ratatouille (and other things)

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We’re all tired, I think.

Some, more than others. That’s not unusual when things are “normal” and especially not right now. It’s true that some of us are more sensitive to the needs and energies of others, and that makes things louder and wildly more complicated.

Right now I’m not a big fan of the hustle culture. “What are you doing to get yours!?” kind of thing. The ‘push yourself til you throw up or blow out a knee’ kind of thing. But if that IS your thing, okay. (Just don’t try to normalize needing to push yourself to a breaking point — that’s kinda how we ended up in this mess in the first place.)

When it comes to cooking food for a living, we are very aware of the state of things. People eat for lots of reasons, I know. Beyond sustenance for now, I think we are feeding people who need comfort — who need to not cook for themselves out of being tired and at its very basic level, to just feed someone who needs something good.

That’s kind of the way cooking feels for me right now. I go home every day and collapse on my bed after jamming something probably full of carbs in my face and try my best to get a nap in. Maybe my anxiety will ramp up a bit or I will jerk awake by accidentally biting my tongue (because I tend to grind my teeth when I’m stressed and asleep.)

I wish, like so many others, it wasn’t so hard right now. I wish this work didn’t take as much as I did. I love cooking, and I love cooking for you — but it is exhausting and we are kind of on the burnt side of toast.

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Maybe I’ve recently bumped into another person that appreciates my food (as well as my company and to be honest my goober sense of humor somehow…)

Maybe I decided to make this person ratatouille while watching a film set in Paris, while drinking some big french wines. Maybe I’m a sucker for themes.
Either way, I’m glad I get to cook for a person from time to time that’s not expecting me to be anything other than myself. Or within a time limit where they have to eat or else I get a bad yelp review. I don’t know, it feels good and comfortable and most like myself when I cook for people I love to be around and take care of.

I thought maybe I’d post a recipe here because ratatouille is great way to eat some vegetables that are in season (or very close to it.) It’s my favorite Disney movie and also just really wholesome and delicious.

Ratatouille
(feeds 4)

One large yellow onion
One large yellow bell pepper
One large red bell pepper
Three cloves garlic
One medium eggplant
Two yellow squash
Two zucchini squash
Four roma tomatoes
Fresh thyme
18oz. can diced tomato
Olive oil
Red Chili Flake
Salt & Pepper & Sugar

Get your shit together:
Dice up onion, peppers and mince your garlic.
Slice 1/8 to a 1/4in thin your tomatoes, eggplant, and squash. Lightly salt the sliced veggies and let their water drain for at least an hour with paper towels. This will help your veggies not be so damn mushy in the end.

In a deep saute pan, heat up a few tablespoons olive oil. Drop in your onions, peppers and a generous pinch of salt. Let cook down for 15-20 minutes til onions become translucent. Add your garlic, tsp. fresh thyme and cook another 10 minutes. Add your canned tomatoes and cook down til half of the water cooks out (about 15-20min.) Stir every few minutes to make sure nothing is sticky icky. Add a pinch of red chili flake and sugar (taste for salt and heat and sweetness to your liking.)

Meanwhile, heat your oven up to 375F. When your onions and peppers have finished cooking, scoop a layer of the mixture on the bottom of a somehow shallow baking dish or pan. (At least 3-in deep.) Layer your veggies one on top of another into little stacks. Add a tiny bit of salt, pepper and fresh thyme between every third veggie slice til you’ve run out of veggies or are sick of making them. (For example: on top of the onion/bell pepper/tomato mix, place a layer of yellow squash. On top of that, a layer of eggplant, then zucchini, and lastly tomato. Add your seasoning and repeat.)

Bake for 40-45 minutes til tender and smelling good and sexy.
I like to serve it with some crunchy bread that I’ve toasted lightly in the oven with olive oil — and after baking rubbed down with a raw garlic clove. The best part of this dish is how cool it looks when you serve it. Everyone gets a stack or two veggies on top of the tomato mixture. It smells so, so good and really does make you feel good eating a pile of vegetables honestly.

So there. Eat you some vegetables.

And take it easy on yourself.
It won’t always be this hard.
There are plenty of people that love and think about you with a lot of light.
Send it back their way, too.

-josh

Confessions of a Pandemic Chef (Part 2)

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I can’t escape the feeling of letting people down.

Like everyone else, there are good and bad days. Well, good days being less oppressive and hopeful for things to lighten a bit. And bad days well, we’ve had enough of those.

You’re also starting to fray more at the edges. This is how I feel most days. Creativity thrives on air and room and space and so many days, I feel very confined to this survival – to making it happen day in and day out.

The Chef’s job in never done.

We’re still seeing restaurants close. Restaurants I’ve been well in the shadow of for years. Restaurants with resources and good people and good food. My heart breaks seeing them fade away — some have been heading there for quite some time and others, just bad timing. I hate this more than anything.

I’ve turned a lot of you down.

I’ve said I was busy or that we just couldn’t do a thing. Mostly, I couldn’t do that thing. I didn’t want to do that thing, and I can’t tell you when I’ll ever want to do that thing again.
Feeding you during this time is exhausting. We (service industry workers) are in a constant state of depleting ourselves so that we can pay our bills during this tiresome season.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s still fun to work with my people. They are the reason I’m doing any of this because we all work hard for one another. We also work hard for you. But you also need to understand that working in the hospitality industry is already a job that requires more than you’ll ever know. Not just physically, but highly emotional work.

I mean, creative work IS emotional work.

I know I have lost patrons due to my own boundaries.

I have said ‘no’ more than I’ve ever wanted to. The money is important, but it isn’t worth the weight on my soul. We are all stretched far too thin to pretend any of this shit is anything close to normal, so please do not ask more of us because of it.

It is so strange to have our work be so controversial. Cooks, servers and bartenders forced to be security against something we are still not prepared for. Yelled at by people who can’t wear a mask for five minutes. Having to choose to support your friends based on whether or not you feel safe in their businesses. All of this is fu*king weird and it’s heavy and it’s so ass backwards to what we are built to do in this business.

But, we’re still here doing it.

We’re thankful for you coming to our building and supporting us — I’m not asking you to leave us alone, but to respect the space we serve in. We’re still going to mess up. We’re still asking you to lower some of your expectations. We’re asking you to hold back until it’s safer, and we’re better.

People are still dying, things are still scary.

And all of us, are just tired.

If I say no to you, it’s because I’ve given it all for the time being — and when that space frees up a bit more, I’m happy to hustle and dream and move for you all again.

For now, a grilled cheese and tomato soup is good.
And I hope you let us make it for you.

rage.

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I get so tired of falling asleep with rage in my belly.

I envy those who let things pass so easily and with grace. Sometimes I can, but my patience these days is wearing so thin. I used to be so good at holding things in and during a younger season in my life, learned about the wild things I could no longer contain.

I learned about the airing of memory filled with grief and sorrow, but also a lot of goodness.

The kitchen brought me some rage, as with any high stress job where your margin of error seems almost unforgivable. There is no shortage of things that fill me (and most likely you) with some deep glowing fire.

That kind of rage stays with me. It lingers, mostly into the dark. Sometimes, my only option is to drown it with sleep. I know it’s not good, but sometimes it’s also inescapable.

The last thing I want to do is drag someone else into the things that I feel.

I’ve been learning to navigate some anger — in general I direct it at myself for allowing something to get to me so quickly, but also most of the time, it has something to do with a thing that is not within anyone’s control.

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Being alone can be hard. Self-control is even harder. We’re allowed to let off steam — but never at the cost of hurting another thing. I think this will be a life learned lesson, one that comes at the cost of being hurt by another.

We have a lot to be angry about. Maybe some of that is accepting things were never as they seemed. This feels a lot like being betrayed by someone you love who is never willing to apologize, a toxicity that is being bled out. At some point though, you have to put pressure on the wound.

Maybe that’s what this time is about.

There isn’t much space to hide anymore. In fact, it is maybe one of the best times to dig in deep and work on the next shift of your life. Maybe you’re already doing that and this quarantine has shown you how much you’ve grown into yourself and how you move alongside with the other people in your life.

For me, being alone does not equate to loneliness. Some days are harder, but I’ve been growing in ways I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have this space.

I’ve never been one to stray too far away from a challenge, especially at the cost of my own peace. Surely the older I get, the more comfort I crave but I still recognize the wild things.

The sense to grow and move and challenge my humanity (and maybe yours.)

The rage never lasts. It dies because it has to. (and I continue to lay down weapons I shouldn’t use anymore.)

It will always be in my belly — it is how I’ve come to recognize the most important things in my life and that maybe I need to drop the things I’ve been clinging on to for so long. The heaviness of expectation, the need to please and the wondering if I’ll ever be enough for you.

There are always newer, lighter things to pick up along your way.
I hope you give yourself the time and space to find them.
You’re a gift to the people that love you.
Be sure to love yourself in return.

 

 

 

 

fog.

Food, Health, Hospitality Industry, Story

I really wanted to call this “Love in the Time of Corona” – but of course there are about 60 other think-pieces with this title and maybe we’re all tired of seeing it.

Sure, this is a little easier for introverts. Let it be clear that none of this is easy, for any age group or  personality type. Honestly your pets are super happy  you’re home. Maybe even your cats.

We all might be getting a little chubbier. (Which is OKAY.)

My lack of running around for eight hours a day like a crazy person is showing. Well, that mixed with beer/whiskey/whatever people have been leaving on my doorstep.

This is the most time I’ve had to myself since we opened the new restaurant. It’s been almost two years of constant worry and hustle — of reminders and alarms that I’ve turned off since we decided to temporarily close.

That was a gut-wrenching decision.

I felt like I had failed.

It took a pandemic to close our doors.

I felt so much guilt and pain for not being strong enough to make it  work — to have to tell my co-workers that they’d need to be registering for unemployment.

And I was exhausted. Emotionally. Physically. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know the mental toll that it takes. In fact, I have so much mental energy left at the end of the day I can’t really sleep without just completely wearing myself out on Youtube tutorials.

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Some days are foggier than others. You know this all too well.

That is mostly hope. Also, perhaps  you’re less hungover from the night before. (Which is a good thing.)

I know we’re all hanging on, here.

I was talking to my Memaw a couple of nights ago. She’s 81 and has been through most of the hard things a person has to go through in one life — and something like this is new to her. It is a hard thing, regardless of age or social capacity. It doesn’t need to be said that being human is being social and that the best feeling is to be loved on by another.

Sometimes, it  looks  darker, like a box you can’t get out of. A heavy fog.

I know.

Hold fast to the things that make you feel strong — feel loved —  feel heard.

We started cooking  again this week.
If nothing more than to pay some bills, but mostly to feel somewhat connected again. The hard pill to swallow is that this changes everything. It changes our business — our hearts and those things that shake us to the core.

But there is a lot of love out there.
The fact that we are staying  put shows that.

I encourage you to keep reaching  out to people. To check in on quiet friends  (check in on your loud ass friends too.)

Be good. Take some deep breaths and give yourself loads of grace (more than you already should.)

I send all the love in my heart,
however long it takes to reach you.

-j