Friday, May 31, 2013

The Tip Jar: NY Starbucks Case Emphasises the Expansion of our Social Custom

I see them everywhere: coffeehouses, my late night burrito joint, even the corner garage.  Tip jars.  Employees put them out, people feel compelled to put money in them.  Are we a a culture so trained to put money where we're told that we cannot step back an think about the skewed paradigm in which we're contributing too?  Soon, if someone rings a bell-am I to salivate?

An article in Wednesdays New York Business Journal discusses how the New York Court of Appeals is going to rule on a Starbucks case regarding who is supposed to receive the tips from the tip jar-as all the employees (managers included) feel as though they have a right to them.  I cannot believe this case is even wasting the judicial system's time!

I have lived off of tips I have received in the restaurant/bar business far longer than a regular paycheck.  And I will be the first to admit that tiping has gotten out of hand.  Everyone believes they have the right to everyone else's money!  I am even amazed at how personally staff members take their tips from a check-to-check basis.  Of course, I never wanted to get stiffed-and rarely did, but I never expected people to mortgage their house to show me their appreciation.  But does everyone deserve a tip?

Tiping, to be clear-is a form of gratuity (do I need to define that?).  It has also become a social custom.  In North America, the standard is 15-20% for services rendered.  In addition, we have also formed an entire tax structure around tips.  This option is available as an alternative form of compensation for the business owner, but not all business owners are required to abide by a tip-structured payment methods.  Some business will pay their staff a flat rate for varying reasons, for example: some business owners don't feel their guest should have to tip.  In addition, some businesses use the tip-structure, but require the tips to be shared among all the employees (cooks and busboys alike).  I have often been asked by guests if I have to share my tips with the staff.  More often than not, the structure is a decreased hourly wage (minimum determined by the state), compensated by tips with the exception that the tipped employee is to payout a certain percentage (usually based off of their sales) to the bar and busboy for services rendered (this determined by the restaurant).  And in other businesses (some casinos, or subcontracted cafeterias, for example) staff members are not allowed to receive tips.

In the event of counter-service dining, employees are paid a flat-rate.  The appearance of tip jars (in my opinion) came about as a vessel for unwanted change and now has morphed into this conundrum.  I'm not saying these people don't deserve a tip from time-to-time, but I do not understand what differentiates them from the guy who helped me at McDonald's?  What makes this seemingly upscale counter service more deserving?

Tiping out in restaurants can occasionally create some issues-in some cases a staff member might be resentful of a tiped-out employee who is rather lazy and slow-to-action.  These issues are dealt with in-house and usually quickly resolved.  In a restaurant I was the bar manager for, the staff will came up with their own rules to make the 'tip-out' to the bartender or busboy a little more fair.  For example: during lunchtime when the bar doesn't have a lot of alcohol sales-very often if the server didn't sell any alcohol-I wouldn't have them tip me out.  Or in a you-sratch-my-back approach, if they were helping me in some way, I wouldn't let them tip me out.  Gestures of these often had more to do with team morale than the money and where our values at work lay.  This was purely optional and not everyone went along with it, but the vast majority did.  No one got rich this way-it was our own way of showing understanding and appreciation without having a dollar-amount attached.

Within the restaurant business, it is considered a professional courtesy to over-tip others like you.  Even for mediocre service or when requesting a glass of water at a bar.  Karma haunts us wherever we go and those of us working for tips-generally spend significantly more money overall due to the fact we were in service too and afraid of looking bad.  I have mixed feelings on this.  I never want to disrespect my friends and colleges, but at a certain point it gets kinda ridiculous, right?  Receiving $40 tips for $10 tabs doesn't make me feel good about myself or the service I provided-it feels like this person has no sense of money. 

In the case of Starbucks, what began as a sign of gratitude (on the part of the guest)-looks now to be a selfish issue of poor management.  I don't know a [good] manager who would ever take tips from their staff.  Even when they were working as hard as the staff member on the floor-the manager's help isn't about the money (re: tips), it is about maintaining a successful and efficient business overall.

If you're worried about who is getting the tip you are leaving for a specific person-make sure you hand it to them directly.  Beyond that, there is little we can do.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Drinking with Men: A Memoir By: Rosie Schaap

ISBN-13: 978-1594487118

I picked this book up because I read the title and could relate.  I've been the lady among men, many times.  More than I care to share with my parents and more than I think I care to share with myself.  I've sat in the townie bar many times, next to older men who have had 3 lives to my 1 and listened intently to their stories and experiences. With that in mind, I wasn't really sure what the expect from Ms Schaap's book.  Is this going to be a timeline of trashy romances?  Will she regale us with tales of drunken shenanigans?  Do I have to worry about Tucker Max showing up with his breathalyzer and a leggy blonde?

Fortunately, none of the above happened.  Drinking with Men is a love story, but its one written to the establishments and the people who frequent them.  Painting a picture of places that were created with the most genuine of intentions and by people who love their community.  At the same time, we follow a large part of Ms Schaap's life-dropping out of high school and eventually going to college and finding her way in the stall-pattern being a responsible adult can put us in.

Those of us who have been bartenders or barflies can appreciate Ms Schaap's nod to one of the oldest business practices around and it can shape your thoughts, your knowledge and give you a more broad look on life from the stool of a public house.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Taking a couple days off

Hi all!  I just wanted to let you know that I am taking today and tomorrow off of blogging to refinish my hardwood floors I freed from ugly carpeting!  Pictures to come!  Cheers! ~C

Monday, May 27, 2013

PART 2: The Daily Pantagraph's Article on Vicky Shaffer in 1984:

*Originally written by Betty Zimmerman for The Daily Pantagraph (now The Pantagraph) for their Wednesday, September 12th, 1984 Focus section.  This article is reprinted with permission from The Pantagraph-complete with photos (taken by Marc Featherly).*
Vicky Shaffer showed shelves full of vegetables and fruits that she has canned.

Earth's Bounty Stocks their Pantry 

(Continued from yesterday)

By: Betty Zimmerman

The Shaffers have 190 bags of corn in the freezer, along with other vegetables and fruits.  Vicky also has canned dozens of jars of vegetables, chili and spaghetti sauce and pickles.  Along with those, bright jewel-colored jars of fruits, jams and jellies stand on shelves in the basement of their home.

Vicky curtains the shelves on which she stores home-canned foods to protect the foods from light, which she says takes the color and nutrition from them.

The Shaffers also have a food dehydrator in which Vicky dries bananas, apples, corn, cabbage, green peppers, beets, peaches and strawberries.

"We really like the dried foods," she says.  And the process helps conserve space.  One good-size head of cabbage dehydrates to not quite a quart of dried.  She uses the vegetables in soups, stews and casseroles.

"I tried to dry food outside (without dehydrator), but there's just too much humidity in Illinois weather."

Holding jars of dehydrated pepper and cabbage

Vicky also stores some foods just as they come from the garden.  "Winter squash will keep indefinitely in a cool, dry place," she says, "as long as it still has a stem.  If the stem is broken off, then it should be used."

And she hangs potatoes and onions in mesh bags from the basement ceiling.

Besides experimenting with various ways of preserving foods, Vicky likes to try something new in the garden every year.  This year it was eggplant and kohlrabi.

"I didn't know how to cook kohlrabi, but one day we had some company here from Chicago.  So I put some kohlrabi through the food processor, then boiled it.  It smells terrible!"

"You can always add butter and some Velveeta cheese and I had some cream. ... Everybody loved it.  They just couldn't get enough of it.  Carmen had four helpings.

"Finally I said, 'Do you know what that is?  It's kohlrabi.'  They said, 'Oh well, it's good anyway.'"

Vicky keeps a log of everything she plants each year, so she can harvest and can accordingly to the amount the family consumes in various foods.

She usually plants two dozen cabbage, but decided to plant just eight this year.  "When I end up with a 17-pound one, though, I'm not much ahead."

She also keeps records of her garden layouts so she can plan them efficiently.  The Shaffers have several garden plots, two near the house with vegetables Vicky uses more frequently and which take more care and another big garden across the pond for vegetables such as corn and potatoes.

She plants seedlings such as cabbage, eggplant and tomatoes in bottomless plastic planter pots to protect the plants from wind and cutworms.  When she waters them, she just fills the pot with water and lets it seep down to the roots.

"In the fall I just pull the pots off and stack them together to store for next year."

She plants radishes "even if I don't always want the radishes" because, she says, the bugs and worms like the leaves.

"The same with broccoli.  Let it go to seed after harvesting it.  The bugs will eat the leaves of that and not the other things.  I do that because I don't like to use any kind of powders to get rid of the bugs.

Beside vegetables, they have young raspberry plants, grapevines and fruit trees-apple, peach, pear, apricot, plum and cherry-all getting ready to bear in the next couple of years.  They already are harvesting apples, plums and pears.

near the house gardens there's a new elevated patch of strawberries that Shaffer [Monty] has augmented with extra sand hauled in for the children's sandbox.  They've had to work with all the ground, adding sand and compost and manure each year.

A small tractor and a row tiller help with the heavier garden work, and the Shaffers' love for what they're doing carries them through the rest.

"In the spring when you're putting out the big gardens, it's not work," Vicky says, "you're so enthusiastic about doing it and it's fun.  If you had to do the same thing in the fall, you'd think uhhh!"

The couple buy beef and pork to stock their freezers and the farm pond Shaffer [Monty] dug before they moved in has been stocked with bass, sunfish, catfish and crappie.

"We eat fish all spring," he says.  "And we also fish through the ice in the winter."

During the winter the Shaffer house is heated with wood they have cut.  "We have an oil furnace to back that up," says Vicky.

