Real Cooking

?The best thing about spring is that it always comes when it is most needed.? ?Anonymous

Spring, of course, has not made its official debut, and that won?t happen for another couple of weeks. But I for one have been happy to welcome warmer temperatures already this year. I seem to feel better if the windows can be thrown open and there?s something refreshing to the soul to be able to stand in the sunshine. Not the harsh glare of summer?oh, how I hate summer?but the nurturing warmth of the spring. It?s like coming out of hibernation.

My winter doldrums are over and spring fever is upon me. My television is tuned to Home and Garden TV (HGTV) almost constantly unless I?m watching Lynette Jennings or Martha Stewart demonstrate how to lay a flagstone patio or plant a container herb garden on their respective television shows. They make it look so easy and maintenance free.

Magazines like Southern Living, Midwest Living and Better Homes & Gardens, their pages dog-eared and labeled with notes, lie about on the kitchen table waiting for another glance, another daydream.

I think French doors would be a lovely replacement for the old patio sliding doors that have grown cloudy over the years. The magazines have some beautiful pictures of patios and decks with just the doors I have pictured in my mind for our home.

It?s amazing that those magazines have a way of just flopping open to those photos every time my husband sits down to have a meal.

Paint charts litter my desk as it?s time to repaint the trim of our house. Should we go with the same brown we used last? A little darker perhaps? How about pumpkin orange? That could liven up the neighborhood!

And the kids have dreams of their own. They have already hoed their garden plots and readied the soil for planting. Both kids are eager to get to the Garden Center to see Sharon Boese.

?When can we go to the green house, Mom, I need something to plant? Sharon could tell us what to do.?

I?ve heard this plea since the middle of February, long before the Garden Center was open for the spring season. Maybe today I?ll surprise them and let them know that Sharon is ready for their business.

Yes, we definitely have the fever. Even my husband has shown some interest in home improvement as of late. He?s in the middle of reconfiguring a wall to expand one of the bathrooms, a project I hope he completes soon.

He spends most of his spare time tooling around that end of the house, but this past Sunday, we took an afternoon off from our home projects and attended the ?Lawn, Flower and Garden Show? in Wichita.

What a display! The best landscape artists in Wichita create enormous, fabulous gardens inside the exhibition halls of Century II. One garden featured a pirate ship, Peter Pan and a crocodile that would pop up from its submerged home in a lily-laden pond.

Another garden centered on a mountain complete with cascading waterfall; two bushy burros grazed at its foot. Yes, real animals eating real grass.

As we wondered around looking at the other gardens?one with a full putting green, one with a Koi pond?we couldn?t help but remark on how much work these professionals had put into making the displays that we were now enjoying. Flowers bloomed, cherry trees blossomed, fountains sprayed and water falls gushed. Amazing.

?Wouldn?t it be nice to have your own private landscaper? And of course a full-time gardener to keep everything shipshape?? I thought.

One can dream.

And talk about dreams, there along one aisle of the exhibition hall was a display that I had only seen in my dreams…and on HGTV. An outdoor kitchen. Not just a gas grill flanked by a picnic table. No…a full working kitchen. Viking range, refrigerator/freezer fitted snuggly under the countertop, wood burning pizza and bread oven.

It was surrounded by adobe walls and topped with wooden beams. Granite countertops, working sink, serving area, eating area. Beautiful. Expensive. And really impractical. At least for Kansas.

These kitchens have grown in popularity in, where else, California, where the temperatures are moderate, the skies rarely open with downfalls of rain and the wind is just above a whisper. They?ve become a status symbol of those who have already acquired the pool, the hot tub and the matching patio furniture.

I have to admit, it?s an entertainer?s dream. While everyone enjoys the pool, the host or hostess whips up the evening?s repast and serves comfortably on the patio. Lovely.

Can you imagine that same scene here on the plains? ?The meal is wonderful, Martha, but do you think you used too much pepper? Oh, that isn?t pepper? Well, this wind really stirs up the dust! The flies sure are biting tonight. I bet that severe weather front the weatherman has been talking about is on its way. Maybe we?ll get a little relief from all this heat. By the way, is the air conditioner on inside? I think I?ll go in?through these lovely French doors.?

* * *

Sunny Vegetable Salad

5 cups broccoli florets

5 cups cauliflowerets

2 cups (8 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese

2/3 cups chopped onion

1/2 cup raisins

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sugar 2 Tbs. cider vinegar

6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled

1/4 cup sunflower seed kernels

Mix mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar together to make dressing. Toss vegetables and raisins and then add dressing, stirring to cover. Marinate for one hour in refrigerator. Before serving, mix in cheese, bacon and seeds.

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