How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Back in the 70’s, two of my favorite singers, Meg Christian and Chris Williamson, had a line in one of their albums. They asked, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer was, “practice, practice, practice.” When I first started my reflections here, it was because of a series of dreams I had about being The Next Food Network Star. In my dreams, I kept advancing to the next round until I ultimately won. Having the confidence to apply to the show would be my getting to Carnegie Hall. So how am I going to get to that place, the same answer, “practice, practice, practice.”

Watching the show the last few seasons, I have come to realize that one of my strengths would be that I have this clear point of view to my cooking. Regardless of what you are making, whether it is a sauce, a side dish, a casserole, a desert, or something amazingly complex, cooking can be a spiritual experience. Each food has a story to tell and amazing qualities that it brings to the table. For example, you can take something, which appears quite simple, like salt. However, there is not “A” type of salt. Table salt comes iodized and non-iodized. There is kosher salt, which has a coarser grind, and sea salt, which comes in a diversity of grinds. You can buy a salt grinder and grind your own salt just as you can with freshly ground pepper. There is black salt from India, Fleur de Sel, a form of grey salt from France, Hawaiian sea salt, which has a very different flavor from sea salt, pickling salt, popcorn salt, pretzel salt, rock salt, smoked salt, and a diversity of seasoned salts. There are even salt substitutes and “lite” salts for those who need to restrict their salt intake. Each of these salts has its own flavors, its own texture, and its own story about how it came to be, and the flavor it brings to the story we are creating in our kitchens.

However, it is hard to share all this information if it has not become part of what I know and how am I learning these things – practice, practice, practice. The same for me is true with techniques. Each technique, especially those associated with knife skills is like a spiritual discipline.  The way you master them is through practice and through having the right equipment. It is harder, and some say more dangerous, to try to cut with a dull knife, then with a properly sharpened blade of a good, heavy chef’s knife. I have been using the same knives I have had for over thirty years and so my gift to me this year is to buy myself one new good knife per month so I am cooking safer and smarter.  Improving my knife skills is one of those other things, which will help me to get to my Carnegie Hall.

All knife skills require discipline, remembering to keep fingers curled so that only the knuckles come into contact with the side of the knife. As I wrote this, I could envision Anne Burrell saying this repeatedly on Worst Cooks in America. Even with my dull knives, I am good at slicing and even chopping, but dicing, brunoise, julienne, mincing, and shredding are still in my practice set. The spiritual lesson for me in knife skills is not just the cutting, but entering that state of mindfulness, where one is aware of where one is, keeping one’s fingers and knuckles in safe positions. It is another way of being present and focused in the now.

What else do I need to practice to get to my Carnegie Hall? I need to work on my self-confidence. While I feel as if my spiritual presence and attitude would bring a different point of view, not ever having seen an older contestant, I just turned 55, or any contestant with a disability has made me wonder if my dream could ever come to fruition. It is in those moments I hear the words of my Bubby, Yiddish for grandmother, who tells me “she who fails to fail, fails to succeed.” Then I hunker down; continue learning as much as I can about food, its spiritual gifts and qualities, the spiritual gifts and qualities of each technique and approach to cooking, and creating dishes that are uniquely me.  Dishes planned with love, made with love, out of love, and served with love.

So what was my love offering this week?  Something quite simple.

Scrambled eggs

I am not quite sure that this needs directions; however, I began with Deborah’s basic recipe for two of 4-5 eggs, 2 Tablespoons water or milk, salt and freshly ground pepper and 1 tablespoon butter.  I whisked all the ingredients with the exception of the butter together, while I melted the butter in a small frying pan.

I wanted to add a little additional flavor to my eggs, so I also added a little bit of parmesan cheese, oregano, and diced roma tomato so it took on a pizzaesque flavor. So I melted my butter over high heat and when foamy, I added my eggs and dropped the temperature down to low. I dragged the mixture back and forth across the frying pan until it reached the desired consistency, slid on to a warm plate and served. 

So until I get to my Carnegie Hall, I am going to keep practicing and giving thanks for the lessons I am learning in my journey.