When I was growing up, I was obsessed with a television show called Zoom. It was a variety show for kids, starring kids, full of educational and entertaining segments of science experiments, fun games and even the occasional use of Zoom’s original silly language “Ubbi Dubbi.”
My favorite segments on Zoom were always the cooking tutorials. I had dreams of becoming a famous chef and/or an incredibly busy chef for my future husband and kids (12 minimum, to be exact). I didn’t have a family of my own just yet, and I had no idea that I would someday brush shoulders with fame, so the closest I could get to living out my dream was pretending to film my own cooking show.
My set was perfect as my mom has an eclectic style that lends itself to theatrics. So, I would stand at our kitchen island, a 10-foot-long, bright red, former department store display, with all my ingredients premeasured and facing the camera. (I should note — my “camera” was the wall. My imagination was fierce.)
At 30 years old, I still do this. Proudly. I know it’s silly, but cooking shows are a delight, and almost every time I cook I like to pretend that I am on one. Sometimes it’s the traditional style of Zoom but other times I am racing against the clock like I’m on Chopped or Beat Bobby Flay, and trust me, I always beat Bobby Flay. Because I not only love to cook, I’m pretty good at it!
My mom taught me how to cook from scratch—by doing, in the same way she learned from her mom. Like many Black women, especially Southern Black women, we don’t always measure our ingredients or have the recipes written down, but we move with the memories of our mother’s movements and hope for the best. We use our smell to taste even when things don’t touch our tongues, and we create beautiful and tasteful things out of “nothing.”
When I’m by myself, I never have an issue with a fast meal or frozen food. But there’s something about cooking for my family that remains high on my list. I always want to make something new and special when we have friends over, and cooking is my go-to when I am stressed because it brings me joy. My love for cooking shows, my identity as a Black woman, and my Southern roots all influence my cooking style and habits. So, it felt strange when I stopped cooking every night.
About a year ago, I was overwhelmed with my daily schedule as a work-from-home mom. All the things I wanted to do for my family were overshadowing the things I needed to do for myself, and I realized I needed to pursue balance. My work schedule was almost perfect; I wasn’t going to give up date nights with my husband or family weekends with our little one, so when I looked at what was taking the most time in my schedule, it was cooking.
I was never taught that as a woman I had to cook every night or even cook at all, but I took a family tradition and a personal hobby and created an unrealistic expectation that was absolutely draining. Almost every time I made a meal with 3-4 items from scratch, by the end I was ready to fall asleep. It was nearly impossible to have the energy to sit down with my family and enjoy the meal I’d just made. So, with my husband’s extensive encouragement, I not only stopped cooking every night, but I stopped trying to prove something to myself. I limited what I would make from scratch. I took away the hours added every week just from using a rice cooker, roasting vegetables, soaking black eyed peas, and countless other self-induced tasks of making elaborate meals.
Instead, I chose to spend an extra hour or so every day working, relaxing with my family, catching up with a friend, or sitting on the porch doing “nothing.” I chose myself over one of my favorite things.
At first, I felt like I was depriving my family of something beautiful, and worse, like I was giving up on a dream I had enjoyed living out since childhood. I remember once serving ready-made vegetables to my daughter and husband with a panicked look on my face as he graciously laughed and told me he was proud of me. To my surprise, dinner was not only great, but I wasn’t exhausted for the remainder of the evening. After our daughter was asleep, I even had a little bit of time and energy to just… be.
I still cook for my family a few nights a week, especially when my husband’s work schedule is a bit lighter and I have the kitchen to myself. I struggle occasionally with the guilt that comes from change (especially when I am the one who benefits the most), but ultimately I know I made the right choice. And I’m grateful to have a few extra moments each day as a result.
Is there something you do and/or love that serves others but drains you? Is there a way you can adjust your time so that you have some of you left?