My Soul's Kitchen: Recipes that Recapture Comfort and Joy

recipe on post card

Found in vintage cookbook: recipe for popovers

I discovered my mother’s cookbooks at age 5 when I discovered one with color photos of birthday cakes.  What a find this was!  I loved looking at these pictures, imaging the cakes in front of me on my special day.  As I grew older, I developed a strong desire to just be in the kitchen, washing dishes, cooking, setting the table…it didn’t matter.  It gave me a feeling of control and comfort to be in this room that was central to the home:  the place where one could play with messy ingredients, mix them up, heat them and create a nurturing concoction.  The place where it could be possible to make my Mom and Dad, my siblings and myself happy.  What could be better?   As I grew into adolescence, I found that studying the index of the cookbooks on my mother’s shelf,revealed more possibilities of this alchemical process:  of taking whatever I could find in the cupboard and creating something edible (sometimes!). The kitchen then became my refuge. I have never lost my love of these stained and tattered volumes.  When I find them in used book stores nowadays, I often bring them home. I flip carefully through the frail pages, where I find recipes written on old postcards, or envelopes, or notes written on the pages with stars, or crosses.  They speak volumes about the woman who cooked for her family and friends using this manual.  Her desire to please, get it right, evident in her earnest notes.  “Don’t over beat”, “Try with artichokes”, “apples didn’t cook enough, “No GOOD”.  Why do I find comfort in these pages?  I feel cared for and comforted when I imagine someone taking the time to search for the perfect recipe, and then to actually carry out the work of creating this dish in order to nurture herself and those she cares about.  I find myself traveling back to the days when “what are we having for dinner?” was the most important question of the day and this was quite enough to get excited about because we were lucky enough to have food and a kitchen in which to create a soulful meal.
Here is a recipe for Cream Puffs, found on a hand written  postcard  sandwiched between the pages of a vintage cookbook
Cream Puffs:
1 c hot water
1/2 c shortening
1 C flour
4 eggs
Heat the water and butter until mixture boils. Reduce heat. Add the flour all at once and mix thoroughly. Cook 3-5 minutes, until mixture clings to spoon and leaves sides of sauce pan. When cool, add eggs, unbeaten, one at a time. Beat until thoroughly mixed. Drop by tablespoon on buttered baking sheet. Bake  at 375 for 45 minutes. Be sure they are thoroughly done. should be dry on outside. Open on the side and fill with cream filling or whipped cream.  Cream filling:  1/3 c. flour, 2 eggs, 1/8 t sale, 2 c milk, 7/8 c sugar, 1 1/2 t butter, 1 t vanilla.  Moisten flour with some of the cold milk.  Add this to hot milk, Cook 15 min. in double boiler stirring constantly until thickens. Beat eggs, sugar and salt together. Pour hot mixture over them, return to double boiler, add butter, cook, stir, until (thick??)…add to popovers.

Uluru, Cradle of Life on Earth

my uluru painting

my “aboriginal” style painting created at Uluru

Recently, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit the sacred sites of Uluru (Ayers Rock) located in the red desert in the center of Australia.  The first thing that struck me were the vibrant colors of this immense landscape.  The sand is a brilliant orange/red, the bush (small trees and bushes) seemed a light green in contrast, the blue sky was brilliant against this backdrop, and the colors of the sunset are stunning.  Always present are the looming figures of the monolithic red sandstone mountains named Uluru and Kata Tjuta.  These sacred monuments are humbling in their stature.  Walking through the valleys of Kata Tjuta, I felt as if I were walking through the opening of the Earth, traveling through the birth canal of life.  I felt small and insignificant in this ancient and revered landscape.  This place is like a giant beating heart:  hot, red, pulsing,draining, and dizzying.  The trees that live here need fire to regenerate.  It is a harsh and unforgiving environment, and yet the aboriginal people have survived here for tens of thousands of years.  Only through community could people survive here. Here is what I wrote in my journal while I was there:   I feel a heaviness, a deep part wanting recognition, acceptance, love.  A deep part of me is not asking to be welcome, just saying I will no longer hide. I love my Mother Earth.  She is huge, throbbing, hot, windy, juicy, and alive in all that she does.  Her mystery is great and I cannot grasp her force, her power, her overwhelming presence.  I am in the inferno of creation.  I know nothing of who I am and where I belong.  I am alone in this place of deep, dark power wondering if surrender is a good idea, yet having little choice. I return home with a transformed perspective of the Earth:  she is an immense and powerful living being, and I am one of her children.  She gives of herself every moment, so that I can survive.  I love her, I am from her, I cannot own her.  I will do all that I can to protect her as she has protected me.
In front of Kata Tjuta

 Kata Tjuta in the background