Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

I’m still a wee bit under the weather.  Actually, it’s more like a wee-wee bit under the weather, which occurs each time I cough, which is most of the time right now. So, enough of my lack of bladder control, my coughing and sneezing and general malaise. This, too, will pass.  Until then, I thought I might share an older post as we here in the States prepare for Thanksgiving.

Turkey Lurkey and Henny Penny, first posted here.

412926_betterhomes19711I have a fear of turkeys. Frozen turkeys.

It started when I was 26 years old. It was my maiden voyage in the fine American culinary tradition of roasting the Thanksgiving turkey. I come from a long line of extraordinary cooks and married into a family of equal expertise. Big shoes to fill – and I only wore a size 5½ myself. The pressure to roast a good turkey was on.

On a crisp November day, on my way home from a day of teaching first graders, I stopped at the grocery store, which was a newly opened Jewel Grand Bazaar. A precursor to the big box stores of today. At four in the afternoon, it was already crowded, and parking my 1972 green Ford Pinto hatchback took a few passes down the rows to find a parking spot.

Once inside, I grabbed a cart and selected produce, then dairy, bakery, then canned goods, saving a space in the cart for Turkey Lurkey. What a pair we were that afternoon. Henny Penny and Turkey Lurkey. My mom and Tom’s, as well as his sister, Maura, were all bringing accompaniments, but, this bird and his stuffing were my responsibility. All mine.

I’d never bought a turkey before. This was long before Mr. Google could answer any question asked. With my 1972 red and white checked Better Homes and Gardens spiral bound cookbook as my guide, I picked out a frozen turkey, the biggest one I could find, loaded it onto the cart, and headed to the checkout, confident that the twenty-two pound gobbler would feed our guests and yield plenty of leftovers.

Bill paid, groceries bagged, I loaded up the hatchback of my Pinto and headed home as dusk settled in. Rush hour traffic was in full throttle, but, I only had a few miles to go and was thinking about all I still had to do to prepare for our first Thanksgiving hosting.

I’ve always loved Thanksgiving, from when I was a child, but, never more so than when I was young. Do you remember a time when we only had turkey for Thanksgiving and maybe Christmas dinner? We had our Thanksgiving meal, maybe turkey sandwiches later, leftovers a day or so more, and that was it. The scents and tastes were put in abeyance until the next year.

I was thinking about these things, I am certain, as I drove home. Anticipation and great expectations as I listened to the news on the tinny car radio (I was a news junkie even then).

Suddenly, the car in front of me stopped. I slammed on my brakes, just in time, and checked my rearview mirror to see if I was about to be hit. In an instant, I saw it, hurling at me at 35 miles per hour with me at a dead stop. My life actually flashed before my eyes, as did all my Thanksgivings and a few misgivings as well. It was two or three seconds of pure terror as 22 pounds of frozen turkey hurled, straight from the hatchback, over the back seat, and straight toward my Farah Fawcett coiffed hairdo!

Turkey Lurkey catapulting like a shot out of a cannon toward Henny Penny. I truly thought the sky was falling!

The back of my car seat stopped that frozen fowl. Stopped him mid-flight. There I was, saved, in a backhanded sort of way by foul play in the last second of the ’72 turkey tourney. The car in front stalled, the driver behind me staring, mouth agape. I can only imagine his view from his steering wheel as he witnessed a turkey on the loose in, of all cars, a Ford Pinto.

I managed to get this year’s turkey, all twenty pounds of frozen poultry promise, into the cart, into the car, out of the car, and into the freezer. It is now in a slow swoon in the refrigerator.

I thought about the turkey of yore each and every step of the way.

I still have the 1972 red and white checked Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.

The 1972 Ford Pinto hatchback , dubbed “the horsey car” by Jennifer in her toddling days, eventually went on to greener pastures.


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v_1899_F_lix_Edouard_Vallotton_Swiss_artist_1865_1925_Sleeping_WomanI’ve taken to the bed, the couch, an easy chair, with those bothersome sneezes that come in winter, stuffing up one’s head and bringing on shivers. This will pass.  In-the-meantime, lots of tea, blankets, and soup are the ticket.

I got up long enough yesterday to make a pot of soup. Taco soup. It sounded good to my withered taste buds. That kind of sounding good usually means it will be good in my tummy as well. All the ingredients were on hand, waiting for this sort of day, so out came a big pot, lots of cans, some meat, and soon it was simmering seductively on the back burner.

We each had a nice, big bowl with nacho chips and dollops of sour cream.  It was just the ticket on such a cold day.

Since I haven’t shared a recipe with you in ever-so-long, I thought I might now. It came to me in a Penzey’s Spice catalogue, which is always a joy to find in the mail. Penzey’s is a spice and herb company that does catalogue sales of their spices. They also have a shops in several areas as well. I love the catalogue, though I’ve only ordered out of it once, and that was to send some spices as a gift. The catalogue is special for the recipes interspersed, along with stories of the cooks who send them in. Think “Woman’s Day” magazine, or “Good Housekeeping” of yore.

Here is the recipe, from the Penzey’s Catalogue. You can leave out the meat if you are vegetarian, or just don’t need/want the extra protein. Last night, I only used one can of beans and a smaller can of corn. It was perfect. I don’t think you can mess this up – or even the kitchen, for that matter. If you don’t have the Penzey’s taco spice, you can use any taco seasoning mix (but, once you’ve tried the Penzey’s, there is no turning back).

Taco Soup

1 lb ground beef or ground turkey (omit for vegetarian soup)

2  15 oz cans of black beans, rinsed and drained

1  14/2 oz can corn, drained (or from 4 or 5 ears, or 1  1/2 cup frozen)

1  14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (don’t drain)

1-3 tsp taco seasoning

1  16 oz container of any salsa of your choice.

Brown meat, drain fat, add rest of ingredients and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

The soup is thick. You can add water if you wish it thinner.

Serve with your favorite garnishes. Sour cream, grated cheese, nacho chips etc.

(This recipe is from a fall catalogue, from a few year’s ago, honoring teachers and their special recipes. This was Stephanie’s Taco Soup. I believe she is a math teacher. )

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9780670015443I’m Swedish, which makes me sexy, and I’m Irish which makes me want to talk about it.”

So begins Kathleen Flinn’s delectable memoir of her family’s journey and food.

It wasn’t the cover that drew me to this book, it was the title, which recalls Flinn’s grandmother Inez, who refused to use toasters when the oven worked well.  The end result was often burnt toast, which she said “makes you sing good”. Don’t you love it?  My Yia Yia would come up with phrases like that, and so would my dad. “Children are starving in China” comes to mind admonishing a picky eater, though my sister got a tongue lashing once when she replied “then feed this to them“.

I digress.  Actually, I really don’t  digress, for this book brought on memory-upon- memory of my own family, both paternal and maternal, and the role food played in making me who I am. I read this in two bites, er, two days, and found myself wanting for more.

The book starts with Flinn’s mom and dad hastily moving from Michigan to California, via Route 66, with all their belongings, including three toddlers and one more on the way, to help run a pizza parlor owned by her Irish uncle – in the ’50s! This was long before pizza was known in most American homes. The Flinn’s eventually move back to Michigan, where they lived on a farm, ate plenty of chicken and eggs, and make do. It is, in its way, the story of growing up in the midwest in the fifties.

“Burnt Toast . . . ” is the love story of Flinn’s parents, and maternal grandparents, finally her own. It is also about the abject poverty she eventually discovers her father grew up in with her grandmother raising a large family, in the Depression, on her own. It is about how her grandfather, once jailed for bootlegging, becomes a cook in the army during WWII and how she goes about doing sunshine work, dressed as cowgirl delivering her mom’s baked goods, in her new, suburban neighborhood.  This is a well-seasoned ragout of colorful grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins,. It is Flinn’s familial immigrant stories, and more, as she weaves chapter upon chapter of memories, replete with a relevant recipe for each chapter.

“Burnt Toast . . . ” is not just about food. It is also about how the hardships, trials, and tribulations of life often serve to harden our resolve, build character, and furnish life lessons. That burnt toast can make us sing good is also about the grand midwestern spirit - and more. It’s mostly sweet and funny, just a wee bit sad, and waiting for you to open it’s covers.

Off I go now to bake a Jack-o-Lantern Tea loaf to take to a friend’s house for dinner tonight. My own story of how I came to this long-loved recipe can be found here.


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Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold . . . 

from The Pumpkin by John Greenleaf Whittier

Pumpkin lattes.

Pumpkin pancakes with maple syrup.

Always – pumpkin pie.

Jack-o-Lanterns. and Jack-o-Lantern Tea Loaf (aka pumpkin bread).

Pumpkin scarecrows atop pumpkin towers in pumpkin patches.

Fields and fields, acres and acres of wilting vines with ripe orange gourds of goodness.

Robert Newton Peck’s hilarious children’s story, Havoc on Halloween,  from the book “Soup and Me.” 

It’s pumpkin season in the middle of fall, here in Illinois:  the biggest pumpkin producer in the country.

Addendum to today’s post – I just saw a notification from WordPress that today is my 5th anniversary in blogging. :)  Wow! Thanks to each and every one of you for traveling along the Cutoff with me; reading, commenting, encouraging, laughing, crying . . . You make it fun and meaningful for me.    Penny

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DSCN5900I should have shown you what was IN the jar first, but, I was too busy playing Goldilocks and ate the whole thing up. 

Only fooling you. Here is what it looked like before I attacked my yogurt and granola with unfettered glee,


while scoping out the Chicago Botanical Gardens for an outing the gardening group is taking later this week. 

Have you had any jarring experiences lately?

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The most pleasurable moments in my life are often consumed around a table, eating a good meal, talking, laughing, remembering “when”. Such pleasure was had on Saturday night, dining with family on several familial sides, from two East Coast states, as we met at one of the most venerable restaurants still operating on Route 66.

You might remember when I first wrote about the Mother Road, Route 66, a few years ago, citing its starting point on Chicago’s lakefront, which is but a few dozen miles from our house here on the Cutoff.  Several of you commented about time you spent on the “mother road”. Others of you realized, perhaps, that it was more than a television show or tall tale; it was a road often traveled, traversing the wide open spaces of another era. Route 66 was a route, now decommissioned, that connected small towns and bits of wonders across the wide expanse of USA country. I meant to write again about this iconic route, but, well, life took other turns in my writing road, until this weekend.

Along with brother-in-law Mike, in from the Sunshine State, and nephew Andrew’s brother and sister-in-law, from the Big Apple, eleven of us gathered at White Fence Farm in Romeoville, on old Route 66,  for a sinfully scrumptious meal, served family style, with corn fritters, slaw, pickled beets, cottage cheese, bean salad – and, the restaurant’s signature fried chicken.

It was heartwarming to not only catch-up on what was happening in our lives, but, to have our two grand-nephews participate in the lively art of family conversation as they laughed at grown-up’s stories, all entertaining, others downright hilarious (like grandpa Mike’s articulate rendition of his dog’s encounter with peacock droppings or late night stand offs with a gecko - uh oh).

Good memories were gathered to keep close to the heart along with a few photos of all that was consumed, including a few cute chickens among the antiques and memorabilia in White Fence Farm.


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DSCN5735No, not my fault. Clifford made me do it. He was my auto-pilot on the long journey home from Minnesota last week. Someone to keep me company on the long journey, compliments of a very sweet granddaughter who knows all about true love.  Well, this determined dog suddenly steered toward the off-ramp at Osseo in Wisconsin.

What? Norske Nook?  You want to go to Norske Nook, Clifford?”

So , we did. I blamed it on Cliff.

It all started when Andra Watkins, author of “To Live Forever, An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis”, and I had a bit of an ongoing, online conversation about Norske Nook,. Her husband, MTM, a native of Wisconsin enjoys their pies. I asked dear son-in-law Tom, also a Wisconsin native, about which exit to take.  Clifford must have IMG_20140904_222407been listening.  Katy sure was for she piped in and said pie sounded good right then. Lickedy-split, the two us were out the door,, at 10 pm, on a mission to Baker’s Square, which led to this photo of me and cherry pie.  Really.

The next day, enroute to the Cutoff, with Clifford steering, we took the road less traveled and ended up bringing this big box home.

DSCN5736Inside was this most delicious blueberry pie ever. THE BEST I’ve ever eaten. Not overly sweet, it was filled with the smallest of blueberries and had most tender crust. I shared half of it with a friend recovering from a hip replacement. I swear, she danced a jig with her walker after eating a slice.

It wasn’t my fault.DSCN5737

With all this pie, I needed an antidote – eating veggies was imperative. I saw a cooking segment for stuffed tomatoes and this delicious entrée managed to make it to our table. I improvised, but, it is basically stuffed with some sort of sausage (I used Italian, chorizo would work, or stuff it with other seasonal vegetable, quinoa, you name it), cheese, bread crumbs, baked and topped with eggs, which slipped off of their perch because I zealously overstuffed the tomatoes. 350 degree oven, 20 minutes or so.

I need to go for a walk. My smart phone in my pocket. It very intelligently tracks my steps. I wonder if there is app for making supper. Maybe Clifford knows.

What is your favorite pie? Do you like stuffed vegetables? tomatoes, peppers, zucchini? What do you stuff them with? Are you stuffed right  now?


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