I am sometimes told I move too fast, spinning around, physically imitating the thoughts in my head. And then I hear a voice beside me, Mr. U., telling me to slow down and breathe, telling me to listen and silence myself. Mr. U. has been working at Greens for years, extending the length of his employment not for the money or convenience, but because he loves his job. He began working at the restaurant about thirty years ago, when Greens was just emerging as one of the finest vegetarian places in the States, beside Moosewood in Ithaca, NY (a mere two hours from my home in Rochester; why I have failed to visit escapes me). Mr. U. seems to perfectly exemplify the Buddhist mentality he has towards life. He moves slowly, but with precision and grace. He desires to learn despite his deep canyon of knowledge. I look to him and see a wise man with peace engrained in each pore. When he teaches me how to season the beans or set up my mess of a station, I listen with the intent to soak up each word like bread doused in the sweet eggy custard of french toast. I look to him for guidance in the crazy world of a restaurant. Mr. U. reminds me of why I love the food I create at Greens: I am making something beautiful for the enjoyment of another being. He seems to pray with each dish he creates - only wishing for the love one will receive and thanking the world for the love he receives. In the middle of chaos, I glance beside me at a man with a smile beneath his lips and am reminded to regain my serenity.
My station has now become busier than ever. Along with the pizza (now it is fresh fig and goat cheese with walnuts and caramelized onions - my favorite, by far) and Spanish pupusas, we've introduced a new dish to the ever-changing menu: the Curry. On the plate lies a glossy sauce of coconut milk, cilantro, spinach, and Indian spices. I sear a round cake of coconut risotto yielding a crispy outer shell and place that on the outside of the plate. Next, I sauté green beans, snow peas, and yellow wax beans with olive oil, shallots, ginger, and (of course) salt, only slightly caramelizing the vegetables' skin. I spoon a relish of cucumber and tomato, the heady perfume of thai basil playing with one's senses, inviting guests to question the lesser-known herb. I angle grilled eggplant (shout out to Aunt Patti!) and summer squash on the risotto cake. Garnishing the plate goes a crumble of spiced peanuts and toasted panko breadcrumbs - this always reminds me of the streusel at the top of my mother's apple crisp; we always look forward to the crack of it in our mouths. And now I want a bowl of apple crisp. Perfect.
At last, I am beginning to find comfort in the kitchen, regardless of the loud clanking of plates, the smells of hot oil, the roar of orders, and my thunderous reply. And while all of this is happening, I forget what the real world is like, for this four hours of service, I am strapped into the seat of another reality, where only aprons and kitchen-speak exist, singing pans replace crickets and windows are the only escape. Within this four hours, I am only like a worker bee making sparkling honey for my queen. Instead though, I am Abby, and I have thousands of queens - all who enter through the heavy oak doors of Greens.
Changes are happening within myself. I see the world around me through different eyes, the eyes of someone a bit more enlightened than last year. Then, I loved the city, being entranced by the danger and excitement of loads of people surrounding me. I used to dream of running through the busy streets in heels, heading off to a fashionable office job and going to dinner at a beautifully adorned restaurant. Now that I have been introduced to city life, my vision of it has been altered. The streets are busy, yes, but they are dirty, filled with drug addicts and garbage. The office job will only be in years to come. And the dinners can only be afforded by those who make millions a year because the price of living here is equal to the skyscrapers in which they inhabit. While I once viewed San Francisco as a picturesque image of sunny avenues and gorgeous people, I now hear the deafening car horns, the screaming; I smell the cigarettes and exhaust; I see blankets balled up on the sidewalk waiting until nighttime when some homeless person needs to sleep.
Each time I escape to Truckee, I am immersed by nature. I see trees and water all around. And best of all, it is quiet. I never valued silence so much until I went to San Francisco, and to be able to abandon that is blissful. Now, instead of the ideals I held in the past of being a person constantly in a state of hurry, I feel an ever-growing need for the tranquility of the wild. While Mr. U. has led me to recognize when I need to breathe and cease thinking for even thirty seconds, I have learned that subjecting myself to the life I would endure in a city would be suffocating and completely negate the way I strive to live. Of course I will make every effort to seek the good in San Francisco, but I will no doubt look forward to each weekend I spend in the euphoria I experience in Truckee.