Cooking is inspirational. It is humbling. It is creative, exhilarating, and spiritual. It connects us to people and places, family and history, and to religion. It is also challenging and satisfying, and asks that we have faith.
There is really nothing like layering ingredients into a meal then enjoying the tasty surprise that waits at the end of the cooking process. It also takes persistence, trial and error, and most of all patience to create the kind of dish that most of us will only enjoy at a fancy restaurant.
Cooking allows me to reflect on my own life and the world we live in, and make connections between the two. The kitchen, and how we approach cooking, ingredients, and recipes, can be the perfect metaphor for life. By understanding the relationship between our lives and cooking, we gain incredible insight on how to grow.
At a younger age, cooking for myself was a necessity, since both my parents worked the better part of the day to provide for us. After being picked up from school then dropped off at home, if we were hungry, we had to make something for ourselves. God knows there was no one better at spreading butter and applying just the right amount of maple syrup to a perfectly toasted Eggo than me.
These days, I apply that same attention to detail to my smoker. (Warning: A smoker carries its own unique set of tests and may result in intense frustration.) However, just as with our own lives, when we take on challenges, it takes trial and error, patience, and persistence to succeed.
The trials from a smoker will mirror and reveal the answers to the tough questions life sends our way, and help us make sense of the answers we find.
Rules Are Just Suggestions
If you follow a recipe, you will always know exactly what you’re having for dinner. Unfortunately, cooking, like life, necessitates that we learn as we go. So instead, let the recipes of life serve as a guide because you’re likely to end up with something different every day.
Different could mean bad and inedible, in which case, learn from your mistakes, get better, and you will have confidence the next time the situation arises. Different could also mean exciting, and the discovery of flavor combinations you didn’t know existed. You may learn that it can be a lot more fun to blaze your own trail, to draw outside the lines, trust your instincts, and give it a go, even if you’re unsure of how things might turn out in the end.
More often than not, taking the risk will be worth it. We have to remember that the worst times in our lives have never been so catastrophic that we haven’t able to fight through them. Mistakes will be made, and sometimes you will have to discard entire entrees and side dishes. Just remember, there is always a lesson to be learned from failure, so trust your instincts, because they are born from experience.
Low and Slow
?In the world of cooking meats, specifically in smoking BBQ, magic is found in honoring the process. When cooking tough cuts of meat with lots of connective tissue like ribs, brisket, and shoulder, it takes time to develop the flavors, break down the intermuscular tissues, and allow for the smoke to seep its way into the flesh.
That’s why these cuts are often cooked low and slow. The meat will start to become tough and dry around 125°F to 140°F, if heated quickly. When heated slowly, the rubber band-like collagen fibers have time to relax and coat the muscle fibers with soft, gelatinous lubricant. (Yes, this collagen is pretty much the same thing the Hollywood wives have injected in their faces to get rid of wrinkles.) This gives meat a wonderful silky texture and adds moisture.
Like our lives, this low and slow process demands patience and consistent attention. There are ways to try to hack the system and speed up the process, but in the end, it never turns out the same. Things take time, so appreciate the process it takes to reach your goals. Relationships take time, building sustainable businesses takes time, and losing weight (the right way) by dieting takes time. You can try to find a path that gets you there faster, but along the way, you are bound to skip over some key steps. Life takes time.
Don’t Skimp on Ingredients
Have you ever opened a cookbook and had all but one of the ingredients? It doesn’t seem worth it to drive all the way to the grocery store just to complete the recipe, so you compromise. You decide to use margarine instead of butter, or use nonfat milk instead of heavy cream, but it rarely turns out right.
Simply put, recipes are there to keep you on track, and not to be disregarded. Remember salivating over what looks like a perfectly smoked brisket, but when you taste it, it is dry, bland, and seems to be missing something? Your shortcut might put you ahead in the short run, but in the long run, it never seems to work out.
In our own lives, cutting the corners with our own responsibilities also never seems to work out. Think about your cheat days when you start a diet, or giving in when you don’t really want to go to the gym. If you don’t stick to what is best for you, it always results in frustration with yourself. What a disappointment. How often do you see this in your own life?
(Source: Bev Childress)
Sometimes Your Dish Doesn’t Turn Out Right?
When starting unfamiliar projects, there are some things we know without a doubt, but sometimes there are things we don’t even know that we don’t know. A brisket takes 24-48 hours of prep and cooking time, if done really well. During the cooking time, it feels as if you dropped your kid off at pre-school for the first time and all you want to do is check on him every five minutes.
We can’t control everything, and unforeseen things are bound to happen. I’ve ruined plenty of meals, and fallen short of impressing guests, dates, and even myself. That’s part of life. Things don’t always go as planned, and we certainly don’t always get what we want. But, if you never had an inedible meal, then you would never truly know what it meant to have one that was absolutely delicious. If you’d never tried an overcooked and dried out steak, then you’ll never appreciate when your favorite cut of meat is prepared just how you like it.
The less-than-perfect meals allow us to appreciate the ones we most enjoy, and the same experience happens in life. Sometimes the weather calls for rain. If we knew that we would never lose our loved ones, we wouldn’t appreciate them nearly as much. When life has been particularly generous, use that time as the perfect opportunity to reflect back on the things for which we have to be grateful.
Don’t Skip to Dessert
In cooking, as in life, we rush through things, just trying to reach the finish. Along the way, we forget to look around and notice the things that happen between the beginning and the end. Take a moment to analyze what you learned about the meal you created, and how you could have adjusted things along the way. Otherwise, we miss those opportunities for growth.
There is so much valuable information to learn that we often skip right over it, and don’t realize it’s right underneath our noses. We follow a recipe, because that’s what a cookbook tells us to do. Why not spice it up a bit, and improvise along the way? Discover what works, what doesn’t, and take what you’ve learned along the way, and pass it on to those who might benefit from it. That’s life.
Most of us are so busy chasing success that we don’t slow down enough to have fun, enjoy the little things, and switch up the recipes in our lives, for ourselves. In cooking, as in life, we’ll get to the end, but how did we arrive at the finish? Did we follow instructions every step of the way, or did we use the recipe to guide us, allowing us to season it in a way that brings out the best version of ourselves?
It is important to remember that we have all endured many hardships. We may even be experiencing one right at this very moment, but we have survived every one of them. Take some time and slow down, so you can reflect on how far you have come.
Recognize all of the hard work that took place, and thank the people that forced you to grow through the tough times. Difficult times won’t last, and you won’t always be a novice, so use every new challenge as an opportunity.
Seek out new ways to become more accomplished and create even more value for yourself. At the end of the day, there is no better sensation than working hard, and sinking your teeth into your long-awaited accomplishments.
When you’ve found your purpose, decisions make themselves: