The Phone Call…Part I

My parents are…unique.  Yes, that’s a good and ambiguous word to describe them.  My mom and dad depart from Canada every year in the spring and do not return to Canada until fall has begun.  Where are they?  They have a humble mansion-like home in Croatia.  So, what is a good daughter to do in order to keep in touch with her parents?   Why, she phones them regularly to ensure that all is well and that they are having a happy-go-lucky life.  Well, that is what a daughter with non-unique parents would do.  Me?  There is a bit of a process to ensure I can keep my sanity intact.

Whilst in Croatia, my folks reside a mere 15 minute drive from the grandiose city of Split.  My father is an avid vegetable / fruit gardener and bee keeper.  My mother is right there by his side.  Not willingly.  It’s kind of a wifely self-imposed prison sentence I think.  She prefers to cook and bake.  Sadly, there is only so much baking you can do if everyone around you is on a diet or diabetic.  This is the Croatian village life.  I felt this was important to mention so that you could more clearly understand my need to mentally prepare myself for … the phone call.

It’s Sunday in Canada.  Morning has passed.  It is now 2 pm.  I debate on whether it’s a good day to call.  Am I feeling happy?  Am I feeling energetic?  Could I handle a barrage of negativity?  Can I be supportive?  If my questions result in a sum of 3 out of 4 then it’s NOT a good day to call.  If I’m super-hyped and feeling supremely happy, then I take a few deep yoga breaths and dial the number.  I close my eyes and mentally prepare myself.  I never know what type of conversation I might be subjected to.

A typical phone call would start as follows:

[phone ringing.  Mom picks up]  Hello?

Me:  Hello.  How are you?

Mom: OOOOOOH!  It’s you! (in a piercing, ear-splitting voice).  Is everything ok?  Is there something new?  Why are you calling?

Yes, every single conversation begins this way.  Her highest hope is that there is some life changing news that she can share with everyone in the village and/or the rest of Croatia.  This standard call can then morph into one of the following sub-conversations.

MORBID.  With my parents, being part of the elder generation, there is a good chance that there was a funeral, or few, that they had to attend.  My mother provides me with the obligatory synopsis of the deceased’s life, what illness they ailed from, and how lucky that they no longer need to live in pain and suffering.  Her voice is sad and verges on tears.  From funerals she might proceed to discussion of the poor surviving family members, especially if someone else is ill.  In most cases, I have no idea who these people are.  I am obliged to listen intently and ask NO questions.  Questions only lead to attacks of my person and “how can you not remember them?!”  DEFINITELY no questions.

ONE-SIDED.  This is always an interesting one.  After the “anything new?” question, she will go on a diatribe about…almost anything!  It could be a person or people, or a group of people.  It could touch on the government and its uselessness.  Which government?  Why…any government!  They are all crooks.  It could segue to taxes and the exorbitant price of food.  Maybe the weather is uncooperative.  Too much rain.  Not enough rain.  Too much sun.  Too hot.  Too cold.  Too many bugs.  From bugs to things bugging her like her aching back and sore legs.  Why is it one-sided?  I could say something, but she doesn’t hear me.  I have actually put her on hold, picked up my other line for about a minute, gone back to her and there has been no pause in conversation on her end.  She hadn’t even realized I had put her on hold.  These are the days that I don’t mention anything on my end.  She either won’t hear me, and if she does, she won’t remember it.

THE LITANY:  This type has some of the elements of ONE-SIDED, but is mostly a regular list of complaints, usually dealing with the unbearable actions of my father.  It would include, working long hours in the field, the amount of food he consumes, his argumentative behaviour, his self-righteousness, his loud voice, his deafness, and lastly, his method of breathing.  Yes, my father does not breathe as a regular human should.  Don’t ask me to explain, I don’t hear it the way she does.

HAPPY:  This is my most cherished type of phone conversation.  I find this one usually occurs if I haven’t called in over a month.  My mother is happy that I had called.  She is happy that I am healthy.  She is happy that everyone is doing well.  She is happy with her life.  The torrential rainstorm is no longer a scourge, but a great nurturer of the vegetables.  The sweltering heat of the sun is helping everything grow better.  My father is an amazing person.  He is so helpful and kind.  She just can’t do anything without him.  She has visited with family…or better yet, family came to visit her and she cooked and baked and everyone loved it!  They had so much fun!  Yes, this is my all time favourite exchange.  It is also usually the shortest one.  There is only so much good news and “happy” thoughts one can sustain.

As you may have noticed, I have only mentioned my mother in all these phone conversations.  This is due to two facts:  1)  My mother likes answering the phone or 2) My father has answered the phone, said “Hello [blah, blah for 2 seconds]” and then “here’s your mother.”

And….everyone together now…deep breath in…exhale…

Prepare yourself for:  The Phone Call – Part II.

 

 

 

 

 

Mise en place or…buy another cake mix

Once upon a time there was a lovely young woman called Maryann.  She had dark chestnut coloured hair (at that time…although now it’s purply-brown and was at one point very blonde and at times quite auburn) and ka-ka-brown cow eyes.  Her smile was as large as Steven Tyler’s and she was very happy.  There was one thing that Maryann hoped to do one day and that was to bake and decorate a chocolate cake.  On this particularly sunny day, her wish came true.  The ending, however, was not what she had expected.

Maryann was thrilled to finally have a kitchen of her own.  She had moved out of her parental home and was now in an apartment with her sweetheart, Wiseguy.  It was also her sweetie’s birthday soon and she was going to bake him a lovely cake!  Now, she knew that she had to start slow with her new hobby of baking so she decided to play it safe.  She purchased a box of Duncan Hines chocolate fudge cake mix and debated purchasing the sugary, sweet frosting as well, but then decided that she would impress her loved one by topping her gloriously, chocolatey cake with REAL whipped cream.  Yes!  She would buy that 35% whipping cream, and make billowy, thick pillows of creamy goodness.  Maryann also bought some candles and, to make it fun, cake writing gel to write “Happy Birthday” on it!  What a wonderful surprise it would be for her hubby!

“Ok,” she began reading, “preheat oven to 350 degrees”.  She opened the oven door to ensure that there was nothing inside.  Why?  Because one day, at her mother-in-law’s house, she turned on the stove, smelled something funny after a little while and realized that there were pans with oil in the stove.  YIKES!  Lesson learned and etched her happy little brain.

“Next I need to put contents of package into a bowl and add one cup water, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, and 3 eggs.”  She had heard about this thing called mise en place which in French means something like “everything in it’s place”, but in cooking it means “make sure you have all your ingredients out and ready to go and also your measuring cups and measuring spoons and baking dishes…basically everything you need to make this cake should be right in front of you.”  The pretty Maryann got out her measuring cup.  She poured the oil into the cup (exactly 1/3 cup) and put it into the mixing bowl with the cake mix.  Next, she poured one cup water into the measuring cup.  Perfect!  Into the bowl it went.  She heard the oven ‘beep’ letting her know that the oven was preheated to 350 degrees.  Yay!  Time to get mixing!

She whipped that batter with an electric mixer.   A couple of taste tests to remind her of her childhood.  After a few minutes she stopped the mixing and eased her lovely greased cake pan closer to the bowl.  She emptied the fluid, chocolate contents into the cake pan.  With her spatula she tried to get every last bit out of the bowl into the cake pan to make sure she had a nice, big cake for Wiseguy.  Tap, tap, tap to even it out and then into the oven it went.  She set the timer for 30 minutes (it was a rectangular 9″ x 13″ pan).  She couldn’t wait until it was done!

Time passed.  The timer finally chirped.  Her birthday cake was ready to come out of the oven and cool for a bit.  Oh the excitement!  Oh the pride!  She had done it!  She opened the oven door and…ohhhh….she had done it alright.  Her cake was almost flat!  How could she possibly screw up a boxed cake mix?  Really?  Seriously?  Was she never going to learn to bake anything?  Sadly, with her oven-mitted hands, she pulled out her pancake-style chocolate birthday cake and sighed.  She gently laid rest her unfortunate experiment on the stove top to cool.  Maybe it could be salvaged somehow.  If it tasted good then all was well.  Taste is one thing, but…

After 15 minutes she tried to cut out a piece.  It crumbled in her hands.  Huh?  It tasted fine, but it all fell apart, like cereal out of its box.  The lovely Maryann had to admit that she would never, ever be a baker of anything.  She went back to her kitchen counter to gather up everything to wash when she noticed something odd.

Three large size eggs were sitting on her counter.  Why were there eggs on her counter?  Had she taken them out to make something else?  She HAD put those other 3 eggs into her cake mix right?  She looked at them.  With the suddenness of a swooping eagle going for its prey, Maryann realized, “Oh my!  I forgot the eggs.”  Yes, if you look back to paragraph 4 (it begins with “Next I need to”) you will indeed see that after the ‘ding’ of the oven the eggs were omitted prior to the exuberant mixing.

There you have it.  The story of the lovely Maryann and her first attempt to bake something.  She didn’t give up though.  She now bakes cookies, pies, pretzels, oh and boxed cake mixes.  Maryann learned from her mistake, was grateful to have learned it and is now excited when trying new recipes.  Mise en place is her motto and way of baking and cooking.

Moral of the story:  If at first you don’t succeed, be grateful that you had the mistake to learn from and use it to make greater things in your life.

or

If at first you don’t succeed remember “mise en place”, buy another cake mix and ADD THE EGGS FIRST!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chef…a culinary experiment

I love to cook.  I love to buy colourful foods (vegetables and fruits) and figure out what to make with them.  I love to research (basically “Google” recipes) and try out new things.  I have now expanded my culinary skills to actually NOT following a recipe.  Does that mean I’m a chef?  Well, that is a definition I actually looked up.  Chef means that you cook meals for people.  Yes I do that!  It mentions something about restaurants too…ok, I don’t have a restaurant, but anyone eating at my home and people I work with think I should open one. Very complimentary, but I don’t think I’m quite at that level.  Anyway, in my mind “chef” has a different meaning.  CHEF – Can Have Experimental Food!  Yes, anyone eating my food is my chosen guinea pig to test new things.  Welcome to my thoughts and dissertations on food.

Food.  I could say it’s a love/hate relationship but I would be lying.  I LOVE FOOD!  I love experimenting with new recipes.  I love prepping it.  I love cooking it.  I love eating it.  Notice…there is a lot of love here.  The hate part is…I LOVE FOOD!  Let me explain my absolute food weaknesses…McDonald’s french fries.  I swear those are like crack-cocaine to me.  I don’t do drugs, but these hot little sticklettes make me weak in the knees.  After that or almost neck and neck is pizza.  What kind of pizza?   Hmmmm…thin crust, thick crust, tomato sauce style, white garlic/oil style.  Mozzarella or goat cheese.  Pepperoni or roasted eggplant and zucchini with balsamic drizzle.  To add to my super cholesterol heart-stopping food fest…CHICKEN WINGS!!!!  I am a Wing-nut!!  (In many ways…)  Those are my favourite, unhealthy indulgences.  Do I have an unhealthy relationship with food?  Perhaps…but what relationship is perfect?   Am I right?

History lesson:  when cooking as a child with my mother I got to lick the spinny-things from the hand mixer.  I got to mix the tomato sauce for pasta.  I got to eat pizza dough (oops…that was never supposed to be revealed).  My cooking lessons were as follows:

Mama:  NE TAKO!  (translation:  NOT LIKE THAT!)

Mama:  Sporije!  (translation:  slower!)

Mama:  Ovako.. (translation:  like this…)

Mama:  NE TAKO!  (translation:  NOT LIKE THAT!)

Mama:  Ovako mjesaj  (translation:  Mix like this)

Mama:  NE TAKO! (translation:  NOT LIKE THAT!)

So…there you have my basic cooking lessons.

Oh wait!  There are two more phrases my mother always used:

Mama:  Na umjerenoj vatri (translation:  bake at 350…she actually had to explain what middle heat meant and then I finally realized it was always 350 degrees)

And last but not least:

Mama:  Otprilike (about or approximately).  Yes most recipes had that included.  Any seasonings you were to use like salt or pepper, you were basically guessing how much was needed.  For a newbie learning how to cook that never helped.

So, when I started sharing my knowledge with others I improved the lessons I had received.  I liked to train by smell.  I also did not use measurements (bad teacher), but I would have the meat in a bowl, and then I would cover the tops of the meat with salt or pepper or paprika.  We would mix the meat and then I would ask my “student” to smell.  Yes…you can actually smell salt and pepper and paprika and you could know if there was too much.  Seriously!  Again, for beginners we would start with a few shakes because you can always start with less and add more but you can’t take away if you have added too much.  There.  That is my greatest cooking advice.

Am I a chef?  Yes, in my mind I totally am.  I cook food for people.  I love cooking!  I am practising baking (not quite perfect yet, but it’s all in the learning).  I have the best kitchen with my Wolf Subzero Stove.   I think that people who have tasted my creations can vouch for me.

To summarize…I LOVE COOKING!  I love filling my house with family (approx 20+ people) and cooking and enjoying their reactions to my recipes.  Nervous?  Absolutely!  I want everyone to love it!  Yes…there goes that “love” word again.  Why?   I truly believe that feeding people with food is nourishing, but I also believe that the love that I put into making my food transmits into internal happiness for those who consume it.  Food isn’t just about livelihood, it’s about sharing and caring.

My newest adventure is with old fashioned European foods (lately Italian), and putting my own educated spin on it.  Check out this lovely plain recipe full of flavoured layers and many “oh my this is good” in between bites!  My latest heartfelt and enjoyable culinary experiment.

RECIPE:

1 half baguette

1 large garlic clove

4 tbsp buratta (I think…approximately)

4 tbsp balsamic drizzle (basically balsamic vinegar and honey boiled down for 30 minutes until thickened…”google” for an actual recipe…otherwise…meh…approximately what you think will work)

THERE!  Authentic European recipe.  MANGIA!  (That’s amore…I mean Italian!)

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Toasted french stick bread, rubbed with fresh garlic. Buratta spread on top and drizzled with homemade balsamic drizzle

 

Bacon…and other hazards

It’s a rainy Saturday morning.  Good news is that I’m alive and I’m breathing!  Best of all…there is bacon frying in the pan.  I love the smell of bacon!  (Hence the extreme importance of having inhaling capabilities.)  I love the way it transforms from soggy white and pink strips to brown, crunchy, salty yumminess!  (I was going to say “goodness” but I’m sure my pulmonary valve would slap me).  As I move in closer to the stove top to flip the strips…ATTACK!  The bacon fat pops out of the pan and onto my arm.  Ouch!  It burns!  And yet, I stay there to complete the task.  That got my mind racing and thinking about other kitchen hazards.

Over the many years of frying bacon I have built up a super-power immunity.  My fingertips have also learned how to pick up hot cooked items and transfer them to other vessels.  Again, it’s a built up resistance.  Some days I feel like Wonder Woman …then again, I don’t think she could handle bacon grease, but I digress.  Below are what I believe to be substantial culinary threats.

COOKING HAZARDS:

  1.  FRYING
    • Whenever you have hot oil in a pan or pot you are challenging the kitchen gods.  You believe you will not be besieged by fiery oil droplets and yet they are laughing at you saying “Oh yeah?  Bring it on!”  Frying bacon (yes, I keep coming back to this deadly onslaught) can lead to either arm burns or grease on your clothes that for some reason will NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER wash out.  Frying potatoes…a.k.a. french fries.  If the taters aren’t dry you are looking at water going into boiling oil and this ultimately leads to the oil boiling over onto your stove.  BEWARE!
  2. SLICING
    • Welcome to knife-dom!  I used to think that dull knives would be better to ensure I wouldn’t get cut.  Those darn machetes always found a way to make me wish I had shares in “Band-aid”.  I learned to sharpen my knives (and my skills).  Using a dull knife on a tomato is what led me to the divine art of honing my knives.  It also guided me to new lessons in advanced first aid.  I could cut myself, yelp in pain, get an adhesive bandage unwrapped, apply first aid cream to it and hog-tie it to my finger in 45 seconds.  Boo-yah!).   Knives actually slid off the super thin tomato skin and would ultimately impale me.  After years of thinking I knew how to use a knife I saw a preview for a movie called Julie and Julia and decided to actually find the first cookbook from Julia Child.  In this book Julia showed me how to hold a knife and how to cut and slice things.  Beginner stuff.  I am very grateful to this wonderful woman for saving my appendages.  For you new chefs out there, here is a good link on how to proceed with onion cutting.
  3. BOILING
    • I always believed that boiling was safe.  Yes I did understand that hot water could burn you, but unless it was poured on your skin directly it was safe right?  Yeah-NO!  I recall the day I decided to make home cooked macaroni and tomato sauce.   The pasta was on sale and the sauce was Ragu sauce.  This was definitely within my newfound culinary skills.  I put water in a pot.  I added salt.  I felt like a true wife/mother/chef!  I put the lid on the pot and waited for the water to boil.  It took longer than it should have because I kept lifting the lid to see if the water was boiling.  Hence the phrase “a watched pot never boils.”  Although an idiom about patience, I followed the true meaning…that darn water won’t boil while I’m watching.  Whilst playing with the kids I heard the pot lid clanging.  The water was boiling!  Yay!  I lifted the lid and promptly burned my wrist. Yes…steam is lethal.  You thought bacon fat was bad?  Steam burns last several days.
  4. BAKING SHEETS
    • I decided to branch off and learn to bake.  Cooking is more fun because there is room for error.  Lots of room for trial and error.  Baking?  Heck no!  There is a reason everything is measured to the minutest ounce / milligram.  My old oven had this wonderful ejection mode when pulling out the baking rack which catapulted super hot cookie sheets onto my awaiting bare arms.  To date only one major burn; an inch long and half inch in diameter.  THAT is my real life cooking tattoo.  Also a daily reminder of being careful when playing with fire.

