In the Company of Kindred Spirits

Our friends joke about having a, “Covid bubble.” The Covid bubble contains a very small group of people who practice physical distancing, keep very serious sanitizing routines, and have little public exposure. We maintain a Covid bubble with a few friends. Since we still have to eat, often we choose to eat together…at a distance.

A few weeks ago, I had to travel to present a documentary in which I was involved. Humanities Kansas pays chosen speakers to talk about their projects. While I did not make the film, I was, somewhat, involved with its production. Strangers in Town. The film chronicles immigrants in a rural community and their positive impact on communities. Watch it and see what you think.

While I was in the area, we stayed with our good friends Mark and Kathy. The rest of the “Covid Bubble, ” Bob and Adrian, showed up for happy hour. Bob, an avid hunter, brought his smoked duck to the small gathering. Mark, another avid hunter, added elk smoked sausage. Adrian and Kathy added cheeses and crackers, and, voilà! We added gin and tonics to the menu for a lovely meal and great conversation. Here’s Bob with the duck:

He says the best way to smoke a duck:

Brine the duck in 1 cup (200g) brown sugar, 1 cup (273g) salt in 1 gallon (3.785 litres) for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, drain the duck. Pat dry, and place in smoker until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees (68.33 Celsius). Cool and serve. The smoked duck and elk sausage offer nice changes in meats on a charcuterie board.

The next morning, Kathy served a wonderful breakfast of egg, bacon, and cheese on a multi-grain bagel. That delicious meal serves as my featured image for this blog. One of the many things I love about my friends is that we all like to cook/bake, and we all like to eat.

In this time of Covid, we work quite diligently at make our meals special. I know that I write on this subject quite often, but I cannot emphasize this enough. Find those moments where you can derive special pleasures even out of the most mundane things. That concept surely plays a key role in sound mental health during isolating and challenging times.

Weeks later, we took a special trip with Mark and Kathy. We drove to their second home in Western New York where lakes were frozen hard enough to land small aircraft and support hundreds of ice fisher persons. Of course, one cannot be near a lake and not partake in good things that come from water. We like to eat at a little place called, Guppy’s. They specialize in the bounties of lake, ocean, and sea waters. The evening we ate there, I had the mussels steamed in a delicate wine, garlic, and butter sauce. Come to think of it, one could steam an old shoe in white wine, garlic, and butter, and it would likely be yummy. I digress. The mussels in their sauce came with a side of linguine and a glass of chardonnay, naked, not aged in oak barrels, a specialty of a nearby vineyard.

I should mention that the community posted 124 inches of snow had fallen since the beginning of winter. The frozen lake and all its charms were just one of the highlights. We traveled to Lake Erie one of the days. It had large snow cliffs where the waves had lapped up against the shore only to freeze in the process. Mark took this lovely picture of Kathy standing on one of the snow cliffs. It looked surreal at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon. Later, Kathy and I trekked out onto the lake close to her house. I wore my vintage grizzly bear coat, popular in the 1970s, which protected me from the elements quite well.

We spent Valentines Day with our Kathy and Mark at this auspicious lake cottage, so we decided to prepare a loving meal of lobsters, baked potatoes, drawn butter, and asparagus. We ate like queens and kings and washed it all down with, again, the local chardonnay. I loved it. I like a meal that makes me work hard for the sweet morsels of meat hidden behind an exoskeleton. Crusty bread made its way from Kansas to Western New York, so we had that, too.

Back home again, we arrived just a few days after freezing temperatures had dipped well below zero (-15F). Our neighbors dripped the kitchen faucet for us, so we came home to a cozy house feeling lucky that no pipes had burst. We found the four bird feeders and heated water dish quite empty with only a block of feed, meant for deer, as the only remaining food for our yard visitors. They flocked back to the yard once feeders and waters dishes filled.

Thank you for reading.

Winter Comfort Meals

I think that my hibiscus has made more than one appearance in my featured image, but I can’t help sharing pictures with you. I took this photo last week when it had 11 blossoms on its branches. I keep it pruned into a sort of topiary. It appeared to be content when it was on the patio. Now it seems to have what it needs in the living room.

In the Northern Hemisphere around the 39th parallel in the Midwest, the throes of a rather mild winter offer us opportunities to be outside. With more activity, comes the desire for comfort foods. I am glad to share a few simple recipes for some lovely meals.

Some time in December, I made mashed potatoes with some leftover whipping cream from holiday desserts. It made all the difference in the world! I boiled some russet potatoes. I save the starchy and salty water for making bread. I will tell that in another post.

Once I drain the potatoes, I pour the cream over the potatoes and put the lid back on so that the cream is heated. I take three to five minutes for this step. Then I remove the lid and mash the potatoes with a little added pepper and a little salt to taste. When you use the whipping cream, you do not need to add butter, as with many mashed potatoes recipes. It goes well with meat loaf.

