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.

 

Honoring my Father on Father’s Day

Even though she didn’t like to cook, my mother would not allow my father to do so. She said he burnt everything. She had a strong fear of wasting food. Later I think he occasionally tended a barbecue, however they were not in vogue when I was little. I have early memories of him polishing the family silver. My mother didn’t do that and didn’t wish to even display it. We had many different pieces. They were family heirlooms, inherited from elders who had passed on. I remember a huge tea set with lots of shiny parts to it that rested on a big silver tray on a large wooden sideboard. My father loved and cherished it.

As it is wisely said, no one is perfect because God isn’t finished with us yet. Perfection may be something to strive for, and attaining it is most likely impossible. People are people and bound to mess up. Fathers can’t be perfect either. Some are cruel, whether consciously or unconsciously. I knew someone once who said that her father used to tell her and her brother to jump of the kitchen table and he’d catch them, only he wouldn’t. He told them he wanted to teach them not to trust what anyone said.

Doubtless he meant well. Perhaps he had suffered from believing, himself. My father would taunt me and my siblings when we made mistakes. He wanted us to toughen up, learn not to care what people thought. Did he succeed? I believe he did, however it took a while to sink in. Meanwhile, I resented his pointing finger and his “ha ha” followed by some negative comment. That was not all; we had a lot of fun together too, and he could be very kind. I once came home to the apartment my young husband and I shared to find him sweeping the rug. I didn’t have a vacuum and hadn’t realized I could sweep it with a broom. He used to give me lovely valentines.

He bought me my first washing machine—it was state of the art for the time, with a rubber tub that squeezed the water out of the clothes. He taught me how to dance, and he was a good dancer. He gave me money for years, an allowance that helped greatly when I was first married. Later on he paid for my health insurance because he wanted to take care of me. No, he wasn’t perfect, and I didn’t care. I loved him faults and all. He lived large and had wonderful charm. He had a lovely smile and he smiled often.

I miss him. Yet I miss most the father of my childhood and youth, when he was strong , energetic and good looking. He was a snappy dresser and loved loud ties and colorful clothing.  Bad habits and ill health took their toll. His later years were not happy and he declined mentally. It was difficult to see him so diminished. Yet once in a while the old smile radiated from his face and sometimes he told a joke or said something cute and funny that recalled the man he had been when I was little, and we used to build sand castles and jump the waves together.

True Charity

Clivia partial Bloom 3          In St. Paul’s well known Letter to the Corinthians, Book 1, Chapter 13, he speaks of the nature of true charity.  He lists ways to give and to each he adds “and have not true charity” (to paraphrase) “what I do is hollow and meaningless.” His description of true charity is the equivalent of a definition of unconditional love. The giving of love in unconditional ways means we do not expect anything back from our giving, nor do we make any judgments about those to whom we are giving.

Doing this necessitates the undoing of a lot of old programming we have learned from the adults around us as we are growing up. It is natural to be judgmental. To one degree or another, we all are. The first lesson is to become aware of how and when we are, and the second is to stop the attitude before it reaches words or action. Recently I was given a wonderful example of a positive approach to true charity.

It is a sweet story, and I want to share it because It seems as though it provides such a good example of unconditional love.  A dear friend who no longer lives close by called me recently to catch up on our mutual activities. As we chatted about our lives and what we had been doing, she confided in me that she had taken on an interesting Lenten discipline. For Lent this year she decided to be of service to the homeless population.

Several times a week or more she purchases food and toiletries with her own money and goes to where homeless people are gathered. She offers them a choice between food and toiletries, and she shares her purchases with those in need. She converses with them, interacting with them without judgment or feelings of pity. Some are grateful, others want both or more, and she very reasonably tells them that no, they must share. Sometimes a conversation ensues, and she participates in it peacefully and without preaching.

What she is doing is true charity: giving with unconditional love. This is often difficult for us to do because often when we give we expect something back even if only thanks. We may also put parameters on our giving: “if I do this for you, you must do this for me,” the “this” being anything from cleaning up or attending a service, to giving up something they may wish to keep doing. This kind of giving is not true charity. It is a kind of manipulation or at least an attempt to manipulate.

We learn bribery as small children. Our parents hold out a treat in order to get us to do something, and it engenders an attitude that we may keep as adults. “If you do this for me, I will do that for you,” is example. When we want something from someone it is all too easy to act thus. Giving without wanting anything back, and even more, interacting with those who are often shunned and despised for their behavior, is true charity. It warmed my heart to hear what she was doing, and I told her so.

If you haven’t discovered my new book: Up to my Neck in Lemons, check it out on Amazon. It includes articles, poems and lemon recipes too.  You can purchase an autographed copy from me at P.O. Box 171, North Grafton MA for $15. Postage and handling included.

The Importance of Cherishing Myself

Tasha full f aceOn the rare occasions when I have been without anyone to cook for except myself I found that I had very little interest in making my own meals. While I truly love to cook for my friends and my family, in my experience, it brings me been little to no pleasure to cook just for me. Lately, I haven’t had to deal with that problem, and while I hope I won’t have to in the future, if I do, I will try to think differently. This attitude may be why most if not all of the retirement and assisted living communities have food plans included in their fees, as well as dining rooms that serve up to three meals a day.

For most of us cherishing ourselves is not easy. It’s not something that comes naturally, and there’s a reason for that. While because they don’t know much about being an individual, very young children are naturally unselfish, once they learn to think of themselves as “me” most of their parents begin teaching them to share. “Sharing is caring” becomes a kind of guidance with which to approach both giving and doing. This is all very well until we begin to leave ourselves out of the sharing equation. It is vital to remember ourselves when we share. I am happier and more content when I include myself in my decisions and actions concerning others.

What can make us forget to do that is that often it feels better to give than to receive. Giving can even make us feel a bit superior to the recipient, a kind of pat on the head. It can also incline us to wish to be thanked or even to be given back to in some way. If or when we do not get a return on our gift, we may grow resentful. This then can create a feeling of martyrdom or even bitterness as in: “I did thus and such for them and got nothing back,” or “Look what I gave them and what did they give me?!”

If we cherish others at our own expense and forget to cherish ourselves, we do both the recipient and ourselves a disservice. It is not difficult to think of ways to cherish ourselves. However given that it may feel more virtuous to focus on others, it may also be easier to do so. Yet small acts on our own behalf can make a big difference. For instance: remembering to buy and prepare a kind of tea I like along with the one that Stephen prefers starts my morning happily. Remembering to ask him to join me in doing tasks or walking enhances my day.

My own small acts of kindness to myself, like taking the time to sit with my feet up and read a fun book for at least an hour a day, or occasionally stopping what I am doing and going out on the porch for a breath of fresh air make me feel good. I also appreciate it when I remember to do a bit of stretching or some exercise. When I discover a new pair of socks at my favorite online provider, or a pretty but unnecessary item of clothing in our local thrift store, I no longer feel guilty giving this to myself. Sharing means giving equally, not depriving oneself. If I encounter any guilt when I do something for me, I remind myself that I deserve to be cherished, and I smile and tell myself, “I love you too.”

Being Kind to our Mother the Earth

Maple tree Celebrating SpringWhen we call our planet Mother Earth we are speaking the literal truth. Although our bodies grew inside and were birthed by a human mother, the elements that comprise it are derived from the substance of earth. The mother of us all, whether as individuals or collectively, is our planet. One of the names of our mother is Gaia. There are many who believe she is a living entity in which, along with every other living thing—animate or inanimate, we are cells.

As her children it behooves us to treat our mother the earth with respect. Not everyone looks at Earth this way. Some believe that humanity is privileged and can take what ever they wish from her substance for their own benefit. They do not treat our mother with respect. Taking advantage of her bounty they use it without regard for its possible limits or parameters. Pollution by virtue of pesticides, over fishing, strip mining, and other common practices injure the health of our planet. People who respect their mother do not act in ways that cause her harm.

Individuals who care can make a difference. Daily acts no matter how seemingly small and insignificant, can accumulate. There is a true story to the effect that when the majority of monkeys isolated on an island began washing their food that the practice spread to other islands, communicated somehow through a sense of consciousness. It is said that when enough people act in certain ways that it can influence the actions of others even without their seeing or hearing of it. We need to think about actions of convenience to us that may mean we are taking advantage of our mother earth.

If I leave the water running when I brush my teeth I won’t need to turn the faucet on and off, yet that wastes water. If I take the car somewhere within walking distance, let it idle unnecessarily, or speed when driving I waste fuel. Many of the shortcuts we practice in order to save time end up being bad for the planet. Many towns are banning the use of throwaway plastic bags. They are easily replaced with reusable cloth or disintegrating paper. I just need to remember to take my cloth bags from the car.

Doing things the easy may be hurtful to our mother earth. When did we become accustomed to always drinking from plastic straws? The ocean now is polluted with them! What ever happened to paper ones? Repurposing what may otherwise be thrown away is another way to be kind to the environment. The internet is a good source for ideas for this together with how to accomplish it. All forms of recycling are helpful to our planet. I would not be surprised if in time to come we mine our land fills for the durable materials once discarded now to be found and recycled from there. I can also help by picking up trash when I go out for a walk–and the bending is good exercise. On Mothers’ Day and always I am working to remember to be as kind to my Mother Earth as I can be.

