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

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