Stirred again…

It has been a long time since I have had the urge to write.  I can’t explain it, and it is never because of a lack of ideas or inspiration.  But, upon learning that Pat Conroy died, something has stirred inside of me again.  Maybe it is an internal feeling I have of what better way to honor a writer than to write.  Maybe it is a way for me to share the passion I  share with Pat, and that indescribable bond you can feel to a person you have never even met, a bond made of nothing except a feeling you have.

Many of us know Pat Conroy for Prince of Tides, Lords of Discipline, and The Great Santini.  Some of my favorites of his are The Water is Wide and Beach Music.  But above all of the novels he wrote re-telling pieces of his broken childhood, my absolute favorite book of his is appropriately titled Recipes of My Life, The Pat Conroy Cookbook.  In this, he tells his stories, and his passion for cooking, and how both combined into an undeniable force.  His words are powerful, and stirring.  He writes with such emotion, and what I love the most is I know he cooked with the same emotion, too.   “Home is a damaged word, bruisable as fruit, in the cruel glossaries of the language I choose to describe the long, fearful march of my childhood.  Home was a word that caught in my throat, stung like a paper cut, drew blood in its passover of my life, and hurt me in all the soft places.  My longing for home was as powerful as fire in my bloodstream.” 

This is one of the many cookbooks I cherish most.  It is one of the few I actually use.  It is the one that doesn’t get stored like all the others, neatly slid into the shelf.  It sits open on the shelf in a bowl, quick and easy to pick up.  The pages have a couple of stains, and the bottom of the front cover is forever bent upwards and soft with use, instead of flat and shiny.  This says a lot, my cookbook collection is not small.  Each and every cookbook I own has meaning.  Some I use, some I refer to, many I have as mementos of places I have travelled to, many have been gifts.  But I love every single one.  Just recently I had to clean out two new shelves so I could store the cookbooks that had grown into a pile on the floor.  I had to make room for what matters, as well as remove the natural collecting spot for dust bunnies in the den.  Summed up best in Pat Conroys words, “Cooking is an insidious addiction and it was many years before I realized I needed to enroll in a twelve- step program to control my passion for the ownership of cookbooks.”  Love it, love him.

Food, the language that binds, touchable love, nourishment.  I think when I read chapter 7, titled “A recipe is a Story”, I became his devotee forever.  He was able to sum up what I cherish about sharing food with others in one beautiful sentence. He simply states and I will end with this:

“…it is my most religious belief that a recipe is just a story that ends with a good meal.”

Enjoy the best of food and life, a well done and well lived life, Pat.

 

 

 

 

 

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New for 2016, Personal Chef Services

Oh, how I have missed you!  Many of you subscribe to my emails as well, but for those who just follow the blog, I wanted to be sure to update this site as well.

After some time off and a lot of thought, I am excited to offer something new in the form of personal chef services.  There are several ways this service can be used, and each one is sure to make your life easier.
Personal chef services are designed to be whatever you need them to be, from preparing healthy weeknight meals, or catering events in your home, and much more.  Please read below for a summary of services and links to pages on my website.  Click here to go straight to the website.

Fresh Weekly Meal Services-
Choose either a pre-set weekly selection or a customizable menu for you.

1.  Pre-set Menu: The menu will change weekly and will look similar to meals offered through Julia’s Take Away Gourmet dinner pick up.  This pre-set menu includes 3 full meals, each to serve 4, and is $200, including groceries.  To see the menu for the week of January 25th click here!

2.  Customized Weekly Menu: Menus will be designed around your preferences, dietary needs, and budget.  I will work with you to create your menu after a free initial consultation.  This option is priced at an hourly rate, plus groceries.  Click here to see more details about this option.

Personal Chef Services
Under this category there are so many uses!

