Get Motivated!


I’m inspired by a piece I saw on BoingBoing (and about a hundred other media outlets today). There’s a lot of good stuff out there. People are doing things for their community, and finding a lot of cool bits of life to catalog and share, and this is one of them.

Remember when you were bored, or tired of everything, and you just wanted to create something that made your day a little bit more worthwhile? This kid did it out of necessity to alleviate being stuck in the doldrums of summer, and came up with something fascinating.

There’s a bit of greatness to come out of this- In addition to bringing the smiles to this kid’s face, and customers to this rarely trafficked East LA cornershop, the producers of this video have set up a website, and since my first viewing from four hours ago, they’ve raised $6,000 more towards putting this kid through college. It doesn’t look like the donations will stop at $25,000, either.

So, what am I going to do with my time? How will I showcase whatever it is that I want to do with the middling talents I cling to?

1) I can write. Sort of. I have the bad habit of not self-editing any more than quickly skimming these blog posts and changing a grammatical typo or restructuring a word or two. Overall, though, the end product of a blog post here is the direct result of sitting and typing until I run out of words to say, tied up with aMulligan Stew© Approved, Doogie Howser sanctioned ending. Somewhere in between, there may be a story, or there may be incoherent nonsense and internet babble. I don’t know. After I read them, I occasionally return to the scene of the crime to remember something, but I  rarely ever read old posts in their entirety to see how they come out.

2) I can cook. Sort of.  I mean, I know my flavors, and I know the dishes that I want to create in my mind, but I’m critical of my production. That’s not to say that I get down on it too much, but for where I am as a cook/chef/whatever, I sometimes feel like I’m underachieving.

I can sear a steak. I can cook a piece of fish. I can plate something that looks nice, and I guess I should be happy with that. If it tastes good, and if it looks good, that’s really all that matters. I try not to use those who have gone through similar experiences as a barometer for where I stand today, because back then, they were better than me at cooking, had more of the chef’s kitchen mentality than I did, and actually cooked a fair amount post-graduation in restaurants. This left me with an inferiority complex which I’ve mostly come to terms with, but I still wonder if I could hack it, or what could have been. These days, if I explain to people my trajectory in the foodservice industry, I usually include tidbits about how I came back from internships around the world with an ego that outshone my talents. When in that situation, you don’t see yourself for what you are. Such glaring perspective comes later, when you make the proclamation to those listening intently to your stories from behind the scenes of restaurants that you got out because you possessed a fire for the life that detracted from the food. You hear chefs talk about it all the time, from anybody who has spent more than a month in a kitchen who is willing to talk to you about what you once read in Kitchen Confidential.

 I never got too wrapped up in the trappings of working in restaurants. I was a passable outsider. Neither the strongest nor the weakest in the kitchen, I could do what needed to be done to promote a successful service. I could do what was asked of me. With that, I didn’t think I could hack it. I still had the lust for creating things with my hands, and the desire for tasting something new through the buzz of a third glass of wine, and to have the aromas and flavors float around in my mind as I relaxed after a few hard spent hours chopping, dicing, tasting, adjusting. I was content to experiment with my cooking from a place that was comfortable for me, someplace outside the time constraints and pressures that those who made it fed off of.

So that’s what I did.

Today, I’m content with where my skills are, and it’s easy enough to wow people with a strong flavor combination. It’s like watching someone break the tape on a lopsided hundred yard dash, leaving competitors in the dust. You see a small fragment of what got them there, and believe that the ten second snippet from start to finish is the greatest thing you could see or feel at that moment. It’s so much more. You go to a restaurant, sit down for two hours, have a couple beverages, some food that sings to the passion of your soul, and then you reminisce, but for those who do it every day, your dinner represents a drop in the bucket.

Planning a meal takes time. Gathering ingredients, pairing flavors, determining cooking methods, managing time- all of these factors go into making a meal, whether you’re in a restaurant or not. It’s easy enough to do it for a few people on a nightly basis, or a dozen people once a month, but for a dining room full of patrons with high expectations on a nightly basis, I would not care to be in that boat. I want to set up a special occasion with friends, discussing with them and fabricating a menu that we can create together. In continuation of my posting of a couple weeks ago, I want to make it happen.

I’m sitting, as I have been intermittently for the past three hours, with my recipe book to my right, the Gonzo documentary playing in the background, with the seasonal inspiration waiting to strike. I catalog my taste palate. I purposefully saved a spoonful of gelato from the other night because I wanted to remember the burnt peanut flavor and build from that.

I got ramps for the first time this season. Morels can’t be far behind. I just saw a dish with both, and asparagus as well. That’s coming soon. I have some nice eggs in the fridge that I’d like to use for cured yolks. I want to make pickles. Many pickles. All the time.

This is how it starts. With an idea. Now I’m looking for ideas for implementation, and execution, and of course, a few extra willing participants in making something stick. I want to start a Sunday Supper series, similar to how they do it at Nana, a restaurant just down the block.

I just want to share it, and I want to write about it, and figure out if it’s a viable model for something different, if not new.

I watched the hell out of this next video over the last couple days. It’s a call to arms for those who have some measure of skill and an insatiable itch to start a revolution from their range. Watch it, see if you catch the bug, and get back to me. I may not be able to do anything under a moniker, but it’s videos like the one up top and the one below that lead me to believe that there’s more that I could be doing with my free time, and with whatever measure of talent I may have. In any case, I think it’s time to push some boundaries.

Stagnation, Boredom, Conformity…The Time to Combat Complacency is Now.

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Maybe not straight from the vineyard. I have found that it’s best to write about an event immediately following said event, for things, they do get muddled in the ether after days or weeks of swimming.

There was a trip to be had this summer, and it was to the East Coast. Typically, me and the lady, we spend a week or so out in New England with family. With this year being a milestone birthday for her mother, we were invited to spend a week with them on scenic Martha’s Vineyard. While we’ve spent some time in Connecticut, and while I’ve done my time in New York City, I’ve never made it to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, or the upper coast of New England. Most of my time was spent on the sunny, sandy, unspoiled beaches of Rehobeth and Fenwick Island, Delaware. Unfortunately, according to sources from back East where we used to go, they no longer resemble the quiet beachfront communities of my youth.

You’re lucky to get a towel down anywhere within sight of the water.

Now, Martha’s Vineyard, always a tourist destination, had a couple of things going for it. First, we went in late June. It’s not quite high season yet, but we were starting to feel it. Second, instead of staying down-island in the bustling towns of Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs, we were far removed, situated in the up-island community of Aquinnah.

It’s pretty far away from everything

As I said, I’d never been there before, and there was only so much time to take in all the sights and flavors of the island, so after our flight landed and we had a lovely drink on the porch, we headed out for dinner at Lola’s, a beachfront restaurant with live music, dancing, and large portions of Southern food and drink. Late into the evening, we ate, drank, and were merry, alongside a birthday portion of key-lime pie and a dance from the elderly owner that involved a sparkler and a party hat in the shape of a cake.

The next morning, I wondered what we could do to top the previous evening’s activity of mirth and mayhem. For most things, life on the island takes a more subdued tone, and after some coffee and granola, we were off to visit the Chilmark Farmer’s Market.

Tucked back behind the Chilmark town hall, in a grass and gravel parking lot, are two rows of EZ up tent stalls arched over the backs of pickup trucks laden with local greens, potatoes, coolers of grass-fed milk, meats, and handmade brooms fashioned out of sorghum switches.

