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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Here in the Deep South, there are a lot of things that are slow-cooked: pulled pork bbq, roux, Chilton County peach cobbler – and even national championship football teams (Roll Tide!), tourist season and sure-faaar, our ay-ccents.

Good things all take time to be done right.

Her heels could afford to be a little higher for the occasion, but these shall do…

And that’s why I’ve been sold for years on cooking our turkey overnight.

At the risk of hosing off germophobes, FDA officials and food/beverage professionals around the world (you know who you are!), I stand by my reasons:

1.) Cooked properly, an overnight-roasted turkey will taste like nothing you’ve ever had on Thanksgiving Day.

Cooked properly = not stuffed, placed upside-down (so all the juices drain into the parts that typically wind up drier) and cooked at a high temperature for the first stage to kill all bacteria. Then turn it waaaaaaay down (250-275 F) – let ‘er rest in a slow heat. Just like we rest hee-yuh in the South (Say-outh – 2 syllables, y’all).

2.) You will get your beauty sleep before the big day (especially important for those of you Black Friday addicts). Bless your thrifty hearts…

3.) The bird cooks itself – once it’s in the oven, you do NOTHING until you wake up – and then, it’s only to take its temperature (165 degrees F ideally). Better to take the bird’s temp than those of the budding flu cases in the nearby environs.

4.) The aroma in the house that builds overnight is simply heavenly – and smacks of all things down home, welcome and love – should you happen to awake before dawn.

5.) You are free to move about the cabin once it’s in – no muss, no fuss.

6.) Upon awakening, and only when you good & well decide to getting around to taking it out, it’s as if your imaginary maid has been hard at work all night – a perfect bird just waiting for carving. Except you needn’t carve – it just falls off the bone. Honest.

7.) The oven is FREE for the rest of the parade of traditional dishes – the sweet potato casserole, pies, green beans, pies, rolls, pies. You get the idea.

For more tips, click here,

here

and

here.

There are a few tricks to this, as you can see from the links – one is not to HURRY the process – namely, making sure to roast at a high temp long enough initially so that you can lower the temp for the remainder of the night with a clear conscience so you sleep well and dream sweet, sweet dreams. OH, those sweet dreams!!!

To bag or not to bag? Up to you – we never do, but I slice up a ton of celery, onions, garlic (crushed and minced by my hand on my cutting board, some pieces naturally less minced than others), slather it with olive oil, drench it with cooking wine and the pats of butter where the sun don’t shine, as one link recommended – are key.

Smoke rises from the eastern Damascus suburbs of Arbeen, after what activists say was an airstrike by a MIG fighter jet, November 8, 2012. Picture taken November 8, 2012. REUTERS/Omar al-khani

reuters.com

Whoops, wrong Turkey – you do NOT want yours to spend so much time in the oven so as to smoke like this. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise! No bombing necessary.

Also, after the wine bath, I season it with oregano, garlic (powder or salt, depending on your blood pressure), a dash of basil, cayenne pepper, white pepper, fresh coarse ground pepper (this is Cajun country here), and Beau Monde seasoning (from Publix – French for ‘beautiful world,’ mostly celery salt). And whatever else looks good from my spice rack. I rub my turkeys a lot – with lotsa schtuff.

Take your time.

That may mean anything from Rooster Sauce (Srirachi) to the bottle I grabbed thinking it was one thing and it turned out to be another. (It’s all good, really!).  The important thing is how it turns out internally. Lovers of spice can nosh from the edges and the blander pallets can opt for the more internal parts that have not been so seasoned.

I also cover it with foil (if it’s too big, or if it’s smaller, with the roaster lid)  to seal the juices and prevent the edges from getting gnarly.

Kinda like the pulled pork recipes which demand unchecked, unfettered cooking at low temps for suspiciously inordinate amounts of time. It’s not secret – it’s an art.

Like, when people ask for my recipes, I stutter and stammer and can’t replicate it – I have to be there to live it to cook it to create it. Otherwise, it’s just not, um, “me.” Ask any ladies’ church group that has EVER asked me for one of my recipes.

Rots-o-ruck.

