Archive for June, 2012


This past Friday night I had the privilege to enjoy one of life’s rare, almost perfect, dare I say glorious evenings with my family. Not only with my husband and our two children who are still at home, but my parents, my brother, and my oldest son who lives now in Texas. It’s a rarity for all of us to be in the same place at the same time: my brother is in town between chef jobs at an exclusive hunting lodge in the Midwest and Alex is home for a week – the first time since Christmas.

I love to cook, and I try to be creative, but I am absolutely no match for my brother. He is a self-taught chef and in a word, amazing. “Chef Bo” has an instinctive sixth sense about technique, taste, texture, and presentation. Meats, fish, seafood, veggies, potatoes, sauces, fruits, desserts, you name it – he has a recipe somewhere in his head. I don’t even understand about half of what he does or how. But one thing is certain: it is always delicious. I don’t just mean “wow, that’s really good.” I mean, “How did you do that? That’s ridiculous good! Yes, more. Right there on my plate. Yep, keep it coming.”

So last Friday we decided on a menu, took our field trip for food shopping, and met at my house to begin preparing for the gorging that lay ahead. My mom was leaving town the next day for a choir trip so we were celebrating an early Father’s Day. And it was all hands on deck: I was working on the meat, Chef Bo was directing the appetizers and preparing side dishes, kids were chopping fruit and cutting blocks of cheese, Richard was cooking bacon. Everyone right there in the kitchen, together, doing something.

Knives flying, oven heating, refrigerator and pantry opened and closed, it all started coming together. Add a little move-your-feet music to the mix (U-verse, my family thanks you) and we had Paula Deen meets MasterChef.  We were laughing, talking, feeding ourselves a bite over here and playfully stealing a bite from someone else over there. By the time my parents arrived, the house smelled delicious. And we had artfully arranged the appetizers on a new (smaller) dish to disguise how much had already been consumed.

My responsibility for this particular feast was the meat: BBQ boneless ribs. Mmmm, my mouth waters just thinking about them. I’ve baked them many times before but I don’t remember ever cooking them when my brother was going to be eating them (did I mentioned he’s a chef?). Talk about pressure. The main attraction, the one thing everything else on the table centered on – even the appetizers – was my responsibility! Aye-yi-yi! I have to admit, I was tempted to change things up a bit, try something new, do them just a little different, but I stayed true to my personal recipe and slid the baking dishes into the oven.

Chef Bo, with a raised eyebrow asked, “Are you sure about those ribs? You know we’re eating in 2 ½ hours right?” I acknowledged the clock and his question with a simple, “uh-huh” and a smile.

Fast forward to 7pm. Appetizers consumed. Table set. Side dishes working on the stove and in the oven. Clock ticking. Laughter. Conversation. Billiards tournament underway in the basement.  And then it was time: time to pour the drinks, summon everyone to the table, and let the feasting begin. Everyone who knows me knows I love having my family around the table together (Norman Rockwell, my grandmothers and my mother, I thank you). So on any other day, just the fact that we were all together would have been enough. Not this evening. Not this meal. The ribs had to be perfect: tender and juicy but not watery, with sauce that wasn’t too thick or pasty. We all sat down and held hands to bless the food and our time together. Dishes began to move around the table in every direction, forks and spoons clinking, passing this, sharing that. And then the moment of truth: Chef Bo took a bite of those cooked-to-perfection ribs. I placed my napkin in my lap and sat back in my chair waiting, watching.

A big, surprised expression in those cat-like green eyes of his followed by a huge smile answered my unspoken question. “Wow! Those are amazing! How did you do that?”

Ah, yes, the sweetness of a food triumph.

What followed was in a word, carnage. We ate ribs until we couldn’t lift our forks. We ate homemade mac n’ cheese made from lasagna noodles (I told you, he’s a chef!). We ate a most unusual and delicious green bean and sweet pea concoction I feel very sure I could not re-create. Chef Bo asked my secret for the ribs followed immediately by, “No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. You can keep that culinary secret and I’ll just keep eating.”

We ate, we laughed, we told stories on each other. We shared a meal and we shared memories. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is truly unforgettable. No one rushed away from the dinner table, no one was anxious to go do something else or be somewhere else. Just family. Just perfect. And the email I received from my brother the next morning went something like this:

“About last night…it was grrreeeaaat. One of our best family times ever. And how exactly did you do those ribs???”

800 Feet in the Air

My family and I went on a week’s vacation to Florida last week, compliments of a Christmas present from my parents (thanks, Mom and Dad!) We moved to our new home in early April and I hadn’t needed our luggage until last week.

Our suitcases were nowhere to be found.

So we opted for Plan B: everyone packed their own duffel bag. It was actually a lot of fun. I’m usually a complete nut about everything being packed, perfectly organized, in its proper space, folded correctly. Not this year. It was every man, woman, boy, and girl for themselves.

We started out early in the morning and between GPS and the directions provided by the resort we managed to turn a 5-1/2 hour trip into 7+ hours. For all her engaging British-accent instructions, Miss GPS led us astray. By the time we arrived at our destination we were an engaging mix of slap-happy and belligerent, which is probably the reason I misunderstood the directions to our room provided by the smiling young lady at the front desk.

The kids and I unloaded the ‘luggage’ while Richard went to park the car. What we thought was a direct route to our room took us to a revolving door that launched us out onto the ocean-front pool deck. We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies trekking across the landing with our mis-matched duffel bags, pillows, blankets, and bare feet. I was tempted to call out to the children in my best redneck accent, “Looky thar, kids, it’s a cement pond!”

A kind (and slightly embarrassed) security guard rescued us and escorted us straight to our room. Oh, the stories he must tell his family at the end of a shift!

We enjoyed a week of gorgeous weather, great food, beautiful accommodations, late nights, and later mornings. On our last full day the kids decided their big splurge was to go para-sailing. After several phone calls we made an afternoon reservation and headed out for a bite of lunch.

We had a grand total of 12 on the boat, plus two instructors. Eleven of us were flying and Stephen had made it perfectly clear we were NOT going to be the first ones up. He wanted to see what everyone else thought about it before the captain strapped us in. Much to his dismay, we were the very first ones – the chosen ones – to venture up into the Big Blue.

I was not about to let the kids know I was afraid but I have to admit I was a little shaken by the thin strap under my seat, the one (only one) buckle around my waist and the two hooks above my shoulders. This is really the only thing connecting me to that chute and this rope??? 

Because of the weight distribution (no sarcastic remarks, please) I had to be in the middle with the kids on either side. Stephen was none too happy about being on the outside. He had planned to be safely encased between his sister and me.  Rachel, on the other hand, could not get up in the air fast enough. The metal bar to which our hooks were strapped was literally shaking with our fear as the chute inflated and began to take us airborne. Higher, higher, higher: 800+ feet in the air. It was exhilarating and terrifying. The boat appeared like a toy in that vast expanse of ocean.

I kept reminding myself to breathe while trying to take Stephen’s mind off the fact that we were 800 feet in the air by pointing out how far we could see and how beautiful the water was as we looked out. The thought kept running through my mind, “I wonder what would happen if I just leaned back and let go.”

I didn’t find out.

After about 30 seconds in the air, I noticed Stephen’s legs swinging back and forth. He was smiling, pointing things out here and there across the horizon, and almost laughing out loud. He loves it! He really loves it! Rachel was shouting down to the boat, and at first I looked at her and said, “Shhh, not so loud.” Then I checked myself and laughing out loud, I said, “Go ahead, girlfriend, give it all you’ve got!”

Back on the boat we were all smiles and talking a mile a minute. Stephen couldn’t wait to tell everyone about his adventure once we got back home and it has now been permanently placed on his “all time favorite things” list.

I’ve been thinking about that sky-high ride a lot since last week.  

Sometimes life brings us to a place where we have to hang on with both hands and simply let the chute take us where the wind is blowing. Yes, it is terrifying. But it is also exhilarating. The sun is warm, the breeze is perfect, the view is breathtaking. Fear makes us more aware of what’s around us and sometimes we see things we might have otherwise missed. White knuckles and all, you realize you wouldn’t trade that moment for anything.

800 feet in the air; and 14 minutes that will last a lifetime.

%d bloggers like this: