Getting Back on the Bike

 

It was a long time away from doing classes, with 6 months to recover from my injury. And January and February proved to be a catch up time, with 10 classes–yes, 10!–all happening between January and March 4th! At first, it felt like hurtling down a trail on my bike after not riding for a year, but fear quickly morphs into enjoyment when it’s a fun and rewarding activity. The thing with teaching a class that keeps me on my toes is the sheer challenge of the multitask: talking and cooking at the same time as I interact with guests who come from all walks of life, with questions and insight into whatever I’m preparing. I approach each evening as much as a learning experience for me as it is for my guests as each class is a bit different, bringing its’ own flavour and unique challenges.

Let me share about one particular class: a birthday party for a group who has joined in on cooking classes more than 10 times in the past! They presented the challenge of doing something new: “off menu” so to speak. My friend was eager to send me pictures of fun things that they would like to learn–or simply like to eat–and I worked on making them my own. With ceviche from the Caribbean and a salad wrapped up in cucumber, I was stocking away some of my new favourite recipes for future cooking classes, and thankful for creative people to learn from.

Cucumber-wrapped salad with grapefruit and blue cheese

Ceviche made with fresh walleye

A guest from my January’s “Eat Clean” called to set up a custom class and asked if I would be willing to do the class in her kitchen. I reluctantly agreed, worried about the stress of transferring my food and equipment to another kitchen and having to learn her space on the fly. It turns out she was a wonderful host, and has a dream kitchen with a super user-friendly setup. I could simply think, “where would I look for a spatula,” take a guess, and there it was! In our main course of stuffed beef tenderloin with truffled red wine reduction (yum!), we discussed the benefits of roasting the meat at a high heat first and then reducing it to temperature, and the different tastes of black and white truffle oil. I learned not to be intimidated by new spaces but embrace the challenge it brings. I was also introduced to a new way of making coffee using a funky hourglass-shaped flask – bonus!

Participants getting up close and friendly with their food in my chef-at-home style cooking class

My amazing sous chef, Shannon, keeps me organized and my work space clean so I can focus on the guests and the food.

Coming up this week (March 3rd) is a cooking class of a different sort: Team-building style workshop where again I pack up my things and set up the class in a new setting. For my workshops, I use the Regional Food Distribution Association’s kitchen, a fantastic space perfect for community kitchens and corporate workshops. Rather than my usual demonstration style class, I will be putting the guests to work as they tackle team-building skills in friendly cooking competition. It will look different than the last time, with new challenges to face, but I’m excited to see what may come of it!

If it wasn’t for the rush of hurtling down that hill, I may be too intimidated to take on the unknown. But the challenge calls to me, and I’m in.

 

 

 

The day my life changed, and coming back

It’s been a while since I’ve written.  6.5 months to be exact.  My husband, who is a social media and communications guru, tells me I need to blog more regularly.  And, typically, I agree, but I actually sort of have an excuse this time!

You see, July 27th was the day that my life changed dramatically, at least for this year, and maybe for life, as my “ever the realist” surgeon tells me.  But I digress.

The day started as any other day.  My husband came home early to pack for a fishing trip.  I was bringing supplies out to the vehicle for an evening site visit before my July 30th wedding.  As I mounted the stairs with a particularly large glass water dispenser, my foot caught on the stair, I pitched forward, sending the dispenser crashing down, and I inadvertently stopped my fall with my left hand.  All in the course of less than a second, the glass cut into my arm, severing all 8 tendons and a major nerve.  (Sorry about that gory detail! I’ll spare you the truly disturbing pics).  There was much drama that ensued, including a husband trying out the tourniquet approach (bad idea), an ambulance that whisked me away as I gave frantic instructions about dinner in the oven and what to say to the bride, and a giant mess of glass and, er, blood, that needed cleaning up before the kids stepped in it!

Hanging out post-surgery.

To make a long and disturbing story short-ish, I had surgery a couple days later and all was attached again.  My surgeon did a wonderful job, but warned me of the seriousness of this injury and of the particularly lengthy recovery for a nerve injury of this degree.  I couldn’t feel a good chunk of my hand, or move two fingers at the time.  It would take months and countless hours of physio to fully recover. I was disheartened that our summer travel plans were canceled and, for that matter, most of the plans for the next few months – but the most significant blow was to my cooking skills in catering, and specifically my passion for teaching cooking in the form of my studio classes that I’ve been running on a regular basis for the last three years.

Needless to say, I was in a bit of a funk.

Fast forward a few months and it’s amazing how perspective can change. I can look back on a successful summer of weddings, made possible by an amazing team who helped carry the weight as I managed the scenes from a less “hands on” place than I was used to.  I feel thankful that only my hand is injured and it continues to improve daily with new feelings as the nerve starts to fire again and I regain control of the muscles.  I learned self-care, which is hard for me, and became quite efficient with one hand for a time!  I developed patience – with myself and with others – out of necessity. I can proudly say that I am once again two-handed, while still doing regular physio (I’ve still got a ways to go in terms of complete functionality, but I’m definitely making strides!).  I’m starting to take on more catering, I am learning to ask for help when I need it, and, most importantly, I am finally gaining the confidence to tackle another cooking class where everyone will be watching my hands as I show intricate techniques in knife work, cooking and plating (ha!).

