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Frustration & Pride!

February 5th, 2014

“Small business creates jobs”. I never understood that statement. To me, it seems like if you’ve got a small business then you create jobs for a few individuals who own the company and a couple worker bees who help it grow. Right? How is that creating jobs on any scale that matters?

Rewind to the  holidays a month ago. As I sat wringing my hands about how difficult it is for Bill & I to pay ourselves I had a realization: We help a LOT of other people get paid. In Gretchen’s Grains, we’ve created a product line that requires people to cook, freeze, transport, pack, store, distribute, shelve and sell our grains. From the organic certifiers to the package makers to the forklift operater; we provide all of them with at least  a small part of their daily tasks. They are not employed by us, but their jobs rely on a multitude of (small and large) businesses needing their services. Without Gretchen’s Grains there would be one less task in their day for which they get paid.

As I worried about the usual holiday stuff like how to scrape up some cash to get my Good Man something after the kids toys, I was suddenly filled with a sense of pride that we contribute to the employment of dozens, possibly hundreds of families! Our business creation has fingers that reach deep into our local economy. From Alaska to Montana to Seattle! It hadn’t occurred to me that so many families, minimum wage and up, benefit from our products just being in existence.

I felt my holiday worry melt away with the pride of positively contributing to our society and economy. Although I still waitress and Bill still has hectic solo nights with the boys, we know that someday soon we will reap the fruits of our labors. Until then, we will keep on keeping on with a renewed sense of pride and responsibility to the people who rely everyday in some little way on our frozen whole grains company to keep their jobs and paychecks intact.

Inspiration is for Rookies

December 1st, 2013

I heard this saying a few months back, and it keeps popping back into my brain because I have been feeling REALLY uninspired lately. As far as business goes, we are definitely out of the “start up” phase and onto the “small business” phase. This means bringing up bottom lines, demo-mania and thoughtful strategy. A lot less heart stopping pitches and power points to corporate giants. Home life is great, too. I really couldn’t ask for more, (unless there were 5 tickets to New Orleans just laying around).

So what’s WRONG with me? Are the 16 hour days finally getting to me? No. I’ve accepted my insane working lot in life. Is it the weather change?  Come on, I’m a Pacific Northwesterner. Well, then, why can’t I cook, write or create anything??

That’s when it happens, sitting right here at the keyboard. I suddenly get what this means… INSPIRATION IS FOR ROOKIES. Hard work is how you get things done. Not sitting around “waiting to feel inspired”.  Nose to the grind stone. Day in and out. Get moving slacker. This “feeling uninspired” stuff is for whiners. I’m no whiner. I’m a worker. And a whole grain slinger. Dammit. It’s not inspiration I’m lacking; it’s sitting down at the keyboard and just getting to work. Just GETTING IT DONE. Not perfectly. Just done. Just do it. Those Nike people are frigging genius.

So, now, I will not slack on my blogging. I will update. I will create at least 2 new recipes a week. They won’t be perfect. But this WILL happen. Ok, ok, I didn’t finish the marathon training. But you know what? Kim and I made it pretty darn far and we know what the road looks like.  When we do travel it (and we will!) that road will be ours for the taking. Now I’m feeling inspired! Ha ha!  Watch out!

Portland VegFest

September 23rd, 2013

p>If I told you that Bill & I drove 5 hours to drop the kids off then 2 more hours to Portland only to make it with 1 minute to spare to drop all of our supplies off for VegFest would you believe me? It’s true and I lost a bet that we wouldn’t make it on time. See, that’s how he does things. One minute to spare! To me, an hour early is “on time”. You can imagine how I tried to argue that I actually won, but….

Anyhow, we have a nice hotel room all to ourselves with a loaf of bread, mozzarella, a jar of my sister’s homemade chanterelle mushroom tapenade and a good bottle of red. HEAVEN. Gearing up for our second festival together in the morning. See, even though we are business partners we rarely get to have both our hands in the same part of the business at the same time. It’s really, really fun to do this with Bill. These are the times we will never forget.

So we have a booth surrounded by hundreds of other fantastic vegan products. Like amazing food and people. MC comes on and announces, “Welcome to VegFest 2013 we are open for tasting everyone!” His voice is booming, music comes on the loudspeaker, lights go bright and the double doors one each side of this huge auditorium open up for consumers to begin filing in. Like hundreds of them. Thousands of them. For real.

So I’ll get to the best part, the biggest surprise, the whipped cream on my whole grain ice cream sunday: People knew who we were. Tons of consumers were ALREADY eating Gretchen’s Grains. It was stunning. Why is this stunning? Because I still can’t believe we’ve created something that people know and love.  Am I being ridiculously self deprecating? No. Am I a numbskull? No. It’s just that we’ve worked so hard and long, and love our products so much that I haven’t crossed the bridge to the land where I get it that other people actually buy and eat them.

