Remembering Riki

Today, I pay tribute and remembrances on what would have been my daughter Riki’s 41st birthday.  As we near the seven-year anniversary of her passing, I observe that losing a child to death at an early age tends to stay fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday.  Riki made such an impact on those around her, and her tight friend group, “The Village” continues to honor her on her birthday.  The Village, also, continues to offer emotional supports to the children left behind by the premature death of their mother, my daughter.

I loved watching Riki connect to people.  She always paid special attention to those who were, perhaps, less fortunate.  At her funeral, during reflection comments, a man stood up to tell about how she made him feel special when he met Riki for the first time.  Many told similar stories. What made her special? She loved to laugh, and she had a quick and clever wit. Riki loved to engage in deep discussions with her friends.  Before “google,” she would call us for answers to questions in these deep discussions.  Mainly, the call would be for us to affirm her points of view.

Riki knew how to make moments special even in the most mundane of tasks. She directed nutrition in school food programs.  Riki loved to prepare and share food with friends.  Her children consider her “the best cook ever!” On Wednesdays, Riki used to prepare a “taco bar” for the Village.  This year’s “Riki Celebration” will feature a taco bar for friends and family paying tribute to her memory.

I took the day from work to pay tribute. My 92 year old mother and her 85 year old husband are visiting. My mother and I took the day to prepare a lovely meal of grilled steak, asparagus, caprese salad, and fresh cucumbers. We offer a toast to my daughter and my mother’s great granddaughter, Riki. We prepared foods loved by Riki.

We could have enjoyed a lovely meal at a local restaurant, but Riki loved to cook and bake, so Mother and I prepared a meal that Riki would have loved: steak, asparagus, caprese salad, and fresh cucumbers. A nice bottle of cabernet sauvignon rounded out the meal, and we had a lovely slice of peanut butter cake for a crowning glory to the “good eats!”

As Indigenous tradition would have it, at least for my tribe/nation, we sing songs and give thanks to Mother Earth and the Creator for what we have and for what we love. We built a roaring fire to which we gave sage and tobacco. We felt Riki’s presence. It was a great honor to be Riki’s mother. She gave all to those who were around her.

To that point, I received a lovely note from one or Riki’s high school friends. Joey thanked me for bringing Riki into the world, and he shared in honor in knowing her. That lovely note came at just the right time to give me a great blessing. Thank you, Joey.

Reflections in the Heat of Day

I find it difficult not to reflect on the pain in the world, at present. How do we center ourselves in the face of such hurt? Well, here I go again touting the benefits of mindful thinking and about my outlook on life. These are some common question that I ask myself. Am I practicing gratitude? Am I practicing stewardship of the land, water, language, and preserving other parts of the natural world? I do realize that when we navigate in environments of poverty, exclusions, marginalizations, and living in the fringes, it becomes a great challenge to have gratitude for much of anything. But, what if we looked inside for what is going well for us? Are we able to stop for a minute and think about for what we can be grateful?

I know. Digging through your mind in the midst of conflict, deep emotions, and sadness may be the worst time to gather positive reflections. I do know that it works, however. My practice, which now is a habit, has been part of my life these past four months. Yes. I am facing some great life challenges, and I can tell you that focusing on gratitude and daily affirmations works! Challenges become navigable.

Bianka’s Hummer

I find that nature offers the best self-care, meditative, and gratitude-giving opportunities. My sweet cousin, Bianka, a war veteran who now spends much of her time bike racing on BMX tracks with her twin brother, also a military veteran, who builds racing bikes, like his father did, now works to perfect her photography skills. That’s her hummingbird picture. It gave me time to stop to appreicate the delicate body, the exquisite little feet, the striations on the neck, and the moment in time when Bianka got this perfect photo of the little bird hovering near the sugar water feeder. When we take that time to appreciate the perfect details of the natural world, we begin to offer gratitude for what some may think of as mundane, but it helps us to be thankful for what we may think of as insignificant details of the world. Also, when we take time to offer thanks for the small things, it helps us to slow down from busy lives and be in a moment with ourselves. Try it.

Bianka Hummer 2

Consider camping as an outdoor activity where you get to interact with the natural world. Camping is one of my favorite pasttimes. It’s a time when I just allow myself to do nothing but breathe in the clean air, listen to the birds and other flying, loping, crawling, or jumping lives of the natural world.

Kelly’s Flock (a few of them)

My dear friend, Kelly, recently, acquired a flock of chickens to raise in his and his lovely wife’s backyard. Kelly told me about raising chickens, “It is therapeutic for me and I have peace when I am around them! I know they are just chickens to most people and is not a big deal, but I almost can’t put into words the joy these animals bring to me! I want many more, and one day, I will have chickens galore will be our theme!” I cannot imagine a flock of chickens being in more gentle hands!

Kelly’s Chickens at His Feet

Kelly went on to say, “I think the older you get the more you see the benefit of working to live and not living to work! We are in a world that is so disconnected from the natural things around us that we forget the incredible inner peace found in nature! We have lost the fact that nature is our kin and we have neglected that relationship.” Those are words that we Indigenous People live by, and those words coming from my dear friend Kelly mean the world to me.

I will end with a few of my daily affirmations that come from those around me who inspire me to improve:

  • I am curious to know something about everything and everything about something
  • I am thankful for…
  • I am courageous
  • I am living a great life
  • I am interested in everyone I meet (from my Dad)
  • I am valuable
  • I have wonderful friends who enrich my life
  • I learn great lessons from my loved ones
  • Today, I will learn something new

There are more, but I leave you with this great picture of a friendly kiss from Heidi, a dog who belongs to a business associate of my son.

Heidi Kisses!

Thank you for reading my blog.

Summer is Here!

My featured image comes from the drawing of my, then 7 years old, grandaugher! She had quite a long affair with unicorns. Now at the age of 14, I see different drawings of many different subjects. Interestingly, I see lots of mushrooms drawn these day. I hope the art work continues.

I love how our menus for the summer months change to meet environmental changes. Many of us may put lighter meals on the table during the hot days. Lately, I marvel at the versatility of chick peas (garbanzos or ceci beans), which makes them a perfect choice for a light meal packed with nutrients and protein. I do not always write down my kitchen creations. Many of them are what I dream up, and some are variations of dishes I’ve either prepared or eaten in other situations. Sometimes those recipes work, and somtimes they do not. I go with the flow, and there have been times, that I’ve thrown a failure out. The good news is that I have more great outcomes than I have failures in the kitchen, so that may be why it is a favored “medium” for this type of art.

Right now, my garden is not producing great things, but I am using garlic and onions from the garden. I allow dandelions to grow in one corner of the garden. The leaves are a great source of nutrients, and they add a satisfying crunch to any salad or sandwich with its slightly bitter flavor. The small leaves are not as bitter as the very large leaves. I like to walk around the yard to see if any purslane has grown around the sidewalks. It’s a great source of vitamins and add a special texture and flavor to salads. I love to forage in my yard and in the cemetery, a great source for wild garlic and wild onions.

Summer Salad

Cook quinoa as posted on the packaging. When quinoa cooks, pour into a bowl to allow it to cool.

If you used canned garbanzos, be sure to drain them well. If you prepare a small bag of the dry beans, know that it will cook up to three cups of the garbanzos. In that case, use one half of the cooked beans. Use the other half for your homemade hummus.

4- green onions diced

1- diced English cucumber

1- diced red pepper

1- small packge frozen sweet corn

1- batch cooked quinoa

1.5 cups well-drained garbanzo beans

4- chopped dandelion leaves (may use Romaine lettuce)

For the dressing, I use a simple vinegarette. One-half (106g) cup sherry vinegar, one-half cup (106g) of olive oil. To this, I add, 2 Tablespoons of molasses or date syrup (which helps in the emulsification process). For seasoning, add one-half teaspoon (2.84g) salt, one-half teaspoon chili powder, and one-quarter teaspoon of cumin. For an extra zing on the dressing, I add a few shakes of garlic and onion powders. Shake or whisk well, and set aside while you complete the salad.

Toss in the vinegarette about 10 minutes before you serve the salad. It serves well when the salad is chilled, too. It’s a great accompaniment to grilled shrimp, and a nice glass of buttery chardonnay.

Actually, I had it with grilled lamb steak and a paloma drink made with tequila, lime juice, salt, and squirt grapefruit soda. Usually, I float a lime wedge, but the picture shows that I used a lemon wedge. It’s delicious and refreshing. Eating on the deck with singing birds and small wildlife flitting about makes it all perfect.

My Work and Why I Create in the Kitchen

My work as a cultural geographer with a goal of moving toward institutional equity for historically excluded identities is a great mission for me, but I realize the institution for whom I work has a goal, which is more performative (“look at what we do”) than authentic and action-oriented. The institution still sees that recruiting more student, faculty, and staff of color is more of a favor to us as opposed to the fact that human diversity stregthens institutions. That can feel like my work in intercultural learning is more for show since more and more programming is implemented toward a pereived deficit rather than building on the strengths of human diversity.

