travel

Do Not Disturb

I’m spending the week with my family on vacation.  We are on the coast of North Carolina, our condo is right on the beach, so each day is filled with sun, salty air, and sand in my toes.  The first day we spent here, I woke up early in the morning with the sun shining right into our window.  I rolled over and grabbed my phone, per my usual morning routine.  I checked my notifications, scrolled for a few mindless minutes on Instagram and Facebook, then checked my email.  I read the Skimm (my snarky news outlet,)  then daily dose of wellness and perspective which comes in the form of an email called the Present Tense Daily Brief (PDB,) written by my friends and trainers at Present Tense Fitness.  

This particular PDB was about taking the opportunity to get out of town as a means to disconnect from the norm.  This also means taking the time to unplug from your phone or your computer and (gasp!) enjoy to the people around you.  

This was exactly what I needed to read to start my vacation off on the right foot.  I could very well spend my entire vacation on my phone, rather than talk to my family.  I could have my tablet in front of me 4 hours a day, rather than stare at the ocean.  I could sit in front of the TV instead of taking salty walks down the beach with Tim.

CV - TT
Timmy and I are trying to get tans

 With the exception of staring at the computer screen to write this blog, I have made a very conscious decision to unplug from my normal daily distractions and enjoy my vacation.  This is hard earned time away, a time to connect with my parents, sleep in, wake up next to my gorgeous man and not have anywhere to go.

CV - Breakfast
Fresh NC shrimp in an omelette for breakfast at the beach.

 This is a time when I get to cook for pleasure, enjoying the fresh North Carolina seafood. A week off doesn’t come around very often, so I will not spend it on my phone.  I can save that behavior for when I get back to rainy Ohio.  So for now I’m signing off, putting on my ‘out of office’, and hanging up the proverbial ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.  I hope you too can find some time to enjoy the summer, unwind, and unplug.  Cheers and Ciao!

 

Food

Taking the Servant out of Customer Service

I don’t often go into too much detail about what I do, and more importantly what I stand for, but lately I’ve been sitting on some thoughts about what it means to be a woman in a customer service field.

I manage a grab-and-go lunchtime market.  For the most part, I run the ship myself.  Almost all of the food is prepared by me, I clean the counters, I sweep the floors, and I interact with the customers.  I have a steady stream of kind regulars who grab their sandwiches and salads and go about the rest of their day.  My interaction with customers is nearly always pleasant.  Because the market is in the downtown area, occasionally a homeless or “crazy” person will come in the shop and ask for money, or food, or sit down and make me uncomfortable, but as a whole, I’ve not experienced too much trouble at my little shop.

But as I said before, there have been a few times when my interaction with actual customers (not people wandering in off the street,) has been unpleasant.  I can think of two times in particular that I’ve had bad and downright aggressive experience with guests, and those two times the people giving me grief weren’t crazy, or impoverished, they were rich, white, 30 something dudes, who didn’t get exactly what they wanted, at exactly the time they wanted it.   I’m not about to go into a huge diatribe about dirty millennials, because, guess what?  I am one of them.  I’m also not attempting to attack all white men.  But I am going to talk a minute about what it means to be in customer service.

Being in customer service means that sometimes things go wrong and you have to apologize for that which you have no control.  Customer service means having to smile even when you’ve had a shitty day.  Customer service means validating a customer’s complaint, even if you think it’s trivial.  Customer service means having to do a lot of things that you may not want to do.  But there is one thing that I’ve learned customer service DOESN’T mean.  Being in customer service does not mean that I will allow myself to be mistreated.  Just because there is a counter or a bar separating me from my customer, doesn’t mean that a customer gets to be aggressive because I ran out of chicken salad (seriously, that happened.)  When you are the customer, you get to be right, but you don’t get to be mean and hostile.  

When the dude got pissed in my shop, it was scary.  He was volatile, I was alone,  he was unpredictable, and I had to remain in control of the situation.  Sure, it wasn’t ideal to run out of something, but guess what?  Shit happens: people eat, and some days we are inexplicably busier than others. I had to stand up for myself.  From a business standpoint, perhaps I was in the wrong, but from a personal standpoint, I cannot allow a man to scream in my face.  I wouldn’t allow anyone to talk to me that way.  

