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Sunshine, Moonbeams and Snowflakes (Lots of Snowflakes!)

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Sunshine, Moonbeams and Snowflakes  (Lots of Snowflakes!)

I promised myself I wouldn’t do a clichéd begin-of-the-year post about what I plan to change over the next year.  Sure, we all are busy thinking about our New Years Resolutions; losing weight, getting a new job; being a better person, blah, blah, blah…But this time it’s just circumstance and a good case of good timing that brings me to this post.  You see, I need to catch you all up on some things that have been happening lately.  I was going to bring them up rather subtly, painstakingly alluding to these happenings over a series of posts.  But it’s just too exciting to hold back.  So I’m just going to let you all have it at once.  So hang on tight!

As you all know, I’m pretty miserable in my job and I need a change. I could draw out the thought process on how I came to my life’s passion but I think you can already figure that one out yourselves.  Over the last few months, I’ve decided to log out of my job as an IT Consultant and to dish up a new career in the Culinary arts, Pastry Arts in particular. I know it’s not a big shock to any of you, but for me, it’s was an epiphany.  It was a ray of sunshine.   I ran it by Marko. For years, I’ve always (semi-) joked with him that my life’s ambition was to be the “Cookie Queen of the Netherlands”, so the news that I wanted to re-invent myself to be a Pastry Chef did not side swipe him at all.   The only big shock would come financially. It would be a huge cut in salary for me. Making cookies is not nearly as lucrative as putting together bits and bytes.  Figuring it out, I’d have to sell an extra 35,000 cookies a year to make up the difference!  That’s about 100 cookies extra per day! 

When I told my sister about my decision, we immediately began daydreaming about opening our own restaurant, just like we did when we were teenagers.  Let me tell you a bit about my sister. She is going to totally hate me for writing this but in short, my sister, Dr. Christine, is my idol.  She is the most dedicated and driven person I know.  When she was 11, she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, an affliction that haunts her to this day.  After High School, using her natural talent for cooking, she attended and graduated from Johnson and Wales University in Providence Rhode Island with a degree in Culinary arts.  A few years later, she decided that she needed to make a bigger impact on the world and enrolled in a medical program to become a doctor.  Even though she was severely plagued with health problems, she pushed herself through the punishing Internship and Residency programs.  At over 100 hours per week, these programs are challenging even for a healthy person. But she not only made it through, she excelled with top grades!   Currently she is the Director and Chief Physician of the Veterans Clinic in Littleton in upstate New Hampshire.  That is definitely quite an accomplishment for a recent graduate. I couldn’t be prouder of my sister! 

 In late October of last year, I get a call from her. She found this lovely little café nestled at the foot of Mt. Washington that is for sale about an hour drive from her. It’s The Moonbeam Café. She wants to buy it.  “What do you think?” she asks me. Personally, I didn’t think it was such a good idea; after all, she works 6 days a week at the clinic.  I’m 3500 miles away.  How can she swing it alone?  “Aren’t you afraid of this?”  I asked her.  “Lisa,” she explains, “It’s my dream. I don’t have time to be afraid.  I don’t know how much longer I have.  It could be 4 years, it could be 40.  I just don’t know.  I need to make every minute count.”.  Brave girl she is.  It could be so easy to be afraid and take the easy route.  But that just wouldn’t be her.  

 Suddenly the pieces are falling into place.  The café has a full bakery in the back that’s not being used. “It’s all yours if you want it”, she says.  I can hardly believe my ears.  My own bakery!  The only caveat is that I have to be in Gorham. This isn’t something that I can do remotely.  No telecommuting for me.  That would mean moving my family from the over-crowded Netherlands to the sparsely populated mountains of New Hampshire.  I can already feel Marko going into culture shock.   I’m never going to sell it to him sight unseen.

The next step is to pay a visit.  While we are in the states for our yearly Christmas vacation, we’d spend a bit of time getting The Moonbeam ready for inspection and opening day.  “Don’t forget,” my sister says, “Winter is WINTER here.  Cold and harsh, but stunningly beautiful.”  So we make our plans to be there the 26th through the 29th of December.

 Ok, Mother Nature.  It’s show time!  I need to dazzle and impress Marko. I’m putting in my order for perfect sunny skies and bejewelled snow capped mountains. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be.  On the exact day we going to leave, Mother Nature decided to pitch a doozy of a fit… now affectionately known as “The Christmas Blizzard of 2010” that crippled the east coast for days. No, dear Readers, we didn’t get stuck in the snow.  We left on the road early in the morning and were at my sister’s in plenty of time before the storm.  But when it hit, it hit hard! 

 The following morning, we experienced just how professional New Hampshire is about snow removal and I got my wish.  A perfect glittering Winter Wonderland!  Thanks Mother Nature. 

The Moonbeam Café is located on Exchange Street in Gorham, NH and will be open on her birthday, January 4th 2011.  Those in the area, is sure to stop in for some great eats and to wish her a Happy Birthday!  Congratulations and Best Wishes, Dr. Chris!

 This weeks recipe is another jelly recipe that I developed just for The Moonbeam’s  grand opening.  It also makes a very impressive gift.

 White Zinfandel Jelly

 1 ½ Cups White Zinfandel Wine

2 ½ Cups white sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 pouch of liquid Certo pectin

Over med-high heat, bring wine, sugar and lemon juice to a boil.  Add pectin.  Boil for about 5 minutes or until able to set.  To test if the jelly is set, put a tablespoon or so on a saucer and put it in the freezer for about 3 minutes. If it’s not runny and looks like jelly, it’s done.  If not, boil another few minutes.  Pour in sterilized jars. Seal tightly and process in a water bath for 10 mins.  Makes about 1 quart.