After years of watching my mother make meat loaf, I borrowed some of her techniques. She used oatmeal in place of crackers, as many people use. Here’s my recipe:

1 (45g) pound ground beef

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons (19.5g) Oat flour

Fresh onion, minced (to taste)

Seasoned salt (your choice) and pepper

Worschestishire sauce (to taste)

Ketchup and a small amount of mustard

Bake in a hot oven. I use a two-piece meatloaf pan that has holes in it to drain away the grease into another part of the pan. This makes the meat loaf nice and solid, not to mention less greasy. During the last 10 – 15 minutes of baking, I pour a ketchup/brown sugar mixture, which bakes into a tasty glaze.

I served the meat loaf and mashed potatoes with my giardiniera pickle mix from the garden last summer.

I do love reading cook books and magazines. I cannot say that I follow the directions of the recipes exactly, but I do love the suggestions. Then I cook it how I want or with the ingredients that I do have. For example, I found this recipe for pasta with peas and mint. I did not have mint, so I used one of my 40 frozen jars of pesto from the garden last summer. Basil and mint are in the same family, so that is what I had. Also, I did not have the 2 cups of parmesan as the recipe called for. Instead, I melted graded pepper jack cheese in the simmering cream as I awaited the pasta (shells) to finish cooking. When the shells reached the al dente stage, I tossed the frozen peas in the water (before I saved two ladles full for the creaming of the dish) for one minute. Then I drained the shells and peas into the creamy, cheesy, béchamel. The final result reminded me of the chicken alfredo that the grandchildren had prepared for us.

Perhaps I present a backward way of giving you this recipe. I did sauté onions, garlic, and bacon bits in oil before adding the cream and the cheese. This gave it a base to begin the melt. Anyway, it went well with a crisp chardonnay. My carbon steel wok works the best for preparing sauces. The sweet, from the peas, and the creamy savory of this meal satisfied our appetites while serving as a warm comfort food.

Finally, another one of our comfort meals centers on rice. We love different types of fried rice for breakfast. It tends to be a great way to use rice from other meals. We have a rice cooker, which keeps the rice at just the right temperature for two to three days. It never lasts that long since we love rice.

For this particular breakfast, I had a few mushrooms and part of a red pepper and one grilled chicken thigh that needed to be used. I like to begin by sautéing, in sesame oil, what ever vegetables and protein that I will use for the rice. Then I add at least two eggs and cook until almost finished. Then I add the rice. After everything is thoroughly blended, I add a little soy sauce and some chili sauce. Blend again. I sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on before I serve it.

It went quite well with whipped instant coffee and milk.

We make breakfast special, because it sets the tone of the day. Since the weather is cold, and we cannot sit on the front patio, we sit at our dining room table situated by a large picture window. Today, we had 14 species of wonderful birds at the feeders that I counted within a 15-minute time span.

Take care. Be well, and thank you for reading.

Soups and Stews

My featured image, today, comes from the loving hands of my friend, Lynn, who celebrates camping life with us. We found delightful winter camping, sans tents and camper trailers, at Osage Hills State Park in Oklahoma in cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. The ginger camper and its subsequent decorating entertained us one evening.

With cold weather comes body-warming, emotion-comforting, and energy-giving soups and stews. My seasonally renewed love for soup began with my sister’s Zuppa Toscana! This recipe floats all over the web. I think Sis’s came from one of those. Her recipe consisted of: Italian sausage, 5-7 strips of bacon, 5 medium russet potatoes, Kale, heavy whipping cream, water, one half large onion, 2-3 garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Fry sausage and bacon. Set cream aside, but add all the rest of the ingredients, and cook well. I added fresh rosemary and a few shakes of Kitchen Pepper (recipe found in one of my previous blogs). Add the whipping cream just before you serve the soup. Be sure to heat it through once you add the cream. Serve with crusty bread and a crisp white wine, like Chardonnay. The good cook stands to the right with our 90 year old mother in the middle.

Just before Thanksgiving, we traveled to see Granddaughter in her choral concert. Grandmother P invited us to dinner for a heart-warming soup. Like me, she favors pinto beans and other legumes in her soups. I like that she used pinto beans and peas together with potatoes and carrots. It proved to be a most lovely meal. She served it with piping hot dinner rolls and juice.

Several years ago, when she was six years old, we took our granddaughter to Alaska. We taught her how to harvest mussels from Resurrection Bay during low tide. She fell in love with the taste. Now, six years later, she continues to love mussels. She visited recently, and I always ask the Grands to pick their meals. She chose mussels. As luck would have it, the grocery store did not have any. She did find clams, so I prepared them. I really don’t know if she actually likes the mollusks, of if she likes the way I prepare them. As you may have guessed, I sauté garlic in butter and olive oil. Then I add white wine to simmer for a few minutes. I toss in the cleaned mussels, or in this case, clams. I let them steam for a bit with the lid on the pot. After the shells open, we know that they are finished. She likes to eat them served from the pot. We like to serve them with buttered linguine and crusty bread. One can add a salad, but do not forget to consume with a crisp white wine, like a sauvignon blanc. We see, here, the six year old with her mussels and the 12 year old with her clams. I put this in since the clams or mussels do swim in a luxurious soup.

Finally, I leave you with my all time favorite soup or stew, depending on whether it has a thin broth or a thick gravy. In the case of Thanksgiving 2020, instead of Turkey and all the trimmings, we had our Indigenous/Native traditional “Three Sisters,” corn, beans, and squash. The most important thing to remember about cooking pinto beans: they do not need soaking when you have new crop beans. Producers harvest pinto beans in the fall, usually October. They stay “fresh” for about a year. Then they begin to harden and become darker. Those you buy in the grocery store are darker, because they are older than a year. I prefer “new crop” beans, and they usually cook in two hours or less time, without soaking. We use dried sweet corn in our bean soups/stews. Our grandmas taught us to grow our corn and dry it on the cob. Once dry, the kernels fall off with little coaxing. The dried kernels can be stored in jars on the shelf. Now, to add corn to the stew/soup, it does work best to soak the kernels first, usually one hour in hot water. Drain the water before adding to the soup. To prepare the soup or stew, cook the beans and corn in well-salted water, which becomes your broth. As the beans cook and hydrate in the broth, prepare your meat: lamb, beef or pork. I prefer lamb. My Grandmothers used mutton. I like to use green chili as my seasoning. I do not add chili, garlic or onions until the beans are cooked. Adding an acidic vegetable too early does not allow the beans to hydrate properly, and you can have hard beans. Use salt and pepper to taste.

You might be saying, “Where’s the third sister?” You can choose to put the squash in the soup or stew, but I like to have it served on the side. I take chopped apples, chopped naval orange, raisins, and walnuts. I mix them in brown sugar, butter, Chinese five-spice, and brandy (or bourbon, or Fireball). Mix the fruit mixture and put it inside the seed cavities of acorn squashes that have been split and seeded. Save the seeds for later to bake or plant. It tastes wonderful with a hot piece of crusty bread just taken from the oven.

Thank you for reading.

Making Meal Times Special

While this story focuses on making meal times special, notice my featured image. I walk in the cemetery in the mornings before work. The cemetery in my town stands out among cemeteries because there are no restrictions on headstone sizes, as far as I know. The cemetery’s rolling topography with expansive spaces supports many species of flora and fauna! Only a block from my home, the burial space offers inviting views of nature, and it links to a network of trails that lead to the creek. I especially love the stone picnic tables on the trail built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the U.S. depression of the 1930s.

Meals: While walking in nature remains one way to make our day special, we look to our meals as a way to find memorable moments. Given my penchant for cooking, I’ve added pictures to mark such memorable moments. There have been times when we have finished a well-prepared meal only for me to remember that I failed to snap a shot. But then, not all gustation should be chronicled for posterity!

We like to go camping, and we don’t live far from that opportunity. I grew up in the mountains of Colorado, and we used to spend many weekends enjoying trees, streams, lakes, and rivers, not to mention a wide variety of four-legged and winged creatures. That’s where my love for camping grew. I like to cook outdoors, too! My husband likes to eat, so we make a fine pair!

Breakfast helps us to begin our day with special contemplation. Something as simple as my homemade granola. Preparing granola is a significant event that takes the better part of a Saturday since I make about 25 pounds (11.34kg) at a time, and I pack it into freezer-safe container. That much granola lasts six to eight months. Pictured above is a bowl of granola with whole milk and a steaming cup of coffee. Eating it from my favorite restaurant ware, Shenango China, makes it extra special. The “vitrified china” from New York and Pennsylvania will have to be a story for another time.

We love granola, and here is a general recipe for my bi-annual mix. Instead of baking the granola in the oven, I use an electric roaster, those used for preparing a turkey!

38 Cups (5.9kg) of rolled oats

3 pounds (1360.78g) mixed raw nuts (I like almonds, filberts, walnuts, pecans, and cashews) Hemp seeds work well, too.

3 pounds of raisins or dried fruit of your choice

3 teaspoons Kitchen pepper (seasoned salt of the 18th century!) This recipe can be found in a previous blog.

4 Tablespoons crushed cardamom, 4 Tablespoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons ground cloves

1 cup coconut oil (not fractionated) and 3/4 cup of sunflower oil

2 cups honey (use your local honey where possible)

2 cups of sorghum or cane molasses and 1 half cup of pure maple syrup

Heat liquids on the medium heat enough to blend.

Have oats, spices, fruits, nuts, and seasonings set in roaster. Pour the hot oil and sweeteners over the dry ingredients, fruits and nuts. If you bake this in the oven, it will take several batches.

This process takes about three hours. You will know it’s finished when the ingredients begin to clump a bit together.

Store in freezer containers. Keep what you use out on the counter or in a cupboard. Enjoy with yogurt, on ice cream, as a crunchy addition to cooked oatmeal. Also, you can heat the granola with milk to make a creamy hot meal with nuts and fruit.

Breakfast Ice Cream

I call it “breakfast ice cream” because it originally began as a smoothie. My ingredients tend to produce a consistency too thick to be a smoothie. It’s more of a soft serve ice cream, which can be a quite special treat no matter what time of day you eat it. It requires a food processor as opposed to a regular blender since it has frozen fruit. Here’s the lucious outcome:

2 frozen bananas (I cut them into pieces before freezing them) This is a good way to use bananas that are about to over ripen.

