Saturday, September 17, 2011

Simple Inspiration

She survived the Great Depression.  During that time, she managed to successfully raise six children.  She gave birth to one child in a tent and birthed another in a dug-out.  She hand-picked cotton out of sharp, prickly bowls until her fingers bled.  She lovingly massaged and bandaged her husband's sore arms; swollen from long, hard days of milking cows.  She was a best friend and confidant to all three of her daughters.  She patiently waited for all three of her sons to return home after military service.  She mourned the loss of one child.  She would walk several miles to visit her sister who was battling tuberculosis in a sanitarium.  She saved the life of her nephew.  She even managed to raise a rock star.
I never heard her say an unkind word about anyone.  Her demeanor was always kind.  She gardened, gleaned, preserved and canned.  She made special treats like popcorn balls and peanut patties for her grandchildren at Halloween.  She loved us unselfishly and equally. Her life was not simple by any means, yet she remained uncomplicated.  I never heard her complain.  She was reserved; not overly affectionate, but an ever gentle spirit that was a testament to her lovely name, Violet. 
The lady I speak of was my Mamaw Curtis.  My grandmother helped raise me.  The simple kitchen you see pictured above belonged to her.  She had no pantry, no dishwasher, not much counter or cabinet space...or floor space, for that matter.  But somehow, some of the most wonderful meals came out of that little kitchen.  One of my few regrets is that I didn't get her recipes before she left us.  I have spent the past several years trying to replicate her stew, fried chicken and pork chops.  In the process, I discovered the most important lesson a cook can learn...and I firmly believe it is something my Mamaw knew.  Every dish tastes better if the first ingredient is Love. 
Cooking and sharing good food with people I care about has become my passion.  I owe a lot of that to my grandmother.  Even though she has not been by my side, she has definitely been with me in spirit; guiding and inspiring me.  From cooking to the way I parent, she continues to influence my daily life.  I love her.  I miss her.  I'm proud to be her granddaughter.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Resume of a Stay At Home Mom


Dear Madam or Sir;
I have a history of being an active member of the work-force for nearly 24 years prior to becoming a stay at home mom 4 and a half years ago.  However, instead of boring you with the details of my years of practice as an office nurse, medical office administrator, insurance coordinator & reimbursement specialist, dietician, nutritional counselor, sales associate and retail manager, I thought it might be more relevant to detail my experience of the most recent years I have spent as a homemaker. 
Please note the resume attached below.  My vast experience should qualify me for just about any position you have available.  My salary requirements are non-existent...ooops, I mean negotiable.  Please do not hestitate to contact me should you require further information or references.  Although I have been out of the professional loop for eons, I'm sure there are several other Moms who can validate my skills.
Karen Rodgers, Chief Mom in Charge



Domestic Engineer & Household Goddess~ April, 2007 to Present

            Food Services/Nutritionist:  Planning & preparation of well balanced, healthy & economical meals.  Includes services as both Chef and short order cook & provider of desirable snacks & appropriate drinks in the event of sudden onset of munchies.

            Inventory Control:  Procurement, management & organization of all household & personal items including groceries, toiletries, clothing, toys, cooking supplies, cleaning supplies, furniture & decorative items.  Management & allocation of all consignment items & donations to charitable organizations.

            Environmental Specialist:  All janitorial & custodial services including dusting, sweeping, mopping, washing dishes, cleaning & sanitizing all bathroom & kitchen surfaces. Complete laundry service for clothing & linens. Disposal of all household waste.  

            Event Planner/Social Coordinator:  Scheduling of all extra-curricular activities such as playgroup, sporting classes & events, museum & Science Spectrum excursions, festivals, playground visits and birthday parties.  Provide appropriate refreshments and transportation to and from all events.

            Psychologist/Life Coach:  Family mediation & interpersonal communications guidance with emphasis on manners, politeness & sharing.  Provide positive reinforcement with utilization of the “do unto others, never give up, not how you win but how you play the game, there is no I in team, early bird catches the worm” philosophy.

