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Archive for the ‘American Food’ Category

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You don’t need to be a rock star, neighborhood butcher. Really. We loved you just as you were before you were a celebrity.

Meow meow meow meow.

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A sable special at Murray’s bagels

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A box of wagashi, including one like the one above

Cover image of La Cucina Italiana for June, 2009

Farro lasagna

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Kakigori which froze my tongue so much that when I talked near the end of it I sounded drunk

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Hot dogs with lots of ‘Greek-style’ onions and papaya drinks

Waterfront dining above at SouthWest

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Katz’s and the ever-so-gently pickled pickles are so good

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Hungarian Pastry Shop

And last but not least, a link to the menu at Henry’s End.

How many days was I in NYC?

(Not enough!) 🙂

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Radical Chic, after all, is only radical in style; in its heart it is part of Society and its traditions. (Tom Wolfe, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers -1970)

Ramps. I’m sick and tired of ’em. You hear about them here there and everywhere. They are the new Darlings (or rather they are hanging on by a thread to being the new Darlings, but that is merely because there has been no contender for the title) of the Hip Veggie world.

For the past several years, ramps have been vociferously promenading the Red Carpet that was previously pranced upon by arugula merrily towing its attendant baby veggies.

Surely the time has come for a change. Ramps, my dears, are passé. I do not want to read of ramps anymore in drinks, salads, crusts, and soups. Soggy old ramps! Your day is past.

It is time for a New Star on the Red Carpet and it really should be Creasy Greens. From Dave’s Garden:

At the first hint of spring in the Appalachian Mountains, folks start looking for “creasy greens”. They are the earliest of any of the wild greens, often poking through the snow, and although traditionally hunted by foragers they are now grown commercially. Creasy greens are usually cooked long, like kale, mustard or turnip greens but they are equally good raw in a fresh salad.

Here’s a personal story about the Soon-To-Be-Star from The Herbwife’s Kitchen

When I was a tiny kid I used to love climbing around the hillside above our pasture looking for creasy greens in the early spring.

I still love creasy greens.

Creasy greens are Barbarea verna, in the mustard family. They taste a little mustardy, a little sweet, a little bitter. Reminiscent of very young collards, but wilder.

I like to pick them when they’re about to bloom, when they’re a lot like “wild broccoli” (or broccolini, rapini, broccoli raab, or whatever they’re calling it these days).

This season’s Spring Fashion is done with. Let’s get Cutting Edge. Start to think Creasy Greens.
You can even grow your own from Heirloom Seeds! To be ahead of the crowd!

Creasy Greens. Watch out for them. My fashion prediction is that you’ll see  them everywhere next Spring. And they won’t be cheap, dressed up in their new Red Carpet attire!

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I’ve been thinking a bit about Jello lately. Rachel Laudan mentioned it in a comment about style . . . and it’s been stuck in my mind ever since.

San Francisco is a gorgeous place, but I do think it looks even better in Liz Hickok’s jello art shown above.

Maybe on some Mother’s Day I’ll take the whole day off to just play with Jello!  That might be lots and lots of fun!

I searched for more jello art and found a few pieces on flickr. They are more somber pieces than Liz’s. But then San Francisco was not the subject at hand.

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Rasputin is coming to mind. I have no idea why.

Some interesting colors in this jello art

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There are many more photos of the San Francisco piece on Liz Hickok’s website.

A video of  jello? Sure, why not.

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Watch the dancing pickles then listen to the song!

I’ve heard this song before, often – but never did I know it was called The Dill Pickle Rag!

(Do you think the pickles were deep-fried?)

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Easter is tomorrow. I’ve been so busy this week with running around with my charming children that my menu has not been designed yet. I’m not sure where this leaves me in God’s graces. If I do not make a big dinner, will I have crossed some invisible boundary that separates those who are heading to Heaven from those who . . . well, you know.

Somewhere in some corner of the earth, I’m certain there is someone spreading Wonder Bread with butter. Or worse, with mustard. For dinner.

I figure whatever I plan it will be better than that.

I do like a bit of butter to my bread. But the Easter Bunny simply won’t be happy with just that, I don’t think.

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For recipe, click on photo.

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I’ve wanted to make Son-of-a-Bitch Stew since forever.

It’s been so long I’ve wanted to make one that I can’t remember anymore where it was I first even heard of Son-of-a-Bitch Stew. And usually I can trot out the source of any recipe I’ve ever made or heard of because my mind is a Steel Recipe Trap.

I looked in all the cookbooks I’ve had for a long time. Nothing. Nada. Rien. Kaput. Son-of-a-Bitch Stew was not even mentioned by Waverly Root, and goodness knows he mentioned a lot of wonderfully, exceptionally odd things.

But that Son-of-a-Bitch Stew has been calling my name. I used to threaten people with the fact that I’d make it for them. Threaten or promise, that is. I was ready to do it at the drop of a hat (but only if it was a cowboy hat) and even knew butcher shops that had most of the ingredients.

That Son-of-a-Bitch (stew, that is) came awful close to hitting the stove once when a fellow from Wyoming came to lunch. Why Wyoming? (Say that fast five times . . .) Because Wyoming is a place where the Son-of-a-Bitch was known and loved. It’s not only in Texas, you know.

I was close to putting it on the menu, as close to it as a pig’s nose-ring is to the soil when they’re rooting around, but then I chickened out. Actually my mind was more running along the lines of making Son-of-a-Bitch-in-a-Sack, which would have been much more good old-fashioned fun, but darn it all. Something inside told me not to.

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I probably never would have found all the ingredients though, or at least not without saddling up my trusty steed and heading out for a long ride on the dusty trail in search of some of the more interesting tidbits. Then there’s also the fact that for sure the kitchen staff would have run for the hills themselves if I’d proposed the idea of Son-of-a-Bitch for lunch.

Son-of-a-Bitch in a Sack is sort of like Son-of-a-Bitch Stew, or it’s not. It’s not when it’s a pastry, a dessert – like the recipe Alan Simpson mentions enclosing in his letter. But the other way is like an Extreme Son-of-a-Bitch-Stew. You get real, with this thing. Here’s a recipe for Son-of-a-Bitch Stew from Clifford Wright.

What I remember most, but what I can not find written anywhere (did I imagine it, as I loped across the imaginary plains on my imaginary horse?) is that the Son-of-a-Bitch in a Sack (the one that is not a dessert) (the one you get real with) was cooked in a cow’s stomach. Therefore the name.

Though that Son-of-a-Bitch is still calling my name, the words are fainter now as time goes on by. Now, when I read the ingredients list, no low growl emits from my throat – the growl that says “I Will“.  Now, the corners of my mouth turn up a bit in delight at the unbridled sheer macho joy of the whole thing. And I say to myself “Maybe. Just maybe. Someday.

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Clifford Wright’s “Real Stew” book (source of the recipe above) is here on my bookshelves. And although I winnow constantly, it has been – and will always be – a Keeper. 🙂
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Yeeeeeeeee-haw! Rawhide!

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“I’m not a banana person. No! No, I’m not a banana person!”
And thus began my trip to the grocery store. A clean well-lighted place, and one that happens to often be entertaining. Today it was particularly so.

The not-a-banana-person was young and blonde. Young-and-Blonde wandered through the produce department, really wishing her boyfriend and all the rest of the world to understand her point. Her voice rose above the hum of carts and clatter and hundreds of people wandering through the fertile aisles.

Pushing my little steel rolling cart past the pharmacy section (there is a pharmacy in every good grocery store in America you know, and really for very good reason) I noticed the six foot tall brunette with hair flailing down to her behind – the hair clipped back ever-so-touchingly with a plastic and pink rhinestone barrette (this is a hair clip, people, not a beret which is a hat – and if you wonder why I insist on mentioning this it is because I’ve often heard people use the word barrette for beret around here – along with using the word toboggan which is a sled for going down snowy hills where I come from to mean a woolly cap worn in the winter) (sorry for the side thought but can you imagine being told Put your toboggan on your head unless you want to get a chill (?). Disturbing. Very.) but anyway this six foot tall brunette is buying cupcakes.

A dozen. Six in bright neon green with multi-sprinkles, six more in a turquoise blue the color of Elmo – also with multi-sprinkles. “Thorazine!” she barks out at the pharmacy attendant. “The scrip is for thorazine!”

From gammon and spinnage to cupcakes and thorazine. Cupcakes and thorazine. Cupcakes and thorazine.

A higher level has been reached. Last month in a snowstorm I edged my car past the car badly parked in front of the pharmacy take-out window glowing brightly from the front brick wall of the grocery store. “Prozac!” the woman bellowed into the window.

At the checkout the students are buying their staples. These staples can be defined in one single word important to the economy of our town: Beer. This is a college town, a town where the college is well-regarded, a town that exists because of the college. And it would not do so without beer, and lots of it.

Cupcakes and thorazine, cupcakes and thorazine.

A memory from last week slipped into my mind. My neighbors, in celebration of a sporting event win, had held keg stands past midnight two nights in a row. A glorious and horrible thing, a keg stand.

“I’m not a banana person!”

Cupcakes and thorazine cupcakes and thorazine.

What a world of gammon and spinnage it is, though, ain’t it.

Leaving behind the cupcakes and thorazine, the bananas expounded, the beer by the multi-keg, I pushed my little steel cart – always filled to the brim though I’d only come in for a few small items – right out the automatically-opening exit door.

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Gammon and Spinach (from Word and Phrase Origins, Robert Hendrickson) – The expression gammon and spinach for “nonsense, humbug” is not as familiar today as it was in Dicken’s time, when he used it in David Copperfield. [ . . .] The phrase, most likely an elaboration of the slang word gammon, which meant nonsense or ridiculous story, is probably patterned on the older phrase gammon and patter, the language of London underworld thieves. The nonsense part of it was possibly reinforced by the old nursery rhyme “A Frog He Would a Woo’ing Go” (1600) heard by millions: “With a rowley powley gammon and spinach/Heigh ho! says Anthony Rowley!”
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Why not a recipe? Why not, a recipe. Here’s a good one: Spinach fiorelli with gammon and mascarpone from TimesOnline.

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You’ll have to see it to believe it:

Extreme History – Cooking on the Chisholm Trail

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In this vintage ad from the 1940’s we’ve now discovered how the Chiquita Banana Helps the Pieman – and have also had a fascinating demonstration on how to flute a banana.

But that’s only dessert. ‘Where’s the beef?’ (Clara would ask) – and here it is:

Recipes from Gourmet magazine during the 1940’s, from the archives. Note the simplicity of the instructions, and remember – the founder (in 1939*) and publisher of Gourmet was a fellow named Earle MacAusland, who loved huntin’ and fishin’  . . .  in a gentlemanly-gourmet sort of way.

Tequila Por Mi Amante

Oyster Waffles Shortcake

Creamed Woodchuck

Bachelor’s Defense

Moving right along, if you’re still prone to hunger pains, to some

Blacktail Buck Steaks

finished off with (don’t forget the banana pie too)

Imprisoned Fruit

. . . the recipe for which starts off with

Look over your tree carefully in the springtime, when the blossoms are gone and the fruit is just beginning to form. Choose a few choice specimens, each at the end of a branch, and insert the branch gently into the neck of a large bottle, until the fruit is well inside. The next job is to support the bottle so that it stays in place in the tree. This may be done with ropes, if the tree is large enough, or it may be necessary to build up wooden supports to hold the bottle.

