Monthly Archives: April 2011

On Top of the World

In case you haven’t heard, it’s Earth Week!  This week (really April 17th – 22nd) is a chance to not just learn more about environmental impacts that you incur on the environment every day, but also to make some changes to make your life better, and hopefully the planet a little better.

I’ve loved this holiday week since elementary school.  Yes, it may be weird, but Earth Day was always one of my favorites!  The highlight of Earth Day came in P.E. class each year.  My school had these huge inflatable Earth balls (and oddly are available for sale on Ebay!).  I would run, jump, and roll onto the top, trying not to fall off as my teachers kept the ball rolling.  As corny as it sounds, I really was on top of the world then, and it was a great feeling. 

Well, I do not get a free Earth Week to just play outside with huge balloons anymore, but I still find ways to celebrate the planet each April.  If you’re looking for a way to make a difference this Earth Week, just make a pledge or attend a local event.  You’ll help raise awareness and probably learn some new things, too.

Another option — just take a walk and marvel at what Mother Nature has to offer.  I went for a walk this evening in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens on campus.  These gardens are one of my very favorite places to visit at Duke, and are absolutely gorgeous this time of year.  Spring is definitely their time to shine. 

Enjoy the pictures!  I was amazed by many of the plants and flowers I saw, and just being able to see, smell, and take photos of them made me feel like I was on top of the world again.

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. 

– Native American Proverb

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Filed under Holidays, Sites to See, Uncategorized

Behind a Caterer’s Closed Doors…

Have you ever been to a nice dinner party?  In case you haven’t, just imagine…

You walk into a dimly lit room and see dozens of tables all set in a very precise manner.  There are beautifully folded napkins, water glasses already waiting for you, and wine ready to be served.  


There is a menu card so you can read over the night’s offerings, and many different types of silverware at each seat.  This may cause you to have a Pretty Woman moment in your head and count the number of tongs to determine which fork to use first.  (Really, 95% of the time, just start from the outside, work your way in, and you’ll be fine). 


Dinner progresses.  You eat your salad, it’s removed by a server, and then replaced with your main course.  You eat that, the plate’s removed, and then out comes dessert.  Coffee is served around the table.  You enjoy the atmosphere, the company, the food, and then leave at the end of the night. 

Have you ever wondered what happens next? 


What happens to all the beautiful place settings, the centerpieces, the menu cards, and the leftover desserts?

Madness is what happens. 

This was the scene in the break-down area from about 7:30pm until 10pm last night as a plated dinner for 400 guests went on and eventually came to an end:


The event went very smoothly.  Clean up did not.

Trying to communicate to a staff of 20+ which of the four types of different (yet very similar looking) water glasses should be placed into the solid red glass rack versus the gray and red striped rack versus the solid gray rack is extremely difficult.

And that’s just the water glasses.  I also had two styles of wine glasses and five styles of plates to deal with.  I tried pictures.  I tried labeling the various racks.  Eventually I gave in and said to just put the glasses wherever because they’ll all end up at the rental company’s warehouse anyway.  C’est la vie.


This dinner was for 400 people.  I determined that each place setting was made up of 13 items (the different silverware, plates, and glasses).  That’s a total of 5200 items to get returned.  Add that to the hundreds of extra glasses  and plates that were ordered as backups, and I think I had close to 8000 pieces of rental inventory.  Oh, and then with the all linen and plate covers — make it almost 11,000 pieces.  Oy.


If you know of any magic cleaning fairies, let me know.  I’ll hire them.  Until then, I’ll just hope that the rental company doesn’t call to complain.

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Filed under It's Fun Being a Manager, Uncategorized, Work

Wine of the Weeeeeek

Take the word “Weeeeeeeek” from the title, subtract the W, and then read it again.  Yes, it says, “Eeeeeeeek,” and that is how I feel about the next few days coming up!  I’m extremely busy at work with lots of different events taking place now through Sunday morning.  This means that I’ll be lucky to take 10 minutes for lunch, let alone cook anything in the next few days.  Thank goodness I have soup ready to go.

So here’s a quick post before heading in for the day…

I took a break from wine this week as I’ve been under the weather, but I thought it would be a good time to introduce you to an old favorite.  I’m pretty sure that 60% of the people who buy this wine are college co-eds, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.  It’s actually quite good and makes me happy when I drink it.

Barefoot White Zinfandel.

You’re probably laughing that I even like this.  But I think every wine has a time and place, and spring is a great time to break out this sweeter blend.  Barefoot’s website describes it as having “flavors like Georgia peach and pineapple, sun-ripened strawberries and succulent pear and is light and lively as they come.”  Sounds like spring in a bottle to me.

Plus it’s pink.  It matches the blooming flowers.

It’s extremely affordable (as all Barefoot wines are), so go buy a bottle and enjoy outside tonight.  Have a glass for me!

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Better than a Prescription

I must be sick.

It’s been beautiful the past three days and I haven’t stepped outside anymore than I’ve needed to.  There have been no runs in the sun, no walks in Duke Gardens, nothing outdoorsy taking place in my life.  Instead, I’ve felt like I’m going to sneeze every 20 seconds and my nose is starting to resemble Rudolph’s.

Allergies seem to be the culprit.  I think I could star in an Allegra or Claritin commercial right now and I wouldn’t even have to act that I’m sniffling, sneezing, coughing, wheezing.  It’s all real.

Thank goodness for soup.

Chicken Jalapeno Soup to Cure Anything
Makes 5 to 6 large servings

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup onion, diced
4 medium carrots, chopped
3 jalapenos, chopped (remove the seeds for less heat)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. cumin
1 ½ tsp. oregano
½ tsp. paprika
¾ cup golden hominy
¾ cup great northern beans (drained and rinsed if using the canned variety)
1 ½ cups shredded rotisserie chicken
32 oz. low-sodium chicken broth or stock
¾ to 1 cup water
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Once hot, add in onion,carrots, and jalapenos and saute for 3 minutes.  Add all seasonings (garlic through paprika) and stir to combine for about a minute. 

Add in hominy*, beans, and chicken**.  Mix well in the pot and let cook for 2 minutes to allow everything to warm together. 

Pour in chicken stock and water.  You want to make sure that everything is covered with liquid.  Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes.  Stir occassionally during the cooking process and adjust seasonings before serving.

Cook’s Notes:

*Hominy — a variety of corn (I affectionately call it “corn on steroids” because the kernels are huge) can be found in most grocery stores in the Mexican or Hispanic food section (it comes in a can).

**Rotisserie chicken — I simply bought a whole rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, let it cool, and then shredded the meat to use for this soup.  I removed the skin, but you can leave some on if you like the flavor. 

This soup is FILLING.  And it’s incredibly healthy — lots of vitamins and minerals from the vegetables, plus some healthy fats from the olive oil.  It’s a perfect dinner on it’s own and gets better and better the longer it sits, so this is a time when you can look forward to leftovers!  Plus, if you’re stuffed up like me, the spice from the peppers and seasonings will help decongest you. 

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Stumbling Blocks in Baking

“The only stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a ‘What the hell’ attitude.”
— Julia Child

Not everything  I make turns out as I intend.  Usually, my kitchen failures involve baking.  Just ask my sister.

Last winter, between Halloween and the week before Christmas, it seemed as if I had lost all my abilities to bake.  I would send her photos of my botched cookies, breads, and cakes and then sit miserably, trying to determine where I had gone wrong. 

I wasn't kidding.


This was supposed to be a chocolate chip pumpkin loaf. And edible.

My baking experiment failures went on for a solid two months.  I think my problem was that I kept trying to adapt recipes I had never tried before.  Baking is extremely precise, so even my “extra dash of fill-in-the-blank spice” may have affected the recipe.  I truly did want to just throw in the towel and never attempt to bake another cookie in my life.  But, I knew that life would be very sad with no homemade cookies.


I somehow found my way back into baking around the Christmas holidays.  I’d like to thank a batch of perfect pumpkin muffins (yes, they were out of a box from Pelican Bay) to restoring hope in my personal abilities.  They were delicious on a snowed-in morning in the mountains of North Carolina.


Since then, I’ve gone on to bake many things and have shared many:  beer bread, cupcakes, donuts.  In my opinion, I’ve been doing pretty well.


