Friday, February 26, 2010

New Arrival and a GIVEAWAY!

We've talked about it for years, since we finally bought our own home. We knew it would happen eventually; it was just a question of timing.

Well, today was the day. Do you know already what we welcomed into our home?

Miss Chef was home for the delivery. We had to coordinate several professionals to assist with the big event. I wish I could have been there to help her, but, in the end, it was her baby.

Her big, bright, shining, stainless steel baby...

Yes, we have finally converted--to cooking with gas! Attentive readers have probably noticed that Miss Chef was creating her culinary wonders on an electric stove; you may even have wondered how such a fabulous professional chef could live that way. Well, the house came with most of the original appliances, which were still very serviceable, and having a new mortgage doesn't tend to free up a lot of extra cash.

However, you may also remember that the bottom element of that 20-year old white stove went out during the Thanksgiving Feast of 2009. We could have just plunked down $40 for a new element...but maybe the dramatic malfunction was a sign. After all, I had been working crazy hours at two jobs, which eventually translated into the long-dreamed-of disposable income. What better reward for all my hard work?

So now we have not just a gas range, but one with five burners and a convection oven. The fifth burner is a long center one with a cast-iron grill. Looking forward to some pancakes or French toast in the morning... And I've never cooked in a convection oven before, but from what Miss Chef tells me, it can make a huge difference in baking. Time to dig up her snickerdoodle recipe!

As for the old stove, it is currently sitting forlornly in the dark at the head of our driveway. But it will soon be taken away to a new home. When the appliance salesman told us the delivery men would remove our old stove and take it to the...DUMP...Miss Chef and I looked at each other and said a silent "uh-uh."

The next morning I posted an announcement on our local Freecycle group, and any minute now a perfect stranger is going to show up and give our old stove a second life. That's what I call a happy ending.


Flartus' First Giveaway!

Technically, this is my second giveaway, but I wasn't sure if those persimmon seeds were gonna work, so that first one was kinda lame. (Unless Alix ends up with a beautiful fruiting tree, in which case, oh my gosh, that was such an awesome giveaway!)


Anyway, here we are at the end of dreary February, having survived one miserable, cold, gray winter month after another. Many of us are still snow-shocked, and I'm beginning to count the sunny days as if I were back under Cleveland's cloudbank. So I figured it was time to bring somebody out there a little bit of cheer! It could be you receiving a (sort-of) surprise package sent to you from the heart of Flartopia!

To enter my First Fabulous Giveaway, simply write a comment to this post, answering the following two questions:

1) Which Flartopia (or My Two Sense) post have you enjoyed the most, or found the most memorable, and why?

2) What do you think the prize is!?

Entries must be postmarked submitted by midnight Thursday, March 4th. The winner will be randomly selected from all valid responses to #1. Feel free to enter multiple times, if you're so inclined.

And what about question #2? Well, if anyone happens to guess right, the first one is an automatic winner. I might just pop back here in day or two to add a hint, just for fun...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Valentine's Weekend

Another big restaurant holiday come and gone. Miss Chef and I spent more time together on Valentine's weekend than we usually do. I got to join the small team at the restaurant for the equivalent of The Big Game. You know, how it goes--the team gets psyched up, you make sure you're ready, and then the moment of truth arrives--the doors open, the first customers walk in, and the show's on.

Saturday night was the bigger of the two nights; fewer people wanted to go out on a Sunday night. Saturday I arrived at the restaurant at 4:30, half an hour before the first reservations. I got smart, and brought my own clipboard this time, so I wouldn't have to steal borrow Chef Adam's.

By the way, I'd like to just point out that the kitchen worked much harder than I did. They already had several hours in by the time I showed up, and they were still cleaning while we sat down to eat after service.

Here's the front of the restaurant:

No, I didn't have time to take pictures this weekend; these are from last summer, when Miss Chef and I had to bring things back from the farmers' market across the street. (Yes, the restaurant is right across from the farmers' market--how cool is that?)

I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow, because living it is tiring enough. Both nights went very smoothly, and I once again benefitted from providential coincidence. For example, I discovered at 5:00 that a table at 6:30 was mistakenly double-booked, with nowhere to shift anyone. Were we going to have to cram someone into a 45-minute time slot at another table? That could domino into people waiting all night...aargh, isn't there another table?

20 minutes later, one of the double-booked parties called to cancel.

A couple showed up at 5:30, gave me their name--no reservation. Whoever took the call never wrote it down. The only empty table was the one right by the door usually left for walk-ins. Except...the couple on table 23 were 20 minutes late. Fine, they're no shows; I give their table to Mr. and Mrs. Reservationless.

Five minutes later, guess who walks in? Yup, table 23! "Oh! Your reservation was for 5:30!?" I said, in my most shocked tones, as I glanced at my watch. They quickly understood the problem, very gracefully accepted the table by the door and proceeded to fully enjoy their meal.

