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Archive for September, 2009

Back to food! Ahh…..another beautiful, cool morning in Kansas. I started with opened windows, sitting in bed, reading news, blogs, and emailing family. Yesterday I eventually moved to the patio-type thingy in the back yard. Where I moved on to a food vice of mine: BBQ potato chips. Really. Sad, huh. I also had a few cashews in the bowl, and I’m thinking two squirrels wanted me to leave so they could grab them. They truly seemed to covet my ‘shews. The both twirled around the tree, ending up several times just above my head on a tiny little limb. Fussing. Just looking at me and fussing loudly. And let me tell you, the last squirrel needed to do like me and quit yearning for so much food and stop long enough to do a few sit-ups. Seriously, people, major belly issues going on. In truth, there was also some sisterhood going on. Would have high-fived her if I could have shimmied up the tree.

Earlier this week I made a few totally brilliant meals. There was my fabulous beet and apple salad and freshly grown okra (from our own K-State students’ garden.). The only thing I had to change this time in the salad was adding praline pecans instead of my really fav maple syrup pecan pieces from the all famous People’s Grocery. There were no maple syrup pecans left in my little jar, so I just stopped by a convenience store walking on my way home from work and bought a small snack package of the praline.

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And the okra? Delicious as usual! I sauté them in a tiny little bit of canola oil on high heat. I would roast them without any oil, but going for less energy in this move. I vow to use just enough to keep them from sticking to the pan. And then there is sea salt sprinkled at the end. And now they are all gone. sad.

Oh yes! And there was a lunch that involved one-half a bagel, spaghetti sauce from a jar, freshly chopped green bell pepper and onion. Covered first with grated Parmesan cheese, then covered in gooey Mozzarella cheese! oooooh! See this romantic picture below with my little pizza lunch? All the candles? Yep! Cheese deserves a little romance. Love it!
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Another tasty dish was some of my homemade ‘tater soup. A little skim milk, a little whole milk. butter. onions. taters. And fresh jalopeños from the back yard. Only I did not use enough to get the heat I like. I’m really not proficient at using fresh jalopeños and still need to work on how to adjust the amounts, so I add a few dry red pepper flakes each time I prepare a bowl. I also added some teeny tiny chopped carrots, boiled in a little water, and all of that poured into the soup as well. So that maybe I get some of the nutrients I have boiled out of the carrots into the water. I even had a bowl of this creamy, heaty goodness for breakfast yesterday. Now it’s all gone. 😦

The pièce de résistance came today when my food bud Tara C. invited me to her place for lunch, and let me tell you it was quite a feast! There was good music on the computer and great conversation to start. Then we sat down to a meal of green chicken salad. Yes, “gulp”, green. I never wanted to eat any of Sam’s green ham, much less green chicken! But she assured me it was the avocado and touch of wasabi in the mixture that made it green. And we had pink apple salad to go with the sandwich. Seriously. She assured me it was yogurt (I think) that gave it the pink color. And some nuts and cream cheese. And olives to dive in for! Ooohh how I like a good olive! And a lettuce salad with goat cheese. Blueberry muffin. A culinary delight for sure!
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Good thing I walked there and back because I really stuffed myself. Fantastic break in my day, but now it is back to work!

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Today I leave the world of food to talk about my fascination of the world of business and how it all comes together when it works well. However, the food will surely be brought back on another day!

Oh how I am captivated by the business world! Let me rephrase that: How I love the business world when I believe it is done correctly! The best way possible. With thoughts of long-term profits to keep it going. To continue the support of its employees, because this business would realize the value of good employees. This business would offer decent salaries to employees as it grows, as a way to not only reward them, but to attract the best, and to be able to eliminate the ones that are not worth the training or salaries or benefits that are offered. All people are worthy in the scheme of life, but not all are worth the extra $$$$ and time in a particular business. If an employee is constantly late, cannot fulfill the duties needed, or complains a lot about the work and the employer, then maybe he/she is in the wrong place and they need to go elsewhere. That person may do well and succeed in another setting. A totally different job.

[Realize here I am not talking about the employee who is let go due to a downturn in sales and/or the economy. I’m talking about the one who just really does not want to support the efforts of the current employer.]

