Superfoods with Super Taste!

Peterborough was bustling. There were sidewalk sales and rubber duck races on the river for the annual Depot Square Days and one of the best Saturday’s, weather-wise, in weeks. By the time we had the tent for the cooking demo set up, curious folks were lining the doorway and filling the shop.

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Chef Jim’s début at Monadnock Oil and Vinegar (MOV) was a smashing success with fabulous food and fun conversations about cooking. The menu centered around healthy recipes using MOV’s oils and vinegars as well as spices from Attar Herbs. Jim is a consummate cooking contest award winner and has many great recipes under his belt. We set up outside and as soon as his Cajun Lightning Chicken hit the grill, mouths were watering and the air was full of delicious smells.

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A salad of kale, quinoa, almonds, raisins and crasins was dressed with champagne vinegar and blood orange infused olive oil.

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There was a glorious fruit salad with an array of flavored balsamic vinegars; chocolate, blueberry, lemongrass-mint and cranberry-pear. The Superfoods Snack Bars were a big hit for dessert. Guessing from the number of sales inside the store, he served about 150 samples to hungry folks in the three hours he was cooking.

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More importantly, we introduced a lot of new folks to the idea of cooking with healthy ingredients and trying new ways to “dress up” favorites. We had printed up recipe cards to hand out and people flowed from the food into the store to buy the oils and vinegars recommended in the recipes.  I have to say, the cooking demos are one of my favorite events for meeting new folks, catching up with regulars and just enjoying a day in the store.

 

The Drop Out

Though I have completely dropped out of the life I lead my email still cheerfully delivers missives I used to live by. LinkedIn, NASDAQ reports, NIRI surveys and other sundry notices that tell me the life I left goes on without me. Occasionally I open one and read the daily market report, what company is reporting stellar earnings, who is making their mark in the world of investor relations or what the latest trend is for dealing with activist investors. The endorsements on LinkedIn are interesting, considering I haven’t been in touch with most of those kind folks in almost two years. It all seems so foreign and far away from my little corner of the world. Today my biggest news items were when the bottle shipment will arrive and did the ads go in the Peterborough Players program looking like I expected. My world is full of a different minutia, but full nonetheless.

I feel such a sense of relief when I look at the simplicity of life. There is an apartment complex across the road from the store. It’s an attractive red shingled, two-story, L-shaped affaire. My mom rented a one bedroom flat there before she left Peterborough for Arizona. I think of her when I look out at it though she didn’t live in the part I see from my window. What I do see a tenant whose simple routines are integral to the fabric of the day. She is probably in her late sixties, smokes but mostly outside the screen door if the weather cooperates. Her cat is a luxuriously large, marshmallow and butterscotch tabby. She sets up a special table for him/her in front of the screen door; I hear the garbled sound of a television and sometimes see the flickering screen.

The woman is probably on disability and ambles with a definite list to the right. The first warm day, she emerged with a bucket and fishing pole. I watched as she walked slowly to the river that cuts through the heart of town. The leg from the MacDowell Dam has two falls that break the rush of water to the Contoocook River. I’m sure she sat on a bench in the little park and tossed in a line. And I’m going to guess she’s a good fisherman who knows exactly what she’s doing.

I sit out on the deck, surrounded by bird songs at the end of a long day, iced tea in hand and a piano solo drifting down from the loft. The breeze is chilly on my bare skin as the light fades in the sky. I tell myself that I know what I’m doing too…

Sales 101…or “I hate salesmen and will never, ever be one!”

What I am doing right now in life is a combination of QVC and the best feeling of really connecting with people. I’m not selling them a company or a stock, (that I wished with all my heart was on a good path and didn’t have a bleak future.) I’m having an incredible time, sharing food, thoughts and health. A customer today called to ask about a recipe I had spouted without much thought the other day. I am – VINEGAR LADY!

As we wound down toward Easter, the business was steady. Being next to a candy store has definite advantages around the holidays and Ava Marie Handmade Chocolates is one of the top stores in the state. We have two crates of “sample-sized” oils and vinegars near the door with a sign suggesting “Easter Basket fillers for the Chef!” They flew out the door which is bittersweet. On the plus side, the samples are too small for much more than a salad or two, so I know everyone who gets one will be back for more. One the negative side, they are a screaming pain in the butt to keep labeled, filled and capped. The running joke is, “Veronica said we would grow to hate the little bottles.” I have a love/hate relationship with them at the moment.

