It’s Easier Than You Think…

There’s a misconception out there that I’m hoping I can help eliminate.

On Tuesday, while at an appointment, I was asked by a fellow food-lover (FFL) what I was making for Valentine’s Day.  When I explained that Jeff had made meatballs and I was making fresh pasta to go with them, I found it interesting that my FFL raised their eyebrows in amazement and said, “oh, that takes too long – like a whole afternoon.”

First of all, if you’ve ever eaten fresh pasta you know that no matter how long it takes to make the pasta it is worth the wait; but second, if you’ve ever made fresh pasta you know it really doesn’t take that long at all!!!!  If you haven’t made it, I’d urge you to give it a whirl.  It’s really quite simple and actually takes less time than driving to the store for a box of sub-par pasta, fighting the crowds in said store, and driving home.

I went to mapquest.com and found that it takes 11 minutes to get from my house to Wegman’s.  If I take 7 minutes in the store (which is a conservative estimate at our Wegman’s because it seems there are never enough cashier lines open), then round trip we’re talking 29 minutes for a trip to the store to buy pasta.

Why did I bother to look this up? Because I wanted to see how making a batch of fresh pasta compares to running to the store to buy one.

While I was making my pasta on Tuesday, I ran a stopwatch and photographed the process of making the dough.  The results are below….drumroll please……

First, I got out the tools that I would need including the food processor and lid, kosher salt box, flour, eggs and measuring cups/spoon.

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Then I measured the flour and salt into the food processor, broke four of the five eggs into a bowl and scrambled them with a fork, and added them to the food processor.

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I checked the consistency of the pasta and realized I needed to add the yolk from the fifth egg.  So I used my Yolk Out to separate the egg and I added the yolk to the mixture.  I gave the dough a quick whirl in the food processor after adding the egg yolk and then the consistency was just right.

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At this point I checked the stopwatch and here’s where I was….

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That’s right….6 minutes, 5 seconds to make the dough.

Next step?  Kneading.

I kneaded and kneaded until the dough was smooth and elastic and then wrapped the dough in plastic wrap to rest.

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I checked the stopwatch again and….

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During the resting period I went about my day doing things unrelated to the pasta.  Typically I rest the dough for about 30 minutes; however I wanted to roll the pasta and put it into the water just before we ate.  So I let the pasta rest in the refrigerator for several hours and pulled it out of the fridge about 30 minutes before I wanted to begin rolling it.  I also put a large pot of water on the stove to boil so that it would be ready when I had cut the last of the pasta.

When I started rolling the dough I started the stopwatch again and kept it going throughout the process of cutting the dough into quarters, rolling each quarter through the pasta machine on levels 1 through 6 and hand cutting the rolled dough into pappardelle (wide noodles).

Just before dropping the noodles into the boiling (now salted) water, I took a screen shot of the stopwatch on my phone.

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I dropped the noodles into the boiling water, waited for them to rise to the top and let them cook for 1 minute before removing them into a colander.

All total……..

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What did I learn?  And what do I hope you learned?  That while it does take slightly longer to make fresh pasta than it does to drive to the store and buy a box; the results of making your own are far superior to the results you’ll get from using boxed pasta and you’ll be proud you made it yourself when you hear your dinner companion ooh’ing and aah’ing over the meal.

Just a few notes:  A few seconds were taken up by fumbling with my phone for pics.  I didn’t include the resting time because I used it for other things like laundry, work, etc. And the 29 minutes for store-bought pasta doesn’t include the time to boil the water and cook it when you get home.  So, technically it takes less time to make it than to buy it – unless you live really close to the grocery store!!!!

The following is a fool-proof recipe for basic pasta.  If you want to get really creative (and add to your time) consider adding pureed spinach or other veggies/juice in place of some or all of the water/egg for beautifully colored and flavored pasta….but that’s a post for another day!!!

 

Basic Homemade Pasta

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: Pasta

Ingredients

  • 3 ½ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 – 5 large eggs (start with 4 eggs, beaten)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

Instructions

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, whirl 3 1/2 cups of the flour and the salt to combine.

In a small bowl, crack four of the five eggs and beat with a fork.

With the food processor running, slowly drizzle the eggs into the flour/salt mixture through the feed tube.

Stop the food processor and test the consistency of the dough. It should be moist but not sticky. If it is too dry, add the YOLK ONLY from the remaining egg, whirl and test again – only add the egg white if necessary. If it is too wet, add 1/4 cup of the remaining flour, whirl and test again – only add the remaining flour if necessary.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 – 15 minutes.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough into quarters, roll through pasta roller until it reaches the desired thickness and cut into the noodle shape of your choice.

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Friendship, Food & Farmers’ Markets

One of my first posts was about how food connects and over the last few weeks I’ve had evidence of it!

Last week I received a text message from my friend Tracee which got me thinking about writing this post.   Her text began, “Holy early good morning!!  Sorry to message you so early but…”  OK, let’s stop here and analyze the beginning of her message – she completely understands that for me 7:48 am (her time) and/or 9:48 am my time is early!!!  She was off to a great start!  The message continued, “I am at this awesome produce market in Ft Worth Texas and I thought of you…”  Now some friends would think of you when they hear your favorite song, or watch your favorite t.v. show, or see you favorite flower; but a good friend knows – and understands that – you have a passion for produce markets and thinks of you when she’s looking at fresh fruits and veggies!  She went on to write, “…need anything you can not find in pa?”  A seriously great, true friend would travel from Texas to Pennsylvania with produce in tow if you asked!!!!

I replied to her, “Happy Friday!  You know me well….I love a good produce market!  I’m good [meaning I don’t need you to bring anything back] but send some pics!”

Her reply? “OK will do.  Great stuff!  I knew you appreciate interesting ingredients.”  She then proceeded to send me 14 pics – with captions!  You gotta love a friend like that!

The following is a slide show of Tracee’s pics (some with captions) with her permission to share!

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This text exchange also got me to thinking of a recent trip I took with a different friend (no, I’m not bragging / yes, I am blessed) to Roots Country Market & Auction.  I’ve written about my friend Tammy in previous posts (in fact, one of her delicious recipes made one of my “Best Thing I’ve Eaten All Week” posts).  Tammy is another friend that falls into both the “friend that gets me” and “true friend” categories.  She’s a gem.  In my mind, I equate Tammy with Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) [the glamorous Hungarian wife of Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert)] who is dragged unwillingly from an upscale Manhattan penthouse apartment and the city life she adores to a ramshackle farm.  You see, Tammy is a beautiful, put-together woman who at first glance seems like she might not be tough enough for life on a farm; but if you think that of her, you’d be underestimating her strength – both physical and mental.  In fact, she now lives on a farmette and raises chickens.  Anyway….as usual, I digress.

Tammy and I travel well together and enjoy the same kinds of experiences.  So when she suggested a trip to Roots Market on our most recent day together, I was fully on board.  And I was armed with a restaurant to introduce her to.  We left around 8:30 (early for me and late for Tammy) and started at Roots Market.  I’m so glad Tammy drove and knew exactly how to get to Roots.  You see, she and her hubby frequent the auction to purchase produce for “the girls.”

We zig-zagged our way through the market looking at fresh produce, baked goods, fresh meats, etc.  We plotted our purchases and had to backtrack to a few stands once we’d made our way through the whole market.  But, we’re not just about produce markets.

When we left Roots we headed for downtown Lancaster and shopped at some cute boutiques, home stores, and an olive oil tasting room. We looked at shoes, clothes, jewelry, home items, soaps, lotions, hats (lots of cute hats), coffee, tea, etc.  In doing so, we worked up an appetite.

Being married to Jeff has prepared me well to have a restaurant in my hip pocket for nearly every occasion!  On this day the restaurant was Hunger-N-Thirst Craft Beer and Provisions. I made a quick stop in the bottle shop to see if I could get any HopSlam for Jeff (alas, I could not), we made a pit stop and then made our way to the dining room.  We each ordered a glass of wine (red for Tammy  / white for me), we shared the shrimp cocktail appetizer and ordered our entrees.  For Tammy, the BLT Panino.  For me, Veggie Panino.  The shrimp cocktail was not your mama’s shrimp cocktail!    It is described on the menu as “Chilled Horseradish Dusted Shrimp / Herb Puree / Pickled Vegetables / Crostini / Tomato Jam” and it was D’lish!  I didn’t taste Tammy’s panino, but mine was an odd choice for me.  I typically would not order a veggie sandwich at a restaurant.  I would eat one at home, but would typically find many other things on a restaurant menu that appealed to me.  In this case, however, the combination of “Sweet Potato / Kale / Red Onion / Smoked Provolone / Maple-Sage Aioli” was too interesting to resist.  And it was quite yummy!!!

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We were too full for dessert and Tammy had to hit the road to make it home in time for a class so we got back on the road after lunch.  But the day of adventuring was wonderful.  A time to REconnect, REfuel and RElax!

So next time you’re thinking about a friend, head to a farmers market and send them some pics or, even better, take them along!

And a special thanks to all my friends who “GET” me!

And because they’re so darn cute – here a pic of TyDy connecting over food earlier today!!!

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What To Do with the Ashes from Your Big Green Egg: A Public Service Announcement

I know, I know….I haven’t written in a while.  If you’re miffed at that, you may be even more miffed at what I’m going to write about here – because it is cooking-adjacent, but only periferally.

Being the week of Thanksgiving, I’ve been super busy – cleaning (I mean scrubbing) the refrigerator, grocery shopping, making and checking off lists, doing as much ahead as I can for the Thanksgiving meal, and getting my hair colored.  Of course I’m getting my hair colored.  You don’t think I can face the holiday season without fresh hair color, do you?  That would be like asking Super Man to save someone without his cape!!!!

Today was hair color day.  This morning I got up early, returned a book to the library, stopped for my Tuesday coffee (only some of you will truly understand this), picked up the turkeys (yes, turkeyS), and made it to Rebekah’s salon (Bella Vita in Harrisburg) with only seconds to spare.  In fact, I was so on-time that I didn’t even get to sit in the waiting room – she was ready for me upon arrival!

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been getting grayer by the minute – and not just my hair, but my left eyebrow as well – yep, just the left one!  So sometimes when Rebekah colors my hair she also colors my eyebrows.  Even though only the left one has grays in it, she does them both so they’ll match.  The left eyebrow was desperately in need of color today so after she lovingly applied my hair colors (yes, colorS), she gently applied some of the color to my eyebrows.  Yes, before you ask – I am high maintenance!  As my dad used to say when I was growing up (keep in mind he was in a house with all women), “It takes a lot of work to be naturally beautiful!”

As my hair processed I sent some text messages, read my emails and pinned more than my share of pins on Pinterest.  When Rebekah determined I had processed long enough, she rinsed the color out of my hair and then wiped it from my eyebrows.  If you’ve ever had your hair colored, you know some of the hair color stays behind on your skin even after your stylist washes your hair.  Normally I don’t think too much about that because the next time I wash and especially condition my hair, the leftover color on my skin goes away; however, when the color stays behind on the skin behind my eyebrows, I look like a very surprised Groucho Marx sans moustache!!!

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I commented about it to Rebekah and her reply to me was “do you have a fireplace?”  When she first asked I was thinking to myself, “did she just have a stroke? She’s talking fireplaces in response to Groucho Marx.”  But I answered in the affirmative and she then asked, “Is it real or is it gas?”  I shared that it is a gas fireplace.  Keep in mind, I’m still wondering why in the world we’re talking about fireplaces; but I’m a good sport so I went where the conversation took me!  She told me that she had asked because ashes remove hair color.

If I may be honest (like that’s ever a problem for me), I thought she had finally lost it.  Ashes and hair color?  When she told me she understood that it sounded strange, I was less worried about her mental status and thought, “Hey, I have all kinds of ashes in the bottom of my Big Green Egg.  I’ll try using some of them to scrub my eyebrows when I get home.”

So Rebekah completed my color and cut, dried and styled my hair and rang me up.  I left the salon, ran a few more errands and finally made it home just a few moments ago.  As I was walking out to the deck I was wondering if Rebekah was serious or if she was just trying to get me to rub ashes on my face – hey, you never know.  Anyway, I gathered a small dish of ashes from behind the draft door of my Big Green Egg, tore a paper towel off the roll and headed for the magnifying mirror in my bathroom.

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I did as Rebekah instructed and moistened the paper towel, dipped it in the ashes and rubbed it over my eyebrows.

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It worked like magic.  Not only did I clean the skin behind my eyebrows, but I also removed the excess hair color from around my hairline.  I heartily apologize for ever doubting you, Rebekah!!!

Those of you who have been reading for a while and/or who have been to one of my classes and/or who work with me know I hate to waste things. So, now I’m thinking about how I can package and market these ashes…..hmmmm….that ought to keep my brain busy for a while!

Sucking on Nickels & Other Summer Fun

Since fall is almost here, I thought I’d update you on my summer and some of why I haven’t been writing!

I am so grateful for the wonderful trip Jeff and I had with Nate in July.  There were lots of fun moments, many laughs, and much to look back on with a smile.  I am especially grateful because the memories of Maine have sustained me through the last few difficult weeks.

To get an accurate picture of what’s been going on, we must first go back a bit.  I’ve been having pain in my back for several months.  Of course, I’m 48 so dealing with aches and pains is the new normal!  I was also dealing with a cough that began with a cold in February and hung on through mid-June.  During the time I was living with the cough, my ENT performed transnasall esophagoscopy multiple times and prescribed several rounds of antibiotics, steroids and other drugs to combat the cough – unfortunately, the large doses of meds led to a case of oral thrush.  I never really thought much about thrush until I had it….I thought it was something babies got, not adults.

Needless to say, with all of the meds and appointments and poking and prodding of my sinuses I had my fill (more than my fill) of being sick, feeling run down and seeing docs (not that I have anything personal against my docs – they are fine people, but I like them better when I don’t have to see them as a patient!!!).

So when the sporadic backache began, I filed it under the “suck it up, cupcake, you’re getting older” column.  As it continued sporadically and then more regularly, I filed it under the “we need a new mattress” column.  But just before we left for Maine I stared having pain in my lower left abdomen.  Again, I filed that pain under the heading of “getting older” and movedon.org.  But the pain in my abdomen continued to get worse during vacation, so on the last day I called my OB/Gyn and made an appointment for the day after we arrived home.

My regular OB doc was on vacation so I saw another doc in the practice who did some tests and then sent me for an ultrasound that ultimately revealed nothing.  Because the tests showed nothing OB/G related, the doc thought the next best course of action was to see a gastroenterologist.

That takes us to August 5th.  A day mostly like any other.  I wrote a post, did some laundry and some work on upcoming classes and then turned my attention to getting ready for a short trip to NYC that was to start on 8/7.  When Jeff arrived home I was putting a second coat of polish on my toenails and thinking about what to pack so he said three of my favorite words – “I’ll make dinner.”  After dinner we sat town to watch an episode of Homeland.

About three-quarters of the way through the show I asked him to pause – I was VERY suddenly feeling ill.  I was dizzy and nauseated and feeling simultaneously cold and clammy.  I ran into the bathroom – sure I was going to be sick – and arrived just in time to look in the mirror and watch all the color drain from my face.  It was such a strange experience – like a reverse blush.  I composed myself and went to lie down only to have the pain in my back and abdomen rip through me like a boning knife.  I had no idea what was going on, but I knew I needed a trip to the ER.

And so it began.

I could not sit up at the ER and one of the last things I remember clearly is the person checking me in saying that they had nowhere for me to lie down.  I remember thinking, “isn’t this a hospital?” and then finally just saying that I’d just lie on the floor – that’s how bad the pain was.  They found a two-seater chair for me to lie on and Jeff moved another chair near it so I could put my feet up.

I remember the ER doc coming in and talking to me but I couldn’t tell you anything substantive about the conversation.  I know he asked me some questions about my medical history and family history, but I have no recollection of the actual questions or my answers.  The next thing I remember was hanging on to Jeff’s arm as he guided me to a bed where I was finally given IV fluids and pain meds, which gave me a little relief.

The doc came back in to ask some more questions after which he told us he thought, based upon my symptoms, that I was either dealing with a kidney stone or diverticulitis.  He told me he was going to have me drink some contrast in preparation for a CT scan.  The nurse came back in and explained that I’d have 60 minutes to drink the contrast – that I should not try to drink it all at once, but to pace myself over the 60 minutes – and then I’d have to wait 60 minutes before they did the scan.

The first 15 – 20 minutes were ok.  I was able to drink the contrast without incident, but then the pain and nausea came back in full force.  I couldn’t lie still for more than a few seconds.  I drank as much of the remaining contrast as I could within the hour and tossed and turned – waiting for the test – until I couldn’t stand the pain any longer.  Just before the technician came to take me for the scan, Jeff went in search of the nurse, a pan in case I got sick and more pain meds.  I went for the scan and when I came back the nurse added some pain meds to my IV, which helped me relax a bit as we waited for the test results.

The CT scan revealed two kidney stones – one still in the kidney and one in the ureter, just at the opening of the bladder.  I was sent home with a prescription for pain meds, an order to drink as much water as I could stand, and a “hat and strainer.”  Oh they joys of straining your urine each time you pee – it’s kind of like panning for gold only you’re hoping to find that you’ve passed a kidney stone.

It was obvious that our trip to NYC was not to be so we cancelled our hotel and class reservations and waited for the storm stone to pass.  On Monday, I called the urologist as instructed and got an appointment for Wednesday.  I arrived at my appointment a few minutes early to fill out paperwork and give a urine sample.  The nurse took my vitals and then the doc came in and we discussed the situation.  Because of the length of time I’d been experiencing back then back/abdominal pain and because I’d been trying to pass the stone for approximately 5 days since it had been discovered and because I had an elevated temperature, an outpatient ureteroscopy was scheduled for the following afternoon.

