Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Customer Tale

The snow in the forecast this week got me thinking back about January night four or five years ago, about a particularly obnoxious table of four people. This table is indelibly etched in my mind and is the kind of table that makes everyone in the restaurant business ask, "Why do we put up with this?"

It was a pitch black, snowy January weeknight when not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. [Cut me some slack. I was going to start out "It was a dark and stormy night...."] Our boredom was broken by the chime of the front door and in walked two couples, late 30s to early 40s, nice looking and seemingly well educated, all very happy. One of the women announced that they were starving and were looking forward to a good dinner. We exchanged pleasantries with the two couples as they were being shown to their table.

Soon after they got to the table, however, the same woman announced to the server "Oh, we're just having appetizers and drinks," which generally means that our prices are higher than the table expected. OK, we do hear that from time to time and we deal with it. We all have budgets and we've all been to restaurants whose prices were higher than we could afford. Those of us who work in this business do not have unlimited means.

Right after this, the griping and snide comments started. In response to the bowl of olives that we bring to each table at the beginning of dinner, "You better eat the pits too so you get your money's worth." When we brought their single order of prosciutto-wrapped scallops, an appetizer for one person consisting of two 2-ounce scallops, "Is that all there is?" and "Where's the rest of it?" When one of them needed to use the restroom, "You better hold it, they probably charge you to use the restroom here."

Because of the snow, the restaurant was deadly quiet and we could hear every one of these comments all the way across the restaurant. Of course, they were trying to make sure that we heard.

When we brought the bill, we also heard, "I can't believe they charge $8 for a Margarita." Yeah, well, believe it. You squeeze four limes for each Margarita and figure the costs for the limes, labor, and really good tequila and see if $8 isn't a bargain.

On their way out, they were so childish as to erase the "0" from the "$10" price on the special board for the scallop appetizer such that it read "$1." Like we weren't watching them do this.

Of course, such upstanding citizens can always be expected to tip really well. They left $5 on a $55 check, a fitting ending to their bravura performance.

And the answer to why we put up with this? Because the vast majority of customers are warm, kind, and charming and appreciate what we do. They're the reason we keep doing this every day despite the antics of a few clowns.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Seafood and Root Vegetables

Root Vegetables. They're just not that cool, but that's pretty much what is in our cooler right now, it being the middle of winter. And when a couple from Warrenton engaged us to do a tasting menu for them last week, that is all we had in house to work with. They also requested no meat for their menu, but they love all manner of seafood, so we used that as our starting point for their custom menu.

While planning their menu, I had this slightly whack idea: why not pair a different seafood with a different winter root vegetable for each course, except for dessert? So we randomly paired each of six seafoods with six winter root vegetables used this as the basis for our menu. Doing the menu this way proved to be a great intellectual challenge: pairing seafood with root vegetables is rarely ever done. Here are the results of our brainstorming.

Scallops and Parsnips. We took our cue for this dish from brandade de morue from the south of France. The modern interpretation of brandade is a silky paste of salt cod, potatoes, olive oil, and garlic. We decided to try it with salted scallops and parsnips instead. And topped with a seared scallop, it worked extremely well. We're very pleased with this dish.

Crab and Sweet Potatoes. This is a complexly flavored sweet potato bisque seasoned with kaffir lime, green curry paste, Thai basil, and coconut milk. I no longer remember the genesis of this soup, but I think we have done similar sauces in the past. The bisque is topped with crabmeat marinated in a kaffir lime vinaigrette. We liked this so much that it went directly on to our nightly menu as an appetizer.

Oysters and Celery Root. We've done a lot of celery root purées this winter already and were looking for different ways to showcase this delicious vegetable, especially for a way to highlight it in its raw form. Immediately springing to mind was a celery root rémoulade that I had at Tujague's in New Orleans about 20 years ago. From here, it was an easy leap to an oyster Po Boy topped with celery rémoulade. The celery root fries were a last minute addition and the answer to the question to my cooks, "Does celery root make good fries?" Indeed, it does not. It makes outstanding fries. Live and learn.

Lobster and Leeks. This is what happens when we take our shrimp and grits from the lunch menu and amp it up with lobster, leeks, and truffles. The grits are Anson Mills as usual, but amended with a lot of creamed leeks. Truly decadent grits. The lobster is just along for the ride when compared to these grits.

