THE COURAGE OF SMALL THINGS


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Rwanda Landscape Wikipedia

Now and then we come across a story, simply told, about someone who opens a chain of thoughts in our own minds.

This is David Brooks’ inspiring story about his friend Clemantine Wamariya. She was born in Rwanda 27 years ago. When she was six the genocide began and her world started shrinking. The beautiful land she knew was changed forever.

To escape the mass murders, Clemantine and her older sister, Claire, were moved from house to house. One night they were told to crawl through a sweet potato field and then walk away—not toward anything, just away. Away from family, home and friends and not to look back. They left with only the clothes they wore and no food.

They crossed the Akanyaru River living off fruit. Clemantine spent the rest of her young girlhood in refugee camps in eight African nations.

Claire kept them on the move, in search of a normal life. Clemantine wrote her name in the dust at various stops, praying somehow a family member would see it. Their struggles in the camps, for water and much else, gave them a sense that life is arbitrary.

In 2000, Claire got them refugee status in the United States through the International Organization for Migration. Claire went to work as a hotel maid in Chicago. A few years later, Clemantine was one of 50 winners of Oprah Winfrey’s high school essay contest.

In the middle of the 20006 show celebrating the winners, Oprah brought Clemantine and Claire on stage. Oprah asked when was the last time the girls had seen their parents. It had been 12 years. Then Oprah gave them a surprise: “Your family is here!” Her parents, brother and sister had been found in Africa, and now walked onstage. They all fell into one another’s arms. Clemantine’s knees gave out, but her mother held her up.

Clemantine’s story, has a comforting arc: separation, perseverance, reunion and joy. It’s the kind of clean, inspiring story that many of us tell, in less dramatic form, about our own lives, with clearly marked moments of struggle and overcoming.

In David Brooks’ words, “Clemantine is now an amazing young woman. Her superb and artful essay reminded me that while the genocide was horrific, the constant mystery of life is how loved ones get along with one another.”

We work hard to cram our lives into legible narratives. But we live in the fog of reality. Whether you have survived a trauma or not, the psyche is still a dark forest of scars and tender spots. Each relationship is intricate, fertile ground for misunderstanding.

Clemantine displays the courage of small things: the courage to live with feelings wide open even after trauma: the maturity to accept unanswerable ambiguity; the ability to create tenacious bonds.

David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist, NEW YORK TIMES
July 7, 2015

ALASKA, THE WILD COUNTRY


grizzly

Every fisherman or hunter has a few bear stories to tell around the campfire meant to raise the hairs on the back of your neck before bedtime. Some stories are humorous, some scary. The bear is usually the winner. One story told of a large old grizzly who snatched an unsuspecting salmon out of the water with one swipe of a large paw spiked with five inch claws. Not feeling especially hungry, he tossed the fish into the air, caught it and tossed it again and again until there was not much left of the poor salmon, and then calmly walked away leaving the shattered fish for the birds. It is well known that bears also like berries, and spend a great deal of time nibbling wild blueberries and other tasty berries. Blueberry bushes are small the further north you go in Alaska, and an impatient bear frequently simply rips the entire bush out of the ground to hurry the process.

Once at Lake Shasta in California, we watched some people on a houseboat toss some meat to a waiting bear on the shore. As they were floating away, the bear, seeing his food source depart, plunged into the lake and began to swim after the boat, which was by that time filled with frightened and screaming tourists. Since he could not catch the boat, the bear finally went back up onto the shore and began tearing all the bushes up in his frustration.
grizzly2

We had been following the Kobuk river for most of the morning, alone in a vast Alaska wilderness of scraggly spruce and quaking aspen, beside water the clearest and purest I had ever seen. As the riffles rushed over rocks half submerged, the water caught the sunlight and deflected it back into our eyes

In the deep green pools sockeye salmon, red in their spawning coloration, sluggishly dragged their tired bodies over the gravel at the bottom. Above them, small grayling flickered nervously in and out. Other than the beauty of our surroundings, our fishing excursion had yielded nothing save a few grayling which we returned to the water.

Though I heard no sound, and saw nothing out of the ordinary, I had a disturbing feeling that we were no longer alone. The forest was silent; there was no longer the sound of birds chattering in the trees. In the slight breeze the late summer aspen leaves had turned yellow and were beginning to drop into the river. It gave the impression of expectancy; as if the forest was on alert, waiting for something to happen. We felt a sudden chill in the air and decided to retrace our steps back to our base camp.

When inquiring about the weather in Alaska, a native might shrug his shoulders and say “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” The trail alongside the river was damp from a recent shower, and in the wet weeds and dirt, we began to see the tracks of an unwelcome follower, obviously hoping we could supply him or her with a salmon dinner. Though we walked a mile or two there was no sign of our companion, and before long the tracks disappeared into the woods.

grizzly 3

“This was his country, clearly enough. To be there was to be incorporated, in however small a measure, into its substance–his country, and if you wanted to visit it you had better knock.

His association with other animals is a mixture of enterprising action, almost magnanimous acceptance, and just plain willingness to ignore. There is great strength and pride combined with a strong mixture of inquisitive curiosity in the make-up of grizzley character. This curiosity is what makes trouble when men penetrate into country where they are not known to the bear. The grizzley can be brave and sometimes downright brash. He can be secretive and very retiring. He can be extremely cunning and also powerfully aggressive. Whatever he does, his actions match his surroundings and the circumstance of the moment. No wonder that meeting him on his mountain is a momentous event, imprinted on one’s mind for life.”

“excerpt” from “Coming Into the Country” by John McPhee

AMAZING GRAZING~~~~Beer Cheese Soup


A tuckedaway corner

I took my second cuppa out to this little corner of my back yard this morning, recipe folder in hand trying to think of something for dinner. This recipe for “BEER CHEESE SOUP—COBURG INN” fell out, making me wonder where I had originally found it at least 45 years ago. I made it often in the cold, rainy days in Seattle, Washington, along with good solid rustic bread and a crisp green salad, but it has remained hidden in the mess of clippings and scribbled notes till it hit the ground today.

Coming in to my computer, I Googled “Coburg Inn, and found that the recipe came from the Coburg Inn in Coburg, Oregon near Eugene, in 1877. But the really exciting thing for me is that a good friend of ours is from Coburg, Germany. I don’t think he knows about beer Cheese Soup, but I will make it for him. He is more of a sausage and kraut man, but I think he will like this one. It’s rather touching to see place names given to remind people of former homes. Of course we see that all over the States since everyone has come from somewhere else.

Coburg, Germany has an impressive history as the birthplace of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who married Queen Victoria of England. (It is not known if they ever ate Beer Cheese soup.)

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Ehrenburg palace, Coburg

Our friend Bill and his twin brother were twelve years old when the war ended, and the Americans marched through town. They were enthralled with the chocolate bars and conviviality of the American soldiers, and at the age of twenty they sailed for the “New World” with twenty hard earned dollars between them. For many years they made an annual migration back to Germany for the Octoberfest celebration in Munich, and of course, a trip down memory lane to Coburg.

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Schloss rosenau, 1900 Coburg

BEER CHEESE SOUP, COBURG INN

3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup 1/8″ diced celery
1/2 cup 1/8″ ” onion (Trader Joe’s has cartons of Mirepois, which saves the chopping)
1/2 cup 1/8″ ” carrot
1/2 cup flour
2 1/2 pints chicken stock (5 cups)
2 Tbs. parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
6 oz. grated cheddar cheese
12 oz bottle beer
salt and pepper to taste

Saute vegetables until done, but not browned. Blend in flour, dry mustard and chicken stock; cook 5 min. Blend in cheddar cheese and beer. Let simmer 10 mins. Season and serve.

