Get to Know Me: COVID-19 Edition

Why not take a break from COVID-19 and learn about each other… Hat tip to all the people who’ve filled it out on Facebook and I shamelessly stole it because I had nothin’ for today.

1. Who are you named after?

My name was originally supposed to be Amanda Jane, and my parents were going to call me “AJ.” Then, my mother was sitting in a church service and the organist was listed in the bulletin as “Leslie Diane.” The rest, as they say, is history.

2. Last time you cried?

Two weeks ago, when I attended church through Zoom at Bridgeport UCC in Portland, Oregon (link is to the service, 10:30 AM Pacific). I saw some of my oldest friends in the world, and heard their voices. It was magnificent, and I was crying because I was filled with grief at my mother dying, and how long it had taken me to get back to the place where I was comfortable going to church again. For the first time in three years, I have now gone to church two weeks in a row.

3. Do you like your handwriting?

Absolutely not- it is a carpal tunnel pile of garbage that keeps getting worse. I use Evernote/Microsoft OneNote to keep track of my thoughts because if I write them down in a notebook, I can’t read them later.

4. What is your favorite lunch meat?

It used to be the disastrously unpopular olive loaf, and now it is the plant-based version of honey-baked ham (made into sandwiches on bread infused with maple syrup with Swiss “cheez” and margarine). I’m not sure olive loaf is even made anymore, but when it was, the grocery store never ran out…………………

5. Longest relationship?

I’m sure my dad wins this one, but if you mean romantically, seven years and change.

6. Do you still have your tonsils?

Yes, but I’ve had tonsillitis enough that they probably should come out to avoid recurrence. It is so unpleasant. It’s a good thing antibiotics work fast.

7. Would you bungee jump?

It depends. I probably wouldn’t do it on my own, but I’d never turn down a dare.

8. What is your favorite kind cereal?

The brown puffed rice at Whole Foods with real chocolate.

9. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off?

Mostly yes, because I wear Converse All-Stars high tops more than anything else.

10. Do you think you’re strong willed?

It depends on who you ask. I don’t think I’m particularly obstinate unless I’m standing up for someone else. My friends think I’m stronger than I do.

11. Favorite ice cream?

Every flavor of ice cream I’ve had with plant-based milk is my new favorite. Almond milk with almonds and chocolate is probably at the top of the list right now.

12. What is the first thing you notice about a person?

Whether they like small talk or not. I’m not attracted to the small questions.

13. Football or baseball?

If these are my only choices, it’s Baltimore Orioles baseball. My real favorite is soccer of any kind. Doesn’t matter the gender or the league. I collect national team jerseys, and interestingly enough, I don’t have the United States. Oh, and I have one MLS jersey… DC United, of course. 🙂

14. What color pants are you wearing?

Uniqlo Extra Warm leggings and lounge pants made of grey t-shirt material.

15. Last thing you ate?

A Nutella and strawberry jelly sandwich.

16. What are you listening to?

  • Miles Davis
  • Lots of podcasts- too many to list, but if you want recommendations, leave a comment.

17. If you were a crayon, what color would you be?

Dark grey or Cornflower, the colors I use the most often in HTML. The grey is #333333, and the blue is #336699.

18. What is your favorite smell?

I have two- tea tree oil and lavender anything…. although I had to take a break from lavender while reading the Outlander series. It turned my stomach for a while.

19. Who was the last person you talked to on the phone?

My sister, Lindsay. She’s cooler than you are.

20. Married?

I used to be, and it would take an act of God for me to do it again.

21. Hair color?

Brown, with a little grey and white mixed in…. which is such a blessing because it stops me from looking like a ten-year-old.

22. Eye Color?

Espresso… well, brown, but I’m being, ummm….. creative.

23. Favorite food to eat?

Anything I’ve cooked myself. I’m good at it, and I get immense satisfaction with that kind of accomplishment.

24. Scary movies or happy ending?

Why choose? My favorite scary movie is “Get Out.”

25. Last movie you watched in a theater?

This is one of the funniest things that has happened to me in a while. I went with my friend Jaime to see “Jojo Rabbit,” and since I’d already seen it, I went about halfway through the movie before I got ridiculously thirsty. I leaned over to Jaime and said, “I’m getting a Coke. Do you want one?” She nodded and I left. So I come back and it is the most heart-wrenching part of the film and here I am stumbling in the dark to my seat while the rest of the row would have murdered me if it wasn’t illegal.

26. What color shirt are you wearing?

White. It’s not my color, but it’s warm.

27. Favorite holiday?

Any that involve a three-day weekend.

28. Beer or Wine?

Not much of a drinker, but I love anything Belgian.

29. Night owl or morning person?

It depends. I have a lot of energy at both ends of the spectrum. I also enjoy when I can’t sleep, watching the sun come up when I’m normally “not there” to see it.

30. Favorite day of the week?

None right now- they all blend together.

31. Favorite animal?

I am absolutely over the top crazy about Fiona the hippo. When it’s nice outside, I like taking my tablet and Bluetooth keyboard to the zoo and sitting in front of the giraffe enclosure.

32. Do you have any pets?

None of my own, but there are several dogs that live in my house. It’s the best of both worlds- puppy love and no responsibility.

33. Where would you like to travel?

I am consumed by the Middle East, both in terms of “walking the Bible,” and seeing things in movies I’d like to experience for real, like the Blue Mosque in Iran, the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, and the mountains of Afghanistan. My mom and dad went when I was very small, because it was safe to travel there for tourists (at least to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt). I’m not holding my breath in terms of my lifetime.

 

Dish

This was originally posted in response to a first time dishwasher in the dishwashing subreddit, and got a lot of karma. Reposting it here:

If you are offended by anything, don’t work in a kitchen. No joke is off limits. Being in a high pressure situation leads to dark humor. There has to be a release valve somewhere……

As for the work itself, you will come home some nights feeling like you aced it, and some nights feeling like you are one step away from being fired. Because your schedule is going to be different than 99% of your friends, the kitchen will take over your whole life. Anthony Bourdain said it best…. “a tribe that would have me.”

