Saturday, August 30, 2008

I Love Saturday Mornings

I really love Saturday mornings at the restaurant. Saturday morning has a different rhythm than every other morning of the week. After the frantic scramble of the four preceding days—a scramble to devise the night's menu, to get everything done before my 3 pm meeting, to finish the bookkeeping from yesterday, and so forth—Saturday morning is blessedly relaxed.

Saturdays see no inventory, no deliveries, and no checks to write. It's a constant struggle for me to stay on top of what I need to order, to remember what is on order but not yet delivered, to ensure that what has been delivered is what I ordered and in good shape, to get all the deliveries stored away, and to find time to cut checks for the deliveries that come in COD. Saturday brings a welcome respite from these quotidian tasks and a chance for my mind to wander to things other than exigencies of the business.

One of the best things about Saturday mornings is that darned telephone doesn't start ringing until after noon. Even the [many epithets deleted] telemarketers take the morning off, so I don't have the slam the phone down in exasperation.

The kitchen has a different feel too. Sure, we're tired because it's the end of the week and because we got pounded last night, Friday night, but we did the lion's share of prep for the weekend on Thursday and Friday. Even though I change the menu daily, Saturday's changes are generally just minor tweaks to Friday's menu. Being as tired as we are on Saturday, we don't really want another long day of prep going into what will probably be a bone-crushing Saturday night dinner service.

Saturday affords me a leisurely walk to the farmers market, especially on a beautiful fall day like today. There I meet different people from the rest of the week, people who are at the market because they want to be, people who don't have forty other things to be accomplished on the way somewhere else. Without the huge pressures on my shoulders as during the rest of the week, I feel I can take a few minutes and socialize and catch up with people whom I see infrequently. And a few minutes of working the crowd at the market is never a bad marketing (bad pun intended) strategy.

Saturday lunch is a different animal too. For one, it starts late compared to week days. Just knowing that there is a slim probability of customers in the house before 12:45 to 1:00 pm puts us in a more relaxed mood; we don't have that pressure to get everything set perfectly by 11 am.

Saturday lunch is also different in that we will host the fewest number of guests of the week. There are just too many other things competing for time on Saturday morning: ferrying the kids to soccer and football practice and games, working in the yard or on the house, shopping, and running errands. But while there are not many customers, those who come are laid back, unhurried, sans ties and jackets, and who have come to dine.

Moreover on Saturday, we don't have the crush of customers coming in right at noon and wanting to be served right now so that they can hurry back to work. This lets us work at a more human pace. If you've ever worked a dining room full of customers on a weekday lunch, you know the breakneck pace required, the anxious glances of customers around you, the ticking stopwatch in your head, and the knowing that you cannot give all these customers the service that they deserve.

Because of the leisurely pace of Saturday lunch, I can often get out of the kitchen to visit with diners, to recommend wines, to suggest sites that they might want to see while they're in town, and so forth. It's a good time for the people person in me.

And, on some Saturdays, my wife and children will come to lunch. This is often my first chance since the previous Monday to see them. But all too often, my wife has to work weekends or I am too busy in the kitchen to spend much time with them. Still, seeing them makes Saturday one of my favorite days.

Saturday lunch and the leisurely pace carries on until about 3pm, at which point the reality of the impending bone-crushing Saturday dinner service rears its head and all that I love about Saturday mornings vanishes. But, one thought (and a lot of adrenaline) carries me through Saturday night dinner service, no matter how tired I am: tomorrow is Sunday and I can sleep in!

Friday, August 29, 2008


Yesterday was the prep day from hell in getting ready for our monthly wine dinner, this month our annual Harvest Dinner celebrating the hard work and products of our primary produce suppliers Gene and Beth Nowak of Mayfair Farm.

These multi-course meals are a lot of work: think about cooking Thanksgiving dinner for all your family and then multiply that by ten. I went in the kitchen at 7am and I never really left it until just after we opened for dinner, around 5:30pm. I blanched and peeled hundreds of tiny yellow tomatoes for the gazpacho, sliced about half a bushel of heirloom Corno di Toro peppers, cleaned and roasted 10 pounds of green beans, and so forth and so on.

