2014 Urban and Small Farms Conference Inspiration

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GrowingPower-NewFarmer, founder and CEO, Will Allen and his non-profit Growing Power are leaders in the sustainable food movement. Based in Milwaukee, Growing Power transforms abandoned and unused lots into year-round organic food sources and inspires young people in the community to learn to grow food for themselves and their neighbors. Farmers, community groups and others are joining the fun and the results are outstanding.

Growing Power recently held the 2014 Urban & Small Farms Conference: Building a Fair Food Economy to Grow Healthy People in Milwaukee.  The 3-day conference covered issues of our modern food system and how we can work together to change them.  It focused on community and inter-community teamwork to tackle crucial issues our planet’s food and water systems face.  The conference buzzed with palpable energy and a strong sense of community and global stewardship. Every farmer and educator involved was approachable and willing to give additional resources to those hungry for more information.

Workshops included Urban Farming, Urban Aquaculture, Food and Technology, Food Policy, International (Food and Farming Around the World), Land and Architecture. In addition to workshops, there were networking activities such as Makers Craft Bazaar, Growing Power Farm field trips, Growing Food and Justice for All Initiative (GFJI) and a chef’s gala.  To top it all off, a once-in-a-lifetime talk where Michael Pollan and Will Allen, two giants of the sustainable food movement discussed current food issues, took questions from the guests and ended the evening with inspirational visions for the future.

As a farmer, father and lover of life I feel this kind of movement is essential to our survival.  It was an absolute honor to work with so many passionate and involved members of our global community.  The memories and knowledge taken from this conference will fuel those in attendance to go out and make our food systems better.

20 Creative Ways to Use Your Restaurant Space

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Restaurant High restaurant lease? Don’t fret. There’s more than one way to use your restaurant space. In fact, there are at least 20. Patrick Nelson, our Food and Beverage Specialist has helped thousands of event organizers all across the industry, from kitchens to restaurants, underground restaurants, gardens, small farms, breweries and distillers. Below, he imparts some ideas on attracting new customers and publicity with your restaurant space.

1. Teach Classes
Chop, dice, blend. Just as there are tricks to making the perfect bisque, cassoulet or grilled cheese, there are methods to making your class a rewarding experience for both student and teacher. Have a lesson plan and start small – teach basic dishes with limited ingredients. Create handouts students can take home. Be engaging and encouraging throughout the class.

2. Pop-Up or Underground Restaurants
It’s the latest thing. Chefs from all over the world are popping up shop in all sorts of places, from tiny dining rooms in Brooklyn to warehouses in Los Angeles. Eager foodies flock to these exclusive supper clubs to converse with interesting people and nosh on off-the-menu items. Many are private events and therefore, immune to the rules and regulations that normally apply to regular restaurants. Plus, they can be held anywhere with space for tables and chairs.

3. Pairings
Wine + cheese. Beer + bacon. Tequila + tacos. Whatever pairing party you choose, it’s a great way to partner and cross promote with local distilleries, breweries and wineries. 

4. Mix and Mingle
Fill your restaurant with professionals by throwing a networking event. Stimulate sales with free or discounted snacks and drink specials. You may also benefit: for example, if you had a distillers’ mixer, you might meet the right folks to partner with on other events.

Tip: Talk to people you know are well-connected to help organize the event. Professional event organizers could also help. If you already have a large mailing list, start with that. After a few events, the followers will start trickling in.

5. Trivia Night
Bring out the beer-drinking brainiacs. Host a trivia night and find out who among your customers are “Cliff Claven” types. If you lined up a trivia MC, you’re in good shape. The next step is building your customer base. Consistency is the key to developing return business, so have the event at the same time every week.

6. Beer or Beverage Release Party
Spread the word about your new brew. Whether you are a budding new brewery or have been successfully crafting for a decade, throwing a release party can foster excitement, awareness and some well-deserved attention. Get the scoop on how to throw a rockin’ beer release party.

7. Cook Offs
Top Chef,” “Iron Chef,” “Chopped” and others have made competitive cooking part of the main stream television diet. Bring the competition to your restaurant. Invite local aspiring cooks to try their hand and test their skill. Pack the house. Gain exposure in the food community. Create a one-of-a-kind trophy and title for the victor. The competition will get fierce and food might just fly, but keep things light and fun.

