Saturday, July 3, 2010

Garden Food for the Soul

Oasis Feature: Grappling with Gardens and Untangling Memories

I ride my bike, I roller skate, don't drive no car
Don't go so fast but I go pretty far
For somebody who don't drive, I've been all around the world
Some people say I've done alright for a girl...(Melanie Safka, Brand New Key song lyric.)

Do you remember when you were young and you got your first bike? I remember my parents making an announcement to our group of five children, "We are only going to buy you one bike each. You can select any bicycle you want, but that is the last one you will ever get from us." They were so serious about their parental pronouncements! I chose a Schwinn 10 speed. (Click here to read a fun and informative blog post about this extremely popular bike.) It was the best bike ever. Perfect timing! I was 13 years old, and seriously into health and saving the planet. I didn't care at all about driving a car. I wanted to bike everywhere, rain or shine. I bought a little license plate to hang behind the back seat which said, "Look Ma, No Exhaust". I was inspired to personally help our Mother Earth-and save gasoline! (Remember the oil crisis in the 70's?)

Why am I thinking of this? Have you ever noticed how committed young people can be? My own daughter, Ms A, reminds me to continue my concern about the environment. Through her own effort, I remember that seemingly insignificant lifestyle changes do matter.

Miss A was highlighted in a new gardening magazine, Agrochic, recently. I'm so proud of her!

A new magazine from Puerto Rico that encourages growing your own food-even in Urban areas.

La estudiante Amber Villanueva me dio un 'tour' por el huerto escolar
de Baldwin School en Guaynabo.... La chica es presidenta del Club Ambiental y mantiene junto a sus compañeros el huerto. Allí pueden encontrar productos, como: el quimbombó, batata mameya, guineo, recao, romero, espinaca, caña de azúcar, maíz, entre otros. -IVS

In English, it says something like this:

Amber Villanueva,a student of Baldwin School of Puerto Rico in Guaynabo led a tour of the school's vegetable garden. She is president of the Environmental Club, which planted and maintains the vegetable garden. The garden contains this produce: okra, root vegetables, bananas, flat leaf cilantro, rosemary, spinach, sugar cane, corn and other vegetables.
(My imperfect translation-If you read Spanish, I'm afraid I had to add a couple of words. Also, I found this information on the magazine's Facebook page and at the website.)

Growing Food at Home

Recently, my girl asked me to cook her Healthy Soup, which is our name for a broth based soup concocted to fight colds and the blues. I have made various versions of this soup ever since we moved to Puerto Rico, and as time goes by, I've noticed that it takes on a local flavor. The soup is made from a collection of ingredients that happen to be either in the refrigerator or the garden- no shopping involved. Think of it as a vegetarian kind of "Chicken Soup for the Soul".
One day it might have green bananas, plantains, tomatoes and garlic. On another, it could have corn, green beans, oregano and a bit of pasta added to it. It depends on what is in the refrigerator and what's in season. (I recommend that you choose either pasta or rice, but never select both.)

Readers, you know that I veer from a strict recipe whenever I can get away with it, but here serious diversions are cultivated. Consequently, I suggest you follow these intuitive directions with care. I cautiously warn you that only the brave go into the Land of Insight Cooking where great experimentation may equal great failure or success! (I watched the extended movie version of JRR Tolkien's, The Hobbit and the The Lord of the Rings this week- hence the fantasy language and drama.)

Healthy Soup Recipe

Saute a cup of chopped onions in olive oil until transparent and fragrant. Add some smashed garlic and continue cooking until soft- about another minute. Add 6 cups vegetable broth (or water). Chop the starchy and/or large vegetables- any roots or green bananas-to about the same size (1 inch), and add them to the pot. After about 20 minutes, add softer vegetables-corn, green beans, tomatoes (tomato paste is fine). Season with homegrown herbs if you have any. I like basil, oregano and racao (see photo), which is a flat leafed cilantro. Cook for about 30 more minutes. If you want to add a cup of pasta or even rice, you should estimate the time it takes to cook. (Make sure you don't overcook the pasta.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

In my recent batch, I added cubed homegrown calabasa (photo), which is a green encased but orange fleshed squash pumpkin. It's plentiful here in Puerto Rico and is easy to grow. (It can also be the base of a wonderful squash soup.) I also had some white chayote, Christophine, left over from my trip to the local Farmer's Market in Santurce so I added that, too. (photo)
Looking at this as a creative cooking adventure, I thought about what everyone needed and added/subtracted ingredients based on what you might call, insight. Caution: This type of cooking drives onlookers mad as it looks so imprecise. You may change you mind about ingredients and combination at any time, but I think it's a great way to move into the creative feel of cooking.

~~Child: What are you cooking?

~~Mom: You know I don't like to be asked th
at question!

A Note on Composition
: Think of your cooking as an evolving process so that it becomes a bit like creating a painting. You have an opportunity to combine into your cooking all of your food-life-experience, and you get to share it. I like to bring in cooking colors from the north and south- from my childhood and my adulthood. Though impressionistic, this insight method of cooking requires that you consider who you are cooking for. For me, this means I have to consider that my dear ones do not like heat-spice even if it's homegrown! (I make a hot pepper oil that I keep in the refrigerator exclusively for my use.) I have to forgo the selfish desire to warm the soup up with ever so few drops of hot oil.

