Chef’s Challenge


Chef’s Challenge

One of my favorite things about Mexico is the food. Grocery shopping in Mexico is a vegan’s delight. Such a vast array of fruits and vegetables. The sights and sounds and smells at the large mercado in San Miguel delight all the senses. I love to cook whenever we are here, because the choices are so varied and so many things are available. As to restaurant meals here, I can usually make it work. I have learned enough Spanish to negotiate my needs to waiters and I find they are almost always eager to please. Many restaurants here get it with vegetarians and have something on the menu that can work. Good cooking is a large part of the culture here, and the presentations are very artful.

But there are several really good chefs, right in Nashville. We have an explosion of new restaurants now, as much a sign of a recovering economy as of the anticipated growth of our city. I love to go out to eat, but I have a love-hate relationship with going out to eat. I love the atmosphere of a well-designed restaurant. I seriously enjoy sitting at a table with friends, and the intimacy of dining in a romantic setting with Fred. I love an interesting glass of wine. But as to food, I am usually happy if there is just something on the menu I can eat. When I find a restaurant that has even one entree that works for me I am ecstatic.
Having been vegetarian for the past 45 years, I made the choice about three years ago to switch to vegan. There are lots of reasons for doing this. The obvious one is compassion. I thought I had that one covered by being vegetarian. I never worried very much about dairy products, especially with the availability of “organic” dairy, which seemed to mean that all the cows were frolicking about in daisy fields, with the kindly farmers skipping over to the barn at milking time for a little fellowship with “Old Bossy.” A couple of things happened to raise my consciousness in this area. I got into Jivamukti yoga, and went to a workshop with David Life and Sharon Gannon. Both are vegan evangelists. Some of the things David said really stayed with me, but I was able to shut it off until I read “Skinny Bitch,” a book that very graphically talks about what eating dairy really means.
And the truth is, honestly, the main reason I switched to vegan was because I saw a photo of myself 25 pounds ago and it was not a pretty sight. I was advised by someone I trusted to simply give up wheat and dairy. I did, and while I’d still like to drop the famous “five more pounds,” maintaining this weight loss has been fairly easy. Since making this change, my cooking at home has greatly improved. I’ve gotten much more creative, and Fred seems perfectly happy with the meals we have. It’s restaurants where I have my problems.
Interestingly enough, most of the good chefs can whip up a wonderful vegan meal if called upon to do so. Just last week we went to a snazzy new place that has all of Nashville’s high -end eaters all abuzz. When I read the menu online, it seemed that each dish was a trip to the barnyard, so I called to see if something could be done for me. I was assured that there wouldn’t be a problem, and there wasn’t. My meal was creative, delicious, and had all my carnivorous friends eyeing my plate with lust in their hearts while they sat and scooped the insides out of very large bones.
And now I’ll get to my point: these chefs are perfectly capable of creating beautiful food that would benefit their customers, the planet, and all living creatures. With the respect they have from the dining community they could educate and facilitate positive changes. All I would suggest is that they use their skills to have at least one serious vegan starter and entree, (and ok, dessert), that is not just a “green salad”, “vegetable plate”, and “sorbet”. I am talking about vegan dishes that are as well-thought out as anything else on the menu.
And then, promote these choices. I am sure many of their customers would still choose to gnaw on a bone, or eat a pig’s ear (or whatever). But, some would be curious to have a little green adventure. And the vegans out there would be very, very happy.

A State of Mind

Sometimes it’s just time to shift a gear and move on to the next thing. People who know me seem surprised that Fred and I have sold our business and retired. Not that it’s so unusual for a woman approaching 70 to be ready for a change. It was great to get in touch with what I really wanted to do-design jewelry-and then to somehow manage to do it, and do it with a fair degree of success, for 30 years. It was a wonderful life for Fred and me to both quit our day jobs and do something that seemed so risky and adventurous. And we did have an adventure. We went places we otherwise would not have gone, and met some very interesting people along the way, but when it was time to move on, it was time to move on. Personally, I had reached a point where I wasn’t enjoying my work as much. My motto for the past few decades has been, “Always leave while you’re still having fun.” I wasn’t having much fun and I was completely tired of selling things to people.

I had jokingly said for about the past five years that I liked photographing the jewelry more than any other part of my job. I really only had time to do one portrait a month which was the ad for my jewelry. I needed to spend more time on photography in order to see my photos become art. I wanted to spend more time studying Spanish, and to turn our 3 week vacations in Mexico into much longer stretches of time. I also wanted to have time to cook more and develop wheat-free, vegan recipes. I felt I needed more time every day for physical workouts. As I was approaching 70, I realized more every day how fleeting time really is.

Fortunately, my husband and partner, Fred, is a good planner and he had starting to thing about the economics of our retirement. That is huge, and you are never to young to start thinking about this. We found a great financial advisor, and realized that we actually could retire without living in a cardboard box.

It took a year from the day we knew we were both ready until we actually left. In the midst of that time we sold our business to Mclaine Richardson, a very talented young woman who had worked for us for about three years. She is young, doing an excellent job, and I believe she is having fun in the same way I did so many years ago. I was so happy this happened; for many reasons. Obviously, it’s great to sell your business. It is also a very good feeling to know that your loyal employees will still have jobs, and to see the name of something you have worked hard to develop for a long time be continued.

I’m sure everyone who has ever retired has had their own process to go through. For Fred and me there was some stress to get here, but for now, it’s absolutely the best life I’ve had so far. I don’t really think of myself as “retired,” just as someone who has changed her state of mind.
This blog will be about how this journey unfolds. I will focus a lot on cooking, and try to be helpful to people who want to eat healthier. I will explore issues that relate to gender identity, as this is currently the subject matter I am most interested in photographing. When we travel I will share those destinations. Next trip up is to San Miguel in the mountains in Mexico. The photo for this piece was taken there last summer. I don’t want to define and confine this writing on the front end. Who knows where it will go? Who knows where the journey will take me? I’d love to have you go along for the ride.