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Apple-Kuzu Drink

1999 served me well.  It was the year I left Cal State Long Beach where I was attending college to major in Audiology/Speech Pathology.  Sign language and interpreting were part of my minor that really interested me. But, I left all that behind to pursue a passion instead; culinary school.  It was also the year I gained a best friend, the one I feel is the sister I never had; Dawn Sandoval.  She and I roomed together across from Gramercy Park in Manhattan in an extremely quaint women’s dorm.  So strict were they with the male race that it was like the soup nazi from Seinfeld.  NO MEN! So, it was something hysterical when my friend Myra snuck her boyfriend up 9 floors.  I have such amazingly fond memories of Natural Gourmet Cookery School run by Anne Marie Colban, the friends I met, and the experience/culture I was able to embrace. This was truly a highlight in my life.

Dawn and I had a close-knit group of friends that we acquired there along with our cooking skills. Together Mafalda Pinto Leite, Tracy Horwitz-Milenkovik, Myra Jane Church, Dawn, and I would spend days at school developing recipes to our hearts content, and race home to weave our way through the city partaking of fine food and spending afternoons in the warm glow of a community garden filled with stuffed animals as decor, roller skating in Central Park, or catching the underground to go see shows.  It was incredible. So much to see. So much to do. I am still friends with these wonderful gals to this day. We all still enjoy cooking whether professionally of personally.  I  also still have a permanent burn from breaking the dorm rules and extending my alotted 30 minutes in the gated park adjacent to the front lounge. It was sunny, and I was missing green grass and Dawn and I finagled the keys for a whole hour, piggy backing our time there.

It was at culinary school where I first tasted Apple-Kuzu Drink; a beverage containing the root starch.  It was something I stumbled upon.  It was a normal morning, rushing about the kitchens locating ingredients to create splendid meals for our instructors to grade.  I recall the school was fixing a broken refrigerator and it was mentioned to stay aware of the wires.  I happened to glance back as I was reaching in, and changed my glance to face the fridge while extending my reach, only to have a wire go straight into my eye.  It was so sudden, and so painful, that I stumbled backwards dropping the food from my grasp and crying aloud. I was instantly anxious because I had lasik surgery the year before and was in a panic that I had ruined it.

My instructor came to my aid, and instructed her assistant to prepare some apple-kuzu; for a relaxant. Truly, this combination worked on my nerves within 10 minutes.  It is something I use for my children when they have tummy aches, on myself when I feel stressed, or for treating colds.  It’s remedies include treatment of minor indigestion, treating colds, and minor aches and pains.  It’s also said to aid in treating headaches, colitis, sinus issues, tonsillitis, etc. Paired with ginger and umeboshi paste, it’s especially potent. The ginger aids in digestion while the umeboshi neutralizes lactic acid and eliminates it.

I have enjoyed mine several ways, but really love the following recipe:

Ingredients:

1/2 cup apple juice

1/2 cup filtered water

1 rounded tsp. kuzu (crush with back of spoon before measuring)

1-2 Tbsp. water for dissolving kuzu

1 Tbsp. minced ginger

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Directions:

Heat the apple juice, ginger, and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until it begins to bubble around the edges. Remove from heat.  Thoroughly dissolve the kudzu in water in water, add it to the juice while stirring, then return the pot to the burner.  Stir constantly until the kudzu thickens and becomes translucent. Simmer a bit longer, then remove from heat and pour 1 Tbsp. of lemon juice into mixture. Allow to cool for a minute before serving.

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Laughter. Indeed, the Best Medicine.

I have anxiously awaited these last few weeks where I have longed to pour my soul into a recipe, yet the desire was absent.   Sometimes my passion for cooking is directly related to my eagerness to spread my love around through food; to create atmosphere and social outlets.  Since we’ve distanced ourselves from such a steady flow of that because of our move, my creative outlet seems caught in a storm of busy.

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(Mt. Rainier, Washington)

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(stuffed family orchard apples roasted on an open fire)

We’ve been taking these last few weeks to pour ourselves into each daylight minute.  Being in the northwest, it is commonplace that the sun sets around 4:30. By 6 pm that evening fatigue sets in and all ambitions are lost to the dusk and the cry of nighttime critters. Sitting ringside around a fire to keep the chill from your nape, is the only thing worthy of unspent energy while sipping on Adagio tea.

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(Lake Cushman, Washington State)

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Nothing is sweeter than the blessings of time for the wonderful company that we have been graced over this holiday season.  When your soul aches for the companionship of family and friends, it is in every effort one minimizes time spent on chores and instead calculates promoting self indulging activities with others; be it kayaking bay side or simply preparing meals together while embracing table side conversation with utter delight that fills oneself with complacency.  Each laugh noted; memories engrained.

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Whispers!

Butterscotch horizons accompany
Whispers of sagebrush
Whilst toes delight in dampness with
Sugar cookie coating

The salty air tingles hearts galore
Passionate embraces, one explores
Calling from dawn till dusk
With lofty sea kisses soaking deeply

Sun kissed skies
Battle bruises
Laughter fills the air
Light hearted relaxation

A golden hue dyes till Fall
When crisp air takes form
Ringside dusk, flames dance loudly
Strokes of lyrical genius

Touches my soul
Glory abound
Fourty years, rooted deeply
Lost, not yet found

Confusing paths
Silent nights
Grass is greener, in images anew
But memories hold tight

Can’t shake the wonder
Left so much behind
Where God leads
Twilst sure to find

Beachy dreams amongst mountaintops
Where bathing suits lay tucked away
Golden skies call my name
The sea whispers loudly!

 

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Minestrone Soup with Chickpeas

It’s been a hair-raising couple of weeks with brisk weather.  Coming from Southern California, where 38 degrees sends residents into anxiety, is nothing compared to waking at 4:15 in the morning to your car covered in ice glitter. I am not used to having to warm my car longer then 5 minutes.

We live in a converted barn. Our sleeping area is separated by a woodworking shop, that leads to our kitchen/school room/office/living room.  This bitter cold walk to and from each living quarter must be done in a snow jacket, and your hands feel like you have stuck them in snow while standing amidst the workshop to change out the laundry.  It’s interesting. It makes you toughen up.  Acclimated. Not yet.

Soup. Lots of soup.  Lots of hot food and hot beverages these days. I do adore my forest drives;  penetrating the dark route with my high beams to avoid hitting deer. I love my drives over the ridge in anticipation of spotting snow-covered Mt. Rainier. I am fond of being able to bundle up.  But, what I have not yet gotten acclimated to is the 28 degree runs.  My husband is tougher then I. I think it’s fantastic I live in an area that gets snow.  Such a change we have made in setting!  As I find myself missing the beach, I remind myself that we are experiencing actual seasons!

Hope you enjoy the minestrone.

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup leeks, sliced

2 stalks of celery, cut on the bias

1 cup carrots, roll cut

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup broccoli stalks

1 1/2 cup cooked garbanzos (chickpeas)

8 cups filtered water

1 cup gluten-free pasta

4 bouillon cubes

1 cup green cabbage, sliced

1/2 zucchini, sliced

16 oz. fire roasted peeled tomatoes

1 Tbsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. sea salt, adjust to taste

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/2 cup fresh basil, minced

DIRECTIONS:

In a soup pot saute leeks, celery, carrots, and garlic for 5 minutes.  Add the water, and bouillon cubes.  Bring to boil, then allow to simmer for 15 minutes.  Add broccoli stalks, and pasta and simmer for 8 more minutes.  Add the chickpeas, zucchini, cabbage, oregano, sea salt, pepper, and fresh basil.  Allow to simmer for 5 more minutes. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste.

 

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Coping

Why a photo of my daughter with electrodes? I used to drive with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat as I left work early some days knowing my epileptic 5-month old was having more seizures. If you read this true but little story about life, the photo will make more sense.

Working at a coffee joint, I suppose, is quite like being a hair dresser.  You are in the service business, so you’re completely surrounded by regular customers whom you end up getting to know in the short time span you’re providing a service to them. Nothing new. I know we all know this.

But, those minutes you spend with each customer can provide a positive or a negative impression, and can lend to a good or bad day.

11/17/14 scenario 5:45 a.m.  Customer A drives through the drive-through to order her regular coffee. Nothing new, except she apparently cut off the gal behind her and the gal behind her has made it quite obvious that she is completely ticked off.  Customer A expresses her guilt and pays for Customer B whom she cut off.  Paying if forward, changing customer B’s start to the day; or so she hopes.

Customer B drives forward as customer A drives off.  Customer B is completely fuming and with expletives flying, arrogantly says, “well, that B**th cut me off, she SHOULD pay for my drink”, and continues to express rage, regardless of the free drink.

11/18/14 follow-up 6:30 a.m. I learn that the customer A, who paid for her road error, was driving in tears, hence the cut off. Apparently she had just come from radiation from her cancer treatment.  She felt horrible and in an emotional state at her circumstances, ACCIDENTLY cut off customer B.

I was 17 when I experienced road rage, that ended in murder.  Murder. Murder over getting cut off.  I was managing a restaurant. I had just closed up shop, and it was around 10 p.m. I got in my car, and pulled out onto the main road.  I was directly behind two vehicles who were weaving back and forth.  My first thought was that they were friends messing around, so I was careful to keep my distance.  As I saw my opportunity to pass by them, I could feel the error I made in thinking they were buddies.  It was apparent to me as I began to pass them both, that it was clearly road rage.  As I began to drive downhill with them in the right lane, 2 car lengths behind me, a couple of gunshots pierced the air. A chill went up my spine, as I rapidly ducked, hoping to avoid any cross fire; and swerved into the left turn lane.  As it was just the three of us in this experience together, I think I was in disbelief as I glanced in my rear view mirror in time to see the first car swerve off the road, and the last car make a sharp U-turn and go speeding back up the hill.  I was in complete shock, scared, and did not stick around.  I must’ve looked ghostly as I drove up to my home and repeated the scenario to my parents; who decided we should go together to check in on the car that swerved off the road.

A possible 15 minutes passed by, with the sound of sirens in the air. As we left our residential track, there was one street that was packed with emergency personnel.  We proceeded to the area of the shooting, and the car was gone. Thinking the two were related incidents, we drove back to the chaotic scene and I was apparently sole witness to a murder; caused by road rage.  Stupid road rage. This person destroyed a man’s life; an entire families life. This man was in his 30’s, and engaged.  It was around Christmas time and his fiancée was in the passenger seat as her husband to be was shot and killed; over stupid road rage.

I learned my lesson that day, and it’s carried with me to this day, as I get on the road.  You never know what someone is capable of during road rage. You never know what someone is dealing with.  You never know how short life can be.  It’s best not to tailgate. It’s best to let someone who has cut you off, just drive by without following them; chasing them down to teach them a lesson.  It’s best to drive as safely as you can.

Moral of the story, we are surrounded by SO many people in this world. Some times our paths cross and sometimes they don’t. While we are in a car, we have a relationship with everyone else on the road.  That relationship is confined by a cars length, sometimes more.  We do not know what each person is dealing with inside; their life experiences, or their trials or tribulations.  When someone cuts you off, maybe they are dealing with cancer, a passing of a loved one, rushing to get their ill child from school…..so many scenarios.  Regardless, we are all in this life together, and we best try to realize we are all coping with something.  Drive responsibly, pay it forward, and accept that people make errors.

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Time

Four months ago we left all we knew behind to give our family a fresh start with a slower pace; in hopes to focus on dreams instead of living as robots.  This adventure has taken the wind from my sails at times, at the hardships and challenges and the financial struggle. But, with this move we have gained so much more than what a dollar could pay for.  My girls have become the best of friends. They have never gotten along as well as they do now.  Time that was once spent commuting is now used for family time; soccer scrimmages, visiting with family, sitting by an open fire.  This change has slowed me down in ways that were necessary.

The constant chase to beat the clock and fit in as much as I could in the hour between picking up children, is gone. I was always strung up so tight that I didn’t feel like I could fart sideways.  Even as hectic as we lived, we still fit in valuable family time, but it was often so rushed.  It feels so good to slow down.  So good.

I’ve sat in traffic twice in four months.  Twice.  Something to be said from my daily commute of 15 minutes to work, that actually took 40 minutes due to bumper to bumper obnoxiousness.  Racing the clock.  Heart beating and face aglow with rage due to stress; no longer there.

Yes, we miss our friends. We miss sidewalks. We miss the beach.  We miss our church.

What is lost is also gained.  We have been meeting new friends. We have the rugged climate a hiker dreams of. We have lakes upon lakes upon lakes to explore. We found a new church that has been feeding us the word just as the one we left; challenging us the way we desire to live.

Taking the risk to continue the pursuit of what truly matters.

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Sully and His Bike

As a parent, my time is super valuable in everything I choose to fit into all the minutes in the day.  The time invested in my children is such a huge deal, that I often times put myself last in order for getting personal time or taking care of my own needs. If you are a parent, I am sure you can relate.  Not to sound cheesy, but our children are our future scientists, our doctors, our teachers, our engineers, etc. The time you put into motivating your children, building their character, or even challenging them to grow in other ways, is worth more than anything.  It is one of their basic necessities, in my mind.

My husband, author of “Oh, Sully!” is currently raising funds through a social campaign network called Kickstarter. In his first book, his moral based story addressed self acceptance and acceptance in others. With this book, Sully and His Bike, his aim is to motivate kids to never give up.  His illustrations are so profoundly entertaining, and his story so emotionally connective.  I just ask that you please take a look at the video in hopes that he can be funded for his new book. Even sharing the link helps more than you can understand; it gets the word out to people we have yet to connect with on a personal level.  This world runs better when we help strangers, friends, family.  It is our goal to share these wonderful stories with children outside of our own.

