My very first paying job was as a short order cook at a greasy spoon diner/donut shop in San Francisco. Actually I started out as a waitress but quickly found my way behind the grill. During my high school years, I'd worked in the summers as a hospital volunteer, a "candy striper" at St. Mary's Hospital. I made beds, fed patients and ran samples of various substances to the various depts. In short, I did all sorts of things to take pressure off the nursing and orderly staff. Everyone was the boss of me. I also swept up hair in a beauty parlor/ barber shop, but that was part-time.
Once I'd graduated from high school, off to the work world I went. One minute I was walking down the aisle, high school diploma and college scholarship in hand, and the next I was asking, " do you want fries with that?" And by the next I mean the next day... the very next day. My scholarship covered tuition, but there were books and clothes and other extras to buy. I needed the money. How did I wind up at The Donut Hole? My mother sent me in to ask for work and they hired me on the spot. I'd traded in my convent school uniform for a waitress uniform.
I have to admit here I wasn't the world's best waitress, but I was popular with the customers, mainly teenage boys and construction workers and neighborhood housewives out for coffee and a donut in the afternoon. Why? Well, for one thing I was a little vegetarian prig. I lived off of carrot sticks and yogurt and platters of steamed vegetables. The idea of actually eating one of those greasy donuts I was helping make? Forget about it. No way. I was very judgemental about the customers and how they were ruining their bodies.
How could that possibly make me popular you might ask? Well, my way of "punishing" them was unique to say the least. Someone would come in and order fries and a shake. I would inwardly fume. I must have been a real pain in the ass. Okay, then I'd give them their fries and a shake. I'd make the crispiest fries I could. I'd fill the fryer with oil and make them rich and golden on the outside. I'd strew them with salt (oh yeah another thing I didn't use.) I'd help them ruin their arteries all right! As for the milk shakes, I had a heavy hand with the ice cream and the whipped cream topping, and the chocolate syrup. The owner, Mr. Cheapo had marked the inside of the metal shake containers. So much milk, so much ice cream, not to be added above a certain line. I called bullshit on that and if someone ordered one from me (the waitresses made the shakes) they got double everything! Ha, ha! I'd show those greedy customers.
I also had a habit of wearing my uniform short (all of us did, after all I was 18) and my blouses low. Nobody taught me the proper way to reach down and get stuff out of the donut case when I was waiting on someone, or leaning or bending over to wipe down a table or booth ( I went to a prep school dammit!) so I got huge tips and everyone wanted to sit in my section. Totally self unaware. Actually I was a walking peep show.
Shortly after I forgot a couple of construction workers' orders and nobody complained, and the boss caught me putting triple the amount of ice cream into a shake for a customer I really didn't like, they decided I'd be better off behind the scenes. This involved interacting with the jelly donut filling machine way in the back where the only ones to get a close up of my lady parts when I loaded in the custard were the roaches. Then came the great emergency. Something happened. The cook didn't show. The owner ran around panicky, "who can cook, who can cook?" I raised my hand and he stuck a spatula in it and pointed me toward the grill. I cooked for the next 2 months, pancakes and waffles and bacon. I made veal cutlets and chops and chopped steak. Hot dogs and burgers. I learned the proper way to cook all sorts of eggs and I made hash browns. Which brings me to the turnip home fries.
Turnips and potatoes have a very similar texture. I was looking for something different as a breakfast, brunch, lunch side dish. I had no potatoes but I had these.
There are a number of Indian recipes for turnips and potatoes. The mix of spices goes really well with those vegetables. I wondered if could I make home fries and use turnips instead of potatoes. Okay, that's not exactly true. I was intending to make turnip latkes for Alan but the spatula slipped. Boom! Home fries. Turns out, they're good. Turnips are spicier and more flavorful than potatoes so there's that. They're also much lower in carbs and full of good-for-you nutrients. They're easy to make and a great change for anyone who doesn't want more potatoes during the already gluttonous season that's upon us. They're a guilt free indulgence, because you're eating turnips dammit!!!
Turnip Home Fries
Here's What You Need:
1 lb of turnips, washed, peeled and grated in a food processor or on a mandoline.
1 tsp of black onion (nigella aka kalonji ) seed.
1/2 tsp of brown mustard seed
1 tsp of ground coriander
1/4 tsp of garam masala
1 tsp of salt or to taste
1/2 tsp of kashmiri chili ( or 1/4 tsp cayenne mixed with 1/4 tsp of paprika)
3 Tbs of vegetable oil
2 Tbs of flour ( I made these with sorghum flour so they are also Gluten Free)
1 tsp of turmeric
1 onion peeled and grated
1 shallot peeled and grated
Here's What To Do:
Squeeze the turnips after you grate them to get excess water out of them, they should be as dry as possible.
In a large bowl mix together the grated dry turnip, flour, onion shallot chili powder, salt pepper to taste and egg. Set it aside.
In a heavy skillet heat the vegetable oil.
When the oil is hot toss, in the black onion seed and the mustard seeds
When the seeds start to pop, add in the coriander and turmeric,
Cook the spices together for about 2 minutes
Add in the grated turnip mixture.
Stir it around in the hot oil mixing it well with the spices and cook it until it starts to get crispy and lightly brown, just as you would cook hash browns. This takes about 8 to 10 minutes depending on how hot the pan is,
When they look about done, stir in 1/4 tsp of garam masala and serve.
I served them with a fried egg on the side but you could put it on top like a hash. If you're into it, a little bacon wouldn't hurt. I was wary giving this to Alan, not a man known for his love of substituting potatoes for anything. He loved it. Even without the bacon.
When I told him the stories of my days at the diner, he explained to me why I was so popular. The things I was doing as revenge for the poor eating habits of my customers were interperted by them as the deal of a life time. My attempts at being a food cop made our diner the best bargain in town. The thickest shakes, the crispiest fries, the sandwiches with the most mayo and the donuts filled to bursting with custard or jelly. Not to mention the free X-rated entertainment every time I bussed a table. He always tells me that if he'd been in San Francisco back then, instead of at NYU we probably would have gotten married a lot sooner.
Coming up next, Maria Speck's new cookbook, Ancient Grains For Modern Meals (named one of the best of the year by the New York Times ) gets taken for a holiday dessert test drive through my kitchen. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori