Sweet Saturday morning

Elsewhere, out of sight–thank goodness–the traffic was winding in and out, up and down, frantically seeking to suck as much delight out of this Memorial Day weekend as possible here in Door County, where tourists outnumber locals in some places during the summer.

Not everywhere in Door County, though. Most tourists think Door County begins just north of Sturgeon Bay, not realizing that they’ve been in the county for 20 miles before they ever reached Sturgeon Bay.

We headed toward that lower 20 miles, through the little-traveled farm country roads, dipping down into Kewaunee County, then west into Brown County. Eye ClinicOur destination: the Animal Eye Clinic, also the location of Eaton Highland Farm, where our vets are licensed red deer breeders and venison producers.

Lady, whose chronic eye problem was the reason for this trip, rode contentedly in the back seat of the car. Cool temps were counteracted by warm sunshine. The farther we went, the more we had the road to ourselves.

It’s nearly an hour’s trip, but we don’t mind. We pass working farms where, this time of year, farm families are more concerned with spring planting than with holiday treks. We saw them, plowing big fields, or working by hand in garden patches, an American flag flying here and there as the only nod to the holiday. Dairy farms, both corporate and small-scale, and herds of black-and-white cattle, fill the air with a pleasant, inoffensive hay-and-manure aroma.

Deer farmGeorge had an assortment of hand-picked tunes on a flash drive plugged into the car radio, and our conversation was sporadic. Good sounds, good scenery, room to let the mind roam, occasionally sharing thoughts, coasting below the speed limit because there was no one around to care.

Normally, the Animal Eye Clinic is busy on their one afternoon a week when they see patients. Today, they let us in special to get the eye drops Lady needed. Dr. Gretchen Schmidt, dressed in rumpled clothes, her hair a bit wind blown, answered us with a grin when thanked for letting us stop by.

“We’re farm people. We’re always around,” she said. “And now, of course, the babies are coming, so we’re always here.”

The babies are the red deer fawns, being dropped at all hours of the day and night. Dr. Schmidt and her husband, Dr. Sam Vainisi, prowl the fields where the deer roam freely, binoculars to their eyes, checking to see that all goes well with the mamas-to-be.

“We had one coming out backwards last night,”  Dr. Schmidt said.  So we knew that rather than being up early, she likely hadn’t been to bed yet.

We got our meds, and as long as we were there, picked up a couple venison steaks, some venison bacon and hotdogs, and some jerky sticks–looking a bit like the Pupperonis Dr. Schmidt gives out to good dogs after an exam.

We wandered out into the farmyard, as far as DeerSmallthe first of the fences, and peered into the far pastures, where alert ears swiveled and inquisitive eyes peered in our direction. From so far away that I had to shoot through several fences to get even a poor photo, they knew there were strangers on the property. Unlike cattle, the deer–all 250 head–were both nosy and wary.

We lingered a bit, let Lady sniff and snoop around the yard, and then headed back the way we’d come, through the redolent farmland, delightful strains of Mark Isham’s “Tibet” providing the perfect audio accompaniment to the peaceful scenery. Past tiny churches, country cemeteries with veteran’s flags aflutter, across little streams, skirting pastures with cattle or horses, we wended our toward Kewaunee, then north to Algoma, where we parked at a rest area along Lake Michigan, a good sniff stop for Lady.

RobinThe lake was striped in shades of blue, with tiny waves lapping daintily at the shore below the bluff along which we walked. Herring gulls soared lazily, white scorings on an azure sky, while a tern folded its wings and plunged headfirst into the water to grab some lunch. A robin, full of himself and full of his raucous call, perched on a fence post and dared us to walk closer. We did. He left.

So did we, after a few minutes, back along our slow road, leaving the highway for the tourists. We arrived home relaxed, with most of the day still stretching out before us and nothing on the schedule. It had been a sweet, lazy, Saturday morning. It was perfect.

Posted in escape from tourists, Reflection | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Closet Quasimodo

I have just seen two of the most hideous pictures of myself that anyone has ever taken. It’s probably a good thing.

When I’m posing for myself in front of the mirror, or in front of someone’s camera, I always think I look pretty good. Nothing to scare small children, or to make people wonder how I ever attracted a husband.

These pictures were a whole other matter. My chiropractor took them, and they’re designed to show the true state of my posture, of my body alignment–which, I’m learning, is so essential for the good health of all my organs and of my general health.

I wasn’t even naked. I was fully clothed–sans glasses–but with my clothes tucked up around me in strange places to better allow the frame to show through. That alone was not flattering. I was told to go through some specified movements standing in place, which made no sense to me at the time, but which make perfect sense now.

They forced me to move around and get out of any pose I may have had in mind, and then, when she suddenly said stop, there I was, standing the way I stand when I’ve forgotten myself and think no one is looking. Trust me, I had no idea.

Dr. D. emailed me the results, with a grid superimposed over my body–one from the front, one from the side–and lines drawn across myself showing how I deviate from that grid.

This is what the normal lines should look like. Mine didn't. But you don't think I was going to show my actual photos, did you?

This is what the normal lines should look like. Mine didn’t. But you don’t think I was going to show my actual photos, did you?

The result? My head is shifted .43” to the right, and tilted 1.7° to the left. My shoulders are shifted .19” to the right, tilted 2.4° right and shifted 2.14” backwards. My head is shifted 1.3” forward, so as a result, my 13.7-pound head has the effective weight of 31.4 pounds pressing down on my neck. And it goes on.

We’re not talking Quasimodo here. Truth be told, most of you would look a lot like me, the victims of stress, hard work, poor posture, and faulty teaching. (My high school gym teacher repeatedly demonstrated how we girls should keep our butts tucked under and our stomachs pulled in. Bad advice!)

But, as Dr. D. explained, when the spine is curved in, out and around, all the nerves encased within are restricted from sending the proper energy and signals to our organs and other parts of our body. I had that proven to me when, five months after starting to see Dr. D. and making no other major changes, all of my cholesterol levels dropped to within the normal ranges (without statin drugs) and the knees that I began to think were going to need surgery, are steadily improving.

I still have home exercises to do, and I’ll be doing some blocking at home, too, to begin to shape my spine into the curve it should have. These are things I can do myself, with no pills and no surgery. All I’ll need is a little discipline, and some overseeing by Dr. D.
One more thing I plan to do, however. After I showed George those horrendous photos, and I heard him chanting “There was a crooked man, who had a crooked wife…” I decided he should see for himself that the crooked-man part is probably truer than he knows. He’s going to be the next one to have posture screening–and I get to see those photos.

(For Sturgeon Bay locals, here’s a plug. My chiropractor is Dr. Danielle Partain, who works out of the Nelson Healing Center. She does two free posture clinics every week to explain more thoroughly what I’ve been talking about. It’s a good way to get started. Just call the office.)

Posted in healthy living; chiropractic; health care | 6 Comments

An applesauce rant

I’m a waste-not, want-not sort of person. That’s why, as I was dishing up applesauce for our luncheon dessert, I could feel a rant coming on.

Short form: why do they make it so hard to get the applesauce out? Are they actually hoping we’ll give up and quit trying to clean out every drop so that we’ll have to buy a new jar that much sooner? Have the people who designed these containers ever actually tried removing the product?

If you buy little tiny jars, it might not be so bad. But I’ve been getting the Our Family brand of unsweetened applesauce in the 48-ounce size. As the applesauce gets low, the jar is too deep to use a serving spoon. But the mouth of the jar is very narrow, too narrow to allow a bigger spoon inside. That narrow mouth also gets in the way of trying to tip the utensil enough to scrape the applesauce from inside the rows of horizontal grooves that circumvent the container.

Useless grooves in the applesauce jars.

Useless grooves in the applesauce jars.

A few weeks ago, I was really fed up with those grooves. So, figuring the squeaky wheel sometimes effects changes, I decided to write to the company. I inspected the jar carefully, but all I could find was the name of the distributor. (Which tells me that it’s anybody’s guess who actually makes and bottles the applesauce.) However, I figured that was a place to start.

So, I waded through the web site to the “contact us” section and told them that the design of the jars was not user friendly, and that I’d be using another brand, even if it was more expensive, until this store-brand changed its packaging.

Fat lot of good that did. For one thing, they ignored me entirely, probably filing my email under “lunatic fringe.” So, true to my word, I checked out other options the next time I was at the grocery. That’s when I discovered the conspiracy.

All the brands are the same. All the jars had narrow mouths. All the jars had useless grooves. All the jars are probably made by the same company, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the applesauce was all the same, too. Only the labels have been changed to fool the innocent.

How hard can it be to: a. make smooth-sided jars, b. make wide-mouthed jars and c. tell me who is actually responsible for the product?

So, I’ve devised my own solution. One jar is now sitting

The last jars I'll buy--ever.

The last jars I’ll buy–ever.

upside down on the counter so the applesauce will drain to the mouth. The second jar will go through the same process. After that, I’ll make my own. It’s certainly easy enough, and by picking and choosing various kinds of apples and blending them together, I’ll get a melange far better than the stuff on the shelf.

Plus, I’ll be able to get ALL of it out of my containers.

Rant over.

Posted in Social commentary | 1 Comment

Pass the meatloaf–again

My husband stared at me in wide-eyed shock.

“You NEVER do that!” he said. “You never take more just because it tastes good.”

He’s right. Part of portion control for me is to put what’s reasonable on my plate and never go back for seconds.

Today I made an exception, because today I made the best meatloaf that’s ever come out of my oven. And that’s saying a lot for me, who loves meatloaf and experiments with it constantly.

I’ll share what I did, with two warnings: if you don’t like zingy food,

Meatloaf--what's left

Meatloaf–what’s left

you won’t like this; and be prepared to slip-slide through the ingredients a bit, because I never measure.

I started with about a pound of ground chuck from our local butcher, very lean and very good. I added one egg; maybe half a sleeve of soda crackers, ground fine; a one-inch thick slice of a large onion, chopped, but not real fine; half a teaspoon of Italian seasoning; a generous sprinkling of garlic salt; maybe half a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes; “sweet and tangy” cherry barbecue sauce; a couple tablespoons of mustard; and finally, the best part: a slotted soup spoon full of hot giardiniera in olive oil, diced. I drained off most of the olive oil, but wasn’t too fussy about getting it all.

I mixed all that well, using my hands, of course–is there any other way?–and plopped it in a casserole dish. Baked it for 1 hour at 350°, and the result was absolutely excellent.

There might be another secret to this meatloaf: I made the hot giardiniera myself. My husband and I were frustrated at not being able to fine the hot variety in our local stores, so we found a recipe online–sorry, I can’t remember where–and I made some a few days ago. It will get better as it sits, but I couldn’t wait to try it. Thus the meatloaf.

Giardiniera, Day 1

Giardiniera, Day 1

I was surprised at how easy it is to make the giardiniera, so if you want to make that meatloaf as close to mine as possible, you might want to make the giardiniera, too. For that, I do have a recipe. Someone named Jeff Mauro first posted it, and I hope he won’t mind my sharing.

