Grocery Shopping Tips to Save Money and Still Get the Best

I love grocery shopping. I know…I am a weirdo. Wandering the aisles, seeing what’s new, looking for bargains in the mark down bins, and sometimes running into neighbors in my local Smith’s is fun for me.  I have my local supermarket, but I don’t stop there with my grocery list. I have learned through trial and error, and happy accidents, that many of the things on my grocery list can be found at better prices, oftentimes fresher, if I am willing to shop in more than one store.

Read on for some of my biggest money saving tips.

We all get into a rut when it comes to routine tasks in our everyday lives. This includes grocery shopping. Sometimes, knowing the layout of the store makes for an easy, quick, and manageable task. I say throw caution to the wind and try another grocery store! It could be the same chain or a different one, but because the layout will be different, you MAY find grocery items you overlook in your regular store, or you may find that elusive ingredient from your childhood that you never seem to be able to find. For me, that item is Gravy Master – no, I am not buying 3 jars on Amazon for $25 and no, Kitchen Bouquet is NOT the same. It’s just NOT. And no, I don’t shop in W-Mart so I rarely see my beloved Gravy Master.

Everyone knows about their local Chinese grocery store, or Asian grocery store in general. You know you can get chicken feet for broth and stock. Of course you can get the freshest fish, wonton wrappers, premade lumpia and egg rolls. You want an abundance of gorgeous fresh mushrooms? They’ve got it! And because the turnover in the cases is a lot faster and more frequent, you are bound to get fresher product than you will at a traditional grocery store. There is so much more to international grocery stores and cuisines out there! And believe me when I say they overlap a LOT.

This is a “happy place” for me. The entire right side of the store is filled with grocery items from several countries across Europe and the Middle East. The entire left side of the store is every flavor of Asian you could imagine from Hawaiian to Japanese, Thai, Korean and everything in between. What makes this grocery store so great? Fresh fish at a fraction of what you pay at a traditonal grocery store. Because of the high turnover rate, their phyllo and puff pastry are better, fresher, and less likely to have freezer burn. The Bulgarian feta in the dairy case is outstanding.

They are so small and intimate they don’t even have a website! I love this place because when I go in, the owner is there and greets me. He is fantastic at helping me find what I think I want and offers suggestions on new things to try, and the herbs…seriously! Gigantic bunches for a lot less than a traditional grocery store. A few other things I love about this store – the amazing mortadella with pistachios at the deli counter. It’s $7.99/lb as opposed to $11.99/lb for the Boar’s Head version which no longer has pistachios in it. And let’s face it, mortadella without pistachios is basically fucking bologna! The freshest pita, and flat breads in various sizes all at great prices. And the French feta! It’s so creamy & smooth and Aladdin has the best prices I have seen.

Again, no website! When I first started experimenting with Indian cuisine, I was so confused and the folks here were AMAZING! Stepping into a new culture’s cuisine often involves unfamiliar grocery items and I was completely at a loss. Besan flour? WTF, and who knew there was more than one kind? I didn’t know what curry leaf looked like, let alone smelled like, but they helpfully showed it to me and taught me how to select good specimens. You want beautiful okra? Hit up this grocery store for the most gorgeous okra I have ever seen outside the south and at a fantastic price too!

Additionally, their spices are all priced extremely well and can be bought in multiple sizes of pkgs. Best of all, the spices are sold whole, not ground, so they will last a lot longer in your pantry (think cumin, coriander seed, star anise, cinnamon, etc.). Get yourself an inexpensive spice grinder like this one from Amazon so you are ready to roll when you load your cart with these whole spice beauties.

I know a lot of people use online shopping to streamline a task that for them may be enervating. I get it. Keep in mind you are in some cases paying a premium to NOT go in the store. Pay attention to delivery fees, pick up charges, and higher prices than if you actually go in the store.

During the pandemic, I used Misfit Market, Imperfect Foods, and the like. I felt like I was helping the planet with a food rescue situation, and it stopped me from going into the grocery store with a bunch of people that I didn’t know and probably didn’t want to be around. I have since stopped that practice because they aren’t cheaper, it wasn’t saving me money, I LIKE going to the store, and too often produce would arrive damaged or worse. In the end I had to go to the grocery store anyway to replace the unusable food items.

We love chili crisp (thanks Gemini & Kim for cluing me in on this condiment). The Hubs got so excited he ordered it online thru Amazon for $10…I pleasantly told him to stop grocery shopping unless I ask him to get something. The large jar at the Asian grocery store is less than $5. Keep in mind as well at the Mexican grocery stores, cilantro and green onions are typically 2 or 3 bunches for a dollar instead of a dollar each. And again, high demand and turnover make items like these fresher than at a conventional grocery store.

Final tip. If you are shopping in a traditional mass market grocery store, be sure to have their frequent shopper card and download their app. Lately I have found coupons through the apps that save big bucks on meat, dairy, and produce.

Pizza Expo – 2024

I love tradeshows. And I love food tradeshows more than any other kind. Last week, I attended Pizza Expo for the very first time. Because pizza is my husband’s love language, he was ALL IN and had more fun than he ever thought possible at a tradeshow.

I attended lectures, workshops, and demos of all kinds, including a Trend discussion and a Q&A on tinkering with dough recipes to get exactly the results you want. I watched as local favorite Alex White of Yukon Pizza won Best Non-Traditional Pizza. The demo on the Chicago “tavern style” thin crust was illuminating. And I learned so much.

For years, all I ever wanted was a “New York” slice. It was hard to come by here in Vegas for many of our 26 years. Now we have some of the best pizza in the country! I have also broadened my horizons on what constitutes a “good” pizza. There are so many styles out there right now and I am learning to enjoy most of them. After watching a “New York” demo, I realized that MY favorite type of New York pizza isn’t the only type of New York pizza! The entire Expo for me was like a style workshop. Now I have a renewed interest in pizza, more about making it than eating it though. I feel like I must conquer the styles…Next style to try? Pizza al taglio.

We are volunteers for Slice Out Hunger (go to their site and get involved!) and we lent our hands to the the Pizza Tailgate event. As a thank you, we happily received an Ooni pizza oven. The Hubs nearly swooned. Of course, we put it to work right away, and I attempted a Detroit style pizza for the first time. It was delish! For those of you not in the know, a Detroit pizza is similar to a Sicilian, in that it is a pan style pizza, but it is generally MUCH smaller (think 8×10 or 10×14 instead of the entire sheet pan). The dough tends to be airier and lighter. Additionally, the toppings go all the way to the edges. The goal is to get a crispy lace of cheese all around the top outside edge. The Ooni made the process simple. The Lloyd pan (Made in the USA) I found at the show made the PERFECT crispy edge! Yes, the pan makes a big difference.

