Making a Mess in the Kitchen

The mess in the kitchen can wait a few minutes while I spend some time writing about it. It’s bonus for my morning when two of my favorite activities get together and boost the mood of my day.

My first inkling of the “joy of cooking” was a Christmas present I received in the mail from a family friend. I was eight years old, and the gift was Mary Alden’s Cookbook for Children.

Yes, I still remember the name of the book. It remained in my possession for many years, probably until the thin paper-bound cookbook fell apart with age if not from embedded grease and flour.

When I first got the book, it was mostly the source of unfulfilled fantasy. I spent hours poring over such recipes as “Eskimo cookies,” “Bearded Baked Potatoes,” and a cake from scratch with pink strawberry icing.

That was a busy time for my mom, as she was preparing for a big cross-country move and had four-year-old and two-year-old besides me and my older brother. So there wasn’t much chance to try out the inviting adventure of measuring and mixing and coming up with the promised products.

But I kept reading my cookbook with hope and imagination, including the thought of being able to cut out the certificate in the back proclaiming me “Clean Kitchen Cook” after I did all the required washing up and sweeping and putting away ingredients.

Uh-oh. Maybe I better stop and clean my kitchen before I continue writing. Right. Who am I kidding?

I did finally get to try out some of the recipes in the children’s cookbook, though it was at least two years later and in my friends’ kitchens where apparently no one cared if we made a mess. I especially remember the cake with its purple icing because we had substitute grape jelly for the strawberry.

I have never tired of reading cookbooks, and when I get going on a project, a mess is bound to ensue.

This morning’s project started with cookbook browsing last night. The browsing was prompted by a need to adjust my breakfast-eating habits to accommodate my new working schedule. I’m not working today, but on days when I do, I need to leave at ten o’clock and get home three-thirty or four, with no lunch period in an adjustable shift amounting to about four hours.

My first week, I tried waiting until about eight thirty before eating anything, then making something more akin to dinner than breakfast. This provided me with the fuel I needed, but did not sit well with my digestive system or my biological clock.

For this week, I am trying for more more traditional breakfast fare closer to my rising time, and then drinking a nutrition shake right before leaving for work. When I get home, I will have an early dinner.

Back in the kitchen this morning, I made corn cakes with raspberry compote with two strips of microwaveable bacon on the side. I made enough corn cakes for two days, so I will be able to warm up the leftovers tomorrow morning.

As usually happens, I learned a couple things while experimenting with a recipe.

The first was a moment of “Why have I never thought of this before?” The compote called for lemon zest, just a small amount. I grabbed the grater and the lemon I luckily found in the back of the fridge and started scraping. When I had enough zest, my yellow lemon had only a small white scar on its skin. I was about to slice into it to get the tablespoon of juice I also needed when it occurred to me to scrape off the rest of the zest and save it in the freezer.

Okay, so I am easily excited over odd little personal breakthroughs. This bit with saving the rest of the lemon zest was such an “aha moment” for me that I wanted to jump onto Facebook and share this amazing bit of news. Everything else I have had to say here sprang from that original impulse to share my joy.

Anyway, the other thing I learned was that I need to use gluten-free pancake mix instead of just GF flour the next time I make corn cakes. They didn’t much look like the fluffy cookbook picture. Instead, they gave new meaning to the phrase “flat as a pancake.” This is a hazard in converting regular recipes to my celiac needs.

I’ll do better next time. Now I’ll go clean the kitchen and see if I can earn the “Clean Kitchen Cook” award.

What does green spaghetti sauce have to do with tithing?

Chopping parsley and smashing  garlic cloves the other day, my mind wandered to a desert monastery I used to visit in California.  The  recipe from This Good Food (French Vegetarian Recipes from a Monastery Kitchen) probably led me along this path as my my gluten free spaghetti noodles bubbled on the stove.

The meals I had the good fortune to share at the monastery were simple and usually vegetarian.  The thing I remember most is the loving way it always was laid out for us guests and the monks as we all congregated in the dining room.  Seated at the long tables, enjoying maybe a simple vegetable soup or possibly an  egg dish or some fish, it always felt so nourishing to the soul as well as to the body.

This monastery houses Catholic Benedictine monks, but thoughts expressed by a Buddhist monk came to mind as my parsley and garlic became more and more aromatic in the hot olive oil.  I don’t recall the exact words, but Thich Nhat Hanh had a simple suggestion that has stuck in the back of my mind several years since I read it.  He was talking about the spiritual value of seeking out sources of food that were grown or prepared mindfully with respect.  He said it may be that it would cost more, but you could make up for the extra expense by eating less.

My choice to make spaghetti with green sauce is not related to the source of the food,  but it is related to the idea of eating a little less–or, in this case, cooking with fewer ingredients for a less expensive  meal. I am not on a weight loss program, but my budget is on a diet.  I have already had to keep a close watch on my pennies, but now I have made the decision to tithe.

My idea of tithing thus far has been to look at my budget after taking care of my monthly expenses,  and then include my church donation in the budgeting of what remains.  I felt pretty good about doing that.  When my daughter told me she and her husband were tithing ten percent of their income before expenses, I was shocked and even angry that they would hand over to their church such a big chunk of their hard-earned and much needed livelihood.

But I got to thinking about how important this church is to me.  I got to thinking about how when I was raising my daughter and we ran into hard times, I always tried to take care of her needs ahead of mine.  All Saints Episcopal feels like an adopted family that I want to grow with.  There are a lot of needs to be taken care of.

So, I am going to give it a try.  I am not including my income from my part-time retirement job because that is unpredictable and hopefully I can make it up with helping out in other ways.

Maybe I will make some Potato Leek soup tomorrow, perhaps some homemade gluten free cheese biscuits. This could be fun.