Corn

Leek, squash blossom, & corn chowder for the harvest moon.

Silver lady. 

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The moon is mysterious, wise, and beautiful as women themselves. I think all women have a little bit of the moon inside us. Illuminating the world at night, watching the earth at sleep. At some point all of us have been stopped dead in our tracks because of a gorgeous moon. We should do that every time. Early this morning was a most beautiful harvest moon or the corn moon. Where I am located, the moon wrapped herself up in an orb of soft, warm orange. I stood outside with Ty, my bare-feet in the cool dirt and hands cupped around a small bowl of corn chowder.

This moon was particularly important to Native Americans and its light told them that crops such as corn, squash, beans, and wild rice were ready for harvest. The moon was so bright that it invited them to work late into the night harvesting plants in lady moon's bright glow. They worshiped their light-bringers, and we should be thankful for them as well. Almost all cultures/religions (Ancient Egyptians, to Chinese, to Druids, to Ancient Greeks, Early European, to North and South Americans, to Christianity) were heavily drenched in moon lore. All religions are still colored with the moon today, even if we do not realize it. One of the most carving experiences of my life was exploring the Mayan culture on a four day hike to Machu Picchu, where, among other things, I saw the Inca temple of the moon. During the hike, our guide taught us to pour out a little food from everything we ate to give it to Mama Pacha (mother world). It only makes sense to give a little back the the earth that gives us so much. I left my little bowl of chowder out on a stump under the glow of the harvest moon and mama pacha. 

This corn chowder is perfect as we approach the end of summer and welcome fall.

"On a gold throne, whose radiating brightness
  Dazzles the eyes--enhaloing the scene,
Sits a fair form, arrayed in snowy whiteness.
  She is Chang-o, the beauteous Fairy Queen.
Rainbow-winged angels softly hover o'er her,
  Forming a canopy above the throne;
A host of fairy beings stand before her,
  Each robed in light, and girt with meteor zone.'"

                                                  -Mr. G. C. Stent idea of the Chinese versifier translated

 

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Recipe (Serves about 8 bowls, freezes well too)

 

Corn- 6 ears, shucked and kernels cut off cobb (keep cobbs)  

Leeks - 3, washed and sliced into thin slivers

Red onion - 1/4 an onion, diced

Sweet peppers - 3 small, or 1 small bell pepper, chopped

Squash blossoms - 3-4 (chopped + extra for garnish) (optional) Make sure to remove the stamen (central stalk of the bloom)

Red skinned potato - 1 medium, diced

Spinach - 2 large handfuls, fresh, finely chopped

Garlic - 3 cloves, minced

Mushroom broth - 6.5 cups (or veggie broth but I think mushroom is better) 

Olive oil - 2TB

Butter - 2TB

Flour - 1.5TB

Light cream - 1 cup

Mild cheddar - scant 1/2 cup, grated.

Salt/ pepper - to taste, about a teaspoon but I was generous with the pepper

Bay leaves - 3

Dry sage - 1TB

Thyme - 2tsp

Chives - a few TB for garnish (optional) 

Chop all veggies and have them ready. Place the 2TB of olive oil in a large stock pot on medium heat, add garlic, leeks and onions. Let them sweat and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the sweet peppers, squash blossoms, sage, and thyme. Cook for another 2 minutes. Add in the broth, the potato, bay leaves, and corn cobs (with the kernels cut off). Let it simmer for 20 minutes. Add in 1/4 of the corn kernels. Let it simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves and corn cobs.

Pour the mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Have a ladle, a whisk, and the blender full of soup handy. Return the empty pot to medium heat on the stove and add in the 2TB of butter, you are going to make a roux. Once the butter melts whisk in the flour and then, while whisking, ladle in the soup slowly. Continue doing this, whisking in-between ladle fulls until it is all incorporated. The soup will be a little thicker now. You are almost there! Keep the soup on medium heat and add then place another 1/4 of the corn kernels into the blender with the cream. Blend until smooth. Add the cream mixture into the soup and then all the rest of the reserved corn kernels and fresh spinach. Let it heat up at least another 10 minutes (not boil). Add your cheese and let it melt. Season it with salt and pepper, and serve warm topped with chives and squash blossoms. 

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Summer squash & tomato cobbler + cornmeal drop biscuits.

Days of fireflies, berries, porch swings, and tomatoes.

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The other day I was on a the phone with a friend and telling her about how I missed things about the southeast and I was thinking that it probably sounded crazy. I mean I already miss Colorado, I loved every moment with the Rockies, aspen forests, and elk grazing just a short drive away. Not to mention the last camping/hiking trip we took. I was overwhelmed with the possibilities and accessibility out there. I certainly find a lot of fault in the majority of politics and beliefs that radiate from the southeast but I still found myself missing it. Some friends out in Denver explained that they felt claustrophobic when on the east coast because while driving down the road there were trees on either side of the road. Out there the roads are wide open, flat land seamlessly ending into the silhouette of the Rockies. It is surreal, but it isn't home to me. I feel a little sad that the east coast and especially, the southeast, doesn't get enough glory in the natural beauty department when compared to the west. They both deserve admiration in different ways.

The southeast with its sandy beaches, rolling dunes, coasts flecked with small islands and pockets of wild horses, marshy swamps of prehistoric palms, carnivorous plants, and mangroves. There are places deep in the coastal forest filled with the chorus of insects and birds growing so loud at dusk that your imagination is transported to an exotic jungle. Regions of rivers, streams, and lakes form such intricate watershed systems and secret swimming holes bursting with fish, crawdads, alligators, and sea monsters. Bogs and wetlands create undisturbed homes for boar, wild dogs, mosquitos swarms, and secluded humans who, in a way, are inhabiting a frontier too difficult to conquer. Ancient live oaks so gnarled and twisted and drenched in spanish moss, they produce a pattern of sunlight across the surface of the earth that slightly morphs and sways in the wind, like a kaleidoscope. There is evidence left of early Native Americans, their blood flows in most Easterners veins, and the sacred sites they left behind; jewelry, earth mounds, burial sites, arrowheads, shell rings, pottery, tears, stories, and mysteries. A patchwork of plains and farmland with seams of pillowy tree canopy embroidered with cows, horses, sheep, hogs, goats, wildflowers, and bunnies. The farmhouses and barns are so cozy and eternal, even the uninhabitable ones look like a home from a dream. Even the worst of suburbs are engraved with the footprints of deer herds, fox, raccoon, old growth trees, and early american ruins.

The Appalachians are clothed in a happy thicket of trees with too many species to count, some of the most bio-diverse forests in the country. The Appalachian mountains are ancient, among the oldest on earth, being near them makes you feel more wise, makes you explore your own self. Hidden doorways open up from mountain faces and reveal limestone caverns so dark, cold, and deep that even the fish are blind. The caves harbor bats and other creatures of darkness, allowing the mind to run with stories of the imagination. They hide the secrets of Native Americans, war, prisoner escapes, and Tom Sawyer. Giant boulders seem to have both fallen from the clouds and poked up from the punctured crust of the earth, they form homes for curious black bears and their smaller friends. Hidden gorges and rock cities remain barely explored, with steep walls cradling pockets of teal water, fossils, and multicolored salamanders. The lands flecked with the ruins of our ancestors; stone mills, abandoned buildings, graveyards, canals, camps, forts, damns, waterwheels, cobblestone streets, some so overgrown that they are, in their own way, an undiscovered Appalachian Angkor Wat. Thunderstorms instantly turn the empty air into a forest with flashes of light illuminating raindrop trees and cracks of thunder shaking the ground, shaking your home, shaking you to the soul. Soils diverse and fertile produce the much loved okra, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, pecans, tomatoes, and walnuts, and children with berry stained fingertips and jars filled with fireflies.

I could go on. We haven't discussed the architecture, sounds of rain on tin roof, creaking porches, and blue ceilings. The history of our country both good and bad, where the United States first set its roots. Or the dialect, language, culture, religion; a diverse people made up of unique groups such as Lowcountry, Immigrants, Native American, Gullah, Cajun, Creole, snake handlers, and others. I haven't mentioned the food, the gatherings, biscuits, catfish, fried green tomatoes, collards, hoppin' john, pound cakes, cobbler, grits, barbecue, dumplings, gravy, cornbread, gumbo, fried okra, cast iron skillets, and sweet tea. I could write an equally admiring bit about the west, hell, about Colorado alone, but it would be missing a certain amount of history, mystery, and controversy. I can get caught up in my frustration over certain things about the southeast (in history and in modern day) that annoy me, that disappoint and dishearten me. I forget about all the magic and wild that exists in our natural world here, in our history here. It is amazing and inspiring and I wish these things could be figureheads for the southeast rather than politics. I wish a lot of things. I think that if the land could speak, it would wish these things too.

In honor of the beautiful things in our world, in our country, and yes in the southeast, here is a take on southern food from an untraditional southerner. 

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Recipe (one big ole casserole - I used about a 12" oval dish) 

Cherry tomatoes - 16ounces, whole

Summer squash - 2 small/medium (I used one zucchini and one yellow squash) , cut into slivered rounds

Yellow onion - 1 medium, cut into slivers

Corn - 1 ear, fresh, kernels cut off the cob. 

Olive oil - 5TB

Dry sherry or basalmic vinegar - 2TB

Garlic - 4 cloves, 2 smashed and 2 minced.

Fresh thyme - 2TB (scant)  with the leaves pulled off from the stalk.

Salt/pepper - to taste, fresh cracked pepper works well here

All purpose flour - 1 3/4 cup

Cornmeal - 2/3 cup

Heavy cream - 1 cup

Cold butter - 3/4 a stick

Sugar - large pinch

Preheat your oven up to 450 degrees and cut up all your veggies. Toss the tomatoes (whole), squash, and corn together with 3TB of olive oil, 1TB fresh thyme, smashed garlic, and salt/pepper. Pour into your casserole dish and place into the oven when it is ready and roast for 20 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes. Meanwhile put the last 2TB of olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add in the garlic and slivered onions to the skillet and caramelize for 20 minutes, while the veggies are roasting in the oven. After 20 minutes, take out the veggies in the oven and add in the caramelized onions and 2TB of sherry, toss together and return to the oven for 10 more minutes.

While the veggies are roasting, mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, pinch of salt, 1TB fresh thyme, and a good amount of black pepper. Cut the cold butter into pea sized pieces and toss into the flour mixture. Add in the cream and stir into a dough. Add in a little extra cream if needed... you want the dough to be somewhat dry but stick together nicely. Store the dough in the refrigerator until it is ready to use. 

After the veggies have roasted for 10 more minutes (a total of 30) take out the dish, stir, and top it with big spoonfuls of the dough. Return to the oven for 14-15 minutes or until the biscuits are cooked and slightly golden. Top with cracked pepper and serve warm. 

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Summer tamales with zucchini, radishes, & corn + tomatillo salsa.

Hot tamale!

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My first encounter with tamales had me swooning. Served up piping hot from a pit dug into the earth and covered with palm branches. I waited for those tamales anxiously, watching the heat waves flicker over the pit causing the snow-capped Andes Mountains to dance in the background over the faint linger of corn in the air. Opening up the husks revealed the steaming little package of masa flour and vegetables. I couldn't wait to dig in. Since then I have had tamales in restaurants, food carts, and at farmers market stands. Perhaps because of the memories I have tied to tamales, I always make the same mistake, a painful mistake. My poor tongue probably cowers at the site of masa because I always burn my tongue. I am too impatient and never wait long enough for the centers of the tamales to cool a bit. It's ok tamales, I still love you.

 

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Recipe (Makes about 15 tamales) 

Coconut oil - 6TB

Corn husks - 15 corn husks + a few extra in case the amount varies. 

Masa harina - 4 cups

Hot water - 2 cups + soaking water for the corn husks

Mexican oregano - 1TB dried or several TB fresh. 

Cayenne pepper - 1tsp dried

Lime - zest of 1 lime

Garlic - 2 cloves, minced

Zucchini - 2 coarsely chopped

Corn - 1 fresh cob, the kernels cut off

Radishes - 3 small radishes chopped + extra to garnish

Cotija cheese - generous 1/2 cup crumbled + extra to garnish

Salt - 1tsp

Salsa Verde

Tomatillos - 5 tomatillos, coarsely chopped

Jalapeno - 1 small, chopped, remove seeds or not (depending on heat preference).

Garlic - 2 cloves, chopped

Red onion - 1/4 red onion, chopped

Limes - juice of 2 limes

Cilantro - a large handfull, chopped + extra to garnish

Salt - a few pinches, to taste

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Cover the corn husks in a bowl with hot water and leave to soak while preparing the tamales. Mix the masa with oregano, cayenne, salt. and lime zest. Add in 2 cups of hot water and 4TB of coconut oil, mix until combined. Leave the masa mixture to sit while preparing the filling. Chop up all the vegetables. Heat up 2TB of coconut oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add in the garlic and cook for a minute and then toss in the zucchini, radishes, and corn. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until soft and then crumble in the cotija. Stir until combined and then turn off the heat. 

Drain the corn husks and then start heating up your steamer so that it is ready for the tamales. Begin filling up your tamales by pressing in a scant 1/2 cup of masa in the center of your corn husks, leaving a border. Then spoon in the filling, about 1/4 - 1/3 a cup. The filling amounts will vary depending on the size of the corn husks, just do what feels right. Start rolling together the tamales curling the masa over the filing and roll the tamale into a log and then pinch and fold in the bottom and top edges. Kind of mold the tamales together with the palm of your hand to make sure it is compacted. Repeat with the rest of the corn husks and then place them all in the steamer and steam for 30 minutes. 

Place all salsa verde ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until it comes to a salsa consistency.

Unwrap tamales (make sure to let them cool a bit!) and top with salsa verde plus garnishing of cotija, slivered radishes, and cilantro - if desired. 

 

 

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