Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Knife Skills

"I'm too depressed to take the blue line," I said, and then realized I'd made a joke. M was looking up my bus route on the CTA bus tracker, a fantastic invention of the modern age that allows you to see how long you'll be waiting out in the cold, or rain, or beating hot sun before the next city bus gets to your stop. My bus, the #82 Kimball-Homan, has only recently been added to the CTA's tracking roster, it being a lesser bus with none of the caché of the #147 Outer Drive Express, the élan of the #151 Sheridan, or the gravitas of the #80X Irving Park Express. This morning there were no #82 buses according to bus tracker, and I didn't know if that meant there was something wrong with the bus, or something wrong with bus tracker. I asked M to look up the #80 bus instead; there were several on their way arriving in 7, 9, 11, and 14 minutes.

I got word yesterday morning that the organization I work for is going to have layoffs in two weeks, and it's all I've been thinking about since. Last night after work I met my friend and hairdresser Mark; we'd signed up for a knife skills class at a neighborhood cooking school, maybe not the best thing to do right after receiving bad news, but I'd already paid for it. I don't know whether my job will get cut, but I've done my calculations, and am mentally preparing myself for it. I've already planned out what I'll do over the next three months should I lose my job: every morning I'll go to the Irving Park Y to train for the mini triathlon with MamaVee, then I'll write for a couple hours and regale my readers with tales from the unemployment lines, and then, like a good wife, I'll fix dinner. In between I can sell things on eBay, and hang out with my unemployed friends - one thing is for certain, I'll be in good company. And if you're going to be laid off in Chicago, it might as well be during the summer; we wait for it all year and it disappears in the blink of an eye.

I was tired and distracted during the knife skills class, but I did my best to maintain interest. Our instructor was a solid man named Paul who wore a double breasted white chef's jacket with brass buttons that emphasized the V shape of his torso, black pants, black Dansko clogs, and a short black cap over his equally short hair that reminded me of the religious beanies worn by subjects in Dutch Masters paintings. Although Paul was clearly very skilled with blades, he lacked the enthusiasm that I needed to pull me out of my funk, and I found myself focusing on every turn of phrase that could be construed as a sexual innuendo, like:

"Pull your onions out";
"The boning knife is very firm"; and
"A good knife is made from a single piece of metal, this is called 'full tang'".

Every time he made one of these comments I turned slightly to my left, hoping to engage Mark in a Beavis and Butthead moment of "huh-huh, he said bone," but Mark was entirely too focused to play this game with me. Distracted as I was, I learned the difference between a chef's knife, a boning knife, a filleting knife, a serrated knife, and a tomato knife; I learned that boning knives are safer than electric knives, and do a better job to boot. Electric knives, I learned, are composed of two serrated blades that move simultaneously and shred meat to bits, leaving you with a sad heap of meat threads on your plate; a boning knife is designed specifically for separating the meat from the bone, and leaves you with perfect slices of turkey, or whatever it is you're trying to cut.

In two and a half hours I diced an onion, sliced a celery stick, cubed a potato, cut a bell pepper, chopped a carrot, minced a jalapeño, chopped some parsley, and dissected two zucchinis. I learned to block my vegetables - a process that leaves you with perfectly uniform pieces, and left the classroom with two quart-sized Ziploc bags full of chopped vegetables (Mark didn't want to keep his, and my unemployment survival instinct has already kicked in.)

M picked me up from the Kimball brown line stop; it was late, and I'd called him from the Western stop to ask if he could meet me with the car so I wouldn't have to walk home in the rain, as satisfyingly dramatic as it might have been to burst through the front door at a quarter to ten on a cold and rainy Monday night, two bags of decimated vegetable matter in my hands, and announce that there was a one in six chance that I was going to lose my job.

All day at work I'd considered the bright side - with more time on my hands I'd get in shape, get some writing done, start volunteering again at the Old Town School of Folk Music and the Alliance Française, where I used to volunteer but haven't in a long time because I've been busy with work. I'd cook up a storm with my newly acquired knife skills, and become deeply tanned from working the vegetable gardens that my upstairs neighbors plant every year.

I just hope the organization I work for has the same skill with a boning knife that Chef Paul does; that they'll know exactly where to cut, and use the right tool to get the job done efficiently, without shredding us all to pieces.

1 comment:

Deirdre said...

Selfishly: I hope you get laid off...just so you can write more and I can read :) {& down the line I may be looking for a Director of Development!}