Fifty

imageI haven’t been so excited about a birthday since my 30th, which was just shy of 20 years ago. Then, I was a newlywed, in love and pregnant with my oldest son. I had my first “real” job as a school librarian and we celebrated with a dinner party at a wonderful restaurant with friends and family. Those memories make me smile. Life was good.

This one, though, is different. I mean I think it is.

I’m no longer married, so that’s an obvious and major change. As I plan a celebration for my upcoming milestone, I can’t help but recall that the task for organizing my last decade birthday party was also my responsibility. Not everything changes. My birthing days are behind me and the void has been filled by hot flashes and skinny jeans without front panels made from elastic. In a couple of weeks, I’ll begin my 21st year as a librarian and I am starting to imagine what might come next professionally. It’s exciting. Life is good.

I don’t feel like I imagined 50 would be. The number isn’t scary to me or overwhelming or sad. In fact, it feels like a wonderful new decade filled with opportunity and a sense of capability that can only come from years of surviving and thriving. It’s beckoning and I can’t wait.

Leave a comment

Filed under aging, birthdays, Events, friends, musings, Uncategorized

Clueless about tipping

image

Image: Bon Appétit

There’s an article* about gratuities in the September 2016 issue of Bon Appétit that caught my eye and has me thinking. According to the piece, there are two driving forces behind the current trend toward including service in the price of the meal – minimum wages increases and an existing disparity in pay between front of the house and back of the house employees. As you might imagine, I’ve got some thoughts on this.

First, a story…many, many years ago I worked with a fantastic chef named Len Hull. God, he taught me a lot about food and music and life! Prior to opening his own wonderful little restaurant, The Sea Shanty, Len had worked under Larry Forgione at Brooklyn’s River Cafe. He had wonderful memories of his time there, nights filled with celebrity diners and fantastic meals, but one thing he said really stuck with me – the kitchen employees all drove shitty Volkswagens and crappy Datsuns, while the front of the house folks were all driving Mercedes and BMWs. It’s just the way it was and has always been.

I think the hourly wage for a server during my full time days was somewhere around $2.10 an hour, with the expectation that tips would raise it up to beyond the standard minimum wage per hour. Most nights it did. In January of 2016, servers in NYS were given a 50% hourly raise when the standard went from $5.00 to $7.50 an hour. Even with this raise, my front of the house staff probably averages between $15-20 an hour. Does that sound like a lot? Take into consideration a few things – I don’t provide health insurance to any of my employees. It isn’t possible, unfortunately. If my servers need a night off, they don’t get paid. There are no sick days or vacation days. It is very much a hand to mouth existence for most. Reality.

As for back of the house, most chefs are salaried employees. In a business the size of mine, health insurance is not available to my kitchen staff either. If you know me, you’re aware of my feelings about access to healthcare and how much it bothers me to not be able to provide this benefit to the people who make my business happen. Again, it just isn’t possible. If the math were done (something I’m not encouraging!), I imagine that my kitchen staff hourly wage averages somewhere in the $12-18 range, definitely lower than front of the house wages. Chefs have been provided with paid vacations during our closures (in spring we closed for a week’s vacation, for instance) as well as paid holidays and the occasional night off for personal commitments, but that’s about all I can do.

So, do I think that a gratuity included model of business to “redistribute wages more equitably” is the way to go? No, I don’t think I do even if Danny Meyer, one of my restauranteur heroes, is adopting it for his NYC restaurants. Unless, of course, we’re also going to figure out a way to redistribute the salaries of grossly overpaid executives in the corporate world to better share their income with employees lower on the totem pole. I’m not overly traditional, but the disparity in wages between back and front of the house is the way it’s always been in the restaurant business. As a chef stated in an unrelated article in the same issue of Bon Appétit

Cooks work long hours. It’s a stressful environment and, honestly, not the best pay in the world.

Nothing would make me happier than to provide all of my employees with real benefits and adequate income to enjoy quality lives. I’m doing my best with that, truly. I’ve certainly heard grumblings, over the years, from the kitchen when it comes to how much more money the floor makes than they do, but I don’t think it is a genuine issue most days. I mean, sure, when the kitchen is 95 degrees and they just got slammed with orders and are busting their asses to feed the dining room with the knowledge that they aren’t making a cent more than if it was 72 and we only had a deuce seated, it’s only natural that there might be some resentment. But that, my friend, is the restaurant business.

Thoughts?

