Friday, August 17, 2012

Any Way You Slice It



 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?


28 comments:

  1. Dearest reades, dearest Annette!!! We posted Annette's blog before we left and SOMETHING HAPPENED!!! We have no idea wwhat. Thanks to a well timed perusal of the blog and a long distance chat with Colin we managed to ( or rather Colin managed to) get it up for us. No chance/way to fix little booboos , but This is a doozy and doesn't need ornamentation. Now to breakfast!!! Love to all, Barbara and Deb xoxo

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  2. Wow. It really does take a trial run to figure out if you're going to stick with something or not. Sort of reminds me of college...newbies trying to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

    My sister tried to teach me how to knit. I enjoyed it, but ended up growing very frustrated because I just couldn't get the hang of it. So I've let it be for now but maybe one day I'll pick it back up again. She does her things and I do mine. :] Great story!

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    1. Kelly, I used to knit as kid and somewhere along the way lost the ability. When I watched people knit now, I can't fathom how people do it. But to your point, if you find you way back to it some day, you might discover you love it. I've learned trying new things at different stages in your life sometimes yields a different outcome. I mean before my mandolin demo, I used to cut veggies with a knife, you should see me work that little machine now! Though I'll allow, it's not quite knitting! :)

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  3. I don't cook so I had no idea what a mandolin was in the beginning. I thought it was some type of fruit and then realized it was a knife. Am I right? Also, I won't buy any pan with non stick surfaces as they contain many toxins. Great story about empty nest. For my empty nest, I got a divorce.:)

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    1. Madgew, laughed aloud at your "I got a divorce!" That will certainly save on the cost of classes for two! :) However, both the husband and I already have one of those each under our belts so a trip to Williams-Sonoma seemed less drastic. And you are right, a mandolin is a slicing aid...I hadn't ever used one but saw Martha Stewart extolling their use on one of her shows one morning. She made it sound like our lives would be better forever if we mastered the 'blade'. So when I saw the class being advertised, I figured we could give it a go. Like many things Martha, she may have over-promised but as I said, I'm looking forward to making perfectly filled apple pies come fall! I'll let you know how they turn out! Thanks for the chuckle!

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    2. " I don't cook so I had no idea what a mandolin was in the beginning. I thought it was some type of fruit and then realized it was a knife." I thought she was talking about a musical instrument! :)

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  4. Hi there Annette!!

    Strangely I seem to have the oppsite problem facing me at the moment. I am a loner and prefer being on my own. But come next month I will have a room mate at college. I have never had a room mate before so I am going to see how things go. But I think the idea of getting out and doing things together would help us get to know each other quite well : ) Can't wait to see what sort of outing we will get into come September : )

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    1. Kelly, hi right back...Actually my husband is a bit of loner himself...He needs space and privacy to think....partly as he's usually working on high-level analysis but also because he's wired that way too. I just give him space when I can see he needs it.
      And good luck with the roommate. That's always an interesting dynamic as you find yourself with someone not because of a desire but because of a shared need. That said, I've watched my kids interact with roommates over the past few years and, with one or two exceptions, it's been a great experience. I think it's a great idea to do something outside the confines of just living together to get to know each other better. Good luck with the new situation. Hope it all goes well!

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  5. Ah, Annette...

    And Magdew made me laugh.

    Wait, I'm sorry, Annette. Did you think there was more to that comment, "Ah, Annette?" I thought that said it all. ;)

    Every few months -- okay, maybe once a year. . . hmmm, maybe once every two years... hubby and I will do something really outdoorsy and out of character together (okay, fine we take a little hike)and it's like this miracle of romantic renewal. And we say, "we should do this more often!" and then we do it again, two years later. Maybe that's what creates that miraculous feeling. The two year gap.

