Let’s not be reasonable…

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.

Baby’s Got Sauce

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.

Oh, the things you say!

Am I the only one who talks to their food? I don’t mean expressions about food that are said out loud – like “Man, that looks disgusting” or “I really want to eat that entire cherry pie”. In my limited research I asked Robert if he talked to his food. His response was, “uh, no”. I have realized that maybe I am alone in this. But maybe there are others out there like me who talk do talk to their food – I mean really interact with food as if it may actually, well…talk back.

When I first started in the kitchen at Krause Dining I found myself trying to make deals with the food I was working on. You know, giving it a little encouragement to do what I needed it to. “Okay creme brules, you are looking lovely, but I need you to set up without overcooking. Do you think that is possible?”, “You souffles are going to give me an awesome rise aren’t you?” Yes, it was a silent response but overall cooperative, we got along. I took a parental tone with my dishes and they were mostly obedient subjects.

Now that I have a limited role in preparing food, I spend more time actually serving it at Esquina. I still try to direct the food though, “Pizole, please do not slop on the rim of this bowl. Don’t you want to look nice?” Imagine my surprise recently when I felt it answer me, “Well, you are the one carrying me. If I look sloppy it’s your fault not mine.” Yikes, such disrespect! But you know, the pizole was right, I couldn’t fault that fact – my shaky hand had more to do with it than anything else. I may not have liked it the response, but I grudgingly agreed. But what happened to my obedient subjects – adolescent attitude?

Working at Esquina challenges my goals of sensible eating. The food there is fresh and healthy and I love it, but all I really want to eat every day are the chips. I like them plain, with salsa, with my rice bowl, or most preferably with the habenero-tequila cheese dip. I could eat them for every meal. I walk past the container of freshly fried chips like a hundred times a day. All things in moderation, I say, but chips at every meal doesn’t seem like a good idea. I have limited my chip eating to only after my shifts, and no snacking while walking by. But alas, I am slipping. I have been plucking the most beautifully seasoned one off of the top of the stack and quickly chewing it up as I walk through the kitchen. I am not proud of myself. I had to get tough and tell them, in my best mommy voice while pointing at them, “You are not the boss of me!” It felt good to regain my sense of control. I was smiling as I walked off. But I swear I heard in a tiny voice, as I was almost out of ear-shot, so that I had to turn around..yes, we are.

Next time I think I’ll write a letter.

Expanding our Borders

This last year and a half has been a bit dizzying – a summer in Europe, the death of a cherished family member, the closing of Krause Dining, the opening of Esquina, my mom’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, the opening of The Burger Stand at the Casbah, writing and publishing our cookbook, a residential kitchen remodel (well, kind of), and now The Burger Stand expands its borders…

Hello Topeka!

I do not have to worry about boredom or stagnation, but I do have to stop and take some deep breaths occasionally. But I’ll tell you that I am truly excited about this next step, because I am at heart a Topekan. We have signed a lease to open a Burger Stand in College Hill – close to the middle school I attended, the same area of town where I have, in my past, had a few too many, and in the heart of a town where I spent the first 18 years of my life. Topeka holds many family members, friends, and customers whom I feel incredibly fond of.

I also have had a an almost startling realization about myself recently – I like to work. Crazy isn’t it? I don’t know why exactly this fact surprised me, but it did. This fact comes with good timing – we’ve got a lot of work ahead to get the Topeka Burger Stand opened!

And while I thought I could get through a post without shamelessly promoting our book, “The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors”, alas, I cannot. We have a few book events coming up…
LAWRENCE – Saturday NOVEMBER 27th Book Signing at Esquina from 2-4.
TOPEKA – Friday DECEMBER 3rd Book Signing at Warehouse 414 during First Friday.
KANSAS CITY – Saturday DECEMBER 4th Book Signing at Function Juction in Crown Center from 1-4.

Robert and I will available to sign and personalize books at all of these events and hope to see you there!

Day of the Dead

It seems natural for us to mark happy times in our life with food and celebration. We throw feasts for weddings, parties for birthdays, showers for births. But lately I have been thinking about food and celebration in a different way – as a way to remember and mourn the loss of someone who has died. I’ve been researching the Mexican holiday “Dia de los Muertos”, or Day of the Dead, so that we can celebrate at our restaurant Esquina. I confess that I knew almost nothing about it before – other than that all of the skull images and skeletons wearing dresses kind of creep me out. Now I see that it is more about remembering those that have died – by eating special foods, building ‘altars’ of your loved ones’ favorite items, and in general…partying.

It seems appropriate that this holiday should fall during this time of year. As much as I love gazing at the beautiful leaves now gracing many trees in Lawrence, I know that part of the beauty they hold is that they are fleeting. Tomorrow they will not be the same and soon they will be gone – fallen to the ground. And like the anonymous bartender at Esquina who taped a crimson leaf to the wall behind the bar was doing, Day of the Dead gives us a chance to grasp and hold on to what is fleeting by remembering those who are gone.

On November 1st & 2nd Esquina will be celebrating Dia de los Muertos with food & drink specials and general festivities, but we are also remembering. In honor of my dad, John Krider, and my dog Bear, we will be making donations to two local organizations – Douglas County AIDS Project & Lawrence Humane Society. We will donate $1 from every dip sold and have an altar of sorts where customers can remember their dead with a donation.

If I were to make an altar for my dad, I would pile packs of Vantage cigarettes with cups of strong black coffee and chocolate croissants; for Bear I would place his collar, with the tags that made his distinctive jingle, with mounds of bacon – endless bacon for my Bear. Thinking of these items help me remember them- my creative, witty, and highly sarcastic dad; my faithful, athletic, and easy-going dog. With smiles and some sadness I remember, thankful that they were part of my fleeting days.

Cookbook Press

I know, I know, this cookbook is all I seem to be talking about. I can’t help it – it is so exciting! This has to one of the best expressions of delayed gratification that I have experienced. Writing the book was HARD and the work has been done for months now. Now that the book is published it’s FUN!

Robert and I are featured in the Lawrence Journal World on Wednesday Sept. 29th. Read it for yourself or watch this video of Robert and I talking about the book

We will be at a book signing this Saturday October 2nd from 2-4 PM at The Bay Leaf in downtown Lawrence. We’d love it if you came by to say hello. Already own our cookbook? Would you consider writing a review of it on Amazon.com? I would be most grateful.

Has anyone out there cooked anything from the book? I’d love to hear about it…

Relive a Krause Dining Memory

I’ll admit that since we have closed Krause Dining (our home-based restaurant) there hasn’t been much that I have missed about it – mostly the people: those I worked with and the customers whom I have grown close to. So I was a bit surprised at the feelings I experienced when looking at our cookbook (“The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors”) – primarily of nostalgia for the Krause Dining days.

There are many photos in the book (it really looks nice!) and all of the photography took place in our house, dining areas, and kitchen. This book was written while we were in full swing serving our many-coursed menus, and while all the recipes themselves were not served at Krause Dining (many were), the book itself does capture a glimpse back at the restaurant.

I run into people often who tell me how much they miss eating at our house. Thank you, and I hope that our cookbook helps relive a fond memory of eating with us. Reliving a good memory extends the pleasure out of any one experience, so I’m all for it! In that spirit, here is a shot of our beautiful girls in New York eating that corn I wrote of recently.

Our autographed cookbook is now available for sale at Esquina (801 Massachusetts) and online.

Do you have any Krause Dining memories you would like to share?