5 Ways to Honor Your Staff on Employee Appreciation Day

Where would your company be without the hard work that your employees do to keep the office running smoothly and efficiently? Each and every day they make your business an operational reality. Whatever your business, you likely have a staff of valuable workers. Consider joining other businesses across the nation this Friday, March 7th, to honor your employees on Employee Appreciation Day. The holiday is nearly twenty years old, created by Bob Nelson in 1995, and recognized on the first Friday of March each year.

There is no designated way to celebrate, but just a few options include:

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9 Fruits of Love

People give careful thought to the food they choose for a romantic Valentine’s evening. They consider food that evokes the spirit of the holiday, food that inspires or enhances the romantic mood. The aphrodisiac, which takes its name from the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite, is a food or other consumable which increases amorous ardor. In many cases, the history of most aphrodisiacs is tied to folk legends and ancient traditions. The science surrounding aphrodisiacs is murky, but the idea remains appealing. And when those aphrodisiacs are also fresh fruit, they will also be providing health, energy and nutrition.

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Valentine’s Day Gift Guide: Gifts by Relationship Status

Valentine’s Day is almost here, and for many of us the yearly hunt for Valentine’s gifts is begun anew. Buying your loved ones gifts on Valentine’s Day has been the tradition for a long while now, and why not? Who doesn’t love gifts? It is an opportunity to convey affection and consideration. But each year there seems to be more and more out there to choose from, and all that pressure and choice can grow overwhelming. For just this reason, we’ve put together this handy guide for gift ideas, considerately organized by relationship.

 

For family and friends:

Don’t fight the urge to send a small gift to friends and relatives. Give Mom and Dad a beautiful gift to show them that you love them, or remind Grandma that she is in your thoughts.  A box of chocolates or bouquet of flowers is a considerate gift for any relation.

Valentines Day Friends and Family

For the secret crush:

Someone has caught your eye but you don’t know quite how to say hello, and you want to make a good and lasting first impression. For moments such as these, a small gift is a great way to make an impression. Try a box of sweets, roses, even a Teddy Bear or other adorable stuffed animal. It’s up to you whether you sign the card or send the gift anonymously.

Teddy Bear for Secret Crush - Valentines Day

For the casual date:

Giving a gift need not be a serious endeavor. Accentuate the evening and express your enthusiasm. Chocolates and a bouquet make a great gift before a fun night out on the town.

Roses for Casual Date - Valentines Day

For the budding relationship:

Activities are a great way to strengthen your bond as a couple. Chocolate fondue is a fun twist that adds a level of participation to your gift. Make your own luscious concoctions by dipping fresh fruit into a melted chocolate sauce. Pair with a fine champagne for a decadent dessert guaranteed to please.

Fondue gift for Valentines Day - Budding Relationship

For the long-term partner:

For the one who has stuck by you through thick and thin, through the good times and the bad. Box of chocolates. Bouquet of roses. These are classics for a reason. But why not add to them? Fresh fruit, baked treats and wine all make for a great Valentine’s surprise to share with the one you love.

Roses chocolate and fruiit - long term partner valentines day

For the newlyweds:

Go big for your first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. This is only the beginning of a long and beautiful relationship. Wow your spouse with an opulent gift of foods, sweets, champagne and more to make this a Valentine’s Day to remember.

Epicurian-with-caviar

For the happily married:

Dedicating your life to someone is commendable, a true testament to the power of love. Why not reward your partner and yourself as well? Revel in all that you have accomplished in your time together with champagne and caviar. Who dares claim you don’t deserve it?

Caviar - Valentine's Day Married

When planning your Valentine’s Day you should first think of your intended recipient and take into consideration all that you know about them. What are their passions, interests or cherished memories, and how can you incorporate this knowledge into a Valentine’s Day gift or gift basket. Photographs, letters, poems and the like can take a gift from great to unforgettable. But above all, make sure you take advantage of this Valentine’s Day to remember the important people in your life and remind them that you care. Even in these cold winter months we can rely on that love and caring to keep us warm.

 

Meet Our Maker of the Month: Justin Rashid of American Spoon

american_spoon_2 American Spoon has been making delicious fruit preserves since 1982, born of a partnership between Justin Rashid in Michigan and Chef Larry Forgione of An American Place and River Café in New York City. Mr. Rashid would forage wild mushroom, nuts and berries for Chef Forgione to use in his dishes, a role that soon transitioned into developing fantastic and flavorful preserves. The company name comes from the initial line of strawberry preserves, which were better served by spoon than knife. Since then, American Spoon has continued to thrive, with an ever-expanding line of spoon fruit, salsas, marinades and other delectables. Mr. Rashid and his business keep their focus squarely on the quality of the fruit, sourced from the farms and wilds of northern Michigan. You can taste their attention and care in every spoonful. Justin was kind enough to speak to us about American Spoon’s past, present and future.

What inspired you to found American Spoon?

Justin Rashid:I had been sending Chef Forgione lots of fresh wild blackberries and wild blueberries and it got to be more than he could use. Larry flew into Pellston airport one late summer day in 1980 and I drove him down to Traverse City. He was enjoying the scenery and asked, “What are all these trees we’ve been passing, growing in perfect rows?” “Well,” I said, “those are fruit trees—cherry orchards mostly.” I found myself explaining that we were on a peninsula, and the effect of the proximity of Lake Michigan to the west creates one of the most superb micro-climates for fruit cultivation in the entire world. Cherries, apples, pears, apricots, peaches and plums all thrived here. And the very next thing he asked was, “Can you make preserves—you know, jam?” He said The River Café did a great weekend brunch business and he’d been looking for excellent American fruit preserves and there just weren’t any. Well, we were both 28 and completely ignorant of the realities of commercial food processing, and so of course I said, “Sure—you send me a recipe, and I’ll find the best fruits and we’ll make jam.” And that’s how we set out to make the best preserved fruits in America from Michigan fruits. When Larry got back to New York he dictated a recipe for Strawberry Preserves that I scribbled onto the back of a bag. By the next June, using $20,000 in borrowed funds from each of us, I had moved two copper kettles with long wooden paddles and a manual filling machine into the rented basement of Kilwin’s Candy Store on Howard Street in Petoskey.

Any funny stories from those early days? We spent our first summer, 1982, cooking preserves in the basement of Kilwin’s. The fragrances of simmering Early Glow Strawberries, Raspberries and Red Haven Peaches wafted out of a vent onto the sidewalk and down the street on the Lake Michigan breezes. But because we were invisible down there, pedestrians savored those vapors and turned directly into Jesperson’s Restaurant, where pie sales tripled that summer, while we didn’t sell a single jar. By the next summer we had moved our kitchen into our flagship store location on Lake Street. People could actually see where those delicious smells were coming from (and then taste and buy our preserves as well). american_spoon_3 What attracted you to northern Michigan initially? I spent all my childhood summers from the age of five here and I could never get it out of my head. I guess you might say that it had become the inner landscape that I returned to in memory, until, at the age of 25, I came back to stay.

What do you think sets your business apart? How deeply we are rooted in our particular place: The Northern Fruitlands of Michigan. I don’t believe that American Spoon could have happened anywhere else. We are devoted to capturing and preserving our region’s fruits in authentically delicious products that cannot be found anywhere else. So we go to great lengths that most companies simply cannot or will not go to in order to accomplish this. We have at least a hundred local foragers who bring wild blackberries, wild elderberries and thimbleberries to our kitchen. We devote many weeks of our summer to hand-pitting apricots, paring pears and hand peeling peaches. I don’t believe there is another company that hand processes local fruits at the scale that we do. We believe that we earn the right to exist by preserving as much true flavor as we possibly can in every jar.

How much of your produce comes from foraging in the wild?

Five to ten thousand pounds, depending on the year.

strawberry harvest gary bardenhagen farm leelauna county

What sort of relationship do you have with the growers and farmers who supply American Spoon?

