And Now for Something Completely Different, 2nd Round: Thanksgiving Musings

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According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the First Thanksgiving menu likely included wildfowl, corn, porridge and venison.

It’s been almost a year since David from Albuquerque wrote our first guest blog on BigLittleMeals.com.  And he’s been kind enough to come back on board for a follow-up…this time with a focus on Thanksgiving.  Those who know David know how witty and curmudgeonly he is.  Others may only know that in his professional life he is/was a geriatric psychiatrist.  Could that explain a lot? 🙂  What few knew prior to our blog is that David is an excellent and passionate cook – and a little sentimental, too.

David describes himself as a “seriously selcouth sesquipedalianist.”  Look it up.  I had to.

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That will make a really big pumpkin pie!  Or is it a squash?  David points out that they’re both cucurbitaceae.

Thanksgiving Musings from David:

Ann asked if I could have another blog contribution ready by the middle of November. Not surprisingly, this has me thinking about Thanksgiving. For me, Thanksgiving is the most important holiday of the year. I suppose Christmas has been a bigger deal for the children, but the way we celebrate Christmas always makes me grumpy. We are all drowning in objects that do little but make work for us and yet we “celebrate” by showering one another with ever more of the stuff. I threw an embarrassing tantrum on Christmas morning a few years ago and my family seems finally to have gotten the message that if they want to give me something, it had darned well better be something that can be drunk or eaten or put into a vase for a few days and then composted. And yet I am expected to do to other people what I hate when they do it to me. Who turned the Golden Rule on its head? I thought to solve or at least mitigate the problem a few years ago by giving Frankie something that would actually be useful in the household, which we were going to have to buy anyway even if there were no gift-giving occasion. I gave her a lovely new vacuum cleaner for Christmas. Sweet Jesus! You’d have thought I threw a turd in the soup.

Ah, but Thanksgiving! No one needs to bring anything but whatever friends or orphans are at hand. Extra side dishes or wine is welcomed but certainly not necessary, and no one brings gifts. Hurray! We can focus on eating ourselves into a stupor. When I was in the Navy, some of my shipmates and I had rented an apartment in Waikiki and we made a big Thanksgiving dinner in which every dish contained what we called “herbal hilarity” back in the day, of which we had plenty, just having returned from Bangkok. Wowsa. We got hungrier (and stupider) after every bite. I have no idea who cleaned up the mess, if indeed anyone did. Most of us were nailed to the rug.

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We do not wish to imply that this was David’s mother.  Rather, she represents all of those 1950’s Uber Mothers!

In my childhood home, Mom cooked the dinner. She started by simmering the turkey neck and giblets to make stock for the gravy. After a couple of hours when things were smelling awesome and the neck was falling-apart tender, Dad and I would fish it out of the stock, salt the hell out of it and suck on vertebrae until they were shiny clean. I do that still, and think of him fondly every time. Now, I don’t put the liver in the stock, but fry it up for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. It is delicious and as an added bonus, onlookers are revolted. Speaking of which, my mom also put marshmallow topping on her sweet potato casserole, which would put poor Frankie completely over the edge of revulsion. I don’t even joke with her about that, lest I get puked upon. But sometimes the grandkids do.

Early in our family life, I didn’t do as much cooking as now. I did the pancake breakfasts, guacamole, outdoor cooking, and maybe a pot of chili or spaghetti once in a while, but Frankie did most of the cooking. I always cooked the turkey at Thanksgiving, though, and gradually began to make the side dishes as well. For several years, I experimented and cooked “creatively” after the fashion I described in the January blog, even at Thanksgiving. One year I even made “Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish,” which actually doesn’t taste too bad, but we couldn’t get over the fact it looks like lumpy Pepto Bismol.

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Cranberry Relish – from Susan Stamberg’s NPR series.  Yum?

In a joint effort with friends and family one Thanksgiving, we deep-fried five 10# turkeys. Scary dangerous and an enormous mess, I’m afraid, but pretty tasty for all that. I made a wild rice stuffing for the turkey one year, a couple of years made corn bread and green chile stuffing, drove myself crazy trying to pick the husks off hazelnuts one year, and even added oysters to the dressing once. I thought the oyster stuffing was great, but that went over like the aforementioned turd in the soup. As did giblets in the gravy–now, I eat them with my turkey neck, all alone, missing my dad. And I make what I take to be the best turkey dressing on the planet–not surprisingly it’s a tweaked up version of what my mom used to make. Without oysters. (A word that she pronounced to rhyme with “moisture,” which she was more apt to use to refer to the testes of a bull than to a bivalve, though as far as I know, she never ate any of either).

Gradually, our favorite dishes became obligatory. Frankie used to tell me a couple of weeks before the big day that it was time to plan the menu and we would sit and discuss. I was always ready for new ideas, and though she was not frankly opposed, she would always say, “Well, we have to have turkey and your dressing, of course, and mashed potatoes and gravy, and sweet potatoes, and spinach and artichokes, and cranberry sauce, and pies…” By the time she got through the list of obligatory dishes, the meal was planned. Finally, ten years ago I made a “Thanksgiving Menu and Shopping List” template and now just pull it up so that we can save ourselves an hour of dither.

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David’s shopping list

I find it interesting and puzzling not only that we serve the same thing at Thanksgiving every year, but that we almost never have any of these dishes at another time. There are no surprises and not even the most finicky grandchild complains about the food. Even more puzzling is that I not only put up with this, I welcome it, which seems completely out of character for a man disposed to disruption and alert for adventure. A unexpected consequence of cooking exactly the same thing every year is that because of long practice, preparing a huge Thanksgiving feast now takes less time than some dinners that are not for especially special occasions. I do a little prep work the day before, start the turkey in the morning on Thanksgiving Day, have everything else ready to go in the oven by noon and serve the meal by 3 PM.

So, what’s for dinner?

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Lagniappe: Overnight Steel Cut Oats

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We may be slow to try out this d-lish, healthy breakfast dish (remember, I was slow to figure out Sloe Gin!), but it’s a keeper!  After Willow explained in our last blog about the importance of our gut and suggested steel cut oats as something good to include in our diets, we decided that we’d replace our normal rolled oats with steel cut.  Mind you, I’ve never been a real fan of oatmeal for breakfast.  I doctor it up with granola, fruit, lots of brown sugar and half and half – all of which detracts from the healthiness thing and makes me feel guilty.

Last night Andy (who BTW has not yet ridden into the sunset with his horse and Roy Rogers gun) started the oats; this morning they were quickly cooked; we added bananas and maple syrup for sweetness; pecans and pomegranates and hemp seeds for extra health and crunch.  Voila!  Amazing.

And here’s a little lagniappe from Willow with more ideas on easy ways to incorporate good gut foods into your diet, as well as what to avoid.  I asked for suggestions about sauerkraut specifically, since eating it raw isn’t something I’ve done.  And anyone who suggests eating more sweet potatoes is on my Bestie list forever more! Go, Willow!

  • I sometimes just eat a big spoonful of raw sauerkraut.  I’d bring it to room temperature and add to sandwiches.  You could heat a sandwich or dish and then add the sauerkraut at the end. 
  • If you look at miso soup recipes, it always says to make the soup, remove it from the heat and then add the miso before serving, without boiling again.
  • Honey, maple syrup and agave are all sugar.  The honey and maple syrup have tiny amounts of vitamins, etc, but as long as you can handle sugar in reasonable amounts, they are okay.  I would stay away from agave. It is very high in fructose like high fructose corn syrup, and your body doesn’t handle that well. 
  • Oatmeal, especially the long cooking steel cut oats are healthy.  Soaking over night cuts cooking time down a lot. 
  • There is something called resistant starches which are not easily metabolized to sugar and provide good food for gut bacteria.  Two of these, as opposed to white potatoes, are sweet potatoes and yams. 

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Overnight Steel Cut Oats

  • 1 c steel cut oats (non-GMO)
  • 4 c water
  • big pinch of kosher salt
  • Toppings: chopped nuts, pomegranate seeds, hemp seeds, sliced bananas, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries (mix and match)
  • maple syrup
  • spoonful of unsweetened yogurt on top (optional)

The night before bring 4 cups of water to a boil; add the steel cut oats and simmer for 1 minute.  Remove from heat; cover the pot, and let sit until morning.

The next morning bring the oatmeal back to a simmer and cook on low for about 9 minutes, uncovered and stirring occasionally.

Serve with the toppings, maple syrup, and yogurt.

If you have leftovers, refrigerate and heat in the microwave for another easy, healthy breakfast.  Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

Guts

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Let this be me! I don’t know whom to credit for the artwork but both the title and art come from Mary Medlicott’s story on storyworks.org.uk

It’s all about guts.  “Speaking up was such a gutsy thing to do, but it was a gut-wrenching experience to watch.”  “Geez I hate his guts.”  “Personally, my gut instinct was that it wouldn’t turn out well.” Seems like we’ve heard lots of gut-based expressions like that the past month or so.  But I’m not thinking about earthy sayings at the moment – such as I did in a recent blog.  I’m thinking about our guts’ health and foods that can contribute to it.  Andy, in Andy’s Corner, is focused on gutsy cowboys.

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Should you wish to order it, the American Museum of Natural History has a card game entitled “Gutsy: the Gut Microbiome Card Game.”

 

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And the Cleveland Clinic has a podcast,  “Butts & Guts.”  Like the title?

Since my knowledge of anything inside of me is minimal, to say the least, I turned to a Colorado College GPB Sister (see my earlier blog about these sisters) for help.  Here’s what Willow has to say about her background and her advice on gut health:

Owning a health food store for 33 years, I  certainly was in an environment conducive to learning about health and nutrition.  I did a lot of reading, went to seminars as often as possible, and I learned a great deal from my customers, things they read and their personal experiences.  I’ve always been skeptical  of food and health fads that are not supported by good evidence or studies.

The gut is so important, your second brain.  What goes on in the gut determines what goes one in the brain.  I’m including an article (editor’s note: we’ve put that article under Food for Thought) that pretty well summarizes what is so important in the gut and what can go wrong.  For a healthy gut, cultured foods provide food for the good bacteria.  That includes any fermented food (not sure about wine) (editor’s note: DAMN!), such as cultured yogurt unsweetened, sauerkraut, raw fermented drinks, tempeh, miso or any raw fermented foodThe key word is raw. If you heat the sauerkraut it kills the good bacteria.  The foods that disrupt the healthy bacteria are SUGAR, flour, artificial sweeteners, GMO foods (the glyphosphate is part of the plant that you eat) It and other pesticides work on bugs to disrupt their gut flora and kill them.  So guess what it does to the human that eats it. 

The secret is lots of organic vegetables, moderate amounts of fruit (which are basically sugar), pasture raised meats (not fed GMO corn and soy), (editor’s note: all the underlining is mine)

Nobody has a perfect diet, but if you eat the not so healthy foods, do so in great moderation.  

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Gut-healthy ingredients

After reading Willow’s suggestions and doing a little internet research, I put together a list of some additional gut-healthy foods to consider when you’re cooking;  foods with lots of fiber are especially important :

  • chickpeas
  • lentils
  • navy beans
  • split peas
  • barley
  • oats (steel cut are best)
  • raw leafy greens – dandelion greens are especially good
  • fresh parsley and cilantro
  • raw garlic and onion
  • artichokes
  • sweet potatoes and squash
  • raw celery
  • leeks
  • raw jicama
  • asparagus
  • hemp, pumpkin, sunflower, chia, and flax seed
  • raspberries and blackberries
  • bananas (in moderation)
  • uncooked pears (in moderation)
  • unpeeled, uncooked apples (in moderation)
  • nuts (except peanuts and cashews)
  • pasture raised meats (not fed GMO corn and soy)
  • and the obvious: raw sauerkraut, unsweetened cultured yogurt, raw fermented drinks, tempeh, miso, kimchi

Another piece of advice that sounds reasonable from what I gleaned from the internet: antibiotics kill ‘good’ bacteria as well as ‘bad’. If you have to take antibiotics, make sure you eat lots of foods that boost your guts’ health afterwards.

I’m pleased that we’ve already blogged about a couple of salad recipes and our green drink recipe that all have lots going for the gut:

Plus, we’ve got two new ones to share: “Arugula, Squash, Chickpea, and Walnut Salad and Dandelion Greens, Sweet Potato, and Pumpkin Seed Salad with Miso Dressing (see photos and recipes below).  And I’ve created a printable list of these gut-healthy foods, so you can easily reference it when shopping.  If you want to do more reading on the subject of gut health, you can find a couple more very informative articles we posted under Food for Thought.

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Sloe or Slow?

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prunus spinosa – aka blackthorn or sloe; the teeny berries are found growing wild in hedgerows in England.

In last week’s blog I was thinking about drinking (but only while we put up house paint) and the blog before that I was thinking about my CC Sisters.  Drinking and sisters made me think about my junior year roommate at Colorado College and Sloe Gin Fizzes.  Back then I thought they were Slow Gin Fizzes – and I wondered if Slow Gin impacted you at a slower rate! 🙂

Those of you familiar with the Sisters will recognize her when I tell you that she arrived at CC, having spent her junior year in H.S. in Tokyo, where her dad was stationed in the Air Force.  Apparently the AF Officers Club in Tokyo was quite lenient in serving drinks to those of a certain Under Age.  And the Japanese were quite lenient in serving alcohol to young Americans out on the town and in the Ginza area.  That’s where she acquired her affection for Sloe Gin (though why it was popular in Japan befuddles me).

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Made in Sebastopol, CA – just a hop, skip, and a jump from us!

Esquire Magazine reports that Sloe Gin “once a morning drink and now a campus classic—is one of mixology’s oldest standbys, a simple, mildly fruity cooler without much to recommend it besides good looks and delicate flavor.”  What a subtle put down!  I’m sure my roomie had better taste than that in cocktails. (Note: after fixing ourselves our very first sloe gin fizz, we can see why young drinkers might like it.  It tastes a little like a bottle of really good, only mildly fizzy,  pop (soda?).  We can also see why you could drink too many because of that.  One positive note: the alcohol content in our sloe gin is 27% compared to 47% in a bottle of regular gin we’ve got in our cupboard.

Other sites are way more adoring about the cocktail: Betty Crocker (there actually is a bettycrocker.com!) says it’s “tart and refreshing.”  England’s Guardian newspaper suggests when “it’s cold, damp and dark outside, give yourself a lift with this perky little cocktail featuring two types of gin with a fizzy top.”

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Plymouth makes a recommended sloe gin, but at Oliver’s in Santa Rosa I found some locally-made sloe gin from Spirit Works Distillery in Sebastopol, CA.  Undaunted by its priciness, I was delighted to finally find out what my roomie – and The Guardian and, yes, even Betty Crocker – find so special about the Sloe Gin Fizz.  We loved it and think it’s perfect for a crisp October evening and may be even more perfect as a holiday drink with its low alcohol content, beautiful color and admittedly delicate, subtle fruity flavor.