    Mostly, we just clap as the other does their little hobbyish tricks. :)

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    1. As do we Gae...clap for each other's hobbyish tricks I mean...and therein lies the whole motivation for this shared adventure. Beyond me always being willing to spend the guy's poker winnings, I really don't have much invested in his pursuits. (And even though I benefit financially from his way with a hand, I actually can't will myself to listen to how a game unfolded much less learn how to play it. I'm constantly having to ask my son, who's patience with me is infinite, what is the significance of the information re poker that the husband has just relayed.) That hiking thing sounds like something we might be able to manage though...once every two years you say....hmmm!
      Significantly, after this little foodie exploit, in a nod to my life long desire to learn how to sew, the spouse went out and bought me a sewing machine. I think it's cause he's worried I'll ask him to do more stuff together and the machine should keep me too busy to do so!

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  6. I had a mandolin for a long time that I used fairly regularly, got over confident, gaurd slipped and I sliced the pad of my my finger off. Now, besides having no fingerprint on that finger, I bought a high end multiblade food proccssor. It doesn't slice quite as neatly as my mandolin did but if the choice is imperfect crinkle cut potatoes vs perfect crinkle cut finger tips I'm going for the food proccesor!

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    1. Oh my Lord Erin...That is just plain awful! And it's certainly certainly cast a dark shadow over my vision of those perfect pies....

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  7. Fabulous story Annette! It was a fun read and I was laughing as I pictured the class in my mind.

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    1. Thanks Molly...You are always so gracious on here...I appreciate the kind comment.

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  8. Souzan Rezai from Vancouver, BCAugust 17, 2012 at 2:39 PM

    I am the chickadee that emptied my parents beautiful nest... I really like having avenues to ''see'' from their perspective more. My parents are pretty great at being buddies and doing things together, but when I came back home to Vancouver from school in Toronto, and then moved out for reals (not just dorming while away, and then home for all the holidays)... I noticed a certain...manic-need-to-love-me-ness from my parents. Of course it was more pronounced from my mother. I think it's a prerequisite to be a mother.. >;)
    For Christmas my brother and I bought them fancy dance classes- something they've both been interested in- together, from an amazing studio that was a series of small group ballroom lessons, ending with a small formal and then a big fancy ball. They were super excited about starting it.
    This was two years ago. They're still 'super excited about starting it'...

    Fortunately, the studio really is lovely and they're lessons will ''never expire, come whenever you feel like dancing'', but I couldn't understand why they didn't use this perfect opportunity to have a new thing to do, and meet new people, but heck they're big kids and can do as they please. And since, they've been biking like crazy people, all over the city, ALL OVER THE CITY and giving me a great taste of what it must have been like when I got a drivers license and couldn't be prevented from getting into this death machine on streets of crazy. If it was up to me, they would bike to the end of their street and back. I make them text me when they cross the bridge. I told my mom that unless my dad is there too, she has to walk her bike across the busy streets...
    And I think it all just showed me that maybe there isn't a smooth easy way to transition from empty nest? Sometimes they seem awesome; content and stimulated. Sometimes they seem...bored? Not the right word, but stuck, and it feels like the way that they miss us- their kids- IS a little manic. For me, it's hard to know how to make boundaries, how to both be there for them, and not always be with them because, well, seeing them once a week is kinda pretty good to me?

    I loved your maxim, Annette, and really short of swimming, what can't be done in heels? I hope exploring new things to do is a fun process for you both, however it progresses

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    1. Souzan, are you surprised to learn I'm a terrible swimmer? How I laughed at your parent's long-term 'super-excitement'. Speaking for myself, I actually enjoy the anticipation and hang on to gift cards forever while I mull over the possibilities. I know dance lessons are slightly different from that but I think I would have gotten caught in the same cycle your parents may have. First, you have to decide when, then you actually have to make it happen, then your excitement fades and is replaced by a vague intimidation and soon two years have passed. It's the same with the sewing machine my husband got me. It's been in the house for two weeks and it's still in the box. I wrote a great pal, who is an accomplished seamstress, on Facebook wailing as to how I now have this fully loaded machine courtesy of the husband's largesse..., and I don't know how to sew so I'm just so nervous about it... She made me die laughing when she wrote back I was obviously married to a total b*stard. I guess the point is the thought of learning newer things gets more challenging as the years fly past...
      Thanks for your great post...