This cute new book also meets a personal/business goal of ours.  Through our business Tree Swing Press (http://www.treeswingpress.com), we recently started a campaign to give back to the community; to children in need.  For every book sold online, a book is donated to a child in need.  This campaign is called Book-for-Book. His first donation will be in January while he is on a month-long tour visiting schools, stores, and an annual author’s event.  Additionally, he is currently training for our second campaign we call Border-to-Border. In the spring, he will be running from the Canada border to the Mexico border in hopes to promote literacy.  So your help allows Sully and His Bike to created, along with bigger aspirations of donating to kids, and spreading literacy.

We are hoping that your enthusiasm towards this book is contagious and your willingness to share the link helps us to meet our goals.

Please help us spread literacy.

Kindly,

Sommer Gard and Tree Swing Press

Sully and His Bike

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Split Pea Soup

The weather got down to 33 degrees here in WA  a couple of days ago, with expected snow on Thursday.  Nothing sounded better after a family soccer scrimmage then a hot bowl of Split Pea soup.  Split Peas are high in protein and fiber. Simple, yet satisfying alongside oven roasted garden grown potatoes, a green salad and cranberry-pumpkin loaf.  Absolutely loving experiencing seasons. In southern CA, we never got to completely grasp true weather fluctuations.  It’s truly fun.

* Un-soaked peas take from 1 to 2 hours of simmering; soaked peas take about 40 minutes. Also, the only difference between yellow and green split peas is color. Split peas absorb lots of water as they cook, so check the soup often and add liquid as needed. The peas only need to be cooked until they are tender.(yields: 6-8 servings)

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups of split peas

1/2 white onion, diced

1 carrot, sliced thin

1 1/2 stalks of celery, diced

1 large garlic clove, minced

2 cubes of bouillon

8 cups water

salt and pepper

olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

In a soup pot saute onion, carrot, and celery along with garlic in a splash of olive oil (roughly 2 Tbsp. of olive oil). Allow the vegetables to soften for 5-7 minutes.  Add the split peas to the vegetable mix and stir in for 2 minutes coated well.  Add the water and bouillon cubes and bring to boil for 8 minutes. Then place on simmer for up 1-2 hours (depends on if you soaked the peas beforehand) Check your water often. If you like a thicker soup, then 8 cups should be fine. If you like a looser soup, alter the water as you cook.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

 

 

 

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Pumpkin & Apple-Fennel Tamales with Cinnamon Masa

A favorite thing of mine to do is develop recipes. I love getting creative in the kitchen, and look forward to the outcome.  One important word of advice given in culinary school was….experiment. Sometimes things turn out great, other times you go back to the drawing board and make alterations here and there.  In the end, it only helps to make you a better cook.

Tonight I needed to use up some fresh pumpkin that I had roasted and pureed for a previous recipe; my cranberry pumpkin loaf.  I love to bake, but unfortunately cannot live off of baked goods. So, the pumpkin & apple-fennel tamales were born.  Seasonally appropriate, these tamales were delicious.  (yield: 10 tamales)

MASA INGREDIENTS:

3 cups masa harina

2.5 cups warm water

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 cup olive oil

1 tsp. sea salt

TAMALE FILLING:

1/4 cup carmelized onions

1 tsp. orange zest, minced

1 Tbsp. fennel fronds, minced

1/4 cup apple, minced

pinch sea salt

1/8 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 tsp. organic brown sugar

* 10 tamale corn husks, soaked.

DIRECTIONS:

Prepare the masa: Place 3 cups of masa harina in a bowl. Add cinnamon, and sea salt and whisk.  Drizzle in water and olive oil and fold the wet into the dry.  Set aside

Soak the tamale husks in warm water for 3-5 minutes to soften.

Prepare the filling: In a saute pan, caramelize onion. Add orange zest, fennel fronds, and minced apple.  Saute for 7 more minutes. Add a pinch of sea salt and vanilla extract.  Then add pureed pumpkin and 1 tsp. brown sugar.  Saute for 3 more minutes.

Prepare the tamales: Place husks flat with pointed tip towards you (almost like a triangle tip) and the wider side away from you.  Press 1/8 cup of prepared masa onto the husk and make a flat surface to place the filling.  Place 1 heaping Tbsp. onto the masa and then cover filling with another 1/8 cup of masa; encasing the filling with the dough.  Take the pointed tip and fold onto the pile of uncooked tamale, then fold one side towards the other, rolling in the process.  You can tie the tamales with twine if they feel loose, or keep them piled with the fold on the bottom to prevent unfolding.  Repeat this step for each tamale.

Cooking the tamales: I have a 30-year-old tamale steamer I use, but I suppose you can use a steamer  if there is enough space for the tamales to cook thoroughly.  Allow 60 minutes to cook completely due to the pumpkin puree.  Otherwise, it will be mushy.  I like to accompany this meal with cumin scented pinto beans, Spanish rice, fresh salsa, a side vegetable, and home-made guacamole.

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