Making schizophrenic squirrels

I have schizophrenic squirrels. The poor things don’t know who they are, welcome visitors or hated moochers, and it’s probably our fault.

I never started out to feed squirrels. Those things hanging from our shepherd’s hooks and the tree are BIRD feeders, filled with sunflower seeds and shelled peanuts. A couple are platform feeders for birds like cardinals who like those flat spaces. One is a tube feeder for the chickadees and goldfinches. One is a “house feeder,” with a roof and glass sides and perches so the birds can sit and stay awhile. Of course there’s the suet feeder for the nuthatches and woodpeckers. And yes, I do toss out a few peanuts-in-the-shell for the squirrels and the jays and the cute little chipmunks.

So, it all sounds pretty orderly, doesn’t it? They all have their own place settings at the various tables and I’d be oh-so-happy if they’d just sit where they’re supposed to. It didn’t take long, though, for the squirrels to take over.

They dangle from the house feeder, back feet wrapped tube-feeding squirrelaround the rope, bodies swaying with the breeze. I don’t know how they do it. If I were chewing and swallowing upside down I’d have food in all my sinus cavities. They sit in the platform feeders, all day long, and gorge. They leave only when there’s a pile of hulls. That wouldn’t be so bad if they’d truly leave at that point, start foraging in someone else’s yard. But they don’t. They wrap themselves around the tube feeder that’s supposed to be too small for them, and they dig and gouge at the suet feeder so that by the time the nuthatches show up, there’s only an empty cage.

Sometimes I tolerate it. In fact, I tolerate it so well that they’re not afraid of me. The other day, when I’d about had it with the tube-feeder raider, I went slamming out the door onto the deck, hollering, “That’s enough! Just go find food somewhere else!” The squirrel sat up, little paws folded inward, and looked at me. He didn’t run, he didn’t leave the feeder. He just stared at me, wondering why my mouth was flapping at him.

squirrel antics Collage

You see? Hard to stay mad at antics like this: on a hot day, grab seeds from the feeder, then sprawl on the shady railing and eat them.

He was so cute. My voice dropped from a 60-mile-an-hour screech to a slow, soft drawl as I asked him, gently, what he thought he was doing. He went back to eating. You see? I’m creating these little monsters. One minute I’m ready to borrow someone’s .22 and shoot them all dead. The next minute I’m scattering peanuts at the base of the tree and giggling to myself as they start coming, from all directions, nearly running me over in their hurry to be the first at the trough, totally ignoring me although I’m only two feet away.

The other day, though, I’d had enough. The same six squirrels had been squatting over every single food source the entire day. These experts at deboning sunflower seeds had parked their ever-expanding butts in one place and refused to share even with the chipmunks, let alone a pretty bird or two. No wonder I haven’t had the opportunity to take some of the beautiful bird photos I have from years gone by, birds like indigo buntings and rose-breasted grosbeaks.

“Look at that,” I said to George. “I haven’t seen a bird in days. And THERE’S the reason why!”

George accepted the challenge. He didn’t just go out there and holler at them (and he WOULD have hollered. He doesn’t fall in love with them in mid-stride like I do), he grabbed the garden hose and went after them.

One blast and they scattered. And came back, of course. Another blast and they ran a little farther. For a while. Finally, they actually gave up and left altogether. The next morning, back they came. I got my bowl of sunflower seeds and peanuts and went out to fill up the feeders, as I do every morning, and they fled–until they realized it was me, the soft touch. Down from the tree, out from the hedge, across the lawn they came, with me talking softly to them.

Half an hour later, George raised the kitchen window, hollered “get out!” and headed for the hose again. And thus the cycle goes.

If squirrels could just learn to share, I’d be fine with them. If they’d come, stay a while, and then leave, I wouldn’t mind. If they didn’t chase away the tentative advances of birds one minute and then pose cutely the next, I wouldn’t have these ambivalent feelings toward them.

So, until I can make up my mind whether they stay or they go, I’ll be dealing with schizophrenic squirrels.

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Posted in Animal antics, feeding birds, Humor, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

What’s your brag?

