When I pick up a Mrs. Pollifax or Harry Bosch story, I know I won’t put it down until I’ve gobbled it up. Banksy’s hair drifts into the corners, mapping the currents of air along the floor boards of my little apartment. Lewis flares his gill flaps and tries to get my attention. The dishes in the sink receive a quiet, watery plunk from the not-quite-truly-leaky faucet with the calm equanimity of ceramics everywhere, since the dawn of kilns. And I read and read, immune, swaddled in story. Until….Until the sharp prick of guilt goads me from the sofa and I sigh, bookmark my adventure, and get back to work.
Ah, guilty pleasures, such delicious treats.
My number one guilty-pleasure song is that one by the Goo Goo Dolls. You know the one. And “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, which I’m listening to RIGHT NOW. I have a mile-wide soft spot for musicals, especially “Chess.” As I spent a few formative years in a book and record store with a bunch of jerks who believed there is an absolute right or wrong, good or bad, in taste, I listen and warble along alone, not wishing to invite criticism. To a certain extent, the jerks have a point: Some of it is trash. But as my Sommelier friend Guy says about choosing a bottle of wine, “It doesn’t have to be hard. Pick what you like.” (He is the Unsnob in a snobby field, a tall glass of water in a room filled with sand.) But what holds true for wine – if you pick what you like, and figure out what it is about that particular wine that grabs you, you’ll expand your palate and next thing you know, you’ll be telling people they’re unrefined bumpkins, absolute Cretins, for liking Merlot – is also true for music, maybe. I'm not sure my fondness for the Goo Goo Dolls has unlocked any secret rooms of musical understanding. I am still annoyed with those arbiters of taste. For me, music evokes time and place. “Boys of Summer” (and every musical, ever) reminds me of working at Boulder’s Dinner Theater in the late ‘80s, my youth, my fledgling years in kitchens, my early association with poker and Luck. Maybe the real guilty pleasure here is over-indulgence in nostalgia.
Indulgence seems to be the key definition to a guilty pleasure. Picking up a Stephen King, a Michael Connelly, or a Dorothy Gilman book will not, past a certain point, push my boundaries of human understanding. But reading is a very private indulgence. I can simply open a door, step through and vanish. Maybe the guilt comes from knowing I am not hammering out 500 words, or sweeping, or doing the dishes, but the pleasure far outweighs the pain of ignoring chores.
With food, the pleasure (and the guilt) is usually in direct correlation to the number and type of calories. An extra dollop of mayonnaise in my rabbit salad. A spoonful of whipped cream, just because I happen to be visiting Cold Side. Another helping of spaghetti,and another, until I am logey and bloated, nursing a semolina hangover. I love sandwiches. I eat them in corners of the kitchen, or hidden upstairs behind the hot water heater; my wolfish manners are embarrassing. Also, the pastry cooks need to hide the spiced pecans. And the candied pistachios. Cheese is a problem.
But right now I am in the grip of a new indulgence:
I am hooked on a medical drama. I’ll admit this is not the first time – “ER” held top spot on my Must See TV list, back in the day – but living as we do in the days of Netflix, I can stream whole seasons at a time, I can indulge in the joys of a show that takes place in Seattle, makes me cry occasionally, and features actors with really nice hair. To hell with homework. To hell with chores. I’m spending my evenings with Meredith Grey and her dysfunctional friends.
Not only does a “Grey's Anatomy” bender bring a little perspective to a Chef’s freakishly stress-filled world (“The customer got wheat toast!” “CODE BLUE! CODE BLUE!” “He’s going into de-fib…where’s that white toast?!” “Push two of epi and charge paddles to three-hundred…CLEAR!!” “We just 86’d white bread!” “We what?! Send Paulo to the store! Stat! We’re losing him….” “Chef, his wife is Yelping on her phone…can you come talk to her?” “Not now! Where’s that toast? Charge to four….CLEAR….!” “Chef, we lost him. He’s throwing his napkin onto his plate.” “No! Try again! Fire white toast!” “Chef….he stiffed the server…” “*Sigh* Time of promo: 14:23.”), but I also get a small dose of science with every episode.
While it’s not quite as good as working in a medical bookstore, or even renewing a subscription to “Discover” magazine, “Grey’s Anatomy” makes me feel as though I’ve kept a hand in. As it takes place in a teaching hospital, the doctors are doing a lot more than sewing up lacerations. I’ve seen a couple of very interesting clinical trials, learned way more than I’ll ever need to know about post-procedural fistulas, and hey, remember stem cells? These cats are actually growing organs in dishes! Neat! Wait'll you see what they do with a three-dimensional printer!
Possibly as a way of tempering the guilt, as I watch I draw corollaries between cheffing and doctoring. The white coats, the fondness for sharp blades, the long hours, the drinking, the clogs, the shenanigans. Huge differences, of course, hats off to doctors, that’s a long, hard haul, a road I didn’t take. But I’m glad I don’t have to hire a medical billing specialist, even when a ten-top requests all separate checks. I’m glad people come through our door when they are hungry and reasonably happy, instead of scared and possibly dying. Watching television doctors lose patients on the table underscores my sense of career satisfaction. Is a nine-year-old with cancer going to bleed out on my prep table today? No.
But it would be a mistake to think that kitchen stress is all for naught. The life of the restaurant is at stake, which provides the livelihood to dozens of people. To keep a restaurant healthy and thriving, a Chef must teach discipline, diligence, and instill in his or her crew a definite sense of urgency. We must teach and watch, remind and correct, all day, every day.
I’m almost caught up with “Grey’s Anatomy.” And then I don’t know what I’ll watch, or how I’ll set fire to all those hours when I could (…should?...) be doing something else. Maybe I’ll dive into “Game of Thrones.” And I’ll tell you what – after what happened to George and Izzy in Season Five, the Red Wedding will be no problem, no problem at all.
Rabbit Salad Sandwich
This method is a good way to use up any rabbit left-over from the last braise, just adjust the quantities of the gear to work with how much protein you have. This will also work with fried tofu, left-over turkey, and chicken.
Picked rabbit hindquarters
As much mayonnaise as you can handle
Chopped tarragon (or chervil)
Halved red grapes
Maybe a little celery. Maybe.
Salt and Pepper
Some nice bread. I prefer a slightly sweeter loaf. Get what you like, though.
Combine the action. Put it on the bread. Find a corner. Devour your treat.