Tag Archives: cooking

The one where I’m unable to accept HELP.

My husband and I take part in a cooking team that makes meals for the Sunday service at our church. We only do it once a month, and it’s admittedly a lot of fun. But it’s also 4+ hours of hard work prepping, cooking, cleaning, setting up, serving, tearing down, cleaning more… You get the picture.

Our team consists of four members with random help on the side. But mostly, our group of four is responsible for seeing things through. We each took on a job to get the meal – nachos – done. I decided to take on the cheese sauce. And since I would be at the stove anyway, I’d take on browning the turkey too.

More than once, I was asked if I needed help. And every time I insisted I was fine. I was determined to get it done, to prove I could do it all.

I set about the kitchen, running back and forth to get the meat into the pan while the butter melted for the cheese sauce. I got the rue going, and then began adding milk. Then I rushed back to the meat to make sure it wasn’t burning. I finished adding the milk to the rue and stirred it.

And then I smelled it. Burnt.

Thing is, if I had asked for help, none of that would have happened. I had to bite back my pride and admit that the sauce was ruined. There was no more butter, so one of the guys had to go to the store to get some more. And when he came back, I asked him if he could be in charge of the sauce while I focused on the meat.

The story would be fine ending there. But it doesn’t.

After handing off the cheese sauce, my only job was to stir the two pans of meat in front of me. I could handle this, I got this. My pride was terribly wounded from the cheese sauce fiasco, but I was determined to get the meat cooking right. So when one of the girls came up to see if I could use some help, I told her NO. She started stirring one of the pans anyway.

“But this is my job,” I protested, as if I were a 5 year old guarding my mountain of blocks.

“But my job is done,” she cheerfully replied. So we stood together, all three of us surrounding this stove to finish cooking everything up.  At first I was terribly bothered. It was too crowded. And she was probably stepping in so I couldn’t screw this up too. I felt tied up in knots inside. But then, I decided to let it go. I took a deep breath and let it out. And then we all chatted the rest of the time. It was actually fun.

The meal was done, and we set it out to serve it. I stayed with the turkey while my husband poured the cheese sauce. The other guy offered to take over for me so I could eat, but I told him I was fine. When the line dispersed, I got my own plate. Then I served the stragglers in between bites.

Once everyone had eaten, it was time to start bagging things up. We all started putting things away. The cheese sauce had a ton leftover, so I started pouring it in bags so people could take some home. It was a messy job, and by the fifth bag I was beginning to wonder if it would ever be over.

“Here, I’ll hold this for you,” the girl said to me.

“I got it,” I said.

This time she didn’t fight me. And I saw myself in her eyes as she gave up and walked away.

grumpy girlI was selfish. I was unfriendly. I was a snob. I couldn’t find it in me to step down off my pedestal and accept that I NEEDED HELP.

What is wrong with me? I hate that I do this! The truth is, I can always use some help! I can’t do it on my own! And there’s nothing wrong with working together to get things done.

It might just be my single-mother syndrome. I spent all those years actually doing things on my own, and taking pride in that. Before that, I hadn’t been able to do anything on my own at all. I depended on everyone. But when I got on my feet and was able to provide for my kids without a husband, without my parents, without state money…it just felt good.

But now? Now I’ve got this chip in my shoulder that has me believing that accepting help is a sign of weakness, when it’s totally the opposite of that. There are strength in numbers. And we are here on this planet to build each other up.

I didn’t like that person I was on Sunday. I’m embarrassed at the way I acted. But maybe it needed to happen to drive the lesson home that it’s okay to receive help. We can all use help. It gets things done faster, and it builds connections.

I think this is going to be a hard lesson to forget.

Want more? Download “Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows” – our Wine Country Mom stories about our former single-parent family life.

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Recipes for a lazy autumnish Sunday

With the start of November brings along the coziness of autumn with a whiff of smoke rising from fireplaces and leaves blowing in the wind. The official start of autumn isn’t for a few more weeks, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to celebrate it on the first weekend of November. Today’s extra hour thanks to daylight savings has inspired a day of lounging in our pajamas and snoozing to whatever sports game is on TV (soccer, in our case).

And it has also inspired a day of preparing a batch of homemade butternut squash soup and homemade oatmeal bread.

Of course, I planned out our meal yesterday when I created our full meal plan. But this autumn dinner for a lazy Sunday evening was just what we needed on a day when we recover from time changes and a kicking our ass work week. It was also perfect for a Sunday at home because, while fairly easy to create, I’ve been cooking and baking for several hours.

The soup is not my own recipe, so I’ll link to it from here. It’s by Hank Shaw who blogs over at honest-food.net all of his food adventures that include hunting, gathering, angling, and cooking. It’s like the manliest food blog you could come across.  He also just came out with a pretty kickass cookbook with all the recipes he’s blogged about along with some pretty snazzy photos.  He always comes up with something droolworthy that has me wishing I could be close enough to smell his kitchen, maybe even taste a few dishes. So when he posted a Squash Soup recipe on his blog that called for bacon to give it a bit of fatty pizazz, I was sold.

Plus, it gave me a chance to try out my new immersion blender, something I asked for on my wedding registry and was one of the items I hoped to get above everything else. The blender didn’t disappoint, and neither did the soup. Find the recipe HERE, and start making some of your own.

The bread is from my most used cookbook in my whole cookbook library, the Better Homes & Garden cookbook, you know, the one with the red and white checkered cover. Almost every kitchen I’ve been in has this book, and if you don’t, you should stop what you’re doing right now and order it. Mine is so well used it has food sticking the pages together, and you can totally tell which pages are my most used recipes.  It has the best selection of no-frills, cook it like you say it, recipes. It’s the perfect gift for your kid who’s leaving for college, or for the family just starting out on their own. And it has every average recipe you need that comes out tasting exactly as you want it too, from meat loaf to apple pie and everything in between.

This afternoon I made Oatmeal Bread, one of my favorites when it comes to homemade yeast breads. Something about it reminds me of when I was a kid and my mom used to bake us bread. This was the bread she made often, and the one I couldn’t get enough of. I’m not sure if this is the same recipe she used, but you can’t really go wrong with Oatmeal Bread recipes. They don’t have a ton of ingredients, and the majority of the time spent on making bread is in the rising time alone. If you’ve ever been afraid to try making yeast breads from scratch, don’t be. They’re really easy, and you’ll feel like Susie Homemaker when you’re done. Plus, your kitchen will smell amazing!

Note: This recipe skips proofing your yeast, which is totally fine by me. After all, if your yeast isn’t past its expiration date and has been stored in a cool, dry place, it shouldn’t require proofing.

Oatmeal Bread
found in the Better Homes & Garden cookbook

3-3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast
1 ¾ cup water
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tbl butter
1 ¼ tsp salt
2 cups rolled oats

1. In large mixing bowl, stir together 2 cups of the all-purpose flour and yeast, set aside. IN a medium saucepan heat and stir water, brown sugar, butter, and salt till just warm (120-130 degrees F) and butter almost melts. Add water mixture to flour mixture. Beat with an electric mixture on low-medium speed for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl constantly. Beat on high for 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in oats and as much of the remaining flour as you can.

2. Turn dough out on lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (6-8 minutes total). Shape dough into a ball. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl (use Crisco), turning once to grease surface of dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place till doubled in size, about 1- 1 ½ hours. (I generally turn on the oven while making the bread, then turn it off an place the rising bread on top of the oven-warmed stove (not in!) to keep it warm.

3. Punch dough down. Turn dough out on lightly floured surface, divide in half. Cover, let rest for 10 minutes. Grease two 8X4X2 inch loaf pans.

4. Shape each portion of dough into a loaf patting into a loaf shape and tucking edges underneath.

5. Place shaped dough in prepared pans. Cover and let rise in warm place till nearly doubled in size (45-60 minutes).

6. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 40-45 minutes, or till bread sounds hollow when tapped on top with your fingers. You may need to cover loosely with foil in the last 10 minutes of baking to prevent it from getting too brown. Immediately remove bread from pans. Cool on wire racks. Makes 2 loaves (32 servings).

What every teen needs to know

By the time our kids reach their teenager years, we can see the end in sight.  Of course we’ll be jumping for joy sad when they take that next step of independence to find a place of their own or move away to college.  But let’s face it, who wants to still be raising their children when they’re 35?  To ensure this doesn’t happen, there are some very basic skills that every teenager should know. If I’ve missed any, be sure to add them in the comments.

