Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The World's 50 Best Restaurants by Restaurant Magazine

Congratulations to the 50 restaurants that made the Top 50 list in Restaurant magazine! 

A few to note:
Chicago's own Alinea (Chef Grant Achatz) made number 15 (dropped from #7 last year).  Chef Achatz also won the Chef's Choice Award.

Le Bernardin (NYC) maintained their number 19 status (Chef Eric Ripert).

The French Laundry (Napa Valley) also dropped from 43 to 47 on the list (Chef Thomas Keller).

Now, off you go to try them for yourselves!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Seafood Resource: Seafood Watch

Living in the Midwest, we are at a regional disadvantage for procuring seafood, but this doesn't mean we dont love seafood!  Also, being land-locked and distant from the ocean means our resourses and information are severely lacking.

While reading, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School By: Kathleen Flinn, she mentions a website called: Seafood Watch that provides recommendations on what to buy, what to avoid and why!

The website is sponsored by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, CA. 

Thanks Kathleen!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ponderings: Can we bring the European lifestyle to America?

I do a LOT of reading, so much so I'm pretty sure my boyfriend gets jealous of my library card.  Books allow me to transcend beyond the burger-and-fries of my town to the buttery croissants of Paris, the wines if Italy and the spices of India.  Its a cheap way to live an expensive lifestyle and develop knowledge of new cultures.  I like where I live, but I'd like to not live here even more. 

Currently, I'm reading The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn and early in her book Kathleen touches upon something that has been a reoccurring theme (to me) lately.  The differences in the walking and eating cultures between America and Europe.  How in America we are too busy and drive EVERYWHERE and we don't have time to stop and make our own food.  At the same time, we are gorging ourselves with franken-meals and soda.  This American mentality has begun to cross seas to the point where other countries are starting to see an increase in their waistlines due to adapting American dietary shortcuts.  A newly coined term: globesity has become a serious topic.

Now, I'm not going to get on my little soap-box about junk food and soda (today), but I do wonder: if we can make such an impact on Europe-why cant we turn these tables and let Europe make more of an impact on us?  What kind of European habits can we make in our daily lives?  I'm going to leave you with a few articles to ponder and please leave comments on what some of your thoughts or experiences have been.  What can work vs what couldn't.  I'd love to hear what you have to say!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Morel Mushroom Season is upon us!

I grew up in the backwoods in central Illinois near a beautiful timber with a creek and more land than I could possibly play on.  As a kid its Mecca and as a morel mushroom hunter its even better. 

My dad always took the lead on our morel expeditions as he grew up near the woods and foraged for mushrooms every spring.  So here is the advice, gathered from years of mushroom hunting with him:

1. Know what you're looking for.  It should go without saying that grabbing the wrong mushroom and eating can be deadly-so best advice is to go with someone who knows which mushrooms you need to be looking for.

2. Dress in thick layers.  Not only are mushrooms popping up, but so is poison ivy, poison oak and (my personal favorite) poison parsnip.  The itchy rashes from each of these can last for weeks and depending on the level of exposure can lead to scars-or worse-hospitalization.  So wear thick layers (including gloves and a hat), shower immediately after coming back from the woods, wash your clothes immediately (you're dealing with OILS-so they will cling to your cloths and you can still develop a rash by just touching exposed clothing or pets) and if you want to take and extra precaution, use Tecnu when you shower to cleanse your skin from poison.  Also, due to ticks-please spray yourself with insect and tick repellant. 

3. Remember you want to look in a wooded area-be sure you have permission by the owner of the property (if private) and check your state regulations on mushroom hunting-as they may vary.

4. The best time to go mushroom hunting is in the month of April.  Mushroom hunting is a constant gamble with the weather-so you are looking for wet ground and hot, humid days.  For example: If on Monday you get a nice spring rain and on Tuesday its 80 degrees and humid-you're in business!  But if it rains on Monday and is 70 and cool-I wouldn't even bother looking.  Mushrooms love the humidity-so sticky weather is what to look for.  If you go out on a hot and humid day to look and the ground is dry-that is another bad sign.  Mushrooms like wet and hot.

