Recipes never taste the same way twice

June 23, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

Notes on modifications fill Tracey Rodenbach's recipe books.

"Don't confine yourself to the constraints of a recipe. That's just a guide," says Rodenbach, whose willingness to experiment earned her a grand champion and blue ribbon at the recent Casey County Fair.

She won for a Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

"It's light, but has a lot of flavor. It's not heavy like others."

Both Rodenbach and her husband, Stacey, know their way around the kitchen.

"My husband and I like to cook. That's our weekend thing. He's the gourmet and I'm the baker. He's the dinner part and I'm the dessert part."

Their expertise allows them to experiment.

"If you ever eat dinner at our house, enjoy it, because you'll probably never have it the same way again."

Fresh ingredients, especially herbs, are important.

"Instead of using dried herbs, use fresh. Nothing matches the flavor of fresh basil."


Rodenbach says she and her husband know plenty of ways to spice up recipes.

"The first time, we make a recipe the way it says to, then we critique it. We say, 'I think it would be better if we added more basil or used less wine.' My cookbook is full of notes."

Rodenbach considers the reference notes precious.

"If my house were on fire and I had to grab a few things, it would be the Bible, my photo albums and my recipe books."

She explains that the recipes are part of her important memories.

"There are certain fond memories that are associated with food. There are things your grandmother always made or your mother made, and you, by making it, are carrying on that tradition."

The recipes are like photographs are the people who made them, she says.

"It's like having a snapshot of them."

She especially likes a recipe for Christmas cookies that came from her husband's grandmother. The recipe is traced to rationing during World War II.

"It calls for a 5-pound bag of flour. She didn't do anything in a small way."

If Rodenbach doesn't have a family recipe, she tracks it down like she did when she wanted to continue her grandmother's tradition of making yeast rolls every Good Friday.

In addition to family recipes, Rodenbach credits the Amish and Mennonite families with enhancing her skills. A Pennsylvania native, she lived near many families there. On the other hand, Pennsylvania cooks could learn from southern neighbors.

"Pennsylvania cooking is not spicy. About as wild as my grandmother got was oregano. We like spicy foods. We love Cajun foods."

On the other hand, they do have their delicacies, such as Dutch Goose.

"The favorite Sunday dinner was pig's stomach. It's not actually what it sounds like."

The outer casing is used.

"You make this wonderful filling of sausage, bread crumbs, celery, potatoes and onions and a good amount of sage."

The dish is roasted for four or five hours.

"It makes the most wonderful gravy."

Rodenbach says the stomach was used because people did not want to waste any part of the pig.

"The joke in the community was you use everything but the oink."

Rodenbach says she doesn't make this dish, but with her tests, she does have the occasional flop. A sign over the sink serves as a warning and an inspiration. It says, "People have eaten here and gone on to lead perfectly normal lives."

When not in the kitchen, Rodenbach stays busy with her business, Pawprint Productions. One of her novelties is painting on slate, but she does signs and many types of painting. Her brush created a sky on the cupola of the new city hall.

"I'm around. I pop my head up at various places in the city."

She also has been a Kentucky Master Gardener for three years. After passing a test from a three-month horticulture class, she spent 50 hours in community gardening service projects. To maintain her status, she must perform a set number of hours in the program. One of the most fun projects is working closely with Habitat for Humanity to landscape homes.

Some of her work is sold at A Friend's Place in Liberty. She also recently painted scenes of Casey County on a barrel head for a retiring employee at the extension office.

"If it will stand still long enough, I'll paint it."

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