A Turkey Held Hostage

turkeyI’m wondering if holiday sharing is a common phenomenon among married couples. My husband and I have, since we married in 1986, traded Thanksgivings back and forth between our respective families.

Both of our families maintained strong holiday traditions. Both expected their children to continue to participate after marriage. Allowances were made once grandchildren entered the scene but only specifically for a few hours on Christmas day.

Early on, this methodology worked for us. It was a fair and even distribution of our time and attention. But truth be told, some years it was simply the fulfilling of expectations and being dutiful children. On more than a few occasions it caused marital strife.

And so it came to pass that my first Thanksgiving, mine to host and mine to cook and mine to serve came about as a result of family tension. So much tension, in fact, that my husband made the decision to forgo his family’s Thanksgiving. The story has been retold many times however this is the first time I’ve actually written it down to re-tell it in this forum.

Given my passion for food and my desire to pull off “the best Thanksgiving ever” (I was in a full-blown Martha at that point) I believe it could be said that I was on top of my game in planning for the big day. And the plan was to host our immediate family along with a few close friends. I was secretly thrilled, giddy in fact — a right of passage. Granted, I got in on a technicality, but hey, if that’s what it took, far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth, or so I thought…

The day arrived and everything was falling into place. The turkey had been defrosting in the fridge for a couple of days; the giblets were simmering on the stove top. Pies had been baked the day before. The stuffing had been prepared and was awaiting the oven. Feeling generally satisfied, a feeling I have come to know now as pride (as in go-eth before the fall), I turned to my husband and brother who were pouring drinks in the kitchen.

“I’m waiting for the oven to preheat. When it beeps, would you put the turkey in the oven? It’s ready to go and I’d like to run upstairs and get a quick shower.”

The response was in the affirmative and I headed upstairs to hit the shower and put on a new outfit I had purchased just for the big day.

I came downstairs in my bathrobe with my hair up in a towel and took a peak into the kitchen. Not so curiously, my brother and husband were in the kitchen making drinks. I glanced over at the stovetop to check on the giblets and noticed one of them had attempted to set the timer.

“You guys,” I laughed, “thanks for putting the turkey in — I know you were trying to be helpful, but the timer is set wrong.”

My husband looked over at the stove and a look of alarm quickly darkened his face. “Oh my God,” he said, “we turned the self-cleaning mode on!”

My brother said,”what do you mean, “we”?”

“No you didn’t,” I said. “And anyway, the safety arm has to be in the locked position in order for self clean to work. No worries.”

“I’m telling you,” he said more emphatically,  “the self cleaning mode is turned on. The arm is in the locked position.”

Now mind you, I’m the cook in the family and my husband had operated the appliance maybe once since we moved in, so I confess, I was somewhat dismissive of his position.

“And you’ve cleaned this oven how many times?” I said, ” I know what I’m talking about. Don’t worry.”

At this point, all the signs were evident to the average male bystander that I had unknowingly thrown down some kind of challenge. Clearly this aspect of the male psyche completely eludes me as evidenced by what followed next.

“I’ll prove it to you.” And with that, he threw the self-cleaning arm into the locked position and I watched, horrified, as the oven’s temperature began to climb. I slowly turned to him.

“Are you sure about that?” my words cutting like a knife.

I went over to the bar they had set up and poured myself some bourbon. I watched as he tried to throw the arm into reverse. Nada. Nothin doin. You see oven manufacturers design this special mode with a locking mechanism for a reason. Because the oven gets so hot it incinerates everything inside. It would be problematic if anyone could just, say, open it.

I watched as he pushed every possible combination of buttons on the control panel. I watched him as he took a metal hanger and tried to shove it between the control panel and the locking mechanism in order to trip the latch that kept it firmly in its place. I calmly suggested to him that before he too became incinerated he might want to flip the switch on the electrical panel that controlled the kitchen.

I took a long drink of my bourbon and looked both he and my brother in the eyes and declared, “I don’t care what you do but you better find a way to get that turkey out of that oven. This is NOT happening on my first Thanksgiving.”

I walked back upstairs, sedating myself with bourbon, trying to maintain reason, calm…

A little while later I came back downstairs, having gotten dressed and dried my hair. I walked into the kitchen to find my raw, uncooked turkey on the counter. I looked at the two of them who were grinning ear to ear as a result of their accomplishment. Almost like golden retrievers who have dropped a dead animal at your feet.

And speaking of feet, I glanced down at the floor and found oven parts. In fact, as I looked around, it became clear that they had dismantled the entire oven, bolt by bolt, in order to free my Thanksgiving hostage.

I walked over to the bourbon. I put both of my hands down on the counter and bowed my head. No, I wasn’t praying, I was simply breathing deeply between my clenched teeth. I poured myself another one and turned around to face them.

“Our guests are arriving in two hours and there’s a raw turkey on the counter and an oven in pieces. What exactly do you expect me to serve?”

“We could go out?” my husband suggested tentatively.

“MY FIRST THANKSGIVING!!!! What? There’s not enough drama in your family you have to create some in ours? You find a way to get that turkey back in my oven.”

And I walked out again.

I sat on the edge of our bed trying to come up with some kind of contingency plan. Had I been a more accomplished cook I might have been able to problem-solve an alternative. Maybe the bourbon was contributing to my lack of clarity as well.  A kind of panic was setting in. Additionally, having eaten virtually nothing on the big day (you know, saving up or making room for all that food I was going to consume) I’m sure I was getting drunk and angry — a lovely combination for any new hostess. “I’m sure nothing redolent of Martha,” I muttered.

I took a deep breath, steadied myself and headed back downstairs, trying to think of sandwich combinations I could serve…

There was my oven, on, and with a turkey roasting inside. Both men were now doing their fair share of drinking and strangely, neither of them could quite look me in the eye. Shame, I’m sure, I thought. Embarrassment and guilt, no doubt.

I increased the temperature of the oven in order to make up for the lost roasting time and prayed that this compensation would not be the ruination of my reputation.

The guests arrived. Appetizers were served. Drinks were flowing. Finally, the moment of truth arrived, I held my breath, and everyone complemented the cook profusely for a delicious turkey and wonderful Thanksgiving meal. Was that relief I saw in the eyes of my sibling? My spouse?

I could have done without the drama and the uncertainty. And certainly the alcohol. I was exhausted by the time everyone left. My husband and brother congratulated each other but again, avoided conversing with me. I put the children to bed and laid down. I was too tired to reflect on their strange behavior, let alone, tackle kitchen clean up.

I awoke the next day, determined to address the kitchen. But first, coffee. I’m not a morning person and caffeine is absolutely necessary. I’m told that if you find me sipping my first cup, I’m actually hugging my mug. Cupping it with my hands and inhaling the aroma. I know for a fact it helps my eyes come into focus and I looked around the kitchen, truly, for the first time that morning. The usual pots, pans, dishes, etc. were evident, but there was something at the far end of the counter I had not noticed before.

It seems that putting the oven back together was harder than taking it apart. There, off to the side, were a pile of oven parts…

London Calling!!!

Gathering some family and friends for the opening of the Olympics friday night! Here’s what’s on the menu

  • Assortment of English cheeses
  • Shepherds Pie
  • Salad
  • Eton Mess

Now, for the drinks…Pimms Cup? Gin and Tonic? Can’t wait for the opening ceremonies!

Making It Last

Peaches in Bourbon Vanilla Syrup, a la Martha Stewart, garlic confit, and roasted tomatoes! I have french cantaloupes in the garden and figs beckoning to be made into jam. The weather is turning slightly cool and I need to get up to Stuckey Farm for Honey Crisps & Macintosh’s. I’d really like to learn more about preserving, making cheese and braiding onions and garlic. If anyone knows of any class opportunities here in the midwest, please post via comments!

Ideagora’s and Food

In my professional life I consult and teach marketing technologies. One of the books I frequently require as reading is a book called “Wikinomics” which lays out the groundwork for the second generation of the internet, otherwise known as Web 2.0 and some of the early concepts and players in that revolution.

One of the concepts that crystallized during the Web 2.0 evolution is that of the “ideagora.”  With the advent of two-way conversations utilizing the internet as mechanism or means (ie. being able to upload as well as download or being able to push content as well as pull or consume content) a couple of companies pushed the concept of “marketplace” to a new level. Profiled in the book, Procter & Gamble and Eli Lilly & Co., two midwestern giants, who quite frankly I wouldn’t have thought to be likely candidates for cutting edge Web 2 stuff.

Nonetheless the demands of the market and the easy access to the internet as a tool gave birth to Innocentive.com and yet2.com. What made these portals unique wasn’t really commerce, but an exchange or matchmaking service of ideas. Both companies realized they could employ every researcher or scientist on the planet and it would still take years to get their projects off the ground — a highly impractical approach to getting products to market quickly.

Rather they decided to look at the pyramid structure of their traditional organizations and “open” up to an alternate, flatter structure. They posted outstanding research projects online (giving up some intellectual property along the way) in hopes of attracting contractors, retirees, etc. for short-term projects in which they had a specific expertise. The portals were instantly successful. A win-win all around and now these portals are open to many businesses matching ideas and expertise in a free, online marketplace.

I know you’re wondering why this post is on a food blog — I’m finally going to get to the point — I wondered if there were ideagora’s in the food industry. While I didn’t stumble onto a plethora of options I did encounter an ideagora focused in the northwest called “FoodHub — where deals are done daily.”

according to the site —

“Whether you buy or sell fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood or specialty items, FoodHub accommodates multiple distribution strategies and various order sizes. It’s easy to use and a great place to meet and do business over food.”

As the local/regional food movement continues to unfold, the concept of ideagora offers a new “tool” to connect and shorten the deal to market. More open than a co-op and “scale neutral” as the site says, FoodHub’s ideagora is yet another option for producers to connect to the market.

What I’m Consuming Now…

you thought this was going to be a post just about food…

Books

  • Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant
    ISBN#1591396190 (this is actually a re-read) In a nutshell: Just who would jump into an ocean (aka existing market) with Walmart? Don’t bother, create your own. Starts out with the story of Cirque du Soleil, fascinating.
  • Plenitude, ISBN#1594202540 This was a dry start for me but the author lays the groundwork for the current economic crisis and maps a way out that I can totally buy into including self sustaining lifestyle changes which free us up to all sorts of possibilities — I really like this book.
  • Forgotten Cooking Skills, ISBN#1906868069, by Darina Allen, founder of the Ballymoe Cooking School offers up 700 recipes along with all sorts of tips for getting back to basics. Everything from making butter to prosciutto (something I’ll be doing here shortly involving the leg of a pig, several pounds of salt and lots of patience, about 18 months worth)

Movies

  • Food Inc, a best-selling DVD on Amazon, would be a great Christmas gift to everyone you care about. An examination of the industrial food system we all participate in.
  • Fresh, the movie while not available for purchase or in wide distribution, check out the website for a screening close to you or sponsor a screening yourself! Picking up where Food, Inc leaves off, Fresh introduces us to some visionaries in the food system that are making a creative difference
  • David vs. Monsanto, a short documentary of the Percy Schmeiser story. A film that lays out all that’s at stake for farmers and the people they feed — posted here on modestbounty.com

Television

  • Fresh Food Fast, the Cooking Channel, yes, I know, it’s the BAM! man, but happy to see he’s tackling relevant, useful recipes with all the right priorities
  • French Food at Home, another Cooking Channel gem, I have to say this one speaks to my heritage and the recipes are great — simple french food, traditional recipes with a little twist — love this series.

