My knee grew a purple baseball last night.
My knee grew a purple baseball because my Taekwondo class sparred last night, and while my classmates delivered carefully calculated kicks and punches, I flailed around like a purple dinosaur and got nailed in the kneecap (which is, by the way, one of the only bits of my body that peeks out from what feels like miles of padding…figures.). The women who nailed my knee was decidedly not taking it easy on me, and it hurt. A lot.
There was a second after that kick when I took my arms out of guard-up position, sucked in on my mouthguard, stepped back, and almost quit the match. Because I’m 40-something years old and I have a family and a career and a mortgage and a dorky old mom-car and absolutely no real business practicing martial arts with other people once a week. Stepping off to the side to pout and nurse my poor knee and unpeel my sweaty self from my body-suffocating vinyl gear sounded awfully good, and in a previous version of myself, that’s exactly what I would have done.
Instead, I pull-step-kicked and hopped forward. I kicked the air, mind you, but I got back in there. No match points as my opponent easily dodged away, but yay for me. It was a victory.
I tell you this because I get an email or two a week from you guys (who both read my blog and let me know about it–God love every one of you, I swear) telling me that you can’t cook. It’s a valid feeling and I respect it. Only…you can.
Taekwondo was something my son wanted to do, but he was afraid to go by himself. Afraid to be the only one making mistakes. So I signed up, thinking I’d take a few classes while he built his confidence, and then leave him to it while I sat in the back of the room with my Kindle. And now look–two years in, I’m working on my blue belt and I’m pretty sure it’s more my thing than his.
It’s easy to ignore the burners in the kitchen. I know. You have so many options, from frozen foods to take-out to PB&J to cereal, that let you eat without figuring out ingredients or braving a flame. It’s intimidating to put perfectly good food into a screaming hot pan. What if it burns? What if I measure wrong? What if nobody likes it?
Have I told you about the first time I tried to make garlic potatoes? I was, what, 22 years old or something, living on my own for the first time, and I got my courage up and bought garlic and potatoes and butter and salt, just like my Five Ingredients Or Less cookbook told me to. And I thought something was odd about the papery covering that seemed cemented to the cloves, but the cookbook never actually said to peel them, and that was clearly an impossible task anyway. So the garlic and the potatoes and the salt and the butter went into the oven and came out, and guess what?
It was inedible. Have you ever tried eating garlic skin?
I quit. Right then and there. Ramen noodles and mac and cheese out of the blue box and tuna sandwiches were just fine, thankyouverymuch, and I couldn’t cook.
Some years later, I made enough money to pay for cable TV and Rachael Ray showed me how to crush garlic with a knife to get the skin off, and I went to the store and bought potatoes and garlic and butter and salt, and I made myself that damned recipe, and it was delicious. And I did it.
You know the rest. Cooking is my hobby and my zen. I think about it nearly all the time–what ingredients might work together, how that saute technique might translate to this other dinner I like, how I can get my paws on that awesome new electric toy for my countertop. I still mess up recipes. I still make things my family won’t touch. I still learn, because there’s always so much to learn.
I go back to Taekwondo every week because my kids (who are in my class) expect me to. It’s a fantastic physical release. I’m getting stronger. I’m feeling more confident. I could defend myself if I needed to, which is very empowering all by itself. I know I really stink at sparring and my classmates know it and I feel like a moron every Thursday night by the end of class, and now I have this purple ball on my knee which is oh-so-attractive and comfy. But I am going to learn it. I refuse to give up. I will do this.
It’s the same in the kitchen. Give yourself some room to screw up. Improvise a little bit. Accept that even Julia Child herself had to take classes (and she was well into her 30s before she started cooking!). You can do this, and it really is fun, I promise. Decide to rock it and you will.
Keep cooking, gang. Thank you so much for the emails. Have a great weekend.