A secure investment. November 24, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: character, fiscal cliff, Henry David Thoreau, kindness, thanksgiving, the greatest virtues, Thoreau quotes
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, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: gelatin, Marshmallow Fluff, marshmallows gelatin, sweet potato casserole, sweet potatoes, thanksgiving, Thanksgiving recipes, vegetarians
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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,
The perfect Thanksgiving salad. November 16, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: easy Thanksgiving salads, iceberg lettuce, thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Dinner, Thanksgiving salad recipes, Wedge salad
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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,
Vegan Thanksgiving: A pro’s menu. November 15, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Balasia, endive boat recipe, thanksgiving, vegan Thanksgiving, vegetarian Thanksgiving, Wendy Landiak
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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,
What’s the most popular Thanksgiving side? November 24, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: best Thanksgiving sides, mashed potatoes, mashed potatoes and winter squash, popular Thanksgiving side dishes, thanksgiving
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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
Ultimate Thanksgiving mashed potatoes (plus). November 23, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: Butternut squash, mashed potato-winter squash recipe, mashed potatoes and winter squash, potato-squash casserole, thanksgiving, Thanksgiving dishes, Thanksgiving recipes, Thanksgiving sides, Yukon Gold potatoes
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Silence Dogood here. For our friend Ben and me, whatever else we serve, Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes. But they seem pretty plain Jane compared to the rest of the holiday fare, and if we had guests, the poor mashed potatoes tended to sit neglected (except by the two of us). Not any more!
I was thrilled to find a special recipe that combined potatoes and winter squash in a way I was convinced would be healthy, hearty, and perfect for that all-American holiday, Thanksgiving. (Squash and potatoes are both native to the Americas, after all.) In this recipe, you’re combining the vitamin A and high-fiber content of winter squash with the inherent yumminess of potatoes and the protein of cheese. And the gorgeous color combo of golden Yukon Gold potatoes and orange Butternut squash is ideal for a winter feast.
I discovered the dish originally on the Tennessee Locavore’s blog (http://tnlocavore.typepad.com/). She makes it as a casserole. But I wanted to make it for Thanksgiving dinner, and between my dressing, summer squash casserole, roasted veggies, rolls, and corn pudding, the oven was pretty much taken. So I simplified the recipe and made it stovetop, in the heavy Dutch oven I use to cook the potatoes. Check out her blog to see her recipe, which I’m sure is luscious. But oh my, the version I made was simply fabulous. Our friend Ben, no slouch when it comes to eating mashed potatoes or praising my recipes, announced that he ranked this in the top five of everything I’ve ever made for him. Check it out:
Mashed Potatoes and Winter Squash
2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, chunked
1 Butternut squash, peeled and chunked
9 ounces (one block) Gruyere cheese, grated
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan
4 tablespoons butter
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt)
1 teaspoon lemon pepper or cracked black pepper to taste
Boil the potatoes and squash until tender; drain, mash, and stir well to blend. Return to very low heat. Add butter, cheese, eggs, and spices, stirring well to blend. Heat and taste, adjusting seasonings, and serve.
This really is delicious, and pretty easy, too, though peeling and seeding the Butternut squash isn’t much fun. But our local grocery sells pre-peeled and chunked winter squash, so I’ll use that this time. I’m notoriously texture-sensitive, so the slippery-slimy texture of winter squash would normally cause me to pass up any dish containing it, but the potatoes in this dish cover for the squash, and I thought it was incredibly good. Trust me, your guests won’t ever think of mashed potatoes as boring again. Don’t be surprised if it’s the first dish to vanish from the table!
‘Til next time,
Delicious Thanksgiving dressing. November 22, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: dressing recipe, stuffing recipe, thanksgiving, Thanksgiving dishes, Thanksgiving dressing, Thanksgiving side dishes, Thanksgiving stuffing
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Silence Dogood here. I’ll admit it: My favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is the dressing. I’m a vegetarian, so we don’t call it stuffing, since we’re not stuffing anything. And I’ve always loved mine crunchy anyway, so even as a child, I didn’t eat the stuffing inside the turkey, but rather the dressing my beloved mama baked separately just for me. Same recipe, different cooking style.
