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.

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.

A Few of My Favorite Cooks

The lovely stained glass sits in my window, and I love the way it washes me in color when I stand by it with sun rays streaming in.  Color can be quite soothing.

I love to cook, bake, and create in my kitchen.  By the same token, I love the foods coming from the kitchens of family and friends, so I thought I’d dedicate this post to the many creative cooks in my life.  I’ll begin with my mother.  She is 90 years old, and goes to the kitchen to cook everyday, three times a day.  My siblings and I want her to slow down by emphasizing that we do not want her to put on the full-blown meals, as is in her nature.  Here are her beautiful hands.  She was a nurse for five decades.  She retired at 80.

Mom hands

She does cook for her husband and herself daily, which is great for cognitive support.  Growing up, I remember her greatest meals were those with fresh ingredients.  Our hometown has a vegetable and beef farm by day and a drive-in theater by night.  In the summer, Mom would go out to the “truck farm” and get beef  to roast and fresh cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes.  She’d bake the roast until it browned evenly with the crispy ends.  She sliced the cucumbers and onions, and marinated them in vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper, a simple marinade.  She’d slice the large beefsteak tomatoes and laid them out on a plate for serving.  So the menu consisted of roast been, cucumbers and onions in a simple vinaigrette, and sliced tomatoes.  We ate the tomatoes sprinkled with salt.  Dessert was cantaloupe or watermelon; when they were in season.  Dad would bring home sugar beets that had fallen off the railroad car, and he would bake those for a sweet fall or winter dessert.  The sweetness of a baked sugar beet is just like having pie!  Here are some sugar beets I grew a few summers ago.  Beets were a source of sugar to a long time until a Cuban embargo focused the sugar power in the fields of Hawai’i’s cane fields.  Seriously, if you ever grow these, they make a wonderful  dessert roasted.   Back to my story…
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We visited my hometown about four weeks ago.  Mother made this lovely cake for my sister’s dinner (distant) gathering.  I marvel at Mother’s persistence in creating something beautiful and tasty for her family.  Here is her strawberry angel food cake.

Mom cake

Now, you should know that my list  of favored cooks is quite extensive, and I will miss someone, I’m sure.  Our son, Stevie, and late daughter, Riki, have cooked or baked some most memorable meals.  Of course, I’ve written about Stevie’s meat pies and his fabulous bread.  Riki made killer chicken and noodles, complete with homemade noodles.  She baked fabulous bread, too.  Sadly, we lost Riki nearly five years ago, but her memory continues to bless us.

My friend, Kathy, makes this wonderful appetizer, called, French Quarter Dip.  It possesses the most wonderful combination of sweet and savory for a cracker.

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Here’s Kathy’s recipe:

French Quarter Cheese Dip

                              Kathy Sexson

8 oz cream cheese

1 Tbs grated onion

1 garlic clove, minced

¼ c. packed dark brown sugar

¼ c. butter (1/2 stick)

1 tsp worcestershire sauce

½ tsp. prepared mustard

1 c. chopped pecans

combine cream cheese, onion and garlic, mix well shape into 6” mound on serving place.  Chill, covered, til set.

Combine brown sugar, butter, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and pecans in sauce pan.  Cook till butter melts, stir.  Uncover cheese mound, pour pecan mixture over top.  Chill covered till ready to serve.  Serve with crackers.

Kathy’s Low Country Boil leaves memories, too.  I remember the first time we witnessed and participated in the dinner.  I wondered about plates.  Kathy said, “no” it’s served on the table with paper.”  Then, I remembered the wonderful crayfish boils that I had had in New Orleans, so it did not seem odd at all.

Shrimp Boil  AKA Low-country boil

From Kathy Sexson

16 c.    water

¼ c      old bay seasoning or crab boil seasoning w/ quartered lemons (I use latter)

2-3 tsp ground red pepper

2 lb.     cooked smoked sausage, (I grill it first), cut in 1 ½” chunks

2 lb.     tiny new potatoes, halved if large

10        small onions, peeled, about 3 lbs. ( I use the little bitty ones that come dozen or so to mesh bag)

5 ears   fresh corn, shucked and broken into halves or thirds

2 lbs.   fresh or frozen large shrimp, in shells

¼ c      butter, melted (optional)

Optional ingredients:

¼ c      snipped fresh herbs, such as thyme, oregano, and or basil (optional – I don‘t bother with this)

Cocktail sauce – you can use little bowls for this or just pour on table  J

Bottled hot pepper sauce

  1. in large pot combine water, seasoning, and ground red pepper. Cover and bring to boil.  Once boiling, add sausage, potatoes, onions and corn.  Return to boiling, reduce heat.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.    Add shrimp.  Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes or until shrimp turns opaque.   Remove from heat, let stand 5 minutes.
  2. Carefully (duh) drain in large colander. Dump on da table.  No forks or plates allowed!      If desired, combine melted butter and herbs and drizzle over food.  Serve with cocktail sauce and hot pepper sauce, and drawn butter (add few drops of olive oil to butter to keep from solidifying.)   makes 10 servings.

Note – this recipe forgives easily, so be creative.  If you like one thing more than another (i.e. shrimp or sausage) add more.

You can serve on table on newspaper, but I prefer to get one of those, large, WATERPROOF picnic table cloths for a buck.

Shrimp boil1

Here, we are pictured with the blues band, The Nighthawks, from Washington D. C.  They were in town to give a concert at the zoo.  Good times!

My Friend, Mary L.’s Quick Pie From Scratch!

After finishing a lovely meal on a cozy winter evening, one of our friends said, “I wish we had a pie!”  Luckily, our dear friend, Mary Lake, was at table, too.  She’s one of the best pie-makers in the world!  Mary and I bet, those around the table, that we could produce a pie from scratch in 30 minutes.  The race was on!  The stopwatch began counting the time.  Mary got busy making her famous oil crust, and I set to getting the apples ready.  Fortunately, I had several quart jars of canned apples from the previous summer’s windfall of crispy, sweet apples.  I dumped a quart of apples in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of quick tapioca, cinnamon, 3 tablespoons sugar, and a pat of butter.  Here’s Mary’s crust recipe:

2 cups of all-purpose flour

Dash of salt mixed in flour – put flour/salt mixture in a bowl.

½ cup of vegetable oil (Mary likes corn oil for its nutty flavor. I use sunflower oil.)

5 tablespoons buttermilk (Make some with milk and vinegar if you have no buttermilk on hand)

1 glass pie plate.  It must be a clear, oven-proof pie plate.

With a fork, emulsify the oil and buttermilk until well blended.

Add to flour mixture

Stir with a fork until all flour is well-moistened

Divide, and put half of the dough on a square sheet of parchment paper. Shape into a round, flat disc without handling the dough too much. Place another square sheet of parchment, and roll out the dough with a rolling pin.  Once the dough is the size of your glass pie place.  Shape to the pie plate.  Repeat for the top crust.  Once the top crust is rolled out, place the fruit in the pie plate with the bottom crust.  Settle the fruit in to the crust, and then place the top crust. Shape the edges of the pie crust, cut air vents with scissors, and sprinkle crust with cinnamon sugar.

Place your pie in the microwave oven for 12 to13 minutes.  Meanwhile pre-heat your conventional oven to 400°.  After the time sounds for the microwave, remove the pie from the microwave, and place it into your conventional oven for 12-13 minutes, or until the crust is browned.

Mary and I put our apple pie on the table in 35 minutes.  The microwave oven gets the fruit cooking and thickened.  This shortens the time in the conventional oven, and prevents burned edges.  Starting the pie in the microwave only works for fruit pies.  Do not try with custard pies.

Here is a picture of a mince pie with the oil crust.  You can see that the crust if tender and flaky.  The cinnamon sugar mixture gives the crust a beautiful glow.

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I knew if I began to write about my favorite cooks, I would leave someone out of my story, but let us say that other writing will be devoted, further, to more of my favorite cooks.    I will leave you, now, with one of my favorite breakfasts: Egg taco with Dalgona coffee.

The egg taco is a small 1-egg omelet with green chilies.  I fry/warm it in a small cast iron skillet, 6.5 inches (16.51 cm), which is the perfect size for one corn tortilla. Use a little bit of butter so that the skillet does not stick.   Cook one side of the egg, and lay the tortilla to begin to warm. Flip to cook the other side of the omelette.  All this works best with a small lid to steam the egg.

