This is my journey as I return to school and work in a profession I once dabbled in as a means for funding an after college 7 year long ski trip...not as a viable career choice. I hope I entertain, enlighten and learn something from any readers I may attract.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Got my tickets!

I have secured tickets for the 11:10 am showing Friday morning!

Only 2 days left!!!

Trivia: Name the SUV endorsed by Krusty.

Yesterday's answer: Bleeding Gums Murphy

Too Many Pots on the Stove

It is always a pleasure to see your neighborhood favorite open a second unit. Assuming you are somewhat of a regular, you probably know the menu, staff, and possibly owner. You are proud of this "undiscovered gem" and really hope success is on the horizon. So, the owner opens another, then another, then another. People continue to visit these satellite locations and spur the owner on to open more. You, being the nice patron you are, feel pride as you cheer on the small business owner. After all in this industry, greater than 60% of all new restaurant endeavors fail within the first year. You really want your friend to succeed. If they succeed, then you can continue to eat the products you fell in love with in the first place. Sadly for you the operation is a huge success.

The owners' success is not always good for the patron. How many times have you seen him in the last few visits? Where is the usual manager on duty? Who is in the kitchen?

These are issues I have faced recently. I am a victim of someone else's success. There is a wildly successful restauranteur here in town that has opened 9 restaurants in a dozen years, 4 of them in 4 years. I loved his first try. Still do. Obviously, I was/am not alone. He has great food, uberfair prices and excellent staff. That formula has worked great. It is real, and what people want. I have eaten at his other venues and found the formula applied at those places too, much to my pleasure. These days, though, it is like the formula got lost, probably while opening another place.

I had been going to one of these restaurants for the porkchops for years. The same manager always greeted us, and checked in on us during meals. I always got the same thing, always. I fall victim to "restaurant rut" and when I find something I like that I hate to cook, I order it every time.I know this dish. I know it well. We went to eat there the other night about a month after restauranter had opened his latest effort. It was different. The menu was the same, the tea the same, and dining room the same. Even the vibe was there. Sadly, the manager we love was not there. She has not been present for the last few visits, but it is summer (and we hope she is well!) We were seated immediately, and as I glanced into the open kitchen, I saw a woman leading the crew. Being a female culinary student, I was filled with pride for her, as she has obviously worked her way up to a great position given to those who earn it. I even pointed it out to my husband. We ordered my usual and one of his 5 favorites and settled in for what we knew to be a good meal. It was fun to have a date on a random night, and I was really looking forward to that chop! Then it all went to hell. Dinner appeared. While hub's dish was spot on, mine as far from it, not even looking like what I have ordered approximately 50 times. I tried it anyway, and it was just not right. When our server checked on us, I pointed this out to her, and being a veteran on the staff (over a year's service!) she knew my dish and agreed. She agreed that it was covered in spices not used for this dish, and didn't even look like my favorite. Surely there as a mistake. I totally understood, and as she took it to the kitchen I looked forward to the mistake being corrected and oh! how yummy that chop was going to be. We visit this place enough to know these are people who want to make it right. Wrong! As I watched her take the food to the kitchen, I saw the chef approach her and begin talking. The chef then argued with the server about the dish. She argued with not only the server but also the manager on duty. We could see the whole thing as it happened. Needless to say, after her poor reaction to people who KNOW this dish, I had Taco Bell for dinner. There was no way I was going to let someone angry with me make me more food. Her unprofessional actions led me to believe that if I had ordered something else, I may have gotten extras not found in a normal sanitary dinner. Yes, her tantrum and reaction turned me off.

I am saddened by this turn of events but I wonder if it was not in the cards. This family of restaurants is so big, the checks and balances of a hands on management experience have been lost. I am happy for the success of the owner, he has worked hard. But only for himself. He forgot about me. I have paid countless dollars to eat this food and expand his empire. I am thanked for contributing to his success by having an angry cook bawl out not one but two staff members who were representing me. In front of me at that! I was the idiot who didn't know a porkchop from a ....., and the staffers were stupid for trying to make it right. If it had been my first visit, my first taste, I would not have known she had made it differently than the recipe used for at least 4 years. It would not have mattered. I still would not have liked it, but that is part of ordering something for the first time. That was not the case. I knew this dish well, and I am not crazy. It was not right.

This incident, I believe, is part of something larger. Mr Restauranteur is busy. Very busy. What with an empire to run and all, he has no time for what got him his empire in the first place. The patrons have made this guy a name in a very competitive scene. Now as we enter his eateries, we are reminded of a corporate culture where nameless, faceless stupid customers get what chef says they get. The people who fell in love with good food at a good price suffer. The patrons who come enough to know your menu and care enough to speak up are now the enemy. And from the looks of things, the kitchen is ready for battle.

Will I eat there again? Sadly, not likely. The incident in this outlet is not isolated. I visited an outpost not so long ago only to have to an extremely inattentive staff make sure that (a.)my mother died of thirst, and (b) I needed to beg for my check only after getting less eye contact than a dissheveled fat drunk girl at closing time. Yes, what a stellar experience. Please Mr Restauranteur get rid of the distractions of an empire. Get rid of the outposts you cannot visit daily. Keep up with your staff. Do quality checks. Hell, hire "secret shoppers" Do whatever it takes to get your mojo back. You are dealing with the public. We have short memories. If we hear "it's like it used to be!" we will return. Remember who's dollars earned the interest necessary to open all these new places. Slow down, sir. If you cook it like it used to be, we will come. Pay attention to your successes, remember why they were successful in the first place. Remember me, I used to eat porkchops about twice a month. Remember when you had time for your loved ones.

