Saturday, May 9, 2009

My cookbook treasures

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. – Luke 2:19 (NKJV)

My sister gave me my first cookbook in 1972. I’d just graduated from college, landed my first real job, and set up housekeeping in my very own apartment—much to my mother’s disappointment. Mom wanted me to find a job back home and live with her. My father had died less than a year earlier.

“You won’t have to cook, clean or do laundry,” she said. “Think of the money you’d save on rent.”

I wasn’t even tempted. We were too much alike—independent, I’ll-do-it-myself, stay-out-of-my-way-while-I’m-doing-this kind of women. When I was growing up, all I was allowed to do in her kitchen was make tea and popcorn—and maybe, once in a great while, macaroni and cheese.

So, you see, I didn’t really know how to cook. Hence the cookbook was a perfect graduation gift.

The first time I used it was when I wanted to make hot dogs for supper. Was I supposed to boil them or fry them? Or both? So I pulled out my new (and only) cookbook and looked up “hot dogs.” I found a dozen ways to cook hot dogs, none of which seemed right. But I was too proud to call home, so I chose the simplest recipe: I boiled them for 5 to 8 minutes, wrapped them in slices of cheese and bread, then broiled them. It still wasn’t what I remembered Mom doing, but it was edible.

Betty Crocker and I had only just begun. My next feat was spaghetti sauce, which I had simmering on the old gas range when this really neat guy I’d just met came to my apartment for the first time. I offered him some spaghetti, cautioning him, “This is the first time I’ve ever made it.”

“I was in the service,” he said. “I can eat anything.”

He’s been eating “anything” for 37 years now.

Over time Betty Crocker taught me how to make pie crust, potato salad, biscuits, pancakes, cookies, chicken, lasagna, egg salad, tuna salad . . .

Nearly four decades of use have taken their toll on my cookbook. A giant rubber band holds it together, and keeps its red hardback covers in place and all the stuff stuffed between its pages. The masking tape, now yellowed and dried out, stopped doing the job long ago.

Stuffed between its grease-splattered, stained pages are recipes from other sources—most of which I’ve never used—and probably will never use. But I keep just in case.

And, curiously, cards, notes, and mementoes of my life. Why on earth I saved these in my cookbook, I have no idea. But there, they are—a VBS certificate of recognition between the pancakes and waffles pages; handmade Christmas and Easter cards and decorations; a birthday card to my husband from our youngest, signed “I love you, DaDDy” in his childhood scrawl; a homemade Christmas card from this same son, who, for some reason, signed it with his first and last name; Mother’s Days cards; Father’s Day cards; Valentine’s Day cards; a postcard sent from our oldest when he went to a summer camp, assuring us in faded red pencil that he took his medicine and that he was in better shape than we thought—and that the cooking was bad, but he had two helpings. Another letter from summer camp, this one from our daughter, who told us her dance classes were hard but fun, the showers cold, she loved us “a bunch,” and we could get her address from the “pamflitt.”

Another card from our oldest, again at summer camp, telling us that “I like it up here. I got sick on the frist day.” Also stuffed in the cookbook are directions on how to take care of our grandson when we babysat and a handmade book of “Mother’s Day Promise’s,” one promise per page: “I will always do the trim mowing, the dishes, clean my room, make breakfast on Sundays, and walk the baby.” Only two were marked as done.

Another note from camp from the oldest: “I miss you. Show Dad my tree cabin. P.S. Teel Daivid I love him. P.P.S. Teel Jaime I love her.” An “In Memoriam” card from my brother-in-law’s funeral. A Christmas card from my mother—I think it was the last card she signed and sent before Alzheimer’s got the best of her.

Occasionally when I’m leafing through the cookbook—I have a shelf of them now, but this is the only one that I save stuff in—I’ll come across one of these treasures. I’ll smile softly as I read the words, running my finger across them lightly, then hold it close to my heart, holding back the tears that fill my eyes.

These days, I’m a lot like my cookbook—falling apart on the outside, but on the inside, stuffed with more love and joy than my heart can hold.

Dear God, thank You for my family—they are the key ingredients in the recipe for a life of love. Amen.

Special-Tea: Read Proverbs 31:10-31


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