Cooking Home Life

Cavendish Banana Bread

Banana bread made with Cavendish bananas

Three bananas were going bad on the counter so I decided to make banana bread. That’s what people do, or at least did when I was still at home.

These were Cavendish bananas as most commercially available ones are. They were also organic although I’m not sure how cultivation is different.

Like its predecessor, the Gros Michel banana, the Cavendish is susceptible to  a fungus that could wipe out the variety. If that happens as expected, diets will change.

For a recipe I got out my copy of the Holy Family School PTA cookbook. I like this book for the familiar names of the recipe authors, some of whom I knew. Monsignor T.V. Lawlor served as the church’s second pastor from 1943 until 1961 and his photograph is printed inside the front cover of the book. This dates the cookbook in the 1950s most likely, after the school moved to the location I attended a couple of blocks south of the church on Fillmore Street.

I chose a banana bread recipe contributed by Mrs. H.A. Tholen. It called for shortening, although I substituted butter and kept everything else the same. Here are the ingredients as written:

1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup shortening, 2 eggs, 3 bananas mashed, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon soda, 1-3/4 cup flour, and a pinch of salt.

Instructions are, “Mix in the order given and bake in a slow oven.”

Well that won’t do. Looking at other sweet breads in the book I decided on a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes. It turned out great as you can see in the image.

Making banana bread from overly ripe bananas is a cultural inheritance not only from my mother and maternal grandmother, but from a broader society where fruit like the Cavendish banana is readily and cheaply available. However, like most mass marketed fruit and vegetables it is subject to change from climate and from other pressures, forcing old habits and patterns to change.

There was something positive in yesterday’s bakery. It was a warning too, that life is fragile and ever changing. We seek comfort in what we know, delaying the embrace of what is coming. I don’t just mean what’s coming for Cavendish bananas.

Cooking Garden Local Food

Saturday Luncheon – Red Beans and Rice

Red Beans and Rice

Preparing to cook red beans and rice has been a year-long process because most of the ingredients were produced in my garden or on farms where I work.

The garden produced red beans, okra, tomatoes and celery. Local farms produced onions, garlic and bell peppers. I also grew red pepper flakes and blended the powdered dry spices. Pantry staples of extra virgin olive oil, all purpose flour, and long grain brown rice were USDA organic but not produced in Iowa.

I invested several hours preparing a luncheon meal and time was worth it because of the flavor.

In the morning we discussed my 5-1/2 quart Dutch oven, the enamel of which is wearing off the inside. I’m don’t favor replacing it. Not because of the $350 price tag for a new one from Le Creuset. With a bit of cooking oil on the bottom to prevent rusting it will serve many more years. It is my go-to pan for making red beans and rice. It has been a reliable part of our kitchen.

Cooking is a ritual that evokes memory and skill in bringing a dish together. I soaked a cup of dried red beans in the Dutch oven overnight, then cooked them with half a diced red onion until tender but not mushy. I drained the beans and reserved the cooking liquid, letting them sit on the counter until ready to make the dish.

Around 10 a.m. I started work.

I fried a couple of home made vegetarian burger patties from the freezer and set them aside to drain. (Andouille sausage would be more traditional).

Heating the dutch oven, I added two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and cooked a generous tablespoon of red pepper flakes. I diced half a large onion, red bell peppers, and celery stalks and sautéed them in the oil-pepper mixture with a little salt. Once they began to soften I added two cloves of minced garlic and added home made seasoning — think powdered garlic, curry powder, paprika, and powdered hot, red peppers. I added a few dashes of prepared hot sauce from the refrigerator and stirred until everything was incorporated.

Next came additions. I deglazed the pan with a pint of diced tomatoes. Next, a cup each of sliced okra and long grain, brown rice. I stirred in two tablespoons of all purpose flour, then the cooked beans, until everything was incorporated. I tried not to bust up the beans.

What liquid to use was an open question. This time my answer was two cups of the bean cooking liquid (that’s all there was) plus two cups of water. Other options I considered were canned tomato juice and home made vegetable broth. The flavor of the bean cooking liquid made it a good decision.

Stirring everything together, I brought it to a boil then turned the heat down to a simmer, cooking until the rice was done and most of the liquid had been absorbed. Toward the end of cooking I crumbled the burger patties and folded them into the mixture.

It was ready to eat at noon, making four to five portions.

We seek opportunity to follow our creative impulses and cooking is primal. It provides an opportunity to shed anxiety from quotidian affairs, if only for a few hours. A recipe makes the experience replicable but not really. Cooking is a story of how we sustain ourselves in a turbulent world.


Bean Soup

Soup Ingredients

Three cups of mixed beans had been resting in a jar on the counter for a long time. To use them up I made bean soup.

I soaked the beans overnight, then rinsed them in a colander with cold water from the faucet. They went back into the Dutch oven where I covered them with home made vegetable broth and turned the heat on high. Once the mixture came to a boil, I turned the heat down to a simmer and let them cook until tender.

Next I strained the mixture through a perforated funnel and prepared two cups each of diced celery, diced onion and sliced carrots. Using some of the bean cooking liquid, I sauteed the vegetables in the Dutch oven, salting to taste.

When the vegetables began to soften I added three bay leaves. Dumping the beans on top I added the rest of the cooking liquid and covered with tap water. It became soup after an hour of simmering. Using the immersion blender I whizzed the soup until about a third of it had been pulverized.

Dinner was bean soup, a slice of buttered bread, some cheese curds, a cup of local apple cider, and dried fruit.

What seemed significant was I resisted an impulse to add some of everything in the ice box and pantry to the pot. Classic mirepoix makes this kind of soup, and it doesn’t need much else.

Simple fare for plain folk.


Chickpea Salad

Chick pea salad sandwich

An acquaintance from the Climate Reality Project posted a photo essay depicting the process of making a “‘No-Tuna’ Salad Sandwich” on Instagram. I found the recipe on line and made the dish for lunch.

Mostly vegetarian, I long for food eaten at home with Mother. Because of over fishing, slavery in the Asian tuna business, and the negative impact of global warming on fish stocks there are plenty of reasons to eschew tuna and other seafood. If I don’t consume it, someone else will and that’s another problem of society on a long list of them.

The recipe produced a tasty meal, reminiscent of tuna sandwiches of my youth, but not. With a few tweaks the recipe will be a keeper.

Chickpea Salad (Modified from an original recipe by Dana Schultz)


1 – 15 ounce can of chickpeas or 425 grams cooked, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup diced celery
1/4 cup diced dill pickle
1 teaspoon capers, drained
Salt and black pepper to taste


Mash the chick peas in a bowl, leaving the mash uneven with some peas left whole.

Add tahini, mustard, honey, red onion, celery, pickle, capers, salt and pepper and mix to incorporate. Adjust seasonings as needed.

Refrigerate to enable the flavors to meld together.

Scoop a generous amount on a slice of toasted bread and garnish with lettuce, tomato and Dijon mustard or as desired. Can also be used on crackers as a party appetizer.

Four sandwich-sized servings.

Garden Local Food

Meditation on Hot Sauce

Juan San Miguel’s Hot Sauce Recipe

After planting garlic last week I made hot sauce using leftover seeds: Jalapeno and Serrano peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, apple cider vinegar and salt.

The recipe evolved over time from one Juan San Miguel explained in 1977 when we both garrisoned in Mainz, Germany. Those were days before a four-foot section of assorted hot sauces became standard in supermarkets.

I lost contact with him yet the recipe persists. It is a rare day when there is no hot sauce in the ice box.

We carried the condiment in plastic milk jugs and put it on our army rations while on maneuvers in the Fulda Gap. It made our eyes water and changed regular food into edible fire. We laughed a lot in that peace-time army… and ate sandwiches of bread and hot sauce. I continue to make it mostly the way Juan taught me.

What role does tradition play in our lives? It is significant.

Who wants a life weighed down with endless traditions? I made hot sauce this year after planting garlic. Once is enough. There is little need to make it an annual tradition. If we eschew spontaneity in favor of pursuit of tradition we are the less for it.

I enjoy remembering days of subzero ambient temperatures inside tracked vehicles traversing central Germany and eating hot sauce. Juan’s wife made more than we could use on an operation, although as we returned to garrison some sought to use it up.

Obsession with tradition and it’s traveling partner ritual is not good. Like anything, a little goes a long way. If I could live without hot sauce, why would I want to?

Cooking Local Food

Okra Summer

Okra Seeds

This year I grew okra for the first time.

It was an experimental change from store-bought to growing my own. I use okra mainly for gumbo and after this gardening season I have plenty sliced and in the freezer.

Okra is easy to grow and the plant produces for a long time. I now understand why so many people, especially those with limited financial resources, use it as a basic vegetable.

It’s not the most popular vegetable in Iowa.

