Monday, August 29, 2011


Do you ever have those moments where you wish you were better at something, or that you could learn how to do something you've never tried before?
Well, I have a lot of those moments.
I really enjoy learning new things and I also really enjoy learning on my own. I've never been the type who enjoys classroom learning and a set pace; I've always done much better on my own, left to my own curriculum. I'd much rather take a text book home and learn how to do something that way than wait for someone to explain it to me.
From an early age my parents nurtured my desire to try new things. Even though things were tight when they were a young couple with little kids, they made the decision to enroll us in community programs like swimming, soccer and t-ball. They also encouraged us to take every opportunity we could, be it soccer camp, a weekend writing course or leadership retreats. Being a bit on the low-income side at that time, our recreational activities were also quite diverse and low-cost. This wasn't by any means a disadvantage however. I remember one winter when my parents found cross-country skis at a garage sale. They bought a pair for everyone in the family and we did a few outings that winter around town. It was a great time and I liked it so much I even joined the ski team at my school the next year. We also vacationed in the mountains every year which ultimately led to our enjoyment of fishing and hiking and my parents brought us out to a farm that some family friends owned so we could try horseback riding and get accustomed to getting our hands dirty. My dad owned an archery store so we all did that to some degree and my mom encouraged us all to join Home Ec in school so we could learn the basics of sewing and cooking.
It was a great foundation for living an interesting, resourceful life.
I soon found that I had a great interest in sports and music. I did soccer every year and took part in basketball, volleyball and badminton in school. In grade 6 I started playing guitar and eventually got into piano (rather, got back into it... my mom had tried to teach me when I was younger but it proved to be too much of a classroom setting for my liking). In high school I joined the choirs and became an official choir geek, spending 4 afternoons and 1 evening a week at choir rehearsals, not to mention all of my lunch hours as well. In grade 11 I picked up a job at a cafe and I found a new passion: coffee. I loved it. Everything about it. I loved the smell, I loved the taste, I loved the knowledge of what makes coffee good and how to make the perfect espresso shot. I became a veritable coffee snob and at one point could identify 30 different varities of coffee simply by the grinds. At that cafe job I also rekindled my love of cooking. When I was 4 or 5 my favorite TV show used to be The Urban Peasant - a cooking show featuring James Barber. I'd watch it every day. I always liked cooking but I never started experimenting until my cafe job. When I was on baking duty I'd have to have muffins, bread and scones ready before 7 a.m. and then make dozens of cookies, cakes and squares through the day. If I were on kitchen duty I'd have to make the soups from scratch, taste and tweek them, and make up specials for the day which often involved getting a little adventurous with leftovers. That was my first exposure to things like artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, celery root, hearts of palm and any type of cheese other than cheddar.
My mom taught me how to knit at some point through high school and I dabbled in sewing here and there, too.
Now, I'm 24, married, with two kids, and I'm very appreciative for my upbringing. My love of cooking makes a daily chore enjoyable. Cooking dinner isn't a burden - it's an opportunity to try something new. Giving Christmas presents is tied into my hobbies when I make pillows or sugar syrups for people. I'm teaching my boys how to appreciate music already and the coffee... well, that little enjoyment sure helps after a few middle-of-the-night feedings :)
Lately, I've been wanting to add to my list of things that I've tried. While I do have a tendancy to "dig an inch deep and a mile wide" (an expression that a high school teacher used to describe my essay writing), I can't help but want to learn more things. Granted, there are some things that I ought to focus on learning better, like improving my guitar and piano skills and brushing up on my knitting, but it's so hard to not want to do everything.
The other day I realized that in the past year I have, for the first time, made soaps, done canning and tried quilting. The year before that I tried a few things too, like making candles and bath salts. When it comes to cooking, in the past few years I've hit a lot of milestones, like my first time cooking lamb and duck, my first time making custards, first time making sushi and even my first time roasting a chicken.
It's interesting looking at some of my inspirations for trying some of these new things. The first, and often most prominent, would have to be Martha Stewart. After the birth of my first son I subscribed to her magazine. I had bought an issue for reading when I was in the hospital with him and it was the first time I actually wanted to read every single article in a magazine. It's because of Martha Stewart Living that I tried needle felting, making bath salts, making soaps, and making teacup candles. My second biggest improver lately has been The Food Network. By some glitch with our cable internet, our TV would actually get a couple, albeit blurry, cable shows. I discovered this when Gabriel was 4 months old and teething. He was wretched some days and all I could do was sit on the couch, holding him and watching blurry TV. My favorite show to watch the The Food Network and I started to get ideas for techniques or dishes that I wanted to try. I started roasting meats after an episode of Chef at Home, and I have since implemented alot of techniques that I picked up on from watching shows like 5 Ingredient Fix, French Food at Home, Chef at Home and Ricardo and Friends. Some of my favorite foods to make, like my No-Butter Chicken and Dulce De Leche Bars are Food Network recipes.
This year, family members are getting canned condiments for Christmas and my boys are (finally) getting quilts made by Mommy. And while there are lots of nice things about all of these hobbies, like saving money on Christmas gifts and eating good dinners without having to go out, the best thing is really how enriching these things are to my life. I love having productive things that fill my time so well, and I'm going to love passing these down to the next generation. That's right, my boys will cook - and well :)

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

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