Basil, and More Basil!

I’ve written about my basil windfall, previously.  I can’t help but write about it, again!  The fragrant plant and its deep green leaves, says, “summer” to me.  Never before, have I enjoyed this over-abundance of basil.  Now, let’s talk about basil.

Basil, also known as “St. Joseph’s Wort” belongs to the mint family, along with catnip, spearmint, and peppermint.  Most Italian-style cooks use basil in many dishes, because it goes well in tomato-based dishes.  I like to use basil in much of my cooking, and the marriage of tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil can be a sublime experience when used in soups, sauces, beef roasts, and grilled lamb.  The vegetarian or vegan can even use different combination for vegetable dishes.

Pino Luongo, one of my favorite cookbook writers (actually less cookbook and more stories to go along with the ingredients of favored recipes) talks about the way he uses basil in his Tuscan cooking.  He reminds us not to be tied, so much, to recipes that tell us how much of what to use.  Luongo, says, “Use your senses, and learn through trial and error.”  He also suggest that we “improvise based on your acquired knowledge.”  I come from a family of people who like to cook, so that’s an example of my “acquired knowledge”.  Of course, I add, use safe food handling practices.

Besides being in Italian cooking, basil has a popularity in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.  Having just eaten Pho (Fuh, which means noodle) today, which is a wonderful soup with cellophane noodles in a generous beef broth (in today’s case), I delighted in the soup brought to the table in its cavernous bowl.  Presented separately, on a small plate, are bean sprouts, mint or basil, and a wedge of lime.  We place the sprouts and mint/or basil in the steaming bowl of soup and top is off with a squeeze of lime.  I’ve only had Pho with beef brisket in its broth with its condiments.

Holistic health practitioners recommend basil for its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties.  This comes from Medical News Today, and it adds that basil is “nutrient heavy” and calorie light, but then I cannot think of any herbs considered calorie heavy!

As mentioned, previously, I continue to find ways to preserve my basil, in addition to drying it for later use.  In the dead of winter, I love pulling my frozen pesto from the freezer, as green as the day I put it in.  Yes.  I’ve related that in previous blog entries.

Seasoned Basil Freeze

With the large batch of basil plucked from the plant, I decided that 15 jars of pesto may need to be enough (actually my plan is for 20-25 small jars before winter sets in), I decided to preserve some pesto as a seasoning.  I took one large bowl full of basil leaves.

Basil

All together, it compresses into 2 heaping cups full in the blender vessel.

To that I added:

  • 1/4 cup Mediterranean olives – pitted
  • A dehydrated mix of celery, onion, mushroom, red pepper – 1 Tablespoon
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon smoked salt
  • 3 grinds of black pepper
  • 1 cup of olive oil (add more if mix is too thick)

I blended this until nice and liquid.   I put it into the freezer, and use the “seasoning” in dishes throughout the winter months.  Remember, the olive oil preserves the basil perfectly, and (I say it again), it’s as green the day you thaw it as the day you froze it. Look at that color!

Seasoned Basil

I prefer freezing such things in glass.  Remember to label it, and put the date on it so that you use the oldest items first.

Enjoy, and thank you for reading.

Hummus and Flatbread

I am passing the week with my 82 years old brother in law (Bill) who is in treatment for cancer.  While he does not want to be “taken care of”, I cannot help but want to cook, though I am not surrounded by the things in my own kitchen.   Fortunately, Bill and his late wife stock a well-used kitchen, as far as cooking utensils are concerned.  The ingredients in the kitchen are rather dated, so I am pleased to explore the groceries of Southern California (SoCal).  My focus turns on nutrient-rich foods served in small courses, more like appetizers.  My husband and Bill’s late, Hawaiian, mother would call them “poo-poos”.  Now before you snicker, Islanders serve “Poo-Poo Platters” much the same way Spaniards serve “tapas”, in other words, small bites.

Lucky for me, I once worked with an Egyptian woman who taught me her version of hummus, and it continues to be my favorite hummus, to this day.  My first challenge is that Bill declared to me that he “dislikes” hummus and chick peas.  I said, “Fine, then I’ll make it for us!”.  So, I will let you know how I make hummus and flat bread.

