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chromedome

eG Foodblog: Chromedome - Living the dream...I guess...

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Welcome to Edmonton!

I am located just off the downtown of the city, conveniently close to both of my jobs and to the city's one significant natural landmark, the North Saskatchewan river. The river was Edmonton's original raison d'etre; like most of our western capitals it began life as a Hudson Bay Company trading post. In the glory days of the fur trade, it was possible to ship furs by canoe from the modern-day Yukon territory all the way to Montreal with no portage longer than 10km (far enough, with the loads they carried!). Today the river is primarily a tourist attraction, playground, and occasionally the instigator of insurance claims for flooding.

I will take you for a quick stroll through a part of the river valley within the next few days, as weather permits (the lengthy drought broke when we moved here two years ago, though I can't take credit for that...). During the appropriate season there are many berries to be gleaned there, and it's always a pleasant walk.

Photos will be a bit late in coming. My digital is painfully old and low-end, and essentially only works in perfect lighting. To supplement it I've bought a simple film camera, but that of course involves processing and scanning time. I hope to start posting some pics by Thursday evening (Friday at the latest), so please bear with me.

I am not nearly as active on the board as some of the recent bloggers, so I'll provide you with a bit of context. I am a career changer, 41, originally from Halifax Nova Scotia. A couple of years ago, in one of those epiphanal moments, I realized that I'd just drifted into sales when I was young and had coasted ever since. Verging on 40, I thought that...just maybe...it was time I gave some consideration to what I wanted to do when I grew up... :blink:

The choice was fairly obvious. I've been a dedicated home cook and baker since I was an adolescent; and while I knew going in that the life of a professional cook is a hard one, I reasoned that at the end of the day if you're doing something you love for its own sake you're ahead of the game. So I went to school. I took my first year at the Nova Scotia Community College in Halifax (honours) and my second at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (honours). I have been working, since my arrival in Edmonton, at this this respected fine-dining restaurant; upon graduation from school I added a full-time job in this popular market/lunch spot.

Last summer, while still fresh out of school, I was inspired to blog a typical work week, for the benefit of the insatiably curious. It seemed that there was a lot of interest in how foodservice jobs work in practice, and I thought it might be of interest to many among the community. And that's where it would have stayed, except that a few weeks ago SobaAddict in his role of Foodblog Czar asked for those who are bakers or pastrychefs to step forward. Since I run the instore bakery at my day job, I thought that perhaps I should volunteer. So, here's Chromedome II...the return of the career changer.

A few points to clear up at the beginning: for one thing, this is a serious "pot luck" blog. I have one or two special things I'm hoping to squeeze in, but I don't know yet what shifts I'll be pulling over the weekend. That means real life, folks...on the home front you may see souffles or you may see mac and cheese. I promise you I eat better than Wendy ( :raz: ), but her work photos are a LOT more interesting than mine will be. Still and all, this is what it looks like. I cook for my family, and they get what I have the time and energy to make.

So...we'll be looking at some shots from one job at least, possibly both; my baking at work and at home; my garden; and to the extent that it's pertinent, a few bits and pieces of the city. My budget (wife, two kids, two student loans, the highest utilities in the country, etc) does not permit of special ingredients or excursions to the city's restaurants, and my kitchen is at the opposite end of the envy-inducement scale from Daddy-A's starship bridge and Jackal's vintage AGA. It's a come-as-you-are foodblog!

From the subtitle of this blog (and the tone of the teaser Soba posted on Jackal's blog), you may be wondering just how I'm feeling about my career choice. Well...I'm still enjoying myself, but it's most assuredly not for everyone. I'll elaborate further in the course of this next week, and naturally I'm more than happy to answer anyone's questions about that or any other food-related topic.

For now, though, I'm going to bed. Tomorrow morning is sneaking up on me, and it's got a cudgel in its grubby little clutches...

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Another blog from our neighbors to the north! Cool! Chromedome, I look forward to hearing about (and later seeing) the sights of Edmonton, especially as they relate to food. I also look forward to hearing about your work week, and your thoughts on career changing. Congratulations on waking up and deciding to steer instead of drift.

As an aside: Here in Minnesota our seasonal swings are quite large, compared to what I grew up with (central California). We tend to make the most of the long summer days, when weather permits, to make up for those long winter nights. You Canadians, and our European neighbors, have even more extreme swings. I'd be interested to hear how that plays into your daily plans, if at all, and whether it influences your cooking.

Blog on!

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Looking forward to this. I lived in Edmonton for 16 years- 1974 - 1990 - so it will be interesting to see how things have changed!

Thanks for doing this.

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Chromedome-

Looking forward to your blog and living 'the dream' (sort of).

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Hey, another Canadian! :biggrin:

Do you get a lot of cheap beef out where you are (especially with the closing of the U.S. border)? What's the food scene like in Edmonton - are there are lot of immigrants starting up restaurants? (Vancouver and Toronto get all the press for multiculturality - is that a word? - but some immigrants must head out to the prairies)

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From the subtitle of this blog (and the tone of the teaser Soba posted on Jackal's blog), you may be wondering just how I'm feeling about my career choice. Well...I'm still enjoying myself, but it's most assuredly not for everyone. I'll elaborate further in the course of this next week, and naturally I'm more than happy to answer anyone's questions about that or any other food-related topic.

