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.”

the tire and the steak

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“I’m never gonna make it home…”

That was my ultra-dramatic thought while my car was stranded on the side of a mountain. Really, I just wanted to make it to Amarillo for a big steak, when my tire lost tread and left us scratching our heads on the cold, dark side of Monarch Pass.

This was my big move! At least physically, from Oregon to Mississippi.

It was all very sad. Very big, and very sad.
My throat was tight with it all. Shoulders hunched at the longevity of such a journey.

Shedding things. Shedding weight. Shedding pieces of a previous life.

I was worried that I didn’t have the right tools to get my tire off. So when I heard it burst (**flop-flop-flop-flop-flop-flop**) while in the middle of a decent episode of This American Life, I felt hopeless. My guts started to tighten and release. I jammed up. I looked at Bryan. He looked at me. We got out and assessed the situation.

Damnit, I wanted that steak. (Was my first thought.)
Then, we were gonna lose our reservation at the hotel. (Meh.)

And last, I was so tired. A bit downtrodden. I just wanted to be home.

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No more bumps. I was overwhelmed with them. Too many things in my head, and no cell service. My brother-in-law was with me, and he sees these things as small adventures.

I see them as punches in the gut. He gets thrills out of small problems, and at this point, the steak was all I could think about.

We figured it out. And by we, I mostly mean Bryan, screaming at my VW owner’s manual, “THIS THING MAKES NO SENSE!” I laughed at this, because it’s true. And I did, only to discover in the middle of a long road trip, have all the tools necessary to change a tire. And my spare was superb, thank you very much.

I watched, as my belongings sat close to the curve where cars were zooming past. No mercy. Fast, fast, fast. My red stand mixer on top of some boxes that were falling apart. Strange things to see on the side of a road, I can imagine. But they were all my things. Pieces of my life I had deemed worthy to keep. They were moving with me, and I swear to God they weren’t going anywhere but with me.

We bought new tires in the next city we came to. The guy selling them to me kept swearing that there was, “no way that Jetta is a 1.8 Turbo…it’s gotta be an Audi engine. VW don’t make 1.8 Turbos!”

In the back of mind, I kept thinking, “Brotha, I really don’t give a sh*t.” I mean really, what does that have to do with tires?

The owner of the tire shop came up to file some paperwork. We said a few words, and he gave me the “Your life rides on them” bit about tires. I imagine he went home that night and told his wife he got to finally use that line.

My nerves were shot as it was; my hopes at making it in time for a steak were slowly dissolving. We were still four hours away, and cutting it close.

“We’re gonna make it!” I chant. I suppose it’s more of a grunt at this point.

Then we move from mountain to central time zone. Boom. Hour lost.

My hope sinks deeper than watching Frodo deciding to keep the Ring. I sit quiet for a minute.

The pain in my lower left back is shooting down my leg from sitting down so much in that cramped car.

I decide to keep going. “Let’s just see where we are in an hour…” I say.

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Bryan and I discuss the etiquette of eating at a restaurant 20 minutes before they close. As a cook, I am weary of the idea.

But I also know this place is a big tourist spot, and they’re probably used to goobers like me coming in. This is all just banter, as we approach the city. I say screw it.

“We’re gonna make it!”

Finally, we are sitting in the parking lot of this grossly decorated steak house. Honestly, borderline creepy/my own nightmare. Whatever, I just want a steak. It’s not even about the quality right now; this steak means victory.

We both march in, heads held not so high, because we realize we are cutting it close. We see the dishwasher sigh. It is quiet, even though there are tables still eating and still ordering.

We sit at our booth and the waitress walks up, “Well look who decided to sneak in here and come eat 20 minutes before close!” We laugh and shake our heads and say sorry in unison.

“We drove all the way from Grand Junction, Colorado to eat here!” saying half jokingly, but mostly serious. I’m a little too shy to look up, and give a smile.

We know what to do. And this is what you should do if you decide to eat at a place that is closing soon. Order fast. Eat…somewhat quickly, but comfortably. Pay fast, always tip well, and leave when you are done. Lingering is not a luxury at this point. But I don’t care.

I got to eat a steak.

And our waitress’ name was Lacey. She breathed Texas through every word she said, and I might be in love with her and the sheriff badge she had to wear on her cute plaid western shirt.

At least that’s what I said on the comment card she wanted us to fill out.

Okay, not really.

But I did give her a 10 out of 10.