Worth its Weight in Grain

Bread belongs to humans the way the moon belongs to the earth. It is locked in our gravitational grasp, ever-revolving around us. We have a 30,000-year-strong relationship with this grainy babe. It morphs its way into every culture to suit the cuisine, be it delicate and flat, voluptuous and flakey, or grainy and dense. It will sneak its way into any meal regardless of the time. It is our go-to fare, and the most consumed food on our planet. For something our entire race seems to worship, an almost transcendental divinity, bread is not universally handled with the grace and reverence it deserves. I find that my beloved wheat product of choice, the flour tortilla, is a perpetual victim of this crime.

The widely distributed conventional bread products in our country are laden with additives, preservatives, and chemically created ingredients. While these sacrifices help extend shelf life and boost profit margins for companies, they can vastly compromise flavor and nutrition for the rest of us. There are honest alternatives out there, though it requires you to be an informed consumer in order to navigate labels and scope out swindles. My great dilemma is that I am unable to unearth a brand of tortillas that satisfies my high flavor standards and isn’t packed with rubbish.

Think you can avoid this pitfall by snagging the whole-wheat pack off the shelf? It’s not that simple. Take the top three tortilla manufacturers in America: Mission, ChiChi’s, and Tyson’s ‘Mexican Original’.  All three ingredient labels for the whole-wheat tortillas reveal roughly thirty ingredients (a traditional tortilla takes five).   In the short story on the rear of each package you will find several preservatives, dough conditioners, and trans fats (hydrogenated oils). None of these alone are that hugely detrimental to your health, but the disgusting, rotten cherry on top is they don’t even taste good.

You’ve got to pick your battles in this world. While I wish I could bake all of my loaves, rolls, and flat breads fresh, I don’t have that luxury (I’m not a housewife from the 40’s you know!) My big bread crusade is making all my tortillas from scratch. It’s not as difficult as you think and boy, does it pay off.


Balls of tortilla dough during the second resting phase, before being rolled out and cooked.


Whole Wheat Tortillas

Makes 10-6” tortillas

2 cups flour (I use a 50/50 blend of 100% whole-wheat flour and unbleached all-purpose flour)

1 teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¾ cup warm water

2 teaspoons olive oil


Medium mixing bowl


Liquid measuring cup

Large cutting board or butchers block

Rolling pin

Non-stick pan

Spray oil

  1. Combine dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and whisk to incorporate. Combine warm water and oil in a liquid measuring cup.
  2. While mixing flour, slowly add liquid ingredients.
  3. When dough begins to come together, start kneading with flour covered hands.
  4. Knead for five minutes adding a small pinch of flour when dough becomes too sticky.
  5. Form dough into a tight ball and cover with a moist paper towel. Let rest for twenty minutes to relax the dough. (When ready, you will be able to poke a ditch in the dough without it springing back into place.)
  6. Divide the dough into 10 equal parts (like a pie) using a knife or bench scraper.
  7. Roll each piece into a smooth ball. Cover all dough balls with a moist paper towel and let rest for ten minutes.
  8. Shower a thin layer of flour onto a large cutting board and cover your rolling pin in flour. Roll each ball into a flat circle, turning the dough when necessary to make the tortilla even. Set rolled tortillas aside on a plate divided by wax paper or paper towels. Wait five minutes and re-roll each tortilla until a desired thickness is reached.*
  9. Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat. Coat with spray oil and place one tortilla in the pan. Spray the top of the tortilla with spray oil. Cook for thirty seconds then flip and cook for thirty more seconds. Repeat for all of the tortillas. Serve immediately or keep warm on lowest heat setting in the oven.

*Note: The more you allow the dough to rest, the less elastic and easier it will be to work with.



These tortillas are perfect for wrapping, rolling, stuffing or dipping. Try the Tacos de la Tierra for an earthy twist on a traditional favorite. The soft and salty mozzarella cheese marries the sweet crunch from the peppers and onions perfectly with the savory bite of shiitake mushrooms. Enjoy these with some fresh salsa or hot sauce for an extra zing.



Tacos de la Tierra

Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small Vidalia onion, thinly sliced

1 fire-roasted red bell pepper (pimento), thinly sliced

1 clove of garlic, minced

½ teaspoon chili powder

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 cup black beans, rinsed

Spray oil

½ cup shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced

⅛ teaspoon salt

6 oz part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated

  1. Heat a large sauté pan on high. Add olive oil and onions and lower flame to medium.  Sauté onions for seven minutes stirring occasionally.
  2. Add pimentos and garlic to pan and sauté for another two minutes.
  3. Add spices and black beans.  If veggies stick to pan, add a tablespoon of warm water.  Cook for five minutes.  Turn off heat and set aside.
  4. Heat a small sauté pan and coat with spray oil.  Add shiitake mushrooms and sauté for five minutes or until browned.  Sprinkle with salt.  Set aside.
  5. Heat oven to broil.  Load a sheet pan with tortillas, fill with beans and veggies, and top with grated cheese.  Broil for two minutes or until cheese is melted.  Remove tacos, top with shiitakes and serve.



Further Reading:

Additives/preservatives in our bread supply:  http://organic-center.org/reportfiles/Part1_YourDailyBread.pdf

Trans fats (hydrogenated oils):  http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/trans-fat/art-20046114


Parallel Realities and the Prosperous Polak

I’ve spent the last six months on a financial roller coaster; a common vehicle for the college graduate transitioning into adulthood. I took a leap when I decided to start my years as an economically independent grown-up living in Manhattan. Compared to others, I’ve had a lot of luck since I got here. I stepped directly out of my summer internship into a full-time catering position. Not only has it held me above water, it’s proven to be one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had and the best acclimation to New York City I could ask for. I take great pride in what I do and I get a lot of satisfaction from creating relaxing, accommodating experiences for clients. Most of my peers are people pursuing alternate professions, whose feelings toward serving are apathetic if not contemptuous. The few who have made catering into a lifelong livelihood are efficient professionals with whom I immediately bond. After working a weeklong, nine hour-a-day job with one such individual, we got to know each other especially well.

Pawel is a 38-year-old Polish immigrant who has been in America for seventeen years and catering for fifteen. We were working for an MBA intensive doing three meals a day and had a significant amount of downtime between services. We exchanged views and stories on everything from most ridiculous customers to political outlooks.

To the indifferent naked eye, Pawel seems helpful, polite, and rather regular; a grown man who never committed to a career. During the week I spent with him, I was quite drawn to Pawel’s personality, the way I am to a cheese platter at a cocktail party, and I found him to be considerably remarkable. He has an unclouded, sunny-side-up attitude that he wears on his skin like a sheer lotion that exudes brightness.

I asked him what he does for fun. “I raise my children,” he said, his face beaming. He stole a starry-eyed gaze into an empty space. His eyes crinkled at the corners as he, no doubt, contemplated his fond thoughts of them. He spoke frequently of his wife and kids, always while wearing a grin from ear-to-ear. I learned about their personalities—their fortes, quirks, and what makes each of them special to him. Some people live for their job while others work for their life. Pawel was a strong vision of the latter.

Though we wear the same hat, it takes quite a different shape on both of our heads. I spend too much time worrying about my next steps and feeling substandard to the countless ambitious bodies I coexist with in New York City. I occasionally lose myself, looking forward to the many diverging avenues in front of me. I forget to stop, look sideways, breath, and think what a long way I have already come.

Pawel is living his dream, grateful for the ability and opportunity to work. Perspective is everything, and I believe my Polish friend is a sight of success: working to make a living and enjoying what he cherishes most during every ounce of his free time.

When we walk the same route through our days, we are walking in two different worlds. I live in a universe of self-sufficiency, uncertainty, and unlimited exciting opportunity.  He resides in an environment of sacrifice, and rewarding, unconditional love.   He loves his world, just as I love mine. When I remember that, I smile.


NYC captured in 2008 at sunset from the cockpit of a Cessna piloted by my dad.  The first time I realized I would one day be a resident.

NYC captured in 2008 at sunset from the cockpit of a Cessna piloted by my dad; a small chapter in the early years of my love affair with the city.

The Ivory Kings of the German Spring

The hatching of spring brings familiar fancies to me that I haven’t felt for a while. The ripe New York mornings make me reach for my running shoes again. The crisp air, newly awakened patios, and blossoming parks force me to avoid the subway and roam unfamiliar paths.   The golden yolk sunshine and fragrance of fresh blossoms remind me of a spring I spent in Bavaria cooking for an isolated resort tucked in the Alps. And when I think of springtime in Bavaria, I crave asparagus.

