Do you ever look at a picture of yourself and teleport yourself back to that time and place? This is one of my favorite images of my youth. I was 8 and 1/2 years old at my Uncle David’s wedding in Tennessee. It was HOT outside! I look miserable in this picture, and despite the fact that my sweet Aunt Erika continually told me to close my legs, it was one of the best days in my life of kid-dom. This image was one of the first stops on my creative timeline.
My Uncle David is the sole reason I am an artist. After he left the Air Force he traveled the US as a musician singing and playing dulcimer, autoharp, and guitar in folk festivals. How exotic! When he would pass through Missouri we would sit out on the front porch swing and sing songs at the top of our lungs serenading the lightening bugs. It was heaven! He was my hero and my first living artistic role model. David was marrying another musician, a flute player, Ann Marie, and they were moving to Nashville. I wanted to go with them! I’d never been to a fancy wedding before and it was incredibly exciting with all of their musician friends there. I remember sitting in that chair with my legs splayed open trying to cool myself thinking, “When do we all get to sing?!” That phrase still sits in the front of my mind on most occasions of my life.
Fast forward to my teens where all I did was sing. In church, in school, in the car on long drives belting out Judy Garland, Patsy Cline and Randy Travis, driving my family crazy and not giving a hoot. I sang in the church choir from second grade until my senior year of high school. High school was unbearable for me. I didn’t fit in, but I learned early on that I could escape anything that didn’t feel good if I sang. I took refuge in my artistic expression.
I ended up going to a theatre school and I got to sing every day! It was glorious. I found a place where I finally fit in. I bloomed as I ushered out my teens into my 20s. Who knew there were schools that offered degrees in theatre and dance?! This little midwesterner wanted to join the Air Force and fly planes and then become an astronaut and go to the moon! Luckily, as I was picking up military brochures from my guidance councelor, she had something else in mind. (Thank you Mrs. Curchin for encouraging me to never stop singing!) I ended up with a BFA in Musical Theatre from the Performing Arts Conservatory at Webster University in Saint Louis, MO.
With diploma in hand, I ran off to New York City and have truly never looked back for longer than a visit home to Missouri. My 30s were full of show business in ways I never expected, nor was I prepared for the opportunities that came along. That time in my life I learned the art of saying ‘yes’ and figuring it out later. I was a singing waitress. I posed as a nude figure model. I acted in industrial films. I performed in a children’s opera at Lincoln Center in full elephant costume and when we sang our trunks flipped up and velcro-ed to our heads! I was a print model. I became a voice over artist. When the picture below was taken, I was part of an Emmy winning web series, Floaters. That was an incredible time for me. I can clock that whole day for you from hour to hour. I was in the relationship of my life, had just booked a big voice over gig, was shooting this series, I was singing on a high profile demo project, cooking for fantastic people, and was so well captured during that photo shoot. I mean look at this girl! I felt unstoppable.
I was recently with some other graduates from Webster and we sang! I was back in a room of friends that carry the same mantra in their hearts, “When do we all get to sing?!” How good it felt to return to those roots. We talked about how our education didn’t ensure jobs or even truly prepare us for the real world, but it embedded something deep within us - - that education confirmed that we are artists. We are creatives and that part of us will never go away whether we use our degree or not. If we end up selling real estate, if we are full time parents or become photographers, maybe we’re therapists, copy writers, teachers, personal chefs, movie stars, or win Tony awards on Broadway; our creative thread is woven into everything we do.
Now that I’m in my 40s, here’s what I’ve really learned, you don’t need a piece of paper declaring to the world that you’re an artist. Yes, I was lucky enough to have an education that celebrated that part of me. Now I get to dump all of my creativity into this blog every week, into creating menus and recipes, and in finding ways to combine show business with my cooking skills. Artistic opportunities still present themselves, I continue to sing in many of my voice over jobs, and I discover new ways to express myself all the time.
Thank you for indulging me this trip down memory lane, but more importantly, for coming along with me as I charted my creative timeline. I’m sure many of you had artistic dreams when you were young and perhaps the tug of real life has created some space between you and those dreams. My almost 80 year old dad can barely see and he was at his easel yesterday working on a canvas! My Uncle David is still playing music and he just asked me to sing in an open mic with him when he comes to New York this summer! I continue to be inspired by these men. There is art to be made, my friends. There are creative roads to explore no matter how busy or tired you are. Carve out some time. You’re worth it. Chart your own creative timeline and celebrate the artist inside of you. Audition for your local theatre company, sign up for a story telling night, join a choir, take a class, finish your screen play, sign up for piano lessons, sing to your kids, put on some music and dance! Pick up your guitar, your paint brushes, your ballet shoes, the knitting, the clay, the camera - - whatever it is that makes you say your version of “When do we all get to sing?!”
My latest creative opportunity has found me working on a menu for a dessert bar in my neighborhood! The owner of Sugarcube, Peter Zaharatos, in Long Island City, has asked me to create some savory items for his menu! It’s incredibly exciting to collaborate with others as well as to be given a chance to reach more people with my food. This recipe is one of my greatest hits, a Middle Eastern grain salad with herbs, lentils, spices, and nuts. It sounds exotic, and it is, but it can be modified to fit what’s in your pantry or what you find in your local grocery store.
Cypriot Grain Salad
adapted from Hellenic Republic
1 cup freekah* (you can substitute bulgur, brown rice or your favorite grain)
1 cup green puy-style lentils (black beluga and regular brown lentils also work)
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup currants
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Greek-style yogurt
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1. Bring two saucepans of water to the boil. (I use vegetable stock to give more flavor!)
2. Cook freekah in one pan for 30 minutes or until just cooked. Drain well in a colander and allow to cool.
3. At the same time, cook the lentils in the second pan for 20 minutes or until just tender. Drain, then set aside.
4. Combine cumin, pumpkin seeds, almonds, pine nuts, parsley, coriander, currants, lemon juice, olive oil, freekah and lentil in a salad bowl, season with salt and pepper.
5. Top with the yogurt and pom seeds.
*Freekah or frikeh or frik is a cereal food made from green wheat that is roasted. It is eaten in North Africa, Egyptian cuisine, and found in Middle Eastern dishes. It is like a green bulgur.