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The Joy of Cooking or Something Like It

My middle Madelyn is my sous chef.  My assistant.  Whether I wish her to be, or not.  Most of the times I do wish, and sometimes in quick-get- something- to-the-table moments I wince a bit at the asking, "Mom? Can I help?!"
I determined as best I can to say, "Yes." with a smile, more than "No, I need to do this on my own."
It may be more messy and slower; however, kids told no about helping eventually lose desire.
My mom always let her daughters help in the kitchen.  In fact my favorite times with my mom and sister are cooking moments.  We may exchange some laughs and my sister's and mom's quick tempers may collide in the heat of rough chopping and stirring, but at the end it will be doused out by some hugs and some "This is silly girls!" from my dad. (As he fast exists the kitchen permeated now with six females)
I always wanted to cook because my mom let us cook growing up. A tornado of flour left its trail on counters along with an array of spices and stacks of dirty dishes (how is it some people like us use basically every utensil when cooking ?) Having the patience to let us help, by putting our fingerprints on meals nurtured our desire to cook.  Then and now.
My mom routinely had new cook books that we spread out and debated on.   She still does.  We hover around and ask her about the possibility of her making this.
She still does.  She has the ability to actually produce complicated culinary endeavors.
Such as the Walnut Maple Roll with Maple sauce and Maple Whipped cream.  I'll never attempt this. So many steps.  But it shows up once a year after its three hours of assembly.  And it is a revelation.
Then there is her own hot and sour asian soup.  So many deep flavors.  Lick the bowl worthy.  She's not afraid of attempting an arduous recipe.

She is a great cook and her spice combinations are wonderful.  She is great at flavoring something in layers, it is never bland. Ever.  It always makes me laugh when she apologizes after taking a bite.
"Too bland.  I'm sorry ya'll."  Don't think so.  It has a whole power team of added herbs and spice additions.  It's like wearing a gown and saying, "I'm sorry I'm so dressed down."

Now I have a band of three girls who equally like to cook and science experiment recipes.  The middle girl likes to make real food, the oldest not so much.  Perhaps its because she really doesn't specialize in food consumption.  She's in it for the adventure of creating something.
I have long let my oldest use the straggling box of jello, some spices used infrequently, and the last of the crackers,noodles, pudding, soy sauce, croutons, or spice rub to concoct what she wishes.  (I never allow any extracts to be included. There are limits.  Those things are pricy and precious. Anxiety would set in if i realized an entire bottle of real vanilla extract met its death in a box of jello and beef bullion cubes. No vanilla aspics please)
But when oldest girl asks to as she says, "Make a new creation." I inwardly sigh knowing the mess that will soon unfold, but its usually worth it.  It keeps her busy and there are times I can manage to down a bite of the new recipe.
I'm hoping one day when she actually does enjoy eating real food we can collaborate on real recipes from books or maybe she will pioneer her own culinary revelations.  That we actually want to eat.

The experiments started early on! A whole bottle of lemon juice was in this first experiment .  I think I managed one bite! Clearly she liked it.

This was edible and actually worked, albeit quite tart.
Flavor might not be here, A cavity is certainly present in the offering of an ice cream cone filled with icing and conversation hearts. But presentation was nice :) 
And here even the creator says, "Marshmallow, jello cheese isn't very good." And I did agree.  At least we both did.  No second bite needed.

A lot of times the experiments don't equal great recipes, but it was the fun process that mattered to them.  It was in the idea and seeing the idea come together that made them happy.
There is one tried and true recipe that they love to make and always works.
That is because it came from the hands of a master.
My great grandmother.
It's lemon pound cake.
It was made in a tiny farm house kitchen in the mountains of North Carolina every Saturday.  Flipped out on a cake stand where the glass cover came down and sealed in all the steam. It's a marriage of butter and lemon and it births something light and just sweet enough every time.  It's poundcake perfection and it is simple.  The lemony crust on the bottom is always the best part.
My girls never met my great grandma.  But they sit at her table every week when they eat this.  It's the regular cake choice for breakfast.  It's not too sweet.  Just sweet enough.
It's not a new idea, it doesn't need to be tweaked.  It just works.
Once my mom allowed my girls to change up the classic recipe in their efforts to make a watermelon pound cake and it was a flop.
It met quickly with the trash can.
Lesson learned, don't mess with the best.
No alterations.  It just works.

I'm always looking for ways to let my girls stamp their selves into life experiences.  Put their spin, their mark, and their perspective on it.  It's tiring sometimes.  But its worth it.  And sometimes i allow it and then eventually say, "Enough!"
But it reminds me of the vast creative ventures God allows us to join with Him.  There are some non negotiables in life.  Some hard and fast rules.  Some deal breakers.  Some things we must do and some we must not.  But yet a very wide and large palette of creativity to splash in.
I like the way Shauna Niequist says in her book Bread and Wine, "In cooking as in life, there are some nonnegotiables, but not nearly as many as you think.  Learning to cook is all about learning those nonnegotiables and then playing around with the rest.  Recipes are how we learn all the rules, and cooking is knowing how to break them to suit our tastes or preferences."
This lemon pound cake is not to be messed with, but there are endless possibilities to be had.  Do we serve it as is? Or with homed blueberry sauce.  Thats a great combination!
Do we use it in new recipes?  We could make a trifle.
We just usually need a recipe to show us the ropes first.  A good base. Then we can add or subtract to our own likings or after our own findings.
Life is so like that.  We must have a good baseline.  A an expansive and deep foundation, but what we build with our life is always a bit different from every one else's.
Somethings that work for others, don't work for us.  Our lives while running with the same themes of God's mercy and goodness, His redemption don't look just the same.  They are very different and yet grounded in the same truths.  They all share a glorious plan and speak of love, redemption, and hope.
God's Word shows us the foundation and fills us with light to live our lives and we get to live them from our hearts.  The unique perspective that our story, our lives tell about our Savior.
He lets us join Him in the creating.  Despite the mess it makes sometimes and the many trips perhaps to the trash bin.  We get to get dirty and we get to share in the joy of creativity.  With Him.
Sometimes we get a whole hearted nod from Heaven of approval on what we came up with and sometimes we shelve something that wasn't the best.
Psalm 16 has David talking joyfully about boundaries or living joyfully within certain parameters.  Staying grounded to the recipe.
" The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Surely I have a delightful inheritance."
God's love and wisdom have set our own life boundaries.  But we get to play.  Really play within the markings.  There's a lot of freedom within the boundaries.
Sometimes I think that maybe we wouldn't break the boundaries and run into someone else's yard if we realized how much potential for life, love, and creativity was within our own very special perimeter.  I don't mean the whole adage about watering our own grass or soil laboriously. I feel like that just makes us feel many times like more chores, more work, and more boredom.
I mean really exulting and trying to find out all of the adventure that could be, all the ways we can add to our life recipe, all the freedom that actually was there. If we did that, we wouldn't ever want to leave those boundaries.  We would say with David that our life's boundaries are pleasant and what we have been given is delightful.
We stay true to what is necessary and works.  What we have to build a life on.  We run within our own God given spaces but what we make here has our fingerprints intertwined with God's and it is delightful.
Now i'm off to take one solitary bite of a sandwich created for me by my eight year old.  The spice rub she put on my roast beef is making me sneeze, but surely i can try one bite. :)


  1. Somer,
    Oh my goodness what a brave mama you are to taste all the experiments your budding chefs come up with! I loved all the cooking adventures in this post, especially that precious recipe of the lemon pound cake (sounds scrumptious -- I love pound cake!) and how you let the girls run wild with their imaginations. How right you are to remind us about our creativity when we partner with God in life, and even though our lives get messy, he's in it for the long haul with us! What a comfort that is and how encouraging! Such good memories in this post, friend! xo

  2. I love that you let your girls create, Summer. I enjoyed their adventures. :) And such a great analogy that there is freedom for creativity within the boundaries God has given us. Thank you. You're my neighbor at Holley's.

  3. Ah, yes! I remember with fondness my parents letting me participate in the kitchen, and I always bit my tongue when I wanted to squelch offers of 'assistance' from our daughters. They are now wonderful cooks and each time they come to visit we gather in the kitchen and whip up something wonderful. Very a propos spiritual application, too :).

  4. This is awesome! I remember my mama (a little begrudgingly!) letting me try out blueberry pie recipes and smoothies in my teenage years. Ahh...the memories..! And I loved how you talked about getting the non-negotiables of a recipe down and playing with the rest and how that applies so much to our lives... Truly a little light bulb went on over here! And I'm so gonna copy your Grandma's pound cake recipe... they're often the best no doubt! ♥


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