Intellectually, we know we should revel in the small things in life: the smell of your mom’s cooking, the way your husband folds his shirts, the chatter of your kids’ banter in the back seat, the stupid fights you get into with your siblings.
But life doesn’t always work out that way.
Monica Malarczyk knows this well. The Hastings, New York, native’s life changed dramatically in December 2015 when her parents and a family friend visiting from Poland were killed in a horrific car accident on a snowy day in Vermont, reports The Journals News, which is part of the USA TODAY Network.
The family had been driving home after a ski vacation when a tractor-trailer veered across the center line and into opposing traffic, crashing into the Malarczyk’s SUV.
Monica, then 22 years old and in the backseat with her 16-year-old sister and 21-year-old brother, suffered internal injuries, a lacerated kidney, a broken spine, broken neck, broken femur, severe nerve damage, concussion and a shattered hip and pelvis. She had to undergo multiple surgeries — at one point she was partially paralyzed — and grueling months of rehab to learn to walk again.
Her siblings were also badly injured; the three were in such fragile shape they couldn’t be airlifted but instead endured a two-hour drive to University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington when the first hospital they were taken to after the accident wasn’t equipped to treat them. Both her sister and brother have since recovered from their injuries.
Food became part of the family’s healing.
“Once I was able to do so, I began to cook every day in hopes of providing my two younger siblings with love and affection that, given our hardships and changed dynamics, I wasn’t able to verbally express to them at the time,” Malarczyk said.
It was also healing to recreate some of her mom’s recipes and fill her childhood home with familiar smells and tastes.
Soon after, Malarczyk started HookedandHungry, an Instagram food page that has grown to over 3K followers. It opened her up to new restaurants, menu tastings, and culinary related events. More importantly, It also gave her access to people in the industry that have helped support both her confidence and her newfound passion for cooking and food.
Prior to the accident, Malarczyk, a finance and marketing major at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, had worked in Jersey City as a financial analyst at Deloitte, conducting financial audits and working with asset backed securities.
But post-accident, after numerous surgeries and months of rehab, she decided to enroll at the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC.
“I fell in love with developing recipes, styling and photographing food,” said the now 25-year-old. “I also truly enjoyed the foodies I met along the way and the new friendships I made.”
Going to culinary school was a decision she had put off and deferred three times (and then had to re-apply) because she just wasn’t mentally or physically ready.
She began classes began in October 2018, which led her to a subsequent move to a Manhattan apartment. It’s all been healing and challenging and scary and exhilarating.
“I’m at a point where I realized I had to do something for myself,” said Malarczyk. “I knew I wasn’t ready to go back to a full-time job at Deloitte. Being around food, cooking it, styling it and documenting it just makes me happy.”
Her ultimate goal — she graduates in May — is to work in some kind of media-related food job like a magazine or the Food Network. “I’m still figuring it out,” she said.
“I’m just finally starting to feel ‘normal;’ whatever ‘normal’ is.”
Her siblings are also doing well. Her sister is a premed student while her brother is pursuing his masters degree at NYU and working on launching a marble restoration company.
“There’s no precedent for what we’ve been through and no template for this situation,” Malarczyk said.
“We’re all just deciding on a day-to-day basis what works for us and trying to be happy.”