As a Southerner, aspects of cooking flow naturally for me. Knowing how long to boil potatoes without using a timer, making brown gravy and spinning a thread with boiling sugar: these tasks are learned from years of compulsory kitchen assistance.
One day, I craved guacamole, that exotic green concoction graciously offered at Mexican restaurants and completely foreign to my Southern palate. The recipe however does not appear in Moma’s list of culinary delights.
Later, I found a recipe in Southern Living and feeling adventurous I made a go for it. Who knew the complication of finding an appropriate avocado? At the grocery store I found the prettiest green avocados and the other ingredients. Following the recipe, I peeled the avocados but that tough skin wouldn’t cut. Once peeled, I cut up the fruit. The mashing was almost impossible. The gurus at Southern Living said that a fork would do the trick. Really? I tried a fork, then a pastry blender, then finally the bottom of a clean glass. Ultimately, the avocado was chunky rather than smooth combined with the other ingredients tasted pretty good.
My adventurousness in the kitchen reflects a change in perspective. I spent most of my life struggling to meet everyone’s expectations. Perfection is impossible to attain. Following rules garnered rewards and accolades. As with the kitchen, if I did not know how to prepare a dish or know the rules for conducting a project, I eschewed those things opting for the known and structured world.
At no point did I ask myself what I truly wanted. From a very young age I understood that college would be a requirement. By the time I entered college graduate school became a necessity to get ahead in life. But what to do? Law. A nice fixed profession which everyone recognizes as successful. That degree will suffice to meet expectations and I can get a paycheck.
In culinary pursuits, my palate expanded but my cooking skills did not. With paycheck in hand, I could feed myself on food prepared by others. And as with the expectations of others, I simply accepted the constraints of the menus without questioning what I truly wanted.
My body disagreed. Foods that I have loved since childhood, staples of Southern life, make me ill now. Unexplained pain follows the eating of most fried foods. Ultimately, doctor after doctor reached similar conclusions-stress. Each explained that working in a high stress job makes the body respond dramatically sometimes.
My brain follows the rules but apparently my body does not have to? Resolving the immediate causing of my pain, that was easy. Quit the job, stop eating food that causes pain. That step did not address the most difficult part: getting my brain to abandon the rules.
As it turns out, I’m not the only person, or woman in particular, to leave the high stress job world for more fulfilling pursuits. I read that successful women tend to feel as though they have not earned their achievements to the extent that some wonder when they will be outed as an imposter. These women earned their positions and are at times forced to move further up the ladder because on their own they feel like they haven’t earned a promotion or a raise. Seriously? I’m not the only one who thought that the State Bar would show up out of the blue and take my license with the excuse that they made a mistake? Wow!
The problem really is in my head and my gender. My new jobs provide me with opportunities to help people. Oh, yeah, that’s why I wanted to be a lawyer to use the skills that I had been blessed with to help people. In my new job, clients thank me for talking to them, listening to them and helping them. Initially, I did not know what to do with this gratitude. Gradually, I appreciate being appreciated.
My old job: no one wanted help. Victims and witnesses dodged phone calls. Defendants did not thank me either. People dodged us like the plague. No one said thank you.
The people I work with now, at least at one job, want help. The other job, the children need help and so do the parents, sometimes. Using my skills to help people see what I see in them or their situation makes me feel better and strangely enough, useful. The skill of seeing other people’s situations and guiding or at least helping them see their way out is a useful skill. Who knew?
Useful. For the longest time, I claimed an inability to cook because I felt my skills deficient or defective. Moma is a great cook, she has no fear in the kitchen. How could I ever live up to that? But, I tried the guacamole again. Got advice from friends who make guacamole regularly. Avocados, although a beautiful green, are ripe when they are much darker almost brown. You want them to be firm but not hard like a potato or squishy like an overripe banana.
I’ve opened myself up to a world with no firm rules, not the rigid construct generated in my mind. I have no written recipe for guacamole-just combine avocados and salsa. I risk cooking new dishes for events without trying them ahead of time to insure perfection. Somehow, I should have learned these things in Moma’s kitchen. Nevertheless, I’ve learned some more about the art of life and guacamole.