Time is the secret ingredient to cooking great food

I love to cook as much as I love growing vegetables and flowers in my garden. I’m probably one of the least patient people on the planet, so it’s ironic that the two things I enjoy most require time and patience to come out right.

I grew up watching my family members spend time and effort in the kitchen preparing the meals that we shared together. My grandmother was well known for her cooking. She even wrote a cookbook in 1975 published by Vantage Press. Cooking has been a constant theme in my life, and I can’t remember not being interested in it.

When I was in second grade, I wanted an Easy Bake Oven. My mom’s response was something like, “you don’t want that little thing, if you want to cook, you can cook for real.” And that started it all. She helped me learn to make chocolate chip cookies. She spent time teaching me how to measure ingredients and why cooking time was important.

When I was 12, I requested a copy of my grandmother’s cookbook. She thought I was too young for it, but I persisted. When I visited her I wanted to cook with her using recipes from her book. She took time and taught me her methods. The next thing I mastered was her chocolate cake, which is the standard for which all other chocolate cake is judged.

Fast forward to my life today and cooking is still a central theme. The kitchen is the heart and soul of our home—metaphorically speaking and literally. It’s the very center of our house’s design and it’s the soul of our home. The best parties end up in the kitchen and some of the best conversations happen there too.

Over the years, I’ve found that the best-tasting food is the easiest to cook, has fewest ingredients, and is the healthiest for you. But it also takes the longest to make because the best dishes include the magic ingredient of time.

The amount of time cooking is just one aspect of the ingredient. It’s also about the time spent and shared with those you hold dear.

My husband and I spend copious time in the kitchen, cooking up good eats, entertaining friends and family, and cleaning up the mess. We include our son in the process. When he expresses an interest, I encourage it and take a moment to help him, teach him and share with him. I hope he learns skills in the process, like self-reliance, resourcefulness, how to follow directions or knowing when to ignore them.

Like life, cooking can be messy, but I hope my son always loves to cook and wants to try his recipes in the kitchen and in life. Cooking is more than preparing the next meal and providing nourishment to the body. It’s the vehicle of sharing hearts, minds and souls. I never regretted cooking with those I love or sharing meals with those I want to know better. Cooking and sharing food with others is high-context expression. Mostly it’s investing in the most precious and scarce ingredient of all—time.

Winter Birds: Woodpeckers, Foggy Cranes and Cardinals

Now that the leaves have dropped, I can see all the pretty winter birds that don’t migrate south for winter. I’m still learning how to use my telephoto lens and caught these woodpeckers and cardinals on a foggy day. Fog wasn’t my friend when taking these photos of the birds. Low light, fast-moving birds and low contrast makes it hard to get a good crisp shot of them. A more skilled photographer could use the fog to increase dramatic effect (plus they would probably have more sophisticated equipment with a faster shutter speed.)

 

There is a mating pair of cardinals that live somewhere in our alley. I try to keep my feeders full for them.

Cardinal pair. female on the left.

 

Cardinal male is on patrol. His mate is in the same tree but so very well hidden.

Cardinal: On guard.

 

 

I saw the red bellied woodpecker again but today’s bonus sighting is this downy woodpecker.

Downy woodpecker enjoying a feast on the insects in my slow-dying tree.

 

Downy woodpeckers look just like hairy woodpeckers, except for their shorter bill.

It’s possibly a hairy woodpecker but the guidebook lists the size of the bill as the only difference between these two species. In this shot it looks like a short bill.

 

And then there was this death-defying squirrel. he navigated all throughout the cable and rural electric infrastructure.

 

Then there were honking cranes circling for a landing. I could hear them long before I could see them (it was really foggy).

 

When the sun came out in the afternoon I tried to photograph the woodpecker again, but he’s just so darn fast. When I looked closer, I think it’s a third species—a golden fronted woodpecker. This means that the tree in our yard, that is dying a slow death, is also full of insects, which is feeding all these woodpeckers.

Golden fronted woodpecker.

 

Significant Gifts are Transactions of the Heart

Every year my husband and I set a budget for spending on Christmas gifts and we try to stick to it. Throughout the year we’re thinking about what we can give each other and our family members that is both thoughtful and budget friendly. We keep notes on our phones and wish lists on Amazon for inspiration.

