Tomato Soup and Toasted Cheese

Why does a toasted cheese sandwich and tomato soup “hit the spot” in the winter months?  I’m not sure that was a childhood staple for you, but I grew up in the mountains, and when we came home from sledding, skating, or skiing, that particular menu item filled our bellies and warmed our hearts!   Perhaps Mom and/or Dad fed us that because bread, cheese, butter, and tomato soup we cheap and filling to seven hungry children.  To this day, I think my siblings would say that it’s a “go to” meal.  Well, except my sister, Eileen.  She watches her weight.  I just watch my weight…grow.

If this is your first time reading me, I took a different job within the institution of higher education where I once serve as a faculty member for 13 years.  In this iteration, I am now in a different department where I serve as director of intercultural learning (that’s another story).  So, I am living in temporary quarters until we sell a house and buy one.

One of my roommates, Regan, bakes a fantastic loaf of sourdough bread!  My other roommate has a friend who makes hard cheese (white cheddar), and I like to make tomato soup from scratch.  Together,  served a delicious and simple meal.

My tomato soup:

12 Roma Tomatoes (blanched, peeled, and blended, or chopped finely)

6 ounces (170g) of homemade pesto (I’ve offered my recipe for this a number of entries ago, but you likely have a good recipe yourself).

4 mushrooms of your choice

1/4 of a small onion or 2 shallots

One cup of red wine

1 block of cream cheese (8 ounces/227g)

1 tablespoon (14.2g) olive oil

Begin by heating oil on medium heat.  Add onions/shallots and cook until transparent.  Add mushrooms, and cook until water has evaporated.  Add tomatoes, and cook until liquid has dissipated.  Add wine, and cook until the alcohol has evaporated, but the flavor remains.  Now add the pesto.  You get your salt, more oil, and texture from the pine nuts in the pesto, so you don’t have to add too much more salt, but make sure it’s to your taste.  If you want a smoother soup, you can use an immersion blender, here.  When your soup reaches a thick point, and you are getting close to serving it, add the cream cheese with the heat lowered just a little bit.  Here it is.

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While you’re watching your soup come together, you can build your toasted (sometimes called, “grilled cheese”) sandwiches.  We sliced the lovely sourdough bread, buttered it on the outside, and laid the sliced cheese.  For the two-sided, enclosed sandwich, we buttered two slices of bread to put on the outside so that it made contact with the griddle.  We used a toaster oven for the open-faced, toasted cheese sandwich.  Both are wonderful!  Now, you may think that my tomato soup looks a little like Welsh Rarebit.  I don’t put Worcestershire sauce, or dry mustard, or flour, or stout, but you could modify this recipe to be Welsh Rarebit, which is also quite delicious.  Leave out the pesto, wine, and mushrooms, however.

When we assembled our tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches so that we could dip the sandwiches into the soup.  The next morning, for breakfast, I poured the thick soup over my toasted cheese sandwich.

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As with all meals, eat them with people you love and who allow you to be who you are.

Thank you for reading.

Food in Social and Intercultural Interactions!

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

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

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

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

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It’s Time to Return to Blogging

Too much time has passed since my recent blog dating back to September when I paid tribute to our deceased daughter.  Since that time, I visited by home town, as the featured photo shows, and I’v had a life-changing event: a new job!

Now, I have been on my new job, which was a move from one department to another at the university where I work for nearly one month.  I have gone from social researcher and community educator to another exciting job that works to ensure the success of multicultural students.  Now remember, “multicultural” means all cultures!  One thing that I’ve realized in my work with the many cultures, ethnicities, and dominant populations these past 25 years is that many think the word, “multicultural” means anyone who is not White and middle-class (in the United States).  That means finding common definition or understanding to assure that 1) Every human is from a culture, 2) Everyone has an ethnicity (belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural traditions), and 3) Every human can find common ground from which to build a relationship.  As you can see, I have my work cut out for me.

One thing I didn’t report, here, is that my former work was at an agricultural experiment station in SW Kansas.  Now I am on the campus, which is 4.5 hours away.  That means sell a house and buy a house.  Wish me luck.

So, in terms of friendships that change because they have become long-distance, I have wonderfully close friends in my former town.  I will see them often, for now, because I go “home” on the weekends. I am making new friends, too.  I will return to my soon-to-be former home this weekend to eat, drink, and be merry with my friends.  I love them dearly.  I have gone to a few dinner gatherings since being in the town of my new position.  Since many of our readers like food, I will share a newly-created appetizer that I took to one of the gatherings.

It’s a fruit, cheese, and nut medley, and I’ve named it, “Fall Colors”.

1 bag of fresh cranberries

2 oranges

1/2 cup (64g) coconut sugar

2 teaspoons (8.5g) Chinese 5 spice

One “log” of goat cheese

1 cup (28g) shelled walnuts

Brandy or vanilla is optional (brandy would be added during cooking and vanilla added when removed from the heat)

To make the compote, chop the oranges (peeling and all) and combine with the other ingredients in a saucepan to cook gently until the liquid comes out of the cranberries and oranges and the compote is thickened.  Remove from the heat.  If you use vanilla, add it now.

