August 09, 2013

The Food Life

Many years ago, just before I turned 40, a friend wanted to go to the driving range. It was one of those muggy summer nights when you can’t really think of sleeping, when the air is soft but thick on your skin - like velvet, and the stadium lights have a glow around them.

I hadn’t hit anything with a golf club in years. We had hacked around at various driving ranges once in a while, the way most of us go bowling or try curling…to say we’d done it, to be bad at it, to laugh our asses off.

But this night meant heading to the driving range with someone who was born to golf - who had put in his 10,000 hours before he turned 20. And so, my competitive spirit and fear of humiliation kicked in. And I wanted to be good at it. In my late 30s…like…sure.

I think most of us want to pursue stuff we’re good at – it makes us feel good - no, competent, when a lot of the world is so competitive that feeling incompetent or unsure is more the norm than not. So I approached the range with a great deal of dread. And excitement.

I had been watching golf tournaments for years. I loved the mental part of the game, the skills, and that the players were playing a game against the course, and themselves. But play? No. And for good reason.

My dad was a golfer which made Mum a golf widow. We moved to a house in the middle of nowhere because it was close to his golf course. Weekends were about waiting for Dad to finish his game and his social time at the club. He took the car…we waited at home. That was the kind of time it was. Mad men…

And one year after we’d moved in, Dad left. He took the car, his clubs, his stuff, and the smell of golf stayed rancid in the house. Golf was never really mentioned as a bad thing…but as a kid I just got the vibe. No. I had no intention of playing.

So that summer night we got our buckets of balls and walked over to the tees, I had no expectations.

My friend handed me his 7-iron. He put a ball on the tee. ‘Hit it,’ he said.

I stepped up. I swung the club back and down and through, and the ball sailed into the night air.

He stood and looked at it. Then he grabbed another ball, put it on the tee, and said, ‘do that again.’

So …I did. And again, it went sailing into the night air.

He jumped up from his chair and hugged me. ‘You’re a natural,’ he said. ‘Who says watching golf doesn’t teach you anything?’

A lot of life is like that – yes, I just said golf is a metaphor for life. Yes I did.

I was thinking about this today. I am a late bloomer. I’ve always said that. I think it has to do with learning to be comfortable with risk – which took me a very, very long time. In fact, way into my 30s.

Life really does evolve – in surprising ways. In my rolling rock of life, I found myself learning about things I never, ever thought I was capable of learning – I loved journalism and writing my whole life (but I didn’t jump in until I was 28 and couldn’t find anything else to do), and that, by serendipity, took me into science (which I had dropped in grade 10), which led to international travel to some of the world’s most fascinating spots, which led me into health journalism (and got me through my phobia about medicine and doctors and the word ‘probe’ and any word ending in ‘-oscopy’), and brain science…I used to write on my resume that if my science teachers were dead, they’d be spinning in their graves. And the stress of that life – it ain’t all glamour like you may think – led me to just start running one day. And suddenly I was getting into uber fit mode…and uber eating mode.

So then, my love of food and a need to understand its meaning. I really can’t tell you where that came from. The obsession.

I think it was born when I finally figured out that it’s okay to be true to what you want in life.

It started with finding a nook in a bookstore and leafing through cookbooks. This was before the Food Network. Then with food tv I picked up tons of tips and ways and means of doing things – like rubbing my fingers on the sink after chopping garlic to rid them of the smell, or the virtues of browning meat on the stovetop before popping it in the oven - from Julia to Ina, from Alton to Emeril…I picked up stuff and put it away in my brain. And the food magazines started forming towers in the living room.

But it was more than that – because it was touching an emotional chord in me. I loved cooking and feeding my friends. What was underpinning that? I remember when I started this food blog back in 2006, I actually had to look up what a blog was, then what a food blog was, and suddenly I found tons of people sharing their food lives online. Like an underground community or tribe. That was 7 years ago. I had no idea it would lead me here.

Food is a way to show kindness. Love, I guess. To be generous - even to myself. To get the thrill that comes with the magic. Taking six things, or less, and mixing them – and suddenly the alchemy of say tomato, garlic and fresh basil explodes beyond the individual ingredients.

But if I’m being completely honest, making food was not only a way to show love, but to get love back.

Tasting reminds me of listening. Have you noticed that?

I picked up my chef uniform this week – two tunics, two chef hats, one pair of chef pants and two aprons. And I find it a tad ironic that as I jump into chef school and its complex French cuisine, I find myself trying to cook at home with fewer and fewer ingredients. You know finding a place for each individual ingredient to shine and yet work in concert with others. To enhance and nurture the best out of everything, not diminish it or squelch it into blandness.

Yes, I just said cooking is a metaphor for life. Yes I did.

So the big question is –is it ever too late to start on the next 10,000 hours? It better not be…I'll go have a look at the PGA Championship. Tiger's on the tee.