This Week In My Home: Practice Makes Perfect

I'm expanding the "This Week In My Home" post and adding in one that deals with the same theme. This week's theme is "Practice Makes Perfect" and the inspiration for this post is gravy.  Just plain old gravy.

I've shared before that in my Southern family each woman is known for a signature cake, or meal, and that is something they work to perfect and then present flawlessly every single time.  In my family Granny made the most beautiful little biscuits.  Mama's biscuits were cracked rough looking things and my first efforts were the worst of the family.  I soon discovered a recipe in the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook which I use to this day.  From my first batch, these biscuits were good, but I had to make them several times before I could honestly say they were perfect.  I could make them almost blindfolded at one point and Samuel learned to make them by watching me.  Now his biscuits easily rival my own as they tend to be super tender and light.

I perfected biscuits and then my dad challenged me to make gravy because the two went together in his opinion.  Here was an area where I had to work hard!  There is no real recipe for gravy and how you make it depends really upon your skill.  Roux didn't work too well for me, although I found it quite helpful when making a white sauce (which to my huge disappointment I discovered to be nothing more than a sort of milk gravy).  But gravy, thin and liquid yet with a certain weightiness to it that made it gravy and not broth, was a lot harder to figure out.

Granny made gravy very simply by sprinkling flour in a frying pan (usually where she'd just fried chicken or beef) which held about 2 tablespoons of oil.  Then she'd brown the flour, season it with salt and pepper and then slowly add her liquid, usually broth, sometimes just water and she'd stir it and stir it and stir it and made the most beautiful gravy.

Mama's tended to be thicker gravy but it was smooth in texture.  My gravy was lumpy.  It usually was too thin with great huge lumps or worse it was very thick with dumpling sized lumps that burst into pockets of dry flour.  It didn't matter if I cooked it fast or slow, hot or low heat, stirred rapidly with a whisk etc.  It just wouldn't come out like gravy.

Eventually, just as with the biscuits, I discovered how to make it in my own way.  For me, a nice slurry of water/broth and flour was mixed into the liquid, heated and stirred the while until it came out to the desired thickness and smooth as velvet.  At last I mastered gravy!

Well you'd never have known it by the gravy I made yesterday.  No, you wouldn't.  It was thin, too thin, and full of tiny little lumps.  And why?  Because I didn't make gravy in the way I'd practiced all this time.  No.  I sprinkled flour into the broth from my pot roast and though I whisked hard, it came up lumpy.

It made me think.  Over the years, I've learned a great deal, but seldom did I do well at anything right away.  I love to cook but cooking was a challenge.  I like to sew but oh my gracious!  I made a mess of things until I'd learned through practice. I've found that I have learned a few things over the years about dressing well on a budget, and about how to best represent my decor style on a budget.  I'm learning to be a little more hands on and gradually taking on DIY on a smaller scale (painting counts as well as maintenance).  But with every single thing I do, I must first practice over and over and over again until I finally perfect it and can call it 'skill'.

When someone says to me "I don't have a knack for that..." I want to ask questions.  How do you know you don't have a knack for it?  Have you ever determined you'd learn to do it?  Have you practiced and practiced and practiced until you started to feel you could do it?  Do you want to learn?
Whether you're putting together outfits, a room or a budget, you'll learn a lot along the way to actually acquiring the skill to do any task successfully.  You'll learn what you like and don't like, what is most important to you and others in your household,   I've found that for myself, even the things I don't particularly want to have to do are easier if I understand the basics of why I should do it and then how to do it.

I was never really fond of the cleaning side of homemaking but I've learned that I like a clean home (and therefore it's up to me to clean it!), that dirt actually destroys furnishings and equipment through corrosion and deterioration.  I discovered that cleaning actually saved me money in the long wrong and then I discovered that I didn't need two dozen cleaners to do tasks about the home, which saved more money.  I learned that once clean, it's easy enough to maintain that same level of cleanliness rather than finding I had to work hard every time I finally settled to do the job.  I learned over time how to save steps.  I've discovered that if I do a few deep cleaning tasks each week I don't have to do a huge seasonal cleaning.  I learned to plan my time so that I could manage the deep cleaning tasks in incremental steps rather than spending hours on one job.  It's amazing how little pockets of time add up into big jobs accomplished.  And as time went on, I learned to organize my items so that I could easily find them and and to keep them organized.  It's all been learning process backed up by repetition until it was habit.

And how did I learn all this?  Practice!

So that's my theme this week.  If we practice we can accomplish the desired results. And if we keep using the skills we learn we can make things work perfectly.  Every single time.


Lana said...

Two things that I learned to do well in my Mom's kitchen were making gravy and pie crusts. She would set me to these tasks so that she could do the rest of the meal or make the pie fillings. Pie making at our house was never less than 6-8 pies at once so it was a big job but my Mom's sister often made 20 pies at once. Pennsylvania Dutch ladies take pie making seriously!

The thing I failed to learn was gardening. My family is one of green thumbs but it is practice and doing that results in those gardening skills. Once I had my own home I set out to learn what I had made fun of as a child and that was my Mom always playing in the dirt. I have become a very good gardener now but it was a lot of trial and error that brought me here. This weekend we transferred 50 pots of plants and flowers to a large dolly for overwintering in our garage. Thirty five of those pots are geraniums and I have all those because I learned to propagate them. It took a lot of failures before I learned how to overwinter plants and bring them back in the Spring but it saves us a ton of money and we have a beautiful flower filled deck every summer for almost no out of pocket expense. It was the same with making homemade compost. Purchased compost is so expensive but I have all that I want for no out of pocket cost after many years of practice and building my compost heap.

So, what have I tried and quit on? Crochet! Ugh, I can make a mess of that. I have a pile of the most crooked and strange looking dishcloths in my kitchen drawer. But, they do the job and I like them better than store bought. I have plenty of yarn on hand so I need to get back to trying! Thanks for the reminder!

Rhonda said...

I used to think I couldn't make pie crusts as I tried to follow my moms method but it just didn't work me. I found a different recipe that I can make quite beautifully.
I think most people can about whatever they realistically want to do, as long as they find their way to do it.

Deanna said...

If I'm making a cream gravy I start with a roux and it always seems to turn out fine. For a broth based gravy (like to go with turkey) I make a slurry of flour in water to add to the simmering broth. As you discovered you can't just sprinkle flour into broth. On the other hand, in a pinch, you can strain out the lumps.

Believe it or not, my mom always had trouble making jello. It just wouldn't set. I started making it for the family when I was quite young.

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