Monday, November 12, 2012

Dear Day-cation: A Quaint Fall Baby Shower

Happy Veteran's Day, folks!
Since my days off are usually one at a time, I've decided to create a recurring theme for the posts I write about those days' happenings: Dear Day-cation.

Saturday was filled with sweet treats, hot spiced tea, and happy toddlers frolicking about. It was my sister Jennifer's baby shower so I went up to LA to spend the day with her, some lovely ladies, and their babies. Jenn is having a baby girl in a few weeks (maybe less!) and we were all excited to get a head start on welcoming the new baby girl into the world.
It was a delicious little get together and there were only about 10 of us this time, so it made for a really intimate and quaint afternoon. Jenn's first baby shower about 2 years ago had about 30 people and I catered all the food for it. It was mainly just salad, hors d'oeuvres, and canapes and I enjoyed it, but it was definitely a lot of work! This time, I decided to only make cupcakes for dessert to share with the ladies and Joan's on Third catered a lovely lunch. Jenn's boyfriend's talented and crafty sister, Edie, did all the decorating.
The cupcakes were a hit and I was so happy to see everyone enjoying them. I made two flavors: Vanilla Bean (that I garnished with edible flowers to go with the floral theme Edie had goin' on) and Pink Lemonade. They were really fun to decorate, especially the Vanilla Bean ones. I sprinkled sanding sugar on them and then added some marigold petals and dried lavender florets. I bought cute little paper cups to bake them in at Sur La Table and I think they really added a special touch. We also had some other talent add in their touch to the dessert table - there was a chocolatey Marble Bundt cake made by my mom and really delicious and chewy cookies that Edie's mom made.

It was one of the first real fall days here in So Cal. It was a beautifully clear and brisk and only about 61 degrees or so...a temperature I am all too excited to welcome -with warm boots on my feet and a scarf around my neck!

Speaking of babies, I can't get this song out of my head since I heard it on the radio while driving home from work the other night. I love early 60's music like this and hope you enjoy it too!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Natalie Karkhoff: Professionally Trained and Bona Fide Cook, but not Chef

One of the things in my life that I did and I am so grateful for is going to culinary school at a community college, and not an expensive private school. I funded my schooling completely out of pocket, didn't take out a single loan, and I'm so glad I did. The harsh reality of the restaurant industry still sends shivers down my spine...well not really, but how would you feel if you had just spent somewhere between $50,000 - $100,000 on school, graduated and got a job making somewhere between $9 - $11 an hour for the first 4 (at the very least) years of your career?
This is the harsh reality I speak of. Oh yeah, and forget any sense of a work/life balance. Work in a restaurant and you belong to it. You may as well sleep there, especially if you were like me and you were crazy enough to commute 60 miles a day to get to and from work! Most of my days were like this: Sleep til 11am, get to work around 1pm, work (hard! physically intense) til about 11pm, sometimes later, get home at about midnight, have a bite to eat and unwind in front of the TV, and then go to sleep at 2 or 3AM.
I burned out fast as most people do. This is the job that isn't for everyone, and I sure was one of those people. I'm the type of person that always wants to do my best in the jobs I am hired to do, but the amount of daily prepwork involved in my station and the stress and anxiety of not having anyone to help me really put a damper on my spirits and made me feel like I wasn't able to put out my best effort.
Enough flashbacks! The reason why I am sharing this is because I wanted to write about the difference between a cook and a chef. A lot of people finish culinary school and think that they're granted the title of chef. Or friends and family members who haven't the slightest clue about the way the food biz works refer to you as a "chef" once you finish school. Think again, my friend! The road to becoming a true chef is a long and windy one. One I couldn't finish.
I'm sure a lot of my old fellow line cooks are chefs now, running their own kitchens and writing menus and such. But for us little guys, who still take orders from those above us and are still honing our knife skills, oh yeah, and we still make somewhere between $9 and $15 and hour, we are cooks.
"Chef" isn't a title that just gets handed to you with the piece of paper when you graduate from Le Cordon Bleu. It's something you work extremely hard for, day in and day out, missing out on time with family and friends, on holidays, on weddings, on birthdays, and funerals (this is a little extreme but my Chef at The Montage said it himself). It's a title you earn and you should be humble about. I can't tell you how many kids I went to culinary school with who had this whole "I'm a badass" attitude on them. I'd like to see where they are now. I wonder if they made it past being the prep cook who gets yelled at by their chef to clean up the spill of corn chowder and marinara sauce that one of the lunch cooks tipped over from their 5-gallon buckets in the walk-in refrigerator (this didn't specifically happen).
Leaving the restaurant industry was one of the best decisions I made. It has given me a lot to be thankful for and makes me think after a hard day at my job now (manager at Peet's) that things could still be worse. It has also given me the opportunity to focus and reflect on things in my life that I really value and want for myself....Like my own food business...that doesn't involve a kitchen brigade...very soon...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It's never to early to buy cute things for kids!

