Tuesday, April 19, 2016

5 Lessons My Son Learned at McDonald’s

     My Grandma and Granny taught me great things about cooking, sewing and practical domestic matters.  But my Grandpa taught me all those little things that keep me going in life.  Patience, perseverance, humility, kindness, and gratitude come to mind.  He always had an old cliché ready when we needed it.  I credit him with a lot of my “man skills,” as well as having a large impact on my drive and work ethic.  It’s always made me sad that he passed away before my son was born.  He is the one person who had a large influence in my life that I truly wish could have influenced my son’s life as well.

     My son is learning some of the great clichés that my grandfather taught me from the most surprising of places – McDonald’s!  Yesterday he went to the first job interview of his life.  And tomorrow he will be attending the orientation for his new job.  In the last 24 hours I have watched my son suddenly understand so many of the things that my husband and I have been telling him for years.  I suppose that seeing really is believing.

     Lesson #1 – You only get one chance to make a first impression.  He didn’t understand why we wanted him to put on his dress clothes and tie his hair back in a tight and tidy ponytail.  After all, he was only going to ask about when he might expect to hear back about the application he filled out online.  He made such a great first impression that the manager took him to a table for an interview and hired him on the spot. 

     Lesson #2 – If you aren’t 10 minutes early, then you are late. He’s tolerated being early to everything for most of his life because I insist that we need to “get going now”.  At bowling league, he always has time to put on his shoes and get in a little extra coaching time before we officially get started.  Despite this, he’s never really appreciated it – until his new boss told him that he always likes for people to be about 10 minutes early for work in order to make the shift change go smoother.  He’s grateful that he has already developed this habit in his life.

     Lesson #3 - It never hurts to ask. You just might be told “Yes!” He applied for the job and then allowed 12 days to pass waiting for someone to contact him.  We convinced him to go to the store and ask the manager about it.  Thirty minutes later he had a job.  Really!  If there is something you want, then you should step up and ask.  (Within reason.  Begging Mark Zuckerberg for a billion dollars via Twitter is not what I’m talking about here.  There is a difference between standing up for your own interests and demanding things that you have no business requesting.)

     Lesson #4 - Attitude is everything.  People appreciate a great attitude.  You will make more friends and get further in life from this one simple character trait than anything else that you do.  Be positive.  Show self confidence.  Look a person in the eye and give them a firm handshake.  These seem like simple and obvious pieces of advice, but they can make all the difference in the world – especially if you don’t follow the advice. 

     Lesson #5 – Don’t let other people make your decisions for you.  The moment that you search McDonald’s online; you will be bombarded by people telling you how awful they are.  The food is unhealthy.  The job is hard work.  The pay is lousy.  The hours are long.  The company doesn’t care about the employees.  Listening to everything that the media tells us about McDonald’s, my son was convinced that they would shackle him to the register and beat him every time he got an order wrong.  But he took a chance and applied.  The manager who interviewed him started out when he was 17 years old working on the counter just like my son is now.  Today he is a manager and he loves his job.  He made my son feel comfortable and welcome there.  Additionally, all of the employees in the store were very friendly to him while he was there.  The atmosphere in this store is very positive and I think that he will enjoy his first job at this McDonald’s.

     Yes, the work probably will be hard.  And he’s not going to make millions of dollars working the register at the local McDonald’s.  There will be days when he will be yelled at by his boss, as well as his customers.  There will also be times when he just doesn’t want to get up and go to work.  He’s a 16 year old kid and these are all lessons that he needs to learn.  And they will be true no matter what he chooses for his first job. 

     Life is actually pretty simple.  There are basic things that we all need to do in order to survive.  Earning money is one of those things.  Certain life lessons are going to lead us to be able to do that well.  A good attitude and a strong work ethic are two of the most important things that I can teach my son in life.  And I firmly believe that McDonald’s has already started teaching him those things even before his first day on the job.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Raw, Organic Caribbean Cocoa Powder

     My name is Michelle and I'm a Chocoholic.  I love chocolate candy, chocolate chips. chocolate truffles, chocolate pies, chocolate cookies, chocolate cakes... well, you get the idea.  It doesn't matter much whether it's white, milk, dark, Hershey's or Godiva.  If it's chocolate, I'll eat it.  My personal opinion is that Chocolate is one of the nicer blessings that God bestowed upon this planet.

     Obviously, not all chocolate is the same.  There are higher quality and lesser quality chocolates in the world.  I always keep an inexpensive store brand cocoa powder in the house for use in a large variety of desserts.  Although tasting the difference between a Dollar Store Christmas chocolate vs Ghirardelli Squares is like comparing apples to oranges, it didn't occur to me that there would be a similar difference when choosing cocoa powder for my personal baking.  Okay, so duh!  I should have seen that one from miles away.  Truly, I just never gave it any thought before.

      Well, that is until I was given a bag of Raw Organic Caribbean Cocoa Powder from Freedom Superfoods.  You guessed it.  Captain Obvious says that it's way better.  Of course it is!  How could it not be?  It's so rich.  It's so pure.  I'm completely enthralled with this product.  As much as I rant against the evils of over-processed food, how did I not know about this wonderful ingredient?

     This may seem incredibly obvious to some of you, but I really hadn't given a lot of thought to breaking down my raw ingredients.  Of course flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt are a smarter purchase than a box of brownie mix.  But replacing my regular cocoa powder with this organic, raw cocoa powder completely changed the dish again.  The brownies are richer and there is a slightly bitter tone that is missing.  Actually, I never realized it was there until I made a batch with this product and realized the difference.

     Where the difference is especially striking, though, is in my chocolate pie.  I make an excessively rich, thick chocolate cream pie that can only be eaten in small slices.  I always use Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder for this recipe because I want a super dark and rich flavor for this pie.  I was a little hesitant trading out the Freedom Superfoods Cocoa Powder in my recipe because it doesn't look like an especially dark cocoa powder.  It turns out that the pie was darker and richer than what I normally make.  A single slice cured my chocolate addiction for an entire week!  I know that sounds crazy, but my chocolate craving was so completely satisfied that I actually didn't want any more chocolate.  Never fear... the pie was saved and my teenager was happy to eat it himself.  (Seriously, how is that boy nearly 6 feet tall and only weighs 130 lbs?  I cannot figure it out.)   

     I've always expected anything organic like this to be too expensive to purchase for regular use.  C'mon... we've all heard the joke about them renaming Whole Foods to Whole Paycheck.  Really!  I can't afford to pay those kinds of prices for my staples.  Except... check this out...  I told you that I use Hershey's Special Dark for my pie, right?  At Amazon, you can buy a 2 pack of 8 oz cans for $15.50.  Freedom Superfoods Organic Raw Cocoa Powder is only $15.97 for a 1 lb bag.  We are talking an extra $.47 for a pure, organic, raw cocoa powder.  If you want my opinion, this product is well worth that minor price difference.

     I highly recommend trying this product in your favorite brownie, cake or pie recipe.  In fact, the product came with a free e-book of recipes that you might love.  I even used it to make my homemade version of Nesquik and came up with a richer and tastier chocolate milk.  The possibilities are endless.  Happy baking to you! 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Secret Family Recipe

     Today is my son's 16th birthday.  He's a good kid and very easy to please.  When I asked him what he wanted for his birthday, his only request was his great grandmother's red velvet cake.  Grandma has been making this cake since before I was born.  We had red velvet cake every Christmas long before it was trendy.  And a couple of her great grandchildren like it so much that they have started asking for it on their birthdays.  She is terrific and is always happy to make it for them.

     My husband, son and I moved to another state and so Grandma can't really bake cakes on demand for us.  When my son made his request, I promptly called to ask for the recipe.  I figured that although mine won't be exactly the same as hers, I can certainly try.  Besides, someone needs to learn this recipe eventually.  Grandma won't be with us forever.

