Celery and Dehydrated Veggies

Based on what readers are following in this blog, it seems that writing about cooking is a bit more popular, so here goes another entry about food.

If you have a thriving garden, no doubt, you wonder what to do with odds and ends of the vegetable waste.  I have a few ideas for you.

Whether you grow celery or buy it in a store, it can keep feeding you even after you’ve used the stalk, ribs, and leaves for varying recipes.  You can grow your own, for continued use, right in your own kitchen!

Hold your whole celery with the leaves on top.  Cut from the base of the stalks up about 2-3 inches from the bottom.  Put the ribs/stalks in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator.  I like to wrap mine newly cut celery in a clean dish towel for a dryer storage.

Place that cut base in a small jar filled with water.  After a week, or so, you will begin to see roots sprouting from the base in the water.  When you see many small roots coming off the bottom, you will, also, see small leaves and stalk begin to reach up toward the “sky”.  Either you can use snips of the growing stalk to add flavor to your cooking, or you can plant the rooted base in potting soil.  After a week, or so, the celery will begin to grow taller each day.  You can use those growing celery stalks to further flavor your cooking.  I’ve used my growing celery for about six months.  Each time you cut the growing stalks and leaves, they will keep growing.

Those small stalks are tender, and work well in tuna salad, stir-fry, and that ubiquitous, aromatic trio of carrot, celery, and onion.  French cooks call it “mirepoix” (meer-pwah), Spanish cooks call it, “Sofrito” (so-free-toe), and Italian cooks call it Buttuto (boo-two-toe) or Soffritto. This lovely “trinity” pulls the best of flavors from the other ingredients included in your cooking and makes a lovely base for many soups.

Another thing that I do when I get to the end of my vegetables, if I have more than I need, or if I don’t think I will use the veggies before they go bad, I chop them into small pieces and put them in my food dehydrator. 

 Once the vegetables are dehydrated, I grind them in my coffee grinder (used only for herbs/spices) and process until the dried mixture resembles small flakes. 

I put the vegetable flakes in a small jar with a shaker top (used herb bottle/jar) for use in a variety of food preparations. I have some favorite combinations: 

General Dried Blend: 

  • Celery 
  • Kale 
  • Carrots 
  • Leeks 
  • Orange Peel 
  • Sweet Red Pepper 

This blend goes well in soups, on cottage cheese (for a Bourisin Cheese taste), on eggs, etc. 

 My next favorite blend I like to use in seafood soups, on fish, etc. 

Seafood Blend: 

  • Fennel bulb 
  • Celery 
  • Carrot 
  • Lemon Peel 
  • Sweet Red Pepper 

 Drying veggies takes about 24 to 48 hours to dry on the “dried vegetable” setting of the dehydrator. You can be creative in the kinds of vegetables that you dry for your mix. You can also dehydrate veggies without grinding them for use in soups. 

As mentioned previously, with the Mirepoix, I make a dehydrated Mirepoix, and I add mushrooms to the trio before drying.  The mushrooms add extra glutamate for more enhanced flavor in cooking.  I like to use this mix in my marinara or pizza sauces.

Somehow, I think creating dishes in the kitchen becomes a sort of therapy that feeds my artistic side.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

It’s Basil Time!

After work today, I returned home to realize that my basil plant needed harvesting, again.  The climate in my usually draught-stricken part of the state has been especially wet this summer.  The farm manager, where I work, told us that the average precipitation in July, for this region, hovers around 2.5 inches of rainfall.  As of last week, we had received 8.98 inches of rainfall, and the basil is loving it! I hear other gardens are doing well, too.  Let’s talk about basil.

If you read about the healing properties of basil, you know that it’s an anti-viral.  So, let’s look at pesto.  I think it could be a near perfect food, in my estimation, because of the ingredients.  It’s full of basil with its “green” power, protein from the pine nuts and the parmesan cheese, garlic is known as a vasodilator, and extra virgin olive oil is known for its healthy mono-unsaturated fats, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Here’s how I make pesto:

1 very, very large bunch of fresh basil leaves

5 large cloves of garlic (Glad we don’t live in Chicago in the 1920s when one could not go into public for 24 hours after consuming garlic!)

