Adventures in Cooking: Part 6

Years after leaving Olga’s I find myself to be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to restaurants. There are many things that I look for and some I can overlook, but what I have the most trouble getting over is the quality of the food. As a cook you had to learn how to juggle and learn it quickly. However, the quality of a meal isn’t just up to the cook, there are also those that are responsible for what the cook has to work with, the prep cooks.
Prepping food was a meditation, a mindless task that looked like anyone could do. In my own kitchen at home there are steps in preparing a meal that I watch people try to skip and usually some form of verbal back and forth takes place. Let’s start with the basics, wash the food! Nobody wants celery with dirt still on it. Bugs love to hide in lettuce. Spinach is known for E-coli poisoning. The list goes on and on, wash the damn food.
There are tools that every kitchen should have just for prepping. We had small “coring scoops” for tomatoes. These were tiny spoons with a spiked rim that would dig out the core of the tomato with the stem so that the rough material wasn’t served with the food. Don’t be a cheep skate by skipping this, nobody will love you for it.
Just about every weekend my wife and I go out to dinner and enjoy ourselves for a bit before the week with no sleep starts all over again. She has been on a health kick lately and orders the salad where ever we are. Almost 50% of the time she receives a plate or bowl with lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens. When she digs the fork in, she will find chunks of lettuce core hidden under the roughage. This doesn’t upset me, this pisses me off. I can’t tell you how many hours I stood at the counter and slammed heads of lettuce into the steal surface to twist the core out and throw it away. It takes less than two seconds and these little shits are too lazy to offer their guests a good meal. It’s lettuce, you don’t cook it, it’s not fried, it’s up there with serving wine. You pull it out, throw it on a plate, and serve. There is literally nothing to serving a salad so to skip a step is to show what kind of lazy asshole you really are.
I will never be jealous of the poor bastard who is stuck with the job of slicing onions. In such kitchens like Olga’s this wasn’t done by knife as one would think from seeing too much television, instead it is with some kind of hand powered economic slicer. You place it on top of a plastic pan and slice away until the pan it full, then you move onto the next. There is nothing enjoyable about standing above a container filled with twenty sliced onions. Your eyes water, nose starts to run, heaven forbid that some snot drips into the pan, and before you know it you can’t see a damn thing. If there is anyone who deserves higher pay or tips at the end of the night it’s that guy but you will never see him.
We had a crew that came in early in the morning to do our prepping. They were from a local home for the developmentally challenged and worked part time doing many of the task I have just described above. They were quiet, didn’t want to be disturbed, and when their shift was over, they were huddled out of the kitchen to a full-size van that brought them. They were the mysterious A-team that kept the place going. To their credit if we ran out of stuff during the shift they couldn’t be yelled at and the insults went around the kitchen until someone took out a cutting board and sliced some tomatoes or onions for whatever we were short on.
The grill is the one place where a person should not be multitasking but it happens anyway. I recently went to a local brewery to give it a second chance after not being impressed the first time with their beer. I kept hearing that the food was amazing but the beer was still so-so. My wife and I went and I was encouraged to get a burger that was on special only that week. A large group of people sat at a table next to us and before we knew it, we were ordering another round of beers because the food was not out yet. The place was packed. I should have known things would slow down. The table behind us, who ordered after us, received their food while we looked at one another with that “what the fuck” look on our faces. A minute later our food arrived. The burger looked good but after waiting forty minutes and added another $12 to our bill what wouldn’t look good? I ate some of the fries first waiting for the burger to cool for a minute then bit in. The first bite tasted like carbon, I didn’t think much of it until I took another bite and it tasted like it had been dipped in charcoal with a little bit of ash sprinkled on top. I peeled the bun open to find the bottom of the burger was black beyond burnt. Whatever toppings I had on the burger that made it special I could not taste. The waitress disappeared and instead of tracking somebody down to complain and risking waiting another forty minutes for food, I ate the damn thing. At least I knew it was sterile.
