The Significance of Petty Details

I stood barefoot at the kitchen island Monday eating pasta from a small, white bowl.  It was a recipe I’d requested from the night before.  We’ve avoided pasta and the like, existing on cold dinners and carry-out in an unspoken resistance to heating the kitchen, but crackers and pizza crusts were not satisfying my gluten gluttony and my husband agreed to boil and toil.

So I stood, the next day, enjoying again the snap of the peas and the bite of the pancetta, reading a hamburger recipe from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home, which friends had made for us Saturday night.  The hamburgers had achieved mythical status in my mind and I needed to know just how difficult they would be to prepare.

I flipped through Keller’s book, soaking up both knowledge and olive oil while gnawing left-over ciabatta.  I breezed through searing and stock until I discovered the recipe I’d been looking for.  Our host, the night of the dinner, had asked, “Do you really think it makes a difference to grind the meat yourself?”  Well, yes, now I do.

It was a beautiful evening and we sat under white lights and fabric flag garland ironed and hung by their fourteen-year-old daughter.  We had dined together just a week or so before and had come around to my interest in astrology.  “You must have The Secret Language of Birthdays?”  “What?  I don’t.  Do I need it? Are you mocking me?”  “Yes, a little, and yes, you do.”  So in a reverse sort of hostess gift, they gave it to me and we read aloud our profiles after dessert.

“Those born on this day are not overly concerned with petty details, choosing instead to focus on the broad line, the big show.”

And as I read Keller’s recipe I wondered if this is why I am not a good cook.  Wondered if inherently I can’t attend to the pre-grind seasoning, to the careful not over-combining.  Wondered if this is why it is unlikely that I will create a dish as elegant as Keller’s or rooms as elegant at Frances Elkins’s.

All images Mr. and Mrs. Kersey Coates Reed home, architecture David Adler, design Frances Elkins from Frances Elkins Interior Design by Stephen M. Salny.

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13 thoughts on “The Significance of Petty Details

  1. Then, I look forward to seeing the "broad line" and "the big show." Wonderful post… loved it, and every Elkins room, too. ; )

  2. Yes, the devil is in the details, but without the broad line there wouldn't be a place for details. Don't worry–not everyone is destined to be a master chief. Great post!! mary

  3. Annhkh, I'm buzzin bs on you, Mrs. B.

    You expect us to think you're not capable of details when you've already shown us the cupboard you restyled, complete with teeny-tiny lines of gilding at the last? Same woman who is going to hand-stencil her entire dining room? Same woman who writes with exquisite perfection, well enough to be tapped by one of the nation's most respected newspapers, ANNND by one of the nation's leading design mags?

    If I had three boymen and one manman to see after 24/7, I'd be detailed out by dinner time myself.

  4. ah, but there is a difference between a "petty" detail and a "critical" detail. you can't be a good designer without an eye for the "critical" detail. as mies said, "god is in the details."


  5. Gorgeous rooms! I'll have to try the Ad Hoc hamburgers. I've made the fried chicken and it is amazing (and not that difficult at all).

  6. There is a world of difference and meaning between a petty detail and a petite/small detail. OMG I HAVE to grind the meat all by myself?!!!!! Versus: doing this small thing will make a big difference and bring me pleasure in sharing this wonderful meal. While I loved Ad Hoc, the deconstruction of the hamburger and rebuilding each detail based on thoughtfulness and excellence goes to Hubert Keller. Leave it to a classically trained chef to have the skilsl and insights to take the humble burger and turn it into an art form.

    All of us have different skills. My husband's downright fear of knives (he won't even wash them!) leads to gushing admiration of my knife skills. He is an enthusiastic eater (and purchaser of tools for me). In the end, we sit down to a meal that each of us enjoys. That we bring different skills to the table, does not make the pleasure of sharing any less.

    ps: quickie: use 2 lbs angus beef (so lucky to have that in Kansas), add one small onion finely minced, 1 egg, and the killer deal—about 1/3 finely chopped bacon (partially freeze first before chopping), salt & pepper and gently mix and form into patties. Sear each side and finish in the oven so the meat is not overcooked. A modest amount of more effort, with a great return on taste. Compromise does not have to a deal killer!

  7. Patricia, Sorry so late with mt comment- you are so not into the grand gestures at the expense of the "petty" details. You LOVE the details! Anyone who could stencil your sons playroom, silver leaf your old sitting room, be-ribbon your hallway in dream house one, as well as obsess over your beautiful old dining room…..surely cares about every detail of her home.

  8. I never, ever, grow tired of looking at these rooms. How sad I was that last time the house was for sale I just didn't happen to have the requisite millions on hand…

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