Breakfast On the Run

In a hurry to get out the door this morning, but we have a day full of plans. So, I’m fueling up with this fast treat that can travel well. It may not look like much, but with protein and low glycemic index, it’ll keep you fueled for the morning.
Fresh Blueberries
Sharp Cheddar
Walnuts

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Winter Minestrone

We’re cuddled up by the fire watching Christmas movies tonight and I’m wishing I had made soup instead of salad. I’m always looking for the perfect soup that is healthy, delicious, filling, AND so good it comes with the high praise of my adoring family while they cheer from the rooftops of my culinary genius.

While I’m still searching for THAT particular recipe, I have found a few they love. Here’s one that I created years ago and has become a family favorite. It’s so loved, that I was brave enough to enter it into the Minor’s Bocuse D’or Soup Contest this fall. It didn’t win, but I don’t think we should hold that against it since some of the top entries called for things like quail and truffles. Clearly I was out of my league, but when it comes to good old comfort food that your family will love, I think this recipe deserves a gold medal.

Winter Minestrone recipe

Monday Confessions: Culinary School is HARD

I never saw it coming. It never even occurred to me. But, now I know it’s true and there’s no denying it: Culinary School is HARD.
For the last few weeks I’ve been feeling like I’m barely treading water, but it’s been impossible to admit. Everyone around me expects me to be blissfully happy with this big adventure – and I am… Most of the time. But, like any new beginning in life, it’s been difficult.
It’s kind of like having a new baby. You’re body is physically exhausted, your brain is overwhelmed, your schedule has been turned upside down, and there is suddenly a heavy weight of responsibility on your shoulders that descends with the realization that this is real. This is happening. There’s no going back. And although I don’t have any dirty diapers to change these days, there’s still plenty of “yuck” to deal with.
Yesterday I sat with a group of women I’ve come to think of as my best friends and listened as they poured out the big scary things happening in their lives: new job opportunities, new adventures, new lifestyle…and we cried. We cried! You know why? Because even the most beautiful things, the answer to your most heartfelt prayers, will still bring you to your knees with the vulnerable reality that you are stepping into dangerous territory: The New. And The New is scary.
I’m scared that I’ll fail. I’m scared that I’ll embarrass my family. I’m scared that I might be taking away precious time from my children. I’m scared that I’ll discover that I just don’t have what it takes. And all of that makes getting up on Mondays the hardest thing I do each week. School is hard and it’s not going to get any easier.
So, there you have it. My truth. I’m in over my head, but I’m kicking as hard as I can to stay afloat because although this is the biggest, scariest thing I’ve ever done, I believe with all of my being that it will be worth it. The things I’m learning, the people I’ve met, even the very fact that I’m getting up each week and facing my fear is giving me the courage I’ll need to pursue the dreams God has placed within me for the future.
So, here’s my advice to myself, and to you, dear friend: Go and do the hard things. The hard things will make you stronger and braver than you ever imagined. And THAT’S how you’ll change the world.

Chaos and Grace

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My lovely assistants

Tonight was so crazy! It was my first night at my new job. 100 people showed up to see if the new cook was any good and I intended to wow them with an Italian feast. Then… Everything that could go wrong, did. The ovens wouldn’t heat so I was scrambling to get the food out on time, my son accidentally put dish soap in the dishwasher and it started spewing out foam, I forgot to make dessert, so I had to send my husband to the store the minute he walked in the door. It was chaos!
But then, just as I was wishing I could hide in a closet and cry until they all went away, the most incredible thing happened. Someone stepped through the kitchen door and said, “That was fabulous! I just want you to know that was the best chicken I’ve ever had.” And the person standing next to them agreed and the guy across the room nodded with this big adorable smile on his face and pretty soon there was a steady stream of kind words washing over me. And you know what happened?
I believed them.
This is so surprising to me, but it’s true. Their words changed my entire view. My whole attitude of shame and defeat was simply washed away by their kindness. Isn’t that amazing? What an example of how our own words can be powerful. We hear a lot these days about the effects of bullying, but what about the power you have to change someone’s view for the better? Your words matter, so use them well. You might save someone from crying in a closet. Or, you might just save someone’s life. Be kind and speak goodness at every opportunity.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Ephesians 4:29

5 Things I Learned in Culinary School

IMG_1314.JPGWell, I did it. I survived my first month in culinary school, and I managed to learn a few things, too. I know what a daikon is, how to calculate food cost and the ratios for labor cost, and what temperature microwave reheated food must reach to be considered safe. But, there were other lessons that really surprised me. Here are my top five take aways from my first month in school.

1. I still know how to procrastinate
….and it still sucks. Seriously, it tried to ruin my life. I hate your guts, Procrastination. We’re so over. Don’t call me. We’re through.
2. Culinary school does equal free snacks. 🙂
Even the professors look forward to “leftovers” from the French pastry class and I’m pretty sure my Hospitality professor can be bought with cookies.
3. Your family will expect better food, but you’ll be too tired to cook.
Mondays might as well be relabeled as pizza night because, let’s face it, I’m not cooking. My children don’t seem to mind, but my sweet husband is probably wondering when this investment will pay off.
4. If you offer to help clean out the fridge, you might score gourmet treats.
I have found an entire building full of people who love food as much as I do and none of them like to see food go to waste. So, when you help chef clean out the last of the gourmet pastries, and you bemoan their waste as you head toward the trash bin, she’s going to look at you with hopeful eyes and suggest you take it home. “I just hate to see them wasted.”
Me, too, Chef. Me, too.
5. You do NOT want to know all the ways food could kill you.
I’ll give you a hint: finding hair in your food is sooooo not even a little bit dangerous. I’ve seen the dark side of nature and the most insidious possibility is completely out of our control.

