I’m Writing Less, Doing More (Food Porn)

23 03 2014

I haven’t been doing much creative writing lately (unless you count recipe development) because I’ve been cooking.

Cooking at home, making quick dishes that use what I have on hand.

Cooking at work for members of the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club for various cooking classes and events.

I even cooked for friends recently, laying out a buffet of finger foods for their daughter’s Baby Shower – it was how I spent my “day off.”

Yesterday’s “No-Tomato Italian” cooking class menu was particularly tasty.  Italians love tomatoes, but they don’t eat them at every meal or every day – there is a whole country of good eating that we Americans often overlook in favor of pasta and tomatoes when thinking of Italy.  I think the best meals are the ones where the focus is on quality ingredients prepared in a minimalist fashion, which is exactly what yesterday’s class was all about.  The menu was Melon & Prosciutto Salad with Blood Orange & Shallot Vinaigrette, Lemon Oregano Roast Chicken with Parmesan Polenta and Balsamic Grilled Onions, and a delicious Orange Olive Oil Cake with jarred Peaches.  One of the students recently went to Italy and said that my recipes transported her back to that trip.  Frankly, that’s the most flattering thing anyone could say about my food.

Of course, I failed to get any pictures.  As a marketing manager, I suck.  As a cook, instructor, merchandiser, writer, and General Manager I do a pretty good job.  Perhaps its all those other responsibilities that interfere with my being better at marketing and social media – I just have too much on my plate.  How can you worry about pictures when you are feeding, educating, and entertaining guests?  The person in front of me is always my focus, and I never seem to get back to all those potential guests and customers out there in cyberspace.  There’s just not enough time.

So perhaps this little picture book of a handful of the food I have created lately will encourage my local readers to stop into The Seasoned Gourmet to say hey, or to join the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club to take some classes with me and taste my food themselves or learn to make it.  If nothing else, it will serve to inform you all that I am not gone, just busy doing rather than writing.

If you’d like any of the recipes for the tasty food shown here, just ask and ye shall receive!

Happy eating!


What the Pho? A Reality Check for the Good Stuff

29 12 2013

Whether we are actively participating in it or merely watching from the sidelines, life does indeed march on.  There were at least fifteen years that I felt like life was marching on without me, that I was missing everything, that others were having wonderful experiences and that I was excluded.  I had thoughts that I was destined to misery because I didn’t deserve anything better, that somehow I just wasn’t worthy of the good stuff.  It seemed like everyone else had happy relationships, good jobs, lots of friends, fun hobbies at which they excelled; you name it, they had it and I didn’t and that’s because they were better than me.  I got what I got because I didn’t deserve the good stuff.  That kind of a funk goes by a lot of names – depression, grief, and addiction, just to name a few – but I have come to think of it as the darkness before the light.  That’s how it played out in my life.

A set of designer circumstances made just for me led me out of that period of my life.   I encountered other people who helped me understand that I was battling a phenomenon based on selfishness and fear; I wanted things to be the way I wanted them, and I was unwilling to accept any other outcome.  I didn’t know what would happen if things didn’t go my way, but I was convinced it wouldn’t be good.  This kept me on a proverbial merry-go-round of self-pity, anger, and frustration for a very long time.  I was so caught up in having things my way that I could not appreciate things as they actually were.  Reality didn’t stand a chance with me; I was totally focused on how things “should” be.  I missed a lot of opportunities wishing for things to be different, wanting circumstances to be as I envisioned them.

As it turns out, my mother was in a similar place for almost the exact same period.  I didn’t realize the parallels in our situations until she recently found her way out of her own funk.  I can’t help but wonder if our circumstances were related, and there is certainly some history that would indicate they were linked despite our relative estrangement during that time. For now I will live that question and not worry about the answer.  What matters is that we both found our way out.

I now possess faith in a power that influences the circumstances around me.  Without getting into it too deep, I think of it as a universal life force.  For many, a belief in a well-defined Deity and the practice of a religion provides this same structure upon which I have come to rely.  It’s all good; whatever gets you past thinking that you are the center of the universe is all that matters.  Being plugged in, connected, a part of something bigger than myself was and is the key to leaving that funk behind.  Awareness of others and their struggles is essential to me; I receive through giving.  Believing I have a purpose and can contribute to the lives of others in a myriad of ways is what saved me from myself-destructive path. I now serve as a mentor to others, and the gratitude and humility that comes with that process is its own reward; indeed, it is the key to my continued happiness and peace.

I barely remember what it was like to pine after all the stuff that supposedly marks success in our modern world.  The nice house, the fancy car, the private schools for the kids, the latest electronic gadgets, the wildest vacations to the most exotic places; this list could go on indefinitely.  I had most of it at some point, and I was miserable.  Insert your own desires into that list and then ask yourself these questions:

What if success is not really about any of that?

What if all your possessions fit into the back of a pick-up truck?

What if that fulfillment you are seeking doesn’t come when you get all the stuff and achieve all the goals?

What if all that really matters is this moment right now?

Who is with you right this moment and what are you doing?  Pay attention to the moment at hand.  Be with who you are with right now, not who you think you want to be with.  What is happening around you at this moment? Maybe all the fulfillment and blessings you seek are right here, right now.

I have come to think of every moment as THE moment to which I should pay attention, and when it’s done, I should pay attention to the next one.  Right now, I’m thinking about how satisfied I am with my life.  I don’t have much of anything on that success list from above anymore, but I feel more successful than ever before.  I feel valued, worthy, good enough, deserving of the peace and satisfaction I am experiencing in my life.  Everything is just fine the way it is, despite it not being how I imagined.

I know how to listen to people and really hear them, and often how to respond in a helpful way.  I know how to read and really comprehend, to learn.  I know how to be productive at work and stay focused on the immediate tasks, not concerning myself with tomorrow’s tasks.  My mother, who was waiting to die alone in her apartment for 15+ years, is now healthy and happy with new friends in a safe, cozy living environment.  My daughter just moved 1,000 miles closer to me this month, so the odds of seeing her and my grandson more often are greatly increased.  I love my job, even though the business I work for struggles and my pay is below average.  I learned the basics of pottery making recently, something I’ve wanted to do for 7 years or so.  My bills are paid.  I have a cozy apartment, and two small dogs that I adore. I have a reliable automobile.  I have a handful of friends and family with whom I have close relationships that I deeply value, and a variety of acquaintances with whom I have casual relationships for which I am grateful.  I am rich in spirit.  I am fulfilled. Reality does not suck.  I have the good stuff.

Lest you think its all sunshine and sprinkles over here, I still have health issues and other unpleasantness to deal with – who doesn’t?  That’s real living.  A few months ago I got sick and had increasingly more severe abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea over the course of several weeks.  I’ve had a CT Scan at the emergency room, though I have not had the opportunity to follow up with a GI doctor because my primary care doc thinks I just had a virus and won’t give me a referral.  I am a disabled veteran and patient at the Veteran’s Administration and do not have private health insurance, so I had to take matters into my own hands and find solutions for myself that didn’t require a so-called professional.

So I don’t have a diagnosis, though I do know a few things that it isn’t.  I have come to think of it as a sensitive gut.  OK, let’s say wildly sensitive. When desperation led me to eliminating nearly everything from my diet and trying to find something, anything that I could eat without agony, my current journey began.  I started introducing one new food item at a time (starting with potatoes), waiting a day for the outcome, and making a list of do’s and don’ts.  I was off the sofa and back to work within a couple days of starting this minimalist approach.  I am no longer able to eat dairy products, legumes, or grains of any kind.  Most veggies are fine, though I have to be careful with raw greens and cruciferous veggies as they cause very painful ‘inflation’ if I eat more than a small amount at once.  Packaged anything is probably not OK because dairy and wheat are used in most all packaged foods.  To say that I am now a meat and potatoes girl isn’t really a stretch.  Fruits, nuts, and most seafood seem to work for me also, though apples and shrimp have caused some mild problems recently.  It’s sort of a Paleolithic diet, but not strictly that either.  It’s whatever my gut says.  That’s how I make my dietary decisions now.

Now when I say ‘unable to eat’ these things, I don’t mean like a classic allergy – swelling throat, rash, imminent death.  I mean if I eat them, I will find myself writhing on the sofa in pain within 12-24 hours between my runs to the bathroom for, well, the runs.  Is it life threatening?  I guess not.  But when you can’t leave the house because you can’t take the toilet with you, and you can’t stand up straight because of the pain, it’s pretty hard to live normally.  The worst of it is the pain, which 800mgs of ibuprofen three times a day doesn’t even touch.  The ER doctor offered me narcotics, but really?  I need a solution, not a chemical Band Aid (which, I might add, has the unfortunate side effect of causing constipation.  What was he thinking? But let’s not go there.)

As I write this now, I am experiencing some minor pain and wondering what I ate yesterday that might be the culprit.  Such is my new life.  For a foodie like me, this whole scenario is a nightmare that has me saying ‘What the Pho?’  I am now making food for others that I cannot eat; teaching people to cook things that I can no longer enjoy; and soon to be once again judging the culinary creations of others at a local cooking competition during which I may not be able to taste more than a small bite of each dish lest I suffer the consequences.  I don’t know at this moment if this is my new ‘normal’, or if some looming gastrointestinal crisis will force me to go back to the doctor that thought I merely had ‘viral gastroenteritis’ three months ago and beg him to help me (when what I really want to do is tell him to go screw himself).  The whole thing is a bit unnerving, to be honest.  I mean, how does one go from eating anything without issue to looking at all food as a potential source of agony in just a few months? Can diet alone solve my problems, or is there something else going on that will eventually have to be identified and addressed?

