Out of the Oven and Into the World

Every two weeks I get a box of “ugly” produce delivered to my door from a company that distributes fruits and vegetables deemed unsuitable for market. Last week, the box was full of my least favorites as I had missed the customization window for that shipment. Beets, grapefruit, rutabaga, curly kale, frisée, radishes. Reading that list now, it doesn’t sound so terrible, but at the moment, I wasn’t looking forward to eating those things.

My love of cooking isn’t about creating intricate dishes with a dozen ingredients and using fancy techniques. My skill is to take what is available and turn it into something beautiful, delicious, nourishing, and satisfying. In fact, the feeling that usually follows the thought, “What am I going to do with all this produce?” is the excitement of rising to the challenge.

Produce spoils. There is no time to hem and haw, deliberate, procrastinate, ruminate, or worry. It must be dealt with. Right now. Sure, we can always begrudgingly boil the s**t out of a problem, but how much more delightful and encouraging it is to approach it with creativity and finesse! I can think of no better small daily triumph.

Which brings me to real life. I tend to see my kitchen as a refuge from “real life” rather than as a metaphor for possibility and experience for its own sake. I wonder if I were to approach difficulties with the same care and tenderness that I prepare an eggplant how different my real-world experience might be? I never say, “Too seedy!” or “Too bitter!” and throw up my hands in defeat. Rather, I ask the eggplant, “What is it that would make you sing? How can I showcase your best qualities?”

Maybe this shift in perspective will stick and perhaps it won’t. The question is, can we use parts of our lives where we see very clearly to inform us about the parts in which we are blind? Can we transfer some of the ease that feels so natural when we use our gifts to the tricky places that harbor shame and doubt? For me, at the very least, it’s a reminder that I can do it. I can be open and heartfelt and creative and satisfied, even when the heat of the kitchen feels unbearable, the knife too dull, and the ingredients not perfect. In other words, my knife skills transform into life skills.