I acquired the seeds at the home, farm and auto supply store in a batch of end of season packets left in a cart in the employee break room. If the seeds hadn’t been free, I would not likely have grown the vegetable. The excess pods produce plenty of seeds for next year. If I grow it again, I’ll plant just a few of them.

The reason I make gumbo at all is from watching cooking shows on public television, then on Food Network. Justin Wilson and Emeril Lagasse were most influential, but neither of them uses okra in the gumbo recipes at the links. Here is the recipe I developed after a number of years of exposure to these chefs.

Paul’s Vegetarian Gumbo

Make a roux with four tablespoons each unsalted butter and all purpose flour. Cook to the blonde stage.

Cook 10 ounces vegetarian sausage, sliced on the bias, separately in a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Drain and reserve.

Add one cup each diced celery, onion and bell pepper. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add finely chopped garlic to taste (Use spring garlic when available). Add a thinly sliced hot pepper if you have one from the garden (Serrano and Jalapeno are my favorites).

Add one quart of vegetable broth, one pint of diced tomatoes and one cup sliced okra. Bring it to a boil and turn down the heat.

Season with 1 teaspoon curry powder, ground red pepper, or cayenne. Add prepared hot sauce to taste.

Add one cup chopped fresh parsley plus the sausage and heat thoroughly until the broth thickens.

Serve on its own or with rice.

Cooking Writing

Soup for the Polar Vortex

Vegetable Soup on a Wintry Day

Monday I made a big pot of vegetable soup using what has become a standard process.

Mirepoix of onion, celery, carrot and salt sautéed in a couple tablespoons of vegetable broth.

Potatoes peeled and cut in large chunks, a 15 ounce can of rinsed, prepared beans, a pint of diced tomatoes, a quarter cup of barley, a half cup of dried lentils, a few bay leaves, two cups frozen sweet corn, a quart of home made tomato juice and vegetable broth to cover. I added lots of potatoes and carrots for texture and flavor. Toward the end of cooking I added a cup of frozen peas.

The soup cooks up thick and hearty, just the thing for subzero temperatures the polar vortex is bringing our way tonight and tomorrow.

Other soups I make are similar, adding every kind of vegetable we have on hand — after harvest or after cleaning the refrigerator. The limited number of ingredients in this recipe standardizes the outcome into something recognizable and delicious. Importantly, it is repeatable.

Over the weekend I sorted recipes, an act of curation. I found I’m much less attached to dessert recipes. Over the course of a year I make a few batches of cookies, an apple crisp or two, maybe a spiced raisin or applesauce cake. Those recipes are well used and written in my red book. I love dessert, but not that much.

The dessert recipes I kept included blueberry buckle, a seasonal item we serve at the orchard after the first blueberries come in from Michigan. The recipe our bakers use is called “Betty’s Blueberry Buckle,” but the one I have will serve.

While in graduate school I conducted a series of interviews with a subject for a class on aging. She had a letter from William F. Cody inquiring about his legacy in Davenport. I kept her recipe for custard for the memory, although I’m not sure if and when I might use it.

I find it hard to dispose of artifacts of consumption, although about half of the unsorted pile of recipes went into the paper recycling bin. That I got rid of anything is a sign of progress. So many things compete for attention that piles of artifacts, like these recipes, sit around indefinitely.

Winter is a great time to enjoy a bowl of soup and sort through the detritus of a life on the prairie. I look forward to spring.

Cooking Local Food Writing

Bunkering in During Snowfall

Last of the Fresh Kale

Snow began overnight and is expected to continue all day — the first real snow this winter.

We need more from winter, a week of subzero temperatures to kill bugs in the ground and to stop the sap flow in trees before pruning. Today’s snowfall gets us started, although the long-range forecast shows ambient temperatures well above zero the rest of the month.

We are ready to bunker in. We have reading piles, plenty of food, an internet connection, and an operational forced air furnace. I expect to drive my spouse into town for work so she doesn’t have to scrape windshields afterward. Having lived in Iowa and the Midwest most of our lives we know what to do.

Breakfast was kale cooked in a style of central Mexico with caramelized onions, finely chopped garlic and red pepper flakes. This recipe is worth trying because it allays the bitterness sometimes associated with kale, making a hearty and delicious vegetarian meal. Here’s what I did.

In a medium sized frying pan warm extra virgin olive oil on medium high heat. Cut three medium onions in half,  slice them into quarter-inch ribbons, and add to the olive oil. Salt generously to taste. Once the mixture is cooking, reduce the heat and caramelize the onions. Finely chop three cloves of garlic and add them to the caramelized onions along with red pepper flakes to taste. Mix and cook just until the garlic loses it’s raw taste. Add one half cup of vegetable broth and a generous amount of kale. Cover the pan with a lid and let it cook for five minutes on medium low heat or until the kale is tender. Mix the ingredients thoroughly. At this point I laid two home made bean burgers from the freezer on top of the kale and covered again until the pre-cooked burgers were warmed through and the moisture evaporated. (If you want to use the kale mixture as a taco filling, the bean burgers aren’t needed). Transfer the kale and a burger to plates and top with Mexican cheese and fresh salsa. If you have it, freshly chopped cilantro would be a nice addition. The breakfast of champions.

Five weeks remain until soil blocking begins at the farms. It’s a chance to garage the car for days at a time and turn inward as if there is just us in the world. The snow is getting deep enough to shovel the driveway before heading to town.

Already it is becoming a productive, mostly indoors day. Winter at its best.

Cooking Home Life Local Food

Into the Light

Black Friday, 4:30 a.m., at the home, farm and auto supply store

I spent much of Black Friday loading customer vehicles with large, bulky items that were on sale. It was often a three-person job.

Management had us come in an hour before the store opened at 6 a.m. to put the final preparatory touches on what is one of our biggest sales days of the year.

A crowd of shoppers waited when we opened. Given the types of merchandise we carry and aggressive pursuit of Black Friday market share, it was no surprise.

Throughout my shift shoppers arrived in vehicles containing bags of merchandise from other stores. We helped fill them up and all was good in retail world.

I was tired when I arrived home at 2:30 p.m., more because my early morning schedule was disrupted than the work I did at the home, farm and auto supply store.

First thing I did was make a batch of red chile sauce using dried New Mexico chilies.

We continue to have kale in the garden so the day before I planned a last-minute dish for our Thanksgiving dinner. Before I forget, here’s what I did:

Saute a diced medium onion in a frying pan. Add a couple of cloves of diced garlic. Once the onions and garlic are tender, add a pint of diced tomatoes and a tablespoon of Mexican oregano. When the sauce comes together, add a large amount of sliced kale leaves with the stems removed. I used three big leaves but more is okay because it will cook down. The stems can be sliced finely and added for more texture. Add a drained and rinsed can of prepared black beans. Season with salt to taste. Reduce heat to a simmer until the liquid has evaporated and serve hot as a side dish.

I had dinner of Thanksgiving leftovers and went to bed early. There will be a lot to do as we come into the light of this weekend.

Cooking Local Food

Red Chile Sauce

Part of my barter agreement at two Community Supported Agriculture farms was participation in fall shares. I pick up the final share this afternoon and sweet mother of Mary that’s a lot of vegetables.

Now that I’ve learned to make corn tortillas at home we need something to put in them. Something different — black beans, kale and Guajillo chile sauce. It didn’t use up many of the vegetables in the ice box, but that’s where I am after the frustrating results of the statewide election contests became known.

I watched more than a dozen YouTube videos on red pepper sauce, notably two by Rick Bayless, before arriving at this recipe.

Guajillo Red Pepper Sauce


Four ounces dried Guajillo chile peppers
Tablespoon Mexican oregano
Two head of garlic, peeled and crushed
Black pepper


Stem and seed the chile pods, tearing them open. Toast them flesh side down in a frying pan with vegetable oil until the flesh turns a lighter color. It doesn’t take long. When the chilies are toasted, place them in a bowl and submerge them in hot tap water. Re-hydrate them for about 20 minutes.

Transfer the chilies to a blender and add about a cup of the soaking liquid. Add the Mexican oregano, crushed garlic and black pepper and blend together until the mixture is incorporated and as smooth as can be. Strain the contents of the blender into the frying pan used for toasting and simmer on low heat until the sauce is reduced to a thick consistency between tomato sauce and tomato paste.

Add salt to taste and a pinch of sugar. Add a half cup of water and stir until the mixture is incorporated. Simmer over medium heat to enable the flavors to meld and the sauce is complete. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Guajillo chile sauce can be used on almost anything. I made a taco filling with green kale and black beans cooked in this sauce. I also served the finished kale, black bean and chile sauce as a side dish at the end of season potluck at the orchard. It was well received and our tractor driver asked me for the recipe.

I put a batch of the sauce in a squeeze bottle. While there’s no way to pour the sauce on the election, it will make many dishes in our kitchen taste better.