I feel sorry for my husband. For the first six months of my retirement, he ate quite well. It was a change from previous decades, when I had very little energy left for cooking at the end of my long and exhausting days. In fairness to him, there were many years when he took over cooking duties almost exclusively. But he was tired, too, and we ate out more than was probably good for us. With a constricted budget and new-found time to think and plan, I started cooking edible meals from quality ingredients, with the added bonus for him of re-discovering my enjoyment of baking. He loves cookies, pies, cakes, biscuits, rolls…and I loved how much he loved them! But as the months went by, my clothes were fitting tighter and tighter. Even though I was trying to exercise every day, it just wasn’t enough. It was a visit to my doctor in January that had me re-thinking our eating, once again. The arthritis and torn meniscus in my right knee had me in almost constant pain, which was exacerbated by even a few extra pounds. And my blood work numbers in various categories did not look good. So, I embarked on a weight loss effort. I’m proud to report that I have dropped ten pounds since then, and feel better than I have in a very long time. But it has not been without some difficulties, principally for my husband. I am just not a nice person to be around when I am hungry. And despite following all the standard wisdom of not crash dieting, portion control, drinking lots of water, having frequent low-calorie snacks, etc., etc., etc., the reality is that I have been hungry at some point pretty much every day since January. Which has left my poor husband without the goodies he so enjoyed AND a cranky wife. Not good.
Which leads me to the book I just finished, Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential (HarperCollins, 2000). I was excited to see it recommended by new members to our book group as our next read. I’ve enjoyed Bourdain’s travel television shows for years, and often thought that his was a unique and original voice and that I would enjoy his writing. His book did not disappoint. His writing is exceptionally funny and thoughtful and straightforward. But it is also gritty and realistic, which means that if you are easily put off by gutter language (English AND Spanish) and sexual innuendo of the basest sort, this may not be the book for you. Since I spent thirty years teaching teenagers, there isn’t much that shocks me, so I was able to look past vocabulary I would never use and phrases I would never utter to enjoy the glimpse of a lifestyle so different from mine as to be as foreign as the most foreign of countries.
My sister spent some time bar-tending and waitressing when she was younger, and when talking of those gigs hinted at much that Bourdain lays bare in this book. In addition to offensive language, there is drug addiction, criminal activity, sexual promiscuity, painful injury, and pretty much any other sort of bad behavior you can imagine. But there is also a strange beauty to the way in which Bourdain describes the workings of a competent chef and his crew, and the sheer complexity of making a restaurant run efficiently is astonishing. It’s not a life I find even remotely appealing, but through Bourdain’s eyes I have a greater appreciation for what it takes to get food to a restaurant table. I’ve known several former chefs over the years, and while they’ve never been as direct or blunt as Bourdain, the long hours and just plain hard work they’ve described has left me thinking that teaching, with all its attendant challenges, wasn’t such a bad deal after all.
I want to read more of Bourdain’s books. He really is an original and enjoyable voice. But before I spend another 300 pages in his gorgeously described, food-soaked world, I’ll wait until I’ve reached my weight loss goal. Otherwise, it just makes an already grouchy me even grouchier.