Friday, April 03, 2020

The Next Turning of the Cooking Wheel: How a Pandemic Sparked More Cooking and Baking (And Not Just More Watching of the Food Network)

I love cooking. This is no surprise to those who know me.

I think many people who love cooking tell stories of growing up in their mother's kitchen, watching her cut and chop and mix and season; taking in the sounds, the smells; embraced in the oven-induced warm comfort of all day baking projects. And then eventually being instructed, little by little, how to do it all themselves.

My first remembrance of cooking went a little differently.

I was nine or ten years old. Both of my parents worked, and like many kids in the 70s, the thought of cooking never really crossed my mind. One day, my mother was going to be late getting home from work, so she called me to tell me to get some meatloaf mixed and in the oven. She told me all of the ingredients to mix together in a bowl (I had no idea what Worcestershire sauce was), what pan to put it in, and what temperature to set the oven to.

It all went pretty smoothly until I realized that I couldn't mix it very well with a mixing spoon, so I called her back for guidance. "Just mix it with your hands," she said.

Excuse me?

I tried. I really did. But the moment my hand touched that cool, slippery, sloppy mess, I pulled it away, repulsed. There was no way I was going to do that.

But I also wasn't going to drop the ball on doing what I was told, so I went in to the hall closet and found a box of gloves that my mom used to dye her hair (or give herself permanents, I don't remember now). I slipped the gloves on, and presto! Now I could mix away without getting that gross concoction all over my hands.

I didn't know there was powder inside the gloves until I took them off. That created an unexpected mess, which may or may not have ended up somewhere in the meatloaf.

This could have been the start of my cooking adventure, but it wasn't. In fact, I didn't think much about cooking again until more than ten years later, when I was a junior in college.

My friend Brad had this idea that we should drive from Iowa down to Florida to visit his mom in Tampa for spring break. The trip itself was full of memorable tales, but most importantly, this was the true origin of my personal cooking story.

One day, before Brad and I headed out to do whatever was planned for the afternoon, Brad's mom's boyfriend, who was a chef of some type, asked us if linguine and clams sounded good for dinner. I had ever had that dish before, but it sounded intriguing and sophisticated (to a boy from the Midwest who had probably never eaten a clam before), so I was totally on board with the idea. When we returned that evening, he had everything set out and ready to go.

My curiosity had been building for hours, so I asked him if I could watch him cook it. He said, "Oh, I'm not cooking it. You are." A moment of fear crept over me, and I was worried that I would somehow ruin everyone's dinner. "Um, I don't know that I can do that," I sheepishly answered. "Sure you can, " he replied, "I will tell you exactly what to do." Then he grabbed a wine glass, poured himself a tall glass of white wine, and added, "Let's get a few things chopped up and then we'll turn on the electric skillet."

And that, my friends, was the awkward beginning of my love affair with cooking.

I mentioned the electric skillet, by the way, because for years I was convinced that I had to use one when making linguine with clams (technically, white clam sauce). I mean, I knew you could probably just use a stove top, but I had never made it that way before, so for a few years afterwards I continued to use an electric skillet; not just for linguine and clams, but for a number of other things as well. I liked knowing the "preciseness" of the temperature, as indicated on the dial. But finally, I weaned myself off of it, and I don't think I have used one since 1991.

What does this have to do with cooking and a pandemic? Nothing, really. In fact, I could write for three or four more hours about my cooking life before I ever got to the pandemic part of the story. But I suppose, to stay true to the title, I should skip ahead, and, for now, anyway, leave out all of the cooking stories I want to tell so that I can get to the point.

Which is a tragedy, really, because there are so many good cooking stories.

But let's jump to the late 90's, when the Food Network suddenly became one of the fastest growing stations on cable television. I am sure that there are people out there who have already written about how and why this happened. I honestly haven't taken the time to figure it out. All I know is that by the early 2000s, yummo and EVOO seemed to be household words, and while I knew a number of people who took an increased interest in cooking, I knew exponentially more people who religiously watched the Food Network and put ridiculously nice kitchens in their many cases, to only get used once or twice a month.

