WeekendCoffeeShare-Holidaze?

img_6284If we were having coffee I’d no doubt mention the upcoming holiday.  I really like Thanksgiving, which is really surprising because it generally turns out to be an ordeal.

For one thing, I do all the cooking.  Every bit of it.  It gives me a chance to dig in my heels and let fly.  That sounds better than it is.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, the food is almost always awesome.  But it isn’t that hard.  We’ve gone with a fairly set menu for years.  I sort of inherited this legacy when I got married.

When I was single, I usually went home for the holidays.  I grew up in Texas — Houston, to be specific,  and for a number of  years lived in Austin.  That’s less than three hours away.  When I got married, it seemed logical enough to just start our own traditions with my new family.  My darling bride’s family had a number of old favorites … a well-established tradition.  Her mother died not too long before we got married so I just sort of fell into what she had started.  She was a tiny woman but left some big shoes to fill.  Man, I wish I had been able to spend some time in the kitchen with her.

Growing up, we always had a spread at home … but we didn’t have anything really specific as in “THIS IS WHAT WE ALWAYS HAVE.”  Not that I remember, anyway. My mom always concentrated mostly on the dressing, but it seems to me that she just sort of threw it together and would even dry out french bread slices in the oven.  I’ve done that but don’t see anything wrong with commercially prepared bread crumbs.  My wife’s family was different in that respect. There were several dishes that had been on their holiday table for years and years.  Kinda fun, actually.  Any of them could be made at any time, sure, but they weren’t.

My wife’s family was different in that respect. There were several dishes that had been on their holiday table for years and years.  Kinda fun, actually.  Any of them could be made at any time, sure, but they weren’t.

Over the years I’ve added a couple including a couple I mined from an old collection of recipes I found at my mom’s house on a visit.  These hadn’t seen the light of day for dozens of years … they had just been shoved in a closet and forgotten.  I’ve incorporated them into my mix … figuring that they’d skipped a generation but now had come home to roost.

So here’s the menu, of sorts.  Turkey and dressing, of course.  I don’t have a special recipe … just sort of throw the dressing together with veg and giblets and broth made from the giblets.  Shhhh, don’t tell the family.  But for me that’s what gives it that special “stuffing/dressing” texture and taste.  I don’t stuff the turkey, but do drape six or seven slices of bacon over it.  That sort of bastes it … then the bacon gets really crispy and has a turkey-flavored kick.  I always think I should find some “t-day” use for it but it’s so good my daughter and I end up eating it.  One last word … the gravy made from the drippings is sublime.  You need a gravy separator because there is so much bacon grease but there is nothing like it in this world.

Then we have Mamah Salad.  It’s an aspic.  Sounds horrid, tomato soup, cream cheese, veggies, and of all things, peas.  It was a depression “holiday” dish from my late father-in-law’s family.  The matriarch, “Mamah” cobbled it together out of what they had available.  It comes out a sort of pastel peachy color … so it makes an interesting addition to the table.  It really grows on you until it becomes something I almost crave during the holidays.

Swiss Green Beans is another holiday dish that has been made in my wife’s family so long no one remembers where it came from.  I collect cookbooks and actually found a really close variation of it … from a Gladys Tabor cookbook.  Don’t know Gladys?  She was one of the premier food writers in the thirties and forties.  When you taste these green beans you are forever spoiled … what people have come to consider “traditional” green bean casserole pales in comparison and just doesn’t sit right on your palate anymore.  And it is just as simple … and has a lot of similarities.  The binder is a sour cream bechamel and it is topped with Swiss cheese and a coating of … no, not fried onions or bread crumbs but crushed and buttered corn flakes.  Trust me. It’s good.

I’ve added a corn/cornbread casserole … another simple dish mixing butter, sour cream, creamed corn, and whole kernel corn …  binding together with jiffy cornbread baking mix.  Also a sweet potato pudding recipe … swimming in butter and brown sugar and marshmallows.  Two recipes I rescued from my family’s closet were other gelatin salads … a cranberry-orange-pecan salad that ranks right up there with Mama Salad in “THIS IS WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT.”
Another one is another orange salad that combines cheese and orange jello and whipped cream.  Not just any cheese. It calls for good old-fashioned American Cheese.  I’ve tried it with other cheeses … just doesn’t cut it.  Also not processed cheese food product (someone should document the descent of civilization that took us from American Cheese to Cheese Food to Cheese Food Product).   You have to go to the deli and order a big hunk of real American Cheese.  It’s awesome.  Sometimes I opt the orange salad to Christmas.  There’s another recipe for a Strawberry-banana-pineapple gelatin salad we used to always make but it’s huge and never keeps very well and although we really like it we end up with a lot left over so I sometimes let that one slide.  Or make it at Christmas.

If I have time and room in the kitchen, I’ll make rolls … another hand-me-down recipe from Mamah.  Also, depending on space issues and the number of guests, I’ll make another dish or two for the grandkids …

Desserts?  Who the heck has room for dessert?   Pumpkin Pie, naturally.  I love pumpkin pie.  But everybody likes my Buttermilk Pie.  Gotta make Buttermilk Pie.  It was a recipe my wife saw on TV on some show she doesn’t remember, probably on PBS because this predates the food network.  All she managed to scratch down was the ingredient list.  Funny, I lost that once.  I was helping manage a recipe site on the early internet and asked for other recipes.  I bet I gained ten pounds testing recipes … some were close but none were exactly right.  Then one day I found the tattered envelope that had the recipe list … tucked away into a cookbook.  You can find that one on food.com … it’s recipe #56.  If you search buttermilk pie it is one of the first things that pops up.  Note: that’s recipe #56 out of hundreds of thousands.  The guy who originally started the database that ended up on food.com polled us on the recipe newsgroup for additions to help get started.  Pretty cool, really.

So my guiding forces are similarities and convenience.  Most of the dishes can be made the day before, including the green beans.  I first realized that when I was making the gelatine salads … they HAVE to be made the day before.  But everything can go in the oven, in stages, based upon cooking time.  I do the turky first, then as THE TIME approaches I schedule everything else into the oven.  Rolls last … right before serving time.

Man, I’m hungry now.  Everyone, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving this Thursday!  I better start cleaning the house now.

================

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  His latest novel, A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP was just published.  More info at http://thefensk.com

Advertisements

WeekendCoffeeShare-Update

img_6284If we were having coffee today I’d have to tell you I am very happy to see you.  Last week I talked about my upcoming eye surgery on my cataracts, so I thought I should give you a little update.

It is nothing short of amazing.  And that’s just one eye.  Of course, my right eye was my dominant eye, it always has been, but I’d been depending more and more on my left eye, although I knew it was rapidly deteriorating too.  The doctor suggested I have the right lens removed from my glasses but I actually think I function better without that … since my left eye, even corrected, is pretty bad.

I was just standing on the front porch.  There is a small store across the street from us.  I can close my left eye and see the small, lit “OPEN” sign clearly.  If I cover my right eye, I CAN’T EVEN SEE THE SIGN.   That’s uncorrected.  I can see that there is a store there, as I can with most other big things.  It is like looking through smoke and haze.  Understand, this eye is about 50% better than my right eye had become.

I had become pretty used to my deteriorated vision.  I was still driving up to two weeks ago, depending on the weather and the light conditions and how my eyes seemed to be functioning at the time — some days I could see better than on other days.  Since the surgery, my wife had been reluctant to let me drive again, but I told her, really, I can see so much better than I could even see two or three months ago.

The new situation is not without its adjustments and pitfalls.  I still have what they call “floaters” … including one I was calling a dragon’s claw, shifting back and forth just out of my central vision, a bit like a hair on an old projector lens at the movies.  It has diminished over the last several days, now more like a spider or fly, dancing around.  The doctor said it is not uncommon and should likely fade over the next couple of weeks.  The nature of my eyes precluded a complete adjustment … although the eye tested at 20/20 for distance, I still need enhancement to read.  Although this seems a minor adjustment, it is actually more than I anticipated.  I’ve worn progressive lenses for almost 20 years … basically trifocals without lines.  I used to joke they were like being young again.  Now, I don’t need glasses for distance but have to relearn what I used to do years ago before the progressives and keep reading glasses handy.  I haven’t had to do that in a while and it is different now with things like tablets and smart phones.  I’ll know more when I have the other eye complete.

