Writing Anyway

I don’t have much time to write today, as I have to be at work at 1700. So, this entry may be a little shorter or longer than usual. It’s hard to say. Sometimes I don’t have time to edit to make it shorter. 😛 I think Mark Twain originally had that idea, but it’s true for me as well. When words just flow from my fingers, since this is a blog and not formal writing, most of the time I just hit “Post” whether I think it’s perfect or not….. tpyos and all.

Today for work I am wearing two birthday presents from my sister. The first is a pair of black Bistro Crocs that have The Swedish Chef on the top. I’ve gotten an enormous amount of compliments on them, as I wore them yesterday as well. The second is a red t-shirt with a skull and “crossbones” (a knife and fork) that says, “GO CRY IN THE WALK-IN.” My old chef from Tapalaya says that it should say, “…and take the mop with you” on the back. Either way, it is perfection. I wish I could wear my “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” baseball cap with it, but unfortunately it is like, five sizes too large and therefore makes my ears stick out like an elf. I need to find a way to display it, because there’s no way I’m giving it to someone else. It is, again, perfection. Kitchen conversation is generally unprintable, and be grateful for that. You don’t know you don’t want to know, but you don’t. Trust me.

In other news, I’ve heard that Hurricane Florence has made landfall, and after having seen the devastation in Houston from Harvey last year, I am praying for all the people of The Carolinas. I wish there was more I could do from here- it is a very helpless feeling. Since my work runs Thursday to Sunday, if I had a car I would be there to help rebuild, but it’s not time yet. The storm isn’t finished, and the waters are still rising.

As for DC, we’re virtually safe from all this, save getting some thunderstorms. Old Town Alexandria was flooded the other day, but that’s about all the “badness” I’ve seen in this area. Mostly just a few broken trees. It’s always devastating when we truly do get a hurricane in this area, because things will happen like Mt. Vernon losing trees that George Washington planted himself…. no word on whether they’re cherry or not. But my relief at not being hit is not tempered in the slightest, because I’m too worried about those who have been.

Thoughts and prayers seem empty without shoe leather, but at the moment, it’s what I can do. I hope that the people who’ve been affected can at least feel the love coming toward them, because it is certainly there for them.

I also don’t own my own house, but if I did, those who are flooded out would be welcome to stay with me. Again, it’s a helpless feeling to want to do more, but to be limited in my ability. My only recourse is to stay busy, because otherwise, I would just spin out with empathy. I don’t compartmentalize well, except at work, where the pace is so fast that I am unable to think of anything else.

The thing that gets me the most is taking money from FEMA and diverting it to ICE just in time for hurricane season. It is stunning to me how little the United States government cares about that particular dumbass attack. Or maybe it wasn’t an egregious oversight, but that they truly don’t care- even more frightening. It’s already obvious how little the government cared about Puerto Rico, but at the same time, I doubt even President Trump knew he was their president, too. He doesn’t have that luxury now. I am not making excuses for the president’s behavior, only pointing out his utter incompetency. Maybe this time, he’ll throw out a few more rolls of paper towels. /eyeroll

That last sentence was very sarcastic, which I am trying to mitigate in my daily life. Sarcasm doesn’t seem to help much in the face of disaster, but sometimes it leaks out of my pores. I’d rather give my love and positive affirmations, but at the same time, when people are suffering it seems trite.

Or perhaps not. Maybe it’s what people really need. I just know that in the grief of my mother dying, trite sayings drove me up the wall. And, as long as people are safe, I know they’re just losing things, but that’s its own kind of grief. I know because I’ve been through a house fire. It taught me not to get attached to anything you could call “stuff.” But especially for people who are losing all their “stuff” for the first time, it’s difficult to let go, particularly photo albums that there’s no time to save, or if you’re able to go back into your house after the waters recede, seeing all your albums ruined with water damage. For instance, all the pictures we were able to save from the house fire either had weird streaks across them or smelled like smoke.

Our grandparents did their best to help recreate them, but I was grateful and devastated, because they were different memories than the ones we’d recorded on our own. Again, though, I am thankful that they tried so hard, particularly since I only have one grandparent left, and a lot of the pictures they gave us had them front and center.

So, my empathy comes from sympathy as well. Not only do I identify with their pain, a lot of it, I have worn on my own skin. I remember what it was like to evacuate from Galveston during Hurricane Alicia in 1983. I remember my house fire in 1990. I remember lots and lots of ruined pictures and journals from an air conditioner that leaked all over my closet in 1995…. a small thing compared to a storm, but water damaged pictures and journals never recover in either case. Some of the journals went as far back as 1990, words lost that were at times poignant… and terrible in the way that all tween and teen journals are.

I would have been a star at a show like Cringe if they’d made it. Pretty sure there’s a recording of some of those shows on Netflix if you’re interested. It’s basically people reading old journal entries and poems in front of a live audience…. insanely funny and touching at the same time.

And now, it’s time for one last cup of coffee since the kitchen is open until midnight on Saturdays, and since it’s open until midnight on Fridays as well, I am still dragging ass. All of this was easier when I was 25. It’s either Aleve, Tylenol, and get on with it…. or… GO CRY IN THE WALK-IN.

Personal and Global

My gut is telling me I should write something. My mind is saying, “I got nothin.’ This is because so much has happened that the pictures from each event are swirling so fast that I can’t grab one long enough to describe it. As one Tumblr user said, “do you know how much braining it takes to make the words go?” I’m not sure I’ve ever identified more with any statement. Ever. I am much better one-on-one, so I’ve been writing a lot of letters… believe it or not, there are actually some things I won’t vomit all over the Internet. I know it’s hard to imagine. I mean, I’m so shy and retiring when it comes to talking about myself. But right now, so many things are internal that I literally can’t force them from the river that runs underneath my skin into my fingers.

What I can say is that my birthday was full of joy at having my family here to celebrate. It’s been years since I had a birthday party with my dad and sister. What’s even better than that is my sister is the good kind of lobbyist, so I see her almost as frequently as I saw her when we both lived in the same city. Now that Congress is winding down, I won’t see her again until possibly October and definitely in November, but it was great that this month’s work trip coincided with the transition from 40 to 41.

Movies and television about the CIA are so fascinating to me that I love that my age is the same as George H.W. Bush’s presidential number. No comment on how I’ll feel about 43. In this vein, I would like to skip directly from age 44 to 46.

Interesting sidenote about CIA television. Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime Video begins in Lebanon, so I’ve been able to look at amazing pictures from the real country (it wasn’t actually filmed there) thanks to Hayat’s upbringing. For those of us just joining us, I rent a room from a Lebanese family, complete with photos in country throughout most of the house. Because of them, Lebanon is on my bucket list- too beautiful to ignore.

I will just have to find a big, strong man to accompany me, because I’m a feminist and I’m also not stupid enough to ignore the rules in a Muslim country. Lebanon is not as strict as some of the others, but I’m not taking any chances. Because I’m such an introvert, I’d probably be the most comfortable in a burqa, and I’m not kidding. I’m a writer and observer. Not so much with the talking to strangers, and although I am generally delightful in conversation, for the most part it is me overcoming my natural shyness and jumping into The Leslie Lanagan Show.™ You don’t generally get the real me until we’re at a secluded table, cups of coffee between us… and even then, we have to have known each other a while. I don’t feel entirely comfortable with people until I’m assured that they know the real me, and for better or for worse, love me anyway. But no one I’ve ever come across dislikes The Leslie Lanagan Show.™ It comes from years and years of practice. Fake it til you make it and all that comes with it.

It is probably for this very reason that I spend so much time alone, because I want to spend my time as an authentic person, able to walk around in my own gargantuan inner landscape. I think mostly about where I want to go from here, not career-wise, necessarily, but who I want to be as a person. As my anxiety goes down, my capacity for love goes up. It’s easy to love people who love you back. Hard to love the irritable, the angry, and the unknown.

My authentic self wants the capability to love the world where it is, how it is… and at the same time, so angry about the things that divide us as a country and as citizens of the world.

For instance, it is inconceivable that people are having trouble believing that Bob Woodward’s book, Fear: Trump in the White House is just a basic hatchet job, when this is the same reporter that broke the Watergate story and has also covered seven other presidents in addition to Trump and Nixon. For instance, my favorite Woodward book is Obama’s Wars, where he doesn’t even blink in his critique of the president, and presents some information that tempers unfettered adulation, such as his own Syrian blink of 2012-13. No president is above reproach, and while I admire Barack Obama greatly, and would do basically anything he asked, that does not transfer into thinking he is a perfect person. No one ever is. We are all angels & demons, depending on the choices we make and when.

Trump… opens with staffers stealing things off the president’s desk, knowing that if the papers aren’t there, he’ll just forget about the issue… and one of them involves instigating conflict with North Korea. I am not kidding when I say that almost literally, the bombs start dropping in chapter one.

So, to discredit a reporter and non-fiction writer who has an amazing reputation is infuriating to an enormous degree. If anyone is capable of telling this story, it is Bob Woodward.

Write it down.

So, to put it mildly, my thoughts have moved past the personal into the global, which is probably what is driving my interest in intelligence-gathering. One of the points that Woodward makes, which is very relevent at this time, is that the FBI and CIA have different standards for espionage. This is because CIA evidence is rarely used in court cases, and “the Feebs'” evidence often is. Therefore, vetting in the CIA doesn’t have to be quite as high, because it does not have to meet the “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “preponderance of evidence” requirement- the former in criminal cases, the latter in civil litigation.

This, of course, bit CIA in the ass during the WMD years, which has, in turn, made them even more cautious now… in the words of Martha Stewart, “a very good thing.” Now I’m just pleased with myself. I made a complete sentence using CIA and Martha Stewart. #touchme

But, of course, it’s not just thinking about the world that has me interested in intel. I am just one of those people who likes Knowing Stuff.™ To be in a room full of journalists or government workers is being invited to sit at the cool kids’ table for me… the reason I know DC is where I belong.

One of the great joys of my life is when Dan and I meet for lunch, and I get to walk her back to her office in Foggy Bottom. I’ll let you guess what that means. More fun to figure it out on your own. However, I will say she’s not a spook. But she’s sure as hell smart enough to be. Also, because she’s so small, it tickles me to think of her back in her Army days, running around in full battle rattle. I have no doubt that one of her main strengths was running right at the enemy and knocking them off-balance. 😛 (Oh, am I ever going to catch hell for that one…)

Now I’m back to thinking about the personal, all the light my friends bring into my life. I am one lucky, lucky 41-year-old. I’m not sure how the next trip around the sun can top this one, but I’m sure going to try. It seems easier when I feel like I’m literally lifted off the ground, the warmth of friendship holding me aloft.

Four and a Half Brownies

I’ve been playing on my computer since I woke up, failing to realize that the clock was ticking on taking my next dose of medication. My head started to hurt in that old familiar way, and I thought, “I should write about this…. just a stream-of-consciousness entry as chemicals flood my bloodstream.”

I generally need to eat before I take any meds, particularly Lamictal. I look in the fridge and the only thing I’ve got left is four and a half brownies. I get out a paper towel and take all of them upstairs, where I proceed to inhale them like an angry Dustbuster.

I open my blog post editor and get out my pill bottles, which brings us to the present. I have just taken Lamictal, Lexapro, and Klonopin. That means, at this very moment, I feel as if I am capable of tearing out my hair. I will not, and wouldn’t even if I hadn’t taken my meds. The feeling, though, echoes from a scene in one of my favorite movies:

Distraction isn’t always a bad thing. Works every time.

Well, actually….. there’s nothing that can distract me enough from this kind of pain to just let it go. A corner of my mind will be stuck there, wondering if I am about to cry or vomit, or better yet, cry and vomit. It seems physically impossible, but I have done it on multiple occasions. The best way I’ve found to explain the type of physical pain I feel during withdrawal from my psych meds comes from the eighties. Remember those tests of the emergency broadcast system that would come on your TV, and for what seemed like eight hours but was only in reality about 20 seconds the most annoying sound on earth blared loud enough to clear your sinuses? Now, imagine this sound coming from you internally so you can’t lower the volume:

The longer I go without medication, the louder the sound gets, and the louder the sound gets, the more violent my physical reaction. When the medication kicks in, everything becomes blessedly quiet. I am grateful that it is not just a dimmer switch and I don’t have to live like this all the time. Withdrawal creates the worst physical symptoms of my mental illness, because when I remember to take everything on time, I am generally very happy and healthy. All the highs and lows are gone, so I can get on with my day and not think about being sick anymore.

But that’s not where we are right now. I haven’t even begun to feel a twinge of relief. The good news is that I don’t have to take any additional medication. My brain chemicals will sort themselves out, I don’t need a painkiller or an anti-inflammatory on top of it. Sometimes I do think of Tylenol and ibuprofen as my “dessert,” you know, just to put a cherry on top of the sundae, but it doesn’t matter. My psych meds aren’t going to kick in any faster because I took something for the headache, and because the headache is psychiatric in nature, the painkiller won’t do much. I know this because when I’ve been truly up shit creek because I’ve left the house without medication and taken painkillers and anti-inflammatories on their own, I would have had equal luck getting rid of the pain by throwing five dollars against a wall.

I swallowed the pills this time before I started shaking, so I got that goin’ for me. It’s involuntary when I’m in this much pain. My brain feels like it’s trying to pull itself apart, and my body reacts by trying to “get away from the noise.” Reminds me of one of my favorite jokes:

Q: Why do bagpipers walk when they play?
A: To get away from the noise.

or…

A. Moving targets are harder to hit.

I can tell that I’m not depressed because wit can still make an appearance. It’s just withdrawal, and that’s a relief. Managing Bipolar II is hard enough without having to deal with mood swings…. and by that, I mean it’s hard enough staving them off. I don’t have to be in depression or hypomania for Bipolar II to be a total pain in the ass.