I like to cook with fresh ingredients.  No, I did not grow my own garbanzo beans, but I do purchase about 10 ounces of the dried beans.  I cook those in boiling water which as been generously salted until they are soft.  Once those are cooked and cooled, I am ready to proceed.  Oh, yes!   I don’t like the high price of tahini, or sesame paste, so I make my own.

Tahini:

1/2 cup raw sesame seeds.  Put them in a small, dry skillet and heat them, stirring often, until they are brown and toasted.  Notice in the photo, what “browned” sesame seeds look like.

Once the seeds are toasted, cool them.  The next step is to grinds the toasted sesame seeds.  I have a coffee grinder that I use exclusively for spices, seeds, and other things I need to grind.  I do not grind coffee in this grinder.

When the ground seeds resemble a paste, add olive oil to support a thick paste consistency.  Again, notice the tahini in my pictures.

Hummus:

Blend – 1-2 cups soft garbanzo beans (chick peas), 4 gloves of garlic, 1/4 to 1/2 Tahini, Salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, the juice of half a lemon, and plenty of olive oil.  Blend until you have a nice consistency, to your taste.  ( I hope I remembered all the ingredients!)

Spread the hummus in a walled plate or wide glass pan.  Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle smoked paprika on top.  I like to decorate the middle with a few, set aside, beans for garnish.  Serve with flat bread.

The whole presentation of hummus and flat bread

Flatbread:

I just use a simple bread recipe of flour, yeast, a little sugar, salt, and a little oil.  Make a good dough, and let it rise for a bit (1/2 hour).

Form the dough in small rounds, about the size of a golf ball.  Roll out and cook on a hot griddle.  Cook on one side, and when you flip it to cook on the other side, a nice bubble will form.  Then you can call it a “pita”!.  I like to cut the round flat bread into fourths.

Serve with the hummus , which is high in fiber, protein, and good fats, with the olive oil.  The garlic is good for you, too.

Oh, I should tell you that Bill, who earlier said he dislike hummus, had three servings of his “small” bites!  Turns out he loves homemade hummus!  Things are always better when we make them from scratch!  I should mention that Bill likes herring in sour cream, so we served the hummus and flat bread with a side of herring in sour cream, to take from many cultures today.  The color of the food would have looked better on a darker-colored plate, but I made do with what I had.

On the plate

Enjoy, and thank you for reading.

The Wonders of Traveling to the City – Los Angeles

We landed at LAX, the international airport of Los Angeles, California today.  I love traveling.  Yes.  There are delays, many personalities, and some inconveniences.  Those little “bothers” dim when compared to the phenomenal wonders of witnessing the human experience in the process.  There are those who are laid back, as I tend to be, because we know we cannot hold back the tide, such is air travel.  There are those who appear to be stressed and uptight, perhaps, because they have no control over time and space, such is travel.   And there are those who appear to be oblivious to the process of travel and other life realities, in general.   

On the flight from Colorado to LAX, I had the pleasure of observing all three.  First, there was my seat mate who was traveling to LA to meet up with friends at Disneyland.  She amused me, not because she was unaware of direction in her home town of Colorado Springs (I mentioned that Cheyenne Moutain is always on the west, and if she faces it, her right would be north, and her left would be south.  To which she replied, “I don’t know what that means”.  Okay.  I get that, I think.  She appeared to be a nice young lady, no matter how unaware of her surroundings.  The great perplexing thing was that, once we landed, she did not know how she would get to Disneyland.  She thought of taking an Uber or Lyft for the 35 miles to Disney.  I suggested public transportation.  We were glad to help her get there, through a little research.  I was glad to help an elderly lady get her three big bags to the curb queue for waiting on family to fetch her. 

What I enjoyed the most, was the train ride to Pasadena.  Los Angeles has a very nice light rail.  On the ride, I spoke with homeless people who rode the rail for most of the day.  I interacted with some who were suffering from untreated mental illness, and with hard-working folk who toiled long, hard days to support their families in jobs that contribute to the economy, put food on our tables, and tend toward jobs that most of us do not want to do, nor do we raise our children to do such jobs.   