The feedback from the students I mentor is the great part, along with teaching, which I adore, however I am not paid what I’m worth, which brings me to why I create in the kitchen. After a hard day at work fighting politics and the, almost, daily feedback that I’m not enough (I have a great boss, but she has to fight the same kinds of negative pushback from her leaders), I find that an evening in the kitchen makes those negative parts of the day subside. I love to cook from scratch with the freshest ingredients. This is where it can get creative. Also, I love cooking with friends. Pictured here are my friends from India, who know the meaning of joy, happiness, and tasty foods. Now, for some ideas…

First of all, explore ingredients. Just like pairing a wine with a specific dish, spices can make or break the flavor profile of a meal. Learn what spices go best with what ingredients, such as meats, fish, vegetables, or fruits. For example, take a simple meal like spaghetti. You may choose a meat and tomato based marinara to go with your spaghetti noodles. Or you may choose a pesto sauce to pair with what ever pasta you choose. You can add shrimp to the pesto-based sauce. Be brave and experiment, if interersted in “kitchen therapy.” Also, there is no shortage of people willing to share their own secrets with you in a multitude of platforms.

If being in the kitchen does not interest, find that one thing that you can do to relieve stress. Give yourself permission to be you in however you show up. Is it art or cleaning the house (really!)? It could be decorating a room or your house. What ever interests you and you find it a way to relieve stress, take the time to heal yourself. I like to be in the kitchen, because it can be a very practical way to create something fun while I nourish myself and others, as the case may be.

Find those meals to prepare that are interesting and allow you to sit over them in leisure. Pictured above shows my English breakfast with Dalgona coffee. We take about two hours to consume this meal, because we want to take longer to eat it than what it took to prepare. Think of the all-day labor of, say, a Thanksgiving meal or other type holiday when special meals are presented at table. My mother used to say, “What took me all day to prepare, you’ve eaten in 15 minutes!” Many in the U.S. tend not to approach meals in a convivial manner, such as those in Mediterranean climates. Other advantages of consuming a meal slowly means that you know when your stomach is full, and there is no hesitation in pushing away from the table.

Sure, I have other hobbies that relax me. I like my “kitchen therapy” because it engages all the senses: smell, hearing, tasting, touching, and seeing. Yes. Other hobbies engage the senses, but I can’t eat my woodworking or jewelry projects.

Find your way. I will be a treat. Thank you for reading me.

Hopfulness and Positive Self-Talk

My featured image shows a doe and her fawn. When I took this picture, the fawn was about three days old. The doe gave birth in my day lily bed, and she parked her baby next to the house under a ladder. Now, two weeks later, the fawn has taken up residence in my front patio. Apparently, the doe comes at night to feed the baby and graze in the yard, a bit. We stay quite aware of the little guy’s presence and work very hard not to disturb. Also, as the Star Trek “prime directive” states, “Do not interfere in a life to change its course.” Hard as that is, I continue to worry that the doe will not return to nurse the fawn, but they have the instincts for survival and do what they need to do to survive as long as there is no human intervention.

What do you do to advance self-love? Many have been socialized to believe that self-love is selfish and wrong! That is likely a Puritan ideal, which very much permeates the dominant culture in the U.S. (Settler/Colonial culture). I’m not sure if there has ever a spiritual leader who’s asked us to hate ourselves. Of course, there are many political people, who call themselves “leaders,” who tell us quite often to dislike, hate, or exclude others who are considered “different.” I am happy to ignore them in this writing. What I do mean is that when we love ourselves, it’s nearly impossible to hate others, because true self-love helps us to love others even when they are not like us.

My point today is that unconditional self-love helps us to survive many things and may even be a support when tragedy strikes, such as recent school, church, and hospital shootings. Some of my past blog posts consist of other details in self-care, such as the Art of Hygge, cooking/baking, entertaining in your friend-circles, interactions in the natural world, and other activities in which we can engage to keep us from brain wiring and emotions ryfe with trauma.

Trauma does terrible things to emotional and physical health and well-being. All of us have likely experienced some form of trauma in our lives. That may mean that we spend many hours of our lives finding coping mechanisms and acquiring coping skills. We soon realize that coping/navigating skills are a life-long learning and behavioral journies. We do not take “training” and then we finish. Check box! No. Practicing self-love takes a life time. The key word is “practice” with the idea of not attaining “perfection!” I do think self-love is a choice, and I think when we have suffered adverse childhood experiences and forms of adult trauma, we tend to loose site of our abilities to choose a positive outlook. I do know that some have brain chemistry that can “hi-jack” that choice to have a positive outlook. Those instances require that we exercise great understanding and empathy.

Enjoying a moment in the “secret” alley way to corn dogs

Not too long ago, I interviewed a man from Kerala, India. He’s a mathematics teacher at a high school. Mr. K has lived in the U.S. for many years. He and his lovely wife “R” have raised two beautiful daughers. This family has the most positive outlook on life of any people I know! Mr. K takes his family on excursions to visit all of the National Parks in the U.S. They know their geography very well! During the interview, Mr. K said, “You know. The world is so beautiful. The people are beautiful. The landscapes are beautiful. I believe the world is so beautiful.” It was at that moment that I realized that Mr. K lives a life of positive thinking and he will always see the best in people, in nature, and in his relationships, because he chooses to see his life that same way. I see this attitude reflected in his daughers and in his spouse, too. Mr. K models and eminates self-love and the love of others. It sounds like a simple, wonderful, and balanced way to live.

I work on the concept of balance every day. The practice comes in the form of morning affirmations, yoga stretching, and fresh air. I end my day with more affirmations and the hopes of a adequate sleep. Getting adequate sleep and staying positive throughout the day tend to be my greatest challenges. The world is hurting, and I navigate institutional inequities on a daily basis. My hope continues to be that we may strive toward a positive outlook on life, so that we may be a beacon of light in this world and its pain.

Thank you for reading my blog. Next time, I’ll write about food.

Extraordinary Times

The hounds of winter (Sting) linger where I live. The north winds blow the warmth from a seemingly sunny day, and the chill cuts to the bone. Relief from the grind of work comes from gathering with friends, family around the table enjoying a slow meal featuring a nice glass of wine.

Since the holidays of winter my joy continues to be hosting family and friends. While conversations and food go hand-in-hand, I find the loving preparation of a meal to be an intense form of love, because I want it just right! Here, I offer some highlights from varying meals along the way, with pictures of food and company.

2021 proved to be a wonderful year for riding the train. In November, we boarded the California Zephr to Salt Lake City. We stopped in Grand Junction Colorado after passing through 31 tunnels in the Rocky Mountain from Denver. My 92 year old mother and her 84 year old husband boarded in Grand Junction. My mother had not ridden the Amtrak until this point. We had roomettes, so the meals were included, and the Amtrak works hard at assuring a great dining experience. Dinners come with a glass of wine, white linen table cloths, and the tables always feature a red rose in a silver vase. I love riding the train. It appears to be the one time that I allow myself to sit and do nothing but watch the world go by. Here, I share some lovely highlights from the trip. We arrived in SLC at midnight and departed for home a few days later at 3:00 a.m.

Early in January, we set out on the train to head to our friends in West New York. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief travels from Los Angeles to Maryland in its entirety. We boarded in Kansas City, MO, and it took us to Chicago for a five-hour layover, which afords the travelers some time for sightseeing in Chicago. Though, its Union Station provides some great history and a lovely environment. The lounges provide quiet or busy areas to relax with snacks and beverages.

I’ve read train reviews by a younger set of riders who appear to be in a hurry and are grumpy about less than perfect accomodations. Like a slow meal that one savors, I find train travel to be a time to savor. Why be in a hurry? I find it a great time to sit back, enjoy the passing scenery, eat lovely meals, and get in some reading or napping. Try it sometime. The life in a cozy roomette is like a gentle hug.

Back to the layover in Chicago. With the lake affect chills, we found it difficult to roam the city, so we made our way to a close restaurant to have a little bite to eat.

Sorry. I can’t seem to make the pictures smaller.

As we made our way to see our friends, we waited until 9:00 p.m. to board the next leg of the trip. We arrived in Erie, PA at 7:00 a.m., and we traveled 45 minutes to the cottage on the frozen lake. How wonderfully delightful that was. After a nice breakfast, we set out snowshowing on the lake frozen so deeply that it serves as a winter paradise of ice fishing.

We enjoyed a delightful time with our friends, with whom we’ve traveled to Alaska, the Gulf Coast, to Puerta Vallerta, and on many camping trips together. I love these friends.

Well, I could go on and on, but I will leave you with a lovely picture of happy hour at 20 degrees Farenheit. Thank you for reading my blog.

Reflecting and Looking Forward

When we think of a year that’s passed, it can be a good time to reflect on the past and to look forward in a new year. We can think about the good things that happened and contemplate any of the negative happenings. Of course, it does not serve us well to focus on our misfortunes, mistakes, losses, and other events that made a negative impact. However, it could serve well to give each of those challenges their due. I want to spend this space for reflecting on the year past and looking forward to year unfolding before us. Every year, I learn something new, and I give myself grace when I come up short. I will share some things I’ve learned and ask you to reflect on your life as well.

Blooming Hibiscus with Eight Blossoms

Reflecting on events of the past takes a Mindfulness approach. In the process, be a neutral observer. Think about what gave such an event a positive or negative impact. Notice how the event or interaction elicited emotions. How was that emotion navigated, or what was the response? The point in this reflection is to remind ourselves to be 1) a neutral observer to each experience, 2) Be patient with yourself: allow each experience to emerge at its own pace, 3) Have a “beginner’s mind” by experiencing the memory as if for the first time, 4) Trust and believe in your intuition and your ability to see things in a new way, 5) Take it as it comes without the need to win or avoid losing. At this points, just be; 6) Accept and see things as they are in the present moment; 7) Let go and detach from your usuall feelings and thoughts. Perhaps this is a way for us to slow down for a moment to recharge our senses.

