Monday, July 21, 2014

Dining Solo

The reason I want to be a chef has very little to do with the food. Although I love the therapeutic nature of prepping vegetables, the sound of a simmering pot of herbs and stock, the smell of roasting garlic, these are all merely the side effects of preparing a really good meal. The real substance in cooking, for me, lies in the connection it provides between people. Food is the catalyst for all powerful things in life, most importantly, it acts as a catalyst for bringing individuals from all walks of life to trade the physical and metaphorical powers of breaking and sharing bread together.

So I was shocked to realize that one of my favorite things is to eat alone. In the last two months of my life, I've found myself in the presence of crowds, with incredible food, ambiance, and people--enjoying a meal entirely by myself. Rather than feel lonely, this solo dining experience has taken me to a new level of appreciation for the true nourishment of a meal enjoyed with all five senses.

When I took a spontaneous solo trip to Tulum, Mexico, I ate dinner alone each night. It was the highlight of every day. I took advantage of having 4 hours, free to myself to enjoy food, music, and the strangers with whom I shared smiles, drinks, and conversation. I walked through the gates of Hartwood each night, smiling to myself as I looked across the courtyard. Couples and families gathered around small tables, with nothing but candlelight to illuminate their meals. They laughed, they kissed, they traded stories. And I got to just soak it all up. I got to be on every family vacation, every honeymoon, and every wedding party. Because I ate alone. And I got the benefits of feeling nourished from the buzz of conversation. I was so present during those meals. Not once checking my phone, or wishing I could skip straight ahead to dessert or my post-dinner beach walk. No. I carefully cut each small bite of pork tenderloin, taking special attention to get the appropriate ratio of kale-to-meat-to-sauce. And it was so damn good. It took eating alone to really feel full. 

After this romantic solo-getaway, I took the tradition with me. Each week, I have at least one solo brunch or dinner date with myself. Sometimes I am starving, and I want to rush through the meal. But I stop myself. I move in slow motion. I cut a bite. I set my knife down. I take the bite. I close my eyes and savor. I taste, of course. I smell very carefully. I notice the texture of the food, the crunch, the cream, the buttery feeling of the food in my mouth. And I notice the sound of my surroundings. The clinking classes, the first dates, the birthday celebrations. 

Taking silence, and savoring those moments, memories, and morsels of food with yourself can be nourishing in a way I've never before experienced. The silence allows the food and experience to speak loudly and clearly. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The right people, the right place, the right time

Suddenly, without a moments notice, the universe flips your world upside-down. You thought that moving forward with your plans and your goals would lead you to the right direction. That is all fine and well, but really, what is in store for us is far beyond our wildest imagination.

I sat in traffic the other morning. It was 8:15 on a June morning in Los Angeles. Muggy. June gloom. Traffic. Commute. All the words and connotations that really-- I promised myself I would never succumb to. I was driving--but really I felt like I was treading water. And then in an instant, I looked in my rear-view mirror and noticed the barely visible skyline fading through the fog and reminded myself: There are only two mantras. Yum and yuck. Mine is yum.

And yum I did choose. I booked a plane ticket to Mexico, next found a yoga retreat, and 24 hours later, found myself in the middle of my upside-down reality. A paradise called Tulum, Mexico.

Maybe you believe in destiny, or maybe you call it Gods plan, or maybe you call it bullshit. Either way, my alternate reality brought me to everything I needed.

Perhaps I got caught up in the pristine white beaches and the turquoise waters. The ease of life spent in a hammock, letting your eyes glaze over a few paragraphs of a book before falling back asleep for your fifth nap of the day. Maybe it was the constant soundtrack of Desmond Decker and Horace Andy that made me feel as if I'd stumbled into a different time and place. Or perhaps it is just the magic of the right people, the right place, and the right time. The generosity and love was something I came in search of--and I was lucky to land in the right spot. The endless moments sitting around a table sharing slices of papaya with complete strangers made me feel both at ease and at home. 

My week spent in Tulum was nothing sky of magic. And I think it perfectly encapsulates what life can be about: going beyond your own previously built boundaries and finding that just beyond those walls, are the most remarkable people with whom you can create the most precious memories. 

