Category Archives: Food

Days of Wine and…Well, Mostly Wine

So as previously mentioned, Mr. Wordtabulous and I finally managed our long-delayed 20th anniversary getaway: five days in California wine country and San Francisco. I wanted to be really pumped about the trip, but as we approached departure, I went into a death spiral of tasks: at the new job, at the freelance job and at home, so that I didn’t even start packing until 8:30 the night before. For me, packing is like a mouth-watering appetizer. As I select each piece and outfit, I imagine ahead of time what I might be doing when I wear it. Will I be holding a wineglass, mouth pursed, a thoughtful expression on my face? or will I be perusing items in a cute shop? or perhaps driving down a winding, sun-dappled road in a convertible, laughter on my lips and my long lustrous hair blowing back…wait a minute, that’s not me. I do get carried away.

The  next morning we dragged the boys out of bed for good-bye hugs (grandpa was on his way for a little grandson time) and took off for the airport where I asked myself, “Why did I not assume the airport would be full of OTHER people departing on Spring Break trips?” MSP is a big airport and it was packed. We saw a lot of people dressed for the beach, a young woman searching frantically for her preschool aged daughter, and a flock of pacemaker people getting herded to the death chamber specially engineered security area. The usual, just on a massive scale.

I got the dreaded middle seat on the flight out, between Mr. W on the window side and some fatherly looking man on the aisle.  This man woke long enough to order a bloody mary mix from the beverage service which he set on his tray table. Then he went back to sleep, periodically heaving his body up into the tray and knocking the drink about. I watched in fear and fascination for most of the three and a half hour flight, wondering if I was going to end up with the beverage in my lap or handbag, but was too wimpy to do anything about it. I hate flying. I don’t fear it, and I rarely get sick from it anymore, but the personal space invasion and the NOISE, help me Lord, the NOISE–between the ventilation system, the engines, and the crazy loud announcement bell followed by the muted, unintelligible announcements, I became quite crazed. Bloody Mary man didn’t spill a drop, but by the time we landed at San Francisco, I (figuratively) was baring all claws and teeth.

I wrote an earlier post about how GPS navigation saved my marriage on last year’s trip with the family to San Diego, because a) I don’t do well reading maps in a moving car and b) Mr. W. becomes quite tense when faced with uncertainty while behind the wheel.  This trip I had the Nav all set up on my phone before the key was in the ignition. Ten minutes later, I was trying to explain to a skeptical Mr. W. how the blue “you’re doing it right” line jumped from the route we were dutifully following to another, nearly parallel route, which exit we had missed. JUMPED. First the blue line was on one road–the one we were on, then the whole thing blinked and suddenly our blue arrowhead was alone and the blue line was over there somewhere and Nav, the electronic minx, was rerouting. By the third time this happened, I was frantically trying to zoom in and keep ahead of our progress and Mr. W. was not amused. Digitally zooming and scanning ahead while watching road signs is worse in terms of motion sickness than reading maps and by the time we were out of the city, on the way to parts north, nobody in the car was super happy. Or remotely happy. Or even 100% physically there; I had the sense that I’d left a portion of my brain and some nerve endings on the plane. Why didn’t I drive and let him navigate, you ask? Excellent question, smarty-pants; perhaps you should come with us next time we travel and helpfully suggest that BEFORE we get into the car. What? No thank you? I thought not. Mr. W bought me a conciliatory cheeseburger and some crackers and we continued in a better frame of mind and body.

The weather was cool, damp and gray. Rows of black, gnarly grapevine trunks looked devoid of life, almost oppressive, like coils of barbed wire across the hillsides. But there was plenty of plant life in full vitality and the variety in California always tickles me. Also, the fact that people were selling boxes of ginormous strawberries along the roadside seemed promising. Our first post-cheeseburger stop was at the Benziger winery. It is huge, and looked beautifully laid out, but we decided not to tour the grounds after seeing a tractor towing a people-wagon half full of cold looking families across the  parking lot. The tasting room and gift shop were elegant, with polished wood and a quieter ambiance. We opted for the more expensive tasting, featuring some of Benziger’s nicer (biodynamic) wines, including the 2007 Tribute. The first wine we tasted was a Cabernet Sauvignion. As I lifted the glass to my lips Kat, our hostess, said, “You are going to taste jalapenos and peppers,” and sure enough, that was exactly what it tasted like. I don’t know if it was the power of suggestion, or the actual flavor, but it was the weirdest tasting wine I have ever had. It wasn’t unpleasant; we bought a bottle. We narrowed the reds down to a few and bought some of those as well, but I can’t tell you what we got or what it tasted like (see my earlier post: Wine Newb.) We spit and dumped our glasses but I still had just a bit of a buzz rolling as we left.

I strapped on my Relief Band for the winding, hilly road to Calistoga, where we did a little window shopping (adirondack chairs made out of oaken barrel staves!) in town before heading to our B&B.  We found the Chateau de Vie just north of Calistoga, with grapevines crowding right up to the porch of our carriage house and to the edge of the small gravel parking area. The main house, a grey stucco three-story, was classic chateau on the outside,

but California modern and masculinely stylish inside. Our host Phillip, (who owns and runs the place with his partner, Peter) met us and offered us wine and water in the comfortable sitting room that shared the main floor with the dining room and kitchen. A spacious patio off the back led to a hot tub and pool but the temps made the fire inside the carriage house more inviting. He pointed out the small gray buds on their vines which promised leaves and fruit would be appearing in a week or two.

Phillip had set us up with 8:00 reservations at Brannon’s Grill in town, but since it was only about 5:00 he offered us a fruit and cheese tray including his homemade sun-dried tomato tapenade that he brought out to our carriage house room. It was paradise. We could have called it a day right there…but we had reservations and wanted to make the most of our vacation, so we carried on. The bar and dining area was nice, wood paneling all around and jazz playing in the background. The service was prompt and considerate. I had braised rabbit ragu over fresh pappardelle pasta, and my husband had the Dover sole with green beans and mashed potatoes. The manager brought us complimentary glasses of Prosecco, and, I think because we were referred by CdV, our waitress brought us a complimentary apple crostata, which I have previously raved about and misspelled. We felt loved.

A chorus of frogs serenaded us off and on that evening but otherwise the night was quiet, and we woke, refreshed, to a drenching downpour outside. Not a problem. We didn’t have any plans except for some casual shopping  and visits to wineries which wouldn’t open until later anyway. We spent the morning in bed savoring fresh roasted coffee brought to our door and watching Kitchen Crashers on the big flat screen tv, while pools of rainwater gathered in canals at the vine’s feet. Peter brought our breakfast: scrambled eggs with tarragon, sauteed Chanterelle mushrooms, grilled bread, berry cornbread muffins and fresh fruit. Also orange juice and glasses of chardonnay. According to Peter, the early area winegrowers had a tradition of meeting weekly for scrambled eggs and chardonnay and I am totally on board with that. At that point I was glad I only packed stretchy jeans.

There was shopping and more wine tasting that day. We stopped at Regusci but there was a really large group (or two) of squealing young women there, so we headed down to Goose Cross Creek. We took a drive up a road Peter recommended for a great view of the valley. A mist occluded the view and wind tossed the trees up on the hilltop, but it was secluded and quiet.  Not hungry at all, we nevertheless stopped for had the best french dip sandwiches we ever had at the Rutherford Grill (in Rutherford.) The place was packed at 2:00 p.m. and we snagged seats at the bar where I enjoyed a beer for a change. We stopped at Caymus, where vintner Chuck Wagner served us himself (although we didn’t figure that out until later,) and then drove into St. Helena for some shopping. I don’t have much to report on shopping–I’d rather shop flea markets and thrift stores than boutiques, but I had a great time looking around. By the time we were done, things were shutting down and Mr. W. and I were aching for some downtime. Which we got, with another fruit and cheese tray. The gravitational pull of the king-sized bed was irresistible so we spent the evening in, watching Moneyball and The Help (CdV also has a nice selection of DVDs.)

Sunday morning dawned sunny and clear (note the view from the bed,) and another amazing breakfast awaited us.It was time to pack and take more pictures, to chat with our hosts and promise to send all our friends. (Go!) Then it was off to San Francisco, with one last winery stop at Bennett Lane where a nice man with a bit of a Jersey accent waited on us. Friends, on the third wine I asked, “Is this a cabernet?” because I thought I was tasting merlot, and it turned out that it was a blend including 22% merlot, so maybe I have learned something. After we left, about five miles down the road Mr. W. realized that the man, who had seemed familiar to him, was his cousin’s wife’s sister’s husband, whom he had met at a family reunion in that area two years ago. True story. Sometimes I think we live in a novel because the character list is so small. The rest of the vacation in San Francisco I will save for the next post, except to say that I was driving at this point, Bryan was navigating and the second we entered the outskirts of Oakland, the smartphone Navigation’s blue line jumped and we were on the wrong road. Vindi-freakin’-cation! Sweet.

 

 

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So Far, in California…

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apple crustatta at Brannon'a Grill, Calistoga, CA

San Francisco chewed up our GPS navigation and spit it out, laughing. Why so possessive, San Fran? We’ll be back in a couple of days. We barely made it out of there.

For our first stop we  tasted and purchased some very agreeable wines from the Benziger Winery in Sonoma. Then we made our way to Calistoga where we did some.browsing in the local art, craft and olive oil stores before we checked in at our Bed & Breakfast, the Chateau de Vie. They have their own wine, which is delightful, but even without that, it is handsdown the nicest place I’ve ever stayed. Top notch, people. So far, worth every penny. Our host, Philip, went out of his way to take such good care of us, bringing us a delicious fruit and cheese tray that paired excellently with the wine to tide us over until our dinner reservation layer. The main house and the vineyard-adjacent carriage house (which we are in) are stylish, comfortable and immaculate.

We topped off our day with dinner at Brannon’s Grill where I had Rabbit Ragu on fresh pasta and Mr. W. had sole. The food was very good and the service was amazing, which was all dandy until our waitress brought out the apple crustatta pictured above that absolutely eclipsed everything else.  Even though we were full, we ate every crumb as though we hadn’t eaten a thing all day. At one point I was just muttering, “so good,” over and over with a tear in my eye. I feel so large right now, I don’t even have words to describe it. A good first day.

