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Easy Sushi for Anyone, Anytime (For Real)

August 6th, 2014

Sweet dreams are made of these. Days like these. Ok, so imagine you are doing what you love best, {insert here} with your best friend {insert here} and you are both making a living, doing your separate dream jobs, together. FOR REAL. I’m here to share this dream with you all. This isn’t a bragging thing. This is a my-heart-soars-and-we-have-to-make-this-stay-this-way sort of thing. Today’s fun all started with the idea to use my frozen brown rice as the base for my sushi rice.  BUT first let’s go back in time……

This is my college roommate, Makiko, teaching me how to make my first sushi nearly 20 years ago (really? I mean, really?). She imparted the importance of making it “everyday” sushi, using ingredients like thin sliced egg, black forest ham and canned tuna fish with mayonnaise. I was so surprised at how she grabbed up whatever was in the fridge, sliced it up and rolled it. She showed me that sushi is something that can be made everyday if you think differently about the entire thing. Bring it down a notch. Get the rice right and then roll away. It was a total revelation! I’ve had countless sushi parties since that first day. NONE of the sushi I’ve made is remotely close to restaurant sushi, the kind that chefs study for years and years simply to get the rice right. I make home-style sushi. And today I took it to a whole new level of ease by using frozen brown rice.

Now, I know that using frozen rice sounds like an abomination. It’s even weird to me, a frozen whole grain spaz. But why haven’t I done this before now? Why? Because sushi is one of those things that sits on a pedestal in the mind. It’s unnatural to even imagine sushi short cuts.  Well I’m here to show you how to crack the super-simple-sushi-short-cut-code.  Say that 3 times fast.

Start by throwing a couple of bags of frozen brown rice  in a large saucepan with about a 1/4 cup of water. Throw a lid on it and let it come to room temperature on low, stirring every while. Leave it alone really, it’ll do it’s thing. Then, chop up whatever you have in your fridge into “rollable” form. See? You’ve got some of this laying around.

Now you’ll probably have to run to the store for some nori (seaweed) and rice vinegar but it’s everywhere now, even big supermarkets, but most certainly any natural foods store. Now got to my recipe for the rice mixture here (rice vinegar, mirin or sake, salt and sugar) and get your rice geared up and ready to roll. Read through a few suggestions. It’s that easy, seriously.

Lay out a piece of nori and with wet hands put a ball of seasoned rice in the middle and spread all over the nori a thin layer, leaving about 1/2 inch empty on one end. Now place whatever you want in that roll on the opposite end and using your thumbs to roll and other digits to hold filling in place, bring nori up and around the filling, sealing the roll with the end that has no rice on it. See!

A sushi mat is very helpful to make it uniform and pretty, but not totally necessary. But get one, it’s fun and will remind you to roll more sushi in your life when you see it in your kitchen-ware-jumble drawer. So happy rolling super easy sushi!

It turned out surprisingly good. As you can see, Dawndra was snapping photos and taste-testing with me the whole time. We may or may not have sampled the saki used in the rice. We spent an afternoon doing what each of us loves best; creating food and taking beautiful photos while laughing our heads off. The boys waited in the wings for samples and totally loved it. For real. No super-imposing, they ate the sushi!

Well, two out of three is good, right?

In the end, it was a day so very well spent. Dawndra’s photography business is booming. Her specialty is portraiture and art. She’s one of those rare artists where you can stare and stare at her work, wondering what in the world did it take to make this?! How?! And the same piece never gets old. She has art from years ago I’ve seen dozens of times and still marvel at it’s beauty and mystery. You really should check her work out here.

My business is growing rapidly as well. Just this week we made real progress on a QFC account (cross your fingers!). Our package refresh is all finished and in stores. Every day we work away at building a brand and spreading easy whole grains across the country. Every day Dawndra takes beautiful photos and is increasingly getting amazing jobs and contracts. Together we document great, easy food. She also happens to own a little bit of my company, which thrills me. Us all tangled up trying to make our own way, our own path. Sisters in arms for 20 years and surely 50 more. Hot dang life is good.

Summertime Roasting

July 28th, 2014

It’s sweet, sweet corn season. I rarely eat corn unless it’s fresh off the cob this time of year. So, today I had a big ol’ bag of Serrano chilies, a couple ears of sweet yellow happiness and enough wheat berry to kill a vegan. The end result made Bill ask for seconds, which is quite the compliment coming from the man who’s standard reply to me inquiring how he likes a dish is, “pretty good”.  He is, after all, a born and raised New Orleanian. Anyhow, this recipe was so simple and turned out so dang good that I had to write about it.

First, turn oven to broil and place rack on top spot. Then place 2-3 ears of freshly shucked (I love that word) corn and as many Serranos as you can stand on a cookie sheet. Place in oven on that top spot. No seasoning, just pure veggies being roasted. See?

