In the Kitchen From the Garden

One of my gentle readers, thank you SLA, asked if I could show a picture of the San Juan Mountain Range as it’s viewed from my hometown.  Can you imagine looking at that every day?  Such an auspicious sight to behold.  Though, this blog has nothing to do with this magnificent mountain range, it is part of who I am.  Perhaps I shall engage some experts for another blog, my brother Lee and sister Eileen.  For they climb these great “hills” just about every weekend.  Yes.  I was up on those ranges in my younger years with my brothers Dan and Lee, but I don’t get to there as often as I’d like.  I live a long day’s drive from my hometown and there is no easy way to get there by plane.  If you visit these lovely mountains, leave them better than you found it.  They are a precious resource.

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About two years ago, I wrote about a crazy prolific basil plant.  This year, my garden has proven to be basil prolific.  Plus, I have a few other herbs from which to create: rosemary and thyme, too.  Of course, the obvious is, pesto. That wonderful mixture of basil, olive oil, parmesan, pine nuts, garlic, and a little salt and pepper.

This year, I decided to try other things such as OGB: Olive oil, garlic and basil, used for a bread dip.  It goes into the freezer quite well.  You may want to add just a touch of pepper flakes and a little salt to make it even more scrumptious.

Another way to preserve the basil, was to blend with olive oil for sauteing mussels or any other light fish.  Just add garlic.  Yes. It’s a bit different from pesto. It stays as green and fresh as the day you put it in.  I froze one and refrigerated the other.  I call it, “basil oil.”

basil oil

Here is something new for me: Basil Rosemary Pesto.  I give the ingredients without measurement, because I just put it together until it looked and smelled green and fragrant.

  • Large bunch of rinsed and drained fresh basil (three big hands full!)
  • About five long rosemary sprigs (pull the leaves off the stalk)
  • About 1 cup (236.59 mL) olive oil and a half cup (118.29 mL) sunflower oil
  • 4 big cloves of garlic (I threw in about four small cloves of wild garlic, too!)
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios (I didn’t have pine nuts)
  • 10 juniper berries (from the Colorado juniper). Since I had no pine nuts, the juniper berries added that nice “piney” taste.
  • Parmesan Romano cheese to taste
  • Salt

For this batch, I added a small piece of a hot pepper from my garden just to add a bit of spice, but not too much!  It freezes quite nicely, and I keep one in the refrigerator for a spoonful here and there in my cooking.  Notice the little hot pepper in the upper right corner.  It’s a hot little devil, so I only used a tiny bit.

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So, you can use pesto as pizza sauce.  Just spread it on your dough before you add the vegetables and/or the meats.  It can be a subtle flavoring for a pot roast or chicken.  It makes a wonderful spread on hot bread.

I think it’s a near perfect food.  Basil is an antiviral. Olive oil is good for your “happy” fats.  That’s how I remember that HDL is the good cholesterol.  “Happy” is my mnemonic for the “good” cholesterol. Parmesan and the nuts are a good source of protein.  Garlic is said to be a vasodilator.  There you have it.  Pesto is a great food!

Finally, I leave you with one of the dishes made this week with my pesto.  It’s a simple vegetable pizza.  I used a fresh tomato paste (simmered with garlic until thick) and pesto as the base for the cheese and vegetables.  It was yummy with a glass of cabernet sauvignon.  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:

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

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

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The rest of the menu is quite self-explanatory.

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

Gifts from Nature and the Kitchen

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

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

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Asian Dressing:

1/4 c (59.15mL) sesame oil

1/4 cup (59.15mL) seasoned rice vinegar

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

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

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

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

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

One quarter of a diced yellow onion

Three cloves minced garlic

1 Tablespoon minced ginger

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

I added one can of stewed tomatoes with its liquid

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

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

Thank you for reading.

 

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.

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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.

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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.