Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Grass is Greener (or, the burrito has more cheese)

So many nights driving home from work I think, "if only we could just go out."  Get those greasealicious tater tots from The Burger Hut with one of those simple, fry sauce-dripping cheeseburgers and turn on Chopped.  Grab a half-baked pizza from Pizzicato just up the road from my office and dump it in the oven as I kick off my high heels.  Dig into a heaping plate of Pad Thai from the place I haven't bothered to learn the name of, because it is just ubiquitous of the cuisine.  I don't want to always be the chef, especially when we're in the drudgery of weekday routine and the work lacks inspiration, motivation, craft and beauty.  Before I left I stuffed Manchego into chicken breasts and topped them off with artichoke pesto - it tasted good, but it felt hollow, like cheating.  I didn't make the pesto.  I didn't make some inspired side dish specially chosen to compliment and elevate the main course.  I let Trader Joe's do the work out of a frozen bag.

Since I got here to my residency in Seaside, I have had virtually every meal prepared for me.  We're staying at a very nice condo-style hotel a bit off the beach's boardwalk, and as the website promised me, there is a continental breakfast every morning.  My favorite hotel continental breakfast is at the Residence Inn on Bangy Road in Lake Oswego, where we used to stay when we visited Portland before I ever knew I'd be an Oregonian.  There are quite a few Asian business travelers that go in and out of the hotel, and as a consolation they have a steaming rice cooker full of sticky rice every morning.  I'd eat it with butter meant for toast, and marvel at how delicious and comforting this was - oatmeal's cousin.  There was a waffle maker with berry toppings, trays of scrambled eggs and bacon strips, and lots of bagels and pastries to choose from.  In short, it spoiled me for what 'Continental' actually needs to contain.  We're offered a bowl of hard-boiled eggs, syrupy fruit cocktail from a can, hardtack-style biscuits and bland gravy, waffles that are toeing the line between Eggo and Belgian.  I've perused the selections and varied every day, trying to find something I can like and stick with.  So far, the oatmeal is the only thing that's decent, and it's the same thing I make for myself every day when I arrive at my office to appease my Weight Watchers point count.

"I need my own food," I lamented out loud yesterday after only five days of continental breakfast, hotel-prepared lunch buffet that's been kinda not great and pretty good for Best Western catering, and dinners at the coastal town's various restaurants.  Not only the taste and the authenticity of meals crafted out of ingredients you select, but the release my mind feels when I let all of the day's bullshit evaporate at the counter and just concentrate on the cooking.  I miss the joy of setting a plate in front of another human being and see them smile and know that you've just nurtured them in the most basic way - a survival need met by another, for another. 

"I'm making breakfast tomorrow," I announced to my program soul mates Leann and Kathryn.  Dearest Leigh was holed up in her room, her body battling through a blight of food poisoning.  Crab eggs benedict can be sketchy.  I drove over to Safeway to get the most basic things I'd need for a wholesome set of breakfast burritos with only the most basic of utensils:  pre-shredded cheese, tortillas, green enchilada sauce, Morningstar veggie sausage patties (my soul mates are also vegetarians, and it can't do any harm to my trying-to-stick-to-diet-on-vacation efforts).  This morning, between my room key and brochures for pizza, I constructed our breakfast with the bare basics in the kitchenette's cabinets.  I had a can opener, miniature cutting board, butter knives masquerading as steak knives, and a pan that was very much not All-Clad.  Mysteriously there were no baking sheets but there was a broiler pan, which lent itself just fine to holding veggie patties that warmed in the oven.  They even got a slight sizzle when I took them out, which is rare for any kind of veggie patty.  It was probably just evaporating steam. 

I rolled out four burritos, as I had invited my graduating friend Jennifer to join in as well.  As big a game I talk about cooking with these people, it's good to prove I can kind of pull it off.  The tiny oven could only broil one at a time, but as we all staggered in a few minutes behind the other, it worked out just fine.

As I warned the girls of "hot plates!" and handed out forks, by some magic, I just knew today was going to be a good day.  Sure enough, it was.  But I won't get into my whole ethereal writing community experience, because that's a story for another blog.  A little nibble of home works wonders when you're away.

What was different: housekeeping did the dishes.  If only I could take that back to Hubbard with me....

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