Traci Anello

The Power in Food


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The Day I Rediscovered Cooking with “Somebody Feed Phil”

It’s been two months since I was given the opportunity to start a completely different career. This is an opportunity I am forever grateful.

November 8, 2021 ended a long thirty-seven year career in foodservice. I traded my black coat, my red and black pinned striped apron and my not so shiny black clogs for a large office with split screens and a very comfy chair. I traded working every other weekend and holidays for every weekend off and every holiday too. I transferred to another department within the hospital. I went from cooking for our patients and staff to credentialing for our providers. I couldn’t be in a more different but exciting world.

The day I punched out on a time clock for the last time was more significant than just ending the day. I ended my career. That weekend I didn’t want to cook. I didn’t want to eat out. I just didn’t want to interact with food. Like a rush from a broken dam, the question began to flood my mind. Did I do the right thing? Is this how I want to end my career in the kitchen? I had so many accomplishments. I grew from a mouthy 17 year old to a prominent business owner and pastry instructor in a college program I created. Working kitchens was easy for me. Did I really want to give that up? Absolutely. I was ready for a change. I was very concerned with the direction foodservice was headed in. The lack of employees and covered shifts meant working longer hours. The lack of morals and responsibility that kitchens now faced only meant longer days. It was definitely time to move on.

About a year and half ago, my friend Gail asked if I could come over to her house and help with a catering job she had. I loved cooking with Gail so that was an easy “Yes”. When I got there she had another friend, Deb, over that I recognized but didn’t know. It was fun. We talked food, cooked food, ate some food and had some great laughs. I didn’t know it at the time but this woman would later on become the very person that would open up a whole new door to start a completely different career just two years later. You never know in life who you’re going to meet when it comes to food as the common denominator. As time went on, I became friends with this woman and we always enjoyed talking about food. I loved seeing her at the hospital because it was a few minutes to escape and have a conversation that I knew would be a good one every time.

So fast forward to this year late summer. As COVID19 continued to do its thing and disrupt anything in it’s path, the state of Maine put a mandatory vaccine into effect. Not everyone was compliant and that meant opening doors for people to move up in the company. One of the positions was in the department I now work. I talked to Deb about it and she thought I would be a good candidate. Being a food person, she compared what her office did to that of being a chef. Attention to detail, being able to handle a stressful situation, organization skills and working in a changed environment and being able to pick up where you left off were just a few. I decided to make the career change. It meant hanging up that black coat. In exchange I would experience opportunities I haven’t for years like weekends off, holidays off, a good salary and wearing real clothes. It wasn’t a hard decision.

I love what I do. I love what I did. Cooking for a hospital staff is an honor. You have the opportunity to create good food for the very people who every day are saving lives. They only have 10 maybe 15 minutes to eat something quickly and they give us that time to serve them something comforting. That’s an honor. I never took that lightly. Every day I put the same love into every dish I made hoping they would receive that. If you feed someone good food, it feeds their soul. And when you feed a soul, you know the comfort that delivers. That means that person can go back and make better decisions for themselves and the patient. And when you can make better decisions for the patient, the healing begins. Food is love and every meal you have that canvas to create the best. That’s what I miss the most. But in my new position I help with the providers and if I do my job correctly and with the same passion, the patients will benefit.

This is why I stopped cooking at home. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I just didn’t want to do it.One day my friend told me about a show she had watched called “Somebody Feed Phil”. She said it’s a very good show about a man that travels and eats great food. I didn’t want to cook let alone watch someone else do it. But she always had great recommendations about books and shows so I knew at some point I would try an episode. It’s New Years day in Maine. It’s cold and raining and I don’t have the energy to go out. So I sit on the couch with my two cats, Chaos and Bear on each side and put “Somebody Feed Phil” on. He’s in Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. This man loves food! I went from sitting on the couch to sitting on the edge of the couch. I’m watching this beautiful country and the people in it. I’m watching this man so excited about his food that he looks like a 5 year old with his first slice of pizza! It was awesome. He loved his food and he shared it! He won my heart. I was so excited. I decided at that moment I would recreate the black bean dish he was eating. This show sparked the very flame I blew out just two months prior. I made a grocery list and headed to the store. I bought the ingredients and headed home to make myself a lunch even Phil would be proud to share. I sautéed the onions and celery until they sizzled and the celery danced around the pan to the sweet symphony of the sizzle. I added the garlic and spices. My house smelled like a restaurant. I poured the black beans and their velvety goodness into the pan and stirred. I added some chopped kale and squeezed two beautiful limes. The limes turned out to be the stars of the dish.I finished it off with fresh cilantro. On the side I baked some crispy tofu and a sweet potato. One the show there’s some type of fruit that accompanies every dish. I’m not a fan of fruit or anything sweet but they’re on to something. I peeled a tangerine and placed it on the dish and then added some edamame to the sweet potato for color. I poured this beautiful black bean sauce over brown rice. Where’s Phil?? Where’s Richard? They should be here. they should be tasting this dish and Phil should be doing that sweet victory dance he does when he enjoys what he just experienced for the first time. Phil is such an inspiration with his show.