Too many pots on the stove means someone is gonna get burned. I have already been burned but I will be okay. If you get burned, well,'s probably your own fault.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The best episode ever!

In the all things Simpsons theme this week, I want to tell you about my favorite episode. During the tenth season, the Simpsons rescued a diving horse. Upon realizing the incredible expense just to feed "Duncan" they must find a way to generate cash. They find Duncan a gig racing but his killer instinct is missing. So, they do a makeover. Duncan becomes "Furious D" a racehorse with a bad ass attitude. Think Dennis Rodman, they brand him, dye his mane, and give him a nose ring (actually, Lisa's bracelet) He becomes the bad boy of racing, and starts to win. This does not settle well with the other jockeys, and in grand Groening style, a musical errupts as Homer visits jockeyland (in a tree) and finds out the jockeys are all little freaks who hate outsiders. In the end, Furious D of course wins the big race and gets his pick of phillies.One really cool thing about this episode..... The first showing ever has music during one race that implies Cake's hit The Distance, All airings after that use the actual song.

only 3 days left!!!!

Name the Jazzman Lisa mourned.

Yesterday's answer: Homer

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Count is on!

This week, I will celebrate my favorite tv show, The Simpsons. For fun, check how you would look if you were a resident of Springfield, USA at

movie count....only 4 days left!

Trivia for today..... Which main charecter is left handed?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

How do you do ribs?

Barbeque is a very personal thing that raises passions in the most passive people. Everyone will tell you their kind of barbeque is The Best. Texans prefer beef barbeque with a sort of tomato based sauce, while southerners revere the pig. This is about all we can agree on, the vehicle of sauce delivery. Born and raised in South Carolina, I believe in my heart of hearts that mustard based sauce is the best way to go. North Carolinians are fans of the vinegar based stuff. In a house divided, the cook wins. Since my husband is not allowed to cook, I win. Not that he doesn't always have a choice, seeing as how we brought back 3 bottles of sauce the last time we visited the mountains. Luckily, he doesn't make me fix him his, but I would.
My method for fixing ribs is fairly straightforward. I cheat by boiling them through the danger zone in water with pickling spices. Next I soak them in sauce briefly then grill them for about 7 minutes on each side painting them with sauce after flipping. I then use some reserved sauce and give them one last onceover at service.
We usually take advantage of the warm grill, often cooking corn or other veggies on the grill as sides. Of course, the grill is often a valuable tool for preparing a most excellent bananna split for desert. Just remember to leave the peel on while cooking, it makes handling that much easier. Grilled pineapples are also great garnish for pina coladas or homemade ice cream.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Save me from myself

I was just checking out Bob DelGrosso's Hunger Artist blog (check it out under my links) and he has posted something that has set me off. No, I am not mad at Bob in the least. His news is unsettling to me. Hasbro has recalled Easy Bake ovens due to the fact that they could burn someone. Duh? Doesn't the word oven imply heat? Doesn't the word bake imply the use of heat? Good God! What is next? No pool because of the risk if drowning? If "they" (whoever 'they' are) ruled my world, according to "them" I should be dead.

In today's world, so many things are hazardous we really need to stay inside and watch tv and eat well done food stuffs.Seriously. Let's take a look at the risky behaviors I have risked my life with just recently. Big Brother forgive me, for I have sinned. I used the oven. I now know I can be burned so next time, I will eat the cookie dough raw. Oh, I can't do that either. Noone has ever eaten raw cookie dough and lived to tell about it. Hmmm, maybe I will eat a healthy spinach salad and oh wait, some cow crap made people sick and now folks not affected by the scare are not trusted to purchase and wash the greens and consume. I will just drink some water and ponder this. Damn! the water is from a tap and I live in an old city. Lead abounds. The fact I grew up visiting my grandmother's 1820's era home and drank water, tea whatever means I should have never seen 5th grade. Maybe I should just go on a bike ride. Shoot! I don't have a helmet and after surviving all these years without one, I must wear one because it sets a good example for children. I'd hate to be the poor example that utimately caused little Timmy a scraped chin because he copied me. screw the bike. How bout a jaunt to the beach? Maybe I'll go to my regular place. Oh yeah, it is overrun by tourists who really believe my tax dollars need to pay for lifeguards on every block so they get out of actually being responsible for their own kids. Isn't that why I pay for county parks manned by lifeguards? I guess I will just read on my couch. Damn! I can't concentrate because I am so upset over the number of trees sacrificed to publish this tome. I guess I could watch the news. Oh! which news to watch? Every group has named a different channel "the man" and I don't want to offend anyone or spend money on causes I would never entertain. I begin to think about dinner. (At least that's easy, but if I lived somewhere with more socially active residents, my choices would be limited because harassing people is okay as long as you don't eat foie gras and I hate confrontation.) Wait, not so easy. I visit my favorite hamburger joint (joint, not chain!) and am informed that due to a state law, my meat must be overcooked. (even though the law was actually repealed, the cooks don't want to learn how to cook a variety of temps even if I am the only table) On the way home I remember I need to feed the cat. The declawed cat. Oh yes! My true ticket to hell, even though I have no idea who had this done, and adopted him from my sister who had rescued him from the SPCA. Not our fault but I suppose it would have been easier to have him put to sleep than take him in, love him like only a childless mother could, and put up with the judgements attached to something my sister and I had nothing to do with. Yes, America, I should be on the most wanted list.

