Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

Black krim
It's easy! I have never liked spaghetti sauce from a jar and have prided myself in making it from my mother's recipe (from a box of Mueller's) - which called for cans of tomato and tomato paste. The only time I ever made sauce from my own tomatoes was from ones I had canned! 

While on vacation, I was inspired by a recipe I'd saved to Pinterst for tomato soup made from roasted tomatoes (it was delicious). John noticed that with a few changed it might make a good sauce. He was right. 

There are already lots of hothouse tomatoes at the farmers market. Soon there will be many more - from our own garden too. 

Ingredients: 

10 plum tomatoes, halved 
5 cloves garlic, peeled and whole
one large onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 tablespoon honey
a pinch of hot pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

First, roast the tomatoes and garlic. Place them on a lightly-oiled or parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté onions in a dutch oven or large pot with olive oil, adding oregano and basil as onions become translucent. When tomatoes are done, whirl them in a blender, then pour into pot with onions.  Add honey and hot pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes to two hours, adding a little water if it becomes too thick (we didn't need to). Salt and pepper before serving.

This made four large servings for people who like spaghetti a lot.  


Fixing grits

Grits
Home fries, grits, or hashbrowns?  For me, it’s always grits and always will be – even though I like home fries a little better.  The reason for this came home to me a few months ago when I was ordering breakfast with my brother.  We both chose grits and then surprised each other by admitting that we ordered them due to love, not taste. Dad loved grits.

He was a mid-20th century boy, raised in the South (about 45 miles from Gainesville). My best early memory of grits is at the yellow laminate kitchen table of his parents’ kitchen, the smell of Nettles sausage vying with the reek of chewing tobacco, the deep yellow, scrambled eggs cooked barely solid, butter melting over the speckled grits, and the country music station playing on the radio on the shelf above the fridge.

If your grits don’t have speckles and don’t take 20-30 minutes to cook, they are processed “quick grits.” Lawdy, don’t do that if you can help it. Real grits have more of the “stick-to-your-ribs" quality,and are worth the wait. My dad’s childhood took place during the heyday of grits, and all over the South people could carry their own dent corn to the local mill to have it ground for cheap.  The fine grounds became cornmeal and went into cornbread, another staple. The grittier grounds were… grits. Hardy grits got many southern families through the Civil War and the Depression, and were a staple for native people long before Europeans arrived.

Their long history and the fact that they haven’t really caught on in the rest of the country renders them even more precious to Southerners. You can get  organically-grown, local grits - the kind my grandmother bought - from Greenway Farms in Alachua. 

HOW TO FIX SOME GRITS:  To prepare them the traditional way, simply pour one cup of grits and ½ teaspoon salt into  to 4 cups of boiling water. Whisk as the water returns to a boil, to keep them from lumping together.  Simmer for 20-30 minutes (this makes enough for a grits-loving family of four).

If you are new to grits, and want to make them a little richer and fancier, substitute milk for half, or even all, the water.  These are creamy and delicious even to neophytes.

IMPORTANT: However you cook them, a visible dollop of butter melting on the top is a must. 


Curried Beans and Greens

Collards
Oh, greens, we were beginning to tire of you. We had two giant bins of collards donated this week from our friends the Grahams and from Paul, a dear friend who organizes a local middle school garden. They were fresh and pest- and sand-free, but I kind of hated to see them. This has been an unusually good year for greens. They're beginning to feel like okra in September. Enough already.

Fortunately, our morning café food prep volunteers have become extremely adept greens-prep artists. They got it all lunch- (and freezer) ready in no time. In the last couple weeks we’ve served trusty Beans and Greens, Sweet Potato Fritattas with greens, a variation of this soup with greens floating in it, and Quiche - with greens. Today it was back to beans and greens with a little twist: a little more garlic, a lot more onion, copious curry, and garbanzos – served on rice. I know you can figure out a recipe on your own, but here’s one to get you started. They were good, and people loved them as usual, and by the end of the day, I liked them again too. Good ol' greens. 