On Thursday afternoon, I picked Jeff up from work and we headed to Harrisburg Hospital. I checked in with a wonderfully comforting woman named Nikki – she was so nice and calm and kind -and was taken to pre-op where we waited.  Unfortunately my doc had an emergency surgery to do so that pushed my surgery back; however I was grateful that I wasn’t the emergency surgery so I alternated between talking with Jeff and surfing the web on my phone  (oh, and complaining a bit about how hungry I was). Finally it was my turn…..I was whisked into the OR, my IV had to be moved from one hand to the other because it clotted while I was waiting, and the anesthesiologist came in to get started – little did I know, the anesthesia was already started and by the time the anesthesiologist came in to talk to me I already felt that familiar “2-large-glasses-of-wine warmth.”   The next thing I knew I was waking up in the OR and the nurse told me I was done and that the surgery had taken 10 minutes.  Yes, you read that right!  I spent a little time in recovery, reviewed my discharge instructions with the nurse and was released.  I was no longer as hungry as I had been so Jeff made a quick stop at the grocery store on the way home to get some ingredients to make me a nice soup.  When we got home I changed into my jammies, took some meds and crawled into bed.

Friday was as you would expect – I was recovering, watching television, reading, moving around a lot due to the discomfort from the stent and trying not to wear out Jeff’s hospitable mood with all my requests.

Saturday morning I woke up feeling fantastic – better than I’ve felt in months.  In fact, Jeff commented that my sassiness was back (I believe much to his chagrin).  Longing for a reason to get out of the house, we called my mom and dad and decided to go out for breakfast to celebrate my dad’s birthday.

After being out of the house for a few hours I began to feel wrung out – so we headed home and I climbed back into bed.  I napped with the t.v. on and got out of bed to drink water, get rid of the water I drank and to eat a little dinner, but I wasn’t really hungry.

Saturday night I tossed and turned and woke up several times to drink water.  When I got up to use the bathroom, I felt lightheaded so I leaned against the bed and waited for the dizziness to pass.  I made it down the hall to the powder room and got dizzy again.  After I used the bathroom and washed my hands I headed back to our room – but on the way I started to get that fuzzy, black-out feeling you get just before you pass out.  So I immediately sat down where I was and called for Jeff.

He came out of the bedroom, asked me what was wrong and called the surgeon who sent us back to the ER.  As it turned out, I had an infection and required more large doses of IV antibiotics, which they gave me while I dozed and poor Jeff tortured his back in the uncomfortable chair in my room.  After filling me up with antibiotics and fluids the doctor discharged me with a prescription for more antibiotics and a snarky statement.  She said (and not in a helpful tone), “Good luck getting that stent out.  I’ve never had it done but I hear it’s painful.”  Really?  REALLY?  Did she think she was being helpful – because let me tell you when you’ve already been through the pain of kidney stones (which I’m told is worse than giving birth – since I’ve never given birth I cannot make the comparison), been poked and prodded with your most personal bits on display for all the OR staff to see, and had a stent in your ureter, I can assure you that you do not need or want snarky comments from anyone, let alone the doctor “caring” for you.

On the way home from the ER we picked up the new prescription.  When we got home, I added the new pill bottle to all the others and was completely overwhelmed by the amount of meds on the kitchen counter.  I wanted to just swipe them all into the trash and hide under the covers.

Looking back, I wish I had – because all the antibiotics led to another case of thrush.  I don’t know if any of you have ever had a case of thrush, but to me it was awful.  I felt generally run down and my mouth tingled – as if I’d been sucking on nickels for days.  My tongue was swollen with a white-ish coating.  Nothing tasted like it should and it made my desire to consume water nearly non-existent….which was not great considering I was supposed to keep drinking large quantities of water.

I made it through Sunday, Monday & Tuesday with a metallic taste in my mouth, periodic twinges from the stent and continued back pain.  On Tuesday I nervously went to the surgeon’s office to have the stent removed.  My blood pressure was sky-high because I was so nervous about the removal thanks to the ER doc’s kind words.   Again, I was feeling vulnerable with my personal bits on display, but the doc began asking me questions about work and before I knew it he said, “OK” and was done.  I didn’t feel a thing, which was a relief but made me want to go back to the ER and punch that snarky doc in the face!

I was hopeful that the stent removal would be the end of the pain, but it was not.  I still – weeks later – have a significant amount of pain in my back and still have the twinges in my lower left abdominal area.  I’ve been back to the urologist, back to my OB-GYN, and am now waiting for an appointment with a back doc.

Needless to say, it’s been a long summer.  I’ve had down days, but they’ve been very few and far between – somehow I’ve managed to keep my sense of humor through it all.  I appreciate the support of my loving husband and some wonderful friends.  They’ve kept me mostly smiling and optimistic!!!!  A special thanks to Tammy and Brittany who bought me a wonderful recovery gift – chocolate kidneys!  Yes, that’s right – on a trip to the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia they stopped at Mueller Chocolate Company and bought me this:

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So, if I have to write the proverbial “what did you do on your summer vacation” essay….I’d say I had all kinds of summer fun….travelling to Maine, kayaking the Casco Bay, spending time with Nate and Jeff, straining my pee, eating a kidney, making dietary changes and sucking on nickels – what more could a girl ask for?

My Sweet Spot

Many years ago I read a book entitled “Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot” by Max Lucado.  I didn’t know it at the time I read it, but there were big changes coming down the pike in my life!!! Fast forward to today and I’ve found that – somewhat unknowingly – have I put into practice what I learned in the book.

Lucado offers “the big idea” at the beginning of the book when he writes:

“Use your uniqueness (what you do)

to make a big deal out of God (why you do it)

every day of your life (where you do it).

At the convergence of all three, you’ll find the cure for the common life: your sweet spot.”

He illustrates “the big idea” with this diagram:

Sweet Spot Diagram

So why am I writing about this?  Because today I received the gift of one of those rare glimpses of what it means to live in your sweet spot!  I love teaching cooking classes and I enjoy every class I teach, but today was different from many of the other classes in that it really felt like everything came together at just the right time, in just the right way, with just the right people.

Does that mean that today was perfect?  Nope!  There is no such thing as a perfect day.  But it came pretty close and even those minor glitches in the day caused me no alarm or unease.

So how do you find your sweet spot?  Well, Lucado suggests studying your S.T.O.R.Y.  And, based on my experiences over the last many years, I happen to agree.  So what does S.T.O.R.Y. stand for?

  1. What are your STRENGTHS?  In my case, I believe my strength is in teaching – being able to take a concept and explain (either verbally or in writing (which also made me a pretty good technical writer)) it in a way that is understandable to people. Although there will be a few of you out there who share teaching as a strength, I suspect for most of you your strength will be something else.
  2. What is your TOPIC?  My topic is food.  I enjoy working with it, eating it, experimenting with it, etc.  Again, your topic will likely be different.
  3. What are your OPTIMAL CONDITIONS? For each of us, this will be different – some will like a more structured, predictable situation and others a more loose, variable situation.  I like the variety of coming up with different food combinations and playing with my food!
  4. What about RELATIONSHIPS? Do you function best alone or surrounded by other people?  Do you work best as part of a team or as an individual contributor.  I love the interplay between me and my students and I greatly appreciate the support of the team of people it takes to deliver a great class.  It is never simply about the instructor!
  5. What makes you say, “YES!”  It is when your strengths, topic, optimal conditions and relationships intersect that you find your YES!

Today, I was given the gift of my YES!  So here’s a shout out to all the people who came to the class and worked the class.  Without you I doubt my Yes! would have been possible!!!!!

P.S.  The menu for today included:

  • Creamy Bacon Pasta with Coffee Rubbed Scallops
  • Caramelized Onion & Butternut Squash Soup w/ Chipotle Coffee Cream
  • Fennel & Prosciutto Salad with Honey -Coffee Vinaigrette
  • Coffee Crusted Filet of Beef
  • Braised Cabbage with Coffee, Molasses & Bacon
  • Cappuccino Cheesecake

The following is a snap of the soup – it looked too pretty not to photograph!!!!

Processed with Rookie Cam

A Fun Nite – Paint Nite

If you’re looking for something fun to do in the afternoon (1:00 pm) of Saturday, July 11th – how about a fun time of painting, sipping cocktails, making new friends AND supporting a good cause!!??!!

The proceeds from this Paint “Nite,” which is being held at the Bonny Brook Riding Club, will benefit the PA Breast Cancer Coalition.

For more details, please click here.

“You cannot do a kindness to soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

The Accidental Cheese Maker

Another installment in the exciting, crazy life of me!

On Saturday I was working in the retail section of The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School while two classes were being taught.  The first was a burger class and the second, Cheese Making for Beginners.

In between waiting on customers, answering the phone and keeping up with the general duties of the shop I was able to listen in on the classes as they progressed.  Of course, that means I was able to get 25% (or less) of the information being shared with the students.

At the end of the day, after all the students were gone and the staff in the cooking school was cleaning up the classroom and kitchen, I was presented with the following question, “Do you want to take the Halloumi with you?”

Remember when you’re mom told you, “if it seems too good to be true it probably is”?  Well, I should have thought about that before I answered the question.  Or at the very least I should have asked one or two questions in return before replying with a resounding, “Yes.”  (I mean, who doesn’t want fresh (I mean REALLY fresh) homemade halloumi?)

But, I didn’t ask any questions and I didn’t consider that old adage; so what did I get?  I got the demonstration batch of halloumi done only through step 5 of the 10 step process….in a large pot……..with a lid and a LOT of liquid…..that I had to transport home in my car. Oh, and I got the recipe so I could finish steps 6 through 10 too – and because I did, I knew I needed to buy some cheese forms before I left the store.

I drove home very carefully trying not to spill any whey in my car.  I did put a Pot Bra on the large pot of curds and whey (yes, I was feeling a little bit like Little Miss Muffet) before I put it into my car and then I hoped for the best.

