Category Archives: Food

Thanksgiving, How Sweet the Sound.

My grandmother’s love language was food.

Biscuits and gravy.  Bacon and eggs.

Pancakes, stacked high with butter and syrup, sausage on the side, mixed and crispy-hot in the pan just before daylight.

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Home fried chicken.  Ham and beans.  Cornbread in an iron skillet.  Mashed potatoes, perfectly white, whipped to an inch of their little lives.  Homemade cinnamon rolls, homemade ice cream.  Chocolate chip cookies.  Banana splits.

My grandma made iced tea so sweet it crunched, and then she sent me out to the garden to pick little sprigs of fresh mint. She laid the green leaves gently on top, and the smell of that sweet mint tea was as fresh as the sun.  We are Southern after all.  There’s really no other way to drink it.

In the winter she made hot chocolate, and cappuccino from a tin.

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She made grilled cheese.  Macaroni and cheese.  Sandwiches with three slices of American cheese.  Cheeseball.  Pimento cheese.  Fruit and cheese.

Oh, and pepper jelly on a Triscuit.  With cream cheese.

Fresh.  Everything so fresh.  And almost all from scratch.  Pie crusts rolled out early in the morning.  Fruit picked from her own trees and sugared by her own hands.

Berry pie.  Cherry pie with whipped cream.  And apple pie with melted cheddar cheese.  The first time she handed me that delicacy, I thought someone had gotten confused.

But it was good.  Like all of it.  So good.

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And Thanksgiving?

Move the chairs out and bring in some tables.  Turn yourself sideways to make your way through the bounty, stack up your plate, and don’t be shy, honey, come back for more.

On Thanksgiving, my grandmother cooked for days around her teaching job.   Deviled eggs could be done early. The pies too, they could be done ahead.  Salads, chopped the day before and tossed in the morning.

She still made jello molds, maybe the only thing she made I didn’t love, but they were pretty and somewhat gravity defying, and what kid isn’t entertained by carrots jiggling in gelatin?

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My grandmother was a schoolteacher and a children’s librarian.   Besides cooking, she dressed in costumes on the holidays.

On Christmas, she was Mrs. Claus, Santa hat, red sweater, matching skirt, and a huge black belt with a shiny gold buckle.

And on Thanksgiving, she alternated years, one year a Cherokee maiden with construction paper feathers in her hair.

And, other years, a pilgrim in black and white, complete with a little collar and funny hat, flaps around her ears.

And she did it all while caring for my grandfather, wheelchair-bound from polio.  My grandmother sold everything she had after he came home from the hospital, and she went to school to become a teacher.

She was loyal to him until he died in his fifties, and she never remarried.  She still wears her wedding band, even though I’m not sure she remembers why.

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She doesn’t know us anymore, and she gets upset if she forgets where she is.

But her love language is still food.  She got afraid at my house the other day, and I said, “Grandma, do you want a cookie?”  She nodded.

I gave her two cookies.  “One for each hand,” I said, like I do for my kids.

She smiled and took a big crumbly bite.

It wasn’t until I had my own kids and tried cooking for a family, day in and day out, that I realized what a gift she gave us.

After I had stayed home for ten years, I realized that I had prepared over 10,000 meals, many of them spit out and proclaimed “disgusting” by children who had just been eating dog food.

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I know they did.  Dirt, too.  I saw it with my own eyes.

Even so, I baked and meal-planned and hunted recipes to delight them.

One time as a young mom, I tried to make beans.

I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to make the whole bag at once.  When the water boiled, I happily watched the beans soften and swell.

Until I realized they were swelling right out of the pot.

I called my grandmother.

“What do I do?”  I asked her.

She laughed so hard.  Couldn’t even talk.

“Grandma, stop laughing,” I said, “they are seriously coming out the top!  What do I do?”

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“Just get another pot, honey,” she gasped.  “Start spooning them in to something else on another burner, add more water.”

“Ok, Grandma,” I said.  Her laughing made me laugh.  I spooned some in another pot.

The beans kept swelling over the top.

I called her back.  “Grandma, I think I should just throw it away.  There’s too much, it’s still overflowing.  I give up.”

She thought this was hysterical.

“No, honey,” she said.  “Don’t you have four burners?   Just keep adding pots, keep spooning it out.  You can fix this.”

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It was a vote of confidence from a woman who knew her food.  I did fix it, on the phone with her, laughing and spooning and babysitting beans.

She kept asking, “What does it look like now?”  and laughing.

I wish I’d had a cell phone back then.  I would have texted her a picture of the four bean volcanos erupting on my stovetop.

I think she got the idea.

It’s a little memory.

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But I’m so thankful for it.

The food is a small thing too in a way, but in another, it’s the soundtrack of my childhood as much as any music.

