Archive for the ‘Lessons’ Category

Domestic Terrorists, Serial Killers, Mass Murders, and Dieters…

August 6, 2012 Leave a comment

What gets you going in the morning?

What makes you want to keep going when you know other people would give up?

What makes you wake up one morning and just do something that forever changes your life?

What motivates people to take action?

I live in South Eastern Wisconsin.  Central Wisconsin had long been the location for one of the state’s most notorious serial killers, Ed Gein.  Between 1987 and 1991, Milwaukee played host to our most prolific serial killer, Jeffery Dahmer.  In the city of Delavan earlier this summer Ambrosio Analco shot and killed his girlfriend, two of their children (a third was shot in the chest but didn’t die), his girlfriend’s sister and a friend before killing himself, making him the latest mass murder in South Eastern Wisconsin.  And Just yesterday morning Wade Michael Page walked into the Sikh temple in Oak Creek and killed five people, including one police officer, before he was shot and killed, making him Wisconsin’s first recognized domestic terrorist.

This has gotten me wondering.  What is it that makes a person wake up one day and decide to do something?  To dramatically change their lives?  What is the motivation?

The broadest definition of motivation is a desire to do something.  That’s pretty broad and doesn’t really explain why people will seemingly one day just up and do something.  Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still widely used to explain why people do things.  I don’t think it adequately explains why people just suddenly one day decide that today is the day.  Then again, I’m not a psychologist so I could be wrong.

Let us leave the dramatic behind though.  Murder, sometimes just can’t be explained.  Some people are broken and for them it must seem, at least in the moment, that they are making perfectly rational, logical decisions.  No, let’s talk about something perhaps more positive.

Dieters.  More specifically the person who after a lifetime of being fat suddenly one day just changes everything about their life  so that they can become the thin person people never thought they could be.  You know, the fat girl in high school who when she shows up at the 5 or 10 year reunion looks like a super model out of the pages of Vogue.  Or the fat, dumpy, nerdy guy who drops a hundred pounds, goes to the gym and gets in fantastic shape.  When asked they usually give an answer like, “One day I just woke up and decided I needed to do something about the way I looked and felt.  It was all for me.”

Was it really?

Is that what truly motivated them?

Or was there somewhere back in their mind, hidden behind all the altruism and positive self-help platitudes, a seething desire to just show the people who tormented , ignored, or belittled them that they were wrong.  And really is that such a bad motivator?

Really, isn’t it OK at times to say, “Screw You!  You didn’t think I was good enough for you when I was fat.  And now that I’ve shown you I’m not defined by my weight, now you want to be my friend?  Well screw you, we’re not friends.”  Isn’t that a valid motivational reason?

I myself am fat.  I’m working on changing that, but I’ve been thinking about what is my real motivation.  Yes, yes, health, longevity, better able to deal with moving around and all that, but is that my REAL reason?  A little history I suppose is in order.

I was a thin youth.  I mean really thin, and I suppose at that age one might have expected me to be a very attractive man as I grew older.  I had some traumatic events happen in my youth though that I guess subconsciously made me want to hide and withdraw from the world.  Well as a youth in elementary, middle, and high schools, you really can’t withdraw.  You’re going to have contact with people no matter what.  As a result though, I started to eat poorly, gain weight, and kind of let myself go.  It was never too bad, because I was still active and therefore didn’t really get to be too huge.  I was big enough though as a teen for my father, who could be verbally very cruel, tell me he was going to have to have me fitted for a bra.

I would have to say that this is one of my first “Screw You” motivators.  I have a higher fat content in my chest because I was put on an estrogen precursor in my teens as a way to deal with my eczema.  Something that I should have been on and monitored for about 3 months I was on for 4 years completely unmonitored.  Is there any wonder I looked like I was developing feminine breasts, though they really weren’t that big, I also have thick pectoral muscles under the fat because I was a wrestler and Olympic  power lifter, which can make them look much bigger than they really are.

To say I was self-conscious would be an understatement.  With the trauma that motivated me to withdraw, and my father’s less than kind and inspirational attitude toward me, I wasn’t very outgoing.  I went to college, met a girl, quit school and moved out and got a job that didn’t leave me much time for anything other than work.  Somewhere in there I decided to start working out again, just like when I was younger.  I got pretty darn buff and was even considering becoming a body builder.  Then I went back to school to finish my degree.  At first it was part-time, which meant I had to cut back on my workouts.  Then the food pyramid started to be pushed as the ultimate way to eat right by all the body building magazines, if I may say a huge fucking mistake, and I decided to go to school full-time while still working full-time.  Bad eating, little sleep, deep mental scars that hadn’t been fully explored, and lots of stress lead to giving up me gaining weight.  And I gained it quickly.  Even though I was still trying to workout at least 3 days a week I gained a hundred pounds in less than a year.  By time I finished my degree, I had stopped working out all together and my weight was over 350 pounds.

Getting my degree eased the stress somewhat and my weight gain slowed.  It didn’t stop, but it slowed.  Six years later when we were getting ready to adopt our daughter, I was closing in on 400 pounds and I wasn’t happy.  My weight stayed steady for several years, I guess the stress was easing, or I had hit the point where my body just wouldn’t let me gain any more.  In those years though I got some I guess I have to say odd information directed at me.

We had a friend visit us.  I don’t know what she was expecting.  I’m not sure at that point and especially at this point in my life I really care what she expected.  But at some point in the week she confided in my wife (the very cute girl who somehow took a shine to me in college) that I wasn’t the kind of guy she was looking for.  That’s OK, I wasn’t even thinking along those lines anyway, but nice to know.

A few years later at a party, I was talking to a female friend and her then boyfriend, now fiance, soon to be husband, and she said something very similar.  She added that it was specifically because of my weight.  Once again, nice to know, but I wasn’t really interested in her that way either.

It’s now a couple of years later.  I’ve since lost about 70 pounds, but I’m still just over 300 and finding it hard to stay motivated to do the right things.  My major downfalls right now are working out and getting enough sleep.  I do eat much better.  No longer do I bother indulging in fast food, and I use to adore Burger King.  I’ve given up wheat and breads pretty much completely except for our once a week pizza night.  I had gone gluten-free for a while, but I really didn’t like the substitutes.  So six days a week I’m completely paleo and Friday night we have pizza.  For over a year I’ve been struggling with breaking that 300 mark so we’ve joined a gym and are now trying to get  back into the habit of working out at least 3 days a week.  We haven’t made a full week of it yet, but we will.

Anyway, this all leads me back to my main point.  Motivation.  Is Screw You a good motivator?  I think in my world it just might be.  Yes I know all the reasons why I should lose weight and get in shape.  But when it comes right down to it I really want to tell (metaphorically) those people who put me where I am or told me I wasn’t good enough for them the way I am, “Screw You!”


I got yell at today…

That’s right, I got yelled at.  I was told I need to start photographing dinners.

It really wasn’t all that special.  Just a store bought rotisserie chicken and a salad of mixed greens, English cucumbers, Italian tomatoes and blackberries.  The only thing I did was to peel the tomatoes.  Tomatoes this time of year have too thick of skins, so to make them better, peel them.  Then what to do with the peel?  Why, make it into a garnish, a simple rosebud to decorate the side of the plate.

To me, this simple thing just doesn’t warrant pictures.

Or, maybe it does.

What do I know?

I just cook.

It does though make me want to practice garnishing.  Even learning new cutting techniques.  Yes, definitely want to learn new techniques.

I think that the most beautiful garnish or embellishment of foods come from Japan and China.  For example I’m thinking of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Food’s episode from Cheng-du China.  The restaurant at the end where the chef made edible paint brushes, and dumplings that looked like little hedgehogs.  Those where absolutely beautiful.  Japanese garnishing is beautiful too, but in my opinion, more playful.  It also seems to rely on knife skills rather than decorative forms and shapes of foods.

To that end, I want this book.  I promise that I’ll post pictures of my progress once I get the book and start practicing.

Of course, because the book is on Japanese garnishing techniques, I really want this book too.  Which I know will lead me down that path of finding the perfect set of Japanese knives.  Ah, the sacrifices I make for the advancement of my skills and my friends edification.

Categories: Lessons

I Just Want To Know What I Did Wrong…

May 9, 2011 1 comment

What cosmic kitten did I run over with my lawn mower that has given me this past year?  Gluten sensitivity, issues with artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup problems, now what?  GOUT!  Can you freaking  believe this?  GOUT.  What do I look like?  Ben Freaking Franklin?

Ok, now that I got that out of my system…

Gout.  An excess of uric acid in the system that crystallizes in the joints, typically the first joint of the first metatarsal, big toe.  While often caused by a diet excess in rich foods, it also has a strong genetic link.  My mother has gout, so there you go, the doctor wasn’t at all surprised to hear that.  Unfortunately, the outcome is the same, pain.  This can be the acute kind like I suffered this past weekend, or chronic which means I’ll always have some level of pain.  Either way, I can’t change my genetics so I’ll have to change my diet to eliminate as many of the high purine foods as possible.

Because of some of the other issues I’ve been having with food and my desire to simplify my eating, I started following the Paleo Diet.  The emphasis is on lean meats, vegetables and fruits.  Of course I have a very hard time not wanting to add as much flavor to foods as I can.  Bacon fat is a favorite.  Anyway, some of the recommendations can have an adverse effect on gout.  Organ meats especially can be an issue.  Well, I’m not going to change from the Paleo Diet, I finally have more energy and less cravings.  What does that leave me with?  Tweeking.

Lean meats, minus fatty fish, like the tuna I’ve been eating every day for lunch for weeks, and organ meats.  Ok, I don’t really eat much organ meats, but when I get chicken or turkey to roast, I get the liver, heart and gizzards.  No one else like them in my family but me, and we don’t have them often.

Eggs, I have to stop eating them every day for breakfast.  I’ll have to go for another meat and maybe some vegetables and fruit for breakfast.

High fat meats are out.  No more bacon and sausage.  As wonderful tasting as they are, no more for me.

There are a few vegetables I won’t be able to eat much of either.  Spinach, asparagus, cauliflower, and cabbage have been known to cause elevated levels of uric acid.  It limits what I can eat, but it doesn’t stop me from eating most vegetables.

Fruits, all seem good,  but I need to limit myself to one citrus a day.  This I can do, berries are a much better choice anyway and strawberries have at least as much vitamin C as oranges.

Breads and grains, well, those are out on the Paleo diet and I’m actually good with that.  The thing I find strange though is on the low purine diets, they promote eating enriched flour breads aka white bread, and limit to two servings a week to whole grain breads.  I find this odd considering the lack of fiber in the typical American diet.  Oh well, I’m not going to eat it anyway.

So there you have it.  The lesson of the day.  I have gout, am gluten sensitive, and have issues with artificial sweeteners, including high fructose corn syrup.  All of which can be linked to diet.  I guess its time to get cooking.

Stay tuned…

Categories: Lessons Tags: , ,

Don’t forget to tip your waiters and waitresses…

March 20, 2011 2 comments

I think like most everyone in the world I enjoy going out to eat.  I admit that I tip fairly well.  I’m also fairly tolerant when it comes to service, realizing that sometimes things happen in the restaurant that effect service but are out of direct control of the wait staff.  In other words, the waiter or waitress have to really make some major gaffs for me to not tip in the 20%  or better range.

Articles like this one I found on Yahoo about tipping though make me a bit mad.  Essentially the article says that you should pay the wait staff their tip in cash because then they get the whole thing instead of having to pay the processing fee to get the cash, can have cash in their apron to make change, get done with their post shift count down quicker, and don’t have the restaurant withholding taxes.  All of these are debatable.  I’ve never heard of a restaurant passing on the transaction processing fee to the wait staff and deducting it from their tips.  I don’t doubt that in some cases and some places it does happen, I’ve just never heard of that.  Cash for making change in their apron?  Maybe for convenience, but if they’re required to run the drawer from their apron, they’re usually given money for that at the beginning of their shift.  Quicker count down at the end, I can agree with.  No waiting for the manager to pull the tip money from the drawer, but I’ve as often seen the wait staff pull their tip from the drawer right away when ringing in the credit.  As for taxes, that’s up to the wait person to be honest about.

Those aren’t what make me mad though.  This final word from Jeremy M. Simon does.

There are plenty of reasons to tip well, but what about when your experience isn’t so good? Regardless,        Senning says that diners shouldn’t leave a tip that’s less than 15 percent of the total bill. If a poor                      experience has you considering a tip below that amount, “you really should be talking to the manager,”        he says. Rather than penalizing your server, an off night for the restaurant may be to blame.

I bristle at people telling me that regardless of the quality of the service I should give a minimum amount.  Where is the incentive to provide exceptional service?  Where is the incentive to even be mediocre?  Why would any waiter or waitress bother to do any more than they have to if they know they’re going to get a minimum of 15% of every bill?  They just build that into their income figure and don’t care.  I understand that wait persons make considerably less then minimum wage in most places and are expected to make up the difference in their income through tips.  I knew that when I was 16 and took my first restaurant job as a bus boy making minimum wage and still making wages 3 times greater than the waitresses.  I also know that many waiters and waitresses make considerably more in a day because of the tips.  BUT don’t tell me that regardless of the service I should tip no less than 15%!  That’s just ridiculous!  In the tip, I’m paying for the service I receive.  NOT as a means of making up for their lack of wages.  If you don’t like what you’re getting paid, go find a different job that pays a living wage to start with.  I pay for good service, and I’m quite willing to pay handsomely for it, often when it’s exceptional leaving tips in the 50 to 100% range.  Granted, you’ll earn that tip.

I would much rather see articles on how to know you’ve gotten good service.   Or maybe how the average person can distinguish between problems with the food/kitchen and problems with service.

Alright then I’ll cover the basics of good service since you’re unlikely to see this elsewhere.  Here are the 5 things I look for in a good waiter or waitress:

First, the waiter greets you at the table after you’ve sat down and situated yourselves.  Not while you’re getting yourself settled, and certainly not more than 5 minutes after you’ve seated.  The waiter who hits you up before you’re even seated isn’t going to take time with you.  They’ve just noticed they have another table but are too busy to do more than a drive-by greeting.  This waiter isn’t going to take the time and help you figure out what you would enjoy the most from the menu, they want you in and out so they can get another table.  Conversely, when you sit there waiting for the waiter for what seems like forever, it should forebode a long wait for everything.  This could be because the restaurant is understaffed, or it could be because the waiter can’t be bothered.

Second, overly relaxed waitresses.  This waitress can’t seem to stand up on her own.  I’ve had them actually pull up a chair and have a seat at the table while taking the order.  If this is the first time we’ve met and you’re job is to take my order and bring my food, I don’t know you well enough to want you to join my party.  I’m sorry, you may be a very nice person, but really you’re not invited.  Now don’t get me wrong, I want you to be friendly and personable, but I don’t know you.  I don’t care if its the local diner or Hooters or the finest 5 Michelin restaurant, good service doesn’t involve having a seat at the table with you.

Third, the non-alcoholic drink order is under the control of the waiter.  If they can’t get that right, they’re probably going to have trouble getting your food order right too.

Fourth, getting the order wrong or not checking it before bringing it to the table.  The bar order might be the fault of the bartender, or the waiter could have grabbed the wrong drinks.  The food might have been put out wrong by the kitchen, like the seafood restaurant that sent out shark instead of the swordfish I ordered.  But when you place a special order, like my daughter’s plain cheeseburger, and you get one with the works, that either means the waiter didn’t put the order in with the request for nothing on it, or didn’t bother to check the order before bringing it to the table.  The waiter is the last staff person to handle your order before it gets to you, their job is to make sure it is what you ordered and fix it before it comes to you.

The last thing I look for from the wait staff are status updates and check in stops at the table.  If the only time I see you if to place the order and to pay the bill, then you haven’t actually waited on me.  I’ve been to restaurants where after the order is placed, a server brings the food to the table, not the waitress.  The waitress’s job is to check back in and make sure that its what you really wanted and see to it that any additional requests are tended to.  But if I don’t see you until you drop off the bill, then you haven’t done the job you want me to pay you for.  If my food is for some reason delayed in the kitchen, I want you to tell me that.  I want you to check back and ask if I need another beverage.  Better yet, remember what I’m drinking and bring me another without my having to get up and find you.

If you as a wait person mess up on any of them, you’re tip will be reduced by the level to which I feel you messed up.  And trust me, I know the difference between kitchen error and wait staff error.  I know the difference between understaffed and uncaring.  You’re tip starts at 25%, because I’m lazy and dividing by 4 is an easy way to figure out the tip, but it will go down quickly if I’m not satisfied.  Conversely, it goes up just as quickly if I’m happy.

Categories: Lessons

What I’ve Learned Going Gluten Free So Far…

October 20, 2010 1 comment

I’ve spent a life time doing things the old fashioned way. Flour is used for making a roux. Which is then used to thicken sauces. Now though I don’t have the luxury of doing the same old, same old. I have to learn how to use other ingredients, some of which I’ve only seen on packaged food labels.

This is going to be an ongoing segment here on Fine Art Food where I talk about the things I’m learning. So let’s get into it shall we.

First off, fear is transitory and cannot be avoided. Anytime we try something new it will be scary. I don’t care if you’re jumping out of an airplane or cooking. First times are scary. Embrace it, what’s the worst that could happen? I’ll grant you, jumping out of a perfectly good plane you could die, but I’m talking about cooking here, so give me a little leeway. So don’t be afraid. If it doesn’t turn out, toss it and start over.

Lesson number two, and you’ll see why I put these together in a moment. It takes a lot less potato starch to thicken a sauce than it takes flour. Actually about half as much. I learned this when I made a cheese sauce. Now like most sauces cheese sauce starts with a roux. Not using wheat flour I grabbed the potato starch and butter. Three teaspoons of butter went into the pan followed by three teaspoons of potato starch. Melted and combined well I started to add cream. It was looking extremely thin, and I panicked. I added another tablespoon of starch. Suddenly it became way too thick! More cream! More cream! Still too thick! Running out of cream! MILK! Grab the milk, that will help. It was still too thick and was now looking like mashed potatoes. I was ready to scream, toss it pan and all, call it a loss, and order pizza, when suddenly the temperature came up in the pan. At just before the boil, the potato starch relaxed and melted into the milk and cream. I had a smooth, creamy sauce. Now to add the cheese.

Lesson learned, use half as much potato starch as flour and be patient. It needs time and heat to do its thing. Needless to say I ended up with far more cheese sauce than I needed. But I learned a couple things.

Categories: Lessons Tags: , ,