My Dad spent a lot of my childhood at football practice. As a kicking coach, he watches videotapes of his kids going through their exercises. He refines and sharpens his coaching techniques, always improving, always discovering something new that can be applied in a game. He's a 78 year old man and he still goes to practice! As a theatre kid, I was constantly at play practice after school. In 6th grade, I was in Fiddler On The Roof and I remember learning how to do a pirouette. With the example of my Dad the coach, I practiced and practiced, got dizzy, fell down, practiced some more until I improved. To this day when I’m in a dance class and asked to spin, I bring that original lesson from Fiddler to mind. We were never a “Practice makes perfect!" kind of household. It was always, "Practice is the only way you’ll get better.”
What is practice? To perform an activity, an exercise, or a skill repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one's proficiency. Madonna was a guest on Jimmy Fallon a few weeks ago. Before Jimmy introduced her, he shared that Madonna had spent the whole day rehearsing her performance before the show that night. She was tirelessly working on the moves, the staging, the music, etc. She’s Madonna! She didn’t need to spend that extra day working on a performance she could probably have done in her sleep. But that’s WHY she’s Madonna! She doesn’t stop learning and improving. Did you see the performance? It was pretty epic.
In my adult life, I practice meditation, I practice yoga, I practice cooking techniques. On many days, I’m not great at any of these practices. But the allure of possible improvement at these pursuits keeps me returning to my meditation cushion, to my yoga mat, and to my kitchen. But what about the things we practice which progress can’t be measured? The silent and invisible tasks that make us better people and that make the world a better place: Patience. Discipline. Open-mindedness. Self-acceptance. I mean, no one is really handing out Tony awards or Heisman trophies to the guy who lets 5 cars go ahead of him in traffic or to the dieter who passes up on the cupcake, right?
My thoughts on practice took a little turn this week. A friend of mine is going through a hard time and in support, I shared my thoughts with her. It turns out, by supporting her, I reminded myself of a really important lesson. When something bad happens, there are certain people that say, “Oh we’re being tested.” Someone dies, there’s a diagnosis given, an earthquake, a break up, a miscarriage, a job loss, whatever, some people might even go so far as to say, “God is testing us, testing our faith.” I don’t belong to either of those groups of people. That statement is so finite. I mean a test only has 2 outcomes, you pass or you fail. And if God, or the universe — or whomever, is handing out tests, I can’t imagine that we’re being set up to fail.
Adversity, obstacles, tragedy — all the perceived bad stuff – they are just opportunities to practice. We might think that these icky circumstances are our life, but our life is comprised of our thoughts, choices, and actions. That’s it. These opportunities may hurt and feel never-ending, but the sooner we acknowledge them and accept them, the sooner they’ll be on their way. We practice being the people we want to be when the bad stuff shows up. How do we want to feel? What do we want? The practice is doing the things that will get us closer to those wants and the feelings. And the good news is, a practice can be picked up at any time, no matter how long we’ve been away or how discouraged we might feel. The skills will show up and kick in. The hard times will seem more manageable and less heavy by taking action.
One of my culinary heroes that embodies the word practice is Sarah Simmons. She is the founder of the under ground supper club City Grit in New York City. I remember having a brief chat with Sarah as she joined guests in the dining room one night after dinner service. She talked about not having the space or the funds to open up her own restaurant yet, but that City Grit was an opportunity to practice and champion other chefs. I am happy to say that Sarah has multiple restaurants in the works around the country and a very special restaurant in NYC called Birds and Bubbles. Fried chicken and champagne? Here, make a reservation! I read an interview where she was asked the secret behind her long awaited success and she emphatically said, “I worked at it!” Sarah is very celebrated now with many awards attached to her name, but she is still practicing and championing the work of others. She made fried chicken for 30 days in a row just to perfect her own version of this Southern delicacy. Color me inspired!
I had dinner at Birds and Bubbles last week and one of the desserts I sampled was a posset. A what's it?! A posset. Heaven In A Jar is what it should be called. It is a dessert harking back to medieval times where milk was curdled with wine. As unappetizing as the word curdled might be, add heavy cream and lemon juice to your grocery list this week. Do it. A culinary magic trick awaits. I didn't have the chance to thank Sarah in person at the restaurant that night, but I tweeted to her that she prompted me to make a posset of my own. She tweeted back (!!!) asking me to let her know how it went. Join me in tweeting this blog post to the rooftops as a valentine and a thank you to Sarah for her years of inspiration and practice.
Meyer Lemon Posset
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 5 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice (or whatever lemon juice you have!)
- 1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped with 1/2 teaspoon of powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup wild blueberries (if you can find them, get them! Otherwise buy what you find.)
- In a small saucepan, heat cream and sugar to boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar. Continue boiling for 5 minutes. Watch the heat - don’t let the cream boil over.
- Remove pan from heat and stir in lemon juice. Let cool, about 15 minutes. ( I accidentally reversed these steps - cooling the mixture for 15 minutes and then adding the juice. The magic trick still worked.)
- Pour even amounts into four ramekins or small mason jars. Refrigerate at least 2 hours, or until set.
- Serve with the lightly sweetened whipped cream and dot with blueberries.
- Enjoy the easiest and most luxurious lemon pudding you've ever tasted!