The most fun thing for me about these types of tradeshows is the vendors never want to pack up their product and ship it back, so they give a TON of stuff away on the final day. As we were walking by the Krinos booth, we heard, “Please take anything you’d like”. A little further down the aisle, a 2-pound wedge of Pecorino Romano and a 1.5 pound wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano were thrust into my hands. The fine folks at Ferndale Farmstead Cheese asked me to take a 3-pound bag of tiny cubes of mozz off their hands. And because we live where the Pizza Expo is…we can take a LOT home.

Using Tony G's recipe for Neapolitan crust in "The Pizza Bible" and the charcoal fired Ooni, we created this beauty.
Using Tony G’s recipe for Neapolitan crust in “The Pizza Bible” and the charcoal fired Ooni, we created this beauty.

When I attend a class, tradeshow, workshop or other learning experience, I get inspired! And my OCD and addictive tendencies kick in. I now have a fermentation station in the kitchen where I am testing out uses for sourdough discard in pizza dough, making poolish, biga, and other pre-ferments. Cookbooks are being scoured for the perfect dough recipes for me to try. The internet is being browsed for unconventional toppings – I am thinking Tikka Masala and Shawarma with feta or kashkaval right now… Needless to say, the Hubs is thrilled with my renewed interest in his favorite food. He has always said the pizza is his first love…

If you aren’t already following me on Instagram, check out the pics there as the discoveries unfold. And Subscribe (at the bottom of the page) to this blog while you’re at it so you never miss a spoonful.

Shit That Pisses Me Off – Pet Peeves 2024

If you are at all offended by foul language, I gently suggest this post is not for you. There will be foul language and inappropriate words that could upset you.

I know that I have been a slacker for the past several years, but I can’t seem to get out of my own way and create content that I think you will find interest and value in. My calendar reminded me that I needed to write my pet peeves blog, and this year I DO have some new ones. If you want to see the complete list you can click here, and here, and here, and while you’re at it, go here too.

This is the one blog I write that I really cut loose and let fly all the shit that’s been stuck in my head. This is the shit that really annoys me, pisses me off, or just irritates me. I expect you to chuckle. I’d love for you to share your pet peeves in the comments here. I welcome you to share this with your friends and start a discussion with me, them or anyone else about what pisses you off right now.

  • Video Chatting in Public
    • Guess what? The whole free world doesn’t give a flying fuck about Aunt Trudy’s bunion surgery, what you had for lunch, or that your 18-month-old grandchild wants to “talk” to you. Do that shit at home! You are annoying other people!
  • Playing ANYTHING on a Device without Headphones
    • On a recent trip to NY, folks were walking down the street with music blaring out of their backpacks. Like a new age boom box. I thought boom boxes were annoying and this was even more so. Guess what? See above. You are annoying other people. On a recent flight, some moron was watching a movie without headphones…the nice flight attendant set his ass straight!
  • Video Conferencing in Public
    • Look, we are all secretly grateful to COVID for encouraging the WFH movement. The H in WFH means HOME. Don’t do that shit in a restaurant, coffee shop or bar. We don’t care how important your job is or how important you think you are.
  • Over the top cocktails that take 10 minutes to make and contain 12 ingredients
  • “Shareable Plates” – what if I don’t WANT to share? This especially annoys me when the dish is “shareable” if you only have 1 bite. One menu said a Chicken Liver Mousse app was “shareable”…it was 2 little tiny toasts the size of a half dollar coin with a schmear of mousse each. My bouche was not amusé.
  • Any bar that labels and advertises itself as a “Speakeasy”. It was fun 10 years ago and cute 5 years ago and now it is just boring. By definition, a true speakeasy is a secret, probably illegal, lounge and you only get in if you know the location and password. If you are advertising your location, you are definitely NOT a secret and surely not illegal.
  • Crudo
  • I hate it when people park in front of my house, and they aren’t visiting me. I feel left out or like I am missing a party or something. I have finally become THAT old woman.
  • Seeing pics of events that I wasn’t invited to. I wanna go to everything!
  • Paying for an event because you had FOMO over past events and it NOT living up to your expectations – I am looking at you Life is Beautiful. I have no one to blame but myself here.
  • VIP experiences that are oversold – seriously. What is the POINT of a VIP experience, section, event if tickets are vastly oversold?
  • People who think rules don’t apply to them. For example – bringing kids to events or places labeled 21+ only.
  • Whining
  • Robocalls
  • Speed limits
  • Politicians – I am sick of ALL OF THEM. They all suck.
  • People who let their dogs shit in my front yard or any public area and don’t clean up after them.

*FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out in case you weren’t aware.

Eating Everything – The Tastiest Things from 2023

I always find myself eating tasty things. Sometimes I am eating recipes I created at home, other times I am eating fantastic dishes from amazing culinary professionals and chefs. Once again, however, I had a year of NOT eating dangerously. I don’t know if it is a leftover from COVID isolation, but I have found myself gravitating toward the comfortable and familiar. There were, however, a few standout dishes that I will share with you. Of course, if you follow me on Instagram, you may have already seen these. Enjoy them for the first, second, or third time!

We had spectacular Indian and Bangladeshi food in London. Fabulous French Bistro fare in Paris and there was a LOT of local eating as well. Because the Hubs and I each marked a major city off our Bucket Lists, many of these bites are from our travels. When you travel you will be able to enjoy them. And when you decide to travel, I do hope you will get in touch with me to let me help you plan a memorable trip.*

In no particular order, here you go.

I will never know the special voodoo magic that Chef Brian Howard (2024 James Beard Nominee for Best Chef Southwest) and his team get up to in the kitchen. What I do know is that while eating this, there was no talking, just yummy sounds. It’s everything you want a great bite to be. It’s sweet and salty; it’s soft and crunchy, and made even more decadent with the duck confit in the center. And it is just gorgeous to look at.

Because the menu changes there seasonally, I suggest getting your happy ass in there and eating this while you can. May I suggest making a reservation? They are packed all the time!

This past spring, I finally realized a lifelong goal of seeing the Eiffel Tower and visiting Paris. I can say without hesitation, it is my most favorite of all the cities I have visited so far. Forget everything you have ever heard about the French being rude and hating outsiders. We did not experience that AT ALL.

I am not a Michelin Star hunter like some other people I know. In fact, before I went to Paris in April 2023, I had only been in one Michelin starred restaurant. In Paris, I found myself eating in two Michelin starred restaurants and several Michelin recommended restaurants. Before our trip to Paris, I chatted with James Trees (Esther’s Kitchen, Al Solito Posto, Ada’s Wine Bar) who had just returned from a research trip to France. I thank him for the recommendation to Racine’s. This meal was a true highlight of the trip. While I found myself eating croissants nearly every damn day…like you do…THIS meal was exceptional. Veal Tonnato is one of my “all time fave” dishes and this one was out of sight! The sauce was so velvety and smooth, I could have used it as lotion.  

The place is small and packed every day, so if you have the good fortune to go to Paris, be sure to make a reservation. The menu is seasonal, and ever changing, so be prepared for surprises. We were lucky enough to sit upstairs in the small communal dining room and watch the pastry chef work. She even invited me to work with her for a spell. A meal I won’t soon forget!

While every hotel/casino in Vegas is creating a “Food Hall”, the Burough Market is one of the originals. On a 7-day trip to London, we were there twice and completely overwhelmed both times. The market is a hive of activity and our fantastic tour guide, Pieter, told us for the best sausage roll, a London staple and must have item, go to the Ginger Pig. We couldn’t get anywhere near the place on day one, so we went back early another day and hit them up as they opened.

I am so glad that we did! While this is an indelicate picture of me eating said sausage roll, believe me when I say, my eyes rolled back in my head with joy! The pastry was flaky and perfectly salted, the sausage had the most excellent sage level and I was a happy camper. For a great version, if you live in Vegas, go to Featherblade Butcher. They have them frozen to go and sometimes hot in the “grab & go” case.

For those of you who don’t know, I grew up in Hudson, New York, and trust me when I say, it was NOT the darling of the food media that it is today. I do not miss Hudson. In fact, I hated growing up there, but I do miss seeing the leaves change, and I do miss some of the people. That being said, this past fall, we ventured to see the leaves for the first time in 30 years. We kept the entire trip on the DL, telling only the friends we stayed with we were coming. We checked out the changes in my hometown, eating in new restaurants and drinking in new breweries.

Café Mutton is tiny and served only breakfast and lunch while we were in town. They earned a James Beard Award and now I know why! This dish was crazy good. They braise a pig’s head, then shred the meat off, using the collagen rich broth to cook steel cut oats. The oats go into a bowl topped with the succulent shredded meat and the whole thing gets the poached egg treatment with an unexpected (and initially unwanted by me) dollop of house made orange marmalade. Trust me when I say eating this was a major highlight of the trip to Hudson.

When I was growing up, it was normal to have tomato plants in pots or flower beds if you were in the city, and commonplace to have more than that if you lived, like we did, in a more rural setting. There is something special about eating food you have grown.

If you have been following along, you know we moved during the pandemic, leaving behind an established, landscaped garden with perennial herbs and fruit trees. Last spring, we planted our “orchard” and during the summer we were rewarded with a few pieces of fantastic fruit, like this perfect freestone peach. This year the yield will be higher, and I can’t wait! Eating a peach while the juice drips off my chin always makes me feel like a kid.

*This blog doesn’t pay the bills. I am a travel agent by day. Email me at to get your best vacay started!

Food Hoarding – What a Mouse in My Pantry Revealed

I do hope this makes you chuckle. The fervor with which I attacked this problem was legendary and all consuming.

In a previous post, I shared that I have a problem with hoarding food. Not in the gross “Hoarders” TV show way of hiding it or stockpiling it (well, maybe stockpiling a little bit), or anything weird like that. I am not a “prepper” for Pete’s sake. I just HAVE to have my fridge and pantry full to bursting.

The Hoarding in my Past

As I look at my past, I apparently have hoarding in my genetic code. My Great Grandmother, “Granny”, was notorious for swiping each and every single-use jelly packet, syrup cup, and honey cup on the table at any dining establishment. They were all unceremoniously dumped into her handbag. And if the purloined condiments came in little glass jars, she was even MORE delighted with her score. She had an entire collection of them at her home. I can understand her obsession and her hoarding. She lived through the Great Depression as a young adult.

In all honesty, I did something similar when I was in college. When you are 17, and broke, and living in the dorms, a date night to Pizza Hut, of all places, was a big deal. I used to take the parmesan container from the table, and replace it with an empty one, taking the full one back to the dorm to use on whatever I happened to be cooking in my hot pot. Is this really hoarding, or just plain stealing?

Present Day Hoarding

I’d like to say, and believe, that a lot of the hoarding happened by accident. And honestly, some of it did. If you have been following along, you know that we moved 2 years ago to a smaller house that needed MAJOR renovation and repair.  It was pure coincidence that we ended up closing on the sale of our old house and the purchase of the new house on the same damn day. If I NEEDED to do that, you know it never would have happened. We honestly thought we’d be living in the old house while we began the renovations on the new one.

Well…THAT didn’t happen, and I ended up living in utter chaos for more than a year. I had no kitchen cabinets, so I had open shelving in several rooms of the house where I stored cookware, dishes, comestibles, and anything else you would normally find in an actual functioning kitchen. Before I tore out the cabinets, drawers were pulled from the kitchen and I continued to use them for storage on shelves. I couldn’t find a single fucking thing. See those pics above? THAT was my life for nearly a year.

A look at the kitchen under construction. And I promise to get back to live online cooking eventually.

When I was preparing to make a meal, if I couldn’t find an ingredient, I simply went to the store and bought what I needed (privilege of the middle class – yes, I know). Of course, I’d come home and then find what I needed. Too late! I already bought it. I guess I have 2 now…and the hoarding of ingredients began.

Then, dear friends of ours moved away from Vegas, and they dropped off several boxes of pantry items. I did give away more than half of the donations to a young friend who indicated that she needed it. And I gave away even more to a struggling family, but I kept some of it for myself…of course. And the hoarding of ingredients got worse.

Cleaning Reveals More than Expected

The other day I was in the pantry looking for something and found the telltale indications that I had a mouse in my pantry. Teeth marks on a bag of dried apricots (now destined for friend Kim’s chickens along with anything else the mouse got into) and a few little mouse turds. Then I got to thinking, “If that son of a bitch sampled one bag, you know he didn’t stop there.” I found it strange that the mouse went after ‘Nilla wafers, but didn’t touch my cereal, and didn’t touch ANY of the pasta or noodles or any of the Asian ingredients, like nori, dashi, or spring roll wrappers. Everything came out of the pantry. Literally everything got dusted, wiped down, inspected for predation, and expired dates, and then it was all reorganized.

When Friend Christine moved, she handed off some pantry items and they were labeled with painter’s tape. Now I do the same. Because it isn’t as sticky, it’s easy to remove or move it to another container.

Bins and airtight containers were purchased, washed, and filled. There was no fucking way that skeevy little vermin was getting at MY hoard of food! As I was attacking this task with gusto, I “found” things. Duplicates, triplicates, and quadruplicates of things. I must have been sleep-shopping, or fugue shopping when I ended up with some of this stuff in my cart! Here is a list of SOME of the weird shit I found while trying to exorcise the mouse:

  • 3 quart sized bottles of apple cider vinegar with the “mother” – only one open *
  • 4 bottles of Sherry vinegar – 3 of them open**
  • 13 additional bottles of other assorted vinegars **
  • An entire 16” cube bin full of different dried Asian noodles
  • 14 bottles, of varying sizes, of olive oil **
  • 10 cans of assorted beans – and I only really like cannellini beans (there were 5 of those)***
  • 3 large bottles of Red Boat fish sauce*
  • At least 4 different soy sauces
  • Expired apple cider, cranberry juice, and V8 – tossed ***
  • 3 small jars of cornichons***
  • 7  jars of mustard**
  • And the list goes on…

*“I can’t find it, so I’ll buy another” and found it when I got home.

**Some were gifts.

***But they were on sale!

In all fairness, most of the things I am hoarding are shelf stable with LONG expiration dates. Now, however, I am making it my mission to cook with ALL of this stuff because I can now actually FIND it! It only took two and a half years…

As for the mouse? I figured out how it was getting in. My pantry used to house my washing machine, and the mouse was coming up through the old drainpipe. I fixed that shit! I put one of the sealed bottles of soy sauce upside down in the hole. No more signs of the mouse.

Originally, I was looking for a discarded cap that would be the same size. Then I thought something with weight to it, so the mouse couldn’t move it, would be a better choice. Voila! Upside down bottle wedged into the drainpipe hole.

Relationship Status? It’s Complicated – Part 5 – Truly Cooking

First of all, apologies for not finishing what I started in a timely fashion. Cooking and writing have been the last things on my mind. We went on vacation for 2 weeks – one GLORIOUS week in Paris and a second week in London. The Hubs & I were able to cross things off our “bucket lists”. You can see the pics on my Instagram. And then we got wrapped up in NHL playoffs – Go Knights Go (Stanley Cup Champs in case you weren’t following along)! And so much else has happened and I have been a slacker.

So where were we? Oh yeah! Now I remember, I was about to tell you how I REALLY learned to cook…

Like I mentioned before, I became interested in cooking when I was younger, and I THOUGHT I knew how to cook well until I went to culinary school. What started out as a passion for me as a teen was finally realized in my 40’s.

By the time I went back to school, I had been married for more than 20 years, The Offspring was in high school, I had done more than 1000 live cooking demos, and I thought I knew what I was doing. I knew I wasn’t going to get my degree, or work in a professional kitchen full time. This was for my own personal edification. I thought I was going to refine what I learned already throughout my life. Yeah…right… What I THOUGHT was going to happen, and what actually happened are two completely different things. It was 2009. I was 44.

There are four levels of competence in anything:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence – you don’t know that you don’t know anything.
  2. Conscious Incompetence – you know you don’t know how to do anything correctly.
  3. Conscious Competence – you know what you know and have to think about doing it the right way.
  4. Unconscious Competence – You don’t even have to think about doing it the right way, you just do it. And it’s always correct.

Think about shoelaces as an example:

  1. Kids don’t realize they are supposed to be tied at first.
  2. Then when they do, they come running to you to get them tied, because they know they don’t know how.
  3. When they start to learn, they are focused, tongue sticking out of the corner of their mouth until finally…
  4. The laces can be tied while they are saying they want a snack.

The goal, in learning anything, is to reach level 4. And do it as quickly as possible. I went into culinary school thinking I was a level 2, maybe a 3 and found out I was a level 1. Talk about demoralizing! Here I was, the oldest person in the class and I knew next to nothing! SHIT! My life experience was not a benefit here and my admittedly slower physicality wasn’t winning me any bonus points either. SHIT! I thought my 20+ years of practical time cooking in a kitchen would help me…WRONG!

Day one of kitchen practical in Cooking Basics (when you are actually IN the kitchen and not a classroom) I received a rude awakening as to how much I really didn’t know. It was basic knife skills. Now, people who don’t spend as much time in the kitchen as I do think I have great knife skills and I will tell you I suck, but I used to suck more.

I know how to hold a knife properly, always have. I knew to curl my fingers back from the edge of the blade; a lesson hard learned. But my skill set ended there. Chef Jill came up behind me, “Lower your right shoulder. Stand square to the board. Bring your elbow in, quit sticking it out. You can’t make a straight cut like that!” I gently put my knife on the cutting board, blade facing away from me, turned to her, and asked, “Am I doing anything right?” She looked me square in the eye, “NO.” In my head I said, “Challenge accepted.”

Purchase at Blue Q – Image from their site

Julienne, Batonnet, Chiffonade…

My poor husband ate more potatoes while I was in cooking school than he had in the combined other years of our marriage. Potatoes are cheap and are great for practicing knife skills. My composter got all the potassium goodness from those peels, and I learned how to properly, dice, batonnet, chiffonade, julienne, mince and so on. I never did learn how to properly cut a tourné or make a quenelle from the mashed potatoes, but I was miles ahead of where I started. And I scored the highest in the class on the final and overall grade, both practical and written exams.

The fire inside me for food and cooking grew even stronger. The more I learned, the more obsessed I became. I knew what a Michelin Star was and what a James beard Award was, but it never occurred to me WHY these were such big deals until I learned how to REALLY cook. Then I got it. Truly got it. And the unfortunate and soul crushing realization that I would never be part of that world, at that level sunk in. Did that realization curb my enthusiasm for cooking? NOPE!

Glutton for Punishment

I went back for more. I took Garde Manger and once again was the oldest person in the class. No one wanted to be my “lab partner” because during introductions I admitted I was there to learn, not to get a job. The rest of the class was there for a degree or to move up in the positions they had. Poor Jeff got saddled with me and he was decidedly unhappy…until until he realized my passion for cooking and desire for perfection. Once again, I scored the highest on the exams and Jeff and I aced the final far ahead of our peers to the shock and dismay of one particular douchebag.

School ended for me there. The remaining classes that I wanted to take required the pre-requisite of a class where you learn to run the school restaurant. I was not at all interested in doing that. My only interest was the learning environment. Even though I was willing to pay cash to NOT take that class, they wouldn’t allow me to skip it. It may be time for me to revisit that…maybe.

Culinary school opened doors for me in other ways. I had the wonderful experience of working for Texas Pete on their west coast events as their show runner. Old High School pal Chef Tim Grandinetti got me involved with them. I catered small gatherings; we started a supper club. I joined a cookbook club; I taught my sister how to cook via YouTube during the pandemic and I still will do live online demos when asked.

Sport Cooking, the New Addiction?

I’ve become aware that I am a “sport cook”. Friend Kim Foster, who moderates the cookbook club, is a James Beard award winner for writing, and has a new book just released (The Meth Lunches) clued me into that. I learn to do something outrageous or complicated, just because I CAN. Then I promptly forget it, moving on to the next culinary challenge I set for myself. I learned to do Julia Child’s stuffed, boned duck en croute, made French country pâté, chicken liver mousseline, and so on. A few things I challenged myself with that I still do are curing and smoking bacon, stuffing my own sausages, and other curing & smoking tasks. Basically, it’s another manifestation of my addiction.

