Little City Kitchen Co. Blog

My stories about local food, fermentation, and formerly organic baby food
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Basics of Fermentation: A Cooking Class at Whisk Carolina, August 10th at 2pm

Most of you guys know that I’m a little fermentation obsessed.  My kitchen counters are overrun with mason jars of various sizes and of various fillings.  I generally have 5-8 fermentation projects going at any given time.  For example, going right now I have:

  • Two types of sauerkraut (ruby red garlic jalapeno and a simple green cabbage one);
  • Carrot slices layered with red onion and jalapenos (for the class below);
  • Garlic scapes (little shoots that grow on garlic plants for a few weeks);
  • The first fermented chili paste of the season with green cayennes, serranos and banana peppers;
  • Blackberry vinegar with berries from Dr. Young’s Pond Farm;
  • A ginger bug to make naturally fermented soda;
  • And finally some good ole Blueberry green tea kombucha;

You can check out some of those pictures- and many more of my fermented goodies - here.

I’ve just moved back to my hometown of Cary, NC after spending 15 years in Boston and San Francisco.  I’d love to get people excited about fermentation here in the Triangle, so I hope you’ll join me on Sunday, August 10th from 2pm-4pm at Whisk Carolina for this hands-on cooking class.  We’ll be making some of my favorite live cultured items such as sauerkraut, spicy carrot slices and fermented chili paste, and you’ll get to take home two projects to ferment on your counter at home.

Only 12 spots available – reserve your spot today!  Details below.

Throw out the Rule Book

This may be the first blog topic that has come to me more out of frustration than inspiration.  You guys know by now that aside from the occasional “I’ve had a crappy week” posting, typically I write about all the wonderful experiences and the progress I’ve made.  This week I’m going to share with you one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my short time as an entrepreneur:

Throw out the rule book.

A classic “rookie” mistake

My awareness of this concept began seven years ago when worked for Hilton Hotels and managed a team that sold for seven of their hotels in Boston.  I was on the phone with a member of the management staff of one of my hotels…and truth be told, we were driving each other crazy arguing about how to handle something.  I made a somewhat rookie mistake and said “but this is how all the other hotels are doing it”.

You can imagine what happened next… My colleague went through the roof.

And rightfully so.  I unknowingly fell into a common trap in today’s world; assuming that the way that it’s been done in the past is the best way to do things in the future.  I realized immediately that she was correct and (after a heartfelt apology) forever changed my approach problem solving.

This happened again when I was on the phone with a vendor from the Fancy Food Show yesterday.  I was explaining my idea for packaging, or trying to anyways, and he kept steering me back to a traditional solution.  Blah blah boring!  After several minutes of listening to his very predictable suggestions, I finally snapped and said “yes, I know it’s never been done before…that’s the whole point!”

My way or the highway

There is no rule book or roadmap when you’re starting any new business.  I guess that’s part of the challenge…umm…I mean appeal.  People can tell you what may have worked (or not worked) for them, but at the end of the day, nobody knows Little City Kitchen Co. like I do, and it’s empowering to be able to make what I think are the best business decisions.

With that being said, I use every available resource!  So many elements of this business are brand new to me, so  I reach out to the industry experts, my business coach, other food entrepreneurs, etc…  But I always consider their advice and ask myself “how can I make this work for me?”  Sometimes I can’t, but almost always there is some nugget that is helpful to me.

So along those lines, I’ve decided to throw the ole rule book out the window and just keep doing my thing.  And you know what…it feels pretty kick ass!

Upcoming events

For those interested in a baby food cooking demonstration, join me on Sunday, March 6 from 1pm – 2pm at Tot Tank in Alameda, and I’ll show you how easy it is to make organic baby food in any home kitchen.  Cost is only $20.00 and all participants get to take home the food we prepare during the demo.  Click here for more information and to register.

The Spring cooking class schedule will be released next week, so stay tuned.  Have fun until then!

Make Way for the Potato Masher…

I switched gears this week and looked at making baby food in a whole new, and much simpler, light…  My food processor got a rest as I went back to basics with the goal of developing easy, healthy, and inexpensive baby foods with minimal equipment.

Why this new quest?  A new friend of mine, who is a parenting coach and teaches parenting classes at Crossroads High School in Concord, invited me to speak to her classroom.  On Thursday, I led a baby food cooking demonstration for a group of 15 awesome high-school women who have kids between 4 and 12 months old.

The Core Requirements

As I was designing the class outline, I decided on a few core requirements…

  1. My definition of “minimal equipment” is a microwave & a potato masher, so I threw out any baby food recipe idea that needed more than those two items.
  2. Most babies don’t get enough vegetables these days (and you all know that I’m a die-hard veggie-aholic anyway), so the recipes were primarily focused on fresh vegetables.
  3. I wanted to keep the prep time to a minimal, under an hour a week, so I stuck to single items that could be prepared quickly.

After a brief discussion about introducing solids and common food allergies, we got to cooking.  There were several class volunteers that mashed their way to becoming really good baby food makers!

Our recipes included:

Steamed sweet potato puree
Butternut squash puree with coconut milk
Baby hummus (chickpeas with olive oil and water)
Zucchini steamed with butter
Avocado and banana mash with coconut milk

And the best part: The total cost for all those recipes was only $12.75.

I had a lot of helpers in the classroom, so a special shout out to the girls at Crossroads High School…and their adorable little ones.  Thanks to everyone for your participation during the class, and good luck making some of your own baby food!  Click here to see the pictures from the day.

Larissa & Cecelia, 1 yr
Griselda & Francisco, 4 mo.
Jazmin & Adrian, 4 mo.
Lauren & Dominic, 5 mo.
Jessica & Mireya, 5 mo.
Sara & Amy, 1 yr.
Veronica & Kyle, 6 mo.
Lucero & Israel, 11 mo.
Teresita & Lillie, 6 mo.
Crystal & Adianna, 5 mo.
Jasmine & Giovanni, 7 mo.
Felisa & Desire, 8 months

*Special thanks to Torie Henderson, life & parenting coach, who lent me her class for the hour!

