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.

Backyard Opossum, Oh No!

Tonight I got quite a fright when I went to check on my backyard flock of hens. There he was looking at me with his eyes flashing back like highway reflectors—a opossum! He just stood there frozen still with his mouth open. That saying, “playing possum,” is true. He didn’t even flinch when we moved suddenly in his close proximity.

Playin’ Possum is an involuntary response, like fainting. What would happen if you had both fainting goats and opossums?

 

I saw this devil-animal incarnate a week ago when I heard his scratchy paws on the tree bark, thinking it sounded strange for a neighborhood cat. (we have tons of alley cats around us). When I located the critter he was high in the backyard tree.

The opossum is often misspelled as “possum,” and is so common, that it’s an accepted way to spell it. Opossums are marsupials, not rodents. Like kangaroos, opossums give birth to offspring early in the gestation cycle. The baby opossum crawls into the mother’s pouch, attaches to a teat and nurses through the last stages of its gestation.

As for our backyard opossum, as soon as he had a chance, he ambled along and climbed the tree. I’m sure he’ll be back, so we’ll have to set a trap soon, because opossums and chickens are not simpatico.

Up, up, up into the tree he goes.

 

 

Cooking with Kids: Apple Love Pie & Garlic Toast

When I was a girl I wanted an Easy Bake Oven so badly. My mother just said, “here, you can cook with a real oven.” And then she helped me make cookies. That began my love of baking and it lit my sweet tooth on fire. So when my son wanted an Easy Bake Oven, I guided him to cook for real.

We cook a lot in our household. And it’s natural that our son wants to cook too. I’ve always included him when he was interested, letting him peel carrots, helping him make “stew,” and just letting him create “concoctions” with our amply stocked spice cabinet. I’ve even used a box cake (dare I say it out loud) so that he can say he did it all by himself.

Today he really wanted to cook and create. He announced his after school snack should be garlic toast. So we made garlic toast.

 

He wanted to cook more, and I had several apples that needed to be used. He wanted to make a pie, but halfway through, he said he wanted to make cut-out cookies.

We came up with the best of both worlds by making a pastry top with cut-out heart shapes. We called it our Apple Love Pie. (Complete with the pie bird.)

Apple Love Pie

 

Backyard Chickens

Just a few photos from my backyard flock. I have a post series planned about how I went-and-lost-my-mind, and now-I-have-chickens.

 

Edna – soon to be the roo who goes to live with Nanny.

 

Buddy—the chicken who clucks a lot and sounds like a Kung Fu fighter.

 

One of the greatest photo bombs ever! Way to go, Sapphire. (And yes, that is my patio furniture doubling as a roost.)

Extreme Hulabaloos, Blue Northers & Snowpocalypses

[Editor’s note: it’s been far too long since I posted to the blog. No time like the present.]

The Blue Norther commeth …

Extremes are the normal with North Texas weather. There is constant clashing of warm moist air with cool dry air. The dry air sweeps across the western U.S., over the Caprock then down the draw known as the Llano Estacado and collides with warm moist air coming up from the Gulf.

There is a diagonal  250 mile-wide strip where these prevailing winds smash into each other.

I live is in the center of this strip, so it’s common to have a 40 degree temperature change in a few hours. Friday, November 22, 2013 was one of those days. (it was also the 50-year anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.)

It was still, warm and humid with a high in the 70s. Then what is called a Blue Norther showed up. The wind picked up suddenly and the temps dropped 20 degrees in 30 minutes.

My tree before the wind.
My tree 12 hours later, after the wind.

These days, any form of moisture is welcome, even if it comes in frozen pellets of rain or snow. In a day or two the weather will warm up and the frozen moisture will thaw into ground-soaking water—something we need desperately in North Texas.

It is ridiculous when you think about the hullabaloo made over winter weather in North Texas. Every year winter shows up, freezes and ices everything, then is gone as quickly as it came. Yet we are bombarded with severe weather reports and warnings to bundle up, be safe on the roadways, and bring outdoor pets inside.