This recipe for JALAPENO CORN BREAD fell would go well with the soup.

JALAPENO CORN BREAD

2 cups yellow corn meal
2 cups cream-style corn
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 cubes melted butter
1 cup buttermilk
1/4-1/2 cup drained, canned green chilies
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp baking soda

Mix it all together
Melt 1 Tbs butter in each of 2 cast-iron or some other heavy baking pans. Divide the batter between. Bake for about 45 min Serves 10

BAREFOOT HUMMINGBIRD


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She lived a life that would have been considered outrageous even by today’s standards, but Beatrice Woods began her life in 1893 as a daughter of a wealthy, socially conscious family in San Francisco. Ultimately, it was her exposure to the arts that ruined her mother’s hopes for her in 1912, when Beatrice rejected plans for a coming-out party and decided she wanted to become a painter.

Supervised by a chaperone, Beatrice went to Paris to study, but it was in Giverney, home of Monet, that rebellious Beatrice ditched the chaperone and moved into an attic with her painted canvases.

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Moving to Paris, she decided to become an actress, and while taking acting lessons, Beatrice became became part of a Bohemian group of artists, and where she was introduced to the artist Marcel Duchamp. “We immediately fell for each other,” Beatrice recalled. “He was an enchanting person.” Duchamp introduced her to Henri-Pierre Roche, a French diplomat, writer and art collector, who became her first lover. He was also the first man to break her heart. Beatrice had found herself surrounded by Bohemian men who thought little of bourgeois morality. During this time she became known as the “Mama of Dada”.

“Marcel shocked me because he said that sex and love are two different things,” Beatrice later recalled. Yet she fell into a relationship with both men, and remained life-long friends with Duchamp. In 1953 Roche wrote a semi-autobiographical novel called Jules et Jim, about a threesome, which some some erroneously suggested may have been inspired by the association of Woods, Duchamp and Roche.

In 1948, Beatrice moved to Ojai, California, to be close to the Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti. She built a home in the small peaceful village of artists a little south of Santa Barbara and surrounded by lovely rolling hills. There she taught and pursued her art for the next sixty years. At age 90, at the urging of her friend Anais Nin, she became a writer. Her most famous book is “I Shock Myself”.
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I first became interested in Beatrice in 1985 while teaching a class in conceptual art and Marcel Duchamp, and when I learned that she was living in Ojai, I welcomed an opportunity to visit her.

If you want the local lowdown in Ojai, California, a resident says “People rarely ask what you do—they ask, ‘what brought you to Oja?’ I love that. Ojai is a beautiful sleepy small community of artists, farmers, and a few people who simply want to relax and enjoy life.

The prospect of seeing poppies drew us up into the green hills above the town. We had been graced with the sight of enormous 5 inch wide white flowers along highway 101, and Ojai thought enough of them to name a park Matilija—Ma-till-a-hah.

Matilija Poppies
Matilija Poppies, watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Winding up through the hills we came upon Beatrice’s little house where she lived, worked and had a small gallery of her work. The door was answered by a diminutive Indian man who introduced himself as “her humble servant.” Beatrice was momentarily engaged in another room but we saw her as she darted past the doorway like a barefoot hummingbird. Draped in colorful sari and Native American jewelry, she was an iconic figure, even better than I had thought

When she floated into the gallery and found my interest in art, her “humble servant” brought cups of tea and she described the art displayed in the room. She was quite open about her relationships with Duchamp and Roche, and introduced us to her German Shepherd dog,
Roche” who wandered into the room in search of a pat on the head.

Her sculptures were funky, funny and engaging and told a wry story of her life. One large piece was of a brothel on fire, with girls leaning out the front windows while a variety of men were pouring out the back doors. Beatrice explained that the men were “the mayor, the police chief, etc.” It was plain that her way to get even with the men who had hurt her throughout her life was to put them all in erratic or hazardous situations in her art.

To what did she attribute her longevity? Her stock answer was “I owe it all to chocolate and young men.” Beatrice Woods died in Ojai at the age of 105 in 1998.

Her personal and artistic style intrigued me, and I developed a number of pieces as a dedication to Beatrice.

Out Of The Woods
“Out Of The Woods” clay sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Beatrice Lives
“Beatrice Lives” clay sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

AMAZING GRAZING~~~~Tacolicious Si!


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“Mexican Grandmother”, stoneware sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

A woman’s kitchen is like her lingerie drawer—don’t try to rearrange it! No sensible “abuela” (grandmother) would tolerate someone such as a recently retired husband with no culinary experience entering her kitchen with the primary idea of change. The kitchen is her domain, where she rules unchallenged.

I have been fortunate, but I know people who, coming home from work or an afternoon away, find their kitchen completely turned around. It takes a lifetime to find the most efficient arrangement in a room used so often, but apparently only an afternoon to change it. But as Norman Cousins once said: “Life is an adventure in forgiveness.” So an occasional foray into unknown waters is OK. Most husbands are excellent dishwashers.

My family moved to Quadalajara, Mexico in the ’60s, my mother learned to speak Spanish and my father didn’t, and they found that what we had been calling tacos and enchiladas were strange and exotic food to the average Mexican. Sitting in a lovely shaded outdoor restaurant in Tlaquepaque surrounded by happy people drinking pitchers of sangria while tapping their feet to the rhythm of a mariachi band, we ordered tacos, and were puzzled after waiting for sour cream and grated cheese to arrive with our order. Our waiter was quick to tell us that what we had been eating for years was “Tex-Mex” tacos. Not that it wasn’t good, it just wasn’t “authentic” Mexican.

Mexico was good to my family. People came to visit, some even stayed awhile. My daughter came to climb a mountain by moonlight. My aunt and uncle moved there too, so they had their own little commune complete with shared maid service and barber.

People have been eating food wrapped in tortillas for more than 1,000 years, but the first known meaning of the word “taco” was seen in 1895. The taco is the best known street food—something you can pick up and eat with your hands. As such, it can contain anything you like; meat, cheese, fish, chicken, scrambled eggs, whatever.

Having a taquisa or taco party is the easiest way to entertain. Line up tortillas, 2 to 8 per person,, and keep them warm, have dishes of 3 or 4 fillings and let everyone make their own. This type of party has become very popular, and is really quite simple. People take a flat tortilla, put whatever they like on it, and fold it over.

Shredded chicken, pork or beef moistened with a bit of sauce, a big pot of chili beans and another of rice are good accompaniments, and beer to wash it all down with.

Making your own tortillas is easy, but if you live near a Mexican market or tortilla factory, they are a lot easier. Tortillas come in either corn or flour depending on what you like. I like the flour ones if you are going to fry them, but otherwise I like the corn. Sauces are all over the place. The El Paso brand sauces in the market are OK if you don’t want to make your own. The idea of a taquisa is to keep it simple and have a good time.

Now let’s cool off with a nice lemon dessert, PARFAIT PIE. I first made this about 45 years ago and loved it. It was delicious but I misplaced the recipe until last week. While screening for a lemon cheesecake recipe, there it was! So I’m sharing.

PARFAIT PIE

Butter crust:
Combine 1/2 cup butter with 2 Tbs. sugar (do not cream). use pastry blender.
Add 1 cup flour and mix just until dough forms. Place 1/4 c. crumbs in small pan. Press remaining crumbs evenly in a 9″ pie pan with well floured fingers.
Bake at 375 until light golden brown. Crumbs 10-12 min (mine took 7) pie crust 12-15 min. Cool
Filling:
Combine in small mixing bowl 1/3 c. (1/2 of 6 oz. partially thawed frozen lemonade. Add several drops yellow food coloring
1/2 cup sugar
1 unbeaten egg white. Beat at high speed until soft peaks form.
Beat 1 cup whipping cream until thick and fold into lemon mixture.
Spoon into cool baked shell. Sprinkle with crumbs and freeze until firm 4-6 hours covered.

NOW LISTEN TO ME: When it says 4-6 hours that’s what it means if you want to serve it for dinner, otherwise it gets too hard. I left it in over night and it was frozen so hard we had to wait awhile to enjoy it. Just freeze it and then put it in the fridge covered until you can’t stand it any longer.

OLE!

AMAZING GRAZING~~~~Red Flannel Hash


Some people cook corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m one of them, although I don’t know why. It’s the only time of year I buy it and other than the first day dinner, it makes lovely sandwiches, and of course, hash.

On this St. Patricks’s Day, Dr. Advice showed up early wearing something green. The temperature was 80 that day, and the only thing green I had was a green turtleneck sweater. The Irish song, “The Wearin’ of the Green” is a lament about the times when the British forbid people to wear green. You need to be careful about those things.

We weren’t Irish, and when as a child I wore green and insisted upon singing all the Irish songs I knew, my grandmother harshly reminded me that “We AREN’T Irish”! as if there might be something wrong with being Irish. Although when Dr. Advice and I traveled in Ireland, we were assured that everyone had a little Irish in them. Singing in an Irish pub on a typically rainy night, with fires burning in a large fireplace and pints of Guinness at hand, you were hoping people thought you were Irish even if you weren’t. The Irish had so much fun. Who else could have thought to name a big rock a “Blarney Stone and make people climb a ladder to the top and then lie on their backs to kiss it?

Grandma to my knowledge never cooked corned beef, but she and my mother made hash from Sunday’s roast beef often. My mother spiked it up by adding cooked beets to the mix which turned it all a devilish shade of blood red and gave it additional flavor. Interesting to ponder: you can make a hash of any meat including chicken.

The quantities depend upon how much meat you have left over,

RED FLANNEL HASH

Corned beef (or roast beef) cut into small chunks and coarsely chop in processor with onion and a couple cooked beets. Hand grate an equal amount of raw potatoes. Heat oil in large frying pan medium hot. Keep flipping hash to get a nice crust. When nearly done, you can put an egg per person on top of hash.

Even your Irish Grandmother would approve.

OATMEAL RAISIN MUFFINS

1 c. oatmeal, 1 cup buttermilk, Mix & soak 30 min
2 eggs lightly beaten
1 cup brown sugar packed (or less)
6 Tbs. melted butter
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Makes 1 dozen

A BLIND DOG COMPETES IN THE LAST GREAT RACE ON EARTH


The Iditerod Sled Dog Race is on; with mushers and their sled dogs competing in this grueling race which commemorates a 1925 rescue mission that carried diptheria serum by sled dog relay to the coastal community of Nome. It has been an official race since 1978, and draws mushers and their teams from all over the world to test themselves and the stamina of their dogs.

Competing for the second time this year is a plucky little fifty pound blind dog named Laura. Her owner and handler, Kelly Maixner, a pediatric dentist, says that rather than being a liability she is a cheerleader for the rest of the team and
is comfortable running in any position except the lead. The sweet-faced dog is a victim of an eye disease called pannus for which there is no cure. It is a family affair this year as her family is running with her; her father Shane, and siblings Big Mike and Flo are part of the team.

iditerod

The 1,049 mile race beginning in Anchorage and which varies according to which route they take, generally takes 9-15 days as teams race through blizzards and whiteouts over trails running into the sparsely populated interior of native villages and along the shore of the Bering Sea, finally reaching Nome. As it takes the teams through harsh landscapes and over hills and mountain passes, the Iditerod symbolizes a link to early history.
In Alaska “Mush” means more than hot oatmeal, it’s a rallying cry to “Get Going!”

THE TOBERMORY CATS


black cat

I have often suspected that if the power of speech were given to the family cat, it would not go well with us. Their cavalier attitude gives it away every time. The problem arises when we realize that they just don’t care what we think. It is important for us to be in command at all times, if not over our husbands, then at least over our cats.