I could chalk his behavior up to hanger, because I certainly struggle with that myself, but it was more than that.  Somewhere in my serving career, I sensed a shift.  I am inclined to blame Yelp, letting every Joe Schmo who has ever been to Applebee’s insert their opinion about their dining experience, while knowing little to nothing about actually being a diner.  Somewhere it shifted and customers at a restaurant started actually treating their server like shit.  As I waitress I remember thinking that just because I am your server, doesn’t mean I’m your servant.  Just because I’m waiting on you doesn’t mean that you don’t have to say please and thank you, or even “hello” rather than “give me a water” when I approach your table.  

I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the business, and the lovely customers who walk through the door and keep my little market alive.  The people who walk through that door are lovely, and are supporting a small business.  They are the ones who allow me to cook and bake for a living, the things I love to do the most,  I am so grateful for their support.  I think it’s also worth mentioning that I don’t automatically assume all 30 year old white guys are going to be aggressive. That behavior is the exception, not the norm. 

But I, and many other service industry people I know still experience aggression and entitlement on a day to day.   What I would love to see less of is the entitlement some people exhibit for what they want without the understanding of what they’re getting, and how they are getting it.  What I would like to see more of is compassion rather than aggression, and actual appreciation for the people who wait on you — who serve you.  In my experience, service industry folks are some of the hardest workers around, and a smile from a guest goes a long way.  If you can’t find it in your heart to be nice to the people who serve you, then please, pack your lunch.  And if you NEED your chicken so badly that you feel like you might snap at an unsuspecting shop girl, then there is a McDonald’s right around the corner, I hear they’ve got plenty.

 

 

Baking · cocktails · Food · Uncategorized

Much Ado About Rhubarb

The start of summertime means that my Instagram feed is filled with cakes, pies, and fruity desserts.  There is one constant ingredient that I’ve noticed more and more of every year:  rhubarb.  You’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant or bakery out there without rhubarb popping up somewhere on their menu.  Maybe it’s gaining popularity, or maybe I’ve just begun to notice more, but either way, it’s hard to miss and I realized I knew close to nothing about it.

So what is rhubarb exactly?  It’s a stalking vegetable, think of celery with a bad sunburn.  Rhubarb grows large leaves that are actually poisonous, but the stalk which is edible, produces a beautiful tart flavor.  Even though rhubarb is indeed a vegetable, it is often treated like a fruit in baked recipes.  With just a little sugar added, rhubarb makes for a delicious dessert.

I’ve consumed many a rhubarb concoction, but I have never attempted to make anything with it myself, so I decided to give it a whirl.  I’m not into pie, but I’m a sucker for a good curd, so I whipped up some Rhubarb Bars which are not only delicious, but fun to say.

IMG_7244

I worked off of a recipe from blogger Broma Bakery.  Sarah, of Broma Bakery, has gorgeous pictures,  inspiring and delicious recipes.  You should definitely give her a follow.  In her recipe she teaches you how to cook the rhubarb down, make a delightful shortbread crust, and the ratios for a perfect curd.  The recipe called for some red food coloring, as the bright red color of the rhubarb fades slightly when cooking.  I opted not to add an additional coloring as I am an au naturale type of gal, but the flavor was top notch.  A great dish to bring to a party.  Recipe included here.

The recipe calls for 3 cups of chopped rhubarb, which cooks down to about 2 cups.  However the recipe for the curd only calls for 1 cup of the rhubarb puree.  What’s a gal to do with an extra cup of tart, delicious, colorful rhubarb puree…?  Make cocktails, of course!  I made two cocktails, one for Tim and one for me.  Just kidding, they were both for me.

IMG_7248

The first drink I made was a Bloody Rhubarb Old Fashioned. IMG_7246

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices blood orange
  • ¼ oz simple syrup
  • 2 dashes angostura bitters
  • ½ oz rhubarb puree
  • 2 oz rye whiskey

In your rocks glass, muddle together the blood orange slices, simple syrup, and bitters.  Then add the rhubarb puree, whiskey, give it a good stir.  Top the drink with ice and enjoy!

