Fitterhappiermoreproductive

It has been my intention every day for the last two months to write a new post. I’ve cut my hours down from 80 to 60, but I’ve turned most of my out-of-work attention towards regaining my physical strength and endurance from the years before culinary school.

Apparently, twenty fewer hours of work but an additional 6 or 7 at the gym is more exhausting. Good to know.

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The Chinooks have been few and far between since xmas, as though they were all used up in November and December, so winter of recent months have been more in line with what the rest of the country endures. Despite trying to hibernate, the Canadian and I drove up to Jasper at the end of February.

I was under the impression that Jasper was like Banff.

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Banff is small but bustling, bursting with tourists and outdoor adventurers. The buildings are terribly Western Canada (like the YYC airport), cutesy but I like it.

I knew it was small, but so is Canmore. Canmore is quite nice too.

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I hadn’t realized it would take 7 hours to drive to Jasper.

3.5 hours on ice roads.

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What.

Good thing our tires are all season?

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Looking through my photos I realize I only took one in Jasper, the tanker train, probably because it was just so exciting I forgot to keep a digital record.

The journey took up much of our two days, so Jasper was a mediocre meal and watching a Jonestown documentary fireside.

Work has been same-old, in the way restaurants are generally exciting for some reason or another. Every day brings the unexpected.

Recently, I’ve fielded several special requests. I don’t mind doing special things given advance warning. It isn’t my style to make requests to restaurants but I understand why people do it and considering the reason why I do what I do is to give people a memorable experience, I am genuinely delighted to do it.

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This is a princess cake. I made it for a woman who had wanted her friend to have a… girlie dessert for his birthday. I filled the almond cake with strawberry cream and black tea posset. They cancelled. Well that’s okay, I’d always wanted to make a princess cake.

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The request “draw a funny cat picture” was easy to fulfill. I didn’t know I could still draw so well.

This week I was asked to make a “Bolero Tres Leche Cake”

Silly me, I thought this was a cake from a place. Like a Tarta de Santiago (which I really wish I could serve but I don’t think anyone would order it).

No. It’s a mexican cake. From a restaurant. Like in the south-east. WTF.

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Here’s a photo from Yelp. I did not ask permission.

You probably understand why at this point I’m… Hesitant.

I like challenges. So I make the cake.

Tres Leche means three milks. It’s a sponge cake, I used Alton Brown’s, and pour evaporated milk, condensed milk, and half&half over it and leave it to soak overnight. It is usually finished with whipped cream or meringue.

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This… This is not my kind of thing. Monochromatic with lots of sugar and milk. I’m not a big fan of milk myself, so I really didn’t understand this dessert at all.

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At the last minute I bruleed the top, I was willing to try the monochromatic look, but I just needed some contrast. I served it with white balsamic ice cream, malted milk meringue, tonka bean cream, and crispy milk bubbles.

I heard they liked it, but it won’t be going on the menu anytime soon.

 

 

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In the middle of the road you see the darndest things.

IMG_4921When I worked at the cafe, I learned quickly that office workers are fickle.

I don’t think this is a characteristic that they bring with them into their personal lives, so maybe it’s that the recirculated air has an effect on the cognitive process (I say that, of course, with a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Calgary +15s and the film Waydowntown).

Chefs are manufacturers and servers are salesmen. It is almost insane to try to plot sales of one dish over another, to say “We sold a lot of cod yesterday, better stock up today,” because that really doesn’t make sense. Why do restaurants, and I’m sure every other sales outlet, see dramatic spikes and sharp falls in certain items, changing on a daily basis? I could probably look that up but I’m trying to claw my way out of a pastry creativity slump so I’ve got other things to do. But it is a fact that one day there will be interest in one thing and they will all sell (much to the sadness of those who showed up late), and we cleverly stock ourselves the next day and the dining room wants what we have 10 of instead of 20.

January and February are notoriously difficult times for sweet things. People will always eat savoury, but when they are trying to stick to a resolution, sweets are dropped. Despite the hamburger probably containing more dangers to health than the dainty tart, sugar and carbohydrates are seen as threats moreso than red meat or [carbohydrate heavy] french fries. I will note I’ve also seen a downturn in pastry sales around mid-late April, the week long period I like to call “Beach Body Time”, meaning people stop eating delicious things for one week in order to slim down for summer, then quickly give up.

Writing a new menu, as I’ve bemoaned in my last post, if fucking difficult. Eaters arrive and are probably confused by the menu as it doesn’t seem quite right while desserts are being tested. It was a bumpy ride, up here where it is hard to get much of anything reasonably in January, my tiny menu is as such:

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Carrot cake – this is probably going to be a staple for a while, especially since the ubiquitous carrot doesn’t really have a season anymore, I can get away with it. I’ve updated it with a mandarin curd for colour and to reincorporate the orange flavour the original had before we stopped ordering oranges.

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Flourless Chocolate Cake – This has been tremendously popular not only because it is chocolate but because it is gluten-free. It is very simple: Flourless cake, hazelnut pastry cream (only because I had to justify ordering 5kg of gianjua, the chocolate with 30% hazelnut that tastes like a block of Nutella, one of my favourite things to eat), topped with a thin wafer of Valrhona dark chocolate, paired with a milk chocolate ice cream and cabernet sauvignon sorbet. I opted for both the ice cream and sorbet because the sorbet, with a beautiful full flavour of alcoholic wine and hint of raspberry, did not have the body to hold up to the cake, which in itself has a variety of textures but not enough richness. The rich, smooth milk chocolate ice cream balances the dish.

