So now for that awkward re-introduction…The kind where you’ve been gone a while and tiptoe back, ready to re-embrace old traditions, a blank Word doc, images shot and edited, a storyline, some fumbling with basic code, thoughts of the next post already on my mind. I missed it.

It’s been a hectic year. 18 months in fact between the moment when I decided, after watching a set of green business owners stumble their way through an episode of Shark Tank that, hey, now’s my time to do this.

To build a business. To fulfill a dream that had been burning inside of me like a well-concealed flame.

From the moment when I realized over 15 years ago that you could buy a domain name and set up shop on the Internet, I’d been consumed with the idea. My GoDaddy account was a graveyard for ideas come and gone. BoxTheParty.com, HubandSpokeBranding.com; BuildingBrandMe; the ever-essential JessicaFiorillo.com.

“What about starting a fruit molasses business?” I’d asked Rodney while we brushed our teeth and jostled for space at our one-person sink. Forrest Gump-like, I forged on. “You know, gluten free, vegan, refined sugar free. Cherry molasses, berry molasses, how about blueberry molasses?”

And so, several weeks into my remission from cancer, with a bowl of salted almonds and a bedtime glass of red at my side, I settled into a nightly routine of Shark Tank and daydreams. My mind raced, thoughts formed, notes were scribbled into a neon yellow notebook whose sales label I’d removed unsuccessfully, leaving a 2-inch square of goo. Copies of entrepreneurship books started showing up at our doorstep: “The Lean Startup”, “Zero to One”, “ReWork”, every book by Steve Blank.

It felt mission-driven, even if it was one woman’s mission to fulfill her life’s true calling rather than the altruistic kind that saves the lives of tiny babies in faraway countries. My eventual plan was to develop an e-commerce marketplace that would give a voice and commerce opportunities to emerging kitchenware designers (think ceramicists, metalworkers, textile makers).

I got an office, hired some freelance staff, and after much deliberation, landed on the name Propped, a nod to the term “food props” that cooks (and especially cooks who photograph their food) use to refer to the artillery that lines their kitchen shelves. I bought yet another domain, Propped.com, and we were off to the races.

It was hard work, backbreaking in some cases as we set up a studio in Hoboken, NJ, hauled in over 300 vintage kitchen tools, photographed each one in detail, and loaded them onto our freshly-built site. We recruited a set of 50+ makers, engaged an audience of 20,000 Instagram fans, and in December 2016, launched our site to our community of cooks, creatives and food lovers.

It was a dream for a while. I was happy, working like crazy but elated to be running my own business.

But as the days sped by, they started to take their toll. Small colds turned into big colds, the winter settled into New York City, and I found myself battling a series of infections, each one more crippling than the last. Bronchitis, UTIs, a mysterious disease called Fifth Disease which I picked up from my kids’ elementary school. By the end of May I’d been on antibiotics well over 10 times and after a flight back from Utah, checked myself into the hospital with yet another high fever and a throat so swollen and filled with pus that I could barely swallow. It was strep, I was dehydrated, my potassium had crashed from my barely-there diet, and my blood was acidic making it an environment ripe for cancer cells.

After a night of fitful sleep on a hospital bed, linked up to IVs, meditating on the 15% 5-year survival stats that define a stage IV cancer diagnosis, remission or not…..I was prescribed both antibiotics and antidepressants, given a stern warning about managing my stress level, and sent on my merry way.

This was not me living my best life.

Things needed to change. I needed to find the person that I’d been before. Not before I started the company (that was me + cancer), but the person before that. The one from, say 2013, who’d been so deliriously happy to be shucking corn, peeling potatoes, and doing the occasional sponsored post on Instagram. The person who was taking a well-needed break from corporate life to focus on things at home, family, the kids’ school, the dog, the state of my refrigerator. The important things that for a time had slipped behind all of those big audacious goals that involved “doing” and “achieving”.

So I made perhaps the biggest, boldest decision of all. To step down from active ownership of the business and find a group who can steer the company into unchartered new waters. I’m still in conversations with a few interested parties and my hope is that the sale will be complete in the next few months. My ultimate goal is to find a team who is as passionate about this maker community as I am, and who will support them with as much energy and enthusiasm as we did. I know that I’ll find it and I won’t stop looking until I do.

Ultimately, I learned that running a company is impossibly hard work, especially when you’re the sole founder without a true peer to celebrate the victories, and more important, bolster you when the going gets tough. And I learned that the only work worth doing in this life is the work that feeds you. Creatively, emotionally, cerebrally, whatever it is that makes you tick.

Which for me, has always been food. Working with food is the work that I’d do independent of anything else (money, recognition, insert the myriad reasons). It’s a hobby turned into something more. After working for a year and a half on a business that nurtured half my soul, and drove the other half nuts, I have a profound and newfound appreciation for this bootstrapped food career of mine that lets me work with brands that I admire, ruminate over stewing pots of cannellini beans, and nourish myself both physically and spiritually.

How lucky I am to have found that work-related thing in life that gives me a reason for being. Not everyone finds their “thing”, and it took going back into a corporate existence filled with conference calls and investment memos, away from the grease and steam and stains of the kitchen, to realize what was there, waiting for me all along.

I’m not rushing back into things. There will be a slower cadence to my posts, partnerships more carefully selected. I want to seek out a small set of brands and co-conspirators whom I truly respect.

For those of you who follow me on Instagram, you’ll know of my collaboration with Traeger Grills which has me cooking with fire more than ever. I love the Traeger brand for how effortlessly cool it is, the embodiment of badassery in the grilling business. And I’m pumped/surprised/honored to have recently been made one of their ProTeam members along some serious legends including Danielle Bennett, World BBQ champ, Jim Meehan, pro-bartender and the force behind New York’s PDT cocktail lounge, and UFC fighter Chad Mendes.

I have some exciting upcoming work planned with one of my favorite cookware brands, All-Clad.

And a fantastic new collaboration has just started with the team from Alaska’s Copper River Salmon.

If you’ve tasted Copper River Salmon before, you’ll know what sets it apart. Fattier, richer and silker in texture than any other salmon I’ve come across, it’s the kind of salmon that makes you want to eat it raw, folded into a light marinade like the poke bowls whose recipe is featured in this post. (Incidentally I’ve also smoked Copper River Salmon on my Traeger, grilled it, cured it, eaten it out of hand, tossed it into pasta; I’m a one-woman circus trying to make the case for salmon as the world’s most versatile food.)

The stunning coral salmon that you see in these images is from Copper River’s sockeye run which lasts from May until August.

In September I’m heading to Portland, Oregon to cook dinner alongside Eva Kosmes Flores from Adventures in Cooking, Joy the Baker, Ashley Alexander from Gather and Feast, and Danielle Firle, host of Portland’s Secret Supper series, and let it be known, there will be salmon.

Our crew is hosting the Not-So-Secret Supper, a sit down dinner for 60 at the Feast Portland food festival at a secret location on Sauvie Island. {pinching, pinching, yes dummy it’s still real}. Thankfully I’ll be able to keep up with this talented bunch when I serve a dish featuring smoked Copper River Salmon coho, which is in-season starting in mid-August. I’m thinking French lentils, lots of vinegar, house-smoked salmon, and plenty of herbs, kind of like the version that we inhaled a few weeks ago.

So I guess this was a long-winded way of saying “nice to meet you again”, hope to see you around, apologies for taking off for a year but it’s really nice to be back.

With salmon. And grills. And some of the other things that are making me supremely happy these days. Minus the antidepressants.

Peace out friends.

 

Wild sockeye poke bowls with pickled cucumbers and furikake

Ingredients

Pickled cucumbers:
• 1 large cucumber, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
• ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1 teaspoon fermented chilies (or red chili flakes)

Salmon:
• 1 pound skinless sashimi-grade salmon (I used fresh Copper River sockeye salmon), pin bones removed and, diced into cubes
• 1/4 cup coconut aminos
• 1 tablespoon sesame oil
• 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
• 1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced

Bowls:
• 4 cups cooked white rice
• 3 radishes, sliced
• 2 scallions, sliced
• 1 avocado, sliced
• ½ jalapeno, sliced
• Small bunch radish sprouts (or other microgreens)
• Black and white sesame seeds
• 1-2 tablespoons furikake (to taste)
• Lime wedges for serving

Directions:
• Toss the cucumbers with all of the pickling ingredients and set aside.
• While the cucumbers are pickling, toss the salmon with all of the marinade ingredients and set aside for 5-10 minutes for the dressing to infuse into the salmon.
• When ready to make the poke bowls, pile the rice into individual bowls, top with the salmon, the pickled cucumbers and the remaining ingredients.

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