Crazy Like an Elephant in Tennessee

Lucky Stop Gas Station in Crossville, Tennessee, Exit 311 on I-40. I headed west to revisit my heart in Memphis for my Bartlett High School 50th reunion. Who knew—50 years doesn’t matter at all.

I just had an ethereal trip to my 50th high school reunion. I drove from Raleigh across North Carolina across Tennessee to Memphis. When I crossed the border into Tennessee, I had a memory surge of my childhood in Nashville. I attended junior high and high school further west in Memphis and completed a bit of college at Memphis State. Then I returned to Memphis years later after living in Australia, Singapore, Baltimore, and completed my college degree at 45ish, reconnecting with my dearest friend Brenda and her son John, who loves to boogie and dances with me anywhere. Grief flooded my heart as I paused for a potty break at the Tennessee-flagged rest stop. I walked the parched lawn and thought of my high school friends who had died. I remembered my parents Earl and Ruth, my sister Mary, and her son Matthew, who were all deceased. I started talking to my sister and my parents—because I am crazy and I embrace it. I asked them if there was a heaven and if I would see them there. “Yes, you will be with us, but heaven isn’t like all bizarre gold streets and a gatekeeper. It’s easier and smoother. Sort of like now. Like how we’re just with you.” Of course, I doubted that this voice (or voices) was my sister, mother, father. “Show me a sign that you’re here and that I’m supposed to be going to Memphis.” Mary said, “Go over there by that tree. Hug it. Turn left and look down.” And there, of course, was a/their/my four-leaf clover.

I stopped again near Crossville for a pee break, choosing the kind of funky looking gas station over the spiffy Exxon. In the toilet there was a sign that bragged about the store’s freshly popped popcorn which of course is my favorite food. A sign right? Then I met Jignesh, who was tending the register and beaming joy. He was named after Ganesh, the mover of obstacles. The elephant is my totem. Another sign right?

  Well , then we just struck up a lively conversation about elephants and four-leaf clovers and popcorn. “Yes, my logo is a four-leaf clover, ” he said as he pointed to a once live, now pressed one on the countertop. “What amazing energy you have,” he said. “I am so glad you chose my gas station today.” “I’m so glad that I did as well.” I smiled. We obviously knew each other from many past lifetimes. We started talking about food, other than popcorn. Delicious Indian and Southern vegetable concoctions that had some similarities. Okra was a hit. I mentioned the recipes in my recent memoir and he said he would like to read my life. I mean book. So I gave him one.

I asked him to text me a recipe. “Go get a big bag of popcorn,” he insisted. As I left, snack in hand, I took some pics of four-leaf logos and Ganesh. My text pinged. From India, NYC, Nashville, to Crossville, Jignesh now keeps bees that enjoy the plateau. And his customers come back again and again, for the popcorn and for his wisdom. “Most of the time we think we decide everything in our life, but we don’t—our destiny decides.” I’m glad my destiny crossed yours, Jignesh.

Ganesh is the Hindu God who removes obstacles, providing success and prosperity. A shaman, after a lot of spiritual chanting and sharing special smoke, revealed to me that my totem was an elephant. (I really hated that news at first because well, elephants are big.) Elephants are strong and dependable. I needed strong, brave, big for this trip to Tennessee. Other words that popped up in my Google search included: wisdom, vitality, loyalty, majesty, nobility. Hey, I could get into elephants—sounds queenly.

Celebrate Your Life by Rewriting It.

Mom, Lenice Ruth Keele Chambers, was 28 when I (then known as Stinky) was born. Look at my huge head. Ha ha!

On my bedside table is fresh-off-the-press book, mine, with a page earmarked for easy access. This page is a memory of my mother, my always there, steadfast, funny, creative, exacting mother. When I read it (and reread it) she comes alive. I cry but then my heart swells as I hear her knitting needles, smell her cookies, see her twinkling eyes whenever they meet mine.

I encourage you to share your life. Whatever that might mean for you. Maybe it’s a book but maybe it’s a collection of essays, scenes from your life. Maybe it’s just talking about your life with someone who treasures you.

I put together a few prompts to help you celebrate your life—YOUR precious life:

Celebrate Your Life by Rewriting It.

Begin with a picture of yourself before you have any memory of yourself. Imagine what the people who care for you are saying, doing, wearing, smelling. Are they touching you? What’s your VERY FIRST memory?

Select a picture of yourself on your first day of elementary school. Write a report to your parents from your teacher. Are you shy or extremely expressive? What classmates do you remember and why?

Create metaphors to describe your emotions as a teenager. Did you have a “plan” for your future? 

Over twenty-five years old. Describe yourself in your grade school voice. Detail your life’s impactful events. Then write a scene with your twenty-five-and-over adult voice. Is your memoir’s slice of life during this period? Include all the senses—you can edit later.

Over fifty years old. Step outside of yourself and celebrate your constant soul. Would you spend your life with yourself again? What is the message about your life that is universal—bigger than your life—that will help others?

Visit your photo albums or draw new pictures. 

Kiss yourself. Be courageous.

WRITE! 

LOVE and lots of it,

MOI (Belynda) Author, Beauty Queen Blues 

BelyndaChambers@gmail.com @ChambersBelynda.com

PLEASE COME To MY Book Launch at Quail Ridge Books Sunday October 1st 2:00pm

Support an Indie — Order my book at Quail Ridge Books Raleigh & NOVEL. Memphis

Also available at Amazon.

Mary, Chris, me (Stinky), and Connie in Daytona Beach. Check out the body language. This picture has a thousand stories (and secrets).

Summer Cabbage Salad

Crisp cabbage or Napa Cabbage with a mint-lemon-garlic dressing—crunchy and bright.
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (or more to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons minced mint
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 cups chopped cabbage
  • Pomegranate seeds for garnish

Mix all ingredients except the cabbage and pomegranate seeds. Toss in the cabbage and garnish with the pomegranate seeds. Serve immediately.

Thai Watermelon Soup

Combine ICE COLD sweet watermelon with ginger, garlic, lemongrass, lime. Then spike it with a chili. We (artists and friends) recently painted and dined surrounded by beauty at The Meadows at Firefly Farm courtesy of Anna. Thank you, dear one.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 12 cups watermelon chunks
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons sliced lemongrass
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 6 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil (not toasted)
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or your favorite mineral-dense natural salt)
  • A bit if Thai or Serrano pepper to taste WEAR GLOVES & GOGGLES when handling spicy chili capsicums! (On the Scoville scale Thai peppers rate three peppers while Serranos are two, but I think they both very pungent so I add tidbits at a time. The seeds and ribs are the spiciest parts. The heat will mellow a bit after a few hours of refrigeration.)
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons lime juice
  • Maple syrup (to adjust sweetness if necessary)
  • Mint leaves (for garnish)
  • Lime slice (for garnish)

In your favorite serious blender, (Mine’s a Blendtec.), puree the watermelon and water. You might need to do this in two batches. Heat the sesame oil in a 4-cup saucepan or skillet. Add the lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and shallot. Sauté for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of the watermelon puree and simmer the mixture for 3 minutes. Cool the mixture to room temperature and then add it to the blender with 4 cups of the watermelon puree, salt, your chili(s) of choice, and 4 tablespoons of lime juice (the juice of 2 limes). Hyper-blend and taste for seasonings. Add maple syrup, 1 teaspoon at a time, if needed. And more lime juice and chili if needed. Hyper-blend again and mix all the ingredients in a large vessel (pitcher, jar, water jug). Refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours.

Garnish with a mint leave and a slice of lime. Are your diners serious hotheads who LOVE chilis? Serve some minced ones on the side.

