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unveiling my passions

June 27th, 2010 | 8 Comments »

It seems like this past year has put me in contact with a large number of very passionate people; people who love what they do whether it’s their chosen vocation, their family or a particular cause. Being around them is almost addictive. There’s a glow, a determination and a sense of joy in them when they discuss what they love, what drives them and makes them soar. I love seeing it, being around it and sharing in it as well. There’s plenty in my life that I feel strongly about, aspects of it that bring a deep sense of peace to me, that fill me with happiness. I bet you think I’m talking about food, don’t you? Well sort of, but it’s only one area of my life that I’m passionate about. My friend Missy, who writes the blog The Marketing Mama, is sharing her passion and asked for others to chime in and play along. I can’t imagine a better person to share a passionate and engaging conversation with; Missy is one of the amazing women I’ve been blessed to meet and connect with this past year through our blog networking group. She’s got a strong finger on the pulse of life around her, a smile to light up any room and a wicked sense of humor.

So, to join in on her expressions of all things we love and hold dear to us, allow me to share these simple aspects of my life that bring me an immense amount of joy and make my heart swell with gladness. I’m not one to climb to the rooftops to shout out what stirs my heart, and I’m not one to push a cause or a lifestyle or anything so subjective. For me, it’s the little things that make my life perfect.

Like Delphiniums.

This year, whether due to the copious rain that has drenched our area or just the maturity of the plants, these Delphinium that are growing in one of my garden beds have simply exploded with blooms. Deep blue and so beautifully shaped, the flowers are stunning and I just can’t get enough of their beauty. I love my flower gardens, and the way that Nature just works itself out in multitudes of color, shape, texture and time. There are days that I walk through my yard and am stunned by what’s going on, not to mention humbled that my hands did this kind of work. It isn’t much, but it’s mine. And it’s one way I can share a god-given gift with others.

Then there’s these guys.

Someday is entirely possible that I will qualify as a crazy cat lady. I am crazy about cats, and these two in particular. Eli, on the left, has been a godsend into our lives. Losing Harmon was the hardest time I’ve gone through in recent memory, and Eli came along just at the right moment, full of love to give and hungry to be loved back. Bustopher is happier with a friend, and our hearts are healing from our loss.

There’s Loveless too.

It’s a perfect sanctuary from the hectic pace of life and I do miss it with all the work I’ve been doing this summer, but recently I spent a blissful nothing type of day there, sitting on the screen porch watching the rain fall on the lake all day long. That may not sound like fun to most, but it was a much needed day off from work, and from life and I needed it like pure oxygen. It’s a place that lives in my very core, that I love beyond description and wish I could bring every single one of you there for a day just to see it and enjoy it.

I’m passionate about my family too, as any Mother would be. Watching my young man grow, mature, change and embrace the life he’s leading is a beautiful thing to see. He has some amazing roads ahead of him to explore and I can’t wait to see where his life’s journey takes him. He’s polite, kind, warm-hearted and generous. He’s funny, corny, silly and smart as a whip. And the boy LOVES his food.

Which brings me, rightly, to what I am most passionate about each waking day of my life. You knew we’d get there, didn’t you? It’s not hard to be passionate about food these days, with the Farmers Markets bursting full of the fresh bounty from the Earth. How can you NOT get excited about fresh strawberries?

Or a delightful poached egg over fresh baby zucchini sauteed with garlic scapes?

But it really goes beyond just the freshness and far beyond what time of year it is, as it’s much more about how your body feels when it’s nurtured with good food. There’s nothing more to it than that. What goes into our bodies has a huge effect on our well-being, our ability to learn at school or to do our jobs properly, to keep us sharp and focused so we can concentrate, to help our immune system be as strong as possible so we can stay healthy to enjoy our lives. I’ve seen enormous change in my own life from the foods that I eat, and notice immediately when I’ve been slipping away from the right path and eating too much junk. If there’s one area of my life that I could talk about all day long, it’s definitely food, diet, cooking and consumption. It’s my blood, my life and what God gave me to give to others.

So what are YOU passionate about?

Missy got a good response to her call about passion. See what my friends say about their own passions!

Missy

Kate-Madonna

Suzi

Cindy

Monika

Jenny

where i confess to job performance anxiety

June 21st, 2010 | 5 Comments »

The culinary business is exacting, often meticulous and full of thinly veiled moments where too much time, heat, salt or seasoning could be the difference between a food that’s delightful, edible and sublime and one that is virtually unpalatable.

So there’s no reasonable way to say this…. my career path is full of perfectionists, raging perfectionists that take what they do very seriously and can swing from incredible highs to immense lows over the fate of any one dish they are preparing. We all grit our teeth at the tiniest of faults that means we’ve moved from making amazing food to something that’s just OK. Or worse, so ungodly bad that we need to start over. And I don’t necessarily look to the professional side of this coin when I say this either; read any of the food blogs out there, or the staggering amount of food memoir written and published each year and you begin to see, underneath the manic urge for a perfect chocolate chip cookie, the tearful disclaimers of one’s kitchen faults and foibles and the angst hidden among a food writers description of a much anticipated dish that went horribly wrong, and you see this trait unfold among even the most novice of home cooks. For some reason, we pick up a pan, scan a recipe and assemble our ingredients, and somewhere along the way we lose our ability to accept anything less than 100%. But this is a science, this cooking that we do, and it’s imperfect at best, and thoroughly fault-ridden, even at it’s finest. Nowhere will you find any activity that has the potential for so many things to go wrong.

And I know this personally. No more have I felt this sense of anxiety over what I do than in the past months at my job. I love what I do; I’m thrilled to be there in that kitchen, with the ingredients available to me and working with the talent that is there, but I’ve been puzzled and often driven to fits over the fact that I am filled with butterflies every single day when I drive into the parking lot. It seems to my exacting mind that I am but one slip away from being shown the door, from coming in one day and finding my locker cleaned out, my belongings in a box by the employee entrance, the chef silently shaking his head at me when I come to him, questions written all over my face. I hate that this has become a part of my day, especially when I feel so strongly that most of what I’ve done in the past four years has led me directly to this place.

And what it is, well that’s quite simple; I value where I am- this job, this place, with everything that I’ve got and I want to be good at what I do. This is a pretty fundamental human condition, and for me, it shares the double whammy with that exacting culinary standard. But it’s something else too; it’s the boost to my esteem that I needed on a much deeper level than I ever cared to admit. Something happens to us, to the very heart of who we are when the near relentless pursuit of employment leads nowhere but dead ends. When you’re told over and over “I’m sorry, but you’re not considered a candidate for this job.” It wears at you and erodes your will and drive. And as I discovered, it makes you feel like you’re losing your mind. Then one email changes all that and you land feet first and running hard into a job that feels more perfect than you could have hoped. It’s not just about a paycheck, and I don’t want to minimize how nice that feels, but I’ve discovered in the past few weeks that this job is more necessary to me than just the two pieces of paper it generates each month. At my very core, I needed this job to feel like I was still alive, still able to thrive, to do what I was created to do. I needed this job for me. For my soul.

Add on top of that a keen sense of perfectionism, and you’ve got a recipe -ha! puns!- for sky-high anxiety. Strangely enough, it was slightly more than four years ago, when I was in culinary school and working through a practice for our student competition, that the same chef who happens to be my boss right now told me in no uncertain terms that I was a perfectionist. He was right in front of me, I think even with a finger pointed directly at me as he said it too.  I got slightly bent out of shape at his remark, and he countered with asking me “Why would it make you angry if it was true?”

Problem was, I didn’t know it was true. His remark, a casual observation from an outsider, hit home and opened my eyes to something I desperately needed to see. It was the reason I pushed myself to do everything well, the impetus behind my almost obsessive attention to detail and the reason that I was so hard on myself when it wasn’t my absolute best. It was there, in that flourescent-lit kitchen that I first understood why my heart was driving me in this direction and that I had, in some small aspect anyway, a sense of what it took to be good in the culinary field. You’re not going to succeed without that drive, that desire to make everything the best that it can be. If you give a half-ass performance, you’ll get mediocre food. Period. And we all know that nobody cares about mediocre food. It was a barren, ‘standing alone on a mountaintop’ moment at a time of my life when I was releasing from within me the very thing that I feel I was born to do, and I have never forgotten it. Had I never gone to work for this chef, or ever had another interaction with him, I would have gone to my grave thanking him for that, as odd as it may seem. Because once I did acknowledge that truth, it set me free. I stopped struggling and beating myself up when I made errors, and instead tried to let those mistakes guide me to become better, more focused and less critical. And to let go. I can’t be perfect all the time, and I shouldn’t expect that I can. Nor should anyone else. But in this business, with the work I am doing and the level of dining I help to prepare every day, I can allow for a bit of that perfectionism, and hope that my heart settles down from thinking that one mistake means the end of it all. It’s been hard though, to silence that insistent and percussive echo within the walls of my own mind. Nowhere am I in more trouble than lost in that dread of self-doubt, even if it’s only something that I myself manage to conjure up.

Just recently at work while I was meticulously picking apart Belgian Endive for garnishes, the grill cook wandered over, sighing heavily. I asked him if he was all right and he said something about messing up what he’d been working on. He told me what he had done and really, it was nowhere near as bad as he thought. I had to smile, and told him “That’s the perfectionist in you. We all have it, and it sucks sometimes.” He smiled, nodding, like the light went on in his head for the very first time. Then I saw his shoulders relax slightly, and he sighed heavily again. “Yeah, it does suck sometimes.”

Every day, I know it and feel it, and acknowledging that truth has helped me not only to be better at what I do, but to be kinder to myself on an off day. I know that the work I do each day is highly valued and appreciated, and I need to stop that voice in my head that keeps trying to convince me that I’m not good enough. No one is putting it there but me. And I realize that my anxiety isn’t so much stemming from being incapable of doing my work, but from stepping back into that dead zone of fear that comes from striving so hard for something that never seems to come. Four years ago I graduated from culinary school with a head full of dreams and an intense desire to do well in a profession I never expected to join. And I have days when I look around me, bewildered that I am even there. Am I in a dream?  The work we do each day is hard, physically hard and taxing on the body. I’ve never been so exhausted, yet so exhilarated at the same time. I ache in ways I never imagined, but at the same time, I have little memory of a time recent that I’ve felt so alive and vital. I love where I am, in life and profession. Something of this importance can justify a little anxiety, can’t it?

ridiculously simple fish tacos

June 13th, 2010 | 13 Comments »

I often wonder whose idea it was to make Fish Tacos.

Fish. In a taco. That overloaded, cheese filled Tex-Mex staple. dripping with seasoned meat and shredded iceberg. At one point, someone thought to push a few pieces of fried and lightly seasoned mild fish into a flour tortilla and call it a meal. Now it’s everywhere and people just love them.

Problem is, they ARE everywhere, and often not done all that well. The fish is almost always fried, which yes, makes it crunchy and appealing and all, but certainly not very healthy. This is fish. It’s good for the body when done right. I’ve tried numerous offerings of fish tacos, eagerly anticipating the. one. that makes it all worthwhile. The epicenter of fish taco-ness that will make me swoon, and want to run home to my own kitchen to replicate.

Friends, it’s never happened. So I took matters into my own hands, in my own kitchen, and made them the way I wish they would always be made.

There’s just nothing to this meal. You need some perfectly ripe avocado, a plump tomato, some form of crunchy vegetable item such as gently seasoned cabbage to offset the tender fish and a simple can of black beans. Oh yes, and fish. I used tilapia but you could also use halibut or cod depending on availability.

And this is fish, which we all know from experience is on the Love-Hate scale in my house. Mike loves it, and Griffin hates it. Or at least he seems to think he hates it. Because this is new to him, in the past few years, this despising fish deal. When he was quite the young boy, in his adorable, always helpful/cheerful/talkative Can I hold your hand, Mom? stage, my boy simply LOVED fish. He denies it now, for certain, but it’s true. I would make fish for dinner and he would light up in the way only small adorable boys can and exclaim “Fish! Yum!” when he pulled out his chair to eat. It was always seared in a pan, never fried, and yes I did give him a blop of tartar sauce to push his fish through, but he would eat it all without one little complaint. How I long for those days.

He’s OK with it now; he’s stopped with the mega-fits when he knows it’s on the dinner menu, but will never ask for it like he does his beloved steak, and I do still keep tartar sauce on hand and allow for him to smear it on his fish as thick as he wishes. He will take the smallest piece possible to get by and eat it, almost holding his breath, only because it’s how we roll at dinnertime here. You eat what’s served or make your own.

Mild, flavorful and fresh beyond belief, these tacos were such a perfect summer meal. Simple too, which these days with my schedule and valued days off, I don’t want to be chained to any time consuming menus, making the few dinners I can put together at home. The weather was gorgeous, and after Mike and I trimmed some over-zealous bushes in our yard and then impulsively chopped a few large tree branches off, dinner was still on the table about a half an hour after we came inside. These fish tacos, with all the ease and flavor, were what I feel a good, healthy fish taco should be.

Fish Tacos
by Kate

1# tilapia filets
1/2 c. flour
1 T. each ground cumin, dry oregano and chili powder (for more convenience, use 3 T. prepared taco seasoning)

For serving: flour tortillas, diced avocado, diced tomato, shredded cabbage or romaine lettuce, drained and rinsed black beans, sour cream and salsa.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium high. Mix the flour and seasonings together. Adjust with salt and pepper if desired and dredge fish in mixture. When skillet is very hot, add a small amount of oil and quickly swirl to coat. Carefully place fish in pan and cook without moving for about 5 minutes. Turn over and cook other side until fish is done and flakes easily, about 5 minutes more. Cooking time is dependent on thickness of filets and will vary.

Top tortillas with hot fish and toppings as desired.

a new twist

June 7th, 2010 | 2 Comments »

There’s nothing new about fresh strawberries and good shortcake. It’s a requisite of late Spring, when the red plump berries hit their stride and beckon from tables at the market, or on the grocer’s shelves. I can’t think of anything more perfect than a ripe strawberry.

Wait. Scratch that. I can think of something better. This shortcake, spread with honey-sweetened mascarpone cheese and topped with balsamic laced berries that hint slightly of brown sugar. I’m really somewhat of a purist at heart; I like simple preparations and fully believe that the food itself should shine from your dishes. That being said, even the simple and stupendous strawberry can be made so much more amazing if given a short amount of time in brown sugar and balsamic vinegar.

Just a splash of the vinegar is all you need. And really, only a small amount of sugar is necessary too. I like to let the berries tell me when enough is enough. Prepare them by removing the core, then place them in a bowl and sprinkle in about 2-3 tablespoons of brown sugar per pint of fruit. Add 1-2 teaspoons of good balsamic vinegar to the bowl. Stir to combine and allow it to sit at room temperature for an hour or so, stirring occasionally. See how much juice begins to form. If you like them a bit juicier, add a little more sugar. What you want as an end result is a berry that hints of both sweet and tart but doesn’t overpower your tastebuds with either. Make it slightly more interesting by adding just a touch of good sea salt. It’ll be a riot of flavor and turn your simple shortcake into a real treat.

Simple is good. Different is good. Try a batch for yourself and see what you think.

wordless wednesday, june style

June 2nd, 2010 | 7 Comments »