit the ground running, and pursue the unattainable, it looks like a good year.