I scoff at air freshener commercials. Instead spraying my home with an aerosol chemical that smells like apples and cinnamon I buy apples and bake. Instead of purchasing a scented oil dispensing device that sucks energy from my wall outlet, I purchase a relatively inexpensive cut of meat and a $5 Montepulciano D’Abruzzo and let it simmer in my crock pot. In air freshener television advertisements, guests walk into homes, inhale deeply and nod approvingly. In my house, people step through the door and shout, “Oh, my God, what are you making? That smells amazing!”
Right now, my house smells amazing because…
Brasato al Barolo or Beef Braised in Red Wine
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 (3-to-3 1/2 lb) boneless beef chuck roast
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 lb sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves
4 (4 to 6 inch) sprigs fresh thyme
2 (6 to 8 inch) sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups Barolo (though expensive) or instead other full bodied red wine such as Ripasso Valpolicellla, Gigondas, or Cote du Rhone
2 cups water
Heat oil in pot over moderately high heat
Pat meat dry, sprinkle with salt and pepper and brown meat in hot oil on all sides about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.
Add pancetta to oil in pot and saute over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until browned and fat is rendered, about 3 minutes. Add onion, carrot, celery and saute, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and browned, about 10-12 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, and rosemary and saute, stirring, until garlic begins to soften and turn golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and boil until liquid is reduced by about half, about 5 minutes. Add water and bring to a simmer. Put meat and any juices and wine mixture to crock pot and simmer over low temperature 4-6 hours.
Transfer meat to a cutting board and slice against the grain. Skim fat from surface of sauce and remove herb stems. Boil sauce in pan until reduced by a third, about 5 minutes. Serve with meat over noodle or polenta.
“Miss, can you please tell us if the police officers at the next table are wearing wedding ring?”
“Officers, can I refill that iced tea for you? Yes? You’re welcome.”
“No wedding ring.”
“Can you get their p-number?”
“Can I what?”
“The badge number. My father’s a cop. Can you tell them we want to buy their meal in exchange for their badge numbers? But don’t tell them who, we didn’t dress for this.”
“Gentlemen how was dinner? Great. Okay here’s the thing..the brewhouse is happily buying half of your meal to thank you, of course for your service. A couple of admirers at another table would very much like to buy the other half of your meal. They also want to thank you for your service and would also like your badge number if that is alright. Female. Admirers. No, I can’t tell you who. Personally, I think it would behoove you to do so, they’re cute. I will absolutely let them know how much you appreciate the gesture.”
The officers left there p-numbers and a note of gratitude for the ladies and a nice tip for me.
The ladies left with smiles on their faces and p-numbers in hand. They thanked me verbally and monetarily.
I left a little richer than I arrived and feeling like a bit of a superhero: food server by day, food server/matchmaker by night.
All in all, another good night at the brewhouse.
Tonight I carded someone who was born in 1990.
I did the math and realized, yes, he was of legal drinking age.
When did that happen?
Lunch rush was over at the brewhouse. The hungry herds had come, gnawed quickly on the available carcass and moved on before they became dangerously sedentary. The only remnants of the watering hole were a few strays and the old and the weak, or so I thought.
From first glance she was brittle and small and weak. Grandmother tigress came in for the cheap lunch special and her precocious grand daughter was there to display her melodramatics in a public forum. I let the cub cry and mew and spit as they do. I was not in the position to train, just serve.
Seated directly adjacent from the cat and the cub were a party of two. As I stepped forward to greet table 307, I felt the spray of buckshot from a few well aimed expletives. I immediately side stepped into the shadows of table 306 hoping my presence was undetected. I successfully avoided the direct hit of the bombs being thrown, but the resonating echos were heard well outside of 307’s territory. Table 306 looked up at me with wide eyes. They had gotten their nutrient fill and were anxious to escape the area before the wrath escalated. I gave them their check. “Is there anything you can do?” they whispered at me.
But there was nothing. In a restaurant I am forced to be Switzerland or whatever the jungle equivalent of Switzerland is.
I went to the elder and cub in an attempt to pull them out of the line of fire and into safety, “Can I move you to another table where you might be more comfortable with your surrounding?” I wanted the pair safe from potential errant crossfire.
The cub was now silent and still instinctively aware of the dangers that lie just on the outskirts of her protected lair. Grandmother tigress remained calm and continued to insist cub finish her meal. She then turned to me, “No, Honey everything is fine, because if he uses the F- word again, I have no problem telling him to stop.” I assumed from her confidence that tigress’ teeth and claws might be old, but packed enough power to take down any threat 307 might have thrown at her as well as anyone in the restaurant.
With tigress standing her ground, I continued my assigned duties back of the house.
Tigress and her cub finished their grazing and left smiling and gracious.
Table 307 kept their voice down for the rest of their stay.
Oh, to be a fly on that wall….
Table 416 had already ordered, eaten, and paid, but the Mom’s direct eye contact begged, politely, for my immediate attention. I beelined to the table.
She pointed to her six year old and said, “He has something to ask you.”
“Okay, ” I said and lowering myself to his eye level.
“Do you want a sticker?” he said.
I looked backed at him with big eyes and a half dropped jaw, “Do I want a sticker? Are you kidding me? Like, uh, yea! Stickers rock!”
I offered him my personal check presenter: the little black folder that holds my daily brewhouse check receipts and health cards and order pads. I told him he can choose a spot to place my new sticker and that way I will always have it.
He thumb placed a quarter sized “Trader Joe’s 2011 Rose Parade” adhesive in the lower left quadrant.
I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that my mortgage company won’t acknowledge stickers as formal currency, because that sucker is near priceless to me.
I told a few of my brewhouse regulars about my blog. They returned on a Friday afternoon and said among other things, “We can’t wait to try your lentil soup.”
My dear friends, I made this recipe today. I can’t wait to try it tomorrow after all the flavors have a solid 24 hours to combine. I need to make extra croutons: they are addictive!
Split Pea Soup with Pumpernickel Croutons adapted from Gourmet Magazine January 2004
2 meaty ham hocks (1 3/4pounds)
16 cups of water
4 large carrots
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound dried split peas (2 1/4 cups) picked over and rinsed
1 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
5 cups 1/2 inch cubes pumpernickel bread (from 1 1/4 lb loaf)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup frozen peas (not thawed)
Simmer ham hocks in 16 cups of water in deep 6-quart pot uncovered until meat is tender 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Transfer ham hocks to a cutting board and measure broth: If measures more than 12 cups, continue boiling until reduced; if less, add enough water to total 12 cups. When hocks are cool enough to handle, discard skin and cut meat into 1/4 inch pieces (reserve bones).
Chop 2 carrots and cook along with onion and celery in 2 tablespoons oil in a 6-8 quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring until softened, 6-8 minutes. Add split peas, table salt, pepper, ham hock broth and reserved bones and simmer, uncovered stirring occasionally until peas are falling apart and sou is slightly thickened, and 1 1/2 hours.
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
While soup simmers toss bread with remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and kosher salt in a large bowl, then spread in one layer on large shallow baking pan and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Cool croutons in pan on a rack.
Halve remaining 2 carrots lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/4 inch slices. Remove bones from soup and discard. Add carrots and ham pieces to soup and simmer, uncovered, until carrots are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add frozen peas and simmer, uncovered, stirring, until just heated through, about 3 minutes. Season with salt.
Serve soup with croutons.
I remembered ‘her’ because trainer Holly remarked about the ‘new girl’ after her first training day. “She said she served and bartended before, but I swear she doesn’t even know how to carry a plate”. After her fifth day in training, Holly had little encouragement for the rest of us, “Today is her last day. She’s supposed to begin service tomorrow and she still doesn’t know how to close a check”.
‘New Girl’ wasn’t allowed to start on the floor as a server. Instead she was given the position of food runner (deliver food to tables and nothing else) until matters improved.
I was in the middle of dinner shift with half a voice when my vocal chords decided to give up on me completely in a coughing fit of tears. I surpressed the epiglottal seizure long enough to run walk to the nearest exit.
My manager saw me dart out the door and came after me, “Are you okay?”
I whispered as I blotted my streaming mascara, “I feel fine, I just can’t talk. Do you want me to food run?”
Sending a non-contagious body home on a busy night was not a managerial option. Thus, I became a food runner and ‘new girl’ food runner became a food server.
New girl was thrown into the mix. I kept an eye on her as I much as I could and treated her tables like they were still mine.
She placed incorrect food orders and forgot which tables she were hers and didn’t know if a baybreeze was rum or vodka based, and tried to process a credit card we did not accept. I got refills and to-go boxes, and accepted dessert orders and dropped checks and cleared empty plates and all other server duties that don’t require vocal chords.
Despite all her mistakes, never once did she panic.
Hopefully in a few more weeks she will learn her drink recipes and memorize the menu and master the computer and second guess the guest. If she can do all of that, she will be a very good server for one main reason: calm within the storm cannot be trained.