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.

Emotional Pain in Crises and Self-Care

One would have to live under a rock in order not to acknowledge the global pain and suffering at the moment.  Since early March we hear the daily COVID-19 reports from countless sources.  Some we believe and send us into the realms of disbelief.

My featured image, this week, shows the baby bunny, a kit, living in my backyard.  His favorite nourishment appears to be crisp, dandelion greens and dandelion stalks.  Since both our dogs died last year, I am delighted that this little creature stays in our yard.  Watching him (I really cannot identify his gender) gorge himself on clover and dandelions while viewing the world around him, reminds me to engage in a quiet pace, enjoy my surroundings, eat my food contemplatively (Okay, I’m anthropomorphizing said bunny!), and be aware of my surroundings with its joys and its, possible, dangers.  Good advice from the bunny, considering world events of late.

My goal, here, does not center on my judgement of the current world and U.S. events.  I assure you, I have the full range of emotions around the effect of COVID-19 and senseless killings.  You don’t need to read those.  Rather, I hope to offer comments regarding self care and how we may focus on ourselves in a healthful way.  I’m sure you’ve read lots of information on mindfulness.  Here, I offer another resource.  A couple of friends wrote an Extension publication called, Everyday Mindfulness.   It comes complete with the “Fact Sheet,” which the actual publication, and with a leader’s guide, in case you want to teach it.  If you want more information on how to gain free access to the publication, just let me know in a comment.

First, let us look at what mindfulness can be:

» Living in the present moment/awareness of the present moment — paying close attention to thoughts, physical sensations, and our surroundings (Like the bunny in my backyard!).
» Observing personal experiences of mindfulness, being completely focused on a project
reading a book, doing a hobby, or playing a sport. This heightened awareness is mindfulness.
» Taking a few deep breaths — becoming fully aware of the present moment.
» Having nonjudgmental awareness in which each thought, feeling, and sensation is acknowledged and accepted in their present state. This steady and non-reactive attention usually differs from the way we routinely operate in the world.
» Paying attention, precisely, to the present moment without judgment

Sometimes, delighting in the little things can help us to be more focused, though we can benefit from setting aside specific time for expressing anger and other emotions.  When we “schedule” such time for judgement, anger, sadness, and guilt, we can focus our energies for the difficult times.  The next step would be to schedule time for joy, celebration, and the plan-of-action for addressing the events that bring on anger, sadness, guilt, and judgement.  When we call ourselves to action, we address the helplessness that often accompanies injustices and inequities.

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This photo is meant to help us imagine a peaceful scene to promote mindfulness.  It’s three of my four grandchildren enjoying Canada geese swimming while an elder feeds them.

Back to mindfulness. We follow seven principles.  They take practice, but it’s worth the effort in your journey toward self-care:

  • Non-judging: Be a neutral observer to each experience.
  • Patience: Allow each experience to emerge at its own pace.
  • Beginner’s mind: Avoid bringing in what you know to the current moment and try
    experiencing it as if it is the first time.
  • Trust: Believe in your intuition and your ability to see things in a new way.
  • Non-striving: Avoid the need for winning or losing or striving for a purpose — it is about “being” and “non-doing.”
  • Acceptance: See things as they are in the present moment.
  • Letting go: Take the time to detach from your usual feelings and thoughts.

You may ask, “How can we do this when the world is hurting and in crisis?  My answer: We can better serve others and be the best for the world once we have addressed our own physical and emotional needs.”  It is not selfish.  It is good practice.

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I snapped this shot on one of my walks not far from my house.  In a world of pain, suffering, and ugliness, somedays, I have to focus on beauty.  Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

Food in Social and Intercultural Interactions!

In the past three months, I’ve attended a Diwali (The Hindi celebration of Light in the Darkness) in my rural Kansas town, thanks for my friends and colleagues from India.  Two days later, I had a wonderful Filipino meal, which included Pancit, stews, and bread.  There I watched as my friends, Karen and Jonathan, parents witnessed their first snowfall, back in November.  All this while, I had the honor of interacting with a wide range of folks.  I learned a little more about them by sharing in their cultural celebrations and the foods of their regions and countries.  It’s my favorite thing to do!  I walk away, a little fuller in my stomach, heart, and mind.  I will chronicle some of the events, here.  The food from the Diwali included curry spices, chick peas, basmati rice, potatoes, chicken, and, in the white bowl, Gulab Jamun, these wonderful little pastry-like rounds soaked in syrup.  This food fed my soul!

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Eating with my friends, who hail from the Philippines, we were treated to pancit, a clear noodle and vegetables dish with lovely flavors of garlic and savory flavors of pork (the preference of our host).  We were also treated to a stew with beef and Lumpia, a spring roll of vegetables and meat.  Yes!  Also the first snow for Karen’s parents!