1/4 cup table salt
1 cup small-diced carrots
1 cup tiny cauliflower florets

Giardiniera, Day 2

Giardiniera, Day 2

4-8 serrano peppers, sliced (depending on heat level desired)
2 cloves garlic, minced (I used four. We love garlic)
1 stalk celery, diced small
1 red bell pepper, diced small
2 cups canola oil (I used olive oil because it’s healthier and I like the flavor)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Day 1, combine 2 cups water and the salt in a glass or non-reactive bowl. Mix until the salt is dissolved. Add the carrots, cauliflower, serranos, garlic, celery and bell pepper to the salt water and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Day 2, drain and rinse the vegetables. In a clean bowl, mix together the oil with the oregano and pepper Add the vegetables and mix to combine. Allow to marinate overnight. Giardiniera will only get better with time. After 2 days at the most in the bowl, you can place it in air-tight mason jars and keep in the fridge for at least 2 to 3 weeks.

What you don’t use in a meatloaf you can mix with meat for hamburgers or spoon over the top, serve on Italian beef sandwiches, toss into salads, add to ham or egg salad–the possibilities are endless.

But the meatloaf–ahh, that’s worth coming back for seconds!

Posted in Food, recipes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Hanging up my compass

There was a time in my life when camping out meant a tent, a shovel and a roll of toilet paper; when a walk in the woods meant heading cross-country with a compass, maybe a map, and my own new trail unfolding behind me.

Now, I’m happy to find an inexpensive Motel 6 when I’m traveling, and

Lady stops to sniff the breeze off the bay.

Lady stops to sniff the breeze off the bay.

very willing to make do with the well-kept trails in the state park.

When I first began noticing these shifts in requirements, I was a bit dismayed. Could this mean I was getting soft? Or worse, getting old? Well, yes.

Maybe not old. Never that. But I have gratzy knees (my favorite word, coined by my husband) that mean no twisting, no long, hard walks. I have a back that my patient chiropractor is slowly trying to restore to normal, a long process I’m sure. And I have the wisdom to know that at this stage in my life, I don’t have to set any records, break any new ground, or challenge myself physically.

A trail sign shares space with pileated woodpecker holes.

A trail sign shares space with pileated woodpecker holes.

And so, when it comes time for a ramble with Lady, we often head to the state park. It’s just minutes from our house and riddled with trails of all kinds. Some collect cool breezes while skirting the bay, some climb up to the old ski hill for a spectacular view, some plunge into the dense canopy of tall evergreen and deciduous trees. I can take my time; I can stop to photograph wildflowers, or gather acorns for the squirrels back home. I can take a break and listen to bird- and wind-song; and aside from a general knowledge of the lay of the land, I don’t need a map or a compass.

Best of all, I can restore myself. Somewhere

A trio of cedars leans in toward the bay.

A trio of cedars leans in toward the bay.

I read that human beings NEED nature to get back in touch with themselves, to connect with that creation of which they’re a part. Too much concrete and traffic, too much technology and artificial noise, are akin to a slow poisoning of the spirit.

I know people who can’t stand quiet, who can’t be alone with their own thoughts without some sort of background distraction–radio, TV, CDs, whatever. Our house, in contrast, is often very quiet as we putter around with our projects. It’s peaceful.

But there’s a different kind of quiet in the woods.

Sunlight dapples the water ripples.

Sunlight dapples the water ripples.

The wind soughs in the trees, moving like an unseen specter from one stand of trees to another as it passes by. Birds flit, sing, challenge each other or drill for insects. Geese in the bay squabble among themselves. Insects zip blindly by.

Those sounds don’t gentle my thoughts, they erase them. My mind drifts, my breathing slows, and I am content just to be. Tension slips away, and nothing seems as important or as consuming as it might have before.

Sometimes I simply enjoy putting one foot in front of the other along the path,

The inside of a large and well-explored pileated woodpecker hole.

The inside of a large and well-explored pileated woodpecker hole.

watching the ground, or scanning the tree tops. Sometimes I let myself be amused at Lady’s obvious enjoyment of our nature trek, where every sniff has a new possibility, where trails sensed only by her lure her doggy imagination. I like giving her the gift of walk in the woods. Sometimes George and I converse quietly about each other’s observations. We take turns holding the leash so the other can photograph.

No compass, no map, no breaking trail. I enjoyed all that once upon a time. My doses of nature are a bit tamer these days and that’s perfectly all right.

