Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cold Comfort

“He hated summer colds. They were the worst.” – The Stand, by Stephen King

When I had an office job, the first tickle in the throat, the first messy sneeze, usually meant a quick call into the office and then a retreat back beneath the duvet. So the spread sheet wouldn't be finished, or a letter to a donor wouldn’t go out until the next day -- the news of illness was almost always received with “Stay At Home and Get Better.” None of my work fell onto other shoulders and the business was better because I decided not to play Typhoid Mary.

But restaurant workers are notoriously bad at staying away from work when they’re ailing. Partly because of lost wages, and no clear access to health care, and the sense that one is somehow failing the team – one is failing the game – the culture isn’t conducive to calling in sick. There is always a flurry to find another cook to fill the gap lest we run shorthanded, and the guys and gals of the Line often have an inflated internal perception of their own toughness, combined with a somewhat exaggerated sense of their importance (two factors that flourish in the petri dish of a professional kitchen’s ethos). They'll come to work with rheumy eyes and a cough sprung from a chest that sounds stuffed with hot cotton and steel wool. "No, I'm fine," they croak, as they struggle to stir the grits, and you'll go wash your hands for the five millionth time that shift, quaff a third packet of vitamin powder in water, and light a candle to the Kitchen Gods that you may be spared this affliction. Wash your hands again. 

I doubt that either the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Obamacare, or the decision made last year by Seattle voters to provide sick days for employees, will effect a change in this department. Rather, we need to change the culture of the kitchen itself. Easier said than done. I decided to take the first step toward making change by staying home the last time I was ill. And while I was briefly chilled by unnecessary, but deeply embedded, guilt, I know it was the better decision.

As a child, or as person living in some sort of domestic partnership, being sick brings the pleasant feeling of being taken care of, a feeling that can either blossom into weeks of malingering or rally the patient into getting better faster. Nourishing the ill or depleted is one of food’s basic comforts and nothing delivers nutrients and rehydrates quite like soup, with the possible exception of certain jello suspensions. Single adults enjoy the dubious pleasure of taking care of themselves; with no one in the wings to bring me a cranked open can of Campbell’s, I decided to try my hand at a Chicken Noodle Soup so I'd be ready for work the next day. 

Back To Work Tomorrow Chicken Noodle Soup 

2 c egg noodles, cooked accordingly, drained, rinsed and cooled

1 1/2 c carrots, cut into chunks or coins
1/2 c celery, cut into half-moons
1 onion, chopped (into small squares)
5 cloves garlic, sliced

1 c white wine

1 c kale, coarsely chopped
1 c sweet potato (or yam), cubed

1/4 c olive oil

2 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, generously salted and peppered

8 c stock

Salt and Pepper, Red Chili Flake to taste

Cook the noodles while you are assembling the rest of the mise en place. 

After cleaning up the veggies, put the trimmings into a small saucepan along with some water and simmer while the soup is cooking. This is your stock. If you have a freezer filled with ice-cubed stock, you can skip this step. 

In a heavy-bottomed pot, cook the carrots, celery and onion in olive oil over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for another five minutes until the garlic becomes aromatic. 

Clear a space in the bottom of the pan and place the thighs skin-side down among the veggies. Don't touch them for about eight minutes -- you want the skin to brown and some of the fat to render out. If you're worried about the garlic burning, stir the veggies without disturbing the chicken. 

Deglaze with the wine. Turn over the thighs, cook until the wine has reduced by half. Add 4 cups of whatever sort of stock you're using and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the thighs and cut the meat from the bones. Add the bones to the stockpot if you're simmering it along with the soup. Return meat to soup. 

Add the sweet potato cubes and bring up to medium-high heat for about 10 minutes. Add another 4 cups of stock, cook dangerously close to a boil for 15 - 25 minutes. 

When the sweet potatoes are cooked through, add the kale. Taste, season, taste, correct. 

Put some noodles in a bowl and ladle the hot soup over them. 

Sit on the sofa with a blanket over your lower extremities. Plug in "The Fellowship of the Ring." Eat soup. Go to bed early. Feel better. 

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