Then I realize something: My. God. It’s. Working. IT’S WORKING!!??? Yes, Gretchen, now get off the table and keep handing out samples. You’ve just embarrassed yourself with that outburst. I will be riding this shot in the arm for at least a month. Time to get back to work. Even harder.

A Revelation or Two

July 2nd, 2013

I have NEVER considered running a full marathon. Out of the question.  However, in the effort to aggressively smash the things I fear, (see biz pitch to Kroger) I’ve allowed the thought to seed deep in my brain. Low and behold it began to grow, and grow until I had to try to persuade some other sucker to join me.  Turned out it was an easy sell to my dear friend, Kim.

We began running together 2 years ago. At the time a full mile was really hard to pull off. A number of half marathons have since been ran. The full marathon conversation was over a couple glasses of wine after a long waitressing shift. Within a day Kim had our training schedule mapped out and a date and place decided on. The things I get myself into by letting ideas out of my mouth.

Long story short we are on week three of training, and I feel like last night we jumped a major hurdle both mentally and physically. As I lay in bed I realized how eerily similar this path to a full marathon is to starting and progressing in our business. In fact, the single 7 mile run we did last night practically encompasses the process of starting and building a small business. It’s a crazy parallel. I think you’ll get the picture:

The run begins and it seems like there is so far to go. 7 miles stretches as far as the eye can see. Like we will never get ANYWHERE. Then the pain begins about mile 2 and there is nothing that can be done but to run through it. We are feeling no results, no good endorphins yet, only pain and the feeling of failure. Thoughts are creeping in left and right that we are fools for thinking we could possibly do a full marathon. We are going to let down those we’ve told about our Big Goal, but most importantly we are going to fail ourselves. There is nothing to do but keep running. And it’s dreadful.

Mile 4 hits and because we are over half way the idea that this run might be accomplished introduces itself. It’s invigorating. We just may make it through tonight if nothing else. Then miles 5 & 6 pass and pain is popping up in weird places like small fires being ignited and put out left and right. Emerging and then extinguished as we keep running and running through the pain. Helping each other. Planning and pushing. Willing the idea of failure out of our muscles, bones and brains.

As the end of mile 7 approaches we are both filled with a sort of euphoria. Like we can go on forever! How is mile 7 so much better, easier and inspiring than mile 2? We are both a bit stunned. By the simple, but not easy, act of just keeping on running, we ended up in a place we didn’t know existed. Something happened last night. A bridge was built. And we are going to run across it come hell or high water.

Half Marathon Bliss

May 22nd, 2013

p>This weekend I ran my 4th half marathon in as many years. It was by far the funnest EVER. First of all, one of my sisters flew in from Florida just for the race. She has overcome some major health problems to not only have a beautiful son she was told she might never have, but also change the course of her health through exercise. I couldn’t wait to hit the pavement with her. My other sister and our dad joined as well.

It’s hard to describe being on the start line. The sea of humanity gearing up for the race. The old, young, fit and unfit, costumed or geared out, sign carrying or wheelchair bound~all of them all around us, strangers united in a personal goal. It’s truly awesome. And when you have some of the people you love the most to run with it’s like perfect moments, etched in your mind forever. The look on my dads face, imprinted in my brain. It is LIVING. These moments.

Then the run begins. Just a slow jog. A pace that allows a massive amount of sister catch up. I’ve got my Gretchen’s Grains T-shirt on with the website on the back. I’m feeling proud. The miles pass like butter. About mile 6 we all pop an ibuprofen with our Gu and gatorade. It’s always the joints that hurt the worst.

The crowds we pass holding signs and cheering give needed boosts of energy. I love these strangers . They make my heart swell. The small children we pass are well worth the effort to get over and give a high-five. To them we are Runners. Real Ones in a Real Race. Wait. We are real runners in a real race. So awesome.

About mile 10 we realize that we will actually finish. Any self doubt washed away in the fact that we just passed the 20K sign and none of our knees have completely seized up. With the finish line in sight the crowds get much bigger on either side of the road cheering loudly with looks of excitement for us, total strangers to them, giving us encouragement, pride and a final adrenaline rush. We cross the finish line, my sisters and me. We hug and laugh. Look around for our dad. But he beat us to the finish line. By half an hour. No #*it.

Back at my dads house a whole group of runners converge with their medals and stories. Some of us are walking pretty funny. The rest of the evening is filled with laughter, ribs and beer. Lots of beer. Into the night we laugh, bundled in blankets on the patio with the Columbia River stretched out before us. There is singing and eventually the inevitable game of Taboo. The men won. For the first time. Ever.

Home now and back to the grindstone I feel invigorated from the weekend.  I just got an email that we’ve been placed in two more Whole Foods locations making it a total of 214 locations that our products are being sold. The excitement I feel at writing that gives  me butterflies. However, I keep thinking about the next half marathon. I just can’t wait to do it again.

Quinoa Custard W/ Lime & Orange

April 11th, 2013

p>I’d completely intended on writing about all kinds of serious things today like VegFest, Shark Tank, how fast our business is growing and the excitement/anxiety that ensues from such miracles. Alas, I’ve decided to talk about dessert. Much more fun and much less deep. Phew! As you can see from the title of this blog, it’s going to be delicious and exotic. Oh, and freakishly easy. Hooray!

So first take 4 egg yolks and beat them with the 3 teaspoons each of grated lime and orange zest. Whisk in 1 (14 oz) can of sweetened condensed milk and 1/2 cup fresh lime juice. Add 1 cup of cooked and cooled (much easier if you’ve got a bag of our grains in your freezer) quinoa and stir. This is the cool part: the lime juice essentially “cooks” the egg yolks, and once you let it sit for 30 minutes (stirring once or twice in there) it sets up all by itself!

At this point you can put it in little cups like pudding and top it with whipped cream. However, if you don’t like the idea of the yolks uncooked, spoon the custard into individual ramekins, or a pie dish. Make sure they are buttered. Bake the custard at 325 for 15-20 minutes until it’s jiggly but not sloshy.

I let mine sit for 10 minutes then unmolded them for a pretty presentation. Homemade whipped cream is a must. Maybe even some orange zest in the whipped cream? Next time I’m definitely going to put some finely diced jalepenos in this custard.  Sweet, spicy, creamy quinoa delightfulness. I’m really pretty excited about this recipe and the directions it could go. Check out the picture. Then make some. Then eat it all. Or share it and be considered a dessert genius.

Expo West, Drew Brees & a Stretched Hummer, Y’all

March 13th, 2013

p>Natural Products Expo West was amazing this year. The past years were a fact finding mission, a stick-my-idea-in-your-face-capade, an excuse to hang with my sister, Tracy. This year I have a real company selling natural products. With distributors, brokers and retailers oh my! I feel like I belong to this huge group of people trying to bring better food, products and a healthier way of living to all. And trying to make a living out of it all, of course.

Business meetings were amazing. Amy’s Kitchen people are fabulous. They’ve been taking their time to help out the little guy, a most humbling experience coming from such a successful company with wonderful beginnings. Presence Marketing people are a joy to be around and so very helpful in steering us in the right direction. Investors who are just plain kind and think our company is viable and investment-worthy. So much progress we’ve made the last year!

Now for the juicy parts of Expo West. First of all, the red stretched hummer limo(!!!) that transported us to the lovely AnQi bistro. I’m not sure Bill Weiland knows what an absolute treat it was to be invited to a night out with over a dozen amazing industry veterans. I did not mind being the greenest of the group, to say the least. Check out this trippy pic from inside the limo. That’s Tracy in the foreground. It’s my only proof. Dawndra, I’m lost without you and your camera.

Now the best part….I caught a pass from none other than…you guessed…DREW BREES!! WHO DAT!! No. I’m not joking. Yes. He was at Expo West. Why? Because he is a spokesperson for SoDelicious! This I did not know until my Bill texted me that Brees had tweeted he was going to be throwing footballs at the SoDelicious booth at 3:35.

When I read those words..Drew Brees..Expo West…I instantly knew I had to have those Super Bowl winning fingers, splayed perfectly, direct a throw to my outstretched arms. I knew the moment, and football, would be mine!

Tony, a very sweet gentleman (and potential investor) I’d met just the night before happened upon me as I realized my new mission in life. He immediately understood the urgency of the situation and manned one corner of the booth while I went around the other side to position myself strategically. We couldn’t tell which way Brees would fire that cannon, and there were people everywhere, just drooling for a ball. Just as he was about to throw, time seemed to hold still as I yelled, “season ticket holder!!”. He pivoted, looked me in the eye, and released. Did I catch it you ask? Please. You don’t mess up that moment. Besides, I’ve essentially ensured a happy marriage forever because Bill certainly isn’t going to find another gal who’s caught a pass from Drew Brees. See that blue speck up top the booth? That’s my new friend, Drew.

Here is the ball. Proof. Proof of the best Expo West anyone has ever had. And proof that when I travel I’m a total slob.

I can’t wait for next year. I intend to top this one. Love ya Trace!

Under Pressure Enchilada Success on a Cookbook Horizon

February 4th, 2013

As absurd as it sounds, I’ve decided to dive into creating a cookbook with my dearest friend and food photographer, Dawndra. Which means when she’s on her way with her camera, I need to be ready to deliver the recipe goods, for real. This means dangerously fast food chopping, frantic grain flinging, sauce explosions and a mess that looks like the Running of the Bulls took place right here in my tiny city kitchen. Never mind the three small knee-breakers that are suddenly and inexplicably hungry/tired/fighting/injured/screaming-like-their-hair-is-on-fire. Sound familiar to anyone? You get the picture.

Anyhow, I’ve wanted to create a quinoa enchilada for some time. The problem is the excruciating amount of time it takes to make a homemade sauce. Necessity being the mother of invention, I was forced to crack the code on a super delicious, totally cheater, half-homemade version of a verde sauce to go over my Quinoa Goat Cheese Enchiladas Verde. So totally tasty and simple anyone can make it and everyone will RAVE over it.

Start with a 15 oz can of any verde (green) enchilada sauce from the supermarket. Then add to it a cup of finely chopped cilantro, 3 cloves finely chopped garlic, 1 finely chopped serrano chili and 1 finely chopped tomatillo. Bring to a simmer and it’s done. For real, so insanely good and a beautiful, vibrant green color.

While the sauce heats, mash in a bowl with a fork 2 cups quinoa, 2 chopped roma tomatoes (or 1 large), 6 ounces goat cheese, 4 ounces queso fresca and half cup chopped cilantro. Squirt the whole thing with some lime then salt and pepper a bit. Roll this filling into about 6 medium sized tortillas. See? Super easy.

Now place your rolls in a baking pan and bake at 400 for about 10 minutes. Using a spatula, carefully place 2 hot enchiladas each on 3 serving plates. Top each with 1/2 cup or so of verde sauce, then sprinkle with a grated cheese blend of your choice (like that Mexican blend you can buy already grated). Avocado is nice here, too. Serve with a side of brown rice and some black beans, both sprinkled with queso fresca and chili flakes and you’ve got gourmet enchiladas really quick-like. Taaa-Daaa!

Will they make you this handsome?


Will they make you this happy?

Maybe. Give them a try and give me some advice on creating a proper cookbook while you are at it.  A nice sangria recipe would be helpful too. Now get to work! Please, oh pretty please, with avocado and habanero sauce on top….

An Opportunity, An Anxiety Attack, An Ace in the Hole

January 20th, 2013

So last week we were informed that an opportunity to present to Kroger had popped up. Did you hear me? KROGER. Ok, so we hadn’t even considered going to conventional grocers, yet. However, rule #1 in our new small biz lives is this: Never, ever hesitate when it comes to opportunity. So I didn’t.

As  I’m talking to the broker about this impending meeting, I suddenly feel my heart hit the floor. He had just asked me to do the presenting myself. Blinded with fear I realized I had exactly 3 days to prepare to present to one of the biggest food corporations in the country. I’m a professional waitress people!! I can barely tell Bill what’s just transpired. Now on to the action….

5:00am didn’t come early because I’d barely slept. I was on the road at 6:00am feeling like all my nerves had moved to the outside of my body. Dressed in my grey wool suit from college (ahem, 15 years ago) and my lucky earrings, I tried not to think about what I was going to say. In order to survive I knew I had to just let it flow from within and be myself. I completely flailed in a  phone presentation a few months prior to 12 very important brokers because I’d tried to follow a few pages of information instead of just talking about what I know: My products and my story.

In the waiting room of Fred Meyer corporate headquarters 8:30 passes, then 8:45, then 9:00. I feel like I’m going to come unglued, my body parts spontaneously floating away from me at the joints. I can’t drink my coffee and I’m sweating so much that taking my jacket off for the presentation is no longer an option. Then a woman I’ve never seen comes rushing up asking if I’m Gretchen. She hurries me through security, arm linked in mine rapidly telling me to smile, act happy, love my product and they’ll love me. We are moving so fast and she’s talking so fast and smiling so much I feel like I’m going to pass out. For real.

We enter a surprisingly small room with a table so large it seems almost cartoon-like. There are about 10 people around the table, some buried in laptops and at the end opposite me is obviously The Man. Introductions are brief and my brain registers nothing. Everyone is friendly which gives me the slightest bit of relief. Then laughter suddenly erupts as someone offers me a drink of the line of sodas that were obviously presented immediately before me. I am filled with dread as I realize they are laughing at how bad they taste. My God! The poor saps before me being ripped to shreds right before my eyes. Breathe. Focus. DO NOT LET YOUR VOICE SHAKE.

