Category Archives: Food

Line Cook in the Morning

I get up early three days a week and leave before dawn. It makes me feel like part of the work force to join the daily migration to work via Interstate 80. Luckily, my path is opposite the commute direction as I drive eat to pick up Highway 12. Coming over the hills that separate Vallejo from the rest of Solano County, I sometimes get a nice view of the Sacramento River wetlands reflecting early sunlight.

Sonoma Hills covered in vineyards and a eucalyptus wind break next to Fremont Diner where I work as a line cook.Crossing through hills on Highway 12, I see lights dotting the dark hills and mountains of Napa and Sonoma county. I like the mystery of what those lights are. By the time I reach Carneros Highway leading to Sonoma, rooftops begin to appear in the now not distant hills, thus ruining my earlier wonder. I come down a vineyard hill, pass a eucalyptus wind break and see a red diner sign, where I turn in and park. It’s cold in the morning, and the land smells of animals and crops. Sometimes the lambs in the field neighboring the parking lot will come greet me. I give them ear scratches and then head in.

The diner is oddly cold in the morning when we open up. Stoves, ovens and fryers have not had the chance to warm the space yet. We immediately get to work, warming up food, stocking the line, finding utensils, making daily salads and putting away deliveries. As soon as the “open” sign is flipped, at least a couple of regulars walk in ready for breakfast. The ticket machine comes to life and it’s “game on.”

Sausage and eggs sizzle bringing the stove and grill to life. The next few hours are primarily dedicated to breakfast dishes. I poach and cook eggs over easy, ladle on hollandaise, cover biscuits with gravy, and make huevos rancheros. I even sling the proverbial hash which comes with an egg sunny side up.

There’s a lot to being a good line cook. First you have to be prepared, which means having everything you need plus back ups. This takes a few times to get right on a new line. Knowing which cooking utensils are going to make your job easier is half the battle. The other half is grabbing those utensils before someone else does. Next is knowing what backups you need. Having to go back to the walk-in during service is not only severely inconvenient, but a major fail. If you go through your back up and need more of something, that’s understandable, but not having a backup is not doing your job. Running out of something entirely on the line is a public shaming worthy offense. Then there’s tickets, but that’s perhaps another post.

To some it may seem a waste for someone of my background and education to be working as a cook. To me though, it’s as though I’ve been training for this for a long time. It requires forethought, attention to detail and split second decision making. Plus, it’s physical, very physical. That’s another post to write about too. I finally feel like I’m doing something I always wanted to do. I enjoy my work and don’t mind being on display as I work in our open kitchen. I remember once, watching a short order breakfast cook at a place in LA. I was fascinated at how he could pump out, order after order and keep track of so many things at once. Now I do that regularly. It’s not uncommon for me to have 3 or four pans going at once plus something in the broiler. It’s fun, it’s challenging, and right now it’s what I do.

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Filed under Food, Life 3.0, Simple Life, Uncategorized

Suburban Homesteading

So maybe I’ve watched way too much Discovery Channel, or perhaps read Charlott’s web too many times as a kid. The idea of living on a farm has always appealed to me. The idea of living in a self sustaining off the grid homestead appeals even more. But, the reality of being able to achieve these things at this point in my life, while giving up a lot of the financial security I currently have in my home, is not realistic at all. So for the moment at least, I’m embarking on a hybrid: Suburban Homesteading.

  
So what does Suburban Homesteading look like? Well, it started with pulling up patches of brick in the backyard patio. The largest of these patches now houses the chickens, only two, who provide us with eggs and companionship. Thus far there are four smaller patches, three of which are planted with herbs, arugula, rainbow chard, peas and spinach. It’s a waiting game as to weather my seeds will be successful or not. Another patch currently sits bare but covered, to avoid raccoons or cats from digging. I still have plans for cucumbers, tomatoes, squash and maybe strawberries, and sincere hopes for maybe beets and sweet potatoes, although those may have to wait till next year. 

 The whole idea here is to see how much food I can get out of my backyard. I consider the above to be Phase 1. Depending on success, continued interest and stamina, I hope to move onto Phase 2, which would include solar panels, rain barrels, and possibly quail for meat. 

What I’m doing here is far from radical. I still grocery shop, but hopefully for less in the future. Our home will still be on the grid, city water, and even have Internet. I also have no current plans of trapping and eating the squirrels and possums that sometimes hang out with us. I’m just interested in becoming a little more self sufficient. I like the idea of producing my own food. If we’re successful this year, maybe we can even jar our own Marinara sauce.  

 The whole thing is part of a larger DIY lifestyle. I’m increasingly dissatisfied with the offerings at most grocery stores. Packaged prepared foods generally have too much salt, too much sugar, and make me sick. It doesn’t stop me from indulging from time to time. I still need the occasional Cheetos or Oreo fix, but these things are far from staples in my regular diet. I’m much more interested in making things from scratch. I typically spend at least part of my days off cooking so I have easy to grab foods available in my fridge. We make our own hummus, soups, and beautiful salads that are better than any grab and go option at supermarkets.

For me suburban homesteading is doing as much as I can at home and using the resources I have to provide at least a portion of what we consume. It won’t stop me from going to Trader Joes or my local farmers market on a regular basis, but maybe I’ll be getting a little less when I do.

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Filed under Better Choices, DIY, Food, Frugal Life, Projects, Simple Life, Uncategorized

Chickens: Cheaper or Better?

Well I’ve finally made the leap. I am now a chicken person. After years of pining and a few months of planning, I’ve finally managed to secure my very own back yard chickens. The eggs are amazing.  

 I put off this step for quite some time, because I read somewhere that keeping chickens is not necessarily cheaper. And, being a generation apart from my family keeping chickens, I was kind of clueless to the requirements. Then, an opportunity fell in my lap. A friend needed a house sitter for a month, and part of the gig would be taking care of her chickens. It sounded perfect. It was a trial run.

I quickly found out that keeping a couple of chickens in the backyard is pretty no-brainer and the eggs are delicious. I almost immediately started hashing out a plan. As luck would have it, the friend I house sat for is a carpenter. So we agreed to a skill trade: chicken coop for a website build out. I think we both felt like we got the better end of the deal. We agreed to wait for the winter rains to slow, and then we would build. 

In the days that preceded our first significant dry spell of our El Niño winter, I started to scavenge around my family home for wood. As it turned out, we had plenty of wood to recycle and three-cycle for the project. The only thing we would have to buy was a few hinges and chicken wire.

The chicken wire unfortunately turned out to be a significant expense. And, even though I do have a full role left over that can be returned to the store, the final expense was close to $200. Add to that the cost of chicken scratch (feed) and bedding which are both ongoing expenses, and my backyard project will need to produce about 40 dozen eggs before I break even. With two laying hens that produce about an 200 or so eggs a year each, that’s a full year of egg production to earn their keep. 

I started thinking about that article I read so long ago, but then I got the chickens. They’re wonderful. They have personalities, and bring an elation I never expected. It only took a day before we got our first egg. I couldn’t have been prouder if I had layed it myself.  I poached it and put it over toast. It was perfect. The flavor was strong, the consistency rich and the color brilliant. 

I decided that some things are ok, if they aren’t 100% frugal. It’s about quality of life, and these strange little dinosaur birds are bringing me great joy and giving me wonderful eggs. Assuming they last more than a year, which they should, project backyard chickens will eventually pay for itself financially. It was a good investment. I couldn’t be happier.

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Filed under Better Choices, DIY, Food, Frugal Life, Projects