And then today happened.  I woke up wanting to challenge myself.  I thought of all my past baking failures, channeled my inner Julia and give cooking a “What the hell” midset, and decided to make pizza dough from scratch. 


I really don’t know why I’ve been so nervous about this since millions of people make their own pizza dough, but I was honestly scared when I started activating the yeast today.  And of course I couldn’t just make your basic pizza dough.  Instead, I went with a recipe that calls for white wine, and then made a couple adaptations.  Go big or go home, that’s my motto.


Amazingly, it all turned out. 
White Wine Pizza Dough Crust
Makes 1 large or 2 smaller thin crust pizzas
1 packet of active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
¼ cup pinot grigio
1 tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. nutmeg
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour

In a large bowl, combine yeast, water, and wine.  Stir well to combine.  Then add in the salt and nutmeg, and stir again.

Add in 1 cup of all purpose flour and mix to create a paste.  Then add in the remaining flour and start to knead dough.

On a flour-dusted surface, knead dough for 6 to 8 minutes.  Then place dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a dish towel. 

Let rise for 45 minutes.  (And if your kitchen is too cold like mine, warm your oven for a minute, turn it off, and then place the bowl inside.

After dough has risen, separate it into two equal parts if you’d like to make two pizzas.  Or roll out onto a ¼” thickness on a floured surface and make one giant pizza.  Top with whatever you desire, and bake at 425 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.


Filed under How-To, Recipes

How To: Personalize Your Hummus

Remember how I taught you how to make your own hummus, and therefore save lots of money by not buying the pre-made kind?

Well, now here are some of my favorite ways to add flavor to your hummus.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the classic version.  It’s just nice to switch things up now and again…

Pesto and Sundried Tomato Hummus:  To the original version, add 1 Tbsp. of store-bought pesto and 2 chopped sundried tomatoes to the blender, and mix to combine.

Lemon Pepper Hummus:  Add in 1 to 2 tsp. of lemon pepper seasoning, and an extra squirt of fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavors.

Chipotle Hummus:  Add 2 tsp. of chipotle powder and 1 tsp. of paprika.  If you like more spiciness add in ½ tsp. of cayenne red pepper. 


I have more combinations up my sleeve, but those are a few good ways to get you started.  Have a great Friday!

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Filed under How-To, Money Savers, Recipes

Wine of the Week at a Local Vineyard

If you ever find yourself in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, also known as The Triangle, I highly suggest making a stop at The Vineyards at Southpoint.  I spontaneously decided to stop in for a tasting last Sunday when I drove by on my way to Jordan Lake

For $5.00, I was given a logoed glass and larger-than-average tasting pours for 6 different wines:  2 whites, 4 reds.  I spent over an hour speaking to the managers and owners of the winery and learned that the great majority of the wines are produced from North Carolina grapes (which is listed on the bottles).  Due to the amount of grapes needed to maintain a vineyard, there are a few local growers that they outsource some of the production to.  This results in some interesting blends, and some surprisingly good wines for being from North Carolina.  According to their website, some of their wines have recently won Double Gold, Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals at recent local competitions.


Besides The Vineyards at Southpoint, the owners also oversee operations at Horizon Cellars which is a boutique winery located a little farther to the west in Siler City.  

So what was the best wine that I tasted?  I really enjoyed all of the reds (Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chambourcin, and Cabernet Sauvignon) in addition to their Viognier which was really refreshing.  But the one I took home was the Chambourcin.

I came to find out that Chambourcin is a type of grape that is a hybrid from a French vine and an American vine (this makes me think of Punnett Squares and Mendelian Genetics…my biology professors would be so proud).  The interesting story behind this grape is that the man who made this hybrid died before documenting what types of French and American grapes went into this combination!  Some genetic testing has probably been conducted in recent years, but I think it’s still a mystery to the wine world, and that leads to a wide variety of chambourcins.

Anyway, the Vineyards at Southpoint’s Chambourcin was deeeelicious.  It’s made with only grapes from North Carolina.  It’s a little smoky and heavier tannins, but very very smooth.  I plan on saving it for a celebration because it just seems like a special wine.  And at about $16 for the bottle…it’s not too bad of a splurge.


Filed under Sites to See, Wine of the Week