Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving dates to 1620-21, and the harvest festival celebrated by the Plymouth Separatists and their Indian neighbors after both groups managed to survive a rough year. The Separatists were not the rigid, stereotypical “Puritans” that most people associate with New England. Those folks arrived later. The first group were more mellow in their understanding of religion and tolerance, and the group included Strangers as well as “Saints.” Miles Standish, for example, was a Stranger, who worked as hard as anyone and helped nurse and protect anyone who fell in the disease outbreak that winter. Giving thanks for the harvest and the One who provided it was natural, and an English as well as Indian tradition.

“Harvest Home” is not longer something most people in the US, Canada, or elsewhere do unless you are part of a farming community or follow a certain cultural tradition. If you are in a city, you probably don’t farm, so it doesn’t apply. “Harvest Home” was the bringing in of the last sheaves of grain or sacks/baskets of root crops. It led to a community celebration, or at the very least to the land owner treating his workers to a good meal and good beer/ale. The work wasn’t over, not at all, but the time-critical harvest was done and the grain and other things had been brought safely home. “All is safely gathered in/ Ere the winter storms begin.”

Today, Harvest Home means grain is in the bin or at the elevator, the root crops are gathered, and the combine or digger can be put away for a while. No more working from can’t see until “so tired I’m hallucinating” in order to save what can be saved. Farm wives no longer have to shuttle meals out to workers at all hours of the day and night while taking care of the kids and running into town for parts and supplies if needed. There’s time to breathe, to rest, to prepare for cleaning equipment ahead of winter, to take inventory of the harvest and the crop year.

Today, in the US, we give thanks for food and shelter, for health and well-being, and for the opportunity to give thanks. Some of us are with family of blood, or family of choice, or are working so that others can have a little time away. Giving thanks reminds us that we are not the center of the universe (unless you are a cat, in which case I congratulate you on your good taste in blog reading). Other people make the good things in life possible for the rest of us – farmers, power-company employees, physicians and EMTs, soldiers and sailors and airmen, the folks working at the grocery store . . . Whether you believe in a higher power or not, stopping to give thanks is a good way to keep a proper sense of proportion about the world.

I hope you have something to give thanks for, and that today is a good day for you and yours, wherever you are.

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Red Cabbage and Apples

This dish appears in all seasons at RedQuarters, although it really is more of a fall/winter recipe. Red cabbage (Rotkohl) is a German staple, along with green cabbage. You need a red cabbage, one or two tart apples, a bay leaf, two (or three) juniper berries, vinegar, water, butter, maybe white wine, and a bit of sugar.

1 medium-sized head of red cabbage

1 or 2 tart apples (Granny Smith)

2 Tablespoons butter

water

1/4 c cider vinegar

1 bay leaf

2-3 juniper berries

a bit of sugar

1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)

Chop the cabbage and apples fine. (I prefer more finely shredded cabbage, DadRed likes a coarser chop.) In a heavy pot large enough to hold the cabbage, melt the butter. Add cabbage and apples, bay leaf and juniper berries. Stir for a minute or two. Turn up heat and add vinegar, some water, and wine (if using). Stir. Once liquid starts to boil, turn down heat, add sugar, stir, and cover. Stir once in a while until cabbage is tender, adding a little water if it seems to be getting dry. (I prefer more tender, DadRed leans towards crisper.)

Serve hot. Can be made in advance and re-heated. Serves small horde, depending on size of cabbage. Goes well with sausage, schnitzel, or game (turkey, venison, boar).

Per Red Family tradition, the finder of the bay leaf wins the opportunity to do the dishes.

“Remember to Replace the Onion”

In most other households, that would be a rather odd note. Which onion? A decorative item that got broken? An edible onion?

At RedQuarters, where most non-bread recipes seem to begin with “First sauté an onion,” it means that someone sauteed the onion and more need to be purchased. Somehow, we always end up with one onion that lingers down in the corner of the “mixed containers mostly Tupperware but not entirely” drawer. Which is where everyone stores onions, right?

I once asked DadRed why everything started with olive oil, a pan, and an onion. “Because that buys time to decide on the meat and what else goes with it.”

Not entirely true, but valid for about 60% of the time. Unless I’m cooking. I prefer dried, minced onion because I react strongly to strong onions, which are about the only kind available around here. There are sweet onions, strong white onions, weaponized yellow onions, and red onions that come in protective shielding and probably ought to have a hazmat label on them.

(If I’m every dining with you, and something comes with red onions despite my begging to have them omitted, you can have mine. Please. Pretty please.)

Thus the note. And you know what will happen. Three or more onions appear in the drawer, because each member of the family gets one onion (or perhaps two) on the way home from work or errands. Usually white onions. The yellow onions have been of such variable quality that RedQuarters tends to stick with the known evil.

It’s a good thing that “first, sauté an onion” happens so often. Occasionally I will caramelize an onion. I’m the only one who cooks fancy stuff most of the time, so caramelizing is my job. That and I’m patient enough to stand there watching, watching, watching, stirring, stirring, stirring . . . for a while. It’s a bit like making a real risotto, except you can’t read while you do onions. Yes, while in grad school I read while making risotto. I never read while browning butter or making a roux. Those change too quickly from raw to “dang it. A charcoal suspension.”

So, I need to replace an onion. Perhaps two. But certainly one.

Red Beans and Rice

Ah, the national Monday food of Louisiana, red beans can be put on the back of an already hot stove (behind the wash water pots) and ignored all Monday. Toss in several handfulls of rice just before supper time, and all is ready. Plus you can add in any leftover bits of meat or ham bones and so on from Sunday dinner if you have them.

Last week, I found the tail end of a sack of red-beans-n-rice mix, chopped up some andouille sausage, and tossed in some other veggies toward the end of cooking. The flavor was good, but I think I found four red beans in three cups of rice. That’s not really red-beans-n-rice.

So if you are doing the old fashioned version, soak a pound of dried red beans overnight, changing the water once or twice. If you are doing a modern version, open and drain two cans of red beans (total of 30 ounces).

In addition to the beans you need:

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1 medium green bell-pepper, chopped fine.

2 sticks of celery, chopped fine (or you can buy the frozen veggie blend in a bag if you live in a place where the Holy Trinity is in high demand)

6-8 cups of water (less if you use canned beans)

oil

garlic to taste

1 bay leaf

thyme, dried parsley, other pot herbs to taste (I’d avoid sage, but that’s just me)

pepper sauce like Tabasco

leftover meat, or a pound of good, spicy sausage chopped into chunks. Or skip the meat.

1 1/2 cup white rice (or brown, but keep in mind that brown takes longer to cook)

Filé powder if so inclined (not traditional but I had cousins who liked to add it)

Sautee onion, bell-pepper, celery, and garlic in a heavy pot. I use olive oil with a bit of garlic flavor, but whatever you have on hand is good. You want the onions translucent, but not brown. Add the drained and rinsed beans to the pot, along with dried parsley, a bay leaf, thyme, and anything else you think you’d like. I add two shakes of chipotle powder (dried smoked jalapeno pepper). Other people use “Cajun spice” blend and two shakes of Tabasco sauce (Louisiana kind, not Tabasco Mexico kind). Stir until well blended, add water to cover, and bring to a boil. Once it boils, turn down the heat to medium low, cover, and ignore while you do other chores.

Check on the beans and stir every so often. After an hour or so, add the sausage, bring it back to a boil, then return to a simmer and keep ignoring as you do more chores. I prefer my beans a little soupy, but you might like drier. If so, as the rice cooks, leave the lid off the beans and stir so they lose some moisture.

After two and a half hours, or longer, check everything, adjust water and spices as needed, and start the rice (if using white rice) cook rice until done. Serve rice with red beans, a shake of filé if you want some, and more pepper sauce.

Makes a lot.

Look Out, Happy Tail!

Coffee-table height table, well worn, and surrounded by comfortable, slightly scruffy chairs. This is the kind of furniture that doesn’t mind if you have been working on an airplane, or refurbishing a WWII era hangar and then sit on the upholstery. Airport bums (APBs) are lounging around, talking airplanes, weather, airplanes, hangar gossip, and airplanes. And a Golden Retriever naps in the corner.

Bill, the owner of the dog, and Jerry, the aerobatic instructor, come bouncing in with everyone’s dinner orders (mostly burgers and one chicken and bacon sandwich, because the guy’s doc said, “Eat more white meat.”) “Hi guys! Food’s here!”

Bill sets his bag and drink carrier down on the table, and takes Goldie out for a moment. The rest of us pay Jerry and start sorting out burgers, fries, onion rings, and other stuff.* Food divided, we dive in.

Bill returns with Goldie. Goldie saunters over and looks at the table. “Not yet, girl,” Bill informs her. She backs away. He flops into an empty chair and grabs his burger. She turns to face him.

“Happy tail!” Jerry yelps. We grab everything off the coffee table as a strong, fluffy tail sweeps across the surface at a high rate of speed.

Ah, those were the days . . .

*For us, this was health food. A little later, I became quite an expert on which airport’s vending machines had the best selection, the healthiest stuff (not always a good thing), and the highest fat to chocolate ratio. Pilots and mechanics tend to be on the see-food diet. Or as one retired charter and corporate pilot phrased it, “If you are what you eat, I’m fast, cheap, and easy.”

Book Review: The Forager’s Calendar

Wright, John. The Forager’s Calendar: A Seasonal Guide to Nature’s Wild Harvest. (London: profile Books, 2020)

I first saw the book in the gift shop at Dawick Gardens. However, the weight deterred me, since over-weight charges on the airlines have become considerable. Once I got home, I tracked the book down again and ordered a gently used copy. It is a month-by-month guide to things in England and Scotland that you can safely forage and eat, as well as a quick reference for major rules about where and when to forage, laws that pertain to gathering edibles, and what will kill or at least greatly sicken you. (Mushrooms have a LOT of ways to do you in, or at least make you lose weight quickly. Ahem. And so do wild carrots.)

The book is small enough to carry around in a bag, but it is heavy because of the illustrations. I would make color copies (especially if you are looking at fungi) and take those instead, if weight and bulk were a consideration.

Wright begins with useful tools for the forager, and an overview of the laws in England, Scotland, and Wales about foraging for wild plants, including mushrooms. The laws vary depending on if the property is on public land, private land, the seashore, or the public right-of-way. As you would expect, if you are on private land without permission, you can get in trouble. Foraging in some parks is also a no-no (just like the US, although some US parks and wildlife refuges allow mushrooming at certain times and in certain parts of the park.) Having separate bags and baskets for each kind of plant or mushroom is also important. One bad fungus in with a bunch of quite edible ones will ruin your day (or the rest of your [brief] life.)

The book starts in January and works around the year. It has lots of illustrations, anecdotes, suggestions for identifying plants, and a few recipes. The first page of each chapter has a list of “things to get now” and “things carrying over from earlier months.” As you would imagine, the lists get longer and longer as winter becomes summer. If a plant or mushroom is better at one point than earlier or later, Wright makes a note of that.

The last chapter has all the poisonous plants in it. They range from “rapid weight-loss will result” to “scary but most people recover. Most . . .” to “is your will up to date? Your estate will want to know.” For readers outside of Britain, this section is more of general interest, although any “wild carrot” or really colorful mushroom is probably best to avoid.

As a writer, this is great for using as a reference for pre-modern or early-modern characters who will be living off the land, or who need to know that certain things should be avoided at certain times. (Or who intend to bump off or scare another character.) Yes, it is Anglo-centric, but it gives a starting place and a way of looking at the world.

I have foraged on right-of-ways and in parks and refuges all over the US, at least for berries. Mulberries and gooseberries are easy to identify and safe to nosh. Wild strawberries have also been nibbled, although not as often (lots of work for not much flavor). I don’t do mushrooms, aside from puffballs, and those I get by asking the land-owner (often home-owner) for permission. Ditto dandelions. I don’t go digging for other things, even when I have identified them, because US and state rules are different and too varied. (I also avoid things that I know have been sprayed for or with something.)

This is a fun book. The author knows what he is doing, and is quite up front about “this tastes great,” “this will keep you from starving,” and “some people like this. I don’t know why.” And “add this to vodka to make a great gin. Here’s a cocktail to try.”

FTC Notice: I purchased this book for my own use and received no remuneration from the author or the publisher.

MomRed’s Meat Loaf

Meatloaf is not all that common at RedQuarters any more, in part because everyone is so busy. However, MomRed announced that she was making a meatloaf, and far be it from DadRed or me to object.

The original recipe comes from the 14th edition of the Kitchen Secrets of The Daughters of Norway. It was published in 1956, and the recipes are not modern “lite-cooking.” Half of it is baked goods.

So, you need (for the meat): 1 1/2 Lb ground meat (MomRed used two pounds, one chub of beef and one of jalapeno sausage)

1/2 can of tomato SAUCE

1 cup fresh bread crumbs (MomRed used the remains of cereal*, which are saved for this very thing)

1 chopped onion

1 beaten egg

1 1/2 tsp salt

Mix everything and put it in a loaf pan. Preheat oven to 350 F, while combining:

1/2 can tomato SAUCE

2 T prepared mustard (Ingelhoffer’s German is the RedQuarters usual)

2 T brown sugar

1 C water** (MomRed used 2/3 cup ketchup)

2 T vinegar

Pour one half of the sauce over the meat loaf. Bake for 45 minutes. Top with more of the sauce. Bake for another 45 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads 160 F. (If you use 1 1/2 pounds of meat, reduce the cooking time to an hour or so, depending on your elevation. Either way, baste it half-way through.)

It tasted very good both fresh and on the second day. It is moist and flavorful, but not spicy.

*Bread in Houston got moldy rather than stale, so rather than toast fresh bread in order to make bread crumbs (which would be wasteful), Gammy saved the last bits of breakfast cereal. She also used them in rolls.

** The water made the sauce too thin, so MomRed went for a lower volume and more flavor. It’s whatever you and your family prefer.

Adventures in Dining

Finnan Haddie, Cullen Skink, Haggis, black pudding . . . all sound like things that normal people don’t eat, or if they do eat them, it is only out of either politeness at a formal event, or from dire necessity. Having tried three of the four, and liked them, well, you know me. I’m also one who eats regional German and Polish meat products with unseemly gusto, and am pretty much willing to try most things once.

Haggis was once described as “a sheep’s stomach stuffed with what you’d think people who ate a sheep’s stomach would stuff it with.” (Brent Olson). In other words, bits of sheep meat, a filler (oatmeal is traditional), other meats, and some spices of some kind. It’s a loose-meat sausage that features as the central dish for Burns’ Night suppers, when it is piped into the room and someone recites Burn’s poem, “Ode to a Haggis.” For a while, you could not import real Scottish haggis because it includes organ meats not approved by the USDA. Approved kinds are now out there, including vegan. No, I don’t want to know how you make a no-animal-product sheep and pork sausage.

Haggis appears on breakfast menus, on burgers, and as part of the “Full Scottish*” or “Traditional Scottish” breakfast. I tried it, in part because the first morning in Hexham I was eating on my own and could be daring**. It is fattier than most sausages, with a dark flavor, but not as dark as the blood pudding slices. After some munching, I decided that I liked it. It has a loose texture, a bit like ground beef. I did not ask the particular ingredients, but it is dark, so I suspect liver is on the list. After that, if it was on the breakfast menu, I had some. All jokes aside about herds of haggis and the dangers of cornering a large, adult haggis, it’s good if you don’t mind the slightly greasy mouth feel.

The blood pudding came in rounds like a thick patty of breakfast sausage. It was spicier than I’d expected, more pepper and other things. Again, I liked it, and had it with eggs, or in breakfast bap. I didn’t see it on many supper menus, unlike in parts of Germany and Austria. Main-dish blood pudding (or blood sausage) is probably more seasonal, or not considered standard pub food. A quick recipe search only turns up blood-pudding, not a sausage-shaped version.

Salmon also appeared at breakfast, and I had some. However, I really liked the smoked haddock (hot smoked, so not finnan haddie) and poached or scrambled egg. The egg tamed the salty side of the fish. Haddock is a firm, white fish that came in short-thick fillets or chunks when served at breakfast. I wasn’t sure about the combo, but to me, haddock is salty. Granted, I don’t eat much salt or use it in cooking, so most people would find it about right. Anyway, it went well with egg and a toast “pusher.”***

Cullen skink, alas, is not a small, lean lizard in a Balmoral hat. Nor is it really spelled “Colin,” despite what some computer programs keep trying to correct it to. [Grrrrrr] It is a creamy fish soup with smoked haddock. It is wonderful, at least the samples I tried. The name comes from Cullen, a town credited with the origin of the recipe, and a Scots word for beef knuckle (skink). When hard times meant that no one could afford beef, but fish was still cheap, behold, a new fish soup. It’s a bit like a thin chowder, unless you can get “the good lumpy bits from the bottom of the pot.” I suspect the exact thickness and ingredients vary from cook to cook, and region to region.

*A Full Scottish breakfast is: eggs, haggis, black pudding, farmer’s bacon [ham], baked beans, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, a scone, and toast. Oh, and small link sausages. The portion size determines if you are ready to work for a full day without getting dinner, or if you roll away from the table and fall asleep again as your arteries clog. I approve of this breakfast. The English version omits the haggis for bacon-bacon, at least according to the menus.

**I got up at 0500 or earlier, because of sunrise. I’d go walking, or read, or write, then get breakfast as soon as it was available. The first morning in Hexham, the kitchen staff were listening to symphonic metal. My table was near the kitchen door, and I enjoyed Within Temptation, Leaves’s Eyes, and others until the boss lady realized that music “was too loud.” So she put on light jazz. I preferred the earlier soundtrack.

*** Yes, the toast came on a toast rack, with butter on the side for you to add later. By the end of the trip, I decided that, given how I used the toast, drier, cooler slices worked just fine. I still prefer American pre-buttered, hot toast in a stack on a plate.

Cheater’s Pasta Salad

So, this was one of those “It Came From the Cookbook and then got lost” sorts of things I used to make fairly often. Pasta salad kept well, as did chick-pea salads, and I could make it in advance. Also, both are cool, a boon when you stagger in from a flight drenched in perspiration, too exhausted to cook, and too broke to get carry out.

Curly pasta, or bow-tie-pasta, or what ever you want. One package (a pound or so)

Sliced little tomatoes, as many as you want

one small can of black olives, drained

hard cheese (Asiago, Parmashan, Romano, yes, either cut into small cubes or grated) OR

Cheddar or other semi-hard cheese, cubed

one bell pepper – green or fancy – minced

canned artichoke hearts or hearts of palm (if desired) – chopped

carrots – chopped or cut into small rounds

[in other words, clean the crunchies out of your veggie drawer]

something meat-ish if desired – summer sausage, bits of ham, slivers of pepperoni, cooked real sausage cut into rounds, left-over marinated chicken, left-over marinated pork-loin . . . You get the idea.

Cook the pasta to al dente. If you are going to be keeping the salad for a few hours before eating, or even making it the day before, I tend to cook it a little firmer than al dente, so that the dressing doesn’t make it too mushy. Rinse, pour into large bowl, and add everything but the cheese. Stir well.

Dressing – whatever your heart desires. I usually made a vinegar and oil with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a bit of herbs (basil, savory, marjorum, Italian-type herb blend . . . Whatever you like. Brianna’s Blush White is good but might be a little sweet for some {one with strawberry on label}). Or you can use a packaged Italian or similar dressing. You want something that won’t drown the flavors of the other things. A chilled Asian dressing with sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, and the like also works.

Put in fridge and chill until you return from your flight, or you are ready to serve. If you have used hard cheese, you can add it earlier. Softer cheeses seem to get “icky” so I wait on those.* Serve with warm bread, or more veggies, or leafy greens. This is a meal for when know that you will really need food but don’t want to heat the kitchen or even poke the microwave. (I never had a microwave.)

*I don’t like slick-textured or slimy foods. Other people don’t mind.

Chubs, Glugs, and Dollops

I was reading a recipe over at Cedar Sanderson’s blog. She calls for a glug of milk. Since she’s cooking by feel, I’d guess based on my limited experience with hand-mixing biscuits that it’s about a scant third of a cup. My glug tends to be about a quarter cup or a scosh [“skoh-sh”] less.

We agree on a chub of sausage or ground meat, however. And her dollop is almost the same as mine, give or take what we are dolloping. Note that this is dollop as a measuring term, not as a verb. Dolloping onto a surface is what you do with dough or mashed potatoes (or mashed turnips). You dollop an amount of something.

English, especially the Southern-Midwestern Cooking dialect, is a strange language.

A chub is the blunt ended, soft (unless still frozen) package of ground meat or sausage. It varies between 12 ounces and a pound or so. You can get a ten-pound chub, although at that point I think we are up to a log-of-beef or club (if still frozen) rather than a chub.

Original from Instacart, used under Creative Commons Fair Use.

Anyone who has seen meat sold in chubs knows instantly what “one chub of breakfast sausage” looks like and means. If you have a frozen chub, and don’t thaw it completely, you can make tidy slices for sausage or hamburger patties, then let it finish thawing. I’d say 9/10 thawed or so, bot rock hard. Unless you are using a band saw, in which case please clean the blade before and after cutting your frozen chub. Do not use a table saw. Just don’t. No.

A dollop means take an eating spoon (as opposed to serving spoon or stirring spoon) and scoop an amount of something into it, then plop the ingredient into the main dish. I tend to dollop garlic, flour if I’m browning it in butter (a very heaping tablespoon or so, ish), shredded cheese, and things like that, where amount-to-taste is more important than precision measuring.

A glug for me tends to be wine, or balsamic vinegar, and is probably less than a quarter cup, as I mentioned above. I don’t bake by feel. That way lies disaster, because I bake so rarely and most of what I bake is unforgiving of guestimates. I will use a glug of something the same way as I use a few shakes of this spice or that condiment.

When in doubt, measuring is always safe. When trying a new spice blend, measure. I got surprised by real Thai curry powder once. I was used to grocery store Thai curries, not “made in Thailand for Thai cooks” curry powder. My sinuses were clear for the rest of the semester, meaning Spring Break to late May.

If you’re not sure, here’s a guide to some other measurements:

https://spoonuniversity.com/how-to/what-those-ambigious-measurements-in-recipes-actually-mean