Seriously though, the last month has been amazing. I don’t think I can explain all the ways this experience is affecting me. I’ve found a passion and a purpose that I hope will someday change lives. That may sound dramatic, but that’s my end-game. Until then, I’ll keep studying best methods for food sanitation and effective food purchasing strategies. I might even get around to actually cooking something new and delicious. And you can follow along with me on this crazy culinary journey. So, stick around. You never know what I’ll learn next month.

The Story Behind the Blog

Grab a cup of tea and snuggle up for a minute because it’s story time. I’m going to be brave and tell you the story of how this blog came to be and where it’s going. Right now the first few lines of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song is playing in my head and it’s ridiculous how much this applies.

Now, this is a story all about how
My life got flipped-turned upside down…

I think I was born a teacher. The oldest of three kids born close together, I was constantly in trouble for leading my siblings into mischief. Even if I wasn’t any where near the trouble maker, I was often scolded, “Well, they must have learned it from you, Heather. Where else could they have learned such a thing?” Thankfully I outgrew my mischief making days and managed to teach a few good skills along the way.

I began cooking at 12 years old when my mother went back to college. So, by the time I was a senior in high school, I was doing most of the week night cooking in our home. I remember vividly the day my sister realized I would soon be leaving for college.

“But, who’s going to cook the chicken broccoli casserole?” she wailed.

“You are!” I cried.

Dragging her into the kitchen, I demonstrated all the necessary steps for making her favorite dish. It didn’t keep her from begging me to cook every time I came home from college for a visit, but at least she wasn’t totally deprived of all her favorites. Now she’s a very talented baker who runs her own cupcake catering business and makes the most delicious cookies I’ve ever tasted. I wish I could take credit for all of that!

After finishing a degree in education, I landed the perfect teaching gig: Stay at home mom. It was a 24/7, on the job-training, exhausting and exhilarating kind of job, but I loved it. Mostly. It doesn’t pay well, but the benefits package is priceless!

Then, in 2012, I was asked to take on a new teaching role. Our local food pantry was trying to bring Cooking Matters to our neighborhood, but they needed someone to teach the cooking lessons.  I was thrilled and the more I researched the program, the more I fell in love with it. According to their site, Cooking Matters is a program that “empowers families with the skills to stretch their food budgets and cook healthy meals so their children get nutritious food at home.” That was something that touched a deep desire in my soul.

I’d already been working with the homeless in our community, serving meals at a local church who was trying to make a feed the desperately hungry in our poorest neighborhood, but every effort felt like little more than a drop in the bucket. I even began to worry if we were actually making things worse for some of these families who had grown dependent on the daily lunches we were serving. What would happen if the leader of our program (an elderly woman with severe health issues) was no longer able to keep serving? There was no one to take her place and I knew that without her, many of these families would have nothing to eat each day. I suspected our food pantry clients were in a similar situation. There had to be a better way. I felt the true solution to hunger in our area must be found in teaching them skills that empowered them to live healthier lives. But how? Cooking Matters sought to do just that and I fell in love.

Our first class was incredible, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted more. By now I’d seen the power that this type of education could give to an individual, no matter how poor. My students were not only fed, they were inspired! They came back to each class telling how they had cooked healthy meals for their kids – and they loved it – how they had told their neighbors about the classes and now the neighbors were waiting on their doorsteps each week to see what delicious treats they’d brought home. We even had a student host a dinner party, inviting all his neighbors to come and taste what he had learned. They all wanted to join our next class. It was incredible!

I began to dream about doing more. What if I could teach these classes all the time? I could even develop more lessons that were aimed at families who didn’t qualify for Cooking Matters, but who were struggling to feed their families healthy food on tight budgets. What if I had a cafe and could teach classes, feed our neighbors healthy delicious meals, even deliver to the many elderly residents who can’t get out to shop for themselves or safely stand to cook anymore? What if…

Well, dreaming became praying and praying led to a whole lot of soul searching and next thing I knew, doors were opening all around me. It seemed God had been listening, and to be honest, I think he’d orchestrated the whole thing (He’s amazing like that.) I got a call from the director at our church camp who was looking to hire a kitchen manager and he’d heard I was interested. Then, I got accepted to culinary school. My husband was at a meeting and he heard a lecture on developing non-profits to help solve health issues in our community and next thing I know I have a stream of text messages coming in that start, “What if…”

We began dreaming the What If and soon I was actually moving forward into that big unknown trying to find the right path into our future. I still don’t know exactly what it is or what it looks like, but it goes something like this…

What if I could help feed the desperately hungry in our city?

What if I could help them learn to help themselves by sharing my education with them and providing tools they need to succeed?

What if I could connect them to other resources that could lead to a more stable future for them and their families?

What if I could help moms and dads to gather their children around the dinner table each night?

What if I could teach them to cook healthier foods without breaking their budget?

What if I could be part of the solution and help others around me to see that we can all step up and help someone to live a healthier, happier life?

What if?

And so, this is where I am. My life is turning upside down as I work to find answers to those questions. It leads me to some strange places and to the most fascinating people I’ve ever met. This blog is just a tiny window into all that is happening inside of me and around me, but I hope it will encourage you to ask your own questions and pursue the answers with all of your might.

What’s your what if?

Feasting on the Word

Psalm 34.8I encourage you to “taste and see” this week. If you do not know how good our Lord God is, then please take a moment to sample his goodness, try it, taste it, see how much he loves you. Don’t know where to start? Click on the picture above and it will take you to Psalm 34. Read it, think about it. I hope you will find that it is “sweet to the soul.”