1 cup frozen blueberries (about 190g)

1 cup plain yogurt (285g) or a similar non dairy substitute

1 serving of any type of protein powder

2 TBS (18g) Badia Trilogy health seed mix (Flax, chia, hemp)

1/4 cup water (59g) or equivalent in ice

Blend in your food processor (I use a Ninja, which is one-thousand watts). It takes a bit, and you have to scrape it down once in a while, but the end product is about four, 1 cup servings. It’s thick, creamy, sweet, and smooth. Be creative and enjoy!

Eggs Benedict

I love eggs benedict. There are some days I don’t want to consume bread, so I made these with crispy hash browns. I had just eaten a salmon eggs benedict in a restaurant in Kansas City, so I thought I’d try this with Canadian bacon like traditional benedict. I grated potatoes, steamed them in oil with the lid on so that they would cook while the bottom would brown. When the potatoes looked transparent, I flipped them to brown on the other side. This time without the lid. I used the lid to steam them initially.

The Hollandaise sauce came from the Betty Crocker cookbook, and it’s the best-ever. We enjoyed it with espresso, and sometimes we add steamed milk for a luscious cappuccino.

These are just a few of the things I’ve been creating lately. I hope you like it, and I thank you for reading my blog.

Time with Family and Yearning for Home

My featured image is my sister and brother-in-law’s backyard.  They have the pleasure of enjoying a splendid view of the San Juan Mountain Range every evening as they wind down from a day’s work.  I’ll tell you about our fun meal a little later in the post.

Social distancing surely interferes with many things, but I’d rather be safe and healthy.  Also, writing about fun things does not mean that I am not feeling the pain of my community and the world right now.  I’ve been working from home since March 16, 2020.  I am doing quite well working from home.  I sit at my desk.  I teach virtual classes.  I meet in project committees.  When the workday is finished, I create new recipes.  I modify recipes from magazines.  I tend to my garden.  I clean the house, but not as often as when I entertain, which is none right now.

About a week ago, we ventured out to my home state (Colorado) and enjoyed mother nature with my 90 year old mother, my brothers and sisters, cousins, and nieces and nephews.  We were quite aware of keeping our distances, too.

Colorado is a lovely state, but it has been over-run by people who come, in droves, to enjoy its beauty.  Dare I say that the landscape continues to change from the caravans of cars, trucks, off-road vehicles, and hoards of people.  Some of them respect the natural beauty, and some just run over it.  I suppose we enjoy at whatever capacity we allow ourselves.

water fall

We talked, hiked, cooked, ate, drank, built fires, told stories, laughed, and looked for places to gather wood.  We grew up in these mountains, and our Father taught us to love the land, though his people were displaced from it and onto reservations so that settlers could have the lands.  (A nasty part of U.S. American history).

We camped for four days.  Then we returned to the valley.  I worked, distantly, and had time for visits in the evening.  I was in Mountain Time, but had to continue to orient myself to Central Time, as that was my work day times.

My mother likes to do all the cooking when we visit, but I had so much food from the camping menus, that never was prepared, because everyone else brought food for as many days.  So, one night I prepared a, sort of, taco salad that featured ground beef, Fritos, salad mixes, and Catalina dressing.  In spite of a weird sounding combination, it remains to be a tasty dish.  I think I got the recipe from some Mormon women back in the 1980s.  We did have an important celebration, however.

My mother turned 90 on June 7, but we were all unsure of gathering.  Though we were greatly cautious, we did celebrate with lunch-time mimosas.  My friend, Mirta, sent a giant bottle of sparkling wine, and we had some good orange juice.  Here’s my Mother:

Mom with sparkling wine

As I was beginning to assemble the mimosas (orange juice and sparkling wine), I was aiming to make each one in each flute separately.  My sis said, “Mix them in this crystal pitcher!”  That sounded great!  Who knew that one should not stir the mixture!  Well, it all bubbled over, and the countertop was awash in mimosa!  Anyone else’s countertop would be questionable about cleaning it up from there, but mother is immaculate!  While I think this is an embarrassing photo, you deserve full disclosure!  My husband took the shot of us “cleaning” up the mess.  Undoubtedly, a blow to my credibility!

sucking mimosa

We consumed the mimosas with cheese, grapes, and bread – a most satisfying “lunch!”

As previously mentioned, my sis has an incredible backyard.  She and hubby invited us to a lovely dinner of chicken wraps.  Her hubby grilled skinless chicken breast, and then she had sliced them into strips.  She presented a vegetable course of avocado, arugula, shredded carrots, shredded cheese, bacon bits, and thinly sliced cucumbers.  We wrapped the chicken and vegetables in a tortillas, and consumed great quantities.  She accompanied it with white wine.  I forgot to take picture.  We gathered, again, the next night for a Charcuterie, one of my favorite ways to eat!

We knew this charcuterie/cheese board needed to be good, because my mother is a picky eater.  She does love snack-type foods, though.  Here we have the menu:

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I know I’ve written about similar menus previously, but I love the beauty of combining the color and flavors of these foods.  For example, about 10 years ago, we ate in an Italian restaurant in San Francisco.  On the menu: Sicilian Candy.  What is that, you ask?

Take a small baking dish.  I prefer cast iron for this.  Place garlic cloves, butter, and olive oil and bake, covered with aluminum foil, until the house if fragrant of the ingredients.  I think it was about 50 minutes at 350 degrees (176.667 C).  Covering it with the foil assures a slow bake without burning the butter. It spreads like butter on bread!

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The rest of the menu is quite self-explanatory.

My sis added dried apricots, and mother added a delicious strawberry angel food cake.  Fun was had by all, and we had red wine with the evening as we watch the sunset shadows play on the San Juan Mountain Range to the south.  You would have loved the serenity.  Thank you for reading.

The Joys of Jam!

I love color.  I like to fill my house with color! I think my favorite color in a window is cobalt blue.  Oscar Wilde, my favorite 19th Century  Irish playwright and aesthete once said, “I fear I will never live up to my cobalt dishes.”  I think it was actually decorative urns to which Wilde referred.   I would have to agree with the great intellect.  Cobalt does delight the senses.  The featured image is my kitchen window.  It looks to be a setting sun outside, which gave the blues an extra boost of color.

Speaking of color, I like color in my foods.   Jams are a good example of a colorful food.  While jams, that wonderful concoction of sugar and whole fruit, may not appear to be useful beyond peanut butter and jam, bread and jam, jam glaze, etc., for some, I think they can be used every day in a myriad of recipes.  I like to create jams.  I am less inclined toward jellies, made of fruit juices and sugar, though they make wonderful sweetener for, say, tea!  This week, I created a new jam.  I give my jams weird names.  Actually the names derive from the acronym that comes from the main ingredients, like “CAOS,” pronounced, chaos, is my cranberry-apple-orange-spice jam that I make in November when cranberries come to the grocery.  My CAOS graces the holiday table, and goes splendidly with turkey and its trimmings.

“FAJ” and “FOJ,” pronounced fahje and foeje, are my fig-apple jam and fig-orange jam.  They pair nicely with brie and other buttery cheeses.  I think I’ve written about these previously.

To assure that I measure fruits, sugar, and other ingredients going into the jam, I look at other recipes.  My latest is called, APOS, and now I’m sorry I didn’t arrange those letters differently, because some use a similar acronym derogatorily.  Going forward…APOS is apricot-pineapple-orange-saffron jam.  I followed a recipe for apricot jam.  First, you should know that my freezer is full of apricot pulp.  My mother has a prolific apricot tree.  She picks and cleans the apricots.  She adds a “produce protector” with dextrose, ascorbic acid, and citric acid, so that the fruit keeps its brilliant orange, and she adds some lemon juice and freezes in jars.

apricot pulp

I thaw the jar and mix my “jam.” For APOS, I used this quart (453.59g) of crushed apricots, and chopped up enough fresh pineapple and  two whole oranges to make eight ounces (226.80g) of additional fruit.  To which I added four cups (860g) sugar, and two ounces (56.70g) of lemon juice and four good pinches of saffron (about 20 threads for stigma).  Saffron is a rare and fragrant spice.  Each flower of the crocus produces three stigma and must be harvested by hand.  I visited Spain 15 years ago, and I still hang on to the saffron I purchased there.  Luckily, my mother’s friend, who lived in the Middle East gifted some.  I am using that now.  Here it is cooking down to a thickened state.  Notice the saffron threads imparting their brilliant color to the already colorful blend of apricot, pineapple, and naval oranges.

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While the jam thickens, jars must be cleaned and sterilized.  The rings must be clean, and the lids must be covered with hot water to soften the rubber seal.  Pour the boiling jam into the prepared jars, and the lid-ring must be adjusted to fit properly.  Lower each jar into a boiling water bath canner where the water covers the jars by two or more inches (5.08 cm).  Place the lid on the canner, and begin the count (15 minutes) once the water comes back to a boil.   Consult your canning guide for best results.

I tested the jam with silky goat cheese, and it did not disappoint.  It went well on a freshly baked slice of sourdough, too.  I think it’s a keeper.  bread

Jams are a must when you present a meat and cheese board.  We like a meat and cheese board when we’re watching a movie on the television.

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On this particular board, I used whole figs in place of the jam (What was I thinking?).  My husband loves kippered snacks (herring), which is great with cream cheese and crackers.  Eat this kind of meal slowly so that you know when you’re full.  Otherwise, it’s easy to stuff yourself, because everything is fresh and flavorful.

I’m off to visit my mother for her 90th birthday.  My sisters and I are preparing a great feast.  Perhaps I’ll share.  Thank you for reading.

The Joys of the Kitchen

While my feature photo is not that of the kitchen, it’s one of my favorite places. It’s an arch that connects two buildings.  Named after its donors (Bird), the arch connects the Marianna Kistler-Beach Museum to its offices and education department, on the campus of Kansas State University.  I think I had snapped this picture during one of my winter visits to admire the exhibitions.  I like the lines in the photo…

Now, for time in the kitchen, I realize that many people talk and write about food, cooking, and “this is what’s happening to me,” sorts of sharing.  These types of communications illustrate ways that we connect to the world.  I like to write, and I like to cook, so I share these two things with you.  Here are some meals that I have prepared these past few days.

While I’m preparing food for only two of us, of late, I find it interesting to using what I buy or grow to the fullest of the life of the food.  For example, if I by a jar of pickles, and we’ve finished all the pickles, I like to use the brine for preparing another jar of pickles, because there are these lovely garlic bits left behind.  Here’s how you do it.