In Germany, Asparagus is only served when in season, which lasts about two months. Unlike the spindly green spears more common in America, German spargel is milky white and tenderly meaty. They are more savory than the often bitter green asparagus. The little white stalks are so highly revered in Deutchland it is not only considered royalty among food, but this time of year is deemed Spargelzeit, or “asparagus time.” Germans buy them by the flat and eat them even faster. Spargel craze commences in mid-April and every restaurant stocks their kitchen, often dedicating entire menus to the worshiped vegetable, until June 24th when the season is over.

At the Hotel Sonnenalp, we would receive tens of cases every day filled with hundreds of pale limbs bundled tightly. The head chef kept two or three commis working round the clock prepping the laborious nobles. It was a mindless art if you could perfect it. The chefs would stand around a large steel prep space slated with bunches of asparagus peeling each in under three seconds, singing anecdotes and laughing, never pausing to looking down.

My favorite meal was simple salted asparagus, sometimes served with salted potatoes or hollandaise sauce.

Hollandaise was a daily ritual at 5:00 every evening just before dinner service. It is a classic (and temperamental) sauce that must be served fresh and warm. As a “trainee” in the kitchen, I was the creator and keeper of the hollandaise while everyone set up their stations for dinner service. What begaxn as a tedious task for me became calculated clockwork. I took great pride in the rich golden goodness and the skill I honed to make it. It took a marriage of the scientific baker’s mind and the artful chef’s to gauge the eggs and finesse the butter into a consistent emulsion. The zesty, buttery sauce is a perfect counterpart for asparagus’ sweet umami essence.

This is the traditional recipe that I became quite accustom to making while at the Hotel Sonnenalp.  


Classically prepared white asparagus with boiled, salted potatoes and hollandaise sauce.

Asparagus with Hollandaise

Serves 4


1 bunch white asparagus, peeled

2 egg yolks

½ a lemon, juiced

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

¼ teaspoon salt

pinch of cayenne pepper

optional garnish: chives or parsley, chopped



2 medium bowls

wire whisk


  1. Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Prepare a bowl of ice water. Blanche asparagus spears in boiling water (about 4-5 minutes). Turn off heat and remove asparagus from pot, saving water. Place asparagus in ice water to halt the cooking process. Set aside.
  2. Whisk the yolks with the lemon juice until fluid. Place the bowl of yolks over the pot of hot water and continue to whisk. While whisking, slowly add melted butter.*
  3. Remove sauce from heat and stir in salt, and cayenne pepper.
  4. To serve, return asparagus to boiling water for one minute to reheat and cover with warm hollandaise.


*Do not let the egg yolk get too hot or the yolk will scramble and the sauce will separate. If the mixture starts to coagulate, add a dash of warm water to loosen it and remove from heat.


White asparagus is more than just a beloved vegetable in Germany; it is a firm farewell to winter and a celebration of spring and the spark of the upcoming season of fruitfulness.

Happy dining,


Fear and Responsibility

My boyfriend and I stood huddled and hunched over with our forearms resting on the sill and our necks craning through the open window of our fourth story studio apartment.  It was a deep stormy Sunday, and a pinpricking rain fell steadily on the shadowed sidewalks.  We had been drawn to the window when anonymous shouts peaked our curiosity causing us to pause our cooking to check out the commotion.  Our eyes were locked on two men across Second Avenue.

One guy was in tattered blackened clothing and mud-crusted shoes two sizes too big with a worn in, non-descript, black baseball cap and was seemingly homeless.  He was seated and slouched, leaning against the bay window of the Mexican restaurant on the corner.  The other, standing, wore dark baggy clothing with a hood covering his head and face.  Both had apparently smoked, ingested, or injected some psychoactive material. The hooded man was speaking inaudibly while rocking back and forth, lunging toward and retreating from the seated man.  The guy on the ground would flail his arms, flick his legs, and jerk his body uncontrollably while shouting in a slur “gooo ahAYYY.”  People sat on the other side of the window, seemingly oblivious to the goings on outside, nonchalantly nibbling on chips and salsa and sucking down margaritas.  They strained to keep their eyes inside, avoiding acknowledgment at all costs.  The comfort of their conversation was more convenient.

The confrontation continued and escalated for fifteen minutes with everything but physical beating occurring.  The man’s abhorrence grew and he spit on the poor fool, lying on the pavement.  The altercation garnered shockingly little attention from passers by and the surrounding businesses.  As the assault grew more intense and the disgusting remarks grew louder, sidewalk strollers slowly started veering into the street around the parked cars to avoid walking through the uncomfortable harassment.

My eyes were glued to the street.  I wondered what I should do, what I could do, as I watched the intense vulnerability of a man frozen on the ground, covered in spit and hatred, but I was immobile.  My mind wheeled with a crisis of consciousness, but I looked on, captivated by the scene that was happening below.

This man clearly needed help.  He was being badgered and seemed unable to defend himself.  Perhaps he had created this situation for himself, but with the surrounding streets and shops flowing with people, no one stepped forward to offer defense to the feeble human lying on the ground.  People passed by giving no more than a glance to the two before walking into the deli to grab a snack and go about their day.  Just as casually, patrons exited the liquor store with their brown bags of booze and carried on as usual.

After twenty minutes the hooded figure, having reduced his victim to sobs, grew bored with his endeavor and retreated in the other direction.

The incoherent bum breathed heavily with relief.  He shakily hoisted himself up grabbing at the building structure he had leaned against.  He shifted and stumbled toward the corner like a drunken sailor who’d lost his sea legs.  His body started moving faster than his feet and his right shoulder went down as if being pulled by a screaming toddler and he lost his balance completely, tumbling to the concrete.  He rolled in the direction of a pole that supported the restaurant’s awning and again lifted his body off the ground and tottered around the corner out of sight.


My boyfriend and I agreed the show was over and retreated to the kitchen to work on dinner.  Not five minutes had elapsed when we heard another loud exclamation of indistinct garble coming from the street.

The hooded man had returned and was furiously pacing up and down the street.  Without the grounded bum to direct his anger at, he began lunging at innocent pedestrians.  An unknowing walker would turn the corner and start up Second Avenue and when they were a foot away from the enraged individual he would whirl around and jump at them screaming “AHHHHGH.”  He startled one woman so badly he forced her to trip over her own feet before jogging away.

At this progression of behavior, the shop owner from the local liquor store and two deli workers gathered outside their shops and started watching the miscreant, who was now screaming and whipping the pavement with his jacket.  The rain picked up and a chill came through the open window that made my hair stand and my spine curl.

The impervious madman swung his jacket at the windshield of a passing cab that swerved slightly.  He threw his coat into a gutter puddle and turned on a huge, shoulder-heavy black man strolling past.  “Stupid nigger!” he shouted at the man’s back stopping him abruptly in his tracks.  It was the first time I heard clear words from him and my back erected itself and I felt my mouth gasp.  The towering man backtracked towards his half-sized aggressor.  The scrawny thug continued to shout racial slurs while slowly backing away.

The upright man held his cool while keeping the uncontrollable degenerate occupied, ignoring the cowardly punches hitting his immovable body.  I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a police car slowly pull up to the unpleasant incident.

The gutless creature backed himself into the building’s wall as the officers advanced toward him.  He knelt down at their mercy.  A bitter mist settled on the street and the scum was finally silenced.  The shopping, eating, and walking had and would not cease.




The Atlantic’s Best Kept Secret


Courtesy of Jorge Cardoso

The Azores have always been a place for explorers.   The mid-Atlantic cluster of nine islands, 760 miles west of Portugal, was settled by Portuguese Explorers in 1427 and was once thought to be the end of the earth.  Since then, the group of islands has seen very little human activity compared to much of the rest of the world, even though it has an abundance of attractions and endless panoramic views.  This makes the Azores just as appropriate for modern explorers as it was for explorers of the 15th century.  The passing Gulf Stream helps maintain a mild climate that averages 60°F-70°F most of the year and brings in a unique variety of aquatic life.  The terrain has dramatic volcanoes jutting into the sky, deep craters, miles of lush pastures, and a jagged shoreline that melts into a never-ending cerulean sea.

Gorreana Tea Estate:  Courtesy of Thomas Zrna

Gorreana Tea Estate: Courtesy of Thomas Zrna

The erosion and decomposition of volcanic lava and ash creates a fertile soil that is abundant in organic matter.  The lush pastures make it possible to grow crops and maintain herds of livestock in sufficient quantity to feed the island.  The livestock are used for food and dairy, including fresh cheese and butter.  Azoreans have been growing grapes and producing wine on the island since it was settled in the 15th century.  They mainly produce fortified and table wines and have been exporting fortified wines since the 19th century.  The Azores are also home to Europe’s only tea plantation:  Gorreana tea estate.  If you visit the estate, you can try a cup of freshly picked, organically grown tea.  In addition to functional flora, several species of vibrant flowers blanket the diverse topography, including azaleas, camellias, heather, agapanthus, and rhododendrons.

The Azores’ waters provide some of the world’s best whale-watching.  Beginning in the 19th century, whaling became an integral part of the culture after being introduced by Americans.  The ability of the Azorean villagers to hunt whales helped alleviate poverty and establish an identity unique to the Azores.  Whales became part of Azorean culture, through songs, imagery, and writings.  Since the end of the whaling era, the islanders have replaced whale hunting with whale watching, which has been equally as good for their economy, according to native Chie Sakakibara.

More than twenty-four species of whales, porpoises, and dolphins reside or migrate along the Azorean coast.  Sperm whales (think Moby Dick) and pilot whales are the most common cetacean sightings.  “We keep a special relationship with whales,” says Manuel da Costa, Director of the Whalers’ Museum.  “Now we take tourists whale watching, but we admire and revere the whales in the sea that have nourished us and will get us going.”  With 25% of the world’s cetacean population inhabiting the waters around the Azores, whale sightings on the whale watching tours are almost a sure thing.

It is rumored that the Azores islands are remnants of the lost continent of Atlantis, according to author Dan Bailey.  Diving off the coast of the Azores brings life to that ancient myth.  Submerged rock walls that trail beyond the eye’s reach, large boulders that litter the sea’s floor, and vast caverns with striking entryways all set the stage for your imaginary discovery of the lost land of Atlantis.  Black coral, several species of fish, and sea urchins inhabit the underwater caverns.

The Azores are an up-and-coming surfing destination.  Surf-waves.com describes the waves as “powerful,

Underwater Caverns:  Courtesy diving-europe.divescover.com

Underwater Caverns: Courtesy diving-europe.divescover.com

unchartered, sometimes dangerous and most of all crowdless.”  The swells range anywhere from four to fifteen feet with the winter bringing in the best waves.  The location in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean makes it a perfect year-round surf spot that brings in consistent waves from all directions.  Surfing in the Azores is recommended for experienced surfers only.  It is hard to access many of the surf spots and the reefs present an added level of danger.

Aside from enjoying the water, there is much to be explored on the trails and mountains of the Azores.  Hiking is the best way to experience all the islands have to offer and the mountain and coastal hikes are both impressive.  The mountain hikes lead to caverns, waterfalls, and the picturesque views.  Mount Pico is an extinct volcano, topped with a crater that is perfect for overnight camping, according to Miguel, an Azorean native.  At 7,713 feet above sea level, it is the highest point in Portugal.  The coastal hikes provide great views of the water and mountains with a milder terrain.

Regardless of your interests, if you are an explorer, the Azores are a gem that is worth discovering.

Linger Eatuaries

A breath of life is brought into Denver in the old house of the dead.  Justin Cucci bought the old Olinger Mortuary with a vision of turning it into his next restaurant venture.  The “O” was dropped, and the glowing blue neon sign that remains on the roof now reads “Linger Eatuaries” instead of Olinger Mortuaries.  Cucci’s first restaurant, Root Down, was opened up in a refurbished gasoline station and enjoyed immediate success.  Linger has sent an even bigger wave through the Denver food scene.

Courtesy of Linger

Courtesy of Linger

Linger is located in the highlands atop a hill and has unsurpassed views of the city through it’s glass walls.  The menu is a variety of small plates of global street food divided by region.  The dishes range from $4.50 to $19.00 with the average plate being about $10.00.  The menu pulls ideas from humble regional dishes, and Chef Cucci isn’t afraid to introduce some creativity.  The menu is a fresh, small-plate concept that encourages sharing and ensures a palate adventure.  They stay bustling weekends and weeknights alike so I recommend reservations.

The first thing that I saw when approaching Linger is the breathtaking view of the Denver skyline.  With the elevations of the highlands, I was eye level with the reflecting buildings and bright lights of downtown.  If you are dining after 5:30, complimentary valet is available.

The hostesses are sprightly and polite, and efficiently sat me since I had a reservation.  The dining room is divided into two sections of u-shaped, retro booths with the open kitchen running parallel the length of the restaurant.  The cooks wear clean, pressed coats and have focused faces as they prepare diverse regional delights.  Above the kitchen is a mural from the 1971 funeral-filled black comedy:  Harold & Maude. It is an expanded picture of a hearse, keeping the playful theme of the mortuary living.

