Boiling Over

A single mother finds her niche as a chef.

Time isn’t just money. For me, time is sanity. After I divorced my now ex-husband, there was very little money and even less time. Up at sunrise, I had to be at my first job at 7am. I left directly for my second job at 3pm. A busy night meant that I didn’t make it home until after midnight. I didn’t see my girls much those days.

But, not too long ago I traded my briefcase and my title as marketing director for a set of knives and a chef coat. I excelled in cooking school and was in the midst of a meteoric rise through the ranks in the kitchen. I had come too far to go back to the sensible, though not fulfilling, nine-to-five job. My choice to start over in a challenging and exhausting profession made my days more difficult than they had to be. However, here I was in the batter’s box of my new life; I had to at least take a swing.

I reasoned I wasn’t just following my dream to be a chef for me. I was also doing it for my two girls. They had to see me succeed. I didn’t want them to one day ask me about my dreams and feel like they had kept me from trying as hard as I could. I was committed to seeing this through to the end— I was not giving up.

I hoped that the lesson in fighting for what you believe in would be contagious and that my girls would do the same in their own lives. Your life’s work should be something that gives you joy. I wanted my children to learn to pursue the things in their lives that make them happy and feel successful. My daughters would never learn how to succeed amid adversity if I let something— anything— stop me.

Keeping my family together and being a success had to be a conjoined goal. It helped that the girls were behind me. They never complained. And when I showed up at the viola recital or to read to their class, my daughters didn’t mind that I smelled of shallots reduced with white wine. Once I decided that I needed to be a chef, I began the process of determining how to do it. How could I raise two young children while starting at the bottom of an industry?

Time was precious, and I learned to use every second like it counted. Walking to school with my daughters slowed down things a bit. The walks permitted 15 minutes we could be together without a TV glittering in the background or someone talking on the phone. Walking to school, we had a common purpose and a well-defined goal we were working toward— a metaphor for what I hoped the rest of the day and our lives would be like.

For Sunday night dinner we ate out. No time spent at the stove or dishwasher. And because money was tight, our Sunday night dinner out was usually spent eating grilled cheese or a hot dog at the diner. Still, the walks and Sunday dinners were vital to our staying connected as a family. With my daughters’ father out of the picture, being together took on a whole new meaning. I had to rely on these rituals to show the girls that my absence due to long hours at work did not mean that I was going anywhere. I would always be there for them.

At Sunday dinner, we talked about the food and what dreams we had for the future. We assured ourselves and one another that this rough patch was only temporary. Life for us was going to improve. United, we were going to make it happen.

Showing up at school, despite my long hours at work, was probably the most valuable thing I did with my spare few minutes of the day. Sometimes the special and soup of the day at my restaurant was something quick and easy so I could slip out of the kitchen to read to Sian’s pre-k class or make hasty pudding to complement the American history lesson Magalee’s 3rd grade teacher was teaching. My involvement showed my daughters that I was always thinking of them and that when I could, I would be there. I could see how proud they were and how special they felt when a classmate would ask, “Is that your Mommy?”

Of course, balancing a job and parenting responsibilities wasn’t easy. Every spring during our annual trip to the circus, the high-wire act seemed vaguely familiar. I found myself identifying with the guy on the unicycle as he steadied himself on the wire. I’ve felt that way myself: inching along carefully at a dizzying height, no net, my palms sweaty. Maybe a few changes could bring me closer to the ground.

I had to get a chef job. Two line cook jobs were killing me. By taking a chef job and running a kitchen, I’d have only one job to worry about and make enough money to support my family. When the first opportunity came, I took that major leap in my career and hoped that talent and utter determination would help me build a career— followed by whatever it took to find a kitchen of my own and make a success out of it.

While working harder than I ever thought I could, my first kitchen was soon producing great food and getting great reviews. It wasn’t easy. I was working more than ever— more than when I had the two jobs. I was tired and overworked. Pots were boiling over, knives were dull; yet, there was discipline to give and cooks to train.
The girls watched me go from job to job to find the right fit. I worried about the effect the changes would have on them. I soon realized the only way to have the perfect kitchen that would help my family thrive was to have a kitchen in a restaurant of my own. And that’s exactly what I created.

I opened the Colorado Kitchen— a small space that for some degree meant sanity…well, as much sanity as a chef can have. The girls are older now, getting themselves to school and helping in the kitchen or waiting tables in the dining room. There’s responsibility in having my own place, as well as more flexibility. I can close the restaurant to go to Sian’s recital and Magalee’s high school graduation. There is time to take notes between orders and stay up a little later after closing to write my story and spend time with the girls.

Recipes for the Fourth of July

  • Lemon-Kissed Whipped Cream (for shortcake)
    Juice and zest of one lemon
    1/4 cup of confectioner’s sugar
    1 cup of cream
    Place lemon juice, sugar and cream into a mixing bowl. Whip until firm, but not stiff, satin peaks form. The peaks should hold their shape but lean slightly.
  • Candied Lemon
    Cut rind from lemon, making sure to remove the white pulp from the peel. Slice peel into slivers. Add lemon to a pot where water and sugar are boiling. Simmer at a rolling boil for five to seven minutes. Remove lemon peels, sprinkle with sugar.
  • Blue Hawaii Smoothie
    5 ounces of pineapple juice
    3 ounces of frozen blueberries (1/3 cup)
    3 ounces of frozen pineapple in small cubes
    2 ounces of coconut sorbet
    Blend ingredients at high speed and pour into a tall chilled glass. Some blenders vary. To properly blend the ingredients, you may have to stop the blender and shake the contents or turn the blender off and use a spoon to work the ingredients down to the blade before blending again. Add more juice as a last resort— it will thin your smoothie.
  • Tropical Smoothie
    5 ounces of pineapple juice
    3 ounces of frozen mango slices
    3 ounces of frozen pineapple, cut into small cubes
    2 ounces of coconut sorbet
    Follow directions for the Blue Hawaii.