Contemplating Sisterhood

August 22, 2013

“To my sister Mary who has always believed that I can do anything she puts her mind to.”
— Betty MacDonald, dedication for The Egg and I

Watercolor sketch with sister quotation

Watercolor sketch with sister quotation:  “Sisters are different flowers from the same garden.”

Today is my sister’s birthday, so this post is dedicated to her.  I have five sisters, so you would think I might be somewhat of an expert on sisterhood.  But I’m not.  We resemble each other most strongly on the outside — our physical attributes — and we are also alike in many ways on the inside.  Too often we share those family traits that are unattractive — stubborn, domineering, critical, impatient.  But we’re also hard-working, loyal, not afraid to take charge, and interesting in our own ways.

I find that I like my sisters best when I am alone with them, one on one, away from the others.  We are hard to take in large doses.  Thankfully we’ve each married men who can temper our worst faults and who seem to love us anyway.  The Betty MacDonald quote at the beginning of this post makes me laugh because I can sense some prickliness there.  I can relate to that.

In theory, I like that we disagree — different flowers in the same garden and all that . . . Perhaps our differences are meant to teach us important lessons about breaking down walls of hard-headedness and hard-heartedness.  If one believes in God, after all, isn’t there some grand reason why we’ve been thrown together in the same family?

I think we all need to do some work to figure out how we can better thrive together as we grow older.  We can take as our model the “three sisters” of Native American lore and gardening practice.  Corn, beans, and squash planted together, companion planting helping each to grow.  And these “three sisters” were nutritional complements, too.

The three sisters: corn, beans and squash

The three sisters: corn, beans and squash

So I’ll be contemplating sisterhood as I make up a batch of Three Sisters Saute with Sage Pesto, which I found online on  You can find the recipe at the above link, and I’ve copied it here, too, for your convenience:


  • 1 pound zucchini squash, cut into bite-size, or thinly julienned
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup heirloom beans, cooked
  • 2 ears frozen sweet corn, thawed and drained
  • 1 cup chopped ripe Roma tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/3 cup Sage Pesto, recipe follows


Rinse and trim squashes, julienne on a mandoline using the skins for a pasta effect or cut into bite-sized chunks or use whole baby squashes.

Heat oil in a large saute pan. Add squash and saute for 1 minute, then in succession tossing and stirring with each addition add beans, corn, tomatoes, then add the sage pesto stirring gently to distribute evenly.

Salt, only if needed and serve immediately.

Sage Pesto:

  • 1 cup pine nuts  (I used raw cashews as I didn’t have pine nuts on hand)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh sage leaves, firmly packed
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup garlic chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh, mild goat cheese, optional

Toast pine nuts in a dry saute pan or in a 350 degree F oven on a sheet pan. Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender and process until smooth.

Olathe sweet corn

Olathe sweet corn

Green beans

Green beans

Three sisters -- corn, beans, zucchini squash -- plus tomatoes ready to saute

Three sisters — corn, beans, zucchini squash — plus tomatoes ready to saute

Fresh sage and squeezed lemon

Fresh sage and squeezed lemon

Ingredients for sage pesto

Ingredients for sage pesto

Sage pesto (I froze the leftovers)

Sage pesto (I froze the leftovers)

Three Sisters Saute with Sage Pesto

Three Sisters Saute with Sage Pesto

Dinner full of fresh harvest flavors

Dinner full of fresh harvest flavors

Color in the Corn

October 20, 2012

Back-lit leaves of corn, so colorful

This corn field was amazingly colorful, especially when the sun came out.

Burnished stalks in the cornfield

The striated colors resemble ribbon candy

Wrapped corn cob, mid-October

Color in the corn field

Field corn

Farming sure has changed over the past 50 years.  When I was growing up, my Dad’s farm was a small, 160-acre homestead and a diversified operation.  Dad grew corn, oats, alfalfa, and soybeans and also baled hay from the meadows.  He raised dairy cows, steers for beef, hogs, and chicken. (Very few farmers still raise livestock — it makes you wonder where your food comes from.)  Back then, you needed a large family to keep up with all the work.

Today it seems that farming no longer requires large families, just large (huge) machines.  On past visits to Minnesota, it was rare to even see farmers working in the fields.  But this visit coincided with corn  harvest time, so once again I saw activity in the fields as farmers brought in the corn crop.

Even a few decades ago, farmers planted just some of their small fields with corn after plowing, disking and dragging the soil.  Then, as the corn grew, they cultivated the corn a couple  of times before it grew too tall.  At harvest time, a corn picker followed the rows; the cobs of corn were caught in a grain box and then transferred to the granary or corn cribs for storage and food for the hogs.

Today virtually every field is a cornfield.  And the fields are huge!  Gone are the windbreaks of trees that used to border the fields.  With treated seed, farmers no longer need to cultivate the young plants.  At harvest time, a combine picks 12 or more rows at a time and shells the corn in the field, discharging the kernels into semi-trucks (semi-trucks!!) for immediate transport to the grain elevators.

