Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What do you want to be when you grow up?

"A pediatric surgeon."

That's what I would have answered when I was 5.  I was born with a bilateral vesicoureteral reflux and had to have a couple surgeries as a toddler to correct it.  My first memory is sitting in a bed looking up at a lady in surgical scrubs.  I was probably 1 or 2 at that time and I still remember her face.  I spent so much time at doctor's appointments and hospitals that I wanted to help kids that were sick like me.  

Over the years, I changed what I wanted to be when I grew up as often as the seasons changed.  I wanted to be an actress, an auto mechanic, a journalist, a pilot, a teacher, a nurse.  You can be anything you want when you grow up.  

I've always loved cooking as long as I can remember.  I have vivid memories of spending hours reading my mom's series of Time Life's The Good Cook series. I was always helping out in the kitchen, making meals for the family, experimenting on recipes, and learning everything I could about cooking.

When I was 17, I took my SAT's just like every other high school senior.  While most kids are sending their scores to UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC Davis, I had mine sent to a famous culinary school in San Francisco.  I even spoke with an admissions counselor, but the $40k tuition wasn't even a possibility.  I ended up settling for the local community college and got a AA in Liberal Arts because I didn't know what I wanted to do.  I bounced from job to job...retail, warehouse, nanny, popcorn maker, auto parts cashier, massage therapist, office worker...nothing suited me.  They paid the bills, but there was no passion.  

When I moved out on my own, I was broke just like every other girl in her early 20s.  My boyfriend (now hubby) and I lived on ramen, Hamburger Helper, Rice A Roni, and all the other cheap foods you tend to eat when you're young and broke.  But I always tried my hardest to make them "fancy".  I'd add chopped up veggies, more spices, and whatever else I could find to make it edible.

Then I started watching the Food Network.  Hours on end of watching people teach me how to cook.  It was like free culinary school.  It was also at this time that I had started getting sick and was trying to lose weight, so knowing what was in my food was becoming my central focus.  Sometimes I'd ask myself if this was what I was supposed to be doing.  Was I supposed to be a chef and not working in a store or at a desk?  

Armed with a couple cookbooks, a TV station dedicated to cooking, a Weight Watchers Points Guide, and the vast resources of the internet, I began to search for ways to cook my way to weight loss and health. Soon, I started venturing out on my own - making meals completely from scratch (without the aid of a box, package, or can) - for about the same price as the boxes, packages, and cans.  Hubby's friends and family were always raving about the foods I cooked.  Everyone kept asking when I was going to open my restaurant.  I think I am the only person in the world that owns the main CIA textbook/cookbook that isn't and never was a student. 

I always knew there had to be a correlation between the foods I ate, and the health problems I was experiencing.  I searched high and low, but I could never pinpoint it.  My doctors didn't seem to know how to treat me if it couldn't be fixed with a pill.  The pills weren't working, so I knew I had to keep looking.  I never gave up and continued to search for answers, trying to cook my way to health.  I couldn't get myself to like artificially sweetened things....they tasted like DIRT.  I couldn't get myself to try fat free chips that could make me have stomach cramps and worse.  I never understood how food made with unnatural chemicals was better for you than "real" foods.  Why not just eat the real thing, and just not gorge yourself on it?  Quality over quantity.  Moderation.

We began to eat very healthy.  Whole grains.  Fat free dairy.  Lean meats.  Lots of organic fruits and veggies.  Water.  Sweets in moderation.  We stopped eating fast food.  We stopped going to cheap restaurants all the time.  We ate at home and we ate healthier and cheaper than any restaurant could provide.  I was constantly searching for recipes to cook better and healthier.  If we weren't eating out, I wanted my food to taste like it.  Dave's overall health was improving.  Mine was getting worse.  I didn't understand what I was doing wrong, even though I was doing everything right. I dabbled in every kind of diet out there, but I always came back to eating a healthy, well balanced diet full of fresh, wholesome foods.  

One day, Dave and I were watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.  I was hooked.  Here was a guy, about my age, who lived his dream as a chef, yet was trying to save the world by his cooking, one school lunch at a time.  That show shocked me.  Families that ate nothing but fast food, takeout, and frozen dinners.  Children that didn't know what fruits and vegetables were.  Watching that show made my heart ache.    

I remember telling Dave that I wish I could do what Jamie Oliver was doing.  He's famous and has a following. He can tell people to do things and they will happen. I sit at a desk and push papers and occasionally make my (and Dave's) coworkers jealous with leftovers from last night's dinner.  I have no following.  I have no voice.  I have no training, no experience.  Jobs like that aren't posted on Monster or Career Builder (I checked) and even if they were, I don't have any qualifications. Just desire to help.  Desire doesn't usually get you hired on its own. 

Over the following months, more and more people kept coming into my life that didn't know how to cook. I kept hearing stories of friend of friends who don't cook.  A mom that fed her children fast food three meals a day.  Another mom who couldn't prepare a scrambled egg and toast for her kids' breakfast.  Families that ate cereal for dinner because no one knew how to cook.  Families that think that having a home cooked dinner is a Stouffer's lasagna. Husbands and wives that got into fights over cooking responsibilities and the amount of money being spent eating out because neither of them knew how to cook.  Heartbreaking.  

