Life’s a Beach

I just put rice on for supper. This time it was spraying the pan with grapeseed oil, and adding brown rice, salt, all-purpose seasoning, and dried cranberries. When it’s done, I’m going to add black beans and a vegetable protein. Not sure whether it will be “chicken” or “fish.” I enjoy the taste of the “fish” better, but “chicken” would probably coordinate better. As I have said before, I occasionally eat meat, eggs, and drink milk. But what I have discovered over time is that a plant-based diet is better for my mental and physical health.

Most of the reason I still become an omnivore is that I don’t believe in making other people bend to accommodate me. When I go to other people’s houses and they offer to cook for me, what we’re having is what we’re having. It’s just how hospitality works for me. And on one occasion, I got a craving for bacon and asked for it on a veggie burger. It was at a restaurant, and Dan went to the bar and ordered for us. When she came back, she said, “the next time you’re going to do that, you have to order it.” Something about the bartender looking at her like she had three heads. However, I will tell you that bacon tastes even better with veggie protein than it does with beef, especially spicy black bean patties.

Last night I made myself a “double cheeseburger” with spicy black bean patties and vegan cheddar. It was so good I considered making myself a second one. I didn’t bother with “bacon,” because I have tried every single brand of veggie bacon available, and to me, they all taste like bacon-flavored plastic. Well, except tempeh. It’s not terrible, but that’s the best endorsement I offer.

I do love the hell out of veggie sausage, however…. especially the breakfast ones. Morningstar Farms makes maple-flavored patties, and Field Roast makes Smoked Apple Sage links. If you’ve tried veggie sausage before and didn’t like it, might I suggest cutting it longways and frying it on medium heat? Respect first contact, and don’t touch it until it’s time to flip. Let the bottom caramelize in the oil. The crispy outside is my favorite part. It makes my hot dogs look weird and kind of hard to eat, but I’ll never go back to meat dogs if I can help it. The ingredients in them scare me- always have.

And yes, I do enjoy both Beyond and Impossible burgers, but not as much as patties made out of black beans or chickpeas.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Speaking of TED talks, I am reminded of Brené Brown. I really love her, but not just because what she says makes sense. When I watched her TED talk, I thought she looked familiar. I decided that I just knew someone who looked like her, and then I remembered that she went to University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work. My aha! moment was when I realized that I was the supervisor of their computer lab in 1999, and she was probably one of “my kids.” I fact checked it with her team, and it’s true. So I met her before she was a household name. I wish I could say that I remembered more about her at that time, but being able to say that we’ve actually been in the same room is enough. Most people who’ve watched her would give a limb to be in the same room now. But it’s not like she’d remember me and we’d go shopping together or anything.

Moving on, the title of this entry also comes from hospitality. My family and I are all getting together at a beach house in Galveston starting the first week of June. I’m all set except for needing to get a bathing suit or some board shorts and a top. I love swimming in the ocean, and wish we’d lived in Galveston longer when I was a child.

As an adult, my favorite memory involves my mother. I called her up and said that I was going to the beach for the day, and did she want to come? To my surprise, she said “yes. Come get me.” When we got there, she actually got in the ocean with me, and I don’t have any memories of her doing so when I was five. She hate hate hated cold water, so getting into pools and oceans was not her vibe. My mother was also constantly obsessed with calories, and therefore every time I ordered dessert she would just sit there, looking longingly and never taking a bite.

I always ordered something sour, like key lime pie, because to eat chocolate cake in front of her seemed like cruel and unusual punishment. When I ordered dessert at our post beach dinner, I offered her half and she ate it. That day was just full of unexpected pleasures, and exactly what made it so special. She got out of her comfort zone in a way that made me incredibly happy, and the memory ranks in my Top Ten list.

The end of the trip marks my mother’s birthday, so I am sure that my sister and I will go out to the cemetery in some sort of matching outfits to honor something that she always liked. It feels better to grieve with her than alone, but during Mother’s Day, that’s how it’s going down. I have purposely made myself busy that day, because otherwise I would hide under my blankets and sleep it off. I am going on the 2:00 tour of The International Spy Museum, and then I think I’m going to the Smithsonian National Zoo, weather permitting. This is because one of my favorite things to do in DC is to sit on the bench in front of the giraffe enclosure and write. I use a Bluetooth keyboard and either my phone or my tablet. I also really, really enjoy taking photos, and over time, I’ve gotten better at it. The reason I know this is that now I rely on my natural eye rather than The GIMP to get the angle I want.

