Tampering with tradition

I had a s’mores conversation around the campfire last night.

We were in the middle of Sturgeon Bay, outside the motel where our singer friends were staying after their concert (with George as accompanist). Wine and beer, cheeses and humus, popcorn and crackers overflowed one small table, typical convenience-store fare for those who don’t eat before performing, and who discover the restaurants around here roll up their sidewalks by 9 p.m.

Carbs, protein, libation–and s’mores.

“I’ve been looking forward to this all day,” Diane said, as the graham crackers were finally broken open, the chocolate unwrapped and the marshmallows skewered. Second childhood, here we come.

But for Allen, there was nothing “second” about it. With a little help, he assembled his first-ever s’more, eying it with some suspicion as he scrunched the layers together as directed and licked up the sugary goo that escaped along the edges.

Via Bing Images

Via Bing Images

He nibbled away without comment, one small bite at a time, as others returned to the fire for seconds and thirds.

Then he said it. He made the suggestion that stopped me and his wife in mid-conversation.

“You’d think,” he said, like restaurant reviewer, “that they’d come up with something more interesting than a graham cracker.”

My eyes widened. Mary was at a loss for words. This was TRADITION he was taking issue with! No Scout outing, no camping trip, no campfire assembly has ever been complete without that handily packed box of graham crackers. They’re breakfast when spread with peanut butter, snacks when eaten plain–and s’mores when paired with marshmallow-and-chocolate.

Mary’s eyes gave it away first. Then she grinned at the temptation to tamper with this time-honored ritual. And the ideas began to flow, first from one, then the other.

“How about chocolate grahams?” I suggested.

“Or cinnamon?” she volleyed. “Or vanilla wafers?”

Shortbread? Sugar cookies? The possibilities began to open up. Then Allen took the flavor-mixing options to the limit when he suggested gingersnaps. A late bloomer, the guy was catching on quickly.

One thing should never change, though. Barb noted that it’s possible to buy square, flattened marshmallows specifically for making s’mores. Those, we agreed, will never do. Those would be no fun at all, and they’d take the challenge out of s’more building.

The idea is to flatten those round, toasted marshmallows, to squish them and watch the goo spread. There must always be the danger of dripping, the necessity for finger licking before that first bite is taken. There must always be the element of messiness to take this dessert far from civilized neatness to outdoor abandon.

Who would have guessed that s’mores could also be food for thought?

Posted in Food, Human behavior, Humor | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Ironing–a lost art?

I thought the rumpled look was only for the young kids who are part of the ripped, drooping, sagging, distressed generation. I guess I was wrong. I guess even the grown-ups of today are satisfied with rumpled.

I came to that decision after persuading George to haul my old, heavy, metal ironing board down to the thrift store, the board I replaced with a much lighter, easier-to-use-although-not-as-well-made, newer model. Easier on the old back and the gratzy shoulder. But someone else, someone younger and stronger, might like that old one just fine, I thought.

Nope, the store didn’t want it.

“It won’t sell,” the woman told my husband. “Nobody irons any more.”

Really? Am I the only person anywhere who actually stands over a steaming iron,

Via Bing Images

Via Bing Images

even in the dead of summer in an non-air- conditioned room, carefully pressing out the wrinkles and rumples from our clothes?

It seems I must be. And how strange, considering that cotton clothing has become so popular. It’s very comfortable, to be sure, but I don’t care how fast you take it out of the dryer, it’s going to be rumpled. The button plackets are going to curl. The hems are going to fold up. They’re going to have that all-night-on-a-park-bench personality.

Now that I think about it, though, I shouldn’t be surprised. Ironing is old-fashioned. It’s the attention to detail that women used to take pride in. Nowadays, so many women “don’t sew,” either. They might quilt, or maybe do crafts, but they don’t sew. They leave their own and their husband’s pants legs dragging on the ground because they can’t manage a simple hem. They let the short sleeves on their husband’s shirts hang down over their elbows like an older brother’s hand-me-downs. They think a button box is some kind of accordion. They aren’t taught, or don’t want to learn, things that have always been considered part of running a home and a family.

I don’t advocate the opposite extreme, of course. I once knew a woman who ironed her son’s t-shirts and shorts, and all the bed sheets. Not me. After all, you have to draw a line somewhere. But to not even OWN an ironing board?

Well, to each his own, I guess. Maybe I’m old-fashioned to make sure George’s dress pants have a crease, that his tux shirt looks crisp, that both of our cotton shirts look straightened and fresh. But I just can’t quench the feeling of satisfaction I get from having addressed the details, of having expended the bit of extra time needed to spiff and polish just a bit.

Meanwhile, does anyone know of a use for an unwanted ironing board?

Posted in Human behavior, Humor, Social commentary | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Sinful eating, dead ahead

Every now and then, you just have to do it. You find a recipe with all those forbidden ingredients, and you just have to throw caution to the winds and make it. Then you tell yourself it was a once-in-a-lifetime fall into temptation, and that you’ll never do it again.

That’s what happened yesterday. I was leafing through a cookbook from our local Catholic school, the kind where lots of people contribute their favorite recipes. That was my first mistake. I find that those kind of cookbooks are chock full of family recipes that were invented before people ever heard of things like cholesterol and low-fat. So of course I found “dreamy spaghetti casserole” that came with the guarantee, “I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t ask for the recipe.” I should have taken the warning and run.

Instead, I made it. The entire recipe, which makes so much the two of usSpaghetti bake will be eating it for days. I do think I’ll tweak it a bit if I ever lose my head and make it again. I tweaked it right from the start with the ground chuck seasoned with garlic salt and crush red pepper flakes. Gotta have my hint of hot.

Anyway, if you’d like something decadent to celebrate, or to impress, or to just reward yourself for normally being very careful, here’s the recipe.

Dreamy Spaghetti Casserole
• 1 pound spaghetti
• 1 pound ground chuck
• Garlic salt and crushed red pepper to taste
• 8 oz. cream cheese
• 16 oz. cottage cheese
• 16 oz. French onion dip
• 1/2 C chopped green onion
• 2 T chopped green pepper
• 1 jar of spaghetti sauce, 24-32 ounces, depending on how much sauce you like. I used home-style, which gave it a nice chunk.
• Mozzarella cheese
• Parmesan cheese

1. Cook the spaghetti as directed. Brown ground chuck, seasoned with garlic salt and crushed red pepper flakes. Drain if necessary and set aside.

2. Layer half the spaghetti onto the bottom of a sprayed 9 x 13-inch pan. Mix cottage cheese, French onion dip, cream cheese, green onion and green pepper together. Spread mixture over top of noodles. Add the rest of the noodles.

3. Top with spaghetti sauce and meat. Sprinkle the top with mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese, the amount is up to you. Top with foil and bake at 350° for 45 minutes.

According to the source, this recipe works great for leftover sauce and noodles, and it freezes well.

I have to say, this is one delicious meal. However, in the interest of healthier eating, even to some degree, the next time I do it I’ll double the amount of cottage cheese, and halve the amount of the cream cheese and the French onion dip. I don’t think that will affect the flavor enough to matter.

And then of course, I plan to do a whole lot of bike riding on the days that this is served!

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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.

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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!

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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
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.

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