Monday, January 26, 2015

America Cooks With Chefs, Did I Win?

Susan Ungaro, President James Beard Foundation
It's Monday and Mason and I are in Palm Springs for the America Cooks With Chefs finale and announcement of the winning team. It has been a whirlwind weekend and lots of fun. As with any contest, there is so much that happens behind the scenes.

In August of last year, I got an email from my Weight Watchers group about a cooking competition, they were looking for a short video audition explaining my challenges with food and weight. I shared that I've struggled with my weight my entire life and now I see Mason struggling growing up in a "Super-Sized" world of processed food. I submitted my entry and went on with my day. A few months later I learned that I had been selected as one of six contestants who would be paired with a James Beard award winning chef, I would go to a 3-day kitchen bootcamp where we would create a recipe that was 800 calories or less and then we would compete with the other contestants and their chefs to find a winner. The prize consisted of two trips including spending money - but no prize for winning the contest, that was kind of weird to me, but who was I to question it? My first trip was to Portland, OR where I met my Chef Mentor, Naomi Pomeroy who was awesome. She created the recipe and we only had one day of filming - it was not a collaboration and it was not a 3-day kitchen bootcamp. Though I certainly learned a few things, it was not the full deal I thought would happen based on the contest promotion. 

Mason wants a car to come for M. Partak
This weekend was part two, a weekend in Palm Springs at the Clinton Foundation "Health Matters" summit where all six of us contestants and several of the chef mentors came together to serve our dishes to the attendees of the conference and work the crowd for votes to make our recipe the winning recipe. Mason is part of my story so the producers asked if he could be included, of course I said yes so Mason made the trip to Palm Springs with me. The trip was really great, we were picked up in a town car at the airport (Mason said it felt just like a limo!), delivered to a gorgeous resort where we had a room with a view. All of our meals were included and we got to meet and get to know so many cool people. Mason was interviewed by a large online magazine and they just think he is the cat's meow! There may be something down the line for him with them, that's cool, so stay tuned! We did some more filming and we worked with the chefs at the resort to make sure our recipes were exactly the way we wanted them for the upcoming dinner. We all manned our stations and served our food with crazy enthusiasm and fun. Mason stole the show prepping my dish and serving it up with a dose of Siracha sauce. The night wrapped up before 8:30 PM and speaking only for me, I was exhausted! Mason and I went back to our room and called it a night. This morning we had breakfast and met with the production crew to go over what to expect at
the luncheon to announce the winner of the contest. Mason was not sitting with me but never fear, he was seated next to the food editor of Good Housekeeping Magazine and he was sure to pitch his school kitchen project and leave her with his business card. I just shook my head while I looked over and saw her leaning in to him and him chewing her ear like a seasoned professional. When the announcement was made as to who the winner was, we got a rundown on what the judging criteria was for the recipe - one of the main criteria was "Feasibility" for a home cook to make the dish. Well, that would have been good to know from the beginning! We had no criteria for the recipe other than that it needed to be 800 calories or less, oh, and did I mention I did not create the recipe? My recipe (the recipe created by my chef mentor) is not hard, but it has a lot of ingredients and steps, it would likely intimidate a beginning home cook. Several of the other recipes were also not super simple. I also learned that all the votes we worked so hard for at the dinner really only counted as one vote. What? How can that be? If all of us got at least one vote, than we all had that single vote added to the judges vote regardless of how many people liked our dish best. Hearsay? Maybe.

Mason pitching a large magazine editor
This is not sour grapes or anything like that, it's simply to explain that I didn't lose. You all know I am a competitor, yet I was simply the face of a contestant in a competition who did not contribute anything to competition at all. I didn't create the recipe, I didn't cook the recipe the attendees tasted, and the votes we earned with our energy and enthusiasm didn't really matter in the end anyway. It's hard to be disappointed and feel like anything at all when I know (now) I was really just along for the ride while this program is being developed and fine tuned. We will have the opportunity to give feedback to the production team and I will be sure to share all of this with them - in addition to the fact that one of the contestants is an employee of Weight Watchers. Weight Watchers is a sponsor so it seems to me it's a conflict of interest that this person was selected as a contestant.
All in all, I won. I won two all expenses paid trips with spending money. I got to meet amazing people and Mason had the opportunity to see his mom in action and shake a few hands on his own. I got to do lots of on camera work that I love so much, and I got to be part of something that has a really cool message for America - get in your kitchen and cook! I have been inspired to create delicious recipes that are healthy and do more to take care of myself. Finally, nobody went home empty handed - we all got 3 months of Weight Watchers personal coaching, Mayo Clinic cookbook and health assessments, a $50 Sports Authority gift card, the Weight Watchers cookbook, and a set of Calphalon cookware. I don't think of that as losing!

Happy Monday

Monday, January 19, 2015

Let's Share Our Love Today!

Happy Monday!

Today I want to share a story because I love, love, love my friend Rod so dearly. Rod has been deployed to Kuwait for the last year and recently contracted a very serious infection after a relatively minor surgery. 

Rod and I met in 1995 when I moved back to Northern California after working for Disney in Burbank. I was working in San Francisco when Rod came into my office and asked about interest in taking his self defense class for women. I was running an employment agency at the time and thought it would be a great idea for my staff and any of our temps who wanted to participate. We did the class and I loved it! I asked Rod what I needed to do to be able to teach these classes, too and his response was classic, "You have to spend a specific number of hours rolling around on the floor with me until I think you are ready to teach." I half way laughed and replied, "Really? You're kidding, right?" He said, like only Rod can, "Well, not really." He trained me to teach with him, I joined the American Women's Self Defense Association (AWSDA) and we taught lots of classes all over California. 

It wasn't long after we met that I rented an apartment in San Francisco and had no one to help me move. Rod offered and showed up in Hayward to help me pack up my car and a truck and off we went. We got stuck in a major traffic jam on the San Mateo bridge and by the time we got to my apartment, Rod had already missed his volleyball game. As we approached my apartment and I started up stairs, Rod asked, "Where are you going?" I told him I was going up to the apartment. "Why aren't you taking the elevator?" he asked. If I could have thought to have a camera crew on hand it would have been worth a million dollars to see the look on his face when I told him there was no elevator! Yes, this guy helped me move a bed, dresser, end tables, a chair and who knows how many boxes and bags of clothes up 3 narrow flights of stairs to my little studio apartment! 

Rod and I have many fun stories as the years of our friendship have grown, our families are close friends and Rod was in our wedding. We have lived together as roommates, most noteworthy was early morning of September 11, 2001. Yes, I was awakened to my radio announcing the first plane hitting the twin towers and I immediately went to wake Rod up...we both watched the news in disbelief. On a lighter note, a super funny story is of what I call, "paying the maid." When I do laundry, if there happens to appear any money in the washer or the dryer, I consider it a tip. Rod was not a wallet kind of guy so it was very common for him to put his cash in his pockets. He would let me keep a $5 or a $10, but one day he came home, got out of his work clothes and jumped in the shower. I walked by his room with an open door and saw his dirty clothes piled up so I picked them up to put in the wash. As I checked his pockets, I squealed with delight! All I said was, "YOU JUST PAID THE MAID!" and from the shower I could hear him yelling, "NO! NO! I DIDN'T! I DIDN'T PAY THE MAID!" Rod had just cashed a check and had $300 cash in his pocket. He jumped out of the shower, still soapy, soap getting in his eyes and just wearing a towel protesting that he did not put his pants in the laundry so he didn't pay the maid. I didn't keep his money, but again, where was my video crew with him standing there darn near naked with soap stinging his eyes not sure if I was going to give him his money back? 

Finally, one of my all time favorite stories is when we traveled to S. CA to teach a series of self defense classes. We taught a class, I met his mom on that trip, and Rod took me to a banana farm. I learned that there are 237 varieties of bananas and I purchased an apple. Rod was aghast, "What the heck? I bring you to a banana farm and you buy and apple?" We still laugh about that, but in my defense, the bananas all just looked like bananas and this was a passion fruit apple, have you ever seen/tasted a passion fruit apple? On that same trip, Rod came down with a horrible toothache. It got so bad I had to take him to an emergency room where the doctor gave him a dose of morphine and prescribed demerol to get him home and until he could see his dentist. The doctor told me to do the best I could to keep him comfortable but to not take anything he said too seriously, they even sent him home with a pillow (for free!). When they put him in the car, they buckled him in and no sooner did they have him settled, he was out. I popped in a Gin Blossoms CD and started the trek north to get us both home. As the music played and I was singing along I began to hear Rod mumble, it was inaudible and I just figured he was dreaming. But Rod clearly had something to say and was so doped up, he was struggling to say it. I was concerned so I pulled off the freeway to see what was wrong, ultimately what Rod was saying is, "The doctor said no country." I laughed my ass off! The last track on the Gin Blossoms CD is one with a bit of a country music melody and Rod does not like country music, he figured he could make the music for the trip home part of his prescription. I know this is way funnier for me, but for those of you who know Rod, you will appreciate how funny this was.

Rod underwent his 8th surgery yesterday and finally, they are not detecting any infection. I was really worried about my friend as MRSA is nothing to fool around with. I want Rod to know how much he means to Dave, Mason and I and I know so many more people have stories just like mine. 

Let's share our favorite memories now, while our loved ones can share in the joy with us, let's not wait until we are sharing through our grief. Rod I love you man, you are one of my dearest best friends! I'm glad you are on the mend and I couldn't be happier that you have your most awesome wife Cathleen with you through all of this. And Cat, if you are reading this, "The doctor said no country!"

Big smiles!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Mason's Major Award

Happy Monday! How is January shaping up for you? It's been pretty darn good for Mason and I although not so much for Dave - he's been in Arkansas with the flu. As much as I love that man, I told him he can't come home until he's well. 

Mason got some really cool news, Mason has been selected to receive an award from Placer County - the Commemorative Coin Award. The recipients are personally chosen by the Supervisor for their district in recognition of either their acts of heroism, longstanding community service, or exceptional acts that have dramatically improved or impacted people's lives. WOW! How cool is this? From Mason, "I am getting my award on February 3, 2015. I still can't believe it, it's just a kitchen not saving a life or something." Thank you Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery for recognizing how hard Mason has worked and what an accomplishment it is for a 11 year old boy to raise $26,052 to put a kitchen in at his elementary school. As it turns out, the money Mason has raised will not go into renovating the actual kitchen, the school is just too old and the project was becoming more daunting by the moment. Instead, the school will be putting in a home economics room or food science lab so the students can actually learn to cook using equipment much like they have at home. Each year, the kids will learn to cook and in May, the school will host a community luncheon as a fundraiser to spotlight and show off the new culinary skills of our students. Pretty cool, huh? I'll keep you posted as to the progress so you can all see this come to fruition. 

I start back to school on the 26th and I can't wait. I love learning to use the Adobe programs for photo, publication and video creation - I love, love, love it! The other thing this year that I am taking action on is painting, yes, painting! I'll post pics of some of my work once I have one completed. I think it's so funny to hear someone say, "I just don't know what I want to do." Really? All I can think is, "I want to do this, and that, and the other thing, oh, and this, too!" I supposed it takes all kinds of kinds. 

Have an awesome week and be sure to wash your hands, and then wash them again! This flu is ugly and it's hard to beat. Just when you think you are over it, guess what? You're not! I hope you don't know this and are healthy, healthy, healthy! Big smiles! Kathy

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Year! Old Friends!

Today I was so excited to visit with David and Lisa Anderson. David and Lisa embarked on the adventure of a lifetime last year starting with a major downsizing of their "stuff," followed by a move to another country! This wouldn't seem like anything all that spectacular for a new college graduate off to see the world before settling down, but it certainly is for a couple who pulled up stakes in their retirement to keep life fresh and new. I can't tell you how much I admire that zest for life and spirit of play. I also happen to feel strongly that moves like that help keep the spark in a marriage. The day to day grind of marriage, jobs, family, bills, and all the minutia that when combined can weigh a relationship down, take the joy out of it. Setting an exciting plan for a life change in motion is exciting, it's exciting to do together, to look ahead, to plan where to live, how to live, looking forward to meeting new people and eating in new restaurants, there is just so much to look forward to - together. David and Lisa and I have talked about this on many occasions and today I applaud them for living their lives to the fullest, AND making time to sit and visit with Mason and me for a few hours today.

School starts for Mason tomorrow and Dave is away at training, this means I have some time to myself to get some projects done. I'm planning to purge my closet of clothes that I have been holding on to for far too long. I want to map out the initial elementary culinary program for Mason's school and see if I can get a large corporate sponsor on board to donate some of the small appliances we will need. I also want to work on my cook book and start my own series of videos. Mason keeps telling me I don't knwo how hard it is to make a good video so I think it's time I put my young son on notice! Laughing! Not really, but trust me, I have the chops to make a good instructional video, I may not be 11 and nearly as cute as he is, but I have my skills!

New Year's Day. A fresh start. A new chapter in life waiting to be written. New questions to be asked, embraced, and loved. Answers to be discovered and then lived in this transformative year of delight and self-discovery. Today carve out a quiet interlude for yourself in which to dream, pen in hand. Only dreams give birth to change.