Don’t Cook in Your Bikini – a letter to my sons

Today, I was working on my cookbook. It’s a book I’ve been working on for my sons for the past 10 years. First, handwritten, and then entered into the computer and now organized and digitized, it’s almost finished. I’ve got a few more recipes to add, and a few pictures to throw into place, but I think it’s almost done.

If I can just get them to stop asking me to add more recipes…cover-image

But as I was reading and editing, I found this – the introduction to the cookbook (aptly named “Don’t Cook in Your Bikini, and Other Things I’ve Learned in the Kitchen”), a letter to my sons as they turn from boys to men.

I hope they listen.

Dear boys – 

Over the past 30+ years, I’ve spent hours in the kitchen. Probably days or weeks, if you add it all up.

And I’ve learned a lot from all that time sautéing, roasting, spicing, creating and burning… I mean, browning… the meals that y’all have mostly enjoyed. I’ve learned from my successes and I’ve learned from my mistakes.

Mostly, I’ve learned enough to keep you all from sending me on to “Worst Cooks in America.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned though, it’s  Don’t cook in your bikini.

Why not cook in a bikini?

Well, let’s just say “grease splatters.”

It’s all well and good to think that even though a summer storm has popped up outside, you can still grill burgers inside on your griddle. But, when you decide to keep your bikini on and only cover up with a holey sweater, then you’re not really thinking.

And I wasn’t.

Right up until the moment when some of the grease from the griddle jumped up and splattered burn marks all over my stomach.

Then I started thinking a lot of things, many of which ended with “%$#@!!!”

Not that there are that many people who actually WOULD cook in a bikini, but it occurred to me that if I was stupid enough to do it, then YOU might think it was a good idea too.

Apple. Tree. You get the idea.

It occurred to me, however, that cooking in a bikini was a lot like wearing a three-piece suit to garden in – it’s just not a good idea. For every particular job or activity you’ll do, you’ll  have “appropriate clothing.” And there’s a reason for that clothing. You don’t see chefs wearing bathing suits in the kitchen. You see them in long pants and comfortable shoes, and short-sleeved shirts.

Why?

To protect themselves from spills, or dragging their sleeves through the food, or, you know, catching on fire. Yes, honey, that’s a real thing. And you don’t normally see businessmen in jeans and a t-shirt. Why? Because the formality of their attire matches the air of importance they give to their products and services. It’s simple sales, really.

All that got me to thinking … there are a lot of things that I’ve learned in the kitchen that  apply to other parts of your life.

Little bits go a long way. When you’re seasoning something, the best thing to remember is to add a little at a time, and let it cook for a bit before adding more. Think about it – if you added pepper to something and throw in a full tablespoon of it, you run the risk of having whatever you’re cooking come out way too hot. But if you add a pinch or two at a time, you can get to just the right taste.

And that’s kind of like life too. When you’re adding things to your life, try not to add too much at once. Don’t decide you’re going to start a new job, start playing softball, start dating a new girlfriend and move all in the same month. Pick one, do it for a while and then add another until you feel like you can take on something else. Add too much at one time and you’ll be overwhelmed by it all.

You’re not always going to be able to do that though. Life has a way of looking at all of your well-laid plans and happy little dreams, and saying “HA! You are SO cute when you think things are going to go your way like that…” Sometimes life is going to throw a million things at you at once. The best thing you can do when that happens is to just sit down and eat a little at a time until you’ve cleaned your plate. Then you can take a step back, rest up and get ready for dessert.

Don’t be afraid to try something new or make something up, but be creative with a measure of caution. You really should never be afraid to try new things, seek out new people or combine things you love together. For every goofy idea, there is a great success, as much as there is an abysmal failure. You know, buffalo chicken quesadillas started out as a crazy idea, but it worked! Same with the Skyline Lasagna. You should never be afraid to mix things up – whether it’s with a recipe or in your life.

But, remember… just because you like two things, doesn’t necessary mean they go well together. You may like chicken and you may like bananas, but that doesn’t mean chicken and bananas should ever, under any circumstances, in any part of the world, and in any way, shape or form, be combined in one dish and put on a plate.

Similarly, beer and skiing; steak and strawberries; Chuck E. Cheese and a migraine; lima beans and …well…anything… probably not a good combination. Be careful, but always be brave and try new things.

Know when you can fudge a little. Sometimes in cooking, you have to measure carefully. Sometimes, you can wing it. You just have to know which time is which. For example, in barbecue and pizza, really, there’s not a lot of measuring. In those cases, a little of this, a little of that goes a long way. But when it comes to baking, if the recipe says “1 ½ teaspoons of baking soda” you’d better damn well be sure that you measure out exactly 1 ½ teaspoons of baking soda. I’m not kidding. Exactly.

The same is true in life. You may be able to be to skip sweeping under the coffee table every other day at home, but when it comes to work, you have to do the best and most thorough job you can as quickly as you can. You’ve got to know when it’s okay to wing it, and when it’s important to do your best. It makes a huge difference in how successful you’ll be in the long-run.

Be careful where you put your fingers.  You know, it’s important to know where your fingers are when you’re slicing something. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve told you all to curl up your fingers when you’re holding something to cut, and to be careful with knives and food processors. That applies to burning your fingers in the oven (note my hands some day) and putting stuff in hot grease too.

But it applies to other people’s business as well. You don’t need to go sticking your nose or fingers (or any other body part) into someone else’s business. If they want you to know about something, they’ll tell you. If they want you to get involved, they’ll ask you. If they want your help with something, they’ll let you know. I’m not saying, don’t ask if someone needs your help, but certainly don’t take on someone’s problems if they don’t want you there. Be loving and caring with people, and by all means, let them know you are there for them, but don’t stick your fingers in places they don’t belong.

Quit holding on to your recipes  Everyone has secret recipes and things that are theirs and theirs alone. But it doesn’t do anyone any good to hold on to them too tightly. Sharing your gifts with the world is the only clear way to get something back in return.

If I weren’t to share my recipes with you, either by writing them down for you, or cooking them for you, they’d all sit on a shelf and go to waste. But by sharing them, not only do they get a life of their own, but you give me something in return. Whether it’s “Oh, Mom, this is the bomb,” or “I loved your recipe for chicken bog, did you want my recipe for chocolate cola cake?” you get a little quid pro quo action going. When you give a little of yourself, you get a lot in return.

The things you make with love will always surpass the things you throw together Every time you cook, you should absolutely put your heart into it. And by that I mean, when you are creating something, care about the result, because someone is going to be eating that. Do you want to eat something that someone threw together without caring how it tasted, whether or not it was burnt, what kind of texture it had, whether or not the ingredients were rotten? Of course not. You want to eat something that shows someone took the time to do the best they could just for you.

Would you want something that showed someone took the time and effort to make something really great? Or would you want something that someone threw together without thinking about the end result? Put effort into what you do, care about the result – whether it’s in the kitchen or not – and your results will always be better.

Simple ingredients and simple cooking methods are sometimes the best – Eating at a French restaurant can be an amazing thing. Your Dad and I have always said French cooking is about taking out every ingredient you own and cooking them in every pot you own, cleaning all the pots and using them again to come up with an entrée the size of a walnut. It’s all very expensive and very complex and very beautiful and very tasty.

But none of it compares to a bowl of soup beans, or chicken bog, or a really good fried bologna sandwich. Not everything has to be about microgreens, or vodka-infused something or the other, or even about pan roasting something with black truffle oil and pink Himalayan salt. Sometimes, the good stuff is just about three or four ingredients put together and cooked up in the most simple of ways – strawberries and sugar with whipped cream; bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches; scrambled eggs with cheese. It’s the simple stuff that makes a difference.

And in that same vein, when you’re working, sometimes just having good quality products, without all the bells and whistles and razzle dazzle, is all you need. Got a Powerpoint slide show to do? Just do the presentation and make the information sing. Do you need slides that swoop on to the screen and blast the text from out of nowhere? Not really. Let your work stand on its own without trying to baffle people with bullshit. People know what bullshit looks like, regardless of how much glitter you sprinkle on it. Trust me.

I wish I had some beautiful, lyrical words to tell you about living a great life and making a success of yourself and being happy. I don’t. Because I really don’t know what the secrets are.

But I do know this. You only get one chance at life. Do what you want to do. Be who you want to be. Take the risks that will make you happy. It’s always better, in my mind, to look back with a smile at the end of your life and say “I can’t believe I actually did that” instead of looking back with regret and saying to yourself “I wish I had tried to do that.”

I love you both so much. You have made my life better just by being a part of it. Even when I was screaming and angry or crying and worried, you have been the biggest part of my heart and you always will be. I never knew that I could love someone so much that I would give up anything to make their life better. I know I haven’t been able to give you everything. I know I’ve made mistakes. But I also know that I tried to be the best mom I could be. And I know that no matter what, I will forever keep trying to be that and that I will always be here for you.

Probably will still be asking if you’ve brushed your teeth and done your laundry, but still… I’ll be here.  :-*

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2017

Castle for sale, right down the street

So, the castle down the street from my childhood home is for sale.

No, I don’t mean a really nice house.

I mean a castle.

versailles-castle
The Versailles Castle as it stands now. The road on the top of the picture would be Versailles Road, the road between Lexington and Versailles… follow that road to the right, go about a quarter of a mile, turn left and go all the way to the end of the street? That’s where I grew up.

Let me explain, it’s a real castle. We’re talking about a huge multi-turreted-building-in-the-middle-with-a-courtyard-between-it-and-four-fortress-walls castle.

This palatial estate on more than 252 acres in the middle of horse country in Central Kentucky is roughly one mile to the left and up the street from my mom’s house – which we all know is my first castle. I grew up next to this thing.

Heck, the invitations to my wedding included directions to my reception (at my Mom’s house) that included the words “pass the castle and take the second left.”

It has literally been a part of my life since I was three. I watched it being built from the moment ground broke, until it sat dormant. Ever since I was in elementary school, the Castle in Versailles, Ky. has been a mystery, a landmark, a laughing stock and a wonder.

When I was in second grade, my friend, Jeff, and I sat on the playground of Pisgah Elementary School watching the castle and speculating about it.

To be honest, we would sit inside of a two-foot tall concrete tube left on the playground during construction, and we would periodically poke our heads above the side like little gerbils to look at it before burrowing back into the tube to furiously discuss in our 7-year-old furor over why it was there.

I mean… uhm… it was a castle… in the middle of nowhere Kentucky… and there weren’t any horses or playgrounds anywhere on it! Our 7-year-old minds boggled.

Granted it was in VERSAILLES, but in Kentucky (as in Ohio and Indiana) that’s pronounced Ver-sales, not Ver-si like they say in France.

At the time, we ALL thought it was a gift from the Six Million Dollar Man to one of Charlie’s Angels.

The Six Million Dollar Man and Charlie's Best Angle
The Six Million Dollar Man and Charlie’s Best Angle

Because Lee Majors was then was married to Farrah Fawcett. And he had a horse farm in Woodford County, or so we all thought. And this was when every boy in school had a Farrah bathing suit poster on their wall, and the Six Million Dollar Man lunchbox was THE lunchbox to have.

We thought we were looking at a wedding present and that soon we’d be watching little Six Million Dollar Angels during recess.

Maybe if he had given her the castle, she might never have left him and gone kinda nutso. Or at least had a little more space to do it in private.

Can you imagine castle walls painted with a Farrah brush?

Boys everywhere would have been checking in to see bathing suit marks.

Not that they could afford it now.

Started in 1968 by Rex and Caroline Bogaert Martin, the castle was inspired by a trip to Europe. Cause doesn’t everyone come home from vacation and think “Hmmm. I’d like to have a little piece of medieval history right here that I can live in”?

But construction stopped when the two divorced in 1975. For more than a quarter of a century until Rex Martin died, the castle remained vacant.

In 2003, the castle was purchased by a Miami tax lawyer who had plans to turn it into a bed and breakfast.

Seriously... who eats beans for breakfast? I mean, come on! Where's the oranges and muffins? And don't even get me started on the tomatoes and mushrooms.
Seriously… who eats beans for breakfast? I mean, come on! Where’s the oranges and muffins? And don’t even get me started on the tomatoes and mushrooms.

Now, I’ve stayed in bed and breakfasts in England…. And I have a hard time imagining that anyone staying at the castle would get scrambled eggs, bacon, tomato slices and baked beans for breakfast. Or have to share a bathroom. Or find themselves curled up to sleep under chintz sheets that smelled oddly like your 80-year-old grandmother and lavender.

When an unfortunate fire during the initial stages of construction in 2004 (uhm… Jewish lightning anyone?) destroyed the building, construction began again. In just a few short years, it was finished and opened to the public.

Well, at least the public that could afford the $750 a night it cost to stay in a turret room.

Currently, the 50-room castle includes a full library, a great hall, chandliers, marble floors, a game room, and a dining room that seats 40. The grounds – on the inside of the fortress walls, includes manicured gardens, a tennis court, a pool.

And let’s not even get started on the rooms that look like something out of Downton Abbey on steroids.

Now guest rooms go for between $325 for a state room and $1,250 for a turret room.

That’s inflation for ya. I mean, what is the world coming to when a turret room in a castle in the middle of nowhere increases in price by nearly 70% in just a few short decades and a complete renovation?

There are signs around the building now that say “Guests only!” This is a place that everyone who has driven thru Versailles – and I’m sure there have been dozens through the years – would stop to take a picture of. Now they want to close it off only to the one percent?

The view, almost, from where Pisgah used to sit.
The view, almost, from where Pisgah used to sit.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from driving up the driveway, looking around and taking a few pictures the last time I was there. No Swiss guards came out and chased me off. No beautiful golden retrievers came bounding out to greet me. No one screamed out the turret “Get off my lawn!”

I’d always dreamed of going inside.

And now, I can. I could just buy it and continue running it as a “boutique hotel.”

It’ll only cost me a cool $30 million.

That comes down to renting out all the turret rooms 6,000 times to break even.

I think I’ll take the view from the concrete tube.

(c) Copyright Liz Carey 2014

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