The Path of Affirmation

“Our doubts are traitors

And make us lose the good we oft might win

By fearing to attempt.”

~ William Shakespeare

(1564-1616)

.    .    .

“Is it my good I seek to gain or the good I can do for others?” she wondered (to herself.)

“Why do I withhold?” she wondered (aloud), “from anyone?”

“From… me?”

In either case, her indecision implied uncertainty, and that certainly wasn’t her intention.

When had she become so indefinite?

That implication, along with discovering that someone else was able to describe exactly how she felt (400 years earlier),  made her feel less special.  And yet… more special.

There was no one else like her on earth.

But… was she so different from the rest?  Not really.

Her sum total life experience was just another set of emotions — perhaps articulated less eloquently than the Bard — but worth listening to nonetheless.

(Whether anyone else heard her or not.)

Shakespeare she wasn’t, but she had something to say.  And cook.

Comforted by that thought, she squared her shoulders and decided (once and for all) that life was too short to be timid.

Then… she set about cooking what she wanted to eat.

And she savored every morsel.

Never be afraid to speak your mind.  (Or cook for yourself.)

Even if it means making a separate meal.

When your words — your art — your music — your food — touch one life (especially your own), it’s worth the risk.

Doubt in the kitchen keeps you from effectively serving others.

Eat what you want.

Enjoying culinary revolutions revelations,

~ Kim

The Path of Accommodation

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.

If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

~ Dalai Lama

.    .    .

I have been care-giving for three weeks now.

It’s been joy-filled, arduous, contemplative and demanding.  It’s time to step back.

Regroup.

Reconnect.

Rediscover bliss.

To all of the care-givers in the world who have endured so much more, for so much longer, I salute you with every positive accolade known to man and enfold you with hugs from the deepest recesses of my heart.

I also encourage you to take a break.

While I know it’s not always possible, I do know that everyone has a limit and I reached mine.  Recognize yours.  Honor the need to stop.  Take care of yourself, too.

My hiatus came in the form of a side trip to visit my mother-in-law.  During the pleasant two hour drive there, my stomach began to rumble and I thought, “I’m hungry.”  It was the basic recognition of a most basic need.

“What do I want to eat?” I wondered.

For a brief moment I felt selfish, thinking about satisfying my palate with something other than what I’d been cooking for my parents for the last 21 days.  (Which was dang good, by the way.)  But the foodie in me overruled the notion and simply said, “Feed your soul.”

I spied this restaurant and walked in, not knowing what to expect.  Suddenly I became aware of feeling enveloped in an elegant, enduring, empathetic embrace.  Sigh… my countenance needed that.  (Remind me to bring my camera next time…)

Perusing the menu over an extraordinary cup of black coffee, I was delighted to discover a culinary concept based on the four elements:  Air, Fire, Earth, and Water.

Basic-ness at its best.

I ordered the Lobster Bisque.  A salad with grilled salmon, fresh spinach, strawberries, and a lovely, citrus-y vinaigrette.  Chocolate Truffle Cake with Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise.  And the house specialty homemade French Fries with Parmesan Cheese and White Truffle Oil.  (My soul was hungry.)

Considering the previous stomach rumbling, I was surprised when I could only eat a fourth of it.  Knowing when to stop is as essential to eating as it is to care-giving.

Plus, it gave me something to savor later.

Soul-satisfaction may not always be immediate (and it doesn’t have to involve food), but recognizing the need to replenish yourself is as basic as Air. Fire. Earth. Water.

And forks in the road.

Enjoying a bliss break,

~ Kim

What do you do to take care of yourself when you’re pushed to your limit?

.

The Path Of Action

“One hour of life,

crowded to the full with glorious action,

and filled with noble risks,

is worth whole years of

those mean observances of paltry decorum.”

~ Sir Walter Scott

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

I used to be afraid to move.

To make waves.

To (for heaven’s sake) upset the balance.

Even though mine was out of whack.

No, it was far better to stay safe… compliant… pleasant.

Rather than to risk…

What?

A difference of opinion?  Anger?  Confronting my own ego?

Humility is a good thing — as long as it doesn’t mean being humiliated.  Serving others is a good thing — as long as it serves a higher purpose.  Self-deprecation is a good thing — as long as it doesn’t mean eradicating self.

I once told my Calculus teacher (after being late to his class for the umpteenth time), “Better late than never.”

He replied, “Better never late…”

Wise words from a noble man.

I’ve never forgotten them.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

There’s nothing wrong with being you.

Correction.

There’s nothing wrong with YOU.

(Or me…)

Sometimes you just have to grow into yourself.

Shift gears.

Take action.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

She stared at the open road in front of her (and the ten-speed shifter in her hand.)  How in the world did God expect her to make it out of the yard… let alone through Chicago?  (Pre-“I-pass” days, when every toll booth was a required stop.)

Will my mirrors be too close to the booth?  Will I be able to merge back into traffic without dogging gears?

Ahhh, yes.

Closeness and merging.

Isn’t that what life is all about?

We’ve either been somewhere or we’re going somewhere.   (Standing still isn’t an option.)

But… how close will we allow ourselves to get?

And, how successfully will we merge?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s: don’t stop!

When you put your dreams on hold, you put yourself on hold.

Make tire tracks or foot prints…

And keep moving forward.

~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Head for the open road, even if it’s an unfamiliar one.

Life’s too short to stand still.

Whatever you do, be yourself — and don’t be late.

Enjoying another fork in the road,

~ Kim

The Path Of Amusement

“A mind is not completely well organized that is deficient in a sense of humor.”  ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

~     ~     ~

Nothing went as planned. My flight out of Minneapolis was delayed by several hours due to de-icing (such are the hazards of leaving the homeland in December) and even the cab driver’s curt, curbside admonition set me on edge; when I opened the taxi door in front of the hotel, he advised: “Run!”

It was midnight in the Big Apple (a city I’d only read about or dreamed of visiting) and it wasn’t the glamorous entrance I’d envisioned. With a backpack slung over one shoulder, I bolted for the foyer as fast as my hiking boots could carry me, suitcase in tow. The first leg of my international journey disappeared into the darkness as quickly as the cab driver behind me.

What was a Midwest girl (and I reference that in frame-of-mind only; I was in my twenties) doing running around in the middle of December in the middle of the night in the middle of NYC?

Prior to that, my life was comparable to Cream of Wheat — warm and somewhat filling — but a part of me yearned for more than the bland serving of sitcoms and weekly tele-dramas that made up my social life. (FYI, the Internet was in its infancy.) Out of the blue, a high school friend invited me to visit her in London while she was on break from university and I knew it was an opportunity to be seized. There was no turning back.

5:00 a.m. Hi and goodbye, Big Apple. Time to go to London. Via Iceland.

Midwest girls are pretty savvy about snagging good deals. When Icelandic Air offered a two-day stay in Reykjavik on the return trip (hotel room, tours, and meals included on top of an already reasonable round-trip fare) I was on it like snow on a pine cone.

There are only two things I recall about that Transatlantic flight: 1) The meal was served on china plates with real silverware, and 2) they served Cognac.

The plane touched down at Keflavik International Airport and taxied to a stop some fifty yards from the airport entrance. Crunching over the snow-covered tarmack with a small band of debarking stragglers, an icy wind slapped me awake — an exhilarating and immediate consciousness after a bleary-eyed flight. In this heightened state of awareness, I also noticed no one spoke English.

With ticket in hand, I located the closest information kiosk, grinning from ear to ear as the lyrical sounds of the Icelandic language tickled my fancy. The clerk didn’t seem impressed by my euphoria. In fact when he glanced at my ticket, an aghast expression crossed his face and he immediately grabbed his two-way radio, speaking rapid-fire Icelandic into it. Even without a translator, I knew something was wrong.

