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.

Holidays Winding Down

I’m looking out the window at the new year getting ready to start. From my vantage point inside my cozy apartment it does not look like the seventeen degrees my computer is reporting for Bentonville this morning. Same old bare trees, green and brown grass, and piles of dry leaves blown against the fences.

In a few days I will store away my Christmas memorabilia until next year’s calendar dictates the time to bring it back out again.

Back to normal.

I remember a friend years ago telling me her little boy, two or three years old, just about broke his heart crying when they took down the Christmas tree. I guess he had assumed it was the “new normal.”

So here’s what I think.

It is unfortunate that commerce has done its best to usurp the season and make it about greed, but before this all got out of hand there was something else there. There still is. The hopeful “Spirit of Christmas” struggling to stay alive under all the ads for Black Friday and After Christmas sales.

At least we come around every year to a season when we remind each other to try to do something good for our neighbors, where we try to make at least a fleeting connection with family and friends, some who might otherwise drift away altogether.

All the sparkling lights and music and performances of A Christmas Carol come out, and they make us look. We at least tell ourselves stories about how hearts can soften and we can open our eyes and see what really matters.

I don’t think anyone has “taken Christ out of Christmas.”

Everyone who wants to celebrate the birth of Christ does it. The church holiday has not been erased or forgotten or forbidden. It shines on for anyone who wants to to participate. Most Christians that I am aware of celebrate Christmas both religiously and in the secular fashion.

And that is fine. It doesn’t narrow the field, it expands it. Goodwill towards everyone, in and out of church.

Wasn’t that Christ’s message?

For crying out loud in a bucket!

Frances and Bernie Underwood 1923, according to the note on the back of the photo. My mom at five years old with her first brother.

I woke up with a compelling need to find this photo and connect with the power and hope in those two round faces shining out from ninety-five years ago somewhere in Philadelphia.

I also woke up with Mom’s voice in my head: For crying out loud in a bucket! She did not swear, but this phrase fit the bill for her when a little something else was called for.

Sunday’s reading, Isaiah’s voice crying out in the desert, has also come to mind.

I like to think that Mom and Bernie reconnected happily in heaven after years of estrangement. I like to think Mom and I will reconnect some day on a better note. I hope for healing of the many disconnects and distances that have happened in our family, anybody else’s family, and the larger family of the world.

I’m not doing a good job of finding a way to express how this is all impacting me this morning, but I think Isaiah has it covered (40,6-8)

A voice says, “Cry out!”
I answer, “what shall I cry out?”
“All mankind is grass,
and all their glory like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower wilts,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it.
Though the grass withers and the flower wilts,
The word of our God stands forever.”