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A Thoughtful Monday: A Moment’s Re-cap of the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium

By October 28, 2014 #sfa14, building relationships, feeding the inner self, in the South, inspired by others, practice, Southern Foodways Alliance

I spent this last weekend eating some of the best food in the South. I’ve listened to meaningful, emotional, and thought provoking presentations by a variety of passionate humans. I’ve seen my own passions for life, food, and humanity become illuminated from the authenticity-stirring theme at the 2014 Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium- “Who’s Welcome at the Welcome Table.” I’m incredibly grateful to each and every soul who was there. Now I ponder how I want to take action with the momentum of energy kindled inside of me about race, sexuality, class, homelessness, hunger, poverty, and what it means to be human. May we each dig into to our own fears, anger, prejudices, insecurities, and shame that we’ve experienced in this life. We are living in an amazing time of change. The change begins inside of each and every one of us. May we get closer to truly welcoming each other at our tables and feeling welcome at any table. I’m grateful for coming home with my cup overflowing as I prepare dinner and connect with myself in my own kitchen. Thank you to John T. Edge for leading such an important event and to all that made it possible. 

If you don’t know about the Southern Foodways Alliance, I invite you to check them out at southernfoodways.org They have a dynamic site full of stories, resources, and education.

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Lesson: I have honored my need for a day of solitude and chilling out. Stay tuned for a more in-depth recap of my symposium experience! What are you doing to honor what you need today?

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Lighten Up and Let Go: Flutter Breath

By September 10, 2014 feeding ourselves, getting out of our comfort zone, having flexibility, inspired by others, living a joyful life, personal growth, pleasure, practice, self care, silliness

I have been in a pretty serious and focused space over the last few weeks. I have been craving avenues to express silliness. Who would have thought that an expression of silly would be found in my yoga practice?

I was reminded how invigorating it is to be silly this evening in my yoga class when the instructor guided the class through a series of breaths. The final breath in the series was what is called the “flutter breath.”

I found a delightful snippet about fluttering on a blog about breathing and yoga. I found this image on there too! I am not sure who to give credit to, but I love it!

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Here’s what Diane Neuman, author of Breathing Deep Exercises, had to say about fluttering: 

Fluttering is an effective way (albeit silly) to dump some tension from your face. Face muscles are very small, very complicated and, therefore, a bit difficult to unknot.

Considering all the personal and professional challenges that get dumped on you during the day, it is no wonder that you squint, grimace, clench your jaws, wrinkle your forehead, tense your tongue and jut your head forward! Small face muscles eat up an enormous amount of energy. A tense face messes with your breathing and that messes with your speaking and that messes with your accomplishments.

We will stray briefly from the preferred nose-breathing. Keep any mouth-breathing brief and stop for water if you begin to feel dry.

Keep your mouth closed with lips and jaw muscles completely relaxed. Your lips will be parted slightly only by the escaping exhalation.

1. Breathe in through your nose. Softly blow out each exhalation through your relaxed lips until they flutter. Wet your lips when necessary. Horses and babies make this same sound.

2. Inhale slowly through your nose and breathe out through your “flutter.” Gently squeeze out as much air as possible. The gentle vibration will gradually melt away tension from your face and jaws.

Lesson: I am working on letting go of my serious approach to a number of things in my life. I am sending soulful gratitude to Jennie Dickson at Durham Yoga Company for facilitating the flutter breath in class tonight! I have learned a new strategy to be silly on the mat and in life. I can do it anywhere! 

What strategies do you have to allow some silliness in your life? What might happen if you allow yourself to be silly in unexpected places? 

 

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Six Degrees of Separation: A Memorable Meal at La Morra

By August 4, 2014 asking questions, Boston, building relationships, getting out of our comfort zone, inspired by others, working in restaurants

You know when things line up so well, you can’t stop smiling or for a moment bathe in the feeling of wonder at how magical life can be? This is how I was feeling when I was preparing to leave for Boston a few weeks ago.

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As I mentioned in my post about o ya a couple weeks ago, this was my second time to visit the city of Boston. I had been dreaming of returning since the beginning of this year. Then I was offered an invitation to come out to visit a friend for a few days off of the coast of Boston, on one of the Elizabeth Islands. How could I have resisted? The timing could not have been better, as I had a chunk of free time in July. Indeed -things lined up nicely!

As you might imagine, I work my travel plans around food experiences. I had a mental list of places that I wanted to dine while I was in Boston. Josh DeCarolis, a chef who runs the kitchen at Mateo in Durham, is from Boston. I ran my list by him, telling him that I would be willing to have some flexibility with my plans if he had any suggestions. He told me about an Italian restaurant, La Morra, where he worked for a number of years. I have enjoyed Josh’s cooking style, which is as he is – very Italian. I trusted his judgment when he told me to make some time for his old stomping grounds, La Morra.

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The next phase of this story has to do with my friend Peter, who is from Boston. He and I worked together at Magnolia Grill. I knew as soon as I met him in 2011 that I wanted us to be friends.

I asked Peter to listen to my list of plans. I wanted him to give me the scoop on public transportation in Boston. When I said that I had decided to go to La Morra, he expressed his approval. He said the La Morra has been one of his favorite spots for years.  His pottery studio was near there, and he has had many meals at their bar with their longtime bartender, Bernie. La Morra even served espresso in Peter’s handmade cups.

Fast forward a couple of days – Peter and I were sitting at my table enjoying dinner together. I was texting with another friend, Jesse, who lives in Boston. Jesse and I worked together in a couple of restaurants in Nashville, TN. His uncle owns a bistro, the Tin Angel, which was the first restaurant where I worked in Nashville.

Jesse and I were discussing dates, attempting to figure out when to meet up while I was in town. I asked where he was working these days, assuming that I should check out where he works for a meal. Then I ignored my phone for a bit – re-directing my attention to my dinner companion, Peter.

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Peter and I continued our conversation, which was mostly about specifics of the Boston subway.  I checked my phone and saw the Jesse had responded to my question. He said that he works at a place in Brookline called La Morra. I responded internally, with a “get out of here!” Then I handed my phone to Peter and said, “will you check this out!”  Needless to say, I was definitely going to La Morra for dinner.

There are restaurants where I want to eat when I want my palate to have a new adventure. There are restaurants that I go to for comfort. There are certain restaurants that I will choose simply for the sentiment. I am not a total food snob.

La Morra was one of the coziest places that I have ever been for dinner. Peter nailed it when he said that the bartender, Bernie, was worth her weight in gold. She was warm, welcoming, funny, and incredibly knowledgeable about the food and wine. I enjoyed sharing my first evening in Boston with her.

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La Morra is known for their pasta, which is made in-house with an imported Italian pasta-making machine. Their food was un-fussy, as any fine Italian meal should be. Here’s what I ate at La Morra: smoked wild bass salad with fennel, pate di baccala, fried squash blossoms with a drizzle of honey, a seasonal green salad, and house-made pasta with zucchini ribbons and lobster.  If you’re in Boston and in the mood for fresh pasta, join Bernie at the bar for a lovely experience. Please tell her I said hello!

This story is one of many that I have about synchronicity of crossing paths with people and places. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to create connections with so many wonderfully talented and fine people in the culinary world. I have said it many times and will continue- food brings people together. It transcends boundaries in a way that many avenues cannot.

Lesson: Before I thought of consulting with Josh about my dining plans in Boston, I had my list well-defined. I was thrilled that I shifted my plans to make room for dinner at La Morra. It’s a beneficial exercise to take the blinders off and be open-minded about new possibilities. We never know what we would miss otherwise. A good question to ask in any situation would be: “What other options are possible that I am not thinking about?” 

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Serving Coffee, Creativity, and Community

By May 2, 2014 building relationships, coffee, creativity, customer service, Durham, excellence, inspired by others, local flavor, people skills, working in restaurants

One of my first outings after I moved to Durham was venturing to a place called Motorco. On Sunday’s they had a community market where artists and artisans were selling their wares. That is where I first met Areli. She had a table where she sold spices, chocolates, and coffee. While her wares were intriguing and attractive, the vibrancy of Areli’s smile and the light in her eyes were what made me interested in what she was selling.

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I continued to follow what Areli and her husband, Leon, were up to. They began selling hand ground coffee around town from a bike that they had built for their mobile coffee business called Bike Coffee. Their momentum was building with a mobile food scene happening at the time, with a number of food trucks showing up to feed people around town. Areli and Leon were in the middle of that movement.

A while later, I saw them launch a Kickstarter project for their coffee business. They were planning to build a brick and mortar space to sell their unique wares. From the perspective of an outsider looking in, they spent a lot of time building relationships with the community here in Durham. When it came time for them to launch the fund-raising campaign for their business, people were ready for them to have a larger presence in the community. They raised $32,325 dollars for their coffee shop, Cocoa Cinnamon. That is $12, 325 more than their goal. To see a video about those guys and their Kickstarter video, click HERE.

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Finally, long after my initial intention to have more than a causal conversation with Areli, we sat down in front of her coffee shop for a chat. I wanted to know what it has been like for her and Leon to get this business going. I wondered what it was like for them to work together. I wondered how they had created the magic that I experience when I go to Cocoa Cinnamon.

I feel like I could write a book about what makes Cocoa Cinnamon such an enjoyable place to hang out. I go there a couple times a week for coffee. You might remember just a moment ago when I mentioned what interested me about Areli in the first place. Extrapolate vibrancy, soulful energy, and passion from a human being, and they will create a space where people want to be. From the warm and welcoming staff behind the bar, to the creativity that spills off of the walls in their coffee shop, like attracts like.

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Areli and Leon have been incredibly thoughtful about the creation of their space, carefully choosing who they have hired to be a part of their team, and deliberately selecting what they sell in their shop. I applied to work there when they began looking for staff. While I decided to continue my journey working in the restaurant world, it is still tempting to me to go to work for Areli and Leon. Their application process is different than most. They are digging into people’s interests. Areli says that their hiring process is like casting for a Broadway musical.

The process seems to be working for them from my side of the coffee bar. I enjoy good service. Having worked in the service industry for 20 years, I appreciate businesses that put a lot of effort into how they interact with their customers and the community.

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Areli said that in their first year open that they were able to donate $5,000 to the community of Durham. That is remarkable for a first year of business. They also pay their staff a living wage. Thankfully, more thoughtful employers are into creating a long term staff. Areli said that their goal is to hire people who want to have careers with them. Having a staff that is passionate and invested in what they do for work makes a world of difference in how they perform. Most of the baristas at Cocoa Cinnamon never worked as baristas before. I made sure to tell Areli that I would have never known that before she told me.

A lot of training goes into the staff. Areli seems to be good at giving people responsibilities that fit their personal desires. One of her team members, Susie, has a culinary background. Susie creates the specials. These kinds of moves are important ones for a business owner to make. They keep the staff engaged and provide opportunity for personal and professional growth.

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As a culinary and service professional, I know that it speaks volumes when business owners can relinquish control and allow their staff to take a lead in creating menu items or implementing ideas. That is what facilitates a culture amongst a staff.

This kind of leadership that Areli and Leon are exercising is integral for a young business to thrive. Businesses like theirs are breaking the mold of the old business models. We are living in a new world. Times are changing rapidly. While Areli did not mention how successful she feels after recently celebrating a year as a brick and mortar business, she did mention how they have only just begun. I got the notion that she and Leon have a lot of ideas up their sleeves and much more creativity to unleash.

With their attitudes and passion for what they are doing, these people are not only running a coffee shop. They are creating a model for a new way of doing business, and they are creating a model for building community.

I left my chat with Areli today wanting to know more and more about her plans and ideas. I wanted to say, “Hey, when can I start?” I left wanting to be a part of what they have going on.

Lesson: Doing business in this world today calls for a different quality of service and wares. Cocoa Cinnamon is embodying a way of doing business that is a model for the entrepreneurial folks here in Durham. The way Areli and Leon are doing things inspires me to continue to pay attention to all of the ingredients in my business and in my life! Little details make large impact. What little touches do you notice about a business that make a difference in the community? What makes it so important to you and your community? 

 

 

 

 

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My Intro to (Loving) Good Coffee

By April 17, 2014 beverage junkie, coffee, Durham, inspired by others, integrity, local flavor, so much to learn

I have wanted to dedicate some writing time to coffee for a while now. I have the pleasure of living in an area where we have many local coffee roasters who focus on quality and sustainability. This article will be one of many because there are so many facets of the coffee world to learn about. As I learn more, I will share!!!

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To give you some history, let’s go back to when I first began my love affair with good coffee. I had just begun to enjoy and appreciate coffee on a regular basis while living in Nashville in 2007. I was working at a restaurant called City House. We were serving Drew’s Brews coffee to our patrons. I had so many people comment about how it was the best coffee that they had ever had at a restaurant. The quality of the coffee was in alignment with the quality of the food we served.

In the fall of 2008, I decided that I was going to move to North Carolina. I had gone through a list of all the foodie-things that I loved and could only get in Nashville. Coffee was certainly on the list, Drew’s coffee that is. So I was going to have to have a chat with Drew. I was going to have to arrange a regular delivery of coffee beans to my new apartment in North Carolina. I needed to arrange how that could work out. I was not about to give up my newfound love and appreciation for stellar coffee.

Drew was in the bar one evening. It was time for me to have this chat with him. I had assumed that he would be overjoyed that I would want to carry 100lbs of his coffee with me to North Carolina. It was a funny thing that happened during that conversation with Mr. Drew Parks. I realized a couple of cool things about myself and about him. His response to me was that there was lots of good coffee where I was headed. He would gladly pack me up with enough of his to last me a bit. splash

He wanted me to support my own local coffee culture. At the time, that was an interesting perspective for me to look at in the moment of that conversation. I had already assumed that he was a man of good character and integrity. I knew that he cared about quality. His response was powerful to me. Over the last 5 years, I have remembered his words and his suggestion to nurture and support my own coffee community.

I have certainly been supporting my own local coffee community. Today I am in the Research Triangle of North Carolina. I call Durham home. This community is filled with food and beverage enthusiasts. Aren’t I lucky? I have found myself in another community that cares about food and drink. I have access to really good coffee here. Drew knew what he was talking about.

I have got some more research to do about the coffee production here. From what I have been able to tell so far, Counter Culture Coffee is the largest producer in NC. Durham is the home of nationally known, Counter Culture Coffee. Counter Culture has a learning center here that teaches the science of brewing coffee and many other facets of being a coffee professional. While I have no intention of being a coffee professional, I am looking forward to taking some of their classes.

Counter Culture also develops blends for various restaurant businesses in the area. I used to work at Magnolia Grill here in Durham before they closed at the end of May 2012. We served a house blend of regular and decaf. Counter Culture also bags and sells the Magnolia Grill blend to the public. I have heard through the grapevine that it is one of their most popular blends. Needless to say, people appreciated the good coffee that we served there.

There are a handful of additional local roasters that I would also like to mention – Larry’s Beans, Jo Van Gogh, and Carrboro Coffee Roasters are currently the largest operations in the triangle that I know about. I have had the pleasure of enjoying many of their coffees. I intend to learn more about each of these operations. I promise to share my discoveries with you guys. From the bit of research that I have done, I know each of these businesses has a unique story to tell.

