Saturday, June 13, 2009

Culinary schools, and giving myself permission

Several years ago, maybe ten, I announced to Jeannie that I wanted something different in my life and I was going to enroll in the night and weekend classes of the Fort Worth Culinary School. "Do you know it costs $2,000?" she asked. I did, and I wasn't fazed--but then when I read about buying your own knives and equipment, etc. I began to lose enthusiasm. Besides the hours, added to my full-time work day would have been really long. Well, I've just read a book titled The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, by Kathleen Flinn. It convinced me I made the right decision. And I know now that my feet and back could never take the culinary life.
Kathleen Flinn, a writer in her mid-thirties, enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu (Colin and Lisa took a one-day class there on a European trip, but I'm sure it was very different). Flinn was supported in this decision by a boyfriend who put his own life on hold to move to Paris with her. In this memoir, often in the first person, she recounts her cooking experiences, her growing involvement with Mike (and eventual marriage), and their explorations of Paris. It all adds up to fascinating reading, though the cooking parts were the most interesting to me. The cuisine is classic French of course, complicated, with sauce after sauce, meat stuffed with meat. And the chefs are demanding and relentless in their criticism, often humiliating a student when their creation turns out to be less than perfect. Once in Basic, a chef tells her she's wasting her time. (I know I couldn't handle that part!). There are three levels--Basic, Intermediate, and Superior. And Flinn, now Mrs. Kozar, makes it all the way through Superior, but not without some very bad moments--like the time when as a Superior student she forgot to pre-heat her plate, a basic lesson from Basic. One bonus: students may take home what they cooked that day for dinner, though sometimes she gives her food to homless people. Mike sometimes longs for pizza, especially after three consecutive meals of stuffed veal as she prepares for her Superior final, which she ends up taking while deathly ill. And she and Mike cope with houseguests, some unwanted and rude. But she tells it all easily and with humor.
A recipe ends each short chapter--many are the Cordon Bleu recipes, way too complicated even for my love of cooking, but some are from friends and one, when she has the grippe (French for flu) is for basic chicken soup. Did I learn much useful about cooking from this book? No, but I sure wish I could bone a whole chicken, let a lone a turkey, with the skin intact. But did I enjoy reading it. Yes, a whole lot.
Oh, and the sharper knife--it's not that it hurts less when you cut yourself (some Cordon Bleu students suffer lots of cuts and burns) but that chopping an onion makes you cry less. In the end, it's pretty clear she will go back to journalism, but she has followed her passion for cooking and concludes that "the sharper your knife" also means that you can cut away those things that get in the way of your passion and of living your life the way it's meant to be lived. I think I need a sharper knife.
Tonight I gave myself permission to beg off an evening to which I had basically invited myself. I got an invitation to an exhibit opening at a small museum in Weatherford, called friends who I knew would be going, and they said they'd be delighted to pick me up. But today was an off day--in spite of starting it with a most cheerful Jacob--and I was antsy much of the day. Part of me dreaded going to the opening, thinking about the rough parking lot I'd have to negotiate, the fact that I'd only know two or three people, the fact that truly it was an exercise in putting myself out there when I'd be happier at home. But then of course guilt crept in--if I am not careful, I will become a recluse in retirement. Home is so comfortable. Finally, though, I gave myself permission to do what felt right, stayed home with a cold chopped sirloin sandwich, a glass of wine, and a bowl of raspberries. Oh, that's another thing--the exhibit was on rodeo, which I would have enjoyed, but they were serving barbecue--definitely not on Weight Watchers. I think my trouble is less that I decided not to go but that I agonize so over such decisions. That's where I need the sharper knife.

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