Summer is Here!

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

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

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

Summer Salad

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

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

4- green onions diced

1- diced English cucumber

1- diced red pepper

1- small packge frozen sweet corn

1- batch cooked quinoa

1.5 cups well-drained garbanzo beans

4- chopped dandelion leaves (may use Romaine lettuce)

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

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

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

My Work and Why I Create in the Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Happy Accidents…in the Kitchen

My featured image proves that there are happy accidents in the kitchen.  It’s cheese with a dollop of my APOS jam, i.e. Apricot-pineapple-orange-saffron jam.  While one may want to consume a bite of this with a cracker, I found it wonder to take a small serving and eating it with a small spoon.  Think – small spoon with which one might eat caviar.  Also, it’s great on a nut cracker, which does not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the cheese and the jam.

How did I make the cheese?  That’s the happy accident!  Backstory: I drink lactose-free milk.  I have a favorite brand, but I was at a different grocery store a few weeks ago, and I bought the “store brand” of lactose-free milk.  An ingredient added to lactose-free (lactose is milk sugar) milk is lactase, an enzyme that helps us to digest milk sugar.  Cells in the walls of the small intestine produce lactase.

Well, I was heating up the milk on the stove for coffee.  It separated, just like when you put a rennet tablet in milk you’ve heated to 118 degrees fahrenheit (47.7779 C) for cheese.  Noticing that curds had separated from the whey, I poured it all in a cheese bag.  After squeezing more whey out of it, I had a creamy, solid ball of cheese.  The natural sugars in milk rendered a slightly sweet cheese.  I added salt to the forming curds to give it some body.  Voilà, c’est fromage!

Always looking for yummy happy hour appetizers, I purchased another of the “store brand” of the lactose-free milk, this time from a different store.  I heated it to about 120 degrees F. (48.8889 C), and this time, the curds that separated from the whey were smaller.  Well, I thought a nice dessert cheese would be nice, so I added a small box of lemon flavored gelatin and 6 strands of the wonderful saffron!  I rubbed the lovely orange-red (crimson?) stigma and styles in my hand to release the aroma and flavors.  After I spend a few minutes deeply inhaling the perfume of the saffron, I mixed the gelatin and the saffron gently so as not to disturbed the developing curds too much.

I let the mixture gather, drain, and form in the cheese cloth for about 8 hours.  The result was the most scrumptious, creamy cheese you could imagine.  Quite incredible considering that I did not age it in a dark room surrounded by little pine wood cases (I’m thinking of one of my favorite cheeses, brie!).  It turned out to be a great appetizer with a small glass of sweet vermouth.  Or it could be a small dessert with a small glass of port.

Notice the color imparted by the lemon-flavored gelatin and the orange-red streaks from the saffron.  I’ve used the lemon-saffron combination for Thanksgiving “jello” salad last fall.  Right now, I am thinking about other flavors.  I wonder how blueberry would taste.  I mean, it’s best not to expect, like, Stilton, which goes great with blueberry.  It may be worth a try.

Actually, I found the best cheese cloths are handi -wipes.  I think handi-wipes are a cloth-paper hybrid.  They’re great for a semi-disposable dish  cloth that dries easily to cut down on bacterial build-up in the kitchen.  I use those freshly from the bag – never used.

Now, this is not a happy accident, but my friend, Mirta, asked if I knew how to make lavender honey.  I had some locally-sourced honey, which carries the local pollen, which helps us to build up immunities to those pollens as allergens.  Also, I had some locally sourced lavender from a friend.  I heated the honey, which was starting to crystalize, just enough to make the crystals melt.  Then I crushed the lavender buds to add them to the honey.  I used about two cups of honey and 1/8  of a cup crushed lavender bud and one drop of lavender essential oil, for good measure.  The result was delicious!  It’s great on toast, with peanut butter on bread, and in teas.

The immersion blender helped to whip the honey into a creamy substance while it assured that no lavender buds would get stuck in your throat.

I have more creations from my kitchen, but I will share those later.

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.

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.

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!