Post #622 Tiny Little Tidbits

January 15, 2019 at 6:27 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’ve had a few things to share, but singly, they never added up to a whole post.  So, I’m combining them into one post of several tidbits about food.

First up, in the last post I mentioned I was trying a soup we saw on Lidia Bastianich’s show.  It’s a white bean and escarole soup and can be made in under an hour.  It can also be made in over an hour, depending on how you go about it.  I’m going to explain both ways.  They’re not that far apart, really.

  • 1 cup dried white beans (Navy beans or Great Northern White beans) soaked overnight
  • 5 cloves garlic peeled and sliced
  • 1 head of escarole
  • 2-3 bay whole bay leaves
  • 4-5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
  • salt to taste

Soak the beans overnight after sorting through them to remove bad beans and stones.  Drain and rinse the beans and in a large pot cook in six cups of fresh water, two tablespoons of olive oil, and the bay leaves.  Do not add salt at this stage.  Cook until the beans start to soften, about an hour.  Chop the escarole roughly.  In a large skillet over medium low heat, heat the remaining olive oil and add the sliced garlic.  Cook until they start to release their aroma.  Add the red pepper flakes, but be careful because they add a LOT of heat.  Add the escarole and press down.  Cover the skillet and steam for a few minutes, then remove the lid and stir.  Cook until the garlic slices have turned golden brown.  Add two large ladles of the soup to the skillet and stir around to release any brown bits and combine flavors.  Add back to the soup pot and stir to combine.  Add about a half tablespoon of salt at this point, and cook for about a half hour to forty-five minutes until the beans have created a creamy broth and the escarole is wilted and fully cooked.  Adjust the salt and add a dash or two of black pepper.  Serve hot.  I made a garnish of bacon bits and sprinkled it with grated cheese.  I served it with toasted crusty bread.

I like the soup overall, but was disappointed that the flavor of the beans was not more prominent.  The bitterness of the escarole actually was quite good in the soup, but it was a little like eating a lettuce soup.  I’ll probably adjust the salt and the bean cooking step next time.  But I do recommend this soup for a good vegetarian alternative.

Second tidbit is making a “cream soup” without the cream.  We’re lactose intolerant in our house to varying degrees.  For Partner/Spouse, it’s a real thing and he can’t eat the stuff at all.  For me, it’s mostly a philosophical stance but there are times when I suffer the bad side effects.  Usually with ice cream.  But since I don’t like the flavor of milk or cream, not eating dairy is not a terrible tragedy.  I do eat cheese, a ton of cheese, and we keep butter in the house for baking and cooking.  So I get the right amount of vitamins and minerals from those.  So whenever I see a recipe where cream is added, I immediately start wondering what else can be used.

The obvious choices are plain yogurt and sour cream.  I know what you’re thinking, those are dairy products.  They just don’t seem to have the same impact on our digestive systems as the other things do.  It’s odd, but there it is.  Although, sometimes, you gotta watch out.

However, there’s another way to make a cream-style soup without any cream whatever.  And that’s called making a roux.  That’s pronounced “roooo” drawn out as long as you want to.  It’s a simple process.  Melt two tablespoons of butter over low heat in a skillet, then add the same amount of plain flour.  Stir together and cook for about two minutes or so.  At this point, many chefs will add cream to the roux to make a creamy sauce.  But you don’t have to.  You can add chicken stock and make a thick creamy sauce with a ton of flavor.  But if you’ve got a good soup base going and want to thicken it and make it creamy, make up a roux and add to the hot soup a tiny bit at a time to avoid lumps.  Keep stirring and there won’t be any lumps.  You’ll end up with a tasty creamy soup that will taste every bit as good as if you’d used cream.  One tip for this, if you want to add extra flavor to your soup or stew or sauce, add dried herbs to the flour and cook it into the roux.

Third tidbit, in the last post about The List, I mentioned chicken and rice soup that was like a gumbo.  A couple of people asked me for the recipe.  It’s simple and the post contained all the salient points for success.  Chop chicken breasts and thighs into bite sized pieces.  Put them raw into the crock pot and add 3-4 cloves of roughly chopped garlic and one medium onion sliced thin.  If you want to add any other veggies, feel free to.  Just make sure they’re cut to bite sized chunks.  I’ve had carrots, celery, mushrooms, etc.  Then put about four cups of chicken broth into it so it’s covered and sprinkle a cup of rice over the top.  Put it on high for about three hours, then put it on low for about four hours.  This seems like overkill in the cooking department, but what happens is the chicken and the veggies release their flavors over time, along with the seasonings.  The rice will explode into the broth which will get a little gummy.  The rice will absorb all those flavors.  The result will be thick and full of rice which will hide the bits of veggies and chicken until you stir it and start eating it.  It’s so good.  Like a chicken porridge.

The last tidbit is a fun thing.  Partner/Spouse read about a candle type of thing and decided to try  it out.  Here’s what you do.  When you have an orange that’s been around too long and started to thicken up and get tough, don’t throw it away.  Slice a very small piece from the bottom so it sits level.  Then slice a larger piece from the top down about a quarter to a third of the way down.  Very carefully remove the pulp but leave the center piece that all the sections attach to.  Leave it upside down on a paper towel for a few hours to make sure all the juice is gone.  Set it upright so the hole is on top and place it in a bowl.  Fill the cavity with olive oil and let it sit for a few days.  The orange will absorb the oil so keep replenishing it until it stays at the same level for at least a full day.  When it’s ready, you’ll have an orange full of olive oil with the center pith to use as a wick.  Does it work?

You tell me.  It sends out a very light aroma of oranges and provides a nice little ambience of light.  I don’t suppose it’s something you’d rely on in an emergency, but it’s cute and fun to watch.

So, I’m thinking of turning this kind of post into a regular thing and calling Tidbits.  Let me know what you think!

As always,

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Post #621 What’s for Dinner? Check The List!

January 13, 2019 at 2:19 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

It’s the same questions that face home cooks across the world every single day in some form or another?  What’s for dinner?  Sometimes it’s easy to answer; other times it seems like the Riddle of the Sphinx.  Commercials on television offer tons of quick and easy idea, and whole industries have sprung up where someone else makes the decision and sends you the ingredients.

Recently I wrote about the kitchen journal and pointed out that in mine the first couple of pages are given to a list of my “go to” meal ideas.  Since then, I’ve had a couple of requests to see that list.  So, I’m recreating it here along with some notes for you about how and what the meals are.  So, in no particular order, here they are:

  • tacos – Partner/Spouse and I both grew up in the southwest, but I was first introduced to tacos while living in northern New York state.  We love these so much, we’ve actually eaten them for lunch, dinner, and breakfast for two or three days running.
  • spaghetti – this is one of our staples.  We always have the ingredients on hand and enough different ones that we can mix it up.  Unfortunately, we always make enough to feed 10 hungry people so our freezer often has a ton of frozen sauce in it.
  • beef onion stew – I “discovered” this playing around one day and it’s amazing.  I’ve blogged about it a couple of times, so search around.  This is delicious.
  • grilled steak salad – at heart, we’re carnivores.  If we don’t get a steak at least once every week or so, we get grumpy.  Our favorite way is to grill the steak on cast iron to medium rare, sprinkle with salt, slice into bite size chunks, and put on top of a tossed green salad.
  • grilled thick pork chops – for us, a pork chop isn’t worth eating unless it’s at least a half inch thick.  It’s a wonderful, flavorful alternative to beef.
  • bangers and mash – this is a British dish that we were introduced to at a pub in Ireland.  It’s fried or grilled sausages served on top of a bowlful of hand-mashed potatoes.  The bangers are huge, not the tiny breakfast sausages, so get ones you like.
  • chicken stir fry – we use an Asian chopped salad bagged mix to make this one as easy as possible.  Rice or fried noodles makes the perfect side dish.
  • lemon pasta with chicken – Our southwest upbringing comes out in this one.  It’s simply chopped garlic heated in olive oil and lemon juice.  Add your favorite cooked pasta and toss to thoroughly coat.  Garnish with basil and lemon zest.  Cooked chicken chunks go well inside the dish or on the side.  We sometimes add a tablespoon of butter to bring the sauce together.
  • senate bean soup – This is an old recipe, one that’s served in the Senate cafeteria every day by Presidential Order from Thomas Jefferson.  The beans are cooked with a salty ham.  Once they’ve reached the stage of busting their skins and becoming creamy, tomatoes are added with celery and shredded carrots.  Some people with use a blender to puree the soup, but I like the chunks of beans and ham and veggies.
  • BLTs – ‘Nuff said.  Moving on.
  • burgers and fries – We love a good greasy burger with chips, fries, or tater tots on the side.  Oh!  And a dill pickle.  And it’s easy.
  • meatloaf – There are so many different ways to make this one that it’s a genre to itself.  We go with standard onion soup and bread crumb process, but we’ve played around with whatever we have on hand, too.  I very often add shredded potato and carrot to it.
  • lasagna – This is one that we have to plan for, but it’s always worth it.  Even when it turns out bad, it’s always worth it.
  • pizza – We love this stuff too.  We’ve made it entirely from scratch starting with the dough, to buying cardboard pizza frozen at the store.  There’s just something about tomato sauce and cheese on bread.
  • grinders – This is just the local name for a sub sandwich.  We throw one of these down our throats about once a month or so.
  • eggs and bacon or sausage – All the time!  When we want it easy and fast with little or no clean up, this what we turn to.  Sometimes we’ll do biscuits; other times we’ll do toast.  Sometimes we will have home fries, or hash browns, or shredded and fried potatoes and onions with it.
  • chili – I never liked my mom’s chili as I was growing up.  But as I grew older and my tastes changed, I started experimenting with it.  I read about different flavor combos and cut the onion my mom loved so much by more than half, and suddenly I could eat it.
  • pot roast – Any good roast done to perfection in a slow oven is beyond good.  Throw some garlic in with it and it gets better.
  • appetizers – We do this all the time.  Even when we go out to eat, or order Chinese take away, we’ll often just do appetizers and call it good.
  • mac and cheese – This is one of my guilty pleasures.  I love this stuff.
  • shepherd’s pie – This is traditionally made with lamb, but we typically use hamburger.  Hamburger, gravy, favorite veggies in a dish covered with mashed potatoes and baked.  So good.
  • omelets – Okay, so we don’t do the French way of making these, but we like them just the same.  We also do the Italian variation called frittata.
  • big salad – I’ve even the big salad since I was a teen ager.  I also call this the trash salad because everything that would have ended up in the trash in a few days goes into it (as long as it’s safe to eat!)  A squeeze of lemon juice and lime juice as a dressing, then throw your face into it.
  • chicken and rice – This is a gumbo style meal that I make in the slow cooker.  Chicken chunks, chicken broth, lots of garlic, and a cup of rice cooked in the crock pot for a few hours.  Sometimes carrot and celery are added.  Scooped into a bowl and topped with cheese and it’s a terrific winter meal, even though we eat it all year long.
  • sausage biscuits – So this is typically a breakfast meal for us, but we’ve been know to eat breakfast for dinner on more than one occasion.
  • baked potato dinner – We do this all the time.  A large potato bake till it’s done and the skin is crispy.  We top with our favorite stuff, and go to town.  For me, it’s usually cheese and bacon bits, but sometimes it’s chili and cheese.
  • carne asada/guisada – These are basically the same dish except the cooking method.  Carne is Spanish for meat.  Usually a skirt steak if your grilling; that’s the asada.  Typically a cheaper cut roast if you’re stewing; that’s the guisada.  But the Mexican seasonings are the same and will make you cry, they’re so good.
  • cabbage rolls – We love cabbage at our house, and cabbage rolls are an extension of that.  Ground meat stuffed into cabbage leaves and cooked.  That’ll get anyone up and running.
  • burritos – Another Mexican meal, but instead of corn tortillas, you use flour tortillas.  Instead of a single fold, it’s rolled and the fillings are encased.  And the fillings are as varied as any other Mexican food.  My favorite is refried beans, cheese, and spicy beef.
  • crackers and cheese – I do this for lunch all the time.  So good.
  • baked chicken – Standard fare, but easy and flexible.  You can use butter and lemon, honey and lemon, barbecue sauce, olive oil and herbs, salt and pepper, raspberry vinaigrette, anything you can think of to change it up.
  • pasta salad – Cold cooked pasta, shredded cheese, sunflower seeds, and vinaigrette, and you’ve got a pasta salad.  I throw a pasta salad together for lunch or dinner all the time.
  • risotto – This is a labor of love, but totally worth it.  You need a specific grain of rice for this, and you have to follow the steps properly.  But you can dress it up to taste any way you like.
  • chicken lettuce wraps – This is one we stole from a restaurant, and found the sauce in a packet at the store.  Sauté chicken breast and thigh that has been cut to small pieces with onion and garlic.  Add the sauce and turn off the heat.  Pull leaves of lettuce off the head and add the chicken and some crispy noodles and shovel them down your throat.  Good stuff.
  • fried chicken – So really, who doesn’t like fried chicken?
  • lentil soup – This is one that I’ve eaten since college.  Lentils cook so quickly and if you make the broth a tangy one, it complements the lentils and the veggies so well.
  • roasted veggies – We throw a bunch of root veggies and cruciferous veggies cut into same sized chunks and tossed in olive oil.  Roasted at high heat until cooked and crispy, then salted lightly.  Eat ’em all quick.
  • porcupine meatballs – seasoned meatballs with rice cooked slowly in a tomato sauce.  When the rice expands, it pokes out of the meatball looking a little like porcupine quills.
  • mock lasagna casserole – This is a favorite.  Any shape cooked pasta, tossed with leftover marina sauce and a ton of cheese into a baking dish and cooked until hot and bubbly.
  • spaghetti carbonara – The heat from the cooked spaghetti will cook the eggs and cheese to make a sauce that’s delicious and silky.
  • chicken and dumplings – old fashioned standby
  • barbecued country style pork ribs – We love the fork tender, fall apart goodness of these slow cooked ribs.  And it really doesn’t take too long.
  • herbed pork roast – We love a good pork roast whatever its cut.  It’s like a blank canvas to carry flavors.
  • beef burgundy – This one is so yummy that I’ve blogged about it a couple of times.

I’ve blogged about most of these recipes, but if you have questions about any of them, just ask me.  I’ll be happy to blog about them again.

The point of The List is to jog your memory.  We’ve tried a ton of recipes we’ve gleaned from tv shows, magazines, eating out, and farmer’s markets.  Some of those recipes were great and made it onto The List.  Others were problematic, complicated, or just didn’t suit our tastes so they aren’t on The List.  When I was living with my sister and her husband during college, once a month, she and I would sit down and plan out every evening meal for the month and write it on a calendar.  Then we’d figure out what we needed to buy and would go get it.  We scoured cookbooks and experimented.  I loved it; she hated it.  The List is a compromise for that effort.

Two of my favorite tv chefs (both Italian) are “fly by the seat of your pants” cooks.  They go to their gardens, and their pantries, and they figure out what to cook by what they have on hand.  I’ve done that, when it’s just me.  When I first moved out on my own, I planned meals for a week, and shopped once a week.  The things I made were so good, I’d just buy the same things every week.  It worked for me, even though I got into a rut.

So, I hope this helps out a little.  And share things that are on your list.  I’m always looking to make my list longer.  One day, it might even turn into a cookbook.  Who knows?

So today, I’m making No-Knead Artisan bread to go with a White Bean and Escarole soup I saw Lidia Bastianich cook the other night.  I’ll let you know how that goes!

And as always,

Post #620 Puttin’ on the Dog

January 9, 2019 at 2:17 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

At work the other day, we got into a conversation about hot dogs.  Our conversations are pretty far ranging.  But at that moment, it was about hot dogs.  We had this toy from Asia and it was in the shape of a loaf of bread.  It was made out of some soft foam rubber and was impregnated with a scent that was very much like cake.  It was definitely sweet smelling, not like bread at all.

As one guy was squeezing it and sniffing, he said, “This reminds me of the sweet dogs I used to get.”  He went on to explain that a local eatery no longer in business used to make a hot dog encased in a sweet bread and baked until the bread was done.  He said you got a taste of the hot dog and the sweet bread in one bite and it was amazing.

Another guy said, “I love a good hot dog.  When it’s made right, and you get that snap of the casing.  It’s tremendous.”

“Nathan’s,” I said.  “They’re the best.”

One young lady wasn’t having it.  “They’re terrible!” she squealed.  “They’ll kill you.”

“Only if you choke on one,” I said.  “Anything will kill you if you get too much of it.  Even water.”

“You know what it’s made of, don’t you?” she asked.

“Everyone knows what it’s made of,” we all said.

The second guy went on to describe how his favorite hot dog was made locally with pig intestine for casing to get that snap he liked so much, and the filling was made with quality pork and beef parts, mostly shoulder meat, he said.

The lady walked off in disgust and the conversation died a few moments later.

But I’ve been thinking about hot dogs ever since.

Hot dogs as a thing are simply sausages wrapped in a bun with condiments on top.  They’ve been around for centuries in one form or another.

Here in the U.S. many cities and states haves their own claim to fame for the hot dog.

The New York Style hot dog is served with sauerkraut, spicy brown mustard, and sometimes onions.  The hot dog though has to be all beef.

New Jersey Dogs have sautéed bell peppers, onions, and potatoes on them.

Chicago Dogs are intricate and if any of the ingredients are missing, it’s not a Chicago dog: they are served on a poppy seed bun and topped with mustard, fresh tomatoes, onions, “sport peppers”, bright green relish, dill pickles, and celery salt.

Rhode Island, where we just lived, has it’s own Hot Weiner, sometimes called just a Weiner.  It’s a dog on a bun with a chunky meat sauce and onions.  I’m told they’re delicious.  We never tried one.  Just never got around to it.

Even in Arizona, where we’re from, the hot dog takes on a distinctly Western flair, wrapped in a flour tortilla, lots of chilis and cheese, and any other topping you like, it’s nothing to turn your nose up to.

Hot dogs, though, get kind of a bum rap.  For so long, they were mass produced as cheaply as possible, and earned a reputation for being cheap and non-nutritious.  But as people started understanding how their food impacts them, and demanding better quality, hot dog makers paid attention and most of them changed their product to reflect the new norms.  Hot dogs really aren’t that bad for you anymore.  I’m not suggesting you make a full diet of them, but having one once in a while is not a bad thing.

My favorite way to eat a hot dog is grilled or boiled, on a sliced bun with a large squirt of mustard on top.  Nothing else.  Occasionally, maybe once in every hundred dogs eaten, I’ll add a thin line of ketchup, too.  My second favorite way is the chili-cheese dog.  But I eat that one mostly for the chili.

When we were kids, mom used to make up hot dogs when she got tired of arguing with us about dinner.  I got used to the idea that you had to have potato chips, cherry Kool-Aid, and a hotdog in a bun with mustard, ketchup, relish, and onion.  That’s how mom liked ’em, and that’s how she served ’em.  As I grew, I discovered I hated raw onions, and sweet relish (like sweet pickles) are a waste of time.  If it’s not dill, I don’t want it near me.  Then I lost my taste for ketchup, so by default, it was mustard only.  About the time I decided that, mom decided she wasn’t fixing a dozen hot dogs a dozen different ways and told us all to fix them ourselves.

I like a hotdog that’s a little bland and a little tasty.  I like a hot dog that come 8 to a package.  I like a hotdog that I’ve eaten a hundred times before and have never been let down.

If the package says “sausage” on it, my brain shuts down on the hot dog idea, and opens up to the “sausage” idea which need to be handled completely differently.  However, when I was in Frankfurt, Germany, I stumbled upon the:

Pretzelbrat!  This monstrosity is street food.  You can also get them in the beer halls, and low key restaurants.  It’s a fried bratwurst in a sliced pretzel roll.  In the corner is a dollop of spicy mustard.  I ate so many of these, I made myself sick of them.  The bratwurst is pork and seasonings that make a savory delicious morsel; and the pretzel bread is all the best of soft pretzels and bread combined.  So so good!

Well, that’s all I have to say about hotdogs today, but I’m likely to talk about them some more in the future.  Holler back and let me know what your favorite hot dog combos are.  And if you want to share this post, or any other post, please feel free.

As always,

Post #619 Holiday Snapshots

January 6, 2019 at 11:15 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hello!  We’re back with a new year, as promised.  This years is shaping up to be a year of challenges on all fronts, but also a year of excitement, new projects, and lots of learning.  The holiday season was fun, hectic, and fulfilling, but happily is gone for another year.  A good time was had by all in our household, as well as plenty of rest.

So, even though we live in New England now, the big news is that we did not have a white Christmas.  We had some leftover snow piles from the “big” storm we had in November, but most of that is gray and dirty piles in corners of parking lots.  We had lots of rain, lots of wind, and lots of mild temperatures.  Nothing we couldn’t handle.  Even a couple of cold snaps came with dry weather so no snow there.  Fingers crossed we’ll get through the rest of the winter as easily.

I forgot how hard but how fun working in retail at the holidays is.  It’s been a long time since I last did that.  The bookstore was humming and the lines were long.  Despite how long the lines were (and they were long, trust me) we got the folks in and out expeditiously.  Many customers complimented us how efficient and how fast we worked to get tired people done and out the door.

We sold a lot of books (I love seeing that!) and I watched for trends in what people were buying.  We sold a ton of Michelle Obama’s book.  It’s still selling very well.  We sold out regularly.  Luckily, supplies were prepared and we got replacements in to take care of the demand.  Oddly, we sold a lot of woodworking books which puzzled me.  But one book stood out, and it intrigued me.

This is a cookbook and we started selling a ton of them in November.  One lady bought six copies to give away!  One older man and I got to talking about it while we was purchasing it and I found out he’s a professional chef and loved the way this author/chef presented the information.  At our store, we’re allowed to “check out” books like a library (only employees can), so I did.  I had to know what the fuss was about.

This woman’s credentials are stellar, starting as the bottom and working her way up.  She was used to her cultural way of cooking, but discovered there were other ways to cook that were just as flavorful as her own.  Eventually she codified what she’d discovered into four basic principles.  She says that if you can master the elements of salt, fat, acid, and heat, in that order, you’ll be able to cook anything and create amazing flavors.  I’ve only just started reading it, so you’ll probably hear me referring to this as I learn new techniques and new flavor combos.

Christmas Eve we closed early, traffic was light, so I got home early.  The apartment was warm, full of light, and there was a glass of wine waiting for me!  We took time to slow down, relax, listen to music, and nibble on munchies rather than have a full meal.  Our tradition, like so many other families, is to open one present on Christmas Eve.  In both cases, books were involved.  In Iceland, Christmas Eve books are the only presents exchanged.  Each person takes their book(s) and a cup of hot chocolate and spends the rest of the day/evening reading and discussing their new books.  We didn’t do much discussing, but we got into brand new extremely soft jammies, and read like we’d been denied books for over a year.

The next day, we slept late.  Our plan was to take care of the mundane things like dog walking and breakfast, then take the rest of the day at a leisurely pace.  I had made several dozen chocolate chip cookies for the store and there were plenty for us.  We also had a gingerbread with nuts that Partner/Spouse made.  We planned to make a few more nibbles and just munch all day until dinner was ready.

I made Pepperoni Chips.  Do you remember these?  I stumbled onto these little delights when I was looking at the crust of a pizza.  I laid out pepperoni slices onto a rimmed baking sheet making certain they did not touch each other.  Then they got put into a 350 oven for fifteen minutes.  A ton of grease is going to render out, but don’t worry.  When you take these out of the oven, lay them in a single layer on some paper towels to dry off.  Once they’ve reached room temp, they will be crispy and delightful, spicy and meaty, a wonderful small mouthful of crunch that evokes the best part of a pizza.  I made two batches because Partner/Spouse needed some for his dish.

He took some pizza dough and rolled it out flat and rectangular, about the size of a half-size baking sheet.  Then he crushed up some pepperoni and spread it evenly over the dough.  He chopped some spring onion, whites and greens, and spread those over the dough.  He added some fresh chopped garlic and garlic powder.  He rolled that up tightly, sprinkled with sesame seeds, then cut quarter-inch slices.  He laid those out on a baking sheet and baked at 375 for about a half hour until they were cooked through and brown on top.  They cooled down, then got laid on a plate with the pepperoni chips.

That, along with some fresh veggies, the cookies and cakes, and some cheese were perfect to munch during the day.

But we got restless about mid-morning and decided to go for a drive.  Buddy the Boston Terrier got a new sweater for Christmas and was dying to show off to his other doggie friends so we got him decked out in his new duds.  We ended up at a state park quite by accident.

He’s not happy with his new sweater.  It’s about a half-size to small, or he’s about a whole size too big.  Most likely the latter.  There’s a roaring river about 50 feet from where we’re standing, but no easy way to get to it from there.  And it was pretty decently cold since we were up in the mountains.  We wandered for about twenty minutes, then decided to go find some hot chocolate somewhere.  We ended up at a gas station in a good sized town where we got our hot drinks and some snacks.

Dinner that night was a ham that was braised in a mulled wine.  Partner/Spouse took charge of all that and had been mulling the wine for days.  Mulled wine is simply red wine that has sweet herbs and spices added to it.  The wine is warmed so the flavors blend, and it’s drunk from mugs.  He chose to let the flavors blend at room temp for several days to get the most out of them.  The ham was delicious.

One of the presents I got was a book on nutrition!  Yay, me!

I’ve already started to plow my way through this.  You’ll hear more about it as I start incorporating its knowledge into my every day cooking.  I did take a quick run through and found some very interesting recipes that I can’t wait to try.

So, we got home, watched movies, drank wine, called friends and family, and generally just relaxed and had a good day.

Hope all was well at your homes.  I’m looking forward to blogging this year and hearing from you all about your own food challenges.

As always,

Post #618 The Christmas Pickle

December 19, 2018 at 10:29 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

For the past several years, I’ve noted a peculiar ornament showing up on Christmas trees and wreaths more and more.

So, what the heck is this all about?  When did a pickle become part of the holiday lexicon?  So, like the intrepid trooper that I am, I decided to do some research.  Also, an article on the Christmas Pickle showed up on my newsfeed and presented an opportunity.  But I really was wondering about it.

So, the “tradition” is that a pickle ornament is hidden on the Christmas tree and the first person to find it on Christmas day would get either a year of good fortune or an extra present from Santa, depending on the culture you were raised in.  The first incident of glass ornaments being hidden on the tree began in the late 1800s.  And the first manufactured ornaments came out of Germany a few years after.

No one really can lay down exactly when or why.  However, they can almost definitively put it down to an American custom.  Pickles on trees don’t appear in any other culture, although other veggies and fruits do.

The area where the tradition appears to have started, or at least, the area where it was first noted/documented was heavily Bavarian giving rise to possible Germanic roots.  Except the tradition doesn’t exist anywhere in the Germanic customs.

Some suggest two possible stories as origin stories.  The first is about a German soldier who had been captured.  To stave off starvation, he asked for a pickle which saved his life.  The story changes a lot, so I’m not sure about this one.  And even accounting for “Christmas miracles” one pickle seems far fetched to stop starvation.  So this one seems like the kind of story that appears after the tradition started.

The second story is about how some travelers were murdered and dissected and stuffed into pickle barrels.  The were rescued by St. Nicholas, or a forebear of his, and restored to life, good health, and good wealth.  To be honest, I first read this legend in Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates as a kid.  Hans Brinker was written by Mary Mapes Dodge in 1865, so it’s not inconceivable that it might have given rise to the Christmas Pickle story.  However, if she wrote it in her book, it’s likely that it was already an old and very well known story so it wouldn’t be the origin for a late 1800s tradition.

Given all that, what started it; where did it start; what’s its significance?  It’s fairly certain it started in America and in the northern mid-west.  All the other questions aren’t easily answered so why try?

One very cynical answer to all these questions is that the whole story and tradition was started by traveling salesman after the civil war.  It was designed to help them sell more pickles, and more ornaments.

So, whatever else it is, the Christmas Pickle is one of the weirdest Christmas traditions ever conceived.  Distinctly American, and unutterably odd, it’s still a charming and fun way to celebrate.

Are there any weird traditions, Christmas or otherwise, in your family you’d like to share?  In my family, birthdays were always private family affairs.  My first birthday party was when I turned 17 and was given to me by friends.  At home, we always had presents and cake.  When mom made the cake, she’d make two round layers and put frosting in the middle.  To make sure the layers stayed in place, she’d put four toothpicks through them to hold them steady.  Whoever got a toothpick in their slice of cake was the birthday person’s slave for the day.  Silly, fun ways to celebrate.

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Speaking of traditions, this year I’m starting a new tradition with the blog.  Since I’m working retail these days, time is in short supply.  Long hours at the store, on my feet all day, no time for breaks or meals.  By the time I get home, unwind, and eat, the last thing I’m thinking about is more work on the computer.  So, I’m going to take a break from the blog for the holiday.  Today will be the last until the holidays and birthdays are done.  I will return on Jan 1, 2019.  I will be posting short messages to the blog’s Facebook page if you want to head over there to see what’s going on.

I wish you all the merriest and happiest of holidays.

And, as always,

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