Whether you like it or not, a lot of retail stores have already put up their Christmas and/or Holiday displays. Halloween was just barely a week ago! Alas, this is the consumerist society we live in, and companies are ready to start cashing in on their most profitable time of the year (hey, you can sing that to the tune of "The most wonderful time of the year").
Well, they've got me, too. I've already got my "Holiday gifts and treats" board going on Pinterest (hey, I hate being rushed). I actually just made my first hoilday purchase, but only because it was a baby shower/holiday gift combo purchase. I wanted to share this super cute kids company I found through Real Simple, called Blabla kids. Children's toys and dolls have gotten to be so cute over the past years - it's so easy to find tasteful designs that are elegant and practical at the same time - and these products are  no different. Florence Wetterwald is the name behind the design, whose knit dolls (amongst other things) are made in Peru by Peruvian artisans, using local,high-quality natural fibers. All their stuff is so adorable and I find it inspiring (I want to make something like this!) and hard to resist (I want to collect them all!)
The top picture is the "Boogaloo" I bought for my sister's new baby girl, who is due to arrive into the world next month! My sis's baby shower is this weekend, and naturally, I will be preparing the to come!
Of course, I also couldn't resist buying a little Christmas-something for my 2-year-old nephew, Asher....Here's the video of the character doll I got for him!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Greetings from Autumnal Vacation-Land

It's so nice here in vacation-land and I never want to leave. But alas, vacation ends this week and in a couple weeks it will be holiday madness in the retail world. So let's reflect on the past week and a half, since it has been so wonderful, shall we?

My hubby Eek and I drove all the way from our little apartment in Irvine to
Ashland, Oregon in a day. It was about a 12 hour drive and not a very exciting one, since we took the I-5. We stayed the night in this quaint little town, famous for its annual Shakespeare festival. The following morning I had the most delicious mocha at a coffeehouse called Noble Coffee Roaster. It even looked beautiful too.
Noble Coffee in Ashland, OR
We had a cozy little breakfast of coffee and pastries and then decided to take another 4 hour drive up to Bend, which is a little mountain town in central Oregon. Bend is a outdoor enthusiast's dream town - there is plenty to do for the mountain biker, fisher, hiker, rock-climber, white-water rafter, and skier. Since I am basically none of these things besides a hiker, what I enjoyed most about this little town were all the trees. Here in Orange County and LA, you really don't see a lot of them. It was so nice to get away to another part of the country to really appreciate the simple things. The leaves on the trees were just starting to turn beautiful colors, too. I'm sure in another week or two they will be just gorgeous.

I loved the way the sun shined through the woods

We hiked up to Tumalo Falls in Bend, OR

Beautiful Homes on the pond in Bend
 On the way home, we stayed the night and camped in Redwood National Forest, aka the Ewok Forest....they filmed one of the Star Wars films here. Enter this forest and you literally feel like you are in a different time or world. Everything is so incredibly green and lush. Ferns and moss grow all over the place and the trees are prehistorically breathtaking.
Even leaves in the Redwood Forest change colors

Eek and a Redwood tree from my Instagram

Wild mushrooms growing on a moss-covered stump

We saw a few banana slugs

"Trees of Mystery" stop off of the 101 highway
Cheers! Sampler at Russian River
Happy Autumn.

We also had the opportunity to visit a few breweries on our trip. Deschutes in Bend, named after the river that runs through the city, and Russian River in Santa Rosa, CA, were the most note-worthy. Delicious craft beers and beautiful scenery, sounds like a pretty good time, don't you think?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wednesday loves

Two blog entries in a row, I'm on a roll!
Happy Hump Day! Here's what is on my mind this week:
  • Pulled Pork Sandwiches - This is going to be happening in my kitchen very soon.
  • The Never-Ending Summer and beating the heat with this.
  • A few weeks from now, eek and I will be in Bend - I can't wait!
  • Can't get this song out of my head!

  • So, I think I'm addicted to Breaking Bad. Shhh! No spoilers, please! I'm just on the 4th season! AH, so intense!!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Iced Pumpkin Scones

According to my calendar (and the rest of the country), summer is ending and Autumn is beginning. Here in Southern California however, it's still at least 80 degrees everyday. This past weekend we hit record high temperatures, in the 90's and even 100 degrees in some areas! I felt like I was in Palm Springs.
Luckily, that fluke only lasted a couple days, and so far this week has been cooler, especially in the evenings and mornings. I can't help but long for a true Autumn but know I will have to wait another month for those very warm days to go away.
My October issue of Martha Stewart Living just arrived and on the cover, fall was screaming with its harvest of delights. I was inspired alright, and even though it's still warm, I was determined to bake some fall-ish treats. It is, of course, my favorite time to cook and bake!
First up on my list of delicious things to make: Iced Pumpkin Scones. I made these last year and they were so incredibly easy and yummy. So I found the recipe I used (found on Pinterest) and dove right in this afternoon.
Butter, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and spices go to work

I cannot even begin to tell you how much of a difference in aroma and taste using whole nutmeg and grating it yourself makes compared to using the pre-ground stuff. The spicy sweet smell of the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove filled my kitchen when I started to work the butter into the flour-spice mixture!
It's interesting how certain smells can trigger memories. Since I really only cook or bake with pumpkin this time of year, I was taken away to Thanksgivings of the past as soon as these puppies started baking away in the oven.
Of course, these scones wouldn't be the same without a sweet spicy icing on top. Powdered sugar mixed with milk and all the aforementioned spices really made these scones. So delicious!
Autumn may be right around the corner according to my calendar, but we all know it really still is summer here in So Cal...Indian summer. But you know, it doesn't mean I can't enjoy a sip of a chai latte, take a bite of these pumpkin delights, and go to a crisper, cozier place in my mind.