Love for a lifetime
One of my goals this year is to keep on cooking. Surprised? Of course not- anyone who knows me is aware that it’s part of my chemical makeup to work and play in the kitchen. In the Butterfield Gourmet shop we were cooking for the holidays right up through the Friday before Christmas. After we hung the “Closed for the Holidays” sign on December 21, the cooking didn’t stop, though the venue changed. Here’s a look at some of the culinary endeavors that occurred when we were NOT at Butterfield Gourmet.
December 21 - Chicken Vegetable Soup
December 22 - Korean Cooking Class*
December 23 - Grilled Lamb Chops, Double-Baked Potatoes, Roasted Broccoli, Salad, Tiramisu*
December 25 - Cinnamon Rolls for Breakfast; Roasted Prime Rib Roast with Bourbon Sauce and Horseradish Cream, Butter Poached Lobster Tails, Potato Pavé, Creamed Spinach, Winter Citrus Salad, Homemade Butter Rolls and Chocolate-Espresso Buche de Noel for dessert
December 29 - Beef Stroganoff (leftover rib roast!), Roasted Broccoli, Homemade Butter Rolls
December 30 - Baked Potato Soup, Green Salad
January 1 - New Cinnamon sweet roll recipe - fabulous; Glazed ham, Au Gratin Potatoes, Roasted Vegetables
January 2 - Italian Feast: Sausage, Rosemary & Pesto Pasta, Meatballs on Polenta Crostini, Caesar Salad, Garlic Spinach*
January 3 - Butterfield Beef Pot Pies for my daughter’s freezer
January 4 - Smoked Beef Brisket experiment in the Green Egg, Creamed Corn*
January 5 - Asian Feast: Pot Stickers, Spicy Chicken Wings, Pork Fried Rice, Sesame Chicken with Broccoli*
January 6 - Grilled Salmon and Asparagus, Roasted Red Potatoes*
January 7 - Nashville Hot Chicken, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Most of the meals/menus listed above were cooked/baked by me alone. Sometimes I feel like I can’t escape the kitchen; when I’m at work, I’m at the stove making soup or rolling out pie crust. While at home, I’m “fixing dinner” while my husband and son are catching a game on TV. But the best experiences from the above list are marked with an * and signify the meals that I worked with one of my family members to create.
So what I really want to do differently in 2019 is I want to cook fewer dishes alone and more meals with my loved ones. There was a time when my experience at the stove was at a medium level and working solo was the best way to successfully complete a meal. In those early days, if anyone—kids, dinner guests, parents—tried to help, they were often delegated to make the salad because a) you can’t mess up a salad and b) it ensured the helpers stayed clear of my prep zone. Nowadays, I direct my staff in helping me create the menu items that grace many familys’ tables on an everyday basis. I have become accustomed to cooking alongside employees, friends, and family.
One especially fun experience from the holidays was the Saturday that my son and I attended a Korean Cooking Class in a couple’s home. The session was a birthday gift from James to me—so thoughtful because 1) he knows I love to try new things and 2) I love spending time with him! We spent three hours learning a few new techniques, but mostly eating some diverse items. But it was a great way to spend an afternoon, chatting, cooking, and absorbing with my son.
Two things came out of that experience that I hope to bring to fruition in the new year. First, as I already mentioned above, I am making it a goal to be in the kitchen with at least one family member on the regular. Rather than be in separate rooms of the house, I will include my DH or any of my children in the preparation of meals. Second, I’d like to begin to share what I’ve learned from my time in the kitchen over the years—not only through Butterfield Gourmet meals—but also with instruction. I’d like to help YOU, my customer, reader, follower, take on the challenge of stepping out of YOUR comfort zone to
create an organized, workable kitchen space in your home,
develop weekly menus that fit with your busy lifestyle and/or,
learn new cooking and baking techniques to bolster your confidence in the kitchen.
This second goal/plan/resolve will take my love of all things culinary to a new level in assisting others, thereby bringing more satisfaction and joy surrounding food. I want to feel full in Body & Soul! I’ll keep you posted on how this goal is shaping up in the next few months but feel free to reach out with questions!
Cheers to a delicious 2019!
A year ago, in the early ambitious hours of January 2018, I challenged myself with a commitment to cook every recipe in Fine Cooking magazine. Twelve months later, let me update you on how that resolution turned out….well, it wasn’t a Super Bowl season but I definitely batted a better than .500 average. (mixed sports metaphors ‘cause that’s just me)
By the numbers, I feel like a failure. I completed only 124 new recipes out of 215. Remember that I was trying to complete EVERY recipe, which mean I was 91 short. The individual issue stats were as follows:
Dec 2017/Jan 2018: 81%
Feb/Mar 2018: 68%
Apr/May 2018: 65%
June/July 2018: 56%
Aug/Sept 2018: 51%
Oct/Nov 2018: 21% - ouch!
As with many resolutions, one’s adherence to a goal drops off over time. I grew tired of trying to incorporate new recipes with difficult-to-find ingredients into my weekly menus. Publishing and executing a new menu almost every week of the year is challenging enough without including recipes that I’ve never attempted. In summary, I DID NOT COMPLETE THIS GOAL.
But on the flip side, I
learned a fool-proof technique for making frites (french fries) on the stove without a deep-fryer, thermometer, or any other fancy double-fry method
incorporated Indian-inspired dishes onto the BG menu, having never dared before
tried (and failed miserably) making three different “inside-out” roasts where the stuffing was rolled on the outside of the beef, pork and lamb cuts—a costly experiment to be sure but fun, nonetheless
made Chashu Ramen from scratch and discovered the multiple days required with many different steps really wasn’t worth the end result (we’ll be eating ramen at a noodle house for the foreseeable future, thank you)
fell in love with homemade gnocchi
experimented with four new takes on pot pie, one of which has been permanently added to the BG rotation
ordered lobster from Maine to bring authentic lobster rolls to my menu
tested several cream pie recipes, much to the delight of my DH, whom I love to please with culinary treats
So was the resolution a bust? I don’t think so. The positives I gleaned from the process far outweigh the actual numbers. And who’s to say I cannot continue the endeavor? Why can’t I keep cooking my way through the magazines until I’ve made each and every recipe? I won’t put it at the top of my goals list for 2019 but it can still be a goal, right?
I’m including my favorite recipe from the year, Cold-fry Frites, in case you want to give it a whirl. Always be trying something new—it’s an opportunity for growth, change and fun!
My friends have long teased me about “Ruth’s birthday month.” Honestly, the ribbing is well-deserved because over the years I have managed to celebrate my birthday which falls in the first week of November over the remaining weeks of the month; a couple of lunches one week, dinner and shopping the next week, brunch with family and cocktails with friends, sometimes a long weekend trip to a food destination too. The streak continued for quite a number of years and I basked in all the attention. Until finally my three adult children decided to sabotage my birthday month by each finding mates whose birthdays also fell in November! Can you believe the audacity? That they would dare to horn in on my birthday month so that we now must celebrate their spouses in the midst of my once-dominant four weeks of celebration?! LOL, I am so completely kidding. It was a very nice trade-off to gain three wonderful family members and give up my 30 days of celebrations.
But I rocked it for 2018, in commemorating our 30th anniversary with meal, after glorious meal. For this grand milestone, we managed to stretch the celebration for six months! Beginning in May, at a lovely Michelin starred restaurant in Barcelona, and ending last week in a long weekend trip in southern California, we’ve celebrated over some memorable meals along the way. The following are a couple of the highlights enjoyed most recently.
Anniversary Party at Venue Forty⎜50, Addison, Texas
Yes, we threw ourselves a party and my only culinary contributions were apple pie and a chocolate cake. It was such a fun evening with all of our children, parents, siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews. The food was excellent and the venue staff could not have been more professional, helpful, or pleasant. We will definitely host another party here and I cannot more highly recommend the venue, owned and operated by Macklin’s Catering to all of you.
Uchi, Dallas, Texas
October 18 was our actual anniversary and after a long day of cooking a special menu for my customers, I was thrilled to be taken out to dine for the first time at the much-talked about sushi restaurant. Our server began the evening on a perfect tone when learning our newbie status, by asking if we would allow him to construct a meal for us of his favorite menu items. As he had served there since their opening in 2015, and because he thoughtfully inquired about allergies and budget, we appreciated his offer and accepted. The evening was perfect and his selections flawless; we highly anticipate returning for another fabulous meal.
Fig + Olive, Newport Beach, California
Although this restaurant is owned and operated by a corporation, we quite enjoyed a delicious dinner beginning with 6 different crostini and ending with an anniversary flourless chocolate cake. The Fashion Island location boasts beautiful decor, impeccable staff and tasty meals. Added bonus: it was within walking distance from our hotel on a beautiful California evening, the perfect setting in which to end six months of celebrations.
Of course, the most remarkable thing about all of these parties, dinners and experiences is that I’ve been walking this life with my very best friend for over thirty years. I am so blessed. So very blessed and in awe that God could be so good. The travel is fun, the meals are pleasurable but it’s the relationship with this amazing man for which I am most grateful. I love you, JB; you’re my one and only forever. ❤️
I first became aware of the Partners Card 20 years ago when my children were young. At the time, I understood it to be a great shopping perk, using the 20% discount at many popular retailers as an excuse to kick off the holiday gift-buying season. My friend that introduced me to the Partners Card also invited me to the first Chi Omega Christmas market that I ever attended. Shopping with girlfriends became a new, fun pastime, one I hadn’t really ever enjoyed.
It wasn’t until a couple years later that I really read the literature and learned that Partners Card is the signature fundraiser for The Family Place, the largest family violence agency in Texas. And that 100% of each Partners Card purchase goes directly to supporting survivors of family violence. Over 100 women are killed by their domestic partners each year in North Texas.
The Family Place provides tremendous support for women who cannot escape the violence brought on by those they trust, and that’s why I buy a card every year. It seems like a small contribution but $70 pays for 1 night in a shelter for a woman to hide from her attacker. My hope is that the number of domestic violence deaths can reduce to zero thanks to the work that this organization is doing in the community.
This week, to coincide with Partners Card sales, Butterfield Gourmet will donate 10% of all sales to The Family Place. If you are interested in purchasing a Partners Card to help end domestic violence, visit their website for the available retail locations.
Our society places a lot of stock in celebrity status. Star in a movie (or even appear on screen), you're adored. Make it to the majors in any sport, instantly an icon. Sell a few thousand albums, gain a million followers. Or, appear sans clothing in self-made videos (a la Kardashian) and you might even get your own reality TV show. Many people consider these individuals to be heroes and idolize their every move.
I'm not much of a groupie person myself (other than revering Super Chef status, natch) because I feel that celebrities are just people like you and me. They get dressed every morning and brush their teeth. They have highs and lows. They love, lose, cry, mourn, rejoice, live, and die. And sometimes, the way in which celebrities live their lives is not only undeserving of hero-worship but downright shameful.
Today I want to briefly mention a superstar who made a point of using his celebrity status to make someone special to me feel like she was the brightest star in the universe. My niece, Faith Elizabeth Kuhn, suffers from spina bifida. She is 12 years old, has been through 15+ surgeries since birth and she has a huge, pre-adolescent crush on Chicago Cubs third baseman, Kris Bryant. Through a friend of the family in Albuquerque, Kris learned of her "feelings for him" (i.e. "He's hot!") and made arrangements to bring Faith, her two siblings, and parents to Chicago to watch a home game. It was a surreal experience for the entire family, of which Faith shared "was a like a dream come true." I am so grateful to Kris Bryant and his lovely wife for showing real love to my extended family. The very successful athlete was heroic in his compassion and generosity.
However, if you’re with me on this…you’ll agree that the spunky 12-year-old is the real hero in this story. My sister and her husband, from the time she was in the womb and learned that she would be born with this very limiting disability, knew there was a reason this child should share their life and appropriately christened her Faith. And with each year and new surgery, all of the pain and discomfort, missing out on school and time with friends, none of the trials seem to dim her thousand-watt smile. Faith has a strength of will and determination that many children and even adults lack, despite perfect health.
In two weeks, Faith will undergo her most trying surgical experience to date. Due to a major growth spurt, she needs a rod removed from her spine because it is threatening to twist her little body into a most unnatural shape. She will be in traction for two weeks to stretch her spine and spinal chord. After this painful stint in the hospital, she will possibly endure another surgery involving rib removal. And then another for final fusion in two places along her spine. Through it all, Faith and the entire Kuhn family will remain, well, faithful. Won’t you join me in praying for this little warrior who heroically trudges on through the trials of her young life?
I am a self-proclaimed bookworm. No, correction: I WAS a self-proclaimed bookworm. Although I enjoy reading as much as I ever did, I don't commit the hours to the pastime as I did in childhood. My annual book average has begun to climb again, thanks to time on the elliptical machine, but truthfully, some years I am lucky to ready 6-7 books with the bulk of the reading done on a beach. I am guilty of devoting too many minutes to the internet, social media sites, and cooking magazines to claim loyalty to the written words of authors. So the rest of the year, outside of vacation, can be barren of my former favorite hobby.
This past August, I was able to get through just one book while on vacation and it was a doozy. Weighing in at 842 pages, this paperback was a commitment--to travel with and haul down to the beach every day. But I experienced immense satisfaction when I finished the tome--a hefty book will do that--and I am happy to recommend it to you. Stephen King's 11/22/63 is not exactly a thriller but it is a fascinating, easy read that makes the reader wonder at the possibility of time travel.
Currently I have my nose tucked into two books: the first is a charming, sweet little fiction by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows titled The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, recommended to me by my daughter. It's composed of a series of letters and I read a little each day and the sweet little notes contained therein take me back to a time when I loved writing to pen pals. A good book will always inspire you to try something new, take up an old hobby, or reflect on a strong belief.
I am also currently reading my favorite book ever. I've downloaded Little Women to my Kindle app to read while I'm exercising. And even though I am not turning the pages as I did on the first occasion that I devoured this book (I was probably 8 years old), I'm still tearing up and feeling the varied emotions I experienced as a child reading the novel under my covers after my parents told me to go to bed.
Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is the first novel that I read multiple times. But thoughts of my favorite book have been drifting in my subconscious, untouched for quite some time. While on vacation in August, I spied a review for a new book titled Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why it Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Alcott's original publication and reading some of the English professor's thoughts on the classic stirred my desire to read it again.
Why is Little Women preserved on my mind's shelf of all time best reads? I cannot point exactly to the reason...I remember that I strongly identified with Jo, the primary protagonist and her love, no, need to write. And as Rioux points out, apparently I am not not alone in this character identification.
The timeless novel about four sisters who are the best of friends has been named by numerous female authors as their literary inspiration and Rioux credits Alcott's cultural influence to include many pop-culture characters of whom our daughters and sons have read and watched voraciously. (Hermione Grainger, Katniss Everdeen, the Gilmore Girls, etc.) And although the influence is there, I worry that today's generation will not experience Little Women anymore--as it seldom appears on their required reading.
Can you do me this favor? Will you buy a copy of Little Women and give it as a gift to a young person in your life? Encourage them to read it? If you've never read the novel, will you give it a try on my recommendation? I hope this lovely novel, that has inspired my personal writing journey will live on and be loved by many in the future. It would be such a shame if Little Women drifted into obscurity. It is a precious American work that deserves a place on every bookshelf in every home.
“I like good strong words that mean something.” — Jo March
It's Father's Day, another made-up Hallmark holiday that actually has turned into a worthy occasion. After all, without a card company to tell us that we need to celebrate the special someones in our lives, would we ever get around to telling them how much they mean to us? Maybe we would, maybe not. But I'm going to use this excuse to share with you about not a father figure in my life, but my husband, the father of my children.
In case I've never really said it, JB's kind of great. He is patient, sweet, funny, generous, intelligent, and ambitious. He has adored his children from the first moment he held them in his arms as infants. He also imparted his Faith to our children, raising them to seek God and follow His ways. JB preaches tough love to his kids but then worries about them incessantly. He loves to laugh with them, and to make them crack up. He looks forward to golf outings with his sons more than any other humans. He enjoys sharing what he knows about life, travel and business with his family, teaching them as much as he is able. All of these things make him a really great Dad.
But there is one thing that JB especially does well that makes him an all-star father: He loves his kids' mom. In our house, we believe that the Marriage is the foundation on which the family is built. So we have always tried to put our relationship as the top priority. Not to say that the children are excluded from the inner circle, but that they are outer rings that form the family with parents that love each other at the core. So on Father's Day, I am so grateful to this man that has adored, protected and loved me like I never knew was possible. His commitment to "Us" is steadfast and true, and there would be no family without his dedication to all of us. Life is not perfect. But I am blessed beyond measure to be walking this imperfect life with the man that is The One for me.
On the lighter side...when our children were young, my husband was highly skilled at playing what came to be known as the "daddy game." It's a very simple game--someone starts to tell a story about their day and invariably, Dad repeats a part of the story back to the teller, but mispronounces one of the names as though he misheard. The storyteller corrects his mistake and he acknowledges but then continues to repeat the incorrect usage until finally, the child wises up and realizes that Dad is doing it on PURPOSE. It is a father's right to tease and torment his children, don't you agree? BTW, JB answers to many names in our circle: there's Dad, Pops, and Daddy; also JB, Loverboy, Butterman, Master of the Universe, Captain Obvious and lastly, Johnny B, when he speaks of himself in 3rd person, usually after performing a signature dive into the pool.
Hope you all have a wonderful Father's Day filled with laughter and good food. Be sure to hug your daddy or your children's daddy or someone who likes to be called daddy. Hugging is always a good thing.
Three countries. Five cities. Ten days. It was an ambitious trip but we managed to accomplish two end goals: bring our son home from his semester abroad and eat our way across several different regions. We were also able to celebrate 30 years of marriage with every glass of champagne or prosecco, beginning on the flight over! So the journey was a success and I am excited to share so many delicious memories with my readers.
Our flight touched down in Barcelona in the early morning and we hit the ground running. After a quick Cafe Americano at the charming Cotton House hotel, we hopped on a bus to drive by popular sites and get our bearings. Ignoring the chilly weather and any tinges of jet-lag, we capped off our first evening with a walking Tapas Tour. If you know me at all, you know that I L-O-V-E nibble food, so I was more than ready to check out this very Spanish style of noshing.
Our guide led us and two other couples through the Mercat de la Boqueria where we sampled Serrano Jamon and Manchego cheese from little paper cones, nibbled on cocoa covered hazelnuts and gaped at the butcher stands where EVERY part of the animal was available for purchase. We also visited two different style Tapas Bars--the first served popular tapas family style at the table: Patatas Bravas, fresh tomato bread, marinated peppers and veggies, croquetas, and Tortilla Española all came out in little dishes to be shared by the group. The second establishment offered a pinchos buffet. In this style of bar, you help yourself to any number of tapas varieties, all skewered on toothpicks, and the server simply counts the number of empty picks on your plate to calculate your bill. Seafood figured heavily into these offerings.
My takeaways from casual food in Barcelona:
- Amazing slices of bread on which you spread fresh tomatoes that are so tender, they burst open when you rub the fruit on the crispy surface
- Spanish extra-virgin olive oil which I loved drizzling over the above mentioned bread
- Paper thin slices of jamon (spanish ham)
- Salty, delicious manchego, a sheep's milk cheese that makes my heart sing
You could serve me the above items any night of the week and I would call it dinner! So first day/night done, and we were able to see a little of the city, taste some of it's flavors, partake of some wine and we were off to a great start.
The next day dawned cold and rainy in the city so we headed out on an hour train ride to visit Montserrat and the monastery set in the mountain. Our lunch at the Restaurant Montserrat was surprisingly lovely--surprising because most of the patrons are tourists and we've all experienced mediocrity of touristy establishments--lovely due to the inexpensive bottle of wine we shared (thought we were ordering a couple of glasses, got the entire bottle!), the fresh tomato bread, and the seafood we consumed.
That evening marked another culinary milestone for us...we dined at a Three-Star Michelin restaurant: Lasarte was elegant, subdued, and pleasantly meticulous. The service was perfection, casually friendly but at the same time, oh so professional. After we made our course decisions, a parade of amuse bouche found its way to the table. My favorite: a jalapeño ice cream that melted into a foam with a single salty clam. And of course, I loved the array of flavored butters presented in tiny little logs to accompany our bread selections. There were five flavors to choose from and I couldn't eat enough bread to sample them all! Our main courses of Chargrilled Pigeon (him) and Sea Bass (me) were stunning. It was a gastronomically excellent night and a wonderful way to celebrate our anniversary.
Our final day in Barcelona was spent self-touring the cathedral and Ramblas area and a quick stop at the beach. For a mid-morning snack, we stumbled upon a pastry shop, Caelum, where we sipped cappuccino and agonized over which nun-produced pastries we wanted to try. No lie: the shop specializes in "heavenly" sweets baked by nuns from all over the country! For lunch we sat in sunny Plaça Reial and shared yet another board of tomato bread and serrano ham as well as a bottle of wine. (What?! I was on vacation!) Our only disappointing meal: the paella at Vez Pella, (which came highly recommended) which was served with little shrimp instead of the promised ubiquitous prawns.
And we were on to the next city...
*The above title translates to "Part One: Barcelona, city of tapas and paella."
It's funny how many young people I speak with whom love the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Sure, it's classic rock-n-roll but it's not like their songs are played over the radio waves or in restaurants these days and therefore in their every day consciousness. More than likely, their parents are/were huge fans back in their youth. Often these young people grew up hearing stories of amazing concerts or have listened to their parents' collection of vinyls or cds and their testament that the band was "the greatest of all time!"
In my young missionary-kid existence, things were a little different. My parents went to "The Jesus People" concerts (not kidding! they were a quartet of two young women and two young men who sang under that moniker). And they also attended the Billy Graham Crusade when the reverend came to Taipei, Taiwan in 1975.
There's no denying the man's impact on the world. He was an evangelist that never forgot his vocation, taking his mission--to spread the word and love of God--to every corner of the globe. And in his 5 decades+ ministry, he managed to reach 185 countries and 215 million people. He had personal relationships with every president from Truman to Obama. And yet he was the evangelist who never tried to profit from followers, nor build a megachurch, nor run for president. He was not a womanizer but was married to his wife, Ruth, for 63 years until she passed in 2007.
No man is perfect, but I feel the Reverend Billy Graham was an amazing role model for us today. And that's why I'm okay with admitting I was kind of groupie for that humble, non-self-serving man of God. And as a member of the Billy Graham fan club, let me share a few fun facts about the man of which you may or may not be aware:
- His birthday is November 7. And so is mine!
- His wife's name is Ruth. And so is mine!
- Ruth was raised a child of missionaries in Asia. Me too!
- Billy was a southern boy, born in North Carolina. I was born in Kentucky!
- He loved McDonald's. Oops, not me, but maybe when I was a child?
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16 (Rev. Billy Graham's favorite Bible verse)
Guest post by Lara Slabisak
Salty. Sour. Sweet. Spicy. The four components of nearly every Thai dish, and the underlying structure behind what allows Thai food to strike that delicate balance between brightness and warmth. Think: yin and yang – seemingly contradictory forces working together to create complex flavor profiles worthy of lending Thai food the epithet “French Fare of the East.” It’s one of those cuisines that has an answer to every occasion and craving.
This January, my family and I were able to spend three incredible (delectable) weeks in Thailand, where my father was born. I had not been back to visit my family there for a few years, but felt instantly at home as I was greeted with plates of coconut sticky rice and mango, mounds of pomelos, and bowls filled with green and yellow curry. I was inspired this trip to taste each food with a discerning tongue and the intention of bringing back some Thai culinary know-how and dishes to add to my arsenal. I tried not to shy from anything, even the street carts boasting unidentifiable seafoods and congealed pigs blood soup…but don’t worry, I left everything I ever wanted to know about pig’s blood there.
What I learned: Cooking Thai food can be deceptively difficult. If you look at a list of ingredients in a recipe, they are seemingly simple and few. The tricky part lies in achieving that delicate balance of flavor I spoke about before. You don’t want to overpower the subtle hints of lemongrass and galangal in Tom Kha with too much salt, or assault your Pad Thai with an overabundance of lime juice. To master this, the structure-loving, rule follower in me wanted to know exactly how much of each component is required to attain that intricate balance so I can reproduce each dish perfectly and consistently every time. However, this trip I learned that to authentically create harmony and complexity in a dish, I had to throw my measuring spoons and desire to strictly follow a recipe to the wind and instead “cook with my tongue”…as my aunt would say.
I can’t help but think that this is great life advice too. It’s okay to deviate from the script in the name of exploration. Maybe you’ll happen upon a new favorite flavor combo! Don’t shy from trying new ingredients or methods. If there’s a better way, find it. Allow space for your palette to grow! Maybe you can only stand one Thai chili pepper per dish before scurrying to grab the closest glass of water (me), but eventually your tastes will mature and change.
Life certainly doesn’t give us the perfect recipe to follow. This can sometimes be scary, but it’s also exhilarating! That means we have the chance to discover, even if through our mistakes, something new and exciting each time we have the audacity to step out and take a risk. So here is my charge…As we approach this week, may we be adventurous, make mistakes, and cook outside the lines!
I am the first to admit that I have an unusual background. Born in Kentucky, childhood in the mission field in the Far East, adolescence and college in the American Southwest, and finally adulthood in the great state of Texas. To say my culinary influences are wide and varied is a vast understatement! If you’ve read my blog, you know that I draw heavily from my Asian influences (Chinese New Year) and my time in New Mexico (love me some Hatch green chiles). But I most often return to the South where my mother first learned to cook American classics.
During my infant & toddlerhood in Wilmore, Kentucky, Mom was blessed by neighbors and friends who shared recipes and techniques with her that she was able to prepare for her young family. The biggest takeaway: Fried Chicken shaken in a paper sack. (original blog post here) Because I love fried chicken, I am repeatedly tweaking new recipes not to necessarily improve on the original, but to add another option to my arsenal.
Last summer I became quite obsessed with making a perfect fried chicken sandwich. Not gonna lie: I have loved Chick-fil-A in my life…I remember being a teenager in Albuquerque, working at Orange Julius in Coronado Mall and trying their sandwich for the first time. It was a revelation! Best mall food ever! (Oh, and Hotdog on a Stick, but that’s another story.) Even these days, if the only option available is fast food when we are on the road, we head for the red and white sign.
Back to the perfect fried chicken sandwich. I made the first batch for the hubby and me to take to the Memorial Day concert at Flagpole hill. I am all about those picnics and the bubbly that usually accompanies the lawn food! They were good, but the breading was a little thick for my liking, the slaw too spicy, the roll too much. For my second try, another picnic, a wider audience: my two sons, daughter-in-law and us for the July 4th concert at Heritage Park in Farmers Branch. The sandwich received 5 thumbs up.
James loved them so much that the recipe made his “last meals” request before heading to his semester abroad in January. We invited a few of his friends over for a send-off meal and this time, the chicken breasts got a special pickle juice bath and I cut them in half and served them on slider buns. 3 dozen sandwiches and 7 college boys later, I knew I’d found the winning combination.
So what’s next? I need a new favorite southern recipe to try out and make my own. Any suggestions?
In December I attended a breakfast where the guest speaker encouraged each of us to find our "mission statement" and to try to keep it to 6 words or less. We could then refer to our self-created statement to help make decisions for the new year. Initially, I decided my 6 word sentence would be "I will do what benefits my family." Therefore, when an opportunity would arise in the coming year to travel somewhere, participate in an event, etc., I could ask myself "will this benefit my family?" and with a yes or no, discern how to act.
However, after the events of the past few weeks, I feel the need to make it simpler than the 6-word mission statement. We lost a dear friend in December and in mourning his passing, we have felt a deep loss that is tinged with regret for missed opportunities. So my desire moving into 2018 is to Cherish. I will
- Cherish my sweet, sweet husband. We will celebrate our 30th anniversary in 2018. What a blessing he is to me every. single. day.
- Cherish my family. For the first time in four years, I had everyone home for Christmas. My daughter and her family were here from Atlanta and three littles ones, aged 5 years and under, will make any event exciting! They also brought the joyful news that they are expecting their fourth in May! We had a full house and full hearts.
- Cherish my parents and in-laws. We are very fortunate to have all four alive and kicking. But time is passing and as the priest said at my friend's funeral mass, we are all terminal. I want to cherish every bit of time I have remaining with these wise people who have shaped my life and that of my mate.
- Cherish my friendships. I don't always think about my friends every day but now I see how every interaction is so precious; life is unpredictable so I need to cherish the moments I have with my friends and not waste any time or energy on negative or petty feelings.
- Cherish my health. Yes, this body of mine creaks and aches more than in my youth. Yes, I have to watch what I eat and exercise just to maintain my daily stamina. But it's the only body I have and it hasn't failed me yet.
- Cherish the downtime. The quiet moments when I can pray, reflect and meditate are also a sweet part of life and I will not take them for granted.
- Cherish the everyday. While working, writing, going to the grocery store, interacting with customers, rolling out pie crust, stirring over the stove, each moment that I am simply able to do these tasks + touch other's lives does not repeat and I will see the joy in each one.
So enough about me...what's your word for 2018?
I am an obsessive journaler. Beginning in 2000, I have consistently written about our everyday lives in little snippets first on scrapbook calendar pages and then in dedicated notebooks. The entries are nothing exciting - simple commentaries on what I did each day - how far I walked, what I cooked for dinner, what movies we watched, even the time I woke up. But today I am grateful for my journal habit because I can tell you the day on which I met Dominic & Rosemarie Coletto.
It was August 18, 2001, at the St. Ann Supper Club kick-off potluck. John and I had been assigned to the same group as the Colettos for the current round. It was the first time for them to join the club and we were veterans. I wrote that we met "a cute couple from Chicago" and that it had been a fun evening. Also noted: on September 29, Dom & Rosemarie hosted the first gathering for our group of five couples. They were new to the supper club and yet jumped right in to host in their usual welcoming way. Dinner was fabulous - I remember that she made Beef Braciole and Risotto--I was so impressed and according to my journal, we stayed until 1:30 am!
There was an immediate connection between the four of us. John and Dominic were both in sales; Rosemarie and I both loved to cook. But deeper than those superficial commonalities was a love of our faith, commitment to our marriages and tough-love parenting styles. Deep friendships are rare and precious in this day and age and we knew we'd found a special bond in those two.
Over the years we shared many occasions and created lifetime memories together. Because we both lived in Texas and away from extended families, we began to celebrate Christmas eve dinners together. One year the Colettos would host the meal and we would bring dessert and the next year, the Butterfields would host and they would provide the sweet ending. It was Rosemarie who introduced us to the Feast of the Seven Fishes. There were a lot of poppers and goofy pictures with paper crowns, but mostly there was so much laughter! And drinks. And champagne. And delicious meals. Sometimes we played games. Always lots of pictures. Grandma Rita was a part of these festivities before she was taken too early from this earth. But each Christmas Eve was a joyful night of friendship and family.
We took family vacations together to Florida and Mexico. And a memorable couples long weekend to San Diego after we "won" the trip at the Bishops Ball. There were Easter brunches and dinners out at the newest restaurants in Dallas. Two surprise birthday parties. We saw each other through 7 high school graduations and 4 college commencements. Dominic and Rosemarie were present at each of our 3 grown children's weddings. We've been through job changes, house moves and child rearing challenges. We've shared so much together.
The latest chapter in our friendship has been Dominic's illness. On August 22, 2016, we had dinner in downtown Dallas for a belated birthday celebration for Rosemarie. The following morning, she texted me to ask how we were feeling because Dominic had been violently ill overnight. That week marked the beginning of his journey fighting a horrible disease. And fight it he did. We knew without a doubt that he was not going to let cancer take him down. And if it did, he'd go down swinging. Those fists were still going when he lost that battle on December 26, 2017. It is with so much heartbreak and sadness that I must acknowledge that my friend Dominic could not defeat his illness and has left his earthly body to join his Heavenly Father.
He leaves behind his beautiful, devoted Rosemarie and their daughters, Danielle, Alyssa and Olivia. Additionally, he leaves a legacy of a life well-lived and so many memories for those of us who knew him well and those who were merely acquaintances. Below are a few of my thoughts and musings on my friend, Dominic.
- He is a devoted Catholic, born and raised, reignited by the Christ Renews His Parish movement. He served tireless hours in Eucharistic Adoration, oftentimes in the middle of the night. Beyond the Church, he knows Christ as his Lord and Savior and acknowledges God's dominion over his life.
- Dominic is a grateful, committed husband and his marriage to Rosemarie is an enviable example of two souls who have found their home in each other.
- He is a cool dad. Loved and adored by three daughters, always able to make them laugh, and having a special bond with each of them. I see Dominic in Danielle's steely determination; in Alyssa's gregariousness, drawing all into the circle; in Olivia's tenacity and drive.
- Dominic is a SPORTS FAN. Chicago Bears, Dallas Mavericks, Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Cubs, Oklahoma Sooners. John and he shared so many conversations in text and in person about sports analysis, predictions and game-time plays.
- He is a story teller. Not as in tall tales, but as in relaying an occurrence detail by detail. Occasionally we would tease him by saying "is there a point to this story?" But he loves to tell a good tale especially one that ends in irony.
- Dominic has an amazing sense of humor--he loves to make people laugh and he loves to hear jokes. His ability to slip in a conversation-stopping one-liner is legendary. One of my favorite Dominic lines: "What can I say? I'm a guy."
- He is a loyal friend. Dominic can keep secrets, provide counsel, offer advice and give encouragement.
And Dominic is not really gone. He's still present in Rosemarie's tears, Danielle's laugh, Alyssa's ready humor and Olivia's sports enthusiasm. That is why I say Farewell, my Friend and not Goodbye. Dominic, you are not forgotten and and we feel your presence and love even now and anticipate a joyful reunion with you in heaven.
I have friends who think every restaurant is good.
I'm serious. I have never heard them proclaim, "that place is awful." They like them all. On the flip side, I also know people who are sooooo hard to please. They nit-pick every aspect about dining out, even at fast-casual and self-serve establishments. I'm probably somewhere in the middle.
I really care about quality, flavors, portions, and presentation. I want my food to TASTE GOOD. The dining experience is a whole different ball of wax and can influence my impressions of a restaurant, but really the question is, does the food please my palate and satisfy my hunger?
Our bodies require the intake of meals to sustain life. Simply put, God made us that way. Regardless of taste and seasoning, the food we take in will keep our bodies running. But I believe that another truth is that because we don't have a trade-in option on the original chassis, we should take the best care we can of the bodies we currently inhabit. So when and where we can, we should choose healthy options created with real ingredients and as little processing as possible. And maybe make it a point every day to consume some raw fruits, nuts and vegetables that God placed on the earth to sustain us.
(But...I'm not gonna lie. I eat chips & salsa. And halloween candy. It's okay to eat bad stuff sometimes. A little splurge can ensure sanity, am I right?)
I just love how everyone has their own name for certain dishes…whether it’s a regional thing, family history or even happenstance based on a memory or experience. I ran across this situation recently when in New York, having dinner with a group of women. If I recall correctly, we were discussing dietary limitations and I mentioned that I had gone “Whole30” for the month of January and thereby consumed a lot of eggs for breakfast.
Growing up, I must admit that I was not a “breakfast girl.” I didn’t like oatmeal, pancakes, waffles, or eggs. Cereal, toast and bacon were the few things I enjoyed for my morning meal. My father, however, adored all breakfasts, especially any variety of eggs my mother was serving up. One of her specialties was Roundin’ Eggs, for which she would cut perfectly round disks out of the center of a piece of sandwich bread using an upturned juice glass. She would then toast the bread and the little disks in a frying pan and crack an egg into the center of the hole in the toast. She’d slather the little crisp round toasts with butter & jam to serve alongside the Egg in Toast. I would happily eat all of those little disks but she insisted I eat an egg as well, much to my pouty disappointment.
What? Your version of Egg in Toast wasn’t called Roundin’ Eggs? Maybe you called yours Egg in a Basket or One-Eyed-Jack? Egg in a Hole? Moonstruck Eggs? (Do you remember the scene from that movie with Cher and Nicholas Cage? Olympia Dukakis plays Cher’s very Italian mother and cooks these eggs for her, adding roasted red peppers on top of each egg before serving them to the breakfast table. It’s a very famous foodie scene.)
My favorite variation has to be the cute story one of the ladies in NYC relayed to me about her parents. Terry told me that when her parents were newly married, her mother, Ronnie, wasn’t much of a cook. But she worked hard to please her new husband and one morning he requested french toast for breakfast. Well, she didn’t have Google to help her look up what a recipe for that dish entailed! So she made the fanciest (and to her, French) breakfast she could imagine, by cracking an egg in the middle of toast. He loved it and the dish was christened Ronnie’s French Toast.
I have finally grown up and love many things for breakfast…bagels & lox, green chile scrambled eggs in a tortilla, chicken ‘n waffles, blueberry pancakes, and of course, Roundin’ Eggs!
If you’ve been following along with the blog, you’ll know I’ve been working on monthly resolutions.
January – Ditch the Grudge
February – Pay it Forward
March – Plant Seeds of Optimism
This month’s theme was inspired by a talk from a young priest last month. He had spent his “spring break” on a mission trip to a third world country. He commented that as is so often on these outreach events, as the “missionary” you gain as much as, if not more than the people you intend to help. He described a young child who would hang around the job site as they built homes for these needy people and when he asked her to show him her toys she proudly brought out her prized doll. When he requested to see her other toys, she looked a little confused and replied, “This is my toy. Isn’t she pretty?” She was so happy with her one plaything, her one possession.
The young priest had an “a-ha” moment…a forehead-slapping humbling insight. We are all so caught up in our phones, iPads, laptops, and other things that we feel we cannot live without each day. We don’t feel grateful for the ease of our lives and the possessions that we take for granted. We forget that our children have never done without or had to worry about a safe roof over their heads or the accessibility of healthcare. Plentiful healthy meals, superior education and culture are a given in our neighborhoods. So his recommendation for the lenten season was to work to be grateful for what we already have rather than to sacrifice or “give up” a favorite food, beverage or activity.
During the month of April I am working to cultivate daily gratitude for my blessings, as well as my normal existence. I will try not to take for granted the things I have, the people in my life and least of all, this great state and country I call home. My goal is to see the beauty of my health, enjoy each new morning as it rises and sigh with a grateful heart at the end of each evening. Won’t you join me in my attitude of gratitude this month?
Other things to be thankful for: sweet customers who make my work worthwhile, fresh produce in the markets to make delicious salads and soups, and ripe fruit for pie! Have a great week…be sure to check the order site for available items not listed on the posted menu.
The Greenhouse of the Heart
If thoughts are seeds, what will you plant? As intelligent beings, we are most decidedly in control of the thoughts that cross our minds. Sure, a random thought can pop into the consciousness but where it goes from there…down a negative turn or an optimistic scenario is completely up to us. For example, my son was interviewing for a position in a new company and he had a very encouraging meeting. However, when he received the phone call informing him the company was choosing another candidate, he could have been filled with self doubt. Instead, he chose to be optimistic stating that the process had been a good learning experience. “Moving on!” he told us.
So let’s think of our hearts, which are swayed by our minds, as a greenhouse to be filled with lovely, growing things. And maybe one morning you spend a few moments recalling blessings and those thoughts produce roses. Whereas time spent dwelling on past disappointments create weeds that attack healthy plants.
For March, I’m going to work on filling my greenhouse with flowers, fruits and tender green grass. “Sow seeds of hope, enjoy optimism. Sow seeds of doubt and expect insecurity.” Max Lucado
We’ve all heard the term “pay it forward” as it’s been a part of the present social consciousness since 2000 when a book and movie debuted with the same title. It refers to the concept of doing a favor or blessing individuals in hopes that they will do the same for others, thereby paying forward good will.
But my theme this month is about paying forward to create an overall better society by starting small, within our own homes. If you have children, you know what a momentous task it is to raise them in this crazy, digital, over-indulged, 24-hour news, reality TV world. They have peer pressure from other kids in their proximity, as well as from their Instagram feed, You-tube videos, Snapchat and the shows they absorb too readily from the many devices we have in our lives. And somewhere along the way, a lot of parents have lost their direction in preparing their children for the outside world.
Sometime in the last 30 years, we began to parent by “neighborhood council” where we let what other families were doing become the norm so that we did what everyone else was doing. It’s a tough job raising kids without having to come up with our own set of rules, especially when parents feel pressured by other parents. If Suzy comes home saying that all of her other friends’ parents are saying yes, well by golly, you’d better say yes too.
Unfortunately, our society seems to be hurting due to this method of parenting. Every day common courtesies and polite behavior are becoming unusual and no longer the norm. Fight for your rights, stand up for yourself, it’s “me” time are the mantras of the enlightened individual.
So my thought is this: rather than buy coffee for the next 3 people in line behind you at Starbucks, why not pay it forward to society by resolving to send a responsible, compassionate, non-self-centered adult into the world when they leave your home? Teach your child to take the high road when they are slighted by other children. Speak compassionately of individuals who have less materially than you do, and instead highlight some of their assets in other areas. Model an “I am Third” attitude in your home and praise your children when they do the same. Teach them to be respectful and polite always—not just when they are treated likewise. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive.
And if your children are grown and have left the home, you can still influence them by example…grow old with grace, let go of old grudges, model patience and compassion. Let’s pay it forward to the world in which our children will raise their children. Let’s take back the era of rude behavior and carve out a bit of Pleasantville in our lives. What’s wrong with being nice?
I recently heard a talk show host state that only 40% of Americans make resolutions for the coming year. That statement shocked me! Everyone I know makes a list or resolves to change a few things whether health, job or habit related.
I’m approaching my list a little differently this year. In the past I have made a list of things to change (or work on) in 4 areas of my life: health, faith, finances, and relationships. I’ve still got a running list—why is it longer this year?—but I’m also trying a new approach for 2017. This year I want to give each month a theme so I can really work on an area and feel accomplishment when I make strides in that little trouble spot.
So January is “Ditch the Grudge” because carrying around past hurts helps no one and actually harms me the most. I’m really not speaking to those enormous wounds that only years of therapy can alleviate (lol)...but those stupid little injuries that we associate with memories of individuals. As in, “I’ll never forget how that woman was snotty to my nail lady until she turned around and saw me there.” I’m going to forget I witnessed that scene and I will not repeat it to anyone else. Or, “I can’t believe my sister never calls me, she just texts when she needs something.” I’m going to pick up the phone and call her and brush those feelings aside. And “My friend is so negative about everything we do.” Instead of stewing about it later, I’m just going to call her on it right then and there so it’s off my chest and out of my mind.
I already feel more peaceful just resolving to make this change.