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And finally, a Tiramisu, to round out the classic trio. Apparently, people do want to eat carrot cake, chocolate, and Tiramisu in an asian-influenced resto. WTF.

This is the first time I’ve been allowed to make a Tiramisu my way. The first time was in catering, called to whip cream and mascarpone together, layer with instant coffee. I snuck salt into the recipe, had to argue that Amaretto was not the original liqueur used, and just made a teetotalling version in little plastic cups. Not my style.

Tiramisu is adored by the English, or at least by Devonians in the South. It was on the menu, reasonably so, when we arrived at the Pickwick Inn, the Italian themed pub in teeny St.Ann’s Chapel. This was the version I made there:

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I couldn’t change the chef’s recipe much, had an argument about his version not containing eggs, and I secretly salted the cream again. The chocolate decor, which was made from Callebaut chips because that’s the best I could get, couldn’t be tempered so they lived in the freezer, sigh. I used the Charles Rennie MacKintosh rose for inspiration.

Plymothians love it too, as Rhodesey put it on the menu there, but a hybrid with the Knickerbocker Glory, essentially a Sundae but with more syllables. They insisted it be served in a vase, of which were so delicate when all but 8 had chipped, I’d make them up to five times a day, often a-la-minute. No matter the rain or sleet outside, Devonians love their ice cream. Needless to say, I was not sad to say good-bye to this.

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My present sous, who worked at a fancy-pants italian place for years and is deeply skilled in classic French and Italian cooking, begged me to make Tiramisu, solely because she loves them. So this is my version:

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The mascarpone mousse contains a pate a bombe, or egg yolks cooked with sugar, the french version of zabaglione. Though many people now exclude the eggs in the cream base, opting instead for just mascarpone and whipped cream, I disagree with this completely. It originally contained eggs, and I find they give the cream extra body and depth, bring out the flavour of the mascarpone, where just folding with cream tends to dilute the subtle taste. It also gives the recipe structure and lightness, and makes it less costly to produce.

Tradition calls for the lady fingers, often the brand Savoiardi are used, to be soaked in coffee. I was never able to get a strong enough coffee flavour without over-soaking these dry, horribly dull biscuits. I opted to whip cream to soft peaks, flavour heavily with Trablit coffee extract (the best on the market, from France, $$, divine) and just a tiny amount of sugar, and freeze in half spheres. When fully thawed, the coffee centre is almost liquid, contrasts with the layer of crisp, dark chocolate you meet before the soft ladyfinger.

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Originally made with Marsala, I’ve tried making it with the wine but I don’t care for it. Amaretto, a liqueur I love, overpowers the cheese.  So I use Goslings Dark Rum to soak my housemade ladyfinger. The rum is potent but spiced and soft in flavour so as to give you a quick hit of alcohol, but not enough to detract from the coffee or the star, the mascarpone. I serve it straight from the fridge out of necessity due to the low gelatin content in the mousse, despite preferring desserts be served at room temp (better texture and fuller flavour), but balance the chill with a slightly warmed moat of rum-spiked caramel, and the only garnish is a heavy dusting of dutch cocoa.

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It is so simple, so plain looking, but I didn’t want to deconstruct it to make it showy. It is what it is, and of all the Tiramisu’s I’ve served, people hands-down say it is the best they’ve had. All I can say is I’m happy they like it, I didn’t create it on a whim, as I’ve been perfecting it in my mind for 4 years. But I hope one day to try a proper Tiramisu, perhaps one made in Baltimore by the man who claims to have invented it.

If you’re interested in reading the history of the Tiramisu, this Washington Post article is enlightening.

Please, please, please let me get what I want…

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I have no reason to deny that I am who I am and where I am now because of food sensitivities. Or rather a disorder whose symptoms are lessened if I abstain from:

coffee      sugar     wheat     dairy     anger

My life has been full of highs and lows living with psoriasis, an auto-immune disorder that causes the skin cells to replicate and shed every 4 days as opposed to the normal 30. As it is mainly cosmetic, save for the 30% or so who develop psoratic arthritis, which is horribly debillitating, it’s priority in the medical community is rather low. Mostly it causes terrible depression and isolation in its sufferers, something with which I am very familiar.

After years of research on food and illness, I decided to do an experiment. I walked into my dermatologists office and told him I would no longer seek his services to control my symptoms, that I would do so through diet. He actually laughed in my face.

Six months later, and with a Homeopath to treat me, and try to con me into thinking I was sensitive to 20 other natural, healthy things, my skin was clear and I felt great.

After 22 years of trying to hide my skin from the world, applying makeup where makeup normally doesn’t belong, wearing pantyhose under my shorts so I could feel like a normal kid in the summer, no more lying still in my bed in agony because my skin felt as though it was on fire and not moving was my only relief, no more doctors to hold me down while 10 needles are injected into my legs and arms.

I never went back to my doctor, but I did go back on my lifestyle change. I taught myself to bake at 24 after eating the gluten-free products available back in 2006 — everything on the shelves was revolting, local bakeries served goods too closely related to styrofoam. A handful of people back then had written excellent volumes on the subject, but the market had yet to be filled with the options available today. Having an allergy back then was not yet chic, it was unpalatable.

The books that I especially appreciated, in particular Ariana Bundy’s Sweet Alternative, whose cabernet sauvignon recipe I use to this day unadulterated, had a common thread; these pastry women had gone to Le Cordon Blue. So I said to myself, “I’ll go, learn the classics, then continue on my path to become an even better allergen-friendly baker.”

