Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
1. PLAN AHEAD: Sit down at least a few weeks in advance and make a game plan. What you are planning to make, what you are planning to do with the venue, when you are going grocery shopping, what you need to pick up, when to start preparations and a 'day of' schedule. Make things in advance! This will save you time and stress.
2. GO EASY: On the appetizers, plan things that are simple. It is always nice to have something to nibble at with cocktails and drinks, but there is no need to go above and beyond. The real star of the party should be the main course, so allocate your time and resources to that.
3. DON'T GO IT ALONE: Ask for help! Yes it is your party, and you want to be the all-star-host, but you don't have to do it all alone. Have guests bring side dishes or mini desserts. Also, don't neglect store bought quick-fixes. Add your own special touches and no one will know that it wasn't from scratch.
My appetizer picks:
--Spiced Nuts: So easy to make and impressive. I like cinnamon sugar roasted almonds: beat an egg white, toss almonds to coat, add cinnamon sugar and mix, spread out on a baking sheet and place in the oven at 250 for 45 minutes (stirring half way through the baking process).
--Crudites and Dip: Mixed [eppers, broccoli, carrots and celery provide a colorful and light appetizer. I like to serve them on a platter around a bowl of hummus. It is a light and crunchy bite that is no-fuss and no mess.
--Cheese: Have three or four cheese and cracker combinations. Make sure to take the cheese out of the fridge an hour or so before to come to room temperature. A cheese board never fails to satisfy and having a variety looks like you spent time on it. Add some dried fruits and grapes as garnish.
--Dips: There are so many pre-made dips that are perfect for parties. Have two or three bowls with a variety of dips (put small spoons in the dish so people don't create a mess ) and surround with blue, red and yellow corn chips. It looks fantastic!
--Crab Cakes: It is always nice to have some sort of fish on an appetizer spread. Shrimp is easy, but dull and overdone. If you are going to go above and beyond on one appetizer make crab cakes. You can make them in advance and they only take about 10 minutes on broil in the oven to finish. They can sit out for a long time and are little bites of flavor.
There are a million holiday cookies out this time of year which can be overwhelming. I like to experiment with cookies that I have never attempted before, but still want to make something pleasing and palatable for my family. Where to start...where to start? My action plan this year was to steal my mom's 2009 holiday cookie magazine, and pick three or four interesting and delectable recipes. Well...three or four ended up being seven and I made dog treats to make it an even eight. It was a three day process that left my hands destroyed from dish washing and my body tired, full and overly sugared...but it was worth it. My repertoire now includes peanut butter chocolate toffee bars, pumpkin pecan spice cookies, holiday biscotti, chocolate cherry ginger cookies, triple chocolate ganache cookies, peppermint meringues, apricot amaretto cookies and of course peanut butter dog biscuits.
Naturally I had to sample them all (minus the dog treats but the smell of peanut butter did force me to eat a few spoonfuls from the jar)and after much internal debate I think the biscotti were by far my favorite. They were flavored with both rum and vanilla extract with a faint taste of citrus from a piece of finely shredded orange peel incorporated into the batter. I added buttery pistachios, tart dried cranberries and cherries and sweet dried apricots. The flavor combination was sensational. The baking process for biscotti tends to be long and tedious but leaves you with a crunchy but not break-your-tooth hard cookie. A perfect light and satisfying breakfast or after dinner treat that will leave you with a smile on your face and a (festive)song in your heart.
Now that my cookie baking rampage/therapy has ended, time for bigger and better things. My New Year's resolution: be fearless. This year I want to venture out and make dishes I have never attempted. The only way to learn how to make a recipe perfect is to try, try and try again. I hope by the end of the year to bone a duck (I just watched the movie Julie and Julia...inspirational for a "servantless American cook.").
Happy Holidays and Bon Appetit,
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Upstate New York is finally seeing some traditional December weather, filled with high winds and snow, and I have to say it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The scenery along with the constant bombardment of holiday songs on every radio station/Starbucks/store that I enter is making me start to think of the most important part of the season...holiday cookies. Every culture and family has their traditional and favorite cookie. Of course gingerbread cookies are the face of the season but there are also butter cookies, linzer cookies, Mexican wedding cookies, fruit cookies, nut cookies, cut outs OH MY! The list goes on and on. Which got me thinking, what is my favorite cookie? It is a question that I had to ponder long and hard about. I have a sweet tooth so every cookie is amazing to me (good thing I get to sample a large variety this time of year!!!).
