Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

If you’ve found this blog because you are trying to train your dog, don’t read further.  When I am able to get our 71lb, 9-month old Swissy to stop jumping on us, I’ll let you know.

For the rest of you, lately I’ve been pondering the old conundrum of getting older, learning more, ultimately learning how much you have left to learn, and learning that the things about which you feel you have so much left to learn are the things you wish you’d started learning about a long time ago.

My husband is what I’d call an energetic learner.  He’s constantly researching something, following new leads to new discoveries, and always, always seeking new information and new understanding (like that line from Star Trek, “seeking new life and new civilizations” or something like that).  He knows more about more things than I can ever acknowledge exist.  He has three master’s degrees, too.

I, on the other hand, am not an energetic learner.  True, I do have a master’s degree (only one, mind you), though I did it kicking and screaming and not for the Love of Learning but rather for the Need of Employment.  But when I was at UCLA I was there to get a degree, not to explore my learning potential.  I hold various certifications in some weird things, but again, I earned them not because I was particularly interested in becoming knowledgeable in those areas but because I needed the piece of paper for something or another.  When undertaking new tasks, for me the joy of learning new things is greatly overshadowed by resentment that I can’t immediately master whatever it is I need to do.

For example, a few months ago I had to learn about sql queries, FTP, blah blah blah, other web design stuff that was completely foreign to me.  I understand it all now, but at the time I was a complete nightmare to be around.  I didn’t care that I was helping my aging brain to stay as facile as possible, or that the tools I’d eventually pick up would lead to a decent finished product; I just hated that I didn’t understand something and was forced to study it over and over until it started to make sense.  I run a camp, and I’ve been the camp director for eleven years now.  We’re going through a particularly detailed and institutionalized accreditation process at the moment which required me to take a ridiculous amount of CEC’s (continuing education credits).  Rather than enjoy the learning process, I whined loudly for weeks and I daresay I’m still whining about it.

With kid #1 off to college in the fall, we’ve been thinking a lot lately about aptitude, trajectory, and ultimate purposes in life.  As I watch him try to figure out what to do with these next four years (yeah, I figure the more I put the word “four” in writing, the more likely he’ll be to not repeat mom’s five-year college stay), I wonder how he’ll feel 25 years from now, wonder if he’ll be doing what he loves doing, or if he’ll take a college path that leads him away from something he maybe should be doing but just doesn’t realize it right now.

For me, I find it ironic that one of the very, very few things I actually enjoy learning from beginning to end is food-related — always has been.  Yet I chose to study kinesiology and biochemistry at UCLA, ultimately ending up with degrees in history and psychology (that’s another very boring story which I won’t go into here.  Ever.)   How funny that the clues to our own personal aptitudes and joys are so often tied to the things we already know we know very little about.  We push our kids and colleagues and employees toward things they already show an aptitude or preference toward, rather than thinking about what it is they may know very little about yet relish its inherent, unique learning process.

So this brings me to the topic of today’s post — in the course of avoiding the learning I was supposed to be doing (bullying prevention training video previewing, anyone?), I stumbled upon my latest discovery — agar agar.  This amazing powder is derived from seaweed and works just like gelatin with the added benefit of being vegan-friendly rather than a byproduct of various animal parts I won’t mention here.  Plus, it gels at room temperature or warmer, and does not need to be chilled to work.  This means anything liquid can be gelled, at any temperature.  Soups, broths, sauces, you name it — anything that would be cool in jello form but gross cold can be fixed with agar agar.  Even better, it’s incredibly cheap — I paid $1.89 for a packet at our local Asian grocery store that will make nearly 50 of these panna cottas below.

I spent a long, long time reading about this stuff before actually trying it out.  In the end I came up with this version of peas and carrots, two things I don’t care for in their basic cooked form, but when combined like this with a twist they were terrific and an instant hit here.  We tried it at room temperature, warm, and cold — and in the end everyone preferred the warm version because of its slightly softer, creamier texture.

Peas and Carrots — aka Carrot Panna Cotta with Snow Pea Salad

Find the recipe for Carrot Panna Cotta with Snow Pea Salad here

The List currently sits at 22…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s