Sunday, 29 April 2012

Done like dinner

The first part of my week went by in a blink it was the last half of the week where life got really crazy.

At work on Thursday I spent the morning hand chopping 15 pounds of peanuts for peanut brittle. We don’t have a fancy food processing machine to do our chopping for us so Larry the cook handed me a chef knife, 15 pounds of crunchy peanuts and told me to chop. So I chopped and chopped and chopped, but I didn’t mind it in the least. I have acquired great skills in chopping various types food while attending culinary school so I was glad to be able to put my new skills to good use. As I chopped I must have sang through every Disney song known to man and even squeezed in some Doris Day hits. When my right arm got tired from chopping I switched the knife to left and found I could chop just as efficiently with my left! I am an ambidextrous singing peanut chopper! I should take this talent to the streets and make a few extra dollars this summer.

On Thursday night PEI had the honour of welcoming two beautiful and handsome people. You may know them as the Ma and Pa Kettle of Bruce county or the Lord and Lady of the Ritsema Homestead, but I know them as Mom and Dad. I am very blessed to have such wonderful parents that would fly all the way to PEI to visit me for my college graduation! It was quite literally a whirl wind of adventure while they were here. Just because it was a special occasion doesn’t mean the Island has to be nice in the weather department. On Friday I took my parents out to the Avonlea Village in Cavendish to show them where I worked. I packed us bagged lunches and assorted goodies for the trip as well as rain boots and umbrellas. It was pouring rain with a wicked wind. After showing mom and dad around the chocolate shop we ventured out to Cavendish beach hoping that we could find some epic view or solace from the wind. The beach is open land, water, and air and that rain and wind just hurled itself harder at us. Mom and I braved the elements with rubber boots and rain jackets and were determined to make the best of the beach no matter the sour weather. Dad stood still mostly, shoulders hugging his ears and the hood of his sweater snuggly tied around his face blocking him from he brunt of the weather. Mom slipped on a pair of gloves and proceeded to pick every sea shell off the beach she could carry. I strolled confidently on the beach determined to find beauty amidst the anger of the stormy day. It was a success all around.

Friday evening we were treated to a BBQ at the college where staff, students, and parents could all mingle. I introduced my parents to the Chefs and then we proceeded to dine a fantastic feast of chicken, potatoes, three different types of salad, mussels, hamburgers, more vegetables than you can shake a stick at, corn bread and even an entire pig! They were even serving a choice selection of beer and spirits. I would say the dessert section was equally fabulous but with all of us pasty students graduated and out of the kitchen the dessert table was covered by Sara Lee, the queen of store bought cakes and desserts.  After a fabulous dinner Mom, Dad and I strolled down by the board walk and capture a skyful of beautiful angry storm clouds rolling in to chase Charlottetown into hiding. But we weren’t tired yet and stayed one step ahead of the storm. I took my parents to the opposite side of the harbour and we explored the quick developing Stratford, the sister town to Charlottetown. We meandered through the streets of large, expensive and beautiful homes and I may or may not have had to trespass in order to get some beautiful pictures of the light houses at dusk.

Saturday morning brought my last and formal graduation ceremony. With hard work, your prayers, lots of laughter, a few tears, blood, sweat, and burns I have graduated from the Culinary Institute of Canada with a Pastry Arts diploma. So if you need a cake or loaf of bread, you know who to call.

The day of graduation was nerve racking and exciting as all of my graduations have been, but this one in particular gave me an exceptional case of the jitters. I had the honour of opening the graduation ceremonies by singing the national anthem with a 36 piece band. It was thrilling! The band did a marvelous job playing a steady red and white rhythm, and the conductor was kind and gave me a wink of encouragement just before I opened my mouth to sing the first line. I admit my legs were shaking, probably from a combination of nerves, excitement, pride and disbelief.

Graduation was relaxed and the rowdiness throughout the ceremony was spurred on by the culinary and pastry students, hooting, hollering, and applauding at any chance we could. Our quest speaker of honour was Chef Michael Smith and he gave an inspiring speech about the delicate and difficult balance of career, family, and caring for strangers. All of the programs that graduated on Saturday specialized in hospitality and the unconditional care of anyone who walks through our doors. Along side pastry and culinary arts graduates were hotel management, gulf club management, and tourism and travel. It was a wonderful graduation and felt more like a party than a stuffy stiff necked ceremony. I have had a fabulous year at culinary school and learned so much. I will miss Chef Richard and Chef Christian the most though and all of the shenanigans my fellow class mates and I have gotten into in the kitchen this year. If I had one disappointment or regret about this year it would be this: I wish I had more kitchen injuries. I know that sounds silly, but one sugar burn or knife wound would be a badge of honour. Some of my friends got sugar burns, decent sized knife cuts, and one even caught fire, and all I have to show for 8 months in the kitchen is heat resistant fingers from constantly burning them on hot crème anglaise pots and a super power sense of smell. I suppose in the hind sight of things its better to have a super sense of smell than a sugar burn scar that lasts for years.

After the graduation ceremony was complete and I had exhausted my camera with oodles of pictures of friends and family, mom, dad and I packed up the rental car once again with a survival kit for the day and we made our way to Brackley Beach. It is rumoured to be the best place to go beach combing. I don’t know if that rumour is true because it was too cold and winding to make it 20 feet down the sand to put my beach combing skills to good use, not to mention the wind was so strong that you got sand blasted just standing there. And on top of all that delightful weather we had a sprinkle of festive seasoning with snow! We couldn’t have stayed more than a few hours at Brackley Beach and most of that time was spent in the car admiring the angry waves and sand dunes from its the comfort and warmth. But coffee time with donuts at Tim Hortons and a special dinner at an Italian restaurant made it all worth it. You can be sure that after two and half overwhelming days of joy, love, fellowship and pride I will sleep well tonight.

So here I am, a college graduate. Not only that but a university and college graduate. And after 18 years of schooling including elementary and high school I am officially and completely done school. I will not be returning to school anytime soon, at least not for a degree or masters program, but the idea of taking some night classes for social event planning, interior design, or cello lessons isn’t too far fetched me but I won’t be dabbling into that for a few years. For right now I am looking forward to the next step in my life: falling in love, building a house, growing peach trees and having six kids. 

A happy pair of Oompa Loompas

Save some sea shells for everyone else, Mom 

Mom and Dad having a wonderful day at the beach

I may or may not have trespassed to take this photo


Chef Richard, myself, and Chef Christian

My friend Lindsay and I hashing it out one last time with big mixer

Here comes the storm

It's cold, windy, and snowing, a perfect day to go to the beach!

Mom, myself, and Dad, a very proud moment for all of us.

Joelle Glori-Anne Ritsema, certified Pastry Chef! 

I am REALLY happy to be done school!

Thank you so much and God bless. I couldn't have done it without YOU!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

So you want to be an Anne of Green Gables Chocolatier? Sit down, strap in and let me tell you how it’s done.

Wake up call is at 5:30 am, you stumble out of bed cursing the early hour but the gentle glow of the sun rising in the east gives you some hope for a beautiful start to the day. Breakfast is simple: a toasted bagel or English muffin and glass of orange juice. After packing your back pack with lunch, a good book, and your scrub pants you stuff your pockets with bus money, grab your coffee and skip out the door.

The streets of Charlottetown are slowly waking up and city workers are lost in their own thoughts sweeping the sidewalks and picking up garbage. You exchange pleasant morning greetings and comment on the beautiful breath of air that is blanketing the city. You arrive at the bus stop and sip your coffee patiently while waiting for the bus. It rumbles around the corner after ten minutes and you hop on gingerly, exchanging a smile with the bus driver and making yourself comfortable in one of the seats and wait for the other passengers to arrive.

Just before the bus is scheduled to depart the other passengers arrive just as groggy as you. The bus ride is quiet, each passenger lost in their own thoughts or dozing. To keep your mind sharp you open up your book and manage to read a few chapters before the complete red, yellow, and mauve glow of morning sun reaches over the horizon and distracts you. You close the book and pack it neatly into your back pack and allow yourself to gaze dreamily at the sunrise as it gently wakes up the Island. A mist rises gracefully off the recently tilled fields and glass like ponds and rivers.

The bus rolls to a stop in Hunter River and you hop off and walk a stretch back down the road to the gas station. On the way you stray off to the left of your path and meander through a cemetery admiring the frosted silk roses laid delicately by an aged head stone. Smoke rises from country house chimneys to chase away the morning chill and the sun strikes the dewy grass with golden rays making the grass look like a sheet of diamonds.

You reach the gas station just as your co-worker pulls up in his trusty red Chevie Cobalt to take you the rest of the way to work and together you drive through the rolling, curving, languid PEI country side. The rivers and streams are sporadically dotted with fishermen, clad in hip waders, casting lines for trout. You roll into the village of Avonlea, unchain the gate and drive into the quiet, whimsical, fairy tale town. With it not being tourist season the village is completely void of human life except for your fellow chocolatiers. The buildings stand as if asleep, waiting to be awaked and filled with travelers, employees, and pretend villagers.

