When I was 12 years old I had a career path scoped out. I grew up playing sports and going to sporting events, mostly baseball games. My family traveled the country following a particular college baseball team. We also went to many professional baseball games. Aside from the game, I seemed to always notice the stadium.
Eventually I bought graph paper, drafting pencils and an architect’s scale. I began designing my own baseball stadiums, on 8 1/2″ x 11″ graph paper and to a rough scale. I would usually start by laying out home plate and the infield. It made sense to me as, by rule, first base is always 90 feet from home and the pitcher’s rubber is 60 feet 6 inches from the plate. Then I would decide on the outfield fence dimensions and other field boundaries, then the bullpen location. All of these items dictated where the seating began. I laid out the seating and aisles. I colored the drawing and designated different levels of ticket classifications.
This was fun, but it wasn’t enough. I knew that real architects created models of their projects so that was what I would do as well. My first order of business was to create the field. I mixed and poured plaster of Paris into a custom built wooden craft stick formwork and let it cure. Once dried I painted the plaster green, several dirt-brown areas, a white pentagon, three white squares, one small white rectangle and two small white lines extending from the points of the pentagon; all to scale, of course. A playing surface was born. That roughly 576 square inch baseball field sat in my parents’ basement for years.
In my mind at the time it was an amazing accomplishment. Later, my older eyes were less than impressed. I never began construction of the stadium around the field. Somewhere along the way I stopped designing stadiums and when it came time to declare a major in college the architecture path somehow seemed less appealing.
In college and law school I began watching the New Yankee Workshop with Norm Abram. He made woodworking seem accessible. I was hooked. The garage in our law school townhouse became my intermittent workshop. I purchased a 10″ Delta Shopmaster Bench Saw and got to work. One of my first projects was a potting bench for my wife. Some twelve years later that potting bench still sits in our backyard, sagging and weathered. It needs to become firewood or compost. I plan to build a replacement. But I don’t want to get rid of it just yet. Not until Potting Bench 2.0 is ready for use.
Today I have a cabinet table saw, a planer, a jointer, a router table with several routers and multiple router bits, a dust collection vacuum, a shop vac, several power sanders and power drills, a dovetail jig, a dado blade set, not to mention all of the run of the mill tools one might expect a generally competent handyman to possess. And I seldom get to use them.
My tools are stored in my garage which also houses a minivan and ten years’ worth of accumulated crap. It is such a hassle to make room to work the work rarely begins. From time to time I am able to plan a project (often times with graph paper and an architect’s scale), gather the materials and tools, and in the end produce something that previously did not exist. When we moved into our house I built a custom entertainment center for our television. Most recently I built a bench for Thing 1 for her dance competition.
Another memory from my time as a preteen is learning to make scrambled eggs. My mom explained to me how to select the cooking vessel, crack the eggs and stir the curds. It was cool to see raw ingredients transform into something edible. And as a fat kid, I loved to eat.
I still make some really good scrambled eggs; my kids love my “cheesy eggs” and I can hold my own with any omelet bar buffet chef. During college I really began to expand my game and now I am the executive chef at Fat Daddy’s Home Kitchen (not a real establishment, any similarity to an actual restaurant or eatery is purely coincidental and the use of the term chef is not meant to ruffle the feathers of those who don’t believe you can call yourself a chef unless you have studied at an esteemed culinary institute). This was partially by necessity. Hot Mama owns a dance studio and since most small town elementary school aged children are in school from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. her classes take place in the evening. I could either wait for her to come home and cook something, which is certainly in her wheelhouse but would be served near bedtime; or one of us could pick up fast food, which isn’t very good for our health and is counterproductive to my quest to be less fat; or I can cook dinner for us.
Cooking is another creative outlet for me. Much like building a potting bench, I enjoy planning the project, acquiring the materials, using my skills and tools to transform the materials, and finally enjoying the end result and sharing it with others. Of course the end result does not usually sit in our backyard for over a decade.
Today I have an assortment of knives, an enameled dutch oven, a cast iron skillet, a cast iron griddle, a food processor, a blender, a stand mixer, a dehydrator, an immersion blender, a vacuum sealer, an immersion sous vide circulator, not to mention all of the run of the mill tools one might expect a generally competent home cook to possess.
Sadly Norm’s show is no longer on the air, although his website still houses great content. Now much of my how-to television viewing includes Alton, Christopher, Rick, Guy, or the suffering souls competitively churning out time constrained mystery ingredient comprised epiphanies.
We don’t have a minivan parked in our kitchen and the counters rarely accumulate more than several days worth of crap. Every day I can get out my graph paper and sketch out a menu, go to my pantry for materials, get out my tools and create a delicious project. Not every project is heirloom quality. Not every project is made of mahogany. Sometimes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich suffices. Last night was a sous vide ribeye finished on the outdoor grill alongside fire grilled asparagus and grilled pineapple slices with a honey-lime glaze. I am not a total food snob but there are few restaurants we frequent that best my crab cakes. And while I will happily eat almost any pizza my homemade version is a house favorite.
I may never build a baseball stadium, I may rarely build a table, but several times per week I can build a meal with wholesome ingredients that nourishes my family’s need for food and my need for creativity.