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

Bless me, Leah, for I have sinned

I have the coolest miracle worker in the world.

And by miracle worker, I mean hairdresser. No, stylist. No. High priestess of hair.

kindle fire girlLeah, my miracle worker, is the religious equivalent of nirvana in black leggings. Irreverent, ballsy, out-spoken and always smiling, she is the confidante of my inner wildest fantasies – purple hair.

She has given me the hair cut of my dreams – the one I have asked for since I was 23 years old – “Just something that looks great, but that I don’t have to really work on.”

This is not as easy as it appears. For years, I have labored under the delusion that I had to work hours on my face and hair to look like I didn’t have to do anything at all.

But Leah, went one better than that. She gave me a beautiful hair cut, that made me look like I didn’t even curl it AND she made me look cool.

Just before I left for a writers’ workshop in April, I went to Leah. I told her “I want purple highlights in my hair. I want to look like the girl from the Kindle commercials. I want auburn hair with purple in it.”

I wanted to embrace the inner artist in me that I was sure was going to come out at that conference. And I wanted people to remember me, because, in my own head, I am completely forgettable. Did I mention I’m 48, overweight and about as boring fashion-wise as Charlotte from Sex in the City?

Leah didn’t bat an eye.

In fact, she said, “I love it! This is going to be fun.”

I should probably also point out that meeting Leah was the result of having my hair cut only weeks earlier by a 30-something girl who spent most of the time, while she had scissors next to my ears, talking about how awful it was that her ex-roommate told her parents she was dealing drugs out of the trunk of her car and they were threatening to take her car and kick her out of the apartment. She was ready to cut someone, she said.

bad hairdresser
not an exact replica….

I smiled and said I understood (even though I couldn’t possibly imagine) praying to the very depths of my soul that I wasn’t the one she decided to cut.

I mean, who says that to someone you’ve only known for 10 minutes and is giving you money for a quality hair cut?

In fact, it wasn’t a quality hair cut, even if my ears did stay in tact.

I didn’t have the guts to tell her how much it sucked. I did, however, decide that I was never going back to Great Clips. For the first time in 20+ years, I decided I needed a REAL hairdresser and wasn’t going to settle for a $12 hair cut anymore.

Just a thought – there’s a reason why some salons use as their slogan “We fix $12 hair cuts.”

And, of course, I turned to Facebook to bitch and to ask for suggestions, and that’s where the kismet began.

I needed a GOOD hairdresser. I needed a Truvy! I needed someone I could trust and someone I could relate to. No way a razor wielding drug dealer was going to cut it anymore. I needed to woman up and find someone special.

My Facebook friends said to call Leah.

Growing up, I had been part of that special woman/hair goddess relationship. I just didn’t think it was that important. Until now. Real women have relationships with their hairdressers.

When I was a much younger girl, every Wednesday night was spent with Dottie, my mother’s hairdresser. We would travel to the mall in Lexington, a full 30-minute drive, for an evening where I would shop and buy nothing, while my Mom sat in the chair and had Dottie do her hair… the same way… every week… for 10 years.

She was the Dottie Lama. My sister, her daughter, my mom, me… we ALL went to her for guidance and forgiveness for our hair sins. She was the ocean of forgiveness, my sister says.

And through those years, my tomboy years, I spent time shopping while my mom spent hours talking to Dottie. I would get bored with the “talk” and wander off to look at little Spanish Flamenco dolls and SuperTramp albums, before rejoining my Mom for dinner at Morrison’s cafeteria. It was a big night out for us.

Dottie did my hair too, occasionally. She gave me my first perm and my first dye job – beach blonde, naturally. She counseled me on how swimming (I was a competitive swimmer back when I wasn’t technically a whale) meant more hair care and how taking care of my hair, even when the chlorine, the work outs and the sun were on the verge of turning it green on a daily basis, would pay off in the long run.

When I got married, we went to Dottie’s salon where she did an up-do and gratefully understood my distaste for big hair.

non-big hairWhen people understand the little things about you – like the fact that you’re only inclined to have “big” hair if, say, you’ve been under the influence of whiskey and Diet Coke for the past few days, it really makes life easier.

But Leah,…hmmm. She got those things the minute that I met her.

Leah is my size and my height, and gets my sense of humor, my attitude and my flippant outlook on life. She even cusses like me.

This ain’t no Steel Magnolias. This is more like Iron Roses. In the Truvy’s House of Beauty of Life, we’re both Ouiser. We’re tough. And we’ve got the thorns if you cross us. There are no seven different shades of pink here – we’re seven different textures of black, with a little leather thrown in just to show people not to mess with us.

We talked very little small talk the first time we met. I admit, I was a little nervous cause I was scared she wouldn’t like me and then we’d have nothing to talk about and I’d have to start the search to find someone I could relate to over again… kind of like dating, only with harsher chemicals. But almost immediately, we hit it off.

We talked about purple.

We talked about people.

We talked about not fitting in and how we didn’t care.

Cause women TALK to their hairdressers. We tell them things men can’t imagine… well, actually, it’s more like we talk to them about stuff men don’t care about. Being in a “beauty parlor” or “salon” is the female equivalent of going to the bar and having a few stiff ones and talking to the bartender to unburden our souls. Only hairdressers actually give a crap.

Come to think of it, salons probably would be even more interesting if we had a few glasses of wine while we talked.

Come to think of it, salons probably would be even more interesting if we have a few glasses of wine while we talked.

And yes, we talk about a few stiff ones.

It’s the one place where women can go and it’s all about them.

So, we unload our souls to our hairdressers.

I’ve listened to women talk about their vacation plans and how they were looking forward to having some time alone.

“Hell, I’m looking forward to the bar as much as I’m looking forward to the cruise – nothing like a pina colada or six at sea…while someone else watches the kids.”

I’ve listened to women talk about their husband dallying on Craig’s List looking for “a discreet encounter.”

“Are you worried he will find someone?” someone asks.

“Hell, no. I’m thinking that frees me up for 15 minutes a week” she answered.

Bless me Leah, for I have sinned.

And Leah will never say who said that. She will take those confidences and answer them back. You will tell her your secrets and she will tell you secrets back.

I mean, for God’s sake, the woman knows my real hair color, which is something no one has really known for the past 20+ years.

purple hairSo she dyed my hair auburn with beautiful streaks of purple and blue and pink in it. It was a Friday afternoon and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. And she meticulously placed it in places that she could expertly cover it up with a wisp of hair here, or a curl of locks there.

And much like every beauty parlor I have ever gone to, when I got home I couldn’t replicate it because I am not a girl and I never learned how to do those things.

I had a Dorothy Hamill hair cut when I was 10, for cripes sake, and still managed to screw that up if I didn’t somehow manage to burn the perimeter of my scalp while curling it.

But she did it and it was beautiful and I loved it. I flaunted it. I sent pictures to my friends. I went to the store with it pulled back so the purple showed. I put on sunglasses and ran my fingers through my purple hair to show everyone how cool – again, at 48 and overweight – I was.

Until Sunday afternoon.

When I realized I had to go back to work.

And I had to look like a professional businesswoman.

And eventually, I would have to face my mom.

I was so scared – of both losing my job and of telling Leah – that I went to the store, bought a few boxes of chemicals, stripped it out and spent the next four hours putting dye in my hair to make it a color that looked somewhat close to normal.

When I talked to Leah days later, I explained it all to her. I have to tell you, I was damn close to tears. We had shared dye together. We spent two hours together discussing celebrities and local gossip. We were bonded.

And I had not only ruined her masterpiece, but I also felt I had washed our time together down the drain.

But instead of being mad, she said it was okay and that I needed to come see her. She said we were friends and she would have helped me.

I cried.

She soothed.

I went.

One look from her and I knew everything was okay.

“Honey, you come in after you get back from this workshop. We’ll put some highlights in there somewhere. Cause right now you look normal – and there’s nothing about you that screams normal.

She so gets me.

Soul mates. In hair.

(c) copyright Liz Carey 2014

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