After clocking in you quickly change into your scrub pants, apron, running shoes, and hair net, you roll up your sleeves and get to work on the day’s tasks: one batch of chocolate fudge, two batches of brown sugar fudge, one batch of oysters, Gilberts toffee, caramel, two batches of almond toffee crunch for Cows Ice Cream and at the end of the day you still have to pour a batch of truffles. It’s busy all day and you only have time sit down during break and lunch, but the pace of work is swift and you are never bored so the time passes quickly.

Before you know it the chocolates are made, packaged and ready for sales, the dishes are washed, and the batch of truffles are poured, cut, and sitting out to fully set over night. You change out of your work clothes, clock out, collect any mishap chocolate or left over fudge, and slowly walk to the car. You get dropped off at the bus stop with ten minutes to spare and collapse on the grass. Your feet and legs are sore and you are grateful for the lush green bed and pleasant sunshine. To keep you from focusing on the throbbing pain in your feet you pull out your book and read. The bus arrives and you hop on and join the rest of the exhausted passengers. The bus ride is quiet except for the man behind you who has dozed off and his snoring soundly.

It is 6:00pm by the time you arrive home and you barely have enough energy to make yourself dinner, but you manage to rustle up a sandwich and flip on the TV to catch an episode of Golden Girls. After dinner and an hour to yourself to journal, read, or write a letter it is 8:00pm and it is time to get ready for bed. You make your lunch for the next day, pack your back pack with a new pair of scrub pants, fold into your jammies and by 9:00pm you are sound asleep dreaming of chocolate, red shores, and rolling green hills.

In between going to work I also had my final exam this week. Not only was it my final pastry exam but it was also my last school exam. I am officially done school and won’t be going back anytime soon. It feels so good to say that my official occupation as “student” is complete. I will always be a student of life, and will continue to learn as we all do but at the end of the day it won’t be for a degree or diploma but for my own personal maturity and broadening horizons.

I stumbled into the kitchen at 6:30 on Wednesday morning with my plan of attack in hand, ready to rock the exam. Despite the nightmares I had the night before about my bread over proofing, my crème caramel going to slop, and my cookies burning I was confident I would pull this exam off without a hitch. I have had high marks all year and expected this day to be a walk in the park.

The first to do on my list was to soak the raisins for my brioche in rum. That’s how to start the day off right, soaking 60 grams of juicy raisins in Captain Morgans finest rum, mmm. While they absorbed the alcohol I made ice cream, prepped my cake ring, and gathered the ingredients for my brioche. The day was a constant multi-tasking act I always had one eye on the oven and the other on the task I was doing at hand.

The day was going along great, and as I kneaded the brioche dough vigorously the tray of butter I had softening on the counter fell off and hit the floor. That was the first incident of the day and it opened a flood gate of mishaps, frustrations, and stress. I didn’t have time to cut more butter and allow it soften so I picked off the dirt as best I could and resolved that it would all be baked out anyway hence killing any germs that lingered.

As the day wore on my nightmares soon turned into realities. My two large loaves of brioche proofed fine, but the dozen small brioches were over proofed and when I baked them turned mutant shaped and uneven. My crème caramel took longer than I thought to cook and I feared that it wouldn’t unmold gracefully, as it turned out I had under cooked it and the edges peeled off making it look sloppy on the plate. My black forest cake was a dismal failure and didn’t rise at all, so I made it a second time and adjusted my recipe to avoid the same thing from happening but it turned out just as bad the first time. I carried on. My cookies turned out well, at least that’s what I thought, the chef had other opinions, but my caramel garnish was very creative and fun to make giving me a splash of joy in a frustrating day.

At the end of the day I platted all my desserts closed my eyes and hoped for the best. The Chefs called us in to their office one at a time and when it was my turn I held my head high, knowing what was coming to me, but determined to smile through it. “Miss Ritsema,” Chef Richard said in a thick rolling Austrian accent, “You have had a day.” The tone in his voice said it all so I braced myself. I asked him to jump right in, we both knew it wasn’t my most shining moment and there was no need to prolong the inevitable. This is what the chef said: “Your crème caramel was too sweet, and the caramel wasn’t dark enough. You could have cooked it longer to avoid the edges from peeling off. Your almond spritz cookies were too strong in flavour, the biscotti was too hard, your large brioche was well done it had good texture and flavour, but the small brioches were over proofed and too sour. We aren’t even going to talk about your black forest cake, but your ice cream sundae was excellent.” Praise Jesus! At least my ice cream was a resounding 100% even if everything else was just scraping a 75%.  

