Put your heart into everything you do

Chicken Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce
Chicken Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce

It took me 38 years to cook an entire meal from scratch. Not proud of that fact, but it is a fact.

You’d think with four kids I would have tried to boil an egg by that point but with a microwave and help in the house, why bother?

Or at least that’s what I would tell people.

The real reason was that cooking looked hard. It seemed like a science only some people were good at, and I wasn’t part of those ‘some people’.  Sure, I could follow instructions on a recipe card. If you can read, technically you can cook, but we all know that’s not true.

Cooking seemed to require passion for food and the activity around the food, and I just wasn’t feeling it. I admired people who could throw together a stew with whatever they found in their cupboards; no recipe cards or Bon Appetit pages to cut out needed, yet they still made a fantastic meal.

Most people I know just coast when it comes to cooking. They hope not to burn down the house and would like to have the food taste okay, but really getting by is quite enough for them. Cooks who pour their heart into their meals seem to get a genuine satisfaction by the activity itself. Activity which seemed like an awful lot of work just to have someone put some salt on your masterpiece or tell you they’re grandmother made a better version of it.

By not trying I let my prejudices, fears and insecurities keep me from knowing one of the best ways to make a house feel like a home. I didn’t realize I would enjoy putting together recipes out of whatever I found in my kitchen. Or that planning a menu could feel like such an important task. I didn’t understand how happy it would make me to see people enjoy something I had made with my own two hands.

With no evidence other than our own assumptions to keep us from trying new things,  sometimes we think we are saving ourselves from inevitable heartache or rejection. What we risk is the opportunity to experience growth, pain and all.

I started with easy dishes like onion white rice (which I burned many times) and black beans, which ranged from soupy to pasty, at first. Once I got those down to normal consistencies, I tackled breakfasts and cakes and dishes that were  actually meant to be soups.

Last Thanksgiving was the first time I cooked an entire holiday meal from scratch. It was scary, and somewhat exhilarating. Due to not being able to share the holiday with my husband who was traveling, it was also quite sad for me. And though the meal was served unburned and tasted okay, it was obvious to my daughters that I was slightly heartbroken that day. By then, I had already been cooking a few months. When I asked how the food tasted they said it tasted good, but they could tell my heart wasn’t in it.

And I thought, “Wow. How is that even possible?”

Spicy Chicken and Broccoli Pasta
Spicy Chicken and Broccoli Pasta

Some years ago I watched Like Water for Chocolate, based on one of my favorite books by Laura Esquivel. The movie is about a girl named Tita who is madly in love with a boy named Pedro. Tita also happens to be a phenomenal cook.

Because of family tradition, Tita, who is the youngest of three daughters, will never marry because she is to care for her mother until her death. I won’t ruin the movie (or book) for anyone who hasn’t read/viewed it,  but suffice it to say that Tita is only able to express herself when she cooks and so she pours all of her emotions into her craft.

Her joys and sorrows are magically transferred to her guests through the consumption of the meals she prepares. And, that makes for a really nice 123 minutes.

Somewhere in the movie you learn that your fears are only as strong as your mind’s desire to keep them alive, but that they are no challenge for what your heart wants. We must try new things and do them with love and care. Why? Because it shows. It always shows.

Be it work, cooking or relationships, pouring your heart into what you do is one of the secret ingredients to all success. Without it, you may be lucky to coast but you are never doing a good job.

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