Small Full (Grain) xiǎo mǎn 小满 May 21st .

One ripe and several grreen blackberries on bushOn May 21st we moved into the Chinese calendar solar term of Small Ful. This refers to the grain and seed crops which are now beginning to become plump, but are not yet ripe. As an example, my blackberry bushes are covered with small, tight green berries. Soon I will have to pull screening from the storage and spread it over the bushes. This is to keep the ripening berries safe from the birds who enjoy a good juicy berry as much as anyone. It looks like I will get a few more this year than last but still not enough for preserving in any way. There will be no regrets about eating them freshly picked though.

So far this season we have been cooler and wetter than usual. The rain is fine for the crops but sun and warmth are also essential for ripening. I suppose in a month or two I will be bemoaning the heat in posting but right now it feels like April just kept going and completely over-ran May. I should have lots of energy but those overcast days make me want to crawl back into bed. Not actually depressing, they just seem dull and flat. We are far more sensitive to weather than we think. There is even a new science studying this called human biometeorology. It sounds exotic but actually it can serve a very practical purpose. Anyone who has ever suffered from migraine, as I have in the past, can appreciate the University of Calgary study that found migraine headaches in 43 percent of patients coincided with the Chinook wind, a warm westerly wind with a predictable annual pattern affecting that region of Canada.  Any illness that has known triggers can be managed more effectively. Not knowing what’s setting off your condition can often be as aggravating as the condition itself. Spring thunderstorms can trigger asthma and barometric changes can trigger attacks of arthritis.

Rooftop air conditioning unitNo matter how we try to manipulate our environment with heat and air conditioning and closed up spaces we will not be able to escape the fact we are part of a larger system. Often these attempts to dominate the wider environment have less than satisfactory results. All those well-sealed living spaces have higher pollution levels than the out of doors. Air conditioning systems are still incubating Legionnaire’s disease long after the outbreak that gave it it’s name.  This is one of the reason’s I put so much attention on seasons and weather.

In the west we tend to limit ourselves to swapping snow blowers for lawn mowers and sweaters for bathing suits as the seasons change. In other cultures the effect of weather and the seasons are better taken into account and adjusted to. In Ayurveda and TCM take seasons into account to determine appropriate foods to consume for optimum health.

Watermelon slices on clear plateAs we move into warmer weather TCM recommends foods for keeping the body cool and balanced. Americans don’t eat much bitter gourd or lotus root but the stores are full of recommended fruits like watermelon and strawberries and tomatoes and cucumbers. Even though they are available almost year round now we do tend to think of and enjoy them as summer foods so it’s quite easy to follow this advice.  In general, TCM says the diet should contain more vegetables and fruit at this time so as to stimulate the appetite and provide adequate fluids and we all know most of us don’t eat enough of them anyway. In Ayurveda summer is the pitta season. Cooling foods are recommended in this system as well. Cucumbers are on the list again as well as summer squash and zucchini.

One of my warm weather favorites is gazpacho. It has a history going back to the ancient Romans and was popularized in the Andalusian region of Spain. Originally he main ingredient was bread. The version known as Seville gazpacho, named after the Spanish city where it is popular, also uses tomatoes in the base. In the United States, you will most often encounter a breadless version. I have made and enjoyed both styles and even versions I call Mexican, as they include cilantro.  It’s delicious, quick to make, doesn’t heat up the kitchen and is great to serve when what’s on the grill is not finishing as fast as it should. Now if summer would only come.

Closeup of chopped ripe tomatoes

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Caturday Thoughts – Longing for a Real Living Space

lawn mower redThe weather has been conducive to growth and with everything going on the lawn was out of hand. My neighbor Nelly offered the use of her power mower and in desperation I accepted the offer. The grass was just getting too tall for efficient cutting by the push mower. The experience was just a reminder of why I hate the bloody things. Aside from the noise level I wound up coughing and hacking like I was in a 60s bar on Saturday night. If the fumes are that bad out in the open what is the accumulated output of millions of the darn things doing to the air. Not to mention the stupid leaf blowers, a real favorite of mine to hate. Get a rake for heaven’s sake and shed some of that excess weight everyone seems to be carrying.

Sage plantsWhat I would really prefer to all that useless grass would be a nice deck and catio. so the cats and I could go outdoors in comfort.  I would really prefer a nice herb and vegetable garden on raised beds and borders of flowers around the perimeter. Grass is for pathways only. I would love those borders to be backed by a nice tall fence to hang baskets of even more flowers and have some privacy from the foot traffic in the access alley behind the house.

