Cooking with the Queen of Concoction

Cooking with the Queen of Concoction

Concoction. It’s a nice word. Like many words, it can have several meanings. Years ago, I was crowned, “Queen of Concoction”. It is lost to dim memory who officiated my coronation ceremony. Perhaps it was self-appointed.

It does not matter how, but why, I came to have this title. It was used in reference to my manner of cooking and how I could take different ingredients and come up with a new dish. My family never knew what would be served. In answer to, “What are you cooking?” I would reply, “supper”. (That is ‘dinner’ to those of you not from the South.) Or I would say, “dinner”. (Which means ‘lunch’) With no name for the dish I was preparing, no other answer was available. I would often add, “It’s a new concoction”. From that reply sprung my culinary identity.

This morning found me in a text conversation with my eldest step-daughter (S1). She is in the process of changing her family’s diet to a more healthful one. The conversation set the wheels in my mind turning. She has asked for help in her journey and at times I am at a loss as to how to do so. Each family and person is so different. How do you take years of learning, research, and experimentation and transfer it over to another? If only the Matrix were real and we could download information like a computer program!

Actions which are second-nature to me, are brand new and foreign to another. How do you bridge the gap between a spontaneous, free-spirited Queen of Concoction and a dogmatic recipe-follower who follows recipes like a loyal dog follows a beloved master?

Small events such as this conversation that can trigger hours of thought. Sifting those thoughts, mixing them with other aspects of life, and allowing time to simmer on the back burner of the mind often results in new insight. Why do I do things the way that I do? What does my method of cooking have to do with the rest of my life?

In thinking about how I cook, it shed light upon part of my personality and way of thinking and functioning. I had never connected them before. This is no life-changing epiphany, just a new ingredient added which spices my life and gives it a more robust taste. It is a slice of insight, interesting to share with others and compare tastes. Let us dip into the subject and digest further…

A cooking term entered into my vocabulary years ago after hearing a dear lady I know speak of leaving a pot of chili to sit for a while in order that the ingredients might ‘marry’.  When you think of the word, ‘marry’, naturally the bond of man and woman comes to mind. The Bible speaks of man and woman becoming ‘one’. This doesn’t just mean in a physical sense, but beyond that.

There is the initial bringing ingredients together to form a new relationship (wedding/food prep). Add some time, (or thyme), and you get something quite different than what you started with.  Applying this thought to both scenarios, you get a deeper feel for the word and its outcome. In taking ingredients, so different, binding them together for a purpose, allow for some time to set, to mix—to marry, you are rewarded with something new and better than the single ingredients by themselves.

Think of lifting the lid from a simmering pot. Your eyes take in the colors and shapes. The nose inhales the scent-laden steam, causing the mouth to water in anticipation. Spooning a bit into your mouth, feel various textures and taste the married ingredients—not just salt, or cayenne, or potato, or beef—but a medley of them all melded into one. Good ingredients alone, made better by mixing together and allowing them to mingle and marry.

As I thought about these things this morning while out doing my chores, I knew I wanted to write about it but wasn’t sure why or where I would take the line of thought. I sat down at my computer and in preparation, looked up the definition and etymology of the word, “concoction”. My thoughts were beginning to marry like a pot of stew. I smiled at what I learned about ‘concoction’.

In discussing my cooking style this morning with S1, I came to the realization that concoction is not just a cooking style, but part of my personality and way of thinking and doing things. She wants clear-cut, no-fail recipes. To me a recipe book is of no use unless it has photographs. I scan the pictures for inspiration and rarely use the recipe. If the recipe has more than say, 6 or 7 ingredients, forget it. I will not make anything that takes a lot of work or ingredients! My meals must be quick and easy. I do a lot of one skillet meals. But before the meal, comes the trip to the grocery store.

In years past, I had a printed grocery list that aligned with the aisles of my grocery store. It was very useful and kept me from having to back-track and criss-cross the store in search of items. I started at Health and Beauty and ended with cold foods.

My trips are more simplified now. I do visit other aisles in the center of the store for coffee, toilet paper, etc. But for food, I visit the outer aisles. I don’t need a list. I just fill my buggy with vegetables, fruit and butter—my staples. It is from these basic ingredients that I build my meals. Some people like to make meal plans and make a shopping list to support this plan. I am backwards. I like to buy the food and open the door to the fridge that day and imagine what can I create with the food on hand?