There are the ironic encounters with people I just had pegged wrong from the start. The other day I watched as three scruffy folks walked up to the store front. One guy tied his dog to the post and came bounding into the store. He was loud, skinny and had tangled long hair. The earring he was sporting wasn’t the kind that causes permanent dangly ear lobes, signifying he was an aging hippie. He stopped mid-sentence to answer his cell phone, dashing for the door. “No sorry, the reception is terrible, I’m in a friend’s bathroom in Vermont. Can I call you back?”  I was a bit baffled by this exchange.

I explained the concept of the store,  the tasting routine and he gazed at me as if I was speaking latin. He stuck his hand out and said, “I’m Pete, you must be the olive oil lady.” I was a bit dumbstruck but managed to smile and introduce myself. A woman wandered in with two young girls. I fled Pete’s intensity to give them a quick hello and intro.

Pete wanted four bottles, two for himself and two for gift. We settled on basic olive oil and traditional balsamic. As I packed up his purchases, he chattered on about how, at 62 years old, he was finally taking care of his health, while he scratched a message on the gift bag with a dull pen, spouting quotes from Hemingway. I rang up his total, just shy of $60 worth of oil and vinegar. He paid in cash, leaving his change, his receipt and two $2 bill “for luck!”  OK, didn’t see that one coming.

The woman had just enough cash for the two bottles she chose. Her youngest daughter was pleading for a cake pop at the register. I swept up the $2 bills and said, “I think that kind gentleman would be happy to buy your girls a pop each.” She looked carefully into my face and said, “He was a bit scary strange wasn’t he?”

Never judge a book by its cover and never a salesman I will be…

 

 

 

 

Smeary Glasses – Clear Vision

Some days I marvel at what life hands me and how it all seems to work out for blog material at the very least. If you can’t write about it, laugh about it, or at the very least be amazed and say “WTF!!” then you aren’t paying attention.

I set off to meet with a woman who owns a very cool business in Depot Square. A year or more ago, when we first met at her store, Bowerbird and Friends, I thought, “Hmm, I’d like to call her a friend, never mind she has an amazing place here.” We had a few strange encounters and “business” dealings. When we sat down today at the Bagel Mill, she sat, curled up in her chair, leaned forward and dug in to how we can work together and what the goals are. No 54th floor, all-glass-confereneceroom stuffiness. Just, “Let’s do something great!”

We both had stores to open and days to manage, so the meeting was brief but rewarding. I opened the store to a cast of characters ranging from the lady I feel I can never please, who was refilling bottles and adding a few new items, to the couple who came in with no clue what they were in for  and walked out so excited to run home and make salads and cook.

For the second time that day, I leaned forward and offered my glasses to someone my age who was lost without them. “They’re so smeary, how do you see through them?” she asked. “Yes but life looks soft and happy through them!” I replied. We all need glasses at this stage. I wear contacts and STILL need glasses. If you forget yours, don’t bitch about the condition of mine…

My day ended with returning various calls when I reached home; while juggling dog bowls and singing the “Doggie Dinner Song” for my roommates. I caught up with Hanni and my Ex, Jeffrey, who is just back from visiting Lex in New Orleans.

As I was vacuuming, watching the news and smelling the sweet aroma of my mom’s Lamb Savory, heating for dinner, it occurred to me the vision is clear. I am still a Mom and regardless of how much Jeffrey tries to appease me that Lex is fine, I will do the Mom Worry act. I am a daughter who seeks solace in my mother’s comfort food. I am a wise woman of almost sixty years who has a knack for seeing how to market to people when the products are truly wonderful and relevent

A week ago it snowed. The last few days have been over 60°. I feel like this tulip – you can try, winter, but Spring is inevitable.  My glasses may be smeary, but my vision is clear.

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Pursuing P J

Dear Mr. O’Rourke,

I read with great interest the article in the Ledger-Transcript regarding your new book, The Baby Boom. From the “courtesy photo” I can tell you, I have met Milly, though not you.

I am a neighbor from West Road. I came upon her on my way home from work in Peterborough the other night. My current infatuation is with exotic oils and vinegars. I think it would be cheaper to have a crack habit, but certainly not as healthy. If you haven’t been to the Monadnock Oil and Vinegar tasting room I highly recommend a visit.

Sorry, I digress. As I rounded the first curve coming up Temple Road, Milly was headed straight toward me. It was still very cold and she just looked scared and guilty. She wouldn’t let me near her, but she would follow my truck, when we got to your driveway I took a chance and pulled in. She became incensed that I would trespass so I knew it was home for her.

I’ve planned a cooking demo at the store for April 12. Knowing you will be at the Toad is sad, because I would really love to hear you and meet Milly’s dad. The good news is, you will have people coming to town, the Toad will be jammed and you wouldn’t notice me anyway. Also, I can now time exactly when the cooking demo/tasting will get insanely busy; before and after you speak!

Since you will no doubt want escape back to our side of the mountain, you will not make it to the store that day. I figured a tasting sampler of the recipes and ingredients might entice you and your bride to drop in on another day.

Sincerely,

M.-

 

I dropped off a small bag with this note, samples of the oils and vinegars, and my business card. (That’s a sad phrase. I have had business cards I have been proud of since the infamous “Eclectic Collectors,” when Roger and I scoured the mid-west for antiques. My latest business card, promoting my book, is not one I’m overly proud of. Hastily thrown together with a bad image of the book cover.) “The cobbler’s kids go barefoot…”

Fast forward to Saturday morning. I’m up early crazed with details I need to attend to before the cooking demo. Can’t attend P.J.’s book signing but Wilson offers to fill in for me and get a signed copy. Wilson caught up with P.J., with whom he has had a relationship over the years that will remain mysteriously untold, and offered a copy of the book while asking for a signature for his neighbor, Martha Schaefer. “Already sent her a copy, the vinegar lady, right?” quipped  Mr. O’Rourke.

I wasted a few brain cells and minutes thinking, “If that SOB has merely called his PR person in NYC to ship me a plain-vanilla-signed copy, I will drive up to his house and cause a scene that will probably get me arrested.”

A gentle man came into the store at the height of the cooking demo on Saturday. He was just one of those people with a “presence”. They are either artists or politicians, sadly, the politicians wield their presence for personal goals. I saw him talking to Chef Joe but never made it across the sea of customers to greet him, and when I next looked he was gone.

Later, I picked up “Son Of The Circus” by John Irving to end my day.  I glanced at the photo in the back. He has always been my personal “Hemingway.” I don’t idolize him like a rock star, I admire him as a supreme being, of the written word. As Sting is the supreme being of song in my life, well, ok, maybe slightly to the left of Boz Scaggs.

I pulled out the Irving book and showed the photo to Wilson. “Hey, was this guy at P.J.’s book signing the other day?”

“That’s him! Yes! The guy had a $2,000 coat but he needed at $20 hair cut!! I knew he was someone famous. But he was so regular. P.J. introduced him but I don’t remember his name.”

My Hemingway passed so close and I never got more than a look.

Tuesday morning  I received my signed copy of The Baby Boom, with a wonderful note, thanking me for “…kindness to our dog and our tastebuds…” OK, a true human here, versus the giant ego I spent time and money meeting at her book signing back here.

I’ve only just begun the book but so far it is wonderful.

 

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The Eggsellent Easter Feast!

I often wonder how weathermen and women, meteorologists as they prefer, keep their jobs when they can’t seem to predict the weather.  This weekend, reality reversed the  predictions  for Saturday and Sunday.  Saturday dawned gloriously bright, sunny and warm. THAT was supposed to happen on the only day I had off this week, Sunday.

I closed the store the night before, so I knew exactly what needed to be accomplished before the first customers arrived Saturday morning. I arrived to find Chef Joe  setting up and Korey was restocking the fustis with oils and vinegar. This time Joe had a lovely sous chef to help out. Lillie was not only enthusiastic and charming, she was a darn good sales person.

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Lillie and Joe serving up goodness!

Folks feasted on braised lamb shank with blackberry-ginger sauce, shaved asparagus salad, various flavors of deviled eggs and marshmallows dipped in flavored dark balsamic vinegars.

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Braised lamb shanks, deviled eggs, chocolate cake and marshmallows for dipping!

Some literally stayed for hours, catching up with neighbors and sampling great products.

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Shaved Asparagus salad with hazelnuts and gouda cheese.

Everything went off smoothly for our second event. We are now in the planning stages for a Cinco de Mayo feast and a joint Mother’s Day event with Ava Marie Chocolates and The Social Grove Cafe, our building-mates.

 

[check out the recipes here]

Winds of Change

A down jacket sits discarded in the same chair every day for ease of access. The basket by the door of gloves and mittens, overflows in a tangle of fingers. Boots, that I tried to corral all winter at the edge of the tack room, lie twisted and muddy, like severed limbs littering the floor.

We knew it couldn’t last, this winter of bitter winds. I smirked to myself as I stood in the store this afternoon and watched high-schoolers gathering at the picnic tables outside my neighbor-store, Ava Marie Chocolates. They wore shorts and a few girls wore camisoles, defying the degrees as they chowed on ice cream. This is New Hampshire and with the temps above 45° for more than a day, we are embracing Spring.

I will need to address the winter detritus; clean and store the coats, boots, hats, gloves and  all the receptacles they filled. Flip-flops will replace most of the boots though a pair of field boots for riding will remain. The layers peel off. Footwear becomes light and socks disappear. Down vests and jackets will be replaced first with fleeces then with scarves. Skin comes out to drink in the elements.

One year ago today, I took a break from writing and went to explore with Alice. I wrote about it here; the exhilaration of being out in the woods in the Spring never gets old.

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Why does one person need so many pairs of boots?

This is what happens when you try to stage a photo shoot in my house…

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End of the day…

This “going” to work five days a week is an interesting twist in life. I love the store. I love cleaning, restocking,  and greeting customers. I love the products and my bosses. Being out of my world, my office retreat for the last eighteen months, is a transition. The life I lead a year ago, writing my book in solitude, is so immensely different from the social, interactive life I find myself in today.

The house seems a bit foreign when I come home. My five roommates have spent the day here without me and battled through whatever it is they do all day. I used to know exactly what they did; individual tours of the outside at precisely timed intervals to drive me to the brink of insanity. No sooner would I let one in, or out, another would saunter to the door. Tonight, there was a small, soft, very wet mole in my bedroom. It was freshly deceased, but it did make me wonder about its final hours. The rugs are scattered and curled, so I know Alice has patrolled the perimeter and keeping the world at bay.

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Choko, aka Snotty Cat, aka Dr. Biscotti. The ever hopeful and happy lone male in our household.

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Dahlia lives in her own world where she takes pleasure in every waking and sleeping moment.

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Cranky old Belle. Everyone lives in fear of her…

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My “velcro pet, Alice ‘n Wonderland

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The elusive Casey Jones aka Skeedledy Dee, this is a baby photo when Hannah first admitted she had adopted this cat three weeks earlier…

My last customer of the day tried my nerves. He wandered in at 5:20 as I was about to hit the end of the day report on the register. (We officially close at 5)   He said his wife told him to meet her there. I was happy to stay. He sampled and wandered and the clock ticked. Finally he said he had to run to pick up his son at daycare. I cheerily said he and his wife could stop by tomorrow. By now it was 5:45 and the wife was still a no-show but he wondered if I might stay and wait for her. “No, that’s what cell phones are for, idiot. You tell her you went to pick up the kid! Seriously?”  Of course, that part of the conversation only went on in my head.

So maybe it took a year of hiding to make me more patient and kind to those whose lives are so rushed and scheduled, they can’t even be polite.

I was happy to climb the stairs to my office and gaze out upon the fading snow and blooming mud. I used to spend hours looking out these windows, not leaving the house for days at a time. A year ago, we were further along with the snow melt but it was still cold. I was just starting on my road-reclaimation/front yard destruction project.

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I was able to fill all my wood heating needs this winter from this project. It took some doing and towards the end, the wood was fairly green but I didn’t buy a stick of cord wood this year. Last year I bought five cords at an average price of $235 per cord.

The project has brought light into the front yard and the opportunity for a woodland, naturalized garden along the road.

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It has also rewarded me with my very own Skidder for the moment. In case you grew up under a flat rock like I must have, a skidder is essential in working a wood lot. I think mine is quite fetching, though the mud it creates is mind-boggling.

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I still can’t seem to gear up to get too close to the beast. It belches smoke and eats up the ground. I  know the earth will heal itself, the mud will recede and this rocky outcropping on the back side of the mountain will be more glorious for the effort.

What a difference a year makes?!

 

Just when you think it’s safe…

I’m gearing up for our second drop-in cooking event at the store this Saturday. The theme is Eggsellent Easter Feast! This month Chef Joe Stanislaw is presenting a braised lamb entrée with a shaved asparagus salad. He’s worked up lots of ideas for deviled eggs using the flavored oils and vinegars. That inspired me to try a few of my own. Rosemary eggs disappeared almost before anyone else had a taste. The Baklouti Chili eggs with fresh thyme were spicier than I expected this time but they found a happy home at a neighbor’s.

All was going along swimmingly, as my mom used to say, when technology bit me in the butt. My poor aging laptop is 16 years old and on its second hard drive. It owes me nothing but perhaps the courtesy of not dying abruptly; which it didn’t, but I knew I was on borrowed time. I dutifully backed everything up, I think, and hauled it off to the Apple store.

I love the Apple store for people watching. Where do they find some of these folks and what drove them to seek employment in a Mall dealing with techno-twits who generally can only manage to turn the machine on and fire up Facebook??  I would never make it through the customer service side, never mind begin to understand the fixing-it role. Guess that’s why they call it a Genius Bar. I had booked my appointment online and arrived early.

Though I’m legally at the poverty level, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the array of shiny new things. The wireless speakers called to me, the snappy new wrappers and cases caught my eye like a new pair of ballet flats on sale. Finally, a blue-shirted Genius with all kinds of gear escorted me to the bar where we tried to boot up my machine. It grunted, spun and sat quietly blinking. Like an over-protective parent, I poked and wiggled it, excusing its behavior and willing it to start. “Sometimes it works if I pull out the battery and hold down this key.”

“Really?” the 20-something looked at me as if I weren’t speaking English. I saw the pity as he gave it a few more tries then suggested that even if we could get it to start, there obviously was a major failure about to occur. I couldn’t disagree. That’s when my mind went into survival mode. OK, what’s the worst case scenario to get it working? A new hard drive,  but it can’t be done here. This machine is no longer supported. Period. I have to do the job myself with parts from eBay? That’s not happening.

Next worst scenario, I don’t eat for the next month and replace it with the cheapest possible, comparable machine.  Can they pull everything over from this machine? Yes, for $99. Alright, alright, I give up. Do it now before I change my mind. I have press releases and such to finish up for the cooking demo. I can’t be without a laptop if I’m also working at the store. I excused myself to gag alone in the ladies room. When I returned, all smiles and self-assurance, the paperwork was ready.

“Thank you Ms. Schaefer, that will be one month of salads and root vegetables for you, and we will have your new machine all populated with your old stuff in 48 to 72 hours.”

“No, no, no! This is not supposed to take so long!  Please?”  “Sometimes we can have it done in 24 hours, but I can not give you any guarantee.”  Find done. I drag my empty laptop case back through the mall. I will not pass those cute little ballet flats and my thoughts of a new pair of sunglasses just became very cloudy.

I start the truck and it does its cheery little bells and whistles. One bell continued on longer than necessary. I glance at the console and it is flashing a message about needing to service the traction-infraction-reaction-something-or-other. More buttons pushed resulted in reducing it to an innocuous little yellow symbol. The truck seemed fine until I hit the blinker. It wouldn’t stay blinking. How could that be in any way related to the traction-thingy or my hard drive dying? My reaction to anything higher tech than a pencil, is to turn it off and start over.  I screech into the brake-down lane on Route 3 North, reboot, that worked perfectly for the truck.

On the bright side? It was the first weekend in April. The weather today was glorious, and life only gets better from here.

Life just cooks along…

After a gorgeous day to tempt us with what’s to come, today is rainy and hovering on the freezing mark. I worked at the store yesterday and I giggle to myself as I do at the end of every day like that. The people are so much fun. We talk about what they cook, what their tastes are and I love watching their joy at tasting and exploring. It’s a social submersion I sometimes forget I miss in my days of solitary writing.

I dig through my cavernous closet full of the suits of armour I wore for so many years. A silk scarf and a pair of boots, clothing that hasn’t seen the light of day in months. It feels like an exquisite private party I allowed to host with chefs and skeptics, in the bright space of the store. The gleaming, stainless steel fustis bounce back the warm colors of the walls. I realize my entire life’s palate is soft oranges and yellows; my home, my clothes, even my dog! Who’d have thought, life selling olive oil could be such fun?

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This week’s pet project has been pulling together the details for our first “drop-in cooking demo and tasting.” Saturday, guest chef Joe Stanislaw, will be in the store serving salmon, seared sea scallops, Potatoes Anna and Rainbow Slaw. I’ve been working on the press release, advertising, press coverage and hand-outs. Not since the Holiday Book Fair last fall have I had a chance to really stretch my creative thoughts in this way.

So with cooking becoming so much of the conversation I am finding a need to capture recipes. I want to say right up front, there is no way I could ever write a cook book without the aid of  special software to helped with the ingredient lists and such. That is not my idea of fun writing. What is my idea of fun is throwing the basic’s out there and adjusting the dish as you go. I am the queen of how to:

  1. Not dirty a lot of dishes
  2. Use somewhat prepared ingredients
  3. End up with something that tastes like I slaved.

Lunch today, amid the gray of my office windows was frozen butternut squash raviolis with fresh sage and butternut squash seed oil. Ten minutes, one pot, from freezer to me. Add a simple salad of baby greens and I’m good to go.

So though the world insists I remember and stay for a little while longer in this frozen state of winter, I feel new life all around me. Something is about to crack wide open, it may be Spring.

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