Saturday, December 1, 2012

Moving On ----Thanksgiving 2012

Table Setting, Thanksgiving 2012
Thanksgiving 2012 was a real family affair; four of my six children including Rodmond’s daughter Larissa came and participated in the creating of the day. Heidi prepped the Turkey with my direction. Paul and Rod took over the kitchen and produced a wonderful meal and did a lot of the clean up work as well.

Bill and Heidi had invited Bill’s sister Ginger and, as has happened the last 9 years, my neighbor Hazel joined us. Hazel will be 91 years old next week; she still maintains our courtyard and keeps moving around to stay limber. More power to her.

My son Steven called from London and wished he could have been here. Walter and family also could not join us. All in all we had a great Thanksgiving and were so grateful for our time together.

This Thanksgiving was not without sadness however; my brother Manfred died on November 14, 2012 in Germany. Unfortunately I could not fly to Germany to attend his funeral. I am the only sibling left and I am so grateful for all my children and that I have nieces and a nephew as well as Manfred’s wife Mia to reminisce about Manfred when needed.

Now we are heading toward Christmas, the biggest Holiday of the year. Our Christmas will be here in Healdsburg as well. I do not like traveling during the Holiday season. I love staying home and having friends and family come to visit.

I made my Advent wreath yesterday since December 2 is the first of Advent. I will have a small Brunch on Sunday for some of my neighbors. In the next few weeks I will attend a couple of Christmas parties. I also will do some spotter work in the next four weeks. It is a fun job except when it comes to writing the reports, ha, ha.

Missing my son Kurt and husband Marcus becomes acute this time of the year. It is hard to believe Kurt died 13 years ago and Marc made me a widow 36 years ago. He was a great Father and Husband. All these years I could not bring myself to get married again even though I did have a couple very serious long term relationships, my answer was always no. These days I wish at times that I had married again. Having seven children was a big factor in my saying no!!

Our children made it through their grieving and time of being difficult. All grew up to be self-reliant. They have families and keep in touch with me, some more than others.

Needed to keep you posted on the now. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The California Adventure Continues! 1982 to 1994

Summer 2012 in Healdsburg is as beautiful as the summers were on Balboa Island. The Island is surrounded by water; Healdsburg is surrounded by fields of grapes, both are beautiful.

Moving to Balboa Island where Heidi, Kurt and I found a new home. We really enjoyed living on the Island. Our second home was a waterfront home and we liked watching the sailboats passing through the channel into the pacific. Boat parades were colorful during the holidays, and we were having chili party's while watching the parade with family and friends.

Heidi and Kurt adjusted to the Southern California life style and made friends.  Since Heidi always liked to bake, she ended up working in a little bakery on Balboa Island called Dad's. She could walk to work. Two years later the owners offered her the little apartment upstairs from the bakery for the summer. Heidi was elated.

My son Neal decided to move to California and moved in with us for several months, but he was not a happy camper there. He did have a good job but he became a hermit for a time. (It saddened us all).

It was on Balboa Island that I finally accepted that my daughter Heidi was not always the angel I believed her to be. That was a sad day for me because, until her teens, she had not gotten into any notable trouble (details may unfold in a later blog). Kurt was busy redeeming himself as a sort of undercover spy for Corona del Mar High School.

I was recruited to help set up a company called COOK LINE after leaving Le Premier Restaurant. This company was short lived but a great idea. It gave Chefs all over the country directions when they got stuck on how to prepare a dish. Most of the clients came from the Midwest. I counseled Chefs from Montana, Ohio, and Iowa and so on, all via phone and slow mail. Boy, now all you have to do is go online and get all the answers you need.

I remember when I was getting ready to fly to New York City to meet with the Conde Nast Brass about plugging the company, but it never happened - Sandy pulled the plug on the company.  She said that it was not cost affective. She was right.

My next venture became the opening of the Irvine Ranch Market in Newport Beach at the Newport Center. My title was Assistant Director of Food services. This was a great job. I trained cooks and sales service personnel. I was responsible for the creative development of recipes and displays in six stores.

One of the stores was not doing so well - as they say, “location, location.” I was put in charge to do a turn around, which was not easy to do. But, we did it with promo and a change of venue to meet what the customer in the Laguna Beach area wanted.

I worked with Irvine Ranch Farmers Market for about 3 years. During that time my Boss John and I flew to New York. John wanted to see the products at the very famous delicatessen Zabers in New York City and others. We dined in various Restaurants I had picked out from my time living in the city. It was an interesting trip and no, no romance!

That trip helped to upgrade the older stores and made them all very profitable. The Newport Store is still going strong and the LA store as well. I kind of lost track with what happened to the smaller stores.  

John’s concept is used now by various companies but, he was the pioneer, and I am proud to have been part of the development of Irvine Ranch Farmers Market.

Of course, after I left I had to return my company car which I loved since it was a two-seater sports model. I used to drive an average of 150 miles a day from store to store. I still have my uniform which was/is a white butcher coat hanging in all six stores.

Sigrid’s Chili

½ cup olive oil
 6 onions (chopped)
 5 green peppers
 3 jalapeno peppers
 1 pound mushrooms (halved)
 5 teaspoons oregano
 3 bay leaves
 8 tablespoons chili powder
 5 tablespoons cumin powder
    red pepper flakes to taste
 5 pounds lean ground beef
 2 large cans tomato puree
 3 large cans chopped tomatoes
 4 quarts beef stock (bouillon can be used)
 4 pounds kidney beans
    water to cover beans
    salt to taste
 2 large bouillon cubes

In a large pot bring cleaned beans and water to a boil. Cook beans for 10 minutes and drain. Put beans back in pot and cover with fresh water. Add bouillon cubes salt to taste. Bring back to boil lower heat and simmer for 1 to 2 hours. While beans cook heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot. Add onions, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, garlic and mushrooms stirring frequently until onions are lightly colored. Add meat stir, add all seasoning and keep stirring until all is incorporated, about 15 minutes. Add stock, tomato puree and chopped tomatoes with the liquid. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 2 hours. Add the drained cooked beans. Cook for at least another 30 minutes on low heat. Stirring occasionally. If your chili should start to burn, remove and pour into a clean pot. If needed, add more beef stock.

Makes 48 servings:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Moving to California

Moving to California

It was the year 1981 when I was recruited to become Food & Beverage Director for the Newporter in Newport Beach, California. Which is a Hyatt Hotel now? We decided it would be a good move. Living in New York City and Connecticut lost its appeal... My two youngest children, Kurt and Heidi, and I packed up the belongings we wanted to take. Most of my furniture I had sold and the items the other kids wanted they moved into their home. The rest went into storage.

I rented a limo to take us from my son’s Neal, Paul and Rodmond’s home in New Haven, Connecticut to Kennedy Airport. We landed in Los Angeles where my sister-in-law and brother-in-law picked us up from the Airport. We stayed with Carroll and Russ the first few weeks. The drive to Newport Beach was a long one. I commuted every day with the children. I enrolled them in the school in Newport Beach for the fall. Yes it was summer when we moved to California.

I started to look for housing, which I found on Balboa Island. A cottage style house with very shabby furniture. The house was a summer rental so we could not move in until September.

My new job was to start on September 5, right after Labor Day. We moved on Sept. 2nd to Balboa Island. All three of us loved that little Island. Heidi and Kurt started school and I started my new job. Here comes the kicker! My second day on the job, the General Manager called a meeting with all of the top management to introduce me. As we were in the meeting I was called to the phone and had been informed that Heidi and Kurt did not show up in class even though I had dropped them off. I felt I had to excuse myself from the meeting to go looking for my children. The General Manager was annoyed and said quote, “Woman do not belong in top manager position.” I for one am a very reactionary person and turned around and said, “You can take your job and shove it.”

I knew he and I would never work well together, the Food & Beverage Director being the number two person in any Hotel. You see, I was recruited in New York City by the Seagram’s Company which owned the Newporter at the time. The General Manager never met me until I moved. He was not pleased that I was hired without his input. I actually can understand that now. At the time I thought, “What an arrogant SOB.”

I went hunting for Kurt and Heidi and found them at the famous Newport mall. Now, here I was with no job, a rental to pay for and living expenses. It was a good thing that I had some limited income for the children from SS.

The next day I picked myself up and went job hunting. I knew I would not have a hard time finding a job, which I didn’t. I took on a spotter job for an upscale Mexican Restaurant.

Of course that was not a steady income but it helped us over the hump. One evening as I was sitting at the bar observing the servers and Bartender (who was working into his own pocket), across from me was a couple a beautiful young woman with a man not to my liking. I kept thinking, "What is she doing with that guy??" We started talking, introducing ourselves and so my friendship with Nancy began. Nancy to this day tells people I picked her up in a Bar, and I respond with, “You picked me up.” Nancy gave me her business card which I tossed in a drawer at home.

As I said before, the house had very shabby furniture so, after a couple of days, I went out and bought some dark green sheets with roses for color, some plants and candles and redecorated our home. I will never forget when my son Kurt came home from school with a friend. He said to his friend, “My Mom can make a dump look elegant.” What a compliment from a 15 year old. Both Heidi and Kurt started to settle in and make friends.

I for one went on a job hunt and after a few days was hired by the owners of Ambrosia and Le Premier Restaurants. I was hired as a troubleshooter and trainer and recipe taster for Le Premier Restaurant which was a very new venture. Le Premier had a Swiss Chef whose cooking was more tuned to catering big functions instead of cooking on the line. His sauces were the worst I ever tasted, all flour and paste, yikes! One day I went into the kitchen and put a spoon into his sauces and the Chef went berserk. He threw a Chef knife at me yelling about what gave me the right to taste his sauces. I have to say here that Gerald the owner and his Brother Gustav never told him that I was hired to do just that. Gerald was not happy with the food in general. I told Gerald that his Chef is a banquet Chef and he needs to let him go. I than went on the hunt to find him a banquet Chef Position, which I found in Las Vegas. He was happy to move on and, after a few weeks even called to thank me.

Le Premier and Ambrosia Kitchen
We hired a new Chef with expertise in California and Danish Cuisine. Gerald and Gustav came from Denmark to the States. Le Premier became a very successful Restaurant and I had fun working with everybody

Ambrosia was already very famous throughout the country. I stayed with the restaurant for 2 years.

I will add a photo. Next the California adventure continuous!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Trying to buy Petit La Femme

Saturday was the wedding of the year in Sonoma County. It was a very special event with an Irish theme. My friend Josie got married to Kim with whom she fell in love at the Sundance Film Festival almost three years ago. Kim is Irish hence the Irish theme.

All the excitement and the wonderful setting with great food brings me back to New York City and some of the weddings I planned, cooked for and executed. One wedding really stands out, the theme was Gatsby. It was a wonderful and very special wedding. It took place in East Hampton, New York.

The wedding party was dressed in Gatsby Era designs. As you can see New York City, Hampton, New York and Connecticut was a very big part of my career and our family life.

While doing the occasional catering and doing turn arounds for restaurants I also had this fantasy of buying a small restaurant. The restaurant was called Petit La Femme. It was in the Village and a favored of mine as well as Koch, the mayor at the time of New York,  along with a few film and television stars. The restaurant had only 6 tables; the kitchen was so minute one had to really be organized. I wanted that restaurant in the worst way.

I pounded the pavement to secure financing which took me about 4 weeks. I had two investors, rearing to go. The day before my Attorney and I were going to sign the purchase of the restaurant, I went down to look at it one more time; I believe Heidi went with me. The restaurant had a lock on it and some IRS notification at the door. I called my attorney and told him what was happening and he advised me to drop the idea of buying this little gem. It would give me problems, especially since the owner had a big debt to the IRS and the City. As they say, one dream down the drain.

The restaurant business is one of the toughest to maintain; anyone who is familiar with restaurants knows that. Opening night can make or break you and if you do not have operating capitol for at least one year don’t even bother to open a restaurant.

The upside is it is like going on stage - it can be fun but, never loose sight that it is a lot of work. Never open a restaurant if you are not a people person. I have seen more Restaurateurs/Chefs fail because they do not want to handle the public. Networking besides having a great product and a well-trained staff is a must. Staff can also harm the success of your business. Owners need to be aware that servers and bartenders have to be treated with respect and be well trained. My father used to say, “Do not expect your staff to do something you will not want to do yourself. You are only as good on the top as with the staff you surround yourself with, never any better.”

In my fifty years plus in the hospitality industry I never forgot that and used it as a training tool. To this day I have former staff write or call me and tell me I was a tough task master but it served them well, even if they chose a different path in their career. Some opened their own businesses, others climbed the corporate ladder in the Hotel Industry. If you put yourself out there, the rewards and recognition are rewarding.

Next we move to California with my two youngest children.

The recipe I like to share is a true French recipe:

Set oven at 350*

Tomates farcies a’ la Provencale.

4 large tomatoes, halved
1 cup good bread crumbs
2 to 4 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed
1 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash the tomatoes, dry, remove stem and cut in half. Lightly squeeze the seeds and some of the juice out. Do not remove the meaty part. Set aside.

Mix bread crumbs with the parsley and garlic. Fill the tomato halves with the mixture and set on a baking sheet treated with olive oil or vegetable oil.

Top the tomatoes with some olive oil and bake for about 6 to 8 minutes.

Place on a serving dish and serve as a side dish with fish or chicken. Beef is also an option. The tomatoes also make a great lunch dish on a bed of lettuce with grated cheese and chopped eggs on top.

Serves 4

Monday, May 28, 2012

Moving on to 1980/1981

Moving on to 1980/1981

How and where to start? Perhaps I should start with my son Rodmond who turned 50 on May 20, 2012. We had a cookout here in Healdsburg with some family and friends. It was a fun evening. Oh boy, no wonder I am getting up in years. Rodmond is my son #4. He is thoughtful and very caring about his family.

Approaching the 1980's, I took on the Powder Ridge Ski Lodge in Connecticut, turning the short order Grill into a successful Soup and Meal in a Dish Restaurant. It became very popular with skiers and also with the locals. This was a seasonal operation for me and a lot of fun. Rodmond became a part time Bartender. In those days the legal drinking age in Connecticut was 18; I really do not know if that has changed over the years.

He also doubled as a spotter. I knew one of my bartenders was skimming from the top and of course that lowers your profit margin. Let me plug in that is one of the most common and annoying things that happens in the hospitality industry.

My children all had the privilege of skiing for free which, of course we took advantage of.  Heidi however, did not want to go and learn how to ski as she was worried that she would break her arm and could not play the piano which was/is her passion.

My commute to work was almost one hour each way which of course was hard on our home life. However, this was an operation I was proud of. The Bar on weekends was always packed with revelers. I hired a band at least 2 Saturdays a month and some nights the public got out of hand. On one of those Saturdays I went and stepped on a table with a whistle, blew the whistle and all went quiet. I told the guys and girls that if they did not behave I would shut everything down and no more music on Saturdays. Guess what? It worked. I hired a security guard as well. Mind you these were mostly 20 and 30-something guests.

After the season was over New York City beckoned again and I took on Chatfield’s Restaurant there to do a turn around. I hired a wonderful Chef named Christopher; I wonder where he is now! The restaurant became a favorite for models, media and stars. The restaurant was sold a couple of years later. During the first few months at Chatfield’s, Heidi ended up one evening doing the dishes for us since the evening dishwasher did not show. Heidi was all but 13 or 14. That evening the talent scout for the Ford Modeling agency had dinner in the restaurant. He noticed Heidi and wanted her to audition at the modeling agency. I declined because I felt she was too young. The agency found a similar type in Christie Brinkley. I wonder how different Heidi’s life would have been if I had permitted her to become a model.

This was also the year my Father came back to visit and while I worked in New York City, he stayed with my Children. He bought himself a car so he could chauffeur the kids around. I was so busy in New York that a friend offered me her apartment since she was going to live in India for a year. It was in one of those beautiful town houses of Madison Avenue. I stayed at the apartment 3 to 4 days a week depending on what went on in the restaurant.

My Father came to New York to stay with me a few days as he wanted to see more of the City. I took my Father and I believe Heidi, Kurt and I cannot recall who else to the New York symphony in Central Park. This was a highlight for my Father. You know it all is confusing now because the following year I moved with Heidi and Kurt to New York City living in a loft in Greenwich Village, which was another bad choice on my part.

However, I know that Heidi and Kurt both liked living in New York City. The problem was that, instead of sending them to public school I put them in a private school which ultimately I could not afford.

The choices we make hoping it all will come together are sometimes not the smartest. I call this learning the hard way.

The following recipe I introduced at Chatfield’s: I called it Hemmingway’s Shrimp. When I was on the Island of Majorca I met Ernest Hemmingway. He would come off his boat with his companion/wife; he would start the big grill on the end of the dock and grill those shrimp and we would peel them and eat them. Those shrimp were so good. Hence I put them on the restaurant menu. In the restaurant I made an orange dipping sauce.

I have to add that, after a few weeks, a lot of the restaurants in New York City put the shrimp on their menu.

Hemmingway Shrimp

6 large shrimp in shell per person

Put on the grill and grill for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Put on a plate or bowl if more than one person is at the table ordered the shrimp.

Orange dipping Sauce

1 cup orange marmalade
¼ th cup orange liquor

Bring orange marmalade to boil, add the liquor and on very low heat simmer for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Fourteen Years in Sonoma County

Where has the time gone? Sonoma County has been home for the last fourteen years. I am fortunate to be able to live in the beautiful town called Healdsburg. I like my apartment and I am surrounded by good neighbors and a very thoughtful landlady. The building I live in is an older building and Betty, the landlady, makes sure the grounds are kept clean; a little curb appeal is needed at this time of year.

This is far away from Bethany Connecticut. In 1979 I resigned from the Graduates Club and wanted to go back to catering exclusively. I rented a space with a large event room and kitchen. Mistake number one: the overhead was way over my budget. In retrospect, doing the catering out of our home would have been more productive. I closed the kitchen and decided to work with restaurants and do dinner parties for the rich and famous again.

New York City was a fertile ground and since I already had some notoriety it was not hard to reestablish myself. At times I tagged along with the food critic of the New York Times to various restaurants; it was a fun thing to do.

I met many high powered people in New York City, among them the then President of NBC. He invited me to his office and for lunch; I will never forget that day. I was wearing a beautiful white linen silk pant suit with a white hat; I have to say I looked smashing. While talking with him (I cannot recall his name), the producer of the soap opera “The Doctors” (now defunct) came into his office. He introduced himself and later in the day, as I was leaving, he asked if I would be interested in reading for him for a part in the soap. He needed a woman with an accent to play a visiting Doctor. Well, I was flattered and I did read and two days later got offered the part. A lot of thought on my part went into this decision but I had to turn it down, I could not afford all the time it took to stay in New York City away from my children. Talk about opportunity missed.

I became a consultant and food tester to restaurants and did cooking demonstrations in Department stores. From there I ventured to do turn a-rounds for troubled restaurant operations. That was the most challenging part of my work and also satisfying.

I did keep doing very special dinner parties especially around the Christmas holidays. One of my clients was Barbara Lewis; she was the distributor of Yves St. Laurent designs. The dinner was for Yves St. Laurent. Barbara wanted everything white, including the menu. Well, I balked at that. We settled on the entrée dish I call “Veal Tarragon” in a white wine sauce. The menu and a recipe are at the end of this post. Everything was decorated in white at her beautiful Park Avenue apartment.

The guests arrived and Yves St. Laurent came into the kitchen and said he wanted to eat right now because he had to leave. Air France was going on strike the next morning and he had to take the red eye out of New York because he needed to be in Paris the next evening.

Barbara, the hostess, was not pleased. I made a plate for Yves and he ate in the kitchen. He was dressed in jeans and an open color white shirt. I wish I had a camera, ha, ha, no cell phones yet.

The rest of the evening went smoothly and my food was praised and I got two new clients that evening. At the end of the evening Barbara took me into her bedroom and presented me with an original from Yves St. Laurent. It was a white long tunic with narrow white trousers. She said Yves wanted me to have the outfit and next time I cater a special dinner to wear it, which of course I did, many times over.

                                                   The Menu was

                                   Potted Shrimp with Pumpernickel Bread

                                       My mock liver pate with various
                                             Crackers and French bread
                                       Veal Tarragon in a white wine sauce 

                                                         Rice Pilaf

                                               Fresh Peas with Red Peppers
                                                   Sautéed with Shallots

                                   Salad Greens with Sigrid’s Secret Dressing
                                                         With Stilton Cheese

                                              White chocolate mousse with
                                                      assorted cookies

I had to really convince Barbara that we needed some color - she agreed to the colorful vegetables. I was a happy camper.

The table settings at these high end dinners were/ are as important as the food. You always use a charger. The objective of a charger is; when you remove one course that you do not have an empty place in front of the guest. When I entertain guests for dinner I also try to use a charger. I do not like tablecloths so a charger makes the table look elegant.

 Here is the recipe for my Veal Tarragon:
Veal Tarragon

1 ½ pound lean veal stew meat cut into 1-inch cubes (pork can be used instead)
2 to 3 tablespoons of butter, more if needed
2 to 4 tablespoon fresh tarragon, or to taste, or 3 teaspoon dry tarragon
3 shallots chopped
2 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup to 1 cup of dry white wine
3 cups veal or chicken stock (broth)
1 tablespoon arrow root or cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream

Dust the veal lightly with flower and half of the tarragon, and salt and pepper; let sit for about 20 minutes.

In a heavy skillet on medium high heat melt the butter but do not brown. Add the veal and sauté stirring constantly, you can do that in two batches and add more butter if needed. The veal should just be very lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from skillet to a dish, cover and safe.

Clean the skillet, add more butter, and add the shallots cook for 1 minute, than deglaze the skillet with the wine and the rest of the tarragon, reducing the liquid by half. Skim the liquid as needed.

Add the stock, mix the arrow root with 1 table spoon of water and add to the skillet, using a whisk cook until sauce is slightly thickened about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the heavy cream warmed with some of the liquid, whisk until incorporated, cook for about 5 minutes on low heat. Correct the seasoning.

Add the veal to the sauce and simmer on very low heat for about 10 minutes to not boil. Swirl in some more of the tarragon, stir and serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Buying a House/ Writing the "Memoir"

The year was 1977, I had a great job and my seven children kept me busy. Buying the Bethany house was a way for me to focus on life and not grief. Writing this blog is helping me with my grieving process; I never really had time for it in the first years after Marc’s death. I did not realize until I started this blog in August 2011 how writing is helping me to find closure.

The home we lived in since 1974 in Bethany was a lease option. However Marc, due to his illness, did not want to buy the house. I decided I wanted to buy the house. I loved that house and all the land around it. I put the money down that was needed as a down payment, got a loan and voila, I became a homeowner on my own.

Marc and I had owned 3 houses together all in Iowa: Newton, Red Oak and Ottumwa. The Ottumwa home was our pride and joy. We remodeled the house since it was fire damaged; it was the size of a small mansion. We finished one bedroom so we could take the children with us when we worked on the house. We had four children by then.

The Bethany home became my sanctuary, and with the help of my friend Melinda, I updated the house. The bathroom of the master bedroom was small, so we took part of the closet and enlarged the bathroom. I also lifted the ceiling in the master bedroom. One closet I made into sort of an office since I was writing a cook book at the time. The kids loved the big yard - almost 2 acres. We also had a pool which I did not fill because I was at work so much of the time and did not trust that one or another kid would go swimming and a mishap might happen.

The house is a Cape Cod style with add on rooms. The kitchen was sunken, the dining room was 2 steps up, the living room two steps down and, what I called the music room/den was 2 steps down again.  It had four bedrooms upstairs and one small bedroom with a half bath down stairs. Melinda, who is an interior designer, did the small bedroom for Heidi, all in blue and white including the bedspread. If I think about it now I wonder if she liked sleeping downstairs by herself!! I know she liked the bedroom, at least so she said. Funny, how thoughts of that time come to haunt me.

I loved that home and was so proud that I could manage to buy it on my own. It was a beautiful home.

In the fall of 1979 disaster struck again; our home went up in flames due to a careless accident. I have to say that my ESP had warned me about two weeks prior but I really did not heed the warning. I saw my oldest son and the other kids outside in their underwear and flames coming out on the right side of the house. The reality happened just as I saw it happening two weeks prior. The evening of the fire the big boys were at a friend’s house and Heidi was also at a friend’s house. As I recall Steven and Kurt were sleeping in their room. I remember going through the house around 11 p.m. to check on everybody and Paul, Rodmond, Walter and Neal were still not home. I did not worry too much because at times they would stay over night at their friend’s house. I retreated to my bedroom and fell asleep. I heard the boys coming home a short while later, I went back to sleep.  The next thing that woke me up was smoke. I went and hurried the kids out on the front yard and called 911. One of the boys opened a window in the bedroom where the fire started and that fueled the fire. We had two toy terrier dogs and one died in the fire.

The fire department was there within a few minutes. I wanted to go back into the house to get my purse and the car keys to move the car in case the debris would fall onto the car but the fire man did not let me back into the house until the next day. I was devastated but grateful that no one was hurt.

We stayed in a motel for two nights until I found a place big enough to rent. We moved to Hamden, Connecticut while our home was repaired. It took more than 4 months. The insurance covered most of the costs, except housing. I ended up paying for the mortgage as well as the rent for the rental. Needless to say, I ended up in debt. Also, my attorney closed the claim to soon and there was nothing I could do.

To this day it stings to have lost the house. I am used to loss and I did pull myself back up. My family lost everything in World War II (that is another blog).

In spite of all the hardship, my career kept me going and I became somewhat of a celebrity.

The moral of this story is: keep your chin up and be grateful for what you have. I am so blessed that none of my children got hurt and all survived this set back as well.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Marketing myself at 76/Shooting a Video

As I was writing this memoir going back so many years I realized I also need to stay in the present. For forty plus years I was working in the Hospitality Industry. I presume you have been following my blog so you already know about the start of this cooking venture.

Being retired has its benefits and drawbacks. Some people look at you as if you came from Mars when you tell them that you want to keep your fingers in the pot so to speak. Nothing annoys me more than being ignored when you talk, whether professionally or personally, just because of your age. Trust me - it happens.

To start reinventing myself, my daughter Heidi shot a video of me cooking answering her questions as we go along. This will be posted at a later blog.

I live in beautiful Sonoma County with all the winery’s fabulous restaurants I can’t help but be involved somewhat. At times I work as a spotter. Funny how Chefs are so protective of their turf, me included. I do not advise Chefs anymore but I do critique, wanted or not.

Talking about critique, I am my own tough critic to the consternation of my friends/guests. I have always loved to entertain and the feedback I receive from my guest’s was/is valuable --- good, great or even a “no comment” which does happen occasionally, ha, ha.

Over the years my cooking has changed back to more comfort food and, of course soups, Eintopf (meal in a pot). Last Saturday I did just that. I had planned a girls/ladies evening about 2 months ago. A few weeks ago it dawned on me why not make this evening a surprise lingerie shower for my very special friend Josie. Josie is getting married in June. A surprise it was. None of our friends spilled the beans. As far as Josie knew it was a get together with women friends, great food, wine and good conversation.

It was a wonderful evening and Josie was so happy that we did that for her. She modeled some of the items she received and danced around. The evening was, All about Josie”.

The menu was:

Palm of Hearts dip (from Food and Wine Magazine) with pita chips
          French Onion Soup au gratin (baked in individual crocks)

                   Salad Greens with Sigrid’s secret dressing

Fresh Strawberries with my cream cheese/sour cream and whipping cream sauce


My friend Christina, who is a wine maker, brought a great Pinot and a Chardonnay. All in all, this was an evening we all will remember fondly.

Here is my recipe for the Onion Soup and it was so good.

French Onion Soup au Gratin

1 1/2 lbs or about 5 cups thinly sliced white or yellow onion
3 Tb butter
1 Tb oil (I use Olive Oil)
A heavy bottomed, 4 quart saucepan

1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar

3 Tb flour

2 quarts boiling beef or chicken stock, or bouillon 
1/2 to 1 cup white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bay leaf

 Cook the onions slowly in the butter and oil for 15 minutes in the covered saucepan.

 Uncover, raise heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar.  Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned golden brown.

 Sprinkle in the flour and stir for about three minutes.

 Remove from heat, blend in the boiling stock. Add the wine, and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for about 30 to 40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning.

   * Set aside uncovered until ready to serve. Reheat to simmer.