On the train in LA

I loved watching a little girl explaining to her mother, in Spanish, about her Russian Nesting Dolls, which she received as a gift from her teacher at school in the first day.  The little girl explained to me, the origins of her gift, in perfect English.  She was about 9 years old and very bright.

Little girls with nesting dolls on train

The first train from LAX takes us to Union Station, built in 1939 as a Passenger Terminal.  Called the “Last of the Great Railways, LA Union Station gained notoriety in 1980 by being place on the National Registry of Historic Places.  When we took the train from Kansas City to Los Angeles two years ago, we had the pleasure of departing from a great Union Station and Arriving at an equally great Union Station.  If only the walls could speak! 

The ride from LA Union Station to Pasadena afforded the observer with great contradictions.   Hibiscus “hedges” lined the streets while on those streets were small microcosms of tent “villages” inhabited by homeless people.   My heart breaks for the many circumstances that render one homeless, , and I believe we can learn much from them, because I witnessed great survival skills and resourcefulness in those with whom I’ve interacted.   

By the time we reached our destination of Pasadena, CA, I had spoken to 15 people each with a story to tell.  If we, but, listen, the voice of humanity shines, and we walk away a little smarter for the experience.   

Not only does the city offer the continuum of the human experience, I like to go to grocery stores to see what the locals purchase.  I like a well-stocked grocery with a wide array of ethnic ingredients, and Los Angeles does not disappoint!  Opportunities for dining out are fabulous!  One of my favorite hamburger spots is In-n-Out Burgers!  Opened in 1948 by the Snyders, the franchise boasts that it has no freezer or microwave.  Each “store” provides a viewing window, where we wait and watch each burger assembled.  The “double-double” has two freshly cooked patties that are place on buttered-toasted buns, freshly sliced onion and tomatoes and a chunk of lettuces pulled from the freshly broken head.  The fries come from a potato placed in a chopper directly into the hot oil.  All this is washed down with a sparkling cola.  There are even items from a “hidden” menu such as “animal fries” and a patty cooked for your dog! 

In and Out

After sitting with my brother-in-law, as he received chemo-therapy infusion, we treated ourselves to a snack of “inari-sushi” from a “stand” that has been in existence from Dale’s (my spouse) childhood. He’s 69 years old, so that Inari-Sushi stand has been around for a while.  One orders from a window, and the person brings the order to the car.  Inari-shushi is sushi rice, sesame seeds, with seasoned rice vinegar tucked into a tofu pocket.  Eaten with soy sauce and pickled ginger, it’s a taste explosion you won’t soon forget.  Now, I’m on the hunt for recipes on making the tofu pocket!   

Thank you for reading.

Celery and Dehydrated Veggies

Based on what readers are following in this blog, it seems that writing about cooking is a bit more popular, so here goes another entry about food.

If you have a thriving garden, no doubt, you wonder what to do with odds and ends of the vegetable waste.  I have a few ideas for you.

Whether you grow celery or buy it in a store, it can keep feeding you even after you’ve used the stalk, ribs, and leaves for varying recipes.  You can grow your own, for continued use, right in your own kitchen!

Hold your whole celery with the leaves on top.  Cut from the base of the stalks up about 2-3 inches from the bottom.  Put the ribs/stalks in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator.  I like to wrap mine newly cut celery in a clean dish towel for a dryer storage.

Place that cut base in a small jar filled with water.  After a week, or so, you will begin to see roots sprouting from the base in the water.  When you see many small roots coming off the bottom, you will, also, see small leaves and stalk begin to reach up toward the “sky”.  Either you can use snips of the growing stalk to add flavor to your cooking, or you can plant the rooted base in potting soil.  After a week, or so, the celery will begin to grow taller each day.  You can use those growing celery stalks to further flavor your cooking.  I’ve used my growing celery for about six months.  Each time you cut the growing stalks and leaves, they will keep growing.

Those small stalks are tender, and work well in tuna salad, stir-fry, and that ubiquitous, aromatic trio of carrot, celery, and onion.  French cooks call it “mirepoix” (meer-pwah), Spanish cooks call it, “Sofrito” (so-free-toe), and Italian cooks call it Buttuto (boo-two-toe) or Soffritto. This lovely “trinity” pulls the best of flavors from the other ingredients included in your cooking and makes a lovely base for many soups.

Another thing that I do when I get to the end of my vegetables, if I have more than I need, or if I don’t think I will use the veggies before they go bad, I chop them into small pieces and put them in my food dehydrator. 

 Once the vegetables are dehydrated, I grind them in my coffee grinder (used only for herbs/spices) and process until the dried mixture resembles small flakes. 

I put the vegetable flakes in a small jar with a shaker top (used herb bottle/jar) for use in a variety of food preparations. I have some favorite combinations: 

General Dried Blend: 

  • Celery 
  • Kale 
  • Carrots 
  • Leeks 
  • Orange Peel 
  • Sweet Red Pepper 

This blend goes well in soups, on cottage cheese (for a Bourisin Cheese taste), on eggs, etc. 

 My next favorite blend I like to use in seafood soups, on fish, etc. 

Seafood Blend: 

  • Fennel bulb 
  • Celery 
  • Carrot 
  • Lemon Peel 
  • Sweet Red Pepper 

 Drying veggies takes about 24 to 48 hours to dry on the “dried vegetable” setting of the dehydrator. You can be creative in the kinds of vegetables that you dry for your mix. You can also dehydrate veggies without grinding them for use in soups. 

As mentioned previously, with the Mirepoix, I make a dehydrated Mirepoix, and I add mushrooms to the trio before drying.  The mushrooms add extra glutamate for more enhanced flavor in cooking.  I like to use this mix in my marinara or pizza sauces.

Somehow, I think creating dishes in the kitchen becomes a sort of therapy that feeds my artistic side.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

George Washington Carver

Today, I want to tell you about one of my heroes, George Washington Carver, agricultural chemist, inventor, professor, artist, pianist, violinist, and singer.  If you enjoy peanut butter, you have GWC to thank for finding more than 326 uses for peanuts, including wood stains.  He was equally inventive with the sweet potato, which garnered many uses, like the peanut, including medicines to mitigate the effects of syphilis.  Remember, Carver was a professor at Tuskegee Normal Institute, now called Tuskegee University.  Many of his students were part of the infamous, “Tuskegee Experiment” that injected syphilis into “Negro” males to watch and record the devastating effects.  That is one of the reason why we, social researchers, have to register our research plans with institutional review boards monitoring research on human subjects.

Well, let’s back up a bit.  If you’re ever traveling in Southwest Missouri on Interstate-44, you will see an exit for Diamond, Missouri.  That’s where “The Plant Doctor”‘s life began.  He and his mother went to live on the Carver Plantation.  One night, George and his mother were kidnapped.  She was killed, and the little, sickly boy was returned to the Carver Plantation, which is now a National Monument, operated by the Department of Interior.  The Monument was established in 1930 by President F. D. Roosevelt, who gave $30,000 toward the building of the Monument.  FDR had met Carver, and greatly admired him.  I had already adored Carver, but after my visit, my adoration deepened.

Because little George was sickly, he was able to stay in the main Carver home while the other slaves worked in the cotton and vegetable fields.  It was there that George learned to sew, knit, crochet, wash clothes, and where he became a musician.  He mastered the violin, piano, and sang, beautifully.  He had a natural with plants, and was able to help the sharecroppers to make their fields more productive while maintaining the integrity and health of the soil.  Carver taught the people about crop rotation.  For example, when the cotton stripped away soil nutrients, GWC helped them to use sweet potatoes and peanuts as a source for money and a source to feed the soil nitrogen and other nutrients.

When George was a teen, (about 15ish), he was denied admission to schools in Missouri, so he headed west to Kansas stopping first in Fort Scott in Bourbon County, Kansas.  He soon found his way to Western Kansas in Ness County, and then to Minneapolis, Kansas and homesteaded near Beeler, Kansas.  He supported himself by taking in laundry while he studied to graduate high school.  When it was time for college, Carver had been accepted into a Kansas college until he arrived for actual registration.  He was told that he could not attend college since he was a “Negro”.

Not to be deterred, Carver headed to Iowa where he was admitted into Simpson College.  His art teacher noticed his great detail when sketching plants.  She suggested that Carver talk to biologist at what is not Iowa State University.  After graduating with his Master’s Degree, Carver taught chemistry and biology at Iowa State.  The young professor and inventor caught the eye of Henry Ford after making rubber out of golden rod plant.  He caught the eye of Thomas Edison who want Carver to come to New Jersey to work for him.   An idealist, Carver accepted the call from Booker T. Washington, then the head of Tuskegee.  Carver wanted to go where he’d “do the most good”.  It was at Tuskegee that Carver lived out the rest of his life teaching, inventing, and helping farmers increase yields and their incomes.  Carver is best known for his work with peanuts, sweet potatoes, and pecans.  Carver lived a simple life and never had living quarters larger than one that held a twin-sized bed, a bureau, and a small desk.  Most of his days were spent in the laboratory and finding ways to help his students “make a mark in the world”.

Carver’s Honors include:

  • Named Fellow, London Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts
  • ‘Springarm Medal for Distinguished Service
  • Collaborator – Division of Plant Mycology: USDA
  • Roosevelt Medal for Contributions to Southern Agriculture
  • Popular Mechanics Top 50 Outstanding Americans
  • National Inventors’ Hall of Fame.

I do have a reference list if you’re interested.

I work at an agricultural experiment station.  If Carver were alive today, he’d be one of my colleagues!  If you want to know more, do some research on his Jesup Agricultural Wagon, on which he’d take his research to the farmers to show them the latest in crop and soil research.  You can see a replica at the GWC National Monument near Diamond, Missouri.

Thank you for reading.

Financial Opportunities and Micro Loans

Some friends and I were discussing building financial opportunities for women.  It made me think of the micro-loans that were championed by the Grameen Bank many years ago.  One of my colleagues, a Bangladeshi engineer, was personal friends with Grameen founder, Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate.  The concept of micro-credit and micro-finance has worked in many places to help people build financial security.

Our discussion centered on ways to help women, specifically, to build financial security.  It made me think of a study trip to Mexico, a few years ago, when I was able to learn from people who were using micro-credit to run very small farms called, ejidos (Eh-hee-tho).  Looking back at my journal notes, I will describe their process for growing tomatoes (tomates).

We visited several farms in the county (municipio) of Ayala.  An ejido farm can be compared to a parking lot. When you go to a parking lot, you just know there will be a place for you to park. And as long as you do not abuse your parking privileges, you can continue to park in a spot in that lot. An ejido farmer does not own his/her “lot”, but as long as he or she wants to farm there, and as long as it is used properly, the farmer can be on the land indefinitely. Like paid parking lots, there are only small fees to be paid, or food can be supplied to municipios.

My colleagues and I visited a wonderful tomato farming operation, which had been in production for about five months. It took about one month to begin to produce significant quantities for sale. Before entering the facility, we had to step inside a sunken, concrete box holding chlorine bleach.
Situated on approximately one-fourth hectare, which is about 2,500 meters, which is about .62 acres, is a screen-enclosed structure holding about nine-thousand tomato plants. The plants’ soil and root systems sit inside heavy, pliable, black plastic bags, which are approximately 13 inches in diameter and 14 inches high. The stems of the plants are three to six inches in diameter. The plants vine up strings rising 12 feet above to horizontal wires running parallel to each row of plants. The tomatoes nearest the bucket-like bags, holding the dirt and root systems, ripen first. As tomatoes are harvested, the green tomatoes nearest the horizontal wires are lowered to run more parallel with the ground. Then the top of any given plant will be hanging over buckets 10 spaces away. Every 15 days, the strings are lowered, and the tomatoes nearest the ground ripen first. This Loreto-variety of tomatoes takes a lot of nitrogen, we were told. If you want to see pictures, please let me know. You would love seeing this operation.
The plants take 20-thousand liters of water a day, which is about 5,265 gallons. The farmer harvests 200 boxes of tomatoes per week. The boxes held about two bushels, which is about 106 pounds. There is not much exporting, but this operation supplies several grocery stores (tiendas) weekly. The picked fruits are sold to the stores, and the fallen fruits are sold in the barrios (neighborhoods).
The producer told us the next thing to be learned is composting so that something useful can be done with the organic waste, which is one other by-product of this operation.

All this was built from a micro-loan, and the farmers told us they thought they’d begin to see a profit just after the second round of purchases.

Here’s another:

“EJIDOTARIAS” (EH-HEE-THO-TAR-EE-AHS)
Don’t forget to roll the “Rs”.  Okay, so I already introduced the ejido farm producer. The community or municipio owns the land. You stake a claim, of sorts, to some land, and you farm it. As long as you do not abuse the land or other farms around you, you can work that land as long as you like. There is a small usage fee to help the community. The county (municipio) government usually helps with initial seeding, reclamation, and improvements.

We visited the farm of two women near the minicipio of Ayala, state of Morelos. The señoras farmed their ground together. They produced corn, green beans, squash, and sugar cane. Their corn seed came from the U.S., and they grew both grain (maiz) and sweet corn (elote) – pronounced “my-eese” and “eh-lo-tay.”

Farming 3,000 feet above sea level, the ladies planted, irrigated, and harvested by hand and with the use of oxen and horses. Small irrigation ditches ran through the land. It is up to the farmer to flood her fields from the ditches with dams and canals. They farmed four hectares (about 10 acres) per year. It costs about 5,000 pesos per hectare (2.48 acres) including 200 pesos for fertilizer and 350 pesos for insecticide. They pay their water usage annually. The ladies gave us an estimate that it took about 29,000 pesos to get their produce to the market. That is about $2,900.

In the ejido system, producers help one another plant and harvest. For example, the sugar cane was harvested with a machete. It takes strong arms to swing a machete. The crops go to market in Mexico City. Visiting this particular farm held a few contradictions. Everything was done by hand, which took us back in time. The power lines above had electricity surging through them, audibly. That brought us back to reality.

Thank you for reading.

My Teaching Philosophy

Okay, so I’m not in a formal classroom anymore.  However, I do have a teaching philosophy through which I see an educational setting.

I think that every day humans seek to achieve personal, tribal, familial, institutional, and community well-being. Actions may differ from place to place because of varying cultural patterns, environmental conditions, geographical locations, political capital, natural capital, cultural capital, social capital, and other resources that affect human lives.  The teacher, be it formal or informal, affects the lives of his or her students’ thinking by leading them toward seeing the world through unbiased lenses, and to see each human being for what he or she contributes to the fabric of humanity.

A passionate teacher does everything in her or her power to build learners.  How can we make our classrooms a level playing field so that each learner engages within his or her own abilities.  Does that means that we have to employ a variety of methods that speak to varying types of learners: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.  Do teachers have this luxury, or is their day proscribed for them?  I would like to see feedback for this notion.

Though the classroom, naturally, employs a variety of textbooks, I believe that students learn from encouraged self-discovery so that they see themselves in the contexts of educational settings, the family, the social arena, in cultural arenas, the workplace, the community, national arena, and the world.  These contexts help the students to visualize how cultures, ideals, and preferences are built.

Other concepts and questions:

I love geography, because it employs geographic inquiry, which helps students understand local to global issues in physical and human systems.  This inquiry also helps students to ask questions about the past, understand present issues affecting community, and to envision a future that includes individuals and families who are emotionally, socially, healthfully, financially, and civically-minded.

Other elemental themes in teaching could include meta-cognition tools that encourage students to understand their own thought processes that shape personal, cultural, and world thought.

Spatial orientation and thinking encourages students to think about environments, where they live, work, and play (habitats), and the world in spatial terms.  Spatial thinking gives students a sense of place in history, presently, and the future.  How do we go beyond thinking to describing our “spaces”, relationships of objects to one another, and going from the large (macro) to the small (micro)?  A possible question: Beyond thinking, can you describe your “spaces” using direction, employing mental maps, describing scale (size), and other relational vocabulary?

Places and Regions:  Does where you live affect how you interact with your environment? Does where you live affect your way-of-knowing?  Does where you live influence your health? Does where you live influence your economic well-being?  Can people have different points-of-view living in the same community, region, or family?  Do your places/regions change?  How does that affect you?

Not sure if I’m repeating myself, but I love education, and I hope that each students walks away better for it.