We have one child. He’s on the spoiled side, but he is loved, if anything. Our discussions about budgets and gifts sound like this:

“Let’s not overdo it this year with the kid gifts, ok? He has so much stuff already.”

“Yeah, last year was overboard. We need to focus more on the time with family, visit your grandma, go see my Pawpaw… not go crazy with Christmas gifts. You know, you don’t have to get me anything for Christmas.”

“I know, and stop saying that. I’m going to give you something for Christmas.”

“Seriously, you don’t have to, whatever you were going to spend on a gift to me, save it and spend it on our son.”

“Didn’t we just start this conversation about how we weren’t going to overdo it with the kid?”

Then somehow every year it looks like Toys R Us threw up in our living room. Everything is a piled-up mess with wrapping paper remnants, shredded bows and packaging shrapnel that could double as a prison shank.

I yearn for a less commercialized holiday, when the frenzy of Christmas decorating didn’t start before Halloween. Maybe it’s wistful to think that a genuine gift is a smoked ham from the fatted hog or a special bottle of wine that everyone gets to taste.

The art to truly giving a significant gift is not about how much it cost, but how well it captures the essence of the recipient. Sometimes this requires a lot of thought or not much at all. Some people in your life are hard to fin

d gifts for no matter the amount of meditation or money.

It’s about giving gifts with the most meaning, not the most expensive.

My young son is a better gift giver than I am and that’s embarrassing on Christmas morning. But he provid

es an example of what great gift giving is.

I am an avid gardener and plan continuously for each growing season.

My birthday is in February and on the cusp of spring planting. This year my son knew exactly what he wanted to give me and stated it clearly to his daddy that he wanted to give me “magic beans.”

At first my husband didn’t understand, thinking it was an absurd idea inspired from a Jack and the Beanstalk movie. But our son persisted, telling him it was easy to find at Walmart. So off they went … and there they were on the seed rack, a package of “magic beans” in an envelope containing 14 grams of hybrid green beans.

The perfect gift cost $1.28. When my son gave me the “magic beans” my soul smiled with the deepest appreciation because his gift was full of meaning.

His honest gift is one of my most treasured because it was a transaction of the heart, not the bank account.

PawPaw’s Barn

Handy husband’s grandfather is a gardener and a retired owner of a vacuum and sewing machine repair shop. He’s practical and industrious and a bit sentimental about barns and tractors. On our recent Thanksgiving visit we walked the fallow fields, prepped and waiting for its next crop. Right next to PawPaw’s new, double-decker barn is his very old, rickety barn. The day I took these photos it was windy and I wasn’t entirely sure the barn wasn’t going to topple over (on top of me.)

One day this barn will collapse and I hope we can salvage some of the wood for frames and other decorative items. But for now, it’s a great photography subject.

 

All About Roses

I’m studying up on roses. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my Canadian friend gave me a bunch of her books about roses. She instructed me on how to propagate roses from soft wood stems, which I’m attempting to do with the flowers from my grandmother’s funeral.

When I was 16 years old I planted a Peace Rose in my mother’s front flower bed for a project in my home economics class. It was my first attempt at flower gardening. That rose grew for nearly 20 years before a drought and grasshoppers got it. One fall it had such big, beautiful blossoms it could be seen from 100 yards away.

It’s amazing how many varieties, cultivars and classifications of roses there are. I’m just now reacquainting myself with the vast varieties of roses available.

But I’m excited to start learning more about roses and experimenting with them in my garden. More to come…
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Backyard Birds: Red-Bellied Woodpecker

This morning when I went out to feed and tend to my backyard flock, I heard the telltale sound of a woodpecker tapping the tree in our backyard.

Red-bellied woodpecker.

 

Now that the trees mostly have dropped their leaves, you can clearly see the birds in them. The name of this woodpecker is curious to me, considering his head is red and not his belly.

Woodpecker looking for insects in the trees.

 

Thanks to my trusty telephoto lense, I was able to capture this guy. A few days ago the wide angle was the winner, today it’s the telephoto.

Red-bellied woodpeckers do not migrate south for the winter.

 

This little guy kept eyeing me. He was very chirpy to the other birds in the area that were singing their own songs. It was almost like there was an inter-species conversation going on.