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Category Archives: Food news

The multiple benefits of a Juice Cleanse

Juice as a cleanse can be your healthy restart

Sometimes you just need a kick in the butt.

Suja three-day cleanse with organic fresh-cold pressed juices offered me a new healthy start. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Suja three-day cleanse with organic fresh-cold pressed juices offered me a new healthy start. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Yep, that’s what I said. And frankly that’s what I needed. I had major shoulder surgery in the spring and the recovery has been slow. After months of physical therapy, I was finally given a green light to start running, swimming and lifting weights. But as I recovered I also had gained weight, lost muscle tone and felt sluggish. And I was still eating rich, sometimes fatty, foods at restaurants and in my own kitchen. I needed a kick-start so I tried a three-day juice cleanse.

I’m not into pills and dry mixes to “cleanse” or restart my healthy lifestyle, so I turned to Suja Juice, an all-natural juice cleanse that I discovered at the International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle. With my busy schedule I knew I didn’t have time to create all these juices myself, so that’s why Suja appealed to me. It’s so convenient. I just needed to drink six juices each day and plenty of water. No meals, no caffeine and no alcohol.

I was a bit reluctant to have nothing but juices for three days, but I can do just about anything for a couple of days, especially if I know there’s an end game. The cold-pressed juices are literally a combo of fresh ingredients like beets, apples, kale, cucumber, spinach, celery and lemon.

Fuel juice is my favorite in the cleanse line. Photo supplied by Suja website.

Fuel juice is my favorite in the cleanse line. Photo supplied by Suja website.

Day One of the cleanse was challenging, just because I was hyper focused on not having solid food to chew. However, I I wasn’t hungry and in fact the juices in 16 oz. bottles tasted great. My favorite was Fuel – a midmorning juice containing carrots, apple, orange, lemon, pineapple and turmeric. It was fresh, sweet and gulpable. My least favorite was the dessert juice – Vanilla Cloud with coconut, honey and almonds. It left a bitter after taste that I didn’t like. The juices are certified organic, dairy-free, gluten-free and non-GMO certified.

By Day Two I was actually enjoying the cleanse. I felt satiated and I had energy. That night I swam in the lap pool for 40 minutes and felt strong.

Day Three wasn’t missing solid food, but mentally I became fixated on what I would eat after the cleanse. Suddenly I was seeing all the food commercials on television with glistening burgers and salted fries and I was licking my lips. During the three days my friends and family constantly talked about food. They had no problem tempting and teasing me with details of their fabulous dinners or new recipes they had tried.

Suja offers six juices a day for the cleanse. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Suja offers six juices a day for the cleanse. Photo by Christine Willmsen

The next day after the cleanse, I was supposed to have mild foods like vegetables and soup. Well, I did have vegetables, but I added melted cheese and truffle oil. Not surprising, I had a stomach ache and the next couple meals I backed off and prepared simple dishes.

While Suja juice isn’t intended for weight loss, I did lose three pounds. Suja juice has amazing nutritional benefits and it was just what I needed to refocus on a healthy lifestyle.

Disclosure: I received a free three-day supply of the juices with no obligation to write or review the product. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own.



A Great Sushi Happy Hour

Happy Hour Sushi for those on a budget

Large chunks of sashimi at Kozue restaurant make this the perfect quick dinner spot for one person. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Large chunks of sashimi at Kozue restaurant make this the perfect quick dinner spot for one person. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Kozue Japanese Restaurant is my new hot spot for singles to visit. This sushi restaurant not only has a great happy hour, but fresh fish at reasonable prices. Sometimes I just need my fix of sushi and want a place where I can grab sashimi, rolls and sake – and that’s why I love stopping in this little Wallingford restaurant, at 1608 N. 45th St., Seattle.

My go-to salad at this restaurant is the seaweed salad for $3.75. Photo by Christine Willmsen

My go-to salad at this restaurant is the seaweed salad for $3.75. Photo by Christine Willmsen

The Kozue happy hour, 5-9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5-6:30 p.m. on Friday and 3-6:30 p.m. on Saturday includes sake and rolls for $3 each.

Nibbles like the spinach with salmon skin, spicy tofu and spring rolls are also just $3. Other items on the menu that I recommend include sake sashimi (salmon) and unagi (freshwater eel).

Don’t forget to order the Black cod’n Tofu, which is two Japanese-style kabobs with tofu and black cod or the Tuna Poki Salad with avocadoes, each just $5.50.

