Reflecting and Looking Forward

When we think of a year that’s passed, it can be a good time to reflect on the past and to look forward in a new year. We can think about the good things that happened and contemplate any of the negative happenings. Of course, it does not serve us well to focus on our misfortunes, mistakes, losses, and other events that made a negative impact. However, it could serve well to give each of those challenges their due. I want to spend this space for reflecting on the year past and looking forward to year unfolding before us. Every year, I learn something new, and I give myself grace when I come up short. I will share some things I’ve learned and ask you to reflect on your life as well.

Blooming Hibiscus with Eight Blossoms

Reflecting on events of the past takes a Mindfulness approach. In the process, be a neutral observer. Think about what gave such an event a positive or negative impact. Notice how the event or interaction elicited emotions. How was that emotion navigated, or what was the response? The point in this reflection is to remind ourselves to be 1) a neutral observer to each experience, 2) Be patient with yourself: allow each experience to emerge at its own pace, 3) Have a “beginner’s mind” by experiencing the memory as if for the first time, 4) Trust and believe in your intuition and your ability to see things in a new way, 5) Take it as it comes without the need to win or avoid losing. At this points, just be; 6) Accept and see things as they are in the present moment; 7) Let go and detach from your usuall feelings and thoughts. Perhaps this is a way for us to slow down for a moment to recharge our senses.

Enjoying a hot cup of tea on a crispy morning in front of the outdoor fire place

I’ve written about the “art of hygge.” Hygge is that danish word (Hoo-gah) that denotes comfort at the point of being cozy. Think of a hug! We get to decide on the characteristics of that hug. When the danish speak of hygge, they outline all the situations in which one can practice that coziness: our living spaces, our work spaces, and in outdoor spaces. I have designed my “living room” as a hygge corner.

Cozy Corner

Another way of practicing that sense of being hugged, is looking to the outdoors for rest and relaxation. Viewing nature as if for the first time can be exhilirating! Perhaps asking oneself, “Which season do I like best? Why?” I like to notice what birds are active in which season? For example, I’m seeing more juncos during the winter than in the summer. We see snow geese in the winter but not summer! Those are changes that are only noticed when one looks up or notices changes in nature. It such a thing is new to you, try it sometime. As another example, in the photo, one could ask, “Why is the sunset so red?” The answer: Dust and smoke in the atmosphere from fires and wind (in many cases).

A Kansas Sunset

In a busy world where we are measured by how much we do, how much money we earn, and how we stand out as individuals (an individualistic society). I wonder if we would have less illness if we emulated that of a collective society (group oriented) and took the time to sit and talk, build relationships, and take more collective actions when it comes to governance. The concept of hygge supports that very thing, as does the Mediterranean way of conviviality. So what if we took three hours to consume our meals conversing around the table? Our lives would slow down, and we would take more time for ourselves and our loved one. I love the concept of “hygge with others,” which focuses on our relationships. While we have fewer opportunities to gether during this pandemic, and we’ve had to find new and different ways to connect with people, such as with on line platforms. When I think of “hygge” with others, I tend to think of gathering around meals. Sometimes it may be connecting through interest groups. Sometimes we attend a movie group, which meets online after participants watch the movie on their own. That is one way of connecting during a pandemic time. The meet up consists of questions by the facilitator. We found common themes through which we connected. A few years back, in a town where we spend nearly thirty years, we used to attend what we called, “Second Friday Cinema” at our local library. We picked nine movies for each of the months we met from September through May. We watched the movie together enjoying snack that each of us offered on a table. Unfortunately, that has gone away per safety measures. I miss those time, so I will share some photos of former gatherings and ways of enjoying our environments.

Friends at Table
My Home State

Setting a goal of practicing holistic well-being does take some discipline. For example, I made a pledge to myself to keep my house organized and free of clutter. That takes a lot of work! It seems that we get so involved in making a living, being a good employee, and meeting institutional goals that we forget to take care of ourselves. Now, all this sounds like I’m an expert at such things, I do teach about holistic well-being, but that means that I practice such things, and “practice makes perfect” as the saying goes. That’s the best we can do, and our best needs to be enough for us. That does not mean that we’ve reached a pinnacle. It’s just means that we keep trying. I saw a quote on practice the other day. The gist of it was that someone had asked the great cellist, Pablo Casals about his daily practicing at the age of 90 years. “After a stellar career and now at the age of 90, why do you practice the cello for the minimum of six hours per day?” Casals answered, “Because I think I am seeing progress.” Humans are not perfect. We work toward perfects, but perhaps too much, I wonder? I want to be the best for the world not the best in the world!

