Memories from Tattered Recipes

Holiday times have me searching through my recipes for prized favorites that have made their way from paper to oven to plate to mouth through the years.

It got me thinking about recipes and memories.

A good bit of the time I do what most men and women in the year 2022 do: I search for recipes online. I find them quickly. I read reviews. There are beautiful, colorful pictures showing me exactly what to do (who knew eggs in a bowl could be so pretty) showing me exactly what the end product will look like (so yummy). It’s amazing to be able to do this. On the down side, there are a million ads and lots of words to sift through, especially if I miss the “skip to recipe” button. (In fact, one person suggested that a murderer could confess the murder in every paragraph in an online recipe, but no one would ever catch them because we all hate the words so much and want to go straight to the recipe. But …. I digress!)

As I looked through my tattered recipes, I realized something is missing from the online searches that yield amazing recipes. There is a sterility to the process, a lack of emotional connection to the recipe. I realized that it was void of the memories that come with food-stained recipes from family members and friends.

There is the recipe for the egg and cheese breakfast casserole served on Christmas morning from Ann Coster, Every year in Cairo Ann had a big pancake breakfast for all of us. Moms talked while kids watched a video of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. It was at one of those events where I lamented on wanting something fancier than scrambled eggs for Christmas morning. Ann’s eyes lit up and she shared the recipe. I still have it in Ann’s handwriting, a precious gift that cost her nothing but the time it takes to write out an index card of words. And every Christmas morning, that’s what we eat.

recipes, egg and cheese casserole

There’s the Thumbprint Cookie recipe from my mom, congo bar recipe from my maternal grandmother, affectionately known as Gramma K. There’s orange cheese bread from Genie and cranberry walnut sweet rolls from Cary; the peanut-butter kisses from Mary….the recipes go on and on.


As I flip through them, I come to Never Fail Peanut Butter Fudge from my cousin, Kristine. There is a poignant pause in my recipe search. She wrote it long ago when I was getting married and it is written under her maiden name – Johnson. Kristine died on January 27, 2007 – it was my 47th birthday. She was only 2 years older than me. I stop and wonder if her family remembers this Never Fail Peanut Butter Fudge, its sweet goodness a distant memory. I think of her mom, my Aunt Ruth who died this past year, one of the smartest, loveliest women on the planet, and wonder if she passed on the recipe to Kristine.

recipes, never-fail peanut butter fudge

Like life itself, I have to move on, but not without a precious look back in time to my younger days where death seemed so far in the future and I seemed to have all the time in the world.

It’s these pauses and memories that I don’t get when I find a recipe online. It’s a bit like online relationships – they are enjoyable and can teach me a lot. But they are no substitute, no comparison to flesh and blood, body and bones, faces and hands of my in-person people.

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Those Jam Lessons!


Surprisingly last week I discovered some profound lessons in an unlikely teacher. I was making jam and as I grated and stirred it struck me there were a lot of significant ponderings preserved in that simple process.  I know it hardly seems possible. But allow me to explain.

Unexpected opportunities

Two weeks ago Lowell was visiting friends in Wisconsin. They sent home a bag full of quinces. I had never heard of a quince before. It’s a beautiful golden orb, smooth to the touch. I gently put it to my nose and discovered a floral fragrance, not unlike a ripe guava. I wasn’t expecting a bag of fruit to come home with Lowell. The gift was the fruit but it was also the invitation to be a part of the work to process that fruit. It was a call to creativity!

Often the fruit is unknown.

I had no idea what to do with a quince. It was outside of my experience. So I did what any modern kitchen amateur would do: I googled it! I looked in a couple of old cookbooks. I gathered information about quinces. Initially I was a tad bit intimidated by this unknown fruit. Choosing to step over my fears allowed me to engage an unusual subject with unknown outcomes. What had seemed daunting now felt a bit like an adventure!

