My spice rack. A creative idea that came years ago. A vision brought to life thanks to my husband. It has travelled with me since the last couple of decades across houses. There’s never been a guest or family member who has visited us and not marveled at the tiny IKEA spice jars lined exactly in the same sequence since I began to use it. I don’t need any labels because my fingers automatically reach for the right spice jar now simply based on its location.
If I entrust anyone with cleaning it I make sure they take a picture first so they don’t misplace the sequence. I needn’t bother though. If anything is out of place, I can spot it immediately and fix it.
It makes my kitchen complete. For me, cooking has always been a fascinating and interesting process. It always amazes me how a few things put together can magically turn into a flavorsome dish that everyone enjoys. It’s a way for me to provide nourishment to my friends and family while at the same time wowing them with simple, delicious food through which conversations, laughter and love flows.
It is one area of my life where I’ve never accepted or hired any help on a day-to-day basis. My approach to daily cooking is simple, fast and delicious. With only two of us to cook for most of the time, in my mind it has always seemed frivolous and over-indulgent to even consider hiring help.
I have always had a working life as well over the last three decades, with the exception of a year or two in between. Throughout these years even performing 24/7 roles, I’ve always somehow managed to fiercely hold on to cooking as the one thing I won’t hire help for.
Last month, I reached a point in life where too many demands were being made on my time both at a personal and professional level. I was simply running out of time in any given day to achieve it all. I began considering hiring a cook for the first time in my life.
My cleaner came to the rescue. It worked to both our advantage. He wanted to pick up a new skill so that he could start accepting cooking work also, and I desperately needed help on weekdays so I could find some semblance of balance and also take time to focus on myself, my health and my life balance.
He already knew the basics of cooking so it was a matter of sharing my recipes and also teaching him to make rotis, dosas etc.
It all worked out and we’ve finally reached a point where food is available for all meals of the day and we rarely land up ordering dinner because I’m too tired to cook.
I know it’s for the best. I know and accept I need the support at this time in my life. It’s been more easy to digest this turn of events because I’m also helping someone hone their cooking skills.
Inspite of all that, the arrangement wasn’t siting well with me. I went through a range of emotions the day I looked at my dinner plate and shockingly realized I hadn’t cooked any of it myself. Although I was grateful to have dinner ready and available, I still found it very hard to accept that it wasn’t made by me.
It took a long conversation with some close girlfriends to unpack why I was putting myself through this.
I realized a large part of it was the guilt I felt at letting go of the one thing I had always considered my domain. The delight on my family and friends’ faces, the subtle expectation that everyone had of me when it came to creative food ideas, the daily messages from my husband letting me know he enjoyed lunch… all of it came crashing down on me like a ton of bricks.
Another smaller but as significant part was that I had lost my daily “zen” space. That hour in the day when it would just be me with the spices and produce, the warmth of a stove, a time to forget everything and just focus the food prep, enjoying the nutty fragrance of a perfect tempering or rolling out consistent rotis of the exact same size and shape. I was surprised how much I missed that time! In fact it took a friend to point this out to me. I only recognized the guilt at first.
Once I recognized my emotions, I was able to better process all of this mental churning going on inside me. I embraced the change in the status quo, and began to accept the support wholeheartedly.
Now, I look forward to my “zen” time on weekends. That happened last weekend when I invited my family over and cooked up a storm. I enjoyed every moment of planning, arranging the ingredients, prepping, cooking and finally enjoying both the company and the compliments.
Rebalancing life in a way that works for oneself comes with a lot of emotions and adjustments. Change has never been our strong suite when it comes to the human race. But taking time to talk about it, recognize the feelings you are going through, adjusting to the new normal, and finally embracing the change with your whole heart and mind comes with its own reward.
As I write this, I know the next change I have to adjust to will come with a similar range of emotions even though I’ve recognized all the pitfalls this time.
For now, it’s the weekend and I’m savoring the fragrance of spices from my jars as I refill them and breathe in the simple joys of life they offer.