Their do-it-yourself attitude carries over into other things, too.  Vicky is happy with a snack bar recipe she made up in answer to her son's request for granola bars such as he'd seen on television.

She adds peanut butter, chocolate chips and rolled oats to the basic Rice Krispie treat recipe.  "We really like them," she says.  "And I cut them the same size as the granola bars, wrap them individually in plastic wrap and send them to school with Nick in his lunch box.

"He's just as happy as if they were the ones he saw on TV. ... No way was I going to pay a dollar and a half for six to eight of them."

The Shaffers' effort pays off for them in satisfaction and a lifestyle in which they avoid a dependence on commercially processed foods.

"We're showing our kids that it can be done and there are alternatives to going to the store," says Vicky.  "And we feel physically more healthy for it, with the exercise and the food we eat."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

PART 1: The Daily Pantagraph's Article on Vicky Shaffer in 1984:

*Originally written by Betty Zimmerman for The Daily Pantagraph (now The Pantagraph) for their Wednesday, September 12th, 1984 Focus section.  This article is reprinted with permission from The Pantagraph-complete with photos (taken by Marc Featherly).*

Vicky Shaffer of rural McLean prepared vegetables for an end-of-garden relish in a spot where she can enjoy being outside with her daughter Carmen, 2.

Earth's Bounty Stocks their Pantry

By: Betty Zimmerman

 When Monte and Vicky Shaffer moved to their secluded 10 acres in Waynesville Township seven years ago, they had a house that needed finishing, a newly dug fish pond in the yard and lots of dreams.

Both raised in the country, they'd had enough of town living after six years and wanted to get back to the land.  Now two children, several vegetable gardens, berry beds and a variety of fruit trees later, the Shaffers are enthusiastic about what they've done.

Not only have they build their own home and landscaped the yard with pine trees and roses, but the couple feed themselves and their children, Nicholas, nearly 7, and Carmen, 2, almost exclusively with food they produce and preserve themselves.

Shaffer [Monty] is employed as a Ralston-Purina feed dealer and as a road commissioner for Waynesville Township.  Vicky occupies her time completely at home with gardening, canning and caring for her family.

"Yesterday we came out and got everything and made vegetable soup," she says, as she shows visitors the vegetable gardens.  There weren't any green beans left except the dried ones with seeds in them, so I used them."

The only vegetable Vicky buys for soup is celery.

"I have grown celery, too," she says, "but its hard to keep sweet.  You have to keep it shaded.  If you let the sun hit it, it get all woody like the outer stalks are when you buy it sometimes."

Raised near Kenney, Vicky has a background in gardening and is learning new ways to prepare and preserve the vegetables she grows.  And she's coming up with some innovative ideas of her own.

When she picked a 17-pound cabbage from her garden recently, she decided to make it into a cabbage relish that's made a hit with her family.

It's a recipe she made up herself several years ago in an attempt to use up end-of-garden vegetables.  "I didn't know if anyone would like it or not when I made it," she says.

And they didn't at first.  The relish languished on the basement shelf for several years before she opened any again.

"I got it out when I had some company one afternoon this year and my father-in-law said, 'What is this?' He really liked it,  Now everyone is asking me to make it again."

By the time the first batch has aged four years and Vicky things that may have something to do with its tastiness.  The cabbage in the mixture has the color and texture of sauerkraut, but has a milder, sweeter flavor.

To make the relish, Vicky chops her homegrown cabbage coarsely with carrot and sweet red pepper, packs it in jars with other vegetables and puts salt and mustard seed on the top, then covers it with a solution of vinegar, water and sugar.

The sweet-sour pickling solution is the one they like on beets, says Vicky.

To make the preservation of vegetables and fruit less tedious, she washes and prepares the produce outside in the mornings when it's cool, then takes it inside to fill jars and can.

A workbench topped with formica is set up by the garage and a water supply is nearby.  Because there are no livestock in the area, the outdoor operation is not plagued by flies, as might happen in another country location.

While she works, the children play on a swing set and in a sandbox in the yard.  When Nicholas is in school, however, Carmen prefers helping her mother to playing by herself.

"I've done all my tomatoes outside and most of the corn and grape juice," says Vicky.  "One day we did corn in the kitchen and it took me three hours to clean up after it.

"This way, I can wash and prepare my vegetables outside and then hose everything down when I'm finished."

To streamline the canning process, Vicky sterilizes the jars in her dishwasher and then rinses them in hot water before filling.

She says she also cleans the kitchen area where she'll be working the day before she plans to can, and prepares food, such as soup, for the next day's lunch so she doesn't have to use the stove for cooking.

Part 2: Coming tomorrow!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Farmageddon: A Review & Raw-Milk Culture
Photo Permissions from Kristin Canty

One of the reasons I began this blog was because I wanted to know what is going on with our food.  I don't really care what the hip and trendy food is this year, I like that people post recipes because I definitely use them, but I wanted to know about the actual food-not just how to make what recipe or where to get a good burger.  I'm also guessing, that if I want to know these things-so do other people.  

