Tonight I doctored up cherry jello with cranberries, canned mandarin oranges, and Del Monte crushed pineapple. As I read the instructions on the box I felt like I was participating in some bizarrely foreign and slightly trashy ritual. I know I got all the proportions wrong- it definitely looked wrong, even though the cranberry jello was all poured into the same molds I carefully preserved from my grandmother after her death.
Thanksgiving was the one certainty for us growing up in a family that held few traditions. Every single Thanksgiving brought the same predictable scene, and it was a good one. It was always hosted at my grandparent’s home in Bodega Bay. The house was built with rough-cut redwood and afforded an amazing view of the Bay. Drinks and appetizers were served around 2. Smoked turkey, mashed potatoes, broccoli solemnly referred to as “trees”, salad, rolls, cranberry jello, and crustless pumpkin pie. Grandma’s amazing chestnut stuffing. Gravy, mashed potatoes, and more gravy. Five o’clock always found every last person stretched out in the living room, napping or complaining about the negative ions which family legend claimed emanated from the bay’s water and made us sleepy.
When my grandmother entered her 90’s, it became clear at some point that it was time to pass the torch. It has not been an easy transition for my family, maybe because we all have different ideas of what Thanksgiving should be now.
At the first sign of fall my sister came to me, a little emotional, and asked exactly what my plans were for Thanksgiving. I pretended not to get it and made it clear that this was a conversation I was not ready for until I had picked out Halloween costumes for my kids. There might have been some eye-rolling involved on my part.
The house in Bodega Bay was sold about eight years ago. I will never see the sun set from their dining room again. I have preserved my grandmother’s table, her buffet set, her glassware, and her booze box. I know these are not the things that made Thanksgiving what it was, and I try not to hold onto it all too tightly. Things change, people change. Time passes and people leave, no matter how much we love them. I understand what was bothering my sister because I feel it too.
Thinking about that cranberry jello in my refrigerator brings back more memories than are comfortable. I would give a lot to have one more night listening to my dad and grandma argue politics while the rest of us watch and grandpa pours more wine.
Nearly eight years ago my sonogram revealed the unthinkable. My little girl was going to be a boy. Sure, I had no reason other than a hunch to believe I was pregnant with a girl, but it made sense to me at the time. I was a girl. I was one of three girls. Of course I would have a girl.
Several days ago one of my hens crowed and I had the same sick feeling. Impossible! Not one of my beautiful girls!! Sure- my girls are beautiful, and mean, but that's hardly uncommon. My dad had come over not more than a week ago to check and told me he couldn't believe what a bullet I had dodged. What were the chances that of three unsexed birds they'd all be girls? Low, I admitted smugly, and immediately considered naming them. These birds are the spawn of Sasquatch, and they are stunningly beautiful. Teal lights in their black feathers and rich red feather patterns. Enormous- but of course they are half Jersey Giant, so that goes without saying.
My son ran out to see what the fuss was all about, and I told him one of our chickens had crowed. He pointed. "That one?" "Yes! How did you know?" "Well, if you notice, it's the largest chicken we've got. Plus, the combs are really big for that age. The tail curves, which all roosters have." He shrugged and looked at me with wonder, as if considering whether I was crazy or blind.
My dad came over and took another look. "Well, Meg, it looks like you've got three roosters, not just one. Wow. What are the chances of all three being male? Those tails weren't there a week ago. What are you gonna do?"
I had gone from Vegas winner to unfortunate schmuck.
"I think I'll have to find a farm for them," I said glancing meaningfully at my son and winking furiously.
"Not the same farm where I'm bringing my roosters!" Dad paused. "Oh. That farm."
My son piped up then. "Not a farm! They'll kill them on a farm! Farms don't want roosters! We should let them go free in the wild!"
So I have a lot to think about, but for now it seems I'm going to need an axe, a shovel, and a good therapist.
This morning the crowing was louder. The clock is ticking, and pretty soon all those male hormones will have kicked in and I'll have three terrifying birds of prey on my hand. I know. I met their father.
We are a family of bacon-aholics, but I think bacon may have some competition now. At the very least we will have to make room on the weekend breakfast plate. I've always loved the idea of hash browns, but they're rarely as good as their promise. These will live up to your expectations.
The only extra step is peeling and grating potatoes. Not hard. The secret ingredient? Cream!!
A couple things worth noting- potatoes begin to oxidize almost immediately. Don't worry if they turn a little pink or brown. It won't affect the end result. Also, I did try this with whole milk, and it was ok too, but at least try it with the cream first. After the first time I made this I have had trouble waiting for the potatoes to brown, but the result is better if you can wait it out and let everything crisp up on the outside.
I found this recipe in Jennifer Reese's Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.
about 3 large potatoes, peeled and grated on a box grater or in a processor
3 tablespoons of butter
salt and pepper
1/3 cup cream
Heat up a big skillet or frying pan and melt the butter in it. When the butter has melted, make sure the bottom of the pan is coated with the butter and spread the potatoes in one layer. Let it sit for about 10 minutes until the bottom is beautifully browned. It takes time, so WAIT! Sprinkle it with salt and pepper and pour the cream over it. Flip it over and let the other side brown. It will probably break up into pieces, but just make sure it all gets flipped. We ate ours with eggs and ketchup.
I'm not sure why I feel the need to share this, but I am a beginning gardener and this stuff is still really exciting to me. I hope it always will be this much fun.
Everyone makes compost sound so simple, but of course they're lying. It's not as simple as all that- it's like baking bread the old fashioned way. If you've done it before, you get it, and it's easy. If you've never done it, it isn't quite so easy. You need brown carbon rich materials like dried leaves, green materials which are nitrogen rich, oxygen, and moisture- but not enough to drown it. My first compost pile was a putrid mess. I can't remember whose advice I acted on, but the stench was unbelievable. That was not a win. Probably a lot of green material, and nothing else, not even air.
When I moved to this house, I started composting as soon as I could. One year later, with high hopes, I dug around and found not beautiful compost, but the dusty dried remains of a thousand meals. It was an incredible archaeological find, but nothing I could put in a raised bed. So I started watering it as often as I watered my garden, and a few months later the miracle I had been waiting for finally occurred. Beautiful compost, and lots of it.
My garden had already been planted, so I opted to just shovel it around some naked patches in the garden where the chickens had scratched all the soil right out of the beds. The effect was immediate- my strawberry plants looked undeniably healthy. But the surprise was tomato plants which popped up ALL OVER. I had already spent so much time trying to baby tomato seedlings into life and health that I didn't have the heart to just tear them out. So I began the ridiculous process of planting and transplanting them as they grew.
But here it is, November as I type this, and where the Juan Flamme tomatoes that I painstakingly sowed last spring barely survived, my compost tomatoes are still going strong.
Cardamom is one of my favorite spices, but not one we use much in the West for whatever reason. If you buy it in tiny little amounts from the grocery store you will go broke quickly, but you can buy a much bigger bag from an Indian or Middle Eastern grocer and it will last you a little longer. So you might want to start small if you don't know what it is, but if you reach junkie status now you know where to go. The smell always makes me want rice pudding, which was the first recipe I ever used cardamom in.
1-1/2 tablespoons cardamom pods
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced into 1-inch pieces
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 - 7.5 ounce container crème fraîche (I found this at Trader Joe's)
1. Dry roast the cardamom pods in a skillet over medium heat. Watch them closely so they don't burn and take them off the heat as soon as they are toasty and fragrant. Break them up with a rolling pin or crush them a little in a mortar and pestle.
2. Heat up the cream and milk in a saucepan over medium-high heat. As soon as it comes to a boil, put in the cardamom, banana slices and vanilla. Cover it with the lid, and take it off the heat. Let it sit for 15 minutes before straining it. Pick out the banana slices from the strainer and blend them in a food processor. Add them back into the cream mixture.
3. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks, sugar, and honey with a handheld mixer until it is lighter in color and slightly foamy. Beat in the creme fraiche and then the cream mixture. Chill it, covered, in the refrigerator for at least an hour before freezing it in your ice cream maker.
This is just so good.
According to the woman who first made beef sukiyaki for me, it's very high calorie food. Well, maybe for the Japanese, but this is one of the lightest dishes I know, and if you are a real meat-and-potatoes kind of person you might even be ready for a second dinner a few hours after eating this.
It's usually made with beef slices instead of salmon, made right at the table, and served with hot rice and raw egg. As the food cooks, you fish it out of the pot, dip it in the raw egg, and eat it with hot rice. I don't have the right equipment to do this at the table, so I make this on the stovetop in 2 batches. I also never remember the raw egg, but I don't think any of that really matters.
This is really easy and flexible. You can vary the ingredients quite a lot depending on what you like. Also, there are a lot of different ways to make the broth, but this is the way I was first shown and also the simplest.
Now use any combination of the following:
Slice everything into bite size pieces so they cook quickly. Place the vegetables in the pan and add just a little bit of water and bring it to a boil. Be conservative with the water since a lot of liquid will come from the vegetables as they cook. When the liquid is hot, slip in the salmon. Sprinkle sugar and soy sauce right over the vegetables and keep tasting until it's as salty or as sweet as you like it. Keep it at a low simmer, and add more vegetables and fish as there's room. Serve this with hot rice.
I found this slightly bizarre video of beef sukiyaki being made, so if you're curious, take a look.
The good news is that no one's dying, and the bad news is that the annual November cold has finally hit my kids. So it's chicken soup for us. I spent years making a Korean chicken soup, then a Vietnamese version, but this has been my favorite for the last few years. My husband, who hates the flavored water known as soup, genuinely likes this and is genuinely surprised every time that he does.
This was a happy accident. I tried a recipe which turned out to be really awful, and this is what happened when we fixed it. The addition of feta to chicken soup seems a little strange, but it's so good! It adds a nice salty note. If you hate feta you could use goat cheese or queso fresco. I would use 4 peppers, and I have in the past, but I'm afraid that it might make the soup spicy and I want my kids to eat this. I have a sneaking suspicion that these peppers aren't spicy at all, but it's been so long since I've used the full amount that I can't remember anymore and end up playing it safe every time. The rice will continue to swell over time, so one cup will make a really thick soup, but not until the next day. If you want a lighter soup, use only 1/2-3/4 cup of rice.
1. Wash out the chicken and remove the liver, neck, heart, and gizzards. (I put the liver in one freezer bag and save it until I have enough to make liver pate, the rest I put in a freezer bag with other odds and ends until I'm ready to make stock.)
2. Put the chicken in a stock pot and add barely enough water to cover the chicken. Less is better. Bring the pot to a boil and skim the scum off with a slotted spoon. Add the onion and garlic and turn it down to a simmer. Let it simmer for 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
3. In the meantime, place the 4 guajillo chiles in boiling water and boil away for 10 minutes until they are soft. Drain them, remove the stems and seeds, and blend them in a processor with the tomatoes. If the skins haven't softened or really broken down, you can press the whole mess through a sieve. Add it to the chicken when you're done.
4. When the chicken has cooked through take the chicken out and allow it to cool before removing the meat and chopping or shredding it. Stir in the rice and cabbage and simmer until it's cooked through, then add the chicken back in. Season it with salt and pepper and serve it with a sprinkling of feta and cilantro if you have it.
We ate at Lazy Dog in Dublin a few days ago and I ordered the pizza on baked lavash. It was great! So now I have stolen their brilliant idea, if not their recipe. It is done in 10 minutes flat and makes a great quick lunch or dinner. I tried different combinations of very thinly sliced tomato, mushroom, and eggplant with fresh and dried basil. Oddly enough, the mushroom was the winner. I will write down exactly what I did in case I forget, but obviously this is one you can just make up as you go along. If you have lavash, cheese, and any thinly sliced vegetable, you have a meal.
whole wheat lavash
Trader Joe's Shredded Four Cheese Blend
thinly sliced mushrooms
roasted garlic chips or thin slices of fresh garlic
Spread a little oil on the lavash. Spread some cheese over it, then mushrooms, a pinch of basil, a few garlic chips, and the lightest sprinkling of salt. Broil it for about 2 minutes.
I compromised everything I believe in and bought conventionally grown red bell peppers at the farmer's market. They were 4 for a dollar, and I guess if the price is right...
I've read about massa de pimentão, a Portuguese paste used to marinate meats, but I've only made my own, so I can't tell you how much this resembles the original. I've tried this with chicken and pork, and while both were good, the pork was mouthwateringly delicious. Once the meat is tender, you finish cooking it on a bed of potatoes that absorb the juices from the bell pepper sauce and the meat. It's very simple, and very good. In fact, it only uses 5 ingredients: spareribs, bell peppers, potatoes, salt, and pepper.
So when bell peppers are seasonal and cheap, buy a lot of them and make enough of this paste to freeze for later. It's incredibly simple, but it is something you have to do ahead of time. This is a wonderful, warming winter dish but the bell pepper paste gives it a bright note.
I followed the recipe (more or less) from Saveur. There were a few things I changed slightly- I cut the recipe in half, used less salt because 1/2 inch of salt between layers of bell pepper really seemed excessive, and I couldn't get the same cut of ribs. It didn't matter! I peel bell peppers because the skin is so hard to digest and these weren't organic, so I'm hoping this cut down on the pesticide residue.
Bell Pepper Paste (Massa de Pimentao)
For the Red Sauce:
8 bell peppers, peeled and sliced
Layer the bell pepper strips in a strainer with plenty of salt. Put the strainer in a bowl, cover it with a plate, and weigh it down. You can put it in the refrigerator and leave it for a couple days or leave it out on the kitchen counter overnight.
Take out the bell pepper and wipe off as much of the salt as you can. Blend it in a food processor and freeze or refrigerate.
Braised Spareribs with Potatoes (Entrecosto no Forno con Batatas)
1-1/2 to 2 cups Bell Pepper Paste
3 pounds spareribs
about 1-1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and sliced
freshly ground pepper
I love trying new foods, but organ meats are an exception to this rule. I had a few brief and terrifying encounters- mainly the chicken heart and liver that my mother occasionally left in her red-simmered chicken. It looked deceptively like dark meat until you bit down into the chalky horror of heart or liver.
So while I willingly ate duck tongue, chicken feet, fermented stringy soy beans, kim chi, raw egg, raw fish, and broiled fish skin (none of which are gross but I know it's not for everyone), I drew the line at organ meat. That would be disgusting!
About four years ago I read Sally Fallon and Mary Enig's Nourishing Traditions and my world changed. I had done tons of reading on nutrition, taken nutrition classes, and flipped through the book expecting to hear the usual advice. What I read there blew my mind, and it left me with the overwhelming desire to feed my growing children liver, and lots of it.
I know there are supplements for different vitamins, and there are even dried liver capsules you can buy if you are so inclined, but I'm not a huge fan of supplementation. I would rather eat my food. I asked my dad to eat chicken liver pate with my kids, and they loved it. It made me a little nauseous just watching. That stuff looks and smells shockingly like cat food. Not in a good way.
A few years later I read Deep Nutrition by Dr. Cate Shanahan and decided to give liver another try. I had frozen beef liver I wanted to eat if I could. I followed the recipe given in the back of the book, and the result smelled amazing. Loads of pepper, soy sauce, and garlic had the whole family salivating. But no. It was like eating old socks.
Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods always tries food twice. If you've never seen it, he travels to exotic lands and tries the "best" that they have to offer. Instead of mocking it like I would have expected, he really enjoys it, saying things like, "You know, this is really the best chicken testicle I've ever eaten! And trust me, I've eaten all kinds of balls." I respect that, so when a friend fed me chrysanthemum recently I ate it even though I knew I didn't like it. And you know what? I liked it.
Here I am in 2014 and I eat chicken liver pate. I eat beef heart. I eat sweetbreads. I eat chrysanthemum. I just don't eat beef liver.
So this morning when I took out the beef liver that I had defrosted for the chickens and saw that the old sock smell had dissipated quite a bit, I felt a grudging desire to give it another try. It didn't look too bad, and it's loaded with iron and fat soluble vitamins A and D. I could try it. How bad could it be?
And you know what? It was delicious.
Garlicky Beef Liver for One
This is the recipe as I remember it from Deep Nutrition. Just remember, liver is disgusting raw, and it's disgusting overcooked. Be brave!
2-3 ounces beef liver thinly sliced
3 enormous cloves of chopped garlic
butter or olive oil
fresh ground pepper
Heat a saute pan over medium heat. Drop in a generous dollop of butter and add a little olive oil as well if you like. Scoop in the chopped garlic, and when it turns golden, put down the liver in one layer. Almost as soon as you are done, flip them all over. Pour on a generous amount of soy sauce and take it off the heat. Pepper it plentifully and serve it with steamed rice.
I love trying new foods, cooking, and gardening. I hope to share these experiences on this site. Thanks for taking a look!