ServSafe says this will last safely for 7 days, but I prefer consuming within 3 days to enjoy the brightness of this soup.

After 3 days, do you have a BUNCH left? Make ice cubes to add to lemonade, ginger beer, or tequila. Hey, make up your own summer slushee.

NOW Raleigh City Farm has FRESH lemongrass and mint from the herb plots. Come to Raleigh City Farm’s Pay-What-You-Can Farmstand—Wednesdays, 4 to 7 p.m.—for fresh, nutrition-packed produce. This recipe would be good with cantaloupe—available at the farmstand this week.

My Summer Date(s)

Simple and sweet!

The NC Museum of Natural Science Eco-Adventures group visited Raleigh City Farm this week and we taste tested herbs (basil, mint, rosemary) with these date-based, cocoa-covered truffles. Mint was the favorite!
  • 1 cup dates
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • Dash of a natural salt
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon monkfruit sugar

Blend all ingredients (except the cocoa and sugar)in a serious Blendtec or similar blender until it is pulverized. Refrigerate for an hour. Meanwhile mix the cocoa and sugar in a small bowl.

Scoop a teaspoon and form a ball. Roll in the cocoa mixture. Refrigerate.

Serve with fresh herb leaves for taste testing fun.

Saffron Cauliflower Pilaf

The Healthy Mind Cookbook by Rebecca Katz, inspired this delicious dish.

  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads, softened in 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 1 tablespoon ghee or avocado oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup minced carrot
  • 1/4 cup chopped fennel
  • 1/4 cup minced celery
  • 1 medium clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (iodized, preferred)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups of riced cauliflower
  • 1 teaspoon chicken or no-chicken bullion (I like Better than Bullion Organic.)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 t lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • walnuts or nuts of your choice

This is truly one of my FAVORITE dishes.

In a skillet large enough to hold all of the ingredients, heat the ghee or oil. Add the onion, carrot, fennel, celery, garlic, salt & pepper. Sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the cauliflower & sauté 3 minutes. Stir the bullion into the 1/4 cup water & add to the vegetables, along with the saffron, lemon zest & lemon peel. Cook 2 minutes; the cauliflower should be crisp. Avoid overcooking because it will be mushy. (Most things continue to cook for a bit even after they are removed from heat.) Stir in the parsley.

With the addition of a few nuts, you’ll have complete meal. It’s a great side dish & a perfect base for a breakfast egg. ENJOY!

BREATH

A life changing read!

“Grammy, you snore. Well, you don’t exactly snore you kind of puff out little bits of air. Like Puff the Magic Dragon,” my granddaughter smiled. “Hey, how about I try this new trick I just read about—mouth taping. It’s supposed to keep you breathing through your nose (not your mouth) like you’re supposed to,” I said.

Off to the drugstore we went to find the perfect tape that would stick well but not rip off my lip cells. I tore off a postage size piece and taped my mouth shut. “Oh Grammy, are you okay?” I grunted and nodded, “yes.” I admit it was a little confining at first but then it was okay. My grand agreed to tape her mouth too but somehow after rolling in the bed and giggling, her tape ended up on her belly button.

Next morning, no snores but also no bags under my eyes, no congestion in my sinuses. Hey, this tape thing is very good. Not only did I feel great in the mornings, but I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night like I had been for a couple of years. I slept a solid eight hours. I still am sleeping all night and waking up clearheaded, fresh breathed, bright-eyed.

It’s especially important for young children as they develop to breath through their nose in order to develop correctly. Breath, an interesting read, has a lot of other great advice. Change your life.

This tape works great.

Get to Know Herbs

Check Out What’s Cooking at Raleigh City Farm.

By Chef Belynda Chambers 

Upper left clockwise: Chives, oregano, rosemary, thyme perking up at Raleigh City Farm.

Herbs—culinary, medicinal, protective, cosmetic, aromatic—are potent plants. In this blog, we’ll focus on the basics for enjoying culinary herbs—planting, harvesting, preserving.

            We grow familiar perennials like oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, mint, chives, lemon balm, and sage. (A perennial is a plant that returns year after year.) Our happy hardy oregano at the farm started as a two-inch baby and is now an ever spreading blob that just begs to be divided to take over a new plot. Biennials (2-year plants) that grow at the farm include parsley and dill. A variety of annual basils, including purple, Thai, tulsi, Greek, are musts for any cook. 

            Herbs can be started from rooted plants, cuttings, or seeds. In Raleigh, it’s easy to find rooted plants here at the farm, at Logan’s, and at your local market. If you’re a beginner, rooted plants will give you the quickest results. 

            It’s easy to multiply mint and basil by cutting the stems just below the leaf/stem juncture, popping them in fresh water, and watching them root. Keep the water fresh and enjoy them as a bouquet until they’re ready to plant. The magic of sprouting seeds is, well, the magic of life. 

            Your herbs will live in a very bright window when it’s freezing but they all prefer outdoors. Some herbs love dry, well-drained soil while others (basil, mint) like moisture, but they ALL love sunny spots. Keep in mind their water preferences when you plant them. Basil, mint, dill, chives, and parsley make great plot companions, preferring a moisture retaining soil, while oregano, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and sage prefer well-drained earth.

            Imagine—your oregano is creeping in the garden or drooping over the side of the pot and one day you see a tiny bud about to bloom—it’s time to harvest! Right before the plant blooms is when its flavor is at its peak. You can cut the blooms and keep the plant producing but it will lose its intenseness and some of its nutritional value. Annual basil likes to be pinched back at the leaf juncture and continues to produce all summer. 

            Harvest is easy. Herbs’ aromatic oils will be most intense in the early morning, just after the dew has dried before the midday sun. With sharp herb scissors or Chinese kitchen clips, cut the herb no more than a few inches from its base if it’s a ground cover or annual, leave enough foliage to keep the plant thriving through summer. It will regrow and bloom again. For dill,  chives, and cilantro, harvest a few sprigs, and then all summer and let them bloom and reseed. Rosemary will grow into a serious bush and you can trim sprigs all year.

            Hardy herbs like oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, and sage dry well and keep their flavor. Simply snip the herbs, rinse them, spread them on a rack to dry then rubber band them together, and hang them in a dry dark place. Tent them with a brown paper bag if you’re concerned with dust. They’ll dry in about two weeks. Slip the leaves off of the stems and store in glass containers. Plastic is porous and will not keep them fresh.

            I like to freeze mint, chives, dill, lemon balm, and basil to retain their fresh flavor. Wash, spread out, and dry the herbs then destem them, chop or not. Freeze in freezer safe glass Ball jars. Mince basil with olive oil, scoop it up with a tablespoon, drop on parchment-lined trays, and freeze.  Pull up the tablespoon-sized blobs and place them in a freezer jar. Frozen herbs taste like they’re fresh from the garden. Chive blooms are delicious and beautiful, fresh and frozen.

            How long should you keep your dried and frozen herbs? Six months. They won’t hurt you but they won’t have the nutrition and flavor. 

            At the end of the growing season be sure to convince a few of your herbs to keep growing in that sunny window. Save seeds. Here in Raleigh, you’ll likely have oregano, marjoram, thyme, sage, rosemary, maybe chives, year round but their potent perfection is in late spring, right before they bloom.

            Gather your herbs and your family and friends and make your own blends. Tasty tinctures/teas made from savory herbs are immunity boosting powerhouses. Spice blends make a great quick flavor booster. Check out Oregano Immunity Booster and Herbes de Provence

            Come play and learn more at Raleigh City Farm’s events. Reserve here and join us on March 26 for our p1 Tourism Culinary Herb Workshop. 

            Check out what’s growing and cooking at Raleigh City Farm.

Dried herbs are always hanging around my kitchen.