​Cook Like Your Life Depends On It!

We didn't realize the pineapples had gone missing until Christmas morning. I had planned on making an upside-down cake for dessert. The entire holiday meal was meant to be vegan and gluten-free, without disappointing the meat-eaters. It was my greatest culinary challenge yet.

I accepted the loss and dug out some frozen blueberries. Still, flipping the modified cake onto a plate proved problematic. I enlisted my dad's help. Mid-flip, the cake split. I snapped.

Then I saw my dad's face — the man who'd spent two tours in Iraq looked terrified at the temper tantrum his grown daughter was dangerously close to throwing. I realized the gift of the meal was quickly turning into a reign of terror. I slid the halves together and covered the fault line with powdered sugar. Weeks later, my mom found the can of pineapples nestled in her spare yoga mat in the trunk of her car. We still laugh when we think of the rogue fruit snuggled up like a hibernating squirrel.

Since the day I got a Junior Jell-O Cookbook and insisted on organizing a block party to showcase my American flag poke-cake, the journey of cooking and eating has been a joyful adventure which occasionally dips into potholes of manic perfectionism. I love being a vegan. If I didn't, I wouldn't have done it for the last five years. My willpower isn't that strong.

But I'll sometimes obsess over more ways to purify my diet. I'll spend days weighing the pros and cons of living on nothing but liquids, or of sprouting every legume in the bulk bin aisle.Then I remember the Bible verse, “Man does not live be bread alone” (good news for a borderline celiac). That reminds me we need more than calories to nourish ourselves.

My mom used to make a dish that my dad labeled “Cat Vomit Casserole.” To me and my four brothers, it was proof that our clean-cut, Marine father was once a naughty kid just like us. The joke fed us more than the mixture of tuna, mushroom soup, olives, and cornflakes ever could. When my gluten-free biscuits turn out to have the consistency of styrofoam and the cousins begin to lob them at each other, I remember to love the Thanksgiving memory as it's being made. When I skip my green smoothie for chocolate-chip pancakes, I give thanks for every sweet bite.

Whatever food adventure you're embarking on — from brewing your own kombucha to attacking the neighborhood taco truck — do it with love. Celebrate each experience. Perfectionism is an empty kitchen with impossibly white walls. Don't live there. Your inner critic will suck the joy right out of whichever delicacy or health change you're trying to master.

Life needs room for a little mess. Without mess, there's no space for discovery, surrender, and awe. Don't perfect a meal plan only to end up starving. Regardless of your diet or dish, always serve a hearty portion of laughter at your table.

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