In the years after I became a professional baker and before dinner became My Dream come true (and also before I dared to spend time writing semi-publicly), I often described dinner as my hobby. I didn't knit, craft, jog, or make scrapbooks. I didn't garden or make jewelry. The closest to a hobby I'd ever had was sewing, but in those busy years I only sewed when I needed something made. Dinner was what I thought about, read about (I used to read cookbooks like novels), planned, and eventually made with my own two hands.
I've always been interested in food in general, with baking in particular being my steady pleasure until I became a professional (the plumber's leaky pipes phenomenon, you understand). But being up to my proverbial eyeballs in both for years meant that I wasn't dashing into the kitchen to whip up multiple angel food cakes for extra fun. (I was tired, people.) Baking was also knocked down the totem pole because I became committed during my bakery years to more healthful eating, perhaps as a consequence of sugar saturation. In fact, I staunchly maintain that working in a sweets bakery drove me to craving beans and vegetables. You can only taste so much butter cream and brownie batter before the scales must be righted or at least neutralized.
So, with my baking itch obviously scratched quite raw but my foodie nature needing an outlet, dinner was the antidote. It had to be done, and I could play there with food that was healthy, necessary, and not what I made all day long. And so it got my loving attention, becoming my vanishing domestic art medium that made life nourishing and lively.
Many a Sunday afternoon was spent on the couch with a stack of cookbooks and a note pad, trolling for what seemed appealing to eat in the coming week. The dreamy planning part was, and still is, as much fun as the cooking and eating, both because I'm a reading and research nerd and because it makes the cooking part smoother. Although I've found a more efficient way to plan our meals now, I still enjoy the process--and the anticipation it provides. I look forward each week to making the plans and each day to making the enticing plans real. The week's meal plan is really a menu of treats waiting for me to craft them into existence.
You might wonder how all this planning squares with the improvisation I claimed in my last post. I guess the answer is that I'm improvising or being creative in the planning process more than in the execution, which is progress for a recovering perfectionist.
Relative progress aside, the armpit of the afternoon is not the time for me to be challenging my glucose-starved brain cells to QUICK, think of a use for artichokes and pepper jelly, STAT. Sunday afternoon, when I'm freshly fed both physically and spiritually and have hours to dig up intriguing possibilities for that half a zucchini, is a much better time to be thinking about what's for dinner. And with the thinking done, the execution is more fun and less pressured. It's a win-win proposition.
Besides, isn't the puttering of the mind as well as the hands a component of a hobby? Back when I did sew as a hobby, before I had a child and a job at the same time, I did as much thinking about it, reading about it, and scouting for fabric for it, as I did actually sewing, a ratio that makes my current pattern sound about right. Or really nerdy. But I am who I am, and we eat really well, so who cares?
If a hobby is defined as an enjoyable activity involving tinkering and satisfaction rather than "work" and drudgery, then yes, dinner qualified for me. I skipped right past the undeniable need to eat regularly and made dinner an avocation, a source of experimentation and play, so much so that we seldom eat the same thing twice.
With all the time, effort, and money I've now put into Dinner: The Research Project (i.e., culinary school), I hope that Dinner the Hobby will someday, somehow grow into the right kind of more for me. Until that time, I'm lucky. I have a hobby that can be different and useful every day and even shared with others in quite a dreamy fashion. That's fine enough for now, because I have...
Dinner tonight: linguine with Brussels sprouts, Parmesan, and toasted walnuts; arugula, orange, and red onion salad with mustard pot dressing; apple crisp with vanilla ice cream.