You will never be more tired in your life, but you will often feel a sense of satisfaction that can’t be found anywhere else. And lots of cooks, perhaps even the chef, will let you work on other projects when it’s slow and you can up your cooking game as well. Dishwasher is basically the only position in which there is forward motion. You might want to be promoted someday to a prep or line cook. I loved both jobs equally- working on the brigade was just as enjoyable as being queen of my own domain.

Before you start, know that you have to have a strong backbone and be able to take a lot of criticism… but it’s not just that. You cannot be afraid of yelling at a line cook if he/she puts knives in a full sink, etc. Sharps under the water is probably the most hazardous part of the job. Don’t ever do it, don’t ever let anyone else get away with it, even the chef (in my restaurant, dishwashers didn’t even touch sharps- we made the line cooks wash and put away their own).

If you get fired for standing your ground, dishwasher jobs are a dime a dozen and none of them are worth deep, permanent scars on your hands…. and before the scars, possibly great big infections because you’ve been cut in water containing “used food.”

Being a dishwasher is not for the faint of heart. You will have to show up on time, every single day, and absolutely bust your fucking ass. I promise that the simple act of showing up on time, every single day, will win you more brownie points than you can possibly imagine. Kitchen folk are not necessarily the most dependable, reliable people on earth……………

Your work ethic also means a lot, because anyone else in the kitchen could walk out at a moment’s notice and the kitchen would still function, except you. You are the key to the whole operation. Take pride in that fact. The motherfucking chef doesn’t mean as much as you do, and most chefs, if not all, know it even if they don’t say it. I’ve been lucky enough to have chefs say that out loud.

In some restaurants, you’ll get tipped out at the end of the night. In some restaurants, you won’t. You’ll make a fourth of what the servers make, but it’s worth it not to have to deal with customers. Bet on it.

You’ll know within one shift whether the job is right for you. Don’t stick around if you can’t hack it. Not everyone can. But you’ll gain an immense respect for everyone able to take the heat, as it were. Don’t walk off- finish out your shift and tell the chef you just can’t do it. There’s a 19 year old Salvadoran who is 80 times better than you waiting in the wings if you’re not capable.

And if you have any negative thoughts about illegal immigration, cut that shit out before you even apply. Illegal immigrants have been the backbone of every restaurant in which I’ve worked. Literally the people keeping it running. I find that most immigrants in kitchens speak Spanish (although where I live we also have a huge African immigrant community as well, so no promises). It won’t hurt to learn a little, and you’ll pick it up on the job.

Also, I love working in kitchens because in my former life, I was the IT person connected by the umbilical cord to my work phone and laptop. In kitchens, there’s none of that crap. When you’re off, you’re really off. People ask me why I’d rather work in kitchens than make more money in IT. That’s easy. Being in a kitchen gives me energy, being in IT sucks my soul every damn day and I am too exhausted to take on anything else. I’m not cut out for it- I’m a writer, and I need the calm after finishing a shift to write late into the night. I joke that Anthony Bourdain stole my career- or at least I did until he died. After that, it just wasn’t as funny.

If you have never, ever worked in a kitchen before, do yourself a favor and watch the episode of No Reservations at the Texas border. Read Kitchen Confidential- it will tell you everything you need to know about whether you are capable of taking on this lifestyle. You’ll become a night owl if you aren’t already, you’ll sleep during the day, and you will develop a sense of humor that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush. Over time, you’ll realize that you don’t quite fit in with your friends who have “normal jobs” (I have often forgotten where I was and who I was talking to and jokes landed with a thud and “what’s WRONG with you?” :P)

Once you leave the kitchen, you may not want to go back, but you’ll most likely remember it as one of the best times of your life, because there really is nothing like it on earth. Good luck.

What They Made Me

As I was cooking breakfast, I was reflecting on everything I’d learned while being a professional. Though I feel I can’t return to the kitchen, I do feel it is part of my soul. My last gig convinced me (though not a unique experience, by far) I have the heart of a chef, but my body just won’t cooperate. I do not mean that I have earned my stripes to be a chef already (which literally means boss, and too many people call everyone who cooks “chef”), I mean that if I didn’t have so many physical limitations, I would have bagged all my other ambitions and gotten the experience I needed to run my own kitchen.

It’s not just the work that calls to me, it’s the lifestyle. I would finish in the kitchen around 11, then come home and write late into the night. I’d sleep until noon or one, then do it all over again. It fits my circadian rhythm perfectly, because truly working overnight just about killed me (I once worked at an IT help desk with customers in the UK, so we were open 24/7). I was fine until about 0400, but even if I napped my entire lunch hour, staying until 0800 made my body scream for mercy.

What made cooking different is that it never drained me. It gave me energy rather than taking it. Putting the perfect plate of food in the window to give to a customer always made me smile inside, and it showed. 1d3d025b-e006-47e8-a9b7-8bd71b0ce971_screenshotMy coworkers literally compared me to SpongeBob Squarepants…. and I’ve worked in three different pubs, so the comparison is not unfair……

But my chef’s heart didn’t start beating until I got some menu control over the brunch program at the first one, and then did Cajun fine dining for a while, where I worked with higher caliber ingredients and people (in the professional sense- everyone has personally been fine). At Tapalaya, both the chef and the sous had been to culinary school, and were impeccable about teaching everyone else.

In terms of what my chefs made me, it is that I wouldn’t even be the same person today….. and also jambalaya, which Chef would present me at the end of a long shift with an Abita Purple Haze. He found out on the first day that I liked it, and the moment the restaurant closed, one would magically appear. It was just one of the ways that Chef showed me he cared, both as a boss and a friend (we were friends before I worked for him and still friends today). There’s also one moment between us that will seem so small that it is insignificant, but even thinking about it makes tears come to my eyes.

Working in the kitchen is a meritocracy. You start at rock bottom and work your way up, even if you’ve been to culinary school. If you have been to culinary school and think certain jobs are beneath you, it is literally the quickest way to get fired. The moment I’m recalling is that Chef asked me to taste something and tell him what it needed. I took a bite and closed my eyes. “Salt. It needs a little more salt.” He dropped some in. No big deal, right?

