From Mud Pies to Masterpieces

–Life serves us many courses. Learn to recognize the distinctive flavors of each stage and how it all melds together to create the person you are.

Steak dinner at The Trough in Canmore, Alberta, Canada — Photo by author

Before me is the most beautiful steak dinner my eyes have ever beheld. A masterful visual presentation accompanied by a savory aroma foreshadowing the satisfying release of flavor awaiting the tongue.


In the Beginning

And to think. This all began with mud pies in the backyard of a humble house on 5th Street in an inconspicuous Kansas town.

The role of Mom’s pigtailed little kitchen helper slipped over my fingers like the perfect fit of a glove made just for my hands. Fetching a stick of butter from the fridge, measuring out a cup of flour, setting the table or any other task Mom delegated to my tiny hands was a purpose, not a chore. The presentation of the finished products did not rival the cover of a cooking magazine and gourmet was not a word bantered about our kitchen. We didn’t always have a lot but what we had was delicious.

Word got around, too.

You did not pass up an invitation to stay for lunch at Grandma Maggie’s or dinner at Moms. Family members were often passing through town just in time for persuasion to extend their visit with a meal.

It never once occurred to us that our ordinary family meals could be worth publicizing. The strange phenomenon of posting a picture of impending nourishment onto social media did not exist.

The basics of life were much simpler back when phones were tethered to the wall. Meat, potatoes, simple vegetables, and a slice of bread was the usual bounty of basics, a daily feast of deliciousness.

Rounding up my brother and me for mealtime took little persuasion. Happy plates were the norm in our house. The structure of dining together at the table was more important than any of us knew. Such a simple and basic idea connecting lives, bonding minds, and hearts behind the pretense of one of life’s necessities.

In the Middle

Then life did what it does best. Moving forward and changing course without our knowledge or permission.

I don’t remember if my olive-green Easy-Bake Oven arrived as a celebration of Jesus’s birthday or mine. Regardless of the month, graduating from mud pies to edible creations was an exciting time for me. Many treats came to life via my Easy Bake Oven with the aid of the miniature red mixing bowl, wooden rolling pin, and metal spatula sized to fit tiny hands. How cute that must have been to watch. Those tiny hands grew and the day arrived. My Easy-Bake Oven was used for the last time and relegated to live on a shelf in the closet, disappearing into the quiet recesses of my mind.

The evolution from baking with a light bulb to operating a real adult-sized kitchen appliance happened without fanfare. Looking down I see the gloves I wear are much bigger now.

My thirst for knowledge absorbed the wisdom emanating from my mom, my grandmothers and Betty Crocker’s illustrated instruction manuals. Cooking shows, culinary blogs, and how-to videos followed to teach me more than my ancestors could pass along.

Lessons Learned

With the slowing of metabolism, my old friend Weight Watchers has had to stop by for a visit or two over the decades. Learning how to adjust habits to the stages of life is an ongoing battle for these aging hands.

Sometimes an unbiased helping hand is the most useful tool. I wonder what I will learn next and from where the lessons will come.

The world keeps changing. And that’s a good thing.

Without change, we would never discover our new favorite things. The constant in change is the ability to appreciate the value of the past, the present, and the unknown that lies ahead. For better or worse, each place in time seasons our character.

That magnificent steak dinner at The Trough in Canmore, Alberta, Canada was indeed a masterpiece. A dining experience worthy of a place at my table of memories, right alongside the down-home comfort of a simple grilled cheese sandwich.

There’s nothing quite like buttery bread browned to a golden perfection, cut into triangles and oozing with melted cheese. Warm and comforting, no matter the size or age of the hands in which it is held.

Sometimes the basics from the past are needed to ground us in the present as we await the masterpieces of the future.


Tammy Hader
Tammy Hader
Tammy Hader has no writer’s pedigree. With a BBA in accounting from Wichita State University, numbers are her history. The CPA exam was passed, because that’s what accountants are supposed to do, and thirty years later her accounting life ended with the desire to journey down a different career path. The compass turned toward words to create a new legacy beyond spreadsheets. Her nostalgic writing reflects on the past to explain the present and shine into the future the light of lessons learned. Growing up in a small Midwestern town, influenced by relationships, choices, consequences, and situations, her life is not unique. In her stories, you will recognize reflections of your own past, understand how you arrived at today’s version of you and gaze with her across the bridge into the future.

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  1. Tammy —
    As always, your story brought up memories of me helping my mom in the kitchen. My mom struggled with emotional words, but her cooking expressed what she couldn’t. Her dishes were the Hallmark Cards of cooking.

    The other thought that comes to mind is the plethora of cooking shows available to us. You can now literally learn about the cooking culture anywhere in the world. But I’m curious if it’s always the local food that drives our interest. Is it the food or the hands-on-process chefs take to get there? Is it about the food or the experience of enjoying it with others?

    I’m hungry! Time to make a grilled cheese for lunch!

    • You can never, ever go wrong with a grilled cheese!

      I would say it’s about the food, the process and the experience all rolled into one. I like the term Hallmark Cards of cooking. This brings to mind how I make a Peanut Butter Chiffon Pie for my husband for his birthday. Maybe I don’t need to give him a card, too. 🙂