Full Confession

Source: Christmas Treats @ Chez Kaj

I confess I did not plan a blog entry.

We have been making rather merry and I have family visiting. I could, perhaps, have planned something ahead of time as I have been known to plan, but I confess I did not feel up to it. I thought perhaps I should cheat and just post pictures of the food we made and have been eating. But that doesn’t seem like an adequate confession.

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I confess to guilt that I am not generous enough, that I do not reach out enough, and that I think of comfort before action.  I am not Catholic, so I don’t know how to classify that sin. Continue reading “Full Confession”

Wake Up and Smell the Cranberries

Savory? Sour?
Sweet? Mercy me! Please make up
Your mind, Thanksgiving.
–Cranberry haiku

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Last year, I shared a few thoughts about turkey in general at: Spatchcock?Gesundheit!   But cranberries have to get into the picture, too, because that tart little relish is just as much a part of the Thanksgiving tradition as stuffing. Are cranberries American? Are they a cure-all? Which version is better — sauce, jelly, or chutney? Figure it out fast because Turkey Day is tomorrow.

As American as Apple Pie

Actually cranberries are more American than apple pie, since Chaucer referred to a British apple pie recipe way back in the 14th century, and even Dutch apple pie was created before the Pennsylvania Dutch perfected it. Cranberries, native to north America, were in those Massachusetts bogs, wavings their viny flowers at the settlers who cruised in on the Mayflower. The settlers called them craneberries because the expanding head of their flowers resembled the marsh birds. The fruit was also called bearberries since you-know-whats would eat them and mossberries, which is still what they’re called in Canada and Britain. The Alonquin called them Sassamanash and infused the flavoring into pemmican, their variation of jerky, which may seem strange although not necessarily more than jalapeno or teriyaki. Although Sassamanash-juice cocktail doesn’t have quite the right ring to it. Continue reading “Wake Up and Smell the Cranberries”

The Land of Rock and Cactus, Part II: Canyons and Culture

Owachomo Bridge, Natural Bridges National Park, Utah

This second week of our trip finds the intrepid southwestern travelers braving the trails through Santa Fe and northeastern Utah. I thought about entitling this Canyons, Cuisine, and Conversation because we had the chance to visit with so many good friends and eat good food… or Canyons and Chiles … or Canyons and Calderas … or Canyons and Calamities, but I couldn’t think of a good “C” word for the art. And Santa Fe had so much art!

Santa Fe: More Artists per Capita

According to something called the Location Quotient at the website Citylab, Santa Fe is the second largest mid-sized U.S. city for art. In other words, there was an awful lot of art for a city of only 85,000. So much art that every other building downtown is a gallery. The famous Canyon Road boasts over 120 galleries along its six blocks. The community garden across from our hotel entrance began with an arch made out of wheelbarrows, and the nearby railroad stop was fronted by a football field-sized canvas with twenty separate photography exhibits. So much art that even the orange traffic cones are turned into artwork. Continue reading “The Land of Rock and Cactus, Part II: Canyons and Culture”

A Minor Issue with Some Grits

I went to make myself some grits on Friday night for dinner. As the water was boiling, I pulled the container out of the pantry and noticed that the plastic ziploc bag was neither air-tight nor water-tight as it was supposed to be. This turned out to be a problem where, for at least ten seconds, I considered whether the grits were still salvageable because, after all, people in India wouldn’t waste food. I determined that reclaiming the bottom third of a $2.89 box of grits was not worth whatever dire ailments might ensue.

Then, it turned out there was a similar issue with what we thought was a tightly-sealed container of steel-cut oats. Crumbs. Mildew.  As we unearthed a few more containers, my wife said, “Do you remember that problem we had with water damage a few years back?”

Uh-oh. That was quite a few years back, during the great recession if I recall, when I was out of work for a short spell, and we were moving money around to pay for a leak that required rebuilding and replastering the wall at the back of the hall closet which is on the other side of…. Oh, the pantry.

Well, these things happen, a small problem that you dig under, and suddenly it’s a large problem. Half of a Saturday gets devoted to cleaning out and assessment, followed by trips to the hardware store, powering up the Black and Decker tools, consultations with experts i.e. your DIY friends and the internet, and half of Sunday, and all of it far more involved than you planned for.

Continue reading “A Minor Issue with Some Grits”

Cinnamon: The Ordinary Exotic

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Spicy doesn’t mean what it used to mean when I was growing up. In the bland cooking from the midwest and the 1970s, spicy referred to garlic, pepper, and perhaps oregano. The famous “spicy meatball” Alka Seltzer commercial was both in praise of and a warning against partaking of strong flavors. Forty years later, Americans have come to embrace spice. We have spice trends – the hottest four spices in 2016 were apparently sumac, turmeric, mace, and za’atar – I don’t make this stuff up, folks. We are a literal melting pot of cuisines imported from so many cultures. But the most ordinary spice I grew up with also turns out to be one of the most medicinal, ancient, sought after, delicious, and versatile ones from around the world: cinnamon.

Cassia and cinnamon verum
Most savvy cooks know cinnamon is the inner bark from a species of tree. Some cooks (or expert Googlers) know the distinction between an herb and spice is that herbs come from the leaves and spices come from the seeds, barks, buds, or other parts of the plant. Cinnamon is grown by cutting the stems down to ground level every couple of years in a process called coppicing. Repeatedly cutting the stems leads to a thicker proliferation of new shoots, which is why groves of such small trees and shrubs are also called copses. When cinnamon shoots are harvested, the outer bark is scraped off and beaten off with a hammer, and the inner part pried off with a small crowbar; the inner bark comes off in long (meter) strips which dry in curled rolls called quills. Continue reading “Cinnamon: The Ordinary Exotic”