Thursday, September 03, 2009

365 days later ...

It's been a year since I started writing this blog... And what a stimulating year it has been!

A year ago, I knew virtually nothing about baking or French pastry (except I like eating French pastries), and I had no idea what it was like to live with 15 housemates... Up until then, I had basically stayed within my comfort zone (i.e. academic environment). After becoming disillusioned with that work environment, I decided to do something totally different (or crazy, as some might say), just to experience other possibilities in life.

I do not consider myself artistic (well, "artistic" in the traditional sense of the word), since I can neither paint nor draw (art was perhaps my worst subject at school), and I wondered how well I would cope with a pastry program that required artistic skills. In my mind, French pastries and cakes = food art... I was intimidated by the thought, but I was determined to learn.

When I first arrived in Canada, I felt overwhelmed. I remember feeling so out of my depth and out of my comfort zone that I was somewhat withdrawn during my first month at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa and in Wilbrod House. Writing this blog was a way to anchor my (new) chaotic life to what I was familiar with, and a way to remain positive/optimistic.

I soon grew to love my new way of life (I became used to the noisiness and activities of 15 housemates), and began to look forward to attending classes at LCB Ottawa and volunteering in Production Kitchen. Though I struggled in many of my practical classes (and sometimes ended up close to tears from frustration and/or disappointment with my own "handiwork"), I don't regret my decision to study Pastry at LCB Ottawa. I am very glad I hung in there until I finished Superior Pastry, because I enjoyed fruit-carving, bread-making, chocolate work and sugar work, and these are only taught during Intermediate and Superior Pastry.

I am winding up my blog here, because my Canadian sojourn (including a short trip to Europe on my way home to Australia, using my round-the-world air ticket) is over now. I have to say I really miss the life and the things I had grown used to in the past year, especially the snow and the squirrels in Canada. Now it is a matter of re-adjusting to life in Australia. I can see things from a new perspective now, and that's one of the most valuable things I got from my Canadian experience.

I hope this blog has inspired you to try something new, to take a risk, to visit Canada (or another country), or even to learn to make French pastries and desserts.

If I find the time and energy to do more blogging in the future, I will start a new blog. In the meantime, I shall continue to practise the skills I'd learned in Ottawa... I'd already started to read more books about professional baking (particularly, the science of baking), and it is just so fascinating. I remember browsing such books in the bookshops just before I went to Canada, but found it difficult to understand the concepts. But now that I have had some actual training in baking (and know many of the key concepts), I can understand the explanations quite easily.

PS. Here are some of the things I've made in the two weeks I've been home:

My homemade creme caramel. I love this recipe, and I was craving it, so I made some.

My homemade pain soleil (sun-bread). I managed to buy some fresh yeast the day before yesterday, so I decided to make bread, and one of my favourite bread recipes is this one. :)

I will practise more LCB Ottawa recipes when I can get hold of more ingredients. (Some ingredients are simply harder to find in the supermarket, and will need to be sourced from elsewhere.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Pastry Delights in Paris (Part 2)

Of course, no "Paris pastry tour" (even if it were simply a quick visit to a few pastry shops) would be complete without a visit to Pierre Hermé, which is famous for its macaroons (or macarons in French).

I know you might think the macaroons there are quite pricey (16 euros for 7 macaroons), but I just had to sample some, out of sheer curiosity... And I was not disappointed. I have to say the flavour combinations for the macaroons were quite extraordinary.

Here are the names of the Pierre Hermé macaroons (and cream fillings) I tasted in Paris (from left to right): Montebello (crème à la pistache, compote de framboise), Arabesque (crème à l'abricot et abricots moelleux, praliné croustillant à la pistache), Rose (crème aux pétales de rose), Mogador (ganache au fruit de la passion et chocolat au lait), Éden (crème à la pêche et au safran, morceaux d'abricots moelleux), Chocolat (ganache au chocolat pure origine Venezuela Porcelana), and Cassis (crème au cassis, baies de cassis). That's some of the information that was included in the little red booklet I found inside the box (I considered the booklet a nice touch).

I am sure you can work out the flavours, even if you didn't know much French. (Note: Pistache = Pistachio, Abricot = Apricot, Framboise = Raspberry, Pêche = Peach, Cassis = Blackcurrant)

In case you are wondering: Yes, I like fruit-flavored things, and I love fruits. Mmmm ...

And this is where I got the macaroons from: Pierre Hermé, 4 rue Cambon (which is not far from the Louvre and the Musée de l'Orangerie).

This is the window display at Lenôtre (44 rue d'Auteuil), not far from Musée Marmottan Monet (which houses many of Claude Monet's paintings). If you look at the photo, you can see there's a fruit tart and a lemon tart in the foreground -- things we had learned to make at LCB Ottawa, but the presentation of the tarts here is very professional and very attractive.

I remember the chefs were telling us that the Feuille d'Automne (one of our Superior Pastry cakes) was invented by Lenôtre, so I made it a point to look out for this cake in the Lenôtre shop window. There it is to the left -- the cake covered with chocolate decorations.

This cake is not terribly hard to make (even though it is introduced in Superior Pastry), but it is not easy to make it look beautiful. That's one of the lessons I learned at LCB Ottawa: If some French pastry or cake looks exquisite, it is because the pastry chef who made it is very experienced and well-trained; NOT because the recipe is easy. There really is no "easy" recipe in French pastry, unless you've had years of experience or lots of practice making it. Trust me on that. :)

These are the mini-cakes sold at Fauchon (Place de la Madeleine). You can just tell the pastry chefs who prepared these cakes have had lots of experience, because everything appeared perfectly uniform and neat, even though they were handmade individually.

All in all, visiting Paris and some of its more well-known pastry shops has broadened my horizons quite a bit... I am glad I decided to check out the City of Lights on my way home to Australia.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pastry Delights in Paris (Part 1)

I would like to show you a few photos of the lovely cakes and pastries I saw in Paris.

Before I left Ottawa, I had asked Chef H for the names of a few good pastry shops in Paris. Then I set about visiting these shops while I was in Paris. It was not too difficult to visit one shop a day, because most of these shops were close to famous sights in Paris - I even stumbled across a couple of them on my way to various sights. (I stayed in a hotel a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower, and found it quite convenient to get around Paris by metro and on foot.)

What I saw made me so excited about making cakes and pastries because I never imagined cakes and pastries could be so beautiful. I loved the way the cakes and pastries were arranged and displayed in the shop windows too.

I wish I had seen these cakes and pastries before I went to LCB Ottawa to study pastry.

Individual portions of desserts in Ladurée (75 avenue Champs-Elysées). As you can see, the religieuses (nuns) were beautifully-made. I thought they look nice, even with the pink or purple fondant glaze. The ones I made at School (during Basic and Intermediate Pastry) look nothing like this because it takes great skills (and tons of practice) to be able to make them look pretty. I'm still a long way from being this good.

The petits fours frais sold in Ladurée looked so tempting. Don't you just love the combination of colours and the wonderful texture in this display? This is what I mean when I say I love the way they arrange the pastries in their display.

This is, of course, what many customers go to Ladurée for: the macaroons. See how even the shapes and sizes are? Great piping skills!

I bought six macaroons (six different flavours), and found them to be nice enough. The texture was rather similar to what we had learned to make at School -- I guess that's what macaroons should taste like.

Cakes displayed in the Fauchon (located in Place de la Madeleine) shop window. I reckon LCB Ottawa has taught us all the techniques required to make cakes like that, but, until I saw these cakes, I just didn't imagine cakes could look this gorgeous. I was most inspired by the designs.

These were cakes I saw in the Dalloyau (101 rue Faubourg-St Honoré) shop window. I was mesmerized... This was a real feast for the eyes. All I could say to myself was: Wow, the pastry chefs here are soooo artistic!!!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Home Sweet Home

I've been home (i.e. back in Australia) a few days now, and it has been really good to be able to relax. However, I am still suffering from jetlag...

I had a great time in Europe. Not only did I visit some of the usual must-see sights (e.g. the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre), I also visited a number of pastry shops in Paris. In my next post, I shall write about the cakes and pastries I saw in Paris.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Going offline

As I am heading to Europe tomorrow for a holiday, I will be offline until the end of August.

Thank you for reading this blog.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Ottawa's Ornamental Gardens

Today, on a whim, I visited the Ornamental Gardens at the Central Experimental Farm (near Dows Lake) in Ottawa. I went there by bus (Bus No. 3 from Downtown or Rideau Centre).

Colorful flowers and beautiful gardens always make me so happy, though I have always preferred cooking to gardening. Time flies when I am working in a kitchen; time stands still when I have to do gardening... :D Fortunately, I am not required to do any gardening these days.

Nowadays I just visit gardens and admire their beauty, and leave the gardening to people like my sister (the keen gardeners).

Anyway, it was a lovely day to be out and about. I managed to take quite a few photos of the Ornamental Gardens. Here is a sample:

Back in Ottawa

I'm back in Ottawa for a couple of days before heading off to Europe.

I really enjoyed the train ride from Montreal to Ottawa this afternoon. I'm so glad I made it a point to travel by rail.

By the way, I visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal yesterday, and it was most enjoyable. Photography was allowed in certain parts of the museum, and I was fortunate it was allowed in the Decorative Arts section, which was actually my favorite part of the Museum.

