Semester Round-up

I do apologize for my lack of posting this semester. I was only enrolled in one class, but it was very time consuming. In class for 10 hours a week, plus homework, tests, practice, and of course, the normal busy-ness of life. It’s been crazy and great and a lot of work all in one. And it has changed me. The way I work in the kitchen and the way I feel about what I do. I expected the former, but the latter was quite a surprise.

Salad night in class was a favorite. These are my two chefs at the front — I can’t speak highly enough of everyone I’ve learned from at COD.
It’s really be phenomenal. 

I already knew I loved cooking and teaching other’s how to operate in their own kitchens, but I did not expect to gain so much confidence in my own abilities. I was a little worried that this stay-at-home mom wouldn’t be able to cut it in a professional kitchen, and I can say, without bragging, that I have done very well. I’ve consistently received top feedback and held my own against my class mates. I even gained enough confidence to compete in a scholarship cooking competition.

Sandwich night, another favorite. So good!

And guess what? I won 3rd place! Me?! Cooking against 15 other students who all had a lot more experience, both in cooking and in competition. It was a small cash prize, but what it did for my confidence was huge. I’ve often questioned if I’m being selfish for being in culinary school during my kids little years. Often as I dash out the door to class and see other mom’s on walks with their babies I feel guilty. But this little competition, it reminded me that I’m doing exactly what I should be doing right now. Not only am I good at it, but I love it, and who knows what future rewards it will reap in my future?

Seafood night was another favorite.
These aren’t plated at all, just a smorgasbord of delicious seafood!

So that’s my semester round-up. A lot of what I learned I will be sharing here over the summer. And you can bet that I’ll be teaching all kinds of skills classes in real life, too. But more than learning from me how to cook, I hope you are challenged to do what you love and pursue it — even when it seems crazy.

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Life as We Know It

Since January 1 I’ve been keeping one of those “one line a day” journals that end up covering a 5 year period. Sometimes it’s more like “fill in a weeks worth of lines in an evening” but I still try to get the job done. Maybe in 5 years my life will be more organized and I’ll simply fill in my line each morning with a leisurely cup of coffee. But that’s not today. 

The whole project has got me thinking though. I wonder what kind of entries I’ll be making in five years. Will I look back at my “so tired today,” “the kids were bickering all day,” and “finally had a #2 success with N” posts and barely recognize myself? Will diapers and early mornings and being constantly touched and tackled by three little monsters be a distant memory? What new challenges and joys will rise up to take their place? I’ve been in “the little” stage for so long it’s nearly impossible to imagine five years from now me. 

Keeping one eye ahead on the lookout for what’s to come gives me a whole new appreciation for today. Whatever trials and whatever joys are in my one line for today are temporary. The trials will pass soon, so best not fret about them. 

And the joys? They’ll be gone too. Sweet baby thigh rolls, giggles over silly words, my 5-year old snuggling with me and telling me he loves me, my 3-year old mastering a new skill and smiling his sweet dimpled smile — these too will be gone before I know it. My sweet baby girl will one day be cuddling a baby of her own and I’ll be in a quiet and organized house with nothing but time  and space for myself. So I need to eat up each moment. Each second that I’m needed and demanded is a precious one. One that won’t last forever. 

So even though life as I currently know it is chaotic and annoying and loud and demanding — it’s also precious and fulfilling and full of laughter. I hope when I look back in five years I can say that I savored those years. Those little years. I’d hate for them to pass and waste them away longing to be anywhere else and find that I’d missed them completely. Wouldn’t you?

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The Kitchen


I’ve had four kitchens to call my own in my adult years. The first I shared with three other girls in my very first grown-up apartment. That’s where I learned to boil an egg, bring the water to a boil then add pasta, and cook everything using a Campbell soup base. I literally knew nothing about cooking. At all. But I was in love and knew marriage was on the way and I decided I needed to learn. So I tried two new recipes a week and began to learn.

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Our first apartment, 2006-2007

By the time we got married I had a handy little repertoire and no fear. I honestly think that’s what took me to the next level. I never had any fear to try a new recipe no matter what it entailed. I became proficient in crockpot and candlelit dinners in our first little apartment. After too many frozen yogurt runs we ended up on a diet called the Sonoma Diet. It was the first time I learned about cooking from scratch and began to love fresh ingredients. I learned to make hummus and my own taco seasoning and ate more vegetables than I can remember.

