Something from the Oven

Cooking with heartThere was an advertising phrase that went, “Nothing says loving like something from the oven…” however, I think the advertising agency had it backward. It’s the love in the preparation that does this. The oven only helps, as do the ingredients, preferably as clean and fresh as possible. Love helps us to choose them, as well as to guide the utensils used in the preparation. Furthermore, the focus of the mind is an important ingredient as well. If I am angry or upset when I am preparing food, it could affect the way it tastes as well as the way it is digested. Though I can’t prove it, it’s my belief that thoughts and feelings can be powerful in their effect on food.

A study of this potential would make an interesting experiment for a science project, though it could be difficult to set up. I do really enjoy cooking. Though I’ve never had any courses or training for it and am completely self-taught, I get great praise from those who taste my cooking. I remember one person saying, “This must be Tasha’s kitchen because it smells so good.” Another time, I had prepared a tropical entrée made with bananas with other ingredients, baked inside their skins. When I stopped one guest from cutting into his, he said, “Oh, I thought if you had cooked it, I could eat it.” I laughed and thanked him.

One of the most cherished comfort food desserts is bread pudding. According to the internet, sometime in the 11th or 12th centuries, a frugal cook somewhere in Europe needed to use up their stale bread and began thinking up ways to do it. Perhaps instead the cook needed a dessert and had only stale bread, eggs and milk to go with it. Be that as it may, bread pudding has become a staple food. Once called “Poor Man’s Pudding,” it is said to be served in upscale restaurants as well as homes all over the world. Many of the recipes for it call for some form of fat. My recipe omits this ingredient and I don’t think the calories or the taste of it will be missed. Feel free to experiment, I still do. You can butter the bread first if you wish to include it.

The recipe I have evolved from making it often is simple, and we eat it all the time. You do not have to wait until the bread is stale, though of course that is a good use for any you might have. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 1 ½ or 2-quart covered casserole. Put a pan of water the casserole will fit in into in the oven. Begin with 2 cups torn up bread—around 4 to 6 slices. I use a raisin bread and it’s on the small side. Sprinkle on ½ cup sugar and ½ to 1 cup raisins if not using raisin bread. Beat up 2 eggs and 2 cups any kind of milk. Add 1 plus teaspoon vanilla and 1 plus teaspoon cinnamon and beat again. Pour over bread and stir to combine well. Place covered casserole in the oven in the pan prepared with water. Bake 1 hour, remove cover and bake to brown for 15 or so minutes. If you can resist diving into it, the pudding tastes best the next day when flavors have developed.

I have no recollection of having been served bread pudding in my childhood; I have evolved this recipe from following one in a cookbook of recipes based on the Cat Who mystery series by Lillian Jackson Braun, both of which which I highly recommend.

 

Be Your Own Valentine

Heart and BellsWhen I was growing up it was the custom for valentine cards and gifts to be sent unsigned. I believe this was a tradition that dated back many years. The custom of celebrating Valentine’s Day goes back even further, to ancient Rome. It originated in a festival of the time called Lupercalia, after Lupercus, a nature god of the Romans who resembled the Greek god Pan. It also has roots relating to Juno Februata, honoring Goddess Juno. Then, young boys and girls drew lots to see who they would be partnered with for the year which began in March. The Christian church opted to keep the holiday and rename it, calling it after a saint who may or may not have existed.

I remember that one year when I was around the age of twelve, I received a lovely red, heart shaped compact. No one in my household would admit to giving it to me, although I suspected it had been given me by my father. He swore up and down that he hadn’t done it, and at the time I believed him. He had a very convincing way about him and made an excellent actor.  I remember seeing him in at least one locally produced play when I was growing up. He had an affinity for the theater.

When I was in the early grades, paper valentines were placed in a red and white crepe paper decorated box.  Someone was chosen to be postman and distributed the cards to the room full or classmates. There was no talk of partnering, nor of love, per se. Rather it was all about who got the most cards. Later on, I had fun making my own valentines and sending or giving them, and I have done this for many years. Many purchase them. Commercial valentines have been in use since 1800, and Worcester claims to be the originator of early ones, though others have made that claim as well.

My first husband and I met on a day early in February long ago. I wanted to send him a valentine, however, I could nothing but find only a humorous one. Although it was not very nice, it was all I could find so I sent it anyway. Fortunately for the five children we later produced, it didn’t ruin the relationship. Perhaps it was meant to be. The arrows of Cupid, a god of love also known by Greeks as Eros, sometimes do hit the mark. The Greeks have six words that express love: Eros: or sexual passion, Philia: family love or deep friendship, Ludus: or playful love like for children, Agape: or spiritual love/love for everyone, Pragma: or longstanding or enduring love, and Philautia: or love of the self.

The average Westerner saying, “I love…” may be expressing affection, or a preference—I love ice cream, or aptitude–I love to exercise. All these fit our definition of it. And they are all conditional upon our personal choices. Yet spiritual or unconditional love, the most difficult form of love is also the most beneficial for both giver and recipient. This is the love that endures. When I give myself the valentine of unconditional love, I can be much more loving to everyone else. In addition, I do not take issue with any faults, but instead regard with compassion the struggles of the one who is loved and express patience without expectation.

 

Competition Versus Cooperation

chickens.jpgI’ve never been a competitive person. Usually a sense of competition kicks in around the age of four, when a child gains a clear understanding of “me” and “mine.” Even then there is often a desire to share unless the child is surrounded by competitors. When I was growing up competition was the rule and the idea of a game that required cooperation instead was unknown. I did not enjoy the competitive world I grew up in.

Even as a child I disliked competition in sports. One reason was that I wasn’t very agile or well-coordinated and thus most often chosen last for any team. Another was that it made me sad that someone had to lose in order for someone to win. I played board games yet not with a keen desire to win. For instance, Parcheesi which was a popular game when I was young was best won by blocking opponents and rendering them helpless. I never enjoyed doing that. For me, that was like punishing someone or hurting them.

My mother was a fierce competitor. She loved games and was good at them. She played Bridge and Mahjong with her friends. With me she played card games and Chinese checkers, which she played without mercy, making no allowances for youth or inexperience. She played to win, regardless. As a result, I did learn to play a good game of Chinese checkers. Fast forward to my adulthood. I still resisted competition when I could. Unfortunately, my children invariably made me enter the tired Mothers Race at the fourth of July games. in the town where they grew up. I came in last no matter how hard I tried.

My children’s father was very competitive. He encouraged the children while they were still quite young to play on teams and to compete. He even started a girls’ softball league in the town where we lived.  My daughters and then my sons all strove to do well in order to make him happy. He cherished their ribbons and trophies and often coached their various teams to victory. As a loyal mom I used to attend their tennis matches and their and baseball and ice hockey games, cheering along with the other parents and trembling for fear they would lose and be sad.

Regardless whether or not they won, I was glad whenever the games or matches were over. Certainly, my children learned much from their years playing tennis, hockey, and baseball. They had fun and met other children they would not have met otherwise. I am not regretful for them, though I do feel there are other ways to have fun that they might have enjoyed as well. I was too busy keeping up with household and child caring duties to do much about that.

Competition is said to be a good learning experience for children. Today even little ones barely out of toddler years are put on teams to play at various sports. For competitive people that’s good. For those like me, not so much. On the other hand, it is possible to play games in the spirit of cooperation. Team efforts in sports are only one way. There is also a cooperative way to play many games, and that is to play to see how high the score can rise. Scrabble can be played that way, and I know that’s how I would prefer to play it.

Beauty Everywhere to See

Fall Patterns shadows and leaves

 

Many of us inherit our tastes from our parents. I am no exception. My mother was an artist with her own gallery. There she sold her paintings and a few decorative items that included carved wooden works by my brother and his wife, that might be bought by those who came in for a look around. She primarily painted abstracts, and she enjoyed wielding her brush to music. She had a brush in her hand most of every day. She once told me she had sold paintings to people all over the world.

She did not normally paint in bright colors. Even her rare red and purple paintings were slightly toned down.  Her subjects were simple, her canvases were uncluttered. Her personal palette was also muted. She seldom wore any colors but tan, ivory or brown. What little jewelry she wore wasn’t bold. By contrast my father liked bright, bold colors and was himself a colorful character. I inherited his tastes both in clothing and in life. I dress primarily in red, pink, and bright turquoise.  I like bold earrings and bracelets. My tastes are very different from my mother’s. She preferred muted simplicity while I, like my father, like vivid complexity.

The strong colors of fall make it my favorite time of year. The beauty of fall is spread over the roads as well as the hills and meadows like a cloak of brilliant hues, and the loveliness of it resonates in my heart. All during the months of fall when I am driving, I have to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on the road, and when I have the treat of being driven, I am ever so grateful because then I can look at the landscape without fear of landing in a ditch.

Spring is lovely too. An astute observer once wrote that the colors of spring and fall were similar, only the colors of fall were more intense while the colors of spring exhibited a pastel palette. I hadn’t considered this before, however the next spring I observed the truth of what he was saying. Still, though the spring landscape is indeed lovely, for me it does not have the poignancy of fall. Spring heralds the warmth of summer, vacations, visits with friends and relations, and playtime for many. Fall, at least in the northern hemisphere, heralds the last of the warmth. Its bright days dwindle as the hours shorten. Soon winter will be upon us, and the bleakness of that landscape.

But wait, there is more. In winter, in contrast to the lush, rounded shapes of leaf burdened branches, the bare branches of the trees trace their design against the winter sky, revealing their essential shapes. Too, the dried weeds and grasses exhibit a delicacy that draws the eye, while once the flakes begin to fall their shadows decorate the snow drifts in subtle ways. Beauty does not always shout its presence, sometimes it whispers. The eye of the beholder needs to be attuned to the subtleties of beauty as well as to its obvious ones. If rather than turning my eyes inward with my thoughts I pay attention to what there is to see, I will find beauty everywhere I look regardless of the season.

 

The Importance of Self Acknowledgement

Fall Dandelions

It can be frustrating when you cannot do something that you have done all your life with ease. I’ve been putting on my own clothes for most of my life. However for the first two weeks I was home from the hospital, I wore the same simple garment every day. It went over my head without effort and kept me adequately clothed. As time went on I could wear more elaborate clothing until finally I could pretty much dress myself in whatever I wished to wear, all except for my shoes and socks. That required more bending than I was capable of.

Shoes and socks seem simple, do they not? Everyone can manage them. I have a distinct memory of learning to tie my shoes as a child. I know I was still only three, because I was attending nursery school at the time. My memory is of bending over my shoes until I had learned to wind the shoelaces into bows that would keep them tied. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. In my mind I can see the bedroom I slept in with my caregiver and feel my sense of frustration as I tried over and over again to tie those laces until at last I succeeded. Then oh, how happy I felt. I can still remember that too.

Just recently I had another small victory. I was able to put on my left sock all by myself. To do that sounds so simple. Yet it was the final step since my hip replacement two months ago, in my being able to get myself entirely dressed without help. To be sure up until now Stephen has been ever so kind about assisting me. Yet regardless how kind someone helping you is, it is very appealing, at least to me, to be able to do something I have always been able to do, by myself once more.

My parents weren’t generous with their praise of my accomplishments. They always informed me I was supposed to do well. They were apt to say, “Now that was quite good, can you do better next time?” They thought this was how to encourage me to try harder or at least keep on trying. I, on the other hand, believe strongly in praise. My children’s father taught me this. No matter how wretchedly the children he coached performed, he found a way to say some encouraging words. His teams invariably did well and I think this was one of the main reasons.

Not many of us have a coach in life to praise us, so it is up to us to pat ourselves on the back when we need encouragement, and more importantly, when we need to be acknowledged. It is not only permissible but also important to take note of our personal victories, most especially to do so for ourselves. We need to feel good for ourselves, not because someone else has praised us. When we recognize our successes we can build on them with a sense of satisfaction. When we feel satisfied with our performance we do not need to seek praise elsewhere but instead can feel good and be happy because we know for ourselves that we have done our best.

Mourn and Move On

Fall Maple Gold 2 When I was small I had a small cemetery. It was beside the church I had set up in a corner formed by a chimney and the wall of a small greenhouse. My family lived in the country. We had chickens and at one time some ducks. Baby chicks died and I buried them  there as well as the other assorted creatures whose deaths went unmourned except by me. My acquaintance with death came early and in a natural way. This was of help to me later.

Laurens Van der Post, a South African author whose writing I respect, once wrote, “There are some things we never quite get over, however once in a while we go back, pat them on the head and say, ‘How are you doing old fellow?'” In this instance he was speaking about his time in a Japanese prison camp, where he was very cruelly treated. I have remembered this quote for many years. It has been very useful in reminding me not to dwell on past grief, yet not to suppress it. The recent unnecessary death of a poet friend helped me to recall this.

When anyone special o us dies, it reminds us of others of whom we are fond who have left us. Yet it is well to remember them with joy rather than regret. I will treasure in my heart my friend’s funny emails and his amazing adventures. He was a unique character with a huge, loving heart and a mission to try to help every woebegone that crossed his path whether or not they deserved to be helped. He also had a way of getting into trouble. As well he had several bad habits, one of which resulted in his premature death. Rather than blame him for his foolishness I will bless him for his courage in pursuing his life the way he wanted to—whether I thought it was a good way or not.

When you live a long life as I have, you do “lose” people that you have, for one reason or another, outlived. Whether these were members of your family or your friends, along with the current grief the sadness of their passing may easily come to mind. In addition, in our lives there are other instances of departure or absence: the job we didn’t take or did, the home we bought or didn’t, the gift we meant to give, even the words that went unsaid or the ones we wish we had not spoken. The grief engendered by regrets small and large can consume us if we let it.

It is important for us to grieve and let go. It is vital not to carry these burdens any longer than necessary. There is a Zen story of two monks who came to a stream where they found a woman who was afraid to cross it. One monk picked her up, carried her over the stream and set her down. As they continued, his brother monk began to berate him for touching a woman’s body. Finally the first monk turned to his friend and said, “I set the woman down a while ago. You are still carrying her.”  There is no need to carry our grief endlessly. We can let it be on a shelf in our memories and then once in a while, go back and pat it, and say, “How are you doing, old friend?” And then go on to find a happy memory to continue on with.

Small Gestures May Mean Much

Bridge of flowers Bee Balm I disliked it intensely when as a child I was ill and had to stay home from school. It was no fun whatsoever. My mother did not believe in coddling sick people. She thought it would make them malinger. Perhaps she thought if I was bored I’d get better sooner and want to get back to school. She did not treat me with sympathy. My entertainment consisted of listening to soap operas on the radio and reading if I was allowed to. When I had the measles I spent days in a darkened room with nothing to do. It was said reading would damage my eyes

Whenever I was sick I simply sat in my bed alone most of the day. Extremely bored, I was happy to get back to school. For most of my adult life I have been healthy and strong. My recent hip operation is the first time I have been extensively laid up. As I have moved through the healing process, I have gained a great appreciation for the nice things that have been done for me.

Back in the 50’s here was a popular song titled Little Things Mean a Lot.  A sweet song it spoke of loving moments a couple might share. You can look it up on You Tube. As a result of my operation five weeks ago, I have been living small: confined to myhome, resting a lot, and generally entirely dedicated to getting well. Both my physical movements and the focus of my thoughts have revolved around this.

This has made the small circumstances of my daily life stand out more than they might ordinarily. Anything I might have taken for granted before is now emphasized. Small kindnesses have more importance. I find myself even more grateful than ever for the sweet emails people have sent me wishing me well. The generosity of friends who have offered to and taken Stephen shopping or for errands is special. I feel blessed by the meaningful kindness of those offers. Most of all I am grateful to Stephen for all the help he has given me.

When I came home after the operation I couldn’t dress myself at all. I needed help to perform the simplest tasks. I couldn’t cook anything, clean anything, or do more than spend the day on the couch. We watched movies and old TV shows together, and that was fun, however to do much more than that was just not possible. While this period of time was short in terms of my life so far, it was highly significant in terms of its effect. I feel enormously grateful for what I have received from it as well as what I have learned.

I’ll be out of the woods soon and my life will be back to its usual flow and rhythms. This time has been a kind of island in my life. I have rested there and soon I will launch back into the daily stream and be carried by the flow of my days. Certainly I feel belter for having had the operation. Soon even the slight aches that remain will be gone and I won’t need to walk with a cane. What will stay with me from this time is the many loving gestures of friends and acquaintances and most of all the care and kindness of my husband Stephen when the full burden of our daily lives fell upon his shoulders.