The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Let's Go Have Fun Dammit

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Hobbies are supposed to be fun. When they stop being fun, you should really find another hobby. Now it hadn't come to that for me, but I found as I was making more dishes for more people and started having some unexpected technical issues, things were starting to become stressful. I would end up getting to a point in the cook where I was disgusted with myself because things were running late or I was having problems. I had picked up enough knowledge and tricks over the years I was somehow managing to pull my chestnuts out of the fire, but it wasn’t till we sat down to eat that I’d know whether the food was ok. When we would sit down to eat I was the only one that was upset about the delay. Everyone else was raving about the food. I suddenly realized I was letting things that weren't necessarily important ruin my enjoyment of my time in the kitchen and out of the grill. The last month or so I have had a new attitude and once again I am having a ball out at the grill. Plus I don't know if it's coincidence or not, but the food is coming out better than ever. This blog is about my change in attitude and how it is making grilling fun again.

I am not going to go into the specifics, there are some other recent blogs that cover some of the issues, but I was recently fighting temperature control issues. Several other technical issues cropped up and the bottom line is I was fighting with my grills. I’d have troubles lighting them or holding the right temperature, some days it was both. But there was a period of time where no matter what I did, I always seemed to be running about 60 to 90 minutes late on my meals. I value my time and I don't like others to waste my time. As a result I feel very guilty when I tell people a time for dinner and then I run late. So I started to stress about running late and I would be trying to make up some of the time. This is when you can make some serious mistakes. Fortunately I didn't make any serious mistakes due to rushing, but I realized it was probably only a matter of time. And making a mistake only cost you more time, so what is the point?

About a month ago, a friend told me about this self-help video that he thought was just great. More than great, he was raving about it all the time. It gave him a whole new attitude about life and thinking positive thoughts. I did watch the video. Partly because my friend asked me to, and partly because I figured it was the fastest way to stop hearing about it all the time. I had already heard of some of the people in it. Self-help guru's who have infomercials on TV stations and do seminars where they solve the worlds problems with their positive thinking approach. Some of them had also run afoul of the law for various reasons: fraud, tax evasion and the like. As a result I will admit to being skeptical going in. But mixed in amongst the new-age, touchy-feely, feel-good stuff was actually some sound advice. More importantly I decided to take some of it to heart. There was one gentleman in particular I liked, because he didn't take all of this advice to ridiculous levels. I liked the fact that he said even positive thinking has it's limits and can only be taken so far. But the bottom line was I decided to take some of this advice to heart and try using it my own life.

Now when it comes to grilling and making family meals every Saturday, it has actually made a big difference. I'll outline some of the changes in my thinking and perhaps they may be of help to you if you run into similar issues.

The first step to making something happen, is actually believing it can happen. If you bog yourself down with negative thoughts, it's going to be very hard for you to realize your goals. And once again hobbies are supposed to be fun, so I now try and put a positive spin on the things that happen. Some examples:
  • If it suddenly starts raining out, instead of focusing on how the rain is inconveniencing me and why couldn't it hold off an hour or so, I think how lucky I am to have my grill gazebo. I also remind myself that I have containers I bought for just this purpose. They allow me to bring food in and out to the grill protected from the elements. This allows me to grill out in almost any weather. So if I really think about it I have it better than a lot of folks who don't have any kind of shelter. The last time I grilling and it rained, it was more like a monsoon. My rolls were only going to take 15 minutes to bake and I would need to turn them midway through, so I simply stayed out at the grill. I relaxed and enjoyed Mother Nature’s show and realized I was lucky to be able to grill in this weather. Looked at this way the experienced ADDED to the enjoyment of this day.
  • If I start having trouble with some new prep item, I simply think this is a learning experience. I'm getting to practice my hobby and I am learning a new skill by doing. For this day I will continue doing the best I can. The next time what I've learned this day, good or bad will help me do better.
  • If I have an issue where the food finishes early for some reason: Rather than get mad about it, which solves nothing, I now take a different attitude. Life happens! If I followed the recipe using the same cut of meat, the same weight, the same cooking temperature and the food finished early, why get upset?. Sometimes this just happens. Each piece of meat is different. I realize getting pissed off at myself about it has no point. The food is done early, there is nothing to be done at this point. So I look at it as a chance for a positive learning experience about holding that type of food. When the first round of Potatoes Gallette I made ran long and my roast beef ran way short, I simply put them the meat in a 170° oven and held them until the potatoes were done. My getting angry about it would solve nothing and take away the pleasure of what I was doing. The roast had still finished early regardless. It turns out the meat held nicely and it made me realize even more there really was no point in my getting upset about something I couldn't change. I had learned something about holding food and even if the meat hadn't held well, that would've been a lesson worth knowing.
  • Instead of thinking negative thoughts, I try to think about the wonderful positives I have. For the last year I have been working in a Kitchen custom designed to suit the way I work and my needs. For the last two years I have been grilling it on the Big Green Egg which is my top choice of the outdoor cooker I’d like to use. Because I have been doing this for 10 years now I really have all of the utensils and equipment I need to get the work done efficiently and in an enjoyable fashion. Now when I walk into the new Kitchen or go out tones grill gazebo to fire up the Egg, I try to spend some time reflecting on just how lucky I am.
  • Recently I was making a salsa that had beets in it. I have never cooked beets before and I was getting conflicting advice on how to do it. Widely different time frames and several methods. Instead of worrying about all the things that could go wrong, I picked a method I thought made the most sense and went with it. I looked at it in a positive manner. I told myself I am learning a new skill and after today I will know how to prepare beets and how long it takes. Learning a new skill is always a good thing. It turns out the method I used was the correct one for my needs and the time was as I expected. But I was prepared to treat this as a positive learning experience regardless of the results. Also I started early enough so that if it had taken the worst case amount of time, I would have been on schedule still.

If you are unhappy about something you are doing because of how it effects other around you, and the people you are upset for don’t care…why should you? This sounds a little self-centered and uncaring, so let me use a real world example to explain the situation. When I was fighting with temperature control issues my cooks were running 60-90 minutes late some weeks. This would stress me out. But about a month ago, after watching that video I had a potential 60 minute delay. Once again I was upset and mad with myself. I walked into the Dining Room/Living Room to alert my guests something I am sure they knew: Things were running late. I stopped and looked around and took in the scene before saying anything. People were laughing and joking and enjoying each other’s company. My mother was trimming one of my plants for me and enjoying it. So instead of apologizing profusely and getting angry with myself, I simply said we would be eating around 1:30. I also realized my getting upset with myself didn’t make the food cook any faster. So instead I relaxed and enjoyed the company of my guests. No one complained and when we sat down to eat, everyone raved about the food. One person said it was so good it was worth any wait. My mother noticed my change in attitude and commented she was glad I didn’t let the delays bother me, because it sure didn’t bother anyone else. So for about the last month, I haven’t been letting the time issue bother me. That isn’t to say that I am no longer concerned about trying to hold a schedule. I try to aim to eat at a certain time and do my best to hit that time. But if it doesn’t happen I don’t let it bother me, because my guests aren’t bothered. If it is a non-issue for them, why should I be bothered for them?

Another point I picked up is ultimately you should be the one responsible for your own happiness. You should not put it in the hands of others to determine whether you are happy or unhappy. The example they gave was a mother who said she was feeling pretty good and pretty happy. She then added she would continue to fell that way so as long as her daughter returned home before her curfew later that night. By doing this, the mother has given someone else control over her happiness. There is no way to guarantee the behavior of someone else and you should not enable them to influence your ultimate happiness. So I make a point of trying to base my happiness on results I can control. There are several other folks I know who like to cook and bake as much for their pleasure as for having something to eat. They all used to tell me when they make something, they just put the food out there and if people don’t like it tough for them. No one told them they had to eat it and they can eat something else. I only partially understood what they meant until watching that video. Now I get it. If I tell someone I am making something, and they say they don’t eat it I will try to make something different. I’ll save that dish for another day. But if I make something new and it turns out someone doesn’t like it, I don’t let that influence my enjoyment of it. Everyone has their preferences, that is why there are such a variety of recipes out there. I let myself enjoy the time I spent making it and the time eating it. The fact someone didn’t care for it, while regrettable, should in no way influence the fun that I had making or eating it.

