Booze Cruise: Progressive Style

It’s that time of year, the hustle and bustle of holidays has fizzled away and winter has rooted itself, initiating a craving for warmth and revelry.

This year, instead of moping around the house in your Snuggie awaiting spring, pass the time with food, friends, and booze.

Get your neighbor’s onboard and reinvent the throwback booze cruise into a progressive stroll of cruising the neighborhood on foot.  Gallivant from house to house sampling delicacies and drinks at each stop.

Made-Men-Cocktail-Party-smallGive your booze cruise a theme.  Anything from a Mad Men style affair complete with classic cocktails and toothpick-skewered foods to a cultural soirée of global delights, think Brazilian caipirinhas and feijoada at one stop, moving onward to Italian Limoncello and gnocchi at another.  Satisfying the sweet tooth, a progressive chocolate hop would hit the spot.  Ignite the chill of winter with hot toddy’s and alcohol-infused cocoas while savoring decadent desserts at each house.

Those who have an affinity for cocktail shakers and martini glasses as opposed to ovens and mixers, simplify your progressive cruise to just booze, yet it’s advised for hosts to pair some sustenance to soak up that alcohol.

For vinophiles make each stop centered on a bottle of wine paired with cheese and crackers.  Take guests on a boozy jaunt down the bourbon trail having a snifterful at each stop, pairing caramel rich bourbon with chocolate and fruitier renditions with salty snacks.  Head south of the equator and channel palm trees and beaches with a tropical cocktail explosion, complete with fresh fruits and miniature cocktail umbrellas.

The possibilities are endless and the progressive booze cruise is a sure way to chase the winter blahs away.

Offal

When was the last time you feasted on ‘mystery’ meat?  No, not that frozen, reheated chicken patty slapped on your lunch tray at the ‘ol high school cafeteria.  We’re talking straight up variety meat, offal.

Offal is not something you’ll find in the sea of plastic-wrapped Styrofoam containers at the grocery store.  Offal refers to the parts of an animal that literally fall off (off fall) upon being butchered, organs, feet, tail, brain, heart, liver, and tongue.

Offal_cuts

These variety meats are both taboo and a delicacy. When head-to-tail butchery was norm people knew how to cook, eat and make use of a full animal. Centering on traditional regional fare and haute cuisine, typical offal may be found as foie gras, pâté, sweetbreads, haggis, chitterlings, tripe or chopped liver.

Offal is high in protein and nutritional value, in most parts of the world it is commonly prepared and eaten. However, here in the USA a predominantly squeamish attitude is portrayed when referencing offal.

Perhaps, it’s the in-your-face notion that feet or brains remind us that we are indeed, eating an animal, as our society has been desensitized as to where our meat comes from­­—yes, meat does come from a living, breathing mammal and not a package.

p.s. the masses have no qualms chewing away at a cows butt e.g., top round or rump roast, anyone!

The rarity of offal also lends to its foreignness on the palettes of the mass populous.  Often texturally grisly, chewy and typically possessing a strong flavor, preparation may also serve as a speed bump as we’ve separated offal from our diets. Instead it’s best savored by those who grew up sucking on chicken feet and stuffing a sheep’s stomach full of savory pudding.

Offal disappearing from the mainstream is also attributed to a sense of snobbism as consumers began to afford more expensive cuts of meat when mass production took off.  The status symbol of offal was scoffed as food of the poor; the cooking, eating and selling of it became a rarity in affluent regions.

Perhaps it’s time for a revival of offal, calling all chefs, home-cooks, butchers, farmers and grocers bring it!

By doing so, traditions will be preserved, it may lead us to have a better appreciation of the animal farming process, while supporting humane animal raising, and it’s green—less waste and nutritional.

Parmesan and Kale Dusted Popcorn

Last week I went on a kale chip baking frenzy and this week found myself with some leftover kale chips.  I decided to re-purpose my kale into fairy dust for popcorn—yes, it’s magical in your mouth!!!

