My Turkey

12-2-2019

My poor turkey. I can see why there is the custom of pardoning a bird every year before Thanksgiving. No bird should have to go through what my turkey is still enduring.

It started out early in November when the grocery store started giving points toward a free turkey – one for each dollar spent. I shopped in that store several times instead of going to Walmart and pretty soon I had enough points for my free Jennie-O turkey up to 16 pounds. I searched the bin of frozen turkeys. Most of them were 10 to 12 or over 17 pounds. Only one was big enough for my crowd but not too big to disqualify itself. We went home together.

This was a little over a week before the dinner but I know how long it takes those frozen birds to thaw, so into the refrigerator he (or she, I couldn’t tell) went. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I took him out to examine him. He was frozen in kind of a lopsided position so I was hoping he would look more normal as he limbered up. He still had ice inside so I bathed him in some warm water. I picked off a few pin feathers, found all the parts someone had hidden inside him and prettied him up a bit. The extra parts (well, they weren’t really extra for him – necks and hearts are kind of necessary) I stewed for gravy. I wasn’t ready to cook him yet so put him in a baking bag and back to jail he went.

Thanksgiving morning early, I took him out again. He got seasoned, stuffed with an apple, which he would have liked I think, and put back in the bag on his tummy with some flour and lots of celery and onion. Poor turkey – an existence either way too cold or way too hot. Into the oven he went for probably more time than needed. He came out ready to give up every shred of meat. But we didn’t take it all, so a good bit of him went back into the refrigerator.

Bits and pieces of him appeared on the table for several days – in and out of the cold. Finally, what was left, which was a good sized pile of bones and… stuff, went into the crockpot with some water. By this time the only way to recognize him as a turkey was the smell. His bones were at a slow boil for a day and a half leaving no doubt that he was cooked. But I didn’t have time to separate the broth and meat from the bones, so back in the refrigerator he went – “home sweet home” by now. Everything in the pot is quite brown and savory.

Tomorrow is soup day. He doesn’t know it yet. I plan to tell him that he was appreciated at every step and that I have great respect for his usefulness. He was an excellent turkey (even though slightly misshapen).

Being Your Own Health Advocate: Food

I can see a series of posts taking form on this subject, since I don’t want any of them to be overly long. I’m going to keep coming back to the subject because my passion is growing…

It’s fuel.

I don’t cook for fun. I cook because people have to eat. It’s more about fuel for life than what it used to be – for me anyway.

I didn’t used to think about food very much at all in my younger years. If it tasted good, I ate it. I knew about the rudiments of nutrition and ate what I thought was good for me, along with other things that I knew probably weren’t. My philosophy was that happiness was like a medicine, and if a food made me happy, it was probably canceling out any poor nutritional qualities. I had the benefit of growing up on a farm where my family grew/raised a lot of unprocessed food too. I was seldom sick and never had a problem with weight control.

For a few years in the early 2000’s I worked for the FNP, Food and Nutrition Program, of the University Extension Service of the University of Florida. I started taking the Food Pyramid, dictated by the government food police (kidding) into elementary schools and teaching it to youngsters. I taught Nutrition and Food Preparation to young mothers in a Head Start program. I started becoming aware of the problems Americans were having with food. Obesity at young ages, hyperactivity and ADHD were prevalent in so many schoolrooms.  Even when presented with a decent school lunch, children were turning up their noses and throwing away the most nutritious foods. Often families in trouble with Social Services were being court ordered to learn how to prepare meals to feed their children properly.

By default, people were eating the Standard American Diet, acronym SAD, and it was sad. When I started having health problems that I could relate to diet and lifestyle, I started getting a bit more serious about what I fed myself.  The overweight husband also developed problems with blood pressure and needed medicines which were hard to regulate. Friends and family members started getting diagnoses of GERD and cancer and diabetes. Time started wearing out our natural defenses. I began to hear more about food as therapy. I also began hearing about how many times nutritional advice was influenced by factors other than benefits to health – like, who decides what the Food Pyramid looks like and funny how it keeps changing…

I guess what I think now can be illustrated with the example of a machine, say a really nice new car.  If I take it in on schedule to be serviced I’m doing good. But, the thing that I do most often, and that will make the most difference, is to put fuel in it. Different cars have different fuel requirements that are important to follow. If I put in a grade of gasoline other than what is recommended for clean burning, I’m going to see problems after a while. Waste products build up in the engine.  The car gets sick.

Friends, readers, we are that complex, finely designed machine. Our computer, our emissions systems, our energy production equipment, our whole body is affected by every little thing we put in our mouth.

We are designed to take a lot of nutritional abuse – there are buffering systems, safeguards of all kinds in place – but sooner or later those back-up systems will have taken all the abuse that they can. If we don’t want to be sick or prematurely dead, we must study what’s happening in our “machine” with the fuels we use.

This was the beginning of my journey into food research and the resulting health trends. I don’t have to spend hours at it. I don’t have to spend a lot of money to do it. I don’t have to wait until I’m sick with a serious problem. I don’t have to ask my doctor for every new pill I see advertised in the media.  I eat every day, and that is where the changes should, and can, start.

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I’m not necessarily recommending any of these older books – some of the best and newest information is free on the internet, or at the library.

I started by saying that I don’t cook for fun, when I actually do have fun doing it sometimes. But fun is not the main point anymore. Getting the best fuel possible has become the point, just sayin’…

 

 

Thanksgiving Chronicle: Ordinary Times and Travels post 4

Here we were on Thanksgiving Day, in Michigan, preparing to gather at the coffee house and cook our festive meal. Since the plan was to see if we could snack/taste/eat pretty much all day, breakfast was out on the bar when we arrived. Hmmm, coffee was no problem since the place was still basically a coffee house. While some of us talked and lost track of time, others of us got busy in the kitchen fixing up the next round of food.

This was the BIG meal, the one with the turkey. My brother, the host, claimed the job of cooking the bird. He has done it several times and has gotten good at it. None of us gave the turkey another thought. I made a gorgeous veggie tray with several dip choices, just so none of us would have to stop eating between meals. Julie was busy putting together her signature salad, glazing pecans to toss with the lettuce and mandarin orange. Somehow, we all got a bit distracted when the spatula she was using began to melt (who knew?) and glaze the pecans with plastic along with sugar. Pick the plastic out? Start over? Waste all those lovely nuts?

At this point, there were a lot more people in the kitchen because it was nearing our appointed meal time. It kind of sneaked up on us and there was a “hurry up” atmosphere. Ryan was suddenly on to his mashed potato job (Aside: Did you know adding a sweet potato in with the white ones make an interesting contribution? #newtome). Jamie was finishing up her pilaf. Esther was roasting her brussels sprouts.  Jon was getting his tofurkey warmed up. The cold dishes (cranberry salad and others) were being taken out to the line-up on the bar. Gary had finished the turkey and he and Bob were carving. Richard was getting his Thanksgiving song ready to play for our blessing on the meal.

wp-1481649557967.jpgWe were at the very last moment, when Mom asked if there was gravy. She had that big-eyed look that said it wouldn’t work as a meal if there wasn’t gravy for the mashed potatoes. She must have weathered crisis like this before because she had good ideas for making it – hunting up some turkey juice, some canned cream soup, and a few other things. We even found some odd fish shaped dishes that worked for serving it. We rocked it, really.

 

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It was a lovely meal. Unlike many who photograph their food before it’s eaten, I mostly wait until the plates are decimated to take pictures, so I can’t show you the “before” loveliness, but you can see that we did have a good lively time at the table. Such fun, and it only got better when it was time for pie and coffee. Plenty of good food and hours of good company gave us a lot to feel thankful for.

Celebrating for only one day, when people come from a long distance, would be a waste of travel expense. We also have other “near traditions” that are emerging in our family and they take at least one more day of celebrating to accomplish. The Friday after Thanksgiving (not Black Friday for us) will be in tomorrow’s post…

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Experiencing Beyond Diet #2

Eating plan: Day 5

So, how’s it going Ms. “Not on a Diet”?

It’s a mixed bag of good and dietary evil. The things I miss are breads and cereals because there are none in this first week. The longing hits me in the morning when there’s nothing to have with my waking cup of coffee. (Ooops, coffee is not on the menu… but you already know I’m being flexible, right?)

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Yep, I just turned a one ounce serving into six ounces. (And I had to have a few more just taking this pic…)

The other thing, the evil of which I speak, is that my weakness for nuts is hijacking my adherence to the plan. Yesterday, the snack of macadamia nuts and something else which I don’t even remember, turned out to be an hour long spree of eating until the container was half empty (a lot of nuts). I was concentrating on some hard computer work and the angst was mitigated by the action of eating and chewing. That and the fact that I just can’t quit when it’s something I like that much. I have packages of walnuts, almonds and macadamia nuts sitting on the counter beckoning to me every time I look in their direction. I feel fatter than I did on Day 1.

One thing I am finding interesting is my daughter’s digital scale. Maybe in other countries they weigh their ingredients all the time but I have never sized portions that way.

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This is a half cup (or it would be if I mashed out all the air spaces)

I know what a half cup of something looks like, but how much is an ounce of nuts? Well, this handy little scale tells me just how much, and sometimes it’s surprising. Is 4 ounces of meat one chicken thigh or two? How much does a slice of deli turkey weigh? It’s all right there, and I’m gradually getting a sense of how to estimate those quantities. Good thing.

 

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Love this digital scale (read thinking of confiscating it…)

Yesterday, I almost stopped in for a Wendy’s Frosty. I was so tempted, but the memory of the macadamia nut binge was still there, thankfully. I resisted.

Isn’t it funny how we habitually think of meals as having certain elements? I had chicken and sautéed spinach for breakfast and although it tasted good, it just wasn’t right somehow…  Would make a great dinner though. I will probably get used to having dinner three times a day, eventually, maybe, I hope.

On with the eating plan, week two shopping trip coming up. I’m wondering what to do with things left over from week one so there will be room in the refrigerator. Perfectly good food should probably be eaten, right?  Just sayin’…

Don’t Say Diet, Please

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Yes, I caved. There are times when advertising actually works.

I should give deliberate thought and action to taking care of my body. Even though I figure God will leave me here as long as he sees fit, I have a choice about some things. Do I want to be old AND miserable, with conditions I could have avoided? Not really. But staying healthy is not as effortless as it seemed to be back a couple of decades ago.

Knowing I was about to have a couple of weeks with only myself to feed (well, except for my daughter’s cats, dog and horses) I decided it would be a good time to try out a new eating plan. I prefer to say eating plan, rather than diet. It sounds more necessary. So I picked an eating plan that sounded a lot like the way I already eat (ensuring success, or nearly so). Appropriately it was called “Beyond Diet”. When my skinny friends on Facebook recommend a plan, I listen. But mostly, it didn’t cost very much and it promised two weeks of not thinking of what to have for dinner.  I’m in.

I went to the store to get food for week 1.  I guess that part went pretty well, and I actually like hanging out in Publix as long as I have a jacket with me. They had almost everything on the rather extensive list, except halibut and unsalted pumpkin seeds.  The food only cost $150 and I was thankful because it would have cost a lot more if I’d gotten everything organic like the list said.

My first big problem was getting it all in the refrigerator at my daughter’s house. Her fridg is full, but there is almost no food in it. She watches a lot of cooking shows and contests so she has weird stuff like coddled cream and Da Nuong and siracha sauce and different colored olives. No food. The bottom shelf has her veterinary vaccines and the cooler where she keeps specimens of stuff I don’t want to think about in connection with eating. I had to get rid of a few things to make room, sorry Jules.

The second big problem, as I forged ahead into day 1, was that I was getting behind in the schedule almost immediately. I had just finished cleaning up after breakfast and it was time for the snack, and then time for lunch.  No kidding, there is something to eat every two hours all day. It’s kind of like being tied up in the kitchen and for a while I considered looking for a plan called “Beyond Eating” so I could get something else done.  Good thing I know how to modify.

And the third thing, not really a problem but different for me, is that there is some kind of meat for protein almost every time I eat. Buffalo, turkey, chicken sausage, halibut – I almost never get these things. Did you know that meat is never sold in actual serving size quantities?  I’m supposed to prepare 4 ounces of ground turkey but it’s only sold in 10 ounce packages. Who decides that 10 ounces is better than 8, or 12 and why? But I can modify.

This morning, day 2, I did great for breakfast but then I went outside and lost track of time until afternoon snack – oops. And I’ve been invited out for dinner but my “free day”, so called, isn’t until day 7.  I can modify, good thing, huh?

Check in again in two weeks to see if I’ve experienced remarkable “Beyond Diet” results.  Just sayin’, as usual…

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Yeah, it’s the makings of turkey chili. It was pretty good.

Family Wedding Post 1

My niece is getting married this afternoon, outdoors in her brother’s back yard. I have traveled the three hours to my brother’s city where all this is taking place, to represent my family at the occasion.  It’s been years since I’ve been at a family wedding and I’m aware that my status has changed. Instead of being involved in the necessary prep, I am an elder watching the busy-ness of the younger generation.  I hadn’t thought of this as being the case before, and it’s kind of a nice surprise.

Even as I sit down to write in a quiet room, the mother of the bride comes in to take a few deep breaths and we talk for an hour, then the father of the bride also joins us and we talk. The bride comes in and needs to sit for a few minutes even though she has nothing to say.  In the managing of a thousand details, people still have the need to step back and evaluate, to hear their thoughts articulated and validated. I get to listen and hear my family.

In the kitchen the groom’s cousin, a chef, is making sauces and marinades for the food.  There has been much cooking, baking and tasting going on the past couple of days.  It is a hands on wedding with the food being prepared by friends and family. It is also inclusive of a different culinary culture, the Hispanic Miami vibe being present in the background music, the exotic smells, the names of dishes being prepared.

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A wedding story in the making.

Yesterday afternoon the decibel level went high in the kitchen and dining room as the friends of the bride gathered to do table decorations. Laughter, loud discussions, and the occasional episode of dog barking sent me looking for a place apart where I could observe and listen without being overwhelmed.  Problems with the candles were solved, people were dispatched to pick up needed items. Everyone had a job or was given one.

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A wedding story in the making.

When I did venture out I was assigned to watch the frosting on the stove top, which, according to the recipe was supposed to get thick and fluff. Counters were laden with food items and dishes. The sister of the bride was making the cake and stirring up generous amounts of butter, eggs, and flour. Nuts, pineapple, cherries, brown sugar – all this and more adding to the smells to be smelled and the flavors to be tasted. It seemed like each new person who appeared at the door had more food in hand. Throw in a small fire as parchment paper in the toaster oven burst into flames and you have an exciting kitchen.

I finally saw the place where I was comfortable making a difference – the sink full of dirty dishes. I know how to wash dishes.  I am a part of this wild, family adventure. It is good.

 

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Oh yeah, a place for someone who likes to wash dishes – me!

A to Z Challenge: Theme Reveal

Eat This!

I am a big supporter of FOOD.  I think it is absolutely remarkable that everything we humans need to live and be in health is found on this planet. It’s almost like it was made for us. In fact, it is exactly like it was made for us. There is much to investigate on this topic and although I have never been a food blogger, I have done a stint teaching nutrition for the University of Florida Extension Service. I learned a lot and it was fun. I think I can share that fun with readers.

I love to photograph food (I’m talking mainly about fruits, vegetables and ovo-lacto food items). The colors are often bright and exciting, and there are also unusual shapes and ways that food presents itself. And because we get to eat it after the photographs, there will be an occassional recipe or fun way to eat the food of the day. A lot of my subjects will be nutrient dense and so good for you, but since I also believe food should make us happy there will be a few that fall in the “comfort food” category.

Don’t think that this is an easy theme to alphabetize. Since I want to stick with healthful foods that are as close to unprocessed as possible, the choices are limited. There are tons of letter C foods, but try finding some of the others. I love finding unusual items that might surprise you and inspire you to EAT THIS! Hoping you will check in regularly.

 

The Real Stuff

I’m not snobbish about many things.  I feel there is a time to be meticulous and a time when it makes sense to take short cuts.  I’ve done both.  But I can think of one thing that is so much better when it is the real stuff, that the substitutes don’t even come close to satisfying.

Whipped cream.

I made some tonight and was reminded of how beautiful it can be when it’s just right (when it’s not beaten into hunks of butter or so thin that it separates).  It is so soft, almost luminescent, gently curving and swirling in the bowl.  A little dab of it will sit pretilly on top of that chocolate cake or surround dark red strawberries with creamy white visual contrast.  Who would have guessed that combining fat and air could make this magical stuff? I love it.

A little sugar.

A little vanilla.

Real whipped cream. Sorry. Nothing else comes close. 

Oh. My. Goodness
Oh. My. Goodness.

Thanksgiving in Detail (lots of strokes to this picture…)

The Day Before

There are fourteen of us tonight.  Tomorrow there will be more for the big meal. Our family does this frequently, big gatherings, reunions, and we have expectations.  People will take turns making the meals since we are usually together for several days.  We will take turns  shopping for groceries and washing the dishes.  Beds have been scouted out and stashes of blankets and pillows have been scattered around the houses where we are gathering.  We want to be together, as many of us as can make it, because of one thing we agree on – we are thankful for family.

the reigning seniors and responsible parties
the reigning seniors and responsible parties

I am always a little surprised to hear that many people find us odd, a family that enjoys getting together.  Many people do not have this kind of tradition or this kind of family.  My mom and dad are the reigning seniors.  There is my generation consisting of myself and three of my brothers and their families.  And then there is the youngest generation, our children, ranging from fourteen to mid thirties in age.  They are students, prospective parents, house flippers,  a veterinarian, a geologist, an aeronautical engineer, a vegan, a hunter,  There is a lot of news to exchange and the place buzzes with conversation.

Food is always being prepared or consumed or both.  It seems one meal is barely finished before the next one needs to be started.  There is no room in the fridg.  This year Jon is sharing some vegan recipes with us.  Brother Bob has brought ingredients for his famous muffin breakfast.  Mom has been baking cookies, pies and cranberry bread for weeks.  There is a “happy” turkey (happy while alive, not so much now).  The kitchen is not very large and it is always full of people. We make at least five full pots of coffee a day.  We don’t fit around one table very well, although it is a huge table.

Thanksgiving Day

My family is staying in a snug 2 bedroom condo a few yards away from the one my parents live in.  My mom is an early riser and when she’s up and making the first pot of coffee for the day she turns on the outside lights.  I wait for that signal before going over for a moment of quiet reflection and planning.  Since FOOD is going to be the  name of the game most of the day, she had a breakfast casserole ready for the oven.  Loaves of bread and bagels were ready by the toaster.  It wasn’t long before the crowd assembled – and then the food was gone.  Fortunately we have a nearly seamless way of moving on to the next eating experience.

There was a brief break in the eating while we made a call to my aunt in Florida to sing happy birthday to her.  Actually we sang it twice – once on her voice mail and one live performance when she called back.  She is 90 and knows how to use a cell phone. Kudos.

.I am so glad the younger crowd embraces cooking with gusto.  I am so glad that Walmart is open on the holiday.  No matter how much planning takes place, with this many people, something is always missing or running out.  After a trip to the store the kitchen was again crowded with  Jon, Jamie and Julie turning out Buffalo Cauliflower, Killer Veggie Tray and Guacamole Supreme.  The turkey got bathed, dried, seasoned and placed in the oven to cook, leaving room for the Tofurkey to slide in beside it later.  The dressing was mixed up and put in the crock pot.  The potatoes were pealed.  The pies were set out to thaw.

a moment in the constant flow of food prep
a moment in the constant flow of food prep
wash, peel, chop, arrange, cook, stir, EAT
wash, peel, chop, arrange, cook, stir, EAT
potatoes enough for an army
potatoes enough for an army

1:30 pm

The football game is underway, accompanied by football food.  Today we do not have hunger to tell us what time of day it is.  Everyone has their favorite snack and drink and we are hoping that the continual trickle of food does not hamper our enjoyment of the grand finale.  My latest “chore” was getting the next jigsaw puzzle prepared for the afternoon.  It is a tradition at our gatherings to do puzzles and we have done two already.  There is a bonding that takes place between those willing to devote hours to staring at little pieces of cardboard.  We know who we are.  The last one was 2,000 pieces and we could hardly fit it on the table.  This next one is only 1500 and I’m hoping it will last through the evening.

this was an awesome puzzle!!
this was an awesome puzzle!!

My brother who lives in this area has left to be with his wife’s family as they celebrate the holiday a few miles away.  Somehow a miracle will happen and they will eat two Thanksgiving dinners back to back.  I am in the quiet of my condo, me and the turkey.

There is no end to the things I am thankful for.  How is all this possible? It is not a matter of deserving this plenty, this comfort, safety and fellowship.  There are many others who should have more, but don’t. I also have to consider that we may not always have what we have now. But while we have it, let us not forget to be grateful and generous.  The memory of these times, precious times, might be what sustains us in the future. I’m just sayin’ it’s best we pay attention.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!