How to boil water
…as well as other means of cooking.  If you’re not there to make your teen a sandwich, will they starve?  If you haven’t already, start teaching your child the fundamentals of making a meal, staples they should always have on hand, using food before it spoils, grocery shopping so that there’s still food on Friday when shopping is done on Sunday…  They should also know how to work a microwave, a stove, and an oven without burning the house down.  And they should be aware of how to read labels and make healthy choices to avoid the Freshman 15, and that in the long run, eating out costs much more than making food at home.

How to save a buck
Raise your hand if you really hope to be your kid’s ATM for life.  Yeah, that’s what I thought.  Then this skill might be the most important one you can teach them – how to handle their money.  Your teen should know how to create a budget and stick to it – putting money aside for bills to be paid on time before any money is spent on fun.  And money for fun should be included in that budget as well.  Help them open a checking account of their own and teach them how to keep it balanced, how to use the ATM machine, and that the balance the bank says they have is rarely ever the real balance.  Have them apply for a credit card, but stress how important it is to use it for necessities and not to furnish their whole apartment – and the importance of paying it off on time to build good credit.  They should also know how to save for things they want, put money aside for emergencies, give to charity, and how to get the best deal. 

How to get dressed
Ok, they are well past the time of needing you to pick out their clothes and tie their shoes – hopefully (if not, you have quite a bit of catching up to do).  But they will need to learn how to wash their clothes regularly so that they actually have something to wear.  And no, buying new clothes is not an alternative way to do laundry.  Teens will need to learn about when to use the Hot Cycle, and when to wash it in Cold.  And to ensure their whites don’t turn pink or their lights become dingy, they can use a lesson in separating colors as well.  Other important skills are how to sew a button or mend a rip, how to iron, how to fold and put away their clothes, how to treat stains, the importance of reading clothing labels, how to hand wash, and even how to best pack a suitcase (for all those trips back home to, ahem, do their laundry).

How to have respect…
…for everyone, but particularly for their housemates.  Sure, they may be used to leaving their dishes around, a clothing trail from the door to their room, and the toilet paper roll empty when they’re done doing their business.  And why shouldn’t they when MOM is there to pick up after them?  But Mom’s not at college, and I guarantee their housemates aren’t going to be too keen on seeing Jr’s dishes left in the sink.  A friend of mine told me of the time that he left his dishes in the sink one too many times, and finally his roommate did clear them out – by dumping them in his bed.  So for your child’s sake, and for their roommate, teach them how to do their own dishes, how to keep the noise levels down, common courtesy when it comes to guests in the room, and leaving OPP (other people’s property) alone as well as having boundaries in place for their own property. 

How to be organized
If your teen would like to flunk out in the first semester, the best bet would be to skip keeping a calendar and to lose every piece of paper or information that comes their way.  For everyone else, a calendar is essential.  If they have a smart phone, this is the most convenient place to keep it since they are likely attached to this particular piece of technology at all times.  Get them in the habit of putting everything in their calendar and referring to it regularly.  Another good habit for teens to get into before college is to create a filing system to hold all their assignment needs, bills, and any important document they may need to refer to later.  Not sure?  Place it in the filing system just in case.

How to…
…deal when sick, what to do or who to call if there’s an emergency (and have those numbers programmed in their phone), how to lock the front door behind them, how to fill their gas tank, how to understand their health or car insurance…and how to understand the many risks that are going to be in front of them. 

College is, for many teens, their first real experience away from parents.  This means that it’s their first brush with responsibility.  It also means it’s their first time without someone there to say no.  Now would be a good time to admit some of the stupid things you have done as a teen, anxiety you may have felt about being away for the first time, struggles you went through with a college schedule, and even the great parts about college life.  Sharing your good and bad experiences will help you be able to connect with your teen on a deeper level, and maybe even help them avoid some of the hard parts.  Of course, in the end they’re the ones who get to make the final decision.  And some of their decisions might not be the best despite your most valiant of efforts to steer them on a certain path.  And that’s when you also need to make it clear that no matter what, you’re there for them if they need it.