It was everything. Absolutely everything. It was the first time in any kitchen that I’d won enough merit to have an opinion, like getting into a doctoral program, because that’s generally when you’re allowed to think for yourself (in publishing, anyway). And if you ask Chef, he’d tell you that you were right. It was no big deal.

Yes, it was. It was the moment I realized I was really good at my job. Where the problems start happening is technique, never palate. With enough time, I can do anything, and in a professional kitchen, it’s the only thing that’s never on the menu.

I’d worked with my ex-wife, Dana, and she allowed me to have plenty of opinions, but never because she was compelled. At work, I deferred to her judgment, because she had been to culinary school and I hadn’t. It was that she had seen me cook for years, both at home and at work, and trusted me. Our joke was that with my palate and her technique, between us we had a complete culinary education.

For instance, she would often start a soup and then come to me and say, “fix this.” And it wasn’t that it didn’t taste good originally. She just knew I would “put it up to 11.” Those moments were fantastic, but I can’t put them on the same level with Chef. It’s not that I respected Dana less, it’s that she was my family, someone I didn’t see as having as much objectivity as someone unrelated…. like not believing I was actually a good singer until I was well-received by people other than my mom. Everybody’s mom thinks they’re a good singer. Everybody’s spouse thinks they’re a good cook if they think they’ll be sleeping in the backyard if they don’t. 😛

I made the connection early on that cooking was like driving a car with a manual transmission, and that analogy carries me, because it applies to nearly everything.

For instance, let’s start with mayonnaise. You put three egg yolks and one tablespoon of acid into a bowl (doesn’t matter if it’s citrus or vinegar), and then whisk it until it turns white (called the sabayon stage). After that, it is like the balance between the clutch and the gas, the egg and vinegar mixture vs. the oil….. the stallout being the sauce breaking (that means that the acid and oil have separated). Usually, this is caused by adding too much oil at one time. Three egg yolks and one tablespoon of acid will stretch to accommodate quite a bit, but it has to be added at a drizzle while you’re whisking like mad. Sometimes you can save it by continually whisking and adding a tiny bit of water, but most of the time, you’ll have to get the starter to turn over……………..

[As an aside, if you’re a home cook, you should really learn to make mayonnaise, because it’s the basis of every salad dressing ever. If it’s ranch or bleu cheese, mayonnaise is the base. If it’s a vinaigrette, there’s no mayonnaise, but the concept of balance between acid and oil is the same. Also, at home there’s no chef barking at you that you’re cheating if you use a mixer or a blender so you have a free hand to hold the oil steady. You can also make Hollandaise quite easily, extrapolating the concept by using melted butter instead of oil and lemon juice for the acid.]

The same stick shift analogy can be used with other balances, like adding an acid if something is too salty, or adding more sugar/fat if something is too spicy.

Once I learned the concepts behind palate, it didn’t matter what type of cuisine, down to the dish, that I was making.

Like jambalaya.

 

Wilted

I started my morning by making coffee and a “kitchen sink” wilted salad with over medium eggs on top (I am a vegan who cheats. A lot. #noguiltever). By “kitchen sink,” I mean I just threw in whatever fruits and veggies were available.

I started out with sesame seed oil, onions, garlic, mushrooms, diced Granny Smith apples, and ginger. To finish, I added a mixture of shaved brussel sprouts and spring mix (red romaine, baby spinach, radicchio, green romaine, arugula, red mustard, red chard, frisee), then put some rice wine vinegar in the bottom of the pan and let it reduce, helping the to greens soften and mix.

When the veggies were ready, I pushed them to the sides of the pan, making a perfect circle for two eggs, spraying the pan with sesame seed oil again so nothing would stick. I was going to do sunny side up, but I didn’t have a lid for the pan, and I grew tired of waiting for the yolks to cook, because it takes so much longer without steam.

The dish turned out perfectly, and I am my harshest critic. I was hungry in a now sort of way, otherwise I would have served everything over wild rice and lentils as well.

I have a rice cooker made by Instant Zest, and it is the best kitchen purchase I have ever made, because it was cheap and has settings for white rice, brown rice, steel cut oatmeal, quinoa, and veggie steam (which I have also used successfully for soft/hard boiled eggs).

It’s actually been a few days….. almost a week….. since I’ve cooked, because I had to gather the courage to do it again.  I was cubing raw sweet potato, and I cut myself in such a spectacular way that I don’t think I’ve ever had a worse kitchen injury. It happened so fast that I’m not even sure where I made the mistake. I don’t know if the cutting board slipped, the knife went sideways, it wasn’t sharp enough for raw potato, etc. It could also have been something I wouldn’t have caught, like my monocular vision making me think I was cutting a straight line, but I was actually cutting diagonally. This is a problem that is as equally likely as an accident I would have seen coming. All that being said, no matter what the cause, the effect was the same- absolute searing pain and bleeding so severe that I should have gone to Urgent Care/the ER to see if I needed stitches, but I didn’t.

My kitchen training was just too ingrained…. fix the problem and get back to cooking. It took forever to get it to clot, even using a styptic pencil for vasoconstriction. Once it did, I put on some Band-Aids and finished what I was doing. Two days later, I was taking off the Band-Aids to change the dressing, and it ripped open again, which led to another half hour of trying to fix profuse bleeding. Though I’d bought a first aid kit and very advanced bandages, I’d forgotten to get the one thing that would have really helped, and is a staple in a professional knife roll– Super Glue. If I’d gotten some, once the bleeding stopped, I probably could have avoided ripping it open again. You can chalk that one up to #dumbassattack, and it won’t be happening again.

Believe it or don’t, this is the first time I’ve cut myself in many years. When I was working professionally, at home I ran on sandwiches and hot dogs. The last thing I wanted to do when I got home was cook for myself…. so, the only time I used knives was at work, where everything is built for safety, even for short people like me. The counter is lower, the cutting boards are heavier and held in place by wet rags, at least one person in the kitchen has honing and sharpening tools, etc. I had plenty of injuries when it came to burning myself, but that was it.

