Saturday, January 11, 2014

Piano lessons and pies and sausage gravy and technique and doing what you love versus not

My parents started me in piano lessons when I was five. I am learning now that that age was ridiculously young to start piano lessons. Here I thought that starting Leif at age nine was ridiculously late and that he would spend his life lamenting - "well I could have been a piano prodigy, but you never listened to me". He has been asking for lessons since he was four or five. And yes, it took me four to five years to buy a piano and find a teacher.

Anyways, when my mom interviewed my piano teacher she told my mom "I do this as an avocation, not a vocation." Or I might have reversed this... whatever - basically she told my mom that she does this to make money, not because she particularly enjoys it.

Lately, as Leif has started lessons with Mr. Hopkins, I wonder about Mrs. Connoly. She was a funny French woman. She only drank "fresh" juice - if "fresh" is defined as coming from the can in the frozen aisle. Her husband sat in his recliner daily smoking a pipe.

Anyways, I thought about this phrase - doing something for money and not for the love of it - recently. I think a lot of people do this in many forms. For many, they work their current jobs because they have to, not because they love it. I am lucky, I am in a spot right now where I really love what I am doing. I haven't always had that and I don't have any expectations that I will always have it in the future.

So if you know me or my blog, you know I got my degrees in chemistry. I admit it - shhh - I don't love chemistry. But it enables me to do what I love to do in my job. I know this seems like a weird dichotomy to some. But molecular equations don't drive me. Applications of science in general, that drives me.

Many chemists also love to cook. It makes complete sense. If you enjoy building stuff from the elements, then you might also enjoy building your food from scratch. I do. Lots.

I love to cook. I love hearty, winter foods. Short ribs, gravies, roasts, ducks, chickens... I actually like cooking more than I like chemistry and I sometimes think I could have made a career being a chef. Except that I don't smoke. And I can't seem to stay up after 9pm. And I am not tattooed.

I also have my list of things I love to eat... pie, pot pie, breads, scones, muffins... pastry based items of all types. But here is my downfall (aside from the fattening aspect)... I love eating them but I turn into an evil beast when making them. I have a keen understanding that it is all about technique. And I get the technique and well understand that there are no substitutes for cold butter, cream, and getting  your hands dirty. And that the rub method (cited by CIA - that's the CULINARY Institute of America, not the other org) is the only way to go and that a food processor turns good butter and flour to a warm meal. Blah blah blah.

I can do it. I can make an amazing pie because I understand the technique and I can execute it. And I love to eat pies, but a real treat is one produced from people who understand the technique as well, that it isn't always all about the filling, because I am a snob like that. (But I never turn down pie as a general rule.) It wasn't until I embraced the technique and quit looking for work arounds to getting my hands dirty that my baking world changed. So I can do it. But man I don't love doing it.

I like doing it ok most of the time because I love the results. But I could NOT make my life as a pastry chef.

Every year (or so) AB and I do pot pies. They are freaking amazing. And I know why they are amazing. They take a few days. Rubbed pastry. Cooked carcasses. A perfect roux. And veggies cooked just right. Results are amazing. And every year we do a bigger and bigger batch. Except last year. Because I was pregnant and unwilling to do what I really really don't like. Make double pie crust after double pie crust after double pie crust. This year I was a little more pliable and looked forward to the deliciousness. But last Saturday night I went into a spiral. Four pot pies down and filling for at least another four (I was thinking about them as gifts or for donation to the church to give to families after a life event). And I raged. A little.

Result is that now I have four pies in the freezer and four bags of filling in the freezer.

So anyways. That's my lesson. Vocation vs. avocation. One you love, one you do because you have to. I make pastry because I have to eat it. It is a must. But I don't love doing it.

As an aside and what got me thinking about this, this morning, particularly in concert with Leif's piano lessons (which he did his second last night) - was my need for biscuits and gravy. WTF? I don't eat biscuits and gravy. I have never made freaking biscuits and gravy. Ok - I made biscuits in Home Ec. But not something I make at home regularly. But I embraced the challenge this morning.

Biscuits in a classic method - a-freaking-mazing. And no, I have never actually made sausage gravy. But I know the technique quite well and have sausage that has never seen a store. Came straight from the butcher.

