Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Molasses Crinkles.....a story is emerging. 1-13-2015

Comfortably ensconced in an apricot covered chair, the spring light coming through the window casting the verdant green shadows of the Pacific Northwest all around, Elsie MacGregor, leaned back. I should go for a walk she thought. I will soon, I just want to look through a cookbook for awhile first. Elsie might not cook dinner, she might eat the leftover spring rolls and ginger vegetables that were in the fridge from the dinner last night at The Lemon Grass. Cooking, or at least thinking about food, was the way she connected to the world, and found her inspiration as a high school World History teacher. 

Elsie pulled on the silver earring dangling from her left ear. She ran her hand through her mid-length tousled brown hair. Her single silver bangle on her left wrist moved with her. Her blue eyes looked at the stack of cookbooks beside her chair. These books were friends. She wasn't resistant to recipes gleaned online with her iPad. She enjoyed television food programs. She had a Kindle. She wasn't up to her Millennial peer group techie standard, but she was holding her own. These books though each had a story. 

The Betty Crocker Children's Cookbook had seen better days. Her mother had lovingly passed it on to her a few years ago. Just looking at it made Elsie salivate. Her mother had perfected the Molasses Crinkle recipe in the cookbook by adding triple ginger. The crackling sugar on the outside and the ginger. This conjured up memories of fall,  and the slight chill in the air. She thought about coming home from school to a house fragrant with the aroma of these warm cookies. How had her mother done it? She created a lovely home with good homemade food, even though she herself was a working mother. Elsie felt like she was there, in her family home, talking with her mother after their work and school days, sharing stories and dunking a molasses Crinkles into milky cups of tea. 

😊Foods over done. Food though is how I have connected to culture for many decades. When I can't travel, cuisine offers that. I will use the fictional character Elsie to hone my writing skills and to travel vicariously.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Now I've shared the gift😊. Fajitas all around. 1-11

Thanks Ted Vento. I did the prep work, and then I taught Mary and Kyle how to make the tortillas. Mike grilled some steak for fajitas. Next time, I will be able to sit around. A whole lot of family fun, and great nutritional and culinary rewards.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The gifts of time and an experience!

My friend Vicky Vento gives me gifts of her time constantly. The hours she puts in doing things for me, my family and my students cannot be counted. She makes a difference to the students at W. F. West High School. Like many who give, she is often not thanked enough. Today her gift of time was for our Knowledge Bowl Team. She runs the clock while I ask the questions. Running the clock.....stressful, and she does it without complaint. She's a bright spot on our tournament mornings.

After the tournament today I was invited to her home. Ted Vento had made me a tortilla press in his woodshop, a beauty, made out of walnut and oak. It is too beautiful to use, but we used it. Ted had received the gift of making tortillas with a friend and her Mexican mother. The mother had probably made dozens of tortillas a day for most of her life. Ted passed the gift on to me.

First, we must start with the Masa.
Available in our grocery stores.

Ted quickly put a cup of Masa in a bowl, and turned the tap water on to hot.

Then he just began letting hot tap water flow into the Masa. No measuring, just a practiced eye. 

If you are going to try this, I would suggest about a quarter cup of really hot tap water to start and then add as needed.

Ted says, you must just mix it with one hand. Once it is wet, just wet your hand under the tap and mix and knead. The Masa needs to be worked for awhile. 

See how it looks here? Almost ready. Wet your hand, work it a bit more. Remember Play Doh....the store bought kind? It should feel just like that when it is finished. 

A cup of Masa will make six thin tortillas, but we opted for five really deluxe tortillas. 

Take a part of the Masa and shape a ball. Cut a plastic zip lock type bag open and place the bag on the tortilla press. Place the ball of Masa on the press and put the top of the plastic bag over it. 

Press on the board itself, don't use the press handle yet. Use your body weight. Kind of like a yoga downward facing dog, where you spread the weight through your full hand, and press from the torso. 

Finally use the handle. Ted is a master craftsman as well as an organic farmer, home chef etc. He designed his press so that the edges on the whole tortilla stay equal for the entire circumference. So impressed!
Look at that! Perfect!

If you aren't lucky enough to have a tortilla press, don't lose heart. Make the ball of dough, press it down between the sides of the plastic or waxed paper, and press your cutting board down on top of it. There you go. You too, will have a beautiful tortilla.

Now heat a cast iron skillet, or the skillet that you have, to medium high heat. Watch the tortilla steam and gently curl on the edges. Flip it and it is quickly finished.

When the tortilla is finished place it in inside a slightly damp warm towel. Make more tortillas and store them in this warm moist place. 

Making the tortillas was fun, but we got to eat them too. The Vento's have a lovely warm and inviting kitchen. Ted had prepared a chilli with home grown garlic, onions and peppers. We had avocados two ways as tortilla toppers. Guacamole - always a hit, and sliced avocados in a white wine vinegar with cracked pepper. The second variation on avocado was Ted's mothers recipe. I'd never had it that way and it was delicious.

Thank you Ted and Vicky Vento for gifts that can't be matched. I enjoyed the company, the cuisine and the conversation. A day I will always treasure.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Meet Mirza Ghalib 1/6/2015

Meet Mirza Ghalib

Thousands of desires, each worth dying for...

Many of them I have realized...yet I yearn for more...

I have the habit of traveling the Silk Roads from the past to the present. A friend from India recently introduced me to the ghazals of Mirza Ghalib. What is a ghazal? Who is Mirza Ghalib? That at least was my starting place for this wonderful journey back in time. 

This friend has the soul of a Mughal, and he appreciates the rich history and culture of his native South Asia. I was quick to download Mirza Ghalib by Gulzar on my new Kindle. A chapter or two a day of this fascinating book takes me back to a turbulent time in South Asian history, the last days of the Mughals and the colonization of India by the British. Ghalib reflects on it all, through his beautiful ghazals. The ghazal is actually a form of poetry that originated in Arabia, and predates the Islamic Holy Book the Koran. I’ve studied Arabic, Persian and Turkish poetry a bit, and I was delighted to find that Ghalib blends that rich literary culture into his 19th Century poetry and prose, and throws in the beautiful elements of Sufi mysticism as well. 

Get to know Mirza Ghalib. He’s considered one of, if not the most influential poet of the classical Urdu language. I wish that I could read the ghazals in Urdu, Persian, or Hindi. They are beautiful in English though, and you can extend the sensory experience by listening to Ghalib’s ghazal’s sung in traditional languages thanks to Even better, listen, read and gaze at Mughal miniature art all at the same time. You too will be transported to another time and place.

Photo friend in India who recently visited the Mirza Ghalib museum in Delhi, India.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Back to School


For three decades, I’ve had the habit of entering a classroom after the New Year to teach sophomores and seniors in high school. The night before, there is the inevitable “teacher dream”. For me, these are usually about executing a new lesson or passing out papers and giving instructions. Last night, the dream was how to teach a full essay for AP World History! That’s a challenge under the best of circumstances, and causes plenty of tossing and turning as a dream. I blame my friend and east coast AP World colleague for planting that seed.


As the saying goes with horse riding or cycling, “once you learn you never forget”. Getting “back in the saddle” after a two-week winter break seems a bit challenging at first. “What should we be studying?” “Why are we studying it?”, “Where are my materials?” “How does this old VCR work?” “What’s my password for my school computer, my grade book, my email?” Maybe you say,  “You’ve been teaching too long”.  Sometimes that thought crosses my mind too, but I’ve bumped into colleagues of all ages in the hallway before school, at the coffee pot and in the copy room this morning. We all have somewhat dazed expressions on our faces. 


Old habits die-hard. By lunchtime it will seem old hat. We’ll be back on track. We will be tired tonight though. There’s an inner tension as I remember how to do my job. The same look is on the faces of the students. There is nothing quite like looking into the faces of students eager to be back, ready for the routine. After a few minutes together, we are all back on track. The habits of teacher and student kick in.  

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Inner Peace? 1/5-2015

American Poet Laureate, Maya Angelou once wrote in a memoir, that she was working on being a Christian. "Right on Maya" I thought when I read that. Maya's words have  stuck with me.  I have always thought about my walk with Jesus that way. I am imperfect, I am working at being a Christian. Many in the world are turned off by the holier than thou rhetoric of "I AM a Christian". Most people in the world can agree with the desire to work for oneness with God. It is a bond that could bring people together, rather than fracture and fragment a society or global society. Thanks Maya, for so many life lessons. I call your name, and I too am working on being a Christian. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Creatures of Habit 1-3-2015

My golden retriever, Dooley, will not be having anything to do with New Year's resolutions, and the changing of habits. He loves his life, and habits are the best part of it. Why would he want to change his habits? He has a high quality "dog's life".

As part of his family though, I might urge him to change one or two habits for 2015. I'd recommend that he slow down at the food bowl. Instead of inhaling his food, he might try savoring it. Especially since he is often the beneficiary of tasty bits like bacon grease, chicken meatballs, and parmigiano reggiano. Yes, Dooley's family likes to eat well. He is eight years old now, and even though he works in the woods five days a week, he could stand to cut back on his chow just a bit.

I'd also recommend that Dooley learn to look before barking when he dashes out to the front yard every morning to fetch the newspaper. Yes, newspapers will soon be a thing of the past. That will force an unwelcome change of habit for certain. The bark.....a big and loud, bow wow, bow wow. It's very effective in terrorizing the unwanted solicitor who has entered ones driveway, but it can also cause the elderly bicyclist to totter. Okay, we enjoy his big bark and wouldn't want it eradicated, but maybe he could learn to use it only on desirable occasions. 

I am sure there are other habits that I could recommend that Dooley modify in 2015, and I am sure he would also have a list for me. That list might read: sit on the floor more with me every day and pet me, work in the kitchen more and keep the tidbits coming, and go outside and work in the yard so that I can wrestle with you, steal your gloves, and roll on the things you just planted. 

Life's about accepting one another's habits. Going easy on other creatures and loving yourself. In 2015, I'll just enjoy getting up at the crack of dawn with Dooley, even on weekends to sit with him on the floor as I scroll through Facebook catching up with friends. I will enjoy his drooling as I make my breakfast, school lunch and the family dinner. I will enjoy his squealing when he comes home from a work day in the woods and is acting like he has not seen me in years. His habits.....very comforting to those who live with him.