When life gives you lemon…
& the art of reclaiming your happiness
By WILLIAM HAND
Culinary Contributor, Allegany Magazine
The strangest thing happened to me in 2020.
I was sitting on my couch, watching a show on Netflix – you know the one – about the wealthy people forced to go live in a small town motel. It was early summer. My dog was at my feet and my cat was in my lap. And I felt a weird twitch in my face. It was almost like a spasm, like my face had tightened below my nose and above my chin.
And for a moment I was a little freaked out and then I figured out what it was – it was a smile.
I realized then that I had been unhappy for quite some time. I mean, think about that – I had not genuinely smiled in so long that when I did, it caught me off guard and I thought I was suffering from a sudden medical condition.
Earlier in 2020 and before the pandemic, my kitchen at home was remodeled (thanks, Jared, Eric and Dylan). A wall between the kitchen and dining room was removed and the floor plan rearranged that made the space feel a lot more open. I remember standing in that newly remodeled kitchen and something felt incomplete. And for a chef to stand in a new kitchen and feel unfulfilled – well, let’s just say that’s not a good thing. And then I knew what that incomplete thing was – it was me.
And so during the COVID inspired lockdown, I started doing some real soul searching. Who was I, where was I, and where did I want life to next take me? And why did standing in a new kitchen make me feel unsettled?
After an enriching career in education for 15 years – with the classrooms closed – I knew this was the time of change. And then I returned to my first and true love – cooking. I’ve always considered myself more of a laborer. “Just tell me what to do and I will do it.” And so to get back into a restaurant kitchen as “just the chef” who is preparing meals to make hungry people happy was something I really had a desire to do. I simply wanted to go “home” – and for me, I am at home when I’m working in a restaurant’s kitchen. And once I made that move, I felt like the old Bill again – one I had somehow lost years earlier. And that’s when I felt that smile.
Out of that experience, I was also approached about publishing my own cookbook – a collection of 20 years’ worth of columns and stories written for this magazine and other publications and so I decided to accept that offer and that book will be out very soon and I am looking forward to seeing many of you out on a (social distanced) book tour I am supposed to start in early 2021.
2020 certainly was the year it promised to be. It brought much into focus and made everything a lot clearer. It was also the year that we all had to find ways to turn lemons into lemonade – or in this case – lemon cheesecake cookies!
Happy 2021. Bring it on.