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

Car repair for girls

Woman-Broken-Car-1969081There’s nothing more frustrating than being a girl and trying to fix your car.

This past month, my 2007 Jeep Commander had a bumper that needed to be fixed… and by fixed I mean, reattached to the rest of the car with anything that does not resemble Duct Tape.

In complete girl logic, I just assumed that if I put off fixing it, it would stay the same until I got around to it.

Wrong! What happens to you, when you’re a girl trying to keep things together with fingernail polish and bobby pins, is that men look at you and laugh.

If you don’t take the time to put in that rear wheel well (which actually fell off last year during a traumatic tire explosion on the way home from the beach with a car full of teenagers), what happens is that bumper/fender assembly pulls away from the rest of the car and decides to flap dangerously in the wind, like a really stiff champagne-colored shirt in a 40-mile an hour gale ready to come undone and blow onto someone else’s car at any second.

And when that happens, many men would rather do it for you instead of watching you do it on your own.

This, of course, is what happened to me when I was driving back from Greenville and was traveling in excess of 60 miles per hour. That bumper looked like it was going to break off like a piece of the Apollo 13 space craft.

Houston, we have a problem.

duct tape carWhen I looked into my rearview mirror and saw what was going on, I stopped at an auto parts store for help.

That’s where I met Mr. Johnson, whose initial solution was to take some Gorilla tape and attach the bumper to the rest of the car.

(Okay, not to be too picky, but let’s review here – champagne SUV, black gorilla tape, wildly swinging back bumper… can you say redneck?).

After several minutes of back and forth between a plastic parts aisle and my car, Mr. Johnson determined they didn’t have the part I needed and that I should go to Low Ray’s, an auto parts store down the street, to ask for the right rivets.

I asked him what part I should ask for. He just looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, honey, if you tell them where it needs to go, they’ll know what it is.”

So I went to Low Ray’s two days later and found, much to my surprise, that the auto parts of was filled with enough toy pedal cars and hobby horse airplanes to start a toy museum, which, you know, seemed odd to me as it was an auto parts place.

But that’s where Mr. Johnson said to go, right? As I walked in, I saw a fence behind all the toys and asked if they had the part I was looking for. I told them Mr. Johnson sent me.

car parts storeThe guy I was talking to abruptly disappeared into this auto parts cave for a few minutes. He never really looked at the car, never asked what I actually needed outside of my vague “I need the things that hold my rear bumper on to my car.”

Believe it or not, they didn’t have my part. He recommended the Internet.

So, I went home and got online. For more than an hour I searched for the parts I needed. I even chatted for help.

HC-chat-rep-620x344Auto parts website chatbot: Hello, my name is Brett. What can I help you with?

Me: (not answering because being on chat hold for 18 minutes tends to make me diddle around on Facebook)

Auto parts website chatbot: Hello? Is there anyone there? I haven’t heard from you in a while.

Me: Yes, I’m here. I was on hold for so long I went to another website.

Auto parts website chatbot: Great! We’re glad you’re back. My name is Brett. What can I help you with.

Me: Hi, Brett. I’m looking for a part for my 2007 Jeep Commander. I need the things that hold the bumper into the frame and the wheel well into the body of the car. Do you have a those?

Brett: Great. Let me check on that for you. Do you have the part number?

Me: No. I looked on your website, but I couldn’t find anything that looked anything like the little plastic doohickies I need.

Brett: That’s okay, I can look them up for you. While we’re waiting, Liz, would you like for me to sign you up for our email list?

Me: Well, honestly, Brett, since I was on chatbot death hold for 18 minutes, I’d really just like to get the part I was looking for.

Brett: I understand. To speed up the process, why don’t I just use the email address you entered when we started this chat, Liz?

Me: Brett, why don’t you just look up the part for me so I can order it and \ will no longer be driving around with duct tape holding my car together?

Brett: I can do that. Do you know what the part is called?

Me: If I knew what it was called, I probably wouldn’t have watched “All of our representatives are currently helping other customers. Someone will be with you shortly” repeat on my screen for nearly 20 minutes.

Brett: Okay, let’s see. We have the rear passenger-side bumper assembly package here for just $137.11. Can I place that order for you, Liz?

Me: Brett, I have the bumper. I just don’t have what I need to attach the bumper to the car. Don’t you just have those little thingamabobs that you stick up into the car to hold it on to the metal part?

Brett: That’s what the rear bumper assembly will do.

Mfrustrated on computere: That’s crazy. Why do I need to buy the whole kit, when all I need is those little spindly thingies? Whatever. Will it fit my 2007 Jeep Commander?

Brett: Uhm, no. We don’t really carry a lot of parts for the Commander.

Me: Seriously? Couldn’t you have just told me that to begin with?

Brett suggested I go to a dealer.

Which, of course, I did.

I dressed up in my best “Yes, I’m a girl but I can use a screwdriver” look and hoped they would take pity on me and help me find the right parts for my car for less than $50.

They didn’t.

In fact, they nearly smirked when I drove the car to the dealership and they showed me the drawing of what it was supposed to look like and how difficult it would be to install.

But I would not be daunted. I ordered the parts, picked them up a day later and took them to a friend’s garage to work on the car. My friend said “You know, I can do this for you, so you don’t have to lay down on the ground and get dirty.”

Sigh.

I’m not that kind of a girl.

When we figured out the parts guys hadn’t given me the right rivets, it wasn’t until I went back and dropped my friend’s name that the parts guys took me seriously. When they came back with the wrong part three times in as many days, it wasn’t until I started to cry in frustration that they found the right part. When I asked them how much it would cost to fix a shorting fuse in the lift gate, it wasn’t until I told them I had already done my research that they came down from their $600 estimate to a $200 part.

mechanic girl_car repairAnd it wasn’t until the female parts assistant came in to help me that I got treated like an actual person without being talked down to. She was the one who told me I needed a rivet gun and she was the one who helped me get the right pieces to use.

And after that, I did it. I fixed the bumper. I reattached the wheel well. I put the flair back on. I learned how to use a rivet gun. I laid down in the dirt and didn’t even get upset when mud and oil from under the car fell into my face and hair.

I didn’t cry when I broke a nail.

Sure, I didn’t do it ALL by myself – I had help from my husband and my friend, who showed me what to do and how things went together. But I did the work.

And for that, you gotta give a girl credit. Even if I don’t know all the parts’ names, or how to use all the tools, I can still do it.

I am not helpless.

I’m just a girl who likes fixing her own car.

That, gentlemen, is nothing to laugh at.

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2015

Riding in cars with mom

The other day I came home to see my 15-year-old, Mason, in the passenger seat of a car driven by his newly drivers’ licensed friend.

They just were pulling out of our driveway as I drove up. While my heart sank, Mason looked at me from the window and waved.

kidsincarsI really could only think of one thing.

“Okay, Mom. I get it.”

All of a sudden, I could hear my Mom’s voice in my head – “I’m not sure I want you in a car with someone who just got their license.”

And I could feel it beginning to come out of my throat as I mouthed the words “Wait!”

As Moms we get to experience a lot of things – the joy of having your child wrap their fingers around yours; the frustration of a poop explosion at exactly the wrong moment; the heart-bursting pride of watching your child succeed when even they thought they couldn’t; the unexpected blend of concern and consternation when the projectile vomiting begins, and the awe of watching them grow up.

Life has its ups and downs.

We never really think about what it meant to be our moms, until one day, you’re confronted with the reality of being a mom yourself.

My Mom was pretty cool when I was Mason’s age.

She let me be myself, even though there was more than a little bit of gentle prodding to wear something other than jeans and a t-shirt, my Dad’s surgical scrubs or purchases from the Army/Navy store clearance rack.

She let me date losers to find out on my own what kind of losers they really were. And never ONCE did she say “I told you so.” Well, not to my face anyway. She told me once that she knew if she said “No,” I would run right to him and really be in trouble. Smart woman. And she did confide in me years later that she was really, really, REALLY glad her plan worked.

She bought me beautiful dresses and skirts when I needed them, even though I hardly ever wore anything other than jeans and usually ruined the whole girly look by doing something stupid like pulling the crinoline all the way up to serve as makeshift strapless bra or matching my beautiful madras plaid skirt to a popped collar polo under a ripped neck sweatshirt.

Look, I was going for a “Flashdance” meets “punk” meets “preppy” look. Don’t judge.

She was always there for me, always teaching me how to be a better person, how to let go of expectations, how to deal with tragedy with courage and bravery.

Still is, in fact.

But she always worried about me, especially when I was in a car.

woman-wagging-finger“Don’t let your friends drive too fast,” she’d say. “Stay off those country roads. Be careful at four-way stops. Don’t go too fast. Where are you going? Who are you going to be with? When will you be back?”

For me, it was pure torture.

“OH MY GOD! Does she NOT understand? Doesn’t she trust me? It’s not like I’m out doing drugs or screwing around, I’m just going out with friends! What harm is there in that? ”

What could possibly go wrong?

I’m sure that’s what Mason thought when I looked at him from my car with that look of abject terror on my face. “Relax, Mom, what could possibly go wrong?”

I’m sure that’s what Mason thought when I looked at him from my car with that look of abject terror on my face. “Relax, Mom, what could possibly go wrong?”

I was worried. I didn’t want him to go. He was already out of my reach and slipping through my ever-controlling fingers more and more every day. I started to worry.

My Mom still worries when I’m driving.

I’d like to say this is due to the time I sort of stole the family station wagon and took all my friends for a joy ride before wrecking the car, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that.

She worries about what could go wrong.

Recently, on a drive from Kentucky to South Carolina, she was worried about me being careful. Not that she thinks I can’t drive, she says, but that other people are crazy.

 

potkettle“Look, pot, I want you to watch out for all the kettles…”

She warned me about the semis.

“You know, keep an eye out for those semis. Those truck drivers can be just dangerous. Every time you see one of those horrific accidents where a semi wrecks into another car and bursts into flames, it’s almost always on a Sunday afternoon.”

Thanks, Mom.

For the longest time, I used to roll my eyes and shake my head at her concerns.

But as I sat there in those fleeting seconds while Mason and his friend pulled out into the road, every possible “what could go wrong” – from running out of gas, to being attacked by mutant hill people, to getting hit by a semi – ran through my head.

Yes, those were actual thoughts that went through my head.

And I let them go anyway.

I realized being a mom is a job you keep forever. My mom will always worry about me, just like I will always worry about my sons.

But you have to let them go in order for them to come back.

I’m so not ready for mine to leave yet. There’s so much I still have to teach them… I’m not even sure if they wear clean underwear when they go out yet.

It takes strength to let someone go and trust they will come back to you.

As I waited for them to head out, Mason flashed me a smile and waved. He was elated. They were in charge of themselves for a while. They were making their own history.

finger heartThen he made a heart shape with his thumbs and fingers and blew me a kiss.

And I realized what my mom had gone through when she watched as I ran headfirst into the wind that was the rest of my life

And it clicked.

“Thank you, Mom, I finally get it.”

(c) Copyright Liz Carey 2014