Netflix has done an amazing job bringing forth documentaries that otherwise may not get the attention they deserve.  Farmageddon, I knew very little about, but I was taken by the description stating, 'This provacative documentary tells the story of farms that were providing safe, healthy foods to their communities but were forced to stop.'  Stop? What?  Even further intrigued within the first 5 minutes of the movies when Jackie Stowers describes looking down her flight of stairs in her home with a man dressed in black pointing a gun at her.  Ok, not your typical food documentary-I'm hooked.  What is going on here? Jackie Stowers with her children. 
Photo Permissions from Kristin Canty.

Kristin Canty, motivated by providing healthy food to her family delves in head-first into a struggle between small farms-fighting industrial-sized standards and the challenges and soul-crushing violations our government has performed to extinguish them from producing food.

One of the largest targets of the government raids have been raw-milk producers.  Yes, the unpasteurized goodness apparently is so threatening-it requires the SWAT team's and/or FBI's assistance at sheep farms, co-ops and small dairies.  Because these are the people who are leading to the demise of our country, right?  In addition, raw-milk is illegal in some states-one of which is Maryland. The illegal raw milk being poured out in Georgia.
Photo Permissions from Kristin Canty.

I strongly encourage you to watch this documentary and gain further awareness on what our small farmers are going through and how our government is continually removing their rights, but at who's best interest?  

A recent article on raw-milk in Illinois: 
Illinois Wants to Tighten Rules for on Farm Raw Milk Sales

A VERY recent article on Illinois illegally seizing bees:
Illinois Illegally Seizes Bees Resistant to Monsantos Roundup Kills Remaining Queens

Friday, May 24, 2013

Zone 5 Gardening: Vicky's Tips on Tilling Your Garden

Vicky's husband plows the garden

Everyone is getting a late start this year whether farmer or gardener.  Its been too wet to do anything and the amount of water has forced people to re-do earlier efforts.  According to Vicky Shaffer, your tiller (or the person who tills for you) is your best friend-period.  The way your garden is tilled will largely dictate the level of difficulty your garden will show you for the year.  Why?

'Dirt is the foundation for everything,' says Vicky.  'The tiller provides soft, moist ground allowing you and easier gardening experience by creating finer soil to plant in, fewer weeds during the season, more room for roots to grow and water to move through.  Before I had my plow and maintenance tiller-I would put my name on a waiting list and pay $45 (this was in the 70's!) for a man to come till my garden.  You didn't know when he was coming-so you were held hostage by his schedule.  This left me with little control of my garden.' 

In order to create a garden that requires minimal weeding and optimal moisture, use the following tips from Vicky:
  • If you're tilling a new plot: take up the turf first. Do NOT just till the grass under.  You are only breeding the ground for more grass and weeds.  You need to remove the grass completely.
  • In a pre-gardened area: be sure to clear the garden of any debris before tilling
  • Let the area dry out a before tilling.  Think: dry cake mix consistency.  If the ground is too wet-the dirt will be clumpy and hard to work ALL YEAR LONG.  The clumps will cause the roots to grow irregularly (if at all) and also, create uneven absorption of water in the ground.
  • Till twice before planting: 1st: with a pull-behind plow (for large gardens).  The plow will turn the soil over, create a better soil base with even nutrient distribution and will check for any roots still lingering below the surface.  2nd: use a finishing tiller to level the ground out, aerate the ground, creating a finer soil making planting incredibly easy. 
  • Keep in mind: if you under-till=extra work all year, over-till=lose moisture in the ground, properly prepare=minimal work all year.  It is better to over-till than under.
  • For optimal results, till about 6 inches into the ground.  It is better to till a little to deep than too shallow.
Since Vicky gardens at a larger scale, she has two tillers, the pull-behind plow and the finishing tiller.  She jokes how she has received them as presents and anniversary gifts over the 40 years shes been married to her husband, Monty.  'He knows he'll get a better reaction with a good tiller than jewelry,' she jokes, 'but I'll take the jewelry too!'

Please feel free to leave any gardening questions for Vicky in the comments section below!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Book Review: Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer By: William Knoedelseder

ISBN-13: 978-0062009265

Being from Central Illinois and half-way between Chicago and St. Louis, Anheuser-Busch has always felt fairly close to home.  St. Louis itself is a town I have spent a significant amount of time-in addition to being a Budweiser fan myself.  So when I read Mr. Knoedelseder's book I had the same feeling I had when reading Kurt Cobain by Christopher Sandford or reading anything about Jim Morrison-sometimes I'm not sure I want to know the true nature of one's humanity (or lack thereof).  Institutions such as The Doors, Nirvana and Budweiser are all victims of their own demise.  Careers and businesses that are built on such great foundations (with the right amount of luck), but as soon as the fame and/or fortune kicks-in, the goals dont coincide with a successful business model and the foundation crumbles (think: Maslow's need hierarchy theory).  

Mr. Knoedelseder's extensive history of the Busch family politics and dynamics-in addition to their business practices was incredibly cohesive and gave the reader, not a window, but a door with a colored map of the Anheuser-Busch business.  The book is a complete history and was entertaining, informative and (at times) a real life soap opera complete with sex, drugs and first-class accommodations.  This must read is an excellent perspective of a piece of American history and economics 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Top 10 List: Popular TV Shows we would love to see a Food blog from!

The Walking Dead Survival Cooking BlogPhoto used with permission from The Walking Dead Survival Cooking Blog.

Earlier today I came across Marene Gustin's article that featured The Walking Dead Survival Cooking Blog which follows The Walking Dead television shows and the food they eat-complete with recipe!  This inspired me to come up with my own list of TV shows that I would love to see have a cooking blog (even though blogs didn't exist for some).

10. The Simpsons: Between the doughnut with the pink icing, Duff Beer and the Springfield Chili Cook-Off, we may need loosen our belt and let the Homer-gut grow!

9. Arrested Development: Hot Ham Water  is just a start! But Michael Cera does offer a different type of recipe!

8. The Sopranos: they do have a cookbook so you can learn how to make the 'gravy'!

7. M*A*S*H: Cookbook is available, but based off of the reactions we got from the characters-its no surprise it didn't fly off the shelves! (But don't you secretly want it?)

6. Brothers & Sisters: I've heard Nora is a wonderful cook and in that kitchen-no one's surprised!

5. Friends: they have a cookbook too, but its sold out!

4. Downton Abbey: Mrs. Patmore's kitchen is always in such a fuss!  I wish I knew what it was all about! The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook is available, though!

3. 24: Does anyone remember them eating?!?! How did they keep that momentum?

2. Lost:  I feel as though there can only be so many things I can make from a coconut, but Im sure the food from the Dharma Initiative was delicious!

1. Gilligan's Island: With all those shenanigans going on, Mary Ann still had time to organize a cookbook!  She was always my favorite.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Day in the Life

I don't often write about work, but I felt the need to share a little about today.  I am a full-time, internal caterer to a Fortune 500 company and this business is just as grueling and action packed as a regular restaurant-except, you serve the same people at an even higher frequency-and generally much earlier in the day.

The following is my FB post for you to enjoy:
Short staffed, working on a lunch for 100 ppl that I have to make almost all the food for and maneuvering everyone's day so we can make this a good event for a very needy client. Just when I don't think I can take one more hiccup-the health inspector shows up and steals the attention of my chef and manager-who were helping me. So when Annie walks up to me and says, 'we just found the fun-factor' I couldn't help, but to laugh. I'm not sure who Murphy is, but I know his law and how it tests this business. (sigh) I could have gotten mad, but instead I decided to Best Murph at his own game and got my lunch out 10 minutes early. Murphy laughed and delayed their arrival 45 minutes...wheres my beer?

Monday, May 20, 2013

My favorite places to eat are not in a restaurant

My Brother Nick, S-I-L Cindy and I at dinner.

Recently, I received a text my closest friends for Levi and I to come over for brunch.  On a beautiful Sunday, this is not a rare occurrence, we dine with them fairly frequently.  In fact, most of the dinners Levi and I are invited to are at homes and not restaurants-whether it be family or friends, all have a dinning room or patio table to sit around and share-as they are some of my favorite places to go.

As of late, I'm often disappointed when asked to, 'go out to eat' and generally try to avoid it-suggesting we have dinner at my house and I even find myself offering to cook!  But why work so hard?  Because I'm sick of the restaurant 'churn'.  I dont want to be a table to flip, I dont want to have to waive down the server for my over-priced drink and I dont want to listen to the restaurant noise.  More than anything-I'm sick of how the value of going out to eat has flipped from a novelty to a requirement. As though the utility a restaurant provides has overshadowed our kitchens, our tables and our ability to entertain.  I have naturally gravitated toward those-like me, who are not afraid of their oven or inviting people into their home. 

Sitting in the backyard at the patio table the sun shining on my face, Eddie Vedder singing in the background, the conversation flowing with my friends, wearing a hoodie and sweatpants and sipping my mimosa, I marvel at my surroundings.  Really, who is living better than this right now?

I'm writing about this little moment in my weekend, partially because I dont want to forget such a lovely day and partially because I worry, in my little town-people buy beautiful dining room tables only to use for holidays, having sitting rooms they never sit in and china they never use.  I challenge you to either use those items or places and invite others to use them with you. Eddie Vedder is optional.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Review: The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a few simple lessons transformed nine culinary novices into fealess home cooks By: Kathleen Flinn

ISBN-13: 978-0143122173

Kathleen Flinn begins her book by stalking a woman in the grocery store.  We have all done it, haven't we?  Looked into the cart or basket of a stranger and silently judged them.  I know I have had people make comments about my excessive produce-whether it be a, 'you sure eat healthy' or the occasional, 'what IS that?' as I'm checking out.  In this case, Kathleen's stalking is due to her intrigue in the abundance of over-processed contents of this woman's cart.

