Today’s Open Mic topic is … cooking.
Greasy, messy, sweaty, cooking, while out at sea.
Two of my main focuses from the past 4 months of retiring from professional skiing and living life for MYSELF and sailing around the world with my partner, Pete, have been:
(1) Cussing at the top of my lungs
Not always, but often at the same time, believe it or not.
In my current situation, cooking regularly poses unexpected challenges, like learning how to do it in foreign countries and on moving countertops. But the rewards are worth it. I think.
In this new chapter of unemployment and living off savings, I have the most freedom I’ll probably every have, and I want to milk it. Anytime we change our lives drastically and get an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, I think it’s natural to ask, “Who am I really?! What does the new me want? What does the new me like to do?”
It’s both a daunting and exciting process.
Among the plethora of things I want to learn are freediving, spearfishing, wingfoiling, playing the guitar, music theory, and … how to REALLY cook.
On top of boatwork and keeping the domestic peace while living 30 feet away from my partner, Pete, at all times, plus the general logistics of sailing life, there’s not really enough time to master all of these things at once. And I love making marked progress at things. So my mentor, Kim Dawson, encouraged me to really focus on one thing, and gave me the following perspective.
She helped me realize: it’s not about WHAT we do. It’s about HOW we do it and WHY we do it. The things we do are ‘platforms’ to our own self-discovery, our own stages on which to play out the GRAND play of life and how we operate within it.
We can learn the same things from whatever we choose, but picking one thing can help us to hone our focus and awareness of the learning process.
And right now, for me, I most want to dial in cooking.
My kitchen (or ‘galley’ as it’s called on a sailboat) is 4 feet by 3 1/2 feet with an estimated 3 feet squared of counter space. There’s no AC, it’s usually around 95 degrees, and then the stove heat adds a few more degrees. But there is a 3-inch fan that God himself installed.
(Yes, Pete is God in this instance — and plenty of others.)
I may not have all of the gizmos, gadgets, and utensils that other cooks have, due to extremely limited space, but to help me deal, I’ve got sailor’s ingenuity, and, in my back pocket, an encyclopedia of cusswords and inappropriate phrases that would make the devil himself blush. (I believe this is something both chefs and sailors have in common.)
You see, making food at sea, isn’t easy.
It’s tough when the conditions are rough,
and you can barely keep down your lunch
and have to make it in a crunch.
Unlike cooking up shitty poetry, they say cooking at sea is more engineering than cooking; as the boat violently pitches back and forth, fro and to, so, too, do you. And, as it follows, all of your subjects — your potatoes, open jars and sauces, spices, and chopped pieces of vegetables — spill and roll everywhere, unless your veeeewwwwwwy caeweful.
Everything has to be carefully thought out, planned, and wedged, so that you use all of the material on hand to hold everything together so nothing ends up on the floor, or worse, spilled all down the BACK of the gimbaled stove, where you can’t reach it or clean it up, but can still DEFINITELY smell it. And all of this atop limited counter space for storing, wedging, mixing, and chopping, which is a crucible that forges the best culinary oceanic engineers, and hopefully doesn’t burn down and sink the boat in the process.
Oftentimes, I question why I have such a burning desire to learn how to cook in one of the more demoralizing and challenging kitchen environments, and it makes me think of an interesting perspective I read about a few years ago.
In some eastern traditions, our desires are seen as the guideposts that our souls use to pull us towards our purpose. They are split into 4 categories: (1) material/skills based, (2) pleasure based, (3) work/purpose based, and (4) spiritually based. They are viewed as the propellants towards self-actualization of our highest potential for joy and contribution to the world, and we tend to rotate through prioritizing certain categories over others during different times in our lives.
Using this lens, it’s easy to see how our desires point the way to the activities and ‘platforms’ that will most serve us and light us up, fuel us to keep going through obstacles, and be willing to learn and fail and try again.
If we put all our effort into doing something we didn’t really want to do and then we failed, we’re less likely to want to keep going and try again, and the growth that comes from challenge would be perhaps more draining than exciting or fulfilling.
But by pursuing what we want — not just what we think we ‘should’ want — but what we actually want (perhaps for no apparent reason), I believe we have an unconventional roadmap (or chart, as they are called in the nautical world) oriented towards our own north star of our most craved life, with all the necessary pitstops and direction changes.
As an example, I bought my 40’ sailboat with Pete before I was out of my ski career (I’d been sailing before and had fallen in love with it). However, I had no idea how my lives of sailing with Pete and being a professional skier were going to mesh, and I didn’t even actually know how to sail. I just knew I really wanted to learn to sail, and sail around the world with Pete.
As it turns out, I was actually ready for a complete life re-invention, I just couldn’t actualize it or see it clearly until I had bought the sailboat and was well on my way into pursuing that desire.
Taking a step away from this real yet metaphysical analysis of seemingly conflicting or unclear desires, let me take you back to the mundane reality of Angel crying on her hands and knees in the galley, mopping up pizza dough from every crevice of the galley floor, watching it drip down the floorboard cracks and into the bilge, feeling seasick, demoralized, overheated, and questioning most of her life choices. This might sound melodramatic, and let me tell you, Pete can confirm. Pete also can confirm that he gently recommended not trying to make dough for the passage … but don’t get in the way of a strong (stubborn?) woman who has made up her mind. For many reasons.
Quick Aside / Some Relevant Context
The truth is, I’ve always been very self-conscious about my cooking. All joking aside, it’s been one of the things that has always felt out of my reach — I’ve never felt comfortable dipping my finger (ahem I mean spoon!!!) into a dish and exuberantly proclaiming, “This needs a bit more sour taste!” Or, “I think a teeny bit of spice would really round this out.”
Because, as many of us know, cooking is a skill like any other — with enough use and practice, you can start to find creativity and ingenuity at your disposal. You know what ingredients to substitute when you don’t have what the recipe calls for, and, better still, you can eventually just look in the fridge and wing it with utter confidence with whatever is on hand.
This has never been me. My ski career had me traveling so much that I’d usually only be home for 3-4 days at a time between trips in both winter and summer. Not only would groceries go to waste shopping for 1 person for that short of time, but I’d be so slammed in that short stint home that my best bet cost-wise and timewise was to order a meal or two out and have leftovers.
On top of that, during those spells when I had more time at home, I was dating guys that loved to cook and would do it for us (I know, cry me a river), but that meant that I was always reliant on others to feed myself, and it always made me vulnerable and dependent.
And thus, cooking has always been that one thing that felt out of reach, and why I have wanted so badly to be proficient at it.
Some Beliefs about Food and Cooking
I believe food is our best medicine. And I think the world is in desperate need of some good-old-fashioned healing.
I believe the time we share around meals is some of the last remaining truly still and shared time together, without devices and with stories and laughter. (Ok, maybe some arguments sometimes, too.)
Cooking unites us all. We all have to put food on the table one way or another, and if any of us cook even in the simplest of ways, we all share that process every day.
Cooking food unites us to the world we live in in a visceral way. Especially when harvesting garden veggies or cooking our own hunt or a friend’s hunted meat, or just cooking with the earth’s grown supplies, we are reminded of our connection to life itself. I find that deliciously sacred.
Cooking is an act of creating, of sustaining, of taking, and of offering. It’s a process that represents the full-circle aspect of being alive.
On top of all of that, feeding ourselves is our number-one act of independence and sovereignty. So naturally, as I’m craving stepping into living my life for ME now, nourishing myself in ALL the ways, it begins with the building blocks of my body.
In many ways, cooking is giving me newfound confidence in my own ingenuity, creativity, and myself at large.
So with cooking as the ‘platform’, I’m learning how to be independent, how to nourish myself, how to be confident in my ability to mess up and start over, to fail fast and often, and even learn from the mistakes by picking up the pieces and baking them into something new and better.
I’ve spent a long time in the realm of skiing where, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I would say I reached near mastery. So being a beginner again and failing often is extra crunchy and new and uncomfortable.
Furthermore, I’m gaining the courage to put my vulnerable creations out for consumption and public scrutiny (“Eek, but what if they don’t like it?!? What will they think of me?!).
And true to Kim’s words, I’m realizing that all of this is not really about the skills of cooking per se.
My hope is that, after reading this, you’ll be willing to go for something you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t, til now, been able to justify. Or that you’ll zoom out and see all that you’ve been learning from a thing you’ve been working towards lately.
As for me, I’m learning that our true happiness can lie in the unexpected places and corners when we’re willing to dive into something new with nothing more than a willingness to give it our honest shot.
About Angel Collinson
As Angel puts it, she is a “skier of mountains, baby sailor of boats. Singer of songs, hounder of rocks. Haver of good times and lover of this planet.”