Soup’s on

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Summer is a crazy time for me. The lodge is busy and I have the knack of having a multitude of side projects in the works while surviving my busy summer hospitality job. Some days feel like a smooth paddle on a calm lake and others feel like a roller coaster ride through Hell. By mid-summer, I am physically and emotionally drained and I need something to make me feel centered again.

Writing is a good place to start the process of realigning myself. Writing is cathartic. Typing words onto a screen makes the rest of the world fade slowly into the background until there is nothing left but me, my laptop and my imagination. The minutes and hours I spend writing make me happy and bring me to a level of calm that is somewhat hypnotic. There is only one other thing that can take me beyond hypnotic to being completely detached from reality and that is cooking.

It is 38 degrees today with humidity and my gut told me that it was the perfect time to make a summer corn and zucchini chowder. When my parents were still alive, the times we spent in the kitchen together were some of the happiest moments of our lives. My mom was the queen of baking sweet treats for everyone and my dad loved to cook. My brother and I inherited his passion for creating tasty dishes and homemade soups. My dad was never one to use a recipe, unless he was making Martha Stewart’s Shortbread, and his food was almost always delicious…..I will save the story of his scrambled eggs made with eggnog for another day.

To me, there is no greater satisfaction than creating something from a bunch of random ingredients. Individually those ingredients can taste good, but when you combine them in a way they compliment the flavor of the others, that is sheer bliss. The bacon is fried, the onions are rendering in the bacon fat and the rest of the ingredients are ready to be thrown in. The result will be a tasty summer chowder that would make my dad proud.

At the end of the cooking process, I will sit down to a comforting bowl of soup for dinner and feel thoroughly decompressed. My mind will be back in its happy place and I will relish the memories of my mother calling us for each and every dinner, regardless of the menu, by saying, “soup’s on”.

 

 

 

 

 

It was never about the muffins

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am addicted to Pinterest.  This glorious website has opened up new avenues of cooking for me as well as opening a few doors to my past. Yesterday was a glowing example of that.

I wasn’t looking for anything specific so when I came across a simple picture of a blueberry muffin, I was immediately transported back to our old house on Foreman Road.  I was ten or eleven years old and I was in our kitchen, as I always was on Sunday mornings, making Betty Crocker Blueberry muffins for breakfast.

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I loved Sundays.  I loved the fact that my parents trusted my ability at such a young age to prepare a breakfast that we would eat in their bedroom, they tucked under the covers and me (and sometimes my brother) sitting at the end of their bed.  Thinking back to those wonderful times, I can almost smell the freshly baked morsels just out of the oven and I can see the pat of butter melting into the white cake, making the blueberries glisten in morning light from their bedroom window.

If I close my eyes, I can teleport myself back to that kitchen, mixing the ingredients ever so carefully, taking the lid off the tin of real blueberries and making sure I was careful not to spill the syrup and stain anything in its path.

Just when I feel like my parents have slipped a little further into my memory cache, one simple picture of a blueberry muffin was all it took to bring them stampeding back into my thoughts.  When I look back at all those breakfasts in bed, it was never really about making muffins, it was about making memories. And those moments  that are now frozen in time will help me hold my parents close forever.

Just things

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There are a million wooden spoons.  I’m sure I could go into any store, from a Walmart to a high-end Kitchen store, to replace the one I have.  But the one I have has a special function none of those other spoons would have. My spoon has the ability to transport me back in time.

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This wooden spoon is the spoon my mother used to stir her brownie batter and, when I was being good, was the spoon I was allowed to lick the leftover batter from until it was clean.  When I became old enough to take over in the kitchen, I was entrusted with the spoon and left on my own to make the brownies without my mom’s help. Even though I was far beyond those childhood years, I still licked the spoon.

This wooden spoon has had an epic journey and has lived in many kitchens but it now finds its place in my home.  It was one of the only kitchen items I chose to keep from my mom’s vast collection of kitchen gadgets after she passed away. It shares its space with the shiny stainless steel utensils, in just as shiny a container, on the counter in my kitchen.  It looks like a misfit toy lost in the pristine surroundings of Santa’s workshop but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There are times when I am afraid to use the spoon for fear that it will break and I will lose the last tangible part of the life I shared with my mother.  It feels like the last piece of her I can physically hold on to, have her feel close to me and be six years old again in our kitchen.

People will tell you “things are just things”, but when those things can keep you connected to people you have lost, those things become so much more than “just things”.