I don’t have all the answers.  For the moment, I have found some working solutions down the clean eating, Paleo, real food road.  They may or may not turn out to be lasting.  Whether you have GI issues like me or not, this flavorful spin on a Vietnamese classic that I like to call “Faux Pho” is a real-food flavorful dish with a variety of textures (by the way, Pho is pronounced ‘fuh’).  It helps me not feel deprived as I think of the bread-and-cheese-laden diet of my past with fondness.  Use any ground meat you like, but the organic grass-fed bison was really delish.  That this dish happens to be gluten, grain, and dairy-free is just a bonus.

Until next time, keep it real, people.

Quick Faux PhoIMG_2423

For the Meatballs:

½ pound Ground Bison or Beef, preferably grass fed organic

2 teaspoons Grey Salt (minerals are good for you!)

1 teaspoon freshly cracked Black Pepper

1 clove Garlic, minced or pressed

1 teaspoon Smoked Spanish Paprika


2 tablespoons Olive Oil

3 cloves Garlic, minced or pressed (or a teaspoon of Garlic Powder)

½ teaspoon ground Ginger

½ teaspoon Ground Cardamom

Grey Salt & Pepper, to taste

2 cups Organic Beef Stock (preferably homemade)


Cellophane Noodles (Rice Vermicelli) , soaked in hot water per package directions then drained

¼ cup Fresh Scallions sliced fine

½ cup Mung Bean Sprouts

Assorted fresh veggies, julienned (bell peppers, hot peppers, greens, etc – whatever you have)

Mix the meatball ingredients all together in a small bowl and shape into meatballs, or cook crumbled like you would for sloppy joes – whichever you prefer (it’s hard to eat crumbled meat with chopsticks, I’m just sayin’).  Preheat a deep skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook the meatballs or crumbled meat until cooked through.

Add the garlic, ginger, and cardamom and cook for a minute or two until the garlic is fragrant.  Add the beef stock, stir well, and bring to a simmer.  Cook for 5 minutes to infuse flavor.

Place your prepared rice noodles in a bowl (or two bowls if you are sharing).  Add the scallions, sprouts, and other veggies to the bowl.  Pluck a few meatballs from the pan and add them to the bowl, then ladle in as much broth as you desire.

Using your weapon of choice (spoon or chopsticks), enjoy.  I like to drink the remaining broth right from the bowl.

Phun Phactiod:  Pho is usually enjoyed for breakfast in Vietnam!

The Debt Ceiling: The Case of the Empty Cash Box

16 10 2013

I thought about apologizing for writing about something other than food – again – as I have been in my last couple of posts.  But I decided against it.  That’s what a blog is; a place where anyone can write about what’s on their mind and put it out there for others to read.  So the choice is yours, my friends – read it or not.

I hear people say that they don’t vote because their vote doesn’t matter.  If I could string all those people together and take them to the poles, their votes would indeed matter.  I cannot effect National change with my ramblings on this blog, right?  After all, I’m just one little person in some obscure coastal town in North Carolina who spends her days surrounded by all things kitchen and food.  I mean, what could I possibly know about the complex inner-workings of our Government?  Why would I waste my time ranting about it here?

The answer is simple:  “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”- Edmund Burke 

I sleep better at night when I have done what I can to contribute to the resolution of problems rather than the exacerbation of them, even if no one pays any attention to me at all.  When I have done the right thing, I rest easy.  The outcome of current Government fiascos is not up to me, but my own actions do indeed matter – they are an expression of my true character.  I am doing an insane amount of research and writing this blog post that has nothing to do with food because I am disturbed by what is going on in our Government and have no other outlet for my frustrations.  I can’t make them stop, at least not until election day rolls around again.  But I can make it known that I am not in agreement with the actions of our Government, and unlike Congress, I can point to documented reasons for my beliefs.  I don’t ever want anyone to think I was complicit in the ridiculous actions (or lack thereof) of our elected officials.  I am guilty of voting for the wrong people, perhaps.  When faced with a field of undesirables, what is one to do?  I will do better next time – if the choices are better.

By writing this post, I hope to spur some people to do their own research and stop believing the babble heard on television.  For all of our Government’s failings, they have done an excellent job of being transparent if you have the patience to dig through the volumes of paper they have generated to find the truth.  Here, I have done some of the digging for you.

Debt Ceiling:  The End of Life as We Know It?

So what the heck is our Federal Government obligated to pay, not obligated to pay, and just what is all this talk of the so-called “Debt Ceiling” about?  How much do we owe, and to whom, and what happens if we don’t pay it?

If I listen to the mainstream media outlets, they want me to believe that the debt ceiling not being increased will bring the Government to a complete standstill, and that the Republicans are to blame for not agreeing to the plan laid out by the Democrats.  Seems simple enough, right?  We all enjoy the relief that comes with having affixed blame somewhere.  But let’s dial this back a bit and understand what’s really going on, shall we?

The truth is that the National Debt Limit is a moving target set by Congress and changed on a regular basis.  For a very long time now, my entire lifetime plus most of my mother’s, Congress has been increasing the debt limit continuously.  Look at the history yourself – don’t take my word for it.  Increasing the debt limit directly implies two key things:  first, that we don’t have enough money to operate our Government as it presently exists; and second, that despite being broke, Congress intends to spend more money that they don’t have.  Indirectly, this implies that the money must come from somewhere to pay these bills.  (It helps in this moment to remember that our Government does not generate any revenue of its own; it merely collects taxes from those persons and entities that earn it through legitimate enterprise and labor.)

If we, as individuals, behave as Congress has and does with regard to debt, we would be in bankruptcy court within 6 months, forced to sell everything we own to pay our debts.  Then we would live with a decade or more of people being unwilling to lend us money of any amount.  Congress has been on this spending spree for decades, unimpeded by any negative consequences.  Imagine if you can that the National Debt is presently $16,747,411,584,091.53 – that’s nearly 17 trillion dollars.  Much of that debt – over $10 trillion dollars – is privately held (according to the US Office of Debt Management in March 2013).  Another $6 trillion of that debt is owned by foreign interests, about $1.5 trillion is backed by investment in Government Bonds & Securities (anyone with a mutual fund, pension plan, etc.), and a big chunk is owned by Banks and Insurance Companies (the same entities we bailed out a couple years ago), our States, and the Federal Government itself (yep, our Government can borrow from itself despite being broke).  Of interest to me is the amount of debt owned by holders of U.S. Savings Bonds – about $180 billion dollars.  Good for you if you have cashed yours in and put the money under your mattress.  You are going to need it.  But I digress.

So is crashing into the current debt ceiling going to cripple Government and change our way of life? Failure of Congress to reach an agreement on raising the debt limit will not completely cripple the Federal Government.  It will, however, take choices away from the lawmakers.  Their predecessors have made certain sections of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)positive,” and some of those positive or “statutory” sections of the United States Code (USC) have mandatory funding attached to them.  Things like National Defense (32 USC), The President (3 USC), Federal Elections (11 USC), Judiciary (28 USC), Veterans Benefits (38 USC), Highways (23 USC) and Transportation (49 USC) must be funded, though some sections of those regulations are not statutory and can be altered.  Other titles or sections in the USC, such as Public Health/Housing & Urban Development (42 USC), Employee’s Benefits (20 USC, which includes Social Security), Internal Revenue (26 USC, which includes Social Security Disability), Banks & Banking, Food & Drugs (21 USC), and Education (34 USC) are not statutory parts of our law and will be among the first to have funding withdrawn.  (You may observe here the distinction between statutory and non-statutory, as this is also the line along which Congress fights; they can’t change the statutory things so they fight over the non-statutory items and base their political campaigns on these matters as well).

It could easily be concluded that all of the non-statutory laws and programs that have been passed by Congress over the decades have served to cripple our Government’s ability to fund the statutory programs.  Our Congresses have historically written checks for their pet projects (non-statutory feel-good programs like public housing, public education, and farm subsidies – ironically called “pork” by the media) that have caused the checks written to our core National programs (Defense, Transportation, Veterans benefits) to bounce.  More borrowing was done to keep the checks from bouncing and ‘round we go, every year.

Personally, I hope the Republicans keep stonewalling and refuse to raise the debt limit under the proposed terms.  It isn’t that I agree with their plans, either; rather, I just want our Government to become solvent.  Continuing to write checks we can’t cash is not the way to solvency.  I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I don’t have too much paycheck left to sacrifice for the common good before I too will need public assistance to feed myself and pay my bills.

Heavy reliance on Government to provide basic needs does not work.  It’s expensive, and it is not sustainable.  History shows us many examples of this worldwide, and it is still on display in places like Cuba where they are struggling with how to allow private enterprise without giving up Government control.  Their Government promised to provide everything for the people, all of whom worked for the Government.  Realizing the error of their ways (being broke with no plan), the Cuban Government is now faced with the reality that they cannot provide everything for their people.  Many European countries are at a similar crossroads where their social ideals have gotten too expensive to sustain.  We are right behind them on the same track, and it won’t work for us either.  Dependency breeds laziness and, eventually, contempt.  Human beings don’t value things if they don’t have to work for them, and they are not inclined to work for them if they will be provided for them.  Moreover, our founders broke with England to avoid the very situation in which we now find ourselves – being heavily taxed with no real voice among the decision makers.  Frankly, I don’t think the so-called decision makers are really making decisions based on their consciences anymore; I think they are doing what the people with the money are telling them to do.

So yes, if this stalemate continues, additional programs will be shut down and many of us will be directly impacted by it.  The Government literally has to choose which programs to shut down temporarily to pay for essential (statutory) programs and services.  Who will make the call about what is essential and what isn’t?  It is largely written into law already in the US Code, where some Titles are statutory and must be funded.  Veteran’s Disability Compensation (VDC) and the Military are among those that must be funded; civilian Defense worker’s salaries and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) payments are not.  If there is any money left after the statutory obligations are paid, it will probably be up to the White House to decide who gets it.  I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.

Credit Ratings and Congress:  Hostages of the Monster They Created

Our financial system in this country is very complex; but I find that most of the complexity exists to camouflage the realities of the system.  At its core, it is not really all that complex.  The dirty little secret is this:  when you use private monies to fund public projects, the public administrators of the funded programs are unavoidably beholden to the lenders.  There is no way to avoid personal agendas when you borrow money.  Even your auto loan is subject to the whims of the organization from which you borrowed; there is undoubtedly language in your contract that allows them to call the loan at any moment, leaving you forced to pay the balance or return the vehicle.  Just look for it, I guarantee it is there, perhaps in some obscure paragraphs that do not seem applicable to you – bank legal jargon.  Most legitimate lenders have a corporate policy of not calling loans unnecessarily, but they have the option if circumstances should make it prudent for them.  If they decided to do so, they would not be the least bit concerned about you.  So it is with loans to our Government from private investors and foreign interests; Government is beholden to those interests and their agendas.  Do what we want or we will call the loan – that is the message that our lawmakers are hearing from investors.

So if you are thinking that this little situation we are in over the Debt Ceiling is just our elected officials behaving badly and fighting amongst themselves, think again.  The ‘lenders’ are undoubtedly on the phone with our Senator’s aides telling them what needs to happen to avoid them calling the loans, and reminding them of the unofficial terms under which the loans were originally given.

The very banks and insurance companies that were bailed out by the Government in 2008 under TARP are among the Government’s creditors now.  These banks have heavily invested in bonds and treasury notes in exchange for the bail outs.  Just as it has become difficult for private citizens to obtain loans under the stringent standards these lenders now apply, so too is it difficult for the Government to obtain loans.  Banks know better than any of us how great a risk our Federal Government is as a borrower.  Our lawmakers created this banking monster, and now they are worried that the banks will not fund them if they lose their AAA credit rating.  Read this speech by Secretary of the Treasury Lew last month and you will see what I am talking about.  He says they have already used up the reserve “cash box” funds and don’t have any “extraordinary measures” left to employ as of October 16th.  Guess what day it is today?

The debt ceiling has officially been reached.  The cash box is empty.

Filling the Empty Cash Box

There are essentially five ways that our country’s empty cash box can be refilled.

  • Domestic Loans – from Private Individuals, Private Corporations, and through additional Bond initiatives (Smart, rich people who want control of our Government)
  • Foreign Loans – China is chief among the possible lenders, and is already a key supporter of our Federal Government (Smart, rich, Foreign individuals and Governments who want control of our Government)
  • Corporate Taxes – Raising taxes for corporations, giving the largest corporations ‘exemptions’ to facilitate them providing loans so that the status quo can be maintained, leaving small companies to carry the burden and eventually close their doors
  • Income Taxes – Raising income taxes for individuals (you and me), and levying new fines (such as the fines for not obtaining health insurance, which is just a tax with another name)
  • Program Cuts – Reducing or eliminating non-essential Government programs to free up money to be used on essential (statutory) programs

In order to take any of these measures but the last, the debt limit must be raised.  This is the real argument in Washington; some of our legislators actually want to consider entering default and beginning to move toward solvency; most do not.

Raising the Debt Limit:  Inevitable?

Raising the debt limit allows Government to continue to operate as it is rather than cut programs.  It’s pretty clear Congress doesn’t want to cut programs; trying to fund new programs associated within the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, aka Obama Care et al) is how we got to this point.  Existing programs were not fully funded when these additional measures were enacted; there never was a plan to pay for them other than to raid the cash box and hope for the best.

The non-essential programs that Government refuses to cut are the programs enacted to kiss the asses of the people who loaned them money before, and to chip away at our paychecks and personal liberties, thus exercising ever-increasing control over us.  Congress can’t cut those programs – those old loans might be called in by the previous investors, and where will that leave them?  In Barney.  Barney Rubble. Trouble!!!

There is no easy way out of this mess, certainly not if you are an elected official.  There is no way for Congress to avoid getting mud in their eye.  They are literally living with the consequences of their actions and the actions of those who went before them.  Problems of money, property, and prestige have come to bite them in the ass because they took loans from outsiders who expect favors in return.  That, my friends, is the bottom line.

Its spelled c-o-r-r-u-p-t-i-o-n.

The only real question facing our lawmakers right now is:  Whose ass will they kiss this time?

What would I do? I would do exactly what is supposed to be done:  fund the positive titles in the US Code (that’s why they are statutory – they are a priority) and start slashing all the non-essential people, places, and things.  I would start living within my means right now today (pay as you go, don’t buy what you can’t pay for immediately), and start working on a plan to keep it that way.  The alternative is a steady march toward bankruptcy, which will only serve to make us even more vulnerable to corruption and foreign interests down the road.

Suck it up Congress – do the right thing.  Your constituents might even have a little respect for you if you did.

Veterans Benefits & Social Security: Apples, Oranges, and Agendas

28 09 2013

For those of you who follow my blog to hear about area restaurants or get good recipes, this article will not be your cup of tea.  There is no food here, but there is plenty to chew on if you are concerned with the future of our country and issues like healthcare.  It’s a doozy, so my apologies in advance.  But if you have been in a social coma for 10 years like me, you will need the following lengthy road map to find your way back.  You have been warned.

Like a dog with a fresh bone, I’ve got this thing in my teeth now and I can’t let it go, because I can smell blood.  The blood I smell is that of myself and the dwindling number of military members and veterans, past and present, who are being offered up like lambs to the slaughter in the name of political agendas.  That blood is all over the hands of our elected officials, and I am outraged at the lies being told to get you to turn your heads away so you don’t see them washing it off.

If you want the truth, you often have to read between the lines.  I am an advocate of say what you mean and mean what you say.  But where our Government is concerned, that rarely ever happens.  So I am digging through enormous piles of propaganda to get at the truth about this issue of why I can’t seem to get seen by my VA doctor, why appointments are scheduled 3-5months out and then cancelled, and what this says about the future of everyone’s health care if a long-established system like the VA can’t function.  If you are interested in the truth, then come along with me on a walk through the landfill that is Washington politics and discover a small piece of the truth regarding health care, social security, and veterans benefits.  I hope it will motivate you to question everything you hear and seek the truth.

Some of my readers may be aware that I am a Veteran; I served 22 combined years on active duty and in the reserves of the United States Army.  Over the years, I was assigned at the smallest of organizations at the bottom of the proverbial food chain as well as places much closer to the top of the heap.  My service to this country was, at once, fulfilling and frustrating.  The view from my various posts always yielded a unique perspective that most civilians never see into the inner-workings of our government; even some of my fellow soldiers missed the larger picture because they were distracted by what was going on at their level.  Being in human resources, I often spotted trends before they were publicly acknowledged.  When new policies and procedures changed the way assignments, deployments, awards, and promotions were handled, I knew that something was afoot.  Even more telling were the statistical reports we were often asked to compile – they had a way of illuminating the never-spoken questions that arose in secure conference rooms.  Late in my career, my work kept my face in regulations and Federal law a good deal, so much so that I was dubbed “the Google Queen” at my last assignment.  It’s a title I still wear proudly today.  I love digging for the truth.  (Can you believe Google has been around that long?  Oh, sorry, I digress.)

So as I was licking yet another psychological wound inflicted by the Veterans Administration yesterday vis-à-vis a long-awaited medical appointment that was cancelled without my knowledge, I put on my “Google Queen” vest and started digging.  Things are getting worse, not better, for me with regard to accessing my VA benefits as a Disabled Veteran (Priority 1, for those on the inside who know what that means).  Yet, to listen to the news one would think that all is well and the VA has fixed all their problems and veterans are being well cared for at this time.  Not in my neck of the woods they aren’t.  So what’s the truth behind the smoke and mirrors?  To understand the answer, you need to know the history.  So here it is:

Disability Compensation (Apples) vs. Disability Insurance (Oranges)

lawIn my opinion, the Federal government has been digging around for ways to cut Veterans Benefits while telling us via the media that they want to ensure us the best possible care and compensation.  Why do I think this?  I am following the money, and reading between the lines of the government’s own documents.  It’s not hard, really:  just ask yourself why the House Ways and Means Committee, via the Congressional Research Service, requested an analytical comparison of the Disability Benefits Available Under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Veterans Disability Compensation (VDC) Programs, which was published on September 12, 2012.  While the report gives objective data regarding both programs and attempts to compare and contrast them, the nature of the comparison points to the unstated question that initiated the analysis.  To me, the report leads the reader to the conclusion that someone wanted to know if the VDC could be eliminated since veterans may also make claims under SSDI.

The report seems to assume that the programs offer the same benefits in its beginning, but later gets derailed when the analyst realizes that they are not the same at all.  Still, he tries to tell Congress what they want to hear by focusing on this key difference, as he sees it:  the VDC eligibility process does not examine an individual’s ability to work in making its determination, whereas SSDI is entirely based on an individual’s ability to work.  The analyst seems to be asking himself, shouldn’t they be the same?

If one merely skims this report, another key implication seems to be that veterans receiving VDC receive more money on average than those people drawing SSDI.  In table 1 of the report on page 12, the average monthly benefit of SSDI recipients is compared with the maximum monthly benefit available under VDC.  Is it just me, or is that a misleading comparison?  Can you hear the whining over at your house?  John Q. Public did not leave his family behind, get shot at, and lose his hearing due to repeated mortar attacks, but he wants to have the same benefits as those that did.  (In political circles, this approach is known as ‘spin.’)

If I can be so bold as to return to the original legislation that enacted these two wholly separate programs and understand the context in which they were created, I think the distinction between these programs becomes clear.

Apples:  Veterans Disability Compensation (VDC).  There is a portion of Federal law referred to as Title 38 of the United States Code (38 USC, for short) that governs Veteran’s Benefits.  It has been around for over 100 years.  The part of it that pertains to compensation for service-connected disabilities has remained essentially unchanged since the 1940’s when World War II veterans were returning; a few changes to acknowledge unforeseen illnesses from things such as Agent Orange have since been made.  This law was enacted to provide disability compensation for veterans that developed chronic illnesses or sustained injuries as a result of service to their country.  In other words, it was enacted to compensate veterans for their sacrifices made for all of us that would forever affect their quality of life.  It was not enacted to serve as compensation for an inability to work; many veterans who qualify for VDC still work full time and are productive members of society, though perhaps not in physically demanding occupations.  It was understood by our lawmakers at the time of its enactment that the difficult lifestyle and the horrors that veterans lived through were indeed a sacrifice, one that allowed the rest of you to go happily about your days in relative peace and safety.  The money for this program is a mandatory portion of the Federal budget that must be funded every year because that’s how the lawmakers wrote it down (no doubt to avoid the exact form of petty bickering taking place now – the proverbial ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ butting heads).  They believed the sacrifices of us few were totally deserving of compensation by you, the many.  But back then, most of them had served in the military.  Not so today.

How few are we?  During World War II, about 12% of the population served in the military.  As of 2013, less than 0.5% of Americans serve in the military.  The transition from conscript service (draft) to an all-volunteer force has been the largest contributor to this trend.  But that is even more reason to make sure veterans are cared for, since so few people are willing to step up to defend our country.  Without any safety net in the event of loss of life or limb, would you join the military?  And if no one does, who will defend us and our way of life?

The numbers of members of Congress with prior military service are very enlightening:  in 1975, 70% of our Federal legislators had served in the military; today it is about 20% (according to this article).   For a little more perspective, according to the US Census Bureau, there were about 216 million Americans in 1975; today, our population numbers over 316 million.  Why would our Congress try to take away our hard-earned benefits?  Well, most of them haven’t served in the military so they don’t understand what it really takes to defend this nation.

As long as we are talking numbers, how about this statistic:  There are presently about 23 million living veterans in our midst (according to the Department of Veterans Affairs), a number expected to steadily decline in the ensuing years.  Of those, only 3.21 million were recipients of VDC as of September 2011, or roughly 14%.  That’s a pretty low number considering the physical risks involved with military service.  I think it’s safe to say that 85% of veterans don’t receive any kind of compensation at all for their service, unless they continue to serve until they are retirement eligible.  (Many claims for VDC are stuck in a huge backlog at the VA, so the number may be slightly higher.  But that’s another article).

Oranges:  Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).  The portion of Federal law that pertains to disability compensation for injured and ill workers who can no longer work as a result of their ailments is contained in 26 USC, also known as the Internal Revenue Code.  Social Security does not have a separate chapter of law like veterans benefits do; it is tied to the IRS.  Why? Because SSDI was designed to compensate workers who become unable to work due to illness or injury – and those illnesses and injuries do not necessarily have to be caused by on-the-job conditions (unlike VDC, where service-connection is the prime determining factor).  If you have heretofore been a productive member of society, carrying your own weight, and are suddenly unable to work because you are legitimately sick or injured, then our government has agreed to provide insurance payments to you so that you might have your needs met.  How much you receive in insurance payments is also directly related to how much you have paid into the fund through work in your life prior to becoming injured or ill.  We all pay into this pot of money through our paychecks via that little line on your paystub labeled FICA (and yes, even military members pay in, and are eligible to make claims under SSDI if they become unable to work due to illness or injury).  This is the same pot of money that is used to make monthly Social Security payments to those over 65, the amount of which is also based on how much they paid in through work over the years (or that their spouse did, in the case of widows and widowers – they get to choose).

SSDI is insurance, not special compensation.  You pay into the insurance fund, then you get to make claims to withdraw from it when and if you need it and meet the criteria.  Like any other insurance policy, when the cost of honoring claims exceeds the premiums (revenue from worker’s paycheck contributions), the rates go up so that the claims can be paid (except that Congress doesn’t want to raise these taxes again for fear you will throw them out).  Social Security is also not a mandatory part of the Federal budget like the VDC, which is why lawmakers are perpetually fighting over it.  But mostly, they are fighting because they created a monster called Social Security that is not fiscally sustainable.  They want to keep it and are willing to cut any and everything else to do so.  Why?  Well votes, of course.  They like the lifelong benefits that having spent even 2 years in Congress entitles them to – a check that they wrote for themselves and we all pay.

Apples and Oranges, Sliced:  Let’s look inside these claims to see if they really are the same, shall we?  What would you guess the top two ‘disabilities’ are for which people are being paid under SSDI as of 2011?  Well, let me tell you:  1) Musculoskeletal System and Connective Tissue Disorders, and 2) Mood Disorders.  I bet you are thinking those are probably the top two claims for VDC as well, right?  I mean, we see many young soldiers missing limbs on the news, and have heard a lot of talk about PTSD and its profound effect on those who suffer with it.  Well, don’t jump to any conclusions based on what you hear on TV.  The top two reasons for VDC claims are 1) Tinnitus and 2) Hearing Loss (both hearing-related disorders).  So contrary to what you have been led to believe by our politicians and the major media outlets, most veterans are claiming compensation for medical problems that prevent them from functioning in society, like not being able to hear.  That’s because, once you adapt to prosthesis and undergo some therapy for PTSD, you can still be a functioning member of the workforce, and veterans are generally not whiners.  They work through it and do what they have to do.  It seems like the general public could learn something from that, based on their 8.58 million claims of aches and pains and mood disorders.  Oh, sorry, I’m being judgmental.  My apologies if I hurt anyone’s feelings.

The bottom line here is that the VDC and SSDI are not the same and are not overlapping programs.  If you are still not convinced, do some more reading on your own.  For me, my research has led me to asking why this non-issue was ever made an issue, and what the larger implications might be.

Agendas.  I can spot an agenda at 20 paces.  I don’t need to be in the midst of a situation to have a good feel for what is really going on.  I have good instincts; I can just observe and get a pretty firm grasp of what’s up.  Actions (including body language) speak louder than words.  But since departing the military a decade ago, I have allowed myself to stop paying attention to what is going on around me unless it is right in front of me.  I took a much needed sabbatical from giving a damn about politics and global issues.  It seems that my benign neglect has caught up with me and hit me where I live, so once again I am digging for answers.

Agendas in politics can be harder to spot than those of your co-workers, as elected officials are highly adept at using smoke and mirror tactics to lead your attention away from the truth (and they usually have the help of their fellows who nod their heads and lend credibility to their lies).  I’m all about hiding the truth to save lives and do good; lies are sometimes necessary to keep the global peace or just to be kind to your spouse (Q: “Honey, does my butt look big in this dress?” A: “Not at all!”).  But I have no tolerance whatsoever for false pretenses the likes of which I am seeing in current discussions over health care, social security, and other so-called ‘entitlements’ for our citizens.

As of September 2011, there were 8.58 million people collecting SSDI.  That number is climbing far faster than VDC claims.  SSDI will serve to prematurely break the entire Social Security system unless changes are made, like, yesterday.

Instead of finding ways to fix the Social Security problem, Congress is looking to steal money from other places, like the VDC, to allow Social Security to continue in its present form.  This is the hidden agenda that was revealed to me when reading the aforementioned Congressional Research Service report.  It’s not in the report, it’s the obvious thing that is missing from the report that they didn’t dare put in writing; it’s the answer to, “Why did they compare these two totally different programs as if they were the same?”  Read it for yourself; you’ll see it.

If Congress will consider stripping benefits away from deserved Veterans, who took bullets for them and you, to retain constituent approval and keep their jobs, don’t you believe them for a minute when they say they are doing it all to take care of you, the American people.  I’m calling bullshit on that right here and now.  They are merely trying to save themselves.  You, my friends, are on your own.  Just like me.

No money for established VA health care system?  Then there is certainly no money for ObamaCare.  We’ll talk more about that later, but for now you might want to look into it and do a little butt saving of your own.  I’m just sayin’.


Why blog when someone will do it for you?

3 04 2013

Hey there!  Long time no post.  Again.  It’s getting to be a pattern with me, yes?

Ah, well, why stress?  As it turns out, someone else blogged for me today, so no need to blather on here.  Go visit the Port City Foodies blog and read about my opinion.  I mean really, does anyone care what I think?  Don’t answer that.

I will be at the finale of Fire on the Dock tonight as a so-called “pro” judge.  That just means my vote counts for slightly more than the average diner, but not enough to tip the win or loss one direction or another.  So I am just one of 120 voters tonight, and I am looking forward to the tasty creations of the last two competitors standing in this regional battle, Gerry Fong and Clarke Merrell.  Their long day began about 3 hours ago; I wish them both the best!

I did such a good job of maintaining this blog (NOT) that my boss gave me another one to maintain (uh oh).  You can check it out over here where there actually is a recipe that I posted today.  One way or another I will get around to all of this…I swear.

JoshPettySeaBassCroquetteParting Shot, prepared by Chef Josh Petty of Sweet ‘n Savory from Battle Striped Bass at Competition Dining’s Fire on the Dock:

Striped Bass & Pancetta Croquet with Fennel Salad, Oyster Mushrooms, Chiffonade Collard Greens, Tricolor Pepper Sofrito & Lobster Dill Cream

My Opinion:  Creative and well-executed!

Porking Around Wilmington & Chicago…and Ponzu

8 03 2013

Hello My Dear Readers!

Sorry for yet another long pause in the white noise that is my so-called foodie blog.  You probably slept just fine without me.  But here I am, back to annoy you.  While I was away, I wasn’t merely chained to the stove at work like usual; they actually IMG_1677extended my leash and let me go to Chicago for a trade show.  When I returned from freezing my tail off up north, there was a bracing cold 30 mile per hour wind blowing here in coastal North Carolina that seemed to have followed me back from the Windy City.  My apologies to my neighbors.

It seems that March is shaping up to be all about pigs in my corner of the universe.  I’m thinking about bacon, belly, barbeque (which to those of us in this part of NC means pulled pork shoulder or butt with a vinegar sauce), chicharones, lardo, all manner of charcuterie – pretty much anything that comes from our cleft-hooved friends.  So let me share with you some of the porky highlights going on ‘round here.

‘Prince of Pork’ Packs his Pouch:  We got word that Chef Kyle Lee McKnight – most recently manning the stoves at manna in downtown Wilmington – is departing our fair city to run the kitchens of a new venture in Hickory, NC.  Kyle has been dubbed the “Prince of Pork” by locals because of his work with Bev Eggleston to create “outrageously fine swine” including delicious artisan charcuterie crafted by Kyle and made from Iberico hogs (the delicious breed made famous in Spain).  So what happened is that local star chef Keith Rhodes and local food blogger Kyle McKnightextraordinaire Liz Biro planned an event to bid Kyle farewell and this coming Sunday, March 10th, some of us will be enjoying a 10-course tasting menu in his honor featuring – you guessed it – pork!  (If you want to join us, click here to see if tickets are still available.)  We are starting with chicharones and ending with bacon and waffle ice cream – are you jealous yet?  Serious respect amongst industry folks in our town for Kyle…can’t wait to see where his future takes him.

Chocolate Wins (on anything):  On March 4th, the Fire on the Dock battle between Chef Brent Poteat of 22 North on Wrightsville Beach and Chef Pat Greene of Elijah’s downtown featured Heritage Farms Premium Pork.  Though the evening’s victory went to Brent, the diners seemed to really dig Pat’s Seasoned Collard Green Pork Soup with Candied Bacon.  I think the idea of featuring pork in a soup is genius;porksoup it’s certainly not on my Top 10 list of things to make with pork, but the scores were pretty high.  Way to go, Pat!  At the end of the evening, it seems that you get more points with chocolate crème fraiche cake than with pork roulade (didn’t anybody tell Pat that, while not required, dessert has won these battles for many a chef?)  It looked like a tasty battle and I am sorry I missed it.  Perhaps I will see Brent in the final four coming up at the end of the month.

Mangiale il Maiale (Eat the Pig):  I couldn’t help myself, I had to work pork into a cooking class.  So I came up with an ode to Florence, Italy and surrounding countryside for a cooking class I am conducting on March 26th.  I’m calling it Flavors of Florence and I’m serving an anitpasto of Calamari Salad with Basil, Mint, Grape Tomatoes, and Shallots; Spaghetti tossed with a spicy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce; tender Marinated Pork Chops with Red Wine Mushroom Sauce; and simple but stunning individual Puff Pastry Fruit Tarts with Chantilly Cream.

Happy as a Pig in…Wine?:  While in Chicago for a trade show scouting the latest, greatest kitchen tools for our store, I had the opportunity to dine at The Purple Pig, a happening little place on North Michigan Avenue in the heart of the Windy City.  I arrived early, which is to say that there was no line yet, though nearly every seat was full on this Sunday evening.  Since I was alone, they squeezed me into a bar stool at what they call “The Chef’s Counter,” behind which most of the cooking takes place in this pork-centric culinary haven.  Next to me, the Expediter on my side of the counter was in constant eye contact with the Chef de Cuisine who called out near-constant orders to the cooks on the line and tasted nearly everything before sending it out to the diners.  Here, Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. and crew craft some of their own charcuterie and transform all parts of the pig into delicious creations that are carefully prepared and beautifully presented.  It was a friendly place with more than reasonable prices for the quality; my tab for the evening came in under $50 for four courses.  The wine list is extensive and well chosen, hence the color purple in the name on the door.  I was so excited about the cheese and charcuterie course that I failed to snap a photo for you, and the same thing happened with the beets – sorry.  I did, however, sneak one of my neighbor’s marrow bones; I have a tiny twinge of regret for not ordering them myself.  But everything I had was fabulous:  Lingua Agrodolce with Quadrelo (both house made); Salt-Roasted Beets with Whipped Goat Cheese and Pistachio Vinaigrette; “JLT,” an open faced sandwich with Pork Jowl, Tomato, dressed Frisée, and a fried Duck Egg; and I stole off into the frigid night with Grandma D’s Chocolate Cake with Almond & Orange Marmaletta.  You must visit this approachable and delicious place when next in Chicago – you will not regret it!

IMG_1689 IMG_1688 IMG_1686 IMG_1685 IMG_1681 I am sure there are more porkified events going on, but that’s what I have to report for now.  So get in the spirit and start porking around – the possibilities are endless!  Here’s a little recipe to get you started.

P.S. The Ponzu keeps in the fridge for a month or so and makes boring Chinese take-out on those busy evenings a whole lot better!

Ponzu-Orange Marinated Pork Tenderloin

2 cups Ponzu Sauce (recipe follows; or use store-bought)

Juice and Zest of 1 large Orange

½ cup Canola or Vegetable Oil

1 Pork Tenderloin, trimmed, silver skin removed

Combine ponzu, oil, juice, and zest in a Ziploc bag.  Add the tenderloin to the marinade, squeeze the air out of the bag, close and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat your grill or grill pan over medium-high heat.  Sear the tenderloin for about 2 minutes per side.  Reduce heat to medium and grill an additional 5 minutes per side.

Remove from heat and tent with foil.  Rest for 5 minutes.  Slice into 1” thick rounds and serve.

Serves 4.


Ponzu Sauce

2/3 cup Lemon Juice, more to taste

1/3 cup Lime Juice, more to taste

¼ cup Rice Vinegar

1 cup Soy Sauce

¼ cup Mirin (or 1/4 cup sake and 1 tablespoon sugar)

1 3-inch piece Kelp (konbu)

½ cup (about ¼ ounce) dried Bonito Flakes

Pinch Ground Cayenne Pepper

In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Let sit for at least 2 hours or overnight. Strain. Just before using, you might add a small squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice.

Cover and refrigerate.

Makes about 2 ½ cups.


Be a “Docker” – The Fire is Lit!

11 02 2013

I love my job.  I didn’t always, but circumstances have led me full circle back to the place I once left because I was very unhappy – and it is completely different than it used to be.  I consider myself very lucky to be able to do something to pay my bills that also brings me fulfillment on a more personal level.  I am all too aware that not everyone has the opportunity to do what they love for a living; I feel blessed.  Other people seem to notice, too, as they comment about how both I and my place of employment seem to be thriving.  It’s a good fit.

I have been privileged to witness another good fit in the person of Jimmy Crippens and the cooking phenomenon that is Competition Dining NC.  Knowing well that it takes a team of people to make a success of any venture, I am sure that Jimmy jimmycrippenswould be quick to tell me that he is far from a one man show; it takes a small army of people to make this fantastic program work.  Yet, when I think about this competition and the dining events thereof that I have enjoyed, I think first of Jimmy.  He is the face of these competitions, the Master of Ceremonies, the champion of the cause who spearheaded the move to make it what it is today; he is the one visible constant over the years of building a local cooking competition into a statewide program.  He seems the perfect person to be the face and voice of this movement; it’s a good fit.  I have to assume he loves his job, too, because this stuff is hard work that invades your consciousness nearly 24 hours a day; he has to be passionate about it or he could not muster the stamina that it requires to make it a success.  By the way, Jimmy has had another job – another life entirely – that he has now decided to put in the rear view mirror to permit him to embrace this program full time.

The competition that Jimmy and countless others have no doubt made sacrifices to usher into its current state is officially known as the “Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series.”  It’s mission is to raise awareness regarding the origin of the food that we consume; to support local and regional growers, manufacturers, and artisans who create our food here in North Carolina; and to showcase the talents of the chefs and restaurateurs who use these products to create the tasty dishes we consume when we dine out.  Along the way, it has also grown to incorporate other matters of interest like kitchen fire safety and small production, affordable wines that pair well with fine foods.   For me, it has been a lesson in the seemingly endless array of fabulous products that are grown or created in North Carolina.  I had no idea we made so much stuff right here in our state!

Last year, I wrote about how the events work from a diner’s perspective.  What I have been thinking about lately is what it is like from the competing chef’s perspective.  While I have not been in the kitchens of this competition, I am acquainted with some who have.  The feedback that I have received makes it clear that this competition is about so much more than just cooking; it is a long, hot, grueling day in the kitchen that starts with the announcement of a secret ingredient mere hours before dinner service.  For a competing chef and her team, it is every bit as much about creativity, leadership, teamwork, comraderie, humility, focus, and determination as it is about cooking.  If anyone thinks that being a good cook alone makes you a shoe-in to win this competition, I can point you to a lot of chefs who will tell you otherwise.  It’s a competition of character and stamina as well as cooking; taking yourself too seriously will not lead to success.

Last year, the kitchens used for the local edition of this program that we know as “Fire on the Dock” were small; the competitors had no choice but to work with and around each other to get their food to the dining tables.  From what I am told, the competitors who worked well together communicated their needs for space and time to each other, budgeted time with certain equipment so that everyone could get their work accomplished, and even helped each other with plating.  The ones that did not play well together did not fare well and, more importantly, didn’t enjoy the experience.

There will be a winner and a loser from each battle – that is a fact.  Some of the margins of loss are by mere single-digit point CompDiningNC2013spreads.  The losers, it could be said, are not really losers; they just weren’t the statistical winners.  It is a very subjective voting process and 70% of the votes are made by “average Joes,” as Jimmy refers to them.  It is important for the chefs to remember the basics when devising their menus: We eat with our eyes first, so plating is important; but the taste and texture are ultimately the deciding factors for 70% of the dining room.  I think most of us understand that pretty plates with several components are more difficult to create.  But only the pro judges – 30% of the vote – are likely to know the skill involved in creating a particular dish.  The chefs are well advised to play to the masses and just not worry about the pro judges like me.

Yes, that’s right.  These kind folks have asked me to serve as a “Pro” judge at the final three events of Fire on the Dock this year.  Clearly, they are using the term “Pro” very loosely.  Yes, I know a good bit about food and cooking, and I teach cooking classes and manage a kitchen store.  But many of these competitors have extensive culinary education and experience that, by comparison, put me firmly into the “amateur” column.  Really, who am I to judge?  Maybe they just love me for my blog.  Well, no matter, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in these great events that celebrate all things food in North Carolina.  I hope the competitors remember to have some fun while they are cooking their hearts out for my dining pleasure.  Make some memories, chefs!

If you happen to be within a reasonable commute of the Wilmington area, I hope you will join us for one of these delicious home-grown dining events and be happily labeled a “Docker” by Jimmy, like me.  I promise good food, great entertainment, and perhaps some Bluewaternew friends while you enjoy the fantastic views of the intracoastal waterway from the top floor of Bluewater.  Make a mini vacation out of it while you are at it; the rooms rates are very reasonable this time of year and a walk on Wrightsville Beach in the relative peace of February or March is priceless.  Maybe you can even have dinner at one of the competitor’s restaurants during your stay.

The brackets have been announced and the cooking starts next week on February 18th; events are filling up fast, so visit the website to make your reservations today before it’s too late!

If you can’t make it to Fire on the Dock, be sure to attend one of the events when this delicious road show comes to your corner of North Carolina.  Find the full schedule at http://www.competitiondining.com; follow them on twitter at @compdiningnc and like them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/CompetitionDining

Fire it up, Wilmington!  See you at “the Dock!”

Wilmington for Foodies: Groceries, Gadgets, and Gurus

27 01 2013

Now, I may be a bit biased in my views, but what I am about to share with you here are some of the best places to shop in Wilmington for foodies like me, plus a couple of folks you should know about who can keep you in the foodie loop.  That I happen to manage one of the stores I recommend may seem like a conflict of interest; since I am not being paid for my opinion, I don’t have any ethical qualms about it.  Chalk it up to confirmation that I love my job!  The opinions herein are strictly those of the author, and you know what they say about opinions.  Don’t take my word for it – visit these stores and judge for yourself.


If you live here, I am sure you are aware that we have an abundance of grocery stores such as Food Lion, Lowes Foods, Harris Teeter, The Fresh Market, even Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s that both opened last year.  Personally, I need nothing from Trader Joe’s, though I do stop into Whole Foods once every month or so for some bulk goods that I don’t find elsewhere.  Also, their produce is reasonably priced and includes hard-to-find items.  Their cheese selection is possibly the best in town, though it is expensive.  I do most of my standard grocery shopping at Harris Teeter – canned goods, paper products, frozen items, etc.  But the best in local produce at this time of year when the Farmer’s Markets are not operating is at La Huerta, located at 830 S. Kerr Avenue.

LaHuerta1LaHuerta2 LaHuerta3Spanish for “The Garden,” this wonderful place is a haven for delicious, fresh produce.  Also to be found here are some great Mexican-style cheeses, dried chilis and spices, cookies, canned goods, dried beans, and cured meats.  Much of their product comes from North Carolina growers and purveyors, so in many cases you are buying a local product from a local retailer – the ultimate in shopping and eating local.  La Huerta doesn’t have everything – if you want watercress and endive, you are not likely to find them here.  It is, after all, a Hispanic market that caters to the Mexican and Latin-American population of the area.  But a visit here will not disappoint you, and will likely inspire a meal or two as you gaze at all the lovely ingredients.

Among the unexpected treats I found at La Huerta recently were a delicious Oaxacan rope-style cheese  that had the texture of part-skim mozzarella and some lovely side bacon from hogs raised right here in North Carolina.  The cheese was super delicious when I baked it up inside puff pastry pinwheels – it seemed to be more flavorful melted.  The bacon I baked on a sheet pan to render off much of the fat, then dipped the crispy slices in melted chocolate and served it with a red Bordeaux at a wine pairing class last week.  Mm mm mm.  I also found green tomatoes in the dead of winter y’all, and you know what I did with those.  You don’t?  Where you from, Shug?

SaigonMarket1 SaigonMarket2 SaigonMarket3

From La Huerta, you can head up Kerr Avenue toward Market Street and visit Saigon Market & Tatyana’s European Delights in Kerr Station Village.  Saigon Market, 4507 Franklin Ave., is practically a landmark in Wilmington; if you like to cook and you live here for any length of time, someone will send you there for something.  I confess to sending a good many people there when they are in search of obscure or  Asian ingredients.  I personally go there as much for the experience as anything else.  I love to look at all the products, read what I can of the labels that may or may not have an English translation on them, and decide what strange new product I am going to take home to sample.  I haven’t had the privilege of traveling to the Far East, so Saigon Market is as close as I have been to an Asian cultural experience.  Also, they often have delicacies like quail eggs that you can’t find elsewhere in town.  The other eggs, the ones without cartons or labels?  You should really ask about those.  I don’t want to spoil it for you.  I love pork Lumpia (Filipino-style egg rolls) but not the laborious process of making them, so I buy the frozen ones here.  If you need chopsticks, or rice bowls, or those functional little shovel-style soup spoons used in Asian restaurants, they have those too.  Fresh produce is limited to the most common ingredients used in Asian cooking, but it is top notch.  Mung bean sprouts, Napa cabbage, bok choy and much more is cleaned and bagged on the premises, refrigerated and ready for you to use.  Open seven days a week until 7pm, Saigon Market is a feast for your senses!

Walk around the corner from Saigon Market and enter a little corner of Eastern Europe right here in Wilmington.  Tatyana’s boasts an unimaginable assortment of items for such a small space – pickled veggies of all sorts, beverages, candies, cookies, sausages, just about anything you can think of from tatyanasthe old country.  Fresh foods and baked goods are also available. Monday through Saturday 10am to 7pm and Sunday 12-5pm, Tatyana’s is ready to serve you with delectable treats from Russia, Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, and beyond.  If you don’t live here, no worries!  Tatyana’s website has a virtual shopping cart – they will ship to your doorstep.

Using La Huerta as our starting point once again, you can head the other way on Kerr Avenue, between Wilshire and Wrightsville Avenues, where you will find Tienda Los Portales.  This supermercado has a bevy of Mexican foods and products.  If you need masa harina for your tamales, LosPortalesSupermercadoor just better prices on grocery items (like crema or tortillas) than you can find elsewhere, give this store a try.  Pick up some fresh-baked cookies and bread, or a piñata to fill with candy for the kids at your next party.  It’s a little bit of home for the Latin Americans in our community, and the rest of us “gringos” are welcome, too.

A few more essential links:

Fresh Bread and Amazing Desserts:  La Gemma Fine Italian Pastries

Hard-to-find cuts of meat, yummy fresh-prepared foods, and much more:  Pine Valley Market

Organics, Vegetarian, and Vegan Specialties:  Tidal Creek Co-Op


I have to tell you about the store I manage – The Seasoned Gourmet, located at 1930 Eastwood Road.  We don’t carry fresh foods like these other fine establishments; rather, we carry the tools and shelf-stable ingredients you need to cook at home.  We have a large assortment of kitchen tools and gadgets – I’m going to go out on a limb and say perhaps the largest selection in Wilmington.  Cookware, cutlery, bamboo boards and accessories, and bakeware abound in our modest space.  Oils, vinegars, seasonings, and flavorings anchor one section of our space.  We do a brisk gift basket business, and I know they are the best looking gifts in town because I have shopped around.  We hand-tie all of our gorgeous bows, and we build the gifts to your specifications.  Shipping and delivery are no problem.

TSG (598x800)Coffee & wine are a big part of our business, too.  We have a coffee club that is free to join and has been around since our inception in 1994; members enjoy a free pound for every 10 pounds purchased, any coffee combination, any length of time.  We offer fine coffees from Carolina Coffee Company which is roasted right here in Wilmington.  We also have a hand-selected array of boutique and small production wine, about 150 different labels on any given day, ranging from $6.99 to $289 per bottle.

The Seasoned Gourmet boasts an ever-growing assortment of local and regional products, from the iconic Goodness Gracie Heavenly Toffee Cookies to all-natural cookies for your dog from My Porch Dawg.  Mama Lou’s, Off the Hook, Outta the Park, Pluto’s, Bone Doctor’s, and Mother Shuckers are but a few of the sauces on our shelves.  8th Wonder Seasoning, Carolina Candy Company, Salem Baking Company, Polka Dot Bake Shop, Heide’s Homemade Buttermints, Old School Mill, Shirley’s Peanut Brittle & More, Cat Daddy’s, The Peanut Roaster, and Old Log Cabin (Berry Towne Crafts) are but a few of the other local products on our shelves. 