Now mind you, I had worked Monday thru Saturday AND had a class to teach the next day, for which I had to get up early so that I could make a few things before class began. I tell you this not to complain, but to say in a round-about way that I was tired when I got home.  I was probably not in the best frame of mind to take on this cheese project, but alas I did.

So when I got the pot of curds and whey home, I washed my hands, rolled up my sleeves and looked to step 6 of the recipe for direction.  I drained the cheese, reserved the whey and put the curds into the cheese forms that I had purchased.  Then I had to find something to use to press the cheese for two hours.  After fumbling around the kitchen cupboards, I decided to use two small bowls and two cans of veggies – one of each for each cheese form.  I put the forms on a baking rack over a half-sheet tray and let the cheese press for 2 hours.

During the two hours, I ironed my clothes for the next day, did some laundry and made myself something for dinner.  I also began yawning from time to time.  When the timer rang, I turned to step 7 of the recipe.  I heated the whey up to the boiling point, put the cheese into the whey*, turned off the heat, and let it sit for 90 minutes.

*I wasn’t sure whether to take the cheese out of the forms or to leave them in the forms so I rolled the dice and put the forms containing the cheese into the whey.  This is where it would have been extremely helpful to have heard ALL the information presented in class!

During the 90 minutes, I cleaned up from dinner, read a little, surfed the web and began yawning in earnest.  But I pressed on (no pun intended).  And when the 90 minutes were up I moved on to step 8 of the recipe.  When I read step 8 – remove the cheese [from the whey] and allow it to drain on a cheese mat for 2 to 4 hours –  two questions immediately came to mind: (1) “What in the world is a cheese mat?” and (2) “How am I ever going to stay awake for 2 more hours?”

Again, I wished I had been paying closer attention to what was going on in class when they covered cheese mats….and what to do if you don’t have one.  But still I continued.

During the 2 hours, I read some more, took off my makeup, folded some laundry, surfed the web again and finally at 1 hour and 50 minutes, I gave up and made the brine solution according to the instructions on the recipe.  I put the halloumi in the brine and put it in the fridge where it had to sit for 24 hours and I promptly dropped into bed.

Now you would think this is the end of the story…..or at least the part where I tell you the halloumi was delicious and certainly worth staying up late.  But……it’s not the end and, in truth, I haven’t tasted the halloumi yet.

Yesterday after the class I taught – Girlz with Grillz, which was sooooooo much fun – I overheard my husband, who was kind enough to come and help with the cooking for class, saying to one of my co-workers, Sure, we’ll take some Feta.” Noooooooooooooo!

Little did he know that being offered feta didn’t mean FINISHED feta.  It meant feta that was at step 9 of 13 steps!  Now I am in the process of finishing a batch of feta too!

So, it’s really not fair to call myself a cheese maker – even an accidental one.  I’m more of a begrudging cheese finisher!  But perhaps when the cheeses are finished I’ll have the incentive I need to learn the whole process of making halloumi and the whole process of making feta.

But for now, I’ve got to run…I have cheese to drain, salt and refrigerate.  Do yourself a favor, remember the old adage, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is” the next time someone asks you if you want to take the halloumi [or the feta] with you!

Contemplation

This post is not about food for the body; rather it is about food for the soul…

This morning I attended a wonderful retreat.  The topic was CONTEMPLATION. I feel so at peace after a morning well spent that I want to share my experience with you.

Contemplation

After a time of fellowship and some opening remarks about contemplation, some “instruction” about the handouts we were given to lead us in our quiet time if we so chose, and some information about breath prayer and visio divina, we scattered to find a spot for our quiet time.

I walked into the wooded part of the property near the creek, but not facing the water.  As I was walking to ‘my spot’ I was struck by the beauty of the sea of blue flowers that awaited me in the “woods” and I was overcome by the urge to snap some photos.  Now normally I would have my camera in the car; I rarely travel without it.  But today I didn’t have it with me so I improvised with my cell phone.

My Contemplation SpotI wanted to capture the beauty of my surroundings – almost as if capturing it on film would allow me to carry with me the feelings of calm, peace and serenity the environment evoked.  So I snapped some pics and then found a comfortable spot to sit.  I began my time of contemplation with my journal.  I asked myself three questions that I ask when I am trying to slow my brain down and connect with God.  The questions and my answers are as follows:

What do I hear?  (I close my eyes and try to identify every sound I hear)

  • Birds – many different birds. It sounds like they’re interacting, having a conversation with one another or perhaps they’re singing harmony.
  • Cars and trucks passing on Rt. 81 and/or Rt. 114.  It’s like an ebb and flow – they start out quiet, but as they get closer the sound grows.  Then there is a crescendo and the sound fades as they grow distant.  I can hear the trucks downshifting.
  • A bee buzzing nearby
  • An airplane overhead
  • The intermittent tat-tat-tat of a woodpecker

What do I see that is from God?

  • Blue flowers all around me
  • Sunshine highlighting different things near me
  • The roughness of tree bark
  • The softness of newly growing moss
  • Something I’m pretending is not poison ivy
  • The sun glinting on the thin threads of a spider’s web
  • Lots of green
  • New growth and dry, dead leaves – contradictions
  • Wild chives
  • Walnut shells
  • A bright red bug

What do I feel?

  • The warmth of the sun on my skin
  • The feel of the breeze on my neck and my arms
  • Peace, calm

Asking these questions and focusing on the answers seems to quiet my brain and connect me with God.

Next, I opened my packet and read this quote by Henry David Thoreau:

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

Ok, if I’m being honest (and I am), I’ll admit that for a brief moment my mind flashed away from contemplation and to television because I recently heard this quote on an episode of Criminal Minds….oh, how easily the culture lures us from the presence of God.  But fortunately after a split second, I was easily able to return to contemplation. (Sadly, this is not always the case).

Looking Up in Contemplation

I picked up my pen and my journal and began writing.  What follows here is an excerpt of what I wrote in my time with God.

“God, thank you for the ability to see beauty around me.  Not just when I’m in a lovely setting like this one; but when I’m in the ordinary or even in dark places.  Thank you for the gift of appreciation – for the desire to look beyond the obvious and to see things from unusual perspectives…I love it when I walk outside and feel a deep gratitude for what I see –  the sunlight or blue skies with puffy clouds or colorful leaves or pretty ferns or interesting buildings…

 

As I sit in one spot, there is so much to look at and I find it interesting that the longer I sit here the more I see things that I missed when I first got here.

 

When I first sat down I saw “the big picture” – the cut logs in a row, the chair, the bright blue flowers with bright green leaves and stems, the blue sky, the trees with chartreuse leaves.

 

But as I narrow my focus and allow myself to be immersed in my surroundings, my attention to detail becomes more clear – I see the small, the partially hidden – things like walnut shells tucked into the crevices between the tree trunks, the moss beneath the leaves and low growing plants, the dried leaves, the wild chives that blended in with the greenery at first, a tiny red bug hard at work, the rough texture of the tree bark vs. the smoothness of the cut surfaces of the logs near me, the tiny fairy plants, wild berry branches, the bark that has come loose from a tree and now looks like a bridge on the ground, the highlights and shadows that almost magnify the roughness of the tree bark.

 

And this shift in focus or narrowing of focus that happens the longer I sit here makes me wonder how much I miss every day because I’m so busy moving from one thing to the next – because I don’t take enough time in any one place to CONTEMPLATE all that is around me, to see the small.

 

What is this busyness causing me to miss?  What am I sacrificing?  What is the cost?  Am I missing moments with You, God? Or moments of real presence with those around me?

 

Why do I try so hard to fill my time – my self – with busyness?  Am I avoiding something?  Am I avoiding you?  Avoiding me? And if I am constantly trying to fill my time, myself with things/activities/tasks, then why do I sometimes resent them?”

I sat silently for a while after madly scribbling my thoughts above. I took some time to breathe, to see, to contemplate.  I closed my eyes and listened to my own breathing and to the sounds around me.

Blue Flowers

Then I turned the page in my packet and was given (like a gift) the following from Henri Nouwen:

“As we look at the stars and let our minds wander into the many galaxies, we come to feel so small and insignificant that anything we do, or say, or think seems completely useless.  But if we look into our souls and let our minds wander into the endless galaxies of our interior lives, we become so tall and significant that everything we do, say or think appears of great importance.

 

We have to keep looking both ways to remain humble and confident, humorous and serious, playful and responsible.  Yes, the human person is very small and very tall.  It is the tension between the two that keeps us spiritually awake.”

It surprises me – although it shouldn’t – that when I take the time to quiet myself, to remove distractions and to sit with God He answers me.  Not in an audible way but like he did by giving me the Nouwen passage just when I needed it.  Now you may think this is hokey and it may not be your “thing.” But writing out my questions and then reading the passage was like having a conversation with God.  It was as if He was right there with me in real-time caring enough to speak to my concerns.

Bordered Contemplation

I continued to journal:

“I feel like this reading from Nouwen is God’s answer to the questions I asked about busyness, what I’m missing and why I can come to resent the things that keep me busy – even if they’re good things.

