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?

The Path Of Anticipation

“We can never know about the days to come but we think about them anyway.”  ~  Carly Simon

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve “looked forward to food” — good food.  By the time I was three, my penchant for the finer-tasting things in life had evolved into a habit.  Every time we’d go to Grandma’s house, I’d ask her for a cookie.  (No hugs and pleasantries first; my mind was set on the sheer joy of biting into whatever goodie-of-the-week had just emerged from her oven.)

My folks were chagrined; it was apparent that their middle child had missed the whole point of these Sunday afternoon outings — we were there to visit, not just to eat — and they did their best to redirect my enthusiasm.  They instructed, reminded, and cajoled.

When those tactics didn’t work, they appealed to my nobler sensibilities:  “It’s not polite to ask for food!”

I had an opportunity to consider this newly proffered wisdom on the next trip to Grandma’s.  Although the road was straight as an arrow, I’d come to a “fork” and it was time to choose a path.

Once our family-mobile (a pale green Chevy Impala the size of a barge) lurched to a stop in Grandma’s driveway, I scrambled out of the back seat, scurried up the steps, bolted through the front door (past Grandma) and skidded to a halt in the middle of her gray linoleum kitchen floor, eye-high with five dozen gingersnaps cooling on the counter.  After inhaling their spice-laden aroma with an audible sniffff…, I reverently declared: “Mmmmm, something smells good…”

After which, Grandma promptly offered me a cookie.

The Path Of Anticipation is rich in rewards. ~

There are pivotal points in everyone’s culinary journey and this was one of my earlier ones.  What a difference it made!  After that, instead of squelching my “food enthusiasm,” Mom and Dad just shook their heads at my ineffable spirit and smiled.  A foodie was born.  And nurtured.

Delectable tidbits may stimulate the appetite, but anticipation nurtures culinary pleasure.

Not be be confused with anxiousness or expectation, anticipation is an appealing combination of “recollection and hope”… it enhances an imminent experience based on cumulative experience.  (A déjà vu premonition, if you will.)  While it can be applied to a number of situations in life (the way I live life, actually), this post centers on food — good food — and no other word comes close to describing the before, during, and after effect that anticipation evokes.

Have I eaten this before?  Will it taste the way I remember it?  Is this a “first” for me?  Did I make it differently this time?  Will I make it again?  Does it remind me of a particular person, place or meal?  If so, was it a pleasant memory?  If not, how can I make peace with it to fully enjoy this moment?

In a nutshell:  “How did/does/will this food make me feel?”

I don’t mean “instant gratification,” though.  Anticipation takes patience — I call that anticipatience :) — and the thorough enjoyment of food, whether it’s a morsel or a meal, begins long before the first bite.

Food has the remarkable ability to engage all five senses.  It can be seen, heard, smelled, touched, and tasted — hooray!  It also provides multiple opportunities to interact, from shopping cart to prep to dinner plate.

Think of the deep red hue of a sun-ripened tomato… the “snap” of a fresh asparagus spear… the intoxicating fragrance of garlic and spices as they weave their way into a sauce… the slightly-yielding firmness of a fuzzy peach… the exhilarating explosion of flavors as a tantalizing fork-full hits your tastebuds…..

That’s anticipation.

So, how do you incorporate it into your culinary journey?  (Bear in mind, this is not medical advice… simply things that worked for me along the way.)

Start by cleaning your pantry — not the one in your kitchen, the one you’ve carried around from birth to now.  Consider your perceptions about food… are they yours?  Have you adopted attitudes (or even “family recipes”) that no longer suit you?  Life’s too short to eat other people’s food!  What do you want to eat?  Define your preferences.

Next, add anticipation to your grocery list — no more mindless trips through the aisles!  Be deliberate about your food selection — left or right?  Choose food that appeals to you, food that makes you look forward to eating.  Let your senses be your guide.

Then, when it’s time to prepare a meal, engage your senses once again.  Accept their open invitation to play!  Don’t just “make” food — participate.  Admire, sniff, nibble, listen, feel… have fun!

Allow me to interject a sixth sense here:  hunger.  Without it, food can’t be fully enjoyed, or anticipated.  (Which explains why I often eat dessert first…)  Hunger is a “gut” feeling.  Is my stomach full?  Empty?  Sort of?  Pay attention to its cues!  I don’t find food pleasurable when: A) I’m eating for the wrong reasons  — stress, fatigue, emotions, etc.;  or B) I’m not taking care of my body in the manner it deserves.

Of course this post wouldn’t be replete without some perspective from the trucking years… :)

For nearly a decade, I ate sporadically because of delivery schedules and warehouse hours, or a thousand miles between here and there, or finding a “closed” sign in a restaurant window at the only truck stop in sight.  While it’s possible to eat well on the run (and many folks do), I often put my hunger “on hold” or ignored it’s cues altogether — and I ended up throwing the whole thing out of whack.  My body was confused about when it wanted to eat, what it wanted to eat and why it wanted to eat.

Now, I take time to consider where hunger fits into my journey.  I nurture my body by welcoming true hunger and revel in satisfying it with a much-anticipated meal.  I also take time — make time — to enjoy it.  Good food is worth the effort.  Not to sound like L’Oréal, but I’m worth it… and so are you!

Finally, after every meal (or morsel), pause to savor this moment… because it nurtures the next one.

The path awaits.  Anticipate pleasure.

Enjoying the rewards,

~ Kim

Thank you for joining me on this first “Fork In The Road!”  Where are you on The Path Of Anticipation?

Forks In The Road … Pathways To Culinary Pleasure

“Two roads diverged in a wood…  I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” ~ Robert Frost

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I’ve traveled many roads in my lifetime — from the dusty gravel roads of my youth, laid out in precise square miles in southern Minnesota; to relentless asphalt commutes between work and home during the “busy” years; to the occasional dead-ends on the road of life, which forced me to backtrack and start over; to concrete super-highways spanning America (3,000 miles a week; more, when the hubby and I trucked together); to the twists and turns of scenic by-ways on vacation get-aways; to the red dirt roads that beckon me to wander the Oklahoma hills.  (That’s a whole lotta road in the rearview mirror.)

The intriguing ones would tease “Left, or right?”

Forks in the road require thought — and a response.

Ultimately, they led me to where I am.

In life… and in the kitchen.

In the coming weeks, I invite you to meander as I explore paths on my culinary journey that have made all the difference.

Perhaps you’ll find a few forks along the way.

Enjoying the possibilities,

~ Kim