   NOTE: Onion Soup Gratineed with Cheese
         1 slice Swiss cheese (per bowl)
         1 to 2 slices French bread (toasted w/garlic)

  When ready to serve put heated soup in small soup pots, float toast on top and put cheese on top and put into oven at 325 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, then set for 1 minute under broiler if needed, to brown lightly.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New Beginnings - Hard Times - Old Memories

As I write about new beginnings on this Valentines day I can't help but think back to the first Valentine after Marc had died. I came home from work and found that my children had set the dining room table with all white dinnerware, red napkins and cut out red hearts all over the table. It was their way of wishing me a “Happy Valentine”; it was the best surprise ever. I can’t remember what was served for dinner but what ever it was I will never forget the love they all showed me with doing this surprise for me. Today all my children and their families are scattered all over the country and abroad. However they do remember me on this day.

There were many new beginnings after Marc died. Perhaps going back to 1976 is the right path to take.

The morning after Marc’s death I received a call from our Attorney. John called to offer me the job as general manager for the Graduate Club in New Haven Connecticut, a very prestigious dining club for members only.

I had to interrupt John in his offer by saying, “John, John, Marc died last evening.” Total silence followed my outburst. You see John was not just our Attorney; he also was a good friend of ours. John responded by saying, “I’ll talk to you later.”

At that point I was at loose ends. My Father was still with us and my friend, Marie, invited me to her home in Davenport, Iowa for a few days to get my bearings back. I decided to go and to this day I regret having done that. It was selfish. I did not think about how our children also were grieving the loss of their Father. I left the children in good faith with my Father, only to find out after two days that he went on a drinking binge. Yes my Father did that all his life once, sometimes twice a year. I was so devastated and took the first flight back to Connecticut.

Steven, my 13 year old son, took over taking care of his grandfather. Rodmond, always the domestic one, made sure that everyone had meals and got to school on time. Rodmond was 16 years old. Neal went along with everyone and Walter, the oldest, finally came back into the house. I had been told that he just became very aggressive and wanted all of his siblings to mind him.  He assumed the role of big brother, father, even “husband”.   He meant well but it became worrisome.

I can’t recall how Paul coped those first two weeks, sad but true. Here I was a new widow with seven children and I had a hard time holding it together. On the surface I did, but once I went to bed I fell apart. Heidi and Kurt just wanted their Father back.

 I had no job; however I did have two offers!!  Getting a job was priority.  I did receive social security for the children but not for me - according to the Government I was too young.

 I went and met with our Attorney John, and the board of governors for the Graduate Club.

The other offer was to become a working partner in a new restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut (I believe I wrote about it a blog or two back). It was very tempting but income would depend on the success of the restaurant. I was not in a position to take that chance. You guessed it, I took the GM at the Graduate Club and it was a very good decision. I could be home in the afternoon when the children came home from school. Some evenings I had to go back to work, but at least I was home when the kids all got home. I have always believed that the first ten minutes after children get home from school are the most important ones - after that they all start to do their own thing.

 The Graduate Club became another one of my career success stories. In the three years as GM at the club I raised membership by close to two hundred members. Yale Medical School/ Department became one of our monthly regular dinner or lunch functions, as well as Attorneys, and Judges who all had their dinner meetings or lunch meetings at the Club.

The majority of the Club membership was male. To become a member you had to have at least a bachelor degree, better yet be a lawyer or Dr. My staff and I worked very hard to promote the Club so that more woman would become members. The membership fee was not outrageous.

Sigrid & Vincent at the Graduate Club
Vincent, the Chef, was with the Club for 15 years and his wife almost as long. He wanted to be called Vinnie. After about ten days on the job I called Vinnie to my office. I really liked him and did not want to loose him but things had to change with his cooking – menus and food cost. As diplomatically as I could (I have always been known for being very blunt), I told Vinnie he cooked like a bored housewife. Oh boy, the words out of his mouth were all in Italian, which thankfully I did not understand! He then looked at me and said, “I am leaving.” Well, that kind of shook me up.

Now remember, I am a woman and somewhat a pioneer in the restaurant, kitchen and business. I just let him go. I was ready to get into my whites and go into the kitchen and cook with the sous chef. Lunch was just a couple of hours away. As I was changing, Vinnie came back to my office and said, “Mrs. Holland you know you are right.” I went with him into the kitchen and worked side by side. Vinnie was a quick learner and open to a new lighter cuisine. We developed new menus, and changed them every week. Needless to say the lighter menus and cooking became a great hit with the membership. You see, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Vinnie, his wife and I developed a great working relationship.

This change helped increase our membership as well as the frequency of events like weddings and bar-mitzvahs.

I recall one of the bar-mitzvahs which was sponsored by a member for his friend’s son; the client was not a member. I put a menu together in hopes it would be accepted and it was. We discussed which of three dining rooms would be used as well as flowers, traffic flow and table settings along with the set up for the buffet. The father of the client, Mr. Evans, was concerned and said to my client, his son, “Are you sure this German woman knows how to put a bar-mitzvah together?” My client Bob assured his father that I know how and I am the best of the best.

The bar-mitzvah was a beautiful and successful event. Vinnie outdid himself. The food was cooked to perfection and the buffet was so beautiful with whole fruit and vegetable decorations in baskets.

Later that evening I received a little package from Mr. Evans senior.  In it was a beautiful hand mirror and $500.00 in cash with a thank you note telling me how happy his grandson was with his bar-mitzvah. It brought tears to my eyes. I shared the money with my staff.

I could tell you a lot of stories about the events at the graduate Club but that would take   days, ha, ha. One story I like to share is when George H. W. Bush was in New Haven campaigning for President. He was traveling in an RV which was set up as an office. I used to get this ESP vision, sometimes I still do. I had this vision that Mr. Bush was sitting in the oval office which I told him when he came in for lunch that day. He responded by asking, “Will I be the President?” I had to say that I did not know but I know he will work in the White House. He said, “I hope you are right.”  He did become Vice President and President. It was humbling. I received a note after the election to thank me for the heads up. Of course it became a buzz in New Haven which is why I rarely mention to anyone when I do have a premonition.

