Two things happened at once this week.
The first is that I reached the section in Leith’s Technique Bible (which I’m learning cover to cover this year) on presentation.
The second is that my toddler went completely insane.
For those readers who aren’t parents, let me be the one to break the news to you that periodically children go a bit wrong. Whether they’re having a growth spurt or connecting a few particularly tricky neurons, they temporarily take leave of their senses and turn into a tiny ball of misery and destruction. Dutch researchers who’ve looked into the phenomenon euphemistically call these times “Wonder Weeks”.
There is a corresponding effect that occurs in parents. It’s a combination of sleep deprivation and being kept constantly off balence by your toddler’s mood swings and bizzare requests. I’m not aware of any scientific studies of this phenomenon, but if I had to use a similarly euphemistic name, I’d call it, “A Period of Adaptability”. As in adapting to no showers, a dirty house, and increasingly strange and desperate ‘meal’ ideas.
Let me sum the situation up in a single scene:
MJ was helping me carry Zool to the car. We’d all been up to 2AM the night before. Zool, because she wanted to fall asleep near us but not touching us; me, because I ended up driving her on a round trip to the nearest regional centre to achieve this; and MJ because she was lying awake at home worried we were going to die in a fiery car crash.
As MJ clipped a floppy Zool into her car seat, she said, “There’s chocolate in the glove box. But it’s pretty gross. It melted and resolidified a few times.”
I started rummaging for the chocolate, moving aside a Tupperware that seemed to be full of sliced onion. “I don’t care,” I replied. “I’d eat it even if it had been chewed on by rats.”
“That might have happened too,” MJ said.
I found the chocolate, and we finished the block standing next to the car.
Meanwhile, in an alternate universe of precision and excellence, Leith’s was suggesting that I remove the pointy ends from lemon wedges before serving them. The rationale behind this is unclear, as they also stipulate that there should still be pith at each end. Just not pointy pith. Why? Why! What difference could it possibly make?
My first response was to skip the section. Why did it matter if the watercress was in a bouquet, or the parsley was chiffonade-ed, or the lemon ends rounded? I had bigger fish to fry. We didn’t have any clean sheets, and we were perilously close to simultaneously running out of toilet paper and tissues.
But something gave me pause. Why was I going to do this if I skipped the hard bits, or gave myself a pass when Zool had a “Wonder Week”? What if, underlying each of those seemingly fussy techniques was actually a philosophy – a principal of always striving for excellence in food?
After all, though Leith’s Technique Bible is for both home cooks and chefs, the Diploma at Leith’s School of Food and Wine that it is based on is aimed at food professionals. These are people who, if push comes to shove, have chosen to prioritise food over laundry and sleep.
The reason I undertook this challenge was to see if a person like me – a mum and part time teacher – could learn to cook like a professional chef. Well, it turns out that to cook like pro, you have to prioritise food like a pro.
So dinner rolled around, and I needed a lemon wedge to serve with a warm root-vegetable salad. Zool had undressed her Elsa doll and then removed its head. The washing machine was beeping to let me know that it was ready to disgorge yet another pile of wet clothes. The dog was trying to dig a hold through her dog bed.
I chose to prioritise food.
It turns out that if you’ve got the opportunity and ability, the only question that remains is: how much do you want it? I want to learn my craft as a cook enough to surgically remove various parts of lemon wedges in the midst of that chaos.
And you know what? I actually like the way they look.