So you have permissions, you're dressed like an Eskimo and ready to forage...now, where do you look?  The proverbial, 'can't see the forest beyond the trees' takes on a whole new meaning when you're looking into a vast wooded area.  Are you expected to look around every tree?  Are there tells to where the mushrooms are?  I'm glad to tell you yes, there are tells:

1. Look for dead trees: trees that are dead and dry and all the bark has fallen off-not a total waste of time, but the chances are slimmer you will find morels.  The best trees to look for are dead elm trees, when the bark is just starting to fall off.  Morels love dead elms!  Careful upon approaching these-depending on the size of the tree, the morels can pop up a decent radius from the tree-good rule of thumb is 5 feet out.  If the tree is fallen-5 feet from any part of the tree on the ground.

2. Look for places the sun can touch the wet ground.  Since the heat and wet are the best combo for growing morels-look for low sparse grasses with sky overhead.

3. Look for animal paths.  Animals (deer and coyotes) make their own paths in the timber.  These paths can often lead you to the dead trees or certain clearings you may not have found otherwise.  Warning: they can also lead you to coyotes-so proceed with caution.   

4. Go in the evening.  This may go without saying, but for those novices out there-the evening while its still bright out and just starting to cool is the best time to go.  You will have given the mushrooms all day to grow.  Even if you cant go until a day or so after a rain-as long as the weather stays humid-the mushrooms will still pop and you can go hunting as often as you like, pending good conditions.

Happy Hunting!

*I am in no way an expert, just someone with a lot of experience.  Please contact your local wildlife experts for more information regarding morel hunting in your particular area.*

Monday, April 22, 2013

No posts and an apology

I want to apologize to those who have come to Foodigen for the lastest and didn't see anything new posted.  The last week has had some unexpected ups & downs that kept me away from the computer.  Rest assured, I am back and bursting with content for the week!

Thank you to those who emailed!

Monday, April 15, 2013

CNN's Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown

Ever since a chef-friend put Kitchen Confidential into may hands 11 years ago, I have been a follower of Anthony Bourdain.  Bourdain became popular with both front and back-of-the-house alike due to his candid descriptions of the gritty restaurant life.  In the war of the restaurants-Bourdain is our commander in the trenches.  Reminding us of our purpose, the irony of what we do and most importantly, hand-delivering us the pride we often feel has been cut away with complaining guests, bad management and hell-has-no-fury kitchen temperatures. 

To say that I was thrilled to see Bourdain return to the television for CNN's Parts Unknown-is an understatement.  While watching No Reservations on the Travel Channel, I quickly became wrapped up in the community and culture Bourdain created in those 45 minutes and still go back and replay favorite episodes to relive the beautiful scenery and the amazing dishes (and drink) that illuminated the screen.  But upon the first episode of Parts Unknown: Myanmar-I realized what I really enjoyed about Bourdain's shows.  Bourdain is a culture romantic and speaks in his narrative with such fascination and intrigue-the viewer cannot help themselves, but be drawn in as well.  We find ourselves craving to eat with chopsticks on the floor and drinking the local-often too strong libations-to be closer and more connected to a world much bigger and full of experience than our own.  Bourdain gives us a window with his geniune curiosity of places we never thought to go, food we never thought to try and a life we never thought to experience. 

Tony, keep it up-we're all watching.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tufts University Student working to launch a 'Freegan' Restaurant with food from dumpsters

Maximus Thaler, a student at Tufts University, is working on his restaurant plan of a freegan kitchen where all the food made would be from food thrown out by local grocers and restaurants.  This non-for-profit venture would be less about helping the hungry and more about reshaping society's definitions of whats 'good' and whats 'bad'.  "Grocery stores are not selling food, they're selling packaging," says Thaler to HuffPoLive.

Watch full interview with Huffington Post Live, here.

Apparently, Thaler isn't the only person who wants to revitalize our perceptions of good and bad.  Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe's, is working on his Urban Food Initiative store to be located in Boston.  UFI will be a place where people can get low-cost, healthy food made to-go and will also have close to expired milk for $1 and other goods significantly marked down.

Thaler said his inspiration is drawn from living in cooperative housing and dumpster-diving for food to share with anyone who came to the house looking for a meal.  Thaler felt he could create a bigger effort, by starting a restaurant, The Gleaner's Kitchen, which would not sell the originally discarded food, but cook it and give it away.  This concept is a ways off from Jon Bon Jovi's Soul Kitchen-which requires either a donation or donated work in exchange for food.  For Gleaner's Kitchen, the food provided to would be collected at night after the stores close to use-an action that is not illegal as it is covered under California vs Greenwood, which ruled that garbage is public property and anyone is allowed to go through it and take what has been discarded.

When asked about liability issues if anyone gets sick, Thaler points to the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996-protecting those who donated food from being liable from any prosecution.  But Thaler points out that, 'no one has ever gotten sick [in the co-op].'  And Professor Jeff Ferrell and author of Empire of Scrounge (2005) has been dumpster-diving for food for over 30 years and said he has never gotten sick from this effort either.  Ferrell says he eats very well because all the food thrown out is good food-the nicer the food the more likely it is to be tossed if it has a slight blemish.  Plus, "junk food never goes bad," says Ferrell. 

Thaler still has some details and red-tape to go through, but is looking to open The Gleaner's Kitchen in the Boston area.

What do you think? Please leave your comments below!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Documentary: Discovery Channel's - How Beer Saved the World

Its Saturday night and I know so many of us are out and about, but for those of us who may have had a long week and would like to stay home pursuing Netflix-let me save you the hassle of searching.  In the documentary section find How Beer Saved the World.  The entire show is only 43 minutes long, but it is truly worth the watch.  It is entertaining, funny and will give you all sorts of juicy tidbits to spew out the next time your at the bar.  There is even some ammunition if you come up against a teetotaler too! 

If you need further persuasion, what if I told you that because of beer-there is math and writing?  Because of beer, there are the pyramids.  If beer didn't exist, we wouldn't have refrigeration!

Now that you're intrigued-go watch it!
Happy Saturday! 

Friday, April 12, 2013

10 Favorite Food-related Movies

10. Diner (1982): This gritty, over-sexed movie is based in 1959 and takes a look at 5 guys in their 20's who hang out at the local Diner and contemplate their next move in life.

9. Julie & Julia (2009): a young girl begins cooking her way through Julia Child's cookbook and blogging about her experiences.

8. Godfather (1972):  Why I have never seen this on a food movie list is beyond me!  There are so many food/life references in this movie!  Plus, who doesn't enjoy the past-sauce tutorial that occurs with Michael?

7. Soul Food (1997): This movie accurately portrays the frustrations and joys of being in a family.  And how, in the end-we all come back together and often its around the table.

6. Fried Green Tomatoes (1991): the power of women and friendship put this movie in many top 10 lists! 

5. Super-Size Me (2004): a single man's journey of eating McDonald's for 1 month, exploits the errors in judgement and quality of the food of this fast-food dynasty.

4. Sideways (2004): two men venture into Napa for one last 'hurrah' before one of them gets married.  But human error in judgement ensues.

3. Chocolat (2000): a woman and her daughter venture into a new town-only to turn it upside down!  Be sure to have some sweets and a bottle of wine on hand!

2. Bottle Shock (2008): a true story about how Napa Valley went from a wine-joke to a wine-powerhouse in 1976.

1. Eat Pray Love (2010): Elizabeth Gilbert's live-changing journey as she travels through Italy, India and Indonesia on a mission to answer questions and revitalize her soul.  Bottle of wine required.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sick Days for Restaurant Employees: DC Council a bit out of touch

Tuesday night a council candidate for DC, Patrick Mara (R) expressed his opposition on a city mandate to include restaurant workers (those specifically working for tips) in a law requiring them to be allowed paid sick leave by their employer.  Mara's primary point was how it could hurt the small business owners financially-he himself a former restaurant owner.

On the behalf of the tip population, please let me be the first to laugh and express how out of touch Mara is. 

First of all, the appeal of working for tips is that you can make a large chunk of money in a short amount of time.  This requires you to work fewer shifts.  Many servers have goals they would like to hit each shift in order to have a handle on their income, to budget accordingly, etc.  And it doesn't take very long to get an accurate idea of what to expect each shift.  If the server goes significantly over their goal, they may freely give away shifts for a few days to those who need them.  If they don't hit their goal, they will often 'pick-up' a shift from another server.  Yet, another appealing element when working for tips: the option to work more or less at certain times.

So, when someone is legitimately sick (i.e. not hungover) and need to call into work, this is often how the phone call goes with the manager:

Server: 'Hi (manager), this is (server).  I'm not feeling very well-(insert details of ailment here).  I need to stay home today.'

Manager: 'Let me get the schedule.  It looks like Rob, Bill, Betty, Jane and Gabby are off-you need to call them and see if they can cover for you.  Otherwise, you need to come in.'

Server: 'Listen, I'm really not feeling well, I'm (getting sick) every 10 minutes.  Can you call them for me?'

Manager: 'You're not the only one thats called in sick today-one of the kitchen guys called in and I have to have the liquor order done by 10 before I run to the bank.  Its your responsibility to cover your shifts!'

Server: 'Ok, I'll see what I can do.'

Then the sick server has to call each person, PRAY they pick up (which as a server, you know why you're getting called at 9am by another server) and beg/bribe (usually with cash) them to go in for you.

If no one picks up or agrees to work, then you have little choice, but to go into work and pray you puke all over the manager's shiny shoes.

Yes, as a server having paid sick days would be nice, but we don't care if we're missing out on a little money-we can make it up by picking up a shift.  Mara is totally out of touch-whatever sick time the restaurant would pay isn't going to come close to what the server could make on their own.  What servers want is the freedom to call in sick without the hassle of finding a replacement and the threat of losing their job.  Period.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Talk a tour through America's Oldest working seaport beginning Memorial Day Weekend!

TravPR.com just announced the the oldest working seaport in America-located in Gloucester/Rockport, MA will be offerring tours to the public for $47 a ticket (includes food and beverage).  Full press release here.  

Too bad it will be 2 months shy of oyster season!

Book Review: Eat the City By: Robin Schulman

Eat the City: a tale of the fishers, foragers, butchers, farmers, poultry minders, sugar refiners, cane cutters, bee keepers, wine makers, and brewers who built New York 

ISBN: 978-0-307-71905-8

The title of Ms Schulman's book, while giving an excellent teaser, only serves as a aperitif to the guided journey she takes you on.  This book contains chapter after chapter-each its own love story to a trade of the food industry.

Former monopolies of the sugar and beer industries, shady tricks becoming a legitimate business and vice-versa, the reader travels to the nooks and crannies of New York with a beautiful view of true passion and a craving for the subject matter.

I highly recommend this book as one of my favorites.  I put the book down wanting for more and had Ms. Schulman written about the circus-I would have tried to join!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Planting by 'The Sign of the Moon'

Taking on a gardening project may seem like a fun summer project, but very often when plants are not growing or are going bad quickly-the garden can become the summer nightmare.  According to our expert Vicky Shaffer, if someone is having a lot of trouble growing, they probably didn't know to plant by 'the sign of the moon.'

A long time tradition of 'old school' gardeners, planting by the moon dates back to ancient times.  According to The Gardeners Calendar, this idea was actually a very advanced method to tell time and determine planting and harvest seasons.  So why would it not work now?

Vicky utilizes a physical Farmer's Almanac and calendar to plant-by-the-moon.  Although, the Gardener's Calender (linked above) and The Farmer's Almanac both have online calendars that can be utilized too!  These calendars are great ways to walk you through the process without the pressure of doing everything today and timing out your crop so they will produce veggies at a prime time of year.  For example, one theory is you're supposed to plant your potatoes in the dark of the moon on Good Friday.  Potatoes take a very long time to mature-so you need to get them into the ground first.

Another theory is about planting any root vegetables.  Root vegetables thrive when they are planted in the dark of the moon (when the moon isn't out during the day) because it stimulates growth underground.  Vegetables like radishes, turnips and carrots like to be planted.  This year, the dark of the moon occurs on April 10th. Even though, sweet potatoes are a root vegetable, they do not need to be planted until after Memorial Day as they hate the frost.

Vicky explained to me that in addition to planting by the moon she also runs her garden through 3 seasons and organizes her crops accordingly (your almanacs/calendars will show you this too).  

Spring               Summer               Fall
(cool weather)    (hot weather)        (long maturity)
radishes             tomatoes               brussel sprouts
turnips               peppers                 *more to come later-not a complete list
carrots               zucchini
lettuce                melons
peas                  green beans
cabbages           corn

To read more on Vicky's gardening tips read:
Tips for success: When is the right time to plant?
Zone 5 Gardening: How to get started for the year
or Just click on the 'Community Garden' Tab at the top!


Monday, April 8, 2013

A correlational timeline on obesity in America

Walking through the downtown of my community I am nostalgic for a simpler time.  A time when the community was smaller, people were more active and the trolley system still ran.  I am Gil from Midnight in Paris.  I want to walk the streets in the rain.

During my reading I come across a lot of articles that often takes me to that idea of a simpler time.  Bloomberg's soda ban was one of those moments when I wished our society could enjoy life in moderation, as Wendy Worrall Redal suggests in her article.  While I empathize with Bloomberg's idea, my feelings on our obesity epidemic are slightly different than most.  I feel the cause of our country's obesity epidemic is due to lack of community.  The idea that we all need to mind our own business, when in fact-minding everyone's business has been an element of charm we are consciously and purposefully killing off.

Cars began this level of isolation from others-we can roll our windows up and ignore the outside.  If someone threatens this-we can merely drive past.  Elitists at their finest.  Sunglasses gave us another element to 'hide behind'-appeasing our sense to look without commitment.   

Until the 60's when the United States adapted an idea allowing couples to divorce without assigning blame.  Suddenly women were divorcing their husbands at an accelerated rate.  At the same time, these women were required to join the workforce to sustain their family and thus, time became their bitter enemy-not allowing much time for a garden or in some cases a fully prepared meal-presenting an opportunity for 'fast' restaurants. 

In 1975 divorce was at 48.1%, where it would remain relatively steady until at drop in 2009.  In that time the fast food industry would grow from $6 Billion in 1970 to $110 Billion in 2000.

According to the Federal Highway Administration,  since 1960 passenger vehicles registered have been growing steadily at approx 3.69 million/year.  There have been jumps and declines scattered throughout the last 50+ years, but interestingly enough the largest percentage increase occurred from 1972-1973.

In 1960 obesity was at 13% of adults and no percentage was reported in children (by the CDC).  In 1980 a 5-7% obesity rate was recorded in children from 6-19 years old and in 2010 17% of children were reportedly obese along with 35.7% of adults.

On March 28th, 2013 CNN's food blog, Eatocracy featured an article on children's menus in popular restaurants and how 97% of the meals do not meet 'basic nutritional standards'.  The comments below feature a vast variety of opinions, but who is to blame?  The parent or the restaurant? 

Its of the opinion of this author that we are all to blame.  People should not be faulted for wanting or needing to go out to eat.  In some cases-there are few other options-also, its fun!  We have developed a culture of 'thats your problem, not mine' for so long that we are hurting ourselves and each other.  One neighbors over production of tomatoes, go to waste because they can not be bothered to offer them to the neighbors-who may be a single parent juggling three kids.  The single parent takes the kids to the local fast-food joint because they didn't have time to go to the store over the weekend and are a can of tomatoes short of a meal.  So the parent takes the kids through the drive-thru (way easier than taking 3 kids on a quick trip to the store).  The parent lives 3 blocks from a little corner grocer, but 'doesnt feel like' walking and is considered overweight.  Their weight is a factor on their insurance, which has gone up because the oldest was just taken to the doctor for their annual checkup and is now considered 'overweight'.  The insurance is a group plan where 70% of the employees (this percentage reflecting the current American average) are considered overweight or obese as well-so the entire company's insurance is incredibly high due to the weight of their employees.  So much so, they are considering 'restructuring' their benefits package which includes a discount to their employee food court that contains 3 fast food chains, a bakery, a deli and a coffee shop.  The fast food chains are the cheapest and thus usually the most popular at lunchtime.  Plus, there is a company daycare for employees-so the parent can have lunch with their kids.

So you tell me, who is really responsible?

I'd love to hear what you have to say!  Please leave comments below!

The Timeline of this article:
Early 1900's - Cars were hitting the roads and becoming more and more utilized by citizens
1920-Divorce occurred in 13.3% of marriages
 1921- White Castle (America's first fast food restaurant) opened in Wichita, Kansas
 early1920's-Carhops were developed so people would not have to get out of their cars to eat
1940-Divorce occurred in 16.5% of marriages
1951-'fast food' was inducted into the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
1960-Divorce occurred in 25.8% of marriages
1962- Only 13% of adults were considered obese
1965-Divorce occurred in 26.6% of marriages
late 1960's- America adopted the 'no fault' divorce
1970-Fast food restaurants were pulling in $6 Billion dollars in the U.S.
1970-Divorce occurred in 32.8% of marriages
1975-Divorce occurred in 48.1% of marriages
1980-"The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period." Taken directly from the CDC's website-link below.
2000-Fast food restaurants were bringing in $110 Billion dollars in the U.S.
2010-Obesity in the U.S. was 35.7% in adults and 17% in children

CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm
Children's Menus: http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2013/03/28/study-shows-97-of-kids-meals-dont-meet-nutritional-standards/
Bloomberg: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/new-york-soda-ban-government-restriction-public-health-regulations_n_1562060.html
Divorce Rates: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005044.html
Carhop, casseroles, fast food and White Castle: Wikipedia

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Seasonal Menu Item: Motorcycles?

 *My Grandfather (approx 1948) on his motorcycle.

This weekend was the first nice weekend of the year for Central Illinois.  On the behalf of the motorcycle population, today was an exceptionally perfect day to ride-very little wind, sunshine and early 70 degree weather.  Cool enough for the leather jacket, warm enough to go anywhere.  Cruising through town on the back of the V-star, I could smell people cooking on their grills and it made me think about why I love to ride a motorcycle.

Motorcycle culture, largely because of Harley-Davidson, is Americana.  The vast majority of us are not 'bad-ass bikers', but I think all bikers are a little bad-ass, so I'll leave that riddle to you.  What I mean is, most of us ride when the weather is reasonable: warm (enough), no rain and little wind.  And all year long we wait with baited-breath heavily monitoring the news to see when our next ride will be.  So you see, when we ride, the weather is nice, people are outside and in good spirits-Americana in all its glory.

But what does this have to do with food?

The motorcycle represents the freedom to go without reason.  The pure enjoyment of your surroundings.  There are places that are just more fun to go to on the bike, like Green Gables on Lake Bloomington or the Paris, TN's World's Biggest Fish Fry!  Motorcycles represent summer, travel and friends. 

*My Grandmother (far right) and some friends heading from Illinois to Mexico on their bikes (grandfather was taking the photo).  My guess this was taken around 1960.

Growing up 5 miles from the famous Route 66, Americana was what we had to grow up on.  Flat-top grilled burgers, apple pie and world travelers coming through for a slice of classic America.  What we took for granted as children is now something we utilize and cherish by going back home (on the bike) and meeting new world travelers and reliving the enjoyments of the burgers and pie.

Maybe I'm not talking so much about food, but as tradition or heritage...but in the food world we hear nothing else than of 'classic', 'traditional', 'nods to home', etc  For me the enjoyment comes from the whole experience, the ride there, the smell of the air, the sounds of the wind and the sights of home.

Tell me about some of your favorite spots to stop on the bike in the comments section below!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Tip for success: When is the right time to plant?

 Pictured: Soil that is ready to plant.

*Note: This article was written by Carmen from a conversation with Vicky Shaffer.  

 This time of year anyone doing any planting is playing 'weather watch'.  There is no guarantee that this weekends 70 degrees is any type of predictor for next weekend where we might be under twelve inches of snow-who knows?

According to Vicky Shaffer the best way to tell if your garden is ready to plant (after getting the soil tested, of course) is to go out to your garden, dig about 5 inches down and grab a big handful of it!

Why?  'You never put seeds in wet ground' Vicky states.  'The perfect time to do it is when you have dry ground and napping kids' she jokes.  But what does 'wet ground' mean?  The fertile soil of Illinois could easily be misconstrued as 'wet'.

Vicky says when you grab that handful of dirt, squeeze it in your hand.  What does it do?  Does it hold together at all? Like play-dough?  If so, the soil is too moist.  On the other hand, if you grab a handful and it falls out with the consistency of dry cake mix-you're ready to plant! 

Let us know your thoughts or questions by posting a comment!

Our next topic with Vicky: Why to plant by the 'sign of the moon'?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Theory on high turnover in the restaurant business

