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November 2014

Happy Squawkgiving!



Pinta made this drawing last night. I don't know where she got the idea for Squawkgiving, but it sounds about right to me. And on another note, here's one of Billy Collins's favorite poems for the holiday:

The Owl

By Edward Thomas 

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved;
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry

Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.

And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird’s voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.

Thanksgiving Cranberry Cornbread


In recent years, Thanksgiving has become one of my favorite holidays, and I’m looking forward to celebrating it. As a boy, the importance of the get together never really dawned on me, but just as I’ve outgrown canned cranberry sauce, I’ve come to appreciate the significance of the gathering. My siblings and I have aged, and in doing so have gone off into our own orbits; the chance to join in a meal together is rare. When we do meet, the table is now very large, and that creates challenges of its own. Last year, my youngest brother hosted the entire family, and he could only do that because his house is just a tad bigger than his heart. The year before, I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time, and I could only feed about three-quarters of the family, and at a total of fifteen people, that was enough for me. 

Putting together a Thanksgiving dinner menu requires more than just planning. It takes courage. If you have never hosted before, it's not too late to pick up Sam Sifton’s book, “Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well.” Lord knows, it helped me that first time around. There are many classic Thanksgiving recipes, and he covers them all. The holiday also offers the chance to start your own traditions. Every since my first Thanksgiving at home, I’ve added cornbread to my offerings. My latest twist on it, inspired by the Kraft Tastemaker’s program, which is funding this post, is to add dried cranberries. They contribute a bit of sweetness and make the holiday all the more rich. One nice thing about this recipe, is that it adapts nicely whether you are the host or a guest. Make it for your home gathering, or take it with you when you go to the house of your uncle, nephew, sister or brother. It will be most welcome. The full recipe for Thanksgiving Cranberry Cornbread is here.

What do Pepper and Salt Bring to the Family Dinner?


I don’t know about you, but I find it hard after a day of cooking, commuting, working, commuting, and cooking to find things to talk about at the dinner table. I know that the family dinner is held up as an ideal, and that we should all gather around the table at least once a day to purify our souls and become whole as a family. And yet, I often find myself staring in disbelief at the state of things when we sit down. Someone is often whining about something. If, as Tolstoy has it, “Happy Families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” I would add, every family dinner is conversational disaster in its own way.

But tonight I stumbled upon a new gambit. Santa Maria was out of town, and I was on on my own with the kids. We were eating pasta with Bolognese (from the freezer), and the conversation was stalling, stalling, stalling. To pull it out of the nose dive, I grabbed the pepper grinder, which was on the table, and anthropomorphized it. 

Tipping it back and forth playfully, I gave the pepper grinder a voice, and it wasn’t a kindly dad voice. It was more of a PG-rated Andrew Dice Clay voice. The grinder wasn’t full of pepper, it was full of something that rhymes with “sloop” and makes elementary school kids laugh. 

As soon as I gave it this forbidden personality, Nina and Pinta’s faces lit up. They loved it. They ran with the scatological jokes, and then I made Pepper hate Salt. EventuallyI recanted, and Pepper admitted to liking Salt, if being a bit jealous (oceans and all that). Eventually, Pinta dashed to the kitchen and got the salt. I found them side by side on the table when cleaning up and they reminded me that the family dinner can be fun, with a bit of effort (and I'm not talking about the cooking).

Stay at Stove Dad Bolognese Sauce 

  •  1 onion, chopped
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • 2 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup white (or red) wine
  • 11/2 lb ground beef
  • 3 cans of peeled plum tomatoes, diced to bits with an immersion blender
  • Cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

        Saute the onion, carrot, celery, and bacon until the vegetables are soft and the bacon fat rendered.  

        Add the beef and cook it until it is brown (crushing it with a potato masher, so there are no large clumps). 

        Add the wine and cook it off. 

        Add  the stock. 

        Add the tomatoes and the spices and simmer until thick (about three hours).

Note: This makes about three quarts, and it freezes very well. Do the whole batch, eat one quart for dinner (serves about four) and freeze the other two. That way you get at least three meals out of one cooking session.