It was funny the emotions that came up for me as soon as the knife went from sweet potato to the side of my finger and nail. I thought of all the professional chefs and cooks I’d worked with, including my ex-wife, Dana, and shame washed over me. I felt like I’d let them down. It was my own moment of feeling wilted.

For a home cook, it’s just an accident. For a professional cook, it’s “you were being a dumbass and whatever you did got you hurt. What the hell is wrong with you?” And believe me, with some chefs, that is the nice version of what they would have said. And if the chef wasn’t in the kitchen, your coworkers would do their job for them. For instance, Dana used to work in a high-end grocery store for the meat, sausage, and fish department. One of her coworkers sliced into his finger while filleting a fish, and the entire department called him Filet-O-Finger for YEARS ON END.

Speaking of which, the only time I ever got a nickname was due to no fault of my own. During junior college, I was on the waitstaff at my local Chili’s. It was a busy shift, and they hadn’t switched over to plastic mugs yet. So, this waiter broke one of the heavy glass mugs and like an idiot, just stuck it back in the rack. The manager made an announcement that the glass was broken, but I was delivering food and not there to hear it.

The way the mug was stuck down into the rack, you couldn’t see the broken part, so I came around the corner and it’s (of course) the first thing I pick up. Little shards immediately went into my pinkie at the knuckle, and it was definitely bad enough for stitches. The manager rushed me to the ER, and I didn’t go another day in that kitchen without being called “Worker’s Comp” by somebody. The reason that memory is still seared into my brain is that it’s been 20 years and the scar is still visible.

I have no reason to doubt that this cut will be the same. 20 years from now, I will still remember the day I was dicing raw sweet potatoes, because the cut is deep enough the scar will never fade.

So, today was about ignoring the fear I felt about cutting myself again so I could move past it for real. “Act as if,” you know? In fact, as everything was cooking, I kept cutting. I didn’t need but about a half of diced apple, so I cut the rest into very large dice, and did the same with another whole apple. It was enough to fill two Zip-Loc bags. With the first, I shook in a small box of sugar free cherry Jell-O powder, an idea my mom got from a magazine and is delicious with any flavor. A moment of grief washed over me, because I couldn’t remember the proportions and she wasn’t there to call and ask. She used to put Jell-O apples in my lunch box as a kid almost every day, so I knew she would know off the top of her head…… and Google is just no substitute.

It was yet another moment of feeling wilted, but due to the hopelessness of the situation, I just had to move on.

I figured I would learn on my own when I tasted them if I’d gotten it right or not, and moved on to the second bag, to which I added some rice wine vinegar to keep the apples fresh for cooking savory dishes or adding to a salad (Hmmmm…. there’s goat cheese in the fridge……).

The last thing I was thinking today is that my knife is so sharp that there’s no way it’s time to sharpen again, but it probably needs honing. I’ll call around and ask how much it would be, because I’ve never learned how to sharpen and hone a knife properly….. and no matter how much I spend on an electric honer/sharpener, it will not meet my expectations. I have seen the most expensive ones chew up a knife and spit it out, even if it worked perfectly before.

If it is more expensive than another chef’s knife from Chicago Cutlery, I’ll just get a new one and leave this one in the community block…. but I’m really hoping that it’s not, because this knife, since I hide it from my housemates, has become mine. I never got first blood on Rachel (so named since she was as sharp as a Maddow takedown), or the three knives before her. I haven’t named this one……..

It’s probably going to be “Worker’s Comp.”

Komodo Dragon, Straight Up

I am a huge fan of independent coffee shops, and spend my own money there. However, there are lots of people who send me Starbucks gift certificates, so I don’t think I’ve spent my own money there in years. This is because I buy the beans and drink the coffee at home, and the stars add up.komodo-dragon-blend231ac7452d2168f58d66ff0000024ad1 I bought two bags of Komodo Dragon yesterday. That means I can stop by Starbucks and get my free reward coffee for quite a while.

But just because I love independent coffee shops doesn’t mean that I don’t like Starbucks beans. Komodo Dragon is so good that if I could, I’d just snort it. It is best black, because for a dark roast, it’s quite sweet and fruity, just like me.

And, of course, I have a friend who I’ve called “my dragon” for years, so the label doesn’t suck, either…. it’s just that in my head, my friend is not gold. She’s blue and green…. although I suppose they’re a little gold. There are bright spots on the end of their tail. Rubeus Hagrid would fall all over himself….. and love them and squeeze them and call them “George.” (If you get both of those references, you win a prize. And the prize is you’re old.) But let’s be clear- the label is just an added bonus. If I had to pick one coffee that I’d drink every day for the rest of my life, this would be it…. and not for lack of searching for something from a coffee shop that actually needs the money. I will keep looking, but I am terribly picky.

I made a pot this morning and all my housemates liked it as well, which is good since I have two pounds of it.

But I didn’t start this entry just to talk about coffee. It’s just that most of the time, I begin by telling you what I’m drinking. This entry is actually about a realization that knocked me on my ass, and led me to make some life changes that I hope will pan out.

I worked through all my issues surrounding dating and why it’s been five years. Why I haven’t wanted to put myself out there, why I was more nervous about things working out than not, why it was just too much bother.

After I came to those conclusions, I used a friend as a sounding board and it was good. I told her that my knee-jerk response to figuring all of this out was to get on dating apps and try to match with anyone I thought was remotely attractive and had a good line in their profile that made me laugh.

Me being me, though, I don’t know how I came across. Not a whole lot of feedback yet, except one woman I definitely asked out. I told her that I just wanted it to be easy and comfortable, to meet each other instead of only knowing a fourth of us through text.

She said yes.

If things go the way I think they will, this is someone I can picture having long conversations with. In her profile, she said she was a chef. So, of course, I had to ask if she was a line cook or an actual chef, because there can be only one. She told me she had her stripes, where she’d been executive chef, etc.

Having been married to a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, I had to overthink about why this woman being a chef was important to me. My immediate thought was that I had taken ownership of my love of cooking and working in restaurants long ago, and therefore it didn’t have anything to do with my old life/relationship. It was a good talk to have with myself, though, just to make sure. I have also told her why I don’t work in restaurants anymore, and her immediate reaction was understanding.

Am I ready for a relationship? I don’t know. Waiting five years was probably the right choice, because I have no lingering thoughts or jealous exes that would try to make an appearance.

What I do know is that unless I marry the woman who delivers pizza to my house, I’m not going to get anywhere hiding from the world. Although, as I have said before, there are three pluses to dating the pizza woman, because up front, I know three things:

  • she is employed
  • she has a vehicle
  • she already knows where I live

There are galaxies of possibilities to that “yes,” and I’m looking forward to finding out what they might be. Whether they are positive or negative is of no consequence, because this isn’t about trying to find my forever love. This is about me, and why I’ve been scared to interact at all, especially on the dating level.

As my personality type (INFJ) dictates, I have maybe one or two friends at a time, but I know them all as intimately as friends do- walking around in each other’s inner landscapes, calling each other on our own bullshit, mutual respect and happiness between us. I am not very good at small talk, so I prefer to be able to have friends in which I can just be myself and say anything, because I know that my friends accept me whether I’m wrong or right. Most of the time, my friends have to call me out on logic, because when I think with my emotions, it’s often upside down and backwards. Creative basket cases are where logic dissipates into the ether.

And because I have such close friends, I have never been able to say I was a lonely person looking for someone to complete me. I don’t have need of the fairy tale true love. At this point in life (late 30s-early 40s), we all have our own quirks, are a bit set in our ways, and we just have to hope all of it lines up.

When I said that I just wanted to hang out- make it easy and comfortable, she said, “I feel you- it seems like nobody goes on romantic dates anymore.” I want to meet her in person first, to see what I need to see in terms of spark, but I did file it away under note to self.

Right now, I’m just feeling grateful for the coffee, and the light bulb I finally realized needed changing, because it just wasn’t helping to sit in the dark.

I Would Like to Speak to Your Manager

I got a new haircut, and it is very versatile. I can wear it parted down the middle or to either side, but when I put wax in it and really scrunch it up, I cringe. Swept to the side, it looks like the lesbian edition of “I’d like to speak to your manager.” If you’ve ever worked in retail, that can instantly be translated to “haircut.” As in, “there’s a ‘haircut’ on aisle five.” I just hope that I’m never typecast, because in restaurants and stores, I really try to be the nicest possible version of myself…. for two reasons, actually. The first is that I’ve “been there, done that.” The second is that I rarely have anywhere to be, and am never in a hurry. So my take on it is to just let the chips fall where they may. I’m not going to change anyone, I just stay out of the way.

The worst time I’ve ever “gotten it” in retail is that my first job was as a receptionist at SuperCuts. A 40-year-old-ish woman came after me over a bad haircut, not even stopping to realize that I only collect money and sweep hair. I didn’t cut it, and wouldn’t know the first thing about how. But that didn’t stop her from ripping me a “three bedroom, two bathroom double-wide asshole” (Bernie), anyway. The way I’ve been treated in the past deftly informs the way I treat others, as do the ways I’ve treated others that, in a few words, did not work.

I would rather be a quiet, sweet nerd who doesn’t ruffle feathers and go on about my day. There are exceptions, of course, but I’ve found as I get older that people don’t change. They just don’t. Better to cut and run than wait any longer than necessary.

Even I don’t change. My illness does. When I am anxious, or depressed, or hypomanic, it is not an indication of my true personality. It is an indication that something is wrong chemically…. when my brain chemicals are right, I have no problem with my emotions, whether up or down. Making sure my brain chemicals achieve homeostasis is a religion of sorts, because I know what it feels like to live life out of balance. The remembrance of it is “grievous unto me,” a daily reminder to do better, be better….. although I’m clearly not certain what “better” means as of yet.

Right now I am content to be in the middle of a great book, and editing another. I can’t tell you anything about either, because the former is a future birthday present for a friend who reads this blog, and the latter is by an author not willing to let her work be read publicly until it’s ready…. who also reads this blog. I can’t cheat and let you in on my Top Secret work. It’s enough to let go of the fact that my friend now knows she’s getting a book for her birthday.

You’re welcome.

I picked it out just for you- it’s by Heather Armstrong. 😛

During the last entry, I was talking about reading on the train to go to the airport to get TSA pre-check. I am now approved and have a Known Traveler Number, but it was actually reading that made me on time for the appointment. I generally take the Red Line to Ft. Totten and change to Yellow to go out to Virginia, but I was reading and missed my stop. I thought, “ah, well. I’ll just stay on til Chinatown.” At that moment, I looked up to see a video playing about how all Yellow Line trains were out that day. If I hadn’t missed my stop due to reading, I wouldn’t have known I needed to go to Metro Center instead to catch the Blue Line.

It doesn’t really inconvenience me much that the Yellow Line is undergoing improvements, except for EVERY FRIEND I HAVE IN THIS CITY save two lives within a mile of, you guessed it, the Yellow Line. Always helps to be further from where I need to go in 30F weather.

Actually, I take it back. Right now it is a warm and balmy 40 degrees plus rain…. looks kind of like Portland, Oregon 280 days of the year. Maybe that’s why I feel so at home right now.

Another feeling of home is coming toward me- my sister is flying up soon. She said “the first week in December,” so I’m assuming she’s on a plane right now. Of course. I’m probably wrong. She usually doesn’t text until she’s on the ground, so sometime within the next few days I’ll be able to “spend Christmas” with her. Depending our schedules, we might be able to see each other more than once. We shall see. Meshing a cook and a lobbyist’s schedules together hasn’t proved challenging so far- she’s generally here during the week, and my days off are never Saturday and Sunday. We also generally get together for dinner, which is great because especially if I’ve worked the night before, I’m still a zombie at lunch.

Speaking of lunch, I think it’s time to go make it. I work at 1800, so I have some time to contemplate what I’m going to make. I think it’s going to be a sandwich with almond milk jalapeno “cream cheese” and apricot preserves. Or it might just be a large bowl of chocolate and peanut butter cereal with chocolate “milk.”

