Nurturing community: one bite at a time

pattypan squashOne cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.
– Virginia Woolf

Recently, our home became a bed-and-breakfast of sorts. First, three weeks ago, our friend Susana, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, arrived to stay with us. Then, more than a week ago, Mary Alice, from Michigan, and then last Wednesday, Kitty from Chicago.

In 2002, all five of us (including Peach and me) began a transformative masters program at Holy Names University together. (Actually, I met Peach in the program.) So knowing that they and more former student-friends would be in town last week for a summer conference on campus, the P & I thought a reunion was in order.

On Sunday, eleven women (plus one four-month-old baby) gathered together at our home to spend the afternoon eating home-cooked food, while catching up on our lives and enjoying the out of doors on our long, narrow, shaded porch — which was, fortunately, several degrees cooler than the inside of our house. Of course, the two fans we placed at either end of the slender oval of chairs kept the air moving and cooling.

P and I began our food preparation the day before, buying everything we needed — except yellow squash and much-needed ice — at Farmer Joe’s.

Upon our return from FJ’s, I picked eight round disks from the gorgeous yellow squash plant in my garden.

(By the way, Wikipedia notes that petit pan or pattypan is a “good source of magnesium, niacin, and vitamins A and C.”)

Apparently, the recent hot spell sped up the petit pan propagation, I was told. We’ve been eating squash for the past two weeks, but I never needed to pick more than four at a time. Susana sauteed the pattypan with sliced onions, olive oil, and black pepper.

plate.JPGWe also prepared:

• two chickens (one Rocky, one Organic Rosie — it was either that or buy Foster Farms) cooked using the rotisserie on our gas grill

• corn on the cob (P first soaked the ears — with husks on — in water before setting on the grill)

• cherry tomato and fresh mozzarella salad (I used a basket each of orange, yellow, and red cherry tomatoes)

• quinoa salad (see complete recipe below)

• peel-and-eat shrimp with homemade (sort of — ketchup and horseradish stirred together) shrimp sauce.

I stayed home alone Saturday night, to enjoy cooking in my favorite way: nice and slow. One of my favorite things about cooking is cutting up and chopping vegetables. I find this act to be very meditative. I love making quinoa salad because there is a great deal of chopping to be done. However, as this takes time, I don’t make it often enough, which is really too bad, because quinoa is packed with protein and this particular dish is rich with a delicious combination of flavors. I thinly sliced organic dried Turkish apricots (probably not local ones), then a red pepper and a green one. The scallions were also very thinly sliced and then gently pulled apart into a bowl, unwinding layer from layer on their way down.

On Sunday, while P prepared the chickens (one with a mango sauce, the other with a spicy rub), I slowly sliced cherry tomatoes and cherry tomato-sized fresh mozzarella balls in half. Then I added chopped fresh basil. For dressing, I chose Annie’s Naturals Tuscany Italian, as a time saver, really, instead of making the dressing from scratch.

Everyone arrived between 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm. The kitchen bustled with activity as P and I scurried to complete the preparation, while the others began renewing ties created four years ago. I quickly made non-alcoholic raspberry mojitos (organic frozen lemonade with water and lightly-mashed raspberries swirled in), which were eagerly tasted and cheered. When Cardum arrived with baby, I dropped everything and ran to hug her, so happy to see her for the first time in nearly two years — and to meet her baby boy, Ché.

angel_card.jpgFortunately, most of the women were able to stay until late afternoon. We talked together as an entire group, and then sometimes as two. At one point, after Ché was passed around to nearly everyone, we were all declared “grandmothers.” (At first, I balked at this a bit, preferring “aunt” or “auntie” — until someone pointed out that I could be someone’s grandmother by now. Yikes! Well, a very young grandmother, that is. Most of Ché’s other “grandmothers” are in their 50s and 60s, except for Cardum, P and me, who are in our 30s and 40s. What is interesting: out of eleven women only three of us have our own children.) But somehow being called “grandmother” — after my initial over-reaction — instilled awe and wonder in me, especially when I sensed that we all did become grandmothers to dear, little Ché in that moment — and forever into the future. Grandmothers, in more of an indigenous way, than in how some view grandmothers in Western culture — the kind of grandmothers most needed now for a world that could surely use more nurturing, patience, and wisdom.

At the end of the afternoon, just five of us remained, still sitting out on the porch. We decided to play with my friend Judith‘s beautiful deck of angel cards. One by one, we went around the circle to each pull three cards. Before reading Judith’s offered interpretation, from her booklet, we individually shared our own interpretation, as well as our stories, our encouragement, our insights, our support. It was a very good day, indeed.

Quinoa Salad with Dried Fruits and Pine Nuts
(text from page 68 of Deborah Madison’s The Savory Way)

quinoa_salad.JPGQuinoa is an ancient grain from the Andes that has recently been introduced as the “superfood” — it has more protein and higher-quality protein than any other grain. The tiny seeds are very light and digestible. Here they are mixed with dried apricots, currants, golden peppers, chives, and roasted pine nuts, all finely cut to match the diminutive size of the quinoa. This makes a lovely salad to cup in a leaf of lettuce, and leftover salad can be used to fill a grape leaf or a leaf of blanched chard. The salad tastes best when first made and served warm or tepid, but it also keeps well, refrigerated. If you’re making it in advance, add the pine nuts just before serving so that they will remain crisp.

Quinoa must be rinsed well before cooking, or there will be a bitter edge to the otherwise delicate flavor. [This cannot be overstated. I prefer to soak the quinoa in water and then strain.] While the quinoa is cooking, the rest of the ingredients can be prepared.

The viscous cooking liquid can be used in place of all or some of the oil to make this salad virtually fat-free. Although it won’t have the flavor of the oil, it has a somewhat unctuous quality that will coat the grains and act as a vehicle for the herbs and spices.

Makes 4 generous servings. [Of course this salad tastes best when made with organic ingredients.]

The Quinoa
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
6 dried apricots, finely diced
2 tablespoons snipped chives or 3 small scallions, cut into narrow rounds
1/4 cup dried currants, softened in hot water and squeezed dry
3 tablespoons finely and evenly diced yellow or green bell peppers
3 tablespoons pine nuts

Rinse the quinoa thoroughly in a bowl of cold water, then pour it into a fine-meshed strainer and rinse it again under running tap water. Bring the water to a boil, add salt to taste, and stir in the quinoa. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and cook for 15 minutes. Taste the grain — there should be just a little resistance, and the opaque spiraled ring of germ should show. If necessary, continue cooking until done, then pour into a strainer and set it to drain over a bowl. (Save the liquid, which can replace the oil in the dressing or be used in soups.)

While the quinoa is cooking, cut the apricots and vegetables as suggested keeping everything as fine and even as possible. Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan until they are golden brown: then turn them into a bowl.

Make the vinaigrette below. Then toss the warm quinoa with the fruits, vegetables, pine nuts, and dressing. Serve the salad nestled in rounded lettuce leaves.

The Vinaigrettequinoa_upclose.JPG
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely chopped cilantro or parsley
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons light olive oil
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil

Combine the lemon zest, juice, spices, herbs, and salt together in a bowl. Stir to combine, then whisk in the olive oils. Taste and adjust the balance of flavors, adding lemon juice if necessary. [I added a little lime juice this time too.]


One Responseto “Nurturing community: one bite at a time”

  1. Kitty says:

    Just read this – wow. It brought back that happy afternoon with our Sophia friends and grandmothers plus one mom. That was a magical day. Love.