Thursday, July 12, 2012

I Love to Cook

I love to cook. Since moving to North Carolina, I watch a ton of Food Network shows. So many, in fact, that my family jokes that our TV has only one station. Before we had cable, I watched PBS cooking shows. I read recipes. I create recipes. I have, in the past, reviewed cookbooks and written recipes for “Home Cooking” and the now-defunct “Amateur Chef”.  In 2001 my husband and I were lucky enough to go the races at Bristol to research and write an article for them about how NASCAR drivers eat on race day.
My whole extended family likes to cook to one degree or another. From modest cooks who deliver their special dishes to family reunions to several professional cooks and chefs, we have competitive grillers, food carving artists, meat specialists, food stylists, salad makers, casserole creators, and bakers. Bakers galore. While we each have our weak points, there isn’t a one among us who can’t follow a recipe to produce delicious baked goods. 

Gee, does that sound like a community of sweet teeth? Sweet tooths?

In addition, we like to provide an abundant amount of food. If we aren’t sending food back with someone or eating on it for a week after, well, we just haven’t done things right.

On the one hand, today, we have people like us, who just adore cooking and dining. We have the people who love to explore new ways and new foods to cook. We have people who share love by sharing food. However, we also have school bake sales under fire, rampaging obesity, and restaurants competing to serve you the largest, hottest, baddest plate of food you can find.

What is food? Is it sustenance? Fuel to run our bodies? An emotional crutch? A way to love?

There are those who think food’s sole function is to fuel our bodies. Among them are athletes and others concerned about health who urge us to eat in moderation only those foods that benefit our bodies. That’s not a bad thing. I’m all for eating healthy foods. And I agree that we should be careful about putting balanced combinations of food into our bodies. Yet, I think there is more to the picture than filling up at the table like cars at a gas station.

Practically every culture and society attaches more to food than the simple task of fueling the body. Meals are events, opportunities to gather for fellowship or celebration. Meals are exercises in diplomacy. be it familial or international. Meals are a way to show welcome and love.

This point of view does not dictate relying on food high in fat, sugars, and calories. It does imply making people feel comfortable, which in turns mean having things that are satisfying and fun and having enough to eat. I think it also suggests serving a variety of foods, well-prepared, in moderate portions and allowing guests to enjoy everything they eat.

I didn’t grow up Southern, and my family’s parties were primarily for family, not outside guests.  I didn’t get the early hospitality training that so many Southerners get at mama’s knee – or from the air they breathe, I’m not sure which. However, there was a story I read a long time ago about a rabbi who went to dinner that influenced my thinking greatly.

Now, the rabbi was the guest, not the hostess, but he was aware of a unique kind of ‘hospitality’, the desire to above all else, make the other person comfortable. As the dinner guest, he received a plate of matzo ball soup. This soup is made with chicken broth heavily laden with fat, often referred to as ‘schmaltz’. To his dismay, when he was served, there was a fly in his soup. Now, not being in a restaurant, he couldn’t exactly fuss at the waiter and ask for a fresh plate. And he didn’t want to make the hostess feel bad. While he might have been able to overlook personal squeamishness and down the soup anyway, consuming a fly broke his faith’s dietary rules. So, his dilemma: which was worse, eating something his religion said he shouldn’t, or mortifying his hostess by exposing her culinary and sanitary faux pas? The rabbi was sorely conflicted, but the thought won out that it was far worse to inflict pain on his hostess than to break a dietary rule. So, cleverly, he used a chunk of matzo and fat to pin the fly to the side of his dish. At least now his food was only tainted by the bug’s presence, and his hostess’s  reputation and serenity was intact. Imagine his consternation later when, on handing his hostess the empty dish, he discovered the fly was gone – with only one route by which it could have left.

This, to me, represents the true spirit of hospitality: to make the other person feel comfortable and at ease.  To make them feel both secure and trusted in your presence. Inviting someone to share food at your table is indeed a statement of trust. Serving them food that you prepare (or even purchase) is a commitment to concern about their state of being. Sharing food that you enjoy, that provides pleasure as well as sustenance, is a gift that can build relationships and strengthen bonds. Food becomes celebration.

                                                                 photo (c)  courtesy kaminnick 2011

Yes, we need to use the gift of food resources God has provided wisely. But, wise use does not have to mean stoic, constrained use. It can mean joyful, thoughtful use that provides as much pleasure as it does nutrition. I think that is using the resource in an abundant way, taking full advantage of it. I think perhaps that is part of what it means to live the abundant life.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Airport

Before we moved to Fayetteville, back in 2004, my husband started a new job. It was listed as including about 40% travel, but that quickly morphed into 95% . While we'd always avoided these sorts of jobs for him (being a couple that did not like separation), this job was a good one that he was enthusiastic about, and the only thing on the horizon. Plus, he was already committed. It all worked out well, leading to where he is today. 
He had several adventures to relate to us about his travels. Recently he was digging through some files and found the first email he'd sent us about his first trip out.  Herewith, 'The Airport'.


I figured I'd borrow a page from Meg's book and let you know what has been going on here. First, the flight.

Air travel (at least according to United) just isn't that great. Take this in the context that United is in serious financial difficulty, and you'll understand.

First, the flight attendants seemed way too casual. They bungled the required seat belt instructions, and things went down hill from there. Mid-way, they came on the intercom and announced that they would be
serving the requisite snacks (about 6 peanuts) and that (1) there were no cups (2) they weren't going to be able to provide water 'cause of  1, (but there would be soda), but due to no ice, it would be warm.

After landing at Dulles, we taxied around for about 10 min, and then were herded into a bus, which gave us a grand ground tour of the airport. There had to have been 40 of us, and the bus seated about 20, so
the rest had to stand and grab ahold of a jungle gym like mess of poles and horizontal bars. Most just grabbed the person next to them. We rode around for around 10 minutes, and then made it to the terminal.

The baggage claim area was up a flight of stairs, down a corridor, down 2 flights, through a construction area, around a couple of sharp corners, back up 2 or maybe 3 flights of stairs on a non-working escalator,
down a few more twisty passages all alike, and then into a huge area with a dozen or so baggage carousels. You had to consult a bank of monitors listing every flight since Kitty Hawk to figure out where your baggage would come out. The baggage already knew this of course, so it hid underground and laughed while you tried to find the right monitor and then the right carousel. Eventually there was a cosmic concatenation,
and baggage began to emerge from the carousels. These things are evil, slanted beings, and you had better be able to run along side to grab at the handles which even though there are ones on almost every side of your bag, there are none close enough to touch. Did I forget to mention that due to the number of people, you have to accelerate, miss, and decelerate in about 18 inches? Wait till the next lap, and repeat. Enough of that.

The to-hotel trip: I met a really nice guy who offered a taxi, (actually it was a large Mercury sedan with leather upholstery, little English, and no meter). Just $29 later including tip, I was deposited in the BACK parking lot of the hotel. It was a dark 9:30 PM, and I estimated that the wedding reception had been going on since at least 2 that afternoon. I needed to get to the FRONT to check in, and it was an open bar, so even though I wasn't wearing a tux, the bride's father offered his condolences for my coming in late, and just drop the bags in the corner, and here's my wife,
and why didn't you leave your bags in the room right after I have another drink for you? She's married, you know.

I was going to tell you about the job, but all my letters are used up. More on that later.  Miss you all, and this are going to be FUN!


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Chaos in Our Lives

There are lilies blooming on the church lawn. Their petals are translucent, brilliant white, with yellow anthers adorning the centers like jewels hung from long green filaments. Spring time is nature time.

In the church office I have a desktop background that is a picture my husband took of turtles on a log spanning the creek that runs through our property. They are turtles of many sizes and more than one specie. Big, little; old and rusty-looking, fresh and green and black; all watchful and curious. There are 14 of them along the log, with their doubles reflecting from the water below. It’s a friendly picture. Several people have complimented it.

turtles on a (c)  by dkminnick

Recently our family worked together to move that log. It had sunk lower in the water, part of it had broken off, and it was now causing more problems by blocking the creek flow than it was providing perches for the turtles. My husband waded into the water to leverage the log. One of our sons used an ax to try to severe it at the base where it had fallen in. Their combined efforts snapped the log, and we moved it to a spot better suited to creek and turtles alike.

Well, we hope it will be. As we surveyed the changed geography – we are also altering the stream bed in an effort to enlarge it – I wondered if they’d recognize there was still something there for them. We’d changed their world, but we hadn’t done it capriciously or without providing something for them. And we plan to do more for them. The turmoil we’re creating in the meantime, however, may be more than they can cope with. We have no way of communicating with them what we are up to. They will only be able to see the results when they are complete.

How often is life like that?

How often are our lives troubled, even turned upside down, by forces beyond our control? Far too often. Equally often, the forces turning us upside down have no care for our misfortune or discomfort. Unlike my family trying to provide a sunning haven for the turtles, not everyone is trying to do us a good turn. They are simply barging along on their own paths with no regard for collateral damage. So, how is one to cope?

Like the turtles, we must wait. Unlike the turtles, however, we can wait in expectation. We can wait in expectation because we know something the turtles do not. Truly, our misfortune may be caused by other people or other forces in our lives. But the courses our lives take is not directed by them. We need to pause and wait in expectation to see what God does with what has happened. While I don’t believe that God causes turmoil, I believe He uses whatever crosses our paths to shape us.

Recently a family member had concerns over the direction his job was taking. It was causing him much frustration and heartache, and it was affecting his entire life. The most recent blow came as he learned of personnel changes that would affect him, and that he felt were both unfair and wrongheaded. It came as a crushing blow. He hung his head as he said how unbelievable the situation had become, and how tired it made him.

“Wait for it,” I told him, sounding like M*A*S*H’s Radar O’Reilly hearing incoming helicopters before anyone else.


