Thoughts for a Friday- A Few Goodbyes

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I’ve had a pretty good first semester at baking college. Between the challenge of going back to school at my ripe old age, learning a hoard of challenging new skills, and diving back into the social scene, I’ve had a lot of fun. Finishing my final classes and exams this week was fabulous but also meant a lot of goodbyes with people who won’t be in my classes next semester. Saddest of all was leaving our chef who has told us all since the first day that we are the worst class he’s ever had and won our hearts and devotion with his honesty, humour and abuse.

Here’s the class picture, although there are a few missing who should be here. That’s me on the far right. I was normal for all the other shots.

I don’t go back for three weeks but in the meantime, I’m going to try and stay in touch with as many people as I can. I hope to see all of you next year at least once in a while. And in the meantime, enjoy your break everybody. You were all great.

A shovel full of sugar

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Three weeks ago we consumed our last three loaves of my bread from school. If you had asked me a couple months ago I would have swore I had stocked enough to last until Christmas, but a couple of social functions and a teenage craving later and here we are, back to using the bread machine or buying the pricey versions of bread that they sell at stores. It is amazing how quickly one can become spoiled.

The problem is we’ve finished with our bread session at school. If I could only make peace with my oven, I might be able to make some good loaves at home, but alas, though my oven has been a part of the family for 12 years, it pales beside the giant rotating and stone ovens that I have become smitten with at school.

Now I am making cookies, pastries and pies. I am not complaining, but it is a very different experience to be bringing home sweets and indulgences instead of a basic staple of healthy diets. For one thing, being the creator of my dainty items of delight, I am acutely aware of the ridiculously high percentages of butter and sugar that make up their final mass. They’re only tiny, but once you’ve told that to yourself five times in one afternoon, you start to lose your credibility.

At least I’ve stocked up for Christmas. My freezer is very full, with only 2 baking days left in this semester. Here is a sample of some of the items in it

Assorted pies

Fruit flans

Decorating these was so much fun. As they are items that would not freeze well, they are long gone. My fridge has 2 jugs of pastry cream in case I want to do more. First I need to get some tart pans though,  and find a good assortment of pretty fruit in the stores. Apricot jam is also needed for glazing. In class, it’s always about striking a balance between making something beautiful, and doing it in a reasonably quick time. Chef has no problem telling us “This is shit!” or the other extreme “Yes, it’s nice but you took so long I would have had to pay you $15 to make the damn thing!”.

I love my chef. He isn’t giving us any delusions about the real world outside of school.

 

Tart production day

The one advantage with sweets is that they’re better for bribes then bread. Dropping my younger daughter off at school often involves ducking inside with a tin of goodies and teachers perking right up when they see me in the halls. Not that she isn’t a great student on her own, it just never hurts to help.

Looking forward to next semester. In the meantime, I have lots to eat and share.

My family is strange

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Some husbands give their wives flowers. Mine gives me things like this..

Daikon and jeruselam artichoke

Now in context, he does it because he knows I’ll be entertained, so when he finds a mutant he always buys it and brings it home to leave out for me. For an example of this, see Stan, the potato, here

My suspicion concerning the frequency of these gifts is that my husband also wants to be entertained in return and is curious to see what use I’ll make of his offerings. Though I did not have much time while preparing Thanksgiving dinner, I couldn’t leave such fine specimens un-pimped. And there was a story to tell..

Daryl Daikon and Grub

As you can see, Stan is looking a little worse for wear but my family doesn’t want me to take him away. They find it appropriate, what with Halloween coming, to leave the poor guy to zombify on the window ledge.

I notice Daryl is also a little concerned.

I may have gotten a little carried away..

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I invited some good friends over for Thanksgiving and now have the joy of experimenting on them with my culinary husband and the endless possibilities of our ridiculously large collection of cookbooks and magazines. Foremost though, was getting a bird worthy of a large dinner party.

I was figuring something around 14-16 pounds when I entered the grocery store. But there it was: free run, grain fed, and obviously the grand emperor of the frozen bird display. I guess I’m the kinda girl where size does matter. Did I check the weight? Hell no! This was love at first sight, and I’m a romantic.

It was the only thing I bought, as I needed both arms to lug it out. People got out of my way as I walked down the store aisle, and an older man winked at me (no kidding) as if to say “atta girl”. I didn’t take it straight to the car because I wanted to show it off. Also, my husband was across the road at the farmer’s market and he had the car keys (there was a decided lack of planning here).

Getting it home, my daughter exclaimed, “Oh cool! We’re having emu for Thanksgiving”. Final examination clocked birdzilla in at 27 lbs. My husband was proud but pointed out a couple of problems that might arise.

Problem 1.

We're going to need a bigger roasting pan.

Luckily problem 2 and 3 (the fridge and the oven) were solved with a little creative shuffling and me informing all guests to bring their crock-pot cause our turkey ain’t sharing it’s sauna time with anyone.

