Author Archive

Winter in Barrow

Like the rest of the world, Barrow has recently been dealing with winter weather extremes. In Barrow, however, this is expected. After all it is winter and we are well into the Arctic Circle. One day last week we went from -28 degrees to 14 degrees above zero in the space of an hour. This was the Arctic’s dramatic way of announcing that snow was on the way. We had maybe 4 inches, but along with it came howling westerly winds and negative wind chills. Again, this is pretty typical for our location.

One of the older gals I work with came in and announced, “It’s COLD!”  This never ceases to amaze me. We live in the Arctic. It is always cold. Even summer temperatures seldom climb above 55 degrees. Saying its cold in the Arctic is like announcing that water is wet. I should say that the gal protesting the cold was born in the Philippines, but she has lived in Barrow for about 10 years. A short time later she announced in tones of absolute outrage that it was SNOWING. (The outrage would almost have caused you to believe that snow was somehow an affront to nature and God.) She glared at me as if I were personally responsible for both weather and temperature.

This is an old game. We have been reciting our lines for, well, this would be my 6th winter here. I raised one eyebrow and we stared at each other for a while. Then she laughed and she is over it like that. “I will retire.” She said. “When?” I asked. We eye each other some more. “Tomorrow.” She said. “Okay.” I said. And we go back to work.

 

IT"S COLD!

“FOR REALZ?”

Later that day I stepped out on the back loading dock to take a look at the weather. Sitting on top of one of the snow dunes was a lone Arctic fox –shivering. He looked at me. I look at him. Neither of us is disturbed much by the other. I’ve seen him around for the last two winters.. A couple years ago, I first caught sight of this fox, limping in the snow. He had either been in a fight or more likely been caught briefly in a trap and wasn’t putting any weight on one of his fore paws.

This was the first wild animal I ever saw pull the sad, saucer-eyed trick on people. Some of the more tender hearted employees decided he was like a puppy and fed him bones and scraps. He survived his injury and proved intelligent when it came to distinguishing between the marks, who would feed him and the locals who would shoot him on sight. Foxes are vermin up here. Foxes carry rabies. Sad but true. Up here whole villages are quarantined when rabies shows up. This fox was sly, but predictable.

He shivers some more and I swear with same outraged expression as my fellow employee he sends a message. “For REALZ?” he says looking around at the blowing snow, “Gimme a sausage or I’ll crap on the deck.” As I said they are sly and predictable. We have a continual scat and piss war going on with foxes. They claim ownership to the deck and so crap and piss accordingly and we shovel it of right back to ground level.

“No way.” I said, “You will crap on it anyway.” The fox let out a bark –don’t think bark as in dog, but more like a raspy wheezy tubercular sound instead. He turned and stomped off – Yes he did stomp. His feet actually made crunching sounds in the snow. Foxes apparently do get huffy, and disappeared under the building. (Most buildings up here are on timbers or pylons to keep the buildings off the permafrost.)

I opened the door to go back inside. My fellow employee instantly wraps her arms around herself, announcing in even greater outrage; “IT’S COLD!” I sigh and close the door. The employee disappeared into dry storage and came back wearing her winter coat. I force myself to ignore her instead of asking for the millionth time why she did not bring a sweater to work. I also ignored her when she announced to each employee, as they came on shift, that it was cold and snowing in the same outraged tone of voice. That was okay by me. One of them could be responsible for the weather for a change.

At the end of the shift I stepped back outside to check on the weather. Lo and behold! There was the promised scat –just out from the door, all small and dark. I grabbed the shovel and scooped of the dock and over the side. “Here’s your sausage.” I called, and headed back indoors to- “IT’S COLD!” I looked her for a moment and I said, “I will retire.” It’s going to be a long winter.

Category: Alaska  2 Comments

There is Chaos and then there is CHAOS

Some years ago I attended culinary school in the hope of revitalizing a long career in cooking that I no longer loved. I hoped at the time that the joy of cooking would return. It did, but more despite culinary school than because of it. I had thought that going into culinary school with some cooking experience would have prepared me to cope with cooking as a class of twenty-something and perhaps it did in certain ways.
I knew what much of the equipment is and even a good share of the sanitation and safety rules that accompany food. However, the chaos of cooking at a culinary institute in no way resembled the chaos of professional cooking that I had experienced. Mind you, it is still cooking and it takes skill, a lot of practice and hard work. We only had to produce one plate of food per person, but, the utter exhaustion caused by the type of culinary chaos -present in the school classroom caused me to wonder if I would survive the experience. Obviously I did.
For instance, the chance of receiving a hip-check as you try to maneuver a place at the stove is fairly good in cooking school. I have seen people nearly strangled on the electrical cord of a neighbor’s electric burner. I have inhaled a cloud of cayenne pepper smoke from a neighbor’s burning pork chop and was brought to my knees. In fact people went home with bruises and burns –battle scars won as they defended their sauce and simmering ‘what have you’s’ during the battle that Chef called: “Production du jour.”. On the other hand, cooking professionally resembles more of a complicated dance -part of the object of that dance being not colliding or competing for equipment and space. For food to be made quickly there has to be some sense of placement or there is no production at all. It is not quite a ballet but it certainly was not like the ‘pin balls bouncing off each other’ that happened during class, but more like the chaos of an iron works.
In cooking school we did productions that include the main course and accompanying dishes, where as in a restaurant kitchen, you might find yourself only cooking eggs or only cooking meats and starches, or perhaps, you might be responsible for anything that is housed in the steam table, or responsible for salads and cold sandwiches, .No one is responsible to cook everything all at once. To do that would result in the wrong type of kitchen chaos. That would be the type of chaos that would end in fist fights and Band-Aids -with little production to show for it.
I do not know how a culinary school could attempt to replicate or teach how to cope with that level or type of chaos, so necessary to produce the food needed for a rush. There were hints of chaos in the confusion of everyone wondering what tools to get out, which pots and pans were needed for the day and ‘what the heck is Pommes Dauphine?’ There was the chaos of ‘whoops I missed an ingredient’ and the continual ‘excuse me, pardon me’ and the ruder ‘look out will you?’ and ‘Hot Pan coming through!’ There weren’t any fist fights, although it was close a couple of times and there were lots of Band-Aids. I recognized that as chaos. But, it is not the sublime chaos, the terrible, wonderful, awful CHAOS of a kitchen rush.
The right type of chaos in a kitchen involves, roaring fans, beeping microwaves, popping toasters, the sound of metals food turners scraping on the surface of the grill, the bellowing of the wheel cook as he calls and recalls the orders, sound of cold food hitting hot grills, the slamming of cooler and reach-in doors, the hiss of food cooking in the deep fryer. In the back ground there are crashing dishes being washed and assembled into orderly stacks. All of this sound layer upon layer of noise that is the chaos -the cacophony of sounds, which orchestrate a breakfast rush on a Sunday morning.
In counterpoint to all this sound are the smells of hot grease, potatoes, bacon frying, odors of soups and sauces rolling up on clouds of steam from the steam table and over it all the smell of burnt toast so thick it could choke you after a few hours. The line cooks dance to this chaotic music as if the narrow line shelf in front of them was a bar in a dance studio. The reach up on their toes for a platter or a plate then side step, side step turn and spin and turn back again –plates flying back and forth between them like peas in a con man’s shell game.
Out front the waitresses limber up for their counterpoint to the terrible dance of food that will be coming to them –at them with a vengeance, through the window, as fast as the grills will allow, until so much food has passed over the grills that all the heat is sucked out of them. Then there is a mad round of restocking the line, the slamming down of glasses of juice and cola while the grills build their fierce heat once again and the dance goes on until time is measured in seconds- not minutes –not hours. Time stops. And when it begins again six hours are gone, the restaurant is half empty and everyone except the customers are in shell shock. Now that is a form of Chaos no cooking school could ever prepare a student for.

Category: Cooking  6 Comments

Gifts

When I landed in Logan I had a lot of mixed feelings about attending the Uncon. I wondered if I would meet people I would like and who would like me. I wondered if I was going to enjoy any of it –in part because I was not feeling any kind of creative vibe and hadn’t for quite a while, but mostly because this was to be the final farewell to my friend and sister of choice, Lisa Threadgill.
Originally Lisa and I were going to come to Uncon together. We both loved the idea of going to Salem, with all its witchy Awesomeness, and being in New England during the fall. We were going to room together and split costs. The two of us hadn’t gone on an adventure since 2007, so we were both psyched for the trip. And then she died.
I watched the Writer’s Unboxed list as news of her death reached them. There was an out pouring of real grief. This touched me deeply. I spoke with other close friends about this and shared some of the posts. We talked about it. It seemed to all of us that Lisa had unfinished business with these people who supported her writing and gave so much encouragement. I was the one who should go. I already had a room. The money for the Uncon was spent. I could help bring closure to her supporters. It was one last favor for a dear friend and sister.
I arrived at the hotel a little depressed and a touch overwhelmed by enormity of what should have been. I rattled around in the lobby asking people if they were there for the con. No luck. I had dinner alone and then driven by restlessness I went outside to smoke. Some people were gathered there. A bunch came in as I went out, leaving one man, who was in sandals with these extraordinary toed rainbow socks. It was Mike Swift. At last –an Uncon goer.
Within minutes of talking to him I thought “They ought to make this guy the official ambassador of the event.” He hauled me inside into the fancy restaurant to a table full of people, and introduced me to Therese and Sean Walsh, Vaughn, and a whole bunch of people -warm, happy, joyous people. From that point on nearly all my apprehension and yes, my guilt for being where Lisa could not be, dwindled.
Monday night I was slated to give a short talk , when I accepted an art piece made to honor Lisa. When the time came to speak I felt calm and sure of what I felt Lisa wanted them to know. As I spoke I was nearly overwhelmed at the out pouring of quiet emotion on the faces of the people before me. I was not alone in my grief or regret. That is a lot to share with so many people I had never met before. It was real, it was inclusive and it was grounding for me.
There must have been a hundred times during the week when I said to myself. “You would have loved this Lisa.” When Marta brought out her action figure of Poe to have a drink with us in the bar, while I had breakfast with Lance (whom she would have adored), when we caught sight of the “Bung Hole Liquors” sign, (she would have collapsed in a heap laughing at that one) and at the nightly poker game – (she would have won all our chips in short order). She would have been firmly in the I Hate Seafood Group. Scrunching down in the corner to avoid touching any “seabugs”. She would have given the Irish for butt plug and instantly made up a naughty song about it.
And the people she would have fallen in love with –oh my. She would have fallen instantly and deeply in love with Therese and Sean. She would have done the same with Denise, Tonia, Jo, Mike, Natalie, Soni, Sevigne and so very many more. She would have been deeply concerned as Sean and I were when Writer Bob failed to make an appearance that fateful morning. She would have been saddened by his death but happy that he fulfilled one last item on his bucket list. This hit me rather hard, because it was then that I understood that coming to Salem with me, was on Lisa’s bucket list. Her health had been deteriorating that rapidly. I didn’t get it until that moment. She didn’t make it to Salem.
Or did she? I never felt closer to her than when I was in Salem. I came to Uncon to give the gift of what I knew of Lisa Threadgill to those who supported her but had never met her and to thank the people who made it possible for her to finish the first book of her trilogy. But for that last duty to my friend and sister, I would not have attended Uncon.
It was because I attended that in a very real way Lisa gave me the gift –the opportunity of Uncon, with all you wonderful people and all those fun adventures and fabulous workshops. She gave me the opportunity to make deep new friendships to assuage the grief and loneliness of losing one dear friend. I don’t know how to thank her any other way.

Category: Life  Leave a Comment

Welcome to my table…

I tend to be quirky and sometimes a little odd, in person and on my blog. I’m dedicated to thinking outside the box, with varying degrees of success. My hope is that this will be like an Un-Blog in the sense that I would like to encourage conversation in the comments section. Hopefully those who read and are struck in some fashion by what I post will be encouraged to take a Time Out to share similar and opposing views, along with other items of note. Why coffee? My belief is that it is during the sharing of food and/or drink that the best conversations happen. So bring a cup of your favorite beverage (cocktails are allowed), pull up a comfy chair and stay for a chat.

Category: Welcome  Comments off