Monday, March 31, 2008

Of Quiche, Coves, and Kings

This is Glencove, an idyllic little inlet near Key Center on Puget Sound not far from our home. We've canoed this little cove several times, and filmed the rich images underwater during low tide. Just beyond the entrance to the cove at the far end is a little lagoon that is protected from violent currants so the shellfish are abundant, colorful, and very beautiful. Beyond, in the open water, it can be so stormy that wind has frequently turned us back from exploring the shoreline. I told George that we must come back here in summertime, when the water is warm and it is 90 degrees, to have an adventure exploring.

Yet, here we were, the sun was sinking behind the hills, the water laying sti
ll at ebb tide, and all seemed right with the world. I noticed this lovely home nestled in Glencove, and walked along the highway near an old bridge. There is a comfort about these older homes, established, grounded, weathered and warm. I imagined the children playing outside in summertime, swimming and boating in the lagoon, flying kites in the pasture. How wonderful to have had memories here as a child.

George and I drove for several hour
s, past Horseshoe Lake, the Purdy Lagoon, through Port Orchard, along so many familiar backroads we've enjoyed over the years. Past the Banner Forest where we hike. Past old barns, cattle, pastures. We saw soggy patches of Skunk Cabbage with the bright yellow blooms, and plum trees and early rhodies in bloom. And today, we've finally gotten some persistent sunshine breaking through, so welcome after last week's hail, rain and snow!

We had our final days of teaching on Sunday, with all of our efforts focused on reconnecting with people who want more information on the Baha'i Faith. We dropped off some books, answered further questions, and s
et up times to visit again. The teaching team managed, in spite of some bitterly cold weather, to visit at least 65 households in Hilltop that show an interest in the Faith. Now when George and I drive through Hilltop on our way to the library or to go downtown, we point out the people we know, in 'that house', 'upstairs in that house', and on 'that corner'. We've come to appreciate so many new people in the neighborhood, and also value the efforts of our Baha'i friends who greeted our neighbors while walking door to door with us.

There were so many poignant memories of this experience. One of the most lasting for me was of a young Indian woman who greeted us, listened, then closed the door to her home while standing outside with us. As she stood on her porch she bowed her head, nodding in approval while we talked about the necessity of removing prejudice of all kinds - racial, religious, ethnic, intellectual, etc. I explained that there must be a spiritual solution to the economic problems afflicting our world today, that we must remove the extremes of wealth and poverty and create a more balanced society free of deceit and greed, and that governments and politics cannot necessarily bring this about. She listened so genuinely, with the most sincere respect. She said that her children were participating in a neighborhood Sunday school program, and I was so glad that she knew the importance of educating the children, especially the girls as they are responsible for so many things in family life.

Our home was the 'base of opera
tions' on the weekend, and I took a lot of photos which I'll post in our Flickr account. Nancy here on the left provided brunch and dinners, getting up at 4:00 a.m. to prepare quiches, cornbread, and fruit salad, for all of us. This photo was just after she had delivered our dinner Friday night.

Just a few of my favorite shots:
Betty, her new baby, and her sisters in the Joseph family.

Kip, listening to Anna's Presentation at Toby's. Kip recited several prayers in Samoan which is a beautiful-sounding language. The King of Samoa, King Susuga Malietoah Tanumahfili II, became a Baha'i in May 1973 and helped to place the foundation-stone at the Baha'i House of Worship in the city of Apia, Samoa in 1979. This House of Worship is referred to as the Mother Temple of the Pacific Islands.

And George, keeping the little ones entertained so the adults can talk. George took a week's vacation off from work so he could participate in the teaching efforts on Hilltop. It was an incredibly busy, intense week, and so satisfying.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Little Kindness Travels A Long Way

I just finished reading a wonderful post by Rach, where she was helped by several travelers at the airport on her journey home from Kansas. Really, the kindness of strangers in this world can be beyond description. It is so necessary, so sustaining, so hope-filled that the world can be a better place.

Which leads me to share some of my own experiences, on the direct-teaching project
we are participating in with our Baha'i friends this week on Hilltop using "Anna's Presentation". We met so many wonderful neighbors.

George and I have committed to this project, to share the message of Baha'u'llah with our neighbors in the Hilltop area of Tacoma. In years past, Baha'is have taught through firesides, the media, personal teaching, and many other formats, some of which are more effective in reaching a large number of people. Our National Assembly has encouraged us to use a more direct approach, as it ultimately (throughout the world) is the most effective, and has immediate follow-up procedures that foster continued contact with someone interested in the Faith. Now the process is beautifully organized, and delightfully easy. Support from the community is ongoing, detailed, and immediate. (Note this post.)

I have done door to door teaching before, many years ago, and found the process very labor intensive. We traveled hundreds of miles to open a county in Illinois to the Faith. However, all those experiences offered skill-building. (Much as you would learn the customs and language when working in a foreign land.) I learned a lot through those efforts - what services people needed, and how to better integrate them into a community when they are still entrenched in old, destructive patterns. I think of humanitarian groups establishing relief support services after an earthquake or in a war-ravaged area in Africa:
Maximize your efficiency providing the greatest support in the most simple, yet organized, way.)

So we went through the neighborhoods, meeting many nice people, who were open, receptive and kind. They invited us into their homes, where we had meaningful discussions. (We also conversed with people through their screen-doors, and through open windows when they worried about who we were. And, we had some good laughs, especially when Nabil was greeted at the door by a man wearing only a bathrobe, red lipstick and a pair of gold ear-rings!)

I started out the week teaching with Mauricio, who is a civil engineer. He is one of the sweetest, most soft-spoken men you'll ever meet. Mauricio benefited our efforts by being bi-lingual, sharing sharing the concepts of the Faith with a Spanish-speaking couple that had questions about the Faith.

I also taught with Martha, who is a psychologist. I have to laugh, as we were definitely paired to be an 'empathetic' team, spending two hours with one man who took that long to deconstruct (criticise and condemn) just about everything in his life before he could genuinely admit that throughout most of his life he's reacted out of fear, fears that probably originated in childhood. As Martha and I listened, he became more pensive and thoughtful, calmed down.

The neighborhood on Hilltop is in repair. It is one of the older neighborhoods of Tacoma, where crime and drugs have caused enormous disintegration. Homes are abandoned, or purchased by developers and upgraded. Then new people move in, people who are interested in building neighborhoods - they are risk-takers, motivated by good will. We met many of these people. Some of them had heard of the Baha'i Faith, and as we chatted in their homes, we all came to appreciate that we were on the same path.

I noticed things that really caused me sadness, though - the children who were left alone in their homes, on Easter. Young children, teenagers, who were so ready to visit and listen to us on their porch steps. I wondered if anyone ever REALLY sits down to talk with them. I thought, with great relief, of Toby here, a resident of Hilltop, who has 21 family members living in his large house, most of them under 24, some teenagers, a new granddaughter, many extended family members. He became a Baha'i several years ago, and uses all the Baha'i principles of consultation to manage the daily life in his home. His energy and joy is contagious.

I also noticed, on Easter, that food wasn't being prepared in some of the households, and I wondered if that was because of poverty, the drug culture, or because religious traditions are deteriorating. In one home we visited, an old man called from inside to come in. We waited, knocked again, and we thought he said "come in". But, we weren't sure. Turns out he is partially paralyzed, so it took time for him to answer the door. He invited us in, told us about his sick wife who has to go to the hospital in a few days. We said prayers together, and as we left I realized there was no meal on Easter, there were no friends or family, just a dark room with all the agonizing concerns of old age. The elderly man was gracious, simple and kind. I was glad we spent time with him, glad that he was not forgotten.

When I return to my home at the end of the day after I've greeted so many people, I realize that people are so malnourished, spiritually. Life has dealt a lot of pain, suffering and neglect that is palpable. Now I understand why it is necessary to reach out. Because often it is not just about theology and concepts for a better world. It is about understanding our common humanity, taking on responsibility for others.