I am wondering just how you feel about your career choice and why you decided on the change.

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Are there a lot of Ukranians in Edmonton? Will piroshki or stuffed cabbage be making an appearance in this blog? And is there much First Nations presence in the area?

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Welcome to Edmonton!

{...}

My budget (wife, two kids, two student loans, the highest utilities in the country, etc)

Yay! Edmonton! I love your city - only been there once, but really enjoyed it. (I hope your river isn't on the verge of flooding as ours are).

I took a quick glance at your two job sites and they look like lovely spots - can't wait to see what you do there.

I'm not sure if this is food related but you mentioned the highest utilities in the country - wouldn't the oil keep these things down?

What kind of berries grow in your area? Are they out yet?

I'm really looking forward to your blog!

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Okay...I'm going to answer a few questions here, and come back later to recap my day.

In chronological order:

Smithy, we are rather far north here and consequently have even longer days in the summer and shorter in the winter. During the year that I was working and going to school, the only sunlight I saw was during the 45 minute bus ride between the two. Like people everywhere else in the cooler climates, Edmontonians revel in the sun while it lasts. Back yards and barbecues are the standard fixtures. If you don't have a back yard, you're probably sunning on a patio, balcony, deck, or at least the roof of your apartment building. Those who can do so will take advantage of any available body of water to launch an unnecessarily large and powerful boat; and of course golf is as much a religion here as elsewhere.

I'm not so much inclined to any of this, personally. When the weather gets hot I tend to look for cool, dark places to spend my off hours. This is ironic, I know, in one who spends his days in a hot kitchen, but I find the hot sunshine rather enervating. Most people gain weight in the winter and lose it in summer when they're more active; I tend to gain weight in summer and lose it in winter when I'm more active.

As for the effect of climate on my cooking? I'm a big comfort-food guy during the winter, then in summer I tend to lean in the direction of Indian/Mid-East food. Year-round we eat a lot of soups, a lot of rice, a lot of stews, a lot of pasta. I bake at home year-round, doesn't matter if it's hot out or not. As for the effect of weather on my daily plans, well...aside from not tobogganing during the summer or gardening in winter, it isn't really a factor.

Lexy: Beef isn't especially cheap here, unless (presumably) you know someone. Last summer there were some good deals, but even at that it was primarily on cheaper cuts and ground beef. Not saying you can't get a good buy, but overall the whole BSE/closed border scenario hasn't made things especially cheaper for the consumer.

Touaregsand: I've given the "Reader's Digest" version of my decision upthread...I'm selfish enough that I wanted to do something I enjoy for the rest of my working days. I don't expect to love it *every* day (I'm old enough to know better), but I'm still enjoying what I do, and if I had the decision to make again, I'd do the same thing.

Now bear in mind that my situation was a bit different from the scenario most would-be career changers were facing. As the result of some bad luck and bad judgement, we'd spent the preceding few years in financial straits; therefore I didn't take the same "hit" most people would, in going back to school. Even allowing for the higher cost of living here in Edmonton, I'm at least as solvent as I had been for some time. Not that this says a whole lot... :raz:

More detail tonight, perhaps.

Pan: There is a tremendous eastern European influence here, with Ukrainians being probably the largest single group. Outside city hall, in fact, there is a memorial to the Ukrainians who perished in Stalin's deliberately genocidal famines. Perogies (most-used local spelling), cabbage rolls, borscht, and kielbasa are all "soul food" for prairie dwellers, regardless of their personal ancestry. I hadn't given any real thought to cooking something along those lines, but perhaps I'll make one of my wife's grandmother's Mennonite dishes.

Edmonton is actually rather cosmopolitan. An illustration: anywhere in Canada we can educate our children in the local "French-immersion" program; here in Edmonton you can also get German, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, or Cree immersion. There are probably a few others I'm overlooking. We have a relatively large Latin American community here, and like any Canadian centre we have a strong Indo-Canadian presence. My local convenience store is run by a wonderful Afghan family.

I think that's all of the immediate questions. I'll be back later with more.


Edited by chromedome (log)

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I'm looking forward to your blog, too. I've actually been to Edmonton -- to see the Mall, of course! -- and will be curious to learn more about the area.

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I've already got a huge smile on my face and many questions running thru my brain. I'm so delighted to see you blog and really mad at myself that I didn't know about your first time blogging. But you can bet I'll be reading the first one as well as this one!

O.k. what "mall"......... and is there good food there?

Are there any Canadian baked goods that you like making and might show us?

Hey, what did you eat today? How do you start your day with food?

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O.k. what "mall"......... and is there good food there?

I know it's not my blog, but well... I know this one! :wink:

The West Edmonton Mall is the largest shopping center in North America - larger even than the Mall of America. Huge in fact.

Canadians like to shop, eh.

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I've been in Edmonton for two years now, and I've been to WEM twice...once to an Asian grocery (they have a little mock-Chinatown at one end of the mall), and once going to the wrong restaurant (long story). Funny bit...there was a little gift store in the mock-Chinatown section. Their door was in the middle of the two display windows. One window was, logically enough, full of Buddhas in all shapes and sizes...the other was full of Anne of Green Gables dolls. Filed that under "T" for "Things that make you go hmmmmmm..."

Still haven't actually gone into the mall (excuse me...MALL), but after 10 years in retail I think I've got the idea.

