Here are a few examples of some recipes I have produced, tested and photographed over the years. These were taken with a digital camera and some are 35mm film. I have such an absolute passion for baking and cooking and capturing the end result.
These beautiful, delicious, delicate little cookies are complete jerks. They’re just like cats – they are vicious and finicky; either working with you or against you. I have been wanting to write a post of the recipe I have found that works best for me since the Spring of 2014. I stress the words “for me” because the process in which baking the cookies is like trying to find the perfect pair of jeans for your specific body type. It even comes down to the weather condition inside your own house in whether they will be a success or a failure of your efforts. I’m totally not joking. I’m sure there is some snarky, smug pastry chef looking down his nose at this post. Well, listen pal, it’s difficult baking these in a home kitchen without the luxuries of commercial appliances.
I have always seen these cookies as the cutest, little things – displayed on their sides revealing its filling and signature feet. They can be any color you can imagine and the flavor fillings are nothing but complimentary against the subtle taste of the almond flour and chosen extract. You can flavor these cookies with any sort of extract, as a matter of fact, but I just adore pure almond extract. Hell, I’d wear a few dabs on my wrists if it were socially acceptable. I love it! My first few glimpses of these dainty french cookies was in Marie Antoinette; that movie where Steve Coogan was ripped off by given such a small role or appeared to be doing Sophia Coppola a favor. Who knows. I guess we’ll call it a cameo. I digress…
In the Spring of 2014, I came across an issue of Food Network magazine while at the check-out line in my local grocery store. It proclaimed that I could bake my own macarons from home and that I will be proud of such an accomplishment. After fully reading the article in the car as my husband drove us home, turns out Food Network’s test kitchen tried 90 (yes, folks, NINE-ZERO) batches before they found which method would be best suited in a home kitchen environment. They did the work so we, at home, didn’t have to. Pfffft… (in all seriousness, A+ for effort, Food Network!)
After a few batches of disappointing results, I felt determined to master this. How could I, a damn great and creative baker, be bullied by snooty cookies? I got back to it – I tested Food Network’s version, internet recipes from trusted pastry chefs and following along to YouTube videos. I, ladies and gentlemen, have decided on which recipe I have found to be the go-to of French Macaron recipes. I am basing this on ease of method and technique, taste and texture. The actual method can be very, very tricky especially for you French Macaron virgins. Folks – I give you, an adaptation of my favorite recipe from Martha Stewart. Links will be posted at the bottom of this post. Get ready ’cause this is going to be a loveship/hateship. I am about to post as many pieces of advice as possible next to the ingredients and steps.
1 cup powdered sugar – Brand is irrelevant but I prefer Domino.
3/4 cup almond flour – Bob’s Red Mill Almond meal/flour is the way to go for this. TRUST. This can be found in almost any grocery store, even Wal-Mart carries it. Do you like to make your own almond flour? That’s cool. Be sure you research your how-to’s prior to attempting this recipe.
1/4 cup superfine sugar – Brand irrelevant; most recipes call for super fine which I haven’t gone out of my way to find; instead, I use regular granulated sugar and it works just as well.
2 egg whites, room temperature (aging optional) – Aged means the longer it sits out, the better it’ll whip up because food-science and more food-science. >>Cue Alton Brown lesson here<<
1 tsp almond extract (or your choice of extract) – I love almond extract and I like it strong so you can definitely reduce the amount by a quarter if it’s a little too strong for your taste. Some extracts are tinted so keep that in mind if you’re not going to use food coloring; that may distort your desired effect and shade of “eggshell” or “ecru” (see baked example above).
Pinch of cream of tartar – Again, science. Cream of tartar aids the protein molecules of the egg whites to bond excessively and coagulate. :: Jessie Katsopolis voice :: Just use it, hah?!
Food coloring gel – Depending on your desired shade, use a few drops and adjust from there, you will have time to add more during the folding process. The shade will deepen slightly when baking so just keep that in mind. I use a toothpick when adding the coloring.
Stand mixer with the whisk attachment ~or~ Handmixer – which is what I have because, let’s face it, I can’t afford those gorgeous Cuisine Art stand mixers. Most recipes I have read through and have tried almost always call for a stand mixer. It works just the same.
Mini food processor/chopper – this is completely optional but it helps when pulsing the almond flour and powdered sugar together and also to chop up any bigger bits of almond.