I admitted that this day was more stressful than I thought it would be but I knew that every other day I had in the kitchen was flawless and the Chefs know that I am a diligent, positive, and reliable student. It’s unfortunate that my exam day was a total flop but I wasn’t upset or angry with myself about a single thing. This year has been fabulous! Not only has school been an enriching experience and total joy to be in but coming to the Island has been a huge blessing to me. I am the healthiest I have ever been spiritually, emotionally, and physically. God has showed up so many times and I have been learning a lot about myself and blossoming into a strong and beautiful woman with a growing imagination and energy.

Friday was the last day when everyone came together in the kitchen for the last time to clean and say good-byes and cry. It took as two and half hours to completely clean the kitchen and if anyone needed a minute to weep the walk in fridge was the best place to cry. I have had a few sad moments in there myself over the year, it really is the best place to cry. You make up so excuse to find strawberry sauce, go the back corner of the fridge face the shelf with the lemons and limes and the let the tears roll. After the kitchen was spotless and every surface was so immaculate and polished you could eat off it the Chefs gathered us around and gave us parting words. They told us it had been a pleasure to teach us and wished us well on our future baking endeavors and reminded us to send them a signed copy of our first cook book as long as it was dedicated to them, haa haa. I saw a glistening of tears in the Chefs eyes and broke out into applause of gratitude. We left the kitchen somewhat somber but happy and reminiscent on what a blessing the year had been.

It wouldn’t be the last we would see of each other though, oh no, that night we hit the town and went on a class pub crawl. I have never been on a pub crawl before and I was looking forward to it. I’ve always wanted to go on one and to be honest I just wanted to get a t-shirt out of the deal. During my years at the University of Waterloo I saw many of my engineering friends go on pub crawls and always thought it was such a fun way to show how proud you were to be in your program. I’m not saying I endorse the idea of getting pissed drunk until your forget your name and how to walk but hitting the town with friends for an evening of dancing and responsible drinking is completely acceptable. It’s unfortunate that only 5 other people in my group shared a similar mentality about drinking but it was still fun.

To be honest I wasn’t sure I was going to blog about my pub crawl experience but the more I thought about it the more I realized it was an important adventure for me and I learned a lot that I feel I should share with you. Before going on the crawl I knew I wanted to remain sober for two reasons:

1)      I am Mama Jo and I wanted to be able to keep an eye on my friends without blurred vision and be able to walk in a straight line to carry them home at the end of the night if need be.
2)      Getting drunk is a waste of good alcohol, an evening, and morning the following day. And you don’t need to be completely plastered to enjoy an evening out. If you need a drink to get through the night there are bigger issues at hand and you may be an alcoholic or just have boring friends, I hope it’s the latter of the two.

With these limitations in mind this is how I survived the pub crawl and how you will survive it if the opportunity ever presents itself.

The Mama Jo Pub Crawl Method:
-          Eat lots. Before going out have a big dinner and drink lots of water, never drink on an empty stomache or you will get drunk quicker than you expected to.
-          Travel light. Slip on a pair of comfy yet flattering jeans with lots of pockets to keep your ID, money, and ear plugs. Ear plugs are essential because bars and clubs can get loud! If the night has potential to cool off wear a zipper hoody with big pockets to keep your house keys and cell phone. Wear your pub crawl t-shirt with pride, strap on a pair of running shoes and you are good to go.
-          Pace yourself. After having a drink chase it down with some excellent pub food like nachos, wings, or sweet potato fries and a glass of water, and limit yourself to one drink per bar, this will keep you and your bank account sober

I followed this plan and I had a great time and was still walking, talking, and seeing straight at the end of the night, making it a Mama Jo approved evening. I was in bed by 1:30am and was up the next day at 8:00am ready to battle laundry and buy groceries.

As I mentioned I had a lot of fun on the pub crawl but one thing really bothered me about the evening. When I showed up to the bar and met my friends a resounding gasp of surprise echoed among them and I was constantly asked this question, “Joelle, you drink?” It is no secret that I am a Christian and my friends know that but it hurts when they assume my life is filled with limitations on how much fun I can have and what I can’t do rather than what I can. So let me clear up the record right now and speak on behalf on my fellow Christian friends that I know enjoy the odd drink. If Jesus can have a glass of wine then I can to! Just because I am a Christian doesn’t mean I stay away from all things alcohol it just means I’m smart about it. As I mentioned before getting drunk is pointless, a waste, and dangerous. You don’t need to be three sheets to the wind to have a good time, not to mention you could do something stupid while intoxicated and become the laughing stock of your friends and ruin your reputation. So take Mama Jo’s advice and if you choose to drink do it responsibility, no body wants to carry your sorry drunken ass home at the end of the night or get puked on.

