My Hubby the Hobbyist

Posted: June 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Drink, Husbandry, Miss Kate | No Comments »

Years ago my New Year’s resolution was to eat more sushi.

This might not seem like your typical self-improvement-type resolution. But after being with Mark—a die-hard disliker of seafood—for a while at that point, I’d come to realize just how seldom I was eating the stuff. Something that I happen to love.

And I’m not one to deny myself.

I sent an all points bulletin out to my friends. “Available for any and all outings for sushi. I’ve deprived myself needlessly for too long! Seeking seafood redemption, and a good wasabi-induced nasal passage clearing.”

Okay, so I didn’t send out that exact email. But I did tell my possee I wanted to get my unagi on more often.

And I posed it to Mark this way: If I went on like this indefinitely—putting my own desires aside for the greater good of the couple—well, who knows? I might suddenly implode one day. I may do something irrational and regrettable, like, well… like smother him with a pillow in his sleep.

And neither of us wanted that to happen.

I recently got breakfast with a mom from Paigey’s school. We don’t know each other very well, and in the course of conversation she mentioned that she coaches her son’s little league team. And here I’d been thinking that, along with taking the trash out, that was men’s work.

It was the last thing I expected her—she of the fabulous over-sized designer purse—to say. And I love that she does it.

I told her how Mark worked for Sports Illustrated for years covering baseball. How he’s been to every spring training venue, took a road trip after college with his BFF to tour ballparks, and he used to write a popular blog about the Oakland A’s.

Oh, and sometimes? Sometimes he does that sports-nerd thing where he tracks the scores at games on those little cards.

None of this makes a whit of sense to me. But I gather it’s what baseball fans do.

And Mark is definitely a fan. Or, at least, he used to be.

Because, sadly, after years of me whining whenever a game was on TV and I wanted to watch something estrogeny like Friends, and after producing two time-sucking kids, and after getting older and lazier about actually making it out to ball games, the truth is, Mark indulges his baseball fandom about as often as I eat sushi. Which is, sadly, not so much.

I told Little League Coach Mom that Mark also used to be in a band. (She did too!) But now, heck, he rarely even picks up his guitar.

I walked home from our breakfast wondering, “Has parenthood—or marriage—beaten our old interests out of Mark and me?” Over time have we morphed into a common entity, unwittingly abandoning our personal passions in deference to those we share? And have even some of those been swallowed up by our children?

One block further in my promenade I came to the realization that the answer was—thrillingly—no. Blessedly, all that is unique and interesting about us has not been lost.

Mark and I still appear to be different people. Sure, folks say we look alike, but we steadfastly remain one introvert, one extrovert. One cooker of savory foods, one dessert-maker. One Midwesterner, one New Englander. One techno-file, one luddite. And, despite a brief period of confusion (when we both had blue ones), we still even use separate toothbrushes. (I have a friend who shares a toothbrush with her spouse, claiming the result’s no different than what happens when you make out. But still.)

So back to my contemplative walk… What was a bit distressing, was the realization that Mark’s done a far better job that I have of pursuing non-kid-related interests.

But honestly? Nearly anyone would be challenged to keep pace with the man. Not to be overly fawning, but the guy‘s a kinda Renaissance Man. Or at least, one in training. It’s like he’s being guided by some unspoken imperative to educate himself on a super vast array of stuff. Or maybe he’s just training for some reality show I’m unaware of.

And when he gets engrossed in some new thing, it’s not like he takes a cursory dip. When Mark’s interest is piqued, he goes deep.

When we were dating he got into cooking. Lots of folks like to cook, right? Mark began amassing cookbooks (and knives and pots and mandolines) on a grand scale, took a week-long class at the Culinary Institute of America, and became obsessed with obtaining a perfectly cubical dice on his mirepoix. And when I say perfect, it was as if Thomas Keller were going to bust through our kitchen wall like the Kool-Aid guy to inspect Mark’s knife skills.

Generalized cooking over-achieving eventually gave way to Mark’s interest in molecular gastronomy. More gear and high-tech equipment was gathered (taking up even more storage space), and strange chemical agents made their way into our cupboards alongside old-school standards like cinnamon and garlic powder.

Mark practically began making the girls’ morning oatmeal sous-vide. He placed plates of pink dust before me at dinner. “It’s salmon, but I altered it using bio-sodium-carbonate-hydroxy-something-or-other. It’ll just melt in your mouth. It’s the true essence of salmon!”

Cyclocross came onto Mark’s radar at some point before or after techy geek cooking. (It’s hard to keep track.) It turns out his  love of road biking was just the gateway drug to cyclocross—a seems-miserable-to-me sort of obstacle-course laden bike race. Mark woke early on weekends to meet up with other mad men who took pleasure in repeatedly grinding their way through hilly punishing courses that forced them to intermittently run carrying their bikes over their shoulders to get over stairs or streams or tree stumps.

