I love knowing people who are experts at their craft. In an age when it's all about who has the loudest voice or best story propelling their marketing, my favorite master crafts people and professionals are the ones who consistently and confidently do great work, have little need for fanfare, and are happy to share about their process and projects when I ask. These are the people I love to have as my teachers.
My favorite master of woodcraft (and a favorite person in general) is Al Henry. Al has described himself to me as a cabinetmaker. Doesn't that sound infinitely practical? I can attest to the fact that Al designs and builds beautiful, functional, and as far as I can tell, perfect cabinets. But cabinets are just the beginning of what he can make, and has made. Work tables, desks, toys, unique bookshelves, and stunning large-scale inlaid and woven artwork. I'm pretty sure that if something can be made out of wood, Al can make it, and make it beautifully.
A month or so ago, I was on the hunt for a step-stool for Wyatt (who has outgrown his Learning Tower). I went to all the usual places one might find a step-stool, but none were the right height. I then checked Etsy, and I found someone who'd make me a custom-height stool. Just as I was about to place an order, though, I wondered if Al would consider doing a step-stool project with Wyatt and me. It seemed like it might be too small a job, or maybe too much to ask of him to have our "help." But I ultimately concluded that I should let him decide for himself whether he wanted to do it.
Lucky for us, Al said he would be happy to help. And within the span of a few text messages, he had vastly improved on the step-stool design I had imagined.
Wyatt and I went by Al's shop after school one afternoon to build the stool.
Before we arrived, Al had pre-cut the pieces and drilled pilot holes in all the right places. Wyatt and he assembled everything. As you might imagine, this is no ordinary step-stool. The pieces fit perfectly, reflecting the precision of an expert cabinetmaker. Al also placed tape on the front piece so that Wyatt could write his name. Al then carved Wyatt's "signature" with his dremel tool. Wyatt sanded the edges of the stool when we got home, and has been taking impeccable care of the stool ever since. As he says, "There aren't many kids who have a step-stool as nice as mine that Al built with them!" He went on to create and send Al's thank you card with unmatched exuberence.
This step-stool has changed our kitchen life. Wyatt can now wash dishes and cook with ease. When we saw Chef Kellie, culinary expert of Chicks & Love Pizza Patio, last week, she asked Wyatt if he would like to know what she always taught her culinary students. "YES!" he said, and then he stood listening with all his being. "Make every bite a delight," she said. He nodded solemnly. She went on to explain that when she makes anything, she looks carefully at what she's creating and her goal is to make every single bite delicious.
Wyatt has taken this motto to heart. With this guiding principle and his step-stool, he has become a force in the kitchen. Our latest creation was Delicata Squash Nachos. And before you make a weird face, just try them. Remember, I am not the biggest fan of squash. In fact, I bought delicata squash with deep skepticism tempered only by a willingness to give them a try, just this once, after hearing people sing its praises. Boy am I glad I did, because delicata squash is show-stoppingly good when sliced into little crescents (unpeeled!) and roasted. Those slices were so good out of the oven that Wyatt and I had to summon a lot of willpower not to just eat them all off the baking sheet. And before I forget, be sure to save those seeds! Rinse them clean of squash goo, let them dry, then toss in a bit of olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes or so, at 325-ish stirring occasionally, until they are golden. Sprinkle with salt while they are hot. They're better than pumpkin seeds.
We sort of followed this recipe, which is to say we followed the directions for roasting the squash. Then we layered on top of the mountain of squash crescents most of a can of drained black beans, grated cheddar and monterey jack cheese, and homemade green enchilada sauce. We broiled the whole mess until the cheese melted and started to brown. Once out of the oven, we added mild salsa and slices of ripe avocado. We served our "nachos" with sprouted brown rice, but I'm sure there are more exciting accompaniments.
I understand that delicata squash season is short. Go get yours before we eat all of them up.