Posted in getting older, hiking, nature | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Yogurt–don’t just add fruit

If  you like yogurt, raise your hands.

Now raise your hands if you like yogurt without added fruit and sweetener.

Ah huh, that’s what I thought. So you can imagine that I was less than enthused when I took a look at Catholic Relief Service’s rice bowl recipe for the week, and saw that plain yogurt played a huge part in it. And with garlic and mint, if you can believe that.

Maybe you can believe it. But it’s not something I’ve ever put together. More and more, as I do these Lenten recipes from other countries, I’m beginning to realize that I haven’t been very adventurous with my cooking. These rice-bowl recipes are teaching me about more than eating simply. They’re teaching me that other countries have some fun ways of combining foods–and doing it in ways that are a lot healthier than some of our fat-laden offerings.

This week we’re in Lebanon, and the recipe is called fattet laban.

A bowl of fattet laban, ready to be served.

A bowl of fattet laban, ready to be served.

I wish I could have learned more about whether this is a main meal, or a light repast. For us, it was a main meal, and a satisfying one at that–much to our surprise. As George took his second helping, we agreed that despite initial trepidation, this recipe was another winner.

Here’s the recipe:

Fattet Laban (serves 4-6)

32 oz. plain, whole-milk yogurt
Cheesecloth
1 bunch fresh mint
1 t dry mint
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 16-oz cans chickpeas with liquid
Pita bread
1/4 C almonds, chopped and toasted
2 T olive oil

Place a colander into a bowl, line it with cheesecloth and place yogurt in it. Cover and place in refrigerator. Allow yogurt to drain for a few hours or overnight.

Combine drained yogurt, fresh and dry mint, and crushed garlic in a bowl. In a pan, heat chickpeas in their liquid until warm, then drain and set aside. Toast pita bread in oven until golden in color. Break some of the pita bread and place pieces in a  large bowl with chickpeas. Add yogurt mixture. Top with fresh mint and toasted almonds. Drizzle olive oil over top. Serve with remaining pita bread.

Meanwhile, check out the info about Lebanon on the CRS rice bowl website’s video. I learned that 3 million Syrians have fled their country since civil war broke out in 2011, and half of them are children. Nearly 4.5 million are displaced within their own country. And 1 million are currently living in Lebanon.

The same bowl, almost empty. We cleaned it up after I shot this photo.

The same bowl, almost empty. We cleaned it up after I shot this photo.

CRS is helping, which is the whole idea of the rice bowl, of course. I just added a bit to ours, and I wondered how many other families in Lebanon might have been eating this same meal today.

Posted in Catholic life, CRS Rice Bowl, Food, Lent, recipes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sweet potatoes and peanut butter? Oh yeah!

Sometimes it gets really boring fixing meals three times a day, every day. I finally decided that part of the reason is that I tend to use the same recipes over and over–admittedly a fairly large repertoire–and combine foods the same way. By that I mean there are some foods I just wouldn’t think of putting together.

So last week, when it was time to visit the next country on Catholic Relief Service’s rice bowl tour, I read the ingredients with some hesitation. Each one taken separately was fine, but–sweet potatoes and peanut butter? I decided I’d better have a fall-back plan in case this culinary journey proved to be a flop.

The country was Niger, and the recipe is for west-African peanut stew. As before, I visited CRS’s website to watch a video about Niger, and learn about the CRS project called “”Bonbatu” (which means “I become stronger”) where farmers were hired to dig reservoirs which will provide water for crops and livestock during the dry season.

Then it was time to try the recipe. I admit it was fun to chop and measure and an unusual combination of ingredients that were simple, inexpensive, and yet nutritious–and meatless, of course, since this is a Lenten project, and since meat is more scarce is third-world countries.

I suspect that in Niger, they use whole peanuts, or perhaps they grind them, rather than use store-bought peanut butter. I do use the natural kind that contains no sugar. It’s just peanuts and a bit of salt, and it’s delicious. I noticed that the peanut butter acted as a thickener for the liquid in the stew.

While everything simmered, the aroma wafting through the house was enticing, a hint that maybe that fall-back plan wouldn’t be needed after all.

“Dinner’s ready,” I announced to George, once I had everything dished up. He came to the table with a half-grin, and took a sniff before sitting down.

“Let’s see what you’ve come up with this time,” he said.West-African peanut stew

We each spooned up a bit of the rice-and-stew mixture and took a tentative bite.

“It’s good!” George announced, sounding just a bit surprised. I had to agree, but neither of should have been surprised.  That has become a familiar verdict with each of these CRS meals suggested in the rice-bowl project. As usual, what we saved by not having meat will go in our little cardboard rice bowl and be sent to CRS at the end of Lent. CRS keeps three-quarters of it, and the rest goes to our local diocese for social justice projects.

Once again, George and I decided this recipe will be saved, and the meal will be fixed again. We loved this new mixture of flavors, I loved the process of cooking it, and if I can eat healthily and save money at the same time, I’m all for it.

Give this recipe a try. You’ll like it!

West-African peanut Stew, serves 4-6

1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T fresh ginger, minced
4 T olive oil
6 C water
1/2 t crushed red pepper
12 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
3 small sweet potatoes, cubed
2 medium tomatoes, diced
3 C chopped kale or spinach (I used spinach)
1 C crunch peanut butter

In a large pot, sauté onion, garlic and ginger in oil until tender. Add 5 cups of water and season with crushed red pepper salt and black pepper. Stir in sweet potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in 1 cup water, tomatoes, greens and peanut butter. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve over rice.

Posted in Catholic, CRS Rice Bowl, Food, Lenten food, meatless meal, recipes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Walking off the fever

I didn’t think I had cabin fever. I still don’t think I did. But boy, when the temp got up to near 40° yesterday, it didn’t take me long to persuade George to join Lady and me at Potawatomi State Park.

There was enough snow that we had to stay on the road–except for the nice flat expanse we found where Lady ran and romped and had a ball. As we walked back out on the road, we saw the sign: “Ski Trail. No pets. No hiking.” Oops.

The birds were still sparse, the ice shanties were still on the bay, Ice "shanties"and I still wore a hat and warm mittens. But the sun was shining at a different angle, and the air just smelled different. The road was mostly bare, but off-road the snow thick and wet, a sure sign of warming temps.

We weren’t alone. Like groundhogs emerging from their burrows, others had ventured into the park to celebrate the first break from winter’s cold in a long time. Some were holding hands like we were, some walking their dogs, one jogging, an old couple toddling along at their own senior pace. But all of us were outside, smiling at the sun and each other, nodding greetings and repeating, over and over, “spring is on its way!”

Today, same thing. I was up earlier than usual for an early Mass, and thanks to Daylight Savings Time, was rewarded with a beautiful sunrise when I got to church. Window to heavenAnd, unlike so much of what winter has been, the sun decided to stay out for the rest of the day. As the temps climbed–41° after lunch–we headed for the park again.

There was a time when I thought a walk in the state park was pretty tame. I suppose I still do. I think of the days when, to me, the only walk in the woods worth the effort was the kind where I headed cross-country on no trail at all, armed with a compass and a bottle of water–and a camera, of course. But those were the days when I lived in northeastern Minnesota, where most of the land is public; and those also were the days when my knees weren’t quite as gratzy as they are now.

So, I opt for the tamer walk, but even at the state park most of the components are there: lots of trees, tracks and trails of unseen critters, birdsong that will increase as the weather warms, silence that presses gently against my ears broken by bursts of wind movement in the trees, sighing and whispering to itself in the branches.