Curried Greens and Beans

1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 bunches of collard greens (or mustard or turnip)
2 cups cooked garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas)

Chop and rinse greens and set aside. Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil in a large skillet or dutch oven-type pan. When onion is translucent, mix in curry powder. Add greens gradually, preferable still dripping with rinse water. Add a little water if necessary to keep from sticking. As greens wilt, slowly add the rest while turning with a spatula so new greens are on the bottom. When all the greens are in, sprinkle with soy sauce or Bragg's liquid aminos. When liquid begins to sizzle, cover and turn to low. Steam greens until tender, turning frequently. When tender (20-30 minutes), gently add garbanzo beans to pan and reheat. Serve on rice with pepper sauce, or the Graham's Hot Pepper Jelly


Gainesville Bucket List

Thomas center dogwoods
Over the last couple years, several graduating students have asked me for a "bucket list" of things to do in Gainesville before they leave. There are a few of these floating around - most very University of Florida specific. Here's mine - with a couple additions from this year. I tried to capture a variety of things peculiar to our region that I've really enjoyed over the years. What would your bucket list include? 

  1. Tube down the Ichetucknee - and be able to spell it.  
  2. Rent a canoe at Canoe Outpost and paddle by Lily Springs. Wave hello to Naked Ed
  3. Hike out to Bolen's Bluff on Paynes Prairie, or go a little further down the road to the newly opened Barr Hammock Preserve
  4. Bicycle the 14-mile Hawthorne Trail
  5. Visit the farm and feed the animals at Morningside Nature Center
  6. Go on a wildlower walk at Morningside or one led by herbalist Susan Marynowski
  7. Go to a movie and a play at the Hippodrome State Theater
  8. Contra Dance at the Thelma Boltin Center. 
  9. Do something in "Meeting Room A" at the Downtown Public Library - one of the most beautiful places in Gainesville. There's free yoga on Thusday evenings at 5:30. 
  10. Buy a mock tuna sandwich at Citizen's Co-op and eat it on their back patio. 
  11. Breakfast at The Jones, lunch at Café C, dinner at Civilization
  12. Share tapas at Emiliano's
  13. Order a great coffee at Volta
  14. Picnic on the lawn at the Thomas Center - preferably soon while the azaleas are blooming. 
  15. Get some of your picnic food at Uppercrust Bakery
  16. Watch the bats fly out of the UF Bat House at dusk. 
  17. Walk barefoot around the labrynth at Kanapaha Botanical Center, then continue walking in wonder through this beautiful place. 
  18. Read in the Quiet Room at the Millhopper branch library
  19. Take a hike at San Felasco Hammock - blue or yellow loop. 
  20. Count the alligators on La Chua trail
  21. Drive out to the Alachua County Famers Market on 441 (near the highway patrol) and buy some local oranges from the Henderson's, some incredible hot pepper jelly from the Grahams, and a bag of beautiful, flower-studded salad greens from Mrs. Carlisle. 
  22. Buy an interesting bottle of wine or unusual beer from Wards.  

Additions from Katherine Vickers Edison, Gainesville naturalist and photographer: 

  1. Pizza, music, and fun gift shopping at Satchels Pizza
  2. Museum of Natural History and Butterfly Rainforest
  3. Harn Museum of Art with lunch the café. 
  4. Take advantage of your cheap student tickets to see a great performance at the Phillips Center for Performing Arts
  5. Visit Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' house, just a few miles down the road. 
  6. Eat corn nuggets at The Top
  7. Go for a swim at Manatee Springs

{image: taken at one of our Thomas Center picnics}


Side of fries

French fries
Last week's café served up black-eyed peas and rice with greens and a side of fries. We have roasted veggies before, cutting them in the traditional french fry shape that disguised (maybe) the fact that it was actually a turnip or rutabaga. As there was no disguising the unique romanescu, we sweetened the pot with a little ranch dressing on the side. We tossed sliced turnips and pieces of romanescu with some olive oil and salt before roasting them in a baking pan at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, till tender. 

Here's the recipe for the the last minute ranch dressing, which consisted of whatever white stuff we could find in the fridge, with a little seasoning - approximately: 

1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
enough buttermilk to thin to dressing consistency
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried dill
salt to taste.

Whisk or shake together in a mason jar. Not a bit healthy, but something familiar for folks who are a little afraid of the romanescu, and very tasty.  Moderation.  

It was another delicious way to enjoy the beautiful romanescu, and the pink-centered turnips (thank you Grahams!) were beautiful alongside.  Our guests approved! 


