3 Hots &
a  Cot

Laura's Blog: laura@threehotsandacot.net

December 9, 2014

Earning my Wings

See what's cooking at Denver's non-profit organization Project Angel Heart, and where those meals are headed.


September 4, 2014

Peak Performance

Owning your outcome - whether you're hiking a 14'er or completing a work assignment.

Get 'er done!


August 14, 2014

A Baker's Dozen

Thirteen questions with Lower 48 Kitchen's Chef Alex Figura.


August 7, 2014

Punctuality through Pastries

You can catch more flies with honey - true or false?  A five-day experiment answers this question.


July 24, 2104

FOMO - Fear of Missing Out
Assuage your FOMO fears with these 6 food and beverage trend predictions.


July 3, 2014

Crafty Bean Scene

Hot off the press!  Chef Laura's first published (in print) piece - page 6 of ColoradoBiz Magazine featured in "State of the State".  Let's keep her humble, okay?

Coloradans love their vices: beer, weed, and now...coffee!
Check out Colorado's emerging coffee roasting scene - from the big guys to the micro-roasters - and see what the buzz is all about

Here's the digital version:


June 26, 2014

The Lollipop Trick

Stop taking a licking!  Learn this negotiation and use it at work (and at home!)


June 19, 2014

Silver Spork Social

An underground dinner club experience.  Too cool for school or just cool enough?

June 12, 2014

The Waiting Game

How long is a reasonable amount of time to wait for a table at a restaurant?  Ten minutes? Twenty? Thirty? More?

Your ability to "wait it out" is almost entirely dependent on how the host/ess handles the entire transaction.

Read on...


June 5, 2014

Scooping Up Summer Memories

What the heck is a Geezer Freezer?  Lessons learned from my most memorable summer job at a busy seaside ice cream shop on Cape Cod. 


May 22, 2014

Buy Nothing this Month

Want to try this thrifty challenge?  Here are 10 tips to frugal freedom!


May 15, 2014

A Very Brady Dinner Solution

Make homemade meals faster than you can say "Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!"


May 8, 2014

To Multitask or Not to Mulitask?

Am I lowering my IQ by taking on too much at once?


May 1, 2014

Derby Daze

Big hats and mint juleps - what's not to love?  Celebrate the Kentucy Derby this year, even if you're not at Churchill Downs.


April 24, 2014

Down with Upspeak!

Ladies - this one is for you.  Like, okay?

Three verbal habits that are sabotaging your success.


April 17, 2014

Don't Do-it-Yourself

Some things are better left to the experts.


April 10, 2014

Take me Out to the Ballgame

New, funky modes of transportation to get around Denver this spring.


April 3, 2014

Concious Uncoupling

How to quit with class.


Take a Number

Is your deli ready to go digital?

March 26, 2014

There’s an area in every grocery store so dreadful, that I usually just avoid it entirely…the deli department. 

Although the bounty of Boar’s Head and bologna look enticing, the utter anarchy repels me.  Typically I cruise by the deli, assess the mayhem, and then sulk off to the refrigerated section to buy listeria-laden lunch meats.

Placing an order at the deli has always been a battle.  Without being properly armed with a pocketful of Xanax, I can’t justify subjecting myself to that special brand of agony for a few slices of capicola.

  • First, the mammoth meat case blocks the customers’ view of the lone employee.
  • Second, there’s no clear queuing system.
  • Third, I’m always behind the sweet granny who wants her pastrami sliced “just so”.

In an effort to streamline the chaos, the number dispensing tool was introduced.  This gadget created some semblance of order, as sweaty-palmed husbands anxiously awaited their winning number to be called.  It looked more like a scene from an OTB parlor in the Bronx, than a grocery store.

Ever notice during non-peak hours how customers ignore the red plastic Take-a-Number dispenser?  This in turn causes the staff’s desire to track said numbers wane.  But then - out of thin air - two, three, four customers approach simultaneously.  Some take a ticket, some don’t.  The deli employees try to catch up with the faltering system by shouting “73? 74? 75?” with no success.  They’d probably have better luck asking “Bueller?  Bueller?  Bueller?”

To my delight, I visited King Soopers yesterday and spied a new digital kiosk by the store’s entrance.  It was a shiny touch screen that encouraged customers to place their cold cuts order now, and then pick it up at the deli in 15 minutes.  Finally, a modern solution to this antiquated system.

The blend of innovation, technology, and novelty merged into the perfect marketing hat trick and I tapped away at the screen.  A ticket popped out indicating my order number.  I took a hard left, navigating the store backwards, so that I’d strategically end up at the deli in 15 minutes with all of my shopping done.  Yay me!

I arrived at the deli, ticket in hand, eager to secure my lovingly bagged ‘n’ tagged goodies that were awaiting my precisely-timed arrival.  Ehh, not so much.

Mulling about the counter were four types of customers:

  1. Baby Boomer man in the midst of being helped.  A package of sliced olive loaf resting on the glass counter, while awaiting his low sodium Swiss.
  2. Millennial guy loitering.  His status was dubious until the employee asked if he had been helped.  Turns out he hadn’t been helped yet, but didn’t seem to care one way or the other. 
  3. Silent Generation woman, not so silently waving her Turn-o-Matic 20007 ticket in the air, insisting on service.
  4. Gen X lady wondering where her pre-placed order should be picked up.  Contemplating “waiting it out”, taking a (new) number, or cutting the whole line and demanding the Butterball that she ordered 17 minutes ago.

#4 would be me.

After customers 1, 2 and 3 were served, it was my turn.  I handed the staffer my digitally printed receipt that looked completely different from the “old fashioned” ticket.  She retreated to her printer, tore the order off the roll, and begins to slice my turkey. 

This system should work like a service bar at a restaurant where the bartender juggles customers in front of him, as well as keeps his ear out for the hum of the printer.  Those drink orders are placed by the servers, who expect perfectly blended daiquiris ready for pick up as they hurry by; a flawlessly choreographed system of efficiency.

Alas, I was handed my order 25 minutes after it was (initially) placed.   Although King Soopers is on the right track, this futuristic system needs extreme beta testing before the launch.   They should consider bringing in a bus full of Central City day-trippers who will surely order “old skool”, while a gaggle of Gen Y’ers tap away at the digital kiosk.

Until the kinks get worked out, I’ll be in the refrigerated section with my convenient and calming friend, Mr. Oscar Mayer.

The End

To read on Colorado Business Magazine, click on this link.  Your comments are always appreciated!


March 20, 2014

Avoid the Krispy Kreme Effect

Death to "Death by PowerPoint"!  Unless you want a glazed audience. 


March 13, 2014

Luck o' the Irish

Is that swirly shamrock dismount on a pint of Guinness pure marketing genius, or blasphemy? 
Or is it just plain delicious, so who really cares?!?


March 6, 2014

Food Labels of the Future

"I'll just have a half cup of ice cream," said no one...ever!
Nutrtion Facts get a makeover.  Sometimes change IS good.


February 27, 2014

Manipulative Menus

Stars, Plow Horses and Dogs!  Oh my!
Subliminal secrets to captivating restaurant menus.


February 20, 2014

Time to Dine

Denver's Restaurant Week.  Happy 10th Anniversary!  WIth over 300 resturants participating and just $60 per couple, you can afford to check out your favorite standby as well as a new spot.


February 13, 2014

Thorns and Roses

A debriefing game to better your game.


February 6, 2014

52 Week Money Challenge

Slow and Steady Wins. A financial lesson from Aesop's Fables.


January 30, 2014

"Omaha!" and Flying Fish
Throw in a little fun at work.


January 23, 2014

The Coporate Athlete
Part 2

How to be "good" and "good to yourself" while traveling for business.  Yes...you can have a glass of wine!


January 16, 2014

The Corporate Athlete
Part 1

How can Tabata and a Bender Ball improve your physical and fiscal fitness?


January 9, 2014

Hop, Skip, and Go Naked in 2014

Time to predict the food trends or "trads" (a trendy fad) for 2014. 
So long Cronut, hello______???


January 2, 2014    

Happy New Year! 

Rim Cafe Rene's Recipe for Success

Kick off 2014 with a fun and inspirational story on living life (even at work) with a flair for PASSION!


December 27, 2013

The Best of COBiz Magazine!

Trying Customers

From Santa to Mr. Burns with a single sentence.


December 19, 2013

Shake out the Welcome Mat

You go when you're invited; you stay where you're welcome.  Does this apply to the home and the workplace?


December 12, 2013

Make it Happen!

Lessons from a badass Sous Chef (no, not me) on instilling a sense of urgency.


December 5, 2013    

An Olde Tyme Christmas

Golden, Colorado is primarily known as home to Coors Brewery.  This time of year, the quaint town shines with old-fashioned charm.  A perfect pit stop to resrtore your Christmas spirit, while enjoying refreshing spirits, this holiday season.


November 27, 2013

The Best of CoBiz Magazine!

An Attitude for Gratitude

The perfect time of year to express a little "Thank You!" Big return on investment for just two words.


November 21, 2013

Nouveau Traditions

Black Friday is sooooo passe.  Small Business Saturday is where it's at!


November 14, 2013

Trading Up

Trader Joe's aims its arrow at Colorado with three new stores opening this Valentine's Day.
Can it compete with the Goliaths already established in the Centennial State?


November 7, 2013

Got time to lean, got time to learn

Would your boss look the other way if you were "multitasking" on the job in an effort to better your career?


October 31, 2013

Halloween Humbug!

Visits from three ghosts restore my fading Halloween spirit.


Happy "Empty Hotdog" THAAC Readers!
October 24, 2013

Clean up your mess.  Scouts Honor!

Leave the world a little better than you found it.  At the office, and at home.


October 17, 2013

The Mystery Box

Shhhh!  Secret sales trick revealed here.  It works on shoes - can it work on your widgets too?

October 10, 2013

Flawed to Perfection

The Tale of the Persian Rug as it applies to your work life...and life.

October 3, 2013

Write Your Own Eulogy

Start with the end result in mind and work backwards.

September 26, 2013

"No Problem!"

The "problem" with double negatives when trying to say something positive.

September 19, 2013

The Source

Denver's newest (and only) foodie Mecca.  Right place at the right time? 

September 12, 2013

Project Jet Way

Putting "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have" philosophy to the test:


September 5, 2013

The Geranium Effect

Setting the right example.  You never know who's watching.

August 29, 2013

Reinventing Yourself

Leonardo DaVinci's quirky career path - appealing or insane?


August 22, 2013

Got Cream?

A healthy employee mix to maximize your work force and keep labor cost in check:

August 15, 2013

Don't Smile Until Christmas

A lesson I learned as a first-year High School teacher, that may work with first-time managers.


August 8, 2013

Gimme a Break!

Inject some fun and "Zen" into your next presentation.


August 1, 2013

Rock Your Office Clean!

Time to "Merge N' Purge" to set yourself up for success.  Count the ridiculous number of puns.
Rock on.


July 25, 2013

To Catch a Falling Knife

Forget about instinct!  It's all about using your best judgment.  Nordstrom's taught me that...


July 18, 2013

Get a Free Buzz

What sets some restaurants apart from others?  Guerilla marketing, I suspect.


July 11, 2013

Do or Do Not, there is no Try

A modern-day Yoda told me something that still haunts me to this day.


July 3, 2013

Batter up!

The Up-sell: Recognizing the Pitch


June 27, 2013

Time to make the donuts! 

I'm getting "wicked physched" for the arrival of Dunkin' Donuts in Denvah!!


June 20, 2013

Treat 'em Right

In order to get fabulous service when dining out, follow our version of the "Hippocratic Oath": Do no harm to fellow servers, chefs and bartenders.


June 13, 2013

It's Hip to be Square

How did Huey Lewis know that a 'dongle' would change the way small businesses get paid?


June 6, 2013

Trust Hang-Ups

What do hotel hangers and hairdryers have to do wth trust?  Just about everything...


May 30, 2013

An Attitude for Gratitude

Mom was right - a nicely written thank you card goes a long way!


May 24, 2013

"Cuz we've always done it this way!"

Have you ever embraced change to increase efficiency? Could you? 

May 16, 2013

The Art of Dining Alone, Demystified

Does the thought of dining solo terrify you?  Fear not, brave diner, this one's for you!


May 9, 2013

When life gives you lemons...

Could a business model based on a kids' lemonade stand hold up in the "real world"?


May 4, 2013

It’s all Greek to me

Confession time.  I am a “C&E” Catholic.  My fellow Catholics may, shamefully, know that acronym means “Christmas and Easter.” 

We roll out the red carpet for Jesus on those two holidays, make our token cameo at church, and call it a day.  Admittedly for me, Easter is more about Cadbury Cream Eggs than it is about…wait, what was it again…oh yeah…the resurrection of Christ.

However there was one Easter I’ll never forget.  It was the quintessential marriage of religion and festivity (i.e. “food”) that enabled me to forget about marshmallow Peeps for a moment and really get into the spirit of things.

This was the Easter that I spent with a Greek family.  Greek families do everything bigger, louder, and with more fan fare.  Greek Easter makes “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” look like an old timey silent black and white movie by comparison.    It’s easily their favorite holiday of the year, trumping Christmas by a marathon. 

Greek Orthodox Easter is not celebrated on the same day as “regular” Easter.  It’s always a Sunday or two after.  I’m sure there’s an exact science or moon cycle reason for selecting the date.  This year, it’s rather late: Sunday May 5, 2013.  So while the rest of the country is eating chips and salsa in honor of Cinco de Mayo, the Greeks will be shouting “Christos Anesti!” (Christ has Risen) to their brothern.

Greek Orthodox families kick off the Easter weekend by fasting on Good Friday through Saturday night.  They have a collection of intriguing traditions throughout the weekend– many of them involving food.  Like my family, the Greeks also color their Easter eggs.  Instead of those pastel PAAS kits, they color all the eggs a deep red.  It’s a beautiful shade – quite striking to see a big bowl of all crimson red – denoting the blood of Christ.

A “game” of sorts called Tsougrisma is played by clicking the red eggs together to see whose egg will crack first (the loser). Like the NAACP basketball bracket, the unblemished egg goes head-to-head with other eggs, until only one un-cracked winner remains.  This person is granted good luck for the year, until next year’s “Crack Up.”

Then there’s the traditional bread: Tsoureki - a sweet egg bread.  Not to be confused with Vassilopita, the New Year’s Day version of a sweet egg bread with a lucky coin baked inside. If you receive the slice of bread with the coin in January, and win Tsougrisma in May, does your luck cancel out for the remainder of the calendar year?

The Greek family I celebrated Easter with broke their Saturday fast after returning home from a lengthy midnight mass.  It was late, but everyone was hungry so we feasted on the above-mentioned hard boiled eggs and bread before going to bed.

The main event of any Greek Easter feast is the spit-roasting of a whole lamb on Sunday morning.  Not only is the final product the crown jewel of the table, but the entire process – much like cooking a whole hog at a luau, or roasting a 20 lb. bird on Thanksgiving – is a big ordeal and part of the fun.

My goofball Greek friend and his younger brother were in charge of turning the spit.  The fragrant smells and showmanship of roasting a whole lamb on the front lawn of their apartment complex in central New Jersey created a heightened level of curiosity. 

Impressionable non-Greek children would pedal by on Big Wheels and inquire “Whatcha doin’?”  Yanni and Demetri would explain it was a tradition during their Easter to roast a whole lamb.  After the tenth kid skipped by, halted, pointed, and exclaimed (disgustedly) “What’s that?!” the brothers’ patience wore thin. 

“It’s your dog” they said flatly, not-so-secretly savoring the look of horror on little Joey’s face as he went screaming to his own apartment “Maaaaaaaaa!  They killed Buster!”

Looking at the charred whole lamb, I could see the resemblance to a lean greyhound.  Marinated in lemon, garlic and olive oil - that sure was some tasty “dog”. 

The Greeks are fun people.  I’ve had the pleasure of traveling to Greece and spending a week with a Greek “Ya-Ya” in Australia, but will save those stories for another time.  Their passion for all things Greek is infectious.  And their food…delicious.

Happy Easter to my Greek friends and “family”.

Christos Anesti!  Alithos Anesti! (surely he has). 

It’s not often that Greek Orthodox Easter and Cinco de Mayo fall on the same day.  To honor this rare occasion, my interpretation of “Grexican" Cuisine:

GREEK QUESADILLAS with Olive Tapenade and Taziki dipping sauce (serves 4)


8 Flour 8" tortillas

1 c. feta cheese, crumbled

½ c. red onions, finely julienned

2 c. cooked “protein” (grilled chicken, gyro meat, shaved lamb or beef)

1 c. diced fresh tomatoes

2 c. shredded iceberg lettuce

1/4 c. Canola oil


Lay out 4 tortillas.  Top each one with equal parts feta cheese, protein, and red onion.  Top with remaining tortilla.  Heat a nonstick sauté pan with a tablespoon of oil.  Cook one quesadilla at a time, pressing against tortilla to flatten and seal it, until golden.  Flip and continue to cook until golden.  Remove from heat, slice into 6 wedges.  Serve warm with tomato, lettuce, olive tapenade and taziki sauce.