Saki’s famous talking cat, Tobermory disclosed for all time what might happen should that enigmatic creature begin spilling the beans.

In his delightful tale Tobermory, Hector Munro brings his chatty cat Tobermory to life as he tears up an upper class Victorian house party. His truthful disclosures about each of the guests private thoughts are unnerving and frequently embarrassing.

Major Barfield questioned Tobermory; “How about your carryings-on with the tortoise-shell puss up at the stables, eh?”

Everyone recognized the blunder as Tobermory tossed his head and replied frigidly “I imagine you’d find it inconvenient if I were to shift the conversation to your own little affairs.”

The panic which ensued was not confined to the Major.

“Why did I ever come down here?” asked Agnes Resker.

Tobermory immediately accepted the opening.

“Judging by what you said to Mrs. Cornett on the croquet-lawn yesterday, you were out of food. You described the Blemleys as the dullest people to stay with that you knew, but said they were clever enough to employ a first-rate cook; otherwise they’d find it difficult to get any one to come down a second time.”

After an afternoon of similar exchanges, Mrs. Cornett said “Tobermory may be a valuable cat and a great pet; but I’m sure you’ll agree that both he and the stable cat must be done away with without delay.”

I do not wish to spoil the story by giving away more of the plot. I don’t think there is a cat lover who will not be glad they read it.

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Tobermory, Isle of Mull, Scotland

red cat

While I see Saki’s cat as being black, Scottish artist Angus Stewart’s Tobermory cat is of ginger color.

Angus Stewart is the creator of the children’s book Distillery Cats”.

The Distillery Cats” originally lived at the Tobermory Distillery in Tobermory on Mull, Scotland. The two ginger cats were named Tobermory and Ledaig after two whiskies produced at the Tobermory Distillery. The cat named Tobermory remained at the distillery, Ledaig later moved to Browns Hardware Shop. A third ginger cat known as the Mishnish Cat lived at the Mishnish Hotel. Together these three similar cats became a single fictional cat character named Tobermory Cat created by Angus Stewart in a Facebook page. He later published a book, Tobermory Cat subtitled famous for being famous. It explores the nature of the ciontruct of celebrity through a fictional cat who is simply “famous for being famous.”

AMAZING GRAZING~~~~Pineapple Pork Sweet and Sour


GUNG HAY FAT CHOY!!~ Happy Year of the Goatgoat

We went to our favorite local Chinese restaurant, only to find its doors locked and the restaurant idling away in sublime emptiness. The very nice gift card Dr. A had given me for Christmas sadly was now of use only to light the firecracker for Chinese New Year.

There are many good and some great Chinese restaurants in San Francisco and further north in Seattle and in Vancouver. One small restaurant in Vancouver had perfected Lemon Chicken to the extent that we often drove there from Seattle just to eat it. I have never been able to duplicate it, and possibly it now remains divine only in memory.

When growing up we made the mistake of believing that chop suey was an exotic Chinese dinner. Chinese cooking is not simple; but when the Chinese first came to this country they cooked peasant food–“chop-chop, eat it up.” Toss it around then became sweet and sour to give more flavor. Chinese restaurant cooking is quick, high heat cooking but not necessarily simple. Tiger shrimp braised in a clay pot, asparagus and taro, steamed Dover sole draped over cabbage, shreds of scallion and wisps of fried turnip or soft crumblings of pork, are the ingredients of fine Chinese cooking. Just to read the menu at a good Chinese restaurant makes one’s mouth water in anticipation.

My Tai Chi class used to meet each morning at Lake Elizabeth and I was the only Caucasian among people from both Taiwan and mainland China. Once a month we had a potluck luncheon under the trees where each of us brought a special dish. There I tasted chicken feet, many kinds of stuffed buns and jook, for which I inexplicably have the recipe someone kindly offered me. Tea was brought in huge containers with all the tea leaves floating in it. I usually took my famous chocolate cake back home with one piece missing—mine.

When we found our restaurant out of business, I came home and cooked an Anerican-Chinese style dinner. We drank cups of tea without leaves and wished each other Happy Chinese New Year.

Pineapple pork sweet and sour

PINEAPPLE PORK SWEET AND SOUR

1 pound raw lean pork cut into 3/4″ squares
1 egg, beaten
Coat pork by dipping in beaten egg.
In a pan or ziplock bag, place 1 cup flour. 1/2 tsp salt and the egg-coated pork. Toss it around.

In deep pan heat a couple cups of oil, not olive, to 350 degrees
Drop in pork a little at a time and fry 6-8 minutes or until browned and done.
Remove and keep warm.

Also have prepared 1 cup pineapple chunks, drained (reserve juice)
1 medium green pepper, cut in 1/2 inch pieces

In a wok or deep skillet place
1 tsp. soy sauce
1/c sugar
1/3 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup catsup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
Blend all the ingredients well and bring to a boil.
Make a paste of 2 Tbs corn starch and 2 Tbs water, add gradually until sauce thickens
Add Pork, green pepper and pineapple.
Turn and mix rapidly for abut 5 minutes or until very hot. Serve with steamed rice.

A nice dish of steamed stir-fried vegetables would make a good meal. Don’t serve chocolate cake for dessert!

AMAZING GRAZING 2


soup2

Driving the backroads of Italy on a cold and overcast day with cold feet and an empty stomach was not an idea we originally planned on, but following a friend’s suggestion, we were headed for a tiny restaurant tucked away in the countryside. We came upon it late in the afternoon, in a stand of bare oak trees, beside a small family owned winery. Rows of gnarled old grape vines bordered the road and a shepherd herded his flock through an adjoining field, closely followed by his faithful sheepdog. If hunger had not given me a push, I could have happily watched this rustic scene until the sun went down.

The

low ceilinged room was floored in ancient terra cotta tiles, worn in the traffic spots. A couple of hanging light fixtures illuminated the space, and small ceramic pots with a sprig or two of lavender were on the cloth covered tables. No sooner were we seated when the smiling owner brought a basket of home-baked crusty bread and a bowl of olive oil, and a bottle of house wine. Somewhere in the back we could hear the clatter of pots and pans and a wonderful smell told us we were in the right place.

We both opted for the soup of the day, which arrived in large ceramic bowls and a promise of seconds if we wished. The scent was addictive, with just a hint of garlic and parmigiano.

After this warming and satisfying meal, we asked who the talented chef was, and it turned out to be her son that day. Oh for a son like that in my kitchen!

ZUPPA TOSCANA

A cup each of chopped carrots, celery and onion, sauteed in a little olive oil. Add a clove or 2 of garlic and a diced potato. Saute for about 5 more minutes, and add about 3 cans of chicken broth (or vegetable broth) Meanwhile, brown 2-3 Italian sausages and a few slices of bacon chopped. Drain the fat and add to vegetables. Add a couple large handfuls of chopped kale or chard to the pot. At this point if desired, you can also add a can of cannelini beans. (As you can see, you can take this soup in many different directions.) Add 1 cup of heavy cream. Throw in a couple Tbs. olive oil, a generous handful of bread crumbs, and a handful of parmigiano or pecorino cheese.
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Now, about those bread crumbs. We always have leftover bread around, and I never throw anything away. (Depression baby.) We grind them and use them in many things. Toasted they are great sprinkled over a pasta dish or a cup of soup, but included IN the soup they serve to thicken it. Just keep them in a ziplock bag in the freezer and they reward you. Cut into 1/2 cubes, tossed in a little olive oil and garlic powder, they toast up nicely in a 325 over for about 10-12 min. and are good on salad or on top of soup.

LET’S EAT!