Writing this rant, I am trying to figure out when "they" took over. Why isn't it a world where the philosophy of Wings rings true. Live and Let Die. Quit telling me all the reasons what I do is killing me. Mind your own damn business. "They" have never had raw cookie dough, ridden a bike with no helmet, or known the sweet sweet pleasure of a juicy burger! "They" know so much better than me, what's good for me. Wait, actually, "they" don't. Have you ever seen a list of "Do's?" Me, neither. Everytime they look out for me, the edict starts with "Do Not" Maybe it is that the public is more likely to react to negative commands. Hmmm, are we really that stupid that well into adulthood, we need someone to tell us all the don'ts? I think not.

I am the anti"them" I say eat raw cookie dough before putting it into your preheated oven. Drink tap water, hell get crazy and drink it from the spigot outside. Ride without a helmet, and laugh when you fall! Eat whatever you like because it tastes good. Spend your family vacation with your kids, not pawning them off on lifeguards.Rescue an animal from an allergic kid's mom without knowing his history. And spend more time loving him than debating the choice of his previous master. I challenge you to do what you like to do. Sure, be responsible, but quit listening to them. In fact, I should tell you don't listen to me, either. Listen to yourself. Do what YOU like to do. Eat what you like to eat. In the end, are the foie fascists going to attend your funeral after you fall off your bike on the way to the place that makes the best medium burgers in town? If so, will they throw paint on the fur coat your grandmother bought in 1945? Will they drink the iced tea made with tap water at the home that has been in your family for generations? Will they understand the cat has not always been yours? Probably not. And that's the way I want it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Something to look forward to

Now that my financial aid has been approved, I can get excited about my fall classes. I registered a couple weeks ago, but until the deal is sealed, I try not to get too excited. I cannot wait for school to start. This semester is different. I have a new profound appreciation for the physical act of attending classes. Last semester I could not physically attend school. I was involved in an extremely bad car wreck in January, about 3 weeks into Spring semester. It was a very stupid crash, and I won't bore you with the details, but after coming home from a week's hospital stay and titanium in my face as a souvenir, I had to make choices about school. Percocet does not make me decisive but I still knew what I had to do. Obviously facial inuries have lots of fallout... including drooling which is highly frowned upon at school. I had to drop my 2 lab classes from the giddy up. I had already missed several deadlines (by this time) but after speaking to my extremely understanding profs, I stayed in my online courses. I was able to tweak my nutrition class and do all work online as well. Oddly enough, we had a presentation to do in that class but I was one of the last to get the signup sheet so I was forced (luckily) to do mine during the last class before the wreck. Lucky me! Last semester my entire learning experience was hands on keyboard, not hands on ingredients, which is what I like. I'll stop here and say that I try to balance my schedule with some lab, and some textbook classes so I can do a little of everything. I also have the luxury of classes passed in my previous college experience; these classes also allow for more play in my schedule. Getting back on track, I am very satisfied with Fall semester's lineup.

I will have 2 long lab days for 5 credit hour Quantity class that will sandwich a 3 hour management class. Then I will take the required psych, interpersonal communications, and hos marketing online. I wish I could take marketing in person, but the timing was off. I also was unable to line up another lab class this semester. Alot of my scheduling has to do with a certain chef instructor I had and really identified with. This person's style of teaching really jibed with my learning style, and I wanted to have that repoire if convenient. I don't even think I will be his student past this semester as he doesn't seem to teach many other topics. Anyhow I got him for my 2 on campus classes, and feel fortunate to already know the general expectations. The guy is no pushover, I found/find him very intimidating yet very fair. The fact thet he encourages his students based on their level of dediaction, interest, and participation thrills me. I hate being in classes where the slow/inept/disinterested get the most attention. I am there to work, I want to spend every second learning or trying something. If I am waiting for chef, I often eavesdrop incase he tells you something I don't know. But if you are asking him how to zero out the scales on the 10th class meeting, I will avoid partnering up with you like the plague. I had a partner last fall who was afraid of cleaning fish, and on the day we had to simply 6 way a chicken, she gave her chicken a name and made several sympathetic comments to the extremely dead "henry" the chicken. Needless to say it would seem like a problem. No, my chef began assigning my the more technical aspects of the preparation and addressing me on the progress of our assisnments. He was able to keep me engaged and challenged while occupying the girl who was required to take the class. That is fair. I also think we both walked away from that class with an equal trade for what we put into it. In other words, it was not all lost on her, but I probably learned more because I wanted to. This will bode well for me. The other plus of course is the familiarity factor since I probably will not know anyone else in the room. The people I started with most likely passed these classes during the spring and have moved on.
Being twice some students age can be intimidating, I know I am not very "cool." I have the same insecurities we all do when joining a new group of people, will they like me? what if they are all a million times better than me? what if ? what if? Yeah it is all childish, but we all do it to some extent. It's how you deal with it. I usually just try to get along with everybody, and do my best work without complaint. It seems to work, and I count "henry the chicken" girl, and a few other 20 year olds as new friends. It is really only when chef asks pop culture questions that I seem to show much age. For example, once he asked for names of famous or influential chefs. The mainly 20something student body replied by pretty much naming the food network's lineup. When he pointed to me, I replied with Trotter, Child, and Pepin. Hmmm, lots of ground covered between Paula and Pepin. Yes my answers came from the heart, not from what the tv told me to say. But really other than that, the real business of school is learning and that's what most of the people are there to do. And I can't wait to get started learning again!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Date night dinner

Saturday, I visited a great butcher shop, Ted's. I just love steak, and being my father's only child to actually live with him after the divorce, I love my grill. We made big plans to celebrate a friend's birthday yesterday, but he backed out and we were tired. So tonight is sorta date night. Normally filet is not on the menu on some random Monday. However due to the beauty of the meat I simply cannot will not freeze them for another day. I am not a big fan of thawed meat anyways, and to be honest the freezer is an abyss where some things never see the light of day again once they've gone in. That is until the offending frozen object falls out onto my foot. Then it is banished for good. So back to the steak, we frequent a restaurant that serves boursin on their filets. It is a delicous alternative to the tried and true Bernaise. I did a little checking and after finding it at local grocery stores for about $7.00 for 8 ounces, decided to experiment. A former employer and I were chatting and after comparing her recipe with other ones I'd come across I found a formula that works for our tastes. Since I really have no rant today, I thought I'd share with you how I do it for way less than grocery store prices. Like all things culinary, this is just what we like. The formula is basic, and of course you can tweak the herbs you use and make it your own....

4 oz cream cheese
4 oz butter
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp tarragon
1 tsp shallot minced
squirt lemon juice
Mix together and use salt and pepper to taste
It is imperitive you use butter not margarine, as the margarine seems to coat the tongue, inhibiting the herb taste.
Sometimes, I use a mix of oregano, basil, dill, rosemary, and garlic for a more "traditional" boursin.
This is a great toy.... play with the flavors to find a combination you like.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Same roads, same rights, not the same rules

The mantra of bicyclists who ride in busy areas seems to be same roads, same rules, same rights. I personally loved riding my bicycle to work for the three years it was truly amenable. I am talking about daily. Depending on the time of year, I rode in the early morning cold winter darkness or even during a couple tropical storms. It was the best way to go, I would have had to wake up and leave home earlier had I chosen to drive. (also it didn't hurt the pocketbook. Once my car was broken in to and I didn't know for 3 days because I literally never needed to drive.)I won't lie. It was dicey at times, and some motorists really scared me. I think it is great that bike enthusiasts have banded together to make the public more aware of safety, and the need for safe places for folks to enjoy. But....
I am sick of bicyclists who want their cake and plan on eating it too. For goodness sake! Same rules. That what YOU keep telling me. The hardcore bicycle brigade around here wants me to ignore a third of THEIR message. I am sick of watching near misses as the rule about stopping at a red light is ignored. One way streets? Those rules do not seem to apply, either. You freak out and gesture using one finger when people drive close to you because they have to. Maybe that whole same rules thing would come in handy in this situation. Hmmm, running a red light and turning extra wide, and it is my fault you broke the law resulting in me nearly veering in to oncoming traffic while I have the light. Horns honk and you Mr Trek think people are disrespecting you. No they are honking at me for avoiding you and nearly getting all of us killed. Why the discrepancy? Yes, I realize there are as many assholes on four wheels as there are on two. No arguement there. Obviously you value your life, you are out doing something healthy. I get the whole low environmental impact thing too. I just fail to understand why you fight so hard for these basic rights only to shoot yourselves in the toes. I can liken it to one of my vices. I hate seeing smokers litter the land with discarded butts. Hate it. As a smoker, it infuriates me. All it does is give the nonsmoking public more ammunition.Same thing with bikes. If you want to further your cause, live the whole entire complete mantra. I think same rules means same rules. Get it? With every near miss you make me angrier that my tax dollars are funding enhancing an activity for those above the law. (ie bike paths and the such)Like smokers, some leadership by example is necessary. C'mon y'all. If part of your platform is same rules, start abiding that. I know there are responsible cyclists out there, there just has to be. Will you guys please get out there and show the rest how it is done? Nobody takes a cause seriously when those involved in the cause are exemplifying poor behavior. I, for one, take cyclists safety seriously. The last thing I need is another hood ornament. I already have one. I just don't see many cyclists doing the same. Running a stop sign to turn the wrong way onto a one way street is not how your cause will be helped.
I know this may infuriate any cyclist who actually reads this. I'd be furious too. Not at the messenger, though. I'd get pissed at the guy or gal who is going to benefit from your hard work and model behavior. It is not fair. The appropriate cyclist will ultimately pay the price for the irresposible cyclist. How many more times will it be the motorists fault before the police start paying closer attention to the behavior of riders, and begin taking away rights?As more and more people open up to this form of transit, more and more jackasses will buy bikes. The ensuing mayhem can be avoided if a few brave cyclists change the culture by educating others. C'mon y'all, teach these yahoos same roads, same rules, same rights. Put some emphasis on rules. Or just add another R. Same responsibility. I just want what you all want.Make cyclists live by their mantra.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Leave your money and get out

Ahhh summer. Americans love summer. I think it goes back to when we were kids... the freedom of no school, no alarm clock, and no worries. There is something about this time of year that makes people travel. Not just those with children, but also regular folks who can leave it all behind at any time. In my corner of the world, tourism is a leading industry. People love to come and invade my city and drop insane amounts of money. I appreciate that, I really do. Without tourists, I believe our restaurant and cultural scenes would not be as stellar. I get it. The tourist dollars do lots of good things to our economy, and more than a few of my friends directly benefit from tourism. I am not knocking tourists but they are starting to make me a bit batty. They forget to pack common sense when preparing for vacay. I have come up with a few guidelines that will make you much more welcome when your grace our fair city.

  • Remember not everyone is on vacation time. It seems simple but people forget that they are in a living city with actual residents with real lives. I have had to step off of sidewalks more than once into traffic to get around families who really believe a narrow sidewalk is the ideal place to debate their next must-see. Get the hell out the way, or a least give me room to walk. I am not a "large" person, but I can't get through!
  • Driving. If you cannot afford a guided tour, do not come. I am glad you like looking at historic houses, but driving all of 5 MPH with 10 cars behind you that are incapable of passing you really sets off tempers. If you need to spend time taking in sights, pay a professional. They will shuttle you around town with minimal impact to locals, and tell you about why what you are seeing is worth seeing. Also if for some reason you do not understand "one way" "do not enter" or "turn lane only" don't drive. Hint: if all the parked cars are facing you with their headlights, it is probably a one way street. This means don't turn there. I have had more near misses with people going the wrong way than I can count. It scares the hell out of me.One way is determined by local city planners not you.I don't care about the traffic laws in your town, you are here. And as stated before, there are real people with real lives who live here and need to get around.
  • Complaining. Unless you are from somewhere quite unique, it probably rains where you live, too.My state is under drought warnings. We need the rain for our agrarian brethren.When you bitch about the rain, I laugh. I lived in MT for several years, near Yellowstone, and I had a man read a pal the riot act when she refused to let his 10 year old son buy a lighter as fires raged all around and the threat of evacuation was looming, even affecting some members of the community forced to leave their homes. For shit's sake, you are somewhere with real people with real lives.(mantra) If the area you visit has conditions you don't understand, don't go. Do your homework! If you visit my town in the summer, it will be hot, and we will have showers. Just like where you live. Duh!
  • I don't care how you do it at home. You are here now. If you don't like how we do it, stay home or go somewhere that jibes better with you expectations.
  • This one is HUGE! Please for the love of sweet baby Jesus, keep your children in check! Nasty children with sticky fingers spinning in the middle of a store, sidewalk or near the front door of where I want to eat really pisses me off. Yes, I do want you to have great memories but this is not a vacation from humanity. Keep an eye on those rugrats and remember people don't dig unruly children. And when your kid runs in to traffic because you are not watching them, it is not the driver's fault. Funny, another one of those just like at home things.....
  • Tipping. No Rachel Ray, exactly 15% is cheap! Just like the tours, if you cannot afford to tip your server, tour guide, concierge, bartender, or housekeeper DO NOT come. You will have a better time if you treat the locals right. We do these jobs to pay the bills, and rent ain't cheap.... Also you might get insider info not for the cheap that could make your stay even better.Hmmmm.... you wouldn't stiff your server at the Appleees you take the famdamily to every Friday at 6 on the dot. Oh wait, you probably do.
  • Get your facts straight. How many people believe the market downtown sold slaves? It didn't. It is not the "Slave Market" It is the Market, dumbass. Chicken, shrimp, veggies, now tourist slaves.Again, shell out the bucks to get the facts straight or keep your uninformed mouth shut.
  • Lastly, dress appropriately. A 50 year old pale overweight male Ohioan has no business wearing a speedo. Look around, if an in shape 23 year old local won't sport it, neither should you. When in Rome..... wear a speedo. I hear Europeans dig them, we, however, do not.

This rant really could go on for a few more hours. I just needed to target some of the common sense things people don't realize. I will close by saying that we do want you to come. We just expect you to act like you have some sense. Remember the mantra. A real city with real residents with real lives.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Menu for a mid July gathering

As promised, this is lowdown on what I will serve this weekend.

Hors d'ouvres:
Grits dip with blue tortilla chips
This is another signature dish that unbelievably was on the frequently requested list during my tenure out west. Recipe to follow

Lime and blue cheese slaw

Lime chicken grilled
Easiest marinade in the world! Recipe to follow.

Grilled summer squash and carrots or silver queen corn (nothing but nothing beats fresh silver queen corn, brother!)

I'm thinking some roasted tarragon lime potatoes (credit Ruhlman's discussion about herbs for that one)

Grilled bananas with vanilla ice cream and a strawberry sauce

There is alot of grilled stuff on the menu, but considering I am a charcoal girl (take that Hank Hill) I really like to get maximum use. I also love my little porch, and would rather entertain out there weather permitting than spend time inside over a stove.

Grits Appetizer
1 cup grits
2 cups milk
3/4 cup sundried tomato pesto
1- 1/2 cups Cheddar cheese

Prepare grits using milk in lieu of water. End result should be creamy but not wet. Stir in pesto and 1 cup cheese. Transfer to oven safe serving dish, cover mixture with remaining cheese, and brown. I usually serve it with blue tortilla chips for the color contrast.

Chicken Marinade
1 can of limeaide
tbsp minced garlic
tbsp oregano
I hate to use a Rachel Ray word, but I am not a pastry chef concerned with exact numbers. Eyeball it. I usually marinate my bird for at least a couple hours. Tenders work good for skewers for a barbeque party when you want something besides burgers and dogs.

What's for dinner?

Today, I thought I would not rant so much. I have had an easy morning. As per my usual routine, I generally get up, shower, and hit the coffee shop for some motivation. After I have caffeinated goodness coursing through my veins, I think about what to buy for dinner. I go to the grocery daily on the week days, and only purchase what I need. This is just how it goes. I hate buying too far in advance, and usually whatever I do get in advance gets lost in the bowels of an overly full fridge.

So what is dinner like at Casa de Ranter?

During school, I usually recreate whatever we have prepared in lab, while method and taste are still fresh on my mind. Before practicals, we usually eat whatever I plan on preparing for a grade. I am hyper-organized when it comes to school, and enjoy the confidence that comes with being ready for an exam. For my finals, I have been known to print my recipes and method on one side of paper and print my mise en place list on the back, along with a schedule for timing. All this prior preparation prevents poor performance since I am actually able to relax and simply cook instead of do alot of thinking.

Off months, like summer break and winter break, I go for easy. This summer's menu has seen lots of fresh fish and pasta or salad. I adore simple dishes when it is hot and don't want to spend alot of time in my kitchen. Tonight is simply fresh tuna, and roasted red potatoes. Last night was chicken sausage and tortelloni with pesto. You get the idea. I may experiment with a sauce but I generally try to keep my time in the kitchen to a minimum. The winter is a whole other thing. If I am not cooking whatever I made in lab that day, I torture my husband with endless experimentation with sauces. We have some rediculous sauce nightly. Some work, some do not. I enjoy the "mad scientist" role I assume and love playing with flavors. The manipulation of food is amazing to me. I love using combinations of spices and herbs that are unusual and enjoy the element of surprise when my husband deems the dish "worthy" of a slot in the regular rotation. He, by the way, is a very adventurous eater raised by a meat and potatoes kinda family. Not that that is bad. I love mil's flank steak. All this bodes well for me, as I can fix a simple meatloaf and mashers or go for some insane creation I have been pondering for a while. He is easy to please and enthusiastic about new things. Yeah, that's why I married him.
So, what is in the grocery cart? I seem to buy shallot, butter, and garlic cloves regularly. If I don't grow them myself, I purchase fresh herbs from the farmers market. I get mushrooms at least once a week, and red potatoes or fingerlings make an appearance in various ways frequently. We seem to do lots of chicken and pork, but if it is a good grill day, red meat with char marks is lovely. Another perk of my climate is shrimp. Wild SC shrimp is outrageous! We know several baiters and during that season we score enough fresh shrimp that we can stash some for use in my signature shrimp gravy during cooler months.
I hope this has given you an idea of what I do casually. If it is a "dinner thing" then I will step up the game, usually a Wellington with duxelles in lieu of foie gras (not a political statement, easier and cheaper to feed the masses) some fresh veg, like asparagus, a starch like risotto, a salad with homemade vinegrette, and some f'ing dessert I did not really feel like making. (another aside... HK did not influence this menu, it has been in place since our first dinner party after we got married last year) We got into "menu rut" after a couple we entertain regularly requested the same dishes with every invite. The beef is his fave, and she's like me and won't cook it for just 2 people even though we both are very aware you can do individual wellingtons. Oh yeah, the duxelles thing.... we have an amazing basil plant, and love mushrooms so I do incorporate it regularly. I do mushrooms stuffed with duxelles on the grill almost every time the flame hits the charcoal just because it is so damn good.
Now the disclosure.... I have had my eating and cooking habits on my mind today. We are having company for dinner this weekend, no not the Wellingtons. I am busy with marketing events for my side business tomorrow and the next day, so I am considering my menu now. I just did a recon mission at the market, and got some ideas. I will post my menu separately so you don't have to sludge through it if you don't want to.
I hope I have given some insight into how food and cooking is done around these parts. Our friend the pharmacist looks in people's medicine cabinets to be nosy. If you want to find out more about a cook, follow them through the grocery or farmer's market.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Houseguests and Fish....

There is an old saying about houseguests and fish. They both stink after three days. I would have to disagree. My expiration comes much more quickly. About three hours is my limit. Okay that's not true for all houseguests, but....

I had a visitor this weekend. My friend, X, and I have been friends since our freshman year of college back in the eighties. Brought together in the dorm through our love of alt rock, we have been pals for a long while. Too long. It is not that I don't love my friend or really appreciate all she does for me. She was totally on top of things at my wedding, and when my father died she was on the first call list. It's just that lately, we really don't have anything in common.Yeah, we both still love the same music, and shop at the same places, but we genuinely have very little to discuss. I know we have both changed as we have aged but she has not changed as much as I have. This is a problem. I grew up. I started a business, returned to school, got married, and well, just grew up. She on the other hand, is Peter Pan. With most excellent funding from Daddy, she has never had to do alot of the things that teach you about life. As a result, she is still like a 21 year old. She goes out to see bands nightly, but is not a big drinker. She is there for the boys. She does this wierd idol worship thing and takes pictures of the band, and talks about members of local and national acts as though she personally knows all of them. For example, the Chili Peppers were playing at Live Earth this weekend. She was all "Anthony" this, "Chad" that like they were gonna meet us for cocktails later on. She was doing this with every act! She spoke like Duran Duran were her neighbors and Crowded House were going to text her when they finished their set.Yeah, in my younger days, I sat in the "phil zone" and felt like Jerry was playing Franklin's Tower just for me but the reality was that outside of my Dead circle, they were collectively the Grateful Dead. I just don't get it and frankly she got on my last nerve and did a tapdance.
It used to be fun. In our late teens, music was our voice. It identified us as deadheads, alt rockers, country fans, or metal rockers. It was a vital part of our identities, and told the world our attitudes and opinions by turning it up! Yeah. Fast forward 20 years, and I don't need music to define me to the world.I have enough living under my belt that I know who I am, and believe in my grandfather's Army credo...deeds not words. I don't have to run with the cool crowd to let the world think better of me. I am not even sure what the cool crowd is!The names I can drop are because of actual contact and relationship, but I feel like namedropping is cheesy. I am simply me, and I am probably a nerd. I don't care. It's all I have. Yeah, in my twenties, I did go to the cool places, and knew all the musicans and bartenders. Guess what? In our late thirties most of the cool crowd have day jobs, mortgages, ex spouses, insurance, and voter registration cards. The ride is long over. Most of the cool crowd have grown up and those who haven't have pretty much sealed the deal for entry into the lame-o hall of fame. It is downright sad to feel like you have to entertain someone you find kind of pathetic. This girl wanted to go and see bands in a college town with college kids. Her enthusiasm is admirable but her lifestyle freaks me out. I have no desire to be the cool old lady in the crowd and down Jager Bombs like a baby needs milk. We used to make fun of those women and lament how sad it is when people don't know when to quit. Sadly our houseguest IS that woman now. When she came in the fall, we had to get to the bar early to sit near the band. When we got to the bar, the band looked terrified when they saw her. She goes to gigs and takes pictures of the bands and freaks them out. I know of one incident where she got in a fistfight with a girl over an obsession. Jeez! Admit you are old and move on.....
So. What to do? I am hoping that with the lameness of last weekend (we only went out to eat, no bars) she will understand that this is how folks our age operate. Hubby and I went about our dull little lives with the only differences being the whole eating out all weekend thing, and a bigger discresionary fund than other weekends. How we rolled last weekend is really how we roll. Maybe leading by example is our best hope. I doubt she found us very fun, but we are not fun peopple. We pay our bills, upgrade when a replacement is needed (not before), don't call in "hungover", and above all we act our age! Yeah I tried to sell hubby's kidney on ebay to bankroll a trip to catch The Police, and we do offer jello shooters to parents we know taking their kids around on Halloweeen, but we also know our place. Have you seen that older drunk couple in the corner? She's wearing a Ramones t-shirt with an obviously dire need for a bra. He's got on a baseball cap trucker style ala 2002. They are buying shots for the table of college kids adjacent to them. They believe they have new cool friends. They, in reality, have given these kids material for weeks to come. That is so not us. Not even when company is in town.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Why me and food?