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Well, it’s been a few weeks since this pleasant evening out on the porch, but I’ve wanted to tell you about it for a while.  We call it, “Happy Hour”.  We each bring food and drink to share.  In addition to the homemade pizzas, cheese, and dessert that I offered, my friends brought cooked carrots, the best Leche de flan from my friend, Karen, who apparently learned to bake this velvety, smooth custard in her home country of the Philippines.  She’s pictured above with her parents’ first snow fall while on a visit to the U.S.  Another friend offered her sweet carrots, and another brought apple cobbler, and we had chicken pot pie.  In such “happy hours”, I’d say the conversation stands as the most important aspect with food bringing up a close second.  I found it interesting that, on this particular occasion, the men sat outside, and the women sat inside.  Hmmmm….I wonder why this happened. more-party-goers.jpg

For an appetizer, I made my own type of Bourisin cheese by draining whole-milk, Greek style yogurt in a hanging cheese cloth.  I added my own blend of dehydrated vegetables for a tangy cheese spread.  One of my favorite things to do is make pizza dough and have all the trimmings of vegetables, meats, cheeses, sauces (marinara and pesto are my favorite sauces to have available), and attendees make their own pizzas.  We have a great time.  Here are some of the offerings for this lovely October evening: 1) My “Boursin” cheese nestled in a clay pot, 2) Baked pizza with pesto, and 3) Leche de Flanimg_3742[1]img_3744[1]

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Love to Cook and Eat with Friends

It’s good to be back.  While away from my blog these past many days, my attentions focused on lots of writing for my job and preparing presentations around building relationships in multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic populations.  My “lessons” and publications target educators who work with multicultural populations.  So, I have not sat down to write in this blog, but I still have to eat, and I still have many friends who stop by for a meal.

My featured photo today is my jammy fruit compote that I call CAOS (sounds like chaos!)  I created this one Thanksgiving as my answer to cranberry sauce that we serve with turkey.  Making more than one jar at a time also assured that I will have fruit to serve during times of our Native ceremonies where we have some fruit of the bounty.

So, what is CAOS? Cranberry, apple, orange, spice.  I love the taste of Chinese 5-Spice, so I used it as my spice.  Here’s my recipe:

24 ounces (680.39 g) fresh cranberries

6 red (any kind) apples – cored and chopped (do not peel)

3 oranges – chopped (do not peel and remove seeds if applicable)

2 cups (453.59 g) apple cider

1/2 cup (113.40 g) honey

1 Tablespoon (140.18 g) Chinese 5 Spice (my version is a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg). Sometimes I use fennel or anise seeds in place of cardamom.

Combine all ingredients, and bring slowly to a boil stirring to a simmer.  Simmer until nice and thick until to a gelling point.  You can test for gelling by checking your stirring spoon.  I like to put a small pat of butter in my jams to reduce foaming.  When the jam is thickened, ladle into hot canning jars leaving 1/4 inch head space, seal with new lids and rings.  Process in a boiling water bath “canner” for 15 minutes.  Remove from boiling water and place on a towel on the counter out of a breeze.  The jammy fruit is ready to store when you hear the little “pop” that tells you it’s sealed.  Let the jars cool completely before you store on the shelf in your pantry.

Now, dinner with friends, Mark and Kathy, which was sort of a potluck since Kathy brought one of her famous appetizers (“appies”), Vidalia Onion Dip.  Rather than serve with the, usual crackers, we ate the dip with pork rinds to make it a low “carb” snack. I can’t remember Kathy’s recipe for the dip other than 1 or 2 whole onions, Swiss cheese, and mayonnaise.  Then you bake it.  Kathy says it freezes well, too.  I think I prefer it with crackers over the pork rinds.

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For the main course, I served ground lamb kabobs, which are really ground lamb with a handful of chopped cilantro, garlic, and salt/pepper.  Form a log or a patty.  Grill the lamb and serve with tzaziki (yogurt, cucumber, and garlic powder).   Lately, we’ve been sauteing red cabbage in butter with a little pepper.  It’s delicious when you allow the butter to caramelize the cabbage a bit.  We served the ground lamb with a dollop of my cilantro pesto (made with walnuts, Parmesan, garlic,and olive oil) and grilled Halloumi cheese.

  ground lamb kabob tzaziki cabbage and grilled halloumi cheese

Delightful flavors await you when you experiment.  Luckily, I have friends who like my experiments.

Thank you for reading.

Conviviality and “Hygge”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Making Your Own Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts on entertaining people in your home?