Archive for February, 2010

Culinary Competition

(Note: This is part one of a two part blog post)

When I was in high school, I attended a magnet program (also called vo-tec) in the culinary arts field.  It was a wonderful opportunity for me, as it gave me my first taste of a career in the culinary arts.  I learned basic kitchen skills there, and one of the best parts of that program was taking part in culinary competitions.  In my junior year, my team won a regional competition, then state, and from there we went to the national competition in Boston.  It was great fun and a wonderful learning experience, but I remember being terrified at the guest chef judges who would come during practice runs to critique us.

Well, last week, Jill and I had the opportunity to terrify the next generation of culinary arts students… we helped judge a cooking competition at the Cumberland County Technical Education Center (CCTEC) in Rosenhayn.

We met the instructor, Chef Jeff, about a year ago when he came into the bakery, but we hadn’t been out to visit him at the school yet.  The opportunity arose when CCTEC hosted an open house for all of its programs, and so (after a snow delay of a week), Jill and I headed out to visit the campus, meet Chef Jeff, and help his students with their practice run.

The busy kitchen!

We got there a little late, and walked into the craziness of a busy kitchen.  Chef Jeff gave us a quick tour and introductions, while Gina (Chef Jeff’s assistant) got us our scorecards and gave us the run down on who was cooking and how the competition was structured.

Jill and I jumped right in.  Barbara was at the first station.  She was an older woman, older than I expected since I assumed that the program was for high school students, but there she was confidently working on her dish.  Her station was clean and organized, and she seemed to be relaxed and having fun.

Alex, who was using a small copper tube to cut baby red potatoes into unusual shapes, occupied the next station.  I asked what he was doing, and he told me that he was cutting them to look like mushrooms (which I then saw more clearly), since he was not satisfied cutting them into mere wedges.  I inquired about what he would do with the scraps were it not a competition, and he correctly answered that they would likely become mashed potatoes or something of the like.  I was pleased to hear that they wouldn’t be ending up in the garbage.

Next up was Austin, who was cutting chicken breasts open so that he could stuff them with prosciutto and provolone.

Austin seasons his potatoes

He seemed cool and collected, and was having fun.  His station was a little messy, but it didn’t seem to faze him as he stuffed and tied his chicken breasts with the confidence of a skilled cook.

Lenin was next up on the line, and he was making a similar dish of rolled and stuffed chicken breasts.  His though, were to be stuffed with the American standard of ham and cheese, which he was chopping and placing to the side of his cutting board.  This guy was really getting into a groove, having a good time and looking surprisingly relaxed.

Last up was Nick, who seemed to be the most focused of the bunch.  He was moving swiftly and deliberately through the kitchen, grabbing various ingredients and tasting different components of his dish.  He seemed a little more nervous, but considering all the action that was going on, I didn’t blame him… I remember what it was like to be in his shoes!

And action there was.  Picture this.  Not only were there five cooks preparing a meal that had at least four components each in one kitchen, there were also two bakers competing right next to them, icing cakes and rolling cookie dough.  In front of the line of tables they were working on, there was another team of bakers decorating a wedding cake (which, by the way, was beautiful!).

Chef Jeffery Knerr demonstrates ice carving

On the other side of the kitchen, behind the competition area, there were two students working on ice carvings, complete with chainsaws, electric sanders, chisels, flying ice and lots of noise.  And remember that it was also open house, which meant that several thousand people were scoping the place out, filing through, taking pictures, and staring at the culinary competitors.  To their credit, all the students where doing a commendable job staying cool.

After familiarizing myself with the competitors and the kitchen, I got to work scoring.  I starting poking my nose around, asking questions, offering assistance where needed and suggestions where warranted… little did I know that the next two hours would hold triumphs and tribulations, excellent displays of teamwork, and some really tasty food.

Join me for my next column to see who cooked what and for the results of the culinary competition!


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Farm Fresh Chicken

The feet were interesting.  The more closely I looked at the chicken’s feet, the more I could totally see them being related to dinosaurs, as is the current scientific thought.  They were smooth, scaly and very reptilian looking… much like our friends’ pet snake.  It was fascinating!

Why, you may ask, was I holding a chicken foot?  Well I came into the possession of a chicken recently, and not any supermarket chicken.  This was a chicken that was clucking around the yard that very morning, a chicken that had lived its little chicken life roosting and laying.  This chicken was a throwback to the days in the not-so-distant past when people raised their own animals in the farms that surrounded Vineland.

Sure there’s a nostalgic feeling that I get about eating farm food.  Maybe it’s because I appreciate the flavors of real food, foods that existed before the days of factory farms, red #40, and high fructose corn syrup.  I have heard from a lot of older folks about the way food used to be, not only the culture of eating, but the flavor.  It was different they said, the meat was more rich, but all I could find was the tender and flavorless chicken of today.  I longed to taste real meat; the taste of a chicken that developed flavor is its muscles from using them.  It’s the same idea with beef, as many cooks know.  Tenderloin is tender because it’s a muscle that isn’t used much.  You can cook it fast and hot, right on the grill or in a pan.  But the shank, which is part of the leg and is used extensively, must be cooked low and slow in order for it to become the amazing dish known as osso bucco.

A few weeks ago, my article on eggs was published and shortly thereafter came an offer for an older hen for me to cook.  It was on.  Because a friend of ours, Janice, and I had been talking about this very subject recently, she invited Jill and I, as well as Brittany and Kate, to her apartment for a dinner of roasted chicken.

As the day of our dinner plans approached though, I began to have thoughts that roasting the chicken would not be the ideal cooking method for the chicken that we would be getting.  Since, as I mentioned previously, the chicken was older and had a life lived moving and working the muscles, this hen would need to be slow cooked in a liquid. Stew, soup or something of that nature was in order here.

Two days before our dinner, I heard on The Splended Table (a lovely radio show devoted to good food that comes on at 4pm Saturdays on 89.3), about a gentleman in a similar situation.  He had an older, tougher bird that he didn’t know what to do with.  Coq au Vin was the reply that came from the hostesses mouth, ‘chicken in wine,’ a classic French dish that has been eaten for centuries.  Of course, I thought!

Janice Aseltine chillin'

For Christmas, Jill’s mother got her Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the classic Julia Child tome that helped bring French cooking into the homes of many Americans.  Sure enough, there was a recipe for coq au vin in the poultry section.  I looked it over, and it was nothing too crazy… an older chicken, red wine, tomato paste, garlic, etc.

The day arrived and I went to get the chicken.  I was informed that she was about eight months old as of that day, and had been alive and well only that morning.  This was as fresh as it gets.  I was glad to hear that my intuition was right, and the path that had led me to coq au vin was the right one.  I was told that she wouldn’t be suitable for roasting.  Chicken of this nature was different, not as tender as I was used to, but full of flavor in cooked the right way.

At Janice’s the chicken came out of the bag, and that was when the aforementioned feet came in.  I don’t think I’d ever really seen chicken feet before, which seemed weird because I’d eaten chicken my whole life.  Was I that disconnected to my food that this was the first chicken foot I’d held?

Fortunately, the feet were not attached, and the animal was cleaned out.  Janice got to work breaking it down into the various parts that we would be eating.  She said that she hadn’t broken down a chicken in a while, but it was bringing back memories of her childhood when her family used to raise chicken and her father would do all the intense and precise cuts.

As the recipe required, Kate cut a few strips of bacon into chunks and I rendered the fat out of them in my big stainless steel pot that I don’t use as often as I’d like.  Once the fat was out of the bacon and that unmistakable smell filled the kitchen, I removed the crunchy meaty bits, added a tablespoon of butter (it’s Julia’s recipe, and she does not skimp on the fat!), and added the chicken pieces.  They browned beautifully and I was surprised at the dark color of the meat, another sign of a well-exercised fowl.

I added the bacon pieces back into the pot, covered, and let steam for about ten minutes.  Then into the pot was a splash on whisky (recipe called for cognac…) to deglaze followed by leftover red wine and chicken stock to cover the meat.  Seasoned with a spoonful of tomato paste, thyme, pepper, a bay leaf along with some carrots and celery (not a French addition, but I took a little liberty there).  It came up to a simmer (where it would stay, covered) and it smelled good, although very winey.

After about an hour of simmering, we were hungry!

The coq au vin

The alcohol had cooked off and the winey smell had mellowed into a rich, unctuous aroma.  The chicken pieces had taken on a red wine stained hue, and the sauce had thickened slightly.  I dipped a spoon in to taste, and… it was hot, but oh wow did it taste good.

The potatoes were mashed, the mushrooms and onions were done sautéing, the French bread was sliced, the wine was poured, and the salad was tossed.  I gently took the chicken out of the pot and placed it into a platter.  The braising liquid was strained and thickened with a little roux, and it was then spooned over the chicken.  It smelled so good; we were salivating at the thought of eating. We thanked the chicken for giving its life to us, and we dug in.  Dinner was ready…

Kate Fellows portioning out dessert

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(Inter)National Pie Day

Brittany Jackson with coconut custard pies ready to go

Last Saturday was National Pie Day, and even though it seems as though there is a special day or month devoted to all sorts of random things, I’ve taken a special liking to this particular one.  Perhaps it’s because I love pie, or perhaps it’s because I’m always looking for a good excuse to make and eat pie.  It’s a good thing my wife and I own a bakery, because it certainly makes it easy to make a lot of different pies without actually having to eat them all!

We figured we’d make several different pies that we don’t normally prepare.  Since it’s winter, we were going to focus on making mostly cream and custard pies.  After a little scrounging around in the freezer though, we did find several bags of frozen local fruits and what better of an occasion than to use them now, when the wind blows cold and the landscape is grey and bleak.  We found cherries, blueberries and some organic raspberries from Happy Valley Berry Farm.  Yum, summer berry pie would definitely be made.

After some discussion we settled on a menu.  In addition to two of our standards, apple and key lime, we thought we’d try out a chocolate peanut butter pie and a chocolate malted pie, a banana cream pie and a coconut custard pie.  Those and the summer berry pies would keep us busy enough.

Then the earthquake in Haiti happened and all the feelings of despair and hopelessness and, especially helplessness, clouded our joy for pie day.  Since we felt we should do something to help, even something little, National Pie Day became an opportunity to help.

There are so many charities to use, so many options for donating, where do you start to look?  Since we’re passionate about all things food, and since we have a visceral connection to the act of eating, we typically choose to focus our volunteering efforts towards food related charities.  I did a little research online and found that the World Food Program has one of the lowest administrative costs among aid agencies (around 7%) and is ‘highly rated’ by charitynavigator.org with four starts out of four.  Perfect.

We did a little advertising, only to guests of the bakery through our newsletter and facebook fanpage… just a few words to let them know that 100% of the proceeds of the pie sales would go toward Haiti relief.  The response was immediate and powerful.  Orders starting rolling in via e-mail and facebook.  Folks started calling us, and before we knew it, within twelve hours our fundraising goal had been met and within 24, it had almost doubled.  One of our employees, Kate, decided to donate her wages for the day and everyone at the bakery decided that the tip jar collections would go towards the fund.  Everyone was opening their hearts and wallets and it was wonderful.

So we got to work making pies.  There was a whirlwind of activity in the kitchen, chocolate and vanilla crust had to be made, bananas needed to be sautéed in butter and brown sugar.

Kate Fellows and the author making pies for a good cause

Pastry cream had to be cooked, and peanut butter mousse was to be prepared.  Key lime filling and chocolate malted filling was baked, apples were sliced, and cream was whipped.  It was a mad dash of pie making and it was great to feel like we were actually doing something meaningful.  As Booker T. Washington once said, ‘If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else’

Krystal Ruiz-Mesa picks up her pie!

Krystal Ruiz-Mesa picks up her chocolate peanut butter pie!

All told, we sold almost 100 pies and gathered many donations as well.  It’s a testament to the people of Vineland, how generous and heartfelt they were to support our efforts.  It may not have been very much money that we raised in the grand scheme of things, and it seems like nothing in the scope of the disaster that has befallen our fellow brothers and sisters down in the Caribbean.  But every little bit helps, and so I wanted to take this opportunity to send a shout out to our Sweet Lifers… thank you!

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What a snowstorm we had the weekend before Christmas.  I know that some of you have seen a whitewall like that before, but this Florida boy sure hadn’t.  I even lived in upstate New York for three years, and I was genuinely amazed at the amount of snow that fell from the heavens on that Saturday.  Jill and I were snowed in, aside from walking up and down our street helping stranded neighbors free their cars from their slippery confines, so we needed something to prevent us from going stir crazy.  Cooking seemed like the answer.

After getting up on Sunday morning and determining that I would not make it into the bakery, I thought the time was right to dig the car out from the snow.  It was a bit of a chore (as I’m sure most of you know) and I worked up quite an appetite doing it.  My tummy was hungry for coffee and food, so after finishing digging the car out, I went to work in the kitchen.  I put water up for coffee, and when it came to a boil, I poured it into my French press.  The hot water hit the coffee grounds, and a rich plume of coffee scented stream erupted from the top of the old-school coffee maker.  I set the timer on the oven, and five minutes later I had a satisfying hot cup of Joe.  I added a splash of milk, and a small teaspoon of honey that came from a friend of ours from hives that he keeps.  I nibbled on a fresh scone from the bakery that was studded with tart cranberries and topped with a sprinkling of raw sugar while I sipped the coffee.  I was still hungry though, so I thought it was time for a real breakfast…

I pulled a few Serra Sausage links from the freezer and with a minute in the microwave, I had them defrosted.  I heated up a cast iron skillet, put a touch of oil in the pan and slid the meaty links into the pan.  They sizzled and popped as they browned, and while they cooked on the stovetop I pulled a multi-grain bagel from Bagel University and placed it into the toaster to crisp up.  With a quick crack on the countertop, a few eggs went into a bowl with a splash of milk and some salt and pepper.  I gave them a quick whisk, and the eggs waited for the sausage to finish.

Sitting in the warm kitchen, with snow piled high outside, gave me a comforting feeling, a feeling of contentment that I rather enjoyed.  Life is sweet, I thought, especially in the kitchen cooking a meal for myself and loved ones.  Apparently I was not alone in this feeling.

Since we were homebound, the other activity that Jill and I enjoyed that day was to go onto Facebook.  For those who don’t know (and I really can’t imagine there are too many of you out there!), Facebook is a ‘social networking’ website that allows you to keep in touch with friends and family via their website.  I couldn’t help but notice that many of my friends were cooking as well, so I asked what everyone was up to in the kitchen.

Boy was I overwhelmed with the response that I got!  I heard from my fellow Grapevine writer, Lisa Ann DiNunzio, that she made multi-grain spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce for dinner and hot cocoa (from scratch) to warm her hubby up after his snow shoveling.  Warming up seemed to be a popular theme, since soup was prepared by a lot of people.  Misty Reinhart made potato soup and garlic vegetable soup, and Colleen Gaughan made chicken noodle with leftover chicken from Joe’s Poultry. Nancy Quarella, from Bellview Winery, made a delicious sounding curried sweet potato and peanut soup.

Sweets were a another popular item to make, since Sheri Franchetta made funfetti cupcakes, Nicole Austin made sesame cookies and Mexican chocolate torte (yum!), Gordon McClennen made sticky buns, Christine Scalfo-Glover made guiltless cookies without eggs, dairy or refined sugar.  Becky Pederson made homemade fortune cookies (I wonder what the fortunes said…), while Martha Lynn baked snickerdoodles, chocolate chip cookies and more.

And dinners were a hit as well.  Deanne Scalfo made a ridiculously good sounding meal of London Broil, roasted potatoes, green beans and gravy (and pizza for good measure), while Dot Wilhelm cooked an old fashioned Mac n’ Cheese from scratch with extra sharp cheddar from Cabot creamery.  LuAnn Fries made pork tenderloin with potatoes, carrots and celery as well as various cookies for dessert and an interesting sounding ‘snow cream’ with fresh snow, evaporated milk and sugar.  I may have to try that next time it snows…

My goodness, Vineland cooked up a storm last weekend, one to rival the storm that dumped the two feet of snow on us.  Just reading all these responses that I got to my inquiry on Facebook made me hungry, and I have a feeling that reading this made you hungry as well.  So the next time you get snowed in, think of what you can do in the kitchen to help pass the time.  Your family, and tummy, will thank you.

