Wednesday, April 30, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (4/30/2014)


Q.  Dear Answer Man, Abigail here.  I hate to bother you again.  It’s about Rusty.  He’s been in trouble.  He was arrested outside San Felipe’s Cantina downtown for rioting.  He said San Felipe’s was cool, no problemo.  He was getting a fish taco and a beer with Buzz, his friend from the garage down on “66”, when, all of a sudden, all hell broke loose on the street.  He says he and Buzz went out to see what was going on and got jostled around.  Somebody spilled a beer on him, and low and behold, he and Buzz were just swept up in this crowd of young street thugs.  He says the cops said he stunk of booze, and “they just corralled us, cuffed us, and hauled us off to jail.  They didn’t even ask us what we was doin’ there.”     


I had to go down to the jail and get him out.  I was so ashamed.  Nothing has ever happened like this in our family before.  Turns out that he wasn’t drunk.  I asked him what he was doing down at San Felipe’s, especially for a man his age.  After he got a little puffed out, he said that he and Buzz have been thinking about doing a study of fish tacos in Flagstaff, and “what better place to start than San Felipe’s Cantina?”


Needless to say, he’s mortified by what happened.  I asked him whether or not he and Buzz were studying the kind of fish used and the seasonings.  He said, “Hell, no, Abby, we was just running a taste test, nothing fancy like you learn at Master Gardeners, no high-falutin’ , hoity-toity stuff.  We wasn’t checkin’ out the herbs and stuff like that.”


I said, “You mean you and Buzz plan to just go around town checking out the fish tacos and drinking beer?”  “Yep, that’s about it.”


What do you think I ought to do, Answer Man?


          A.  Well, I think you’d better keep him at home for his own sake.  He’s not safe running loose around town on his own.  Buzz doesn’t sound like much of safety net, either.  If you want to keep a man at home, feed him something better than he can get elsewhere, and it sounds like Rusty’s the kind of man whose heart’s in his belly.  You can start by making better tacos at home than he can find in the bars throughout town.  Just set them up with a TV so that they can watch Highway thru Hell or Alaska State Troopers.   That way they’ll think they’re in some bar down town. 


          Q.  What’s better about fish tacos at home?


          A.  The ingredients: fresh purple cabbage, fresh cilantro, and fresh tomatoes.  The vegetables you get at most bars are at least two days old, and old cabbage takes on airs.  Sometimes, the taco joints try slipping in lettuce instead of cabbage, and any fish taco aficionado knows that purple cabbage is necessary to have an authentic fish taco.  Lettuce is for cheeseburgers, not tacos.  Lettuce is so gringo.


Flagstaff is purple cabbage, tomato, and cilantro growing territory, and, besides, home-grown tomatoes are the best kind of tomatoes to eat.   You’ve got the best fish taco fixin’s right in your backyard garden.


Q.  I just don’t know, Answer Man.  I suspect Rusty and Buzz like the smell of stale beer you get in those joints.  Rusty even likes cold pizza and flat beer for breakfast.  Reminds him of the semester he spent in college.


A.  I know what’ll get him: home-grown chilis, freshly picked, the kind that’ll knock his socks off.  You can even get him involved in growing them.  Jalapeños do well in Flagstaff, and you’ll be needing them for a little kick in the salsa.  Maybe you can get Rusty to smoke them to get some chipotles for the salsa.


Q.  Well, what about the fish?

A.  Any white fish will do.  Make sure it doesn’t smell.  Batter and deep fry it.  Fat tastes better.  Fish is better for you grilled, but it’s crunchier and tastes better deep fried.  Olé! 

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (4/15/2014)


          In the Old Testament story of Jacob and Esau, Esau sold his birthright, as the oldest brother, to Jacob for “a pottage of red lentils.”  As the story goes, Jacob dwelt in the tents with the women while Esau had the smell of the field and hunt.  Famished from a hunt, Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for the stew of lentils (Gen. 25:27-34.)  The account is about 4,000 years old.  Peas, lentils, and chickpeas were used for food as early as 8,000 years ago during the Neolithic Age, and probably earlier, in Central Asia and the southern and eastern Mediterranean basin.  The Neolithic age is the spread of time when our ancestors moved from being hunters and gatherers into cultivated agriculture and husbandry.


          These ancient legumes: peas, lentils, and chickpeas, aren’t to be confused with Phaseolus vulgaris which is Latin for the common bean.  Actually, phaseolus is the Latin for small boat which the open pod resembles.  The kidney beans we eat today come from Mesoamerica or what is now Central America and Peru, first appearing about 7,000 years ago.  Along with tomatoes they were the culinary gifts of the New World to the Old World by way of Columbus and his successors.


          Ironically, of the three ancients, some peas (Pisum sativum) have come down to us as sugar snaps which developed by serendipitously crossing peas with Chinese snow peas in 1979 at a horticultural research facility in Twin Falls, Idaho.  Along with snow peas, the French call sugar snaps mange tout, “eat it all,” meaning that the pod as well as the peas is eaten.  They are one of the premier delights of backyard gardening and the first in our quadriplex of backyard delights.  Grown in the backyard or in a tub on a deck, they’re sweet, crisp, and munchy, unlike the starchy and flaccid substitutes found in grocery stores.  