These are the things that can go wrong at any time in a kitchen. At Olga’s we would scrape the carbon off the bottom of the burger and move on. Normally there wasn’t a complaint and other times the Motherfucker didn’t do a good job. I didn’t, I was responsible, it was my fault, words you will never hear from our generation Z people coming into the work place. I find these things happening more often as we go out to different places. When there is no accountability there is no motivation to do better and you will continue to deliver the same shitty service. That brewery had several complaints about their burgers being burnt before we went there and a few afterwards. Management did their best to help us by taking some drinks off the order but never fixed the problem. Somebody needs to go back to being the dish bitch for a few weeks until they figure out what they had done wrong.
There are a few tools you should consider having in your kitchen. If you cook a lot of meat a bacon press is essential for cooking steaks and burgers in a fast and even way. Ever notice those hand made paddies rise up into round balls over time. This is where the bacon press steps in and makes your burgers fit on the bun and appear more professional.
If you sauté vegetables for fajitas, or maybe some onion and peppers with fried liver, you may want to get a cheese melting dome. This holds the steam in cooking the onions and pepper faster. Once you become accustomed to using the dome you can cut the time down on serving and enjoy a meal without over doing the vegetables.
A good knife is the most important part of your kitchen, skip the copper pots and pans, don’t become a member of pampered chef until you have an all in one knife. I’m not talking about those monstrosities that slice tin cans in half, those are for suckers with extra cash in their wallets and poor taste in television. Those people deserve what they get. No, I’m talking about the traditional chef’s knife, that if you spend the time and learn properly, will be the only one you need to do almost any job in the kitchen. Those blocks of knives that people get as wedding presents, that’s your family saying you don’t know how to cook, never will, you suck, here you go. The sharpening rods in those sets destroy the blade and before you know it half of the knives are missing because odds are someone in the house doesn’t know how to put shit back where it belongs. Have one knife, there are many like it, but that one is yours.
Always use a cutting board. If I have to explain why then you should stay out of the kitchen. Hell, maybe you should just go back into the woods and live off the land like the filthy animal that you are. Counter tops were not meant for cutting on. The surface will be destroyed and the edge of your blade with suffer as well. Seriously, if you think you don’t need a cutting board go back to whatever primitive Neanderthal land you emerged from.
Things to stay away from include copper pans, you will burn anything you try to cook in these things. The copper heats up fast and you can not judge when to adjust the heat before it’s too late. They look nice in the kitchen but that is it. Skip copper altogether, you should only be surrounded by useful tools that won’t distract you.
Electric gadgets will grow and take up space over time. Unless there is a meal that you make often and need one of these things for the process, I say stay away from them.
Anything from Pampered Chef. Cheaply made, only serves one purpose, and over priced you are not doing yourself any favors by buying from them. I never met a professional that uses any of their products.
If you can, make sure you have a gas stove. Some people prefer electric and hey if you want to travel down that road to hell that’s your choice, go ahead and have fun. Gas is easy to measure and adjust by looking at the flame. It is the way people have cooked for tens of thousands of years, with a flame. That glowing top in the grill I don’t know what that is but its not natural and figuring out the right temperature was never easy. Its up there with using a microwave to cook and there is a special level in hell for that.
Microwaves, see the paragraph above.
To Be Continued….

