Tag Archives: Cooking

Strawberry Fields Forever

It’s St. Patrick’s Day!  I suppose I should be posting a great blog on Corned Beef and Cabbage or Irish Stew or green beer (blech!).  But the truth is that St. Patrick’s Day isn’t generally celebrated much any more at my house.  Too many years, I’ve slaved in the kitchen only to spend the evening rolling my eyes in irritation as my husband almost literally gagged on dinner.  To say he’s not a fan of the traditional Irish fair would be an understatement.  To say that he’s probably inwardly jumping for joy that I’ll be working tonight and not trying to be festive is hardly an exaggeration.  Me not cooking Irish cuisine saves me a lot of frustration and stress so I just don’t do it.  But I’m jealous of those of you who are.  I love the stuff.  Eat it and think of me, post pictures.  I’ll live vicariously through you.

That being said, I did have a few days off last week.  These days it’s rare for me to have 2 consecutive days off.  My chef has been great at trying to give me days off for Collin’s baseball games but that means I get a day here, a day there.  But last week there were three days in a row and I needed every one of them.  The first, I slept most of the day, the second, I did those things that needed to be done and the third, I had a little time to play.  One of my favorite things to do is go to the grocery store (a good grocery store – not a crappy one) and see 1) what looks good and 2) whats on sale then take it home and create a meal.  Sometimes (as in this past week) I strike gold.  Sometimes, not so much but it’s always fun and I usually learn a something in the process.

So on my third day off, I headed to Publix with no ideas of what I was looking for.  The first thing that caught my eye were strawberries.  When I moved to Florida, I had imagined that oranges would be everywhere.  I had dreamed of oranges trees, farm stands and thought about what I could do with them.  Sadly, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Due to some pesky insects and heavy, heavy regulations, every grove I’ve seen has been surround by electric fencing and every orange I’ve seen has been shipped in from California.  But what we DO have are strawberries.  Just 45 minutes west of here is a town called Plant City – the Winter Strawberry Capitol of the World.  These strawberries aren’t your overgrown, nearly tasteless Driskolls.  They’re smaller, tarter and more delicious.  And they’re peaking.  Publix had gorgeous local strawberries on sale as well as Salmon fillets.  I grabbed both, and a little fresh basil and headed home.

My boys had been asking for strawberry shortcake but instead I whipped up a fresh strawberry pie.  If you’d like the details on that, you can check out the blog here:

https://thegourmetgirls.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/berry-good-memories/

It’s an old standard but so delicious and easy.

download-1As for dinner, I knew I’d be short on time, wedging it between Collin’s baseball game and having to pick Ty up from work.  So I did some prep early.  I pulled out the salmon and spotted the bottle of Jack Daniels’ Tennessee Honey sitting on my counter.  If you haven’t tried this stuff, you’re missing out.  We’re not big drinkers and a bottle of liquor will usually last a year or more in my house.  But I have a hard time keeping this whiskey around.  I’ve put it in everything from barbecue sauce to pecan pie.  I’ve mixed it with water and sipped it slowly, I’ve added a bit to coffee.  It’s amazing stuff.  On this night, I decided to make a glaze for my salmon.  I spent a few minutes making the glaze in the afternoon and just left it sitting on the counter.  Then I started to work on the sauce.  This is where those gorgeous strawberries were going to pay off.  I chopped them up in the food processor, added some balsamic vinegar, water, brown sugar and let it reduce.  I then finished it off with a bit of honey and fresh basil.  A little more reducing and the sauce was ready.  I popped it in the fridge and headed out for the game.

When we got home, all that was left to do was season the salmon with salt and pepper, broil it for 5-6 minutes on each side, brush on the glaze, broil another minute or two, warm the sauce and serve.  The result was amazing.  So good, so easy, so full of flavor.  Collin even said he wanted to cook it for his girlfriend.  It was pretty and seemed like a special meal.  Company worthy indeed.  Even my pickier Camden thought it was great.

Not sure when I’ll get another day to play with my food but I hope when I do, it’s turns out as well.  In the meantime, give this a try.  Strawberries should be coming to you soon!

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Tennessee Honey-Glazed Salmon with Strawberry-Balsamic-Basil Sauce*

For the glaze:

3/4 cup Tennessee Honey

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon mustard powder

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and whisk to combine.  Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to simmer and cook 6-8 minutes or until reduced by about half.  Pour into a bowl and set aside.