HAHAHAHAHA.

Yeah right. Instead I was taught the old-world mentality on food, something we on this side of the pond forgot quickly when our landmass and growing population lead to factories and well-travelled foods. Gorging on food is bad, but eating only for sustenence is to deny the body of pleasure.

Eat well, in balance, and only until satisfied.

Over the years I tried to go back to my wheat-free life, as my body didn’t like being back on the sugar/gluten/butter bandwagon, but moderation meant that instead of looking like a lizard queen and being asked if I was a burn victim, it was really just more of a nuisance, something that bothered me but few others noticed.  Did this have to do with growing up on margarine and switching to butter? From factory brown bread to homemade white?

Still feeling as though I was a hypocrite, I tried to stop. A fellow chef scoffed, arguing the inauthenticity of a chef who refuses to eat that which she makes. Fair enough, I’d give up wearing skirts and shorts to guarantee the quality of my food — I never send out food I haven’t tasted.

England was a breath of fresh air. They don’t bother to consider nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free options because no one is interested. While there I probably came across a nut allergy three times and one gluten free, one dairy allergy. No one was on special diets claiming they were eating only as cavemen (but my question is, why go to restaurants? Restaurants weren’t yet invented in a the paleolithic time), people went so far as to ask for their steak cooked a certain way, as you do, and request pouring cream with their puddings (desserts).

Calgary, a sobering slap in the face, reminding me I’m back in the new world, where everyone is special and everyone needs to have what everyone else has, but catered to them. I don’t want to sound like a whiney chef, bemoaning the destruction of my ‘art’ when people ask that I peel the sponge off the bottom of mousse to make it glutard friendly. Keep in mind I did live like that for years. Except when I went to restaurants, I would have never considered asking that a special meal be made for me. I never viewed my dietary needs as someone else’s problem, opting to have ingredients held back if possible (no cheese on the salad, please) or take it off myself. In fact, I tried to frequent places that catered to my diet of No-Fun-Food, and maybe splurged for special occasions. Or I stayed home and made something I knew would be safe and delicious.

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Now I struggle to write menus that take everyone into consideration. Trained specifically in French pastry style, a country that believes (rightfully so) that nuts should go into most things for flavour and a light texture, in frustration I must replace delicate, beautiful almond-based sponges for the less-special ladyfinger in things like Opera or mousse cakes to avoid having too many nuts on the menu.

And trying to come up with something authentic, that comes from the heart, a traditional dessert made modern that is gluten-free is frustrating to say the least. French cakes can easily have the wheat swapped for gluten-free flours, which is great, but these flours are hard to find on their own in moderate quantities, and the blends are needlessly expensive as the fad of being ‘sensitive to gluten’ is the perfect money gouge.

I can’t even go near dairy free at this stage. We are too small to offer soy-based desserts for the three people a week who come in and can’t have cream.

We have however catered to vegan’s and will totally accommodate people with allergies. This is of course when things become hilarious.

CHEFS ARE TRAINED TO TREAT “ALLERGIES” AS ALLERGIES.

So when you go into a restaurant and you say you are allergic to something, we will HOLD UP THE ENTIRE RESTAURANT to wash down all the surfaces, pull out fresh mise from the fridge, and take all necessary precautions to keep transfers to a minimum for your safety. This means everyone else in the restaurant will have to wait so we can cater to YOU. When we find out you just don’t like something or have a light sensitivity like you get gassy when you eat real food as opposed to heavily processed food, it irritates us. It is an abuse of the word ‘Allergy’. We automatically send salad to “Celiac” sufferers who abuse this word — the number of people who insist on having french fries from a fryer filled with gluten from dredged foods is outstanding. True celiacs could never opt for french fries, but if you call allergy we will treat you with the attention you desire.

We hosted an all vegan dinner for twenty because the birthday girl was vegan. You can imagine how unimpressed half her “friends” were with the animal-free food, despite how delicious is was. My coconut, lemongrass, thai chili, and cilantro rice pudding went mostly untouched.

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Recently we had a client in with an xmas party who was “vegan — strict, raw only”.

I LOVE A CHALLANGE. I sent our token vegan server to the local hippie-dippy shop for the ingredients of a raw, vegan cheesecake, a recipe I’d acquired from a cook at a fine dining vegan resto in Ottawa. I made some significant substitutions to the recipe to make it seasonal and perfectly safe for someone on such a strict diet.

But when she arrived we realized that…she just limits her diet, possibly due to a nervous disorder. I am no doctor, but I do suffer from stomach and digestive difficulties, especially when I am anxious. An elderly lady who claims allergies to “citrus and anything sweet” in addition to meat, dairy, eggs, acid, alcohol, flavour.

We sent her the four courses as we’d designed them. She ate the soup happily, but turned her nose up at tofu and her salad.

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Her server returned with the dessert plate to say “well, she did try it…”

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Four hours labor, almost $40 to buy the ingredients… And people wonder why chefs have a short fuse.

What can I say? This is a source of daily frustration. We live in a society that deems the customer always right, but is it right to demand something not on the menu? Why do I think it’s okay with cocktails or coffee shops (One flat white, please), but not in restaurants? We are trained with black-box exercises and allergy-friendly drills in school to concoct food on-the-fly, and yet we continue to take it personally that people can’t trust our original dishes, dishes we agonize over perfecting. Maybe we don’t like being lied to? Of course we get upset when we make you a special meal without pepper because you call ‘allergy!’ and then the server catches you eating off your husbands pepper-finished plate.