½ cup grated parmesan cheese (more or less)

½ cup pine nuts (piñon nuts) (more or less)

Enough extra virgin olive oil for a nice consistency

Of course, I’m not exactly sure about the measurements.  I just add them until it “looks right”

Throw it all in a blender, and blend into a pourable consistency, or thicker, if you like.

It’s best to freeze it for a lovely green treat in the winter months.  It looks just as green the day you take it out to thaw as the day you put it in the freezer!

So, what do you do with pesto?

It can be tossed in any pasta salad or anti-pasti salad.  Just the other day, I cooked some whole wheat spaghetti, and I cooled them.   To that I added grilled zucchini, onions, carrots, corn (on the cob), and eggplant (cubed after grilling).   After the veggies have cooled, I added them to the cooled pasta.  Then I tossed all with cubed mozzarella.  Grilling the veggies added a special smoky flavor to the “salad”.  Then I added the fresh, green, thawed pesto with just a bit of balsamic to add that tang.

Another is caprese salad, as shown in the featured photo.  I had fresh garden tomatoes, so they called for basil leaves, fresh mozzarella (smeared with pesto), and tomato.  Don’t you just love the colors in the photo.  Do you think caprese salad was made to look like the flag of Italy?  I like to drizzle a little balsamic.  We ate a lovely supper, tonight, of the caprese salad, with canned sardines, and saltine crackers.  It was a most satisfying meal with an accompanying glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Thank you for reading.

Conviviality and “Hygge”

The goal today is not to be another foodie blogger, though I love to cook, bake, and, often, I get to do those things in a social settings with family, friends, and acquaintances.  I do want to talk about an aspect of nourishing our bodies along with our spirits and our lives, as in “Joie de vivre” (joy of living).

As a word collector, one of my favorites is conviviality, the quality of being friendly and lively or friendliness. Merriam-Webster takes a different approach in its meaning by connecting conviviality, specifically, to food and feasting in “good company.”  Whatever the definition of conviviality, I love the concept, and I love engaging in the act of being convivial.

A few years ago, I went to a food science conference at the University of Arizona in Tucson.  The focus of the conference was the Mediterranean Diet: Eating fresh, non-processed, omega rich foods and having a small amount of red wine each day.  What I found to be the most intriguing was the emphasis on convivial eating: sharing food with family or friends and taking your dear, sweet time to allow slow, digestible consumption of food while enjoying each other’s company.  The food scientists at this conference emphasized that the food choices play an important role in healthful eating, but went on to say that the slow, deliberate sharing of food and conversation is equally as important.  It made me wonder if there is a word in the Italian vocabulary for “fast food”.  I hope not.  I can’t help but connote the notion of fast food with un-healthful eating.

The food writer, Michael Pollan said, “The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling our bodies to a ritual of family and community, from mere animal biology to an act of culture”.  To that I think of the holiday meal that takes a full day to prepare, and most eat it in a matter of moments.  Perhaps a healthier thing would be to take at least half of the preparation time for consuming the meal.  So, if it takes 8 hours to prepare the meal, take 3-4 hours to eat it.  Okay, that may be excessive!  What if we took 2 hours to consume our holiday meal?  It would certainly honor the hands that prepared it.  In addition, the slow consumption of the meal would keep us from overeating, because our brains would know when we’re full sooner.

Opposite of convivial meal times is observing our grandchildren eating in the school lunch room.  The students must consumer their meals in as few as 15 minutes. The lunchroom “monitors” highly discourage conversation as well.  I know children are highly adaptable, but I can’t help but think that the daily school lunches may add some unnecessary stress to the developing mind and body. From all appearances, the children don’t seem to enjoy the process.