They are long term relationships of great mutual respect and interdependence that must endure through good times and bad, through bumper crops and disasters. They wouldn’t last if they were simply based on price; they have to be built on trust. So we happily pay much more than processor prices because we know we are obtaining something of unique value that has been grown with a real commitment to a demanding, but rewarding lifestyle.

Could you describe the process of preserving fresh fruit?

It varies widely for every fruit, but we adhere to some general principles. First we find a wonderful fruit with flavor, texture and aroma worth preserving (we can’t preserve what isn’t already there and nothing improves in the kettle). Then we work to find the best way to capture the aesthetic characteristics that make that particular fruit so wonderful. How ripe should this fruit be? Should some of the peel be left on?  How large should the chunks or slices of fruit be?  If they are berries, should they be left whole? Does the fruit require additional pectin to gel? Does the fruit require acidification and if so, what is the best acidifier to use? Lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice or another fruit? Does this fruit stand on its own or should we pair it with a contrasting or complementary fruit or spice? And, perhaps most critically: what is the ideal sweetness level and fruit-to-sugar ratio and how much reduction time in the kettle will achieve the best result? We are trying to capture as much authentic fruit flavor, texture, color and aroma in the jar as is possible. Sometimes this requires maceration and multiple steps or stages, and at other times it can be a remarkably fast process.

How much experimentation goes into developing new products?

Usually you have to invest quite a bit in order to achieve something special. I think our record is our Cherry Peach Salsa at forty three test batches.  Our Culinary Director, Chef Chris Dettmer, spends most of his time in the test kitchen engaged in product development and has quite a remarkable streak of winners. We have gotten much better at this process over the years. Creating something new is a great deal of work, but it is the most enjoyable work we do.

Do you have any upcoming items that you’re particularly excited about?

In addition to a wonderful quince and a crabapple jelly, we are working on several new pickled vegetable products that are very promising.

What is a good day at American Spoon?

A day when the system of connections or relationships that have been developed over three decades, with our growers and foragers, our customers and our people here at American Spoon is alive with activity. On those days, you can feel that that new connections are being made, the work is fun and the future is bright.

Who do you look to for inspiration in your career?

Wendell Berry, beginning with his book, The Unsettling of America, has long been a source of inspiration for me. Jerry Oleson, the local grocer who made his own pickles in his backroom and who started a buffalo herd here in the 1950’s in an attempt to save buffalo from extinction, was a friend and mentor. He didn’t separate his workday from his lifestyle, and his enthusiasm was contagious. I find that I am inspired by the stories of innovators, like Stanley Johnston who spent decades cross-pollinating fruit varieties here in Michigan from the 1920’s through the 1940’s and ended up developing the most delicious peach varieties in the world. He is also the person responsible for convincing Michigan farmers that they could grow cultivars of wild blueberries back in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Michigan now grows more cultivated blueberries than any other state.

How was 2013 for American Spoon?

It was a year of astounding abundance following a year of unprecedented scarcity. Having lots of beautiful fruit, especially the stone fruits like Red Haven Peaches, Harlayne Apricots, Damson Plums and Montmorency Cherries available again made a huge difference for us. Our biggest problem was that there were not enough hours in August and September to preserve it all. And we launched some wonderful new products that our customers love like Chili Jam and Valiant Grape Jelly.

What are your goals for 2014?

Our hopes for 2014 are to finally see a large enough yield from the small quince orchard that my friend, Gene Garth, is growing for us, to actually launch a new quince product! We are also hoping to have enough wild blueberries from local foragers following the Duck Lake fire in the Upper Peninsula to do something special with those as well. We will continue to work with a growing number of local farms to supply us with more chili peppers, heirloom varieties of tomatoes and other vegetables that will be incorporated into our conserves, relishes and salsas. IMG_5253 You can find American Spoon’s Red Haven Peach Preserves in our Early Bird Breakfast Basket and customize any gift with a jar of their Early Glow Strawberry Preserves. Spoon not included.

Meet Our Makers of the Month: Clark and Tami Bowen of CB’s Nuts

Clark & Tami - Owners of CB's NutsClark and Tami Bowen are the owners and operators of CB’s Nuts, a purveyor of all things nutty. Their addictive roasted peanuts and pistachios are featured in several of our gifts. A diligent pursuit of the perfect roasted peanut has brought Clark Bowen (the CB of “CB’s Nuts”) from a stand outside Safeco Field in Seattle to his current processing facility in Kingston, Washington. Clark and his wife Tami continue to expand their business but their dedication to carefully sourced and cultivated products comes through in every nut. We recently spoke to the Bowens about their humble past, the ethos behind their delicious nuts, and their goals for the future of CB’s Nuts.

Would you tell us the story behind your business?

Clark Bowen (CB): Growing up, peanuts were my favorite food, because we had fresh peanuts. There used to be a peanut company based out of Oregon, but they moved their operations. As an adult, in my late twenties, I really noticed a quality change and grew frustrated with it. I followed the Seattle Mariners for one summer and was on the East Coast. There was a gentleman who brought some fresh peanuts out of Virginia and would sell them outside Camden Yards in Baltimore. So I had these fresh peanuts and they just absolutely blew me away. I asked the guy to send me some and he said he didn’t do mail order. He just sold them prior to the game.

After that, my whole mission was to try and find these peanuts. But everything I found on the internet or mail order or catalog just did not live up to that quality. So the mission became to make them for myself. I wanted salted peanuts so I got into this whole brining process, which is really unique and is not easy to do. This hobby quickly started to require a pretty significant investment. And that’s right around when I met my wife. I was selling outside the ballpark—I set up a stand outside Safeco Field. I would roast peanuts for the ballgames to share with those savvy to what I was doing. I could walk into the game at the second inning with fresh roasted peanuts for myself and money for beer. That was the impetus. But one thing led to another. The Seahawks called and Tami thought that we should be doing this for a living.

Could you tell us a bit about the process of brining and roasting the nuts?

CB: It involves a sea salt and water brine. We have to take the peanuts and actually submerse them in the brine and create a vacuum, to get that salt through the shell of the peanut. We have a specific salinity and a specific pressure. Then they’re dried down. It takes about an hour and a half, roughly. The moisture is evaporated, the salt is left behind. And from there we can put them in one of our antique roasters. We have a roaster from 1919 that we had totally reconditioned—it’s a beautiful machine—so we put them in there and about 45 minutes later we have a great fresh-roasted peanut.

Clark and Tami talk in detail about how they got start and how they roast their nuts

You slow roast your peanuts?

CB: Correct. Nice, long, roasting curve. Generally in-shell peanuts are going to roast about twenty minutes and we’re taking it up to forty-five.

Do you think that’s what sets you apart from competitors?

CB: Yeah, the slow roasting process and also the education, hopefully to our distributors and the suppliers, that we really emphasize a fresh product; we want to get a fresh product out there. We look at it like produce. It’s perishable. And I think having good partnerships helps to differentiate us, but certainly it starts with the quality of the peanut that we procure and then the quality of our process all the way through.

Where do you source your peanuts?

CB: Our peanuts are sourced from the Southwest, mainly Texas. It’s a much cleaner peanut because of the dry conditions there.

And what type of peanuts do you use?

CB: It’s a jumbo Virginia in-shell varietal.

Peanuts-thumb

You recently attempted to farm peanuts in Washington.

CB: We did a six year project with Washington State University. The east side of the state is very dry. You can grow peanuts here, but we have too much of a springtime, May-June soil temperature fluctuation. It isn’t something that we could invest in sustainably over time and be guaranteed a crop. It could certainly be done at a hobby level, but we were looking to do it at a commercial level and it’s not sustainable.

Our pumpkin seeds are, though. We have a great pumpkin-growing region here and we continue to expand that growing acreage that we contract for specifically.

You also sell a hull-less pumpkin seed.

CB: Yes, that’s the Styrian seed. We have the first commercially-available roasted Styrian seed. It’s an 800 year old Austrian variety.

What’s a good day a CB’s Nuts?

CB: I think it’s been when we all have a great team environment here, everybody’s generally on a good footing and we’re working toward all common goals. Beyond that, I think a great day is when the sun is shining and we’ve got some fresh peanuts and some cold beer on a Friday.

What are the biggest influences on your product and business?

CB: I think having that vendor in Baltimore was certainly that eureka moment for me, not necessarily from an entrepreneurial standpoint, but just needing to go after something, sensing that it could work as a business. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, I know that they’re such a massive, giant company but I really enjoy the early stories of Howard Schultz and Starbucks and so much of that early passion—it’s become such a cliché word but it’s so true—that drive to deliver a quality product and try to share it with the world and that inspired us, that you could take kind of a common product and make it better.

Tami Bowen: And educate people about how it can taste better, why it can taste better. A lot of people have a preconceived notion about what peanuts taste like; they’ve had a bad one at a steakhouse that had been sitting out for two months, and now they think that’s what peanuts are. So a lot of our challenge is reaching the people who think they already know what peanuts taste like.

Do you have a funny story from CB’s Nuts?

CB: It’s such a glimpse into a small entrepreneurial company early on. We secured our first big orders with the Seattle Seahawks for their suites at Qwest Field and we were set up in a building that was just down the block. What we would normally do is take our roaster, set up, and roast and bag right there on the street under our tent to deliver fresh to the Seahawks. Well, the freight elevator broke. And so we were stuck on the third floor with something like a thousand pounds of peanuts to roast—this was when we were doing 50 lb to 75 lb batches—so I hired a group of guys to try to get it down the stairs and I think we finally made it to the landing of the second floor when I realized it was just not going to happen.

So we hauled the eleven hundred pound machine back up. Roasting peanuts is a really dusty operation, but we just decided that we had to do it right there in the hallway. I can remember the look on my landlord’s face when he walked in Monday morning. He saw the room and everything covered with peanut dust. But I think we showed that resiliency. It was pretty nerve-racking at the time but looking back now it’s pretty funny.

Do you miss those days at all? Where you had to scramble to pull things together?

CB: No. Not at all.

Where do you see your business a year in the future?

CB: I appreciate a company like yours. We love the vendors that appreciate a quality product. And to continue to move into that realm of quality is so important to us. Somewhere out there, there’s got to be this group of in-shell peanut aficionados that I just haven’t figured out quite how to reach yet. We’ve reached many of them, but just to continue to let people know and attract them as customers. Best in-shell peanut in the world—hands down. When you get these peanuts fresh, that’s what they are.

And partnerships with businesses like Manhattan Fruitier are a great way to go about reaching new customers.

CB: Right, and then they tell their friends and so on. Our shipping business has become pretty significant simply because of that connection.

You recently campaigned for the passage of Initiative 522 (which would have required labeling on retail foods to note any genetic engineering or manipulation of the ingredients.), which unfortunately did not pass. There was a great deal of spending on the campaign.

CB: $22 million for the no and $8 million on the yes. Basically outspent three to one, with really politically-savvy and confusing ads. They put out all kinds of advertising on television just to confuse voters. Nobody knew what they were voting for. Big business won unfortunately.

Tami: They made a claim that it was going to really affect small business most, which of course draws on people’s sympathies, and that was probably one of the most confusing parts.

Clark and Tami talk about Initiative 522

Do you think Washington will try again to get similar legislation passed?

Tami: Absolutely. It’s just a matter of time.

CB's Nuts Slow Roasted Peanuts

About the peanut image on your bag—the shaded area in the lower right corner has a little #1 hidden in it. Was that intentional?

Tami: It’s subliminal.

CB: It was an accident to begin with. Someone noticed it and brought it up and we thought, well, let’s just slip it in there on everything.

Tami: Now it’s part of our branding, for sure.