We'll be walking this walk until we've greeted most of the residents in some of the 'safer' neighborhoods, where there is an attempt at flowerbeds, where children play at the local park, where it is safe to walk the streets....just past the empty crack houses with boards across the windows.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

When I'm Bad....... I'm Very Bad

Now, what you see here is just a macaroni casserole. Noodles, broccoli, sliced bratwurst, white cheddar and ricotta, eggs and milk. Oh, and some breadcrumbs on the top.

I baked it early in the afternoon, for Feast, so as it sat warming in the oven I added more hot milk and ricotta, to keep it creamy and moist. Then I scrambled the top and innards a little, to mix things up.

Right before we left for Feast I cut this portion out, photographed it and then slid the food back into the casserole dish. You see, I wanted to send a photo of the macaroni and cheese to Ruhiyyih the following her office. Right before lunch.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Just Counting My Blessings Here - Friends

I've often thought that blogging is much like having a scrapbook, holding many of our dearest moments, memories, and thoughts. It can be an eclectic little book that if we held it in our hands, it would be like a memory chest, with bits of fabric, theatre tickets, book markers, recipe cards, love notes. Just tangible evidence of what was dear to us.

Yet, these personal parts of ourselves is, for a whole world to review. People, getting to know other people, sharing the details, finding commonality and honoring diversity. Showing what gives meaning and purpose to their lives. Celebrating! Feeling grateful!

By the time you get to be my age, so much of life is behind you - raising the kids, working, learning many of the important lessons of life. You see many of the larger truths of life, such as the power of positive thinking, and of working together to achieve what you couldn't have done alone.

You slow down so that you can appreciate everything more deeply, like the lovely invitation to Tim and Debbie's Naw Ruz breakfast, (pictured above) and the cookie nest with candied eggs.

People become more precious for many reasons. With our family, it is due to inherited genetics (temperaments) that, when manifested, unfold in new and distinctively different ways - much to our surprise and delight. One universal trait: Hunger.

With community, there are shared interests, learning together, and building something that will serve future generations when we are gone...a parting gift. This photo was taken Saturday morning at our Cluster 19 Reflection Meeting. It was held in the American Legion Hall.

People become so treasured, especially when filled with warmth, compassion, sincerity, and light. People who are skilled and organized, like Ilham, who sings and tells funny stories.

Children like Raul, only 10, whose sweet smile makes any moment special. I think Raul is on a baseball team, because he often wears a fancy uniform and a baseball cap. Here he is ready to share his stories about Direct Teaching with his mom over the weekend.

Our dear Therese, Megan's mom, who served two wonderful brunches and two dinners over the weekend. (I've never had a club sandwich on a croissant before....fantastic!)

Jeff, on the left, who teases that he was at Western State Mental Hospital for 19 years, pauses, then admits that he was on the staff, as a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

Shadi, whom I've known for over 20 years, always grins, chuckles, then curls up into a ball, riddled with laughter.

And Nabil, an American with Philippino heritage, who came down from Seattle with some of his friends. He is one of Rahmat's friends.

Over the weekend we had the enjoyment of spending ti
me with our family and friends, and even meeting a few new friends as we shared the teachings of the Baha'i Faith with our neighbors in the Hilltop area of Tacoma, not far from our home.

I'll post a few photos here on Flitzy Phoebie, but I will post the bulk of my weekend photos in our Flickr account.

Taraz and Megan, and three of their friends from Colorado spent Friday evening with us. I served them a leisurely breakfast, then they took the ferry over to Vashon Isand where they spent the day exploring beaches and backroads. (When I took this photo their friend Sam was wedged helplessly inbetween bags in the car, so we told her to stay there!)

Our friends Tim and Debbie hosted a Naw Ruz brunch in their home, with about 45 guests attending, many of whom we've gotten to know over the years. (I don't know what those spots are, in my hair and on my shirt! Reflected light from a window? They don't show up on any other photos.)

We spent the weekend with many of the Baha'is of Cluster 19, enjoying fellowship, food, and instructions on Direct Teaching in our neighborhood, an event that will last nine days.

We had a special guest, Jacqueline Left Hand Bull from South Dakota, an infinitely sweet, gentle, and intelligent woman. She came to offer support to our Institute program.
Jacqueline is Chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States.

By the end of the weekend we had the pleasure of connecting with all of our dearest friends, enjoying such wonderful conversations,
sharing stories, laughing, singing, praying. I can't think of a more joyous way to celebrate the new year, sunshine and spring. ( Naw Ruz hostess Debbie, with Elrico and Tosca, Baha'is from Kent.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Naw Ruz - First Day of Spring

Baha'is celebrate the new year on March 21st, the first day of Spring. I've been busy cleaning the house, getting ready for company. Taraz and Megan and several of their friends from out of state will stay here tonight.

We have plans to attend a Naw Ruz celebration Saturday morning, a brunch, and then our family will scatter. Taraz and Megan want to take their friends on the ferry, to Vashon Island, to visit the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie, and to explore the beach where we had such a good time earlier in the month.

Just as mos
t people spend days preparing delicacies for Easter, like hot cross buns, I've experimented with several favorite recipes, to make them a little more festive. Dilly Bread is one of my kids' favorites, a soft bread with cottage cheese and onion, and dill mixed into the dough. I decided to make little rolls with the dough this time, and put a ricotta filling inside each roll. (Next time, I'll double the amount of filling and ricotta).
Here, I've placed a celery-onion seasoned filling on top of the dough. Since these little rolls were going to have a mild east-Indian curry paste spread on top of the sliced rolls, I added a little Cajun seasoning to the onion-celery mixture.
This is what the rolls looked like after rolled up and shaped into a crescent. This bread dough is unbelievable, so soft and fragrant. I brushed the top with egg, then sprinkled shredded cheddar and Swiss cheese.

The rolls, when sliced open, show the ricotta filling and the layer of veggies and spices.
Each roll can be sliced into several pieces, like a miniature loaf of bread, then spread with eastern curry paste. I tried a test-slice, warm out of the oven, and the curry paste really enhances the zesty flavor. These can be kept warm, in tin foil, and served as a snack or with breakfast in the morning with scrambled eggs and ham.

I then proceeded to improvise with an old favorite - Apricot Almond Muffins. This time, I mixed together crushed walnuts with almond paste and just a hint of brown sugar and cinnamon, and rolled this mixture into a little ball which I placed on top of the dough.
I scooped a little depression into the dough, so the ball would settle in, then I poured the rest of the batter over the top.
The fragrance of apricot and almonds is enhanced when these are eaten warm, also, and are great served with morning coffee.

I'll be preparing a quiche today, and also some macaroni and cheese with a bread-crumb topping. I want to experiment with a little more white cheese added to the cheddar, and I want to throw in a little broccoli, celery and onion, and thin-sliced bratwurst, so it is a casserole. If it passes inspection - a little taste out of the corner - I'll take it to Feast tonight. This is the last day of the Baha'i Fast, and with sundown the friends will enjoy a meal together to celebrate.

I was delighted to note that one of my Flickr photos was used by
'Mark's Daily Apple', a blog that features health and fitness. What a pleasant surprise! I'm glad he took the time to feature one of my little taste thrills, simple as they are.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Just Staying Warm In The Kitchen

Pear spears with slices of strawberries, raspberries, and banana....and a festive sprinkling of sugar nuggets.

Fresh Salmon Slaw, with finely chopped veggies, onion, garlic, and a sprinkling of seeds and nuts. It is a perfect substitution for hashbrowns for breakfast, and is stir-fried very hot for only a few seconds. Canned salmon can used, and placed under the slaw to stay warm.

Ash-e Anar: Pomegranate Stew, a Persian dish, with Naan. I first had this flavorful stew at a Baha'i fireside about two months ago, and was determined to try it. It is made with rich pomegranate molasses, but is not sweet. Just incredibly fragrant, delicate yet substantial. I added lentils, rice and butter beans to the broth, which is simmered until it is thick. Any kind of meat will do; I used ground beef.