I’m also going to take pictures at the spy museum, but I’m not going to post them publicly. It’s an experience that deserves to be a surprise when you go. No spoilers, especially since I’m going on opening day.

And on that note, I think my rice is ready.

Two Words

It’s amazing how two words can make your whole day.

It’s amazing how two words can destroy it.

The two words that lit me up like a Christmas tree were “someday perhaps?”

The two words that cratered me were “Mother’s Day.”

The words that made me smile were in reference to a future hangout with the aforementioned pen pal that I’d never actually met in real life, but had been writing to for years and years. When he/she (not giving anything away) comes to DC, it will be fun to laugh together, hug, and show them my version of my city.

My mother died in October of 2016, and as you can imagine, I’m not over it. Mother’s Day happens every single year, and I am sort of used to the onslaught of ads that pointedly ask if you’ve remembered to buy presents. The thing is, though, I’d forgotten Mother’s Day was coming up, and being reminded when I wasn’t thinking about it and wasn’t prepared was, in a word, awful.

So, like you do, I immediately bought a ticket to the opening of the new International Spy Museum that day. What I mean by this is that the museum itself is not new, the-new-spy-museum-atthey’ve just moved and expanded from F Street to L’Enfant Plaza. The only thing I will miss about their old digs is the Shake Shack around the corner. Because, of course, the thing you need after looking at espionage gadgets is a black and white malt. But get it to go. Every time I’ve been to a Shake Shack, seating was a nightmare.

I’m also saving some money for the gift shop. Last time I went, I got a t-shirt on clearance that says, “Argo @$#% Yourself” with the spy museum logo on the sleeve. It is brilliant, but I don’t wear it unless I’m hanging out with friends I feel comfortable with- not always a huge fan of meeting new people in a t-shirt that says “fuck,” even bleeped for child safety. Since I am such a huge fan of “Argo,” I found an old promotional t-shirt on Amazon for $10 that says, “the movie was fake. The op was real,” and has “Argo” in large letters with the skyline of Tehran cut into the bottom, plus the release date of the film. That one I wear all the time.

As I was telling a friend, I think I found the last piece of memorabilia available except the script, which I don’t need because I have the movie memorized, anyway. To say that I’ve seen it 25 times is an understatement by a large margin…. mostly because it is jaw-droppingly scary in some places and so damned funny I start laughing and can’t stop in others… especially every time Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and/or Bryan Cranston are on screen. To wit:

The setup is that O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) is driving Mendez to an airport to get on the plane to Tehran.

O’Donnell: I’m required to remind you that if you’re detained, The Agency will
not claim you.
Mendez: Barely claim me as it is.
O’Donnell: Your ˜In Case Of’s’ good?
Mendez: Just Christine (his son’s mother, they’re separated). Guess I should have brought some books to read in prison.
O’Donnell: Nah. They’ll kill you long before prison.

For those of you who haven’t seen “Argo,” Ben Affleck both directed it and played Tony Mendez (emphatic fist shake at not casting a Hispanic actor), who rescued six diplomats who managed to escape from the embassy in Tehran and hide out in the Canadian ambassador’s house (the ambassador is brilliantly played by Victor Garber- also one of my favorite fictional spies as Jack Bristow in “Alias”).

I love how the movie is heartbreaking and hilarious in one breath. And no, I didn’t have to look up the lines, just can’t remember whether they’re at National or Dulles. And even though I’ve seen it more times than all my other favorites combined, I still cry at the end (not a spoiler, just the orchestral score).

My best wish for the new digs is that they have a huge Tony Mendez exhibit, because he died not too long ago and therefore, I would guess that even more of his ops are declassified. I am not totally clear on the rules, but I believe when you die you lose your covers, and the ops you’ve done can be made public… just not the ones that involve other people still alive and/or are still in progress. It’s possible some are still current, because I believe that after Tony left the CIA full time, he was still an occasional consultant. No one would want to lose all that experience permanently unless the person was really, really gone. I can’t imagine the grief inside The Agency, because he was a straight-up legend.

In a way, I think that subconsciously I picked going to the spy museum because Tony died to remind myself that I am not the only person in the world in grief.

I feel the same way about walking through cemeteries. To me, it is not morbid. It is an uplifting reminder that I am not alone in my sadness, situational depression, wondering what we’d be gabbing about if she were still here, etc. What I find is that as time goes on, the well of emotional injury gets more shallow, but there are triggers that pull me right back to her open casket, and how I felt completely disoriented, as if the world had started spinning the other direction and I could feel it.

One of those triggers was Tony’s death. I started crying and couldn’t stop, eventually realizing that it wasn’t all about him. Yes, it was devastating to lose a national treasure, but it was also a direct hit on how “gone” death truly means. And not to demean losing friends or extended family, but your reality doesn’t actually crack until you lose a parent. The entire universe seems different, and for a while, it loses all its color. You just wander around sort of half alive in grayscale.

I knew that I was getting better when I could make an effort to see friends, but at first, it was only other people who had also lost a parent. They were my people, the ones who I could confide in and share my rage at the dumb things people say when you lose a loved one, knowing innately that they mean no malice, so you can’t get mad at them directly. You can only get mad at the situation. Bad theology got on my nerves, didn’t measure up to one lady who compared the death of her cat to the death of my mother at church. It made my rage go to 11 and I had to excuse myself as not to emotionally rip her to shreds, because if I had waited even another three seconds, I would have taken her head off.

There’s only one other situation that makes me truly uncomfortable, and that’s the people who, upon hearing about your parent’s death, start crying because they can’t imagine what’s going to happen when their parents die, and that also happened to me in public (again, at church). The reason it’s tone deaf is because my natural reaction was “well, it’s a good thing I’m going through it and not you.” It’s just so egocentric that I cannot deal. It’s just another situation in which I just have to walk away, because I have not come up with an appropriate response, just a sarcastic one.

And that’s the thing. Because you know the people around you aren’t trying to hurt you, there’s just nothing that anyone can say that will make it better, you have no idea what to say in response to the awkward and often just stupid.

If you don’t know what to do, let me tell you. Grief is as individual as a fingerprint, and everyone processes differently, but this generally works across the board. Say “I’m sorry for your loss,” and offer to be present. And that’s it. The ones I loved the most during that time were people who showed up, but didn’t say much of anything. They just sat next to me as I stared off into space and were willing to listen if I could manage to talk. But they offered no advice on what to do, they just let me process verbally. It’s never a case of needing advice on what to do, especially if you haven’t lost a parent yourself. It’s giving the person room to breathe and never, ever comparing grief, even if you’ve been in the same situation. Because we’re not in the same boat, just the same ocean and trying to keep our heads above water. Suffering is universal, but we all have different ways of coping.

For instance, when I was actually in town for the funeral and with my sister and my dad, I hardly emoted at all because I was speaking at the funeral and I wanted to feel put together for it. I wanted to be able to be funny, because the eulogies I enjoy the most are the ones that offer real insight into the person. My mother was a church musician almost her entire life, starting at 12 or 13. So my opening line was, “this is the only funeral Carolyn Baker’s ever been to where she wasn’t working.” It had the desired effect. The entire congregation just broke up.

I am also quite socially anxious, and only three people I knew besides my family came to the funeral, so I had to put on a mask and a suit of armor to deal with being in a HUGE crowd where I knew practically no one. The mask and the armor are extroversion to an Oprah-like level, while inside I am shaking and counting the seconds until I can get home. In short, I didn’t look like someone in grief until I flew back to DC, where I only got out of bed sporadically for about three months. I allowed myself to completely fall apart, just not in front of anyone. I did once, and it was terrifying, so I never did it again. I gave lip service to letting people in, and then I completely isolated, only emoting through e-mail or crying into my pillows when no one was home. I couldn’t even bear crying that was loud enough for my housemates to come running, and they’re people I’d trust with my life.

