Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Afterthoughts

Thank you, Lord, for what we've got
 Even if it's not a lot
Think that we have got all that we need. . .

Erica is a really good cook. She really is. She always thanks me for teaching her well. There's always something new to learn, though. 

When she heard that both her grandmas were visiting relatives out of town leaving me, Rick, and Annalee with nowhere to go she decided to host Thanksgiving in her new place and invite her boyfriend's family and us. It was also Chris's birthday, so that added to the element of excitement—their first big shindig living together in their home.

So, okay, Chris went shopping for a turkey with his mom last Monday, bought at the local grocery store. They were expecting 14 people, so he came home with a 22 pounder. Chris also loves to grill and decided to cook it on his Weber charcoal grill. He and Erica figured they'd brine it Wednesday night and he'd get up nice and early Thanksgiving morning to get the grill ready. Except . . . our phone rang at maybe 10:00 Wednesday evening. It's Erica and, in a voice that sounded like she'd been crying, she's yelling that their turkey still had a neck. I told her the neck was in the cavity along with the giblets. Pull them out. And she kept saying, no they got the giblets out, but the turkey had a neck. It was bloody and it was gross. At a loss, I passed the phone to Rick. Finally he told her to e-mail us a photo. Rick clicked it open and exclaimed (excuse the language), holy shit, that's disgusting. Being a really sympathetic father he e-mailed back "got a chainsaw?" After a bit of google searching, we told Chris to hack it off as best he could. There didn't seem to be any thing else to do. And I told her that she'd really better make sure she'd gotten the giblets 'cause they should be in a bag and from her description I wasn't sure she'd really gotten them out. At this point she was freaking out a bit, because no way did she want to reach into the cavity, but she found them. According to Erica there was blood splattered everywhere and the kitchen was a mess. She and Chris finally got the turkey cleaned and into the brining bag. Then she wiped the kitchen down, took all their clothes and put them in the wash, and they both took showers. She sent me an e-mail stating that she never wanted to clean or cook a turkey ever again.

Wow, that was exciting. And while I felt bad this was happening on their first Thanksgiving attempt—heck, their first big dinner party attempt—I was also having a hard time not laughing. It reminded me of some of the crazy things I called my mom about when I first left home.

Annalee and I were up early Thanksgiving morning so we could get our contributions together. I didn't check e-mail until 10:00 a.m. when I found one from Erica, dated just moments before. She had to take Chris to the ER at 2:00 a.m. and had just woken up. Chris had slipped on ice years back and tore a bunch of muscles in his leg. He was laid up in bed for months with a cast and now has arthritis in his hip. I'm not sure of the exact sequence of events, but I believe he'd gotten some medication for the arthritis. Maybe he'd had a reaction to that, but his ankles were swollen and on fire, and he was in excruciating pain. They got home at 5:00 a.m. Chris was given crutches and would no longer be able to grill the turkey since he couldn't really stand or move around. The new plan was for Erica to roast it in the oven except she didn't have a roasting pan. What a Thanksgiving—and birthday—this was turning out to be.

The grocery store was only a mile away and we figured it was faster for her to run there and buy a disposable pan rather than wait for Rick to run ours over to the house since we're about a half hour away, not to mention Annalee's apple pie was still cooking and she was stuffing mushrooms. We got there as early as possible, anyway, to help her vacuum, set the tables, and finish preparing the meal. Chris was parked at the counter, busily cutting up vegetables. Since they don't have many pots and pans yet, Erica had a precise order she was following. She had a grid posted on the fridge showing the order things needed to be cooked and for how long. She was doing a good job of keeping everything under control despite the turkey neck incident and the run to the emergency room. 

By the time the rest of the guests showed up the house was in order, Erica and Chris had both managed to grab a shower, and the food was warming on the serving trays. And it was all absolutely delicious. As we were leaving, though, Erica gave me the turkey carcass and said take it, no way am I making soup out of this stupid bird.

I made a delicious turkey soup yesterday, which we just finished up for lunch today. And you know turkey soup is best made with dumplings. For 30 years I've made the butter dumplings recipe from the Joy of Cooking. If I tried to serve chicken or turkey soup without them I'd have a revolt on my hands.
Turkey soup with butter dumplings

Butter dumplings
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 eggs
6 tablespoons flour
pinch of salt

Mash the butter with a fork, add the eggs and mix together until creamy. Add the flour and mix well.
Add the batter by the spoonful to simmering soup, cover, and cook for 8 minutes.