I’m going to talk about retail here, because retail is what I know best. I want to go into a store and know that the person at the counter or on the sales floor is glad to see me. They want to make my day even better. After all, I’m about to (maybe) give them my money in exchange for a product or service, and I want to know that this exchange is appreciated. I had to work for that money, too. Anyway, I went into a store yesterday to make a purchase, and, well, I can be rather perky. Sometimes annoyingly so to those around me. But in Kansas, it is normal. I do love that friendly aspect of Kansas! So I walked up to the young man behind the counter and said, “Good morning! How are you today?” And he replied, “I’m here I guess.” I wanted to say something back like, “Really? Is that how you feel about me today?” Always wanting to be the teacher, I reckon. But I did not, I just laughed and said something like, “Well I’m glad you are here because I need someone to – – – – ! And it’s all about me!” He laughed, a little, though he didn’t really see the humor. Neither did I honestly.

Starbucks may be a global company. They are huge. But to me, they do it well. Some complain that they take away business from the small guy. Let’s first realize that there were very, very few coffee shops that offered the “third place” experience before Howard Schultz got excited and spread the word. Sorta like Christopher Columbus. Columbus may not have been the first explorer to set foot in “the new world”, but he was surely the first one to get so excited about it! He went back to Europe and marketed his enthusiasm, spreading the word of this wonderful new place and blah blah blah…..and here I am in the center of that “new world” this morning. [Yes, we can and should continue to talk about all the horrible tragedies that transpired involving the American Indian, but that is a conversation for another day.] The point is, Howard Schultz may not have been the exact first, but he surely ran forward and spread the glorious idea!

When I lived in Chapel Hill, NC, starting my morning reading a book or newspaper over a cup of coffee was a favorite activity. In the beginning, most mornings I walked to a locally-owned coffee shop. Very artsy. Loved the decor! There was hardly ever anyone else there, and soon I realized why. The coffee was not bad, but there was not a smile in the place. No one to make me feel welcomed. The man behind the counter always made me feel that if I had not come in for coffee, he could still be in bed!

Soon I was a regular at the Starbucks about a block away. In no time they knew my “regular”. They made me feel welcomed. Made me feel like they were very glad to see me. Almost as if we were all part of the same team. People were walking in all morning, lining up to take their coffees with them to work. Every once-in-a-while I would try the independent store again, because I do believe in supporting them, but couldn’t stay. Nope. For my money I also wanted to feel appreciated – not in the way!

Once in 1998, and once in 2006, I seriously considered opening a bookstore and small coffee shop in my small town in Virginia. I planned strenuously and strategically. Studied my community (what worked in Richmond or Durham would not necessarily be the best for my own community). Found the perfect locations. Planned on salaries of valid employees. Offering students (also valid employees) before and after school the chance to earn a little money and learn about customer service and business and profits if they really wanted a job. Training for employees. Training for myself. Opening the hours most needed by my community. Marketing plans were of the utmost importance!

I went to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for a blueprint of sorts to make my plans. (SO much is available online, now. Unbelievable!!) I had already taken a few accounting classes, so I knew some about financial planning and balance sheets. I read all I could about Howard Schultz, and his first book, Pour Your heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One cup at a Time, was my favorite. I read more about coffees and brewing. And teas. Read about bookstores and the importance of a small business staying involved in the community. Ways to market and advertise. How to choose the best employees. Customer Service. Always customer service. In 1998 the SBA representative even told me after showing my plans to the group that was reviewing my work: I had the best business plan they had ever seen. Ever! Let me say here I was thrilled, but you must know it was not because I am so brilliant, it’s just because I followed their steps to a valid business plan step by step. And also had put lots of thought into the marketing plans for my community. I do know how to follow rules!

However, both times it came down to money. Both times the SBA encouraged me to continue through with my plan, follow through with my paperwork, but I was scared. There was so much money to borrow, so much money to pay back, and I did not believe I could do it. One thing I did not understand in financing was how to get investors. There were a couple of people that simply came forward and said they wanted to invest – they knew me and wanted such a store in our community. It would have meant long hours for me, but after being a mom for many years, I was used to that! However, I just did not have the guts to take the risk. Period. The possibility of not being able to pay back people that believed in me? And the possibility of losing our house obviously would affect more people than myself. So I walked away from the opportunity.

However, I am so fortunate that I love my job as a librarian and know that for right now I am in the best place for me. However, I still think of my own business plans when I see another business done well.

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All good stuff

Oh my! Yesterday I had such a delicious lunch. Vegetarian. Remove the cheese and there is a very tasty vegan meal as well. I pulled out some of the wild rice and black beans I had prepared this weekend. I use a little olive oil when I cook both of those tempting foods. No butter. No meat grease. Not only is it healthier, it lasts longer sitting in a glass jar in my refrig.

I stirred in a little cumin, added chopped raw onion, tomato salsa, and also some fresh jalapeño pepper from the garden. Hot!!! I placed little pieces of cheddar throughout, then heated in the microwave to melt the cheese. Now, I’m sure you are wondering how I filled myself up on this little bit you see in the picture below. Easy. I didn’t use a fork or spoon as transportion between bowl and mouth; I used salty and crunchy corn chips!

Since I really love tomatoes, I chopped one up in big chunks and ate it as a side dish, and finished the meal with one-half an apple. Oh it was so fantabulous!! Really, I love lunch time. And breakfast. And supper. And snacks in-between. And as you can probably tell from the picture below, onions make everything taste better! ‘Cept maybe chocolate cake.

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This Labor Day holiday has been a wonderful three-day weekend. I’ve been tasking on things that would actually be considered library labor, but it’s been a little more relaxing working on them here at home. It’s turning out to be a grand holiday so far and only about half-way over!

Surely you are asking, “Where is the food in all the weekend commotion?” Well, yesterday I soaked and cooked black beans, saved two servings in the refrig and froze three. Today I will cook brown rice and do the same. This morning I took one of the last tomatoes from the back-yard garden and made pico de gallo. It was absolutely fantastic for breakfast! Of course, my lips are still burning from the hot peppers I chopped up oh so tiny, but it was worth it. I love fresh tomatoes! But please, don’t make me eat a hot tomato biscuit with melted butter. Really, my hubby loves those. And so do most members of his family. Really. They do.

Still craving carbohydrates. So last night I treated myself to not only a pescetarian protein treat by searing a few sea scallops in a little butter, but I also devoured delicious and sweet glazed carrots and some adorable, sugary, little green peas. Oh my goodness was that a good meal! I added a little cream to the butter in the frying pan before pouring the drippings on top of the scallops. And then topped everything with ground-but-still-coarse sea salt. You can see the little crystals in the picture. Wow! I’m making this same exact meal again sometime. It was a good one to be sure.
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Good ol’ grits

As I said not too long ago, I’ve had a hard time thinking of what I want to eat. Let me re-phrase that: I’ve had a hard time thinking of what I want to spend time preparing to eat. When Brent was here it was great fun because we shared the task, but then he leaves and it is all up to ME to feed me! Ugh. I got spoiled while he was here.

Well, one night I was not very hungry, and I thought to myself, “if I could eat anything in the world I wanted, what would it be?” And it suddenly just popped in my mind: grits. Ah yes, grits. Good ol’ grits. And I had a jar of delicious polenta on my shelf!

One thing I found when I moved to Kansas is that the only grits I could find sold in the grocery stores were either instant or the “quick” varieties. I like the slower cooking kind. A larger grain. Then I remembered that polenta was pretty much the same thing. (and maybe the exact same thing?) Only polenta in a fancy restaurant costs a whole lot more than a bowl of grits in a mom and pop diner.

So I buy polenta at my favorite co-op grocery here in Manhattan and store it in a jar on my shelf. And that night I cooked it. And added a little…….OK…….a lot……..of butter. And then? Yes, processed white sugar. I always eat it like a hot breakfast cereal. My grandmother I have written about that lived in the mountains of North Carolina, used to make hot cereals pretty much every morning. I’m sure growing up super poor during the early 1900s, hot cereal would provide her family a healthy and inexpensive meal, and I learned to really like oatmeal, farina (cream of wheat), and grits at her table. All seasoned with butter and sugar. But not the instant.

So, here is the picture of my supper that night. Oh it was just perfect!

Ahhhh...... comfort food!

Ahhhh...... comfort food!

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Spaghetti. ‘nuf said.

Oh yes I must share info about another grand, but simple, meal my hubby and I shared while he was here in Kansas. One of my favorites! Spaghetti. With tomato sauce. Now, the sauce came from a jar this time, but those are handy to have on the shelf for quicker meals. When I’m pooped. When I want to do something else like read a book or watch a movie or write a paper or “attend” a webinar on the computer.

So I started with a jar of chunky mushroom spaghetti sauce. Added a little basil (not fresh this time), dried minced onion, and more garlic. Always more garlic. Cooked a pot of whole-wheat rigatoni noodles (bite size, designed to hold the sauce on each fork full, and good for me!), and also added a few tortellini noodles. These noodles were stuffed with mmmmmm………Parmesan cheese! Did someone say CHEESE? Kinda like an extra bit of candy surprise hidden in with all the other noodles.