Blessings, and I’ll see ya’ll at the pub J  

Practical exam brioche

Almond spritz cookies and almond & honey biscotti

Creme caramel with almond biscotti, and caramel dipped almond garnish

Melted peach melba ice cream sundae with spritz cookie

Picturesque cemetery and cottage

Frosted silk roses

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Swings are Back

The sun is in full unhindered shining bliss. The breeze is friendly, warm, and inviting. The ocean is aromatic and playful. Handfuls of purple, yellow and cream crocuses surface and give the first colours of spring to Charlottetown. There is nothing better than a spring Sunday afternoon in Charlottetown. It’s not just the weather that makes Charlottetown the most ideal place to be when the sun is shining it’s the kaleidoscope of colourful houses and the genuine good natured Islanders smiling at you around every corner. It’s the side walk chalk masterpieces, the giggle of children’s laughter, and the sigh and squeal of swing hinges. It’s the live soft guitar melody sprinkling the day from someone’s front porch. It’s the character of the Island that makes Charlottetown the best place to be on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

After church this morning and after a darling lunch out at the Old Triangle with friends I took a long sun saturated walk through Charlottetown. Robins, chickadees, house sparrows, red wing black birds and even the odd starling sung happily from tree tops, picket fences, and roofs. Busy little honey bees buzzed from one crocus to the next indulging in their sweet nectar. As I walked through the park the path was covered in side walk chalk rainbows and cup cake cats. My ears heard the faint strum of a guitar, I looked around and there was a man on his front porch, basking in the sun light dressed in blue jeans, a plaid shirt, suspenders, a cap and smoking a cigarette and playing his guitar. You can’t get more Islander than that. I marched right up to him and asked if I could take a picture of him, he didn’t mind a bit. It was very much like a perfect day. Islanders really know how to spend the sunshine.

This past Thursday I started my new job at Anne of Green Gables Chocolates. I had to wake up at 5:30am to catch the 6:30 county line bus to Hunter River. I almost missed the bus because I was at the wrong bus stop, but because I was anxious and impatient I circled the block and found the bus waiting for me on Queen Street. I hoped on, paid the fare, and got comfortable. The county bus isn’t like the city buses. It has nice plush seats, plenty of sprawling room, and big windows to gaze out of. Driving through the country side at 6:30 in the morning was the kind of commute to work I look forward to. The sun was warm and golden, stretching from the eastern horizon, I saw a fox trotting across the field on the hunt for breakfast, and there was a small pond with two hockey nets resting on the banks, obvious remnants from winter pond hockey. There are handfuls of quaint white steeple churches and grave yards scattered along the country side as old as the hills hey stand on.

My first day of work was great! The chocolate store is right in the Avonlea Village in Cavendish, how cool is that?! They didn’t give me a huge orientation of the store, instead they threw me in and I had to learn on my feet, which I preferred. I helped the cook make Almond Toffee Crunch and Brown Sugar Fudge. I packaged the chocolates and helped clean the dishes, floors, and stations, etc. It was good old fashioned on your feet all day honest work. My co-workers are excellent! Full of smiles and laughs and they all watch Coronations Street religiously. I’m not sure I can jump on the Coronation Street train but laughing, joking and carrying on and singing around work I’m on board with. My job is a total God thing. Not only do I have stellar co-workers but because I work at Anne of Green Gables Chocolates I get free admission into the Avonlea Village, and discounts on Cows Ice Cream, Anne’s Chocolates, and Boom Burger, the best burger joint in town! Plus my work week is Monday to Friday 8:00am o 4:30pm with weekends off! How I scored this job was nothing less than divine.

Today in church Pastor Brian said something really neat: “Some of us are being drowned in Gods rain cloud of blessing, while others are waiting for a sprinkle.” This past week I have been treading in waves of Gods love and gifts, but I know that not everyone is as soaked. I want to tell you that the Rain is coming. Your cloud isn’t empty yet.