I hope everyone's Thanksgiving turned out as well as ours in the end. Hopefully with less excitement, although in years to come this first Thanksgiving for Erica and Chris together will always be memorable.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

14 Carrot Gold

Eating locally grown food helps in the fight against global warming. Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture reports that the average fresh food item on our dinner table travels 1,500 miles to get there. Buying locally-produced food eliminates the need for all that fuel-guzzling transportation.
Wow, I really cannot believe Thanksgiving is around the corner! I still can't get used to the fact that summer is over, but in just a few short weeks the local farmstand will close for the season. I've been dashing there once a week and buying as many vegetables as Rick and I can handle at a time. I mean, there's just so much space to store everything so it doesn't go bad before we can get a chance to dehydrate, can, ferment, freeze, or cook it all. The stand is maybe 8 miles away, in a direction I rarely travel, so I try and get as much as possible in one trip. Our refrigerator is so packed you can barely see what's in there (probably moldy leftovers from last month hidden somewhere!) and we have baskets of fruits and vegetables sitting all over the counters waiting. I went again yesterday and found bags of radishes, carrots, lemons, limes, (more) apples, and celery on the $1.00 discount rack. Last week I found a 6 lb. bag of bananas, several bags of tomatoes, and two bags of mushrooms—and there was absolutely nothing wrong with them—all for just $1.00 a bag. The mushrooms themselves would have been $5 at the grocery store, and I'm guessing each bag of tomatoes weighed 4 lbs. One week I bought enough cabbage for Rick to make a crock of sauerkraut, kim chi, cortido, and dehydrate the rest.

Rick thinks my underlying scheme is to either drive him totally crazy, keep him barefoot in the kitchen, or something equally as evil. I keep dragging bags out, telling him what to deal with next. His poor hands looked awful after the cabbages were dealt with; red and chapped with a few cuts and scrapes. But, he sure does make a mean ferment. When I hear the pop of the kombucha bottle opening I come running.

But I think yesterday I pushed it too far. I walked in with my handy dandy large sized tote bag so full and heavy I could barely carry it with two hands. Besides all the dollar bags of seconds I had bought acorn and butternut squash, too, so I was struggling. I dropped the bag on the kitchen floor and proudly withdrew all my goodies. Rick looked at me and said, "You're kidding, right? Why did you buy so many radishes? And don't we already have a ton of carrots in the fridge?" To which I pointed out that they were only a $1.00 a bag and how could anyone resist. Besides he needs radishes for the kim chi. But Rick wanted to make some beef jerky, so I decided I needed to give in and actually cut some of this stuff up myself. Rick patted me on the head and said he had trained me well and he was ready to pass the torch. I like it so much better when he deals with the preserving, but I proceeded to peel and chop carrots and zucchini, made jars of lemons, limes, and radishes in salt, and dehydrated three huge bunches of cilantro. As soon as the jerky is done (it's doing taking its turn in the dehydrator now) I'll start on the celery.

All this dehydrating has been fun, though. We've never dehydrated before, but it made sense to try it. We bought the 5 tray Excalibur food dehydrator and it's been amazing. We haven't dipped into anything yet except the previous batch of beef jerky, the dried apples, and the dried bananas. We thought we'd wait until the farmstand closed for the season before we really started using everything. May as well still use fresh while it's here. There's so much talk about buying local and buying in season that we thought, well, maybe we should try and see what we could do. When we first moved into our house 30 years ago our neighbor said she never bought tomatoes out of season. I thought she was a little odd at the time, but it's time to reconsider that attitude.

Our garden hasn't produced excess for years—just enough to eat fresh during the season (well, except the garlic, which has been a huge success)—because we're usually busy performing over the summer. This year, though, gigs were light so Rick did a lot of work to get the garden back in shape. He's got some kick-ass compost going. We're hoping next year it'll be even better, but I don't know, those dollar bags of blemished fruit at the farmstand are hard to beat. 

dehydrated food waiting to get eaten!
Believe it or not, that jar in the photo has 14 carrots in it!! Wow. Rick called it 14 carrot gold. (He's quite the wit.) I'm afraid that when I go to make soup I'll over add the vegetables because they look so darn tiny. Which is why I actually paid attention to the recommendation that you label how much you put in each container and what it weighed beforehand. I even noted how many rounds I cut a large carrot into versus a medium one.

I was also really fascinated by the idea of preserving the lemons and limes in salt. Lemons preserved in salt are often called for in Moroccan dishes. Not sure what to do with the limes, but I'll figure it out. I googled several different recipes for preserved lemons, but this worked best. Now I can't wait for them to be done so I can try a Moroccan recipe!

Lemons Preserved in Salt
lemons and limes a day after salting
1. Grab yourself a bowl and sharp knife
2. Wash the lemons well
3. While holding a lemon over the bowl, cut the lemon lengthwise and then across the width. Don't make the cuts go quite the whole way and do NOT cut through the lemon. You want the lemons to stay intact
4. Pack salt into the cuts
5. Put 2 or 3 tablespoons of salt in the bottom of the jar
6. Pack the lemons in tightly, adding a little salt in between each one
7. Finish with a layer of salt
8. Cover the jar tightly and leave at room temperature for several days. Keep and eye on the level of liquid in the jar
9. If the lemons don't make enough juice to cover themselves, open the jar back up and add some lemon juice until they're covered (seems like I'll have to in a day or so)