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  9. Cooking is a hobby that I have recently picked up. Mainly because....well, I have to eat! But I really enjoy it. I wish I had time to take classes or something, but between university and work, I have no time for it. When I have a day to relax, I try to explore my town a bit. I recently found some shops that I now love and had never been to before.
    I also travel a little. If I can't drive there, then I don't go there. I take day trips so I don't spend a lot of money that way and I research the places a lot before I go. If I am staying overnight, then I call around and find out which hotels have the best deals and things like that.
    Great post! Happy Friday, everyone!

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    1. Steph, I think that's one of the great parts about improving your culinary skills...It's something you will really use and that can enhance the quality of your life...if that doesn't sound overblown. Hopefully the future will be such that you can work in some formal classes. In the meantime, you should treat yourself to one of the great mags devoted to the subject...For under $20.00 you can pick up two years of Cooking Light or something similar. Every month a world of possibility drops in your mailbox! Thanks for comment and have a great weekend. :)

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  10. Poor man having to deal with that every week! I would have been wincing through that too. :\

    To be honest, I have no idea WHAT I'll do when our kids fly the nest in seven or eight years. I'm certainly not a natural cook! I'd definitely like to travel more, though. I'd quite like to try archery, too, after watching the Olympics. I guess I'll do whatever takes my fancy. :) Thanks for the interesting post!

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    1. Oh Roz...the Olympics...doesn't everything look beyond alluring when you see it performed by masters of the sport? How cool would it be to take up a sport such as archery? Good for you if it comes to pass. If your kids aren't off for another several years though, I wouldn't give it a moments thought rather I would celebrate the wonderful years you still have ahead with your youngsters. It all passes so fast...that much I can tell you.

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  11. What a neat story, Annette! Sounded more like a circus than a class, I think, but that just makes it all the more entertaining. Thanks for sharing it with us!

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  12. Thank you so much for the laugh! That was a much-needed break from reality for me.
    As for a class or learning something new, I keep saying I'm going to take a class along the lines of "Car engines for Women," or something like that. Sort of a "No, I know THAT's not what's wrong with my car, so you ain't charging me a million dollars to fix something that ain't broke" type of thing. Someday...

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  13. I'm just happy the phrase "$150.00 Calphalon Unison Slide Nonstick Frittata Pan Set" was used in this post. I'm easily pleased.

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  14. haha, I thought you meant the musical instrument, and was so confused, when I read about the red pepper and the other vegetables. I'm so stupid! :D

    I love to cook myself, and try out new recipes...

    Haven't started anything new, but I think I have quite a lot of hobbies, so I'm fine with that!

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story!

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  15. Thank you, Annette! This was dead brilliant, as usual, and mandolin-sliced me a perfect series of laughs. I can just picture you two at the class, ready and earnest to give it your best shot, and then having all those great intentions deflate like a souffle that's been pulled too soon from the oven. Phil and I are still firmly entrenched in the "this is my hobby, that is yours" mode of play. Oh, trust me, there is PLENTY we do together that's fun, but we haven't quite gotten there with the hobbies yet...

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    1. Barb, here's the punch line I didn't use...I was paying for the mandolin and Dietrich was busying himself purchasing a several more of the pro grade Wusthofs. He already has a complete set of Henkels but he has a thing for knives...and coincidentally that line of Chris Rocks, "If you've never stood in front of the mirror and practiced your alibi, you've never been in love!" which I'm sure is just an odd coincidence. Anyway, the free class cost close to $800.00.

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  16. Loved all the comments. This was a funny story and I am still laughing.

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    1. As am I Madgew on accounta your perfectly timed, "I got a divorce!" :)

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