Monday, May 24, 2010

A sure sign of summer:Mint Lemonade

Even though my school year has four days remaining, I feel that summer has arrived. Today I made my first jug of mint tea lemonade using my mother's handed down recipe. This special brew hints of many summers past. It is summer in a glass!

Pictured above is a healthy crop of mint which is growing in our backyard. This nomadic plant has ancestral roots in Indiana. Once when I was visiting my parents in Michigan, I brought a sprig or two of mint tea (brought north from Indiana) back to the plains of Kansas in my suitcase. Laid to rest between my t-shirts these offspring wilted and looked to be gone from this world. Optimistically I placed the limp stalks into the earth, watered them, and gave myself to dreams of fresh mint tea. Behold the plants grew, and grew, and even multiplied. Since then, the tea plants has been split and shared and moved to my third Kansas home.

We all have loved this tea/lemonade mix that my mother created. The recipe has never been written down so I always hope to get the mix as I fondly remember it. I just took my mom a sample and she declared it "just right". My brother used to take a big jug of it to football practice back in his Goshen High Days. It has made the guest list at many special dinners, anniversaries, and graduation celebrations. People just trying it for the first time usually find it quite unique and refreshing. "What is this stuff?" they ask. Someone told me once that it is good with a bit of gin added and I have to wonder if that story ended with a guy sporting a lampshade with a southwestern motif. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Here is my attempt to record...

Mother Mary's Mint Lemonade
4-5 sprigs of fresh mint
1 can of frozen lemonade or powdered lemonade mix

Steep tea using the fresh mint. Prepare the lemonade mixture substituting the mint tea for 1/3 of the water requested. Serve cold with ice and a sprig of mint on top.

Happy Happy Summer,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dreams and Bones: Sweet Potatoes

Pullin' weeds and picking stones,
We are made of dreams and bones.

These lyrics are from The Garden Song by Pete Seeger, a song which always reminds me of my dad. My dad has always loved a garden, has always seemed to feel a kinship with the vegetables planted deep in the ground. Vegetables need care, tending, and the dreams of the earnest planter. Many days I spend pullin' weeds and pickin' stones at my dad's behest. Many meals I enjoyed the vegetables pulled up out of the ground and spread out on the family table.

I appreciate the earthy taste of the sweet potato. Knowing I am eating something that got its start in the soil, was fed by the warmth of the sun, and watered by the blessings of showers makes me feel closer to the earth and closer to my dreams. I think anyone spending time in a garden knows what it means to be made of dreams and bones. Our bones do the laboring in the hard ground, while dreams make us fly somewhere above ground level. We need both, the balance of sweat and vision. Lucky are we, if at the end of the day, we have been required to call upon our dreams and bones to fulfill the demands of our day. Work should ask that from us.

I love fresh vegetables with their coats of many colors, the crunchiness, the tenderness, the pure flavor they possess. I love it that someone's dreams brought them into being. We, human beings, are, so much more like vegetables than we are foodlike products that are made in a factory, like gumdrops, or crackers, or imitation cheese. I believe we are meant to be close to the earth.

I tried this recipe for sweet potatoes for a dinner with members of my family. This dish received favorable comments from all around the table and I will surely make it again.

Sweet Potatoes
6 medium sweet potatoes
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup orange juice
Cook potatoes until soft, but not mushy.
Remove skins and cut in half lengthwise.
Arrange in a buttered baking dish and sprinkle with salt.
Heat together the butter, honey, and orange juice. Pour over the potatoes.
Bake at 400 for 25 minutes.

This recipe is from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

Celebrating dreams and bones,

Sunday, May 9, 2010

What your mother tells you: Baked Stuffed Peppers

"What your mother tells you now
In time you will need to know."

Mitsuye Yamudan

In cooking, and indeed in most of life, this has proven true time and time again. Today, in honor of Mothers' Day, I share a cooking mishap that occurred because I didn't listen to what my mama told me long ago in a small kitchen in Kansas.

When I was about 8 or 9, I wanted to try a recipe that I had found that contained orange chips. Orange was my favorite flavor in those days so I thought orange cookie bars would be fantastic. I begged my mother to purchase the ingredients and let me try to bake them myself. Against her better judgement, my mother did buy the orange baking chips and then she set me free in the kitchen. It didn't turn out so well. The highly anticipated orange cookie bars were hard and flat and tasteless. "What did you do?" my mother asked, not unkindly. "I just started at the top and mixed everything together" said I. My mother, with her maternal knower, sensed a teachable moment. Her directive, "You have to read the recipe all the way through before you start. Then you have to follow it."
What she told me then, I still need to know.

My mother knows what Alice Randall is quoted as saying, "Mother-love is not inevitable. The good mother is a great artist ever creating beauty out of chaos." She was and is a master at surveying chaos and offering kind words of redirection. Not just in the kitchen, but in the living room, in the bedroom while rubbing my back at night, while traveling in the car, and years later over the phone when I would call to check in.

So, why didn't I heed her early cooking advice when I was making stuffed green peppers? Probably the most common reason we sometimes don't listen to our elders. I thought it didn't really matter in this particular situation. The result? Disastrous Stuffed Green Peppers. I didn't parboil them as the recipe said (what was I thinking?) and I altered the stuffing ingredients so much that it just didn't work. I do make small alterations to recipes and my mother's advice from time to time but true wisdom lies, I believe, in knowing when it is important to stay the course and when it is okay to take a small step off the path. And always, always, be willing to learn.

My own children will learn cooking lessons and life lessons as they travel through life. As a mother, I try to prevent chaos sometimes by dispensing advice before a teachable moment arises. I wish it was enough for them to learn from my mistakes but they must make their own at times and I must stand by them, as my mama did me, and gentle them back on the path. And when a day goes by when there isn't chaos, mothers everywhere raise their eyes to the heavens and thank the Lord!

Here is the recipe for baked green peppers. I suggest you follow it more closely than I did!

4 large green peppers
1/2 pound of hamburger
1 cup fresh or canned corn or lima beans
1/2 cup crushed soda crackers
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

Cut the tops off peppers and hollow them. Parboil for 5 minutes and allow to cool. Brown meat slightly and mix meat, corn or lima beans and seasoning. Fill peppers and top with cracker crumbs. Arrange in a greased baking dish. Bake at 375 for 25 minutes.

From the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950)

Happy Mothers' Day