Enjoy this savory snack—pop your corn anyway you prefer, personally I’m a stock pot and stove-popper kind of gal:

Parmesan & Kale Dusted Popcorn

Parmesan & Kale-Dusted Popcorn
1/4 cup popcorn kernels
1 1/2 Tablespoons oil
Small palmful of Parmesan for grating
Small palmful of Kale Chips for fairy dusting

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add in the corn kernels and cover the pot, shaking it frequently as the corn pops.  When the pops begin to slow way down, remove from heat and dump into a big paper bag or bowl. Add the grated parmesan, and crush the kale chips between your palms (they will easily turn to fairy dust) and sprinkle atop. Shake it all up and enjoy!

How to be a Freelancer Not a Bill Collector

If you’ve done freelance work, your ears are no stranger to the phrase, “we can’t pay you, but you’ll get exposure!”  When first starting out as a freelancer with no experience, free work may be the way to put yourself on a map. Exposure gets you connections and puts your name, your work and reputation in as many places as possible. However, don’t take on just any free work, choose your “exposure” gigs wisely.

Design for Food

Lynn Harris puts it point-blank, “If you’re going into something where creativity and work intersect, you can’t let people take advantage of you. Because there’s this prevailing notion of ‘You’re doing what you love—why do you need to get paid?”‘

If you’re a serious creative professional you will be paid for your work:

Know your client—This is not a blind date.
Research them. Do a Google search, email your freelance friends and inquire if anyone has worked with so and so?  Do the detective work before saying yes!

Before you name your price know what you’re getting into—Ask Questions.
Understand who the client is, what they want and how they want it. Before signing or drafting a contract Michelle Goodman from My So-Called Freelance Life advises to ask the following:
•Who will be your go-to person for the project in case you have questions? (if not the contact you’re talking to now, then who?) Client

•Who else will you be working with and in what capacity? (who will get you all the photos and testimonials for the website you’re being hired to build?)

•What type of feedback can you expect? (Is the main concern that you get the client’s “voice” and branding right, or are the reviewers known for their heavy-handed markups?)

•What’s the deadline for each stage of the project (first through final versions?)

•What’s the copyright situation? (For may commercial jobs, the client will want all rights to your work. But when creating your own essay, song, or photo for publication, performance, or exhibition, you absolutely want to retain ownership.)

Ask as many questions as you need to.

Naming your price—All about the $$$
•Devise a personal budget

•Draft a budget for your first year’s business expenses—include monthly expenses, supplies and startup/one-time purchases you’ll need to freelance to your heart’s content.

•Track personal and business expenses separately, you’ll thank yourself for doing this when imagestax time rolls around!

•Get ready to pay quarterly taxes, save your receipts, know your deductions, collect your 1099s, and dot your I’s and cross your T’s. The IRS is notably dubious of freelancers, making them prime for auditing—searching for unreported income or overstated deductions. Not sure about any of this? Hire yourself a tax professional.

•A magic formula? If only it were that simple, however each freelancer’s situation is unique. To help determine what you should or could be charging look at current job ads, connect with freelancer’s in your field or use a freelance rate calculator to help clue you in. A personal fave is this rate calculator from Freelance Switch.

Sign on the dotted line—Get it in writing.
Have a written contract and not just a sign here and the deal is done. Factor in every possible contingency of the project including what you agreed to do and what you’ll get in return, SPELL IT ALL OUT. Establishing clear expectations helps avoid problematic hassles down the road.
The Freelancers Union offers resources, benefit and insurance info, rights and legalities—basically sage advice on all aspects of freelancing, including a handy-dandy Contract Creator.  When drafting your own contract they outline the following:
What work will be done? What are the specific tasks to be completed? What are the deliverables? If applicable, include specifications, such as format, quantity, size, color, material to be used, etc. Be as specific as possible.

When will it be done? What is the timeline for the project? State when work will begin, and if there are specific milestones or deadlines over the course of the project. When and under what conditions will the final work be delivered?

Who will do what? State what your responsibilities are and what the client’s responsibilities are. If your work is dependent on receiving materials or direction from the client, be sure to specify those dependencies.

Where will it be done? State whether work will be performed on the client’s premises, and whether the client will provide specific materials or equipment.