It’s Labor Day, so I’m not laboring. Such a lame joke that gets repeated every year, and every year someone feels clever for saying it.

I suppose somewhere in this country, Labor Day is celebrated the way it once was–with parades and speeches and the strong presence of labor unions. Mostly, though, I think it’s a day spent dashing home from wherever people traveled to spend summer’s last long

parade

Via Bing Images

weekend.

Here in Door County, it means the tourists are finally gone. A few will linger, and some will return to see autumn colors (which they don’t seem to have anywhere else or why would they flock up here?), but mostly our streets and our towns will belong to us again. Bustling summer with all its visitors is fun for a while, but it’s also nice when things quiet down.

I wonder how many people will actually think about labor, about work, about the jobs we have and either love or hate, about those who are unemployed or underemployed, about those who work in unfair situations.

I suppose the first time I actually thought about those things was shortly after I got out of college and had begun my first newspaper job at the daily in my hometown. Most of the news staff were men. Women held sway on the society pages, of course, and there were three of us in the general newsroom out of a staff of about 15 reporters. Somewhere along the line someone told me we women were paid less than the men. We worked on the same stories, covered he same beats, took the same guff from editors and the public–and got paid less.

I’d like to say I started a revolt and changed all that, but I didn’t. I was young, I enjoyed what I did, and we had no union to complain to. I went along, and probably didn’t think much about it. No matter what I was earning, it was a heck of a lot more than I’d ever earned before, my bills got paid, and since I was the new kid on the block, I wasn’t about to make waves.

I think, though, that I really started thinking about the nature of work and our attitudes toward it a few years later, when I was raising my kids and no longer worked outside my home. I did a lot of sewing, making most of the family’s clothes, and my daughter was taking piano lessons. Those two things may seem unrelated, but read on.

One day, my daughter’s piano teacher approached me and asked if I would like my older son to take piano lessons, too. She suggested a barter system. She would teach him piano, and I would do alterations and mending for her and her family. I’m not crazy about alterations and mending, but it sounded like a workable system, so I agreed. I would keep track of my hours, I told her, to cover each hour of lessons.

sewing

Via Bing Images

That’s when she hit me with the final detail.

“I think my time is more valuable than yours because I have a music degree,” she said. “So it shouldn’t be an hour of sewing for an hour of lessons.”

I was flabbergasted. SHE had approached ME. There must have been a great deal of value to what I was doing. I had a skill she didn’t have, and she coveted the work I could do for her. I may not have had a degree in sewing, but I certainly had years of experience.

This was a very nice woman who meant well and was a few years older than I, and I wasn’t about to argue with her or tell her how insulting her remark was. Maybe I just wasn’t brave enough. On the surface, I went along–but I confess I did what was necessary to keep that bartering hour-for-hour, unbeknownst to her. To me, it wasn’t a matter of honesty, it was a matter of justice.

That one incident colored my attitude toward and my dislike of job comparisons. I would never say that some jobs shouldn’t pay more, because some do require a great deal more education, intelligence, sacrifice and material investment. But all work is valuable, and those who do the work should be treated with dignity and respect in the form of a paycheck that isn’t insulting, and attitudes that aren’t, either.

toilet

Via Bing Images

How long would a restaurant remain open if there was no one to keep it clean or to wait on tables? How many people would stay at a hotel that had dirty linen or filthy toilets? If those jobs are important to keep the business going, then the people who do them should be paid well, if not exorbitantly. They should never be considered “just a janitor” or “just a housekeeper.”

People brag about their kids who are doctors or lawyers or CEOs. My son works for a moving company, and I feel honored to brag about his hard work and diligence. He has to load other people’s things carefully, drive them on time to their destination, be on call for emergency runs. He’s reliable and respectful, and he saves other people from having to do all that grunt work on their own. I’m sure he doesn’t get paid nearly enough.

How many people brag that their son is a janitor and a darn good one? Or that their

janitor

Via Bing Images

daughter is in demand as a housekeeper in private homes? If not, why not?