          By the way, Pisum sativum is Latin for a cultivated pea which implies that wild peas were domesticated during the Neolithic period.  Also, it further implies that they eaten as wild peas long before their domestication.  They were probably eaten dry, ground into a pea meal.  

          The rest of our quadriplex is now a triplex, not of peas but of bean, our old Latin friend, the Phaseolus vulgaris, the common bean, only ours aren’t so common.  The first that comes to mind is La Comtesse de Chambord, a rare, small, thin rice bean.  About four inches long, it’s sweet when eaten raw and immature much like snow peas and sugar snaps and is used in salads.  It’s tasty when blanched or sautéed.  Also, when mature and dried, the bean can be cooked much like rice only with a richer and nuttier flavor.  Since it’s not produced commercially, it can only be found in the backyard.  They’re easy to grow and are bountiful producers.


          After La Comtesse de Chambord, the Beurre de Rocquencourt takes its place as the premier wax bean.  Although its forbearers haled from Central America, it was introduced into France from Algeria about 1840, and as one can tell by its name, it melts in the mouth.  The pods are straight, slim, stringless, and crisp as well as being fine-flavored.  In short, they are a chef’s delight, and as with La Comtesse de Chambord they’re rare and unavailable in the grocery stores.  There is little point in growing vegetables that can be found in the supermarket, especially when these rare beans are easy to grow and taste better.

          Finally, there is the haricot vert which is French for green bean.  The interesting thing about the word haricot is that it may come from Aztec ayacotli indicating the origins of the bean.  The French green bean or haricot vert is longer, slimmer, and better tasting than the ordinary American green bean, something like 7 inches long.  Now and then, they can be found in upscale grocery stores, but they’re never as good as home-grown.  My favorite is the Maxibel.

          For an investment of about ten dollars, gardeners can have the world at their doors, horticulturally and culinarily.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2014

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at


Monday, April 07, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/29/2014)


          The most boring word in the English language is the pronoun “I” and its colleagues, “me,” “mine,” and “my,” and “myself.”  The reason is simple.  Not many people are interesting enough to sustain a conversation about themselves.  The late, great historian, Arnold Toynbee, once said, “Not many autobiographies are worthwhile because not many people live noteworthy lives.”  Most of us rate only a paragraph or two.


          This, however, does not dissuade people from talking about themselves, even the most humdrum tidbits: trips to the grocery store, indignations, prescriptions, or aches and pains.  Even fascinating war stories stale with age.  Ask any war veteran.  Perhaps, the worst are those who purportedly want to comfort someone in grief by telling the grief-stricken their own tales of grief. 


          Human beings are the only animals who have a fully developed sense of self-consciousness.  This doesn’t mean that the higher animals don’t have a sense of themselves, such as memories or emotions.  Charles Darwin wrote, “Nevertheless, the difference between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree, not of kind.”  However, animals other than human beings never seem to suffer the “terrible two’s” when the “I” emerges as “No!”  Sadly, lots of people never get past “No!”  They’re called “oppositional personalities.”  Albert Camus writes: “In rebellion awareness is born.”


          Of course, the sense of “I” is what inhibits human communication because the self gets entangled in the communication.  This is what’s so great about dogs.  They have a sense of themselves, and, yet, they aren’t burdened by an “I.”  They understand touch, the basic form of communication, and certainly taste, hearing, and smell.  Human beings entangle themselves in words, thinking that words create a reality.  Only God can create by a word (Genesis 1.)  Human beings, especially academics and bureaucrats, often think their dicta are creative, but they are delusional.  Announcements, policies, and studies aren’t enough to make reality.


          One of the reasons that dogs are so good at therapy is that they don’t bring along the baggage of “I” into the relationship.  They’re simply “there,” wanting to be close, sharing the moment.  There are no “hidden agendas.” 


          The grief-stricken want touch, not words, certainly not autobiographies.  A touch and some tears.  Saint Paul wrote that there are “sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).  Sometimes there are no words.


          I watch meine Überfrau garden by touch.  Every time she passes an English ivy plant on the coffee table in our living room, she runs her hands through its leaves and stems in exactly the same way she runs her hands through our Labrador retrievers’ fur.  The ivy has survived, flourished, prevailed for nigh unto 12 years.  I can almost hear it sigh.  And she does it is with all the plants inside and outside our house.  She even talks to the pines.


          I doubt that the English ivy plant has a sense of “I,” but it does communicate by flourishing, the same way that children do when they are touched and cuddled.


           One of the delightful things about gardening is planting onion sets in March.  For one thing, it’s beating the alleged short gardening season of ninety days.  Onions are a natural season extender.  It’s getting one’s hands in the soil and letting it filter through one’s fingers.  It’s also relishing a dog’s fur, caressing a child, and embracing a loved one.  There is no substitute.


          Gardening is often considered the province of the botanists and horticulturalists, and while they may have something to contribute, gardening is actually a spiritual experience, a sense of the presence of Another.  Nearly everyone senses the Presence, save the spiritual flatliners.  The sense begins in our mother’s arms and on her breasts and with the timbre of her voice — touch, sound, and taste.  It can continue throughout lives if we diminish the “I” and attend to what we experience.  One sure way to make a garden thrive is to caress it, speak to it, and taste it, allowing the soil to caress us as it runs through our fingers.   

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2014

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at