 

I think God’s answer is BALANCE.  “We have to keep looking both ways to remain humble and confident.”  I believe God is telling me that I have to continue to look at the big picture, the small details AND the middle ground.  And that the REPETITION (a word God has given me more than once this week) is important – that it’s not keeping my focus in one place for too long, but rather the continual shift of focus that will lead to balance.  Kind of like when we drive – we have to watch the road in front of us, but we also have to have a continual awareness of our rear view mirror and our side mirrors – we have to shift our focus from time to time to be effective drivers.”

And we also have to continually shift our focus from the external (the many galaxies) to the internal (our internal lives) and back again to be effective people.  We cannot think only about the “doing” (the busyness that can lead to our resentment or our feeling small) – we must also contemplate the “being” (that which brings us significance).  We need BALANCE between doing and being.  And if I’m honest with myself, I find a temporary feeling of significance when I “do” – when I can check things off a list and meet or exceed the expectations of others.  But it is a temporary feeling….

I could go on and on; but I won’t.  I’ll close by sharing the words God gave me this morning and with my response to Him.

  • REPETITION
  • CONTEMPLATION
  • PRESENCE
  • BALANCE

“Thank you…

…for this time to rest in You.

…for meeting me here.

…for beauty and nature and beauty in nature.

…for contradictions.

…for balance.

…for opportunities.

…for other women with whom to journey.

…for the breeze on my arms.

…for the sunshine on my skin.

…for my senses.

….for your stirrings.

…for your answers.

…for my questions.

…for the time to slow down and just “be.”

…for your promises (Matthew 11:28).

…for your love.”

A Chair in the Woods

I hope you can find some time this week for CONTEMPLATION.

Macarons: A French Confectionary Treat or A Metaphor for the Inauthentic Life?

I’ve been baking a lot of French macarons lately.  When I say “a lot,” I mean a lot – hundreds…probably thousands in the last month alone.  All this is/was in preparation for two classes I taught/am teaching [one last week and one this coming week] at work.  The class is entitled MMM-Macarons!

As you would imagine, I taught/will be teaching folks how to make the perfect French macaron.  In order to teach it, I had to learn for myself.  And as is true with almost any skill you learn, to be good you have to practice and you have to fail in order to understand what doesn’t work and what you need to adjust in order to be successful.

Looking Good

So I’ve read anything and everything I can get my hands on about French macarons and I’ve practiced and I’ve practiced some more and I’ve even enlisted the help of others in my learning process [incidentally, THANK YOU to those who have helped along the way]. I’ve learned about the effects of time, temperature, humidity, ever-so-slight adjustments in the weights of ingredients, air flow,  different kinds of baking trays, baking more than one tray at a time, rest time, etc. on the finished product.

All of this work and research has made me a pretty good macaron maker – not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, as I believe it likely takes years of intensive work in a macaron bakery to become an expert – if I do say so myself. And I’ve learned what needs to be done in order to present the perfect macaron.

And all of this baking has given me a lot of time to think….which as most of you know can be both a blessing and a curse!

So today, in the midst of my most recent baking frenzy, I came to the conclusion that baking macarons is a little [or maybe a lot] like life.   Most of us only want to show the well-shaped, glossy byproduct of tons of work.  We only want people to see the perfect us and the perfect macaron.

We spend a lot of time learning how to make all conditions just right so that what people see is our best.  But what we don’t like to show are the lumpy, cracked, slightly lopsided results of our efforts.  In fact, we’ll do just about anything to hide or discard the “ugly” parts.

I found that the advice in one particularly good macaron troubleshooting guide can also be applied to life.  For example:

  • What do I do if my batter [self] appears too thick?
    It was underworked.  Increase the mixing [exercise] time.
  • What do I do if my batter [self] appears too thin?
    It was overworked.  Decrease the mixing [exercise] time.
  • What do I do if my macarons look like rumpled waxed-paper?
    They did not rest long enough.
  • What do I do if my macarons [priorities] are lopsided?
    They were rested on a surface that isn’t level [rested on something other than THE rock].
  • What do I do if my macarons are [spiritual life is] completely hollow?
    They were over-mixed [over-worked] and under-cooked [too little time rejuvenating].
  • What do I do if my macarons [emotions] are cracked?
    They were not adequately rested and/or the heat was too strong from the bottom of the oven [too much stress].

Oh yes, we can learn from the advice above – both with macarons and with our lives.  But please don’t miss the idea that we have to look at what went wrong in order to know how to correct.  We have to acknowledge the imperfect in order to work toward something better.

I believe we do one another a disservice if all we show other people is our well-shaped, glossy, perfectly put-together selves.  When we do this, other people learn [or are reminded YET AGAIN] that their efforts cannot live up to perfection and we either discourage one another or we start someone else’s ‘gerbil wheel of running to catch up.’

Now, I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t strive to be our best or that we should settle for some less-than-God’s-best version of ourselves.  What I am saying is that we need to be authentic with one another.  We need to be honest on the days when all conditions are not perfect and we get a little lopsided or cracked.  Sharing our “humanness” with other people gives them permission to share theirs as well rather than hiding it in some dark, shame-filled place.

Processed with RookieProcessed with Rookie

Processed with Rookie

What we serve to others (our friends / our families) doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. Even the cracked, lopsided macarons taste delicious.  So go ahead, serve/show the imperfect ones/self!!!

Waste Not, Want Not: A Story of Homemade Breadcrumbs

Oh yes, when I was growing up my mom used all the mom’isms on me:

  • Haste makes waste (which a friend of mine thought was “haste makes paste”)
  • Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back
  • Always wear clean underwear in case you get in an accident
  • Talking to you is like talking to a brick wall
  • Close the door, you weren’t born in a barn
  • Etc.

“Waste not, want not” was a regular favorite.  Of course, every time she uttered these mom-phrases, I did what every know-it-all kid does – rolled my eyes!

But as it turns out, I learned a lot from the mom’isms.

Those of you who have been to my classes or who have read the blog for any length of time know I talk or write often about not wasting things – particularly food.  I tell about the “stock bag” in my freezer into which I put chicken scraps and vegetable ends and from which ultimately comes some wonderful, homemade chicken stock.  I give tips and hints about what to do with leftovers so you don’t throw them out and I talk and write about saving time and money as well.

Recently at work, I was helping another instructor prepare for one of her classes and was tasked with making some divine mushroom tarts.  The “dough” portion of the tart was cut from the center of very thinly sliced bread.  Of course, after I cut out all the tarts I was left with a pile of crusts that I could not bear to discard.

And so, much like the bags of vegetable scraps I bring home from work, I brought home two big bags of bread crusts. “Why?,” you ask.  To make breadcrumbs.

Interestingly enough, just as I was preparing to make the breadcrumbs I realized I had a partial loaf of really delicious bakery bread that was too stale for sandwiches, but not too stale to add to the breadcrumb making.  And this was not your run of the mill bread.  No, it was bread from Sarcone’s Bakery in the Italian Market in Philadelphia.  Now, if you’ve ever eaten their wonderful sesame loaf you know for certain that YOU DO NOT WASTE EVEN A CRUMB OF BREAD FROM SARCONE’S!  With that in mind, I cut what remained of the sesame loaf from Sarcone’s and added it to the other crumbs before I toasted them.

I know, there are those of you who say things like:

  • Who has time to make their own breadcrumbs?
  • Why would you go to all that trouble when you can just buy breadcrumbs in the store?
  • I wouldn’t know the first thing about doing that.

To you I say:

  • Everyone HAS the time.  It takes just a few minutes of actual work time (perhaps even a minute or less) and can be done while you’re watching tv, reading, doing laundry or any other household chore.  Multi-task people!
  • Because they taste infinitely better than store bought and you can flavor them with whatever YOU like.
  • It’s so easy it should be illegal.

Here’s what I did:

First, I cut that loaf of Sarcone’s bread into manageable pieces.  I didn’t do anything to the crusts I had brought home from work – I simply dumped them into the food processor with the pieces of Sarcone’s bread (filling the food processor to about 3/4 full – depending on the amount of bread you have, you may have to whirl more than one batch) and whirled them up to a fine consistency (if you like your breadcrumbs larger, stop the food processor at your desired texture).

Sarcones Sesame Loaf

Bread in Food Processor

Next I spread the crumbs into an even layer on a baking sheet and placed them into a preheated 375 degree F oven for approximately 12 minutes (because not all ovens are created equally, you may have to leave your crumbs in the oven for slightly more or less than 12 minutes) until they were a nice golden brown.

Crumbs on Baking Sheet

Crumbs in a Single Layer

Then I momentarily took the crumbs out of the oven, sprayed a little olive oil on them with my EVO Oil Sprayer, sprinkled them with some freshly ground black pepper and a bit of pink Himalayan salt.

Note: (The sky’s the limit when it comes to seasoning homemade breadcrumbs – you can use any of your favorite spices….some that come to mind are paprika (or, even better, smoked paprika), ground oregano, ground rosemary, smoked pepper and/or smoked salt, etc.).

I put the crumbs back into the oven for a final 5 minutes and then took them out and let them cool completely on the baking sheet.

Golden & Peppery

Finally, I transferred the beautifully browned crumbs into freezer bags and stowed them in the freezer until I am ready to use them in a recipe or on top of pasta or veggies for an added crunch.

Bagged for Freezer

It’s true what moms the world over have said for centuries – waste not, want not. I am a firm believer of using well what you have been given – whether it be the ends of veggies and scraps of chicken, the crusts of bread, or a car with over 100,000 miles on it.  I like to think I’m not wasting the resources that God has entrusted to me.  Yes, I certainly did learn a lot from the mom’isms; but shhhhhhhh, please don’t tell my mom!

Product Review

Yes, I KNOW this is a food blog and not a health and beauty or personal care blog; but when I find a product that really works, I just can’t resist writing about it!

I LLLLOOOOVVVVEEEE bath products and lotions….I mean really love…..like verging-on-obsession love.  I like being pampered and I love different natural scents (not the manufactured kind so much).  In fact, I think it would be fair to say that over the years I have spent my fair share (perhaps more – much more – than my fair share) on health and beauty products.  If you asked Jeff, he’d probably roll his eyes and confirm my obsession.

That being said, I also think it would be fair to say that many lotions don’t actually do what they claim they will.  Oh, they smell good.  And they’re slippery when you first put them on.  But after a while (depending on the lotion it may be a short while), that just-lotioned feel goes away.

And recently the three enemies of the skin joined forces – particularly against the skin on my hands.  “Enemies?” you ask.  “What enemies?”

There are three specific enemies to which I refer: 1) age, (2) cold weather, and (3) frequently having your hands in hot water. Oh sure, there are probably more; but these three had made my knuckles so dry they felt like sandpaper.  My skin was scaly and ashy. And my hands actually hurt where they were cracked and raw.

Of course, I turned to THE BIG BASKET OF LOTIONS (TBBOL) I keep next to my bed.  If you’re a lotion addict like me, you’ll recognize that there are some “really good” products in the basket – products that I did not skimp on when purchasing them.  Each morning and night (and several times in between) I would slather my hands with a selection from TBBOL, but within moments my hands would be dry again. It’s fair to say that I was frustrated.

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Then last week I was waiting for my mom to finish getting ready to go visit my dad after his recent surgery.  This COULD be a point at which I digress (as I so often do) because sometimes it feels like I spend half my life waiting for my mom to finish getting ready; but I will not digress. Not today.

While I was killing time, I asked Mimi (my mom) if she had any hand lotion, which is somewhat comical because I get my addiction to lotions and potions from her.  She handed me a bottle of lotion and I must admit, I scoffed a bit when I saw it.  I mean, after all, it was [gasp] a drugstore lotion. [Insert names like ‘SNOB’ and ‘ELITIST’ here]. As they say, beggars can’t be choosers; so I rubbed some of the lotion from the big blue bottle over my hands.

Although it felt very smooth and it smelled good – not perfume-y, but fresh and clean – I knew I needed to wait a while to make my final judgment (which, if I’m being honest, I did not expect to be a good one).  But on our drive to the hospital, which is about 45 minutes from home, I realized my hands weren’t stinging like they had been and when I felt them, they still felt smooth.

Once we got to the hospital I promptly forgot about the lotion.  We had our visit with my dad and, when he was ready for some shut-eye, we made a plan for lunch. Before we left for the restaurant, I used the restroom and, of course, washed my hands.

I fully expected my hands to feel dry after using the institutional soap in the restroom.  But they did not.  In fact, they still felt smooth.  Uh oh….my preconceived ideas may have been (as Fonzie would say) wwww-rrrr-ong.

After lunch and before getting into the car for another 45 minute drive, I used the restroom and washed my hands again and was astonished to find that my hands still were not exhibiting the signs of dryness they had been prior to using the lotion.

Since that day last week, I purchased a big blue bottle of the lotion and have been using it faithfully.  I am happy to report that my hands no longer feel chapped.  They no longer look like the hands of an 85-year-old woman (no offense to 85-year-old women, but I am not one).  They’re soft and smooth and don’t look a day over……ha, you thought I was really going to type my age?

Seriously, what a great experience!  I changed my perspective on “drugstore lotions.”  Perhaps not all of them; but definitely this one.  So what is it?

Nivea Smooth Sensation Body Lotion for Dry Skin with Shea Butter & Hydra IQ (whatever that is).  At Target, it cost $5.39 for 21 fl. oz. AND it came with a 0.17 oz. Mint & Mineral lip balm (which I have not yet tried).

Nivea Smooth Sensation

Having spent thousands of dollars on lotions over the years, I am more than pleasantly surprised that a good quality lotion can be affordable!!!  This product gets 5 m’s out of 5!

5 ms

It’s a great value.  It delivers on its promise. It doesn’t have an artificial scent. And it came with a freebie!

Fellow Foodies/Writers

The old expression, “Water seeks its own level” is true.  Somehow, almost magically, we attract people who are like us. In my case, it’s a good thing because I love being around other foodies – and especially foodies who like to write about their adventures with food!

In the last week, two of those foodie/writers have shared their writing with me.  (If only I could get them to share their cooking with me……but that’s a lament for another day!)  Anyhoooo…..with their permission, I am sharing their writing with you too.

The first “share” was from my cousin Mic.  Mic and I both LOVE to cook and, more precisely, love to cook together when we can; however we live about 2 hours away from one another and both have busy schedules, so the opportunity rarely presents itself. Although we keep threatening to make time to get together for a marathon cooking weekend! Until we can schedule time together we email and text frequently and some of those texts include snapshots of recipes in progress.

Last week, rather than receiving a quick synopsis of what’s been going on in Mic’s kitchen and his life, I received a story he wrote for his mom (my Aunt Pam – about whom I’ve previously written on the blog).  Immediately after reading it, I emailed him back with a hearty LMAO and asked if I could share the story with you.

So without further ado……

The Stalks of Wrath
by Mic Mulicka

Mic's Story Image

I hope you enjoyed Mic’s story as much as I did – although the outcome was less-than-favorable, the writing is excellent and his depiction of life in the garden is spot on!

The second “share” happened yesterday at work and was one of those funny moments where someone you’ve been thinking about materializes right before your very eyes.  That person was my new friend Nikki.  I met Nikki when she and her mom took one of my classes and we talked afterward. Nikki has a passion for cooking, which, of course, connected us.  Last time she and her mom (and some other family members) took one of my classes, Nikki told me that she’s going to Italy in March.  Was I a little jealous?  Absolutely!  But I am thrilled that Nikki is going to have some wonderful culinary and life experiences on the trip.  And Nikki has agreed to teach an Italian class with me after she returns from her trip, so I’ll get to experience Italy through Nikki!

But I digress….AGAIN. On Monday I was thinking about Nikki – wondering when she was leaving for her trip and when I’d see her again.  Then, boom, she comes into the shop yesterday and, although I was not technically working the register, I happened to be helping out during a busy time and she was the first person I helped.  I love God’s timing!!!!  Although there was a line of customers waiting to check out, Nikki and I excitedly fit about 30 minutes of conversation into the time it took to ring her transaction!  During that time she told me she had started a blog.  Her intention is to write about her trip in near-real-time.

Nikki gave me her blog info and as soon as I got home, I visited her site to read what she has written so far.  One of the really cool things about reading other people’s food blogs is that you get really good recipe ideas.  I can’t wait to try making a ‘Caramelized Onion, Apple, Bacon and Blue Cheese Pizza.’  YUM!

To read about Nikki’s adventures in food (and eventually in Italy), visit Journey of a Small Town Girl with Big Taste!!!  I’m going to hold Nikki to her promise of teaching with me, so stay tuned for a class entitled Nikki’s Italy – likely in Fall 2015!

Mic and Nikki are not the only foodie/writer friends that I have made along the way.  There are many others. And I’m so glad they’re all out there.  We feed one another…..literally and figuratively!!!!

See John Cook: A Public Safety Message & Rant

This is John.  John likes to cook.  Cook, John, cook.

John F and his finger

No, John is not giving me the finger…..well, not exactly!  With John’s permission I am writing this post about kitchen safety.

Those of you who have been to one (or more) of my classes have probably already heard this rant.  But even if you have heard me say it repeatedly, I hope you don’t turn the channel because, like an overplayed song on the radio, I want this to get stuck in your head!!!  Yes, let my voice be your “earworm” of the day!

A quick aside – an “earworm” in the radio biz is a catchy piece of music that continually plays in a person’s mind even after it is no longer playing on the radio.

Anyway, back to John.  John is one of my favorite students.  Among other things, he asks great questions in class, shares tidbits of his experiences, and brings an air of fun to the classroom.  Being one of my favorites, I was concerned when he walked into the classroom for my last class with one of his fingers bandaged.

After some prodding, he shared with me how he injured himself. And I’m sure when he finally, reluctantly spilled the beans he waited for that “I told you so” look to cross my smug face.  He knew it was coming.  He didn’t really want to see it.  But he told me anyway.  And much like Ralphie waits for the inevitable, “You’ll shoot your eye out,” John was rewarded for his honesty with one of my finest “I told you so” looks.

You see, John was injured while using his mandoline slicer WITHOUT the hand guard [insert gasp here].

Folks, I joke in this post to bring levity to this topic; but safety truly does have a place in cooking – and we need to respect it. Sure, there are times when I do stupid, unsafe things in the kitchen and most of the time I get lucky.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to preach one more time about slicers.

We sell a lot of slicers at The Kitchen Shoppe.  And lots are sold at other places .  I’ve talked to many people who say things like, “I hate my mandoline.  I don’t use it anymore” or “Oh, I’d never buy a mandoline slicer.” When I ask why, the overwhelming majority of the time I learn that the person has either cut him/herself while using the slicer or knows someone who has.  They’ve either had or have seen the stitches.  But the answer to this next question never varies.  When I ask “Were you (or was your friend) using the hand-guard when you (your friend) got cut?”, the answer is ALWAYS ‘No.’

Slicers of all kinds come with hand-guards for a reason.  Many of us believe it’s so the manufacturer can avoid liability; but the truth is that the slicer comes with a hand-guard because the hand-guard works – it will prevent you from cutting yourself.

So, if you own a mandoline or other slicer and the guard is still in the box or it’s in the basement or stuffed in a drawer; please, please, PLEASE dig it out and USE IT! If you don’t like the hand-guard because it’s too clunky – (my mean girl instinct is to say, “tough, use it anyway”) – you can buy a stainless steel mesh cut-resistant glove.  But please use something.

I love my mandoline slicer.  I use it quite frequently.  If makes light work of many tasks and allows me to make some cool dishes that I couldn’t make if my only tool were a knife.  And I hate to see mandolines everywhere get bad press because they’re being used incorrectly or without the included safety guard.  So this is my public safety message for the day:  USE THE HAND GUARD WHEN USING YOUR SLICER.

This is John.  John likes to cook.  Cook safely, John, PLEASE COOK SAFELY!!!

John F and his finger

A special thanks to John F. for letting me write about his experience and for his continued attendance at my classes.  It is a joy to see your face (and all ten of your fingers) in the classroom!

Trick or Treat? DEFINITELY Treat!!!

This morning….early this morning……I became a great-aunt for the first time.  I cannot wait to meet the newest addition to our family, Kendall Elizabeth!  I find it utterly amazing that you can love someone you’ve never met; but it’s true….my heart is so full it’s spilling out my eyes in the form of tears.

Kendall Elizabeth

Born 10/30/13 @ 1:43 a.m.

7 lbs 15 oz.

21″ long

I know it’s a day before Halloween, but I’ve decided Kendall’s nickname should be Treat!!!!

Congratulations to Ashley and Jason.  I am so proud of Ashley it’s crazy.  She is so strong and beautiful and kind.  She’s going to be an amazing mom! I can’t wait to see her in action.  And I’m so proud of Jason too.  Although I haven’t known him his whole life like I have Ashley; I can tell he’s going to make one heck of a dad.  His calm personality will serve him well if Kendall is anything like her mom!

And I’m so excited for Ashley’s sister (my older niece), Vanessa….today she joined a very elite society…..The Aunt’s Club!  With it come a lot of benefits (in fact, the benefits are endless) and responsibilities.  Among other things, Vanessa will have to buy the “happy 7 week birthday” cake, do arts and crafts that are potentially harmful to her eyesight, have many sleepovers, remember to feed Kendall dinner when she babysits, and always carry gum!!!!

This morning when I got the announcement that Kendall had finally showed up to the party, I woke Jeff to let him know.  I told him she’d been born and groggily said something like, “We’re great somethings now” to which Jeff replied (even just seconds out of a deep sleep), “I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been great.”  Ugh…..see what I have to live with?

I look forward to the many adventures of Kendall.  I have been blessed WWWWWAAAAAYYYYY more richly than I deserve!!!

No More Sick & Tired

AAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!  I feel like Charlie Brown right after he tries to kick the football that Lucy has pulled away AGAIN!  I’ve had it.  I’m over it.  Enough already!

Today is day 35 of being sick and I am truly sick and tired of being sick and tired……ugh.  What started out as an ill-timed summer cold turned into Bronchitis and has lingered for 35 LLLLLOOOOONNNNNGGGGG days.  And as frustrated as I am with the cough and with not feeling well, I’m sure everyone around me is frustrated too.

I apologize to those of you who have had to listen to the hacking and put up with the cranky mood.  Sincerely.  From the bottom of my heart!

So today I begin my all-out assault on the crud – whatever it now is.

Juice

I’m beginning my day – thanks to my dear friend, Barb – with a serious juice.  Carrot, beet, apple, ginger.  And, of course, with a shot of Bragg’s Organic Raw Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar with the “Mother”.  (Sue, I know you’ll cringe at this!) This will be followed by some steamy time in the kitchen and some exercise – both of which will hopefully sweat out the crud.

“I’ve had all I can stands; I can’t stands no more”…..no more feeling listless…..no more feeling crabby…..no more lack of energy.  I can’t take another day.  So from this point forward, hear me world, I am no longer sick!!!

How do you beat the cold/flu/sick-and-tired-of-being-sick-and-tired blues?

Knowing When to Call Time-of-Death

Because we all have that sadistic streak in us – ok, you may not be willing to admit you have it, but I am willing to admit it – I am going to share my frustrating afternoon with you.  Although I wish it weren’t true, sometimes when I’m having a bad day it cheers me up, if only for a moment, to find out that someone else’s day sucks too.  I’m not proud of that, but there it is!

I drove myself crazy this afternoon.  Now, there are those of you who would posit (and perhaps correctly so) that it’s not a far trip; but some days…..oh, some days it’s closer than I think!

I was working on my dad’s birthday cake – a recipe that I’ve made previously with absolutely no trouble. A recipe, in fact, that I would recommend to others.  It’s bon appetit‘s Coffee-Walnut Cake with Coffee-Mascarpone Cream.  And it is delicious.

My Well-Worn Copy of the Recipe

But today the process of making the icing could have made me lose my religion!  What has always been a smooth process (and a smooth icing too, haha) was a mess!

Within seconds – or so it seemed – of beginning to beat my icing it curdled.  Now that I am writing about it, I realize I should have taken pictures of the “don’t.” But in the moment (or moments), I was so frustrated that the last thing on my mind was snapping photos.

As is true to form for me in most situations, I DID NOT panic.  I didn’t panic because I know there are tricks for saving a curdled icing.  So I began to try those tricks one-by-one to no avail.  First I tried continuing to beat the icing through the curdled stage, which made it curdle even further.  Then I tried adding a bit of melted chocolate (which is an emulsifier) to the icing.   No luck. Finally, I tried pouring it into a saucepan, heating it until it smoothed out, transferring it into a glass bowl in an ice-bath to chill, and whipping it again. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.  Ha.  Nothing worked.  But I still did not panic.

With my blood pressure rapidly rising and my sense of humor rapidly plummeting, I turned to the internet and researched what to do if your icing curdles.  I found many posts detailing what I had already tried; but I found no new information.

I didn’t have time for this – I had a list of other things to accomplish today.  My house really needs to be dusted and vacuumed!

Ready to just sit down and eat the cake by myself and show up at the birthday celebration with an empty cake plate, I realized it was time to call time-of-death on my failed icing.  While I hate to waste ingredients (and those of you who know me know I am FRUGAL when it comes to ingredients), I realized that my blood pressure and my sanity were worth the few dollars I would have to spend on new ingredients.  I guess God just didn’t want me to dust and vacuum this afternoon!

The good news is that the short drive to the store and back cleared my mind!  When I got home I was able to make the icing correctly and finish the cake in less than 30 minutes.

Decorating In Process

Now I could have just snapped some pics of the finished product and pretended that the process of making the cake was a walk in the park, but no one would have learned from that and I would have missed the opportunity to help someone who’s having a worse day than I was!  Because even if you pretend it’s not true I know there are times when you are cheered up – if only for a moment – when you find out that someone else’s day sucked too!

Dukka of Earl & Recipe Review: Roasted Tomatoes and Lentils w/Dukka-Crumbled Eggs

“Yeah, I
Oh, I’m gonna love you
Oh-oh
Nothing can stop me, now “

That’s exactly how I feel about a dukka. And until Saturday I didn’t know what a dukka was.  But oh, now that I do, nothing can stop me from loving it!

A dukka (also spelled duqqa or dakka) is an Egyptian mixture of herbs, nuts and spices.  The word ‘dukka’ comes from the Arabic for “to pound” because the herbs, nuts and spices are dry roasted and then pounded together.  There are many different variations of dukka – using different combinations of herbs, nuts and spices.

Since Saturday night, when Jeff and I made a wonderful recipe from Serious Eats, I’ve been dreaming about the many ways to incorporate a dukka into my recipes….look out world!

The recipe is entitled “Roasted Tomatoes and Lentils with Dukka-Crumbled Eggs” and it produced a wonderfully satisfying dinner that was packed with flavors and offered many textures.

The dish is divided into four components – the lentils, the roasted tomatoes, the soft cooked eggs, and the dukka.  Then the components are layered one upon another with a delicious result.

Here are some pics of the finished product:

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The recipe for the dukka we made is as follows:

1/2 cup hazelnuts (skins on)
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1 Tbsp. sunflower seeds
3 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 Tbsp. peppercorns
1 1/2 Tbsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. ground paprika
1/2 Tbsp. sea salt flakes

  1. Put the hazelnuts in a dry skillet and toast over high heat until they smell roasted – be careful not to burn, which can happen very quickly.  Transfer them to a plate to cool.
  2. Put the sesame seeds into the dry skillet and toast until golden.  Transfer to the plate to cool.
  3. Put the sunflower seeds into the dry skillet and toast until golden.  Transfer to the plate to cool.
  4. Crush the hazelnuts in a mortar until coarsely ground (you do not want this to turn into a paste). Transfer to a bowl.
  5. Roughly crush the sesame seeds and sunflower seeds and add them to the hazelnuts.
  6. Toast the coriander seeds until they smell toasted and crush them roughly.
  7. Repeat with the peppercorns.
  8. Repeat with the cumin seeds.
  9. To the bowl with the nuts, add the seeds, toasted spices, paprika and salt.
  10. Mix well.
  11. Store in an airtight container until needed.

To get the recipe for the Roasted Tomatoes and Lentils with Dukka-Crumbled Eggs visit Serious Eats.

I’d give this recipe 4 1/2 M’s out of 5!

4 and one half ms

The instructions were easy to follow, the outcome was fantastic and it’s a great option for a Meatless Monday.  The only thing that would make me reluctant to recommend this recipe to others is that I think having four components could be intimidating. But I want you to know, the recipe was not difficult and it was well worth the time spent!

Before we made dinner on Saturday, Jeff and I took a drive in the country to get some local produce, to take in the sights and to spend some uninterrupted time together.  I took some photos along the way.  I hope you enjoy them!

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia!

In the last two years I have learned to love chia seeds, which I had previously considered “out there” food.  If you haven’t tried them, don’t knock them yet; but be weary….using them can go wrong if you’re not careful.

My mom and dad drink smoothies EVERY morning for breakfast and the ingredient list includes, among other things, chia seeds. Unfortunately, although the smoothies are really tasty; if you don’t drink them almost immediately they thicken A LOT…I mean sooooo THICK you could spackle cracks in plaster with the contents of the glass.  You see, chia seeds can absorb up to 10 times their weight in water (which forms a bulky gel).  And when you grind them (as in put them in a smoothie in the blender) they seem to gel a lot more quickly.

So, why use them?  The ability to absorb so much liquids has at least two benefits: (1) they can help keep you hydrated, and (2) they can keep you feeling full longer!  They are also easy to hide in recipes – I’ve sprinkled them on oatmeal and in salads, added them to baked goods, mixed them into smoothies (after pouring the smoothie out of the blender), added them to bread crumbs when coating or topping recipes, etc.   They are quite versatile.

What are chia seeds?  I know you’ve heard of Chia Pets (the original is shaped like a sheep) and have seen a myriad of chia products over the years, including Chia Mickey Mouse, Chia presidents, Chia Hello Kitty, Chia Mr. T., Chia Homer Simpson, and most recently Chia Willie from Duck Dynasty.  That’s what chia seeds are – they are the seeds you soak in water and spread on the terra cotta figurine. But beyond that, they are edible seeds that date back to Mayan and Aztec cultures, where they were a staple food.  They are unprocessed and considered a whole-grain food.  Unlike flax seeds (which I also hide in recipes), can be absorbed by the body.

I am not a doctor, so I will not go into all of the health benefits of chia seeds because I cannot back up any statement I might make with scientific fact, but if you google “chia seeds” you will find more than 5 million hits.  I would highly recommend you rely on the information you find on reputable sites only and that before modifying your diet with chia seeds or anything I or other non-physician/non-nutritionist bloggers recommend, you discuss the changes with your doctor.

So, what can you do with chia seeds?  The possibilities are endless, but I really enjoyed this post from BuzzFeed Food.

Additionally, some recipes I’ve developed and love are:

If you try any of my recipes, please let me know how they turn out!!!

We had a revised version of the black bean and red lentil sliders for dinner last night and they were so yummy!  We had to revise them because we didn’t have black beans – so we used red beans.  And we made them burger sized instead of slider sized.  Remember – recipes are just guidelines (unless you’re baking)!!!

So, chia seeds – I would encourage you to give these little seeds a try.  As with all new things, you have to keep an open mind and possibly try them more than once before you develop a taste for them or learn to hide them in delicious recipes for your own good!

I know, the Chia Pet may have given chia seeds a bit of a bad reputation; but chia seeds aren’t only for entertainment value.  They’re good and good for you!!!

The Most Desirable Pretzels…

My husband, Jeff, came home with an enormous bag of hard pretzels recently; therefore I’ve been eating pretzels more than I normally do.  This has led me to do a lot of thinking about pretzels and their parallel to people.  I know, I go on some strange tangents and I appreciate it when you stick with me!!!!

It occurred to me that I am a pretzel-buying snob, which made me wonder if I am alone in this….as it turns out, I am NOT alone.  You see, when I buy hard pretzels I like them to be whole.  I like them to look pretty and perfect and intact.  I did a little “research” on the internet and found a lot of complaints from other people who are also disappointed to see so many broken pretzels in the bag and/or people who select the bag that appears to have the least broken pretzels in it.

But the funny thing is, when I eat hard pretzels I ALWAYS break them before I eat them!  Maddening, I know.  I want them to be whole when I buy them, but not when eat them.

The broken pieces are more manageable, they’re easier to dip (if that’s your thing) and  they don’t make as many crumbs when you bite into them! And psychologically it seems like you’re getting more if you have more pieces than if you have a single whole pretzel.

So, yes, I want them to be whole when I buy them, but not when I eat them.

_DSC0618

This got me to thinking about how I look at people.  At first glance or upon the first meeting, I like people who appear to be pretty and perfect and whole.  I seek them out and I know you do too.  It’s human nature.  It can be difficult to think about starting a friendship/relationship with someone who is what many Christians refer to as EGR (extra grace required).  Someone who doesn’t have it all together or who appears not to have it all together.

BUT when I really am invested in relationships with people, I find that I like them better when they’re broken – because let’s face it, we’re all broken. I guess when I say “broken” what I mean is “willing to admit their brokenness.”  I’d much rather spend time with someone who’s willing to be real, to show me their flaws and faults, and who’s willing to see mine and like me anyway.

If I’m being honest, I must share with you that I didn’t always embrace authenticity.  I used to think showing your flaws was a sign of weakness and I went to great lengths to show myself as “together”; but now I see that a willingness to be genuinely you – warts and all – takes great courage and is a show of strength.

I appreciate those people who have put up with me as I’ve learned and grown – especially my pretzel-buying husband who teaches me lessons in ways he may not even realize.

Over the past few weeks I’ve come to realize the most desirable pretzels, like the most desirable people, are the broken ones!!!

_DSC0444

Winter in the Garden

During the summer and early fall, I share tons of pictures of my garden with you.  I take photos of everything budding and then bursting forth with abundant harvests.  But what about now?  What does  my garden look like today?

Raised Beds

Kale Past Its Prime

Bird's Eye View of the Garden

At first glance, winter in the garden can look bleak.  It can look like a time of death or abandonment, but really it’s a time of rest and renewal.  A good gardener looks at the garden in winter, without plants, as a fresh canvas.  A good gardener takes stock of which crops did well and which did not.  She looks at the blank space and sees possibility and hope!

What we see – that which is above the ground – is a void.  But below the surface, the bulbs are waiting with anticipation for exactly the right time to push their tiny shoots through the soil and into the light.  They are storing up energy so that when it’s time they can grow and bloom.  Some plants require “vernalization” and without it they will not bloom.  Vernalization is “the acquisition of a plant’s ability to flower in the spring by exposure to the prolonged cold of winter.”

Tall Grasses

The Beauty of Winter

And it seems to me there’s a parallel between the garden and our lives.  We should spend time each year resting and renewing – perhaps those surprise cold “snow days” we all anticipate – so that when it’s time we can bear much fruit.  But so often we don’t.  So often we rush through our days, fill our calendars, and over-pack our schedules, taking no time to regenerate.  No time to catch our breath and rest our weary bones. Even on our snow days, we rush to “catch up” on laundry, cleaning, television shows.  But we don’t use to our advantage the gift of rest we are given.

God’s Word tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 “

Notice all the opposites in the scripture passage.  A time to be born, a time to die.  A time to love, a time to hate.  A time to tear, a time to mend.  Yet we try so hard to keep running forward – to do, do, do more –  without the opposite….rest.  We keep talking and talking, without the opposite….silence.  We continue to accumulate things, without the opposite….purging.  So many of us try to put on the brave face and keep laughing, or we try to keep distracting ourselves with tv or technology, or we try to fill voids with drugs, alcohol, food, sex, but we miss the value of crying.  We miss the value of feeling ALL our emotions – of giving each of those emotions some time – a season – in our lives for us to sit with them and deal with them and feel them.  Some of us avoid these feelings because we’re afraid.  We’re afraid we’ll get stuck in them and they’ll never leave us.  But new seasons come.  Or we avoid them because they’re painful and we try to avoid pain at all costs.  But pain subsides.

A Snowy Nest

A Snowy Nest

I would imagine if the garden could choose, it would choose continual harvest.  It would choose hot days and warm evening breezes and gentle spring rains.  But the winter is necessary.

Thyme in the Snow

So the next time you look at a garden in winter – whether it’s yours or someone else’s – try to see the beauty of the sparse conditions.  Look at the blank canvas and try to see possibilities.  Value the rest, the rejuvenation.  And I urge you to ask yourself if you need a time of rest and renewal.  A time to slow down and store up energy.  A time to look at the layout of your garden – or your life – and to ask the hard questions about whether you need to make changes in order to bear fruit.

Neighbors' Snowman

Winter in the garden – and in life – can be beautiful.  Embrace your own winter.

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