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eG Foodblog: Abra - I take food personally!

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#1 Abra

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 08:00 AM

Ok, so right off the bat I have a confession to make. Today is my birthday. How cool is that? First-ever blog and 54th birthday, all in one. Trouble is, I'm so slammed today and tomorrow that I don't even have time to celebrate - that'll come later in the week. But I did do a little something special for myself that I wouldn't do on just any morning - picked my breakfast fresh from the back yard.

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I got 43 lbs of blueberries from my two bushes this summer. These are the last of them.

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Around here blackberries are considered a noxious and invasive weed, but I can't help myself - I love them.


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These little strawberries were never bigger than a thumbnail, but now we're down to the last few brave survivors of our recent heat wave. Still yummy, though.

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Inspired by Dejah's Red River Cereal photo, I'm having Wheatena with my berries. I put peanut butter and brown sugar into the Wheatena (more about that later), and then right after I took this photo, I dumped the berries into the porridge. I'll spare you the image of the combined breakfast - it looks much prettier in its separate state. Oh, there's also coffee in this breakfast, although I'm normally a tea person in the morning. I was up until the wee hours getting semi-ready for my day, so coffee seems called for. This is a double Americano my husband made for me on his La Marzocco.

So, besides being the Birthday Girl, I'm a personal chef. You'll get a little taste of that today and tomorrow, as I cook for a regular client, and for a party for a new client. And then for the rest of the week I'll finally get to catch up with some food projects, recipe-testing, and just plain eating that I've been wanting to do for weeks now.

By the way, I'm a Weight Watcher too. Each meal I'll have something to say about it in WW terms, but I'll keep it at the end of each post, so you don't have to think about WW points unless you want to. So why the peanut butter? I like to get some fat and protein into my whole grains, whenever possible. A tablespoon of peanut butter stirred into a serving of Wheatena, a spoon of brown sugar, whisk it all together for a creamy and delicious 5 points. Add berries, and it's one of the best uses of 6 points that I can think of.

I'll be back this afternoon with pictures from today's cooking. Here's the menu, just as a preview:

Curried Chicken Salad

Acqua Pazza, served with Pasta with Zucchini, Anchovies and Mint

Chicken Braised with White Poppy Seeds, Black Cardamom, and Coconut Milk, served with Saffron-Cardamom Rice

Ribeye Steaks with a Port-Rosemary Reduction Sauce, served with Glazed Carrots with Balsamic Vinegar and Butter

Persian Meatballs with Spinach, served with Israeli Couscous with Dates and Almonds.

Yum - as you might guess, my lunch will be tasting these creations. See you all later - I'm off into the world for my first day as a 54 year old person!

#2 Dejah

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 08:11 AM

1st:

Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you....
Happy Birthday, Dear Abra.
Happy Birthday to you! :biggrin: :biggrin:

2nd:
Looks like I made the perfect choice. Very much looking forward to your blog. I'll take notes for my next dinner party! :wub:

I LOVE blackberries, but they are not native to Manitoba. The best ones I have ever tasted were in a friend's backyard in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. They were the elongated ones and grew on a trellis.

Edited by Dejah, 12 August 2004 - 08:15 AM.

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#3 Laksa

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 08:18 AM

Happy Birthday Abra!

Looking forward to following your blog. Could you tell us where you are geographically?

#4 bloviatrix

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 08:19 AM

Happy Birthday Abra!!

The food you're cooking sounds great. Any chance you'll share some recipes?
"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

#5 Jensen

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 08:24 AM

Happy Birthday!

Looks like it will be another interesting week...

#6 Cusina

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 09:45 AM

Happy Birthday from me too!

Looking forward to the week and I'll appreciate your WW insights. I'm a newbie to their online program. Six weeks in and finding I have a lot of learning to do.

Those blackberries remind me of my camp counselor days in college. There was a secret bramble down one of the little used paths that we would raid in August. YUM.

Did ya open those presents yet? Get anything good? :biggrin:
What's wrong with peanut butter and mustard? What else is a guy supposed to do when we are out of jelly?