I decided to make one dish from each show. It’s my tribute to this incredible show. I’m especially excited because the second episode I watched was Phil in San Fransisco. His two guests chefs were my absolute favorites: Alice Waters and Thomas Keller. Can this show get any better! I’m not sure what I’m making from that show but it will something from our farmers market as a nod to Alice Waters. Thomas Keller is also a wonderful inspiration so I’ll have to choose wisely what I make from him.

Another thing I like about Phil’s show is his interaction with his wife and father. I loved the jokes. There’s a lot of love in the family and it shows.

I can’t thank Deb enough for recommending this show. It’s exactly what I needed. Food is love. It’s so apparent in these episodes. Phil is so happy and giving. That’s what the celebration of food is all about. It’s about learning new cultures and how they enjoy food. It’s learning about their ingredients and what’s abundant to them and how they utilize that. It’s about community, sharing and the love of food. It’s hoping that someday we embrace each other and our cultures as a whole and bring peace to the world one plate at a time. It can be done. Just watch one episode of “Somebody Feed Phil” and tell me how motivated you are to share a meal. That is the power in food.


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My anti-inflammatory journey…Day 14

Today I’m happy to say completes 14 days into my anti-inflammatory journey.

The benefits I have experienced have been nothing short of amazing for me. I’m finally losing the weight, no joint pain and my skin is looking much better. I’m finding more energy and I see and comprehend things much clearer. What I finding to be very exciting is what I can’t see that’s going on inside. I’m sure my body is in extreme repair mode. I guess that because I do have some periods of exhaustion and after what I’ve put this body through with years of unprocessed foods, I would be exhausted too.

I started with an article from vegetarian magazine that turned me on to JJ Virgin’s book. From her book I found a wonderful challenge. Seven days, seven foods, lose seven pounds.Then I was at the book store and saw Dr. Andrew Weil’s magazine/book about the anti-inflammatory diet. educations makes all the difference.

Now I have one more week to go before I start adding in one by one the seven foods I took out. Honestly, I’m good. I really don’t have any one of the foods I want to put back in. I’m considering eggs but so far so good without them. The real challenge has been reading the labels and making sure non of the seven foods are in anything I consume. The one food I think is the real culprit? Gluten. There is no doubt in my mind. dairy is the close second. For almost six weeks I had a cough that wouldn’t go away. My doctor said it’s going around and you have to wait it out. I hate taking over the counter meds but this cough was annoying. I was hooked on Mucinex DM. It really was helping but I was taking it like a multi vitamin. Once I started this new way of eating, within three days, the mucus and coughing stopped. I mean completely. I woke up one morning and realized I didn’t cough all night and I didn’t have to clear my throat. That was my first good sign. The second was I noticed no joint pain in my knuckles. This is pretty cool. There’s something to this new “lifestyle”.

I’m fortunate to have a supervisor at work who is doing the same thing as I am. The fact that he’s an excellent chef is simply a bonus. I think the hardest thing is to make dressings for salad. After a few discussions and bouncing ideas back and forth, he had some pretty good suggestions. Sometimes a dressing is as easy as fresh lemon juice or a quick Dijon dressing. use olive oil and whisk in some Dijon to make it creamy and then a little cracked mustard seed dressing for fun. There are some really good balsamic vinegars out there as well. This whole new eating lifestyle is about taking fresh whole foods and creating what you want. Even a fresh squeeze of an orange with balsamic can be a nice treat on a salad. For dinner tonight I had roasted Brussel sprouts, sautéed green beans, turkey breast and lentils (see picture). It was more than enough. It was wholesome and delicious.

Eating healthy actually can be affordable. We’re coming into farmers market season. I can’t wait. In the mean time I find Trader Joes is very helpful place to shop. I buy my organic beans there as well as almond butter, avocados and apples. Another tip is to go to the various organic companies and print our their coupons. That’s been a big savings. I drink unsweetened coconut milk and love organic greens. There are coupons for them online. Since I have the room for my own little garden, I’m going to grow the vegetables I need to juice: Kale, parsley, spinach, cucumbers and beets. Luckily I live in New england and we’re still expecting snow this week, so I have time to finalize a plan.

One of the hardest things about doing all of this is trying to explain it to people you love with hopes they will give it a try. It’s like any life change. Just because it works for you doesn’t mean everyone else is ready. All you have to do is just share what you’re experiencing and then maybe it can be helpful.

I guess in time. It’s all about education. Sharing Dr. Weil’s magazine has been a nice way to give someone the choice. Facebook is a good tool for posting articles and various stories about anti inflammation.

In the meantime, I’m very happy with my new lifestyle. I feel healthy. My walks are more vigorous. My nights are relaxing with a new article or writing some new recipes. I have a book ready to be published with gluten-free and dairy free recipes that will make your life so much easier and taste better. Now I have the motivation to write a new book with recipes for the major allergens. I’m a chef who has been given the gift to create recipes for people who thought they could never have their favorite foods again. This is a gift I love to share.

Sometimes it all starts with an article. Then by just applying it for one day at a time, you can accomplish more than losing a few pounds. Making the effort seemed like a big accomplishment for me. After completing 14 days, I have one more week to go to finish the twenty-one days. Life is good and staying on this path means it’s just going to keep getting better.

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Inflammation??

