For those on the shipping and receiving crew, there are boxes to unpack in the produce area.
The omnipotent intercom-voice directed; I obeyed. It was my first shift as a working member of my local Food Coop.
I unpacked and organized boxes of bright oranges, radishes, banded bunches of asparagus, a vivid color differentiation of beets, soft loaves of bread, multitudinous buckets of cottage cheese and yogurt. I swept up the remains of spilled farro wheat, rolled oats, and red lentils. I stood on a little step stool in order to crane my too-short body over the edge of the top shelf to rearrange more packages of rice cakes than I ever knew existed.
Are there any workers in the shipping and receiving crew who feel comfortable handling raw meat? Calling all non-vegetarians; we need meat handlers.
In the apparent dearth of carnivorous coop members, I had the opportunity to spend a long time unpacking cool chicken carcasses wrapped in plastic. Thighs, drums, legs, breasts; I organized all organic body parts with my small band of fellow meat-eaters. Grass-fed beef steaks, short ribs, stew meat. Racks of lamb. Pouisson. Tiny capons. Pates and smoked delicacies. Duck and Turkey. A ready phalanx of diverse and organic meat showered itself into the shelves as we organized. I entertained myself thinking on the deliciously endless cooking possibilities.
The hours of menial labor were pretty boring. But worthwhile, certainly. I am happy to have a nearby organization of people who care about the quality and diversity of their food. I am delighted to have things like Meyer lemons and blood oranges available at an affordable price [especially since it seems that I have zero grocery store self control]. And not only has it inspired a few interesting new acquaintances [how many Passover Seders can a girl actually go to?], but has also given me a root-like sense of community, important in this new city.
At one point in my shift, as I waded through the swamp of vegetable containers in the produce arena, my gloved hands ripped open a damp cardboard box. The contents were covered in a sheet of white paper; I could see a hint of green in leafy protrusions on the side. But it wasn’t until I crinkled and tossed the paper into the nearby trash that I fully realized what, in fact, I was dealing with. Fresh fava beans. Bright green, slightly fuzzy. I hadn’t realized they were yet in season; the large pods contain the delectable crunch of spring.
As I tossed the beans into the bins in the produce section of the Coop I was immediately back in The Restaurant. It has been almost a year since I worked as a dishwasher at the intense Boston bistro in a (sadly, aborted) attempt to work my way up the line of the culinary world. On one of my first nights working in the kitchen, I was thrown in front of a monstrous pile of fresh fava beans. I had never seen them in this unpeeled state before. My co-dishwasher S. and I spent a few bonding hours together as we pierced open the thick outer pod and freed each light green bean with our fore-fingers, tossing the edible nubbins into a metal dish.
No matter what the exact hour, as I peeled those favas for the first time I was most likely covered in chicken stock, my white staff shirt stained with beet juice and a smidgen of chocolate, my hair a detached frizzy mess on top of my sweating head. That was my usual state of things. I did not yet have such an extensive knowledge of kitchen-Spanish and probably mumbled in an odd mix of Italian and English as I attempted to converse with S. I vividly remember, however, looking at the piles of bright empty pods and bowls of fresh cleaned beans. I wondered how they were cooked, how they tasted, and how The Chef would use them. I imagined the smiles of the eager restaurant patrons as they drank in the sight of the vibrant green favas with their eyes, their steaming plates set carefully in front of them. We did that kind of prep right before the first big wave of dirty dishes of the night; I remember feeling very happy.
I bought my own little bag of fresh fava beans before leaving the Coop on Saturday. And last night I peeled them while sipping a glass of red wine, relaxed and chatting with my apartment-mate. I worked slowly, relishing the crunch of the open pod, the delicate color of the inner bean. I blanched them in a pod of salted water and then quickly slipped them out of their outer membranes. In a salad of plump farro wheat, fresh cherry tomatoes and arugula, dressed simply with olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper, the fava beans were a bright addition.
The fava beans were a vivid reminder of where I was a year ago and simultaneously a token of where I am now. No longer am I entrenched in the culinary world; I am finding my way in the confusing mash of NY. I’ve been sad, these days, as I watch my life continue in a path that veers farther and farther from my original culinary plans. My days (however short) as a dishwasher were a concrete jump into a passion and now seem very far removed from my current existence. Today I am not ‘sure’ of anything, really. I’m having trouble thinking of a job that I really want. The majority of my physical body has recovered from the accident. I can walk comfortably with both legs. Run, even. (Well, nothing close to a sprint. But jog a bit when I’m running really late). I can sit cross legged and can again do a mean yogic backbend. The only lingering losses from the accident almost 8 months ago are my sense of smell and my professional convictions. And I miss them. A lot.