The Missing Ingredient

Sometimes I have really good ideas. I mean really, really good ideas. Like what to do with the leftover spaghetti sauce (make stuffed shells – amazing!). Or, after promising macaroni and cheese for lunch only to find my pantry had failed me (no boxes for a quick lunch), I realized I had not only the perfect amount of time, but the ingredients as well to make it from scratch. It was delicious and lasted for 3 lunches instead of only 1.

But, sometimes I don’t always have the greatest ideas. Like the one time when Ben and I were first married and I made some kind of red wine pork tenderloin thing – I was trying to impress him. I don’t know what I did wrong but I served my poor husband a purple piece of meat. And I mean purple! He was a good sport about it but we have not revisited that particular recipe nor do we plan to. At least I haven’t poisoned him or anyone else that I know of, so that’s good. I did know one spouse who tried to make chicken pot pie for her husband but didn’t know she was supposed to cook the chicken first – from his telling he hasn’t had pot pie in years because his insides are still reeling from that meal. Yikes!

I think that it’s a natural thing to want to impress one another. We want to look good, we want to be perceived of in a positive way, we want to appear competent and capable. Part of successfully doing this is knowing the basics of whatever you are trying to accomplish. All the good ideas in the world will crumble if they are not based in some kind of foundation of solid facts and basic principles. I might have a great idea for mounting the television on the wall, but unless I have even a basic understanding of weight ratios, mounting screws and brackets, I will probably fail in my attempts, resulting in holes in the wall and a broken TV (no, I haven’t personally done this. However, there are a number of extra holes and misaligned curtain rods from my attempts at hanging curtains by myself during one of Ben’s deployments. I really have no foundation for drilling or drywall. That’s another story)

A few days ago I got to experience this lesson up close and personal. My aunt makes a delicious cherry cake which she has given me the recipe for. When I was young, I would spend a few weeks in the summer up on her farm and would help pick the cherries we put into the cakes. I have a lot of fond memories wrapped up in this cake. We would always top it with powdered sugar and if we were feeling especially indulgent, whipped cream – homemade whipped cream. It doesn’t get much better than that. As you can probably guess, I recently made the cherry cake. Perfection. We also had some leftover whipping cream from another recipe. Score 1 for the ultimate dessert experience, to the mixer!

The Missing Ingredient - do you have a solid foundation? Daily Graces

Then I stopped myself. You know, I said to myself, I can probably take this to a whole other level with lemon flavored whipped cream. The little touch of acid would go perfectly with the sweet, tart cherry cake. I was so confident I didn’t back up my lightbulb moment by verifying via my trusty friend Google on how one makes lemon flavored whipped cream. I’ve made whipped cream a bunch of times, how hard could it be? I’ll just throw in a touch of lemon extract, taste as I go, and it will be great.

Wrong. Very wrong.

The first night it was good, but a little weird. Something wasn’t quite right with the whipped cream. The lemon came through, but it didn’t rise to the heights I expected. Oh well, I thought, I guess I didn’t quite get it right this time. File it away and move on, there’s more cake to eat and plenty of whipped cream to go with it.

The second night was bad. The lemon extract was starting to turn the whipped cream. When you tasted it by itself you knew instantly you were eating sour whipped cream. Gross, gah, no!!!!! What went wrong???

First and foremost – my foundation was incomplete. Some post-traumatic whipped cream Googling showed me that even when I was just flavoring with vanilla extract, which is what I usually do, I was supposed to add a little sugar. I don’t think I’ve done that for the past year, since I’ve just been going off my memory. So the whipped cream I have been making is good, but not as sweet as it’s supposed to be. No wonder this version with lemon in it tasted sour.

Also, all the lemon flavored whipped cream recipes call for lemon zest or fresh juice, not extract. I can only assume that the extract made the issue worse, since it is concentrated lemon flavor.

What’s the moral of my sour tale? Be sure of your foundation! Consider the things that you know how to do really well. Do you know how to do them because you have a lifetime (or a long time) of training and practice (like writing, walking, talking, cooking, woodworking, driving a car, playing a sport, handling finances, etc.) or because you watched a few YouTube videos? Consider the the things you wished you could do really well – for me it’s knitting, exercising, cake decorating, and the discipline necessary for writing a book. Developing these activities or habits will not happen overnight, nor will they happen by a poof of pixie dust. You have to build a solid foundation of knowledge, practice, repetition and strength of will. Only then can you begin to construct or practice the finer points of your chosen craft or field.

This is also why I love the Catholic Church. The Church stretches back to the original disciples, to Jesus Himself. It has a firm, solid foundation that can literally be traced, tracked and followed through history. Consider the various heresies the early Church had to sort through, following the guidance of the Holy Spirit to find Truth and unity. They had to tackle huge questions, questions that are arguably much bigger than we are facing today  – Who is Jesus? Was Jesus both human and divine or only one? What is the Trinity? What is Mary’s role and how does defining her role guard and explain who Jesus is? What, definitively in the form of a creed or statement, do we believe? Keep in mind they did this without the internet, without instant access to one another and without very safe means of travel to discuss matters with one another. It’s incredible!

I wish you well in your ideas, brainstorms, aha moments, trials and hopefully only minor errors. I hope that you continue to build and maintain firm foundations so that your ideas will be grounded in success and the wisdom of your efforts and those who came before you. The next time I have a brilliant idea in the kitchen, I’ll probably be verifying it before I go for it. Lesson learned =)

God bless and thanks for reading!

What’s on the inside

We have a small lemon tree in our back yard. As soon as we found out we would be stationed in such an incredible climate, I knew I wanted to have some kind of fruit-bearing tree in our back yard. After much deliberation, I decided on a lemon tree. I love the flavor and there are so many things you can make. From simple lemon water to lemon curt. Sunshine pies and lemon tarts. It all makes me happy!

The catch with growing your own fruit, in case you didn’t think of this already, is that the fruit has to actually grow. Not only does it have to grow, the tree has to have matured enough to even produce the fruit. Once the tree is old enough, you have to wait for the proper season for the fruit to ripen.

I was so excited for the first harvest, which took forever. The tree was a bit confused about what season it was in. Lemons ripen in the winter. It flowered for the first time in late winter and by March had a solitary lemon growing. I had to wait nearly a year for that single lemon to ripen. When it finally did, the tree had re-flowered and I had a whole host of lemons waiting for me. It was delicious!

Apparently the tree was so excited about this first harvest it decided to give a second a go, (mature lemon trees, especially in this climate, are capable of multiple harvests). Unfortunately, my lemon tree is not quite that mature. So, here I am again, this time with at least 15 lemons half-grown and green as grass (which I should clarify, green as grass in the Midwest, grass is pretty brown around here presently).

I promise they are lemons
I promise they are lemons

Both last year and this year, I had so many people question me on these frozen-in-time lemons. “Maybe it’s just a lime tree.” “Are you sure it’s actually a lemon tree?” Even after a harvest of lemons, still I’m getting the questions. Just the other day, one of the neighbor boys was over and asked about the tree and why the fruit wasn’t growing. When I explained that it was a lemon tree, he looked at me like I was pulling his leg, chuckled a bit, and headed home.

All of this got me thinking about outside vs. inside and what kinds of judgments we make based on appearances. Part of our broken nature since the first sin of Adam and Eve is our tendency to judge one another. Before Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they walked freely in the garden, without judgment, jealousy or suspicion of one another. After their sin, they covered themselves, ashamed of their nakedness and I would infer also because, fearful of judgment from the other. Continue reading “What’s on the inside”