Enchant your family with "Healthy Soup"created especially by you!

Thank you for spending time with me in my Puerto Rican life. I hope your garden's harvest is plentiful and that you share your version of "healthy soup" with me!

Untangling Memories' Vine

My Healthy Soup this week surprised and delighted me. While cooking, I remembered the first time I came to Puerto Rico and was served guanimes; which is a boiled corn meal dough that is wrapped in a banana leaf, by my husband's great aunt who lived with her husband in a small house in the Botanical Gardens. What a novelty. My mom was traveling with us and we broke off from the group to go for a walk "in the jungle". We were impressed! The misty heat, piercing unfamiliar sounds and green lush foliage was both relaxing and frightening.
I never before attempted to make guanimes perhaps because the food seemed so wrapped up in the past. Nonetheless, they were a success and I'm glad I let that memory feeling visit me in the kitchen.
Miss A loved them! If you want to make these "corn dumplings", you would need corn flour, a bit of salt, oil and water, and banana leaf for wrapping. (I did not follow the directions on the posted link but maybe you'd prefer to look at it? I think it's a better starting place for the recipe.)

I wish you well!

Pattee asked a question about how to make "the dumplings" so I'm re-posting my answer here:

I have a "cheat" that I tried today
. Buy corn pancake mix, rather than cornmeal! If you add oil, a little baking powder and baking soda, and water to mix to the consistency of a soft dough, it is perfect. If you prefer 'hard' dumplings just omit the powder/soda. I also added a dash of salt. Do you have banana leaves? I wondered if maybe grape leaves would work if you used different spices, such as dill and garlic in the broth. If you have corn husks, you can wrap them in that and make something like a Mexican tamale. They taste best boiled in seasoned broth. If you prefer a sweet taste add a sweetener and raisins/apples maybe. Of course, that's becoming more similar to a tamale so you would highlight corn and season with cinnamon and/or nutmeg. (The soup broth ingredients would have to change if you made the dumplings sweet.)

A voyage into the past with Melanie-who by the way continues to produce a record annually, is married to a talented guitarist and musician, and has three musically inclined children.


  1. Your cooking is like art-adventurous and impulsive. It's hard to cook for one, but I do like good food. I was telling my therapist that I miss my friends in Oregon as it was a typical weekend thing for me us to get together and put together gourmet 'pot lucks' or for me to take fixings for a meal to their place and cook it, as I wouldn't have gone to the trouble for just me...

    Kudos to your daughter and may being in the limelight spur her on to even great things in such an enlightened way...

  2. Wow what great information!!! I love how young people are getting involved...

    I also love how people are taking out their grass to grow gardens. Even in the big cities like Seattle.

    I'll go to blog land and see what you wrote me LOL!

    Thanks for the nicest comments about my dolls~: )

  3. Thanks for the good thoughts and blessings to my daughter, Teri.

    I do think of cooking as adventurous and I can get into a muddle if I'm in a mood. Even the simplest food, can get burned or taste off if I feel un-situated. About your potluck dinners with friends, maybe you could try something like that where you live now?

    I know it's difficult to connect to people in a new place but humans are social being. We can get despondent if we don't share our lives. Thank you for sharing with me! xx

  4. Cynthia, I like the thread that runs through this entire piece. How you link the song to your childhood memories of your bike and being environmental and then you follow that thread all the way through your daughter being environmental, being published in the magazine, and on and on. Good thought process, good writing. This is why I love Blogs: so much info, so much wonderful writing. Thanks for visiting mine. It's incredible for me to think that you are in Puerto Rico and I get to "meet" you; find out about you. What a marval!

  5. Healthy Soup sounds lovely! My brother makes something similar out of whatever he finds in the refrigerator. But he calls it Garbage Soup. I like your name better!

  6. I just read an article today about a woman who grows most of her own food in her yard here in Seattle...this is so interesting.Thanks!

  7. Pattee,

    thanks for coming over from bloglandlane and your doll blog. I'm glad to share with you a bit! If I could figure out how to manage with these dogs (I have an informal shelter) I could also have a garden in front instead of such a long yard. I have a vision of a square foot garden with homegrown vegetables. Right now I have to grow on the hill or in pots on the wall to keep everything out of the dogs reach.


    yes it's a marvel to meet so many wonderful people (such as yourself) and exchange a bit of our lives. I appreciate your focused reading, and how you noticed what I was working on...the memory thread!


    yes, that's funny about the name. I think that once you name a creation it's hard to change. We have an area behind our house that use to house pigs. It's called the Pig House. I have tried to re-name it because we never had pigs. We are vegetarian. It's funny to have the name continue to stick. I named it the Back House, or just called it the back area. I think it needs a make over and then another name will stick...maybe!


    thanks for reading! I wish I could grow more of my own food, but I think it's good to grow what I can. Trees are easy but they only produce a couple of times a year. Right now we have avocados and limon (a cross btwn a lime and a lemon).

  8. I definitely remember my first bike. My wee Scottish Granny bought me a fabulous BMX and then taught me to ride it... My horrible brother took it out with his mates and scratched it :0( 25 years later and I'm still devastated!


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