You don’t have to be a Christian or even a religious person to believe that work-and-pay attitudes are skewed and need readjusting. But I love the Catholic Church’s social teachings on the subjects. Here are a few excerpts:

“In the first place, the worker must be paid a wage sufficient to support him and his family.”–Pope Pius XI, On Reconstruction of the Social Order, 1931

“Work is, in the first place, ‘for the worker,’ not the worker ‘for work.’ Work itself can have greater or lesser objective value, but all work should be judged by the measure of dignity given to the person who carries it out.”–Pope St. John Paul II, On Human Work, 1981

“But above all, we must remember the priority of labor over capital: labor is the cause of production; capital, or the means of production, is its mere instrument or tool.” Pope St. John Paul II, On Human Work, 1981

“It is right to struggle against an unjust economic system that does not uphold the priority of the human being over capital and land.”–St. Pope John Paul II, The Hundredth Year, 1991

Those are only the recent quotes. The Church supported labor unions at their inception, and even back in the middle ages, was behind the organization of guilds and journeymen systems.

Labor Day as a holiday may have originally been about labor unions and the rights of workers–and that’s good. But I think it’s a good day to remind ourselves that all workers deserve respect and dignity, and so do the jobs they hold.

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THIS one is my favorite

Supper is over and I’m sitting in my recliner wearing a full-length bathrobe. This morning I put on a cardigan sweater over my t-shirt and jeans. It’s the last day of August and, for all practical purposes, the last day of summer.

We’ll probably get a few warmer days–right about the time I’ve switched out all my summer clothes for winter ones. But those days will be rare now, and surprisingly, I don’t mind.

When spring arrived and the flowers started budding, and when summer followed with birdsong and luscious blooms, I felt sad to think that we had only a few months of this glorious season. I couldn’t bear the thought of emptying out the flower pots, pulling up the faded annuals, and stacking the deck furniture in the shed.

But then it gets to be this time of year, and for some reason I feel the anticipation of autumn fluttering inside me like a tiny bird just leaving the nest. That feeling will spring forth in full flight as the leaves turn and then fall, and I start thinking about what I’ll make for family members for Christmas.

This isn’t quite that full-flight time, yet, but I feel it coming.Stoking up I see the signs all around me but now, instead of something to dread, they stir a bit of the excitement that a change of season always brings to me. I note that the birdsong has changed. What I heard from the cardinal or the bluejay all summer has become a new song, a different song, not full of mating and territory guarding, but the heralding of the next phase of their lives.

Even the bird feeders are different. The chipping sparrows come and stay all day, devouring millet seed as if stoking tiny furnaces for long flights to other climes. The hated grackles have left, their broods raised, their attention turned to food from other sources. Those, I don’t miss. Scraggly young cardinals, their plumage as awkward as a teen boy’s first shave, arrive to eat seeds all by themselves, without parents hovering nearby. They’re on their own now.

Sometimes a flash of blue alerts me to an indigo bunting stopping at our feeder, but that only happens during the migration season. They’re here, then gone. I haven’t seen a robin for several weeks, and although I think they’re still around, their daily habits aren’t at all what they were last spring. Now, I think less of weeding my gardens, and worry less about whether the deer will eat my phlox or nip my sedum. Those plants are fading, as is the season that cherished them.

The air seems to smell different these days, and the dew is thicker in the morning and lasts longer into the day. Even the wind has a different pitch than in spring as the mature leaves rustle against each other. When George and I drove in the driveway this week after one of his gigs, he said, “Look at that. It’s 8:30, and it’s dark.” The long summer evenings have migrated away almost without our realizing it.

Now, rather than looking back at the delights of summer that we’re losing, I’m already looking forward to the change of colors, to fall baking, hearty soups, and walks through the woods with Tillie without swatting mosquitoes or sweating.

I’ll enjoy the flowers that are still blooming, but I no longer cling to them. I still enjoy sitting on the deck in my shirtsleeves, but I can anticipate the fireplace fires. Like the birds, my internal clock and the external signs tell me it’s time to move on. I guess, if truth be told, my favorite season is THIS one, no matter what it is.

Posted in autumn, feeding birds, gardening, Reflection, seasons, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Walking in Grandma’s footsteps

Today, without meaning to, I made history repeat itself.

I spent the morning weeding some of my gardens, then took care of lunch, walked the dog, did some ironing and finally–FINALLY!–headed to my sewing room. All through the chores, I was thinking of the “pillowcase dress” I was working on, one of many that I make for our church to take to Nicaragua. I had to tend to business before I could have my reward.

Since it’s a beautiful day, and since my yard swing is now in the shade, I took my embroidery materials and the little dress outside with me. Ignoring the ants that insisted on free-falling from the tree into my lap, I swung gently, inhaling the breezes and taking note of the surrounding birdsong.

MonicaSwingSewing

Photo by George Sawyn

Now and then, a biker whizzed by, heading for nearby Potawatomi State Park. I chatted with my neighbor who had just brought his own bike out of the shed for a spin along the bay. I brushed an ant off now and then, laughed at the loud-mouthed cardinal shouting at me because I was too close to “his” feeder, and continued stitching a daisy to the front of the little dress.

And then it struck me. I had just become my grandmother.

By the time I would have been old enough to remember, my grandmother had already had her strokes and become the sedentary lady I knew until her death when I was 15. But my mother told me stories of Grandma in her younger years. Like many women of her day, she had a routine that included gardening and household chores in the morning, lunch, then a change into her “afternoon dress” after which she either visited with her neighbors, or sat on the porch swing with sewing. Handwork, she called it. Eventually, she went in to fix the dinner that would be ready when my grandfather got home from work.

She had it all. She tended her garden that fed the family in the summer and on into the winter with the items she canned. It was a necessary job, but also a job she loved, a love that I’ve inherited from her. She cared for her home so that it was a clean, orderly, cozy place for her family to return to from work and school each day. And then she had some leisure time to spend with others or with the sewing she loved. Or both.

Women who work full time nowadays miss out on that. They can give all kinds of reasons why their careers or jobs are important, but it still makes for a hectic day. I know. I stayed home until my youngest was in school, then I too went back to my newspaper job. There wasn’t much leisure time.

As I sat on that swing today, a retired woman who can order my day however I like, I realized I had just done what my grandmother did. I balanced my day with work and relaxation, lucky enough to know that both are important. Maybe it’s in the genes. Grandma died 54 years ago, but I’ve never felt closer to her.

Posted in healthy living; chiropractic; health care, Lifestyle, lost arts, Memories, sewing, Social commentary, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Coffee in any other mug…

This morning I drank my coffee from my Alaska mug.

It doesn’t say Alaska anywhere on it, and I didn’t go to Alaska to get it. A friend of mine did, though. During a stint as a dentist in the bush areas, he found a potter he liked and a mug he said just looked like me.

That’s not why I chose that mug this morning, though. I’m really not sure why I did. Maybe it was the weather forecast of “hot and humid”

Mug 1

All the way from Alaska

that turned me toward a mug with a sassy shorebird strutting in front of black-and-white waves carved into the landscape. Maybe it was another, subliminal reason that had me reaching for that particular mug.

The point is, I don’t drink coffee from the same mug every day. I have lots to choose from, and once the coffee is brewed, it seems to taste better if I pour it into the day’s perfect mug. Sometimes the choice is made quickly; sometimes my hand hovers over first one and then another, considering, discarding, and finally choosing.

On Sundays it’s always my Corpus Christi mug, the one designed for the Catholic church where I attend Mass and live much of my life.  When my dog Lady died last fall, I drank coffee almost exclusively from any one of a number of beagle mugs I own, letting the

Mug 2

Given to me before I moved to Door County by a friend who no longer stays in touch.

photos of floppy-eared hounds soothe my grieving heart.

Many days, but especially if he’s away on a gig, I pick a mug with a picture of George and me on it. These are mugs sporting photos I had printed at Cafe Press : George, Lady and me on an autumn day at the state park, another of us with faces lifted from a photo, but with bodies of Christmas elves. So OK, I get a little goofy sometimes.