  • Small dinner parties
  • Cooking classes- get a group together in a home and have fun cooking, eating, and learning
  • Catered events large & small
  • Cooking basics like how to shop efficiently and healthy, shopping for what’s fresh instead of an ingredient list
  • Miscellaneous other needs

Fill your Freezer

The stock your freezer service is very customizable for whatever you want.  If you want 6 healthy entrees I will do that.  I can make 10 quarts of soup, or prepare 5 casseroles to have on hand.  Whether you are planning for vacation, holidays, or want to have your freezer loaded, this service will make your life easier.  For details about this service click here and  here for suggested menu options.

I am now scheduling for services to begin January 25th.  To schedule appointments please contact me via email@ bluemoose@triad.rr.com or phone @ 336.681.0675.
If you have any questions, please email or call me.  You can click here to go to my website for all information.

And as always…
Enjoy the best of food and life!
Julia

Setting the Standard

Method + Standard Full Familt Shot (3)

Every once in a while you know something is going to be good, just because.  This is how I feel about the burgeoning craft cocktail scene happening right here, right now, in NC.  At the top of this list is the new vodka called Method & Standard.  Crafted by Piedmont Distilleries, (who was first on the scene of the locally made liquor movement), this smooth vodka in its beautiful packaging did not disappoint.  And yes, aside from the smooth vodka inside, the bottles and packaging give it the look of an artful and expensive perfume.  It is edgy, creative, and good.

For the purists, the original vodka will most likely be your preference.  For those of you who enjoy a flavored vodka, you will be thrilled to know Method & Standard also makes Raspberry, Apple Spice, and Strawberry.  A fine touch is the recipes they provide with creative cocktails, such as the “Bark & Bite” with apple spice vodka and ginger beer.  But don’t take my word for it, you really should get crafty with a bottle of your own.

As their tag line says, Method & Standard is “finely crafted without compromise”.  In words much better than my own, here is what the makers say about the process:  “Method & Standard is crafted without compromise. It was created using our ten years of learning and experimentation with different ingredients and different methods to craft the finest vodka possible. It is small batch blended, using 100% all-natural ingredients to deliver a 100% all-natural taste. It is made from gluten-free, american-grown corn to deliver a subtly sweet taste and extremely clean finish. The vodka is finished by filtering the spirit for twelve hours using carbon made from coconut shells.  This removes almost all of the alcohol burn you typically experience with ordinary vodkas. Method and Standard is free from any additives, extracts or preservatives commonly used in other vodkas. The fruit flavors are authentically infused in whole, ripe, real fruit.  All of the color and taste comes from the fruit itself.  Method & Standard is crafted for those that care what is in their products, how they are made and want products that have a real, all-natural taste. Method & Standard is truly the very best vodka that we can make…”

So get by your local red dot store and pick up some Method & Standard today.  It will inspire you, whether mixed with soda or tonic and a lime, or created like a NYC mixologist into a premium cocktail of your own.  Enjoy!

I am.

I feel like I should say welcome back!  It has been so long since I have blogged and so much has been going on.  Life sometimes gets in the way, and until now I haven’t even thought about writing.  Suddenly I am flooded with thoughts and ideas, but I’ll save some for a rainy day and stick to the thoughts I had this morning.

So this morning I attended a church meeting where I was new to the group.  Since I was one of several newcomers, our leader suggested we do an ice breaker to introduce ourselves and help us learn a little bit about each person.  Let me be honest, I did a horrible job of following her directions.  We were supposed to describe ourselves by saying “I am a (blank)”.  Now don’t get funny here, I realize that was pretty open ended and I’m sure many of you would love to fill in the blank for me on this.  But seriously, I didn’t say one thing I am.  I thought about this on my way home, and instead of telling her what I am, I gave a brief and sweet little synopsis of my life that really didn’t do the question, or myself, justice.  I’m not sure if I meant to do this or not, but never the less it happened and that’s life.

For some reason, I am compelled to answer it now, to myself, to you.  Why?  I have no idea.  I know you have much better things to do than read this, but since it has been a while since my last blog, I hope you’ll oblige me as I’m sure many of you perhaps will relate to where I am.

I am a child. I am a daughter to one of the most kind hearted and caring women I know.  I am daughter to the most influential man in my life, who left us entirely too early.  Although his years were too short, his lessons and his laughter and his words leave a legacy.  I am a daughter, a gift to my parents, as my children are to me.

I am a sister.  At times in my life, the ten and twelve years age difference between my two older sisters and me has seemed like a mountain.  Now that we are older it feels weird to think there is an age difference between us at times.  Our life experiences have been different, but at the end of the day I have two sisters I love, and love me back.  Through thick and thin, through bumps in the road, we are sisters.  Trust me, this love has been tested on all sides of the spectrum, like it or not they are stuck with me, and in the end we are family.

I am a friend.  I type this in tears.  My friends are my world, the family I choose for myself.  My greatest gift.  My friends are the ones I laugh with, cry with, love and play with, share life with.  My future and my past.  They are my all and I hope to be the same to them.  If I type anymore my computer will crash because of the flood from my eyeballs.  So enough said, you get the point.  I consider being a friend top on the list of the things I am.

I am a wife.  This one I hold so very dear, the most important relationship in my life, the one so important it is hard to put into words.  I am a wife, and my husband is my best friend, so ditto everything I just said about friends and add it to being a wife to him.  But more than that, together we have built a home, a family.  We have built the most unique thing and I hope you feel what my lack of words can not express.  You often hear that marriage isn’t easy, and it isn’t always easy.  However, when the rewards are so great, so fulfilling, it isn’t as hard anymore.

I am a mom.  Wow, a mom.  How and when did that happen?  I still feel like I am fresh out of college and some might say I act like it, too.  I have two beautiful, healthy children who I am able to guide through their lives.  I adore them, as the book says “they are my everything.”  I love this, I love to think of being their tour guide for life.  Isn’t that we are as parents?  Our children are their own little people, and while they might hold many similarities to us as parents, their life is uniquely theirs.  The greatest gift is that when the tour is over and they go out on their own, we have showed them the way well.

I am also a chef, but that seems so inadequate.  Not because I am some amazing chef, but to me that is like saying a master violinist is just a musician.  Such a blanket term, lacking the millions of qualities and details that describe what I love, my passion.  A chef is a career, not what I am.  I am a chef, but I am this because it expresses outwardly the aspects of what I love.  Cooking feeds our soul, literally.  It is sharing, preparing, loving.  It is tradition, it is health, it is happiness.  It is culture right here today in Winston-Salem, and it is culture today thousands of miles away in Syria.  Food feeds us, literally, but food really feeds our souls when shared with others.

I am human.  I am not always right and I make mistakes, I make lots of them.  LOTS.  There are days when I think if someone else calls me mom again this rocket might blow!  I am sure the amount of typo’s in this blog would make an editor cry.  I am human, and I wonder at times “why is this happening to me?”.  There are days when I think I have this whole parent thing figured out and rock it completely, then the next day it is utter failure.  You know the kind, the kind where you think “I suck at this and my kids are going to be all screwed up”.  But then again, I am human.  I make mistakes, hopefully learn from them, and remind myself to try again.  Every day is new.

All of the above things lead me to realize, I am a crier.  Yes, one who cries, often.  Occasionally they are tears of sadness, but thankfully the sad tears are few and far between.  I cry tears of joy, compassion, happiness, of life.  I cry when I laugh so hard I can barely breathe, then am sore the next day.  I cry at commercials, I cry at the end of the evening news when they show the life stories.  I cry when someone gives me a special gift, not just a present, but a gift from the heart with no care of the dollar value.  Jimmy Valvano once said that if you laugh each day, love each day, and are moved to tears each day, that is a day well lived.  Not an exact quote, but something I remember.  My days are usually well lived, are yours?

I am so many other things, too.  Writer, outdoor lover, animal lover (have you ever been to my house?), comedian (stretching it), business woman, domestic engineer, should I go on?  Some might think it is hard to define yourself to words, that saying what “I am” is too hard, too confining.  I think it is fabulous.  Instead of feeling confined to these terms, I like to think how lucky I am that I get to be these things?  I am living and breathing, laughing and crying, loving and hurting, searching and finding, just like you.  I am.  I am me.  Your turn now, fill in the blank, what are you?