The second picture is where I picked up most of the things that we were going to make for dinner. All Island grown, all tucked away in buckets and as deep green as the clear sky was blue. We picked up the following:

Yellow Mustard Greens

Wild Ramps (upon further inspection, they were winter garlics, but still great looking)

Sugar Snap Peas

Red Potatoes (red on the inside and out, organic)

Pea Shoots

Edible Flowers (Nasturtium)

Scapes/Garlic Spears

Mint

Chives

Here’s a helpful tip from me to you if you’re scouting out which farmers to buy stuff from for the most authentic meal: Look for the people manning the stands who have the dirtiest fingernails, or the ones that look the weariest. They’ll smile, because it’s their job and their business to sell you on the product, but they will also be the most knowledgeable of their wares, and chances are, they’re the ones who are digging in the fields for your dinner. Appreciate, acknowledge, and respect their hard work. 

I’ve met so many farmers/bakers/small artisans over the years who work tirelessly during growing season to bring things to the market, anywhere from potatoes to groundcherries, apple fritters, scones, and even homegrown peanuts in the shell. Many of them have been up the night before harvesting, checking and double checking their product, or baking, all so you can enjoy a meal that makes you feel like you’re doing something to support hardworking farmers and local businesses. Give them the respect they have so rightfully earned, and buy as much of their stuff as you can so they can go home and take a nap.

With those in basket, we went on to Menemsha, the tiny fishing village on the remote Northwest shore. My mother, calling during the week, passed along a story to me of her youth.

Suddenly I was struck by the place, only because I have been there before–but I was an INFANT sleeping between my young parents and keeping them warm. They always said I was like a little warm stove. Even though I have no idea where we were, I loved seeing the photos of that place.

In the years since she’s been there, I doubt much has changed. Generally left untouched by the ravages of time and tourism, Menemsha remains a two-lane town, with a small wharf of fishing boats, two fish markets, and a general store. Here are a few pictures.

Main Street

Bait shop/Gas Station

Menemsha Wharf

The best thing about these pictures is that they’re all taken within 50 feet of one another. This town is tiny, and it doesn’t care who knows. What it does need is someone to go into one of their two fish markets and sniff around for some grub for dinner. How fortuitious, then, that we happened upon Menemsha Fish Market. We walked in, saw the lobster tanks (home of Lobsterzilla), and got a few local oysters on the half-shell. I’ll walk the line of defending the West Coast Quilcene oysters straight out of the bay that morning until my last breaths, but these were perfect- Small oysters that tasted of cool seawater and didn’t need a thing to make them taste good.

One great thing that they do is their lobster relief program. They have a handful of females, which for ten dollars, you can purchase and release with a notched tail, allowing them to spawn and lay untouched by the local fishermen. So, you know…we did that.

The swimmer fins are all light and feathery, much like females of any species.

a “V” cut is notched into the tail, alerting lobstermen that this lady is spoken for.

After taking her out to the pier, we have carefully removed the rubber bands of bondage from her claws.

This is what a successful release looks like. Lobster for everyone for YEARS TO COME!

So we left our lady lobster friend under the pier, scuttling off for darker, safer waters. Back inside, We were plied with Lobster rolls and bisque, which we enjoyed on the pots behind the fish market. We wandered back in for a third time, and purchased a hunk of smoked bluefish, and a jawdroppingly gorgeous piece of Striped Bass.

It’s a perfect piece of fish.

Armed to the gunwales with fresh produce and fish, we returned to the house, where we embarked on a magical dinner expedition. The kitchen was aflurry with the chip-chip-chopping of knives. I took some of the fresh chives and a bit of soft cheese (easily procured Laughing Cow Garlic and Herb), and mixed it with the flaked bluefish. The Madre had made some infused oil using fresh dill from her garden, so we drizzled some of that on top, and served it with some water crackers and whole grain kavli toasts for an appetizer.

Part Two…Electric Boogaloo…coming soon.

Here is number two in the series of guest posts from friends of mine. Tonight’s fine read is from Katrina Schroeder of the website Eat, Drink, and be Active.
Katrina is a longtime friend who hails from my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. From growing up in the family business of specialty retailing (the jewel of Madison’s small businesses, Orange Tree Imports), Katrina and her family share a strong bond over both food and an active lifestyle. Since I’ve known her, she has gone from weekend bike rides around the lake to participating in marathons and triathlons as both a competitor and vocal supporters of her family’s goals, wherever the finish line may be.
Her blog documents her take as an active person and budding nutritionist to give the body what it needs to stay fit and healthy while making smart decisions about how we live our lives in relation to food and exercise. To be more concise- Eat, Drink, and Be Active.

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Seven Good Reasons You Should Eat, Drink, and Be Active

1. You get to eat more! Have you ever seen the t-shirt that says: “I run so I can eat?” How true. The science doesn’t lie: if you move more, you can consume more. So if you know that you’re heading to a cookout where you’d really like to sample each side in addition to that burger and brew, go for a run that morning or play a little Frisbee at the cookout. You should never feel guilty for what you eat, but you can take steps (literally) to make sure that what you eat doesn’t dominate your energy in versus energy out for the day.

2. Water equals life. You’ve probably heard that a certain amount of your body is made up of water. But think about it a little bit harder for a second: water makes up a little bit of just about everything. What do your eyes rest in? What is your blood made out of? What cushions your precious internal organs? You need to get enough liquids in you each day for the up-keep of your mostly-water filled body. It doesn’t have to be plain old water, either. Plenty of foods are made up of over 90% water like fruits and veggies. If you know you’re dehydrated a lot but just can’t stomach water on its own, try adding a splash of OJ to sparkling water or making a cucumber-basil infused pitcher of water to keep in your fridge.

3. Food is the new preventative medicine. There’s really no arguing anymore how much food can affect your health. Adapting a healthier diet and being more active can prevent most of the top fatal diseases in America. Studies continue to show that you should eat a mostly plant-based diet (this doesn’t mean you have to become a vegetarian, but if you’re deciding between brown rice that came from a plant and crackers that came from a box, pick the one that was more recently a plant). By doing this you can reduce your risk of some cancers, heart disease, type 2 diabetes… the list goes on. Eat healthy for yourself and for future generations who might want you around for a while!

4. Exercise makes you happy. Getting your heart rate up releases endorphins, which triggers your brain into being happy. It will also help you sleep better and lower your stress levels. It’s a great way to blow off steam as well as make new friends. Why not join a local softball team or masters swimming group? Meetup.com has a group for just about every physical activity and if they don’t have what you’re looking for you can start your own!

5. It’s fun to cook. Eating out is easy and tasty, but when you think about how much butter those chefs are sneaking in there to get you to come back, it’s enough to make you want to cook for yourself more so you can control exactly what’s going into your body. If you’re not much of a cook yet, it’s not too late! Try going to the grocery store and buying several types of produce that are on sale. When you get home look up recipes, or just sauté or grill them and season with some salt and pepper or your favorite stir-fry sauce. Once you have a couple of easy recipes under your belt try to see if you can change them in a way that makes them healthier or more unique to your own tastes.

6. People will be really impressed. Being healthy and active are great conversation starters and ways to impress people! Chances are if you’re active it will come up in conversation. People are always asking me if I run and when I say ‘well yes, for my triathlon training’ they often look on with awe (to some degree). Does it matter that I’m far from being at the top of my age group and will never do an ironman distance tri? No! It’s also a great opportunity to encourage others to be active.

7. You can convince other people to do it with you. Ask anyone you know who plays a sport or does physical activity why or when they started. Chances are they’ll have either a specific person or people who influenced them to get moving. When people ask me I tell them that my dad and I biked a lot when I was young and I started running because of him as well. The swimming was all me though! Now when I sign up for a race I think to myself ‘who else might enjoy doing this with me?’ and send them a message. Sometimes it only takes a little bit of encouragement from outside sources to help a person meet their fitness goals.