Little City Kitchen Co. Blog

My stories about local food, fermentation, and formerly organic baby food
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A Fish out of Water…

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

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

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

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

Updates and Such

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

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

Upcoming Cooking Classes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting it Out There

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

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

Updates and Such

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

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

Two cooking classes are coming up this weekend:

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

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

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

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


Life as an Entrepreneur…

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

Top three fun things

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

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

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

Top three not-so-fun things

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

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

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

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

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

Cooking Classes Kick Off with a… Clang!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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