Hot Ingredient for the New Year: Elbow Grease

The first pieces of writing of the year are always about predictions, resolutions, hot trends, and diets. I'll be honest: writing about what's hip in food for a particular year is usually an unpleasant and forced activity for me. This year, I actually came up with something to say in an organic way. It's not a prediction; it's just something to think about.

Elbow grease.

During the holiday break, I lost all my routines. One morning, I found myself at home with Ursula scrubbing out the inside of our 24-inch rental apartment stove. The mess inside this oven was the kind of thing not even a toxic spray, steel wool and rubber gloves could tackle without breaking a sweat, but we had some energy to burn.

Of course I elected to do it the "natural way," passing up the can of Easy-Off and instead, making a paste of baking soda, vinegar, and dish soap. The kiddo and I slowly mixed the vinegar into the baking soda to prevent a room full of fizzy foam and scrubbed the inside of our oven to music for at least an hour. Traditional oven cleaners take about as long but you don't have to scrub; I think you are meant to watch television while the chemicals eat away the remains of your meals.

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Midway though I realized I was getting some kind of sick joy out of this task, fulfilling both the physical and spiritual needs that are usually filled in the mornings at yoga, an activity I was missing from lack of the sitter. We laughed, we sweated, and we also had moments of focus, quiet and peace, almost like a meditation.

I thought about holidays where a copper bowl of whipping cream went around the table, each person taking a few minutes with the whisk until we had whipped cream for our pie, and how once the stand mixer did the job, that was one less thing to do together as a family. Elbow grease.

Sure, the stove-cleaning project took longer than it would have with chemicals, and it's probably less clean. In this era of instant Google-gratification and the ability to create things that are near-perfect (I'm thinking of everything from plastic surgery to iPhone photo apps) taking a while to complete a task, and being able to settle for it being less than "best" is actually a luxury. By scrubbing our ovens and kneading our bread and whipping our cream by hand we can teach ourselves some important lessons.

This year I'm going to pay extra attention to what I do by hand, and how by doing it I can spend more time with someone (including myself), how I break more of a sweat, how I give myself a few extra minutes to zone out and breathe. Elbow grease will be the hot new ingredient in my kitchen.

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Some inspiration from our archives on ways to add some elbow grease to your kitchen:

The How's and Why's of Whisking By Hand
Stand Mixer vs. Arm Muscle: Do You Mix by Hand?
The Key To Creaming Butter By Hand
6 Ways to Make Ice Cream Without an Ice Cream Machine
Tips and Recipes for Making Tortillas By Hand

(Images: Shutterstock/PRILL, Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan, and Witigonen via Flickr Creative Commons))