Don’t be quick to make assumptions

Although the fruit smelled like a guava, and was smooth like a pear and round like an apple the quince was entirely it’s own species. Apparently you cannot eat a raw quince. They are far too astringent. One bite and your entire mouth will feel like it has been turned inside out. Information gleaned online instructed me to cook the quince. Had I proceeded on instinct I would have taken a big bite of the mysterious fruit but the gathering of facts persuaded me to not rely on my assumptions. It was important to enter the world of quinces, as in all other worlds, humbly as a learner.

Grate finely

Chunky quince jam probably wouldn’t have been the most pleasant of outcomes. Every recipe I looked at suggested grating the quince. There’s something to be said about breaking down impossible situations into more manageable pieces.

Sweeten to taste

I know I’m an optimist, but I still think it’s safe to say, that sugar added liberally is never a bad idea. There’s usually a way to soften the moment. There’s often a sweeter way to approach a situation—with grace, kind words, respect, honor. For six cups of quince I added four cups of sugar!

Lemon juice courage

Each recipe suggested adding some lemon juice. I settled on one that recommended adding a ¼ cup. It felt brave to add that much acid. It took faith and trust. Recently I was a part of a group where I felt the need to speak out against the generally shared opinion in the room. It felt brave to add that much conflict. It took faith and trust. It also took restraint to not go ahead and throw in the whole bag of lemons and oranges!

Simmer for 50 minutes

These things take time. There’s no hurrying through to the end. There’s no fast forwarding to the desired outcomes. It takes time to bring the pot of grated fruit and sugar and lemon to a boil. One has only to turn the heat down, stir often and wait. Patience can never be rushed.

Know when you’re done

I suppose a person could let the jam simmer forever. At some point it’s good to evaluate and know when you’re done.

Can the jam

Pouring the hot jam into hot jars and sealing them with hot seals and rings preserves the jam for winter days ahead. It seems to me to be a good idea to contain the outcomes, to bring things to a close, to store it away in a clean jar.

Enjoy the fruit

I’ve quickly discovered a new favorite bread-spread: quince jam! I baked up a batch of fresh biscuits that same evening. A thin layer of melting butter and a thick layer of quince jam made for a delicious Saturday supper. I had worked hard…and the labor had not been in vain. I think it can be like that with much of life too. You can push your chair away from the table, satisfied that you worked hard, that you finished the job. Even if the jam isn’t exactly one you’re familiar with it’s pleasing to know you finished what you started. I rose to the challenge. I stepped up to the plate. There was tremendous satisfaction in that buttery quincy bite!



Wrapping Up the Week – January 31, 2015

Now Available on Kindle! 

Between Worlds

Along with the massive snow storm affectionately called the Blizzard of 2015, the big news here this week is that Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging is on Kindle! More so it’s FREE on Kindle until Sunday night so please! Take advantage of it! If you have a Kindle or any kind of electronic reader there is nothing to lose! And maybe, just maybe, you’ll want the print edition as well. A girl can hope. Click here to get your free prize. Stay tuned for a giveaway on the blog next week! 

Conversion Roads by Laura Merzig Fabrycky. The best thing I read all week comes from a friend who writes for the Washington Institute of Vocation and Culture. This piece comes from the wisdom of a child’s remark at a dinner table. You won’t want to miss the poignant challenge of this piece.

Excerpt:  “It is not lost on me that parts of modern-day Nineveh — right where Jonah was sent by God — are still under the control of Daesh, those who call themselves the Islamic State. My heart is not unlike Jonah’s in  that I naturally long for God’s holy, wrathful judgment upon these murderous zealots, rather than for his gracious, blindingly good interventions. Perhaps among these we call Daesh, there may be another Saul? And perhaps, among us, there may be another Jonah?”

After The Slaughter, A Pakistani School Seeks To Heal. You all know that Pakistan has a big chunk of my heart. This piece goes along with the piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago called “The Courage to Begin Again.” 

