Monday, November 28, 2011

Life is Like a Box of Phyllo

If you met me today, and you saw me cook, it would be easy to assume that I've always been comfortable donning an apron, confidently dicing onions with my Santoku knife while effortlessly keeping tabs on my bubbling braises and sizzling sautes.

This, however, is quite untrue.

A few years ago, I tried cooking with phyllo dough for the first time.  Phyllo consists of paper-thin sheets of a simple unleavened dough that, when layered together with butter or oil and cooked, turn into crispy, flaky, divine pockets of flavor.  If you've ever enjoyed Greek specialties like spanakopita or tyropita, or grabbed a little too voraciously at those triangular pastry pockets being passed around by waiters at a fancy party, you know what I'm talking about.

At the time, I didn't think it would be that hard to cook with phyllo.  I ignored the directions on the box that said to prepare the rest of the ingredients first, and to keep the dough covered with a piece of plastic wrap and a damp cloth.  I was too busy to do all that; besides, how important could it be?

It turns out, very.

While I left the dough out in the open air, I busied myself with the browning of meat, the crumbling of cheese, and the wilting of greens.  By the time I had that taken care of and brought my attention back to the phyllo, it had completely dried out and broke apart into floury pieces as soon as I touched it.  Without the phyllo, I couldn't complete the dish.

I didn't realize it at the time, but I was treating my own life like the phyllo.  I was trying to take care of everything and everyone else but myself.  I didn't realize that the phyllo, and that my own needs, were the things that needed the most attention and care.  Without healthy phyllo, I had nothing to support my other ingredients.  Without a healthy life, I had nothing to give others.

Slowly, I started to educate myself about cooking, and in turn about life.  I've learned that having too many things going at the same time on the stove top usually results in something being burned, overcooked, or just plain ruined.  Similarly, if I stretch myself too thin, or say "Yes" to one too many favors, I'm the one that's left feeling burned - burned out.

I've learned that each ingredient, no matter how insignificant it may seem, deserves my time and respect.  In the same way, each of my own desires, needs, and wishes is important and deserves the chance to shine.

I've learned to read the writing on the package.

The Greeks pride themselves on preparing simple food with as much love as they have for the people with whom they share their meals.  I am happy to embrace this ideology not only in the kitchen, but in my life as well.  Like each layer of phyllo adds a dimension of flavor, texture, and artistry, I'm proud of how I've crafted the layers of my own life - complex, unique, beautiful layers that combine to make me the person I am today.

Ask me to cook with phyllo now, and I'll gladly oblige.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the layers of uncooked phyllo dough resemble blank pages of paper.  The phyllo dough is an empty canvas, and it's up to the chef to decide what to make of it - the chef determines whether it becomes the sweetest pastry, or the most savory supper, or if it dries out and is wasted.  In the same way, we determine what our own life story is going to be - sweet or savory, happy or sad.  Fulfilled or wasted.

Phyllo is a perfect metaphor for life: Neglect it for too long, try to take care of too many other things and not yourself, and you can dry out and become irreversibly cracked.  But with patience, care, and lots of love, you are capable of living the most delicious of lives.

I think the Greeks are on to something.

As part of the FoodBuzz Featured Publisher Program, I have been entered for the chance to win a trip to Greece courtesy of FAGE.  You too can enter to win one of three trips to Greece by entering the FAGE Plain Extraordinary Greek Getaway here:


  1. Oh for Pete's sake, of course you are going to win the trip to Greece. I think you'll need to consider becoming a travel-food blogger now, too!
    I love the idea that each sheet of phyllo dough is like a blank canvas. (-:
    But reading your blog at night makes my tummy grumble w. hunger...

  2. Love this post, Elizabeth! I really like you how related phyllo to life! So true!