-Dad

#7 therese

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 09:58 AM

Happy Birthday. Really looking forward to your week. Also doing WW, so that'll be especially cool.
Can you pee in the ocean?

#8 jgarner53

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 11:18 AM

Happy Birthday!

And so far I love the berries and am impressed by the menu. How many clients do you work for? How much food do you prepare for each at a time (how many meals)? Do you just prep dinners, or do you manage other meals as well?
"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

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#9 Jensen

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 11:52 AM

I'd like to know exactly what being a personal chef entails. (Pretty please...)

It sounds so exotic and fabulous. :smile:

#10 Jake

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 12:03 PM

Happy Birthday, Abra. We share a birthday, and I'm looking forward to you sharing your week with us.

Your berries look delicious! :wub:

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.


#11 TheFoodTutor

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 02:44 PM

Happy Birthday, Abra! This looks like it will be another interesting blog.

Love the berries.

#12 Abra

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 04:59 PM

First things first - Happy Birthday Jake! Thanks for sharing my birthday. It's so great to see all the WW folks here too. I'm really looking forward to this week.

Now, to business. My client for the day was a single woman. I cook for her every two weeks, making her dinners for 10 nights, most of which goes straight into the freezer. When I met this woman, about a year ago, her freezer was full of Lean Cuisine, and her fridge full of mostly empty pizza boxes. Now she gets food like this week's menu, which she often takes to work for lunch. We're on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, by the way, so commuting is a big part of some peoples' lives and getting food when you get home late to a smallish island isn't all that easy, hence the state of her eating before I started cooking for her.

So my schedule was like this: Hit the grocery store at 9:30. Arrive at her house, unpack the groceries, and unload my equipment by 10:30. Start cooking up a storm, pausing to take some photos (good thing for my clients I'm a better cook than photographer!). By 2:30 the food was all done, packaged, and in the fridge or freezer, by 3:00 the kitchen was cleaned up, the dishwasher running, and I was out the door. Not a bad day's work! Here's what she got:

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The food arrayed before I started cooking

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Persian Meatballs with Spinach, and Israeli Couscous with Dates and Almonds

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Ribeye Steak with Port-Rosemary Reduction Sauce, and Glazed Carrots with Balsamic Vinegar and Butter

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Halibut Acqua Pazza, and Orechiette with Zucchini, Anchovies, and Mint

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Curried Chicken Salad

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Chicken Braised with White Poppy Seeds, Black Cardamom, and Coconut Milk, with Saffron-Cardamom Rice

I know the presentation isn't wonderful. I do try my best, but there's only so much one can do with Gladware and freezer-ready servings. My clients are in it for the taste, thanks goodness, not the beauty of the food.

Tonight I have a Planning Commission meeting (in my alter-ego as a Responsible Citizen I'm a member of the Commission), so it'll be a quick meal at our favorite local Thai place. Normally I do cook for my husband and me even after a full day of cooking, but there's just no time tonight. That's in no small part because I'm cooking for a luncheon party for 18 women tomorrow, at a new client's house. I think she's going to be very picky, but I'm hoping she won't mind if I take photos. However, I have to get prepared for tomorrow, and get to the meeting on time, so home cooking is the thing that has to go. Unless, of course, a Dejah-clone appears to work a little magic in my kitchen!

#13 Toliver

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 05:34 PM

Wonderful photos! What a nice melange of meals. I am sooo hungry now. :laugh:
As for taking photos tomorrow, just tell the new client you use the photos to help provide consistency in your work for all your clients, or something like that. If you make it sound official enough, she'll buy it. :cool:

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Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”
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#14 Dejah

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 05:35 PM

ahem....

Did I hear my name ? Am I being paged?

Those meals look wonderful! One benefit of Gladware...food won't clash with the dish.
:laugh:
Dejah
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#15 Abra

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 10:19 PM

Ok, here was a delicious and quick (since I didn't have to cook it) Thai meal: pad kee mow for me, spring rolls and salad for my husband, and then, because I let it slip that it was my birthday, complimentary fresh coconut ice cream with fried bananas, and a tin of totally addictive tamarind-chili candy to take home. So let's not talk about today's points, ok?

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So now to do the final recipe and menu printing for tomorrow. A ladies' luncheon, where the hostess is in her 80s, and the guests are all "young women" in their 50s. The hostess chose curried shrimp and rice salad, fruit salad with poppy seed dressing, golden raisin and rosemary muffins, and raspberry fudge bars.

Tomorrow night is opening night of a community theater production I'm in, so I fear that it will be another day of haphazard eating for me. I'm aiming for a nice main dish salad, though. I need greenery - and sleep!

#16 Abra

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 02:30 PM

Today started off with a typically unglamorous breakfast: Morningstar Farms Breakfast Patties on whole wheat toast and a yogurt. Earl Greyer tea too - I love all that bergamot.

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Then I headed out to the store at about 7:15, shopped, and arrived at the client's house at 8:30. Oh no! I left my clean laundry, including my aprons, at home. Believe me when I tell you, I cooked very neatly and carefully all morning! It's always a hazard of personal cheffing, forgetting stuff. I try to be really compulsive with my lists, and it doesn't happen often, but there have been some doozies. My favorites were the time I showed up to make a risotto, minus the arborio, and another time when I was supposed to make stuffed cabbage - with, you guessed it, all the other ingredients, but no cabbage.

So here's what I made today for the ladies luncheon:

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Fruit Salad with Lime, Honey, and Anise Hyssop

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Golden Raisin and Rosemary Mini-Muffins

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Curried Shrimp and Rice Salad

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Raspberry Fudge Bars

By the time I got home at 2:00 I was too starved to make a lunch worth photographing. It was just a turkey sandwich and some plums. So far, it's looking like I need a personal chef myself!

#17 bloviatrix

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 02:44 PM

Oooo, those raspberry fudge bars look really good.
"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

#18 hathor

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 02:47 PM

Wow!! Everything looks fabulous! Almost makes me wish I was a lady who lunched!!
I have a question: what is anise hyssop? I'm familiar with hyssop (essential oil), but not anise hyssop. Thanks.

#19 sequim

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 02:48 PM

Wow Abra, it's so wonderful you're doing a blog - one from our own neck o' the woods. And Happy Belated Birthday! It's so exciting to read a blog of someone I know in person.

All your food looks wonderful, including the tupperware-ized. You do such variety. Oh and those brownies....what a photo.

As another Washingtonian, I definitely do not consider the blackberry a noxious weed. I think we're lucky to have berries in such profusion. The other day I went to my local video store in West Seattle and picked myself a container of them, enough to make a fresh cobbler just from the vines in the alleyway. Last night I was mountain biking by Sea Tac Airport and the air was redolent with the smell of ripe blackberries. Yes, they attack me every chance they get, but then I take revenge and eat them! I'll be going back to pick - the season is going by very quickly.

Do you manage to do all the work yourself? or do you need/use helpers?

#20 Dejah

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 02:50 PM

Oooo, those raspberry fudge bars look really good.

bloviatrix:

You took the bars....errr...words right out of my mouth! :laugh:
Dejah
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#21 SobaAddict70

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 03:01 PM

Abra,

Would it be possible to please demonstrate a recipe or two for us? You can choose from among the rest of the meals in your blog installment.

Regards,

Soba

#22 Batuta

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 04:00 PM

Abra,

What a wonderful blog!

Tell us a bit more about your personal chef position. How do you find your clients (or they find you)? Do you have set menu for them to select from? Your presentation is lovely: do provide the platters or do you use your clients (I'm assuming you "scope it out" ahead of time..). How long have you been doing it? How did you get into it? And, do you enjoy it?

Also, do you sleep? Seems like with the wonderful dishes, incredible lists, community service and other activities you have a very full life.

Looking forward to the future installments...