Everyone is hopefully anticipating a day to blow off school and work. However it is the opposite for nurses, doctors, insurance claims processors, wreckers, firemen, police and ranchers and farmers. Don’t forget the U.S. Postal Service always delivers – rain, snow, sleet or shine.

There is ever-increasing hyperbole and drama surrounding the extreme weather. Handy Husband always jokes with the next door neighbors that we will resort to cannibalism since “snowpocalypse” is forcing everyone inside for three days. Now after two days inside … I think I’ll emulate the Canadians and go outside even with a 100% chance of snow. Because I, like the Canadians, have cabin fever, and must go outside weather be damned (seriously, it’s only 30 degrees –I have wool socks and thermal underwear, it’ll be ok.)

Time well spent

Today was Mother’s Day. I spent the day with my family, as many moms do. My son was part of a tribute program to the mothers in our church congregation. Afterward, we went to lunch with my mom and dad, then my mother and I left with my son to visit my 83 year old grandmother and 94 year old grandfather.

It’s not how I planned spend the second half of my day, but it was worth every second. While I was with my sweet grandmother and grandfather we talked about nothing in particular—my grandfather was watching The Players Championship on TV . I had an opportunity to tell my sweet yet pious grandmother that Tiger Woods needed forgiveness too, just as King David did.

Even though my grandmother, mother and I all boast about our prowess in the kitchen, today we let Sara Lee do the cooking so that we could have quality time together. It was a beautiful day in May in North Central Texas, regardless of the long-standing drought.

After I got home at 5:45 p.m. I immediately began picking up the house, doing wash and other mom-like chores. My home needs cleaning, but I tried to remind myself that the house isn’t that dirty and that years from now I will cherish the time spent with my grandparents. The bathroom will still need to be cleaned but it can wait, for the moments that my grandmother and son are here on this Earth simultaneously are few.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Son and Dog-Daughter on Mother’s Day. Handy Husband taking the photo.

Sombrero Potato

A week ago (Feb. 21, 2013) Jdubs and I were out feeding the cattle.  As we were looking for our last herd, we came upon a momma cow that had just given birth to her calf. She hadn’t even delivered the placenta yet.

Momma cow just had this calf moments before we spotted her.

We approached the pair, very carefully, because you never really know how a new momma will react, even if you “know” the animal. Momma cow was looking a little nervous but settled quickly.  We sat close to the calf and watched him for a few moments. Then on occasion the Almighty lets us see a little miracle… This newborn calf stood up and took his first steps and we got to witness it.

A precious moment caught with my trusty iPhone. This baby calf took his first steps.
Just learning to stand up … I’ve probably seen thousands of first steps by newborn calves, but I’m always amazed, every time I see it.
Jdubs put his hand out and the calf came to him. Newborn calves don’t see well for a few days, until their eyes adjust to seeing light after nine months in total darkness.

A few minutes later he stumbled over to his momma and took his first suckle of colostrum. It was a precious moment and one that was worth a thousand hours in a classroom. These are the things that can’t be taught.  They have to be experienced, witnessed.

The first taste of milk … the hard-wired instincts are amazing to watch in nature.

We couldn’t stay long because the rest of the herd began to show up, which made momma cow really anxious. And she was hungry too. Momma cow and the rest of the herd haven’t had much grass to eat– we’re at the tail end of winter, just as the spring grasses begin to grow, not to mention the long-standing drought.  Our cattle really look forward to and rely on the high-protein cubes we feed daily.

We led and fed the herd a short distance from the pair. When we circled back around to count heads, momma cow and calf had rejoined the herd.

We departed the pasture double-time, no need to freak out the newborn calf, that can’t see with the loud feed truck and noisy, bawling herd.

I’m wondering what the conversation is going on between these two?

At the gate, I asked Jdubs if he had thought of a name for the calf. He very nonchalantly said, “his name should be Sombrero Potato.” I asked where that came from. He said, “the name comes from Mexico, mom. And he has a Mexican name.” And thus, we have Sombrero Potato. (I declined to point out that the Spanish word for potato is “papas.”)

Meet Sombrero Potato