While The Cat's Away Annette Will Play:
Annette: Frequent guests of The Middle Ages have come to expect a discerning discourse full of wisdom and affirmation as Barb and Deb share and dispense insight with equal parts perception and compassion. Well, with apologies, you won’t be getting any of that today as personally I ration my limited supply of wisdom and, good intentions notwithstanding, end up contributing little more than a meaningless gasp to most meaningful disclosures. But I’m happy to throw a story at you and will be delighted if you even find a hint of a lesson in it!
The husband and I are well on your way to being empty-nesters. While we’ve yet to find ourselves with too much time on our hands, we have had the occasional conversation about what we will do with all the time that used to be devoted to raising the four offspring. Our current shared hobbies involve things like travel and sourcing art so our tastes are a little too pricey and our retirement fund a little too dicey to occupy ourselves thus on an average day.
So our thoughts have turned to trying something new…If my women’s magazines are to believed, the benefits will be numerous. In addition to reinforcing our bond, we’ll stave off cognitive decline by forcing our brains to make new connections and our aging cells will find themselves charmed by the additional social interaction. Acknowledging the limitations of my personal maxim, which is to say if you can’t do it in high heels I don’t do it, after some consideration we settled on improving our culinary skills as our activity of choice since we both love fine food and often labour over a hot stove together. With thoughts of the ‘next level’ floating in our heads, we registered for a technique class at Williams-Sonoma demonstrating the use of a mandolin.
As we gathered on recent Saturday morning with our fellow class-mates, it became instantly apparent that we were the “newbies” in a sea of fanatical regulars. An obvious clique of the most solid sort, the students consisted of well-heeled women who, regardless of age, had a matronly air and a couple of men best described, if I may borrow from Dickens’s as "delicate creatures, whom a breath might have withered". When the chef, under whose tutelage we would be slicing it up, arrived, he was greeted by said regulars like an arriving rock-star. However, he was not, by any stretch, cut from the same cloth as the celebrity chefs that fill our TV. screens in that he lacked physical presence and exuded anxiety. In fact, his manner was such that I leaned in and whispered to my other half, “His nerves are worse than mine!” which I can assure you is a grim assessment indeed.
In due course the class began and “Roberto”, as the regulars cooed every five seconds on the five, began the demonstration. In a nod to my original call about his comfort level in front of a group, he mumbled and shook and generally screwed-up with awkward unease. It was one of those painful encounters wherein you wriggle with nervousness for someone just for bearing witness! (Spouse, who is a professor, in what would have to be an understatement of epic proportion, kindly assessed that he was not a natural teacher.)
The regulars didn’t seem to notice though as Roberto collapsed the mandolin mid-julienne, launched a red pepper into space and dropped, then discarded as he couldn’t get it back on, the guard designed to protect fingers from the guillotine-like blade. They were busy shouting out their own observations about their mandolins and how they use them at home to perfect effect. (Of course this begged the question as to why, if you had been using a mandolin like a pro for twenty years, you would attend a demo of same.) As they continued to interrupt with inane questions and comments, the husband observed they were all much like his students…constantly talking while the lesson was being taught and shouting out random bits of information in some tribute to their presumed mastery of the subject at hand such that they miss the lesson entirely.
As the class continued, Roberto used the mandolin to artfully slice the vegetables for a frittata which he proceeded to prepare in the special pan that has been created for that very dish for Williams-Sonoma by Calphalon. (If you want my opinion, I think shifting the $150.00 Calphalon Unison Slide Nonstick Frittata Pan Set was the real reason we had all been lured to the store early that weekend morn but will allow that’s just speculation on my part.) It consists of two interlocking pans that connect by handles that fit into one another allowing the pan to be flipped and the frittata to be completed directly on the stove eliminating the step whereby it would normally be placed in the oven to complete the cooking.
The demo of the pan set inspired incredibly detailed interrogation from the throng with one woman insisting that Roberto measure each of the pans so she could ascertain the exact dimension leading us to wonder is she was using a toaster oven at home. And another, upon hearing the brand name “Calphalon” earnestly inquired “Roberto, are those pans made of anodized aluminum layered over stainless steel?” which caused the spouse to hiss, equally earnestly, to the back of my head “Shut the f*ck up!” in recognition that no one would ever have any need for such knowledge. To our delight, it continued thus until the taste testing. I am pleased to report that what Roberto lacked in leading- man charisma, he more than made up for in sublimely delicious skill.
So what did our stab at shared self-improvement reap? Will our future be filled with mutual Le Cordon Bleu adventure? Ah…I’m going to say no! Even though we did deign to purchase a mandolin, I’m thinking our lives won’t change much beyond the fact that my fall pies will now be filled with apples sliced into perfect concentric circles. For having witnessed it, neither of us could imagine mustering the passion that these foodies brought to a mere mandolin demonstration. (God love ‘em…if a stack of sliced peppers inspires such unmitigated excitement how must they handle the spectre of a perfectly stuffed chicken breast?) So for foreseeable, the husband has returned to his poker and chess while I’ve returned to my gardening and party planning. Apparently, for now, we’ve got our own interests and never the twain shall meet… How about everyone else…anyone given a new activity a go recently? Love to hear how it went…and what, staying with the food theme, was your take-away?