I often make a soup for dinner, then freeze several bags of it to fill a thermos for hiking trips.
In the winter, a hearty soup like this White Bean Soup just hits the spot. I stir-fry a mixture of vegetables with carrots, onion, garlic and celery. When they've cooked through, I puree about a third of the mixture for a creamy pureed base rather than use cream. The chile pequin can be served separately, for individual taste. It gives this soup a burst of heat. Cornbread, naan, or pita as a side-dish.

Tomorrow I have to make bread, which is a great way to stay warm in the kitchen. The weather forecast: RAIN

Monday, March 17, 2008

Of Fox Island, Reba Mae, and Moroccan Harissa

We took a leisurely canoe paddle around the shoreline of Fox Island on the weekend, packing a lunch and letting the currant and tides push us along.

We'd done this stretch of beach before, a number of years ago. It was quite windy then, with whitecaps and waves hitting the breakwalls. Our paddle this time was more gentle, with slow currants and, fortunately, very little wind. But, it was nippy out. We had to wear scarves, hats and gloves.

When we paddled along here I wanted to go ashore to climb the big rocks. The seaweed had completely dried on them, and since the tide was down, there were interesting shellfish and barnacles on the rocks in the water. (I took the photo directly into the light, which made the photo a little dark.) I loved how the sunlight glistened on the water along the shore, making everything seem so celebratory and sparkly.

We also celebrated the 'Homegoing' of Reba Mae Braggs, who went to be with her Lord last Tuesday.
She is the mother of a close friend, and lived 91 years. This was the first time I've attended Shiloh Baptist Church in the Hilltop area of Tacoma, and it was deeply moving, with the pastor, deacons and choir embodying so much vibrant, heart-felt spirit.

The music brought back some memories of my favorite gospel hymns,
one of which is "I Don't Feel No Ways Tired" recorded by Rev. James Cleveland, which I hummed to myself most of the day following this celebration. Reba Mae joined Shiloh Baptist Church in the early 50's, spear- heading many mission projects. She prepared bandages boxes for Africa and supported church-sponsored activities around the holidays, making sure food was distributed to needy families. It was indescribable, seeing how beautiful the flowers were here, especially the roses from her family, and listening to the eulogy and words of encouragement. Just a reverent, beautiful afternoon.

I enjoyed cooking several hearty breakfasts over the weekend. Since our outings on both days started later in the day, I puttered, taking my time mulling through cookbooks, and seeing what I could use up out of the fridge. I fixed a hearty winter breakfast on Saturday: Polenta and Ground Lamb Patties with Moroccan Harissa . (A hot red pepper paste that has an intense, slow burn that will spice up any dish.) I spread it on the lamb and also the polenta slices, before I fried them. I added a little shredded cheese to the polenta and a sprinkle of Worcestershire sauce, garlic, salt and pepper to the lamb. The veggie mixture was marinated in 'Caribbean Jerk' which has a wonderful blend of allspice, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, rosemary and sage blended with lime and orange juice. I added 'panko' bread-crumbs to the onion rings as I stir-fried them, then garnished the veggies with miniature 3/4 inch lime slices. (These are so small they have to be chewed to get the juice.)

Sunday morning I fixed a Mediterranean Hash - just an experiment, which used up a lot of odds and ends. I coated tiny shrimp with Moroccan style harissa and quickly stir-fried them with peppers, onions, zucchini, garlic and tomatoes. I poached a couple of eggs then laid them on grilled Italian bread, with mozzarella, cheddar and bacon as a topping. Just keeping them warm in the oven while I was puttering over the stir-fry caused the cheese to melt nicely over the bread. A few sliced pears with shredded fresh ginger completed the meal, and I sprinkled the works with just a bit of fresh lime juice. It was fragrant and flavorful, and will definitely be a favorite breakfast of ours.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Warm Kitchen on a Rainy Day

It never fails, when I want to go outside to clean up my garden, the clouds darken in the sky, and we get a persistent slanting rain that thwarts my best intentions to get out. Patio, side yard, flowerbeds all wait while it rains. I made coffee and lingered with a book on Greece, and specifically the islands of the Cyclades: photos of charming stairwells and walkways; of octopus sizzling on charcoal grills at the entrance of vine-covered 'psarotavernas' (fish-markets) in leafy back alleys. Wonderful coffee houses and food shops nestled in back alleys, and a cornucopian abundance in the local markets. Nikos Kazantzakis, the writer of Zorba the Greek, lived in these islands and said "From the moment I set foot in Aegina I've become another man. Exhilaration, almost happiness, sea, solitude, there is no more perfect climate for my spirit." (Flickr photo by Jessie.)

