Featured Member: Alexandra
Welcome to September, Featers! We’ve successfully climbed out of the doldrums of summer to bring you our latest Featured Member.
Meet Alexandra…a renaissance soul who loves life, books, and salsa.
Featured Member: Renee
This is the latest in our Featured Member series, in which we shine a spotlight on the amazing people we’re meeting as we grow.
Today, meet Renee…
chef, attorney, student, volunteer, and all-around wonder woman.
1. We think it’s fantastic that you’re working toward a degree culinary nutrition, and studying to become a registered dietician. But we’re curious – after working as a practicing attorney, what made you decide to get into cooking? Or have they always been dual interests?
I’ve wanted to go to culinary school ever since I was 16, when a graduating friend went to one. When I asked my mother about it, she responded with this gem: “Don’t ever do anything you love for a living because you’ll grow to hate it.” (Yes, she was rather embittered about her career choice.) I actually bought into that for decades, until the corollary finally became clear in my mind: it’s far better to spend over 60% of your waking hours doing something that you dislike. What kind of advice is that?
It took until I turned 40 and realized, in short, “if not now, when?” that it was time to make my dreams a reality. As much as I love some parts of the practice of law, other parts feel soul-draining; cooking, on the other hand, is life-affirming and soul-feeding for me. Add that to a few other things that fell in line and a new culinary student was forged!
2. Of course, to be in the culinary nutrition field you have to have a love of food. What’s the first dish you ever learned to cook, and what’s your favorite one to make today?
It’s hard for me to identify the first dish because I can’t remember not helping my mother or grandmother cook and bake. I know that I was making babka (Polish sweet raisin egg-bread) with my grandmother from a very young age. I also remember, as part of fulfilling a requirement for a Girl Scout badge, cooking Barbie’s Hot Pot on my own. (Yes, there was a Barbie cookbook and I had a copy!)
Talking about favorite things to make is sort of like asking a parent to talk about their favorite child — while there might be one that the parent relates to better, there is no real favorite. The first thing to jump out at me, though, is sourdough bread. I love baking sourdough — from culturing and feeding the living yeast culture, through kneading and shaping the loaf, through watching it as the yeast continues to live and create the flavor in the bread itself. It’s time intensive and more than a bit of a pain — sourdough starters take time and money to keep going — but I love doing it.
3. We know that when cooking you always have to be on your toes and multitasking, but no matter how hard you try, sometimes things just go wrong. Have you ever had any kitchen disasters?
Most definitely! One of my earliest was when I was in sixth grade. It actually taught me something that I’m glad I learned very early — read your recipe completely, multiple times, before doing anything! I was making some sort of apple cake for a foreign recipe day at school and added the applesauce to the batter rather than saving it for the topping. Oops!
I’ve had some major disasters more recently, too — it’s part of learning new things. I’ve both undercooked and overbaked cookies, and at work I’ve baked my share of “chocolate bacon.” I won’t go into details about my first ever attempt at making chicken parmesan; I’ll just say that I’d never made it before and that it was another learning experience.
4. You’re a student, an attorney, a town selectman, a regular volunteer at your local farmers market, and an active Rotary Club member – phew! Did we forget anything? What’s your secret to maintaining your balancing act?
I’m sure you and I both forgot something, but I’m not sure that I want to remember what it is at the moment! I think a big part of my secret is prioritizing — focusing on those things that need to be done the most quickly and, while I’m working on them, not worrying about the other commitments. Sometimes that doesn’t work — I have, on more than one occasion, had multiple deadlines on the same day — in which case I just need to push myself to get one or more things done in advance.
The downside to all of this is that what suffers the most when I’m pushing towards a deadline is myself — the quality of the food I eat goes down and I don’t exercise. I’m working on changing that, and DailyFeats is definitely helping me there. Sometimes I will say to myself, “No, you’re not reaching for that box, you can cook this in 15 minutes” just so I can check off a few feats. DailyFeats also helps me remember my personal priorities after I’ve met my deadlines — “Oh, right, I haven’t done that in a week, I can do it today.”
I find it somewhat sad that I need reminders to take care of myself, but I’ve learned that I do. And while I’d like to make the mental shift that would have me not forgetting, for now I’ll take the strategies — like using DailyFeats — that help me get back on track.
5. If you had the option to clone yourself as many times as you wanted, how many do you think you’d need?
Oh my — I’d probably need like at least 5. One to work full-time and earn enough money to support all of us; one to do all the research (volunteer- or town-related) that I never find the time to do; one to do all the housework and gardening that I’m always scrambling to catch up with; one to focus on fundraising for the organizations I’m involved with; and one to do paperwork and all the coordinating necessary to make all 6 of us work well together. I could focus on going to school, enhancing my cooking skills, putting in time with the organizations I volunteer with, and spending time with my husband and my friends. Heck, I might even have time to travel!