From the prespective of a classically trained chef from the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris-Kathleen begins a project to reach-out to a handful of people who dont have basic kitchen skills.  She delves into their history with food and how it has impacted the decisions they make when eating and cooking.

Through these classes, Kathleen gives these women the confidence and savvy to make healthier choices and not to be held hostage by food, but to be liberated with it!

A beautiful story that belongs in any book club!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

I need YOUR help! How to compost in an apartment?

I have lived in my apartment for 7 years.  When I moved in the amenities were minimal, but I knew I could add and modify certain things to my liking.  For example, there was no dishwasher-so I purchased a counter top dishwasher from a website I found ( and its proven to be a very useful gadget!  I installed a water-saving shower head in the bathroom and energy efficient light bulbs.  WiFi was added when I bought my laptop 6 years ago, but I still felt my apartment needed something.  Its located in an old home that has been converted-so there is molding around the windows and build-ins, along with the older, detailed wood doors. 

As beautiful as it was-my apartment needed a fireplace!  I wanted to hang my stockings at Christmas and have romantic lighting at night.  I wanted to create this constant feeling of home, plus a fireplace (to me) gives a focal point to the room and a warmth about the home.  Obviously I couldnt install a wood buring fireplace, so I opted for the DIY kind.  With $50 and the help of my crafty father and boyfriend, and a few crafty skills of my own, the fireplace was constructed.  The fire itself was Pinterest-inspired and my friend drilled the holes into wine bottles for me and I decided to hook the lights up to a timer so that every night we have the lovely glow of a fire.
                                                 The Finished fireplace at Christmas 2012

My new fixation is on composting.  This is something I have little-to-no experience with and everything I read seems somewhat time extensive and/or involved.  Growing up, we chucked all our food scraps into the raspberries.  It was simple and didn't seem to bother anything.  When I was talking to a friend about this-she had been putting her food scraps in their backyard fire pit, but soon quit when opossum and racoons began to appear at a rapid rate.

So I've decided to enlist the help of you to see what kind of thoughts or experiences you have had with getting rid of your food scraps in an environmentally friendly way!  Please post all ideas and experiences in the comments section!

Thank you for your help!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Femivores: the new 'stay-at-home-mom'

I came across this excerpt from Emily Matchar's book, Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity and was sad and relived all at the same time.  You see, I grew up on a farm where the women worked at home and the men worked away from home (and this was the 80's!).  I wasn't home schooled, but I did receive an education from my upbringing that has impacted me in a substantial way.

My mom canned, gardened, made my clothes, made our costumes.  My dad had built our home and on the weekends would work on the property with machinery or fix the vehicles.  I grew up with two of the most self-sufficient people I have ever met-the phrase 'we can make that at home' was often spoken of things we saw in the city 30 minutes away: jungle gyms, play houses, clothing, etc.  A phrase I have adapted at home with my family now.

Spring was my favorite time of year-the smell of the air meant freedom from the walls of school, but it also smelled like raspberries and strawberries-also known as my chores.  Every morning during the summer-my job was to pick the red raspberries and strawberries from the garden an put them into the green cardboard pint containers for mom to sell in town.  The money was made was for our school supplies and fees for the year.  As the summer wore on-the chores changed from raspberries to weeding, to watering, to peppers and tomatoes.  In the cool evenings of fall I remember digging up potatoes and picking squash and pumpkins.

The summers were spotted with large canning sessions-I being mom's right-hand in the efforts.  The spring strawberry jam was my favorite-the sweet smell lingered in the kitchen for days as did the red stains on my hands.  The strawberry jam, to this day, is the best jam I have ever had.

In addition to strawberry jam, we would can tomatoes, pears, apples, relish, beets, green beans, carrots and anything else my mother could.  If we didn't can it-it would get frozen or dried in the dehydrator (often apples became apple chips).  Sometimes our efforts were inside in the kitchen and sometimes, to preserve as much cool air in the house, we would get the portable electric stove and move outside.  Often my job was to keep the flies away-as you can imagine the flies kept a young child quite busy.

Dad would come home for lunch and lunch would be ready on the table-I often had to run out to the garden to pick the green onions, lettuce or spinach for the salad.  I grew up loving spinach-in my house, it was a spring treat we only got once a year.  After starting grade school-spinach was the most popular hated veggie among my classmates-a hatred I didn't share or understand.  I thought spinach made you big and strong-just like Popeye!  It wasn't until I was quite a bit older and had the store-bought canned spinach that I finally understood what my peers thought spinach to be.  I had never seen spinach look so sad and desecrated-or taste so bland.  I genuinely felt bad for my classmates and their exposure to such an atrocity.

