Over/Under…Over Whelmed And Under The Influence

drunk

As a Sous Chef in Soho, after being a line cook at Windows On The World, my career was on track. The Smoking Moon Café was a quaint little 45 seat restaurant in a very hip part of the city. The chef trusted me to run the dinner shift which in truth wasn’t all that hard. A limited restaurant with a lot of specials, the sous chef is a one man show behind the range. Our staff was one dishwasher, one waitress, one bartender, and me. But we all had the right attitude and abilities to make it a fully functional team.
Our clientele were mostly young hip professionals with an edgy style. Very often a diner would enjoy the meal I prepared so much he would send me a drink or a joint, or a piece of hash (quality stuff). Every once in a while a regular would come in an cut up a few lines after dinner then invite us all over for a snort. What can I say it was the eighties, the age of excess and everyone in New York City played a role in the Bright Lights Big City clubbing and drugging culture. The really hip clubs had no signs, one had to be “In The Know” to have the address. That was our clients, we catered to the in the know clientele, many of which came to us for dinner before bouncing around the various clubs.
It was a great place to work, the owner treated us like family, even when he wasn’t there when our shift was over he allowed us to lock up and have a few drinks at the bar before heading out. I was the back of the house and back of the house restaurant people complain about business a lot. Whenever its really busy I bitch wishing for down time, and whenever there’s too much down time I bitch wishing for customers. But on July 4th, 1986 I experienced the most excruciating downtime in existence followed by a near impossible power service. The city was alive with celebration, the streets packed with people in anticipation of the annual fireworks display. This year we celebrated the centennial of The Statue Of Liberty so the fireworks were on the West side that year. Being near the West Side ourselves lunch was crazy busy, I had to come in early to assist the chef, but by dinner just about everyone was out jockeying for a good spot to view the works. By seven o’clock we had had one single customer who only ordered a burger. The area was like a ghost town with everybody and their brother on West Side Highway. It was so slow Moss, the waitress, Eddie the dishwasher an I sat at the bar chatting with Stolie, our favorite bartender.
I mentioned that a customer who had requested a very hot meal had given me a bottle of Mt. Gay rum. I made some my patented dragon juice, assorted hot peppers stepped in sherry vinegar to an order of lamb couscous which I topped off with some harisa. When I came out to chat with him his face was covered in sweat but he loved the meal. He asked me if I like rum. Of course, who doesn’t so the next day he bought me a bottle of Mount Gay, his favorite, to say thanks. Before I knew it Stolie, Moss, and I were in a rum drink competition making each other rum drinks. Eddie didn’t compete but happily accepted the privilege of judging. My concoction was a combo of 151, Meyers, and Bacardi with a drop of every juice I could find then a splash of coke. Delicious and deadly. By 10:15 the four of us were toasted and still not a soul to serve, not even anyone passing by. Closing up in 45 minutes. We were laughing loudly when the door opened and a couple walked in. Shit! Now I am really buzzing and have to cook some dinners. When I started heading to the kitchen I hear Moss say, “Holy fuck!”
From the kitchen door I could hear the decibel level increase rapidly. It was like the floodgates opened allowing customers to come charging through the door. The fireworks were over and we were right smack dab in the middle of the path of hordes of happy hungry people leaving the highway extravaganza in search of a place to eat. Within ten minutes every table was full, a line of revelers out the door. Half hour to closing time, but now closing time no longer existed.
Most restaurant people stay in the field working because we thrive on the pressure. All four of us were thriving our asses off. Moss handled the tables expertly, Stolie made the customers drinks and helped Moss by bussing. I really would need a new ass, thriving or otherwise if I didn’t cook it off I was certain to sweat it off. Eddie was promoted to assistant sous chef and he did a fantastic job. For the next two hours the four of us worked together half drunk on pressure, half drunk on rum. For me the best part of the crazy scene was after the last two tables had been seated, while things were semi calm, Moss came back to the range with her cocktail tray holding one large drink. “The happy customer on table seven wants to send a drink back for the chef so Stolie made you a JT Rum Special.”
I was literally drenched in sweat, rivulets of saline trailing from my temples. I was breathing hard because I had been cooking non stop even slapped myself hard and shook my head many times to try instant sober up, and Moss was standing there, also exhausted, but still smiling handing me a drink. “Are you fucking kidding me? A drink now?” Moss tilted her head, lifted her eyebrows, smiled at me shaking her head yes. All I could do was smile back, “That sounds about right.” I accepted the drink with a laugh, giving half to my newly promoted assistant. We didn’t have our usual close up drink that night, all of us wiped out, but we talked about our fourth of July experience for months after. Those were the days….PEACE

All Shallows Eve

hallow

It comes as a surprise to many that Halloween is my least favorite holiday. The Existential baker is basically a fun loving dude who seldom misses an opportunity to party but like most things these days I feel the celebrations and revelry have spun way out of control. Back in the day we donned wafer thin material over our bodies with a hard plastic mask that fastened with a cheap rubber band across the head. That was the costume du jour. Spiderman,. Superman, Beetle Bailey (What?? It was 1st grade and I was impressionable) , whatever, those hard plastic face masks caused massive facial sweating while the slit for the tongue allowed us to dribble spit inside it as well. Those days were fun. Today however, the average costume costs near $30 with a ridiculously expensive $850 dollar collector edition Halo Master Chief taking the prize for most extravagant. Its become a who can outdo who for the best kid costume sparing no expense. Toddlers and tiara’s for a day. The adult costumes are even worse, many going to crazy lengths to be the talk of the ghostown. There are stores which dedicate their entire showrooms for that one holiday. I guess that’s why the begin advertising in August but at any rate in order to be in the height of Halloween fashion one needs to completely transcend just dressing like a goth or a slut. My Mom’s trick was to fool me into thinking I was a hobo by making me wear my older brothers ripped up clothes carrying a pillowcase as she marked my face with a mascara beard.

beetlebailey

Don’t get me wrong I loved trick or treating as a kid and went to great lengths to choose the perfect costume. I enjoy the fun size bar as much as anyone although today my standards of fun span much more than a half inch of chocolate bar. And of course part of my misspent youth involved some pranks and mischief but in my adolescence I found limiting it to just one day was just inviting trouble. I never did the burning paper bag of dog crap prank but I had my moments. But Halloween is overdone and has been taken to the edge. I mean, how are they gonna top it with the next generation?

With so many of us taking immature adulthood to new heights and responsible parenting to far below sub basement levels perhaps it will become a day set aside for today’s “whats in it for me” irresponsible adults so arrange for a babysitter. Start with a ghost haunting in the home because it would be full of boo’s. Or I mean booze. Picture this, at everyone’s door a stash of alcohol or other happy hour helpers at the ready. We dress up as authority figures, like maybe a mall cop, or “event security” and go door to door with our shot glasses and red solo cups. Ring the bell, and when the owner answers we all yell “Buzz or Beatdown” The owner then either pours a glass of beer or wine, fills a shot glass with their favorite liquor, or places a doob ash side in their mouth and proceeds to give a shotgun of silly smoke all around. I would go with the doob cuz there’s less of a chance of a beatdown from someone stoned than there is with alcohol laden drunkards. At worst a stoner will kick your shin. The occasional home of a chemist or pharmacist may have some prescription drugs or tripping product and everyone in the neighborhood will be sure to stop there before heading home. That would be a hellacious way to celebrate but there will be more sick outs the next day than the ay after the super-bowl.

But its not up to me as to how anyone chooses to celebrate their holiday and my job a it were is to come up with an offering of cupcakes that are themed out for October 31st. So here’s what I have coming up with at Jarets Stuffed Cupcakes for next week. The “Drunkin’ Punkin,” a pumpkins cupcake filled with bourbon pecan custard, “Apple Stumble“, an apple cupcake filled with rum raisin, and for the kids “The Tricking Treat,” a chocolate cupcake with candy corn custard and candied topping.

Have a safe and fun Halloween, enjoy the crazy holiday responsibly and remember, never underestimate the power of a cupcake….Peace

Upper Crust Tailgating

atail

Existential cupcaking to raise money at The far Hill Steeplechase Race was an eye opener for the Existential Baker. We were asked by Neiman Marcus to supply cupcakes for their heavy hitting guests at The Far Hills racetrack who were donating bookoo bucks for a hospital. Always prepared to assist a great cause we agreed and had a nice section on top of a hill overlooking the track to set up. As a bonus I was permitted to enjoy some wonderful sushi and sashimi, shrimp, crab cakes, lamb chops, Veuve Clicqout Champagne, and to wash it all down some Grey Goose. It also afforded me an opportunity to walk around trackside to engage in some hoity toity people watching.

The existential Baker knows little of how to hobnob, never knowing if I’m hobbing or nobbing, but I am always at the ready for something new. Having lived amongst the 99% for my entire life I was unaccustomed to uppercrust customs. Now to start I am admittedly not much of a sport fan, but I have been to numerous football, baseball, and hockey games not so much for the cultural experience but more for the atmosphere. Not being vested in any one team made being an observer much less of a spectacle in a spectator sport. Never one to paint my face in team colors, or dress head to toe as if I should be on the field, or otherwise engage in any of the fanatical aspects of being a fan I watched. I enjoyed people watching even more than the sport itself. During Ranger Islander games I scoured the crowds noticing for all its negative publicity for fighting on the ice there were far more fistfights in the stands. At Yankee games I learned how elitist and condescending a fan can become, but football was the golden jewel of people watching by way of the phenomena of football tailgates.

The parking lot is transformed into cave-like tribal sections complete with all the grunting and food gorging and beverage swilling one would expect of a Neanderthal Reunion. Rival factions wearing their tribal colors begin the tailgate as friends and on an equal respect level until enough hops and malts are consumed to strengthen their bravado muscles. Mostly the ones in and around the vocal chord area. Each tribe has its tables and cooking sources and the food is nothing short of a famed Roman feast with a modern twist. Grills loaded with whole chickens, huge massive beef parts, lamb, more grilled items than an caveman could shake a stick at. A grilling smorgasbord with an array of sides. But the main function of the tailgate is to imbibe a massive amount of beer. The result is feuding tribes of sloppy drunk average guys and girls heading into a stadium to watch professional gladiators play a game. Not at steeplechases!!!

The difference was immediate. Their style of dress was not weekend warriors but reserve fashion chic with a few over the top statements like bright pink striped pants or unusual tophats, but very expensive clothing. Nothing off the rack, everything very chic. Burberry boots, Dolce and Gabbana, all the best. Like LL Bean on very expensive designer steroids. Hair recently coiffed, manscaped and manicured couples all in neatly pressed clothing. Their cave sections were less barbaric as well, instead of grille meats it was a catered affair, complete with waitstaff. Bars set up with premium liquors, chaffing dishes of food everywhere, and red solo cups? Oh Hell no, not at this party, actually glassware. And they openly place their bets on the horse. “Oh for heavens sake I dropped another ace” means Holy shit I lost a hundred bucks on that horse! But it was nothing short of just another tailgate, the result being a more sophisticate brand of drunken idiots. The buzz from Grey Goose isn’t much different from the buzz achieved by Wolfsmith vodka. A number of heated disagreements broke out leading to some major face to face reddened angry speak.

But in the end a lot of money was raised for a great cause and I had a opportunity to see how the beautiful people spend their free time during their preferred sporting events. All in all the guys were lacking in couth but it was accepted as boys will be boys banter, with a bit too much stress put on sexual innuendo. This leads me to believe that the well off young men are quite sexually frustrated, and either the sex talk went over much of the young ladies heads, or they just ignored the boys knowing that I have a headache will work later on. PEACE