#23 Abra

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 04:10 PM

Sure, I'd be happy to demo. Let's see, I need to do some work with my vinegar mother, which threatens to take over the house, so I'll have my husband document the process, and we can talk about how quickly you all can get out to Seattle to grab a piece of my mother and start down the vinegar road. I'm having dinner guests on Monday, too, and I'm sure to try some new recipes for them, so that'd make a good demo. I started making some raspberry and blueberry liqueurs last month that also need attention. It's my first time making them, so I'll show what I'm doing, and maybe some of you will be able to jump in and save me from disaster.

Since I'm not a trained chef, I'm blissfully free of inhibitions. In the food world, that means that I almost always make new recipes whenever I have people over, and at least half of the time I'm making new recipes for clients too. I did preview the muffins and raspberry bars before I made them today, because I sensed that the client would be very exacting, being a lady in her 80s with ideas about how things should be done. But the shrimp salad was new, and turned out to be quite nice.

Now, for you chocolate fanatics, you can find the recipe on Epicurious, under Fudgy Chocolate Raspberry Bars. I'd insert a link, but I don't know how, short of just pasting in the URL.

Berries are one of my favorite things about the summers here. The other day I walked with my dog and grazed on blackberries most of the way, stopping to get a few amazing plums and a shirt-tail full of crisp, sweet apples from abandoned trees. I feel like a bear, in summer, grazing my way around the island.

All of the work I've shown so far I do by myself. I do use a helper sometimes, especially if the client wants any level of service. I have no FOH experience, and no instinct for serving, and I have a great helper who does. She's done a ton of work for a local caterer, and is a garnishing whiz. She's taught me so much, so that I'm no longert actively ashamed of how my food looks, but her garnishing blows mine into the dust.

Here's a little blurb on anise hyssop that I grabbed from the web: "Native to North America, Anise Hyssop is a perennial herb that is known for its anise scented foliage. It has violet colored flowers that bloom in July. It is a good bee and honey plant, and is used in seasonings and making teas...(Agastache anethiodorum) - member of the mint family, the leaves have a rich aniseed flavour, delicious in salads. Butterflies, hummingbirds and bees love Hyssop, and the edible leaves can be used for teas, salads and to flavor drinks. "

I like to eat the leaves, and the flowers are pretty sprinkled onto food.

I don't want to drone on and on - I think blogs are the most fun when they're really intereactive. So please, ask questions, give feedback, and let me know what you'd like to see more (or less!) of.

Since Batuta asked, let me start by saying that I have a (probably too ) detailed and lengthy bio on my website. Just go to www.rollingbaygourmet.com, and click on Meet the Chef. That's the general story. The thumbnail answer is that mainly my clients find me, because a) I'm a marketing wuss, and b) I have a husband who doesn't complain that I'm not working full time. But as I mentioned last night, tonight's the opening of a show I'm in, and I have to still make a decent dinner of some sort, put on makeup (something I only do for stage stuff and so am woefully inept at) and try not to succumb to stage fright. Geez, maybe I'd do better at makeup if I just thought of it as garnishing! Tomorrow I'll have more time to get really honest about the personal chef business, for those that are thinking of going into it, and for the merely curious.

Edited by Abra, 13 August 2004 - 10:21 PM.


#24 Abra

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 10:21 PM

So, to fortify myself before opening night, even if we did have to eat before 5:00 in order for me to make it, we had a salad with roasted potatoes and a little ribeye, which is unfortunately overdone since I left it in the pan while I tried to put on makeup.

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And then...truth in blogging. When I got home, having survived the opening night crazies, I had, oh, this is so hard to admit, peanut butter on rye bread with a glass of red wine. I'm sure I'll be banished from Blogland, or even from eG, for such an apalling combo, but you know what? It suited me just fine.

As for WW points, I've been way over yesterday and today, and also not keeping track. Not setting a good example at all, am I? When life gets crazy, like it has been the past few days, instead of sleep I tend toward weird food. Lots of weird food. But don't knock peanut butter on rye until you try it - it has that certain je ne sais quoi, but I don't know what it is.