This method always allows me to have enough energy to maintain our family tradition of walking the bay’s longest pier after we’ve had our pie on the porch (another family tradition, which may be eclipsed if this cold front doesn’t take a back seat this year) – after the big day.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all, from our front porch to yours!

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Hey, God, thanks for everything You bless us with, both now while we’re thinking of giving thanks and every day of the year, and even when we’re not looking. Thank You for all You give us, seen and unseen, now and in the future that we don’t know about yet, and past seeds planted that haven’t yet come to fruition. Thanks for things made known to us today that we cannot yet fully comprehend. And Roll Tide! Amen.

And thanks, readers, for this 200th blog post! I wouldn’t still be here if it weren’t for YOU. Love ya’all…

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By default of this blog’s theme, I couldn’t NOT participate in this weekly photo challenge.

But since this blog is already chock full of sea photos, this week’s challenge was a bit more, um, challenging. What could I possibly publish that was different not only from my own blog, but from the other entries?

So I did what I always do and took my camera with me yesterday and hoped for something unique to capture.

We stumbled upon some photographically interesting things such as a wedding party, a single mother trying to relax with her misbehaving children, a lonely man in his 60s and a bikini-clad girl with a message on her hindquarters.

However, I didn’t have any photography releases on my person for the subjects to sign to waive me from liability, so I had to focus on my own subjects.

A few posts ago, the subject came up about gigging sting rays. Since that post, my son had created and built his own spear gun and decided to try it out yesterday.

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The mighty nautical hunter…

For you do-it-yourself-ers, he used a PVC pipe, 18 inches of surgical tubing, a pipe clamp, a slingshot frame, some wire, a filed-down steel bar and a hollow, aluminum arrow. And some fishing line.

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It’s like a combination slingshot, bow & arrow and rifle. But tailor-made for the sea.

To test it out, he waded to the edge of a sand bar before a good little drop, and went to work:

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Because sting rays have been something of a nuisance this season, it didn’t take him long to locate several through his snorkel mask before he was able to zero in on his catch.

If you’re wondering how he didn’t get stung, he knows that sting rays are naturally skittish. Shuffling your feet along the sandy bottom, where they hide, causes them to swim away.

If you don’t shuffle your feet, you may step on one. This startles them and they instinctively whip their serrated tail, which causes several cuts into your skin into which it’s venom is released simultaneously. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle!

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About 100 yards away swam sting rays that were six feet wide, visible from a large, long pier. I was very happy that my son encountered one that was merely a fraction of the giants nearby.

This is an Atlantic Stingray, one of several species of stingrays in the Gulf of Mexico.

Back at the homestead, our catch is now on the operating table where we carefully examine his barb.

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What tadoo with a stingray, once caught?

Since my son is part Eskimo, he makes full use of the entire animal. He filleted the meat and used the carcass to feed the local armadillos and nutria.

And what of the barb? He conducted an experiment to see if the industrious fire ants in the front yard might enjoy dining on it. No, they did not, nor did their colonies, and, voilà! A new fire ant deterrent was discovered this weekend. Evidently, fire ants DO NOT like stingray venom.

Turning now to stingray cuisine, we focus now on making supper.

The not-so-secret ingredients to one of the most awesome coatings: Kentucky Kernel seasoned flour along with Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning. Famous for famous Southern fried chicken, these ingredients can turn anything into heaven.

Eager to try out his catch of the day, my son forgot the cardinal rule of Southern cooking: use the cast iron pan instead (mama gently bawled him out after this shot was taken).

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It turned out delicious, anyway. Unlike alligator and many other unusual dishes which can be described as “tasting like chicken” or some other common culinary frame of reference, there was no way to describe how sting ray tasted. As he put it, “It tasted like, er, sting ray – or like a few different salt water fish-types, combined.”

Thanks, God, for giving us the incredible seas which have and give life – interdependent, without which we could not be. And bless each of the talented bloggers who glorify You in their portrayals of the sea.

 

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Ironically, this week’s photo challenge theme was issued while your Muse was schlepping around the one place in the entire world that few might recognize as the ultimate earthly Ground Zero of UP-ness.