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But put aside personal feelings of the chef, in the end it is our job to make food people want to eat, but how on earth did we go from baking our own bread at home, making our own everything with a handful of ingredients, savouring foods only in season and buying extra to extend their shelf-life with time-tested preservation techniques, to relying on foods that were packaged months earlier, injected with gasses and preservatives to extend their lives, to happily eating things whose names we cannot pronounce, to eat bread that has 11 ingredients, one of which is added sugar? And how did we lose that ability to truly let go of everything, all our worries, to just enjoy well-made food?

This recipe truly does go against everything I believe in, and yet it doesn’t; I cannot get into the horrors of industrial agriculture, so I do applaud the true vegans who refrain from animal by-products for ethical and environmental reasons. They too deserve to enjoy a dessert every now and then. I’ve named this for Ondrej (english: Andrew), the token vegan server who happily and sometimes unhappily brings me a flat white or two every day.

Ondrej’s Raw Citrus Cheesecake

120g raw almonds, soaked 8 hours

30g shredded coconut

35g Agave Nectar

Zest of one lime

1 tbsp sesame seeds

Good pinch salt

Combine in a food processor and pulse until the almonds are a relatively fine texture, but keep it a bit chunky as the base will provide a good deal of textural contrast to the smooth filling.

Press this mixture into your chosen vessel, you can make individual ones in mason jars, as it’s quite chic to do so now, or in ring moulds if you have some, or a cheesecake pan.  Freeze.

200g Cashews, soaked 2 hours

100g Lemon Juice

50g Lime juice

50g Water

160g Coconut Oil

150g Agave Nectar

pinch kosher salt

Combine everything in a blender and puree until smooth. Pass through a strainer, pour into mould. Freeze.

Use a hand torch or hot water bath to unmould the cake.

To finish, cut supremes of grapefruit and orange and place them on the cakes, then sprinkle with black sesame seed. I steeped agave nectar with saffron and a few drops of Yuzu juice (you can use lemon as yuzu is harder to find) and drizzled it in before serving. Pansies or any edible flower would work as a garnish.

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10,000 hours felt like 10,000 hands

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They say that one day we all become our parents.

Of course we absorb the awesome and the flaws, become special snowflakes out of a cocktail of exposures beyond our creators but the people who raised us tend to have a substantial impact on who we grow to be.

My face and mannerisms, speech and general nature my mother gave me. She also made bad ass cakes, so it’s likely I owe my career choice to her.

My father gave me his work ethic. While it is easy to throw around the word ‘artist’, it is the best way to describe my father. He has launched practically his entire existence into cultivating, creating, and teaching the craft.

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Before he retired, my father had little time to devote to his passion, but every morning and every night he practiced by drawing for 15 minutes in dated sketch books. He probably did this for 25, 35 years. I’m not sure. My mother, with the desire to see the world, lured him out of his studio with the promise of inspiration from walking the Louvre, viewing the coastline of Newfoundland, and crossing the Manhattan bridge (the promise of croissants also helped). Not everything is about art with him, but I’d hazard a guess that 85% of what enters his line of vision is translated into an idea, either nurtured or filed away for later.

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When I was in my early twenties I gave up sculpting and painting because I didn’t believe I could create anything close to what my he has done. Eventually, after realizing that he was 42 years older than I and therefore was always going to be ahead of my game, I rerouted that creative energy into food, leaving the visual arts to my dad, laid aside my guitar for my brother to be the musician. No worries, neither of them can bake a cake.

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Plating Textures of Mushrooms at Gold Medal Plates

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Bronze Medalist, baby. 

I’m on the brink of working 10,000 professional hours since my graduation from culinary school in 2010. This doesn’t take into account the non-paid hours spent in my home kitchen recipe or technique testing since 2006, the hours of reading or contemplation. It was around the time I realized the literal figure of my dedication to my craft that I noticed a lack of tension, or rather that I’d subconsciously let go of a lot of fear and frustration I’d been carrying around with me regarding my work. Maybe it was exhaustion from squeezing out over 300 work hours a month for almost a year. But I think it’s because I’m finally good at what I do.

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Design from my Susuki Foundation Gala dish ‘Bees’

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Final dish: Honey, Apples, Cranberries, Almonds, Kouign Amman.

Sometimes I feel a bit silly, at work I probably look like I don’t accomplish much, that save for the weekly Friday and Saturday night shit-shows that occur when I’m slammed and everyone else is like “can I sweep here?”, I’m sure to the newbies my job looks like a cakewalk — because frankly it is. But when someone is good at what they do, it will appear effortless. After 10,000 hours I think I deserve to appear effortless.

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Kouign Amman And a Lesson in Waxing Butter

Jealous of those Europeans who have access to higher butterfat awesome?

I was too, but Chef taught me on my first day that, given you’ve got some extra elbow grease on hand, you can make your own.

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With a cold block of butter, take a rolling pin and pound the shit out of the butter to release the water. The butter will begin to sweat all that extra water the Canadian dairy producers sneak in there to stretch the product. Once it starts to soften and sweat I literally squeeze the water out, stopping before the butters structure is effected by the heat of my hands. Waxing, as it is called, is the way to get a better tasting croissant, puff pastry, or in this case, Kouign Amman.

I was given the opportunity to create the final course at the local food & urban agriculture gala in honour of the Susuki Foundation and their work. We had three amazing local chefs in to contribute a course, and it was hosted by the critic for the Herald and CBC. Never had I done something like that, nor had I even spoken into a microphone to address the people who were eating my food, but it seemed to have gone well. I have mainly the bees that live on our roof to thank for the deliciousness of the dish, as well as David Lebovitz’s Kouign Amman. Thanks, David!*

 

*I really can’t be bothered to re-type it and the instructions. Let’s face it, Doctor Who is on. Sorry, it’s not you.

 

 

 

You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

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Presently I am seated in my living room finishing a pot of cold coffee and trying not to think about sorting and packing.*

When I moved to London, I was planning on coming back within 3 months, maximum 6 or 7. A friend who lived in a tiny sad apartment gladly replaced me in the co-op, allowing me to retain my residence in the beautiful hundred year old building I loved so much. Upon my return, I went to Calgary because my friend wanted to keep my place until September. Apparently this contravened co-op rules, and they promptly tried to evict me.

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The last thing I wanted was to lose my home, especially since I don’t have a substitute. I was given two options: move back in very short notice, which would mean leaving my employer in the shit during film festival bonanza, leaving me with no job and a resume with 5 restos in a one year period (circumstances aside, that looks like a pattern even though it isn’t) or move out in short notice and keep a job that I really love despite the frustration and exhaustion and homelessness.

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I couldn’t help but want to move back here. The first-world-problem in me wanted my books and dvds, furniture and paintings. The sounds of jack-hammers in the streets, and the kid who lives upstairs who still plays the recorder (maybe it’s always been a flute). I wanted to sleep in my bed and sit on my balcony. I wanted to drink coffee with my parents and pints with my friends.

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But I’m not getting any younger. My years in restos is winding down just as I’m beginning, I started my pastry career very late after all. Worrying over job availability, not knowing where the food scene had gone in my hometown, options of working in cake shops or the local fair-trade coffee chain swirled in my head, but am I ready to calm down and make cakes?

I’m not.

Most decisions come fairly easily to me, but the pro-con lists, the coin flips, the tears, and my partners support could not make up my mind.

My chef did. His passion and unrelenting support for my own crazy love of my field made me realize that I should hold on to this good thing, for the restaurant and myself. Giving up now would make all the hours, all the sweat, all the tears, all the effort to build something amazing that people are finally starting to recognize and love moot.

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When I used to paint, draw, and sculpt I never wanted to get rid of anything I’d created as it was some kind of proof that I existed, that I’d felt something and acted. Baking, I discovered, allowed me to create something from any feeling, sadness or happiness and of course hunger, without concern that it would disappear in order to be enjoyed. The discovery was terribly freeing, much like how traveling around, living with nothing more than necessities, love, and my own thoughts, has freed me from objects. I have found myself keeping the things passed down to me, keepsakes from friends, books that have inspired me, and not much else.

So I interpreted my fear of moving back to my hometown as proof that I wasn’t ready to come home, that I have more to learn elsewhere.

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I’m sitting on my balcony and it is midnight. It’s raining. And in the distance I hear the whistling…

You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.

 

 

*Written 3 weeks ago. I haven’t had a day off till now 😦

Like a mattress balancing on a bottle of wine. Petit Fours anyone?

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Today I went shopping. By accident. I was going in to work to try a few recipes while the resto was closed because it’s been too busy to get any work done on the fall menu during regular hours. I walked into the mall by mistake. Then into a shop I worked in about 8 years ago, before I started working in kitchens. Actually, that’s the job I quit to go work in a kitchen. I was terribly naive back then.

But I had a great wardrobe.

I walked in with the intension of looking. And then I saw myself in the mirror.

Oh kitchens, what have you done to me?

No workout time means I’m not as…muscular as I once was, this was not a surprise. But in just a threadless tee, jeans, and Onitsuka Tigers, I resembled…a teenage runaway.

I knew things had gotten bad when the Sous and I went to a Fashion Show on a canapé mission and wore these:

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Silly me. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for 15 months and it’s starting to show. I buried my shame in my work as I am so good at doing. I kinda forgot how I’m a mess.

So today instead of frantically hightailing it out of the shop embarrassed of being alive, a determination grew inside me to become a fuckingadultgoddammit. So I bought a sweater that came with instructions.

My pastry skills are not a mess.  Requiring a new petit four every night to end the meal began as a challenge for me but is not often the highlight of my day.

A petit four is a tiny, baked item (the name directly translates to “little oven” though many mistake chocolate bonbons or truffles to be a petit four but I will keep my trap shut about the terminological misuse), often used to finish a meal. Traditional french petit fours are usually madeleines, macarons, tiny buttercream or jam layered cakes dipped in glaze, or a canelé. A dry petit four (“sec”) are basically dainty, wafer-thin cookies with chocolate, dried fruit or nuts, or shortbreads.

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At first, I’d shit my pants every afternoon when I’d remember I needed to make petit fours for dinner. After I got my shit together (job adjustment is never pretty), I started making elaborate plans for the final touch of the meal; after all, most people don’t order dessert, but everyone gets a petit four, so this was my chance to make my mark on their night.  The kitchen, however, is not ideal for…elaborate. Like my bonbon station. On the chest freezer. In the hall. Sigh.

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Eventually I hit a rhythm, mostly using up product I had too much of, or was easy and at hand, or that we had but didn’t have on the menu so no added costs would be incurred.

I ran out of cocoa powder when I had truffles planned, so I rolled them in cookie crumbs. Personally, I prefer this to cocoa as it adds a textural element, and they totally look more like truffles. I now roll a select few in cocoa for gluten-free diners but finish the rest in cookie.

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Sometimes I have fun with childhood themes, as cooks are bound to do given our maturity level, so I’ve made Kids Breakfast macarons and Movie Theatre Popcorn macarons. I’d have never known you can successfully steep melted butter with popcorn then whisk it back to a happy homogenous state and toss it into a buttercream without it breaking had I not insisted it was possible.

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So here’s the most popular macaron of the season, the Strawberry, Balsamic, and Black Pepper. There isn’t anything super crazy about these guys.

I take dried slices of strawbs, whiz them up into a powder in the spice mill, about 2 tbsp worth for this recipe, and blitz that in with the almonds, icing sugar, and salt.

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Proceed with the regular making of the macaron – I like this recipe, adapted from Wild Sweets, because it has more sugar whipped in with the whites, there is less chance they will over-whip.

Plain Macarons

90g Egg whites

60g Sugar

100g Almonds

140g Icing Sugar

good pinch salt, as always

Sift blitzed almonds and icing sugar through fine mesh. Whip whites till frothy, then add sugar in stages. Whip until glossy and full. Fold in dry in three stages, then proceed to deflate the mixture by pressing and folding. When it is ready it will have a shine, but still have body, a thickness. When you pull up the batter and let it fall, it breaks like a curtain, it is almost as smooth as pâte à choux, but mounds remain. As you pipe it the mixture will collapse further so don’t overdo it before it gets into the bag.

After piping, I crack a good deal of black pepper all over them, then give them a fine spray of red colour — I’m not the biggest fan of food colour, I will use it sparingly only for a boost, and only if there is no way to do so naturally. If you add colour to your shells, add liquid colour to the whites before whipping, gel when the whites are almost done.

For the buttercream, I use an italian style then whip a strawberry glaze into it. This is how this treat came about, I make fried-to-order doughnuts at lunch and with an abundance of strawberries on hand, began glazing them in the seasonal fruit, but then what to do with leftover glaze at the end of the week? Strawberry Macarons.

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Strawberry Glaze

300g Puréed strawberries

180g Sugar

Place both in a sauce pot on medium heat and boil until it reaches 100C; it will be thick but still runny. I find keeping the temp at 100 means you maintain a good deal of ripe strawberry flavour without it becoming jammy, or ‘cooked’. This recipe works well for berries and stone fruits.

As I’m a fan of flavour not sugar, I wanted these to have the most strawberry flavour possible, so I stuffed them with strawberries. Making a little indent in their top side accommodates the extra baggage. You can seal the freshness for 48h with the buttercream on either side. And no one knows till they eat them.IMG_4217IMG_4216

Finish with a drizzle of reduced balsamic and a flake of dried strawberry.

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Problem is, now I want to stuff all the macarons all the time.

Nature’s candy in my hand, can, or pie – Peach Melba.

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Alice Waters is famous for having served a single peach as a dessert.

She wanted to make a point; that if the product is perfect as is, why manipulate it?

If only I had the ability to go out daily, test peaches, and select the perfect ones for my version of a Peach Melba. I have neither the time nor the orchard, so I had to figure out a way to present a delicious peach dish while accepting all the problems of the regular old peach, regardless of whether they were grown in B.C. and picked up at the market or if I had to make an emergency run to the store to get through service.

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Fresh fruit is not something I am particularly used to dealing with. When I was a pie-maker, it was all frozen. When the season allowed, I sorted, trimmed, sliced, and froze for later use. Aside from a garnish or two of strawberry or raspberry, often fruit came puréed from France, as previous menus haven’t often required full-on fruit love.

Now that I am in the position to write my menu completely, I decided to embrace my love of flavour over sweetness, to highlight seasonal produce over chocolate. I chose the Melba because it is one of the most recognized desserts in the world. It was designed by Escoffier while he worked in London’s Savoy Hotel for singer Nellie Melba (whose name was also given to the toast and the sauce). Originally served in a swan made of ice, the simple dish consists of four ingredients: Peaches, raspberry coulis, almonds, and vanilla ice cream.

Flavour has always been essential to me. As one who is not inclined to eat dessert but does so as a show of support for the pastry world, I often am disappointed by how fatty and sweet the final course can be. When I was vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, fun-free, I had to work hard to make food, sweets in particular, that had flavour rather than blandness, as the typical purchased items for those with limited diets tended to be. For this reason I love to use spiced, natural extracts, zest, and oils in order to boost the awesome in a dish.

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On a trip to the amazing Silk Road Spice Merchants in Inglewood (Old Calgary), I marvelled at their vast collection of bitters. Bitters was something I’d always wanted to incorporated into my pastry tupperware of all things tasty-enhancing, but I didn’t really know what to do with them.

And there I found this:

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Because nature, while based on near-perfect design, does not always produce perfection…

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… my peach problem was solved instantly. A simple light syrup with a couple of star anise, toss of clove, peel of lemon, and and two table spoons of Peach Bitters vacuum packed (essentially infused without cooking) with sliced peaches resulted in a product that looks similar to a canned peach but retains a bite and the freshness of uncooked peaches, tasting like the best peach you’ve ever had. Just needed a helping hand is all. This way the peaches could stay preserved in perfect condition for a couple of days and all taste identical, no chances for one person to have an amazing Melba and another to have one that is subpar.

I paired the perfect peach slices with a raspberry fluid gel, bitter almond financier, butter powder, almond praliné, and micro greens. Finished with vanilla gelato and a sprinkling of ground Grains of Paradise for warmth, it may not be served in a swan carved of ice, it’s still pretty awesome.

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Bitter Almond Financier (makes 15 small cakes)

60g Ground Almonds

60g Flour

6g baking powder

120g Sugar

1 tbsp Saigon Cinnamon

Good Pinch Salt

150g Egg Whites, whisked to break up proteins

1 tsp Natural Almond Extract

65g Browned butter, bits included

Whisk all dry ingredients together, then whisk in whites and almond extract without over mixing. Remove a third of the batter to mix in thoroughly with the browned butter, then incorporate with the remaining batter. It will be quite runny. Pour into small, greased silicone moulds or muffin tins and bake for 15-18 min at 350F.

Baking bread is like having babies, yes? A Love Letter to Bread.

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“I see bread as a transformational food…first transformation: alive to dead, second transformation: dead brought to life, third transformation: alive to dead but dough to bread…”*

When you work in kitchens, it feels like your life is constantly on-hold. Because it is, sort of. I have friends who are spawning and have houses and mortgages and cars and I have a suitcase on the floor with my clothes popping out everywhere and an expensive handmade japanese knife and a Car2Go account. I don’t even know what my phone number is and yesterday two of three meals was doughnuts. The third was two beers and a glass of wine. But I think I can relate to my friends in a way…

Bread and I have always had a strange relationship.

When I was young, white bread was a no-no. I had it occasionally, either at the babysitters on sandwich day, or at my grandmother’s, where I was allowed to create the awesome, elusive snack of white bread with butter. Butter was also a no-no (except at Christmas).

In my twentieth year I kicked my ass into shape. I started running and doing pilates, but I also spent most of my free time reading about nutrition and allergies. Soon I kept a tight ingestion regiment; I cut out all refined sugars and wheat, consumed only healthy fats and a good deal of veg. It did not take long for me to feel pretty good most of the time.

But I missed bread.

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“That’s what bread is, yeast burps and sweats”

I missed sandwiches a lot. I’m a sucker for simple things. An easy, uncomplicated, undrippy sandwich is right up my alley. So is a simple slice of bread with butter and salt.

At LCB, the program didn’t focus on bread. We had a single bread class, 5 hours to make 9 loafs, 5 varieties. The large, handlebar-moustachioed Master Breadmaker (and the only Canadian Chef who was employed by the school) boomed at us the instructions, and I distinctly recall us all, bright-eyed pastry-chef wanna-bees running around the practical kitchen in shear terror because we’d never worked in groups and because we were being screamed at by a giant man with waxed facial hair.

I don’t know how the bread happened, but it did. And that night, after being so excited to finally learn how to make bread, I gathered the 9 loafs in my apron and shuffled home in the rain. At home I looked at the recipes and tried to recall the stages but heard only yelling. The recipes were tucked away, the bread given away to neighbours.

While in Nowhere, Devon, the Canadian and I worked with a chef who was obsessed with bread and insisted on making fresh ciabatta and focaccia daily, though they were made with the same dough as for the pizzas so it wasn’t an optimal learning experience. It was there we started a sourdough starter, and made two loafs with it. One was a whole wheat traditional style loaf, the other followed the Tartine recipe, using high hydration, long fermentation, and folding in place of kneading. The difference between the two was outstanding.

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Since then, I’ve wanted to become as competent as possible in the realm of bread, for at least a patissier, considering the two were never a single job for a reason, so competent is a reasonable goal.

For the past 3 months, I have made baguettes every day except Sundays and a handful of Saturdays. Every batch I try to make the best bread possible. I have learned that bread can be a bitch. I talk to it constantly, but Bread isn’t much of a talker. More of a feeler. So I’ve had to learn to feel too, so we can communicate.

It is a lot like pastry, in that it requires a good deal of scientific knowledge and creativity, though there is far more artistic freedom in the dessert field than in bread making. I used to think, “It’s just baguettes, who fucks up baguettes?” Well, I’ve fucked up baguettes. I’ve learned what happens when you deny the dough its rightful salt, when you’ve given it water too warm, or slide it in the oven too soon, too late, too much mixing, too little, too much yeast. You can make all of these incidents work, but it won’t make for the perfect loaf.

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Tardy has always been my thing. Good at timekeeping in the first couple of weeks and then deteriorating into immense lateness daily is a bad habit that bread has broken. On three occasions I have shown up 18 minutes late, but that’s it. I show up for work on time, every day, even on my day off because of Bread.

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I don’t trust anyone else to make the poolish, to make the bread, to bake the bread, I barely trust them to cut the bread. I’ve watched them, they crush it, refusing to take long, smooth strokes, they opt to race through the process leaving jagged tears…. I have to close my eyes and walk away.

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The FOH don’t understand. They feel for me, they know I’m there 80 or more hours a week, that others can go out and party but I always say no because I have to wake up for Bread. They catch me several times a day inspecting the open loafs, smelling them, narrowly peering into their holes….beautiful artisanal holes that likely never existed in bread 100 years ago, even 50, with that glossy, soft crumb that stretches in a myriad of directions through out each…the holes they ask me to NOT create because they FEEL THE CUSTOMER ISN’T GETTING ENOUGH BREAD.

I recently ascended to a new level of bread baking. Chef decided I was ready to begin working with Desired Dough Temperature, probably because I could competently make baguettes regardless of any number of stupid problems that would occur and make tiny portions of my brain explode.

“Personality and character is being developed in this dough under the watchful gaze of the baker.”

Finally after almost a month of my bread, which started out well, went to great and then degraded into Wonder-esq bullshit (which the servers when NUTS for, btw), the DDT method has saved my remaining bits of sanity.

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So now that I’ve got my baguettes under control, it’s time to work on building something new; I created another starter. The UK starter died during the move to Plymouth when I was stuck in a hotel for several days as my employers were selfish rats who couldn’t be bothered to reference M and I. I probably couldn’t have taken it on the plane anyway.

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At this stage I’m only feeding the young one, and the on-going attempt to carry over the pàte fermenté from the previous dough without anyone THROWING IT OUT AND FORCING ME TO START OVER EVEN THOUGH I ASKED NICELY, is not particularly complex but I’m sure this will build into a stressful situation soon enough. But that’s alright. I mean, I’m trying to be cool about it, but maybe I take Bread a bit too seriously? Compared to a Soccer Mom, I think I’m okay.

“I leave you with a baker’s blessing: may your crust be crisp, and your bread always rise.”*

* Quotes selected from the wonder Peter Reinhart’s TEDtalk.

The heart will always go one step too far. Also a recipe for Nougat Glacé.

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Every time I get a new job I tell myself something like

You work your hours, do what you love, don’t feel guilty, don’t let them rely on you.

I say this because I’ve spent years putting myself in employment positions where I am needed, mostly because I like to feel needed, and then feeling guilty about not working all the time, then I get grumpy, exhausted, and I make stupid mistakes. It’s not pretty.

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And yet, I seem to be unable to keep an arms length from my real life and my work life.

This could very well be because my work, wherever I am, is my life, as the creative process, unless in a lull, churns during all waking hours. If I could turn it off I would.

So, as per usual, though I’ve made a good deal of progress and am producing a menu I am proud of

I’m fucking tired and I need to do yoga.

Or run.

Or lift weights while grunting loudly.

I suppose we all need something to work towards.

And I suppose the result is worth it. Some day I’ll use that gym membership.

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Chocolate Nougat Glacé

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We don’t have an ice cream machine, nor a walk-in freezer. The line doesn’t have heat lamps (positive: your food doesn’t have an opportunity to sit), rather we must turn the hood vent system off whenever hot food is being plated. This, along with summer, can leave the kitchen around 30-35C nearing the end of service when desserts begin to go out.

As a result I purposely, in summer of all times, reduced the dishes with gelato (no ice cream here) because the plating was too difficult and it’s not nice to send out desserts with pooling quenelles of rapidly liquifying sorbet. If I can’t send something out in its ideal state, I don’t want to send it at all.

So to anticipate the desire patrons have during the warm months, I make this Chocolate Nougat Glacé.

Whoa, qu’est que sais Nougat?

Nougat has three meanings. It can be caramel enrobed almonds (or other nuts, but mainly almonds) that is crushed and used to provide a deep, smokey caramel flavour as well as a desired crunch into things like ice cream, marshmallow, cakes.

Nougat is also a confection, famously made but not invented in the south of France, a marshmallow-type base, sweetened with honey, and loaded with nuts and dried fruits.

The third nougat is like a combination. Using a base of honey meringue, whipped cream, nuts (often caramelized), fruits, booze, and set with gelatine and frozen. The French version of Semifreddo.

To begin…

60g Egg whites

150g Honey

6g Gelatin

160g Dark Chocolate, finely chopped

480g Whipped cream, very soft peaks

100g Pistachios, chopped

75g Cranberries, dried, cooked to soften in Merlot

30g Cocoa Nibs

100g Dark Chocolate shards (melt, spread thinly on parchment, frozen, and broken up — keep frozen)

 

Prepare a baking pan 9″x8″ with a spray of non-stick spay and parchment, preferably up the sides.

Bloom gelatin.

Melt the dark chocolate to 40-45C. It must be hot so it doesn’t set when whisked into the cream. With a whisk handy, pour all the hot chocolate into the centre of the whipped cream, then use your whisk to incorporate the chocolate AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. The reason for doing this by hand is that generally stand mixers won’t mix it fast enough.

Start whisking in the centre only, don’t worry about the cream on the outside that’s still white, you can fold that in later. You’re successful if your mix is a homogeonous, rich chocolate colour. This recipe will still work if you end up with a light brown mass with tiny specks of dark chocolate, but the mouthfeel won’t be as silky and rich.

Heat the honey on medium high heat. You can start whisking the whites in a stand mixer on med around the same time, as honey boils very quickly. It will bubble up so keep an eye on it. I don’t recommend the icey-finger sugar test for this, use a thermometer instead. When it registers at 120C, pull the honey off the heat and pour it slowly down side of the bowl. Add the bloomed gelatin, give it 30 seconds to dissolve completely, then turn it up to high while it cools. When the bottom of the bowl is cooled to the touch, turn off the mixer.

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Remove a portion of the meringue, a third or so, and work it into the chocolate chantilly to help loosen the mix. Fold in the remaining meringue, then add all your bits and fold until evenly incorporated. Pour into your lined pan, and spread evenly.

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Now, I have to cover with a layer of plastic wrap on the surface to protect the cream from attracting flavours, as well as tightly wrap the pan to provide a protective trampoline for the shrimps, tuna, or 1kg bags of peas that could potentially attack the nougat while in the freezer.

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I generally get 12 portions per sheet, this may be lighter due to the egg whites, but it is still mostly cream.

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I finish this with cherry-spiked chocolate sauce, cookie crumbs, cranberries, pistachios, and homemade bubbly ”Aero” pieces.