One I ordered from a writer’s magazine. “Writers Do It With Style,” it says in elegant white script flowing across a blue background. Another contains the logo of my alma mater, Michigan State University. A whimsical favorite I ordered for

Mug 4

I’m often in the mood for this one.

myself–a squirrel sitting up with a typical dopey squirrel expression on its face. “Excuse me,” it says. “Your bird feeder is empty.” Someone’s been peeking in my backyard.

Another my daughter got me: “Best Beagle Mom Ever,” it proclaims. Another from her is a shimmering dark blue, made by a potter she knows. A green one–my favorite color–proclaims my favorite coffee source: Door County Coffee & Tea.  A couple red ones from my sister-in-law blend in perfectly with my colorful Fiestaware. A black one traces in white the outline of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where I bought it at a town called

Mug 3

To remind of Northeastern Minnesota where I once lived, my activities there–and the fact I really did shoot a bear.

Christmas. A terra-cotta mug with a pine tree etched into either side and painted green is from a local potter in my former home town.

My former home town is also represented by my “Lighthouses of Lake Superior” mug. On it, bright red and oh-so-familiar, is the Two Harbors, Minn., lighthouse (now a B & B, but still operating as a light station), with which I was thoroughly familiar because of the newspaper stories I’d done that involved it in one way or another.

And those are only a few. But you can see, I think, why each one is special, and why each one sits at the end of whatever heartstring is being tugged from one day to the next. Morning coffee time is about savoring the brew, savoring the mug, and acknowledging whatever mood or memory has greeted me at the start of each new day.

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A day of its own

This is an unusual Sunday.

Normally I’d be getting ready to leave for Mass right about now, but for some reason, we decided to go last night. Yesterday’s picture-perfect spring day primed me for a leisurely stint in the garden this morning, adding more perennials to the new flower beds I prepared. Maybe a cookout at noon.

None of that is happening. The rain began around breakfast time, and has fallen steadily ever since. I don’t begrudge the rain. It will give me a break from watering the perennials and potted flowers already planted. It also creates a time-set-apart sort of atmosphere that I can treasure because it’s Sunday.

I sit here in the living room, listening to the rain’s soft patter on our metal roof, providing a cozy ceiling of white noise that encourages quiet activities–maybe a good book, or a short doze, or a blog entry, something I haven’t done in several weeks.

In this weather, I’m in no mood to sit at my desk in the office. This is when I’m glad I have a laptop. I relax in my recliner, a soft throw over my legs, and I feel lazy. A good kind of lazy. The kind that feels like a reward after a few days of errands, gardening, housework, cooking. I’m still in my pajamas and I don’t even feel guilty about it.

I’ve finished my prayers, and the cup of coffee that goes with them. Dog:umbrellaTillie snoozes in the chair next to me, a soft snore escaping now and then. Behind her, a large opened umbrella sits in front of the fireplace, drying out from my one foray outside to feed the birds. George practices scales and finger techniques in the back room, the sounds of the guitar somewhat muffled by that steady rain.

I know it smells damp and fresh outside. Inside, it smells like lilacs, a bouquet of them sitting on the coffee table next to the crowned statue of Mary. May crownings, to honor God’s mother, are an old staple of Catholic tradition, and I observe it privately here at home. A dish of brightly decorated pysanky Mary:flowerseggs sits in front of her, reminding us that this is still the Easter season, until next Sunday, Pentecost. Then the eggs, decorated by my late father-in-law, will be carefully wrapped and put away.

I think ahead to lunch, and know it won’t be a cookout. But there’s a pot of chicken stew with dumplings sitting in the fridge from yesterday. A bit of a reheat is all that’s needed and that’s enough effort for this lazy day.

I suppose, since it’s Memorial Day weekend, there are a lot of disappointed people out there. But the ones who live in this house are enjoying it just as it is.

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The Edible Journey: Ethiopia

They definitely saved the best for last.

Our final stop on the Catholic Relief Services rice-bowl journey was to Ethiopia where we were to sample “Injera with Atkilt Wat,” or cabbage and crepes. I wasn’t hopeful. Cabbage and crepes? And on top of that–potatoes? It seemed carb heavy, and there was no protein. I was beginning to feel very sorry for the people of Ethiopia.

I shouldn’t have. This was the tastiest meal yet during this Lenten food foray. Nothing fancy, ordinary ingredients, which is to be expected of people who don’t have a lot of resources. However, I think that when you look at the waistlines of vast numbers of Americans, it’s apparent we could do with a little less “fancy.”

We visited the CRS rice bowl site and learned about one Ethiopaof those Ethiopian families: Dita, her husband and seven children who earned money from a small farm. They often have droughts in that area, though, so that meant no crops to sell and and no money for food. It must be heartbreaking to look in your children’s eyes and see hunger.

CRS has a program that worked with Dita and others like her to prepare them for droughts. Dita also learned how to open a small store, selling things like pasta, shampoo and bananas, and now says, proudly, that her children eat three times a day–something we Americans take for granted.

The site will tell you more about Dita and what CRS is doing in Ethiopia, but in the meantime, try this recipe. I think you’ll love it. We’ve already decided to make it a regular on our menu.

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups club soda
1/2 cup olive oil
4 carrots, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 head cabbage, shredded
5 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

Mix all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder and salt together. Stir in club soda until batter is smooth. Preheat and wipe skillet with small amount of oil. Ladle half a cup of batter onto skillet; spread to make large crepe Cook until all bubbles on top burst–about 2 minutes. Flip crepe and cook another minute. Wipe skillet with oiled paper after each crepe.

In a medium pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Cook carrots and onion, about 5 minutes. Stir in salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric and cabbage; cook 10 minutes. Add potatoes. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low; cook until potatoes are soft.

I did wonder where Ethiopians get club soda and decided they must use some other native source of leavening that we don’t readily have here. It was fun adding it to the flour and watching it fizz.

I also noticed the lack of protein, and since I need protein at each meal for health reasons, I scrambled some eggs with a little garlic, salt and pepper, and after spooning the vegetable mix on top of a crepe, I added some eggs to that. George and I decided we could easily add a little shredded chicken, too–but since this was a Lenten meal, we did without that.

I tried spooning the mixture down the center of my crepe and then folding it up to eat with my hands (see the photo) but that didn’t work too well, so I ended up just leaving it flat and eating it with a fork.

We both had seconds, and the little that was left I had for supper. That’s how much we liked this dish. If any of you try it, please let me know here. I’d love to hear how you enjoyed it, and what tweaking you may have done. Personally, I don’t think it needs any tweaking.

That’s the end of the rice bowl recipes for this year. It’s Holy Week and Easter awaits. Thank you, CRS, for helping us make this Lenten journey in solidarity with the world’s poor.

Posted in Catholic life, cooking, CRS Rice Bowl, Food, Lent, Lenten food, Lenten meals, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Edible Journey: Mexico

I set the plate of food, a rice-and-veggie mixture, in front of George and pointed something out to him.Mexico

“Have you noticed how these third-world recipes all seem to look alike?” I asked.

I suppose it makes sense. The people who are living at subsistence levels are eating basic foods–beans, vegetables, some sort of starch, an egg or cheese now and then. But the recipes from Catholic Relief Services rice bowl project–designed to help us eat in solidarity with the world’s poor–all manage to taste different due to the different spices and the nuances of ingredients–and taste is everything, right?

March 31, a meatless Friday during Lent for us Catholics, George and I took a culinary visit to El Mexico “arroz rojo,” or red rice.  Silly me, I was really curious to see how this recipe would transform ordinary rice to something with color. Now, I have to assume the “red” refers to the tomatoes.

As we ate, I read about Maria de la Luz, a Mexican woman who grew up in Ejido HIdalgo where there were lots of corn, beans and animals. Now, the CRS write-up said, there are few jobs, even less rain, and the young people are leaving the community to find a better life.

Families like Maria’s are helped by CRS’s greenhouse project where women gather in community to laugh, talk, share joys and sorrows–and grow cactuses to sell, thus increasing their economic opportunities. There’s more about this project, and watch a video, here.

As we chewed, enjoying the unique blend of flavors, I tried to imagine Maria and others like her, fixing this same kind of meal, probably more than our one-time foray into simple Mexican food. We left the table satisfied, and were reminded once again that simple eating doesn’t have to be a penance, and it frees up a little of our own money to help others.

Here’s the recipe, if you’d like to try it:

• 2 cups rice (I used basmati brown rice)
• 1 Tbsp olive oil
• 1 garlic clove, diced
• 3 tomatoes, chopped
• 1/2 onion, chopped
• 4 cups vegetable broth (I took it from the jar where I save water from my steamed vegetables. You’ll need to adjust the amount of you use brown rice)
• 1 cup peas
• 2 carrots, chopped
• 1 chili pepper, chopped (I used about 1/2 to 1 tsp of crushed red pepper flakes)
salt to taste

Add oil to a large pan on low heat. Add rice and toast until golden. Add garlic, tomatoes and onion; cook until mixture is soft. Add the broth, peas, carrots, chili pepper and salt. When it begins to boil, reduce to a simmer and cover until rice is fully cooked.

Notice, this was a Mexican meal, but no mention of tacos, enchiladas or any of the foods we normally associate with that country. And no meat. The protein came from the peas. I confess, though, that grating a little cheese on top gives this meal a lovely flavor boost.

Next stop: Ethiopia

Posted in Catholic, cooking, CRS Rice Bowl, Lenten food, Lenten meals, meatless meals, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Edible Journey: El Salvador

Some culinary adventures aren’t quite what I’d hoped for. That’s what happened when we sat down to our El Salvadoran meal as part of our Lenten Friday rice bowl menus. (Read more about that here.)

The fault, I confess, is all mine. I hadn’t prepared quite as well as I thought, so I had to substitute ingredients. Sometimes that works. This time it wasn’t a good idea.

Our meal that day was Pupusas de Queso, or cheese-stuffed tortillas. That sounded marvelous. Anything with cheese sounds marvelous to me. But the recipe called for maseca, which is made up of ground dried corn that’s been previously soaked in lime water.  The soaking breaks down the difficult-to-digest anti-nutrients found in all grains. I was all set to buy it, but it came in a 5-pound package and I wasn’t sure I’d use it again.

“I’ve got regular corn flour at home,” I told George, as we stood in the grocery aisle, dithering. “How different can it be?” Famous last words.

Not only did I not use the maseca, when I started to cook

EDIT_IMG_3403.jpg

Photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services.

I discovered I didn’t have enough of the regular flour, so I padded it with corn meal. What I ended up with was tough little tortillas that left a lot to be desired. And of course, that was the day George’s sister joined us for lunch.

“We’re conducting an experiment,” I told her, and she gamely went along with it.

If I’d cooked this right, I’m sure we’d have enjoyed these a lot more, maybe even as much as Fernando, the El Salvadoran man featured by Catholic Relief Services with this week’s recipe. He dreams of becoming a businessman, and of creating a better future for his family. It motivates him to sell cookbooks on San Salvador’s buses, which is dangerous work for $10 a day because gangs frequently stop and harass drivers and passengers.

Fernando is a graduate of YouthBuild, a CRS-sponsored program that trains young people in business. You can read more about Fernando by clicking here.

Meanwhile, here’s the recipe. If you try it, do it the right way, please, and not like I did.

2 cups maseca
1 pinch salt
1-1/2 cups water
1 cup queso fresco or farmer’s cheese, grated
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Combine the maseca, salt and water in a mixing bowl. Knead to form a dough like playdough. If the mixture is too dry, add more water. If it is too sticky, add more maseca.

Using wet hands, form the dough into 8 balls about 2 inches in diameter. Using your thumb, make an indentation into one of the balls, forming a small cup, and fill with cheese. Wrap the dough to seal the cheese. Pat the dough to form a round disk about a quarter inch thick. Repeat with the remaining dough and cook each side in a slightly oiled skilled.

Pupusas are served with curtido, a cabbage salad, and salsa roja. Find those recipes here. I did make both of those, and they turned out good. In fact, I liked the salsa a whole lot better than anything you buy in a jar.