I'm not sure if it is my all time favorite cookie, but my memories of the holidays, cookie exchanges and cozying up on cold days with warm tea, surround my mom's raspberry thumb print cookies. The dough itself is made from scratch and has a nice crisp texture of a butter cookie, without being too hard. After the dough is formed she would make little balls and roll them in egg white and cover it with finely crushed walnut pieces. If that doesn't sound heavenly enough, she would leave a thumb print in the middle and when it was almost done baking fill the centers with a good quality raspberry preserves and put it back in the oven to finish crisping. They are perfect with any warm beverage and completely satisfying. My holiday season wouldn't be complete without them.
Get in the kitchen with your loved ones and cook up a batch of memories!
Monday, October 12, 2009
Mary's Chili Recipe
1-1 1/2 lbs. ground beef ( I use 95% Lean)
1-2 onions (Diced)
1 green pepper (Chopped)
1 TBS cumin
2 TBS chili power
1/2 tsp. cayenne powder (season to taste)
1 TBS hot sauce (Frank's or Tabasco)
1 32 oz. can chopped tomatoes with liquid
1 jar of salsa
1 15 oz. can black beans
1 15 oz. can of great northern (white cannelloni) beans
1 15 oz. can of butter beans (lima beans)
1 large can of light red kidney beans (32oz?)
1 large can of dark red kidney beans
1 cup of beer or wine
Shredded Monterrey Jack or Cheddar Cheese or Taco Seasoned Cheese
Add small amount of oil oil to grease a frying pan add beef, cumin, cayenne and chili power. Brown beef. Add onions and pepper. Cook for a few minutes until soft. Drain any grease from pan. Place in the bottom of a crock pot.
Drain beans in a colander to remove liquid. Run water over beans. Drain. Add to crock pot.
Add tomatoes with liquid to crock pot. Add beer or wine. Add hot sauce. Season to taste.
Cook on low 6-8 hours or on medium 2-4 hours.
Before serving check seasonings, you could add more hot sauce or beer/wine if more liquid is needed. Chili is a recipe that can be altered to the cook's preferences for mild or hot seasonings, Cumin is key. You could increase the amount for a more savory flavoring.
Ladle into bowls, top with shredded cheese. Serve with green and red hot sauce.
--Straight from my mom's email!
Love The Power of Food,
When it comes to ice cream, I tend to stay away from the "premium" fruity flavored ones. To me, there is not a better base than the indulgent flavors of vanilla or chocolate. I've seen everything from orange ice cream to blueberry ice cream, and they all fail to live up to the traditional vanilla and chocolate. I made an exception for a hand crafted Concord grape ice cream. It was so unusual that I just HAD to try it. The flavor combination reminded me of grape soda topped with a creamy vanilla ice cream (not that I've ever had a grape soda float...gross.). The Concord grape gave the cream a potent flavor and was well bound in the smooth texture and consistency of the iced cream. It was full bodied and had a luxurious mouth feel.
Grape pie is not a particularly unusual product, but I had never tried it before. I was in love. The strong flavor and jelly-like consistency of the grape puree was a well suited filling for buttery flaky pie crust. If you think about it, grape jelly is a magnificent pair for buttery biscuits and croissants so it was no surprise that it would be a perfect match for a pie. It was a dessert worthy of any fall menu.
The most surprising flavor combination of the three items I tried was the Concord grape sauce, served over seared halibut and puree of roasted butternut squash. The fish was phenomenally cooked; light, moist and flaky. The butternut squash was roasted and pureed giving it a nice consistency, texture and sweetness. The Concord grape sauce really pulled the dish together. It gave an added flavor to the fish and the tartness of the grape was exhibited through the sweetness of the butternut squash. It was such a fantastic combination that I wanted to savor...the last bite came all too quickly.
If you haven't tried this grape, you are in for a treat.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
I am a bit of a breakfast freak. It is the most important meal of the day and why not start your day off right? I always set my alarm to allow myself enough time to get ready and have a real breakfast (breakfast bars...no thank you). In the summer months I tend to alter between cereal with sliced bananas and blueberries and yogurt with fresh fruit and vanilla almond granola. Refreshing, crisp options for warm mornings. In the fall I want something more soul soothing and weather appropriate. Oatmeal is my go to breakfast food. I love buying the Wessex Oatmeal and adding all of my own goodies to it. I will never be plain brown-sugar or pre-packaged oatmeal girl. My favorite add-ins are sliced bananas (heated with the cereal)and walnuts, dried cranberries, almonds, big juicy raisins, dried cherries and pecans. YUM. Can you think of anything better than hot, creamy cereal sweetened by dried fruit and has a hearty crunch of nuts? Me either. Every once and a while I crave something that is still hearty and rich but not a heated meal. My solution: Greek yogurt and fruit/nut granola with bananas/frozen fruit. Greek yogurt is thicker than traditional yogurt and packed with protein. In the summer I enjoy the crispness of Bear Naked Vanilla Almond granola with fresh fruit and plain yogurt, but in the fall I want something heartier and baked. Bear Naked Fruit and Nut granola does the trick. It has pecans, almonds, walnuts, cranberries, raisins and dried cherries. (all of my favorites no wonder I like it).
Having a variety of breakfast mix-in on hand will keep you interested and satisfied through the bitter mornings of the fall.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
The best feta: barrel aged. I am a cheese fanatic, so when I find a good one it sends me through a series of emotions. When I first tried Mr. Vikos barrel aged feta, I nearly cried. It is extremely flavorful and has a firm but not tough texture. It is also the perfect feta for baking or making a warm dish because of the way it is aged. I had been searching for a good feta for so long and up until this day was consistently let down. The week prior to my feta enlightenment, my roommate and I made a "Greek Style" meal of lemon parsley pasta with a light olive oil dressing, shrimp, kalamata olives, tomatoes, red peppers, onions, artichokes and spinach and were planing on finishing it off with feta cheese to melt in the steaming dish. We chose a French feta, and what a mistake that was. It was creamy and lacked flavor. As my roommate put it, "it tastes like fresh milk". I wanted a pungent hearty cheese to complete the dish and was left completely dissatisfied because of that one missing element.
Barrel aged feta tends to be a bit pricier than the average feta you find in the grocery stores (why I continue to spend my minimal college income on food...I will never know) but it is completely worth it. Go big or go home!
Do Your Own Taste Test,
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
The recipe is found on epicurious.com:
Wine Pairing: This spicy yet semi-sweet (form the butternut squash) meal is perfect with a dry Gewurztraminer. It calms the heat and provides a nice balance.
Try it out! I promise it will not let you down.
Savor The Fall,
Friday, September 4, 2009
I have been looking through some food for fall 2009 magazines and they are all featuring warming comfort foods. It is only September but it is starting to get dark earlier and the chill has already started to sink in. I'm looking forward to making some soul warming meals and pairing them with good bread and wine. This weekend the bakery is featuring their new fall bread "Apple Cider Golden Raisin Bread"...oh the endless possibilities.
Bring on the squash, apples and root vegetables!!!!
Monday, August 24, 2009
How I Prepared:
Wash; Strip leaves away from stems and slice into strips; Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet on a Medium high heat; When pan starts becoming hot, add about a teaspoon of garlic to the oil to infuse; add the Swiss Chard and Saute until wilted (about two minutes).
I used tongs to move the chard around the pan, and as the chard wilted, the garlic took on the bold purple color from the veins of the leaves. The contrast of the dark green with the purple was very eye pleasing. The taste of chard is slightly bitter and salty; a perfect canvas for garlic or crushed red pepper. Sauteing the chard gave it a subtle tenderness but it still maintained it's sturdy composition. It was a substantial side dish and a delight to eat. (I served it with fresh coho salmon, pan-seared and finished with a lemon dill butter and flavored basting oil...I know I felt like a chef when I plated it all...I should have taken a picture it looked very professional.)
Wine Pairing: Riesling. The the bitter/salt complex along with the spicy notes in garlic (or red pepper..whatever you choose to prepare it with) need something fruity and clean to refresh your palate.
Explore Your Produce,
My next venture: Swiss Chard.
Have fun with cooking!
Ah, blue cheese! Crumbled on a salad, shaved on a sandwich or just a good 'ol hunk by itself, there is nothing better than the succulent taste of blue cheese. To me, the best blue cheese has a strong flavor with a creamy finish that leaves you salivating for more. Because of the strong characteristics, blue cheese is often paired with fruit, sweet peppers and tomatoes and nuts. The sweetness of a Riesling really complements the piquant blue cheese.
This week, as I walked in to the bread department I was greeted by a big voice and...a hunk of blue cheese (YAY!). The cheese of choice: Amablu St. Pete's Select. It is
Get the Amablu(s),
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
My newest heart throb: Cabernet Franc Reserve 2007. This wine is the definition of elegance. Upon first glance, the deep ruby color borders a shade of black, and is absolutely stunning. It is a wine that looks like it is meant for royalty. The aroma is sweet, and has distinct plum and berry characteristics. You expect a berry flavoring to coat your mouth as you take in the first sip but your taste buds are in for a pleasant surprise. The initial impression is the sweet and slightly tart sensation that you anticipate from the berries but is quickly overpowered by a subtle smokey flavor. Just when you except a dry finish, the berry flavors reemerge, exciting and pleasing your taste buds. It is a well rounded, luxurious wine.
This wine would pair nicely with a rich chocolate dessert, but my dish of choice was dinner: Sliced Grilled Sirloin over (my version of** see below**) Greek Salad. To me, red wine and red meat are a match made in heaven, so a medium rare sirloin steak was my first choice for this meal. I thought the sweetness of the berry characteristic would play nicely with the saltiness of the feta cheese and olives and the acidity of the tomatoes and lemon in the vinaigrette would balance the smokey undertones. The wine complemented the meal (and vice versa) and I have fallen for another Finger Lakes red. Good thing there are health benefits to drinking red wine and having a Mediterranean diet.
Live Well and Enjoy,
**My version of Greek Salad: 2 cups mixed salad greens, sliced cucumber, sliced tomatoes, Kalamata olives, Greek Feta (crumbled), 1/4 cup chick peas, 1 TBS roasted sunflower seeds, grilled and chopped red pepper, and 2 TBS store bought "Greek Feta Yogurt" dressing.
Friday, August 14, 2009
During the summer months, the produce at farmer's markets is unbelievable. I recently have been enjoying blueberries the size of my head (I'm not joking), beautiful and succulent heirloom tomatoes, fresh sweet corn and zucchini that are large enough to feed a small village. Not only are these products superior to those sold in grocery stores, but they are also wallet friendly. Do yourself and community a favor: buy local.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I have admitted that I am a food snob, clearly I have an affection for wine and today I have to confess, I am a bit pretentious about beer. Why would I drink a Bud Light with my meal when I could have a carefully crafted microbrewery beer? I want to enhance the foods that I am eating with my drink not ruin them. Using good ingredients in a meal makes it taste better, and drinking better wine and beer does the same. If you aren’t drinking the good stuff what is the point?
My favorite microbrewery is the Middle Ages Brewery in
Monday, August 10, 2009
Do we ever really grow up?
Wiemer is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, Finger Lakes winery. Their Rieslings are award winning legends and nothing short of perfection (I'm craving a nice chilled glass just writing about them!). I made an exception to my very strict "NO FINGER LAKES RED!!" rule, when the sommelier at Wiemer suggested the 2007 Merlot. He described it as, "The kind of wine you want to curl up and watch a movie with." It happened to be a rainy, cold day, so it was hard to deny a wine that carried such a sentiment. I carefully examined the color, drew in the aroma and was ready to taste. To my shock, my palate was delighted to be experiencing such a treat. It was comforting, smooth, and slightly smokey. I was so enamored with this wine that I completely forgot it was raining. The sommelier was right and I was sold. Before you head out to the liquor store I must be the barer of bad news: this wine is not sold in stores. It can be purchased at the winery or online. So next time you visit the Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, be sure to stock up! I promise you won't be disappointed with this purchase.
