Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Out with the Regrets and In with the New Year!

What is it about a New Year that implies a fresh start?  As though, tomorrow begins a clean slate to start over-I will wake up thin, without cavities and without the lessons learned from the previous year.  Isn't the charm of each new year, the ability to reflect on everything we've learned? 

I dont make New Year resolutions-because I dont want to wait to the new year to begin them.  I will wait for the beginning on a month to begin a new task or habit-only so I can easily track my progress, but in a way-its still a resolution.

So at the risk of accountability, something too many feel the need to cover-up and hide, I'm going to post all the resolutions I have made to myself over the last year and how they went-and maybe, how I'll handle them next year.

1. Loose 30 pounds.  After taking on a outside sales position a few years ago, I gained 30 lbs! At the beginning of 2013 I was only about 10lbs down from my heaviest weight ever.  Upon returning, I joined a gym and went 5-6 times/week until about April after a weightloss of 15 lbs.  After that, I stopped going.  My excuse was that I needed to focus on my blog (yes, I blamed you, aren't I nice?).  I still happened to lose some weight and got to the lowest point in July (a total loss of 20lbs for the year).  But since I haven't gotten myself back to the gym, some of the weight has crept back.  Making my total weight-loss for the year, 10 lbs. 

2. Read as many books as I can.  I cant explain my insatiable thirst for knowledge.  I go to the library and check out more books than I can possibly read.  For the year, I have read 25 books.  I had no idea what to expect out of this goal, but most of what I gave myself was permission to let things go-so I may read.  The funny thing is, even Levi has severely increased his reading this year.  I dont think he's keeping count, but he's definitely been picking up a book about as often as I.  I found keeping a list of the books I read was a good motivational tool, also, I referred back to it often when recommending books to friends (or readers). 

3. Research and Start a Blog. Completed.

4. Blog 3 times a day. After quickly learning how unrealistic this was for me-I'm now satisfied with 3-4 times per week.  That is a realistic expectation for myself.  The new goal: Increase the value of the content for the you the reader!

5. Become a professional writer.  I took a small hiatus from writing when my day-job lost a few people and my hours surged.  But this year, I did take on a regular writing position with an online magazine, I have been asked to review a few products and I got my first freelancing gig!  I'm excited to pick the pace in 2014 and see what other opportunities are out there for me! 

6. Practice yoga daily.  I failed miserably.  I love yoga, I love how it makes me feel, I love the culture around it.  One of my goals in life is to be a yoga instructor.  So this is my new focus for 2014.  Last week, I met with a local friend and yogi and she gave me the incentive and information to get my practice started.  So stay tuned for more on the yoga front!

7. Get out of Debt.  What a great goal, right?  Sounds so much easier than it is, but I have student loans, a car payment, etc and a very active lifestyle.  So, sometimes it easy to spend the extra $20 than put it toward debt.  Levi and I borrowed the Dave Ramsey DVDs from some friends and it was one of the best things we did all year!  We eliminated SO much debt!!!  We still have a little ways to go, but Ramsey's simple method gave us the tools to gain some traction on what we owed.  I know I sound like one of the people on his video and I dont care.  It helped us, brought us closer together and we were more active than we ever thought we could be, due to taking the right steps.  2014 is going to be the year we get out of debt and start looking for a house.  We couldn't be more excited!

Ok, so those were goals from 2013.  The reason I posted them, was because we too often take on a new goal and disregard the old.  Goals are meant to be built upon, not disregarded-otherwise, what was the point of doing it in the first place?

Goals for 2014

1. Develop a regular yoga practice.
2. Take yoga instructor training courses.
3. Add value to my blog posts by learning more about what my readers are looking for.
4. Quit my day job.
5. Maintain a reading consumption of 25 books a year.
6. Have the life I designed.

What are some of the goals you are working on-regardless of the time of year?

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Hostess with the Mostess

Applebee's gave me the escape I was looking for in the small town life I was living. While I was there I tried my best to keep the guests and the servers happy-not an easy feat, as the servers were typically more surley than the guests.

Each server walked in with their own personal agenda, and it was my job to have each memorized so I wouldn't 'screw' them over that day-a rather debutant behavior for service staff. Nonetheless, I would try to keep all the families with little children in the same area, avoid giving a single person a booth that seats four (even when they insist) and maneuver around sections where the servers were trying to I leave early.  It was an incredibly thankless position, one rarely with a win-whoever wrote 'The Hunger Games' must have been a hostess because even being the last man standing-doesn't mean you've won.

When my efforts were thwarted by an insistent guest wanting a window seat or a booth, it was only a matter of seconds before the server would be at my hostess stand demanding to know what I was thinking or asking me if I'm stupid.  Some servers would have the audacity to enlist the help of a manger, but most others would beg a coworker to take the offending table-sometimes money was exchanged.

Money was frequently passed around. I'm not sure anyone really made out any more rich-because after taking money to pick up a table or a shift, the same server doing the favor would need a favor the very next weekend.  If we could have just marked the twenty (the going rate for a shift) with a blue marker-it would be fairly easy to follow it around the restaurant.  This type of internal bartering, wasn't exclusive to Applebee's-this is typical of any restaurant. Beg, borrow and steal is transformed into: beg, bribe and barter-and the wisest servers kept track of all their outstanding favors, like a crime boss, just waiting patiently to cash them in.

If the favor wasn't eagerly returned by the indebted party, their integrity was often put into question and they would find it increasingly difficult to have any more favors done for them.  Integrity was treated like your credit score- and you wanted your number very high.  

Even managers played this little game, asking favors from servers if someone didn't show up or if there were too many of the 'B-squad' working a Friday night.  The manager with the most power was the scheduling manager-they gave the good shifts to the senior staff.  The fastest way to get the best shifts would be doing favors for the managers-the proverbial 'yes-man'. Sucking up to the managers wasn't the best way to increase your integrity with the rest of the staff, favors were, but it was still effective.

Hosts had so little to do with any of the internal politics. We had the smallest amount of pull behind the scenes, but it wasn't rare to be treated, temporarily, as though we had some power. We were good for short-term favors. I won't pretend as though I was above it.  I took money from servers  and guests alike and never batted an eye. I made less than minimum wage and then got tipped out-on a Friday, after it was split between all the hosts, came out to about $25/night.  If a guest was going to slip me a twenty to move them up the list-I would do it.  It wasn't about being fair-it was a game and there is strategy involved. I simply played the game.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I Started in a Chain Restaurant

I was 16 and finishing up my sophmore year in high school when my mother helped me get a summer job at the local ice cream stand in a small town.  Owned by the assistant principal of my high school, I worked many nights with his daughter.  A cute brunette who was in my class, but we didnt exactly run in the same circles-she being more sports oriented and myself spending all my spare time in the theatre.  We got along really well and that summer turned the ice cream shop into our own little clubhouse.

The ice cream shop wasnt keeping me busy enough, so I filled out dozens of applications and ended up with an interview at Applebee's.  I remember wearing a suit to the interview and being rather nervous.  I dont remember much about the interview, but I remember everything about my first day.  Because that was the day I met the person who was going to be my initial introduction to food and my first love.

His name was Jim.  He was a line cook with strawberry-blonde hair and wire rimmed glasses.  He always wore a baseball cap and carpenter jeans with black combat boots.  He was incredibly skinny, had a baby face and was loved by everyone.  The cooks loved him for his jovial nature in the hot and stressful kitchen and the waitresses loved him because he rarely yelled, was a bit of a flirt and tipped well at the bar after work.  He was the second person I met my first day on the job, smoking a cigarette on the back dock he greeted me warmly and not as though I was the annoying 16 year old hostess I was. 