Tip: Turn the cookoff into a fundraiser and show your love to a local charity. Giving is not only personally rewarding, there are lots of wonderful causes that need help. And as a bonus, your good deed may result in added exposure.

City Growers Farm to Table Benefit8. Tastings
Go local. Put together special tasting menus that features local products, anything from wine to craft soda pop or cider. Or host your own whenever you update your menu or wine list. Mix it up – have your patrons vote on new dishes. Use the built-in market research to keep your menu current.

9. Private Events
You might already host weddings, birthday parties, but why not make it part of your business. Boost your value to customers by offering a catering menu and event registration support.

10. Tournaments
Pool, darts, bocce ball…when it comes to bar or restaurant tournaments, the opportunities are endless. Even beer pong is in play. Register your leagues and use Brown Paper Tickets to collect the dues.

11. Internal Training
Show newbies the ropes. Hold training sessions on food safety, etiquette, procedure and anything else your employees need to know in your space. This is also a great way to update their menu knowledge.

12. Holiday Parties
Dazzle your customers with your own soiree or arrange parties for customers. Offer event registration to make organizing the night a breeze.

13. Poetry Nights/Open Mic Nights
Host an open mic night and find the best minds of your generation. (If you get that reference, you’re well on your way.) Everyone wants to be heard, so open the floor to the community. If your space is small, you might not even need the mic.

14. Community Meetings
Offer to let community groups host meetings and functions in your establishment. Hold an appreciation event for one or more of these groups, offer food and drink specials or even a catering menu tailored to their event.

15. Customer Appreciation Night
Reward your regulars. Create a preferred customer program and show your appreciation for return business with discounts and the occasional appetizer on the house. Feature entertaining activities (trivia, bingo, raffles) and free snacks.

16. Industry Shindig
Get familiar with fellow associates in the food and drink industry by holding special functions for restaurant industry workers. Provide free snacks and drink deals with a valid food handler’s card or liquor license.

17. Singles Mingles
Fan the flames of love. Register attendees for your single’s night. Give out name tags and have plenty of pens and paper available for phone number exchanges. Create aphrodisiac-themed food and drink specials (Cupid Cocktail, anyone?) or line up tables and chairs to turn the evening into a speed dating event.

18. Game Nights
Drinking and gaming go together like beer and pretzels. Pictionary, Outburst, Apples to Apples, Jenga are all perfect choices for group games over drinks or snacks. Organize a large tournament and register players ahead of time.

19. Fundraisers
Pancake breakfast. Spaghetti dinner. Lobster lunch. Throw a charity dinner to raise funds for a good cause. Chat with your purveyors and ask if they will donate some of the food so you can maximize the funds raised.

20. Farm to Table

Go Green Acres. Invite local farms to show off their lovingly grown products with a special menu featuring their ingredients.

Whew. Got more creative uses for your restaurant space? Or have a question about food industry events? Comment below.

Photo credit, 1st photo: Martin Abegglen

How Round Table Tours Became a Top Tour in Montreal

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Montreal's Round Table ToursYou already know poutine, the cheese-curd and gravy comfort food. No? Someone needs to take a trip to Montreal. But poutine is only the beginning. Stacked smoked meat sandwiches. Arguably, better bagels than New York (easy, New Yorkers, we said arguably). Ice wine. Soft cheeses from provincial farms. Craft brew a plenty.

Who’s Ready for a Food Tour?

Founded only a few years ago, ‘Round Table Tours (Tours de la Table) is already Montreal’s number two activity on Trip Advisor. It is popular not only with tourists, but hard-to-impress foodies who live in the city.

Maybe it’s because tour owner and operator Mélissa Simard is bright and personable. Or maybe because she takes visitors to “forbidden” places – behind the kitchen, into neighborhoods well off the tourist track and to food production sites. Or maybe it’s her long list of accomplishments: A degree in Canadian Studies from McGill University and a diploma in professional cooking from St-PIUX. Winning “Best Female Entrepreneurial Project of Montreal” in 2013. A history working in top restaurants.

