Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Secret Sauce

It wasn’t until my sister and I got older and started cooking ourselves that we begun to ask our mom for the recipes.

Mom, how do you make stuffed peppers? 

Mom, what do you do to your sweet cabbage stew?

My mom was always all too happy to explain to us in the tiniest details the making of the peppers or cabbage or anything else in the world. She was delighted that we showed interest in her field of expertise, perhaps because it was so infrequent. She became our culinary Alexa or Siri, including never-tired ‘repeat’ button.

Now, here’s something interesting both my sister and I encountered.

Follow the recipe as closely as we could, our final result was NEVER as good as mom’s.

This was quite mystifying for a long time.

Did you saute the onions until they are translucent before putting in the meat? Yes. Did you put the lid on and turn down the temperature to low? Yes. And still it didn't come out right? Nope.

Not until just recent years, I don't know what but something happened and our mom started sharing her secrets with us.

A secret ingredient for cabbage.

A secret ingredient for peppers.

A secret sauce for…

All this time, she was telling the truth - she wasn't lying - but not the whole truth.

She held back, she kept an ace up her sleeve, so to speak…

When she started getting REAL with us, divulging some of her best kept secrets, it all came together. Now when I make peppers or sweet cabbage, they are as good as mom’s. 

During all these years of practice, I didn't realize I was missing an ingredient. I tried to make a stew or a soup, but, unbeknownst to me, something was left out. 

Following in my mom's footsteps, now, when I share a recipe, I make sure I hold something back... 

I keep an ace up my sleeve... 

... waiting for the right time and the right person... 

When I think of it, it truly is the best kept family secret!

The secret of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he will make them know his covenant. Psalm 25:14

Thursday, November 02, 2017

The Making of An Awesome MESS-AGE

Some time ago I heard a guest preacher say, 

You can’t spell a message without a mess.

Amen to that, I thought. He was wise person indeed. He also talked about junk in the trunk, but that's another topic I won't touch here.  

We all want to bring a message to the world.

Important message.

Even life-saving message.

But, we don't like the messy part. We want to ‘sanitize’ the mess out of message. Make it feel-good, nice, soft and cuddly. Or at least palatable. Less damaging, especially to our reputation. 

We want our message, but not so... messy?

According to English dictionary – as well as real life... 

... if you don't have a mess... you don't have a message.

You think you have a message?

Great! Show me the mess...

But that's not the whole story!

What struck me on that perfect bean soup day, while the bubbling pot was slowly simmering on our kitchen stove for hours, was that sometimes, when you and I are in the middle of it, it’s really hard to distinguish what is that message inside our glorious mess. 

All I see is a grand mess, but I can’t detect, I can't decipher a message.

This is where my slow-simmering pot of soup comes into play.

See, to make good bean soup, it takes time. A LOT of time, in my humble opinion. Not just the time to peel and chop, shred and saute. That's just preparation. That's just the beginning! What follows is four to five hours of slow-simmering on the stove-top, or inside a crock pot. Now, to me that's approximate definition of eternity, especially considering that you are going through all this trouble for a single meal which will be consumed and then forgotten in one sitting!

This little fact makes me wonder how much longer must it take to make some good, hearty, soul-nourishing life-soup out of all our heartbreak and failure, disappointment and disillusionment, weakness, blindness and sin?

Your and my amazing, life-saving, messy messages don't need just mess alone. The mess needs some time to process, to digest, to AGE

That, my friends, is how the yummy messages are created.  Put your mess in a pot, fill it up, then slow-simmer for a much longer while than you think is humanly endurable... until all the different flavors of the mess inside come together into one pot of pure deliciousness. 

And, voila, you got your MESS-AGE!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Recipe for Disaster

I realize I treat God in much the same way I do my mom.


Yes, darling?

I need a recipe. A really good recipe….

Recipe for what darling…?

What do you mean ‘for what?”… for LIFE, of course! My life stinks and I could really use help…

Sure, I’ll help you…

Well, that’s not exactly what I meant.  I don’t need your help…. Actually, I do need your help, but I just want you to give me a recipe… A simple recipe that I can follow…  Maybe four or five easy steps that guarantee awesome results.

I don’t want you to follow a recipe. I want you to follow Me.

I hesitate a bit because I know this is can be a sticky point. But I feel like I have nothing to lose, so I go out on a limb.

Well, no offence but you are kind of hard to follow. It would be much easier if you would just give me the recipe…. 


Recipe please… 


Pretty please?... With cherry on top?


I don’t know how it is for others, but for me, God’s silence speaks louder than Klipsch surround sound system. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Creativity on Auto-Play

I used to ask my Mom for recipes.            

What I meant by ‘recipe’ was really a precise, fail-proof, perfect-every-time science experiment that I can repeat in my kitchen at will. A simple outline to follow, that can be done with my eyes closed, or in my sleep, if need be.

I wanted all the right ingredients, in their right order and precise measurements ready to dump into the pot, walk away from it, come back in 45 minutes and have dependable ‘perfect’ result each time.

I didn’t really want to learn to cook.  To understand what each ingredient brings to the common pot.

I wanted an easy, disengaged, mechanical culinary creativity. Creativity on auto-play.
No brainwork. No guesswork.

Luckily for me, my Mom had different idea. 

She wanted me there in the kitchen with her.  Cry the onion tears. Smell the bacon fat.

Her recipes were more along the following lines:

Peel one or two onions, a bunch of carrots…

Is it one or two?

Depends on the size…

She would continue in the similar manner, peeling and chopping, wiping her onion tears with the corner of her apron. Adding sliced carrots, bay leaves… adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that…

How MUCH is ‘a little bit’?  My right brain was turning into a bobbing pot of exasperation. 

Well, it’s according to taste… depends on what you like…

She was introducing wildly subjective, left-brain categories of 'taste' and 'like' which felt like rocket science to my half-brain of choice.

But, I would watch her taste and tweak, and tweak and taste… Pause and think, as if scanning the invisible spice racks inside her mind, looking for just the right ingredient, then light up as she reached into the pantry to retrieve the missing piece of the culinary puzzle.

Frustrating as it was at the time, I learned to appreciate her approach. Eventually, without even trying I begun to emulate it... to the exasperation of all the terrorized right-brain children who want fail-proof recipe that would ensure the delivery of 'perfect' results every time. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Exquisite Art of Self-Sabotage

Making bean soup is not rocket science, or brain surgery. Truly, it isn't.

All you need is a nice hunk of smoked meat, onions, carrots and, of course, beans!

But, just like everything else in life, once you put away your mama's cookbook, close the Allrecipes tab on your computer, the moment you whip out the largest pot in the house and turn on the stove, you discover there is a bit more to it than you thought at first.

Because, the soup  - real soup - is made in the doing, not in reading the recipe, or talking about the recipe, or even writing a blog post, or an entire series - about the recipe. 

I am ashamed to even mention this, because it is so incredibly embarrassing.  I can spend an entire day (I am lying… it’s more like weeks and MONTHS!) reading recipe after recipe, salivating over other people’s tantalizing photos, binge watching YouTube culinary instructional videos to the point of utter exhaustion -  and have absolutely nothing, nothing – to show for my efforts.

I call it ‘research’.

I am a researcher.

As a researcher, I can turn the simplest, easiest thing in the world into rocket surgery and brain science, including making bean soup!

But, even for us, researchers, there is place for research, and then there is place to flip the research switch off and do some real life testing inside a real life kitchens.

For some of us, the very thought of this sends shivers down our spine.

What if I fail? 

What if it isn’t any good? 

I think I am not THAT hungry…

Canned soup is good enough…. 

Cooking is for professionals who have their own TV show…

I have outstanding ability to generate an impressive arsenal of excuses to effectively sabotage my own creative efforts.  I don't need anybody else's help or temptation - I do a mighty fine job myself!

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Curse of Canned Convenience

Soups can be super-simple. You walk into the pantry, grab a can, peel the lid open, pour it into a microwavable bowl and heat it on HIGH for 2:30. 

Voila! Your soup is ready!

For some of us, that's the only kind of soup we know, and we love it. A life-saver for busy moms and dads.

It's convenient. 

It's easy.

It tastes fine.  (My mom would disagree. She would rather be caught dead then eat canned soup!)
Canned soups are wonderful inventions, I tell myself.

But, some questions remain unanswered.

First of all, do you even know the person who made the soup? What did he or she put in it? How long ago was it made? The expiration date on the bottom of the can years out makes me even more nervous. Imagine a bowl of soup that sits on the pantry shelf for two years???  Would I even consider consuming something like that??!?

Still, canned soups are wonderful inventions for busy, distracted, rushed, on-the-go thoughtless lives we live.  I consume those on semi-regular basis, just like I do the pithy inspirational quotes that pop up in my Facebook newsfeed. They are just enough to take the edge of my soul hunger to keep me from working up a healthy appetite for truly nourishing food. 

They keep me sated, mildly sedated, vaguely unsatisfied and generally unmotivated to sink my teeth into anything of real substance.

Like the mass produced, mass consumed shareable content, a can of soup may fill up my stomach but it leaves me hungry everywhere else. It may silence my growling innards, but leave my body anemic, soul impoverished, and my heart and spirit severely, acutely malnourished. 

It is amazing to me that such conditions can exist on every level of society, regardless of the religious or political orientation, in what is deemed the riches country in the world...

Nobody, I mean, nobody is exempt. 

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. Matthew 5:6

Friday, October 06, 2017

The Perfect Bean Soup Day

We rarely get them in sunny Florida, but when we do, I try to take full advantage of them.  

The Bean Soup Days. 

Many times it’s just false, empty promises.  Foreboding clouds on the horizon spelling ‘rain in the forecast’ that burn off along with the morning mist by 10 AM. I’ve gotten wiser with age. I don’t trust those clouds anymore. Now, I check my Accuweather MinuteCast for our zip code to ensure that indeed I have a Bean Soup Day that lasts the ENTIRE day, not just through noon or early afternoon at best.  

Yesterday was a perfect Bean Soup Day. The Minutecast glowed in varied shades of green hour after hour, all the way into the dinner time. This is very important, because it’s no use having a bean soup day that turns into scorching steamy sunny day just as you are about to sit down and eat. I’ve done that a time or two, and it’s no fun. 

For an average control freak, it feels rather strange that I can't just decide, I can't simply choose a Tuesday or a Wednesday and make it a 'Bean Soup Day'. At least not where I live. I have to wait and watch, and watch and wait, plan and ensure that most of the ingredients are in stock and handy so when the weatherman says, It's a Go!, I am ready and I go!

If I mess up the timing, what is supposed to be warm and cozy comfort food becomes somewhat of a sweltering, suffocating torture. I've subjected my family to different forms of torture, this being one of them. Conversely, if I miss the window of opportunity, and I am not ready when the timing is right, it may be months before I get another chance. 

But, yesterday the weatherman was abundantly on my side, and I knew exactly what I had to do.

I am making bean soup today! I announced as I was pulling onions and carrots out of the bottom drawer of the refrigerator.