10 Things of Thankful, Kitchen Edition

My kitchen used to be a prison, and now it’s a sanctuary.

In the early years of my younger daughter’s life, she had to follow a series of complicated medically prescribed diets that left me frantic for recipes and alternative products. The kitchen was the battlefield where I wrestled gluten-free starches and egg substitutes and strange milk alternatives into breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was where I brought many times the normal grocery budget for one year, and a head-scratching selection of 1980s diet foods for one terrible spring. That kitchen held the answer as to whether my daughter would eat well or starve. It was where I gave up me for her.

But something happened once she was well, and eating normally, and it happened to both of us.

After a while, I missed the thrill of the battlefield. I missed the puzzle of ingredients that I could assemble into a picture that made sense. I missed using my skills. I began, over the years that followed, to love my kitchen. When I cook or bake something delicious and beautiful, I feel a sense of accomplishment that is, finally, not also connected to fear of what might have happened if I failed. When I’m doing it, I am both energized and peaceful. I’m now grateful to be in my kitchen.

 

10. Learning

My daughters and I watch baking and cooking shows on TV, and I follow a handful of recipe blogs online. I’m energized by learning new techniques, new flavors, and new styles of cooking. When I hear about something exotic that sounds delicious, I want to try to make it myself; my daughters, too, will ask me, “Momma, can we learn to do that?” We just made our first dish with saffron for our hosted Passover seder, and I think this one’s going to stay on that table for years.

 9. Tradition

My paternal grandmother died when my father was a child, and we thought all her recipes were lost forever. Decades later, one of them surfaced in a cousin’s kitchen drawer after her death, and it made its way to us. The story of that recipe is one of the most popular posts on my blog, thanks to amplification by Kveller.com, but it’s also one of the holiest recipes in my collection. Whenever I make this kugel, I feel my grandmother’s presence in the room. Mixing cinnamon and sugar into corn flakes for the topping — this recipe is not the most complex one I make by far — I often find the light from my one window hits my counter just-so. Thank you, Grandma.

cinnamon

8. Soup

I have written ad nauseam about soup. It’s half of the perfect meal, assuming I’ve also made fresh bread and it’s still warm out of the oven. You can read about my favorite soups here and here.

soup-veggies

7. Color

I used to get so blown-away by the colors of tropical fish. Growing up in the midwest, where most of the year is some combination of grey and brown, I couldn’t believe that somewhere, so much color came naturally and not out of paints or neon breakfast cereal. Then I started paying attention to fruits and vegetables. They’re incredibly bright and colorful! They hold all the hues of tropical fish – maybe not all at once, and not all in the same part of the growing season, but it’s all there. I love looking at freshly chopped vegetables. They’re works of art! (An aside: this photo is of the prep stage for one of our favorite recipes from Smitten Kitchen – you should definitely make it.)

broccolilemon

6. Beets

Yes, beets get their very only thing-of-thankful. I’d never tried them until I was an adult. One night, a friend made them for dinner at her house, and I loved them, but that was before my younger daughter came around and turned me into a cook. When we started getting a box of organic produce once a week from Angelic Organics, it changed our lives – it made us learn how to cook all kinds of  things we’d never had in our regular diet before. Beets were one of them, and they were abundent. On instinct and guesswork, I concocted a beet salad that my family absolutely loves:

Two or three beets, peeled and diced
One or two potatoes, peeled and diced
One or two carrots, peeled and diced

Boil the above in water until you can just BARELY smash them with a fork against the side of the pot. Drain. Add:

One or two chopped Israeli pickles
A nice-sized glob or two of mayonnaise

Mix well. If you want to get fancy, you can add some fresh dill.

Here are the vegetables, just-boiled and ready, with the pickles added. All they need is mayo, which will turn the whole thing a Barbie-pink color. My daughters won’t eat beets any other way.

beets

5. Showing Off

Sometimes I get a little ambitious, but oh my oh my, when it comes out well and I can bring it to a party and say, “Yes, I made that,” then my kitchen was the training room for a champion!

passover-cake

4. The Light, the Moment

It’s in the mid-to-late-spring when my kitchen gets magical-looking right around the time when I’m preparing dinner. In the winter, it’s dark at 5pm, and in the summer, it’s still so bright that the light doesn’t angle in my window until we’re already eating in another room. But in the spring, just as I pull the fragrant, seasoned and shredded cabbage from the pot to taste over the sink, the light hits the steam coming off it and wow – the world is magical. Steam is beautiful in a beam of sunlight. Everything, actually, is beautiful in a beam of sunlight.

steam

 

3. Heat

As they get older, our daughters can tolerate more kick, more zest, more punch, more heat in their food. I can add cayenne again, and curry powder, and they’re willing, and I know it.

cauliflower

 

2. Cookies

Cookies are my favorite food in the whole world. I’ve definitely made thousands of cookies in my life, and most of them in the last seven years. Chocolate chip, cowgirl, Mexican chocolate, double chocolate chip, snickerdoodle, peanut butter, oatmeal, tahini lime, banana breakfast, I could go on and on. A batch of cookies in the oven is the best smell in the world.

cookies

 

1. Teaching

She grew up, the girl who inspired me to cook in the first place. I started her last year on the basics of cooking in my kitchen: sautéing onions and garlic and mushrooms, and here she is. What better love in my kitchen than someone to share it with? What better gratitude than that she joined me here?

teaching

 


This week, my usual Finish the Sentence Friday colleagues are working with another prompt group called Ten Things of Thankful. What a lovely combination! You can read more writers sharing their thankful thoughts at FindingNinee or ThankfulMe.

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17 thoughts on “10 Things of Thankful, Kitchen Edition

  1. Thank you for joining the FTSF/TToT mash-up this week! I loved your post! I’m glad that your daughter has healed and that fear has been removed from your kitchen. I loved all of the items on your list, but color stood out to me. I try to eat primarily a whole-foods, plant-based diet, and I love how colorful the dishes are. The colors enhance the enjoyment of the food for me. I used to be part of a produce co-op, and I also enjoyed receiving a variety of foods, some of which were new to me.

  2. What a great list, and how perfect that it’s kitchen-style ending with number one of your sweet girl feeling and spreading the love of your kitchen today. I do have a bummer of a confession – I’ve never liked beets. I really really want to like them but I just don’t. I do love all the other colorful fruits and veggies though and love your comparison to tropical fish. Your first one (#10) reminds me how much I love saffron. My dad used to make saffron bread and just the smell of it was divine. Oh! What a treat to have found an old recipe from your grandma too!

    • Oooh, saffron bread! I’ll have to look for that kind of recipe. Saffron is so expensive that I admit this was the first time I’d tried to cook with it!

  3. What an enjoyable post.*
    Both bloghops (TToT and FTSF) have been blessed with such an eclectic group of writers and bloggers. Not only is the content so varied, the styles (‘presentation’ I believe is the term in the cooking biz) range from simple to complex, augmented with photos or a 1-10 list.
    Thanks for joining us at the TToT.

    *the Asterix is totally necessary for me to ‘qualify’ my statement. As a general rule I’m not ‘into food’** That said, I enjoy watching certain cooking shows on tv (Good Eats, Test Kitchen)… maybe it’s just the fascination with the process rather than out put. But your post is like that, fun to read about (with excellent photos).
    ** you know what I mean… cuisine and such, lol

    • I cook every week for my kids but I’m usually racing the clock because someone has to be here or there by a certain time. I enjoy making soups in the winter because my kids can help me brainstorm about all the ingredients. Shall we add some yellow squash and green zucchini? My older two can now safely chop up the softer ingredients and throw them into the giant pot.
      However, when I’m at home by myself (and the kids are in school), I LOVE to bake cookies. My mother and I baked all sorts of delicious cookies when I was a young girl and now, I find it relaxing and satisfying to bake in a quiet house, all by myself.

    • I am a vegetarian who can’t eat dairy, so a lot of cooking shows are voyeuristic for me, too! Still, I learn a lot of technique and get inspired by them. It’s fun to watch anyone in their element, I think!

  4. The Kugel sounds delicious. I have never eaten that.
    I don’t know if I have ever eaten a dish that had saffron as one of its ingredients. I know I don’t have any saffron in my kitchen. I think I need to at least try it since it comes so highly recommended. (I can’t tell from the photo if that is some kind of soup or perhaps a gelatin type dish.)

    The best thing about your post is knowing that your daughter and you survived those difficult years of managing her special diet and that you learned so much and bonded in so many ways.

    • The saffron dish was a rice pilaf, but the way to use saffron is to soak it in warm water and then add the whole thing — water and saffron threads — to the dish. The photo is a ramekin of water and saffron threads – and it just looked so magical, I had to take a picture!

  5. Love this tasty post full of glorious victories!

  6. Okay now I’m hungry! You wrote this so beautifully I could see and sense the textures of the vegetables. And I wish I could taste the cake (please please tell me it’s magically dairy and egg-free, and I shall be in the seventh heaven!!!)

    I’m glad you love your kitchen. I think I need to fall back in love with mine.

    • The cake is dairy free — as is everything I make since I’m pretty lactose intolerant — but not egg free. That said, I’m sure I could make it egg-free by using aquafaba (the liquid in a can of chickpeas). The “cake” layers are kind of like a hazelnut dacoise, and the outside was a non-dairy whipped cream called “Rich Whip.” I can veganize almost anything!

  7. Such a lovely post about turning something that was a struggle and a chore into a beautiful blessing and celebration! I think there’s a lesson for all of us in that! I loved your comment about sunshine and how it brightens up everything, so very true. To me sunshine is the warmth of pure love… and here in Texas we get a lot of it! But I grew up in South Dakota where winters were long and often gray, so sunlight streaming through the windows of my little house in all four directions is such a blessing to me. Your recipes look/sound wonderful, and what a great thing to have your daughter learning to follow your lead in the kitchen! XO

  8. Such a wonderful list, especially having a recipe you thought was lost. It`s been great reading everyone who is linking up for the anniversary.

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