Broil for 4 minutes turning everything and then broiling another 4. Remove the chilies carefully and turn the corn one more time and broil for another 4. This is what it should look like when out…

Ok now shave the corn with a knife holding it upright. Then slice up the Serranos into rounds.

In the meantime, your wheat berry should be just thawing in a bowl so that it’s room temperature or slightly chilled. This dish is best room temp. Next, chop up a big ol’ handful of parsley or cilantro. Toss all ingredients in a bowl and squirt with a generous amount of fresh lime (about 3 limes) and a good dashing of high quality, course sea salt. I’m telling you, fresh lime and good salt will rock your culinary world baby. This is the end result. The heat of the chilies varies so drastically that it is best to carefully taste test them.

This might be my favorite wheat berry dish of all time. So simple and the flavors just burst and compliment each other so well. Major hit at a bbq if you were to bring this finished with a nice cotija. Oh, not to mention this dish would take 2 hours to make if you had to cook and chill the wheat berry. Seriously, I know I’m biased, but having wheat berry in the freezer is so awesome.

Life Is What Happens To You When You Are Busy Making Other Plans

June 12th, 2014

Since a friend sent this quote from John Lennon to me in April, a few days after I was in a serious car accident, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. We are always planning. Kids school, demonstrations, travel, food festivals, waitressing, bedtimes, dinner, recipes, business & more business, family time, exercise, deadlines for everything… it NEVER slows down. Then on April 4th THIS happened:

I was just driving home  from a hair appointment. I hadn’t had my hair done in over 2 years. It’s the only reason I didn’t have children with me. As I entered an ‘uncontrolled intersection’ I was clipped on my back side and it sent me rolling twice. I hit a parked car on a roll and spun facing the way I’d just come. I ended up suspended from my seat belt. I unbuckled and lowered myself to the ground and began to kick out the front window. Within minutes the place was swarming with police and firefighters. I was so stunned that such a violent wreck had happened on such  a mundane trip as one to the hair salon, on a side street, about a mile from my  house. Looking at what remained of our only family car, I was in utter disbelief that I only had a sore head. After a battery of tests at the hospital I was released to my very sweet, and very unnerved husband. Like I said, a bump to the head and that’s it.

That night Bill and I sat in the living room until 3:00am. We were completely high on adrenaline and the fact that life as we know it could have been taken in a moment. I saw the ground come up and slap my drivers side window. If there had been an object there, it would have come through the window. So many different outcomes to this scenario. We talked and talked and listened to music and drank some really nice wine. Dawndra came over with a huge bag of groceries and we laughed and talked all together. Together. It could have been gone. We were filled with the joy of being alive and the knowledge of what could have been, what was so close. Without saying it, we couldn’t go to bed because we didn’t want the night to end, ever.

So we slowed down, without realizing it. We cleared our demo schedule.  I cut down dramatically on waitressing. We worked really hard on the boys science fair, baseball, and finally got hockey started. These things that matter more than the constant pursuit of MORE production.

Bill and I went to a Mariners game and out for sushi. Without the kids. It was heavenly.

I generally stopped wringing my hands about Kroger, Whole Foods, blogs, Facebook, whole grains and on and on. I turned a lot of it out…out of my constantly spinning head.

Then, just a few weeks ago we decided to sell our home. It is an absurd seller’s market. We could instantly become debt free. We could fund the next growth stage of Gretchen’s Grains without worry. So we put it up for sale by owner. It sold in 1 day. ONE DAY. This was our first home. We’ve raised our babies into good little boys here. We love our neighbors like family. This was not an easy decision. But it was the only decision. And we are all alive, all together, moving on to the next phase of our incredibly lucky, blessed, exhausting, beautiful lives.

I loved that house. We brought it back to life over the course of 5 years. I transformed the garden into a vibrant urban vegetable-herb-flower heaven. I can picture the boys crawling in diapers on the beautiful hardwood. I see myself in hard labor on my hands and knees on those same floors. That house was a friend to us. It kept us warm. It hosted our dear friends and family. So much love went through that place.  My youngest, Thomas, took this picture as we drove away. Right now, I am overwhelmed with sadness. Goodbye little home.

But we had to go. When I called my grandma upset about our decision she told me, “It’s not about the house, but what goes on it in. Have some friends over and make a delicious meal, you’ll feel better”. I felt better instantly just hearing those words. We have to say good bye to some things knowing it means hello to another. We must stay grateful. We cannot forget that our time around this place is brief and it’s so good to be together. So good.

So on we go. Our rental will suffice for the next year. Summer is upon us. I put down some tomatoes, squash, peas and sunflowers in the small garden bed we have now. I dug up and transplanted the potatoes we planted on St. Patrick’s day with all the neighbor kids. Couldn’t resist. They make me happy to see their blooms in our new place. They are a symbol that we can take our past into our present, if we want. That the good will stay with us while we make new paths, if we just take it with us. That life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.

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!