The Cape Fear Food & Wine Club, which meets at The Seasoned Gourmet, offers cooking classes and wine pairing classes to members and their guests.  In addition to store staff, the Club hosts some of the best chefs in Wilmington who offer recipes and instruction culminating in chef-prepared meals.  It’s a chance to get up close and personal with the folks behind the stovesIMG_1342 (478x640) at your favorite restaurants!  The Club is a one-of-a-kind offering in Wilmington, teaching classes in  a kitchen equipped with residential equipment, just like at home.  From hands-on techniques classes (knife skills, soufflés) to demonstration classes with themed dinner menus, the club has something for everyone who enjoys cooking.

We like to say that we are “Wilmington’s Complete Culinary Experience,” and we want every visit to our store to reflect that sentiment.  We have wine and food open for sampling nearly every day, so be sure to ask if you see something you want to taste.  The Seasoned Gourmet takes phone orders for gift baskets and many of our products can be ordered through our website, which is still under construction.

The prices are more than reasonable at all of these places.  I may be a store manager, but I live on a budget like everyone else these days, hence the crappy tree house apartment I complain about often on this blog.  These are the places I shop because they have the best product for the price, and I am all about quality.  I want the best value possible for my hard-earned money.  These stores offer just that.


For the up-to-the-minute scoop on what’s going on in the Wilmington Food Scene, two indispensable resources come to mind. Port City Foodies (@portcityfoodies), a blog hosted by the Star-News and driven largely by a hard-working guy named Paul Stephen (@pauljstephen), definitely has its finger on the pulse of all things food in Wilmington.  Another reliable resource is Liz Biro (@lizbiro, @lizbirofoodtours). This lady knows everyone who’s anyone in food in the Port City and can hook you up with a tour to see the best of the best in action.

That’s it for my insider tips to the best foodie finds in Wilmington for now.  Get out there and Eat Wilmington!

Cookin’ with Gas

27 01 2013

Whew!  What a week!  I have been at the stove a lot this week, which is a good thing if you’ve come here in search of new recipes.  Below, I offer a few.  But you know how I am – I like to take these opportunities to regale you with my unsolicited opinion on all sorts of things.  If you just want the recipes, you know what to do – scroll away!

Some ingredients for our Mexi-Cali Winter Feast

Some ingredients for our Mexi-Cali Winter Feast

I had three cooking events at the store this week, with three completely different menus.  Tuesday, we did a little Mexi-Cali Winter Feast, which featured a hearty, low-fat Winter Icebox Salad for a first course.  Yesterday, I took some inspiration from Spain and France to create a menu I called “The New South,” using common Southern ingredients in some new and interesting ways.  Finally, last night we served as the first stop of a Progressive Dinner hosted by Liz Biro, who is a freelance writer, tour guide, and all around woman-to-know on the culinary scene here in Wilmington.  If you visit Wilmington, check out her Culinary Adventures and grab a tour – it’s a great way to get familiar with the who’s who of the food world in the Port City while eating (and drinking) your way around town.

So while I was doing all of this cooking, I was thinking about the merits of cooking on a gas stove.  I am often asked about the performance of the two cooktops in our store – one gas, one magnetic induction – and how they compare with electric, which is what seems to be in most of the homes in Wilmington, especially the newer ones.  Those of you who are suffering through cooking with an electric stove know that there is really no comparison – it’s like apples and oranges.  I can say this only because I, too, suffered with an electric cooktop for most of my adult life.  Once you know your stove’s response time, you can cook anything you want on an electric stove, but it ain’t always easy.  The responsiveness of a gas stove is what most cooks with an electric stove long for the most.  You turn down the flame, and the heat diminishes pretty quickly.  You turn it up, it gets hot quickly.  With an electric stove, there is time to take a potty break while you await the temperature changes.  Preheating the pan for your morning eggs takes 5 minutes.  “I’m sorry I’m late, Boss; I was waiting on my stove.”  Really, who has that kind of time?

My crappy little tree house apartment has a gas stove.  It is half the size of the electric stove in my beloved and much-missed home that I sold last year, but it performs twice as well.  Aside from the abundance of windows, it may be the best feature of this dump.  The windows, as it turns out, are as much curse as they are blessing.  It is light, bright, and just a bit too airy in here.  Airy, as in breezy, as in much like not having windows at all.  I have had to shrink wrap my windows to keep the wind from blowing through, which reduced my electric bill from $129 to $29 per month (no kidding).  I wish I could say that this was the price you pay for living in a charming historic home like my friend Roberta’s house, but I cannot.  This place is a little rickety building behind another house; there is nothing charming or historic about it.  The lack of landscaping combined with a canopy of trees means that not much is growing around here but weeds; this means that the building (I can’t bring myself to call it a house) is sitting on the equivalent of a sand dune that is eroding like crazy.  I am certain that there are termites hard at work eating the guts of this place and fear that any day it may fall down; I am hoping that Buddy and I are not home when it happens.  Every time I step into the much-too-heavy-for-this-house-of-cards claw foot tub to take a shower, I hear the floor creak and wonder if I will land, naked, in the middle of my downstairs neighbor’s kitchen.  If the fall didn’t kill me, the embarrassment would.  The good news is that it’s just him and I back here, so no one else would hear us screaming – me from humiliation, him from sheer horror at the sight of me.  I could probably wrap myself in the shower curtain before anyone else showed up.  But I digress.

So we can all agree that gas is preferred over electric as a cooking medium.  But have you tried magnetic induction?  It has been popular in Europe for quite some time, or so I am told by the appliance gurus at Atlantic Appliance. It has only become all the rage in my corner of the universe in the last few years.  I really like cooking on induction.  If it is possible for you to imagine, I find it even more responsive than gas to temperature changes.  It also does everything faster, rather like convection ovens do when baking.  The concept is that the magnets react to the pan that is placed on the “burner” and, through some sort of technology that is beyond my understanding, heats only the pan where it is in contact with the reactive surface of the cooktop.  This means that aluminum does not work on this cooktop, though cast iron, stainless steel, copper, and any other cookware that attracts magnets works just fine.  My experience has been that pans that have reactive metal layers all the way up the sides of the pan work best; those with magnetically reactive disc bottoms and aluminum sides just don’t perform as well on this cooktop; the heat doesn’t transfer up the sides of the pan.  Copper, or pans with a copper layer in them, really do the best job on induction.  I don’t understand the science of it all, but that’s what I have seen through my own cooking experience.  You can’t flambé on induction without the aid of a match, but otherwise it is a highly functional and responsive cooking medium.  So as long as you have access to matches when making Cherries Jubilee, I think induction is a really great choice.  If you don’t have natural gas where you live, it is a lot more economical to put an induction stove in your kitchen then to install a propane tank for a gas stove.  There are more attributes of cooking with gas and induction that I could discuss here, but I’ve had enough, haven’t you?  Anymore of it would be white noise.  Stop in for a demo and I’ll chat you up about it then.

Back to the food.  Among the other dishes I made this week, there seemed to be a fruit tart theme going on.  I made two different fruit tarts:  a rustic tart with fresh pineapple and mangoes, and another using a tart pan and jarred peaches and pears.  In both cases, I glazed the tarts with apricot preserves.  Almost every recipe I have found for this sort of tart calls for apricot preserves as a glaze.  Why apricot, I wonder?  I have some peach preserves in the store – I’m sure that would be equally good.  I understand why you would maybe not want to use blackberry preserves on a pineapple-mango tart, but it would be great with any kind of berry tart.  The preserves serve as a simple glaze to keep the tart moist and to aid in browning to a golden color.  Armed with that knowledge, use any preserves you would like to glaze your tart.

I think I’ve said all I have to say at the moment.  It’s my day off and I am going to spend it being a slug, watching a week’s worth of shows from my DVR.  Right now, “Must Love Dogs” is on…almost makes me want to sign onto one of those dating websites and roll the dice.  Or maybe not.

Until next time, try out these recipes.  The icebox salad will hold up for a week in the fridge, making it a great salad to tote along to work for lunches along with a bowl of the White Bean & Ham Stew.  You might want to chop the cabbage a little finer than I did so you don’t need a knife to eat it.  I’m just sayin’.

I am glad to be back at the stoves cookin’ with gas…it’s been a while!

IMG_1581Crunchy Winter Icebox Salad

3 cups fat-free Plain Greek Yogurt

½ cup Skim Milk

1 small clove Garlic, minced or pressed

1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

½ cup Chives, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons Cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon Mint, chopped

4 tablespoons fresh Lime Juice

1 tablespoon Sea Salt

½ teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper

1 Hass avocado, thinly sliced

8 cups Green Cabbage, finely shredded (about a two-pound head)

8 Radishes, halved then thinly sliced

2 cups peeled Jicama, julienned

3 Scallions, thinly sliced

1 cup Celery, thinly sliced

4 ounces Cotija Cheese, crumbled

¼ cup Pepitas (pumpkin seeds, roasted and salted)

13” x 9” Glass or Ceramic Baking Dish

In a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt, milk, garlic, cayenne pepper, chives, cilantro, mint, and 3 tablespoons of lime juice.  Add the salt and pepper; set aside.