I might, in all fairness, buy that maseca and make these the right way. The idea of making my own tortillas, stuffed or not, sounds intriguing.

Next stop on our edible journey: Mexico

Posted in cooking, CRS Rice Bowl, Lenten food, Lenten meals, meatless meals, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged | 6 Comments

The tale of the mutant meatballs

This, as the title says, is a tale of the mutant meatballs–or, how recipes sometimes develop a mind of their own.

That can only happen when you’re unprepared, as I was today. I knew I had ground beef to cook, but was preoccupied with something else all morning and didn’t give much thought to HOW I’d fix it. We’d had meatloaf last week, I didn’t want hamburgers–and I was running out of time. Swedish meatballs, I thought–even though I’ve never fixed them in my life. But, a little nutmeg should do it, right? How long could it take?

I went online, found a recipe, and printed it off. And that’s where the fun began. I won’t print the recipe here–you can find one on your own–but I will confess all the permutations that developed along the way to our mutant meal.

First, Swedish meatballs are supposed to be baked, and I didn’t have time for that. Browning them to doneness would have to do. Second, the recipe includes bread crumbs soaked in cream. I didn’t want to take the time to make the crumbs, and I didn’t have any cream. So, I crushed up some soda crackers. A crumb’s a crumb, right?

Then I noticed that the meat is supposed to include ground pork. Right. I didn’t have any of that, either. Could a bit of pork really make a difference? I hoped not, as I proceeded without it. Since I had the salt, pepper, nutmeg allspice and ginger, I was still feeling fairly hopeful.

I heated the pan, and began pinching off portions of the meat to shape and brown. When they were done, I’d be adding some flower to the drippings and then some beef broth. I headed to pantry to get those ingredients ready–and found no beef broth.

At this point I let loose with a loud wail, and George came running.

“I don’t have any beef broth,” I howled. Nor chicken broth. How about the vegetable broth I’d been collecting in the fridge, he suggested. No, no, no, that just wouldn’t be the same. I was getting frantic. And stubborn.

Finally, he pointed at the canned soups.

“How about mushroom soup?” he said, a bit of desperation creeping into his own voice. Mushroom soup? MUSHROOM SOUP? Ick! I was not in the mood to be consoled with second- or third-choice ingredients, nor to be adventurously experimental for which I usually pride myself.

But the meatballs were finished cooking, the drippings were sizzling, and I had to add SOMETHING to that pan. I reached for the soup, still muttering under my breath “ick, ick, ick.”

I swirled the soup around, thinned it with a little bit of milk, then added some plain Greek yogurt–because of course I didn’t have the sour cream the recipe called for. I probably would have made that substitution anyway, but at this point every ingredient change was hitting me like a mortal wound to my culinary heart.

Finally, I plated our meal and called George to the table.Swedish meatballs

“Here you go, Swedish meatballs–such as they are,” I said, determinedly ungracious about what to me was a total fiasco.

George took a bite, his face impassive. Then he took another.

“Well, I don’t care what you call them. These are GOOD!” he said. And I, grudgingly, had to agree. While I couldn’t quite call them the real thing, they were tasty. I admitted it to George.

“If you hadn’t suggested that soup, I’d probably still be standing in the middle of the floor, wringing my hands,” I said.

For some reason this brings to mind an episode of the science fiction show “Babylon 5,” where the alien G’Kar has invited a fellow Narn to his quarters for dinner. His guest is delighted that G’Kar had managed to import breen, a Narn delicacy, for this meal.

“It isn’t actually breen,” G’Kar confesses. “It’s an earth food. They are called Swedish meatballs. It’s a strange thing, but every sentient race has its own version of these Swedish meatballs. I suspect it’s one of those great universal mysteries which will either never be explained…or which will drive you mad if you ever know the truth.” (For the full effect, click here and watch the clip for yourself.)

I wouldn’t go so far as to say my mutant meatballs would drive a dinner guest mad if he knew the truth, but I think their precise identity would stump even the Narns. I console myself with the thought that maybe there’s a sentient race out there who fixes theirs exactly like mine.

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Posted in cooking, Food, Humor, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments