Category Archives: Kitchens

Rajas con Crema

Yesterday I had a very frustrating day at the steakhouse and I was planning a whole long post about the honeymoon being over. Today was better and I was thinking I should write about how I need to not let other people’s moods effect my own. I am too sensitive to the ambience of my surroundings. If I am in a good mood and enjoying my work it shouldn’t really matter if the people around me are or not. I think it is a spiritual maturity thing, and I would like to work on it.  But now that I am home all I want to write about is my dinner.

For weeks I have been craving Rajas con Crema. I had never made them before but I had halfway watched Enrique make them one day with leftover Poblanos and it didn’t look complicated. I looked at several different recipes on pinterest this morning and then stopped at the grocery store on the way home from work. With just a few ingredients I have made myself very happy. I never imagined that I would be writing posts about what I made myself for dinner. But then a lot of life has turned out in unexpected ways, so here goes…

Rajas con Crema
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The recipe is very simple, Poblano peppers, onions, corn, cream and a bit of cheese. I used Chihuahua cheese.  The main reason I had hesitated to make them earlier is the first step. When we made Chile Rellenos at our restaurant we would put the chiles in the fryer for a few minutes and then sweat them under plastic so the skin could easily be rubbed off. In Mexico I saw them put directly in the flame of gas stoves. Neither of those options are available in my house. Earlier in the week I had been craving them so much I had considered taking a few to the steakhouse and seeing if I could manage to put them in the fryer there without anyone getting upset, but of course I thought better of it. However one of the recipes I looked at this morning had a solution: broiling. I put the poblanos on a cookie sheet right under the brolier and let them get to the point that one was trying to catch fire then turned them and burnt the other side.  After 15 minutes sweating under some plastic wrap the skin came off easily in all but one spot on one of the five. Deseeding them took almost no time at all.

It’s funny that for so many years I didn’t cook much mainly because it seemed too time consuming and complicated. (My family would tell you this was because I was lazy. Whatever.) But now that I am used to the work of a restaurant kitchen when I decide to make something at home I am pleasantly surprised at just how quick and easy it can be. Skinning and deseeding 5 poblanos is a breeze when one is used to doing batches of 30 or more. On a day like Monday when I am on my feet for ten hours straight the last thing I want to do is come home and cook something. But on my days off and days like today when I only worked a seven hour shift it is totally worth it to make exactly the food I am craving. Next I want to see if I can make some crock pot barbeque and then I want to further explore traditional Mexican guisados. I can’t believe I lived in Mexico so close to so many good cooks and never bothered to learn their recipes. If I ever manage to get back down there I will pay more attention.

Mundane Musings

So, working in the steakhouse kitchen hasn’t given me as much fodder for writing as I had hoped. I didn’t get as many hours last week or this week as I would have liked, but that seems to have happened to a majority of the staff. There are politics and factions and all the complications that you would find at any workplace but so far I haven’t really found any of them interesting enough to engage in. There is a Mexican vs. American thing that I am of course sensitive to, but it crosses over into a day shift vs. night shift thing, and is magnified, I think, by the the fact that the only three people who have set five day a week schedules and almost always hit close to 40 hours happen to be Mexican. The three of them were the only ones that didn’t seem to feel the scheduling cuts the rest of us did, so the resentment toward them I notice may be more about that than the fact that they are Mexicanos. But this is not high drama resentment and my curiosity is more about how I can get myself more hours.

The Director of Operations for our region told the scheduling manager, in front of me, that I should be given more hours, so I am hoping that next week I will see at least a slight increase. If not, I don’t imagine there is much else that can be done. And really it might not be a bad thing. My brother-in-law, who has been my built in babysitter for the past five months, is leaving tomorrow and I have no other childcare arranged yet. And there is also the fact that we are probably moving at the end of May. It doesn’t seem fair for me to push for more hours and then in three months pick up and move. My husband is driving an hour and a half to work five days a week. We need to live closer to his restaurant. His paycheck is like quadruple mine. Of course there are steakhouses all over. Perhaps I can transfer, or maybe get a combination of hours between the one in Cornelia and one in Alpharetta or Cumming.

I think the real issue that I need to be thinking about is whether kitchen work is what I want to keep pursuing or if I want to focus my attention elsewhere. I may have already mentioned this in a post, but 38 is not really all that old of an age to chose a new career path. If I only work until I am 65, and it seems like most people are working past that these days, I still have 27 years left in the work force. Even if you count the work I did while I was in college I am not yet halfway through my working life. There is plenty of time for me to go in a completely new direction. And if we do move to North Fulton I will be in easy commuting distance to the city and about any sort of job I might want to pursue. If all options are open do I really want to keep working in restaurant kitchens?

I am still surprised at how much I like the work. I never thought I would take to it like I have. No one else did either. It is very possible that I am still trying to prove I can do it even though no one else cares. I continue to think that once I feel like I have mastered the work it will become boring and I will want to do something else. I guess then the question becomes how long will that take. There is also the idea that though the steakhouse is teaching me how to handle high volume I am not actually cooking there. At our restaurant when someone complimented the food I could feel proud because I knew that almost everything there we msde ourselves. The guys who work the grill at the steakhouse can take pride in cooking the steaks to the guests liking, but everything else is good because the packets of seasoning that have been perfected at a corporate level. I guess we could manage to mess the recipes up, but what we’re doing doesn’t feel like cooking the same way. It may be that once I feel like I can handle high volume I will want to apply both that and the cooking from scratch I learned at our restaurant. The cooks where my husband works now do just that. I think I would like to try it. But long term I don’t know if I am willing to make the sacrifices that restaurant work requires. It will always mean long hours standing, working nights and weekends and holidays. And it will always involve lots of teamwork. I know I should try and pretend otherwise but teamwork has never really been my strong suit. Some of my favorite times at our restaurant were when I opened alone.

The other career options I think about are much more solitary pursuits. My top choices, writer, artist, illustrator, involve working alone. The other idea I am considering is to go back to college and study Spanish seriously enough to get certified as a court interpreter. That would involve working with other people, but not in a way that my performance is based on theirs. What people said would be their own issue. I would only take on the responsibility of translating it correctly. I think I would enjoy the work and it would certainly be challenging. When I was a CASA volunteer I always looked forward to going to court. It felt like I was part of something important, like I was making a difference. Though I would be playing a very different role in the proceedings I think I would have a similar sense of purposefulness.

I do not have to make any major decisions today or even this month, but I would like to have a sense of what direction I want to focus my energy by the time we leave Clarkesville. That gives me at least three months. I am so curious to know which way I will end up heading.

Night Shift

Tonight was my second time working a dinner shift at the steakhouse. I worked the salad station which of course involves making the salads, but also the desserts and serving the soups. It was a good shift, busy enough to not be boring but never so busy as to be overwhelming.

I still like the job and find my coworkers pleasant to work with. I am glad they are giving me more hours. They told me when they hired me that they do performance based scheduling, so hopefully the fact that I’m getting more hours means my performance is good. I did get one complaint tonight that my ice cream balls needed to be rounder, but I got two compliments that my salads are pretty.

I do think I like working days better than nights though. Not only is it better for my family but I prefer the atmosphere and pace. During the day we have tons of prep work to do. We just go to the line when there are lots of orders. The rest of the time A, the main day line cook, takes care of the line while we prep. There is always plenty of work to do. If we finish the prep work and the line isn’t busy we can do dishes. If all that is done we get to go home. There is no standing around, no trying to figure out what to do to look busy. I like that.

But I must admit probably the main reason I like the day shift better is my coworkers. During the day most of the people working in the kitchen are Hispanic. A on the line, E doing protein prep and L doing salad prep are all Mexicanos. I like the music they play. I like the way they help each other out. I like that if they feel the need to do a few dance steps as they work they do. We don’t talk a lot, we are all focused on the work we need to get done, but when we do I like that too. Apparently I talk enough with them that two different people have asked me what my first language is.

Unfortunately there is a sense of separation between the staff depending on their culture. Both A and E have made comments about how their “paisanos” will support them differently than the American staff. They feel there is a difference in work ethic and teamwork. It is too early for me to have an opinion on whether or that perception is based on truth or prejudicial expectations or what. I am curious to see, but in the meantime I am thrilled to be able to feel at home with both. I hope I will be able to continue that.

Tomorrow is the beginning of Lent so I may have had too much sugar and alcohol in anticipation of 40 days without. I cannot seem to think of a way to end this post other than just saying good night. “Good night.”

On starting the KitchenGringa blog

In September of 2011 my husband and I unexpectedly had the opportunity to be the owner/operators of a Mexican restaurant in a small town in North Georgia. Within a few weeks he had resigned from his job and we had placed our house for rent and moved ourselves and our children to a brand new place for a new adventure. And what an adventure it was, for 14 months we put everything we had, and then some, into turning the restaurant around and getting the numbers to turn black. We weren’t able to do it. The restaurant is now closed with sad brown paper covering the windows, but neither of us regret the experience. It was an amazing journey that taught us so much, not just about food and hospitality, but about ourselves, our neighbors, and human nature. But I do regret that I didn’t write about it all as it was happening. Even the events that seem to be unforgettable as they occur fade with time as life continues to throw us new trials and triumphs. As we start yet another completely different chapter of our life I would like to do a better job of recording it. And I hope that as I do so I will also find that I am able to further process and sort out the experiences that brought us this point and share them as well.

There is a place near the end of the book of Luke that I keep coming back to. After the Lord’s Supper and before the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus predicted Peter’s denial. He said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32 NIV) Peter’s failure that night is completely different from my own failures and I have no delusiones of changing the world by blogging about what its like to be an American woman working in restaurant kitchens dominated by Mexican men. But I do feel like I know what it feels like to be sifted and realize that you are nothing but a pile of dust, and as I try to turn back I would love to be able to have the chance to even in the smallest way strengthen my brothers and sisters.