Lessons from my Mama’s Kitchen

… A very grateful daughter inherits more than recipes—she learns her mother’s taste for life.


She was a Kentucky girl, my mother. Born on a small farm set among the rolling hills of the south-central portion of the Bluegrass state, she learned quickly that she preferred the “inside” work. To her, cooking and cleaning were better any day than working in outside in the tobacco fields. So, early on, she started setting the table with hearty farm-cooked fare and cleaning the farmhouse that sat close by the strawberry patch and a stand of hickory nut trees. Humming and singing, she took her task to heart.

When she was 18, Mama met Daddy on a double date. As a child growing up, she would tell me the story of how their eyes kept meeting in the rear-view mirror during the evening’s drive. Never tired of hearing the story, I delighted in its retelling, time and time again. Each time I’d feel a pang of sadness for their poor, unsuspecting dates—but only for a moment! Then, breathing a sign of relief, I would be overwhelmingly delighted that fate had thrown them into the same car that evening. It’s not surprising that Mama was soon practicing her self-taught culinary skills on her new husband, Cliff.

I was Mama’s second born, sandwiched between two boys who took their cue from Daddy and treated their sister like a princess. Daddy worked hard, but Mama worked equally as hard making our humble home a wonderful place for growing up. Mama could take the simplest ingredients and turn them into something really special. Her steamed cheeseburgers were a family favorite. I still remember learning to season and pat out the ground beef into fat burgers and helping Mama drop them into a hot frying pan.

Also at the top of the family favorites list was Mama’s homemade German Chocolate Cake. My brothers adored it and that cake was always their birthday request. As for me, all Mama had to do was mention peanut butter pinwheels and my lips were smacking with anticipation. I would drag a kitchen chair to the counter while begging to help mash the potatoes and mix in the confectioner’s sugar that made my favorite candy. Taking that first bite of the finished product was always a magical moment for me. How mashed potatoes ended up tasting so delicious and sweet was a mystery to me as a young girl and I loved Mama dearly for allowing me to be a part of the magic.

As a teenager, evenings were a ritual in my Mama’s kitchen. You could set your clock by the time that supper was put on the table. When my dad walked through the back door from work, the table had been laid and the evening meal was in its final stages of preparation—just about ready to be transferred to serving dishes and carried into the dining room. Mama knew Daddy would be tired and hungry and she always made sure she was there to greet him while he washed up, then she’d call us three kids to the table. We’d quickly settle into our places with ease, laughing and merrily tossing conversation across the table like a light, rubber ball.

After dinner, I’d begin my daily chore of washing up the supper dishes . Somehow I managed to stretch out what should have been a 15-minute task to at least 45 minutes or an hour. First I’d put on a stack of my mama’s favorite albums on the stereo. Then, luxuriating in Ivory Dish soap with bubbles up to my elbows, I washed dishes and scrubbed pots and pans while warbling along with Dean Martin and Englebert Humperdinck. Later, my broom and I swayed to the orchestral music of Billy Vaughn as we finished our final task of sweeping the day’s crumbs away. Often, Mama would join me in the kitchen and we’d soulfully sing the heart-stirring ballads together.

Many years have passed since those amiable days spent in my mother’s kitchen. For years, Mama was always willing to satisfy a prodigal child’s craving for a childhood memory at a moment’s notice, but she’s 84 now, and most likely, it’s the kids and grandkids who are making and carrying in the holiday meals these days. Nevertheless, her kitchen is still warm and familiar in my mind, and the memories of working alongside of her always bring thoughts of love mingled with a relaxed contentment.

When I walk into my kitchen today, chances are there won’t be a cake baking or a pot roast in the oven. With busy schedules and healthy good-intentions, Terry and I are more apt to toss salads and grill the vegetables. But, that’s okay—because it wasn’t really the good cooking that made my Mama’s kitchen special—it was the love. Mama loved her family and found great joy in serving us with her wonderful meals and special treats.

And, now that love has been passed on to my kitchen. I feel it every day when I stand at the sink, load the dishwasher, or sweep the floor. It’s a love that brings joy through the recipes and traditions of my own home and family.

If you listen hard enough, you just might hear me humming a vintage Dean Martin tune.

Wanna try those peanut butter pinwheels that use to rock my world? Yes, they’re made with potatoes—an unexpected but essential ingredient. Here’s the recipe for this family favorite:

Peanut Butter Pinwheels

Ingredients
1/2 cup freshly cooked mashed potatoes
1/2 cup salted butter softened
6-7 cups powdered sugar plus additional for dusting
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Creamy peanut butter for filling
Instructions
With electric mixer, combine mashed potatoes, butter, and 1 cup sugar.
Add in remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time. Start by adding 6 cups of powdered sugar, if the dough is not moldable in your hands and can’t be rolled into a ball, continue to add sugar until it is firm.
Stir in vanilla.
Refrigerate dough for 1 hour.