As in, the uppity-uppest up, giant-est step that mankind has known.

This is the record-holding Saturn V:

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It was built under the direction of one Wernher von Braun, a German who originally wanted to be a composer of great music. His career plans were derailed by his rocketry brilliance. His brilliance was used by Hitler to build the V-2 missiles (the “V” was for “vengeance”) until von Braun pledged allegiance to the United States of America, not long after witnessing the horrific conditions in the concentration camp that housed the prisoners who built his rockets.

When he tried to appeal to the SS on their behalf, he was told in no uncertain terms to hush up or he’d be given a black-and-white striped uniform of his own. After a two-week imprisonment by the SS for reasons unknown to him, he then “felt that only by surrendering such a weapon to people who are guided by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured (Mike Wallace television bio).”

The rocket is too large to capture in its entirety. Here is the bottom half of the Saturn V, just two of its engines:

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von Braun was named director of the Marshall Space Center for NASA in Huntsville, Alabama, where he oversaw the creation and building of the Saturn V between 1967 and 1973. The Saturn V was used to launch Apollo 11, enabling man to finally land on the moon. von Braun also drew up plans for his vision for a manned mission to Mars.

Here is the inside of the rocket engine. I love the patterns (where’d that V come from on the top, anyway?) and the crispy burnt effects on the aluminum…hot chihuahua!:

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A total of 24 astronauts got to the moon this way. Bless their wives and families.

And also Major Tom, bless his heart, wherever he may be.

On the grounds of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, you will find a museum, G-force simulators, tributes to astronauts, an awesome gift shop and a rocket park filled with retired, heavenly transportation vehicles. This is the Pathfinder:

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In his spare time, von Braun also dreamed up the notion that children’s dreams of space travel should be nourished and encouraged. Thus, Space Camp was created and thrives today, now also including the Aviation Challenge camp. When I was there, the grounds were swarming with professors and teachers. It’s where the nation’s trainers are trained in the field.

The city of Huntsville never forgot von Braun’s original passion for the arts. The Von Braun Center, a sprawling, multi-venue facility for the arts (even with its own ice hockey arena) features top acts, Broadway plays and is a regional mecca for all things artistic and musical. Even though my eldest child had been to space camp years prior, I was unaware of the significance of this place until he was invited to play at the Von Braun Center last week. Perfect timing for an UP challenge – thanks, WordPress!

And when it’s time for a classic, homemade Southern dish, you MUST visit the Blue Plate Café . It’s the Southern equivalent of the Mediterranean diet. I kid you not.

So if you ever go tripping around in the South and have a hankering to discover this type of up, or if you have an up-wardly inclined child, I highly recommend a stop in Huntsville, Alabama.

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Sammiches

Good, good stuff…even if the hog wasn’t the only thing that got butchered!

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…pulled into the driveway of the nice neighbor up the road to get some Satsuma oranges (cross between mandarins and tangerines). Funneled $5 in jug and grabbed bag top-middle and used shredder at home to make orange zest to throw into cranberry sauce the second it came off the stove…

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Captured this sunset on the commute home, because there was a 2-car accident on the sure-fire alternate route to avoid holiday traffic, and another couple of smash-ups on every other viable route home. God bless the slow-n-steady…I got home safely and savored the colors in the sky in the process:

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Came home to this sight…. (friends, study the spud)

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Yes, I have a jar of shells (or fifteen) around the house, including on the kitchen counter. I have never, however, had an army guy sticking out of a potato greeting me upon walking in the door. This was a first. I noticed the children parked the army-guy-in-potato near some of my cookbooks (which I rarely use). I believe they were trying to tell me something which I shall analyze tomorrow, probably and unfortunately after the fact. In the meantime, I will take the hint that there may be heavy combat in my kitchen between now and Black Friday.

In other accomplishments today, I:

~Reassured a young child why his mother’s cancelling his home pass for the Thanksgiving weekend due to his not-that-negative-behavior days before (even though he did his level best for a whole day prior) and her perception of inconvenience was justified…have a heart, ma!

