April 29, 2005

My food is coming to get me!

This is probably from America's Funniest Home Videos, since I hear a laugh track... but it's still worth a view, especially for the scream at the end of the clip. If you're too scared to cook your food, you shouldn't be allowed to eat it!

Last thing I ate or drank: Indian food for dinner... vanilla yogurt for dessert.

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April 28, 2005

The Life of a Chef to the Stars.

I have to say that the caliber of my clientele is pretty rad. Today's client du jour was a model/actor with an intriguing look, striking eyes and an astonishingly beautiful apartment in the marina.

Tuesday night at around 10pm, I came home to a blinking answering machine and an e-mail from him. He wanted to throw a luncheon at his place on Thursday. Could I do it? But of course!. I did all the shopping on Wednesday night so I could be at his place at 10:30 this morning. After figuring out how to get up to his apartment (the concierge was about to have a conniption if I tried to load through the main elevator) I started cooking up a storm. He wanted light, no seafood, and "something interesting". Here's the menu we agreed upon:
Salad: Baby Spinach with Strawberries and Toasted Almonds, with Sherry Vinaigrette, and drizzled with reduced balsamic syrup
Entrée: Braciole* with Rich Tomato Sauce, served over Linguini with Steamed Broccoli (*that's not my recipe, it's just to give you an idea of what the stuff is, since hardly anyone knows of it.)
Dessert: Berries in Bed: Mixed Berries in a bed of Puff Pastry, garnished with Chantilly Cream.

I was dead straight on time, with the kitchen nearly cleaned up by 12:30 pm when the guests were to arrive... I asked if he wanted to use the dishes that were already on the table, and I'd plate up the salad, but he said he got a call saying they were running late, I should just put stuff in bowls and leave them on the counter. I thought to myself, "Darlin, you are going to shovel my amazing food out of containers in front of your VIP guests? No way..." I volunteered: ____, I get the impression that this luncheon is pretty important, and I really want to do a good job for you, so if you would like me to, I'll stay until your guests arrive, I don't mind, and I won't charge you any extra." He said, "Oh, isn't that thoughtful, but I have no idea when they're coming, you know how hollywood people are, so no, don't worry about it." and I reiterated that I didn't mind, but he still declined. He said, "but I'm hungry now, so I'll eat some of whatever's ready, and you can wrap the rest up."

So I dished out a plate of everything but the dessert, and put everything else in containers. I put the salad in a casserole-type bowl, since that's all he had. I pulled the braciole out of the oven and snipped off all the little strings, buried them back in their sauce, and covered it with wax paper and then foil. I put the pasta in his own pan, and the broccoli in a bowl. I wrapped up the plate with all the little garnishes that he won't remember to use (strawberry fans for the salad, basil sprigs for the entrée, and mint sprigs for the dessert) I showed him the ziploc bag full of whipped cream and explained how he could snip off the corner and squeeze it out.

Then I cleaned out the sink and got out of there two hours earlier than I expected. I was all geared up for a performance, but it didn't happen. He seemed happy though, and he said everything was delicious, and would I be able to do Personal Chef work for him, could he call me next week. But of course!! I felt awful for him when I looked in his cabinets. There were 8 bottles of Hpnotiq and there was actually canned meat in there. This beautiful, beautiful man eats meat out of a can, and washes it down with Hpnotiq. Maybe he got it for working as a model for them?

Last thing I ate or drank: really killer awesome hamburgers that I made myself. And a corn and black bean salad.

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Now available for sale...

in the Chef JoAnna CafePress Store!

Last thing I ate or drank: a cheap ass ice cream bar with that hard shell chocolate coating. yum.

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April 27, 2005

production kitchen

Today I worked for Pat!na (I replace the "I" with an "!" so my blog won't turn up on google searches). There were over 20 people prepping for a party that's not even taking place until Saturday, at the Hollywood Bowl. Working in a huge production kitchen like that reminds me why I do what I do. Here was today's schedule:
10:00-12:00: pick cilantro leaves off the stems. two hours. ugh.
12:00-12:30: eat a lunch of hamburger patties, and romaine with caesar salad dressing. Also availabe (but I passed, eww) kimchee, potato salad from a carton and barbecue chicken that smelled like cheap hot dogs.
12:30-1:30: wash enough parsley (picked by other people) to fill three 25 gallon containers.
1:30-2:30: mince parsley. Yes, I spent an hour mincing parsley.
2:30-3:00: dice watermelon
3:00-4:00: chop carrots
4:00, go home.