The Cosmic Checklist

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

The Cosmic Checklist

A few months ago I started yet another new job and as many employers do, I was asked to write about myself for the company newsletter.   As I stare at the blank word document page before me, I found myself at a total loss to answer the simple question:  “Who am I? “

Who am I?  That is a very good question nowadays.   Sure, I could write about my personal metadata: woman, middle-aged, American, married, kids, yadda, yadda.  But that all just seems doesn’t seem to answer the question. It’s just the information that seems to dance around me but not who I am.  The same thing with my work.  I could spend several paragraphs quoting my resume.  Any of this stuff can be read off of any number of social networks.  Besides, my work does not define me.  It simply keeps the roof over our heads.   To tell you the truth, I have no passion for my profession in IT, so I can’t possibly bore people with that information. 

 Who am I?  The question frightened me.  You’d think at 45 years old, I’d at least be able to answer THAT question.  As I think more closely about it, I’m just not the same person I was 20, 10, 5 years ago.  But who am I now?   

You see, I’m sitting at a cross point in my life.   I’ve already accomplished everything that society asked me to.  My ‘Cosmic Checklist’ is nearly complete. 

“What is this Cosmic Checklist?” you ask.  Well,   as a member of this society, we are expected to get educated, get a career, get married and have our 2.5  kids.    We do it because society says it’s what we should do to be ‘successful’.  Yes, sir, society has it all figured out for us.  However, at a certain point, usually around the age of 40, our cosmic checklist is nearly complete.  The only things  remaining won’t happen until much later in life:  grandchildren, retirement and we all know how it’s going to end.  At this point in our lives,  we stare into the gaping abyss of the next 20-30 years of our working life and ask universally:  “Now What?”

I’m sure there are many out there that can sympathize with me but I just don’t understand why is it that I find myself even more confused about life than I was 25 years ago?  I’m 45 years old!  I have kids!  I did everything  asked of me!  I should be on top of the world right now.  Why do I feel like I am constantly  fighting between the ideals I had when I was younger and apathy from the fact that I’ve strayed so far from them. Why do I feel that like I ‘lost’ myself along the way? 

“You’re in Mid-Life Crisis, my dear”,  said one good friend to me.  “What?  Me??!!  Mid Life-Crisis??!!”,  I shrilled at her with an embarrassed chuckle.  Suddenly, I visualized myself on a Harley riding through the Swiss Alps. (Ahhh, lets pause here for a minute and savor this thought)  Then I realized she was absolutely right.  Hmmm, I have been doing things to try to find myself again.  I spend crazy amounts of time in my kitchen.  I blog.  I’m desperately trying to change my career.  I even take electric guitar lessons.  Still something just doesn’t sit right.  There!  I have my diagnosis:  A raging state of Mid-Life Crisis.

 Hmmm, I find this phenomenon quite perplexing.  Why is it that  the mere mention of the term  ‘Mid-Life Crisis’ conjures up clichéd images of middle-aged husbands running off with their children’s babysitters, buying a Harley Davidson and getting hair plugs? Why does it have to be looked  at something weak, clichéd or scandalous?   Why can’t it be something that we embrace and celebrate? 

Think about it. When we are young, we go through all kinds of ‘Rights of Passage’.  We go to school. We survive puberty. We learn to drive.  We can drink alcohol legally. We choose a career.  We get married, have kids.  All of this happens at a relatively young age and at every one of these points we are rewarded by accolades from our family and friends .  How can we possibly expect that the choices we made when we were  mere  teenagers to be valid for the rest of our lives?   After all, people are living well into their 80’s these days. 

 For me, the biggest source of my discontent comes from a career choice that I have absolutely no passion for.  Twenty-five years in information technology has left me feeling like my soul was ripped out and given to charity.  After changing jobs 6 times in the last 5 years, I realize that I have taken this as far as I can go.  Apathy is no option. I simply must change.   But how?  

So now…the plan.  I have a feeling that the next year is going to be a wild ride for me and my family.  It’ll be painful, wonderful, frightening and I hope so worth it.  Mid-life crisis or not; I am going to enjoy this time.  It’s the chance that I get to re-define myself on my own terms with the people that I love!   What’s not to celebrate??!!

Today’s recipe is one that is a big hit with my wine certification class. Try it on a warm or room temperature brie and a slice of the baguette from my previous post. Add a good glass of wine and it’ll be pure mid-life heaven. 

Fig Jam with cognac and pine nuts

1 pound of fresh figs  (or dried figs steeped in hot water)

1 Cup sugar

½ Cup cognac

3 tablespoons pine nuts.

3 hot sterilized canning jars and lids

Put fresh figs  and sugar in a food processor and pulverize until a puree.  Place the puree in medium saucepan and bring to a boil, adding a bit of water if needed.  When boiling, add cognac and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for about 30 minutes,  stirring often.  Test jam by stirring the jam with a metal spoon.  Run your finger across the hot jam (careful not to burn yourself).  If the mark you left with your fingers stays, then it’s done.  Give a taste.  It should be balanced sweet and acidic.  If it tastes overly sweet, add more cognac.  If not sweet enough, add more sugar.  Cook for another 5 minutes to incorporate.  Add pine nuts  and pour into prepared jars, leaving a small bit of headroom.  Wipe rims clean and lid.  Boil 10 minutes in a water bath.  Store in a cool dark place.