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Wednesday
Apr232014

You want me to work when?

I was born solidly in Generation X time frame.  Though the term “Me Generation” was coined for the baby boomers, it was thrown around liberally when I was a young adult (read kid please).  My parents, immigrants with a dream that was coming true had come to the USA and worked long hard hours to make that dream happen.  Jacqueline and I, as their children had learned at a young age that we were expected to be at their side making this family dream happen.  With all that had work, both Jacqueline and I (for very different reasons) will tell you we had magical childhoods.  We quickly learned the value of a buck, a strong work ethic and a huge appreciation for the opportunities presented, but still magical.

As I was entering young adulthood, I was called selfish for wanting a better life, or a better way.  I knew the label was right; I did want a better way.  I had seen my parents working 70 and 80 hour weeks for most of my life. Thankfully with us at their side, so we got to spend plenty of time together, but I was going to be okay with a 60 hour work week, thank you very much.  Papa was appalled.  How did I ever think I would succeed with that kind of mentality? 

Today, one of my many passions is openings.  When you are in the middle of an opening, those hours and even Papa’s crazy hours are the norm.  I don’t mind.  On the other hand when not in middle of the insanity of opening a project, I have found that I work hard and take care of business, but I don’t believe in “face time” or martyrdom.  Heaven forbid, I find a work/life balance is important.  If that means that I absolutely have to be on site on a Saturday night for whatever client function, then I need to be on site. That is the industry I chose.  If I don’t need to be there on Tuesday all day, I will take a chunk of time to make up for it, or not.   

Now don’t get me wrong, I like some of the characteristics of the most recent “Me, Me, ME Generation”.  Many of them have learned to look at a problem and find the quickest possible solution.  Not the expected way to complete but the quickest, and often, that way is satisfactory.

Hospitals and Hotels, back when I was that “kid” we were the only things open 24/7.  Today Super Wal-Mart, McDonald's, your chain pharmacy and plenty of grocery stores are also open 24/7.  For the first time ever, I LOVE my bank.  They may not be open 24/7, but they are open 7 days a week!  This year I had to raise an eyebrow with the boycotts that didn’t exactly hurt Thanksgiving shopping.  How dare stores not let their families spend Thanksgiving together!  I don’t disagree, and personally won’t shop on Thanksgiving day (unless it’s the grocery store for last minute supplies that we forgot).  But I will admit to going to a movie on Thanksgiving, and trust me when I tell you it is one of the busiest days at the restaurants who do choose to “make their employees work the holiday”.  And as a result I do put together a schedule for full coverage at my Hotels for every Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas Day, and yes even Mother’s Day and all the rest of the holidays that it just seems unseemly to make others work.  Double standard??? Most definitely.  Our society requires these amenities and conveniences.  It is part of the entitlement. 

Ahhh entitlement.  Remember I was part of one of those earlier “Me Generations”.   Thank you Burger King.  I was told…actually sung to, that I could have my burger my way.  Remember that jingle?  Today’s “Me, Me, ME Generation” was raised and still drinks the Kool-Aid  that costs them daily at least $4 a Venti and, (this is the important part) they can have it made fresh while they wait, a different way every day of the year and never run out of new options.  

Ahhh entitlement.  That, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road.  We have raised (and by we, I mean you, I don’t have kids and I am not allowed to have this opinion) this “Me, Me, ME Generation” to be entitled to have their coffee served any way they want it anytime they want it.  That has also translated to how they work, on their terms.  This is great…unless you are trying to schedule Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day, or the overnight shift, or Saturday night, or, or, or.  Who is going to make that Venti before you head out shopping on Thanksgiving if you are not willing to work the not so fun shift?  

I think what we all forget is that we all start our career wanting exactly what Mom and Dad have now.  However we forget that Mom and Dad worked for 20 to 30 years to get that stuff.  We also forget or didn’t see what Mom and Dad went through to get to where they are today.  We also have these pre-teens expecting to be handed the iPhone or iPad, when we worked and bought our first Walkman with hard earned lawn money or baby-sitting money or even allowances.  Or, is their iPhone our pink princess phone extension in our rooms? 

Bridging the gap between generations when a new one enters the work force is a learning experience for both generations, neither of which is particularly tolerant.  History has shown that the younger generation adapts what they believe they deserve fresh into the work force, while the older generation learns how to do business in a new way and adapt their needs to a new type of work force.  Are our pains (and they are pains) any different than those of our predecessors?  You tell me, have you found ways to work around this conundrum?

Thursday
Feb202014

Why I love to "play" in the kitchen

When speaking about hospitality and my life in the hotel world I often remind people that what we do isn't brain surgery.  We haven't cut into someone head to take a peek around.  As a result you don't have to be born a genius to succeed in this industry.  You do need one key characteristic. 

You have to like to please/serve others. 

In this day and age I find that to be a tall order.  With everyone entitled to be served, there aren't a lot of people left to do the serving.  On that most recent facebook quiz regarding Downton Abbey I came out as Violet, to know me is to love.  In my heart of hearts I see myself as more of a Mrs. Hughes from downstairs. 

My point to all of this is, Einstein or Madame Curie I am not.  I AM very good at making people feel at home and ensuring they have everything they need to have a lovely time.  When I step into a kitchen, however, I feel a little like a scientist.  I understand how certain flavors work together and how to get certain reactions from different foods.  A roux thickened sauce dark and dense, vs. a corn starch thickened saucy, glossy and shiny.  Butter vs Shortening in you pie crust.  Emulsifier in a salad dressing.  I get it. 

Thought this is officially a French food blog, you may have noticed I stray at times.  I love the French classics, but I must confess... I love to stray.  I love to try my hand and the French neighbors who put things together just a little bit differently.  I love to see how Americans have bastardized French classics and made them their own...in many occasions just as tasty if not more so.  I love to step completely out of my comfort zone and try something brand new. 

Do a little research, play with the ideas in my head of what I think a cultures food is, take that classic French side of me and understand what they are trying to accomplish with the flavors and the preparation.  Then take that American side of me and boldly try it out.  Bastardize it like a true American, without apology, and see what happens. 

There are times it is an utter FAIL.  Sometimes I will go back and try it again.  Sometimes I give up (at least for a little while).  Sometimes it is a glorious success. 

So this weekend, I am again hijacking my friend, Katrina's kitchen and making dinner for a mutual friend.  The groceries are bought.  I've read through a dozen different recipes for three dishes and am going to try something new.  I am skipping over to South East Asia, the food I know the least about. 

Several months ago I was out and had some Korean BBQ style chicken wings. They were sweet and sticky and burned my lips off.  They were good, the rest of the meal at this new restaurant, meh, but these I would go back for.  I have no idea if they remotely resembled a true Korean BBQ.  I am going to take those flavors and braise some country style pork ribs and glaze them at the last minute.  To add to the party going to do a simple carrot and pea pod stir fry and an "Asian" flavored slaw.  Is any of this true to the culture...I have no idea, but I am going into the kitchen to play, to try my hand a genius and Madame Curie for a moment, and I am going to have a great time.  

Stay tuned to see if any pictures turn up and if our guests have a good time too.   

Monday
Jan272014

Feeding the soul and finding surprises


 



I am an old soul. I was told this many moons ago by a fortune teller. I can't argue. I don't know how I know some of the things I know. I just know.



One of the characteristics, in my opinion, of being that old soul is being perfectly comfortable going out alone, to just about anything.


So when I put out word that I was headed into DC to see one of the museums that I have yet to experience, and I had no takers for an assortment of reasons.... I took myself. Part of the fun of going alone is the ability to change the plan and be open to whatever strikes your fancy.



As I got on the Metro at Greenbelt, I had yet to decide, National Galleries or Smithsonian Portrait Gallery. I got off the Metro at archives an easy walk to either one, and stopped to look around. Once I walked past the Starbucks the first restaurant I came to with a sunny welcome of butterflies and lights was Oyamel, Cocina Mexicana. It was 11:30 and only one other person was seated. They asked if I had a reservation. Nope. They thought they could squeeze me in. My raised eyebrow as I did a quick visual of the restaurant had them thinking and grinning about what they had just said.



Giving credit where credit is due, an hour later they were 75% full, and by the time I left at about 1pm there were very few open tables.



For some breakfast or brunch starts with coffee. For me? Tea. I was given a short selection of 4 or 5, but was delighted when my Darjeeling arrived loose leaf, and the server had gone to the trouble of searching out the honey I had insisted upon.



I was surprised to see the chips and salsa at brunch but far from disappointed. The smoky chipotle salsa had great flavor and a wonderful balance of zip. The chips were obviously home made and very fresh, warm, and perfectly seasoned. They were just as tasty without the salsa. A blood orange chili mimosa was a great accompaniment. I will say the blood orange was not as pronounced as I like, but tasty non the less, and really, less juice more bubbles? I won't complain.



Chilaquiles was my brunch choice. It was circled in red as one of their specials...and very happy I made the choice. Think of a Mexican version of Bolognese (a tomato sauce w/ chiles and chorizo sausage) combined w/ Nachos plus a fried egg. Deep fried and perfectly runny when I cut into it. The whole was topped with a sprinkling of micro cilantro greens. A great bright finish.




I didn't need it, but I was tempted by the churros accompanied by their hot cocoa. The cocoa was more of a pudding that was amazing. Though looks like a light chocolate in the picture, great sharp dark chocolate flavors that had you going back for more. As you can see I did with the spoon and left the slightly overdone and greasy churros behind.




Service was gracious, but slow. Don't be in a hurry.


So when I think about how a meal at a restaurant was, I would rather not rate it. I would rather ask, "Do I want to come back?" YES!


The second question, "Do I want to come back for the same or do I want to try something new?" In this case I am intrigued by at least 2/3rds of their dinner menu. One of my favorite peeps (Used to be a Chef now a GM) is just now telling me it is one of her favorite places. How is it possible she has been hiding this one from me? Especially as I did a little more research Oyamel is brought to us by the same folks that brought us Jaleo, of which I have been a fan for years, AND I think I may have introduced her to. A 5 year hiatus from DC will have us all loosing track.


So I had fed my tummy with a lovely first Surprise. Now for the "feeding the soul" part of the day. I had finally decided on the National Galleries, I was in the mood for some impressionists.


Now let me start by saying that whenever I do come down to DC to hit whichever museum along Constitution or Independence I get lost...why would today be different. I zigged, when I was supposed to zag and ended up on the wrong side of the street in the National Galleries Sculpture Garden. Surprises #2, #3, #4 I found in the Sculpture Garden, and all three put a smile on my face this blustery Sunday that was positively balmy (35°) compared to the deep freeze we had been experiencing. Which made Surprise #2 a joy to stop and watch, the ice skating rink! With many adorable little tykes out for a "first", and their parents and other adults...equally out for firsts. That would be first ice skates, first time on the ice, first time their tush hit the ice (first time their kids saw their tush hit the ice) and second and third and fourth for some.


Surprise # 3 The Belle Epoch Paris Metro signs next to the Pavilion! Another smile.


Surprise # 4 The stainless steel tree on the edge of the garden. Really beautiful against the grey winter sky. My cell phone camera did not do it justice. BUT pictures of it are on The Innkeeper's Daughter facebook page.


Now I was cold. Hung a right out of the Sculpture Garden and arrived at an imposing set of steps with fossils on display...wait? The Museum of Natural History. S T O P. That is not where I was supposed to go. These damn buildings all look alike! AND I have go to find a restroom! Retrace my steps, go past the Sculpture Garden, across the street, AHHH these are the imposing steps I wanted!


Bag search, restrooms, loose a layer, maps in hand...and a seat along the edge of the rotunda to take a moment. Ahhh, so pretty with the fountain and the greenery under the dome. Now let me mention here that I am only good at a museum for 2 to 3 hours, max. I go on overload and don't care after that. I take my visits in measured bites. I had my fill of Renaissance Art and Religious icons at The Vatican last May, so today we will pass on the left half of the galleries. That left the right wing of the upper floor (though now intrigued about the lower level too). I chose primarily 19th century American, British and French. Across tge rotunda i went. Decided to go counter clockwise and the first painting to hit my eyes? Napoleon! Mais bien sur. I saw it as an omen for the rest of the afternoon.


I won't bore you with my limited knowledge on art, who I like and who I don't, and why. As the old proverb goes, art is in the eye of the beholder. I will tell you this. If you don't explore it, you won't get to know what you do and don't like. When you find something that you do like, it will speak to you. It will make you stop, think, look deeper, wonder. No matter how old, or how wise (or not so wise) we get, aren't those things we should be doing more of anyway?


Though the performing arts have always been my preference to charge my imagination, I do have to say that a stop in the world of the fine arts to calm the brain is not a bad thing. In fact something I should do more often. Next time? Smithsonian Portrait or American art, who knows?


If you have any interest in seeing the very bad cell phone pictures from that day they are #foodforthesoul on both instagram @innkeepgal and on facebook at The Innkeeper's Daughter.

Sunday
Jan122014

So lets talk about Ice

Yes, this is a food and family history blog. But every now and again I digress. Tonight is one of those nights. I was recently in a business conversation, yesterday as a matter of fact. It came down to, "wait, do you know?" why yes I do. That lovely lady taught me how to drink my dinner.