How will work be judged acceptable? State how and when the work will be considered complete

On a sidenote: Yours or Mine?
Organizations who typically don’t outsource will likely have you provide your own contract. Larger organizations and firms that do outsource will likely send you their own contract (typically written by lawyers to protect the company) makes sense. When given a contract to sign, take time to look it over or have a legal advisor peruse it. Don’t sign that dotted line until everything you agree upon is included—contracts can be negotiated don’t be afraid to speak up!

the hustleWhen a payment deadline is past due—The check is MIA.
•Because you are a savvy freelancer and did your research and asked your questions, you know who the accounts payable person is and how to contact them. Call them.

•Charge a late fee. This will be outlined in your contract. Send your client a revised invoice including the agreed upon fees + interest.

•For larger projects, request a percentage of the payment up front with installments for project milestones. If the client doesn’t keep good on their payments put the kibosh on it until they keep up their side of the bargain.

•Still not getting anywhere? Send a letter stating the agreed upon amount, length of time overdue and your intention of taking the matter to court or hire a lawyer to draft one for you.

•If shit really hits the fan, as a freelancer you are not covered by most federal employment laws and legal protection. To get paid you’ll have to turn to the court system. With small claims court there is no guarantee that you’ll recoup what you’re owed but perhaps you’ve set the stakes high enough to have the client hand over the cash.

Nature Box

I’ve just received my very first mail-order food product—a box of snacks!  I stumbled upon Nature Box via the interwebs a bit ago and decided to give it a whirl. Once a month Nature Box will send you a box of minimally processed and nutritionist approved snacks—no high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, colors or flavors

Nature Box appears to be a convenient way to try new things, enjoy a surprise (call me old-fashioned but I love receiving paper mail) and make all your co-workers jealous of your awesome stash of snacks! I bought into Nature Box thinking it would be a great way to healthfully snack at work. Ideally I can stash a bag of snacks in my desk to last the week ensuring that all 5 assortments last the month or more.
Nature-Box

I’m interested to see if Nature Box will work for me, I  foresee myself eating the entire bag of snacks in one sitting as opposed to a single serving—but I’m an optimist so we’ll see how it goes!

My first monthly shipment included:

Masa Crisps
Orange Crush Granola
Lone Star Snack Mix
Cranberry Almond Bites
Wild Berry Bunch

The Nature Box came with a nifty card explaining each of the snacks, recommendations, and a recipe utilizing one of the snacks. Each recyclable package lists the ingredients and nutritional information. Other good things include free shipping, cancel/pause monthly membership at anytime, and soon to be personal, customization of snacks received in your Nature Box. I have to make mention of the cute packaging, did you catch the shiny green foil!

Kale Chips

Who can resist salty, crunchtastical snacks?!

Kale has been in the limelight as a healthy and versatile superfood and it’s staked a prominent presence in the chip world—kale chips are popping up in restaurants and hitting grocery store shelves. But you don’t have to go out or splurge on a fancy bag of prepackaged kale, satisfy your salt fix with a little DIY up in your kitchen!

Homemade kale chips are economical, amazingly simple to prepare and you control the ingredients. Try any kale you please—curly kale, Tuscan kale, Red Russian kale, and don’t even think about throwing out those beet greens, turn them into salty, crunchy chips! Customize your kale with seasonings such as curry, nutritional yeast, sesame seeds, infused olive oil or freshly grated Parmesan.  Go ahead get crazy with kale!

Before you begin crispifying your kale, I will let you in on a secret to successful crunchiness—you will need this gadget: Misto Olive Oil Mister or as I refer to it, a MOOM!

So, find yourself a MOOM, follow the instructions and get misting!

Kale-2.0PicMonkey Collage

Kale Chips
Serves 4-6

2-3 heads of Kale
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Parchment Paper
MOOM (Misto Olive Oil Mister)

De-stem KalePreheat oven to 275°F

Wash and remove the tough stems from the kale.  I find the most efficient way to de-stem kale is to grab the bottom of the stem with one hand while sliding your other hand along the stem, easily pulling the leaf away.

