One does not simply pretend Operation Recipe Swap never happened

I’m turning 40 in less than a month.

One of the things I’ve noticed people my age like to do is make statements about who we are. How we’re this type of person and not that type. I think it’s so that we only do the things we want to and don’t get roped into (any more) the things we don’t want to do. It’s a right at this age. And I’m trying it on for size here in this post.

So let me tell you that I am a starter.

I start things. I like to use words like “envision,” “imagine,” and “what if.” I’ve started businesses and ministry and small groups and book clubs and like 10 different blogs. I start things because I have ideas. And how will these idea come to life without starting something with them?

Sometimes being a starter can look like being a quitter because you may have to leave one or some things behind to start other things. I’ve been feeling this way, certainly in the past few months, since Operation Recipe Swap has come to a premature end, whether I publicly admitted it or not. I’ve had to make time-purges when I started a full-time job in the summer. There’s just no extra time to learn to cook, never mind blog about it.

But truth be told, I think I quit before I started my new job and it was just handy to have a great excuse.

I’d had a brilliant lesson in the spring with my friend Chelsea, who had shown me how to cook the world’s best steak and demystified mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus. I sat on her recipes for a while, attempting to write about our lovely rainy afternoon together. But I was stuck on this point: I don’t want to do this any more.

My feelings were linked to an experience that happened at Easter, a week or so before my lesson with Chelsea, which had the effect of rapidly deflating my will to continue.


Let me explain. I’d come up against some friction with John-Mark in the early stages of Operation Recipe Swap, but for the most part he was really great at saying, yes, carry out your cute little experiment in my kitchen. He gave me permission to go play. So I did.

From time to time I’d check in with him.  “Are you OK with my reorganizing the spice drawer?”  “Do you mind that I made this our ‘baking cupboard?'” His “encouragement” took on an if-you-must quality to it.

But there came a boiling point for our culinary friction. It happened over the preparation of Easter dinner.

J-M and my mom have the cutest tradition of making the family holiday meals together when we host everyone at our house. But this time I volunteered to make the meal. I’d put what I learned from the previous six month to the test. I would cook for my family. I’d do the roast beef and potatoes I’d made on my birthday with all the fixin’s, gravy just like Deb makes, and even tapis a la Tanya! I would make enough to serve 19 of us. It was going to be FABULOUS. I laid out the ingredients the night before.

The next morning, I woke up to find J-M putting the roast in the oven, seasoned and all (and not with the spices I’d chosen). “I thought it would be a help to you,” he answered my expression of shock.

This is what I heard.

Gordon-Ramsay-Angry-Kitchen-YOUR-COOKING-IS-BAD Before we psycho-analyze how I deal with (perceived) criticism. I figured out I was over-reacting internally before anyone else did, thankyouverymuch.

I know that some of you ladies reading this blog have zero sympathy right now. That a husband who cooks meals for you – especially Easter dinner – is a dream come true, right?


That’s the clincher! I wanted to be offended. In the spirit of Operation Recipe Swap, I wanted to be incensed! But I was RELIEVED. It is a dream for one’s husband to cook every meal.

That’s when I had to take a good hard look at the fact that I might be forcing myself to continue this experiment. For what, fodder for the blog? Bad idea if so, because this gets old pretty quick.

41inu Did I truly want to stir the pot and make changes to a system that has been working perfectly well in our home? I had to go back to the impetus for starting this experiment.

I DID want/need to learn to cook – I was missing out on a life skill – and I wanted to learn more it from my friends who delight in it – the best way for it to sink in, I’d hoped. I thought my discovery might be a discovery for us all.

Six months of lessons meant that I, indeed, learned the survival skill! I can safely say that I could keep myself and my family alive. If I needed to.


  • Beyond boiling, I know almost all the ways to cook an egg
  • I can mash and roast potatoes
  • I no longer feel squeamish around raw meat
  • Cutting onions make you cry, there’s no way around it
  • I can make lumpless gravy
  • get the deal with the baking at Christmas
  • My daughter asked me just today if I would make beef barley stew again and I said yes.

I can’t unlearn these things.

Being in my friends’ kitchens was the best part. I loved learning about their philosophies about cooking or baking and seeing simple ingredients come to life in mouth-watering dishes. Their creativity opened up my eyes to a whole new world. I was fascinated by how every kitchen is different, what with tupperware cupboards, spice drawers, pots and pans “solutions,” junk drawers… This I will miss. But then again it doesn’t have to be a project to exchange recipes or take an interest in how someone makes a to-die-for pie (which Trish Taylor taught me and I’m hoping to bake for Thanksgiving!). I can participate in an idea without starting a campaign, imagine that.

