“Mayo is personal to me.”

This is how I opened my remarks to a group of journalists and Mayo Clinic doctors a few days ago. Mayo has been treating presidents, foreign royalty and VIPs like Lou Gehrig and Ernest Hemingway for 150 years. Mayo is celebrated for its global reach; Mayo also treats the humble in its midst.

If you were diagnosed with a life-threatening illness where I grew up, on the Minnesota-South Dakota border, you made a beeline to Mayo. My father came here for treatment of his prostate cancer. My uncles were treated at Mayo, as were many neighbors. One neighbor was diagnosed with lung cancer in the early 1970s, practically a death sentence back then, and Mayo nursed him through that cancer – and several more – until he finally succumbed 40 years later. Forty additional years of life.

Mayo is personal to me.

photoA little history. Dr. William Mayo was appointed by President Lincoln in 1864 to provide medical examinations of men joining the Union Army in Minnesota. In 1883, a tornado destroyed much of Rochester. The Mayo brothers, Charlie and William, then built the hospital that was the beginning of the mammoth complex that exists today. Mayo now treats 1.5 million patients a year.

Mayo won the Nobel Prize for creating cortisone (though lost out on a fortune in profits that went to Merck). Its list of achievements is so long I’ll just provide a link here. A long line of presidents have been treated by Mayo doctors: LBJ, Nixon, Bush I, Reagan and more. In the middle of rural, white, Norwegian Minnesota, Mayo is a multicultural island, a veritable United Nations of Mayo staff and patients from all over the world.

I was at Mayo this week as a healthy person, along with 25 journalists learning about individualized medicine, a concept that exists through the miracle of technology and science. It is another step in a long line of miracles that Mayo performs every day – the miracle of life.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

  1. Stop and smell the roses. When I was trying to “have it all,” crazy busy with work and family, Mom constantly counseled me to “stop and smell the roses.” I didn’t, of course. Then all the busy-ness faded away, and I realized what Mom was talking about. I have a ‘life’ now. I smell the roses all the time. Thanks for your persistence, Mom. I finally understand.
  2. Values. Every Sunday my mother shuttled us all to church. The teenage years must have been the worst, when we grumbled and complained and napped through sermons. But over the years of catechism and church, important values seeped into my heart that make me a better human being. Thanks for raising us under God’s watchful eye, Mom.
  3. The satisfaction of growing things. As Father John describes it, “Your mother’s green thumb.” I grew up on a farm, surrounded by growing things, but it was my Mom who instilled a love of gardening. I think of Mom always when I am nurturing my flowers; I still have nothing that comes close to her beautiful iris garden, which was so pretty we took our wedding photos there. And she is the inspiration for the spirited veggie gardening competition among her children. (Just ate the first garden radish, sibs!)
  4. Try something new. Mom is the champion of trying new things. Her natural curiosity leads her to strike up conversations with perfect strangers. She went back to college in her 50s and earned a master’s degree. She loves to try ethic foods, new “taste sensations,” as she calls them. One piece of advice: Never stand between my Mom and any sweet made with coconut.
  5. Savory memories. By the time I could reach the stove (8? 9?), I learned how to cook from Mom. This is pretty funny in retrospect, because she didn’t learn how to cook until she was married. But Mom patiently taught me how to make the perfect flaky pie crust (her secret was lard!) and meatloaf and other staples. When I left for college, she gave me a Betty Crocker illustrated cookbook that I still use for classics. She bakes tastier French bread than the French.
  6. Savor memories. Every summer, my raucous gang of siblings chews over family lore from decades ago. No memory is left unturned, as we tell and re-tell stories about growing up. At the center of this gathering is Mom, chuckling even when the stories grow a tad risque for her 83-year-old ears. It is a testament to Mom that her far-flung children still like each other, indeed, love each other.

204584_189765237736368_7208097_o So here’s to you, Mavis Benner Johnson – your children may be far away but we carry you in our hearts.

Guess what food craze doesn’t even crack the top 10 super foods?

Kale. That’s right – the chewy green stuff that chefs and foodies have been swooning over for far too many years.

You may have guessed: I am not a fan. I have had kale many different ways and only found two to be even remotely palatable. My sister’s kale stir fried with garlic and a Whole Foods salad in the Santa Monica branch that had about a dozen ingredients so the chopped kale didn’t overwhelm the dish.

So with glee I noted the CDC’s list of “Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables,” ranked by density of nutrients packed into each bite. Here’s to a healthy New Year!

#10. Collard Greens. One of our garden neighbors plants collard greens in the fall, along with another healthy but often badly-cooked leaf, the mustard green (#12).

#9. Romaine Lettuce. Big winner at our house, almost always the leafy green of choice.

#8. Parsley. Though I typically use parsley as a herb, ie sparingly, I do pack my gazpacho with lots of chopped parsley. Need to find a few more recipes that use it as a main ingredient. Ideas anyone?

#7. Leaf Lettuce. This is our garden mainstay in the spring.

#6. Chicory. Hmm, need to use this more often!

#5. Spinach. Love it, in almost any savory concoction. Still have a couple frozen packets of our garden spinach. Note to self: Find the Malabar varietal again. It was a tremendous producer in 2014.

#4. Beet Greens. CRR scores on this one. His favorite preparation involves steaming the beet greens and flavoring them with a little vinegar. I prefer the beet itself.

#3. Chard. Maybe we will try growing it this year, to elevate our super-food-iness quotient.

watercress

watercress

#2. Chinese Cabbage. Who knew?

#1. Watercress. It’s on today’s grocery list. Love the peppery taste, so why don’t I buy it more often? It scores a perfect 100 percent nutrient density by the CDC. Call it Mother Nature’s multi-vitamin.

And the evil kale? #13.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

 

“And don’t think the garden

Loses its ecstasy in winter.

It’s quiet but the roots

Are down there riotous.”

My sister Sonja posted this on Facebook, and it immediately struck a chord with me. Look at the vibrancy beneath the surface, which is the kind of thing that she would actually notice and say.

CRR likes to walk over to our dormant garden plot and simply look at it. I’ve never been a big fan, other than for the exercise. To me, the garden in winter is just dirt, punctuated by a couple herbs struggling valiantly against the cold, and maybe a few weeds that CRR stomps out.10647151_819459994779772_2839438141352384331_n

But my sister’s post reminds me of what lies beneath. All the beautiful organisms that enrich our soil over the winter months and create a bed of promise in the spring.

Just as CRR sees it now, this is likely how my father and his father saw the soil. Not dead, not barren – full of potential for growth, for nurturing, for sustenance. For life.

Wish I could see, wish I could watch, what lies beneath. Until next spring, I will observe and wonder.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

 

ISO Dumplings.

My son insisted (as only Sam can insist) that the best soup dumplings in all of Shanghai are made at Yang’s Fry Dumpling.

So I dutifully downloaded a list of 10 Yang’s across this city of 24 million. I kept an eye on the street signs as I traveled across Shanghai on business. Meanwhile, I had some pretty darn good soup dumplings (xiaolongbao) elsewhere: from the 6-for-$1 variety at a little shop serving students at Fudan University to the sophisticated crab soup dumplings at a YuYuan Gardens restaurant where President Clinton once dined.

On my last day in Shanghai, as I strolled People’s Square, I finally spotted a Yang’s, barely a hole in the wall. So even though it was 10:15 am, just a few hours after my buffet breakfast, I knew I had to eat a few more soup dumplings.P1000618

At Yang’s, you can watch the dumplings being made by hand. An assembly line of cooks rolls out dumplings by the hundreds. One worker throws a small ball of dough onto the counter and rolls it thin. The next smears the circle of dough with a congealed fatty sauce (this is what makes the soup part, so don’t flinch!) and adds the small meatball of choice: pork, shrimp, crab. Then the dough is quickly pleated into the classic soup dumpling style and transferred to a huge saute pan to cook by the dozen.

The fun comes next. You carefully place a soup dumpling into a spoon, poke a hole into the top with a chopstick and suck out the soupy goodness. Forget what your mother told you about manners and slurp away. The only sound you’ll hear across the room is slurp slurp slurp. Then carefully dip the dumpling into vinegar and savor the meatball and dough.

This is interactive food at its best. Oh, and Yang’s charges 6RMB ($1) for four big xiaolongbao, a bargain in any language.

P1000619Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

It took three trips to the Gothic quarter of Barcelona before I found La Boqueria. Granted, the first two were evening dinner forays where I simply explored the old city and enjoyed tapas and gelato and cava with a wandering eye that did not land on the market.

I knew I had to make a dedicated trip to find the ancient market because my friends were insistent that it was a must-see on my trip to Barcelona. So glad I made that third foray!photo (44)

La Boqueria is simply astounding, a covered market with hundreds of vendors. It dates to the year 1217 when farmers sold their produce on the outskirts of the old gated city. The current structure was built in1840.

Today’s vendors artfully arrange their goods, a feast for the eyes to tempt the belly. Each vendor has its specialty. Spices sold by the kilogram. Eggs sized from tiny quail eggs to softball-sized emu. Iberian ham stalls where the butchers patiently explained the origins of the much-coveted pork while carving paper-thin slices. Pate stands. Beautifully packaged salt flavored with provencal herbs or chilis or lemon. And of course more veg and fruit stands than you could count.

These vendors know their tourist audience. They package many items for people on-the-go: papayas halved and wrapped with plastic with a tiny spoon, paper cones filled with jamon ham slices or cheese wedges, plastic cups of colorful fresh-squeezed juices chilled on ice, skewers of all combinations, and empanadas to eat out of hand.

At 10 am, people were bellied up to a handful of tapas bars within the market, sitting at counters to watch the creation of their small plates.

And what I really loved was the little old Spanish ladies doing their daily marketing, nimbly navigating the narrow passages and towing a small cart to stow their purchases. La Boqueria is a ‘supermarket’ for the ages.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 113 other followers