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Monday, December 29, 2008

Meeting Goals

I met a 2008 Year end goal this past week by reaching 1,000 miles ridden on my Fuji Road Bike. I hit the 1,000 mark on Christmas Day, allowing myself a holiday gift of biking on what was a gloriously sunny and somewhat warm day (all of 40 plus degrees! But no wind!) Technically, I have ridden more than 1,000 miles on the new bike, but I did not have the odometer on the bike since day one, to give me the actual feedback. I'm sure between riding the cruiser about 20 miles a week on average and roughly 100 miles not calcuated I may have pumped over 1,300 miles since June! Yowsa! Not as many miles as Rabbi Stone's monthly and yearly biking, but nevertheless I am pleased. In addition, I am happy to report that I have also lost over 66 pounds! Whether or not I've kept my latest pound lost off is another story. My holiday meals and cocktails have been indulgent to say the least. Slowly I creep, inch by inch, towards meeting my weight loss goal of 75 pounds. Maybe by March? I'll keep riding and working out to help me meet this next goal.

Found a Christmas Goose on my bike ride along Kelly Drive. A whole flock of these giant birds were grubbing and pecking the ground along the river near St. Joseph's Boat House halfway up the drive. Someone had decorated this bench with Christmas swag. The scene was too perfect the only thing missing was the figgy pudding and Tiny Tim.


Ah! The aftermath of Christmas day. There's Santa, kicked to the curb with the trash. In England, December 26 is called Boxing Day; in the US, it's the day we throw away all of the stuff we no longer need or want, packages, boxes and broken toys. As this was a minimal Christmas for Liz and I this year, we had little if any trash to put outside. These neighbors apparently thought that Santa has overstayed his welcome. Stuffed, no longer with working parts, this poor Santa is just another reminder of the end of 2008. Time to clear out what's no longer working and a new man in to take care of the job at hand. Amen!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

12 Reasons why Retail Shop Folks hate the Holiday Season

Thought I would share a note from my Facebook page, a rant about why the holidays take their toll on you when you work retail. I wrote it after a long weekend at the kitchen mecca, and a long couple of weeks of non-stop work at all of my jobs. I wanted to set the rant to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas, but the task seemed too daunting and ridiculous. Most of what I've written happened exactly as I wrote, this past weekend in fact. In general, I do love the holiday season, and I do enjoy working at the haven for all things culinary related. However some folks can just get on my last gay nerve. Read on, enjoy and take what I say with a large grain of salt. I'm prone to hyperbole and exaggeration!

1. Gift wrapping, even under the best of conditions, takes at least 10 minutes. I might like magic spells, I dream of Jeannie, and Bewitched, but I'm not able to twitch my nose, flick a wand or blink my eyes to get your present wrapped in 10 seconds.
2. When you buy an item that has been discounted 75% already, you don't deserve to harangue the staff people and take up additional time in order to make you feel like you made a good gift choice.
3. Taking pictures of an item with your iPhone, so you can shop online for a better price later is just plain tacky.
4. Coming into the store for as much free candy or samples of our food items as a meal replacement is wrong. Not to mention how fattening and bad for you all that junk is. Do you know how many fat calories are in a tablespoon of olive oil? A lot. Just because it's olive oil, doesn't make it any healthier for you when you ingest a quarter of a cup with a half pound of bread at the olive oil tasting bar.
5. When we ask if we can help you, we genuinely mean we would like to be of assistance. We are not trying to make you buy anything. It's our store policy to be polite and offer the best customer service possible. Jeesh, try getting someone at Best Buy to help you. Go ahead, try. You'll be waiting forever to find a sales person with half a brain and any sense of politeness in them.
6. For the sanctimonious types, I know where some of you ought to have been today. So why are you shopping on the Sabbath? Don't pull your religiosity on me when you see me in other venues. I'm not buying it.
7. When the special offer of 20% or any other decent discount or coupon incentive is offered, it doesn't apply to items you purchased days before the offer began. Store policy clearly states this on the offer. No, you should not or cannot bring back your purchase for a full refund return and then repurchase it in order to get that 20% or the $10 for every $50 you spent.
8. Asking for each item to be individually wrapped for the 8 days of Hanukkah is annoying and takes up a lot of time, energy and resources. WRAP your own frickin' gifts. And no, we can't give you extra paper, boxes, ribbons and the do-dads to make your other personal packages as pretty as the ones we've already wrapped for you.
9. Internet and Catalog orders are entirely different sometimes than the items offered in the store. If we don't carry the item, ever, then yes, shipping charges may apply. Sorry. Take the news graciously. I did not make the policy.
10. Returning the dishes and platters you purchased a few days ago, when it's clear you used them for your holiday party is gross. We can tell when the dishes have been used. Have the decency to run them through a dishwasher with some soap for criminy sakes. Scrap that soup gunk off the bowls. That platter, it was still greasy from your roast beast.
11. Rounding up your purchase 11 cents to give to a charity foundation benefits the organization and doesn't hurt you at all. Have a heart and give a buck. I truly cannot believe someone wouldn't round up their purchase to the next whole dollar to give to Saint Jude's Children's Hospital. Less than 50 cents. Like you would miss that change. What did you drop at Starbucks today on that fat latte?
12. Remember, you chose to go out to shop today, 3 to 1 day before the big holiday. So did everyone else. The lines will be long and the staff is over worked. Have a sense of kindness and some patience. We'll all get along a lot better.

Bonus - Returning an item, years after the item was carried by the store, and getting angry that the value of the item has dwindled to 99 cents is ridiculous. So is asking the staff to re-wrap the item so you can re-gift it. Threatening to call the district manager makes you look like an even bigger cheap ass bastard.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Treats: Sweet and Spicy Nuts


The guys from City Food Tours hosted their 4th Annual Non-Holiday Party this past Saturday night. Their theme was New Orleans. I was recruited to help make a few dishes for the party - my tasks were to make Cheddar Jalapeno Corn Bread; Vegetarian Hoppin' John; and I offered to make Sweet and Spicy Pecans. The party was a success and all of our food, both theirs and mine got rave reviews. Apparently there was nothing left! I will eventually get around to posting all of the recipes, today I wanted to write up the recipe for the pecans. These are a holiday treat that you can easily make instead of baking cookies. They are something I like to make during the holidays, or whenever I am called upon to to cater Southern or New Orleans style party. I used pecans for the batch I made for the party, but I usually use a combination of pecans, cashews and almonds. Peanuts or walnuts would work well too, but the original trio is really best. Use the freshest spices you can purchase, and only buy nuts that are raw, unroasted and not salted. In Philadelphia, one of the best resources for nuts is Nuts to You, either at 20th and Chestnut or the store at 13th & Walnut. To purchases great spices, visit the The Spice Corner in the Italian Market; Spice Terminal at the Reading Terminal Market; or go online or visit Penzeys in Chestnut Hill.

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 Cups Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Paprika (hot or smoked will be even better)
  • ½ teaspoon Cayenne
  • 1 Tablespoon Cumin
  • 2 Tablespoons Cinnamon
  • 2 Cups Raw and Unsalted Pecans
  • 2 Cups Raw and Unsalted Cashews
  • 2 Cups Almonds – Whole, Unblanched, Raw and Unsalted
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix nuts in a colander and rinse under cold running water until thoroughly wet. Shake off excess water.
  3. Put nuts in a mixing bowl. Add 1 cup of the spice mixture and stir to completely coat all the nuts.
  4. Use a sheet pan, lined with either parchment or a Silpat. Evenly spread the nut/spice mixture on the sheet pan.
  5. Sprinkle another ¼ cup of the sugar mix over the nuts. If more is needed, sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture over the nuts; otherwise, the extra sugar can be kept indefinitely in an airtight container. The potency of the seasonings will diminish over time though.
  6. Bake in oven for up to 25 minutes. Check the nuts after 15 minutes and stir the nuts carefully; keep the nuts in an even layer. Check every 5 minutes, allowing the nuts to get crisp and the sugar mixture to caramelize and melt but not burn.
  7. Remove nuts from oven when nuts & sugar mixture looks dark brown and shiny.
  8. Cool the nuts on the sheet pan. When they are cool enough to handle, break the nuts up and put them into a plastic or other airtight container.
  9. The nuts will last in cool dry weather for about 2 weeks.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Merrily I (try to) roll along

My postings have been slow to come these days, as the ideas have been dry and my time has been taken up with dramas, work and social activities lately. The drama is not really that dramatic, just some unusual things happening with a few friends. One friend was hospitalized with a case of nerve damage in her hand and arm - it happened while she was enroute on a plane from LA to Philly. Liz and I had to go to the airport to retrieve her luggage while she was whisked off the plane and taken to the hospital. I spent a few hours in the ER with the friend, and then took a taxi to her house to get her settled. Said friend is mostly and hopefully fine, but it was a late night out with lots of text messages and errands for a few days. Another friend is staying with us for a while; Liz and I are playing mother hen's to our wayward "baby" chick, helping her to find her wings and her own nest in which to roost. We've been going out and about, hanging out with friends, hitting a few holiday parties and soirées, and enjoying a few cocktails. Then there's the extra shifts I've been working at Williams-Sonoma and a few catering, cooking and mitzvah things I'm doing here there and everywhere. Cooking for City Food Tours Holiday Party and making a meal for Winter shelter at 22nd and Spruce Street. As for ideas for the blog, I am low in the reserves of inspiration or recipes to share. Yikes.

Of course, there are a few topics I want to explore, one of which is about biking. As it is now winter, in all of its cold and dreariness, I find I am not biking much at all, other than my daily commute to work. Between the cold, wind, early darkness and my lack of free time, I don't have the inclination to bike much these days. I rode the clunky beach cruiser on Saturday around town, to do errands and then took an impromptu ride around the River Drives with Susan Hill. Not my first choice of biking "vehicles", but it's what I had to ride and we had the time and energy. I'm sure I looked a sight moseying up Kelly Drive, huffing and puffing my way on a one speed clunker. I felt like it was my first time biking, sort of like how I felt riding a year or so ago, not sure if I had the stamina to make it up one side of the river. It was more to do with the heaviness of the bike and not my ass this time and the cold wind blowing into my face more than my lung capacity. It was a good ride and made me realize that while biking more than 10 miles on the cruiser isn't ideal, I can do it. I also found that without a strong wind, riding in the winter isn't so bad. What I also discovered, which is more interesting to me, is that when I bike with someone else, especially my close riding partners, like Susan Hill and Sue S., I feel a profound connection with them. I wonder if other cyclists feel this? The right and left brain engagement, the moving forward and sharing a communal act of biking. Taking in the scenery and witnessing the changing seasons, morning sun rises and the light at dusk. You are free to allow your brain to either free associate and feel the stresses and tensions fall away, opening yourself up to being uninhibited and unencumbered by social constraints. The thoughts and conversation flow effortlessly. My riding partners and I have had some of our best conversations while biking. The same is true about people I've only just met while riding, like Jim, Itza, and Susan Brooks, folks with whom I met while on a long bike trek.

The physical motion of propelling yourself forward allows my mind just goes into some happy groove, an exercise induced euphoria that makes me feel free and light. When I bike with my friends the connection we share makes me feel a part of something greater.



I've also noticed this happy groove when I cook. There's something about the repetitive motions of cutting and chopping, of finding the culinary rhythm of prep work. I'd forgotten about this feeling and then, last night, I rediscovered it during my Mitzvah Cooking project for Winter Shelter. We prepared over 10 quarts of hearty Lentil Vegetable and Kale Soup and 5 half hotel pans of baked ziti with vegetables and mozzarella cheese. For the first hour or so, I was alone in the BZBI kitchen, working in silence and organizing myself. There was a moment when I thought I would be completely alone cooking this massive amount of food, but instead of getting panicked and overwhelmed, I felt at ease. Cooking on a mass scale is easy for me having worked at Whole Foods and other large catering venues. Anyway, I felt in charge and content. The calm paid off; two volunteer assistants came about an hour later and we worked as a small team cranking out the food in record time - 2 hours!


There are studies, books and theories abound regarding feelings of happiness and contentedness that develop in us when we volunteer or do altruistic deeds. Nice to know that biking, cooking, exercising and volunteering have been a part of my over-all wellbeing.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Beckoning of Lovely

Several years ago, Liz gave me a book for my 38th birthday, called, An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. It is a magnificent book of happiness and kindness, a book chronicling the life of the author, in encyclopedia format. I found myself instantly smitten with this tome and vowed to share it with as many people as I could. I did share this book for a while. This book moved me in so many positive ways that I wrote to the author one night. It was spur of the moment extemporaneous writing, that I just "put out there." To my surprise, I received a lovely reply from Ms. Rosenthal. As a further surprise, I was asked to forward to friends information about An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life and the website. In return, I was given an autographed copy of the book. Three years have passed since I first read or even thought about the book. Then, as peculiar things often happen to me, I thought about re-reading the book and touching base with the specialness inside its pages. I thought about Amy Krouse Rosenthal and wondered what was happening in her writer's world. Her book inspired me years ago and I find that I am in need of fresh inspiration. Lo, a sign appeared to me today - an email from her! Ms. A. K. Rosenthal has been a busy lady over the past three years, raising a family, writing other books, making video projects and creating mass happening collaborative art projects with the world. Once more I feel compelled to share her vision and art.
Her email to me, and I'm sure others on her list, asked us to check out her latest creation, a short, 7 minute, YouTube video project called, The Beckoning of Lovely. I encourage all of you to watch this short, and then to look at other videos she has made. If this doesn't move you, I don't know what will. If you like what you see, and I think many of you will thoroughly enjoy this happening, then you should also check out her website: http://whoisamy.wordpress.com/ or her website about the book that brought so much pleasure to my life:
Beckoning the Lovely, on YouTube http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=0QVQSZA9zSk
Here is the email I received today from AKR:
Hello You
As a person who has at one time or another expressed interest in my work and/or sent me a nice note (and by the way, thank you again for that), I am operating under the assumption that you might want to know about "The Beckoning of Lovely." What is "The Beckoning of Lovely" you ask? It is a short film (and by short, I mean like 7 minutes). It's about creating and collaborating and writing and music and art and life and exploring the unknown and interacting with the universe and splashing in fountains.So now, if you will please drop everything you were doing and watch this...:)"The Beckoning of Lovely" http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=0QVQSZA9zSk

Since it launched a couple months ago, a lot has happened...And that in turn led to the next phase of the project (but don't watch this til you've seen the first part). This part is titled "Invitation to the Universe."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtNGmXkQQpA


Finally, if you go to http://www.whoisamy.wordpress.com/ you can read about the team I'm assembling to help make the final feature film -- 14 key positions in all -- and the weird happy bit of synchronicity having to do with Obama's first 100 days in office.Maybe you'll submit your own lovely thing?Maybe you'll apply for a key position?Maybe you'll just watch and (I can only hope) not regret having done so.Thanks for reaching out to me when you did...Be well.
amy krouse rosenthal

Here is the email I sent over three years ago. To get the references about which I write in my letter, you really must read the book; they will make so much more sense!

Dear Ms. Rosenthal,
I received your book as a gift, for my 38th birthday. My day was last week, 3/3. Like you, I really feel that the date fits me well. I like the doubleness of the threes. On March 3, 2003 - our local daily newspaper's cover story was 03/03/03 - as if though it were some sort of supernatural event. This, coming from a paper that only cares about our corrupt politicians (we have many) or the Eagles football team (they've been letting us down for years).
Just about everything in your book gives me an "AHA - YES!" moment. And while this is completely corny, it is true - I've never, as far as I can remember, written to an author before. I've wished that I had. I regret never writing to Helene Hanff, author of 84, Charring Cross Road. She inspired me to read, learn more and of course, desire more than ever to go to England. Which I did do eventually, and visited the famed spot of her beloved bookshop. Sadly, it is now a Pizza Hut. Damn American Corporations! They're everywhere. - Oh, yes, as I was saying - I think about writing people who make me happy, or inspired or those who's work has affected me. My intentions are always so much bigger in the middle of the night. Like now, except I am writing to you. Email is so immediate.
I've been laughing out loud on public transportation while I've been reading your book. I've been smiling a lot more - and I'm a smiling kind of person, trust me, it's a lot. I keep thinking about the people I know who have to read your book. My friend Maureen, who just had her second baby, when she gets a spare moment has to read it. Rachel, my best friend of 20 years, who recently moved to Arizona. My girlfriend, Liz, who gave me the book, has been sneaking entries when I'm not reading it. This book is clever, real, touching, and absolutely connecting.
Tonight I was on the subway, on my way home from work and I was listening to the compilation I made on the ipod - and thinking about the mix tapes I used to make. I keep laughing when I remember your mix tape reference - it's so true. I read about the purple flower moment and kept thinking - what's my moment? Everything felt so contrived though - like it wasn't just a just, but rather a "had to be". So I let it go.
Came in the door, brought in the mail, trash cans and papers. Walked the dog. Opened the mail. And then, there it was - a chain letter! I haven't seen one of those in over 15 years. Chain email, daily. But not an actual chain letter mailed to my home. Of course, it wasn't addressed directly to me, but rather another name and/or current resident. 3 pages long. Testament to how we could make over $800,000. Just send a dollar to the 6 people listed. Make 200 copies. Blah blah blah. The crazy thing is, when I read your entry about chain letters, I thought about the time when I would get them all the time at my first job. How when I would try to send them back to the P.O. Box or have the mail carrier take them back or send them to the correct address, they would just keep returning to me. Oye, the dread I would feel throwing them away. Eventually I got over it and chain letters stopped arriving. Until now.
Well, I am enjoying your book and bits I've discovered on the website. If I didn't love the book so much, I might feel compelled to leave it somewhere for someone else to discover. Maybe I'll just leave spare change with a note saying put the money towards buying this great book.
Many thanks for all the good reading.
Sincerely,
Denine R. Gorniak
Philadelphia
P.S. Where does one find your signature fragrance?