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Lessons in life from cooking

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Support Worker and cookbook fan, Hayley Eagle is a self confessed Nigella wannabe. In this post she talks about how following a recipe to the letter, just as following a certain path in life, doesn't always necessarily produce the best results.

Trust Your Instincts

It's no secret to friends of mine that I'm a huge fan of cookbooks and have amassed quite the collection at the grand old age of 27. Cookbooks are how I taught myself to cook and opened up a whole world of recipes to me that I would never have come across had I not learnt and relied solely on ready meals and pizzas. I can't get enough of them (cookbooks, not pizza. Oh OK, pizza too). However. There is only so much you can learn from blindly following a recipe to the letter. As a beginner to cooking, I would often follow a recipe devotedly, even as rhubarb burnt, eggs were still liquid and chicken still pink. If I was to survive my own cooking and not kill off my significant other, I was going to have to trust my own instincts more. Recipes, at the end of the day, are a guide. That method, those ingredients and that cooking time were what worked for Nigella, Jamie, Rick and Madhur using what they had to hand and the skills they have. Following recipes unquestioningly stifles creativity and takes all control of what you are eating out of your own hands. Mix things up. If something is burning then take it out of the oven regardless of how long Gordon told you to cook it for. Recipe suggests coriander but you hate the taste? Swap it for mint.  Obvious advice, but it took  me a little while to take it myself. The point I'm getting at then is that there are no guides to how to live your life. Sure, listen to others, seek advice and be well informed, but know what is the right decision for you. If something feels right, go for it. If something makes you feel cautious or nervous, pay attention to that feeling and act accordingly. Your instinct is the most powerful and primitive tool you have, have confidence in it and in yourself. If I hadn't started trusting my instinct in the kitchen then I would have given up on cooking a long time ago. Turns out I'm good at it and I'm thrilled that I persevered with it and overcame those first hurdles. Be true to yourself and remember that no one knows you like you do.

Open Your MindSeafood - Photograph taken by Mak Jones

Seafood Some of the best food that I've ever eaten has been stuff that I never in a million years thought I would like. Ten years ago I would have been too scared to eat anything that had been in the same room as a chilli, but now I am completely addicted to, and in love with spicy food. I couldn't imagine my life without chillies in it. Same with shellfish. I went on a French cooking course a couple of years ago and while excited to cook food that I'd never really come across before, I was horrified to see that moules mariniere was on the menu. Mussels scared me, and let's not beat around the bush here, they look gross. Don't even try to pretend otherwise. Luckily for my taste buds, I'm a proud person and didn’t want to look like the uncultured fool that I am in front of a fellow classmate whose 4 year old daughter took olives as a snack to nursery.  When it came down to the crunch, I closed my eyes, put my big girl pants on and just ate the darn mussels. They were amazing, and I left the class later that day wishing I hadn't left it 25 years to try them. So, try new things. Don't be scared to try a new approach with a customer, venture away from the tourist traps on holiday, change your drink order at the coffee shop, join a book club, learn a new language or start an evening class. As the saying goes, if you always do what you've always done then you'll always have what you've always got. Like En Vogue once wisely said, free your mind and the rest will follow.

Know When To Throw In The Towel

Out of everything I do in the kitchen, baking is my absolute favourite. It's a discipline and a science and if you follow the recipe correctly then you will be rewarded with a rich chocolate cake, soft homemade bread or a beautiful baked New York cheesecake. I'm well aware of the irony of declaring my love for a discipline that demands I follow an exact recipe just moments after writing 'DO NOT FOLLOW RECIPES!". Baking is an exception. You need to be precise, after all, as baking is a delicious chemical reaction between certain ingredients. Add an extra egg at your peril! So it breaks my heart that while I love baking cupcakes, I cannot decorate them for love nor money. The piping bag is my enemy. I have tried countless times to get my head around the piping bag, have bought several on the deluded basis that I hadn’t yet found the 'right' one, and covered my kitchen in icing at least twice after getting so mad at the bag I squeezed too hard and it exploded. It pained me to do it, but I had to give up the dream of turning out heart-stoppingly beautiful cakes and settle for exceptionally tasty ones that looked very average. And you know what, I'm not selling my cakes professionally or running a bakery, so what does it matter?

The fact is, sometimes we try really hard at something or want something insanely badly but it just isn't always going to go your way. Always try your hardest and give it your all, but realise eventually that throwing in the towel and investing your time, energy and money someplace else may be the best option in the end. I'm borrowing a little from Einstein here, but the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results. You can't be good at everything, no one is. Yes, even Beyonce. Learn from the experience. Who knows where that time invested in something you can do will lead to?

But Always Big Yourself Up

This is the advice that I find the hardest to follow, and anyone that has managed me will be able to back this up. Telling everyone what a brilliant job I've done goes against every 'nice girl' instinct I have and I'm terrified of being seen as arrogant and cocky. And yet when it comes to cooking I'm not in the least bit afraid of shouting out about what I'm good at. My boyfriend never liked anyone’s chilli ever, yet after making him MY chilli he fell in love with it and it's now his favourite meal. He won't eat anyone else’s chilli. I've made this chilli for a lot of people and the feedback is always fantastic. Why deny its brilliance? The fear of coming across as arrogant is a common one, but if you don't believe you're awesome then why should anybody else? Think about how you view some of the most successful people in the public eye and their attitude. Usain Bolt is a record breaking athlete and the fastest man on Earth. In interviews he's charismatic, funny, charming and above all confident. He knows he's the shiz because he literally has the track record, no one else even comes close. I don't think any less of him because he brags about his achievements; I think 'well he's got a point'. Beyonce doesn't come across as coy and modest, she knows that her singing and dancing skills come second to no one and all she needs to do is stand on a stage and people go wild. She revels in her fabulousness and I adore her for that. Take a leaf out of their books and when you've achieved something, tell someone. Don't put it down to luck, fluke or 'anyone could have done it' - YOU did it.

You can follow Hayley Eagle on Twitter @HayleyEBromford

Read more of Hayley's posts on her own blog

Chocolate cake photograph taken by Kirti Poddar

Seafood photograph taken by Mak Jones