After the compote has cooled, place the goat cheese on a plate, and arrange the compote around the cheese, and top with the walnuts.

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When you scoop it up, make sure you have a nice distribution of the cheese, compote and the nuts so that you have the advantage of all the flavors.  It goes well with nut crackers, and enhances the taste of red wine.  I call it “Fall Colors”, because cranberries and oranges are fresh at this time in the Northern Hemisphere.

Enjoy, and thank you for reading.

Love to Cook and Eat with Friends

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

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

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

24 ounces (680.39 g) fresh cranberries

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

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

2 cups (453.59 g) apple cider

1/2 cup (113.40 g) honey

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

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

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

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

  ground lamb kabob tzaziki cabbage and grilled halloumi cheese

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

Thank you for reading.

A Meal for a Special Friend

In another life, I worked in Adult Education.  I worked with a fine group of women with whom I have occasional contact.  I was able to see a friend this past weekend.  Her name is Cheryl, and her expertise was early literacy for children and their, mostly, under-educated parents.  Working in adult education afforded my colleagues and me a chance to interact and work with people from around the world who came to our part of the state as political and economic refugees.  They came to our part of the state, because there are plentiful job opportunities in the agricultural sector.

Well Cheryl came for a town visit, and I was to be out of town when the old group planned a gathering – a homecoming, of sorts.   That meant I would invite Cheryl to dine with us Sunday evening.  “I will come if you don’t go through any trouble.”  Okay.  Keep in mind what is “trouble” to some is therapy for me – cooking.  So, here was my menu:

  • Grilled leg of lamb – slathered in a fresh pesto sauce before grilling
  • Caprese Salad – you may remember that I have a basil “tree” that won’t stop producing!
  • Freshly baked bread with OGB as a dip (olive oil, garlic, and basil) – featured photo!
  • Baked and whipped sweet potatoes
  • Crème de banane for dessert (an original recipe!)
  • Wine

How do you grill a leg of lamb?  We have a large kettle-style Weber barbecue.  Dale uses an “indirect” method of grilling large items such as turkey and leg of lamb.  Our friends, Bob and Adrian have a sheep farm about 13 miles away, so we always have lamb and venison, from the same county as the lamb, when I’m a fortunate hunter.  We’ll talk about venison another time.

Back to grilling the lamb.  I prepare the lamb by rubbing it with the pesto (which is well-seasoned) and black pepper.  The charcoals are prepared in a charcoal starter, which is a cylinder, which is about 2 feet tall (0.6096 meters), that has a wooden handle.  A small basket inside the cylinder holds the charcoal briquettes, which are ignited on an open fire.  Once the briquettes are glowing, they are ready to be place in the grill.  I neglected to take a picture of indirect grilling, so I borrowed an illustration from the Weber website.  Keep in mind that we roasted leg of lamb, NOT ribs.  The meat is never directly over the hot charcoals, but rather sits above a drip pan.

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So, you put about 25 coals on each side of the meat.  You must add newly heated coals about every 30 minutes. Once the meat reaches 130° F (54.44 C), take if off the grill and let it sit until it reaches 140° F (60 C).

Of course, I’ve written about my caprese salad, so that recipe can be found on one of my past blog posts, but here’s a picture of it.

Caprese and Pesto

Also, since I’m still working on using up basil, I decided to blend three large hands full of basil with 8 cloves of garlic and enough olive oil to make a nice liquid concentrate of OGB for later use.  I put the plenty in the freezer for later use.  Since it’s so very concentrated, I put a large spoon full on a bread plate to which I added a little more olive oil and a spoonful of  balsamic vinegar for a nice bread dip.

The sweet potatoes were baked, mashed with butter, salt, and a spoonful of pure maple syrup.  You may notice the color of the sweet potatoes are more like Yukon Golds.  Their dullness of yellow instead of orange is off-putting, but they are delicious!

Lamb and mashed sweet potatoes

I prepare banana cream for dessert.  To make it sound fancy, I used the French, crème de banane.  I found some very nice ripe bananas at the market, so I put three in a glass bowl to which I added 8 ounces (226.80 grams) of mascarpone cheese and four ounces (113.40 grams) cream cheese, one half cup of pure maple syrup, one spoonful of dehydrated orange rind (something I produce to flavor biscotti).  I whipped it all with a hand mixer until all was creamy.  I chilled the banana cream in individual “berry bowls”.  I was an interesting texture, which surprised the guests!  “Interesting!”  “Thank you!”  I think.

Banana Cream

Perhaps not as pleasing to the eye, I found it tasty and not too filling as a dessert.  We drank a rosé and a zinfindel with the meal.

Mostly, it was about reminiscing with Cheryl and getting to know her friends, Darryl and Ann.  At the end of the day, the food becomes a companion for conversation, which contributes to those convivial moments.

Thank you for reading.

The Wonders of Traveling to the City – Los Angeles

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

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

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

On the train in LA

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

Little girls with nesting dolls on train

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

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

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

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

In and Out

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

Thank you for reading.

Conviviality and “Hygge”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.