Eating Together – At a Distance

I took the “featured image” as “The Guys” began an evening fishing trip on Chautauqua Lake in Western New York, not far from Lake Erie. My memories of floating in that lake on my back with my head submerged just enough to shut out the sounds of the world with only my breathing noticeable, is one of my most healing experiences – ever. This photo, taken with my cell phone, illustrates the colors of peace and serenity at a time that I needed it most, having lost our daughter six months earlier that year, 2016.

Here we live in 2020 during a pandemic. We continue to stay connected with friends and family through calls, virtual meetings, and occasional visits to the back deck. I admit, my usual practice was to invite large gatherings for food, stories, drinks, music, and such. I love to be around people!

Sorry about the random pictures! I’m trying to get used to the “new” format of WordPress! Not sure I like it.

As we navigate the new way of being in community, with others, the onus falls on each of us to practice safe distances. Rather than abandon my social life, I continue to look for ways to engage with my friends, families, and others by opting for outdoor interactions with no more than two to three people. We can be at a safe distance on my back deck or my front patio that way.

Serving food can be a challenge. How can I assure the visitors to my deck for patio that I am practicing safe hygiene practices in my kitchen? I wash my hands, a lot!, and wear a mask when preparing food to share. Also, I use plates fresh from the dishwasher! Instead of my usual cloth napkins, I use paper napkins.

I went to a birthday party last June. My friend staged the party on her concrete driveway. Each of us provided our own chairs, dinner services, drink, snacks, and glasses or cups. The friend provided cakes from a professional caterer. It was a great time for people who were feeling isolated. Look at the cakes.

I thought the distancing for the party demonstrated a rather safe way to interact. There were face masks worn, though the picture shows none. Notice the chalk markings to indicate six feet!

In the meantime, we must be creative to keep our connections with one another without exposing ourselves and others to the COVID-19 virus.

So, what have I cooked lately?

Experimenting in the kitchen, especially during this pandemic, gives me great pleasure. Sure, we like to eat, and we have to find ways to make our meals fun, even if we change places where we take our meal. We like the patio in the front of the house for breakfast. We sit with our hibiscus with our morning eggs and coffee (or whatever else we’re having that morning!). In the evening, we sit on the back deck. We enjoy watching the birds, listening to the sounds of the evening: birds chirping, cicadas making that familiar crackling known as crepitation, and dogs barking. Interestingly, if you listen closely, you hear the hum of car engines, children emoting, and leaves rustling. What a better way to take a meal.

The experiments in the kitchen still surprise me. Nine times out of 10, they are tasty and fun. We have a great Thai food restaurant. My favorite dish is basil fried rice. It’s almost too hot with Thai chilies, even when I order “mild.” I have made the rice at home. The one thing that I’ve not done well is topping the fried rice with the egg that’s been “poached” in about three inches of hot oil. The egg white comes out crispy crunchy while the yolk stays runny and creamy!

Based on my tasting and listing what I think are the ingredients:

1 big bunch of fresh basil, one quarter of an onion, two cloves fresh garlic, one or two Thai or other hot chilies, one-half red pepper, all sauteed in sesame oil on medium high heat. Once the vegetables have properly sweated, add a bit of fish sauce and frozen green beans or peas and carrots. Now add the rice and fry some more with added soy sauce. Top it with a poached egg or fry it in butter, over-easy. The extra flavor from the restaurant comes from “poaching” (actually deep fat frying) the egg in hot oil. The egg should only be in the hot, deep oil less than one minute. The egg pictured here was steamed in butter, and I let it get a little crispy on the bottom.

We enjoyed it very much.

Thank you for reading me.

A Few of My Favorite Cooks

The lovely stained glass sits in my window, and I love the way it washes me in color when I stand by it with sun rays streaming in.  Color can be quite soothing.

I love to cook, bake, and create in my kitchen.  By the same token, I love the foods coming from the kitchens of family and friends, so I thought I’d dedicate this post to the many creative cooks in my life.  I’ll begin with my mother.  She is 90 years old, and goes to the kitchen to cook everyday, three times a day.  My siblings and I want her to slow down by emphasizing that we do not want her to put on the full-blown meals, as is in her nature.  Here are her beautiful hands.  She was a nurse for five decades.  She retired at 80.

Mom hands

She does cook for her husband and herself daily, which is great for cognitive support.  Growing up, I remember her greatest meals were those with fresh ingredients.  Our hometown has a vegetable and beef farm by day and a drive-in theater by night.  In the summer, Mom would go out to the “truck farm” and get beef  to roast and fresh cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes.  She’d bake the roast until it browned evenly with the crispy ends.  She sliced the cucumbers and onions, and marinated them in vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper, a simple marinade.  She’d slice the large beefsteak tomatoes and laid them out on a plate for serving.  So the menu consisted of roast been, cucumbers and onions in a simple vinaigrette, and sliced tomatoes.  We ate the tomatoes sprinkled with salt.  Dessert was cantaloupe or watermelon; when they were in season.  Dad would bring home sugar beets that had fallen off the railroad car, and he would bake those for a sweet fall or winter dessert.  The sweetness of a baked sugar beet is just like having pie!  Here are some sugar beets I grew a few summers ago.  Beets were a source of sugar to a long time until a Cuban embargo focused the sugar power in the fields of Hawai’i’s cane fields.  Seriously, if you ever grow these, they make a wonderful  dessert roasted.   Back to my story…
thumbnail_IMG_5161

We visited my hometown about four weeks ago.  Mother made this lovely cake for my sister’s dinner (distant) gathering.  I marvel at Mother’s persistence in creating something beautiful and tasty for her family.  Here is her strawberry angel food cake.

Mom cake

Now, you should know that my list  of favored cooks is quite extensive, and I will miss someone, I’m sure.  Our son, Stevie, and late daughter, Riki, have cooked or baked some most memorable meals.  Of course, I’ve written about Stevie’s meat pies and his fabulous bread.  Riki made killer chicken and noodles, complete with homemade noodles.  She baked fabulous bread, too.  Sadly, we lost Riki nearly five years ago, but her memory continues to bless us.

My friend, Kathy, makes this wonderful appetizer, called, French Quarter Dip.  It possesses the most wonderful combination of sweet and savory for a cracker.

100_2280

Here’s Kathy’s recipe:

French Quarter Cheese Dip

                              Kathy Sexson

8 oz cream cheese

1 Tbs grated onion

1 garlic clove, minced

¼ c. packed dark brown sugar

¼ c. butter (1/2 stick)

1 tsp worcestershire sauce

½ tsp. prepared mustard

1 c. chopped pecans

combine cream cheese, onion and garlic, mix well shape into 6” mound on serving place.  Chill, covered, til set.

Combine brown sugar, butter, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and pecans in sauce pan.  Cook till butter melts, stir.  Uncover cheese mound, pour pecan mixture over top.  Chill covered till ready to serve.  Serve with crackers.

Kathy’s Low Country Boil leaves memories, too.  I remember the first time we witnessed and participated in the dinner.  I wondered about plates.  Kathy said, “no” it’s served on the table with paper.”  Then, I remembered the wonderful crayfish boils that I had had in New Orleans, so it did not seem odd at all.

Shrimp Boil  AKA Low-country boil

From Kathy Sexson

16 c.    water

¼ c      old bay seasoning or crab boil seasoning w/ quartered lemons (I use latter)

2-3 tsp ground red pepper

2 lb.     cooked smoked sausage, (I grill it first), cut in 1 ½” chunks

2 lb.     tiny new potatoes, halved if large

10        small onions, peeled, about 3 lbs. ( I use the little bitty ones that come dozen or so to mesh bag)

5 ears   fresh corn, shucked and broken into halves or thirds

2 lbs.   fresh or frozen large shrimp, in shells

¼ c      butter, melted (optional)

Optional ingredients:

¼ c      snipped fresh herbs, such as thyme, oregano, and or basil (optional – I don‘t bother with this)

Cocktail sauce – you can use little bowls for this or just pour on table  J

Bottled hot pepper sauce

  1. in large pot combine water, seasoning, and ground red pepper. Cover and bring to boil.  Once boiling, add sausage, potatoes, onions and corn.  Return to boiling, reduce heat.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.    Add shrimp.  Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes or until shrimp turns opaque.   Remove from heat, let stand 5 minutes.
  2. Carefully (duh) drain in large colander. Dump on da table.  No forks or plates allowed!      If desired, combine melted butter and herbs and drizzle over food.  Serve with cocktail sauce and hot pepper sauce, and drawn butter (add few drops of olive oil to butter to keep from solidifying.)   makes 10 servings.