The coffee, all the rage these days, is simple.  Use 1 teaspoon instant coffee, 1 teaspoon coconut sugar, and 1 tablespoon water, 1 tablespoon milk.  Whip into a froth.  Pour over 1/2 cup milk (on ice or steamed milk).  Pictured here, I have used steamed milk.  Yummy, and it’s low calorie.

egg taco

Thank you for reading!

In the Kitchen From the Garden

One of my gentle readers, thank you SLA, asked if I could show a picture of the San Juan Mountain Range as it’s viewed from my hometown.  Can you imagine looking at that every day?  Such an auspicious sight to behold.  Though, this blog has nothing to do with this magnificent mountain range, it is part of who I am.  Perhaps I shall engage some experts for another blog, my brother Lee and sister Eileen.  For they climb these great “hills” just about every weekend.  Yes.  I was up on those ranges in my younger years with my brothers Dan and Lee, but I don’t get to there as often as I’d like.  I live a long day’s drive from my hometown and there is no easy way to get there by plane.  If you visit these lovely mountains, leave them better than you found it.  They are a precious resource.

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About two years ago, I wrote about a crazy prolific basil plant.  This year, my garden has proven to be basil prolific.  Plus, I have a few other herbs from which to create: rosemary and thyme, too.  Of course, the obvious is, pesto. That wonderful mixture of basil, olive oil, parmesan, pine nuts, garlic, and a little salt and pepper.

This year, I decided to try other things such as OGB: Olive oil, garlic and basil, used for a bread dip.  It goes into the freezer quite well.  You may want to add just a touch of pepper flakes and a little salt to make it even more scrumptious.

Another way to preserve the basil, was to blend with olive oil for sauteing mussels or any other light fish.  Just add garlic.  Yes. It’s a bit different from pesto. It stays as green and fresh as the day you put it in.  I froze one and refrigerated the other.  I call it, “basil oil.”

basil oil

Here is something new for me: Basil Rosemary Pesto.  I give the ingredients without measurement, because I just put it together until it looked and smelled green and fragrant.

  • Large bunch of rinsed and drained fresh basil (three big hands full!)
  • About five long rosemary sprigs (pull the leaves off the stalk)
  • About 1 cup (236.59 mL) olive oil and a half cup (118.29 mL) sunflower oil
  • 4 big cloves of garlic (I threw in about four small cloves of wild garlic, too!)
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios (I didn’t have pine nuts)
  • 10 juniper berries (from the Colorado juniper). Since I had no pine nuts, the juniper berries added that nice “piney” taste.
  • Parmesan Romano cheese to taste
  • Salt

For this batch, I added a small piece of a hot pepper from my garden just to add a bit of spice, but not too much!  It freezes quite nicely, and I keep one in the refrigerator for a spoonful here and there in my cooking.  Notice the little hot pepper in the upper right corner.  It’s a hot little devil, so I only used a tiny bit.

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So, you can use pesto as pizza sauce.  Just spread it on your dough before you add the vegetables and/or the meats.  It can be a subtle flavoring for a pot roast or chicken.  It makes a wonderful spread on hot bread.

I think it’s a near perfect food.  Basil is an antiviral. Olive oil is good for your “happy” fats.  That’s how I remember that HDL is the good cholesterol.  “Happy” is my mnemonic for the “good” cholesterol. Parmesan and the nuts are a good source of protein.  Garlic is said to be a vasodilator.  There you have it.  Pesto is a great food!

Finally, I leave you with one of the dishes made this week with my pesto.  It’s a simple vegetable pizza.  I used a fresh tomato paste (simmered with garlic until thick) and pesto as the base for the cheese and vegetables.  It was yummy with a glass of cabernet sauvignon.  Thank you for reading.

The Joys of Jam!

I love color.  I like to fill my house with color! I think my favorite color in a window is cobalt blue.  Oscar Wilde, my favorite 19th Century  Irish playwright and aesthete once said, “I fear I will never live up to my cobalt dishes.”  I think it was actually decorative urns to which Wilde referred.   I would have to agree with the great intellect.  Cobalt does delight the senses.  The featured image is my kitchen window.  It looks to be a setting sun outside, which gave the blues an extra boost of color.

Speaking of color, I like color in my foods.   Jams are a good example of a colorful food.  While jams, that wonderful concoction of sugar and whole fruit, may not appear to be useful beyond peanut butter and jam, bread and jam, jam glaze, etc., for some, I think they can be used every day in a myriad of recipes.  I like to create jams.  I am less inclined toward jellies, made of fruit juices and sugar, though they make wonderful sweetener for, say, tea!  This week, I created a new jam.  I give my jams weird names.  Actually the names derive from the acronym that comes from the main ingredients, like “CAOS,” pronounced, chaos, is my cranberry-apple-orange-spice jam that I make in November when cranberries come to the grocery.  My CAOS graces the holiday table, and goes splendidly with turkey and its trimmings.

“FAJ” and “FOJ,” pronounced fahje and foeje, are my fig-apple jam and fig-orange jam.  They pair nicely with brie and other buttery cheeses.  I think I’ve written about these previously.

To assure that I measure fruits, sugar, and other ingredients going into the jam, I look at other recipes.  My latest is called, APOS, and now I’m sorry I didn’t arrange those letters differently, because some use a similar acronym derogatorily.  Going forward…APOS is apricot-pineapple-orange-saffron jam.  I followed a recipe for apricot jam.  First, you should know that my freezer is full of apricot pulp.  My mother has a prolific apricot tree.  She picks and cleans the apricots.  She adds a “produce protector” with dextrose, ascorbic acid, and citric acid, so that the fruit keeps its brilliant orange, and she adds some lemon juice and freezes in jars.

apricot pulp

I thaw the jar and mix my “jam.” For APOS, I used this quart (453.59g) of crushed apricots, and chopped up enough fresh pineapple and  two whole oranges to make eight ounces (226.80g) of additional fruit.  To which I added four cups (860g) sugar, and two ounces (56.70g) of lemon juice and four good pinches of saffron (about 20 threads for stigma).  Saffron is a rare and fragrant spice.  Each flower of the crocus produces three stigma and must be harvested by hand.  I visited Spain 15 years ago, and I still hang on to the saffron I purchased there.  Luckily, my mother’s friend, who lived in the Middle East gifted some.  I am using that now.  Here it is cooking down to a thickened state.  Notice the saffron threads imparting their brilliant color to the already colorful blend of apricot, pineapple, and naval oranges.

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While the jam thickens, jars must be cleaned and sterilized.  The rings must be clean, and the lids must be covered with hot water to soften the rubber seal.  Pour the boiling jam into the prepared jars, and the lid-ring must be adjusted to fit properly.  Lower each jar into a boiling water bath canner where the water covers the jars by two or more inches (5.08 cm).  Place the lid on the canner, and begin the count (15 minutes) once the water comes back to a boil.   Consult your canning guide for best results.

I tested the jam with silky goat cheese, and it did not disappoint.  It went well on a freshly baked slice of sourdough, too.  I think it’s a keeper.  bread

Jams are a must when you present a meat and cheese board.  We like a meat and cheese board when we’re watching a movie on the television.

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On this particular board, I used whole figs in place of the jam (What was I thinking?).  My husband loves kippered snacks (herring), which is great with cream cheese and crackers.  Eat this kind of meal slowly so that you know when you’re full.  Otherwise, it’s easy to stuff yourself, because everything is fresh and flavorful.

I’m off to visit my mother for her 90th birthday.  My sisters and I are preparing a great feast.  Perhaps I’ll share.  Thank you for reading.

The Joys of the Kitchen

While my feature photo is not that of the kitchen, it’s one of my favorite places. It’s an arch that connects two buildings.  Named after its donors (Bird), the arch connects the Marianna Kistler-Beach Museum to its offices and education department, on the campus of Kansas State University.  I think I had snapped this picture during one of my winter visits to admire the exhibitions.  I like the lines in the photo…

Now, for time in the kitchen, I realize that many people talk and write about food, cooking, and “this is what’s happening to me,” sorts of sharing.  These types of communications illustrate ways that we connect to the world.  I like to write, and I like to cook, so I share these two things with you.  Here are some meals that I have prepared these past few days.

While I’m preparing food for only two of us, of late, I find it interesting to using what I buy or grow to the fullest of the life of the food.  For example, if I by a jar of pickles, and we’ve finished all the pickles, I like to use the brine for preparing another jar of pickles, because there are these lovely garlic bits left behind.  Here’s how you do it.

Refrigerator Pickles: Take one or two English hothouse cucumbers.  Slice the cucumbers, and place them in a bowl.  Sprinkle the sliced cucumbers with two tablespoons (17.06g) of salt.  Toss to mix the salt into the cucumbers. Let the cucumbers sit for 10 minutes.  Then rinse and pat dry, and place the cucumbers in the cleaned, sterilized, and dried jar that held the original pickles.

In the meantime, bring the brine to boil.  Assume that you will not have enough brine, so prepare additional brine with equal parts water and vinegar.  Likely, you won’t need more than one cup (227g) of the additional brine.  Then pour the boiling brine over the cucumbers in the jar.  The brine should, entirely, cover all of the pickles.  Replace the lid, and allow  the jar of cucumbers-about-to-turn-pickles to cool, slightly, before you refrigerate.   They keep in the refrigerator for as long as it takes for you to eat them.

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Also, during our physical distancing, we do cook a lot more, which I was greatly missing when I was, physically, going to the office every day.  Keep in mind, I am thriving working from home!  I’m much more productive in my job, because I can step away for a moment to come back to my computer with a brighter mind to complete the task as hand.  I’ve even lost weight with the decrease in my stress levels from the office.  I, greatly, dread the idea of returning to the, physical, office.  I love my home office!  More recipes…

This has been a week of turning to other proteins, besides beef.  We love beef, but try to vary our proteins.  I prepared pinto beans.  We buy “new crop” pinto from a small farmer in the Arkansas River Valley of Southeast Colorado.  Pinto beans are harvested around October and November.  New crop pintos easily cook in one or two hours, don’t need soaking, and taste wonderful, if you like pinto beans.  I love pinto beans, as do many of my Indigenous peers.  Most of the beans you buy in the grocery store are old, and that’s why you have to soak them to rehydrate before cooking – not so with new crop beans.  I cooked the beans with ham pieces and served them with a sort of “Spanish Rice.”    I didn’t take pictures of that meal, but I did make a luscious breakfast the next day with the beans.  I steamed eggs in a wee bit of butter, added savory green chili to the beans, and put it atop the eggs.  It was quite memorable in beginning the day.

The next night, we had salmon.  First, I sauteed a roma tomato with spring onions, and garlic in butter and sesame oil.  After the vegetables softened a bit, I added the seasoned (with soy sauce and pepper) salmon and place the lid to allow the ingredients to steam and cook the salmon.   I had never used rice noodles, so this was a new one for me.  They are simple.  Pour boiling water over the noodles, and let them sit for 20-25 minutes.  After the salmon reached its cooked temperature, I took it out, and set it aside while I thickened the veggies in the saute.  I added the rice noodles to the vegetables in their sauce.  The rice noodles, in this case, are wide meant for Pad Thai.  I think they could be used for linguini and clam sauce, especially for those with wheat intolerances. Here was our meal.  Oh, we had a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, which made it perfect!

 

One night, I prepared a similar dish with shrimp, but my focus was on garlic (It’s a good thing we are physical distancing, because our garlic intake has increased of late), and I served it with spaghetti and mozzarella pull-apart bread.  The sauce for the salmon and shrimp is rather easy.  I saute the garlic, onion, and celery in butter and olive oil.  Once the vegetables cook, I add white wine and simmer to thicken the sauce.  For the shrimp, I used one tiny Roma tomato.  For the salmon dish, I used red pepper and a bit of spinach.   The garlic shrimp dish required a buttery Chardonnay as its accompaniment.

I will continue to practice a sort of artistry in preparing delicious meals.  Sometimes, there are failures, but I just learn more from them.  Also, I tried making mozzarella.  It was partially successful.  I’ll keep you posted on that, too.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

Cooking for the Senses

Good evening!  I like to feature pictures of family and friends, though I may not have anything to say about them.  In this case, the featured image is that of my granddaughter placing her late mother’s (our daughter) bracelet at a sacred fire.  It’s one of our Indigenous traditions to honor our ancestors and loved ones who no longer walk with us here on earth.

As many of you are experiencing with physical distancing, my spouse and I are working from home.  It seems that I am more busy now than when I was going to my office on campus.  Teaching, collaborating, and meeting virtually has added another layer of tasks, but I am grateful for a job, to say the least.  As for my time in the kitchen, I continue to create new recipes and search for ideas from magazines and cookbooks.

One of our favorite dishes is spaghetti (often linguine) and clam sauce.  It was a recipe Dale brought to our marriage a few decades ago.  It begins:

One bunch of green onions, three cloves of fresh garlic, a handful of chopped fresh basil leaves, 2 tablespoons (28g) butter, and 2 tablespoons (30mL) olive oil.  Drain two cans of clams (1 can baby clams and 1 can of shredded clams). Reserve the liquid for the sauce. Set the clams aside to add later.

Saute the herbs seasoning vegetables, butter, and oil until soft.

Add 1.5 cup (354.88 mL) of white wine and the clam juice drained from the canned clams.   Simmer the sauce  until thickened.     Cook your pasta, in salted water,  to al dente.  Once your liquids and herbs have thickened, add the clams.  Drain pasta.  Toss the pasta and the clam mixture.

The day before I prepared this dish, I had baked a dense seed bread.  I sliced the bread and toasted it with rosemary butter (the rosemary and basil came from my window herb pots).  We ate this with a simple romaine salad with a sesame-ginger dressing (really!) and a lovely, crisp Sauvignon Blanc.   The aromas of this meal were sublime!  Garlic, basil, rosemary, sesame, and ginger.  Now, you might think that the sesame-ginger dressing would not be a fit.  Somehow, it worked! Cheers!

Medicinal Chocolate?

I went to high school more than 40 years ago.  My high school music teacher, Professor D. W. Bauguess, continues to be a great influence on me these decades later.  We talk about many things from music, philosophy, food preparation to health and wellness.  He shares his recipes for wellness.  The one that catches my eye is his chocolates.  Here’s the recipe. I have modified it a bit, because I don’t need the extra calories, and it’s rich enough!

2 cups (418g) extra virgin coconut oil

1/4 cup (1 stick/57g) salted butter (it calls for one pound!)

1.5 cup (360g) almond butter

16 ounces (452g) 100% cacao powder

5 tablespoons (65g) vanilla extract

1 cup (340g) honey

1 cup (322g) pure maple syrup  (the original recipe calls for 2 cups honey)

Put on low heat until all is melted. I made a double boiler with two pans.  That allowed for a slow melt. Do not let it boil or simmer!

One the ingredients are fully incorporated and melted, spoon into small muffin cups.  If you have help, you can take the time to shape the chocolates.  I simply dropped them from a teaspoon. Freeze for one hour, then put the frozen chocolates (in their muffin cups) in a sealed bag or lidded container. Place back into freezer.  Enjoy from the freezer, or keep them in refrigerator.  I like them cold and firm!  Each, approximately, 1 teaspoon serving is about 92 calories each.  This makes about 105 pieces.  I added all the ingredients’ calories and divided that by how many pieces I made, so that comes to about 92 calories each.  I could be wrong, though.

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The chocolates are rich and luscious.  I eat one a day.  The cacao is high in antioxidants, and the other ingredients are pure and nutritious!  Go with it, and enjoy!   Thank you for reading my blog.

Love in the time of…Corona Virus!

Living in the midst of the Corona Virus pandemic caused me to think of Gabriel García Márquez’s book, Love in the Time of Cholera, which refers to the disease of cholera, which has contributed to many outbreaks and at least one pandemic in the past 200 years.  In the throes of this pandemic, I witness the realization of the other part of  cólera, the Spanish word referring to the disease and to the concepts of anger and rage.  I liken that anger and rage to be synonymous with what we’re experiencing today.  Some people are angry at the call to shelter in place and politicize and moralize the disease.  Without getting political, I will tell you about my own sheltering in place.  I cook or I bake.  We eat…just the two of us, but I focus on meals that I’d prepare for a group of friends or our family.  I call that, love in the time of Corona Virus!

If there was a secret to home cooking, it’s sort of a combination of bravery to try new things, understanding flavors and how they interact with one another, and a bit of creativity and lots of love.  We used to live in an region marked by majority “minority.”  That just means that there are more people of color than Caucasian people, and the term, “minority” is not one I prefer since it further minoritizes a group of people.  Anyway, the majority in the region is predominately Hispanic from Meso, Central, and Latin America.  And with them comes wonderfully delicious cuisine.  We love fish tacos made with white tilapia, a super mild tasting fish.  It does not overwhelm the other dishes.  We as the “topping,” we use a cabbage and carrot salad much like the “slaw” used for Salvadoran papoosas.   I cook about three tilapia filet in butter seasoned with salt, dehydrated lemon and lime, pepper, and a mild red chili.  When it’s cooked, I drizzle it with lemon.

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Before I cook the fish, I prepare my version of the “repollo.”

Half head of cabbage sliced thinly

1 grated carrot

Dressing: 1/4 cup (59.15 mL) sherry vinegar,  1/4 c (59.15 mL) sunflower oil, seasoned salt to taste, 1 teaspoon (2.60g) each of onion and garlic granules, salt and pepper to taste.  For most dressings, you always need a bit of sweetener, and I like to use jams, so I add 1 Tablespoon (20g) of my jalapeno or apricot jams.  Shake vigorously and add to the  combined cabbage and carrot.  Put in a lidded jar and shake to assure that each cabbage leaf gets covered generously.

Warm corn tortillas on the stove with just a little butter or oil.  They are better if they are warmed and soft rather than fried.  Frying the corn tortillas are great for beef tacos, but it tends to overwhelm the delicate fish in this case.   Make your taco by placing a serving of the fish on the corn tortilla topped with the repollo.  Sometimes, I’m not sure the pictures does the meal justice, but it was delicious!

Around holidays, I love to cook large meals for family or friends.  Obviously, with the importance of physical distancing, I knew that the grand meal would have to be for the two of us, and we would feasts on left overs for the remainder of the week.

The Easter Dinner – The Menu:

Leg of lamb, grilled flat bread, Greek salad, Tzaziki (cucumber/yogurt),  and deviled eggs with lemon-saffron panna cotta for dessert.  Now the leg of lamb cooked on a charcoal grill takes some practice, and Dale has perfected the skill over the years.  The secret is never letting the charcoals sit directly under the meat.  They must be on both edges of the grill “kettle” with a drip pan separating them.  The drip pan sits directly under the leg of lamb (or turkey if we cook that!).   I prepare the leg of lamb by rubbing it with pesto that I make up in the fall and freeze.  This time, I had three slices of bacon left in a package, so I topped the lamb with that and draped it to protect lean that was not covered in fat.

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Notice the charcoals.  Dale adds 24 already red and ashy charcoals on each side every 30 minutes for up to three hours for this seven pound (3.17 kg) leg of lamb.  We take it off when the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65.56 Celsius).  We let it sit for 10 minutes before we slice it.  We serve it with the Tziziki, diced cucumbers mixed with Greek style plain yogurt.  I season the Tziiziki with salt, pepper, onion and garlic granules).

The Greek salad was a simple mix of romaine, tomatoes, feta cheese, cucumbers, and green onions with a balsamic dressing mixed up by Dale. It was delicious! We served the meal with red wine from the Rijoa region of Spain.  I think we tried to touch as many cultural cuisines as we could!   It worked, and it was lovely!

Now, for the panna cotta, I took a simple box of lemon flavored box gelatin that takes one cup of boiling water and one cup of cold water.  Instead of the cold water, I used one cup of canned milk.  Once all that was mixed, I added about 8 strands of saffron, which I think is one of the most wonderful spice, ever!  The scent of saffron is only surpassed by its subtle but distinctive flavor.  It made a sublime addition to the simple gelatin dessert, which I am choosing to call, “panna cotta.”

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All this was served with great love and friendship with my spouse.  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.