Friday, May 14, 2010

Ladies and gentlemen, shiftwork bites.

Shift workers are fat. 12 hours spent sitting on your ass, staring at banks of computer monitors, is bound to take its toll. On top of that, most of us eat terrible food (or stuff that masquerades as such) most of the time. Think you've got it tough finding something decent to eat in your 9-5 office job? Try working overnights in a city whose downtown shuts down at 7PM. Brownbag, pizza and chinese, frozen dinners. That's the typical diet, with lots of processed snacking in between. We've got one guy who subsists on yoplait yogurt and beef jerky.

The first two years I sat shift, I gained 45 pounds. Now, everyone who knows me will attest that putting on some weight isn't exactly the worst thing that could've happened to me, but it kind of snuck up. My previous job had me on my feet, running around a three level bookstore all day, lugging boxes of books all over creation. I must've walked five miles a day, there. Now, I can spend half a calendar day at work without moving much more than 100 feet. Now, I'm turning into the skinny fat guy. still generally trim, but packing a small child around my midsection.

So, I've decided that I'm going to use one of shift work's attributes, long hours with nobody around, to my advantage. No, I won't be doing squat-thrusts at my terminal. I'll be cooking on shift from time to time, as much as is practical, and posting about it here. The point isn't necessarily to eat "healthier", depending on your definition of the term, just to eat better.

The facilities aren't exactly top-notch, so I'm having to make do. Currently, we have one large electric skillet, one small portable electric burner, and a microwave that doubles as a convection oven. I bought a cheapie chef's knife that I keep here, and bring in cookware, etc. when I intend to cook. Over time, I intend to do a little bit of stocking up, bringing it up to something like Michae'l Ruhlman's minimalist kitchen. The truly minimalist version, of course.

So far, it's working out pretty well. I've made 3 scratch dinners for myself and my 2-3 person crew, and response has been positive. Just for the record's sake, the first two meals were as follows:

Pan Roasted pork loin with sage/blackberry/serrano cream sauce, butter basted potato and cheese pierogies with caramelized red onions, mesclun salad with champagne vinnaigrette.


Braised collard greens with smoked venison sausage and crispy pan roasted mushrooms.

Most recently, I recreated one of my favorite dishes, in honor of the great state of Michigan. One of my crew has a vacation home in northern Michigan, and visits quite frequently. He also has a kid from down the road watch his place when he's gone. This kid is apparently an accomplished mycologist, and frequently provides my coworker with large amounts of wild mushrooms, morels being among them. When this was mentioned to me, my jealousy must have been evident. The next time he came back from MI, he brought me HALF A POUND of dried morel, and I eagerly prepared Bittman's version of the French classic with a bunch of them, along with some lovely asparagus, and tarragon from my own garden. I asked Mark Bittman what to drink with it, and he (and the wine folk at Whole Foods) were a bit stumped, suggesting only that I use the best white I had. In a random and unexplainable fit of inspiration, I bought a nice dry rose, instead, and it went beautifully.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, when he comes back with a mountain of FRESH morel, not more than 18 hours out of the Michigan soil, and offers them to me graciously. In thanks for his generosity, I gathered the necessary ingredients, and repeated the dish the next night on shift. Needless to say it was a hit. Super easy to do, even in such limited environs. And totally worth it. It came together in about 20 minutes, including prep time, and man, talk about a nice change of pace from the usual shift fare. Since I was cooking, and watching about 20,000 MW of generation across the continental US at the same time, you'll have to excuse me for not taking more pictures, but I did manage to snap one of my mise, just before fire time:

Next time, I'll try to snap a few more, at least of the finished dish, and maybe a few of the process and equipment, so you can see what I'm working with.

Next up: Pasta a la carbonara. Simple, satisfying, perfect for shift.