Gifts from Nature and the Kitchen

Sometime last week, we set out to find some fungi, specifically morels.  On on our way out we saw a neighbor leaving her house. She was headed to another friends to “pick up some mushrooms!”  I asked if her friends had found morels!  “No.”  Well, we took a long walk tromping through the woods near our home.  We returned home to find a brown paper grocery bag on the front door step partially filled with oyster mushrooms.  I have a feeling my neighbor’s friend grows these at home.  That sounds like something I’d like to do!

The cemetery that sits about one quarter mile from our house is a favorite place for us to walk. I found a nice patch of wild garlic, so I picked a small bunch (about 10 little shoots).  I had those in my hand when when we found the bag containing the lovely fungus.   I remembered that we had a rice cooker with a new batch of cooked rice,  Also, I remembered that I had some chicken broth with little strands of chicken.  That meant I had everything I needed to whip up a nice mushroom soup! I sauteed spring onions from the garden, rosemary from my window pot, celery, and the chopped mushrooms!  The chicken broth, thawed from the freezer, added to the saute, made a most delicious soup.  We poured the soup over rice.   We added a crisp romaine salad with an Asian dressing.

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Asian Dressing:

1/4 c (59.15mL) sesame oil

1/4 cup (59.15mL) seasoned rice vinegar

Finely minced: garlic, spring onion, fresh ginger to taste.  Add 1 tablespoon of pure maple syrup and roasted, crushed sesame seeds.  Shake well before using.  It’s quite delicious and makes a simple romaine into something quite sublime.  Actually, the lettuce is just a vehicle to get the dressing into  your mouth, because it’s rude to drink salad dressing!

Two things are happening to us as we physical distance from community while working from home.  I am experiencing less stress.  I work longer hours, but those hours are not stressful, because I can step away to the garden, to the kitchen, or to a book to get a quick recharge.  I am actually more productive at work, because I can do all my meetings and teaching virtually!  It will be interesting to return to campus, physically.

Right now, I take great delight in getting my garden ready with sprouted seedlings I’ve begun in the house.  This is my yard’s first garden in decades, I think.  We have been in this house almost one year.  The soil is heavy clay with lots of limestone deposits.  We have a large populations of bunnies, woodchucks, squirrels, and deer in addition to multiple species of birds.  I will have to write a blog submission on the great birds in my yard!  With a garden, I get to spend lots of time in the kitchen creating dishes from the bounty.  More about all that later. Here’s a picture of my embryonic garden.

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Shortly after the Easter holiday, I wrote about our leg of lamb.  Being only two in the household, we had leftover lamb.  I cubed what was left of the lamb and stuck it in the freezer.  I took it out this week.  It made two more meals.  The first evening, we had lamb tacos.  I forgot to take a picture.  Suffice it to say that I took half the thawed lamb from the freezer container, and placed it in the frying pan.  Though I added no grease or oil, I did add green chili made from roasted Anaheim green chili peppers.  They are a wonderfully, savory chili that is not hot.  On a scale from one to 10, I’d put Anaheim at 2 or three.  Though, I think they are being bred to be much hotter these days.  It was a simple taco with a warmed corn tortilla, the meat, and the green chili.  The tacos were great with a lime enhanced light beer.

The next night, we had lamb curry prepared with the other portion of the lamb.  Here’s what I did, I think.

One quarter of a diced yellow onion

Three cloves minced garlic

1 Tablespoon minced ginger

I sauteed the first three ingredients in a mixture of sesame and sunflower oils

I added one can of stewed tomatoes with its liquid

I added a prepared curry powder and a spice mix my Ghanaian student brought from his home country for preparing Jollof Rice.  That was the winning combination, though I may never be able to create this dish again.  Of course, we served it over rice and ate it with naan bread prepared the night before.

Sometimes, we eat at the dining room table.  Now that it’s warm, we eat outside on the deck.  We may even consume our meals in front of the television with a movie.  The most important thing is that we enjoy the food, and savor the convivial moments.

Thank you for reading.

 

Nature, Meditation, and Cooking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.

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.

 

Three Days of Venison On the Table

One of my all-time favorite meats is venison, deer meat.  I grew up in Colorado, and my mother did not like the taste of venison, so we did not get to enjoy it much.  My father purchased a license and went hunting every year, but I later learned that he mostly had gone out into the woods to look at deer and other wildlife (he was a self-made naturalist) while enjoying an occasional cigarette, something he could not do in front of my mother.

Colorado venison tends toward a stronger taste since the beautiful animals are often left with eating sagebrush, lichens, and similar forage that survived during high snowfall in the higher elevations.  Luckily, our Native grandmothers had the answer to any strong meats, such as sage-fed venison and mutton (old sheep): Juniper berries.  They harvested their juniper berries from the Rocky Mountain (Juniperus scopulorum) or Colorado juniper.  Natives used the juniper berries (ripe when they are a purple color) for neutralizing strong meats, for bad breath, for tea, and for coffee substitute.  I like to use one smashed berry to drop into my gin and tonic.  It brings out the flavor of the gin, which is made from juniper berries.

My other favorite meat is lamb.  Since I grew up eating mutton at my grandparents (another thing my mother refused to prepare), I learned in my adult life that lamb tastes much better.  An added bonus is that one of my best friends is a sheep farmer, so I have ready access to buying one or two lambs a year.  Our grandchildren absolutely adore grilled lamb!  I’ll write about that another time.

I know that my featured picture shows me with a buck, but I am not a trophy hunter.  I usually hunt does for their meet.  The buck in the picture, which I had an “any sex” license, but the does were not to be seen that morning.  My hunting pal is Adrian, who, along with husband, Bob, own the sheep farm.  Actually, we’re lucky that we shoot anything.  Bob says we talk too much!  We have been, occasionally lucky enough to “bag” a deer, however.

My venison menus these days consist not of Colorado venison.  Since I live in Kansas (the American Midwest), I get to enjoy grain-fed venison (white-tailed deer), and since they have year around access to farmers’ row crops, they are well fed and their meat is lean and sweet.  My husband and I process the meat ourselves.  Often, if one takes their deer to a meat processor, it’s processed with many other deer.  Processing it myself, I know it’s all my deer.  When I am not lucky enough to get my own deer, I have friends who will share, so we process with them.

Day 1: Venison Curry

Curry is a lovely flavor.  I brown the cubed venison.  In this case, I used the back strap meat, which is the length of loin that runs along the back.  It’s the “ribeye” in beef and the “loin” in pork.  The back strap is quite tender and lovely.  Sometimes, I like to bread and fry it, and fold it inside a homemade flour tortilla or flat bread.

  • Brown the cubed meat – cook until brown
  • Add half an onion – cook until translucent
  • one crushed juniper berry (optional)
  • Then add a three diced carrots and two diced russet potatoes (or what ever you like)
  • Add enough water to cover the meat and vegetables
  • Add curry spices – simmer
  • Add coconut milk to taste
  • Serve over brown or white rice

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Day 2: Venison Stroganoff

  • Brown cubed venison
  • Add onions and garlic
  • Add sliced mushrooms
  • Season with salt, pepper, and thyme
  • one crushed juniper berry (optional)
  • I like to sprinkle with a tablespoon (15 mL) of buckwheat flour
  • Add enough water to simmer and thicken
  • Add enough sour cream to make a nice thick sauce
  • Serve over noodles, white rice, or brown rice

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Day 3: Venison Spaghetti

This time, I use ground venison.  Since it’s quite lean, I like to add a pat or two of salted butter (or unsalted, depending on preference) so that it has some fat in it.

  • One pound (0.453 kilograms) ground venison – cooked in skillet
  • Half an onion
  • 10 mushrooms, chopped
  • two cloves garlic
  • two stalks of celery
  • Dried basil to taste
  • 2 teaspoons (9.857mL) of prepared basil pesto)
  • 1 bottle passata (strained tomato sauce)
  • 2 teaspoons (9.857mL) of tomato paste
  • 425 mL wine
  • Simmer all until thick
  • Serve over spaghetti pasta

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As you may have observed, I like to use my carbon steel wok.  I possesses a well seasoned patina, and nothing spills over the sides.  Oh, here’s how I paired my dishes:

  • Because of the sweetness of the curry, I paired it with Sauvignon Blanc
  • The stroganoff was paired with a whiskey old fashioned
  • The spaghetti was paired with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Enjoy, and thank you for reading me.

Cooking with Wild Game

First of all, I should tell you about my featured photo, which has little to do with my story today.  The community in which I live hosts a wide cross-section of refugees and other immigrants, so I like to visit their markets.  Keep in mind that my county is 40,000 people, and the city where I live has about 26,000 inhabitants.  Today, I visited the Burmese, the African (I’ve told you about their delicious tea-making), and the El Salvador markets.  From each store, I purchase a variety of cooking ingredients.

Pictured here is the betel nut, which comes from the areca palm (Areca catechu).  The nuts are known their stimulant properties much like coffee and tobacco.  In fact, those who make a regular practice of chewing these nuts expose themselves to a variety of ill-health conditions such as rotting teeth and mouth cancers.  I purchased the half nut that you see here.  I like the patterns.  The convolutions remind me of the brain.

I really want to talk about cooking with wild game today.  I am a deer hunter, because I love the taste of venison.  I hunt white tailed deer.  They are a beautiful animal: graceful and lithe.  Part of me rather mourns before I take the shot, and even more when the animal goes down.  I always thank the creature for giving his or her life so that I have a bountiful table.  Debra Hunting

Today, I made a wonderful marinara sauce for topping a plate of pasta.  My ingredient list:

  • I pound (.45 kg) of ground venison
  • 5 cloves smashed garlic
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 large bunch fresh basil (chopped)
  • 1 spoonful of OGB (my mixture of olive oil, garlic, and basil). Venison is super lean and needs some oil
  • 4 Tablespoons (56.7 g) tomato paste (I like to purchase large jars of tomato paste at the African Store. It comes from Instanbul)
  • 1/2 Cup (113.4 g) red wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Usually, I add mushrooms, but in the absence of the tasty fungi, I used my dehydrated mix of onions, mushrooms, and celery.

Let simmer on stove top until all ingredients are blended. I like to prepare my sauce in the morning.  Then I place it in the refrigerator.  At noon, we come home and prepare the pasta and re-heat the marinara.  Here’s my sauce:

Venison Marinara

If I would have remembered to take the picture of sauce on the pasta, it would have made more sense.

When cooking with wild game, the flesh often takes on the flavors of what the animal eats.  In Colorado, where I grew up, the high snowfall hinders access to grains, leaves, and other browse.  Consumers of that meat will say, “That’s really gamey!”  My grandmothers used juniper berries to neutralize the strong flavors, which worked beautifully.  It works wonders for mutton, too.  My grandmothers fed us mutton all my years growing up, and I never noticed the strong flavors, thanks to juniper berries (Rocky Mountain or Utah junipers).

In Kansas, where I live and hunt, the deer enjoy farm fields of sorghum and corn, much to the chagrin of local crop producers.  Kansas venison tastes quite delicious!  I hope you get to try it sometime.

Last summer, my friend Bob, when rabbit hunting.  When he returned, he called to ask if I would/could make something out of rabbit.  I said, how about rabbit cacciatore, hunter’s style rabbit?  I use passata (rich, strained tomatoes), garlic, fresh rosemary and basil, mushrooms, and white wine.  I cut the rabbit in pieces as one would with chicken.  Simmer until all ingredients are well blended and the liquids are thickened.  Serve with pasta, white wine, and lots of crusty bread to sop up the rich juices.  Here I am with a skinned rabbit.  My friend, Adrian, is married to the rabbit hunter, Bob.

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Hopefully, I have frightened you with this talk of eating beasts, large and small.

Thank you for reading.

Growing a Tree

I saw some sort of add (video) on social media about a device called an “avocado boat”.   So, the premise was that you’d float an avocado seed in this little boat, and the seed would sprout (germinate) to, eventually, grow into a tree.

According to the video, you peel the pit/seed before germination.  First, one must figure out which end of the seed to face down and which side goes up.  I found an article that said the “fat side” is the bottom, so that is how I proceeded.  The little boats appeared to be a clever way to germinate the seed, but I didn’t want to waste my money on a gadget, so I devised a way to float the seed in the water without piercing it with toothpicks, as I’ve seen previously.

As an alternative to the “avocado boat”, I took a sandwich storage bag and cut a small hole in the corner so that the bottom of the seed would be immersed in water.  I held the bag onto a jar with a rubber band.  I  place the jars with their seeds on a railing on my back porch so that they would have light and warmth, but not direct sun light.

germinated avacado seed

As you can see, there is a nice root reaching to the bottom of the jar, and a nice stem reaching for the sun.  It takes a while, about six weeks.  With this kind of root beginning, the next step required placing the root in well drained potting soil.  My featured photo in this submission is the plant after two months.

I found it better to place the pot with the seedling indoors, because I have squirrels, and they help themselves to any seeds in my yard pots.

sprouted avocado seed

Perhaps, next year, I will be able to show a larger tree.  At which point, I may be able to move the pots outside.  I am not sure if these projects ever produce fruit.  There is the concept of pollination.

Thank you for reading.

Sunsets and Landscapes

If you ever doubt a higher power, look at nature.  I love to be outdoors.  My featured photo is a sunset taken at a retreat ranch south of Dumas, Texas.  It looks as though the evergreen tree, through which I photographed the sun, is on fire!  Notice the colors of the sky and horizon framed by the trees.

I’ve just passed the week in California.  Even with wild traffic on the freeway, one can eventually get to the beauty of the hills.  My other brother-in-law, Bob, lives in the southern wine country.  The homes built in the granite hills above Temecula, make me think of the Mediterranean, because of the olive trees and grape vines.  The date palms make me think of Middle East.  Notice this sunset.  Those colors are postcard worthy!

Temecula Sunset

Included in the array of birds and other animals were, hummingbirds (Anna’s and Ruby Throat),  scrub jays, tufted titmouse, yellow vireo, house finch, common raven, goldfinch, and great horned owl.  I have not identified this little lizard, however.  He was very quick, so I could not catch him/her.  Perhaps you have an idea.

Lizard

At my brother-in-laws in Los Angeles, there lives an abundant sort of wildlife, too.  I could not get a picture of it, but look up the Red Whiskered Bul Bul.  There lives a pair in one of the trees.  The green June beetle intrigued me, too, but, alas, too fast for a picture.  Take a look at these gulf fritillary.  They have brilliant coloring.

Gulf Frittilaries

These were shot with my phone.  I didn’t feel like dragging my camera through tsa, and I had my limit of carry-on.

Yes. I write few words, but I hope the pictures make up for it.

Thank you for reading.