Refrigerator Pickles: Take one or two English hothouse cucumbers.  Slice the cucumbers, and place them in a bowl.  Sprinkle the sliced cucumbers with two tablespoons (17.06g) of salt.  Toss to mix the salt into the cucumbers. Let the cucumbers sit for 10 minutes.  Then rinse and pat dry, and place the cucumbers in the cleaned, sterilized, and dried jar that held the original pickles.

In the meantime, bring the brine to boil.  Assume that you will not have enough brine, so prepare additional brine with equal parts water and vinegar.  Likely, you won’t need more than one cup (227g) of the additional brine.  Then pour the boiling brine over the cucumbers in the jar.  The brine should, entirely, cover all of the pickles.  Replace the lid, and allow  the jar of cucumbers-about-to-turn-pickles to cool, slightly, before you refrigerate.   They keep in the refrigerator for as long as it takes for you to eat them.

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Also, during our physical distancing, we do cook a lot more, which I was greatly missing when I was, physically, going to the office every day.  Keep in mind, I am thriving working from home!  I’m much more productive in my job, because I can step away for a moment to come back to my computer with a brighter mind to complete the task as hand.  I’ve even lost weight with the decrease in my stress levels from the office.  I, greatly, dread the idea of returning to the, physical, office.  I love my home office!  More recipes…

This has been a week of turning to other proteins, besides beef.  We love beef, but try to vary our proteins.  I prepared pinto beans.  We buy “new crop” pinto from a small farmer in the Arkansas River Valley of Southeast Colorado.  Pinto beans are harvested around October and November.  New crop pintos easily cook in one or two hours, don’t need soaking, and taste wonderful, if you like pinto beans.  I love pinto beans, as do many of my Indigenous peers.  Most of the beans you buy in the grocery store are old, and that’s why you have to soak them to rehydrate before cooking – not so with new crop beans.  I cooked the beans with ham pieces and served them with a sort of “Spanish Rice.”    I didn’t take pictures of that meal, but I did make a luscious breakfast the next day with the beans.  I steamed eggs in a wee bit of butter, added savory green chili to the beans, and put it atop the eggs.  It was quite memorable in beginning the day.

The next night, we had salmon.  First, I sauteed a roma tomato with spring onions, and garlic in butter and sesame oil.  After the vegetables softened a bit, I added the seasoned (with soy sauce and pepper) salmon and place the lid to allow the ingredients to steam and cook the salmon.   I had never used rice noodles, so this was a new one for me.  They are simple.  Pour boiling water over the noodles, and let them sit for 20-25 minutes.  After the salmon reached its cooked temperature, I took it out, and set it aside while I thickened the veggies in the saute.  I added the rice noodles to the vegetables in their sauce.  The rice noodles, in this case, are wide meant for Pad Thai.  I think they could be used for linguini and clam sauce, especially for those with wheat intolerances. Here was our meal.  Oh, we had a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, which made it perfect!

 

One night, I prepared a similar dish with shrimp, but my focus was on garlic (It’s a good thing we are physical distancing, because our garlic intake has increased of late), and I served it with spaghetti and mozzarella pull-apart bread.  The sauce for the salmon and shrimp is rather easy.  I saute the garlic, onion, and celery in butter and olive oil.  Once the vegetables cook, I add white wine and simmer to thicken the sauce.  For the shrimp, I used one tiny Roma tomato.  For the salmon dish, I used red pepper and a bit of spinach.   The garlic shrimp dish required a buttery Chardonnay as its accompaniment.

I will continue to practice a sort of artistry in preparing delicious meals.  Sometimes, there are failures, but I just learn more from them.  Also, I tried making mozzarella.  It was partially successful.  I’ll keep you posted on that, too.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

Gifts from Nature and the Kitchen

Sometime last week, we set out to find some fungi, specifically morels.  On on our way out we saw a neighbor leaving her house. She was headed to another friends to “pick up some mushrooms!”  I asked if her friends had found morels!  “No.”  Well, we took a long walk tromping through the woods near our home.  We returned home to find a brown paper grocery bag on the front door step partially filled with oyster mushrooms.  I have a feeling my neighbor’s friend grows these at home.  That sounds like something I’d like to do!

The cemetery that sits about one quarter mile from our house is a favorite place for us to walk. I found a nice patch of wild garlic, so I picked a small bunch (about 10 little shoots).  I had those in my hand when when we found the bag containing the lovely fungus.   I remembered that we had a rice cooker with a new batch of cooked rice,  Also, I remembered that I had some chicken broth with little strands of chicken.  That meant I had everything I needed to whip up a nice mushroom soup! I sauteed spring onions from the garden, rosemary from my window pot, celery, and the chopped mushrooms!  The chicken broth, thawed from the freezer, added to the saute, made a most delicious soup.  We poured the soup over rice.   We added a crisp romaine salad with an Asian dressing.

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Asian Dressing:

1/4 c (59.15mL) sesame oil

1/4 cup (59.15mL) seasoned rice vinegar

Finely minced: garlic, spring onion, fresh ginger to taste.  Add 1 tablespoon of pure maple syrup and roasted, crushed sesame seeds.  Shake well before using.  It’s quite delicious and makes a simple romaine into something quite sublime.  Actually, the lettuce is just a vehicle to get the dressing into  your mouth, because it’s rude to drink salad dressing!

Two things are happening to us as we physical distance from community while working from home.  I am experiencing less stress.  I work longer hours, but those hours are not stressful, because I can step away to the garden, to the kitchen, or to a book to get a quick recharge.  I am actually more productive at work, because I can do all my meetings and teaching virtually!  It will be interesting to return to campus, physically.

Right now, I take great delight in getting my garden ready with sprouted seedlings I’ve begun in the house.  This is my yard’s first garden in decades, I think.  We have been in this house almost one year.  The soil is heavy clay with lots of limestone deposits.  We have a large populations of bunnies, woodchucks, squirrels, and deer in addition to multiple species of birds.  I will have to write a blog submission on the great birds in my yard!  With a garden, I get to spend lots of time in the kitchen creating dishes from the bounty.  More about all that later. Here’s a picture of my embryonic garden.

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Shortly after the Easter holiday, I wrote about our leg of lamb.  Being only two in the household, we had leftover lamb.  I cubed what was left of the lamb and stuck it in the freezer.  I took it out this week.  It made two more meals.  The first evening, we had lamb tacos.  I forgot to take a picture.  Suffice it to say that I took half the thawed lamb from the freezer container, and placed it in the frying pan.  Though I added no grease or oil, I did add green chili made from roasted Anaheim green chili peppers.  They are a wonderfully, savory chili that is not hot.  On a scale from one to 10, I’d put Anaheim at 2 or three.  Though, I think they are being bred to be much hotter these days.  It was a simple taco with a warmed corn tortilla, the meat, and the green chili.  The tacos were great with a lime enhanced light beer.

The next night, we had lamb curry prepared with the other portion of the lamb.  Here’s what I did, I think.

One quarter of a diced yellow onion

Three cloves minced garlic

1 Tablespoon minced ginger

I sauteed the first three ingredients in a mixture of sesame and sunflower oils

I added one can of stewed tomatoes with its liquid

I added a prepared curry powder and a spice mix my Ghanaian student brought from his home country for preparing Jollof Rice.  That was the winning combination, though I may never be able to create this dish again.  Of course, we served it over rice and ate it with naan bread prepared the night before.

Sometimes, we eat at the dining room table.  Now that it’s warm, we eat outside on the deck.  We may even consume our meals in front of the television with a movie.  The most important thing is that we enjoy the food, and savor the convivial moments.

Thank you for reading.

 

Love in the time of…Corona Virus!

Living in the midst of the Corona Virus pandemic caused me to think of Gabriel García Márquez’s book, Love in the Time of Cholera, which refers to the disease of cholera, which has contributed to many outbreaks and at least one pandemic in the past 200 years.  In the throes of this pandemic, I witness the realization of the other part of  cólera, the Spanish word referring to the disease and to the concepts of anger and rage.  I liken that anger and rage to be synonymous with what we’re experiencing today.  Some people are angry at the call to shelter in place and politicize and moralize the disease.  Without getting political, I will tell you about my own sheltering in place.  I cook or I bake.  We eat…just the two of us, but I focus on meals that I’d prepare for a group of friends or our family.  I call that, love in the time of Corona Virus!

If there was a secret to home cooking, it’s sort of a combination of bravery to try new things, understanding flavors and how they interact with one another, and a bit of creativity and lots of love.  We used to live in an region marked by majority “minority.”  That just means that there are more people of color than Caucasian people, and the term, “minority” is not one I prefer since it further minoritizes a group of people.  Anyway, the majority in the region is predominately Hispanic from Meso, Central, and Latin America.  And with them comes wonderfully delicious cuisine.  We love fish tacos made with white tilapia, a super mild tasting fish.  It does not overwhelm the other dishes.  We as the “topping,” we use a cabbage and carrot salad much like the “slaw” used for Salvadoran papoosas.   I cook about three tilapia filet in butter seasoned with salt, dehydrated lemon and lime, pepper, and a mild red chili.  When it’s cooked, I drizzle it with lemon.

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Before I cook the fish, I prepare my version of the “repollo.”

Half head of cabbage sliced thinly

1 grated carrot

Dressing: 1/4 cup (59.15 mL) sherry vinegar,  1/4 c (59.15 mL) sunflower oil, seasoned salt to taste, 1 teaspoon (2.60g) each of onion and garlic granules, salt and pepper to taste.  For most dressings, you always need a bit of sweetener, and I like to use jams, so I add 1 Tablespoon (20g) of my jalapeno or apricot jams.  Shake vigorously and add to the  combined cabbage and carrot.  Put in a lidded jar and shake to assure that each cabbage leaf gets covered generously.

Warm corn tortillas on the stove with just a little butter or oil.  They are better if they are warmed and soft rather than fried.  Frying the corn tortillas are great for beef tacos, but it tends to overwhelm the delicate fish in this case.   Make your taco by placing a serving of the fish on the corn tortilla topped with the repollo.  Sometimes, I’m not sure the pictures does the meal justice, but it was delicious!

Around holidays, I love to cook large meals for family or friends.  Obviously, with the importance of physical distancing, I knew that the grand meal would have to be for the two of us, and we would feasts on left overs for the remainder of the week.

The Easter Dinner – The Menu:

Leg of lamb, grilled flat bread, Greek salad, Tzaziki (cucumber/yogurt),  and deviled eggs with lemon-saffron panna cotta for dessert.  Now the leg of lamb cooked on a charcoal grill takes some practice, and Dale has perfected the skill over the years.  The secret is never letting the charcoals sit directly under the meat.  They must be on both edges of the grill “kettle” with a drip pan separating them.  The drip pan sits directly under the leg of lamb (or turkey if we cook that!).   I prepare the leg of lamb by rubbing it with pesto that I make up in the fall and freeze.  This time, I had three slices of bacon left in a package, so I topped the lamb with that and draped it to protect lean that was not covered in fat.

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Notice the charcoals.  Dale adds 24 already red and ashy charcoals on each side every 30 minutes for up to three hours for this seven pound (3.17 kg) leg of lamb.  We take it off when the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65.56 Celsius).  We let it sit for 10 minutes before we slice it.  We serve it with the Tziziki, diced cucumbers mixed with Greek style plain yogurt.  I season the Tziiziki with salt, pepper, onion and garlic granules).

The Greek salad was a simple mix of romaine, tomatoes, feta cheese, cucumbers, and green onions with a balsamic dressing mixed up by Dale. It was delicious! We served the meal with red wine from the Rijoa region of Spain.  I think we tried to touch as many cultural cuisines as we could!   It worked, and it was lovely!

Now, for the panna cotta, I took a simple box of lemon flavored box gelatin that takes one cup of boiling water and one cup of cold water.  Instead of the cold water, I used one cup of canned milk.  Once all that was mixed, I added about 8 strands of saffron, which I think is one of the most wonderful spice, ever!  The scent of saffron is only surpassed by its subtle but distinctive flavor.  It made a sublime addition to the simple gelatin dessert, which I am choosing to call, “panna cotta.”

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All this was served with great love and friendship with my spouse.  Thank you for reading!

Mother’s Visit

My 90 year old mother had not seen our new (to us) home since we moved to a different town, so she wanted to make the 18-hour drive to see us and arrived on Monday, March 9, 2020.  Luckily, her 82 year old husband and 70-something brother were along to do the driving. My mother makes a great drill sergeant,  so she “supervised” the trip.

They arrived the day after my friends left our house for their weekend visit.  Most interesting, also, it was when the COVID-19 stories began to surface in a serious way.  We went out to eat on the day they arrived, but after that, the university where I work and which was in spring break mode, began to think about what to do with 20-thousand-plus students.  Administration decided to extend spring break one week, and then we’d work on turning all of our classes into a virtual format.  Suffice it to say that I have been conducting meetings and teaching schedules in a virtual format called, Zoom (c).  It’s been an interesting way to do business.

My mother likes to eat, though she eats very little save sweets and starches.  The second night of her visit, I fixed grilled chicken and pesto pasta.  I’m still using the 30-plus small containers of pesto that I made last summer from a prolific basil plant.  The lovely thing is that pesto, when prepared and frozen properly, looks as green and lovely thawing from teh freezer as the day you put it in.  I simply seasoned the chicken thighs with seasoned salt and garlic powder, and grilled until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F (75 degrees Celsius).  I cooked the pasta until al dente and tossed it with thawed pesto.  I sprinkled it with a little more Parmesan after I served it.  We had a added roasted Brussels sprouts and crusty bread and enjoyed it with a sparkling Cava.  My mother mostly ate the bread with lots of butter.  Last fall, Dale and I took a sparkling wine and Cava tasting class at K-State’s College of Health and Human Sciences’ Hotel and Hospitality department. It was a good lesson.

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Last December when I was home, in Western Colorado, I had noticed a perfect wasps’ nest.  I showed it to my step-father and told him all about such wasps (Bald-faced hornet, actually) being the best of architects!  Low and behold, unknown to me, he had cut it down and presented it to me as a gift.  Please understand that these hornets leave the nests in the cold of winter, but to make sure, I stuck it in the freezer for 24 hours.  Then it became a decoration.  The nest now hangs from my living room ceiling.  Look at its beauty!  The queen builds this paper nest going round and round.  While she builds the walls, she builds the comb, which will hold the workers.  It’s perfect, as many things in nature are.

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Interestingly, we discovered a yellow jacket nest in our yard.  They build underground, and they are perfect until an opossum came along and tore it out.   They like to eat the larvae.  That’s another story for another time.

Well, it was a great time with mother.  I am 63 years old, and she still feels the need to tell me that I’m cooking wrong, cleaning wrong, and she has opinions about my behavior.  She did like the variety of birds feeding at my various feeding stations, so that was entertaining.  Here’s another thing that makes mother think that perhaps I was switched at birth with her “real” daughter, because her own daughter would have better sense.  While she was visiting, I created my seasonal centerpiece.  I found the idea somewhere, but I can’t remember, but the idea is not mine.

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Dale drew the horrified faces on the little guys.  Well, as always, thank you for reading me.