Spicing Up My Life

For the past four or five years, while I’ve been focused on writing my memoir, I would have rather been writing than cooking. I’m not alone. Eighty-eight authors, including my friend and Story Circle Network sister, Judy Alter, contributed to a cookbook called We’d Rather Be Writing. I can relate. Judy loves to cook, garden, and entertain … has written a cookbook, contributed to another, and has a third noodling around in her brain. She inspires me to write about food today.

Since my daughter moved in with me a little over a year ago and I became her full-time caregiver, I’ve been doing a lot more cooking. And I’ve been stuck in a rut. But, because A Long Awakening to Grace is slated for publication the end of August, I’ve been looking to becoming more adventurous in my meal preparation and to entertaining friends again.

For the past year or so, once a month, my friends, Diana, Prema, and I, with coupons in hand, stop at Penzys Spices on our way to our Integral Study Group in Cincinnati. It is an exciting part of our day.

We love Penzys!! Their spices are the freshest and most aromatic. We usually sweep in, grab a basket, and make our rounds of the store gathering the spices on our list, sniffing as we go. Sometimes we just have to try that new aroma on display. What’s more, their service is superb. The clerks seem always delighted to see us and often put a little gift in our bag.

On our last visit, I was gifted with this bumper sticker. Now, you have to know … I’m not a bumper sticker kind of person. I don’t like being labeled because I’m always growing and changing and what fits me one day may not fit me the next. But because I’m working on changing my relationship with cooking and entertaining, adding more tasty recipe’s to my routine, contemplating sharing them with people I love, I am embracing this bumper sticker.

As I prepared to serve lunch to my seminary friends, Kathryn, Sharon, and Pam recently, I searched for new salad recipes on the two food blogs to which I subscribe … Once Upon a Chef and Cookie and Kate. I love my friends and wanted to cook tasty food for them using the rich flavors of Penzys spices.

I found a great Greek Lentil Salad on Cookie and Kate’s site.

While I think they enjoyed the salad, Kathryn had previously placed an order for some her favorites from among my tried and true. She loves my omelets and the oatmeal recipe I received from my friend Karen Nelson years ago.

So, when the two ethnic restaurants we tried on July 4 after Kathryn’s plane landed were closed, I said, “Let’s do omelets.” I put Penzys’ Tarragon in the egg batter and then fill the omelet with veggies and a little cheese. This time I used asparagus, cauliflower, mushrooms, onion, and summer squash. Yum!

For the oatmeal, I use steel cut oats, add it to boiling water and then simmer for ten minutes. At that point I add cinnamon, black strap molasses, goji berries, and crystalized ginger and simmer for ten more minutes. Then I pour the hot oatmeal over dried fruit, usually raisins and dried cherries. I make enough to last for several breakfasts. After warming it in the microwave, I top it off with ground flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and a dollop of coconut yogurt. Very filling.

My writer friend, Judy, is encouraging me to entertain again, so I am trying out some recipes on my daughter before inviting friends in. Because I find ethnic recipes more flavorful and interesting, I recently prepared a delicious Grilled Moroccan Chicken recipe from Once Upon a Chef. We loved it.

Thanks for the inspiration to entertain, Judy. Once this memoir is out in the world, I plan to begin extending invitations. The thought of friends gathering around my table again brings a smile to my face.

A Slice of Life

One of my online writing friends writes a blog piece everyday, even when she is traveling. When I told her my life wasn’t so interesting that I had something to write that often, she said she just writes a slice of life. Another of our friends chimed in that she loves that attitude and does the same thing.

So, here’s a slice of my life:

On Saturday, I stood in front of the meat counter at Trader Joe’s sorting through packages of Corned Beef looking for the one with the lowest price. One of their employees must have wondered what I was doing because suddenly he was there wanting to know if I had a problem. The first package I picked up was $13.29, the lowest, and I was contemplating whether I wanted to spend that much. He went on and on about how great it is to have corned beef on the shelves again now that St. Patrick’s Day is approaching.

Memories of one of my mother’s meals activated my salivary glands. The employees enthusiasm made my mouth water more.

Mom in the 1950's

Mom in the 1950’s

When I was growing up we didn’t have a lot of money but Mom knew how to make it stretch with simple meals. In those days, it was possible to purchase slices of corned beef from the deli counter. The slices were already cooked and all Mom had to do was lay them on top of the potato and cabbage stew she prepared and the corned beef melted in.

While I enjoyed this meal and would like to replicate it, it is not possible to find corned beef like that anymore. And I’ve always been intimidated by the huge corned beef briskets that could feed a huge family. I usually cook for one. But these packages were smaller and the directions indicated it would be done if baked in water in the oven for 25-30 minutes. So I decided to give it a go.

Tonight I attempted to replicate Mom’s stew as best I could. While the potatoes, onions, and cabbage cooked, the corned beef baked in the oven. After 25 minutes I added the meat and water to the potato-cabbage pan. I had already seasoned it with thyme and tarragon. I love tarragon and use it as often as seems fitting. Then I cooked it for ten more minutes before digging in.

Corned Beef & Cabbage

Corned Beef & Cabbage

It wasn’t as good as Mom’s. But then, other people’s cooking almost always tastes better than mine. But I do remember Mom saying that, too. I did enjoy having a little bit of the flavor of corned beef, something I haven’t had in years.

And best of all, I was able to divide the two pieces of corned beef contained in that $13.29 package into six pieces, so I’ll have five more meals. That is $2.22 per meal. Mom would be proud of me.