Once you’ve got this unusual bottle of alcohol, you may be looking for other ways to use it up.  The Guardian (again) has some recipes for foods with sloe gin, and Food & Wine has some gorgeous sloe gin cocktails as does theginqueen.com. 🙂

To get you even more into the mood for one of these delightful cocktails, you need to be listening to Erroll Garner’s classic jazz piece, Sloe Gin Fizz:

 

 

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Sloe Gin Fizz with a twist of lemon

Sloe Gin Fizz

This can be served over ice, but in the late fall, we opt to have it chilled  – but no ice.   Adapted from Esquire Magazine; Betty Crocker has another take on it.  She (it?) suggests using 1 oz of sloe gin and 1 oz of regular gin.  The Guardian says to top it with champagne or Prosecco, rather than club soda – which sounds fabulous but also increases the amount of alcohol – if you’re trying to keep it lightweight.

2 oz. sloe gin
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
club soda (about 1/2 c)
twist of lemon (optional)

Shake the gin, lemon juice, and sugar with cracked ice in a chilled cocktail shaker. Strain into a chilled Collins glass and splash the club soda in “rather carelessly,” so that it foams.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

Color Me Blue – or Blue-ish Green

We’ve just completed a paint job on our house.  We went whole hog (see more about whole hogs in this recent blog).  After 20 years, it was a needed, but it wasn’t a fun experience.  I have new respect for painting contractors, especially ones who routinely deal with home-owners who have seriously strong views on color.  In fact, our contractor said that some folks won’t use a color if they don’t like its given name.

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Just a few of the colors we were experimenting with

We ended up with “Silhouette” siding, “Crackled Leather” window trim, “Reid Brown” and “Warmed Cognac” on the overhang.    We needed warmed cognac – and lots of it – by the time the colors were picked.  In fact, I’d consider painting the whole house in cocktail colors and toasting with a matching stiff drink when each color went on!

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I could totally see our house in these colors – plus, we’d have fun – rather than knots in our stomachs –  seeing the paint go on.

This agonizing over colors made me think of the importance of color in food.  Andy thinks this may be an existential issue – though neither of us has a clue what existential means (see today’s Andy’s Corner).

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Not sure these yellow-ish green – but delicious – Matcha Snickerdoodles have color appeal.

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Hasta La Bye Bye is a new drink on the Tacolicious menu – with tequila, pineapple, fresh lime, rum, gin, vodka, and blue curacao.  Yummmm??????

Perhaps my thought process was precipitated by the eggplant fritters I made for our blog on North Louisiana.

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After cooling:  eggplant fritters – made with baking soda

Normally I’m fond of anything blue-ish green – or aqua – or teal – but the blue-ish green in these fritters just isn’t appetizing.  Don’t ask for a scientific explanation as to what caused the color change because I have none.  But I did experiment and figured out that using baking powder instead of baking soda cured the color change.

If blue-ish green doesn’t work for food, what colors DO make us salivate?  Red and orange are great eye candy 🙂  Dark green (especially as in overly-long-cooked green veggies) not so much.

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Long-cooked collard greens

My mother was a great believer in fancying up every color-needy dish with some sprigs of fresh parsley – definitely a bright green!  In fact, at her funeral her grandson placed a few bunches of parsley atop her casket, as the finale to the joke we all made about her unbounded affection for the green stuff.

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I must have inherited a bit of that tendency, because Andy has to constantly remind me that using cilantro (I’ve branched out) and parsley on almost every dish gets very repetitious and boring.  But I refuse to give it up totally.  Take for example our recent meal of jook, inspired by our daughter Sara’s love of all foods Asian.  Had we not enhanced it with a little cilantro, a few sliced green onions, and a dab of – yes, reddish-orange hot chile sauce, it would have been pretty sad looking.  And, might I add, that bowl of jook was a huge hit with us.  It’s incredibly simple, tasty, and healthy.

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Jook – ungarnished

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Jook – garnished

My Bestie Carolyn just introduced me to a salad which is the perfect color combination to appeal  – red beets, orange carrots,  bits of golden raisins….and even a touch of parsley to get the bright green in there too.  It is absolutely delicious and even keeps well (both taste-wise AND color-wise) for a few days.

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Carrot and Beet Slaw = Colorful!

Click on Continue Reading for the two recipes.

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