Musings on Food and Life

Musings on Food & Life

Food is my passion. I create, read, write, breath, eat, photograph, love and live food. As a chef and culinary instructor, each day is a quest to learn something new about a food ingredient, recipe, history, or fact about all things edible. Three silly dogs share my passion for eating and I'm blessed to be married to my best friend Tracy. Tune in for my thoughts on food, recipes, dogs, travel, music and life.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

You Say Tomato...

During August, Tomato season is in full swing. I love the versatility of the tomato, using it raw, cooked, stuffed or sliced as a side dish, appetizer, or entree. They come in so many wonderful colors and sizes ranging from the Green Zebra to the tiny, sweet orange Sun Gold, to the hearty, divine yet wrinkled Heirloom varities. Recently I had the pleasure of judging the Tomato Fest contest at the Dunwoody Green Market. The entries were all delicious, creative, and had eye appeal to boot. Fellow personal chef Michelle Greene (pictured above with our table of treats) and I had a difficult time selecting a winner.

Finally it came down to the smooth, velvety red Gazpacho and the Sundried Grape Tomatoes & Fresh Mozzarella Bruschetta. The Bruschetta won first prize, but both were divine. I would be proud to have either one of these on a client dinner party menu.

Earlier this summer I taught a class for Gena Berry at Cooks Warehouse featuring Tomatoes. One of my favorite recipes from that class was the Southern Scalloped Tomatoes...really easy and VERY flavorful. Using two different color tomatoes, such as red and yellow, really make this dish pop.

Southern Scalloped Tomatoes

6 large heirloom toamtoes, cored and sliced 1/3 inch thick
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 garlic clove, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chiffonade
1/2 cup freshly-grated Parmigiana Reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lighly oil a shallow 2-quart baking dish.

Lay out the tomatoes, overlapping as needed in the baking dish. Season them with salt and pepper, and then drizzle with Balsamic vinegar. In a small bowl, combine the Panko, garlic, thyme, basil, and cheese. Mix well and then sprinkly the mixture evenly over top of the tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for 35 minutes until the tomatoes are tender and the topping is crisp and golden. Serve hot.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Doggie Love

Those of you who know me are well aware that I absolutely love dogs. It's one of those things where size doesn't matter - big, small, medium, and in between are all great. I'm partial to small dogs and that's probably so I can have more of them at one time. Currently we are at capacity with three. My heart dies just a little when I hear about dogs being mistreated or hurt, lonely or unloved. If I could have more, I would. So many dogs in Georgia alone are euthanized each day.

Let me introduce the critters I fondly call the "goobers". First there's Curly, the pom mix. Big attitude in a small, cute, red package with a curly tail. Curly is the alpha dog and he really rules the roost. He came from the local pound and is both very smart and very stubborn. The whole neighborhood is his oyster and he thinks everyone should listen to him when he talks. He's my little watchdog and loves to pose for the camera. Walks are high up on his list of favorite things. There's a cute story behind how we found out what Curly's name was and although it's too long to list here, it has to do with the Three Stooges. It makes me smile.

Next there is Elsa. She's a black and white rat terrier and truly is my sweetheart dog. Elsa was unloved at a young age, found starving, neglected, and left to fend for herself in the freezing cold with four starving, half-dead puppies. She is still a little scared of men but has come a long way in the past 6 years since she found her forever home with us. Elsa is truly the sweetest, most loving dog I have ever met. Like me, she is very food focused. Unlike me, she will eat anything that remotely looks edible. Food quanity is way more important to her than quality.

Our newest addition is Petey and don't ask me what breed he is. No clue, with his shepherd face and wiry red and white fur. He is without a doubt the most fun dog I know! Petey sings, purrs, smiles, loves his toys, and is obsessed with chasing squirrels. This little guy is so adorable and I think it was love at first sight for me. He had been almost 2 years without a forever home and I asked my honey if we could foster him. Well, we tried, but call us the "failed fosters". Probably the first time in history that being a failure was a GREAT thing. I am writing a book about Petey. With his antics, it could be a series of books. He can gut a stuffed toy in two minutes.

We just ordered a photo from Leesia Teh, a talented and very patient animal photograher. She did this photo of Elsa and Peter and her work is amazing. Leesia came to Small Dog Rescue's alumni picnic last month and took photos of the pups. (Petey and Elsa are Small Dog alumni - see adoptables at So cute! See samples of her work at She also does photos for the local county animal shelter, which probably helps the dogs get adopted faster. Dogs are pure unconditional love - got Dog?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Country Fair

This is the hottest Atlanta summer I can remember, with the past 6 weeks at 90 degrees or above most days. It's a good thing we don't live in an Igloo because by now it would be a puddle, at best. Even a trip to the Tennessee mountains didn't provide relief from the heat! But vacation is always good, no matter the weather. You just need the right frame of mind.

Tracy wanted to go to Dollywood before he got too "old" to enjoy it. I don't know how "old" that would be, but since time was a wastin', we packed up a few things, hopped in the car with the doggies, and were soon bound for Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. We booked the lovely one-bedroom cabin we so enjoy in Sevierville called "La Petite Lodge". It's a happy, beautiful, relaxing place with a very comfy bed, screened porch, a tree inside the living room, an indoor & outdoor fireplace, and a fabulous jacuzzi. A great home base from which to explore the area and then retreat from the busy Pigeon Forge Parkway scene.

Dollywood truly has something for everyone. There are indoor and outdoor shows, museums, a steam locomotive train, a few rollercoasters, and the usual food, candy & gift shops. The doggies even got to stay at "Doggywood", a climate controlled kennel just outside the main entrance of the park. They were much more comfortable in their large air-conditioned kennel area than we were inside the park! We could go out to walk them anytime, spend a few minutes cooling off, and return to the action. One great thing about Dollywood, you can enter after 3 pm one day and come back anytime the next day using the same ticket.

My favorite part of Dollywood though is the Country Fair. It's reminicent of days long gone when the traveling fair came to my township each summer. Memories of anxious anticipation for a ride on the ferris wheel, a sugar buzz on cotton candy, and playing carnival games in hopes of winning one of those priceless stuffed toys immediately came to mind. I loved the Sky Rider, which takes you up and around in a two-seat plane. I could have ridden that one all evening with the warm yet inviting breeze hitting my face and the Animals song Sky Pilot running through my brain.
This beverage reminds me of simpler days when sitting on the porch with a glass of lemonade was just what you needed to send the dog days of summer scurring away, at least for a few minutes. I am a big lavender fan which adds both a fabulous flavor and color to this tasty drink. Maybe they should start serving this at Dollywood!
Lavender Lemonade
Yield: 6 cups
5 cups water, divided
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon dried lavender (food grade)
1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice, strained if desired
Ice cubes
Thin slices of lemon for garnish
Combine the sugar with 2 1/2 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat to dissolve the sugar completely, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and then add the lavender to the simple syrup. Allow to stand for at least 20 minutes to release the lavender flavor and color into the warm syrup. Strain the mixture and discard the lavender. Pour the syrup into a glass pitcher and add the lemon juice and remaining 2 1/2 cups water. Stir well. Pour into tall glasses half filled with ice or refrigerate until ready to enjoy.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Why be a Personal Chef?

Often people ask me what it's like being a personal chef. As with any profession, there are pros and cons. Let me say that first and foremost, no matter your career, you must have passion for what you do. If not, it's more like work than fun, and in my life, it better be more like fun than work. Second, you can't rely on luck to get business if you are self employed. You constantly must talk about what you do and have business cards in your pocket to hand out to everyone you meet. In other words, Network, Network, Network. Third, life is often difficult but circumstances do not trump joy. Once you accept that things do happen that inconveniece or hurt you, move on and dwell on the positive. Tracy likes the acronym "FIDO" - forget it and drive on. Don't you agree we should "FIDO" more often?

A personal chef runs every aspect of their business. All of us are good at some things and not as good at others. I love cooking, creating menus & events, teaching others (and sometimes myself!) about foods and cooking, and serving clients. However, I'm not so fond of loading and unloading my car with equipment or being on my feet for a zillion hours some days. And then there is grocery shopping. Not that I mind it in general, but some folks at my local Publix think I work there, if you get the picture.

When I teach classes to people who want to be a personal chef, some of them dream that rich celebrity clients will be "waiting" for them when they start their business, and pay big bucks for their service. My clients generally aren't rich or famous, and I like it that way. They use my cooking service for a variety of reasons but at the end of the day, they all sit down to a great, healthy meal. These folks are so very important in many ways as mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, teachers, employers, bosses, coworkers, and friends. You don't need to be famous to be outstanding in these roles. I appreciate all of my clients and some I feel are like family. It really is all about relationships.

Have you ever heard the starfish story? A man was on the beach that was filled with starfish, who would die if out of the saltwater for too long. He was furiously throwing each starfish he could into the water. Another man came up and asked him what he was doing and he said," I'm trying to save these starfish!" The second man looked around and said, "Why bother? There are just too many to make any difference." The first man picked up another starfish and gazed briefly at it. As he threw it into the surf he said, "But it made a difference to that one." Our time on earth is short but I believe that God has a distinct purpose for each of us to impact the lifes of others through our gifts and talents. That's why I'm a personal chef - to make a small difference in this big world.