~Reassured a set a parents why their child’s insistence that they did not want to go home for Thanksgiving because they can’t stand the fighting between Mom & Dad, was justified…knock it off already, y’all.

~Tried to help a 9 year old understand why he could not go home just for one day for Thanksgiving because his mother preferred to have men with meth over for Thanksgiving instead of complying with Child Services’ request that she attend family therapy so that the child might come home for a home pass…and we wonder why the world is going the way it is?!

~Explained to an 8 year old why Mommy was more interested in preventing domestic violence by going by boyfriend’s wishes to have her all to himself instead of 8 year old coming home even for a few hours on Thanksgiving…put ‘cher big-boy-boxers on, dude. Really.

~Comforted a seven-year-old about why Mommy can’t be with him because she has to work the ‘hood selling her body instead of being with him tomorrow. No comment.

God bless the owner of the bowling alley who offered these children a discount diversion for the day of Thanksgiving, and the owner of the skating rink who opened his business and heart to them the day after Thanksgiving, just cuz.

And the only reason I can’t take them all in myself is because it would be a gosh-darned ethical “conflict of interest,” and besides, my mother with Alzheimer’s is spending the day – and she’s mad as a freshly-uprooted fire ant right now right now because as POA I stand between her and her every dime she wants to give to every unscrupulous charity which hits her up at every opportunity by mail and phone. If only I could bring home the kids and feed them all and let them play on our Wii and pick out their favorite shells and stuff, Grandma would be amply diverted and fulfilled in the giving of her time and energy, and we’d have a big ol’ time.

Somehow I fantasize were HIPAA and privacy laws not such a barrier, everyone would get their physical and emotional needs met and be provided for, just fine thank you very much, the down-home way.

Kind of like the Honor Jug above.

Thanks, God, for the ways You help even when we feel helpless, for the ways You move in the lives of others that we can’t see in our finite glimpses. Thank You for making everything right when things can seem so wrong. Thank You, Lord, for the ways You meet the needs of those who are the neediest in Your eyes, not ours. Thanks, God, for teaching us to give thanks for all things, even those we can’t fathom.
God, thank You for meeting the needs of the dear friends here, too, needs which may be overshadowed by man’s perception and definition of “needs.” Thank You for loving us all as we are in our various stages of need, and for cutting through all the red tape we put between You and us. Thanks for knowing our hearts, even so…

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With football season now in full swing (complete with game cameramen capturing the losing team fans yawning during today’s shut-out), it’s time to roll out the good schtuff. Even though we’re still wearing shorts, certain traditions are beholden to the calendar. As Labor Day snuffed out white shoes, so football in the South ushered in the cooler weather menus, albeit enjoyed in our flip flops.

Because I am hopelessly a right-brained sort, I don’t cook with a recipe book. My kitchen is not unlike a university chemistry lab, with anything liable to blow at any moment. Praise the Lord and pass the safety goggles. This is how I refine my original recipes, like it or not. If it sucks, I pitch it and tweak it.

Okay, so I may consult this or that recipe book or website for a general idea, but, just like I hop in the car and vaguely head in the right direction, I’m not concerned with getting caught up in the unexpected one-way street or having to zip over a couple of extra bridges – it’s the journey, n’est-ce pas? Of course with cooking, it’s also about the destination. Either way, we learn something.

We have a house divided when it comes to gumbo and jambalaya. The points of contention involve tomatoes, rice and shellfish. So today we christened a new stock pot with a new, previously unknown dish. I was naïve enough to think I was being original by calling it gumbolaya until I thought to Google it, and discovered that I’m not the only piece of okra in the pot.

Aiyeeee!

Besides never quite knowing if I’ve got a winner of a dish brewing on the stove, the other hazard of cooking by the seat of my apron is once I determine it’s a winner, it’s nearly impossible to write it down, much less replicate it, because I’ve been buzzing and humming along in the kitchen doing my creating, not paying a lick of attention to how I assembled the masterpiece.

In today’s case, my eyes were bigger than my stock pot, and I wound up ladling a fair portion of the contents of the stock pot into one of my smaller (Pot Formerly Known As the Biggest in the Cabinet) pots, just to make room for the remaining vegetables. The meat alone took up darn near half the stock pot once the roux and broth were combined. That’s okay, though…in a house of 7, I’ve grown accustomed to the face of cooking for a small army. The small (8 qt)  pot:

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This arrangement allows for the gumbo fans to eat it as-is, and allows the jambalaya fans to drape this concoction over rice (brown rice at our house). So what’s in that pot? Let me try to recall:

In the stock pot, I melted 1/4 stick of butter. This was a drop in the bucket, literally, so I added the rest of the stick. Turned the burner on halfway (4-5/medium). Added 2 pkgs of split/quartered/chopped Andouille sausage and it browned as I hacked up a roasted chicken and threw that in, too. Too lazy to deal with the raw chicken, sorry.

That stuff started sticking to the pot and annoyed me to no end. It was not going according to the gospel of Paula Deen, who promised in her gumbo recipe that 1/4 cup of butter and the sausage would nicely brown. Bull-hocky. This is why I veer off into my own cooking planet. (I someday will publish My Kitchen’s Okay, You’re Kitchen’s Okay..Unless You Have Indoor Cats, Which I Don’t…And Please Don’t Tell Me You Do Halfway Through the Church Potluck).

(We interrupt this post to include a member of the peanut gallery over my shoulder who inserted, “In fact, that would make a great name for a recipe – the “Five Indoor Cat Tuna Casserole.” (this, based upon a church potluck once upon a time in a land faraway which shall remain anonymous)).

So into the pot went another 1/4 of butter. This also quickly threatened to burn on the bottom of the pot despite having it on way-low (I’m so darned precise). In an act of sheer desperation, I grabbed my trusty olive oil out of the pantry and drizzled and drizzled and drizzled. Was the chicken too dry? Was the pot too big? Whatever the issue, I had no time to analyze, and just slopped enough olive oil in there to ensure that my new pot wouldn’t be trashed, and that the darned sausage and chicken would brown. They never really did, but I had to trust that they would be cooked by the time the two cycles of boiling occurred. So be it.

Scrap that phase…I removed the meat and was left with gummy garbage on the bottom of the pot. This turned out to be the KEY to the roux!! I relentlessly scraped and stirred while yet another stick of butter melted in the pot. When it was on the verge of cursing me out, I sprinkled a cup of flour on it and it convulsed and I stirred. Roux is a religion here, so I knew to keep stirring and smiling no matter how ugly it got.

It threatened me with burning and sticking and other forms of culinary disaster, but when I stuck it out and obediently stirred for precisely 10 minutes, it went from a frothy yellow-white to a dark, creamy brown. Emeril would have been proud.

This was when various and sundry family members stuck their head in the kitchen and said, “Mmmm, that smells good! What’s for supper?”

Then came the panic – the stove clock registered 10 minutes, the roux was perfect, and I wasn’t sure what in blazes to do with it – I’d forgotten to get the next step ready.

In a blur, somehow some water-turned broth (I vaguely recall hastily melting bullion cubes in my 4-cup measuring cup in the microwave) got added to the roux (whisked, actually), and I set about chopping and ricing and dicing while it came to a boil.

The first thing to go into the now-dark brown concoction was onion, about two medium-sized ones. And 8 (no, 9 – another accidentally fell off the bulb in the chopping/pressing process) garlic cloves. While those were bubbling and cooking, I samuraied up a bag of red potatoes, two green and two yellow zucchinis, threw in a couple of cans of corn and a couple of cans of stewed tomatoes and 2/3 bag of frozen okra. I’m sure there was some other vegetable I’m forgetting. Oh, yes, I ground in a bunch of fresh-ground pepper and oregano. I was told later the bullion and sausage didn’t do anything for the salt content, contrary to my assumptions, and that salt was subsequently necessary. Okay.

All this nonsense simmered for a good hour before adding a bunch of fresh, chopped parsley. That good hour was time enough to make a cast-iron skillet of cornbread to go with it. Tomorrow I’ll make some rice, since it will probably thicken up from soup state to gunk, and I’ll microwave the leftovers over a bed of rice to perfection. OMG.

