Learning curve

I have mentioned a few times throughout this blog that I’m not under any illusions about how smart I am (in fact, in the post “I’m not smart”, I tried to explain why other people think I’m smart).  It’s not false modesty.  It’s actually easy to be humble when I’m so easily humbled.

However, not being the smartest person is not the same as not being smart.  In that respect, I am no old dog for I have learned new tricks along the way.  That speaks as much to my lack of smartness as it does to my being smart enough to be open to new lessons.  Let me give you two examples how not smart I am (but smart enough to learn).

A number of years back, I was hosting another of my famous barbecues.  Perhaps it was my series of “Grand Reopening” barbecues celebrating my remodeling of my home (I needed more than one because there were so many invitees); perhaps it was even before then.  In any case, the fare I traditionally offer at these events is varied and plentiful (scout up the posts on my 50th birthday party from back in May’s blog to find out a fairly comprehensive food menu).

As taught through the generations by Grandma and Mom, the quantity of food I provide usually exceeds the guests by a geometric factor.  This leaves me with substantial leftovers to pack up and put away (the spillover benefit of hosting; I’m usually running around so much during the BBQ that I don’t ever really eat, but I end up supplied with food for weeks afterward).

Often, grateful and gracious guests try to help me out with clean up and wrapping.  I try to dissuade them, but some are too persistent to be denied.  In this instance, one of my friends was wrapping various foods for me.  When asking me about the corn on the cob, I told her to use the gallon sealing plastic bags.  I warned her that not many would fit in the bags due to the basic shape of corn, but not to worry as I had tons of bags.

She then proceeded to load the corn in the bags, fitting more in than I had ever managed.  She accomplished this magical feat because she alternated the cobs as she placed them in the bags (fat side, skinny side).  I stared in amazement and appreciation.  Decades of cooking and storing and I had never thought of that simple trick.  Obvious, right?  Like I said, easily humbled but quick to learn.

Example two also deals with food.

I’m a big salad eater and enjoy making my own, but when it comes to my barbecues, I always go for “finger” veggies; cut vegetables easily scarfed up or dipped in some random dressing I provide.  Two of my favorite veggies, personally and for parties, are cucumbers and carrots.

Those stubby baby carrots have become all the rage these days, but for the best carrot taste, nothing matches a classic Bugs Bunny sized carrot.  As for cucumbers, well, a fresh, crisp cucumber seems to be a pretty universally liked munchy veggie.

Both those vegetables have specific cleaning requirements; the “skin” on both needs to be carved off.  For years, I used my trusty paring knife to whittle away the surface of my carrots and cukes prior to slicing.  After a number of years, I had mastered the technique to the point of only a rare instance or two of the knife accidentally gouging the veggie.

One night, while having dinner with a friend, I was helping her set up when I was struck motionless observing her preparing the salad.  In mere seconds, she cleaned several carrots and a large cucumber using a device I had never seen before.  In much the same awe with which I had watched that other friend bag the corn, I was transfixed by this one’s deft use of this amazing tool.

Rousing myself from my stupor, I blurted out my excitement to my friend and asked her what this incredible device was called.  She looked at me for a moment trying to decide if I was kidding her and then, realizing I was serious, said in a voice of disbelief that it was a peeler.  Her tone indicated that she would have been no less surprised if I had asked her what the things I used to tie my shoes were called.

Apparently, the peeler is not a new invention, yet a quarter century of cooking for myself I had never come across this item before.  And that’s with plenty of visits to Bed, Bath & Beyond and Williams-Sonoma.  But you can bet I bought one within a few days of that fateful dinner!

So, yeah, maybe the learning curve is a bit elongated.  On the bright side, I get charmed and amazed at stuff most of the rest of the world has been doing or using for years.

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