GO RED! (...and green...save the earth...yadda-yadda)
Thursday, August 6, 2009
On Wednesday I was having one of those "hum-drum"days. You know, the kind where you look up at the clock and only 5 minutes have passed since the last time you checked. Upon arriving at work, A BIG voice greeted me telling me that I HAD to try her bread and cheese pairing. My mentor, the demo lady, was featuring our seven-grain sourdough with Le Pie d'Angloys (a French wash-rind cheese). She immediately handed me a warm piece of bread that was carefully cradling a generous amount of cheese. The bread has a wonderful hard exterior with nutty sunflower seeds and oats baked on top. The interior is incredibly soft with hints of grains inside the dough that give it a subtle crunch. The cheese is similar to a brie: soft, creamy and rich with a mild flavor. With one bite, my taste buds were singing, my heart was smiling and my soul was soothed. The texture of the silky cheese with the light tang and crunch of the bread was heavenly. I had to step away for a moment just so I could enjoy the experience. It was the type of feeling that you get when you come inside on a cold blustery day and curl up in a blanket with a rich hot chocolate. Your whole being just feels spoiled and magnificent. If I had a glass of good wine and sweatpants, my nirvana would have been complete. Unfortunately, I still had 8.5 hours of work so that dream was impossible, but at least now the slow moving clock didn't seem as bad.
My Favorite Creation: 2 slices pecan raisin sourdough bread, goat cheese, strawberry/apricot preserves (sliced strawberries also optional), fresh torn basil leaves, cucumber and smoked turkey breast. (I like to toast the bread and spread goat cheese on both slices of bread, top with preserves, basil, cucumber and then turkey breast)
Punch Lifeless Lunch Goodbye,
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
My Favorite Breakfast: 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt (try low-fat over non-fat yogurts they are more satisfying and have a better texture), 1 large banana halved and sliced (sometimes use a big juicy peach instead!), 1 handful of blueberries, sprinkle of cinnamon and 1/3 cup crunchy nutty granola.
WAKE UP YOU SLEEPY HEADS!
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Monday, August 3, 2009
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Other Childhood Classics With A Twist Advice:
Mac and Cheese--Instead of using all Cheddar add different cheeses. Gruyere melts nicely and adds a nutty verging on sweet flavor to the dish. Herbs, veggies and meats can make this dish into an even more flavorful and hearty meal. Try adding things such as basil, parsley, cherry tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, pancetta or even lobster!
French Fries and Ketchup-- Try baked potato wedges or better yet, use sweet potatoes! You can pump up the flavor by adding different herbs and spices to the traditional salt and pepper mixture. Instead of ketchup create different flavored aiolis. If you are serving sweet potato wedges honey and maple syrup are also wonderful accompaniments.
Spaghetti and Meatballs--Swap ground beef for ground turkey. Try different pastas such as penne. Pump up the Sauce! Add extra veggies like mushrooms, spinach, even zucchini to pre-made sauce to make it more decedent and flavorful. Top the finished dish with herbs like parsley and basil to add a clean and fresh taste.
Stay Forever Young,
Friday, July 31, 2009
"COME ON OVER AND TRY OUR WONDERFUL BREAD AND CHEESE PAIRING TODAY!!! WE HAVE BUCHERON, A GOAT'S MILK CHEESE FROM FRANCE, PAIRED WITH OUR TRIPLE OLIVE LOAF, BAKED RIGHT HERE IN OUR BEAUTIFUL OVEN!!" After the initial announcement I would proceed to explain the flavor sensation and why the bread and cheese worked together. ("Goats milk cheese tends to have a tangy flavor to it so when you pair it with something like salty/buttery olives it brings out a nice sweetness.") The best phrase I heard all day was "Okay, you SOLD me." It warmed my heart each time I heard it, not because I was doing my job to increase sales, but because I had inspired them to try something new and they liked it just as much as I did.
I only took a 30 minute break for lunch the entire time. I was IN LOVE with educating and talking to the customers. Talking for 8 hours is not an easy task, I was exhausted and my head pounded but at the end of my shift I was on cloud nine. I felt that I had really made a difference and considered my day a success. I think in any sales position it is essential to believe in the product you are selling and be able to express excitement about it. I love bread, I love cheese, I love discovering how flavors interact and I love sharing my knowledge with others. If passion is what leads to a successful career, my summer job may be more influential to my future than my entire college experience. I only hope that I can find a profession that allows me to continue doing what I love after graduation.
Rest your voice and be heard,
Thursday, July 30, 2009
For Salmon (1 fillet):
(can be mixed with other things such as herbs, garlic etc)
1 TBS honey
1 TBS Whole Grain Dijon
1TBS Lemon Juice
salt and pepper
mix ingredients together in a dish and coat each side of salmon, place in pre-heated 400 degree oven for 10 min. VOILA.
Do The Dijon Thing,
With months of doing absolutely no form of physical activity I found that there was a build up of stiffness and soreness. My body ached. I thought it was important to start stretching but if I did it on my own it would be approximately 5 minutes every....once and a while. I went to the sporting goods store searching for stretching tapes and inevitably wound up in the proud display of yoga mats and sports bras in the woman's fitness section. Hm...yoga. I admit in the past I have been to a few classes and always found my mind wandering. Honestly, I thought it was a lot of BS and not worth my time...the lazy-man-workout. Now it has become one of my guilty pleasures. I ended up purchasing a video of 5- 20min routines and what a difference it has made. I can do it in the convenience of my room, it isn't too physically taxing, and definitely releases all my daily stress. At the end of a work day (especially a stressful one) it is important to nourish you mind, body and soul.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
I looked back at these emails and realized that there was a central theme threaded though out each one: Food. I have always had a passion for food, cooking and entertaining. The day I discovered the Food Network was probably the most exciting day of my life (I'm not a particularly dull person I just get really excited when new opportunities to learn present themselves). I grew up in Upstate New York where local farmer's markets and Wegmans (aka my home away from home) were my playgrounds. The holiday season was always my favorite time of the year because it is composed of my favorite things: cooking with my mom, family gatherings and bountiful amounts of comfort food.
I started off this summer as a complete mess of a human being. I was finishing my Junior year of college and had no focus or prospects for the future. This is the summer where internships and connections are key. If I planned on attending graduate school than this was the summer to start looking into them and study for the appropriate exams. My friends all seemed to know exactly what they were doing and I felt like a lost soul. I am double majoring in Political Science and Health and Society with a Business Certificate in Marketing. What was I going to do with these degrees? Not a clue. If I pursue a graduate degree I want to make sure it is something that I love and I didn't feel that way about anything I was currently studying. I thought I was intensely interested in politics, and health care reform but could I really see myself having a 9-5 job filing papers and working on legislation? I always loved my marketing classes and working with groups, so this was an industry I knew I wanted to explore. I looked high and low, desperately searching for internships. I didn't care if they were paid I just needed a taste of the marketing industry. I wanted something to scream "YES! THIS IS FOR YOU! YOU HAVE A PURPOSE IN LIFE!" and give me direction for the future. As finals approached I found myself in a commitment to be a Summer Resident Adviser in one of the student buildings in exchange for free housing but did not have a source of income or the internship I desperately wanted. I was scared and my frantic emailing/calling/searching for internships intensified. I emailed companies whether they had job postings or not, contacted friends who had parents with jobs in the area and spoke with every faculty member I could to try to find SOMETHING. Towards the very of the semester I FINALLY got a response from two companies: a grocery store and a specialty foods company.
I emailed the grocery store inquiring about any internship opportunities that they might have. They are one of the greatest companies to work for and as a long time customer, I knew they had an outstanding marketing department. I received an email back a few days later informing me that they did not have any internship positions available. I was sad but still pressed on in my search. A week later a member of the HR team asked me if I would be interested in working in the store. I didn't even consider applying there for a job but I needed money. I had never worked in any sort of food setting (other than the occasional snack-shack substituting when I was a lifeguard and swim instructor) so I felt like it was a great opportunity for me to learn the operations. They had two openings in the prepared food department and the bakery. I though to myself "Oh great!!! I love cookies!! Bakery it is!" I went in for an interview and found that if I got the job it would be in the bread department. I didn't know much about it, but like everything else in my life, I decided to dive in head first and learn all that I could. I was constantly talking to the bakers, trying breads and figuring out how to sell the product to customers.
My first week working was filled with 4:45am alarm clocks, bagging, stocking and slicing bread but little did I know what was in store for me...the weekend. It is the busiest time of the week and I was prepared. The second I got to the store that Saturday I fell in love with the environment I was surrounded by. There were people everywhere and food demonstrations in every department. THIS is what I wanted. I loved the energy and knew that I wanted to stand in the front of the store just like the bread demo lady and inform people about bread and cheese pairings. I just HAD to learn. Every weekend from there on out I decided to be the self-appointed assistant to the demo lady. I would watch her interact with customers and listen to everything she had to say. When she would go on break, I would fill in. When it was slow, I would ask her questions. I was determined. I asked my manager every day about opportunities to learn about the cheese department, which was becoming a growing interest of mine.
Finally, one day I saw a job posting for the "Old World Cheese" department. I was disappointed because typically they want you to work in a department for 6 months before applying to do cross-training and I had hardly been there 3. I decided that even though it might not be possible, it was worth a try. I was able to convince my manager to sign me off and allow me to apply. I was selected for an interview and was fortunate enough to receive an opportunity to learn in that department. I was thrilled! I began reading books to teach myself about the cheeses of the world and was in awe (clearly I didn't have much of a social life this summer but I was so excited to work and learn that it didn't phase me). I would buy small pieces of expensive cheese and dissect all the flavors that I was enjoying. Trying them with breads, wines and double checking the flavor sensations in my guide books. I would volunteer to take baguettes to the cheese department on the weekend and the employees of that department always had something for me to try and knew I would be excited about the products they were promoting. (they always gave me more if it was a goat's milk cheese because it is considerably my favorite.)
One weekend the demo lady took a vacation and to my surprise I, ME, NORA, was on the schedule to fill her position. I was featuring a triple-olive ciabatta loaf and a triple creme cheese. I learned about the products, tasted them and was prepared to go. I have never felt so alive! It might be something so little but I found something that I truly enjoyed. I love food, learning about food, and working with people.
Outside of the grocery store, I was working at the website base of a specialty meats company. I heard about their company very late in the school year through the career center on campus and inquired about their internship on a whim. It sounded right up my ally. They contacted me for an interview at the very end of the year during finals week and I was relieved. Prior to accepting the internship, I thought I had a research position doing something with psychology but it fell through, so at least this was SOMETHING to do over the summer. At my internship (besides filing mounds paperwork) I got to sit in on business meetings, learn about sales and marketing and taste new products! My favorite part was learning about the products they sell online. I was able to taste them and learn about how to check for flavor, how to enhance flavor without over-doing the salt content, and the importance of fat and marbling in meat etc. I also loved seeing the impact that publishing their newsletter or a major holiday would have on sales, and website visitors.
Needless to say I learned a lot this summer and will continue to learn. I decided to keep my job at the grocery store during the school year. I finally feel like my life is taking a step in the right direction. I found that I am more passionate about this industry than I have ever been about politics. I would rather wake up at 4:45am and work an 8.5 hour shift bagging bread and talking to customers than read a book about political theory.
As senior year approaches the question remains: "What will I do after graduation?" I had the day off from work this past weekend (very rare) and read the book My Life In France (not the Julia and Julia blog story, although that would have probably been inspirational for this blog). It added more wood to my already burning fire. I know that I need to do something with the food industry. I want to explore France, learn to cook, write a blog, relate and reach out to people, and learn everything I can about the process that food goes through in order to become an actual product. I bought 4 books on cheese this summer and am still continuing to learn. I want to know EVERYTHING about the animals, geography, processing, rinds etc. This is the attitude I have towards everything in my life.
Ina Garten is another person who inspires me. She is one of my favorite personalities on the Food Network and her food is incredibly easy, fresh and flavorful. I love her grace and her ability to bring people together. I basically want to be her. I read her biography and she started her career in government with no culinary training. She left her job to open a restaurant, The Barefoot Contessa, and things took off from there. This gives me hope.
With Ina and Julia as my role model's I know that anything is possible. I am graduating with a degree in Political Science and Health and Society with a Business Certificate instead of a Culinary Degree but I know that there has to be more out there for me. If I get this excited about a minimum wage paid job that I can hardly support myself on (I tend to spend all of my money on food...I rather spend $4.75 on good bread then $1.99 on commercial and am willing to pay $4 for a couple ounces of cheese so it's my own fault...but I also see this as a learning opportunity.) there MUST be more out there for me.
This will probably be the longest blog entry I will ever have but I think it is important to start an introduction with a little bit (or a lot of bit) of background. You can look forward to the many whims and random occurrences of my life. I tend to do things for myself and am not afraid of rejection or failure. Life is about the lessons you learn, and it is hard to learn if you aren't willing to take risks.
I hope this gave you a taste of the flavor of my life.