He suddenly grabbed my backpack and said (in English), “Follow me.” It wasn’t a suggestion. We began to walk, then run through the airport hallways. At one point, he leaped over a velvet-corded barricade and I had no choice but to follow suit. Half-grinning, half-panting, I kept pace with my swift escort, wondering where he was leading me in such an all-fired hurry.

The double doors at the end of the hall slid open and I was on the snow-covered tarmack once again. Sprinting toward the plane (this time parked several hundred yards from the terminal on the runway), I watched the back door open. My able-bodied escort skidded to a stop at the bottom of the descending staircase, threw my backpack to the flight attendant at the top, and motioned for me to go. Now.

Bolting up the stairs two at a time, I plunked down in the first available seat, clicked the belt around me, and listened to the door hydraulic shut. Almost immediately, the rush of the jet engines pressed me back into my seat.

My, things certainly do come and go quickly here in Iceland…

After that little bit of hysteria was resolved, I settled in for the flight to Heathrow. Turns out it was an every-other-day flight — if I had missed it, I would have been stranded for two days.

Armed only with the knowledge of “who shot J.R.” (which proved to be quite the conversational nugget at a Boxing Day cocktail party I attended later that week — the episode hadn’t aired there yet — but I’m getting ahead of myself), I shook my head incredulously. I thought I’d organized this trip to a T, but chaos followed me.

Or led the way. ~

. . .

This is my brain when it’s organized…

~     ~     ~     ~     ~

I wish I could tell you I’ve been organized my entire life, but I wasn’t.

As a child, my clothes often found their way to a pile in the middle of my bedroom floor (which Mom affectionately referred to as “The Nest”) and I’d do almost anything to get out of doing dishes — just ask my sister.

No, mine was a casual flirtation with organization. I’d try it and like it, then forget about it as soon as something more interesting came along.

The only one who wasn’t fooled was my piano teacher. There was no such thing as faking the mandatory seven hours a week of scales and arpeggios, Hanon and Heller.  You either did them or you didn’t and it showed.

Organization (or lack of it) also shows.

Since then, I’ve found life to be much more amusing when my forks are in a row (so to speak.) But, I’m getting ahead of myself again — and that was the root of my problem. I wanted to enjoy results with minimal effort… sort of like eating dessert first.

Then I noticed a trend. My “amusement” increased exponentially (in the kitchen and out) when I added a missing ingredient: organization.

While that may not sound amusing, organization is as essential a kitchen tool as a good, sharp knife when you want to have fun. (That probably wasn’t worded the best.) Let’s just say I’ve learned how to appreciate the “daily” side of things. Here’s how:

1) Make your space your own.

I operated on the premise that my kitchen was organized, when in fact, the “space” pretty much dictated how I operated. After moving from house to apartment to trailer to storage unit to no house to Oklahoma, my move-in routine was: open the cupboards, fling things in, and pick up where I left off. Although I had a general idea of where I’d like everything to be, I never stopped to consider what would work for me in my present space. (And frankly reorganizing it once it was “in there” sounded like a lot of work.)

So I floated along, ignoring the cues that my brain inevitably sent me. “Why don’t you move the crockpot to a different cupboard? You end up moving it every time you need the fill-in-the-blank appliance.” … “You’ve never liked that cutting board; why do you keep it?”… “This is the third time you’ve had to dig through that drawer!” (You know that “voice” I’m talking about…) Isn’t it funny how we can occupy space without giving it any thought — or ignore our thoughts altogether?

After the New Year (no need to add another to-do during the holidays), make a date with your kitchen. Put on your favorite music, dress up like June Cleaver (or Ward if it tickles your fancy), pour yourself some coffee or tea (or Cognac), and sit down with a pen and paper or laptop. Then, write down every idea that enters your pretty lil’/handsome head. You might be surprised at the number of thoughts vying for your attention, awaiting translation.

2)  Imagine your cupboards without anything in them.

Picture where you’d like things to go, once and for all. It helps to do this before you put them there, but better late than never. Sometimes it’s a matter of moving one or two things around or getting rid of defunct items, not a full-scale kitchen re-do. And no wishing for more cupboards. (Adding space doesn’t increase your organization if you don’t utilize the space you already have.)

3)  Clean as you go.

Simple as it sounds, this nugget of kitchen wisdom has kept me from slaving over piles of pots and pans at the end the evening more times than I can count. You either do them or you don’t and it shows. If you have a dishwasher, empty it before you start cooking so you can tuck things out of the way as they’re used. If you don’t have a dishwasher, run a sink of hot, soapy water and swish your hands through the suds. Get out a clean dish towel and put on an apron. Feign June (or Ward) Cleaver-like efficiency and get to it. Preparing to clean up increases the likelihood of following through.

Amusement is as amusement does.

Organization has become one of the most essential items in my kitchen… and my travels. How ’bout you?

Enjoying life’s just desserts,

~ Kim

(For more tales about my culinary journey, please search Forks In The Road in the sidebar.)

The Path Of Acceptance

“When we cannot find contentment in ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere.” ~ Francois de la Rochefoucauld

“What in the world did I get myself into?” she wondered.

A pair of fluorescent bulbs flickered overhead, buzzing their swan song as she stared at a stream of water filling the commercial-sized sink.

An icy wind rattled the window above the faucet — a sharp reply to her dull existence.  Instinctively, she pulled her frayed sweater tighter, closer.

She was used to the cold; for years, it pervaded every part of her being, inside and out — she combatted it by adding more layers.  Inside and out.

But now… thinking about tonight’s dinner menu… there was an unfamiliar warmth.

A fluke, actually.

The cook at the halfway house was lousy, and lazy.  Everyone complained about his cooking, but no one was bold or brave enough to confront him.  Until last night.

Armed with the knowledge that there were freezers full of roasts and steaks in the garage (a surreptitious bit of info gleaned from the underground) and a pantry filled with untapped possibilities (she’d peeked in it herself), she glanced at the pile of ‘glop’ in front of her and said (mostly to herself), “I can’t eat this.”

“What did you say?!” the cook challenged from the head of the table.

A voice from somewhere deep within her repeated, “I can’t eat this.”

There was no accusation in her tone.  Simply a line drawn.  And one she would never cross again.

Her housemates were aghast, then encouraged.  One by one, they broke the silence.

“I’m tired of eating this… stuff.”

“Me, too.”

“Yeah, me, too…”

She held her breath, waiting.

Mr. Lousy-Lazy-Halfway-House-Cook jumped up and snarled, “If you think you can do any better, here!”  He flung a set of keys onto the table and huffed out of the room.  Nobody stopped him.  It was culinary mutiny.

They turned to look at the instigator.

“Will you cook for us?” someone asked expectantly.

“Can you cook?” asked another, snickering.  A round of laughter broke out, then suddenly quieted.

She considered the task — and the group — for a moment.  Twelve hungry souls, including herself.  They needed more than food, but it was a start.

Grabbing the key ring before anyone else could, she shoved her chair back — away from the table… away from the glop — and led the band of misfit mutineers through the kitchen, out the back door, and into the cold.

Ignoring it’s sting on her layerless form, she inserted a key into the padlock and whispered, “Pandora’s Box or pirates’ treasure…”

The lock yielded and the group tumbled inside, searching for something — anything — palatable.  Freezers were flung open and oohs and aahs ensued as an arsenal of food revealed itself.

The truth came to light.

Mr. Lousy-Lazy had been holding out on them.

She turned off the faucet and plunged her hands into the soapy water.

Basking in the warmth for the first time in a long time, she thought about food.

And smiled. ~

~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Our pasts produce shadows.

But hope… contentment… acceptance… produce light.

Even in a cold, dark kitchen.