There comes a time when you have to take complete responsibility for your own health. A doctor is a handy person when something feels broken or not quite right. That’s the ‘go to” person when it feels like it’s someone else that needs to make the decisions for you. It usually starts with routine blood work. You get the blood work back and everything looks good. That’s good news right?? Until you decide to Google the results and see what they actually mean. What are these letters, abbreviations and numbers? Less than and positive signs that you learned in elementary school. Together they all mean your health status but together to the untrained eye, they’re whatever the doctors tells you they are. Fair enough.

Not good enough for me at that particular moment. I notice one that looks to be a bit higher than the Google results say it should:CR-P. What is this?? So I call the doctor and I’m fortunate enough to talk to one of his nurses. She says it’s inflammation. So I ask what that means and she says it doesn’t pin point the source. She said it’s a little high but not to worry. So we end the call and of course, I worry. As time goes on, I’m at ease with the thought that maybe it was from a sore back or a head ache and next time it’ll be fine. Fast forward three years and I go for a routine blood check as part of a physical. Well, well. Once again the CR-P comes back “a little” high. It’s the first thing I ask the doctor to look at. Once again, she asks me if I have any pain or if I’ve had a headache. I say no and it’s dismissed anyway. this just didn’t sound right to me. I was having trouble losing weight even though I was going to the gym. I was exhausted more than usual. I just couldn’t concentrate. None of these were red flags?? So I decided to pay more attention to my body.

I was at a local health food store and saw a magazine that caught my attention. It said “The 7 hidden causes of weight gain”. So I picked it up and that night I made a cup of tea and sat down to relax and read my magazine. What kind of help could this magazine possibly bring. The article really got my attention. One word in particular: Inflammation. There’s that word again. Certain foods become an intolerance. I’m very familiar with gluten and the host of problems it causes. There it is on the list along with dairy, soy, eggs, sugar, peanuts and corn. It dawns on me that a few years ago, I had taken the gluten out for quite a while and remember not having any joint pain. There’s some validity to this article. I read the entire thing and I’m convinced I need to try this. They recommend a book by JJ Virgin so I download the book and read it in two days. In the meantime I find two co-workers are taking out flour and refined sugars. I’m happy that one of them is a chef so I know we can bounce some good ideas off of each other. They seem to be doing pretty well.

I thought “I can do this”. Then I started to think about what I had to give up. I love cheese. Taking dairy out is like ripping the pacifier out of a baby’s mouth. And bread?? Wait, eggs with cheese too?? This was a good time to go for a walk and think about what I was about to get myself into. It didn’t take long. The compromise is weight loss and no joint pain. I CAN do this. I get home from my walk and immediately throw away what’s in the fridge. The new groceries I had just bought earlier that morning got bagged up and given away. Back to the grocery store, Trader Joes to be exact. I love brown rice and lentils. I can have that along with organic meats and fish. Every morning I make a breakfast shake with organic spinach, raspberries, coconut milk, spring water and some protein powder.

I want to say that today is day 6. I feel pretty good. I have periods where I feel like crashing. My co-worker says that the support group he goes to talks about that as a common occurence. the support group leader explained that your body is working over time to repair the damage. That will exhaust you from time to time. Makes sense to me. I never weigh myself because I refuse to measure my accomplishments with the scale. there are so many variables with a scale. For me, it’s how I feel. JJ Virgin says “7 pounds in 7 days by taking out the 7 foods”. I had a pair of jeans that I was hoping to fit into. I have to say, they fit pretty good!! That’s the motivation I needed. More importantly, it means there must be a lot of really good things going on inside. Things I can’t see but I sure can feel.

You’re supposed to keep these 7 foods out for 21 days and then slowly re-introduce them back into your system one by one. Tonight I decided that I actually like this new life style. I like knowing I’m doing really good things to my body.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned is to listen to your body. If it doesn’t sound right or feel right then you need to pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you feel as though your doctor isn’t listening to you, then find a new one. That’s what I did and my new doctor is wonderful. She’s open to listening to what I have concerns with. She gives me the time to explain and then she gives me very good advice. She’s open to natural remedies and doesn’t pick up the prescription pad as soon as I say the word “discomfort”.

Inflammation is not a kind word. It’s something that I have decided to pay more attention to. I can only hope that through diet and education, I will continue to improve that number with my next physical’s blood work. Every single thing I put in my mouth is my decision. I enjoy whole foods and juicing fresh vegetables. I love making new healthy dishes that I can share. I’m looking forward to going to the “Farm-acy” as soon as the farmers markets open up. I’m doing good things for my body now. I need to take the best care of it because it’s the only one I have. As long as I keep in mind that what goodness I put into my body I will get out, I’ll do okay.

Love these new jeans!

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Nice to meet you Mother Nature

Yesterday’s storm was more than a typical New England storm. It was an opportunity for Mother Nature to introduce herself in a very dominant way.

One of the reasons I chose to move in town was because after living in the “boon docks” for 7 years, I realize I’m a city girl at heart. Not that the place I live is in the city nut as long as there’s a traffic light, police department and a post office, you’re in town. That means when the power goes out, it’s usually for a couple of hours not weeks. I learned quickly during those 7 years to operate a generator and drive on some of the worst snow-covered roads in Maine. Thanks for the experience but now I’m ready to be back in civilization. That’s not to say I’ll miss the fox pups at night and their little cries, the frogs in the Spring and the fire flies in July. The goof news is I know how to get there so I can always visit in the summer.