I am sure there are many other hazards I could reveal to you, but then you would surely want to eat out daily or hire a chef to make your meals.  I have lived, breathed, survived many culinary challenges and I LOVE cooking!  I love hearing the click, click, whoosh of my gas stove firing up.  I know there are new adventures in foodie-dom for me.  One thing I learned from dear Julia Child was:

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

Worst case scenario, I can always hook up with my granddaughter Kennie and we can make food into art.  XOXO

macaroni art

 

Dance like no one’s watching

I watch little Kennie dancing to music and can’t help but laugh.  It’s too cute!  It’s funny!  No matter how much WE laugh she keeps right on creating her own dance moves.  There is arm swinging and some jumping and quickie deep knee bends.  Then there is the stick out your butt move and the rhythmic clapping.   Not to mention the swaying and the laying down and getting back up.  Yup, we laugh.  Really good belly laughs.  Does this make her stop doing what she’s doing or make her run away?  Heavens no!  She is there to dance and have a great time.  Who cares what anyone else thinks?

When did everyone else’s opinion become the most important to us?  When did we forget that we have to love ourselves first.  We are who we are and by loving ourselves we can only shine brighter in anything we do.

I am constantly saying that I can’t draw.  I look at the pictures and sketches that The Artist draws and I am amazed.  I would LOVE to be able to quickly jot down lines and make a beautiful finished product.  I recall my early early sketches.  Drawing family was always the best.  You remember, the stick people wearing pants and skirts.  The curly hair.  There was always a big round sun and birds…well, more like Ms flying around, but we knew they were birds.  And we could draw a million pictures a day and they were ALL the best.  Not one was bad.  All the people in the picture were smiling too.  Yes, everyone was happy and my picture showed it.  When did my drawings go from “Way to Go!” to “Oh No“?

Same thing with telling jokes or making music or singing loudly or boogie woogie dancing.  When we were little we could do anything and everything.  We were invincible!  School started and suddenly it seemed that we were “very good” at some things but at other things we “needed improvement”.  I am not saying the school system is bad or that parents mean to belittle their children.  It was all done to make sure that we would be protected.  Here is the concept:  they will show you your shortcomings so that you won’t embarass yourself and no one will laugh at you and this way you won’t have your feelings hurt.  It’s ok that they, the ones who love you, tell you that you aren’t good enough because they love you.  Makes sense right? 

It never really made sense to me.  What does it matter who actually says it as it will hurt your feelings no matter who says it.  That is, it will hurt you if you are constantly relying on others’ opinions of yourself.  What if we told children and friends and family only about all the good stuff.  Give them that daily boost.  Make them see how wonderful they are.   Think how much nicer our world would be if we consciously decided everyday that we were the best and we could do anything.  You would be happy all day!  

This year I decided that it was time to prove to myself (not anyone else) that I could do the things that I had been moulded into believing that I could not.  It started quite innocently when The Baker came over (thankfully) to help me bake goodies for my niece’s bridal shower.  It is tradition for family (and friends) to bring sweet treats and I was tempted to go to the local coffee shop and pre-order a whack of donut holes that I could stick with toothpicks on a foam pillar.  Yup, if nothing else, I would get bonus points for creativity.  The Baker jumped in and volunteered her time and baking expertise to make me look like a star.  We baked chocolate cupcakes.  We created yummy frostings (one cream cheese and one peanut butter).  We continued with fruit tarts.  Yes, I was nervous.  Yes, I kept saying “no no..you’re the baker, I’ll just help”.  Nope, she would have none of it.  We baked, we frosted, we made simple syrup for the tarts.  Some attempts didn’t work out and others turned out fantastic.  Whose goodies looked great the next day at the shower?  Yup, mine sure did! 

What I realized most was that, yes, it was nice for everyone to oooohhh and aaahhh at the dessert masterpieces, but I just felt so proud and good inside because of what I had accomplished.  I had baked!  Me!  Me the one who tells everyone I have ice cream on hand for dessert because I don’t bake.   Thanks to The Baker for pushing me.  Sometimes a kick in the pants is a good thing.  She never doubted me so why did I?

This year I am going to continue my journey into bakingdom.  From there I am going to sit with The Artist so that she can give me some pointers on how to move beyond my awesome stick people drawings.  I also have all these neato machines needed for scrapbooking (cricut and expressions…amazing stuff) and will be making my own cards.  The Artist made elegant “save the date” cards for her wedding.  Absolutely beautiful.  So I will definitely be telling myself that I CAN DO IT and I will forget about what I had heard for so many years about how I couldn’t do something.

With every new venture I will enjoy the learning and all the hiccups and hardships that come with it.  Most importantly, when someone decides to point out that something doesn’t look nice or I did it wrong, it really won’t matter because I have almost finished learning Kennie’s flamboyant dance moves.  Dance on in life like no one’s watching and be happy!