Thursday, November 26, 2009

Taste and See

There are endless reasons to be thankful if we’ll but watch for them! I can be so focused on one thing to the exclusion of others that I miss the “moment!” My kids help me stay on track. Like this summer when my three daughters and their families came to the Michigan cottage. I arrived a couple of days later and made dinner to give them some time with their little ones on the beach. They’d picked black raspberries, which I put into a pie and served a la mode like my mom used to. We chatted about the good old days and everyone was nicely relaxed after a wonderful day. My youngest daughter suddenly pops up and comes out of the panty with a bakery box. Her two year old in tow, she said, “Mom, I almost forgot. I brought you something from your favorite bakery in Cincy … Bon Bonerie!” Assuming it was one of their incredible cream cakes, I suggested we wait until tomorrow. After all we’re eating warm black raspberry pie a la mode! Oh no, she insisted, these were just sweets they had at the end of the day. She wasn’t even sure what was in the box, but cookies. I half pay attention as I reach up into the box and pull out a cookie with a number eight on it. “Oh, too bad it’s not a number nine, because Emma is nine and could have the first one!” I said cheerily. “Well, grab out another one; you never know. It could be a nine!” Sarah sweetly encouraged. Sure enough, the next cookie was a nine, so I passed it down to Emma, sitting at the end of this table of 12 diners!

I’m still clueless, until Hannah says, “Mom…Maa-aahm!” What was I missing? Oh goodness, Sarah … are you? … is it? … do you? Are you telling me you’re giving us grandchildren numbers eight and nine?” Yes, mom! Hugs galore over this complete and total surprise! Such happy news -- on cookies, no less! I was reminded that evening of the Bible verse from Psalms 34:8 that says, “O taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!” As we watched the sunset over Lake Michigan out the cottage windows that night, I was filled to overflowing with thankfulness to God for the sweet taste of family gathered from far places, loving one another, forgiving one another, and taking refuge in Him! What a taste of life that is! I savor even the memory of it now!

Monday, November 23, 2009

New York! New York!

Now remember, all afternoon my daughter and I (and 100 others) are watching three ways to fix turkey, while experiencing the enticing aromas of pasta and sauces, all the while anticipating a snack! After about three hours, the promised snack is circulated. Not turkey, not greens with nutmeg … but individually wrapped Sarah Lee pound cake slices. Yeah. Maybe she’s Rachael’s cousin or something. So, the show wraps; we’ve had a good time. Rachel stands center aisle with her signature wave, and we head for the doors and some quality calories, please. Jennifer and I were hungry and dinner is on me. It’s said you can stand on any street corner in NYC and see a restaurant to die for, right? Now what was the name of that incredible place Miss America 1990, Debbye Turner, took me after our interview at CBS last year for Woman to Woman®? I texted her and later that night she got back to me from D.C. Too late!

With no plan, other than childcare for the evening, we head into the streets of NYC, expecting something grand. Oops! Pelting rain, umbrellas up. The temperature had dropped to 35 degrees, so the elements were taking their toll on us after the first uphill block. We passed two ordinary looking restaurants, not at all what I’d imagined. Finally, we get to the corner, with traffic honking and splashing and racing home from work. We look both ways and nothing but Internet cafes, laundromats, liquor and flower stores. Suddenly, the goal became fill the tummy and head home to a nice warm fire!

How hard can it be to get a decent meal in the last block? We head back and I hear myself saying how many times over the years, in how many cities, have I walked in and known instantly if it’s going to be good or not. Down some steps we go -- lots of steps -- into a restaurant that claims to be “Italian.” A good salad, a hot cup of tea, some nice bread, and some comfort pasta sound just fine. Upon entering the restaurant, apparently the image in my head of home and fireplace obliterated my keen sense of is this going to be good or not? I saw linens, silverware, waiters who looked like waiters, and candles on the tables. As we shivered coming in out of the cold, we noticed the sound of shrill sawing somewhere in the back. The other diners didn’t seem fazed, so we ignored it. It never did stop. A gentleman dressed in a tux was playing an upright piano as we gazed at the menu. I think it was when he played the same seven measures for the fifth time that we felt annoyed. Mid-piece, he stopped and stood up, leaned over to remove an empty three-foot tall glass vase and placed it on the floor and opened the top of the upright. He peered in, tinkered around, and seemed satisfied. Down goes the lid. Back goes the tall empty vase and the man sits down to play, looking as relieved as we felt. By this time we’d decided to order two items and see if it was going to be any better than the saw sound and the piano sound and then leave if we must.

After we ordered a salad and a starter with water and a soft drink, we relaxed and started writing down some of Rachael’s tips before we forgot them. Nothing was permitted on the laps of the audience, so no notes on the spot! I guess that left more room for her cousin’s snack. And there it was -- the same maddening seven measures on the piano, this time with a trill or two and the pianist looking around smiling as he made up a melody, or tried to. This time he kept at it for about four minutes, going nowhere with the tune. It was driving me crazy, to the point of barely being able to eat my half of the starter.

But alas, the man stops playing (what a relief!), stands up, removes the tall empty glass vase, opens the lid, tinkers with something inside, closes the lid, replaces the vase, and sits down looking quite pleased with himself. And still the same melody continues, embellished with a few variations, including wrong notes, from this pianist in his upright -- or was that up-wrong -- position? Every time he took the vase in hand I would think, Dear Sir, you are empty handed in more ways than one, puh-leeze take lessons or take up another hobby! This up and down routine was repeated two more times, with a great deal of discordant sound in between, before we could summon our check and exit.

One of the great gifts in life is to be able to laugh at oneself. And so I will every time I remember this dreadful dining opportunity with my eldest daughter. I think we’ll always laugh about it because it was so improbable, so unexpected an ending to this special day together! Some may say, “Expect nothing and everything you get is gravy!” Frankly, I would have enjoyed some good gravy that night! But instead, Jennifer and I made a memory we won’t forget, even if we want to. We also learned a lesson about lightening up in the face of seeming failure. A great TV shoot experience, followed by mundane food and music, and lousy weather, did not dampen our spirits in the long run. Colossians 3:15 says, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…. And be thankful.” I’m thankful for His peace that passes understanding in every situation He allows in my life. And the next time I’m in NYC, I’ll thankfully plan ahead for a more successful finish to the day!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Me and Rachael…Kind Of!

Three weeks ago, I took my NJ daughter to NYC to be part of the Rachael Ray show audience. I had V.I.P. tickets, knowing that she decides the day “of” whether or not to meet and greet. But I had a chance, however small it may have been. We had so much fun! I loved watching and listening to Rachael, a vivacious lover of food and people, inspire women to get back into the kitchen for some great 30 Minute Meals!

Earlier that week, a huge Rachael Ray devotee and new mom told me that Rachael taught her to cook. I know this woman’s mom is a good cook, so I wondered why she learned from Rachael Ray rather than at home as a girl. I found out that, after teaching all day, her mom really didn’t have the extra time and energy to teach her kids to cook and, instead, served her large family an easy meal from the crock pot. Sound familiar? I can see why Rachael is so successful in luring women back into recipes and the delights of bringing people together with good food!

“Our” Rachael Ray show will air on Black Friday, when you’ll hear financial guru Bill Rancic's tips on saving money with online holiday shopping. (Hilary Swank was the scheduled guest but had to postpone, so we learned about money matters instead.) I was as fascinated with Bill’s initial sit-down with Rachael as I was with his spending tips. A friendly, spontaneous, brilliant guy, he walked in, they greeted each other and then got right into the holiday shopping piece, cameras on! Within two minutes, someone approached Bill, who was looking crisp and spiffy in his lightly starched white shirt, and he hopped up and left the stage. Rachael indicated to us that she was as clueless as we were as to what just happened. Moments later, he came right back with a blue blazer on, sat down, and they began the interview again. It turns out that white on camera doesn’t work as well without contrast. What was funny was the size of the new, “better” jacket. I’d say the sleeves were about four inches too short, so Bill didn’t move much, being in a straight jacket! But the show must go on and he was loaded with good information. Darling guy!

Then we were treated to some incredible makeovers. A team of makeover artists had chosen three couples from applicants who wanted to look like famous couples, for example, David and Victoria Beckham. The couples were shown before their makeovers, next to pictures of the famous couples they wanted to emulate. In each case, the couple then walked on stage and we all gasped. The artists literally made the couples look like their dreams—and the team did this in only a couple of hours! Even Rachael was wide-eyed and open mouthed over this feat. What a difference cut, color and fashion can make!

The audience that day was treated to parts of several shows, showing off Rachael’s flexibility in going from paring potatoes or stirring Arborio rice with animated patter (“always throw in some freshly grated nutmeg with green veggies to enhance their flavor”) to interviewing her guests or chatting with her audience. The woman has the energy of a hummingbird! Our four hours, start to finish, included a waiting time with a good comedian between segments to keep us smiling. But it was always intense interviewing, cooking, wardrobe changing or commentary time for Rachael.

In the audience, I happened to sit next to the PR woman for Rachael’s hairdresser. She confided that Rachael had gotten her hair done prior to the morning’s taping, so it was no wonder she was having a fabulous hair day! But where does she get the energy to record an entire show in the AM and then work on stage with us watching all afternoon? If only she could bottle that like her bottled EVOO; I’d be first in line!

I knew ten minutes into the session that there would be no “meet and greet,” but it was so worth it to come close! I left with a huge appreciation for Rachael’s professionalism, her sincere interest in her guests and her passion for convincing us that cooking is a privilege -- not a big deal, but with big rewards. She had to be exhausted going through all those paces. Experiencing her in person motivated me, even though I was already a cook through and through. Now I’m inspired to enjoy the process and the outcome with a little more gusto. That energy can be applied not only to the kitchen but to working on a radio interview or a keynote, with enthusiasm and joy, even when I’m fading fast! Galatians 6:9 reminds us, “Do not grow weary in well-doing!” This holiday season I’ll have plenty of opportunity to do that…and hopefully I’ll face my audience with a smile, knowing I’m serving the Lord as well as my guests, listeners, and readers! And if you catch me fading…whip out one of those blue blazers, will ya? I know how that works, too!

By the way, after an entire afternoon of watching and sniffing the culinary delights from Rachael’s kitchen, you’ll want to know what we got to eat in the studio for our snack and where I took my daughter to eat in NYC afterwards. Remember…we were in New York City, just “us girls” with no kids – the sky was the limit, but you’ll never guess where we landed! Stay tuned…