MY FEELINGS TASTE LIKE: Mushroom Chowder And The Unforgiving Work Grind

There’s a code of etiquette with people who are in the grind. You don’t allow people over even for food or comfort because your house has taken the hit. Laundry goes left undone, dishes go unwashed.
Publish date:
September 25, 2013
xoFood, recipes, my feelings taste like, Mushrooms

I am having a week.

This is a lie. I have been having this week over and over since mid summer, when a number of work projects collided all at once and left me in a grind. I hear people talk about 70-80 hour work weeks and I often think to myself how incredibly routine that sounds. For myself and the developers I know, a real grind, a true grind is a 110-120 hr work week.

It's grueling torture, even for the most enthusiastic worker bees like myself. For a week or two it's fine. I occasionally find myself pulling an all-nighter on purpose - working on a crafting project or when I am reading a particularly engaging novel (Gillian Flynn owes me a few cups of coffee). I have a full set of cassette tapes for the BBC version of "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" and if you listen to them back to back, it perfectly carries you through a night.

But after the first week, the grind affects you. Physically: you roll out of bed after 3-4 hours of sleep, and I do mean roll, right into a chair, still in your pajamas. I do the dishes while coffee is brewing if I have the luxury of the time. Showering is something that maybe takes place in the afternoon, grabbing a few minutes with the phone nearby because it's just too busy before noon to do so. But it's completely reasonable to go 2-3 days without one. You begin to have that constant ache in your stomach from not enough sleep or movement or coffee. When you think you might fall off, you chug coffee and water to wake up.

Any downtime is a risk - if I’m not constantly busy I immediately drone out. Waiting on anyone is torture. It's been these last four weeks where I do my canning at 11pm, 1am, sometimes 3am. I write anytime I have a few free moments, in between other projects to keep me standing and awake and working.

Emotionally you become unhinged - you’re sure you’re moments away from a task completion, so you can just get a break for an hour and sleep, only to be foiled and see the finish line move back 10 yards. It takes absolutely everything you have not to breakdown and walk away. For 9 minutes last night between 2 and 3 am, within moments of being "done done", my partner and I accidentally brought a major American company’s website to its knees.

While I talked the company through some demos to distract them, my partner and I worked quietly back and forth online trying to get it fixed before anyone noticed. As soon as we’d fixed it, my partner said, “Oh sweet Jesus, thank you” and I said, “I have to go throw up now.”

When you’re in a grind, you eat any food you can get your hands on because cooking is out the question. Delivery fees seem an essential convenience. You’re heathenistic. A grind is the only time I’ll order a pizza, a food I otherwise relegate to only eating when I can come with no other options amongst picky friends. I order enough Chinese food to last 3-4 days. I stop on the way home from doggie daycamp to buy frozen food. I consume Ben and Jerry's as a food group (coffee coffee buzz buzz buzz, in case you happen to be a supplier and in my neighborhood).

Socially you’re a recluse. Facebook event reminders pass unnoticed. Calls go unanswered. I had a very lucid talk with a friend at 3am last night… it was the first chance we’d had to talk in weeks. He lives one mile away, but he too, is in a grind. Our phone calls have been a lot of, “Can’t. Later?”

There’s a code of etiquette with people who are in the grind where you understand and excuse such behavior. You don’t allow people to come over even when they offer food or comfort because your house has taken the hit. Laundry goes left undone, you wear a ponytail until the elastic becomes a permanent part of your head, dishes go unwashed. I pee while I’m on the phone. I Skype while driving the dog to daycamp. I make mental lists while I open food cartons. When I have an hour someone isn’t yelling at me, I don’t have the luxury of choice to do the things I’d like, I know that I must sleep.

Ethically you become a douche. My dog has a sad habit of coming up to me in my chair and asking to be picked up and cradled. It is only semi unreasonable until you know she’s a fullsize doberman. But I indulge - hers is the one request I always honor. And after a minute I’ll say, “Ball!” and we head outside to throw a ball around for a few to wake us both up. She’s been at day camp a lot the past few weeks to get out and be social and active.

Yesterday I got out of my car, grabbed my bag and as soon as I heard the door shut I knew I’d locked my keys in. In the ignition. Running. And despite that, I was so tired that I walked inside fully meaning to call AAA, forgetting for 3 hours until I realized I had to go get my dog from camp.

And then, suddenly, one day it’ll be done. You’ll have been up 18, 24, 32 hours, and there will be no one yelling at you to do something immediately. There will be nothing due an hour ago you’re trying to grind out. The phone won’t be ringing, and though you CAN go to sleep, you’ll take a shower, and lay down, and find yourself putting on an episode of "Breaking Bad" or trying to remember if you sweep or mop first, unable to truly appreciate the sudden freedom.

So I clean - I start at one end of the house and sweep through to the other. The cobwebs, the surfaces, the floors, the dishes, the laundry. I weed in the garden.

Then I cook.

Because I am clearly someone who was never meant to sit still, who craves busy-ness. I’m a person who loves process. And after weeks of delivery food and carbs and microwaving, few things make me happier than the quiet peace of feeding myself physically and emotionally, of doing something for just me. I don’t crave sweets or chocolate, I crave the richness of something coming out of the oven or off the stovetop. Carmelization. Crispness. Hearty soups - something that feels like I put myself in it. A roasted chicken or vegetables. A pot of pasta sauce and meatballs. A batch of potstickers that I can fuss over. Something that will go with a drink, the first one in weeks. Something that feels as substantial as the work you’ve just done, the accomplishment of product.

So you cook. And you eat.

And then you get up, and do it all over again.

Mushroom Chowder

  • a bag of mushrooms. If you can, buy them from this guy like I do.
  • a few shallots
  • a glass or two of wine, preferably white. substitute sherry if need be
  • a quart of stock, I like chicken for its mild flavor but you could do veggie
  • 3 tbsp of shiro miso (white, not red)
  • thyme and sage
  • 1 cup of heavy cream

Prep time: 30 minutes

You can use any mushrooms you'd like, even if you only have a supermarket at your disposal, buttons and portabellos are still perfectly acceptable. Even dried mushrooms are absolutely fine. Dust all whatever you're using, chop em up, peel and chop the shallots, too. The key for me is to keep the shrooms chopped just enough to be bite size, I still want to be able to recognize each shroom. I quarter many of them.

Using a healthy dose of butter and a bit of olive oil, I saute the shallots, giving them a momentary headstart before I add the mushrooms. I saute them for a few minutes, stirring and letting them each kiss the butter a bit.

Add chicken stock to cover the mushrooms, and add a few tablespoons of white miso. I feel the miso is a more flavorful answer than salt or bouillon. I throw in the wine, but if you don’t have any, you can add some filtered water. I pitch in some thyme and sage for seasoning. Sage is my go-to mushroom seasoning following some time in Italy. Now bring it to a simmer. 30 minutes is all that’s needed.

The soup is exceptionally eatable at this point. Requires nothing. But could cream make it better? Most rhetorical question ever. I add a cup or so and then slowly bring the soup back up to simmer, stirring constantly, thickening it. Also, the cream seems to mellow the whole soup out.

I find this soup is best eaten in a dark room, over a glass of wine, intermittently while drawing or writing letters, savoring every single shroom in its magicness. And imagining yourself as someone else, someone without obligations or 7am conference calls.