Note – this recipe forgives easily, so be creative.  If you like one thing more than another (i.e. shrimp or sausage) add more.

You can serve on table on newspaper, but I prefer to get one of those, large, WATERPROOF picnic table cloths for a buck.

Shrimp boil1

Here, we are pictured with the blues band, The Nighthawks, from Washington D. C.  They were in town to give a concert at the zoo.  Good times!

My Friend, Mary L.’s Quick Pie From Scratch!

After finishing a lovely meal on a cozy winter evening, one of our friends said, “I wish we had a pie!”  Luckily, our dear friend, Mary Lake, was at table, too.  She’s one of the best pie-makers in the world!  Mary and I bet, those around the table, that we could produce a pie from scratch in 30 minutes.  The race was on!  The stopwatch began counting the time.  Mary got busy making her famous oil crust, and I set to getting the apples ready.  Fortunately, I had several quart jars of canned apples from the previous summer’s windfall of crispy, sweet apples.  I dumped a quart of apples in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of quick tapioca, cinnamon, 3 tablespoons sugar, and a pat of butter.  Here’s Mary’s crust recipe:

2 cups of all-purpose flour

Dash of salt mixed in flour – put flour/salt mixture in a bowl.

½ cup of vegetable oil (Mary likes corn oil for its nutty flavor. I use sunflower oil.)

5 tablespoons buttermilk (Make some with milk and vinegar if you have no buttermilk on hand)

1 glass pie plate.  It must be a clear, oven-proof pie plate.

With a fork, emulsify the oil and buttermilk until well blended.

Add to flour mixture

Stir with a fork until all flour is well-moistened

Divide, and put half of the dough on a square sheet of parchment paper. Shape into a round, flat disc without handling the dough too much. Place another square sheet of parchment, and roll out the dough with a rolling pin.  Once the dough is the size of your glass pie place.  Shape to the pie plate.  Repeat for the top crust.  Once the top crust is rolled out, place the fruit in the pie plate with the bottom crust.  Settle the fruit in to the crust, and then place the top crust. Shape the edges of the pie crust, cut air vents with scissors, and sprinkle crust with cinnamon sugar.

Place your pie in the microwave oven for 12 to13 minutes.  Meanwhile pre-heat your conventional oven to 400°.  After the time sounds for the microwave, remove the pie from the microwave, and place it into your conventional oven for 12-13 minutes, or until the crust is browned.

Mary and I put our apple pie on the table in 35 minutes.  The microwave oven gets the fruit cooking and thickened.  This shortens the time in the conventional oven, and prevents burned edges.  Starting the pie in the microwave only works for fruit pies.  Do not try with custard pies.

Here is a picture of a mince pie with the oil crust.  You can see that the crust if tender and flaky.  The cinnamon sugar mixture gives the crust a beautiful glow.

IMG_4615

I knew if I began to write about my favorite cooks, I would leave someone out of my story, but let us say that other writing will be devoted, further, to more of my favorite cooks.    I will leave you, now, with one of my favorite breakfasts: Egg taco with Dalgona coffee.

The egg taco is a small 1-egg omelet with green chilies.  I fry/warm it in a small cast iron skillet, 6.5 inches (16.51 cm), which is the perfect size for one corn tortilla. Use a little bit of butter so that the skillet does not stick.   Cook one side of the egg, and lay the tortilla to begin to warm. Flip to cook the other side of the omelette.  All this works best with a small lid to steam the egg.

The coffee, all the rage these days, is simple.  Use 1 teaspoon instant coffee, 1 teaspoon coconut sugar, and 1 tablespoon water, 1 tablespoon milk.  Whip into a froth.  Pour over 1/2 cup milk (on ice or steamed milk).  Pictured here, I have used steamed milk.  Yummy, and it’s low calorie.

egg taco

Thank you for reading!

Happy Accidents…in the Kitchen

My featured image proves that there are happy accidents in the kitchen.  It’s cheese with a dollop of my APOS jam, i.e. Apricot-pineapple-orange-saffron jam.  While one may want to consume a bite of this with a cracker, I found it wonder to take a small serving and eating it with a small spoon.  Think – small spoon with which one might eat caviar.  Also, it’s great on a nut cracker, which does not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the cheese and the jam.

How did I make the cheese?  That’s the happy accident!  Backstory: I drink lactose-free milk.  I have a favorite brand, but I was at a different grocery store a few weeks ago, and I bought the “store brand” of lactose-free milk.  An ingredient added to lactose-free (lactose is milk sugar) milk is lactase, an enzyme that helps us to digest milk sugar.  Cells in the walls of the small intestine produce lactase.

Well, I was heating up the milk on the stove for coffee.  It separated, just like when you put a rennet tablet in milk you’ve heated to 118 degrees fahrenheit (47.7779 C) for cheese.  Noticing that curds had separated from the whey, I poured it all in a cheese bag.  After squeezing more whey out of it, I had a creamy, solid ball of cheese.  The natural sugars in milk rendered a slightly sweet cheese.  I added salt to the forming curds to give it some body.  Voilà, c’est fromage!

Always looking for yummy happy hour appetizers, I purchased another of the “store brand” of the lactose-free milk, this time from a different store.  I heated it to about 120 degrees F. (48.8889 C), and this time, the curds that separated from the whey were smaller.  Well, I thought a nice dessert cheese would be nice, so I added a small box of lemon flavored gelatin and 6 strands of the wonderful saffron!  I rubbed the lovely orange-red (crimson?) stigma and styles in my hand to release the aroma and flavors.  After I spend a few minutes deeply inhaling the perfume of the saffron, I mixed the gelatin and the saffron gently so as not to disturbed the developing curds too much.

I let the mixture gather, drain, and form in the cheese cloth for about 8 hours.  The result was the most scrumptious, creamy cheese you could imagine.  Quite incredible considering that I did not age it in a dark room surrounded by little pine wood cases (I’m thinking of one of my favorite cheeses, brie!).  It turned out to be a great appetizer with a small glass of sweet vermouth.  Or it could be a small dessert with a small glass of port.

Notice the color imparted by the lemon-flavored gelatin and the orange-red streaks from the saffron.  I’ve used the lemon-saffron combination for Thanksgiving “jello” salad last fall.  Right now, I am thinking about other flavors.  I wonder how blueberry would taste.  I mean, it’s best not to expect, like, Stilton, which goes great with blueberry.  It may be worth a try.

Actually, I found the best cheese cloths are handi -wipes.  I think handi-wipes are a cloth-paper hybrid.  They’re great for a semi-disposable dish  cloth that dries easily to cut down on bacterial build-up in the kitchen.  I use those freshly from the bag – never used.

Now, this is not a happy accident, but my friend, Mirta, asked if I knew how to make lavender honey.  I had some locally-sourced honey, which carries the local pollen, which helps us to build up immunities to those pollens as allergens.  Also, I had some locally sourced lavender from a friend.  I heated the honey, which was starting to crystalize, just enough to make the crystals melt.  Then I crushed the lavender buds to add them to the honey.  I used about two cups of honey and 1/8  of a cup crushed lavender bud and one drop of lavender essential oil, for good measure.  The result was delicious!  It’s great on toast, with peanut butter on bread, and in teas.

The immersion blender helped to whip the honey into a creamy substance while it assured that no lavender buds would get stuck in your throat.

I have more creations from my kitchen, but I will share those later.

Thank you for reading.

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:

thumbnail_IMG_6250

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!

thumbnail_IMG_6252

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.

jam3

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.

thumbnail_IMG_5696

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.

img_5526

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.

thumbnail_IMG_5611

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.

thumbnail_IMG_5694

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.

 

Nature, Meditation, and Cooking

I hope you like my featured photo.  I took it on my way home from Nebraska in 2017.  We had traveled there to witness the total solar eclipse.  Of course it was incredible, and luckily, the sun set that day with a spectacular view in Western Kansas.