So Tulum, I'll be back. In spirit and in body. I promise I will be back for more octopus at Hartwood, for more yoga at Utopia, and for more conversation with travelers who, like me, are in search of something. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Beautiful Ending

So I finished college two days ago. Diploma received, champagne sipped, boxes packed, goodbyes said, and tears shed. I am not yet ready to articulate the experience of the last four years, but I am ready to share my gratitude for the incredible people who made my graduation celebration the best day of my first 22 years. 

I am still speechless by the toasts that were given, the memories that were shared, and the words that were said. I felt more love on that day than I ever thought possible. When I look back on Claremont, I will know with certainty that the people I met there were some of the best, and I will know that the friendships that started there were the beginning of something truly spectacular. 

Here are a few photos from the day. 

(above photos by Sana Javeri Kadri)

(photos above by Cheryl Hughes)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mirrors--The reflection of energy and of possibility

How could I possibly not find a piece of paper? Not a scrap upon which to jot all the thoughts. As they bounced from heart, to head, to lips and back again, I managed to type them into my phone. Shorthand notes, anxiously typed with the time limit of my dying iPhone battery. Because I did not have time to process the words, they flowed with little direction and no conclusion. And as I squished and squirmed in my sleeping bag, the grains of sand scratched the skin of my shins. But not even the harshest of sunburns and the roughest of sand could distract me from the strength of emotions I was feeling. Alive. All things, coming at once. These thoughts, blindly recorded by the light of the flower moon while lying on the marble ground come at a time of endings and beginnings. Of knowing that nothing is certain, but that everything is possible. And these words, recorded with the lingering scent of lavender and the future light of the forest near Sebastopol, perfectly encapsulate that all of my college learnings can be boiled down to one object: mirrors. 

I think what we are all looking for in this life is a series of mirrors. We perceive ourselves as something. But we don't know what we actually are. Because this is a lifelong pursuit--and we never really know how we fill a space and place in the world. And so the best thing we can do is to surround ourselves with people who can act as our mirrors. Rather than being replicas of us or our values, we seek out mirrors who can reflect us. They can make you see who you are. And these mirrors will allow you to see the beauty in yourself which you could never before see. Most spectacularly, however, these mirrors allow you to see that which surrounds your reflection. The world surrounding you. Those mirrors, if chosen carefully, will shine light in the dusty corners and teach you--not to wipe away the dust, but to appreciate the beauty of that dust and light; the marriage of a forgotten space and place in time, illuminated with the glimpse of hope. These mirrors are about seeing yourself truly as you are: an unrepeatable and flawed, yet perfect being of energy. These mirrors make us see the world surrounding us and allow us to know with certainty, that despite the dirt and the rawness of pain, there is a magic about it all. A magic that can only be shared with a person who is your mirror. These mirrors, in the end, become the meaning of our time spent occupying this space.

With the bending of light and shadows, we can know that perhaps these feelings and thoughts and emotions are beyond the limits of time. So while we glance at the clock and notice that forward movement, the sun rising and setting day and day again, we know that time is moving. But we also know that the time is not what is important because it can be bent with the illusions of lights and mirrors. And the moment when we are looking into someone's eyes and we realize they are our mirror, we know that the only reason they are is because of something far beyond time. Out in the field somewhere between soul mates and true love, is a mountain where all those who meet and who really reflect us, carry their mirrors. This is not a subject of romance. This is a subject of those people who really see who you are--be they friends, family, or strangers who immediately understand. They carry these mirrors, and you should too. So you can know the beauty of seeing behind you. In front of you. All around you. And then inside, where the beauty knows no bounds, and where you meet the eyes of that other person, you'll know. And they will too. 

I vow to seek out all the mirrors I can find. To look, first, at the reflection of myself. And then to look to the new parts of the world. Those dusty corners. And I vow to hold up mirrors to all those I meet. To try to help them understand their importance in this world. By holding mirrors for others, and seeing my reflection and their reflection bouncing off of one another, I will realize that this game and infinite illusion of mirrors is really just a representation of the importance of truly being someone's reflection. Because when you put one mirror in front of another, you see that the light creates an image that never ends, and that our reflection continues far beyond the grasp of our conscious mind.