Monday, July 23, 2012

Zucchinis – gotta love ‘em

One zucchini plant taking over my yard
A while ago I was pondering world hunger and among the solutions I came up with was to provide every needy family or community one zucchini plant (climate permitting). One plant would quickly grow to elephant-sized proportions and provide endless vegetable matter.  It can be eaten raw, stewed, sautéed, stuffed and roasted, or baked into moist and delicious breads.  Adding grated zucchini to a cake batter makes it moist and delicious without imparting any strong flavor.  I make a chocolate zucchini cake that is too die for (but I don’t tell anyone the secret ingredient for fear they won’t eat it).

Zucchini truly is not a difficult vegetable to swallow; it has a fairly bland taste like many vegetables in the Cucurbit family (not strong like broccoli from the Brassica family). It makes for great culinary company when mixed with onions, garlic, basil, fennel, tomatoes, or other squashes. Here are some fun facts about this vegetable:

7 Fun Facts About Zucchini
  1. One average-sized zucchini is just 25 calories (17 calories per 100 grams) and they are fat-free and cholesterol-free.
  2. Zucchini is a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and manganese and has more potassium than a banana. 
  3. They also contain the B-complex group of vitamins like thiamin, pyridoxine, and riboflavin.
  4. The beautiful yellow flowers are edible – fried squash blossoms are epicurean delights.
  5. Wash your zucchini but don't peel them because most of the nutrients are in the skin.
  6. Every year there is a Zucchinifest celebrated in Obetz, Ohio, with food, music, motorcycles, parade and pageant. This year it is set for August 23-26!
  7. In France and England the zucchini is known as the courgette.
To finish off today’s tribute to the “Z” plant here is a quick and easy recipe for zucchini soup.  Put in the blender or food processor, it is a take on Vichyssoise (blended cold leek and potato soup) and can quickly make use of all those enormous zucchinis a gardener is faced with every day.

Zucchini soup - ready to serve!

Blended Zucchini Soup (need an electric blender or food processor)

6-8 Cups of sliced fresh zucchini (wash and scrub but leave skins on for color)
1 large onion sliced (or 2 medium onions)
3-4 leeks cleaned and sliced
3-5 thinly sliced Yukon gold potatoes
2 cloves of fresh garlic

1 quart container organic chicken broth
1 quart container organic vegetable broth (only need half quart)
¾ - 1 Cup milk (or half and half)
A handful of fresh fennel chopped (or substitute chopped fresh basil, oregano, or dill)
Olive oil for sautéing
Salt and pepper

Step one: saute all the veggies, then add the broth.
In a large soup pot add in about 3-4 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the sliced potatoes, onions, leeks, and zucchinis over medium heat. While the vegetables are cooking add salt, pepper, and ½ of the chopped fennel or basil. Stir often and cook until veggies are starting to get soft but zucchinis still have beautiful green color (about 5 minutes). Add in garlic and sauté for a minute.  Next, add  the chicken broth and ½ container of vegetable broth to the pot.  Bring to boil and simmer gently for about 5-7 minutes or until the potatoes and zucchinis are tender yet still have vivid color. Remove from heat. Next, transfer approximately ¼ of this vegetable/broth mixture to the blender. Blend until fairly smooth – pour blended soup into a large bowl (or another pot) to save while blending the remaining ingredients in the pot in batches.  Place all blended soup back into pot. Add in the milk or half and half.  Stir and serve topped with chopped fresh fennel or basil.  This soup can be served at room temperature or hot.
Zucchini soup served with fennel and bread.


Friday, July 13, 2012

A Prayer for Politics

A Sculpture at Shidoni Foundry in Santa Fe, NM
Dear God (or the Universe or the Holy Spirit or Buddha or Allah or whomever) please spare me the upcoming ugly battle on TV (and Facebook etc.) for the next presidential election. American democracy is a wonderful thing and we are fortunate to live in the U.S.. We can have our opinions and hopefully learn to be respectful of others viewpoints. But during an election year does it have to be so downright nasty and mean-spirited when they are expressed? I cannot bear witness to the upcoming fight and the good vs. evil propaganda.

It is like a high school football game with the “we are better than they are” attitudes. It is a win/lose scenario of “let’s get nasty and injure” our opponents. I have seen some awful behaviors from both parties—along with examples of truly humanitarian behaviors—trust me neither one is better they are, just different. Can we wrap ourselves around differences or is fear and loathing going to abide?

People seem to blindly borrow their political party affiliations from their parents (or spouses or church) instead of doing real research -- reading up on both sides and investigating the different platforms. Do you really know what each party stands for in the political arena? Do you really understand economics, deficits, foreign policy, or the banking and monetary system? Do you know the reason there was a financial crisis and an Occupy Wall Street movement? Do you understand what the wars cost? Do you know why the employment rate has continued to drop over the last 6 years? These are some tough subjects to absorb and they require much time and energy. Would you be willing to read several books and views from unbiased information sources? There appears to be a filter in the mind which blocks any meaningful knowledge from entering the brain if that information comes from the opposing party or team.  Speaking of high school again, do you remember the high school debate team? Debates were democracy in action and they had an educated presentation unlike the mud-slinging of political commercials. We actually listened to both sides of our classmates’ arguments and thought it through. Well some of us did.

