Snorkeling has become my cheesy allegory for life these days. When I wake up in the middle of the night and the stress of my mind gets busy keeping me awake, I relax by going snorkeling. I envision the warm water enveloping my skin, the sun on my back, the beautiful fish and corals that I can see… and usually I am asleep again pretty quickly. It does not always work. For instance last night I was mentally submerging my body into the water and I started analyzing what I love about snorkeling. On the first day of any snorkeling vacation it has been a very long time since I last snorkeled. The water has control so that first dip into the water is always a bit stressful and I struggle to get my fins on, keep the mask clear, regulate my breathing, and to get my swimming rhythm back. I love being in that salt water, the buoyancy is so great! I don’t even need a PFD, I just float along so nicely I can even relax completely and take a nap in the water! I know you think I am kidding but last time I was snorkeling I got a big fever and I was not feeling well at all… which would not keep me out of the Mexican Caribbean! And I did drift off for a second… Anyway when I first get out there after a long time I tend to be so excited by everything that I am seeing that I keep my head up so that I can look ahead. After a while my neck gets tired and I realize that I am missing what is directly in front of me by doing this. If I rest my neck too long and only look at what is directly in front of me, I begin to miss opportunities to see and do more, and I fail to plot my course appropriately and have more than once ended up over some tall coral that I cannot get around, so I must backtrack. Keeping the balance between watching the beauty unfold right in front of me, and keeping an eye on what is to come so that I can have a general plan for my course, is the best way to snorkel. My neck doesn’t get too sore, I can stay out there far longer, and then every once in a while I flip over and gaze out on where I have been and what is all around me from a different angle. It is relaxing and it helps me remember how to get back on to the beach, since I haven’t figured out a way to live in the water yet. Snorkeling keeps my attention in the moment so well that there is not room for worrying or complaining or obsessing over silly problems. Once in a while something really scary (to me) happens, like the barracuda get too close and I do not like that! Though more likely I will see a giant turtle and begin squealing with excitement (which sounds even funnier with a snorkel in my mouth) and follow it all around for as long as I can.

I still drifted off again last night even with all that mumbo jumbo going on…though when I woke up this morning I decided to share that with you. Maybe you will get something out of it, or at least try snorkeling on your next vacation because it is THE BEST! (Sidenote for the divers: I cannot dive because I have an inner ear imbalance that cannot be fixed… I can barely fly without pain.. so yes, I imagine diving is awesome but it is not available to all of us like snorkeling is.)

Last week I went the grocery store and for the first time in ages… probably since last winter, I needed to buy onions. I have been getting them from farmers markets, direct from farmers, and fromFreshLocal in Bremerton. I walked up to the onion bin and I was confused: every onion in the bin had the root ends cut off and they were all trimmed. It looked strange to me and I couldn’t figure out why they would do that. A grocery store employee saw my befuddlement and asked if she could help me and I asked if there were any onions that had the hairy root ends left on. She must have thought I was a nut job, but she looked around (not the red onions, they too are trimmed) and found some big white onions that she could point out to me. Yes they had the roots… they were $1.79lb and they were from Peru! I am not buying onions from Peru if I can help it… unless I go to Peru, in which case I will be happy to! So I looked around a little more and found a corner with some bagged onions that were whole and happy with their roots still attached. They were from a farm in Prosser, WA, Thank you! Too bad they weren’t more prominently displayed, I can’t believe I am the only one who wants the whole food from a more local source…at least I hope I am not! As I looked around I realized that much of the produce was like this. I had not noticed because even when I do shop for produce at the grocery store I am in the organic section and they offer more of the whole foods, like carrots with the greens, and that type of thing. It seems strange to me that our society is obsessed with ‘clean’ and trimmed produce. The meat is one thing, but are we so out of touch that we cannot stand the thought of a little dirt on our food before we prepare it? The cashier who checked me out mentioned how ‘dirty’ those onions are and they would need their own plastic bag. I told her they were fine and that my cloth bags were used at the farmer’s markets so they were used to having dirt in them, it would not hurt their feelings. She thought that was very funny as she sanitized her hands after touching the dirty onions. Sigh.

We are casting out our luck lines and trying to win a local business grant that would help us pay our taxes this quarter and we could REALLY use the help! So if you have a minute please go to the Intuit Love A Local Business site and vote for us. Just put in “Monica’s” for the business name, “Silverdale, WA” for city and state, and we are the first business to pop up. Click on our business name, write a nomination in, and send it. You can see all the nominations for us (and other businesses) so far and I thank you in advance for taking the time to do this!

This month we tried our hand at biscuits and gravy. Jason Parker, one of our highest points-earning customers, has been requesting this dish for some time, and I have been wanting to make it since we opened! It is difficult to find time to do new projects like this… so I made the gravy and a recipe for the biscuits, which Mark perfected for me. We make them with butter so they are not quite as flaky as the shortening versions, though they taste great. It was a big hit and I am going to get it on the menu at least once a month from now on. Jason told me that he thought the biscuits were the best ever, and the taste of the gravy was fantastic, and he would only want the consistency a bit runnier if he could. Well we can certainly see about that! We also did chicken and dumplings as our monthly comfort meal ‘Diner Classics’and it was a huge hit! I made the stock on Saturday and our Navy intern Marcus took all the meat off the bones for me, which was a huge help! I made the dish on Monday, which turned out to be our slowest business day in a year! Tuesday was not much busier and yet we sold out of the chicken and dumplings! I thought it would last 3-4 days and it did not even make it 2 days! So I think this idea of doing these comfort meals is a good one. Next month: Lamb Shanks in Tomato Sauce on Polenta. We will start serving them up on February 8 and see how it goes.

