Gorilla, My Love: A Commentary

My featured image was painted by one of my best friends and favorite artists, Carole Geier. Her Ribbon Dancer comes later in the narrative, too. I’ve featured her art previously on my blog. It relates to this blog entry as it features a contemplative woman, which may describe me and the main character in the short story of which I will review.

Before I was a geographer and human scientist, I was an English major. It seemed a likely choice given my interest in literature. My love for music also drove my work in public radio. Like comparative analyses that we do in literature, I like to do the same with music.

Toni Cade Bambara, who was active in the 1960s and 1970s as a writer, film-maker, social activist, and college professor, wrote some fabulous short stories. I like that her writing used great rhythms in the narratives. Gorilla, My Love stands out for me, so I share this review that I wrote for Bambara’s narrative about Harlem through the eyes of the young “Hazel.” The story addresses many experiences of the young African American female, including her views of social injustices. This short story brilliantly illustrates a gifted young female, who, for many reasons, does not get her due respect from society.

My commentary is rather dense, so I will break it up with photos that may or may not connect to my narrative.

Gorilla, My Love by Toni Cade Bambara

Critics writing about Toni Cade Bambara’s short story “Gorilla, My Love” agree that her use of language promotes positive images about black urban life, and teaches important lessons without becoming preachy.  Ruth Burks, Elliott Butler-Evans, Klaus Ensslen and Madhu Dubey point to no weaknesses in Bambara’s story.  Rather the weaknesses lie in their criticism because of detachment from Bambara’s characters’ culture, misuse of words, and faulty interpretation of the text. The critics, rightly, cite Bambara’s use of a young female as a brilliant tool to give the story the ability to address social injustices without heavy-handed didacticism (Dubey 19), but they show disconnectedness with the writer’s culture, for example, by not recognizing the difference between street-wise and precocious when describing Bambara’s main character, Hazel. Each espouses strong opinions about a culture that perhaps none truly understands. The four critics each agree that Bambara’s language received heavy influence from the music of black Americans.  They don’t; however, appear to know what elements in the music Bambara imitates when she writes.  For instance, they use terms interchangeably, like jazz and Negro spiritual, when explaining the rhythm of Bambara’s story. The faulty criticism, however, does not lessen the strength of Bambara’s tale because the overall tone of the critics’ ideas stayed supportive.

     Burks, Butler-Evans, Ensslen and Dubey each cite Bambara’s use of Black urban vernacular as a successful way to give readers a realistic picture of a black child’s life in her neighborhood and community.  Elliott Butler-Evans describes Hazel’s speech patterns and delivery as a “restricted linguistic code of Black urban life” (94).  His narrow vision doesn’t consider that some of Hazel’s verbal expressions come from immature language development and have nothing to do with her ethnicity. For instance, she uses the term “scary” for scared. She contracts the demand, “let me” to “lemme.” She calls Big Brood’s Spaulding basketball or baseball glove a “Spaudeen” (Prescott 676).  She uses incorrect placement of a possessive in, “And I’m flingin’ the kid in front of me’s popcorn” (Prescott 677). While many might point to Hazel’s dialect as “the language of lazy or under-educated Americans,” that illustrates the dominant dialect in the United States.  For example, she uses contractions of words heard in everyday speech: cause for because, musta for must have, and most noticeable, she leaves the –ing sound off many words like grabbing, flinging, something and throwing. African-American vernacular does not claim exclusivity to these terms. Bambara mixes the black vernacular with the immature child’s linguistic skills to address social issues through the eyes of innocence.

     None of the critics’ main points appear to be original since they mostly agreed that Bambara’s strengths lie in her use of language.  No opinions strongly oppose each other.  The critics strayed when they stated their opinions without support from the text, cultural insights, or background.  Klaus Ensslen attributes to Hazel, supposedly between the ages of eight and 12, the power of profound insight.  For instance, Ensslen notes that Hazel’s term for Brandy’s friend, Thunderbuns, refers to “the borrowed or relegated thunder of her authority” (48).  This shows detachment to the culture of youth and to the mind of a precocious girl.  Hazel attributes to Brandy and Thunderbuns slothful, animal features to show inferiority to her own energetic, intelligent self. Hazel likes to pop empty potato chip bags so that “the matron come trottin down the aisle with her chunky self” (Prescott 676).  Later Hazel reminds the reader that Thunderbuns “do not play and do not smile” (Prescott 677).  Hazel does not possess the idea that the name, Thunderbuns, comes from the thunder of borrowed authority. In her youth, she attacks physical elements of the two adults with less-than-authoritative airs by condescending to them and by using names that describe their physical appearances.  This instance illustrates Hazel’s youthful intelligence.

     As if to say that a young, black girl could only get her intelligence from the streets, Dubey and Burks refer to Hazel as “streetwise.” The term streetwise usually refers to one with enhanced survival skills from living in the streets, which does not appear to be Bambara’s intention for her young character.  Hazel does not come from the streets.  She lives surrounded by a close-knit, loving family, which does not usually describe a child with street smarts.  Hazel reads maps, asserts herself to protect her loved-ones, shows self-confidence in her knowledge, and asks intelligent questions.  By reading maps, not a usual skill of a pre-pubescent child, she directs the pecan-gathering trip. She protects Big Brood in the park and protects the money from bullies by putting it in her shoe (Prescott 676). She asks for ticket reimbursement from the theater manager claiming false advertisement, which is good insight for a preteen. Her questions, apparently, threaten teachers since she often hears that they are out of line. Hazel expresses confidence in her consummate knowledge of things by proclaiming, “When in reality I am the smartest kid P.S. 186 ever had in its whole lifetime and you can ax anybody” (Prescott 678). Burks and Dubey wrongly assume that Hazel gains her intelligence from the streets, which further shows a misunderstanding of  her youth and the culture.   

     The four critics of record hit the mark with their highlighting Bambara’s strengths in language use.  Each takes a different approach, however.  Burks sees the story as having more anger, sadness and negative points. Her notion of “incongruity of language” (50) sheds a dark light on Hunca Bubba’s not waiting for Hazel to grow up to marry him.  The conflict of the story does not lie in Hazel’s misunderstanding with her uncle’s false marriage proposal.  It lay in her friction with the theater manager and the school. Hazel’s experiencing disappointment with a family who loves her does not need to be ranked with the injustices of false advertising to children and teachers who ignore a precocious child because she’s black. The family offers support to a disappointed child, but the schools and theater are less likely to show empathy. Perhaps Klaus Ensslen meant to say the same thing when he noted that Bambara used “family and friends as a social backdrop” (44). Incongruity of Language describes the conflict with those outside the family, and that language shows differences from the dominant culture, as Butler-Evans charges.  It seems more likely that Bambara wanted to emphasize conflict of blacks with the dominant culture rather than conflict within the family, which would be a less positive approach.

     Ensslen, Dubey and Butler-Evans look at Bambara’s short story with optimism toward Bambara’s linguistic genius. Butler-Evans and Dubey agree that Hazel’s vernacular paints her as a cultural insider and note that her speech is accessible even to those outside the culture.  It has reach outside the culture. How else would Bambara make her political statements?  Hazel’s voice lends credibility to the story with her view on social injustices.  Told by an older person, the same views would be construed as observations made by an under-educated, embittered and angry adult: “…grownups playin’ change-up and turnin’ you round every which way so bad. And don’t even say they sorry” (Prescott 680).  This supports Dubey’s claim that,  “Hazel’s voice functions as the sharpest linguistic weapon allowing Bambara to attack social issues without heavy-handed didacticism”(19). Ensslen called Bambara’s “didactic impulse” usable lessons in a committed life(41). This strength and the multi-layered use of language in Bambara’s short story stand out as the hallmark of “Gorilla, My Love,” according to Burks, Butler-Evans, Dubey and Ensslen, but the points missed with Hazel’s linguistic voice parallel the critics’ misunderstanding of the elements that make Bambara’s writing emulate jazz.

     Burks and Ensslen refer to the music of Black Americans when describing Bambara’s written cadences, but they appear to be unsure of the elements that make it jazz. In referring to the rhythm and musicality of Bambara’s story, Ensslen notes that her improvisational use of oral forms of expression owes much to the black music especially to the bebop of the postwar decades, as she herself acknowledged” (42).  He alludes to an interview in which she credits bebop jazz musicians Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie for her literary voice.  Ensslen merely alludes to one of the strongest elements of Bambara’s story, perhaps, because he doesn’t fully understand how “Gorilla, My Love” truly parallels an improvisational jazz piece.  Consider Parker and Gillespie’s tune, “Night in Tunisia.”  The tune, played by their jazz quartet, begins with the string bass introducing the theme, which is then joined by Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet, which takes the lead while being accompanied by Parker’s alto saxophone, the bass and drums (recording). The introduction in “Tunisia” parallels Hazel’s opening “That was the year Hunca Bubba changed his name.”  Both introduce a theme. The quartet broadens its theme within several bars and measures, so does Hazel name the characters to set the story’s stage.  Staying in the same musical key, Charlie Parker departs from the main theme to improvise his musical self-expression the same way Hazel uses an image in the photograph, one of many sub-themes, as a springboard to relay her story about an experience at the Washington Theater. In the jazz piece, Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet overtakes a slight nod to the theme with a second improvisation. Gillespie’s improvisation parallels Hazel’s story within her story, Big Brood up on the cross, because it represents additional expression influenced by the original theme.  At the end of Gillespie’s ad-libbing, the remainder of the quartet rejoins him with the original theme like Hazel who brings her two stories, the theater and crucifixion, to an end with her yelling, “Shut is off.”  If Ensslen understood jazz improvisation, he may have been more successful in connecting Bambara’s strong sense of rhythm and pace with jazz improvisation.

     Ruth Burks makes a similar mistake by lumping all black music into one category to describe Bambara’s cadence.  Burks likens the tempo of Bambara’s story to Negro Spirituals, which is incorrect.  Burks declares that the plaintive voice of spirituals permeated “Gorilla, My Love.” Consider the spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”  The song opens with a slow-moving theme followed by a sorrowful response, “Comin’ for to carry me home.”  The song continues with call and response, short statement with repetitious reply, through to the end (Quick 184). Unlike jazz, no one leaves the theme to improvise another musical interlude or uses the theme as a launching pad to tell a story within the story.  Bambara’s “Gorilla, My Love” possesses very little elements of the Negro Spiritual.  In contrast to the spiritual, Gorilla moves quickly as several vignettes unfold within the story.  The energy is high since it’s told from a young, precocious girl’s point of view.  Quick beat and high energy hardly describe Negro spirituals with their slow cadences and, often, melancholy themes. Burks’ allusion to, “constant repetition” (49), connotes jazz improvisation, but she describes Bambara’s pace as Negro spiritual because of unfamiliarity with jazz and with Bambara’s influences.  The mistakes still don’t detract from the over all positive tone of the criticism, however.

            The four critics, Burks, Butler-Evans, Dubey and Ensslen, all in all, like Bambara’s writing.  They agree that her use of language promotes positive images about black urban life while teaching life’s important lessons without proselytizing. They find no weaknesses, but their own lack of knowledge, regarding black culture, weakens their interpretation of the story through misuse of words.  The critics’ own stereotyping of the black culture becomes evident when they don’t recognize the difference between street-wise and precocious when describing Bambara’s main character, Hazel. Butler-Evans confuses black linguistic patterns with the speech skills of a preteen. Ensslen gives Hazel’s coping mechanism of name calling an adult’s scrutiny by charging her with deeper thought than one her age may practice. Dubey and Burks miss the mark by equating Hazel’s intelligence to the survival skills of a child from the streets. Finally, the four critics each agree that Bambara’s language received heavy influences from the music of black Americans.  They don’t, however, appear to know what elements in the music Bambara imitates when she writes.  The intent of the critics appears supportive of Bambara’s message, but faulty interpretation of the text lessens their credibility.

So, find the short story by Bambera. then find Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia,” or one of Charlie Parker’s upbeat Jazz pieces, and experience the rhythms for yourself. I find it most pleasurable.

Thank you for reading.

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.

Remembering MLK

Remembering the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his work toward equity and justice, makes me think of family, so my featured image today is one of a memorable sisters’ trip. We visited the U.S. Airforce Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. As I remember, the chapel, pictured behind us, closed for five years for restorations. We took this shot in 2017, so those repairs should be finished in another few years.

Today, I offer my reflection offered before a wreath laying ceremony, done virtually, at the bust on Dr. King on the campus of Kansas State University. Dr. King spoke at the university shortly before his untimely death at the hands of an assassin. I share this with you.

Please reflect with me.

As we prepare to lay wreaths at the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us remember his words, “The ultimate measure of persons is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.”

One can hardly acknowledge King’s work toward social Justice and equity without remembering his words of our past and thinking, “Why does this struggle continue today?”  Or asking, “Have we learned nothing?”

However, we see hope when, as Amanda Gorman put it, “a skinny little Black girl” steps to the Inauguration podium, and, as Dr. King did, tugs at the conscience of a Nation by telling us that, “the norms and notions of what Just Is, is not always Jus-tice!”

Let us reflect on those eloquent words while we remember Dr. King’s letters from the Birmingham Jail: Lodged, there for “parading without a permit.” For it was not legal for Black Folk to participate in public demonstrations, an exercise NOT for a people deemed “unworthy” or “un-deserving.”

He said, “Injustice is here in Birmingham, if the Negro man cannot exercise his first amendment rights in acts of peaceful assembly demonstrating for change with non-violence.” 

Dr. King noted, “They protested for the Negro brothers and sisters smothering in airtight cages of poverty in the midst of an affluent society.”  They demonstrated for equity and justice. They were not insurrectionists, putting their feet on desks in hallowed halls and placing their knees upon the throat of democracy where, We. Could. No Longer. Breathe.

Dr. King emphasized, “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must transcend our, so-called, race, our tribe, our class, and our nation. This means we must develop a world perspective and tear down the walls of separation and hatred to seek common ground and to dissolve hierarchies.”

Further he encouraged for us to, “Rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the hills of creative protest!” “Humans are put on this earth to serve one another, and it must transcend class and privilege.” 

Dr. King possessed a deep hope that the world could be a better place for his children and for our children.

May Kansas State University as a community defined by pluralism find the common ground to stand together against darkness and hate to find light and love.

As we close our gathering today, I ask that you greet, even virtually, those around you with your own word or action that communicate peace. “Every effort we make to connect is meaningful.”

So be it…

Thank you for reading my blog. Enjoy this piece of art painted by my talented friend, Carole Geier.

Soups and Stews

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.

Making Meal Times Special

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

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

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

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

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

38 Cups (5.9kg) of rolled oats

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

3 pounds of raisins or dried fruit of your choice

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

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

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

2 cups honey (use your local honey where possible)

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

Heat liquids on the medium heat enough to blend.

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

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

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

Breakfast Ice Cream

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

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

1 cup frozen blueberries (about 190g)

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

1 serving of any type of protein powder

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

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

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

Eggs Benedict

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

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

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

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.

Garden Gifts and Kitchen Pepper

Since this is a story about gardens, I thought it best to set a featured image taken by my most talented cousin, MLG. She said I could use the picture. I write about basil a lot, so it’s only fitting that this praying mantis sits atop a lush stalk of basil while staring down a humming bird on the feeder. I think she should win a photography contest for this shot!

While I have my own garden, the wonderful thing about having friends and colleagues who have green thumbs is that we don’t grow the same vegetables. Thus, one gets a great variety of veggies and fruits when other gardeners share their bounties.

My colleague, BH, possesses a green thumb that allows peaches that we continue to enjoy thanks to last year’s crop. We are down to the last two frozen bags, and he tells me that a late frost nipped the trees buds last Spring. Not to fear, though, because the Japanese eggplant, chilies, and tomatoes are “going crazy!”

For the eggplant Parmesan, I cooked the tomatoes in a bit of olive oil until I could remove the peelings and mash the pulp to cook down into a paste. I cooked the tomatoes with onions, garlic, and two fat hands full of fresh basil leaves. My own garden is crazy with two pots of basil, and three plants in the ground. I planted extra basil to make sure, at least, one survived. Who knew all of the plants would survive, indeed, thrive! Back to the marinara sauce for the eggplant Parmesan. Once the sauce thickened, I put two big dollops of pesto! I have 40 half pints of different varieties of pesto in the freezer, and I keep one jar in the refrigerator to use randomly in food preparations. Sadly, I did not take a picture of the marinara sauce. I prepared half of the 16 ounce (450g) bag of penne pasta. I tossed the cook pasta in half of the marinara I had prepared with 10 tomatoes, half an onion, three cloves of garlic, and kitchen pepper (more on that later). Oh, I tossed the sliced Japanese eggplant in egg then in corn flour (ground yellow corn), and fried them in butter!

For our next eggplant meal, I fried sliced eggplant with fresh corn I had taken off the cob. It reminded me of the same side dish I make with fresh corn fried with yellow squash. This may have seemed like an odd meal, but I made fried green tomatoes. I have three tomatoes plant that have big green tomatoes. I’m not sure if they’re not getting enough sun, because they don’t ripen. That means I am pickling a lot of green tomatoes, too. Here are the fried green tomatoes. They were delicious.

Kitchen Pepper

I read about “Kitchen Pepper” when I was doing research on recipes and the cooking or baking of other enthusiasts. I found this on another WordPress website called, “Savoring the Past, ” which noted this from “A Lady’s Assistant” by Charlotte Mason, 1777. It was suggested that Kitchen Pepper developed any recipe into a savory dish. I have now added Kitchen Pepper to potato salad, grilled salmon, marinara sauce, and in a chocolate cake. The ingredients, individually, will surprise you, and you may not think they should be in such recipes. I can tell you that any where you would put seasoned salt, kitchen pepper can add greater depth in a flavor profile. Here’s the recipe:

Kitchen Pepper

One ounce (28.3g) powdered ginger

one half ounce (16.1g) of each:

black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg (all should be ground well)

Add 6 ounces (170g) salt (I used pink Himalayan salt)

Mix all of the ingredients well, and store in a tightly-sealed jar, preferably with a shaker fitting.

My friends Paula and Phil visited, and brought vegetables from their garden. We ate fresh tomatoes, and I will make more marinara sauce tomorrow. Phil presented me with a bag of very nice pickling cucumbers. I had eaten some “spicy maple bourbon pickles” that someone had brought to a party, so I thought I’d try making some of those, since I had some peppers in my garden and BH had presented me with some from his garden. I went to my trusty “Ball Canning Book” for the proper ratios of the ingredients to which I added one modification. I replaced the white sugar with pure maple syrup, but I did not add bourbon. Maybe next time. My ingredients for my version of spicy maple pickles:

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1/4 cup canning salt

1 pint vinegar

1 pint water

1 tablespoon pickling spice

For each jar, I place sprigs of fennel, a sprig of rosemary, two chilies, 1 clove of garlic, and sliced cucumbers and sliced green tomatoes. I heat brine to boiling and pour over the vegetables for five minutes, and then I pour the brine back into the pan to bring to boil. Then I pour the boiling brine on the vegetables, seal, and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath “canner.” If I want a crispier pickle, I seal the jars after I pour in the boiling brine. I cool them on the counter and place in the refrigerator. The recommended 15 minutes boiling water bath often yields a slightly less firm pickle. The pickles are delicious with your eggs in the morning or with slices of cheese as an appetizer. They are great with sandwiches, too. Be creative.

For my parting shot, I offer a picture of me with my wonderful hibiscus plant, which yields 3-5 blooms per day. We eat our breakfast on the front patio with the plant every morning since we acquired “her” two months ago.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Happy Accidents…in the Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.

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.

The Meaning of Safety in Common Spaces

I work at a university as a teacher of intercultural learning and development.  That means I work with students to learn about their own cultures so that they are better prepared to understand other cultures.  You see, we want to graduate students who are globally marketable and are able to think past their own identities.

I have developed many workshops over the years to address such learning outcomes.  One of the developmental workshops/classes is called Safe Zone.  It was developed by Anthropologist, Dr. Susan Allen, among others, originally to address sexual minorities, and then began to include intersectional identities deemed, “Not in the mainstream.”  That was back in the 1970s, and we continue this important work of building allies today.

With the recent focus on inequities across all social constructs, there remains a focus to help institutions build community, foster a sense of belonging for all, and address emotional well-being.  As I continue to say, it’s a life-long journey.  When one asks me, “How long with this take?”  My favorite answer is, “A life time.”

I have a class called, History of Exclusion, Implicit Bias, Aggression, and Language.  I present this here as a way for us to think about the environments that we build in order to exclude, which is the opposite of building community.  Here is a quick primer:

Justification:

As with any intercultural learning processes, all students , no matter who you are,  must understand and internalize the benefits of being globally aware, confident and competent. This learning is not a “check box,” nor is it a “once and done” process.

The goal is for a us to move toward “allyship,” with historically excluded groups with “Authentic Allyship.” For example:

  • “Performance Allyship,” i.e. extrinsically motivated and tends not to be sustainable. Rather is tends to be “a means to an end.”
  • “Authentic Allyship,” intrinsically motivated and tends to promote positive and sustainable change in systemic exclusion.

If we are asking ourselves and teaching our children to function in a global society, we must model that same “self and other” awareness.  Here’s a way to begin:

  • Learn about your own identity and the characteristics that make up your culture.
  • Learn about the identities of others and what about those identities that make up their cultures.
  • Internalize how this understanding contributes to cohesion and the equitable representation of multiple identities in the class (room), in community, and in  societal settings.

Intended Outcomes: Participants in this practice  internalize their personal journey in Authentic Allyship with persons who identify with populations not part of a dominant.  Practitioners of allyship understand how their own stories influence how they view the “other.”  Practitioners of allyship find common ground to learn the stories of “others” and build relationships.  Ultimately, practitioners of allyship advance the concepts of “Community, Belonging, and Emotional Well-being” for all.

As you look for readings, look for key words in the following topics.

Topics Covered:

  • History of the exclusionary acts that contribute to racism and other “-ism” constructs
  • Understanding Implicit biases and its effects in building relationships
  • Understanding different types of aggressions: how do they affect the relationship between the aggressor and their “targets,” including:
    • Micro-invalidations
    • Micro-insults
    • Micro-assaults
  • Understanding the language that further “minoritizes” and separates one group from another.

Again, we promote: “Community, Belonging, and Emotional Well-being”

This is what I want for us:

Jumbo Ball Pit with 10 students

Thank you for reading.