Enjoying a hot cup of tea on a crispy morning in front of the outdoor fire place

I’ve written about the “art of hygge.” Hygge is that danish word (Hoo-gah) that denotes comfort at the point of being cozy. Think of a hug! We get to decide on the characteristics of that hug. When the danish speak of hygge, they outline all the situations in which one can practice that coziness: our living spaces, our work spaces, and in outdoor spaces. I have designed my “living room” as a hygge corner.

Cozy Corner

Another way of practicing that sense of being hugged, is looking to the outdoors for rest and relaxation. Viewing nature as if for the first time can be exhilirating! Perhaps asking oneself, “Which season do I like best? Why?” I like to notice what birds are active in which season? For example, I’m seeing more juncos during the winter than in the summer. We see snow geese in the winter but not summer! Those are changes that are only noticed when one looks up or notices changes in nature. It such a thing is new to you, try it sometime. As another example, in the photo, one could ask, “Why is the sunset so red?” The answer: Dust and smoke in the atmosphere from fires and wind (in many cases).

A Kansas Sunset

In a busy world where we are measured by how much we do, how much money we earn, and how we stand out as individuals (an individualistic society). I wonder if we would have less illness if we emulated that of a collective society (group oriented) and took the time to sit and talk, build relationships, and take more collective actions when it comes to governance. The concept of hygge supports that very thing, as does the Mediterranean way of conviviality. So what if we took three hours to consume our meals conversing around the table? Our lives would slow down, and we would take more time for ourselves and our loved one. I love the concept of “hygge with others,” which focuses on our relationships. While we have fewer opportunities to gether during this pandemic, and we’ve had to find new and different ways to connect with people, such as with on line platforms. When I think of “hygge” with others, I tend to think of gathering around meals. Sometimes it may be connecting through interest groups. Sometimes we attend a movie group, which meets online after participants watch the movie on their own. That is one way of connecting during a pandemic time. The meet up consists of questions by the facilitator. We found common themes through which we connected. A few years back, in a town where we spend nearly thirty years, we used to attend what we called, “Second Friday Cinema” at our local library. We picked nine movies for each of the months we met from September through May. We watched the movie together enjoying snack that each of us offered on a table. Unfortunately, that has gone away per safety measures. I miss those time, so I will share some photos of former gatherings and ways of enjoying our environments.

Friends at Table
My Home State

Setting a goal of practicing holistic well-being does take some discipline. For example, I made a pledge to myself to keep my house organized and free of clutter. That takes a lot of work! It seems that we get so involved in making a living, being a good employee, and meeting institutional goals that we forget to take care of ourselves. Now, all this sounds like I’m an expert at such things, I do teach about holistic well-being, but that means that I practice such things, and “practice makes perfect” as the saying goes. That’s the best we can do, and our best needs to be enough for us. That does not mean that we’ve reached a pinnacle. It’s just means that we keep trying. I saw a quote on practice the other day. The gist of it was that someone had asked the great cellist, Pablo Casals about his daily practicing at the age of 90 years. “After a stellar career and now at the age of 90, why do you practice the cello for the minimum of six hours per day?” Casals answered, “Because I think I am seeing progress.” Humans are not perfect. We work toward perfects, but perhaps too much, I wonder? I want to be the best for the world not the best in the world!

Thank you for reading.

Convivial Times

As COVID restrictions begin to ease a bit, we appear to be interacting more often and frequently, without masks. I hope we are not being premature in our ease. I read a quick headline today that said that our isolation for the past 20 months may have taken a toll on our cognitive functions. I think we shall see more on that as we continue to examine the far reaching effects of a pandemic in contemporary times.

I must admit that I have ramped up my interactions across the dining table, both at home and with friends. One of the great opportunities of working at a university gives me the privilege of working with students from a variety of backgrounds, countries, geographies, and traditions.

My “featured image” demonstrates the diversity of my interactions that include dining. Enoch, a city planner, and Elfadil, a soil scientist, hail from Africa: Ghana and Sudan, respectively. These two brilliant young men prepared a feast for hubby and me. Each dish featured chicken, and one dish feature the addition of goat.

When Enoch comes to our house for dinner, he often treats us to Jollof Rice. He gets the spice blend from his home country, blended by women who specialize. He shared a nice pint sized jar with me. The best I can do is taste and try to decide what’s in it.

I taste the seasoning mix, and then write down what I think: crushed chicken bouillon, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger, onion flakes, chili flakes, black pepper, nutmeg, and thyme. While I am certain that the “spices” contain other ingredients, this is what I think I know, for now.

Let me tell you about the stews, which our hosts served with rice, which they prepared with cardamom pods floating in the water during the cooking process. First the gentlemen offered a simple salad of lettuce, tomatoes, and a cucumber served without dressing. I forget that a salad does not need any type of dressing to be satisfying. Then the stews…

First of all, I love that they offered hot tea with the meal in small glasses. It made the evening so elegant yet simple. We ate around the coffee table in the small, student apartment, which was a celebration of its own.

Both Enoch and Elfadil shared their recipes:

Enoch’s goat and chicken stew:

Brown goat chunks and chicken thighs in garlic, ginger, hot pepper, onion, tomatoes, black pepper and Jollof rice spices. Blend vegetables. Sauté the vegetables, then blend them. Add water. Simmer for the afternoon preceding dinner time. Serve with fragrant rice.

Elfadil’s chicken stew:

Fry onion, add salt, turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, curry, mix all together. Add garlic. Add cut chicken to mix. Put lid on and simmer. “Wait for the magic to happen!” (My quote, not Elfadil’s) After cooked, add tomato sauce and let cook for 5 minutes and add garlic. Replace lid for 5-10 minutes before serving. It simmers into a rich thick stew.

Enoch’s goat and chicken, pictured above, is the redder sauce of the two. Both stews tasted warmly rich with the combination of spices most aromatic to the senses. We ate heartily!

I had a geography student live with us five years ago while she gathered data. We lived in another part of the state at the time, and I worked for the same university in another research position. Anyway, when the student returned to campus, and I had to be there, she cooked for me in her tiny, student apartment. She was from China. ” Kathy Su” prepared a feast of meats: beef, chicken, and lamb. She roasted all the meats separately in her tiny oven. She flavored the meats with ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oils. Each meat added its own flavor profile to the similar ingredients. Kathy chopped the meats and then put them back in the oven to finish cooking to tender morsels with crispy edges. She served a big dish of steamed rice, and we enjoyed the meats, which were “finished” with chopped green onions! I wish I had pictures, but I didn’t think I would be writing about it. Once again, simple ingredients for a sublime dining experience.

Next time, more flavors from the kitchen. Thank you for reading me!

Food and Common Ground

This week I am part of a conference called, Cambio de Colores, Change of Colors. The conference focuses on the Latinx diaspora. I presented on topics of adaptive and culturally relevant practices theory and youth development identity. My focus for my workshops in this conference was on Indigenous peoples in the Native diaspora of the United States. The topic idea of this blog came from one of the plenary speakers, Dr. Maribel Alvarez, whose topic was food ways of, mostly, Latinx peoples, but I thought it certainly generalized to me and my Native identity, as it does to other identities. The speaker said, “We [often] use food as a tool to find common ground.” She added, “Sharing food is one of our greatest secular rituals.” Brilliant! That has been my practice since I began my active life in the Kitchen.

My work in the garden this week gave me much to write after having spent much time in the kitchen this week. My featured image today shows the six-lined racerunner (lizard) running through the vegetable and herb garden. It proved to be nice company. Now, I back up to two weeks ago when my neighbor shared oyster mushrooms. She, apparently, enjoys the bounties of a friend who grows these beautiful fungi, so she shares her abundance with me! I so love the umami that edible fungi add to food dishes, so I prepare something immediately when my neighbor shares, and there remains some to preserve for future use.

For the rice noodle soup, I began by chopping the lovely mushrooms, and adding onions, garlic, celery to sauté in butter and sesame oil. When all was fragrant, I added peas and carrots. While I cooked the mushrooms and veggies, I soaked the rice noodles in warm water. Once all the veggies were smelling most fragrant, I added two cups of vegetable broth. (You can use any type of broth. I just happened to have the vegetable broth in the freezer that I prepared from a windfall of veggies. I let the veggies and broth come to a simmer, and then I added the softened rice noodles. I added soy sauce and let it simmer for one minute, or so. It made a lovely evening meal. To finish my preparation with the mushrooms, I sautéed the remaining mushrooms in butter and put them in the freezer so that I have them for the next meal that calls for mushrooms, such as marinara sauce or in macaroni and cheese, or what ever dish calls for mushrooms.

Well, I wonder if your garden is beginning to produce herbs and vegetables. I am not sure why, but I seem to over plant basil. This year I have giant basil. I took a trip to a community garden plot that went in the ground about two weeks before I planted the one in my yard. This garden, planted by colleagues as a learning opportunity for urban students, is crazy with herbs, squash, and peppers. I picked basil, spearmint, cilantro, and parsley along with a few strawberries (eaten on site!) and three zucchini.

Basil and mint come from the same family of square-stemmed plants. Others in the mint family include thyme, lavender, lemon balm, oregano, and marjoram, to name a few. I began preparations with the mint. I made mint pesto. I thought it would pair well with lamb. Think of preparing the traditional basil pesto.

I took five big hands full of mint. For recipes like this, I rarely measure or weigh the ingredients, so these are estimates for Mint Pesto:

Three packed hands full of fresh mint, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, harissa (combination of peppers), garlic, olive oil, small amount of lemon juice, and two small hands full of mixed, raw nuts (almond, walnut, hazelnut, pistachio, and cashew). Be sure to omit any nut if you have a concern about allergens. I like using raw pumpkin (pepitas) seeds for pesto. Use what ever you have on hand. Blend until smooth and aromatic.

The pesto blended into a beautiful sauce easily frozen to later thaw in the vibrant color it had before freezing.

With the abundance of cilantro and parsley, I made chimichurri sauce, popular in Uruguay and Argentina. The delightfully green sauce pairs well with grilled meats. I like it on fish and shrimp tacos. Actually, it’s so fragrant as I blend it, I can’t help but take a spoon full just like that! I have changed the recipe a bit from what I hear is the authentic recipe from Argentinian ingredients:

1/2 cup olive oil

2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar (I like to substitute with sherry vinegar)

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley (In addition to the parsley, I also added about the same in cilantro)

3-5 cloves of garlic (for this batch, I used a combination of onion sprouts and wild garlic, pictured below)

2 small red chilies (I was out of red chilies, so I used 1/2 teaspoon of harissa, which combines chilies with peppers)

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt

Black pepper (That is in my harissa)

Now, after I made my Chimichurri, I learned that one does not process in a blender. Oops! I did! Instead, I should have chopped everything and let it sit in the oil and vinegar for a few hours to bring out the flavors. I will do that next time. Here is my finished product, though I will do it “right” the next time. I am told that those in Argentina use it for basting, rather than marinating, as the meat is on the grill. It can be used to finish the meat just before serving. Again, I like it on fish or shrimp tacos. Chimichurri freezes very well and retains its bright green color when thawed. Thaw it in the refrigerator about three hours ahead of intended use.

Farmers markets offer great variety in seasonal vegetables and fruits, if you do not have your own garden. The asparagus in my garden was planted last year, so I did not get any sort of a crop this year. Hopefully next year. Our farmers’ market yielded great asparagus this year. I’ve been playing with it in my pasta recipes. As I play around with different iterations of a recipe for asparagus-based pasta, perhaps this may interest you.

Chop onions, garlic, flowering chives, mushrooms (thawed from the frozen oyster mushrooms previously prepared), a tiny zucchini, for this recipe. I think one can be quite creative in making this.

I start with chopped bacon or ham as my base for flavor. Then I add the veggies. Then I add seasonings including my prepared pesto. Once all the veggies are added and have cooked for a short while, I add a half cup of white wine and cover for a short simmer. Then I added parmesan cheese and cream. Allow to thicken, then serve. It goes well with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. I served the sauce with rotini, this time.

Finally, I leave you with one more of my dishes from the bounty of the garden, already over flowing with basil. Caprese salad appears in a few iterations. Its simplicity makes it a lovely, fresh salad. I like mine ever better when I make the cheese myself. With temperatures hovering in the high 90s (Fahrenheit), I opted not to stand over a steaming kettle of whey and cheese solids. The grocery maintains a nice stock of fresh mozzarella. Large tomatoes are not setting in the garden, either, so this comes from the produce section.

Simple ingredients: Sliced tomato, sliced mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves. Look at the size of my basil leaves!

After I arrange my three ingredients (cheese, tomato, and basil leaves) on the plate. I mix a dressing of my prepared pesto with some balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper. Then, I drizzle the dressing over the salad. I find it to be a heavy salad when eaten prior to a meat-based dish. I tend to have a caprese salad with a lighter or vegetarian pasta-based main course. The gigantic size of my basil leaves hides the other two slices of tomato and cheese.

I hope we found common ground with one another through sharing recipes. My next entry will focus more on sharing such meals with friends and family.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Dense Foods and Other Interests

No matter where you are on this planet, we share similar circumstances of staying at home because of a pandemic.  I am quite fortunate to have my job as an educator at the university.  We are working at home!  I sit, perched, on a tall stool in my kitchen participating in virtual meetings and virtual teaching.  My favorite place in the house continues to be the kitchen.  This is my creative spot.  I get great vibes in my kitchen environment.  Before the pandemic, people gathered in my kitchen, though it’s quite small for someone who loves to cook.  We have lived in this house only since the previous May.  My former house had three ovens for my baking, and it had more room, but a similar kitchen space.  I have but one oven and cooking range in this house.  I am not deterred, however.  I manage to cook at least once a day, but usually two times. We will sample a few of my dishes of late but first, a digression.

Another great thing about this house is that it has magnificent windows!  I have placed bird feeders and bird baths in my back yard with great views of the birds, and my yard list is growing quickly.  My featured photo, though blurry, is a Carolina Wren that frequents the feeders and bath.  I heard a barred owl last night.  That’s a new one for me, now that I live on the east side of the 100th meridian. Now, for the food.

Yesterday morning for breakfast, we had avocado toast topped with Brisling, a.k.a. bristling,  sardines, packed in two layers.  We came upon this idea from the chef and food scientist, Alton Brown.  I’m not crazy about his method, so I changed it up a bit.

One ripe avocado serves two open faced toasts.  I use dense, seed bread, toasted.

Mash one ripe avocado.  Add salt and pepper, to taste, and mix with fresh lime juice.

Mix two tablespoons (225g) of Sherry Vinegar (I prefer that from Spain.  Not sure if it comes from any other place!) in with the sardines, being careful not to break up the tiny, delicate, nutrient-packed, North Atlantic fishes!

After you toast the bread, assemble your food.  Spread the avocado mixture on the toasted bread. Then lay the sardines side-by-side (head to tail, though there is no head!) on the bread.  It is a nutrient-dense breakfast, and you will be set for a full morning!  We had a nice cup of coffee with our toasts! Here’s the picture.

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Speaking of dense foods, here’s a cake with a dense crumb!  First, I must tell you a back story.   Back in the 1970s, when slow cookers first arrived on the kitchen scene, one of the manufacturers produced a cake pan for the slow cooker.  It makes these wonderful, little dense cakes, which work best for chocolate cakes.  I don’t think white cakes do too well, unless you’re wanting a pound cake!

I was in the right place at the right time when I received the cake pan.  At an estate sale auction, a man had given the winning bid for a kitchen and housewares lot.  He looked at the cake pan with a puzzled expression on his face.  I asked him if he knew the identity of the thing in his hand.  He said, “No!”  I told him that it was a cake pan.  He said, “Here, take it!”  The rest is history.

There is a recipe for a chocolate cake which uses mayonnaise.  That makes the perfect, dense, chocolate cake.  Usually, I cut the cake in two so that I have a two-layered cake. In baking/cooking this cake you are “flying blindly,” because you cannot look at it.  Your sense of smell will tell you when it’s done, which is usually about 2.5 to three hours with the slow cooker set on “high.”  You could likely do the same cooking process with a tin coffee can, assuming you won’t find this cake pan.

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This is the cake pan and how it fits into the slow cooker:

 

Here’s the recipe:

Butter and dust with flour one cake insert for slow cooker (or that tin coffee can), and set aside.

For the Cake:

2 cups (250g) of all-purpose wheat flour

1.5 cups (300g) white sugar

6 TBS (36g) cocoa powder

1 teaspoon (5.69g) baking soda

1 teaspoon (5.69g) salt

Mix all the dry ingredients to blend.  Then add blended wet ingredients.

1 large egg

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup (236.59 mL) hot water (not boiling).  This activates the baking soda, salt, and egg as the leavening agents.

Add vanilla to taste.  Pour the batter into your cake pan or coffee can.

Bake, covered,  in your slow cooker on high for 2-3 hours.  I usually check after 2.5 hours.

Once you take it out of the cooker, invert it on a wire rack to cool.  Slice through at the equator of the cake for a two-layer cake, and frost with your favorite cream cheese frosting.  It’s yummy!

Finally, I have to tell you about a virtual cocktail party that I had, recently, with two of my co-workers.  We had made it a practice to meet up after work on Fridays to share a drink and a snack previously.  In this new format of social distancing, we decided to have a virtual cocktail party.  I will only give their initials.  “T” was having jelly beans and a glass of Bourbon.  “M” enjoyed a shot of vodka and some fresh tamales, made by a friend.  I “went all out” and enjoyed Icelandic caviar atop a corn biscuit and sour cream.  Usually, I would have baked small corn muffins for this, but I found these wonderful little corn biscuits on sale.  I chased it with a small shot of vodka in a chilled glass.  We talked about work for a while, but mostly the conversations centered on the future of our lives with family, work, and other social and familial worries.  The important thing is to stay connected one way or another  with out meeting face-to-face with those you esteem and love.  Cheers to you!

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I think we will emerge strong from this pandemic.  Remember to distance from others, wash your hands, and don’t touch your face!  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:

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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.

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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:

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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!