There are some infamous sweet potatoes.
James and I had been dating for about a second, and for his 25th birthday I had a brilliant and adorable idea to cook him dinner. I planned out a full menu, commandeered my dad’s beautiful kitchen and back porch and turned it into a romantic dinner for two on the patio. I don’t even remember what else I cooked… all I remember was the sweet potatoes. I got the recipe from my mom, and it included this delectable rum sauce… when she made it. Let’s just say that the potatoes weren’t fluffy and I didn’t let the sauce cook long enough to cook out the rum. That’s right. I served my new boyfriend chunky, boozy sweet potatoes. I’ve been living in the embarrassment ever since. Of course he loved them.
It didn’t stop there of course. I’ve screwed up so many meals since that first rum soaked mistake. There were the beef tips that made us both sick, the zucchini noodles that cooked too long, the burnt broccoli, the dried out chicken. So many things that were inedible and wasted. So many pans scraped out into the trash can.
But here’s the thing, I still love cooking. I love cooking. I love every piece of the process, picking out fresh fruits and veg at the grocery, reading and re-reading the recipe, watching as it browns, or caramelizes, or rises. I love to lose myself in the kitchen, especially after a long day, to unwind in the mechanics of chopping. I also love cooking for people. Anyone. Cooking is my love language. I turn more into my grandmother every day and I love it. Thankfully, my husband will and does eat anything I cook, and compliments it to boot. God bless him.
I recently made more sweet potatoes, because you know, Thanksgiving. As I was mashing them and mixing them with milk I was reminded of the infamous sweet potatoes. I screwed them up so bad… but I didn’t stop cooking. Then I realized that cooking is the one area of my life where I can royally mess something up and keeping going. Cooking is the one thing in my life where I can fall off the horse and get right back on. I can’t even do that literally. (Not joking, I rode horses. Fell off during my first lesson, it took me months to go back for a second.)
I think about food and community, and how intertwined the two are. You almost cannot have one without the other. Community starts around a table 9.9 times out of 10. There is something so beautiful about what happens around a table with full bellies. It’s magical, how we open up to one another when we have food. How we can so easily share our lives over clinks of silverware on plates. Vulnerability starts at the table. with coffee mugs, or wine and cheese, or pot roast. I cannot tell you how many life conversations I have had over tacos. Tacos, especially, are some kind of magic portal to an open heart.
Here’s the thing about community – it can be really easy to fall off the horse and never get back on. It can be really easy to spill your heart over the dinner table and it not “click.” It can be easy to get disheartened when you don’t get a call back. It can hurt worse than a rejection from a date. To meet people that you just fall in love with, and it just doesn’t fall in love back. Not the people per se, but sometimes friendships just don’t happen. I have felt the sting of a bad fit, of not clicking with someone. But that does’t mean I gave up on friendship. A search for authentic community can be hard. But you have to keep trying. You have to find a new recipe. A new set of ingredients that word. You have to find the gumption to get back on the horse. You have to make the sweet potatoes again. It took me a few tries to get community right. I didn’t give it up and I had to look at it like the sweet potatoes. (I know, we’re doing a lot of potato comparison, but just stick with me). The potatoes didn’t turn out right. Sometimes community doesn’t either. But we cannot be downtrodden and insecure about it. We have to press on and proceed. We have to make the first phone call, or send the first text. We have to cook the dinner or make the frozen pizza and invite people into our lives. Food is the best place to start. We found some of our greatest friends by inviting them over to make adult lunch-ables.We bought pizza crust, sauce, cheese and toppings. We built pizzas and shared our lives as they baked. It doesn’t matter – in the long run – how the pizzas turned out. It matters that we opened up and shared our oven.
Here’s the point, friends. Don’t give up on vulnerability and authenticity. Don’t give up on community and authenticity, even when it’s hard and you think you screw it up. Look at it as a chance to try again, to try something new. Sometimes you have the scrape the plate clean and start again. Invite people in for s’mores or popcorn or chili, it’s worth it. I promise. And don’t give up on your sweet potatoes, either. The more you try (and sometimes fail), the better it becomes.