Bring on the Samples…

Next week is going to be a little crazy.  The Winter Fancy Food Show is in town, so I plan to spend Sunday – Tuesday wandering the tradeshow floor in search of packaging, ingredient, and marketing ideas.  Heck, it’s a three-day show featuring some of the best specialty foods from around the world…do you think I would miss that???

I’ll be updating my Little City Kitchen Co. Facebook page throughout the Fancy Food Show, so make sure you click “Like” on my page for the most recent news.  I’m on a plane next Thursday for a family event, so the next blog will probably be coming out Friday, January 28.  Hope everyone has a great week until then!

First Taste Face Finalists at the Birth & Baby Fair: Vote here!

Congratulations to the eight finalist of the First Taste Face contest held by Little City Kitchen Co. at the Birth & Baby Fair.  We captured the best faces as these little ones tasted our baby food for the first time….what a bunch of cuties!!

Here’s how it works:

To vote for your favorite face, either leave a comment below, or visit our Facebook page and leave a comment there.  Friends & family are also eligible to vote, so feel free to forward to them.

The winner receives their choice of:
Complimentary cooking class of their choice
A two-week supply of frozen baby food

The winning face will be announced this Friday, December 10th, so don’t wait to vote!

Vote now…winner will be announced this Friday!

And our finalists are…

(Click on each picture for a larger image!)

Star, 7 months

Kai, 8.5 months

Nicholas, 8.5 mos.

Jade, 8.5 months

Samantha Love, 8 mos.

Delilah, 9 mos.

Sean, 7 months

Devon, 9 months

Tales from the Birth & Baby Fair – Part 1

The Birth & Baby Fair has come and gone.  It was a whirlwind of a show, exciting from beginning to end.  There’s so much to say about the event, so much in fact, that I’ve decided to break it down into two separate posts.

First, a big shout out to all my new friends from the fair.  There were over 100 people that signed up to stay in touch with Little City Kitchen Co (and with no raffle prize to bribe them either!).  I enjoyed meeting all you guys at the booth and/or during the cooking demonstration.

Behind the scenes

For those of you that are new to the LCKC blog, welcome and let me tell you a little about it.  The blog started as my way of sharing the ups and downs of starting this company.  It’s brutally honest – if I have a bad week, I write about it.  If I have an exhilarating week, I write about it too, usually at 2:30 in the morning when I can’t sleep.  I always welcome your thoughts, so feel free to leave a comment on any of the blog posts.

Okay, back to the show…

Where do I even begin??  Car was loaded (sans the food) the night before…with not an inch to spare by the way.  Alarm went off Sunday morning at 6am and I got up without even hitting snooze once!  Totally excited.  Booth setup went smoothly.  I had a huge surge in pride as I unrolled the Little City Kitchen Co. tablecloth for the first time…  That’s it on the right – doesn’t it look great?

As you read in my last blog, the Big Debut, I had some questions about how much food to bring for samples…among many other concerns!  Turned out I made plenty of food <insert sigh of relief here>.  We started with the three most popular dishes: Cuban black beans, coconut brown rice and sweet potatoes, and Jewish potato latkes.  They looked every bit as beautiful as I had hoped!  Little baby hors d’oeuvres on a platter.

Doors opened at 10:00, and within 15 minutes we were nearly 3 deep at the booth.  There was huge excitement over the samples, especially the International flavors.  Throughout the show, the parent fav was the coconut brown rice, but the kiddos loved the Cuban black beans the best.  It took a little coaxing for some parents to try (gasp) baby food, but once they did, their eyes lit up, and they were sold.

Click here to view out all the pictures from the show, and hey while you’re there, you can select “Like” on our Facebook page to stay in touch too.

We had some great entries for the First Taste Face contest.  What a bunch of cuties.  Putting a few finishing touches on the pictures and will be publishing those soon.  Winner gets their choice of a complimentary cooking class or a two-week supply of baby food, so get your voting fingers ready!

The only unexpected twist at the show came around 1:30pm and had to do with my workshop scheduled for 3pm…  But you have to wait until Part 2 next week to read about that!

A special shout out to my two dear friends that helped me at the show: Lenard Dobrowolski and Kirsten Zazo.  There’s no way I could have done it without you both – I love ya!

Stay tuned next week for Part 2.

Welcome Birth & Baby Fair Friends!

Hello new friends!  Thanks for stopping by the Little City Kitchen Co. booth at the Birth & Baby Fair.  As you know, we’re launching a frozen organic baby food line in late January, and we teach hands-on baby food cooking classes out of our commercial kitchen in Emeryville.

The B&B Fair was a big success for us…  It was the first time I shared some of the new baby food flavors with such a large audience, and let me tell you, people went crazy for them!  The fav among the parents was the coconut brown rice and sweet potato, but the kiddos loved the Cuban black beans with plantains and mango.  All in all, a great day!

Cooking Classes:

We have two upcoming baby food cooking classes scheduled in December. Hurry if you’re interested, space is filling up quickly!  Special class price of $55 for anyone who attended the Birth & Baby Fair.

Apples to Beets: Organic baby food for 6+ months:
Sunday, Dec 5, 12:30pm – 2:30pm

International Baby: Organic baby food for 9+ months:
Wednesday, Dec 8, at 7pm – 9pm

***** To register, please email me and I will confirm your spot  *****

A Peek Behind the Scenes

I write a weekly blog about running Little City Kitchen Co.  It’s sort of a behind the scenes look at the starting this company; the good, the bad, and the ugly…brutal honesty as you’ll see.

Here are some of my favorites: LCKC is Born talks about how I came to start the company, A Surprising New Direction tells you about the week I decided to focus exclusively on baby food, and A Fish Out of Water is one of my most honest blogs where I talk about my first really crappy and discouraging week.

Feel free to add any comments to the blogs.  They usually come out Friday mornings.  Hope you enjoy the inside scoop…I have a lot of fun writing about all my adventures.

Give the Gift of Cooking (A Great Holiday Idea!)

Interested in a “not-so-subtle way” of telling your significant other what you want for the holidays? Sign THEM up to receive information from me about gift certificates and packages offered at Little City Kitchen Co.  Just click here to fill in their email address, and they’ll get an email from me in early December with the details.

Here’s a look at our gift baskets that include: a gift certificate for a cooking class of your choice, a black LCKC embroidered apron, & some other fun baby items.  Cost is only $75, plus $7.95 shipping.

Note – We never share contact information without your permission.  If you fill out their information, I will only send them emails pertaining to holiday gift ideas – promise!

Again, welcome to Little City Kitchen Co, and I look forward to getting to know many of you.  The baby food should be available for sale beginning in late January at select farmers markets, so stay tuned for more information on where and when.

To stay in touch, check our our website, or select the “Like” button on our Facebook page.  And have a Happy Holidays!

The Big Debut…

It’s here folks…Little City Kitchen Co’s big debut at the Birth & Baby Fair this Sunday.  This week has been filled with the last minute cooking and tons of prep-work leading up to the show.  Ever since Little City Kitchen Co. was born, I’ve been sharing my ups and downs with you guys each week.  Told you all this was going to be the most honest blog you’ve read, and this week is certainly no different.

The return of the “what if”…

Most of you know how excited I’ve been about exhibiting at this show.  I’ve been up late brainstorming ideas, designing recipe cards, making holiday gift baskets, among other things.  I had a very interesting (and somewhat unexpected thing) happen to me this week: all my fears about starting this company came rushing back at once, and I had a moment of sheer panic!

This happened after I started researching other baby food vendors exhibiting at this show.  These guys are well-established, global, successful brands…  And here I am, feeling like a rookie just getting started.  What if my workshop is a flop?  What if nobody buys a single gift certificate?  What if, what if, etc…

But then I realized something; my baby food is completely different then theirs!  I like the fact that I’m starting small.  I like the fact that my food has an International spin.  And I think most parents will love the fact that my baby food was made only a few days ago…exactly like they’d make it if they had the time.  So once I realized that I’m supposed to be different, the confidence started to come back.

I try to lead a pretty positive life, but so often those pesky “what if” voices in our heads tend to be negative (I’m sure you guys can relate).  I have a particularly inspiring friend, so instead I chose to hear her voice in my head saying; “But Jill, what if you’re a raving success?” That thought feels SO much better!

Samples, samples, samples…

After I got over myself, I turned my focus back to planning for the show.  Even though I’m not selling baby food on Sunday, I’m still handing out samples to generate some excitement leading up to my launch at farmers markets.

In classic “Jill-fashion”, I tried to figure out how many total samples I wanted, and then break it down by how many of each flavor so I knew how much of each recipe to make…and about 30 minutes later I was pulling my hair out!  In this situation, my sister Wendy would look at me and say “take a chill pill.”  So I did.  I decided to cook as much as possible, bring what I have, and hand food out until I run out.

First Taste Face

I’ve decided to do a contest during the show…calling it the “First Taste Face.” We’ll snap a picture of the little ones trying the baby food for the first time and capture their initial reaction.  I’ll be posting pictures of the finalists on the blog so stay tuned for those..

I’m taking some time off for Thanksgiving, so no blog next week.  A wrap up of the Birth & Baby Fair will be coming out Friday, December 3, so happy Thanksgiving until then!!

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back…

I’m starting to see a pattern emerge…  My weeks can be broken down into one of two categories: 1) two steps forward, one step back, or 2) one step forward, two steps back. As you can imagine, it’s a little hard to make significant progress if you combine the two!  Luckily I seem to have more of the former weeks than the latter.

This week was filled with somewhat un-fun details like more research on permits, entity forming, and writing a whole lota checks.  That being said…I’m feeling like I got a lot accomplished which keeps me motivated.

Permit me…to Vent

Ok folks, let’s talk about this permit thing…  When I first started Little City Kitchen Co., my plan was to do some small event catering and personal cheffing.  As most of you know, that changed pretty quickly when I realized I didn’t really love either of those things (and the whole reason I left the corporate world was to pursue something I love).  Had I stuck with either of those, getting my business permits would have been a fairly easy process because I’d be providing a “service”.  You pay a couple of fees, and bam you’re in business.

Everything changed the moment I decided to make baby food.  Of course, I didn’t know this at the time, which is probably not a bad thing because it would have been even more daunting.  Once you decide to “manufacture a product” it’s a whole new ballgame.  I’ve spent the last several months speaking with the state health inspectors, the county health department, and everyone in between trying to navigate the permit process so that I may sell at farmers markets…and let me tell you folks, it aint easy.

I wish I could say that I finally had answers, but alas I still do not.  My target launch date at farmers markets was January 2011.  I’m still hoping to make that happen, but it largely depends on how a few things fall into place.   It’s in my nature to follow the rules anyway…and since there’s a heightened sensitivity around anything “baby”, I’m being extra-careful to do things the right way.  Which means the farmers market waits.  Which kinda sucks.

Baby Taster Corner

Ask and you shall receive!  Many of you have been asking for some pictures of the baby tasters enjoying the Little City Kitchen Co. baby food.  Here you go!

Here’s a gorgeous picture of Eve with her baby blue eyes.  Mom, Chandra Alexandre, fed her the sweet potatoes and roasted parsnips which she was really digging.

Meet Rex, who as you can tell loves his pickles.  When he’s not chomping those, mom, Jody Kohner, feeds him the Thai curry root vegetables with millet.  Looks like I need to create a recipe around pickles.  Any ideas Rex?