So, back to our work in progress...

A TALE OF TWO KITCHENS

Well, three really...but then I'd lose that whole Dickens allusion, and I really wanted that... :biggrin:

Okay, so to recap, I work in two very different establishments which give me two very different sets of duties. Since I don't know what's going to come up in the next several days, I'm going to give you a bit of a rundown on how things *normally* go.

My day begins at 6:50 AM. I am the furthest thing from a morning person, but I have gotten to the point of being reasonably functional even when half-awake. This is important for me, because as a naturally nocturnal creature I find it exceptionally difficult to fall asleep before 12:00 or 12:30. If I let myself get overtired it doesn't help; if anything that spells a bout of "wound-too-tight" insomnia.

As you may guess from the foregoing, breakfast on weekdays is a hit-or-miss affair. I may grab a piece of fruit, or a bit of toast, or maybe a piece of bread and cheese. Often I'll go entirely without, except for a glass of water and my morning tablets (glucosamine & ASA for the arthritic joints, and a vitamin supplement that I've reluctantly become reconciled to since my career change). My wife nannies her sister's two-year-old twins (that's why we moved here to Edmonton...I know someone would have asked eventually); so often in the morning I'm scurrying around getting everything kid-ready. Depending how tired we were the night before, that sometimes takes up all the time I have to get ready. My sister-in-law also works downtown, so she gives me a lift most mornings.

Mornings are super busy at my day job. As the team leader in the bakery, I have a number of obligations to fulfill. About the first thing I do when I arrive in the morning is to take a look at the new day's product and see that everything is up to standard. We make the majority of our product fresh from scratch on a daily basis, so consistency is always a priority issue. At present I have a new graveyard-shift baker, so I'm scrutinizing things a little more closely, but he's working out very well.

Muffins and cookies are my bread and butter, so to speak, and we sell several hundred of each in an ordinary day. My wiry little early baker makes up anywhere from 250-350kg of doughs in an ordinary day, and can go well in excess of that if we have a lot of catering orders. That would include scones and cinnamon buns, as well as the muffins and cookies. We have a fiercely loyal clientele; even the proprietors of a rival chain outlet in our food court will come and buy our baked goods. We have seven core cookies (peanut butter, pb & chocolate, chocolate chip, ginger, double chocolate, oatmeal raisin, and oatmeal chocolate), and a newer lemon-currant cookie that we're about to work into the daily production. We make anywhere from 12-14 kinds of muffins on a given day; 11 core recipes and then various features depending what we need to use up. We often have berries, for example, which go unsold on our produce display and end up in our fruit-based muffins. We also have a double-chocolate muffin we make when there is past-dated chocolate milk to use up; that's a big seller.

We bake all of these items in the wee small hours of the morning, and have the showcase loaded up with them when we open at 6:30 AM. We sell Starbucks coffees and teas to accompany them. We also have plain and almond croissants (proof & bake for labour-cost and consistency reasons), danishes (ditto), cakes and cheesecakes whole and by the slice (baked at our south-end sister store), pies (ditto), and a variety of homestyle squares (ditto). All are baked fresh, like yer granny would, and make heavy use of fresh or quality IQF fruit. We use callets of Callebaut couverture in all of our baking (in lieu of chocolate chips), and Callebaut coating chocolate for dipping and drizzling. This is not super high-end, but it sets us a distinct notch above our local competition. The double chocolate cookie, for example, takes 13kg of dark and white couverture per batch; roughly 35-40% by weight.

I make a variety of additional items to go into the showcases. The most popular to date has been the apple strudel; over the winter I'd sell as many as 30 portions, but with the onset of the warm weather it's tailed off to about 12. I used to scratch-make a ham & cheese croissant, but my bakers never really got the hang of proofing it properly and it was too time-consuming to be throwing out half of my production. Now I make a ham & cheese pocket with frozen puff pastry sheets. They give me a similar product on a fraction of the time. At various times I also make Nova Scotia-style oatcakes (lightly sweetened and with rolled oats; where the old-country Scots style would be with fine oatmeal and no sugar); skillet cornbread, dipped "cigarette" cookies, cream puffs and eclairs, shortbreads, sugar cookies, palmiers, mini-strudels for the coffee bar, and any number of things with the sweet brioche-style dough we make the cinnamon buns out of.

So...on a normal day I'll check the quality of our night's production, and waste off anything that's not saleable (we have a variety of ways to utilize those). Then I'll dedicate an hour or two to production of the items that I make, while my daytime production person makes up catering trays and fills the other showcase with pecan-ganache tarts, lemon curd tarts, mini fruit flans, and chocolate-dipped strawberries. That same case gets my butter tarts, eclairs, and cream puffs as well.

Between 10:30 and 11:30, depending how dire our staffing scenario is on a given day, I may or may not be required to cover a till while my cashiers take their lunch breaks (except for my two morning cashiers, most of ours are quite young...we get a lot of turnover despite our best efforts). Usually I'm covering at least one of those breaks. At 11:30 I put my apple strudels into the oven, and begin heating the skillets for the corn bread. At noon the cornbread goes in; at 12:30 or thereabouts the strudels come out. I make my strudels on puff pastry rather than phyllo or (God help us) actual strudel dough. Real strudel dough I can't budget the time for, and I find that puff stays crisp a lot better than phyllo. Also it bakes best from frozen, which coincides nicely with my need to advance-prep in bulk. I par-cook the filling (fresh hand-cut apples, of course) so that the juices do not make my strudel soggy.