Over the last 60+ years, Americans have decreased the percentage we spent on groceries by more than half.  Oddly, over a time period when home vegetable gardens decreased as well.  Our basic necessities have changed along with our viewpoints of money, status and occupation.  In addition to the feeling that the hours of the day have begun to consume us as opposed to just running their due course.  I myself, being a college graduate have began to have this daunting feeling that somewhere-we got it wrong.  Not that women shouldnt go to school and get a degree, but we (both men and women) have taken it upon ourselves to work so hard for other people's businesses-we forgot that our families are our primary business.

Growing up on a farm in the country with a home that was heated by a wood-fireplace and fed by the bounty of a garden-it was a job to maintain the home.  Each days tasks were dictated by the weather, the garden, and the land.  There was always something to work on and knowledgeable bodies to do it.  While I feel that technology is important and I definitely do my share of dabbling-there is something to be said about living a slower-paced life and working for your family as opposed to working for someone else's cause.  I find the term 'femivores' funny-because when I was growing up, I called her 'Mom'.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Review: The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life By: Tim Ferriss

ISBN-13: 978-0547884592

To start, let me just say-I had never heard of Tim Ferriss when I picked up this book on a whim.  I did not realize this was his 3rd book, nor did I realize the broad range of topics we would be discussing.  I picked up this 634+page book on a Wednesday and COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN!  Like a junkie on a bender-I had to go until I couldn't go anymore...I finished it on Sunday (4.5days).

To begin, I appreciate Tim's honesty about his trials and errors in the kitchen and what brought him to take on the haute cuisine hurdle.  I felt Tim captured the essence of what good chefs focus on daily:
  • You never know everything about [food].  
  • Everyday you learn something new. 
  • Simple is best.
Through Tim's journey he tackled the complexities of learning languages and why we make it harder than it needs to be.  He touched on the balance of diet and exercise and how to get fit, maintain it and still enjoy the spoils of life.  In addition to survivor skills, knot tying and shooting the perfect 3-point shot.

You will walk away from this book looking at the world in a new light.  That, I promise.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Challenge: Refrigerator Cleanout-6 Steps to save you $151/month

How many times a week do we walk to the fridge, open the door and think, 'What am I going to make for dinner?'  While scanning the fridge over and over again-do you find yourself overlooking things that may have been sitting in there for awhile?  Condiments, rice paper, bloody mary mix (can you tell I'm personalizing this a bit?), a jar of orange marmalade.  

While reading, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, Kathleen Flinn discusses a challenge a friend suggested-skip going to the grocery store for a week and use what you have.  By doing this, you force yourself to reinvent dishes and eliminate items from your refrigerator and pantry you may otherwise never get to and throw out.  This idea left me intrigued.

Now, I dont find myself to be the 'condiment queen' by any means, but after this exercise-I realized how much random stuff I had in my fridge!  The door lined with dressings and various types of mustards and sauces actually overflowed onto the shelves!  Those items on the shelves, were hidden behind the milk and the bloody mary mix (ie: the land that Carmen forgot).  So I started to think about where to begin.

  1. Check expiration dates first: this is the easiest way to eliminate items without committing them to memory as potential ingredients.  Go through the freezer too!  Recycle and compost what you can and pitch the rest!
  2. What goes together?: Start mentally grouping things from the freezer, fridge and pantry into meals.  Ok, orange marmalade is random, but what if I mix in a little cayenne and put it over chicken?  Pair it with rice and that 1/2 bag of frozen broccoli and we're in business!  Do that with 3-5 meals (this will encourage you to cook at home for the week).
  3. Evaluate your week (aka meal plan): Whats going on this week?  How many days can you commit to cooking and which days are the days you know you need something quick (btw: quick doesnt mean unhealthy!)?  Start plugging the meals into the days that correlate with the time you think you will need to prepare it.  Also, keep it simple-start with what you have and build on it with seasonings you already have.  If you're not sure with where to go with some items try the website: Supercook that has you list ingredients you have and uses them to suggest recipes! 
  4. Pull the ingredients from the freezer to thaw: When I want to make meatloaf, I never have the meat thawed out and often have to opt to do something else.  Having it ready to go when you're ready to cook makes cooking significantly easier.  Plus, having everything pulled and thawed will: force you to cook it AND allow for last minute adjustments.  My life is no different than anyone else's-something is bound to come up that changes your schedule from 'have time' to 'no time'.  Its nice to be able to have everything ready so you can make a last minute adjustment to your menu.
  5. Watch your refrigerator clear: Americans waste 40% of the food they buy.  So having an emptier refrigerator is a GOOD thing!  Kathleen Flinn's friend suggests taping a photo to the back of the fridge so you are always motivated to use the contents and not throw them away.   
  6. Be realistic with your goals as a shopper: some people only shop organic, some people feel its best to buy in bulk, some people shop for super-savings.  These are fine ways to shop, but if you are an average American who throws away 40% of the food you buy, why are you buying in bulk?  You're literally throwing away your money.  If you shop organically and are throwing away the food into the garbage-switch to decreasing what you buy and begin composting
In addition to these steps, skipping a week of shopping will also save you money.  The average American spends $151 a week on food according to a Gallup poll in 2012.  This poll also shows there has not been an increase in the amount of people eating out vs at home since the poll was last done in 1987.  Some quick math for you: $151x4= $604x.4=$241.60 the amount of money the average American is throwing away each month.  By skipping the grocery store once a month, you can decrease your waste by as much as 35% and be $151 richer!

Ok, now go out and try it for yourselves!  And please, share your results and what you have found!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Bartending: What does it mean to be 'Stung'?

In the world of bartending, bartenders have a responsibility to themselves and the business they represent.  One of the key responsibilities of a bartender is by carding people who order alcoholic beverages.  Now, no one likes to do this task, not because we dont want to be responsible, but because of the crap that people say to you when you card them.  As though, this requirement is a recent development and its their first time getting carded.  My least favorite people to card are women.  They always have to make a spectacle of themselves and the act of getting carded.  No matter the age, no matter how old they look-its at least a 10-15 second production EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.  And because I work off tips-I dont get to say what I want to say (can we just get this over with? I know you're of age, the scrunchie and stonewashed jeans have you dated at 54, but you have a decent complexion-so I'm only carding you to flatter and get a better tip).  As opposed to whats appropriate <forced grin>.

What many people don't know is that there are systems in place to check to make sure all liquor licenses are carding anyone who looks about 35 and younger.  It's called a Sting operation.  I have been stung many times and have passed every time.  But one time I was working with someone who didn't pass.

It was working an incredibly busy Friday night and I was splitting the arena-style bar with another bartender.  Around 7pm I heard people on the other side shouting at me for drinks!  My co-bartender, no where to be found.  Now the bar was 3-deep, people were shouting drink orders and I was working as fast as I could before a manager came back to help.

"What happened to (co-workers name)?" I asked.

"She got stung and failed." replied my manager.  All the confirmation I needed to know that I was in it alone for the night.

To be 'stung' (in the alcohol world), is an exercise the police perform to make sure local bars are checking for IDs.  They send in a person (often someone doing community-service) who is under the age of 21 and have them come in and order an alcoholic beverage alone.  If the bartender asks them for ID, the underage person says they forgot it and leave.  That is when a police officer comes in to tell the manager-the establishment has been 'stung' and they passed (there is some variation to this, but that is the jist).

If the bartender doesn't ask and brings the under-aged the drink the under-ager pays for the drink and leaves (and the bartender becomes confused and nervous).  A police officer then comes in to inform the manager that the bartender failed the sting.  The business then fires the employee (on the spot) and the police then fine the business and the employee.  In addition, the amount that business is 'stung' significantly increases for an unsaid period of time and due to it being public record-the establishment is also written up in the paper for failing.

If the establishment fails a certain amount of 'stings' over a specified course of time (often dictated by the municipal government)-their liquor license can be suspended or revoked.  So it is important all around for businesses to pass these tests.

I find it SO incredibly important for bartenders to protect themselves in this line of work.  While we may be subject to work for tips, more importantly we work for ourselves and a large part of safe bartending requires the use of your brain and instincts.  It is SO important for you to know how to handle situations that come up and how no matter how drunk the individual, or how demanding the manager-when push comes to shove, you have to protect yourself behind that bar by being aware and knowledgeable.  Because the first thing the business is going to do if something happens-is fire you.  So if you trust your instincts and act within the parameters of the law-you are fireproof.

For more information I have found this resource published by the Illinois Casualty Company to be an excellent resource and a quick read (this link is not sponsored).  In addition, if you have any questions about your rights, I encourage you to contact your local Alcohol Enforcement Police Officer and see what kind of training programs you can take.  They even offer them for doormen, so they can know their rights and how to handle themselves in the event of a conflict.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Book Review: The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink By: Kevin Young


I'm sure that I'm not the only one who isn't the most poetry savvy person in the world, but I was intrigued by Mr. Young's compilation efforts when I heard about this book!  Poems about food?  Even I could handle this!

Upon reading I quickly found myself not reading the poems as they should be read-out loud.  I've gone to many poetry readings and used to watch Def Poetry Jam on a semi-regular basis.  It can be hard to truly savor the message by skimming it in a book.

So, while my boyfriend, Levi made dinner I would read the poetry out loud as he cooked.  At each poem, settling into the rhythm of the poet.  I may not have given them all their proper justice, but more than had I read them quietly.  Even Levi took his hand at reading a few (especially the Robert Frost poems).

I rather enjoyed the contributions of Mr. Young's poems-the detail of his prose painted the most lovely pictures and I felt transported into his childhood kitchen.  Also, there was a lively poem, Be Drunk by: Charles Baudelaire-I read this a few times as the message was fun and inspiring (and made me want a glass of vino!).

I do highly recommend this compilation by Mr. Young and if you're anything like me-read them out loud for all to hear!