Seek (Attention) & Destroy (Integrity)

Choices. Trust your gut, explore your options, don’t just take the first thing that comes along. There are so many ‘words of wisdom’ when it comes to the ‘c’ word. For the perverted, re-read the first word of the body…sorry…and yes, there are words of wisdom concerning that ‘c’ word too, make sure you see her mom, because that is what she will look like at that age.

It’s of little wonder that my head has told my fingers to really think about that word, choice, after thinking about relationships in the last blog. Personally, I agonized over making choices in a lot of situations. Where does it come from, our decision-making process, is it nature or nurtured? When I hear that people listen to their gut, in reference to anything other than recalling test questions on some exam, I think , so, you’re just leaving it up to the animal part of your brain, letting instinct steer the train of destiny.

I can go to the grocery store and through growing up in an Italian kitchen, and working as a chef for a lot of years, not even think when buying food. Cooking for me is not complicated, it is not about following a recipe (This is why people hate it when I share one-I know what I put in it, but the measurements of some, a small handful, a handful {further complicated since I mention I have small hands}, a lot, a medium length pour, don’t translate well because no leisure home chef is inside my head). Did any of that make sense?

There is a point here, don’t worry, but what I am talking about making a decision, it’s not about buying the right-sized, ripest tomatoes to work in my vague description of gravy. It’s funny though, examining those really “life-altering” judgment calls: in a lot of ways, it is just like being at the Italian market. For myself, a self-taught sponge when it comes to all things culinary, chef-ing is simply about balance.

A recipe (a real one, with measurements!) can appear to be maddeningly complex. When just a babe in the chef-coat, I subscribed to Gourmet to learn more about over the top dishes. When I became old enough to have a learner’s permit, and the key’s at least in close company’s possession, that magazine managed to keep me warm for a few cold winter nights. In its place were things like What Einstein Told His Cook and the ultimate, The Silver Spoon – a 1260+ page cook book simply know as the Bible of authentic Italian cooking. It will never leave my possession, and it occupies the space right next to another indispensible title, Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential.

One thing I immediately noticed where the simplicity of both the recipe ingredients and  instructions. By studying these types of books, I quickly realized I had basically missed all the really important stuff. I was enamored with truffles and  foie gras, real vanilla beans from Tahiti. I was hooked and transfixed by culinary shiny shit. Thank God I avoided adding the title “wine snob” to my list of arrogances. Still, my dream Bar/Restaurant concept, The Class Hole, was created with little true foundation, and most definitely, no soul.

Choices, the really big ones, things like entering a relationship, deciding on a career, etc. are exactly like making a 4 or 5-course meal from scratch. They take  thought, preparation time, attention to detail, and steady, consistent work to get all courses out on time.

Cooking is an art. Living life is one too. Once  I understood really good food is going to have a balance between sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami (the controversial “savory” fifth taste essential to the Eastern world — This is why Chinese 5-spice has 5 spices in the ingredient list! Representative for the Asian elements of food  are water, fire, wood, metal, and earth.) I learned what every individual ingredient tasted like if it was something new to my palate, and just began making different dishes each night for the live-in girlfriend of theat past moment. Some things worked, others failed. My different types of Texas chili (of which there are 5 now) are fought over by friends who have eaten it. My chicken in black bean and garlic sauce,  still makes me want to throw up.

Today, I have a lot of choices that have to be made, and soon. When I mentioned the “gut” decision, in reference to answering a test question, well, if I am prepared, I don’t have to guess. It’s a far better place to know the selection I chose was the right one than leave life up to a roll of fate’s dice.

But, making Braised, Coffee-Rubbed Short Rib Ragu (sounds more complicated than it is, but it is sooooo gooooood….Homer drool everywhere) has its road map. Meeting a woman, looking her in the eyes, and saying to myself, I am going to marry this woman sounds awesome if you want to read some vapid romance novel based so far from reality, it has ruined countless realities.

I did that. Snap decisions, but I told myself, your life Mike, it has most certainly prepared you to make this call, at least in your mind and heart for now. Again, what did I really know? Saffron is really expensive, it has to make couscous taste really good, just throw in some pine nuts, black olives, grape tomatoes, olive oil, lemon juice, feta, and of course, S&P. That recipe is good actually, healthy Greek/Mediterranean  flavors.

I guess the ultimate question is how do we know we chose the right career? Pharmacy seems like a poor choice for me given the whole opiate addiction thing that sprang from it. Or was it Lana that was the bad call, a girl who I went to pharmacy school for, because I lacked the direction, the foundation, to figure out what I wanted to be for the rest of my life. We had always talked about marriage, complete with timeline. Christmas of the 5th year, we would get engaged. We would work for a year in Florida, then plan a wedding for the following year. None of those steps happened. It was a complete truffle and foie gras relationship.

So, are we ever sure of our decisions? Sadly, we can’t be if they involve someone else. Staying true to myself is one way that I can make things at least lean in my direction. For personal choices, it has to come back to balance and the secret to a great enchilada. In that, you have individual dishes that need balanced, like refried beans and rice, the pulled pork, cheese, etc. but they all have to meld together (as well as be able to handle condiments that some may use, some may not, such as sour cream, salsa and guacamole).

Do you know the secret to refried beans? LARD. Combining all of my life lessons when it comes to say ex-girlfriends/wife, I need to learn a new dish. Same with my future in regards to a career. A felony, bad back, and transportation issues tarnish my glow a bit. The back issue makes standing on my feet, which both pharmacists and chefs have in common, for even 2 hours difficult, let alone a full shift. And if Aspirin or Aleve do not work, then it’s off to bed for ice, yoga hopefully, to ease the pain.

The irony of it all, my stars have aligned. My plate drips umami. Through all the choices, I understand that any relationship is a roll of the dice. I can’t compromise on any standard, allow someone to steal my cornerstone. Even then, life is, as I mentioned, an art. It takes talents and hard work to keep a relationship alive and flavorful. In life, sometimes the future just becomes illuminated when you do all the groundwork to get there, a place where fear trembles in faith’s presence.

Lastly, when we make a choice, and it proves to be the wrong one, the best thing is, we get a chance to make a new one, a lesson learned that shifts the odds into our favor. I have only slept for 5 hours in the past 67 hours. I am sleepy, and I hope this made some sort of sense!

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily.  To not dare is to lose oneself.” ~Soren Kierkegaard

Peace to you all! – MFJ


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