CULINARY MAGIC, A FEW TIPS ON HOW TO BECOME A HERO IN ONE’S OWN KITCHEN…
Our family and the place we grow up in have a tremendous influence on who we become in the future. The better combination of the above mentioned factors, the bigger chances we get for leading a good and happy life, equipped with skills, which are essential in our everyday life.
However, we are not always given the chance to experience what we would wish at the early stage of our life, because to a great extent, we are dependent on others. Luckily, curiosity of the world and dreams allow us to get further and to reach for more, even if at the end of the day we come back to our comfort place, which we know very well.
Warm and welcoming family house cannot function well without delicious and healthy meals, prepared out of love for its home dwellers. Not everyone is born with a talent for cooking, sometimes we are simply not given the chance for discovering it, depending on fast and ready-to-cook food, so convenient when we lead an intense lifestyle.
Hopefully, there are some people, who can come to our rescue by sharing their ideas, recipes and tricks related to cooking… and who knows, maybe one day you could become a hero in your own kitchen? I’m truly pleased to introduce you to my today’s interviewee – Natasha Lévai – who not only discovered her passion for preparing delicious meals, but also for sharing her recipes on her culinary blog.
Passion Piece: Could you tell my readers a few words about yourself?
Natasha: I am 28 years old and have a husband and a 7-month-old daughter. We live in a village in Eastern Hungary where we bought a house a little over a year ago. Ever since I left my country every stage of life was about learning new things. Now I am learning again. Learning how to parent, how to care for my family, how to keep household, and how to grow my cooking blog.
Passion Piece: You’ve lived quite an interesting life and you’re definitely a woman of many passions. What made you change your life and leave your hometown?
Natasha: I always had the desire to travel but we couldn’t afford traveling abroad growing up. Sometimes friends would tell stories of their trips to other countries and I would often feel jealous that they could see the world and I couldn’t. On the other hand, it often seemed that life is better in other countries. Sometimes we had visitors from the west and I was often surprised by how different they were from us, they seemed more joyful, freer, and more passionate about life. So, I thought that maybe my culture creates some sort of depressing notion in people and I really wanted to experience what it is like to live “out there”.
At 19 years old I became interested in going to a Bible college and even though there were some in my country, I wanted to go abroad to study. Soon I heard about a school like that in Hungary, applied, and was accepted. My initial plan was to stay for a few months but that turned into a couple of years at first, and then after finishing Bible school I was invited to work at a protestant church in another town in Hungary where I stayed for the next two years.
Passion Piece: How have all these experiences shaped you as a person? Which one was the most life-changing for you?
Natasha: Growing up I was immersed in the system of public education and had very little family life. I would arrive at school before the doors opened and go home after every other kid had already left and the teacher was only staying in to wait for my parents to pick me up. During summers we would normally be sent to grandma’s or be at home alone while our parents worked. This kind of style of living left me without a lot of life lessons you are supposed to learn at home with your parents. My mom and dad actually fought a lot at home and it was not a safe space for children to ask questions and learn even when we did spend time with family.
Living abroad in a community of about 100 people taught me so much! I learned how to make and keep friends, how to manage people (we had jobs within the school), how to express myself, how to define my boundaries and respect the boundaries of other people, how to take care of my room, how to clean a bathroom (I don’t remember learning that at home!), and many other big and small things.
The most life-changing experience was my stay in California with a friend of mine. After being in Hungary for 4 years I got really depressed and needed a change. My friend who is my parents’ age invited me to stay at her house for the next few months and that was one of the most shaping experiences I had in my life. I got to live in a house with a loving family, spend time with my friend, read the Bible together, pray, and talk about deep issues of life. She was the mother I never had and I am forever grateful for those few months she dedicated to caring for me.
Passion Piece: Now, you call Hungary your home. How was it settling down after traveling so much and living in so many different countries? What do you love about this particular country?
Natasha: Honestly, I never wanted to settle down in Hungary. I was in the process of moving to Chicago to study at a university when Covid hit and the US embassy shut down in Budapest. All I needed to do is apply for a visa, get a ticket and be on my way but as time went on I realized I will only be able to go the following semester due to all the delays.
As I was getting my paperwork done I met my future husband and when it was clear I was not going to make it to Chicago that Fall of 2020, we started dating. I had this idea that a few months will show whether this relationship had potential or not and if it didn’t I would still go to Chicago, but if it did, then I would have to figure something out.
Covid shutdown was hard on me as a foreigner and I felt very lonely at times. I lived in a rental apartment all by myself and did not see anyone for 5 days a week. Through some previous connections, I knew Christian who gladly volunteered to help me get around to a store and back and invited me to a local home church on Sundays. Since he was my only friend at that time it was hard not to become close and eventually, we started dating. It took us only 3 months to get engaged and 6 more months to get married.
So, I did not choose Hungary but Hungary chose me in some way. My husband and I live in his hometown now and it has been a lot of adjustment for me but I am starting to feel more at home as time goes by.
What I really love about this country is how relational people are oftentimes. This area is on the poorer side of Europe and I noticed that the richer the country is, the less open and relational people become. Another thing I like about Hungary is its weather. It is not too hot, nor too cold and we can grow plenty of fruits and veggies in summer!
Passion Piece: You decided to set up your own blog titled ‘Natasha’s home’. What can your readers find there?
Natasha: When I was pregnant I couldn’t eat anything for the first few months but I was so hungry that I would watch cooking videos online during bed rest. As I watched all these cooks make amazing recipes I became interested in cooking myself. Before having my own family I never bothered to cook a wholesome meal for myself, all I ate was some quick-to-make food, pasta with ketchup and mayo, and cheap ramen. I even developed iron deficiency because of a lack of nutrients in my diet.
However, as I started learning the basics of cooking and baking for my family I also started following a lot of food bloggers online, and once I came across a video where one of them was sharing about their passion for blogging and tips on how to start your own cooking site. I always had a passion for starting a blog and I even tried a couple of times but due to the lack of information and resources, it never went anywhere. However, at that point, I was at home and had plenty of free time during pregnancy so I decided to start sharing my cooking discoveries with my online audience.
My main focus is budget-friendly recipes that use simple ingredients, yet, taste delicious. Since my husband is gluten intolerant I also share plenty of gluten-free recipes like gluten-free sourdough, pizza, desserts, and other dishes. To create a recipe I take a look at a few variations of the dish shared by other cooks and try to find some new twist on the dish that would combine the best flavors, substitute the hard-to-find ingredients, and provide more educational information on how to make that specific recipe best.
Passion Piece: From a world traveler to a home cook, it’s a way in which you describe yourself on your website. Was it an easy change? How has this transition influenced the way you perceive the world around you? Has it changed your priorities?
Natasha: If someone told me that I would be a stay-at-home mom with a food blog living in a small village in Hungary I would probably feel disappointed. My dreams were to travel the world and be a part of a big community of people. However, the transition was slow and gentle. Even though I still like crowds and enjoy the company of close friends, I am starting to enjoy having my own little place that I can make into a home, my own hobby that allows me to grow in many areas, and my own family that is closer to me than any other friend from my previous life.
What is also important to note is that now I am also a mother. Once you become a parent your priorities change drastically and you don’t have the same freedom to do anything you want with your life. Probably this factor has been the hardest to adjust to – being a mom. It is wonderfully rewarding, yet, as with anything good in life, it takes a lot of personal sacrifices. Having a child changed a lot in my perspective on things and perception of life.
Passion Piece: Where do you find your inspiration while looking for the recipes you present on your blog?
Natasha: Often some interesting ingredient pops up in my mind and I start thinking of all kinds of ways to cook or bake it. I look at the recipes of other people, think of what looks interesting, yet, is not so complicated, and then I try to come up with some new version of an existing recipe. The more I cook the more ideas come naturally as I work on creating new ways to make an old dish. For the most part, I share recipes that I personally love and make for my family regularly.
Passion Piece: Is there a type of cuisine you love the most? What’s your favorite dish? Why?
Natasha: I think I don’t have a specific cuisine that I prefer but rather specific dishes from different cultures. Sometimes some dishes are harder to make due to the difficult-to-find ingredients, for example, a lot of Asian recipes call for ingredients I cannot find in my town, although I really like Asian food.
If I think of a place where I had the best food ever, that would definitely be Serbia. I don’t remember all the things we ate there but I just remember that I haven’t had better food than what they make!
It is hard to say what is my favorite dish as I like so many of them but probably some of my favorite ones include Russian skillet potatoes, Russian pelmeni, and Hungarian rice with lecso (fried onion, tomatoes, and peppers) and sausage. The first two are the comfort foods I ate a lot growing up, and the second one is extremely easy to make, yet, is so rich with the flavors of vegetable juice, lard, and smoked sausage. This is my go-to dish for Sundays when we don’t have much time to cook, yet, have guests to entertain!
Passion Piece: How would you like to encourage people to practice home cooking? What benefits can it offer?
Natasha: Home cooking is something most of us have to do whether we want to or not as eating out is expensive but cooking doesn’t have to be boring. Instead of always making the same thing over and over again, pick a dish every week that you will learn to make. You can also choose an ingredient that you will learn to cook with. Let’s say you want to learn dishes that feature eggplant, go and find a couple of recipes that use eggplant and try making them this week or month. This way cooking will be a bit more interesting and you will grow your skills and knowledge as you go.
Home cooking also allows you to control what goes into your food and introduce a lot of healthy ingredients into your family’s diet. There are plenty of surprising ways you can blend broccoli or spinach into many foods. You can even make a sweet smoothie using frozen broccoli, kale, celery, or spinach! The more varied diet you follow the more health benefits you will reap.
Passion Piece: What do you love doing in your free time?
Natasha: As a mom of a 7 months old, I don’t have a whole lot of free time! But when I do I love reading, writing, praying, and working on my blog.
Passion Piece: Where do you see yourself in the nearest future?
Natasha:In the nearest future, I see myself where I am right now maybe with a few more kids running around the house. I plan to continue discovering more family-friendly recipes to share with my audience and grow in my home-making skills!
Passion Piece: Which motto would you like to share with my readers?
Natasha: Don’t be afraid to explore! We all have dreams and way too often we lay them aside as too big to attain. But you can always take one step forward and see where the road leads you. Better done than perfect, don’t ever give up on dreaming and searching for a bigger purpose in life.
Passion Piece: Thank you very much for this truly inspiring conversation and I wish you continued success in the future!
See you around!
Photos by: Natasha Lévai