This post has been a long time in the making. Woody, over at woodntyaknowit, started what could only be described as a divinely inspired social movement. Thrift store pen pals would receive random items found at (you guessed it) thrift stores, then they would post about it on their blog. In between publishing arguably the funniest blog I have ever read, cooking, shopping at thrift stores, attending nerd conventions, and dabbling in the occult (I made that one up) Woody manages to squeeze in a career as an electrical engineer. Whew… I have no room to complain about how busy my life is.

Never the less; several months ago I got a package in the mail. Hoping that it was the box of live bees I had ordered the week before, I rushed home to don my bee suit. In my haste, I failed to read the return address. You can imagine my surprise when I carefully released the contents of the box into my neighbors apartment and this fell out. Image

I don’t think this will shut her dog up as well as the bees, but Bacon and I were excited none the less. I removed my protective gear to get a better look.

The first item appears to be a picture of a man with a chunk of his face missing. Disturbing, but when I moved the trinket,

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Holy Shit! his nose appears! What evil magic did you send me Woody? It turns out, the “nose” is merely a chain connected to this poor mans skull, which you can tell by his expression, he is thrilled about. This toy gave me hours of terrifying fun, as I turned the follicular challenged fellow from the elephant man into Abe Vigoda. The back of the “toy” said a couple of things I found interesting as well.

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“Choking Hazard” caught my eye, as you would need an enormous hole in your face to get anywhere close to choking on this thing… no offense to the guy on the front of the toy. Next it says that it is “not for children under 3.” That’s a wise choice, but I’m well over the legal limit this thing requires, and I’m fucking terrified of it. I decided to make an aftermarket modification and change the inscription to read “not for people.”

Thankfully Woody sent me something wholesome to fend off the night terrors nose-guy was giving me. “Grow your own Noah’s ark” sounds like good, clean, family fun.

Until you notice the frog making sexy eyes to the pig on the front.

I guess if I was stranded on a boat for 40 days and 40 nights, interspecies mating might not sound like such a bad idea. Thanks to the good-time vibes Noah was putting out on that raft, we have creatures like the platypus, the mule, and the liger. The kit comes equipped with two giraffes and the big guy himself. When placed in water, the three characters will grow before your eyes! Shoot me now, I’ve seen it all. I tore open the package with such ferocity, God himself was slightly startled.

Cups-check

Water-czech

Toxic Noah figure-check mate

I put everything together, then prayed to slip into a coma so I didn’t have to watch the painfully slow transformation process. Three excruciating days went by and Noah and friends had reached maximum water retention. As expected, bloated Noah and I had a lot of fun together. The first few dates were awkward. I had to catch him up on everything that’s happened over the last few millenia. Spanish Inquisition, Revolutionary War, Berlin Wall, the Jonas Brothers… The whole Jesus thing really blew his mind. But after a couple weeks he started to become distant. It felt like he was turning back into his old self. Shrinking away from me when I tried to talk to him about my day. The relationship finally just dried up, and I had to move on. 😦

If you havent checked out Woody’s blog, do yourself a favor and click the link. You may be the next lucky thrift store pen pal.

Thrift Store Pen Pal!

Is this thing still on?

To the faithful (2) people who keep checking this blog for updates, I extend to you my sincerest apologies. As you may have gathered from my last couple of posts, things have been strange as of late. I lost my job, things with Anna ended on an unfortunate note, and the unavoidable chaos of the holidays swept me off my feet to say the least. I’ve managed to maintain some semblance of sanity, but blogging was the furthest thing from my mind. Plus… who wants to read the thoughts of a sad, unemployed, ne’er-do-well, with an affinity for 50 cent words? No, no, no. I couldn’t do that to you (the reader) or to the blogging community as a whole. I maintain that media should be an escape from reality, not an exploration of reality’s darker side. That’s why I don’t watch reality tv. Who wants to see orange hued women pull each other’s over processed hair out? Why would I want to succumb myself to the torture of watching a man try to eat himself to death on 60 oz of red meat? If he were to actually die on national television, while trying to finish the curly fries, I might say its worth my attention. The reason we enjoy watching movies, reading books, and scanning through endless hours of YouTube videos, is because we crave an escape from the monotony of daily life. A short reprieve from answering emails, ignoring incoming calls, and facing yet another trip to the supermarket to buy cat litter, and Ben and Jerry’s. So, in short, I refused to post another blog until I had something to say besides “Checked the Craigslist job site again… hope this interview goes well.”

And boy do I have stuff to say!

