My wife loves food. Cooking it, and eating it.
She hates futzing, even though she’s pretty good at doing it.
Expert cooks build temples to their talent — restaurants. What if expert futzers did the same thing? Elevate and celebrate the futz, and it might become a pursuit worthy of actually … pursuing.
My wife’s love of food became abundantly clear after our mid-life relationship blossomed, and we graduated from home-and-away sleepovers to shared residency beneath her roof.
That passion revealed itself in numerous ways. At the time, we both worked in freelance communications. Straight journalism, or marketing copy, or strategic planning. Whatever someone would pay us to do. I enjoyed it, more or less. She hated it.
I enjoyed it more because I didn’t have to wear a tie or commute to my upstairs office. I enjoyed it less because the occasional client would exercise some previously unmentioned clause that meant I wasn’t likely ever to get paid.
Kathy had connections that led to fat contracts, and tackled them with gusto, but it was all pretty Sisyphean for her. It was definitely not futzing.
Only at the end of the day, when she closed her computer, did she lift from her chair like Tinkerbell and flit into the kitchen, eager to make magic happen.
For her, it wasn’t a chore so much as a drug. Most of the time, she would rummage through the fridge and cupboards, pull a bunch of stuff down, start chopping and frying and mixing and blending, and before long, we ate better than most people dining concurrently in the city’s finest restaurants.
She wasn’t born this way. She learned by doing, layering on skills learned from the need to feed her 5-year-old self, and later, from an occasional class, from buying and reading cookbooks, from tapping the culinary zeitgeist.
Pre-Internet, she had subscribed to, and collected several years of Bon Appetit magazine. Filed them in those magazine storage boxes, indexed by year and month. At some point in the past, she had gone through each issue and logged information about cuisine and recipes and seasons onto index cards. Then, if she wanted a squash recipe for Thanksgiving, she would know which issue to pull and consult.
As you must gather, this dedication betrays a little more than what most would think of when someone calls themselves a “foodie.” Or a futzer.
My wife has never called herself a foodie. She prefers “chef.” She earned it, not after writing a check to the Culinary Institute of America, but after acceding to my supportive urgings, and opening not one but two restaurants.
Kathy is a bit like a border collie. She needs a job. She is not happy, lying around the house, chewing on rawhide.
“I love getting up early and getting out for a run like this,” she said today, as we embarked on a run at 9 a.m. “I hate futzing around all morning and showing up at the trail around 11.”
Even though we sold our last restaurant three years ago, she has morphed into a cooking collie. Like a collie eager for a cat to pass (and chase), she looks for cooking gigs to chase. It keeps her out of trouble, and few people call the cops when she shows up in the kitchen and turns out surpassingly edible grub.
Without the dog whistle of a restaurant and its myriad demands, she can sometimes drift into futzing. Such a great word. It means that one is “wasting time.” But Kathy applies it to things that, basically, are not cooking. If she is not cooking, she is futzing. Reading books. Browsing the web. Sewing napkins. Arranging flowers or talking to her son on the phone or planning little social events.
All that is essential, yet she thinks it secondary to the primary thing in life — cooking. I am inclined to encourage her greater attention to futzing, since that is more of what life promises in our 60s and beyond.
Imagine, striving to become the world’s best futzer. Hours spent in pursuit of epic futzation. A web site devoted to famous futzers. Record-length futz sessions, remarkable for the sustained indolence.
Instead of belittling it, imagine celebrating it. She could travel the country, talking to famous futzers, posting videos of those interviews, sharing common techniques, building Top 10 Snacks for Futzing.
That last one, of course, would lead her back to cooking, and far from futzing.
I thought this futz-a-thon was a great idea. Then I remembered. We already have a world dedicated to the celebration of futzing: Social media.
Despite spreading propaganda and fake news, social media is basically about people sharing the hairballs of their lives. “Hi, Friends, today I futzed around with the cat. Tomorrow, … well, who knows.”
Futzing is like that. No agendas, no pressure, just aimless, idle drift, from one room to another in search of nothing in particular. The Zen-like joy of futzing descends onto one’s shoulders at the point that we realize futzing is a goal unto itself. Flow into the futz, and the futz will reward you with a state of futzana.
When you realize you’re going nowhere, but enjoying the trip just the same, you have done the nearly impossible — turned nothing into something. You’d be surprised to find out how many people shared your interests in futzing, and would love to meet and spend time with you, sharing tales of your respective futzing.
Don’t knock it until you haven’t tried it.