Confessions of a Wine Newb Headed for Napa

It isn’t that I am new to wine. I have enjoyed reds and whites for years, and certainly did my turn with blush wines in college. I believe my taste in wine has evolved from “easy-drinking” to a…more sophisticated range of flavors and tannins? I am sort of grasping here.  My knowledge and vocabulary haven’t gotten the kind of workout my taste buds have, so they have fallen behind. I like wine, okay? Without a label, I can’t tell a Malbec from a Merlot, and the names of wines I learn while drinking them spill out of my head like water (not wine, wine would leave a stain, and these names do not leave a TRACE.) If I want to tell my husband which wine I liked that we tried, I’ll use landmarks, such as “You know the one; we had it last week with roasted pork, and I finished it off while you were talking to your dad on the phone. It was red.”  My husband, an informed and inquisitive cork dork, can usually figure it out. His brother, a true wine snob, just shakes his head at me. The highest praise I have gotten from HIM (following a five minute tutorial on the flavor profile of one particular wine) was a perplexed, “Well, I’ll give you credit; you stick to your guns. You don’t say you taste chocolate overtones, just because everyone else does.”

I admit I don’t know if I have all the requisite tools to become a connoisseur, but I have a taste for wine, a plane ticket, and some expendable income dedicated to winery visits, and that is a good start for an enjoyable trip to wine country. Mr. Wordtabulous and I will be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary (17 months late) in California. And who knows, maybe while there the switch will flip on and I’ll come back with the lightbulbs in my mental wine vault glowing brightly (but not warmly—mustn’t heat the wine.) We’ll be in Calistoga for a few days, any recommendations for a must-see winery?

Home & Garden Show Wrap Up

Okay, all you fabulous Minneapolis Home & Garden Show fans (and especially you wordtabulous followers, God love you all!) we have photos and most of the recipes up.

For photos, check the McFarland Cahill Communications facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/McFarland-Cahill-Communications. I took some of the photos, but obviously not the ones I am IN, and there are a couple of those, which is very exciting.

For recipes, check the Minnepolis Home and Garden Show website: http://www.homeandgardenshow.com/MHGS/AtTheShow/96.aspx which will take you to the celebrity guests page. Scroll down to get to the Kitchen Stage celebrities. As of the time of this post, the Roasted Corn and Orzo salad presented by Belinda and Bobby is not on their website and I am so sorry for that. I would be sorrier if this website wasn’t getting so many hits from people searching Google desperately for the recipe. Big numbers on Wortabulous! Thank you salad-loving, google-searching KARE 11 fans! I am sure they will have that recipe up shortly. There are a few other recipes missing, but most of them are there and are FANTASTIC.

The Show was a lot of fun, and I can’t tell you how great it was sharing the experience with you. The clean up is done, the thank-you notes are in the mail, the notes are getting archived for next year and this is a wrap. Thanks for visiting, and be sure to check back. My life isn’t all celebrities and fancy food, but new adventures await, and I would love to have you along!

Home & Garden Show: The Longest Day

The fourth day of the Home & Garden Show dawned with appalling promptness. I’d woken twice in the night thinking of things done and not done, that maybe caused problems for others or potentially myself. I was sure I’d left four packages of frozen strawberries out by accident, so I stopped at the store yet again to replace them on my way to the Show. After five miles, I realized with horror that I’d forgotten to buy a cup of coffee. The Dunn Bros. in the convention center is, I believe, as far from the Kitchen Stage as it is possible to get, and there is never time. I sucked it up.

Our first guest on the stage was Chef Todd. He arrived early with a group of at least six assistants and Miss Chiquita, who wore a blue dress with ruffly skirt and a fruit basket hat. She was the spitting image of the banana icon. I gave the friendly chef a quick kitchen orientation, offered whatever help he needed and got out of the way. Not all the assistants had immediate jobs to do, so one offered to get coffee for us. I raised my hand, not believing my luck. With too many bodies onstage, I set about prepping the ingredients for the next few demos, and figure out the brand new Kitchen Aid food processor loaned to us by Macy’s that I had just washed. It was super fancy.Chef Todd happened to come offstage as I was puzzling over how to lock the bowl on the base and the lid on the bowl. He offered to look at it and had it together in seconds. Unfortunately, when his demo started, everything was ready but the microphone, so Chef Todd muscled it through without electronic assistance for about twenty stress-filled minutes until Aaron arrived and set everything right. Chef Todd made a seared pork shoulder on greens that was delicious. I had to return backstage, so I missed whatever he made that involved a thick chocolate sauce and bananas, but the remnants looked decadent.

Before Chef Todd was done, Pat Evans from KARE 11 arrived and was as nice as can be. We chatted a bit until it was time for me to rush as many of the dirty pans through the sudsy water as possible and shunt the rest offstage until the next cleaning opportunity. Diana Pierce arrived to join Pat for their demonstration of Baked Brie with Apricot Jam and Almonds, and Hummus (two different food demos, they were not served together.) The audience was delighted, as they usually are with our local TV celebrities and I got my few minutes onstage, helping locate extraneous items and releasing the lid on the food processor, which closed really tightly.

Chef Joan Ida returned for the next demo with a new assistant, representing the restaurant Scusi this time. I was sent away for a break at this time, with Bruce and Dan taking over for the next three presentations: Joan, Marjorie Johnson (author of Blue Ribbon Baking) and Todd Walker, with Chef Jordan. I got to wander the show with Mr. Wordtabulous for a few hours. I could barely stand to be away, although the gardens and the Idea House were beautiful and there was a dizzying array of things being promoted, demonstrated and sold all around. When my feet started to ache, we made our way back to the stage, where Marjorie Johnson was presenting her Ginger Snap cookies. Marjorie is famous for her baking, but beloved for her personality. At ninety years old and no taller than five feet, she entertains her audience with a running commentary as she dazzles in her red skirt suit and shiny red pumps. Maggie said she had trouble keeping up with Marjorie as they were having a look around the show prior to her appearance.

Todd Walker, with Fox 9 news, claimed he wasn’t a cook but did some humorous color commentary and assisted Chef Jordan Hamilton from Heidi’s. Chef Hamilton demonstrated a homemade Bison Jerky and made Kale & Adzuki beans and Toasted Millet Cakes. I missed the samples because by then, I was getting reoriented backstage. The thing about being four days into the event was that my memory was getting blurry and I was finding myself searching every cupboard for the item I needed and constantly having to refer to my notes to remember who was on next. It is kind of like my computer running on a full hard drive. I needed to defrag, but there was no opportunity.

Chef Todd was back up for round two and I did have a little time to consolidate and organize, and while he was on I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Sarah Master from the restaurant Porter & Frye at Hotel Ivy. She was a little apprehensive about her first time doing a Kitchen Stage demo and seemed to appreciate my offer to mike up and assist her. Once we got Chef Todd’s stage cleared, (he took a moment to admire Sarah’s cowhide kitchen clogs) we and one other person from the restaurant (possibly the restaurant manager? I didn’t get her details) presented her Fried Oysters with oven roasted Asparagus, Hollandaise and Prosciutto. Sarah got her friend busy whisking the egg yolks over a steaming pot of clarified butter while she demonstrated how to shuck an oyster, and the finer points of breading an oyster (shake off excess flour so it doesn’t get gummy, add a dusting of corn meal before frying, preferably in an electric fryer.) When her friend’s arm grew numb, I took over. As Sarah pointed out, restaurant cooking isn’t for wimps. Our samples with oysters were snapped up and then we served asparagus with sauce and prosciutto until that was gone. I asked Sarah to tell us about her non-cooking activities, and she told us that she plays goalie for a Turkish women’s hockey team, travelling globally for six weeks a year. Stunning.

The Porter & Frye hour was followed by Eileen McHale, who has partnered with Dole to demonstrate her Yonanas machine, which processes frozen fruit and other ingredients to a soft-serve consistency, making a sweet delicious and healthy treat. So healthy, it was recommended last year as one of Dr. Oz’s top gifts. The audience was voracious, and even though Eileen had six machines going, one after the other to produce different varieties of desserts, I could barely get the samples out fast enough. Happily, Eileen had a group of friends helping so clean up went fast, and we were ready in no time for the next presentation.

Stephanie March from Mpls St.Paul Magazine arrived first, and soon Stephanie Hansen from my Talk 107 appeared. I was delighted to be able to find just about everything they needed, except we found that all our large bowls were being used to store food for Sunday in the refrigerator. (Note to self: next year use large ziploc bags for storage! Save room, and keep bowls available!) I enjoyed their presentation of Gnocchi with Arugula Pesto and Chicken (am I the only one who didn’t know Gnocchi were made with potatoes?) These women are so smart and confident and had the kind of camaraderie onstage that was more about long friendship than show biz. They offered lots of insights into their philosophy of eating, cooking and feeding kids, as well as the recipe that was a fantastically rustic comfort food.

Next, Eileen from Dole reprised her Yonanas performance and, possibly because I knew it was the last demo of the day, or possibly because my feet were enraged that they had been stood upon all day long, I really started to drag. After several rounds through the audience with trays, I grabbed the next trays of samples, turned and looked at the audience and said, “I have one tray of Peanut Butter Cup, and one tray of Tiramisu (non-alcoholic.) Is there any way I could persuade you folks to come up here for a sample?” “Well, there’s an idea!” Eileen encouraged us, and I will give the audience credit, the walk up to the stage didn’t discourage them in the slightest. They loved the samples and most of them seemed surprised to hear that the Yonanas machine was only $49.99, and available at Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond, and disappointed to hear that it wasn’t for sale at the show. So I think Eileen will do pretty well.

The last two demonstrations of the day were cancelled, to the disappointment of the audience, and final clean up took awhile, but felt pretty good because I did it in my sock feet. It had been a twelve and a half hour day, but I didn’t rush because I had been told that two of my colleagues were taking over the Stage Sunday, and I was getting the day off. It was a bittersweet moment. I had told quite a few people, including all of you, that I’d be there all week and I am such a child that I hate missing anything, but I was also so pooped I was afraid I might doze off at a stoplight on the way home. The idea of fully relaxing was delightful, while the thought of relinquishing my responsibility troubled me. That is always a good sign that for me, it is time to let go. I left the Kitchen Stage in the good hands of Maggie and Amanda, and departed with thrilling memories and the hope that maybe next year, with my list of “Things We Have Learned” I might get another chance to do it again. Recipes and pictures will be online soon, and I will be providing links. Thanks for reading!

Related Posts: And the Food Rolls On: Home & Garden Show Day 3

Related Posts: Home & Garden Show Day 2

 

And the Food Rolls On: Home & Garden Show, Day 3

Well, the chocolate cremeaux hit the fan today, people, and I was in the thick of it. And things had been going so well.

We started out with normal setup and a SPECTACULAR food delivery before our chefs arrived. To explain, Maggie and I ordered food for our local celebrity chefs based on the recipes they gave us. It involved careful reading and much anxious consideration of what would be needed, what could go wrong. You don’t want to be onstage and find out, for instance, that someone meant sour cream instead of cream, or wanted 2 lbs of powdered sugar instead of  1/2 cup  of powdered sugar. So we are very careful about what we order. But, in addition to our celebrity chefs (local TV, radio and print media personalities) our stage also features restaurant chefs who bring their own ingredients (because they are promoting their own business,) and nationallly known chefs brought in by the Home & Garden Show and Cub Foods. We (McFarland Cahill Communications) ordered Yigit’s ingredients, but the Cub Foods chefs ordered their own ingredients which arrived today. SO MUCH FOOD!!!  I was scared by the size of the cuts of meat and the sheer volume of cream and garlic paste, not to mention the sesame oil and soy sauce. And then, there was the issue of food storage. I had to totally rearrange my refrigerator to accommodate the meat and cream and as much of the lettuces as I could. Then it was time for our first guest chef to arrive. And she didn’t. Poor Elizabeth Ries from KSTP TV had trouble clearing security and finding parking. I would love to be a fly on the wall because everyone seems to be having security issues but I can’t figure out where and with whom. I had to race (consider this a jog or a trot) to Bay E to let Elizabeth in a back door.

Elizabeth is both beautiful and nice, and was making dips for the audience who had assembled to offer their reverence. I partnered up with her onstage. One of the dips was a Taco Dip recipe that one of her viewers had given her and one was a Spinach Artichoke Dip that was a specialty of her own. I realized just before she arrived that her ingredient list called for 1/2 cup of cream, but the directions specified sour cream. No sour cream in the fridge. We made do by adding a little cream to the cream cheese to loosen it up and it pretty much worked. Unfortunately, in the strain of her rushed arrival, neither of us was thinking clearly and we overlooked the need to do the baked dip first so it would be ready when the cold dip was finished. We ran out of time. About halfway through I was admiring her super cute knit dress over leggings and realized with horror that, once again, I had forgotten to offer the guest an apron. Also, I didn’t offer her water until she was done, so she basically talked for an hour with a dry throat. Was she crabby? No. She couldn’t have been sweeter or more gracious. But our next chef, who arrived early, found a crazed and loopy support person (that would be me) and a stage not ready for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, Elizabeth was able to finish her presentation on her own and with the support staff that KSTP sent, and I was able to start the cleanup and prep process for our next demo. I missed the dips but I heard they were amazing, especially the half-baked Spinach Artichoke.

Our next guest was WCCO’s Frank Vascellaro and his beloved mom, Rosalie, also known as Mama V. They didn’t need me onstage as they are a team unto themselves which was great because THEN!!! A guy shows up with a new refrigerator load of lettuces and fruits. “These lettuces will be ruined if you can’t refrigerate them in the next few minutes,” he told me, as I was trying to set up for Frank and Mama V. “Okay,” I replied. “If we need to put the lettuces in, I am going to have to take out the meat.”

“You can’t take out the meat,” he said.

“All right. Well, if I can’t take out the meat, then I will have to take out the cream.”

“You can’t take out the cream,” he said.

“Well, then you see my problem,” I said. I couldn’t make the refrigerator bigger for him, no matter how much he wanted me to. Maggie and Ashley resolved the issue by helping him reach the woman who could open the doors of the convention center kitchen, but he wasn’t satisfied. What got back to us was his complaints that we allowed his perishable produce to rot on the floor for three hours when what happened was that everything was taken to refrigeration exactly at the moment that he raced off to his next important appointment, within an hour of his arrival. I even allowed him into my carefully arranged refrigerator, which he totally repacked, leaving me clueless and grasping for the eight remaining presentations. I believe he expected thanks for handling the situation, so, thanks, buddy. He was also indignant that we didn’t have unlimited enormous frying pans, although I invited him to go with me to the Royal Prestige cookware vendor, who was providing all our pans, and who pledged to give us what he could, within his capacity. Not good enough. He couldn’t believe we didn’t have two panini presses on hand. “We were promised a fully stocked gourmet kitchen!” he complained. “Macy’s gave us all the appliances we asked for, that we were informed we would need,” I told him. “Fine. Go buy two,” he told his associate, whose sigh expressed that he had twelve other things he needed to do before buying small appliances, but fine, okay, whatever.

Meanwhile, there was a ton of weirdness onstage with the microphones. There was feedback and screeching and Aaron, who is normally right there whenever we need him was taking care of issues on the other side of the convention center. Later, when he got back, we found that Frank’s microphone had slipped down the front of his shirt into his pants, causing feedback issues. It must be that Caveman Diet that Frank has had so much success with, causing extra looseness in his clothing. Seriously, he looks great! So, that funness behind us, I hear Mama V say, “Well, I don’t see the regular sugar.” Shit!!!! I realized I hadn’t set out the staples, only the special ingredients, because of the interruptions. Friends, at this point I took off at a sprint between the stage and the audience, booking it to the ingredient area at stage right. As I ran, Frank announced, “Ladies and gentlemen! This is Lynnette, our Kitchen Stage assistant!” Could I have run around the back? Probably. It didn’t occur to me. The full audience applauded and I smiled and waved, disappearing and then emerging with the sugar, followed by the flour, and later the salt, and still later additional bowls. Oh, and the powdered sugar? I had set out 1/2 cup and Mama V needed 2 lbs. I gave her the bag and prayed there would be enough left for the 2:00 chef. Frank was covered with flour and cocoa powder when they finished the presentation of gorgeous Iced Fudge Nut Brownies because I didn’t offer either of them an apron. Yes. I was a total moron, and did Frank and Rosalie tsk and shake their heads? No. They shook my hand and thanked me for all my help so graciously I wanted to cry. Meanwhile, Lee Dean, who writes for the Taste section of the Star Tribune had arrived, with all the supplies, ingredients and utensils needed for her demonstration of Strawberry Tartlets.

Lee Dean was an unknown quantity to me, and unfortunately, I was unable to conceal that from her. I used to read the taste section of the Star Tribune all the time but we haven’t taken the newspaper for years. I long for the days when I could sit and savor even the weekly paper, but it doesn’t happen. I was stressed and distracted from the earlier debacles, but Lee Dean was so smart and friendly, even as I was falling all over myself trying to help her feel as comfortable as I had wanted to make my earlier guests, and only FOUR people showed up to hear her wonderful presentation, although enough people showed up at sample time to eat her entire prepared cache of tartlets. Which were AWESOME. She has had a cookbook published, too, and the one comment I heard on that? “Not enough pictures, hahaha.” Vultures. Hey, all you foodies out there. Buy her cookbook, because from her demonstration, she is AMAZING FOOD SMART. I am totally getting it. We can share what we love about it. Let me know, we can start a facebook fan club or something. She was a trooper.

Lee finished up and I was completing the cleanup when Rena Sarigianopoulos from KARE 11 arrived. She is the package, people. She invited me to mike up and join her onstage, (I believe she is a risk-taker,) and I had so much fun with her. A ton of people gathered to see her, and a little girl strolling by with her parents squealed, “Rena!!!” upon seeing her–I am not kidding, so cute! And she is adorable and approachable and made Buckeyes, and when she was done, she helped me do dishes and we talked about her involvement with a charity for Rheumatoid Arthritis and coincidentally I had, just the day before, sponsored my neighbor Cameron for her walk for that charity (Go Cameron!) And the Buckeyes were peanut butter deliciousness wrapped in a loving chocolate hug.

Then I had an hour break and I was able to go to the bathroom for the first time in three days. Almost. How is it that I don’t notice I need to pee or eat or drink when I am working? Am I broken? I don’t know.

Then, my new best friend, Dave Dahl, meteorologist from KSTP showed up. I fell in love with Dave the day before when I met him and he expressed concern about getting in through the convention center’s back door because of the rumoured security issues. I gave him my cell # so he could call me if he had trouble, and he had problems saving it. He must have said, “I am an idiot,” seven times, which clearly he is not and so now I love him. He is just as charming in person as you’d suspect, and taller than I expected. Anyway, he showed up with no security problems, and asked me to join him onstage, and as you now know, I am a modest but willing sidekick (meaning I didn’t actually leap across the stage yelling “Yay!!”, but acquiesced with composure.) We started making his “Buffalo Chicken (or Shrimp) Flatbread” when my phone went off. Maggie wanted me to go halfway across the convention center to let in our guest scheduled for the next hour, who reportedly was having trouble getting through security. Could I bring a ticket or a pass or something to back entrance C West? Folks, I had no tickets or passes. I shut off my mike, abandoned Dave, grabbed a list of scheduled guests and raced (this was a full-on sprint through the crowds, in my Cub emblazoned apron and 2 1/2 inch heeled clogs) to the security desk at C West. No guest in sight. I left the list and sprinted back to the stage, to the confusion of several exhibitors and visitors. I reappeared back onstage, and evidently was unable to hide my labored breathing or beet-red face, as the audience was much amused. Dave, I and his KSTP support staff finished the demo, with few other difficulties, and again, Dave was super kind and gracious. But Dave! Wear a helmet when you ride your Harley! We love you and want you to live a long and healthy life! And you make me feel like a wimp, wearing a helmet on my bicycle! Also, I loved the fiery sauce and creamy melted blue cheese that enveloped the chicken and celery on the flatbread. And the shrimp option for Lent? Genius.

The 6:00 chefs from The Lowry restaurant showed up before the 5:00 celebrity chefs, Beth Dooley and Bill Coy, who are food and wine writers for Mpls St. Paul magazine, but everyone got there, including Bruce and Dan, the duo who take over when it is time for me to go. Also, at that time, Eileen from Dole showed up and I had three things going on. I was debriefing with one of my bosses, Maureen; I needed to get a plate for the Lowry chefs, who had forgotten one for their demo; and I needed to see about getting shelves installed in our freezer for Eileen/Dole. This involved some more running around so I missed the Beth and Bill demo of Cheese and Chocolate Fondues, but when I returned to the stage, Bill was just finishing offering samples of two wines I can’t remember, a red and a white. I may have walked away from someone in mid-sentence to go get a sample. I don’t remember anything but thinking, “That. Want some.” And even though I hadn’t done anything more than help procure a few ingredients, Beth and Bill treated me as if I had been some huge supportive presence during their presentation. They were (I don’t think it was an act) excited to hear about Mr. Wordtabulous’ and my upcoming trip to wine country and San Francisco. Bill gave me his card so we could correspond about destinations. I want to hang out with them, although I am clearly too immature to do so. They would never run, waving, in front of an audience in a near panic, grinning manically. I am pretty sure.

As I left, Joan, the executive chef from The Lowry, was preparing to begin her demonstration of steak and oysters. Bruce and Dan, having set the stage, leisurely took their spots in the audience, prepared to relax and eat amazing food before the next demonstration by Mollie and Missy, from The Vikings Cheerleaders, which would be followed by another presentation from Beth Dooley, this time with Hilary, a Naked Grape Winemaker. I kind of love Bruce and Dan, but I can’t help wondering if they are possibly getting something over on me with this deal. I did tell them that in return for my taking the whole of Saturday evening I expected them to donate to my Tour de Cure ride, and they agreed, albeit with confusion. I have that effect on people.

Lordy, this is a long post. It was a long day. If you hung in there with me to the end, I love you! Tomorrow is a long one. I won’t get home until 11:00 or so. I know it will be an almost unbearable hardship, but you may have to wait to see how it goes until I have time to report back on Sunday. I am sorry. I, myself, am curious about what tomorrow will bring. How in the world will Chef Todd use his enormous cuts of meat and his perishable lettuces? How will Eileen from Chiquita manage with her frozen and fresh fruits? Will anyone come to yell at me to no avail? These questions and more will be answered…but not today.

You have two days left to come find me at the 2012 Minneapolis Home & Garden kitchen stage! Mention Wordtabulous and I will ditch my celebrity chef and give you a hug!

Related Post: Home & Garden Kitchen Stage, Day Two

Related Post: Working Girl, Fast Forward

Home & Garden Kitchen Stage, Day 2

I dragged my sleepy rear end out of bed this morning and rolled on back to the Minneapolis Convention Center (with one quick stop at Village Market for the angel food cake loaves Cub didn’t carry and the item my brain collapsed on last night: bean dip. I woke up at 2 a.m. thinking ohhh, BEAN DIP. I know exactly where that is. Duh.) Leah McLean, KSTP anchor, was first up to share her Fiesta Chicken. When she wasn’t there at her presentation time, I started to get worried. The audience was full, because the weather was fine and it was Senior Citizen Day. Generally speaking, seniors enjoy the slower pace of the weekday crowds and the first one hundred get gift bags. Also, they LOVE our local news personalities (as do we all.) So when Leah wasn’t there right away, but the chairs were full, I was a little concerned there might be a geriatric riot. What would THAT look like, I wondered. Fortunately, Leah showed up, only a bit flustered over some parking hassles that had delayed her. The audience glowed with delight, and Leah went to work like the pro she is, needing minimal assistance. She shared the news that she is pregnant (congratulations, Leah!) and told stories about work and family while cooking up a pasta dish with chicken, bell pepper and onion in a white sauce. I helped serve until it was all gone, and so I can’t tell you how it tasted, but it smelled deliciously of cumin, garlic and a hint of cayenne.

I began a frantic clean up that wasn’t quite done when the next presenters, Bobby Jensen and Belinda Jensen of KARE 11 showed up. Fortunately I had most of the set up organized and the counter cleared off, so the unwashed dishes remained hidden in the sink (thank heavens there were no cameras trained on that spot, as there are on the cooktop and prep counter.) Belinda, a meteorologist, also does gardening segments with Bobby, and although they have the same last name, they are not related in any way. They bantered like brother and sister to the delight of the crowd, who had questions about them and about gardening. For a cooking demo, there were a lot of questions about parasitic infection. I got to come to the rescue when from backstage I heard Belinda say, “You didn’t just cut yourself, did you?” In seconds I was onstage, band-aids in hand, patching up Bobby’s finger. Their roasted corn and orzo salad with tomatoes, feta and arugula looked wonderful, but once again the crowd beat me to it.

Another clean up, and then Yigit Pura was back, this time with Panna Cotta topped with a grapefruit juice and Campari gelee and grapefruit supremes. The panna cotta was a creamy base flavored with vanilla bean and citrus zest and thickened with gelatin sheets, which I must try because they look like a lot of fun. The next layer was citrus juices and Campari thickened with more gelatin leaves dissolved in a simple syrup, which was added after the base had gelled. We had done these steps the day before, so Yigit’s presentation was about the nature and, in the case of the vanilla bean, the history of the various ingredients, followed by a demo of making grapefruit supremes, which is what it is called when you peel the fruit with a knife and slice the segments out of their membranes, resulting in glistening, gorgeous crescents. Yigit popped a few of these on top, and I finally got to taste one. This was grown-up deliciousness of sweet and tart and creamy and juicy; kids, go eat your pudding cups.

Chef Carl Littlejohn from Redrossa followed, assisted by Ryan. Redrossa is an Italian place in Bloomington, near the Mall of America.  Since I wasn’t needed and had some prep work backstage, I missed most of his presentation, but the air was filled with the staggeringly heady scent of basil, and I made it out front in time to help distribute his samples of bruschetta over fresh mozzarella on toasted ciabatta slices, and drizzed with a balsamic reduction. So yummy, and Carl had enough for me to snag a couple extra for my healthy lunch. I missed out on his chocolate cake layered with a creamy chocolate filling and topped with what looked like ganache. So it looked worthy of its reputation as a favored dish at Redrossa. I will most certainly need to try it when we go there. Carl and Ryan did almost all of their own clean up (thank you, guys!) so I only had to do a few dishes left over from Yigit’s presentation as I enjoyed my bruschetta.

Our next presenter was Chef Colin Murray, whose day job is at the restaurant Seven, but who at night turns his passion for food in a different direction: dog treats. He owns Barkley’s Bistro, where healthy and balanced dog treats are created. He used vegetable stock, steamed green beans, parsnips, sweet potato, golden flax seed and oats (I might be missing a few things here) to make a thick dough which is then baked. He invited the audience to try them and I did. I decided f you brushed it with olive oil and sprinkled it with salt, it would make a decent cracker. Colin’s love for animals and enthusiasm for nutrition was evident in his presentation, and he was another one great for taking over his own clean up. He’ll be presenting again on Sunday, and has a booth at the Show, if any of you out there make it.

My last assignment for the day, before turning the stage over to Bruce and Dan (seriously guys? it takes TWO of you to do the same job I did ALL DAY LONG?) was to assist Natalie Davis, aka Miss Minnesota, with her Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Protein Smoothie. Natalie is a knockout, unsurprisingly, and she was in full-on regalia with tiara, cocktail dress and sash, and what I like to call Hollywood shoes, but she is also a standout student, slated to graduate from St. Olaf in a few months with a degree in Chemistry. For her presentation, I put on a microphone so I could give her a hand while she prepared the smoothie and we could talk and better explore some of the things she wanted to share with the audience, like the Miss America scholarship program, her platform of autism awareness (she’ll be at the Steps of Hope fund and awareness raising walk at Ridgedale Center on Sunday morning,) and physical fitness.  Towards the end, as we were all snacking on smoothies that smelled and tasted a lot like a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup with a thin slice of banana on top, I got her attention by telling her that I had a serious question I needed to ask. She sounded just a bit apprehensive, but pageant veterans know a lot about facing the difficult interview questions so she was game. “Just where do stand on the issue of banana ripeness?” I asked. A pause, and then she laughed and surprised me by saying, “I have always wanted someone to ask me that question!” It turns out that on what she calls the green to brown spectrum of banana ripeness, she prefers them slightly less than fully golden, but before any brown appears. She asked where I stood and I replied that I enjoy a more ripened banana, say about 60% of the way on the journey from green to brown. She announced we would be perfect roommates because we would never argue about the bananas to which I countered, “Unless you ate them all before they got to 60%, because then there would be trouble.” She was great fun to work with and I think she had a good time, too.

So I was in a pretty good mood at the end of the day. I got a final hug from Yigit. I finally got to walk around the show for a few minutes and enjoy the beautiful gardens and water features. I met Dave Dahl, who will be one of my chefs tomorrow, and I got a smile and a wave from Bobby Jensen, who was still wearing his band-aid. I got a wave from a few familiar faces from the Kitchen Stage audience, too. I picked up my one grocery store item and arrived at home just a few minutes before the Bobby and Belinda footage from the Kitchen Stage was aired on KARE 11 news, and there I was in the background, doing something intently, for .5 seconds. Yep, I am feeling like pretty hot s*%t right now, and will probably continue to do so until I see the pictures Maggie took of me and Miss Minnesota standing together, because the comparison will not be flattering. I’ll just enjoy it while it lasts. So please, come out and join in the fun, and don’t forget to say hi when you do. I’ll be at the show 9am-5pm on Friday, 9am-10pm on Saturday, and 9am-5pm on Sunday.

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