Enjoy the best of food and life, enjoy all the things that you are.

give me a beet…

Give me a beet, and I will give you my heart.  I have a new found passion for this stunning vegetable.  The beet I have uncovered in my early forties is quite different from what I remember growing up, when my mom would heat them straight from the can.  No, these beets are amazing, beautiful, earthy, and delicious.  Red, yellow, baby, or striped.  I will try any.  I’m not quite certain how nature achieves such magnificent colors, and the beet is just one shining example.  Recently when I boiled some beets in their skins, I reserved the water and cooked pasta in it the next day.  My kids devoured it and wondered why it was pink pasta, and I am still amazed at the fun to be discovered in the kitchen.

So I decided I wanted to share a simple creation I have made for a warm beet & chevre salad with pickled sweet onion, a fabulous side dish as spring fades into summer.  Not to mention, it is super healthy and light!  Even the roasting part is quite easy, so if you have never done it don’t be afraid, give it a shot.  Try something new, give yourself a beet, and open your mind and your kitchen to exploring all the local wonders that are out there this season.

To roast beets:

Wash beets well, real well of dirt, and trim beets of greens just above where the root meets the greens.  Place on sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil, lightly drizzle with oil, then wrap into a closed package.  Place on a cookie sheet in a preheated 375 oven.  Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, depending on the size of the beet.  When pierced with a fork or knife they should be tender through out.  Let cool about ten minutes until easy to handle, and peel skins from each beet by gently rubbing until loose.  I like to slice them at this point so they are ready to use, just about 1/4 inch slice, unless I am preparing them for the following recipe.  In that case, leave whole and cover in the foil to keep warm, and slice just before assembly.  Roast some extra’s, they are great chilled and used later in salads and other recipes.  (Your fingers will be pink!)

Warm Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Pickled Onion & Mint

  • Half of a sweet onion, red onion, or one whole shallot
  • Red wine vinegar, about 1/4 – 1/2 cup
  • 4-6 medium sized beets, roasted, peeled, and sliced
  • small log (5 oz) of goat cheese-you won’t use it all (but crumbling it yourself is better than bought crumbles, trust me)
  • enough good quality olive oil to drizzle generously
  • mint sprigs or fresh herbs for garnish & chiffonade (sounds fancy but it’s really just thinly sliced strips of mint)
  1. While beets are roasting,  thinly slice, or dice if you prefer, half of a sweet onion, red onion, or shallot to your liking.  Key word…thinly, as thin as you can without losing your finger tip!  Place in small bowl and “almost cover” with red wine vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside, stir occasionally.  *(leftover pickled onions are great on taco’s, salads, sandwiches and more…get creative!)
  2. When ready to serve, have all ingredients ready and set out.  Arrange the still warm beet rounds in a stack, about 3-4 per serving depending on thickness of slice, with one small crumble of goat cheese between each layer.  *(Or, if beets are prepared in advance, heat in a shallow dish to re-heat, 350 for a few minutes until completely warm through.)
  3. While beets are hot, sprinkle generously with crumbled goat cheese so the beet in turn warms the cheese, it is important that beets are warm when you crumble cheese over them.  Don’t worry if the beets aren’t hot once served, if the goat cheese goes on while warm and gets a little melty, then that is all the magic you’ll need!
  4. Top each stack with one teaspoon of pickled onion if diced, or scatter sliced onions over top, drizzle with nice olive oil.  Garnish with mint chiffonade and sprigs on the side, and serve.  Serves about 4, easily doubled!

Simple, see?  Paired with a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc, nicely grilled herb marinated chicken, and a simple cast iron hot potato salad- restaurant quality in your own home, but better.

I hope you enjoy this recipe… and the best of food and life throughout all the seasons!

 

 

disconnected…

honeysuckle

It has been entirely too long since I have written, and I miss it.  Writing has become a part of my life, and the connection I feel through words is huge.  The past month has flown by and suddenly I am here today, realizing how long it has been since I last put my thoughts to paper.  I have been inspired countless times by numerous things, and the number of blogs I have written in my mind is vast, just never put down.  You see, somehow spring break turned into Easter, and here I am in May preparing for the end of the school year and summer.  It has been a gorgeous Spring, just what it should be…cool mornings with warm afternoons, April showers that bring May flowers.  And jam packed with things to do.  Like you, juggling a schedule of work, volunteering, kids and more gets hectic at times, and the thought of lazy summer days is a welcome one.  Our schedules are full and we are plugged in all the time.  Summer seems to bring a break from this, and hope that 24/7 will become 24/6.  It’s funny, we are so connected in every way, that sometimes doesn’t it seem like we are disconnected?

This morning as I reached for my thoughts, I decided to enjoy this one true morning off and go for a long walk though Graylyn and Reynolda.  It was stunning.  The contrasting shades of Spring greens exploded everywhere, fresh cut grass and fields of blooms painted a picture that can’t be duplicated.  (Nature is one serious interior designer!)  As I was walking through the big field at Reynolda, the most amazing scent filled the air.  I literally stopped and then retraced my steps to get closer.  Fragrant blooms buzzed with honey bees darting in and out.  I stopped, and for the first time in too long, picked a honeysuckle blossom and tasted that sweet nectar.  Suddenly, I felt reconnected.

Simple things often seem to recharge us the most, and make us feel connected instead of disconnected.  A phone call in place of a text, a glimpse of the first long awaited flower bloom, the taste and smell of honeysuckle.

It’s there, go do it.  Enjoy the best of food and life.

…and then I cried

Winston-Salem offers something very special and unique.  Arts, history, downtown, and, bulky item pick up.  I’m sure there are other places that offer this, but the thought is really crazy that once a year you can haul almost anything to your curb and have it removed by the city.

I have warned my family this year we are cleaning out, big.  I have been so excited getting ready for a serious Spring Clean.  Yes, truck after truck drives around the neighborhood, taking things almost as soon as you put it out.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?  Our garage will look amazing after purged of so many things that seem to serve no purpose other than to take up space, and our lawn will be cleaned out, too.

At the corner of our yard, for almost 10 years now, our swing set has sat.  Old, rickety, covered in mud and chalk.  Loved through 10 years of spring, summer, winter and fall days.  It has been home base for countless games, forts for all kinds of adventures, and quiet moments of swinging in the breeze.  A part of the fabric of our lives for the past ten years.  And that’s when I cried.  Watching the kids well loved, rickety, barely usable anymore, play set disassembled and taken to the street for bulky item pick up.  I didn’t see the rotten wood, I saw years of pushing them in the swings.  I saw our years being played in slow motion like a black and white movie.  The years before school began and our days were filled with naps, play time, naps, repeat.  Precious moments that somehow seem to be flying by, just like you are always told they will.  No more toddlers running through the yard, bloomers covering diapers and john johns bursting at the seems, we are on to lacrosse sticks and soccer goals now.

I know this is the end result.  I know our goal to raise good kids and watch them grow up and learn to take care of themselves along the way.  I like to think of it as being a tour guide…hear to guide them but the goal is for them to learn to fly on their own.  But it just undid me, that swing set in pieces, and now I feel like my heart is in pieces, too.

So I came inside to write, which I often do as my comfort or source of sharing my feelings.  But the tears are bouncing off my key pad and my shirt sleeves are wet from wiping my face.  And so I cry, happy tears of happy memories, really, and I know it won’t be the last time.  There is a joy in my heart, too, that bittersweet feeling we all know.

Each day is a gift.  There are moments when we take it for granted and wish the days away.  How many times have I looked at that swing set and wanted it gone?  Now that it is, and I feel like so much more has been taken away.   There are moments we want to freeze time and soak it all in.  Enjoy them all.