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With more research, I am learning about even smaller local roasters. I am beginning to learn about classes being offered as well. So stay tuned. I am going to have a lot to share with you about my coffee-learning journey! I have also been drinking some wonderful coffees that coffee shops have been bringing in from out of town roasters. I have some enjoyable work cut out for me!

If you are in Nashville, TN – go see Drew. He’s a good guy. You can buy his coffee at Whole Foods Market, Marche Artisan Foods, Imogene and Willie, The Turnip Truck Natural Market, or enjoy it after a wonderful dinner at City House. You can also order it at Drew’s Online Store. I am sure he wouldn’t mind you being curious about a coffee outside of your local community!

Lesson: You never know how a person is going to touch your life and make you think about something in a different way. Drew Parks made me think about being a small  business person in a very different way. There is enough love to go around for us all (using the word “love” literally and figuratively.) Who has touched your life and made you see something important that you might not have seen otherwise?

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The Way I Cook

By March 27, 2014 bakeries, Durham, eggs, inspired by others, local flavor, sandwiches

I had a busy day of errands last Friday. On these kinds of days, I take the opportunity to buzz into one of Durham’s delicious lunch spots. This last week, I went into Scratch bakery. Scratch is owned and operated by pastry chef, Phoebe Lawless. It is one of my favorite places in town! Her food communicates comfort, artisanship, and seasonality. Her food speaks to my soul.

I have the most difficult time choosing what to eat there. I simply want one of everything!!! She serves breakfast and lunch, along with incredibly stunning sweet and savory pies and cakes. Talk about the burden of too many good choices!

Phoebe’s skills have drawn lots of local, regional, and national attention. She was recently on the list of 2014 nominees by the James Beard Association for Outstanding Pastry Chef. Around these parts (Durham, NC), Phoebe is well known for her pies. You will find her fresh baked breads, sorghum granola, sweet and savory crostadas, fresh squeezed lemonade, and much more at her storefront, Scratch, and at the Durham Farmers Market.

Back to my lunch – since I was torn between 3 or 4 items, I asked for some advice from the cheerful young lady working the counter. She recommended the pickled egg salad sandwich, which I had on my list.  I was smitten with my sandwich! Fresh egg salad made with pickled eggs was a first for me, though it will certainly not be the last! I was awestruck by the textures and flavors of my sandwich. I loved the way the bright green lettuce laid against the egg salad and created a subtly crisp layer between the smear of mayonnaise and fresh baked sourdough bread. As always, I was completely satisfied with my Scratch experience.

IMG_0193As the day went on, I could not stop thinking about that egg salad. A few more days passed, and I was still thinking about that egg salad. This is the way that I am often inspired to create and re-create in the kitchen.

I picked up a loaf of sourdough bread from Scratch. I made sure that I had plenty of eggs. I would finally be eating delicious egg salad again. Yesterday was the day!

I did not have time to pickle the eggs. Though it is at the top of my “to do” list – to research some pickled egg recipes. I like using briny or pickled ingredients like capers, olives, and cornichons. I have never really followed a strict recipe for making egg salad. I follow the “little bit of this, little bit of that” method. It can really depend on what I am in the mood to eat as to what will make its way into my egg salad.

Sometimes I get inspiration from unexpected places. With some quick research I discovered that Deb Perlman, the author of Smitten Kitchen, had posted a blog about… you guessed it, egg salad. Deb had a lovely addition of pickled celery to her egg salad recipe. I was “on a roll.” I had a pickled element to add to my egg salad. It was time for me to dig in the fridge and get my egg salad going!

Lesson: I feel so lucky to have access to such skilled artisans and chefs where I live and work. I have inspiration and experience to draw upon from these wonderful resources in humanity. I am ever so grateful for the inspiration. What are you grateful for today?

 

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