At noon, the deluge hits. We'll do about a thousand transactions, most days, between 12 and 1. I spend that hour fetching and bagging for one of my cashiers, and my day person helps at the other till. There is always a tension between customer service and production, and balancing these two necessities is a big part of my day.

After the lunch rush is over my day person and I take our breaks. I spend the time between 1 and 1:30, while she's gone for lunch, by replenishing our showcase and cutting and traying up the strudels and cornbreads. I try to have a few trays of cookies or chocolates or something of that nature to throw into the showcase if we've been wiped out over lunch. When I'm really hard up, I'll go to my other displays and pull out things like pies to fill in the empty spaces. That's how it is in retail...half of your time you're trying to make everything fit; half of your time you're trying to make it look full.

During the afternoons I have only one cashier, so I try to fit in any additional production around customer flow. Once the line gets to four people, I drop what I'm doing (grudgingly, sometimes) and open the second till. A lot of places pay lip service to that kind of policy, but we take it very seriously. If I take thirty seconds to finish, say, making my caramel sauce, I can count on getting told off by a manager. And rightly so, though the result is that some days getting anything made can be an exercise in frustration.

In among all of this I'm fielding phone calls, taking catering orders, tweaking my daily orders of breads and bagels, monitoring my inventory of ingredients and finished product, tweaking recipes, helping at other stations, ensuring that I have the various specialty products for our catering menu (I make mini pizza doughs from scratch, and produce a variety of mini pastries for one of the breakfast trays). It makes for a full day.

By 4:30 I have finished any production chores that I've taken on and cleaned down my area for the early night baker. I make any necessary changes to my bread order, communicate anything that my night bakers need to know (verbally for the early baker, in writing for the graveyard baker), write off any late-day waste, check the next day's catering orders one more time, and (theoretically) leave at 5:00.

This is the "broad strokes" outline of my day; there are some other things that I'll touch on as the days go by.

My part-time job, at the fine-dining restaurant, is very different. On any given day, I may be at one of three stations: the dessert bench; "#2" (second line cook, ie veg/sauce/garnish responsible for some appetizers); or "#1" (first line cook, ie entree items, some appetizers, various miscellaneous duties). Each position involves some prep, though if I go there from my day job the prep is normally done by the time I get there. If it's slow on the dessert bench in the early part of the night, I may dot a few metaphorical I's and cross some T's, but that's all the prep I'll see on an evening. If anything, I may haul down the stone and sharpen knives for a while; help the dishwasher; or replenish supplies for the cooks on the hot side of the kitchen.

I've already discussed the details of the hot side and the dessert bench in last year's work blog, so I won't go over that again. The menu's changed, but the rhythm hasn't.

The only time things are different is when I work my one Sunday out of four. On Sundays there'll be just myself and the owner/chef in the kitchen, and the dishwasher. The chef mostly expedites and does appetizers unless it's super-quiet, in which case she catches up on her paperwork and just lets me run on my own. On Sundays, therefore, I do all the various prep duties (prep veg, meat, sauces, salad ingredients, bake dessert items, whatever); then set up the hot side, and cover all of the hot-side items for the day. If we get a busy Sunday sometimes another cook will be called in, but usually I can handle things all right. The chef will jump in if we get too many covers happening at once, as we did on my last Sunday.

I haven't been working the line a whole lot since before Christmas, so my rhythm isn't what it should be/has been. For a while there, every time I worked a Sunday the menu would be different...makes things a bit challenging when you're already rusty.

Anyway...that's what a normal day looks like in each job. On with the actual blogging, now!

Today was the last of my wife's days off for this month, so I didn't have to clean up for the twins today. Breakfast was a couple slices of buttered toast and my pills, as mentioned above. I popped a small slab of short ribs into an ovenproof pan with some tomato "water" reserved from earlier in the week, a bay leaf, a dash of soy, two cloves of garlic, and some salt and pepper. I put that into a 300F oven, and left instructions for my wife to turn the oven off at the appropriate time. That's supper tonight (it's been cool and rainy here all week). Then I re-set the alarm for her, woke the kids, and headed off to the bus.

I was amused by a small piece of serendipity when I got to the bus stop. Yesterday I'd picked up a supply of kefir grains (more about that later), and the woman who gave them to me told me about a local food blogger she enjoyed (a lawyer transplanted from Oz). Today's newspaper had a front-page article about the boom in foodblogging, and who did they choose to profile? Right. I seldom buy a paper, but I was amused enough to grab one today. Her blog is pretty good. One of my classmates works at Wild Tangerine, the restaurant she's currently reviewing.

Wednesdays are when I place one of my two main orders for the week. I order most of my own ingredients, except for dairy and produce which are looked after by two of the managers. So, the first thing I did on arrival today was to pull out my clipboard and order sheets and get to it. After that comes writing off a few trays of overbaked cookies and setting them aside for later; bagging and displaying some coffee cakes; and topping up the cakes and cake slices in my showcase. I also found time to call up my bread/bagel supplier and bitch about some problems with my order. Y'know. Normal stuff.