This is not a rant, as much of a reflection. I was posed with the question "why me and food?" the other day. It was interesting to read what other people had to say, and then reflect on the question myself. I think Southerners have an odd relationship with eating and food. It is an event. For us, Sunday always meant Sunday Dinner with my grandparents at around 1 or 2. It was the midday spread with fresh veggies, a delicious meat, and a leisurely pace. We had close to a Christmas meal 52 weeks a year. It was just what we did. I believe it was not unusual as I recall other kids eating dinner at their grandparents' homes too. It's funny. Oblivious me, I didn't realize we were using china and silver and crystal until my mother started giving me sets of china for every occasion (5 full sets and growing!) I never saw it as pageantry or anything, it was normal. It wasn't like today.We use our china daily and people think we are nuts. The everyday china my mother gave me is just that. My little (and only)sister has never used any of her china for food. Sure she has some of it displayed, depending on the season, but no plate has ever needed to be washed. She couldn't have people for dinner if she tried. It just didn't hit her the way it hit me. Yeah, we have to eat but let's make it good. I love cooking a great meal for friends, and serving it attractively. It is fun! Supper each night for us is a chance to unwind and discuss the day. I fully love cooking and enjoy talking to my husband so I actually look forward to suppertime. I think I was influenced by the women in my family who enjoyed it the was I do. My Mama loves cooking dinner on Sundays. My grandmother loved food so much she would savor each bite, often taking twice as long to finish half as much as everyone else. They saw it as a pleasure. I see it as a pleasure. I think I got it.
On the other side of the family, my father was raised in a mill village with 4 siblings. Simple country folk, these grandparents stretched every dollar and despite socio-economic differences from my mother's clan, they ate like kings. Disposed royalty, but royalty nonetheless. According to family lore, the children and my grandfather would all come home for lunch. Every day! Not only did my grandmother cook supper but apparently they enjoyed a large lunch daily as well. Don't get me started on this grandmother. I never met her but fourty years after her death, her cakes apparently are still the stuff of legend. Even though they raised 5 kids in a mill village, they came up with college tuition for all. My father left the mill village to become a lawyer and politican. He left the comforts of simple country cooking for flashier pastures. With his career, he travelled around the world. He got exposed to things his parents would never have even read about. Living in DC, he acquired new tastes, and had to learn how to cook for himself when my mother and I had to move home permenantly for me to attend school. Once we moved, Saturday night became steak night and usually my parents would teach me about wine allowing me a small goblet. When my parents got divorced a few years later, my father retired from the public eye to practice law. He also had to start cooking for himself. My Dad died earlier this year but he lives on in my kitchen. My best memories of him are surrounded by food. His travel spawned a love for food, and he always said his do-over would be to open a small restaurant that he and I could do together. In a way, he sort of did. He entertained regularly. He and I would shop for and prepare foods for friends every single weekend. We had similar ideas, and as his health declined, he had to trust me to fix whatever he requested to his specs. I took over alot of cooking the last year of his life, and still feed my noncooking stepmother once a week. His tastes ran from champagne to Pabst and my repertoire reflects that influence. I am equally at ease making a dish with hollandaise as I am with pan gravy. You know how they say a deceased person lives onn the heart? Sometimes I believe my Dad lives on in my kitchen.
Okay. We have covered the family influence. Where does that leave me and independant thought? I love food. The act of selecting materials, manipulating tastes, and serving it to someone is near religion to me. I left teaching with something missing in my soul. I found it my first day of school. Not only is culinary school challenging, but it is also a labor of love. It is creating. Unless you are a policy and curriculum director, you don't get alot of creative lattitude in schools.I see parallels between the two professions but a happy tummy is infinitely more rewarding than teaching a child manners in spite of their obnoxious mom. Besides, I have a business involving baked goods safe for allergic individuals, so I still get to do "kid stuff." I think I found a voice in the kitchen and an avenue for my creative thoughts. Realisically, it will be a long time before I have complete creative control (damn those dues!) but with every recipe I learn at work or school, I bring it home, make it my own and then write down what I did. I feel as though I am chipping away on my future with every success and failure. Not once did teaching make me feel like I could "go places" Once, a chef instructor asked us what we wanted to do with our education. I answered "I want to be the best I can be" He smiled. In teaching there is no superlative. In certain circles you may hear how well little insert pretentious family name here did in so and so's class last year, that is not for me. I have been amply praised for my work with kids. I would rater have someone say I make the best insert name of something I can fix well here. I want a reputation for excellence in something other than the fine art of ass kissing. I want people I have never met to call me and request something I make because it is that good. Period. I have no desire to ever be on tv, and if I write a cookbook it will be because someone I know and love wants some formulas. I just want to be the best at something I know I can do unfettered. Something I love to do. I will not profess to be an expert ever. I pledge to evolve as my interests and the public's tastes change. I will also pledge that in the foreseeable future I will leave molecular gastronomy alone. I will remember that passion involves learning and learning involves humility.
Food and I go along way back. In retrospect, I should have taken this whole cooking for cash thing more seriously earlier in life. Second career people are sometimes treated as second class citizens, always late to the party and without a hostess gift. I have met this prejudice before, even though I had spent more time in a kitchen than my accuser. I know I may be a little late to the cooking as a career thing, but I also know who I am and my strengths, weaknesses, and ambitions. I love food and cooking. That is the answer to why me and food. We have all heard to pick something you love to do and work will never feel like work. If that is true, I am setting myself up for permenant vacation.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Fourth of July

Today is the Fourth of July. I love this holiday.There is something about a day to celebrate in the middle of the summer... I enjoy the pageantry and tradition and weather. Not unlike other families here, we have a routine that rarely has changed from year to year. Unless there is a death or illness, we all head out to the same beach house that had been in my family for generations. The place is just magical. Memories of years gone by come rushing back and we sit around swapping stories of holidays gone by and family members no longer with us. We all talk about Tom's boiled peanuts, and the neighbor's fried bacon wrapped crackers.We talk about the cousin's dog who bit every child in our family at some point, and the year my cousins talked (dared) me into dressing up like the Statue of Liberty and waving at traffic.We talk about WWII when my mother and grandmother went to live on an uncle's dairy farm until my grandfather returned rather than live alone.We talk football and politics. To be honest, football is a much more heated debate than politics....some of the men played football at one school while others attended the in-state rival. All's fair.My family is All American and damn proud of it!
So, what is my rant?
My inlaws are a little different than us.Do not mistake me. My father-in-law actually enlisted voluntarily in the Navy during Vietnam. He is patriotic as hell. So is his wife. Either second or third generation Americans, they can trace their roots back to Germany easily, and quickly. Truly stories of the American Dream, I have heard all about South Dakota, raising cattle, and fighting the elements to be self sufficient. They come from amazing immigrants who worked hard and really carved out a positive, productive life in the states. This is where the rant starts.The other day, my mil (mother in law) and niece were at Kmache checking out. Apparently the girl (age6) asked mil if the people in front of them were Mexican. Mil answered yes and niece replied "why don't they go back to their country?" Mil could have crawled under the nearest table but really did nothing to discourage her.She simply told her to be quiet. Then she called us and told us the family needs to watch what they say around her. WHAT? I was disgusted! My mother would have yanked my sorry ass out of that store so fast the other shoppers would not have been able to ID us in a lineup. I told mil a prejudiced child is gross. I then suggested to her to point out that niece's family had all come from some other country first.To that she said no, we are from here. I said, "y'all are not native americans, your forefathers came from Europe." For goodness sake! Why does this bother me? We never see that child. I see her about 4 times a year, and certainly don't discuss immigration with her. Mil and fil take care of her more than anyone else. Good people who love America but refuse to watch what they say, and then want to share the blame with people that child rarely sees. Arrgh! I love America for all her colors, ethnicities, and differences. Always have. I was raised with all sorts of types, and people were just people. I always knew that my family came from Wales, England, Germany, and the Cherokee Tribe. Genealogy is fascinating to me, and I celebrate my differences the same way I devour mole fresh from my buddy Mimi's kitchen every time I visit her and her extremely Mexican family. I love my how my Eastern European friends try to kill me with carraway goulash. I think it is neat to go to Nancy's and have Cuban inspired dishes. Never mind Hannukah with our native Israeli friends....even a Catholic Priest would love the spread! I love this melting pot! All this said, I choose not to debate legals vs illegals here. I have my opinions but that platform is for another day. I think we should celebrate America today. All of it. We should invite someone of a different origin to celebrate. We should learn our neighbors stories. We should respect others. We need to remember where we all came from, and celebrate tha we are all here in the good ol USA. We need to teach children about baseball and hotdogs, open up a dialogue about diversity and how we are lucky to be citizens of the US. Lets focus on how to keep a 6 year old acting like a kid, not a political pundit. Let's talk positively about immigrants, we all had to come from somewhere. Let's learn the story before making the call. And let's teach children to do the same. Unless you ask, how do you know the story? I honestly hope the folks in line in front of mil and niece will forgive a child for parroting a warped view. I hope they have a great Independence Day, they probably respect it more than that child does, in fact I'm not sure she knows the meaning.
I had to get this off my chest. Prejudice is wrong. A prejudiced child is plain wrong.While I am disgusted and embarassed by this "innocent" remark, I will not share the blame for a behavior learned from others but rather suggest other ways to explain diversity. After all, diversity is what makes us great. I respect other cultures and love their foods. I do not respect shrugging off piss poor attitudes and behaviors, nor do I find it cute or funny. That child should have been at least talked to about her heritage, and maybe she would understand why what she said was wrong and hurtful. Please teach children understanding, we can choose to celebrate diversity or down it, the choice is ours, and we can teach kids how to work within the structures of polite society or be ignorant assholes. We can move forward or backwards. It is up to us!
Happy Fourth of July!!