Some of my most life-changing decisions have been made over a sinkful of dishes.

Enjoying breathing,

~ Kim

The Path Of Ambience

“Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” ~ John Howard Payne

~     ~     ~

There’s nothing like boxing up your worldly goods and transporting them from one place to another to instill a longing for the familiar… a longing that can only be appeased once the final article is unpacked and in it’s place.

Home.

I checked the padlock on the storage building and turned towards the truck.  Then it occured to me.  We’re homeless.  Well, “semi” homeless.

Other than a P.O. box number and a 10 x 20 storage cubicle stacked with the tangible evidence of our lives, we had no physical address, nowhere to call “home,” no place to live languorously, or love and laugh… no home.

Changing locations was an extension of our nomadic lifestyle — we’d done it three times in four years — but this time it was different.

“Moving” implies a definite destination and all we had was an idea.  After enduring almost half a century of Minnesota winters, Oklahoma sounded pretty good.  We just didn’t know where, or when.

With all of the accoutrements of home — from dinner plates to dressers, trinkets to treasures — locked behind a single-stall door and fading fast in the semi’s side mirror, my world suddenly became unfamiliar.  Or maybe a little too familiar.

Two human beings jutted together in a confined space for an undetermined amount of time can lead to some interesting dynamics. (!)

For now, our living quarters consisted of the inside of a 2005 Kenworth — less space than we’d assigned to the the inanimate objects we’d tucked away in silent repose.  Except for trucking runs dispatching us from Point A to Point B, we literally had no place to go.

It’s said that “Home is where the heart is.”

In our case, we were “home” 24/7, but it didn’t feel like it.  Even with the cute throw pillows I’d plumped over the paisley comforter on the sleeper bed, the truth was: we were wanderers.

As I glanced back one last time, I uttered a prayer and said, “Hasta la vista.”

It took leaving every thing behind to discover the things that meant the most to me.

It took leaving “home” to come home. ~

~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Ambience  is defined as “a surrounding or pervading atmosphere.”  Walk into a restaurant without it and I guarantee you won’t be a repeat customer, unless the food is exceptional.

The same is true of where we live.  More than just a place to reside or an accumulation of things, “home” encompasses a mood.

While I don’t recommend packing up your belongings and heading for the open road (unless you really want to be a truck driver), sometimes stepping away from “things” and taking stock of them is a good way to define yourself.  For me, it took a total disconnect from “impersonal things” to define ambience to me, personally.

We sailed the concrete sea for three months.

Living elbow to elbow, wrestling for mental space, loving and forgiving one another, living life-close-up forges the kind of atmosphere found in a warm home… or a blast furnace.

During that time I came to come to grips with everything I knew or felt about things… about home.  Was it really all about that cute little ‘display’ in the corner nook, or the latest color scheme perking up incidental places, or an afghan tossed ‘invitingly’ over the corner of the couch?  Did I really ‘need’ the next trend-setting things?

The longer I was away from them, the more shallow they felt.  The more shallow I felt.  I’d placed so much emphasis on making an attractive living space, I neglected to notice that I was merely looking at it, not living in it.

Pride goeth before the fall.

With nothing more than the clothes on my back, a favorite bedspread, and another human being to share the ride, I came to realize that the most important thing in my “world” was the human being.  It elevated my level of ambience to downright hospitable.

And I haven’t looked back since.

The next time you’re expecting company and you’re tempted to go “all out,” ask yourself why.  If you love doing it, great.  If you don’t, re-evaluate.  It’s all a matter of perspective.

So is it possible to create a warm, comfortable, human-being-affirming atmosphere in the cab of a semi (for three months?!) with more emphasis on people and less emphasis on things?

You betchur boots it is.

But don’t take my word for it.  Try it in your own home.

Enjoying all “things” in perspective,

~ Kim

The Path Of Adventure

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

~     ~     ~ 

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. ~

~     ~     ~     ~     ~

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?