Posts tagged - Omaha Sister Cities Association

Brunch Cooking Workshop at the Zephyr Lily Café

Preface

Have you ever had a time in your life where you found yourself doing something that you never really thought you would ever do? And then, when it’s all over, you realize that your life is just a little bit richer? That is what happened to me.

Before the workshop, I did a little homework. I went to the Zephyr Lily Cafe website and took a look around. I found and read a few reviews written by people who’d been there. And, in all, I gathered enough information to know that I was not going to be disappointed in my upcoming adventure.

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Welcome to the Zephyr Lily Cafe

As I began driving to the Cafe, I wondered what this ‘outofthebox’ experience would be like. Who would I meet, what would we learn, what kind of experience would I have?  The cafe was about a 30 minute drive from my house, which gave me plenty of time to ponder. On my arrival to the area, I had a little difficulty finding the cafe as it is a little tucked away off of  Dodge street. So, let me start by making sure that you know how to get there. It’s really pretty simple. Just drive on Dodge Street in Omaha to 49th Street. The cafe is tucked into the middle of the block on the North side in between 49th and 50th Streets and Dodge. When you turn off of Dodge Street, look to your right (East side) and you see the Zephyr Lily emblem on the doorway, beckoning you to come inside. The fact that it is a little more difficult to find coincides with the fact that it is a real ‘hidden’ treasure.

On walking into the restaurant, the first thing that you notice is the warm ambiance that is created by the earthy colors, the wall art that is displayed throughout and the soft lighting. Instantly, I knew that this was a place where you could bring a friend, or a date and your conversation would be enhanced by your surroundings. So much art and decor to engage you that you are guaranteed not to be bored while you wait for your meals.

I have found that with each workshop that I attend presented by the Omaha Creative Institute/Omaha Sister Cities Association, there is always a representative from the foundation there to meet us. We were greeted, this time, by Susan Thomas, from the Omaha Creative Institute. Susan, myself and a woman named Lina, who also attended the Irish Dance Workshop that I attended a week earlier, waited for other attendees. Meanwhile our Instructor, Chef and Owner of the Zephyr Lily Cafe, prepared ingredients for our upcoming adventure. As we waited and talked, I learned that Lina is a professor that specializes in research. In listening to Lina’s strong accent, I felt compelled to ask where she was originally from. Lina told me that she was originally from Russia. And, though I did not push her for further details about how she arrived in America and what led her to become a professor, I realized that my goal of meeting and learning just a little bit about someone new, had been accomplished. I was about to broaden my cooking skills with Lina, a Professor who came to America from a country that in the younger days of my parents, would have been considered, more or less, an enemy of the United States. My how things have changed.

 Getting Started

When it was time to begin, Chef Garren Gammon introduced himself and invited us into his kitchen. After introductions, we were told that we were going to learn how to make a Frittata, along with our own sausage and a peach vinaigrette sauce. This definitely sounded like something very fancy and almost immediately, reality began to give way to fantasy as I began to envision the results of learning this new skill. Garren’s voice seemed to fade into the distance for a moment, while, in my mind, a television commercial came to life. The voice in the commercial advertised ‘Bob’s World Famous Frittatas’ as the camera panned through a ritzy restaurant, eventually landing on a bald guy in a tall, white Chef’s hat . I was brought back to reality as Garren handed me an unusually large knife saying, “Now you try” as he pointed to a partially chopped up red pepper. It was then that I knew that if I was to really learn how to prepare this new dish, I would have to watch Garren’s every move from here on.

Preparing Our Ingredients

As our morning moved forward, Chef Garren walked us through each and every step of making a delicious veggie and sausage Frittata. First we learned the proper method of chopping up our ingredients. Garren showed us how to properly use the knife so that our chopped ingredients (and our fingers) all ended up the proper sizes. And after a quick tutorial, we spent several minutes preparing peppers, mushrooms, onions, leaf spinach, tomatoes and other assorted ingredients that I had a feeling would soon be a part of a very satisfying brunch. By this time, I was so hungry, I was ready to just scoop it all onto the grill and settle for some kind of scrambled eggs and veggie plate. But, I knew that these ingredients would end up as part of something much more spectacular. And, I watched as Garren taught us the most important aspects of  the perfect Egg Frittata.

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I learned a couple of things during this preparation stage of the workshop. First, and this is going to come as a surprise to some of you, “size matters”. There it is, I said it. And I know, this was a shocker to me too. But Chef Garren Gammon taught us that in making the perfect Frittata, your ingredients should be cut to the same sized squares. Otherwise, the ingredients might taste differently, depending on the size of each piece as some may be cooked more thoroughly than others. Second, when you cook your ingredients, you cook the ingredients that will take the longest first. The general rule that he taught us is that the juicier ingredients should be cooked last. And with this in mind, we splashed a cooking oil mixture onto the grill and began the process of cooking our ingredients.

 

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No oven required

Next, we placed a dash of flour in a large bowl, cracked and added a couple of eggs and then splashed in a dash of milk. From here, we used a fork, making fast upward sweeps, to whisk as much air into the egg mixture as possible. I knew at this point that we were just moments from tasting something new and spectacular.  Now, we were instructed to pour the egg mixture onto the grill, mixing it in with the now cooked ingredients. We mixed everything together for just a moment, just long enough for the eggs to begin cooking a little. Next we sprinkled our preferred type of fresh shredded cheese over the top (I chose Havarti) and then in an instant, it all came together. Like a Wizard creating a concoction that would turn any enemy into a lifelong friend, Garren splashed just a teaspoon or so of water onto the grill area just beside the egg and veggie mixture and then immediately dropped a large metallic bowl with a handle, directly over the now steaming water and eggs. As the grill sizzled and steamed, I could only imagine what I was going to see when the lid was finally removed. And, a mere 30-60 seconds later, the lid was removed and we placed the, now finished, egg Frittata onto a plate on which we had arranged an organic lettuce mix that had a peach vinaigrette sauce delicately poured over top.

 Glad I came hungry

From here, I quickly grabbed the plate containing my finished Frittata and headed for a seat. Holding off just long enough to take a picture of this delicious looking dish, I grabbed my fork and enjoyed this wonderful treat. Now, don’t mistake me for a food critic of any sort, but I definitely know that my Frittata was exactly as good as it looked. The eggs were slightly fluffy and full of flavor from the vegetables, sausage and spices. And the peach vinaigrette covered lettuce transformed the dish from a simple egg dish to a fancy, flavorful dish that could be served in any fine restaurant.

After we ate our creations, we helped with cleanup.  Chef Gammon then walked us through the process of creating the peach vinaigrette that he had made prior to our arrival. And that was it. our time was up and customers were now beginning to fill the restaurant, even though the closed sign was still hanging in the doorway. Paulette advised the first couple that came in that we were in the process of finishing our workshop, and asked if the couple would like to try a Frittata. The couple agreed and Lina was overjoyed to become ‘Chef for a day’ and set about cooking Frittatas for real customers.

Time to practice

After the workshop, I decided that I would make a quick stop at the grocery store and get some Frittata ingredients so that I could try out my new-found skill at home. And, the next morning, that’s exactly what I did.

Mission accomplished!

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Irish Dance Workshop-The Walls of Limerick Dance

Preface

Today…I didn’t work all day. Nor did I just do something average or normal. Today, I didn’t just live I did something out of the box.

Today, I attended an Irish Dance Workshop that was put on by the Omaha Creative Institute in partnership with the Omaha Sister Cities Association. The workshop was held at the Motion 41 Dance Studio in Omaha. The workshop cost $10.00, if I remember correctly. But I would have paid much more for this wonderful experience.

I’ll preface a little by saying that I did not attend this workshop because of an overwhelming desire to learn Irish Dance. In all actuality, I had no idea what Irish dance consisted of or what I was getting into.  I simply went because I wanted to do something out of the box.

Let’s start from the beginning…

One never really knows what to expect when you try something new and different. This was the case for me. I really had no idea what a dance workshop might entail, or what types of people might be attending. I envisioned being in a line consisting of several strangers, watching a dance instructor demonstrate the moves that we, the group, were about to attempt. I was actually fairly close to the mark, but with a few exceptions, which I will explain later.

On arriving at the Motion 41 Dance Studio, we were met by Molly, our Concierge. Once everyone that had signed up for the workshop was present, we signed a waiver vowing not to sue anyone if our dance attempts ended up on America’s Funniest Videos. Well, maybe it was just a waiver saying that they could post pictures of us on their website. But in my mind, the waiver said something like: “We know that you are going to make a fool of yourself today. And you, the above mentioned person, about to make a complete fool of yourself, agree that you will not hold us liable when your actions are recorded and go viral on the internet. At that moment, in my mind, I could see a news anchor somewhere starting with “And now, just when you thought that you’d seen everything….” Well, you get the picture.

Then it was go time. From here, we were led through a labyrinth of corridors to a magical room, where things seemed a little different somehow. A place where I knew that I was about to do something that was a little out of my comfort zone, and yet I didn’t really care. A place where I wouldn’t be judged by my performance, and, well, if I had hair, I could let it down. The one thing I didn’t really envision, and noted above that I would explain later, is that everyone felt just like me. Even though our ages ranged from the low teens to maybe somewhere in the 60’s, I felt like I was in a room of little kids, back in grade school, getting ready for the big spring concert. No deadlines, no CEO’s, bosses or customers. Just people. People just like me.

Getting started

Our first adventurous task was to stretch. This was the point where I wish that I was wearing something other than blue jeans. After that, Our Dance instructor (Shannon Ryan), began to teach us the basic steps and encouraged us to twist our feet in ways that I’m pretty sure they were not meant to go. We progressed, slowly, through the different parts of the dance and eventually ended up in teams where we attempted to learn the routine on our own, with some occasional desperate cries going out to Shannon, asking her to show us one move or another ‘Just one more time’.

The people

Sometimes, I think that we get so entangled in just maneuvering our way through life that we forget to really notice the people around us. In doing so, I think we miss out on the best part of  any experience like this. I watched everyone at least a little, and mostly just envied the way that they all picked up the dance so quickly. There was even one woman who I swear must actually be Irish. She was a little older than most of us, but was definitely showing us all up. And me, well I felt a little (a lot) dance challenged. I say that jokingly, of course. Because again, I felt like no one was judging me or anyone else. Molly however, who was good enough to fill in as my partner since our numbers were uneven, ignored my two left feet like a trooper.

There was also a girl, just in 10th grade, and the youngest by far, bless her sweet heart, in a crowd of people much older than her. To me, she was like a little lion, and the bravest of us all. And John, who was a little older than me, but far my superior in Irish Dance. John, being  involved in the orchestration of the workshops themselves, likely had a lot of other important things on his to do list, gave up part of his Saturday afternoon to be an example for me to try to follow.

Shannon, did a great job of  teaching us the wonders of Irish Dance. I’m not sure why each time she was watching me try to perform the dance steps, she had her hand over her mouth. But, I’m pretty sure it was just a confirmation that I was learning very quickly. Really though Shannon, you did a great job of explaining and teaching and your class was truly a joy to attend. And, I swear I did better when you were not watching. Visit the Craoí na Tíre website for more information about Shannon’s dance studio, also in Omaha.

The dance that we all attempted to learn, was the Irish Walls of Limerick dance. Shannon described this dance as a social (céilí) dance.  The dance is considered a social dance because you normally perform the dance in a group of several couples and switch partners often as the dance progresses. It was a heck of a lot of fun trying to learn the dance. The only problem I really had with the whole process was trying to figure out which left foot to start with. My apologies go out to anyone there that had to watch my attempts at this dance. I hope I haven’t somehow scarred you, or caused you to have one of those dreams where the same scene just plays over and over, in which you say ‘No, the other foot’, but then I get it wrong again. Seriously though, I think I did actually get it right a few times. Either way, I had a lot of fun.

I left this ‘outofthebox’ experience with an new found appreciation for Irish Dance and caught myself remembering my grandma, who’s maiden name was Kern. She had blazing red hair and often reminded everyone of her Irish background. I think that if she were watching from above on this day, well, she was probably laughing… a lot. But, it would have been a happy laugh. And she would have been proud of  both of my left feet.

In Summary

What a great experience! For just a little while, I forgot about designing software, deadlines, customer requirements and 14 hour work days. For a while I was able to experience something that I truly believe at my core. That we are all just little kids on the inside, no matter how big our body. And, that even though we come from different walks of life, we are all much the same. Not better, not worse. All of us just trying to learn something new and experience something different, maybe even something out of our box.

In the end, I’m so glad I stepped out of my box and tried something new. I now have the building blocks for a new skill and something new and different to talk about. Mostly though, I’m just thankful that I was fortunate enough to meet all of the people in the Irish Dance workshop. Thank you for being part of my story. My story is better because of you.

And, by the way, if you were at the workshop, and someday you just happen to run across one of my friends and they comment about how I turned down the invitation to display my amazing dancing skills on ‘Ireland’s Got Talent’…….please just play along. 😉

There are several more workshops available from the Omaha Creative Institute. I highly recommend that you sign up for at least one.

 

Just a few pictures from my amazing day…

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If you would like to see an example of this dance, here is a link that will give you an idea http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9A7uEOxWyU.

 

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