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Cooking Malfunctions

My parents use to say that they never needed to worry about me… that was the job of my 3 brothers. And over the years, each of them has looked after me in their own unique way. I can remember after one particularly awful date, while the octopod walked me to my front porch, he had the nerve to make one final assault on my chasten resolve not be become one of his conquests. Before I had an opportunity to plant an upper cut to his jaw, the front door opened, and there stood my 10 year old brother, in his jammies. “Is there a problem?” he questioned. “Not anymore”, I replied. And with that I turned my back on my date and went in the house. Just as I was closing the door I heard his tentative comment, “So, I’ll give you a call?” Jeeze! Anyway, when I was safely inside, I gave the little guy a hug, and asked him what he was doing up at midnight. “I didn’t trust that guy,” was all that he said as he climbed the stairs to bed.

But, every girl that has ever had brothers knows that brothers are definitely not all fun and games. On the average, for every good thing they did, there were usually a half dozen actions that I was ready to strangle them over. One of their most annoying behaviors was their incessant proclivity to share my culinary failures with would be suitors. I don’t why they thought it was so humorous, it’s not like most young men highly valued a girl’s gastronomic expertise. At this point in their lives, physical attraction and his date’s willingness to watch action films were all that truly matter. But that didn’t stop my brothers from falling into their roles as would-be comedians on open mike night at a comedy club.

They: Kim is such a bad cook, she burns Jello.

(Lie: I did not burn Jello. I just didn’t mix it thoroughly enough and when you dug into it you hit pockets of non dissolved Jello, which spewed dry powder into the face of unsuspecting diners.)

They: Kim is such a bad cook, she melts salads.

(Lie: I did not melt a salad… well, not directly, at least. My brother, his date, my date and I, were making dinner when my parents were out of town. My job was the salad. Being fair to me, the veggies had probably exceeded their “best if used by date” and the lettuce wasn’t very crisp. I had one of my scathingly brilliant ideas… why not pop the salad into the freezer for a few minutes to “crispen” it up! Now, I could go into all the scientific reasons which I learned about later in biology (stuff about cell walls and such) why this wasn’t a brilliant idea, but suffice to say, when I pulled the salad out of the freezer, it did in fact achieve my desired outcome. The lettuce was crisp. BUT, in the time it took to walk the salad to the table, the lettuce began to thaw, leaving behind a slimy vegetated mess that looked like it belong in the bottom of Mr. McGregor’s compost heap! God love my date, he valiantly slathered it with salad dressing and swallowed a couple of bites swearing it wasn’t so bad. When his third bite brought about involuntary gagging, the salad was removed from the table and the next course was introduced.)

They: Kim is such a bad cook it took 2 of us to carry her veggie meatloaf to the table.

(Lie: It did not take 2 of them to carry the veggie loaf to the table, it only took one, and it’s never been substantiated that this caused my brother’s hernia that required surgery!)

Over the years I’ve had my share of perceived cooking malfunctions. Just ask my children. There are 2 entrées in particular that all 3 of them site when discussing food prep gone awry. The first was a perfectly edible vegetarian spaghetti, made with spaghetti squash instead of noodles. I knew the recipe was doomed when my ex grumbled and groaned about it without so much as a taste. The children all watched him in anticipation as he begrudgingly took one miniscule bite. Then, with all the emote of a drama queen, he pushed the plate away, and promptly went to the phone and ordered a pizza. (And to think I’m not married to that man today… shocker!) Anyway, I wasn’t surprised when the children pushed their plates away with confidence as they looked to their father for approval. As for me…I sat at the table by myself and ate a perfectly lovely dinner. (Ah, truth be told… not so lovely! But I certainly wasn’t going to give Benedict Arnold the satisfaction of having me join them for pizza!)

The second food they all go on about was this very delectable chilled strawberry soup. It was one of the last days of school before summer vacation, and we were having their teachers over for lunch. I made this chilled strawberry soup and served it with a curried couscous chicken salad. Yum, right? Well, I could see them turning their noses up at the soup, but I gave them my best “don’t you dare do that in front of company” look, so under duress, they spooned what they considered to be a loathsome concoction into their mouths. Lunch was barely over before all 3 of them were in the bathroom throwing up. Seems they were all coming down with the flu, and lunch was enough to encourage its onset! To this day they blame their malaise on the soup, but I swear it was just a common, garden variety, virus that done them in!

Although today I have years of tried and true recipes tucked under my belt, I’m still open to trying new recipes and techniques. Case in point… Most days my grandbabies and their mother are over for lunch. Sometimes lunch is leftovers, sometimes I’ll prepare an entire meal, and about once a month I serve breakfast for lunch. This is generally one of their favorites, especially if pancakes and bacon are involved. Usually, I’ll buy this yummy maple flavored bacon to serve with pancakes. On this particular day, I did not have maple favored bacon, just regular bacon. So, dare I say it? I got another one of my scathingly brilliant ideas! Why not throw a little maple syrup in the pan while the bacon was frying? I often do that with left over ham, seemed to make sense that I could do the same with bacon. What I didn’t take into account was the temperature I was using to fry the bacon was evidently considerably higher than the temp I used to reheat ham. The temperature was hot enough to transform the syrup into a hard candy coating in seconds! Within a minute our bacon was securely preserved in a hard outer coating like a prehistoric mosquito in amber! Still hoping the bacon was edible I brought it to the table. Bug went to take a bite of the rigid bacon. Through clenched teeth that had been welded together by the candy coating he said, “Something’s wrong here!” We convinced him that as soon as the sugar dissolved he’d be able to move his jaws once again, but we realized there was no saving the bacon. Although the children were devastated, they weren’t nearly as surly about it as the 3 dogs who realized their bacon lust would go unrequited!

I’m hoping that my grandbabies were a little too young to have internalized this little culinary faux pas otherwise, I’m certain it would become yet another amusing anecdote to share at inopportune times. But who am I kidding? They are young, which means I have years and years to provide them with plenty of cooking disasters to enrich our family’s folklore!

Two types of cooking experiences get remembered…the really good and the really bad. But let’s face it…it’s the really bad ones that we love to recount over and over and over again!

Glimpses of an Elephant

There is an old Indian parable about 5 blind men and an elephant. The story goes that each man got to touch only one part of the animal. One man felt his tusk, one his trunk, one an ear, one his side, and one unfortunate soul, his tail. They were then brought together to give their interpretation of the elephant. As you can well imagine, their perceptions were drastically different. As in all parables, the purpose of the story was didactic…to teach the listeners a lesson. And what lesson can we surmise? I think there is a twofold message in this tale. First, each person comes to a situation from a different perspective. For that reason, we should be tolerant and respectful when other people’s values and insights differ from those of our own. And the second, we need to be careful when we try to assess a situation. Frequently, we are not given the complete picture…only snippets…which can lead from slightly to radically skewed assessments of the truth. Our news media is often guilty of this, sharing bits and pieces of a reality to provide a picture that they wish to convey. To get an accurate picture it is always a good idea to gather information from a variety of sources before forming our own opinions.

This certainly is one of my concerns with the internet, blogging in particular. Don’t get me wrong, I love the blogging world. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be a part of it. But there is a phenomena that I have observed that has given me cause for concern, and that is our propensity to bestow godlike qualities on some of the authors. And this really becomes problematic when we hold ourselves up juxtaposition to these demigods, and we compare our situation to theirs.

Young mothers, often functioning with sleep deprivation and low self-esteem (did I ever really fit in a size 6 and when is the last time I could actually see the wall-to-wall carpeting in the family room), are very susceptible to this behavior. Moms looking for insight and suggestions or just 15 leisurely minutes to themselves, surf the net and stumble open blogs being written by Mount Olympia moms. These women can do everything! They grow organic veggies, make 3 nutritious and preservative free meals a day, home school their brood, make all their children’s clothes and have abodes right out of House Beautiful. There are idyllic pics of their offspring running barefoot through sun dappled meadows, with heads thrown back in pure glee. Oh, and their husbands…their husbands are their own private cheerleading squad, praising their accomplishments, and orchestrating romantic outings. And if all of this wasn’t enough to fill a 48 hour day, they find the time, each and every day, to document their lives on camera, and write enthralling blogs that chronicle their Utopian existence.

So why do so many young mothers flock to these sites? Logically, it would seem that only slightly masochistic women would subject their egos to this type of scrutiny!  I’ve decided, when it comes right down to it, these blogs are so popular because they have become our modern day Harlequin Romances. Their blogs are a fantasy. In the back of our minds I think most of us know things can’t be as perfect as it seems, but it’s nice to dream!

Believe me, I don’t think any of these women that write these blogs are being deceitful, but they are only showing you part of the elephant. Just remember, all elephants have a butt! These women get yeast infections and lose their tempers, their children have meltdowns in the grocery store checkout line and flush wooden toys down the toilet, their mother-in-laws chide them for their childrearing practices and untidy houses, and their husbands need to work late and occasionally forget an anniversary! Their lives are not perfect. The internet is, after all, a parody of the real world, not a world in and of itself. All writers give you a glimpse of an elephant, not a photo of the whole beast. Trust me, where there’s a head, there’s a tail!

Wake Up Call

We had just gotten the last of our youngest son's belongings unloaded in his dorm room. Tim and I stood in the hall watching the orderly chaos as people went in and out, laden with what had finally been deemed necessities for campus survival. A couple of student guides, upper classmen that volunteered to help freshmen move in, were leaning against a wall within earshot of us. One collegian was recounting a story to the other.

Seems a mother of a new freshman had approached her with an unusual request. She wanted to make arrangements to have someone wake her son each morning.

"He has never been able to wake up on his own. I have to go into his room 2 or 3 times every morning before I can get him out of bed. If I can't find someone to get him up, he'll never make it to class." The stupefied guide informed her that there was no "wake up call" service on campus, and suggested she purchase a very loud alarm clock.

The woman had an incredulous look on her face. "But what happens if he doesn't get up?"

"Well", quipped the co-ed, "I guess he fails."

The woman called the young lady discourteous and rude. In a huff she set out to find someone that could help her. The 2 guides were aghast at the degree some parents coddled their children, and seriously questioned the somnolent offspring's ability to perform the most rudimentary hygienic rituals. "Without Mommy here to wipe his butt, I doubt he'll make it," they both agreed.

Now, being fair, I don't know the full story. Perhaps this young man suffered from a Rip Van Winkle disorder that interfered with the most basic of human skills...waking up. But, I'm willing to bet this probably wasn't the only life skill that eluded him, and sooner than later he would have to face a fundamental astronomical truth...the world did not revolve around him. In an earnest effort to take care of her child, this mother had unwittingly set her son up for failure.

Preparing our children to succeed in "the real world" must begin before they actually enter the real world. Here in lies the most basic of parental dichotomies...to truly help our children, sometimes we have to, well...not help.

As parents we are often frustrated by a 2 year old's desire to do something for themselves. Allowing a toddler to feed or dress themselves often creates more work for us, but it is an important stage to encourage and reward. A couple of weeks ago when my granddaughter pulled out 32 puzzles and mixed the pieces together to create a homogenized heap, she very confidently claimed she could restore order by herself. When we started to pick up puzzle pieces she quickly thwarted us with an outstretched hand and said, "No, Pixie do." Of course she did not have the dexterity or stamina to handle this task herself...but you have to admire her gumption! Teaching our children to take care of themselves as adults begins here and now. How we treat their efforts and reward their successes establishes a template for future accomplishments.

As children get older they may not be quite as enthusiastic about fending for themselves. Things like bathing, keeping their room clean and doing their homework can create confrontations of biblical proportions! Most teens are not elated by the prospect of doing dishes or laundry or vacuuming or getting a job, but if we are truly going to prepare our children to be successful as adults, it is imperative that first we teach and then expect a level of responsibility in keeping with their developmental abilities. A 2 year old can put away the puzzle she is playing with. A 6 year old can make his bed. A 10 year old can learn to load the dishwasher. A 14 year old can do a load of laundry. And an 18 year old definitely can use an alarm clock!

It behooves us as parents to begin teaching our children the "how tos" necessary to succeed as independent adults early. Although it may feel like meeting all our children's needs is synonymous with being a good parent, being a great parent involves learning to discern between what we should be doing for them, and what they should be doing for themselves!

Packing Love

When I was a child, my mother usually packed our lunch for school. I recall looking at the school hot lunch menu with my mom, and picking and choosing the lunches I would like to buy. For the most part, I preferred packed lunches…you knew what you were getting…or at least mostly. Sometimes there would be a surprise. Like occasionally she’d make scrambled egg sandwiches. In an effort to reproduce breakfast, she’d slather grape jelly on a piece of toast, scoop a heap of scrambled eggs on top, and cover it with another piece of jellied toast. I remember the first time I unpacked one of those babies…apparently there’s some type of chemical reaction that occurs when the acid in grape jelly commingles with the sulfur in eggs turning the eggs a lovely “gangrene green”. Looking at the kids around me you could observe several undulating torsos indicative of emanate retching that only occurs when a digestion system is in turmoil. Apparently, the appearance of the sandwich produced widespread nausea.

Them: Eeeeeewwww. You’re not really going to eat that, are you?

Me: (With a quick sniff and a shrug, took a mighty bite.)

At this point poor Joyce, who had the constitution of a first trimester preggo, went running out of the lunchroom with her hand over her mouth. But honestly, despite its unorthodox appearance, it really was a very good sandwich! (Unfortunately my children shared Joyce's aversion to scrambled eggs and grape jelly sandwiches, alas, missing a truly wondrous gastronomic experience!)

But the thing I remember most about my brown bag lunches wasn’t the occasional Twinkie or the waxed paper that kept our lunches fresh or even the green egg sandwiches, it was the bite that was missing from every sandwich my mom ever packed for us. I remember asking my mom why she did this. Her answer, “I need to make sure they’re okay.” I don’t know…as a kid that somehow made sense. I assumed it was some quality control thing she did. All I know is every time I unwrapped a sandwich, and saw my mom’s signature bite mark, I felt loved.

A note about the bite marks…it wasn’t until much later that I learned a dark truth about my mom…she was, no is, a lunchaholic. My mom loved everything about lunch. She liked the break in the day. She enjoyed the peace and solitude of having an undisturbed meal when we were at school and my dad was at work. And, she adored sandwiches! I’m willing to bet, if there was only one food my mom could eat for the rest of her life, it would be a sandwich. So, truth be told, when she took a bite out of our sandwiches, she wasn’t checking the mayo to mustard ratio or the freshness of the deli meats, she was indulging her addiction to lunch! But being fair, putting a sandwich in front of a lunchaholic would be no different then exposing a virgin's neck to a vampire…who’ll notice a little nibble, right? Actually, I guess we should be grateful she was able to stop at a single bite!

But when I began packing lunches for my children, even though the hideous truth about my mom had surfaced, I couldn’t help recalling how close I felt to my mom every time I unwrapped a sandwich and saw the bite missing. So, although I didn’t share my mom’s addiction to lunch, I would take a lone bite out of my children’s sandwiches. When they asked me why, I’d say, “It’s a kiss I’ve packed for you.” I hope they felt the love!

BTW…despite my mom’s infatuation with sandwiches, I know she packed love in our lunch everyday!


I'm Puzzled

I have started writing this week's blog several times and words are failing me. Today my daughter and I were having a lovely conversation while all three grandbabies were busy playing downstairs. These quiet times are a precious gift that we do not often get. But, when we went downstairs to collect said children, this is what we found.

I have just a couple of comments to make before I head downstairs and start shoveling. First, a flat, 2 dimensional photo cannot truly represent the cataclysmic disaster that results from a 2 year old dumping 32 puzzles on the floor. And second, when the mayhem was discovered, the aforementioned 2 year old sat perched on top of the stack with a puzzle board in 1 hand and 1 lone puzzle piece in her other hand and enthusiastically waved us of off say, "No, Pixie do it!"

Sometimes ya just have to laugh.