Cooking Rhythms

Do you cook to the beat of your inner drummer?

Most of us have our own style when it comes to the culinary arts. Some people’s culinary beat features the rhythm of tearing open frozen meal cardboard containers, slam of the microwave door, peal of the buzzer announcing it’s done, and muttered ouches at discovering the box is actually hot.

birthdayMy rhythm whirled into motion on Christmas Day as I prepped the turkey for baking. My plan was to rub it with butter and add a few herbs for emphasis. My elderly parent watched me sprinkling on oregano and objected. “You aren’t putting that on the white meat, are you? Most people just put salt on the turkey.”

They do?

Sigh. Having two people each trying to do things their own way is erm, complicated. I compromised to keep us both happy. Salt for the turkey breast. Oregano on the dark (meat) side. Got the turkey into the oven. Next I slid in the pan with a thin layer of sponge cake dough onto a lower rack. It cooled for a half hour as dictated by the recipe for Buche de Noel. However while rolling it into a log shape, the cake broke into long wedges. I stared at the remains, groaned at the mess, and decided to pour hazelnut-flavored, chocolate sauce I’d made over it. Voila pudding cake!

My baking metronome kept ticking as I mixed up a batch of cookies, and added cranberries and orange peel. Mom thought I was a little, (okay, a lot crazy) to be concentrating on so many things at once, but I was letting out my inner chef and having a good time.

I discovered a cup of water, cup of sugar and bag of fresh cranberries become cranberry sauce with about 10 minutes of bubbling on the stove. (No, the bag wasn’t included). Canned cranberries not needed!

For once my meal timing paid off. The rice pilaf with real slivered almonds, and vegetable dish were both ready when the turkey was. Yes, I know my meat carving skills are lacking – I was once again reminded of that – sigh. But everything tasted scrumptious – even if I do say so myself!

I recall watching my grandparents executing their own two-part melody during Sunday and holiday meals. Grandpa took charge of the meat and the potatoes, Grandma focused on the rolls, veggies, and the gravy. It wasn’t Sunday dinner without the sounds of the wire whisk and the slow smooth pouring in of a flour liquid into the drippings and making gravy. I have tried to imitate her so many times and the gravy making gene apparently isn’t in my DNA set. Alas.

Being the oldest grandchild allowed me other privileges. Such as hovering close to Grandpa as he deftly cut the turkey or roast beef into thin slices, giving me small samples to taste test. And of course there was the buzz of the TV in the back with sports announcers barking out the latest plays and scores. Conversation going. Forks clinking and knives cutting the slices into bite-size pieces.

Possibly the maestro of culinary rhythm is my sister-in-law. She is a Pinterest fan and finds adorable things on there to concoct for her small son’s celebrations. The latest celebration featured trains and a train cake inspired by Pinterest

I hung around the kitchen watching her craft the choo-choo train. Offered my help, but she was in her element and rolling strong. The cake took shape with a small smoke stack and a cow catcher in front. Wheels. Intricately wonderful details that I could only marvel at. I helped in the background. No fear that this cake would have to be turned into a pudding cake!

Her culinary trek wasn’t without its interruptions. Spreading the frosting over the cake posed the biggest challenge to successful completion. I don’t think she viewed the final product as being quite what she hoped for. But to me, the choo-choo cake was the crowning touch of preparations that included using masking tape to create train tracks on the floor and signs that mirrored warning signs at railroad crossings. Warning! Birthday Crossing! Later, we family members gathered together to laugh and talk and sing Happy Birthday to a small lad who is precious to us all. And to enjoy the results of the creative beat that fuels my sister-in-law..

(C) 2015 by Mary Louise Van Dyke.  All Rights reserved.

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What we share in common

Past experience has taught me to swaddle my religious beliefs into a tight, self-contained bundle.

book bundle

After all, religion is supposed to be one of those – shhhh, keep your opinions to yourself – in order to not alienate friends and family.

However, after reading a book titled “Post Traumatic Church Syndrome,” or PTCS, those bonds of self-preservation are slipping. Author Reba Riley highlights her struggles to come to peace after breaking away from her upbringing as a Pentecostal Christian. She seeks answers while making a spiritual quest that takes her to 30 assorted places of worship. Her goal is to finish the quest by age 30.

I began reading, even while questioning why I was doing this. Was there something in PTCS, I needed to learn? Or to use in resolving questions from my faith journey? About half way through the book, I am still pondering those questions even while finding it nearly impossible to stop reading.

My spiritual resume features being raised Baptist, converting to Roman Catholicism at age 17, and visiting a lot of churches as an adult.

Baptist and Catholic, although both Christian denominations, seem goalposts apart. That point was forcefully driven home soon after my conversion when family members discussed my decision. The overwhelming consensus was two thumbs down, in conversations that resembled mixing Diet Cola with Mentos.

My response was to find a place to hide and try and calm down. Were they correct? Was I wrong to feel – finally –- at home in the Catholic church?

Like Riley, I was at a point where I desperately needed answers. A wise woman was there for me. Her joy in being Catholic encouraged me to reflect on why I’d made the decision to convert.

I won’t say the journey grew easier after that. I stop attending church for a time during my first marriage to an agnostic. Eventually I began attending mass again. Regaining my spiritual equilibrium involved learning to appreciate the best of what I had learned as a child – and where I respectfully disagreed with my family, and yes, also with the Roman Catholic church.

Curiously writing as a religion reporter would broaden my outlook as well both in my professional and personal life. In reporter mode, I attended interfaith holiday services at Protestant churches, learned about the Orthodox Greek church, and was a guest of honor at Passover gatherings. Asked by a Jewish person why I was there, I respectfully replied I consider Judaism the parent of Christianity.

Although there to record, I mentally connected to what was happening at these varied events. The answer, I thought, was focusing on what we hold in common. Do good to your neighbor. Do not harm the person who asks you for help. Show caring and compassion to others.

I appreciated the times when people of differing faiths came together, such as the evening a group of Catholic and Muslim women held a dialog at a mosque. The facilitator said in this time of darkness she wanted Christian and Muslim women to share their faith.

The intent was not conversion, but understanding.

I covered an event at a Catholic college where the campus community were saying good-bye to a young Buddhist monk who’d attended classes there. He was returning to his home in Cambodia to operate a children’s home. Watching him, in his orange robe, hug the former college president, good-bye brought tears to my eyes. “You go with my love and prayers,” the president told him.

Truly, links between religions are possible. My journey includes forging connections between the church of my youth with the spiritual home of my personal heart. Yes I believe in the trinity of God, Jesus, the Son, the Holy Spirit. Serving as a lector, or reading the Bible, at services is another tie. Siblings and my mother have attended mass with me a few times and I sometimes attend their church services.

Now that I am in my middle years, I appreciate better my family’s distress. Parents want to share their beliefs, values with their kids. Be that in church – or not attending church. Atheists, agnostics have every bit as much concern about their humanistic values. Seeing sons and daughters questioning and breaking free of family expectations, isn’t easy.

But my faith is my own. I don’t expect others to fully share or appreciate it. I wrestle with it, fight to remove any blinders, and seek answers. Others must forge their own paths as I do mine.

© 2015 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.

I believe in Santa

I believe in Santa Claus.                                    santa claus

You may question my sanity. After all, I am a grown woman in the middle years of life. And that particular fantasy is supposed to be tucked away with other childhood memories in the dim recesses of memory. Perhaps taken out once in awhile and smiled fondly over.

But I believe in Santa – and perhaps even more now then I did as a wide-eyed girl of five or six. I’ve had several encounters with Santa as an adult, and my belief is back and threaded into my life.

The resurrection began when I was a young mother in my late 20’s, returning home one day to find presents there. lovely wrapped gifts – ones that neither I, nor my mother could have afforded. I was asked by my child who had brought them and all I could say was ‘Santa Claus.” The best gift of all was a plush teddy bear that was treasured dearly for many years.

In my mid-30’s I became a reporter and as a reporter was held to the standard of being skeptical about information. Question and double check facts.

Now that might not tie in with a belief in Santa Claus. But a few of my most treasured stories were the ones connected to the Great Elf, himself. I interviewed Santa Claus for several times, including a visit to a library where Santa was asked for some unusual gifts.

A young girl wanted a violin for Christmas and a boy asked for a lump of “nonflammable coal” for his brother. Another young wisher admitted to asking Santa for a million dollars, a jet, and “everything in the world.” Even though his house probably couldn’t hold everything single thing in the world, he admitted.

Santa promised to try and fill the lad’s wish list.

However, there are wishes Santa can’t do anything about. He told me about the time he talked to a little one whose father had recently died. His heart broke when she asked if Santa could bring her daddy back.

Fiery Santa of the Davenport Fire Department and his lovely wife, Mrs. Claus, didn’t have the magic to cure children of sicknesses and injuries. However, having Mr. and Mrs. Claus and Sparky (the fire department’s mascot) visit provided a delightful twist in a saga of feeling ill. Children in the pediatrics ward smiled as elves passed out wonderful gifts (courtesy of the fire fighters). Trains and toy trucks and computer games and other presents, all eagerly welcomed.

After leaving the hospital, the North Pole group traveled by fire truck to a care center in Davenport. Seeing fiery Santa brightened the day just as much for the elderly residents, conjuring up memories of long ago Christmases.

A woman recalled the days when she and her husband waited until late Christmas Eve to put up the tree and wrap presents. Their children always woke up early, early on Christmas morn, leaving little sleep for mom and dad. The woman smiled as she told me she missed those days.

Another resident shared her memories of the time she and her husband were broke. Christmas was approaching and the couple despaired of being able to give their children presents. Help showed up unexpectedly, she said, when a friend repaid her husband for a loan. That $35 went a long ways towards making Christmas happy, she said.

This holiday season I am working as an elf at the mall. Being an elf – or Santa – isn’t always easy. Some youngsters turn shy when parents try to nudge them forward and I advise mom and dad to shake hands with Santa first.

One family’s Christmas photo will be termed “Grumpy family.” The kids refused to smile. The photographer ended up encouraging the parents to mirror their kids’ expression. Happy Grumpy Christmas!

Some kids run to Santa, secure that he knows them. A few give him cards and cookies. Last week Santa was presented with a sliver of cookie from a small lass who really wanted the whole thing for herself. He laughed.

So if you ask if I believe in Santa. I do.

© 2015 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.