Tag Archives: cooking

Apron Strings

www.melindawentzel.comI am a mediocre cook at best, perhaps an unlikely one as well, since I never was much for the kitchen—even as a kid. I have a handful of recipes in my repertoire that I feel comfortable with, most of which have been handed down through family over a number of years. Mastery came only as a result of determined effort and decades of repetition—certainly not from talent or inclination. That said, I almost never stray from the recipe, sticking to the formula that has worked for me time and again. There’s always the chance I’ll burn or undercook something, so I suppose that’s all the adventure I need.

Occasionally, I’ll branch out and try new things that I’ve seen on the Food Network, but only if I can pronounce the ingredients and find them easily in the grocery store. I’m not one to traipse around looking for something completely obscure that Giada went on and on about. That’s just not me. The degree of difficulty matters, too. Chances are if a third grader couldn’t prepare it, blindfolded with a whisk tied behind his or her back, I’m not likely to tackle it anytime soon.

I realize this isn’t the sort of example I ought to be setting for my daughters—always playing it safe, unwilling to step outside my comfort zone in order to reap the benefits that sometimes come with taking risks. As adults I’m hopeful they’ll be more adventuresome than I, delving into cookbooks, experimenting with new recipes they find online, crafting their own from scratch.

I’m sure if I had sons I’d feel the same way.

Nevertheless, I don’t pretend to know what my children will glean from me as it relates to culinary skills. Lord knows I’ve tried to lure them into the kitchen, because, of course, I’d feel like a complete failure if I didn’t at least teach them something. I’ll admit it was easier when they were small. We’d pull the heavy mixing bowls out of the cupboard, shove wooden chairs up against the counter and sort through the drawer for favorite aprons—the ones that practically swallowed them so many years ago, two tiny sets of feet peeking out at the bottom. Together we’d bake cookies, scooping mounds of flour, cracking eggs in a less-than-efficient manner and eating chocolate chips straight from the bag. Not surprisingly, my kids were greatly invested in anything that involved making a terrible mess and/or eating sweet stuff.

Over time, I coaxed them into learning how to make some of their favorite dishes, banking on the idea that they’d be inspired by the outcome. For the most part, this has worked, evidenced by the fact that they feel comfortable enough to make their own dinner once in a while and no one has burned down the house as of yet. No small feat.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether they fall in love with the kitchen and all that it entails. I won’t be disappointed if they fail to fully embrace it, nor will I be displeased if they do. I just want them to continue to enjoy spending time with me there—even if I have to bribe them with Ghirardelli chocolate chips or having free rein to make an enormous mess of my kitchen, something that’s still very popular.

What’s more, years from now I hope I’ll see that I’ve managed to impart at least two things to my daughters, neither of which has anything to do with properly sautéing vegetables or peeling a hard-boiled egg without destroying it. I want them to recognize the importance of making a meal for someone who really needs to feel pampered or just plain loved—to know that comfort food is a godsend when someone is grieving or recovering or stressing about life in general.

I also want them to remember how special it made them feel to have someone bake them a birthday cake, slathered with their favorite icing and/or sprinkles. If they can in turn bake someone happy on their special day, that would indeed make me smile.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, Meat & Potatoes

In Praise of Turkey and Tradition

We make pot pie at our house each Thanksgiving—a savory Pennsylvania Dutch meal that features the most perfect blend of onions, potatoes, thick squares of doughy goodness and meaty strands of chicken. Only we use turkey on this festive occasion. Six-and-a-half pounds of succulent dark meat to be exact, bathing in a vat of broth that most would find fairly intoxicating. It’s tradition. Or more correctly, a slight variation on tradition that serves to remind our family of the delectable dish my mother-in-law made not so long ago.

That said, in the four years since Grandma Ella’s been gone, I’ve tried at least three times to marry the flavors of the aforementioned dish as well as she did. And although I doubt I’ve managed to achieve that level of culinary success, I’m guessing I’ve come close—which is saying a lot given my proclivity for food related disasters, making me heady with the notion that my skills are no longer thought to be among the most deplorable on record.

Tomorrow will be yet another attempt at pot pie mastery, and, of course, an opportunity for all of us to close our eyes, to breathe in the deliciousness that will hang heavy in the air and in doing so, to revisit a time when Grandma stood at the stove peering into a steamy pot, summoning her special brand of kitchen wizardry. I’ll wear her rumpled apron for good measure—a speckled and storied bit of fabric flecked with tiny green leaves, now wan and threadbare from decades of use. I’ll wear it because I cannot imagine surviving the ordeal without splattering inordinate quantities of the soupy potage upon myself, but also because it’s tradition—or at least that is what it has become over time. Heaven forbid I disturb the delicate balance of good luck and a great recipe by offending the gods of tradition and/or flawless feasts.

With any further good fortune, I’ll be able to lure my charges away from the colorful swell of parades on television, from their beloved Wii in the den and from the pervasive yet somehow endearing skies of gray and barren woodlands long enough to enlist their help in the kitchen. Never mind that Thing One completely abhors turkey. Or that Thing Two will feign interest unless and until I permit her to stand atop a chair to drop wedges of dough into a boiling sea of broth. Grandma would’ve let her do such a thing, mindful to teach her the importance of placing each wedge, carefully and singularly, atop a bubble as it surfaces within an impossibly brief window of time. Just as she taught me—just as I hope and envision all three of my children will one day teach their children. Handing it down from one generation to the next.

Again, with the tangible and treasured notion of tradition—on this Thanksgiving Day and, perhaps more importantly, on perfectly ordinary days—the ones I routinely fill to capacity with obligations of one kind or another, dismissing all too often the mundane slivers of time with my family as opportunities to connect and share that which I value. Of course, I kick myself for doing so, recognizing that it is the harvest of tiny moments that matter most. Like the delicious time I spent with my grandparents, especially my grandfather in his workshop—a place that reeked gloriously of motor oil and sawdust—a place where I became inextricably consumed time and again with saws and sandpaper, two-by-fours and tape measures. A handful of seemingly insignificant pages of childhood that somehow clung to the corners of my mind, filling me with the warmth that comes from having lived them.

I’d like to think that simple traditions (like making pot pie) are like that, too.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (in praise of turkey…and tradition). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Meat & Potatoes

Puuuurfect Pancakes

PREPARATION TIME: Significantly longer than it takes to prepare entrée without a feline helper—or without assistance from children drunk with amusement over said feline and his asinine antics.

SERVES: As many poor souls who dare to partake—despite knowing all the facts.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup dry Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix

¾ cup milk

1 T oil

1 egg

Dash of saliva, eau de pussycat

Tuft or twenty of black fur (see above)

Trace of cat breath (don’t ask)

INSTRUCTIONS: Combine dry pancake mix and milk in a bowl. Set aside on counter. Instruct children not to blow on flour-like heap or to stir clumps of milky mixture with their fingers—no matter how tempting that might be. Search high and low for oil and fresh egg, employing great care not to trip over children or ravenous cat in the process. Set egg and oil on counter and begin search for measuring spoon. Warn children (hand on hip and finger wagging is optional) not to spin or juggle egg—no matter how tempting that might be.

Become thoroughly engrossed in some inane activity like talking on the phone (with husband who SHOULD be home helping with dinner), checking e-mail or responding to 324th child-generated question of the day. Set table. End activities and return to pancake disaster-in-the-making. Work self into frenzy upon sighting cat on counter with head totally immersed in bowl. Throw both hands up in the air and then on top of head (hair pulling is optional) while giving children patented incredulous how-could-you-NOT-tell-me-he-was-in-the-batter?!! type of look.

Really go ballistic when eye-contact is made with little black bastard, now abundantly bedecked from nose to tip of whiskers with flour/milk mixture. Begin fuming profusely from the ears when cat nonchalantly blinks and licks his lips as if to say, “It’s simply marrrrrrvelous.” Bolt in the direction of furry four-legged miscreant, screaming louder than when he shattered favorite butter dish and shredded children’s school calendar—just because. Chase wily little demon around the house like a madwoman bent on thrashing his sorry patutie, while simultaneously launching a lengthy and colorful tirade, recounting each and every misdeed for which he was responsible and all that could have possibly been WRONG with the decision to ADOPT said cat. Kick and pummel self repeatedly for having caved-in to kids’ begging and whining for cat, for becoming attached to his fuzzy little face in the first place and for ever thinking his ridiculous pranks were cute.

Catch breath and regain composure while dismissing feelings of utter rage and loathing toward cat. Give up on locating him for the time being. Vow to thrash him next time. Accept the fact that THERE WILL BE A NEXT TIME. Return to kitchen. Reassure ashen-faced children that you haven’t killed their pretty new kitty. Instruct them not to repeat the words Mommy shouldn’t have said—no matter how exciting that might be during Show and Tell.

Warm griddle or fry pan to medium-high heat or until a few drops of water sizzle upon contact—with pan or with furrowed brow. Remove tufts of fur from flour/milk mixture. Add remaining ingredients to bowl. Mix well. Convincingly explain that all those silly cat germs—now housed in the batter—will surely be killed once we “…put it on the stove and cook the bejesus out of it.”

Pour batter onto heated surface (in desired shapes and sizes), ignoring children’s persistent requests to “Make him one, Mommy! Make him one!”

SERVE & ENJOY: Resist the urge to noticeably inspect pancakes for traces of fur, etc. and deny all claims that… “Mr. Binks helped us make pancakes, Mommy! I think I can smell his breath in here!”

Heaven forbid you give him that kind of satisfaction.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

 

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Cat Chronicles, Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Meat & Potatoes, Ode to Embarrassment, Rantings & Ravings