My Serendipitous Life as a Chef

chef2In the latest chapter of my seemingly serendipitous life, I am a chef. I wear a chef’s hat, and a chef’s coat, so I must be a chef. Oh, I’ve worked in the food service business off and on since I was 13-years-old. I started as a busboy and dishwasher in a restaurant my mother managed, 40 years ago. After that it was serving up ice cream cones and banana splits in the summertime at “Frosty Boy.” Since then, I have mostly worked as a server, fill-in short order cook, or manager; most recently as an events supervisor at a local high end waterfront restaurant. I did other things in between, of course. I’ve worked in customer service, international logistics and shipping, and dealt with government contracts in the office furniture industry. I even worked at Blockbuster for a time.

All which leads up to last year in September, when I decided I need a job that provided a more steady income, and some of the benefits that don’t usually come with restaurant jobs. I started at our local hospital (our town’s third largest company, with over 1,000 employees) as a part-time worker in the cafeteria. Basically I was a combination ‘lunch lady’ and hash slinger. But the hours were ungodly, with a 5:30 AM start time. I’m an early riser, but that was ridiculous, even for me! After about 8 months, I saw an opening for a full-time ‘food service specialist’ in the kitchen and applied for it, using my considerable charm and ability to sell myself – plus they were desperate. I got it!

My duties were a little more than I bargained for, but with my usual aplomb, I dove in. The kitchen prepares all the food for both the cafeteria (open to employees and visitors), and the patients. We make EVERYTHING from scratch – the mashed potatoes and gravy, mango salsa, parmesan crusted chicken, pot roast, corn bread, myriad soups and chili, are just a few of the items on our vast and ever-changing menu.

The kitchen consists of five full-time chefs, plus dietitians, prep cooks, and the various other support staff that are needed to feed up to a thousand people a day. I start my day (at 10 AM!) preparing the day’s vegetables for lunch and dinner. These can be anything from oven-roasted broccoli with lemon zest to succotash, or sauteed collard greens with ancho chilies, or steamed fresh zucchini and yellow squash finished off with various herbs and spices. I’ve since become somewhat renowned around these parts for my side dishes’ visual appeal and taste. After the veggies are ready to go, I begin preparing the evening’s two meal choices for patients. These are the same for each day of the week – Monday is pot roast and chicken pot pie, Tuesday is herbed tilapia and meatloaf, Wednesday is vegetable quiche and pork loins, Thursday is Swedish meatballs and penne pasta with tomato sauce – you get the idea.

Needless to say, all of this involves following very specific recipes, accounting for patient dietary restrictions (hence the dietitians) and using my somewhat rusty math skills to double or halve recipes, and to convert cups to ounces, or liquid measures to solids. I’m getting to be quite a skilled knife handler, too. I have yet to slice myself severely enough to require stitches! And for new parents, the hospital offers a Celebration Dinner for Two, with choices ranging from a sirloin stack to grilled salmon to chicken cordon bleu. That’s part of my daily routine, too.

Have I found my life’s calling? No. Do I want to call being a chef my new career? Probably not. But for now, I enjoy what I do, there’s no drudgery, and most of the people I work with don’t drive me crazy. I’m going to stick with it for now – until serendipity leads me to the next chapter of my life. Bon Appétit!

Truth with Passion

Speaking the truth with passion is sometimes all that is needed to make a profound difference in the hearts and minds and lives of people who are willing to listen. There is poverty, economic inequality, homophobia, racism, political brinkmanship and tens of thousands of needless gun deaths in America. I do what I can to move these conversations forward because I care deeply about the world and our place in it. And the miracle is we can all do it! We must simply begin.

Lost and Found: The Only Fitness Advice I Will Ever Give

When I took a year off to ‘find myself’ after leaving a job in IHOP management I discovered two things: I was never lost; and I had gained a little something around my mid-section. Then yesterday when I was changing my shirt, my partner Larry said to me, “Hey, your stomach is FLAT!” So this is my Fitness Tip of a Lifetime (because it’s the only fitness advice in my lifetime I will ever give): Take a serving position at a wildly popular local lakeside restaurant with outdoor seating for 200. Then run around like a maniac for several miles each day, at the same time making it appear as though you are taking a stroll in the park. Smiling and being gracious with folks at all times seems to help, too.

It’s Never Too Late

Today at Boatwerks, the restaurant where I work, I served a lovely couple in their eighties who were seeing each other again for the first time in nearly 60 years. Gladdy and Robert, they told me, became sweethearts in 1953 when both worked for a hospital in Chicago while attending college. The romance lasted three years, until graduation, Robert moved to Lansing, Michigan for a job while Gladdy remained in Chicago, continuing her work at the hospital. After a time, they lost touch. Both met and married other people, had children and grandchildren, and for decades lived their lives without any contact. Eventually, both of their spouses passed on. Gladdy’s niece (who lives here in town) invited her aunt for a visit and secretly arranged for Robert to travel from Lansing for a surprise reunion. It was my privilege to listen to their wonderful story and observe the happy interaction between the two as they reminisced about their lives during their long, leisurely lunch. Robert even remembered the address of the hospital where they worked together! At the end of their meal, I thanked them and wished them all the best. A few moments later came the happy ending – they walked out of the restaurant hand-in-hand.

LGBT History Month: Why We Need to Celebrate

Our LGBT History is important to EVERYBODY.

Social Justice For All

Happy_Gay_Pride_MonthJune is recognized as LGBT History Month, a time for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community to come together and celebrate who we are and stand in solidarity with each other.  We celebrate in June because it was June of 1969 that jump-started the Gay Liberation Movement in our country’s history with the Stonewall Riots.

In 1969 it was illegal in the United States to be gay and we were targeted by police for raids and put in jail.  Sadly, the LGBT community is still policed disproportionately and there are still 14 states where it is still illegal to be gay, most of those states are in the South, despite Lawrence v. Texas. Yes, most states in the South have zero protections for LGBT folk, so one can be denied employment, denied housing, and denied healthcare just for their sexual orientation.

As much as we think It Gets Better

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Ann Coulter’s Underwear Fail

Politically Activated

Many of you know Ann Coulter as a supposedly brilliant Republican political commentator, lawyer, syndicated columnist, and Romney surrogate. She also has a Twitter account. Last week she tweeted this: The word’s out, Harry Reid wears women’s underwear. If he’s not, let him prove it. This was in response to Senate Majority leader Harry Reid’s claim that Mitt Romney paid no income taxes for the last ten years. Ann Coulter was attempting to point out the ridiculousness of Reid’s claim. This tweet shows two things: Team Romney is grasping at straws. And Ann Coulter is not that bright. There is a flaw in Coulter’s argument. You see, Harry Reid never claimed to have worn women’s underwear, so he has nothing to prove. There is no burden of proof on Harry Reid’s part to prove or disprove Coulter’s accusation.

Then there is Mitt Romney. He has claimed over and over again…

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