I look at it as culinary boot camp: a way to get really really good by repetition and practice. Or hell. Same thing.

So the next time I whine about planning menus or working with fussy clients, remind me about the day that I spent picking cilantro and mincing parsley. Any day spent managing my own business is a much better day than working in Pat!na's prep kitchen!

Last thing I ate or drank: two nuprin and several glasses of water.

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April 26, 2005

culinary school classmate encounter

I ran into a culinary school acquaintence in the drugstore today. She's still in school, in her last quarter. She thinks catering would be boring, and wants a job at a hotel..... HUH?!?!?

Last thing I ate or drank: mashed potatoes & a chuck of chicken breast

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April 25, 2005

Fun with Indecisive Clients

The Food Whore doesn't have the monopoly on nerveracking clients:

Tuesday: Can you work for us next sunday? [checking calendar.... Crap!] no, sorry, I'm already booked next sunday well what if you made the food in advance? [cursing myself for limiting myself to in-home catering] I don't usually cook out of a certified kitchen, I only cook in private homes. I could, but they add to the expense... ok, then you can cook at my house on saturday and I'll bring it over to the party on sunday. It's only for 40 people. [that's an interesting way of getting around that, and it won't void my insurance! And it's a small party....] sure! let's do it.
     spend Tuesday night coming up with a diverse menu of appetizers that can be served cold, and things that won't suffer if they are made ahead and reheated. I enjoy the challenge.

Wednesday: Ooh, that menu looks great, but they've decided that they want to go with Tapas and Sangria. Can you make Tapas? [groans to self] sure, I can make Tapas. I can make anything! Ok, that's great. And do you think you can have some servers available to help with serving the food and the clean-up? [while I'm not there?] Oh yes, of course, I've got a couple people that I trust who I can arrange to be there ok great. So you'll still make everything at my place, and bring it over? there's no kitchen to speak of at his place, it's all one great room, so we can't do any cooking there. [damn, I'd love to see this house....] yes of course, that's still workable
     spend Wednesday night coming up with a menu of Tapas-inspired appetizers that can be served cold, a few things that can be reheated, and while kind of resent having to create a second menu, I would like to do a Tapas party!

Thursday Hey, I got your proposal, but I want to make it clear: I like you, I really want you to do this party, but The Committee hasn't approved you yet. [I hate committees...] Oh, well, of course, it's all up to The Committee. That's fine. No problem. Just let me know.

Friday Yay, they picked you! I'm so happy! [Yay!] Yay!
     Send out an e-mail to everyone to see who can work this party. They call me back, and I book them for next Sunday, just a week away.

Saturday I work two parties: one where I'm setting up my favorite sous-chef to work a small, informal party in a private residence, so I do all the menu planning, shopping, and start the prep at 11:30am, 90 minutes before she is due to arrive. Then I drive off to Encino to do my OWN, super-formal party, for which I've also done all the menu planning and shopping, plus all the prep, plus I have a server to do the table-service and help with clean-up. 12 guests and a 20 lb prime rib that barely fit in my largest roasting pan. We went from walking in with bags of raw groceries at 2pm to a clean kitchen again at 11pm. I'm exhausted.

Sunday (this is a message on voicemail) There's been a change in plans... It's not 40 guests, it's 140 guests. They still want Tapas. We're going to need more servers. I'm sorry, I really just found out. I'm not even officially in charge of planning this party, I sure hope you can still do this... [laughing maniacally... seriously, Kelly's looking at me like I've lost it. I call back the client:] I'm not sure if this is going to work, but I have a couple of ideas. I can still make the food for 50 people like we planned, and we can just add to it with frozen appetizers, or delivered items. We can even put casserole-type things in chafing dishes, so people can serve themselves. . I might be able to get you an additional person, and my servers can still help with managing the buffet and the clean up... but (paraphrased) I have serious reservations about being responsible for a party of this size that I can't even be on site to manage. Gosh, I hope I don't have to cancel you and go with another caterer... [oh come on, do not DO this to me! I've already put more time into planning your party than I should have!!] Well, you know, I've already booked staff for your event, and I really hate to cancel people who may have already turned down other work. [I hated it when the catering companies did that to me, and I vowed I wouldn't be that kind of boss!] Well, I'm not sure how another catering company will react if I tell them that I have to use someone else's servers.... .... .... Ok, look let me think about this. Give me 24 hours, and I'll let you know what's going on for sure on Monday. Sure. Ok. Fine. No problem. You've got my numbers, right? Ok? Great! Talk to you on Monday!
     spend way too long blogging about client. wonder what karma I've invoked upon myself to have to work through this problem, that's not even my problem, for a client who I shouldn't even be working for because I've already got a Very (VERY!!) Important Client booked for Sunday night already!

Monday Hi, Chef, yeah, well, I've decided it's going to be too much trouble to have only half of it catered and the other half done a different way, so I've found someone who's going to just cater the whole thing. Sorry. [Yes!] No problem, that's ok. well, we really want to work with you again sometime, it's just that this time isn't going to work out [happy dance] no, really it's okay. I understand. [realization:] So, do you still want my two workers, the two people I booked for you? I just hate to book people and then turn them down, in case they've turned down other work... No, I mentioned it to the other caterer and they said that they'd rather not work with people they don't know [bummer] well, yes, I can understand that, I guess I'd probably say the same thing. But we really like you and we'll call you again sometime soon, ok? [...] yes, sure, that will be great, I look forward to it. Bye bye! *click*
     Call both the people I'd booked for her party and tell them, "I'm sorry to do this to you, but the client canceled, I hope you didn't turn down other work because of this, but on the bright side, trust me, this is a blessing in disguise."

Last thing I ate or drank: walnut bread

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April 22, 2005


Really, can someone tell me what's going on out there?

Today, I'm getting unsolicited applicants. People want to work for me! People who send me e-mail addressed to "Dear Sir or Madam". People that I've interviewed weeks ago are checking in with me to see if I'm gearing up for the summer. I think that's as flattering as any of the compliments that my clients give me!

I really, really really love what I do. I wish I could express it more completely. I love the energy, I love the creativity. I love shopping for the groceries for each event. I love the camaraderie with my workers. I love seeing empty plates come back from the dining room. I love the feeling I get after the client's kitchen has been returned to the same condition it was before I walked in. I love that even though I'm exhausted to the core, I can't fall asleep because I'm still so pumped about how great everything went. I love being able to pay the people who worked for me. and I love the feeling of excitement when the phone rings again... it could be another client!

(Yes, this is the same person who wrote out that good-client/other-client manifesto a couple days ago.)

Last thing I ate or drank: two fried eggs and some bread.... I was starving and couldn't wait around for toast.

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April 20, 2005

Well, THIS certainly is good news!

Click on the link: http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=4427265 to read
the article

Was there something on Oprah?

I don't know why, but in the past 24 hours, I've gotten 6 calls from prospective clients asking about catering and personal chef work.

There was an article in Business Week a couple weeks ago, but sheesh!

The thing that's funny is that every couple of weeks, I think to myself, "OK, when I get done with these current clients, I'll have to start thinking about advertising," and then the phone rings again.

This is pretty crazy.... But it's great!!

Sandra Lee be damned!

A lot of people complain about what's being passed for recipes these days. Buy a bag of salad that already has the nuts, dried cranberries and salad dressing in other little bags. Take some pre-cooked frozen chicken strips, dump a can of cream of mushroom soup over it and shove the whole mess in the oven. Buy a box of cake mix and add X, Y & Z to it. Newsflash: I have dried rose petals, rose water, and rose preserves, but not even I have rose syrup and rose soda... nor could I tell you where to find that stuff. Isn't she supposed to be making cooking easier for the average housewife? Can you imagine what looks you'd get from the Piggly Wiggly stockboy if you asked him for rose syrup? Damn you, Sandra Lee!

Well, I will confess, the first thing I made for my not-yet husband when we were dating was a chicken, rice, and canned soup concoction. (except I used cream of celery, does that redeem it at all?) Well, how bad could it have been, he still eventually asked me to marry him!