Sunday Mark and I were at The Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor, ironically to say ‘farewell’ to Jason Winniford, who’s great service skills I told you about in my last blog. Right after I wrote that I found out that Jason is leaving Brix 25 and having a celebration party at the Tides. We went early and were lucky to snag a few private moments of conversation with Jason before the big crowds got there. He is following his former bosses, Nick & Joleen Reynolds, over to their business Seabeck Pizza. This is great news for our industry because it means that Jason will be teaching and mentoring the next generation of food service professionals, and we need people like him for that! His high standards and thorough mind will be a huge asset to his new company and we are very happy that he is keeping his talents in this region.

Tonight I am headed to the Bremerton GreenDrinks event at La Fermata. Dave from Full Circle Farm will be the speaker. He came to our place last week to talk about us being a host site for their CSA program, which we are really excited about! This should be an extra fun green drinks and I would love to see you all there! I will be there at 5, though it is open house and runs until 8 pm.

The next event we are doing is at the Libraries, both in Silverdale on the 13th and Port Orchard on the 23rd. They have asked me to give a talk on wine, which I entitled “For the Love of Wine”, in homage to Valentine’s day. I am excited to talk about wine and loving it! Each talk will be followed up with a tasting nearby (the Library cannot have wine on premise) so the Silverdale tasting will be at Monica’s and the Port Orchard tasting will be at Puget Sound Wine Cellars. It will be tons of fun for all types of wine drinkers!

I am extremely excited to have been asked by the Sound Publishing Group to write a local food column for their ‘What’s Up’ section of the area newspapers. I wrote my first column for last week’s paper, though it got postponed because the whole section was 4 pages shorter than usual and they had to drop some things. I am really hoping it gets in this time and I would love to hear feedback and suggestions from you! What does local food mean to you and what would you like to know about it? What information would you like to share? What do you wish everyone knew? There is lots of potential here for us to get the word out and the movement going to generate a strong local food network! I will post a link to the article once it does come out and you can get back to me on the rest.

I have been in the mood for beans and rice and that sort of thing, so yesterday I made up a huge pot of lentils and sausages. For our vegetarian/vegan friends all you need to do is use veggie broth and whatever you use for sausage, although they could be left out all together. This is a hearty dish and could be a side dish if you prefer, though I just ate a big bowl of it for breakfast. Please note that for most of the veggies, I just processed them quickly in the food processor so that they pieces were tiny and melted right into the dish. You can finely chop everything by hand if you do not have a food processor.

Makes a smaller pot than what I did:

4 sausages (I used spicy Italian-use what you like)
Olive Oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 TBS tomato paste
3-4 carrots, finely chopped (chop up the greens if you have them on)
2-3 celery, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper
1/2 lb french green puy lentils (or whatever kind you like)
1 1/2 c red wine
chicken broth
1 bunch red chard or your favorite green, torn into manageable pieces
2 cups broccoli, chopped
Italian parsley, chopped

You can leave it like this and it will be fabulous! Or you can sneak in more flavor and veggies that no one will know about like this:
On the same pan roast some cauliflower with a drizzle of olive oil; 1-2 bell peppers of any color (whole) and 1 poblano or other spicy chili (whole). Remove them to cool as they are done. Deskin, deseed and destem the peppers and chili, throw it all in the food processor and blend the heck out of it. Stir it in to the pot and no one will know it is there, but they will notice the great flavors, texture and of course the nutrients will pack it up nicely!

Otherwise… brown the sausages in a bit of oil and set aside.
Add a couple of TBS olive oil to the pot and throw in the onions and tomato paste. Cook them on med low, stirring once in awhile to keep from sticking. As they begin to deepen in color toss in the carrots and celery and cook them until they are sweating, about 5 minutes.

When everything is humming happily along in the pot, add in everything from garlic through lentils and stir it up nicely. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring to keep everything coated, and then pour in the wine. In the words of Lydia Bastianich: “remember: cooking wine is drinking wine and we never cook with anything that we wouldn’t want to be drinking”.

Keep it stirring for a minute or so and then pour in enough chicken broth to cover the lentils. Slice up the cooled sausages and put them in along with the chard, broccoli and parsley, and season with a bit more salt and pepper. If you need more liquid to make sure everything is mostly covered, add it now, stir it up, cover and turn it to low heat. If you pureed the extra veggies this where you will add them in.

Let it bubble away for about 20 minutes and then give it a stir. When you put the lid back on don’t seal it up, but tilt it off to the side just a bit so there is a small gap. Let it bubble away for anther 20 minutes or so and check it. If the lentils are tender you are good to go… everything else will be cooked just fine. If it needs more time it won’t be much more, most of the liquid will be gone and you should check for seasoning, you may want to add salt and pepper to it.

We like to add hot sauce, you could serve it on rice to bulk it up if you don’t have the meat in it and this will keep you very warm this winter! Buon Appetito!