Comfort Food

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

Pick a weeknight, and assume I worked that day. Here’s what tends to happen next:

I shove the door to my apartment open and drop my bag in the threshold. Unlacing my favorite-but-sometimes-a-little-too-complicated boots, they get dropped at the door and I slip inside. Home at last.
The first whiff of the apartment after a day in the heat, flour, and sugar of the bakery generally tells me what has happened that day, or often what needs to happen next.
“That garbage needs to go out.”
“Dishes in the sink and on the stove… Em woke up late and ran out the door again.”
“Ugh… that smell might be me, actually.”

From the living room to the bedroom, and shedding any unnecessary clothing. Jeans give way to shorts. Whatever t-shirt I just sweated through on the uphill bike ride home practically flies off and lands limp- its spirit broken- in my laundry pile. I really need to invest in a hamper.

As the outside cools and relaxes, my guts remind me they need tending to as well. Assuming I didn’t go for a post-shift at the beer cart, or hit up the food pod, I am almost always wanting SOMETHING from the kitchen- but the body and spirit aren’t always willing to acquiesce. 
“Dude, SERIOUSLY? We just got DONE cooking for 8 hours. I’m not making SHIT.”
“Well, ‘dude,’ you’d better have something real clever nearby, because being tired isn’t as bad as being tired AND hungry.”
“Ugh… fine..”

I have some rice leftover from last night’s dinner. Eggs. Frozen veggies in the freezer. A bit of leftover chicken. 

“Fried rice work?”
“OH MY GOD YES.”
“Right. Good plan, team.”

That’s where dinner comes from.
——————

If you think you would like to date/marry a cook, good for you. Really- we work weird hours and a lot of us are unstable and coarse as hell. If you can get past that, though- we’re passionate, hard workers, and some of the most ridiculous people you will ever meet.
If you think that means we’ll cook up a masterpiece for you every single night after work, though- well, here’s comes the cold water. Really- that’s dinner.

The fact that most chefs can’t afford to eat the food they make everyday is a well-known and almost cliche fact. Less believable though, for some reason, is that most of use DON’T want it when we come home. We eschew complicated preparations for simpler, homestyle ones- things that we can get going mindlessly, and then sit for a bit while they cook themselves. If not, we’ll go for dishes and ingredients that require the most minimal prep and attention for possible.

Not only can we not afford to eat the food we make financially-  at the end of the day, your average line cook can’t afford to prepare anything like that for themselves physically or mentally. We make fried rice with leftover Chinese take-out and frozen veggies. We eat leftovers in the fridge. Salads, canned soups, baked beans, and greasy booze-mop food from whatever bar we might have gone to (seriously, Rutgers New Brunswick? You got rid of the grease trucks?!)​
Sometimes I’ll be clever and make up a big batch of something on my day off- usually a lentil soup/porridge, pasta, or something that will keep in the fridge for a few days and I can warm it up with minimal effort. If I wasn’t clever though, I will freely admit that one of my last-resort dinner options is Top Ramen. Granted, I doctor it up with hot peppers, cheddar cheese, scallion, sesame seeds, and a poached egg a la Roy Choi, but yeah- it’s still the same friggin’ packaged ramen I stereotypically ate in my stereotypical college years. I’m not proud of it.
I did graduate from Cup Noodles though. I’m not an animal- also you can’t doctor them up as easily, unless you drop in extra dried veggies or meat.
They also take up more room in the pantry.

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As soon as I figure out how to poach an egg in there though….

A few days ago, I asked some of my colleagues what they eat when they get home. A limited sample to be sure, but enough that I’m certain I’m not alone in the need for simplicity/laziness at the end of the day.

“I snack around the bakery most of the day, so by the time I get home all I want is something fresh and green. I tend to make a lot of salads, with plenty of veggies and a bit of protein mixed in. ” – Gwen, production baker

There’s a vegetarian curried rice dish I make that I really like- it involves peanut butter, soy sauce, curry powder, veggies, all sorts of stuff. I make a big batch of it early in the week, and then just scoop out of it after work.” – Chris, bread baker

“So my favorite meal would be spaghetti with assorted veg from my CSA, white wine, and goat cheese served with a glass of Riesling. What’s more typical is a ramen style package of chow mein and a glass of iced tea.” – Karen, corporate executive pastry chef

When I was working in the industry, I used to have Mack & Manco’s [a Southern NJ pizza joint] on speed dial.” – Joe, one of my chef instructors and the guy that taught me to open a beer with kitchen tongs. 

“You don’t, you go drinking until the bars close then you eat Denny’s or some place…  you go home, sleep 5 hours, then back to work and it goes on like that for ever and ever.” – Earl

Beer.“- Andrea

And to buck the stereotype that FOH staff go home happy and energetic every night-

“Chicken tortilla soup, meatloaf, and this awesome arugula salad with blood orange segments and goat cheese one of my friends taught me to to make.” – Rachel, hostess

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FOH staff after closing (in the mind of most kitchen staff)

In my case, I tend to go with the aforementioned fried rice, or sometimes a lentil porridge that was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s “The Dharma Bums,” when he and Gary Snyder were hiking up a mountain. This isn’t any fancy cooking, and no real skill is involved. Let’s be real here- when I make this, I am tired, sweaty, probably in shorts and a white tank top, and I just want to watch funny review shows on YouTube. This is NOT classy food, and it doesn’t give a shit. Neither should you.

The BHB’s Bacon and Lentils

(Serves 4, or 1 person on four nights after work)
Ingredients
– 1 strip thick cut bacon, frozen and cut up into small chunks.
– 1 cup of green lentils, picked through and rinsed for rocks and dirt.
– 3 tbs of dried vegetable mix (you can get it in the bulk section of WinCo. You’re looking for JUST dried veggies, no salt or soup mix, but if that’s all you have, fine. Take the extra flavor/salt into account.)
– 2 cups of water or stock/broth. (Seriously, use broth. It’s like water, but better.)
– Whatever herbs, spices, condiments you like/ have on hand.

1. Put a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Once hot, throw in the bacon. Fry the bacon pieces in the bottom of the pot and render the fat out. 
2. Once the bacon is cooked/rendered, throw in your lentils and dried veg. Mix it all up- get that bacon fat all over EVERYTHING.
3. Dump in the broth (because you used broth, right? Seriously- use it.) Add in the spices and herbs you like. If you want firm, individual lentils, don’t add any salt right now. If you want a porridge-like consistency, go ahead and use it. 
4. Stir it up, bring to a boil, and then cover and let simmer for about 45 minutes. Go get a beer. Watch something on YouTube. Sit down for the first time all day. Chill.
5. Every now and then, get up and check the lentils. Add more stock to cover them if necessary. When 5 lentils in a row are cooked, they’re done. (Never believe a single lentil.) If you want soup, enjoy. Otherwise, drain off the extra liquid.
6. Top with any additional flavors you like (I like celery salt and a bit of soy sauce.) Crash on the couch/ at the table and go back to what you were doing- but now with a hot bowl of vegetable protein to heal your soul. Apply beer as desired/required.

Stay Classy (whether or not you’re actually trying,)