Wednesday, July 20, 2011

To Make a Short Story Long...

Back when I still had a job as a chef, I came across a recipe contest in a trade magazine that I had entered once before back in 1994. Last week I came across the torn out ad in a pile of papers on my desk. I looked it over to realize that the deadline was only a few days away. I thought to myself, "Looks like I've some cooking to do this weekend." Well, needless to say, the weekend came and went without me doing a single thing regarding the contest. Now its Monday morning. Kovis off to summer school, the dog is walked, and the deadline is mere hours away. this sounds like a good time to hit the kitchen and whip up a dish worthy of dubbing me 'The Hottest Chef in America.'
Spicy Coconut Cilantro Gazpacho with Grilled Shrimp
Tabasco puts on this contest to feature their products in recipes. This shouldn't be too tough for me to do, since I put their products in practically everything I make already. My wife gave me a sort of culinary challenge a while back to combine two of her favorite flavors: cilantro and coconut in a single dish. After a little brainstorming, I decided gazpacho would be an ideal vehicle for combining all the necessary elements. Gazpacho is a Spanish chilled tomato and cucumber soup. I figured adding cilantro, coconut, and a note of spice would actually make a pretty kick-ass soup. Until recently, I've cooked flying by the seat of my pants. Creating dishes with 'a little of this and a little of that' and never writing anything down. This winter, when I started creating my own granola and energy bars, I've actually gotten into the habit of starting with a written recipe and taking meticulous notes as I went along. So I grabbed a legal pad and started constructing a soup. I started with the basic building blocks of a gazpacho and added to it the ingredients that would give it it's signature. When I felt it was ready, I sat down to enter it in the contest on-line. Tis true -- I was about to enter a recipe for a dish no one, myself included, had ever tasted. But, what the hey? Its not like entering was costing me anything. As I sat at the computer, roadblocks came at me right and left. To enter, the cook had to either be a student or work (in a leadership position) in a professional kitchen. This presented all kinds of problems. First of all, while I am once again employed, the building isn't even done being constructed. So what am I to enter on the 'address' and 'phone number' lines? Plus, I've only met my new boss once and didn't even know his last name let alone his phone number. By the time I limped through the first section of the registration form, it looked as though a 6-year-old had filled it out. (Heavy sigh) On to the actual recipe... With a tinge of guilt, and my shoulder angel screaming in my ear, I began to enter an untested recipe in a nation-wide contest. Then came the kicker: The last line was where the contestant was to enter a photo of what the final product was supposed to look like. How was I supposed to know? I've never even made it, let alone seen it or photographed it! With drooping shoulders, but a renewed sense of pride, I grabbed my keys and wallet and called to my daughter that I'd be right back. After two trips to the grocery store and a thorough cleaning of the kitchen, I had a final product ready to be tasted, refined (adding grilled shrimp if only to make the eventual photo more appealing. Hence the second trip to the store), and finally photographed. The morning had started out with a half-fast, last ditch effort to get a recipe in on time, that should have taken me fifteen minutes. Stopping only to get Kovi off the bus and make him lunch, the project was now on its third full hour. I have to say that the final product was worth the extra effort. The gazpacho was well received in local circles. By 'local circles', I mainly mean, my wife Lori and her friends. All said and done, it was an eventful day. Thank goodness I'm unemployed, if only for one more week. In no time at all, I'll be back in the workforce and have to be much more careful not to squander any of my time.  But as for this moment today: I wouldn't have time to be so reckless if I wasn't so busy being reckless. Next year, when this contest pops up, I'll know better. A little planning can go a long way.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Every Now and Zen...

I was recently reflecting on my past writings in an effort to see a pattern that might show why I've stopped writing as frequently as I once had. Oddly enough, I realized that while I started writing as a way of philosophizing about my mountain biking adventures (or, all too often -- misadventures). In more recent scribblings, I bitched about work and threw out some thoughts on life. I was, in essence, concentrating on life as a way of avoiding biking! How's that for an up-side-down paradox? As is usually the case, it took an obvious everyday situation to show me the obvious any day solution.
The prophecy of my January blog came full circle the day after Valentine's Day when I lost my job. While it was a pretty cushy job, it was sucking at my soul as a chef to go in every day. Having had the last five months off (I do have a new job, but don't start for a while yet), I've had some serious free time on my hands. So much time, in fact, that I don't have time for anything. I don't know what I do all day, but the calender is full. Thank goodness I don't have a job, because I wouldn't have time to do it! One of the things that takes up a fair portion of my day, is walking Zooey, our 19-month old Blue Heeler. With her, it's simple: the more tired she is -- the less trouble she gets in to. So this means long walks and lots of them. I'd been getting bored with the same ol' beach walk (plus, the summer tourists' presence means more time on the leash for Zo) and started thinking of new places to hike. We had hiked the woods along the river behind the quarry a few times and its closer to home than the beach, so we started there. After several trips to the quarry, I started refining our route so it coincided with the mountain bike course. And then it dawned on me.... I could ride this! The quarry was always just a section of the course I'd ride that wound its way through Maywood and Evergreen parks, as well as around the quarry. If I were to enter the course from the west rather than the south, I could hit the quarry section and join the traffic flow rather seamlessly. I would add distance by doing several laps instead of once around and back under the highway to Evergreen park. Viola! I ride is born! I got on my X-Cal the next afternoon and headed out. There and back plus two laps around came in at about five miles. A fairly typical mountain bike outing for me. I rode it a couple more times since, and my times are coming in line consistently. After the last couple of gun-shy seasons plagued with injury and basic white-knuckle riding habits, I've found a ride that fits. It's got all the elements I love: a few challenging climbs, lots of fast winding single-track, short quick descents and one or two launches off the quarry's slick-rock just to keep me from getting complacent.
It's unnatural for me to think outside the box all the time. I think most people are this way. Because of that, I spend a lot of time consciencely looking for a catalyst to help me see just beyond the shadows of my conscience thoughts. I look and listen and learn from what's going on around me. Seeing things from a different vantage point, listening to song lyrics, watching what other people experience. These are all valid ways I look for inspiration. This time around, it was Zooey. And I'm sure it will be again sometime.