A soundtrack of flavor and love poured out and laid before me by a servant of God and family who lived to bring us comfort.

My grandmother worked hard in her gardens and at school to provide the food for a big family she fed all the time.

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And then, unless you’ve planned meals like she did, and gotten up at all hours of the day and night to make sure it came out right, and tended to every little bite like it mattered, it’s hard to explain the time and the effort, the cuts and the burns and the sweat and the tired arms over a hot steamy stove.

I remember conversations at these meals.

Conversations that often ended up with someone raising their voice and walking away mad, and the awkward silence that followed.

And I remember my grandmother leaving the angry adults and swooping us all up in her arms.  She had holiday books that she read in the most soothing, sweet voice, a voice and a cadence made to order for children’s stories.

I’m sure the conversations mattered to her, but her babies mattered more.

She had worked hard to make a beautiful meal and space for gathering.  She was not about to let them ruin it for her or for us.

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She was a woman who never stopped smiling.

I’m amazed by her restraint, and inspired by the way she always chose love.

I want to give that same gift to my kids and my family.

I’m planning what I’m cooking this year.

My kids have never seen a jello mold.  This may be the year that changes.  That jiggly delight just might find itself a place on my table.  Some old things are worth resurrecting.

And I’m planning what I’ll say.

“Hey kids, want to read a story?”

And.  My sister has this hilarious game.  Telephone pictionary.  Great for a crowd.  Directions here.  Might play that, too.

There’s a time and a place for everything, it’s true.

But Thanksgiving is about making a joyful noise, not an angry or fearful one.  And about making memories that will still be sweet for a long, long time.

***

I’m praying for love, words of love, sweeter than honey, and more savory than turkey, and sweeter than music, to grace your lips, your ears and all your gatherings.

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.  Prov16:24

The Day I Set the Lamb on Fire, or, How to Not Blow Up Your Propane Grill.

My little sisters are twins.

One year on their birthday, I had them over for dinner.

It was quite the affair.  I planned for weeks.  I made place cards and a centerpiece.  I scoured the internet and cookbooks for recipes and decided on a menu.

Pear and walnut salad.  Herbed mashed potatoes.  Challah bread.  Honey glazed green beans.  Fennel and leeks.  Baked brie.  Figs.  And for dessert,  raspberry brownie bites topped with white chocolate mousse, and served in tiny, homemade, chocolate cups.

And the main dish.  Lamb.  Beautiful tenderloins.  About thirty-five dollars’ worth.

I do not normally spend that much money on meat.  So, I am not used to cooking that kind of meat.  But it was my sisters’ birthday, and I wanted to go all out.

I found a recipe for grilled lamb, and my husband had just gotten a new propane grill.  I thought the smoky flavor would taste great with the lamb, so I decided to try it.

When the day came, I got up early.

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I said a short prayer.  I prayed that I would not be stressed or lash out at my kids.  That I would be peaceful and calm, no matter what happened.

I’m not sure I would pray that prayer ever again.  In hindsight, I think I should have just prayed that nothing stressful would happen.  But that was not what I asked for that day.  I’m learning.

Anyway.

First, I started ironing the linen table cloth and napkins.

However.  My ironing space was cramped.  I had squeezed the board between the table and a wall, and the iron cord caught on a chair.  The hot iron jerked out of my hand and hit the wood floor, hard, and bounced two or three times.

I didn’t want to look, but I had to grab the iron up quick.  It did not even leave a scratch on the floor.

And.  It had missed landing on my bare foot by about an inch.  I grabbed the iron.  I repeated my prayer.  Not getting stressed.

I kept going.

Next, I set the table.  I laid out the pad and the linens and my white wedding china.  I got out the crystal glasses.

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My son wanted to help and picked up two of them.  As I stood at the table arranging glasses and silverware, he walked across the kitchen to bring them to me.  And he dropped one.  I jumped.

Crystal shatters.  Like ice.

Tiny pieces of glass.

Everywhere.

I took one look, stepped out of the kitchen, breathed deep, and went back in.

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I cleaned it up.  I told the kids to put on their shoes, just in case.  I prayed again.  I kept going.

The raspberry sauce.  The white chocolate mousse.  The salad, chopped and tossed.

Finally, the meat, potatoes, green beans, and brownies had to be done at the end.  The last hour of cooking a meal is busy.

I put the lamb on the grill and came back inside to peel potatoes.  Two of my kids stationed themselves in chairs near the glass door to watch the grill.

A few minutes later, my youngest stood up and opened the door and stuck her head out.  I was peeling potatoes at the sink.

Paige looked at me and said, “Mommy, you might want to come look at this, there’s a fire.”

I said, “I know, I just started it, I’m cooking the lamb.”

She said, “No, Mommy, it’s a big fire.”