I have a list of topics on which to write in my series of blog posts.  One thing I thought of was the joy of camping.  My Father used to take us camping when we were young. Of the seven children, all of us continue to enjoy nature and all it has to offer us.  My best memories of camping with my father and siblings were the nature lessons on edible plants, astronomy, mushroom hunting, and fishing.  Cooking what we caught and gathered was the best part, and eating all of the food we prepared was the bonus.  My father used to sing to us while he cooked our camp meals.  Today, our camp sites are a place for gathering (Pre-Corona Virus times), conversing, and enjoying each detail of the natural world around us.

My Father’s favorite and best meal was, “Sheepherder’s Delight.”  Basically, it is a one-pan meal, and was cooked over an open fire.  It was a favorite of Dad’s for camping trips since it was a staple meal for sheep herders who lived in the mountains of Colorado with during the summers, as was my Father’s life as a young boy.  Today, when my family goes camping, we prepare the meal the way Dad did, but when we make it at home, we change it a bit.  Here’s my Father’s recipe for Sheepherder’s Delight prepared in one large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven:

1 pound (0.45 kg) of bacon.  Cook until crisp.  Remove cooked bacon, and set aside.  Cube two to four potatoes, depending on the number people that you will feed.  Figure about one small potato per person or two people for a large potato.  Place the potatoes in the hot bacon grease, and fry until soft with crisp edges.

Next, open a can of prepared baked beans, pork and beans, or beans in tomato sauce.  Pour the beans over the potatoes, and add the cooked bacon.  I don’t have a picture of it, but it’s best served after a hard day of hiking, fishing, mushroom hunting, or what ever you do to enjoy nature.  We have a slightly different take on Sheepherder’s Delight when we’re at home.  We change up the ingredients:

1 pound of ground beef (453.592g) I’m sorry if my metric measurements are not quite right.  I look them up on the web for the conversions.  Cook the ground beef with some diced onions, salt, and pepper.

Prepare the potatoes for oven baking.  I cut mine into strips, and toss them with salt, pepper, some oil, and some malt vinegar.  Bake the potatoes in an oven set at ~365 degrees Farenheit (185C). Bake until brown and crispy at the edges.

While the potatoes are baking, finish cooking the ground beef.  Drain of any extra fat.  Then you’re ready to add the canned baked beans, pork and beans, or with what you’re familiar.  It should look like this.

Now, to assemble this wonderful comfort food, bring the potatoes out of the oven.  Arrange some of the potatoes on your plate.  Then serve the bean-meat mixture over the potatoes.  We make this for camping trips.  We use one pan by cooking the potatoes first.  Set them aside while you cook the meat.  Add the beans, and serve over the potatoes.  I forgot to take a picture of the finished product until I had but one bit remaining.

thumbnail_IMG_5566

Another thing we do to enjoy nature is hike up to my Father’s fire circle.  It’s in the same mountains of his childhood and that of his children, grandchildren, and the “Old Ones,” our ancestors.  The Fire Circle is a place to drum and sing our songs, and honor our beloved ancestors.  The hike to our sacred fire circle is about two miles from the main forest service road.  We pass stands of quaking aspen trees, scrub oak, pinon pine, and Ponderosa pine trees.  The fire circle overlooks a canyon where my people hid when the U.S. government was removing them from their ancestral lands to reservations in the 1800s.  It is a very sad time in American history, that is not taught in the schools today.  Here’s a glimpse of those lands.  Our grandson enjoys his time there.

thumbnail_IMG_8416

Speaking of “Indian Removal,” there is the reality that the people were moved away from their hunting and gathering grounds, so there was no way to raise their food.  So the government provided commodities, food surpluses, which included white flour, powdered milk, lard, and a variety of canned meats and vegetables.  The food was highly processed, and we can trace obesity and diabetes back to this down turn in our physical health and food sovereignty.  Having only white flour, dry milk powder, and lard, fry-bread was born, out of necessity.   Though it is a symbol of a bad time for my ancestors, we use it today to symbolize that we are resourceful, and we are still here!  Here I am frying bread at my Father’s fire circle.  My grand nephew was learning how to roll out the dough.  It’s never too early to teach the “younguns” as my brother would say.  He was the one hauling the cast iron Dutch oven up to the circle.  The elevation is ~8,000-plus  feet above sea level.  The beauty contributes to the meditative state in which we find ourselves when we visit this place.

It was a good day to be alive and a good day to honor our ancestors while celebrating the children.

Thank you for reading.

Cooking for the Senses

Good evening!  I like to feature pictures of family and friends, though I may not have anything to say about them.  In this case, the featured image is that of my granddaughter placing her late mother’s (our daughter) bracelet at a sacred fire.  It’s one of our Indigenous traditions to honor our ancestors and loved ones who no longer walk with us here on earth.

As many of you are experiencing with physical distancing, my spouse and I are working from home.  It seems that I am more busy now than when I was going to my office on campus.  Teaching, collaborating, and meeting virtually has added another layer of tasks, but I am grateful for a job, to say the least.  As for my time in the kitchen, I continue to create new recipes and search for ideas from magazines and cookbooks.

One of our favorite dishes is spaghetti (often linguine) and clam sauce.  It was a recipe Dale brought to our marriage a few decades ago.  It begins:

One bunch of green onions, three cloves of fresh garlic, a handful of chopped fresh basil leaves, 2 tablespoons (28g) butter, and 2 tablespoons (30mL) olive oil.  Drain two cans of clams (1 can baby clams and 1 can of shredded clams). Reserve the liquid for the sauce. Set the clams aside to add later.

Saute the herbs seasoning vegetables, butter, and oil until soft.

Add 1.5 cup (354.88 mL) of white wine and the clam juice drained from the canned clams.   Simmer the sauce  until thickened.     Cook your pasta, in salted water,  to al dente.  Once your liquids and herbs have thickened, add the clams.  Drain pasta.  Toss the pasta and the clam mixture.

The day before I prepared this dish, I had baked a dense seed bread.  I sliced the bread and toasted it with rosemary butter (the rosemary and basil came from my window herb pots).  We ate this with a simple romaine salad with a sesame-ginger dressing (really!) and a lovely, crisp Sauvignon Blanc.   The aromas of this meal were sublime!  Garlic, basil, rosemary, sesame, and ginger.  Now, you might think that the sesame-ginger dressing would not be a fit.  Somehow, it worked! Cheers!

Medicinal Chocolate?

I went to high school more than 40 years ago.  My high school music teacher, Professor D. W. Bauguess, continues to be a great influence on me these decades later.  We talk about many things from music, philosophy, food preparation to health and wellness.  He shares his recipes for wellness.  The one that catches my eye is his chocolates.  Here’s the recipe. I have modified it a bit, because I don’t need the extra calories, and it’s rich enough!

2 cups (418g) extra virgin coconut oil

1/4 cup (1 stick/57g) salted butter (it calls for one pound!)

1.5 cup (360g) almond butter

16 ounces (452g) 100% cacao powder

5 tablespoons (65g) vanilla extract

1 cup (340g) honey

1 cup (322g) pure maple syrup  (the original recipe calls for 2 cups honey)

Put on low heat until all is melted. I made a double boiler with two pans.  That allowed for a slow melt. Do not let it boil or simmer!

One the ingredients are fully incorporated and melted, spoon into small muffin cups.  If you have help, you can take the time to shape the chocolates.  I simply dropped them from a teaspoon. Freeze for one hour, then put the frozen chocolates (in their muffin cups) in a sealed bag or lidded container. Place back into freezer.  Enjoy from the freezer, or keep them in refrigerator.  I like them cold and firm!  Each, approximately, 1 teaspoon serving is about 92 calories each.  This makes about 105 pieces.  I added all the ingredients’ calories and divided that by how many pieces I made, so that comes to about 92 calories each.  I could be wrong, though.

thumbnail_IMG_5446

The chocolates are rich and luscious.  I eat one a day.  The cacao is high in antioxidants, and the other ingredients are pure and nutritious!  Go with it, and enjoy!   Thank you for reading my blog.

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.

thumbnail_IMG_5382

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.

thumbnail_IMG_5418

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.”

thumbnail_IMG_5428

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