Thanks to my friend, Athima, I discovered this hot spot that I think you’ll want to try too.



Kozue Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

This Seattle restaurant’s menu is diverse and fresh

Ever-changing menu at Blind Pig Bistro makes it a worthy restaurant to revisit

Three words describe the Blind Pig Bistro in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood: seasonal, local and creative. This small restaurant seating less than 30 people is sandwiched between a Subway and teriyaki restaurant in a tiny strip mall at 2238 Eastlake Ave. E. But don’t let the size of the restaurant be the judge of what this restaurant can cook.

The small kitchen at the Blind Pig Bistro prepares a 12-courses tasting menu for visitors. A large blackboard on the wall is a menu that serves as a cheat sheet for what your palate will be tasting throughout the night. Come hungry and pace yourself at this casual restaurant that takes no reservations. It’s best to plan this dining excursion with a group of friends (a total of 4 works best) so that you can order the tasting menu that’s shared at the table for a total of $130-$170 depending on the fresh menu. For about $40 per person, you can try numerous dishes that will wow your taste buds.

Chef Charles Walpole modifies the menu every couple of days, and overhauls it about once a week focusing on local ingredients and fresh seasonal products coming from farmers in the area. Through the International Food Bloggers Conference and Urbanspoon, several food bloggers from across the country, included myself dined at the Blind Pig Bistro. Bloggers said the food was fresh, provocative and well-balanced. The favorite dishes were the steak with charred eggplant, duck and zucchini salad.

If you need to nibble, experience their happy hour of small bites of the chef’s desire for $5 and wine by the glass for the same price. Recent reviews of the restaurant include:

The Seattle Times

Eater Seattle

Seattle Met



Blind Pig Bistro on Urbanspoon

Morel Mushroom Hunt and Taste Off

Blind tasting of Morel Mushrooms reveal different flavors

Bags of morel mushrooms are awaiting our very scientific blind tasting. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Bags of morel mushrooms are awaiting our very scientific blind tasting. Which mushrooms will we choose as the best – fire or natural morels. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Who doesn’t love mushrooms – those woodsy, musty and earthy caps that mysteriously and miraculously spring from the ground.  I was lucky to be invited to a taste off of morel mushrooms. My friend who is a mycologist and excellent cook – Matt Ironside – had recently plucked morels from the slopes of low-lying hills and mountains in secret locations within two hours of Seattle.

The morels were gigantic and fresh. Photo by Christine Willmsen

The morels were gigantic and fresh. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Knowing I had a crush on mushrooms, he asked me to join him and others to blindly taste natural morel mushrooms and fire morels. Fire morels grow after a forest fire. He wanted to know which we favored and why.

Matt is always on the hunt – for mushrooms that is. Like other mycologists he has his favorite secret spots that I’m sworn to secrecy. He came to the dinner, juggling several bags of morels. They were clean, large and begging to be in my mouth.

Matt prepared them the same way, sautéing sliced morels in butter and a touch of salt. He presented two plates, with the mushrooms looking almost identical. With chopsticks in hand, five of us voted on which plate we liked the best. And the winner by way of finger-pointing to the favorite mushrooms were the fire morels.

The winner of the blind tasting was the fire morels that were sauteed in light butter and a touch of salt. Photo by Christine Willmsen

The winner of the blind tasting was the fire morels that were sauteed in light butter and a touch of salt. I swear there was a hint of smokiness. Photo by Christine Willmsen

They were rich, earthy, nutty and creamy with a carmelized finish. And I swear there was hint of smokiness. Another judge said the fire morels were so meaty and flavorful they could replace a steak for dinner. The natural morels tasted great too, but the clear winner was the fire morels.

For more information on mushrooms connect with the Puget Sound Mycological Society. They have field trips for hunting mushrooms. I suggest if it’s your first few hunts for mushrooms that you go with an experienced mushroom hunter. 

Please keep Hildegard Hendrickson in your thoughts and prayers, she’s an expert mushroom hunter who has been missing since a morel hunt June 8. A search for her has been suspended.

Mycologist Matt Ironside stirs up a creamy morel mushroom risotto for dinner after our blind tasting. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Mycologist Matt Ironside stirs up a creamy morel mushroom risotto for dinner after our blind tasting. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Morels will be in season for the next couple weeks in Washington state.

So hunt them, buy them or order them on a restaurant’s menu, because these are the jewels of the earth worth savoring, especially if they were born after a blazing fire.



Field Roast creator says let’s REALLY cook

Food entrepreneur wants us to cook more

David Lee started Field Roast in 1997 and created FareStart in 1988.

David Lee started Field Roast in 1997 and created FareStart in 1988.

David Lee, the creator of Field Roast and FareStart in Seattle, has many ideas and perspectives on food and he’s not afraid to share them. And there is one thing this vegan and I, a meat lover, have in common – we want people to learn about food and enjoy cooking it.

“We’ve lost our center,” said Lee during an interview and tour of his facility. “We’ve taken the presence out of cooking.”

“I want to teach people to cook for their daily lives, there’s a lot of people out there living alone.”

My response was – EXACTLY. That’s part of my mission too.

Field Roast vegan sausages

Field Roast vegan sausages

After years of working in the film industry, Lee wanted to take a different path.

“I wanted the creative pursuit on my own terms,” he said. And at that point – in 1997 – the seeds were planted for Field Roast, a grain-based food company he started after wanting to make a vegetarian teriyaki wrap.

Lee is also known for creating FareStart in 1988. This successful program serves healthy meals to Seattle’s homeless and disadvantaged and trains some of them to become chefs and support staff in the food industry through its job-training program.

Lee’s message is clear cut

But Lee doesn’t want to be known as the Field Roast guy or the FareStart guy.

“I’m just a cook,” he said.

And he wants YOU to cook too.

“You come home from work and you are tired, but you are assembling food and not cooking it,” he said.

That can be me some nights as a single person who obviously has no personal chef on hand (oh I’m interested in hiring one, especially a handsome man with good knife skills).

But recently I’ve become more conscious about what and how I cook. I’ve noticed, in the United States, that our default for food is quick and easy. This is not some breaking news story – many have written about the topic.

People grab a can of soup from the shelf, plop a processed meal into the microwave, or pull out a sodium-laden frozen meal that claims all the food groups in a plastic container. These are foods we merely assemble, but don’t cook or prepare.

For all the single people out there, I want to help you cook easy meals after a long day through my blog, and I promise if you cook some of my recipes they won’t look like shit on a shingle.

Lee said, “we need to spend more time feeding ourselves – it’s how we are taking in the earth and the sun.”

For some people that idea may be a little too philosophical, but I get Lee’s message.

Fresh ingredients are the key to Field Roast products

Field Roast employee mixes ingredients to make vegan sausages.

Field Roast’s popular smoked apple sausages include wheat, apples, Yukon gold potatoes, onion powder, garlic, sea salt, spices and sage.

During my tour, there were employees measuring batches of fresh ingredients, while others were swirling the sweet-smelling ingredients in large vats and still others were pumping them into a machine to make sausage.

Employees at Field Roast in Seattle cut sausage links

Employees at Field Roast in Seattle cut sausage links

With just 50 employees, Lee has grown an idea into a full-fledged successful company that offers vegan food products like roasts, cutlets and cheese. They distribute numerous products in all 50 states, including my favorite, which are their sausages.

Field Roast employees label and package sausages that are shipped throughout the U.S.

Field Roast employees label and package Mexican Chipotle sausages that are shipped throughout the United States.

I like the Mexican Chipotle sausages made with grain meat and a spicy-hot blend of smoked Chipotle peppers, Chili de Arbol peppers, fresh chopped garlic, sweet onions seasoned with cumin seed and oregano. These can be made into tacos and quesadillas. Field Roast also has some great recipes for their other products.




Reality Cooking Competition Tested Me

This Cooking Competition was a Live Challenge Like No Other

Chipotle Beurre Blanc Glazed Lobster with Chanterelles on a bed of Micro Greens

Chipotle Beurre Blanc Glazed Lobster with Roasted Chanterelles on a bed of Micro Greens

It’s one of those memorable lifetime experiences – a moment that’s over before you know it. That’s how it felt to participate in a cooking competition at a four-star restaurant in Seattle.

The competition – Kitchen Circus – brought nine home cooks together to test how we could handle stepping into the professional kitchen at Rover’s restaurant and serving food for up to 50 people. Three of us competed each night, making an amuse bouche and one course, with only one person moving onto the finale.

But what was this Solo Cook thinking. Usually I’m creating recipes perfect for one person and telling followers what hot spots to dine at in the Seattle area.

The menu at Rover's Restaurant includes my amuse bouche and appetizer

The menu at Rover’s Restaurant includes my amuse bouche and appetizer.

Concocting recipes that measured up to the four-star quality of Rover’s and preparing them for several dozen guests – well that bordered on either moxy or crazy or maybe a little of both. My night – Nov. 20 – I was amped to prepare an amuse bouche and an appetizer, while another contestant made a main entrée and the other a dessert.

Excitement bubbled inside me when I saw my Grilled Scallop in a Chilled Coconut Lime Soup as an amuse bouche and my Chipotle Beurre Blanc Glazed Lobster with Roasted Chanterelles on a bed of Micro Greens listed as an appetizer on the menu. I created these one-of-a-kind recipes that focused on ingredients with sentimental value.

My Passion Comes Alive

Before I stepped into the kitchen at Rover's to compete, a makeup artist polished my face and camera crew hooked up a microphone.

Before I stepped into the kitchen at Rover’s to compete, a makeup artist polished my face and camera crew hooked up a microphone.

The day of the Kitchen Circus competition, I felt as prepared as I could have been after practicing the menu on friends, killing live lobsters and borrowing a professional kitchen to get comfortable with a powerful gas stove.

The late morning started with makeup, excitement and nerves. I tried to stay calm, but with a sinus infection clouding my head, I felt fuzzy.  And I was distracted to say the least – some friends knew my plate was full so-to-speak with a recent death in the family, water in my basement and no heat.

But with cameras in my face and a microphone attached to my shirt, I knew there was no turning back. As soon as we stepped in the kitchen I was ecstatic – I saw my ingredients piled up in my corner of the kitchen.

Competition Heats Up

By 12:30 p.m. I was all about business. I put on my red apron and showed my sous chef, Katy Wentworth, the plan of attack.

There would be no room for error – and we both knew it.  Timing everything was essential. I had a printed timeline with lists and tasks for each of us that would take us right to the edge. With the amuse bouche being served at 6:30 p.m. and the appetizer being served just a half hour later it was going to be a squeeze to get up to 50 plates of each out on time and prepared perfectly. I thought this is what professional chefs do every day, an elaborate dance routine in which every step and move must be perfectly orchestrated with a flawless finish. With my intense game face on, I chopped, grilled and killed.

My seared scallop in a chilled coconut lime soup on the left was one of three amuse bouches served the night of the competition.

My seared scallop in a chilled coconut lime soup on the left was one of three amuse bouches served the night of the competition.

But as with anything in life there were a couple surprises I faced throughout the night that forced me to adapt. Two ingredients  – poblanos and coconut cream – were missing. While Chef Thierry Rautureau grabbed pasillas from a nearby store, I separated the coconut milk to capture the cream.

Also seeing only 12 live lobsters I knew we were going to have to use every bit of meat from those beautiful crustaceans. I gave all the lobsters pats on their heads and thanked them for their life, then plunged a large chef knife into each one’s head, driving the blade down and between the eyes. It was a juicy, messy operation. After they went limp, I dipped them into boiling water for a couple minutes. Later we chilled, cleaned and then poach them for the appetizer.

As typical of my nature, I mumbled, rambled and second-guessed some of the flavors. With a sinus infection, the chilled soup tasted to acidic and I was concerned the chipotle glaze might be too spicy for the mild palate of Seattleites. But my sous chef – Wentworth – calmed my nerves with her confidence and relaxed demeanor.

I’m not sure where the hours went, but they evaporated like hot water left boiling on a stovetop. I took a total of about five minutes of break during the day, of which several minutes were bathroom breaks. I was so busy and focused I didn’t even take photos of my own food – that tells you just how intense it was in the kitchen.

Faster, Faster with the Food

As 6:30 p.m. arrived we were plating the amuse bouche. Using tweezers, I placed a thin slice of mango and cilantro on top of a seared and sliced scallop that was wading in spoonful of chilled coconut lime soup. Just as we finished those servings, we were also on deck for the appetizer.

Chef Thierry Rautureau's positive and intense spirit in the kitchen was intoxicating.

Chef Thierry Rautureau’s positive and intense spirit in the kitchen was intoxicating.

Within minutes we needed to place micro greens on the plate, place roasted mushrooms around them, top the greens with chunks of poached lobster and finish it with a drizzle of chipotle beurre blanc and a sprinkle of pepitas. And this had to be done for more than 45 plates all within minutes. When it comes to plating all of the courses in the competition, all chefs thankfully are on deck, helping prepare the plates so they can be rushed them out the door.

As we assembled the appetizer, I just remember Chef Rautureau saying in his adorable French accent “Christine you are not moving fast enough. Come on Christine, faster.”

The dishes whizzed by me as I added the glaze to the lobsters and inspected each plate.