Race mornings that were especially drizzly or muddy had him giggling with glee. In his free time (sometimes in our living room) he’d practice jumping on and off his bike. Or throwing it over his shoulder and sprinting.

He returned from races splattered in mud and nursing minor injuries, happy as a clam. If I didn’t know him better I’d have guessed he was having an affair with some raucous barnyard animal.

The first ‘cross race the kids and I went to was weirdly family-friendly. Most of the 30-something guys were former road or mountain bikers who, after fatherhood, became cyclocross weekend warriors. (The sport serves up a large dose of action to the time-constrained maniac.) Cheering sections formed in small mud pits alongside the race course, made up of hipster mamas and kids clanging cow bells howling, “Goooo Daddy!” After the race grilled sausages and beer were de rigeur (in the Belgian tradition), despite the fact that it was 10:30AM. It wasn’t uncommon to see a mom pushing a stroller with a kid balanced on a case of Trappist ale.

Mud and pain aside, attending that race helped me see the allure of it. But one morning, scaling some slippery hillside with his bike slung on his shoulder like a backpack, Mark wrenched his knee. And faster’n you can clang a cowbell, his obsession with cyclocross was replaced with sessions with a physical therapist. (He still fervently watches races on YouTube. Very weird to suddenly hear a crowd cheering in Flemish from the other room.)

I set one of Mark’s obsessive hobbies into motion when I gave him a food smoker a couple Christmases back. He’s spent hours pouring over food-geek websites, sussing out subtle differences between brisket recipes, contemplating cuts of meat, and photographing (and Tweeting about) every step of the smoking process. He’s woken up in the middle of stormy nights, and gone outside in his boxers and raincoat to check on the progress of his pork butts with a flashlight.

I’d call it excessive, unhealthy behavior if it weren’t for the fact that his pulled pork is so damn good. (His ribs don’t suck either.)

We’re at least three months into Mark baking bread every weekend, never quite content with the rise in his proof or the airiness of his crumb. He’s also been golfing a damn lot. And like his bread loaves, no golf outing ever seems totally satisfying. At some holes he birdies, but bogies at others. The first 17 holes rock, then he falls apart on the 18th.  There’s always the hope that next weekend his sourdough will be surreal in its perfection and he’ll get 18 holes in one.

And while my ass grows rotund from succulent smoked meats and home-baked bread, Mark’s decided to also come down on my liver. Which is to say the man has become Mr. Cocktail. He’s a high-ranking amateur mixmaster, who blessedly has not incorporated flair into his bartending prowess. That’d just be tacky.

I’m currently living in a world where a pre-dinner drink could include something as obscure and colorful as Creme de Violette or as oddly-named as John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum. A cocktail cookbook I bought him for his birthday has become his new Bible, and man, we are sipping some lovely fizzy ginny deliciousness ’round here.

What’s great is these drinks are such time-honored classics. Like, I’m a huge fan of the Tom Collins now. So preppy-sounding and old school! And recently at a friend’s house Mark took a mobile tote-bag bar and busted out some lemony minty bev called a—I love this—Southside. How smooth-sounding is that? “Yes, I’ll have a Southside, please.”

And all this is coming from the woman whose first act as President was going to be a law that states coconut-flavored rum is bad-ass. Up ’til now I’ve had the booze palette of a 12-year-old. It’s up just a notch from those who have an affinity for wild strawberry wine coolers. (I prefer peach—much more refined.)

Anyway, to discover that there are some excellent classic cocktails out there that I like? That I wouldn’t be ashamed to order in public? It’s immensely liberating. Plus it frees up my first Presidential mandates to focus on outlawing the use of mushrooms in restaurants, and requiring all children to stay in bed until 9AM.

Speaking of kids, Kate has recently abated her two-week compulsive balloon animal making binge (going everywhere clutching a balloon pump to her chest like it’s her pacemaker). These days she is fervently focused on crafting friendship bracelets.

God help those who deign to darken our doorstep for even a moment. She’ll accost you with a demand for your favorite two—no, three!—colors, then start furiously knotting. Two Jehovah’s Witnesses pushing pamphlets left our porch after a five-second “no thanks” from me, and I could swear each of them was sporting fashionable new thread bracelets from Kate. “When it pops off some day, make a wish!” is her cheery manufacturer’s tip.

Mark and Kate’s hobbies have yet to intersect, but when they do—fly fishing? cartography? Beanie Baby collecting?—I can only imagine how the sparks will fly.

But thankfully, before Paige and I have reason to be fed up with the onslaught of new gear, or the dining table be overtaken, or them being absent for chunks of the weekend, they’ll be on to the next thing.

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