About the Rambler



Welcome to my ramblings on dinner & drink, people & places, our planet’s health & the future of food. I’m a journalist, author and media trainer. My kitchen forever smells of garlic and curry. And much like my mother, I start thinking of dinner long before breakfast….

On Gardens Near & Far. And Summer Squash Soup.

Danu girl with tomatoesA Danu girl sorts through her family’s home-grown tomatoes in Shan State, Myanmar.

Hello there. It’s been a while. I apologize for my absence from this space—not that I’ve forgotten it, or you. It’s been on my mind a lot in the last many weeks. But you know how life takes us in multiple directions and we can’t always be everywhere, do everything, we’d like. Sometimes, the immediate needs our attention. Sometimes, we really can’t multitask. But then, if you’re like me, you eventually feel a nagging need to “catch up.”

Yet I dislike that term because it’s packed with negativity and the implication that we are somehow failing, somehow falling behind, even when we pour every ounce of ourselves and our energy into the hours and days as they pass. “Being in the moment,” as they say, attending to timely needs. Is that failure? It shouldn’t be.

So, let’s not catch up. Let’s just be, here, now.

Here, for me, is at home in New Mexico once again after a three-month journey through Asia. This trip felt longer than others. Longer—but busier, more intense. Just a few weeks ago, we trekked through Shan State and talked to farmers about their lives (thanks, in part, to SEJ’s FEJ grants). Now we’re home, digging our hands into the summer soil in a garden growing abundantly, thanks to new rain. Worlds apart, but not that different. There is a universal connection among people who work the land to grow food on a small scale. There is something unifying in that purpose. Though our histories and cultures and languages differ dramatically, every small-scale farmer, gardener and garmer understands how to watch the sky and feel the soil. We all fear pests and drought. We all cheer for good harvests.

Pa-O garlicGarlic stored in the home of a Pa-O family, Shan State, Myanmar.

I took the snapshot above on the ground floor of a Pa-O house in a village where just about everyone grows garlic. Garlic lay in mounds on the living room floor. Garlic scented the air. Garlic, everywhere. Farmers worked the fields on steep slopes across high mountaintops. Where garlic didn’t grow, ginger and turmeric and peanuts did.

Here at home everyone grows chiles, of course. Chiles along with corn, beans and squash—the three sisters (although we’re growing none of the sisters this year). We started our garden late, but already our first jalapeno has arrived….

First jalapenoOur first garden jalapeno of 2014, New Mexico.

…and the farmers markets are abundant in squash. One night shortly after we got home, I inadvertently stumbled into a new (to us) way of eating calabacita squash: grilled and puréed with complementary spices. I’d asked Jerry to grill the squash, envisioning thin slices lightly toasted. Instead, he’d sliced them in half lengthwise and charred them, akin to eggplant. So I cut away the char and scooped out the flesh. Then I mixed it and mashed it with a bit of onion, garlic, oregano, salt and olive oil. It was delicious, and we ate it with steak tacos.

Grilled mashed calabacitasGrilled & smashed calabacita squash.

Last week, we applied the concept to yellow summer squash soup with plentiful garden herbs. Here’s what happened. I recommend it for those summer weeks before other veggies come in and everywhere, it seems, there is squash to be devoured:

Grilled Summer Squash Soup

Ingredients:
2-3 large summer squash (I used yellow but any will work), split lengthwise
several cloves of garlic, minced
1 white or yellow onion, chopped roughly
1 healthy handful of fresh sage leaves, minced
1 healthy handful of fresh oregano, leaves minced
1 handful of sundried tomatoes, diced
a healthy sprinkling of dried chile powder (heat to your liking)
a dash of cumin powder
cooked sausage, chopped (optional)
butter or oil for frying
glug of white wine
water
salt & pepper
drizzle of olive oil
crème fraîche (1 dollop per serving)

Method:
Grill the squash until skin is charred but flesh is soft and smoky-sweet inside. Times will vary depending on squash size and grill temperature. When ready, remove from heat and let cool. Scrape away blackened skin and discard. Roughly chop the remaining squash and set aside.

In a deep pot or pan, heat the onion and garlic in butter or oil. Add squash and wine. Stir frequently until ingredients soften, then cover with cool water. Purée mixture with hand-held mixer or in a food processor. Return to low heat and stir in sage, oregano, tomatoes, chile, cumin, salt and pepper. Mix well. Add chopped sausage if using (I added a leftover brat from the 4th of July). Drizzle with olive oil if needed for taste, and serve with a dollop of crème fraîche.

Hungry Farmers Are Losing Land

©2014/Jerry Redfern

Meet Chhek Sambo. She lives in a village not too far from Siem Reap, a burgeoning town of tourists who flock to the ancient Angkor temples. It’s a hip place to be, routinely noted as such on lists of the world’s top tourist cities. You can get a $2 hour-long foot massage, drink $2 happy hour cocktails and eat $1 tacos. On the other hand, you can drop $100 on a Siem Reap dinner any night—pick your cuisine, this city will have it.