The Finish

After finishing the lobster appetizer, I was all smiles in the kitchen, knowing I had challenged myself and survived.

After finishing the lobster appetizer, I was all smiles in the kitchen, knowing I had challenged myself and survived.

As the last plate left my fingertips, I smiled. I had pulled it off and done it well. All my creativity, practice and skills came together in one day.

The judges, who were the dinner guests, voted and I placed second that night. But I was emotionally soaring like a winner.

In looking back, I realized this experience was more intense than writing a breaking news story.

I was proud that I had stepped out of my comfort zone, tested my skills and succeeded. I plan to do this more in my life, because the rewards are immeasurable.

Stay tuned for my recipes from the Kitchen Circus competition and see how these can be made for one person. Episodes of Kitchen Circus will also be released on the Internet in early spring. A special thanks to all the chefs at Rover’s, their spirit and support in this competition was amazing.

Lights, Camera and Action – the Seattle cooking competition is underway

Today is the day, I’m competing in a reality cooking competition called Kitchen Circus at Rover’s in Seattle. I’ve been creating recipes, practicing my heart out and struggling with a cold, all at the same time. But this Solo Cook is ready to take on the two other contestants today and tonight. We will chop, blend and boil in the professional kitchen and serve food to 45 guests at this amazing Seattle restaurant. As I get ready for makeup and hair – I’ll let you in on a little secret.  No – I can’t tell you what I’m cooking yet or what course I’m preparing. But I can say that there are two emotions stirring in my belly and neither is related to hunger. I’m excited and nervous. As The Solo Cook I’ve been tailoring meals and food experiences for one person. Cooking an amuse bouche and one course for 45 people is a challenge and I’m ready for it. Stay tuned for details of the competition itself.



Lessons and insights as I prepare for a live crazy cooking competition

With a cooking competition looming, it’s a great excuse to buy more gadgets. These cutters are fun to work with in the kitchen while other major equipment is failing. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Kitchen Circus tests you in more ways than one

As my fellow competitors of Kitchen Circus practice and some even compete this coming week, I’m reminded of the lessons I’ve learned already in this cooking competition. I have to prepare an amuse bouche and create a three-course menu soon and chef Thierry Rautureau will pick one course I have to prepare at Rover’s Restaurant for 45 people as well as an amuse bouche. I don’t compete until Nov. 20, but as I tear up my kitchen and run my dishwasher every night I’m reminded this live-cooking contest is no easy task. This isn’t about copying some recipe from Bon Appètit magazine or Betty Crocker’s finest cookbook. This is about creativity, a collective cool head under the heat and pressure of a professional kitchen and FUN.

My kitchen is covered in white flour and equipment like this is barely keeping up with my food challenges. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Here are just a couple of insights I’ve learned the hard way recently:

1. Old appliances don’t hold up to the rigors and testing for a cooking competition. Those Goodwill super finds (blender, mixer and other tools that look like your grandmother’s kitchen gadgets) that I discovered in the back of the store and bought several years ago were there for a reason. I dug those out to use occasionally for massive parties, but as I tried multiple recipes in a row I faced groaning motor noises and the smell of burning plastic. I fear major equipment failure will be fast approaching. I better check the smoke alarms and that fire extinguisher in the hallway closet to make sure they’re ready for my potentially flammable courses. And flour has covered my kitchen cabinets and counters more than once. It brings a new meaning to my house being dusty.

Butter makes the food world go around. I eat pretty healthy so I was shocked to realize how much butter is needed for desserts and sauces. No wonder they are so good. Photo by Christine Willmsen

2. Kitchen Circus gives me the excuse to buy new gadgets. I bought these cutters and have had so much fun with them. But I’m not sure they’ll be useful for my final idea for a dessert. I hate surprises but I love planning them. You’ll just have to wait and see.

3. Butter, cream and eggs. That’s really what makes the food world go around. I’m shocked at how much butter is put into desserts and other courses. I love it BUT.

4. That brings me to my next insight. BUT really is BUTT, which is a result of BUTTER. A friend told me to be leery of the competition because I may gain a few extra pounds as I test my concoctions. I shrugged it off, and then that night I shocked myself as I licked spoons of raw batter and sucked down extra portions and leftovers. I didn’t want to waste anything, and the little girl in me was suddenly cleaning the utensils, folks and spoons with my tongue. Even though I’ve given much of my trial food items to friends or coworkers, my friend was right. I have put on a little padding during the practices. Damn butter.

It is my responsibility to clean up the kitchen including the utensils, so like any smart resourceful home cook, I lick the cake batter off. But my butt is paying for it. Photo by Christine Willmsen



A live cooking competition at a Seattle restaurant – an opportunity I can’t pass up

This home cook is ready to play at Kitchen Circus

When I heard the news that I made it as a contestant for Kitchen Circus, a live cooking competition at the renowned Rover’s restaurant in Seattle, I jumped up and down with excitement like a little girl. Then I got nervous.

If you ask my friends what I’m passionate about they will tell you food and journalism. While being a hard-news reporter almost pays the bills, food fills my heart. I’m always chatting about food, creating new recipes, reading about food and, of course, eating it any chance I can get. That’s also part of the reason why I started this blog The Solo Cook.

So when I heard about the Kitchen Circus contest, I thought why not take it to the next level – right?

Why not challenge myself by stepping into a professional kitchen and cooking an incredible dish live and on camera – oh and for 45 people. So with nudges and encouragement from my friends, I submitted an application and a home video that talks about myself and shows me cooking an Italian fish dish.

Live Audition Nerves

To my surprise I made the first cut. But then I faced a live audition filmed at the restaurant, and I had no idea what to expect. Occasionally, I appear on local and national television stations, speaking about investigative stories I’ve written, but being on camera for this was different. I wondered what Chef Thierry Rautureau was going to ask me and how he would test me.

At the live audition, Chef Thierry Rautureau asked me questions about why I should compete in Kitchen Circus.

At the live audition, I met other potential contestants who equally loved cooking and I felt more at ease. As the camera rolled, the affable Rautureau peppered me with hard questions. On top of that – at the same time – I also had to separate an egg’s yolk and white, and later mince a shallot. I honestly don’t recall how I answered some of the questions. But soon the camera seemed to fade and there I was just chopping and chatting with Rautureau.

I must have impressed the chef and the crew because now I’m one of nine contestants who are up for the ultimate challenge. I will cook an appetizer, main entrée or dessert for at least 45 people; competing against two other home cooks during a Nov. 20 dinner at Rover’s. You can count on me channeling my competitive and creative streaks that night. Until then I will be obsessed with food and sharing that journey.



Great things can grow from Foodportunity

What a bountiful garden this year. These are just a few of the vegetables that grew in my garden as I started my blog The Solo Cook. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Opportunities can grow just like a garden

Potatoes are easy to grow and there is always a surprise underneath. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Three types of potatoes – butter, rose and purple – grew in my garden. Photo by Christine Willmsen

This summer I had just started a food blog called The Solo Cook, which focused on cooking, gardening and savoring food from a single person’s perspective. But I didn’t know how to get the word out. The Solo Cook was just underway and I had no idea how to meet and network with chefs, writers and food industry peeps.

A couple friends suggested I go to a Foodportunity event in June. I quickly printed some business cards and walked into the event with a smile. While I was nervous about explaining my passion for food to a room full of people, I realized it was a true opportunity for me. After seeing a couple familiar faces and sipping a glass of wine, I warmed up and just started chatting with people. In fact, the night wasn’t even over and I had run out of business cards.

This single girl froze some of the peas to later cook during the wet winter months. Photo by Christine Willmsen

I met some amazing, talented people and absorbed suggestions and ideas from chefs. One of those chefs was Thierry Rautureau, owner of Rover’s and Luc. He had a sincere interest in my blog and offered some valuable advice. It was this connection at Foodportunity that gave me the confidence to apply for a live cooking competition. Not only did I have the guts to apply for the cooking competition at Rover’s, but I must have made an impression because now I’m one of nine contestants in Kitchen Circus. This home cook will tackle a professional kitchen on Nov. 20 and prepare an amuse bouche and one course for at least 45 people.

My beets started to appear in the garden mid-summer. Photo by Christine Willmsen

I look back at my experience with Foodportunity just four months ago, and believe it gave me the courage to step outside my comfort zone of being a hard news journalist and dip my pen into the creative, fun world of writing about food. My photos here are of my garden and some of the wonderful food it produced. I’m still new to this arena, and most people don’t know about me or my blog yet, but everyone has to start somewhere.

It’s October and I’m pulling my beets out of the ground. I chop the green tops and throw them into soups. Photo by Christine Willmsen

I’m attending the Foodportunity event on Oct. 22 at Palace Ballroom, and I don’t plan to run out of business cards this time. Follow Foodportunity on twitter #foodprt and @foodportunityse.