It’s not unlike a physical disease, though. Diabetics have complicated lives without symptoms, just maintenance alone is enough. I know myself well enough that I would much rather deal with the inconvenience of maintenance than the full-blown effects of going untreated.

The way my college psychiatrist figured out I was on the bipolar rather than unipolar spectrum was that I was getting way, way, way too much sleep, and then for about three or four days a month, not able to sleep at all. My productivity level was through the floor, and on the days I couldn’t sleep, would shoot through the roof, where I would try to fit in as much activity as I could before the next wave of depression hit.

Before my Bipolar II diagnosis, I couldn’t understand why I was taking depression medication and never getting any better. My behavior changed dramatically when a mood stabilizer was added to what I was already taking. I was able to sleep normally, and the world looked quite different. It was in color all the time, instead of when the color channel decided to flip on after a series of black and white shows… but never fun ones, like I Love Lucy. Every day was akin to the worst Perry Mason rerun on repeat.

It’s been 10-15 minutes, so any time now, I will be back to my regularly scheduled program. I’m not feeling as much better by now as I thought I would, so perhaps it’s time for a hot shower.

I have brownie crumbs in my lap.

The Hours, Part II

Working more hours has seriously put a dent in my inspiration for writing. It takes a lot of brain power to put words together in the correct order, and when I get home, I can barely pour myself a soda and walk upstairs…. which is better, I suppose, than pouring a soda on the stairs, so at least I got that goin’ for me. Even right now, when I’m supposed to be “rested,” as I have to leave for work in an hour, I am dragging ass. Last night I was on the closing shift, and I overdid it on the caffeine to prepare. As a result, I didn’t get to bed until 0400, and while that’s not a problem time-wise, I didn’t sleep deeply. I got the correct number of hours, but that’s about it. Lying horizontally with my eyes closed is not the same as drifting down into the depths of sleep one has to achieve to arise alert. I could have slept 12 hours like that and it wouldn’t have made a difference. I would still be in as desperate a need for coffee as I am right now. I will probably go to Veridian Market, the little convenience store that’s right next to the restaurant, for some type of cold brew. Starbucks has really upped their game in terms of their canned and bottled drinks.

Energy sodas don’t do as well for me as coffee. Maybe it’s the aromatherapy. I once did an at-home experiment with that. For a few days, I drank decaf in the morning, just made it as strong as I usually make the real stuff. The smell alone was enough to trick my brain…. for a while, anyway. Notice I said I made it a few days.

The biggest news I got yesterday was that I didn’t get the job at UMD, but two things about that. The first is that they encouraged me to apply again in the future, because they really enjoyed meeting me. The second is that I’m really happy where I am right now. So, all in all, not something I feel terribly bad about… just a little bummed. New opportunities are always around the corner. That this one didn’t pan out is not a real thing in terms of an ice cream level emergency. I am nothing if not versatile and easygoing… well, about certain things, anyway. I pick my battles, though sometimes not wisely. But, as Nelson Mandela said, “I either win, or I learn.”

Sometimes I feel as if I have “learned” enough, but that is neither here nor there. I can definitely put being happy at my current job in the W column, because people who are happy at work seem incredibly rare. Maybe it’s just not cool to say you’re happy with your job, because misery loves company. I have never been cool.

I wish that the people who were truly unhappy in their jobs would find a way to quit and do what they love, realizing that all jobs come with drawbacks and you have to find the positives yourself. My biggest positive is not working in any kind of customer service, whether IT, retail, or waiting tables. I have a very pleasant demeanor (especially through chat and on the phone) and will do it, but I prefer the layer of separation that comes from being in the (very, very) back of the house. You have to go down two flights of stairs and past the brewery before you can even open the door to the kitchen. Customers couldn’t even find me by accident.

Even with all my extra hours.

 

The Hours

I’ve gotten a lot more hours at work, about which I am incredibly happy. More money never hurt anybody. But at the same time, my life is exhausting. Not to the point of wanting more time off, it’s just a cook’s life that when you get home, everything hurts. I know I’ve said this many times before, but I’m really feeling it today. This is because not only do I ache in my bones and muscles, my arms are still recovering from being burnt to a crisp. Thanks to Dan & Autumn, this will stop somewhat, but it doesn’t help the burns that are already there. Once they start scabbing over, they hurt even more than when they’re fresh, especially the ones that start out as bubbles full of serum. I’m beginning to think I need to buy stock in the company that makes Neosporin.™ The kicker is that all of them are my fault, generally from moving too fast.