Grilled Corn and Tomato Salsa

While I put an Italian twist on this, using balsamic vinegar (enhances the sweetness of the corn) you could use regular vinegar or lime (more authentic in salsa) Scale accordingly — I love leftovers! Awesome with fish tacos.

2 ears of corn, husked, brushed with olive oil
2 vine rip tomatoes, cored
1/2 red onion, chopped fine
3 TBSP olive oil plus more for brushing
2 TBSP vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

marinate red onion in vinegar for 1/2 hour. roast the corn and tomato on a hot grill until tomato is wilting and corn is nicely marked but not burnt. Cut the corn off the cob and chop the tomato and put both with the marinating onions. Add olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Percy Schmeiser – Right Livelihood Award laureate

The Story of a Canadian Farmer’s Fight to Defend the Rights of Farmers and the Future of Seeds, @DemocracyNow.org. I heard an interview on the radio with this remarkable man and found his documentary, posted here, a film by Bertram Verhaag-Now.

The story that begins as a farmer’s fight with a multinational corporation for his right to farm his land uncontaminated by genetically modified neighboring seed and ends with questions for all mankind —

  • who is preserving seed for future generations?
  • once genetic modifications enter the environment does it forever alter our food sources?
  • once terminator seeds enter the environment what will prevent the unintended contamination and ultimate destruction of other species?
  • how do you know if you’re eating genetically modified food?
  • how does the funding of our country’s land grant universities by these multinational agricultural corporations impact the critical research of our nation’s food supply?
  • who owns life?

August – NOLA

My first trip to NOLA ended this past Monday morning but it finished with great fanfare, Sunday evening, Mother’s Day at John Besh’s August. Mine was a working long weekend and so I was a little tired overall and am looking forward to my next visit — the city only left me with a longer and better “to do”list. But the highlight for me was the food and the pinnacle of my weekend had to be August.

I mean no disrespect to the other establishments I enjoyed, because I ate my way through New Orleans and each meal was truly delicious. I started with Emeril’s (a great Pinot, incredible soft shell crabs, and a double cut pork chop served on a bed of cinnamon sweet potatoes — hearty, burly, commanding), then a Brennan establishment Saturday (I don’t remember which one) that began with an incredible crab claw appetizer, moved to a shrimp entree I can’t pronounce (tch-something) and then finished with bananas foster and we wandered after a long hot day into that one. Incredible.

But August was deliberate and I had made reservations before we headed south to dine there on Mother’s Day — this one was just for me. The menu posted online was enough of an enticement, but when we arrived a little early for cocktails the ambiance only added to my anticipation. The bar is richly paneled in wood and is seperated from the main dining area by beautiful antique glass doors. I ordered a French 75 (first ever) and was not disappointed. The diner next to me inquired about my cocktail and soon was ordering the very same.

We moved into the main room which is not particularly large — cozy with exposed brick, high ceilings and windows and chandeliers, elegant but not imposing. Our wait staff couldn’t have been nicer or more informative, guiding us every step of the way. No, I am not accustomed to dining in such establishments often. I settled on a warm crawfish salad from the tasting menu and then a sugar and spice duck entree. Before I could get started an amuse arrived at my table — a kind of garlic infused sabayonne with a garlic crouton, melt in your mouth perfection. Now I’m anxiously anticipating the next course.

The salad with a garlic aoili was simple, delicious and very pretty to look at — not an overwhelming chop but a delicate display and just enough, again, to get me anticipating the next course. The star of the evening, by far was my duck, perfectly roasted and served on a bed of the creamiest polenta I’ve ever had with a little foie, greens and candied quince to complement the main course. It was a great balance of flavors and looked beautiful on the plate.

