The Sweetest Crumb

Archive of ‘Outside the Kitchen’ category

Update and Goodbye for Now

I’ve felt guilty for abandoning this space for a long time now.

I had the best intentions of keeping up with posts and sharing my journey through pastry school in France. But, along the way, writing about the life I was living became time consuming and started to feel like a chore that was taking time away from having actual experiences. I felt as though I didn’t have the energy to devote to Sweetest Crumb, and if I couldn’t do the blog right then I shouldn’t do it at all. Without making a real decision, I abandoned it.

So in an effort to apologize and thank those of you who kept reading my articles, checking for updates or sending comments, I’d like to give you a hugely delayed update:

I did finish pastry school at Ferrandi. It was one of the most fulfilling and unforgettable experiences of my life. I cannot stress how waking up every morning and getting to do something you love for 8 hours makes you feel. I relished every moment of school, tried to take away as much as I could, asked nonstop questions and was entirely aware of how lucky I was every single day. People always say to “live in the moment” and this was the one time in my life when I knew I had succeeded in that.

After school, I completed two internships in Paris. The first was one of the most challenging and downright traumatic experiences of my life. Nevertheless, it taught me so much about myself and I learned to stand up for myself, saying “no” when something just isn’t right for me. The second was an amazing professional experience which I now look back at fondly.

At the end of my first year in Paris, we decided that our hearts had grown too attached to the city to leave just yet – plus I wanted more professional experience under my belt (apron). We applied for a second round of visas and extended our stay for another year. The majority of this year I worked as a commis in a well-known pastry shop in Paris. I felt so lucky to have the job but was flung out of my comfort zone and challenged constantly. I had to work in a language and culture which was still quite foreign to me, often feeling like the outsider. I had to come to terms with being a beginner in a field where almost everyone else was significantly younger, faster and better than me (French pastry chefs usually start their careers at age 14-16 so by their mid 20′s they often have a decade of experience). I worked for minimum wage but for the first time in my life was earning a paycheque doing something I loved. This time strengthened me as a person and as a professional and I wish I could live it all again.

As our second visas were coming to an end, we decided that it was the right time to return to Canada. I cannot explain how difficult it was to leave Paris. The city became my home. This was my first adult home, the first place where I truly felt like I was living a life I chose and answering to no one but myself. It was strangely thrilling to live in a bubble away from family and friends: people who had known me for years and developed expectations of who I was and what I would or should do. It was equally thrilling to not have to live up to anyone’s expectations, judgements or deal with seemingly harmless questions like: “why did you leave your financially awesome (but otherwise crappy) career in accounting? (are you crazy?)” “what are you even going to do with pastry after?” “when are you getting married?” “why haven’t you bought a house yet? Or a car? Or had a baby?” etc. etc… Instead, I got to know myself really well. I learned the value of being happy and learned what I need in my life to feel fulfilled. I can now say “no” to something which just doesn’t serve me with no hesitation. I don’t feel the need to follow the same path as everyone else, and I thank Paris for that.

Living in Paris, I also got swept up by the energy of the city. The beauty of the city is inspiring and unforgettable – art and culture are just thrown in your face at every turn. It makes you feel like life is meant to be enjoyed and anything is possible. While I’ve been back in Edmonton as of January, a piece of my heart is still, and forever will be, in Paris. Leaving was heartbreaking. I never knew I could fall in love with a city like this and saying goodbye tore me up like an intense breakup. Even now, months later, emotions feel raw – it is painful to look through photos, think about the sunset rooftop view from our apartment or sitting with other Parisians, feeling the Friday night energy along Canal St Martin. As sad as goodbyes are, I know that me and Paris are meant to be and I will be back – à bientôt, ma chérie.

