Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Employees Must Wash Hands

Am I the only one neurotic enough to be turned off when I see those signs in restaurant bathrooms stating that employees must wash their hands before returning to work? The last thing I want to be reminded of as I fumble for the door knob with my hand wrapped in thick paper towels, is that the short-order cook makes his way in and out of this filthy place several times per day between shifts of handling the raw tomatoes and onions.

As a germ-phobic customer who's about to eat here, what I really want to see is:

"Employees must sanitize hands using the sterile sink that is not separated from the kitchen by several feces-laden doorknobs."

What's worse is when these signs are up, but soap and paper towels are absent. Nice move, restaurant. This means:

"Employees must take a shit, lightly rinse their hands with water, dry their hands by wiping on their washed-weekly work pants, and touch the feces-laden door knob before returning to work."

Who's hungry for take-out?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Spice Of life

I've always been a food spicer. Always salt (if you can call it a spice), and sometimes its counterpart black pepper, but especially any of the various red peppers, hot sauces and salsas. I'm especially inclined to cover my pizza with the flaky red pepper seeds and skins that are so common to many Italian and pizza restaurants.

But since I tried the pizza at Emma's in Cambridge's Kendall Square, I've been a little bit obsessed with black pepper. Their pizza is excellent, and among the usual condiments on every table is a shaker dispenser of black pepper. This isn't your typical diner pepper shaker: this is a large container such as you might use for sprinkling parmesan. For some reason I thought I'd branch out and sprinkle some onto a piece of the plain cheese pie.

The results were amazing. Their pepper was ground into large, extremely aromatic chunks. My eyes (nostrils really, I guess) were opened to this spice as they never had been before. Ground black pepper, and lots of it, is excellent on cheese pizza.

I tried it out myself the next time we brought home a $5 Large Cheese from Dial-A-Pizza. Their value pies actually range from quite excellent to depressingly bland, depending on the day or possibly the mood of the cooks. In any case, it made a good test bed on which to unleash my oft-neglected grinder.

I covered a piece with a much finer grain of specks than I'd have liked. But my grinder didn't seem capable of producing the kind of chunks I was hoping for. Even though it sported some kind of brute adjustment, the largest specks were still far too small. The result tasted "OK," but lacked the magic. It could be I needed to get better pepper corns, too.

At some point last week, I noticed that the pepper grains were coming out a little bigger. Also, the grinder was harder to turn. Maybe I had stumbled across a patch of more rigid corns, although I did observe the machine getting nearly empty. I labored away and noticed larger black chunks appearing on my food. I shrugged; it did seemed better than before.

This morning while eating an excellent breakfast of blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs, I treated myself to some more of these beautiful black grindings. This time it was impossibly hard, however. I looked down at my food with a tad bit more focus and observed that the pepper chunks looked more like thin shards than the chaotic, craggy chunks you'd expect from demolishing a hard, dry berry.

I intuited something appalling, and opened my grinder to confirm the worry. A large piece of plastic, whose purpose was unclear, must have broken off inside the machine and had been resting on top of the pile of pepper corns. When the plastic reached the bottom, it succumbed to the grinder's teeth just as the berries did, mixing in the appearance of larger chunks of pepper while giving a decent elevation to my daily intake of hardened black plastic.

I have been feeling a little bit sick the past few days, and I can't help but wonder if it's related to my diet. Still, the eggs looked good under all that plastic, and I figured it wasn't anything I hadn't eaten before. But hopefully that's the last plastic pepper I have for a long time.