These pics were so cute that I had to include a “before” and “after”.  In the first shot, Parker is eagerly opening up for his favorite dish, the Cuban black beans with plantains, mango & coconut.  Mom, Connelly Murphy, is going to have her hands full with clean up!

The Birth & Baby Fair is only 1 week away, so next week’s blog will have all the final details.  Happy Friday Everyone!

Pounding the Pavement…

There’s a phrase in the sales & marketing world that I heard and used repeatedly in my past professional life: “pounding the pavement.” You can do all the research and planning in the world, but often you need to get out from behind the desk and just start talking to people.  In the hotel world, we call this a “blitz”.  I decided to take my own advice and hit the streets to talk about Little City Kitchen Co. this week.

Step 1: Strategize and Prepare.  I decided that I was going to focus on promoting the upcoming baby food cooking classes, so I designed flyers and postcards that were easy to leave in stores.  Got my crafty on.  I put together a little “blitz” bag with pushpins for corkboards, tape, business cards, etc…  Proper materials – check.

Step 2:  Legwork.  Instead of just showing up at stores unannounced, I’ve always found it more effective to call in advance and at least get the name of who you should see.  So I did my Google searches of baby stores in 2 different towns, got 6-8 store names and started calling.

It surprised me that I was a tad bit nervous for the first phone call.  Ironic since I used to train sales managers on doing exactly that!  But, I scripted out my 10 second schpiel and gave myself pep talk that included the words “get over it, Jill”.   Mission accomplished, and contact information received.

Step 3: Start Pounding. The first few stores were a little rocky.  One (who shall remain nameless) wouldn’t even stop what she was doing to acknowledge my existence.  But, I kept going and the visits got immediately better.  One store in particular, Monkey Bars in Alameda, was adorable and carried some of the coolest, eco-friendly kids items I’ve seen.  The shop owner & I brainstormed some really fun and creative opportunities that I hope to be able to share with you soon.

Step 4: Follow Up.  Emails, thank you cards, ongoing dialogue…this is probably the most important step and the one most commonly overlooked.  So that’s what I’m doing now.

Why Baby Food?

Let me tell you, I do get some funny looks when people realize that I’m not a mommie.  They ask me why I’ve chosen to launch a baby food company when I don’t have kids of my own yet.  The best answer I’ve come up with is that I love food, I love kids, and I love the idea of growing healthy eaters. It’s kinda that simple for me.

Tis the Season…Really?

Everyone’s looking for the great holiday gift ideas (let’s face it, the dudes always need a little help in this department), so I thought I’d make it a little easier this year.  If you’re interested taking any of our cooking classes, sign THEM up to receive an email from me about gift certificates and packages offered at Little City Kitchen Co.  Just click here to fill in their email address, and they’ll get an email from me in early December with the details.

Easy Holiday Appetizers

I’ve decided to add one final “adult” cooking class of the year at a special price of $55.  Join me on Sunday, November 14th at 3:30pm for a cooking class on making Easy Holiday Appetizers.  Email me if you are interested in attending.

That’s it for this week.  Happy Cooking until next week!

Raindrops on Roses…

We’re going to take a break from my normal baby-food inspired blog and do something a little different this week.  I was watching TV and saw a preview for Oprah’s program for the 45th Anniversary of The Sound of Music.  I immediately started singing in my head “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,” so today I thought I share with you a “few of my favorite things.”  My favorite kitchen things, that is…

1)    Microplane – my all time favorite cooking gadget.  I use it several times a day.  It’s what is called a rasp-style grater.  Perfect for taking the zest off any citrus, but also wonderful for shaving paper-thin Parmesan cheese over spaghetti, whole nutmeg & cinnamon in oatmeal, or dark chocolate shavings over whip cream.  Cost is around $15.00, and you can buy it most any kitchen store.

2)    Hand-held citrus squeezer – I cook a lot with citrus.  Fresh lemon juice goes in my homemade hummus and plenty of lime juice goes in my Thai curries.  This gadget is easy: you cut the lemon in half, put it cut-side down facing the holes, and squeeze.  Tons of juice comes out and the seeds stay in the holder.  Note – most people make the mistake of putting the lemon in cut-side up to mirror the shape of the gadget, but you’ll find cut-side down yields even more juice.  Cost is around $13.00, but you can sometimes find these at Ross or TJMaxx for $7.00.

3)    Tramontina Tri-Ply Cookware – I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t an All-Clad girl, because I am, through and through.  However, thanks to a Cook’s Illustrated recommendation, I found a fantastic alternative to All-Clad that costs ¼ of the price.  Tramontina is a common value brand in stores, so look specifically for their “Tri-Ply” line.  It has an identical composition to All-Clad: stainless steel on the cooking surface, aluminum core (for heat conduction), and magnetized stainless steel on the outside.

This is the cookware I use in the commercial kitchen to make the baby food and it’s fantastic. There’s one catch.  It’s only (and I mean only) available at Wal-Mart.  There are two sets: an 8 piece for $149 and a 10 piece for $249.  Comparable All-Clad would be $800+ for the same pieces.

I could go on an on (because I have many more favorite kitchen gadgets), but these are my top three to start.  What are your favorite cooking items? Feel free to leave a comment on this blog, or visit the Little City Kitchen Co. Facebook page.

I know many of you have been asking about the Fall/Winter cooking class schedule, so here it is.  I have mostly Baby Food classes scheduled for the rest of this year since the Birth & Baby Fair is around the corner.  Shout out to my new subscribers that found me through the B&B Fair workshops.  I hope you’ll be able to join me for the hands-on cooking class at 3pm at the show.

And for all you adults, I did schedule a Holiday Appetizer class on Sunday, November 14th for those who are interested, and there more set for January as you’ll see.  Happy Cooking!

Hello Birth & Baby Fair…

It’s been such a crazy couple of weeks.  So busy in fact, that I even missed sending out last Friday’s blog.  Well, I assure you, I’ve been as busy as can be and have some exciting news to share..

