Five Ways to Relax- On A Budget and Substance-Free!

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

Earlier today, I was catching up with my friend Merrill before heading out on a run. It was much of what you would expect- the latest drama, what we’ve been keeping ourselves busy with, trouble at work- the usual.

Then Merrill made the horrible mistake of asking, “So, what have you been up to?”

After a brief rundown of life at work (mmm… chaos) plus all the projects I’m working on for the blog (blog posts, interviews, upcoming books, and the like), she remarked that I am “stretched so thin that I can see your gluten matrix.”

I admit liking to keep busy– and the often-fraught relationship between my self-worth and productivity– but I take my opportunities to relax extremely seriously. With the recent changes to my work schedule (taking on a night shift rather than an early morning one,) I now have mornings free- so my “20 Minute Vacations” occasionally slip through my grasp in favor of a more solid morning routine.

All the same, I am always on the prowl for ways to relax that, ideally, don’t cost too much money. With so many chefs and cooks trying to embrace cleaner living, I thought I might come up with a few that don’t involve booze or substances.

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Five Books For When You REALLY Need A Break From Life

Good evenings, friends and neighbors.

You may have noticed, but reality can suck. Quite often, really.
It feels like the world wants something from you every moment. Things go wrong, or they go right in the wrong way, and sometimes you don’t even know what the hell the point of everything IS.

I read somewhere that humans are the only intelligent creatures for whom our own existence poses a problem. Other creatures live in the moment, learning as the go, with the sole aim of “survive another day.” For us, at the pinnacle of the food chain as we are, existential threats to our lives aren’t nearly so frequent. We still have all those frustrating survival mechanisms- transformed into stress, anxiety, depression and all that- but mostly we have the time and leisure to say “Why am I here?”

Reality can be heavy… and fortunately, our intelligence has given us a whole bunch of ways to lighten the load, even for a moment. We came up with movies, video games, all sorts of activities- but it all started with stories.

brown book page

Photo by Wendy van Zyl on Pexels.com

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Dunning-Kruger, Imposter Syndrome, and When You Can’t Believe Yourself

Good morning, friends and neighbors! Today’s topic is one that I’ve been thinking about for a while because not only does it come up in creative life and professional life… it’s also an excuse to flex a bit of my dusty BA in Psychology.

With the increasing diagnoses of anxiety and depression among the American population, “imposter syndrome” is a term that gets used to express frustration and self-criticism of one’s accomplishments. Slightly less well-known (but increasingly used in recent years) is “the Dunning-Kruger Effect,” which is oversimplified in order to be used as a criticism of others.

The truth is they are two sides of the same coin- we experience both in our lives, and the impact of them change how we handle our work, our creative projects, our relationships, and ourselves.

So if you came looking for Freddy Kruger, you’ll have wait about a month. Sorry- just a bunch of fascinating psychology today.

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Why “Beauty in the Mundane?”

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors.

Way back when I first started this blog, it was only meant to be a little newsposting feed for what was coming out of my tiny kitchen in New Jersey. Since that little kitchen wasn’t putting out too much… neither was the blog.

When I started writing on a regular basis, I didn’t always have new recipes or projects to talk about- but I did have my recent quest to lose weight, get stronger, and put the lie to the self-destructive lifestyle popular in the culinary world. After speaking with my sister- who was trying to flex her experience with brand management and degree in marketing- we decided that “What’s On The Bench” need a tagline: Reps, Rolling Pins, and Building A Better Baker.

Time went on, and I started to realize that living a healthy life in the culinary industry wasn’t just a matter of working out or eating your veggies regularly. Being a cook is mentally and emotionally taxing- so our brains and hearts need care as well. I wrote about mental health- mine and others.

What about emotional health, though? What soothes your mind doesn’t always soothe the heart and soul- couldn’t I write about the things that by-pass the intellect and just make people smile without them realizing it?

Those are the moments of simplicity and beauty that I love, and they are everywhere. So the blog became “Reps, Rolling Pins, and Beauty in the Mundane.”

Of all the evolutions my writing has gone through… that one might be my favorite so far.

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The Heart of Life- 5 Lessons from the Kitchen to Take Anywhere

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

The bakery was going through a spat of high turnover. New hires were either leaving, vanishing, or simply showing themselves not up to handling the work. It was becoming disheartening, frustrating… and more than a little exhausting. “Many hands make light work” kinda relies on there being “many hands.”

In the seven months I had been working for the bakery, I’ve had to train six people in my station as the morning baker and “ovenlord.” The work is not especially difficult- the specifics of it can be written down or memorized quickly, and the skills involved can be mastered with practice.

When our production manager started wondering aloud how they could train employees to make them better, and more quickly- I suggested they all learn my position first. While the specific knowledge and skills of the morning bake are easy to learn (I actually wrote a teaching aide/cheat sheet to help people who got lost), the most challenging thing for a new person on the shift to learn is something they can take anywhere in the kitchen- or in life: time management.

clear glass with red sand grainer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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“We’re Just Like a Family”- and 6 Other Red Flags When Looking for a Kitchen Job

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

As summer comes to an end, it’s “back to school” for students everywhere. Some culinary students will be starting their descent into madness/ meteoric rise to glory (same thing, really.) Others will be entering their final year- the culmination of years of struggle, sweat, screaming, and WAY too much spent on textbooks.

It will also, at last, be time to look for an externship. Most culinary schools in America don’t expect their students to have any kitchen experience before enrolling. Many European schools do- or in fact, require a letter of recommendation from a chef.

In America, then, the externship is the first time many students will enter the culinary world. It’s a part of the curriculum, and a requirement for graduation- “You paid for four years of us harrowing and lecturing you- time to show you’re worth a damn.”

Animated Gif from Creed

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Where Did All The Chef Hats Go?- Portland’s Impact on American Cuisine

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

This morning, I had the great fortune of getting contacted by an old teacher of mine from culinary school. Chef Joe Sheridan was appearing on WOND, a local New Jersey radio station, discussing culinary education, the industry, and seeking the voices of alumni. I was having a slow morning and agreed to call in.

After catching up a bit on the show and brief introductions (including plugging this blog and my book. #shamelessselfpromoter) Chef Joe asked me an interesting question.

 

“Matt, I’ve recently been reading this book “Burn The Ice” by Kevin Alexander and- well, to stereotype your entire city, we came from an era of white table cloths and pressed napkins. Now we have chefs with tattoo sleeves, in black T-shirt’s with hats on backward, serving in dining rooms with bare tables and distressed walls. It’s all different!”

Now, I gotta own that since coming to Portland, I’ve gotten a couple food tattoos. I haven’t worn a proper white chef’s toque since I graduate culinary school (I hated them anyway. The paper ones tore and had a habit of knocking things off overhead racks, directly onto my neck.) There’s no denying that the Pacific Northwest spawned a reckoning in how fine dining was treated in America.

 

While I have yet to read Kevin Alexander’s “Burn the Ice” on the subject (I just bought it on Kindle a few minutes ago. It’s officially on The Pile,) the sharp cultural difference between living on the West Coast and training on the East is something I’ve mulled over plenty.

 

Why PORTLAND of all places? I have some thoughts…

 

 

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It isn’t called “Bridge City” for nothing.

 

 

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