Here’s to you spinach you vibrant green member of the vegetable kingdom, winner of the peoples choice award for your leading role in Iron Man the Diet, voted outstanding roughage of the year from 2009-2013, four years in a row. A staple in the Gerber Baby line of vitamin rich pabulum sides, forever etched in our culture as the thing to eat for instant strength. I know many of us treated you badly in our early years sticking you in our pockets to avoid eating you when Mom attempted to force feed you to us. In the end though Mom was right because you really are “Good for us.” We’ve grown up and have learned to appreciate you not only as a side but as the base of spinach salads, the central ingredient in restaurant appetizer dips, and the heart of spinach casseroles. We’ve even forgiven you for that time you got stuck in our teeth embarrassing the hell out of us. We’ve come to love you so this tale is dedicated to you, Spinicia Oleracea, you green edible flowering plant we love to consume.
This Is Your Life Spinach
The worst thing about being a line cook on a slow night in a restaurant is the tedious chores a skillful chef can come up with. Whether its peeling a hundred pounds of shrimp we don‘t need today or the hundred and fifty pounds of potatoes the day shift now won’t have to peel tomorrow the chores always suck. Don’t believe me? Try rolling two thousand meatballs then laying them on out sheet trays. Yea the extra chores suck and everyone has one downtime task in particular they hate so much they would be willing to pay someone else to o for them. At the very least make an attempt to barter a fair trade for something less mundane. Being assigned many thankless “preps” I developed a trick that worked for me using my ability to zone out into a meditative daydream state to amuse myself while performing. I create stories or events built around the object of my benign task. One night for example, the chef came out from the walk in with two bushels of fresh spinach on a cart.
“Ah….JT… Ere ees some spinach needs to cleaning, get on top of it.” Spinach? I hate cleaning spinach! Most people buy spinach in those easy to use cello bags already picked through and washed but a bushel of fresh spinach in a restaurant comes complete with lumps of dirt, roots, and stems requiring tedious meticulous attention to get clean. Spinach is my personal bane, the one task I really hate because it seems the bushel is an abyss. I‘d rather do the shrimp or even the potatoes but what else can you do? “yes chef”
The first of two bushels was placed on the table so I jumped in and began picking while mentally preparing myself for my zone. Highly skilled at meditation I spent two minutes getting my breathing right and clearing my mind to make room for some internal entertainment. I picked the first few leaves placing them in a large bucket working up to a rhythm so I can go on autopilot:
The crowd is cheering building to a crescendo as Ralph Edwards walks on stage. A hush over the people as he begins, “ Born in what was then Persia, you moved to the Mediterranean around the age of 8. Knighted by Catherine De Medici you worked your way into our hearts and palates around the world. Green and leafy you come packed with iron and vitamins. Maybe kids don’t find you appealing but the health conscious world adores you and your attributes. In particular the vegan crowds hail you as the perfect vegetable. Stand up and take your place on the vegetable pedestal because tonight, Spinach……This Is Your Life.” The crowd roars it approval as spinach takes it place on the large Barcalounger chair smiling from root to root.
“Do you remember this voice Spinach? A raspy voice from backstage, “Hey pal how the Hell are you? Long time my leafy green buddy. Remember the old days in the supermarkets when no one picked me unless they thought I was you?” A short pause before the recognition, “Oh my God, Kale, how are you? I hear you’ve become quite popular yourself, I can’t believe you came here tonight.” Spinach and kale reunite on stage and share a few stories from the old days… “Wait spinach, there’s more. Does this ring a bell? “I bet people will buy more spinach if I can find a way to freeze it.” Spinach jumps up knocking kale to the floor, “Clarence? Clarence Birdseye? Holy shit Clarence you came from the deep freeze to honor me? I am verklempt. My sales increased tenfold since I met you.” The crowd is giving Clarence a standing O, Clarence embraces spinach lovingly. “We’ll be right back.”
“Ordering, one chicken, two veal and a shrimp!” The familiar sound of the chef ordering, we have some customers so I am free from the drudgery of spinach picking for the time being and back on the line cooking. Karen the cute waitress nudges me, “Back from outer space JT?” I shoot her my trademark mysterious stoner smile, “Theres room in outer space for two. Should I reserve you a spot?” As usual my chef is unimpressed, “JT get your ass back on the line. Stop too talk right now.” Chefs English was always good for a laugh so knowing he meant stop talking I went up to him and said, “That’s what I’m doing chef, I’m stopping to talk.” Karen giggled while I high tailed it to my station sensing the confusion in my chef as he’s trying to figure out what I meant. Anyway fun time over for now, time to get back to do what I do best, cook. Unfortunately the rain has put a damper on the evenings diners and the service is short lived. Thirty minutes later my chef sentences me back to picking spinach. Back to my zone:
Ralph returns center stage, “Tonight we honor Spinach who comes in three basic forms, Savoy, dark green curly leaf variety, semi Savoy, the hybrid which is slightly less crinkly and far more popular, and the flat which is the one being cleaned here tonight. You have added nutrition to so many dishes around the world, adding vitamins and iron as well as flavor, but none as popular as the dish created by this blast from your past. Recognize the accent? “If y’all really wanna know love its when I add epinards to something I done made fer John D. Rockefeller. When he done come downa mah place in Nawlins he be looking fer some special way to eats them there sex making bivalves so popular here in The Big Easy. Eye-sters. Mmm mmm, he show dew love him some eyesters that Rockefeller!” Spinach sat up in its chair, “Antoine? Oh my god chef Antoine! Wow, Man you lifted me to culinary royalty when you created Oysters Rockefeller, how can I ever thank you?” The crowd watches as Spinach tears up an hugs the hefty Cajun chef.
“Wait spinach, we aren’t done yet we have one last person here to say hi.” The crowd gets tense waiting for this last visitor as a voice booms across the room, “Well blow me down, ack, ack, ack. Well that’s all I kin stand and I cant stands no more.” The crowd goes wild as Popeye walks from behind the curtain to a thunderous applauses. Spinach lets the tears flow this time overjoyed to see the one person who has done more for it than anyone else ever. Together they break into song, “I’m strong to the finish cuz I eats my spinach, I’m Popeye The Sailor Man.” Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and Brutus join the duo as the screams of elation erupt. It’s a Popeye The Sailor/Spinach reunion for the ages!
As the celebration continues the very popular sailor pulls something out of his pocket replacing his pipe with a rolled cigarette. “Ahoy there Spinach, I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam. Would you like a hit of this jay?” Simultaneously Olive Oyl walks over with a serving tray with cup saucer and teapot. “Ohh my, would you like some tea?” Popeye insists, No have a jay” Olive counters again, “Tea!” it’s a battle now of who can be loudest. “Jay!” “Tea!”, “jay!” “tea!” Finally it dawns on me its neither Popeye nor Olive, neither a jay nor a cup of tea. Its the chef is yelling “JT! What is wrong with you, I said you have an order!” Bam! Snapped back to reality! “Sorry chef, I just spaced out a second, I’m on it.” I ran behind the line back to my station to cook my orders, “Space out? What iz these a-space out? I was calling you for five minutes, lets go!”
Everything was back to abnormal, the chef yelling, the wait staff scrambling, the cooks sweating it out as the dishwasher puts away the cleaned spinach. The pressure is on but it actually feels good because us crazed restaurant people thrive on pressure. I can’t help though to take one last look at my bucket of cleaned spinach smiling while thinking it wasn’t all that bad a task after all. While my five sauté pans sizzled out a rhythmic beat I thanked spinach for all it done. Thanks spinach, even I am green with envy…Peace