marriage and mashed potatoes

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I’d been eating the bride and groom’s mashed potatoes, with a dazed and gaunt look on my face.

That sounds weird, but when you cater, and there’s a lot of left over food they aren’t taking home, you get dibs.

Like, major dibs. Crab meat with remoulade stuffed into filo shells, popping them in my mouth like they’re peanut M&M’s on a long road trip. I did the same with their wedding cake too. And the jambalaya and the grits.

A little part of me felt guilty, because they paid for all of this food. There was just too much. We are poor cooks and servers. We eat when we can, what we can. Usually, it’s hunched in the corner, with a plate of food that used to be hot.

“What is hot food?”

I joke, but any cook out there will tell ya, shovel it in whenever you can, however you can and be thankful.

Ah, back to kitchen life.
And an interesting one at that.

Walking into a new kitchen is hard. You’ll probably be able to handle the work, but it’s the dynamic that shifts. You sort of have to prove yourself quickly. Generally, I find the person who is most organized, fast and clean, and I copy them. I get on my knees and scrub the ground too, if they’re doing it.

I was lucky to work for a chef that engrained in me a good, clean work ethic. Work clean, cool down and heat food to proper temperatures and use EVERYTHING. Never EVER put knives in the sink. SCRUB the sink every night.

I really love cooking on a line in the rush. I love being concentrated on making someone’s meal on a plate. I take a lot of pride in how it looks. I am restaurant owner’s dream, right now. Big availability. Love of food. Hard worker. Deprecating humor.

the wedding was NOT this nice. But you get the idea, right?

the wedding was NOT this nice. But you get the idea, right?

We are a big catering kitchen, too. Behind our kitchen is a giant event space which hosts a lot of weddings.
I guess as I was shoveling the used-to-be-warm mashed potatoes into my face, I wondered where they met. I wonder what hard things they will have to start talking about first.

I think about weddings, especially when you see them often, the brevity of the ceremony. The music. The pictures. The cake. Repeat. The event staff folds back the chairs, the DJ unplugs his wires and goes home already tired of his or her playlist.

It really starts to lose its appeal a bit.

“I don’t want no goofball eatin’ my wedding leftovers!” I jokingly say in my own head. I am at least glad that I can make myself crack up from time to time.

I wonder what they’re thinking about, as the bride and groom quietly eat their plates in the front room, before making their grand entrance to the reception.

Her gown is beautiful. Sort of off white. She’s sitting very straight with impeccable posture. I assume the dress has something to do with it. He’s looking pretty suave. Sort of spiky hair, five o’clock shadow and thick glasses. Like a way cooler version of me.

Their entire world has just changed. Their community recognizes them as a married couple now. The excitement of being newlyweds seems to have  put them in a state of shell shock. “I think that went really well!” and they cheers their glasses.

Precious.

Meanwhile, the hum-hum-hum of the giant dishwasher behind me beckons my attention. A fork is jammed in the drain, so I lift it up and water shoots out everywhere. Lovely.

I turn back around, and they are gone. Their plates still mostly full. I mean, you have a room full of people ready to dance and celebrate with you.

They dance the night away.

I clean.

I break down boxes, they throw bouquets.

I hear Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and no surprise, some lucky girl catches the bouquet and jumps up and down.

As I slam down the door to the dishwasher again,

it makes the same comforting hum-hum-hum

and I think to myself,

“Ya know…these mashed potatoes really aren’t half bad.”

Life, death, and dishes

Food, Story

Many of you may not know that I spent some time in India back in 2007.

I don’t talk about it much for the fear of sounding like the average student traveler looking for a foreign buzz.

But I suppose I was, to some extent. I went for many reasons, and came back realizing that my life would be different in all sorts of ways. For someone who grew up in the comforts of North Americana, diving into Kolkata culture for four months left me with many things to process. Many of which I’m still working on.

It’s hard to explain to people what we did with a short conversation, which is why I won’t dive into too much of that here. I can tell you that I did some work with a wonderful group of freedom workers called Sari Bari. (You can hit up their website here.)

It’s hard to truly understand a culture in four months. It’s actually impossible. It’s something one must devote their whole life to understanding and still then, may not get to fully recognize its impact.

So as I find myself on this journey of understanding meaningful work, I’ve been processing my time at Kalighat. Kalighat was where I volunteered while in India. It is Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying and Destitute. Basically, a hospice center.

It is a place where I saw pain and death, but also peace and joy. And I don’t say those words with the “Christmas-y” tone that you hear so much of right now. There were times of great sadness, but also times where laughter felt like the best thing you could muster up. Most importantly, it was a place for dignity. To hold someone’s hand and to give them peace as they left this physical world.

India 504_filtered

I had small jobs. But it was meaningful work for me. We washed their garments by hand. We hung them on the roof to dry. We emptied out salt and pepper packets donated by major airlines. We fed the brothers and emptied their bed pans. We washed dishes.

My first day there, I accidentally stepped around the sink area with my sandals and the southern Chinaman in charge of teaching volunteers on dishes screamed, “No! What the f*ck are you doing?!” I stepped back as he grabbed my arm and explained to me the way. This dude slowly became one of my favorite people. And then I learned how to teach people.

We washed most of the dishes with empty plastic bags, as rags were of scarcity. There was a person scraping off food bits, another at the wash, sanitize, rinse and dry stations. There are no machines at Kalighat. Only the hands of volunteers and Sisters caring for the broken (in many ways, we were the broken ones.)

And in between the dish and the clothes washing station was the morgue. Any time a body would enter in or out of the station, we all stopped. Some of us closed our eyes. Some of us made the sign of the cross on our bodies as we do in Mass.

It was about as solemn of a time as you could have felt. There were only a few times where I had to carry bodies in and out of Kalighat. To unwrap their still warm bodies and throw their clothes in the bin to be cleaned. They were then wrapped tightly in white linen and brought out to the Missionaries of Charity bus to be cremated.

You witnessed humanity in its every facet.

There were times when all I wanted to do was cry.

There were times when I did all the while rinsing fish bones off the metal dishes.

And the sacred tea time where the volunteers would meet upstairs for tea and biscuits leftover lunch chow. Here we would sing songs and laugh and I would vicariously live through the Italian doctor smoking cigarettes and singing little Italian anthems.

As the bell rang, I would leave and grab my things and look over the brothers once more and wonder by the next time around if they’d still be there or off to another place.

There’s always something to be done. Always a person to love. Always a dish to be cleaned.

And all are important things to me, in this life.

To care for another human being.

There is nothing small about that.