January 25th, 2010

Sweetie Pie Baking Company

When I’m older, I might open a bakery. But for now cooking is just another one of those passions of mine. For all I know, it may be the only reason I have friends. I give them stuff, see. They want my lemon custard pies and raisin cookies and cinnamon rolls. I have a particular friend I call, Chick-a-pee, who is quite enamored with my skills. We don’t exchange birthday presents per se, but every year for her celebration, I make and deliver a mound of cinnamon rolls to her doorstep. She has hung around me for awhile now.

The kick is all mine. Really. The whole process of creating and giving away feels oddly magical. The dough kneading, pounding, lacing of cinnamon and sugar and rolling up, the rising and baking, cinnamon saturated air, sugar, sugar baby. If I’ve had a crappy week, making rolls rejuvenates me. Let me explain. I pound that dough.

Did you just sass me, young lady? Pound. What? I can’t believe so and so did that. Pound. Ug, this weekend I just feel like lying in bed, wailing and eating. Pound. And my personal favorite line, when something has really floored me- what the heck? Pound. Pound. Pound. By the time I’ve finished, my arms ache like a mother but I’m back to my happy self. Yes, making cinnamon rolls does that for me. However, my hips and thighs are not fond of them…ba ba boom! Good thing I like to exercise. And great thing I don’t make them often.

Making pies is different. When I stand in bare feet, stirring custard, I feel like an exotic Italian woman in a Tuscany tiled kitchen with huge windows, watching skiffs on a glassy Mediterranean Sea.

What the heck?

Just stay with me. I’m not done yet.

Steam is rising from glossy, watery custard, hot lemon and chocolate lava, bubbling, Olive trees shining. Wait… no olive trees. But pies, yes, we have silky pies. Look, I’ve created smiles.

Now to the meringue. Whipping egg whites to resemble perky mountain peaks makes me downright giddy. And that chocolate pie next door is glammed to the hilt with whipping cream spun up like shiny cotton candy, Mexican vanilla whirled in and curly cues, tiny and chocolate glittering on top.

Are you hungry, sweetie pies? Well, I’m sorry. This story is virtual. But if you ever do see a Sweetie Pie Bakery Company, do pop back to the kitchen and say hello. It’s possible I’ll be there, barefoot, whipping cream stuck in my hair. And if you mention olive trees, I’ll toss in a free pie.

January 17th, 2010

Shoe Stories

I am in love. With shoes. My closet is chock full of pumps, boots, and shiny flats. Every time I see a shoe store I get the urge to yank my car over and partake in the rapture of finding that new pair. Maybe I need a twelve STEP program. It’s about the only materialistic thing I have a problem with and I rationalize this because, by gosh, these shoes DO take me places.

Obviously I’m not alone with this addiction. Go to any shoe store and you’ll catch mysterious women, buzzing around footwear blooming from boxes like sun lit peonies’, then flung and scattered, scattered and flung in a frenzied picking. I once tried on a pair of red heels at Target and a woman next to me oohed and awed until discovering they were the last pair in her size eight. Her creamy complexion then flamed and her eyes turned flinty. For fear of being maimed, I sheepishly handed the pumps over. I mean, if I get thrown in the slammer for brawling over shoes, it’ll be a pair of Jimmy Choo’s.

So, I’ve tried on glossy black pumps and envisioned myself in that silky blue dress, sauntering down New York’s Saks Fifth Avenue, cell phone humming and shopping bags winking and swinging in the sun. A green pair of flats have easily transported me to a pub in Ireland, having a loud conversation with a bloke about the virtues of Irish whiskey. Well, maybe not that. Quite possibly I’d be corralling sheep in a field that I’d inadvertently let out to picnic underneath a birch tree.

Recently I was clearing out my closet (finally) and had every pair of shoes I owned scattered like chunky confetti on the bathroom floor. One of my daughters peeked in.

Daughter said, “Gosh, mom, you have a ton of shoes.”

My tone was defensive. “Say what?”

She added, “Nothing.” Her eyes gleamed, sudden like. “Oh, can I borrow those black flats?”

“Mm hmm.”

With three girls who also adore shoes, I’ve learned to be quite thrifty. None have cost me much over twenty dollars and most, much less. Did I mention I had a shoe addiction?

CLASSIC BLACK PUMPS: This pair has taken me to weddings, where chocolate fountains drip like silky rain. And tiered raspberry filled vanilla cake can never have too much butter cream icing.

WET TURQUIOSE FLATS: I’ve walked down dirt roads of Louisiana history in these; explored plantations along the Cane River and those outside of New Orleans, Baton Rough, and St. Francisville. I also went deep into the swamps and held a baby gator and stroked a river rats head while wearing these. Yes, I did. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

PLAID BOOTS: Plenty of Texas two-stepping in this pair, music loud, dance floor slick with sawdust. I’ve danced in these at the Garner State Park pavilion, too, under a full moon bright as a lit cigarette end,jukebox blaring Ring Of Fire by good ole Johnny Cash. As you can see, they are well loved.

BLUE COMFY FLATS: These are taking care of business shoes-volunteer work, grocery shopping, doctor visits, running kiddo around kind of stuff.

LUCKY SLIPPERS: Got these for Christmas and I anticipate they’ll take me down many hills and valleys of inspiration in the story telling arena. Comfy is the name when I’m at home with my mind on writing. Writers can stay in PJ’s and slippers if we choose and barring a knock at the door and the occasional raised eyebrow of the UPS man, nobody need know we’ve been creating little worlds of our own. Don’t you adore that?

Yes, I have a compulsion for shoes. I admit it. How about you?

January 11th, 2010

The Unsinkable Molly Brown’s

Gutsy and kind-the world would have us believe this is a rare combination, that these people aren’t completely trustworthy. I ask you, who is? Show me a perfect person and I’ll kiss a gecko! I don’t expect I’ll ever have to do this. I’m terrified of them. And I’ve yet to see perfection, not in life, people or love. But despite this, we can accomplish more than we realize.

Case in point: Molly Brown. Born Margaret Tobin in Hannibal Missouri in 1867, she was taught progressive views by her parents. At age 13 she worked in a factory and volunteered in soup kitchens encountering head on struggles of the working class. Later, employed at a hotel, she met Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) who mentioned there were riches to be found in Colorado, where she later moved.

After meeting her future husband J.J. Brown, poor like herself, she said this. “I wanted a rich man but I loved Jim Brown.”   A few years later, J.J. did strike it wealthy when his engineering skills landed an ore mine for Ibex Mining. Although they lived lavishly, her giving nature didn’t wane. Poor times, wealthy times, it didn’t matter. She gave from her heart, like she always had. One doesn’t need money to have a philanthropic influence.

She is best known for being a survivor on the Titanic but what some might not know is how she rallied the first class passengers into giving money to help the less fortunate survivors, those who had lost everything. Before the rescue ship Carpathia had reached New York, she had raised 10,000 dollars! Did she accomplish this by being too kind? Or being too gutsy? Of course! This woman knew it took both to make a fire.

When the Carpathia arrived in New York, 30,000 people were waiting. Her deeds had already preceded her. When asked by reporters how she survived, she said, “Typical Brown Luck. We’re unsinkable.”

There are many men and women who quietly light up the world for others. It could be they’ve baked something for a sick neighbor. Or taken time for a sad friend. Maybe they’ve tried to understand someone instead of judging them. I’m honored to know many of these genuine people. They know who they are.

Close your eyes and keep your mind wide open. Things are not always as they seem. See the blinking fireflies? A lit candle? A black, dead night crackles and sparks with one. Add a strand and we’ve lit up a dark corner of the world. We are among stars. Perhaps you are one. I do try and some days go better than others. Such is life.

January 4th, 2010

The Jazz Kitchen

Oil pop, pop, popping, mushrooms, carrots, snap peas, shrimp big as butterflies, spicy chicken, red chilies’ flung in a huge steel pan, dancing together like a hot cha, cha, cha. That symphony of image and scent, going down on a Saturday Texas night. Like jazz with maracas thrown in. No, not a concert, but sitting ringside at a Japanese eatery, savoring the show. We only got the seats because tables were full. Just what I wanted but didn’t know it. Life is providential that way. Even in little things.

As I watched those chefs like players in a boisterous garage band, spicing, tossing, clattering and fine tuning, each part of the whole, producing with little effort, I thought of muses. Great kitchen muses up and pinching them with music, and plumes of aroma’s, they in the vortex. When smoking dishes were finally placed under our noses, the food almost felt anointed. And I’m not kidding. I ate slow and appreciated every decadent bite. If only I could remember to savor the everyday when I rise, shower, love, write, cook, clean, and read. To feel and see and hear subtle notes unfolding to a sticky, sweet, spicy crescendo. I will try to remember.

But now to the fortune cookie.

To find the hidden message the sugary golden cookie must be snapped open. I’m as anxious to do this as an enthralled little kid, digging in a Lucky Charm box and pulling up pots of gold, or four leaf clovers, or a wee rainbow. I was that kid. Still am some days. And, ahem… surely some will remember the surprises in the Cracker Jack boxes, back when our spin on the world was fresh as a bright blue lyric.

Here’s the reveal in that crisp cookie:GREAT ACTS OF KINDNESS WILL BEFALL YOU IN THE COMING MONTHS. Yeah, I know it’s cheesy, but this one made my heart leap. Don’t we all need this message? Without this our notes would flat line, both on the giving and receiving end. Anyway, I saved it. Put it in my tiny box with the others. I will pull those out from time to time, when notes go flat and I remember the unseen on a level close to song.

Free Ice Cream

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Eleven-year-old Marnie Evans longs to be precious. She wishes on stars for parents who adore her, even though her family is dysfunctional. She also believes that jack rabbits and a boot-wearing Texas angel show her mysterious signs of things to come. Continue Reading

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