Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Contemplating Language...

Hey everyone :)

I just got back to Ottawa from a long Thanksgiving weekend in the USA last night. I had such a wonderful visit with my friends and got to have lots of turkey and pumpkin pie which made me very happy! I would *love* to learn how to make pumpkin pie - I don't think that's on "the list" for recipes I'll learn in school, but if I can find a good recipe, I'm definitely going to give it a try!

Now that I'm back in Ottawa, though, holiday celebrations have unfortunately come to a dramatic halt as I (along with the rest of the students in Basic Pastry class) prepare for the written exams this coming Friday. From what I've learned talking to Chef and listening to some of the Advanced Pastry students talk about their Basic-level exams, it is going to be very difficult :( We pretty much need to know all the recipes we've done so far, their ingredient lists, etc. by heart along with the more "scientific" information like the temperature at which sugar cooks (121 degrees Celsius) and the composition of an egg white (88-90% water and 10-12% protein albuten). It's definitely a lot of material to learn, but I've been studying, and I have about 1.5 more days to study, so I hope I'll be ok!

In other news, I went to the grocery store today (Loblaws) and smelled my first Christmas trees of the season! They had a bunch of trees outside the store, so everyone walking in and out of the store got a whiff of their wonderful pine-y scents! However, there is *still* no snow here if you can believe it! All the snow from the other day melted rather quickly and according the the news station I was listening to on the radio, if it doesn't snow by this weekend, this month of November is going on record as the 4th warmest November in Ottawa since 1889!

Now, for a bit of a philosophical tangent before I get back to studying:

How much does the language we use shape our thought? For example, as you and I have learned from my time at Le Cordon Bleu, the French language has many more words than we do in English for certain culinary techniques and dishes. Two of my favorites are detrempe (dough without butter inside) and paton (dough with butter inside) because they seem to accurately reflect the importance of butter (or beurre) to French pastries. Now, I know we all joke that Americans love butter too and put butter on *everything*, but the heavy use of butter in French cooking isn't conceived of in the same way as it is in America. The butter isn't, for lack of a better word, abused in French cooking. It is respected as an important past of the dish. It is savored. It is valued. In America, it seems we just pile it on without really thinking about it. The French *do* think about it. They think about it very much. So, I guess what I'm wondering is that if we, in the United States, would think about something like butter differently if we had words in our language (like detrempe or paton) that demonstrated more of a respect for butter. I think we would.

I've taken a few classes during my undergraduate studies that touched on this issue of language and thought - it is so interesting to me! The consensus (in the academic world) seems to be that language does shape our worldview and how we interact with the environment around us. At first, I remember being almost scared by how much language shapes thought - I wanted to remain as unbiased as possible and was concerned that there was nothing I could do to remove some of my biases because they were reflected in the words I used every day. However, feeling this way was of no good to anyone - I couldn't just stop talking and using my words because I was afraid! What I could do, though, was just have more of an awareness of the words I used and choose them more carefully. I remember, for instance, when I was little, being told by my parents not to use the word "hate" because it was such a strong word and carried such power. I regret to say that I definitely disobeyed my parents on that one, though. It seemed like *everyone* else used "hate" in their speech, so I figured there couldn't be anything that wrong with it....and saying "dislike" or even "strongly dislike" instead of "hate" just seemed like too much trouble and effort. The words I used didn't really matter, I thought. All that mattered was that I conveyed my thought as quickly as possible. And, "hate," being a one syllable word, was much "quicker" than "dislike," a two syllable word, so I used "hate." Now as I think about this though, I wonder if our society is just too concerned with being fast and moving quickly that we are not paying enough attention to the words we use and reflecting upon how those words are shaping our worldview. "Dislike" might take a bit longer to vocalize than "hate," but the word "dislike" contains the word "like" within it, making it a bit milder and perhaps even reminding us (on a subconscious level) that some things are not *all* bad - there is good to be found in most things. "Hate," however, is just "hate" - pure and simple. Now I'm not saying that the word "hate" should never be used, for there are some things that really deserve to be hated, I think. What I do question, though, is whether "dislike" is more of an appropriate word for situations that might not warrant full-on hate.