Mussels and Red Onions. I confess that I went really overboard here. I am the one chef that you can generally count on not to mess with the form of an ingredient and here I go making mussels into a musselwurst. I have done every form of fried, stuffed, baked, and steamed mussel imaginable over the years and for some reason, I decided to just go crazy. So we have a mussel and caramelized red onion sausage on a bun with caramelized red onion mustard, caramelized red onions, and pickled red onions. It was a damned good seafood sausage if I say so myself, but my bun, to be polite, sucked.

Fish and Daikon. And finally, we deal with daikon. There's a ton of daikon at the farmers market now and I've been using a lot of it. Daikon led me to free associate with sablefish because sablefish is very highly prized in Japan. The natural application for daikon is raw and done in an Asian theme, so I wanted to stay away from that. I kept saying to the cooks, "Let's do something classic and French." We tried a bunch of things from grilled daikon, OK, to red wine-braised daikon, horrible, when Chris said, "Daikon Pommes Anna!" So we have seared sablefish on a daikon "pommes Anna" with wild mushrooms and a beurre rouge. The daikon pommes Anna was very tricky to pull off; daikon does not have the starch that potatoes do, so getting the cake to hold together was a problem. Once the technical issue was resolved, the result is a beautiful and classically European take on ingredients that are typically treated in an Asian style. Mission accomplished!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

2011: January 15th

Whew! We got rocked tonight! And any time in the winter that we get rocked is a really, really good thing. But, nights like this severely tax my ability to buy and prepare enough food. People are no longer booking in advance like they did two and three years ago. Rather than simply walking in, most are still calling ahead, but only an hour or two before they show up. I made decisions about how much food to buy, especially the proteins, about 48 hours ago on Thursday. Same day reservations don't help me plan. Still, I am not complaining. We had bought and prepped enough of everything tonight. Just barely enough, but enough. And that's a great thing.

On top of regular business tonight, we did a private 7-course Chef’s Tasting for a really nice couple from Warrenton who were seated in our back bar. The couple requested no meat for their menu, but they love all manner of seafood, so we used that as our starting point for their custom menu. While planning their menu, I had this slightly whack idea: why not pair a different seafood with a different winter root vegetable for each course, except for dessert? Last Tuesday, we randomly paired each of six seafoods with six winter root vegetables and divided them up: I took two pairs, Chris took two, and Tony took two.

Our random pairings were: lobster and leeks, mussels and red onions, scallops and parsnips, sablefish and daikon, crab and sweet potatoes, and oysters and celery root.

After we brainstormed separately for a day, we sat down and started presenting our ideas. Some stuck, some did not, and some sparked some totally new ideas. And our trying to put these pairings into order on the menu so that they made sense in a progression and so that they paired with wines in a logical order gave us some constraints on an exercise that had been heretofore unbounded. And these constraints such as "the second course will be a soup course" let us move forward with the menu.

Doing the menu this way proved to be a great intellectual challenge. Pairing seafood with root vegetables is rarely ever done. Generally, root vegetables get ignored at most restaurants, but if you’ve been to our farmers market lately, you know that that’s pretty much all we have to work with. Beth was fairly apologetic on Tuesday when she showed me a single crate of yellowing kale, saying, “That’s the only green thing we have.”

In any case, by Wednesday afternoon, we were in the kitchen playing what-if games. Wednesday and Thursday, we spent doing proofs of concept for some of the trickier items (“pommes Anna” of daikon and musselwurst), and Friday we spent doing some of the longer prep items, making bread, making stock, chopping vegetables, making dressings, etc. Today we baked bread, made grits, and other things that wouldn’t hold overnight, as well as getting set up to finish cooking each of the courses at service time.

We’ve had three of us working this menu for about three days, from concept to execution. If I charged for the true labor costs, this dinner would not be affordable. I charge what is really a nominal fee for these dinners: they are great bargains compared to the effort we put into them. Yet we still do them, because they are great outlets for our collective creative muses. We do them because that is what we love to do. And we do them because we love people who don’t care what the menu is, who just want us to go in the kitchen, take risks, and give it our best shot.

I took a lot of photos of the dishes in the tasting tonight, despite how busy we were. I hope that they came out well enough to post, simply because there were some interesting ideas for dishes that I don't want to forget. Over the past 30 years of seriously cooking, I have forgotten a lot of dishes that now I wish I could remember. [Jan 21: the photos are posted here.]

This Chef’s Tasting has been a wonderful respite for me. I’ve been driving the desk hard for the past two weeks and I needed to get in the kitchen and do what I do best. The good news is that my year end bookkeeping is moving along very nicely; the bad news is that I have had lots of time to work on it: nobody is dining out right now during the week. [Hey, if you’re reading this, help your local restaurant out now in the slow winter season: book a table for dinner, especially on a weeknight.]

Two weeks ago, I finished the preliminary bookkeeping for 2010—while the year wasn’t as bad as it looked at the first of December, it was the worst year that we’ve ever had in the business, finishing just slightly worse than 2009. I prefer to see this as a moral victory: that we could even come close to 2009 numbers in this wretched economy speaks well of the strength of the business and the products and services that we provide. Typical glass-half-full entrepreneur: always looking for the silver lining in the clouds!

Last edition, I talked about the snow and the havoc it wreaks on business. Since, we have survived our first snowfall of the year, something on the order of an inch. That trifling amount was enough to kill business for two days. Thankfully it took out Tuesday and Wednesday and not a weekend. My snow removal contractor is happy that he gets to bill for putting down chemicals on the parking lot.

We kicked off our Valentine’s menu planning the first week of the month by first printing out menus from the last three years for ideas and looking at the sales mix from the past five years to refresh our memories about what sold and what did not. It is really clear that customers do not want to be challenged on Valentine’s Day. So, mixed grill of Hawaiian blue prawns and hebi (short-billed spearfish) is out. Crab cakes are in. Sensual cassoulet redolent of duck confit, bacon, and sausages is out. Steak is in. Fancy multi-component desserts are out. Plain NY cheesecake is in. We’re used to it by now. As much as it pains us, we keep the Valentine’s menu really plain and save the creativity for other times.

I do have to be very careful about what I do put on the menu though. As I wrote in the last posting, customers are ordering almost nothing but filet mignon right now. It is still accounting for more than 40% of our entrée mix, despite being the most expensive item on the menu by far. If I put filet on a fixed priced menu such as the Valentine’s menu, it’s all over. I am certain that our entrée mix would be upwards of 80% filet and there is not nearly enough room on my broiler (restaurant term for grill) for all those steaks. I simply would be unable to fill all those orders, without precooking the steaks and rewarming them to order and I will never, never, never do that.

Based on experience from last year, I am also working on a Valentine’s Day to-go program in which we provide really nice meals that can be shared at home with minimal effort and minimal cleanup. I haven’t given this much thought yet, but I need to get moving on this very soon. I’m also using this to see if there is interest in a larger grab-and-go program in which customers call the day before and book to-go meals. And in other brainstorming, I am finally getting together a schedule for cooking lessons for this winter. More details on that coming in the next few days.

Another upcoming task is the revamping the lunch menu. We generally change it about six times a year and it is time for a change. In the last revision, I reorganized the menu to make it make a little more sense, but what I really did is make a change that stopped our lamb sales cold. I need to sell lamb. They come in from the butcher every two weeks and I need to move lamb to have room for the new lamb. That lamb has stopped selling has really underscored for me that customers do not read the entire menu. I made the lamb less prominent on the menu and killed sales. Bad move: it used to be a great seller and in marketing terms, it was a great competitive differentiator. There is no other lunch outlet in our market where you can get lamb. Now customers don’t even know we sell lamb for lunch. Doh!

Speaking of lunch, it is interesting to look at our lunch order mix. As a rule, through the winter, our heartier dishes such as pasta are the biggest sellers on the lunch menu. In the summer, salads and lighter fare hold sway. In defiance of the usual ordering patterns, customers have ordered over the past two weeks almost nothing but salads and virtually no pasta. Desserts and alcohol aren’t selling either. This is no surprise to us; we see it every year. Customers will hang on to their New Year’s resolutions to eat less and better but only for another week or two, then it will be back to normal ordering patterns.

In the taxing spirit of trying to get all my fourth quarter and December taxes ironed out, I just got another friendly letter from my good friends at the IRS. They have lost (actually, they said that I failed to file, but I have a copy in my file cabinet) another of my quarterly tax returns stating how much money I have already deposited. Gee, you would think they would already know how much money I have deposited. This makes three lost out of the last six quarters. They’re pretty efficient at losing forms. Why, if I have to send them payments by EFT, why in the name of technology do I have to mail the bastards a hard copy form stating what they already know?

In other news, Chris, my most senior cook, just told me that he is headed back to South Carolina to take care of his mother come the first of March. He’s been my right hand in the kitchen for so long now that I can hardly remember when he wasn’t here. I’m going to miss him a great deal and I can hardly blame him for doing what he has to do. And now I begin the search for someone else to fill out the team, a task that is not all that easy in Funchester, Virginia. We don’t have the critical mass of good restaurants that ensures a steady supply of kitchen talent. Good cooks are few and far between.

Two weeks ago, we visited Glen Manor winery just south of Front Royal and helped kill the remaining 2008 Cabernet Franc. While most people like to visit the local wineries in good weather and especially in the fall, it’s impractical for me. Our busy season corresponds exactly with grape harvest, so when the vintners are especially busy, so are we. It is only after the holidays that things slow down for both of us, so winter is the primary time that I go visit wineries. The wines are in barrel and mostly through malolactic fermentation and it is a good time to visit with my winemaking friends, taste some barrel samples to get an idea about the 2010 vintage, and catch up while enjoying a bottle or two of Virginia’s finest.

That pretty much catches you up on the first two weeks of 2011. The rest of this month will see me focus on our wine dinner with Tarara on the 20th, the Valentine’s menu, the cooking class schedule, finding a replacement for Chris, and getting 2010 behind us and all our data to the accountants so that they can prepare our taxes. And I’ve been invited to do a presentation at my youngest daughter’s school for their career day in early February. What exactly do you say to a bunch of teenagers about the restaurant business, except “Don’t do it!”?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Chef's Table

Here are the photos from our last Chef's Table of 2010. These dishes characterize my cooking mood right now: simple, classic, elegant, comforting, and a little playful. This menu was not about pushing boundaries or exploring techniques; it was merely about taking the best of what we had in house, cooking it well, and presenting it nicely.

Roulade of Smoked Salmon. I do all manner of charcuterie and cold meat dishes through the year. Towards New Year's Eve, I always start thinking of smoked salmon or gravlax. Rather than make a square- or rectangular-shaped terrine, I like to do a roulade. I think the presentation possibilities are nicer with the round form. Stuffed with a simple herbed cream cheese and capers.

Oyster "Stew". I wanted to do a traditional oyster stew, another dish that I always gravitate to for New Year's. Tony wanted to do fried oysters. This then is the compromise. I love to serve dishes up in martini glasses: it's often unexpected and it shows off the food well. I wish I had the time to photograph this well. Alas, there's no time on the line to fuss with lighting and backgrounds.

Truffled Blackeyed Pea Risotto with Duck Confit. This is a dish that hopped (pun intended) into my mind about three weeks ago. In the South, for good luck at New Year's, we always serve blackeyed peas and collard greens, both cooked with liberal amounts of pork products. This is my homage to that tradition and the tradition of Hoppin' John, substituting our house-cured duck confit for the traditional pork. You should have smelled the kitchen when I scattered the truffles over the hot risotto. Amazing!

In hindsight, I should have used Carolina Gold rice instead of arborio to further the metaphor. Oh well, next time. And damn, wouldn't a poached quail egg sitting on top of this, all ready to break open and ooze into the risotto, be super sexy? Ach! I can't be at the top of my game all the time.

Duck Schnitzel with Orange Spätzle. Here's a dish that I came up with some years ago just for a different way of presenting our Moulard duck breasts. We split duck breasts and pound them like schnitzel, then bread and fry them. The breading is panko, pecans, and pecorino. Garnished with a little red wine syrup and orange spätzle. It's a great dish but never seems to sell when on the menu. Something, I don't know what, scares diners. Maybe they don't know what schnitzel is.

Lamb Shank Puttanesca. If you're a lunch regular at the restaurant and a foodie, you'll recognize the origins of Ed's Pasta in Salsa Puttanesca, a classic sauce of tomatoes, red pepper flakes, anchovies, olives, and capers. With its vibrant and bold flavors, this sauce appeals greatly to me and I was just in the mood for some puttanesca when we were brainstorming this menu. Put that together with the bag of tiny lamb foreshanks that we have been collecting in the freezer because they are too small for a standard dinner entrée and you come up with this dish. Paired with a little roasted garlic rosemary polenta, you have full-flavored classic comfort food.

Chocolate Soufflé. In reading through the draft menu trying to figure out what to do for dessert, it occurred to me to keep it simple, classic, and comforting. Soufflés are so classic that you never see them offered on dessert menus any longer; pastry chefs consider them beneath their dignity. Pity, because this chocolate soufflé is as good a gooey, runny chocolate extravagance as you will ever find.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011: January 1st

This year for One Blog West, I have decided to do something a bit different, based on what my winemaker friend Jeff White did on his blog last year. I’m going to make updates on the first and 15th of each month in the form of a running diary about what is going on at the restaurant just like Jeff did for his winery last year.

The past couple of years, I have not been updating my blog all that frequently, in part due to these new things called the OBW Facebook page and the OBW Twitter feed that occupy time that used to go to the blog, but mainly because I haven’t felt that I had much new to say. But in reading Jeff’s blog over the last year, I think I have found a new sense of purpose for my blog, at least for the next year. So Jeff, thank you.

And so I am sitting here on the first day of the new year in what is the beginning of our ninth year typing away about the business. It is hard to imagine that the past eight years have flown by so quickly. I started this business when I was 40 and I’ll be 49 next month. Where does time go? In an industry where the average life span of a restaurant is under five years, I guess I have beat the odds.

Our New Year's Eve dinner, always one of the busiest of the year, went off very, very smoothly. The only real issue that I noted was that customers from our first seating chose not to vacate their tables and so created a bit of a logjam as guests for the second seating arrived. It wasn't a bad logjam though and we got everyone seated with a minimum of delay. We give tables a two hour and fifteen minute window before reseating and in the past, that has worked quite well. Not sure what the issue was this year. The kitchen was pumping food out very efficiently, so we weren't the cause. I think people just wanted to take their time this year.

We had a fantastic menu last night including oyster stew, our famous prosciutto-wrapped scallops, caviar, terrine de foie gras, rockfish, cassoulet, free range veal chops, lobster risotto with fresh black truffles, and several other delicacies, including a vegetarian feast we called Winter's Bounty.

Given all these great things on the menu, I thought that we would have a pretty good entrée mix. We're always aiming for a good mix to keep the food spread out among all the stations in the kitchen to balance the workload. I was shocked and somewhat dismayed that half of our appetizer orders were for a green salad and half of our entrée orders were for filet mignon. Even after we cut a large number of steaks before service, we had to cut more during service, not once, but twice!

It baffles me why a customer would come to a seasonal ingredient-driven restaurant with a creative chef and pay to have the one dish that he could have at any restaurant anywhere in the country: steak and salad. Time and familiarity with this scenario have dulled my feelings; I used to get really irritated that people would not try anything creative on the menu. Now, I just shrug it off. That the filet mignon is the most expensive entrée on the menu helps as well!

I hope each of you has celebrated a wonderful holiday season. For me, as a business owner, I hated that we were essentially forced to be closed on two Saturdays, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. In this economy, a restaurant is a two-day a week operation: Friday and Saturday. Taking two of them out hurts. But, as a guy who never gets time off, having two back-to-back two-day weekends is amazing! So this is what the rest of the world experiences for a weekend! I am loving my time off and being able to spend some quality time with my girlfriend Ann.

January is always a strange month at the restaurant. Trafficwise, it is one of the slowest months, but workwise, at least for me, it is one of my busiest months. Sadly, like most business owners I am busy doing things other than what got me into the business in the first place. Although happily I did spend the last two days in the kitchen for the entire day prepping for New Year's Eve, cooking is not what is keeping me busy this time of year.

Deskwork keeps me busy. When we started nine years ago, I hired a bookkeeper, but the value-add was not there. Certainly, she spared me the hours of data entry, but the incessant questions about how to expense every nickel and dime were intrusive on my hours in the kitchen. And the additional time that I would have to spend to correct the books at the end of the month before closing them was as I am fond of saying, “¡No bueno!” So, after some months of this, I let her go and took on the bookkeeping myself.

Over the years, I have built several Excel spreadsheets that have greatly simplified the daily bookkeeping and accounting, keeping it down to about 20 minutes per day. These spreadsheets mainly ensure that the data is correct before it gets entered into QuickBooks. (As an aside, if you are running a small business, QuickBooks is essential. It is the best investment you will ever make.)

While each week’s bookkeeping burden is minimal, January is a different story. I have to close not only the last week of 2010, but the month of December, the fourth quarter, and the year of 2010 on top of that. Final tax deposits and tax returns have to be made to the IRS and the states of Virginia and West Virginia (because I have WV-resident employees) as well. Then there are 1099s, W-2, and the W-3 to generate and distribute, with copies to the states, the IRS, and SSA. And I have to make my final unemployment returns with both states and the Feds, joy of joys!