Or both.

Lanagan

My chef asked me if he could call me “Lanagan” a few weeks ago, and I smiled to myself. Most of the friends who have called me that aren’t in my daily life, and I didn’t know how much I missed it. So, of course, every time I walk into the kitchen now, from the back I hear my last name echoing through the whole place. It completes me- giving a piece of myself back to me that I didn’t know was missing.

It also reminds me of a great memory- the first time someone called out “Lanagan” in a kitchen, and both Dana and I turned around. Initially, we had the conversation about last names because we were thinking of conceiving, and though we never did, “Lanagan” stuck for her, too. Somehow, it was even better hearing her respond to “Lanagan” than it was to respond myself.

I love how these little moments come to me and I smile. The old axiom is true- don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened. Having a relationship last over seven years is a win, and I never mistake the part for the whole. I can’t- without Dana, I wouldn’t have a job right now (she’s the cook that taught me to cook- one of several, but the most consistent).

And speaking of jobs, it’s actually “my Saturday,” provided that no one gets sick or otherwise calls out at the pub. On my to-do list for today is getting TSA pre-check at the airport. There are places to do the interview that are closer, but National is on the Yellow Line, and I already know where it is. That is always a huge factor, because I would rather travel longer than get lost. Besides, I’m in the middle of several great books, and trains are invaluable time for reading.

I also need a haircut and some groceries, but I think that will have to wait until I get back from the airport. I am feeling lazy this morning, even though I slept very well last night. It’s less of a go-back-to-bed feeling and more of an I-wish-there-were-cartoons feeling. That being said, I can’t actually watch cartoons this morning because I am out of cereal, which is basically a prerequisite for animation in the AM. My being out of cereal is probably the only reason you’re hearing from me right now.

I’m writing today because I got an e-mail yesterday about how Dooce has turned into a shitty writer because her site is now all ad copy and being funny…. something about “she wasn’t always a shitty writer, but she is now.” My response was that it was now her job to tell me when to retire- she could just re-send that e-mail. It will probably be my epitaph- “she wasn’t always a shitty writer, but she is now.”

I am trying my best to write when I actually have something to say. The best preaching advice I’ve ever gotten, which I’ve extrapolated to blogging as well, is, “when you run out of things to say, stop talking.” There is no reason to try and fill 15 minutes when you only have nine of material.

Tiny Details

As I start this entry, it is 0917. I am sitting at my desk with a cup of Lord Bergamot Stash Tea, complete with French Vanilla creamer. If you don’t have either on hand, Starbucks makes something similar called the “London Fog Latte.” I highly recommend them- they’re a bit addictive. Less caffeine to irritate your stomach, and/or the ability to drink far more of them. Both are equally important in my world (does flavored tea count as being “for young people?”). The added bonus is that the mug is keeping my hands warm, as it is 30 degrees Fahrenheit. In DC, the cold is no joke. Apparently, it’s supposed to be the coldest Thanksgiving in 20 years, which sucks, because it’s bright and clear outside. Just freezing with no payoff of beautiful snow.

It’s been perhaps 10 years since the best snow of my life. Dana and I were sitting next to the Christmas tree, and as Luciano Pavarotti started the Schubert Ave Maria, large, fluffy flakes began to fall. My memory may be failing me, but I think it’s the only White Christmas I’ve ever had. It was glistening, pure magic. I wish I could remember the exact date, but I am not so good with that information. I tend to remember tiny details, and not the big picture. For instance, I remember Dana opening one of her presents from me- a t-shirt that said “I’m right 97% of the time, but who cares about the other 4%?” She took the bows off the box and stuck them to her head.

Speaking of which, I’ve been thinking about writing a Modern Love column for years called “Seven Christmases,” all the ones Dana and I shared… but what has stopped me is that for some of them, my memory is excellent, and others, not so much. Different memories come to me at different times, so perhaps I will start it and keep plugging away until they’re all there. We shall see… because I tend to remember tiny details, and not the big picture. It would be easier if I had access to the magnificent “Danabase,” but at this point, that is neither here nor there.


It doesn’t feel natural to not be at work today, but I’ll get over it. The Nassers are cooking everything, and as I always say, after cooking for literally hundreds of people over a week at work, the last thing I want to do when I get home is cook for myself. I tend to run on quick energy, like sandwiches and fast baking Quorn “chicken.” And, of course, today’s meal will be entirely omnivorous, but I am never vegan unless I am making my own thing. I’ve used this quote before, but it rings true every day:

Cooking is hospitality, and if you reject people’s food, you reject them.

-Anthony Bourdain

Besides, I am not going to turn down fried turkey. I’ve never tasted it before.

When I make my own turkey, I massage the hell out of it with butter and olive oil, finishing with Cajun spice. I have some Tony Chachere’s on hand, so I might put it on the table, because it is literally good with everything, especially dressing and mashed potatoes.

I also play against type and do a “Yankee Dressing,” even though I’m from Texas- generally all cornbread, all the time. What can I say? I like white bread and sausage more. It’s harder to dry it out, and I can’t tell you how many years I’ve eaten cornbread dressing with good flavor and the texture of, well, there’s no describing it unless you’ve had it… sand, maybe? The only way you can kind of fix it is adding moisture with gravy. But notice I said “kind of.” If I’m going to eat cornbread dressing, my aunt’s is the only one acceptable. Her son, my cousin Nathan, lives with his wife and kids in Alexandria, so perhaps I can get her to make some for me again at some point, even if it’s July. I don’t care. I will stuff it in my face like it’s going out of style at any time.


Dan has been on a work trip for the last couple weeks, so I’m looking forward to seeing her again. I need a big bear hug, as well as the excitement of “what did you bring me?” My inner eight-year-old shows whenever she comes back from traveling, because it’s always to interesting places. She’s also having a holiday party soon, which reminds me that I need to get a white elephant gift. Not sure how I can top last year- a Funko Pop Bob Ross. I’m on a mission (from God). I am sure I will see her before then, but a party sounds nice. They don’t always, because I’m not a big fan of crowds, but these are all “my people.”