“Wait for it. Don’t think of this so much as a decision the company made. Think of it as one God made. Wait and see how God will use this to better your situation. Because it can happen. “

His immediate response was an unconvinced “Yeah.”

It’s hard to hang onto that concept when we are in the midst of pain. Yet, that is when we need it most. It is a concept we come gradually to accept as we grieve and move through the pain of whatever our ordeal is. It is a concept we see more clearly as events transpire. The kaleidoscope turns and the scenery shifts, and we see where God’s hand has moved and that He has lifted us once again.

God made the world out of chaos. Although some days it seems like He left some of that chaos behind, just think what He can make of it in our lives.

*also to be posted as a column in St. Paul's-in-the-Pines June newsletter

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Quick Announcement

Just wanted to offer everyone a Valentine's Day gift. Go to Books by R.J. Minnick to pick up a coupon that will let you buy Where the Bodies Lie Buried for a cool 99¢ when you purchase it at This offer is only good at, and the offer expires on February 16. Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Longest Month

today I'd like to share something I wrote for the newsletter where I work, for my column: Through the Window

It’s February, arguably the longest month of the year.

Oh, I know it’s supposed to be the shortest. But has it ever felt like the shortest? With gloomy weather, the middle of tax season, the second month of a new school semester (in most cases), and all the questions a holiday for people in love can raise, I maintain that this is a very long month.

And somehow, tradition has determined that we begin this month with Groundhog’s Day, a day on which it seems the entire country gathers round the burrow hole of this critter awaiting its prognostication about how long it will be before Spring arrives.

The pressure!

What’s a rodent to think? I’m sure he’d rather be sleeping in his snug bed rather than hauling himself out to listen to human’s clamoring for sage advice on whether or not Spring will arrive early or take another 6 weeks. I know I would. And if he is very rotund, which I’m sure he’d like to be after all that eating he did last fall, I imagine — oh I know — it’s not going to be easy to peer around himself and find that shadow.

Another thing. The question seems to be ‘early’ or ‘another 6 weeks’. Well, I grew up in the Northeast. Six weeks from February 2nd is mid-March. That is an early spring!

So, why do we stand around, watching a hole in the ground for a sleepy furry brown critter to waddle out, turn around a few times, and waddle back to bed?

Well, obviously we like tradition, especially quirky little ones like Groundhog’s Day. They’re fun. And, there’s a certain amount of making use of what could be called Nature’s tool for predicting. I think it’s also a desire to know. What is coming? How do we handle it? What’s happening? We want to be prepared, so we look for answers.

Sometimes that means watching to see the reactions of an animal to its habitat and trying to interpret what they mean. Sometimes it means time spent in school, studying the teachings of others. Sometimes it means looking to another source for knowledge, and celebrating with snow angels.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

At Year's End

I've been waiting over a year to write this post.

Elsewhere I have mentioned that as our oldest son completed college in 2010, he was caught up in the job market vagaries like many of his co-graduates. Ultimately he came to stay with us and work on building his future.

During the interval between then and now, he has renewed his Basic EMT certification, receiving it at the National level, acquired his Intermediate EMT certification, and is currently working on his Paramedic cert. He has put in many, many, many hours as a volunteer at a local fire station, and this Christmas he was recognized for, among other things, his Fireman I and II certifications.

He also got a job, working for an ambulance service in the next county. He now divides his time between clinical runs with our county ambulance for his paramedic training, his volunteer firefighting (where he often acts as an EMT), his classes, and his job with the ambulance service. Occasionally he is home.

His latest event was a training weekend during which he got to rappel down an 80' tower.

We are immensely proud of him, not only for these achievements but for what they  mean in terms of his hard work and perseverance in the face of personal difficulty. It is no easy thing to go live with your parents when you believe you ought to be out on your own conquering the world. However, it was that rappel down the tower that brought home to me what he's doing.

Like every other firefighter, EMT, police officer, and military service person, he has prepared himself to put everything, even his life, on the line to provide protection and care for others.

Online news photo from the Fayetteville Observer of our son's crew working an accident. He is wearing his fire helmet,  squatting beside the driver's side door (profile).

Facing up to his choice of a profession has not been easy for me. No parent wants to court the possibility of losing a child, whatever the age. I could never contemplate such a career for myself. I might die for someone, but I wouldn't volunteer for the circumstances that create the risk. He does.

Some people in service never fully realize the risk. They suspend their recognition of their own mortality completely. Others acknowledge the possibility, even the probability, that it could happen. They'll say the odds are against it actually happening, but they will also look you straight in the eye and tell you the risk is worth it. To them, it is the right, even the only the thing to do.

Watching our son train and hearing his philosophy and feeling his desire to be part of this extraordinary community of responders did something to me. I began to understand as I never could before how families of these people do it. There is something tremendously awesome about a responder's dedication. It creates a hallowed ground you have to respect. I may wish and pray for our son's safety, but it would be disrespectful -- and wrong -- to ask him to take another path. We can only be proud of him for this, and humbled by his choice.  Way to go, son.