I take it so much for granted that I grew up with a mom and grandma that are amazing cooks.  We didn't eat frozen pizzas or lasagnas.  Store bought cookies were a special treat.  Restaurants were for special occasions.  We ate foods were make from scratch.  We always ate vegetables with every meal.  My little brother was shocking restaurant staff at 3 years old when he ate a side salad on his own.  My mom insisted that all of us kids knew how to cook for ourselves by the time we were teenagers.  I just can't comprehend not knowing how to make a basic dish like scrambled eggs or marinara sauce or even a simple, healthy meal like baked chicken, steamed rice, and a side salad.  I understand the laziness factor of not cooking, but I don't understand how you can NOT know how to cook.  I thought it was just one of those things you learn as a kid, like tying your shoes, or washing dishes.  

Last October, after lots of encouragement from some friends, I finally decided to start a blog.  I didn't exactly know what my direction was going to be, other than it would be about healthy food and recipes, and probably about gluten-free foods as well.  I didn't really tell anyone about it.  I figured it would be just for me until I was satisfied with the contents. 

The holidays came and went, and by January, I was really sick.  I was exhausted.  Being sick for years is exhausting.  Inconclusive doctor's appointments are draining.  Dave's new job was taking him all over the state except for home.  We were in the midst of short selling our {bad} investment house.  We were trying to catch up from months of un/under-employment.  I was physically, emotionally, and mentally at my breaking point.  My final act of desperation before I officially gave up on my health and ever having a "normal" life, led me to a life changing appointment with my Naturopath.  Food allergies?  Really?  8 years of tests and medications and it was FOOD ALLERGIES?  Shouldn't that have been the FIRST thing that I was tested for?  The past six months have been an amazing journey that I wouldn't trade for all the cupcakes in the world.  However, my cooking world was turned upside down and I was lost.  I didn't know what to do, how to cook, what to cook.  Nothing.  It was AWFUL. 

In April, I decided to write down my experiences about how things were going with my food allergies.  It was a very difficult adjustment for me and journaling my struggles helped me in the past, so I decided to try it again.  Instead of keeping it hidden behind a heart shaped lock and gold key, I decided to put it out there in the universe.  If I could let one person know they are not alone while going through a similar struggle and help them out somehow someway, it would make me feel like all my struggles weren't for nothing.  

As I started to write down my new ways of cooking, I started to gain the confidence back in the kitchen that I had lost.  Cooking started being fun again.  It was like a game trying to find recipes I could eat or modify recipes so I could eat them.  I found my passion again for cooking.  I also rediscovered my passion for writing.  

Last week, while I was searching for recipes, and I came across a link to an awesome website called Not Eating Out in NY: Consuming Less, Eating More.  It's an awesome read full of great pictures, and yummy looking recipes.  The author, Cathy, has a series of posts called "Reasons for Not Eating Out #{x}."  My eyes drifted to the reason for July.  "Reason for not eating out #51: To Be a Home Cooking Advocate."  She started out by discussing the recent passing of a culinary legend. 

She wasn’t a five-star restaurant chef, and didn’t graduate from a culinary school.

 She was Marion Cunningham, author of several cookbooks (including the revised Fannie Farmer Cookbook), cooking instructor, and cooking television show host. 
As the New York Times put it in the title of her obituary, she was a “home cooking advocate."

A Home Cooking Advocate?  

I didn't realize that was an actual career.

Cathy continued her article: 
 Anyone can “advocate” by just cooking, for your friends, family or yourself. You can also busy yourself doing unprofitable things like volunteering at a soup kitchen, teaching a bunch of kids how to make sushi rolls (which I was doing Wednesday at a day camp), or writing a recipe blog. There are ever more creative ways to step out in this field, like producing an online cooking show or throwing a themed potluck. I’d like to think they’re working, giving people a new outlet for creativity and passion for food. Little by little, anyone can be the next Marion Cunningham, and reap the reward of simply knowing that you’re making a positive impact.
"...anyone can be the next Marion Cunningham..."

I could be the next Home Cooking Advocate.

(Is that some sort of reality show contest?)

And then it hit me.  That's what I want to do.  I want to be a home cooking advocate.  In fact, I'm doing it daily already.  I cook at home.  I share with my friends, family, and coworkers constantly about cooking and healthy eating.  My passion is food and I want to share that with everyone. 

My heart is sad for kids that grow up without eating a home-cooked meal around the dinner table.  It makes me depressed to go to the grocery store and see families shopping and carts full of boxed dinners, frozen pizzas, chips and sodas, yet not one fruit, vegetable or remotely healthy food item.  

I know that I want to be a Home Cooking Advocate.  I want to help that mom be able to feed her babies wholesome, home-cooked meals so they don't have to eat fast food three times a day.  I want to help that couple learn to cook healthy meals for their family and save money so they aren't always broke and fighting about it.  I want to help the food allergy newbie how to work with their new restrictions and overcome that challenge and still eat delicious foods.  

I don't really know how to become that person yet.  I actually don't think anyone really knows how to become that person.  It just sort of happens along the way of doing what they love to do.  Right now I'm at the beginning of my journey.  I have a general idea of the direction I want to head.  I just haven't found the path to get there just yet.  So for now, I will do the only thing I know how to do.  I will cook and I will write and I will share.  I will keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to the signs from the universe guiding me down the path I need to take.    



  1. Yes, yes, yes!! This is an awesome post! As I say in yoga, put it all out on the floor, leave it on the floor and walk away. In this instance, leave it all on the cutting board!!!

    I think that someday, maybe soon, maybe not so soon, this exact post will be the intro to your very own cook book. Your Home Cooking Advocate Manifesto!

    Bravo! Prost! Cheers!!!

    1. Thanks :) Excited to see where this leads me!

  2. Yup...the new title, the simplified one. Perfect. Totally perfect.