My shoulder continues to hurt like hell, even though I accidentally got really high. You’re going to think I’m lying to you, but I promise I am just that dumb. I took all my psych meds, which includes Klonopin, and then because of my shoulder, I took a Vicodin. I know for sure I am not supposed to mix the two, and I don’t… normally, except that taking my psych meds is second nature every single morning, and taking pain medication is not. I will just chalk it up to a dumbass attack and wait for it to wear off. However, I am not as high as I could be, because the shoulder pain is still cutting through enough to make me swear like a sailor. I’ve also had a lot of caffeine as a counter measure. The only upside is that even though I feel like dogshit, I care less…. so at least I got that goin’ for me.

The flip side is that I hate this feeling, which is loss of control. Brain fuzziness of any kind drives me up the wall. I am literally counting the minutes until I don’t feel this way anymore, as I do after one cocktail as well. I rarely have them, but sometimes I will partake just because I enjoy the taste and smell. One of these days, I really am going to order Kraken rum cologne. I swear that when I have a shot of it, I will literally smell the empty glass until the waitstaff comes to take it away. I’m not even much of a rum fan, but Kraken is extraordinary, what with its chocolate and vanilla notes and crazy viscous legs. Pro tip: do not fuck it up with mixer. Please and thank you. As an aside, I think the company that makes Kraken has one of the best marketing and design teams on the planet. Everything they make just looks as cool as the other side of the pillow, especially the lampshade and the shower curtain.

Back to you, Bob. Let’s go to the phones.

About the only brain fuzziness I can tolerate is real Sudafed, which is its own special hell. It suppresses my appetite, so I have to choose between losing weight I don’t have the luxury to lose and not being able to breathe. Even though I take an antihistamine, it can’t keep up… and I’ve tried Sudafed PE, and all I have to say about that is that the box should say “Warning: Does Not Work.” It leaves me with a still stuffed up and miserable sinus mask with the same appetite suppression as the original. Good times.


Before I close this entry, I want to give thanks for all of you. Having people in my life who think my words matter is invaluable to my self-esteem and therefore, mental health. You are my Thanksgiving, along with my friends and family that support me in real life as well as being “Fanagans.” I learned yesterday that I’ve gained an important one, but you don’t get to know who they are. It’s enough that I do.

Ok, ok. I give. It’s Jesus. I’ve followed Him my whole life, and he finally returned the favor. 😉

Slinging and Hash

My coworkers are so young that I was sitting at the bar after my shift a few months ago, having a beer. The man next to me told me his name and that he was a sound editor at NPR. He asked me what I did, and I told him that I “sling hash here.” The bartender, young enough to be my son, said, “I thought you were a cook. You’re a drug dealer?” The sound editor nearly fell off his bar stool laughing and said, “I think that’s old diner slang.”

But today’s entry is about a different kind of sling. My left shoulder has been bothering me for a few weeks, but the pain has been fully manageable with Aleve and Tylenol… that is, until yesterday morning. I woke up in so much pain that I couldn’t stop crying, and didn’t until I got to Urgent Care.

I couldn’t possibly see how I was going to cook and wash dishes, so I gave Chef a heads up as to what was going on, and could he possibly find someone to work for me? To his absolute credit, for which I will thank him publicly, he told me to get to Urgent Care and let him know what they said. He’d find a way to work it out, even though there was no one to take my place. It created a tiger mom loyalty in me, and by the time I got to Urgent Care, as the tears flowed, I said, “there is no possible way that I can miss work tonight. If there’s any way you could treat this as a sports injury and just shoot it up with something, let’s do it.” If chef was willing to work a man down that night just so I was taken care of, the least I could do was try my hardest, exhausting all possible options, before staying home. I knew that I was going to either be miserable at work or miserable at home, so why not at least try to be miserable and make money at the same time?

The Urgent Care that I went to is incredibly risk-averse, the doctor told me, so he wasn’t allowed to put steroids directly into my shoulder, even though he thought it was the best course of treatment for what I needed in the moment (doesn’t work long-term). Instead, he did a long and thorough physical examination, determining that I had strained my rotator cuff, and that I should get it imaged with an Ortho to confirm it was just a strain and not an actual tear. If it’s just a strain, his recommendation is physical therapy. A tear requires surgery that, from what I hear, is relatively quick and easy, but the recovery is hell on wheels. One of my mom friends said that her son tore his, and just like the friends my age, had a difficult time with it. So I am definitely praying for a positive outcome, and if you’ll pray with me, send good vibes, use black magic, whatever, I’m game. Anything that taps into the power of the universe is fine with me. I know all of my readers can’t possibly believe in God, but even if you’re an atheist, believing in doctors is my first choice as well. Faith doesn’t come without shoe leather, and their work is as close to God’s as I’ve seen on this earth (there’s a reason I donate to MSF every chance I get).

As for the treatment I got yesterday, I chose a clinic that was close enough to walk to work from there, so after an IM injection of Toradol and oral Vicodin 5/325, I actually made it to my shift 30 minutes early, where I briefed Chef on all that had happened, and he thanked me profusely for coming in anyway, especially since my arm was in a sling to take pressure off my shoulder. I don’t wear it while working or typing, but other than that, I don’t take it off. I also realized that 325mg of Tylenol was probably not adequate, so I took an additional one. The doctor said that by the time I got home from work, the Toradol will have worn off, so I took two Aleve as well. Anything to relieve the inflammation, especially since I probably added to it last night. Even with Vicodin on board, everything still hurt like hell, especially after cleaning the kitchen, particularly sweeping & mopping. It was at that moment I thought, “maybe a desk job is for me,” and then I remembered that I was in just as much pain there, because the repetitive strain injuries never stopped, as well as more often than not, having a bad chair that always, always caused sciatica, as well as agitating the arthritis in my back. I absolutely understand that not all offices can afford Aerons, but so far, those have been the only chairs that don’t cause me pain. Even the knock-offs work, as long as they’re good ones and not the cheapest available.

I promise, I’m not snobby about it. Just worried for my own health. Even though osteoarthritis isn’t nearly as bad as rheumatoid, it’s no joke. It makes you feel like a very old person, no matter how young you are. Going from the kitchen to a desk job is just trading one type of pain for the other, equally severe in their own ways.

I definitely need to follow up with physical therapy, because with my level of activity, I’m likely to tear the rotator cuff up real good (if you’e going to do something, do it right).

And on that note, it’s time for a nap, provided I can find a comfortable position.

Flavored Coffee is for Young People

This entry is going to start out with a story that seems like a million years ago, but was really only about 17 (I think….). Before I met Dana, I dated a woman that was much older than me, but captured my heart with the simple fact that to her, everything was magic. Just an incredible lightness of being, the art of wearing rose-colored glasses no matter how crappy life got. Her attitude was just #goals for someone as alternately perky and jaded as me. And as different as we were, we were at the same points in our lives- both having just broken up with people we loved despite our differences- realizations that our partners were great people, but not great with us.

It was interesting to see people’s reactions to our age gap. My friends loved her. Her friends hated me, and hate is not too strong a word. They viewed me as the midlife crisis girltoy, and not a fully functioning adult with agency. The worst was judgmental anger from people in an age-gap relationship two years smaller than ours. I wish I had been strong enough back then to just say “bite me” and move on. But I wasn’t. I took everything personally and just hid in my shell.

I don’t think she was immune to judgment, either, because ultimately our relationship ended because she thought I was too young. Maybe I was. Maybe I wasn’t. Hard to tell in retrospect. I just know that I could have handled whatever life threw at us, but if we hadn’t broken up, it wouldn’t have created the door for Dana to open. She became my best friend because in the beginning, we didn’t know each other well at all. I just had to find a new gaggle of friends since most of my friends in Portland were also my then-girlfriend’s, and it didn’t feel like a safe place to fall. The friends I had that were the ultimate support didn’t live there- they met her through phone calls, as archaic as that sounds. I mean, I could still be friends with the ones that were mutual, but it wasn’t my goal to express anger or sadness in front of them, especially since I knew their reaction was going to be a ten gallon jug of “I told you so,” which is always so helpful in a breakup.

But the main thing our age gap provided me was an immense amount of laughter.

We were in Starbucks and she ordered a soy latte. I can’t remember exactly what I had, but if I’m guessing, either a raspberry or mint regular latte. She looked at me and said, “flavored coffee is for young people.” I wish I had been strong enough back then to just say “bite me” and move on.

And now it’s almost 20 years later, and every time I have a flavored coffee… every single time… that line runs through my head. Today it’s French vanilla creamer and dark roast. At 41, now I need to feel like a young person. So there. Flipping the script.

I’m drinking a lot of coffee this morning because even though I slept well, I’m working dish tonight from 1700-2300. I could take a nap, but I don’t want to. I want to watch the first snowfall of the season. It’s just magical, especially since I don’t drive. That way, I can just enjoy the snow without worrying about scraping off my car, or getting into an accident on the way and having to call the restaurant and say “I just slid into a ditch.” Well, unless my Uber driver does. I doubt the bus has that capability. I tend to take the bus in the snow, because if we’re in a wreck, the bus is gonna win.

It’s important for me to stay alive, because no one else is going to update this web site, and Facebook nags me all the time. I have 105 followers on my author page, and I’ll get passive-aggressive messages saying they haven’t heard from me in a while. It’s annoying, but also necessary. I took this job as a cook and dishwasher partly because I needed any job, and partly because my level in IT is “constantly connected to my job, tethered by phone and laptop.” I thought I would have more time to write, but what has actually happened is that I am so physically exhausted all the time that writing has taken a back seat to enjoying sleep and Aleve.™ I am constantly in pain, because I had arthritis before I started cooking, and the acrobatics required on both the line and in the dish pit don’t make that easier. However, I do think it has made my muscles stronger, which helps. More muscle mass has allowed my bones to relax a little, because they’re supported now.

It is not lost on me that I could have a cushy desk job and have a hell of a lot more money, but I am not convinced that I would be any happier, at least not yet. There are things about both blue and white collar jobs that just suck. But I’m never going to learn how to do things in a desk job that genuinely make other people’s faces light up.

My sister is a lobbyist, a rock star in her world. I used to be intimidated by that, until I realized that powerful people love to talk about food, so when I walk into a room, I’m also a rock star. People who have never worked in a restaurant, but whose imaginations are captured by TV shows, love to talk to me. I don’t really like the current slate of shows on The Food Network, etc., because I prefer the old school stand-and-stirs that actually educated people. Emeril before Emeril Live, for instance, even though I watched Emeril Live and learned to love it over time. But I’d rather watch old Julia Child episodes, or Justin Smith, or Martin Yan.

To date, the movie at which I’ve cried the hardest is Julie & Julia, because it reminded me of Dana- particularly the scene where Julia is chopping a mountain of onions to improve her knife skills…. and also myself, because I also had to buy mountains of carrots and celery to improve my own knife skills, and ruin lots of pieces of bread to learn how to flip eggs properly, as well as learning how to mix things like (pre-cooked) macaroni and cheese sauce by flipping it in the frying pan instead of using a spoon. We had a lot of mirepoix in those months. Interestingly enough, even though I am French-trained, the only thing I don’t know how to make is an omelette.

I tried the other day, because my roommate left eggs behind when he moved out, as well as Presidente butter and sharp cheddar. I got closer than I ever have, but it still looked like a waffle cone with cheese at the top (I was doing tri-fold). I need more practice, so eventually it will be off to the store to buy my own butter and eggs, because everything in my own pantry is vegan. This is because eventually, my restaurant will serve brunch, and I think I need to be prepared for the possibility that omelettes will be on the menu, and I refuse to be the only cook that can’t make one. Can’t is not in my vocabulary. I will make a hundred of them if I have to. I just need to invite 99 people to my house to eat the mistakes, which will still taste amazing, but look like a five-year-old made them. This is a problem because I barely know nine people in DC, much less 99. However, if Eight is Enough, I’m sitting pretty.

I just need to ask them beforehand what their views are on flavored coffee.