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Monday Musings: Fighting Fear

Happy Monday, everyone! What a whirlwind weekend! I just got back yesterday from Washington, D.C. (well, northern Virginia, technically) and spent the weekend prepping and cooking for a 16-person dinner party Saturday night. I planned a pretty ambitious menu, so I spent Friday afternoon grocery shopping, Friday night cooking, and all day Saturday prepping and cooking. As is always the case with dinner parties, it was both exhilarating and exhausting – I was on my feet about 15 hours Saturday alone, and got to bed around 2 a.m. Sunday. Thank goodness for my amazing sister Maria, and her husband Peter – they were total rockstars. Not only did they let me stay with them and take over their kitchen for the weekend, but they jumped in and helped me out with prep, cleaning, and cooking on Saturday night as well. Peter even rolled out homemade naan dough and fired them in a pizza oven! Family is the best.

It’s funny, when you do something you love, there are moments where you’re so in the zone that nothing else matters. Where you’re fully present, fully engaged, and fully alive. Do you know what I’m talking about?! One of those moments, for me, was on Saturday afternoon. I got to the house where the dinner party was being held around 2 pm, unloaded my groceries and cooking gear and spent the afternoon braising osso buco, making naan dough, toasting saffron for the risotto, thinly slicing beets for the salad and shaving asparagus for the pizzas. The kitchen was a total dream – a salmon-colored Lacanche stove, exposed brick walls and stainless steel countertops, and rows and rows of old copper pots hanging from the wall. Sun was streaming through the windows and a great music mix was blaring through the sound-system and I grinned ear-to-ear thinking: I love this. I was all alone, yet practically dancing as I worked – it was so much fun.

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Of course, those are the sweet moments. But for me, there’s always fear, lurking around the corner: the sleepless nights before an event, spent tossing and turning and running through the prep list in my mind again and again. I’m plagued by recurring nightmares of forgetting an ingredient as I’m moments away from plating, of falling behind schedule and not having the food ready, or worst of all – realizing that I’ve totally forgotten an event, and scrambling to try and pull a dinner party off in an hour. Every single time I do any sort of private cheffing job (and honestly, sometimes even my own dinner parties) – there’s a fear of failure. A knot in my stomach that reminds me that I might let people down. The perfectionist in me takes control and threatens to squeeze the joy out of those fun, lighthearted moments that make it all worthwhile.

Last night, I watched the movie Whiplash. Have you seen it? It’s one of the best, most intense movies I’ve seen in a long time, but I seriously could not watch certain scenes because they affected me so viscerally. As in, I literally had to leave the room several times. And no, this isn’t a horror movie or a violent war movie or a thriller. It’s the story of young jazz drummer and his sadistic drumming teacher who stops at nothing to push him to reach his full potential. I was on the edge of my seat the entire movie. The stakes were so high, and the potential to fail was constantly looming – it was like watching my worst fears play out on screen. (By the way, this is why I can’t watch shows like Top Chef! Seriously. Too stressful!) But it was brilliantly acted and written – and it brings up such interesting questions about the pursuit of perfection in a craft, about how far is too far to push when pursuing a dream, and about the discipline, the sacrifices, and the risks involved.

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The movie made me think about some of my own fears. At the end of the day, for me, it’s about control. The more I fear losing control, the tighter I try and maintain it, and the less joy I experience. I’m trying to remind myself to loosen my grip and enjoy myself along the way, whether I’m cooking or writing or pitching a new idea. Fear in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s how I react to fear that matters. Rather than ignoring it or letting it control me, I simply need to recognize it, release it, and move on, seeking to do my best. Which, at the end of the day, is all any of us can do. (For more on conquering fear, click here.)

What about you? What are your fears? And where do you find your greatest joy? Do you see an intersection of these two things? I’d love to hear from you! AND I’m making a commitment to start doing a better job responding to comments…I want this to feel more like a conversation and I need to hold up my end of the bargain!

xo, Anna

(Salad photos by Olivia Funk)

P.S. This salad is somewhat of a work in progress (as are most dishes I create). The version pictured has mache (a delicious tender type of greens), thinly sliced fennel, goat cheese, toasted walnuts, lemon juice and toasted pumpkin oil. It was good, but I felt like something was missing. I ended up making a variation of it for the dinner party this past weekend, this time with shaved raw Chioggia and golden beets (instead of fennel) to add some color, hazelnuts instead of walnuts, and a white Balsamic vinaigrette in lieu of the pumpkin oil. It was beautiful and delicious! I’ll post this new salad recipe soon once we photograph it.

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