How to Repair Food

“Hallooo…halloo?” a happy pink apron appears in my doorway. “I’m baking Christmas cookies, do you want to come and chat?” It’s Nina from the Sudi, Dewi, and Nina show next door. They have a real kitchen with an oven. Very few Bali homes have an oven. Mine doesn’t, and as a result I’m spared the task of ever baking anything which makes me very happy. But Nina loves to bake and she explains that her Nana sent a recipe for the traditional, Italian sugar cookies (with anise! Yum!). The dough is ready and she’s about to roll, cut out, and bake.

“Yes! I’ll be right over!”

I grab my sandals and scamper across the yard to the open kitchen door.

P1050288Nana is Nina’s paternal grandmother from Poland. Her grandpa is Sicilian. The recipe is Italian. Grandma Nana wrote the directions longhand, Nina’s dad scanned them, e-mailed them, and here they are on the computer, on Nina’s countertop in Bali.  Technology!

P1050289My friend is already up to her elbows in flour and the big, pink apron has a dusting as well. She mixes and bakes and we chatter about the peculiarities of Capricorns and other zodiac signs. Nina and I are both of Capricornian persuasion and we seem to understand each other quite adequately, even though I was born a generation earlier.

During the lulls (the oven will only accommodate one cookie sheet at a time) she pulls out a little book. How to Repair Food…What to do when you discover that just about any kind of food or drink is…overcooked, stale, burned, lumpy, salty, bland, frozen, too dry, too wet, tough, too thick, too thin, wilted, curdled, stuck together, or fatty. Uh huh. I should have one of these!

I ask if maybe she should set the timer. I seem to be a disturbing element and I don’t want those tantalizing smells to become charcoal. She waves the silly thought away, says she has her eyes on the clock and it’s fine. Okay, Nina.P1050292

But back to the little volume. Just to demonstrate its value, do you know what to do when you burn rice? I so could have used this wisdom yesterday!

From How to Repair Food, and I quote: As soon as you discover you’ve burned the rice again (note the ‘again!’) turn off the flame, place the heel of a loaf of bread on top of the rice, cover the pot and wait 5 minutes. Virtually all the scorched taste should disappear into the bread. Serve the rice to friends and the bread to enemies. The authors, Marina and John Bear, have a sense of humor, right?!

But I digress. Back to cookie-baking.

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Nina’s kitchen has a low plastic stool. I think it’s for five-year-old Dewi when she participates. There are no upper cabinets and both Nina and Sudi can reach the countertop, even the icebox, just fine. The stool’s definitely for Dewi. Anyway, that’s where I park whenever I’m ‘helping.’ Sometimes I BYOP, bring my own pillow. Saves wear and tear on the bony buttocks.

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Today I assisted by providing the Bintang (Bali beer). Many of the world’s problems get solved in this kitchen with the help of Bintang, or homemade limoncello, or coffee flavored vodka. It’s really best that I keep my fingers out of the dough.

I come from a long line of extraordinary bakers. My grandmother’s lefse recipe is treasured by all those in the family who still haul out the griddle and rolling pins for a marathon lefse bake around this time each year. My mother’s homemade, honey whole wheat bread is heavenly beyond belief. My sister…okay. My sister is the cookie queen. Sorry Nina, but nothing I’ve ever seen short of a professional pastry shop, has pumped out Christmas cookies like Gwen’s.

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Gwen’s Christmas Cookies

See what I mean? With a legacy like this you’d think I’d have some culinary talent. But why bother? When you have masters among you, just bow, smile, and feast!  Besides, I’m a Capricorn. I don’t like to compete unless I’m quite sure that I’ll win. Not a chance in this crowd!

Lake Imagination…30 miles from nowhere

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Frozen Lake Imagination

You’re right. It’s not a lake. It’s a hay field covered with snow. And if it appears to be barren, bleak, and cold, in the winter it is. But someone once-upon-a-time had the romantic notion that it looked like a frozen body of water and Lake Imagination was born. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west here, as it does everywhere on earth. It’s just that it does it more quickly in the winter, leaving only about 8 hours of chilly daylight.

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The climate isn’t conducive to comfort and ease. People here have to pay attention just to survive. If you step outside without the necessary insulation surrounding your body it won’t take long before your extremities freeze solid. I’ll be kind and refrain from saying anything about the questionable intelligence of life-forms who choose to live in this isolated place. After all, it was my home for many years and I have a healthy respect for anyone who thrives under these circumstances.

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View of Lake Imagination through the Christmas Tree

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Indoor hanging gardens at ‘the lake’

But there is a warmth of heart that radiates love when family and friends gather in this place, 30 miles from nowhere, to celebrate rituals and pay homage to the passing of time. My sister lives here and swears allegiance to her Scandinavian roots buried deep in the permafrost. And her husband, though he grew up in southern climes, swears too, although not always allegiance!

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Gwen, the consummate hostess, shakes a stick of Gula Kelapa, coconut palm sugar, threateningly as she prepares Norwegian/Balinese fusion.

Gwen, my sister, had offered to let me make a Balinese meal for the yearly Christmas Open House that happens at their place. I knew better! Balinese cuisine isn’t fast food. I could see myself spending an entire day shopping for unavailable ingredients, and another day up to my eyeballs in food prep. That is NOT my idea of “all is calm…all is bright!” So she settled for Norwegian lefse stuffed with Balinese palm sugar and Bali Kopi along with other, more traditional fare.

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Gwen’s home made, hand decorated, amazing holiday cookies.

You see, Gwen thinks nothing of spending weeks making these unbelievable confections. She and her hubby, ‘W’ (not to be confused with the former pres of the U.S., George W) are kitchen wizards.  They imagine that everyone can pull off a gourmet meal at the drop of a hat. I’ve been telling them for years I can’t cook. But Gwen refuses to believe that the same gene pool that spawned her could possibly yield up anything less than a domestic Wonderwoman. I do other things well, I tell myself, and try to remember what those things are.

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Mr. Kitchen Wizard

Actually, I know one thing I do better than some. I play a pretty mean game of Scrabble. Just the night before, after losing all three games of Cribbage to Gwen, I beat her at three games of Scrabble. Then, high on the adrenaline rush of victory, I ate the rest of a jar of caramel corn that W had made. The following morning he got up, noted the empty jar, and promptly popped more corn, made the syrup, and presto! The jar that is sitting on the bar right in front of him was full again.

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Playing ‘Texas Mean’ with the family…mom looks angelic all in white!

One of the highlights of any family get-together is playing ‘Texas Mean.’ Mom and Dad brought the game home with them after visiting our snowbird relatives in southern Texas. In his woodworking shop, Dad copied the wooden board. Over the years he made dozens of Texas Mean Games, passing them out to family and friends. Now, at 90 years old, he still wins almost every time.  He’s sitting on my left. On this day we were playing partners and, true to form, Dad and his partner were undefeated.

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Jessa and her Grandpa.

After the games, Dad relaxed with Jessa, enjoying the sunshine reflecting off Lake Imagination. Several neighbors stopped by to visit. Anyone who lives within a 30 mile radius is neighbor potential since that totals a whopping 12 people. The conversation was a far cry from what I remember from my youth. Back then…waaaay back then…the men sat in the living room and talked farming while the women clustered in the kitchen swapping recipes and neighborhood gossip.

On this day, however, neighbor Kent Lorentzen, was telling about e-publishing his Favorite Farmers Market Recipes cookbook on Amazon. Another couple said they would stop to visit me in Bali on their trip around the world next year. Mom and Dad sat listening, smiling, nodding as though nothing had changed at all, even though as young newlyweds television hadn’t been invented, let alone the world wide web.

I suddenly felt disoriented. Walking to the wall of windows I gazed out over crystalline stillness. Lake Imagination is a place where you are only limited by what you dare to dream. For a minute I saw little Sherry, all those years ago, trying to step in her father’s muddy footprints as she followed him to the milking barn. Her stubby legs strained to reach his stride. Her dream then was to make him proud. And if I’m 100% honest with myself, it really hasn’t changed much.

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