Raised bed of lettucesWhat I would prefer, however, is not what I have. I have enough windows in the house to give the cats a seat on the outdoors. What I have is the farmer’s market  and I make the most of it. Today I’ll go back for more eggs and see what is new. I hope Frank has more of that leaf lettuce, the salads I made with the last bunch were really delicious. I have found for years that the standard salad lettuce, iceberg, is grown for conformity and lacks any flavor. Even though it hadn’t gotten hot enough to really crave a salad I could eat that lettuce with pleasure. We all need to eat more greens.

I’m not sure where this weather is coming from. Lots of rain, wind and cooler temperatures are delaying summer. I am still using my winter blankets and wondering when I will be getting out the summer ones. My beautiful camellias bloomed large and then were battered down by the rain into pink confetti. So I sympathize with the farmer’s not having much to sell. It’s Memorial Day weekend and it feels more like Labor Day. At least it won’t get to hot in the thrift store. We are still not quite ready to open but getting closer.

Monday will be a holiday so the only businesses open will be stores. I would like to do something special but all the festivities are on Saturday or Sunday. I have a project meeting on Sunday. Maybe Monday I will just take a road trip. I have a pass for the Shenandoah National Park and never seem to get up there. I think I will make it a point to go.

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An English Teacher Eats

After my last post kvetching (kvetching is Yiddish for a particular nagging kind of complaining) about junk food and all it’s assorted evil effects I decided to offer a little more of the alternative. Food is an adventure and no one exemplifies this better than Anthony Bourdain. I discovered Anthony while working as an estate manager for a woman who was a true foodie and faithfully watched his show on the Food Network. I think of him as the Indiana Jones of food exploration. I admired and identified with his adventures in dining on unusual foods in unusual places, having had some adventures in dining myself while in places like Japan, Korea, Mexico and Jamaica. I think an outlook like Anthony’s is a good solution to a lot of food problems.

I worked or volunteered as an ESL teacher at various times over the last forty years. When career demands limited my travel, and I could no longer emulate my hero, my English students allowed me to continue my culinary explorations from home. While I taught them to avoid the the pitfalls of English my students taught me about their native foods. No one is happier than when you eat and enjoy the food they grew up with and love. I could always get shy or reluctant students to start talking if I asked them to tell me about food from home. And after many iterations of “Really? You want to try?” presents of food became the way to thank the teacher.

Dish of Chicken Mole Poblanp

Chicken Mole Poblano
By Elelicht (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This is one place I learned about the diversity in Mexican food. I got recipes for real mole sauces. There is an enormous variety and they ca be used with all kinds of foods. When I still made a Thanksgiving turkey, the leftover turkey went into tamales and enchiladas with mole sauce. I learned how to prepare nopales, prickly pear pads. Admittedly, they are not for everyone, like okra they can be slimy. But my Mexican students loved that I loved them, they are considered Mexican’s Mexican food. I like them with scrambled eggs for breakfast and in salad. They can be work to do from scratch but they do have them in jars.

Iranian vegan stew

Veegan Ghormeh Sabzi
By AilinParsa (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve had students from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt give me recipes. Saudis use a lot of hot sauce, not something you hear about much. The shattah is a little different than some hot sauces. I had to get the shattah recipe to go with the kabsa (Saudi chicken and rice). Of course these recipes were provided after I was served the dishes. As was the Egyptian felafel or ta’meya. Egyptian felafel is made from fava beans, different from the Lebanese felafel most people are used to. I had an Iranian roommate at university who was delighted to find I had a rice cooker and a crock pot in the dorm room. I learned all the wonderful things Iranians add to rice. Jeweled rice is usually served at weddings but I make it for a meal.  Iranians eat a lot of delicious vegetable stews, so with the rice cooker and the crock pot we never had to eat the dorm cafeteria food. Chicken steamed up nicely in the rice cooker, too.

Tandoori Chicken on plate

Tandoori Chicken
By Miansari66 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

This got me looking at other similar dishes from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Caucasus regions. I had some Afghan students and they were delighted to share their food and recipes. Afghanistan is in he middle of everything and the food has Persian, Indian, Chinese and Mediterranean influences all rolled into one cuisine. A lot of Americans are afraid they will have to give up meat to be healthy but these cuisines use meat in healthy proportions and cooked in healthy ways. Afghans, like Indians use tandoori ovens. Tandoori cooks quickly at high heat but does not create charring like regular grilling and it’s far healthier than frying.