            Theological Instructor:  Religious & moral instruction detailing biblical history, i.e.:  Adam & Eve, Moses, Noah & the Ark, Jonah & the Whale, 5 Fishes & 2 Loaves of Bread, Zaccheus the Wee Little Man, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, God, Jesus & Satan.  Additional experience as a volunteer at Thursday School teaching above lessons, doing crafts, singing songs, preparing snacks, playground duty & potty assistance.

            Language & Speech Therapist:  Teaching primary language, proper annunciation & usage to young humans.

            Residential Entertainment Specialist:  Adept in navigating remote to Boomerang, Nickelodeon, Sprout and PBS channels.  Librarian responsible for organization of Disney, DreamWorks & Pixar dvd’s and X-Box 360, Nintendo & Wii gaming discs & systems.  Adept in game system applications and assisting young children in initiating games and developing problem solving skills by attaining more points, coins, tokens, etc.

            Exterminator:  Adept in maintaining control of all indoor pests such as bugs, spiders & mice, spraying outdoors for ants, planting peanut pellets for gophers & snake-away pellets in flower beds.  (Assistance is required for disposal of said pests)

            Barber:  Adult & youth male haircuts using scissors or trimmers. 

            Interior Decorator:  Purchasing & placement of all residential interior d├ęcor.

            Relocation Specialist:  Negotiating and completing FSBO residential sales contracts including communications with mortgage agents, inspectors, title clerks & insurance agents.  Scheduling moving services including trucks, trailers, pick-up & delivery of storage containers and arranging disconnect & assumption of utility services.  Packing & labeling of all household contents.

            CFO/Accounting:  Accounts receivable, accounts payable, preparation of tax documents, profit/loss reporting, budgeting.

            Nurse:  Assessment & treatment of bumps, bruises, scrapes, ant & mosquito bites, runny noses, coughs, fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  Special training in containment and clean-up of hazardous bodily fluids such as snot, pee, spit-up, throw-up & poop. Proficient in ability to “kiss and make it better”.

            Travel Agent:  Ability to schedule & book air, hotel, rental car, event/activity tickets in a frugal manner utilizing Expedia, Travelocity & Priceline discounts & promotions.

            Art Director/Gallery Curator: Provide art instruction with practical application for youth.  Responsible for displaying completed art projects on refrigerator or appropriate wall space.

            Coach:  Instruct & participate in outdoor activities such as shooting hoops, playing catch, bump-set-spike, and water balloon toss & snorkeling in kiddie pool.

            Gopher:  Purchasing & delivering materials & supplies (including Dairy Queen Blizzards & MooLatte’s) to my husband’s work-site.

            Landscape Services:  Mowing grass, weeding, planting shrubbery & flowers.  Adept in laying flagstone patios.

            Associate of Retail Sales:  Organizing, hanging, doing data entry & printing labels and tagging all clothing, toys & baby gear for bi-yearly consignment sale.

            Pet Services:  Feeding, watering & entertaining 17 year old cat.  Poop-scooping & changing litter box.  Getting cat into pet carrier for transport or vet appointments.  Cleaning up occasional hair-balls.

            Guest Services:  Assuring the house is clean, in order and there are fresh linens for all guests.  Stocking fridge & pantry for company.  Maintaining polite & courteous demeanor, no matter who the guest may be, including extended-stay services provided to in-laws.

            Childcare:  In addition to providing full-time care to my own child, I take pride in ensuring that I am well-stocked in freezer pops, Capri Sun, cookies, Pringles, popcorn and juice in the event that any neighborhood children are in need of refreshment.  Plenty of indoor & outdoor toys are always available for use.  I am experienced in whistling for puppies, chasing balls rolling into the street, pulling stickers out of socks, wiping noses and securing Velcro shoe straps.

            Records:  Organizing & filing all business receipts, tax documents & official records.  Sorting & deciphering the junk-mail, magazine, paid bills, flyers & owner’s manuals pile that always accumulates on the kitchen counter.