The Danish have the word “Hygge” (pr. Ooga or hee-gah).  Likely the word from which we get “hug”, hygge is the feeling of coziness, fun, or contentment.  The intimate setting of a small dinner party or an impromptu gathering with family or friends makes me think of hygge.  One of my favorite places for that feeling of hygge is around the camp fire in the mountains or sitting with family or friends near a body of water.  The word, “delicious” comes to mind.

The featured photo in today’s blog is that of my sister’s in-laws in Italy.  My Sis is at the far end and cannot be seen from this vantage point.  Please notice that the family is gathered around a table that seats 18.  My sister tells me that the hostess prepares fresh mozzarella and bread every day.  When I gaze at this photo, I think I can smell the flavorful food, and I marvel at the wine being poured from pitchers.  Sis tells me that the meals there take two to three hours to consume; even when everyone at table does not speak the same languages.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Another Exciting Day in Peru

Yesterday, I introduced the topic a trip I took to Peru as part of a leadership program focused on agriculture and rural life.  Our first stop was Lima, which was the central travel point to each part of our journeys across the country.  So, from Lima, we departed to Chincha by bus, to Tarapoto (the jungle region), by airplane, to Cusco (the high Andean region) by plane, and back home, by plane.  Those trips will be outlined in due time.

As previously mentioned, our first day included a U.S.D.A. country briefing at the U.S. Embassy with Ambassador Rose M. Likins and her staff.  After the briefing and tour of the U.S. Embassy – Peru, we departed for lunch at the Casa Andina.  We were fed one of Peru’s favorite dishes, chicken. We ate chicken in many dishes.  This was a delicious baked chicken place atop a sautéed vegetable medley of onion, eggplant, zucchini, and sweet red pepper all lightly touched with a savory butter sauce. A baked and quartered potato accented the dish, which we washed down with Inka-Kola, a cotton-candy-flavored cola (caffeine) drink.  This dish is my featured photo today.

We departed for the Corgono S. A. flour mill in Callao.  It was a fascinating tour.  It made me think of the sugar factory at Ayala, in the state of Morellos, in Mexico where very old equipment was handled with the most care and “babied” to get the most out of it.  Similar to that sugar factory, the flour mill in Callao ran three shifts per day, and one shift was set for maintenance of the milling machinery and equipment.  Otherwise, the grain went through all of the steps that one might imagine in any flour mill.  Before the tour, we were asked to wear long pants, no open-toed shoes, and to bring no cameras.  Apparently, I didn’t take copious notes as I look back to my journal.  I do remember great pride that each person had in his work at the mill.  It was very loud, and there were no women employed on that day.  One wondered if that was the rule for this mill.  I neglected to ask.

After the flour mill tour, we boarded two buses to Chincha Province.  Our bus journey was along the coast line running south from Lima.  Interestingly, the coast line was dotted with what looked like chicken houses.  Remember, Peru eats a lot of chicken.  Also memorable was lots of eating establishments named for their proprietors: Restaurant Betty, Restaurant Oscar, Restaurant Wilbur, etc.  I delighted in the entrepreneurial spirit of the Peruano (How they refer to themselves.  We had been saying, “Peruvians’).  We stopped for snacks at a gas station along the way.  One could buy a bag of puffed corn, sweet potato chips, or lima bean “nuts” (similar to Corn Nuts) with a bottle of beer.  That was interesting, so most everyone availed themselves of the opportunity.  Our scheduled two-hour bus ride took a bit longer as one our buses had a flat tire.  I didn’t mind.  It gave us time to get out for a look about.  We watched automobiles and “Moto-Taxis” whiz by.  The salt-filled air was comfortable, and many aromas arose in the evening air.

We made it to our hotel in Chincha that evening.  We cleaned up and stayed in for dinner at the hotel. We ate lovely chicken or beef dishes and drank Pisco Sours.  We were first introduced to the Pisco Sour when we had visited the Embassy of Peru in Washington, D.C. the previous year.

I hope you found this story interesting.  Thank you for reading my blog.

 

 

 

 

A Ute Prayer: Earth Teach Me to Remember

I can’t remember where I found this, but it comes from my father’s people, the Uncompahgre a.k.a. Northern Ute.

Earth teach me stillness
as the grasses are stilled with light.
Earth teach me suffering
as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility
as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth Teach me caring
as the mother who secures her young.
Earth teach me courage
as the tree which stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation
as the ant which crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom
as the eagle which soars in the sky.
Earth teach me resignation
as the leaves which die in the fall.
Earth teach me regeneration
as the seed which rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself
as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness
as dry fields weep in the rain.

p.s. I posted a picture of a hummingbird moth (sphinx moth) feeding on an umbrella plant.  It reminds me of the beautiful wonder of nature.

Thank you for reading.

Making Your Own Fun

We just spent the past month with our grandchildren, which is the height of our summer months.  They like to eat different foods, so we focus a lot on the evening meal, and the eldest, KDW, has given himself the job of choosing the menus (grilled lamb, lasagne, fried chicken, shrimp fried rice, macaroni & cheese,  and spaghetti).  We try to have one meal with mussels, which is our only granddaughter’s favorite.  All meals end with some sort of ice cream or other frozen dairy product and games, such as Monopoly, bowling, swimming, and movies.  Never a dull moment!

The children have returned to their homes, and we are alone again, naturally.  So now,  we turn our focus to our friends.  My hubby is out of town, so I’ve been seeing our friends a lot this past week.   I just said goodbye, for the evening, to some ladies who came for dinner.  I’ve heard the phrase, “There’s nothing to do around here!”   Perhaps, it’s the non-creative mind that says such a thing.  There is always something to do.  When you’re used to making your own fun, it can be most stimulating.

This weekend has been especially busy for me, in terms of interacting with friends.  Friday, we had happy hour on the back porch.  There was lovely food, conversation, beverage, laughter, and getting to know some new friends.  On Saturday, I went to Lynn’s, house for some interesting fun.  We sat in a stock watering talk, filled with water, which was delicious on a hot, muggy day.

The point is that we can make our own fun.  I have wonderful friends, and all of us are easy “entertainers”.  That is, we fix some food, and have some friends, who usually bring more food, come to visit.  We share these evenings, evenly, among one another.  I suppose it helps that we all like to entertain, we love to cook, and we love discussing our lives with each other.  Half of our group is retired and some of us still work.  That’s another story, however.

The picture that I’m featuring here, is the Saturday afternoon on Lynn’s back porch with her “spa” made from a livestock tank.  We filled it with water, set out the spread of smoked salmon (caught in Alaska by Mark & Kathy), blue corn cakes, cavier, sour cream, hummus (made from scratch with my own cooked chick peas), caprese salad (fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and pesto sauce), and some cut up veggies. Lynn made Moscow Mules, and we soaked in the water, and passed the time.  It was marvelous.  Water is such a healing element.  We put our lawn chairs in the water tank so that we could sit next to the food table and help ourselves.  The afternoon was lovely, and before we knew it, five hours had passed.

Tonight, we had a girls’ night the featured ground lamb kabobs, veggies with dip, Brussels sprouts sauteed with bacon, fresh corn on the cob, and watermelon.  The great thing about summer is that one has access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  Our conversation centered on music and the arts.

I’m not sure what motivates one to be around friends, or not to have those types of relationships.  I realize there are some people who simply do not entertain guests in their homes.  I’m sure it’s a preference that either we have or do not have.  I was raised by a mother and father who fed a lot of people when I was growing up.  Mostly, it was relatives who ate at our house, but I remember the interactions and conviviality with great affection.

What are your thoughts on entertaining people in your home?

Financial Opportunities and Micro Loans

Some friends and I were discussing building financial opportunities for women.  It made me think of the micro-loans that were championed by the Grameen Bank many years ago.  One of my colleagues, a Bangladeshi engineer, was personal friends with Grameen founder, Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate.  The concept of micro-credit and micro-finance has worked in many places to help people build financial security.

Our discussion centered on ways to help women, specifically, to build financial security.  It made me think of a study trip to Mexico, a few years ago, when I was able to learn from people who were using micro-credit to run very small farms called, ejidos (Eh-hee-tho).  Looking back at my journal notes, I will describe their process for growing tomatoes (tomates).

We visited several farms in the county (municipio) of Ayala.  An ejido farm can be compared to a parking lot. When you go to a parking lot, you just know there will be a place for you to park. And as long as you do not abuse your parking privileges, you can continue to park in a spot in that lot. An ejido farmer does not own his/her “lot”, but as long as he or she wants to farm there, and as long as it is used properly, the farmer can be on the land indefinitely. Like paid parking lots, there are only small fees to be paid, or food can be supplied to municipios.

My colleagues and I visited a wonderful tomato farming operation, which had been in production for about five months. It took about one month to begin to produce significant quantities for sale. Before entering the facility, we had to step inside a sunken, concrete box holding chlorine bleach.
Situated on approximately one-fourth hectare, which is about 2,500 meters, which is about .62 acres, is a screen-enclosed structure holding about nine-thousand tomato plants. The plants’ soil and root systems sit inside heavy, pliable, black plastic bags, which are approximately 13 inches in diameter and 14 inches high. The stems of the plants are three to six inches in diameter. The plants vine up strings rising 12 feet above to horizontal wires running parallel to each row of plants. The tomatoes nearest the bucket-like bags, holding the dirt and root systems, ripen first. As tomatoes are harvested, the green tomatoes nearest the horizontal wires are lowered to run more parallel with the ground. Then the top of any given plant will be hanging over buckets 10 spaces away. Every 15 days, the strings are lowered, and the tomatoes nearest the ground ripen first. This Loreto-variety of tomatoes takes a lot of nitrogen, we were told. If you want to see pictures, please let me know. You would love seeing this operation.
The plants take 20-thousand liters of water a day, which is about 5,265 gallons. The farmer harvests 200 boxes of tomatoes per week. The boxes held about two bushels, which is about 106 pounds. There is not much exporting, but this operation supplies several grocery stores (tiendas) weekly. The picked fruits are sold to the stores, and the fallen fruits are sold in the barrios (neighborhoods).
The producer told us the next thing to be learned is composting so that something useful can be done with the organic waste, which is one other by-product of this operation.

All this was built from a micro-loan, and the farmers told us they thought they’d begin to see a profit just after the second round of purchases.

Here’s another:

“EJIDOTARIAS” (EH-HEE-THO-TAR-EE-AHS)
Don’t forget to roll the “Rs”.  Okay, so I already introduced the ejido farm producer. The community or municipio owns the land. You stake a claim, of sorts, to some land, and you farm it. As long as you do not abuse the land or other farms around you, you can work that land as long as you like. There is a small usage fee to help the community. The county (municipio) government usually helps with initial seeding, reclamation, and improvements.

We visited the farm of two women near the minicipio of Ayala, state of Morelos. The señoras farmed their ground together. They produced corn, green beans, squash, and sugar cane. Their corn seed came from the U.S., and they grew both grain (maiz) and sweet corn (elote) – pronounced “my-eese” and “eh-lo-tay.”

Farming 3,000 feet above sea level, the ladies planted, irrigated, and harvested by hand and with the use of oxen and horses. Small irrigation ditches ran through the land. It is up to the farmer to flood her fields from the ditches with dams and canals. They farmed four hectares (about 10 acres) per year. It costs about 5,000 pesos per hectare (2.48 acres) including 200 pesos for fertilizer and 350 pesos for insecticide. They pay their water usage annually. The ladies gave us an estimate that it took about 29,000 pesos to get their produce to the market. That is about $2,900.

In the ejido system, producers help one another plant and harvest. For example, the sugar cane was harvested with a machete. It takes strong arms to swing a machete. The crops go to market in Mexico City. Visiting this particular farm held a few contradictions. Everything was done by hand, which took us back in time. The power lines above had electricity surging through them, audibly. That brought us back to reality.

Thank you for reading.