Twenty-six years of tasting later, an urge to cook my own masterpiece

I tend to define my days and self-worth in terms of employment status, personal hopes, and day-to-day experiences. Which is where the following retrospective-to-present-reflection is coming from.

Four years ago, serendipity granted me the day off from work for my 22nd birthday. Our start-up publishing office was moving from a tiny basement apartment on the Upper East Side to a tiny apartment in a high-rise residential building on the Upper West Side and I wasn’t invited to schlep boxes. Hurray for small miracles! So, left to my own devices, I wandered around Greenwich Village, took in a movie, “10 Items or Less” (it was good!), – yes, by myself, what of it? – and, if recollection serves, met a friend for Indian food and purchased cream puffs to bring home. It was on this birthday that I decided to hope that how I spent the day turned out to be an indicator of how the upcoming year would go. I hoped that my 22nd year would be marked by independence and confidence.

Three years ago, I spent my 23rd birthday wondering what to do to mark the day. A high school acquaintance decided we would check out the Max Brenner’s off Union Square. I was still a fully employed editor of children’s workbooks, so I had money to spend (unlike now, but we’ll get to that in a moment) and why turn down a trip to a restaurant that featured a menu of savory and sweet items – all mixed with chocolate? The previous year had turned out okay, with small strides towards my two goals, so this year I hoped that the next year would bring good food and, unlike the day’s proceedings, more direction.

Two years ago was my 24th birthday and it was pretty uneventful. The previous year had indeed brought some tasty forays, as well as many new experiences, which I was still in the midst of. I had quit my publishing job, switched careers to embark on magazine and newspaper internships, begun graduate-level studies in journalism, and begun an earnest attempt to shape my life’s future direction. This day was so uneventful that I just spent it at work. I considered it a change from all the changes that had been going on in my life. I figured, screw predictions, I just hope for something exciting.

Last year, I turned 25. A quarter-century old. With that came a mini-quarter-life crisis of medium-epic proportions. Unenrolled and sporadically employed, I had a lot of time on my hands for reflection and attempts to self-fix. It was a pretty good day, spent at a new temp job, receiving text messages from friends wishing me a happy birthday. This turned out to be a sign of my next year, I suppose, in that I continued working as a freelancer and temp, and continued working on getting to know myself and my strengths and weaknesses, and my dreams.

Which leads me to today, the 26th anniversary of my birth. Got a birthday hug from Mom in the morning. Stayed home. Watched and listened to the wind and rain whipping around outside my window. Compulsively checked all the birthday wishes coming in on Facebook. Enjoyed the panini (that needed mayo and mustard) and cannoli that Mom got me for my birthday. All in all, an eh birthday. But I have my singing, my freelancing and entrepreneurial attempts, my volunteering, and now, my serious considerations of applying to culinary school.

Why culinary school?

I’ve been following Project Food Blog, voting for one of my favorite bloggers, Kimberly Morales of Poor Girl Eats Well. In the process, I discovered Emily Malone of The Front Burner (nka Daily Garnish). A healthy foodie-turned-chef-and-writer. Chef Emily inspired me to see food preparation and cooking not as a daunting project, but as fun and totally do-it-yourself-able. True, I’ve known it was fun for a while, and had already begun testing the waters this summer with my CSA share produce (from Flatbush FarmShare), but it took nearly 16 months of percolating in my own stew of self-reflection for me to even acknowledge that journalism is not the only path I could take career-wise, and it is high time for me to cook my own masterpiece.

So I’m considering a full-time six month program or a part-time 11-month program at the Natural Gourmet Institute here in NYC. (If you’d like to check out students’ work, reserve a spot at the table for a Friday Night Dinner!) I would get to learn about cooking and knife skills, at the only culinary program in the country that focuses on the health aspect – they call it health-supportive – of food, cooking and eating. I would get the option of cooking with seafood (I’d opt in; vegans might not) and classes are allergy-supportive, so I’d be learning about food as medicine (a big plus for me), making me more qualified to teach youth about nutrition and healthy eating if I choose to go that route, and to work on farms or as a private chef or in nutrition policy, if I so chose.

Ideally, this background would also give me more credibility in my food and health-writing endeavors, too. NGI alums include several food editors, cooks and authors, so I’d be in good company.

Anyway, it’s a possibility among many possibilities, and I’m still weighing options, but whatever this new year brings, I am excited at the idea of cooking up my own masterpiece. I’d raise a glass to that!

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