Bluegrass Basic Nourishment (A Love Song via Recipes)

16 Aug

This latest trip to Kentucky was all about feeding me. I sounded like an exaggerated porno during every meal I ate, with my oohs and mmmms every 3rd bite. I smiled and laughed and reveled in the joy of good company like nobody’s business. Family, friends, and food are all important forms of sustenance for the body and mind, and while I have all three of those things down here, to some degree or another, I can’t get the same ones here as there. Despite all the obstacles, I made it to Kentucky at the end of July for a much-needed recharge on all three of those things I’ve been missing so badly. I got the chance to break bread with many great folks, and I got to cook for some of my favorite people, too (one of my big pleasures in life, and something I feel like is at the core of my being). In so many ways, this trip fed my spirit.

So I thought I’d share some of my near-orgasm inducing dishes with you lovely folks. Think of this like a little thank you note in recipe form. I want you to enjoy these foods in my absence! It makes me feel better about missing out on them if I know someone is savoring them. (Lots of these recipes you can make down here, either with a couple tweaks, or if you’re willing to spend the money on expensive stuff, or if you pay attention they’ll occasionally have things in the market like okra or brussel sprouts- but only every once in a while.)
The Beautiful Brunch 

Salad and Artichokes for Breakfast
Salad and Artichokes for breakfast? What? Yes! I was down to the wire, with only two more days worth of meals to enjoy, and I still had a bunch of food calling my name in my mom’s fridge. So this is how it played out, and even at 9am, it was perfect. It was more perfect because we ate it with my fabulous friend Shannon (the Super Shannon, as Karina calls her, and surely one of the only people who would agree to this absurdly luscious meal first thing in the morning).

These two hit it off like peas in a pod! My shy-with-strangers kiddo couldn't resist the Super Shannon! And she loved artichokes.

These two hit it off like peas in a pod! My shy-with-strangers kiddo couldn’t resist the Super Shannon! And she loved artichokes. She ate half of mine and then hit up Shannon for hers!

Salad:

-packaged mix of 1/2 spinach and 1/2 other salad greens (yay for pre-washed, pre-mixed greens!)
-walnuts
-red onion
-blue cheese
-berries (any kind works on this- blueberries, strawberries, cranberries)
-heirloom tomatoes (if it’s summertime)
-avocado (optional)
-US version dressing: Annie’s papaya poppyseed dressing (from the makers of Goddess dressing, yum yum yum)
OR
-make your own dressing version (adapted from my friend Anna):
1 cup olive oil (or mix canola and olive for a cheaper version)
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 small onion, chopped
salt to taste
Throw it in the blender and it’s ready.
Whole, luscious, sensual Artichokes:

Boil or steam for about 45 minutes, until outer leaves are tender and falling off. Melt some butter for dipping. Also for dipping (Chilean style), squeeze some fresh lemon and add some salt to it. If you’ve never eaten the leaves before (geez, I’m making orgasm noises just typing about it- how embarrassing!), you dip the not-prickly part of the leaf in butter or lemon, then scrape the “meat” off with your teeth. Repeat, repeat, repeat. As you get closer to the center, the heart, the leaves get smaller and more tender. Dining on artichokes is a nice, slow process. Yes, you have your reward in the center, the tender heart (nothing like what it tastes like from a can), but the leaves and the eating process are their own reward as well. FYI, this is like the best romantic dinner food, ever. I’m pretty sure that’s what sealed the deal between Conan and I. Although Shannon and I proved you can safely share artichokes among friends as well, so don’t feel like you have to wait for romance. Any beautiful friend will do.

So Much More than a Work Reunion
Kidney beans with Stir-Fry:

I don’t know why I can’t get red beans down here. There are black beans galore, white beans, pinto beans, lima beans, even black-eyed peas, but no kidney beans. So I bought a couple cans of red kidney beans, which normally I love to mix with okra.
But instead I stir-fried some bok choi with mushrooms and corn fresh off the cob (of course with garlic and onion), then threw the cans of beans (liquid included) on top and let it cook a few minutes on low to blend the flavor. It’s not complicated or exact enough for there to be an official recipe. But it’s quick, nutritious, and yum-inducing, so enjoy.

I got to enjoy this dish with some of my very favorite humans on the planet, some folks I used to get paid to work with, who now I’d pay money to work with again! (Well, okay, maybe I don’t have that kind of money. But still. They’re that great.) These are people who are radically, consciously, lovingly making our world a better place every day, in the way they work, the way they live, the way they raise kids. It was just a couple hours, but the hugs alone recharged part of my very being. And you know, great people, great food. For example, there was sriracha hummus (genius)! And next time I’ll get you Gabriela’s recipe for some kind of chocolate banana bread, which was one of many things that destroyed all my hopes of eating in moderation during my trip.

Some folks couldn't make it, and only some of the crew agreed to have their picture taken, but it was still all joyful.

Some folks couldn’t make it, and only some of the crew agreed to have their picture taken, but it was still all joyful.

Making Family Believe in Vegetables, An Inherited Trait
Damned Delicious Brussel Sprouts:

My dad used to always cook brussel sprouts with elaborate sauces, like béarnaise, or some fancy cheese-based sauce. This is one of the many reasons I grew up loving vegetables. While I’m not half as good with sauces as he was, I have some other vegetable tricks up my sleeve, and my damned delicious brussel sprouts are one of them. I took them to a family get-together my step-mom threw for us. The family time was much too fleeting, and I didn’t even see everyone, but it was still medicine for my heart. So I took some love in the form of food but then I sampled about half of the sprouts myself (oops). I tried to make sure everyone tried them, but I felt the need to try them again every time someone else did, so they would be in good company. Sorry, guys, I was just trying to make sure they weren’t poisoned! Next time I’ll make a triple batch.

If you just can’t wait till next year, though, here’s how you do it:
Cut off the hard bit at the bottom. Then cut them into halves or thirds. Sauté over low-medium heat with chopped garlic, salt, pepper, and Cajun seasoning (if you’re in the US with your fancy pre-made spice combos). Just cook them until they’re al dente- they should still be a bit crunchy. Then try not to eat them all before the other food is served. (Especially when the food is chili! A life necessity!)

family loving- Khalil with his Great Aunt Linda

family loving- Khalil with his Great Aunt Linda

The Potluck

My mom threw me a potluck, as well, which is my very favorite kind of get-together, what with the mixing of food and good company, all the variety of flavors that result from everyone bringing something to the table (figuratively and literally).

I was already in heaven with the company, and I haven’t even told you about the food. I didn’t make anything for this potluck, unless you count cutting some fruit. Nonetheless, there was an excess of food, including about 8 different desserts that I had to sample (especially pecan pie and some kind of spicy brownie business- wow). There was succotash and pizza and curry chicken salad, and I ate the best cornbread I’ve ever had. And I’m from Kentucky, folks; I’m a corn bread connoisseur. It was kind of like the company and conversation- so many great people in one room! Who do I talk to? How can I talk to everyone? I overloaded on everything, in all the best ways. And I even finagled the recipe for you!

Dan’s Cornbread (my new favorite cornbread)
Obviously, Dan made this- not me. He is a chef after my own heart, in that he didn’t want to commit to an exact recipe. As you can see from my recipes, I’m more of a spontaneous, don’t measure, throw it in there kind of chef. But when someone begs you to write it down, you’ve got to come up with something. So here’s how he got it down for me.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Put 2 Tablespoons of vegetable in cast iron skillet and place in oven.

Mix
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup white flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
Optional: 1 teaspoon of each or any cumin, chipotle, garlic powder, onion powder. Your preference.
Optional: 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Mix
1 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4  cup vegetable oil
1 small can diced green chilis (4 oz)

Combine wet ingredients and dry ingredients. Mix well.
Pour into cast iron skillet.
Bake at 400 until edges are brown and toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle. (Guessing at the time, but no more than 30 minutes)

The beautiful Kathy! Who takes lovely photos. Just one of the many fabulous moments of the potluck.

The beautiful Kathy! Who takes lovely photos. Just one of the many fabulous moments of the potluck. She and her mama spent a lot of quality time with Lucia.

My best friends, sitting on the porch
Easy Kale:

Okay, I didn’t eat greens with my two best friends while I was there. I sat on the porch and drank bourbon and beer with them (so worth it to stay up later than the kids- so, so worth it). But while we’re talking about Kentucky food and people and things that I love, let me talk about the plethora of greens. (Because I don’t have a recipe for bourbon, after all.) Turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens- my bluegrass home is full of greens! I took advantage of the cheap and plentiful kale, which is so easy to make. Here’s one of my simple versions:

Sauté onion and garlic, then throw in the washed and chopped kale with a tiny amount of water (think of it like a version of steaming, not boiling- you don’t even want the water to cover it). Put in salt, pepper, and some lemon juice (yeah, lemons! The yellow ones! We only get limes down here.) And voila! Cook until tender.

me and my girl b.f.f., on the porch. even the photo is blurry with squinty-eyed joy!

me and my girl b.f.f., on the porch. even the photo is blurry with squinty-eyed joy!

at the end of the trip, the three of us are sick, but my male b.f.f. is still rocking it with us!

at the end of the trip, the three of us are sick, but my male b.f.f. is still rocking it with us!

There were a lot of other moments I could highlight. It was pretty much non-stop moments of fabulousness and nourishment. But since I don’t have days on end to reminisce, I want to just say thank you.

Thank you so much to everyone who took time out of their busy life to see us. Thank you to everyone for sharing with us. Thank you to everyone in Kentucky who I didn’t get to see this time, but who is still a beloved friend or family member, who still makes our lives rich just from knowing you. Thank you to everyone here in the state of Oaxaca who is making our lives richer and more delicious here, too.

So I’m going to try to keep making a yearly pilgrimage to my homeland, for my beloved family, friends, and food that I can’t get (or can’t get enough of) down here. There’s more food and joy to write about, but this will have to tide us over for now. Buen Provecho! (That means enjoy the food, folks!) xoxoxo

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