 

Having too much fun in the kitchen

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I am an artist at heart. As I’ve been since I was old enough to say “Mine!” I’m also ridiculously attached to my creations. Now this has caused some small issue with my attempts to make a career out of being an artist. I can give things away but tend to struggle with the thought of betraying my carefully crafted babies by selling them off to unknown strangers who may take good care of them or could just as easily leave them somewhere that their two year old nephew takes a pair of scissors and a box of markers to them because he thinks he’s an artist too. Get in line, you little punk! It’s a dog eat vandal dog world!

My present dilemma is that the breads we’ve been making at school are really pretty. The artist in me cannot bear to donate them to the college store. So I’ve been buying them all to bring home and show off to my family. Which would be great if I had enough family around to consume the damn things. My sister lives in Brazil, my brother in Taiwan, my father’s away in Quebec and my mother’s vacationing on the East coast. Oh yes, and my husband can’t have wheat. Daughters love me though. But being their mother there’s only so much sugary fat (thanks Josh’s) that I can let them consume before I start to feel the guilt of being a crappy parent.

See what I mean-

From left- Brioche bread, Challah, Chop Suey bread

From left- Apple poppyseed coffee cake, Hazelnut twist

Luckily, this is it for breads at school. My freezer is full and all the neighbours are getting fat. Next week we start cookies, which will be much easier to carry home and much less difficult to store. Also, I’m hoping the temptation to bring everything home won’t be as strong. Maybe just a couple each batch. Unless they’re really good cookies, in which case, I’m a little doomed.

Squirrel

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I have been told that when off-continent tourists come to Toronto they are really fascinated by the city’s wildlife. Mainly the squirrels.

Now having to coexist with the damn things, I can only appreciate this in concept. After the release of the movie ‘UP’, “squirrel!” has come to mean “distraction of an irresistible nature”. Before the film, it simply meant “pain in the ass”.

As cute as they are, don’t be sucked in. Squirrels eat everything you hold dear if they can get their furry little paws on it. My husband started polishing up my old BB gun after a squirrel bit the heads off all our Asian lilies the day they were about to bloom (I’m sure it was revenge for us chasing him from the birdfeeder).

Now having finished complaining, I did needle-felt this. I guess I have a soft spot.

After all, how can you truly despise a creature that eats so much at this time of year, they look like little black and gray pumpkins rolling across the tops of the fences. Not only will food scraps twice their size somehow get carried off, but they also take rubbish to stuff in their nests.

In fact right now the only thing fatter then the squirrels are the feral cats. Yes, they are feral, even though they look like well fed tabbies. They sit on my lawn and lick the squirrel residue from between their pointy claws. I watch these sleek monstrosities as they prowl through gardens, barely having to exert themselves for their next meal. They weren’t here a couple of years ago but soft city living is what brought in the squirrels, and I guess the predators figured the system out too. Sorry squirrels, life’s a bitch.

Feed me!

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Today I passed off the baby to it’s new caregiver. Unlike daycare training where you have to look after an egg or bag of sugar, our baking class has a sourdough culture for homework. I had him for two weeks and now it’s my partner’s turn. I have to trust her to keep the baby alive.

We named it Seymour.

My baby eats twice a day

Making a sourdough culture is a little finicky. You’ll need a kitchen scale, or something that measures grams, and a thermometer. To make the culture starter, mix-

  • 80g of flour
  • 20g of rye flour
  • 60g of water (at 20 degrees C)

Put starter dough in a small container and feed it every 12 hours. To feed it measure-

  • 100g of the starter dough (throw the rest away and put the 100g back in the container)
  • 100g of flour
  • 60g of water (at 20 degrees C)

After 5 days, you can begin to use 100g of your starter as a leavener to make breads. As you will always have at least 200g of starter, you can keep the rest and keep feeding as long as you want.

Seymour on day 3.

I will post some recipes for the starter on my blog in a few days, after I have a chance to try them out.

Morning light

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Navigating Toronto transit in the wee hours of the weekday mornings has always been something I strangely enjoy. This city has such an eclectic assortment of people that I rarely need any additional forms of distraction then to just watch the chaos around me.

The woman across from me on the train is engrossed in her book, as I was just a moment ago before the author shut me in a room with a rather vivid sex scene and I decided I’d rather read it later, when I didn’t have the middle aged man beside me trying to, not-subtly-enough, read over my shoulder. My guess is that she’s at an indulgent part too, and for her there seems a completely contained bubble of isolation. Beside her a tiny Asian woman fiddles in her purse and on her left, a younger man with headphones turned quiet enough that I can’t hear them, tries to look like he isn’t falling asleep. Down the car, two women are talking about cancer and the sad quality of our commercial food and of the mistreatment of workers in China. I find myself nodding lightly as I agree with everything they say and marvel at how they can dredge such lively and intelligent conversation from their gray matter before six on a Friday morning.

As I exit the station, there is a homeless girl lying asleep on the sidewalk in the dim shadows of the shiny bank building. She has only a hoody and jeans and her bare feet are lying on the grate where warm air comes blasting out from the passing of underground trains. Even in sleep, her hand holds a mangled Tim Hortons cup in an upright position in case a hasty passerby miraculously finds the attention or compassion to slow their rush briefly enough to drop in a coin or two. Something about her pose breaks my heart just a little and I want to take a picture of her but know I really shouldn’t. Instead, I tuck the coffee I just bought myself into the hollow by her arm and hope that she doesn’t spill it when she wakes. Then I am quickly swept into the rush as a new crowd exits the station. Like sunrise in reverse, the light creeps down towards us as building windows grab the sun and toss it around.

It’s not until I round the corner that I find a hollow where I can stop for a moment to check the time. It’s there I get out my camera and take a picture of the light.

There is no symbolism in my choice of subject, other then I love the architecture of St. James Cathedral. It feels strangely placed, nestled in the middle of skyscrapers, restaurants and college campus buildings. It has a presence that doesn’t feel like it could be ignored as so many do, rushing by on their way to work.

By lunch, the park around it will be filled with students and business people enjoying the illusion of a little extra solitude and perhaps sub-consciously drawn to the grand old building; and the light that settles on it’s many ambitious surfaces like dust.

Living on Bread

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My kids love me right now.

I’ve been bringing home freshly baked bread from school for two weeks now and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end soon. I’ve made sweet rolls, focaccia, rustic bread, white bread, dinner rolls, ciabatta and baguettes, to name a few. Unlike the tranquil, stress-relieving experience of kneading dough and following through with the levening and baking of a happy perfect loaf for dinner at home, commercial baking practice is a whirlwind of exact measurements, timing, temperatures, coordination and dodging other students in our randomly arranged workspace, most of whom are freaking out, and many of whom are carrying knives.

I am still loving it. There is something very reminiscent of childhood when you get to play with dough in class. Yes, the teacher is completely the opposite of the lovely lady who taught you in your tender years, but after a few weeks of abuse, you start to feel  proud of the attention you’re given, even when Chef is only stopping at your table so he can tell you you’re an idiot and your rolls look like crap. Just smile and say “Thank you, Chef”. After a while, he starts to smile when he insults you. He can’t grade you too badly if you amuse him.

Here’s some of the results of my first week:

Baby Baguettes

My knotted rolls. Just for practice.

Monday's bounty

All I can think of as I scarf ridiculous quantities of doughy goodness is the scene in Scott Pilgrim vs the World where he looks at his girlfriend in horror and repeats her fact in the disbelieving voice of innocence crushed- “Bread makes you FAT?”

Yes folks, and when you have been up since 5 am and have mostly forgotten to eat for six hours because you’ve been throwing things in bowls and riding your wave of agitated energy from the large coffee you managed to scoop on your way over from one of the many open coffee shops on route, a loaf of bread just sort of disappears. Then another.

Needless to say, as much as I’m completely ready to crash by early afternoon, I’m aware that I’m going to need to make time and energy to work off some of my labours of love sometime in the near future. In the meantime, though, I will keep indulging my breaded bliss and what we can’t eat will go to the noble cause of bribing my friends and neighbours.

Because if we all get fat together, who’s going to notice?

Sleepless in Toronto

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The interesting thing about being back in school, and having to leave my house at 5 am, is that it has thrown my entire sleep pattern into a chaotic mess of thinking about school all night and having to fight sleeping through it all day. Like when I had young children, taking a quick nap means having a wall to lean against.

Dilemma one- I’ve given up trying to stick to only a couple coffees a week and now try to stick to only a couple a day. The coffee shops surround the campus like flies on poo, making the biggest difficulty for acquiring a caffeine fix deciding whether you’re willing to stand in line for 20 minutes at the Tim Hortons or would rather get the Starbucks treatment and have your Latte handed to you instantly for merely double the cost and the skill testing question of what the damn size is called. Unfortunately for me, I am actually mildly allergic to coffee so I get the added question of how much skin cream am I willing to use?

Dilemma two- As I am a bit of a dinosaur in the electronics department, I do not own a digital recording device or any object which would allow me to record the TV shows that I am missing by going to bed at 8:30ish, so occasionally I go to bed later then I should and curse the networks for making 10:00 part of prime-time. Can’t mothers enjoy watching Nathan Fillion solve crimes too? And as eager as I was for Warehouse 13 to come to Canada, there’s no way I can afford to stay up until eleven when I have math at eight the next morning. Math made my brain hurt eighteen years ago when I last took it in high school. It’s bad enough without having to ask my 15 year old daughter to help me out.

Dilemma three- If I actually get my ass to bed early, my husband gets all excited about the schedule and starts getting ready to go to sleep too. And yes, I do mean sleeping; getting older and having kids makes decent sleep become that holy grail of achievement, and shouldn’t I want to share that with my husband? Actually, the conversation went more like this.

Me- “No Dear, you’re missing the point. You’re supposed to be the one staying up and making sure the kids get to bed on time.”

Husband- “But I want to go to bed too.”

Me- “Except I have to sleep, and if you come to bed then you’ll want to cuddle, and you’ll toss and turn and then in half an hour you’ll get up to use the facilities and get a snack.”

Husband- “Well fine, I can tell when I’m not wanted.”

So I responded, “I’ll want you again on the weekend. Goodnight.”

I don’t think that was at all what he wanted to hear but I’m really too tired to care.