What You’ve Missed

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February marked the first anniversary of my residence in Austin.  And what a year it’s been.

I’m still around.

Are you?

How’s life treating you anyway?

 

I make no excuses.

I’ve been busy.  I work.  A lot.

I play a lot less these days.  Therefore I am somewhat absentee here. But I’m still around.

 

I have recently come to realize I get approximately one hour of fresh air every day – if I’m lucky. Not all at once.  On break and between jobs I am usually sitting outside, reading.  But practically an hour.

Sort of like a prisoner.

Not that I would dare complain about being gainfully/ over-employed or compare my jobs to prison.  Not in the least.

[Already, I digress]

One of my favorite things about sitting outside downtown is how sound bounces off the buildings.  How, in the off hours, it is so normal and unrushed without seeming desolate. 

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In my blogging interim, some things I’ve seen during those precious hours:

* Boy scouts invading in parade form.   Which was a little creepy.  I was unsure whether or not to wrap my head in foil and hide in a dumpster.  Then they were gone.

* A man on what would have been a normal bicycle, except for its absurd height.  I’ve seen my share of compensatory trucks, but bicycles are new territory.

* A woman running in a tshirt advertising vodka.    (Motivation, perhaps? I don’t judge.)

* A pack of tiny canines, wearing clothes to match their owner, inhibiting segwayers.   

 I now lead a lifestyle that requires of me an appreciation for every moment of peace and solitude.  That demands I make the most of 5-10 minute intervals of normality.  Or sleep…   That could so easily suck my will to truly live, but instead awakens in me lately more joy in the details of every day than I have known in a long while. 

 

For perspective, I site the recently concluded South By Southwest (SXSW) Festival.  Two weeks of mass culinary hysteria tested the minds, hearts and bodies of everyone within miles of a restaurant in this city.   The grueling, never ending onslaught felt at times like outright warfare with the public.  Business was booming.  Working two kitchen jobs for the duration taught me more about myself and why I’m doing this than anything to date.   And yes, I LOVE it.  Even more now.

 

Some other things you’ve missed:

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New local art, by Brett Scarola

 

*  I finished Level One sommelier coursework.  [Cooler than it sounds.  Trust me.]

* I am a diploma-wielding culinary school graduate. I worked instead of going to the graduation ceremony.

* I’ve had a weirdly fortuitous run of encounters lately, including a food photographer and blogger, a micro brewer, a couple who are starting their own winery, a chef starting a farm to table restaurant, the general manager of a very reputable bistro, and a woman whose husband is executive chef of a test kitchen.

I spent a day in that test kitchen.  Everything you think you know about commercial food is questionable at best.  The precision with which every change is researched and decided on a chain menu is painstaking.  And SO cool.  I really dig the science of food, the business of food. 

Some of these encounters were born of my tendency to sit at counters or bars and chat with people.  Some of them have led to me visiting new places.

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Three of them (and, hopefully, counting) have even allowed me unplanned kitchen tours.  Just for kicks. Just because I asked.

Less foodish activities:

* Visiting the laptop pound to replace my broken down hunk of plastic.   They were all lined up in locked cages, waiting for homes.  It was pitiful.  I couldn’t take them all.

* I am slightly bionic, having had a dental implant.   I now feel I know basically everything there is to know about the dental implant business.  That tiny piece of titanium was acquired through some seriously demanding processes.  But it is apparently “looking awesome,” my periodontist loves me, and while it was expensive, it was an overall shockingly decent experience.  Just in case any of you ever find yourselves wondering.

*It’s that time of year again.  I may have gone overboard –

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*I’ve been on WordPress (intermittently, I know) for a year.  Also a surprisingly great experience.  Thank you to all of you lovely, interesting, funny, thoughtful people who make it so.

 

Tell me, what have I missed?

 

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Tacos and toilets and costumes… oh my…

First things first – this picture was going to be a “Things I See” post.  Or maybe Roscoe says.  But it demands its story be told. 

My property management company, after months of plumbing issues in my rental, decided some fixtures needed replacing.  I came home after their scheduled work day to find this at my front doormail (723)

CLASSY. 

Unfortunately they were removed before I could spray paint them and use them as lawn décor.  Maybe next time.

 

 

It took me a couple of weeks to find my rhythm at my new job.  Now tickets roll off in a sometimes stupefying manner (for a newbie like me) and I handle them one at a time.  I have not had the line awkwardly waiting for me as of yet.  Working garmache  is more challenging than anyone who hasn’t done it can imagine.  Plating salads, beds for proteins and desserts may not be glamorous, but my work often has to be done in order for everyone else’s to go out the door. And when things are busy, trying to prep, restock, work the station and rush literally around everyone crowding my space I find a sort of order in the madness.  A spark inside that drives me to meet and outrun the demands of any moment on the clock.  It isn’t always perfect.  There’s a lot I don’t yet know.  But it is exactly the kind of challenge I’ve always found rewarding and fun.

 

So naturally, yesterday I left plating lovely salads behind and proceeded to Maria’s Taco Express – which I’d never visited but have always driven by, finding both my curiosity and amusement stimulated. 

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It is a funny little cantina of a place with lots to offer.  Indoor and outdoor seating.  Local beer and live music nights.  Restaurant cats on the patio. (Yes, that’s right. Cats.  Real ones). A rusty antique truck open on the upper deck for your children’s playtime enjoyment. I love it, and highly recommend the barbacoa.mail (721)

 

 

 

(Sidenote:  Upon departure, I was treated to a local gym billboard with this inspirational message – “New Glutes!”   Hmm…  the ability to buy this year’s model certainly has some appeal.  Ass stores should totally be a thing).

 

Otherwise, I’ve been trying to decide how to occupy myself for Halloween.  I am hoping to find some Hitchcock showings, at the very least.  I already have an 80s-centric costume lined up.  I may or may not blog on it next week, so no spoilers.  

Whatever you’re doing, don’t just sit there!  Get off your couch, out of your comfort zone, and do something ridiculous.  Halloween is NOT all about the kids.  It’s the one day those who need an excuse to be silly have one.  Tell me, what are you, your kids, neighbors, bffs and pets going to do and be this year?  Seriously, people, tell me!  Better yet, post pictures! 

Take on the weekend.

 

 

Kitchens Are For the Mentally Imbalanced

I’ll save you 2 terribly tolerant readers some trouble by recounting some of the past 2 days – my FIRST 2 days ever in professional kitchens – in bullet points.

I spent yesterday in 8 hours of externship with a local pub/brewery. The staff was wonderful and, well, patient. They make damn good food and even better beer. My time there went something like:

*Prep veggie burgers
*Wash, cut and par-cook 4 cases of potatoes for chips/fries
*Make cornbread
*Do a shit ton of dishes
*Prep onions
*Slice tomatoes
*Sample roasted peppers
*Make crème anglaise
*Do more dishes
*Listen to a lot of shmack among the staff and metal/rap/punk
*Eat a slap-your-mama chicken sandwich and drink a house brew

What a night. I left wishing they were hiring.

Today, I staged at a bar/kitchen for prep and lunch shift. The staff was so helpful and educational, friendly and cool. The work was super busy and showed me where my skills are lacking. And that a nose to the grind work ethic pays. I helped in pantry with:

*Herb prep
*tomato dicing
*charcuterie storage
*greens prep
*making croutons
*sampling above mentioned charcuterie
*camembert slicing
*salad prep and plating
*more salad making
*listening to girls not born in the 80s sing 80s songs
*lots of vacuum sealing
*supreming grapefruits
*station cleaning and restocking
*Some other stuff I can’t remember right now because it was a busy damned day and I have to be on the shuttle to work ACL Fest at 6am

The kitchen is impressive. It is run by a premiere Texas chef. Everyone seems to enjoy their work. And at the end of the day, I was offered a job. Let’s hope I don’t screw it up too much or too often.

Only crazy people sign on for this. For anyone who thinks they may want to do this, my (very green) advice – be sure you have the stamina and move-your-assitude. Know how to get the hell outta the way. Ask questions but keep your attitude to yourself. And always do whatever needs doing. Also, crass language and thick skin are prerequisite. Luckily, I walked in with both.

So, woohoo! First kitchen job! I’ll drink to that. You can too! Let the next adventure begin.

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(Me, a stage survivor. Tired as hell and happy about it.)

The Best of Hells

Today concludes week 1 of my culinary externship.

Damn, what a week.

With class work completed, I must now log 300 hours – with a maximum of 30 per week credited-of externship in order to graduate.  That can occur via a number of scenarios.

My classmates have a marginally sane approach to this process.  Find a kitchen job, have a supervisor sign off for paid working hours.  No problem.

I, alternately, said “I WANNA GO TO THE FARMS, AND A RESTAURANT, AND HELP PREP FOR A SUICIDE MISSION OF AN EVENT! THIS WILL BE GREAT!!”   (Without the yelling, my little-kid-enthusiasm just won’t come through – )

To translate: I opted to be part of a group helping a premiere Texas chef prepare for and operate a food booth at Austin City Limits Music Festival, as well as work on a local farm and in their kitchen, and log hours in a restaurant. 

I am officially a crazy person.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday I logged a total of 27 hours helping unload, prep, cook, process, package and reload for storage nearly 2700 pounds of chicken and 3000 pounds of pork. 

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Other students also helped make sauces and dressings.  We seasoned, roasted, sliced, chopped, vacuum sealed, and cleaned in 8 to 12 hour shifts.  It was insanity personified.  But we were so badass further prep was unnecessary and so cancelled.  The next 2 weekends I will work the festival booth in 8 hour shifts. 

 

Monday and Tuesday I returned to Bernhardt’s Fruit and Veggie farm. There, I helped make kim chi, sauerkraut and kale chips,mail (689) then picked, sorted, washed and packaged produce of all kinds to ready them for today’s farmer’s markets.  Next week, we make jellies.   Again I say, consider the long hours of hard physical labor that go into every piece of produce you buy at a local market, into every dish on every quality menu you see.  I assure you, your dollars are well spent.

 

Though not yet assless, I have worked enough to be well on my way.   I am bruised, cut, blistered, and moving like an octogenarian in the mornings.  Week 1 is behind me.  And you know what?  THIS IS GREAT!