As a kid, we ate what our parents bought. We spread our toast with Country Crock, which isn't even margarine. We ate canned soup, frozen pizza, sticky corn-syrup ice cream, store-brand cookies and ritz crackers.

In my case, we also ate lots of vegetables from our garden. My dad even raised rabbits for food for a while. (we had a large yard, but we did not live on a farm.) Thank heavens my family's Italian and we got good, crusty bread with dinner!

Next step: move on to college, where horrid cafeteria food is supplemented by what you can cook in a hotpot in your dorm: Ramen anyone? Healthy food meant yogurt and rice cakes and granola and air-popped popcorn.

In my case, the first time I experienced how wonderful food could be was when I went on those first business lunches and dinners, when my company picked up the tab. Struggling to make rent and car payments didn't leave much for cloth napkin dining, so I went on as many of those meetings as I could...even blowing off the aforementioned not-yet-husband to go to a business dinner.

I think that this must be similar to what most of my peers in the midwest experienced...except the large garden & rabbits part.

Between college and culinary school, there was a vast open wasteland of about 10 years of frozen entrées, canned veggies, too much takeout, and yes, even cream-of-something-soup casseroles. (Forgive me, Chef, for I have sinned!)

Now, at least, when I'm committing those sins, I'm doing it consciously, out of nostalgia or convenience. I'll never use Country Crock again, but I've got butter, flour, milk and quarts of frozen stock at the ready, so I'm never more than 15 minutes away from cream-of-something-soup, if I really, really need it.

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April 14, 2005

Put a woman in that kitchen!

Click here

How to be a good client.

I have lots of wonderful clients. People for whom I'll do extra favors and who always get first priority for my time. There are "Other" clients, however...
Here are some things that draw the line between a good client and "other" clients:
Good Clients:
read the contract, ask questions about specific details, and willingly negotiate when necessary

"Other" Clients:
ask questions that would have been answered had they read the contract, but become insulted when I explain the answers

Good Clients:
make deposits and meet deadlines on time

"Other" Clients:
hem and haw until the last minute, but still expect me to meet deadlines

Good Clients:
treat me like a professional and allow me to use my experience to guide their event

"Other" Clients:
need to control every infinitesimal detail, but forget things that I should/would have taken care of

Good Clients:
understand that I am trying to make a liviing, and I'm not out to scam them for every penny they've got

"Other" Clients:
are absolutely convinced that I'm out to scam them for every penny they've got

Good Clients:
make menu requests, but allow me, as their chef, to suggest alternatives that suit their event, guests, kitchen, type of service desired, etc.

"Other" Clients:
specify the menu requirements down where I purchase the ingredients for the things I'm making, or (gasp) give me recipes

Good Clients:
let me know if any of their guests have any special dietary requirements in advance

"Other" Clients:
become miffed when I can't instantly procure 4 (vegetarian/low carb/vegan/raw) alternative entrees

Good Clients:
know that I'll base my estimates on past experience and my predictions, and will stick to them the best I can

"Other" Clients:
can't understand that I do not have a crystal ball, or even a magic 8 ball, and expect me to know what the price of wild salmon will be in 12 weeks

Good Clients:
embrace the concept of "you get what you pay for" and, in fact, chose me for my high standards

"Other" Clients:
think they could do it much cheaper themselves, but hired me anyway

Good Clients:
pay the final invoice when it's due, knowing that I've already paid for their entire party and paid my staff.

"Other" Clients:
hold out until I've emailed three times and called them twice, threatening to enforce late fees and interest, until they finally relent and pay me the $140 balance from their $1500 party.

Good Clients:
are reassured that I value my reputation far more than their money, and will do whatever it takes to make them happy

"Other" Clients:
must think that this is the last job I plan to cater before I leave town, driving away with the top down on my lamborghini, clutching fistfuls of cash, laughing maniacally and screaming, "HA!! I FOOLED THEM!"

Last thing I ate or drank: fish sandwich

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April 11, 2005

I never had one as a child...

...but I am now in full Easy-Bake Oven mode. I decided to keep one of the two $35 toaster ovens I bought, and it's been on the kitchen table ever since I tested it. It's so cool to have this little oven right here on the table. I can watch the chicken as it's cooking. We can reheat the second slice of pizza while we're eating the first. right this minute, I'm baking a 6-cookie batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Tomorrow night, I'll probably bake another mini-batch right after dinner. Fresh, hot cookies for dessert!

Last thing I ate or drank: Dinner was five-spice chicken with teriyaki egg noodles (the kind that are packaged in little nests) with peas and red pepper. Kelly cleaned his plate!

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Restaurant Reviews

Waaaaaay back on March 20th, I said "I owe you restaurant reviews for Amuse (Venice), The Park (San Luis Obispo), and Mama Voula's (West L.A.)" but now I have even more to add to that list.

I'm no so full of myself that I think my restaurant reviews are zagat-worthy, but I think that someone googling for a place might want another person's opinion...especially if the reviewer isn't paid to write restaurant reviews for a living!

Anyway, here goes... By the way, here's my decoding chart

Amuse, Venice_
This is in the space that used to be Van Gogh's Ear. I liked VGE because you could go there and get tea and a sandwich or a salad and feel like you were hanging out at the home of your cool friend, who's mom was a great cook. The upstairs was huge, fun, artsy and reminded me of hanging out in my friend Cara's hayloft back home in illinois. So for those just coming to Los Angeles, or those who've never been to VGE, you won't have the same "baggage" I'm bringing, literally, to the table.

The Amuse dining room is cramped. Please do not call it cozy. They used less than half of the space of the upstairs for seating. I felt as if I could participate in my neighbors' conversation (ugh, about Sideways, no less!) Staffers kept walking behind me to get to the wine buffet and nudged my chair every time. The feng shui of the place was terrible. Plus, our table was incredibly small. We couldn't fit our plates and glasses on it without constantly juggling and shuffling. What the hell are they doing with the rest of that space? Maybe Brooke and Nick have converted half of it to living quarters?

I also felt that the service was lacking. It was uncomfortable to flag someone down to get more water. One of the servers put a plate down in front of Kelly, and there was a black spot on it. Instead of simply replacing it (ideal) or brushing it off with a napkin (satisfactory) he smooshed on it with his finger, right in the middle of the plate, to try to remove it. (It didn't go away, it just got smeared. EWW!?) The servers were detached and acted rushed. It didn't contribute to a comfortable vibe.

I almost regret[1] to say that the food was fantastic. Nearly every thing we ate was eye-rollingly good. Smoked trout. Short Ribs, a salad with frisee, and one thing I no longer remember, plus a dessert of apple crisp (I think!) The exception was the sautéed strawberry and green tea flan dessert, which we sent back because it tasted ...salty? The server exchanged it no problem, for which I'm grateful.

We were there a long time, and we ordered two items plus shared a dessert, and I still felt like I could have eaten a little more, but I was happy enough to be out of there when the check finally came.

[1] My regret does not stem from jealousy of their success, I'm thrilled for them. They're taking the small plates concept to an elite level and I couldn't be happier about it. It comes, instead, from how great the place COULD be -- how a few things they should have been done, but weren't. More attention, more space, a little music to drown out my neighbors' conversations... just a few of the things that will keep me from coming back and keep me from whole-heartedly endorsing the restaurant.

Mama Voula's, West L.A._
If these three people worked for me, I'd be a happy, HAPPY restaurateur. A cook, an assistant, and a server. Efficient, friendly, fast. This is a greek restaurant, which is rare enough in Los Angeles, especially since Skorpios is gone. The place is in a strip mall at the corner of Santa Monica and Brockton, just a block east of Bundy. Friendly lighting and mouth-watering smells draw you in. The fact that every table was filled was a good sign, but we were starving so we sat at the tiny counter. This turned out to be great: I got to watch the cook do his thing while we were waiting. No, it was not Mama Voula herself, but I believe the elderly woman depicted on the menu would have had a hard time keeping up with the young man working there. He was poetry in motion.

Little bursts of flame when lamb chops were flipped on the stovetop. Sprinkles of oil and herbs on top of hummus served with wedges of pita. Orders kept coming in and he kept cranking them out. Every so often, he'd have to re-light a burner on his stove; he'd do it without missing a beat. His assistant intuitively brought more plates, clean sauté pans, refilled mise en place on the salad station. (Would you laugh at me if I told you it nearly brought tears to my eyes?) The server was a darling, friendly Asian woman who spoke English to the customers and Spanish to the cook and his assistant. She handled the entire room herself, including phone orders, carryout customers, and the demanding table that seemed to order one item at a time.

Here's something I find special: there was a little countertop bell that she'd ring when she placed an order, and he'd ring when he had an order up, but instead of slamming on it in a rushed, panicky movement, they each tapped on it gently. That vibe was carried out through the entire place. If it sounds kind of Kumbaya, so be it. I know what its like to work that hard, and at that pace, so to keep a happy, nice vibe going on is a beautiful, beautiful thing. I could picture them taking a break, drinking cold beers at the end of the night. I wanted to buy them all beers... but we left a nice tip instead.

Speaking of beverages if you choose to go to this place, the market on the corner sells a modest assortment of greek wines. Just don't go past the meat counter if you are squeamish!

The Park, San Luis Obispo_
This is where the locals go for birthdays & anniversaries. I'm too tired to write more, so please, suffice it to say, if you are in San Luis Obispo and you want to have a LOVELY meal in a beautiful, comfortable restaurant, this place is very nice. It's obvious the food was made with love.

Last thing I ate or drank: Big tall glass of water.

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April 09, 2005

Free online wine class offered by the CIA

Click here for the link to the page, the freebie link is in the lower right hand corner.

I think I'm going to enjoy the homework!

Last thing I ate or drank: more of those tasty little amaretto cookies. they're gone now. :-(

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April 08, 2005

a borrowed link

Sweetnicks wrote that in this Sunday's issue of PARADE Magazine, Sheila Lukins of Silver Palate fame lists the 10 Kitchen Tools I Can't Live Without. They are listed here

But here's MY top ten (in no particular order)
1) silicone spatulas - I have at least a dozen, in lots of different colors, but my Trudeau "Greenie" is my favorite!
2) flexible, reusable cutting sheets - I buy them by the handful, too. Want a clean cutting surface, whip one of these out!
3) electric scale - I love to bake, this makes it so much easier to make my "pro" recipes, or to halve packages of stuff.
4) Spaetzle press & ricer - makes fluffy potatoes, smooshes apples, and makes spaetzle!!!
5) immersion blender - much easier to clean than a regular blender
6) wustoff chef's knife - 10 inches of carbon steel, baby.
7) coffee mill - never used for coffee, but used for turning dried spices into dust.
8) cast iron grill pan - great for any kind of meat, veggies, and even for making my version of chapati.
9) microplane - nothing is better for fluffy clouds of parmesan or delicate citrus zest.
10) wooden skewers - used for testing cakes, propping things up, holding things closed, and all sorts of other uses!

I could probably add a few more, but I'm about to go to Border rill with my sweetie!!
What's on your list?

Last thing I ate or drank: tic tacs, the white ones, this time!
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This is fantastic!

exactly in line with my sense of humor:


Last thing I ate or drank: mmmmm chocolate!

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PHEW-Thank goodness THAT'S over!

I'm so glad the low-carb thing is out and I can just cook brown rice for my clients again! Click here to read an article about how the expensive engineered weight-loss foods of yesterday (literally) are being fed to inmates and indigents.

OH, speaking of special diets, I have a Personal Chef client who tries to avoid glutens, and I've discovered that rice pasta is really, really good. I love my allergic/restricted clients!

Last thing I ate or drank: Malibu Rum in Dole Pineapple-Orange-Mango!

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April 05, 2005

they're standards for a reason...

I bought two toaster ovens today, they were only $35 apiece, Black & Decker brand, they seem like they'd be big enough to roast a whole chicken inside...and they seem to be powerful enough for what I need... But they're weird shaped: the pan that comes with them is squarish. 9x10 instead of the standard 9x13 ratio, so I don't have any extra pans to fit in them. As far as flat-surface is concerned, it looks like it can only cook about 4 chicken breasts per oven, maybe 6 if you push it. It would be big enough to heat a server's tray worth of appetizers, probably. I think that one, if not both of them, are going back tomorrow. :-(

Last thing I ate or drank: tiny crunchy amaretto cookies from Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica. I'm so sad to hear that they'll be getting rid of their packaged goods section!

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