I make up my eclairs and cream puffs in quantity and freeze them; then each day I pull some, re-crisp them in the oven, and fill them. I use a combination of fresh whipped cream and commercial "Bavarian Creme" for the filling; it sells better than just whipped cream. Personally, I'd rather just the real cream, but hey! It's their money. I came in today wanting to get a new batch of choux made up, but it wasn't to be. After sorting out my orders, getting today's product into the showcases, fetching up some produce from the downstairs cooler and making a batch of cornbread batter, it was already time to hop onto the cash register.

At 1:30, when the rush was over, I took my own break. The pasta special today was farfalle with seafood in tomato sauce, so that's what I had. We use a commercial seafood mix (squid, clams, mussels, etc) and there was also a good quantity of salmon in it. It was pretty good, and I got to gross out some of my prairie-raised colleagues by ostentatiously slurping up some squid tentacles. I never get tired of that...

In the course of the morning we sold a ton of cookies, so when the lunch rush was over I baked off an extra five dozen just to get us through the afternoon. We got killed on muffins, as well, but I didn't have time enough to make extra product to fill the shelves. I just brought out my trusty tray of almond bark to fill some of the empty space, and one of the managers brought me some pies to put in there and make it look full. I also made up a batch of caramel sauce, at management's request, so that they could cost out trays of apples-and-dip. That should sell well for us, our clientele appreciate a relatively virtuous treat.

We also got a late order for one of our mini-pastry trays, which I was concerned about. I haven't taken the time lately to replenish our stock of those in a big way, so I had to run to the back and count what I had. Fortunately the only one I was short of was the mini almond croissants, so I made up a couple dozen of those for tonight. I'll have to find time in the next few days to stock up properly on those and the mini pizza doughs, as well as some mini-strudels and ham & cheese pockets. Fortunately I'm closing tomorrow, which will give me an extra hour or so to play with.

After the usual cleaning and some discussion with my baker, I got out pretty much on time.

Arriving at home in an intermittent rain, I set about making supper for my own clan. I took out the now-cooled short ribs and checked them out. They'd cooked nicely, but unfortunately the braising liquid had all cooked away and was slightly scorched. That killed Plan A where sauce was concerned. I put on a pot of long-grain rice and set some onions to caramelize in the cast-iron skillet; then I went out to my garden for some salad makin's. I'll talk more about my garden later on; for tonight I'll just say that the salad was "garden babies;" several varieties of new lettuces, a bit of arugula, some dandelions (hey, I'm not gonna turn down some baby greens just 'cause I didn't plant them), a scallion, and a few pretty little radishes. This, plus a cuke and a tomato from the store, constituted our veg for tonight.

When I came in I left the greens in a bowl in the sink to shed some dirt; and added a bit of water and soy to the caramelized onions. Then I cut the short ribs into four portions and added them to the pan and let them reheat (and let the liquid reduce) while I finished rinsing the greens and making the salad. The ribs were beautiful, thankfully they hadn't absorbed any "scorchy" flavour from the braising liquid. They were tender on the inside and a little crusty on the outside, without being cooked to mush. I dressed my salad with white wine vinegar and some walnut oil, my wife opted for walnut oil and a squeeze of lemon, and my kids...well, they don't acknowledge any dressing except ranch. Oh well.

I took some pictures of the food before I tucked in, which I will scan and post here within a day or so (see above). Then, since the sun had come out, I nipped out and got some pictures of my garden and the river valley.

Now, in the past people have asked me how I manage to cook all day and then come home and cook and bake for my family. The obvious answer is that I try to prep ahead as much as possible, as with the braise today. Last night I started a batch of sourdough bread, which I left to rise slowly overnight. After getting back from my little excursion, I divided the dough into two rough loaves (picture to follow) which I later baked on my pizza stone. Then, since I'll be closing tomorrow and won't be here in time to make supper, I started a batch of chicken soup.

The carcass was frozen after I broke down the last whole bird I bought. I thawed that and threw it into the pot with onions, garlic, salt, pepper, a bay leaf, and a bit of coriander (I put coriander into the grinder with my pepper, I like the way those flavours combine). Before bed I'll add the potatoes and carrots, maybe some barley or kamut, and a pinch of saffron. After I've tasted it for seasoning, I'll put it in the fridge overnight and my wife can simmer it tomorrow for an hour or so until it's ready.

Last night we made fudge and brownies (my wife had a hankering, so I made her some brownies with butter-tart filling baked on top...mmmmm). My daughter (12) is on a baking kick, and wants to make fudge for her class now that the school year is almost over. My son (16), who as recently as last year refused to eat eggs, is now an impassioned experimenter with omelettes and souffles. In all likelihood, both kids will figure into this blog in the next day or two.

So that was my day, such as it was. I had a lot of fiddly interruptions and annoyances at work today, which meant that I didn't get nearly as much done as I would like. Tomorrow, with the extra hour, I'll try to get through the majority of my "not-yet-urgent-but-could-be-real-soon" list. I'll also take my camera to work and snap as many things as I can (at least to the degree that it's consistent with getting my stuff done). I want to try and burn off a whole roll of film so I can get it developed tomorrow and start posting up the "illustrations" to go with all of this.

Wendy, I don't do a whole lot in the line of specifically "Canadian" baked goods. I mean, I do things with maple syrup occasionally, but that's about it (unless you count the maple-shaped sugar cookies I'll be making for Canada Day). I guess the Nova Scotia-style oatcakes would be a bit of a novelty, though...hmmm. I make the same oatcakes at home and at work, so I'll probably fit those in somewhere along the way.

