Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chasing the green fairy

I haven’t caught her yet. I have had a fascination with absinthe for years. I was pleased to learn earlier this year that it is now (for the first time since 1912) being legally produced in America. I was even more pleased to see it listed in the UFS ad this Sunday. I made it a goal to finally try this drink very soon AND figured it would be an interesting blog topic. My plan was to, of course, write a review of Lucid absinthe http://www.drinklucid.com/ , but also include pictures of the traditional way to make an absinthe drink and the changes the green liquid undergoes. I would also include interesting historical and health-oriented facts about the drink. (I never embark upon a potentially hallucinogenic adventure without doing my research.)

I was slightly disappointed that absinthe was the topic of Stephen Colbert’s “The Word” last night. The word was Absinthetinence. http://www.comedycentral.com/motherload/index.jhtml?ml_video=123820
Stephen Colbert is encouraging young people to abstain from imbibing absinthe. He seems to be perpetuating the myth that absinthe causes insanity, whereas, in reality, today’s legal absinthe is no more brain damaging than any other alcoholic drink. Also, if absinthe wasn’t gaining in popularity already, I bet everyone at Colbert Nation is out purchasing some right now. Soon, the web will be loaded with blog entries about absinthe, and I wanted to be one of the first (maybe around here at least) to try it/ write about it.

Oh well, review still to come. I am having surgery tomorrow, so I can’t drink alcohol for a couple days. I do not want to spend the money right now for an absinthe glass, or spoon, or fountain. So I will probably be using a snifter, a slotted spoon and a sports bottle. I will still be able to make a traditional louche. If you are not familiar with absinthe, don’t worry; I will give you all the details about this fascinating liqueur. My plan for later this week: recover from surgery with a bottle of absinthe.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Stepping Up

I have been watching one of our food runners start to take on more tasks in the kitchen. Usually her job duties would be limited to putting food on a tray and taking it to the correct table. Occasionally the food runners also serve as expeditors, telling the chefs what items are coming in on the tickets. A couple weeks ago, I started noticing a food runner, B, chopping onions and blending soup. She has been continuing to do more and more food prep duties, even cutting meat. I have been kind of impressed.

Saturday night, we were pretty busy. The kitchen was running semi-smoothly for just having lost our executive chef and also training a new line cook and salad worker who do not speak English. Chef P, who has suddenly become the executive chef, and been putting in crazy hours, had not prepared any new desserts and by the end of the night we were out of desserts. We thought we were through with service for the evening and Chef P went home. Then we had a couple parties show up wanting to eat, so Owner 2 was debating what to do. B said, “I’ll cook. I know all the dishes.” R1 said, “And I will make some dessert.” So B made some perfect dishes and R1 made some less than perfect dessert (Blackberries sautéed in brandy and red wine with some brown sugar, served over vanilla ice cream; it tasted good, just looked a little sloppy). So we served the two parties who were very happy with their dinners. One of my customers said, “Give the chef a raise!”

I recently read a book called Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch. It is a memoir about working in a fine dining restaurant. It was a good read and I liked it because I identified with her story of being new to serving, and also wanting to excel at it. In her restaurant, all the workers called each other “chef”, as a sign of respect. She did not explicitly say this, but I am assuming that this practice also helped keep in mind that everyone in a restaurant is contributing to the same goal of providing a great meal for the guests. I don’t know how actual chefs would feel about that practice (most chefs I have met are VERY particular about being called CHEF), and I am not going to suggest we try it at my work, but Saturday night I complimented B and called her “chef”.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Restaurant

I work as a server in a small, local, fairly new restaurant. I really like my job. I try to do my best in spite of minimal or conflicting training. I really want this place to be successful, but it has really had its ups and downs already. I keep being hopeful that it will get better. I think people don’t know about us yet and we are still smoothing out some rough spots. Some days are great, the tables full, the compliments flowing. Some days I sit there without a single customer. Sometimes I disagree with the way things are done or get irritated with my employers or coworkers, but in general I would say I am still in it for the long haul and hoping it works out.

I thought I would use this blog to express some of my thoughts about work (hence the name). But I haven’t decided how secret I need to be yet. I know as soon as I reveal a few details about the restaurant, some Peoria people will know exactly where I work because I have read posts or comments on local blogs about my work place. I guess that is OK, I am just still unsure about how I feel about my fellow coworkers knowing if I post about work.

So even though I haven’t figured out a theme to this post or a purpose for sharing, I think I just want to write about my weekend at work. Maybe through writing I can process my thoughts or feelings, or, if not, maybe start to paint a little picture of my world at work and the beautiful but bizarre restaurant I have an exaggerated sense of commitment to.

Friday, when I arrived at work, I was told by my coworker/ kind of manager, R1, that we are changing uniforms. From now on we are to wear colored dress shirts instead of white ones, without neckties. I expressed my disappointment and took of my tie. He proceeded to tell me that also, from now on, he and I are supposed to be more laid back. (The going without ties thing is supposed to help us with the appearance of being laid back.) I felt confused by this for a couple of reasons. 1. I am already very laid back. Before this job, I don’t think I had even eaten in a fine dining restaurant. I knew nothing about wine. I knew nothing about food. (I still struggle with this because I am vegetarian and don’t know much about cuts of meat, and also, customers seem to want to know if you personally have tried the things you are recommending). Anyway, I always try to make my customers feel super comfortable. We have a lot of people who show up “not knowing how nice it is” and seem to feel out of place because maybe they are wearing jeans or something, and I always try to be very reassuring that they are welcome and we want them to have a great experience. I enjoy being at work and am not ever snobbish or pretentious. I am laid back! 2. A couple of months ago, a server was fired for being too laid back. The actual action that got him fired was standing with his hand on his hip. I was really upset about this at the time because I thought this man was a really good server and willing to learn. If the owner would have said, “Do not stand with your hand on your hip”, I’m sure it would have never happened again. But, at my work, people get fired A LOT.

So, a couple hours after R1 told me about changing uniforms and being laid back, he also thought to mention that our executive chef had gotten fired on Thursday. I think he was our fourth chef we’ve had since opening. Two quit and two got fired. We have also had five managers quit or get fired. And countless employees.

Aha! I have thought of the theme of this post. Consistency (well, lack thereof). I think the restaurant is at a crucial point in which we need to start having some consistency. Our menu is always changing, rules always changing, chefs always changing, even our décor. I know our owners are trying to tweak things to make them better, and that is probably acceptable for awhile when a business is new. But after the newness is over, the constant changes are unsettling for the employees and the customers.

Now we seem to have a good team of servers, good managers, and if our sous chef is becoming executive chef and stays with us, I am hoping we will finally have some consistency.

I am concerned about the length of this post. I think I will write a shorter post about Saturday as a separate entry. I wonder if people will be interested to hear the stories of a local restaurant.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

San Diego is pretty tonight

Even before the Alzheimer’s, my grandma has always found the oddest things to be “pretty”. Napkins or paper placemats from restaurants were folded neatly in her purse to be taken home. A box of candy got distributed to relatives and she was happy to have the pretty box to save. She saves deflated balloons and the pretty ribbons they were once suspended on. For years she has taken the same pictures of the same trees in our neighborhood in autumn. Sometimes I find myself being irritated with her constant comments about the beauty of every little thing, and then hate myself for whatever psychosis possesses me to resent this unique capacity. If only more people (myself included) could find beauty in this mundane world, maybe the world, (myself included) would be more peaceful.

In the big picture, I want to learn this lesson, and not think of something as ugly, just because it is unfashionable or cheap or tacky. But I do have to draw the line somewhere and find a balance between accepting what my grandma deems pretty, without being irritated, and allowing myself to disagree.

When my son was preparing for his first homecoming dance, I was (briefly) considering making a corsage for his date, instead of buying one. I mentioned this to my grandma, and that I might use roses from our own bushes, but would need to buy some baby’s breath or a few accessories. She had been eating Worther’s candies, with pretty gold wrappers. So, she started crumpling them into a twirly design, and said “This would be pretty, you could put some of these pretty things on the corsage”. My mind is saying, “Umm, they are fucking used candy wrappers. I don’t think so.” But my voice said, “Well, I was thinking of using all natural components in the corsage, but thank you for the suggestion”.

As her dementia is increasing, this idiosyncrasy of hers is standing out to me more, and I am trying to process it differently. We were watching CNN a couple nights ago about the forest fires in California. There was an aerial view of the flames and my grandma said “Oooh, look at that. That is pretty.” I said, “It’s a forest fire. There are wildfires all around San Diego”. A few minutes later, when the screen was showing billowing smoke, she said, “Oooh, look at that pretty cloud. If I was there I would take a picture of that.” When I explained that it was smoke from the forest fires, she did not know what I was talking about or have any recollection of me telling her about the fires a few minutes before. I am learning to not ever point out if she has forgotten something or ask, “Don’t you remember, we just discussed this?”

Some people with Alzheimer’s go through drastic personality changes and develop a lot of paranoia. They can become hostile and accusatory. I wonder if maybe they already had some of these personality traits that just become exaggerated. Maybe my grandma will just have her loving, docile personality traits exaggerated. Maybe I am being naïve, but if she continues to become more affectionate, and clingy, and enamored with how pretty things are, I feel I should be grateful and accepting. It could be much worse.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Where do I go from here?

I think it is time that I start my own blog. I’ve been slowly being lured into the blog world, at first swearing to myself that I would never have the time or interest to even read blogs. I don’t really have the time, but I keep doing it anyway.

Occasionally I think about writing one, but I have been reluctant. I don’t know how to start. Do I just start writing one day about what is going on in my life, or things on my mind, what is going on in the world, that I have noticed? For every story in my life, it seems there is some complex history behind it and I don’t know how to just start in the moment.

If I were to write an entry about a walk in the woods with a fellow church-goer, in order for the story to have context, I would feel the need to elaborate, “the man who used to stalk me when I was a stripper but now whom I am trying to be friendly with since he goes to my church and we both share an interest in Non-Violent Communication”. Or if I want to write about my grandma sharing a room with my 14 year old son, it seems necessary to specify that not only was there a pipe burst, which caused her whole basement apartment to flood, floor to ceiling, but she then developed shingles and post-herpatic neuralgia, requiring constant medical care and now has Alzheimer’s and we are still trying to remodel her basement bedroom, but then there was another flood caused by the sump pump and also she is an OCD hoarder, so it is about impossible to clean or organize anything, even when we do get it remodeled.

I think my readers would (or already have) stop reading due to boredom and/or confusion. So I will need some practice in summarizing, and choosing which (if any) pieces of information are actually relevant.

I am also wondering about the purpose of writing a blog. Is it meant to be cathartic for the writer, or entertaining for the reader? I suppose in the best instances it would be both. My goal, would be that it be an outlet for me to express myself, but I also maybe hope to make connections with people who may read and offer input or differing viewpoints. So I think I will give this a try, and see where it leads, if I enjoy it or not, if anyone actually reads it or not (does that really matter?).