Living creatively, surrounded by beauty

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By: Rachel Shenk

Rachel Shenk

I did not choose what family to be born into. But I know now that I am very lucky to have joined the one of which I am a part.

When my parents brought me home, I became the fourth child, following two brothers and a sister. Back then, we lived in a big château in a very small town in Belgium. Sitting back from the road behind a decorative iron fence, the brick house sat solidly at the edge of a large circular drive bordered by beech trees.

Once you entered the tall doors, you might be greeted by a stylish young woman, her brown hair pulled back in a bun. Or you might receive a warm handshake from a lanky man with glasses. Yes, my parents welcomed many people there, as well as summer camps.

You might also hear children: The attic was large enough to roller skate in; the hallways with their waxed wooden floors made perfect ice rinks; and in its two kitchens, one could always find a bite to eat.

Those early years of mine were filled with love: love from parents and siblings, love of art and music, love of food, love of challenges. My parents modeled how to live creatively in whatever circumstances they encountered. They taught me how to look at the world and be involved in it. They helped me to think through decisions as well as use my intuition.

From my mother, I learned how to cook and manage a large household. She kept meticulous records of the bread delivered by the baker, the guests coming through our doors, the weekly meal menus and the goings on of our family calendar.

I learned about fashion, style and quality clothing. I spent time with the seamstress who made some of our clothes, and I learned to tell the difference between linen, silk and wool.

My mother taught me to surround myself with beauty. We always had a vase of flowers on the table: roses, lilacs and tulips from the garden, pussy willows in early spring, Christmas greens. And when we sat down to eat, in the light of candles, the table always looked its best.

I also learned persistence, creativity, appreciation of art and music, intuition and listening.

In my daily work, the life my mother models carries me through many situations. So, you say, it is Mother’s Day. You must really appreciate your mother. And I’ll say, yes, that’s right. But not only that, in her 90th year, these words are one way of continuing to say, “Thanks, Mother, for all you have given me above and beyond this life. And happy birthday to you!”

Photo Courtesy of Rachel Shenk

Here is a recipe my mother passed on to me from her mother.

Swiss Steak

  1. Pound a ½ c. seasoned flour* into both sides of a three-pound round steak (2 inches thick).
  2. Brown two onions (sliced) in hot fat in a heavy skillet.
  3. Remove onions and brown meat on both sides.
  4. Top with onions and add 2 cups cooked tomatoes.
  5. Cover and cook slowly until tender 2 ½ to 3 hours. (8 to 10 servings)

*Seasoned flour: 1 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper mixed with a 1/2 c. flour

I followed my mother’s notes: “My steak is never 2 inches thick! I do mine in a roaster, covered in the oven for two hours or so. I test it to see when it is tender.” I fried my onions in olive oil. The meat took 2½ hours at 300 degrees. I serve it with boiled potatoes.

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