Strawberry-Balsamic-Basil Sauce

2 cups finely chopped strawberries, plus additional sliced strawberries for garnish

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonade

In a small saucepan, combine finely chopped berries, balsamic vinegar and water.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and allow to reduce by half.  Stir in honey and fresh basil and simmer another 2-4 minutes.  Keep sauce warm or make it ahead and chill it, rewarming before use.

For the salmon:

Preheat broiler and place salmon on a baking sheet lined with foil or a Silpat.  Season both sides with course salt and freshly ground black pepper and broil 5-6 minutes on each side.  Remove from oven and brush with Tennessee Honey Glaze.  Return to broiler and cook an additional 2-3 minutes.

Spoon Strawberry sauce onto plate and top with glazed salmon, add additional sauce and garnish with fresh strawberries.

*Unless you’re cooking for a crowd, you’ll have both glaze and sauce left over.  It would be wonderful on chicken  (or chicken wings as I’m going to try).  The glaze can be used as a dipping sauce and the strawberry sauce would be excellent over ice cream.  Be creative!

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Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho

Today I finally set foot in the kitchen. Of course, that foot was wearing a navy leather pump with a 2″ heel and was attached to a body dressed in professional attire. Not exactly kitchen-ready. Today was a short easy day of “e-Learning” followed by a very quick tour to my location to show me where to clock in and where to go when I actually start on location tomorrow morning (wearing my chef whites and kitchen shoes, of course).

Back stage photos are tough to get but the kitchen is big and not nearly as clean and pretty as those at Culinary school. It’s a little intimidating but I’m sure I’ll be fine once I get in there. Tomorrow I will meet my trainer who will walk me through everything for the next week to 10 days.  Until I’m fully trained, I get this cute little ribbon on my name tag.  Here at Disney the “Earning My Ears” ribbon is considered a Get Out of Jail Free card.  I’ll take it.

After school, my roommate and I went to the Magic Kingdom for a few hours. It was hot and more crowded than I expected for a Wednesday in May. Much of that park is a mess with the Fantasyland expansion. By 4:00 or so we were tired and ready to come back to the apartment.

The best part of the day was that I braved the lines in the sun to get a Dole Whip. If you’ve not had one, so very sorry. They’re heaven. Pineapple soft serve thats created from fresh pineapple and water (no eggs or dairy) and served with fresh pineapple juice. Amazing on a hot day. My last one was in 2001 and my last one before that… 1989. The Dole Whip was something I’ve been looking forward to since I found out I got this job.

Tonight there is a College Program party. I’m not going. I have to get up and run early tomorrow before catching the 7:20 a.m. bus to my beautiful resort. Besides, loud DJs, blacklights, crowded pools and lame food stopped sounding good about 20 years ago.

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My Own Rockin’ Roller Coaster of Emotion

Just one week from tomorrow, I get on a plane.  It’s like a big dead end… or a big scary beginning.  Either way, it’s coming and it’s coming quickly.  After a weekend of baseball and fun with friends, I’m feeling the pressure to get things done.  Today, I actually opened a suitcase and started tossing stuff in.  I’m baffled at how I’m going to get everything to Florida in two suitcases and a carry on.  I don’t remember packing bedding in 1989.  That alone is a suitcase – a big one.  And then there’s the Keurig and a month’s worth of K-cups.  Because I might be okay if I run out of food, but if I’m working 60+ hours and run out of coffee, I will NOT be a happy Disney employee. Cast Member.

My list of must-dos is narrowing as time runs out.  A couple of days ago, I realized that I have NEVER been to the Ol South Pancake House.  Never.  It’s a freaking Fort Worth institution and I have never been.  Ty has described it as like a IHOP where your feet stick to the carpet.  This might turn you off but not me.  I have to go.  And I’m not satisfied to just go in the middle of the day.  Nope.  I want German pancakes sometime between 11 pm and 2 am.  My husband is, as you can imagine, thrilled.

Last night I spent with people I love in Downtown Fort Worth.  It was glorious and I only got weepy twice through the entire night.  And once, it was dark – no one noticed so I’m pretty sure no one thought I was too much of a freak.

School is still going well and it’s apparent that the end is near.  Our final projects are due on Wednesday and tomorrow, we’re doing our largest simulated restaurant line yet.  My group gets the Garde Manger station.  We’re responsible for Caesar Salad, Gazpacho and Mussels.  I’m very excited about the Gazpacho.  We’re skipping the classical recipe and opting for the Grape and Almond Gazpacho that was featured in this blog way back at the very beginning:  https://thegourmetgirls.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/a-different-take-on-gazpacho/  I love that my Chef gives us freedom with the recipes.  That’s not something that they all do.  Also, on Wednesday, Disney will be back on campus recruiting for summer and fall programs.  I’m planning to go to the presentation, just hoping to catch a little pixie dust.

I’ve found that some of you are enjoying the blog and living vicariously through our crazy.  I’ve been met with everything from, “I don’t know how you can do it” to “Awesome”.  I understand both.  I feel both.  Keep following.  Once I’m in Florida, things should get interesting.  I hope to post frequently with fun tales of being a middle-aged woman in a young person’s world.  I hope to also get back to posting recipes, Disney insider stuff and all that goes with it.  At times, those of you reading may be my only outlet to vent frustrations, share joys and express sorrows.  I have no idea what next week holds.  Much less next month.  So stick around, cue in your friends who might also enjoy the ride.  Not sure if it will be more like, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Rockin’ Roller Coaster or the Tower of Terror.  Probably some of all on any given day.

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Two Weeks to Go

The end of the College Program in 1989. I wonder how different this time will be?

  Two weeks from this moment I will be on a plane.  I will have said a permanent goodbye to the house I’ve lived in for 10 years and a long goodbye to home I love and those who share it with me.  Two weeks from this moment, the adventure will no longer be a theory but a reality.  Two weeks from today, I’ll be doing something that has long fell on my ‘someday’ list.  To those of you who move often or even relatively often, you may snicker at the gravity with which I’m approaching this life change – at how I’m trying so deliberately to not take any moment for granted leading up to my departure.  But this is me.  I mentioned to Ty that maybe a less tormented way to spend my final weeks in Texas would be to do and see the things that I hate.  Stand in 110-degree heat,  or better yet, go walk around Trader’s Village in it.  Drive around Downtown Dallas.  Go up and down 820 during rush hour.  But the truth is that this list is short, there are very few things I don’t love about Texas and one of the things I’m most looking forward to is coming back as a visitor and seeing things with fresh eyes.  So this weekend, I will not seek out the unpleasant things nearby but I will be attending a baseball tournament, possibly the last one in Texas.  I will be spending Sunday evening downtown in my beloved Fort Worth, watching a movie, walking around, taking it all in.  Next week I will go see a movie with my classmates – whom I love and will miss.  And each day I will listen to Lyle Lovett or Townes Van Zandt or Willie Nelson and sometimes I will get misty.  And truthfully, I wouldn’t want to leave Texas any other way.

My days are spent not only pondering my current home but preparing to move to my new one.  Each new physical act of preparation calms my nerves.  We can do this.  It’s just a step at a time.  I will arrive in Orlando on Tuesday May 15 at 6:45 and will be shuttled to an airport hotel.  On Wednesday morning at 8:00 a.m, I will report to Vista Way (the original Disney apartment complex) where I spent the summer of 1989.  I’m going to save most of the details for those of you looking forward to following our experiences in real-time.  Lets just say that I’m praying for a quiet roommate in a quiet apartment complex.  Will I get it?  Who knows…….

As I type this, I’m surrounded by boxes.  We’ve rented a storage building and are preparing to store most of our belongings until early September.  Ty and the boys will be in the house until school ends.  At that point, they’ll begin the process of preparing to join me in Florida.  Ty is doing a Live Event Painting! for a wedding at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth on June 9.  After that, they’ll head my way.  No doubt by then, I’ll be almost sick with missing them.  That being said, if you’re in a position to toss Ty a gig or two or a design job in the next 6 weeks, please do.  Moving is expensive.  We’ll both be working as much as possible.  I’m counting on that excellent Disney overtime policy.

My boys are handling the crazy well so far.  Collin already has a (girl)friend from the school he’s hoping to attend (Thanks, Facebook).  This school currently has the #1 ranked baseball program in the country.  Collin’s current coach has already volunteered to send an email to the new coach saying all sorts of positive things and Collin and Ty are already scoping out batting facilities, practice fields and select teams.  If any of you have insight, please help us out.  The only sticky widget is that the school’s area seems to be a nice one.  Fingers crossed that we can find an affordable apartment/extended stay hotel in that area.  Camden is just ready to go.  Ready to make new friends, build robots and maybe learn a thing or two about Imagineering.

So that’s where we are.  I’ll touch base again in a week or so.  By then, my packing will have probably begun in earnest.  Thank goodness I’m flying Southwest, where bags fly free.  My list of things I want to take gets bigger every day.

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The Countdown is On

Texas Wildflowers

I wonder how many times a person has to uproot their life before it becomes easy.  For me it is not.  It’s now been about 3 weeks since we made that massive decision to pack up everything and move to Orlando and, instead of dealing with it better, I find that with each day, I become more weepy, more nostalgic, more anxious.  I love change.  I love fresh starts.  I love the idea of reinvention.

Florida Beaches

But I also love Texas.  I love horses and longhorns and wildflowers and Mexican food.  I love seeing cowboy boots at the symphony, bluejeans at the theatre.  I love long drawls, big hats and friendly people.  While I suspect that some of these things may be unique to Texas, I realize that I’ll be trading one set of loves for another one.  Citrus and palm trees, white sand, salt water, warm winters, Cuban food and, of course, the “happiest place on earth.”  And yet, I’m sad.  Sad to be leaving friends, family and the only home I’ve ever known.

Downtown Fort Worth

Downtown Orlando

In the last few weeks or months, I’ve completed a short Texas ‘Bucket List’.  I’ve been to Austin and driven the Willow City Loop.  I’ve seen the most stunning display of wildflowers, I’ve had a cucumber martini from the South Congress Cafe, I’ve been to the Cowtown Farmers Market, watched my son play ball at LaGrave Field and eaten BBQ on the banks of the Trinity River.  I’d still like to have a burger at The Love Shack, walk around downtown Fort Worth, see a Ranger game at the Ballpark, have dinner at Bonnell’s, visit the Fort Worth Zoo and picnic at Trinity park.  Most of all, I’d see ALL of my friends.  I’d like to say, ‘goodbye’.  Not sure time or money will allow these things but if resources were no issue, these are the things I’d do.

That being said, I’m happy to know that I’ve truly experienced Texas.  I know my little town of Fort Worth and know I will always be welcomed back.  I’ve done Texas and compared to many, I’ve done it well.  I’m sure I’ll find other things in Florida that I love.  I’m sure I’ll discover joy in Floridian Cuisine (whatever THAT is).  And I’m sure I’ll have visitors.  That’s the good thing about moving to Disney World.  Most people go there at one time or another.

Fort Worth Stockyards

So what I ask from you now is prayer, support, good thoughts, whatever you have to offer.  I’ll need strength to get on that plane in three weeks and leave my friends and family behind.  We’ll need encouragement to keep pushing through the issues that will inevitably arise.  Pray for work, schools, friends, housing and just about everything else.  There is little we

Downtown Disney

know.  This is a leap of faith.  And a heck of a leap it is.  And we’d love to see you.  We’d love to sit on the banks of the Trinity River and have a Shiner Bock and some BBQ with you.  We’d love to talk and to laugh and to have one last moment of joy with so many of you whom we love.  And when you’re in Orlando, give us a call.  We’ll be there, waiting with open arms to embrace our friends and loved ones from home.  We’ll be anxious to hear about you and about Texas, which will always be in our hearts.

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“What’s Life Without a Little Adventure”

This has become the quote that my family has come to live by.  My brilliant son, Camden gave us these rallying words in some recent moments of uncertainty and stress.  Since then, it’s been our motto, driving us forward, giving us courage and helping us to deal with a lot of changes.  I find myself being drawn to encouragement at every turn, watching movies about daring and bravery and change and taking comfort in them.

I’ve always had a bit of a wanderlust in my spirit.  Loving the idea of taking off, going someplace new, starting over.  It’s only through a bit of circumstance, some consideration of others and a little fear that I’ve been in this area for my entire life.  I used to dream of doing something different.  And now, finally at 42, it seems that I am.

It all started with an “in-the-moment” email inquiring about Culinary Schools.  Within 6 weeks, I was registered and had a start date.  Then it was about finding an externship.  Disney was coming to the campus and since I’d done Disney before, I thought, “Why not?”  Easy, stress-free interviews and I knew I’d get in.  It really was a cop-out on my part.  But the thing is, it’s a good fit.  I want and need high volume kitchen experience but I don’t know if I want to work in a kitchen forever.  Disney gives me options and I like that.  So I got accepted.  And then, I continued in school.  WIth each class that ended, my stress grew.  “How could I possibly leave my family for 14 weeks?”  “How could I possibly come back to Texas after 14 weeks with no job?” “Is my family so incredibly happy with where we’re at that it would be difficult to start over?”  (The answer to that one is most definitely a no.) and as we neared the date of my imminent departure, life/God/the universe seemed to find ways to tell us that change wouldn’t be so scary.  What if I went to Florida and the boys just followed when school was out?  We pondered this quietly for a while before deciding it was the right thing to do.  I would go to Disney in May and Ty and the boys will come down in June.  This seemed like a decent plan, although a terrifying one.

So Ty put out a few feelers learning that he could transfer to one of the Apple Stores in the Orlando Area.   More importantly, Ty contacted Al.  And this is just one of those cool God things that you don’t think much about until the plan comes together.  But Al is and has been Ty’s best friend for decades.  Al was around long before I was.  He was the best man at our wedding and truly the brother my husband never had.  Shortly after we married, Al packed up and moved to Miami.  Since that time he has created a great life and a great reputation as a digital caricature artist in the Florida area.  He had also introduced Ty to Ryan, another digital artist who is about an hour outside of Orlando.  When they all became friends, I was not in school and no thought of moving to Florida had ever crossed our minds.  Kismet.  Another great thing is that for some reason, Florida is short on caricaturists.  Disney doesn’t put them out the way that Six Flags does and there aren’t enough to keep up with demand.  This is the complete opposite of what’s happening in the D/FW area.  Al and Ryan both assured Ty that they could keep him busy and that he was, not only welcome but encouraged to come.  This was a relief and seemed to be the point at which we said, “Let’s do it”.

And so we planned a nice family dinner to talk to the boys.  We were apprehensive.  Of course, they had heard rumblings and they were not terribly excited about my leaving them for 14 weeks but they didn’t know for sure.  When we broke the news we were met with smiles, and cheers and genuine excitement from both.  Collin wanted to know if they had good baseball in Orlando….(Umm…. YES) and Camden just uttered those words “What’s Life Without a Little Adventure?” and we were set.  The truth is that they want something different too.  They want to start over.  No one is so happy here that moving doesn’t seem like a fun idea.

So today, I booked my flight.  I will be going to Orlando on May 15.  Ty and the boys will be coming after school is out at the end of May or beginning of June.  I will live in Disney housing (required) and they will live in an extended stay hotel until August.  Hopefully by then, we’ll know exactly where we want to settle.  Collin is already researching high schools and select teams and everything in our life has become a question of “do I love it?” or “do I leave it?”  Hopefully Al and Ryan can get Ty working quickly and he can begin marketing himself in that area as soon as he arrives.

We’re not totally saying goodbye to Texas. It’s still our home.  Our parents are here and that will undoubtably bring us back regularly (though I half expect my dad to start planning his own move before we’ve been gone too long).  I’m packing up my Cowboy boots and Tex-Mex cookbooks and pictures and paintings of bluebonnets because you can take the girl out of Texas….and well, you know.

So I will be blogging again.  Partially simply because I’ll have stuff to say.  The Disney Externship alone will give me great material.  But also because I need to say stuff.  If I don’t, I might explode.  So follow along, you can revel in our successes and snicker at our failures.  I’m sure there will be plenty of both.  But in the end.  It’s nothing but an adventure and my gut tells me it’s not one we will regret.

Because this is life…. and “What’s Life Without a Little Adventure”

 

 

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Easy Summer Shrimp with Tomato-Feta Sauce

I’ve talked before about my love of easy, quick recipes this time of year.  We’re always busy with activities and while I love the food that’s available this time of year, I rarely have the luxury of spending hours in the kitchen slaving over the hot stove.  I came across this recipe on one of my many favorite food blogs and had to give it a try.  With just a couple of adjustments, it was a keeper.  Even my boys thought it was truly something special.  It was also easy beyond belief – not to mention healthy.  I don’t currently have dill planted in the garden but I’m considering it… just for this dish.  I simply served this with crusty bread but suspect that next time, I’ll go ahead and prepare some rice.

Easy Summer Shrimp with Tomato-Feta Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes (I prefer Muir Glen)

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon minced fresh dill (or you can substitue 1 teaspoon of dried dill)

1 to 1 1/4 pounds medium raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, thawed if frozen

Salt and pepper to taste

4 oz. Feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 425.  In a large, oven proof skillet or dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat.  Add onion and saute until softened, 3-5 minutes.  Add minced garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds more.

Add tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes to allow the juices to thicken.

Remove from heat.  Add parsley, dill, shrimp, feta and salt and pepper.  Place pan in oven and bake, uncovered, 10-12 minutes or until shrimp is cooked through.  Remove from oven and add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately with rice, pasta or crusty french bread.

Serves 4

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