Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Yes to a Winter Haymarket

February 2nd, 2013

Always a good time for the Haymarket, the winter can be special in small ways. When it’s 17F as it was before 7 AM today, YOU are the crowd. Sure, you need to peek to make sure the greens had frozen, but there is the ease of few customers offset by lifting the tarps to enter the stalls. There’s no quick walk through before returning to your day’s favorites.

The vendors are hardy sorts, who show and set up between 4:30 and 7, even in snow, ice, and whoa-cold! air.

haymarketcamp With the external look of an antarctic encampment, stalls get drapes of tarps to protect vendors and customers as well as produce.
At dawn, front and back sides of Blackstone street are bustling. blackstonedawn
blackstonebrr Restaurants also can’t get too hobbled by bad weather. They send folk to buy the cases of veggies and fruits regardless.
Many vendors create large room with hot-air heaters inside the tarps. It’s easier on customers too to lift one tarp and shop two, three or four stalls at once. antarctichavover
blackstonecavern A downside to the super cold is not being able to scan stalls quickly. An upside is knowing the fish vendors have well-chilled product.
“A balmy 36 degrees,” is the report here. Coming from the 17-degree street, it felt like spring inside. balmy

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once. Click images to enlarge.

Boys, Girls, Cook, Chef…What’s In a Word?

December 3rd, 2012

An elegant microcosm of our fustiness appears in a Think Progress piece on a 13-year-old big sister. She’s riled because her little brother wants to use Habro’s EASY-BAKE oven, which the company markets as a girl thing. It is on the company site and catalog in “gifts for girls”, and this girl asks them to get their act together and start including boys in their ads and promotion.

I’m there with her. I’ve been a or the family cook since I was six or seven. My father was a deadbeat Army office who disappeared to Germany with his second family, ignoring all this responsibilities to his first. However, my role model and mentor was my maternal grandfather, Bill Michael, who among many talents and duties cooked and was a tailor.

Oh, he had a stereotypical “man’s” job on the B&O Railroad, but he was like a t’ai chi master, hard and soft at the same time. He saw no shame in honest labor or in food prep or in sewing. He did it all.

His wife, my grandmother Mable, was queen of her kitchen though. She did not allow her two daughters to do more than act as scullery maids. She was the cook and never let anyone forget it. My mother had to learn to cook in Japan from a book for similarly ignorant American Occupation Army wives.

On those rare occasions when Mable was visiting relatives or in the hospital with an asthma attack, Granddad cooked. He had the touch.

First of all, he grew the family veggies, in what he called “patches.” These were one or sometimes two one-acre gardens of remarkable diversity. You don’t know asparagus until you eat it five minutes after being cut, and only those with home gardens know a real tomato plucked as the ripest and most fragrant on the vine.

We loved it when Granddad cooked. We also were savvy enough never to say to her that we preferred his hand in the kitchen.

Yes, let the little boy cook.

Hands-on Loaves

August 24th, 2012

As a counterpoint to my accepting an automated ice-cream maker, I can’t or rather won’t stop kneading bread.

I’m in the middle of the several day process of making salt-rising bread per my maternal grandmother’s recipe. It’s a pain au levain and kind of kitchen magic. While it uses a pinch of baking soda, it has no yeast and the leavening is partly of what bacteria in the air do interacting with the starch of the potato sliced into a quart jar at noon, per Mable’s index card.

The mix sits in a loosely covered jar for half a day to two days and generally, but not always, produces a froth that will rise the bread when added to flour. As Mable’s card says, it has to have a peculiar odor along with the froth. Otherwise don’t use it.

Then you let the dough rise until double, which can take an indeterminate number of hours the next day. Next comes kneading until smooth, from 20 minutes to 35, depending on how much dough you made.

Now there’s the likely spot for automation. I won’t have it.

I own a heavy-duty KitchenAid® stand mixer, replete with dough hook. I’ve tried kneading with the hook, but find no pleasure in that.

Cook folklore has it that the heat from your hands aids in transforming the gluten and the dough into the ideal substance for rising and baking. I’m not sure that’s true, but I do enjoy kneading.

Pressing down with the whole upper body, mushing the dough between my fingers and under my knuckles gives a sense of ownership and oneness with the food. It’s a physical and emotional investment, albeit time and energy inefficient.

I have no doubt using the mixer with its hook would produce smooth dough in much less time. I generally am very efficient, but this is one area where I’d rather not be.

OK Dessert Automation

August 16th, 2012

Many years ago…back in the one-child days…we received a Cuisinart food processor as a gift. Julia Child loved hers and used it regularly; she was a real pulse kind of prep cook.

It didn’t last long in my kitchen and I gave it away. I did and still do like chopping vegetables and kneading bread. I grok the ingredients and feel better about handing out and eating the results. Plus, with your hands and knives, you have a lot more control over the appearance of the veggies. I’m big on presentation.

However, I must admit my current backslide into automation. I recently bought an ice-cream maker. After decades of making my own ice cream, I won’t be giving this one to anyone. For a few years, we would use the old-style, messy, loud wooden bucket with rock salt and ice. That was awful. Then I took to making a quart at a time by hand. I’d get all the ingredients working and return to the freezer every hour or so to hand beat and thus aerate the confection.

That latter operation turned out superb ice cream (not hard to predict from great ingredients). Yet I didn’t have the emotional attachment to the result. A frozen mass looks pretty much the same whether beaten by machine or hand with a spatula or spurtle.

With friends coming up to marry at our home, I figured the reception would have to include one of my favorites, saffron ice cream. So there, I can say it. I made my ice cream by machine last week. I’m surprised at my development, but I’m not ashamed and I’ll do it again.

For detail, I chose the Cuisinart (that name again) ICE-21 machine. It’s widely available around $60, discounted from its suggested $110. Mine came from Amazon, which gave the full color choices. I went with purple (a.k.a. Plum in Cuisinart speak). Honestly white, black and red get old.

It’s almost too simple. There’s an on/off switch on front. Make ice cream by freezing the mystery-liquid filled tub overnight, mix your ingredients (milk, cream, sugar, flavorings), put the tub on the machine and place the plastic paddle inside, turn it on and pour in the ingredient mixture. In 15 to 20 minutes, you have soft serve. I like it firmer and froze it for a few hours. I don’t miss the repeated hand beating.

As a cook, I use my 30-some-year-old traditional steel French chef’s knife and similar tools. I like sturdy in the kitchen. So when I first touched the paddle that goes in the drum, I projected trouble. It felt like Cracker Jack-prize quality. The machine and drum are heavy. The paddle is well deigned for the machine though. It locks into place inside as the drum turns, moving the potential ice cream over its blades. It’s like your fingers dipped in the lake over the side of a moving canoe.

The other eyebrow raiser is the lidless outer case. The clear shell that fits over the drum has no top, just the circle where you pour your goodies. We regular blender and mixer users could see messy trouble. Nah. Just follow the proportions to make a quart and a half or less of ice cream and the mixture stays put. The drum is not sudden or fast enough to spit anything toward you or the ceiling. Over filling the drum would be the only dumb move.

I confessed my automation to the wedding guests. No one minded. In fact, I don’t think they listened. Saffron ice cream is saffron ice cream, not matter how it gets mixed.

The Power of an Earring

June 10th, 2012

I put a post earring in my left lobe this morning. It’s a silver, smiling sun, symbolic of our youngest graduating high school today.

Big, fat, hairy detail as Garfield thinks. Well, to the incapacitated, it’s noteworthy.

Healing from broken ribs and clavicle, these small and normal tasks are remarkable. Moving the left hand to the lobe and manipulating the earring back onto the post was moderately painful. Of course, in context, completing the wee task was still a minor accomplishment.

And there it is…for those inconvenienced or worse by accident or disease, the wee range from impossible to requiring effort to delighting with the relative ease of completion.

I recall nearly 30 years ago, I broke my right wrist in a fall on roller skates. I like to think of that as a noble sacrifice instead of clumsiness. Our young firstborn had fallen right in front of me. Having no out, I could have plowed into him or taken a tumble. An amusing aspect is that two resident docs from Mass General were running along the Esplanade beside us and heard the crack. They said they were so happy after treating so many broken bones to see and hear it actually happen. Whee.

The doc who set the cast on the wrist asked the obvious question — are you right handed? Well, I was, or so I thought.

As it turns out, I apparently had been ambidextrous all along. I just had accepted the training I’d had at school and home. I’ve heard from other boomers that they too were told righthandedness is the norm, ergo you are righthanded. Yet, with a bad wrist break and a hand immobilized for a month or so, I had a single choice, be helpless or see what I could do.

My writing with the left hand was not quite as good, but plenty legible. After never having had the muscle memory, I found it refined quickly. I learned that I had no problem with other tasks — shaving, cooking, dressing myself and on and on. I found as the cast came off too, that I could use both hands as needed separately, such as stirring a pot and a frying pan with different motions simultaneously. I just had never tried.

It makes me wonder how many of us are really ambi unaware.

The harder part was doing two-handed tasked with just one. The extreme example was tying shoelaces. The docs told me it was impossible ad that I had to go with slip-on or Velcro closure shoes. That was a direct challenge, which I accepted. It is tough, but not at all undoable. It too falls in that class of the normal made impossible then mastered.

I recall too many years before that in my volunteer work at VA hospitals, being with vets who relearned basic tasks. They tended to have a sly, infectious joy at re-adding each task to their repertoire.

I relate.


Phat and Fat: Watching the Struggle

May 1st, 2012

My maternal grandmother, Mable, was handsome, strong and big boned. We got our huge honking feet from her among other attributes. I’m sure she did not accept that she was good looking and she worried over her weight.

She was the eldest of a large family. The youngest was a sister, from their father’s remarriage after he became a widower. Mable’s angst was the worse for sister Anna’s slender build from a different mother.

Meanwhile, let it be known that I watched her in her 50s and 60s battle vigorously and without real success with body image and what books, doctors, family and women’s magazines told her she should weigh, as well as how much of what she should eat to get there. That had the extra nasty wrinkle of the insistence on height/weight charts, already disproved by insurance stats on longevity and health measures, but beloved by physicians.

I heard the scale whirr every morning. She had maybe two feet of diet and nutrition books on one shelf. Many were by the naturopath and chiropractor Gayelord Hauser. He straddled wise and foolish. He advocated natural foods, eschewing white sugar and white flour. Good enough, but he pitched his brand of blackstrap molasses as a kind of panacea, preached absurdly low caloric intake, and in effect expected everyone to thrive on what he did. In fact, he was a high-metabolic-rate ectomorph who wowed his celebrity friends like Greta Garbo with his wit as well as trim physique.

For Mable, the ideals were unworkable. 900 calories a day left her constantly hungry and often weak. She went for Hollywood Bread and another brand I recall as Lite Diet; both had small, very thin slices with few calories, maybe 45? The unamusing joke here is that she was the best baker I’ve ever known. Her pies, cobblers and cakes were superb and treasured by all who knew her. She baked great whole wheat and rye breads in which we delighted. There she was, starving with napkin-thing slices of tasteless junk in her effort to slim.

Sometimes she obviously failed. She was never a porker and her diet breaks did not mean she needed bigger dresses.

Instead, she simply had to eat more to be healthy. Rather than accept that and realize Hauser and the others she trusted were wrong, she snuck. She was not a pantry stuffer, scoffing out of sight. Rather, when she just couldn’t stand her hunger, she’d join us all at the dinner table, as we did each evening. Of course, as family, we had the serving dishes in the middle of the table. Mable would bring a plate with a napkin covering it.

It was sad and fooled no one. She’d tucked more protein under there. She’d stick a fork under the napkin and eat the few extra bites that let her go onto breakfast and another day of food struggles.

We were then as I remain, a straight-ahead, candid family. We would rather she had felt comfortable eating what she needed in plain sight. Yet, our candor did not include calling her on this emotional issue.

It was years later as I trimmed down successfully with Stillman that I reconsidered her struggles and body-image issues. She was large and muscular. She needed more to survive than scrawny folk. She’d never have the body type or metabolism of Hauser or starlets he accompanied. She couldn’t even become like her sister-by-the-second-mother Anna.

Yeah, it’s bad that most medical types are pretty ignorant about nutrition. It’s worse that so many rely on the easy, lazy formulae that fail most of us.

For me, I’m working on my own nutrition plan, regardless of the bad advice from doctors, nurses and a nutritionist. It’s a fair amount of work and requires iterative testing of calories/carbs/protein/fat with my scale and body-fat measurements. That’s still a lot easier intellectually, emotionally and physically than what my grandmother did for those many years. And as a big bonus, I’m not starving myself.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie




Phat and Fat: Hungry?

April 27th, 2012

Several times in my adult life, I’ve trimmed down. The old way followed the platitudinous calories-in/calories-out advice that most medical and nutrition sorts still flog. I have come to disdain that after much reading and experimenting.

Those seeming death marches featured deprivation. Feeling hungry to ravenous seemed like an affirmation of will, of virtue. Pounds disappeared, at the cost of feeling self-punished. I could hardly wait to reach a target weight and stop that silliness.

In contrast, nearly all the low-carb versions I’ve seen and one I’ve adapted for myself go for sustainable eating patterns. Unlike just-eat-fewer-calories-than-your-body-needs, eat-right-foods-until-you’re-comfortable is, as the newer cliché goes, a plan. There’s no rush to escape.

A fundamental principle in Atkins or Duke or so many other low-carb regimens is worrying far less about calories, and instead counting carbs. Have four, six, even eight ounces of fish or meat for lunch or dinner. That of course depends on your size and activity level of the day. Do without the bread, potatoes, rice and other starches. Have a cup or two of greens and other low-carb veggies.

I confess that the veggie part is easier for me than some who grew up food picky. I worked with my grandfather in his gigantic gardens for 11 summers. Asparagus, lettuce, squash, kale, string beans, cabbage, peppers and on and on were in my hands and on the table shortly after picking. We ate what we got to the table and it was all damned good.

Those who didn’t grow up with an abundance of fresh vegetables or got mushy ones from cans might have a problem. For us, my grandmother froze and jarred many hundreds of pounds of them for winter and spring.

If you’re considering low-carb, keep the key concept in mind that you won’t go hungry. If you’re masochist, you can always stick with the modified starvation plan so popular in medical circles.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie


Phat and Fat: Low-Carb Eats

April 25th, 2012

Like New Yorkers about rent-stabilized apartments, we just have to know what a dieter eats. It’s the treasure map on the shared quest.

After typical and near total lameness from doctors and a nutritionist, I applied my fastidious nature and research experience to the task for me. For the impatient who need to gather essential information, I’d advise Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories or even his somewhat simplified version Why We Get Fat. After hitting libraries and online sources, mostly medical and scientific, I found that Good Calories included the punchlines of nearly every solid work I found on my own, plus much more. I could have started there, but likely would not have felt comfortable until I confirmed things.

On the no-no side, I can’t stress enough that for me, the diet clichés simply don’t work:

  • WRONG. Everything in moderation is ideal.
  • WRONG. Low fat and high complex carbohydrates are the key.
  • WRONG. Consumer fewer calories than your estimated expenditures and all will be well.

Despite my assiduous devotion to those medical platitudes, my fat and weight crept up. The simpleminded docs, nurses and nutritionist could only conclude that I and my two nutrition/exercise programs were lying and given bad data. Their assertions just had to be accurate!

Yet, truth be told, I am like many adults who do not fit those silly saws. In my particular case, I share much physical history with others I know and read about. For example, several times, I have lost more than 10% of my body weight and fat. That turns down your metabolism substantially, making losing and maintaining weight/fat harder…likely forever. Also, aging does much the same. Moreover, I am an almost pure mesomorph, tending to broad shoulders and large muscle mass top and bottom. I have an efficient metabolism, which means exercise burns up less than the gym machines measure and software estimate. I see from various research that many of us end up switching to slow-twitch muscles after such body changes, which also means greater efficiency in exercise. Drat.

A non-scientist, the late Robert Atkins has a keen chapter in Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution that covers other reasons for metabolic resistance, as it’s known. Even staid old calories-in/calories-out folk like the Mayo Clinic report that some drugs, like beta blockers, can decrease metabolic rate by up to 13% (huge when you want to lose or control). Likewise, hormones, anti-depressants, anti-arthritis, steroids and on and on can hose metabolism. In the tablet and pill-happy medical environment we inhabit, that’s a big deal.

Marketing Opportunity: In a little side rant, I would pay for a smart, learning diet program. My mother and niece also recorded their nutrition and exercise for years. We’re all honest and thorough; it would have done us no good to cheat. We found the calories-in/calories out to be near worthless for us. There’s likely a huge market for a piece of software that follows your intake and expenditure, and correlates them with your ongoing weight and body-fat measurements. Then it would tweak what is actually happening in your unique system. It would rationalize the basal metabolism rate and provide meaningful measures of exercise expenditures for you.

My mouth

Draw your own conclusions when you read about nutrition. I came to low-carb and started on it. I’m losing fat and weight at a decent clip and intend to keep it up and eventually move simply into maintenance. A big plus on the far end is that this appeals to my scientific bent. I can tweak my diet in ways neither my medical sorts or the software have been able to do.

The short of it is for me, I modified the Atkins. I just don’t want to consume the levels of fat he suggested. I’ve been leaning low-fat for a long time and moved up to moderate amounts. I’ve nearly eliminated fruit, have not consumed bread in six weeks, nor even allegedly healthy starches like brown rice. I eat fish, meat, eggs, cheeses, olive oil, mayonnaise, and low-carb veggies. I rarely touch a beer, instead have a bourbon or malt whiskey (carb-free) or dry wine (low-carb).

Fortunately, over the years, I have come to care less and less for sweets. I do like a piece of dark chocolate, but can ignore a full cookie jar, ice cream in the freezer, or a restaurant’s dessert menu. I’m a very good break baker and have not come to terms with what I’ll do to ease back into small amounts down the line.

There are several popular low-carb variations. I suspect any of them would be a major change for most of us, and would do what I want done. As far as my body, I’ve been sold and re-sold defective goods in health comes from high-complex carbs and low fat. It doesn’t work for Mike.

Instead, I have increased my daily calories substantially from about 1100 to about 1500. I’m trimming down. My pants are looser (remember, pants don’t lie!). I’m sleeping better. I’m flat out happier. I eat as much as I want of protein, veggies and fat, never feeling hungry or deprived.

As a serious cook, I see the challenges here. Each low-carb diet book has its recipes, but many are not sensual and amusing enough for me. I’ll work on that.

Yet a diet starting the day with a cheese omelet or scrambled eggs with sausage or no-carb ham, plus celery, salad or other low-carb green is a satisfying start. To my point of fat, most low-carb book would use all whole eggs. Instead, I use one egg and two or three whites, with a teaspoon or so of olive oil in the pan. I’m getting the fat, but maybe half of what an Atkins meal calls for. Again, this is working for me in weight and body-fat drops week after week. I remain emotionally comfortable with the amount of fat I consume too, even if I might be losing faster with more fat.

That Science

To my call for a smart, heuristic diet software package, a very appealing aspect of switching to low carbs is the anticipation of finding a personal plan in the end. In Atkins for example, you start out with severe carb restrictions, under 20 grams a day. You slowly up it as you switch to on-going loss, like an average of five more grams a week.

That turned out to be not all that hard in practice. For years, I’ve used CrossTrainer to record all I eat and exercise; it can be set to low-carb so that it plainly displays running counts as well as what’s in any given food before you add it. There are many others, in fact Lockergnome god Chris Pirillo tested buckets of them and swears by CalorieKing. His point and mine, of course, is to use it and record every damned morsel, sip and step. Let’s be adult about this.

The Atkins operation also wants to own you. It will send a free get-started package for you email address as well as give you a wide variety of free online tools. It wants to sell you books and its energy bars and such. The package they mail includes a nifty pocket-sized carb counter that suits most foods…and takes the excuse out of traveling or restaurants.

So assuming I keep this up and get back to my svelte self, the scientific tweaking comes into play. While the RDA for carbs is 300 grams a day, that certainly won’t work for me. The idea is to keep counting, keep increasing, keep weighing/measuring body fat. When a specific level, say 60 a day or 110 or whatever, shows up a week or two going the wrong way, I need to go back down.

I am anal retentive enough that weighing and using the body-fat machine (takes about 30 seconds) weekly is fine, as is continuing to track carbs, and for no particular reason it seems, calories, daily is OK too. I keep a notebook for when I travel and know enough about what to eat and not that I’m close without the running totals. That’s me and others might have to use a smartphone or laptop with an online app.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie

My-Hand-To-Your-Mouth Syndrome

November 27th, 2011

mymableMy wife and I each had grandmothers Mable. My version was le chef redoutable, or as she didn’t speak French, the formidable cook. She was famous in her family and town and county for her baked goods and her overall kitchen skills.

Moreover, she so strongly identified with her food, there was no separation. She had three children — girl, boy, girl, and taught none of them to cook. They were born in the 1920 and as understandable for the period, her son was expected to marry a cook, not be one. Her daughters were shortchanged in that Mable’s kitchen was just that. On occasion, such as canning and pickle making seasons, you might be pressed into service as a culinary lackey, but it was almost as though you were blindfolded. It was Mable’s hand to your mouth, the magician keeps her secrets.

In many ways, my Mable was my nemesis. She was often severe to a circle of us — her husband, her daughters, her sister, and my sister and me.

Yet we owe her much. Most obviously, physically I got my big feet, absurd chest and shoulders and bone structure from her. Granddad was more delicate, with size 8½ shoes for example.

She was also demanding in the dining and living rooms. We were expected to participate in conversations…and no jive. She wanted fully formed arguments and opinions based on facts.

She also pressed my sister and me into service in the many summers and holidays we boarded there. We regularly cleaned the windows and storms with ammonia and newspapers, subject to her inspection. Likewise, we dusted each newel and stairpost daily, subject to her inspection. She was quick to find fault.

Now of course, an bit of humor is that I exhibit some of her traits. Foremost is that I am the family cook. Although I eagerly teach to wife and children, I have that emotional tie to my kitchen and the pressures and joys of my-hand-to-their-mouths cooking. I’m good with food, know that I am, and enjoy people enjoying what I produce.

Unlike Mable, I have cooked tens of thousands of unique dishes. She lived by her recipe box, which I own. I combine drawing on what I’ve picked up over the years. I know what will taste good together in what quantity. In another sense of the term picked up, I cook by what I pick up from the Haymarket, farmers’ markets, green grocery and supermarkets. My week’s menus generally reflect what’s available at the food sources, including our backyard and side yard gardens.

For a couple of decades, we’ve hosted a Southern Thanksgiving. At least one member of each couple and family has roots in the big arc from Virginia through the Carolina into Arkansas. Generally, I planned the table and cooked nearly everything. It’s an exhausting death march for 15 to 25, but I love it. Slowly over the years though, my wife and the two sons still at home have become cooks too. They’ve caught the pleasing-others-with-food disorder and want to participate.

This year was thus different from most others. While guests often would bring their families’ favorite pies, and occasionally a side dish, this time was edging toward participatory cuisine.

As I recall the low and high living room tables and the dinner table, we served the following in 2011. I likely forgot a few items, but this is the gist, our version of a groaning board. The remarkable aspect is how cooperative this year’s was. Note the parens with initials of various preparers who are not I.

brie en croutem (EB) kasseri various crackers
hummus (EB) jalapeno mustard pita
baba ganoush (EB) sparkling ciders (various fruits) ales
collards (JL) red wines mashed potatoes
beer still cider white wines
turkey red onions filled with vegetarian stuffing cranberry chutney (EB)
cornbread turkey (CT) green beans almondine sauerkraut
stuffed shells (IB) vegetarian and turkey gravies tea
coffee sweet potato pie (JL) pumpkin pie (TC)
cherry pie (CT) Boston cream pie (IB) pecan pie (KC)

Previously, I would work steadily a day or two before and throughout the entire appetizer period up to the moment of the main seating. Not this year. So much was done by others before or in the prep period that I socialized much more. That was definitely something gained and something lost.

Perhaps I’ve matured enough to share.

Acorn Agon

November 16th, 2011


Nearly two months ago, a friend of my wife lamented the lack of acorns in these parts. She has a stake in it, as a wild foods type. She leads foraging tours, including gathering oak fruit to make bread with as a reward. Not this year.

Folks at the Globe covered the dearth today (unfortunately behind their rapacious paywall). Not even the experts they quote are exactly sure why. It may be that two years of lots of acorn output depleted the oaks. Alternately, the heavy rains of the past two years might be to blame. It seems it takes about 18 months after such moisture that prevents pollination for the effect to be seen in acorn output.

Regardless, everyone paying attention agrees that there aren’t many this year and that may continue into 2012’s fall.

For us that will have some small, but nasty effects. Our wild rodents will be hungry. The chipmunks, squirrels and such are seeking other food. That will likely be out of the trash, those expensive bulbs we, including I, recently planted for the spring and summer flowers, and next year’s vegetables.

While inconvenient to us, this will be fatal for a majority of those rodents. The experts quoted say up to 90% of chipmunks and maybe half the squirrels will die.  Beyond that, the birds and mammals that prey on the rodents will hunt other food, like raptors killing more birds instead. Bigger critters, like deer, bears and raccoons will like survive, but may come closer to humans, and mess with more trashcans.