Field corn ready for harvesting

Picking and combining the corn

This farmer still uses a grain box instead of a semi-truck.

Continuing the harvest in tandem

Large expanse of cornfield already harvested

Corn husks in the field after harvest

When I was in school, we learned that the lessons of the Irish potato famine and the Great Dust Bowl were to plant windbreaks, practice contour strip planting, rotate crops, and diversifiy.  It seems to me that today’s farmers are ignoring these lessons.

I suppose that the type of small-scale farming I grew up with has little appeal in today’s affluent society.  Back then, farm profits, if any, were modest.  We never went on vacations, wore hand-me-down clothes, could not afford a second car, and shared one bathroom.  I don’t want to bemoan change, but I have misgivings about my observations of farming in today’s world.  I believe the “corn is king” mentality is bad for the soil, bad for the future of farms, and bad for our grandchildren’s future.

Corn cob water tower near the Libby's plant in Rochester, MN

Watercolor sketch of field corn

Another watercolor sketch of corn gleaned from a harvested field

Roasted Corn Pasta Salad

February 4, 2011

Frozen corn and onions ready to roast

I am always on the lookout for good recipes that I can pack in my lunches for work or take to a potluck, and I found one on the January 18th post from the Farm Chicks blog (  This is a hearty pasta salad that packs a punch.  If you don’t like spicy food, I’d recommend you halve the amount of chipotle peppers.

You can find the recipe by linking to the blog above, but I’ve also copied it here for your convenience:

Roasted Corn Pasta Salad

1 tablespoon melted butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup diced onion

1 1/2 cups frozen corn

1 lb uncooked curly or twisty pasta such as Gemelli or Fusilli

1 cup lowfat mayonnaise

2 cups packed fresh cilantro, roughly stemmed

2 tablespoons chipotle puree

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine corn, onions, butter, and oil together on a baking sheet. Using a spatula, mix together to coat corn and onions. Roast until corn and onions begin to brown, approximately 15 minutes. Once cooked, remove from oven and cool on a cooling rack until ready to use.

Meanwhile, puree a can of chipotle peppers. (Use the entire contents of the can). Once pureed, measure out 2 tablespoons and set aside. Reserve leftovers by freezing them for later use.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water. (Yes, this goes against everything you’ve ever read about not rinsing pasta but it’s necessary here). Once pasta is completely drained, add into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Combine cilantro, chipotle puree, and mayonnaise in a food processor (or blender). Once throughly combined, add mixture to pasta in bowl. Add roasted corn and onions and stir to mix all together. Salt to taste.

Serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Preparing the chipotle peppers

Fresh cilantro

Preparing the pasta sauce

Finished salad ready to serve

Living Off of Canned Food

September 11, 2010

Canned food aisle at Whole Foods

What would you do if you had to prepare most of your meals from cans?  One of the bloggers I follow, Vanessa from, is on a month-long Family Medicine residency in the remote Canadian village of Kuujjuaq.  She wrote about the difficulty of finding good quality, fresh produce, and asked for some recipes using canned food.  

I thought she was facing an interesting challenge.  It reminded me of the meal planning I undertook for a 3-week RV trip in Alaska.  It’s always good to have a few great recipes on hand that use canned food as their foundation.  One of my favorites is Southwestern Turkey and Black Bean Soup, which I featured in my November 29, 2009 blog post.  

I got another great recipe this summer from my sister and brother-in-law.  They brought a black bean and corn salsa dish to a family potluck, and I couldn’t stop eating it. It’s called “salsa,” but we served it as a hearty side dish.   Here’s the recipe: 

Black Bean and Corn Salsa 

1 (15 oz) can black beans
1 (15 oz ) can yellow corn
1 (15 oz) can white corn 

Rinse and drain the beans and corn and mix together in a large bowl.  Then add: 

1 c chopped celery
1-3/4 c chopped bell pepper
1/3 c chopped red onion
1/3 c sliced olives (or one small can of black olives, sliced) 

In a separate bowl, mix the dressing: 

1/4 c dry red wine
1/3 c olive oil
2 Tbsp lime juice
3/4 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro 

Toss dressing with vegetables.  Cover and refrigerate 4 hours.  Serve with tortilla chips. 

I’d love to hear about your favorite recipes using canned foods.  Please share!

Rusty, Russet Corn Tassels

September 20, 2009

Rusty russet tassels of corn

Rusty russet tassels of corn

Dried corn

Dried corn

“The husky, rusty russet of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves
as golden as the morn.”
     — James Whitcomb Riley

Summer’s Sweet Corn

August 22, 2009

Sweet corn for sale at the Pike Place Market

Sweet corn for sale at the Pike Place Market

What is summer without sweet corn on the cob?

“There was nothing like a bucket of uncooked sweet corn to really turn around your day.  The yellowness, the fertile symbolism, the promise of melted butter: it was enough to change a boy’s life.”
     — Reif Larsen, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

My daughter shucking sweet corn (photo 1996)

My daughter shucking sweet corn (photo 1996)