avi

When The Saint Comes Marching In

Don’t Pee On My Parade and Tell Me Its Rain
There’s a parade coming to my town Saturday and I don’t want to be the one to rain on anyones parade, but someone has to do it. So as they elected the Grand Marshall of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, I have elected my self the Grand Marshall of questioning what all the shenanigans are about. More importantly just who is this Patrick dude, why is he a saint, and why are we celebrating him anyway?
The Feast of Saint Patrick. Celebrated in many parts of the world, The UK, Canada, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and of course here in my county, America. Even more localized the parade in my town of Nutley New Jersey will be this Saturday, because that’s the only day the bagpipers had open. Apparently here in America there is a shortage of men in skirts squeezing a bag with various pipe sticking out of it that makes haunting sounding music. New York City has the monopoly on pipers due to the huge going-ons in the city. It’s an official celebration here in New York every year beginning with the famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade. They love their parades in Manhattan, and more than that they love the party and revelry that is mistaken as a free pass to exercise extreme inebriation and tomfoolery. “Step out of the road my dear lady there’s a parade coming through.” Every Irish pub is filled to the rafters with either Irish or temporary Irish folk singing Irish tunes. Maybe I should say slurring Irish tunes, many in manbraces swaying to the country sounding tunes of Ireland. People come in buses, trains, and cars from all around the area to get drunk and share overplayed jokes like “More like Erin go Braless,“ or “Kiss me I’m drunk.” After the parade the city is packed with people who celebrate the day by excessive drinking which somehow translates into being Irish. The bars serve green beer which as I’ve heard it told, turns ones urine a pastel lime green. But allow me to back up a little and investigate why March 17th became such a decadent celebration here.
Patrick is the patron saint, or heavens advocate, for the Republic of Ireland. He lived from AD 385-461 and passed away on March 17th. That explains some of the heavy drinking and carousing and basic mayhem surrounding this day as it’s a ginourmous multi-country funeral repast. If you’ve ever been to an Irish funeral you know what I mean. When a friend or family member passes away we throw a party and instead of sitting around crying we have copious amounts of raisin‘ the glass. I guess it a kind of last hurrah and we get drunk, sing songs, stuff our gullets with food, and remember all the great times we had with the deceased. Clearly Patrick is more than just a passing acquaintance because the party returns year after year. What makes him so special?
Not much is known about this mysterious saint, but from what I was able to find out he was born a Deacons son in an area once known as the Romano-British culture and not in Ireland at all. This has led to all kinds of confusion, the Romans claiming he is Italian, and the United Kingdom assuring he was a Brit. Whatever! He was kidnapped by some Irish raiders and held prisoner. While in prison God talked to him and told him to escape and go back to his home which he did. There he became a bishop. As a Bishop he went back to Ireland, moving diagonally as Bishops do, and was told by God this time to help convert the Irish into Catholicism. In a vision he was asked to be the “Voice of the Irish”.
So it was that Patrick headed into Ireland and began what today would be called “Bishop Patrick’s Catholic Revival,” He set about baptizing, ordaining, and basically teaching the doctrines of Christianity to the Irish people. One particular lesson was the teaching of the Holy Trinity and its rumored he reached down and plucked a three leaf clover as a visual aid. So impressed were his students they embraced the shamrock as a national symbol and it remains synonymous with Ireland to this very day. The wearing of shamrocks on their clothes and patches strengthened the resolve of that symbol and long after Patrick was gone in 1798 Irish soldiers took it a step further and wore all green uniforms. That gave us the famous “wearing of the green” ritual. Patrick had become the icon of Ireland. One of the more dramatic claims of Patty was how he banned the snakes from Ireland. Truthfully, snakes would find it difficult to migrate there so its true there are no indigenous snakes, so methinks it was a metaphor for evil assholes. Anyway, according to Eugene O’Neil, St. Patrick tossed all the snakes of Ireland into the Atlantic Ocean where they swam across to New York an became cops… What? It could happen!
Here in America along with the drinking and parade we also celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner. This I find amusing because there is not a huge following of this meal in Ireland. It’s about as Irish as apple pie. You will however find it very often in a New England Boiled Dinner. I believe it is jut a small touch of confusion. Ireland is largely a farming and herding country. That means hours and hours in the fields working hard. The women folk worked even harder, taking care of all the chores around the house as well as some of the farming or herding tasks. They were responsible to have food on the table at the end of the day and like many hard working women completed it by making a slow cooked stew or boiled meal. Dinner was created in a one pot vessel on a stove. One pot meal. A casserole. The meat in first, later the potatoes, then the carrots, and so on. Like Goulash, Tagine, Duchie, Bourguignon, Cachupa, and tons of cultural stew dishes were born this way. Corning, or curing was popularized during the industrial revolution but even before that meats had to be preserved somehow on the long boat trips across the Atlantic to America. So early colonist in America likely ate a lot of cured and pickled foods. A more traditional Irish dinner would include seafood like prawns and salmon around the area of Dublin Bay, or lamb with potatoes and sausage in the farmlands. I imagine Patrick himself would get a kick out of watching us celebrate being Irish by drinking green beer and eating corned beef and cabbage. I’m relatively certain he would more likely have some advice for us along the lines of kiss my Irish ass but we party the way we party.
Or maybe he would prefer the wise Irish advice I got from my Mum and Dad. My dear old Dad always told me to celebrates it with an Irish seven course meal. A six pack of Guinness and a baked potato. My Mum told me the Irish are exceptionally good at one of two things, loving or fighting. At six foot four you might think I would be a good fighter, but alas I am not. But lover? Many would be green with envy but that’s a horse of a different color!…………………PEACE