Coming Up For Air

•September 30, 2010 • 1 Comment

Where the heck has the summer gone?

As I turned my head away from my work PC this evening at 6:30 p.m. and glanced out the window into the early evening darkness, I realized that yet another summer has silently slipped away.  While I had a great girls’ weekend in Martha’s Vineyard a few weeks ago, Mary and I didn’t make the time for a summer vacation this year, because of my new public sector gig.  While I’m definitely digging my new job, I still long to feel the summer sun on my face and the cool ocean water flowing between my toes.  Instead, I just may have to substitute the feeling of a cool all-butter pie crust between my fingers and the warmth from the oven as I remove a freshly baked apple pie.

Yep, I have been an apple picking and pie baking maven with the early arrival of this year’s apple harvest.  A few weeks back, the family spent a few hours picking Cortland and Gala apples at Belltown Hill Orchards (http://www.belltownhillorchards.com/ ).  With amazing azure blue skies, gnarled trees laden with mature fruit and the essence of ripened apples filling our noses, we had the perfect back drop for one of those memory making days.  We spent that evening and the next day peeling and slicing apples.  Of course, I was willingly charged with seasoning and enveloping the resulting apples in flaky pie crust.  I compared two pie crust recipes and much to my surprise, the all butter crust was the Irish family favorite.  All I have to say is YUM!

Speaking of apples, my friend, Nora, and her daughter, Charlotte, invited Mary and me to dinner last week.  They made us homemade macaroni and cheese that was out of this world and a mixed green salad with a rich balsamic vinaigrette.   For dessert, she used her mom’s recipe (my favorite!) to make us a warm apple crisp.  I felt completely spoiled that evening and enjoyed every minute of our visit.  I’m really looking forward to spending another baking day with Charlotte in the near future (last baking day, we made chocolate cupcakes and pizza on the grill).

As for vegetables, we have had access to the tastiest produce over the summer.  While we killed our tomato plants earlier in the growing season, we were lucky enough to have an “in” with a local farmer.  My sister-in-law, Liz, is friends with an Irish farmer who has 65 acres of fertile farmland in town.  Last weekend, she took our nephews, Kenny and Brandon, to the farm and returned with an abundance of the most beautiful end-of-the season tomatoes I have ever seen.  Mary bought us a food mill, so we went gangbusters last weekend peeling and crushing tomatoes for marinara.  Instead of canning the sauce, we used freezer bags to store the resulting sauce.  We made a simple chicken parmigiana for dinner one night where we were able to sample our marinara (another YUM!) and shared the remaining sauce with Liz.

Other than that, I have still been working on my vanilla cupcake recipe, baking carrot cakes and testing new cookie recipes (the Cook’s Illustrated cookbooks have the BEST cookie recipes ever!).  Mary and I have also been lucky enough to spend time with our nieces, nephews and great nephew over the summer.  We have cooked, laughed and cried together.  We have celebrated Tim’s 16th birthday, had a sleepover with Kenny and Brandon, been to Brandon’s soccer game, a college tour with Kellie and have babysat Brody a handful of times.  I have cherished each moment with my family and just wish that there were more hours in the day and a few more summer days remaining!

I hope this post finds you all happy, well and rested from a lengthy summer vacation 🙂

XOXOX

–K

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MIA

•August 2, 2010 • 1 Comment

Hola, Everyone!

I hope this quick update finds you all happy and well!

I have been testing recipes, but have been pretty busy with my new job (I LOVE BEING IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR!) and some fundraising efforts for a friend who recently lost her husband.  It’s really interesting how life can get in the way of trying to maintain a disciplined writing schedule.

I apologize for being remiss about updating my blog, but promise to post some new recipe musings and pictures soon.  I’m still working on that darn vanilla cupcake recipe 😦

XOXOX

–K

A New Chapter Begins

•June 8, 2010 • 4 Comments

Well, I did it.  I thought it would be with both feet, but because my finances aren’t analogous to being self-employed, I took a baby step and left my Corporate America job.  However, I landed a long-term contracting gig in the public sector that started today.

Day One was pretty average for the start of a new contract:  getting introduced to co-workers, reading project information on a shared folder and getting the “skinny” on the analysis resources shown the door before I arrived.   I spent the day synthesizing info and turning it into what I thought would be a splendid Visio diagram.  Funny thing is, in the public sector, Visio is not a standard MS Office option.

I have to arrive promptly by 8:00 a.m. each morning (those of you who know me well are rolling on the floor, riddled with laughter) and the environment is rustic compared to my corporate digs.  I get 30 minutes for lunch and have to notify the department admin when I leave the building.  It takes me 10 minutes to walk one way to the cafeteria (where it only costs $2.50 for a turkey on rye sandwich), where I am most likely to run into free-roaming “residents,” and it takes another 10 minutes for the employed “residents” moonlighting as cafeteria staff to prepare the afternoon victuals.  But, my standard work day was and will be 8 hours versus 10 – 15 hours. 

While I won’t get paid for days off, I will get compensated for the hours that I work.  And, there is plenty of overtime available, if I am game.  Baby steps indeed, but I have set one foot on the “yellow brick road.”

Anyway, my last two weeks have been HECTIC to say the least (packing up almost 3 years of my edited desk clutter and transitioning a project for my previous client) and I certainly did not do any of my anticipated recipe testing.  However, I did whip up an interesting new salad (mache (pronounced “mosh”) dressed in a lemon garlic vinaigrette with fresh blackberries, avocado and herbed VT chèvre).

My goal is to get some recipe testing done this week, so stay tuned for those updates and pictures.  Have a great week 🙂

XOXOX

–K

A Foodie’s Weekend

•May 25, 2010 • 7 Comments

This weekend past was a whirlwind, but was definitely a great one for a “foodie” like I am – dinner with Mary, Sean and Suzanne at 2 Hopewell, an Irish breakfast in Yonkers with Mary, Barb, Kenny and Brandon and a “Tastefully Simple” tasting party at Liz’s.

Friday started off on a sad note as Mary and I paid homage to our dear friend, Pizza Doug.  His wife, Julie, arranged his services at a serene country church, Immaculate Conception, in New Hartford.  The simple curves in the church’s architecture, the jewel tones of the stained glass windows and the female cantor’s voice all contributed to a peaceful celebration of a really special guy’s life.  With amazing grace, poise and control, Julie mustered the courage to pay a final tribute to Doug by eulogizing him.  Her kind words and deep love for her husband filled the church and enveloped us all on that most unexpected funeral day.  My thoughts and prayers remain with Julie and her 3 small children as she begins to assemble the puzzle pieces of her changed life.

Late Friday afternoon, we made a quick stop at my sister’s home to visit her new daughter, Ainsley.  My mom, while playing the role of babysitter and the proudest grandma ever, sat beaming on the couch as she rocked the baby.  It is amazing how happy this sweet creature has made my mom.  Honestly, is there anything more soothing in this crazy world than the fresh smell, sweet breath, cooing and silky skin of a new baby? Ainsley’s perfectly tiny features and angelic countenance restored my belief in miracles.  As I held her tiny body close to my chest, her heartbeat soothed me and eased the sadness of the day.

At home and as Friday’s sun began to fade, I uncorked a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Cyrus Ryan’ from Barnett Vineyard, in preparation for our evening out with Sean and Suzanne.  Granted, I should have held the bottle for at least 3 years before doing so, but I could not wait to share the deep purple wine from a small 2-acre vineyard located on the Napa Valley floor, adjacent to the Silverado Trail and just north of St. Helena.  As we shared our thoughts of the day, Mary sipped her diet Coke while Sean, Suzanne and I all savored each drop of the young wine, in our enormous wine glasses (the Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon glasses by Waterford that Mary and I received for our wedding).

Later that same evening, we all dined at a casual, yet elegant bistro, 2Hopewell, in South Glastonbury.  Miniature oil lamps set out on each table top illuminated the local artisans’ paintings hung from the walls of the dining room.  And, speaking of our wedding, the happy-faced orange Gerbera daisies whose single stems were enrobed in glass bottles reminded me of our wedding floral arrangements.

2Hopewell’s eclectic dining room menu was filled with imaginative creations concocted from organic produce, natural meats and ocean fish.  In addition to the appetizers we shared (lamb lollipops and a spicy shrimp selection with a corn and apple salsa), I selected a scrumptious wedge salad with candied bacon and tomatoes that was dressed with both a dilled Maytag blue cheese and a balsamic dressing.  As an entrée, I chose the grilled sea bass with truffled local honey, butternut squash risotto, haricots verts and watercress.  Who the heck would know to pair a white fish with honey?

