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Catering for the Extrovert

I am a shameless extrovert. While others, after a long week of interacting with people, can’t wait to just chill by themselves, I am just the opposite. Spending time with people gives me energy. So this year, when I could afford a regular assistant, the amazing Sherri Brown, I was thrilled! Getting to do what I love, feeding people in a creative and healthful way, and having someone to share in the experience has been a wonderful thing. But at times, I still have this sense that I may be missing my calling. Because the truth is, the majority of my working life is interacting with food rather than people. Being a former elementary school teacher has given me some perspective on this. Food is low maintenance. It is predictable and completely dependent on my actions. Ingredients behave and do not talk back when I manipulate them into whatever I desire. But as a social being, there is something lacking in the fulfillment of that. It can be a lonely thing to see your impact being primarily focused on inanimate objects.

All this to say, I am truly inspired and fulfilled when I combine my love for food with my love for people. Cooking classes are my happy place. Now, I offer both dinner party-style classes in my home studio kitchen along with workshop-based classes out of the Regional Food Distribution kitchens. And recently, I was invited back to the HYS Kids After School Program as the “guest Chef” to teach a group of junior high students the art of Italian cooking.

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Demonstrating how to cut properly

You may recall in a previous post awhile back I wrote about my first visit to Kingsway Park Public School, where I taught the students how to make “Green Eggs and Ham” in the form of Spinach and ham omelettes. This time, the group was working on preparing for a year-end event, where parents and funders will all be invited to share in their experience and skills learned by having a dinner made entirely by the students themselves. My role was to teach the main course: lasagna roll-ups. The students got to pick the recipe and gather the ingredients in advance. I did a demonstration of knife skills and general Italian cooking knowledge and then put the students to work in groups. It was so good to see them take the initiative and get into the cooking experience! There were some humorous moments as well, like when I stopped by the marinara sauce station just in time to correct one student on his measurement of the black pepper. “It says, ¼ tsp, not ¼ cup!” In the end no-one was hurt, even though knives and hot pans were used, and they were so pleased with the final product! I’ve learned that if a teen say “This is pretty cool!” or “This is, like, my favourite dinner ever!” they probably mean it!

image 2The main instructor of HYS Kids After School Program, Joanne Tomlinson, has been working hard throughout the year to give the kids skills and knowledge that they otherwise would not have opportunity to learn. She noted that at the beginning of the year, one child was afraid of the toaster, and another could hardly spread jam on bread. Now they are taking ownership of the projects and are pumped to show their parents what they’ve learned. And I am pumped to be a part of it.

 

All this to say, this catering thing will be sustainable. I will not become that crazy person who chats to herself and to her ingredients as she prepares food by herself day upon day. Working with others and working in the context of cooking classes has rounded out this career choice personality-wise and made me feel like I do have something good to offer the community around me.

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Lasagna Roll ready to serve! Not too shabby.

New Website! Things are changing

Meet Maddy!As you may have noticed, A Fine Fit Catering has had its seasons of movement and rest. This past year I have been in a resting phase with the birth of my now 1 year old Madelyn. Leaving maternity leave and entering the catering world again has been a slow process, and also somewhat of a rediscovery of what I love about this business, and what I am willing to shave away to create a company that I can be proud of for the long term. And what better time to rethink and create something new than the launching of a new brand and new website!

When I re-entered the business world these last couple of months it has been with some hesitation. See, I now have 3 children under the age of 7, and volunteer in my church and community. Life is indeed full. But with my two oldest starting school in September, I was itching to put my creative gene back to work in the catering world, and let’s not downplay the fact that I would have more adult interaction again! This time, though, I would have to be careful to be more selective in what I took on, focusing on things that are both sustainable and that truly inspire me. For example this fall, I had the honour of putting together a cooking workshop for the Nurse Practitioner LED clinic, with the theme of using our plentiful harvest to create quality and delicious courses, with hands on activities throughout. It was one of those days when I left feeling more invigorated than when I arrived. I love using my knowledge of food and cooking techniques to inspire others along with helping to build relationships between team members though the culinary medium. This has spawned a whole new category of cooking workshops that I can now offer on a regular basis!

On the other hand, upon looking at my menu, which has been adapted only minimally since the inception of my business in 2010, I realized that I had swerved into areas that I wasn’t exactly comfortable with.  As a “clean eating” enthusiast, I advertise from-scratch cooking that avoids the use of highly processed foods, and I am held accountable to provide this quality in my cooking. It is a tough balance, with popular demand often asking for the very things that I advertise against. People like their dessert, with plenty of sugar in it! And people love their bacon! So I resigned myself to offering a few little things that I wasn’t super keen on in order to make people happy and grow the business. As they say in the small business world, you grow by saying YES all the time.