I’m going to be hosting two hands-on cooking demos at the San Francisco Birth & Baby Fair on Sunday, November 21st.  This is one of the largest “baby” events in the city and draws nearly 2000 attendees.  This is a great event for any new or expectant parents out there, so help spread the word…about the event and my workshops.  The demo area is in the middle of the floor, so we’ll be the group proudly sporting the Little City Kitchen Co. black aprons.

I’ll be exhibiting there as well.  Hey, it looks like all those tradeshows I attended with Hilton are finally going to pay off!!  Those who know me well know that I am super-picky about my tabletops (my former hotel peeps may say borderline obsessive), so you better believe I’m going to have the coolest and most fun booth in the whole show.

Hello Home Office

I’ve been inspired to create an actual home office for myself (versus what I’ve come to call the “living room chair” office that I’ve been working with for four months now).  Why the sudden change you ask?  Well, that leads me to my second exciting piece of news…

My life coach and very dear friend, Alexis Robin of Nourish Life & Business Coaching, has been selected as 1 of only 10 life coaches to be featured in O Magazine! (Yup, that’s Oprah’s magazine).  IKEA and O Magazine are doing a joint project focused on improving your life by improving your living space.  Alexis will be speaking all about it at IKEA in Emeryville, CA on Sunday, November 7th from 2-3pm – come join if you can.

Alexis’s excitement for this project has spilled over and inspired me to (finally) create my own home office.  It’s taken a few trips to Office Depot and IKEA, but it’s looking good so far.  And honestly, I’m so much more motivated to work now that I’m surrounded by a nice space.  I guess that’s the point.

The Baby Taster Corner

The Baby Taster meetings have been everything I’ve hoped for; wonderful moms and kids giving very honest feedback!  The overwhelming favorite so far: Roasted sweet potatoes with coconut brown rice. I also made a Cuban-inspired black beans with roasted plantain, mango and cumin which seems to be a hit too.   Just finished a green pea and celery root puree for next week that was so yummy, I wish it were my dinner.  But alas, it’s not about me, I know…

I was watching my fav Cooking Channel show Foodcrafters yesterday and was reminded of a famous bakery quote which made me laugh:  In order to learn how to bake bread, you have to bake bread.

Well, that’s what I’m doing I guess…learning how to make killer baby food by making a BUNCH of baby food. I’m getting a much better handle on food quantity though, which is making the cooking much easier.   For instance, I now know that 2 lbs of dried red lentils = 6 baby cube trays + dinner for Jill.  I also know that even a pinch of cayenne pepper for 6 quarts of red lentils is too much spice!  Which means I’m eating a lot of lentils for dinner.

Errands and computer work by day, cooking by night.  What a crazy life?!?!

A Fish out of Water…

After having a commercial kitchen for – count ‘em – three whole months, I finally got IN the kitchen this week to start some serious cooking.  Week 1 of the Baby Tasters kicks off this Saturday, so I’ve been trying out all my new recipes in much larger quantities than ever before.  And let me tell you, I feel like a complete fish out of water.  While this week hasn’t been quite as difficult as I wrote about in Peaks and Valleys, it’s been a pretty brutal week nonetheless…

I’m starting to understand now why starting a small business is not for the faint of heart.  People tell you this all the time, but you never fully “get it” until you do it yourself.  Course my mom would probably say that’s the story of my life.

Case in point: how many butternut squashes do you need to make enough food for 14 babies for 3 meals at about ½ cup a serving?   Answer: five.  How do I know this?  Because I bought four to start.  How many cube molds do you need to make said meals for 14 babies?  Answer: 35.  How many did I have on Monday?  20.  The remaining 15 molds will arrive next Tuesday.  You get the point.  I feel like a ROOKIE!  Ugh….  But I’m learning so much.

The labels didn’t work.  The green peas were pulpy.  The food processor blade broke.  The list goes on…  By Wednesday afternoon I had a headache and needed to snap out of it.  I went for a long run (okay it was 25 minutes) to get the endorphins working and to get a little perspective.  I literally kept telling myself “you can do this, you can do this” over and over until I started believing it again.  I felt great after the run and so far things have been going much better.  As I said, starting a new business, not for the faint of heart!

Updates and Such

Had two great cooking classes this weekend: Three Fondues and Easy Appetizers.  Both went really well.  Shout out to our photographer Cindy Lau who was more concerned about taking the picture than being in it!  I love watching people having those “ah-ha” moments in a class.  During the appetizer class, the participants needed to zest lemons for a recipe.  One person (you know who you are!) had major “zestaphobia” and until now has been avoiding any recipe calling for citrus zest.  She is now officially cured, and I even see a Microplane purchase for her on the horizon.

The Week 1 menu for the Baby Tasters has – minus the above green pea incident – turned out great.  My favorite so far is the roasted butternut squash with pear, apple & thyme, although the roasted golden beets with carrots & fresh dill is a close second.  I’m eager to get some feedback…so Baby Tasters, get those palates warmed up!

Upcoming Cooking Classes

For all you Bay Area people, the new cooking class schedule for November and December will be coming out in the next few weeks.  I’ve gotten some great suggestions for future cooking classes.  So far my two favorites are Easy Weeknight Meals and Healthy Lunches at the Office. My old lunch peeps will probably get a kick out of the latter, as I was the target of MANY jokes for all the hummus and vegetables that came out of my lunchbox over the years!

Next week, I hope to report how smoothly all the baby food cooking is going.  At least I know how many butternut squashes to buy now…

Dream a Little Dream…of Food Crafters: Little City Kitchen Co. blog series

Every person has a different philosophy on how to lead his or her best life.  On one end of the spectrum, you have the group that believes they are in total control of their own destiny and that nothing is really left up to chance.   At the other end, you have the camp that believes everything is pre-destined and there are no coincidences.  I typically  find myself somewhere in the middle.

I recently read the book Eat, Pray, Love.  Truth be told, I didn’t love the book, but there was a particularly memorable part that resonated with me.  There’s a story of a guy that prays all the time, day in and day out, to win the lottery.  This went on for a long time…  One day God finally answered him, and he said, “Please buy a lottery ticket”.

Well, I feel like I finally bought my lottery ticket when I decided to start Little City Kitchen Co.  My belief is that if you put things out to the universe, the world has a way of making things happen.  All of a sudden, I’ve had all these perfect people and opportunities come my way.  Every time this happens to me, it’s like the world’s way of confirming that I’m on the right path.

Putting it Out There

So on that note, I’d like to share a new dream of mine with all of you:  I would love to be featured someday on the Cooking Channel TV show “Foodcrafters”.

For those who haven’t seen this new show, it highlights artisanal food producers from all over the country.  They focus on small, handcrafted food companies, many of them less than two years old, that make a unique food product.   Love the host too, Aida Mollencamp…who just seems like a down-t0-earth normal food chick like me.  This show is right up my alley, so I’m going on record my friends: in two years, you’ll see Little City Kitchen Co. featured on there!

Updates and Such

October is shaping up to be a super-busy month.  I have my Baby Tasters in place and am looking forward to having their little ones taste all my baby food.  I’ve decided to launch an international baby food line in addition to the seasonal baby food I will be making.  SUPER excited about the ethnic spin, and therefore my brain has been exploding with recipe ideas… which translates into a lot of 3am nights… again…

The first Whole Grains cooking class took place last Sunday and was fantastic.  The group had tons of fun learning about quinoa, and farro, among many other grains.

Two cooking classes are coming up this weekend:

Three Fondues on Saturday from 4:30pm – 7:00pm
Easy Appetizers on Sunday from 2:30pm – 4:30pm.

These are the final two classes of the Guinea Pig Cooking Series and therefore only cost $25.00.  Two spots left in each class, so let me know ASAP if you can join us.

Next week, details on how my first week of baby food production goes…

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.


Life as an Entrepreneur…

As I sat down to write this blog, I started reflecting on how different my life is as an entrepreneur.  The stress is still there, but it’s a different kind now.  The long hours are still there, but it doesn’t really feel like work.  I thought I’d give you the top three fun and not-so-fun things about being an entrepreneur.

Top three fun things

Being my own boss: I love the freedom to do laundry during the day, to take a day off without anyone’s approval, and grocery shop in the morning.  I was worried in the beginning that I wouldn’t have enough discipline/motivation for this lifestyle, but ironically, my work is comingled with my life now more than ever.  Blog drafts get written at 11:00pm, and I rehearse my cooking class notes when I can’t go back to sleep in the middle of the night.  It’s sad really, but exciting at the same time.

Comfy work clothes: 10 years of wearing suits, pantyhose, and high-heels to the office.  Okay, so I stopped wearing nylons when I moved to San Francisco, but you catch my drift.  There is nothing better than waking up at 8:30am, throwing sweatpants on, and skipping the obligatory morning shower.   You hate me right now, I know, but it’s a wonderful way to work.

Being in a constant state of learning and growing: In the beginning, this was one of the hardest adjustments for me.  You don’t really know where to begin…it’s not like there’s a roadmap or anything.  But now that I’ve adjusted, I revel in the small victories.  I have a business license.  I have a commercial kitchen.  I have a business plan…okay, well most of a business plan.  You get my point.  It’s not such a huge mountain to climb once you look back and see how far you’ve come.

Top three not-so-fun things

The constant worry about money: I have to work hard to keep that little voice in my head at bay.  You know the voice (I’ve named her Dina, and she sings a really catchy tune that goes something like “ohhhh…I hope you don’t run out of money”).  I just tell her to relax, and usually that works.

All the bureaucratic red tape: I can’t tell you how many licenses and permits I’ve had to apply for, pay for, call about, or some combination of those three.  Back to the “no roadmap” thing…and since I’ve chosen baby food, it becomes even more complicated since there’s no margin for error.  Which is fine because I’m a perfectionist and would have played by the rules even if it weren’t required.

Feeling like I’m always behind: My “to-do” list would be three pages long had I not broken into shorter lists.  It’s like being in constant catch-up mode.  In the process of getting things done, I learn of more things that I need to do.  Two steps forward, one step back.  Hey, at least I’ve got forward movement!

All in all, the fun things clearly outweigh the not-so-fun things.  The Baby Tasters (my R&D superstars) are coming together and are set to launch in October.  Excited about the next Guinea Pig Cooking Class, Cooking With Whole Grains, scheduled on Sunday, September 19th at 4:00pm.  There’s one spot left, and I’m also looking for a class “helper” if anyone is interested in earning a free spot for a future cooking class.

That’s it for me.  Hope everyone has a great weekend.

Cooking Classes Kick Off with a… Clang!

Little City Kitchen Co. officially entered the cooking class world last Saturday!  The inaugural group of nine people gathered in my Emeryville kitchen and learned about how easy it is to make their own organic baby food, one beet at a time.

In order to fully describe the class from my perspective, I’m going to let you into the slightly-crazed (some may even say slightly-warped) brain of Jill Epner.  Here goes…

Week leading up to the class: Finished my class outline, got my new induction burners (think portable camping-like burners with no flames), double-checked the equipment, planned out the food quantity to buy, bought extension cords from Ace Hardware, and so on.

Day before the class: I went to the kitchen to get everything set up.  Spent an hour re-arranging the tables to get the best setup…only to end up with how it was originally.  I felt like my mom who does this all the time.  Checked all the induction burners, overloaded the circuit, learned how to fix the circuit.  Printed all my handouts, ran out of printer toner half way through, which brought me back to pulling all nighters in college when printer ink was always the death of me.

Day of the class: Mission – to buy the food.  Simple, right?  I go to the Lake Merritt farmers market every Saturday morning, so I knew exactly which booths to hit to buy my golden beets, sweet potatoes and apples.  First hiccup, no sweet potatoes.  Crap.  Second hiccup, no golden beets.  Crap, crap.  I have bought golden beets every single week for months and now there’s not a one to be found in the whole market.  So I left with my apples and headed to Whole Foods to finish the order.  Found the beets luckily, but would have substituted something earthy like parsnips or rutabagas they didn’t have them.

The class: it was a wonderful combination of old friends and new.  My main goal with all my cooking classes is to create a fun experience where people learn really cool things about food.  Quickest thing I learned: I need a “helper” during each class.  It was hard to engage with the participants when I was worried if each team had the proper dishes.  I’m going to offer a free future cooking class to anyone that wants to be a helper, so stay tuned for more info on that.

Overall, I was thrilled with how it went and had a ton of fun myself.  In the feedback I’ve received so far, everyone said that they had a great time, learned how easy it is to make their own baby food, and made a few new friends in the process.  Sweet success!!

Here’s the first of several baby pix to be published.  The adorable Jackson Horton chomping on the roasted sweet potatoes that mom (Jill Brandenburg) made for him in class.  The kid won’t touch jarred sweet potatoes, but the homemade ones he loves! See, even the kiddos know the difference.

I went home that night, kicked my feet up, and had myself a big fat glass of wine.  It was a good day.  The beginning, I hope, of many…

Know anyone interested in taking this class? Next class is scheduled for Wednesday, October 15 from 6:30 – 8:30pm and will cost $50.00. Click here to view Little City Kitchen Co’s complete Fall cooking class schedule.  Please email me or call 415.794.7267 to confirm your spot.

Birth of the “Baby Tasters” and a Plan

Been a busy week.  First, a big shout out to a group I’ve affectionately named my “Baby Tasters”.  Before I bring the baby food to market, I want to gather feedback on taste, packaging, appeal, pricing, etc…  so I have assembled a group of 15 parents (and their little ones) from all over the Bay Area that will help me do that.  Looking forward to meeting all of you!

The first of my new cooking classes start this Saturday.  From Apples to Beets: Making Your Own Organic Baby Food is the topic.  This is the special “Guinea Pig” price of only $20.00, and the class is Saturday from 2:30-4:30pm in my Emeryville commercial kitchen.  Email me ASAP if you’re interested in joining us.  Two spots left.

Been spending a lot of time this week planning out the first baby food class.  Trying not to stress out over it, mostly successful at that.  As you know, I’m a “planner” so I have the flow and timing written out, but still have some items to buy before Saturday.  Part of me knows it’s going to be completely fantastic, but there’s always that small part that fears people will look at me like I’m crazy and that it will fail miserably.  I can’t believe I’m sharing all these crazy thoughts with the world, but I did say I was going to be honest…

The Rebirth of a Business Plan

So you guys who have been reading this from the beginning know that I’ve been struggling with my business plan for a while.  Now that I’ve narrowed my focus to making baby food and teaching cooking classes, it was much easier to write, and I’ve made some great progress.

Why the sudden re-prioritization you ask??  I found a fantastic business coach who is an expert in the specialty food market that I really wanted to work with.  When I applied to meet with her, they asked me “do you have a completed business plan” which is a requirement for coaching.  I replied with an enthusiastic “of course” all the while wondering if my barely-two-page-rough-outline would qualify.  I decided probably not and proceeded to cram for several hours in my favorite coffee shop resulting in a surprisingly good plan.  My new coach is probably reading this blog right now – crap, I’m totally busted!!

Overall a great week.  Tune in next week for a full report on the first of my many cooking classes.  Hope you guys are enjoying reading the blog as much as I am writing it.  As you know, you can follow Little City Kitchen Co. by selecting the “like” button on my Facebook page as well.  Happy Friday!

Marketing, Cash Flow, and Balance Sheets. Oh My.

First let me say thanks for the wonderful marketing ideas that many of your shared!  As promised, here is my pick of the top five most creative:

1. Target midwives and doulas (thanks Jenn A.)
2. groups for new mothers (thanks Jill B.)
3. Free samples at farmers markets (thanks Sabra W.)
4. “Women’s initiatives” at professional firms (Emily M.)

And my favorite marketing idea that I never would have thought of on my own:  Invite a local journalist to attend a cooking class (thanks Jill B. again!)

Along with the marketing ideas, I also received several suggestions for new classes and topics that are worth mentioning: tapping into the homeschool community, offering singles or male-themed classes, parent and child cooking classes, adult community centers, and much more.  The response was fantastic – thanks SO much for your wonderful ideas!

Bookkeeping 101

I ask many small business owners for their one piece of advice they can give to me.  My friend Dennis (who I now rent kitchen space from) gave me some good advice about not getting behind in your bookkeeping, because once you do, it’s nearly impossible to catch up!  So as a result, I’ve been taking a weekly bookkeeping series offered by the SF Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Excellent free/inexpensive classes for anyone interested in starting a business.

I recognize that there are some activities that will be more fun than others as I build Little City Kitchen Co.  Cooking, teaching, and marketing are among the “fun” activities in my book, whereas learning about bookkeeping is entirely another matter.  My Thursday’s have been filled with balance sheets, profit & loss statements, cash flow forecasts, oh my…

Those who know me well know that I’m pretty much a “numbers” person and fairly excel-savvy.  This stuff, however, takes numbers to a whole new level and is hard to wrap your head around.  But, like everything else, I’ll learn it and be just fine.  Next thing to conquer is QuickBooks.

Update on Peaks and Valleys

Back to my really tough week that I talked about in my blog “Peaks and Valleys”…  In the beginning, it was all so new and overwhelming to me.  While there are still a bazillion things to get done, it’s easier for me now because I can see how much I’ve already learned in two short months.

