Food is our common ground, a universal experience. – James Beard
Last night was Chef Lauren Braun Costello’s turn to delight us. And oh-did she deliver! We kicked it off by once more going through the familiar story that connects us all…life’s winding road. For her, it was one that went from the it-was-expected-from-me-financial-career path to the I’m-going-to follow-my-passion-for-food path. As she spoke I could sense her inherent go-getter attitude. It was inspiring and contagious.
As she shared her story of saying yes to any opportunity that crossed her path, concluding that every opportunity she has ever taken – whether it has worked out or not – has left her with a valuable learning. I couldn’t help but ponder about my own life and the opportunities that I have been presented with. Have I consciously made the decision to feel that grateful for every opportunity I have ever had? Food for thought for sure, as I know that gratefulness and positive disposition have a huge impact on one’s overall wellbeing. In a nutshell, I felt inspired to revisit my path and make a note to look at each opportunity - good or bad- and each loss opportunity – good or bad – with gratefulness.
As we continued along with the evening she drew many metaphors between food and life in general. She spoke about the how food can give you a connotation of space, time, place, culture – in short, how food can give you identity. And how identity, in change, can emotionally support you in the journey towards and during adulthood.
We can all relate to suddenly smelling food and being transported to childhood, or being transported to a certain traditional festivity, or a certain moment or time during our lives. It can represent a loved one, a grandmother, a neighbor, a coach. It can bring us joy or tears. It can give us sense of self.
As a parent, I suddenly realized that I can create that magic for my children. And as she reminded us over and over last night, it’s not about having to prepare a fancy, Michelin 3-Star meal, as that is not the reality for most of us. What it is about – as she mentioned- is the “synesthesia”, the engagement of multiple senses at the same time that create a long lasting experience. So, in other words, whenever it’s a snow day and I make hot cocoa, nothing fancy, just store-bought-mix-with-water/milk kind of hot cocoa…there is that smell, that warmth, there is the sound of the wooden ladle against the saucepan as I stir the cocoa powder in with the milk, there is that sweetness, there is the image of me serving it and giving it to them in small mugs, and then sitting together for 35 seconds before they violently gulp it down and they’re off to the next thing. My hope is that when they grow up there might be that trigger that will transport them to their childhood. Give them a sense of the love that was given to them, maybe they’ll walk into a Starbucks on a cold snowy day before work and smell hot cocoa, and it will trigger that space and time here, at home, together as a family. My wish is that that memory will give them a sense of being grounded, of having roots. A sense of belonging and security, somewhere inside, that might help them with whatever they are going through in their lives at that moment. I now realize that it is powerful stuff that I can gift to myself and my family in the simplest of ways.
We then spoke about planning and balance. AH!!! The culprit of so many of us feeling overwhelmed…myself included…but oh-so important to be reminded. To be shaken a bit. To be told “JUST DO IT” like Nike! Here’s what stood out to me the most. It wasn’t rocket science; it was – as she said- common sense. We have more or less 21 meals to prepare a week for our families. That was my first shocker…I have NEVER EVER thought of cooking or meal prepping in that way. I think that way for most everything else, to allocate time and resources, and figure out logistics, yet for cooking I had never thought of it in this systematic way! Why? Then came my next A-ha! moment…when she said something in the lines of: “because it’s such a quotidian and repetitive task…we tend to undermined it, to diminish it” and yes! then it becomes boring, and a chore, and- again- yes: overwhelming. So she proposed, how about shaking things up a bit?! Planning will allow you freedom. Right on with that. But how about challenging yourself, sprucing it up? Maybe you choose one vegetable that you’ll experiment with. Or a new recipe every other week. Or a special dinner once a month. The most important thing is that it has to work for YOU. Based on your own situation.
Her overall advice was sound, encouraging and applicable to all of us: find what excites you and give it a go. Don’t assume that they won’t like it, and if they don’t, don’t give up, keep trying at your pace and within your capabilities. Strive for balance, not perfection, and don’t berate yourself when you fall off the wagon or veer from the path, that’s life, we all do…just get back on track and “JUST DO IT!”.
Towards the end the evening, she gave us a testing challenge: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. For each taste she gave us two samples to try, it was a tangible way to bring awareness of the vast range that exists within each taste…and that sometimes what we consider sweet…really –in its raw and original sense- is not, like 100% chocolate, which was SO bitter!!! Yet, rice…which we usually categorize as savory, had an inherently sweet undertone to it. Such a fun and enlightening activity!
I was left motivated. With energy to help myself move forward in a more positive way towards the responsibility of feeding my family. Knowing that this positive attitude will trickle down to them, even if dinner tonight might be PB&J…I’ll start again tomorrow anew. Plus, honestly, now I’ll feel really good about that PB&J too! knowing that perhaps whenever they eat one as adults or are making one to their own children in the future, they might remember their little sticky fingerprints on their milk cup and this mama that is trying her best to be there for them every single day.
Thank you Lauren for sharing so much wisdom (and laughter) with us all…
For more on Lauren Braun Costello’s work you may visit her website @ https://www.itslaurenofcourse.com/ or follow her on IG @itslaurenofcourse