In the next moment my bags of grains are being passed around the table and I’m talking. I can hear myself as if I’m listening in on someone else. As I realize this person (me) doesn’t sound so bad I gain confidence. I re-enter my body and take the conversation over. I have a story to tell and a product to sell and dammit I’m going to tell it and sell it! Bill and I have worked too hard and too long for me to blow this moment in a fit of nervousness. And I don’t. I do not blow it.

After I finish talking, The Man leans in and says, “Why didn’t you come to us first?” I don’t understand his question at first. Then I realize he means why didn’t I take the line to Kroger, before anyone else, to be sold on their shelves. I quickly explain that we wanted to saturate the natural market first, then take that brand recognition to conventional markets. He then tells me that he can speak for the table that he loves the line and wants it on his shelves. OH SWEET JESUS.  I’m flooded with those endorphins one only gets when first seeing their baby, finishing a marathon or landing an account before this only dreamed of. Sweet, sweet relief. Oh you angel of relief!

The gal to his left types away and tells him there is freezer space for an initial 30 stores for us to be placed in. The Man, who suddenly resembles the anesthesiologist who gave me an epidural at stage 3 labor, tells me he sees us going national with Kroger in the next year AND that they’d be interested in an exclusivity on any new launches we have planned. I could fly away I feel so light, the natural high lifting me from my chair. And just like that it’s over.

The lovely woman who ushered me in ushers me out. Tells me in the same hurried voice what a great job I did and how she’ll help me in anyway get all the details worked out. I stumble to my car, phone in hand, Bill’s number on speed dial. I still can’t believe I’m telling him it could not have possibly gone any better. All of our expectations for outcomes had been blown out of the water. Kroger not only loves our line but sees a real future with us. The absolute best phone call I’ve ever made in my life. I love my man!

Then I call my dad, who laughs and laughs that proud, joy-filled, fist-pumping, hell-yeah laugh of his. My heart swells knowing how happy this sort of thing makes him. Then I get going because the 3 hour drive to Seattle followed by a 6 hour waitress shift cannot wait. Needless to say, the adrenaline kept me going through the night.

At 11:00pm the red wine and steak dinner Bill and I shared was the most delicious I’ve ever tasted. I realize that these ARE the good old days. It IS the journey that is thrilling. It doesn’t get any better than this. I am the luckiest person I know. I slept well that night. Very well.

The Nicest Surprises….

January 9th, 2013

p>Christmas vacation this year changed me. For good. Not the actual vacation, but the act of taking a vacation and it having the intended effect of chilling me out. I now know that vacations are real. A thing worthy of precious time and money. Looking back BV (before vacation) I realize I was on the brink of losing my grain-addled mind. I guess working 16 hr. days 6 days a week isn’t good for you?  Who knew! I began hallucinating that these three guys were trying to kill me. Wait, maybe….

At any rate, nearly two glorious weeks of sun-filled New Orleans replete with Saints games, French Quarter trips, po-boys and daiquiri’s has made me vow never to go a year and a half without vacation again. I am home now and feel unstoppable! I’m picking up serving shifts, creating a full demo schedule for February and March, developing recipes like they’re going out of style. I’ve even got a presentation (to Kroger) this week and I’m not even nervous. (that’s a HUGE lie) Aaaand I’m going to burn out if I don’t chill out. As you can tell.

Now to my point! Geesh. So I look at my email after vacation and I have all this feedback from consumers. Actual Consumers. Of our product. It still totally blows my mind that we have product, on shelves, and people buy it. And eat it. AND love it. How did all this happen? Why am I surprised? I mean, this is how it was all planned. I’m not self-deprecating or self-loathing or being plain negative when I say I’m surprised… I just am. So here’s an excerpt from one email:

Hi there,
I picked up a bag of the wheatberries and made an excellent pilaf last night.  Everyone loved it and the texture of the wheat was most excellent.
I served this with some nice fresh fish with a caper salsa verde and my BF raved and said he wants to eat this every week. A nice change-up from rice.
I thank you for a most wonderful product.  I’ll be purchasing more!

This is the sort of thing that inspires me to keep pitching and selling and demoing and working and developing. Thank you to everyone who has given me a big shot in the arm by reading your enjoyment of our product. It means the world to me. It keeps me going. It makes me feel like this….

May mid-winter vacation grace you all, every year, with daiquiri’s and po-boys!

*All photos, when they are amazing,  done by the beautiful and talented Dawndra Budd*