Sieve – this is recommended if you do not have the processor/chopper. The recipes I have come across call for sifting the sugar and flour through the sieve to loosen it, get some air between it, and catch the bigger almond bits. When I used this method, I found that I had to use my rubber spatula to push the sugar and flour through it. I don’t find this to be a necessary technique and I will explain why in step 4 of the “Method” section.
Rubber spatula – this is a necessity. If you don’t have one, go to Target or Wal-Mart and buy one. They’re inexpensive and essential.
Medium/Large Glass bowl – I like using Pyrex large glass bowl when I’m whipping the egg whites and mixing the batter. The steel bowl is just too noises and it scratches which makes me nervous. If you’re using a plastic bowl, that makes me even more nervous. But – to each their own. I’m not judging.
Little random bowls/cups – I use these to hold ingredients I’ve measured out.
Pastry bags – I use the large ones but whatever you choose is fine.
Round piping tip – 1/2″ plain round.
2 Baking sheets – Use that trusted baking sheet that never fails you. FYI – The darker the sheet, the more the heat it will attract.
Parchment paper – Or, if you’re fancy (like I am), use a silicone baking mat. For you French macaron virgins, I highly suggest you try parchment paper first so you can see the undersides of your cookies when checking for doneness.
- Super important – Please prep! Get everything measured out and ready to go because there isn’t really room to stop and start again. You’ll be busy multitasking during the method portion so this is not optional. Your ingredients need to be measured and ready within reach so you are able to just pour then proceed.
- Humidity. Oh, yes… humidity plays a major role in whether your cookies will be successful. Be sure you have a ceiling fan going or have a cool humidity-free area to place your raw cookies. I will go over this in step 8.
- I use a tall glass or cup and put my pastry bag in it with the piping tip attached and facing up so when I transfer the batter into the bag, it doesn’t leak through the piping tip. Set aside.
- Place baking sheets on top of each other. Line the top baking sheet with your silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside.
- If you are going to use sprinkles or edible decorations, get those ready too.
1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Some recipes call for the convection setting but it’s not essential. I have used the convection setting on my awesome oven before and I find that bakes just as well without convection. **Note: as with all other baking recipes – adjust temperature as needed. My oven tends to run hot so I found my sweet spot at 280°F.
2. Pulse powdered sugar and almond flour together for about a minute or so until thoroughly combined. Set aside. **Note: do not pulse too long or you will end up with almond butter. If you do not have a processor, sift already measured almond flour and powdered sugar together. This can be just a bit time-consuming. You will be left with some almond bits and you can discard. Sifting is used to catch the really big bits of almond and the hard pieces of compressed powdered sugar. You want your macarons to have a smooth end result. If you do not use the processor or sieve, it will look bumpy and grainy as shown in the pictures above (blue macs w/blue plate).
3. Using your stand mixer or handmixer, begin whisking egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Add in cream of tartar and continue until soft peaks form – ripples will begin to appear from the mixer. Add in sugar until combined then switch mixer to high-speed until stiff peaks form.
4. If you’ve gone the sieve route, here is where you’ll want to sift the almond flour and powdered sugar together on top of the stiffened egg whites. From the food processor, grab the pulsed flour mixture and gently shake on top of stiffened egg whites. Add in extract and coloring (if using).
5. With your rubber spatula, begin folding egg whites into flour mixture. You will fold about 50 times. The time we just spent in achieving stiff peaks is basically irrelevant now because we’re taking most of the air bubbles out in the folding process. I have read in recipes that your batter is ready when it shiny and resembles “lava” -_- The easiest way for me to explain the “lava result” is to grab some batter with your spatula and let it fall back into the bowl. It should look like a flowing, continuous ribbon that disappears into itself after 5 seconds.
6. Pour batter from bowl into pastry bag (this is why I have it propped into the glass/cup). Grab your doubled baking sheets. If your parchment paper keeps rolling up on itself, grab a thick amount of batter with your fingertip and dab underneath of each of the four corners of the parchment paper – this will act like a paste from the paper to the baking sheet. Now, let’s pipe!
7. Pipe a 1″ circle (or more if you want them bigger) on the paper/silicone mat making sure to leave a gap in between each cookie. They will spread out slightly so ensure you judge spacing appropriately. You will pipe with the tip straight down squeezing with light and consistent pressure. Then let go with your piping hand and quickly pull up. You will see a little bit of a peak but it should disappear back into itself (ah, yes, see step 5 above). Twist the top of the bag to tighten it then begin piping again. Also, make sure to pipe an extra cookie which we will use as a “test cookie” when checking for doneness.
