A Night to Remember

Confession: Thanks to my self abuse esteem, I’ve never been very good at accepting compliments. As the saying goes, “’tis better to give than to receive”. I believe wholeheartedly in that sentiment. I would much rather recognize the good in others than have compliments directed toward me. What’s more, I enjoy being the center of attention nearly as much as having my teeth drilled. So when I learned that I’d been nominated for the Fox Valley Technical College’s “Achievement Against the Odds” Award, a golf ball sized lump made an instant appearance in my throat. Don’t misunderstand…I was extremely humbled and honored that not one, but TWO of the staff members at the Tech felt that I was worthy of the award, but I didn’t believe that I was deserving of such an incredible award.  I was also frozen with fear that I might WIN…requiring me to give an acceptance speech in front of a room full of people. May I please have a shot of Novocain with that?

A few weeks later, the winners were announced…. *Insert the Halleluiah Chorus here*

In recognition of our hard work, determination, and drive to succeed in our programs of study, despite physical and/or emotional obstacles that would have otherwise prevented us from doing so, 4 other recipients and I were chosen. I was and am touched beyond words.

There was a wonderful banquet held for us, with an incredible dinner service that was prepared and served by my peers from the restaurant operations class. Everything from the place cards on the table, to the exquisitely plated Caprese salad, and the perfectly seasoned beef shoulder steak with mushroom burgundy reduction (MAJOR YUM!) were absolutely perfect.

Even my acceptance speech went pretty well. My eyes welled with tears a few times, especially went I heard the heart wrenching stories given by the other winners, but I was able to maintain my composure enough to properly thank everyone involved with making it a night to remember. Everyone that is, except for the two most important ones. First, thanks and acknowledgement go to my almighty Father God. Without His love, mercy, and healing powers, I would surely not be here today to write this post. Secondly, I want to thank the love of my life, Brian Donovan. How INCREDIBLY embarrassing it was for me to realize that I had failed to recognize and thank the one person who has stood by my side to support, comfort, and encourage me through every single one of the trials, challenges, illnesses, and battles that I’ve faced over the past few years. I fall in love with him more every day and can’t imagine my life without him.

OK…enough of the sappiness… let’s talk FOOD!

Brian and I will be embarking on a new food plan this Monday. I refuse to call it a diet. That’s such an ugly 4-letter word for a change in portion sizes and food selection. At any rate, primary focus will be placed on digesting less sugar and more fruits and vegetables. I will also be finding HEALTHY carbohydrate choices for us to eat in place of the morning bagel schmeared with Nutella and/or cream cheese. Don’t you worry, though…EVERYTHING in moderation will be the mantra around here. I will never completely release my inner bacon and butter loving addictions, either. I’d never be able to live with myself, and you would never be able to handle my rants! Incidentally, I have a personal blog in addition to this one. It’s called Feed Your Inner Chef. I haven’t posted there in several months, but if there’s interest shown by you, my dear readers, I could start posting there again, placing primary focus on my progress towards what I hope will be weight loss and road to a healthier life.  Just leave a comment on this post and/or shoot me an email to let me know what you’d like to see.

I’ve been pouring over recipes at my favorite food sites, and I found a recipe that looks perfect for Monday night’s dinner. If the dish tastes as beautiful as it looks, this will be a delicious adventure to health!

I’m going to make oven roasted asparagus and some brown rice to serve along with it. Thanks to Nancy at http://www.honestcooking.com for the recipe, photos, and inspiration. I need to find a recipe for low carb dinner rolls to go with that dinner, but for now, maybe I’ll make a batch of Christina’s incredible THIN MINT SWIRL brownies. After all, I still have 2 days left to binge all things cream cheese!

Fast and Furious

The time has FINALLY arrived! I’ve been waiting for this day for almost 5 months.
No, I’m not referring to Easter (although, I do love a good chocolate covered marshmallow egg, and my good friend Sarah and I were just touting our love of Jelly Bellies). Nope, I’ve been counting down something MUCH more precious than a Peep…it’s finally the start of golf season in Wisconsin!

Now wait a minute…I know what some of you may be thinking. Before you get all bent out of shape and start mumbling at your monitor about how golf is just OHHH so boring, please allow me fill you in on the similarity between golf and food:

When discussing a “hole in one”: Instead of the beautiful image of a small Titleist golf ball soaring 167 yards through the air, falling gracefully into a cup on the 10th green, I sometimes visualize THIS:

What do you mean you don’t see the similarity? There’s a hole in one of those too!

My point in the above is that, despite winter’s attempt at throwing the Dairyland state a 9-inch curve ball of snow earlier this week, spring has officially sprung in northeastern Wisconsin. Now my fellow students and I at the Tech are flying the fast and furious sprint to the end of semester finish line! We’re making plans for how we’ll spend our summer break. Some of us, including myself, will be taking summer classes. Others will be working internship positions and/or regular jobs. There will also be students who choose to use the word “break” for all its worth. They’ll bask in the glow of the summer sun as much as possible, living it up on junk food and liquid refreshment at the beach or at area sporting events. Once the sun sets, they’ll gather their friends and hit up some nightly entertainment. Hey, those kids truly know the definition of RELAXATION!

Starting next week, I’ll likely see class attendance dwindle so quickly that some of my instructors will want to get their eyeglass prescription checked to assure that they’re seeing correctly. No worries…I’ll be sitting faithfully in class, reminding my wonderful instructors that they are not dreaming…that there really are some of their students who long to learn as much as possible from them for a few more weeks 28 more days. Yes, I’m counting down those days, too…

I’ll be spending part of my Easter Sunday at Shamrock Heights golf course. Brian and I will be partaking of the awesome brunch deal ($12.95… can’t beat it!) and then we’ll be putting on our sunscreen and hitting the links! For those who will be staying home for Easter and are still in need of recipe ideas, give this sweet potato and bacon gratin a try. I made it for Thanksgiving and it was a big hit. The potatoes are tender and flavorful, and the bacon adds a great smoky taste. If you don’t care for bacon, leave it out. You can substitute regular potatoes for the sweet potatoes, too. The best part is that it can be assembled ahead of time, leaving you more time to spend with the people you love on Easter. Have a happy and blessed holiday!

Courtesy of: http://www.food52.com

SWEET POTATO & BACON GRATIN

Yield: 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

  • 8 pieces bacon, diced
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 4 cups sweet potatoes, thinly sliced (1/8″ thick)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • salt and black pepper, to taste
  • parmesan cheese, grated, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F degrees (325 F if using a convection oven)
  2. Lightly grease a small baking or casserole dish.
  3. In a small sauté pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove from heat, and toss with onion and garlic.
  4. In a small pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour, and cook until the mixture is well combined but still pale. Stir in the milk.
  5. Reduce the heat to low and bring the béchamel to a simmer. Stir in nutmeg, brown sugar, salt, and pepper.
  6. Layer 8-12 slices of potato at the base of the prepared baking dish. Top with a few tablespoons of béchamel, and a few spoonfuls of the bacon mixture. Repeat with another layer of potatoes, another layer of béchamel, and more bacon. Top with one last layer of potatoes, and spoon remaining béchamel over the top. Finish with a sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese.
  7. Bake the gratin until it is bubbly around the edges and cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

A Turning Point

Let’s do a little daydreaming…

Envision, if you will, that you’re taking a walk through the woods, on a gorgeous day in mid-June. Your primary mission is to relax, enjoy yourself, and to find the perfect location to stop for a picnic. To your right, you see a path that leads into a large field filled with fragrant wildflowers of every shape and size, beautiful butterflies, and a wonderful clearing in the middle that would be a perfect place for your afternoon feast. To your left is a shaded path of tall oak trees, with enough shade to keep you cool and protected from the hot afternoon sun. Beyond that is a park with tables to dine at, water to quench your thirst, and a view that overlooks a babbling brook. How do you determine on which of the two beautiful roads you will travel?

For some people, the answer may come swiftly and surely. For example, you could be deathly allergic to fragrant flowers, or perhaps you’ve forgotten to bring along sun screen! For others, like me, the decision could be a difficult one to make. You have two beautiful options, each with a great set of benefits, each uniquely wonderful, and each with opportunities to find and experience great joy. It’s at that point in time when I measure the pros and cons of a situation to determine which road I will travel.

I found this beautiful picture on the blog of amateur photographer, Susanna Tucker. Check out more of her gorgeous photography here: http://susannahtucker.blogspot.com/2011/01/fields-of-wild-flowers.html

So here I stand at an interesting turning point… To my right is a path where I would complete my education in hotel and restaurant management and find a career in the hospitality industry. My employer and position are still unknowns for now, mainly because I still need to determine what position in the industry that I can comfortably hold with the physical limitations I live with every day. However, I do know that if I choose this path, my career will involve serving others, and that is enough to make it sparkle like a glimmering gemstone in my mind.

To my left is a path where I would switch my program of study and pursue a career in accounting. I confess that if someone had told me that I’d be working in a job where I, the girl who despises math, would be dealing with numbers all day, I’d have asked them what sort of wacky pills they had taken that morning! However, now that I hold a job in that industry, I’ve found it to be incredibly rewarding. What’s better is that I can’t say enough great things about my boss. She gives me creative license, great doses of empowerment, we communicate well, and we hold the same vision for where the company is headed.

So here is my quandary…stay tuned for further updates. For now, I must clear my thoughts, and the perfect way for me to do that is by cooking. Off to the kitchen I go! The brisk, windy weather outside mandates soup, and nothing hits my warm-me-up button better than a bowl of my blue-ribbon winning corn chowder. Serve it up in a toasted bread bowl and watch your troubles melt away!

BEC’S KICKIN’ CORN CHOWDER

Yield: 8 servings (8 oz. each)

INGREDIENTS
4 slices thick cut bacon, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons butter
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
2 Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced
3-4 cups fresh corn (frozen works too, but defrost well)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

DIRECTIONS
In a soup pot, cook the bacon on medium low heat, until it’s rendered down (crispy). Set on paper towel to drain.
Reserve 2 tsp of the bacon grease and use it along with the butter to sauté the thyme, onions and garlic over medium heat. Cook until the vegetables are soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Dust the vegetables with flour and stir to coat everything well. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Add the cream and the potatoes, then bring to a boil and boil hard for about 7 minutes, until the potatoes break down (this will help to thicken the soup and give it a good texture).

Cut the corn kernels off the cob (or use frozen corn that’s been well thawed and drained) and add to the soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste (add cayenne pepper for a special kick) and simmer until the corn is soft, about 10 to 12 minutes (3-4 if you’re using previously frozen corn). Stir in the crumbled bacon, reserving some for garnish along with the parsley.

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