I learned a new term a couple of months ago. “Stage-when a cook or chef works briefly, for free, in another chef’s kitchen to learn and be exposed to new techniques and cuisines. A stage normally is used to see how a new chef or cook can adapt to the current environment in the kitchen. When a future chef is seeking an internship, often the stage is the next step after the interview.” In other words, you work for free. Now, I thought that this kind of fancy slave labor died off a long time ago. But like most things in the restaurant world, anything goes. So I’ve been “staging” at a few places around town, in hopes that I’ll get a full-time gig out of it. As luck would have it, I did! Justus Drugstore realized that having me work there for free presented a liability… what with all the sharp knives and hot pans flying around. Luckily it didn’t take losing a digit to get on the payroll, and my experience there has been magnificent so far. The entire staff has been awesome to learn from, and the food there is incredible. For more doting you can reference my other posts about Justus Drugstore.

This whole stage thing (see above) intrigued me. If I could land a dream job by working a couple of shifts at my favorite restaurant, maybe I could get even more experience if I staged at other eateries. It turns out, people love getting things for free… Who’d have guessed? So, in exchange for some grease burns and a sore back, I get to absorb all the secrets of my favorite places to eat. I’d say that’s a fair trade. In just a few short months, I’ve met some of my heroes in the culinary industry, I’ve gotten to cook at some of the most expensive restaurants in Kansas City, and I’ve gotten to touch ingredients that cost more than I make in a month. It feels surreal.

When I started searching for another job, long before I got fired, I wanted to work somewhere that I respected. As a kid I decided that I wanted to be a chef. Not because they made a lot of money, (celebrity chefs didn’t exist) not because I wanted my own tv show (food network hadn’t been created) and not because they wore pristinely white coats and tall paper hats (they probably didn’t). I wanted to be a chef because they were a part of the underbelly of society. Guys with tattoos and piercings, who couldn’t get a job in the real world, even if they wanted to, were brought into kitchens with open arms… Even if they had to hide from their wealthy clientele. Chefs were dirty and crass, probably did drugs, certainly drank a lot, yet somehow possessed the ability to cook food that made you weak in the knees. This is the world I wanted to be a part of. Somewhere along the way, I chose comfort over character building. Easy jobs, with generous salaries, took the place of respectable restaurants that may or may not be trafficking drugs through the kitchen. I can’t change the decisions I made in my career, but I can say that getting fired from the raisin ranch may have been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. My  hands ache to the bone, my feet feel like they might fall off, and I can’t remember the last night I went to sleep before 3am. I am in heaven.

There will be more to follow, I promise. I have been dying to show you the package I received from my thrift store pen pal at woodntyaknowit.blogspot.com

Behind The Line

I’m about to do something I might regret. I told myself I would never be “that guy.” It’s so selfish, but I just can’t take the pain anymore.

Before you start calling the suicide hotline, let me explain. I promised that this wouldn’t turn into another foodie blog. I think I’ve kept up my end of the deal so far. I refrained from going into drooling detail over the meal I had at Justus Drugstore, and my not so brief rant about Applebees was prefaced by a genuine concern about the sanctity of modern cuisine. But dammit Janet, I just cant help myself.

I was given the privilege recently to work at Justus Drugstore as part of an interview. Fate would have it, that I was in dire need of a change in scenery and Justus was looking for a new Pastry Chef. Now you may not be able to tell by looking at me… I’ve worked the better part of my life trying to leave behind my chubby childhood… But I have a sweet tooth. The past couple of years working at the “Raisin Ranch” has wreaked havoc on the husky eight year old living inside of me. Every morning when I got to work I ate whatever was available. Typically that consisted of some leftover cookies, a piece of cake, and on a couple of occasions I ingested something that I thought was chicken…. Save that for a different post. My only saving grace was the fact that I worked long hours on my feet, and I try to make it to the gym after work every day. A steady diet of caffeine and cigarettes have done their part as well. So when the opportunity, however slim the chances may be, to work for a chef I admire greatly, in a restaurant I would gladly blow my rent money to eat at, says they’re looking for someone to do nothing but make desserts, I had to jump at the opportunity.

