Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Peck of Peppers.

I seem to have a proclivity for Things Uniuque. In fact, I myself am a Thing Unique, never really feeling like I fit -- a Block in a world of Rounds. Once, in voicing these sentiments to my mom, she firmly told me that No, I was not weird, I was unique. I laughed at her, assuming this was a Mother Hen's reassurance for her Odd Duckling. Looking back now, it is clear that I always have been this way and I always will be this way. In fact, it is clear that such a bent for the uncommon, for the individual, is somewhat genetic. I have many great aunts, I am told, who never married and who lived out their days in unabashed eclectic enjoyment. As will I, I pray.

This weekend, I found myself in Buena Vista, CO, returning from a visit to the Aspen, for the Music Festival and an operatic interlude to life's un-staged cacophonous drama. I lolled about the town for a few hours, waiting for my friend to finish his cycling climb and descent of Indepence Pass.

Signs proudly brandishing "Farmer's Market TODAY!" pointed with self-assured red arrows, lining main street and directing me like the lit batons bringing in airplanes safely to a grounded land.

I can't help myself when it comes to Farmer's Markets -- I turned. I had hours to kill; and, theirs would be an interesting death, I vowed. My arms turned the large mini-van to whose wheel I had been entrusted, and I followed the red arrows like Gretel and her breadcrumbs, remaining skeptical of this Farmer's Market's existence. A Sunday afternoon at almost 4:00? Indeed, it was not to be.

But, then a garden center on the corner seduced me with a "local produce" sign out front. Admittedly, seducing me in such a way is not a difficult task, neither for a garden center or local harvests. I'm easy. At least for produce. Men? Well, that's another thing entirely.

I wandered through glass globes claiming to be able to read houseplants with the skills of a fortune-teller mystic, myriad terra cotta pots, eyes and mouths offering any tree the ability to become an Ent, and lavender, sage, pepper plants, marigolds and columbine. Snaking through the labyrinth, I finally found my way to whitewashed boards filled with cardboard boxes of the advertised Local Produce.

Road tripping is usually not the time to buy produce. I told myself I would not, I could not buy. "It will get all hot and wilted by the time the hot car drives all the hours left home, and finally docks in the driveway," I spoke to myself, trying to convince myself of this statement's truthful logic.

Look, don't touch. I almost, almost kept my word. But then? In the last cardboard box, in which were originally shipped "Premium Stake Tomatoes," my eyes lighted upon "Purple Bells." I was taken. For these, a promise was worth breaking.

Once home, a quick interweb search revealed that these Bells, were Purple Beauties. And, moreover, I was promised that they will inspire me to "new heights of creativity." Still another source knighted the bell pepper as "the Christmas ornaments of the vegetable world." This vegetable was special. This vegetable was unique.

Peppers contain high levels of vitamin C and A, and are a concentrated source of powerful antioxidants. In reading about peppers, I discovered that "the fiber found in peppers can help to reduce the amount of contact that colon cells have with cancer-causing toxins found in certain foods or produced by certain gut bacteria. In addition, consumption of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and folic acid, all found in bell peppers,is associated with a significantly reduced risk of colon cancer." People with "sensitive digestion" are often told to stay away from peppers as they are "irritating" and lead to inflammation. However, this reference asserts that the peppers actually fight against the bad intestinal flora which is often the underlying problem factor with many digestive issues.

Today, days later, as I yet gushed over my colorful find, my dad reminded me of that old nursery rhyme, Peter Piper and his peck of peppers. I wonder what color his peppers were? I suspect that his peck could not bring more delight than did my sole Purple Beauty...

~ Piper's Peck ~

Purple Beauty bell pepper
Buckwheat groats
Yellow crook neck squash
Green onion
Feta goat cheese
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Edible Front Range Blogging

Please take a look at my first of Weekly Wednesday posts on the Edible Front Range blog:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Yam I Am.

A hot Sunday morning in July, began with light fingers creeping through open windows, illumination's prints settling upon packed boxes, some taped shut and some seeping clothes onto the floor, dishevelment lending to the appearance of those living out of them. In a room ready and anxious, willing to be moved, soft breaths escorted darkness with a gentle arm.

Summer days beg on bended knee for Cooking Chastity -- they pray for abstinence from the heat of the kitchen. I heard these supplications and answered with juicing.