That’s how I write recipes.

And yes, it was mmmm (head to the right)-mmmm (head to the left)-mmmm (head going up-to-down emphatically)-good.

And our team won. That is how superstitious culinary traditions surrounding football begin, tailgate or otherwise. If I make this Good Stuff every time we play, we’ll win every time and snag the championship…

Hey, it’s worked more than a few times before, and in our off-seasons, it was great comfort food at any rate.

Roll Tide!

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Recently, need dictated that I uproot from my beach chair here at the sea, to make a day trip to Chicago. Yes, that’s right: 1,584.6 miles in one day.

Whew!

Faced with a dizzying array of excellent lunch options within a 90-minute window of time, I wasted no time securing an infamous local staple: The Vienna Beef Hot Dog. Righteously done, that is:

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And, for the record:

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This gem was consumed al fresco at the departure drop-off breezeway, where the combination of culinary bliss and harried-traveler-antics led to the inspiration for an upcoming blog topic, “There Are Actually More Than 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, and Most of Them Aren’t Very Funny Except From the Perspective of the Anonymous Onlooker Eating a Hot Dog.”

Okay, so I’ll have to polish that title a bit before my next post.

Airports are terribly amusing places, although I admit in that one day I got my fill of tangling with Atlanta’s airport, enough to last me another year or so. The only fun thing about Atlanta was being in the middle of a phone call that got dropped and watching everyone around me shake and curse their phones, as we realized interference caused us all to lose connection simultaneously. Then we were all forced to stare at Super Nanny on CNN, preaching to us about the naughty chair. Come to think of it, most seats on most airplanes are like naughty chairs…

Back at the sea, at last…yuppers, just in time for hurricane season.

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This is what happens a couple of days after a birthday in a family in which each member covets corner pieces:

Birthday Dregs

You know which pieces will go next. The “Birthday” shall ultimately stand alone…and will be destined to become the Polite Piece which the Frosting Freaks will benevolently purport they are foregoing out of courtesy to others. And then it will go dry in the fridge until it quietly disappears on the next trash day…

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Usually on the morning commute flying across the water, I am able to gracefully finagle the slice of bacon into my mouth without incident in two or three well-orchestrated bites, with the other hand firmly on the steering wheel. A Confederate soldier’s breakfast of bacon and coffee on the run has become standard issue, with a modern version of the old tin cup. Sometimes the traversed water is so sparkly blue, I forget all about breakfast, and the scenery steals any sense of appetite whatsoever. A meal of visual, auditory and mental joy is much more satisfying, I conclude, and the Confederate breakfast remains ignored until well after 11 o’clock or so.

This morning, however, it slipped.

Right out of my hand. I caught the errant strip of swine precariously dangling from index finger and thumb, wildly swinging amok, threatening to permanently alter the interior of the car, my dress, and my pearls. I had no choice but to tilt my head up, dangle the swinging strip over my poised mouth, and gradually, carefully, lower it in, using my tongue to ensure its obedience to my will. It was the only way to prevent a disaster which may have involved the Department of Transportation, hundreds of impatient commuters and a dozen media outlets.

If only the guy driving the pickup next to me hadn’t witnessed this event. Honest, it wasn’t what it looked like. I don’t normally eat like that. I wasn’t implying anything.

Nonetheless, I managed to save the day, and there were no grease spots to speak of. Pearls intact. Traffic flowing smoothly. Especially the guy in the pickup trying to keep up with my pace.

Yeah, I licked my fingers in self-satisfied victory when I finally pulled ahead of the traffic and thought you weren’t watching.

How many little miracles go unnoticed?

When I had Mutiny on the Bounty at 4:05 this afternoon and had to create a miracle in 5 minutes or less to make it all better before I sailed out the door, was it recognized as a miracle, or was it murmured about? Things are rarely what they appear to be.

Hey, God…help us cast aside our assumptions, and be open to Your alternatives. Help us to remember that what is observed, is not always seen; what is listened to is not always heard; what is tasted is not always fully savored; what is experienced is not always fully perceived. Let us drive with no sunglasses and fully take in Your light.

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