In public, I became stoic and divorced from my emotions, because feeling even small emotions led to a flooding out I couldn’t stop. It was better not to start, because it would stop me from engaging in conversation. Even when I was with friends, there was a risk I wouldn’t take- being there, but not present….. people talking at my body while my soul was out there somewhere, unable to respond appropriately with laughter or empathy or whatever the situation needed…. as well as just nodding and smiling because I could hear people talking, but I couldn’t understand what was being said. It became background noise.

In essence, compartmentalization was necessary to have a fighting chance at moving on.

I thought I knew grief from bad breakups, and it was a wake-up call to realize how differently devastating this grief continues to be.

That’s because even though you gain and lose people to circumstances throughout your life, there’s still a small chance they’ll reappear. You apologize for being shitty people to each other and as long as the apology comes with changed behavior, it will generally stick…. or as I call it from a stolen line, “resurrection happening in the middle of the mess.”

As an aside, Easter is a very important holiday for me, because I don’t generally celebrate Jesus’ resurrection literally, but the way we resurrect ourselves, both individually and in community.

When a person dies, as opposed to a relationship, you lose hope. You lose the future. And if the person dies relatively young, you get angry at having the years stolen away in which you feel entitled. My mother was 65. She died just months after her retirement from teaching- she never even got to enjoy it. What I miss the most is that I thought we could go to church together more often, because she wasn’t working. Even when she took time off to come and visit me, she’d never take time off from church as well. When she died, she was completely free, because her church had so few members that they decided to close, and she hadn’t found a new church yet. I’d already started looking through solos because I thought I had my favorite accompanist back, and I’d already talked to my choir director about it.

My choir director and my mother were cut from the same cloth, and every time Sam played solo piano, if I closed my eyes I couldn’t tell the difference. When my mother died, it made me come unglued. I went to church for about six weeks after I came back from the funeral, and it was just long enough to realize that it was the biggest trigger of them all and I still can’t go back. I know I will; eventually I will get that trigger stamped back down to manageable, but today is not that day.

I do appreciate that Mike, the husband in the family I live with, keeps inviting me to his church, even though it’s relatively conservative United Methodist. I’d still take him up on it because I know the hymnal from front to back, as well as soprano descants for nearly everything. Singing would be the most important part of church for me no matter what the congregation believes.

In true introvert form, I want to be invited even if I don’t take you up on it.

Another two words that make my day?

Please come.

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.

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. 😉

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.

The Inconsistent Vegan

First of all, I’m sorry for procrastinating on writing the next post on this blog. I know you’ve all been sitting on the edge of your seats waiting to hear what happened at The Big Show™ (that was a joke). My prediction about going into the interview calm and relaxed because I had nothing to lose came true. We all talked easily and laughed a lot. I wore black pants and a red and white striped shirt with a grey jacket (so DC), and the chairs in the conference room turned out to be gaming chairs, black with red piping. So I started the conversation by taking off my jacket and thanking them for buying chairs to match my outfit. The joke landed, and like that, we were off. I should know something one way or the other by next week, but even then, I will have another interview with the department head, which will be much more about HR kinds of things since I’ve already been given preliminary approval. And then the University of Maryland hiring process takes over, and that is state bureaucracy, so if I actually get an offer, it may be close to two months before I actually start. I’m not bothered by this- getting hired at University of Houston was the same way. It just comes with the territory of working for a state school.

The title of this entry comes from me committing to be vegan at home. I realized that with all the crap I eat (at work, dining out, etc.), at least some of my meals have to contain nutritional value. But the voice of Anthony Bourdain is always in my head. I remembered his treatise on the audacity of vegetarianism/veganism, and just how much I agree with it. Basically, he said that food is about hospitality, and when you reject someone’s food, you reject them. No matter what you’re offered, eat it. Choke it down if you must. It’s that important.

Maya Angelou once said (in an Oprah interview, I think), “when people show you who they are, believe them.” Nowhere is that more apparent than when someone offers to cook for you. If you sit down at their table, they are indeed showing you who they are. Food reflects both one’s self and family history.

I don’t have any food allergies, so when people ask me if I have any or if I have a preference as to what we eat, I used to say, “nope. Just the fact that you’re cooking for me is enough, because the last thing I want to do after hours of cooking for others is cook for myself.” Perhaps now I should say “make something that makes you happy.” I can think of several sub-par meals I’ve had over my lifetime (in restaurants, not at friends’ houses) that I remember as some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, just because of who was sitting at the table. I am guessing that the same is true for all of you.

Therefore, I just want to take care of my body when I’m alone. I don’t feel the need to make anyone else adapt for me, or preach on the evils of eating meat because I just don’t buy it. I have issues with buying meat where you don’t know your source, but other than that, I’m “game.” There are few people I respect more than Temple Grandin, and if you know her work, you’ll understand that to me, it’s not about giving up meat, but giving up the mistreatment of animals before we eat them. I believe in giving thanks for their lives, a nose-to-tail approach so that nothing is wasted, and eating lots of vegetables because humans weren’t meant to eat meat every day, a lot of what’s driving animal cruelty because the demand to do everything bigger and faster supports it.

Just being mindful is enough for me.

I will say, though, that I enjoy Quorn and Dr. Praeger’s meatless chicken a lot more than I enjoy poor quality nuggets and patties of the real thing. I have also discovered Dr. Praeger’s crabless cakes, and it was really hard not to eat the whole bag at once.

They’re probably vegetarian. I didn’t check. Baby steps.

But from now on, Pizza Night is one of those Daiya Supremes, because I can’t get enough of them. I was going to try and have it ready by now, because I’m working at 1800, but now I think I’ll bake it when I get home- note to all those who metaphysically show up at my house that dinner has been moved. I’m sorry if you don’t like vegan pizza, but if you get to show me who you are, then I get to do the same.

Choke it down if you must.

Noon

It is 10 minutes until 1200, when my alarm is supposed to go off. I got my schedule wrong last night- I thought I was supposed to work until 0130, but I was finished by 2230. It’s tonight and tomorrow that I “clopen,” slang for closing down the restaurant and being back in by Sunday at 1000.

I’m slated for the dish pit on tomorrow’s shift, which means that I will have to set up the restaurant for lunch. Of everything I have to do, that’s probably my least favorite, but there is only a small jump from last to first. Tonight is pantry station, which means cold foods and fried brussels sprouts, chips and salsa, etc. I get paid too much to think that anything is too bad. And what I mean is that being a dishwasher and line cook will never make me rich, but in comparison to other jobs I’ve had in the same industry, my hourly wage is insane. Plus, I also get vacation days (which I receive after six months), another thing I’ve never had from a small, independently owned restaurant. I also have the option to sign up for health insurance, but I like the state-run plan I’m on now, so I’m going to wait and see how my income averages out to see if I need to change it. If I switch to private insurance, my co-pays and drug costs will go up.

Although I am not a candidate for advancement, not wanting to go into management, I do get raises based on how long I’ve worked there and/or COLA (cost of living adjustment- my obsession with soda makes this my favorite acronym).

There is only one problem, and it has nothing to do with business. It’s that the woman who has slowly become one of my best work friends (despite the language barrier, closing more every day) is moving to Atlanta. I think either tonight or tomorrow is her last shift, after only finding out she was moving yesterday. I am heartbroken. Who else is going to hug me every day? Who else is going to make fun of me in a language I don’t always understand, just nodding and laughing because I am great at self-deprecation? But, in true kitchen wisdom, “go cry in the walk-in.” There’s really no time for emotion on the job, so that is a long-standing kitchen joke that works across all restaurants everywhere.

However, she is so loved that I’m not the only one with ALL THE FEELS. She gets along with everyone, from waitstaff to dishwasher. It also leaves us in a bit of a bind because she’s additionally a prep cook, so we’ll have to do a lot more at night rather than it all getting done before we arrive.

I wouldn’t mind a few prep shifts, leaving the restaurant earlier or getting doubles to increase my income… but to tell the truth, I’m really bad at it. This is because I will follow a recipe up and to a point, then decide I can make it taste better (ego, but not unjustified)…. but I do it with a pinch of this, a cup of that, so that I have no idea how to modify said recipe when I’m done because I don’t keep track of small improvements along the way. I can’t help myself- it’s a sickness.