But Sambo lives in a different universe down the road, where she and her neighbors are fighting to keep their land. All their lives, they have grown their own food. Farming is the only job they’ve known. It’s all they say they want to do. But a previous village chief sold their land, without their consent, to a wealthy buyer. Now, the villagers are fighting for land titles that would give them legal standing in this struggle.

©2014/Jerry Redfern

It’s a story played out ’round the world, every day, by family farmers whose biggest aims are to feed themselves.

CowBoy

Sambo and her neighbors raise chickens, geese and cows. They grow plentiful mangoes…

MangoNeighbor

that cling to their shady trees. It’s not an easy life, but it’s a life they say makes them happy. Still, they hunger. Some days, dinner is nothing more than rice with chile paste…

ChiliRice

This fight to keep their land exacerbates their troubles.

It’s popular these days to talk about feeding the world, and a future population of 9 billion people. Ask Sambo what she needs to secure her future, her food, and she is clear: It must start with land.

She is not alone. You can read more about this issue in my story for Slate.

Cold Coconut Cheers

NewYearCoconut

Happy New Year to all! We are here in Southeast Asia as the masses celebrate the end of one cycle and the start of a new. In typical dry-season fashion, it’s a scorcher of a month. We spent yesterday playing tourist, tromping about the Angkor temples with 63 million of our fellow peeps. (OK, 63 million might be an exaggeration, but it felt like such a crush of humanity.) I can say with 100 percent assurance: there is nothing so welcome, so necessary as a cold coconut after a hike up a stone temple in the mid-day heat. $1. One coconut. Two straws. This, friends, is the wondrous coconut water that has so many health-conscious Westerners in a craze. Here it is, straight from the tree.

And here we are, in Cambodia. Not what we’d originally planned—but many a wise person before me has said it: Life is what happens while you’re making other plans. A travel snafu had us switching course (if you’re interested, you can read my thoughts about it here). And the new blog design was muffled in the mess. More snafus. The new look is still coming… but not just yet. Right now, we’re on the road, working, living, gathering stories. We both want to be in the moment doing that—not fixing design glitches. So I will continue posting bits and bobs here, and I will post blurbs to the Facebook page and Twitter, until our course shifts again and we’re in a spot where we can devote attention to our computers.

If you’re interested in everything else that’s been keeping us so busy these months, have a look here and here and here and here. Further: Jerry’s adding new tidbits to 63Beds.

AngkorFriends

Meanwhile, best wishes to all for good health, peace and happiness in the next year.

P Bakheng

Hot Naga Chile-Chocolate Sauce, Oh My

Blueberries w:chevre & Naga chile chocolate

Hello readers,

I’m here! (Some of you have asked.) I haven’t abandoned you, or this site, or my commitment to food. But the year so far has kicked me in the pants with deadlines, book promotions, travel prep and plans for a little shake-up here at Rambling Spoon.

The next time you come around, . . . → Ramble More: Hot Naga Chile-Chocolate Sauce, Oh My

Happy Holidays, With Chile Jam

Above, a view from Christmas past: Wisconsin 2012. From all reports, something similar is happening there this year. Meanwhile, we’re at home in New Mexico now, beneath bright blue skies with a bit of snow on the mountains and luminarias to light the streets at night. Wherever in the world you are, may the . . . → Ramble More: Happy Holidays, With Chile Jam

Lessons & Recipes from a Holiday Kitchen

This year, we decided to spend Thanksgiving at home, alone. Just the two of us. We don’t hate our families, we’re not anti-social. We’ve just had months and months of travels hither and yon, with multiple visits to relatives east and west, and more planned for Christmas. We were tired. Still are. But we . . . → Ramble More: Lessons & Recipes from a Holiday Kitchen

Olives & Everything.

It’s the little stuff, life’s petty displeasures—muddy floors, email glitches, lost time, lack of sleep, bikes with flat tires just when I want to ride—that ruffle me and make me that person I don’t want to be. The person who lacks perspective.

But it’s also the little stuff that does just the opposite: makes . . . → Ramble More: Olives & Everything.

A Borneo Food Diary

For use on Ramblingspoon.com ONLY - NOT FOR REPOSTING OR REUSE

Lunch, Day 10

I should never write a blog post while hungry!

If you’ve been coming ’round here for a while, you might recall a post I did several years ago, A Rural Lao Food Diary. We’d just come off a nine-day trip to the hinterlands in Phongsali, way up near the . . . → Ramble More: A Borneo Food Diary

What is Rain?

A woman gazes through a window at the Bario Asal Longhouse as rain pummels the area.

I started this post a few days ago, before this and this and this. Before nature smacked Colorado with a torrent of “biblical” proportions, a storm of the century, possibly the millennium. Here in New Mexico, . . . → Ramble More: What is Rain?

The Edible Jungle

There is a place in the hills where domestic meets wild, where humans meet jungle. Where the fertile valleys between forested mountains shelter villagers who plant fruit trees and rice and kitchen gardens across the acres they tame. But the wild – the jungle – also harbors a biodiversity that has long supplied the . . . → Ramble More: The Edible Jungle