And with that, it's now midnight. I'm about to turn into a pumpkin and my glass slipper is about to turn back into a frog prince...or something like that. So with that, I'll leave you until tomorrow.

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Like people everywhere else in the cooler climates, Edmontonians revel in the sun while it lasts. 

Favorite quote from my friends in Edmonton:

"We're hoping that summer falls on a weekend this year."

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Great writing, Chromedome!

Just two questions: What is proofing, and what is quality IQF fruit?

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Oh, one other question: You refer to using up "past-dated chocolate milk." You mean stuff that actually has a "do not sell past this date" stamp on it?

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Pan: "Proofing," or "proving," is the secondary fermentation (or second rise) of a yeast dough. The initial rise is primary fermentation. At home most people don't use either term, they just speak of the dough rising. In this particular instance my former late baker used to consistently underproof (dry, uninspiring texture, no "puff" to the croissants) or overproof (croissants which blow up like balloons but then deflate like them, too). I made enough margin on the croissants for them to be worth the effort, but *only* if we actually got to sell them. As I mentioned upthread, I was wasting off about half of my production, which put us into the red on that particular product.

IQF is just "individually quick frozen," meaning you get separate berries or fruit slices instead of a brick. Much more convenient. For those of us on the prairies, "local and seasonal" would be a brutally limiting thing where fruit is concerned. A good quality frozen fruit will, more often than not, be better than a "fresh" item shipped under refrigeration from 3000km away. Every professional kitchen has its compromises, and that's a relatively minor one.

MicBacchus: This really is light duty, in the context. If I'd blogged Christmas (which would have required a time machine or cloning myself) you'd be staggered. Right now I do more customer service and administration "stuff" than I have in the past, so I'm not nearly cranking out product like I have/can. Sometimes this is frustrating, but that's my scenario...we're a retail outlet, not a full-bore production bakery. Want to see busy? Read Melmck's "Mel's Bakery" thread. Nothing says chronic fatigue like opening your own shop...

Today was a "twins" day, so my morning routine was compressed a little bit. Breakfast was a heel of that sourdough bread from last night, with a slice of sage Derby on it. Why sage Derby? Because it was the first thing I put my hand on when I opened the fridge, that's why. :hmmm: Like I said, I'm not at my best in the morning.

This morning all the product looked great, and I had no order to place, so I was able to get into some production right away. Priority one was to get a fresh batch of choux made, since I'm almost out and the puffs and eclairs (which are still a new product) are beginning to sell well for me now. I took along my camera today, and got several pictures of the process from start to finish. I made up a handful of cream puffs, regular eclairs with chocolate-dipped tops, and a variation that I thought of last night while dozing off: fresh-sliced strawberries down each side of the eclair, and dusted with icing sugar instead of chocolate-dipped. Those ones were a big hit, and I'll definitely make more tomorrow.

Aside from that, the morning was spent in getting my showcases all filled up, in preparation for the lunch rush, and covering a break on the cash register. One of those broke on us yesterday (the cash drawer was sticking), so we had a technician frantically getting it replaced as the lunch rush was beginning. Some fun, huh Bambi? Like yesterday, I baked off two strudels and two skillet cornbreads for after lunch. This time I got some pictures for you, which I should be able to post by tomorrow.

Lunch today was a chicken & bacon pizza, from the station where I worked during last year's blog. The girl who is now at that station was my cashier, a year ago. She showed a solid work ethic and a good attitude, so we gave her a more responsible prep/cashier position at the salad bar. Before Christmas one of the managers told me that, next time I needed somebody for the pizza station, this girl would like a crack at the job. Was I okay with that?

Traditionally, we had demanded cooking experience in the actual production positions, so it was a legitimate question. In this instance, though, I already knew her work ethic; so I was more than happy to train up a novice. Especially since the preceding several pizza guys, experienced though they were, had included some real putzes. She's now been at that station for six months, and is doing a bang-up job. The pizzas look better than anybody's since mine, and she runs her station in a smooth and efficient fashion. I'm quite proud of her.

Lunch was all too short, and then it was back to work. Like yesterday, we got absolutely killed on cookies. Is it the rainy weather? I don't know. I wound up baking off an extra seven sheet pans (105 cookies) just to get us through the afternoon. We had about five left at closing time.

We took a late order for the mini-pizza appetizers, and I didn't have any of the little doughballs frozen, so that was a high priority for the afternoon. I make a small batch of lean yeasted dough at about 70% hydration, with a kilo of flour. That yields about 6 or 6 1/2 dozen bite-sized pizzas, depending how diligent I'm being about size consistency. I like a relatively slack dough for these, since a stiffer dough doesn't flatten as well. We wind up having pillow-shaped pizzas!

I was on and off the cash register all afternoon, so aside from the mini-pizzas I got little enough production done. I also spent some time with various managers discussing a couple of upcoming catering events: an in-home cooking class and a stagette. The cooking class, for tomorrow night, had been hanging fire for a week...and she decided today to go ahead with it. Oy. I checked in with my night job and they can spare me for the evening, so I'll be the one doing the class (Mexican food). Hurray, something else to blog!

The stagette is for next month. The bride, apparently, is passionate about pasta; so they'd asked for a pasta-based cooking demonstration. I'm going to make fresh pasta for the demo, cook some papardelle, and demonstrate making several different shapes.

After all of this discussion, it was time for me to quickly sweep and mop cooler #3 before my cashier went home.

Yesterday, when I was asked if I could close, I'd assumed that meant closing the store...meaning I'd have more time for prep. In fact, I was pencilled in to be the closing cashier in the bakery...meaning less time for prep. To make things a little more interesting, my early baker called to say that she'd broken up with her longtime boyfriend, and would be running a bit late. So, in between customers, I got started on her stuff. That means running to the back for all of the frozen product (the proof & bake items listed upthread, plus the house-made cinnamon buns) and getting it all sheeted up on a speed rack to thaw and proof for later on. By the time I'd gotten that done, my baker arrived, and I was able to devote my attention to cleaning and shutting down the station.

A final check, a note to my night baker, and I was out the door. I know I've left out lots of detail from my description of the day, but frankly my thinker's a bit fogged up right now.

Supper was a bowl of the soup mentioned last night, plus a couple slices of bread. I opted for kamut as the grain of choice, and it definitely added something. I like whole kamut kernels in soup, because it retains its texture even when it's "popped," and it doesn't bleed starch into the soup. This gives you a nice, chewy grain in your soup, and the broth stays perfectly clear. What's not to like?

Given that I'm going to be doing that catering gig tomorrow, I'll need to come up with a meal to prep in advance for my wife and kids. I'll give that some thought over the next couple of hours, then pop in with the results (and answer any late questions). I also want to return to the subject of the career change, if I have enough time and energy.

Until then...

*Late breaking question from Pan:

Re chocolate milk...yes, that's what I mean. I dunno how you do it in Noo Yawk, but here in Canada milk always has a best-before date imprinted on the packaging. These dates are pretty conservative, meaning that it's still good even after the point where it's saleable over-the-counter. Personally I like to let my milk go even further, to the point of being genuinely sour, for some kinds of baking. That's at home, though, not at work.

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To begin with, a couple of things I'd overlooked.

Lexy: Edmonton has, in round figures, something like 2000 restaurants. On the SWAG principle (Scientific Wild-Ass Guess) I'd figure that ethnic restaurants are probably right up there with Chains Minor and Major in terms of overall numbers. The majority would be little mom 'n' pop places like the Chinese restaurant in my neighbourhood, but some are truly outstanding. That's what I hear, anyway...staff meal is usually as close as I get to eating out. :sad: See "budget restrictions," upthread.

Having said that, we did go to Pizza Boys last weekend, a little shop at the unfashionable end of Whyte Ave, just east of Bonnie Doon. It's a family-owned business, been there for nine years, and they make truly excellent pizza. I recommend it highly to anyone who visits Edmonton.

Pan: There is a strong First Nations presence here in Alberta, as there is throughout most of Canada. They aren't really a factor in the culinary life of most cities; although I recall a restaurant in the Pan Pacific in Vancouver years ago, serving salmon/bison/bannock etc. Recently I've been intrigued by the notion of pemmican as charcuterie; aside from the meat being jerky the overall concept is very much the same as a pate. It would be interesting to revisit this notion and "upscale" it.

Pam R: Gasoline, natural gas, etc are no cheaper here than elsewhere, and in fact natural gas and electricity are through the roof. Why? D-E-R-E-G-U-L-A-T-I-O-N. This is entirely on-topic, of course, since it impacts the cost of turning on my stove (and cuts into my grocery budget).

There are a variety of berries that grow here. Saskatoons are the biggie, of course, the sine qua non of regional cooking on the prairies (like avocadoes in California cuisine). Cooking school here is a never-ending parade of Saskatoon creme brulees, game meats in Saskatoon reductions, Saskatoon cornbread, Saskatoon muffins, Saskatoon this, Saskatoon that. Westerners are appalled when I tell them that they grow in Nova Scotia too, but nobody eats them. Kids use them as ammunition, mostly... :raz:

Aside from those, you get the usual suspects...raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc. Also cranberries, I'm told, but they seem to be some sort of dry-land version. Perhaps they're like the eastern "partridgeberry"/scandinavian "lingonberry." I dunno.

Now then, for Touaregsand and everyone else who's been interested in the career-change thing...a few thoughts, in late-night-tired-brain random order.

I'll start off by saying that despite the equivocal tone of my "teaser" and subtitle, I am entirely behind my career choice. I'm doing what I want to do, and if that means plugging away for a few years at a mediocre income, so be it. I've done it before by accident, now I'm doing it on purpose. Life goes on.

Having said that, of course, you have to be a little bit crazy (or obsessive, to be more tactful) to want to do this for a living. It's damned hard on the body, especially if you're coming into it as a mature adult...it's definitely a young person's game. I have flat feet, arthritic joints, tendinitis in my right elbow, and some recent but worrying issues with my right shoulder. I surely wouldn't want to be a "grunt" working the line somewhere in twenty years; and in fact I don't think I could.

On the upside of that, I've got a lot of stamina, and more mental toughness than most of my younger co-workers. Most of them defer to my judgement and my palate, even if they've been cooking a lot longer. I think that will help smooth my (planned) transition to management/chef positions. Also, while I'm an easygoing person by nature and prefer to remain on good terms with the people around me, I don't put up with much either. My job is my job, it's not where I go to find new friends. Try to take advantage of me, and you'll find that I do "hardnosed prick" pretty well, too.

