As our new reality adds limitations to daily life, it can be tempting to be frustrated by what we can’t do.  We can’t gather in large groups. We can’t go to the library. We can’t do a lot of things. One can get a headache thinking about all the limitations. However, limitations can be a wonderful opportunity for creativity, reinvention, and more focused thinking on what really matters.

Back in the days when I had access to cable, my favorite channel was Food Network. I just loved all the competition shows: Iron Chef, Chopped, Cupcake Wars, and Cutthroat Kitchen. My favorite thing about watching these shows was seeing how the limitations of the competition would inspire creativity. Outside of a cooking competition, who would make a dessert out of broccoli? Or use pickles in cupcakes?  Competition cooking is all about having the art and science of cooking mastered so well that limitation becomes an opportunity to invent instead of following recipes strictly.

Consider the current situation as an opportunity for creativity, for taking the usual recipes for doing things and reinventing them.  What they don’t show on camera in the cooking competitions, of course, is what a mess the kitchens are afterward and how much work it is to clean up—reinventing things can be a messy and exhausting process—but sometimes it can be worth the time.

What can you do with the resources at hand? In the Chopped basket of life, we have all been handed social distancing right now and a few other ingredients particular to us to make something with.  Your challenge: to craft a way of life that depends not on familiar recipes and customs, but on the deeper values and principles that matter most to you.

The old recipes are still good, the old customs still comforting, but they are not the end goal of either cooking or life. When my aunt and grandmother make the Ukrainian dishes from the old country, the point isn’t the food produced, amazing as it is: it’s about the family bonds that have formed over decades and generations of making those recipes. Even when we cannot gather to do that, we can still honor the point of the exercise by calling each other to keep that bond alive. 

For every face-to-face custom or habit that you normally have but cannot do right now, there is a principle that goes deeper than the thing itself that can still be honored in some way. (And if it didn’t have a good purpose, maybe it needed to go anyway.)  I would like to challenge you to think creatively about how to honor those principles in this improvisational opportunity we’ve all been given, so that when we get back to a more familiar recipe-based rhythm of life, those old recipes are even more meaningful than they were before.