And to top it all off, I ended the evening with a hazelnut tuile “basket” filled with faux white chocolate mousse and fresh berries.  While a bite of the cookie basket prompted a fabulous buttery and nutty mouth explosion, I’m sorry to say the pseudo mousse needs work.  Regardless, the evening with Mary, Sean and Suzanne was divine as were the majority of the amazing food preparations we sampled.  Chef Chris Cote definitely cooked with love in his heart last Friday evening!

On Saturday morning, Barbara drove Mary, Kenny, Brandon and me to the eastern section of McLean Avenue in Yonkers.  This section of McLean Avenue is heavily influenced by the Irish.  With almost each sidewalk step that you take, you hear the soothing sounds of an Irish brogue or see an Irish pub or butcher shop.  We made the trip to McLean Avenue to expressly eat a substantial Irish breakfast – soda bread, rashers (Irish bacon), Irish sausage, puddings (white and black), chips, eggs and grilled tomatoes – at Eileen’s Country Kitchen and to purchase Irish provisions at a local butcher shop (The Butcher’s Fancy).  We left with our bellies completely stuffed and with a cooler loaded with rashers, Irish sausage, boiling bacon and Irish chocolates.

 

And for the last foodie adventure of the weekend, Mary and I attended a “Tastefully Simple” party at Liz’s home.  It was a huge taste testing party where, Maria, the independent consultant, offered a vast selection of convenient, easy-to-prepare foods for us to taste and buy.   While I’m not a huge advocate of prepared foods or short cuts (food snob, I know!), I have to admit that the majority of the products I tasted were pretty darn good.  As invitees, we ate or drank our way through beer bread, dips – garlic garlic, onion onion, back yard bbq, fiesta, artichoke and spinach – salsa, almond pound cake, sauces and freezer drinks.  Here’s the link, should you want to book a party or buy products directly from Maria:

www.tastefullysimple.com/web/mmangiarelli

I didn’t have an opportunity to cook or bake this weekend, but I am hoping to spend some time in the kitchen later this week testing vanilla cupcake and chocolate chip cookie recipes.  Stay tuned for the results and pictures!

Thanks to all who made a sad weekend a special one! I hope that your week is off to a great start. 

Happy Baking 🙂

 –K

Follow Your Bliss

•May 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This weekend past was a busy, but noteworthy one — my niece, Kristen, graduated from college on Sunday and a friend, Doug (who was only age 45 and who has three children all under age 8), died from a massive heart attack while asleep. Both events prompted me to think about some of my life lessons, including how valuable our lives and time here on earth really are.

 

Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn’t know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.
— Joseph Campbell , The Power of Myth

At Kristen’s age, I remember being refreshingly hopeful about everything I had before me. Ripe opportunities were lingering on the vine, just waiting for me to pick them. I was so darn hungry to learn, but so overwhelmed by all the possible life paths that each savory nugget of knowledge yielded. I negated the information before me or inside of me, postponing the decisions that I truly knew were the best for me at that particular moment in time, for fear of failure or rejection.

As I watched Kristen walk across the platform with her undergraduate diploma in hand, I was filled with pride. I was proud of her for identifying a passion and finding the motivation, hard-work and fortitude to follow through. As my eyes filled with tears of joy, life revealed another “big picture” puzzle piece — it is never too late to begin anew or to start over. No matter the age, we are never crazy for taking our dreams seriously and for following our passions. After all, when we peel away our complex layers, our simple passions and dreams are at our core.

With that “core” knowledge, it became clear to me that my “art of procrastination” was stifling my passions and dreams. My dreams are serious business and it is time for me to dig in and to make progress, even if my efforts yield a minuscule forward motion. Just taking the initial steps to realize a dream is an act of courage. Even if I change direction or fail, knowing that I at least tried is worth any perceived or real risks.  I have never heard of anyone succeeding by holding back or by editing oneself because of fear.  Have you?

Why it took death to refresh my perspective still perplexes me. Learning about Doug’s passing made me really sad.  However, it has also helped me recognize what is important and what is worthless.  What happens if tomorrow never comes? True living – living in the moment, loving with my entire being and giving my all to everything and everyone that I love – is where “it is at” and has taken on a new importance. Everything else is just noise.  If I can attain true living, that is probably the closest I will get to heaven.

As for my culinary strides over the weekend past, I had a few. In preparation for Kristen’s graduation, I chopped veggies for 5 pounds of pasta salad, made a balsamic marinade for 25 pounds of skirt steak and invited my niece, Kellie, to help me bake 4 dozen cupcakes (using my new favorite dark chocolate cupcake and Italian meringue buttercream recipes). To save time, we tried using Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips instead of chopping a Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet bar. While the ingredient lists were the same for the chocolate chips and the bar, using the chips yielded a much less flavorful cupcake.

Of course, I couldn’t let Kellie go home unfed, so I used a tried and true recipe from Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day cookbook (“Neo-Neopolitan Pizza Dough” on page 67, but I did not add the sugar), so we could make pizza on the outdoor grill. However, instead of using bread flour as I usually do, I used a portion of the 3 pound bag of Italian “00” flour that I found at D & D Market on Franklin Avenue in Hartford. While the new flour required less water, I really did not like the super crispy crust that it yielded. I’ll give the “00” flour another try, but suspect I will return to bread flour.

I wish you all health, peace, love and a great beginning to your week.  Happy baking!

P.S.  Debbie N-D, I know the reference to our favorite CCA baker made you gag! Thanks much to Kellie, cupcake sous chef extraordinaire (I am going to order chef garb for you, just wait!), to Lizzie for the “kewl” (like how that sounds vs. “cool”) cupcake book and to my blog “fans” for their kind and supportive comments.  Congratulations, Kristen, on realizing your college graduation goal (you definitely need time to recharge and I hope Europe does that for you!) – continue to reach for the stars! Pizza Doug, I will miss your smile, jokes and laughter – R.I.P.  Julie, you and the kids are in my thoughts and prayers.  XOXOX

Planning My Escape

•May 13, 2010 • 14 Comments

Everyone has a purpose in life – a reason for being.  However, at age 18, with each new college course that I completed, I found a new interest that made it difficult to declare and adhere to a major.  While at a young age I knew that I loved to write (satiric short stories, children’s stories and poetry), cook and better understand human behavior, I was overwhelmed at the prospect of deciding what to do with the rest of my life.  So, I dropped out of college and stumbled into a Corporate America gig at an early age.

At first it was a great adventure.  I learned a lot about human interactions (mainly how not to act) and met amazing mentors as I aimlessly drifted amidst “Cubicle Land.”  I honed business writing skills as a “ghost writer” for a senior level executive, taught myself how to use a PC and realized that I was pretty darn good at building relationships, working hard and performing business systems analysis.

To stay challenged, I made a mental game out of scaling the proverbial “ladder” and prided myself on never ascending at the expense of another human being.  However, as I grasped each rung, the view from my perch did not improve.  I observed “game play,” deliberate sabotage and watched co-workers trample others to reach their career goals.  I experienced sexual harassment and began to gain weight as a “protective armor.” 

I did have moments of clarity and briefly escaped the “rat race” when I exited to finish an undergraduate degree and to pursue a baking and pastry program in San Francisco.  In culinary school, I noticed that my work was different when compared to the other students.  It was neither classic nor refined like others finished products.  My baked products tasted great, but much to the dismay of my classically trained chef instructors, I always presented them in a more artsy/outlandish (picture Duff Goldman’s work) versus a traditional manner.

When I worked as a pastry chef in the Napa Valley, I loved the camaraderie in the kitchen, but got discouraged by the discrimination (can you believe that women are not appreciated in a professional kitchen?) and the almost daily gropings I received when I gathered ingredients in the walk-in cooler or pantry.  My chef wages were nominal at best and for the first time, I worried about how I was going to pay my next month’s rent.  So, when my former manager offered me a relocation package and a hefty salary increase to return home, I put my creative career aspirations on hold and succumbed to my fear.   

Upon my return to Connecticut, I resumed my management climb.  However, this time, my energy was sapped by the effort it required to appear interested.  My job became much more arduous and much less stimulating.  This time, I even developed a “skill” of attracting clients and managers who exhibited traits associated with borderline personality disorder.  With my continued ascent, each day that I donned a suit and drove to the office, I felt like pieces of my soul died.  Worst of all, I felt like a caged animal with no hope of escape.

So, after almost 23 years of “sucking it up,” trying to grow up while shutting up, hoping that things will get better after my next promotion, and working endless hours to make others rich, I am finally mapping my escape route from “Cubie Land.”

While this first post definitely reflects the perspective of a cynical, tired and cranky drone, I am still a very happy, shiny woman beneath my upper crust.  I hope that you will join me as I build my plan to exit a career that no longer brings me joy and muster the nerve to follow a path that makes my heart sing.