Cup cake cat on the side walk

True Islander

Pretty little house, tucked away

A special dedication to the Irish settlers of PEI

Crocuses! So many beautiful crocuses!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Waking Up

The Island is just barely touching the heels of spring and everything is beginning to wake up. On Friday morning I woke up to the sound of birds singing. Their happy chatter and blissful melodies folded seamlessly into an Italian opera playing from my iPod alarm clock. I went for a very long walk this week and allowed my feet to move from their familiar paths to find new ones. The smell of the earth coming to life and beginning to grow lured me through the park and to the edge of the water. The smell of the fresh, clean, and crisp sea was no longer shrouded in bitter winter death. All the ice had melted away and the sun cast down its golden rays warming the ocean slowly, chasing away the sea monsters that reveled in the cold winter waters and welcomed back a plethora of magical life. The trees bended and stretched in the breeze waking up from their extended nap. Their branches were stripped of any stubborn fall leaves and new buds slowly started to emerge. The colours are bleak still except for a thin ribbon of red hugging the coast with the promise of warmth and life. As I wandered through the city I saw small splashes of fresh sap green as tulips and daffodils pushed their way up through the once hard now soft and nurturing soil to paint the Island with the first colours. Spring.

And then that reality was shattered when I woke up Sunday morning to a winter snow storm. Sigh.  

My last week of classes went by at a steadily. I didn’t feel taken aback by the fact school would be over soon, and I didn’t come to school with a sense of disbelief and confusion that time had passed as quickly as it had. On the menu for this week was a simple yet delicious black and white brownie duo with vanilla white chocolate chunk ice cream and double chocolate ice cream. The brownies were perfect and so was the ice cream, if I do say so myself, the sauces and candied almonds were of equal delectableness and it made for an easy week for me. I had time to help others around the kitchen and on Thursday I was blessed to have time to make a raspberry and vanilla Bavarian Cream. I’ve wanted to make a Bavarian Cream all year and on the last day of classes I made that dream come true. The first time through I left the crème anglaise on the stove to prep an ice bath. I thought the heat was on low but when I got back I discovered I had made sweet scrambled eggs. Oops. The second time through everything turned out beautifully. It was delicious! Bavarian Cream is like pudding that was made my angels. The texture is creamy and folds into every corner of your mouth with soft yet addictive flavour. I know for next time to make a double batch.  

As mentioned Thursday was my last day of class. That was the last time I would step into a classroom, lay my open brain out on the table and try to absorb all the information my teachers could give me. Well maybe it’s not the very last class, I plan to go back to school to be an architect when my mid-life crisis hits, haa haa.

It was surreal and to be honest this entire year hasn’t really felt like school. I look back on these past months and it feels like I’ve been at a summer camp. I have learned so much but I have had the time of my life doing so. I am so blessed to be able to go to class and instead of watching fire and magnesium ignite to make fire works, I watch heat, steam, and fat come together to make the lightest, flakiest pastry you have put in your mouth. Instead of listening to the history of socialism I sit mesmerized by the history of chocolate. My school uniform is not a plaid skirt with knee high itchy socks, I proudly wear checkered clown pants, a chef jacket and hat that adds an extra foot and half of height.

I can’t completely say good bye to Holland College yet, there is still my practical exam to go and graduation. You may ask: What will you be doing with your time until then? I can’t be certain about what I will be doing but I know what I won’t be doing. I won’t be packing my bags and clearing out my room. And I won’t be buying a seven piece luggage set and train ticket home. I won’t be moving back home this summer. I have found a job on the Island for the entire tourist season! Praise the Lord!! I will be working at Anne of Green Gables Chocolates as an assistant to the cook making every kind of flavour of chocolates! I am going to be a chocolatier! I am so excited!

When I was walking home from school on Tuesday, after just receiving the e-mail of congratulations, I looked up to the trees and whispered, “I’m staying!” They just smiled back and nodded, “We know. We knew the entire time.” I felt safe and invited and valued! I will have the opportunity to see PEI blossom from Spring into Summer. Watch the sun lay down for the night down by the wharf every night, and hold my breath as rock concert style summer storms shake the red shores. And I will be writing every moment down and sharing it with you!

Now that I will be the Island for a bit longer I have come up with three new “New Years Eve” goals:
-          Pick a bouquet of wild flowers
-          Find a sea shell, sand dollar, and star fish
-          Go sea kayaking

Oh and I still have yet to pet a fox. I realize my window of opportunity may be shrinking, pretty soon it will be spring and they will be hyped up on hormones and being pregnant and then have little ones to look after, spring is never a good time to approach any animal.

Spending Easter on the Island has been a delight. Good Friday was a little odd for me though. I think sometimes as Christians we don’t think it’s ok to be sad on Good Friday. When we have been taught to be happy, extend love, and be joyful in God we think it’s irreverent to mourn the death of Jesus, to be angry, sad, upset and confused as to why He died rather than us. I went to a Good Friday service with several different Charlottetown congregations, it was great to all be together under one roof, but I felt like I had the whole weekend in one service. It would have been nicer to be more unsettled at the end of the service, to leave sad, to be reminded that I am worth dying for, and to have some suspense. It would make Easter morning that much more a celebration and would give relief when the truth of the foundation of my faith comes to life.

My beloved parents sent me a little Easter box in the mail with chocolate eggs and other such goodies. On Easter morning I woke up early enough hoping to hide the Easter eggs before my roommates woke up but alas we all woke up at the same time. I decided to hide the eggs anyway even though they knew where half of them were hidden before they could start looking. I spent Easter dinner with a group of beloved, vibrant and spunky friends from church. There is something heavenly about sitting around a group of friends, eating good food, and laughing until you quite literally pee your pants. I’m not naming names but you know who you are J

In a nutshell I am on top of the world. It has been a great week, full of good news, accomplishments, friends, and laughter. If this is a preview of what the summer is going to look like then bring it on!  

Black & White Brownie duo: Chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream. Cream cheese blondie with chocolate ice cream, raspberry and chocolate sauce and candied almond slices.

Raspberry Vanilla Bavarian Cream with chocolate shavings, gianduja sauce, and strawberry sauce.

Another picture of Bavarian Cream because one just isn't enough.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Beginning of the End

This past week marked the beginning of the end. I am in my final rotation before exams and then graduation. Wow! How did the time fly by so quickly and where did it all go?

Monday was dedicated to finishing our showpieces. I spent all day in the smart kitchen pulling sugar into flowers, leaves, grass and a tree stump. At the end of the day I was proud to hand in my little whimsical forest scene. I remember being most excited to learn how to pull sugar when coming to culinary school and I am very glad that I chose a sugar showpiece rather than fondant, or chocolate. Let me explain a little bit of what pulling sugar entails. First off you take sugar, water, glucose and tartaric acid and boil in a pot until it reaches 154 degrees. Then you pour it on to an oiled marble slab and with dry wall scrappers you move it around the marble slab until it is soft and pliable. You cut off what you need, wrap the rest in plastic and get to work on making something beautiful.

I had so much fun playing with sugar, pulling it, and modeling it. As it was my first time pulling sugar I learned that there are places that I can improve upon but for my first go at it I am very proud. Chef had some very encouraging words and advice on what to improve on next time. If there is one thing I am learning while at culinary school it is that I am learning! Not only am I learning a great deal about myself and my joys but I find myself opening up to other venues of creativity and learning how to use my hands and imagination differently.

On Tuesday I woke up 5:00am, once again. Ugh. I haven’t been on morning shift for a month so you can imagine how foreign it was for me to wake up at the crack of dawn. But to my surprise I woke up to a blizzard! What makes this realization even more comical is as I was going to bed the night before I looked outside and saw that it was starting to snow. I thought to myself, “Hmm, maybe we’ll get a snow day tomorrow.” I had no idea how true that statement would be.

I called the storm line to find out if classes were canceled. The automated lady on the other end said that classes were delayed, for how long I wasn’t sure, so I quietly and swiftly got ready for school just in case classes were a go. At around 6:15 I called the storm line again and heard the sweetest words, “Classes are canceled today.” Yay! However, I already had breakfast and my morning coffee and was ready for school so instead of going to bed I curled up on the couch and made a little nest for myself to watch the storm.

It was beautiful. Howling winds and blinding snow whipped down the street causing white outs and the hydro lines to wobble dangerously. It was a bitter scene but I was safe curled up under layers of wool and fleece, savouring an apple, relaxed by the soft glow of the street lights and the constant ticking of the clock on the wall. I turned the TV on, and adjusted the volume so I wouldn’t wake my roommates and watched a very enlightening documentary on the life of a female sea turtle. Did you know when sea turtles are born they are no bigger than a child’s hand and their wings are the size of a butterflies. They swim around the ocean for 2 years navigating in and out of the Gulf Stream on their way to warmer oceans like the Caribbean, Africa, and Australia. Winter storms can sometimes drag them off course and they can get carried all the way to the coast of Nova Scotia! When I heard that I almost ran down to the beach to see if I could spot a sea turtle struggling in the winter waves and rescue it. But the blizzard curved my compassion and I decided to send helpful thoughts instead of risking my own neck.