This bunny trail might seem a bit unrelated, but bear with me… I have often enjoyed the children’s sermons at churches much more than the full sermon. In the children’s sermon, the speaker often uses an object to demonstrate a point much the same way that Jesus did with his parables. I find that many people can grasp and remember ideas much easier when a visual aid is used.

At one church, the person doing the children’s sermon had a box he would give to a different child each week. It was the child’s job to put something in it for the leader to take out the following Sunday and come up with a way to tie the object into the lesson that day. It was great fun. Sometimes he had to seek help from the congregation. The kids loved searching all week for just the right object to place in the box to stump the leader and thwart him in concocting a link to his lesson.

I realized that this appealed to me as well since it had to do with taking something and creating another something out of it. Just like creating an impromptu meal from ingredients, or a story from my thoughts one morning like I am doing here. My love of writing and reading other people’s writings stems from that interest in taking life’s ingredients and meshing them together into something new.

I see this as part of our likeness to our Creator. We are limited, however in making things from that which he created. How nice it would be to just create  supper out of thin air! Instead, I, like the children’s sermon leader, open the ‘ice box’ and see what is in it on a given day. What food story can I make from these items?

Not only do I concoct stories and food, but it flows over into my animal husbandry here at CedarRock. If you were to take a tour of the place, you would find a mix of nicely built buildings and fabrications that my husband might call ‘shanty town’. In a pinch, I have been known to create some structures that while not attractive, are useful.

In talking to S1 about how I shop for groceries, I was reminded that I have a similar way of carpentry. It is hard to go to the lumber store and pick out what I need for a project. What I really need is the lumber store’s inventory at my home. That not being financially feasible, I get in the Mule, or walk the property shopping for ingredients that can be turned into a needed item such as animal housing, feeder, containment, etc.

That unused gate attached to the wall with wire at an angle can become a way to feed hay and keep the animals from wasting it.

 

gate made into hay rack

Those cattle panels, extra 2×6’s and 2×4’s  and a vinyl billboard sheet are transformed into an excellent chicken tractor.

Leftovers from a house building project has morphed into several chick brooders, puppy whelping pen/chickpen, and a play house for children, which later with some adaptations became a shed for the goats.

wood and metal chick brooder

play house

 

The playhouse turned shed with a few gate panels attached and a few boards from the side removed, made an excellent place to feed the goats a round bale of hay where they can eat from the inside of the shed and stay warm and dry in rainy weather. The bale is covered with part of the vinyl billboard that has 2×6’s attached to opposite ends. This contraption can be rolled up like a scroll. I use it to cover chick pens, round bales, etc rolling up or unrolling as weather dictates.

makeshift tarp over round bale

Sometimes I just don’t have materials to meet my needs and I have to buy new. If I have the misfortune of buying something new which requires being put together, I am confused by directions. Give me a picture! A picture is worth a thousand words, so they say and I believe it. Give me more pictures and fewer words. While I love to read and do not shy away from reading many words, I cannot abide them in recipes and instructions.

When I looked up ‘concoction’ in the dictionary and thesaurus, related words were used such as; devise, fabricate, combine, brew, mixture, compound, combination, solution, medley, preparation and so on.

I love these words! While I’ve never given conscious thought to their relationship, they are words I use and that come up frequently in topics of great interest to me.

mixed herbs in pot

This evidently has been with me from birth. One of my earliest recollections is of making mud pies with my cousin. We moved on to creating a soup made with water, grasses, leaves and dog food. Did we ever get in trouble with  my aunt for using the dog food! I am glad her displeasure over our cooking did not stem my desire for concocting things from nature.

Learning about, creating and implementing herbal tinctures, preparations, mixtures, combinations are dear to my heart. I recently helped my husband in his new hobby of making mead. I took interest in mixing my herbs into his mead, resulting in what I call ‘Meadicinal’. We married our interests and created a tasty, healthful product.

I take plants that grow here and create oils, tinctures, and teas that improve our health. In looking up the etymology of ‘concoction’ I read a reference to ‘a preparation of a medicinal potion’. I smiled when I read that thinking of my interest in devising ways for our food to be our medicine.

dried golden rod herb

To grow many of these herbs, I had to create spaces for them where they could not grow before. On the north side of the house, I hauled dirt from our lower pasture, added grass seed and manure to create a yard. Against the house, you will find rocks gleaned from pastures and old timbers outlining beds where I grow herbs, vegetables and flowers. In one corner, an old water pan and large rocks from the fields became a water fountain.

pergola, raised beds filled with plants beside home

We had a greenhouse-framed structure that used to house quail. I took this over for my garden. I used old lumber to make raised beds which I filled with purchased garden soil. Adding seed, water and sunshine to the mix, a beautiful garden resulted.

raised beds for garden

Fabricating useful structures, or looking for ways to use what I have on hand in a new way is a great pleasure. I enjoy reading online or in books inventive ideas other people have. While I don’t often read what they write about what they’ve done, I do get inspiration from their photos.

The word, ‘medley’ which was among the list of related words to ‘concoction’ has two meanings to me–musical and food. I am not a musician, but my son is, so I have been immersed in that world of mixing notes to produce lyrics and sound that can affect one’s soul. My son taught me much of the world of music. I have new appreciation for those who strive to weave strands of their hearts, minds, and souls into sound waves that wash over ours.

Food can also evoke strong emotion. When I was about to undergo cancer treatment for tonsil cancer, I was given counseling in preparation. I was made aware of how we view food. It is not just meeting physical needs of the body. We gather with family and friends to eat. We eat in celebration. We eat for the sheer joy of taste and textures.

I was to lose ability and desire to eat over the course of treatment, not to mention taste. I was told that eating would become my ‘homework’. Meaning that it was not going to be a pleasure, but a necessity of life.  Thankfully, I have regained much of my ability to eat and taste. So it is not just homework any longer, but again enjoyable.

One thing I enjoy eating is a food medley. It may be a dish with a variety of vegetables, or a dessert of fruit and nuts. I often fill a skillet with these medleys, melding their distinctive flavors together with a meat, spices and a good fat, such as avocado oil, or butter. For a dessert, I like to cook down berries, add a bit of butter and maple syrup and top with nuts. In summer, I enjoy these fresh and raw. Eating them is like a medley song in my mouth.

skillet with mixed veggies

The other mention in the etymology of ‘concoction’ was, ‘a made-up story’. For as long as I can recall, I have loved to read stories, made up or real. One of my favorite genres is historical fiction. I like to receive education in a package that is enjoyable. Reading dry facts about the past leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

My love of herbs was fueled by reading books about a woman who used herbs in everyday life. A character in the movie, “Arabian Nights” says that ‘stories tell us how to live’. I like that. Every story we have ever heard from Dr. Suess, to Charles Dickens, to Shakespeare, to the latest box office hit, to the lyrics of our favorite song, they all are ingredients in our lives that show us how to live. We draw upon all these ingredients, allow them to simmer and marry into our beings, creating us anew.

Queen of Concoction is an apt name for me, after all.

When I was crowned, I had no idea that it was so all encompassing. I only used it in reference to cooking. But now with further introspection, I see that it is a way of life for me. See how much I can fabricate from a short text message one cold winter morning?

Interested in my cooking madness methodology? You  are welcome to view the Facebook Cookbook I created for my son when he moved away. Warning: you will not find step by step measurements and procedures.

Recipes from Home

Interested in making some herbal concoctions? Visit these sites:

My Facebook page for herbs, alternative ways to achieve better health:

An Herb a Day

Learning Herbs-Courses, etc

Herbal Academy

How I concocted a whole article just on the topic of a coffee cup:

The Perfect Coffee Cup

Here are some photos of things I have concocted out of materials found here and made into other useful items.

Garden, in the beginning…

Broken bird feeder, now a home for succulents

Door off of chicken house, that became a playhouse and then goat shed, made into decor for garden

Leaky chicken waterers used for planters

chicken waterers used for planters

dog by recycled planters

Unused gates become a cow chute to contain Maisy while babies nurse

gate used to hold cow

Take some fabric, a needle and embroidery floss and look what you can fabricate!

bags embroideried

Scrap hardware cloth and wood becomes a chicken crate.

chicken coop

When we had baby goats born during below freezing temperatures, I had to scavenge for things to make a warm place for them. An old gate, leftover particle board sheets, plastic tubs with heat lamps for heat source made for a cozy kid nursery.

makeshift baby goat shelter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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