Actress and author Tia Mowry has spent much of her life in front of the camera. From her breakout role as Tia Landry on the 1990s sitcom Sister, Sister to playing the leading lady on BET’s The Game, and beyond, the world has watched her evolve into a beautiful woman, loving wife and as of 2011, a nurturing mother.

“I feel like life imitates art, or art imitates life. I always take on roles that I’m passionate about,” says Mowry.

And very many of the roles the 37-year-old has taken on mirror her respective stage in life. In Sister, Sister, she was an inquisitive, fun-loving teen, and off-camera, the young Tia Mowry was just that. On Nickelodeon’s Instant Mom, she played a party girl turned stepmom of three children, very much a fish out of water. Simultaneously in real life, Mowry was a first-time mom to her son, Cree Taylor Hardrict, navigating the wonderful world of motherhood. But the parallels of her role as Melanie Barnett on The Game particularly stand out to the actress.

“With The Game, [Melanie Barnett] was a college graduate, and she was all about supporting her boyfriend,” Mowry says. “Then she ended up getting married. That was me with my husband [Cory Hardrict]. It was all about supporting his career and being his ride or die.” Indeed, after graduating from Pepperdine University and a courtship of nearly eight years (including their engagement period), Tia Mowry and Cory Hardrict took the leap. Mowry continues, “The stuff that Melanie was saying, I was saying at home. My husband is so funny, he would say: ‘You’re not Melanie Barnett. When you get home, you are Tia. There will be no stripper poles in the bedroom,’ ” she says with a laugh.

The actress believes taking on characters that are an extension of herself provides a level of authenticity. “Nobody’s forced me to do anything I didn’t want to do, and I didn’t force myself to be someone that I’m not,” she says. Tia Mowry’s roles are a part of her existence, so her work isn’t necessarily acting. It is simply who she is.

A multidimensional woman, cooking is another passion of Mowry’s. And when our discussion turned to the culinary arts, her eyes were aflame. “I dream about food,” says Mowry. And as a bona fide foodie, hosting her very own cooking show seemed like a practical next step. Rather than just being a fangirl to cooking shows like Giada and Barefoot Contessa, Mowry decided it was time to add television chef to her repertoire. “I told my managing team that I want to cook, and they were like, ‘let’s do it.’”

And so her Cooking Channel show, Tia Mowry at Home, was born.

After breaking down the fine art of preparing the perfect herb de provence turkey, Mowry enthusiastically rattled off her Christmas menu. Oh yes, this chef has it all figured out weeks in advance. This year’s menu consists of roasted beef tenderloin, garlic mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts. (Mowry even provided a tip for their best execution: cook them face-down so they brown with a crispy finish.) With each and every explanation, she gesticulates and looks off into the distance, as though visualizing herself preparing the various dishes.

But during our conversation, nothing seems to excite this superwoman more than her son, Cree Taylor. The 4-year-old has changed her life.

“I’ve always known what I’ve wanted, but I used to be shy about expressing that in regards to my career,” she says. “So I’ve become a lioness. If something’s happening that I don’t necessarily feel comfortable about, I will speak my mind. Or if I want to do something, I go for it. Whereas usually, I just sit back and wait for it to come to me. Now it’s like I have this responsibility to take care of my child, to make sure he gets the proper education. And that is my job on this earth, to make sure that I can make him the happiest person.”

He has also helped to change her perspective. Cree Taylor has given her an even greater sense of purpose and good fortune. “I feel like he’s given me luck. Well, not really luck, but blessings. Ever since he’s come into my life, things just seem a lot clearer, and also I appreciate the little things.”

As a mother, she feels a responsibility to protect her son by being an example. She is raising him to be centered and appreciative, nurturing him in mind, body and spirit. Physically, making sure that Cree Taylor’s healthy means eating well, physical activity—and this season, Mowry is all about flu prevention. The concerned mom has a detailed list of flu tips she’s developed with FluMist Quadrivalent, particularly emphasizing washing hands, changing clothes (as the flu virus can live on surfaces for several hours), eating foods high in antioxidants, and avoiding crowds when getting the flu vaccine.

She adds, “I want to teach him about unconditional love. I want to teach him that love shouldn’t be earned. Love should be something that we as humans just provide. It doesn’t matter how rich you are, how poor you are, your color, your sexual orientation.”

How balanced does one have to be to have a successful career, family and love life? Very, it seems. And for Tia Mowry, it takes a realistic perspective on life (things will not always be perfect), and an ability to set priorities. Highest among those priorities is her son.

“Now that I have Cree, it’s like I’m reborn. He’s given me so much joy about everything.  He is a great kid.”