Posted July 19, 2016
Last modified July 19, 2016
After a long nine-and-a-half months of lesson planning, assessing, discussing and meeting, summer vacation is as necessary for teachers as it is for students. We use the time to prepare our classrooms, attend conferences and reinvigorate ourselves for the coming school year.
For some, that means travel. For others, reading on the porch. I find that the best way to re-set my brain is by wearing an apron and wielding a spatula.
Cooking has always been my after-work relaxation. Even in college I would unwind (or procrastinate) by cooking and baking elaborate feasts for my friends.
When I moved to North Haven, I started working at Nebo Lodge as a breakfast cook within a few years. I loved the early mornings, the early end to the work day, and the ritualistic repetition of eggs, pancakes and toast. I started the Little Urchin Bakery not long after, and found that the cutting and shaping of bagel after bagel, loaf after loaf was just as soothing.
The bakery grew into a restaurant, a short-lived expansion. Managing is not nearly as relaxing as cooking, and although I miss my bakery very much, after taking last summer off I'm happy to be cooking bacon again at Nebo.
This summer I'm splitting my time between Nebo and Calderwood Hall, which keeps expanding its grab-and-go breakfast and lunch options.
Three mornings a week I get up at 5 a.m. and hustle out the door to Nebo, secluded on Mullins Lane behind a white fence and gorgeous garden, to cook breakfast for inn guests and keep up with a regular rotation of breakfast pastries. Some mornings are leisurely, with only a few breakfast eaters and most guests preferring to sleep in, or it can be an adrenaline rush, with every burner on the stove lit and eggs on all sides.
When I'm not cooking, I find myself up to my elbows in oats and pepitas for their famous granola, or cutting pounds of butter to make deliciously short and flaky maple scones. It's quiet, just me, a server and the innkeeper, until the night staff appears to start their extensive dinner prep.
Two mornings a week I get to sleep in until 5:30 a.m., which now seems luxuriously late. I go to Calderwood Hall, and under the expert supervision of the head baker and the cook, I bake off endless cookies and English muffins, wrap rice and vegetables for nori rolls, make the delicious spreads for the sandwiches, and fill the fridge with tasty to-go foods. The kitchen and dining room share one beautiful open space, and customers stop and say hello, or smell the cookies longingly. We're always in motion, always busy, but without the immediacy of short order cooking, it's a different feeling than my mornings at Nebo.
Wearing an apron, with a rag tucked in the waist band, my mind is on the here-and-now. If I think about tomorrow's list, my scrambled eggs will turn brown and hard or my nori wrapper will split at the seams. Every task requires and deserves full attention. Food is prepared and consumed in the very short term.
But as focused as I have to be in the kitchen, I'm aware that the stakes are a little different than in the classroom. A wonderful breakfast enhances a guest's experience, and having a fridge stocked with hummus is important to Calderwood Hall's daily operations. An authentic lesson, in which students are engaged and growing their knowledge and understanding, can have a lifelong impact.
It's a huge responsibility. We teachers put a lot of pressure on ourselves to fulfill every student's needs and interests, on top of the pressures we feel from the state and federal departments of education and of course the importance of living up to the expectations within our own community.
So, most summers, I take a little break. I put on the apron, pick up the spatula, and feed people's palates instead of their brains. By the end of August, I'll be ready to teach, discuss, assess and plan again. But for now, I'm happy frying, scrambling, mixing and rolling.
Courtney Naliboff lives, teaches and cooks on North Haven.