Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Wood and Food / Food and Wood

There was a story this past weekend in the NY Times Sunday Magazine that made me a little blue. Peg Bracken died this year. She wrote a groundbreaking book in 1960 called “The I Hate to Cook Book”. Something about that title fascinated me when I was young.

I remember thinking that it sounded so nonchalant- like how could someone write a book about cooking, when she hated cooking? But later, I learned that it was all about understanding what you're doing well enough to fudge it when you need to. That if something is a bore to do, then find a way to make it more tolerable. Of course, the martini in her hand went a long way in making the daily ritual better. It dawned on me when I read her obituary that she probably made the Rachel Rays of today possible by making it acceptable to whip up a meal in 30 minutes.

Oh course, with titles like Hellzapoppin' Cheese Rice, or
Hootenholler Whiskey Quick Bread how could anyone resist reading her books, let alone trying some of her recipes?

To me, there's a direct correlation between cooking and woodworking, it's probably why I enjoy doing both. (I only drink while doing one.) They're creative, rewarding, relaxing, fun... I could go on. I've learned about an "economy of motion", whether I'm in the kitchen or the woodshop. I can cut some corners if I need to, or do things exactly by the book.

What? Cut corners while making a piece of furniture? It's called outsourcing, and depending on the budget of my customers, I may choose to buy components like dovetailed drawers, raised panel doors and so on. A girl's got to know her limitations!

When I used to teach furniture making, I used to quote parts of Peg's books in my classes. I'm a big fan of throwing the tape measure out the window, and building by the seat of your pants. Oh, I don't mean you can just start cutting boards and gluing them together without having a plan. Not at all.

But so many beginning woodworkers start out with a plan they've purchased from a woodworking store or magazine. These plans often have mistakes, by the way; it's been proven. And then that same beginner ends up making one error after the other. In the end, they wind up with a piece that's not only sapped them of their money and their time, but their
'joie de vivre' for woodworking.

As Stephen King would say - it's rong, rong, R O N G - wrong.

Over time, I made myself become a better woodworker by building in organized steps, sub-assemblies, if you will. I'll make a table, and if - for some unforeseen reason, the aprons end up being a half inch shorter, then so be it. Is it true to the original design? Not exactly. Does it accomplish the same thing? Mostly. Is it better? Sometimes. Call me flexible, call it whatever, but I'm not going to throw a table leg into my scrap pile because a knot ended up making it shorter than I intended.

It's "rolling with the punches" woodworking and we've all done it. Or at least, those of us who've built a lot of pieces, have done it. Knots happen, dings occur. Get over it. It's like life.

Which brings me back to Peg Bracken. I Googled her when I read of her death, I was trying to find a clip of her old TV commercial, where she snarls out "I'm Peg Bracken... and I wrote the "I hate to cookbook", with a cigarette in her hand. I was amazed at how many people have
blogged about her. It's possibly a testimony of the times, but there seems to be a great number of people who loved her. Count me in.

I wonder if Erma Bombeck ever owned a tablesaw?

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