I am a shift-worker. I spend half my life working 12 hours overnight, stuck staring at a bank of computer monitors near the top of a downtown office building. To most, the concept of working long hours and flipping constantly between day and night schedules sounds awful. It is.
Most of my colleagues would agree that one of the worst aspects of shift-work is the effect it has on diet. Most shift-workers, especially in my particular industry, eat a lot like college freshmen, partially out of habit and the tendency toward listless snacking that accompanies the long stretches of tedium inherent in a lot of shift-work positions.
There are, of course, other reasons that many of us could cull most of our meals from the isles of any decent convenience store. Given the relative preciousness of sleep when your lifestyle demands that you constantly screw with your Circadian Rhythm, few of us are willing to wake even an hour early to prepare something worthwhile to take to work. Life typically consists of wake-commute-work-commute-sleep-repeat while in the middle of a five week rotation. Eating is just something we wedge in between those basic functions.
Couple that with the fact that downtown Houston looks an awful lot like Chernobyl by about 7 p.m., and we're left to eat whatever we manage to grab from the pantry, the grocery store, or the drive-thru on the way in to work.
Then, I had a revelation. It occurred to me one day, while dwelling on this vicious cycle, that one of shift-work's most troublesome aspects - long hours with few people around - could help me improve the way I eat on shift.
Despite having no kitchen, just a small room with a refrigerator and a sink, I decided to begin preparing meals at work, using the downtime to my advantage. We're there for 12 hours, after all, certainly enough time to be able to make something decent. The other guys on my shift, all too eager to eat a bit better themselves, agreed to shoulder a bit more of the workload when I'd throw together dinner.
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With one small electric hot-plate, one electric skillet, and a convection oven/microwave combo, the possibilities aren't exactly endless, but I've managed to make some pretty decent dinners. I try to keep things relatively simple, because, well, I'm still at work. Twenty-course menus pulled from The French Laundry Cookbook are probably out.
I recently made one of my all-time favorites, Pasta Carbonara, along with some asparagus slathered with tarragon butter and thrown under the broiler element in the micro-vection thing. I used every piece of equipment in the house, rendering bacon (guy who cries foul at the substitution for guanciale, screw you) in the skillet while a pot of water boiled for pasta on the dinky electric coil.
For those of you who aren't familiar, Carbonara couldn't be easier. It's basically pasta tossed with bacon, parm, and beaten eggs. Toss it quickly, so the heat of the pasta cooks the eggs, thickening into a silky sauce. Top with more parm and plenty of black pepper. Everyone loves it; it's bacon and eggs, as pasta. It's also easily doable, even in a tiny non-kitchen.
As for what's on the menu next, I'm open to suggestion. Feel free to leave some ideas in the comments.