#25 jackal10

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Posted 14 August 2004 - 12:24 AM

That inspires me to start an ultimate peanut butter sandwich thread...

#26 Rebel Rose

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Posted 14 August 2004 - 07:31 AM

Gosh, this is fun! Thank you for doing a blog during such a busy week, Abra. I'm going to second (third? tenth?) all the questions asked so far. And how do you maintain the energy to do all these things???

I'll be visiting my family in western Washington later this week, and your description of a blackberry breeze is just wonderful. I'm going to eat myself silly when I get to my parents' berry gardens. One for the bowl, one for me . . . :wub:

Do you get plenty of fresh seafood there? I remember when I lived on Orcas Island we could sail up to the shrimp boats, and I'd stand with one foot on our gunnel and one on theirs, hand them two bucks, and they'd give me a half-gallon milk carton box filled to the brim with parboiled shrimp fresh from the ocean. Mmm, mmm, shrimp, fresh baked bread, and a little white wine, a sunny day on a sailboat . . . am I getting homesick?

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#27 Abra

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Posted 14 August 2004 - 11:20 AM

Energy??? I can only wish I had energy! Normally I do work out, and that helps me keep my energy up, but this week - no way. I decided that I needed a healthy breakfast to get through the morning.

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An egg white frittata with chicken sausage, leftover roasted potatoes, red onion, piquillo peppers, and shiitakes. This is a 7 WW point pan full of yumminess. With a few shakes of Melinda's Roasted Garlic Habanero sauce, I'm zooming slowly through the morning.

We have two performances today, with only an hour and a half in between, so we're having a cast potluck dinner. When I signed up I had every intention of making a beautiful orzo salad with Kalamata olives, feta, and sun dried tomatoes. But now I see that there's no way I'm going to make it to the store, and I'll have to scrounge through the fridge and pantry to make something halfway decent.

So now you're going to see how I make my famous "fridge-cleaning" dinners. Except that there's not much in my fridge today, so I'm worried. I only have a couple of hours to come up with something - wish me luck! You probably imagined that a personal chef would eat better. I promise, after today, the rest of the week will be easy as pie, and I will be able to represent my chosen profession better. Peanut butter with red wine - hmph! And I promise to answer questions, so ask away. I'm not ignoring you, just swamped for one more day.

And speaking of seafood, I do have some escolar in the fridge. Hmm, with so many people eating it, the portion would be very tiny. There's only one bathroom backstage...should I risk it?

#28 KatieLoeb

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Posted 14 August 2004 - 12:07 PM

Abra:

I'm a bit late to your wonderful blog, but this is a GREAT read! And the photos of your sumptuous creations are making me run out and fetch some lunch right now or I won't be able to continue reading.

And a very happy belated birthday as well!

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
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#29 herbacidal

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Posted 14 August 2004 - 01:06 PM

And then...truth in blogging. When I got home, having survived the opening night crazies, I had, oh, this is so hard to admit, peanut butter on rye bread with a glass of red wine. I'm sure I'll be banished from Blogland, or even from eG, for such an apalling combo, but you know what? It suited me just fine.

That's okay. I've known servers who have eaten spaghettios after a party, uncooked.
Herb aka "herbacidal"

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#30 suzilightning

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Posted 14 August 2004 - 04:01 PM

Tomorrow night is opening night of a community theater production I'm in, so I fear that it will be another day of haphazard eating for me. I'm aiming for a nice main dish salad, though. I need greenery - and sleep!

OOH! OOH! OOH!

what production? and what part are you playing? (sorry abra - former theatre geek here - since i work nights i can't do performances anymore)

love the berries,too. ever think about making a steamed pudding with mixed berries and a rum sauce for your clients? sorry - toooooo many points i'm sure for you.

do make sure you make all your points daily, though. sometimes, especially in the heat it is a struggle i know.

love the pictures and your food. thank you :biggrin:
The first zucchini I ever saw I killed it with a hoe.

Joe Gould
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