February 1, 2012
I cut out a quote years ago from Gourmet magazine written by Ruth Reichl that is taped to my computer in my office. It reads:
“Moderation in all things is a mantra we’ve been hearing a lot about of late. It is healthy. It is sane. It is morally correct. It is also very boring. I much prefer people with passions. There is nothing more exciting than watching someone fall so deeply in love – with a food, an object, a way of life – that they throw caution to the wind and follow their heart.”
So true. I do not find myself just leaving well-enough alone; if it’s not broke,don’t fix it – this I reject. My husband Robert and I have opened and closed (or sold) many restaurants over the years; New City Cafe, Krause Dining (a few times, it’s a long story), The Burger Stand at Dempsey’s, The Burger Stand at College Hill, The Burger Stand at the Casbah, and Esquina. Maybe this reveals an attention deficit problem, but I prefer to think of it as a pursuit of passions. Our work life together has changed so many times it is dizzying. A lot has changed professionally for us over the years we have been married (14 years today!) but room to throw caution to the wind and go in a different direction professionally has provided the most exciting ride I can think of.
This is all to lead in to the fact that we are going to do something different at our restaurant Esquina. We will change the emphasis of the cuisine to Mediterranean with a dose of Spain; elevate the service experience to full table service; alter the interior to make these changes aesthetically pleasing. Our last day of service of the current Esquina is Friday Feb. 10th, we will reopen to the public on Sunday Feb. 19th.
This is exciting stuff for me. We are essentially opening a new restaurant, one in which is going to serve delicious food in a cool environment. It is not a decision that was driven by a sense a moderation, however. No, this is throwing caution to the wind for a restaurant adventure. Will my schedule change and become unpredictable? Likely. Do I know how regular life will happen during this busy time – rides to gymnastics classes, vacuuming the floor, exercising? Not really.
And while experience tells me there will be some bumps along the way, this time I am not bracing myself for them. This time I smile at the future, hoping that I am showing our daughters to not be afraid to take on new challenges. I don’t want them to settle for the healthy, sane or correct at the expense of following their heart. Could that lifestyle cause some bumps along the way? Probably, but at least it won’t be boring.
November 27, 2011
Recently after an emotionally taxing day my husband Robert wanted a childhood favorite – tomato soup with cheddar cheese and toast. It’s sort of an unconstructed version of grilled cheese and soup that his mother made him and is a dish he described as a ‘comfort food’. It holds no comfort for me however, which got me thinking about this notion of comfort foods. We all know they exist but what are they anyway?
When we were writing our cookbook “The Cooks Book of Intense Flavors” a couple of years ago we included a whole section of “Comfort Combinations”. It was a chapter that wasn’t included in the final cut for the book (along with 200 other recipes, but don’t get me started). I found that the recipes that landed in this chapter were often not fancy, in contrast to many of the others, and that they were often soft in texture, like mashed potatoes or cake. They were the kinds of food that everyone from toddlers to the elderly would like. But no flavor profile can hold these comfort foods together because they are based on a sense of sentimentality, and we all have a different history. The texture isn’t the key for the comfort foods, the aspect of familiarity is.
I returned to one of my comfort foods, not just eating but also preparing them – cinnamon rolls. I went through a baking phase in high school where I was obsessed with making cinnamon rolls – plans were interrupted for me to punch down my dough, icing consistency was given a high priority, gifts consisted of these edible treasures. But I don’t think I have made them since then. I was inspired to try them after buying a new cookbook designed for kids, “Cooking with Friends” by Sharon Davis & Charlene Patton. Robert and I participated in The Kansas Book Festival and spoke on a panel with other Kansas cookbook authors. The authors of this book, two home economists and educators of the 4H variety, spoke of their passion of educating our youth in the art in baking. Their enthusiasm was infectious and along with a dose of mommy-guilt for not spending much time with our girls in the kitchen, I made a commitment to do some baking together. I think I enjoyed our time in the kitchen the most. And the rolls, they were so good…
Gorging myself on these cinnamon rolls provided more than a full belly, I was left with a dose of nostalgia. Not only did they taste yummy then, but I could increase the pleasure of eating them by remembering how good they tasted in the past too. I remembered people in my life during that time in high school who I have drifted apart from and wondered how they were doing. The food both soothed me now and took me back to a different day.
In life the unexpected often happens and the unplanned shows up at your door demanding a response. Is it so wrong to take refuge in the familiar, even if that is a bowl of macaroni and cheese?
October 25, 2011
I saw something in the grocery store recently that gave me pause – sauce for dog food. It was in a bottle that looked like barbecue sauce, you know, the kind we humans like to ladle on our brisket. The contents of this bottle however were designed to improve the dining experience for our dogs. Condiments for canines. Really?
I rushed past, in a hurry to pick up one of my daughters, but was left thinking about the craziness of catering to our animals in such a way. Our local newspaper had just asked the citizens of my town of Lawrence, Kansas to donate food to a central food bank, which had alarmingly low inventory to help the needy. The news is so full of disappointing statistics about unemployment and the economy that I have to sometimes shut it off. My daughters’ neighborhood grade school is in jeopardy of being shut down because of lean school funding. The thought of a group of executives sitting around a table strategizing on how to sell something different to pet owners made me furious.
Then I thought of Bear.
Bear was the dog love of my life. I love my current dog Lucy, I really do, but Bear is in a different category. I ironed Bear’s holiday bandanas. We drove across the country with Bear (he was the finest travel companion ever). He was my firstborn and constant companion for over a dozen years. Would I have bought sauce for his food if I thought he wanted it? Probably.
(Me & Bear 1998)
We feed those we love. Sometimes it may be cold cereal to little girls like it was this morning at our house. Or a simple bowl of pasta. Or a special meal at a restaurant to celebrate. It may be fast food, slow food, processed food, or gourmet food. But food is the stuff of love, even a bottle of dog gravy. So the question for me today is who to feed. Yes, our customers at Esquina & The Burger Stand, my family, and even my silly dog Lucy. But also to my neighbor, because it can be a tough world out there and not everyone has someone providing condiments.
September 11, 2011
I’d love to write more, but I’m busy – The Burger Stand at College Hill in Topeka is open! Meet Sam, our proud first customer on Thursday night.
Thank you Topeka for the opportunity – we are feeling your love!
August 4, 2011
I’m home from an extended period of hard work, the kind of hard physical work that I have not had to do in a while. I have not exactly bounced back. I am tired and I am feeling, well…old. There is nothing startling about this, my next birthday is the big four-0. What is startling to me is the feeling of relief that is accompanied by feeling older.
Whatever philosopher taught knowing thyself as the highest goal was on to something. With age I know that I hate rollercoasters, prefer not to drive, don’t enjoy shopping, and love the library. And I am just scratching the surface! Age has given me the awesome by-product of experience, and though I dare not think that I can handle anything, I no longer brace myself for the worst. I do not have it all figured out, but have made it through the struggles of learning new jobs, inconsolable babies, balancing parenting with work, the weariness of caring for the ill, and the heartache of being unable to help someone in need.
When I am distracted by certain aspects of age – creases, veins, unfamiliar parts of my own body – I am reminded of the comment, “it beats the alternative”. I look forward to an incredible afterlife, but I cling to the life I have now. I have held a baby that never got to breathe outside the womb, watched my father suffer a long illness and death, gone to a funeral of a family member my own age, and seen depression take away the desire to live. I can’t help it – I am grateful for this day.
And yet, I am tired. My body seeks to betray the agreement I thought we made to stay the same. I feel almost 40 – no, sometimes I feel more like 60. But instead of spending much time looking in the mirror, I will avert my gaze. See what I mean?
July 20, 2011
I don’t know about you but I generally like to keep my insecurities lurking below the surface of everyday life. Sure, a whif of the cologne a high school boyfried wore (the one I bought for his birthday the week before he dumped me) may dredge back adolecent feelings of insecurities, but usually I avoid activites that bring out these feelings of inadequecy. That is why you probably haven’t seen me sing in public, express myself through drawing or painting, or participating in a conversation about quantum physics.
