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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Tax Time and Taking That Leap

Ugh, it’s that time of year when all those envelopes pile up in the mail box stamped IMPORTANT TAX DOCUMENT. The season of receipts is upon us and every scrap from charitable donations to deductible expenses gathers into piles, then stacks, and finally is stuffed into the large brown envelope so I don’t have to see how messy it all is.

I trudged through the slush and into the historic brick building, where the heat melts the snowflakes from my lashes. The interior is dark wood paneling and green granite steps lead to my tax man’s second floor office. Hoping to catch him in but not busy, I poked my head through the door. I could hear him in the back, in a meeting. I wrote a quick note with my bulging envelope and was turning to leave when his head popped around the corner. “Can you come back in an hour?”

I have not seen Paul, aka my tax man, in a year. We were supposed to have lunch last fall when I was at a panic point about my finances. Not only did he stand me up at the restaurant, I had not heard back from him since. I went from being worried, to checking the obituaries, to being pissed off. But, he is the best and has done my taxes for years. I certainly didn’t want to make a change now; I had a year of unemployment and messy stuff to calculate.

As I suspected, though he is not normally “Mr. Communication,” he had suffered an injury the day we were to have lunch and had been laid up since. I forgave him and we went back to the little life discussion we have every year; kids growing too fast, slowing the pace of your life to find joy, how do I accomplish this without a corporate title? He is better than a therapist and cheaper.  Last year when I sat in his office and laid out my “leap of faith”  plan, he smiled and jotted numbers. “If this is what you want, we will figure out a way to make it happen. You do your part and follow your passion. In a year, we’ll see how you did.”

I wanted to write a book. I had set that goal and knew I also wanted to self-publish. With no idea how the year would evolve or what I would do when finances grew tight; his faith in my ability to learn frugality gave me the strength to take the leap.

Among the expenses we reviewed from this past year, were  beekeeping classes and equipment. Without that side-trip into agriculture last summer, I would not have met Kim and Korey, owners of Monadnock Oil and Vinegar. Though I’m sure I would have found my way to their new store, I certainly wouldn’t have embarked on my latest adventure, helping to grow this little business in the dead of winter and seeing such success.  In a recent email, Korey said, “I jumped and you were my safety net.”  There seems a lot of that going on these days…

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Coincidence? I think not!

On October 24th 1981 I received a telex from Sandy Frank Productions in Los Angeles, CA USA confirming my employment for the position as field researcher for the television series, “You Asked For It” at the salary of $500 US per week. Aside from scouting locations in Indonesia, they asked me to take a screen test. The thought was I might be able to fill the role of reporter for the segments they had planned for my little corner of Southeast  Asia. I won’t bore you with the details, it’s in Therapeutic Misadventures. Suffice to say, the film is collecting dust somewhere since they did in fact, shoot film back then. I was marketing my company, a rag-tag bunch of creative locals and myself, and managed to keep us all paid for several months with the gig.

Last week,  I watched NH Chronicle aired a segment on Monadnock OIl and Vinegar as the result of my most recent stint of marketing. I was surprised they used some footage that included me. I finally had my 15 seconds of fame on the television. A special “shout out” to Dr.s Fritz and Moore for ably filling the roles of satisfied customers as well.

If you haven’t seen the clip, you must live outside my usual pestering zone of emails and Facebook posts. You can view it here, skip to the 4:41 mark to move past the mushroom lady in the first segment.

Whatever you do in this world comes back to you later in ways you can never imagine. Life is shorter than you think and what you do will be noted.

The Happy Note In My 2014 Jar Today

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The snow was already dusting when I made tea at 5:30 this morning. By the time I headed down the hills to Peterborough, the roads were coated and I didn’t drop out of four-wheeled drive until I turned onto Route 101. Mount Monadnock was still visible, barely, as I came down the last hill into town.

Business was brisk at Monadnock Oil and Vinegar. Last minute Valentines seekers, spooked by the weather report, were out in full force, particularly at our neighbor Ava Marie Chocolates. Our first customer was a woman who had asked for a particular product, blackberry ginger balsamic, she was pleased to find it had arrive just yesterday. Others wandered in and exhibited one of two reactions. Their eyes softened, their faces relaxed and they appeared to have found Mecca. This customer delights in telling tales of gastronomic adventure in Italy and beyond. The second personality walks in and turns 360° with a look of skepticism. An entire store devoted to oils and vinegar? They warm up quickly to the idea when we engage them in some creative tasting. A gentleman from Temple had found us by accident thorough an ad in the local paper that he was rolling up to start his stove. He said when he walked in, “I just had to see for myself what a store that sells oil and vinegar looks like!” We had a lively conversation about food and bees. He was intrigued by the life-cycle and the problems facing the bees. For 30 minutes I found such joy in sharing knowledge and thoughts with a complete stranger on topics so near to my heart; my town, the region, food, gardens and bees.

Business slowed as the storm heightened. I headed back up the hills at 1pm in four-wheel drive; top speed of 30 miles per hour on the short stretches of flat road. My notoriously steep driveway is probably not going to see tire tracks again today, unless the plow appears in the middle of the night. I made it up after two tries, then carefully backed the truck into the garage for better traction when I have to hurdle through the snow bank the plow will leave in front of the door.

Warm tomato bisque for lunch and a fire crackling. The wind is howling now and the visibility from my loft windows is only half the front yard. The sky-lights are covered in powder, creating a soft, early evening light.

My house-mates are not so pleased with the situation. Long stretches of recent cold have curtailed their outside activities and they are severely suffering from cabin fever. Happens every year. They cats become short-tempered, particularly the ancient matriarch, Belle. Corners of rugs a constantly rolled, beaten into submission for some unknown transgression. I tried to kick Alice and Dahlia out for a quick bio-break and was met with the following…

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Getting them through the door without an avalanche of snow on the floor involves making them run through a towel tunnel. And the inevitable rearranging of skin after that.

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Tonight, the crowning achievement in my little world so far this year, NH Chronicle airs a segment on the store. My happy note says, “I love my life right now, the now is important because of the past and in preparation for the future.”

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The plowman cometh…

Web Sight

I repeatedly force myself to remember what the world was like before web sites. The face and personality of an establishment was the “brick and mortar” store front. Only Sears Roebuck was renown for the unique ability to order from a catalog in my childhood. How we poured over those catalogs! When I was about ten, my mom would take me into Boston twice a year to shop at Best & Co. for that one, expensive, special outfit for church and holiday dinners. Flashy neon signs meant a bar, subdued foliage-lined entrances bespoke a high-end restaurant. The faces of business were easy to read.

Not unlike designing my book cover, I knew exactly what I want this finished face to be. I just didn’t understand the mechanics. I wasn’t used to not walking down the hall to the marketing design department and sketching it out for them. The look and feel of the Monadnock Oil and Vinegar Company, however was solidly formed in my mind.

Countless hours have been spent lately exploring web sites, researching their design and functionality. I’m getting to know this new face of retail.  If there is a physical store, all the better, you can showcase it in photos, making it feel familiar to the consumer browsing online. Beyond the pretty shots, the text needs to be brief, punchy and inviting. Nothing kills a website for me like a small font in dense blocks of text. I’m in a hurry here, I will dig deeper if it is important to me, otherwise don’t drown me on the landing page.

Companies such as Weebly and WordPress offer a dizzying array of templates, many free of charge, to create a website. I happen to use WordPress here, but had looked at Weebly as well. The problem for me is the templates seem too constricting and blocky. I didn’t know how to look at them beyond the photos and boxes displayed. I couldn’t adjust the vision in my head to the catalog of products.

Enter team member Jim from Solene web design. We hashed through what I wanted and what various options we had. By mid-morning he had a working draft up and it was what I had seen in my mind’s eye. Bingo! Now to populate the shell with photos and text. It feels as if we have the interior painted and decorated, now just need to stock the shelves.

One more journey I’m taking where I only learn enough to be dangerous; and hopefully realize how little I know.

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Bricks and Mortar

Full Circle

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January 20, 2013 with my BFF, and yes, we did the same ride again on 1/20 this year! I hope I can say the same a year from now.
I’m naming this post in honor of an email I received this afternoon. I have been friends with Mr. D for many years. We shared laughs and tears on the loading dock at the company I where I worked for sixteen years and he was one of the few people who stayed in touch when I left.  His support in the early days of unemployment meant a lot to me. His wisdom and kindness when I was in the final days of leaving that life were what got me through many tough hours. It was a miserable corporation; heartless and degrading. I watched good people’s lives crumble in the wake of the power-hungry moves management made to trim costs.
We haven’t spoken or seen each other in several months so it was rewarding to see he is still out there following my misadventures from afar. I hope he doesn’t mind that his words meant so much to me I wanted to share them here.
It’s about time. You don’t hear from me very often because I don’t have the best command of the written English language.  After reading 200 plus of your blogs and your book I see a trend. It’s taken you a year to regress back to what you love to do and are good at. There is not very much difference between photo stock and olive oil if you love what you’re doing. You are a marketing person and there is no way you can get away from it.
For the past year you have been selling to anybody that would listen, everything but yourself. From schwedenfakels, bees, sleigh rides, recipes and locations for a good time. Your even admitting that you may need to refresh the closet to present a professional image when your selling.
You have gone full circle. I see a future as a low-key consultant helping people with everything marketing related from advertising, press releases, business plans to web design. Tell me you don’t love it. I can see it in you writing. Speaking of writing, my compliments your real good at it and everybody that reads your blog can see it.
So much for the rambling on. I’m impressed. Now I’m going to have to come up to Peterborough for some balsamic vinegar and maybe catch up with an old friend.
This email was on the heels of a really good day in my little world. The local paper carried two stories that I had birthed; a quick recap of my press release about the opening of The Mondadnock Oil  & Vinegar Company, and an article prompted by my post about fellow blogger Laura’s cooking once a year, with my photos credited.
Yes, Mr. D, I am happiest marketing and working on ideas and products I love; be they bees, photos, hospice or olive oil. I still search the job listings and send out a résumé now and then, but basically I’ve come full circle in life to doing what I love.
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