In the above example, I used a variety of decorations and sprinkles. If you choose to do the same, place sprinkles and/or decorations immediately after piping so they will stick to the wet batter. Also, make sure you only use a few of the candied sprinkles as we do not want to interrupt the baking process with the sprinkle’s weight. I also used edible stars and hearts made by Wilton that are paper-thin; I used those all over the cookies for a really gorgeous effect.
8. Once you’ve finished piping, tap the baking sheet on your counter twice. Then turn baking sheet around and tap twice again. This helps bring some air bubbles to the surface and pop. If this step is not done, your cookies will look like there are huge lumps underneath.
9. Place your raw cookies in a humidity free area for about 10 minutes. You will gently press on a cookie and if batter sticks to your fingertip, it’s definitely not ready. It will be ready when it feels dry to the touch… and that’s it – no more, no less. Do not let it sit out or dry longer than that. Remember that humidity thing we covered under “prep” section? (For those that chose to skip that section, time to scroll back up and read). This process allows for the cookies to form a shield and this can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on your indoor conditions.
1. Place cookies in preheated oven and bake for 8 – 15 minutes. Remember to double up on the baking sheets which is to ensure they do not burn from the bottom. Bake until cookies have risen. When you apply slight pressure on the tops, they shouldn’t jiggle/move around.
2. Check for doneness with our test cookie. Regardless of the parchment paper/silicone baking mat route, try to peel the paper or mat from one of the undersides of the cookies. If it’s still a little sticky, let bake for a couple more minutes. If it peels off cleanly, they are pretty much ready to take out of the oven.
2. Leave cookies to rest on its baking sheet after you’ve taken them out of the oven. Let rest for 2 minutes until cool enough to handle. Transfer onto wire rack until cooled completely.
The Murphy’s Law of French Macarons – Anything That Can Happen, Will Happen
Here are some problems you may encounter – not all at once, hopefully:
- Will they collapse just when you think they’re looking like award winning cookies? YES.
- Will they crack and split when baking? YES.
- Will they look absolutely gorgeous but turn out to be burnt at the bottom? YES.
- Will you accidentally nudge one causing them to collapse or crack? YES.
- Will the cookie detach from the shells? YES.
- Will they look absolutely perfect but upon getting them off the paper/mat, you find they weren’t really done therefore the bottoms stick? Oh, YEP.
- Will its signature feet look beautiful in the oven but when taking them out to rest, you come back to find it’s collapsed and ruffled? YES.. but that isn’t too much of a big deal, actually. It’s just personal at that point.
The taste and texture of these cookies are so addicting. But for those of us that are in love with baking, the baking process is the addiction itself. Keep your chin up! You will get it right!
Most importantly – HAVE FUN! Like I stated above, baking macarons is just like owning a cat.
Be careful with which fillings you choose and most importantly WHEN you add them in. Most fillings will cause soggy cookies and we do not want to lose the light and subtle crisp which makes these cookies very unique. The most recommended time to add your fillings are as close to packing/serving as possible.
Jams – there’s a huge variety that can compliment the choosen flavor of your macarons. I personally love seedless raspberry, blueberry and cherry.
View my favorite Chocolate Buttercream recipe
Blueberry cheesecake – a quick simple filling: 8oz plain cream cheese and blueberry jam mixed until combined.
Chocolate ganache – here is one of the better recipes I’ve used. One thing to keep in mind is if the ganache will be used as a filling or a glaze; keep an eye out for what you have in mind.
Honey & Mascarpone – equal parts mixed until combined. Adjust more honey or mascarpone to taste. I like a strong honey flavor so I tend to add more honey. In my honest opinion this subtle flavor combination and filling works very well against the taste and texture of macarons. It’s my ALL-TIME favorite.
Packaging and serving:
When serving to guests, I often use mini-cupcake liners so they sit securely on its side. They are very fragile and delicate so if they do happen to fall, the shells will crack. These liners come in a variety of colors, designs and patterns that will fit any occasion.
If I am delivering to a customer, I use a cookie box and line with decorative wax paper. I like to use different ribbons to tie around the boxes for an added personal touch. There is an endless amount of ways to decorate for your guests/customers. The creativity can be found anywhere online or I often find inspiration walking around in my local hobby store.
Browse for Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal (flour)
Martha’s recipe from which I adapted my recipe
Browse for some of the most amazing inspiration on Wilton Online
Food styling and photography by Alissa Odedra – please leave a comment or message for contact details.
Just very briefly wanted to write an entry about WordPress and the very favorite thing I love about it. Here it is:
I love that as a premium member, the stats supplied are insanely detailed and in depth. I am allowed to view who exactly viewed my blog, from which route they were directed (whether a google search, from Facebook, from another blog, etc…). I also get to see how many times per day, week, month, and year that individual viewed it. It’s really great information especially when trying to ensure that my blog has some traffic and which avenue I need to focus on directly. I take screen shots and document my statistics accordingly.
p.s. That incognition tab isn’t exactly what we thought it was…
I feel a bit stuck on what I should be writing. At the beginning of this, I had lots of ideas I should’ve written down but thought, “naaahh, how could I not remember these wonderful ideas”?! Writing mistake #1. I am, however, writing a couple of recipes that I have been dying to share with everyone. That will be coming by the beginning of next week! Anyhow, I’m off to bed now. Good night!
Side note: I just want something bigger in life. I want success that is bigger than me … bigger than Texas. I want to see the world and everything and everyone in it. I want to take my family and dog with me where ever I go and be comfortable and stable.
During my family’s ritual Saturday barbecues, the meal just wasn’t complete without my aunt Norma’s Mexican rice and my aunt Debbie’s borracho beans. I will definitely write a post on Debbie’s beans but first thing is first: the rice. This delicious and simple rice. If we showed up and the rice wasn’t made, my sister and I marched over to her demanding that she make it. She complied for years but only until recently when she said, “Okay girls, it’s time you learned and it’s time to pass on the recipe”. She thought she sounded pious and passing on the staff of wisdom but it was really along the lines of you-want-it-you-make-it scenario. Anyhow, here it is:
The amount of rice is up to you. With that said, the rice-to-water ratio is going to be up to you and you’re going to have to eyeball it. General rule of thumb with raw white long grain rice is for every 1 cup of rice, add 2 cups water. I hate to eyeball recipes but that’s the best I can offer right now.
- White long grain rice (washed)
- water – enough to cover 1/2″ above rice… maybe a bit more
- 1 can of Hunt’s Roasted Garlic tomato sauce
- 2 chicken bouillon cubes (or: 2 tbsps of the loose powdered bouillon)
- Olive Oil
1. Heat olive oil in hot pan. Add rice and stir to combine rice with olive oil.
2. Toast rice until some grains are toasted and aromatic with that amazing, toasty, nutty, smokiness. Be careful not to go into the dark toasted brown territory; there’s no going back and you’ll end up with mushy rice.
3. Pour water in (please stand back as water will react to hot pan) and tomato sauce. Crumble in bouillon cubes around rice in pan.
4. Do not stir!
5. Cover then let simmer over medium until rice is tender. If you find the rice is still a little al-dente, gently push rice from sides into the center of pan and let simmer an additional 5 minutes.
6. Remove from heat, serve hot and enjoy!
*if you choose to stir around the rice while it is simmering, it will mush up. It’s not the end-all-be-all but if you’re choosing to surround yourself with judgemental people, then you may want to take this into consideration. Mushy rice – quite the scandal.
*all grains of the rice will not turn brown when in the toasting process… and that’s okay 🙂 each grain of rice is beautiful, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Crafting – to some it can be daunting with visions of painted elbow macaroni bonded with Elmer’s School Glue onto construction paper, slapped onto the refrigerator for all to see. To others, like me, it is embraced with wide open arms. It means opening up a world of creativity whether for yourself or for others; a chance for inspiration, creating, replicating, and gift giving. If your product is good enough coupled with style and just the right amount of uniqueness, it means making a little cash on the side. Now, aside from how lucrative anyone’s crafting is, it’s about doing something that you enjoy, something that you wake up and look forward to doing. Not many people can say that about their jobs nowadays. I’ve only met a few people in my life that can actually say they enjoy what they do. Me? No, not yet. Believe me, I’m working on it though. I love crafting, designing, I love to write, I love painting and sketching; I love being creative and love the idea of an end result product that has come from my own hands. Crafting can be done in a mass variety of ways – fabrics, clay, wreaths, paintings, digital art, refurbishing from old to new; the possibilities are endless. Thanks to the internet, crafting has just exploded on craft specific websites such as Etsy and Pintrest. A crafter’s audience is now limitless.
Here is someone I know personally. I have known her for quite some time; it must be about 7 or 8 years or so? I’m not even sure; my entire 20s are a complete blur to be honest.
Her name is Patricia Moreno and she is the girl behind The Pixelette – an increasingly popular Etsy shop where you can order custom cake toppers, stationary and illustrations made entirely by her. It’s digital artistry where elegant meets modern then shakes hands with personal touch. She has been featured in Buzzfeed and Mom.me which is a phenomenal achievement since there are thousands upon thousands of talented artists and crafters. I had a chance to ask her some questions that I thought would prove beneficial for those just starting out sprinkled with little gems of wisdom coming from someone that has been in this game for a little longer than others. Take a minute to read through her responses and if you’re interested in getting into something along these lines, this is the article you need to read and soak it in because this is coming from a pro. Plus, she’s just an absolute cutie inside and out! LOVE this girl!
Tell me about how you got into your line of work?
Well, I used to sell vintage through Etsy, but I would always follow these real artistic sellers. I really wanted a shop of my own where I could get crafty as well. So I opened up The Pixelette. I put up some zombie cupcake toppers and some cards I made for my wedding. A customer wrote to me and asked me if I could draw her and her husband as zombie fighters for their wedding, so that was the first one I made. From then on it was mostly collaborations between me and the brides.
What is most rewarding about this; what makes it all worthwhile?
The most rewarding part for me is when I get a customer who loved their topper or drawing. Even when I get a message telling me they love my work and describe what they see in it. It blows my mind that people actually like it.
Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
Probably my stats for this year. I had doubled my orders, revenue, views, by the middle of the year compared to last year. I was so excited and I hope it continues.
Who do you consider most influential to you?
Emily Martin of the Black Apple on Etsy. She was/is my inspiration because I saw her shop back in 2008 and it was just her drawings then. I would read her blog and she had goals of being an illustrator and she has accomplished her goals, even been on Martha Stewart and she did it all through Etsy.
What was it like seeing your creations featured in Buzzfeed and in the article “Our 50 Favorite Etsy Moms” by Mom.me?
I was so excited about the 50 favorite Etsy moms feature. It came at a perfect time too, it was the busiest my shop had ever gotten and I was stressed out by also being a stay at home mom, so it just gave me that little reassurance in myself. And Buzzfeed, I kept seeing traffic sources from Buzzfeed and when I searched it on my own, I was really happy, and actually relieved it wasn’t on a “fails” or “regretsy” types of list!
What is the most valuable piece of advice you can offer to someone wanting to start an Etsy shop?
I would say make goals, like by Friday I am going to add so many products, try to get so many views and have so many sales by the end of the month. Etsy provides you with stats so you can actively try to reach your goals. And plan ahead. Once you do a year on Etsy you can see which months are going to be good and what you can do for those slow months. It’s helpful to setting goals.
In addition to digital art, what else interests you? What hobbies catch your attention?
I love to bake. I used to love to decorate and try baking different things. But now because of Etsy and the one year old, my baking has been cut to sugar cookies…which is ok for now.
You have two beautiful children – a daughter, 11 months and a son, 3 years, how are you able to manage and maintain a healthy work/life balance?
Lots of help! My husband helps on the weekends and my mom helps when she can. She will even cut for me if I need a break from the work. My husband will make me leave the house to go to the park or to go thrifting, because if it were up to me, I’d probably stay locked in my room all day working on orders. I’ll try to include my son when my daughter naps. I’ll set him up next to me with paper and crayons.
Favorite weekend activity (whether alone or with your family)?
We do the same thing every weekend, we lounge around in our pjs and watch Netflix, then we’ll get dressed go thrifting, then back home for more Netflix. It’s pretty simple but fun.
What’s your favorite funny story about yourself?
Recently, we went to Sea World and my husband I got on water rollercoaster. I immediately regretted doing that on the way up to the big drop. When we went down, I grabbed the little 12 year old girl next to me instead of my husband to the right of me. When we got off the ride I knew what I had done and my husband reminded me to go and see the photos. I was so humiliated because sure enough I’m grabbing onto this poor girl and it’s documented in a photo somewhere!
What was your favorite toy (or game) as a child, and why?
I’d have to say my Nintendo. I got one right when it came out and even though all of these other game systems would come out I would still play it. When I moved out of my mom’s, I found it and had it hooked up to my TV again! It never really went away!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to draw, like be an illustrator, fashion designer (when I was really little), graphic artist. I was always wanting to do something in that field.
