An Evening of Culture.


A few weeks ago, my friend Susan called and asked if I would help her put together an evening for her culture club.  She explained that the culture club sprung out of her book club – at some point, they realized that they really weren’t reading or discussing the books, but they still enjoyed getting together and doing things.  And thus, their culture club began.

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An Accidental Career.

March madness has morphed into Assiduous April.  I knew at the onset of March it was going to be busy.  And then things happened…..all good things, but it seemed like all I was doing some days was adding to my to-do list instead of actually tackling any items on the list.  I also found myself writing things down – I pride myself on not having to write things down.  When I write things down, that means I’m overwhelmed, I have too many things going on and I need to slow down.  I kept telling myself if I could just get through the month of March, I could get caught up.  All of it.  The house, other projects that got shoved to the back burners, time with friends, my garden…. Continue reading

In which I begin to tackle French wine. And discover a lovely new local one.

The problem with people knowing I occasionally write about food and wine is that they think I know quite a bit on the subject.  To be honest, I really only know about the food and wine I either like or have worked with.  Which up until now, has not been French wine. If I’m going to be fully honest here,  I am slightly intimidated by French wines – the appellations (a defined regional area), the Crus (still trying to grasp that one) the pronunciations (I butcher anything longer than a 2 cent word in my native tongue, my pronunciation of French is abysmal despite 3 years of French), the fact that French wines are among some of the most respected and most expensive wines in the world – I have at best, a rudimentary knowledge of French wines.  I know just a little bit about  Bourdeaux and Burgundies, that only French winemakers in a particular region produce true Champagne and that Cotes-du-Rhone and Chateneauf-du-Pape are regions for wine in France, but beyond that, I don’t know much about French wines. Continue reading

My latest idea.

I am excellent at ideas.  And here’s my latest one. 

A pickle subscription. 

Here’s how I envision it working:
One.  Customers preorder the quantity and type of pickle(s) you prefer in the spring.  You would pay a small deposit and the balance would be due when you receive your pickles at the appropriate point of the season.  Love my bread & butter pickles or want to have pickled okra and green beans for your Bloody Marys but don’t want to make them yourself? Did I hook your toddler on my pickled peaches? Then this is for you.

Two.  Pickle of the month club.  Every month, a different pickle is mailed out to subscribers.  I’m thinking this would make an excellent gift. Not sure what to buy your parents or fussy Aunt Sue?  How about a pickle of the month club subscription!  The monthly package wouldn’t just be pickles,  there would be recipes or menu suggestions (what to serve with your watermelon rind pickles or a pickled peach pound cake recipe), perhaps another homemade treat as well.  

While I’ve looked into what it would take to make this a  legal enterprise (a two day class offered by the state for starters), I haven’t crunched numbers on this one too hard.  I hear quite a bit I should sell my pickles and I’ve come up with this as a way to do that but not extend myself too much financially or end up with too much stock on my hands. There’s still quite a bit of work to do to flesh this idea out, but this idea has been in the back of my head since last summer.  Just last night, I could picture my little catalog of pickles that would go out, with pictures and descriptions of pickles.  I’m thinking very seriously about doing a test run to a limited group this spring, with the idea that I’d be fully legal and ready to offer Pickle of the Month club by the holiday season this year.

So, tell me friends, what do you think?  Would you be interesting in obtaining some of my tasty pickled treats, when you read the pickle of the month club idea did you immediately think that would be a perfect gift for certain hard to shop for members of your holiday gift list?  More importantly, do you want to be part of the initial group?  If so, make sure I have your email address. 

Ant Music.

It has recently come to my attention that I am long past due for some sort of contact-style card, a business card if you will.  Actually, I lie when I say it has recently come to my attention.  I’ve known for some time I need a card of some sort. 

I will spare you the long version of how I have put this off because what I really want to talk about is how I have spent the last 3 days, farting around on my computer, attempting to design this sucker myself.  I have this image in my head of what it needs to look like.  Blame that design background, the one I worked my way through college for, the one that I thoroughly enjoyed until I realized it wanted the same large chunk of time as that my Edie girl demanded.  The one that still pops up in small ways, like, envisioning this new card of mine.  That one.  Throw in my ability to bluff my way out of many a situation where I really can appear to know what I’m talking about, when the reality is, I have no clue.  My father used to always say, if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.  I live by that code.  Well, that and don’t ever let anyone tell me I can’t do something because I’m a girl.  Oh, and don’t throw like a girl.  Which took me probably 35 years and watching my own daughter do it to understand what he meant with that last one.

In talking with various marketing and graphic folks, I heard over and over that I could design this myself.  I bought into my own hype.  I allowed myself to be baffled by my own bullshit.  Hell, my own husband couldn’t quite understand that I had this idea in my head and I was trying my best to not just get it out onto the computer screen, I was trying to figure out HOW to make it happen on my computer screen. 

It seems my photoshop skills are not quite what everyone else seems to think they are.   I’m good at many things, but not at photoshop.

The whole card design involves the image of a mason jar.  As I just so happen to have some lying around, I thought I could take a photo of one, photoshop it and turn it into what I envisioned.  I took a shot and after two days of playing with it, was able to get it somewhere near where I wanted it, although in no way shape or form could I tell you how I got it that way.  But then I realized the tiniest detail was off and since I have that design background, I realized I needed to take some more photos and start over.  And then I was worried that it was going to take me another two days to get it where the last one was, the one with a line that was slightly off that probably no one but me would notice, the one that I had no freaking clue how I got it to look like it ultimately did, but it would keep me up at night knowing I had put my name on something that was slightly off.  Bad design at my own hands combined with incompetence. These are the things that I lose sleep over.

So I snapped this shot today.  Uploaded it.  As I opened it up in photoshop, Adam Ant’s Ant Music just so happened to play on the station I was streaming. 

You might not know this about me, but I freaking LOVE Adam Ant.  I’m a total child of the 80’s and Adam Ant is one of the most unappreciated artists of that era.  Ant Music should have been an anthem.  It’s one of my anthems.

So, I’m sitting there, opening this photo, singing along to Ant Music, which was followed by one of my favorite B-52’s songs, Legal Tender.  By the time they were done, I was done.  The image I had in my head was on my computer screen. Never underestimate the power of good tunes to get the job done. I don’t know if I actually learned something over the last 3 days or it was the music. Talk about singing a happy little working song. Whatever it was, it happened.

I suppose after all that, I should show you the image.  But on it’s own, it’s rather blah.  So you’re not going to see it yet.  I’ve now fallen into the font rabbit hole, whereby I spend way too much time playing with fonts, choosing just the right one.  It’s far less frustrating than where I just was, dealing with the realization that I don’t have the skills everyone thinks I have, which it turns out, I just might have actually. Maybe I should believe the hype.  No, the font rabbit hole is far more comforting on many levels, mostly in that I know I know what I’m doing there.  The bigger debate that I’ve been avoiding for way too long is now in front of me – and that is, exactly what to say about myself other than my name and contact information.  I do so many things, I could cover a business card with words.  How to narrow it down to make it be the sleek thing I imagine?  And in that narrowing, how to make it eloquent?  Because while “Goddess of the Universe” sums it up, it might come across as just a slightly bit pretentious and I’ve heard I should tailor it to what I actually do.  Which is sort of everything, although I keep being told I should focus.  But with opportunities popping up in every avenue, it doesn’t make sense to focus like all the advice I’ve given tells me.  The universe says otherwise and ultimately, it’s the universe I listen to.

It was so much easier two days ago when I could just blame it all on the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to do what I wanted to do on the stupid computer.

Today’s Experiment.

I’d been kicking around the idea of putting together some cooking classes that weren’t just canning & pickling focused.  For starters, it’s a very seasonable topic, sort of a one and done class done at various venues around town, but also because I do more than just preserve food.  I preserve food because I like to cook it, because I’m passionate about knowing exactly where our food comes from and I want to ensure that my family eats local all year long.  Really, canning & pickling is just the first step, one small part of my cooking puzzle.

So there I was, kicking this idea around, trying to find a focus (why oh why does everything seem to require a freaking focus already?!?!?!) when I got an email from a friend, asking if I was interested in leading a cooking class for his department as their staff retreat.  Would I? I love when the universe sends me signs like this, I really do.  Dave’s a regular reader, so he had a few ideas of what he wanted me to teach them, but after a few suggestions, he left it up to me.

The hardest part was finding a space in which to do this.  Budget was key, which ruled out a number of places.  If only my kitchen wasn’t so small and dark, perhaps I could teach more than one person at a time out of here.  One of his coworkers was able to get a church kitchen, which actually could not have worked out better.  It was fairly well appointed and was made for a small group to cook together.

As this was an all-day class and Dave requested we do several dishes together, I had them start with lunch, which was pizza.  Once that prepwork was done, including making the dough, from scratch, by hand, we moved on to the big attraction.  Gumbo.

I’m really not sure there is anything as well suited to team work as gumbo is. There is plenty of chopping to go around, there is roux to be made as well as broth.  I walked them through how I like to do it – using as many burners as I can. At one point, we had the broth simmering, sauce for the pizza cooking, roux browning and the holy trinity sauteing to start the gumbo.

  If you take it step by step, you could spend all day making a pot of gumbo.  As much as I think it’s worth it, I also love doing as much as possible all at once.  Even that though, takes prepwork, and teamwork.
 Although Dave did try to do a big chunk of it on his own.

Lunch was absolutely delish if I say so myself.  We did a roasted butternut squash, sage and goat cheese pizza (which Dave had requested after reading that post) as well as a plain cheese pizza.  Just yesterday I read a piece on Beyond the Flavor about Michael McCarthy of Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie making pizza at home and couldn’t help but notice his oven was much hotter than I set mine – 550 vs. 450. Inspired, I decided to experiment with that temperature and honestly, I have to say that that cheese pizza tasted just like one you’d get a pizza shop.  I’m still patting myself on the back for using that bit of knowledge – so much so that I came home and have already started the dough for dinner.

Thankfully, no one else in this house had pizza for lunch, so there will be no lectures on their part about how pizza twice a day might not be healthy, not to mention boring.  At least she got over the whole no cold pizza for breakfast thing.

I digress.  After we feasted on our pizza lunch, we headed back into the kitchen.  There, I showed them how to make the easiest and most divine chocolate cake ever.  I love sharing that secret – that a handful of ingredients, assembled in 5 minutes and baked for 30, can fool everyone you know into thinking you are a baking genius.

One of the downsides of cooking around your camera, is that sometimes you get stuff on the lens. It does, however, lend a dreamy quality to the picture, doesn’t it?

We finished the day with biscuits. I got to expound on a bit about my biscuit theory and shared with them my whole grain version, even throwing a little bit of lard into the equation.  After putting a few of our biscuits in the oven to be sampled, the rest were divided and packed up, to be baked later in the day at home.  After all, who wants to spend a day cooking only to have to go home and do it all over again?  Not only did everyone take home biscuits, they had been instructed to bring along tupperware and so everyone took home gumbo after sampling the finished product.  It was declared a success and while I am still mentally critiquing myself as to what I can do better, I also changed some things on the fly that turned out pretty good.  That’s the secret to good cooking (and life really), is being able to adapt without flinching.  It’s all in the instincts.  Can you convey that in a cooking class?  I sort of think I did.

I got a real name tag.

Over the years, I have acquired a small collection of various name tags from different events I’ve attended.  By various, I mean, the names are various.  You see, I don’t always let a proper invite keep me from a party and some of the events I’ve attended over the years have had everyone’s name tags printed and laid out ahead of time, not allowing you to walk up to the door and get in if you haven’t made plans in advance. Which means if you are spontaneous like myself, you find yourself picking out a name and going with it.  Only once have I ever had anyone actually question the fact that I was not who my nametag said I was, because they knew the real ‘me’ and I was 20 years younger, several inches taller, noticeably thinner and a completely different race than the other version they knew that went with that name.  I found that telling the gentleman I was undercover for a very important investigation and that I would appreciate his cooperation, as it may or may not have to do with national security, I was not free to divulge anything further than that, in fact I may have said too much, helped quiet him.

In crashing parties, one must act with complete confidence and authority. 

Last Thursday evening was the holiday party for the local weekly that I’ve done some projects for this past year. Despite the fact that I’d been up & down all week with the upper respiratory bug going around town, I felt we should go and make an appearance.  Besides, I was feeling better that day, surely I was on the mend. (When they say that bug is a 10 day to 2 week bug, they aren’t joking, btw.  I was most definitely not on the mend, but that’s a completely different tale.)

As we walked in, there was a table with a guest list at which you were supposed to check in.  There was also a small collection of name tags which were clearly for people who are affiliated with the publication throwing the party.  Among the name tags was one for me, with my real name on it.   Even better was a title – “Green Expert”, a nod to the fact that I wrote (and partially photographed) their Green Homes and Living special edition this past fall, although in no way do I consider myself an ‘expert’ in being ‘green’.  Honestly, of the 18 pieces in that, 8 of them are some of sort of interest or project of ours around the house.  All I really did was write about us and just tried to make it not sound as personal as I do in this space.

I’ve had a good bit of encouragement lately from friends and family telling me I should just write a book already.  On what I ask and they all say, on just being me.  From what I’ve gathered, one should have a certain niche, a focus if they are going to pitch anything that’s going to be published.  If this blog is any indication, I’m all over the place – baking one day, canning the next with mentions of knitting fail, dinner fail and girl scout troop craft fail.  I’m more of a B+ personality than I am a type A.  I’m the underachiever of the overachievers, the overachiever of the slackers, not excelling at any one thing, but rather, doing a few things pretty okay.  Sometimes making everything perfect, staying on top of every little detail is just way too much energy that could be better used doing something else, like having a glass of wine with a friend or better yet, curled up with a book.  How does one go about putting that into a proposal for anything published? 

Not quite eighteen months ago, I was laid off and pretty quickly decided that I was going to just figure out a way to make a living out of being me.  Since making that decision, I’ve been much happier with my every day life, although cash flow can be a bitch.  I’ve made some things happen, I’ve had some things land in my lap.  It seems that in casting a wide net, I’ve caught a number of things that I’m pretty okay at – writing, teaching, cooking at the top of that list. 

When I started this post, I had every intention of talking about the party last week, how I danced with the guy dressed like a Christmas tree, because really, when there’s a guy dressed like a Christmas tree, you need to do something with him, right? Instead I had this moment where I realized that there was some link between the fact that I have a collection of fake name tags to the fact that I had a real name tag with a title that I found amusing to the fact that I am still very much trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.  That this idea I keep hearing from people as something I should do – write a book – somehow needs to come to life.  And somewhere, in that link, is the theme.