I know I have also said this before, but it bears repeating. Working in a pub is different than working in a restaurant. In a pub, there are no waves of seating. We are sometimes hit with 25 tickets at once, and we don’t want to make some people wait 15-30 minutes for their food. As a result, the kitchen is utter chaos, grabbing things from the fryer before they’re cool, etc. It’s the baskets that get me the most. When I’m taking things out of them, invariably my arm will touch the edge, resulting in burns that actually look like thin cuts. The rest of the time, I have no idea. Burns just happen, and I don’t notice them until long after the fact. I suppose that the silver lining is that I don’t have to deal with cuts as well. My knife skills are solid. I haven’t even gotten first blood on either of my chef’s knives, which in kitchen folklore means we are bonded to each other, and I’m not stupid enough to make it happen on purpose. Fingers, even when cut lightly, bleed all over the place.

The other thing about being a cook is that you’re so tired, you tend to sleep right up until the next shift begins, because your muscles need more time to recover after a job that’s so physically demanding. This turns out to be gross negligence in terms of taking care of yourself. I mean, why take a shower every day when you’re just going to get horrifically dirty again an hour afterward? Just please be reassured that in the kitchen, I scrub in like a surgeon multiple times a shift and wear gloves constantly. The only time I really get “all dolled up” is when it’s my day off and I have plans with friends. Yes, it’s disgusting. It’s also real talk. You also have little time for laundry, so I do several weeks’ worth of clean underwear and don’t care if there are stains on my shirts and pants. I’m just going to get more of them… to the point that when I had a tech interview, I had to buy a new pair of pants for the occasion, because every pair of pants I currently owned had food stains that wouldn’t come out in the wash, even the black ones, where the stains aren’t as noticeable. I do wash my clothes, just not as often as they need it…. and as high as my wage is, it’s still not high enough to afford a maid so that all the crap I have to take care of is done once I get home. I also don’t have a partner to share the load, as it were, so everything falls to me. But don’t think I’m not grateful for being single.

I am incredibly introverted, and being single affords me only as much human contact as I want. Though with a partner, there is no need to be “on,” there is still compromise and difficult discussions and a whole lot else I’m just not prepared for in the slightest… maybe not ever, but for sure not right now. I’ve been single for, oh, I don’t know exactly how long, but sufficed it to say it has been multiple years, and I’m okay with that. Sometimes I daydream about the kind of partner I want, and joke that the perfect girlfriend for me would be that since I live in Maryland, she should live in Virginia. That way, in order to get together, we really have to want it. Really.

Another bonus is that because I’m not busy with a girlfriend, I have so much more time for my friends. They’re people I love like sisters and brothers, so it’s important to me to stay in touch and available for whatever they need. That being said, we’re all so busy that life seems to be a series of text messages and DMs on social media. I am positive that this is normal for adults our age, especially for people with children. Alternatively, I am not the type that likes to go out in a major way. I don’t need clubbing excitement. I am happiest sitting on the couch and chatting or watching a movie. I think this is also normal for people my age. We’ve already done all the stupid shit we’re going to do, and have little patience for it. I feel like I’ve done all the stupid shit I want to do, or have done by accident.

If I get invited to do something I would consider “wild,” I just give them a dumb look and say, “I’m 40.” The wildest thing I like to do these days is occasionally have a shift beer after work. The rest of the time, the pub has this Mexican cola that is so good it’s on my chef’s game “Last Meal.” I would much rather have it than anything else.

One of my favorite restaurants, Cava, has started carrying a sugar free version of the same brand, and I am not ashamed to say that I generally drink four in a row, especially since they have the good ice. Diet soda is my last vice. Just give me this one. Nothing helps beat the heat of the kitchen than a soda with ice. The pub doesn’t carry sugar free soda, so I generally drink seltzer water the entire time. You’d think I’d be stuck in the bathroom every thirty minutes, but I stand in front of a gas stove, a 500 degree oven, an open flame grill, and a 350 degree griddle and two fryers. My body is constantly using that moisture. Every once in a while, it is a blessing to be sent to retrieve things from the walk-in refrigerator. It only takes about 20 seconds to cool down, because it’s cold enough to keep ice frozen for hours before it even thinks about melting.

But the very heart of my work is that I do not have any Anthony Bourdain “underbelly of the kitchen world” stories. We are clean and efficient, we all get along well, and for the first time in any restaurant I’ve ever worked, there is no “war” between the waitstaff and the kitchen. If front of house drops something, it’s a quick re-fire with no judgment. In a fast-paced kitchen, everyone messes up at one time or another. “Stuff” happens. We just roll with it. Plus, the waitstaff doesn’t get angry at us if ticket times are slower than normal, because all their customers are drinking and have no concept of time, anyway. We just try as hard as we can not to test it too much.

The only thing that really trips us up is an order with a whole bunch of modifications or substitutions, and that’s in all restaurants. It interrupts the dance we’ve created not to ever be in each other’s way. Not that we won’t do it, of course, but from our perspective unless you have a genuine food allergy, we’ve created the recipes so that everything complements each other. Change that and you change the way the food is supposed to taste. Maybe you don’t, say, like pickled onions, but you’ve never tried it mixed with our perfect aioli. Give it a chance- be surprised. Branch out. You might discover you like something you thought you didn’t before. Additionally, don’t add salt and pepper before you’ve tasted what we’ve created. If you think it needs something afterward, don’t be shy. Make it to your own taste. But at the same time, trust us first. You don’t do this for a living. We do.

My whole life revolves around cooking, and doing it well. Especially since I’ve gotten more hours at work.

As 41 Approaches…

My birthday has gotten started a bit early. My dad asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I said, “a new phone.” So I picked one out on Amazon, and I am ridiculously happy with it. It’s a Samsung Galaxy, my go-to in terms of new phone purchases (I’ve had three in various versions). This is because I download a LOT, and iPhones fill up fast with no way to add extra space. My current phone is, I think, 32 GB, but I added a 128 GB expansion card. I haven’t added my music to it, but my library of podcasts is extensive. I download them all because most Metro stations are underground and reception is spotty at best. Pro Tip: buy a refurbished phone and pay outright so that you are not on the hook with your cell phone company in terms of paying it off. There are also different variations of the same phone… for instance, you cannot root into mine (nerd alert- no need to carry the nerdiness further by explaining why), but I didn’t want to, anyway. Not my bag, baby.

Back to the cool stuff about extra space. Both Netflix and Amazon Prime will let you download movies and TV shows, which can take up plenty of room, especially if you are downloading a whole season at once. Prime has a limit on the number of downloads in terms of things that are temporarily licensed to them, but you can download anything and everything they produce themselves… For instance, on my last phone I had every episode of One Mississippi and The Man in the High Castle. Invaluable waiting in the ER, the DMV, the Metro during outages, etc.

The only thing is that it is such a powerful computer that you must have a battery saving app to go with it. My former go-to was Juice Defender, but for some reason, the link to the professional version is still live, but it says you need the free version to get it to work, and when I clicked on the link to grab it, I got a 404 error. I got Google to refund my money and bought a subscription to Kaspersky Battery Life: Saver & Booster instead. So far, it’s been magnificent. I highly recommend buying the professional version, because even though the free one works, it is inundated with annoying ads, and it’s not that expensive.

I have only bought two apps in the entirety of my smart phone-owning life. The second is Alarm Clock for Me. It looks like an old school digital clock radio, but it has some amazing features when you unlock the professional version, like waking up to your own music, a gentle lead-in feature where the alarm starts out soft and gets louder over time, weather report in the top corner, and something new- perfect bedtime, which tells you what time to go to sleep in order to wake up refreshed for said alarm. If you hate waking up, might I suggest a military grade phone cover for when you feel like throwing it against the wall? 😛

You would think the birthday surprises would end there, but wait! There’s more!

I think I genuinely frightened Dan with all my burns. They do look pretty gross, to be honest. So, she pulls out a package from Amazon and says, “open it.” Inside are Kevlar cuffs that prevent burns and cuts. I was told specifically to take a picture in the kitchen with me wearing them.

Yes, ma’am.

I didn’t have time tonight, but I will before the week is out. They were actually Autumn’s idea, because she’s worked in a kitchen before. Apparently, they also come in gloves, but I definitely wouldn’t wear those. I would be mortified if my grip on pots and pans was even more loose than it is right now…………… I’m sure they’re helpful for both chopping and taking things out of the oven, but they picked well. They’re yellow, so I look like Wonder Woman.

I was half hoping that I would make a mistake cleaning the griddle tonight and accidentally slam my wrist down like I’ve done a thousand times before (the griddle brick has a mind of its own) just to see my cuffs in action. Alas, tonight went perfectly, so no dice. I am sure I will have other dumbass attacks in the future where they will save my bacon, though.

On Sunday, we had our end-of-summer company party, where the flyer said that significant others and children were welcome. I decided to ask Dan if she wanted to come, because we’re good friends, and therefore, she’s significant to me. No one gave me any grief about it, but if they had I was fully prepared to say that I’d just adopted her.

She got to meet my whole crew, who said some extraordinarily nice things about me, and not just because Dan was there. My lead line cook says every shift that he’s not going to turn me into the chef he wants me to be, but the chef I want me to be…. that inside of a month, I’d be ready to run this kitchen, and inside of two, I’d be ready to run my own. I am growing to accept this praise at my ability, because there were so many awkward and embarrassing moments in my past cooking jobs that I still see myself as a n00b, hanging desperately onto Dana’s coattails. Now it’s time to get on board with the fact that I don’t need to fill her shoes. I brought my own.

In fact, one of my managers brought his girlfriend to the party, and he introduced me as their most dependable employee, and that it was embarrassing how many times I’d bailed them out of a jam. Let me assure you that you don’t even have to be that great a cook for a compliment like that to carry you very, very far in this industry. You can be the best line cook in the entire world, but showing up is even more important. This is not an industry known for emotionally stable, responsible workers. Egos clash. Brown bottle flu happens, as does “I didn’t know I was working today.” But the team I’ve got now has none of those problems. We love working together, and it shows. I am being rewarded beyond my wildest imagination. People have started to call my lead line cook, me, and our most experienced expo “The A-Team.”

It really is amazing how even though I’ve been working on internal validation for years, I’ve grown exponentially with some external praise. It’s not required, but it is definitely changing the way I see myself. I am not sure that I ever want to be a chef, but that’s not the point. The point is that someone believes in me enough to say that I’m capable of it.

Quick aside for people not in the know….. I get called a chef all the time, because people who don’t work in kitchens tend to call all cooks “chef.” But chef literally means “boss,” and there can be only one. For most of us, it feels disrespectful to be called a chef when we haven’t earned it, but we also don’t expect everyone on earth to understand the inner workings of the culinary world. So, we might be a little internally irritated, but we won’t say anything. However, if I do earn the title, you’ll be able to hear me scream from coast to coast. Fair warning.

Because of jumping back into the kitchen, my 40th trip around the sun has been an incredible year of self-discovery, reaching heights I never thought possible. It has allowed me to become less self-deprecating, which you do when you believe in yourself. I mean, I still tell jokes at my own expense, but they aren’t deep jabs. They’re actually funny.

Which has been another hallmark of my 40th year…. giving myself permission to be funny again, after years of grief and loss. Though losing my mother has reworked my version of normal, I am glad to see that with the passage of time normal hasn’t been stolen from me altogether. The only time that I really feel punched in the stomach is when I can’t do things like call her up and say, “you won’t believe how amazing I’m doing at work. I’m even having trouble.” Through our long relationship, though, I know exactly what she would say…. “I certainly can believe it. You can do anything. Just remember to wear your Kevlar cuffs, because those burns look like they hurt.”

Yes, ma’am.

New Territory

For the first time in what seems like eons, I am up and drinking coffee in the morning. It is currently 0700, but I’ve been up for at least an hour. My shift today starts at noon, so I did myself the favor of taking a sleeping pill early and getting rest that coincides with my circadian rhythm. I slept deeply, without dreaming, and as a result, I am not in as much pain as I am when I stumble into bed at 0300 and hope for the best. I actually made a whole pot of coffee yesterday and drank one cup hot, then turned off the heat so I could drink the rest this morning over ice. It is delicious, even black. I do love coffee with cream, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t been to the grocery store in two weeks.

They feed me at work, so it hasn’t been a problem… but I do miss all the delicious plant-based cooking I’ve been doing lately. One cannot live on pub food alone. It’s time to go to Whole Foods and restock… cheaper now that I get a discount for being an Amazon Prime member.

Regular grocery stores don’t generally have all the things I’m looking for, like rich vegan cheese and the veggie dogs that have sustained me for the better part of four years. My favorite toppings are vegan cream cheese and Sriracha. More than eating vegan is my excitement at learning to work with vegan alternatives, and making traditional recipes my own with vegan substitutions. It takes work, but that’s what makes it an exciting part of cooking. I’ve already learned how to create the perfect marinades for meat and seafood, the secret to the perfect bechamel, Hollandaise, etc. (the funny part being no matter how perfect I make Hollandaise, I still don’t like it). Basically, the foundations of French cooking are no longer a mystery. Excitement is stretching my mind in new ways, like mushroom paté and olive oil-based (or cauliflower) crusts for pizza (among other things). Pasta with nutritional yeast and Alfredo sauce made with cashews (plant-based bechamel with nutritional yeast rather than parmesan). Coffee creamer made with coconut fiber milk (Almond is too watery for me). “Pudding” made with coconut milk, Splenda, and chia seeds…. anything that gets me away from the things I’ve already mastered.

For instance, I would like to learn how to make vegan mayonnaise at home, because I could make regular mayonnaise with my eyes closed. For those not in the know, here’s the recipe:

Take three egg yolks and a tablespoon of vinegar and beat them with a whisk or put it in the blender (cheating). What you’re looking for is the acid turning the beaten egg yolks white, which in French cooking is called the sabayon stage. Slowly add oil (slowly)… too much at one time will make the sauce break. Switch out the oil for butter and that’s Hollandaise, as long as you use lemon juice for the acid. From here, when your mayonnaise is complete, it’s ready for sandwiches. Add ingredients like ketchup and pickles and you have Thousand Island dressing. Basically, the foundation for all cream salad dressings is the homemade mayonnaise I just described. White vinegar makes mayonnaise taste more like Miracle Whip,™ for all my American Southerners out there. Using olive oil makes your mayonnaise lower in saturated fat. It tastes a little different, but in a good way.

Because I don’t like Hollandaise, I’m much more fond of Bearnaise, which means sautéing shallots and tarragon in a bit of salt, oil and white wine to add to the Hollandaise you’ve already created. The reason I just can’t with Hollandaise is too many brunch shifts washing an egg pan with lemon dish soap, which smells frighteningly similar in a vomit-inducing kind of way. Plus, as Anthony Bourdain once said, any cook’s fall from grace will still land you a brunch gig, so Hollandaise is the smell of failure. That being said, a cook who can make mayonnaise and Hollandaise by hand with a whisk is no slouch in the kitchen. I can even tell when it’s perfect without tasting it. The secret is treating the mother sauce like driving a stick-shift car, using the analogy of egg yolks as the clutch and oil as the accelerator. Too much oil, add an egg yolk. Too much egg yolk, add some oil.

Touch and go, touch and go.

After a while, you won’t need this analogy. You can just tell by looking what it takes to be successful. The same touch-and-go can also be extrapolated to bechamel, the foundation of both Alfredo and macaroni and cheese. You start with a roux, which is adding flour to fat and stirring until incorporated, then adding milk or cream and letting the heat rise until it reaches the “coat a spoon” stage. Then, take it off the heat and add your cheese. It beats the hell out of store-bought.

Rarely do I create marinades for beef. I just use a dry rub of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. If the meat is not marbled with fat, I add olive oil. If it is, the fat in the meat is enough to let it confit, French for “cooks in its own fat.” The advantage to using a marinade with vinegar is that if you are using a tough cut of meat, the vinegar will break down the proteins so it turns out tender. I suggest red wine vinegar or lemon juice for this… lime if you’re making fajitas.

Actually, with fajitas, I start with a fresh lime margarita marinade, tequila and all. Then I add chili powder, cumin, paprika, and a tiny bit of cayenne pepper.

For vegans, you can marinade hard pack tofu and grill it, but tofu takes twice as long in the marinade as meat protein. In either case, it helps to have a Food Saver to get all the air out. Meat, especially, will marinade in half the time (still better to leave it overnight). ZipLoc bags will do in a pinch, just make sure to let all the air out of those, too.

And speaking of Food Savers, they’re wonderful for cheeses, because air is their natural enemy. Same for guacamole, although you can stave off the brown by putting cling film directly on top of it rather than just sealing the container.

Another great tip I’ve learned is that acid neutralizes salt, so if you’ve over-salted something, squeeze a lemon on top (if it will enhance the recipe, like a white clam sauce). A great salsa will do the same thing, as well as adding heat for those who like that sort of thing. I take an acid reducer, partially to neutralize tomatoes, alcohol, and coffee, but mostly so I can add enough heat to unstop my nose without burning off my culito (little ass, in Spanish). Habanero and any kind of fruit salsa is my favorite. Peaches or pineapples are a great place to start. You can also add fat with a bit of diced avocado, another way to stave off gastrointestinal distress.

Peppers are rated by heat using what’s called the Scoville scale, and Scoville units refer to the amount of sugar water it takes to kill the burn. Therefore, fruit salsas are the best way to support enormous amounts of heat, and why fruit sodas are popular in regions where the food is incredibly spicy. Cream sauces with lots of heat work as well, because the more the fat, the more the sauce can handle large amounts of cayenne, red pepper flakes, etc…. Probably why red pepper flakes are so popular on pizza (just get extra cheese- an invaluable tip from me to you).

So, as you can see, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to what I’ve already learned. Becoming vegan (at least at home, where no one has to accommodate me) is the next step in boldly going where I’ve never been before. It’s the new territory in which lots of chefs/cooks are afraid to venture. My excitement exceeds my trepidation, because if you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got.

I’m just trying to stave off boredom in my own kitchen, and so far, it’s working out nicely. However, this post is not about vegan evangelism, just my own journey. If it speaks to you as well, all the better. You don’t have to change your whole life to enjoy a plant-based meal once in a while. You’ll probably enjoy it for what it is- a break from the monotony of cooking the same things ad nauseam.

I would say that I’m only trying to strain my brain, but my smartass chef friends would say I needed a chinois for that. They’re just so funny…. and unlike me, generally predictable…. exactly the rut in which I’m trying to escape.