 

 

 

Give a little, get a lot

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I was asked by our local Public Library to donate some goodies for their holiday get-together today.  The local singing group ‘The Minettones’ will be performing and many locals will be in attendance.  I gladly agreed as it combined two of my favorite things – cake decorating and books.

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If you read my post yesterday you would know I have been filling out applications to volunteer at some local establishments.  Since the lodge is officially closed for the winter, I will have more spare time and I feel strongly about giving my time to those who could use the help.

Between the Toy Drive at the lodge and the time spent creating these goodies for the Library, I feel good about the decision to give back since I feel I have so much already.  I may not be rich in terms of my bank balance but life has treated me well in many other ways and now it is time to ‘share the wealth’.

 

All arrows pointed to Chile….I mean chili

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With the days growing shorter and the nights becoming cooler, my natural reaction to this autumnal phenomenon is to adorn the apron, plant my bare feet firmly on my kitchen floor and cook.  Today the universe made the signs of my nesting tendencies abundantly obvious when our grocery store flyer found its way to my desk and had every necessary ingredient for chili at a discounted price.  As beautiful as the landscapes are in Santiago, I opted for some ground beef, kidney beans and the two necessary ingredients for my chili that others may frown upon but they make it mine.

I find a deep sense of comfort in my kitchen.  While chopped onions feverishly jump in the Dutch oven and the rest of the ingredients lay in wait to join the party, the smells of happiness assuage any other feelings I may have carried home with me from the remnants of my day.  The food in the pot is not just food – it is my sanctuary and my resolve to end the day on a positive note, regardless of how it began or how it ensued.

Cooking and baking are a tonic for me.  They are a natural drug I can always count on to make me feel like myself again.  And they are not just there to pull me from a sullen mood but also there to heighten my well-being on the good days, which thankfully far outweigh the bad days.

I have often pondered the idea of taking a leap of faith and pursuing this passion to make it a career but I am always left with fragments of an unfinished conversation that always takes place in my head.  ‘If I do it for a living, will it just become a job and will I lose my passion for it?’  I would hate to have something I take so much pleasure in become a prosaic way to pay the bills.

Until I become brave enough to get within range of that bridge, I will not even entertain the thought of jumping off of it.  For now, I will remain content with the wafting smell of chili from my kitchen, the collection of frozen soups in my freezer and the anticipation of the already-marinating pork tenderloin for dinner tomorrow.

“Cooking is like love; it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” ~ Julia Child

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clearing my own sky

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Lost in the clouds,

wondering where I have gone.

Have I been trapped in the light,

or lost in the wisps of reality?

The true me is there somewhere,

obscured between the light and the shadow,

pushing my way out from behind my feigned existence.

I have been living,

but there should be more life in my life.

There is so much more to me

than the me I currently am.

But how do I harness that concealed energy?

How do I reign in

that part of me that exists in my mind?

How do I grip that vapor,

and turn it into something real,

something tangible,

something I can take from those clouds

and make it a genuine part of my world?

How do I brush those clouds away

so the lightest parts of me can shine?

What life is really about….

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As the eve of a hectic work day pulls the shade of night down over the day, I am blissfully distracted from the bewilderment of the myriad of events that unfolded to create that hectic day.  I am fortunate to be able to cast those disquieting moments aside and dwell on the touching moment from the previous night.

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Making cakes is a process I enjoy immensely.  It truly allows me to lose myself in the creative process and pour my heart into something I love.  I create with the purpose of wanting to make the occasion that much more special by making a simple birthday cake into a much more personal experience.  Very rarely do I get a glimpse through the eyes of the intended recipient but on Saturday night I was able to see the joy from the other side.

I was the one holding the cake as the birthday song began.  I was the one to present the cake to a very surprised birthday girl.  And I was the one who most appreciated the tears of joy that welled in the corners of her eyes.  It was a truly touching moment for me.

Her reaction made every ounce of my effort worthwhile.  Her heartfelt emotion made every tedious detail on that cake worth each extra moment I took to make them as close to perfect as I could get them.  It may be just a Scrabble cake to some but to her it was the first personalized cake she had ever had and I was moved to tears to be the person that created that memory for her.

That one moment will play over and over in my head as I am laboriously working into the evening hours on my next cake project.  And when my wrists are tired from kneading fondant and my hand is beginning to shake with exhaustion when I am trying to pipe the last details on a cake, I will remember the look on her face and summon that next wind to keep going.

Life is about counting the memories and not the calories.