I don’t know that I’ve been as nervous as I was the day I arrived at Justus Drugstore in my overly pressed chef coat. First day of kindergarten nervous. This was big kid school, and I felt horribly out of my league. I was almost an hour early, which in hindsight may have been a bad idea. Further prolonging the inevitable toss to the vultures. I checked my teeth one last time, even though I hadn’t had anything to eat but a couple strong cups of coffee… again, not a good idea. I stepped out into the cold December air, and walked towards the door. It was locked. Awesome. For fear that someone saw me looking like an idiot, I kept my head down as I walked back to my car. Luckily someone pulled in to the parking lot and gave me an understanding glance. “You must be the new guy” he said, as he took another bite of the slice of pizza in his hand.  I’m the new guy?? The fact that he even called me guy made me feel pretty damn good, but the implication that my presence was expected gave me another wave of nervous excitement. He showed me where employees enter the restaurant and introduced me to the Sous Chef. After a brief tour, the Sous Chef, Dan, wasted no time in putting me to work. Peeling garlic… Thank god! Something I know how to do. My relief was quickly interrupted when Jessica, the girl I was training with, walked in. She handed me a couple of recipes, followed by a few muddled words, barely audible over the years of culinary classes, former employers, and textbooks screaming in my head, then went about her way. Coco chantilly-got it. Flourless chocolate cake-done. Thyme syrup- I think I follow. But what the hell is agar agar?

Luckily everyone in the kitchen was really helpful. As soon as I got over the fear of asking where things were, everything went pretty smoothly. I expected something different. I was pleasantly surprised to find that everyone in the kitchen was around my age, they all cuss like sailors, and when you get past the place’s reputation and pristine dining room, it’s basically like every other kitchen. They still use leftover 3 gallon buckets to store things in, all the equipment looks bruised and battered… in a loving way, and the cooler was cramped and over crowded. The difference is that their cooler is stuffed to the brim with Campo Lindo eggs and Shatto butter, instead of Jello and leftover Salisbury steaks. Their equipment, with its lovely patina, consisted of immersion circulators and cryovac machines, instead of Civil War era mixers and leftover cottage cheese containers. Different but familiar. I was in love.

I spent the rest of the evening plating desserts, cutting mise en place, and trying my best to absorb as much experience as I possibly could. Despite a significant error on my part, making a filling for the pennycress agnolotti, the night went well. It turns out that my years dishing up mashed potatoes havent ruined my ability to make a decent risotto, and when push comes to shove, I can make some pretty good-looking desserts. I was treated to a meal of my choice and a conversation with the Chef about what he was looking for in the available position. There are some pretty big shoes to fill, as the former pastry chef was a Master Chocolatier. With a lot of guidance and some hard work, I think I can bring some “articulate and composed” dishes to the plate. I was asked back for a second round which was equally amazing. The staff remembered my name, and once I knew my way around the kitchen I was able to work mostly on my own.

I don’t know if the opportunity at Justus will work out… still waiting for the call… but even if I don’t get the job, the few nights I spent in that kitchen have gotten me excited about food again. A piece of me I thought was lost has been brought back to life. With a recent review by The New York Times, and an article in Time Magazine, those guys don’t need me to kiss their ass, but I give Jonathan Justus and the entire staff at Justus Drugstore my sincerest thanks, and warmest regards.

“Young American”

 

America means many things to many people. To those that have sought refuge, America stands for safety and security- the opportunity for a new life. For those of us that have called America home since birth, America is our nest of comfort- things familiar, needing protection. It’s amazing that the sense of pride we have for our nation extends beyond our borders. What other country has had such a steady stream of immigration? What is it about the United States that encourages people to leave family, friends, jobs, and homes, to enter a country that offers them only a small chance to prosper? Has America’s reputation as “land of the free” been taken too literally?

David Bowie’s “Young American” paints a not-so-pretty, although very real picture of what true American life means to most of us. The dream of getting married, having kids, and buying a house with a white picket fence, is what all of us dream of as young Americans. The reality of life as we know it enters when we realize that humanity is the same no matter what language you speak. The problems we experience as individuals are no different than the problems of those in other countries. We all struggle with relationships; we all strive for material success, and subsequently suffer the consequences of greed and gluttony. The idealistic “America” presents a facade of freedom, an image of the independently wealthy, standing atop the mountain of capitalism, stars and stripes in hand. That image deludes those of us living in squalor. Isn’t it the dream of every child to grow up to be president, or make millions on the stock market? Children, having aspirations of becoming doctors and lawyers, are more likely to be mopping the floors of the local hospital than they are to be gracing the halls, stethoscope in hand. Cynics and sadists will say that the “American Dream” is a myth. Most of us, under any normal circumstances, can only hope to stay above the poverty line and put food on our tables. The idea of someone owning their own home is becoming less and less attainable. The state of our public school systems inadequately prepares kids to enter college, which makes their chances of getting a high paying job substantially less likely. Why do we continue to hope for an America that doesn’t exist?