History tells us that a politician, Joe McCarthy, damaged hundreds of people because they supported social  programs and he feared communism would take over America. Likewise, Americans adored President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (he was elected to office four times) when he assisted the country with his social programs during the depression. The difference may be in historical timing and intention or striking a meaningful balance for the needs of the people. And to borrow a quote from the book Dreamers of the Day by author Mary Doria Russell: “When it comes down to it, I don't have much in the way of advice to offer you, but here it is: Read to children.Vote. And never buy anything from a man selling fear."

In the 1960s, I saw many people injured and killed in the fight for civil rights trying to end discrimination against African Americans. Five decades later, I am utterly proud of this country for electing an African-American as President of the United States. We have come a long way since Thomas Jefferson penned these words in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these Truths to be self-evident that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

I believe a great democratic country needs a sprinkling of social programs and social consciousness, a support system for productive and environmentally-respectful industries that do no harm, a respectful space between government control and an individual’s rights, a good legal system with trial by jury, a balance of power in the government, a lack of greed, a publicly owned television/media network, a plan to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves for whatever reason, and good old-fashioned understanding, kindness and acceptance for all the differences in our vast human population (both at home and abroad). We the people of the United States of American have come so close. Perhaps it is the last few that are too idealistic and, so I turn to you.

Please God make us all kinder in our politics and able to work together for a better world.



Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Declaration of Independence (the 1st draft was good)

Our 13 Original Colonies
Two hundred thirty six years ago, leaders among the thirteen original colonies of America decided they needed to formalize their notion of breaking away from the “mother ship,” Great Britain. A handful of brilliant men decided to write a resolution of independence that could be signed and voted upon by the leaders of the colonies with the desired goal to create a group of independent states called the United States of America. 
These men had ideas about governing the land in which they were living, and concepts and changes that might improve the rights for all. The ideas needed to be formulated and recorded on paper.

The colonies were experiencing unjust control unfettered mercantilism and taxation without representation heaved upon them from across the Atlantic Ocean. They saw inherent injustices in Great Britain and Scotland between the wealthy landowners and those who did not own land. Benjamin Franklin felt that private property ownership for all men, which was commonplace in the colonies, allowed for more equality and equity. Private property ownership was an important concept in the new fledgling democracy. In addition, Thomas Jefferson was a believer in human rights and freedom and wanted to see the practice of slavery come to an end.

This Declaration of Independence, was drafted and edited several times, and presented on July 2nd. It was written, for the most part, by Thomas Jefferson as part of a “committee of five” (Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams) and began with powerful prose:

When, in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the Causes which impel them to the Separation.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

It took two more days for the declaration to be formally adopted by 12 colonies. There were two key points in Jefferson’s original document that some men wanted revised and removed: the first was a critical reference to the English people (fair enough), and the other was his denunciation of slavery and the slave trade. Jefferson's original draft was more humane and true to his fine words above (See Page 3 of the Declaration of Independence below).

Unfortunately, it took another 89 years for slavery to be abolished and for Jefferson’s famous prose of equal rights for all Men to finally be awarded. In addition, it took women until 1920 to be granted a voice and the right to vote. I am digressing, back to the Declaration of Independence. Another two weeks (July 19, 1776)  passed before  the declaration was finally approved by the colony of New York. And on August 2, 1776, it was signed by all the necessary leaders. However, the American War for Independence (the Revolutionary War) would rage on for five more years before the United States would be an independent and free nation (with the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Great Britain in 1783). It is interesting how the date of July 4th on which we commemorate America’s independence is not really indicative of the actual historical truth of our independence, this change took a long time to occur.

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4

July 4th is the designated national holiday and is celebrated with fireworks, flags, barbeques, parades and other summertime activities shared with family, friends and the community. On this day we are 185 days into the year and with only 180 left; this is the pinnacle of the summer season. The story of our country at a moment in time (early July, 1776) is an excellent example of the evolution of important ideas, the time it takes to put these into actual practice, and what a democracy and freedom for all really means.

This year, with many forest fires simmering in our area of Colorado, it may not wise to set off sparklers or firecrackers but watching a movie about this period in our history may be another way to enjoy the holiday. Here are three movies that might deepen the experience:

John Adams (HBO TV series) – won 4 Golden Globes and 13 Emmy Awards

Hooper, Tom, dir. John Adams. Perf. Paul Giamatti and LauraLinney. HBO Films, 2008. Film.

The Patriot (Movie/DVD) – nominated for 3 Oscars

Emmerich, Roland, dir. The Patriot. Perf. Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger. Columbia Pictures, 2000. Film.

1776 – (Film version of Broadway musical) 

Hunt, Peter, dir. 1776. Perf.William Daniels and Howard Da Silva. Columbia Pictures, 1972. Film.

Claude H. Van Tine, The Causes of the War of Independence (1922) p 318