As an adult, I’ve strayed from Mama’s traditional recipe for dressing. I wanted something so luscious that it could stand on its own, something that could be the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, not just an also-ran side dish. I think my Amazing Cranberry Dressing fits the bill. Plus, it keeps well and reheats beautifully, so you can make it ahead and reheat it on Thanksgiving—if there’s any left by then! See what you think:
Silence’s Amazing Cranberry Dressing
1 bag Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing
1 to 1 1/2 sticks butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup dried cranberries (aka craisins)
1 cup pecan pieces
1 to 2 cups diced sweet onion, to taste
1 to 2 cups minced button mushrooms, to taste
1 teaspoon each dried thyme, marjoram, rosemary and sage
1 tablespoon each dried basil, oregano, garam masala, Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt) and cracked black pepper
2 1/2 cups veggie stock (any boxed brand is fine)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Melt butter in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. (Use 1 1/2 sticks if you don’t plan on pouring turkey drippings over the dressing, 1 stick if you do.) Add olive oil, diced onion, herbs, and spices. When onion has clarified, add mushrooms. When mushrooms have cooked down, add cranberries and pecan pieces. Add veggie stock. Turn off heat and gently fold in Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing.
Spoon mixture into a large (9 x 13″) rectangular oven-proof dish or two 8 x 8″ square oven-proof dishes. Bake at 350 for about 1/2 hour, until the top is crunchy but not burned and the interior is succulent. Cover with aluminum foil until served. Serves 8-10. Leftovers reheat well in a toaster oven or oven set at 250 to 300 degrees F until warmed through. (Don’t reheat in a microwave or the dressing will get mushy.)
That’s all there is to making the best dressing this side of Heaven! Try it and see if you don’t agree. And if you have a favorite recipe for dressing/stuffing, please share it with us!
‘Til next time,
Keep your pets safe this Thanksgiving. November 21, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: cat safety, dog safety, Karen Steinrock, keeping pets safe over Thanksgiving, pet safety, thanksgiving
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Holidays like Thanksgiving, with huge feasts and memorable get-togethers, are great for people. But they can be dangerous for pets. And since our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have managed to cram practically every kind of pet on earth into our tiny cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, this is of particular concern to us. (Well, we don’t have a tarantula, but I saw a remote-controlled version in a catalog yesterday, and Silence had to physically restrain me from rushing online and spending $30 to acquire it. Fun for the whole family, not to mention unsuspecting visitors! But I digress.)
Silence pointed out two articles on pet safety over the holidays, one, “People food that you shouldn’t feed to pets,” on Yahoo, and the other, “Tips for keeping pets safe for the holidays,” in Karen Steinrock’s pet column in our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call. (Check them out at www.yahoo.com and www.themorningcall.com.)
From our friend Ben’s perspective, you only really need to do one thing to keep any pet safe during your Thanksgiving celebration: If they’re loose in the house, don’t leave them unsupervised. Not for an instant. Because the minute your back is turned, you’re inviting disaster. Even if your pets normally have free run of the house, I’d strongly advise keeping them confined for the duration of your holiday get-together. And if you prefer to let, say, your dog mingle with family and friends, designate one family member to watch him or her at all times. That would be at all times.
Why? Let’s explore some scenarios. Your parrot or other bird, who normally sits calmly on its freestanding perch and participates in all family activities, could become frightened or overly excited by all the comings and goings, or spooked by someone’s holiday outfit, and either fly the coop, literally disappearing into the frigid night and becoming owl bait when one too many people opens the front door, or launch itself onto someone whose outfit or hairstyle it finds offensive or attractive.