I have obtained enough vocab and know-how to join the cooking community and ACTUALLY swap recipes! That in and of itself is huge and I’m owning it, OK? 

So thank you friends who taught and those who offered to teach. I love you for trying. I love you for being vulnerable by opening your cupboards and drawers and (sometimes) letting me cook in your kitchens. I love you for letting me record our conversations. And you must love me too because I am now sitting on potential blackmail material from some of you. (It’s amazing the secrets that are told in kitchens!)

So I will let you know that I’m not a cook, but I can cook. I’m not a baker, but I can bake. I’m really a starter, and I’ll start by giving J-M his kitchen back.Funny Family Ecard: Why yes, I've discovered the JOY of cooking. It's when my husband does it. P.S. J-M posted this on my Facebook wall recently. I think it’s a not-so-subtle message that he’s on board with the new plan.

Gender Rolls

P.P.S. The Operation Recipe Swap Group continues on Facebook. I chime in from time to time with some good stuff, no kidding!

Turning the Tables – Guest Post by Debbie Jensen

I was thrilled when my friend Deb (who, you will remember, taught me how to make “the fixins” for a Christmas meal) offered to write a guest post for Operation: Recipe Swap. But wait, it’s about having me as a cooking student! The kitchen table has been turned… 

DebbieSo, you have been reading Lori’s blogs about her adventures in cooking.  I would like to speak for those of us who have had the experience of actually having this lovely woman in our homes.  OK, so I can only give you my experience, but maybe some of the other teachers can relate. Continue reading

Bite-sized wisdom – Part IV

We covered so much in this lesson, there are so many parts, I’ve had to brush up on my Roman numerals. Any more and I’d be forced to break out the Roman Numeral Converter.

Appetizers are a food meant for celebration. They are built for fun. They come bite-sized so you don’t have to think about calories or portions, should you or shouldn’t you, you just think about that taste sensation that enters you mouth and makes you smile. Yes, appie rhymes with happy.

Tanya makes appetizers most often for date nights with her husband, Chris. It’s a lighter late-night fare, when you get the kids fed and put to bed, you don’t want a whole heavy dinner, so appetizers are perfect. And you can feed them to each other. She didn’t say that part, but it’s true. Continue reading

The Matter of the Heart – Guest Post

Today, I’m handing over the blog to someone very special, Joy McEwen. Joy and I share a few things in common: we’re both believers, moms, pastor’s wives and bloggers. And then there are those things that are quite different. Joy lives a rural life as a stay-at-home mom who is incredibly gifted in all things domestic. She has a life of contemplative, artful devotion that often evades me. Though younger than me, Joy is who I want to be when I grow up.

I asked her to share her experience in learning to cook. She has a deeply spiritual and compelling response. Read on.

It seems to me that there are so many things in this world to divide our hearts.  Each of us inhabits the fullness of our life experiences, genetics, and personality and each one of these leaves its inevitable mark on the way we see things – politically, spiritually, culturally, and otherwise.

Yet whether it’s at a church potluck, a business lunch with colleagues, a Starbucks date with dear friends, a big old family dinner, or awkward small talk at a table with perfect strangers at a wedding feast, food has the power to bring us together.  There is just something in the breaking of bread at a shared table that levels us to our most basic common experience- our tangible need for sustenance meets the immortal, invisible hand of grace that lays before us the manna of heaven, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

I love that so much of Jesus work was done with a loaf in one hand and a cup of drink in the other.  In his short time amongst us, he made wine for a formal celebration; he multiplied fish amongst baskets for a hillside picnic; he sat amongst his friends in an Upper Room and passed the plates and talked of an everlasting meal.  His life was the embodiment of provision and constant invitation.  Come.

Joy Cake

Whenever I am in the kitchen baking or cooking, my two year old pulls up a chair and peeks her face over the counter edge alongside me and asks, “what are you doing mama?”  I know now that she is not looking for a synopsis of the situation.  She doesn’t want to know that I am baking a cake or boiling potatoes, but rather she wants to understand the process.  She wants to know that I am creaming butter and sugar, or salting the water.  Even at this age she wants to understand the pieces and how they fit together.

I don’t remember being that kind of child.  My grandmother and my mother are both wonderful cooks and bakers in their own right.  My Nana canned peaches and made strawberry jam that said everything about her love and life and faith, all bottled up in a mason jar.  But I don’t remember sitting under foot and studying their every operation.

As I came to fall in love in with the culinary arts in my early twenties, it seemed to be something that perhaps I had picked up by osmosis all those nights when I came home from high school and dropped my backpack and told my mom all about the boys I had crushes on and why while she stood over the cast iron skillet and fried pork chops.