This month I plan on doing my first official cooking class since the accident.  I’m excited! And in January, I’ll start up my regular classes again.  So, for those of you holding on to gift certificates, be sure to keep posted on my classes!  And for those of you thinking, “Man, I would love to get in on this cooking class experience,” you, my friend, are in luck!  You will get to experience the kitchen from someone who has learned anew to appreciate the art and joy of the culinary world… because you never know when your world might be thrown upside down 😉 I can’t wait to host you. Sign up for my monthly notices of upcoming cooking classes in the footer at the bottom of this page and let’s make some amazing food together!

Call me at 708-3509 or drop an email and let’s chat about cooking classes!

Making progress! (And yes I applied a filter so the scar wouldn’t be so harsh!)

Success vs Craft

So I was reading a book the other day, and I came across this chapter comparing craft and success.  The author suggested craft is that deep sense of gratitude for that thing you do that makes you think, “I really get to do this!?”  Whereas the mentality that drives success-oriented careers says that regardless of what you do, you must do just a bit more to be fulfilled or find contentment in it, creating a whole slew of anxieties along the way.  It made me think about what I do.  I wonder what folks would consider a “successful” caterer?  One that makes a good deal of money?  One who is well known in the city as one of the best?  One who has perfected the particular niche that he/she has chosen?  With such definitions in mind, I don’t know if I would consider myself a “success.”  But here’s the thing: I also don’t think I want to pursue this kind of success at this stage in my journey.

Maddy

Hanging with this monkey between functions gives the perfect balance!

The truth is, if this is success, then I don’t think I could handle this along with my personal life and family.  Not to say that I don’t value setting goals, and striving for excellence, but what I’m talking about is the mentality behind the goals and the striving, that makes one feel continually discontent, pushing a little further to reach whatever will finally bring the satisfaction of “success.”

However, I do consider my work in catering as my craft.  And I LOVE developing my craft.  Part of the love is in good part due to my husband making the money that pays the bills and so the pressure to grow my customer base more and more and make the business grow larger and larger is really not a weight on my shoulders. That’s a big part of it, I realize that.  And I realize that not everyone is afforded that luxury.  This allows me to have a few customers who I can strive to make happy.  The niche that I have chosen with special dietary needs is one that means something to me, more than one that is meant to propel me forward financially.  Because I am not bogged down by business, I actually can take the time to discover new recipes for an upcoming cooking class, or go shopping for pottery, or work on my food photography skills, or write a blog like this one!  And when my little one, who is not yet two, wants me to read her a story, I can.  This summer, I intend to work on the craft of cooking with the bountiful harvest from our farms and gardens.  And I will likely blog about that too.  I hope to always feel that excitement of learning something new with my cooking, of meeting new people and being able to fulfill a need with my catering.   I want to think, “I really get to do this!?” when I think of catering as a career.  And if struggle for success or financial gain trumps the gratitude for what I have RIGHT NOW, I hope that I can see it, and can make the change that is needed.

What about you, and what you do?  Do you consider it a craft?

Catering for the Extrovert

I am a shameless extrovert. While others, after a long week of interacting with people, can’t wait to just chill by themselves, I am just the opposite. Spending time with people gives me energy. So this year, when I could afford a regular assistant, the amazing Sherri Brown, I was thrilled! Getting to do what I love, feeding people in a creative and healthful way, and having someone to share in the experience has been a wonderful thing. But at times, I still have this sense that I may be missing my calling. Because the truth is, the majority of my working life is interacting with food rather than people. Being a former elementary school teacher has given me some perspective on this. Food is low maintenance. It is predictable and completely dependent on my actions. Ingredients behave and do not talk back when I manipulate them into whatever I desire. But as a social being, there is something lacking in the fulfillment of that. It can be a lonely thing to see your impact being primarily focused on inanimate objects.