So back to yesterday. I had been watching the news and happy that I chose to move in town. I’m close enough to the emergency management buildings that how long can the power ever really go out? I have a friend who lives one street over and she said you’ll be so glad you’re here. I’ve never lost my power more than two hours. Sounds good. Until 5pm hits and I decide to leave work a little early to beat the worst. The wind had picked up as I drove from inland to the coast, that beautiful Maine coast. I finally got home and checked on the cats. they were fine. They were sitting in the window trying to catch the falling leaves. What a life.

Now this might be getting a little personal but it’s part of the story. I took a quick potty break. Suddenly I hear a loud crack. I look behind me and I see large tree falling. Now I don’t know about you but I shot off that potty so fast I think I did the long jump into the hallway. During my olympic jump, I heard a very loud crash. I checked the cats first because they were in the window. By then they were long gone under the bed. After washing my hands (because I know someone is wondering if I did…yes), I grabbed my phone and headed outside. My porch was gone. It looked like the kindle wood we used to scrap for camping. My new little porch. My future herb garden was reduced to camp wood. My neighbors came out with cameras. She was taking a picture of me taking a picture of the mess. Weird but a conversation piece non the less. A quick call to the landlord and back in the house I went.

Now the strength it took Mother nature to knock that tree down was incredible. I couldn’t help but say,”It’s nice to meet you Mother Nature”. As we speak the wind is picking up again. I have seen the devastation that other states endured. I wish them all peace and safety for their families. The one thing I have learned from this storm is that when the warnings are shared, respect them. Always be prepared is important. About a year ago I purchased a battery charger for my car. This particular charger has a USB connection to it as well as a 12 volt connection. This is perfect for my house in a situation like I had last night. One problem…I never charged it. Today I did and from now on I’ll be sure to do so.

Regardless of which region you live in, you have to deal with Mother Nature. Sometimes you know her, sometimes you don’t. In New England, she has begun to take on a different personality. We have dealt with everything lately from more tornadoes to hurricanes to earthquakes. The lesson is to have an emergency plan ready to go. Gas up the car. (Pre election gas prices make it easier). Package and label your meds. Don’t leave your pets behind. Make a suitcase with their food, water bottles and their meds if needed. This isn’t our first trip to the storm so to speak. I believe common sense prevails.

The good news is my landlord told me that I’ll be having a beautiful new porch in the Spring. That’s good news for the herbs and mini garden. After all, Spring is only 5 months away.

 

 

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Friendship and food

Tonight I met my new neighbors.

I was invited to a friend’s apartment to meet everyone. To my surprise there was a card on my door inviting me to a gathering. It turns out it’s a woman I used to work with. I was so happy to hear she lives in the same building. So I got home from work, did a quick laundry and headed over to her apartment.

Everyone was there. A few I recognized from seeing around the building. A few I had not met. It felt a little awkward at first but then my instincts kicked in. Say anything about food. So I did and the conversation took off like wildfire.  There was some really nice appetizers on the table so it wasn’t hard to talk about. Now my friend was very kind and let the other guests know about some of my past accomplishments. This too will open a quick door. I’ll share those in another blog.

The food looked wonderful. The wine was perfect and her apartment was just beautiful. I didn’t stay too long but long enough to feel comfortable with everyone I met. There’s a much older man who lives downstairs from me that apparently met my cats in the window. I’m glad to see even my boys are hospitable. Now give them a little food and you have a friend for life.

Food is a wonderful way to meet people. It’s the perfect conversation piece. Where I work, I can’t tell you how many conversations I have about food everyday. Every conversation is different for various reasons. I work with serious food people who love organic food and are self sustainable. I also talk with people who love to bake and tell you what and how they make it. And I work with a woman who has been an absolute God send. Each week a beautiful item from her garden. Today she gave me these beautiful black radishes (pictured here). Behind is a daikon radish as well. I have never seen a black radish. They are gorgous!!! I can’t wait to work with them. I was going to juice them but they’re too amazing for that. They need to be in a salad so they can showcase their incredible colors. Friends who share their home grown produce are good friends. They’re giving you something that they put time and care into. You will receive that from the food you make with it. Love in is love out.

The thing I do enjoy is there’s always something new to see and talk about when it comes to food. Food is the gateway to knowledge. If you’re open to it, you can learn everyday and never know it all. There are so many different cultures and regions. The produce alone grown in our country (non GMO) is impressive. Go to a farmers market some day and I guarantee you will find something you’ve never seen before. It gets me every time. And every time I see that, I have to buy it and try it. But not before a million questions to the grower. Well, maybe not a million but at least two. Farmers love to talk about their produce. It’s like their tender little offspring. They start with their seeds, nourture it and carefully harvest. Then it’s transported to the market, purchased by someone who cares and is sent to a good home. It’s always a good thing to get to know your farmers. They’re good people growing good things for all of us. Farmers are our friends.

I can’t emphasize enough how important food is in our society.  It’s more than just survival. Food is art.  Food creates friendships. Food is love.


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Hosting an appetizer social

Tonight I was giving some thought to hosting an appetizer social.

The beauty of making appetizers is they are generally pretty quick to put together. You can make one specific base and then add different ingredients. This will accomplish two things. One, you will be able to make a fair amount at one time and two, you’ll save yourself from spending your rent money for the month.

One appetizer I find very simple is crostinis. Crostinis start with a baguette cut into thin slices (on the diagonal). Then they are brushed with olive oil and either grilled lightly or toasted in the oven. There’s your base. And you can get at least four dozen pieces per baguette.These can be made a few days ahead of time.

The best part about crostinis is what you put on them. The sky is the limit. Depending on whether or not your social has a theme will dictate the toppings. Here are a few examples: Honey goat cheese with caramelized onions, Cranberry walnut goat cheese with roast chicken, sun-dried tomato and basil with fresh mozzarella, curried chicken salad, fresh salsa with Monterey jack cheese, roast duck with lingonberry cream cheese and brie. Here are 6 examples. That’s six completely different apps. Do you just happen to have some soft-boiled quail eggs from dinner?? You never know? Add that with a fresh dill aioli. Simple appetizers that look expensive. Crostinis are also good for dips like spinach and artichoke.

I like to make chicken tender bite size pieces. This is probably going to be the best recipe I ever share. I swear I get more letters from this recipe and I really don’t get it. I can make swans out of sugar and cream puffs like the French but a simple chicken tender is the best requested recipe. All you have to do (and gluten-free friends, no one will ever know you’re serving GF) is take two gallon zip lock bags. Well, that’s not all you have to do. In one bag add 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, ranch dressing or even caesar dressing. In the other bag add 2 cups of panko style breadcrumbs (yes, even Gf breadcrumbs like Panebelle work the best), 1/4 cup Asiago cheese, salt pepper and I like to add a teaspoon of Cajun seasoning but that’s optional. Cut your chicken into bite size pieces and add to the mayo zip lock. Seal and toss to coat. Then in small batches, add to the breadcrumb bag and toss to coat. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 400° for about 10 to 15 minutes. That’s it!! Throw the bags away and easy cleanup too! I’m not Heloise but I will find a way to eliminate the dish step if I can. Remember the parchment blog?? Easy cleanup! Serve these with a ranch dressing, southwest style dipping sauce or even coat with a buffalo sauce. heck, do all three and combined with about appetizers, you have nine to choose from! And this party is just starting!

Here’s one that takes a little longer but let’s class it up a bit. You’ll need small wooden planks or boards. Four ounce canning jars (see the picture) will be perfect for adding condiments. You’ll also need small butter knives and those annoying little lobster picks with the tiny fork on the end. I say annoying because when I do the dishes, I stick myself every time but on a display like this, it looks nice and functions well. Now the fun part:

First you pick a main ingredient. It can be duck sausage, thinly sliced roast turkey, smoked salmon, italian sausages or even vegetarian with roast vegetables…whatever you have or want to use. Then you pick a nice homemade cracker or flatbread cracker but choose a good one. No place for Ritz here. Now the canning jars. It should complement what you have for the main ingredient. So the smoked salmon could have capers in one, pickled red onion in another and maybe a nice herbed cream cheese with dill. The roast turkey could have a pesto mayonnaise, caramelized onions, chilled cranberry sauce, some chutney and maybe some of those caramelized onions. Do you see where I’m going with this?? It can be as easy or as intricate as you want. It’s elegant and it gives people choices. It’s a great way to please the guest because they get to choose what they want. It’s also a great conversation piece. Remember, people eat with their eyes first. If it looks good, the brain has already conversed with the belly and it’s going to taste great.

Sometime picking a theme can be fun. I had a friend who called me and asked me to match up some wonderful wines he purchased during a trip to Africa with the appetizers. I made a barbecued ostrich empanadas as one of the main appetizers. I have to tell you, it was the conversation piece of the party. No one had ever eaten ostrich and couldn’t believe it was even possible to get. Believe me, there are specialty shops where just about everything is possible. I’ve been doing this for a very long time and after many years, you learn the right people to contact even when it’s ostrich. By the way, empanadas are a cream cheese pastry dough similar to pie dough and all you do is roll the dough out and place your filling in the middle. Fold it over like a half-moon and seal. I’ll share with you the recipe for the dough a bit later. Send me a message asap if someone happens to ask you for ostrich empanadas this weekend. I hardly believe it’ll happen but I’m here for you if it does.

You can see that an appetizer social can be done quite simply. I call it a social because a party sounds like too much work. A social implies maybe some relaxing beverages and great conversation. A party is anxiety. It will show in your presentation. A social is relaxing. The host should never be too busy to be social. Preparation should be simple and easily executed.

If you have some appetizers you want to recommend, feel free to post them here with pictures! I’d love to see them and ofcourse share them with everyone.

For those interested, I’m available for socials. Feel free to contact me and I’ll take the stress away from you so you can relax and socialize.

 

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You need that cake when??

One of the most common lines I’ve had to say repeatedly on the phone. Usually at 3pm, when the kitchen is cleaned and I was getting ready for the next day. Or finally getting a chance to sit with a customer and have a nice cup of well deserved tea. The phone would ring and on the other end, a frantic caller with the request,”Can I pick up a birthday cake in about an hour?? I hope you have what I want because this person is specific about what they like.”. Nice cup of tea just became the 7pm iced tea. With a deep breath, my reply would be that I don’t have that actual cake (or maybe I did by a stroke of luck) but I’ll make something that will work. The answer was never “no” but options. Hey, when you wait until the last-minute, options are better than no.

Important questions are: What’s the occasion, favorite colors, and flavors and the most important question absolutely ever: Are there any allergies. Once you have this information you can start your game plan. This is equivalent to overtime at the Superbowl. You have to think fast, work quick and deliver on time.

Cupcakes are a great way to make something quick and come as close to the requested flavor as you can. They can look very festive, decorative, simple or elegant and in a flash. Generally they take 15 to 18 minutes. While they are in the oven, prepare the frosting, icing or ganache (ga-NASH). so it’s ready to go once the bailout cakes are cooled. Put them in the freezer for a quick chill.

I always have ganache on hand, everyday all day. It’s your kitchen duct tape. It will fix everything. Here’s a nice recipe I’ll share:

1 cup of 1/2 and 1/2 and 1 cup of chocolate chips (semi sweet). That’s it! Place the 1/2 and 1/2 in a 4 cup microwave safe bowl. heat until just before the boiling point. Remove and add the chips. Let it sit for 5 minutes. Whisk together. When you first start to whisk, it looks like you’re getting no where but keep going. It’ll come together. This liquid gem is ready to use. Just dip the cupcakes in the ganache and let the excess drip off. Place on a plate and repeat until they’re all done. They will look decadent and shine. You will be the master chef of the day. Sometimes after they set, I’ll add a sugared violet or other flower. You can also frost the cupcake and then drizzle the ganache.

The sweet part about ganache is that’s the dipping stage when it’s first made. Let it sit at room temperature and it will solidify so you can use it as a frosting. Put it in the fridge and you can scoop it and make truffles. I’ve seen people dip bacon in it and sprinkle coarse salt on top. Keep it on hand and you’ll quickly realize why I call it sweet kitchen duct tape.

Gluten free friends, this applies to you too. Pipe some ganache in the middle and then put the top on and frost it. It’ll help make you a household name to gluten-free. Make sure the chocolate chips you are using are gluten-free of course.

So the next time you find out the night before that you’ve been nominated to make the main event for the next day’s festivities, try this option of making cupcakes.

School moms, make cupcakes and freeze them. Lots of them. Be ready. It’s going to happen. Frost them right from the freezer and by the next day they’re ready. Don’t panic. If you find out while you’re pouring that day’s orange juice you need a dozen asap, they’ll defrost by lunch time.

It’s a quick fix to a last-minute request. It works for any occasion too. You can do this and I’m here to help. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them here. If you’re a cupcake officiando, post your work. I’d love to see it and so would everyone else. Bake on!

 

 

 

 

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Food is art.

I recently finished the move into my new home. If you have never moved before let me help you to visualize what it feels like. It’s what it feels like to stub your little toe on the leg of your bed. Then when you go to sit down to rub your toe, you hit your knee on the corner of the end table next to your bed. Something like that. That’s pretty close. With that said, the worst is over.

Now the best part begins. How to express yourself through your decor. As I mentioned in a previous post, I love to collect prints from various art museums. I have one in every room. Then I build everything else around that. It’s kind of like choosing the main dish and then building your salads, appetizers and sides around that. You want taste, color and the correct presentation. So when someone walks into your home, they look at your art and start to get a good idea of who you are and what you like.

Today I was thinking that my last home was far more modern than the one I’m in now. This home was built around the 1800’s and it’s charming to say the least. I love this place. My decor from the house just won’t fit right here. This is where being a pessimist pays off. I have some boxes I never unpacked from two moves ago. Yes, equivalent to stubbing your toe twice. When I opened these boxes, I found the most incredible pieces. I had completely forgotten about them. They were perfect!! As I kept digging I saw this poster cardboard container. I thought maybe it was something I bought for the bakery like a poster of biscotti or cannolis or something like that. I was wrong! It was a beautiful print from the New York Metropolitan Museum, one of my favorites. When I unraveled it, I was just amazed. I fell in love with it all over again. I also had the perfect frame sitting in the storeroom. I went out in a hurry and got the frame and in less than 5 minutes, it was framed and ready to hang. Not so fast. I really needed to sit and look at this for a moment. I’m sure my thoughts about it were different from when I first saw it.

As I looked at this picture I thought, did the artist think that someday a woman from Maine would be needing a painting like this to complete her decor? Doubt it. I’m sure he was having his usual artist day and just started to paint what he was feeling at that moment. He used what materials he had and his thoughts for the moment and created this beautiful picture. This is how I create recipes. Some days I see what I have for materials. Then I have a seat and think about what I’m feeling at that moment and I start to create. Once I’ve created a new recipe, I like to share it much like the prints I enjoy buying. However, with a recipe, you have to recreate what you’re reading. Through this process, you too become an artist because it’s your interpretation of the recipe that dictates how the end results will come out. With the artist, once finished, it becomes our interpretation of what we are looking at. This is why food is art.

An artist mixes and matches different colors and uses a brush or other tools to transfer that color onto the canvas or whatever surface they chose. A chef (kitchen artist) also mixes and matches different ingredients and then presents them when finished on a beautiful serving platter for everyone to enjoy. Like the picture, it needs to all come together. While decorating, I chose the print first and then the rest of the decor to work with it. In the kitchen, I chose a main course and salads, appetizers and dessert to go with it. Carefully balanced, your presentation is a work of art. People eat with their eyes first. If it looks good, it’s sure to taste good.

There are just so many correlations between the two. Make sure you really love the print first. If you bring home the one you’re really not crazy about and then match it with things you thought you might like but end up hating, it’s like stubbing your toe again. Bring home the right print and before you can have dinner on the table, your guests already know the meal and the company are going to be just as good.

Food is art.

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Moving and the life lessons that come with it

It’s been about two weeks since I last wrote in my blog. I apologize. I was moving to a new location.

Now we all know the thrills and spills (and some pretty big spills) of moving. Finding the right location and choosing your new home (known as the thrills part). Then there’s the actual moving. It usually starts out harmless with packing a few boxes neatly and writing legibly on the box with the sharpie you found in the junk drawer. We all have a junk drawer. I bet there’s one battery and a sharpie in that drawer somewhere. Brand new tape gun and a fresh roll of box tape and I’m ready to go. Not so fast. By the 3rd box, the anxiety sets in.

When the anxiety starts to set in, it’s at this point you’re going to decided to get rid of everything…well maybe not everything…no…everything. Deep breath. You can do this. Now the cleansing begins. Do I need this? Do I need that? What is that and where did I get it? Suddenly you realize how you actually spend your money. That’s where reality takes its first positive turn. If I haven’t seen it in three months (or 7 years which was the case for most of this stuff), out it goes. That worked for the first ten minutes. Then I started to find a reason why at some point I’ll need that. If my daughter wasn’t there to redirect me, I would have reasoned with every piece. After a brief discussion, I made the choice to rent a dumpster. Not a small one either. A 10 yard dumpster was delivered that very morning. By evening, it was filled. Now we were on a roll…sort of.

The worst part about moving is opening another door and realizing you have your own retail store in the pantry. Here we go again. Now this was becoming a full fledged cleansing. I was giving things away and throwing things out. The pantry was becoming empty little by little. Each piece got heavier than the last. Time for a tag sale. The following weekend we had a tag sale and it went pretty well. The best part is having someone tell you how down on their luck they are and they want you to cut them this incredible deal. They want you to cut them a deal on stuff they’ll stick in their closet until they decide they too have to move. It’s then they hate you for giving them such a deal. Justice is served on the deal.

Did I mention I was moving a 3 bedroom ranch into a one bedroom apartment? Important piece. I had some real work ahead of me. My daughter and I worked everyday after work and on our days off. She was a real angel and worked into the evenings and her days off. We both knew what was ahead of us. Work during the day became the easy part. We decided to take a break and go to the apartment and see if we could envision where everything was going to go. My first reaction when I saw this place was “Thumblina lived here”. How was I going to do this? My place was built in the 1800’s and the mantles and wood trimmings (or moldings) are beautiful. It was a charming atmosphere and it has a beautiful fireplace. Every window has a sitting bench. We decided that my collection of prints from various Museums of art would be the perfect decor. I have beautiful prints from Boston, New York and Portland, Maine. Each room has a different picture. Now it was starting to come together. We knew exactly where everything was going to go.

When I returned with a load of boxes from the house, I saw a bottle of wine and a card by my door. The wine was red and called “Primal Roots”.That was an interesting name. I knew I was going to like this place. The card was a welcoming card from my new neighbor. With neighbors like this, it was already home. Gingerbread would be the perfect way to say hello to everyone.

Back to the move. Ugh. As the big stuff was out, it came down to the little things and the cabinets and that JUNK drawer. What is this stuff?? A caller ID from the 80’s? There’s that shoe lace! What could possibly be on this roll of film?? More wedding cakes?? Samuel Smith bottle opener? Now that’s not junk. I took a deep breath and threw the drawer contents out (except for the bottle opener). Having the dumpster dropped in a convenient location made for a great game of toss and hit the dumpster. You have to have some fun. And then you have to take time to reflect on what the lesson really is here.

My lesson in this move was material items don’t have the value I thought they once had. Hence the decision to let the house go to sale. Throwing out as much as we did and giving away brand new items to people I thought would appreciate it was much easier than I had ever hoped. I thought I needed to hang on to these items because someday I would need them. Someday. Well, in 7 years, someday hadn’t arrived. Out they went. I feel great! I feel like I’ve made plenty of room for the good energy to arrive. The energy in the new home is very good. My two cats have settled in very quickly. It’s nice of them to allow me to live here with them. They have showed me every nook and cranny in this place. Just look at the picture. Tell me they aren’t settled in.

The last box has been filled. I can’t believe it’s over. What a feeling! What an accomplishment. What an incredibly lucky mom I am to have a daughter who held me up through this process.

I had a great deal of support from a special friend that I truly appreciate. That friend who was so kind to share her beautiful parsley and Swiss chard from her personal garden. A very wise woman who knew the right thing to say and made perfect sense every time. Friends like this are very few and far between. To my dear friends who have the most interesting cat (aside from mine of course) and the perfect taste in jazz that certainly got me through the unpacking. I’m very thankful for the people in my life who did help and were there for us throughout this process. A move is when you realize who your friends really are.

A move is when you realize that you have learned the most important lesson in life. It’s not about the materials in life you acquire but the lessons about trust and love…and tossing out the caller ID from the 80’s.

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When creativity is rewarding

Wedding cakes are a perfect way to express your creativity. They are a sculpture that you create out of sugar. They are the center piece of the wedding reception. They are beautiful and elegant but never more than the bride herself. They are an expression of your creative side.

I started making wedding cakes about 20 years ago. The first one was for a customer of the restaurant I was working at. We had a very good reputation for desserts and so this customer decided that our cakes would become her wedding cake. Now let me tell something, you can make cakes all day everyday until the cows come home but when you get yourself involved in a wedding cake, you better know what you’re doing. So, I didn’t. I’m just putting it out there. Never volunteer. With that in mind, this bride knew exactly what she wanted. I think it was at that moment, I would never watch Martha Stewart again. This cake was all about Martha. What happened to the cakes we made here?? Even Martha would approve. Surely she should be told. Hardly. I soon learned the bride gets what the bride wants. It was a learning experience and one I would never forget.

I sat down with her and asked her what her “vision” was. She was all set with pictures. Great. She wanted this exact cake but with our cake flavors. I’m 1/2 way there I thought. It was the typical now fondant (which wasn’t typical then) cake with sugared flowers, extensive bead work and sugar lace. Did I mention this restaurant had a bar? The entire time she was talking I was thinking “Shaken not stirred, Shaken not stirred”. I had to do this. I knew somehow I could pull it off but this was no ordinary cake.  After the bride left and we had a decent deposit, the work began. Sketching the cake out and a lot of flower work was ahead of me. I had 6 months to sweat this one out. As the months went by, it seemed to be getting easier. I made so many flowers out of sugar I was going to offer them to FTD to sell. The wedding was now two days away. The flowers were done. The cakes were being baked. The fillings were being prepared. So far so good. The night before the cake was put together and placed in a cool room so it had time to set. All that means is the cake has time to settle so there are no surprises on the drive. Now let me tell you, the delivery of a wedding cake is more stressful than the initial meeting with the bride. I had 15 miles to drive in the summer in a tourist town. It was going to be a slow ride. With every cake, you must have a “crash” kit. This contains spare flowers, buttercream, pastry bags, spatulas and Advil. Since this was my first cake, I didn’t have the “crash” kit. I didn’t know better. It was the only cake I didn’t have one. Thanks to a fellow pastry chef who was there when I returned from my delivery. Best third degree talk I ever got.

The vehicle runs about 10 minutes with the air conditioner. I go into the kitchen and pick a victim for the ride with me. No one wanted any part of this so of course the new dishwasher is recruited. His only job is to hold the pan steady that the cake is resting on. I look over at my new partner on the way over and notice he isn’t breathing. This kid is scared to death. That was enough to relax me because I couldn’t let him see me sweat. So I told him,”It’s no big deal. You’re doing a great job”. He gives me deer in headlights eyes look and then takes a big breath. If he only knew what I was thinking at the same time. I was petrified.
We get the cake there and by the grace of the Good man, I didn’t need the crash kit. The cake was set up and I checked with the caterer to make sure it was to their expectations. When I got the nod, I couldn’t run out of there fast enough. The kid?? Right on my tails. After a big sigh and a few good laughs, he became my new cake co-pilot.

The beauty of these cakes is you can offer different flavors for each tier. I often do. If a bride and groom are at the initial meeting, I will ask them each what their favorite flavors are. Each tier becomes their favorite and then a neutral flavor is number three. If there is a budget constraint, no problem. I’ll offer a ceremonial cake that is two tiered and then a sheet cake in the kitchen for additional servings. Cupcakes are a great way to work with a budget and still be beautiful. Just add an 8″ ceremonial cake on the table so the couple has something to cut. I’ve made whoopie pie cakes with the color scheme as the fillings. I’ve made assorted pies for a Fall wedding and the most elegant French wedding cake: The Croquembouche. This is an amazing display of culinary talent. It’s cream puffs filled with a vanilla pastry cream and then dipped in very hot melted sugar and arranged in a cone shape. The remainder sugar is then quickly spun to make an angel hair to arrange around the display. Sometimes I add sugared violets. Weddings are as wide as the imagination will carry. No request has been too weird. Well, maybe a few have been a bit odd but not for the couple. I’ve also done gluten-free weddings which any one of these ideas can be made 100% gluten-free. Almost anything can be made into a wedding cake.

For me, after 20 years, wedding cakes have become somewhat easier to create. Even though every one is as different as the bride herself, they offer a challenge and just rewards when finished and delivered. There’s a great sense of satisfaction. It’s a sculpture. You are a sugar artist that has been hired to create this center piece.
Although experience helps to make the events leading up to the delivery more tolerable, the delivery itself has never gotten easier. It’s still white knuckled, no breathing and a quick dash out the door. And when you get out the door and back in your vehicle it’s then you realize that creativity is very rewarding.

 

This cake pictured is a gluten-free cake that I made for a beach wedding. The sea shells are hand-made and a use a little blue to pull through the white chocolate to tie in with the hydrangeas. The weird thing I was talking about? You can’t see it but the bride asked as a surprise if I would draw the symbol for Star Trek where they needed to cut the cake as a surprise for her groom.