Food for Thought: When food feeds the soul

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For most of my childhood, all I liked to do was sleep. I would come home from school, eat a big snack and then take a nap that ended whenever dinner started. I felt somewhat lost, confused as to why I could never find my "thing" in life. My friends would constantly be practicing their instruments, singing in the choir, painting beautiful self-portraits and rehearsing for their dance recitals.

I was never good at any of these activities. I have tried playing the piano, the clarinet and the cello, all with little to no success (I say little because I can still play The Lion King theme song on the clarinet). I took choir in my freshman year of high school, and quickly discovered that I break out in hives when asked to sing in front of a group of people. Art didn't work out either, aside from my puzzling and utterly useless talent for pottery wheels. And finally, I tried dance class, which I would have to say is my greatest failure to date. I tried everything from ballet to hip-hop to lyrical ribbon, only to realize ... I am uncoordinated.

Each failed venture dampened my spirit, and I would spend the majority of my time trying to accept my dull future of eating, sleeping and doing homework. To quell my fear of a horrifying, directionless life, I would come home from my failure of a lyrical ribbon dancing class and make a sweet and cinnamon-y apple crisp with vanilla ice cream to ease the pain.

I assume you see where this is going. My "thing," my passion, my talent was there all along. Cooking is the one thing I have always felt good at, and food is the one thing that has always been there for me. I love it like a fat kid loves cake ... literally.

Everyone has that something that makes them feel like they are the most talented person in the world, and cooking does that for me.

Aside from finding something I was good at, cooking allowed me to experience the invigorating feelings that can only come from creative expression. The excitement that comes with the spark of a new idea, the satisfaction that comes when you finally make your vision a reality, the heart-pounding anxiety that comes with worrying about whether it is good enough and the pride of finally sharing your creation with the world.

Then in high school, I started writing for the newspaper, and discovered my affinity for projecting my feelings onto paper, translating my thoughts into words and sharing those words with others. Writing takes me on the same emotional roller coaster that I had come to associate with cooking.

I realize now that what I have always loved so much about cooking - and about writing - is the satisfaction that comes from making something that is a unique expression of myself.

Writing this column and combining the two things I am most passionate about has been a profound experience. It has taken the place of the countless hours I used to spend in front of the stove whipping up whatever I had dreamed of the night before.

Instead of falling asleep thinking about what I would make for breakfast in the morning, I now doze off to thoughts of the next restaurant I'll try, or how my experiences with food tie into my childhood anecdotes (perhaps you've noticed that all of my columns begin with "When I was a child ... ").

My weekly homework assignment of finding a new restaurant to write about was exciting and challenging (and probably the only one I have not put off until 1 a.m. the night before). Aside from the possibly irreversible damage to my waistline, it was the most fun research I've ever had to do.

Of course, the writing was stressful at times. I have spent countless Friday mornings wondering whether people are tired of hearing me say "I love food" in a thousand different ways, reading a column that uses the word "mouthwatering" in every other sentence or listening to me talk about an airplane ride with my sister.

My hope is that people are not tired of it, because food is so universally adored. Its appeal is unexplainable and mysterious. Nothing else has the capacity to inspire, to please, to repulse, to intrigue. It can bring people together around the table, and lend anyone a short moment of joy with a single bite. Food is magical. Even a sorority girl with a date party coming up can't bring herself to stay away from a chocolate lava cake.

And so I end my column as I started it, trying desperately to articulate my relationship with food. I am not sure how good of a job I did, but hopefully I have inspired you to make food a part of your life, to see the world around you through an edible lens.

Oh, and just so you know, I am a much better cook than I am a writer.

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Contact Harley at [email protected]



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