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Happy Thanksgiving! November 28, 2013

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Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders (Poor Richard), of Poor Richard’s Almanac, wish each and every one of you a joyous, blessed, and abundant Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

Thanksgiving gets no respect. November 23, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Who doesn’t love Christmas, of course, but what makes Thanksgiving so special to me is that it combines the aspects of an old-time Harvest Home festival, celebrating the abundance and bounty of another harvest season, with the only holiday that is all about gratitude.

Gratitude. Giving thanks. Not about stuffing ourselves fuller than the iconic turkey and then collapsing in a stupor in front of the TV to watch football. Yes, Thanksgiving is about coming together with friends, family and neighbors for a joyous feast. But it’s also about giving thanks for the year’s many blessings, as well as for good companionship and good food.

So it distresses me to see Thanksgiving being obliterated between the ever-earlier “Black Friday” sales extravaganza and Christmas. Frantic shopping sprees, trying to grab the newest Xbox or latest iPhone before anyone else can get it, shoving people out of the way to get a discounted shirt or dress, a celebration of greed and materialism, strikes me as in direct opposition to the spirit of Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving holiday should be leisurely, giving everyone plenty of time to reflect on the many gifts that they’ve received during the past year and every year—and I’m not talking about Christmas, Hanukkah, and birthday presents here—and to enjoy time spent with those who mean most to us. It should be sacred.

But it seems to have now been totally lost. Yesterday, I went with a friend to a charming little town in Amish country for an open house by an artist we both know and admire. But even here, in the heartland of farms and agriculture, Thanksgiving was nowhere in sight. Instead, Christmas wreaths and Christmas trees and Christmas ornaments adorned every storefront and street corner. Christmas music played in every shop. Christmas stockings, ornaments, cards, and gifts were front-and-center everywhere.

I love Christmas. I love to celebrate Christmas. And I love to stretch the Christmas season from Advent to Sixth Night, playing beloved Christmas music, watching beloved Christmas DVDs, reading beloved Christmas books, enjoying treasured Christmas ornaments throughout the house, and eating favorite Christmas treats. (Our friend Ben is even worse. If I didn’t put my foot down by February, I hate to think when all the Christmas stuff would stop.)

But I don’t want Christmas to start before December. I want to have my Thanksgiving, and I don’t want it to be obliterated between the bizarre frenzy of Halloween, Black Friday, and too-early Christmas commercialism. I want to be able to take some calm, leisurely, unpressured time to simply feel grateful, to celebrate the opportunity to give thanks. To enjoy time spent with loved ones and friends. To avoid the pressure to do anything else, such as engage in manic shopping.

Please, people, let’s give Thanksgiving the respect, and space, it deserves. Of course, every day should be an opportunity for thanksgiving. But on our special holiday, let’s not give that precious opportunity up.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Time to plan Thanksgiving dinner. November 10, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. Yes, it’s only November 10th, but it’s not a minute too soon to start planning your Thanksgiving menu, assuming you’re the person who’ll be doing the cooking. And yes, at our house, that would be me.

Obviously, the number of people coming over for dinner will affect your menu in terms of how many dishes and how much variety you’ll want to offer, as will the ages of your guests. (Kids might prefer homemade applesauce to homemade cranberry sauce, and mac’n’cheese to corn pudding, and popcorn and string cheese to endive-boat appetizers, and chocolates to baked apples, not to mention, obviously, warmed apple cider to red wine.)

Our Thanksgiving celebrations tend to feature twentysomethings-and-up, so we can skip the kid-friendly treats and go directly to adult-only fare. And I’m vegetarian, so there won’t be any turkey (or, ewww, Tofurky, I hate pseudo-meat) on the menu. My menu tends to look like this:

Appetizers

Endive Boats (endive leaves stuffed with gorgonzola, blue cheese, or feta, pecan pieces, dried cranberries, and cracked black pepper); they’re addictive!

Baked Brie (topped with brown sugar and served with Table Water crackers, such as Carr’s)

Assorted cheese and crackers

Baguette slices topped with butter, sliced radishes, scallions, and salt

Quick, easy, delicious nachos, with tortilla chips layered with sliced jalapeno peppers and extra-sharp shredded white Cheddar cheese and baked until the cheese melts and the chips are hot

The classic black olives and celery, my father’s favorite; celery can be stuffed with cream cheese or offered with blue cheese dressing, as desired

Caesar salad (without anchovies, of course)

Soup Course

My luscious curied pumpkin soup, which includes lots of sweet onion, canned pumpkin (which is actually not pumpkin, but winter squash), cream, and Sambuca or other licorice liqueur

Hot dinner rolls and butter (I confess, I buy them, can’t make everything!)