Thank you for reading.

Convivial Times

As COVID restrictions begin to ease a bit, we appear to be interacting more often and frequently, without masks. I hope we are not being premature in our ease. I read a quick headline today that said that our isolation for the past 20 months may have taken a toll on our cognitive functions. I think we shall see more on that as we continue to examine the far reaching effects of a pandemic in contemporary times.

I must admit that I have ramped up my interactions across the dining table, both at home and with friends. One of the great opportunities of working at a university gives me the privilege of working with students from a variety of backgrounds, countries, geographies, and traditions.

My “featured image” demonstrates the diversity of my interactions that include dining. Enoch, a city planner, and Elfadil, a soil scientist, hail from Africa: Ghana and Sudan, respectively. These two brilliant young men prepared a feast for hubby and me. Each dish featured chicken, and one dish feature the addition of goat.

When Enoch comes to our house for dinner, he often treats us to Jollof Rice. He gets the spice blend from his home country, blended by women who specialize. He shared a nice pint sized jar with me. The best I can do is taste and try to decide what’s in it.

I taste the seasoning mix, and then write down what I think: crushed chicken bouillon, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger, onion flakes, chili flakes, black pepper, nutmeg, and thyme. While I am certain that the “spices” contain other ingredients, this is what I think I know, for now.

Let me tell you about the stews, which our hosts served with rice, which they prepared with cardamom pods floating in the water during the cooking process. First the gentlemen offered a simple salad of lettuce, tomatoes, and a cucumber served without dressing. I forget that a salad does not need any type of dressing to be satisfying. Then the stews…

First of all, I love that they offered hot tea with the meal in small glasses. It made the evening so elegant yet simple. We ate around the coffee table in the small, student apartment, which was a celebration of its own.

Both Enoch and Elfadil shared their recipes:

Enoch’s goat and chicken stew:

Brown goat chunks and chicken thighs in garlic, ginger, hot pepper, onion, tomatoes, black pepper and Jollof rice spices. Blend vegetables. Sauté the vegetables, then blend them. Add water. Simmer for the afternoon preceding dinner time. Serve with fragrant rice.

Elfadil’s chicken stew:

Fry onion, add salt, turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, curry, mix all together. Add garlic. Add cut chicken to mix. Put lid on and simmer. “Wait for the magic to happen!” (My quote, not Elfadil’s) After cooked, add tomato sauce and let cook for 5 minutes and add garlic. Replace lid for 5-10 minutes before serving. It simmers into a rich thick stew.

Enoch’s goat and chicken, pictured above, is the redder sauce of the two. Both stews tasted warmly rich with the combination of spices most aromatic to the senses. We ate heartily!

I had a geography student live with us five years ago while she gathered data. We lived in another part of the state at the time, and I worked for the same university in another research position. Anyway, when the student returned to campus, and I had to be there, she cooked for me in her tiny, student apartment. She was from China. ” Kathy Su” prepared a feast of meats: beef, chicken, and lamb. She roasted all the meats separately in her tiny oven. She flavored the meats with ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oils. Each meat added its own flavor profile to the similar ingredients. Kathy chopped the meats and then put them back in the oven to finish cooking to tender morsels with crispy edges. She served a big dish of steamed rice, and we enjoyed the meats, which were “finished” with chopped green onions! I wish I had pictures, but I didn’t think I would be writing about it. Once again, simple ingredients for a sublime dining experience.

Next time, more flavors from the kitchen. Thank you for reading me!

What Matters to Me and Why

I work at a university with a leadership studies college. The school invites varying faculty, staff, and administration to talk about personal priorities and interests. As I always say, the more we know about one another, the more that the lines of separation fade. I love this notion of inviting people to talk about themselves. It becomes the living libraries favored by many communities. Here is one of my stories.

My father used to tell me, “Know something about everything and everything about something, and you will always be able to find common ground with another person.”  I have a penchant for music, literature, geography, history, art, language, biology, architecture, travel, navigation in air travel, and people.  Curiosity was the most important thing to my father.  He taught me to be curious, always!  Actually, I think my varied interests greatly inform my work in intercultural development, or helping humans find common ground with one another. It’s what I live.  It’s what I love. I like to begin my classes, workshops, and presentations with a land acknowledgment:

My homeland is the Uncompahgre Valley in Western Colorado, from where colonial settlers displaced my father’s people (Ute).  