Olive Tapenade

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1 c. pitted kalamata olives

2 T. capers

3 T. chopped fresh parsley

2 T. lemon juice

2 T. olive oil

salt and pepper to taste


Place the garlic cloves into a blender or food processor; pulse to mince. Add the olives, capers, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil Blend until everything is finely chopped. Season to taste with salt and pepper




2 (8 ounce) containers plain Greek yogurt

2 cucumbers - peeled, seeded and diced

2 T. olive oil

1/2 lemon, juiced

salt and pepper to taste

1 T. chopped fresh dill

3 cloves garlic, peeled


In a food processor or blender, combine yogurt, cucumber, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, dill and garlic. Process until well-combined. Transfer to a separate dish, cover and refrigerate for at least one hour for best flavor

May 2, 2103

The New "Norm!"

When customer service gets complacent. 
The fine line between being treated like a "regular" and being treated like a "doormat."

April 25, 2013

Appetite for Giving

Dining Out for Life - you've only got one day, make it count!

April 18, 2013

The IKEA Effect
Some assembly required is actually desired.

Sweat Equity = Love

April 11, 2013

Feast or Famine

The battle between the "Indulgers" and the "Abstainers".  Whose side are you on?

April 4, 2013

Life in the Fast Lane

A day without food, glorious food?  Could you do it?  Why would you want to anyway?  Read on...


March 30, 2013

It's Gettin' Hot in Here

Articles 3 &4 have hit the "newstands" on www.COBizMag.com.  Check 'em out.  If you like (or not) what you see, I welcome your comment sections here on on the COBiz site directly below the article.  Thanks for your support!

Artcile #3 on the imporatnce of being organized: Mise en Place!

Article #4 on Admissions to Culinary Arts School

March 15, 2013

When Irish Breads are smiling…

There once was a joke about food
That caused the Irish to brood
It claimed Cooks hardly toiled
The ‘taters they just boiled
And all meats were heavily stewed

It really wasn’t their fault
For they excelled at brewing malt
“Why eat, when there’s beer?”
The lads loudly did cheer
“Besides, just add a pinch of salt” 

“Culinary delights” embellished perhaps
Like the Books of Kells in a sac of burlap
Corned beef, Cabbage, Coddle
Sheppard’s Pie, Colcannon debacle
These were actually treasures to unwrap

With their talents no longer suppressed
It’s now ‘a la mode’ to be an Irish Chef
Lamb Chop Lollipop
Guinness Ice Cream with ‘Jamo’ atop
Grilled Salmon adorned with Crème Fraiche

We’ll always be known for our drinking
But this has got me thinking
Let’s share our pot of gold
With traditions told
“Grab a pen,” said my Grandmother winking

She rattled it off with brevity
Behold, her cherished recipe
The ink quickly spread
Across paper entitled: Soda Bread
“To make it with love” - a necessity


  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for currants
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
  • 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 cup dried currants (or raisins)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.

Whisk the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the currants with 1 T. of flour and mix into the dough. It should be very wet.

Place the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.

Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with fresh Irish butter and honey…and a shot of Jameson.

Three Hots and a Cot wish you a Happy St. Patrick's Day!

March 14, 2013

Lightning Strikes Twice
Three Hots and a Cot is excited to announce that Chef Laura's second article has been published in Colorado Biz Magazine, about those quirky Fish McBites (see February 5 "Here Fishy Fishy" blog post).


Check it out and kindly post your comments on the CoBiz site.  Props given to the funniest pseudonym!

March 6, 2013

All up in my "Biz" ness

Three Hots and a Cot is excited to announce that Chef Laura's abridged article on 2013 Food Trends (see February 26 Blog post below) was published in Colorado Biz (www.cobizmag.com).


Check it out, post your comments on the CoBiz site, and spread the love.  You know we'd do it for you!

February 26, 2013

Channeling Chef Nostradamus

Every year, any marketing company, food rag, celeb Chef, or bored SAHM likes to predict this year’s food trends.  In the past it’s been things like “Deviled Eggs are Heavenly!”, “Popcorn – not just for movie theaters any more” or “Old Fashions – no longer considered ‘Old Fashion’”.

Sometimes a trend becomes cemented into our food lexicon.  Take Greek yogurt for example.  I first experienced Greek yogurt in Mykonos of all places.  “The sour cream of yogurt” came drizzled in sweet honey and I fell in love.  It took a couple years for this creamy delight to sail its way across the Aegean, but when it did, it set up shop and has pushed the pedestrian American yogurts aside in the dairy case. 

Other trends explode, and almost have the staying power to transgress into a “staple” food (as Fage can attest), but are just annoying enough to make you ask “Aren’t we done with this yet?”  as Fonzie water-skis by.  I’m talking cupcakes, sliders, and putting bacon in everything from a donut to a car air freshner. 

Then there are the trends that come and go so fast, your wanna-be-hipster Dad didn’t even get a chance to coyly brag to you “So your mother and I went out for sea urchin last night…” Those kind of trends are all in good fun, and they seems to last for 12-18 months before the next latest and greatest thing comes along, like: ‘Snout to Tail’ cooking, aerating foams, salt samplers, or enormous chunks of ice in your rocks glass of Makers Mark.  If one person is doing this, he’s a freak.  But if enough of the “cool kids” start doing it, it’s uuber trendy and you just have to have that sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel coulis and bacon tuile garnish at the newest and coolest restaurant, that used to be a vacant gas station.

I like trends.  Like Dr. Evil doing the Macarena, I too like to be “hip” and ”with it".  But I also like tradition.  What tickles my nostalgic fancy is that so many of today’s trends are actually in my worn edition of “The Better Homes & Gardens” cookbook, circa 1941. You know the one: the three-ring tabbed binder with the iconic Red and White gingham checked cover.

Crack open this gem and you’ll find:  Devils on Horseback, Pigs in a Blanket, Mac ‘n’ Cheese, Meatloaf, Pot Pies (the Brits call these meat pies, aka empanadas, which are incidentally…trending), and chapters on “Classic Cocktails” like: Rob Roy, Rusty Nail, Ward 8, and Grasshopper.  Everyone of these items are on a Gastropub or Food Truck menu near you.

The real trends predicted for 2013:

  1. Who shrunk my plate? – this is today’s “slider”.  Minis are still hot.  Samplers, flights, shooters, and small plates.
  2. Where’s the Beef? – The cow is becoming sacred in the US – not for religious reasons – but because raising cattle is so damn expensive.  Vegetables steal the spotlight, Meatless Monday’s kick off the week, “premium” chicken cuts proliferate the menu, as does using lesser quality beef cuts (pot roast or beef stew, anyone?).
  3. It’s Crafty  – Coloradans jumped on the craft beer band wagon before there even was a band…or a wagon.  Now there’s a circus of Brewpubs, Microbreweries, and even Nanobreweries across the nation.  Growlers have replaced 6-packs.  “Beer & Breakfast” take over where traditional “B & B’s” left off. And much to Julia Childs’ chagrin, let’s start cooking with beer: sauces, stews, soups and dips.
  4. Pass the pink slime – Clean food is in.  Not in a Clorox way, but in a Whole Foods way.  Less of the stuff you can’t pronounce with weird acronyms (HFCS) and more of the good stuff.  Chipotle calls this “Food with Integrity”.  It doesn’t have to be organic or gluten free – just more what nature intended and purchased a little closer to home.
  5. 24/7 Snacking – Being somewhat patriotic, do not deny my right to bear armfuls of Crepes with Nutella, street tacos, fish & chips, and Korean BBQ at all hours of the day.  Food trucks still abound, while C-stores and vending machines pump up their options.  Although I wouldn’t want to ingest it, watching that hot dog repeatedly roll around on the greasy metal coils at 7-11 is quite mesmerizing.

The ridiculous trends Three Hots and a Cot predicts we will see in 2013:
(We actually have more faith in these than the “real” ones)

  1.  Aspic – A terrible idea should be named something as equally terrible.  Wait, I know, let’s call it “Ass-pick!” (aka Tomato Jell-O).  Imagine cold, solid gazpacho, molded into a pretty wreath-like shape.  Who can resist?
  2. Sherbet Punch – Ginger ale, some random booze, pineapple juice, and scoops of rainbow sherbet adorn this pastel bowl of sugary goodness.  Everyone put a straw in and we’ll christen it “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally’s Scorpion Bowl”.
  3. Tuna Noodle Casserole – a deconstructed version – maybe made with Ahi Tuna, and a wasabi cream instead of Starkist and Campbell’s C.O.M. soup.  Hey, that actually might work.
  4. Waffles used as a hamburger bun, or hot dog bun, or in place of sandwich bread.  Don’t waffle on this trend, plug it in now – we’ll iron out the details later.
  5. Monte Cristos, Croque Monsieur, Croque Madame – Is it breakfast?  Is it brunch?  Is it lunch? Is it dinner? Is it dessert?  YES.  Sweet, savory, cheesy, eggy, meaty, with jelly, syrup or confectioners’ sugar, this cult classic will have its time in the spotlight in 2013.

We will revisit these 10 “Ye Olde Trends of 2013” at the end of the year to tally up the score.  In the meantime, I’m looking to buy a red truck to launch my Aspic-on-the-Go business.  I think that’s got some real potential.

February 18, 2013

Party of One

Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, ranks pretty high among most people I’ve met.  The word comes from the Greek, glossa = tongue, and phobos = fear.  Another phobia, tops on people’s list, that could easily use those similar Greek root words, is the fear of eating out alone“Solotrogophobia” is my best attempt at butchering Greek to neatly fit my own blogging benefit.  Don’t bother Googling it – just trust me on this.  Efharisto.

Admittedly, as a woman traveling on business alone, I had to summons up my courage to explain to the hostess, “Um, table for one please”.  Apologetically, I’d lessen myself more by saying in a hushed voice “It’s just me.”   To make matters worse, the hostess would sit me at a deuce, and not have the good sense to clear the additional place setting.  Then comes the dreaded follow up question from my server “Will anyone be joining you this evening?”  I’d meekly reply “No…I’m by myself”.  Gulp.

I thought sitting alone screamed to the rest of the dining room “That bitch has no friends”, or worse “Poor thing, this chick’s being stood up.”  How could I silently scream back “I’m on a business trip, and you’re right, I don’t have any friends in Lubbock, Texas!”?

The cowardly traveler has two options:  Fast Food (not on an expense account – no way!) or Room Service.  I know the thought of Room Service seems real highfalutin, but I honestly have to say it’s always a disappointment.  The service is slow, then there’s that awkward moment when the attendant has to enter your room and set down the tray.   Minutes before he (it’s almost always a man) knocks on the door, I’m running around the room hiding my bras and tidying up as if I’m having a guest over.  The tray of lukewarm food is incredibly average, your salad is smothered in the ubiquitous Ranch dressing, and you can’t order a second glass of wine – preposterous!  Then you contemplate what to do with the dirty tray: keep in room (stale french fry smell and all) or furtively place in the hallway, which just seems so gauche.

Besides, when I go to a city, I like to explore the hidden culinary jewels that the locals venture to.  I use my favorite app, TVFoodMaps, and head out…solo.  My days of being anxious about dining avec moi are happily over.  Here’s how I overcame Solotrogophobia :

  1.  If it’s a fine dining place, I actually make a reservation.  It’s a stealthy power play to the hostess who then spreads the word to the server and inevitably back to the Chef.  “Who is this woman?  Is she a food critic? Just in case, let’s make this extra nice for her.”
  2. Those ridiculously packed and trendy restaurant du jours are always impossible to get into – EXCEPT – when you are a solo diner.  You can slip right in with no wait. Here’s how…
  3. Sit at the Bar.  For drinks – yes, but also for your full meal.  I’ve never been turned down when I’ve asked to eat at the bar.  Restaurants are amazingly well-equipped to serve you a fabulous meal bar-side; who cares if you’re sitting on a stool?
  4. While at the bar, you usually have access to the regular menu, as well as the Happy Hour and/or secret bar menu with some great (and cheaper) specials.  Small plates, flights, samplers, food/wine pairings, you name it!
  5. Word of caution: as a solo diner, don’t assume that the bartender is your new BFF.  Sure, they will chat you up accordingly, but they are not obligated to entertain you by juggling cocktail onions for you.  Remember, not only are they serving guests at the bar, they are also crafting Gibsons “on the fly” for the service bar too.
  6. Some food blogs will instruct you to bring a book (probably not “Fifty Shades of Grey”), or a magazine (Good Lord, you’re not at a hair salon), or a tablet (Sudoku can wait).  But Three Hots and a Cot says no to all “props” – these are crutches for the timid.  The occasional check-in on FB is allowed, or the quick “I miss you” text is acceptable.  But no drawn out calls with your children “Mommy wuvs you Poopy Pants” or follow up calls with your underlings “Um, Peter, um, yeah, did you get the memo about the new cover sheet for the TPS reports?” 

So what are you supposed to do without a dinner companion sheild?  Allow me to demystify the art of dining alone:

  1. Enjoy your food.  Really taste it.  Chew it.  Smell it.  Savor it.  Remember it.
  2. Observe.  Some people would call this people watching.  Okay, fair enough.  But it’s really more about being “present”.  What music is playing?  Design elements of the room?  Plate presentation?  Pick up on those subtle nuances that set this meal apart from last week’s business trip.  Otherwise, these trips all start to blend together and you’re staring in your own version of “Groundhog Day.”
  3. Strike up a conversation with another bar mate.  No, this doesn’t mean you’re hitting on the person next to you, unless that’s your intention, then bravo for you!  It could be as simple as “Can you pass the Cholula?” to spark some friendly banter.
  4. Decompress.  You’ve had a long day.  That TSA pat down was a little too aggressive, Hertz put you in a beige Nissan Altima with a cracked windshield, you lost your favorite red Swingline stapler, and Marriott assigned you to a room next to the elevator – ding!  Now all you want to do is get a little buzz on, eat a tasty meal, and mentally check out.  That’s okay – you can do that too.  “We are not human doings, we are human beings”.  So just be.

The art of dining out solo is that there are no “rules”.  Wait I take that back – there is one - confidence.  You are parting with your, or your company’s, hard-earned money, you are a valued customer, and you are not apologizing for being “a single” (incidentally, that’s what the FOH – Front of House – calls solo diners, regardless of your relationship status).  Instead of saying “I’m by myself”, how about “I’m with myself”?  Cheers to you!

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” – Oscar Wilde

February 12, 2013

Some Assembly Desired

We’ve all heard the phrase “a labor of love”.  Most people would agree that this term loosely means that if we love something, we tend to put a lot of effort (“labor”) into it.  But have you ever flipped the meaning of this phrase?  Consider this instead: If we put a lot of labor into something, we actually love it more.

This theory, developed by a group of Harvard Business students, is whimsically coined the IKEA Effect.  Remember when you took a pottery class in the 7th grade, and made the lopsided “bowl.”  It was an engineering and aesthetic nightmare, but you proudly kept it and happily filled it with Sugar Smacks every morning.  

That’s the IKEA Effect.  We tend to value things we put effort into.   It can apply to assembling a wooden step stool, taking care of a demanding pet, or making Swedish meatballs from scratch – not that IKEA of all places would encourage that behavior. 

When eating at a restaurant, I’ve had fellow dining companions remark that their meal is “just okay”.  And maybe they’re right, but I cringe a little on the inside.  Unless the meal is inedible, I’m happy to enjoy food that I didn’t have to cook.  You’d think that Chefs are the most critical diners but the opposite is true; we tend to be the most forgiving customers - thanks to the IKEA Effect ripple

Chefs know the work it took to prepare that Shrimp Scampi for table #12.  There is a BOH (Back of the House, aka “Kitchen”) choreography rivaling Mama Mia happening just behind those swinging doors that made the Shrimp Scampi magically arrive at the deuce in the corner.  So when I dine with people that say “Meh, it was fine.”  I vicariously experience the IKEA Effect, even though I didn’t cook it myself.

The IKEA Effect sneaks into our lives more every day.  Not long ago, “customization” of menu items didn’t exist.  “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit” (sounds better with a touch of Red Neck twang).  Long before Jared Fogel hit the scene with his tent-like khakis, Subway was one of the few places where you could customize your order: “Light on the mayo, extra lettuce, hold the onion.”  Right before your eyes, you saw your ingredient requests applied, or avoided, onto a 6” roll. 

Next was Burger King’s “Your Way Right Away!” which incidentally backfired on the company as customers slowed down the “fast” food line with their outlandishly specific requests – “3 slices of pickle, and 2 squirts of mustard, please.”  The campaign had positive intent, and lasted a bit longer than the “Where’s Herb?” debacle of 1985, but is now in the BK advertising graveyard, next to Mr. Potato Head urging us to “Try the Fry” and that creepy, macrocephalic King.

Despite BK’s failure, others followed suit: Chipotle, Qdoba, Quizno’s, Garbanzo, Wich Wich, and of course, the most brazen customization factory of all…Starbucks.

Have you ever stood behind the lady in oversized sunglasses who’s ordering a “half caf, half decaf, non-fat, venti, soy, caramel macchiato with extra whip”?  Although I don’t begrudge her right to exercise the IKEA Effect, I do long for my efficient “Regulah” coffee-ordering days at D&D.  The green Seattle Siren expertly leverages the power of the IKEA Effect.  We help build our product; thus we created it, we own it, and we LOVE it! 

Marketers are wise to the emotional attachment of creating.  DIY’ers are why cake mixes, boxed mac & cheese, and taco kits are so popular.  We have to crack an egg, measure some milk, or brown some ground beef to produce the final product.  Food Manufacturers don’t sell this as “packaged” goods, but instead use words like “speed-scratch” or “semi-homemade”.  You appreciate it more, because you were in control of its outcome.  You didn’t make it “with love” (like Nana claims with a wink), but because you co-created it, it produced love.  The IKEA Effect strikes again.

Once you are wise to secret of the Swedes, you’ll recognize it all around you.  Pumping your own gas (except on the NJ Turnpike) – ding!  Handing your hair stylist each piece of foil when she gives you the nod during you bimonthly highlights appointment – you go girl! Employing the blue flame of Sterno to toast your own marshmallows at a white table cloth restaurant for $16.00 S’mores – scouts honor! 

And all the while, marketers happily whisper “If you build it… you will love it.”

February 5, 2013

“Here Fishy Fishy"

Guess who the biggest purchaser of Alaskan Pollock is in the world?  The obvious answers might be Gorton’s (the fisherman you are urged to trust), Mrs. Paul’s, Long John Silver, or even Red Lobster.  But think again – it’s that crazy clown down the road from your house - Ronald McDonald.  And this year, his Pacific purchasing power has more punch.

Have you been by a Mickey D’s lately and asked yourself “what the heck is a Fish McBite?”  I first encountered this last week in Newport News, VA – a coastal town neighboring Norfolk.  I thought this was one of those regional offerings – like the McLobster Roll down Maine, or the breakfast burritos in…well…everywhere else.

Then I happen to be at a McDonald’s a few days later – this time in “Beige Town”, Colorado - and there it was again.  A light bulb went off – McDonald’s is gearing up for Lent, and it’s no longer relying solely on the Filet-o-Fish to cast the biggest net.

Even though the word “king” is decidedly not in McDonald’s nomenclature, they do rule when it comes to LTO’s.  I considered the TLA (Three Letter Acronym) “LTO”  common knowledge.  I tossed out the term when speaking to a non-foodservice friend, and he started at me blankly.  Well, he does that regardless of what I’m saying, but this time I clued him in on my restaurant vernacular.  “Limited Time Offer?” I suggested, eyebrows raised.  “You know, like the McRib”? 

McDonald’s has mastered the LTO, knowing just when to start it, stop it, road test it, ditch it, or put it in the vault and bring it back like the Rocky Horror Picture Show every Halloween – precisely when we crave it the most.  As soon as we’ve been reunited, that fickle clown nabs it, making us sadly hum the poignant Cinderella (think Hair Band, not Disney) ballad “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone).”  And that, my friends, is how you create a cult LTO following; even Tim Curry would agree.

Now, back to Nemo.  So why should we care about these insignificant seafood morsels?  I consider this new menu feature a semester’s worth of college classes rolled into a deep fried goodness with a side of tartar sauce.  The advent of McDonald’s Fish McBites tells us about trends in food supply (Ecology), distribution (Business), religion (Theology), nutrition (Biology), menu analysis (Marketing), and even government (Political Science).

 I was recently in Anchorage for work, and stumbled upon a boisterous group of men who seemed to be in “work convention mode”, a.k.a. "drunk".  After a few rounds of Tanqueray gimlets at the historic Captain Cook Hotel’s bar, they happily educated me on their business – the US Fishery Department.  They were there, not to get snockered and karaoke to “It Takes Two” (which, incidentally, happened), but to network, meet, lobby, and learn, all on behalf of the seafood industry.  These middle-aged guys (about 99% men, as far as I could tell) fly to Anchorage every other month to keep their sub-industries best interests on the table, which is a good thing, because they were abysmal as Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock.

So when the largest Alaskan Pollock customer decides to menu a fish LTO for 6 weeks, you better believe that was a hot topic at one of these meetings.  But McDonald’s did their homework – and although fish will never outsell their burgers – they are using a sustainable Pollock that can safely be fished without wiping out the whole school.

What the presence of the Fish McBites also represents is that Catholicism is still relevant in America.  McDonald’s first launched the Filet-o-Fish in 1962 as a non-burger offering, not for pescetarians, but for non-meat eating Catholics on Fridays.  Yes, that’s also why clam chowder is usually the soup du jour on Friday's menu boards nationwide (just go light on the rendered salt pork).  Did you know that McDonald’s first non-meat offering to address the Lent conundrum was the now extinct “Hula Burger”?  A slice of grilled pineapple between a squishy bun.  It didn’t take off at McDonald’s, much to the chagrin of Dole.

The advent of the Fish McBites also reinforces that our finned friends are having their biggest hay day since the premier of “The Incredible Mr. Limpet”.  I haven’t been to a restaurant in at least a year, where fish tacos weren’t present and accounted for.  And move over Chicken McNuggets, the Fish McBites are being offered in a Happy Meal.  I know you’re thinking “What’s the big revelation here? ’Fish sticks’ have always been the punch line of every school lunch lady’s favorite joke.” Err…Sorry Charlie.  But this time, Adam Sandler’s idol isn’t driving this trend, it’s the Millennial Moms who want their kids to explore new foods and eat something “healthier” than McNuggets.  It’s a little McWeak of an argument, but it’s McLegit.

So if your kids are like mine, begging you to take a hard right turn when the Golden Arches appear, you may want to consider stopping next time.  Over your Fish McBites, give them a Liberal Arts education on all the behind-the-scenes influences that go into their dinner.  It’s cheaper than the tuition at Harvard, and you can wash it down with the next cult LTO…the Shamrock Shake.

February 1, 2013

The Musings of Marie Antoinette

At what point when does a repetitive behavior become a "tradition"? When I was an education major at BU, I recall a professor saying that students comprehend information after they heard it seven times.  But wait! I also recall from many a fitness magazine I've leafed through while eating pints of Chunky Monkey, that it takes 21 days to make and/or break a habit.  Three weeks later, Ben & Jerry (mostly it’s Jerry, what a pusher!) are calling my name from the freezer section of the local Safeway "Laura, come back, we've missed you." And I mercifully cave.  It was probably just 20 days since that last spoonful if memory serves.

I don't know about your family, but it seems that the traditions (“habits” sounds a bit too co-dependent) in my family seem to revolve around food.  As an adult, the other traditions I have tried to start with the best of intentions haven't "stuck" like the food ones.  Let's take scrapbooking for instance.  Yes, I was briefly bitten by that bug, only to realize I was a grown woman spending perfectly good disposable income on uber cute puffy stickers.  I felt like a 12 year old version of myself blowing babysitting money on Lisa Frank trademarked crap at the Arsenal Mall in Watertown, MA.

Then of course there's the church tradition.  Thank heavens I have a sturdy chair nearby in case I need to self-induce the Heimlich maneuver.  A walnut from my pint of B&J almost lodged itself in my trachea after typing that ludicrous "church tradition" sentence.  Who am I kidding?  The C&E (Christmas & Easter) Catholic in me must have guilted my fingertips into typing those words with the hopes that one day I would see the light.  That might be nice, but this agnostic stuff keeps getting in the way.

Well one tradition that I've managed to joyously hang on to, is the “birthday cake”.  Regardless of whom the cake is for - me or my daughters - that cake will, by the power of Grayskull, be homemade.  Well...almost.  What I mean is that I do not have a standing order every October 9, January 13, or January 30 at the above mentioned Safeway (although everyone in Colorado knows that King Soopers’ bakery department is superior) for some saccharin sweet, white cake (BTW - what flavor is "white") thickly coated in crystallized buttercream and possibly airbrushed like a cheap wife beater at a shop on the boardwalk of the Jersey Shore (that one was for you, Paul).

Now those cakes have their place – the token confection in the employee break room for some arbitrary “holiday” like Bosses day.  Or the humble offering an out-of-town guest makes at my Italian friends’ Thanksgiving dessert table.  With their coat still on, the timid guest holding the white box upon entering the foyer is promptly instructed to “try to find a space next to the Junior’s Cheesecake and the
Sfogliatelle.”  Pitiful.

By “almost” homemade, this Chef will make an exception.  When I am asked what kind of cake I want for my birthday, I don’t simply state a flavor cake with corresponding frosting.  This is where I mask my control-freakishness by calling it a “tradition”.  #1  The cake must be yellow.  What flavor is “yellow”?  I have no idea; I just know it’s delicious. 

#2  The frosting must be chocolate.  Not milk chocolate, triple fudge, dark chocolate, or whatever today’s’ marketers tell us we want.  I want the old school chocolate frosting. 

#3  Here’s the kicker – please don’t make any of it from scratch.  “What the heck is she talking about?”  Well, we Chefs have a term we like to use called “speed scratch”.  What that means to the rest of the world is that I want a birthday cake made from a…please wait while I shamefully flip my framed Culinary Arts degree over to shield it from this confession…boxed cake mix.  I’m talking “Betty” or “Duncan” or that giggling
dough boy.  It honestly doesn’t matter – one is always on sale – so pick that one.

Throw caution to the wind and ignore the high altitude directions.  Before that golden cake has properly cooled, (“I’m not getting any younger here” as I impatiently strum my birthday manicure) slather it with frosting, sing, blow, cut, and serve with an unusually large glass of cold milk. 

Here’s where it becomes a “Cook family tradition”.  The next morning, don’t bother making eggs, toast, pancakes, or oatmeal.  We all know damn well what’s for breakfast – it’s another huge slice of cake and a glass of milk.  This tradition has been passed down through the generations (thanks Dad!) and I am honored to keep it alive and well with my own daughters. 

“Girls, you probably can’t recite ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ from memory and have no photos of your childhood, but the morning after your birthday party, I let
you eat cake…for breakfast.  Mommy loves you.”

Happy Birthday to my special birthday peeps this week: Sophie (6), Sam (14), and Xander (2). 

January 27, 2013

And away we go!

Another food blog?  Umm, 2008 called and wants their trendy idea back, Laura.  Admittedly, I'm not that cutting edge.  Case in point, I recently parted with my Cassingle (cassette single tapes for any of you born after 1985) collection with a heavy heart - the days of listening to "Let's Hear it for the Boy" from my lavender boom box were slipping through my fingers.

"Three Hots and a Cot" is a food blog...with street cred. 

I travel for work which allows the opportunity to consistently see half the country on a weekly basis. Well, one city at a time typically.  A generous expense account takes care of my three "hots": Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner as well as a "cot", aka a hotel room in which to kick up my chef clogs and watch a "Storage Wars" marathon.

Every blog needs a hook - and here's mine.  I happen to have a group of very cool and eloquent friends.  Some work inside the foodservice industry (BTW - if you want to be promptly slapped in the face, call us "Foodies") and others don't.  Some of my pals travel, some stay local, and - lucky us! - know their unique local scene quite well.  Some are hipsters, moms, business owners, geeks, aging club-kids, or some hybrid of that list.  And all of them have something to offer in their unique perspective.  You get the idea. They will guest-author the blog when they have dazzling information to share, or when I beg them, or when I'm just too damn jet-lagged to do it myself.

As I launch the maiden voyage of "Three Hots and a Cot", I'm tempted to smash a bottle of DP across my laptop.  But let's be responsible here - that's a perfectly good waste of some tasty champagne.  In lieu of that, I'll leave you with a quote from my favorite author and lovable narcissist (no, not me):

"I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train."  - Oscar Wilde

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