It is possible to buy a tandoori oven but they may be hard to find and you can’t use on e in an apartment, for example. On the other hand, a rice cooker is not a staple in most American homes I’ve been in, but they are compact and easy to find. Steaming is a very healthy way to cook and it’s also a time saver for those who say they have no time to prepare healthy food. You put in the ingredients, add water, close the top and push the start button. No greasy mess, no hot stove to stand over and you can do something else while it cooks. The experiments I did with my Iranian roommate showed me how versatile and convenient this can be. I have since steamed fish in one. Also, having one is great if gluten sensitivity or intolerance affects a household member, as rice is gluten free.

So I offer this as an alternative to my just kvetching. Explore the world through food, have fun, get healthy, and eat well. This teacher learned as much if not more than she taught and my lessons were far more delicious than those of my students.

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Caturday Thoughts – The Farmer’s Market is Back

End of SeasonLast week the farmer’s market opened. The few vendors that came did not have much but I got some nice spring onions and leaf lettuce. There were some hothouse tomatoes. Unlike the store hothouse tomatoes these were quite red so I got some. They were not as flavorful as those of summer but still very tasty in a salad with the spring onions and lettuce. I hope things pick up.

Unlike many places where the farmer’s markets are really supported the city does nothing to help and took away the covered pavilion for construction workers working on a replacement bridge to use for parking their vehicles. Last year only half the vendors showed up. The local honey lady only came one time. She told me the very hot weather was having a negative impact on the bees and they hadn’t produced enough honey to bother coming with until the end of September. Beekeepers can’t just ghelp themselves to whatever is produced. They have to make sure that the hive has enough honey to survive the winter before they harvest. So add increased temperatures to the stress on bees. It’s not just the glyphosates The heat got to farmer Frank’s chickens too. In the heat they stop laying. It is too much stress on them. It’s inconvenient for me but I also know it’s nature’s way of giving them a rest. Unlike the poor birds stuffed into tiny cages in artificial environments where they lay day after day, month after month with no rest, Frank’s chickens get a break which keeps them healthy.

Amish horse and buggyWith things so up in the air I didn’t put in a garden this year. So I may wind up going to the farmer’s market in the next town where my old nutritionist had her practice. Even though it is in the heart of downtown they have free parking. Also, the garage where I get the truck worked on is past an area where there are many Amish and Mennonite farms. When I lived in Pennsylvania many Amish had roadside stands selling eggs and produce. I got some good canning tips and excellent food at those stands so a road trip might be in order to see if there are any out there towards the mechanic’s.

The hot humid weather will soon be upon us and i will not want to heat up the kitchen. Thank goodness the cat’s don’t need cooked food. When I have tried to cook for them they have rejected it solidly.

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If We Are What We Eat Are Some People Junk?

Just a few blocks from where I live is an intersection of two main roads at which are clustered several fast food outlets.  Their paring lots are normally packed in the morning and around the traditional meal times. The parking lots of most non-chain restaurants only contain a few vehicles, with the exception of two places whose menus are throwbacks to the 1950’s. I really try to support local businesses. I have tried most of them. There is one lovely restaurant on Main Street someone recommended and it is one of only three  I would recommend to anyone else myself.

I don’t know anyone who says they hate food. I do know many people who comment or debate on what constitutes food, or who complain about the effects food has on them, like weight gain, allergies, or gastrointestinal distress. Food is important, we need it to survive. However, most people I’ve encountered want their lives to be more than mere survival and they want their food to enhance their lives, not be the bane of it. Just the same food is a double edged sword.

restaurant clear canister of sugar

Humans would be better off if they were like cats and had no capacity to taste sweet, for starters. A sweet treat for a special occasion can be life enhancing, we all need small celebrations once in a while. How sweet and how often is the slippery slope we slide down from enhancement to harm. Sugar is addictive. So addictive test rats addicted to IV cocaine when switched to sugar preferred it. Just like the lab rats people are channeled into addiction starting as infants. Baby food is loaded with extra sugar and babies pretty much have to eat what they are given. I seriously doubt the parents of most kids would give them food laced with cocaine. but every day people are putting their children on that slippery slope.

Plate of fried foodHowever, it isn’t just the addictive effects of sugar that causes all the harm but it’s excess in a diet already overloaded with fried foods, a staple of fast food outlets. That’s another contributor to the problem. Then there are the nutritionally deficient processed foods. They call them junk foods and for a reason. There is little food value. They have ingredient lists I need my kid brother with a PhD in pharmaceutical chemistry to translate. They are scientifically designed to bypass the bodies normal triggers to cease eating. That “melt in your mouth” action in a lot of foods deceives the brain into thinking you are not getting any substance. It is estimated that 23.5 million Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Compare that to the latest figures from the CDC showing 78.6 million adults are obese. I could rattle on for hours about the costs of all this, economic and social costs, and plain old human unhappiness but the upshot is we are killing ourselves, slowly, surely and unnecessarily. 