In a small bowl or dish, toss the avocado with the lime juice

In the baking dish, spread the cabbage in an even layer.  Top with layers of radishes, jicama, scallions, celery, and avocado, then sprinkle with the cheese.  Spread the dressing over the top evenly, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.  Just before serving, sprinkle with pepitas, if desired.

Serves 8-10

IMG_1598White Bean & Ham Stew

This gorgeous winter stew, called “Garbure” in southwestern France, is inspired by a recipe from the French master Chef Jacques Pépin, who says that it is traditional to add some red wine to the last few spoonfuls of broth and sip it right from the bowl.

4 meaty Ham Hocks, about 3.5 lbs

½ lb dried Cannellini Beans, picked over and rinsed

3 quarts Water

2 medium Red Skinned Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

1 large Leek, white and pale green parts only, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 large Celery Rib, cut into ½ inch pieces

1 large Parsnip, cut into ½ inch pieces

½ pound Savoy Cabbage, cut into 2 inch pieces

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Eight ¼ inch thick slices of Peasant Bread, lightly toasted

2 cups shredded Gruyere or Comte Cheese

In a large pot, combine the ham hocks, cannellini beans, and water and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour.  Add the potatoes, leek, celery, parsnip, cabbage, and ½ teaspoon of salt.  Cover the stew and simmer over low heat for 1 hour more, stirring occasionally.

Transfer the ham hocks to a plate.  Simmer the stew uncovered over moderate heat until thickened and the beasn and vegetables are very tender, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the skin and bones from the ham hocks and discard them.  Chop the meat into bite-size pieces and add to the stew.  Season the stew with pepper.

Preheat the broiler.  Ladle the stew into oven-proof crocks or ramekins and place the ramekins on a baking sheet.  Top eachIMG_1603 ramekin with the bread and spread the cheese on top.  Broil on the top rack, 4 inches from the heat, until the cheese is lightly browned, about 3 minutes.  Serve right away.

Serves 8.

Note:  If, like Chef Jacques, you would like to enjoy the last of the broth in your bowl with some red wine, try a few tablespoons of Beaujolais or pinot noir.

Easy Peachy Pear Tart

This is the perfect dessert for the winter – made from luscious jarred fruit, you can toss it together in 30 minutes whenever company calls.

1 sheet of Prepared Pie Dough

½ quart Pear Halves, sliced

½ quart Peach Halves, sliced

¼ cup Apricot Preserves, heated in the microwave, for brushing the tartIMG_1602

For the Streusel Topping:

½ cup Brown Sugar, packed, plus 2 tablespoons

½ cup salted Pecans or Walnuts, chopped

4 tablespoons Unsalted Butter, melted

Arrange the prepared pie dough in a tart pan or spring form pan with a removable bottom.  “Dock” or pierce the dough all over with the tines of a fork.  If desired, weight the pie crust down with pie weights or dried beans to prevent bubbles.  Place in preheated 400oF oven and bake until lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain and slice the fruit about ¼” thick.  Toss the streusel ingredients together in a bowl until well combined; set aside.

Arrange the sliced fruit decoratively in a single layer, overlapping, in the baked tart shell.  Brush the fruit and exposed crust with the apricot preserve.  Top with streusel topping and return to oven to bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

Remove from oven, cool, and unmold from pan.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Top with a dollop of fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Serves 8

Towing in 2013

7 01 2013

Hello Dear Readers,

I have been thinking about you and my long-neglected blog while I have been tending to all things retail.  The day job pays the bills, so that has been my priority for the last two months.  There have been no recipes and lovely food pictures because there has been no cooking going on up in here.  With the holiday season in the rearview mirror and the year-end inventory now complete, I have come up for air.  This means you will be hearing from me more often.  Lucky you!  I promise more fun foodie things in the near future.  For now, a little wrap up of 2012, in case you were wondering exactly what I was doing when I wasn’t cooking and blogging.

Gift baskets

Gift baskets

and more gift baskets!

and more gift baskets!

A mountain of gift boxes!

A mountain of gift boxes!

Let’s see, where did we leave off?  Oh yes, NaNoWriMo (that’s National Novel Writer’s Month for the uninitiated).  I did write a post or two since that began at the crest of November, but NaNo is a good place to start.  In a nutshell, I failed miserably.  I came out of the gate strong, and then my job interfered.  Truthfully, I don’t know what I was thinking.  I could possibly undertake that effort in February or March, or even August; but November?  I must have been delusional.  Hello?!  I work in retail.  Duh.  So there is no novel.  There is the start of a novel and a bit of an outline and some character development.  Maybe I’ll get back to it.  I did, however, learn an important lesson through my efforts:  I don’t have what it takes to be a novelist.  I would be lonely and miserable locked up in my apartment for the length of time it takes to get a novel on paper.  I love writing, and I think maybe I could crank out some short stories – one at a time – before I withered and died from lack of human interaction.  But I am a social being, gregarious by nature, and I can’t hole up and write a novel.  To an extrovert like me, it’s like being deprived of air.  Attempting NaNo was an enlightening experience, one that I will likely not repeat.  I admire those who write novels as a primary means of paying bills or a serious hobby.  I will continue to read your work, and you are safe from any competition from the likes of me.

In other holiday season news, there is the dispatch of cards and gifts.  I was a smart cookie this year (pun intended) and sent my gifts and cards off before the madness began at work, as opposed to the panicked 11th hour mailings of years past.  Cookies, ironically, were not amongst the gifts as they have IMG_1554been in nearly every year past.  I did make a few dozen cookies on Christmas Eve (at work!) and give them to the staff, but I otherwise simply bought gifts this year.  To avail myself of the convenience of purchasing gifts rather than making them is why I have a job, isn’t it?  That, and to buy myself a working vehicle – my Christmas gift to myself.  Well, you weren’t going to buy me a car, were you?  I didn’t think so.  Some things must be done by oneself for oneself.

If you know me, you know that I have not had a car payment in a decade.  Once smitten with shiny new wheels every two years, I have been converted to the firm belief that cars are merely transportation and should not cost you as much as a small house or your monthly rent.  So I have enjoyed a decade of no car payments and an assortment of cash cars (emphasis on assortment).   That joy ride is over; I now have a car payment.  In defense of my decision to break with my long-held belief system, I submit these justifications:

  1.  My old 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee (God rest her soul) was diagnosed with an electrical problem that was not prudent to attempt to fix; she likely would not have survived the surgery and it was cost prohibitive.  Her heart was quietly stopping in the middle of traffic several times per day and the CPR to get her going again was taking a toll on me.  I had to put her down.
  2. Being concerned about getting another cash car with, say, a transmission problem or a ratty engine in need of a rebuild got me thinking about moving into the 21st century in my vehicle selection; we are, after all, in the second decade of the new millennium now.  I think maybe it was time.
  3. I work my ass off for my paycheck and, due to other prudent decisions regarding finances like living in a very small, very crappy apartment, I can afford it.  Having reliable transportation is important to my job, so it is a necessity.  Plus, it is nice enough to sleep in should I lose my job.
  4. It isn’t new – it’s a 2004 – so I am still supporting the environment by recycling a used car.  Yes, it has a V8 and drinks gas like I drink tea, but the power is awesome.  I can totally leave you in the dust, should the need arise.  So environmentally, it’s a wash.  No harm done.
  5. The payment is indeed a couple hundred less than my crappy apartment, and the change to my insurance was exactly $1 every 6 months.  It was a good financial decision.
  6. It’s a Toyota, so there’s a very good chance it will still be on the road long after it is paid off.
  7. I can now safely leave town to visit friends without renting a vehicle.  Plus, the radio and the cruise control actually work, making for a rather pleasant trip.
  8. If I meet a nice guy who has a nice boat and we start dating, I can totally tow it anywhere we want to go – the tow package is standard.

IMG_1509If, from this long list of justifications, you get the idea that there was a lot of guilt associated with the purchase of this vehicle, you would be correct.  I am just coming into the phase of my life where it is officially OK for me to do nice things for myself just because.  Heretofore it has been about kids and significant others and God & Country (the Army).  Now it’s all about me, and I’m not comfortable with being nice to me.  But I think I could get used to it.

Another thing that happened while I was tying bows and writing gift certificates and shipping gift baskets and frantically reordering things when they were suddenly out of stock:  I realized that I really like my job.  I don’t like the paperwork, and I don’t like year-end inventory, and I don’t like not having a day off in two or more weeks.  But that stuff only happens for a short time each year.  The rest of the year, I get to move at a much more reasonable pace.  I get to conduct my beloved cooking classes (getting paid for cooking and talking is awesome when you don’t have to do it every day); I am surrounded by all things kitchen every day when I go to work; I get to merchandise the store which makes up for having NewCarabsolutely no redecorating options in my 500 square foot tree house; I get to attend one or two trade shows a year where I am able to ogle all the new pretty things, test out the gadgets, and sample some amazing (and some not so amazing) food products and decide which of these things I will bring to my customers; my hours are flexible; I have gotomypc so I can do some work from the comfort of my living room in my PJs; and I have some of the best customers and staff members ever. It’s a good job.  I am blessed.

Today is my day off.  Like is does for most of you, that meant errands and laundry.  The dog requested that I get him some more kibble so he doesn’t have to have eggs and toast for breakfast tomorrow (actually, I don’t think he minds).  So the pet store was on my list too.  With all of that accomplished, I am now off to the grocery store for some human viddles.  Maybe I’ll actually cook something.  Gotta get back in the saddle sometime.

New recipes and food porn is forthcoming as I gear up for cooking classes that begin again in about 2 weeks.  I promise.  Until then…Ciao, my friends!


My Navigator, Buddy - Who needs GPS?

My Navigator, Buddy – Who needs GPS?


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