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Memorial Day

Just want to give a quick shout out to all the Veterans who have served and sacrificed everything for the things that we all too often take for granted.

For everyone else, here’s a couple of cartoons from the legendary WWII cartoon Willie & Joe, written by Bill Mauldin.

mauldin011qu mauldin104aw

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Christmas Fruit and a Citrus Kick in the Ol’ Boxers

I had forgotten about a particular tradition until Lindz visited one of her professors before Christmas.  Her professor receives a box of citrus from one of his former students every year during Advent.  When Lindz showed up to visit, he had just gotten his yearly present and he realized that he couldn’t eat it all before it went bad.  So, Lindz ended up with a box of fruit.

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The Red Navel oranges (in the red tissue) were by far the best ones. Sweet, but with a prominent citrus tang.

The tradition that I forgot about was the giving of a certain bag of “goodies” at Christmas time.  This bag consists of an orange (maybe an apple too), nuts in the shell (usually peanuts), and some form of candy (candy canes, old fashioned ribbon candy, chocolate coins, etc).  With a bit of research on the good ol’ internet, I found that a lot of people used to get these in their stocking from their parents.  Personally, I received it from our priest every year as a youngster.  I’ve heard of this custom off and on over the years, but never knew the origin.  I’ve always assumed that it was a “healthy” and/or “inexpensive” gift.  But the more that I heard about it, it slowly dawned on me that this wasn’t just a local Catholic thing, it was far more widespread phenomenon.  This year I finally took the time to do the research.  It turns out that the actual origins are pretty murky.  Frustrating, but not surprising.  On the web, a lot of people remember this as a kid, and many continue it with their own children.  Most people are comfortable with the answer of “I don’t know.  It was just something that grandma (or whomever) always did.”  They assume that it either came from the old country, (Italy, Poland, England, etc) or it dates back to the time when oranges were a rarity and hence an actual treat, or some combination of these two factors.  While I can see these two reasons being factors, it just didn’t feel right for how widespread and long lasting this experience is.

Wiki to the rescue!

In his (St. Nicholas) most famous exploit, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes . Hearing of the poor man’s plight, Nicholas decided to help him . . . and drops the third bag down the chimney (where) the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.

Ok, but how do we get from a bag of gold to an orange?  Here is where symbolism comes into effect.  The best explanation is that an orange is a similar color to gold and that oranges are similar in shape to bags of the shiny stuff.  Also, in some European countries, oranges have symbolized Jesus’ love for the world.  I’ve listed a bunch of the more interesting links that I’ve found at the end of this post.

Now that the history lesson is over, on to the food!

We weren’t eating the box of oranges as fast as we should have and they were in real danger of going bad.  So I had to come up with something to use a whole bunch of oranges at once.  I’ve had a venison loin sitting in the freezer since last fall and it seemed like it would be a perfect pairing for an orange pan sauce that I had in mind.

Since the sauce was going to be the star of the show, I simply cut the loin into medallions and pan fried them in a bit of oil.

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I’m not sure why I keep posting pics of frying meat, but it always look so good.  Well, that I love to see my cast irons being used.

As a side, I went with roasted potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic all mashed up together.

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I really love roasted root veggies and mashing them up makes for a nice variation. Especially if you plan on putting some kind of sauce on them.

Once the venison was fried off and resting, I made the pan sauce.  The recipe that I borrowed quite heavily from is the Orange Pan Sauce with Middle Eastern Spices from the Cook’s Illustrated cookbook.  I really wanted the sauce to be a “Friday-night-drunken-barroom-brawl” explosion in your mouth, so I went very heavy on the OJ and zest.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Shallots, minced
  • 2 tsp Sugar
  • 1 tsp Ground Cumin
  • 1/4 tsp Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/4 C Orange Zest
  • 3 Tbs Red Wine Vinegar
  • 2 C Orange Juice
  • Salt

Pour off all but 1 1/2 Tbs fat from the skillet (of whatever meat you are making).  Place skillet over medium heat.  Add shallots and cook until softened, about 1 minute.  Stir in sugar, cumin, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and cayenne; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in vinegar, scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to loosen the fond.  Add the orange juice, increase heat to medium-high and simmer until reduced to about 3/4 C, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Off heat, season with salt to taste.  Spoon over meat and serve.

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Yes, it tasted even better than it looks.

I managed to create the citrus barrage that I was intending.  Plus, the other spices weren’t lost in all of the citric acid.  They were a nice background note in the sauce.  What is even better, is that the sauce worked equally well on both the meat and the roasted veggie mash.  All in all, I was quite pleased with this meal.  In fact, I am hoping the bag of lemons that we have in the fridge right now linger around a bit so I have an excuse to try this with a different citrus.

p.s.  Sorry if there is less snark in this post than usual.  Lindz has been hoarding our household’s share of it lately.

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An informative page, with emphasis on the Canadian Prairies.

A well-researched page (much more effort than I put into mine) that is a nice narrative.

This page looks at this Christmas tradition with regard to its English origin.

A sugar- and food-centric page that emphasizes the sweet and preservative aspect of fruit.

An interesting audio story from Minnesota Public Radio about the impact of a couple from Minnesota and their influence on the Christmas orange tradition here.

A not very helpful page with regards to Christmas oranges, but a still very interesting read.

A wonderful page full of Polish Christmas time traditions.

Bliss in a Bowl

This is one of my all-time favorite snacks.  It goes back to the days that I was growing up on the ol’ farm.  I don’t have it often nowadays. but that’s mainly because I don’t usually have heavy whipping cream sitting in the fridge.  For whatever reason, I don’t think of picking some up on the grocery runs.

The recipe is really simple.  Cut up fruit of your choice, throw it in a bowl, sprinkle a little sugar onto it, pour enough cream to cover, and enjoy!

Plums, blueberries, cream, and a bit of sugar. What more could you possibly ask for?

I sometimes marvel at what passes for healthy (or even normal) eating on the farm.  Granted, more often than not, you were burning through 4000 calories in a day, but still boggles the mind.

Grandma Alice

Been avoiding this for a while now.

Lindz’s Grandma Alice passed away on the 4th.  It was extremely unexpected.  From what the paramedics and Kirk (Lindz’s dad) could tell, she did her usual morning routine, poured herself a cup of coffee, and sat down in front of the TV to watch Cash Cab.  When Kirk stopped by later in the afternoon and found her, she was still sitting in her chair, no longer with us.

Alice and Burt’s Wedding in 1950.

I’ve known her for only the last 6 years, but she became an important part of my life.  Her place was a regular stop whenever we would go to Rochester and visit Lindz’s folks.  No matter when we would stop by (even out of the blue) she was always happy to see her favorite granddaughter and grandson-in-law.  Yup, we were the only granddaughter and grandson-in-law.  She liked her ha-ha moments.

During the cold months, Alice would work on her jigsaw puzzles in the sun porch.  It would take her a while to put them together because she didn’t always get the pieces right.  So myself or Kyle (Lindz’s brother) would go through and pull apart whatever didn’t work.  She didn’t mind, but she could still crank through several each winter.

When she wasn’t doing her puzzles, she was usually reading her books.  She was a very frequent visitor to the library.  She would occasionally complain (at least to us)  if they didn’t have what she wanted in the large print.  Though they usually did have a copy, or would find her one.  It was really touching that the library sent a condolence card.

Of course, this is all secondary to when her “little hooligans” were over.  Kirk and Denise have two English Setters, Ty and Rose, and the dogs would go over to Alice’s for doggy-daycare.  This used to be more frequent, back when Kirk was still teaching.  Alice spoiled those dogs like nothing else.  It got to the point where the dogs wouldn’t eat regular jelly.  They had to have orange marmalade on their breakfast toast when they went over to Grandma’s.  I know the puppies ate more of her supper than she did.  Alice and the dogs didn’t mind, but it needled Kirk because the dogs kept gaining weight and his mom wasn’t.

The whole Colwell clan: Denise, Kirk, Alice, Kyle, Me, and Lindz. The two hooligans, Rose and Ty, are in front.

Alice’s “grandkids:” (L to R) Jadea, Raeya, Jessie, Lindz, yours truly, Kyle, and Jessica.  Granted half of the group are grandnieces, but Alice always thought of them as her own.

Of the many tasty things that Alice cooked, this was probably my favorite. Good ol’ chipped beef. Nothing fancy, just plain good.  And no lumps.  🙂

Alice was fond of telling people how she got her name.  She was the youngest of 13 and after she was born, her dad, John, decided that it was enough kids and said “das ist alles.”  Which translates from German as “that is all.”  So it was decided that she should be called Alice.  Both Alice and I loved a good play on words, so, for you Alice, I’m signing off with “und das ist alles.”

Czeck-Mass (not to be confused with Czeck-mas)

My family is Catholic (with the stray Lutheran or two), so when my Grandfather Mike passed away back in ’76, a mass was said for him.  That has turned into a yearly tradition which has been going strong ever since.  As other relatives have passed away over the years, they have been added to the remembrance.

The mass is held at my parent’s church (which also used to be my grandparents) and afterwards, everyone heads over to the farm to BS and eat lunch.  So I thought it would be fitting to use this as a post on the one year (-ish) anniversary of starting this blog.  The reasoning is pretty simple.  Family gatherings like these have been a major influence on my life, both culinarily and communally.  I look forward to this event each and every year because it’s one of the few times that I get to see a large portion of my family.  That and the food.  The Czecks love to eat.  And they love to eat good food.

As usual, Mom set out some munchies for when people showed up. In this case, mixed nuts, candy corn, butter mints, and coffee.

I just want to point out that the food has been scaled back significantly as the years have gone by.  The food this year completely covered the kitchen table and the desserts took up a decent portion of a counter.

Okay, this is going to take awhile. Starting upper left and working counter clockwise around the perimeter of the table: bread / dinner rolls, pasta salad, veggie pizza, a creamy pasta salad, cottage cheese, wild rice salad, and roast pheasant. The inside loop consists of cheese, bread and butter pickles, watermelon, and kale salad.

As noted in a previous post, my nephew Cole helped me make a kale salad (I really promise this post is coming soon).  My aunt Rosie (and hubby Gary) went to the State Fair this year and she sat through a twenty minute demonstration in order to get this wild rice salad recipe (at least I think this is the recipe).  I’m glad she was patient because it was very good.  It had avocado, steak, wild rice, and all sorts of other goodies in it.  One of my other aunties, Mary Ann, had a freezer full of pheasant, so she used this opportunity to get rid of some of it.  Much to everyone’s delight I might add.  She fried off the pieces, made a pan gravy, and finished it off in the crockpot.  She had some of the younger kids come up to her and tell her how good it was.  It was really cute.  Some of those kids have never had pheasant before.  It warmed my heart that they were willing to try something completely new and even more that they liked it.

Now this is looking the opposite way down the table. Here I’m just going to list the things not previously listed. A veggie tray, sausages, another pasta salad, and ham

Mom was the one who made the sausages.  She picked up five pounds of the polish at Thielen’s (as usual) and it all disappeared by the time everyone was through eating.  It really is that good.  I can’t talk up that meat locker enough.

The good stuff! Michelle kept everyone happy and made an apple coffee cake. I’m not sure what kind of pie, but I would hazard a guess of apple.

I think there may have been a riot if my sis, Chell, didn’t make coffee cake.  (I’ve posted the recipe before.)  I don’t even care that she didn’t make the poppy seed version because she sent a whole apple one home with Lindz and me.  If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m very easily bribed with food.  It’s even easier when it’s really good homemade food.

Popcorn balls drizzled with chocolate and chocolate chip bars.

I was joking with my cousin Jon about the popcorn balls that he brought.  I asked him if he was trying to class up the Czeck gatherings by drizzling chocolate over them.  He just smiled sheepishly and chuckled.  Good enough of an answer because they were a chocolate-caramel delight.

They may be adults, but Sara, Jill, and Jon still ended up at the kid’s table. That’s one problem with being the “babies” of the family. Of course, they may have been entertaining Mason (his mom, Kathy is watching from the back).

Lindz catching up with Dad’s two younger sisters, Rosie and Annette.

Dave, Dad, Bea, Kyle, and Janey talking and eating. As it should be.

Mary Ann eating and keeping Mom company while she fusses around in the kitchen.

I’ve tried for years to get Mom to sit down, relax for a minute, and grab a bite to eat.  But she is having none of it.  At this point, I ask the token question of if she needs help and then let her do her thing.  For the record, I do gladly help when she asks for it.

As a final note, I am endlessly amused watching people on the farm.  It started out many years ago with my cousins.  They would run around like wild animals crawling over the hay bales, running through the woods, sitting on the tractors, chasing the cats, mooing at the cows, and spooking the chickens.  Or what I would call a normal day.  Now that my cousins are older and have kids of their own, I get to watch the next generation do the same thing.  And you know what?  It still hasn’t gotten old.

The two that started all of this: Grandpa Mike and Grandma Rose (circa 1971)

RI: Mystic Seaport

Before heading to a Connecticut Tigers game, we spent the afternoon at Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut.  The museum consists of many parts which include a 19th Century seaport village, numerous demonstrations, historic ships, a preservation shipyard, and a planetarium.

I took over 150 photos while we were there, so I’ll just show you the absolute cream of the crop.

The ROANN, built in 1947, is an Eastern-rig dragger which pulls the nets over the side as opposed to over the stern like the Western-rig draggers. Powered by a diesel, she drug a conical net called an otter trawl along the sea bed for haddock, flounder, and cod.  Far more efficient than the hook-and-line boats she replaced.  Of course this led to the over-fishing problem that we have now.

I never knew that the fork that we used on the farm for moving silage can also be used to scoop up oysters.

Lobster traps. They look cool and they catch tasty bugs.

I think this is just a cool photo. Minus the modern dress, this could easily have been 150 years ago.

You have to have at least one picture of a cannon if you visit a maritime museum. I’m not sure what to classify it as though. It seems awfully big to be a signal cannon (they would fire a blank before entering port to signal that they were coming in), but on the small side for a weapon.

Jellyfish! These little guys were everywhere in the waters around the ships. It was really cool watching them swim around.

An old blacksmith’s shop. I’ve always found it fascinating what these guys could do with heat, muscle, and a bit of ore. Plus the science of metallurgy is really interesting. It’s amazing how people figured out differential tempering, alloys, blast furnaces, and everything else that is associated with metal working.

The bleeding edge of technology back in the day. The sextant was used to calculate a ships latitude out at sea. By measuring the angle between a celestial body (like the sun, a star, or the moon) and the horizon one can calculate a position line on a chart. The real trick is to calculate longitude, which led to the development of ever more accurate clocks.

The woodshop. Everything was run off of belts, much like modern day Amish woodshops. But instead of using a gas engine to drive everything, in the past people used to use nature, i.e. a waterwheel.

Salt cod drying. Ships would gut, salt, and store the fish out at sea. Once they reached land, the cargo would be off-loaded and laid out on these racks called flakes for their final drying. The little “houses” at the edges of the picture were put over the fish to protect them during bad weather.

Janessa screwing around in a rowboat.

This is a whaling boat. Whalers would pile into this TINY boat and row out to harpoon a whale. This boat is roughly 20′ long and it went after whales that could be around 70′ long. These guys were nuts!

The fo’c’sle on the fishing schooner L.A. Dunton. The forecastle (shortened to fo’c’sle by seamen) is located at the bow of a ship. This is where the crew ate and slept. It looks reasonably sized until you take into account that this space is home to 15 men. Really cozy.

This conch shell was used as a baptismal font in the 1800’s. It’s hard to judge the size here, but it is roughly 18″ across. Just think of how much conch meat you could get from a creature that size!

The museum has a carving shop where they create some ship mastheads. This one seems a bit odd for a ship, but it’s impressively carved.

A bit of a random photo, but it was very intentional. Having recently built a limestone retaining wall at work, I can appreciate the amount of effort that went into making all of these cobblestones. I was working with a relatively soft rock, but here is granite and basalt (?). Both of which are significantly harder. Plus each was squared off and had the corners rounded. A serious commitment of time and labor.

This is a freaking huge pulley used to hoist sails. As a perspective, that is Lindz’s arm and foot in the photo,

The band saw that they had over in the restoration half of the museum. It ran off of a 8 cylinder diesel and could slab wood a couple of feet thick. I have no idea what I would use it for, but I want one.

The bow of the whaler Charles W. Morgan built in 1841 and currently undergoing extensive restoration.

The fireplace and cauldrons used to render whale blubber into oil. Gotta love the idea of a large fire under flammable liquid on a wooden boat.

I know people were generally shorter a century ago, but I couldn’t even stand up in between the beams. It must have been fun working below decks. Yes, heavy on the sarcasm.

Just to give you an idea of how big the ship is. This was taken at deck level looking down about 40′ to the ground. Plus you had the mast a hundred feet or so above you. These were not small ships.

I found this museum to be a lot of fun.  It hit upon many of my interests.  It has old ships, a nice emphasis on seafood production, a really well done job of showcasing the technology of 1800’s, woodworking/shipbuilding/restoration, and capturing the general atmosphere of the past.  If you ever pass through Mystic, CT, and have an afternoon to spare, I suggest walking through the museum and enjoy the past.

The other side of Julia Child

Today would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday.  I’m sure practically every other food blog has some mention of her today, and well, I’m no different.  What peer pressure?  Like most Americans, I grew up watching The French Chef in some form or another.  Julia’s TV career covered almost 40 years so it’s not surprising at how many people count her as a cooking influence.  But what endears her to me goes deeper that just her culinary style and expertise.

That is one seriously huge monkfish.

In addition to being a foodie, I am a history buff as well.  Particularly with the early/mid 20th Century.  And even more specifically, World War II.  So when I found out that Julia worked for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), my respect for her grew in leaps and bounds.  She mainly worked as a secret researcher, but it was for General William Donovan, the head of the OSS.  In the latter war years, she was stationed in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and China where she dealt with classified communications.  In between those stints, she worked in Emergency Rescue Equipment Section developing shark repellent.  Finally, I should mention that the OSS was the precursor to the CIA.  Yes, Julia Child is that cool.

This is the kitchen that I know and love from my childhood.

The other thing that I love about Julia is that she stood 6′ 1″.  There is really no significance to this other than that I see her as a kindred spirit who has bumped their heads more than is healthy.

How can you not love someone who says things like this?