Passion Cooking Essay

So, I originally started writing this as a status on my personal Facebook account to my personal friends, but then I kept writing, and writing and writing. I decided to publish it as a blog post just in case my story helps anyone else who is searching for their passion or struggling to identify theirs. I apologize if the structure is a little informal, but I wanted to keep this with minimal editing because it was something I wrote with reflection and feelings. 

When I started blogging three-ish years ago, I was on my last deployment and just wanting to share the recipes and food images (from my latest cooking column in the base magazine) with those back home. I remember trying to blog, not really knowing what I was doing and being really frustrated at the slow internet (deployments, hah) and counting down the days that I’d be home so I could actually go prop shopping for my food images (and you know, be back home.)

In the last couple months I’ve felt silly even calling myself a blogger because I haven’t updated my blog, but it’s only because I’ve been focusing 90% of my energy on photography and my clients. But I’m finally back at a place/pace where I’m planning out newer content for the rest of the summer. It’s not that I don’t have a lot of things to write about, I’ve just been focusing my time/energy elsewhere.

Anyways, I remember telling myself when I first started “don’t quit, hang in there and never give up,” just because prior projects I had started either never came to fruition or I just got bored and moved on. In my first year, 2014, my food photography (in my opinion) was laughable, and then in 2015 I think I started getting a better grasp in the direction I wanted to go in, but I was still not there. Now in 2016, I definitely have a grasp on my photography and the direction I want to go in blogging, I just need to devote a little more time to it 😉 (but I’m always seeking ways to improve.)

my photography in collaboration with Des Moines Henna artist Rayna Gasteiger. I really enjoyed this shoot because I got to shoot with with a moodier vibe.

9 months ago, I was in a… not so good place. I moved back to my home state and tried to “start new.” It was definitely a struggle at first, especially falling into winter. I’m naturally very ambitious, but during my first couple months adjusting to my “new life,” I was having a really hard time. I decided that maybe if I went back to school, I would get back into a habit (I later ended up leaving, and that’s a whole separate blog post on it’s own, I promise, I have it planned haha.)

I decided to pour myself into freelancing and photography instead, and it really was probably the first thing I did for myself that sparked my light in a long time. I slowly started getting my ambition, drive, motivation and inspiration back, and I started getting more work and meeting amazing people, and I slowly found myself again, after losing myself in a not-so-good relationship and giving my time up to everything else in life except myself. Right now, I’m really really happy, and life is going exactly how I want it (even though I still get stressed and deal with things from time to time, that’s natural.) I’m actually in the process of making a career expansion with furthering myself into the food styling industry but I can’t announce that quite yet.

So, the point I’m trying to make is don’t give up. If you’re in a place where you’re feeling like your life is over, whether you just lost your job or struggling to find one, you’re grieving over a death or loss of a relationship, or you just feel “stuck” with your work or feel like you have a greater purpose than your 9-5, start identifying what you feel passionate about, stop talking and start doing it. Even if you can only dedicate 15 mins at the end of the day to your passion, start somewhere. Try different things. Try new things. Pick up old (good) habits that you miss. Just don’t give up on your passions and listen to what your intuition is telling you.

Trust your gut and intuition- it’s there for a reason and is usually right most of the time. Just don’t give up on your passions or what makes you happy, or worse, don’t live a life without giving your passions a chance. I promise, you’ll be happier.

my photography in collaboration with Des Moines Henna artist Rayna Gasteiger. I really enjoyed this shoot because I got to shoot with with a moodier vibe.

I’m working on a separate post for later with all of my latest work (just waiting on delivering some imagery to my clients first.) I did write a small insta-guide to my afternoon living in Des Moines over at you can check out for now.

Please comment and share your passions and stories with me because I really want to know, or if you want to write about life, whatever state you’re in at the moment, let me know. Thanks so much, as always for reading.

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Like many, I was introduced to cooking when I started college at 17 — to survive. Since then I have traveled many miles, experienced many cuisines, and cooked many meals.

Along the way I have learned a few things about food, the process of cooking, and the impact it makes on our mind, body, and soul during good times and bad times. Food is the most fundamental of needs for our survival and almost every major event in our lives revolves around it.

It plays a vital role in the development of social interactions and social relationships. I find food to be sacred and the process of making food to be awakening and insightful. Although I am not professionally trained, cooking has become a joyful passion.

The process of making food has taught me to be mindful, embrace creativity, and push for mastery. Below are a few lessons that might make you think differently the next time you enter your kitchen.

Ritualistic Cooking Can Enhance Mindfulness

Along with billions of others around the globe, I suffer from the daily grind of life. My affinity with mindful living is not grounded in any kind of scientific research — rather from constant self-analysis. I have found cooking is a means towards that journey of mindfulness. It's been said that the only two jobs of a Zen monk that are more important that sitting zazen (meditation) are cooking and cleaning. Cooking is a great way to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. It simply means living in the moment and awakening to experience. And it takes practice to be mindful. I have found that when I ritualistically cook on a regular basis it enhances my ability to be mindful about everything else I do.

In the 13th century, Japanese Zen master Dogen wrote "Instructions for the Tenzo," or head cook. In examining the manners and methods of preparing a meal at the Monastery, he reveals how to "cook"—or refine—your whole life. In one such instruction, he says "When you boil rice, know that the water is your own life." How do we cultivate the mind that cares as deeply for an ordinary thing, like water, as it cares for our very own life? Sounds simple — but it's actually pretty hard — go ahead and try it. It comes from putting our entire mind into those simple tasks, concentrating deeply, and doing them intentionally and completely. And when we are mindful, it allows us to better connect with the:

  • Past - What we have completed
  • Present - The task at hand
  • Future - How our task at hand moves us forward

I believe, if we consciously think about the ingredients we choose, their preparation, the way we cook and the way we eat, it can contribute towards the development of mindfulness.

Conscious Openness Is At The Heart of Any Creative Process

I don't ever follow a recipe for my cooking. I like to experiment, mix and match, and 'design' my meals. I make my decisions based on availability, my eating companions, and the hour of the day.

Over the years this awareness (during cooking) of resource, audience, and need helped me hone how I think. When I started cooking at the age of 17, just like life, I was unsure of the kitchen. Now I try to 'create' my food with confidence. It is entirely natural for me to mix Japanese mirin with Indian turmeric and Mexican chilies.

In 2006, chefs Ferran Adria of El Bulli, Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck, Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se, and the writer Harold McGee put forward what they termed 'the international agenda for great cooking,' and while its focus is food, it could well serve as a manifesto for anyone who is in the business of creativity:

"We believe that today and in the future, a commitment to excellence requires openness to all resources that can help us give pleasure and meaning to people through the medium of food. In the past, cooks and their dishes were constrained by many factors: the limited availability of ingredients and ways of transforming them, limited understanding of cooking processes, and the necessarily narrow definitions and expectations embodied in local tradition. Today there are many fewer constraints, and tremendous potential for the progress of our craft. We can choose from the entire planet's ingredients, cooking methods, and traditions, and draw on all of human knowledge, to explore what it is possible to do with food and the experience of eating."

Just like making music or poetry, cooking requires understanding interconnectedness and harmonies. Anyone can mix and match two random sets of ingredients together, but not everyone can cook. Understanding the relationships between the ingredients and their interactions is crucial to creating a successful dish. This conscious openness is precisely what is at the heart of any creative process regardless of what we do and the medium we use.

Mastery Comes From Enthusiastic and Devoted Practice

Most mornings I prepare my son a balanced breakfast and a lunch pack between 6am and 6:15am.

I have about 15 min to cook eggs, toast bread, chop fruit, make a sandwich, etc. Not much time, right? Actually, it's plenty. It comes from skills, practice, confidence, and organization. It begins with breaking down the process into mini goals:

  • I first decide what I want to cook based on what's available
  • I do all the prep work needed to create the meal
  • I start cooking based on the cooking time and how I will serve the meal

Along with clear thinking, being productive requires skills. And mastery comes from enthusiastic and repeated, devoted practice. In the video clip below from the movie Julie & Julia, Julia Child demonstrates what 100 lbs of onions and deliberate practice can achieve. She began with one onion and continued to use deliberate practice to master one skill at a time until she became known as the best teacher in French cooking.

I have come to believe that whether we like to cook or not, these same principles apply to just about anything else we undertake. It's about the awareness we experience, the devotion we apply, and as a result, how we create. Happy cooking — whatever you may be cooking up!

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