Sweet Potatoes Mexicano

Stuffed sweet potato mexicano 2 sm
So easy, and it has that tasty combination of sweet potato, salty cheese, and bitter greens. Yum. 

Ingredients
6 sweet potatoes
2 cups cooked black beans (or one can)
1/4 cup (or so) of frozen or canned corn
1 bunch of greens - collads, turnips, mustard, kale, cabbage, or chard
Cheddar cheese (optional)
Taco condiments - salsa, sour cream, hot sauce, etc.

Wash sweet potatoes, removing any deep blemishes. Place on baking sheet and bake at 350 for 30-60 minutes, depending on size. Test with a fork for tenderness after 30 minutes. Remove from oven. 

While sweet potatoes are baking, cook greens like this, or - if you are using chard - like this. Then heat up the black beans and corn in a pot together.  

Leave oven on after removing sweet potatoes. While they are still on the baking sheet, carefully slice the potato open. Push opposite ends together to "mash" potato, or use a fork to fluff up the insides a bit. Push some of the greens into the potato, making a nest for the black beans and corn. Add the beans and corn, and cover with grated cheese (optional). Return to oven to melt cheese. Add salsa and other taco fillings if you would like. 


Leftover oatmeal muffins

Leftover oatmeal muffins
We have started serving breakfast four morning a week at the Green House Catholic Worker! Even though it means firing up the kitchen a little early to get things ready by 7am, we are really enjoying it. And so are the folks who come and eat. The hours between daylight and 9am are a tricky time for homeless folks who often have to leave the shelter or are roused from their sleeping spot early and don't have a place to be until things begin to open at 9.  It's especially hard when it's cold or rainy. We serve a very simple meal - oatmeal or toast mainly with boiled eggs and fruit - but try to make the place wam and inviting, with quiet music, the newspaper, and a fire in the fireplace on cold days. 

We served oatmeal last week, and overshot the mark a little on the quantity. There are a number of recipes online, and I combined the ones that seemed the most healthy and used the least expensive ingredients. What a delicious way to transform glops of cold oatmeal!

LEFTOVER OATMEAL MUFFINS

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 eggs lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk
1 cup leftover cooked oatmeal (salted)
1/2 cup raisins, dried currants, blueberries, or other berries)
1 tsp vanilla

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, and baking powder (and 1/4 tsp. of salt if oatmeal was not salted when cooked). Make a well in the center and add eggs, slightly cooled melted butter, leftover oatmeal and vanilla. Whish liquid ingredients together, then stir gently in to dry ingredients. Add raisins or berries. Line muffin tin with paper muffin cups and fill 1/2 full with batter. Bake at 400 for about 20 minutes. 


We all need ramps

Dad

It’s not often that I hear something new. It must be my age. But a presentation I attended earlier this week, part of the "Friends Across the Ages" speaker series, had such a different spin on it that it really opened my mind. It was on dementia, which is not a favorite subject of mine. It hits too close to home; my father has it as did both of my grandmothers, and I am, honestly, terrified of it. I dragged myself to this meeting because the title held a little promise: “Strengthening Relationships with Those in Your Life Who are Dealing with Memory Loss.” I went out of daughterly duty to my dad, hoping for something to help my family. I came out with a new perspective, and a good deal of hope.

Carolyn Lukert, from the Center for Dementia Education, opened by asking what our reaction might be if a friend or family-member called to tell us they had just been diagnosed with dementia. The responses were variations on a theme: sadness, grief, fear, confusion… She went on to say that many people feel the way I do – that they would rather die than get the diagnosis.  My father said the same thing once. A diagnosis of dementia, for many of us, is not only a death sentence, but a tragedy – a dehumanizing tragedy where the victim will live the rest of his or her life embarrassing others and humiliating him/herself. How else to respond but with sorrow?

Well. Lukert framed it as a diagnosis similar to what cancer was fifty years ago. You got the diagnosis and disappeared, prepared to suffer. It seems unbelievable now, but my own grandmother and grandfather were so embarrassed by her breast cancer symptoms that they wouldn’t speak of it. Now we have pink ribbons and speeches and marathons and all kinds of support. We walk with people with cancer and laud them as “survivors,” however long that survival lasts. We have learned to accompany people with cancer, to appreciate their struggle and to help them continue to live their lives with human dignity and grace.

Is it possible that a change in attitude could transform a dementia diagnosis as well?  It is according to Lukert.  Yes, people with dementia may say and do embarrassing things, and god forbid we should feel awkward, but what if we granted them the same abundant patience and humor we do with young family members? What if we concentrated on spending meaningful time with our loved ones with dementia instead of shunning them because “they don’t know whether we’re there or not.” What if we learned to help them enjoy their lives, making accommodations when they become confused or agitated? How can we educate them, as well as ourselves, to better handle their loss of mental capacity – much like we educate people with cancer to handle their losses? Lukert gives a number of practical suggestions from how to touch them and talk with them to how to accompany them in doing the things that have always given them pleasure – from shopping to going to baseball games. She suggests that by offering to help a dementia patient count change at the grocery store, order at a restaurant, or re-meet an old friend we are doing something similar to what we do to help folks in wheelchairs enjoy life to the fullest. We build ramps.

These are ramps of understanding and good humor and love for people regardless of their mental capacity. She brought up some examples from her own experience of visiting residents in a nursing home where the right kind of touch, tone of voice, and attention could reach a person in the most advanced stages of dementia. It’s our responsibility to learn how to accompany people through this disease, to endure the awkwardness, to help them to enjoy their life as much as possible for as long as possible – out of love and out of respect for their continued humanity.  We all need ramps at times, and often it is these very people who made them for us when we were young or lost or needing help and guidance in our own changing lives. There is so much real life to be lived and shared during difficult times of change; it's a shame to miss out on the good in it out of fear of the awkward. 

At the end of the presentation, Lukert asked us if our minds had changed at all or if we might have a different reaction when that phone rings someday. She suggests this:  “I will be with you, whatever comes. We are in this together.” 

                                       {photo: my sweet father shortly after his diagnosis}


Winter citrus and ginger tea

Fridge drawer 1.5
Opening the fridge drawer today reminded me of how lucky we are to live in Florida in the winter. It's citrus season right at the perfect time. Every other person I know has a cold right now and, even if there is no actual proof that Vitamin C cures them, the bright colos and zingy taste makes me feel better.  

Meyers lemons, by the way, are our local variety. They're bigger than store-bought and a little less mouth-puckering. They are super-juicy compared to the smaller ones, and you can freeze the juice for summer lemonade and iced tea; they also make incredible lemon bars and lemon meringue pie. Calamondins are tiny citrus that remain sour as they ripen. We've sweetened them up into marmalade and pie, but they can substitute for lemons in lemonade and tea as well. 

On a chilly day like today, a cup of ginger tea is warming and healthy whether you have a cold or are just plain cold. Meyers lemons and/or calamondins add the tang, ginger spices it up, and honey just feels good going down. We bought the ginger at the co-op, but the lemon and honey we got from local farmers. Thank you Hendersons and Chacko-Allens! 

Ginger Tea

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Honey to taste

Place all ingedients in a small pot, add one cup water and bring to a boil. Steep for about five minutes. Poor through strainer into cup.  If you make more, you can store it in the fridge; it's good cold, too. 


Coconut Curry Summer Soup - or Something Else to Do with Eggplant

I think eggplant is pretty, but that's really the only good thing I have to say about it. Especially this time of year. We served this soup at the cafe today, and it was delicious. It also used up a number of other vegetable we have growing here in Gainesville in late summer. 

COCONUT CURRY SUMMER SOUP

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
2 "Italian (long, skinny) eggplant, peeled and chopped, and salted
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped
2 cups field peas (or any legume), pre-cooked
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 16 oz. can diced tomatoes
a little squeeze of lemon or lime, or even rice vinegar
1-2 cups coconut milk
salt to taste

Sauté chopped onion and pepper in olive oil for a few minutes till cruchy-tender. Add eggplant and stir fry till tender. Stir in curry powder. Add sweet potatoes and quinoa. Add water (or broth) to twice the depth of the vegetables. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer till potatoes are tender and the quinoa has become tiny spirals. Add tomatoes, coconut milk and heat to almost boiling. Add salt to taste. We garnished ours with delicious pickled jalapenos

It's a lovely, milky, golden color - just right for this time of year (I wanted to take a photo, but I accidentally returned it with the camera I borrowed this summer!). It was very gratifying to transform all these familar summer regulars into something new. And I don't notice the eggplant at all.

I hope you enjoy it.