I was 24. She was older. She was wiser. She was and is fascinating. We were in Chattanooga TN. And as I sit here contemplating a move back in that directions (no, no news yet) I wonder why as I relive that time. To quote her, "there isn't a lot to do in Chattanooga. Let's go drink our dinner."

Now I had discovered scotch a few years earlier while in Scotland. When your options are piss warm beer or Scotch? My choice will always be Scotch. Single malt, not too peaty, and two ice cubes please. Yes, I understand ice in my Scotch is a taboo. Yes, I understand neat is the only way to drink the Scotch. Yes, I understand I am going against the laws of nature....I get it really I do, deal.

BUT! As much as I can drink my Cognac or Eau de Vie straight. I need a little bit of a chill on my Scotch. My tequilla too. Nothing better than a good tequilla with a squish of lime and a couple of cubes. Great way to sip your way through the evening.

While in Scotland at a naive 21, a glass of Scotch would take me through the evening. Bring me forward 4 years to Chattanooga TN, with nothing much to do and a mentor who I wanted to emulate in many ways? One glass wouldn't take me through the first 20 minutes.

But two cubes was always the problem. Two cubes from the old fashioned plastic ice trays in your freezer, perfect. How many bars have those cubes? None.

Two cubes from the flat square checkers board square sized Ice machines? P-uh-leaze. They melt and dilute, and you need much more than two.

Two cubes from the big round chunky Ice machines...that can work.

Two cubes from Heirloom in New Haven, that is insulting...though perfect for Mojitos. Some drinks need soft, not quite crushed ice, and Mojitos are one of them, and these cubes are perfect for those, but terrible for a Scotch...and they do SOOOOO many things right.

Two cubes from my friend Sam's freezer, compliments of his nephew Ben. Big old sphere's that are the size of a base ball...a bit of overkill, and as Marvin complains, "they keep bumping my nose". Don't get me wrong they are beyond cool. But for 2 fingers of Scotch...hmmm

Whiskey stones(as I gifted to a friend this Christmas), made of soap stone that you freeze and don't dilute your drink at all? Cool, but I find that I like a little bit of dilute in my drink. Yup that is me your favorite Pain in the Ass, and I am not referring the frozen drink of the keys. That is another conversation and another story.

Two cubes from Ordinary in New Haven? Too much, one is just perfect. When they opened they bought an Ice maker that produced ice CUBES that were about 2" square. three were all that could fit in a DOF, or double old fashioned glass. They are carrying real Scotch glasses, how cool is that? But the problem with having a Scotch at Ordinary in a real Scotch glass is one Ice cube doesn't fit (Ice cube wider than the mouth of the glass). Problem solved, one Ice cube in an old fashioned glass and my scotch over the top of it please.

But that had me searching for the perfect cube at home. And two days ago I found it. Bed Bath and Beyond, thank you very much. AND the 6 cube tray is less expensive that the two baseball sized spheres (that hit both Marvin and Me in the nose)! So tonight, with tummy troubles that have me on a liquid diet...and yes I know that the liquids aren't supposed to have alcohol in them, but give me a break the crazies were out ALL day today at work and I can't even blame it on a full moon! (Yes, I know that is beyond a run on sentence!) I got to try out my new cubes...I love them.

Now as a hospitality professional that may again in the future have to decide on an Ice maker for the bar I will be torn, or if budget allows, I may just get two. One with the small soft Ice and one with the Ice for a Man's drink, even if it is a Woman of discriminating taste enjoying that drink........

CHEERS!

Tuesday
Nov192013

Thanksgiving when far from home

Last year for Thanksgiving I was in Costa Rica.  It was a departure for me, no Turkey and stuffing.  That statement is a lie....Coming back to re read this post before it goes live...I cooked last year(for like the third time ever), for a dear friend, her mother and one of my favorite kids.  Costa Rica was the year before!  But it does go to show that for me, Thanksgiving is about the circumstances I find myself in at that time and giving Thanks for them.   I think I have mentioned before it really is my favorite holiday.  It isn't overly commercialized.  It isn't about some religious holiday.  It isn't just about family. 

In my world Thanksgiving has always been about the people who don't share your blood, but you consider family.  Remember this isn't a French holiday...my parents didn't cook for this one, and neither do I.  Or at least rarely do I.  I am a guest for this holiday, and I treasure these invitations.  Sure I will always bring a dish or two or maybe a bottle (as is the case this year with no kitchen at my disposal) but this is the day I do my damnedest to sit on the sidelines...except for a couple, most notable the Thanksgiving of 1989. 

