potatoes , originally uploaded by kitchenbeard.

My idea of stress management is knife skills. Reducing a large potato down to 1/4 inch dice requires concentration and a steady hand. For just a few minutes, my brain is required to focus on something besides the ins and outs of the day.

I find lately that my ability to do it quickly and neatly has gotten worse with out daily practice. I tend find bits of potato scattered around the kitchen in weird places.

Some olive oil, some salt and pepper and a cast iron pan makes comfort food out of meditation.

cucumber taragon salad

cucumber taragon salad, originally uploaded by kitchenbeard.

Simple, light, flavorful.

1) Peel, seed and cube one large cucumber. Sprinkle with the barest amount of salt and set in a collander.
2) In the bowl of food processor puree one bunch of fresh tarragon with 1/4 c olive oil, 2 tablespoons minced shallots and one tablespoon tarragon vinegar. Puree to almost smooth but make sure stems are reduced.
3) Place cucumbers in clean dish towel and twist and squeeze out as much moisture as you can with out crushing the cucumber.
4) Mix cucumber with sauce and allow to marinate for 20 to 30 minutes before serving. Garnish with sesame seeds.

chicken 101

chicken_05182010, originally uploaded by kitchenbeard.

Rinse bird in cold water. Season inside and out. Cut up a lemon and an onion. Shove them inside the bird. Place in cast iron skillet that has a diced potato in the bottom. Rub with olive oil like you would someone you are on intimate terms with. Roast at 450 for 10 minutes before reducing to 350 until a thermometer inserted reads 160. Remove bird to platter to and eat potatoes while it rests. Feel particularly comforted and safe before peeling the skin off and eating that too.

Laundromat Diaries

Back at the laundromat. It’s 11 a.m. on a Tuesday and it’s just me in here.

I lost my job last week so I can’t afford to drop $40 with the Chinese couple on the corner. I see them eyeing me as I lug my giant bag of unmentionables past their doorway. They have my shirts and dress pants, which for now will have to satisfy them.

I got here early to just get it out of the way. I want to get a lot done today and this is just the first thing on the list. I also want to get out of the house. One week into unemployment and I’m bored enough that I couldn’t stomach watching the View.

The laundromat was empty when I got here. All of the big machines were free and I easily filled all of them up with underwear, socks, towels, sheets and jeans. It’s been a while since I did a huge load of stuff, usually just dropping off the necessities at the corner. Today I’m getting through a pile that would have swallowed a toddler and discovered underneath it a belt and a hat I thought I had misplaced. The hat smells like my father’s closet that I remember from childhood. Am I really getting that old?

As I dropped the last quarter in the washer, I turned around and noticed a young woman staring at me, obviously put out that I had used up all of the big machines. Sorry toots, I think to myself, I got out of bed and hustled myself here before you. Plus I’m over 40, don’t dye my hair an unnatural shade of blond and dear god, no I would never wear ugg boots. For the boots alone I smugly looked at her and shrugged. She was not amused. Poor thing. Part of me wanted to tell her this was one of many lessons in life where you just don’t get what you want.

Take my job, for example. I had hoped it’d lead me to a more creative career and possibly as a step into advertising. Instead it became a litany of check lists and project logs and deadlines and conditionally formatted excel spreadsheets and corporate organizational behavior training sessions. I was miserable and my performance reflected it. When they dismissed me I openly accepted how it had come down and said “Let’s just get on with it.” They did the right thing by me though and offered severance and occupational assistance and assured me they would not fight me on an unemployment claim. For that much I am grateful. Three years of feeling like my personality was being slowly chipped away at is over. I’m relieved, clear headed and ready to move on.

I toss my clothes in the dryer and stare out the window for a minute wondering where Petulant Paula went after she whipped out of here. The sun is poking through the cloud cover and the day is beginning to warm up from the cold and rainy weather of yesterday. My mood is similarly brightening the further I get away from from that job. I just didn’t belong there, and that is the end of that.

Any minute now though I am expecting to have a complete and total “Come to Jebeezus” moment where I realize the enormity of what has happened. I am unemployed in an economy that is shaky at best. Job listings are increasing in number but the salaries being offered are not reflecting what I need to live on. I’m probably going to have to take another admin job just so I can get by.

But is that really so bad for me at this point? Probably not. I’ve got the opportunity here to move forward with purpose and clarity. I’ve got skills as a photographer I didn’t have when I started that job. I’ve still got my cooking skills. I’ve got the chance to combine them. I’ve got the chance to be that person I’ve imagined myself to be. Strong. Quiet. Creative. Stable.

A man steps into the laundromat and looks around before leaving. Aside from the blond girl, he’s the only person I’ve encountered in here today. Usually it’s a bit of a freak show, but I’m grateful for the calm. The sound of traffic coming and going outside is slightly soothing as the world continues to live on. A mayfly bounces around on the floor and I wonder how many hours it has left in it’s short life.

How many hours do I have left in my short life? And what am I going to do with them?

Maybe I’ll figure that all out while I fold my underwear.

Ginger Shitake Pork Bowl

Ginger Shitake Pork Bowl, originally uploaded by kitchenbeard.

One of the nice things about the local organic grocery is it sells fresh noodles by the pound. I snagged some whole wheat lomein and began cooking in my head from there.

2 pounds pork, cubed
1 T ground ginger
1 t ground nutmeg
1 t ground allspice
2 T sesame oil
1 t salt
1 t black pepper

Vegetable oil

1 large piece fresh ginger, minced
1 onion, minced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced

1 package dried shitake mushrooms

1 qt chicken stock

1)Toss pork in spices and oil. Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
2)Brown pork in vegetable oil in batches.
3)In the same pan you cooked the pork, cook onion, garlic, ginger and jalapeno until onions are translucent.
4)While onion cooks, refresh mushrooms in 1/2c of the chicken stock.
5)Mix pork and aromatics in crock pot with the rest of the chicken stock. Add mushrooms refreshed mushrooms.
6)Braise for 3 hours at least.
7)Serve over rice or as in my case, boil up some fresh lomein from the nice Korean grocery down the street and serve it on that. Drizzle with some soy sauce