Jim never treated me as an annoyance.  I know he was teased for befriending 'the minor', as we spent some time together outside of work.  I didn't understand the legal implications of hanging out with a 24 year-old man as a 16 year-old girl.  Regardless, we didn't do anything illegal so its irrelivant either way.  Jim and I caught movies, went out for ice cream and just, hung-out.  He was a gentleman and I, his biggest fan.

During the summer, I was determined to learn my way around Bloomington, so if I had time to kill I would drive around until I got lost.  At that point I would call Jim and he would direct me back to somewhere I knew.  By my senior year-I knew Bloomington better than my parents.

I loved working at Applebee's and being around all the college kids who worked there.  Their problems seemed more important than mine, their stories funnier and their night-life more exciting.  It didn't take too long to make a few friends and start running around Bloomington going to plays at Weslyan and college parties. 

I wasnt a bad kid, I just was looking for something outside of the secluded and regimented high school I attended.  In hind-sight, I was probably looking for a bit of attention, but at the time-I thought I was making lasting friendships.

Monday, December 16, 2013

My Opinion is Only Worth the Attention You Give

A few days ago, my friend Lisa posted this article from the Chef & Steward blog: How Chefs Feel about Food Critics and Food Bloggers.  The headline made me stop, not only did it apply to me, but it could be a large insulting article on how food bloggers are not experts (as Martha Stewart likes to say).  I found Chef Lij's take giving credit where credit is due.  And I agree there are too many people criticizing food without any experience to back up their opinion.  They have never wielded a knife, developed calluses and served thousands of ungrateful brats guests. 

And then there is me.  Why should you listen to me?  Much of my regular readership is probably my mother and my boyfriend.  I, by no means consider myself an expert-but my 15 years in the food service industry has got to say something, right?

I've been having a moral struggle on how much of my history I should share.  My past is dotted (like so many others) with...'discrepancies' I'd rather leave to the past.  But it was my discrepancies that lead me to food and vice-versa.  Plus, in reality-Im rather sardonic, especially at work in the privacy of the kitchen and my shared office.  It goes against a fun, light-hearted foodie blog with smiley faced pancakes and pumpkin-flavored [name random food]. 

Why not leave the sarcasm to Bourdain?  The savory detail to Reichl?  The sexiness to Ripert? 

What makes my opinion, worth your time? 

A question I ask myself every day.  But I have lived the restaurant/bar business for over 15 years now.  I've made so many drinks and dishes that when I'm old and senile, I'll still be able to rock-out a Manhattan and  fresh guacamole. 

I'm not an expert, but I have trained hundreds of new employees, created inventory systems, created budgets, new menus and opened multiple new businesses.  I write, because its mine.  During the day I have to abide by their rules and regulations, wear their uniform with a nametag (proof the caste-system still exists)-writing is my personal act of rebellion. 

I have decided to tell my story on how the food business and I came together and why we just seem to know each other so well now-like its my old, wrinkled friend who still smokes and goes out to the bars on Sunday nights.  So stay tuned and I'll try not to bore you because I'm not sure how much I care about being considered an 'expert'.  I'd rather just keep my dignity.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Year In Books: 21 Books I Read and Recommend

Last Christmas a friend gave me a blank journal as a gift.  I had no idea what I was going to do with it, as I do not journal, but I quickly decided that my journal doesn't need to contain my reflections, but can contain my activities.  So I put it to work as my running note-taker (as I am ALWAYS taking notes on things).  I keep it in my purse, always and often dig it out for brainstorming sessions, when giving an interview, along with some reflections.  It is a more accurate representation of me and what my life is like.  If my children or grandchildren find it dusty in the attic-they will see who I was at the time and everything I was working on.

Last January, Levi and I were deep in hibernation-mode.  We had just gotten back from a week in Florida,  rarely went anywhere and kept to ourselves for the first few months of the year.  At that time, I was reading like crazy-getting this book list off to a nice start.  From January-today I have read about 25 books and attempted to keep a list in my journal.  I think I'm missing a couple, but here is a great list of reads with links to personal reviews (on some):

1. Anna Karenina By: Leo Tolstoy - This book is an amazing story, full a drama and incredible detail!  But it is the reader's version of a marathon.  I would go so frustrated as I read because I wanted to know: 'where the story is going' or 'why are we talking about this', but after finishing it-I was proud to have stuck it out.  Anna Karenina is a beautifully frustrating tale of the upper-crust of the Russian social-class and contains incredible character development.  This book is about enjoying the journey and not the destination.

2. Eat the City: A Tale of the Fisher, Foragers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Beekeepers, Winemakers, and Brewers Who Built New York By: Robin Schulman - Ms Schulman give the reader a detailed account of how certain genres of food have evolved in NYC, from beer to sugar to wine.  Each amazing story uncovers a layer of NYC-most people cant see with the naked eye.  Full Review HERE.

3. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change By: Stephen Covey - This book has been on my to-do list for so long.  I was happy to finally get it under my belt.  Great life lessons here, the one I enjoyed the most was Covey's lesson on Integrity.

4. The Millionaire Next Door: Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy By: Thomas J. Stanley & William D. Danko - I've heard this referenced so many times during my stint as a Financial Rep.  The language is heavily study-laden, but the information is interesting.  This book is great at expanding your perspective.

5. The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink By: Kevin Young - a wonderful collection of food-related poems collected and curated by Kevin Young.  A favorite of mine was 'Be Drunk' by Charles Baudelaire-it has such a great message about living life to the fullest!  Full Review HERE.

6. The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life By: Tim Ferriss - This is a beginner's cookbook like none-other.  Tim shows how to develop the cooking basics in an extreme and yet, simple way as to show anyone-even in cooking, the concept of 'smarter not harder' applies! Full Review HERE.

7. Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks By: Kathleen Flynn - Kathleen's story about teaching a cooking class comes with so many valuable lessons everyone can take home! Full review HERE.

8. Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer By: William Knoedelseder - The history of Anheuser-Busch, the company and the family.  I will never look at it the same way again.  Full Review HERE.

9. White Jacket Required: A Culinary Coming-of-Age Story By: Jenna Weber - One young girl's story about finding her way in life by going to culinary school after college. Full Review HERE.

10. Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life By: Anne Lamott - Ms Lamott's writing guide for those trying to find their inner voice.

11. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith By: Anna Lamott - Ms Lamott's story of her own personal struggles with drugs and alcohol and how she turned herself around with the help of faith.

12. Drinking with Men By: Rosie Schapp - Ms Schapp's journey from one bar to the next and how they each take on a personality all their own. Full Review HERE.

13. Bringing up BebĂ©: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting By: Pamela Duckerman - An American mother's take on the French method of child-rearing.  Why French children eat a larger variety of food, self-entertain and sleep through the nights within 6 months of birth.  (I don't have children and I found this book fascinating).

14. Life, On The Line By: Grant Achatz & Nick Kokonas - Grant and Nick reflect on how they got from the beginning of their careers as a chef and a stock manager to running one of the most successful restaurants in the world!  Full Review HERE.

15. 4-Hour Workweek By: Tim Ferriss - This book makes me want to quit my job, but even if thats not your goal-there are wonderful tips on how to create a more efficient workday. Full Review HERE.

16. Recipes for Disaster By: Tess Rafferty - This home entertainer's recalls multiple dinner parties that have gone fabulously well or hilariously bad as she and her partner launch their careers in LA.  A great read for any new homeowner looking to host events in their home.  Ms Rafferty gives great tips on time savers, things to avoid and recipes to save you from some outcomes she incurred.  Full Review HERE.

17. Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table By: Ruth Reichl - This book has been on my 'to-read' list for awhile (I bought it when it first came out), so I was happy to check it off the list!  Ms Reichl did not disappoint-her honest story about how her career began was a beautifully written memoir that takes the reader through her experiences in a very powerful way.

18. The Butler Speaks: A Return to Proper Etiquette, Stylish Entertaining, and the Art of Good Housekeeping  By: Charles MacPherson - This guide to home entertaining, written by a lifelong butler, gives even the most novice of entertainers the tools to host like a pro!  I read this book within a day and find it my new go-to guide for tips and tricks for a more well-rounded and functional event! Full Review HERE.

19. Franny & Zooey By: JD Salinger - Salinger doesn't fail to dish-up an accurate portrayal of the young mind.  Without knowing where you're going he takes you on this ride between a brother and sister and how complicated family politics can be.

20. Jane Eyre By: Charlotte Bronte - Jane, the female protagonist, is forced to grow up with few, if any, adults to shape her growth.  Thus, being forced to trust her internal moral code to make her decisions.  A wonderful character with so much richness to her character-a book all women should be required to read.

21. Wide Sargasso Sea By: Jean Rhys - An intended prequel to Jane Eyre, Ms Rhys takes a look at how the relationship between Bertha and Rochester developed.  A rather short read with incredible insight on how resentment and bitterness is born.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Recipe: Shepard's Pie

The first time I had Shepard's Pie was at a local pub.  Each Thursday the cook would make individually portioned pies for the lunch crowd-a mix of white and blue-collared worker who flocked in for the hearty fare.  The dish became so popular, people would call ahead to reserve their pie as soon as the owner arrived in the morning to do the books.

Since, I have begun making Shepard's pie on a semi-regular basis.  It's great for cold-nights, leftovers and is a great people pleaser.  Plus, its fairly simple to make.  This is the same recipe I used for the Cottage Pie at my Harry Potter Dinner Party!


1 lb ground (meat of choice) - lamb is traditional, but I use whatever I have on hand and it always comes out wonderful!
1 small onion-chopped
1 clove garlic (optional)
1 14oz can green beans-drained (french cut are my preferred style)
1 14oz can cream of mushroom soup
1 14oz can sweet corn-drained
5-6 potatoes-peeled and cut into large pieces
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
salt & pepper
milk & butter  (optional)

Take a pot and put in the chopped potatoes.  Cover with water and put on stove over med-high heat.

While your potatoes are cooking, brown ground meat, onion, garlic, salt and pepper.  Once fully cooked through, drain and put meat mixture in bottom of casserole dish (9x13).  Pour corn over meat mixture-making sure to spread them evenly.  Then add green beans and top off with cream of mushroom soup.

When the potatoes are cooked through-drain and add milk, butter, salt and pepper.  Mash.  Spread mashed potatoes over the top of casserole dish-spreading evenly.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake in oven for 45 min at 350 degrees F.  After 45 min, take pie out of oven, uncover, top with shredded cheddar and put back in oven for 5 minutes-so cheese melts.

Serves 6-8.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Favorite Things

I have seen these scented sticks at a few places over the past month and loved the concept!  We used to grow out own Christmas trees and I miss the way they made the living room smell. And it seems as though I'm not the only one!

I found this brand at Michael's, 6 sticks for $7.99 (on sale for $3.99) and immediately hung the first four (according to the directions) on the tree. 

Levi came out of the back room and his eyes lit up! The Christmas smell we had been trying to achieve with candles has finally graced our home! 

I don't find the scent to be overpowering with 4 sticks, but I'm sure if you do-you can just minimize how any you hang on your tree! 

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Relished Items

I found this Korean BBQ sauce at Meijer last year for under $4/jar. It has a wonderful flavor for anyone looking to put a little spin on beef. 

I recommend marinating skirt steak in pineapple juice for a few hours-overnight and then putting the steak in your crockpot and topping with about 1/2 the jar. Serve over rice noodles with green onion, cilantro and fresh bean sprouts! Yum! 

Use the rest of the jar for dipping or another entree!