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Cosmic Spice

At the bakery, we get our spices, nuts, dried fruits and vanilla beans from a local company called Cosmic Spice.  We met the owners, Mark and Rachel Zaccaria, several years ago shortly before opening the bakery, and I’m glad that we saw their delivery truck that day and gave them a call.  We’ve had a wonderful professional relationship with Cosmic Spice because of their commitment to good service and quality… the two attributes that make shopping locally such a rewarding experience.  Until recently, the general public didn’t have the opportunity to partake in the offerings of Cosmic Spice because they were only a wholesaler.  But this past September, Cosmic Spice opened a retail store that is located in the same building as their wholesale operation.

A few days ago, we ordered pecans, cinnamon sticks ( along with various other spices) and instead of having the order delivered as I usually do, I thought I’d stop into the new storefront to check it out.  I had wanted to stop in anyway, since Rachel had expressed interest in buying the spice packets that we make here at the bakery for our chai tea (she’s a self-proclaimed lover of chai).  Since we use their spices in our chai packets, having Cosmic Spice serve them seemed like a natural fit.

The new Cosmic Spice Country Market is located in the Buena Boro Commerce Center at 525 S West Blvd.  It’s a little off the beaten path, but is worth the journey.  The store is inside a warehouse of sorts, with high ceilings and an industrial look.  They’ve done a nice job creating a ‘space within a space’ though by constructing walls to partition the retail space from the larger operation.  Inside the retail store, they’ve also created a homey feel by stocking it with charming antique pieces of furniture to display their wares.

An open cabinet on the far wall of the store particularly struck me because the cabinet was enormous, probably twenty feet long and twelve feet high.  It fit the space perfectly though because of the large wall that it was rested upon.

At about this time, I also noticed the strong scent of spice in the air.  It was an interesting aroma, I couldn’t quite pick out one overarching spice, but the air was thick with the perfume of hundreds of different herbs and spices.  It was intoxicating, in a good way, the way that made me want to stop and take a deep inhalation through my nose to pick up this unusual and lovely smell.

Rachel was working the front counter and welcomed me into the shop.  We chatted for a bit and she prepared a chai tea.  Chai is actually the word for ‘tea’ in India, and the Indians drink chai all day long.  There are even chai runners that go door to door or to offices selling cups of hot chai.  The chai of India is not like the frou-frou, sweet beverage that you get here in the states though.  Indian chai is simply black tea, spices, milk and honey simmered to infuse the various flavors together and is not very sweet.  I was turned onto real chai from our San Francisco days when we ate Indian food many times a week.  One of the best things about our favorite restaurant, Naan n’ Curry was the airpot of fresh chai that sat next to the counter where orders were placed.  Sipping on the complimentary cups of hot, spiced chai was a favorite memory of mine from those days, so there is a special place in my heart for good chai.

After preparing the chai, Rachel showed me around a bit, introducing me to the various products that they offer in the retail shop.  I asked about the gigantic cabinet that lined the far wall, and she was particularly proud of it, saying that her mother-in-law scored it at an antique store in Mays Landing.  It also was a wonderful display for their hundred or so different spices that they sell.  It seemed as though they had just about anything you could think of in the market, from saffron to sage, red pepper flakes to cardamom pods.  They also had jars of local honey, tea and coffee, and many bags of different nuts and trail mixes, dried fruits and many more items.

One cool thing they offer is gift baskets.  There is a section in the space dedicated to gift baskets, with rolls of ribbon and cellophane ready to wrap anything from the shop into a basket.  Rachel told me that they have pre-made baskets, or they are happy to put anything from the shop in… what a splendid idea (especially this time of year).

Cosmic Spice is a cool spot here in South Jersey, a specialty foods shop that moves their products all over New Jersey, and into Pennsylvania, Delaware and even Maryland.  After 15 years in business and several expansions, Cosmic Spice is a hidden gem in the South Jersey culinary scene.  And since opening their new retail store, you can now experience it for yourself.

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There’s a point in the late fall or early winter that the weather dictates that I change my breakfast routine to one that nixes cold cereal for one that includes hot cereal.  My hot cereal of choice is oatmeal, but not the usual rolled oatmeal. I find the texture of cooked rolled oats to be rather mushy and not very pleasant.  In fact, I believe that this is the main reason why people turn their noses up at the thought of eating oats for breakfast.  What I enjoy is steel-cut oats.

Steel-cut oats are whole oats that are cut, unsurprisingly, with steel blades, which cut them into two or three pieces.  When cooked, they provide a lovely chewy texture that I find much more enjoyable that rolled oats, which are whole oat grains that are steamed and pressed through rollers.  The steaming of the grains pre-cooks them, making the oats easier and faster to cook.