Thank you again to everyone who has visited, commented or otherwise supported Sweetest Crumb. This space was a source of comfort and a creative outlet for me at a time when I was stuck in a drab accounting cubicle, dreaming of one day quitting to go to pastry school in France. Who knew it would happen? (I didn’t!). And while I learned that writing about pastry is not nearly as enticing to me as actually doing pastry, I am still completely in love with pastry… making it, talking about it, taking photos of it… So please, if you want to ask any questions, chat about techniques, want info about Ferrandi or want to collaborate in any way, I would be so happy to hear from you! You can email me or follow me on instagram. If you want to know what I’m up to next… keep an eye out for Prairie Pigeon in Edmonton (twitter, instagram.)

xoxo

My Long Absence and Big News

For a long time I dreamed about going to pastry school in France, but this far-fetched dream was always buried in the back of my mind by far more rational, responsible thoughts. Finishing my practical Bachelor of Commerce degree and going on to obtain my Chartered Accountant designation has occupied my mind for the last 5 years or so. These goals have since become accomplishments and while I am proud of these achievements, I was exhausted from a job that I found unfulfilling. I was left feeling unsatisfied both personally and professionally. I was over worked and so stressed that my career started taking a toll on both my health and relationships. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but at some point I decided that I should no longer be at a job where each day I struggled to force myself to get out of bed. While it became clear that this type of work was just not right for me at this point in my life, I left my firm with the utmost respect for my peers and mentors, and haven’t closed the door on returning to professional accounting later in life.

I simply decided that I needed a change for my own well-being, if nothing else. I was terrified to make a huge, potentially life-altering change. But one day, perhaps during a bout of insanity, I decided to apply to FERRANDI l’École Française de Gastronomie for their Intensive Professional Program in French Pastry. FERRANDI is one of the leading pâtisserie schools in France with a reputation that makes it more than a little intimidating. Also, did I mention it is situated right in the middle of Paris? The professional French pastry program involves pastry schooling for 5 months, followed by a 3-6 month internship in Paris. I applied not knowing whether or not I would get in, nor knowing if I was brave enough to actually go if I was in fact accepted.

A few months after applying, I received confirmation of my enrolment. After talking it over with those closest to me, I decided to take the plunge. Sean was able to join me for my year in Paris, working in a field where working remotely is often possible. Slowly we started checking off to do’s: applying for visas, booking our apartment and buying our flights. By Christmas I had left my job and by the end of January we were officially living in Paris. The craziness of relocating halfway across the world left me too busy to post, but I am hoping to have more regular blog posts from here on out (including more updates on the challenges of moving and how our first weeks in Paris have been.)

Before I get into talking about my first few magical weeks at FERRANDI, I just wanted to quickly recap some projects from my last few months in Canada. The annual cookie baking tradition with my bestie went off without a hitch once again. Here are some of the cookies our week-long baking spree yielded:

Also, for Christmas my nephew asked for a lollipop. Refusing to purchase some store-bought, preservative-filled candy, I decided to make my own. We’re all pretty focused on natural foods in my household, so I wanted to make my lollipops as natural as possible. I knew that this could be a challenge. I didn’t want to use corn syrup and I wanted natural flavouring. I used agave syrup and raw cane sugar as sweeteners and organic grape juice for flavouring. Sadly, my first shot didn’t go so well. While the lollipops looked and tasted great once they were removed from the moulds, overnight they became gummy and this is what happened:

I quickly learned that agave is mostly fructose, which absorbs moisture quickly (hygroscopic). This makes your lollipops gummy and saggy as opposed to hard and shiny. To achieve the perfect lollipops, a mixture of fructose and glucose should be used. For my second attempt, I scrapped the agave and cane sugar, and instead used a mixture of granulated sugar and glucose purchased from a local specialty baking supply shop. These lollipops turned out perfect and were a hit with the kids.

Having finally figured out the right sugars to use, I decided to play around with a few “adult” flavours. Inspired by Sprinkle Bakes, I made red wine lollipops and sriracha lollipops. I substituted the glucose I already on hand for the corn syrup. I thought both flavours were fantastic, but, be warned, the sriracha candy is definitely something you either love or hate ;)

Have a good week, guys! And stay tuned for a post on my first weeks at FERRANDI.

Trashy Movies

Happy almost Easter!

Do you guys get a long weekend? Sadly I worked today and am working Monday (and haven’t gotten these days off since I started working for a public accounting firm) so I am a little (completely) jealous of everyone who gets a long weekend. Regardless, I intend to make the most of my days off. I find that my weekends are, more often than not, busy, hectic and packed with activities. I am not the kind of person who can easily sit around and do nothing all day which usually results in me being a little exhausted, but also lets me make the most of my time and cram in as many fun activities as possible :)

So here is what I got up to last weekend…

As some of you guys know, besides baking, I am passionate about the environment. I completed the Master Composter/Recycler program with the City of Edmonton and was able to learn so much about all the great things that our city does with waste management and its cutting-edge waste management facility. I got a tour of the facility last April.

I also learned how to compost (without it going horribly wrong or becoming smelly) and am currently the proud owner of a vermicompost. Yup, that’s a compost managed by red wriggler worms. I know it sounds weird – I was sceptical at first too – but it is completely odour free and is the perfect soltuion when you want to compost but don’t live in a place where an outdoor compost is feasible.

I think that taking time to consider how you manage household waste is part of living responsibly; it should be given sufficient thought just like thinking about where you buy your produce and how much time you devote to exercise. For me, these things are all part of living life in a responsible, healthy and conscientious way.

If anyone has any questions about composting – either outdoor or vermicomposts, please let me know. I’d be happy to help. And for anyone in the Edmonton area and looking to gain more in depth knowledge on composting, recycling and the Edmonton waste management system, I definitely recommend completing the Master Composter/Recycler program.

Ok, so to share this passion for the environment with others, me and my friend, Sarah, have hosted a few “Trashy Movie” nights. We select an environmentally themed documentary – one that discusses how we can minimize our impact on our surroundings, encourages us to be responsible for our waste, or simply teaches us something new about the space around us. We invite friends, acquantainces and anyone interested, for a few hours of movie watching followed by a discussion. To provide extra incentive for attending, we’ve provided tasty snacks such as:

Fig compote served with goat cheese on baguette

Prosciutto with fresh figs and honeydew melon

We weren’t sure how our friends would react to these trashy movie nights (a few friends were disappointed we didn’t feature 50 Shades of Grey) but I am really happy to say that they have been a success! So far we have held two movie nights, each with a different group of people and a different movie. We’ve had positive feedback about the movies and discussions. For anyone interested in hosting their own movie night, or just watching a few trashy movies, so far we watched:

The Clean Bin Project follows a Vancouver couple who decide to go completely waste-free for one whole year! I saw this movie for the first time a couple years ago and it was really what got me thinking about the environment and the impact that my own actions can have. Its so easy to get caught up thinking that you’re just one person and your actions have little impact on big scale issues. But I found that this film really pushed you to consider just how much of an impact you really can have and how relatively simple it is to take steps in the right direction – just do one more thing than you are currently doing.

Wasteland tells the story of the artist, Vik Muniz, who travels to the largest landfill in Brazil. He works intimately with those whose only source of income is scavenging this landfill for recyclables. Muniz cooperates with these workers to create unique works of art and portrays their touching stories. The movie is beautifully done and truly heart warming. I’ve already seen it twice and would gladly watch it again. Definitely add this on to your “to watch” list.

Thanks for letting me share my passion for waste reduction with you guys! And for anyone who did not enjoy this post, don’t worry, things will be back to regular scheduled programming next time with a recipe for the delicious fig compote above!

Mountains and Granola

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

I spent the weekend in the mountains (which is why there was no usual weekend post). Sean took me to Jasper National Park as a congratulations gift for passing the UFE (giant, horrible accounting exam) in December (we couldn’t get away until now).

We stayed at the Overlander Mountain Lodge. It was our second time staying at this hotel and we absolutely love it. The view from our hotel room was gorgeous!

We spent the weekend snow-shoeing, building snowmen and just relaxing.

Ok now let’s talk food. First of all we had several great dinners (which I will probably blog about later). Second of all… what goes better with snow shoeing and hiking in the mountains than granola!

This is another recipe from Oh She Glows. I feel like I’ve been obsessed with her blog lately. Everything is easy to make, healthy and delicious… just like this buckwheat granola.

The granola is made without oats and with buckwheat instead. Ok, right off the bat I have to tell you guys that I used to hate buckwheat as a kid, so I was skeptical. However, I only recently found out that raw buckwheat groats are different from buckwheat kasha (which is toasted and has a strong, nutty taste). I realized that buckwheat kasha is what I really don’t like. The raw groats are actually quite pleasant and made a delicious granola.

I love that this granola uses almond pulp, leftover from making almond milk. I used home-made applesauce in mine as well as honey to sweeten (instead of coconut nectar). I also used coconut sugar. This was my first time using it and I loved it. It had a great, caramel-like flavour to it and was less sweet than granulated sugar.

Overall the granola was great and delicious with almond milk or yogurt. Give it a try :)

 

Looking for a Good Documentary?

Hello, friends!

I am officially back from Lloyminster and looking forward to hopefully getting some baking and cooking in this upcoming weekend. Today I wanted to share my thoughts on something unrelated to baking: a few documentaries I got to watch at the Global Visions Film Festival this past weekend.

Ping Pong

Ping Pong is a movie about 8 players (aged between 80 and 100 years old!) who compete in the 80+ world championships for ping pong. This film was entertaining from beginning to end. I was so drawn into each player’s story and wanted each one of them to take first place. The film did a great job of exploring the challenges of getting older, persevering through these challenges and making the most of the time we have. Each player was truly inspirational: from Les who can lift a gigantic bar bell with impossible ease to Lisa who is the sassiest senior I’ve ever seen. At the same time, the film was also very touching and left me holding back tears several times. Overall, Ping Pong is definitely a well-done film that is worth watching. And, needless to say, I hope I’m like these awesome seniors when I reach that age!

Fruit Hunters

Fruit Hunters is a film about… well… fruit! And about those who are fascinated and even obsessed with it. I was initially drawn to this film because of the unusual subject and figured it would be either hit or miss. While there were a few slower and cheesy parts in the movie, overall, I was pleasantly surprised. The film follows several groups of people: fruit growers, fruit connoisseurs and those looking to find and preserve rare species. It definitely makes you reflect on our relationship with food and nature. So many different fruits were looked at from the well-known Cavendish banana to exotic species like miracle berry fruit, citrus caviar and ice cream bean. By the end of the film, I wanted not only to try as many new types of fruit as I could, but also to go on a fruit-hunter adventure of my own. I came away from the film a little bit saddened by how many fruit species we have lost or are currently at risk of losing if they aren’t preserved in time.

Carbon Rush

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m sure you’ve all heard of carbon credit programs which have been established in an attempt to reduce carbon emmissions. Essentially, companies are allowed to emit a certain amount of pollution. If they participate in a United Nations approved program to reduce pollution in another part of the world, they are given offsetting carbon credits which allow them to emit more pollution, creating a financial incentive for the companies. Carbon Rush explores how these programs are impacting communities in lower income countries.

I was horrified to hear personal accounts of the atrocious impact that these programs are having on communities internationally. Entire towns find themselves struggling to survive. Communities are being taken advantage of, their livelihoods are taken away and water sources or farmland are being compromised and completely restricted. It was difficult to see the pain in these victims’ lives. It was also difficult to comprehend that these programs are marketed to appear as aiding the environment and planet in North America while they are creating such hardships for people across the globe. The programs help make more $$’s for big companies and it’s even questionable if the programs even succeed in reducing carbon emissions in the first place. The film left me feeling somewhat overwhelmed and hopeless. However, the first step towards change is raising greater awareness. I think Carbon Rush is definitely worth watching and encourage everyone to share its message. Maybe if consumers know the truth behind carbon credit programs, we won’t be fooled into thinking that we should support companies that participate in them.

Gatekeepers

Gatekeepers documents the first ever interviews with former leaders of the Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence agency. This film was intense and powerful. The leaders discuss their actions and reflect on past decisions made. Scenes of suicide bombers are difficult to watch, and having spent 3 years of my life in Israel, I found some scenes in the movie disturbingly reminiscent of that past. I had heard this film coined as “provocative” and “controversial” and, after watching it, can definitely see how it can appear so – especially to those of us who are far removed from the situation. All I can say is that these men have had to make more difficult decisions than most of us can ever imagine and that alone should be respected. If you want to gain insight into the conflict situation in the Middle East and how Israel has dealt with bringing safety to its people and attempting to diffuse this regional hostility, this is the movie for you!

These four documentaries were completely different but I really enjoyed each one. I am a huge fan of documentaries in general and love being able to learn something new. Have you guys seen any of these films? Or do you have any documentaries you can recommend?

Tea Obsession

I have a confession to make…

 …I’m obsessed with tea!

I have more than 40 kinds (neatly organized by level of caffeine) and love them all. I am not a coffee drinker, but instead could easily drink 3 or 4 cups of tea daily. I love the health benefits of tea and the variety of flavours. There’s nothing like finding the perfect cup of tea for your mood, whether its a hot steeped cup of cream of earl grey with milk and vanilla or a refreshing iced lemongrass tea with honey. Today, since I’ve been feeling a bit off, I brewed a perfect cup of genmaicha green tea. Hopefully all those antioxidants kick in to make me feel better!

Genmaicha (Green Tea)

This is by far my favourite green tea (and the one I use to make seabuckthorn tea). It’s a Japanese tea which is often served at sushi restaurants. The tea is a mixture of green tea leaves and toasted brown rice. Some of the rice kernels are popped which makes them look like tiny pieces of popcorn. I usually get this tea from Davids Tea but it’s very popular and you can find it at many places, including Asian grocery stores.

It brews a nice yellow or light green colour and tastes smooth with a mild nutty flavour from the toasted rice. I had my cup plain today but it is also good with honey or lemon. It should steep for about 2 -3 minutes and like all green tea, should be made with water that is about 80°C. Boiling water is too hot for green teas.

Yoga and Cake

I just got back from a Moksha yoga class and it felt so good to be able to sweat and de-stress after work. I don’t really make New Years resolutions but I figured the new year would be a good time to think about my priorities. While I really love exercising, especially yoga and boxing, too often other responsibilities and commitments get in the way. I’ve caught myself cancelling plans to work out because I’m working late and exhausted. So it’s my goal to make fitness a higher priority this winter. Hopefully I can stick with it!

I could definitely use some more fitness time after eating a bunch of the rum and coke cupcakes I made for New Years. While they didn’t taste at all like coke, and barely tasted like rum, they were super delicious. And really I don’t know how the rum and coke flavour didn’t come out since I am convinced I used lots of both… Anyways, I have left the recipe at my place and am at the boyfriend’s tonight but I will share it soon since the cupcakes really were fantastic (I ate half of one before yoga in my car tonight, hoping that no one would see me). But since the cupcake recipe and photos aren’t with me right now, I figured I would talk about something else we enjoyed over the holidays – the signature Duchess cake from Duchess Bakeshop in Edmonton… amazing!

Ok, perhaps I am slightly biased since I absolutely love everything that comes out of their oven, but, honestly, who wouldn’t? The Duchess is their signature cake and comes in a unique domed shape. It is a chiffon cake with pastry cream, raspberry and vanilla whip cream (where you can clearly see the specks of real vanilla bean) layers. The flavours compliment each other perfectly. The cake isn’t too sweet or heavy which makes it the kind of cake where it’s hard to stop eating… The whole cake is also covered in a layer of green marzipan which makes it look flawless.

So seriously if you guys haven’t tried this awesome cake and are craving something sweet and amazing, give it a try. If you don’t want a whole cake to yourself, there is also a smaller 4″ size. And if you decide to eat it in your car right before yoga, I won’t tell.

Gifts and Guilt

I just got back from a quick trip to Whyte Avenue and have to say that today’s -9°C felt like the warmest day after the cold spell we’ve been having in Edmonton. Now that Christmas is over, and the weather is apparently warming up, I wanted to share some of the great things I got during the holidays from friends, family and my wonderful boyfriend, Sean… So, in no particular order, here they are:

White Jacket Required book – by Jenna Weber

I opened up this book on the 26th and am already done! I am actually a pretty slow reader and this may be the fastest book I’ve ever gotten through (other than perhaps the Harry Potter books which I love) so that must be saying something! I’ve been following Jenna’s blog – Eat Live Run for quite some time and really enjoyed reading about her journey through culinary school as well as the personal struggles she overcame. Since I would love to attend a patisserie program one day, the book definitely appealed to me. I recommend it for anyone interested in pursuing a culinary career, but am also pretty sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed the read nearly as much if I wasn’t already a constant follower of the blog and a big fan of Jenna Weber.

Duchess Supplies – lavender compound, violet/lavender extract, pistachio extract and powdered food colourings

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