Lessons Learned in 2012 and The Zen of Zesting

Dota 2013 New Year2012 was a year full of highs and lows for me. It is really hard to put into words how difficult the changes have been. I have spent the last decade or so just maintaining. You know, the same old job, set routines, not happy but not miserable, so I thought I was doing ok. In 2006 I tried a new career as a pastry chef but when that became too difficult, I went back to the familiar old job that paid the bills. I felt like there were so many people struggling with less that I was blessed to have as much as I did and I should just be happy with that. But I wanted more. It took a while for me to realize I deserved more. And it took even longer to be able to reach out to my friends and family to ask for the help I needed to get there.

cookingplanitI lost that comfortable job at the beginning of 2012. A year or so ago, that would have been a devastating blow. But through the power of prayer, the support of friends, and a really good therapist, I have to say I actually was excited by this. I somehow just knew that something bigger and better was in the works for me. I remember someone actually telling me that I should write down my dream job and I kind of scoffed at this and said, “Nobody is going to hire me to make desserts from my house.” And yet, that is pretty much what I am doing. Thanks to Cooking Planit, I am curating a database of desserts, as well as doing savory recipes, helping with blogger outreach, writing blog posts and pretty much anything else that helps expand my skills and keep the dream job interesting. Lesson learned- Sometimes you need to lose what you have to gain what you desire.

IMAG0271About a month after I started my dream job, I lost one of my best friends to heart disease at the way too young age of 39. I loved Dax with all my heart despite years of on-again, off-again and other dramas. He truly knew me better than even my own family. I was blessed to have him in my life and it was evident that he left a huge hole not only in my life but in those of his friends and family that packed the church at his memorial. The picture I am sharing here was a fabulous memory I will cherish with him at Cowboy Stadium. I struggle with the grief everyday. It was just so unexpected. Our last conversation was not a good one but that was not unusual for us. I know he loved me and I wish I could spend just one more day with him. Lesson learned- Hug the ones you love and tell them how much they mean to you because you never know if it will be the last.

IMG_5663I grew up with a special needs brother, Charles. If you have never had the opportunity to spend time with someone with special needs, I encourage you to seek out the opportunity through volunteering. There is something about people who have physical and mental handicaps that allows them to share a grace and love that is so pure it makes the world a less jaded place. Charles lived well past the age he was expected to in a very large part thanks to the loving care my parents provided for him for 48 years. Charles became very ill in June and the prognosis was dim. We were fortunate enough to spend time with our Bubby in his final days but of course, the loss of someone so special and innocent is heart-wrenching. Lesson learned- with Charles, the lessons were numerous but what he taught me most of all was being different was ok. In fact, be proud of your differences, it is how you find your strengths.

A big thank you to all of my friends who have helped me through my roller coaster year. So many times a phone call, a text, or a drinky poo with one of you has gotten me over a hump. You have celebrated my highs and dragged me through the lows. The lesson you all have brought me has been one of humility and strength as well as the ever-so-difficult, it is ok to rely on others, you do not have to do it all yourself. I love you all to pieces.

Another thing I have been struggling with is now that I am writing recipes for a living, it makes it near impossible to come up with extra stuff for the blog. Plus I have to taste all the stuff I make, so I am eating out a lot less than I used to. I know, I am happy to have such problems but my poor little blog has been suffering from neglect. Every once in a while when I am working on a dish, there is a tool or technique that I want to talk about in greater detail than I can in a recipe. So I want to start 2013 with a lesson learned about zesting. I will still do the occasional restaurant review or event report but I want to document the tips and tricks that help with my baking.

IMG_5580It drives me crazy when I see a celebrity chef using a microplane. Ok, if you are just scraping a little zest into a salad or nutmeg directly into a pot, it is ok to pass the ingredient over the sharp side with the cupped side facing the bowl. But if you have ever had to zest more than one lemon at a time, you know how messy and dangerous to you nails and knuckles this technique can be. You don’t slice a tomato by moving it back and forth against a knife blade. Try turning the microplane “upside down” with the cupped side facing up and pass it over the fruit to shave off the zest. It gives you much more control of the tool because you are moving the microplane and not the ingredient. Plus the zest collects in the cupped side for easy transfer to where you need it. Be careful to dump out the zest every so often as it is a mess if it spills but I can get at least half a fruit done before I have to empty it out. Hope this helps you learn the zen of zesting, too!


Beater Blade

beaterbladeI am a cheapo.  For years I could not understand why anyone would spend $300 for a KitchenAid Mixer when you could get a handmixer at the grocery store for about $10.  Until I used one.  There is no better way to get a professionally consistant result.  The only pain was the constant scraping down of the bowl.  For everything to be properly distributed in the batter, you have to stop the mixer, lower the bowl, scrape the sides and the blade with the spatula, raise the bowl, and mix some more.

Until I found the Beater Blade.  To quote the website, “Patented BeaterBlade “wing-system” design acts like a wiper blade that continuously scrapes the sides and bottom of bowl while it mixes. Oh, and BeaterBlade is also a Spatula!” 

If you have a KitchenAid or love somebody that does, the Beater Blade is a must have!

The Zen of Zesting

Microplane Zester
Microplane Zester

My absolute favorite kitchen tool is my microplane zester.  There is something soothing about zesting then juicing a big pile of fragrant lemons.  Do not use your zester right side up as in this picture.  Turn it the other way and pass it over the lemon like you are shaving it.  The zest will collect in the microplane and it makes it a lot easier and neater to transfer the zest to the bowl.  I can do about half a lemon before it almost fills the back of the zester.  Dump the zest that has collected and finish zesting the fruit.  If you try to collect too much zest in the microplane at once it will spill and cause a mess. 

Now what should you do with all of this zest?  I say make lemon sugar!  Add the zest of 2 lemons to 4 cups of sugar, turbinado or raw cane work great but regular table sugar is fine.  Seal it up and let it sit at least overnight.  The fragrant sugar is great sprinkled over fruit for a quick fruit salad, as a substitute for regular sugar in your favorite cookie recipe, used as a topping for baked goods, and absolutely delicious in tea-  iced or hot.

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