(null)Our basement apartment, 2007-2009

Then we moved to Illinois. To a tiny basement apartment with no stove and no oven. We bought a two burner electric stove and a convection oven and I cooked that way for two years. On a strict graduate school budget we managed to cook some wonderful meals in that kitchen. I borrowed other’s kitchens for Thanksgiving but other than that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t make in our little galley kitchen! I grew in my desire to entertain and my favorite dish to make was stuffed bell peppers.

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Our kitchen prior to renovation, June 2009 (pregnant with Parker).

(null)Our kitchen, 2009 – present

Then we bought our house. The kitchen was one of the selling points but we ended up renovating the whole thing anyway. The only thing we kept was the incredibly awesome oven. Short of professional grade, it’s the best there is. It has a smaller oven on top and a bigger one on bottom and I literally only use the bottom one when I make a turkey. The top heats so fast and it’s also a toaster and I use it 100 times a day. The counter space is small but this room means the world to me because it’s where I found myself as a cook.

I’ve dehydrated, canned, prepped food in bulk, baked, made bread, tossed pizza dough, taught classes and lessons, made dinner nearly every night, and made a million and one new recipes here. I’ve cooked with babies at my feet and on my hip while stirring jellies and sauces. We’ve baked cookies and first birthday cakes and creme brûlée for New Years Eve. We’ve had parties and showers and huge ‘family’ dinners and fed vegetable deprived college students. But most of all this is where I really found cooking. Where I found what it meant to me and who I wanted to be with cooking in my life.

(null)There are four suites here, mine is the second one in.

And now I have a new kitchen. My first professional experience at my culinary school. This is my very own suite where I show up in chef whites and with my knives in tow. We julienne and brunoise and perfect our roux and try not to cut ourselves or burn anything. Our food is sold at the culinary market on campus so nothing is unimportant. Every detail is crucial. There are no kids at my feet and no shortcuts but it is it’s own kind of magic and leaves my heart pounding with excitement, nerves, and a little bit of pride.

There will be other kitchens in the future, where ever and whenever that might be. I don’t know much about them, but I do know that the kitchen will always be the heart of our home. More than that, it is my own heartbeat. Who I am and how I love is reflected in what I make in the kitchen and those I love generally gather there. How I love the kitchen, and I hope you’ll join me there!

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Tools of the Trade: Whisk

So I’ve been thinking of ways to share some of my culinary school knowledge and I thought having a series called “tools of the trade” might be a great way to start. I’ll go through some of the basic cooking tools that I’ve been using wrong for years (and I doubt I’m the only one!) and how to use it properly.

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To kick off our series we are going to start with the humble whisk. Surely you think, as I did, that there could be nothing easier than whisking. I mean, you hold the handle and move it around your bowl in a circular motion and things get mixed up. Right? Wrong.

It turns out that moving in a circular motion is the last thing you should be doing when whisking. When you move in a circle all the ingredients do too and you just end up chasing ingredients around rather than incorporating them together. This is even more important if you are whisking something with an egg in it. The yolk tends to stay intact when whisking in a circular motion, instead of breaking and blending with the other ingredients. There are two proper whisking techniques that you can use: back and forth or figure 8.

For a back and forth motion you move your whisk from side to side and slowly spin the bowl with your other hand. It’s a little tricky, especially if your bowl has a flat bottom or narrow base to it. A figure 8 motion is a little more self explanatory — just move the whisk in a figure 8 pattern, no need to move the bowl if you don’t want to. This motion quickly incorporates all the ingredients together.

So that’s the first in the series. It’s amazing how even small tips like this change the way I work in the kitchen. Next we’ll tackle some basic knife skills. Let me know if there are any kitchen tools you want me to address.

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Finding Your Thing

Some people know what they want to do and who they want to be practically from birth. It’s easy for them to find things to be passionate about and want to pursue. I am not one of those people.

The whole, “what do you want to be when you grow up” question has stressed me out for decades. There have been a few unchanging desires since childhood (wanting to grow up and have a family of my own, wanting to be a part of the Church, etc.) but I never felt like I knew what my “thing” was. You know, the thing that everyone else can see from a mile away and can’t quite understand your passion over but see that it’s totally and completely you? My “thing” has been elusive.

I remember when I graduated from college I was terrified to apply for jobs. My closest friend at the time sat down with me and tried to help me think of options and had tons of good questions to get me started. The answer to all of them was, “I don’t know” or “I don’t like that.” One night when we were newlyweds Brian and I stayed up late trying to think of things that I could try or pursue. Nothing. I just didn’t know.

When I had all the time in the world and very little stress and a little bit more money I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I should be doing. But after three children and having a single-income household and no time to spare? My “thing” smacks me in the face and yells, “here I am!” And wouldn’t you know it? My thing is cooking.

So as you know I started culinary school and a cooking/teaching business. All my years of searching and wondering and feeling like I didn’t know what my goal or purpose was in this world — they are over and long gone. The funny thing is, now that I have my singular passion, I’m finding other things more interesting too. Exercise and me have been mortal enemies since grade school and yet I’m finding my groove and falling in love with Yoga. And that’s just one thing. Everything has changed for me by finding my one thing.

So I hope you don’t stop searching if you haven’t found your thing yet. It might take a long time but it’s worth waiting for. And if you have found your thing, don’t give up on it just because it’s a bad time in your life or it seems impossible. Your season of life is definitely a factor in how hard you can pursue it, but it doesn’t have to die just because your focus is somewhere else for a time. What’s your thing?

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It’s Been Said Before

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When I first starting blogging I felt like I had so much to offer the world. That’s probably mostly because I was 20 and thought I knew everything. But the more I live and the more I read, the more I realize it’s all been said before. I’ve stopped thinking I have all the answers or even that I know the right questions to ask. And it feels really good. I don’t even feel like I need the answers, it’s ok to live and learn and just keep on keeping on.

We’ve had full days lately, as you all have I’m sure. Holiday things, school things, work things, house things, friend things, and kid things. The days are full of decision making and getting by and resolving conflict. I’m learning how to balance what I eat and how I exercise and how I parent and how to be a friend. And honestly, that’s enough. I don’t need to solve the problems of the world and what to do about Monsanto and race and poverty.

No, I just need to live faithfully. Every day. Faithful to my God. Faithful to my faith, if that makes any sense. And faithful to this little life that I’ve been given. I do what I can to make decisions that impact the world in a positive way and then I need to let the rest go. I need to be here. Fully here. Not on my phone or in the past or worrying about the future. I need to hold my babies and revel in their wonder at this season. I need to take deep breaths and be thankful for this minute. This quiet moment, alone in a warm house by a beautifully lit tree.

What does your season look like? What is happening this moment that you are embracing?

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A Baby’s Birthday

One whole year. A year. How can it be?

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My baby girl is one. The year has flown by at lightening speed and I’m watching my sweet baby girl develop into a spunky and joyful toddler. She’s taking steps and babbling constantly and always smiling. What a sweet pea.

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She has become rather attached to a Lamb stuffed animal over the year so I decided a Lamb theme was perfect for her birthday. And for her, my little lambie pie. It was a small get together with my mom and our close family friends. Someone was tickled pink by the little lambs surrounding her and thoroughly enjoyed her special day.

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Her stats are 21.5 pounds and 30″ tall. Still on the bigger end of normal but small compared to our boys. She has blue eyes, light brown hair, the most perfect chunky thighs, petite features, long fingers and toes, and 8 teeth that she frequently flashes with a grin. She loves her brothers, food, daddy, stuffed animals, and of course, snuggling with mommy. She claps, blows kisses, waves ‘bye, bye’, amd plays peakaboo.

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We love her so!

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For my mother

Lorraine_websizeIt feels so odd to call her “mother”. Even “mom”. She’s always been “mommy” or in more recent years “MawMaw”. Mother or mom always seems too distant. You see, my mom has been one of my best friends over the years–it only makes sense to call her the most endearing and personal of names.

In September she turned 60. Exactly twice my age. Approximately 100 times more wise, kind, patient, and generous than me. I hope I can become even a small bit more like her in my next thirty years. It’s a strange thing to be an adult and to reflect on your childhood from a grown-ups point of view. Knowing that I’m the exact age my mom was when I was born. That really puts things into perspective. I’m more amazed and in awe of all she was at such a young age. All she has become and continues to be.

In a lot of ways, I watched my mom grow up. She became a Christian when I was in Junior High so her transformation is vividly engrained in my mind. I watched an already hospitable woman turn her talents towards welcoming women into our home and lives — walking through life with them and showing them Christ. I witnessed a woman who had been primarily focused on external beauty, focus her attentions towards her soul’s beauty, and in turn, made Christ and his church attractive and beautiful too. I was there when her inner nature began to transform into a more patient, giving, humble, and prayer-relient one.

But most of all, I was the recipient of the greatest love known to man when in my teenage foolishness I spewed hateful words towards her and frightened her with my desires and choices. As tender as Christ was with me, to forgive me and embrace me as his own, so was my mom. My mommy. Who spent countless nights in tears and in prayer, longing for reconciliation between us, and for me with God. She was such a beautiful picture of the gospel that year.

I could recount countless other stories when she died to self, serving her family and the church tirelessly. I know everyone who meets her is struck by her real-ness and her joyful spirit. She is the hardest worker I’ve ever met and is very gifted in all areas of homemaking. My mom, she really is the best.

MawMaw, I know this tribute can but skim the surface of my gratitude, but I hope that in honoring you in this way that you know how deeply loved you are by your family and friends and how much I’m thankful for you. Happy (very belated) birthday — here’s to 60 more!

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Pumpkins Galore

I do love holidays. I think they are such a fun way to create family memories that will last for years to come. Now that Parker is a mature man of 5 years old, he knows the ropes with the holidays and it’s fun to have him reminisce about past years and remind me of all the things we need to be doing. For the fall? That means all things pumpkin. Pumpkin patch, carving pumpkin, and, you guessed it, baking pumpkin. With all we have going on these days I took a short cut and had Mr T. Joe make the pumpkin pie (oh my! The scandal!) that we enjoyed this Halloween weekend. Other than that, I can assure that our holiday was very homemade.

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Very excited about their pumpkins this year.
Not so excited about touching that yucky stuff on the inside of the pumpkins.
I thought boys loved yucky stuff??

Our trip to the pumpkin patch was somewhat ceremonial. These things are such a big deal out here we spent our time going on rides and eating apple cider donuts and decided to get the actual pumpkins from Mr. Farmer T. Joe himself. It was a fun day and resulted in Parker declaring “this has been the best day ever” quickly followed by a meltdown of epic proportions when we left the patch. Such are the ups and downs of life with little ones. Or with their mama for that matter. Ahem. Hormones.IMG_1824.JPG

This boy. Some days he’s an angel and makes me smile with his sweet thoughtfulness and silly jokes. Other days are hard. But most are a mix and I’m so thankful for all the days with him.

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Those shoes! That jacket! I love babies that are turning into toddlers. 

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Wagon rides are an essential part of the pumpkin experience.
The younger two rode while the eldest pulled them along. How’s that for slave labor?

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“Take a picture of us with the Cat in the Hat, mommy!”

Oh and there were homemade costumes, of course. When someone comes from a long line of costume-makers, it feels like such a privilege to continue in the tradition. Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Tinkerbell. This movie plays nightly around these parts so the participants were in full character breaking out into sword fights at the drop of a hat and brandishing phrases like “walk the plank!” “Hooks a codfish!” and “oh the indignity!”

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Captain Hook, missing his foil hook at the moment. He actually loves getting dressed up and especially wearing hats so this outfit was perfect for him. 

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Such a happy Peter Pan. He was really quite tickled by being Peter. The hat from Disneyland was pretty special too!

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And Miss Bell, of course. She also had a sparkly green headband but promptly removed it and tried to eat it. One thing I didn’t quite think through? The glitter. Oh. My. Gosh. The. GLITTER. It is still everywhere and probably will be for the foreseeable future. At least the boys think it’s pixie dust. 

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Little Elijah and his mommy joined us for the trick-or-treating (in the frigid ridiculous snowyness that is October in Illinois) and it was a blast. He wore Nolan’s costume from last year and fit in quite nicely as a little lost boy. It was a fun evening for all!

Hope you all had a fun holiday and are gearing up for the impending holiday season!

 

 

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Cooking Party

So an opportunity has come up recently that has given me a whole new branch of my little business. Cooking Parties. Kind of like a tupperware or jewelry party, except we all get together to cook and create a meal together. The cost is per person and the party is a blast. It’s an opportunity to learn new cooking skills, get a few new recipes, and eat a great meal with your friends. Doesn’t that sound great?

I’m putting on my first cooking party in December for a large group of people and I’d like some input from all of you. If you could learn one new skill in the kitchen, what would it be? Would you like to learn how to handle dough, or use a torch on creme brulee, or chop an onion correctly, or something else? Would you just like to learn some time/money saving tips to get dinner on the table faster? It’s a large group so I’m thinking we can’t all be working on something at the same time, but maybe demonstrating techniques in small groups. Either way it’ll be a great team building activity and I hope an enjoyable evening for all.

Interested in hosting a cooking party for your friends or for a group you are a part of? Just shoot me an email and we can talk details. It’s all the fun of a cooking class in the comfort of your own home, for a reasonable price, and with your closest friends. What’s not to love?

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