You get the idea that I was constantly in motion all day long trying to get ready for the Harvest Dinner. And if ever there were a day that I really did not need any interruption or distraction in my day, yesterday would have been that day. So what could have been been more fitting than at three o'clock when a server came into the kitchen to tell me, "The health inspector's here."

Surprise! Depending on the inspector, it's generally a two-hour guided tour of the facility. But our current inspector's a really reasonable guy and when I told him that I was going to have to keep working while he did his thing, he was most agreeable.

I was shocked to learn that he has read this blog (and probably is reading this post, so thanks for working with me) and my comments about the health advisory that we are required to display. Those of you who read this blog know that I believe that the advisory is ineffective because it confuses those who read it. It was really unexpected to have a reasonable conversation about the confusion with the inspector.

I know that no day is ever perfect for an inspection, but why the single busiest day of the month?!? Just the restaurant gods making sure that I stay on my toes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Welcome Back!

Yesterday was the first day that we were open after our annual August vacation. The first day being open after having closed for a week is almost like opening day of a new restaurant.

When I walked in first thing in the morning, the cooler was bare. Throughout the day, case after case after case of food came in and had to be stocked, prepped, and brought onto the cooking line. Is it any wonder that we were still prepping for lunch even after the first tickets came in?

We open for lunch at 11am and there is no way to get the line set from scratch between 9am when the morning crew arrives and 11am. We depend on having basic items such as salad dressings, toasted nuts, garnishes, basic sauces, etc. being left from the day before. In reality, we probably only prep about a third of the lunch menu daily, depending on sell through from the day before. Yesterday, it all had to be prepped from zero.

It can't all be done in our small kitchen with our small crew in a two-hour window. So what to do? Like most rational people, we prepped the most commonly ordered items first, when we could. Of course, when the seafood delivery doesn't show up generally until 11:30 or so, what can you do? Open without seafood and prep like hell when it does arrive.

Customers, however, are not rational in their ordering patterns. Nor cognizant of the fact that the day after a week-long vacation is a killer prep day for us. So what happened? Naturally, we had a very early rush before 11:15 (for me, this is just starting to be breakfast time, so early rushes always surprise me) and trust me, we were depending on that hour between 11 and 12 to keep on prepping. And equally naturally, the early customers shotgunned the menu: they ordered everything totally at random. And of course, we were set for the dishes that sell the best historically. Mr. Murphy must have been in the dining room coaxing customers into their aberrant ordering pattern yesterday.

We ended up prepping several of the dishes as they were ordered at lunch yesterday, but we never managed to get totally set. We'll have to go back and catch the remaining items this morning.

The afternoon shift was one long grind, prepping eleven appetizers and ten entrées in a three-hour period. The hardest part for me was finding time to think through the menu to determine what we needed to do all while prepping feverishly. Granted, our dinner menu changes daily so we're used to a lot of work in the afternoon, but still, only about a third of the menu changes daily, so that the whole menu turns over about every three days. Having to deal with 100% turnover is tough.

And in the afternoon shift, we're used to having all the prep at hand that the morning crew has left in the cooler for us: minced garlic and shallots, prepped herbs, diced onions, carrots, celery, poblano peppers, and so forth. When the morning crew doesn't have time for this such as yesterday, it slows down the afternoon crew. And some of the braised dishes that take long slow cooking have to be started by the morning crew. Those dishes will just have to wait until later in the week.