The drink is boozy, tart, and slightly sweet – some of my favorite things.  It also turns out to be a deep reddish hue.

The next drink I made is what I like to call a Millennial Spritzer.

Ingredients: IMG_7249

  • 1 oz rhubarb puree
  • ¼ oz simple syrup
  • 4 oz. rosé
  • 2 oz. Berry La Croix

Combine all ingredients in a wine glass, stir, add ice, enjoy.

 

Apparently us millennials are drinking all the rosé in the world, and practically overdosing on La Croix.  I chalk it up to the fact that we all have really really good taste.

So, no matter what form Rhubarb takes, it is bound to be delicious: tart, sweet, and satisfying.  Sometimes things like stalking vegetables, pink wine, and carbonated water are worth the hype, after all.  

 

 

Uncategorized

Baking to Perfection

When I was younger I was a ballet dancer with a pretty strict, but pretty damn good youth ballet company.  Our director was a bit of a tyrant, she’d scream and yell, she was hard on us, and she wanted us to be hard on ourselves too.  I remember falling in class once and she stopped the music and said “Are you mad at yourself?”  I said yes, and she said “You should be.  You should be furious with yourself.  You messed up, don’t do it again.”  This was no Montessori ballet training, we weren’t all winners, some of us sucked, and when we sucked, we were pissed.  I carried this trait with me to adulthood.  If I made a mistake on a test, if I couldn’t hold a pose in yoga, if I the burnt toast, I was MAD at myself.

I used to think this was a good attribute; it held me accountable for my behavior, it allowed me to hold my actions up to a certain standard.  I made dinner one night, I thought it was only decent, but my husband loved it.  I began to go through the laundry list of things I’d do differently: add more salt here, cook 30 seconds less, add this spice, remove this vegetable, on and on I went.  My husband finally said “Just enjoy the food, it’s delicious, and it’s ok that it isn’t perfect.”  It made me realize that I have set unrealistic expectations for myself.  Not everything has to be picked apart, analyzed, criticized; some things are allowed to be just okay.

This idea is still something I have to work towards.  Earlier this year I had a bit of a meltdown at the restaurant where I work.  I was making red velvet cake to serve on our pre fixe Valentine’s Day menu, the pressure was on for it to be perfect.  It came out of the oven, it cooled, it was iced, it was cut and served…it was dry.  Like, bone dry.  So what did I do?  Sat on the floor and cried.  I ruined everyone’s Valentine’s days.  Instead of ending their meal on a sweet and sexy note, they were going home to write on Yelp that their meal sucked, right?  What I should have done instead of having a meltdown was start over again and do it better the next time, but I got in my own way.  This is a habit of mine.

Recently I came across a show on Netflix called the Great British Baking Show (or GBBS as we’ve come to call it in our household.)  As you can put together from the name, it’s a bunch of british people baking.  But it’s so much more than that, the contestants are all home bakers, not professionals, competing for the title of ‘Star Baker.”  It’s a delightful show and safe to say that I’m obsessed (you should watch it, it’s awesome)  But the reason I mention it now is because there have been more than a few times contestants have had similar meltdowns where they cry, or throw their bakes in the “bin.”  But the bakers who come out on top keep their cool, their creations aren’t perfect, they have flaws, they are a little dry, or a little messy, or whatever, but they keep their heads on, they present their bakes with pride, and they know they will do better next time without beating themselves up every week.
In life, but particularly in my cooking and baking (which consumes a majority of my life,) I have to learn to take it in stride, to accept my mistakes and do better next time.  I will have to practice a bit of patience with myself, strive for perfection, but know that it’s okay to screw up once in a while.  I tell myself that now, but as I gear up to bake my next boozy baking concoction, there will most certainly be tears…but here’s to trying harder next time.  Cheers and ciao!

Food · Uncategorized

3 Tips for Menu Planning Your Party

Derby Day is just around the corner and I obviously don’t care about horse races, but I do care about booze and accessorizing, which means I am throwing a Derby party.  I’ve got a hat picked out and my bar is stocked with bourbon, so I’m halfway there to planning the perfect party.  The only thing I have left to do is plan a menu.  Menu planning is one of my favorite parts of throwing a party.  Keeping a few of my menu planning tips in mind, you are sure to plan a seamless soiree, where you might actually be able to (gasp!) enjoy yourself!  

nat and tess
My sis and me on Derby Day Last year…expect to see this hat on repeat!
  • Factor In The Clock

What type of party are you trying to throw?  If you’re planning on an evening event and want your friends to come over at 7:00, then you better plan for them to be hungry for dinner.  Not sure you want to serve them a full meal?  Plan an 8:30 start time instead.  My upcoming party starts at 2:00, so I’m past the lunch hour and can plan for smaller snacks rather than hearty, filling treats.  The fact of the matter is, if there is food laid out, people will eat.  However, you can control the time you spend prepping, and the amount of money that you spend on food by booking your party outside of regular meal time hours.  At the risk of sounding cheap, I often plan parties outside of typical hours.  If you’re buying some pre-cut cheese and sandwiches, then by all means, throw a noon-time party.  But if you’re like me, and you’re cooking and prepping every single item,  starting outside the lunchtime box means you can cut yourself some cooking slack.

  • Variety is the Spice of…well, your party

Make sure you make a broad range of snacks to suit all tastes and dietary restrictions.  My guest list consists of more than a few vegetarians, so I want to make sure I have snacks that are enjoyable and satisfying.  You can’t go wrong with a cheese board, but also, how many parties have you been to with a cheese board?  How about a smoked salmon board or a roasted veggie platter instead?  I like to switch it up once in awhile, keeping seasonality in mind.  Asparagus is popping up all over, so how about a chilled orzo pasta salad with grape tomatoes, asparagus and ricotta salata?  Your favorite fruit is in season?  Toast some baguette, spread mascarpone cheese across it, throw on those berries, a wisp of honey and a slice of prosciutto.  Get your assembly line going, it’s easy and different…and different is good for you.

  • End On a Sweet Note

No matter what time of the day you host your party, you should have something sweet to end the meal.  As Julia Child once said “A party without cake is just a meeting.”  I’m not suggesting you HAVE to make a cake (although, I’ve been working on mastering one, recipe to come later!)  but it’s nice to have something sweet for your guests.  If you’re not a baker, don’t stress about it.  You could honestly throw some peanut M&M’s in a bowl and call it a day.  Just make sure you keep that bowl filled!  In my opinion there are two ways to celebrate, with chocolate or with champagne, so don’t let your party go without either.  This is another great way to work with the seasons.  In winter think peppermint, in fall deep dark chocolatey flavors, but in spring and summer, I like to go with citrus.  I rarely come across a person in life who doesn’t like lemon bars, and my favorite recipe is from the New York Times made with olive oil and sea salt.  It has the delightful bite of lemon curd, and doesn’t cover it up with confectioners sugar.  Instead, the salt enhances and balances the tart lemon.  It’s a sophisticated twist on a classic, and the perfect last bite at a party.  lemon bars
Obviously, there is more that comes with planning a menu, but these are a few simple tips to get you started.  Then you get to make your shopping and prep lists (which the ODC part of my lives for!)  The more you plan, the easier each party gets and the more time you get to enjoy the company of your friends.  Cheers and Ciao!

Derby Day list
My list game is strong
Food

Easter Pies

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Easter.  I’m not religious, so it’s not like I’ve been succumbing to the pressures of Lent or anything.  I just love Easter.  Spring is springing up around me, the sun is shining, the temperature is ideal, and Easter Sunday is the perfect excuse to eat and drink some of my favorite things.  Easter is the day when I drink a bottle of champagne with no shame.  It is also the day that I consume my weight in carrot cake, deviled eggs and lamb.  Yes, we are a lamb family.  I recently read in the NY Times that the average American consumes less that one pound of lamb per year.  Well, I probably consume that in one day.  

The days leading up to Easter are some of my favorite as well, as my dad always takes the day off work on Friday to make his family recipe of Easter Pies.  If you haven’t eaten a Vella Family Easter Pie, you haven’t lived…ok just kidding, but I would rather not live than go one Easter Holiday without the goodness of our pies.  

Chuck EP

So here’s the thing, they aren’t really pie – they are sort of like calzones, except they have a dense buttery crust, not fluffy in the least.  We make two different pies, one is filled with spinach, sultanas (golden raisins), a little salt, a little olive oil and lots and lots of red pepper.  They are spicy and sweet and so, so good.  We also make a sausage pie with loads of spicy sausage, eggs, ricotta, grated parmesan, and all the chopped parsley in the world.  Each pie is baked until it’s nice and golden, sliced into thin strips and served cold.  They.Are.Perfection.  But what’s even better is baking them with my dad.  A memory I’ll hold on to forever, we brown sausage, laugh a lot, mix our hands into ooey gooey ricotta, and roll out dough for days, it seems.  

fangool
Our Italian “hello”

This is another recipe from my Vella Sbarra Family cookbook and my dad has been perfecting the recipe for years and years.  He has tweaked the recipe each year to increase the flavor, improve the dough, and bake them to the perfect temp.  So really, that one blog I posted a few weeks back about perfecting my family cookbook is old news — my dad has been doing it for ages.  Only now I’m old enough and care enough to help.  It’s just my favorite time of year, good food, good drinks and perfect family memories, all baked into a pie.

 

cocktails · drinks · Uncategorized

Boozy Baking – Dark & Stormy

The saying goes: April Showers Bring May Flowers…well, May is going to be blooming because it is definitely showering around here.  When the weather is like this, I think there is only one drink that feels appropriate:  A Dark and Stormy.

The Dark and Stormy is a simple cocktail made up of only three ingredients, but it packs a big punch!  The drink consists of lime juice, ginger beer, and dark rum.  You float each layer on top of the next, ending with the rum to create a stormy atmosphere in a glass.  The lime is tart, the ginger beer is spicy and the rum serves up sweet molasses notes for the perfect spring cocktail. dark and stormy

Dark and Stormy: 

In a highball glass (that’s the long skinny one) add the lime juice, add ice, then begin to layer ginger beer and finally, the rum.  Garnish with a lime twist or wedge.  Cheers!

In my constant quest to combine the two things I love the most: booze and baked goods, the Dark and Stormy seemed like the perfect marriage.  Ginger has a natural place in the dessert world, and rum has the right balance of sweetness to glaze a cake perfectly.  I went back to my favorite bundt cake for this month’s Boozy Baking installment.  I made a ginger and lime bundt cake with a rum glaze.  I candied lime on the top for a delicious and bright bit of decoration.  Here’s the recipe below!

Ingredients for cake:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 ½ cups sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for pan)
  • 2 tablespoons grated lime zest
  • ⅓ cup minced candied ginger (it’s really important that the ginger is minced very well, otherwise it will sink to the bottom of the cake)
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda DS Ingredients
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup greek yogurt (fat is your friend, in this case)

Ingredients for the glaze:

  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • ⅓ cup Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
  • ⅓ cup lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Cake Preparations:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease and flour bundt pan
  • In an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until white and fluffy
  • Whisk together flour, lime zest, ginger, salt and baking soda
  • To creamed butter mixture, add eggs one at a time, beat well after each addition
  • Alternately add flour mixture in 3, and greek yogurt in 2.  Beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.
  • Spoon mixture into prepared pan, create a level surface
  • Bake for 55-60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Wait at least 15 minutes before turning out cake onto cooling rack.  Once cake has cooled completely, pour over glaze.  

Glaze Preparations:

  • Melt butter in small sauce pan
  • Add rum, lime juice and sugar
  • Stirring constantly bring glaze to a simmer to thicken slightly

DS bundt

Candied lime is optional, and sort of a pain in the ass to do, but it definitely makes for a pretty topping.  Here’s instructions on how to do it, because nobody does it better than Martha.  Cheers and Ciao!