Finished and my husband fell at my feet. I rock. But don't ask me to do it again for at least a few months.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Happy New Year

I am not a huge fan of New Years. I am usually still trying to let go of recover from Christmas. Then there is that pending birthday that arrives a mere week later. Not to mention that as a government employee I am kind of left pondering ‘haven’t we already started 2014, like 3 months ago?’ Oh and then AB and I have a long history of crappy New Year’s Eve celebrations too – at least back when those NYE celebrations seemed to actually matter. When we cared about going out and not staying in. A thing of the past now.
Now, we would rather stay in.
This year we hauled the trailer out for a winter camping trip and had a great time. Hanging with the kids in the trailer on New Year’s Eve – exactly what I wanted and needed. It won’t be long before they will be off running to hang with their friends for the holiday. I need to gobble up the ones now where they actually want to be with us. With Leif approaching 10 I see only a handful of family New Year’s Eves left.
I told the kids they could stay up until midnight. And so we all set about around the tiny trailer table with snacks and board games. Then we started Monopoly. And then AB and I started getting tired. We knew exactly what needed to be done – a movie. Then at 10:20 pm AB was transporting sleeping kids to their bunks. And we headed off to bed. There was some mumbling to the kids about “yes, it is midnight”.
It was perfect.
I don’t like resolutions – I am doomed to fail at resolutions. I like the idea of setting goals. I guess they seem less rigid and doomed to failure for some reason. I haven’t even introduced the kids to the idea of resolutions yet either. I kind of find myself hmm’ing and covering my ears when I hear about “resolution time”. Oh and I am also reminded of how dreadful it will be in getting three kids into the health club for swimming lessons…
My goals this year:
This year I would like to work on the Master Bedroom – get it painted and organized. Figure out some furniture that will solve problems in that room. Refocus on a place for us. Silas is moved out and into his bedroom (except for the changing station, which is still there as a matter of convenience). I also want to boot the older kids out of the Master bath. If I boot their toys that litter my shower, will they follow? They each have a bathroom with a bathtub and shower. (Yes, spoiled kids.) I think they should use them instead of the soaking tub / swimming pool and the falling apart standalone shower that I keep eyeing as a reno project.
I also need to lose the baby weight and get back to exercising. “They” say that there is always time for exercise, that you should make time. I would challenge someone to look at my schedule and current situation and help me figure out where that time is and what should suffer for that time slot. It is my goal for the year – it isn’t going to happen immediately. But maybe once Silas is sleeping through the night I can consistently get up 40 mins early to exercise like I used to and not feel totally sleep deprived. Those blanket statements that come from people that are something like “if you really wanted it, you would find time for it” really piss me off. As a working mom of three children ranging in age from 9 months to nearly 10 years old I will be the first to tell you that everyone has different needs and priorities. I do want to work out, and it is my goal to find time in 2014, but I also need to keep my head above water.
The other day at church one of the guest speakers was talking about goals and planning for the year – keeping organized in your life and finding passion. A lot of what he said struck me and I walked away with a lot of tidbits. One of my favorites though is that to add something new in your life that most of us need to say goodbye to something else. I don’t have spare time. I don’t get bored. I don’t do a lot of mundane tasks. The 3-4 hours of TV I watch a week are on Friday and Saturday evenings when AB and I can sit together on the couch. It doesn't happen any other time. I can’t just fill time with things I want to do. Something needs to give in order for me to add anything in.
One tradition I had with my mom was shopping after Christmas sales. I had intended to haul Skadi out with me after Christmas this year to shop. She likes to shop. But then I started looking at the store options here and figured I would hit Target for the stuff I actually needed and forego the actual going to the mall shopping mindlessly event. And she is a good shopper, but not THAT good yet. Not good enough for endurance shopping.
But then I started to miss shopping. And even moreso I started despising my clothes. And seeing big gaps in my uber tightly packed closet – go figure. I needed new clothes. The tradition that my mom and I had ate a hole into me that needs filled. I finally gave in and went online and shopped. New clothes!! Yay! I love winter clothes, but I really love winter clothes on sale…
So that is about it for my New Years celebration…
Spent it with my bickering kids, couldn’t have been better. A few goals for 2014, they aren’t resolutions. And some new clothes. Now back to the regularly scheduled 2014!
Oh - and Happy New Year!