So when I had to fill in recently for Robert, I found myself feeling quite uncomfortable. We have been in New York City for the last month on a cooking job, cooking for about 50 people for two meals a day. Over the period of a week, all four Krauses got sick. When Robert was out, I was responsible for getting dinner out. Yes, I know my way around the kitchen, but my strength is pastry work. I broke out in a sweat at the thought of getting the meat course out for such a large group. I am no vegetarian (which you might guess if you’ve been to The Burger Stand) but I rarely cook meat at home – I ask Robert to do it. He cooks meat to temperature by looking at it, maybe giving it a poke to confirm, but never using a thermometer. My meat pursuits are often limited to frying bacon, and I am not above burning it.
I got lucky. The duck confit was already in the oven. It is hard to overcook braised meat – brown it up then low and slow in the oven. You would need to almost leave on vacation forgetting the oven is on to ruin it. But then I was informed a dozen extra people were expected. In a flurry of texts with feverish Robert we decided to add chicken to the meat offering – too late for more duck confit (high and fast won’t work). Searing chicken breasts and throwing them in the oven with the duck was sweaty work (Oh, New York in July) but the result was a success. We added white beans for a cassoulet-inspired dish. We didn’t run out food, I didn’t contribute to the food poisoning of anyone, Robert got the day off to recover, and I think I overheard someone was saying that it was delicious. I’m not any closer to singing karaoke, but I might try shortribs at home.
In other New York news, it was a thrill to see our cookbook (The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors) here in New York at two different stores for sale – The Strand & JB Prince. We have also experienced some delicious food at Blue Hill, Corton, and a street truck selling dynamite lamb gyros. I found my first small patch of grey hairs(!), our daughters have become experts in big city transportation, and I have made new friends. Our kitchen assistants are lovely ladies from Denmark, and I am proud to say I have learned one Danish word – thank you. So “Tak” New York and my Jews for Jesus friends for the summer away. Hello Lawrence – I am looking forward to seeing you.
May 14, 2011
I received a new phone for Mother’s Day – a shiny touch screen hand-held computer that I have finally learned how to use (sorry if I accidentally called you in the last week). The arrival of this new equipment in my life ushers in the realization that I will no longer need some of the tools that I have relied upon in the past. Instead of letting these items drift out of use and get covered in dust behind a drawer, I have decided to say a proper goodbye to them.
Digital camera, thanks for recording the memories of the last five years – birthdays, vacations, building projects, restaurant openings & closings. Thanks for the memories, but with a camera on my phone I’m worried I may never need you again. Nothing personal, really.
Alarm clock, I really don’t mind saying goodbye. You don’t offer me a selection of less annoying sounds to wake up to, and the way your red LCD numbers read has been getting on my nerves for a long time now.
Calculator, we haven’t always gotten along, sometimes the numbers haven’t added up in my favor but overall you’ve done me right. I’ll let my daughters play with you so you aren’t lonely.
Timer, you have saved me a thousand times from burning my work. You were always reliable, I won’t forget that.
Calendar, we’ve had our issues with your insistence that I actually look at you to be reminded of an appointment. My new calendar has a reminder bell feature. I think we may get along better.
VCR, I know my new phone has nothing to do with your replacement, but I’ve realized that I never said goodbye. Thanks for all the viewings of “Jerry Maguire” when I was nursing babies. You had me at hello, you really did.