To top it all off, I have developed an obnoxious little cold that has left me almost voiceless. My 12-hour shift in the kitchen compounded by the cold was draining. I'm not complaining mind you—being in the kitchen beats the hell out of doing paperwork in the office. And that, friends, is why I am blogging right now; I'm procrastinating in the face of a vast mound of paperwork. It's the same story today in the office as it was in the kitchen yesterday. Yippee! Good thing I love my job.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pearls Before My Swine

Yesterday for lunch, we went to a local Thai restaurant where my daughters enjoyed large quantities of bubble tea. For those of you who don't know bubble tea, it is tea with copious quantities of sugar, cream, often a flavoring, and gelatinous "bubbles," "pearls," or "boba," often wildly colored. It's just the thing that a couple of teenage swine would want to drink!

Of course, the teenage attraction may be that bubble tea is food to be played with. The large centimeter-diameter pearls are to be sucked up a monstrous straw, which leads to numerous games and generally making a mess, something hugely attractive to the teenage psyche!

Forty-something neophyte that she is, my wife had never before encountered bubble tea and was curious what the bubbles were. Before I could reply, daughter number one told her that they were tapioca, though how my daughter came to know so much about it, I haven't a clue. She certainly didn't learn from me: I take my tea straight, unsweetened, unflavored and well, boring. Being lactose intolerant may lead one to boredom in certain areas, I suppose.

My wife gamely tried a glass before deciding that tapioca pearls in tea weren't her thing. I really do think it helps to be a kid to appreciate bubble tea!

You and I, since most of us are way over 40, we have known tapioca all our lives. It was that funny gelatinous stuff made into puddings that we had to eat at all those church potlucks and picnics. You hated it. I tolerated it. Johnny from down the street was the weirdo who couldn't get enough of it. In a word, it's a very familiar product if you're of a certain age.

But what really is tapioca and how does it become pearls? I found these questions running around my mind as the kids were trying to see how many bubbles they could get into a single straw. I've known for years that tapioca comes from the root of the cassava or manioc plant, grown in the tropics. I also know that one form of cassava is a nice source of cyanide and can be harmful to humans unless the cyanide is broken down by soaking it in water. But beyond this, I had no clue how we get from starchy, tuberous root to gelatinous spheres that attract kids everywhere.

The process is really quite simple. The roots are peeled, grated, mixed in several waters, rinsed and centrifuged to yield a wet cake that is then pulverized and screened into a rough flour. This flour is agitated and it starts to clump together and as more damp flour is added the clumps become larger. Do this in a rotating drum and round balls tend to form.

Heat and water make tapioca flour gelatinize, so the round balls are steamed while rotating in a drum, gelatinizing the outer layer. Then they are dried and sorted by size, ready for market. We then boil the dried tapioca pearls until they are gelatinized all the way through and use them to make pudding or entertain our kids.

And now you know.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

On Cooking Steaks

I just walked into the One Block West kitchen after having been away on vacation for seven days. Have you ever noticed that sometimes when you're away from something for a while, when you return, you see things in a different way?

The first thing I saw upon entering the kitchen was this poster directly opposite the kitchen door. I have seen this poster so many times that I no longer pay attention to it. Being away from the kitchen got me to focus on it once again, so I thought that I'd share it with you. I got this poster many years ago, probably as part of a ServSafe (food safety training) class. It was so hilarious that we had to post it on the wall of our kitchen. You'll need to click on the thumbnail provided here to read the words on the large photo.

This poster, from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and others, strikes us as very funny because it is yet another attempt by the government to protect us from us by trying to keep us from eating rare and raw meats. On this poster, the authors associated the common names that we use for doneness of meat (e.g., "rare" and "medium") with temperatures that a meat thermometer will read when the steak is cooked to this doneness. What's really crafty and Big Brotherish about this is that they have slid the temperature scale about 30 degrees Fahrenheit so that anyone cooking a steak according to this guide will overcook it by 30 degrees such that the final temperature of the steak ends up where the government wants it to be, in their so-called safe zone.

This is so absurd that I would immediately fire any grill cook who followed this scale. Why? Because the steak would be coming back from the dining room just as soon as the customer who ordered it cut into it and found it overcooked.

