About Me

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I am a wife, mother, teacher, runner, baker, fund-raiser, reader, watcher of movies, dog-lover, writer, music-lover and foodie. So - I'm a woman of many moods! I write and share in order to teach and enrich. I currently have two blogs going: The Kitchen Refugee, and A Mile At A Time. The first is about time spent in the kitchen and the second about time spent on the road. Frequently the two roads intersect!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bounty of Berries

I just came down from atop Mt. Emily, our local northern landmark.  Although the sky looked iffy, I went anyway, figuring I could beat the rain, and I did (mostly). 

It’s funny, when people talk about picking huckleberries, they speak in terms of quantities per hour.  “I picked a gallon in two hours!,” or “We only got a couple cups all afternoon.”  I realize that for myself, huckleberry picking is one of those things that’s all about the journey, not the destination.  Yes I want to come back with some berries to show for my time and effort, but I realized today that I measure successful picking differently than most. 

My time spent picking huckleberries is a mediation of sorts.  While I can’t ever seem to still my mind during actual meditation, I can easily slip into the hum of nature, and delve into the abyss of quiet-mindedness while picking berries.  Maybe it’s the simple act of hunting and gathering that allows my spirit to rest in a primal place.  Maybe it’s being surrounded by abundance that reminds me that the universe is good, and full, and generous.  I don’t know what it is exactly, but it’s always the exact therapy I need.

Today, I picked three hours of peace.  

I’m still unemployed.  I still have dishes in my sink and a house for sale.  But I have peace.  As I re-enter my house full of dishes, and laundry, and worry, I’ll try to hang onto the mountain.  My hands are stained a purple calm, my feet remember the dusty soil, and my heart is beating to the rhythm of the woods.

My Help is in the Mountain
by Nancy Wood

My help is in the mountain 
where I take myself to heal
the earthly wounds
that people give to me.

I find a rock with sun on it,
and a stream where the water runs gentle,
and the trees which one by one
give me company.

So must I stay for long time,
until I have grown from the rock, 
and the stream is running through me,
and I cannot tell myself from one tall tree.

Then I know that nothing touches me,
nor makes me run away.
My help is in the mountain
that I take away with me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

B is for Basil

Since moving into our tiny 1915 home four years ago we’ve been so overwhelmed with gutting the old gal we haven’t paid much, if any, attention to landscaping and gardening.  There’s room for a garden or raised beds, but with noisy neighbors on each side of us, and a ‘For Sale’ sign in the front yard, we have the garden of transients; containers filled with produce.

"I have no idea what she's talking about!  Just look at me!"
This actually began after our pup, Lilly, dug up the few things we planted and then planted her exhausted little self right into a nice pot of fluffed up soil.  The beauty of a container garden is its mobility.  We quickly moved the pots to the other side of the fence and out of paws-reach from the dogs.  As a couple years passed and we realized we wouldn’t be staying here too long, we never invested ourselves in creating a garden space.  This year we have only the necessities; basil for pesto, and cherry tomatoes.  My mother in law has a garden big enough to feed the community, so we glean whatever we need from her. 

I’m now on my third cutting of basil.  Since summer in Eastern Oregon came so late, I’m holding out hope for a long, warm fall and plenty more clippings to come.  My sister has expressed her frustration with growing basil and it's the only real ‘crop’ I grow each summer. We fill our freezer full of pesto and enjoy it throughout the year. Basil needs full sun and a fair amount of water.  We give ours a shot of miracle grow at first - but if you wish to grow without any chemicals, it isn't necessary.  Another thing that's important to know about growing basil is that you shouldn't allow it to flower.  I never really understood this until my mother-in-law (a Master  Gardener) said that when a plant produces a flower, its life is over.  The flower then drops its seeds and the life cycle starts over.  Ahh...I get it now!   So, when you see a flower starting to rear it's lovely little head, do as Barney Fife would warn, and "NIP IT IN THE BUD!"  I either cut them off with scissors or just snap them off in my hand.

When the plants begin to look full and healthy, it's time for the first cutting.  Again, on the advice of my mother in law - one must be brutal.  I was way too polite the first time I cut some basil from her garden.  She took the scissors and whacked it down until it looked like sad little sticks, promising it would double in size in about 2-3 weeks.  Show the basil who's boss!

