Learning, Mastering, Mentoring

When I was six I learned to turn on the oven and make one of those canned cinnamon roll thingies that you bang on the counter. I was not allowed to put it in to or take it out of the oven. At age eight I had the Betty Crocker Boys and Girls Cookbook and made theme parties for our little brother: Kings and Queens; and a Pirate Treasure Hunt. With theme cakes and costumes and…. treasure!

Yes, I learned how to use a knife, a dull one, make grilled cheese, pancakes, toast and carrot curls.

In high school I started reading Gourmet. After college I went into the rat race then quit after nearly ten years. I spent my life savings on cooking school and it has served me well for 30 years. Shop the outside of the aisles. Inside only for needed rice and dry pasta. And tinned San Marzano tomatoes if in northern climates. I made my way through James Beard, Julia Child, Simca Beck, and the best authors of local/global cuisine including Piero in Italy.

I love teaching kids how to taste new things by making 10 toppings for pizza dough I made beforehand, give them the dough to roll out and top and place in the oven. Then I have them make their own dough to rise in their refrigerator overnight. Mentoring. Learning.

Time in the field, it was done. Fingers in hot sugar syrup. 700 degree loaves of bread to rack with bare hands. I did it all and learned so much throughout the process, that continues even though I am retired from my consulting career (non-food) and make food for my husband, dog and family and friends.

I have never lost the touch in any of my careers. Research, legislation, getting a crosswalk installed, then get re-painted two years later. Food is a never-ending passion, to learn something from the produce manager or butcher is a gift, every day. I’m the only client who brings in Pedernales chili or beef carbonnade for tasting.

People may get a bit rusty in their skills but if they’ve got the heart and guts, know what they’re dealing with they can brush up in a heartbeat. Trouble is, those who don’t know, pretend to know. They can’t learn what I learned over forty years in a weekend. Are my knife skills a little slow because of arthritis, or perhaps I had another profession for 12 years? Yes. Do I know more than any young cook about cooking and other endeavors? Yes.

My husband is the son of a dairyman and a nurse. He milked cows. No, I never did (fed one twin on formula in a 5 gallon bucket because cows shun a twin). When people interview my husband and find out his background and that his parents wanted him to go to college and graduate with a premier scientific degree and leave the farm, they want to hire him right away.

We are honest, forthright, and do not toot our own horns. What you see is what you get. I tried to get our old dog a “job” visiting hospice and was told no. Why? It’s not her sunny personality that has made her our neighborhood mascot. It’s that she eats frozen raw food and they think she’ll transmit disease. She’s nearly 12 years old, 80 in “people years.” I’m not going to change her food now, as it’s the only thing she’s been willing to eat since she was six months old.

We’re a family of mentors and there’s a crop of new pups. Perhaps she should mentor them in doggie etiquette. And how to steal a steak off a cutting board. Yes, every time I sent her to doggie camp she came back with a new bad habit, especially when they placed her as a pup with the older, docile ones. Cheers! Dee

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