‘Round Table Tours is definitely doing something right. Whether you’re thinking of organizing your own tour group or looking for a good food tour, take a cue from Simard.

The Lightbulb Goes Off

Simard got the idea for the tours after cycling from Seattle to California, popping into eateries along the way. She felt burned out from years of working in restaurants and the trip provided a much-needed break. “I thought, this is so nice, people should do it all the time,” she says.

An idea was born: exceptional food tours with a rare look behind the scenes. Get guests in the kitchen and talking to chefs. Go to breweries and tea shops, to chorizo producers and rooftops to explore urban farms. It’s the unexpected, the underground, the “how it’s made” stuff that resonates with people.

Yum…

Food Tours Montreal Many food tours offer an overview of the region, small bites with a heavy dose of history and attractions. ‘Round Table Tours does it different. Simard wants her groups to “come in with an open mind, see things they’ll never see.”

According to Simard, the tours focus on important, iconic food that shaped the city. A taste of the Iberian Peninsula by way of Spanish tapas, Portuguese petiscos and Basque pintxos. A sampling of Montreal Jewish food from family-owned diners, delis and bagel factory. An eat and ride that explores Montreal’s emerging food truck scene. For the hungry but health conscious, there’s the Living Table Tour, which zeros in on the city’s green scene.

Tour-goers can expect the equivalent of a seven-course meal. “No one leaves hungry,” Simard says. Or thirsty, we suspect as most tours include wine, tea or coffee.

In-depth knowledge of the culinary scene and long-standing connections to the restaurant world helped Simard create her vision. But as the saying goes, anything worthwhile comes with challenges. Like many tour operators, Simard has extensive knowledge about her passion – food, but no prior business experience. “I don’t have a business background. It’s been trial and error,” she says. And she’s busy, running at least three or four tours a week, six in the summer.

As for expansion? Simard would like to set up ‘Round Table Tours in other cities, perhaps in British Columbia or maybe in one of those hamlets dotting the Quebec countryside. But there are no immediate plans. “We’re still growing in Montreal,” she says. If you’re headed to La Belle Province (lucky), find the tour for you.

6 Tips to Better Farm-to-Table Events

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carrots-farm-to-tableChefs are talking about it. Foodies are asking for it. These days, farm to table is on the tips of everyone’s tongues.

High-quality ingredients make a chef’s job easier since they are so naturally delectable.  Any respectable food lover will search for the freshest and most lovingly grown produce.  More and more, restaurant owners are partnering with local farmers to find it. In some cases, they’re cutting out the middle man and farming their own ingredients.

Any way you slice it, farm to table fundamentally changed the way we dine out.

Today’s food lover and farm-to-table dinners

Today’s food lover wants to know where it comes from, how it was grown, and if it will be around next time. Farm-to-table dinners allow food fans to get up close and personal to what they’re eating and hopefully, walk away with a greater appreciation for it. The term “farm to table” has to do with the process of growing, harvesting, preparing and consuming food.  However, many types of food and beverage events fit under this umbrella.  On the farm or in the restaurant, the slow food and farm-to-table movement puts the spotlight on the highest-quality, locally grown ingredients.

No need to overdress for these dining experiences, the focus is on the food. If you are considering hosting your own farm-to-table event, kudos to you. This movement will slowly re-school us on how vital and precious food is to long-term survival. Since farm-to-table events involve a lot of harvesting and preparing ingredients right from the farm, it’s smart to have a checklist for your event planning.

We know your farm-to-table event is going to be great, but the below tips will help make it even better.

6 tips to a better farm-to-table experience

1. If you are hosting an outdoor event, be aware of the experience you are building.  Once you have a realistic inventory of possible issues, you can address them one by one.  Ifcity-growers-urban-farming-benefit you don’t have access to a farm, reach out to some in your area. It’s a great way to build community.

2. Going to be outdoors? Don’t forget about pests. Bees, mosquitoes, ants, or greedy birds could throw a wrench in the works, so have a test dinner prior to the event.  Find methods for detouring/repelling critters without also repelling your guests.  Marigolds and other plants make good natural repellents that don’t overpower the senses.

3. Wind, rain and yes, too much sun can turn a picturesque dinner into a logistic nightmare. No one wants soggy biscuits, so have a second location planned in case it pours.  Follow weather forecasts and adjust accordingly.

4. Keep your dishes and décor simple and elegant. Minimalist décor offers a more authentic experience and frees up time and resources that could be put into the execution of the event. Choose simple recipes that highlight flavor; the best ingredients will taste amazing with little help. Make sure that as many ingredients as possible are locally grown by organic sustainable farms.  If you have a dish in mind and can’t source the ingredients, try a different recipe or variation.  This limitation will bring out your creativity and inspire your visitors to buy locally.

5. Make your guests feel at home on the farm. Ensure a great, homey ambiance by inviting people you know. Friends, family, or farm staff could make wonderful assistant hosts.  Allow plenty of time before, after and in-between courses for guests to take in the surroundings and chat.  If everything goes well, time stands still and memories are made.

6. Above all, relish the event and your company.  Confidence and genuine enjoyment are absolute musts to making your dinner a sweet success.  The impression from a great night will last a lifetime and keep diners coming back.

Calling all food lovers: Comment below with your fresh tips on food. Hungry? Find a farm-to-table feast near you.

(First photo from City Growers Benefit last month in New York)

Brooklyn Grange: Rooftop Farm Boosts Business via Events

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Brooklyn Grange 1In 2010, a group of renegade urban dreamers gathered on a New York City roof. With bikes and cranes, passion and sweat—they built a farm. Then another. Then launched events. Today, Brooklyn Grange is the leading rooftop farming and intensive green roofing business in the US.

They operate the world’s largest rooftop soil farms, located on two roofs in Brooklyn (Navy Yard) and Queens (Long Island City) and grow 50,000 pounds of organically cultivated produce yearly. They distribute fresh vegetables and herbs to local restaurants. Globally, they provide urban farming and green roof consulting and installation services. They partner with local nonprofits to promote healthy communities. Egg-laying hens, a commercial apiary, and a nonprofit educational arm, City Growers, all contribute to Brooklyn Grange’s mission.

Farm events started in 2011 as dinner parties. Now their public events, in partnership with Brown Paper Tickets, vary widely—yoga classes, flower workshops, dinners, weddings, corporate retreats and film screenings.

We asked Brooklyn Grange’s Anastasia Cole Plakias, VP and co-founder, and Michele Kaufman, events director, how a diverse events program grew their business and strengthened community ties.

Brown Paper Tickets Q: Why do you exist? What is your vision?

Brooklyn Grange: When the team first met in the fall of 2009, we shared the goal of creating a fiscally sustainable, scalable, replicable model for urban agriculture that could thrive without relying on ever-diminishing ground-level space, or be crowded out by development. We were drawn to the environmental benefits of soil-based rooftop farming: from storm water management to reduction of urban heat island effect and diverting food scraps from the waste stream through composting, our farm supports the ecosystem of New York City by activating existing infrastructure as green space. Rooftop farming merges the benefits of green roofs with those of urban agriculture.

We’ve [recently] focused on growing our business and optimizing operations. We’re excited to return to our core mission of sharing the knowledge we’ve gleaned over the last four seasons by launching a new workshop series. From composting and seed saving to bouquet arranging and making natural dyes from plants, we’ve cast a wide net, and enlisted experts across urban agriculture, wellness and sustainability fields to help. (more…)

Beer Release: How to Host a Party

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Own a budding new brewery? Successfully crafted brew for decades? Freshly minted nano-brewer? Share news about your latest hoppy libation by throwing a beer release, a prime opportunity to gain new customers and reward existing fans. Beer releases become market research labs. Tune into customer feedback and gain valuable insights into their preferences and tastes. Bonus: These events just might spur new beer batch ideas.

beer and brew releasesSelect a Perfect Venue
Beer release locations are key. If your brewery holds capacity for guests, this would make a spectacular location. Need a space? Reach out to some of the businesses you sell to. They will have incentive to help advertise new beer to sipping enthusiasts. A win-win. Pick a venue that fits your company or brewery personality and offers a setting suitable for coiffing your brew. Venues set the mood for your beer release. Provide the venue with branded swag and signage a few weeks prior to the event so the place can advertise for you. Note: Distributors often take care of this step for larger breweries. Don’t let this slip through the crack for your release.

Set the Mood
Keep your beer release simple. The fewer moving parts to an event the easier it is to engage your fans and enjoy the ride. After all, the main attraction is drinking beer. Arrive well before the event to set up, prepare for last-minute (or unexpected) logistics and be ready for loyal fans. Bring giveaways. Make sure you are open and available to speak with everyone. Attendees adore opportunities for face time with brewers and owners. Put your social game face. Beer releases where you circulate also open you up networking possibilities that could boost your business. Make sure a brew master or official representative who has intimate knowledge of the beer is there to chat with attendees. Prepare for questions about chemistry, ingredients or equipment. Chances are home brewers and beer geeks will attend and they are as passionate about the craft as the final product.

beer and brew release eventsEngage Your Crowd
Drawings interest any audience. Give away pint glasses or t-shirts and you not only give a gift, but the receiver can advertise for you every time the gift is used. Tasting together with your customers allows you to you add depth to your brew by giving insights. Talk about the different spices and ingredients. Point out key notes that your fans should be tasting. Themed trivia is also another way to captivate eager beer lovers. Study your audience over the course of a few events and bring back interactive favorites at your next beer release. (more…)

NYC Beer and Brewing History

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beerweek2014mhedits33percentThis week on Foodie Friday, we have a guest blog from The Beer Wench, also known as Jena Ellenwood. Ellenwood is an Astoria, New York based actress, writer, bartender and beer geek. Jena is a graduate of The New School and is currently studying for her Cicerone License. She enjoys a good story and a good brew, and usually finds one leads to the other.

I am a beer geek. There, I said it. While reviewing the plethora of events for this year’s NY Craft Beer—dinners, tastings, parties—I got most excited when my eyes fell on Drink Local: NYC Beer and Brewing History panel discussion in Brooklyn. My sister Liz joined me and we hit the town.

Covenhoven, a cozy little taproom that opened March 2nd, was our host for the evening. Bill and Molly, the husband and wife team behind Covenhoven, were warm and welcoming, as was their establishment. One wall of the shop displays old kitschy beer trays, while the opposite wall is kept free to host rotating murals painted by local artists. In the summer the front garage doors will roll up, and the doors to the patio will be left open. Turns out they use to run an art gallery in the space, but after having a few pints and being inspired by other local beer centric joints–Bierkraft and Spuyten Duyvil–they decided to merge their loves of art, community, and beer to open a kick-ass little spot to merge all three.

(more…)

Foodie Friday: Leftovers and Writing Your Household Menu

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6929927631_1368749976_bEating well can often be rather expensive. With our economy down and costs on the rise, more and more of us are finding less butter on the edge of our bread. Cooking a well sourced and balanced meal is always going to take a little investment no matter how you look at it. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t eat well through the entire week. By applying a little budgeting, careful planning, and stretching techniques, you can have your cake and eat it too. Then make cake lollipops with the leftovers.

Planning a weekly menu is something that requires a little more foresight than stopping by the store on the way home from work. It’s worth the effort! Carefully planning your weekly grocery shopping to coordinate multiple dishes will save you both time and money. Chefs do this all the time when planning for their restaurants with great success. Try starting your week by sitting down with a stack of cookbooks or using the internet to decide what types of recipes you might feel like cooking. After all, while sticking to a budget is important, it’s more important to like the food that you are eating.

When you approach your menu, consider ingredients and how they might carry over across all of the recipes you plan to make. If you are particularly fond of spicy recipes maybe garlic, onion, and chilis are purchased in greater bulk. When you buy things in larger quantity you can often find deals or coupons such as “buy one get one free.” These deals will help you save a dollar here or fifty cents there until, perhaps, you have enough for a bottle of wine to go with your meal. Purchasing in this manner gives you stability as well as frees up options for later in the week. (more…)

Boozie Friday: Cider – A Delicious Beverage and Ingredient

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1086683117_c2f524cc8f_zLast Sunday, a wonderful event took place here in Seattle. The Seattle Wine and Food Experience packed the spacious exhibition hall at the Seattle Center putting wine, beer, spirits, food and cider in the spotlight. The proceeds from this marvelous event went to Les Dames d’Escoffier Seattle, a 501c3 non-profit organization comprised of female leaders in food, beverage and hospitality whose mission is education, advocacy and philanthropy. It’s wonderful to see this incredible organization supported by such strong attendance. The event sold out which undoubtedly put some decent funding toward their cause.