            Photographer/Historian:  Photographing all of life’s precious moments and keeping chronologically filed digital & real photo albums for viewing.

            Communications/IT:  Ensuring that all desk-top, lap-top, modem, router, phone, printer, web-cam & headphone capabilities are integrated and running in an uninterrupted manner.  Renewing & operating anti-virus programs, updating, defragging & performing system scans frequently. 

            Romance Specialist:  Maintaining marital relationship, enhancing physical appearance and providing romantic interludes for the CEO with no regard to how horrid the earlier day’s events may or may not have been.  Focusing on fostering diplomacy by using marriage appropriate language, such as “Yes, dear, whatever you say”, instead of “Kiss my ***”!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Something Very Special

It is Labor Day weekend of 2011.  Since my husband decided to work in spite of it being a federal holiday, I decided to do some more experimentation in the kitchen. 
I have always had a propensity for combining unusual ingredients.  I take pleasure in creating something new and unexpected...especially if my efforts end up being rewarded with big smiles and "Wow!"'s. And whether it turns out to be a failure or something fabulous, I always end up learning something to take to the next level.
So my chosen adventure to embark upon this weekend was to make jelly.  I have cooked and baked a lot in my life.  But in my entire 45 years, I have never attempted to "can" or make jelly or jam.  My inspiration came from a recent trip to the grocery store when my husband spotted prickly cactus pears in the produce section. 
While growing up in New Mexico, the cactus pears were one of James' favorite natural delicacies.  He described the flavor with the kind of fondness reserved for precious childhood memories as he told me about how he would find them, cut them in half and enjoy slurping the juice from around the seeds until he had a magenta line running down his chin.  I wonder how many times his mom had to soak prickly pear juice out of his shirts. 
I tried to think of what I could do with the bags of cactus pears my husband had picked out at the grocery store.  They were one ingredient that, not only was I unfamiliar with, I had never even heard of how to prepare them. Heck, I had never even tasted a cactus pear.  I didn't have a clue as to what on Earth I could possibly do with them to turn them into something really tasty.  But challenge fuels my creative juices.
Once we got home, I washed them and cut them open.  Of course, James dove right in and offered Jaxson some to try, as well.  As I bit into my piece, I discovered they are filled with small seeds much like a pomegranite, but with a different texture.  So the gears in my head started turning.  Because of the flavor and texture of this exotic, yet humble, fruit, I surmised this would be a perfect ingredient for a jam or jelly.  This would be the perfect excuse to give canning a try! And I had an idea...a very special idea.
So I started my adventure by calling my mom to see if I could borrow her fruit press.  Once I had all the right tools in place, I began peeling and chopping the cactus pears. Jaxson delighted in helping me press the juice out of the fruit.  I took the pear nectar and blended it with the other ingredients; stirring and gently boiling, addding more of this, a little of that...until I thought it was just right. 
I followed my mom's instructions on how to prepare the jars, pour the liquid in, seal the lids, putting the jars in the water bath, etc.  By morning, I just knew I would have achieved perfection.  NOT.  I had hit the nail on the head with the flavor.  The deep rosy magenta color was gorgeous! But it did not gel!  As I moved the jar around gently, the contents inside were quite liquified.
Not one to give up easily, I called my mom again to seek her advice.  She said, "just pour it into a sauce pan, add some more pectin and boil it down."  I followed her instructions...and this time, I got it right! 
Yesterday, as I described my idea for this new recipe to my friend, Melody, she asked me, "How do you come up with this stuff?" And I answered her, "Well, I'm either crazy or brave...or maybe a little bit of both."  But through my culinary adventures, I always manage to come up with something interesting...and life is too short to be boring!  I'm glad I gave it a try.  And in the process, came up with something very special.
My result...Cactus Pear & White Merlot Jelly!  It is now my signature jelly for my brand, Cooking With The Carpenter's Wife. What's so special about it? I took one of my husband's favorite foods, combined it with my favorite wine and it is seasoned with one of my son's favorite spices. It ended up being a good marriage that is a tribute to mine.