My current career plans are somewhat nebulous (hey, it's still early) but I have the broad outline fairly clear in my mind. Currently, Plan A looks like this:

We're committed to Edmonton for another three years or so, until the twins go to school. I'll have my Red Seal (the Canadian journeyman certification for trades) by late this summer, and at that point I will think seriously about taking a job in one of the major hotels for my part-time income. That's a side of the industry I've yet to explore, and I think I have a lot to learn there. I plan to stay with my day job for at least the balance of this year, and perhaps longer, because I'm going to school on the new market manager and assistant manager. They're both very capable people, and the market manager has not only managed restaurants but taught restaurant management at a community college in Ontario. As long as I'm still learning things and moving forward, I'll be staying put.

By the time we leave Edmonton, my son will be off to university and my daughter will be in high school. We're currently planning to remain in Canada until she's also left the nest. Probably BC will be our next stop; not one of the cities but someplace quieter (and cheaper), possibly the Okanagan wine country or one of the islands. I'd prefer wine country, since there are some interesting chefs there and because it suits my longer-term goals.

After a couple of years in BC, when we're back down to just my wife and I at home, we'd like to live (I'd like to work) outside the country for a while. This is where it gets nebulous. We'd both love to spend time in Catalonia, but I'm looking for a place where we can live cheaply and save money while I broaden my professional horizons. I don't know if Catalonia fits the bill. Perhaps we might end up in a cultural crossroads like Dubai, or perhaps in one of the less-visited Caribbean islands. My wife would dearly love to spend a few years in a hot climate! I'm certainly open to suggestion on this, though it's outside the scope of the current discussion (and far enough in the future that things can change radically).

Ultimately, I want to return to my native Nova Scotia. There is a small but burgeoning wine industry there, and the establishment of a federally-funded institute to support cool climate oeniculture will undoubtedly benefit marginal areas like Nova Scotia and Quebec. The combination of a favourable microclimate (the Annapolis valley) with a nascent wine tour industry, and the existing tourist trade, strikes me as a Good Thing. I'd like to have a small place in that area, network with like-minded entrepreneurs, and eventually semi-retire to a small-scale craft bakery or bed & breakfast (or perhaps combine the two).

Along the way, of course, I'll soak up all I can of the free training and support materials provided by the various levels of government. It's surprising what they can do for you, if you pay attention to their offerings.

So...that was plan A.

Plan B is called, "What if I physically can't stay the course?" Plan B is to become a cooking-school instructor. I have a good basis to build on. I am a sponge for information (my nickname at both schools was "Encyclopedia Fred"), and a good teacher on an informal basis. I do a lot of hands-on cooking classes in the line of work (that's what tomorrow's catering gig is), so I'm beginning to build a foundation. I keep in touch with my instructors at both schools already, and to have this fall-back plan in place I'll be continuing to groom those relationships. NAIT does a lot of special events in the run of a year, and I will put myself forward as an assistant for those. One step at a time, right? You can never have too many strings for your bow.

I also aspire to a bit of freelance food writing, which is a nice little profile-raiser. That's a year or so off, yet. I'm not looking at that as an income, as such; more so as "fertilizer" for the rest of my career.

Character-wise, both Plans are supported by the fact that I'm a bear for professional development. Given my budget constraints, that doesn't take the form of seminars and masterclasses yet (maybe after the student loans are paid down). However, I do read an absolute boatload of books (12-15/month which are food related, and at least as many that aren't); and hang out at places online where there are smart and talented people I can learn from <insert favourite "sucking up" emoticon here>. And I never miss the opportunity to pick a well-furnished brain.

I hope that gives you all a bit more insight into where I am with all of this, and where I'm going. I expect that there will be some modifications in the plan over the coming years, but hey...if you're not in motion, you can't steer, right?

That's all I've got time for, tonight (yikes, 1:08 AM) but I'll be back tomorrow with some new things to talk about, and finally some pictures (dammit!).

Upcoming topics I'll be touching on will include gardening, yogurt and kefir, weekends at home, and some philosophical speculation on the eternal question, "Why do all the special days fall on my Sunday to work?" :huh:

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I'm amazed and impressed by the detailed plans you've made for the future course of your career; kind of humbled, too -- but we won't discuss the state of my career in your blog. :biggrin:

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  However, I do read an absolute boatload of books (12-15/month which are food related, and at least as many that aren't);

Now that impresses me even more (if that's possible) that your awe-inspiring description of your work day. Where on earth do you find the time for all that reading? or are you one of those fast-readers?? :blink:

This is a great blog, very well written and I have to say, I don't even miss the pictures (although I'm sure I'll be very happy when they arrive :biggrin: )

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However, I do read an absolute boatload of books (12-15/month which are food related, and at least as many that aren't);

Chromedome- I'm truly enjoying your blog - you must be a high energy guy. As one who is also considering a career change in the direction of food, I too would like to read a boatload of food related books. Can you give me your top ten suggestions?

Also, what does an expediter do?

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Holy Cow, Chromedome! What a life you lead. As a person who cooks for a living, but on a much, much smaller scale, I'm totally in awe of the fact that you make it through your day, day after day. I can't wait for the pictures.

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