     To my shock and horror, the first ingredient in the recipe is a box of Duncan Hines classic yellow cake mix.  Oh the humanity!  C'mon Grandma!  Doesn't she realize that I have a blog that focuses on cooking from scratch and doing things for ourselves?  Hasn't anyone told her how I brag about the great scratch recipes that I learned from her and her mother? The shame of it is almost more than I can bear!

     And what is my son's response?  "Hmmm... That stinks.  You're still going to make it for me, right?"  How do I argue with that?  Of course I'm still going to make it for him.  I'm even here to tell you all about it.  But next year...  watch out!  I will be working diligently to fix this travesty - this black mark on the family cookbook.   And I will bring you the results.  In the meantime, let me share the couple of terrific little secrets I gained from this birthday cake adventure.

     #1 - One of the ingredients in Grandma's red velvet cake is Nestle Quick (re-named Nesquik for modern packaging).  Thankfully, there was no need to stress over that ingredient.  Did you know that Nesquik is basically just 2 parts Sugar, 1 part Cocoa Powder, and a dash of salt?  Yup.  Pretty darned easy.  That's something I already whip up myself and keep in a canning jar, so no great stress on that front.  But this recipe did remind me to share that little trick with you.

     #2 - Thankfully, the frosting for this cake is the real thing without any embarrassing, pre-packaged ingredients.  And, it's also the best part of the whole cake.  I decided to share that with you.  It's the least I can do after making you think you might get an old secret red velvet recipe that pre-dates the latest trends.  1 Stick Butter, 1 8oz Pkg Cream Cheese, 1 lb Powdered Sugar, 1 tsp Vanilla, 1 Cup Pecan Pieces.  My son says the pecans are what make this cake his absolute favorite in the world.

     Instead of baking him a traditional birthday cake, I decided to whip up a batch of cupcakes for him.  It allows me to really overload them with extra frosting which will make him happy.  Plus, I won't need to worry about a major influx of dirty plates, knives, and forks each time he wants to cut himself "just a little sliver, please".

     Overall, the cupcakes were a huge success.  And I will eventually get over the shame of a secret family recipe that uses a mix from a box.  At least it's altered and doctored up, right?  In the meantime, it's a good reminder that this transition from our convenient, pre-packaged, over-processed world of groceries isn't an easy one.  No matter how hard I have worked to take control of my family's food, I realize that I have a long way yet to go.  I hope you will enjoy the journey with me.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Singbulli Darjeeling Tea

     I am a huge fan of tea.  It is an incredibly versatile staple.  You can drink it hot or cold, sweetened or unsweetened, or you can even use it in recipes.  I recently had the opportunity to try Darjeeling Organic Fair Trade from the Singbulli Estate in the Himalayas.  This tea is positively delicious and I was amazed to find how many different ways I was able to use it.

     Of course, I started with a traditional cup of hot tea.  That's the usual way that I expect Darjeeling to be served.  I like mine with a little bit of sugar and sometimes I add a bit of honey, but this particular Darjeeling has such a wonderful flavor that I didn't want the honey to distract from it.

     After enjoying the tea hot, I decided to try it cold.  Darjeeling is frequently used in iced tea blends, but this was the first time I ever used it by itself to brew a pitcher of sweet tea.  It was a wonderful surprise!  Nothing shocking, mind you, but definitely different from the usual black teas I use for my sweet tea.

     Since I was in an experimental mood, I decided to make a cocktail using my interesting new sweet tea.  I mixed it with a shot of Amaretto.  Positively delicious!  Definitely a sweet drink.  If you are interested in this cocktail, but prefer your drinks to be a bit less sweet, try making an unsweetened tea for this.

     Finally, I used the tea I had brewed as an ingredient in dessert. I made a basic cupcake recipe, but used the Darjeeling tea in place of the milk that the recipe called for.  This change in the recipe doesn't make for an exceptionally dramatic flavor change, but creates a delicious and delicate cupcake flavor.  I topped these cupcakes with a simple strawberry buttercream frosting.  The combination was wonderful.