By: Carmen Shaffer

Turnover is an issue for many restaurants.  It is time consuming and stressful to recruit new staff and once they’re hired-expensive to train them ($500+ per person).  Yet, some restaurants seem to maintain the same staff year after year with very little turnover.  What gives?
It begins with the hierarchy.  Owners or managers (whomever is the most ‘hands-on’) have a variety of theories on how to handle staff-we shall refer to the owner/manager as ‘manager’ here on out.  In some cases, the manager has had some life experience in the restaurant business and in some cases, very little.  Either way-the longevity of the person in charge is irrelevant to how they run the business.  Their theories on how to handle internal issues and their level of tolerance are both important factors when dealing with turnover.
Temperament is a key factor in a quality manager.  A manager who is loud can be great for business and moral when they are laughing and joking with the staff and guests, but if they are the type who can switch gears into screaming on a dime-you will notice more turnover.  Quiet managers can be wonderful when handling very stressful situations-keeping their cool and having ‘stealth-like’ capabilities, but quiet managers can also be very underhanded-switching schedules at the last minute and playing mind games with the staff.  This creates an unhealthy dynamic in a staff and can increase turnover.
Scheduling is a key component to high turnover.  Ever meet a server who is always free on the weekends?  Me either, but I know quite a few who are free on Saturdays and not Fridays.  Set-schedules are a wonderful way to create a happy staff.  Too many restaurant managers feel they have the ‘right’ to schedule any server at any time.  Some ignore RO’s (time requested off) and class schedules because they feel they can hold a person’s job as ransom.  In some cases, managers won’t post the schedule until the day prior to decrease the amount of shift exchanges that can occur over a given week-and still may not approve the exchange.  Some of the happiest and more tenured servers/bartenders are those with a set schedule.  They have the opportunity to make plans in advance, join a summer softball league, arrange joint custody.  Sure, from time-to-time the server will need to switch or will pick up a shift, but at least they have that option.  In addition, how great it is for the scheduling manager to know who is going to be around in 3 weeks, have the opportunity to keep his loyal staff happy-not to mention the regulars who come in looking for ‘their’ regular Friday night server?
Which brings me to my next point, bartending schedules is a great way to keep your regulars happy!  Regular guests come in looking for the same fun they had the last time with the same bartender.   And you want the bartender to remember the guest, remember what they drank, what they ate, so the bartender may do his job-which is promote what they feel that particular guest will enjoy!  The term up-selling is an insult to the bartender trained to appease the senses of ‘their’ guest.  I’m not going to recommend the top shelf tequila to my guy who comes in for Miller Lite on draft five times a week.  But I will talk it up to the couple who just got back from Mexico! 
On a side note: if you’re worried about bartenders who are stealing or giving away booze.  The fastest way to catch them in the act is to set their schedule.  Observe their clientele and keep an eye on the running tabs-they don’t take but a shift or two to catch. 
Turnover is an issue for any restaurant and if you’re reading this because you don’t understand why staff won’t stick around-odds are good it is one of these three items listed about.  If not, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what is going on in your store-and maybe we can crack it together!
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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

4 steps to save yourself a $75 service charge

A few years ago, while managing a restaurant, we started to have issues with our soda machines.  The servers would place the glass under the soda of choice, press back on the lever and the soda would dispense.  The problem was, the soda would not stop dispensing!  The lever would resume its off position, but the soda would still run...and run...and run. 

After a few times of this happening, and a few calls to the soda company (and a few bills)-the technician pulled me aside and explained to me what was going on.  Even though we would wipe down the lever each night, there is no way to get into all the nooks and crannies of the machine with a towel.  So he walked me though his system that has been handy and money-saving.

Problem: Soda machine will not stop dispensing soda

Step 1: get an old-school ketchup bottle (with the narrow opening) and a dry towel.

Step 2: wrap the towel around the bottle and make sure it covers your hand to avoid the possibility of burns later.

Step 3: fill the bottle with the hot water from the coffee maker.

Step 4: squirt the hot water up into the machine where the lever goes in.  There is a sensor just inside the machine that has gotten soda syrup on it-which is the cause of your issue.

It only takes a minute before the dispenser begins working properly again-I recommend emptying the bottle into the area, just to be sure.

Zone 5 Gardening: How to get started for the year

Note: The information written is from a conversation between Carmen and Vicky.  Carmen has written the article and Vicky has read and approved it for accuracy. 

The first week of April may seem like a fine time to begin garden planning, but according to our expert Vicky Shaffer-you're probably behind.  Vicky begins planning her garden throughout the previous year, but only begins to put her plan into action around late February-early March when she begins to purchase her seeds and growing her seedlings (primarily tomatoes).

While a seasoned gardener may have their systems in place, Vicky assures us-a garden is still quite feasible for those still figuring it out.  First of all, if you had a garden last year and plan to use the same plot, Vicky recommends having your soil tested.  You can buy kits in stores and online that can range from $20-$40 or you can take your soil into a garden specialty shop and have it tested there (call to confirm price).  The soil test will determine how much PH is in your soil and whether the area you have selected is doomed from lack of nutrients or too much acidity in the ground.  If you're debating between two places to have you're garden-testing the soil for each plot would be the best tie-breaker!

Second, Vicky recommends mapping a plan of the garden and what produce you want to include. Cross-comparing the map to the amount of space in which you are using for your garden.  Measuring your garden may seem like a useless task, but when you walk your earth and remember how big the green bean and tomato plants get-you will be doing yourself a big favor.

Third, dont repeat last years map.  Planting crops in the same place will only hinder the next years bounty.  Why?  Certain crops use certain nutrients from the ground to grow.  By rotating your plants, you give them more access to the 'food' they like-so you can get the food you like!  Ever notice that farmers rotate the corn and soybeans each year?  Same idea.

Finally, when you are ready to buy seeds Vicky strongly recommends going to a specialty nursery and NOT a super-store.  "You need to see the seeds you're buying to check for quality.  Always look for vibrant shiny seeds-if they are shriveled, that is a dead seed.  You wont get a plant from that!" says Vicky.  Also, she recommends looking at the packaging the seeds come it, 'it should say '2013 planting seed'-if it has last years date, do not buy it.  You don't know where they're stored off season and that can greatly affect your crop."

Vicky's final piece of advice for newer and learning gardeners, "Stick to the basics.  Only grow what you're comfortable with.  If you want to grow something new, add one item a year and see how you do.  One year, I decided to grow cotton!  My kids took the pods to school for show-and-tell.  It was fun, but just for a year.  Also, a true gardener with 'proof out' in July.  Its hot, there are a lot of weeds, meaning: a lot of work.  If you can make it through [July], you're good!"

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Editor's Pick: Top 5 Favorite Foodie Books

While some of these books may have a few recipes in them-it is the writing, the dry senses of humor or the reference-ability that puts these books in the top 5.

1. The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion By: Sharon Tyler Herbst & Ron Herbst

2. Kitchen Confidential By: Anthony Bourdain

3. Tender at the Bone By: Ruth Reichl

4. Eat the City By: Robin Shulman

5. On the Line By: Eric Ripert

Monday, April 1, 2013

Food of the Day: Sourdough Bread

  • While San Fransisco may be popularly credited for sourdough (popular during the Gold Rush), Wikipedia shows us the origin of sourdough is Ancient Egypt.  
  • Most sourdough breads are made from all-purpose flour
  • The sourness of the bread comes from lactic acid
  •  A 'sourdough' is also a reference to an old-man in Alaska
  • A traditional German Pumpernickel bread would begin with a sourdough starter
*Source: Wikipedia

Book Review: White Jacket Required

Book Review: White Jacket Required By: Jenna Weber blogger of ‘Eat, Live, Run’
ISBN: 978-1-4027-7777-6

In White Jacket Required, Ms Weber begins with the common college dilemma, of ‘now what?’ and take us through her process of trying something new (culinary school), as her attempt to pursue her love for life, food and activity. 

Ms Weber accurately and gracefully describes the awkwardness of post-college limbo and how it not only impacted herself and her family, but the experience her peers were going through too.  Sweetly incorporating the recipes from the story throughout the book.  The recipes themselves are simple, and yet, original with nods to traditional favorites.

For those looking for Bourdain ruggedness, you will not find in Ms Weber’s prose.  She comes from a wholesome place while maintaining feminine honesty. 

This book I recommend as an easy weekend read with a bottle of something other than Chardonnay. 

Welcome to Foodigen!

Thank you for visiting Foodigen!  A blog designed for the super-foodie: a person who is looking for information beyond the recipe.  We are here to offer you a hub for information regarding gardening, food industry news, libations, books and food. 

We are a newer project with a plan to grow at a rapid rate and post multiple times a day.  I'm excited to be apart of something I have been passionate about for years and created Foodigen because I could not find a more complete source for information and regular updates anywhere. 

We are working to compile people with quality information to heighten your experience and food knowledge in a seasonal and yet, fun and interesting way!

Thank you for stopping by, please sign up to receive our RSS feed as we update daily. 

~Carmen Shaffer
Founder and Editor