Another example of this is I will sometimes do dry runs of cooks I have planned for the weekend. This allows me to try new things I may be unsure of. I work out the inks and make sure the recipe is ready for prime time when I make it for my family on the weekend. Often I will serve it to some other folks with the qualification that it is a trial run, it may not be perfect and I am a bit unsure of the time. The whole point of these dry run cooks is so I can try something in a stress free environment, where I don’t have a deadline, to see how long it takes and what issues there may be. With my new attitude, if there are problems along the way I don’t let it bother my enjoyment of it. I told the people who were interested in trying it that it was a test run and I didn’t have an exact feeling how long it would take. They accepted the invitation knowing that, so they were warned. They are getting the chance for a free impromptu meal that may be excellent. But it also may have a few issues and an uncertain serving time. So if that happens, my guests were warned and I don’t let it ruin the experience for me.

My new attitude has made my cooks of the last month a new and better experience again. When I sit down to eat I am not stressed out about things I can’t change. Instead I am looking forward to the food like the rest of my guests.
  • When I am figuring out my prep times I think back to the old Kitchen with it’s lack of space. I used to have to factor in extra time to work around space issues. I used to have to plan a sequence of operations based on being able to do one or at most two things at once. Now I don’t need to do this. I do not lose time due to the Kitchen and I can have up to 4 tasks in various phases of completion.
  • When I walk into the Kitchen I try to think how lucky I am to have this new workspace. It is well organized, well lit and is totally efficient. Going into that days cook with positive thoughts really makes a difference in how I feel the rest of the day.
  • I also try to remember that I am spending this time in the Kitchen in pursuit of my hobby. Yes we all need to eat, but the things I am making are more than just any old meal. It is a meal I am sharing with others, not because I have to but because I want to. I have a hobby that is not self-centered. I am not off for the day dying a solo hobby. I am doing something for fun that I get to share with others when I am done.
  • As I am prepping the food I try to still be observant and learn how to improve my existing skills. I also think back to the way things were when I first started and how they feel now. You realize how much you have picked up along the way and how much more you are capable of. This gives you confidence and makes you feel picking up new skills is definitely a positive.
  • When I go out to light my grills I try to remember how lucky I am to have the outdoor cooking tools of my choice. I try to reflect on all of the possibilities I have now. I also realize if I do my job right, in the end I will end up with a meal that is superior to anything I could make on other grills I have owned.
  • I now have a permanent grill gazebo that stays up year round, instead of coming down for 3 or 4 months in the winter. Other than extreme weather, blizzards, hurricanes, tornados, severe thunderstorms, I can grill in any weather. I really don’t have to factor the weather into the equation. As for the extreme weather, things like blizzards and hurricanes are usually predicted many days in advance, so you pick a new day for that cook. The severe thunderstorms and tornados are usually over quickly so you can cook before or after. The point is I try to think positive thoughts about how the weather is usually not a factor.
  • The grill gazebo now has permanent lighting, so cooking at night is as easy as cooking in the day. I try not to take that for granted and use this positive thought to help keep me in a positive frame of mind.
  • I try to appreciate the outdoor cooking area I have with my grill gazebo. I have nearly 6’ (180 cm) of permanent work area to use outdoors. This is something I never had before and it really makes certain tasks a lot easier to do.
  • If I have some difficulties doing something for the first time, I tell myself no one gets everything right the first time. Simply learn from what you did right and wrong and next time you will do better.
  • Try to take some time to smell the roses. I am trying not to let myself be too busy where I can’t take a brief moment to simply take everything in and realize how much enjoyment I get out of this hobby and realize how lucky I truly am.
  • If things seem to be running late I don’t let it get me down. My guests are not bothered by it so I needn't let it bother me. Not being stressed out unnecessarily allows me to finish off the cook in a positive manner and I feel I make less mistakes and do a better job.

The interesting thing about this new approach is I also seem to be turning out my best food ever. Now it could all be in my head. Perhaps the new positive attitude makes the food taste better in my mind. But I seriously think there is more to it than this. I can be very fussy and critical about what I cook. I am always on the lookout for things I can do to improve a meal the next time I make it. These last few weeks I have found little to change and I have NOT lowered my standards. Peoples comments also reflect the food really is good and not good in my head. I will not pretend to have and explanation for this yet, but I am certainly happy about it. The bottom line is I am enjoying my hobby more than ever. I am doing more and enjoying it more and trying to focus on the positive seems to be playing a part in that.
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