This past weekend I saw an empathetic music and movement piece called When Change Comes created by my friends Mark Stuart and Jaime Verazin (You read about Jaime a few weeks ago as The Broadway Botanist.) When the performance was over, my friend Bryan turned to me and asked, “Can someone be taught to sing? Like me, now, is that something I can learn?” My short answer was ‘sure.’
What's interesting is that I was actually thinking about Bryan while we watched the piece. He is a highly celebrated and successful architect here in New York City. During one of the dance numbers, I was particularly blown away by the talent I was seeing. In my mind I found myself comparing their dance ability to Bryan’s architectural skill. Apples and oranges, I know.
I am in a dance class nearly every day. I love the way it makes me feel. I love moving next to my friends, stirring up the space together with our creative energy. I love the discipline and accomplishment my teachers encourage. Dance is part of me. It will always be part of me. Will I ever dance next to Jaime and Mark onstage in New York City in a piece they’ve created? Ummm. No. But to compare my recreational movement to their career choice isn’t just apples and oranges. It’s bananas!
I began to think about my life as a cook. Nearly every single one of you reading this blog post can grocery shop and organize food for yourself and loved ones. You may not enjoy it or you may love it - but we can all figure out food on even the simplest terms.
Could you cook dinner for seven households each week on top of feeding yourself? Could you cater a cocktail party for 120 people during the holidays? Maybe. But your mealtime tasks have no business being looked at next to my business, right?
I think it really comes down to natural talent, God/Universe given gifts, and how we choose to use them. I was born singing. I sang loudly, wildly, and freely until I was 18. It took going to a performing arts conservatory to tame and train my voice.
During my training I learned loud is almost never the best choice. I learned that freedom is really in breath control and alignment. I learned about music theory. I learned to read music like it was Latin or Portuguese. Singing is now part of me. It will always be part of me.
Natural talent? Sure. Gifted? Sure. Am I choosing to use these talents as a career? No, not anymore. That’s 100% OK, because I’m putting other talents and gifts to work. Finding ways to serve the world in other creative ways.
How are you serving the world with your gifts? How are you being creative with your talents? What skill is part of you that will always be part of you, even if you switch gears and discover a new part of yourself?
Briefly, I tried to explain all of this to Bryan after the dance piece. (And his partner and my All Good Things editor and bestie, Christopher, smiles and says, “I see a blog forming.” Tada!) Yes, we can learn anything. There are schools and books and YouTube videos. There are resources available to become skilled at whatever our hearts desire. Oooh.
What does your heart desire? No, it doesn’t have to pay your bills right now. But someday it might. No, you don’t have to master it or win an award. But someday you might. Desires are luxuries. They are mostly wants, not always needs. Is there something you want to do or someplace you want to go and you always manage to ‘excuse’ your way out of it? (Of all my talents, I could beat any of you in a contest of excuses!)
Nobody wants to hear, “Life is short.” I know this. That phrase is a joy thief. Humor me, please. My cooking services were gifted this week to a liver transplant patient. We’ve been waiting all summer for his name to come up on the donor list to receive a new liver. He was finally given a prognosis of four weeks - his current liver had four more weeks to give his body and then it would quit. (!!!!) I have lost two friends to organ failure before their names came up to receive new ones. I am a registered organ donor. I was hoping and praying for a liver to come in for this man I’d never met.
Good news! This week, I sat on the couch of this dear stranger crying with him and his family as he told me his story - his past, the organ donation, his surgery, he showed me the 100 staples in his belly! I have the honor of being part of his recovery with my food. My heart is FULL from this experience. It is now part of me. It will always be part of me.
Yes, our heart has desires. I think one of the only ways we can even begin to meet those desires is by approaching our daily lives - our jobs, our tasks, our families and friends - with open hearts and open minds. We have to be ready for these big, big moments lurking around the corner. The things that will fill our hearts that we never knew we wanted.
Here’s a recipe that will make you feel like you’re a personal chef and a caterer. It tastes like love. (Yes, that’s a thing you can actually taste.) We can all make French Toast - even if we buy it from the freezer section! This recipe elevates French Toast and will fill desires of the heart as well as the desires of the tastebuds.
Crème Brûlée French Toast
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large loaf challah bread, sliced 1 inch thick
1 cup packed light brown sugar
8 tablespoons salted butter
In a bowl, mix eggs, milk, cream, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Spread bread out in 1 layer in a large casserole dish (about 9 by 13 inches). Pour the custard mixture over the bread, cover, and let soak in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or even overnight. Flip the bread slices halfway through the soak time.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a small sauce pan combine the butter and brown sugar. Heat the pan just until the butter melts. Stir to form a caramel sauce. Pour this mixture into another casserole dish, evenly coating the bottom.
Carefully transfer the soaked bread to the caramel filled casserole dish, placing slices on top of the mixture. Bake for 30 minutes. The bread will puff up, turn golden.
Serve immediately, with the caramel side up, drizzle with the syrup from the dish. I like to carefully invert the whole thing upside down onto a platter for all the oohs and aahs. And then I cut and serve. Be careful, the caramel will be hot!