*I wasn’t able to locate the article online while I was writing this. There may be an embargo on the latest issue, but if you want to try, the title is Gratuitous Advice and it’s on page 52.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Saratoga morning

I understand that, to some people, going to the track involves a pink sheet and placing bets, but I’ve always enjoyed it best early in the morning before the crowds arrive.  The true beauty of the facility and the horses just shines when the day is new and the air is fresh.  It was a gorgeous morning today and I would have regretted missing the time spent with a good friend far more than I missed those couple of hours of sleep.  You see, Will, is an early riser and I was on the road a little after 6:00 a.m. to meet him.  Watching those horses, full of personality with an apparent need to stretch their legs, was a wonderful way to start the day.  Our post-track breakfast at Siro’s, prepared by the legendary Debbie Klauber, felt very much like a reward for our efforts.  I hope those horses are fed half as good as we were!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a comment

Filed under beauty, breakfast, friends, Local, Recommendations, Saratoga, Summer, Uncategorized, upstate New York

Ain’t but one way out

imageIf we’ve seen each other in the past week or two, you know exactly where this is going… I am currently obsessed with the Allman Brothers. Like, really, really obsessed. First, some history – I’m lucky enough to have seen the band in its various incarnations, probably a half dozen times, mostly at SPAC. I’ve always had a great time at their shows, but never really considered myself a huge fan of the band. Until I read Gregg Allman’s 2012 autobiography, that is.

Yep, it started with a book. I’ve read a lot of rockstar autobiographies over the years, and My Cross to Bear ranks pretty damn high on my list of best rock and roll life stories. It’s kind of weird because I was so excited a few years ago to read Keith Richards’ book and pretty much hated it. A similar thing happened when I attempted to read Neil Young’s book. Ugh, I thought it sucked. I never finished either of them, for the record.

This book, though? It was hard to put down. The opening pages describe the state of absolute intoxication Gregg was drowning in during the band’s induction ceremony at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and I was immediately sucked in. This is what I want to read about when I’m learning about a musician’s life – sex, drugs and rock and roll. I don’t want to know about Neil Young’s obsession with trains and cars. I’m not interested. Tell me more about opening up for the friggin Doors on your first trip to Cali, Gregg. I’m all about that!

The book is a super fast read, filled with anecdotes, struggles, shows and wisdom that can only come from life experience. So, if you see me and I feel compelled to share a tidbit or two about what I learned about the Allman Brothers, bear with me. I’m sure I’ll move on soon enough, but until then, I’ll be cranking At Fillmore East. You should, too.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Music, Recommendations, SPAC

Scary grass and a wonderful veterinary practice

imageProving that there is indeed never a dull moment, minutes before I was planning to leave for work on Friday, Jeter sidled up to me with an eye well on its way to being grotesquely swollen shut. Since I had just taken him outdoors not 30 minutes previously, I was at a loss as to what might be the problem. A quick Google image search (dog swollen eye) and I had my presumed answer – bee sting.

Never having dealt with this before, I didn’t know what to do. This is my usual response in medical emergencies, by the way. As Jeter’s eye continued to disappear behind a balloon of fluid, I decided to phone our vet, Boght Veterinary Clinic never expecting a response to my call since it was after 5:00. Well, was I most pleasantly surprised…

imageThe woman who answered the phone was exactly what I needed – informative, helpful and wonderfully competent. I explained the issue, adding details about his demeanor (normal), breathing (also normal) and the appearance of his eye (gross, but apparently not abnormal when stung by a bee). I was placed on hold for a few minutes while the receptionist consulted with the Doctor. On her return, I was offered a couple of options: 1. Bring Jeter in as soon as I could get there, even though the office was now closed and it would take at least 30 minutes in Friday evening traffic to get there. 2. Take Jeter to the nearby emergency veterinary hospital or 3. Give him three 25 mg tabs of Benadryl. I went with number 3.

Here’s the thing, so many veterinary practices would have not made themselves available beyond regular hours, might have insisted that I take him to an emergency facility for treatment and would not have so willingly recommended a dosage of over the counter medication. Their reasonable and pragmatic care, dispensed with the caveat that medical advice over the phone is less than ideal, was yet another example of why I have been loyal to this practice for more than 25 years.

Saturday morning, Jeter’s eye was almost back to normal. He was his usual bouncy guy self, except for one thing – he seems to be afraid of grass! For whatever reason, it seems that Jeter is associating the lawn with the bee sting. It’s kind of silly because I’m convinced he got stung on the back deck, but he’s holding firm to this new phobia and refuses to step foot on the grass choosing instead to walk on sidewalks, driveways and in the street. It’s ridiculous! Any tips for getting my boy back on the grass?

2 Comments

Filed under medical, Recommendations, Summer

A challenge of a run

imageSo, on Saturday I ran a half marathon. Yep, that’s right, 13.1 big ones. How was it? I’ll tell you about it, but bear with me – it’s going to be kind of long. You know, like the race was.

The race, called the Camp Chingachgook Challenge, was the first road half that I’ve ever registered to run. The course was reputed to be hilly, but I figured the Seven Sisters run in May had prepared me for hills. I was right. Kind of. The rolling hills of this course, I would come to learn, were certainly less intimidating than the mountains we encountered in Massachusetts, but they were nearly as exhausting as they clustered with an annoying frequency towards the end of the route. More on that later.

I arrived at the starting point 35 minutes before start time which gave me plenty of time to:

a. Park

b. Check in and get my shirt

c. Use the portapotty and

d. Feel a bit outclassed by the other remarkably fit looking runners.

I talked myself down by reminding myself that I wasn’t in it to win, but instead to challenge myself with a new experience. Head on straight, I joined the rear of the pack and took off when the horn blew, promising myself to run my own race.

The first few miles were great and I was surprised each time my Runmeter ticked off another mile. The morning was humid as hell, but there wasn’t any sun to contend with, so it was bearable. The first water station came up pretty quick at about 3 miles and I walked through it, enjoying my drink. I considered using the portapotty again (Anyone who knows me, knows how frequently I pee. Actually, I guess everyone knows that now.) but decided to wait for the next water station. Bad move – the next stop didn’t have any toilet facilities which meant I had to leave the course and make use of a bathroom at an accommodating resort. I imagine that added a minimum of 4 minutes to my time, but whatever. It beat any alternative.

I’d say the opening 8 miles were the most pleasant – there were lots of gorgeous homes to see, the hills were fairly manageable and my body felt strong. At about the 9 mile mark, I started seeing a significant discrepancy between my app’s measurement of mileage and the painted markers on the road, which was a bit discouraging. By the finish, my app read close to .5 of a mile over the course of 13.1. It might not sound like much, but, believe me towards the end if felt like a lot.

Things started to get a little gnarly for me at about mile 9. My legs were getting heavy and the bottom of my left foot was on fire. The sun started to peek out from behind the clouds and my body was simply dripping with effort. Cue rolling hills… At this point I started allowing myself to walk a little. I could feel myself getting a little light headed and chose to not push myself beyond where I was comfortable, and by “comfortable” I mean endurable discomfort. I don’t know if any of you experience foot pain when you run, but it is the worst thing I’ve ever felt during a race. I really need to get this figured out – hopefully before next month’s Palio in Saratoga.

I crossed the finish line at 2:27, which was fine for me. I immediately took my shoes off and waded into the refreshingly cool lake for a quick dip. My next stop was the showers, which was really an exercise in futility – I hadn’t brought soap or anything so it was a mere rinse off. Despite my oversized beach towel, it was impossible to get dry due to the extreme humidity. I dressed my still damp body and went to wait for the shuttle bus to take me back to the start and, of course, that’s when the rain finally started. I basically got drenched for the fourth time of the day (sweat, lake, shower, rain) only to finally get on the bus where I came as close as possible to passing out without actually losing consciousness. I’m not 100% sure what it was about, but I’m thinking dehydration and my generally low blood pressure weren’t a great fit with the outrageously humid and hot bus ride. Reflecting back, my lack of need to urinate is a huge red flag for me and I didn’t pee for at least 3.5 hours despite my taking in close to 64 oz of water – so unlike me.

Regardless, I made it back to my car and ate a perfect peach to rally myself for the drive home. I had an invite for a celebratory breakfast, but I requested a big, fat burger instead and met my friend at Crave, which was exactly what I wanted.

Our table number at Crave - perfect!

Our table number at Crave – perfect!

I continued pounding water before finally crawling into bed for a nap. I’d definitely consider doing this race again, but the experience only affirmed my disinterest in ever doing a marathon. I just don’t think that 26.2 miles sounds fun and if it isn’t fun, I’m not in.

Until next time – Summer Mountain Runner (my new Native American name courtesy of my lunar b*tch friend, Karen)

5 Comments

Filed under Eating, Events, road trips, running, Summer, Uncategorized, upstate New York

Millions of (bad tasting) peaches

imageI don’t know when it happened but it seems that finding a delicious peach has become a challenge on par with picking the trifecta at Saratoga. I mean, your odds of buying a flavorful, juicy peach are even less favorable than that of a thoroughbred surviving a hot summer season in the Spa City.

After buying too many bad peaches from the grocery store, I’ve given up on peaches which do not come from a farmstand or farmer’s market. I’ve been stalking the Troy Farmers’ Market the last few weeks sniffing around for my favorite summer fruit, but seem to have been a bit premature in my hunt. I did, however, score some amazing ricotta cheese from R&G which we paired with local blueberries, honey, candied pecans and chocolate mint from St Anne’s Institute for a dynamite dessert at Lark + Lily. But, I digress…image

Yesterday, though, my perseverance paid off. I stopped at my favorite farmstand, Burger’s on Route 7, and found exactly what I been dreaming about – a luscious, succulent peach. It was the perfect size, not overly large, and the ideal temperature, not refrigerated. My first bite was juicy and sweet, unlike the mealy, dry peaches I’ve suffered through this summer. I sat in my car and devoured it with glee. Nirvana! Get some.

image

Leave a comment

Filed under Eating, favorites, Food, Gardens, Local, Recommendations, Summer, Uncategorized, upstate New York