The Path Of Adventure

“The heart has reasons of which reason has no knowledge.” ~ Blaise Pascal

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Growing up in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, you’d think I was surrounded by water.  Nada.  My back yard was fenced in by corn fields, hay fields, bean fields, and barns.

Other than the residual puddle after a heavy rain (or the “cow tank,” if you were hard-pressed for a dunk and didn’t mind being nudged by a Holstein), the closest body of water was a quarter-mile down the road — a drainage ditch which I affectionately (or desperately) called “the creek.”

It drew me like a magnet.

Running along the east edge of our farm, the creek was no more than three feet wide at it’s widest and barely shin-high, with just enough “grade” to trickle over the rocks birthed each Spring by post-glacial labor pains.  Minnesota has more rocks than lakes.

I made that quarter-mile trek often and at varying speeds, depending on the state of things at home or in school.  Most of the time I “got along okay” at both places, so my pace wasn’t much faster than an amble.  Lost in thought, I’d scuff up dust or kick rocks in front of me until I reached my visual cue to stop: a rusty, corrugated culvert where the creek intersected the road and gurgled underneath before meandering farther south.  There, I’d clamber down the ditch, hop across the narrowest puddle, and commence with my own meandering.

But, on days when childhood crises or teenage angst or unsettling words echoed in my mind, I’d march down the road at a brisk clip — sometimes even sprint — spurred on by the serenity I knew I’d find there after I wiped away a tear or two.  There wasn’t a problem the creek couldn’t cure.  Water has a restorative effect on me, and for a makeshift tributary, it sufficed.

The banks on either side were lined with tall grasses, fox tails, and a multitude of wild plum trees.  In May when the plum blossoms opened, I’d revel in their fragrance, brushing aside honey bees with a good-natured “shoo” as we took in that soft, sweet smell together.  They never stung me; it wasn’t a competition — it was mutual admiration.

Except for barren, gaping “dirt cliffs” gouged out by eddies during snow-melt or after the Spring and Fall rains (depending on how the water ran), the banks were an inviting place to lie back, think thoughts, and dream dreams.  A young girl’s paradise.

Most of the time it was innocuous — close enough to wander unsupervised, a sanctuary uninterrupted by daily life — but when the water was high, it was downright dangerous.

Run-off from the neighboring fields collected rapidly between the banks, increasing in depth and speed until they culminated in an angry-looking whirlpool at the mouth of the culvert.  It churned ominously, devouring dirt and gravel until the water receded, leaving a dinosaur-sized bite out of the edge of the road.

Despite warnings to “stay away,” I felt compelled to get as close as I could.  I’d “sneak down to the creek” and throw good-sized rocks into the maw, just to watch them get sucked under.  Then I’d listen for the dull “clunks” as the maelstrom chewed them up and spit them out, catapulting them through the culvert to the other side of the road.  I marveled at how anything could survive such an ordeal.  Little did I know, it was a metaphor of my life to come.

The creek was a place to cry over crushes gone bad, dabble in poetry, nibble on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and dream of worlds bigger than my square-mile existence.  It showed me how to balance risk with common sense by balancing on rocks.

It taught me to listen to my heart.

The beginning of adventure. ~

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When I was a truck driver, I thought about food all the time.  Not “Gee, I hope they have chicken fried steak at the next truck stop” kind of thoughts — I’m talking about full-fledged grocery wish-lists.

Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder and I missed my kitchen terribly; by the time I climbed down from a semi cab for the last time, I was three years ahead on menu planning.

For me, the adventure on this culinary journey comes from seeing ideas through… from inspiration to dinner plate.  Or dessert plate. :)

As with any adventure, there’s risk involved.  The trick is in “balancing” what you know with what you hope to accomplish.  (And if you don’t know, ask.)  90% of cooking “adventures” could be avoided with a little research; the other 10% are due to a deplorable lack of common sense.  (Eggs really do explode in the microwave.)   Ahem.

With the resources available to cooks today, there’s no reason to be afraid of trying something new.  When I first started cooking “for real” (Ramen doesn’t count… and yes, stoves were already invented…), I was armed with nothing more than a Better Homes & Garden Cookbook, a year’s subscription to Bon Appetit, and an insatiable desire for flavor.

Now there are cooking shows, videos with step-by-step “tutorials,” a multitude of reputable cooking blogs, and — as a last resort — the Internet to answer your questions.  Again, use common sense.  If it doesn’t “feel right” to add a cup of salt (instead of a teaspoon, like your heart is telling you…), don’t do it.  Typos happen.

While common sense can (and should) dictate technique, ideas are driven by adventure — those “aha” moments when a food or flavor combo enters your brain… your heart, actually.  Be inventive, creative.  Go for it!  The difference between a “so-so” meal and one that potentially rocks your world is the amount of time, effort and risk you’re willing to put into it — a gourmet gamble, so to speak, but so-o-o-o worth it when you follow your heart.  Most of all, it’s just plain fun.

Enjoying the adventure,

~ Kim

Where has your heart led you… in the kitchen… and in life?