WHIDBEY RECIPES: Nature at its worst, and best

It's last Friday morning as I’m writing this; you remember last Friday morning, don’t you?

It’s last Friday morning as I’m writing this; you remember last Friday morning, don’t you?

The sun was shining everywhere, warming us as we haven’t been warmed since sometime last fall.

From where I’m sitting on this beautiful Friday morning, looking toward the snow-tipped Olympics, there is nothing but blue, blue, sky and sparkling waters. Two white boats, one considerably larger than the other, are skimming over the surface, leaving behind rippling white trails, like the gauzy drifts of a bride’s veil blowing in a breeze.

It’s an idyllic, beautiful scene and I can only think of how much I love this island we inhabit, and how lucky we are to be living here.

“At least eight schools were flattened, including the three-story Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan where hundreds of students were buried inside.”

Hundreds of students, buried inside a collapsed school. How impossible to conceive of the suffering, pain and grief that is happening right now, as the grisly, ghastly work of trying to retrieve those young bodies goes on even as I’m sitting here, basking in the sun and typing away on my laptop. I can’t get my mind ’round it frankly; the immensity of both Myanmar and China’s tragedies, the lost lives and the suffering of those still alive.

I picture my grandchildren, all of them sitting in a schoolroom somewhere, probably wishing they were outside doing something else on such a fine day, their lives untouched by the ongoing horrors occurring so far away. And I resolutely and selfishly shut out of my mind any thoughts of a natural disaster destroying any of them in a heartbeat. I’ve somehow never felt quite so aware of how marvelous a thing it is to be alive and sitting where I am.

I actually had no intention of doing this week’s column on such a melancholy topic, but it seemed too frivolous and uncaring simply to ignore the agonies that nature has visited on so many in this world over the past weeks, yet it’s the height of hypocrisy to pretend I can do anything about it with words.

I can’t change what nature has done, nor can I lessen the agonies of those left to deal with the aftermath. I can empathize, and pray that help and healing comes quickly for the survivors, but other than that, I’m useless in the face of such overwhelming catastrophes.

Sure, I can make a donation to the groups trying to help and hope it makes some tiny difference, but that doesn’t stop the pictures of devastation from running through my mind.

Long ago, my mother used to say to me, when I was leaving uneaten food on my plate, “Think of the starving children in China” (or India, or wherever she’d read of starving kids) and I wondered, even then, what I could do with my uneaten food that would help.

I couldn’t send it to those hungry children, and it surely wasn’t going to help them one bit if I went ahead and ate the unwanted green beans sitting on my plate. I feel somewhat the same now, puzzled about what good I can do.

So, what conclusions have I come to? None, really, except that the forces of nature are never, ever to be taken for granted or underestimated, and even as nature (I refuse to refer to nature as “she” or “Mother”) destroys the lives of thousands upon thousands, it also gives us one beautiful, balmy, sunny day; a wonderful day to be alive. Perhaps the best we can do is try to do our best to appreciate each day we’re given. Right at this moment, I’ve seldom felt quite so aware of how marvelous a thing it is to be alive and sitting where I am.

RECIPES

I try to imagine what I would fix to feed people who’ve been stripped of everything they own and have no way of feeding themselves; if I had the ingredients at hand and a source of heat, what could nourish and fill the empty stomachs. This recipe, which will feed 16 under normal circumstances, is one I’ve used for buffets. It could be doubled, tripled and is not only nourishing, but frankly, very tasty. Try it at your next large gathering.

BLACK AND WHITE RICE

4 cups dried black beans

12-14 garlic cloves, chopped (I use more)

4 carrots, cut in half

5 bay leaves

4 t. dried thyme

4 t. salt (or to taste; you may need more)

2 t. ground black pepper

1 T. ground cumin

18-20 cups water

4 cups long grain white rice

½ cup dry sherry

6 T. cider vinegar

Combine the first 8 ingredients in a very large soup pot. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until beans are almost tender, about 45 minutes. Discard the carrot pieces.

Add rice to the beans and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 20 min. Add more water if mixture seems too dry. Stir in the sherry and vinegar and season again, to taste, with salt and ground pepper.

Regular readers know what a fan I am of soup, hot or cold, and I think of how many hungry people can be fed with a big pot of soup. This is another recipe that is easily doubled or tripled to feed as many as possible, and it’s delicious, as well as nourishing.

This, by the way, is a great soup for vegetarians; just substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth.

LENTIL BROWN RICE SOUP

10 cups chicken broth

5-6 cups water

3 cups lentils (picked over and rinsed)

2 cups brown rice

2 large cans (2 lb.) tomatoes, drained and chopped (reserve the juice)

6 carrots, halved lengthwise and then cut crosswise into ¼-inch pieces

2 onions, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

6-8 cloves garlic, minced

1 t. dried basil, crumbled

1 t. dried oregano, crumbled

½ t. dried thyme, crumbled

2 bay leaves

¾ cup minced fresh parsley or cilantro leaves

4 T. cider vinegar, or to taste

In a large, heavy kettle or soup pot, combine the broth, water, lentils, rice, tomatoes and their juice, carrots, onion, celery and garlic. Add the herbs and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally, for 45-55 min. or until lentils and rice are tender.

Stir in the parsley, vinegar, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Discard bay leaves. The soup will be somewhat thick and will thicken more as it stands. Thin, if desired, with additional broth. Makes about 26 cups.

Margaret Walton can be reached at falwalcal@msn.com.

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