For a gal who came from a background of want and need – wanting acceptance, needing validation, food, clothes, and friendship – a passion grown from need changed everything. I welcome people to my table. I still get nervous when a Chef comes to dine at my table even though I know they aren’t judging me. Nervous to the point that last Thanksgiving, I cut myself so badly that I couldn’t stop the bleeding without superglue.

Now as I prepare to get ready for another Thanksgiving – my favorite holiday of the year – I am secure in knowing that whoever joins us will feel welcomed. Happy that my table will be a safe harbor for those who choose to join us. I don’t worry whether there will be enough, there is always plenty. I don’t worry that my new home is smaller than the old one, we will make room for everyone who chooses to join us.

Expectations, Disappointment, Sour Grapes

This fall The Hubs took me back to upstate New York so I could see the leaves. I made a lunch reservation at American Bounty at the Culinary institute of America, the school I so desperately wanted to attend. If I am being honest, I was disappointed, but I am not sure why. Were my expectations high because the school was gilded in my mind? Did the remnants of my sour grapes about dreams not realized loom over the experience? Did the fact that I can eat extraordinary meals here in Las Vegas mute the expertise of the culinary students? Perhaps it was a combination of all of that. Still, I am glad I went.

Will you ever find me cooking in a commercial kitchen? Probably not. Heading toward 60 with a bum knee and a brutal and honest look at myself in the mirror, I can see that I physically don’t need or want the challenge that represents. For now, I will continue to challenge myself at home. Right now? I practice making quenelles to hide my dog’s medication. How’s that for fancy?

Relationship Status? Complicated – Part 4 – Addiction

Experience has taught me I have an addictive personality. I find a new hobby and do it to excess and then abruptly stop, moving on to the next new thing. Sewing? Yup. Papercrafts? Yup. Cross-stitch? Yup. Projects are started and I go gangbusters on it until I am bored or distracted and then I move on to something else. It took me over a year to refinish a piece of furniture. There is a project piece currently in my back yard that I am “working on”. I started it last summer. I keep telling myself and The Hubs it will get finished as soon as the weather is stable, and I can work outside. The truth is I lost my steam and moved on to something else. Those are just examples of how my addictive personality reveals itself.


I have an addictive personality. My Dad was an addict too. I bet my Mom is to a certain extent as well. Cocaine was removed from my roster in 1987. I began smoking at 15. I’ve stopped smoking at least a dozen times in my life, the most recent being 1 November of last year. Every hour of every day I want a cigarette and it has been 6 months of not smoking. Unlike other people who can be “social smokers”, I cannot. I am either all in, or all out. In my dreams I am smoking, and laughing, like an old school cigarette commercial. And then there is THIS ad…

I stopped smoking and then what happened? I replaced smoking with food and promptly gained 15 pounds. In other words, I substituted one addiction for another. (Moment of truth – I keep asking myself, which is worse for my cardiovascular health, carrying around the equivalent of a 15 lb bowling ball all day, every day, or smoking…?). The only hobby that has remained and morphed into something solid is cooking. Why? Because it feeds my addiction.

Having the abundance to eat whatever and whenever I want makes it so easy to feed my addiction. That’s a real problem there. Think about it. I know I have an addiction. I can financially support that addiction. My addiction is socially acceptable, unlike the drugs of my past, and doesn’t harm anyone…anyone except me. My addiction supports small businesses, and grocery stores, and farmers’ markets. No one gives me side-eye when I drive thru Popeye’s to get some fried chicken, like they did when I was snorting lines in the ladies’ room. No one feigns a cough when I grab a couple of tacos from a food truck like they did when I smoked near them.  Food is a perfectly normal and accepted vice. As long as I keep my shit together and stay at a “socially accepted size”, no one cares.

Several years ago, I was diagnosed as, and I quote, “borderline bipolar”. I suffer from depression and then I have manic mood swings that I can’t control. They prescribed meds and all of them made me feel like a zombie. There was no depression, but I didn’t feel happiness either. I felt nothing. Except hunger. So I stopped taking them. I eat my feelings. I know I do and still, I can’t stop myself. Addiction. Happy? Have a cookie! Sad? Have some chips. Bored? What’s in the cabinet? Angry? Excited? Anxious? Let’s see what’s in the fridge! It seems food solves all the problems…for a while, just like the cocaine did. And then I can’t zip my jeans.


Dining out can be a real challenge for me. I want to try at least half the menu in most places. We can afford it, why not? Then the leftovers come home, and I find myself in the middle of the night, after The Hubs is in bed, noshing on leftovers by myself. They say if you drink alone, or hide your drinking, you might be an alcoholic, but what if you eat alone or sneak food, or eat all the leftovers? What does that make you?

When I am at my lowest, food gets shoved in my face in a fog. Am I hungry? Probably not. Sometimes I don’t even realize I am actually eating until the dishes are piled in the sink, or the trash bin is full of empty containers. There are only two brownies in that big container, let’s get rid of that. Just a handful of tater tots in that bowl in the fridge, let’s make some room. That ice cream container is taking up too much space in the freezer! Let me get rid of that. Why is this large container in here with only a small amount of fried rice? Let’s fix that.

Did I even taste the food? Who knows? I tell myself that I am not wasting food. I convince myself that I am cleaning out the fridge, eating things that no one else wants (hello there are only two people in my house…), or making room for new leftovers. The lies I tell myself about food are astounding! It’s disgusting. I am disgusted and ashamed of myself. Does that stop me? Do I do it again? Of course I do because I have an addiction!

It’s more than the act of chewing that I want. And no, gum will not suffice. You don’t swallow gum. I eat until my belly is beyond full. I eat to the point of being uncomfortable, and I unbutton the fly of my jeans. Hell, I go upstairs and put my pajamas on. It doesn’t matter what time of the day. Sometimes I fall into a carb coma on the couch. When I wake, I am disgusted with myself.


The other day I was in the grocery store and somehow ended up in the chip aisle. Lay’s were on sale $1.99 each if you bought 4 or more. One bag was $4.79. I convinced myself I was saving money buying 4 when all I really wanted was to try the Dill Pickle Flavor. I eat potato chips until the bag is empty. For the record, it doesn’t matter what size the bag is. Five ounces or 500 ounces, once that bag is open, I will not stop until it is empty. Once the bag is open, I eat mindlessly until they are gone because those chips sing a siren song that I cannot ignore. They are my personal kryptonite. If the bag stays closed, I can resist them…for a short bit of time.

I remember as a kid the rare package of real Oreos would magically appear at the house. My sisters and I would eat them with milk virtually all in one sitting, afraid we wouldn’t get our fair share. Worried if we would get them again. I KNOW I am going to get potato chips again, so WHY the fuck do I eat them all at once? Because I am a glutton. And then I am disgusted with myself over this behavior. What do I do? I eat even more! I already blew my diet for the day, so who gives a shit?! Then I can’t zip my jeans and feel even worse about myself…and it starts all over again. It’s a vicious circle.

Does my past experience with scarcity color my actions now? Probably. I can remember the first time I self-medicated with food. We were sitting around the table having baked ziti for dinner. I can see the kitchen of the trailer as clear as day in my mind and I can tell you what position at the table I was seated. The phone rang. There was a death in the family. Everyone else sat stunned and stopped eating, I took the entire pan of baked ziti and began eating directly from the pan. I can’t remember the year, but I am guessing it was 1975 or ’76. I was 10 or 11.

Next? Culinary School and how I learned to really cook.

Relationship Status? Complicated Part 3 – Toxic Comfort

The differing ways people look at food tell me a lot about who they are and sometimes how they grew up. Do they look at food as fuel, comfort, or something else? In my experience people who think of food only as fuel have probably never been in a state of want. Because of my personal experience, and having been in a state of want, I think of food in a much more complicated fashion and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Safety – Comfort

When you are hungry – truly hungry – food takes on a whole different meaning. Have you ever looked in your fridge and saw empty shelves? Or gone into your pantry or cupboard and not find anything to eat? No one should ever have to experience that. I have. I have looked in the fridge and saw nothing but condiments and I’ve looked in the cupboards and saw nothing to make an entire meal.

The first time it happens, there is a certain low-level panic that starts to bubble up in your throat and wants to come out as a scream, but you don’t let it. You shove it down inside as if it was edible. You chew on that panic until it all but consumes you. Then you move on. It becomes less panic inducing each time until it feels normal. But is it normal? What is normal? Normal is a setting on the dryer; it shouldn’t be a feeling of hunger or panic.

Even now, as an adult, in an upper middle-class bracket, I start to get a little edgy if I can see the shelves in my fridge. I KNOW where my next meal is coming from. We can afford groceries and I KNOW I don’t have to hoard food, but this little part in my core is still afraid of empty shelves. I feel safe when I have a lot of food in the house. Food is comfort for me. Not fuel, comfort. A full fridge means I am safe. It means I don’t have to panic. But I do. I joke, telling myself and others that I am prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse. But I am not kidding. Not really. I am ready. And I still panic a little. Every now and then.

Then I feel absurd and clean out the fridge, like I am doing this morning. Organizing everything. Checking dates on condiments and tossing stuff out that I simply “had to have” and yet let spoil or go to waste. Because a full fridge meant wealth. Stability. Safety. Comfort.

Wealth – Status

I have a confession to make. In a way, it’s embarrassing, in a way it’s prideful. I have three fridges. Yes, three. And an upright freezer. And they are all full. There is one just for drinks. The one in my kitchen is the primary and has the most food. The one in the garage is the “overflow” fridge. There are two legs of prosciutto, a bag of limes, and extra produce. Who the fuck has two legs of prosciutto?

Occasionally, I use the overflow fridge to cure bacon or fish before it goes on the smoker. Frequently I store pots of stock for a couple of days until I am ready to skim fat off and can it. The freezer is similarly full. One drawer each for chicken, beef, pork, and fish. And shelves with phyllo, puff pastry, wonton wrappers, the bowl for my ice cream maker, and leftovers that are waiting for mealtime. The leftovers don’t always get eaten. Sometimes they are forgotten and become freezer burnt and must be tossed out.

Obviously, having the space and the funds to fill that food storage space, is a luxury and I know it. It’s the definition of “an embarrassment of riches”. I am acutely aware that I have more than most. It is baldly transparent to me that I should be ashamed to have such abundance, but it makes me feel safe. It makes me feel like I have finally achieved some level of status, never mind the wealth. Because a full fridge meant wealth. Stability. Safety. Comfort.


Additionally, sadly, I use food as a reward, an excuse, and a celebration. For myself and for my son when he was growing up.

  • “Get an A in Math and we’ll go for ice cream.”
  • “If you behave in the store, you can have a candy bar.”
  • “Wow! You did a great job on that project kiddo. Let’s have a celebration dinner. Where do you want to go?”
  • “I got the job! Let’s go out to eat.”
  • “It’s too hot to cook, let’s go out to eat.”
  • Or the most ironic one… “I lost 10 pounds! I’m going to get some fried chicken!”

You will notice that all the above involve going somewhere to eat. Not using the abundance of my fridge, freezer, and pantry. Because having the income to celebrate meant we didn’t have to do it at home.

The Offspring and I had “The See’s Ritual” when we went to the mall. At See’s Candy Store, you can go in any time of day, and they will give you a free sample of their choosing. When we went to the mall, if he behaved, we would go to See’s. He would get a free piece of candy, and because I felt guilty for walking in just for free candy, I would buy him a Scotch Mallow for later. How fucking toxic is that?

I rewarded good behavior with something unhealthy and celebrated it as a good thing! WTF?! C’mon, admit it. You’ve done the same thing. We all do. The one thing I have never done, is used meals as a punishment. “Behave or go to bed with no supper,” is cruel in my mind. To be fair, I have said, “This is not a restaurant. This is what’s for dinner. You can eat this or not. Your choice.”

Oh yes, and speaking of mealtimes, I am also a member of the “clean the plate club”. You know, “Eat everything on your plate. There are starving children in China!” I tried NOT to do that to my son. I have the rule that you must TRY everything on your plate, but you don’t have to finish it. It’s weird that I was able to exorcise THAT demon in a fashion, but still used food as a reward…

Comfort – Safety – Addiction

The reason certain foods are called “comfort food” is multi-faceted. You want to eat it because it makes you feel good, and you reach for comfort food when you are feeling low. Comfort foods recall memories of safety, happiness, family, and well…comfort.  But when reaching for food becomes the norm and not the exception, and you are self-medicating with food to make yourself feel better, you have a problem. You may have an addiction. I know I do.  More on that in the next installment.

As the Stomach Turns – Pet Peeves 2023

I have a love/hate relationship with several things lately and one of them is Facebook. This week FB reminded me that I needed to write my Pet Peeves blog. It has been three years since my last one. These are the things and happenings that make me want to shout “Fuck off!” This is the one time of year that I let loose and bitch, whine, and complain about any damn thing I choose. If you want to see past issues, you can click here, or here, or even here. Many of those are continuing issues, but this is the current list of additional things that make my head explode. Be forewarned, this post is always filled with foul language. If you are easily offended, you might want to move along.

Social Media


Who are they trying to influence? I am all for sharing what I love (and despise) with everyone I know and opening a conversation about said topic, restaurant, product, recipe, or idea. No one pays me to rep their product on my socials and I don’t expect anything in return. If you are a paid rep, you are a brand ambassador. Do these “social media stars” really think they are influencing me? Fuck off!

Photo by Sund Shin On Unsplash
Photo by Sung Shin on Unsplash

Additionally, I really get pissed off when my experience is spoiled by “influencers”. It happened in Barcelona at Park Guell. A couple of bimbettes (not old enough to be full bimbos), commandeered the entire gorgeous, tiled staircase so they could get the “perfect shot”. This went on for more than 30 minutes, angrily shooing people out of their shot. Fuck off!

Recently we were at a pop-up event for a soon to be opening diner, and “influencers” were seated near us. In an attempt to get decent shots of the food, they were using lights so bright that we had to shield our eyes. Get a fucking Android and you don’t have to do that! Then they had the nerve to simper a lukewarm apology at us. “Oh, so sorry. We’re influencers and want to get a great shot for them.” The Hubs & I rolled our eyes at them and tried to ignore the glaring light. Fuck off!

“Brand Ambassadors”

For the last goddamned time, NO I do not want free product to be your “brand ambassador”! Brand reps are paid for promotion of a product. In cash. You know…it’s a JOB. If there is no financial compensation attached to your offer, kindly fuck off and leave me alone.


Why in the world would you intentionally follow someone you completely disagree with? If you are trying to broaden your scope of knowledge, and really learn what the other has to say, that’s great. If you are there simply to start a flame war, belittle them, call names, or be disagreeable in general, you are a troll. Please go fuck off.

“Friend” Etiquette

Recently, I have noticed a spate of comments and threads where so called “friends” are correcting the OP*. In many cases the OP didn’t ask for opinions, but the “friends” feel they must weigh in and share why the OP is wrong. And they are doing this publicly, basically embarrassing the OP. If you are truly friends with that person IRL*, message them privately and share your concerns, don’t shame them in public. If you are more concerned with being correct than being a friend, you are a troll. See above and fuck off.

And Pop-Up Ads can just go Fuck Off!


Boarding Flights

  • It has been more than 20 years since 9-11. The protocols by the TSA have changed very little. Why can’t people figure this shit out?
  • Guess what? Crowding the gate because you think you can board earlier than your group doesn’t work. Get out of the way and fuck off.
  • Don’t try to board with group 2 when you are in group 6. They have your number; your ticket will be checked, and you will be kicked out of line. You will just hold up the line for everyone else.

Don’t crowd the baggage claim carousel. It will not make your bag come off the chute faster. You are just blocking everyone who is trying to get to the ones that are actually ON the damn belt.

Appointment Times

This particular pet peeve applies mostly to doctors’ offices. I know I need an appointment, so I make said appointment based on my schedule and available slots. If I don’t show up on time, the office can, and frequently does, charge a “no show” fee. But I am not supposed to get pissed off if the doctor is not on time. How the fuck is that fair? Guess what? My hairdresser, nail tech, lash tech, dog groomer, all require appointments and they run on time. And you know what else? If they are running late, they CALL ME and let me know. I wonder how the doc would feel if I started charging a late fee, or billing them for MY time while I am sitting in their waiting room?

To be fair, I know sometimes it is other patients’ fault that the doc is running late, but a courtesy call would be appreciated so I am not wasting my time. Also, OB/GYN are exempt from this rant – babies come on their own schedule and basically tell everyone, “Fuck off! I am coming!”

And Finally – Other People’s Kids

If you know me at all, you know that I frequently say, “I hate kids”. That’s not true. I like MY people’s kids. I like babies. I like teenagers. However, when it comes to other people’s kids, I get irritated. We recently went to a get-together at a brewery/restaurant. There were 46 – I counted – kids, many of whom were running around, being nuisances. Now, if they were being parented by the adults who brought them AT ALL, I wouldn’t have had an issue. If you insist on bringing your kids in public (and FTR you should), be sure to teach them how to behave properly. Wait. Maybe it isn’t the kids I can’t stand. Maybe it is their parents…yeah, that’s it.

*OP = Original Poster

*IRL = In Real Life

Relationship Status? Complicated. Part 2 – My Experience as a Waitress

I hope you took the time to read Part 1 about my experience with poverty and food as a youth. Read on for the second part in the multi-part series.

In my humble opinion, I think everyone should experience work in food service at some point in their life. Whether it is waiting tables, working delivery, fast food, dishwasher, chef, or prep cook, it doesn’t matter. You come away from that experience changed. Sometimes for the good, sometimes not.

Food Service – Precision

My first experience in food service was at our family deli. Making sandWISHes*, slicing cold cuts, running the register. In college I worked the deli counter for Price Chopper. While home on summer break I worked in the meat department for the same grocer. Pal Mike worked there as well (you can read his blog here).

My first waitressing job was at The Friar Tuck Inn in Catskill, New York. For those of you who aren’t familiar, it was akin to an Italian version of the hotel in Dirty Dancing with all the angst, sex, illegal gambling, and drugs you’d expect. But without Patrick Swayze (pity). I fell even more deeply in love with food. Watching the culinary team turn out LITERALLY 1000 covers of a six-course meal every night with the precision of a Swiss watch was energizing! They were their own perfect ballet company behind the line.

Calls of “Behind” and “Watch Your Back” made me jump to the side because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. It was amazing! My love affair with the hospitality industry was born. I made a ton of cash, I was thin, my arms were ripped, I made lazy busboys cry (for real), became more confident and stood up for myself, and learned new skills that would serve me later. And the food? I could eat any damn thing I pleased from the line. Amazing soups, good pastas, fresh salads, stuffed Clams Casino, in a quantity that was limited only to the time I had between services.

What I didn’t know at the time was I was my own garde manger. The waitstaff was responsible for making our own salads and plating our own cold appetizers. Nothing too complicated; melon with lemon, scungilli salad, “house” salad, but each and every one needed to look exactly the same so no one at the table felt slighted. This trend continued at several waitressing jobs across my career in food service, from pizzerias, to upscale dining, to buffets, to banquets. And I loved it! The funniest thing is that it wasn’t until I went to culinary school that I found out I had been part of the “ballet” all along but didn’t know it.

Growth – Experience

After my experience at The Friar Tuck, I knew I could work in virtually any restaurant on the planet. I had found a true love of food service and sought out more jobs because my Friar Tuck job was only April thru October. I worked seven days a week, simultaneously at a pizzeria (weekdays), nightclub (weekend nights – where I met my husband), country club (weekend evenings) and The Friar Tuck (weeknight evenings). The following items were in my car: uniform items, spare shoes, panty hose with support, makeup, deodorant, cigarettes, and a basic first aid kit of bandages to combat the inevitable blisters on my feet. I earned a lot of “experience points” and was as comfortable doing upscale dining as I was at slinging drinks or pizzas. It was 1987. I had a cocaine problem. I was 22.

I had no misconceptions about my abilities. Yeah, I was good, but not great, but I still had difficulty finding a job after getting married at the end of 1987 and making my first move as a military wife. Because of my work ethic, knowing I was only going to be in Denver for 6 months, I was honest about my limited time there, and no one would hire me. They didn’t want to train me, just to have me leave.

John was on mids (6 pm – midnight), so I really only wanted to work evenings. One jackass wanted me to work “splits” – come in at 10:30 am, prep and work the lunch shift until 2:30, then come back at 4 and work until 11. Fuck off. I was offered a dream job at Raffles Hotel and had to turn it down because I didn’t feel it was fair to them. They wanted to send me to school to be a sommelier. Turning down that one made me cry.

I despise lying but found myself doing just that so I could get a job. I ended up working at a Marie Callender’s, my first and only chain restaurant experience, complete with ugly polyester pinafore uniform, shitty food, and shitty tips. If I was lucky, I made $30/night in tips. But I had a job. Having worked at more upscale places, I was kinda snobby to be honest about the food there, but I do admit the pies were good. And it was a MASSIVE cut in pay too. Let me put it this way – in 1987, I paid for my wedding in cash after saving for less than one year.

Need– Adversary

Then we moved to Spain. Once again, I had to find a job. One of the most frustrating things about being a military wife is that I could never really have a career of my own. There was no internet or work from home option back then and without a college degree, there were few options open to me. None of which offered transfers when John was moved. Each time I’d get seniority, we’d move.

Even though John was in the military and was getting a steady paycheck and housing allowance, both of us were up to our asses in student debt with nothing to show for it. His check paid for the bills, and my paycheck paid for food and entertainment (basically). Thankfully there were vibrant “clubs” on the bases back then. I ended up working in the NCO and Officers’ Clubs as a banquet server and dining room waitress. The tips sucked, the food sucked, and while I was happy to have a job, my American co-workers sucked too. I learned valuable lessons here. This is where I learned about differences in people’s life experience and what constituted “good” for them. This was where I learned that I had graduated from “needy” to privileged in some ways and didn’t know it.

Disdain – Snobbery

While waiting for a banquet to start one evening the waitresses and hostesses started talking about their weddings. As the new kid on the block, I just sat there and let them talk, growing more and more scandalized by the descriptions of their weddings. You see, in my family and circle of friends, there was only one way to have a wedding. You got married in a church; posed for pictures; then you had an open bar cocktail hour with passed hors d’oeuvres, and then either a sit-down dinner or a buffet dinner where the open bar continued. There is cake and dancing, and a good time is had by all. Period. That’s it. That was the only way unless you eloped. Still, to this day if Mom or anyone else in my family goes to a wedding, the first question I ask is, “How was the food?”

Tales were proudly told about backyard BBQ’s, and receptions catered entirely by the family (who were not caterers or even in the food industry). Finger sandwiches and potato salads were a common theme. I heard retellings of 350-person church basement receptions with cake and punch, nothing else. Not even dancing! With the prices of the dresses ranging from $300 to $800 (in the 80’s – that was a LOT). Wait! What? How can you have a wedding reception without booze or dancing? You had it outdoors? Didn’t your dress get ruined? You spent that much on your dress and you didn’t serve dinner? All those people traveled to celebrate with you, and you only gave them cake and punch? WTF?!

I thought to myself, “LeAnne, just shut up. They already think you are a snob; they don’t need to hear about your wedding.” But of course, all eyes turned to me and they begged me to share. So, I told them.

“My wedding wasn’t as big as some of yours. I got my dress on sale for $85. We only had 125 people. There was a cocktail hour with passed hors d’oeuvres, a sit-down dinner, open bar, dancing, and cake.” I tried not to speak in a disdainful tone, even though my 23 year old heart held nothing but disdain for their bizarre (to my mind) celebrations. I spat it all out in one breath hoping that would be the end of it, purposefully leaving things kinda vague. Then the questions started. What kind of hors d’oeuvres? What was the dinner? What’s an open bar? When I explained what an open bar was, they were floored, “You PAID for all of those people to get drunk?” I asked, “If you invite people to dinner at your house, do you ask them to bring their own drinks?” The response was unanimously “yes”.

They labeled me a snob, and never spoke to me again. Seriously. Whenever I had to work with any of them, there was no camaraderie. No chit chat; it was work talk only. And there was no team support either. While they would help each other bussing or setting tables, or filling water glasses, I was left to do mine alone. It was working this job, that I realized people who loved food service had different expectations and feelings about celebrations and food in general. These bitches thought this food was good!

Most of these gals had never been a waitress before and they were only doing so now because, like me, it was the only job they could get. The difference was, I liked it. Here I was, acting like a snob doing the same fucking job as them…yeah…that. It was 1988. I was 23. You don’t know shit when you’re 23.

Learning – Growth – Gathering

That was when I learned to shut the fuck up. It was then that the lightbulb finally went on. The lightbulb indicating my experience with food and dining culture was incredibly limited to only what I knew. If I was going to grow up, I needed to shut up and learn.

The Spanish career waiters took me under their wing and started teaching me Spanish and inviting me to eat with them. For the record, THEIR dinner was excellent because the entire line in the kitchen was Spanish. The family meal was classic Spanish cuisine. Being invited to eat with the Spaniards further deepened the riff between me and my American co-workers because they were jealous, and I didn’t give a flying damn. At least the Spaniards befriended me, which is more than I could say about the Americans.

The Spanish staff members talked with me about the differences between American and Spanish restaurants. They wanted to know as much about American dining culture as I wanted to know about theirs. I had to chuckle when they told me they thought all American restaurants were either really fancy or like Mc D’s. They taught me to flambé. It was here I made my first Chateaubriand and almost set my bangs on fire. They gave me my own nickname – La Reina or Agrippina depending on who was addressing me. And they taught me how to eat like a European. It was here that I learned the restaurant business was a way of life in Europe, not just a gig. There was so much more to experience out there! It was 1989. I was 24.

Leaving – Change

After an abysmal year or so of working with American women who didn’t like me and I didn’t like at all, I left that job. I liked the job, I just didn’t like most of my co-workers and that makes for a miserable work environment. I went back to retail, which I hated. Considering the lack of good tips and the shitty hours, retail was the better option on base for pay and stability for someone with my limited qualifications. I had to work until 7 on the latest shifts. That meant John and I could have dinner together some nights. The hourly pay at the BX was better. I hated it and sucked it up because I didn’t have any better options.

I hoped I could get a transfer to the BX at our next assignment and keep my pay scale. That was not to be. We moved to northern Maine, the tundra. And I went back to food service, at a job that nearly destroyed my love of food permanently. That was October 1991. I was 26.

Next up? Continued adventures in Food Service and Culinary School

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*I always type sandWISHes for a decent ‘wich…