Next line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Spread the kale leaves onto the parchment lined baking sheet.  Mist with olive oil and season with sea salt. Flip the leaves over and repeat on the other side.

Bake on the center rack of the oven for about 20 minutes (I flipped my kale over about half way through to ensure even cooking)

Enjoy warm or cool.  Keep fresh in a Tupperware container for a few days.

Smashed Avocado and Chickpea Salad

If you are akin to me then lunch is something to look forward to, a mid-day stretch for the mind and energizing the belly. I’m not one who can handle the doldrums of eating the same peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch everyday and feel that a packed lunch should be something to look forward to, it should inspire and satisfy.  Get creative, re-purpose leftovers and pack a lunch that excites you!

This electrifying green salad is great for perking up a brown bagged lunch.  Versatile in use, it can be used as a sandwich filling or dip for veggies and pita chips.  Light up your day with a Smashed Avocado and Chickpea Salad Sandwich.

Smashed Avocado and Chickpea Sandwich

Smashed Avocado and Chickpea Salad 

1 (15oz) can chickpeas 
1 ripe avocado
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons green onion, chopped
Juice from 1 lime
Salt and pepper, to taste
Bread of your choice 
Fresh spinach/lettuce leaves or other fave sandwich toppings

***I’ve also substituted parsley for the cilantro and lemon juice for the lime juice which is equally GOOD!

1. Rinse and drain the chickpeas. 

2. In a medium bowl, using a fork or potato masher smash together the avocado and chickpeas. Add in cilantro, green onion, and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

3. Spread salad on bread and top with your favorite sandwich toppings. 

Note: This salad also makes a great dip served with veggies, crackers, or pita chips. It is best eaten the day it is made because it can turn brown due to the avocado.  If you do make it the night before I’ve had success in maintaining a vibrant green hue by  placing the salad in a glass Tupperware dish and covering with plastic wrap (not the top of the container but actually compressing the plastic wrap atop the salad) this seals out any air which oxidizes the avocado causing it to turn brown, then cover with a Tupperware lid and refrigerate.

Roasted Red Pepper Asiago Soup

Last week for “coffee talk Sunday,” my coffee talk friend suggested soup from Uncle Cheetah’s Soup Shop.  I don’t know why I don’t go here more often, it’s basically genius.  The atmosphere is perfect, the soup is hot, and they have grilled cheese prime for dunking.  We split a Goat Cheese and Rosemary Scented Grilled Cheese to dunk in our respective soups: Creamy Tomato Basil and Roasted Red Pepper Asiago. I had the Roasted Red Pepper and wanted to re-create it at home, in fact I almost took it home with me as I may have had a slight spill 🙂 oops!

Roasted Red Pepper Asiago Soup

Roasted Red Pepper Asiago Soup

Roasted Red Pepper Asiago Soup
makes a BIG pot

2 Tbs olive oil
4 stalks celery, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cans (15oz) fire roasted tomatoes (I use the Muir Glen Organic)
1 jar roasted red peppers, finely diced
2 red bell peppers, roasted
5 oz Asiago cheese, grated
4 cups vegetable broth
4 oz almond milk or cream
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of thyme
pinch of sage
pinch of oregano
A bunch of basil, chopped

*I also added fresh lemon juice but I would hold off and add when you serve as it makes leftovers a bit bitter!

To begin char the red bell peppers on all sides over an open flame, grill or broiler.  The skin will be blackened and the pepper may split open, this is okay. Place the charred peppers in a covered bowl or paper bag to cool. Once cool seed (some people prefer to remove the blackened skin as well, but I leave it on) and set aside

Meanwhile, in a soup pot, heat the olive oil and add the onion, carrot and celery cook to soften vegetables, 10 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, sage and oregano and cook 2 minutes more.

Add the roasted peppers, fire roasted tomatoes, onion mixture and Asiago cheese to a food processor or blender (if you have an immersion blender go ahead and leave everything in the pot to blend) Puree the mixture until smooth, then add back to the soup pot and stir in the vegetable stock.

Add the basil, almond milk or cream, salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil.  Then simmer until heated through.  Best served with Grilled Cheese!