Hate is easier to say, though, isn't it? This also made me think about what we do when we cannot come up with a word to reflect how we are feeling at a given moment. When expressing our feelings to another person, how many times do we just "settle" for a word when we just cannot seem to think of a more accurate one? I have learned from some of my friends who are bilingual speakers that sometimes it is easier to express a certain feeling or emotion in a language other than English because English just doesn't have a word for that feeling (or vice versa). How many times do we just settle on a word just so we can "get it out" and convey our thoughts? How many times have we put pressure on another person to do so? All this just made me think that maybe we should have more patience with others before getting upset when they can't seem to say what they are thinking or feeling right away. They might just be searching for the right word to use, and our pressuring them isn't really going to help. I think this applies a lot to children, which is one of the reasons I think everyone says teachers of the younger grades need a lot of patience. Children tend to take longer to express themselves than adults, and I think this is partly due to the fact that they aren't as comfortable with words yet and want to choose the right one. Instead of getting impatient with them though, maybe it is better if we let them (and everyone) have the time they need to express themselves. If not, we risk misunderstandings and conflict. Here, I'm thinking of an instance when someone in a relationship might be pressured to say "I love you" when that is not what he/she really feels, but is simply trying to express a strong admiration or respect for their partner. This can potentially lead to conflict down the road if the individual was simply pressured to say the four-letter-word too quickly.

Hmm...just something I was thinking about.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving and a Cassis Cake!

Happy American Thanksgiving!! I hope you are all having wonderful days and meals (always, but especially today)!

A group of people from my house are about to go out to eat in a few minutes to celebrate American Thanksgiving :) Rafi and I will be the only Americans, but I thought it was so nice that everyone wanted to go celebrate with us. We were having trouble deciding where to go - we're a pretty big group of people, so we wanted to pick a place that would have lots of options and wasn't too expensive, and even though we knew we wouldn't be getting a "traditional" Thanksgiving meal with turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, etc., we thought it would be cool if we found *some* way to incorporate at least turkey into the meal. However, after a little bit of pondering, we came up with a great idea: The Works! Do you remember The Works? It was that burger place I went to a few weekends ago. They have *tons* of options so everyone should be able to find something they like, and they even have TURKEY burgers!! haha It's perfect - I'm soo excited! I'll probably have to stick to something on the plain side, just to continue my "easing" back into regular food, but a turkey burger sounds wonderful for an American Thanksgiving in Canada :)

Anyway, today in class, we made a miroir au cassis cake which is a blackcurrant mousse cake. It a layer of sponge cake on the bottom with blackcurrant mousse in the middle, and a blackcurrant glaze on top. You can modify the recipe any way you would like, however - i.e. you could make a lemon mousse, an orange mousse, a chocolate mousse, a chocolate *and* orange mousse - so you don't necessarily have to use blackcurrants for this cake, and the possibilities are endless!

Today in class, Chef also taught us how to make little candies out of lemon and orange peel. There is a technique where you basically cook the strips of peel in sugar/water, bring it to a boil, strain it, and let the pieces of peel sit out at room temperature which allows the sugar on the peel to crystallize. After that, you can eat them as such or you can go a step further and dip them in chocolate! Yum! :)

Here are some pictures from today:

Remember the chocolate displays I took a picture of a few weeks ago? The advanced pastry class did sugar displays this week, and I took a picture before going into class - aren't they incredible? I can't believe they are entirely made out of sugar!

Chef putting a layer of blackcurrants inside the cake before topping it with more mousse. As I said, there is a layer of spongecake on the bottom (and sides), mousse in the middle, blackcurrants, more mousse, and then a glaze on top. There were a ton of steps in this whole process, and Chef told us that we had to have "perfect" organization today because of all the steps and possibilities for error. The most difficult part was making the actual mousse - I wrote 2 pages front and back with instructions on how to do the mousse! I know I usually write a lot anyway, but that's a lot even for me!

Chef's final presentation! The writing and design is done in white chocolate. I like how we've been writing the names of the cakes on top! I think it looks so pretty :)

Now here are some pictures of my cassis cake :))

See all the layers? I think it looks so cool ;)

Ok, well I'm off to dinner! I hope everyone is having a good holiday! :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Thanksgiving-Eve Surprise for Me!

This morning began like any other morning. Thankfully I did not have an early morning class, so I slept in until about 9:30am, and then rolled out of bed, still half asleep and grumbling about someone's alarm clock that was buzzing next door. I dragged myself across the hallway to the bathroom, and it was then that I saw something that immediately shocked me wide awake!

Can you guess what it was??


lol Ok, I'm being a bit dramatic, it didn't *exactly* look like that, but here is a picture from my window:

That's a lot of snow for one night! I had no idea that it was coming either! My dad had mentioned that Montreal (which is about 2.5 hours east of Ottawa) was going to get some snow, but I thought if anything, it would be a few flurries, not almost a foot!

Here's a picture of my car in the snow:

It was actually kinda fun shoveling it out! :)

I had to go out into town to run some errands today, so here are some pictures from my walk:

I couldn't believe this tree still had green leaves! I guess it is in denial that Winter is coming!

Anyway, I was walking around Byward Market, and I saw this cupcake shop that I had never noticed before called The Cupcake Lounge. It looked really cute and there were a ton of people inside, and I thought a cupcake sounded like the best thing ever, and since I've been feeling better the past couple of days and have been good about sticking to bland foods, I thought a cupcake might be a nice way to ease back into more complex food ;) A lot of rationalizing went on if you can tell lol Anyway, The Cupcake Lounge was amazing and I can't wait to go back! I'll give you the link to their website so you can see all the options they have: (click on the "Order" tab to see all the flavors).

Here's how it works: they have a number of flavors that they make every day, and then flavors that they just do on a specific day of the week. Today was Wednesday so they had their "regular" daily flavors plus Chocolate Marshmallow Ganache, Lemon Coconut, Strawberry, Apple Dulce de Leche (I know someone who would have gotten that one! You know who you are! lol), and...Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter....How could I possibly resist that? ;) And, to add to the rationalizing, I figured that a peanut butter cupcake would be a perfect way to combine an ingredient that had been easy on my stomach during my sickness (I've been eating so much peanut butter!) with an ingredient that I had stayed away from: chocolate/sugar in general. It was meant to be and sooo worth it! :)

Their menu (I got this picture online, so I think the daily flavors may have changed slightly since the time the picture was taken, but this is still pretty much how it looked)

The display case :)

My Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cupcake - it was hard to be patient and take this picture before diving right in!

Here is a picture of their paper menu with all the descriptions of the flavors. I took this later when I got home.

Lol I know I sound obsessed with this place, but I can't help it! It was so good, and I can't wait to go back!

After running my errands, it was time for school, and so here are some pictures of Le Cordon Bleu in the snow:

We didn't do any baking today, and just had a lecture about flour, so no baking pictures to post, but I promise a description of the Yule/Christmas log is coming soon! :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Canadian vs. American Thanksgiving

I *finally* think I'm reaching the end of my flu. Thank goodness. Unfortunately, it worsened over the weekend, but I felt better today, and so hopefully with another good night of sleep (or several good nights of sleep lol) I'll be back to normal :)

Since getting sick though, I've had several huge changes in my appetite. I guess this is to be expected when you are sick, but one of them is *major* and those of you who have ever lived with me will appreciate it: I have completely lost my taste for tea!! I know!! It's crazy - I cannot even believe I'm saying that, but it's true! I have not had a cup of tea (or craved a cup of tea) since last Tuesday or so. I know this might sound silly, but I have seriously not gone a day in about 4 years without drinking a cup (or several cups) of tea or at least craving one! I'll have to see how I feel about tea when I no longer have the flu, but at least for right now, tea is the *last* thing I want!

Two "new" foods I've come to love over the past couple of days that I've never really eaten much of before are (1) oatmeal and (2) toast with peanut butter and bananas on top - has anyone ever tried that?? I've had it before, but for some reason I think I failed to appreciate how amazing it is until now! In fact, I'm eating a piece right now! lol

SOOO good!!

I'm really glad to have found at least some foods that taste good to me now - being sick is never fun, but especially when you really don't want to eat anything. I'm really hoping I get my normal appetite back in time for Thanksgiving, though - one of my friends who lives in NY invited me to come spend American Thanksgiving with her and her family, and I'm really looking forward to it! I say "American" Thanksgiving because (some of you might already know this) Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October, so no one is going to be celebrating in Ottawa this coming Thursday. So it will be nice to get back to the States and be with a family (even if it can't be my own!) to celebrate the holiday :)

I was talking to one of my Canadian classmates the other day about the differences between American Thanksgiving and Canadian Thanksgiving. She told me that at least from her "Canadian" perspective, it seems like the Americans make a WAY bigger deal about Thanksgiving than the Canadians do. I agreed that there is a lot of "hype" around the holiday in America with the Macy's Day Parade, etc., but said that it really depends on the individual family as to how "big of a deal" it is. Then, she asked me if it was really true that we have a "Black Friday" the day after Thanksgiving. lol Yes, I said, we definitely have a Black Friday. Apparently, there is nothing like that in Canada. Although, the day after Christmas (what they call Boxing Day) is kinda similar - not anywhere near as extreme, but the stores have a lot of sales, she said.

Even just looking at this picture stresses me out lol I've never gone shopping on Black Friday, and I have no plans to do so in the future haha If it doesn't stress you out, then more power to you, but I'd rather be at home watching a movie and drinking some hot chocolate (not tea!) and maybe baking some Black Forest Cake too ;)

We also talked about the differences in foods served at American Thanksgiving and Canadian Thanksgiving, and it seemed to us that there were not too many differences in the "traditional" menu items: turkey, stuffing (or dressing), cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, etc. The one difference we did come up with though was that in Canada, they don't have yams or sweet potatoes, while in the US, both those are considered "traditional" Thanksgiving dishes. But other than that, it seemed about the same.

YUM :)

I hope all of you are feeling well and flu-less! And I hope you are all looking forward to what will hopefully be a delicious, relaxing Thanksgiving! I hope my parents are prepared to celebrate Thanksgiving again when I come home because even though it'll be nice to be with my friends, it's not the same without my own family!

I'll do another post soon about what we made in class this past Friday: Yule logs!

It says "Joyeux Noel" or "Merry Christmas"!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


No, I did not misspell "succès" - it's not supposed to be the English word "success," but instead it refers to a kind of French cake called, yes, a "Succès Cake." That is the cake we made today, and it is a very very very traditional French cake, according the Chef. It is meant to celebrate a succès or success in a person's life, be it a graduation, a new job, or just making it through a difficult week! The cake is delicious if I do say so myself, and I definitely needed it after getting sick this week - technically I guess I haven't "made it through" the week yet, but I think making it through Thursday is as good a reason as any to celebrate a succès!

Chef demonstrating how to trim the cake. Succès is a 3 layered cake, but the layers aren't the "typical," fluffy cake-mix kind of layers, but are what is called a dacquoise, a meringue-type of mixture made with almond powder, flour, sugar (of course lol), and egg whites. Once the batter is made, you pipe it into the crop-circle looking spirals and bake it. Three circles/spirals are used to make each Succès.

This is a picture from one of the TV monitors in the class - that's why it looks like I was watching the Food Network or something instead of going to class. The TVs are set up so we can get a better view of what the Chef is doing. Here, he is piping buttercream (*French* buttercream, that is - not American!) onto the first layer of cake.

Chef had some leftover "scraps" and this is what he made with them...I'm sorry to say, most of my scraps usually just end up in the garbage and not on a nice white plate, surrounded by pretty chocolate decorations.

Chef's final product! As shown here, with a Succès cake, you are supposed to pipe the name of the cake on a thin piece of marzipan (which is basically all sugar). Then, for decoration, you can make leaves and acorns, using more marzipan and a few hazelnuts, as Chef did here. That brown color around the edges of the marzipan can be made using a blowtorch, some cocoa powder, or some coffee extract. Chef used a blowtorch ;) Also, when piping the word "Succès" Chef told us to be very mindful of which direction the accent mark above the "e" was going! The French would not be happy with a misdirected accent mark, he said. ;)

My Succès Cake!

I opted for a mixture of cocoa powder and coffee extract to make the brown be honest, I was a little scared of the blowtorch...but it wasn't always like that! I came into practical totally ready to just go for it, but once things got crazy in the kitchen towards the end of practical, and I kept hearing frantic cries of "where's the blowtorch?!" or frazzled screams of "you're burning the entire cake!!" as my fellow classmates dashed around the kitchen, I wanted to stay as far away from the fire as possible lol

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The (Not So) Cold Season

Hey everyone :)

It's hard to believe, but it has *still* not snowed here yet. Again, I'm not complaining - it just seems so unusual for this time of year!

But, even though it hasn't gotten that cold yet, flu season has arrived and has taken down most of the people in my house...including me :(

The past 2 days have been spent sleeping and relaxing, and to be honest I haven't felt like doing much else, but I just wanted to check in and share some pictures of today's creations: madeleines (little sponge cakes), cigarettes (thin biscuits rolled to look like cigarettes), and palets de dames (thin, crispy cookies with raisins and sugar on top). All of these treats are considered "petits-fours" (which roughly means "little confections" served following a meal).

Also, all this relaxing has given me some time to catch up on some of my favorite TV shows aka Glee ;) Here is a song I am now in love with from last night's episode:

I hope everyone is doing well and feeling well too! :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wonderful Weekend!

Hey everyone!

I am exhausted - but in a good way! I just had a really good weekend in Ottawa, and while I might not be super rested, I'm very enthusiastic and am beginning to enjoy the city very much!

Saturday afternoon, a group of us went out to this place called Cora's for brunch - it's like a Canadian version of Denny's. I had a "skillet" type dish with grilled veggies, breakfast potatoes, scrambled eggs, with toast and fruit on the side. It was really good, and I'd definitely go back! It was nice to go out to eat for a change too - I feel like I've kinda been stuck in the house lately, so it was fun to get out!

During the afternoon, I just kinda chilled, worked on grad-school applications, etc., and for dinner we went out to this place called The Works. Oh my goodness. You have not had a burger until you have eaten at The Works. Here is the link to their menu just so you can get an idea of how many burgers they have to choose from: The list was *insane* and everything sounded so good! I don't know how I made up my mind! I ended up choosing the Teriyaki burger, which might not sound super adventurous (compared to everything else on the menu) but it was probably one of the best burgers I have ever had :)

After dinner, we went out to see that new movie called The Ides of March. Has anyone seen that? George Clooney is in it which was a big draw for me lol But it was an excellent movie, and I definitely recommend it. For those of you who don't know about it, it's basically about a USA Democratic Party Primary Election and all of the scandals/corruption/scheming that goes on behind the scenes of a political race. It really made me realize how little we really know about what goes on "behind the scenes" of an election, and how little we (the public) know about the candidates for whom we are voting. I won't get into my political opinions or beliefs right now, but it's a movie that really makes you think which I really enjoyed.

Then, today, my friend Rafi and I went on a hike with this group called the Ottawa Outdoor Club. Rafi found out about them online, and it's pretty much just what it sounds like: a group of people who get together to go on hikes, skiing, snow-shoeing, canoeing, and tons of other outdoor activities! Rafi and I have been wanting to meet people outside Le Cordon Bleu - just to get to know the city better, etc. - and we thought this would be a great way to do that! The hike was *wonderful*!! It was a 10km hike on one of the trails in Gatineau Park (a HUGE 89,281 acre park in our area). There were about 37 other people on the hike with us, so it was a pretty big group, and it was neat because it was a really diverse group too! There were a bunch of students from the University of Ottawa as well as some working professionals and even several retirees. One of the coolest people I met was actually one of the main leaders of the NDP (the New Democratic Party)! I also had a really nice conversation with a woman working in as an educational administrator in primary education. This is a career I'm thinking about pursuing myself, so it was really neat to get her perspective on that line of work (even though she works in Canada and I'll be in the States). Rafi and I both had a really good time (and got some good exercise) - it was so much fun to get out of the city too and see other landscapes! I really got to enjoy hiking when I was at Cornell and am so glad I got the opportunity to go again! The weather was perfect too - a bit chilly at first, but once we started hiking, it felt good! I had such a good time, and I'm already planning my next hike! The group goes on a hike every Sunday, so hopefully I'll get to go a few more times before I leave!

Here are a few pictures from the hike (the trees are so bare now - I know it won't be too much longer before they're covered in snow!):

Rafi and I with Gatineau Lake in the background!

A pedestrian bridge we crossed

I am so glad I got to go out and explore a little more this weekend - it really gave me some good perspective, and it was so nice to get to meet some local Ottawans (Ottawanians? lol)!