And speaking of numbers, I did a preliminary cash flow forecast and realized that I’m going to be fine on money in the short term.  This greatly eased the little voice in my head that kept chanting “oh-crap-I’m-going-to-run-out-of-money”.  Anytime I hear the familiar “oh-crap” start up, I say instead “relax, you’re going to be fine”.  It’s working so far.

So…overall a great week.  Coming next week: more great news about my new “Baby Tasters” group that will help me with feedback and R&D on my frozen baby food.  I have a group of 15 people already signed up!!

Shameless plug for Dennis’s company Coco Delice, seriously the best chocolate you’ve ever tasted.  I’m a total convert.  He’s offering 25% off all chocolate for 1 day starting Monday at noon if you use the promo code “summer”.  Support small businesses and get some killer chocolate at the same time!

Put Your Creative Hat On…

Busy week since my return from Denver!  I unveiled my new “Guinea Pig Cooking Series” and the regular cooking class schedule through October.  Click here to view a  complete class listing.  It includes classes on Baby Food, Easy Appetizers, Whole Grains, and Three Fondues.

I already have a few people for each of the first classes scheduled, so a great initial response.  Still have some spaces available, so just call or email me if you’re interested in participating.  Big thanks to many of you that have helped spread the word by re-posting my links on your Facebook pages, emailing your friends, or talking about it at baby showers.

And speaking of marketing, I need your help again! I’m looking for some ideas on how best to market/advertise the cooking classes.  Some of the more creative suggestions I’ve had are: prenatal yoga classes, gym trainers, tax-preparers offices, baby trade shows, and the list goes on.  It could be specific places to target, people to meet, groups to network with, etc…

I’m going to publish the top five most creative marketing ideas, and the winner of the best idea gets some special goodies from me.

Exciting news this week:  I’ve partnered with Natural Resources, a wonderful baby resources center in the Mission.  They are including a blurb about me in their upcoming newsletter to 5000+ Bay Area people to gauge interest on adding my baby food cooking class to their workshop schedule, and to help gather a group of “baby tasters” to give feedback on the baby food I’ll be making.  Fingers crossed!

Looking forward hearing all your creative marketing ideas!  Just post them below or on my Facebook Page, and I’ll announce the top five winners next week.

Special shout out to all my friends that just returned from Houston…I experienced a little NBTA-envy this week, which didn’t last long once I realized I could sleep until 8:30 each morning.  Hope you guys had fun.

Organic Baby Food Classes

Little City Kitchen Co. is now offering hands-on classes on making your own organic baby food.  By spending 1-2 hours a week, any home cook can make fresh and preservative-free food for their little one to enjoy.

We will be focused on making baby food for infants primarily between 6-12 months, however you can easily adapt the techniques and ingredients to make food for children of all ages.  Classes are held in my commercial kitchen in Emeryville, CA.

The equipment needed to make your own baby food is is minimal.  Really all you need is a food processor (a blender or food mill works well too), ice cube trays, and some simple recipes.

From Apples to Beets: Making Your Own Organic Baby Food
Cost: $65.00 per class

Saturday, September 18th, 2:30 – 4:30pm
Wednesday, October 13th, 6:30 – 8:30pm

Mention the secret words “Little One” and save $15.00 on baby food classes through October

Class Description:
This hands-on class will explore the various types of whole grains, vegetables, and fruit your little one can enjoy as they begin eating solid foods, and the different methods that any home cook can use to make baby food in their own kitchen.

Participants will make several wholesome baby foods such as brown rice cereal, roasted sweet potatoes, homemade pear sauce, roasted golden beets and more.   You get to take home everything you make, which can be enjoyed right away or frozen for up to several months until your baby is ready to eat.

Click here for a complete list of upcoming cooking classes offered at Little City Kitchen Co.  In addition to organic baby food, we offer interactive classes on Cooking with Whole Grains, Three Fondues, and Easy Appetizers.

I hope you’ll join me for a class!

One. Two. Three Conference Highlights

I have a 2-inch binder, a stack of business cards, and about 30 pages of notes that I took after my first USPCA Personal Chef’s Conference that was held in Denver, CO.  Shout out to all my new UPSCA friends.  It was so nice getting to know you!

Instead of inundating everyone with all the class details, I have decided to make it simple and give you the top three highlights for me.

Starting a Cooking School for Kids: Summer cooking classes for kids is something that I have considered, but had liability concerns since you’re working with knives, burners, etc…  I learned some great info about how to make these activities safer and still tons of fun for the kiddos.  More coming on that, probably next summer, but got some good starter ideas.

Let me know if you think your kids (or friends’ kids) would be interested in taking cooking classes.  If there is enough interest, I could consider adding a class sooner then next summer.  Age range would be from around 8-11 or 12-15.

No GMO’s – Another Reason to Eat Organic: I’ve just started learning more about what organic really means and what are the benefits of eating organic foods.  Some of you have heard of GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) or GM foods.  Think mad scientist meets food…

In mid-1990’s, tomatoes were bred with a walnut gene to make the skin stronger and to extend grocery store shelf life.  So everyone with a nut allergy was suddenly allergic to tomatoes…go figure.

Tomatoes produced in the US are all now non-GMO, but by definition, any food labeled “organic” is made from non-GMO ingredients.  Soybeans, rice, and corn are three of the top GM foods grown today in the US.  Whenever possible, buy organic, or look for the “non-GMO” label.  Okay, off my soapbox!

Grill Something That Isn’t Typically Grilled: We can all grill chicken and burgers, but keep things interesting by using items that aren’t usually grilled…like ravioli and Tequila Lime pound cake.

For raviolis, partially cook, dip in egg, then seasoned breadcrumbs, grill a few minutes each size and serve with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese.  For Tequila Lime Pound Cake, place pound cake in a loaf pan, poke 20-30 holes with a skewer, combine two shots of tequila with a lime simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar boiled then cooled) and pour over pound cake.  Soak for an hour, slice, and grill.

I’m thinking that Tequila Lime pound cake sounds pretty good right about now…  Enjoy!