Joy Muffins

It seemed to be a passion that was lying dormant in my very bones until just the right moment.  I had reached a point in my life where the creativity that flowed in my veins just needed a way out.  I didn’t understand that I was an artist with an artist’s heart, just like my grandfather who painted milk cans and flower pots and took the very plain vessels of life and gave them colours and textures and stories.  I didn’t understand that artists could use things other than horsehair brushes, charcoals, and many hued pencils to tell his story and sing his songs.

Sometimes it occurs to me that God didn’t have to make food beautiful.  He didn’t have to make early summer strawberries gleaming red as radiant rubies.  He didn’t have to make the seeds of a kiwifruit seem like a million black fireworks bursting against a bright green sky.  It would have been enough that it filled our stomachs and kept our bodies in motion.  It could have been tasteless and colourless gruel with no smells of invitation.  It could have been nothing enticing, but instead it is everything that draws us in- towards each other, towards our truest selves, towards Him if we have the eyes to see.


Some of us can lay a feast worthy of the giants of the foodie world (not me, certainly).  Some of us can call ourselves adequate home cooks.  Some of us call ourselves beginners and we are daring ourselves to learn each and every day.  Some of us will bake from scratch, and some of us will serve a cake out of a box.  Some of us will flour our counters and incidentally our floors and bake our own bread and some of us will go to the bakery and buy a fresh loaf.  In all of this, there is a degree of same difference.  In all of this, there is the matter of the heart.

Even as a competent baker and cake decorator and home cook, I have to admit that the biggest challenge in culinary preparation is a matter of casting down my pride – that at the end of the day it’s not about the degree of homespun-ness but of hospitality.  It’s not the question of whether my table could be shared with Martha, or Nigella, or Bobby Flay.  It’s the question of whether my table is shared with my neighbour, my testiest congregants, the difficult sorts, as well as my friends, my family, and ultimately my God.  Do I have the grace and strength to serve?  Do I have the humility to be served?


Follow Joy on her blog, My Country Manse, or on Facebook.

Bite-sized Wisdom – Part III

To know Tanya is to love Tanya.

Tanya has that wonderful luminescent quality of brightening every space she enters. The mood changes for the better when Tanya walks into a room. Everyone wants to be around her; everyone wants to catch some of her vivacity for themselves.

I believe she has this effect because she genuinely loves people. And she often employs this quality by hosting fabulous parties and get-togethers. I have been the beneficiary of her hospitality many times and it’s always the best time. Whether it’s one of her famous Christmas dinner parties or an informal games night, you always leave Tanya’s home feeling merry. Part of it is that no matter what the occasion, Tanya has a casual way about her that puts you at ease. She loves to celebrate and that, invariably, requires the components of food and friendship. Continue reading

Bite-sized wisdom – Part II

Foodie: A person that spends a keen amount of attention and energy on knowing the ingredients of food, the proper preparation of food, and finds great enjoyment in top-notch ingredients and exemplary preparation. A foodie is not necessarily a food snob, only enjoying delicacies and/or food items difficult to obtain and/or expensive foods; though, that is a variety of foodie. (Urban Dictionary’s word of the day on March 28, 2006.)

Operation Recipe Swap Tanya 052

The cooking session with Tanya was three of hours of butt-busting activity, the four of us (Tan, myself and my daughters, Mallory and Sophia) handling combinations of ingredients with which we, her apprentices, were completely unfamiliar.

I relied on my voice recorder to nab the details of Tanya’s instructions because I was too busy frying, stirring, mixing, slicing, and snapping to attention under Tanya’s watchful eye.

The alternate title for this entry is Foodie Bootcamp. Continue reading

Bite-Sized Wisdom – Part I

Tanya is another friend with whom I divulged my plan for Operation: Recipe Swap before it became a reality.  She had a cautious response, asking me, as a good friend would, my motivations for doing this.  I explained to her, like I’d explained to others, that (a) this was a survival skill one really should have, but more than that, (b) I want to connect with all those women who exchange recipes and food ideas.  Especially because I lead women’s ministry, I want to understand the joy women seem to get from sharing their kitchen ideas.

“As long as you’re not doing it to prove anything,” she said. “It doesn’t make you any less of a woman because you can’t cook, you know.” Continue reading

Back to the Future with Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Dear Betty,

I am a neophyte when it comes to baking.  I shouldn’t have volunteered to bring a cake for Friday night’s event and then showed up with nothing! I realized after the fact that it must have increased your stress level.  I am SO sorry.  If that ever happens again, I will at least go to the store and get something to replace it.  I honestly didn’t even think about it till afterward… and then I was horrified.

In your debt,

And so I learned the hard way that, when baking, to leave enough time to either make or purchase a replacement if it doesn’t turn out. Continue reading