Standard

Confessions of an Atheist Prepper

I have had people in the past ask me how what got me involved in the prepper (survivalist) movement? While many reasons are religious based and involve practices taught to them by their faith, I can only attest to a partial truth in that answer. I did grow up during the 80s and while baby boomers and a few numbers of Gen Xers can remember the nuclear drills that schools did back in the day, I can still recall in detail putting a book over my head and thinking this was somehow going to protect me from the radiation and intense heat that would strip the flesh from my bones like Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. The drills were ridiculous and even one kid in my class asked the question on how to not look once you saw the light when a nuclear detonation happened?  As he pointed out once you saw the light your retina was already burned. The drills and precautions done during that time were pointless and amounted to nothing when the real event came upon us and fortunately for us it never did.

There was something else that happened when I was in middle school. The administration at St. Monica’s had gathered together and tried to figure out what issues the future generation might have to be prepared for. Out of nuclear war, plague, over population, or devastating asteroid, climate change ended up being the winner of the conversation. Our class learned about gardening solar energy, and peak oil, an issue they were hoping might happen sooner than later in order to counter the effects of climate change. Global Warming was the term we heard back then until the Bush administration changed the term to make the effects sound more natural and less dangerous. Regardless there was an importance instilled in me about the future and what science said was coming.

During that time my parents were doing a lot of things around the house that were also prepper related. Buying large amounts of canned goods and storing them away, canning their own vegetables, growing a garden, attempted bouts of hunting that ended with throwing the deer in the bed of the truck after hitting it in the road. Most of these activities were for the purpose of saving money and instead resulted in the hobbies being quickly dropped due to the time and energy involved in them. I was seeing and learning these things as I grew up but the thing that turned me off from it for a long time was the religion aspect that was tied to it. With every event, news story, political concern, and scientific study there was a reference to the book of revelation or the apocalypse. During the cold war, we faced nuclear annihilation and that was God’s plan. After the fall of the Berlin wall it changed to the Iraq war and the battle of Armageddon where Saddam was the anti-christ and America was the Christian warriors who were fighting for the side of good. I remember my mother worried about Saddam’s chemical weapons and destroying the planet, an irrational fear told to a child and something that a more intelligent person would have found to be ludicrous. Still this was the world I was growing up in and no matter how many times the end of the world didn’t happen there was a push by the religious right to find the next big thing. I became tired of this and other aspects of religion as I grew older.

Going to catholic schools there were several times that what I was being taught and what the school did were opposites of each other. While the teachings of the new testament were prioritized as the most important aspect of the bible, the school and church were run under old testament rule. When I pointed these things out and argued against the things I was seeing I was told that was not how the real world worked and not to question authority. Wasn’t that exactly what Jesus did? Question the old rule of the Jewish state and try to change minds to a better world? And why was I the only one who was trying to practice what was being taught?

I never went back to the catholic church after graduation feeling no need or desire to connect myself to an organization that blackmailed people with threats of where they would be after they died. I later married into a Methodist church where I thought there might be a resemblance to the teachings I was taught but that fell to the wayside after a pastor complained about a person calling the church asking for help, then demanded that the parish donate to the church so that they could install air conditioning. I quickly left the church after that.

For a few years, I found a home in Buddhism and practiced that philosophy for a while until there was an issue with what the “true path” was. I still find meditation handy and feel disappointed with the organization of a philosophy whose teacher stated, “Everyone can find enlightenment in their own way, this is what worked for me.”

Since then I have found a comfort in atheism. After all of the ridiculous stress and anxiety that came with being the member of a world ending religion seeing a reason and logic behind what was said had a comfort, the book of revelations would never offer. What was the point of doing anything when those around you were constantly saying “this is the end.”

With science, climate change came back into view. Because the effects of this event continued to come into play over long periods of time it didn’t have the effect for the churches to claim it as part of their world ending religion. The end of days has a very specific short term time line for any idiot to follow. Climate change on the other hand is an event that takes years if not a century to show its full effect. While religion depends on events like solar eclipses and other events that can be predicted through science to legitimize it, a long-term event like climate change is something that churches or religion in general have not only been unable to fit into their dogmatic role, but also denying its existence regarding it as a threat to their own existence. I can’t help assume that not only do the leaders of these churches know that climate change if real but that they deny it for the simple short minded reason that it will cost them money in the end. The shell corporation knew that climate change was real in the early 1970s and even taught their staff members about it to figure out what to do in order to stay in business while not destroying the planet. In the 1990s they changed their tune and started a campaign to deny the existence of climate change and not reduce the use of oil but figure out more ways to extract it in more costly ways.

Becoming an atheist didn’t change my view on the end of the world, it focused my attention to the one route it was proven to take that religion was denying. Sure, there is still fear of nuclear holocaust and another world war considering the current administration in office, but if I had to put my money on anything, climate change is the one circumstance that won’t change even if other events don’t happen first. A hundred years from now, if we don’t have a nuclear holocaust, world war, or plague that wipes out half of civilization, the earth will still be warmer, the seas levels will rise, and a good portion of the species on the planet will be gone. Out of all the ridiculous situations that we consider to be a threat to our way of life we ignore the one that is in our face and currently happening.

These days our government distracts us with things that are less likely to occur like terrorism from a threat that will cost their donors money. Terrorism is one of the issues that can promote while making a profit. To wage war on climate change is anti-climactic and while it does save the planet the enemy is hard to see and the positive effects of the efforts are difficult to measure over time. During war, bodies can be stacked and counted. Saved lives are harder to measure. How does one estimate lives saved from doing something that some would argue “might happen.” This argument was made at the end of WWII to justify the use of the atomic bomb against the civilian cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The White house argued the lives saved was greater than the lives lost to end the war early. History would later show that not only was this assumption false but the reasons were more sinister than that.

Al Gore tried to bring the issue of climate change to the forefront and succeeded for a short time. His efforts were overshadowed by the Bush administration’s war on terror and soon Gore was forgotten and his push to change light bulbs was thrown to the wayside. Gore’s attempt to save the world backfired like Jimmy Carter’s attempt to change the American psyche.

Standard