Befriending Ourselves

Bridge reflected

For the most part very young children are naturally generous. This may be because they do not yet have a strong sense of individuality or perhaps because they feel others will enjoy what they find tasty or enjoyable, whether a cookie or a cherished plaything. Later on they lose this openheartedness and fight to keep what they believe is theirs. At this point most parents teach them to be polite and sharing. This lesson becomes a kind of inner imperative that guides us as adults. We learn to feel better when we obey this inner morality and as a consequence often end up depriving ourselves in favor of giving to others.

When was the last time you bought yourself a present—not something practical but something you wanted and didn’t think you ought to spend the money for? You might even have recently bought a gift for someone else that you would have liked to give yourself, and yet didn’t quite dare to for fear of your own disapproval. Most of us have been taught to think of others before thinking of ourselves. While that is a nice way to behave it often leaves results in making us feel deprived or at least somewhat resentful.

Giving to others is praiseworthy. Depriving ourselves to give to others is not. It often results in our feeling the other person ought to be more grateful than they may be…especially if the other does not know how you sacrificed to do that. The reason we too often give to others at our own expense is that it feels nicer to do for others. It gives us good feelings because we’re acting in accordance with what we feel is the right thing to do. But is it? I believe it is important or even necessary to treat ourselves as we would a friend.

Long ago I met and studied with a teacher that taught me about this. It was the beginning of a friendship between myself and me. I learned that if I listened to a wee small voice inside me I would receive true guidance toward correct behavior when it came to giving to or acting for myself. I am not speaking of being selfish or self-centered. There is a big difference between befriending oneself and spoiling oneself. I do not believe in self indulgence to a point of neglecting others, only in being fair about the balance between giving to others and giving to myself.

The real key here is that balance. I can tell when things get out of balance because that inner voice will cry out in pain or sorrow. I may feel neglected or ignored even when I am actually not. Learning to hear that inner voice requires giving up the righteous feelings I get from self-sacrifice and instead asking myself what I really want to have or do instead. I can ask myself if is this how I would treat a friend? The answer comes as a knowing or an understanding. Then my actions are guided by what is good for all concerned including me. When I am my own friend I treat myself the best way I can, and I am happy and content.

The Preciousness of Remembering

When I was a child Little Tasha 4and death or even disaster was to be spoken of, someone would say, “Not in front of the children.” The subject would be changed or I would be told to go off and play so the adults could continue their discussion. Yet because we had animals, death and change were part of my life. I witnessed the drowning of baby ducks and the demise of baby chicks. It was hard when a dog got into my pet rabbits’ pen and maimed them. My aunt’s gardener had to–as I was told, “put them out of their suffering.” Death was no stranger to my childhood. I am neither uncomfortable with it nor afraid of it.

Still, it does have an effect. The recent passing of a dear friend has brought a sense of immediacy to my relationships, and prompted a renewed sense of attention to my way of thinking about life. She and I used to speak each morning except Sundays. More than once I said to Stephen, “One day the phone will not ring at 9:30 every day.” Then indeed that day did come. While I miss my friend, I know she is in a much more comfortable and happy place than she has been for some time. Though I do miss her calls I also rejoice for her.

I am happy to have pleasant memories of our time together. That is the saving grace of partings. It is also a reminder to focus when I am with a dear one and to be present in order to have something to remember. More and more as I get older I have come to realize that endings come whether we want them to or not. We have no way of knowing whether or not any given conversation, meeting or interaction with another may be our last. I do not say this because I have a morbid fear of endings but rather as a reminder that any time we spend with another may be significant.

When we are children we have no understanding of how it is that things change or perhaps end. That ignorance may even be important to children’s comfort and sense of security. Most adults grow accustomed to change and learn to flow with it. It may be an aspect of maturity in human beings to be able to do that. In my life there have been many changes I could never have anticipated. Being able to adapt to them has been crucial to my happiness. Developing a sense of detachment to an anticipated condition of permanence has been not only valuable but also essential.

When I was a child, I could buy an ice cream cone for a nickel. Now even the smallest one costs 50 times that. The decor in my parents’ living room changed once in my memory. Today many people redecorate frequently. Then divorce was rare, people stayed at the same job for most of their lives, I could go on and on about how it used to be. My point is that change is more than ever a constant in most lives. For our comfort it is important to be able to deal with all forms of change, whether of décor or of circumstances. When I make the time to focus my attention and to appreciate what is happening, whether with a relationship or an experience, I have much less regret when it ends.