Main Course

Unbelievably delicious dressing

Southern corn pudding

Roasted Brussels sprouts

Green and yellow wax beans

Baked sweet potatoes

Mashed Yukon Gold potatoes

Crock-Pot mac’n’cheese

Cranberry sauce

Dessert

Baked apples

Pumpkin roll (as with the dinner rolls, I buy this from local Mennonite farm stands rather than making it from scratch)

Pumpkin-swirled vanilla cheesecake (ditto, a wonderful local bakery makes this)

Chess pie

Pecan pie

Apple fritters (also from a local bakery, i hate deep-frying)

Apple crisp

Poached pears

I hope I don’t need to say that I don’t make everything on this menu every Thanksgiving! I tailor the menu to the year, the guests, and how long it’s been since I’ve made any given dish and how much I’m craving it. Fortunately, these dishes tend to make excellent leftovers, though, so even if you overdo it (as I tend to do), you’ll be able to enjoy Thanksgiving for at least a week. And since I love this more than any other holiday—the opportunity to celebrate both abundance and gratitude—I’m delighted with that!

A few tips: Don’t overdo the appetizers and desserts. One or two appetizers and one dessert are plenty. Don’t forget that cheese, dried fruit, and a good tawny port can be a fabulous and very traditional dessert course (in which case, you’ll want to skip the cheese plate when you’re serving appetizers). And if you happen to love fruitcake or plum pudding (neither of which will be appearing on my table anytime soon, or ever), it’s winter enough to bring them out for dessert, and, in the case of the fruitcake, pairing it with cheese and port. Me, I’d rather have some cheese and slices of crisp apple and maybe some dried apricots and mixed nuts. (No peanuts, please. Those aren’t nuts!)

Soup, especially a rich soup like my signature hot curried pumpkin soup or a cream of tomato or mushroom soup, will certainly both warm and fill your guests. But think about their appetites and what else you’re planning to serve before you decide to add it to your menu. A Caesar salad or some crudites might give them an opportunity to snack while not filling up before the main course.

Mix it up when making your main course. Choose deep green, orange, white or yellow, red or purple, and brown veggies. Roasted Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, strips of yellow bell pepper, and sweet onion slices make an absolutely yummy complement to mashed potatoes. Asparagus is actually a spring crop, but roasted green and white asparagus drizzled with olive oil and a seasoned salt such as Trocomare is a rich dish that will complement your other Thanksgiving dishes. And don’t forget pasta. If you’re too busy to make corn pudding or even Crock-Pot mac’n’cheese, you can always make creamy pasta with shells, sour cream, and butter, to add richness to the Thanksgiving table in place of the mashed potatoes.

What will you serve this Thanksgiving?

‘Til next time,

Silence

A secure investment. November 24, 2012

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As we stare over the precipice of the so-called fiscal cliff, our friend Ben is reminded of a marvelous quote from Henry David Thoreau: “Goodness is the only investment which never fails.” (Okay, it should have been “that never fails,” but let’s give Thoreau a break.)

Goodness is a rare and underappreciated quality. My beloved Grandaddy was a good man, and my adored Mama, his daughter, who was incredibly bright, made a point of telling the youthful Ben that my intelligence rated a very low second compared to character and moral principle. “Lots of people are bright, but very few are good or kind,” she told me repeatedly. The lesson sank in.

I can’t say that I grew up to be a good person, but I did grow up to revere goodness above all other qualities. As my Mama pointed out, anybody can be intelligent, even brilliant. But it takes a truly special person to be good. This Thanksgiving weekend, let’s all make a point of celebrating the good people in our lives.

Vegetarians, hooray! No gelatin in Marshmallow Fluff! November 21, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. If, like me, you grew up with peanut butter and marshmallow cream sandwiches, and marshmallow cream on your hot fudge sundaes—or, say, marshmallow cream on the revered Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole—and became vegetarian at some point, you were probably horrified to learn that marshmallows, and marshmallow cream, contain gelatin.

Gelatin is made from calves’ feet, which means that Jell-O, marshmallows, and such unlikely products as Goo-Goo Clusters and Altoids are off-limits to vegetarians. Rats!

Here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and I grew up with Thanksgiving sweet potatoes roasted and served with butter, salt, and black pepper, so we never had to contend with the iconic marshmallow-covered sweet potato casserole. But those peanut butter sandwiches and sundaes were favorite treats, even if we don’t really eat them now. So I was thrilled to read in today’s Wall Street Journal (www.wsj.com) that Marshmallow Fluff doesn’t contain gelatin. Vegetarians, rejoice! Nobody’s going to say the stuff is good for you. But at least you can enjoy it on Thanksgiving or when you’re craving a peanut butter sandwich or sundae, and not have to worry about gelatin.

             ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

Cranberries: cooked or raw? November 21, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. It seems to me that there are two kinds of people when it comes to Thanksgiving cranberries, those who like them cooked in cranberry sauce, and those who like them raw in cranberry relish. (There are also all of us who love dried cranberries, aka “craisins,” and folks like our friend Ben who grew up with the cranberry jelly in a can and have remained faithful, serving up a big slice for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Fortunately, he also likes my from-scratch cranberry sauce.)

I also started out with cranberry jelly in a can; real cranberry sauce, which my Mama made every year, was considered too bitter for a child’s unsophisticated palate. I have to agree: To this day, I cringe every time I see a recipe for cranberry sauce that simply includes cranberries and sugar or cranberries, orange rind and sugar. It’s enough to make your teeth ache just thinking about it.

But worse still, from my perspective, is cranberry relish, that ground-up concoction of raw cranberries, oranges and sugar. Yikes!!! It’s so bitter, and the texture is all wrong. Cooked cranberry sauce made right is succulent and delicious, the perfect complement to turkey and dressing. Raw cranberry relish is harsh, the absolute opposite of what Thanksgiving cranberries should be. (I’d make an exception if you made raw cranberry and horseradish relish, so it was a spicy, savory accompaniment to the rich Thanksgiving fare. Otherwise, eeeewwwwww.) And yet raw cranberry relish has innumerable fans.

For me, cooked cranberry sauce is king, and I’ve modified a recipe by Dorie Greenspan to make the most luscious cranberry sauce known to man. It’s so easy, and so good, it would be a sin not to at least try it. So here you are:

                Silence’s Ultimate Cranberry Sauce

2 12-ounce bags fresh cranberries

1 12-ounce jar apricot preserves

16 ounces orange juice

1/2 cup diced dried apricots

1/4 cup Grand Marnier

2 cinnamon sticks

heaping teaspoon ginger paste or 2 slices diced crystallized or minced fresh ginger

Rinse and drain cranberries and put them in a large, heavy pot (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven). Pour in orange juice and Grand Marnier. Add diced apricots, apricot preserves, cinnamon sticks, and ginger. Stir well to mix, then cook over low heat until cranberries “pop” and mixture thickens. Allow to cool, then pour into containers and refrigerate until needed. Keeps very well. Serves 12.  

No bitterness here, but it’s not cloyingly sweet, either. Everyone should love this sauce, from toddlers to centenarians.

As for those who fall in the raw-cranberry camp, I invite you to speak up and defend yourselves! I’d as soon eat raw cornmeal or raw okra as raw cranberries. Why does raw cranberry relish hold appeal for you? Inquiring minds would really like to know.

                  ‘Til next time,

                               Silence

Thanksgiving persimmon salad. November 20, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. For years, we’ve been trying to grow persimmon trees here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the middle of nowhere, PA. And basically, we’ve been failing, our poor little ‘Meader’ American persimmon still hardly coming much past my waist, and a new American persimmon we found this year at Meadowview Farm in Bowers, PA, no taller than my knee.

American persimmons, like Brussels sprouts, need frost to sweeten up. This is also true of the Japanese Hachiya persimmon. But it’s not true of the Japanese Fuyu persimmon, which is available in grocery stores now and is the star in Chef Marc Vetri’s Persimmon and Arugula Salad, featured in the past weekend’s Wall Street Journal (check it out at www.wsj.com). I was really thrilled by this salad, since it looked absolutely delicious and perfect for fall, and I happen to love arugula, Parmesan, lemon juice and persimmons.

Best of all, it’s so easy! To make the salad for four, buy 3 Fuyu persimmons, 4 cups baby arugula, Parmesan shavings, and 1 or more lemons. Chef Vetri suggests trimming the persimmon tops and ends, and peeling them if you choose, then halving and thinly slicing them. Toss the persimmon slices with the juice of one lemon, a pinch of fine sea salt, and 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Give them five minutes for the fruit to release its juices and the salt to dissolve, then taste and add more lemon juice or salt to taste.

Now it’s time to plate your salad. Put a cup of baby arugula on each plate, then top with 1/4th of the sliced persimmons. Drizzle with the sauce from the fruit bowl, garnish with plenty of shaved Parmesan, top with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly ground black pepper, and sit back and watch your guests wolf down the most amazing Thanksgiving salad ever! So good, so easy. Yum!!!

            ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

The perfect Thanksgiving salad. November 16, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. As every cook knows, Thanksgiving dinner is a rush. And not in a good way. You’re racing like a thoroughbred in the Derby, but while they only run for a couple of minutes, you’re zigging and zagging through the kitchen for hours. True, you can make some things ahead, like your cranberry sauce, roasted veggies, casseroles, and dressing. You can buy desserts and dinner rolls and hold them. But some things have to be made last-minute, and one of them is salad.

It takes me a good half-hour to make a yummy salad, combining greens and chopping all the veggies, adding nuts or pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) and shredded or crumbled cheese, dicing apples or pears and sprinkling on golden raisins if I go that route or mixed olives if I don’t, adding herbs, making a quick, delicious dressing. Normally, I don’t mind: I’ll make the salad while the pasta water comes to a boil or the veggies cook or whatever, while I’d be standing around in the kitchen anyway.

But that’s not the case on Thanksgiving. The last thing I have time for is spending a half-hour making a salad while I’m trying to pull Thanksgiving dinner together. But fortunately, there’s a can’t-miss salad that you can put together in less than five minutes, and it’s so luscious that it might be the dish your family and friends can’t stop talking about after the meal. It’s the Wedge.

The Wedge is a retro salad. It’s based on a wedge of—gasp!!!—iceberg lettuce. Its return to fame began in steakhouses and has spread like wildfire. Iceberg lettuce has been dissed by chefs, nutritionists and foodies for decades as the salad equivalent of white balloon bread (think squishy Wonder bread). And it’s certainly true that iceberg can’t compete for flavor with arugula, radicchio, frisee, mustard greens, kale, and the like. It also can’t compete for nutritive value with darker greens like spinach, Romaine, or, say, a mesclun mix. Nutritionists are correct when they note that iceberg is lacking in vitamins. But they always fail to point out that iceberg is high in fiber.

If you happen to be eating a Thanksgiving spread including broccoli or green beans, sweet potatoes, some form of corn, and cranberries, you’ll be getting plenty of vitamins. Fiber-rich iceberg lettuce is exactly what you need to top off your meal. And you’ll be getting the flavor and nutritional goodness of onions, tomatoes, and blue cheese on top of it.

Making a Wedge couldn’t be easier. Take a head of iceberg lettuce, wash it, dry it, and then cut it in wedges. I’ve been served whole fourths to thirds of a head of iceberg when ordering the Wedge at restaurants, far more than anyone could eat. I suggest that you cut a head in sixths. Put each iceberg wedge on a salad plate, add diced red onion, followed by sliced cherry and/or grape tomatoes (I like to mix yellow, orange and red tomatoes for drama and flavor).

To finish the salad, crumble blue cheese over the lettuce wedge. Grind on fresh-cracked black pepper. In every restaurant where I’ve ordered a Wedge, it’s come with blue cheese dressing over the crumbled blue cheese. I myself prefer extra-virgin olive oil and a little fresh-squeezed lemon juice over the crumbled cheese, but it’s your choice. Some restaurants add crumbled bacon as well; as a vegetarian, I obviously skip that part, but your guests might find it rave-worthy.

That’s all there is to it. You cut iceberg wedges, add onion, tomato, blue cheese, and (if you want) bacon, pour on some dressing, the end. Your guests get a luscious, crunchy, creamy, flavorful salad. Retro chic and super easy. Serve with hot, soft breadsticks and dipping sauce or hand around the hot dinner rolls and butter, and your Thanksgiving dinner will be the talk of the town.

                ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

Vegan Thanksgiving: A pro’s menu. November 15, 2012

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What does a vegan Thanksgiving menu look like? Silence Dogood here. I don’t know about you, but when someone says “Vegan Thanksgiving,” the image that always comes to mind is a revolting Tofurky with an edamame appetizer. (Mind you, I’ve never tried Tofurky, since I don’t do pseudomeat; maybe it’s delicious.)

So I was thrilled to read in our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, that Chef Wendy Landiak was providing a Thanksgiving feast for vegans and the parents/friends/etc. of vegans who had no clue what to cook them. Chef Wendy is locally renowned for her pop-up vegan restaurant, Balasia (www.balasia.net, www.thehoneyunderground.com). Since the article didn’t say what she’d be serving, I Googled the menu and here’s what I found:

Lucky vegans who chose to go with Chef Wendy’s pick-up dinner (or whose families had pity on them and ordered one) would be treated to their choice of homemade seitan with baby bella mushroom gravy (seitan is “wheat meat”), coriander mustard baked tofu, or seasonal vegetable-stuffed pumpkin. (No Tofurky!) The entree would be accompanied by homemade whole-grain bread with rosemary and garlic, parsley and garlic mashed potatoes, butternut squash soup with ginger, homemade cranberry sauce with orange zest, roasted sweet potatoes with caramelized walnuts, and roasted vegetables with soy butter and herbs. For dessert, you can choose from three pumpkin-themed specialties: pie, cake, or cheesecake.

At $45 a person, this is obviously not your all-you-can-eat-for-$16.99 Thanksgiving buffet. But Chef Wendy’s reputation is stellar, so you know you’ll be getting fresh, local, seasonal, from-scratch fare. Should you wish to take advantage of Chef Wendy’s talents, and assuming you live close enough to pick up your order in scenic Hereford, PA from noon to 6 p.m. this coming Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, you can place your order at 484-330-6405 or by e-mail at yogawithwendy@yahoo.com. But you must order today, November 15. Last call!

For the rest of us, I enjoyed perusing the menu options and hope you did, too. Food for thought! Chef Wendy’s choices are a far cry from my own Thanksgiving meal: endive boats and curried pumpkin soup; a huge, hearty salad and hot rolls; my famous crunchy baked dressing, cranberry sauce with marmalade and Grand Marnier, corn pudding, winter slaw, green beans amondine, and roasted winter veggies (sweet potatoes, sweet onions, mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts). Followed by pumpkin roll, pecan pie, bourbon-pecan fudge, and marbled pumpkin cheesecake.

Needless to say, there’s always plenty of food left over, which provides a fun challenge of its own. I like to make creamy pasta to serve with the leftovers through the weekend. The curried pumpkin soup makes a great lunch served with the slaw and hot-from-the-oven cornbread. And the roasted winter veggies are yummy over rice, assuming you have any leftover roasted veggies (we never do). Our friend Ben, our resident sweet tooth, complains vigorously about an excess of desserts, but seems strangely reluctant when I suggest sharing leftovers with neighbors and friends.

Point being, whether you’re an omnivore, vegetarian, or vegan, it’s fun to think through the Thanksgiving menu and try something new each year. It may or may not make it onto the must-have list for following years, but it will probably be good, and provide a talking point for your guests. My easy endive boat appetizers are a case in point, so simple to prepare, so quickly gobbled up by guests (warning: not vegan): Buy a couple of Belgian endive heads, cut off the base and separate the leaves (wash and dry them, please). Fill each leaf (the “endive boat”) with a mixture of crumbled pecans, dried cranberries (aka “craisins”), crumbled blue or feta cheese or a combination, and fresh-cracked black pepper. Serve. Watch guests fight over the last ones.

What do you like to serve for Thanksgiving?

                 ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

What’s the most popular Thanksgiving side? November 24, 2011

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Happy Thanksgiving to all of you from all of us here at Poor Richard’s Almanac!!!

Silence Dogood wanted to point out that Yahoo had just done a survey of the most popular Thanksgiving side dish, asking vistors to vote for green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, or sweet potato casserole. We love green beans and roasted or baked sweet potatoes, but ix-nay on the nasty canned-soup-based green bean casserole and ooey, gooey marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole.

So Silence hit the button for mashed potatoes to see how everybody else had voted. She was sure that one of the casseroles would win, and was stunned to see that 52% of voters sided with her for the mashed potatoes, a big winner over the 20-something votes for the green bean and sweet potato casseroles. Apparently Americans aren’t as taste-challenged as many might believe.

Mind you, Silence and I both think that the most popular sides should be delicious dressing and dressed-up mashed potatoes, so we’re not sure why dressing/stuffing didn’t figure on the Yahoo list. All you fellow mashed potato fans, enjoy your celebration with a big side of luscious dressing! And enjoy your green beans boiled, then tossed with butter, cracked black pepper, and RealSalt or Trocomare, and your sweet potatoes sliced and roasted with olive oil, cracked black pepper, rosemary, basil, and thyme.

Whatever. We plan to offer our own selection of appetizers and sides: endive boats, dinner rolls, tossed salad, coleslaw, mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and Butternut squash, green beans, dressing, cranberry sauce,  roasted veggies. Followed by pumpkin, pecan, and cherry pie.

But yes, Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving for us without mashed potatoes. We’re delighted to find out that 52% of the rest of us feel the same.

Happy, happy, happy day!!!!

                         Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders

 

 

 

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