Finally after two years of swimming around the Ocean the sea turtle finds warm waters to splash around in and at the age of 21 she returns to the beach where she was born, lays her eggs, and the cycle starts all over again. She will go back to lay her eggs again every 2 to 3 years. That is so cool! And did you know that only 1 in every 10, 000 sea turtles survives their first 2 years of life? I feel like getting a bumper sticker that says, “Save the Sea Turtles!” It is on my bucket list to witness sea turtles hatching. I’ll be there with my shot gun and a big stick to shoot off the sea birds and beat off the crabs that eat the little hatchlings. No bodies gonna eat baby sea turtles as long as Mama Jo is around.

The rest of the snow day was quiet and productive. I scribbled away at homework and read a book. With the weather looking so festive I turned on the Classic Christmas tunes and golden tones of Doris Day. Deliciousness to my ears.

Wednesday we were back in the kitchen and it was busy. Loosing Tuesday really set us back. For dessert this week I made crepes for Lucy Maud Lunch dinning room. Every year on my birthday my mom makes them for me with fresh Ontario strawberries and whipped cream, but oddly enough I’ve never made them, so I was very excited to try. I made crepes with a mixed berry compote, peaches, candied sliced almonds, gianduja and strawberry sauce. Mmmmmm, heavenly. When making crepes in a normal persons kitchen it is only common sense to use a spatula to flip them. But the rhythm in a pastry kitchen is faster and a spatula can just get in the way so we flip them with our bare fingers. That’s right folks. Bare fingers. When the crepe starts to puff up and golden you take a wooden skewer and lift the edge of the crepe just enough to grip it with your finger tips then quick as a cat you flip it over to cook on the other side. The first five caused the most pain but eventually my fingers got used to the heat, I kept an ice bath handy to numb my fingers every so often and pretty soon I had two pans with crepes and was flipping like a pro.

Thursday morning was a cross between a horror and a comedy. We were all zipping about our pastry chores and duties, baking bread, meringue, cheese cake, crepes, ice cream and a plethora of other sweets, when suddenly there was a cry of alarm. We dropped what we were doing and looked to see where the cry had come from. The sewer was backing up into the pastry shop! Someone ran to get a mop to stop the flow and I ran for help and got the maintenance men. When I told them the sewer was backing up, they looked at me half awake and said, “Again?” I guess sewers backing up into the kitchen is a regular occurrence in the culinary school. I guess that is what makes are food so irresistible. In no time at all the problem was solved and after a good laugh we all got back to work.

Saturday morning my church hosted an indoor yard and bake sale. I spent all of Friday evening in my kitchen baking up a storm to the point where ever available surface was either covered in dishes or baked goods. When my roommates came home they made the comment, “Are you powering the bake sale all by yourself?” It was close to midnight before I had 7 dozen cookies and 12 botekoeks cooled, packaged and ready to be sold the next day.

The yard sale was a mad house! We had people lined up out the door ready to get in. For the first hour it was none stop customer after customer. I manned the bake sale table and made sure the shoppers kept their bellies full and their wallets empty. Several people inquired about the boeterkoek, and I told them it was a type of Dutch coffee cake with lots of butter and sugar. Business was slow and no one was brave enough to buy one. Suddenly, from across the room, a gentleman spotted them and b-lined is way to the table. “Is that boeterkoek?” he asked. “Yes it is.” I replied, surprised that he knew what it was. “Who made it?” he asked again. “I did.” He then rambled off a few phrases in Dutch, I smiled and answered the best I could but I was too excited that someone other than me and the two other Dutch people in my church knew what boeterkoek was! He bought 2 of them and after that the word spread of how good they were and by the end of the day the boeterkoek was sold out! I am so pleased to bring so much of my Dutch heritage to the Island and be able to share it and have it received by others. It makes me smile all over!

That pretty much wraps up my week. I have a 3 hour theoretical exam Monday morning which I will be studying for after I post this and then it is just 3 kitchen days left and my practical exam at the end of the month and then I’m done! Wow! In this moment I couldn’t be more excited. I know I will feel sad as graduation closes in and I have to part with my new friends and the chefs as we all go our separate ways. However, for right now I am going to keep looking to the excitement and joy in accomplishing and finishing another chapter in my life. The tears can come later.

Have a great week everyone, and don’t forget to save the sea turtles.

Mixed Berry Crepe with candied almonds and gianduja and strawberry sauce

Sugar Showpiece