A New York Times article came across my facebook feed titled: Thanksgiving Day, a la Francaise. It made me chuckle.  It made me remember.  I finished up at UNH in June of 1989.  The next day I was on a plane with my parents and Jacqueline, headed to visit the family in France.  First up was a huge family dinner, a Texas style BBQ (a la Noel, so not quite traditional Texas) celebrating my parents 25th wedding anniversary, my college graduation, and Jacqueline's high school graduation.  I need to remember to come back and tell you about this one, it is a good one. 

This was followed by some time camping on the Mediterranean, doing the family circuit and a trip to Greece.  My parent left, I did some more traveling and I went to work up in the Alps at Brigitte and Gerard's restaurant, Le Cro Magnon. 

I was scheduled to head home on the 9th of December, 6 month to the day from the time I had arrived.  I won't lie, I had a great trip that I treasure the memory of it to this day.  But I did get homesick.  Missing Thanksgiving was a tough one. 

Tatan Sylvette asked me to explain Thanksgiving to her.  So I did.  She asked, "Why not do it here before you go home."  On December 7th 1989 I made a Thanksgiving Dinner for 24 people in Chapponnay.  Much like Papa had tried coordinating buying his ingredients for the Texas BBQ in advance I had to do the same. 

I made lists and searched for recipes (without the internet, mind you), then called Sylvette and coordinated the foods we needed to find. 

So first the Turkeys.  I wanted two 20# minimum turkeys.  First I had to figure out what that meant in kilos (today my conversion skills are fairly good, back then I had to think)  "Non Yolande, too much, too big, not tender, yadda yadda yadda."  I held firm.  They were special ordered and found. 

Now I need pumpkin.  "Quoi?"  Pumpkins, you know Cinderella's carriage, but smaller.  "But those are for the pigs..."  We hadn't gotten to the corn on the cob yet.  And to this day I still have to look up Cranberries in Google translate, though again, then, no google. 

The pumpkins were found, the corn to my dismay is still difficult these 25 years later unless in a can, and did not make an appearance.  She found cinnamon for me.  And in a country that prides itself on cheese, we finally found at the English store in Lyon a block of cheddar cheese (I wanted it to served alongside the apple pie in the old New England tradition).  Cranberries were a bust but along the way I tried fresh red currents and it was a workable substitute. 

Sylvette didn't want me to overdo as I was arriving from the alps just 36 hours before dinner was to be served and tried to keep the guest list in line.  I also put my foot down here.  Tatan, all the local family, and your friends who always welcome our family when we come to town.  "quoi?" again.  Tatan Sylvette this is the holiday about friends...they come. 

The family emptied the furniture out of the living room and brought in the saw horses and plywood, and the tables were dressed.  I relented and it was not dinner at 2pm.  They relented and it was not dinner at 7pm.  Everyone was to arrive at 4p and dinner was set for 5p. 

Then, 10 days later than the real Thanksgiving I went down into the kitchen and started to cook, my first turkey, and my first Thanksgiving dinner.  Sylvette came to be my helper with Marie-Pierre, my cousin.  Marie was allowed to stay.  Sylvette got tossed out fairly early.

We had a few disagreements.  It started with the stuffing.  Apples?  Cranberries?  Yes Tatan, but Jean won't eat that in his stuffing.  We compromised, one bird with the full stuffing the other with a few ingredients omitted. 

You are making a pie out of the Pumpkin, Non.  Yup.  Should have listened to her on this on.  I will never make pumpkin pie from scratch ever again.  Not a success.

Apple pies, cinnamon?  "Non", Tatan, OUT.  The French don't like cinnamon.  Apple pie with out cinnamon in the US?  I was good, I compromised.  One with, one without. 

Our guests discovered that apples in the stuffing not bad.  A little cinnamon in the pie, with a slice of cheddar, not bad.  Pumpkin from scratch...not good. 

It was an amazing day.  We bickered, we gathered, we celebrated, we laughed, we gave thanks.  I gave thanks for a most amazing 6 months living and working in France.  And 23 people thanked me not for the cinnamon apple pie and stuffed turkey, but for introducing them to our American holiday. 

As first attempts at Thanksgiving go...a success (minus the pumpkin pie).  Meanwhile today I will gather with friends who are the equivalent of family and I haven't spent a holiday with in the last 4 years and give Thanks for the circumstances that have brought me back to this region for this time. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all!