The “Young American” David Bowie makes reference to, is one that experiences life as most people know it. The loveless marriage between the woman who would have “taken anything” and the man who wonders, “Am I still too young,” isn’t held together. Boys that go off to war seldom return home. The freedoms we fight for overseas have become fights for equal rights on our own soil. The government we trusted to give us the “American Dream” on a silver platter has indulged in glamour and left us with the bill. “Do you remember, your President Nixon?” But by accepting these truths, we still find hope. The subjectivity of what the American Dream is for each of us as individuals is what allows this country to survive. It’s what allows protestors to live next to politicians, “black’s got respect, white’s got his Soul Train,” and gays can work with straights. What binds us together as a nation is not the shared dream in what we want this country to become. It’s the fact that each American has a dream. When push comes to shove, we band together as a community to ward of those that wish to see this country fail. The ideals we share are not political or religious-they are moral. The Declaration of Independence states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These principles, imbedded in every human, are the tie that binds us together as Americans. The opportunities provided by a country that encourages every citizen to rise to their maximum potential, far outweighs the individuals who wish to propagate discrimination and separation of classes.

Although we see an abundance of misgivings, there are still those who inspire us to be better than circumstances. The song “Young American” doesn’t leave you with a sense that we are doomed to “die for the fifty more” years of our lives. Instead it leads us to accept that the cloud of reality, looming over those of us living normal lives, has a silver lining. We may never rise above racial intolerance, problems of money, and prestige. But each individual American must choose if they are going to fall prey to their circumstances, or overcome them in an attempt to become a citizen that embodies the “American Dream.” This is the beacon of hope that leads people from around the world to go to any lengths to become Americans-the opportunity to pursue happiness, in whatever capacity that may be. These gifts are available to anyone who is willing to work for them.

 

On The Road Again

Its been a while since I’ve found myself in this position… Actually, come to think of it, I dont know that I have ever been in this position before. No, Im not talking about “reverse cowgirl” or the mysterious “alaskan pipeline” I’m talking about joblessness. I was recently “let go” from my position as an Executive Chef. Being “let go” sounds so much better than being fired. Its like I was an endangered animal, rescued from an oil slick, nursed back to health, then set free in my natural habitat. As opposed to being told “yeah, we know youve worked here longer than any other manager, and during your tenure you’ve managed to retain more residents than any other chef, but all that aside, we dont think its working out.” It begs the question: why didnt they get rid of me when I was the guy who showed up drunk and or hung over every day? I would have found more comfort in getting fired when I was the guy doing lines off the back of the toilet, as opposed to the upstanding, sober member of society I am today. 

I’m not bitter… maybe a little hurt. Definitely scared. But overall… Im ok. Thats been the theme of my life lately. Despite circumstances that would lead most people to get a little concerned… maybe go a little crazy… maybe even start plotting the demise of those responsible.. I feel alright about the situation. I’ve missed more classes this semester than any other because of this job. Ive had to sit out of family functions because it interferes with events at work. And Ive been desperately seeking an opportunity to learn some new skills in the culinary industry. I think this is god’s less than subtle way of telling me I need to get moving. I didnt want to be slinging oatmeal for the rest of my life anyway. 

 

 

I have a dream…

We live in troubled times my friends. Our nation stands on shaky ground as we watch the foundations of commerce and the structures of government crumble away. This nation, once a beacon of hope to those seeking refuge from the clutches of tyranny and injustice, has dimmed in the wake of our follies. We are no longer the pillar of freedom and capitalism as we once were.
Yes my fellow Americans, these are truly worrisome times.
It has become humorous to exploit the behavior of our celebrities– looked upon as if they embody something to aspire to. Teenagers who get pregnant are rewarded with their own television show. The dirty laundry of our politicians is strewn about for all to see.
The days have long since past that you could walk down the aisle at the local store and find quality products made in the U.S.A.
Not a day goes by that I don’t hear somebody mocking this once great country. Television, radio, and print have become a self destructing vessel, tearing down the nation that exalted the freedom of speech that allows those entities to exist.
This is what the world sees. Not our industrial revolution, but our epidemic of obesity. Not Henry Ford’s Model T, or Amelia Earhart’s historical flight, but Kim Kardashian’s sex tape, and David Hasslehoff’s public drunkenness.
Yes my fellow citizens, it is a sad day indeed. Sad when a child no longer knows the pledge of allegiance. Sad when our youth are embarrassed to call themselves Americans. Sad when the values that once made this country the envy of the world have been replaced by a bottom line.
It is my dream, that one day, our race for glory and excess will become a journey of dignified self reliance. I dream of a nation where every child is given the opportunity to receive a proper education, regardless of financial status or social circumstances. I dream of a country that takes pride in itself. Where honest men and women go to work and provide goods and services for their fellow countrymen to purchase with an honest dollar, made through an honest living.
Fear not my fellow Americans. We have not strayed so far from that path that we cannot find it once more. That is why I ask of you today– if you share my dream, waste not another moment. Take this message and its spirit with you. Take it to your workplace, to your families. Take it to the market where you buy your food. Take it with you to the ballot box and take it to the streets. The time for change is upon us. Find within yourself the courage to stand for what is fundamentally right in the world. Do not be discouraged by those that wish to extinguish that flame with apathy and doubt. We have the power, as citizens of democracy, to evoke change. Let us band together– politicians and voters, blue collar and white collar, and begin the process of rebuilding the arch of freedom through which we will walk, hand in hand, in the sunlight of the spirit.
In the words of John F. Kennedy “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility – I welcome it.”

Burning Down The House

After the Halloween festivities I found myself in a wonderful, yet suspicious state of calm. Kind of like when you’re on a roller-coaster, going up the first hill. You hear the ominous clicking grow slower and slower until… it stops. Not to sound pessimistic, but I had a feeling the other metaphorical shoe was going to drop. And it did. Squarely in my proverbial ass.
My body had, up until a week ago, done a fairly good job at keeping the armada of illnesses going around at bay. But alas, my above-average immune system gave way. White blood cells growing weak and tired… probably due to the lack of sleep, and copious amounts of stress… I decided to take a day off school. Keep in mind, I only go to school once a week. So a day off school is really like missing an entire week of class. Not the best scenario for my gpa, but I felt it would be rude to infect my classmates with the virus, now coursing through my veins.
So, like any good martyr, I got some ben and Jerry’s, chipotle, orange juice and egg nog (which tastes lovely together… kind-of like an orange julius) and quarantined myself to the living room, where I watched a solid 14 hours of t.v. Its almost shameful to admit how much I enjoyed my sick day. Since I was a kid, I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve actually been sick. Hangovers dont count. I forgot how masochistically wonderful it feels to moan in self pity after a brief sneezing spell. How quaint the slowly growing pile of tissues look as they fall one after another on the floor next to my couch. How gratifying it feels to have a guilt free day off. Yes my friends (and people reading this who have no idea who I am) being sick can be great!
During my 24 hour sabbatical from life, I watched a lot of t.v. I mean a lot of t.v. I dont have cable, so I constantly hear about all the new shows on t.v. but I never get to fully appreciate them. Im either too busy, or too lazy to sit down and devote precious moments of free time to brain candy. But, given the circumstances, I felt obliged to see what all the hype was about. My analysis is as follows:
Louis- a wonderful mockumentary style show about real life comedian, and professional potty-mouth Louis C.K. I thoroughly enjoyed this show. Hard to believe that a subsidiary of Fox would get away with putting on a program filled with obscene language. But somehow Louis C.K. makes things like wiping his daughters ass, and aspirations of being a professional masturbator, funny. I give this show two thumbs up.
The Walking Dead- AMC’s show about a police officer who wakes up from a coma to find the world has been taken over by zombies. This scenario is on the brink of becoming overplayed. I dont know if I can take another movie, t.v. show, book, or in depth conversation about the zombie apocalypse. Im all for disaster preparedness. In fact, I keep my zombie apocalypse escape route in a file, next to my plan for what to do in case of an alien robot invasion. But enough already! The Walking Dead does do a nice job of developing its characters, and the makeup on the zombies doesn’t look like they got it from the bargain bin after halloween. So, I will give it one partially decayed, zombie thumb up.
The Trip- A jolly good movie about two blokes who take a holiday to the north of England. The two main characters set out to explore some of the best restaurants in the U.K. and provide the viewer a look inside places at which most of us would never have the privilege of dining. Plenty of funny banter in the car scenes as well. I stopped watching this movie half way through because Anna said she wanted to see it with me… and I’m a sucker.
The rest of the day was spent catching up on old shows like 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, The Office, Psych, and Monk. Despite my lack of energy and slightly chaffed nose, it was a really nice day. The subsequent week has been unforgiving of my laziness. Reality is a bitch.