In Kansas, I live and work on the ancestral territory of many Indigenous Nations, including the Kaw, the Osage, and the Pawnee. Kansas is currently home to the Prairie Band Potawatomi, the Kickapoo, the Iowa, and the Sac and Fox Nations. 

  I am grateful to these Nations. 

Please remember these truths.

It can be quite enlightening to research and discover what Indigenous Nation occupied the land on which you live, work, and play. We can think about:

Who granted the land?​

Who held the land previously?​

What was the U.S. Homestead Act of May 1862?​ Who was given land, and who was removed from said land?

So, I begin all my teaching with this acknowledgment. I am honored and obligated to my ancestors to do it.

Next in my processes of teaching, I acknowledge myself and my identities. Here are a few of the things with which I identify:

•Native (Ohkay Owingeh/Diné/ Uncompahgré) •Human Ecologist/Geographer •National Geographic Society Explorer •Social Researcher •Banjo player •Mother, daughter, friend, spouse, aunt, grandmother, motorcycle rider, writer… •King Alfonso X enthusiast, the original pluralist! •Blogger •Craftsperson •Nature enthusiast.

I could also say, I’m a mother, daughter, friend, spouse, aunt, grandmother, motorcycle rider, and writer.

Embedded in each of these identities that I share with you denotes aspects of my of my culture. However, the most challenging part of working to educate students, especially those from a dominant identity (Anglo-European descent) about culture is that they possess a culture. Many of my students tell me, “I don’t really have a culture. I’m just an American.” That just tells me that they have not thought about their identities.

Each of us, if we think about it, has several identifying factors that contributes to our cultural identity. You have the same sets of identities – each with sets of verbiage, practices, and thought processes that are part of your culture.

Certainly, our environments influence our patterns of behavior, our ways of knowing, our ways of living. I grew up in a mountain environment, as pictured here. We learn certain behaviors to thrive in mountain valleys, which can be different than the tallgrass prairie where I live now. In humans’ cultural practices, we learn, adapt, and adopt, often maintaining our foundational family and community systems.

Prairie or mountains: both are beautiful, and we adapt and adopt the cultural aspects of each geography.

Speaking of geography, I grew up in a household where National Geographic magazine was honored as much as the family bible.  My father read them from cover to cover.  My brothers saw them as anatomy lessons.  I vowed to visit all the places imaginable.  My work with National Geographic Society, as an explorer, put me in company with the likes of Maria Mitchell, noted astronomer in the 19th Century, Munazza Alam, 21st century astrophysicist searching for Earth’s twin, Harriet Chalmers Adams, journalists in the French trenches of World War 1, and notably, traveled to Africa to see Haile Selassie’s coronation as emperor of Ethiopia.  Of course, everyone knows the names of Edmund Hillary, Jacques Couteau, and Alexander Graham Bell as NGS explorers, but I encourage you to seek out the females who made great strides in the name of discovery.  Being a NGS explorer is the greatest way I can honor my father’s love of knowledge.

Two of the great products of my NGS funding was developing introductory course in geography for females of color, now in its fifth year, also thanks to our Center for Engagement and Community Development’s incentive grants, I was able to study the women in the African diaspora in rural SW Kansas, which became a chapter in a book recently published.  Here’s a picture of the book. My chapter covers the women of the African Diaspora now settled in Southwest Kansas. It tells of the brave women, displaced from their countries by war, worked in the beef packing plants while raising families and navigating health care, educational, and faith systems.

If you have read previous blog entries of mine, you would know that I greatly esteem George Washington Carver, the great genius in botany, invention, music, art, and philosophy.

Carver had a small homestead in Beeler, Kansas.  As a child, his slave owners near Diamond, Missouri actually saw his genius in plant pathology.  He came to Kansas, finished high school, and applied and was accepted into Highland college until he showed up. Carver was denied a college education in Kansas, because of teh color of his skin.

He found his academic home, first at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa.  Only being allowed to study the fine arts, his art teacher took great interest in his botanical illustration.  She connected Carver to her biologist husband who was teaching at what is now Iowa State University.  Carver received is Master’s degree there where his brilliance was duly noted by Henry Ford, who had invited him to work since Carver had created rubber out of golden rod. Thomas Edison tried to recruit him as an inventor since Carver was noted as a great inventor, having patents on wood stains made from peanuts and sweet potatoes.   Alas, he went to work at Tuskegee “Normal” Institute at the invitation of Booker T. Washington, because it was there that he’d “do the most good.” Carver taught chemistry, botany, and other biology at Tuskegee until his death. I found this picture on the internet with Carver’s rules to live by: “Education is the key to unlock the golden doors of freedom.”

Once a year, I pay homage to King Alfonso X, who ruled Castile-Leon (now Spain) in the 13th Century. Here are a few facts about the “Learned King.”

He ruled from1252 – 1284 13th C. Medieval – Father of Castilian language, which we now call Spanish.  During his time, his language was Galician-Portuguese, also called “Romance” 

420 songs, poems, and commissioned 3 dimensional pieces as a way to teach morality to his subjects. 

He had just missed being crowned the Holy Roman Emperor because he was “too learned!” according to the Pope of the Catholic Church at the time. I wrote a blog better examining the King last November. No doubt, I will write another about the king in the coming fall.

I like learning about different species in the animal world. I was a volunteer teacher at a zoo in Southwest Kansas. If you want to learn more about a subject, teach it! I was able to handle lots of cool animals. Here I am with a goshawk.

Finally, exploring my Indigenous roots remains an important part of my identity. I still practice the food, the songs, and the rituals of my grandmothers. The fire featured as my main image illustrates one of those practices of cleansing with smoke. I am born for the Ohkay Owingeh and the Dine and born to the Uncompahgre Ute.  I have DNA ties to the Athabascan, Alaskan Native.  My people, called the San Juan Pueblo by Spanish colonizers of what is now New Mexico. Spaniard plopped right on the Village at the confluence of the Chama and the Rio Grande Rivers.  Our villages straddled the rivers, so there was much struggle to keep our culture, our food ways, and our identities as The People of the Strong Land.  You can see a stature of our great leader, Popay, in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.  Despite the push toward erasure, we are still here!

My family remains the most important, my children, grandchildren, spouse, parents, siblings, and extended family, natural and adopted, as I call my dear friends. Find what makes you happy, and develop curiosity about an array of subjects. For me, I can only think knowledge is the best brain food.

Thank you for reading.

Self Care…in the Kitchen

My featured image comes from the lovely and great bush of peonies in my front yard. I love how the stamen of the flower form in the shape of a ragged heart nested among the petals.

You may be thinking that “self-care” does not happen in the kitchen. I know a few people who do not feel a sense of healing Zen in the kitchen. I do. I love the act of creativity, and I like being creative, even in the kitchen. I have written about happy [food] accidents, and so I share a few more.

While not a kitchen discovery, I have long enjoyed interactive food preparation, too. Still observing a “Covid Bubble,” in terms of those with whom we interact closely, we enjoyed a small group of friends who came to dinner this past weekend. The menu consisted of my sourdough (used for many loaves of bread), for pizzas, and their toppings. I did cut up some veggies, and our friends brought a variety of toppings, too.

After a short lesson on rolling out the dough, we each prepared our “crusts.” Once they were rolled out, we threw them on a hot grill to set the dough, which helps guard against shrinkage. Grilling the pizza dough also gives it an added smoked flavor. Grilling only takes about one minute on each side. Then the dough is ready for its toppings.

As a foundation, I made tomato-based sauce and offered my homemade pesto, which makes for great pizza sauce. Also, I had baked garlic swimming in olive oil as another spread for the

Here is a great shot of Dale and me standing by pizzas waiting for oven space. And another of the beautiful ladies creating their own pizzas. Photo credit SLA.

Actually, anyone can make an instant pizza party. You can get ready-made pizza crusts, or pita and Naan breads in the store serve as pizza crusts quite nicely. Actually, making pizza dough from scratch can be whipped up in your mixer. Use 2 pounds (0.907kg) and 20 ounces (566.99g) liquid. I like to use half water and half beer), 3 tablespoons (42.52g) yeast, 2 teaspoons salt, and 3 tablespoons of oil). Mix well, and knead on a floured surface. Let rise, and roll out into pizza crusts. I like to “set” the rolled out dough on the grill. You can do the same on a griddle. It just sets the dough so that it does not shrink after you add the toppings.

Make a red sauce similar to a spaghetti sauce with tomatoes, garlic, onions, and mushrooms. Use salt and pepper to taste, and throw in some basil. The sauces are easy to acquire, and you can make up your own. Remember, gather friends and be creative.

Breakfast

We love breakfast, and we try to make it special. I like to experiment with different types of foods to go with our chosen hot beverage of coffee or tea. I like “Dalgona” whipped coffee, or we have espresso topped with whipped foam sweetened with a little coconut sugar, which gives it a rich flavor, like brown sugar. When I lived in a community rich with African refugees, I loved shopping in their “sundries” store. When I shopped there, Sarai (the lovely woman who worked with the store owner, Adam), would treat me to their tea. She used “Keteapa” from the Kenyan Tea Packers, a rich black tea. Sarai brewed the tea with honey, cinnamon stick, cloves, fennel seeds, and cardamom seeds. Once it brewed, she added cream or half and half. Delicious! The other day, I had baked sourdough bread, and I wanted to have a healthy breakfast that included the bread. I came up with the idea of one cup of peanut butter, plus a half cup local honey, and two tablespoons of a mixture called “trilogy.” Actually, you can prepare “trilogy” yourself. Take even amounts of flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. I like to put this mix in my bread making for added fiber.

So, I mixed the trilogy into the cup of peanut butter and half cup of honey. I spread the mixture on toasted sourdough bread. We fell in love with it instantly. It saves well, and goes well with a nice cup of “Sarai’s tea!”

I am always interested in favorite meals for people. Often, our favorite meals consist of those that provide ease of preparation with maximum flavor profiles. Often, we base those favorite meals on regional and cultural preferences. I have my favorite “grandma” meals, which certainly demonstrates our Indigenous culture and mountain regional influences with frybread, cooked beans with steamed/dried sweet corn, and mutton (I use lamb, however). I do have many favorite meals, and this one can be as simple or as complicated as one wishes.

Steak Salad

Actually, when I do not have beef steak, I like to use grilled salmon or a grilled piece of chicken. The point, for someone who eats animal protein, is to have your protein with a nice, green salad. I like my salads with a great variety of greens and other veggies. Occasionally, I like to add grapes, raisins, or cranberries. With a great crop of dandelions in my yard, greens from the yard even adds a nice flavor profile. Some find dandelion greens to be bitter, but with all the other flavors in the salad, any sort of bitterness disappears. Before I toss the salad with a balsamic dressing with a hint of creamy dressing, which I think helps to emulsify the oils and acids of the vinaigrette. After I toss the salad, I add a final bit of dry roasted sunflower seeds or some nuts.

While I put the final touches on the salad, my protein is in the final stages on the grill. On the two pictures, you see the dandelion greens prominent on the left side and the finished product on the right side. I do not treat my lawn with chemicals, so my greens provide a nutritious crunch to my salads. Make sure you know whether or not your greens are safe for consumption. Prepare your protein to taste. Usually, I like my beef a little more rare that pictured.

That’s all I have today. Thank you for reading. I hope you have peace and comfort where ever you are.

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.

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.

I Love to Cook for Friends and Family!

Hello!  I left you, in my previous blog, with the news that friends were coming to spend the weekend followed by a visit from my 90 year old mother and her 82 year husband.  Let’s start first with the visit from Nancy and Lynn.

Nancy and Lynn have been friends with Dale and me for 40-plus years.  Dale and Lynn working in public radio in California.  Nancy was part of a group that brought public radio the the central high plains of Kansas (later the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles).  Nancy grew up on Southwest Kansas.  Dale came to Kansas from California in late 80s to manage the public radio station.  I began working at that public radio station as a news reporter and classical music radio host in 1980, the year it went “on the air.” Dale hired Lynn to do the morning show in 1988.   Nancy and Lynn became great friends, and Lynn is Nancy’s youngest child’s “godmother.”   Here we are many years later talking about retiring in a self-made commune!  That’s how far we’ve come.  I should also tell you that Lynn and I are fellow geographers, too!

Well, I like to cook, and Lynn and Nancy appear to like my cooking.  They arrived on Friday evening in time for a meal of grilled flat bread, sweet potato – spinach – Halloumi curry served over rice, and hummus.  The curry recipe was one I found in allrecipes.com cooking magazine gifted to me yearly from my dear friend, Mary.  I hope I don’t repeat myself in the blog.  I can’t remember if I’ve given you any of these recipes.  Here’s the curry:

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If you follow the recipe the way it reads, it would be great for vegetarians.  I tend to modify any recipe I read, so I used the turkey broth that I made and froze from Thanksgiving.  It had little chunks of turkey, so not vegetarian.  Here’s the recipe:

2 large sweet potatoes

1 can chick peas (I cook an 8 ounce (226.8g) so that I can use half of the cook peas for this recipe and the other half for hummus.

1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz./411g)

1 can unsweetened coconut milk (14 oz./396.89g)

1 large hand full of freshly chopped spinach

1 tablespoon (14.175g) hot pepper of your choice.  I use a sprinkling of piri-piri style pepper flakes (birds-eye chili)

1 tablespoon curry powder

It calls for 2-3  teaspoons of chili jam. I made jalapeno jam last summer, so I use that.

1 tsp. cumin

I use 3 -4 cups (0.71 liters) of my turkey stock with bits of turkey, which adds greatly to the overall flavor of the stew.

I fry the halloumi cheese until nicely browned.

Simmer the stew.  Add the browned cheese 2 minutes before you serve the stew

Serve the curry over rice.  I served it with a flat bread and hummus appetizer and a sparkling sauvignon blanc.   We loved it.

The next morning, I wanted to offer Lynn and Nancy one of our favorite breakfasts: Eggs and Soldiers.  I know I’ve written about them before, but it was a new experience for my friends.  There’s nothing like a beautiful -little soft boiled egg, with its top removed, which leaves it open to dip a slivered piece of toast into the eggs gooey yolk!  With a cup of coffee or African tea preparation (black tea brewed with cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and clove buds) with milk and honey).  It’s the best of breakfasts!  We have egg cups I ordered from England!  I just realized that I forgot to take pictures of our breakfast.  It was good.

After breakfast, we spent the day hiking different sites around town.  We live in the Flint Hills of Kansas.  Though I grew up in the mountains of Colorado, I love the rolling tall grass prairie of this region.  Also, we explored a military museum on an army base.

Once we finished our activities of the day, we enjoyed a cocktail while I prepared dinner.  Lynn loves salmon, so I had to prepare our pineapple baked salmon.  We served it with rice (my husband is Hawaiian-Portuguese, and he could eat rice three times a day!) and baked Brussels sprouts.  I’ve showed this recipe previously, but that picture is what it looks like before you put in the oven.  Here’s a shot of it on the plate.

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The beautiful thing about this dish is that there is usually enough salmon for fried rice for breakfast – not to repeat myself.

The next morning, we took Lynn and Nancy to our favorite breakfast spot called, “The Chef.”  After that we did more hiking and then took a nice walk on campus.  Here we are in front of my favorite London plane tree on campus:

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Friends are great, and I have the best!  Thank you for reading.  They left on Sunday, and my mother arrived on Monday.  I was eager to do more cooking.  More later…

Thank you for reading me!

Weekend With Friends….Who Cook!

We spent a fabulous weekend with dear friends who live in a town from which we moved nearly a year ago.  The beautiful thing about dear friends is that they are family one gets to choose!  Over the years, we have made the best of friends.

After working with middle school students on their plans for a academic futures, we headed to Bob and Adrian’s sheep farm in the country.  Bob and Adrian are travel partners.  They are hunting partners, and we share them with other friends, too.  When we arrived for this visit, Adrian had prepared a “happy hour” of roasted vegetables and grilled lamb shank.  She mixed up a delicious red wine sangria with citrus fruits and grapes adding to the delights of the day.  Adrian demonstrates great comfort in preparing and serving food.  She comes from a close family who gathered, often, around food.  We ate, and we laughed.  Bob’s sense of comedic timing both intrigues and frustrates.  I think he likes the rise he gets out of me.  Always a great time with delicious food at the home of  Bob and Adrian! Adrian is one of the most laid back souls I know.  She laughs at her husband, which is lovely.  I failed to get a good picture of them.  I guess too busy taking pictures of the food.   Actually the Price farm, at sunset, is my featured photo for this blog.

We left Bob and Adrian around 6:00 p.m., and headed to Carole and Larry’s lovely home in a rustic sub-division set in the prairie.  Time for another meal!  Carole likes to design a meal.  She created an exquisite meal of meat loaf, green beans, and herb infused mashed potatoes.  Our friend Lynn joined us.  We told stories, gossiped a little, and ate a sublime meal. Carole serve white wine with the meat loaf, and that worked!  Who says one must consume red meat with red wine?  Here’s her spread:

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As if we had not already consumed two meals back-to-back, Carole served tea and apple cobbler for dessert.  We stayed up late to visit, digest our food, and to talk about art, music, movies, and life in our communities.  Carole is one of my favorite artists.  She’s a painter.  Stay tuned.  I will have to offer a blog on art, so I will save that for another time.

Let’s talk about breakfast the next morning.  Have you ever had crème de brûlée oatmeal?  I have the recipe from Carole, but I think I would rather describe what I saw when she cooked it.  When I arose from the late night and a restless sleep (likely from the great eating the previous day), I noticed that Carole was soaking uncooked Irish oatmeal in water in the sauce pot.  Then she added heat, and I noticed sometime during the cooking process, she added brown sugar and cream.  She cooked it until thick.  In the mean time, Carole prepared our bowls by layering banana slices on the bottom.  She had prepared strawberries and blueberries for the topping.  She put scoops of the cooked oatmeal on top of the banana slices.  Then she sprinkled turbinado sugar on top.  The Larry came in with his blow torch to caramelize and “candy” the sugar, in crème de brûlée fashion.  The last step, before we fetched our bowls to the table, Carole topped the candied sugar with the berries.  She served the breakfast with tea, gluten-free banana nut bread, and I poached eggs that went into little blue ramekins.  Pure bliss!

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The next day, I decided to count calories for a while.  My seems of my clothes were screaming!

This weekend, I have friends coming to visit us!  Nancy and Lynn are coming.  I’m fixing curry featuring sweet potatoes and fried Halloumi cheese.   I will let you know how it turned out.  I think I’ll make a lemon cake, too!  Thank  you for reading me.

Good Times with Friends and Food

In my undergrad years, I was a literature major.  One of my favorite things to do was to bake or cook the foods in my favorite books.  I like to cook.  I like to read.  I like to entertain.  One time I had invited a friend to my house for dinner.  She said, “I don’t know.  What are you reading?”  At the time, I was reading Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and I had been baking buttermilk biscuits, ham, greens, and red-eye gravy.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with recreating dishes from cooking magazines.  Last week, I prepared a wonderful curry, which included garbanzo beans and fried Halloumi cheese.  I had invited colleagues to enjoy the meal, and it was a hit!  I did not remember, however, to take pictures, so perhaps another time.

Well, I take inspiration from interesting films as well.  Netflix has a wonderful Japanese serial called, Midnight Diner.  The series, with English subtitles, centers on “Master” who opens his diner at midnight for people rushing home at the end of their days.  “Master”  prepares for his customers whatever they choose, as long as he has the ingredients.  Each episode has a story that plays out at the diner as the focused character requests a specific food of his/her/their past.  And, we, the viewers, get to watch while he prepares.  In the opening credits, “Master” prepares Tan-men.  I have not prepared this dish in a satisfactory way at this point.

Recently, we began viewing the second season of “Midnight Diner.” The title, “Chicken Rice” is a story of an adult being reunited with his mother after 37 years. He heard about the Master’s diner where customers order their heart’s desire.  When the Master was preparing the “chicken rice,” the addition of the red sauce intrigued me.   I looked it up, and there is a website that offers the recipes for the “Midnight Diner” series.   Here’s the recipe for chicken rice.  I made it for breakfast, and it tasted quite delicious.  Take note, the surprise ingredient is ketchup!  Actually, the next time I prepare this dish, dinner is the better time of day for it.  In the series, most things are consumed with beer – not my sort of breakfast beverage.

Here’s the recipe for chicken rice, as I had prepared it this morning:

  1. Prepare rice (White or brown) in your usual method
  2. De-bone and cube two chicken thighs (for three servings). Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper.
  3. Dice a quarter of an onion and, approximately six mushrooms
  4. While the chicken absorbs the seasoning, prepare the sauce
  5. The sauce requires
    1. 3 tablespoons (45g) ketchup (I used a siracha-infused ketchup)
    2. 3 tablespoons (45g) tomato paste
    3. 2 tablespoons (30g) water
  6. Mix all and set aside
  7. Cook the chicken until it looses its pink color.  Add onions and mushrooms.  Cook until chicken is well-cooked and some browning has occurred.
  8. Add three to four tablespoons (30 to 45 g) of the tomato mixture until well mixed.
  9. Add 2.5 cups (about 400g) cooked rice, and combine thoroughly with 3 tbs. (45g) frozen peas.
  10. The recipe says put the mixture in an “omurice” form, which looks a bit like an American football. I put mine in a bowl as the form before inverting it on the dish.

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The recipe suggested that five or six peas be arranged on top, and that you eat it with a spoon larger than a teaspoon – a soup spoon.

Now, I thought ketchup mixed in rice would be a curious flavor, but it works greatly!  Here is the chicken rice in the pan.

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Two weeks ago, we traveled  to see our friends, Phil and Paula, who live about two hours away.  We spent a wonderful weekend enjoying an opening art exhibit of Preston Singletary, a glass artist who is Alaskan Native (Tlingit).  We had wonderful food at the special dinner for museum members, and we perused through the exhibition of his extraordinary glass works.  Look it up on the internet.  You will see.  I did not take pictures, because I felt it inappropriate.  This is the poster.

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That weekend also included food prepared by Paula, Phil, and I made my apple cabbage slaw.  Phil made chicken.  Paula made deviled eggs. We made a cheeseboard.  Here are our dishes.

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We watched a football game (Superbowl), and our team won!  It was a good evening – not because of the ball game, but because we were with friends that we love.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Four Nights of Salmon

About week ago, my co-worker, Mirta, told me her brother-in-law goes fishing in Canada.  Well, he gave her a halved salmon, which weighed about seven pounds (3.18 kg).  I wished I would have taken a picture of it.  Mirta told me that her attempts to cook any of the salmon provided by her brother-in-law have been disastrous!  Actually, her daughter told me that. So, I said, “Bring the salmon to me, and I will make dinner for you!” As you may imagine, seven pounds salmon provides more than one meal.

On the first night, I made salmon and pineapple, the featured image.  I should have taken the picture after it was baked!  I snapped this one just before baking. I does  not look as interesting.  My friend share this with me. Here’s the recipe:

1 pineapple cut into flat slices (or 1 can of pineapple rings)

Spread the pineapple on the bottom of a baking sheet.  Lay the salmon, skin side down,  on top of the pineapple.  Then mix the topping.

Combine in a bowl:

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons (45mL) sweet chili sauce
  • 1 small handful of chopped cilantro
  • 3 -4 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 teaspoons (15 mL) sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) piri-piri style spice (Pequin chilies, Spanish paprika, salt, lemon peel, and Greek oregano)

Mix well and spread on salmon.  Bake at 375 degrees (190.6 Celsius) until salmon begins to become opaque and shows a little whitish “ooze”.  It also begins to flake a bit.  Before I put the salmon on the table, I toss toasted, crushed sesame seeds and copped green onions.

Mirta, her daughter and two friends joined us for this meal.  I served it with a Sauvignon Blanc, sauteed green beans, and brown rice with a Waldorf salad made with Colorado honey crisp apples. We ate only one quarter of the salmon, which meant three more nights of “left-overs.”

Second meal:

Salmon Fried Rice for Breakfast

The next morning, since we had the salmon and the rice, we make breakfast friend rice.

I love to use my wok, so this is the perfect time for it.

Sweat green onions and celery.  Add two eggs. Cook until eggs are finished.  I used the left-over green beans from the previous night and a few chunks of the pineapple. Add cubed carrots and peas. Add cooked rice.  (Ours is cooked in a rice cooker, which keeps it at the proper temperature for two days).  Add the Salmon.  Season with soy sauce and Siracha. Cook it all well.  Serve hot!

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The Third night: Salmon and Rice

My husband’s mother grew up on Hawai’i.  She and her family came to the Islands from the Azores.  One of Mama Mathilda’s favorite dishes was “salmon and rice” which she made from canned salmon. for this recipe, I used another chunk of the fresh salmon from two nights ago.

  • Saute onion, celery until translucent
  • Add one can of stewed tomatoes
  • Add 1/4 cup (59 mL) white wine

Cook until sauce has thickened.  Then add 16 ounces (0.453 kg) salmon.  Cook until the salmon is cooked through and the sauce is rather thick.  Serve over hot rice.

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On the fourth and final day of using Mirta’s salmon, my plan was to make salmon patties to be served with toasted sourdough bread and condiments.  However, after a long day at work, I got lazy and made salmon fried rice again!  I do not have the habit of preparing the same meal twice in a week, but we really like salmon fried rice!  Mostly, I followed my recipe, as previously outlined, but this time, I used the remaining roasted pineapple, which gave a wonderfully sweet and savory flavor.  We enjoyed this meal with sparkling water as our beverage.

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Even when the most horrid day at work happens, there remains the delights of creating something tasty for an evening meal.  It’s great therapy and good medicine!

My favorite cookbooks are those without measurements, like Pino Luongo’s There’s a Tuscan in the Kitchen.  He tells stories of the foods of his region in Italy.  He describes the history and the genealogy of the region, and outlines what you need to make these dishes.  Because he describes the emotions and the tastes, he leaves it to the reader to determine the measurements.  I’ve made some of my guests’ favorite dishes from that book.  As previously blogged, also I love Sean Sherman’s The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen. It reminds me of my grandmothers’ cooking.  Experiment in your kitchen!

Thank you for reading.