Cooking gadgets and fads come and go (savory foam, sous vide, etc.) and while we may have apps on our phones that can give us a calorie count, a restaurant review, or recipe alternative, the act of cooking is not in danger of becoming obsolete. We all have to eat and some of us like to do it. And if we must eat, let us eat cake. Here is a photo of a flourless chocolate torte with meringue that I just made, and yes I took this picture with my new phone…
April 26, 2011
Last year I was able to realize one of my dreams – publishing a book. The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors is the cookbook that Robert & I wrote, and it was an experience that was incredibly challenging and ultimately hugely rewarding. I also learned the new skill of writing recipes, which is not the same skill as being able to cook something well. In fact, for people who cook really well, recipes often have very little to do with the cooking process. Communicating what you do to create something delicious in a clear and straightforward way, within the structure of what we all recognize as a recipe, is a painstaking process. It requires attention to detail and discipline. And it hopefully results in something yummy.
Recently I thought about writing a recipe for a yummy life. To make the effort to put on paper the ‘ingredients’ that add up to a satisfying daily existence for me. And that’s when I realized one thing I love about recipes – ‘adding to’ instead of ‘taking out’. I mean, have you ever seen a recipe that chastises you to pluck out the peppercorns in the stew before they ruin the dish? Or one that advises you that you probably added too much paprika and you’re going to need to do something about it? No, a recipe gently guides you to yumminess by telling you what you do want in the dish, because it knows how good it will be. Proactive and positive – two great aspects of recipes to incorporate into prioritizing life.
I’ve shared a dysfunctional relationship I share with tortilla chips (Oh, the things you say!), and even after I have just come off of a Lenten break of them (to show them who is boss), I will not banish them from my ‘recipe’ of eating. No, I’ll add a dash of tortilla chips to keep things crunchy and yummy in life. I want life to be so full of the things that bring true satisfaction that I don’t need to focus on what not to do. A work in progress…
1 cup spiritual time
1 cup laughing with husband
1 cup playing with daughters
1/2 cup rewarding work
1/2 cup conversations with friends and family
1/4 cup sweaty exercise
1/4 cup reading an awesome book
1/4 travel for adventure & relaxation
2 T black coffee
1 T fruits & veggies
1 T tortilla chips, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, or Honey Nut Cheerios
a generous dash of gratitude sprinkled over it all
April 18, 2011
Last summer my daughters approached me about coloring their hair. I was pushed into an uncomfortable parenting corner, being an enthusiast of sorts when it comes to coloring one’s hair (I’m not sure they even know what my natural hair color looks like), yet thinking that they are so young and that I would not consider paying for it to be done. Then they filled me in on a new technique that was whizzing through the elementary school aged crowd – Kool Aid hair dye. After a half hour watching You Tube videos on application instructions I relented. They bought their own Kool Aid for it and we were in business. And it works, it really does. It works so well that nine months later, I still see the streaks of magenta in Cameron’s hair. But if stays so long after being applied to human hair, then what in the world does it do to the insides of our bodies after being ingested by children all over the country?
Last week I saw an article in The New York Times, “Colorless Foood? We Blanch”. It discusses the a link between the use of artificial dyes used in food and hyperactivity in some children. An advocacy group proposed banning their use. But a food chemist noted that food color actually has a lot to do with the pleasure of eating, especially with flavor expectation. She states that, “Color can actually override the other parts of the eating experience”. It turns out that vanilla pudding dyed yellow is reported to taste of banana or lemon. Have you ever had a blind tasting of both red and white wine that is at the same temperature? It’s crazy that it can be hard to tell the difference between them without seeing the color. We end up actually tasting what we see – even when it’s not there. Color is important to how we feel about what we are eating.
You may be thinking that you don’t consume Kool-Aid, Doritos, or box macaroni and cheese. Food dye may not be something you would miss. But how about those beautifully colored French macaroons in a fancy bakery? How about the green warning of the wasabi you dab on your sushi? What about M&Ms for heaven’s sake? As much as I am concerned about the color of the lining of our children’s stomachs from Kool-Aid, it is today’s food culture of ultra self-consciousness and profound seriousness that bothers me. Now in the interest of hyperactivity (hello sugar?) we might lose the purple smiling mouths of children who have just had a grape popsicle. The concern for how our food is grown, produced, and packaged is important. Of couse it is all so good, so morally right, and so admirable. The problem is that it is no fun.