On the home front things did not go so smoothly. At the dinner table the kids would forever squabble over everything and nothing, it was heartbreaking and infuriating. I finally called a friend who is a Physiologist to help with the kids’ grieving process. The one thing I remember most is he said, “The family is like a wheel with spokes and one spoke is missing and they want it filled no matter what or who will fill it. Grades fell and homework was skipped. At one point I pulled them all together and said, “Okay you do not want to learn and do your best, fine; it will hurt you more than me when you become an adult. With no education how will you support yourselves?”  Some of what I said sunk in but not all. The two youngest Kurt and Heidi were studious. Kurt was more into art than learning math. Learning was easy for Heidi, Neal and Steven. Heidi liked school. In the end, Walter and Neal got their GEDs at 17 and dropped out of the last year of High school. It was upsetting to me, but I will not go into their reasoning right now.

I recall Heidi being at odds sometimes and she had a very close friend, Andree. Heidi spent a lot of time with Andree and her family, it gave Heidi some security. Our home life was disjointed at the time so I have always been grateful for Andree’s family.

Paul decided that he wanted to live in LA with my brother and sister in law. Paul moved
to LA for one year.

Rodmond, the most dependable of the clan, took care that the house did not get trashed while I was at work. He also did his homework and enjoyed school. I learned many years later that their friends would show up on the days I had to go back to work. However, Rod made sure that they were all gone and the house was back in order. Steven, the loner, also made sure that all was well. One day I came home and smelled marijuana.  Boy did I fall into a rage! I went on the search and found a large bag of marijuana in one of the boy’s bedrooms. I took it and flushed it down the toilet and threatened to call the cops if I ever again suspected any one of them smoking pot. My children knew I would do it too.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Dinner with old and New Friends

I can’t recall January ever being this cold in Sonoma County, or perhaps it is me getting older and I can’t tolerate the cold as much.

Last Wednesday I had a small dinner party with four of my most favored people here from Healdsburg and Sebastopol. We had a wonderful evening.  The food was good but I only give it a 3.5 out of 5. Needles to say, I was not impressed with my cooking.  I have made this entree many times before; the recipe is from “Giada De Laurentes” TV show on the Food Network, Salmon baked in foil.

Before, I always left the skin on one side of the Salmon Filets. This time I decided to bake it skinless in the foil. The fish stays firmer with the skin on and the cooking time needs to be 5 minutes less when skinless: It is a wonderful dish for entertaining but timing is everything.

            Salmon Baked in Foil

4 (5 ounces each) salmon fillets
2 teaspoon olive oil plus to teaspoons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tomatoes, chopped, or 1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes, drained
2 shallots or ½ medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about ½ lemon)
1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or ¾ dried
1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or ¾ dried

Foil paper, 12 by 12 inches

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

In a medium bowl, stir in the tomatoes, shallots, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper to taste.

Place a salmon fillet, oiled side down, atop a sheet of foil. Fold the edges up. Spoon the tomato mixture over the salmon. Fold the sides of the foil over the fish and tomato mixture, covering completely;  repeat with the rest of the salmon fillets seal the packets closed.

Place the foil packet on a large baking sheet. Repeat until all of the salmon have been individually wrapped in foil and placed on the baking sheet.

Bake until salmon is just cooked through about 25 minutes.

Open packets and transfer to plates and serve. (Very hot)


You can use the tomato mixture and put on top of pork shops, cooking time increases to 45 to 50 minutes, depending on the thickness of the shops.

Makes 4 servings

Back to 1976

January 1976 was also very cold in Connecticut. Marc was back at work and we were happy that he was in remission. I took on projects in New York City when time permitted. My home and working at Annie’s Firehouse Soup Kitchen did not leave much time for catering projects in the city or Connecticut.

I really did mess up with House & Garden Magazine though. I was asked to put a special menu together centered around “Meal in the Pot” for publication.  I missed the deadline by two days and of course it never got published.  The Editor at the time was not happy with me.  Annie’s Firehouse stayed busy and very popular.  I trained a cook (actually two).  A former Marine who cooked while in the service gave me so much grief and did not want to stick to my recipes or know how.  You guessed it, I had to dismiss him.  The other was a young woman, Olivia, from New Orleans who was a student at Yale and loved to cook.  Olivia got the hang of it and I felt comfortable leaving the kitchen in her hands.  Olivia also did catering with me.  When she graduated from Yale she went back to New Orleans and opened her own catering company.  A few weeks after she left New Haven I received a beautiful note from her thanking me for all I taught her.  What a motivation to keep going.  Anyone who knows about cooking and putting an event or wedding together knows it is a labor of love.

In the beginning of March, Marc and I drove to Vermont to spend a few days for R&R with our friends Ingrid and Nick at their Vermont home. It was so beautiful, surrounded by the snowcapped mountains. We did spend the second day at a ski lodge.  Marc was sitting by the Fireplace watching the skiers. Ingrid and Nick were on the slopes and I was debating if I should go up and ski down; I am more comfortable skiing cross-country.  I decided not to and went back into the lodge.  Marc seemed to enjoy the bustle around him.  I noticed his face was very flushed.  At first I thought the fireplace produced that flush, after awhile I touched his forehead, he was burning up.  Oh boy, what a scare.  Ingrid and Nick were going to join Marc and I for lunch and it was almost lunch.  As soon as they walked into the lodge, I told them we needed to get back to their home and I needed to pack Marc up and drive back to Connecticut.  I did make a call to his Oncologist to see if it was safe to drive him back to Connecticut.  He instructed me to give Marc two aspirin and to make sure he is warm.  I drove like a mad woman back to Connecticut.  All I could think of was “Make it to Yale New Haven Hospital in one piece.”  I was speeding and of course was stopped somewhere in Massachusetts by the highway patrol.  I told him what was going on and he then drove in front of me with his lights flashing until I entered Connecticut.  I am not sure, but I believe he alerted the Connecticut troopers to watch out for me and help me to get to New Haven Yale University hospital.  I never encountered a trooper in Connecticut and we made it safe to the hospital.

The diagnosis was pneumonia.  Marc was put on antibiotics but he did not get better.  Tests revealed that the cancer was back.  He had to stay in the hospital, and chemo was the norm again.  When he came home he was weak but put up a good front.  After one week another round of chemo started.  It was heartbreaking.  The cancer had spread and Marc decided no more chemo.

That summer my Father came from Germany to be with us along with Marc’s youngest brother Clyde.   I quit work at Annie’s Firehouse to be with Marc and my family.  At that point Dr. Bertino told me that Marc had maybe three weeks left.  I prayed every day for Marc to not suffer and linger in pain.  My prayers were answered.  About a week before Marc passed on he could not make it up the stairs to our bedroom.  I put a mattress on the floor in front of our German stereo cabinet.  I wanted Marc to sleep on the couch which made into a single bed; he would not hear of it, he wanted to sleep on the mattress.  I in turn slept on the couch.  How ironic if I think about it now.  Of course real sleep eluded me.  In the middle of the night Marc sat up and said he wanted to scream and hit something.  I sat down besides him and moved the wooden door in front of the glass door on our stereo which also had a glass display.  I held him and told him he could hit all he wanted but could not scream or he’d scare the kids.  I held him for a very long time until he fell back asleep.

The next day the hospital bed I had ordered arrived.  He also requested a separate phone line besides his bed.  It was ordered but the phone company was too late putting the line in.  That phone line then became my own.  No children were to use that phone, and with seven children you know the phone is always busy.

Our oldest son, Walter, was hiking through Oregon and the State of Washington to Alaska during this time.  Marc was in and out of consciousness by now, but he worried about Walter since we had not heard from him in a while.  I was ready to call the police in both States but was spared that.  Walter called that afternoon and I told him, “Dad is hanging on to know that you are safe.”  Walter said, “Do not let him know I called.  I am on my way back.”  I told him that I couldn’t do that. “I need to let your father know that you are safe and on your way back home.” Walter had help from the State of Washington.  He did not get home until the day of the funeral, which was three days after we spoke.  Marc died the day after Walter called.

As for what happened with me, I was offered a partnership in a new Restaurant in New Haven.  I was to go to the meeting in Hartford, Connecticut to find out all the details.  Marc was lucid and I did not want to leave him.  He got agitated and said, “Schatzi you have to go, the children’s and your future hang in the balance.”  I wrestled with myself.  I called my closest friend, Ann, who is a nurse to ask her if she would come and stay with Marc while I would be at this meeting.  Ann came to stay and I drove to Hartford. T he meeting was August 23, 1976. On my way home I stopped for some Milk and Bread. It was about 7:35 pm when I arrived home.  I was met by my brother-in-law and I wondered why he was meeting me out there.  He told me then that Marc passed way peacefully.

 I do not remember but, according to my family and neighbors, I was screaming.  Marc passed on while I was in the Grocery store at 7:21 pm.  I have to interject something that most people think is weird or even a heavenly intervention.  Marc gave me a golden Swiss watch our first Christmas as a married couple.  The watch stopped exactly at 7:21 pm.  I could not get it to work; I took it to a jewelry store and they said it could not be fixed.  I still have the watch.  Also, two weeks before Marc died our house plants started to die, you see Marc always took care of them.  Today I know the plants dying was a sign that Marc would follow soon.

None of our children were home.  Neal, Paul, Rodmond and Steven were at a concert; Heidi and Kurt were still in New Jersey; and Walter was on his way back home from his wandering.

I went inside and Ann’s husband, Norton, who is a Dr. was there.  I was in a daze; I had to call Dr. Bertino at Yale University Hospital and the State Troopers who came with the paramedics to take Marc’s body for autopsy to Yale.  I did not want to have the body removed and two people had to hold me back.

Later that evening Ann told me Marc’s last words were, “Tell Sigrid I love her.”  Ann also told me when she sponged Marc down to cool his body, that he said, “Don’t be so gentle, Sigrid never is that gentle.” – I had to laugh.  It is so like Marc to say that and it was true.

The boys came home and I had to tell them the sad news.  The ones I thought would accept it did not, and the ones I thought would not did, at least on the surface.  Rodmond climbed on the roof of our house and it took a long time for him to come down.  Neal, Paul and Steven retreated into their rooms.  I can’t really remember.  My Father seemed nowhere in sight but I know he was there.  That whole evening is a blur.  Walter still had not arrived.

The funeral was three days later with the wake the day before.  The wake was for my in-laws and our sons who wanted to take a last look at their father.  I had an open casket for them.  Friends came and went throughout the day.  The funeral was late morning the next day I believe.  Our Minister and a friend of ours, especially of Marc, came from Pennsylvania to do the service.  Dr. Niebruegge was our Minister in Ottumwa, Iowa.  I was so happy that he came to do the service for Marc and my family.

Our friends Margot and Jim brought the two youngest, Kurt and Heidi, home the day of the funeral.  I did not let them see the body in the open casket.  Perhaps that was a mistake; I know Heidi struggled with that for many years.  Kurt never said anything.  My reasoning was that I wanted them to remember their Father alive, not as a dead body.  Walter arrived on the day of the funeral and we went straight to the cemetery.  After coming back home, Walter locked himself into our garage/workroom. For two days anyone coming near caused tools to fly and I could not help him in his grief.

My next blog will be titled: New Beginnings; Hard Times