I put the book down, looked out my window at our dreary rain, and decided my day could be considerably brighter if I got busy. In the kitchen. Now, I apologize to any Baha'is who might be reading this post, as now is the time of the Fast. And, my apologies to anyone else reading while at work, waiting for the 10:00 coffee break. (Ruhiyyih, I'm thinking of you.)

I'm also reading a cookbook featuring
phyllo dough, and when I discovered how complicated the folding and refolding of this delicacy is, I just decided to purchase a few varieties, and fill them with my own taste-thrills, one of which is wheatberry salad. This is made with currents, apricots, apples, celery and onion, cranberries, nuts, and a zesty dressing of oil and raspberry vinegar. The deli at Metropolitan Market had small portions of wheatberry salad packaged up, so I purchased some for the phyllo cups. They are served chilled and are a delectable little taste thrill, prepared in an instant.

When I am reading in the morning I use a yellow highlighter, to underline anything I wish to look up on Flickr. (Most people use underlining for a substantial thought, I want images, to see what something looks like.) While I've been reading about Portugal in Francis Mayes "A Year In The World", I highlighted the Cafe Brasileira, the Alfama, butterscotch flan, 'gelato' with confit of lemon, goat cheese wrapped in gauze, almonds suspended in honey, Portuguese mustard, the cataplana, 'rissoles', and then THIS: Walnut Cake with Caramel Frosting!

The author and her husband were dining in a little '
tasca' with everyone seated together at crowded tables. As they waited for their meal, Francis noticed a gentleman across from her enjoying the cake. He sees her, then reaches over, picks up her fork, and hands back to her a large piece of cake. I was simply delighted to imagine this moment of sweet generosity! I had to make the cake, but with a few variations.

Francis shared a Walnut Cake with caramel icing; I wa
nted to build a two-tiered Espresso-Walnut Cake, with creme cheese frosting. I wanted to play, like a child at the beach, with buckets of sand. Lost in the bliss of creating, I puttered, revised the recipe, adding rum extract, a little more cinnamon, and 'cleaned out my refrigerator', adding yogurt, eggs, whole milk, and cinnamon-pecan streudel from last week.

It turned out better than I could have imagined. Easy to slice, just slightly sweet. (Recipe here.)

I then got busy chopping up the remainder of my flaxseed bread and some potato bread, and made bread pudding.
This can be warmed up in the microwave, for a quick mid-morning snack. Light, moist, with a dash of honey yogurt, it melts in your mouth, and just begs for a cup of fresh coffee.

When I was growing up, meat and potatoes were a daily thing, generally a rump roast and boiled potatoes that my dad would mash into fluffiness, adding milk and butter. Mother was not interested in cooking, so we rarely had any variety, and I grew up fairly disinterested in meals. When I married George, he took over the kitchen (much to my delight), and kept our kids alive on Top Raman and Cheerios, stir-fry and peanut-butter and jelly. We all ate on the run, and I remember eating my dinner at Park Rose Care Center for 10 years, where I worked in the kitchen. I had more mashed potatoes (this time with packaged gravy) for ten years.

Breakfast for me was often rice, canned corn and green beans with a dollup of canned stewed tomatoes and green onions. That was as good as it got...with peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. I simply never thought much about meals.

Now that I'm retired, I enjoy spending a morning in the kitchen. I also enjoy putting away my culinary experiments and getting down to the basics - good ole mashed potatoes and gravy. The comfort foods of my youth.
This time, with meatballs and a sparkle of shredded hashbrowns on the plate, to add a new twist. It could have used a slice of bread, to mop up the gravy, but it got used up in the pudding. I forgot that little detail.