But considering I struggled to even see the screen to type last week’s dispatch, I can see the screen clearly now with minimal strength reading glasses, although I think I’ll need to take it easy because even now I can detect eye strain as my left eye struggles to help. Not complaining, mind you, as I know this is temporary.

Eye two scheduled for early December.

=======================

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  Find out about his novels The Fever, and A Curse That Bites Deep at http://thefensk.com
He really needs some sales to help pay for all these related medical expenses!

The Eyes Have It

img_6284If we were having coffee today, you might notice me struggling a bit. “It’s my eyes,” I’d admit.  “Cataracts.”

Then you’d tell me about your experience, or your brother’s, or a co-worker, or your mom …

At my last checkup my eye doctor, an optometrist, told me it was coming.  I first noticed a few changes early last Summer.  It seemed to come and go.  I pushed through the minor inconvenience because of our daughter’s upcoming wedding. Stupid, I know.  This is something that doesn’t go away.  Vitamins or exercise don’t help.  I just didn’t want it to possibly get in the way of the nuptials.  What got me was how fast it started to deteriorate.

In the final month before the wedding, I could tell it was changing pretty quickly.  After the wedding, I finally got an appointment.  Yep, he said, time to head to a specialist.  Of course, I then had to wait.  In my case, although I have cataracts in both eyes, my right eye is significantly worse than my left eye.  Unfortunately, my right eye is my stronger eye, always has been.  And in the last month both have been going downhill fast.  I finally surrendered my car keys to my wife the other day.  Oh, I think I can still drive okay, as long as I know where I’m going, but my depth perception has suffered too and she got tired of me running over curbs and such.  My worry was someone possibly walking in front of me.  I can see big stuff okay, but it is like driving in a misty early morning fog … all the time, everywhere, and bright lights like headlights and street lights are often exaggerated and blinding. That famous painting Starry Night?  Welcome to my world.

I go in for surgery on the right eye this coming week.  It is perhaps the most common surgical procedure these days.  Very routine. That’s why I mentioned the anecdotes earlier.  I’ve heard a lot of them.  I’m both dreading the surgery (as one does) and looking forward to it.  Then I get to do it again, on the other eye.  The doctor told me I’ll really see how bad the left eye is when the right eye comes back on-line.

One of the saddest things for me is the fact that I have to miss National Novel Writing Month this year.  I’ve done it every year since 2011.  My two published novels were NaNoWriMo projects.  I enjoy NaNoWriMo, it is fun and I’ve made some lifelong friendships from the random writing buddies I’ve collected over the years.  But NaNoWriMo takes commitment and with surgical disruptions and … well, hardly being able to see the computer screen (struggling even writing this!), skipping it this year is a no-brainer.  Maybe I’ll write the third book in the series NaNo-style in January.

One of the good things that will come out of this is the fact that they can actually do proactive corrections.  The flip side is that it is almost always out of pocket … insurance should pay for all this stuff but they balk at actually doing something helpful and forward-thinking.  They’ll replace the cloudy lens with a buck basic replacement, sure, but for a few bucks more and what is basically some minor LASIK I can expect some real improvement.  But it is an easy sell for the medical industry … the prospect of better eyesight, not just as good as before with glasses but BETTER … well, that is hard to pass up.  And given what they are already doing, it just makes sense in the long run.  Can I afford it? Not really, but can I afford to NOT do it?  Well … not really.

So think about me this Thursday.  Feel free to comment to me about your experiences.  I know you will anyway, so I might as well invite you.  It helps.  It really does.  Oh, and remember the cost and remember those two books hanging around out there on Amazon (and other popular sites listed on my web page).  Hint, hint … a few more sales might help offset the cost for me, so tell your friends too.
(“Always play for sympathy, my boy,” an actor-mentor once told me).

—–

Thomas Fenske is= a writer living in NC.  His latest novel, A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP, was published October 1.  More information: http://thefensk.com