Excerpt: At first glance, the school does look “healed up.” Clumps of bright-eyed boys, wearing smart, dark-green jackets and gray slacks, are hanging around on the lawns outside beneath a dripping gray sky. They’re chatting and examining this arriving stranger with friendly interest. Classes are over for the day; they’re waiting to go home.

Then you start to notice the details. The fresh concrete, where the school’s perimeter walls have been made much higher; the glistening new razor wire coiled on top of those walls; the soldiers with machine guns guarding them; and also, hanging from those same walls, the many banners bearing the words, in capital letters: “I SHALL RISE, AND I SHALL SHINE.”

With fewer voices, Auschwitz survivors speak This week marked the 70th anniversary of the closing of Auschwitz. The stories of Auschwitz continue to make us shudder and close our eyes to the horror, and to take our breath away with the hope and resilience shown by survivors. I did not want to miss talking about this during this week. Here is another piece from BBC News: Auschwitz 70th anniversary: Survivors warn of new crimes

Making “Fawaffles”: An Experiment with Arab and American Cultural Identity This is a delightful read by a kindred spirit and blog friend, Jessica. Jessica is half Palestinian – her mother grew up in Nazareth – and half American – her dad grew up in the midwest. Jessica knows well what it is to grow up Between Worlds. One of the ways she has chosen to embrace this is through food. You have to read her blog to learn more about this, but I love what she does with her blog Bint Rhoda’s Kitchen. In the meantime take a look at the article I linked above.

Excerpt: “But here’s the thing about being a third-culture-kid, about being from more than one place.  You always have more cards than you show.  And maybe, just maybe, the only way to truly be at home is for you to occasionally, just occasionally, throw down your whole hand.”

On my bedside stand: I’m still reading I am Malala – here’s a poignant quote from this past week

First the Taliban took our music, then our Buddhas, then our history…”

Travel Quote: Source –

world make memories

Picture Credit: word art by Marilyn R. Gardner

No Wonder We Have Issues!

No Wonder we have issues! –a superficial exploration of this woman and her obsession with food! By Robynn

What’s with women and food?

crepes, foodWomen have a strange relationship with food. Maybe it’s not just women. Maybe
men have an odd entanglement with food too. But certainly women do. Traditionally men were the ones that killed the food and brought it home. And it seems to me that women have been in the kitchen ever since preparing it.

Is it any wonder that we have issues with food? Food is such a complicated thing.

We need food to survive. We need the nourishment that comes from the nutrients. We need the energy that comes from the calories.

In the west food is everywhere.  Advertisers appeal to our base appetites and instincts. They convince us that we deserve the most delectable treats. We’re worth it! We’re entitled to the tastiest morsels, the fanciest of feasts.  Food is sensual and supposedly satisfying.

And yet at the same time we’re served up such mixed messages.

The media tells us to diet, to become skinny, to lose weight. We’re trained to fixate on food and we’re taught to obsess on size. Supposedly we can have our cake and eat it too!

The plot and the waistline thicken when we consider all the roles food plays.

Food is a central part of celebration.

(Consider the Christmas dinner or the food at Eid; the sweets for Holi and the feast at Thanksgiving!) Food is also a reward. Side dishes of consolation are served up as comfort. Friends get together for meals. It’s part of our hospitality and included in our invitations. “Come over for dessert!”  Food is the subject of countless studies. (Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? What is the role of the family dinner in our children’s state assessment scores? ) Food and it’s production have become highly political subjects as well. High Fructose Corn Syrup sneaks into most things we eat. There are lobbyists in Washington making sure that doesn’t change! Meanwhile down the street Mrs Obama is planting a garden and encouraging us to eat better, more of this, less of that.

Food is nostalgia.

It’s childhood. It’s memories. For those of us who’ve been other places and come to love other foods it represents a deeper type of longing for a place faraway.

Boarding school further complicated my food issues. Food meant status (those who had special imported treats and those who didn’t). Food meant love and connection with home. Sharing our “feastings” was a way to share our families and the love of our families. Reunions always meant food. Mom cooked all of our favourites for each reunion. It was her way of welcoming us home. It was one of the languages she used to say, I missed you so very much. Pending separations were counted down with food. Three more days at home meant three more home cooked meals and another opportunity for mom to lavish love in three more meals of our favourites. The train trip back up to school included shoe boxes lined with wax paper and filled with food!

That travel food was prepared with tears and consumed by little brave travelers trying not to drench cinnamon buns and elephant ear pastries with more tears.

And yet now food becomes practical, and real and down to earth every day. I have to think about it. I have to plan for it. I have to go get it. I push my cart through the shop, load it up, empty it out at the check out, bag it, load it into the car, unload it into the house, put it away and then bring it out again, cut it, chop it, stir it, cook it and serve it!

Food is universal.

Everywhere, every day, we wake up and we think about food. This is true for the rich and for the poor; for the full and for the hungry.

There are those who are sick because of food and the power it wields. Those who eat too little or eat too much. Those trying to drown their souls in their stomaches. Those trying to hold on to a bit of control in a world wild with chaos.

But in a way I think I’m sick with food too. As my metabolism slows and the emotions of yesteryear begin to simmer up inside food somehow grounds me….or at least it pretends too. I realize my reasons for eating are as complex as the personality I’ve been given or the story I’ve been living.

I find food too oppressive. I’m weary of the obsession. I try not to weigh my emotions or my convictions about food as I stand on the scale, naked, vulnerable, weary.

I tried to give it all up for Lent….not food itself…but the longing and love of food. It’s not working.

But today, on International Day of the Woman, I will put aside the obsession and celebrate – celebrate that at the very least food does serve to connect me with women across the globe. Food ties our stories and struggles together. binds us tight with spices and tastes. And that I can and will celebrate.

Inhaled Memories

Chai, Pakistan, Murree“Memories often return through the nose….”Peter Mayle

As soon as I stepped into the restaurant I smelled the pungent aroma of spices that make up a curry. In a breath I was back in Pakistan at a restaurant in Karachi. My family was with me as we sat around a table, too busy eating to talk. Hot chapatis served with thick chicken curry covered in ghee filled our plates. Small bowls of raita cooled our mouths. The memory was from years ago, but as I stepped into the restaurant it was as fresh as though it was yesterday.

I had just inhaled a memory.

Another breath and I inhaled another memory. This time I was at the chai shop across the street from my boarding school. Going to the chai shop was a privilege you earned when you entered high school. Though only steps from the front door, it was officially ‘off campus’ and outside of school property. As such it offered a space away. Hot chai served in chipped china cups warmed our bodies and filled our stomachs; parathas and spicy omelets were pungent, delicious additions to the boring and some might say hideous, boarding school diet.

Another memory inhaled.

In the novel Anything Considered Peter Mayle takes his character back in time through his sense of smell. “Memories often return through the nose. As he inhaled the odor of sanctity, a blend of ancient dust, mildewed prayer books, and crumbling stone, Bennett was taken back instantly and vividly to his school days.”

I stopped my reading and pulled out a pen and my always beside me small moleskin journal to write the quote. It was too good to forget, too true not to use.

We step into kitchens and smell the aroma of cinnamon and dough and suddenly we’re back home and tiny, waiting for that hot, fresh cinnamon roll. We walk into an unfamiliar house and in a moment feel completely comfortable, secure because the smells lure us to a past place and time of comfort.

And then there are those other inhaled memories – those that remind us of sickness, difficulty, poverty, even death.

Inhaled memories are not always pleasant.

But those that come to me as I enter Indian or Pakistani restaurants and stores are gifts taking me to places and foods I love. And so I embrace them and hold them tight, as though I am greeting an old and dear friend.

How about you? What memories have you inhaled? 

*The featured photo is a picture of our beloved chai shop, courtesy of Jason Philbrick. Jason has been featured in two complementary pieces: