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

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