Mary Helen Leonard, of Mary Makes Good, is joining the Sodium Blog as a Guest Blogger today.
My path to the kitchen has been a winding one. When I started my first full-time job at just sixteen, I had no grand plans beyond escaping the drudgery of high school. The fact that I was working in a sandwich shop, spending my days slicing vegetables and assembling submarines didn’t seem particularly significant at the time.
Whether I realized it or not, my time behind the deli counter was the first step in what would be a lifelong career in food. After the sandwich shop I got a job as a waiter in a Japanese restaurant. Between tables I began bar tending and prepping ingredients in the kitchen - becoming fascinated with the world of Asian cuisine.
Oddly enough, though I spent pretty much all my time surrounded by cooks and chefs I had never really learned how to cook. By the time I was 25, my boyfriend Scott, (later to become my husband) and I ate most of our meals at fast food restaurants. Our idea of a home cooked supper typically came out of a box, and when I did attempt to prepare something from scratch it was usually drowned in sauce or smothered in cheese.
Sufficed to say, I was no great chef at 25, and to tell you the truth, learning to cook properly wasn’t even on my radar. Then one day, out of the blue, fate intervened in a most unexpected way. Poor Scott had developed a kidney stone. Watching him go through the pain of passing the stone was pretty intense. It wasn’t something either of us wanted to repeat, so when his doctor advised a low-sodium diet, we were determined to follow his advice.
We soon discovered that sticking to a low-sodium diet would be pretty much impossible without making some major changes. Much of the packaged food and restaurant fare that we were used to eating was loaded with excess sodium. Even simple foods like canned beans or packaged bread had much more sodium than we expected. It quickly became clear that if we couldn’t buy food that was low in sodium we would need to learn to make it ourselves.
I bought my first cookbook later that month, and though the first few meals didn’t come out quite like the pictures in the book, we knew we were on to something good. By learning to cook I was able to continue eating food that I enjoyed while having much more control over the sodium level it contained.
I spent the next two years cooking as many meals from scratch as I could, and by then I was totally hooked. I became fascinated with trying new recipes and learning about the foundation of different cuisines and cooking methods. What had started as a challenge sparked by necessity soon turned into a very rewarding hobby.
When we found ourselves uprooted in 2009 and living on the other side of the world in Beijing China, I spent my days in a local cooking school taking my first formal cooking classes. I learned to slice meat with a cleaver and shape delicate wrappers on handmade dumplings.
Learning the basics of Chinese cuisine was pretty awesome, but the most valuable thing I discovered during my time in China was my passion for cooking. I knew then that my cooking hobby had the potential to become a real career.
As soon as we settled back in stateside I enrolled in culinary school. I took a short, but thorough culinary program at The Community Culinary School in Northwestern Connecticut and went on to make a career for myself as a food blogger and cookbook author. It’s amazing to think that what started as a prescribed diet turned into a life dedicated to the exploration of health and food.
It’s been ten years since Scott started a low-sodium diet and sparked my interest in cooking. While I still feel awful for him having to go through something so painful, I’m grateful that we were inspired to change our relationship with food. I don’t just have a career thanks to this change, but also ten years under my belt of making healthier choices for my family, my heart and my health.
Even if you don’t find yourself drawn to the kitchen, you can still empower yourself to reduce sodium in your own diet by reading labels and making better choices when it comes to sodium. About three quarters of the sodium in Americans’ diets comes from processed, prepackaged, and restaurant foods. But not all processed food has too much sodium. It's important to check labels and watch for the salty 6.
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