This is the row of tables leading to the door, where I stood most of the night. In front of me was the dessert tray, filled with samples of chocolate lava cake, profiteroles, crème brûlée...maybe it was because I knew the "ice cream" was actually Crisco, but they didn't tempt me at all.

The smell of the butternut squash soup brought to that first table, though, that got my stomach growling!

Every time I've stood at the front (or back) of the restaurant, flipping through my sheets to see if the next tables will be out and bused in time, I've been struck by the parallel existence of two different worlds in that same small space.

Most of time I see the servers swerving around each other with bread baskets, plates and wine bottles; busers polishing silverware and glasses at the bar; Miss Chef, Chef Adam and sometimes Mike the pantry cook zooming back and forth by the pass, occasionally hollering out for a server; the dishwasher slamming clean plates up into the window.

Every once in a while, though, my focus changes. I notice the soft glow of candles on the tables, the relaxed faces of the patrons, the half-empty wine glasses and the low rumble of happy conversation. Then I see a server bending over her table with smiles, laughing with the guests, calmly clearing plates and allowing the diners to feel comfortable and cared for. All the hustle is over the guests' heads, both literally and figuratively. All the little details that make me fret melt out of existence for them. They are taken care of, and they are having a lovely time.

As far as I know, there were no serious complaints from our customers on either night. Saturday we served 119, Sunday 73. Sunday night Chef Adam had roses to hand out to all the female customers (except for the two men dining together; they both got roses). Afterward, at family meal, Chef made a point of handing the remaining flowers out to the female staff individually. One of those little perqs that make it a happy place. (He also got to kiss us all on the cheek, so, y'know, it goes both ways.)

Oh, and here's another snapshot: Sunday night, someone discovered that the full-sized fridge at the bar was contaminated--with garlic. Turns out the backup of roasted garlic cloves (served with the bread) had overflowed onto several bottles of wine and cocktail mixings. Garlic-flavored Korbel, anyone? The front-of-house staff tried to address it during service, but it wasn't until the last seating that two servers started pulling everything out and washing it down. Eventually, Chef Adam was there, on his knees, scrubbing out the bottom of the fridge.

That's a chef who's earned his staff's loyalty.

Monday Miss Chef and I celebrated Valentine's Day. How? By sitting on the couch all day, reading. Together. It was lovely--and I need to give a "shout out" to Michele at Bosky Acres, who gave me a Valentine's gift by giving Miss Chef that day off! I'd say we used it well.

Friday, February 12, 2010

More Snow

Who knew that North Carolina would see more snow than the Winter Olympics on opening night?

The light was fading, so it was hard to get sharp images.

But everything looks so sculptural in the snow.

Well, maybe not everything...Rosie was too busy licking up the snow to pose for a picture. A black dog in white snow looks so cool, though!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Living with a Chef

A phone conversation we had last week:

Miss Chef: So, did you have anything in mind for Valentine's Day?
Me: Well, I have Monday off, so I figured...I mean, I don't have anything specific, but I thought we'd celebrate it Monday. (Miss Chef will of course be working on Sunday.)
Miss Chef: Yeah, well, that's great, but that's not what I meant. Do you want to work on Sunday?
Duh. Ok. I said yes. And then today she called and asked if I wanted to work Saturday, too. And I said yes again. So that's how we'll be celebrating Valentine's Day: working opposite ends of the restaurant, me at the door, her in the kitchen. But at least we'll be together...right?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Rosie's Kludge

It's been raining so much here, I've been lucky to give Rosie a half-decent walk even every other day. I don't mind her getting wet, but she'd really rather not have me messing around with her paws and nether regions with a towel, and she takes forever to dry out. So I decided she needed a raincoat!

Problem is, the only ones I can find that offer any belly protection cost $70 or so. When she trots, her feet splash tons of water up under her tummy, and that's the part that takes longest to dry. Sorry Rose; I love you, but I don't own a good raincoat and I'm not spending that much on yours! So White Trash Bag it is.

It took a few tape tucks here and there, and a little time for her to feel comfortable, worked! And I have to say, I have the most patient, good dog EVER! She gave me no trouble putting it on, and even when she stepped on her "hem" before I had a chance to tape it up, she just stopped cold and gave me that look you see above. "Am I doing it wrong?"

Once we got going, she didn't seem hampered by her rustling fashion statement, even when I told her she sounded like she was wearing a diaper. In fact, instead of going around the puddles as she usually does, she went clomping right through the deepest part of every one we passed. I don't know if it was a testament to the effectiveness of her protective gear, or an attempt at revenge!

Back at home, I ripped out the "arm"holes, pulled it back over her tail, and let her step out of it. All I had to do was wipe down her legs and fluffy ears, and she was dry enough to go inside.

And I really am thinking of submitting it to the Kludge website...hee hee!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Snow Days Part 2; Gift from Laughing Orca Ranch

I'll bet you didn't even know there was a Part 1, did you? Well, I had such a lovely weekend I felt the need to boast share more of it! We woke up Saturday to an inch or so of snow, which, though a bit wet in the afternoon, eventually froze into a solid sheet. Areas that weren't heavily trafficked, while smooth, weren't particularly slick, so on Sunday I took Rosie for a "slide" instead of a walk.