Or try this: Someone who doesn’t realize you have a pet iguana or house rabbit (or someone who’s had a bit too much holiday cheer and isn’t paying close attention) steps or rocks on your beloved pet, with tragic consequences. Or, in all the excitement, nobody’s watching the bunny and it chews through an electrical wire (a favorite bunny pastime for some reason). Needless to say, fried hare wasn’t on your Thanksgiving menu.
Or this: Your normally well-behaved dog or cat (er, is there such a thing as a well-behaved cat?) is a perfect lady or gentleman when that uncooked Butterball is sitting on the counter. But the second the fragrant bird comes out of the oven and is carved, and the remains are set down on the kitchen counter while everyone’s eating their Thanksgiving feast in the dining room, Caesar and Lola get down to business in the kitchen. They feel entitled to a feast, too! Before you know it, your precious pet has punctured its esophagus, stomach or intestines with a brittle turkey bone, you’re in the veterinary emergency room rather than sitting pretty in front of the game, and your poor pet is facing hugely expensive surgery and a long, painful recovery; ditto your bank account.
Keeping your pets in lockdown or closely watched will prevent these tragedies, and the long list of others. Our friend Ben knew that chicken and turkey bones were very dangerous for cats and dogs, but I was stunned to learn that turkey fat, gravy, and fatty parts like skin were also hazardous. Karen Steinrock wisely pointed out that the kitchen string many people use to bind the turkey’s legs can also be ingested by your dog (I can’t see a cat doing this) and cause a blockage (or worse) requiring surgery. Please, people, stash the leftover turkey back in the oven where pets can’t get at it until your guests are gone and you can attend to it properly! Mind you, a piece of turkey meat will doubtless make your dog’s or cat’s day. But an unsupervised dog eating his fill of turkey is a recipe for one very sick dog, even if he doesn’t eat the bones or lap the gravy. Not to mention, there go your leftovers!
I hope that most of you know that the theobromine and caffeine in chocolate that makes us feel so good can be fatal to pets; their hearts apparently just can’t take the stimulation. If you have a candy dish set out for your guests, either put it on the sideboard rather than the coffee table or pass it around, then put it out of reach. Explain that you’re not doing this to deprive your guests of chocolate, but to save your pet’s life, and invite guests to help themselves at the candy dish’s new location.
Other seemingly harmless foods that made the “danger” list: onions, garlic and sage, by themselves or in stuffing (hmmm, I guess that “feed garlic to repel fleas” thing was a bad idea); grapes and raisins; and macadamia nuts. Our friend Ben understands that onions and garlic can cause anemia in dogs (again, I can’t see a cat eating them), but I have no clue what harm sage, grapes, raisins, and macadamia nuts could possibly do. (Though admittedly, I loathe the mealy texture of macadamia nuts, which, like even mealier chestnuts, we avoid like the plague.)
Karen Steinrock offers a final safety tip that makes a ton of sense to us: secure your trash can lids. Be you never so careful about keeping your pets out of the food, if they can stick their heads in the trash can and feast to their heart’s content, you’ve ultimately done them no favors.
By this point, you may be feeling like the holidays aren’t going to be much fun for your pets. But that’s not true. Just like planning the Thanksgiving feast itself, all you need is a little foresight. Our black German shepherd, Shiloh, loves green beans, cooked potatoes, and raw eggs. All these will play roles in Silence’s Thanksgiving cooking, and Shiloh will get her share. Our parrot Plutarch loves both green beans and raw cranberries, and he’ll get plenty. The cats have an inexplicable fondness for pumpkin bread, and a perfectly explicable fondness for cheese, so they’ll get some of both. (Shiloh, too, of course.) Our parakeets and fish may not get any exotic treats, but they’ll certainly get their favorites. And everybody will get plenty of attention. Our pets will be happy, and so will we.
Please make the effort to ensure a safe and happy Thanksgiving for your pets!