Then I have to file my annual reports with Virginia ABC about my sales of alcohol. Despite being able to enter the data onto their web site and upload my inventory spreadsheet directly to their server, it takes a solid half a day to extract all the information needed from QuickBooks. All this nonsense is to ensure that I have food sales of at least 45% of my gross, according the archaic Prohibitionist laws to prevent bars in the Commonwealth. God forbid that somebody should open an old-fashioned bar in the Commonwealth of Virginia!

Then my insurance company wants to extract its pound of flesh: they have all manner of forms that must be filled out so that they can audit my workman’s comp policy to make sure that I was paying the right premium: each year’s premium is based on an estimated payroll. January is time to check the estimates versus the actuals.

And it doesn’t end there, but this gives you a flavor of why my January is so damned busy, doing work that is not enjoyable and does not help move my business forward. I have all this crap to look forward to this month and it will keep me busy up until about the 20th when I file all the taxes from December and turn my books over to my accountant, but more on this in the next edition.

January in recent years has been a month of hope: I hope the economy gets better, I hope I can manage cashflow until money starts coming back in to the restaurant after the weather breaks in April, and I hope it doesn’t snow. Cashflow is primary in my mind right now because December 2010 is on the books as the third worst December ever. Customers abandoned us in December, but we weren’t alone. Most restaurant owners are singing the same blues. Typically, we put on fat during the holiday season to help us through the bad weather months. This year, we took off fat during the holidays. ¡No bueno!

Snow is the bane of our existence in the winter. The mere mention of it in the long-range forecast is enough to send customers scurrying to their phones to cancel reservations. After all these years, I am reconciled to the fact that forces beyond my control can and do impact my business. And I know that we will find a way to survive through the winter, but that doesn’t keep me from taking it personally when our whole reservation book cancels and it doesn’t even snow. And when it does snow, we have significant snow removal costs to clear our parking lot in case customers get brave enough to venture out. Low traffic and high expenses can make me a grumpy boy. Snow, I hate you!

Coming up on the 20th is our first third Thursday wine dinner of 2011, this one with Tarara Winery from just north of Leesburg. We have Greek wines and South African wines on the schedule for February and March. I'll need to get busy in the next few weeks scheduling dinners for the second quarter. But back to January's dinner. With the arrival of a new winemaking team at Tarara a few years ago, the quality of the wines has increased to the point where I am comfortable pairing my food with them. There are still a lot of Virginia wineries whose wines I would be embarrassed to pour. It's always a delicate issue dodging their requests to do a dinner.

Fresh local produce this time of year is a real struggle. We buy as much produce as possible from local farmers. Beth and Gene Nowak at Mayfair Farm grow the bulk of our produce, but we also buy from five or six other local farmers. We’re at the tail end of local kale, mustard, and Italian parsley. Beth told me that she has picked all her mustard and there is no more cavolo nero from our other farmer either. Beth has greens in the greenhouse coming such as arugula and Chinese broccoli (gai lan), but they’re not ready yet and because she always takes a week off between Christmas and New Year’s to visit her mother on the West Coast, we’re hurting for green veg. I finally gave up the struggle last week and ordered a case of broccolini from the produce company. I hate doing it, but I have to put something green on plates.

But now is prime season for both black trumpet and hedgehog mushrooms. I have a friend who is a forager in Oregon who keeps me well supplied with mushrooms and truffles all year. And it is prime game season as well. So, January menus will focus on game, mushrooms, and trying to do creative things with storage vegetables such as winter squash, parsnips, celery root, dried beans, sweet potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, cabbages, brussels sprouts and the like. And if Beth brings us something green from the greenhouse, it will be a bonus.

It's time to wrap up this epistle. 2010 is in the books, somewhat down from 2009 but just how far awaits a bit more deskwork next week. I'm hoping 2011 brings optimism on the part of customers. It would be nice to get back to the days of 2007 and before when we didn't have to watch every penny like a hawk. I am optimistic that 2011 will be a better year (but then I was optimistic about 2010 too!). I'm looking forward to the slower pace of January and some time to catch my breath, get some of the tasks ticked off my myriad lists, and perhaps think about some new dishes for the coming spring. Until the 15th, then.