Yams are not a vegetable I ususally think to eat in the summertime. Bedded earth grows the roots of fall, in its damp and soiled womb, waiting to birth in the crisp fall months. They arrive just in time to be assaulted by Tradition, overly cooked and polluted with marshmallows, browned into a sugary sidedish that no one really likes. Casseroles are brought proudly to the Giving of Thanks, artificially sweetening the table. How was this thought the genius way to get people to eat vegetables? Its intention worked the opposite way with me. I despised yams. That is, until I had one simply baked in its jacket with just a pad of butter or a drop of maple syrup. I remember also thinking I hated brussels sprouts, until I experienced them just barely steamed.

It is strange, this thought that vegetables must be disguised to be enjoyed. They can only be successfully swallowed with a spoonful of sugar -- that will make this medicine go down.

A friend of mine, over a salad with raw zuchinni and tomato, told me of his childhood hatred of zuchinni. Sautéed to its death by his mother, he obediently cleaned his plate of the limp and tasteless slimy squash. Although, as he was sent to the garden to gather, he quickly learned that allowing the zuchinni grow "too big" resulted in bread being made, rather than the dish suggestive of swallowing oysters. The former being much preferred to the latter, of course.

Now, after some reading, I am slightly confused as to whether I have actually ever eaten a true yam. This tuber's America Imposters, I read, are only orange sweet potaoes disguised beneath a yam label, the authentic root being only sold in ethnic markets.

Nevertheless, the sign at the greengrocer's told me that I was, in fact, buying a yam. Therefore, I bought, I juiced, I drank. For, one cannot, with a clear conscience, roast a sweet potato in such summertide settings. That must be saved for giving thanks on colder, darker days.

A shiny new bright red Jack LaLanne power juicer has recently been gifted to my sister and I and has taken up residence proudly on the kitchen counter. Through it, we stuff vegetable matter of all kind, shapes, sizes and colors. My most recent facination is juicing yams, at the suggestion of my mother and the common sensible book Good Gut Healing by Kathryn Marsden. I have also been eating a lot of potatoes, as both potatoes and yams contain inulin, a dietary fiber important for health of the colon. And, both are considered a prebiotic, containing the necesary elements to provide a nurturing nesting place for the good gut bacterial probiotcis I am pumping into my system.

The yam claims bragging rights on its provision of fiber, potassium, vitamin C, manganese and vitamin B6. A stranger property of the yam, is its high phytoestrogen content.

Juiced, the vibrancy of the extract outshines the fibrous flesh. Thick and silky, rich with an earthy smoke, it was perfectly paired with carrot; and, apples juiced for a little spoonful of sugar to help it all go down.

~ Juice ~


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Cooking became easier, and more fun, when I learned...

After I went through a rather embarrassing pink & purple stage, 'round about 6 years old, which unfortunately spanned a cold Nebraska winter where my mother had to deal with my stubborn refusal to wear anything but petticoats (it really is a miracle I didn't receive any lasting frostbite damage to extremities), and my insistence on seeing the ruffles on my little-girl underwear -- the back with the ruffle must be turned towards me! I wanted to see the ruffles! Not that I could see these anyway, underneath my other layers of petticoats (although, I think I went through a short lived stage of running around in just my ruffled underthings, which provided me the opportunity to fully gaze upon the ruffles. So taken with white lace was I). My poor mother then gave up trying to make me normal, and she also endured a winter where I would only wear swimsuits. How was I so seasonally challenged in my garment selections?

I lived in bliss with my laced ruffles worn on the front.

At the what I'm sure was urging from a school friend (oh, the peer pressure of kindergartners!), I joined a Girl Scout Bluebird group. If my memory holds, the leader of this Bluebird chapter was the mother of the Urging Friend.

My mother walked with me down the block, to the meeting house. Gaggles of girls and mothers were already crammed in the house's kitchen, eating brownies sprinkles with powdered sugar. I remember liking the brownies. That was about all I liked about the evening.

Herded up creaky stairs, edged with the wood banisters so popular in the neighborhood's older homes, these rails balancing generations of young growing up and old growing down, we were then arranged in a circle around a darkly stained four poster double bed. The bed was high and fluffed, and ornamented with overstuffed pillows. What I would be taught later, as all Good Bluebirds were, to be a bed ruff, skirted the fat bed. My ballerina mind was taken with this ruff. We didn't have ruffs at home. Beds wore petticoats too! How delightful.