George and I walk side by side, stopping to steal a kiss now and then or take a photo, not talking much, each content with our own thoughts. Lady marches along beside us, setting the pace of this walk with her constant sniff stops. Now and then she heads into the woods after an intriguing scent, surprising herself by sinking into the wet snow. She does a quick u-turn and heads back to the easier maneuverability of the road.

A little red-breasted nuthatch flitters down to the strip of bare earth along the road, its movement like the flutter of a late-falling leaf. We stop quickly and it sits still, looking at us with tiny bright eyes, apparently unafraid. Then off it flies, only to return to a branchnuthatch just out of reach. I actually feel a bit guilty that I don’t have some shelled peanuts in my pocket. It loses interest quickly and flit away.

Our walk isn’t a long one, but it’s full of promise. Winter has been a long cold one, its single-digit temps–and below–keeping us inside for much of it. But it’s on the way out, losing its grip a bit more each day, trickling away under the persistent sun, soaking into the earth and making way for the green things we’re all so hungry for.

No, I don’t really think I had cabin fever. Not the full-blown, stir-crazy kind. But I think this shift in the weather came just in time. Now, each day will be pregnant with expectation, and I’ll once again be up and waiting to shoot the sunrise.

Posted in fighing spring fever, walking | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Beans & rice–do I have to?

We’re off to Nicaragua for lunch this Friday, I told George, and he shook his head.

“Not me,” he said. “I have to go to Green Bay.” I knew I was on my own.

It’s week two of Lent, and George and I have decided that meatless Fridays would include the featured recipes from Catholic Relief Services’ rice bowl brochures. This week it’s Gallo Pinto from Nicaragua, and when I glanced through the ingredients, I figured I was in trouble. Rice and beans. Not my favorite combination. To me, they’re two rather tasteless foods. At least, I thought, this will truly be a penance.

Before I started, I visited the CRS website to watch this week’s video about the poor coffee farmers there, who have been struggling to fight the coffee rust disease that has diminished their crops. CRS has taught them how to use fertilizer and to diversify their crops to grow their own food, and also helped them form cooperatives where they can pool money and work together to survive the lean months of each year.

I also learned that this Gallo Pinto is something they eat almost every day. Gallo PintoIf they can do it daily, surely I could try it just this once, I thought. And, since it’s definitely an inexpensive meal, I can put the money I might have spent on dinner into our CRS rice bowl.

As I started preparing this simple meal, I decided it would need something to zing it up a bit. Who says penance has to be bland? George and I both like spicy foods, and there was nothing spicy about this recipe. I thought of adding crushed red pepper flakes, then decided I’d do hot sauce instead. Would that invalidate the authenticity of this recipe? Not enough to matter, I figured.

The finished recipe calls for it to be served with a fried egg or cheese. Since I love cheese, and since I’d just had an egg for breakfast, I shredded some nice, sharp cheddar to sprinkle over the top. A few good dollops of hot sauce, and I was ready to sample the first bite.

Empty plateOh dear. I was wrong. This wasn’t going to be a good penance at all. This stuff is delicious, and I didn’t even need the hot sauce. It remains to be seen whether George likes this Nicaraguan staple when he gets it reheated tonight, but one thing I know for sure. If he doesn’t eat it, I will.

Here’s the recipe if you want to try it for yourself.

Gallo Pinto (makes 4-6 servings)

1 large onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 T fair trade olive oil
2 C rice
4 C water
2 16-oz cans red beans, drained
1 bay leaf
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Fried egg or cheese (optional)

In a large pot, sauté onion, bell pepper and garlic in oil. Stir in rice. Cook, stirring often, until onions are soft. Add water and cook, covered, until most of the water has been absorbed. Add beans and bay leaf. Mix well and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. Serve hot with cheese or fried egg.

Posted in Catholic life, CRS Rice Bowl, Food, Lent, Lenten meals, meatless meals | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

To Tanzania for lunch

George and I went to Tanzania for lunch today.

The fact that I’m writing this in my own living room is your tipoff that we didn’t board a plane to get there. Our ticket to this adventure was a Catholic Relief Services “rice bowl” that I found in the back of the church after Mass last week.

These rice bowls are, I think, a reincarnation of the old cardboard containers we Catholic Rice bowlschool kids once used to collect our pennies for the “pagan babies,” a term that’s politically incorrect now, I suppose. Back then, we knew what it meant, and it wasn’t disrespectful. Somewhere, across the globe, lived little kids who not only worshiped a god other than ours–maybe–but also lived lives devoid of the the basic necessities of life. They needed our help. All these years later they’re still there, and they still need help.

And so Catholic Relief Services still makes available these cardboard bowls with the slit on top for depositing spare change each day, or more generous portions of our grocery budget that remain when we choose to eat more simply for Lent. When we count up our largesse and send the money in after Easter, 75 percent will go to people in poor countries far away. Twenty-five percent remains in our own diocese to care for local needs.

All of which leads up to our Tanzanian trip. Included in the rice bowl is a calendar that says, “Lent is a journey. Where will it take you?” Besides the obvious spiritual places, this rice-bowl journey encourages solidarity with the poor of the world by including a recipe from a different country for each week of Lent. This week, it was Ugali and Bean Soup from Tanzania–along with the web address for a video about the country and how CRS helps there. (crsricebowl.org)

“I think I’ll try this recipe on Friday,” I told George as we prepared our grocery list.

He raised one eyebrow.

“It might be good,” I cajoled.

“I suppose,” he said, always game for something new.

Twice after that he asked what we were doing for our Lenten, meatless meals on Friday.

“Oh yeah,” he quickly answered himself. “You’re doing that stuff.”

At the meat market, he found a nice piece of salmon in the cooler, and suggested it might make a good Friday meal. I hesitated.

“But you’re making that recipe,” he remembered. The salmon stayed on the shelf. Besides, it can’t be much of a penance to fix something that’s more expensive than the meatloaf I might ordinarily make. The money we didn’t spend on salmon will go in the rice bowl.

So here comes Friday, and out come the ingredients. Nothing fancy–except perhaps the coconut milk, which is the only ingredient that probably costs more for us than it does the people in Tanzania. But I wanted the authentic taste.

The ugali is just corn meal simmered in boiling water until the most of the water is absorbed, then formed into balls, placed in a bowl, and covered with the soup. It looked good, and it smelled good. All that remained was the taste test.Ugali with bean soup

George took the first spoonful. “Not bad,” he said.

I sampled mine, sure that a wad of corn dumpling was going to be less than impressive. But somehow, mixed with the coconut milk and the other ingredients, it developed a new flavor, and the more I ate, the better I liked it. George even had seconds. That’s when I really knew it had passed the test.

We cleaned our bowls, and I reached for the Lenten calendar. Next week, Gallo Pinto from Nicaragua. George’s eyebrow went up again, but I think we’re both approaching the next culinary trip with a little more confidence than this first time. Stay tuned.

If you want to try Ugali with Bean Soup for yourself, here’s the recipe that serves 4-6. You might also consider donating any money saved to a local food shelf, or to CRS itself.

Ugali:
4 cups water
2-1/2 cups cornmeal

Bean Soup:
1 small onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
4 T fair trade olive oil
1 t curry powder (I used the spicy kind)
1 t salt
1/4 t black pepper
1 tomato, chopped
2 16-oz. cans kidney beans, drained
3 cups unsweetened coconut milk

Directions for Ugali: Boil water in saucepan, then stir in cornmeal. Simmer until mixture is thick and water is absorbed. Stir often to prevent burning. Shape the mixture into round balls, one for each person.

Directions for Bean Soup: In a large pot, sauté onion and green pepper in oil until soft. Add curry powder, salt, black pepper and tomato. Simmer for 2 minutes, add beans and stir. Add coconut milk and simmer for 10 minutes on low heat. Serve over ugali.

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