Bowl of Mexican vegetable soup

Real Mexican food looks like this

It doesn’t have to be this way but it requires people to step up and take responsibility  for their own welfare. Yes, societal changes are needed. Poverty is a major reason for poor eating. There are food deserts all over the country. Low cost personal changes make a difference, though. It can be as easy as switching from soda to water. Switch to oatmeal  from those dreadful boxed breakfast cereals. When my cousin got pregnant and looked at the cost and nutritional content of baby food, she went out and bought a blender. Pureed peaches, chicken and vegetables were just that, plus fresher and less expensive. Opening up to new foods and cuisines can be a big help. I find most American food boring and bland. I eat all kinds of Asian food and real Mexican and Italian food. There is so much more to these cuisines than most Americans are aware of. Consistently I see people eating the same things over and over, week after week, all of them bad.

If we are what we eat, are some of us junk? Or garbage? I don’t think people should ever be considered junk or garbage. Still, if that is what you eat, it will affect you and not in a good way. I love to eat and I love to cook. I don’t always eat perfectly, but I work hard to eat food that tastes great and makes every calorie a nutritious one. I also don’t spend as much as a lot of people I know and get a lot more food for what I spend. I eat very well, trust me. I don’t want anyone to feel deprived and it’s not necessary. We just need to junk the junk food and rediscover all the delicious and healthy things out there to eat.

 

Overflowing trash

Where junk food goes before we eat it.

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Caturday Thoughts – This Saturday Meet Simba

I am very busy these days working on my thesis. So I am cheating a little and letting the cats guest post on Caturday Thoughts. I know I mention them a lot in a general way so I thought I would let them introduce themselves. When I was very young I desperately wanted a cat. We got a kitten and I was thrilled. Then my father reacted with extreme allergies and the kitten was re-homed.  Later i life a had a roommate or two with a cat but not util I moved in with YJ did I find true cat happiness. As i walked to the apartment to first see it and meet YJ an orange tabby appeared in the sliding patio doors. As I approached the cat watched me but disappeared as I reached the doors. That was Simba, my re-introduction to cat happiness. Today Simba will take over the blog.

Simba

Hello, my name is Simba. My human mother has lots of nicknames for me, though. She calls me Little Orange a lot. I am originally from Los Angeles but I have traveled across the country with my sister. We girls were originally rescued from a shelter by Master Kim, a Tae Kwon Do instructor. When Master Kim moved east to a new job he brought us with him to Connecticut and then to Virginia. One day I was sitting looking out the patio doors of our home and I saw a strange lady coming toward the patio. There was a knock on the door and I ran into the bedroom and hid under the bed.  We didn’t know Master Kim had advertised for a roommate. She saw me before I ran and hid and she says she knew she would take the room as soon as she saw me.

Pretty soon she was settled in and we discovered this lady loved cats. We got extra brushing and playtime and cuddles. She talked to us in Korean, just like Master Kim! Master Kim called my sister Tae Sun because she is a big girl but our new mom started calling her Mi Sun because she wanted her to lose weight. Mi means beautiful in Korean. One day the doctor told Master Kim his asthma was getting worse because he was allergic to us. Our mom promised  him she would keep us and take care of us forever and she has. We live in different places now but mom  and Master Kim stay in touch and she tells him how we are. Mi Sun torbie cat faceMom says since I talk about Mi Sun we should put in a picture for you to see. So here she is but this time I am first so that’s it. She always gets to the food first. She’s kind of bossy.

My sister and I have very loud purrs. I lay against mom in the bed and purr my loud purrs at all her bad joints and she feels better. Did you know the frequency of cat purring is healing? She calls me her therapy cat.  I don’t read Scientific American like mom but I know purring does good things. My cat mother purred at me when I was a kitten. I think purring is love and I know love always helps you feel better whether you are a cat or a human or even a dog.  Mom purrs back at me to let me know she feels better but her purr is kind of weak. That’s OK, if humans could do their own purring we cats would probably get a lot less attention.