My delight was soon lost amid tedious instructions on how to make a bed -- properly. Sheets even on both sides, top sheet pulled up high enough to then fold over the blanket that should come up to about a foot from the headboard, smooth out wrinkles, tuck in on all sides, fluff comforter, arrange pillows. One didn't just "make a bed" -- one "made a bed up." This is what we would all be expected to do for our husband's, for our marriage's beds someday. Why men were so interested in pretty beds with ruffs puzzled me. When mom wasn't home, I thought, papa didn't seem even slightly concerned with beds, or bedding, or making anything for that matter; except, piles of sweet smelling sawdust in his garage or alphabet soup and dumplings for dinner.

Notions of making beds "up" (just making them was hideous enough to me at that point, minus the possibility of someday having a ruff, of course), danced through my head, leaving in their tracks nothing but boredom. Really? Girls did this? They met, and ate brownies, and watched an overly made-up woman overly make-up a bed? Pirouetteing, my thoughts performed a demi detourné, and I found myself looking the other way.

I became tomboy extraordinaire. Lace was traded for blue jeans and ballerina shoes swapped for riding boots. I am unsure if the scarring experience of brownies and bluebirds and domestic instructions in Good Wifery, indeed culminated into The Turning Point; but, soon I found myself making mud-pies and bringing water bug specimens into my room where they were kept in old jam jars and lined up in a proudly scientific manner on my bookshelf. I am fairly certain I never went back to that Overly-Stuffed house again. My time was not wasted on learning how to make a bed up and eating baked goods, but on organizing Radio Flyer wagon races, riding my bike on the school playground which clearly had a "No Bicycles" sign posted, and Kicking The Can.

The things that girls did seemed so boring in comparison to the fun that boys appeared to have. As I aged, the measured gap only grew wider. By high school, girls were focused on fostering femininity and getting a "catch," and behaving properly. "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach," indicated to me that, as I was not interested in finding my way to a man's heart, I should stay away from any such culinary way-finders. The notion of making any man's bed continued to send my mind into convulsions of obstinate refusal.

Cooking became mentally lumped in with Girly Things, associated with pink and purple, and boring instructions. My aversion to cooking also could have stemmed from my failures, at seemily every try. I daydreamed and put in too much oil. Or, too little sugar. Loaves fell flat and brownies burned, forgotten in the oven, or the timer unheard over my guitar practicing. Cooking and I didn't have a very good relationship. That is, until I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.

Then, I was forced to cook. My gut demanded it of me. Cooking could save my life. I was forced to learn ingredients, make from scratch, and pack my own lunches and dinners. I checked out two years worth of Gourmet and Saveur from the library, and flipped through their glossy pictures slowly, dog-earing recipes and returning the issues with thumbprints of olive oil. This was gastronomic pornography, and I was addicted.

This food was art...

Some of this food was even made by, get this...men. I secretly wondered if they made their own beds along with dinner? I now know a man who loves to cook, and he rarely makes his bed. Books and laundry, clipped recipes and articles, and kids' school reports litter the bed, relocating pillows to a new neighborhood on the floor. This bed is overly-stuffed, but not with ruffs. I still hold that men don't care about "made-up" beds, anymore than my kind of man cares about a "made-up" woman.

This week, Gluten-Free Girl asked a question: "Cooking became easier, and more fun, when I learned [...]"? My answer? When I discovered that cooking could be art, it could be beautiful, and it could be interesting...

Pleasure came not in accurate measurements, and I opted rather for my grandmother's "pinch" method. I discovered delight in chopping and throwing things in, sometimes willy-nilly. Still, today, recipes make me nervous. My independent streak (ok, in truth my hard-headedness), relishes the freedom to change things, and to remain uncommitted.

Good food, I found, could be natural and unadorned. It could be perfect in the tasteful simplicity of an apple.

I learned that I love to cook. And, I learned that I could cook with an un-made-up bed...

~ Brown rice couscous ~
Romaine lettuce
Green olives
Olive oil

Red wine vinegar
Sea salt
Cracked pepper

~ Buckwheat groats ~
Red leaf lettuce
Green onions
Olive oil
Sea salt
Cracked pepper