And if all of that wasn’t good enough, I added mozzarella cheese on top, and broiled in the oven. Oh my goodness was that a tasty tasty meal!! If you notice on the pictures below, there appear to be little sprigs of fresh basil on the top. Well, yes. I added that at the end. Um, don’t tell my friend, Larry. I liberated them from the tip of his basil plant. There was plenty more! Really. Sshhhh,,,,
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Hubby flew out here for several days and what a marvelous time we had together! We traveled to several small towns in Kansas and drove out westward to see the Smoky Hill Wind Project. It was fantastic! We also visited the Calvary Museum and the Custer House at Ft. Riley. One of the real highlights of our visit, though, was the food.

Brent likes to cook as much as I do, and we joined forces and made a few marvelous meals. First night here we ate a chicken and rice casserole I had made over the previous weekend and frozen. Then all I had to do was bake it in the oven, add a side of green beans prepared with onions, mushrooms, and a little thyme. Oh! And butter, of course. The other vege dish was simply glazed carrots with a very little butter and turbinado sugar. A side of bread, a glass of wine, and I felt like I was sitting in a gourmet restaurant in some fancy city. Dessert was a large chocolate covered donut from the grocery store with purple “K-State” sprinkles on top (yes, I said tacky purple sprinkles of extra sugar. So bite me. It was oh so good!) , which we divided between the two of us, accompanied by de-caf coffee. It was really nice having a super tasty meal at the dining table over some good conversation. You know how I like that!

The next day we ate lunch at the Hungry Hunter Restaurant in Lincoln, Kansas, and Brent ordered the special of the day: All the fried chicken he could eat! Plus two sides and a slice of pie. And, since he has missed me a little, he let me eat most of the pie! He really didn’t eat much that day, but we enjoyed our one meal out. Uh, I ordered one piece of fried catfish and French fries (crunchy, hot, a little salt) and it was delicious! I highly recommend the Hungry Hunter Restaurant if you are ever out that way. Really nice people and delightful food.

We came back really tired from our Kansas adentures that evening, but we managed to prepare delicious vegetarian burritos with brown rice and black beans. Brent took fresh tomatoes and a hot pepper from the garden in the back yard and made scrumptious pico de gallo. I prepared quacamole to go with our chips, and there was also cheddar cheese and sour cream available. I was tired, the meal wonderful, and cleanup was minimal!

The next day I worked at the library and took left-over pico de gallo, cheddar cheese, and corn chips for lunch. It was good even a second time! That night we went to the grocery store, and then Brent prepared one of his famous grilled meals for two. Truly famous.

He grilled salmon, large slices of onions, and fresh green beans along with slices of bright red pepper! I took fresh spinach, lightly sautéed it in a little butter and lemon juice, then added a bit of cream. I placed the spinach on the plate, salmon on top, and drizzled on a little extra cream sauce. I prepared a baked potato with crunchy and coarse sea salt rubbed on the skin, and we split it between us. Too much food for us each to eat a whole ‘tater. Wow was it absolutely scrumptious! I even pulled out the matching flatware for the table! salmon, onions, green beansSDC10123

The next afternoon we took off to Ft. Riley to visit the Calvary Museum and the Custer House; we were there all afternoon and enjoyed the military history before us. When we returned home, again, Brent out did himself on the grill. The man is a genius I tell you!

We grilled two humongous steaks, but I didn’t want one for some reason. Well, not then, I did eat a little bit the next day. He prepared his absolutely delectable fresh asparagus, flavored with a little olive oil, salt and black pepper, and garlic. I was craving carbs (again!), so he also cooked thinly sliced onions and white potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil. And a little butter. sigh…….. I love butter.

I made each of us a little salad, and I also added on top of mine a piece of salmon from the night before. [In the pictures below Brent’s salad looks a lot better than mine. I was getting lazy and just chopped up one-half of a tomato I already had in the refrig, and I gave it to Brent; I didn’t get any, and now I’m jealous.] The salmon was definitely better the night before, but it was still very, very good. There was bread. And wine. And, um, peach cobbler I had purchased at the farmers’ market. And…..um…..ice cream. Let’s hear it for the sugar and fat high!!

Someone – please teach me to line up my flatware before taking a picture of the dinner table!
grill, asparagus, steak, potatoes
grilled steak dinner

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