July 29, 2013

Grocery Philosophy

Grocery shopping takes some philosophy.

Maybe I’m overstating it. Maybe it simply takes planning. Doesn’t really matter.  I find both pretty hard – philosophy and planning.

My grocery method is a non-method…

I fall into the category of ‘oh-look-pretty-shiny’. If it’s gorgeous, or on sale, my cart wheels its way over there…then over there, then over there…and then it gets parked, and I find myself just wandering through the produce. Which drains $100 from my pocket pretty quickly. But it’s good exercise.

I don’t know really what I want to buy. I probably need milk, tea, bread, tea, salad greens, tea…that’s what my shopping list looks like, if I get as far as a list.

My brother in law and his wife came across the country for a visit a few weeks back. And I pulled in all kinds of food for the week. It was a joy – from hummus and tabbouleh from my favourite place, to the fish from my favourite fish place, to the meat and eggs from my favourite place…that was a good day.

My brother in law is a FANTASTIC cook. And the knife doesn’t fall far from…the counter. His son is an executive chef. They’re vegetarian, or his wife is, and Bill’s meals are a delight.

But it was their grocery shopping that had me mouth breathing for a while. When we visited them about eight years ago, we went to the market with them one weekend morning. Before we went, there was a conference to determine the menu…for the whole week. I was in awe. We went. We shopped. Bing, bang, boom. Done.

As Sam explained, they live a ways from the nearest store so it’s a pain if you’ve forgotten the quinoa…We live three blocks from a main street. We can shop every day if we want – and often do. She also said that when she shopped without a list of menus, she threw a lot of food away…um…guilty gulp.

Only yesterday I threw out a box of organic greens that smelled more like organic sewage. And old watermelon chunks. And biggest crime of all - furry Rainier cherries. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

I guess there are personalities for shopping – or philosophies. And they can collide. Right in the aisle.

When Bill and Sam visited us a few years back, we went to a local grocery store to pick up stuff for dinner. I pushed the cart and wandered as I do from aisle to aisle in the produce section.
I saw stuff. I stopped. I’d put stuff in the cart. I’d walk over to the other side, around the corner and back…zig, zag…meander…and Sam snapped a gasket. She looked like a mother goose herding goslings. She got the cart back, got me/us focused on what we were doing there and off we went – bing, bang, boom…done.
My eyes were twinkling a bit as they do when I realize I’ve annoyed someone and I find it amusing that we have completely different approaches to something. I laughed…I think she did too…later…

Grocery shopping is something of a pleasure for me – I know it’s part of drudge work for some people and I get why. Even when I rush in for a litre of milk (yes, I’m in Canada, so it’s a litre), my feet brake suddenly as I pass the fruit or vegetables displayed near the door. I pull out my phone to take pictures of the beautiful eggplants or radishes.

And if I'm visiting anywhere, I must, must, must, find my way into a grocery store - foreign food stores are fantastic adventures.

It’s a thing for me. What is it? It’s not a philosophy and it certainly isn’t planning…it’s a visual pleasure – maybe it’s bounty, plenty, health, joy. And it slows me down. That can't be bad. Now all I have to learn is how to honour the best of that food that ends up in my cart before the rot sets in…And that’s veering dangerously near a philosophy… and a plan.

July 24, 2013

Deep Breath

Le Chef de l'Hôtel Chatham, Paris
Deep breath. It’s not as cold as I think. Go on…Dive in.

I’m going to chef school. This September.

It’s a culinary skills course. For a year. For a certificate.

And frankly, as everyone congratulates me on moving in a new direction, I’m terrified. But then, what else is new?

I’m 50 for crissakes. 

I make my own tomato sauce, salad dressing, and turkey stuffing…so what makes me think I can jump to the next level? Really. People think I’m a good cook. I read almost exclusively food books and cook books. But that does not qualify me to be a chef.

The hardest part of switching direction is trying to determine if this is the right path – if I’ll go for a month and then wake up one day saying this isn’t really what I want…or wake up one day and figure it’s too a)hard b)scary c)stupid d)authoritarian e)all of the above.

I don’t know if a chef demands I jump that I can just say how high…I’m not sure it’s in me.
I’m not sure I won’t look silly in the hat – okay…actually I’m excited about that part. And I think the chef whites will help temper my imposter syndrome.

And I’m not sure I want to go to school as the most definitely oldest student in the class. Or more realistically if I want to go to school with a bunch of kids – and yes…they could be my kids.

Out, out damn-ed doubt.

I went to the information night last fall (just back from Italy and still digesting tons of excellent food and even more excellent red wine – by the way, can anyone explain why I don’t get a headache from cheap red wine when I’m in Italy?) and listened to the chefs explain how the courses work, what to expect and how delighted they were they had chosen this line of work and that god probably created humans to become chefs – the chosen tribe. (and on that previous parenthesis thought – I wonder if red wine in France has the same effect?)

I went up to the chef who was giving most of the information to ask about the different types of programs and what I was thinking of doing – he said (with a straight face) that he’s had a lot of people come through the program in their 30s and also a fair number in their 40s who were thinking of changing direction – he’s even (and this was where the straight face thing came into play) had one person in their 50s.

I just looked at him and nodded…but inside I had fled through the door, out into the rainy, cold October night, with that familiar feeling of just not belonging…

What a freak. A flighty, quirky, weird sort…
Oh well…so I’m flighty…

I thought about it through the winter and into the spring – and a couple of weeks before my 50th birthday, one evening, impulsively, I filled out the form – my finger hovered over the ‘Submit’ button…and I pressed down. I felt that metallic cold flush of fear like I’d just made a huge error.
I looked at Steve with my eyes wide and he just said, ‘What?’ – ‘I think I just applied for chef school.’

Steve, being Steve, just smiled. Then he said, ‘good for you’.

How I love that man.

So now the tuition is paid and I’m wrestling with the stupid, self-important educational bureaucracy, and going to orientation in just over a month. Next week I have to register for my courses and the next day have to take a placement test for English (yes, really – two degrees including one in journalism – although any journalist and especially editor will tell you that has no bearing on the quality of my English) and a test in math (just gulped). 

Of course it’s not a totally new direction. And no, I don’t want to be a Chef…no, I don’t want to work in a restaurant or, god forbid, an industrial kitchen…I want to write about food. And I want the cred to do it.

I’ve blogged on and off for a few years, but that ain’t going to cut it with what I think I want to do.
I have a project, or two, in mind for after I’m done. And they’re big.

But for now, baby steps, just drop myself into a place where I feel I know nothing – Just be there to learn…that’s my zen goal for now… how to chop an onion, how to make sauces, how to roast a chicken…and working in those beautiful, new, professional kitchens…hey maybe the excitement could actually douse the fear…maybe…staying tuned.