If you could do anything now, what would you do? Why?
Probably go back to school and finish my degree. I’m so close and I would get my Bachelors in Art so that I could learn new skills and maybe actually become a graphic artist.
There you have it, folks. She’s so very down to earth and just an all-around cool lady. Links to her shop and articles have been included here in this post. If you have a wedding coming up and looking for a personal touch, visit her Etsy shop and browse! Everything she’s featured in her shop is so visually pleasing to the eye. Her creations are just amazing and cute and inspiring. I’m actually thinking of remarrying my husband all over again *just* to have these cake toppers and invitations made by her. Thank you for reading, cheers!
Ladies and gentlemen – I, of course, like many, have occasionally suffered through what feels like hours of torturous involuntary body jerking, feeling exhausted, thinking and saying out loud “oh my God, I just want this to stop” and “will this ever go away”, all this otherwise known as the dreaded hiccups.
I’m not going to make you read through this entire article by building up suspense on what the cure is. I don’t even know if this method is online anywhere, I don’t think it is. I can just open up a new tab and Google it but I assume it isn’t online because I think word would’ve spread rapidly through the masses. I don’t know if it this just works on a few certain people or not. But here it is: the cure for hiccups is one, big, fat tablespoon of honey. Yes, you read correctly, it’s H-O-N-E-Y. Honey – pure and simple.
On two separate occasions, I have managed to cure the hiccups on two different people.
First occasion – my lovely, handsome and gorgeous (he’s gorgeous inside and out) husband. When he drinks beer, hiccups ensue. Regardless of the method in which the hiccups develop, there they are. Relentless, torturous, and unpleasant. He rolls around in discomfort (as men do) wishing for them to disappear. Poor guy. So, judging from what I do know about said annoyance – it was explained to me in a random conversation during my Honors Literature class in high school. A disruption or irritation in the diaphragm occurs causing the gasp for air. The reasons for the disruption are eating too fast, nervousness, excitement, ect… One of the common known remedies in controlling and/or possibly ceasing the hiccups is holding your breath. There is a strategic manner is which you are to hold your breath by envisioning your diaphragm, taking in as much air as possible and “holding it down” while engaging your abdomen. One or two hiccups should pass while holding your breath this way and that should take care of it and put it to bed. If not, just repeat until gone. This was a rather difficult concept for him to grasp for some strange reason given how intelligent my husband is, but, nevertheless, it didn’t work for him the countless number of times he’s been coached through the “hold your breath” method. About a month ago, the hiccups reared its ugly face yet again and because of the irritation in the throat or stomach that triggers the diaphragm disruption, I thought to myself, a nice thick coating of honey should help that out. After the unnecessary debate, he finally gave in, lo and behold… they were gone almost instantly. I don’t know if it truly is the coating of the honey or the anticipation of the taste of the honey (he just does not like the taste) or even maybe him holding his breath while he placed the spoon in his mouth and swallowed it in a certain way – who knows. Point is, it worked.
The second occasion was the same basic concept but from eating a lunch too quickly. Hiccups gone almost instantly. I will not bore you, nor myself, with that story.
I hope that anyone reading this finds relief and some help in this. I hope it wasn’t a stroke of luck. If anyone happens to read this and it does or does not work, please leave a comment with your experience and whether it worked or not. I’m very curious to know!
Thanks for reading! Cheers!
This was a very memorable life lesson and the method in which it was communicated to me was perfect. It was taught with patience, understanding, the right amount of urgency, and above all else – kindness and respect. This was a lesson taught to me by my grandfather about nature and that it should always be respected. Whether he knows this or not, it was one of the five greatest lessons I have learned in my life thus far. I love him so much for that – among the many other reasons that make a grandfather a really great one.
In 1984, I was 5 years old. I developed a strong, close bond with my grandparents. So strong, in fact, that I did not and could not go a day without them and their company. I began staying the night at their house and I cannot remember if it was only during the weekends or on weekdays as well. Nevertheless, this particular memory took place on a Saturday morning. I know this for a fact since my grandfather got up early every Saturday to do the yard work for our ritual Saturday barbecues. Till this day, I cannot understand why people here (in San Antonio, at least) barbecue on Sundays. I associate all barbecues with lots of beer and margaritas and a gathering of family and friends. If the same holds true for those that choose to barbecue on a Sunday, assuming people drink more than 2 alcoholic beverages, do they not wake up hung over on Monday morning with instantaneous regret; therefore, ruining what could possibly become a pleasant work day? I dunno, it’s something I’ve never understood. In any case, the smell of barbecue wafting into my open windows on any day is welcomed with open arms… and windows, in my case. I’m sure it’s nothing more than a husband/dad type simply barbecuing to provide a hot meal for his family.
All right! Back to my grandparents…
I finished my bowl of Frosted Flakes while Looney Tunes animated the living room. There were only two kinds of cereal in that kitchen – Frosted Flakes and Corn Flakes and I never chose the latter. It was spring when the air is still cool but the warm, bright sun provided unforgettable balance. My grandfather had just finished mowing the lawn and he was kneeling down transferring grass clippings into the aluminum dented silver trash cans. Not plastic trash bins but actual trash cans. Those were the days, huh? His Saturday apparel consisted of jeans, a white t-shirt with a left-side pocket carrying his Marlboro Lights Soft-pack and a fishing hat. He still has lots of those hats in an assortment of colors and I absolutely love that he wears them even in present day. As I made my way onto the freshly cut grass, we said good morning to each other. I noticed Grandpa had an arsenal of lawn tools strewn about the yard – a long tree pruner, a few axes, a rake, shovel and the gas + oil mix edger. He kept that yard so manicured and it was gorgeous. Perfectly pruned and sculpted trees swayed in the sky above my head accompanied by plush, green St. Augustine grass from fence to fence. Of all those tools, my eye darted to the axe. I had always wanted to get my little hands on one and swing it into a tree or something – anything! I was so curious to see what the fuss was all about. At that point in my life, there were two things – good and bad. An axe was obviously bad and could do some serious damage both to its purpose and as a weapon. I remember picking it up and surprised at its weight. I aimed for the trunk and as much as my little wimpy muscles would allow, I swung. The axe (versus my strength or lack thereof) chipped off the bark revealing green skin. I peered in closer trying to understand and make sense of what I had uncovered. I felt the axe being removed from my loose grip. In his voice I detected worry sprinkled with a little bit of fear of what would’ve happened. He proceeded to tell me, “No no no, Lisa. You have to be careful with this. This axe here can hurt you. Do you see what happened,” he pointed at the green skin, “you hurt the tree with the axe. You hurt its feelings.” I stood there confused. I never thought of trees having feelings or a heart or lungs or even a personality. Feelings? Inside a tree?! I felt really sad that I did that to a living thing. My grandfather proceeded to tell me that in addition to trees and plants having feelings, they take care of us. They feed our lungs and make the world, the parks and our backyard pretty to look at. He stated that as long as I take care of the plants and trees, they will take care of me. He, of course, put the tools back into his tool shed and I went on to bounce around the yard with my conscience newly alert.
The biggest part of this lesson is how he communicated with me. I was a child that grabbed and held an axe. He did not yell at me which I was very used to from my mother and father. I can understand why an adult would yell at a child with an axe because of the what-ifs and the severity of injuries that could potentially occur; the panic a parent experiences when they see their little baby hold something so destructive. But that was not the case… not even close. I didn’t have a scratch on me and my grandfather did not yell at me. He never did. Even at 5 years old, he respected me in the sense that I didn’t know any better and he did not make me feel like a stupid kid. That is what stands out to me. I respect him so much because of this and many other instances but this is the first time I understood him and listened to his words without being yelled at and forced. I know I keep reiterating respect and how he didn’t yell at me. You would have to understand my upbringing by my father and mother. They just yelled at me so much. My father forced me to respect him by yelling partnered with a furrowed brow and gritted teeth. I thought this was absolute normalcy. My mother was a toned down version of this but she did yell at me, not the situation – at me. I felt like a huge burden and like I was in the way all the time. That’s another post for the future, I suppose.
I know my grandfather will never read this and that’s okay. During that time, he was about 45 years old making him 75 as of today. He will be turning 76 in 22 days. Any probability of him navigating through the interwebs to my little blog (let alone touching a keyboard) is highly unfavorable. Maybe it will be read aloud to him someday; who knows. I will always carry this memory and the feeling of mutual respect for him, from him and toward nature until I die. I can’t even pull off a blade of grass or pull a leaf off a tree without feeling this weird, subconscious nagging sense that I did something wrong immediately followed by guilt. Like I pulled off a part of their body… like a hair or something.