The tremendous glass windows run floor to ceiling along the length of the dining room providing a picturesque city-scape.  There is a private area that is good for large parties and a full service bar upstairs.  The recently opened rooftop patio has it’s own food truck parked on the roof.  The view has just recently been partly obstructed by a new apartment development that started building this past August.

The view gives Linger a distinct contemporary urban vibe.  The staff is young and eclectic; my waitress had a 1975 Diana Ross afro with bell bottoms and hoop earrings.  She was knowledgeable about the menu and gave fitting recommendations.  My water glass never emptied, and she was present without being intrusive.
Popcorn is their street food version of bread-and-butter, and they experiment with dynamic seasonings such as curry dill, barbecue chili, and habanero-maple.  Along with popcorn, they brought us water that is in what looks like a brown formaldehyde bottle with the chemical formula for water printed on the side.

The wine list is delivered on a metal, medical clipboard, and the dessert menu is printed on a toe-tag, which subtly reminded me of the old Olinger Mortuary I was seated in.  Even the bathroom has mug shots of Herald and Maude on the doors.

The undertones of the mortuary theme bring playfulness to the experience, which made me love Linger more as I discovered it.  The random yet cohesive menu brings together the lighthearted theme, gorgeous view, and vibrant atmosphere.

The stars of the menu are the buns; the Mongolian BBQ Tofu Bun is a far-away favorite.  The tofu has been slow braised in a barbeque sauce, topped with scallions, miso-pickled cucumbers and wrapped in a folded, light and fluffy dumpling.  The soft doughy dumpling is contrasted with the crisp pickles and sweet, dense braised tofu.

The Raw Indian Samosas were daringly creative but not as successful as the buns.  The texture was that of a pasty energy bar, and the spices were entirely too pungent.  The dish was so far from a traditional samosa that it resulted in a confused palate and over stimulation of the taste buds.  The curried cashew “yogurt” and cranberry-mint sauce only increased the flavor chaos instead of complimenting the dish.

The less traditional Carrot and Lentil Kofte is a transition of flavors and textures but is executed equally as well as the buns.  The fried lentil and bean mash is reminiscent of a falafel and has strong flavors of curry and chili.  It is served in a crisp butter leaf lettuce wrap with shitakes and pickled zucchini accompanied by a bright and refreshing lemon tahini yogurt.

The creativity of Chef Justin Cucci rarely falls short, and he consistently keeps the customers coming back for more gorgeous views, comfortable atmosphere, and adventurous cuisine.

Far From Home

I’ve never been a good packer.  When I was nine, I went on a trip with my family and was entrusted to pack my own suitcase.  I was an avid collector of stuffed animals in those days, and had decided it would be a good idea to bring all thirty-seven of them along in an oversized hockey bag.  My packing strategies have improved since those days, but not by much.

I was traveling to Germany for a three-month internship in the spring of my sophomore year in college.  In the spirit of being well prepared, I had packed a fifty-four-pound suitcase, small duffel, backpack, oversized purse, acoustic guitar, and a rolling snowboard bag – just in case I might make it snowboarding while I was there.

I landed in Munich at 7:00 a.m. without a wink of sleep.  I’m sure I looked half-crazed with bloodshot, bagged eyes, bed hair, and pasty, gray skin.  My limbs were weary as I hauled my bags down the aisle, bumping the back of every seat.  The chipper flight attendant smiled at me as I approached her at the front of the plane.  “Willkommen in München!” she chirped with her scarlet lips and voluminous hair as she cocked her head slightly.  I smiled at her weakly and trudged off the plane.

I had collected my baggage and hauled them – in 100-foot increments because it was all the strength I could muster – to the train station.  As I found myself dodging through all the slickers in their trench coats, paranoia simmered inside me.  I was delusional from the lack of sleep or food.  All I could hear in my head was my mother’s relentless cautions:  “Just keep a lookout for pick-pocketers,” she’d warn.  “When I was in Spain a man took a purse right off my shoulder and bolted down the street – chased him all the way down the street to get it back,” she would say with eyebrows raised and a proud grin.

All I needed to do was get to my destination – a little town called Sonthofen in southern Germany– get some food and a good night’s sleep.

Unfortunately, it was more challenging than I had anticipated to figure out where I needed to go.  It was nothing like the easily navigated Germany I had remembered from when I was younger traveling with my parents.  Of course, I had a meticulously planned agenda, courtesy of my Dad, the ultimate human travel guide.

There I was, blank-faced, heaving, with three bags thrown over my shoulders and my ball-and-chain luggage pulling behind me.  The trench-coated natives bee-lined past me, shoulders brushing, without second guessing where they were going.

After a fresh, soft pretzel and a triple espresso, I perked up and figured out where to catch my train.  I took my time getting to the platform, as I could now only haul my baggage about fifty-feet at a time before my white fingers and glowing tendons had to rest.

I heaved my bags two at a time down a flight of stairs and onto the platform where my train was due to arrive.  I sat there exhausted, and my heavy eyelids sunk towards the floor as I heard the train pulling in.  The brick-red doors slammed open and people shoved off the train as more people pushed in.  I stood there watching, waiting my turn to pull my load on the train without getting knocked onto the tracks.  The crowd cleared and I hoisted myself on.  I kneeled down to unload my backpack, duffel, and purse and I heard some mysterious German over the crackling speaker that was followed by a loud crash.


Munich Hauptbahnhof courtesy of Friedrich-Berthold warrelics.en

I shot up from my position crouched on the floor, and turned to realize that the large metal door had just crunched shut.  I shuffled forward to open the door and retrieve my suitcase and snowboard bag off the platform.

To my shock, the door wouldn’t open.  I jerked the handle up and down thinking it was stuck, then turned to a mousy German girl,  who stood there staring at me,  soundlessly imploring her to help.  She looked confused and stood there as I turned to point to the door and my bags, the outside scenery started moving.  The train was pulling away from the station.

I began screaming as tears started rushing down my face; I was banging on the immovable glass window yelling, “OPEN THE DOOR!  STOP!! MY BAGS!”  I pictured a gang of trench-coated German’s lifting my bags and raiding them, selling or keeping everything inside.  I whipped around and threw open the swinging door to the cabin, desperate to make it to the conductor and tell him he had to stop the train.  I panted through the cars with blurred vision and a flushed face.  I must have looked like I was being chased by an axe-murderer as I tore through the compartments hitting into walls and stumbling over my feet.

I burst into the cab where the conductor sit and started shouting “YOU HAVE TO STOP THE TRAIN MY BAGS ARE BACK THERE!” I was sputtering and teary and pointing spastically back at the train station.  The short, plump conductor stood there with his mouth hanging slightly ajar, his eyes wide, trying to assess what the hell I was talking about.  A meek woman who had been taking in the scene from a nearby bench piped in, “Miss…I speak English.” I frantically spun around to her trying to explain the situation and talking over her as she tried to translate to the dumbfounded conductor.  As understanding slowly slid down the conductor’s face, he picked up a transmitter and called back to the station.  The gentle woman reassured me that the stationmaster would look for my bags and hold them for me.  As the man hung up the transmitter, he spoke swift words to the woman who turned to me with a kind smile and said, “someone saw that you left your bags and has already brought them to the office.”  I was immediately taken aback.  I started breathing a little more deeply and wiped my face as I sniffled.

Here I had been so paranoid that everyone was out to get me in this strange place where I felt I had been stripped of my ability to communicate.  When in fact, I came to realize, I had judged the culture too harshly upon arrival.  I took a deep breath and slunk back into a seat, relieved and slightly embarrassed by the scene.  I had a thirty-minute ride to the next stop where I could get off to catch a train back to Munich.  It was plenty of time to reassess my snap impression I had had of Germany when I first arrived.  When I got back to the Munich train station, a young man who spoke English was working in the office where my bags were being held.  “You are supposed to bring these with you, you know?” he said devilishly as he handed me my bags.  I smiled for the first time since I’d landed.  The sarcastic teasing was a language I understood, and he reminded me of my older brother.  I smirked at him and said “Oh really?  I’ll try to remember that next time.”  I continued back to the station to seek out the next train.  I felt relieved and hopeful.  I suddenly didn’t feel so far from home.

Back to Basics: Continuing Education of a Chef

DENVER – For Alex Seidel, “farm-to-table” is not just a gimmick to bring in business.  Though it is a popular tactic for many Coloradan restaurateurs, for Seidel it’s about immersing yourself in the production of food from harvest to consumption.

Two years after Seidel opened his restaurant, Fruition, he bought a farm.  It gave Fruition an impeccable reputation but that was not his reasons for starting the farm.

