Category Archives: Simple Life

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

5 Tips For Spending Less

  Ok, I admit it. I recently fell off the wagon, the thrifty wagon that is. I can’t really explain it. I just started spending money with reckless abandon, well reckless abandon for me. I ordered things on Amazon, bought shoes, and clothes that I actually needed, and a few big ticket items, like a new roller carry on bag. Most of the clothes were admittedly second hand, and those bought new we’re 75% off, so maybe I didn’t do so bad. But my recent spending spree reminded me that I need to remember not to spend money unless I really have to. So here’s some tips for Not Spending Money that can help us all spend less: 

 Brown Bag It

Eating out for lunch even only a couple times a week can run you between $8-15 dollars a day. Not to mention snacks and coffee. Your total spending for food on the go can quickly exceed $20 a day if you’re not careful. Even if you only do it a couple of times a week, that’s up to $2080 a year. Better option? Brown bag it. Spending a little bit of extra time in the kitchen to prepare food you enjoy will not just save you money, it could make you healthier. Don’t forget the snacks when packing your food for the day. My favorite is baby cut carrots and homemade humus!

Be Prepared

Sometimes we end up spending money on things we already have at home but not with us when we are out for the day. It doesn’t hurt to carry a few essentials to avoid purchasing duplicates in a pinch. I typically carry a small first aid kit that includes nail clippers, a small pair of scissors, needle and thread, cutlery rolled in a clean cloth napkin, pens, a notebook, multi tool and the end part of a roll of duck tape. Don’t forget a couple of heavy duty zip lock bags. Also keep an eye on the weather and carry a compact poncho or umbrella to prevent sudden unplanned purchases. Reusable water bottle? That’ll save both you and the planet.

Cash & Carry

This may seem counterintuitive, but I tend to carry cash for my spending money, and never more than $15 at a time. That is my spending money, and once it’s gone it’s gone. Now, of course I have my ATM card for emergencies, but I generally only use it for planned spending like groceries or gas, not incidentals. One of the benefits of using cash is you get a very real sense of how much money you have and the fact that you’re handing it over for something else.

Ask “Do I Really Need This?”

This is a hard one: need verses want. It’s a difficult  balance to maintain. I’m not in anyway promoting a life of depriviety, but it doesn’t hurt to know what you really need and what you really want. I often ask myself “do I have something at home that will fill this need?” More often than not I do. By taking the time to ask myself this question, I keep myself from spending needlessly, and decrease stress by spending less and having less stuff at home to deal with. 

Plan For Big Spending

Now, who doesn’t plan for big spending? There aren’t many of us who just go ot and impulse buy a refrigerator, although I admit I did impulse buy a piano once. But that’s not the kind of spending I’m talking about. For me, big spending is anything over $40. Planning for Big Spending can help in a number of ways. For example, you can plan on how much you want to spend on a item and maybe do a little inteweb research to figure out who has the best price. It’s also a good idea to do product research to make sure you’re getting the best value for your money. By putting genuine critical thought into large purchases, perhaps you will be less careless and frivolous with your spending. I know I am.

Nobody is perfect. We all have unplanned expenses, maybe indulge in an impulse buy or two and may even purchase things we don’t want or require to fulfill an emotional need. It happens. But, by employing some best practices perhaps we can all fall off the thrift wagon a little less often. 

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Filed under Better Choices, Frugal Life, Simple Life

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