Nature, Meditation, and Cooking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thumbnail_IMG_5566

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

thumbnail_IMG_8416

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

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

Thank you for reading.

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:

IMG_5012

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.

IMG_5039

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:

IMG_5060

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:

IMG_4951

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!

IMG_4957

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.

Our Granddaughter, a Wonderfully, Gifted Soul!

When one thinks of an 11 year old female, one, often, does not think, “old soul.”  I find myself thinking that often, especially when she requested a weekend with “Grandma and Grandpa.”  “Can we have a, sort of, special Thanksgiving dinner with just the three of us?”  Of course I answered, “yes.”  It was the following  that surprised me.  I suppose I was thinking a traditional U. S. American Thanksgiving meal with turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie!  So, I asked “Sammy” about her preferred menu.  “Let’s have grilled beef steak, fried potatoes and asparagus.  Also, I want root beer floats for dessert!”  That’s easy!

We just had one full Saturday with her, so we wanted to make it special.  We began the day with her requested breakfast of Honey Combs breakfast cereal.  I checked the ingredients.  Because of the name of the cereal, the consumer is led to believe that it has honey.  The product lists its ingredients as: corn flour, sugarwhole grain oat flour, modified cornstarchcorn syruphoneysalt, turmeric (color), wheat starch.  We were feeling indulgent, so we allowed her to have this allegedly healthy breakfast food.

After breakfast, we made our way to thrift stores (her old soul showing) and the mall (her pre-teen soul showing).  We followed that with lunch at an Asian themed fast food place having to do with a panda.  We knew we’d have a healthful dinner, so we moved forward.  Here she is by a colorful mural on a wall downtown. Getting both her face and that of the mural’s subject meant that I had to sacrifice a close-up.

IMG_4232

She actually tired of the activity, so we went home for a relatively quiet afternoon to prepare for our feast.

Menu:

Grilled Rib-eye Steaks

Fried potatoes (we mixed bintje and red gold potatoes, thinly sliced)

Buttered asparagus

Sparkling apple juice (instead of wine since the guest of honor is 11 years old)

Root Beer Floats

Grandpas purchased the steaks at a specialty meat shop.  He patted them dry and applied salt and pepper before landing them on the grill.

I sliced the potatoes (with skins) thinly and allowed them to sit in very hot water for 10 minutes.  I patted the tubers dry before adding them to hot sunflower oil.  Salt and pepper were applied along with a lid in order for the potatoes to steam for five to eight minutes.  I removed the lid after eight minutes to allow the potatoes to brown.  Once the potatoes began to brown, I added two pats of butter, which aided further in the even browning.  By the way, I fried the potatoes in a carbon steel wok, which aids in easy stirring.

The asparagus were simply steamed with added butter and salt toward the end of cooking time.

Here we are:

img_4242.jpg Here’s the happy menu planner, ready to tear into her special meal.

img_4240.jpg

Now, the root beer float has been a topic of discussion and debate.  Do you add the ice cream first or the root beer?  When you put the ice cream in the glass first, adding the root beer causes a great foaming!  Grandpa insisted that we pour the root beer in the tall glasses, first!  Then we added the ice cream.  It worked! No foaming!  Let me know your thoughts on this.  No matter, they were wonderfully creamy and delicious with the soda’s hint of allspice, ginger, sarsaparilla, dandelion root, and vanilla bean.   It foamed, but the foam never ran over the sides of the glass.  A great treat!

IMG_4255

By the way, the lovely dandelion, the featured image, was taken by Sammy while playing on her uncle’s farm.  She has a great eye for taking pictures.

Thank you for reading.

Missing Riki on the Day of Her Birth

Today would have been our lovely Riki’s 38th birthday.  As I had written of a year ago, we lost her to an untimely death because of a faulty medical diagnosis.  We continue to hear her voice, and we see her ways reflected in her children, which is of great comfort.

Riki lived, loved, and worked intensely.  Whatever she did, she did it well.  Thinking back to her middle school days, she decided to be on the swim teach.  She received medals for winning competitions.  Once the season came to an end, she didn’t need to do it again.  Then she played basketball.  She was the lead point-maker for her team.  Once the season ended, she did not feel the need to go back.

Riki did maintain her love of cooking and being with her “village” of friends.  When I spoke at her funeral, I wanted to tell the story of her vivid dreams of driving a car.  She was only 11 years old when she told me of the dream in which she was driving a car from the town of Ingalls to Montezuma (about 17 miles of road or 27.6 km).  Along the side of the road was a raccoon.  She stopped, and opened the door, through which the furry critter jumped in.  As she drove along a little further, there stood a young fawn along the side of the road.  She stopped, opened the door, and the little guy jumped in.  Well, she had not driven but a few paces, and there was a big dog! Yes.  He jumped in the car through the door that Riki had opened. By the time she had reached Montezuma, she carried eight animals in the car! Once she stopped, she let them out of the car, and they ran to safety.  She loved that dream, and I loved hearing her story.

If we thought about what dreams meant, it would not be until well into her adult life that I began to understand.  She gathered friends in much the same way she was gathering those four-legged creatures.  Riki quickly made friends where ever she planted. Whether I visit her home town or the town where she and Jonathan raise their children, she made close friends, and they continue to love her to this day.  Alas, I didn’t tell the story at her funeral.  Perhaps I thought, in a split second, that it would have been a weird comparison.  Perhaps not, though.  My point would have been to describe a loving heart that beat inside her.  I leave you with some images of her.

Riki could be called mischievous!

IMG_7215

Here’s a goofy one of Riki and “the Village”.

IMG_7149

More than anything, we know that she loved her family, and she loved her friends, deeply.  She loved to have fun, and she continues to be an inspiration to each of us who knew her.  Meanwhile, we continue to remember what she believed in.  I leave you with a picture of her and our son, her brother, Stevie.  He carries on the tradition of fabulous cooking and sharing his food with loved ones.

IMG_1132

Thank you for reading my blog.  I hope to talk to you soon.

 

A Beautiful Young Lady

On September 27, 1981, a lovely little girl came into this world in last hour of the day.  We called her Riki Lee.  She was extraordinary in so many ways.  A natural leader, Riki was often called, “bossy”, because the world isn’t used to girls who lead naturally.  She went through school as a popular girl who gathered her peers at the house, or where ever young people gathered.

Riki tried everything, once.  She played bass guitar in a band and tried her hand at skating boarding.  She competed on the swim team, and did well.  She played basketball, and was the high score-maker that year.  What ever she tried, she did well.  Riki worked as a waitress during high school, and came to love food and cooking.

At the age of 22, Riki married her childhood sweetheart, Jonathan.  They had been best friends since the age of 12!  In their 14 years of marriage, they had three lovely children.  Riki worked as the director of nutrition for a school where she and her family live.  Riki made friends quickly, and she was known as “Mama Bear” to her large group of friends she lovingly called, “The Village”.   The Village gathered every Wednesday for Riki’s famous “taco bar”.  She was known as a bread-maker and a cook of extraordinary talent.  She was known for her homemade noodles, too.  Her sons said they’d never find someone who cooks better that “Mom”.

It would take pages and pages to talk about Riki’s extraordinary life, and it was cut too short.  On December 18, 2015 at 10:05 p.m., our son-in-law called to tell us Riki had a heart attack (She was 34), we jumped in the car and drove 9 hours through the night to get to her.  She was on life supports.  When we arrived at the hospital the next morning, The Village was in the waiting room of the intensive/critical care unit of the hospital.  There were about 8 couples waiting.  The men were openly weeping, and the women had the most frightened looks on their faces.  “What was happening to their beloved ‘Mamma Bear’?  I could feel such great love for our daughter in that room.

Riki had been on heart medication for the past 11 years.  Because of a switch in insurance, she had to change cardiologists.  The new doctor said, “You’re on strong medicine.  Let’s take you off of it and see how you do.”  Needless to say, that was a reckless call on the doc’s part.

Riki took her last breath New Year’s morning.  So many things run through one’s mind as one witnesses the last breath of a child in a similar setting as the first breath is taken…in a hospital.  The next dreadful step was to tell the children, ages 7, 11, and 12, that their mother was gone.  Watching their little hearts break was excruciating!

Riki loved life, and she loved people.  She was a wonderful mother, and a loving daughter to her parents and to her brother, Stevie.  When we think of her, we think of this smile:

img_7147.jpg

And this ornery streak:

IMG_7215

When my sister passed at the age of 60, I read the words of Lebanese-American poet, Khalil Gibran, “On Children” to give my mother some comfort.  Now, I read the words and find some comfort in them, too.   If you ever get the chance, listen to the poem as brought to music by a Capella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock.  They bring an exquisite meaning to the words.

On Children by Khalil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

We keep the memory of Riki in our hearts.  We can hear her voice.  We can hear her laughter.  May she watch over her children, and may she rest in peace.  Here is love to your, our beautiful daughter.

 

The Love Language of Food

Remember Gary Chapman’s book about the love languages?  I see truths in it.  Chapman’s premise centers on ways a couple demonstrate love to one another: words of affirmation, quality time, gift-giving, acts of service, and physical touch.  Actually, this communication and service go beyond couples in a committed relationship.  I think one can demonstrate loving language to any one.  Of course, there may be parts that are off limits.  For example, I have a co-worker that gives me vegetables from his garden, but I can’t imagine that we’ll ever exchange hugs!

So why is my featured photo a cauliflower steak?  I think I share the love language of cooking with my spouse.  We certainly share the desire to eat tasty and creative foods.  Cooking together, I suppose, falls into the love languages of “quality time” and “acts of service”.  Our meals together seem to be an affectionate time of the day, so I share our delicious meal tonight: grilled salmon, cauliflower steak, and rice with my ginger-soy-shallots-quince sauce.

First, I made a marinade for the salmon.  In the bottom of a rectangle glass cake pan, I added:

2 tablespoons (28g) sesame oil, 1 tablespoon (14g) grated ginger, 1 teaspoon (4g) garlic powder, grated pepper, 3 Tablespoons (42g) soy sauce, and a splash of teriyaki sauce to assure browning.  Mix it in the glass cake pan.  Then add salmon skin side up.  Smear the salmon in the marinade, and then repeat on the skin side.  Grill on the skin side down, with the grill lid closed, until  it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. (63 C) taken on the thickest part of the flesh.

I cook my rice in a rice cooker, and we usually put start it in the morning, and it stays warm until we’re ready to use it.  For the rice, I made a sauce.  We have a quince tree in the front yard.  It produces about six pieces of fruit on a good year.  Quince, related to apples, adorns a yard quite beautifully.  It blooms a lovely pink blossom in the spring, and turns a pale yellow in the fall.  The quince tree protects itself from predators with long thorns, which make harvesting the fruit a bit perilous.  My harvest take today was one piece of fruit.  Here’s the tree in the spring.

quince-in-bloom.jpg

The fruit packs a wallop in pectin, so it’s prized for thickening jams.  The one tiny, little fruit added pectin to thicken my sauce, and a sort of glutamate  flavor enhancer.  Here’s my recipe for the rice sauce.  I’m not going to call it a gravy, because it’s not heavy.  It’s a light sauce.

2 cloves garlic, 2 TBS (28g) sesame oil, 2 chopped green onions (set one chopped green onion aside for the final garnish), 2 TBS (28g) chopped ginger, 1 peeled and grated quince. (If you don’t have a quince, grate a half small apple), and 3 TBS (42g) soy sauce .  Cook all ingredients until it begins to thicken.  Add 1 cup (.23 kg) water.  Continue to simmer until thickened.

Rice topping

As featured in the header, the cauliflower was cooked in butter with some added salt and pepper.  Now it’s time to eat!

Salmon and the C steak

We usually eat our Asian-inspired rice dishes with chop sticks.  Here’s the rice.  To finish it, I sprinkled it with the chopped green onion and toasted sesame seeds.  We added a nice white wine, and watched Robin Hood with Russell Crowe (old movie).  Voilà!

Rice with my topping

Thank you for reading!