What’s Stopping You?

May 15, 2014 | Leave a Comment

by Polly Abbott, Director of Rehabilitation Services at Second Sense

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Micky uses a pitcher to aid in measuring liquids while Polly watches.

Polly watches as Micky measures out the next ingredients.

Last year I had the big idea to offer cooking classes based on different ethnic themes.  From a skill-building standpoint, it worked as all cuisines need slicing, measuring, and organization to successfully complete.  Unable to face another electric skillet pizza, I decided to offer dishes from Korea, Japan, Thailand, Italy and India.

Spring rolls! Noodles! Curry! YUM!

Dishes for Second Sense cooking classes must cook in less than 1 hour and also contain a sufficient amount of measuring and/or slicing to make them worthwhile.  Students must get lots of practice!  I also want students to experience creating something delicious from scratch.  With the echo of my excellent professor in my head urging preparation and practice, I cooked all my favorite Asian and Italian recipes at home to test them for class-worthiness.

Indian cuisine, however, was the great unknown.  It seemed like a good idea—after all, I’d have a year to learn it and surely someone who’s unafraid of rolling sushi and making kimchi should be able to handle a few spices and some basmati rice? Right?

Wrong!

Every time I peeked warily at recipes, they seemed written in Sanskrit. The ingredients and techniques were completely unfamiliar.  And yet all the recipe books promised ow simple Indian cooking was — as long as you had the correct ingredients.  That struck a chord with me.  Don’t I promise the same thing?

“Of course you can use a sharp knife and cut even slices — just hold your fingers this way and don’t forget to tuck in your thumb!”

“Measuring is no problem!—just store the oil in a jar and dip! Level with a knife! Keep it cold so you can feel it! Use a spill-over bowl to prevent mess!”

“Use a tray to keep track of your ingredients!”

“Sure that meat is sizzling like the dickens in that hot pan — now just use that wooden spoon handle to find the pan handle so you can grab on safely!”

Rehab is easy if you have the tools and techniques.  Why not Indian cuisine?  Could I do any less than what I ask of students?

After a few months of procrastination, I went to the Spice House and bought mustard seeds, fenugreek, devil’s dung (asafetida), turmeric, cayenne, and dried chilies.  I found Indian grocers and bought several colors of lentils, beans, split peas, ata flour, ghee, and mustard oil.  After another month of fear and procrastination, the class was looming and I had no choice but to start cooking in order to be ready to teach.

So, on Friday nights after work and my hour-long commute, I fried onions, watched spices sputter in oil and kneaded weird-feeling dough. I read and re-read and read again the recipes.  I made mistakes and smoke alarms went off a lot.  I washed a lot of dishes and ate a lot of leftovers for lunch.  However, after a while I started to notice patterns and similarities.  The sound of mustard seeds popping in hot oil sounded almost happy.  I was finally ready for the class. 
I wondered what all my fuss had been about — Indian cooking wasn’t so hard after all!

I should have listened to myself in class–

“Be patient with yourself as you learn a new way of doing something.”

“Don’t give up—try again!”

“Skills worth having take practice—sometimes more than you think”

Fear of the unfamiliar had been stopping me from learning what I needed to learn.

It is the unknown and the unfamiliar that slow us down.  I had to mentally bite the bullet and open the cookbook.  I found some good resources and a person to guide me.  Everyone can use a guide to help them along the way and to turn the unfamiliar into the familiar.  Perhaps, more importantly, to provide the little pushes of encouragement and reassurance to keep going.

What stops you? What, or who, keeps you going?

Polly Abbott, CVRT teaches clients at Second Sense the skills they need to manage their daily lives.

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