My son said, “Um.  Yeah.  It’s a really big fire, Mom.  You might want to come look.”

I was like good grief.  These kids always exaggerate.

Set my potatoes down and walked to the door.

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Smoke poured out of the grill to the ceiling, and flames were shooting out, maybe three feet on each side.

And I decided right there.  I was not going to let that day beat me.

I closed the door, walked back to the sink, and went back to peeling potatoes.

I needed to think.  I needed to stay calm.

Think think think.  What puts out a fire.

Kitchen fire.

Baking soda.

Yes.

Open cabinets.  Three boxes of baking soda.

Awesome.

I got this.

I took the baking soda to the porch.  I squared off at that grill.  My husband was not home.  I was the adult in charge.  I had to open the grill to put out the fire.

I knew that I could call 911, but I did not have time for this.  Dinner was in one hour.

I looked at the flames and thought, “I don’t think it’s going to do a wall-of-fire if I open it.  I really don’t think it’s going to explode.  It could, but I just think it’s not.”  I had an oven mitt.  I took the top handle of the grill and threw it open and jumped back.

The flames shot straight up, almost to the top of the vaulted ceiling over the porch, six and eight and twelve feet in the air.

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I threw baking soda on the base of the flames, all over the thirty-five dollars worth of lamb sitting on the grill rack.

The flames had gone down, but not completely, when I ran out of soda.

I turned off the grill heat, went back inside, closed the door, and went back to peeling potatoes.  Kids were screaming by now.

“Mom!  What are you doing??  Potatoes??  No!!  FIRE FIRE!!”

I’m like.

I know.  I have to think.

Think think.

No time for panic.  No time for fear.  Got to keep the kids safe.  I prayed over this day.  No fear.

Think.

What’s the next closest thing to baking soda?

Salt.

I am a homeschool mom.  I make play dough for a living.  I had buckets of salt.

I grabbed two brand new containers of salt and walked back out on the porch.  The flames were healthy and growing.

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I shook out all the salt.  The flames went out on one now completely black piece of lamb, and a few small flames still burned on the other piece.  I picked both pieces  up with the grill tongs and set them on a cookie sheet.  I turned the last burning piece over and over until the flames went totally out.  Stop, drop,  and roll.

I carried that cookie sheet full of charred lamb back into the house.  Company coming in 45 minutes.   What to do.  Think think.

No time to get more meat.  No going back.

I peeled back enough of the char that it looked like meat again and put it under the faucet, rinsing off as much of the soda and salt as I could.  And then I put them back on the cookie sheet and stuck them in the oven at 325 degrees.  If it was awful, I would have a funny story and order pizza.  Moving on.

Finished desserts, potatoes, salad.  Finished centerpiece and table settings and dishes.

Took out the lamb and cut it in slices to arrange on plate.  Held breath.  Tasted.

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Seriously??

It was amazing.

Ok. Don’t call it grilled lamb.  Call it blackened lamb.

Moving on.

Both of my sisters enjoy quality.  And one of them, Jane, has what I would call “very exacting taste.”  She worked in fine dining for a while in college.  She knows all the gourmet words for everything, and she has eaten some good lamb.  Like, really good.

When they came in, they commented on the delicious smell.  “You grilled for us?!?” They were so excited.

I’m like.  Oh.  You have no idea.

We sat down to eat, and I had to look away when they tried the lamb.  Felt like laughing.  Maybe time for pizza.

Then I heard Jane say, “Oh my word.  This is the best lamb I have ever tasted in my life.  It has this salty crust on it.  So good.”

Ah.

Sweet victory.

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***

Takeaways?  

One.  Lamb is a fatty cut of meat.  Lol.  Learned that the hard way.  Never walk away from lamb on the grill.  Two.  I am not a firefighter.  Most days.  But, some days I am.  And.  Three.  Saying no to fear makes all the difference.  The difference between being able to do something and not.  

I could have cowered down and called 911.  But, if I had, that fire would have grown and grown in the fifteen minutes it took for the fire department to arrive.  I’m not saying we should always “fight our own fires,” but in this case, I kept the grill from exploding and my house from burning down.  I would have been the same person either way.  But I would have lost the chance to learn something important about myself if I had let others come in and fight my battle for me because of fear.  

I’m really glad I have this day in my memory.  God used it to show me that He is with me and that He has put strength in me.  It’s something I draw on when I ask myself, “Can I handle this?”  Hashtag #lambonfire.  Oh.  Yes.  I can.  I pray He reminds you of these moments for yourself.  Hashtag #reminders. Yes.  You can.

And.  Four.  Next time, just pray for a good day.  No reason to complicate these things.  

I’m learning.

What memories do you draw strength from?  Even inspiration from other people you know or movies or books?  Story drives us in powerful ways.  Would love to hear your stories in the comments!!