I started to take an online quiz the other day but stopped short when it asked me what kind of cook I thought I was. My choices were something like Generous (enthusiastic and sharing), Methodical (likes long, complex kitchen projects), Innovative (goes for the new and unusual), Competitive (into impressing and being the best, having the best), Healthy (interested in freshness and nutrition). I was only allowed to pick one but what I ended up clicking on was the button to take me away from the quiz. Each choice was both too much and not enough, and the idea of choosing just one was frustrating.
Of course, online quizzes aren't the best place to look for your true self, that much has been obvious to me since my pre-teen years when I would steal my mother's Cosmopolitan magazines and secretly take the romantic compatibility tests. But sometimes those quizzes do ask questions that lead one to a deeper consideration. How would I describe myself as a cook? What kind of cook am I?
It didn't take long for me to discover that in no way was I just one kind of cook. In fact, looking back on that list (generous, innovative, competitive, healthy, methodical) I would've had to click all five choices if I were to be perfectly honest and would probably need several other choices if I really wanted to present a complete picture. (Lazy, meandering, romantic, practical, curious, and accident prone come immediately to mind.)
But thinking about it even further, the list expands and lengthens because on some days I'm a confident expert, knowing exactly what I am doing and on others, I haven't a clue. Sometimes I'm the kind of cook who has crackers and cheese for dinner and on others, it's an elaborate soup with fresh baked bread and a garlicky side salad. Yes, Mr Whitman, I do indeed contradict myself. Yes I am large, and yes, I contain multitudes.
While it's very important to know ourselves, to be aware of our strengths and weaknesses, we also have to be careful not to limit ourselves by our own stories. Declaring yourself to be an impatient cook and therefore not suited for bread making or too clumsy of a cook to bone a fish may be (somewhat) true but it's also true that you can be an impatient bread maker and let the bread making teach you patience, or allow the fishbones to show you grace. In other words, don't let your stories stop you from trying something new, something outside of your usual patterns. Don't let your ideas about who you are dictate who you are.
I leave you with a challenge: do something against your character today. Try being the kind of cook you're not. Allow yourself to be sloppy if you're neat, or dabble in modernist cuisine if you're usually all about the roast chicken and bread salad. Think you're a baker and not a cook? Then it's Bouillabaisse for you today! Do you never measure anything? Then find a recipe and follow it exactly. Watch what comes up for you when your stories arise and watch what happens when you let them go. Notice where there's freedom. Do you find it in the story or is it in what happens when you let the story go?
(Image: Dana Velden)