Holidays seem to come with the expectation of home cooked dinners, desserts and specialties reserved for once a year. Perfecting creations without someone to teach you and opportunities to practice can put added pressure on inexperienced or under trained cooks. Many times the tradition was passed on but the knowledge wasn’t.
Years ago, I tried to make divinity fudge. My grandmother had made it every year for Christmas. She passed away without teaching me her secrets. Last month, I spent an evening teaching my grandson my recipe for Cowboy Chili. I sat on an old red kitchen stool and talked him through each of the steps. When every step had been completed and the chili was simmering, we sat at the kitchen table and talked through it again as he wrote the recipe in a Moleskine Recipe Journal. From memory, he was able to list the ingredients, amounts and process for each step. At the end of the evening, he told me how much he loved cooking and spending time in the kitchen with me.
Make it fresh
When I think of Renaissance in the kitchen, my friend Misty is one of the women who come to mind first. A single mother raising sons in the beauty of North Carolina, she has built a company literally from the ground up. Growing her own produce to supply her products and provide for her family, she relies on her knowledge of gardening, weather, and preserving with skills most have lost or never had.
Make it your own
Maybe you know how to make divinity. Turns out my grandson does and is going to teach me! Maybe you know how to make Cowboy Chili. If not, I will be doing an instructional video soon. Maybe you know how to make jam from the produce of your own garden, if not you can order it from Misty at Ma’am’s Hot Jam. My favorite is the Blueberry Seven Pepper Jam. It’s so good on fresh hot biscuits or pork chops or goat cheese with crackers.
Don’t be afraid of your kitchen. If you don’t have a grandmother or mother to teach you, it’s ok. You can still learn to make special dishes and memories. Look around our kitchen for ideas and inspirations and links to learning. Then get creative and make something new!
Late last Friday night Renaissance Wife relaunched the website
thanks to the dedication and patience of an amazing web designer and dear
friend. Now comes the fun part! This is where you get to wander around and find
things to learn and do and consider.
It was always my plan to feature a new room and a new
inspiration each week starting with the Library. I know libraries can conjure
up images of dusty, dry old buildings with stern faces shushing you. But I want
you to consider this an open-air library where not only is talking allowed but
questions are encouraged.
I met my favorite librarian in 1978. We were Juniors in high
school. She is now a Ph.D at a prestigious southern university. Anything but stern, her
love of literacy and reading has inspired young people to pursue education in
all disciplines leading to medical breakthroughs and scientific discoveries
that are changing the way diagnosis are made and treatments are implemented. She
is also a gifted vocalist, devoted wife, mother and new grandmother. Much more
about her to come in future posts.
Looking over the freshly launched website Saturday morning,
I was inspired to use a gift certificate I had received for Christmas to a
unique experience near the waterfront in Detroit. If you ever get a couple of
free hours in Detroit the John K King Used
and Rare Books store is the place to
spend them. An old glove factory has become the home to more than a million
books, from rare and obscure to recent and trendy. Over whelmed I sat down in
one of the aisles on a couple of stacked milk crates scattered throughout the
four stories for just such a moment. Scanning the shelves, my eye caught a
title on the spine of a book that just jumped out from the others. “The Whole
Five Feet”… Now if you have ever followed a White Rabbit, you can probably recognize
this as one of them. The chase was on.
“The Whole Five Feet: What the Great Books Taught Me About
Life, Death and Pretty Much Everything Else” is a paperback I paid $6 for. Before
flipping it over to read the back, I had a suspicion I knew where the author
was going. I didn’t know exactly why but the name Harvard Classics came to mind.
The Whole Five Feet is his experience the year he decided to read the Harvard
Classics. All 51 of them.
Don’t get too far ahead of the story…but, yes. I did come
home with 2 heavy boxes in the trunk of my car. Turns out John K King had
exactly one complete set of The Harvard Classics. Now I have them.
If you are not familiar with the Harvard Classics, don’t
worry. A lot of people haven’t read them. But turns out a lot of people have
them or had them. You may remember a set of reddish colored books in your grandparents’
home. You probably don’t remember ever seeing anyone read them or talk about
them but they were a standard in many homes, passed down because they were
important if not understood.
In 1909, Dr Charles Elliot ended his 40 years as President
of Harvard University by curating a comprehensive if not exhaustive set of
books based on his premise that the average person could get the equivalent of
a liberal arts education by reading a 5-foot bookshelf. He believed if just 15
minutes a day were devoted to reading these books, the depth and breadth of
knowledge of higher education could be attained independently. 110 years later,
I whole heartedly agree with Dr. Elliot.
While I do not have an advanced degree, I have always
believed that the only limitations put on education are self-imposed.
I have always believed the axiom that “when the student is
ready, the teacher will appear”.
I believe that if someone, anyone, else has learned
something, I can too. I may not be as good at it or master it but I can learn
For too long, I believed that most of my opportunities to
learn had passed before I recognized what they were. Case in point, over dinner
Saturday night, explaining to my husband what a wonderful find these books
were, I realized why I knew Harvard Classics. A quick call to my mother
confirmed, my parents had subscribed to the 1969 publication. They never
finished getting all the books and my mother no longer had them but the green spine
with the gold print was part of my journey each time we packed and moved growing
This morning, I am excited about picking up a book that is
110 years old, that was overlooked when I was 10 years old but that has quietly
challenged me to learn for myself. To read and study, to explore and discover,
to think and talk and teach and grow…
I’m not saying everyone should read the Harvard Classics but
if you are ready, you can read them for free thanks to the Gutenberg
Where ever you decide to begin your personal renaissance…just
get started. Who knows where your White Rabbit will take you today?