Before cutting...
After cutting.  Be brutal!

Once I've cut it, I dump it all in a sink full of cold water and rinse it well.  Watch the earwigs attempt the backstroke, and laugh a maniacal laugh!  (Earwigs give me the heebie-jeebies!)  The next job is usually delegated to my husband - picking the leaves from the stems.  Once this is done, I rinse just the leaves and allow the water to drain away.

*If you wish to dry basil to use as a spice, I suppose it may be easier to keep the leaves attached to the stems, and hang upside down for drying. 

To make pesto, you need a food processor and some freezer containers to put it in.  In the book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kinsolver, she suggests freezing everything in zip lock bags - once frozen, they stack easily and take up less freezer space. (animalvegetablemiracle.com)  I think this is a brilliant idea, but my husband wasn't crazy about trying to get pesto out of a zip-lock.  I guess we could scoop it out into a container once it thaws.  If you want little bits of pesto, you can freeze it in ice cube trays, or muffin tins.  Once frozen, dump them out, wrap in waxed paper, and put them all in a gallon zip-lock.  I like having a variety of different sizes for different recipes or uses.

Pesto can be an expensive endeavor.  I always buy the biggest container of olive oil I can find for the best price at the Grocery Outlet, Wino, or Cash & Carry.  I also purchase pine nuts from Winco, as they are much less per pound than Safeway, or even the local health food store.  I have no idea if they are organically cultivated or not, but when we are talking $12-19/lb. I don't ask.  (Safeway sells for about $27/lb. last I checked).  I also buy my parmesan cheese at an outlet store, like Grocery Outlet, or Cash & Carry.  I love high quality cheese and oil, but save the really good stuff for toppings and special things.  I look at pesto as a bulk recipe that works just fine with bulk ingredients.

Pesto Recipe - (this amt. fills the food processor)
3 full, packed, cups of Basil leaves
6 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of pine nuts (you may substitute walnuts or pistachios)
1 cup parmesan (shredded, not the powdered stuff that comes in a green can)
1 cup olive oil

Put it all in the food processor and whirl it until it's blended.  I generally have to wipe down the sides with a spatula and give it one more whoosh.  Store in the container of your choice and freeze what you're not going to use.  Don't be surprised if the pesto in the fridge darkens a little, almost looking brown. It tastes the same, it's just that the leaves change color.

Perfectly Pesto Cheese Cake - this is a show stopper at holiday parties!
1 TB Butter
1/4 C fine bread crumbs
2 TB Parmesan Cheese
Combine crust ingredients and press into the bottom of a 9" 
springform pan.

2 8 oz Cream Cheese
1 C Ricotta Cheese
1/2 C Parmesan Cheese
1/2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
3 large eggs
1/2 C pesto
1/3 C pine nuts
Cream the ricotta, parmesan, salt & cayenne.  Blend well, and add the eggs, one at a time.
Transfer 1/2 the mixture to a medium sized bowl.  Mix pesto into the remaining 1/2, and pour over the crust.  then top with plain cheese mixture and smooth the top.  Sprinkle with pine nuts, and bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes or until the center is set.  Refrigerate for several hours before serving.

Serve with an assortment of crackers, or toasted French bread rounds.

Now, if anyone knows how to successfully grow cilantro - I want to here about it.  It just seems to go to flower so quickly, I can never grow an actual bunch.  I LOVE cilantro best in mexican dishes – especially cilantro pesto!  
Another recipe for another day...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A is for Abundance and Z is for Zucchini!

If you’ve taken a look at my “All About Me” section, you’ll notice that I recently and quite unexpectedly lost my teaching job.  Such is the state of the economy and politics…which I promised I wouldn’t discuss in my blog!   During this time of panic and concern for our financial shortcoming, I must force myself to look for signs of abundance.  What can I do or make that costs next to nothing?  Well, the basil is filling my pots, my cherry tomatoes are begging to be picked daily, and the zucchini is overpowering the garden.

This must be prime zucchini growing time, that time of year when the sunlight is changing and nights are getting cooler.  As soon you turn your back, here comes another green monster peeping through the vines!

  This was just 1/2 of the giant zucchini!
The big ones are full of seeds!
I just ended the life of a giant zucchini from my mom-in-law’s yard, and have been contemplating what to do with SO MUCH of it!  I cut it apart and shredded it all today, committing some of it to zucchini cake, some to zucchini bread and some to the freezer to deal with later.  It adds such a nice density and moisture to cakes and breads it’s a great way to use up the big ones. 

This recipe came from my sister Debbie and I have no idea where she got it – being a minister’s wife, she picks up lots of recipes at potlucks!

Chocolate Zucchini Cake (or Broken-Heart Bundt!)
Preheat oven to 350ยบ

Dry Ingredients:
2 ½ cups Flour
2 cups Sugar
½ cup Cocoa
2 ½  tsps. Baking Powder
1 ½ tsps. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Cinnamon
nuts are optional

Mix all of these in a big bowl, and make a well in the middle for the wet ingredients.

Wet Ingredients:
¾ cup Butter or Margarine, melted or very soft
3 Eggs
2 tsps. Vanilla
2 tsps. grated Orange Rind
2 cups grated Zucchini
½ cup coffee  (the recipe calls for milk, but coffee is just so good with chocolate, I just had to substitute)

I added all the wet ingredients EXCEPT for the zucchini, and stirred it in by hand once the batter was well blended.

Prepare a bundt pan by spraying liberally with cooking spray, then flouring the pan.  You don’t want the cake to stick to the pan!  Pour in the batter and bake for 50-60 minutes until it passes the toothpick test.

Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then upset the pan over a cooling rack, cross your fingers and hope your cake comes out in one piece!

4 oz softened Cream Cheese
1 stick softened Butter
2 cups Powdered Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla

Beat well, and frost the cake.  The cake is good without frosting, or could just use a light drizzle of a powdered sugar/butter glaze.  You pick!

This is the second cake I’ve made this week.  The first one went to work with my husband and the second went to the local Public Works Department (where I spend my summers as a seasonal employee).    Abundance at its finest!  COOK~EAT~SHARE!

A Recipe for Memories

The assignment was simple enough; bring an appetizer for Thursday’s writing class Read-Around. Realizing it had been ages since I’d made hot wings, I went to my recipe box and pulled out two recipes; one for the wings and another for the blue cheese dressing that would serve as fire-extinguisher to the wings.  It’s funny how two recipes could jog my memory in so many ways.
            The wings, a recipe from Uncle Jerry, prompted a ‘remember when’ phone call.  “Remember when we came for the Fourth of July, and you cooked those wings on the barbecue?”  Of course he remembered.  It was the last Fourth of July spent with both his parents (my grandparents), and his brother (my father).  I had forgotten that Grandpa Ward was there – still alive – but then I remembered that Dad had died before both of his parents.  This was our last big holiday together, and we all knew it.  All of the details are stirring around in my mind; wings and watermelon, fireworks, my niece and nephew alternately squealing with delight and crying over some four-year-old behavioral indiscretion, grandparents enjoying this new generation and speculating about my belly, which was just starting to take shape with life.  The occasion was filled with love and laughter, yet the air was heavy with unspoken grief over the one who would be next to leave us.  I remember having one of those out of body experiences where I felt like I was watching a movie of someone else’s life, not watching my own life in real-time.  As if whispered by a spiritual elder, these words breathed through me: Remember this.  And I have.
            Turning the recipe over in my hands to see if there were more directions on the back, I read two more links to the past; the phone number for the Endometriosis Hotline, and the birth details of my neighbor’s new baby.  This may seem like an odd  thing to find on the back of a recipe, but one would need to understand my lack of organizational skills in order for it to make sense.  Clearly, for both bits of information, I needed something to write on, and this recipe must’ve been the only scrap of paper I could find.   I remember, now, that Alli was four and we’d been trying for over a year to have that ever-elusive second child.  The Endo hotline was my link to the latest break-throughs or road blocks for this condition that renders so many couples infertile.  Ethan’s birth announcement was an odd juxtaposition next to the phone number, and I can feel the sting even now.  My friends were having babies and I was not.  My hysterectomy (at 25) was only months away.
            The blue cheese dressing recipe reminded me of happier times, thirteen years forward to the year we had our Dominican exchange daughter, Denise living with us.  My dinner table was full of teenagers that year – Alli, now 17, Denise, 18, and two other Spanish-speaking exchange students who joined us nearly every weekend.  They were each missing their large, Catholic families.  Who would have thought that the family with an only child, plus three foreigners could form a multi-lingual family of six?  We did it though, and I loved having every chair at the table occupied, and conversations that kept us lingering there until the leftover food went cold and the plates started to crust.
            Our exchange daughter loved blue cheese dressing and would order it whenever we dined out.  Through further conversation we found that Denise had seen Queso Azul at home but never served in a dressing.  I set about finding a good recipe for it, so she could take this American treasure back to the D.R.  This recipe came from my hairdresser, or as Denise would translate: “The lady who makes hair.”  I think of Denise every time I make Queso Azul para Ensalada.
            Another recipe I recently pulled out for a class snack is for peach muffins.  I smiled as I thought of My-Friend-Shelly (her official title).  I spent a weekend with her in the Tri-Cities several years ago, and we giggled our way through gift shops, a winery and a peach orchard.  We were both new to peach picking, and the belly-hugging buckets with suspenders were quite a surprise.  This recipe was the result of having so many fresh, beautiful peaches I couldn’t figure out what to do with them all.  A quick search on allrecipes.com lead to this recipe and solved my dilemma.  I’ve been thinking of that weekend and wishing that Shelly still only lived two hours away.  I wonder if they have peach orchards in Illinois.  I’ll have to call her and ask.
            I have recipes from both our mothers from my new-bride days, a time period I call, BFN: Before Food Network.  Back then it was the mom network, and I phoned often and listened intently.  I have a sweet-roll recipe from my mom that I’ve since replaced with a much lighter dough.  I keep the card, however, as it seems somehow irreverent to throw it out.  There’s a recipe for roast beef from my mother in law that my husband and I call ‘mayhem meat.’  In her directions she states: “turn off the oven for one hour and threaten mayhem on anyone who dares to open it!”  Although we know the roast routine by heart, now, we keep the card as it puts us in hysterics each time we read it.  It’s too much of a treasure to toss.  I have other recipes that I’ve never made, but like a gift from a friend, are hard to throw away.  The intention of the giver was for sharing, and who am I not to honor it? 
            These recipes make me realize how my recipe box reflects my life in 3x5 cards.  The recipes are from friends and family, and represent specific time periods, parties and holidays.  Some are written in the hand of the giver – some still living, and some long gone.             
One such recipe, I found as I was thumbing through the bread section of my recipe box.  It’s for Potato Rolls, and it’s written in the perfectly formed, uppercase print of Grandpa Pritchard’s.  I would know that handwriting anywhere.  These were rolls that only Grandpa made, not Grandma, which was rare for a couple of their era.  He took great pride in them and unabashedly welcomed praise for his baking skills.  This has become my go-to roll recipe – I’ve never had better.
            I remember making these rolls for the luncheon that followed Aunt Carolyn’s memorial service, as we were asked to share her favorite foods or family recipes.  The nostalgia was too much for Grandma P. who had already buried her husband and now, her daughter. The roll left the taste of grief in her mouth and remained on her plate after one sorrowful bite.
            I made the potato rolls a couple of months ago in an effort to coax an appetite from my terminally ill father in law.  The bait was taken, and with the declaration, “These rolls are delectable!” he reached for seconds.  Victory! 
We’ve now passed the point of his taking in anything more than a few sips of liquid, but I’m still tempted to bake a batch of rolls in his house.  Maybe the smell of homemade bread will trigger a memory for him as his mind wanders through time and drifts away.
            My recipe box holds momentos of my life and the lives of others.  Reaching in to retrieve a recipe is like leafing through the pages of a journal or opening an old scrapbook.  In my search for food, I’m finding memories.

 *The day I was to share this piece in class, we woke to find that my father-in-law had passed away in the night.  I missed my final of day class and the instructor graciously shared the piece with the group.  One more memory to stash away in the recipe box.