Once chilled, divide dough into two pieces and place one piece on a clean surface that you’ve generously dusted with powdered sugar. Dust the surface of the dough with additional sugar, and use a rolling pin to roll dough out into a rectangle about 1/4″ thick. Make sure that your dough can be rolled at this point, if it’s too sticky or falling apart, you may need to add more sugar, re-shape it into a ball, and start over.
Once dough has been rolled into a 1/4″ rectangle, spread evenly with peanut butter, leaving a small amount of space peanut butter-free around the perimeter of the dough.
Starting with the longer side of your rectangle, gently but tightly roll into a log.
Use a knife to slice into pieces about 1/2″ thick.
Repeat steps with remaining half of dough.
Serve and enjoy.
Recipe Notes
*Use russet potatoes, peel, dice, and boil until tender. Drain potatoes throughly and then mash well. Allow potatoes to sit at room temperature until completely cooled before making your dough. Do not use leftover mashed potatoes for this recipe!

Life in Detail

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It was a perfect day for taking a drive in the mountains, so we grabbed sweaters and piled into the car to make the familiar trek to a fishing village on the other side of the island. We spent the next several hours watching the fishermen come in with their catches for the day. When the last boat finally came in, all the fishermen rushed out to grab hold of the thick sea ropes and pulled the boat onto the sandy shore. Groaning nets of freshly caught fish were emptied into plastic tubs and packed with ice, as they were made ready for the trip to the fish market. Heading back to the car for the long drive home, we bought two bags of fresh tangerines and threw them onto the backseat.

As the car began to climb the double-lane highway, we rolled down all the windows, tore open a bag of tangerines, and proceeded to have an impromptu picnic. The fresh peels split easily, revealing the plump, juicy fruits inside; the pungent tang mixed with the salty sea air and filled our nostrils.

Sweet as candy, the juice dribbled down our chins as we chatted and gobbled down the sweet treats. Before we knew it, both bags of fruits were gone, and the only thing left was sticky fingers. Searching for napkins in the glove compartment, I lifted them up with a victorious shout and raised my head just in time to see the magnificent postcard view of the lagoon below as we crested the mountain and began our descent down the other side.

All it takes is the smell of tangerines, and the memory of that day comes rushing back with such force I have no choice but to settle into it like a comfortable easy chair and remember. Every detail is etched on my brain: the warmth of the day, the perfect cerulean blue sky, the bright sunshine, the cool wind whipping through the open windows of the car, the heady perfume of tangerine juice spraying through the air, and the view I memorized and tucked into my heart. The love and laughter that filled our car that day made a memory that will last forever.

Life’s too short to miss the details. They’re not merely the distinctive or minute parts of a particular moment, they are the very facets of our life that collectively inspire and remind us of who we are, what we’ve become, and why. They’re the fibers from which we are woven together.

Ultimately, they become the beliefs that compel us to determine what we stand for and what will be important in life.

When we live life in detail, we create moments that stay with us forever.

© 2014 Kathy Chapman Sharp

Everyone Has A Story

Everyone has a story.

IMG_1709Although I was born in 1955, mine really started on the day I gave my life to Christ. I was 17 years old and to this day, I still remember that moment of letting go of my willful self and slipping out of the pew to walk down the aisle of the church I had attended most of my life.

It wasn’t a sudden decision.

When the Jesus Movement began sweeping across America in the late sixties, even my hometown of Louisville, KY saw its own mid-western version of religious coolness and I began my on-again, off-again relationship to the church. During my younger teen years, the church was the center of my social circle. There was a skating rink, gymnasium, youth activities and earnest youth ministers who moon lighted as seminary students (or vice-versa!). I attended regularly. I knew how to respond and all the right words to say. I was a good girl; one my parents could be proud of. The problem was that I had a head knowledge of Jesus but I never quite let him into my life.

When I started high school I went to church less. There were other things to do, boyfriends to date and my group of friends expanded to others outside the church. But my best friend, Karen Carter was always a rock in my life. She was the tie that kept me bound to the church. Her life was a constant reminder of my need for Christ and the church. Even when I sat behind her in home room at Durrett High School, it was what I thought about staring at the back of her head. My older brother, Dan was also a huge influence in my life. He sensed my struggle but he never condemned. He only encouraged and prayed for me. I knew this and I loved him even more for it.

Revivals were the hardest. I’d always tuck a little pack of tissues into my pocket because I knew I was going to cry and feel convicted about something. I just wouldn’t allow myself to figure out what it was I felt so badly about. So, I’d sit there feeling miserable. And worried. I might have an accident on the way home and it would be tragic because I didn’t quite have the salvation thing figured out. I remember hearing that Jesus was only going to knock on my heart’s door a few times — and if I didn’t answer, he might never knock again. I even answered a few times, but I wasn’t sure what to say when I saw Jesus standing there, so I’d quietly close the door, asking him to come back later.My father decided that if I was dating, then I had to attend church more. It was easy. Going to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday nights equaled three dates a week. So that’s what I did. I was physically there, but my stubborn heart resisted and stayed away.

I remember hearing a lot about God’s wrath and revenge during those years but not enough about his love or mercy. I watched so-called “Christians” live one way on Sunday and another way during the week. I always told myself, If I ever decide to become a real Christian, I would not live like that — I would be sold out. I’d walk the walk and talk the talk. If …

So here I was sitting in the pew, up front in the third row because I’d rushed into the sanctuary at the last-minute and it was the only place to sit. I’d just graduated from high school a couple of weeks earlier and I was feeling rather smug because I was pretty sure I had the rest of my life figured out. I had plans. Life was out there to be lived and I couldn’t wait to get started with life on my own terms.

But Jesus had other plans. No sooner had the sermon started than he began to speak to me. It was so real and so audible that I actually looked around to see if anyone else was hearing his voice. He spoke clearly and with authority telling me that I stood at a fork in the road of my life. I could either choose to go my way or I could choose to follow him. With great love, he reminded me that he had a plan and purpose for my life. All I had to do was follow. He would forgive my sin. He would turn my stubbornness to determination.

But, today was the day. I needed to make a choice. Go his way or go my way.

As he spoke, for the first time in my life, my heart listened and answered back. “You’re real,” it said. “I can feel you here and I’m not afraid!” I bowed my head, opened the door to my heart, stepped aside and invited Jesus to come in. And he did. To this day, I can recall the moment the holy spirit came to me. It was as if a cloak was gently laid upon my shoulders. I felt the weight of his power and presence immediately.

When the invitation was given, I did not hesitate. I was on a mission. My life was transformed. The holy spirit began guiding my life and choices immediately and I let him. Within two hours, I’d broken off a steady relationship and began exploring what God wanted me to do next. I knew my plans were over. I wanted only his will for my life.

A few weeks later I was traveling across Europe and it was amazing how God used this time to teach me. I met missionaries and other believers along the way and it was not only encouraging but eye-opening. Stretched out on a hillside in southern France with the wind blowing my hair and my face lifted to the heavens, God audibly spoke to me again. “I want your life,” he said. “You have me, Lord,” I spoke back aloud with sincerity in every word. “I want all of your life” he answered. Then silence. Speaking and praying with my pastor upon my return to the United States, I came to realize that God was calling me to ministry. I made a decision in that moment to go anywhere, to do anything, and say anything that he might ask. His purpose for my life was revealed!

Just a few months later, at the University of the Cumberlands where God led me to prepare for the work ahead, I met my partner in ministry and life, Terry Sharp. That was 39 years ago.

We’ve lived a lot of life since then and it has been amazing. There are times I close my eyes and consider what might have been if I’d chosen the other road — my way. There’s a moment of sheer panic. Darkness. But then I’m quickly reminded that I didn’t. I chose God’s way and I’m overwhelmed with gratefulness for his grace on my life. That’s why my life is amazing. Every day!

I’ve served him as a wife and mother to husband, Terry and daughter, Rebekah. I also have a son-in-love, Terrence.

I’ve served him on church staffs and organizations where I’ve walked alongside and learned from some of the most incredible men and women of God.

I’ve been privileged to be a part of innovative practices and strategic missions and God has used them to teach and prepare me for the task he has given me today.

I’ve served him as a missionary to Spain and Brazil where he allowed me to live out and share my faith in a way that I will never forget. I am forever changed because of the relationships and experiences I had serving God overseas. I’ve also discovered that, “Once a missionary, always a missionary.” The place of my assignment has changed but I continue to share my faith and build relationships wherever God directs. Volunteer missions around the globe will always be a part of my life.

I’ve served him with my strengths and spiritual gifts. He made me a leader, a teacher and a communicator and I’ll use those gifts in any way that he asks. I actively mentor young women. I consult with churches to help them find their voice in the area of communications. I’m a writer and a speaker — I serve him with my words, written and spoken, and I’ll continue to do so until he tells me differently.

I’m sold out. I’m always ready to go anywhere, do anything and say whatever he asks — anytime.

My story began 40 years ago on June 10, 1973. As I reflected and celebrated my spiritual birthday yesterday, it occurred to me that my story will go on forever. Eternally. How cool is that?

Everyone has a story and we should share them more often.

What’s your story?

© 2013 Kathy Chapman Sharp