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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Extreme? Who, Me?

Okay, yes. I’ll admit it; I’m extreme. I’m an “all or nothing” girl. And while this may have come in handy before children, when I worked full-time, and the “all or nothing” usually translated to “all—period,” with me getting things done and getting everyone under me to do the same—since I left work and had children, things have taken an interesting turn.

I have never been a domestic goddess, not in the strict sense of the word. I’ve always loved cooking, probably thanks to my wonderful grandma, who used to let me assist her in preparing all those delicious, family-style dishes straight from the heart of Italian cooking, the kind of things you’d find in the menu of a popular Trattoria. And when I was growing up, I always loved to cook, even going as far as spending many of my summer mornings making lunch for my parents and trying new dessert recipes on my friends when they came to pick me up to go out or to do homework together. Is that normal for a teenager? Maybe not, but I also did the normal things (gossip, friends, crushes, homework, etc.) so it’s not like it made me weird, right?

Now, with this interesting introduction, you might think I ended up becoming a brilliant chef. That’s not the case, but I do still enjoy cooking. But then, the “extreme” thing gets in there, too. But I get ahead of myself, let me backtrack a little.

While I always loved cooking, I never really enjoyed cleaning up. Or cleaning, for that matter. Or washing dishes. Or tidying up. Now, if you show me a tidy room, I’d be more than happy to add a few decorating touches, but I’d rather not be involved in the actual “cleaning and tidying” thing, thank you. Does that make me a slob or a creative spirit? Hmmm … ok, let’s not go there.
So now I am a mom. And like any parent knows, you have to adapt once you have kids, because your routine changes and it often takes you longer to do things or you can’t do things as you’d like. So that’s where the “all or nothing” comes in, and not exactly to help: when I am faced with a situation where I cannot do things perfectly, exactly as I’d like, then my interest drops and I prefer not to tackle that task at all. In other words, if I cannot do it all, then I’d rather do nothing.

Silly, you say? Perhaps. Infuriating? Maybe. Frustrating? You bet. Confusing? My husband probably thinks so. Because in our ten years of marriage, he might have gotten used to me being not being a great housewife, and he puts up with it because I’m a good cook and I can do “emergency cleaning” like nobody can. (You know, when you are hosting a dinner party that weekend or expecting visitors and the house is sort of a disaster.)

But what puzzles him is that sometimes I will get something done in the house that is a total surprise and then he doesn’t know what to expect anymore. Like the time he came home to find the living room furniture totally moved around (including the entertainment center with the heavy TV), new paintings hanging on the walls, the ficus reduced to a pathetic skinny shrub (overzealous pruning from someone without a green thumb), the ground floor perfectly sparkling-clean, and all books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs organized (some alphabetized and/or categorized). I know—what? Right? That’s what he said, or probably would have said if he hadn’t been totally speechless once he entered the house. Now that’s when I get an "all"—and I have a chance to actually get it done the way I pictured it.

Ok, so I’m a weird mix of slob and perfectionist, so sue me. But how does the “all or nothing” affect my love of cooking, now that I’m a mother of two (including a toddler who is a specialist in making a mess and getting into mischief)? Ah. That’s a good question. While I am still an adventurous cook and love to try new recipes and learn new techniques, I’ve learned to play to my strengths. Since peaceful cooking time is a rare occurrence, I have to concentrate on:
- dishes I could make with my eyes closed (so they come out fine even if I’m distracted and otherwise occupied).
- dishes that I can make in the pressure cooker or slow-cooker (my new favorite things).

That’s just so that I don’t fall into the nothing when cooking is involved, even when I don’t have time for the all.

Playing to my strengths also means that I invest my energy towards making something worthwhile. So if I need to bring a dessert somewhere, I either make something I know will turn out well, or I buy something. So if we meet at a potluck and I brought a seven-layer cake, you can safely assume it’s from Whole Foods, not from my oven.

This article can also be found on DivineCaroline

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