Don't get me wrong....I don't want that to come out as a judgement. In my opinion, the kitchen is the most kick ass room in the house, and even if you don't really use it, the aesthetics alone are likely worth the money that was spent on it. Besides, 9 times out of 10, when you have a large party or gathering, the kitchen is where most of the people like to hang out (partly because that is where the food and drinks usually are, but also partly because of the inherent vibe of the space).

But I mention all of this because while an interest in cooking was clearly on the rise, what I witnessed most was nice kitchens with expensive appliances, frequent conversations about Food Network programs, and lots and lots of photos on Facebook of beautiful meals prepared in restaurants (again, no judgement here...I posted plenty of those photos).

In fact, I think for many years, this interest in food and cooking (for many people, at least) veered more in to an interest in eating other people's cooking, and thus, the "foodie" was formally born. And it's easy to see why. An interest in cooking was growing on the commercial side of things as well, and more and more restaurants serving amazing and interesting food were popping up everywhere. If one had the money, but lacked the time or inclination to cook, eating out was the next best thing. It was a mediated experience, of course, but it still allowed one to partake in the growing trend and interest in food.

We could discuss how that expression of food and cooking did or didn't get off track, but the "foodie" conversation will have to wait for another day. In 2020, the next turning of the cooking wheel was taking place.

I remember when I first heard about the coronavirus. Back then it was still the coronavirus and not COVID-19. It was also still contained to China. Or at least it seemed to be.

I also remember when I first heard the calls for the World Health Organization to label it a pandemic. Although I knew what that meant, in theory, I had no idea then that what it would amount to, now, was most of the U.S. population hanging out at home in relative isolation.

Additionally, when word of the first pillages of toilet paper made it's way through the media, it still seemed to just be a funny, albeit confusing, over-reaction by the panicked masses.

Even then...I didn't see it coming.

Now, two to three weeks in to sequester (depending on who you are and where you live), it is almost impossible to find flour and yeast.

Flour and yeast.

Were that many people silently waiting? Waiting for the day when they would be forced to stay at home to cook and bake? My Facebook feed is full of photos of food. All types of food. Food actually made by the person posting the photo. I also see lots of Facebook live videos of people filming themselves cooking and baking.

And I LOVE it. I really do.

I mean, it sucks that I can't buy flour or yeast anywhere, but in this pandemic madness; in this time of uncertainty and fear and anxiety; a time when no one knows what our lives will look like on the other side, or when the "other side" will even be; many people are using their time at home to rediscover, or perhaps to discover for the first time, the true joy of cooking.

That's not to say that some won't go back to what their lives were like before COVID-19 when this all passes, but I have to believe that maybe, just maybe, all of this time at home, not knowing what lies ahead, will create something that no Food Network show could ever do: give people the time and energy to have a first-hand, visceral experience of what a personal and intimate relationship with food and cooking feels like.

And my hope is that, for many, this will greatly alter how we view our food. And perhaps more importantly, that we pass that reclaimed vision on to our children.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Love (and Life) in the Time of Corona

In many ways, it feels good to return to the Mydharma Days blog. It is unfortunate, however, that it had to coincide with a global pandemic, but sometimes that's just the way things go.

The title of this post, if you are younger than the age of 45 and/or aren't in to literature, is a play on Gabriel Garcia Marquez's amazing book Love in the Time of Cholera. I think I would list it in my top 10 (fiction) books, so if you are looking for something to do during this semi-quarantine, I would consider reading it.

I started using this title in my MindBody Ops Facebook Live posts but thought I would use it here as well to kick off a new chapter, as it seems very appropriate.

There is really so much to write about, both related to COVID-19 and not. So much that I don't really even know where to start. I will warn you in advance that this post is not the "feel good post of the year."

Since I spend much of my professional life (as a personal coach and psychotherapist) challenging and deconstructing beliefs, I have noticed that there is one belief that is so interwoven in to our current mindset that we have probably never thought to examine it. It has become a part of the zeitgeist of our modern era; an assumed fundamental truth based on our unique time in history.

That belief is this:

We have an entitled view that Life, and the world, is just a medium for us to fulfill whatever desires we have, with little thought towards how it affects other people or the world that we live in.

If thousands of years ago the prevailing thought was that this world was illusion, or sinful, and something to escape by minimizing or eliminating our desires (and incorrect view, in my opinion), then we have now tipped to the opposite end of the spectrum, where we now see the world as a place to maximize pleasure and happiness and comfort at, basically, any cost.

We could point the finger at the New Agey ideas that sprang up from places like The Secret, or a number of other abundance teachings, but the soil from which most of those ideas grew came from the reality that most people have not had to live with a global crisis since World World II.

Now don't get me wrong...if you have lived or served in an area with war, or famine, or a major natural disaster, you have had a taste of this. But there was always some other place you could go to escape it. In fact, you were probably a 2-5 hour plane ride away from a totally different environment.

But the Great Depression and the World Wars were a whole different level. A high percentage of the world's population was affected at the same time, and these massive events caused profoundly different ways of relating to life and the world around us.

This should have been easy for us to see. It was right in front of us the whole time. We saw it every day in how our grandparents and great grandparents, the ones who survived these epic events, lived when times got good again. Many of them never let go of those older ways of thinking; the ways that life hardened and chiseled in to them. We naively labeled it "old fashioned," but many of those beliefs were the product of suffering and sacrifice and a world view that none of us have ever had to live under.

So here we are today, in the midst of what appears to be a global pandemic capable of causing millions of deaths, and so much of what I see on social media is about inconvenience. How dare that virus disrupt my routine, or my vacation, or my 401(k). How dare that virus ruin the success of our runaway economy; the one that has been very much based on debt and destruction and illusion.

I want to fly wherever I want to fly. I want to go wherever I want to go. I want to do whatever I want to do. It's my right. No one can tell me what I can and can't do.

Does it seem a little more ridiculous when viewed this way? Can you see the arrogance and entitlement? We have been so fortunate to have avoided so much crisis in the last 70 years that we forgot that our life has actually been a grand luxury.

If you are still having trouble seeing it, I would invite you to read more about the Great Depression, or about the rations (and internment camps) that happened during WWII. Or if you really want to have your eyes opened, read about what was happening in places like Hong Kong and Macau during the Japanese occupation.

A Facebook friend of mine (who I won't identify unless he sees this and says it is ok) posted this the other day:

Trust me, that is just one, small example of what I am talking about.

This is not to make light of your plummeting 401(K), or your precarious employment situation, or all of the other stressors that we are experiencing during this time. These stresses are real, and I don't mean to devalue them, per se.

But I do call upon an upgraded understanding and expanded perspective. We have lived during a time that has lulled many/most of us in to a sense of privilege and comfort. And maybe, if we see it as that instead of as how COVID-19 has been a great injustice to our lives, we can live with more mindfulness, and understanding, and appreciation going forward.

Because honestly, that is what it is going to take as we confront the life and the world that lies in front of us. The challenges that are out there in the near future, long after COVID-19 makes its exit, are going to demand a drastic reframe, and if we can begin to view our lives in the context of these upcoming challenges, we are much more likely to make the decisions (and take the actions) that are necessary to make the most of Love and Life in our short time on this planet.

What do these changes look like, from my perspective? That is part of what is to come.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Race Sherpa Rises: The side road through cancer

It is time to resurrect this blog.

But first, a note about the missing piece...

Not long after my last post, in February of 2015, I was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer. I really wanted to write about my experience, but I wanted to do it somewhere else, so I started a new blog called Race Sherpa Rises, which you can find here: Race Sherpa Rises blog

Race Sherpa Rises contains all of the content from my cancer experience, including my recovery. It also contains a little bit about the birth of my daughter, Taylor Joi. I actually wanted to pivot that blog in to what it was like to be a stay at home parent, but I decided not to, for reasons that I will explain later in this blog.

Because I started a side project called The Life Between, much of which is based on my experience with cancer, I wanted to leave Race Sherpa Rises just as it was so that I could use it as a resource. But I also wanted to start writing again, so as of today, I am moving back to Mydharma Days.

My first post, Love (and Life) in the Time of Corona is coming soon.