I wasn’t about to leave August (who knew if I’d ever be back … are you kidding me … hooked … planning a return this summer with my daughters) without experiencing dessert. A kind of salty brittle napoleon with a layer of chocolate mousse and a layer of genoise topped with what I think was some type of hazelnut ice cream. I don’t know, I was so far gone at that point I just remember closing my eyes and shaking my head. I finished my meal with a local coffee and floated out of the restaurant.

A great big thank you to the chef, the staff, the farmer producers and my french heritage for a meal I will never forget. You don’t know what you don’t know until you taste it. And then you know great food.

Spring Garden

The high and lows of laying in a garden…

In the beginning, there’s a lot of anticipation. Catalogs! As you’ve already read, I really wanted to source organic/heritage seed. And I did. There are great resources out there (Seed Savers, High Mowing, etc.). Then, comes figuring out when to get seeds started. Starting them indoors and moving them out or direct sow all required plotting each item on a calendar. Be careful — I got a little carried away my first time out of the gate and found my seeds and calendar ruling my life.

I don’t think I did a very good job starting seeds indoors. I had success with some and total failure with others. I think too that I didn’t have the right gear to give my seedlings a good start. I’m not so discouraged that I won’t try again next year, but I’ll do it differently. So for now I’ll end up trying to source locally seedlings (particularly tomatoes) that are organically grown and plan better for next year.

My garden to date:

  • peas (direct sow, growing like gangbusters)
  • potatoes (ditto)
  • carrots (doing well — scarlet nantes variety)
  • onions (several varieties, including cipolini, doing well)
  • strawberries (seem to be doing well and past the trauma of tranplant)
  • raspberries (ditto)
  • concord grapes
  • herbs
  • green beans (too early to tell)
  • and finally, tomatoes (not strong enough and shocked — will pull the plug shortly if I don’t see improvement and replace with local stock)

Where does your food come from?

Energy, Shelter, Clean Water, Food

I am mystified. How did we get here? As oil tightens its grip, and people’s homes foreclose, water becoming scarce and the state of our food industry in question, I ask, how did we get here? As this blog touches both on the growing of food and the consumption of food, I thought I would share with you my own recent journeys.

Local, Organic, Sustainable Food

This used to be our way of life. All food was nutritious, organic and (minus something like citrus) above all else, local. I was chatting with a friend who grew up on a farm in Indiana with 9 brothers and sisters. She said what we now call local and organic they used to call “poor… poor people’s food.” They would grow their own, raise their own, butcher their own and can their own. The local market or grocer was the purview of a higher socio-economic status.

But at the same time she spoke ironically about the current state of the industry she also spoke fondly of her mother as she told me the story of how her brothers built her mom shelves where she could display her pretty canning jars filled with her hard work. Now she too is revisiting this tradition passed down by her mother and is discovering the convenience of canning while not compromising on the quality of the food inside the jar. The simple pleasure of this act creates new memories for her family, too.

Food for Thought

I recently attended a symposium on food here in Indianapolis sponsored by the Indiana Humanities Council, Food For Thought. The documentary, Homegrown, was screened during breakfast and then 3 breakout sessions were offered.

I chose Supply Chain Strategies, The Future of Sustainable Farming, and a panel discussion with local growers and restaurateurs on the topic of buying local. The conference was packed. The first presenter, Professor Kurt Froehlich from the Kelley School of Business with Indiana University, asked how many attendees had seen Food, Inc. Almost everyone raised their hands, including me.

Food, Inc.

First, let me say I had no idea what to expect from this documentary. I had not heard the “buzz” or the controversy and I confess, I kind of expected it was going to be a little more “PETA” oriented. And while you can’t ignore the plight of the livestock as the documentary covers some aspects of our food economy, cruelty to animals really isn’t the focus of the documentary. But rather the “false” economies created by a handful of companies and the federal government. A system that we as consumers seem to be completely unaware of.

The documentary points out we are actually contributing to the poor health of our nation, particularly the poorest of our nation. We’re capable of making cheap crappy food that will lead to obesity, diabetes and all manner of heart related issues. Why then are we not having a discussion about the state of our food industry in conjunction with the healthcare debate? If we have to subsidize food (?), why wouldn’t we choose to subsidize healthy, fresh, sustainable, accessible food.

I have friends that live in farming communities. They regularly source their proteins from their own neighbors. But they wonder how a small processing plant can stay in business when the FDA regulates inspectors must be present for all kills and yet there are not enough FDA inspectors to visit the smaller processors but somehow the largest conglomerates responsible for processing 90% of the protein we consume in this country flourish? As our conference presenter pointed out, the documentary spends less time on distribution and retail where the additional “body blows” are finally dealt and we blindly experience at the point of sale.

Update 3/30/2010: Push to Eat Local Food is Hampered by Shortage, @nytimes, on too great a demand for local protein and not enough slaughter houses to process the product.

Why don’t we care? I guess, is really my question.

As I sat through a presentation by the farm manager from Traders Point Creamery who talked about sustainable farming I learned that a cow is meant biologically to eat grass and we feed it corn for the sole purpose that it will grow fatter, quicker (which in turn then happens to us) and the consumption of that corn changes the ph balance in the cow to the extent that it dramatically shortens it’s life, compromises its health (which in turn then happens to us). Hence we have to feed it antibiotics (which end up in us) and breeds pathogens that heretofore didn’t exist (certain strains of eColi) that they poop out and then stand in for their entire life until they’re covered in it when they go to slaughter…guess where it ends up? Would you build such a process today?

On the other hand, grass-fed beef doesn’t require antibiotics, doesn’t require feed, their manure isn’t contaminated nor does it need to be hauled away as it fertilizes the very pastures they feed upon. The beef is leaner (and therefore we are too) and the dairy cows, for example, live longer and healthier lives and produce healthier products. Check out American Grass-fed or Eat Wild for more information. How is this more expensive? How is this undesirable? Marketers have you convinced that you prefer a fatter cut of meat or that you have to have homogenized milk. Are they right or have you even tried the alternative to know?

What can you do?

Of course there are things you can do. Cook more at home. Not only will you gain the satisfaction of providing a good healthy meal for your family, you’ll spend time with your family, create valuable learning experiences as you pass down cooking skills and respect for food to your children — and hey, the leftovers can stretch to lunch or the next evening’s dinner.

This used to be the “norm” but over the years the concept of the leftover grew into a negative commentary about your economic status. Leftovers were disdained. But hey, frugal is de rigueur once again (why or why did it ever go out of fashion you’re asking yourselves now.) I cook most of our meals including brewing our own coffee and making lunches — and guess what? I spend less than the national average to feed my family.

That doesn’t mean my commitment to eating local and organic whenever possible has been easy. My husband, for one, would prefer I spend less money on food and purchase the cheaper milk or bread or cereal. I point out his high cholesterol and family predisposition for diabetes and hand him him his organic whole grain cereal (which he feels is like chewing hay) with organic skim milk.

Grow a garden.

I have a wonderful, but modest raised bed garden. I am amazed at how much I can produce. Canning is next on my list to learn. (Let me know if you have any good resources online or local.) Or you can participate in a community garden if you don’t have access to your own dirt. Seeds are cheap and water, for now, readily available (see My Spring Garden for just a few online resources). Shop a farmers market or join a CSA. Buying from local producers is casting a vote for the food you do want to consume. Vote with your dollar by buying organic at the store. Buy local and your dollars stay in the local economy and spur more growth.

Take heart. In the last conference session I listened to a local grower along with restaurateurs confirm what I had suspected. There is greater demand than supply. There are not enough local resources to meet the demands of the market! So we have farmers markets, CSA’s or buying direct and now another resource coming to the Indy market, a new co-op committed to offering only locally sourced food. Maybe the tide is turning. Hopefully, other participants in the food chain will revisit the policies and practices that have gotten us here and make changes that are win-wins for everyone.