Here are a few photos of some of the things I saw in the Decorative Arts section of the Museum:

This piece is by Dale Chihuly. It caught my attention before I realised who made it. It brought back memories for me - I saw some of Chihuly's works in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, four years ago, and I recall I was fascinated by them, but had forgotten all about that until yesterday.

This is a lovely stained-glass window, isn't it? I bet it was painstaking work to create something like this.

An old chair with a most unusual design.

The designers of these pieces of furniture had imaginative minds indeed. I take my hat off to them.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

"This market is making me so happy ..."

That's what one of my friends (former Group B classmates) said, as we walked around the Marché Jean Talon, a local fresh produce market in Montreal, this afternoon. I have to say I agreed with her. Here's why:

My friend was really happy to see such a lot of fresh produce at really affordable prices. To those of us who love to cook, a market like that is heavenly. It beats shopping in a supermarket.

To me, Marché Jean Talon is basically the Montreal version of the Flemington Markets in Sydney or the Rocklea Markets in Brisbane.

Montreal Fireworks (Presented by an Australian Team)

About two hours ago, I went down to the riverside with a couple of my friends (former Group B classmates) to see the Montreal Fireworks Competition. Tonight's pyrotechnic display was presented by an Australian team (Foti). The fireworks lasted for a full 30 minutes, and it was just spectacular!

I captured quite a bit of the fireworks display on video, but here is the finale, which was the nicest part of it.

I know some of the hearts (fireworks) were upside down, but maybe it is "love from Down Under". lol

Friday, July 03, 2009

Roses in the Montréal Botanical Garden

I visited the Montreal Botanical Garden yesterday and was delighted to discover a lovely rose garden there.

Guess what? I went crazy with my camera again and took lots of photos. Here are the roses I really liked (note: names of roses indicated in square brackets, as they were labelled at the botanical garden). Now, all I have to do is be able to make marzipan (or pulled sugar) roses as beautiful as these one day. :)


[Rainbow Sorbet]




[Countess Celeste]

[The McCartney Rose]

[Maid of Honor]

View of the rose garden

The fountains near the rose garden


The next two photos are for my sister.

I am sure she knows exactly why I took this photo.

I saw this cute little creature in the botanical garden, but wasn't sure what it was. I have been told that it is a chipmunk.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Arrived in Montreal Today

I got to Montreal this afternoon. Unfortunately, it was not on a train. You see, when I got to the Gare du Palais in Quebec City this morning, they told me the trains wouldn't be running today (due to engine problems or some such reason). So, the trains were replaced with buses.

And no, the bus was not as comfortable as the train. The traffic from Quebec City to Montreal was horrendous. Why? It finally occurred to me that because tomorrow is Canada Day, lots of people were taking advantage of the public holiday and heading to Montreal (for the International Jazz Festival) or Ottawa (for Canada Day celebrations).

Anyway, I heard there was a free jazz concert in downtown Montreal tonight (9:30pm), so I headed to the Place des Arts area at 7pm, just to see what the crowds were like... However, when a thunderstorm loomed overhead (around 8pm) and it was blowing a gale, I decided to come back to my accommodation, and call it a night. I'm exhausted, and I'm not a fan of jazz music anyway.

The start of the 30th International Jazz Festival in Montreal. This photo was taken at around 7pm today. Look at the crowd! People were there early to get a good position for the 9:30pm free concert.

It was starting to rain. I figured I should call it a night.

Friday, June 26, 2009

More Old World Charm (Quebec City Sights)

More photos of Quebec City:

This is Gare du Palais, the main (or central) train station you arrive at if you are visiting Quebec City by rail.

The fountain across from the train station. I saw some kids playing in the fountain in the late afternoon because it was so hot and humid.

This is a trompe l'oeil in Place-Royale. It looks like a real street with people in it, but is actually just a painting on a side wall of a building. I thought it was gorgeous!

An old-style building in Place-Royale.

A shop on Rue du Petit-Champlain. This is where you find many really interesting boutique stores.

A street scene on Rue Saint-Paul.

This is Place de la FAO, with its wonderful paver pattern that suggests water/waves, which is perhaps not surprising, because this is near the maritime museum. It really reminds me of the paving outside the Maritime Museum of Macau, which I had visited some years ago.

Rue du Sault-au-Matelot, another street with lots of lovely boutique stores. A shopper's paradise, I guess.

This is an écolobus, which runs on electricity (there is a sign on the side of the bus that says, "Je roule à l'électricité"). It's a free shuttle bus that goes around the city area. It can take about 20 people at a time. I consider it a great feature of the city.

Here's what the flag of Quebec looks like. I saw it all over Quebec City.