All this to say, I am truly inspired and fulfilled when I combine my love for food with my love for people. Cooking classes are my happy place. Now, I offer both dinner party-style classes in my home studio kitchen along with workshop-based classes out of the Regional Food Distribution kitchens. And recently, I was invited back to the HYS Kids After School Program as the “guest Chef” to teach a group of junior high students the art of Italian cooking.

image1

Demonstrating how to cut properly

You may recall in a previous post awhile back I wrote about my first visit to Kingsway Park Public School, where I taught the students how to make “Green Eggs and Ham” in the form of Spinach and ham omelettes. This time, the group was working on preparing for a year-end event, where parents and funders will all be invited to share in their experience and skills learned by having a dinner made entirely by the students themselves. My role was to teach the main course: lasagna roll-ups. The students got to pick the recipe and gather the ingredients in advance. I did a demonstration of knife skills and general Italian cooking knowledge and then put the students to work in groups. It was so good to see them take the initiative and get into the cooking experience! There were some humorous moments as well, like when I stopped by the marinara sauce station just in time to correct one student on his measurement of the black pepper. “It says, ¼ tsp, not ¼ cup!” In the end no-one was hurt, even though knives and hot pans were used, and they were so pleased with the final product! I’ve learned that if a teen say “This is pretty cool!” or “This is, like, my favourite dinner ever!” they probably mean it!

image 2The main instructor of HYS Kids After School Program, Joanne Tomlinson, has been working hard throughout the year to give the kids skills and knowledge that they otherwise would not have opportunity to learn. She noted that at the beginning of the year, one child was afraid of the toaster, and another could hardly spread jam on bread. Now they are taking ownership of the projects and are pumped to show their parents what they’ve learned. And I am pumped to be a part of it.

 

All this to say, this catering thing will be sustainable. I will not become that crazy person who chats to herself and to her ingredients as she prepares food by herself day upon day. Working with others and working in the context of cooking classes has rounded out this career choice personality-wise and made me feel like I do have something good to offer the community around me.

lasagna roll

Lasagna Roll ready to serve! Not too shabby.

New Website! Things are changing

Meet Maddy!As you may have noticed, A Fine Fit Catering has had its seasons of movement and rest. This past year I have been in a resting phase with the birth of my now 1 year old Madelyn. Leaving maternity leave and entering the catering world again has been a slow process, and also somewhat of a rediscovery of what I love about this business, and what I am willing to shave away to create a company that I can be proud of for the long term. And what better time to rethink and create something new than the launching of a new brand and new website!

When I re-entered the business world these last couple of months it has been with some hesitation. See, I now have 3 children under the age of 7, and volunteer in my church and community. Life is indeed full. But with my two oldest starting school in September, I was itching to put my creative gene back to work in the catering world, and let’s not downplay the fact that I would have more adult interaction again! This time, though, I would have to be careful to be more selective in what I took on, focusing on things that are both sustainable and that truly inspire me. For example this fall, I had the honour of putting together a cooking workshop for the Nurse Practitioner LED clinic, with the theme of using our plentiful harvest to create quality and delicious courses, with hands on activities throughout. It was one of those days when I left feeling more invigorated than when I arrived. I love using my knowledge of food and cooking techniques to inspire others along with helping to build relationships between team members though the culinary medium. This has spawned a whole new category of cooking workshops that I can now offer on a regular basis!

On the other hand, upon looking at my menu, which has been adapted only minimally since the inception of my business in 2010, I realized that I had swerved into areas that I wasn’t exactly comfortable with.  As a “clean eating” enthusiast, I advertise from-scratch cooking that avoids the use of highly processed foods, and I am held accountable to provide this quality in my cooking. It is a tough balance, with popular demand often asking for the very things that I advertise against. People like their dessert, with plenty of sugar in it! And people love their bacon! So I resigned myself to offering a few little things that I wasn’t super keen on in order to make people happy and grow the business. As they say in the small business world, you grow by saying YES all the time.

Lunch Meat is No Treat

However, then I came across this article (from 2009) about processed meat, linking our growing consumption of nitrate and nitrite filled foods with the dramatic increase diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Type 2 Diabetes and cancer. This is by no means a shocker, as this research has been ongoing for years, but now more than ever it has been convincingly proven. (Not unlike the societal shift between thinking smoking was kind of bad for you, but whatever; to being advertised as a health hazard on every package! ). When nitrates and nitrites hit your stomach acid, they convert to nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. If that wasn’t bad enough, the same chemicals are now messing with our DNA. The article says they “can alter gene expression and cause DNA damage”. While nitrates are found as preservatives in beer and food products as well as in fertilizers, pesticides and cosmetics, it turns out they are most concentrated in processed lunch
meats, bacon and processed cheese. Sigh. Of course the worst things for you are also delicious and highly addictive.

So here I am with a dilemma. I want to stay true to my values as a caterer but serving foods that are now well known to be detrimental to our health on many levels does not jive well with the values that I promote as A Fine Fit Catering. So the menu on my new website has had some adapting. You will notice that sandwich platters are no longer offered. I realize that may turn some people off as we are used to getting what we want as a customer, which is a ridiculous amount of choices. I WILL, though, have a list of great caterers that do serve sandwich platters, and I will still offer a wide variety of wraps, seafood and egg salad options, and vegetarian wraps along with plenty of hot soups and delicious salads. So really, no one is hurting here.

Bacon wrapped fig goat cheese – these aren’t going anywhere. #phew 😉

You may ask, “well what about your bacon wrapped goat cheese stuffed figs, and sweet desserts that you still offer?” And I say, “baby steps, my friend. Baby steps.” 😉

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