“Being involved with the food from start to finish holds so many advantages” says Seidel.  “Did the farm bring notoriety to the restaurant?  Yes.  But that certainly wasn’t the reasoning for opening it.  The farm was started for education purposes.”

Seidel was looking to continue growing as a chef by improving his knowledge of food from its beginnings.

When you walk into Fruition, the tables and floors are wooden, the table settings are modest, the lights are low and it’s reminiscent of a large family dining room.  There is a quiet buzz coming from the busy cooks in the semi-open kitchen to the right of the door and a comforting chatter of guests as they enjoy each other’s company and their meals.

For a “fine dining” restaurant with a reputation that precedes it, Fruition does not have the classic marks of a fancy, modern restaurant.  Siedel is a little less worried about keeping up with the Jones’ and a little more focused on producing quality, consistent food.

“We keep it unpretentious and focus on the part of the restaurant that matters.  Notice there are no white tablecloths on the tables and we’ve never spent a dime on advertising,” says Seidel.

It is refreshing to see someone so dedicated to the real art of food.

Seidel has been cooking for more than 20 years.

He grew up in Wisconsin and took his first kitchen job right out of high school.   Enamored by the homemade pastas and fresh ingredients, he took to the kitchen right away and has continued to mature and thrive in that environment ever since.

Opening the farm was simply another way for him to grow as a chef and continue to perfect his craft.

Seidel understands what the customer wants and is dedicated to exceeding the needs of the customer, even if it means that he must continually grow as a chef.

That is why he started Fruition Farm when he opened his first restaurant, Fruition.  Seidel says, “Before opening the farm, I had no idea how to age cheese or harvest arugula.”  The farm is a learning experience not only for Seidel, but for all of his cooks as well.

All of the cooks at Fruition are as passionate about learning and improving as Seidel.  Each cook spends four days a week working in the kitchen and one day a week working on the farm.  Seidel believes the biggest benefit of the farm is that all the cooks get to be a part of the process and gain an appreciation for the food.  Seidel says when you work on a farm, “you gain an appreciation of how to age cheese, and how the rind develops.  You feed the pigs until they are big enough to break them down and utilize every part.”

Seidel uses produce, meat, cheese, and eggs from the Fruition Farm in the restaurant.  About 30% of all the food the restaurant uses comes from the farm and the rest comes from food purveyors.

After a few weeks on the farm, each cook takes to a certain job and becomes an expert that area.  There are a wide variety of jobs to be done on the farm.  Some cooks explore cheese making, while others raise the pigs until they are big enough to break down and use every part.

Chef Alex Seidel of Fruition Farm.  Photo courtesy of Lori Midson, Cafe Society Editor at "Westword Magazine"

Chef Alex Seidel of Fruition Farm. Photo courtesy of Lori Midson, Cafe Society Editor at “Westword Magazine”

“When you raise an animal you know what it eats because you are feeding it you understand it’s living conditions and it’s anatomy.  When you go through all the hard work, you gain a special pride and respect for the food,” says Seidel.  “Even when you harvest the greens and produce, you understand the effort and the conditions it takes for that plant to go from a seed to a product that is ready to be used.”

It is an unmistakable passion that Seidel brings to his work and obvious that it sets him apart from the rest.

The Fruition Farm supplies food to more than 30 restaurants in the local area.

Chef Alex Seidel’s niche is “sophisticated comfort food.”

He highlights the importance of using ingredients in classical combinations to complement each other naturally.  His specialty is using innovative techniques to elevate the food to a refined level.

A customer favorite at Fruition is the Pasta Carbonara, which is made with house-cured pork belly and hand-made cavatelli pasta.

Seidel opened Fruition outside the city in a small restaurant area on 6th Street.  Though the location is somewhat discrete, the reputation keeps business steady all week long.  “Fruition is located in a good neighborhood, bringing in a lot of faithful repeat clientele” says Chef Alex.

Sunday is one of the best nights of the week because no one wants to go to far from home and no one wants to cook.

“It’s nice to enjoy really good food free from pretention,” says Jeff, a customer of Fruition.

The average Fruition customer has been there before.  “They enjoy good food and wine and they don’t like pretentiousness,” says Seidel of his customers.

The customers are a wide range of ages with varying economic statuses.  They all seem to have one thing in common:  They appreciate artfully made, really good food.