Lunch Meat is No Treat

However, then I came across this article (from 2009) about processed meat, linking our growing consumption of nitrate and nitrite filled foods with the dramatic increase diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Type 2 Diabetes and cancer. This is by no means a shocker, as this research has been ongoing for years, but now more than ever it has been convincingly proven. (Not unlike the societal shift between thinking smoking was kind of bad for you, but whatever; to being advertised as a health hazard on every package! ). When nitrates and nitrites hit your stomach acid, they convert to nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. If that wasn’t bad enough, the same chemicals are now messing with our DNA. The article says they “can alter gene expression and cause DNA damage”. While nitrates are found as preservatives in beer and food products as well as in fertilizers, pesticides and cosmetics, it turns out they are most concentrated in processed lunch
meats, bacon and processed cheese. Sigh. Of course the worst things for you are also delicious and highly addictive.

So here I am with a dilemma. I want to stay true to my values as a caterer but serving foods that are now well known to be detrimental to our health on many levels does not jive well with the values that I promote as A Fine Fit Catering. So the menu on my new website has had some adapting. You will notice that sandwich platters are no longer offered. I realize that may turn some people off as we are used to getting what we want as a customer, which is a ridiculous amount of choices. I WILL, though, have a list of great caterers that do serve sandwich platters, and I will still offer a wide variety of wraps, seafood and egg salad options, and vegetarian wraps along with plenty of hot soups and delicious salads. So really, no one is hurting here.

Bacon wrapped fig goat cheese – these aren’t going anywhere. #phew 😉

You may ask, “well what about your bacon wrapped goat cheese stuffed figs, and sweet desserts that you still offer?” And I say, “baby steps, my friend. Baby steps.” 😉

PARO and Me

TBNewsWatch recently interviewed me to discuss my business and my involvement with PARO: centre for women’s enterprise.  It was a spur of the moment thing, and the interview was squished in between cleaning  up from my catered lunch that day and my children coming home from school, but I was more than happy to chat about PARO.  You see, I feel a familial connection to this social enterprise that helps women start their own businesses in Thunder Bay and region.

Back in 2010, I joined their 10 month Gateway program, which connected me to funding and tons of support in order to get my catering business off the ground.  In the process, I met a bunch of wonderful women, all starting businesses of their own and joined a peer lending circle.  We still meet on occasion and are able to help each other secure loans through PARO, but we mostly simply enjoy the feeling of not having to do this alone.  Running a business is a tough endeavour, and certainly not for the weak of heart.  And I do love it.  But on those discouraging days, I am so happy to know that PARO has my back, along with the friends that I have made along the way.  I now am a board member of PARO and am happy to assist others on their own business journeys.

Anyways, I said all these things to the lady doing the interview, and she wrote an article about PARO.  But it was limited in what it could encompass, and I do feel such a debt of gratitude that I felt I should write a bit more.  If any of you know women who have a dream and want to build a business, send to them to PARO!

Read the full article here.

I’m on Instagram… finally!

I take a lot of photos of my food. They sit in a folder on my computer and never get looked at. Steve, being the social media ninja he is, provided a solid argument for me to start an Instagram feed of all these pics. So now I can show off some of my delicacies to the world! #YumYum

If you’re on Instagram, I’d love it if you would follow me and tell others as well: Your friends. Your family. Your dog (if he or she is on Instagram, of course). Basically anyone, really.

(Oh, also, if you’re not on Instagram, you can still check out my photos. Just click on my photo gallery!)

Just click here to follow me on Instagram:

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Confessions of a pottery addict

As a locally sourcing caterer, I am always on the lookout for ways to utilize our local producers in my business, beyond the usual ingredient items. Recently I took in the fabulous artisan and pottery show at the Valhalla, November 16th and 17th. If you missed out on this plethora of artistic eye candy, you should feel pretty sad and regretful right about now.

It was overwhelming to say the least as I walked through the crushing crowd to view some of the finest works of art in this whole Northern region. I focused mostly on the pottery show, but did run into Karen from Bare Organics, who sold me a soothing remedy for my water and soap destroyed hands. Honestly, I can not say enough good things about her healing balm. If you have winter aggravated dry hands or eczema and don’t want to use a product that is either full of chemicals or limits your skin’s ability to provide its own moisture, then you need to get this stuff!

Anyway, I digress. What was making me truly gleeful this Saturday afternoon was the huge array of absolutely beautiful pottery. If you’ve been to a cooking class, you know how anal I am about presentation; making the dish look good to entice the taste buds. Not only is the actual food presentation important, but the dish the food rests in I find equally important. A handmade pottery mug can take your plain cup of tea to new heights. And serving steaming soup in a pottery bowl or mug will literally make it taste better. In fact, the other weekend while visiting Grand Marais, we stopped into The Angry Trout for dinner, and was thrilled to find our seafood chowder being served in pottery! It was probably the best chowder I have ever had.

While all the artists I met this weekend I am in awe of, I particularly like the work of Tim from Island Pottery in Rossport, (he’s doing a show at Kleewych Glass December 5-24 if you’d like to stop in) and Trudy Jamieson Pottery. Both use the original wood fired kilns, with clever uses of salt and glaze to make unique and really impressive pieces! After spending a little more than I had set out to, I came home with a fantastic collection of bowls and mugs, a serving platter, utensil vase and serving bowl with a honey pot on order! I am going to show off all of these pieces, particularly because I am excited about them, but also to give credit to each artist.

Cooking classes are going to get even more exciting, with your tea and coffee served in unique mugs and your hot soups in beautiful wood fired pottery!

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