One thing that struck me at the event, was the growing interest in craft ciders amongst American food and booze enthusiasts. With the rise of artisanal products and the ever growing farm-to-table movement here in the United States, this old standard is back in fashion. Drinkers in England and other parts of the world have enjoyed cider for many generations. However, here in the United States, the temptingly tart/sweet beverage didn’t really enjoy the same success. Grain used to brew beer was cheaper and more readily available than the cider apple and the cost was the loss of a great libation. However, after prohibition, cider began to re-gain popularity and today you can find a fine craft cider in almost any bar, grocery store or liquor store. Even well established beer brewers like Stella Artois are making their own apple brew: Cidre. Based on what I saw at the Seattle Wine and Food Experience, larger companies definitely have their hats in the ring, but smaller, craft ciders seem to dominate the arena here in the Pacific Northwest.

Cider can vary in sweetness and be combined with other flavors for fantastic results. Some common flavors added to a good cider are berry, ginger and, of course, the flavor of oak barrels. In many ways cider can be treated the same as wine or beer in that it pairs well with food. Cooking with cider is also a fantastic option for the more adventurous chef and it can replace white wine in many situations. However, before attempting that, you should probably try some of the different cider on the market. Some of the tastiest and notable include Teiton Cider Works, Eaglemount Wine & Cider, 2 Towns Ciderhouse, and Woodchuck Hard Cider.  Of course, with hundreds of cider makers worldwide, this list could have easily gone on and on but you get the idea.

Want to try your hand at cooking with cider? Well, you’re in luck. Included below is my recipe for Roasted Pork Loin with an Apple Cider Mustard Sauce. Enjoy! (more…)

Foodie Friday: Waffle Club

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Waffles

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But we don’t always have time in the morning do we? Sometimes it’s fun to have breakfast for dinner or as a group activity like snack time. Waffles have been enjoyed at any time of day since medieval times. Originally waffles were a variation on communion wafers, and over time have evolved into what we have now. We have certainly come a long way since then and the results are staggeringly delicious.

Waffles come in many shapes, sizes, textures, and flavors. They can be topped with almost endless variations of different ingredients or served all on alone. There are waffle cones, stuffed waffles, and chicken & waffles just to name a few of the creative variations you might find. When concocting your batter make sure that you allow enough for a test waffle or two. This will allow you to taste and adjust your batter before you serve the final product. When following recipes don’t be afraid to make adjustments according to your own preference.

Around the Brown Paper Tickets headquarters office we have started a weekly waffle-based ritual. Each person that works on Sunday and participates, has taken a turn as the “Batter-UP.” When it’s your turn to bring waffles you are responsible for providing enough batter and whatever special toppings you choose for everyone. There have been some interestingly delicious creations rolling through so far and surely a great many more to come. Among some of the most interesting include but are certainly not limited to:

James – Classic Waffles, Cinnamon Waffles
Sam – Pumpkin Spice Waffles, Super Crispy Almond-essence Waffles
Megan – Ginger Waffles
Ashton – Smores Waffles
Kathleen – Chocolate Chai, with Pink Sea Salt and Whipped Cream/Chocolate Syrup (Gluten-free), Buttermilk Waffles with Ezell’s Fried Chicken
Susanne – Rosemary Ham and Gruyere/Chedder Cheese Waffles
Antoine – Oreo Waffles with hand-whisked Whipped Cream
Diana – Classic Waffle topped with Blackberry Preserve, Brie, and Basil
Patrick – Sourdough Waffles, Banana Chocolate Chip, Orange Waffles

Hopefully our waffle club inspires you to whip up a batch of crispy delicious waffles with your own twist added. It’s a lot of fun to make a group activity out of it, and I think we enjoy it immensely. Waffle day is a great way to bring a group closer together and get to know them on a level only reached through food. Sharing ideas and time together around the most simple of concepts is truly a joy. Waffle up! (more…)