I am getting older now, it seems like we have been together forever, so mom takes me to the vet four times a year, It used to be twice a year but now we are carefully monitoring my kidneys. Two years the vet said I needed dental work. Before that could happen I needed to lose some weight. Mom is pretty stingy with food and treats, she measures our food and counts out our treats but Mi Sun and I have always tended to overweight.  Mi Sun always pesters mom for more food but I don’t and I lost my weight just the way the vet wanted, not too fast, and had my work done. I had to have three teeth taken out but it was not bad, the vet did a good job and after a day or so I felt much better. He even put one of those microchip things in while I was asleep. Mom asked me if I remembered getting hurt because the vet said all the teeth that he took out were next to each other and they came out easily and it looked like I had been injured at some point.  I just know I was bunting mom and snuggling a lot to let her know I wasn’t mad about the vet and I felt better. The technician even saved my fang in a tiny jar for mom. I don’t miss it, I still can eat dry food just fine and even chew on dried squid, one of my favorite snacks mom gets me when  she goes to the Korean grocery for her kimchi. I never would let mom brush my teeth, I was too set in my ways when she tried to start.  I suggest getting it started when cats are still kittens then they will get used to it and maybe avoid surgery later. A happy mouth makes a happy cat, I say.

Simba's Safe Place

One thing mom had no trouble with was getting me used to the carrier. I like to sleep in the carrier, it’s cozy and secure. Mom leaves carriers in different corners of the house in case we want a private place to snooze. Mom says it’s like a Japanese micro hotel. I don’t know about that, but mom does try to show me a lot of stuff on her laptop about cats in Japan. At least that’s what she says but I can’t read English or Korean, much less Japanese. Just in case I might not want to go in the carrier when she needs me to,  mom grew an enormous catnip bush outside the back door and she puts some in the carrier. I usually give in when that happens.

I know not everyone who reads this blog is cat crazy like mom and I hope you don’t mind us helping her while she is so busy. Her master’s thesis is about putting more caring back into medical care for humans and I think she secretly wants to make it a book. She tells us all the time cats and dogs have a better medical system than people. I really don’t like going to the vet but the people are kind and gentle and mom says my insurance is a much better deal than people insurance. I don’t know about insurance but if human medical care is not kind and gentle I am glad I am a cat.

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Food for Thought

The M Room book coverBeing a cheapskate (or thrifty depending on your thought) I have no cable and no television. However, I have internet and internet means I have YouTube. When it’s late and I’m too tired to work but still too awake to sleep I explore the YouTube universe. Lately I found people had posted a series of episodes of a show called Secrets of the Dead. Of course it’s an older show but it’s new to me. Some very interesting stuff. One I especially liked was inspired by a book called The M Room by Helen Fry. It’s about how the cunning British Intelligence, way ahead of their time, bugged three stately homes with microphones and recording equipment and interred captured German soldiers there in WWII.  Rather than harsh interrogation, they received great treatment, and lured into a false sense of security blabbed about everything.

The book had been around for years but I had never encountered it. So much for living in a town with no bookstores. I thought it would certainly be worth a read and got onto my Goodreads account to discover I had forgotten about the annual book challenge. So several months behind I signed up to read thirty books this year. The M Room is on the list. Books can be bought inexpensively and traded or sold for more. They can be donated to charity. Cable is highway robbery and not recyclable. Obviously I am not totally against television or I would not be watching programs on You Tube. The selection can be erratic but it is very diverse and you can choose what you want, and not have to take (and pay for) what you will never look at.

Reading build mental muscle. I intend to keep my brain n the best working order possible. The Dead Wrestler Elegies book coverSo I will do my best to make my goal of thirty books this years. I have already read four, the Alienist by Caleb Carr (actually a re-read), Alchemical Psychology by Thomas F Cavalli and Genius by James Gleick. The genius of the title is Richard Feynman, one of the few people I actually hold as a hero. I watch his lectures on YouTube, too. The fourth is The Lunar Tao by Deng Ming-Dao. I have another book I purchased after reading one of the poems on another blog, The Friday Influence, written by Jose Angel Araguz. The book is The Dead Wrestler Elegies by W. Todd Kaneko. The poetry is incredible, very strong, visceral really, so I am treating it like an old and fine brandy, savoring it slowly in sips. It’s going on my Challenge list too,

I have been really working on attracting positive things. Te Law of Attraction may be bunkum but a positive attitude is healthier. I took some mildewed, scratched and otherwise damaged old law books to the paper recycling for my cat rescue friend. They were were taking up a whole shelf in the store she really needed. To my amazement, I refilled two of the boxes with an assortment of books in perfect condition someone had dumped there, everything from ghost stories to novels, and from James Herriott to L Ron Hubbard! So maybe the Law of Attraction is not bunkum. I needed books for my list. Not only did I get an idea for one from the YouTube show, I got several actual books I could use!

Victorian Ghost Stories book cover

One of my finds at the recycling center. I collect ghost stories.

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