At first, the native feel of the menu made me think of gentle old-timey innocent images in my mind. Little boys goin’ out to catch a mess of fish, oh so cute in their rumpled overalls

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But then upon musing on the menu components a bit further, it seemed to me that (more likely) the intent of all this cooking (whether done by the above-mentioned ‘bachelor’ or by his feminine equal) would be in hopes of something more along the lines of this, from Tino Rossi, 1945:

P.S. Edit added: *This date (1939) is not confirmed by source (yet). No bessame mucho here. Yet. 🙂

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Ouch. It’s January 2009, and wallets previously ready to fly open at the slightest beckoning call of the local free-range organic rabbit (head still on, bones intact, tiny tail bone looking rather pitiful now shed of its cute fluffy fur) for $7 per pound – which effectively makes the cost of the meat shorn of the bones somewhere around $15 per pound – those wallets are balking.

But it is not 1940. And we are not in London. And we are not kept busy in the ways the Women Firewatchers shown in the above photograph (from British Vogue in 1940 by Lee Miller) were kept actively busy at that time.

But getting back to the wallets of 2009. Some will still open. Many more will not.

Pain shows in the hearts and faces of men and women when facing their finances. Not only have their retirement funds been hobbled but food – right now – today! – is becoming more and more expensive. What’s a person to do?

This poverty is a different shape, here and now in 2009, than it has been in times past. For aside from the fact that the grocery stores are still filled to over-brimming with every product from almost everywhere in the world, there is the question of those wallets. Are those wallets as damaged as they have been in past times of hardship? Not being an economist, I can’t answer that.

But I do know that in past times though there may have been mortgage payments and utility bills and all the usual expenses of day-to-day life, there was no monthly cell-phone bill . . . there was no monthly cable or internet connection bill . . . there was no high health insurance payment due . . . there usually was not a second or third car payment bill due . . . and let’s not even start talking about the cost of a higher-education where funds must be saved or financed for the Masters or Ph.D rather than for the Bachelors degree – which now for the most part is about as useful to the job-seeker as a High School degree was in times past – useful, that is, as a mere nod into the door of a low-paying entry job.

In times of hardship one looks to times of past hardships for answers: what to do, how to survive. There’s also the sense of seeking reassurance that indeed, people did survive. They did live and love and eat and hate and plot and plan and dream and finally either regain their feet – or if not – simply go on living, somehow.

One of our most-revered writers on life, food, and hungers – MFK Fisher – wrote a huge body of work during the 1940’s during times of war and some hardships. Consider the Oyster (1941) was written as she and her husband Dillwyn Parrish fled a war-torn Europe to come back to the US. Dillwyn was dying – in a most painful way – in a way where his body was slowly, bit by bit, being claimed by Buerger’s disease. How to Cook A Wolf was published in 1942 – the year when the rationing (already in place in England) finally came to US shores.

Tires were the first item to be rationed in January 1942 because supplies of natural rubber were interrupted. Soon afterward, passenger automobiles, typewriters, sugar, gasoline, bicycles, footwear, fuel oil, coffee, stoves, shoes, meat, lard, shortening and oils, cheese, butter, margarine, processed foods (canned, bottled and frozen), dried fruits, canned milk, firewood and coal, jams, jellies and fruit butter, were rationed by November 1943.[3] (Source wiki-rationing-US)

How To Cook A Wolf is full of information about how to survive when there is little to survive on. I’ve read this book more than once, in varying circumstances. The time I most appreciated it was when I moved to Paris into a wonderful apartment whose heating system required the insertion of coins into a small box on the wall. It seemed apt to read MFKF then and there.

Much of what is in this book will not be accepted by today’s readers, looking for answers in terms of ‘what to eat’ when the pocketbook is hurting. Gently given advice to ‘Go fishing for your dinner‘, or to ‘Gather wild foods for the one daily meal’, and ‘Eat mush‘ (recipe provided) come to mind.

In 1943 MFKF published The Gastronomical Me – to my mind the greatest of her works. Here is life, punctuated by food. Food is the thing that binds, that ties, that rocks, that cradles – a river that the larger themes of existence flow upon, with the prose of MFKF as wind goddess moving it all along.

Then followed a novel, then the translation of Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste, and An Alphabet for Gourmets.

There are many ways to face being pinched by the dollar. As for myself, I won’t try cooking and eating mush – unless I really have to. And I am grateful that my days are not spent scanning the skies for warplanes and fires.

But I will read MFK Fisher. And not just only (or not even substantially) for the advice she gives (though some of it is good).

I’ll read her just for her words, alone. They’re better in some ways than even the most perfect slab of Kobe beef.

An added bonus? They are sustainable.
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Live recording of Billie Holiday from the 1940’s: Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do

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Here is a recipe for perfection salad from a 1905 (Knox Gelatine) book titled ‘Dainty Desserts for Dainty People’.

And here, for dainty people, is the downloadable text of the entire book.

Everything that grows

Holds in perfection but a little moment.

Shakespeare: Sonnet 15, 1.1

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Some people remember the past through things they ate. Memory, place, time, flavor, people . . . all become woven together into a fabric not to be unravelled.

Just as when in those moments a piece of music will insinuate through melody an entirely different time layered upon the present in a sudden spark that floods the current reality with meanings imbued from the past . . . and those meanings are every bit as real in the ‘now’ as when they first were formed . . .

Not that memory is not a questionable thing. It is. But some memories are less fractured than others – one can only hope that the retrospective glance is not looking through the prism of the past less clearly but more clearly, with the focused light of objectivity found through years passed – something not be attained by banging at it, but nonetheless sometimes to be found seredipitously.

I remember the past not so much from things I ate, but more from things I cooked.

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The kitchen was hot that day. It often was, if you happened to arrive in the afternoon for work rather than in the early morning before the ovens and stoves and grill and fryolator and steamer all were operating at a pace similar to an animated Disney movie – at times almost ridiculously fast, almost out of control.

I could go in to work at whatever time pleased me, as the Pastry Chef.

At this upscale suburban Connecticut restaurant dropped as if with a bucket of hope from the sky into the center of a large black concrete parking lot with many yellow lines painted for the many anticipated diners-to-be, the pastries were ‘important’ but not all that important. Pastries and desserts weren’t important to the Executive Chef  – as the reputation of the place was to be focused on the food – not on the pastry. Pastries and desserts weren’t important to the owner of the restaurant because the Executive Chef had been bought at a dear price, and had to be coddled. Pastries and desserts weren’t important to the waiters and waitresses because in all the time past, they had not been stand-outs as part of the meal but merely follow-ups. In other words, there was no good tip money involved with the idea of dessert since the desserts themselves here in times past had not been worth the effort of  putting on a song and dance in order to up-sell.

The guys behind the line did their usual little dismissive dance when I walked into the kitchen. Roger’s prematurely almost-bald head flicked sideways away from his saute-pans for the briefest moment, the steam on his gold wire-rimmed glasses blending with the sweat on his forehead – the forehead behind which was a brain with an investment of some tens of thousands of dollars in the form of a Master’s Degree in Philosophy which had never been used in the form of a job (and which it seemed to me was not used in daily life either, if his attitude and behavior bore witness to what was inside his mind). His soft shoulders angled forwards and backwards in an I-dare-you shimmy, ever so slight while his legs inched slightly more apart, edging his crotch forwards toward the stove as if he were going to fuck it – as if he could fuck it if he just wanted to – which of course as we all know, no girl could ever do.

Frank was more abrupt. He could be, since he was a CIA grad. Slamming the oven doors closed and slapping a towel on the line, he sneered slightly in my direction with a cross between amusement and derision, and moved even faster than he had been before, his beard and moustache and his simple huge-ness of stature giving him the air of a strong but somewhat out-of-place furry black bear. He watched, bluntly, as I walked over to the ‘pastry station’ – the stainless steel table in the center of the kitchen where he’d piled anything extra he could not easily find any other space to put so that I’d have to move it all while feeling his gaze upon me the entire time, his eyes slowly chewing me up, same as they had been each day I’d walked into that kitchen – which at the time was for all of three long weeks.

As I lifted the piles of sheetpans, shifting them onto the racks where they belonged, a vision rose of a scene I’d walked in on at closing time the previous week – the Exec Chef was sitting there right in the middle of my nice clean stainless-steel assigned pastry-making table, pulling the sous-chef towards her then wrapping her legs around his chest as he slightly-squirmed, slightly-enjoyed it. She was drunk.

Better moving piles of sheetpans than having to see that again, I thought.

You have to wonder why one would even want to continue making pastry on that table.

But then Gaston Lenotre entered the scene.

(to be continued – part two Entre Lenotre)

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I was reminded today that I meant to post something about Popeye by the fact that a new blogger-friend actually has a category called ‘Popeye and Sailors’ on her blog, Months of Edible Celebrations.

Yes, it’s true. Superheroes do keep popping up in my life (as I noted in an earlier post), and though Popeye is kind of an old guy, apparently Mental Floss magazine thinks well enough of him to give him Superhero status.

But how did he get his powers? From spinach.

But was it really the spinach that did it? Or was it only in his mind?

While Popeye should be applauded for persuading a nation to eat its greens, he did mislead people a bit. The government’s enthusiasm for spinach was based in part on the calculations of German scientist Dr. E von Wolf, who’d discovered in 1870 that spinach contains iron. When calculating the results, he misplaced a decimal point, thereby making it “official” that spinach had 10 times more iron than it actually did. Not until years later were these figures rechecked. But by then, everyone was downing their spinach, hoping to be as tough as Popeye.

(See link to article at Mental Floss for full story.)

Math is not my strong point either.

What a great mistake, though. What would Popeye have done without it!

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Clam dip springs eternal.

This is a wonderful thing – for some people.

There was always a bowl of clam dip placed out on the sideboard with Fritos, celery, and carrot sticks at  Christmas dinner when I was a child. It was an awesome thing somehow, this clam dip. It was all-powerful. It stood for something  – though exactly what it stood for is impossible to precisely define.

The Fritos were part of the whole thing. I can taste the combination now as I write this, and truly how bizarre it is! Crunchy little oversalted thick curly corn chips aided and abetted in crime with whatever clam dip really is (for I believe it is somehow created by a metallurgic process similar to alchemy but with the products of the dairy cow and the ocean: sour cream and clams –  but I don’t want to linger too very long on this thought) coming together on the sideboard in an all-powerful and controlling mass of atoms gently mounded in its delicate red-and-gold poinsettia-glazed bowl .

It was powerful in taste and powerful in how people reacted to it.

I have a cousin who would have dived into the dip head-first if anyone would have allowed it.

As the announcement came to ‘come and have a snack’ he took off through the air like a marble from a slingshot. By the time we all walked in he was bent over the bowl of clam dip almost snuffling the stuff up with the Fritos as fast as the naked eye could see. The celery with its pale fluffy leaves was just there for show . . . as were the stiff little carrot sticks. Nobody ever ate them.

“Give someone else a chance,” his father would admonish him, and he’d back up six inches or so and let a few hands take a few swipes at the stuff.

I didn’t care. There was something about the clam dip that appealed to me deeply. I wanted it, badly. But each year I took one bite and felt like fleeing, anywhere, to Canada, to the deep snow outside, under the white-linened table, or even to the nearest hot dog stand which was hundreds of miles away.

I find the stuff repellent.

But clam dip is such a lovable thing! I tried, I really did. Once I even attempted a homage to clam dip – an essay all bright and bubbly, all serene and jolly, all heartwarming and devout. It wouldn’t happen. No rhetoric could stretch that far, no way no how – not from me . . . not on clam dip.

The clam dip recipe my aunt makes is an excellent one, for she is a very good cook.

And Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without clam dip (and maybe Fritos to go with it) in many homes across the land.

Clam dip. It’s got to be said.

Just don’t say it too loudly, please.

For one thing, it will scare me.

For another, I heard that my cousin (now a man well into middle-age and not usually prone to excessive behavior of any kind) actually ate the entire contents of the clam dip bowl last year. Not a drop left for anyone else.

He survived, and there are more like him everywhere.

There may be one near you.

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Images and stories. How they do shape how we think of the world – what it is to us, even when the stories or images may not be true or real.

I’m not religious in any formal way, but darn it all if I can shake off the image in my mind that God is some big vague-looking guy hanging around way up high in the sky somewhere beyond the clouds – no matter how hard I try. In the same manner, just push my Thanksgiving Button and regardless of any intellectual knowledge of what it actually was to start with, up pops turkey and Pilgrims in black clothes with huge hats and buckles on their odd shoes.

I think then of the Shakers, who were of the same ilk. Then the Quakers who fit in there with all this. A song comes into my head somewhere along here and it refuses to stop. I have to hear it over and over again for goodness knows how long.

Simple Gifts

Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,

To turn, turn will be our delight

‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Somehow I’ve known that song since nursery school. I still love it.

But it’s not what I thought it was as a four-year old – there’s more to it that that. There’s the fact that usually people know the words as ’tis a gift’ rather than as ’tis the gift’. This adds a very different meaning to the song – one that is pointed and sharp. ‘The gift’ is one thing and one thing only, not open to interpretation by those who sang of it. It was the core point of the song that ‘the gift’ was something to be desired (and worked for and suffered for) – and this was the only ‘gift’ that should matter. And that gift of ecstasy, of bonding with their God, was sought through dance.

A beautiful simple song with a passion wrapped so quietly within it.

There are four Shakers left in the last Shaker Community existing in Sabbathday, Maine. Only four Shakers. Their religion is a fascinating one. But then it comes to mind that the ‘Pilgrims’ associated with our Thanksgiving holiday – with their funny hats and shoes with buckles – did not come here seeking turkeys (though of course turkeys are a good thing to have if one wants to continue living rather than dying of starvation in a new land where grocery stores don’t exist and where one has not been trained in the actually-rather-knowledgable-art of farming . . . ever tried to even keep a plant already grown in a pot alive if you don’t have a ‘green thumb’?) but from what I understand – unless I missed something – our Pilgrims came to these shores to escape religious persecution. They just plain didn’t fit in, where they came from, and it was time to move – that is, if they wanted to follow their deep passion, a passion which was not about what buckle to put on their shoes or what stuffing to serve with the turkey but rather a passion which centered around who they as human beings were and what their relationship was to their God and how they would live to express this.

Not small potatoes. That is, if one believes that in some way  human beings are more than a bag of bones tossed together with other ingredients to make an animal of sorts that ‘thinks’ and who has been lucky enough to have these opposable thumbs that help us build things of all sorts.

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Funny, the shapes seeking for ‘higher truth’ can take.

Several years ago I visited a church located within several hours of where I live. The church is one where snake-handling is the core participatory ritual that brings its followers a sense that they have found a way to experience the higher truth that the Christian Bible offers. This is not the only church in the country of this sort – though it is against the law in many states for these churches to exist.

I remember sitting in a pew near the back taking it all in. The women did not cut their hair – it was against the church laws . . . and they wore dresses and stockings and were all covered up. The men did not seem to have any rules of dress but they were all very conservative. I remember looking at the people of the church, this church that existed in a small covert hollow of poverty along a grim winding road in a tiny sad broken-down converted house, and I remember my first reaction. It was a visceral one rather than an intellectual one. To be honest, an initial sense of repulsion rose from within me.

What those Pilgrims must have put up with, before coming to our shores! What any Pilgrim must put up with, really – if they have a strong path to follow that does not merge and support the usual way of things.

But thereby hangs the tale.

The faux-Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner is just the tip of it all. But oh, where it can lead to, just the stories of interest as one follows the winding path around it!

“Oh the Places You’ll Go!” as Dr. Seuss (who of course was Theodor Geisel) wrote.

Happy Pilgrim Day!

Maybe I’ll bake a cake and frost it black with a big silver buckle. I love that image.

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No photo header today but instead something better: Jordi Busque is allowing me to link to his wonderful photos of the Mennonite in Bolivia.
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More on ‘Simple Gifts’ at the American Music Preservation site.

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The countdown has begun. The plans are being discussed. The larders (that means cupboards and refrigerators for those of you who prefer modern speech) are being filled and filled and filled.

It’s the Day to Be Thankful. Or (more commonly) the Day to Get Stuffed Till You Hurt. Add a pinch of the usual dissonances that happen when family (sorry, Family) must gather from all their own homes to the Gathering Place of Holiday and what you have is Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Day used to be the start of the Holiday Season. It was the date on which one could expect to have to start worrying about gifts, money, food, people, other people, parties, diets, party clothes, decorations, credit card debt, wrapping paper, ribbons and tape, red tape, lines at the stores, malls with parking lots the size of small cities, office gatherings filled with charming lechery from the least charming people who’d slugged down a bit too much punch (make that wine – punch is ‘out’), plans for alliances and non-alliances, health club memberships for the New Year when one would get Skinny and Gorgeous, and what stuffing would be served and with what on what day. Ham, Turkey, Roast Beef. We need large ones. We need Heirloom ones. (I always think of the turkey-pluckers on these days, their fingers chilled as those pinfeathers continue to stick even after the boiling water dipping machine and the tossing around like a whirlwind feather-removing machine have done their industrial jobs yet not well enough, not well enough for whatever-price per pound these babies are costing their investor-eaters).

We need Brussel Sprouts, and God Only Knows Why.

Thanksgiving is not the start of the holiday season anymore – Halloween holds that place of honor as the plans grow more startlingly consumptive (yes, two meanings to that word!) and well-caramelized.

We have a lot to be thankful for. But let’s get real. Are we really celebrating an American Traditional Thanksgiving at our tables with this meal of choice and habit?  Or . . . is it all a little trick played on us?

Could it be that a writer invented this holiday as we know it and celebrate it, and that somehow we have simply forgotten the real way of the holiday in an excess of the sort of jolly jingo-istic sentiment that seems to grab the masses by the throat heart, and with the soft prettiness of it all manages to serve up a paint-the-kitten-on-velvet-by-numbers kit for dinner?

One does like things to be nice nice. Nice nice is so nice.

Lets’ try this on for size, instead – for our Thanksgiving dinner:

First, wild turkey was never mentioned in Winslow’s account. It is probable that the large amounts of “fowl” brought back by four hunters were seasonal waterfowl such as duck or geese.

And if cranberries were served, they would have been used for their tartness or color, not the sweet sauce or relish so common today. In fact, it would be 50 more years before berries were boiled with sugar and used as an accompaniment to meat.

Potatoes weren’t part of the feast, either. Neither the sweet potato nor the white potato was yet available to colonists.

The presence of pumpkin pie appears to be a myth, too. The group may have eaten pumpkins and other squashes native to New England, but it is unlikely that they had the ingredients for pie crust – butter and wheat flour. Even if they had possessed butter and flour, the colonists hadn’t yet built an oven for baking.

“While we have been able to work out which modern dishes were not available in 1621, just what was served is a tougher nut to crack,” Ms. Curtin says.

A couple of guesses can be made from other passages in Winslow’s correspondence about the general diet at the time: lobsters, mussels, “sallet herbs,” white and red grapes, black and red plums, and flint corn.

That makes for a different sort of table, a bit.

Then how did this reality of a holiday which-is-not actually occur?

Until the early 1800s, Thanksgiving was considered to be a regional holiday celebrated solemnly through fasting and quiet reflection.

But the 19th century had its own Martha Stewart, and it didn’t take her long to turn New England fasting into national feasting. Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the popular Godey’s Lady’s Book, stumbled upon Winslow’s passage and refused to let the historic day fade from the minds – or tables – of Americans. This established trendsetter filled her magazine with recipes and editorials about Thanksgiving.

It was also about this time – in 1854, to be exact – that Bradford’s history book of Plymouth Plantation resurfaced. The book increased interest in the Pilgrims, and Mrs. Hale and others latched onto the fact he mentioned that the colonists had killed wild turkeys during the autumn.

In her magazine Hale wrote appealing articles about roasted turkeys, savory stuffing, and pumpkin pies – all the foods that today’s holiday meals are likely to contain.

In the process, she created holiday “traditions” that share few similarities with the original feast in 1621.

In 1858, Hale petitioned the president of the United States to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday. She wrote: “Let this day, from this time forth, as long as our Banner of Stars floats on the breeze, be the grand Thanksgiving holiday of our nation, when the noise and tumult of worldliness may be exchanged for the length of the laugh of happy children, the glad greetings of family reunion, and the humble gratitude of the Christian heart.”

Five years later, Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

“[Hale’s] depiction is wrong much more often than it’s right,” says Nancy Brennan, president of Plimoth Plantation.

So. Is it Turkey Day or is it not? I’d say it definitely is Turkey Day in some ways. In more ways than one.

In the final analysis one must gather one’s turkeys where they may, as they batten the hatches momentarily against the onslaught of the rest of the ravaging hoolidays holidays to come along on the rampage in short shrift.

One of my favorite questions in the whole wide world is raised by all this. The question is: What is real?

When it looks really pretty and nice, it’s worth poking at to be sure it is true. Or even real.

Enjoy your bird no matter the feather! Even if you are quietly thankful, and choose to not stuff yourself or any bird, fish or fowl whatsoever. Eat what you like, for the day belongs to you – not  to some dead editor of a ladies magazine who lived a long time ago.

And if the bird pecks you, peck right back. It’s the holiday season, after all. And listen up, all you groaning-table and screaming football fans:

‘fasting and quiet reflection’

appears to be quite American after all.

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Source of quoted material: The First Thanksgiving CS Monitor November 2002
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From a different Thanksgiving day:

A Modern Woman’s Thanksgiving


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Some foods or recipes have hints of luck about them. There are many different varieties of luck, of course.

Beans and Taters is a dish steeped in luck.

Though it’s known all over the South,  you won’t find a recipe for it in most of the usual cookbooks where “native Southern recipes” abide. And though the phrase “beans and taters” is one immediately recognizable and known to most Southerners (particularly those with rural roots) you won’t find it listed in slang dictionaries or in regular dictionaries or in the larger (Oxford on food, Cambridge on food, Southern Culture) encyclopedia sets. There is a newly released (this year) Encyclopedia of Southern Culture  which has an entire volume on food and food culture. I’m hoping to see if it is listed there!

You hear about beans and taters through luck if you’ve not grown up knowing it. My luck happened when a neighbor in an area of the rural South telephoned one day asking for a ride into town. Her car (pronounce that as that ve-hi-cle please, and with no self-consciousness either) had broken down. Luck had run out for her, in that moment.

During the ride into town, her young son was talking about food. He wanted some special thing for supper, that night. His Mom’s response . . . “Way things are going we just might be eating beans and taters for some time!”

But “beans and taters” was said with a musical lilt when she said it. And there was no sadness in her voice. Apparently beans and taters (yes, very musical the phrase is) is a dish born of bad luck but one that has good luck inside it. It is filled with pleasure, gladness, and gratitude. It is loved.

Luck also touches beans and taters in their very inception – the lithe green beans or sturdy other sorts of beans are ready to pluck from  their vines in the garden at the same time those tiny new potatoes are ready to start digging up. Just look at any farmer’s market right now if you don’t have a garden, and see them sitting there on the same table – the two are silent partners.

Luck being what it is, beans and taters is not just one unchangable recipe. There are many recipes, and they rise from an oral tradition. Two of these recipes stand out as the most common examples: A green bean and bacon stew topped with little shiny new potatoes steamed on top . . . and a pinto and saltback or bacon stew sided by fried potatoes. These make the meal – there’s not any need for too much else but cornbread –  unless of course there is more bounty to have . . . if the luck is running strong the beans and taters can move quietly from the center of the table to settle in as a side dish to serve with one of those huge picnic spreads of fried chicken, chow chow, sliced tomatoes, the endless variety of things from the fields and garden that crow and  holler from the rural end-of-summer table.

But they say one chooses their own luck, and I still feel lucky to have heard the words “beans and taters”, and to have tasted them made by my own hands after the fact, in my own home kitchen.

The only print resource I’ve found with a recipe for beans and taters is in a book by Loretta Lynn titled “You’re Cookin’ It Country”. Her recipe is made with pork jowl, sugar, salt and pepper, fresh green beans and new potatoes – and when she writes of beans and taters the luck emerges again in the form of grace. The hunger of poverty, the pride of finding something to hold on to when nothing seemed to be there, and the joy of taste and comfort those lucky beans and taters hold within them are the heart of her tale.

I’m thinking of that saying: “If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all”. This guy’s got it wrong. He’s just got to find himself some beans and taters.

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If you have a garden, the cucumbers may be trying to take over, gripping everything they can in viney puckers, dropping a little cucumber here and a larger one there – just like so many pods in a science fiction movie trying to take over the world.

If you don’t have a garden it’s a pity. I don’t right now. But then again there’s the Farmer’s Market where cucumbers will be piled in boxes awaiting their fate.

What to do with them. Gazpacho. Salads – simple, complex, Oriental, Germanic. Raita to side a curry or tzaziki to dollop into pita with  grilled faux gyros of ground lamb and beef tossed together with herbs and spices.

Then there’s pickles.

I know of a pickle that many people have never tasted, never heard of. It’s an odd sort of pickle. A rough and ready sort of pickle without the least bit of pretension to finesse. It’s called a Maine (Sour) Mustard Pickle.

The only place I’ve ever had these pickles (aside from when I make them) was in Maine – made by my grandmother who was not a cook by any means and by my aunt who is a good home cook, the first good home cook I ever knew. The taste reminds me of my family, and of the history of my family. The taste is not all sweet, but very real.

It’s best to make these pickles in a real pickle jar – but if you don’t have one they can be made in what you do have.

The big expense will be dry mustard. Surprisingly it isn’t cheap in the usual grocery stores. It can be found in bulk at the ‘health food store’ sometimes at more affordable prices, though.

If you like pickles and if you like mustard, these are worth a try. They will start off gentle and become more sour as time progresses – denser, more puckery.

Here’s a recipe:

Old Fashioned Sour Mustard Pickles

Cucumbers
2 quarts of apple cider vinegar
½ cup salt
½ cup sugar
½ cup ground dry mustard
Some garlic cloves, peeled (optional)

Wash and dry the whole cucumbers and garlic and pack them into jars or a crock, the bigger the vessel the better.
Mix together other ingredients and pour over cucumbers. Close jars or crock and store in a cool place.
The pickles will be quite sour within a week.

(From Snell Family Farm)

P.S. “Kirby” style cucumbers are best for this recipe somehow but the larger cucumbers cut in chunks will do though they will pickle faster and taste even stronger. 🙂

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Evangelism in a bowl of spaghetti-o’s.

I hate to say it but mostly I just want to wipe the sides of the bowl.

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It’s a Guy Thing with Barry Fig

I gotta tell you, it’s been a bad week. First that chick at the Farmer’s Market I told you about (why’d she have to be like that, dudes? Why?) and now this.

A couple of days ago my bud Stu Shotzy was over. We went four-wheeling and got kinda messy so he went to get cleaned up

Stu

and as he was drying off I tossed him a beer and he shook and jumped so hard both at the same time trying to catch it that somehow water went flying all over the place and hit an electrical outlet and everything went dead. Fried. Gone. Kaput.

Not him, dudes. He was alive. It was the kitchen that was dead. The fuses or wires or whatever got kiboshed.

I’m going to pick up a “How To” book this week so I can fix it but in the meantime – well I gotta tell you. It’s been bad. Hardees’ six times a day is wearing me out. It’s not like anything else is going good either.

Worst off all is my current project. “Barry’s Big Doodle”. I’m having a lot of problems with that. The damn thing isn’t working right. As you can see.

But crisis creates opportunity. So I’m looking on the bright side. I found a video on how to cook without a kitchen

made by this guy Chef Nam so I’m gonna try that later today. Listen. If the guy’s a chef, I trust him. It’s gotta be good.

The other really great thing I found at the grocery store were these really cool limited-editions of Jello. Three flavors even – pina colada; margarita; and strawberry daiquiri! I can use the microwave at work to make those. Can’t wait.

But that’s my week, guys. Full of problems. But in problems there’s opportunity.

If anybody has any ideas for my doodle, let me know.

Additional resources: Jello Confronts the Depression. (From the Gallery of Regrettable Foods)

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organic prius

You put your left foot in

You put your right foot out

You put your left foot in

And you shake it all about

You grab yourself a partner and you turn yourself about

That’s what it’s all about!

Anybody remember the hokey-pokey dance? Always fun, even the confusing parts that should not have been but were, in the silly way of these song-and-dance routines.

What to eat. Why to eat it. Who does it affect, this seemingly not-all-that-important-decision made three or four or five times a day.

These are questions that run through every thoughtful person’s mind – some more, some less.

What a luxury of questions they are too – when one stops to consider that many people in the world can only ask themselves one question regarding their food: Where can I get enough of any sort to survive and thrive?

I haven’t come up with my own clear-cut food philosophy when it come to the (big? small?) questions of what I should eat. Like many others I know, I do the hokey-pokey. One day at a time, sorting and sifting the masses of information surging over the information superhighway, hoping that what I read is true enough to lead me down the right paths.

One writer I trust to give me accurate and useful information and ideas is the historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. In a compelling article in the Times-Online yesterday his essay begins:

The State exists to feed people. Politicians proclaim defence or law and order or social issues or wealth creation or health as their priority. But without food, nothing else matters. For most of history, leaders were those who knew how to get it – sometimes by hunting prowess, sometimes by means of a gift for commanding herds, sometimes by naked power, forcing subjects to work in the fields and dig ditches, and sometimes by mediating with the gods or spirits of nature.

The article can be found here. It’s one of the most interesting essays I’ve read on this topic (ever).

Artwork credit Mike Licht/NotionsCapital

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MoiraMoira’s Catty Corner

Eck eck eck. You’ll have to forgive these little noises that come deep from my throat so lovingly as I report on this topic, dolls. We’re talking squirrel here, and that makes me purr.

We’ll also talk about some of my other fav things – celebrity chefs – but before that let’s do our part to be cultured, as that is what cats do. Here’s something Emily Dickinson wrote:

Experiment to me

Is every one I meet

If it contain a Kernel? The Figure of a Nut

Presents upon a Tree

Equally plausibly,

But Meat within, is requisite

To squirrels, and to Me.

Emily has a way of understanding things, a way quite cattish! Prrrrrp.

Did celebrity chefs invent dining upon squirrels in one of their wild fits of adorable creativity that make us gasp and purr? Unfortunately, no.

The word itself, so lovely, sounding like my rough tongue rolling along its fur, comes from the Greeks. The Ancient ones. They gave it the name “skiouros” which means shadow-tail, for they believed the squirrels’ tail was made to wrap around the little guys, keeping them protected from the sun.

The Ancient Greeks may have been a little nutty but at least they were also poetic.

Eck eck eck. Back to the eating, please. A short history of this delightful taste-treat includes Brunswick Stew, native to Brunswick County Virginia, where the usual native American succotash was expanded to include little bites of squirrel meat, along with tomatoes. For some strange reason, Brunswick Stew never really took off to become popular anywhere except where there was not much else to eat.

That’s okay. More for me. Meow.

Jumping forward to current times, squirrel is becoming popular in some places. London is the epi-center of all things squirrel lately, based on my research:

In 2002, nutkin becomes a fine-dining item. A story dated March 10 of that year in The Independent reports that

Squirrel is on the menu at St John, a restaurant near London’s Smithfield market, and it’s delicious – like tender wild rabbit, braised with bacon and dried porcini mushrooms, musky flavours to echo its woodland habitat. But some might prefer to steer clear – because it borders on taboo.

Taboos were being fought in 2006 as this story (23 of March in BBC News) has it:

TV chef Jamie Oliver should encourage schoolchildren to eat grey squirrels in an effort to save the endangered red species, a Conservative peer says.Lord Inglewood said greys had to be culled to ensure reds – native to the UK – did not die out.

“I must confess that I have never actually eaten a grey squirrel… but I am prepared to give it a go,” he said.

“Unless something radical and imaginative is done Squirrel Nutkin and his friends are going to be toast.”

Eck eck eck! Eck! Lord Inglewood you have my full attention!

This year the passion for squirrel is growing. The May 11 edition of The Independent says that tree-huggers love the idea of squirrel. And why not?!

And then, dear ones, we get to those celebrity chefs!

A glut of back-to-the-wild TV programmes featuring celebrity chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has also tickled the public’s palate, but squirrel is still unlikely to be found in the family fridge. The Observer’s restaurant critic, Jay Rayner, said he had never tasted squirrel, but if he did have it for dinner ‘it would have to be a big, fat country squirrel and not one of the mangy urban ones you see in cities’.

The very same day, metro.co.uk gets down with the rodent even more!

Keith Viner, former chef of Michelin-starred Pennypots in Cornwall, said: ‘Southern-fried squirrel is good. And tandoori style works.

‘It is especially tasty fricasséed with Cornish cream and walnuts. But the one everyone seems to like is the Cornish squirrel pasty.’

I would love a Cornish squirrel pasty. Buttery, flaky, squirrely goodness! And no bones to choke on!

That’s the report from Catty Corner, dolls. I must continue with my yoga. If you have any ideas or recipes for squirrel you’d like to share with me, please purr please do! Eck eck.

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