Pre-cooking them though, means that some of the nutrition is lost during that first cooking process.  Any sort of industrial processing generally reducesthenutritive qualities of any food.  Since steel-cut oats are not pre-cooked, the nutritive aspects are preserved.  And the nutritive aspects are plentiful!  Oats are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, many different vitamins and minerals, and they are surprisingly high in protein.  In recent years, oats have gotten a lot of attention for their propensity for lowering cholesterol levels.  Jill’s grandmother claims that one of the reasons for her longevity is the bowl of oatmeal that she eats every morning.  There is no doubt in the health community that eating oats for breakfast is a great way to start the day (assuming of course, that you don’t drown it in too much fat and sugar).

While the disadvantage of rolled oats is the deterioration of nutrition and (at least in my opinion) the undesirable texture, the advantage is the quick cooking time.  That can certainly be helpful in these busy times that we live in.  How is one supposed to eat steel-cut oats for breakfast when they take up to 30 minutes to cook?

Well I’ve got a trick for you, and it’s very easy.  I cook a big pot in the beginning of the week, and heat up a bowlful every morning.  This past weekend, I cooked my first pot of the season.  I put three cups of water on the stove, in a small saucepan.  When it came up to a boil, I put a large pinch of salt and a cinnamon stick in the water and then poured a cup of steel cut oats in the water.  With one the large silver spoons in the drawer, I gave the oats a stir and waited until it came back up to a boil.  While I waited, I sealed up the uncooked oats and put them back into the freezer.  Like other whole grains, they tend to spoil more quickly that refined grains, so freezing them keeps them fresher for longer.

After a few minutes, the oats came back to a rolling boil and thick clouds of steam began to fill the kitchen.  The earthy smell of boiling grains, spiked with the sharp scent of cinnamon rose into my nose and I knew that winter was here.  I put a lid on the pot of oats, turned the flame down to low and set the timer for twenty minutes.  Typically, you can cook steel-cut oats for as little as fifteen minutes all the way up to thirty, but I find that the texture that I prefer cooks in twenty.

The beeping of the timer drew me back into the kitchen, where the oats were spitting thick bubbles onto the lid of the pot.  I gave them a stir; a little had stuck to the bottom of the pot, but they usually do just a bit so there was no cause for concern.  The smell of the oats had changed from a raw grain aroma to a more of a porridge, and it felt thick and filling as I stirred it.  I put the lid back on and let the pot of steel-cut oats cool overnight on the stovetop.  The next morning, I simply scooped all the oatmeal into a container, put a label and date on it (always a good idea and something that has become a habit from my years of working in the restaurant business).

Every morning this week, I will spoon out what oatmeal I want to eat into a bowl.  I personally like soymilk, a touch of butter and a tablespoon or so of maple syrup.  A quick trip to the microwave for a little radar love, and I’ve got a wholesome, healthy breakfast.  Sometimes I’ll put dried fruit or chopped almonds in it; they can be doctored up any way you’d like.

Some say that breakfast in the most important meal of the day, and in the winter, I like to start my day with a bowl of steel-cut oats.  It gives me a nutritious, energy-filled and delicious beginning to my day.  You can find steel-cut oats at your local grocery or health-food store.  Pick some up this week, and give them a chance to become a regular addition to your winter breakfast routine.  You may find that you love them as much as I do!

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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, since its focus is on eating, drinking, and spending time with family.  What could be better?  This Thanksgiving looks to be a rather difficult holiday for many families this year, being that the economy has created a great number of challenges from individual folks all the way up to the societal level.  But as many problems as we are facing as a country and as a people, we should all give thanks this Thursday that we have it as good as we do, all things considered.  Since I write about food and drink, I won’t wax philosophical about all we have to be thankful for, but I will say that it’s important for us to keep everything in perspective.  I’m a lover and learner of history and looking back through time shows us a past full of immense challenges, difficult times, and hard work.

Although we still see those same features in life today, we’re also blessed with many amenities of modern life that we take for granted.  Grocery stores are full of food, most of which is very reasonably priced and includes a variety that would stun any of our ancestors.  We can literally get food from all over the world, which allows us to enter other cultures through their gastronomic traditions.  If we don’t feel like cooking, we can go out to eat at the multitude of restaurants that surround us. Science has brought us a knowledge of nutrition that takes of a lot of guesswork out of healthy eating, even though it still takes the individual efforts of hard work and planning to make it happen.  Modern preservation techniques has also allowed us to keep food for longer through freezing and refrigerating, making the act of eating a safer and more economical endeavor.  So remember that as hard as it can be, we do generally live a sweet life and I personally try to remember that every day, especially so on Thanksgiving.

Last year, I asked some folks around town what they would be doing for the holiday, and I’ll continue that tradition this week.  I queried several of our guests as to what they would be doing for thanksgiving.  What they would be eating and what sort of rituals they have in their family.  I always love hearing Thanksgiving traditions, and I’m thankful that I am able to participate in traditions of my own with the people that I love the most!

Paul Naurath

PaulPaul said that he would be having dinner at home this year and would be joined by his wife and sons, as well as some friends and neighbors of theirs that don’t have family nearby.  They will be eating a boneless turkey as the main centerpiece, as well as shrimp scampi.  There is always a pasta course, which changes every year.  The stuffing will be either made with a sage sausage or Polish kielbasa (both sound excellent!).  The other sides will be the usual suspects, and both red and white wines will be enjoyed with dinner.  Apple pie will be consumed for dessert.  This year, Thanksgiving will be eaten on Sunday, when everyone’s schedules could be coordinated, and Paul’s son (a minister) will be saying the grace before dinner is eaten, which is a Thanksgiving tradition.

Addison Graif

This will be Addison’s first Thanksgiving, and she seemed very excited to tell me about it (the interview was done using her parents as interpreters!).  Addison will be going over to her Aunt Patty’s house for the family dinner, and all told, there will be 18 people or so.  A true feast!  Grandpa Sam, who is a wonderful cook, will be deep-frying a turkey for the family to enjoy.  He will also be making his sautéed mushrooms with brandy, as well as apple stuffing.  Grandma Marilyn will be preparing corn relish and candied white sweet potatoes.  Addison seemed most excited about desserts though, as her mother said that every sort of pie imaginable would be available.  The traditional pies of apple and pumpkin will be on the table of course, but also squash pie, chocolate pudding pie, caramel apple and probably more.

Elizabeth Grey

Elizabeth will be having a low-key Thanksgiving at home with her mother and father, where everyone shares in the cooking duties.  Her mother is in charge of the turkey, while her father is responsible for the stuffing, in which he uses a mix of half whole wheat bread and half white.  Peas and rice are enjoyed, as well as vegetable lasagna.  Fresh biscuits will be baked, and a big pot of greens will be eaten.  The greens sound wonderful, a mix of kale, collards and mustard greens are cooked down with a turkey leg and sausage.  When the greens are done, the chopped meat from the turkey leg is mixed in!  Pumpkin bread and apple pie will finish the lovely meal.  Before eating though, each person will say what they’re thankful for, and throughout the day, other members of the family will call to wish everyone a happy thanksgiving!

Patricia and Al Federici

Patricia took great pleasure in sharing her Thanksgiving menu and traditionswith me, as it is her favorite holiday as well.  The meal will begin around 12:30 in the afternoon when the youngest child rings the bell that signifies the beginning of another Thanksgiving dinner.  After that, the meal begins with anti-pasta from south Philly, where Patricia’s daughter picks them up.  Wedding soup is the next course, which is the yummy soup that is made with broth, little meatballs, pasta and escarole.  Then the pasta dish, which rotates every year.  Sometimes it’s ravioli or manicotti, but this year it’s cavatelli.  Then the main course!  A free-range turkey that was picked up at Whole Foods, and all sorts of side dishes… stuffing, homemade cranberry relish, sweet potatoes, garlic mashed potatoes, corn.  A cornucopia of delicious food!  Dessert is simple enough, apple and pumpkin pies and the meal generally ends around eight in the evening.  Every year there is a vote to shorten the meal, but there is never a consensus about what to leave out, so the lengthy meal continues to this day.  Patricia expects about 25 people this year, and everyone helps to do the dishes after the meal has concluded (thank goodness, because they must dirty so many!).

Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

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