For instance, Lanagan’s Pub Chili at Biddy McGraw’s was my own recipe, I always made it, and when I needed to write down the recipe, it took me two or three weeks, because every batch was a tiny bit different, as was my recipe for pancakes and oatmeal. I had several customers who came to the pub for brunch specifically to eat my food, something of which I am intensely proud. My pancakes in particular were a big hit, thin and crispy around the edges like a crepe with hazelnut fluff, the result of extra butter on the griddle.

It is always my goal to make foodies cry. One of the best chefs in Portland sent me a text and said, “even though it’s not a true Texas red, your chili is feckin’ delicious.” But he understood why I did it, adding light and dark red beans to make the ground beef stretch. That was 10 years ago, and I still remember that text dinging as if it were yesterday.

Sufficed to say if you have the ability to invite me over to cook dinner, you won’t regret it. The best indicator I have of this is that I made a French onion soup that sold out in less than one shift, and was supposed to last three days. Again, butter.

I have a keen sense that I am in the hospitality industry. My job is to delight people’s palates when I have free range, and I am comfortable with almost all nationalities. I’d love to work on my African food, though, learning to make Ethiopian injera, the flatbread you use instead of utensils for spicy beef stews that make my own palate dance.

There are two Ethiopian restaurants I highly recommend in Silver Spring. The first is Lucy, and the second is Arbol. Neither have web sites, you’ll just have to show up; you can also order from GrubHub or Seamless. I don’t recommend ordering from home, though. Get it fresh and hot, caliente y picante (temperature hot and spicy hot).

Also, if I cook for you, know ahead of time that portion control is important, because I have a blatant disregard for fat and calories. This is because I’ve read French Women Don’t Get Fat. Mireille Guiliano asserts that the reason Americans are fat is not because of the content of the food, but because we eat so damn much of it. Believe me, it’s true. Restaurant portions in the United States are generally out of control.

It’s also the entire reason I gained so much weight when I first met Dana, because as a Cordon Bleu trained chef, she fed me rich, rich food in stunning amounts. I took the weight off, and am now obsessed with keeping it that way. I don’t weigh myself, ever, but I back off the intake when I feel my pants are getting tight. I don’t want to go back to being overweight, and I don’t want to spend money on new pants, although it’s probably time, anyway.

Some of my Dockers are stretched at the seams, not from being overweight, but from the acrobatics involved with working in a kitchen. I have designated the black ones for work, because if I get bleach on them, I can fix them with a Sharpie. 😛

The thing I have spent money on this month is drugs. It is amazing how cheap Zyrtec, Tylenol, Aleve, etc. are on Amazon, because they sell Costco sized bottles that render each pill about .004 cents. I got a year’s worth of ibuprofen for $11.00, and 200 Zyrtec for the same price. If you’re not watching your cash flow, a year’s worth of Zyrtec is only $21.00. I just didn’t want to wipe out all my money until my next paycheck. I’m not the type person that particularly enjoys splurging one week and peanut butter sandwiches every meal the next.

I also have Uber to think of, because the buses aren’t running by the time I’m finished closing down the restaurant. I don’t particularly want to buy a car, because even though I could save up the money to buy one, I don’t want to pay for upkeep and insurance…. and it’s fun when someone else is in charge and I can just check out in the backseat and play with my iPhone…. and especially with Uber Pool, I only pay about five dollars a trip. They just add up, as does adding money to my WMATA SmartCard.

Public transportation is one of the reasons I love DC so much, because it’s cheap and readily available. Houston and Portland just do not have the infrastructure for it. Being one stop away from DC doesn’t hurt, either, because I can get nearly everywhere in the area in 40 minutes, even Silver Spring to Alexandria. Especially in heavy traffic, I couldn’t drive it that fast. So, at least for the moment, getting a car is not even worth it.

The only time I wish I had a car is for heavy shopping days, and those are so few and far between that it doesn’t really matter. Uber takes care of that, too, but I always feel bad when the driver has to wait for me to unload all my crap. But sometimes, it’s a blessing, because they’ll help me unload it. Some do, some just stare. It’s always a toss-up.

And now it’s time for me to slam iced coffee and get dressed, because I have officially written way past noon. I might even take a shower. Lord knows I need it. There’s probably aioli in my hair.