More Creative Cooking


Experimentation and creativity while cooking become really important when you are home and going out and about does not seem a very safe option.  Here are some photos of two recent dishes I created for dinner.

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Many people do not like certain vegetables, two of which are my favorites, beets and Brussels spouts.  I remain convinced that people do not like them because no one has ever cooked them in a way they find palatable. These two vegetables keep well in the refrigerator so they are good for buying in this time when many do not want to go to the grocery often.

To create the above dish, I sautéed several chopped garlic cloves in olive oil with the chopped beets.  Cook these until nearly done, then add the sliced Brussels sprouts.  It takes longer to cook the beets and garlic than the Brussels sprouts.  You want the Brussels spouts to be tender but do not over cook.  This particular day I added basil essential oil to taste and served the dish over pasta from Italy.  When I want something more spicy, I sprinkle berbere (Ethiopian spice) over the vegetables instead of using basil or other Italian spices.  Sometimes I serve this over rice instead of pasta, e.g. when I use berbere.  This provides a delicious vegan meal and is easy to prepare.

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One of my favorite dishes includes cod loins.  I create many different versions by changing the vegetables used and the spices. For this one, I first sautéed garlic in olive oil until golden, added chopped beets and sautéed until they were tender.  Then I added the cod loin and chopped red bell pepper and chopped poblano pepper.  At the last minute I added a handful of frozen green peas and sautéed only until they were hot.  Once again I used basil and added lemon essential oil.  The pasta is bucatini from Italy.  If you like cheese, grate fresh parmesan or asiago over the dish.

Covid19–Creative Cooking


This is post number six as I continue to quarantine.  I’ve lost tract of exactly when I last went to the grocery–not for at least three weeks.  In an effort to avoid going unnecessarily, I’ve come up with all sorts of creative cooking by looking to see what I can find in the pantry and refrigerator and inventing recipes, using what I already have.  Here are three of my inventions.

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When I was in Italy last November, I ate pasta with lemon creme sauce in two different restaurants in two different cities.  I have managed to duplicate it using bucatini from Italy, lemons, and heavy cream.  For two servings, cook about 1/2 pound of pasta.  While pasta is cooking, use a potato peeler to peel of strips of rind from one lemon.  Chop these strips into smaller pieces.  Cut the lemon into quarters.  When pasta is al dente, drain.  Turn down the heat and melt 1/4 stick butter in the pan, add drained pasta and lemon rind.  Take the lemon quarters and squeeze the juice into the pasta, add cream to taste–do not add too much. If you do not have cream–this time I had none in the refrigerator, do not worry.  It is yummy without it.

I was out of most salad ingredients so the above salad is chopped cilantro topped with feta cheese, various kinds of olives, and olive oil.

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While scrounging around in the freezer compartment, I found half pound of hamburger. I defrosted that and found a can of kidney beans in the pantry. I sautéed the lean hamburger in olive oil, then added the kidney beans.  I did not have any tomatoes or tomato sauce so I dumped in a little organic ketchup.  After stirring this together, I added berbere, a complex and a little hot spice from Ethiopia.  I served this on top of basmati rice from Pakistan–I buy this in ten pound bags at an international grocery.

The salad ingredients were a gift from a friend who had to harvest all his arugula and lettuce because of freezing weather. While both of us were outside, he handed me a bagful of these goodies.  I added some red cabbage I already had.  Finally, I grated asiago cheese all over the top of everything.  Cheese is a favorite food so I always have lots on hand.

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The other food I always keep in the freezer is fish, usually salmon and cod loins.  For this recipe, I defrosted the salmon and marinated it in teriyaki sauce and chopped up some onions and crystallized ginger.  I sautéed the onions in olive oil, then added the salmon and crystallized ginger.  When the salmon was almost done, I added some chopped, frozen,  poblano peppers (when I knew this stay-at-home order was likely, I bought a lot of poblano peppers and froze them) and arugula.  I served the finished dish over basmati rice.

Sometime in the next month or so–no definite date yet–my memoir/cookbook will come out, “You’re Gonna Eat That!? Adventures with Food, Family, and Friends.” It is filled with recipes using ingredients and methods I have learned in travels and growing up with my mom. Many of the recipes are vegetarian and could be vegan with minor adjustments.

Student Poetry: Bunny and Pond


Another student submitted a pond poem today:

 

The Pond

cold, still water

moss covering the surface

catfish swimming around the banks

frogs croaking like an old car horn

 

This is my pond.

Author:  Harris Albracht

 

 

The following poem makes me laugh every time I read it:

 

Roger the Rabbit was an interesting rabbit

who had a eating habit

orange sour skittles were his favorite

He always savored it

He was white with black spots

And he slept lots

Rodger lived in a tree hosue

He was quiet as a mouse

Rodger is gone now

Thanks to the owl

He will be missed

But I am not very pissed

 

R.I.P.  Rodger the Rabbit

Author:  Jess Merrell

Pond and Wheelbarrow–Student Poems


This past week in my sophomore English class, the students read poems by Amy Lowell and William Carlos Williams.  I gave them the assignment to write about either a pond or a wheelbarrow.  At first, they thought I had lost my mind.  However, several decided they would like their poems published on this blog.  The following are three poems the students asked me to publish:

The Pond

The frogs croak

quietly in the night

waiting for food

to come by.

 

The water shimmers

in the moonlight

like a lighthouse

to the ocean.

 

When you think of

the pond,

think of the beautiful

creatures that live

in it.

Author:  Ali Matthews

 

 

Pond

Sittin in a pond,

watching the frogs jump by,

the fish sing

bloop!  bloop!!  bloop!!

Author:  Skylee Isham

 

 

The Wheelbarrow

Behind my fence

sits a green wheel barrow.

 

It has been used many times,

but still looks brand new.

 

The wheelbarrow has sat through

all sorts of weather, and it

still works like a charm.

Author:  Taylor Shugart

 

Cod Loin with Fennel and Lemon


This recipe, one of my favorites, will appear in my soon to be released cookbook full of family and life stories about food, family, and friends.  I made this tonight around eight.  As usual, I made enough for leftovers for another meal. Makes it easier if you work or are really busy.

Two small cod loins or one large cut in half

3 gloves garlic, chopped

1 poblano pepper, deseeded and coarsely chopped

Fennel essential oil

Lemon essential oil

Vegetables of your choosing cut into bite sized pieces

1 small handful of pepitas

Olive oil

I vary this by using different vegetables, e.g. spinach, Swiss chard, Brussel sprouts, beets, carrots.  Tonight I used Brussel sprouts.

Saute garlic in olive oil until golden.  If you use beets or carrots, sauce them with the garlic until nearly tender.  If you use spinach, beet greens, Swiss chard, add them last.

Add the cod loins to garlic mixture and sprinkle each one with several drops of lemon and fennel essential oil.  If you do not use essential oil, sprinkle with ground fennel and add deseeded lemons.  If using Brussel sprouts, cut them in slices and add at the same time as the cod.  When the cod is half cooked, add the poblano peppers and cook only until cod is done and the peppers are cooked but still bright green.  If using spinach, etc., add them just before cod and peppers are done and stir until wilted.  Sprinkle pepitas over the rice and vegetables.  Serve over pasta or rice.

Note:  I have also used fresh fennel for this recipe.  If you decide to do this, saute it along with the garlic.

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Almost done.

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Served over Basmati rice.  Salad is red bell peppers, red cabbage, romaine lettuce, radishes, and scallions with roasted sesame seed oil for dressing.

Memorial Day–Memories


While I was growing up, my mom grew peonies by the side of the vegetable garden.  Red, pink, white, huge spectacular blooms that always arrived around this time of year just in time for Memorial Day.  We would pick many, put them in mason jars and take them to my father’s and her family’s cemetery plots.  She has created a metal apparatus to hold them so the wind would not blow them over.  We took water to fill the jars.  We did this every Memorial Day always.

No one lives close any more.  There is no one left to take flowers there.

My mother’s family members are buried in the Mound City, Missouri Cemetery.

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My mother’s parents’ gravestone.  She was Nellie Narcissus Kaiser before she married rather late for back then–in her late twenties.  I never knew my grandfather.  He was so much older than she that even though he lived to be 80, he died long before I was born. My great-grandfather Kaiser was born in Switzerland and brought here as a child.

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The gravestone of my mother’s grandmother.  I know she lived with my grandmother and grandfather a lot of the time from family photos, but I also know that she died in San Diego.  No one ever told me how she got there or why.

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The gravestone of Aunt Julia, Mother’s sister.  She never married, loved fancy antiques and china.  I frequently use some of what she left me.  She came to see me rather often and we visited antique stores when she visited.  To say she was an independent woman is an understatement.

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My parents’ gravestone is on the right and Dad’s parents’ on the left–in the cemetery in Fillmore, Missouri.  My grandfather, Pleasant Lightle, had walked from Illinois to Missouri as a child according to family stories.  My parents met dancing. I always smile when I see the peonies planted at their graves.

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This is the gravestone of my great-grandfather, Dad’s mother’s father, who came to the US from Switzerland when he was 18.  According to my dad, he did not want to be conscripted into the Swiss army because at that time Swiss soldiers were being hired out as mercenaries.  His mother stood on the roof of their house waving until she could see him no longer.  They never saw each other again.  I grew up on the land he homesteaded in Andrew County, Missouri.  Andrew County is filled with descendants of immigrants who came from Switzerland.

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The old carriage house near the house where Dad spent the first ten years or so of his 90 years.  It is all that is left standing.

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The house where Dad lived the last 80 years of his life and where I grew up.

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When I was a child, the building in the foreground was used at various times as a farrowing house, once for Rhode Island Red chickens, and to store various farm supplies.  When I went to visit Dad after Mom died and we were at the cemetery on Memorial Day, a man came up to Dad and asked if he was Doyle Lightle.  They started chatting and I learned that when Dad first built it during Prohibition times, he held dances there.  The sheriff would send deputies to watch and make sure no one was drinking.  I had lived there and visited there for decades and had never heard this story.

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I took this photo standing on the levee next to the Missouri River looking toward the Rulo, Nebraska bridge.  This is the land my mother’s family owned.  On some Sundays as a treat, we would cross the bridge to a restaurant on the Nebraska side.  It was famous for its fried catfish and carp.

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This is country with lots of water and trees.  This picture was taken near Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.  Several times in my life, I have seen flooding from the bluffs on the Missouri side all the way to the bluffs on the Kansas and Nebraska side of the river.  When I was a child, my uncle and aunt lived on the river farm until a flood reached half way up the second story of their house.  They gave up and moved to town.

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When I was a child, there were trees like this in lots of places on Mom’s family’s farm.  About this time of year we would hunt for morels and often pick a bushel basket full.  Mom dipped them in egg and cornmeal, then fried them.  We practically lived on them for week or two.  I was shocked as an adult to go into a fancy market and discover that dried morels were 95 dollars a pound.

 

 

 

 

A Week of Gratitude (cont.)


Each day I made a list of things for which I feel grateful, sometimes more, sometimes less.  Tuesday’s list includes:

-Endless sunsets streaked with orange, vermillion, purple, lavender and colors with no name.

-An ability to sing the world’s greatest chorale music with a group of experienced singers who even occasionally sings with the symphony.

Wednesday’s list includes:

-Books I love.  My favorite is “Storyteller” by Leslie Marmon Silko.  I must have read her story “Yellow Woman” at least 50 times.

-The ability to write myself.  I entered a flash memoir contest on Wednesday.

Today’s list includes:

-A short but fun experience with my grandson whom I picked up at school.  He told me all about what he is learning in science class–he is in seventh grade.  We discussed genetics and Punnett Squares.  I recently explained them to some high school biology students.

-Driving my tractor, grading the steep drive down to my cliffside house.  I grew up on a farm and love driving the tractor.

-Cooking dinner.  Here’s the recipe:

Fillet of salmon–keta

4-5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 poblano pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

1/2 medium beetroot, thinly sliced and then diced

Bebere to taste or other spice if you do not have this

Several bunches kale, spine removed, and coarsely chopped.  I used two kinds–one green and one purple.

Saute the garlic and beetroot in olive oil until nearly cooked.  Add the poblano pepper and salmon.  Sprinkle a coating of bebere to cover the salmon.  Saute until salmon is nearly done and pepper is cooked but still bright green.  Add kale, occasionally stir, and saute until kale is slightly wilted. Serve over rice.  I used basmati from Pakistan.

Note:  bebere is a spice from Ethiopia.  I use homemade from my Ethiopian friends who have it special made.  Her blend is complex but not very hot.  Some commercial blends are mostly hot.

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Blue Apron: Is It Worth a Try


My daughter gets it off and on–yes, you can cancel weeks when you do not want what they have, etc.  Although I cook yummy, nutritious meals for myself, I realized I was in a food rut of sorts and decided it might be worth a try to explore new food horizons.  To date, I have made two of week one recipes, Crispy Catfish and Five-Spice Chicken.

Crispy Catfish??  Boring?? The title seems quite inaccurate to me.  No deep frying, nothing like that.  Unusual, yes!  Besides cat fish, it includes kale, semi-pearled farro, Thomcord grapes ( I know, I never heard of them before either), rosemary, along with some more ordinary ingredients.  Catfish is not my favorite fish but ok.  Would I have ever gone out and bought farro?  Probably not.  Would I ever have thought to cook grapes to put over fish?  No.  The recipe calls for cooking the farro, sautéing the kale with garlic, then mixing the two together.  Rosemary and chopped almonds sautéed together with the grapes made an incredibly savory-sweet relish.  I had some left over so later cooked a cod loin and served the relish and faro/kale salad with it.  I will definitely saute rosemary, almonds, and grapes together again.

Tonight I made the Five-Spice Chicken.  I remain uncertain as to whether I have seen cremini mushrooms in the stores here.  The ingredients included those, baby fennel, collard greens, Chinese five-spice powder, hoisin sauce, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, and vermicelli rice noodles.  The only thing not included I had to also use was olive oil which I buy in the largest containers because I love the stuff. Would I ever have made this dish without Blue Apron?  Probably not.  It was delicious and since I cook for one and everything comes for two or, if you choose, a family, I have leftovers for later in the week.

What is the down side?  You may not like all the combinations provided for a certain week so you cancel.  I am quite concerned about the packaging and how to recycle all this stuff.  Their website says everything is made to recycle.  However, to do that you have to live where recycling is available.  I do not except for the box.  The recipes are detailed but not all that speedy so it does take more time than I normally take to cook.

Will I try this again?  Yes, when I like all the combinations in a week.  I still have to try the vegetarian option for this week, a Thai curry.  What showed up with that?  A very lovely looking little squash I never heard of before.  You can choose various options including vegetarian.  What will I repeat?  While I might not be able to find this special kind of grape, I will saute grapes with rosemary and almonds again.  I will use collard greens and fennel more often.

The Fly, Wine, and Fennel


I look .

The fly floats in my glass of Seven Deadly Zins,

full to two golden flowers half way up the rim.

What kind of flowers?

I look.

Unsure, I watch the fly struggle, floundering around

in the deep red, the color that turns tongues

purple drunk.

I look.

Dead.  It floats.

Not poor, frugal.  I debate.

Should I throw the wine out?  Drink it?

I take the silver teaspoon–from the six piece

set Father gave Mother in 1946 on their

first anniversary–dip it in the dark, remove

fly, throw it down the antique copper sink drain.

I pick up the glass.

I look,

swirl the wine around in the bowl, take a sip.

Surely 15 percent alcohol kills germs.

 

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It was past seven, time to fix dinner.  Since I live a lone, I often fix dinner for two, save half, and have dinner ready for a hectic evening after work.  Just warm in the microwave.

Cod with Fennel, Mint, and Lemon

Two cod loins–one if extra large

1 heaping tablespoon chopped garlic

Olive oil

1/2 to 1 cup finely sliced small carrots

1/2 large poblano pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

several cauliflower florets thinly sliced

crushed dried mint

essential oil of lemon and fennel (if you do not use essential oils,

you can use 1 tsp. ground fennel and lemon juice to taste)

 

Pour enough olive oil in a ten inch skillet to totally cover the bottom.  Saute garlic and carrots in the olive oil until carrots are almost tender.  Sprinkle a small handful of mint over the garlic and carrot mixture.  Add cauliflower and poblano pepper.  When poblano peppers are about to change color, add the cod.  Sprinkle drops of lemon and fennel essential oil over the cod–or the ground fennel and lemon juice.  Cook until the cod flakes.    Serve over rice.  I use basmati.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apocalyptic Planet-Part Seven: Species Vanish


We all know extinction occurs.  Nearly everyone knows different species of dinosaurs at varied times roamed the earth for millennia.  Bones of all sorts of animals and various hominids are dug up off and on.  Scientists study them, determine their age, where and how they lived.  Scientists and sometimes even average persons develop theories about why they went extinct.  Regardless of which theory a person decides is accurate, these ancient extinctions generally took thousands of years. Recent extinctions are different, e.g. carrier pigeons.  Millions existed a couple of hundreds of years ago; now they are gone.  Why?  Humans.

Various causes exist for the extinctions of ancient species.  A major cause is the climate change caused my the changing tilt of the earth’s axis.  These changes occur over thousands and thousands of years.  What is different now?  Let’s take corn.  Native Americans cultivated rainbow colors of corn in small, frequently irrigated fields.  Where is most corn grown now?  Giant fields of GMO corn grow from horizon to horizon in the Midwest.  And if Monsanto had its way, no other corn would continue to exist for long.   Iowa is a good example.  Wherever this corn is grown, native grasses and other native plants totally disappear, in part due to cultivation.  A bigger issue is herbicides–to have clean fields, nothing and I mean nothing but corn must grow there.  A farmer’s expertise as a farmer is measured my just how super clean his fields are.  The only way to get these totally weedless fields is to use herbicides.  Biodiversity is a key to environmental health.  Little biodiversity exists in giant fields of crops like corn and soybeans.  Fertilizers to obtain huge yields wash downstream and in the Midwest eventually end in the Gulf of Mexico and cause giant marine algae blooms which pulls oxygen from the water to create a dead zone where no marine animals or fish can live.

Perhaps readers have heard of the plight of monarch butterflies.  Compared to just ten years ago, the population has dropped dramatically.  What happened to them?  Roundup.  Over 100,000 tons of Roundup and other brands of glyphosate herbicides are annually applied to crops in the US.  What do monarchs eat?  Milkweed.  Since 1999, 58 per cent of the milkweed has disappeared.  Recently, monarchs experienced a 30 per cent reduction in their numbers in one year.  Are we headed toward a mass extinction?  Some scientists think so.  These scientists are not talking about tigers, elephants, and rhinos being killed at an ever increasing rate for their body parts, but rather about the less noticeable extinctions of various plants and less obvious animals like frogs.  And then there is the problem with bees.  Bees are disappearing at an ever increasing rate due to not only diseases but due to herbicides and pesticides.  Without bees to pollinate the giant fields of almonds and various fruits in California, for example, those foods won’t exist.  See a previous post for more discussion on the importance of bees.  So why care about frogs?  Scientists consider frogs and amphibians in general an indicator of the health of an ecosystem.  Certain more tropical species of frogs are especially subject to the effects of climate change and they are disappearing.

Where I live big bluestem, blue grama, buffalo grass, and other native species grew from horizon to horizon.  This is the high plains.  Root systems of some plants grow twelve feet deep.  It has not rained in over a month.  Where the native grass once grew, crops are now grown.  This time of year finds open fields. Without rain, with the recent endless high winds, dust fills the sky.  To safely return home from town Sunday, I had to turn on the car lights to see.  The dryness fuels wildfires.  Earlier this week, over one hundred homes burned down in a wildfire north of Amarillo.  Drought.

Many human inventions are wonderful and make many lives better, but for some of them, I cannot help but wonder at what cost.