Above and below are pictures I took around the pond in our neighborhood common area. I had little idea if they would come out well, since the sun was so bright--you know how impossible it is to see the screen on a digital camera. Fortunately, mine also has an old-fashioned viewfinder. This was the first time I'd been so completely dependent on it.

As we walked along, a troupe of four Canada geese came sailing in, honking their arrival and sinking through the air to land on the pond. Instead of the usual "kasplassshhhhhh" of a long water landing, I heard more of a "ksssshhhhh" as they landed agilely atop the thin layer of ice! They then proceeded to stroll around, while I wondered how likely they were to step onto a thin spot and fall through. Not very, I'll bet.

Backtracking a little...since Saturday's snowfall melted with the express intent of refreezing that night into smooth black ice, Chef Adam told Miss Chef to stay home. Which is why I had such a great weekend; once again we had Saturday and Sunday off together, just like REAL people! However, about an hour after he called, Miss Chef started getting antsy. Cabin fever, already?!?

Turns out, she was getting hungry, and craving "something cheesy, and something with gravy." None of which we had ready to hand. So we ventured out to the grocery store--after I had gone through all the trouble of going for milk the night before! I consoled myself with the fact that Miss Chef had actually used some milk already, to make biscuits (from Jiffy mix, don't get excited).

Her first concoction was mac 'n' cheese...

We like to put broccoli in ours, as you can tell. 'Cause, you know, cheddar and broccoli are a delicious combo, too. Miss Chef has taken to adding corn, too, mostly as an attempt to get more vegetables into me. The first time, I didn't notice until I was eating it, which is fortunate, because it sounded too weird to contemplate. But corn adds a lovely sweet contrast to the salty cheesiness. Really, it's good!

Now, I had planned ahead for Sunday dinner by pulling a turkey breast out to thaw on Friday night. And then, Saturday morning, I remembered...our oven only has one working element, and we have yet to figure out how to adjust time and temperature to work around it. (Witness those biscuits I referred to earlier, which turned out very white, and both under- and over-cooked at the same time. Neither one of us was upset when Rosie stole the leftovers off the counter later.)

Well, Sous-chef Flartus to the rescue! I had recently read an article about a family whose oven was broken at Thanksgiving, and who cooked their bird on the grill. It turned out so well, they've been doing it that way ever since! I mentioned it to Miss Chef, but wasn't sure it was an option for us. See, we have a 6-year old Weber-style kettle grill: very small, getting rusty, needing replacement. So I was thinking maybe we'd opt for asking the neighbors if we could borrow their oven, for a share in some turkey breast.

Miss Chef, however, had seized on the grill idea, and was ready to make a go of it. She seasoned the breast with salt and pepper, then put it in a shallow aluminum pan with water in it (to keep it moist). Then she just popped it on the grill, put the lid on, and walked away.

That's right--she set it and forget...ted it.

As I sat around lazily surfing the net and reading the paper, Miss Chef kept busy in the kitchen.

From front to back, those are glazed carrots, gravy from turkey stock (save those bones, people!), and chives on the cutting board ready to go into the mashed 'taters in the mixer. Oh yeah, I love it when Miss Chef has time to cook!
And the turkey? It took a few hours, but it came out looking gorgeous!

No basting, no glaze, just salt and pepper. I could have done the same thing, and it wouldn't look half this good. And it tasted amazing! Reminiscent of the smoked turkey legs at the Renaissance Festival. Some of the outer meat was a bit tough, but the flavor made it worth the extra chewing, and most of the meat was tender enough.

And for dessert...s'mores, of course!


As you can imagine, heading back to work on Monday was a harsh dive back into reality. But when I got home, there was a lovely surprise waiting for me! Lisa of Laughing Orca Ranch had a giveaway a little ways back concerning some amusing chicken pictures, and chose my caption as a runner up. I had no idea what kind of "literary" award she had for me, but I was amazed at how well she nailed it!

Lemme tell ya, this is a great book for anyone who's ever lived in France. It's the (mostly) fictional story of a young Englishman working for a French company in Paris, and the ensuing linguistic and culture shock. All told in that charmingly dry British humour. Every scene brings back memories of my own experiences: figuring out clothing, greetings, waiters, and the weird ways the French re-interpret English words for their own use...but it's a lot funnier seeing somebody else deal with it. (And that's all just in the first 30 pages.)

Excellent choice, Lisa. Very well played! Thank you very much, I shall greatly enjoy it! I will be happy to recommend you as a personal shopper for anyone having trouble picking out gifts; you seem to have a knack for it.

On a related note, I'm hoping to have my own giveaway soon...though I still have to figure out what kind of hoops to have you jump through fun task to have you all do. Stay tuned!