Saturday, November 30, 2013

Farewell, Johnny

Today was the last day of business for Johnny's, a small coffeehouse in Big Timber.

Businesses come and go, but in a small town (Big Timber's population is just over 1,700) losing any business can create a large gap, not necessarily in terms of real estate but rather in the heart.

People who pass through, if they notice at all, will think it is just another empty building. Locals will think about the good times they had there behind those blank windows where the OPEN sign will never be turned on again.

The hot cups of coffee and tea, breakfast burritos and tacos for lunch, the backgammon games, the chance to meet with friends and neighbors or chat with Johnny . . . these are now memories.

When Johnny's opened in April 2013, Scott Romsos (aka Johnny) had big dreams: create a community around fresh food, backgammon championships, maybe some evening music.

But dreams take hard work -- and enough money -- and although Johnny put in his fair share, it turned out to be too much for one person.

Even with the hardest work, a broad customer base is also necessary. "There just aren't enough people [in Big Timber]. You need a bigger group of people to come in and drink the coffee," Johnny said.

But in fact, food was the biggest draw for customers.

"You can't do it just with coffee. I really wanted to do food that was fresh and healthy and homemade, handmade, instead of just taking something and putting it in a microwave. The flip side of that, though, is with me being the only person in here, it was a lot of work. Long, long hours in here."

Yet Johnny wasn't quite alone. There was that community he was striving to build.

"I'm one hundred percent an elementary school teacher. I've never gone into a restaurant, never cooked, never done coffee before, never owned a business before. So this was all basically starting at square number zero. But I would say, one of the beautiful things about being in Big Timber is there were people who would come in, and as I built up a rapport with people, I would start asking questions about business, especially the food side of things. And people were just really, really open and helpful."

For example, "when you're making a burrito, you need to know what your cost is, for everything. Onions, potatoes, meat, eggs. Beforehand, just cooking for myself, I would just kind of grab. The way I like to cook is go into the refrigerator and see what's there and throw something together. So that was the biggest piece of advice I got."

Johnny's fresh tacos were a big hit.

Johnny is both philosophical and practical about the closure.

"I just really like talking to people. That was hands down the best part of this job. I feel like I really poured myself into this place. So [closing] wasn't something I really wanted to do. But I just couldn't go on anymore, with barely breaking even every month."

Despite the closure of his business, Johnny has no regrets about having given it a try. He's looking forward to the future: Maybe go back to teaching elementary school, perhaps overseas. Do a little fishing.

We'll miss you, Johnny, but we wish you the best of luck. May the fish be always near and hungry.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Zucchini Crust Pizza

Pizza is one of those foods everyone seems to like. Your favorite topping might not be my favorite -- pineapple, Canadian bacon, and mushrooms -- but I think we can agree that pizza is a treat to eat.

I have no complaint about regular pizza. I don't even care if it's deep dish or thin crust. I'll eat my fair share no matter what. But sometimes it's good to try something a bit different.

The other day someone gave me a whopper of a zucchini -- 6 pounds! Of course I scrambled to find things to make with it.

I love zucchini shredded and mixed with corn and red pepper, then mixed with eggs and a bit of flour and fried in tasty little cakes.

I have a terrific recipe for zucchini bread that people rave about.

And for the past year I haven't been able to get my fill of Zucchini Tots.

But I had a lot of zucchini to use up and so went searching for more ways to serve it. One delightful dish I found was pizza with a zucchini crust.

Surprisingly, it tastes exactly like pizza. It is very light. If you find regular pizza with its flour-laden crust difficult to digest, try this version.

I found this recipe on a Zone diet forum, so it is Zone friendly. Each serving is about 3 blocks if you include fruit for dessert.

If you're not on a diet of any kind, you'll still like it. Maybe even love it. Trust me.

Zucchini Crust Pizza

Makes 1 12-inch pizza
Serves 4

3 cups shredded zucchini
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup grated cheese
1tablespoon chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
Sprinkle of dried oregano

1 cup spaghetti sauce
1 or 2 chicken Italian sausages, crumbled and browned
-or- 2 hot dogs, thinly sliced
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cups shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle shredded zucchini with salt and let stand for 15 minutes. Squeeze out water.

Mix crust ingredients and spread on a parchment-lined pizza pan or cookie sheet. (Whatever you do, use parchment paper under the crust! Merely oiling the surface of the pan isn't enough; the crust will stick.) Bake about 20 minutes, or until top is dry to the touch and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and add toppings in order listed.

Return to oven (I raised the temperature to 400 for quicker results -- watch the pizza carefully!) and bake until cheese is melted.