We don't generally use meat thermometers to determine doneness of our steaks—any grill cook who has cooked more than about three shifts in a restaurant can determine doneness by feel—but if we were to use meat thermometers on steaks, here is the scale that we would use:

XR, extra rare, 110 F, just barely warm blue center
R, rare, 115 F, blue with red around the edges
MR, medium rare, 120-125 F, warm and red in center
M, medium, 130-135 F, pink in the center
MW, medium well, 145 F, slightly pink in the center
W, well, 155 F, brown to barely pink in the center

As you can see, our "friends" would have us cook your medium rare steak to the degree of doneness that you associate with a medium well steak. Tell me, would you be happy if I did this to you?

Saturday, August 16, 2008


I love wineberries, Rubus phoenicolasius, a member of the raspberry family and native to China, Japan, and Korea, introduced into the US as an ornamental. It has subsequently escaped and is naturalized here in the east, to the point of being an invasive pest in some areas. I have them growing in my yard, which makes both the kids and the fruit-eating birds, especially the catbirds, very happy. As a kid, I used to be very happy scrounging wineberries from the woods and from the patch behind our shed.

I was going to take a photo of my berries, but they're all gone now. We may get a few later in September from the second bloom. For a great photo of wineberries in action, click on over to Food Rockz.

The bright red to deep wine colored fruits are abundant, not too seedy, easy to pick, and very tasty. They taste slightly different from a red raspberry, but I'm mostly at a loss to say how, perhaps a bit tarter and more intensely berry flavored. While the fruits are wonderful, the canes are a bear, with fine red hairs and abudant thorns hidden in those hairs.

From a culture point of view, wineberries grow readily in many soils and will fruit even in very partial sun. They grow very quickly and as the long canes bend over to the ground from their own weight, they take root. A single vine can expand to take over a vast amount of space in a couple of growing seasons: it's definitely invasive. Diligence in managing the canes in a must.

The reward of wineberries is three-fold: the plants are the prettiest of all the raspberries, the fruit is outstanding, and the catbirds that they attract do a great job of keeping the insects in the garden in check.

Vacation Reminder

This is a reminder that we are closed the week of August 17th for our annual holiday. We will reopen for lunch on August 26th at 11:00am.

It's been an entire year since our last vacation and I am really looking forward to it! I need some down time, to get out of confines of the four walls of my restaurant, to actually leave the city limits of Winchester, to sleep past 7 in the morning, to spend more than five minutes in a fleeting conversation with my wife, to eat in other restaurants where some chef other than me is worrying about the menu, to watch my first movie in a year, to read a book for longer than two minutes, to splash water on my kids in the swimming pool, to actually browse some of those food and wine magazines that decorate our bar, to sit down to a meal, and finally dear customers, to have an entire week without seeing any of your smiling faces!

I may blog from the road, but I also reserve the right not to! I'm definitely not taking the laptop with me.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Crying the Blues

Have you ever noticed that sometimes a problem will arise that forces you to take action and in resolving the problem, you actually come out better ahead? I've learned this over the years and so I've come to look at many problems as opportunities to improve things.

This all sounds rather philosophical for a restaurant blog, so let me bring this back around to the food and beverage world. For years, we've been loyal customers of Tröegs Brewery of Harrisburg, PA and we still are, because the Trogner brothers, Chris and John, make some of the best beer on the East Coast. We're such loyal customers that Tröegs beers have been the only beers in our cooler since day one, much to the chagrin of the Budmiller reps.

Not only are these beers very popular with us at One Block West, but they're generally hugely popular in the mid-Atlantic, so popular that the guys at the brewery cannot keep up with the demand, especially for their HopBack Amber Ale, a superbly well balanced beer and my beer of choice after a hot shift in the kitchen.

Unfortunately, this year we've been shorted on HopBack more times than not. From the brewery's perspective, a great problem to have, but on our part, we don't like to tell customers no, especially ones that have been drinking the beer here for five or six years.

Sadly, I've had to find a replacement for HopBack, one with a less limited production. Just getting to the point of looking for a replacement took some doing on my part; HopBack and I have been close friends for years and I felt like I was cheating on my friend. Plus, we try to keep it local here at the restaurant and any change from HopBack would mean getting less local. While Harrisburg isn't entirely local at 75 minutes away, customers do drive down for dinner and are happy to see their hometown brew in our cooler.

Once I started looking, I kept hearing the name Oskar Blues Brewery from Lyons, CO. And a few days after a friend gave me a taste of Oskar Blues' strong ale called Gordon, I just happened to run across a six-pack of their Dale's Pale Ale at Murphy Beverage. Gordon was really well made, so I took the Dale's Pale Ale away with me to sample at that evening's poker game as a potential HopBack replacement.

Toward the end of dinner service, I got free of the kitchen and spied three friends at a table drinking HopBack, so I poured myself a Dale's and joined them. Before I could say anything, the hop aroma filled the air, so much so that one of my friends asked what I was drinking. I told him and he asked for a taste, which I gave him, and he immediately passed the glass to his wife, who passed it to the third person. By the time I got to taste it, we were all blown away with the flavor, and all three of them asked for a Dale's of their own.

You should have seen their faces when I brought out the remaining five Dale's. They were thinking what I thought when I first encountered Gordon. My head just about popped off my shoulders when one of my beer connoisseur friends pulled out the can of Gordon and poured tastes for us one evening. Good beer in a can?!?!?

It's saying a lot that the six-pack of Dale's disappeared within about ten minutes. So much for the beer for the poker game! But this experience proved to me that there is life beyond HopBack and that life is going to be exceptional.

Now about this can thing. It's now a quasi-trademark of Oskar Blues, the Canned Beer Apocalypse, that is. Watch their video to learn more about why canned beer is great beer. And, come experience the Apocalypse yourself. Dale's is amazing beer.

My beer problem has left me crying the blues, the Oskar Blues.

P.S. Chris and John, we still love you. Just get some more brew kettles if you have room for them!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Most of you that know me well know that I have a love affair with one of the great mushrooms of the world, the porcino aka cèpe or bolete (from Boletus edulis). It is second in my book only to the morel.

Our late September weather (Yes, Virginia, it is mid-August, but doesn't it feel great! I've never lived through a cooler summer.) has got me thinking porcini as it does every year. Next week during our annual vacation, I will be sitting somewhere, no doubt poolside, with my composition book in hand, scheming new porcini dishes for the fall menus.

While spring has me looking forward to fresh porcini from our forager in Oregon, fall has me thinking about dried porcini. If you've never sampled the two, then you won't know that they might as well be two different mushrooms. Even though I really enjoy fresh porcini, especially with butter and parsley, I love dried porcini.

Drying porcini does something magical to them: it concentrates the flavor surely, but it also deepens it and enriches it in a way that I can only feebly describe. Dried porcini have an aroma that is pure essence of the earth. That perfume is the perfect accompaniment to the smell of fallen leaves and this is surely why the change of seasons in the fall brings porcini to the forefront of my consciousness.

One of my favorite dishes on this earth is porcini risotto and no doubt this will appear many, many times on my menus throughout the fall and winter. I just do not see how food gets any better than creamy Arborio rice, rich porcini, and (oh let's just say this out loud and pretend we don't care about calories) a great heaping wad of butter and mound of grated pecorino Romano*.
*So many traditional risotto recipes call for Parmigiano-Reggiano, but why? Why use that glorious cheese which is best suited for eating out of hand with fresh figs and prosciutto in any application where its greatness is grated away?

For flavoring risotto, making sauces, and enriching soups, my most common uses for dried porcini, there is no need to buy top grade porcini. Porcini, as far as I can tell, are graded on size; you pay more for larger, more uniform pieces of dried porcini. Conversely, in fresh porcini, the smaller mushrooms are much more highly prized than the larger ones. In any case, you don't need lovely large pieces of porcini for any of these applications. Grades, from the top down, run AA, A, B, etc.

When buying dried porcini, always check the bag for bugs. I've often encountered bags of old porcini which the moths have reduced to near dust. Those bags never go in our pantry.

Think about me next time you reach into your pantry and get out the dried porcini. You can always call to see if I am available for dinner. ;)

Dinner with Chef Ed

Want to be invited to dinner at my house on Sunday the 21st of September? A bunch of my friends are coming to dinner then and you can join them.

Update September 22, 2008: View the menu here.

Each time you eat dinner at One Block West between now and September 13th, you can enter your name into our random drawing to be held on the 13th.

The format of the dinner is mystery basket. Each couple that attends the dinner will bring three or four ingredients and using the total collection of ingredients, I will make dinner. I'll supply the primary proteins and the wine. I guarantee that it will be a lot of fun.

Come down to the restaurant and enter the drawing today!

Fine Print

You must dine with us to participate.
Limited to customers of legal drinking age.
Your odds of winning depend on the number of entrants and the number of times you dine with us during the contest period.
The sole prize is limited to dinner for two on September 21, 2008.
The prize is non-transferable.
If the winner cannot attend, we will redraw for another winner.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Long Time, No Write

Wow, last week was a blur and I had no time to blog, being in the kitchen from open to close. I was too busy getting ready for the Hot Chef competition at the Mosby Museum in Warrenton yesterday, where ten restaurants and caterers served three courses each to about 250 people. That's a lot of food. When you consider that my dining room holds about 60 people, you can start to imagine why I had no time to blog.

Although we had to set up in the rain and ultimately came away empty-handed in the competition, Brandon and I had a great time while we were there and we put out some excellent food. I don't know what the judges were looking for, but I thought our first course of Surry sausage on a grits flan with dried cherries and Virginia maple syrup was the single best dish at the entire event.

As the saying goes, you cannot please everyone, so I only ever try to please myself with my dishes and yesterday, my dishes pleased me greatly. At the end of the day, we had a lot of fun and we got to meet lots of potential customers and the crews from other area restaurants. For us, it's a real bonus to get out and work in front of a crowd, rather than in the cramped windowless box of a kitchen that we call home.

The competition was to design three courses of food using foodstuffs typical to this area around the end of the Civil War. Here's our meticulously researched menu:

Surry Sausage with Dried Cherries and Virginia Maple Syrup on Hominy Flan

Fricassée of Rabbit on Potato Cake with Field Pea, Tomato, and Corn Salad

Brown Bread with Pickled Peach Compote

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Curry Powder

I'm a huge fan of Indian food. I love big flavors and Indian food combines all kinds of spices to deliver big flavor. And, the cuisine in India is so broad with so many regional variations that I never get tired of it. My wife and I have had the conversation many times that if our diets were restricted to the food from a single country—heaven forbid!—it would be from India. Who else in the world combines green beans, coconut, and mustard seeds into an amazing taste and texture sensation? (Oops, my northern friends are going to kill me for mentioning a canonical southern dish!)

With this love of Indian cooking, about 20 years ago I started teaching myself how to cook Indian food, but more importantly, learning the regional metaphors and spice mixes so that I could create my own dishes. When I learn a cuisine, I don't really try to learn individual dishes. I learn how to think in that cuisine, to understand techniques, flavor metaphors, and what ingredients normally go together to make that cuisine unique.

I've learned from a lot of people along the way: from the southern Indians that worked for me in the high tech world, from a crazy Goan chef in Fairfax who taught me all about coconut milk-based fish curries, from eating in dozens of restaurants, from reading dozens of books, from interrogating the proprietors of many Indian groceries, from talking with the cooks at an Afghani kebab shack (northern Indian food is highly similar to a greater pan-central Asian cuisine encompassing food from Iran to Bhutan), and lately, from working side by side with Shiv Kumar at his Sona Restaurant learning his Punjabi take on the cuisine.

It's all been a fascinating journey and yet for all I do know, it's a vast subject and I can see that I only know the very tip of a very, very big iceberg.

One of the first things that any student of Indian cuisine learns is that there is no such thing as "curry powder." Curry powder was no doubt brought to the world by the Brits as a means to bring some of the native Indian flavors back to England. As ubiquitous as curry powder is in the English-speaking world, it is mostly an alien concept in India.

The Indians make various spice mixes called masalas (or sambar podi or paunch phoron) as base flavorings for dishes, yet none of them seem to be close to what we know as standardized curry powder. Each cook's basic masala will be slightly different (but sadly, more and more younger Indians are relying on commercial mixes), lending character and originality to the end dish. Advanced cooks make different mixes for different dishes in the quantity needed for that dish.

Likewise, I have no curry powder. I have developed my own flavor metaphors over the years and I know exactly what spices to use to achieve the end result that I desire. I know that I really like the sweet spices of northern cooking with pork, but that I like a good bit of cumin and less coriander with lamb, and heavy on the garlic. And for gobi (cauliflower), I must have a lot of turmeric and ginger.

That said, I have a somewhat amusing anecdote from the restaurant to relate. As a restaurant that takes pride in creative vegetarian cooking, we see our share of Indians, many of whom are vegetarian. And sometimes we get into conversations about Indian food. Many of them are surprised at my knowledge of Indian cuisine.

But at times my customers assume that as an American, I can't possibly know anything about the subject. One woman in particular comes to mind because after a short conversation, she laid a land mine for me, "So, what brand curry powder do you use?"

Without missing a beat, I said, "Probably the same one that you use."

She hesitated for a couple of pregnant seconds and I could see the "but" forming on her lips. I could also see when my meaning finally came to her, and smart woman that she is, she avoided the mine I left for her. I smiled and wished her well with her dinner.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Pineapple 101

I'm not sure why it's happening now, but a lot of people are asking me how to prep a pineapple. Surely there are dozens of ways to do it; here's one that works for me. Just for grins, I timed myself once at this. It took 56 seconds from whole pineapple to fully cut up pineapple, so you know that it is an easy method.

First, slice the top and bottom off the pineapple. You can see that I am using my serrated bread knife. It works great for this application.

Next, stand the pineapple on its bottom. When cutting things, it's always important to create a stable base for yourself so that the item that you are cutting does not rock. That's why you sliced off the bottom of the pinepple.

Slice from the top of the pineapple to the bottom. Go deep enough into the pineapple to remove the bulk of the pits and seeds. Most beginners are afraid of slicing too deeply into the pineapple.

Slice the skin off all the way around the pineapple. Trim any bits that you might have missed.

Slice the pineapple in half from top to bottom. Then lay one of the halves down on the cutting board—flat side down; remember the stable base you always want to have—and then quarter the half from top to bottom.

Holding your knife on a 45 degree angle to vertical, remove the core from each quarter.

When you've removed the core, lay the quartered pineapple on the flat side you've just created by removing the core.

Slice each quarter into three strips from top to bottom.

Chop the strips into chunks.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Work With Us, Please

I was in the dining room two days ago when a table of ladies, good customers all, came in for lunch. After being seated, they all opened their menus and then got to talking. All well and good: we like it when people sit and catch up with each other over lunch.

While they were catching up, we were going about the dining room attending to other things, waiting for them to be ready to order lunch. At one point, one of the women waved at me and called over to me, "Aren't you going to take our order?"

Who would have guessed that they were ready to order? Four open menus in front of four people highly engaged in conversation is not a ready-to-order sign that we recognize.

First, we do our utmost not to interrupt a conversation; that's just rude. Second, we look for some sign that you are ready to order. The surest sign is when everyone at the table has a closed menu. Aside from that, one member of the party can catch our eye and we will be right there.

We're also pretty adept at seeing when you take off your reading glasses, start looking around the dining room, and so forth. But, we'd really rather not guess if you are ready to eat. Work with us: close your menu.