Food and Diet

The Marilyn Monroe of Thanksgiving Turkeys

In 2006, I wrote a blog piece about the Legend of the Black Turkey. Every year it seems to get more random Internet hits. Last year, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, I was interviewed by a reporter for the Boston Herald. He had stumbled upon my blog and wanted some details on the turkey story. It was a pleasant interview, and he said the article would appear the following week. I checked online every day, well past Thanksgiving, but the piece never appeared. A full year later it shows up. Here it is:

by Kerry J. Byrne, The Boston Herald

Earlier this month we looked at the craft of smoked turkeys with barbecue champion Chris Hart; earlier this week it was the fine art of deep-fried turkeys. We close out our turkey triumvirate with the legend of the black turkey, one of the more curious food stories I’ve ever encountererd. Here’s the legend, based largely on a piece we published in the print Herald last year before Thanksgiving:

Writer Morton Thompson died long before the age of the Internet—July 7, 1953, to be exact. But he created a foodie phenomenon that percolates around the web more than a half century later.

It’s the legend of the black turkey, a charred-skin bird that’s painstakingly prepared during a day-long drunken boozefest with friends but that produces delectable, mahogany-hued meat so tasty and tender that it’s spoken of only in reverent hyperbole.

“Thompson’s turkey is to turkey as Miss Monroe is to women, as (Bobby) Jones was to golf,” wrote Richard Gehman in his 1966 book, “The Haphazard Gourmet.” Versions of the story are found in seemingly random places, from the website of an Australian Christian missionary, to more typical food blogs, to the best-selling 2003 novel, “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” which was turned into a movie in 2009.

Thompson wrote about the black turkey in a 1945 collection of short stories called “Joe, the Wounded Tennis Player.” He had served it at some point to famed essayist Robert Benchley (the grandfather of “Jaws” author Peter Benchley), who kept alive the story after Thompson’s demise.

“It’s far from a hoax,” said Craig Smith, who’s written about the history of black turkey at his blog (sewayoleme.wordpress.com). “Anybody who’s ever tried it said it creates the most amazingly tender, delicious turkey they’ve ever had.”

Here’s the short version of how to prepare the allegedly delectable black turkey, with links to recipes below:

Take a “huge” turkey, simmer the giblets with herbs, spices and cider to create a basting liquid.

Start drinking, preferably a gin cocktail called the Ramos Fizz.

Then make an elaborate stuffing of fruit, herbs, spices, bread crumbs, ground veal, ground pork and butter. Fire the oven to 500 degrees and create a “stiff” paste of egg yolks, lemon juice, onion juice, spices and flour.

Now move on to martinis.

When the oven’s red hot, add the stuffed bird and keep drinking martinis until it starts to brown. Lower the oven to 350, remove the bird, coat it with paste, return to oven, let the paste set, and continue the process until all the paste is used. Then baste the bird with the liquid every 15 minutes, enlisting drinking buddies in the effort.

The skin will darken until it becomes a black, cindery crust. The fall-off-the-bone tender meat will range in color from golden brown to mahogany.

You will be very drunk by this time.

“It’s like cooking a turkey in crockery or clayware. It creates its own casing and locks in all the juices,” said Smith, the black turkey historian. “It’s a legend that’s only grown and that people talk about with awe.”

Look for black turkey recipes in completely random places, such as John Mark Ministries, Big Daddy’s Kitchen or the illustrious food blog, No37.net.

If you ever actually attempt to make one, shoot us a note and let us know how it goes…you know, after you sober up.

Advertisements
Categories: Food and Diet, Fun, Holidays | 6 Comments

Failure

I was watching an epsiode of The Dog Whisperer this morning. A fellow in a wheelchair was having trouble with his dog who, though normally extremely sweet and compliant, had attacked and killed another dog in the household, his sister’s rather yappy miniature poodle who had admittedly harassed the larger dog a great deal. It seems there were a few very small signs the owner had missed: the curl of a tail, a certain over-attentiveness in the dog whenever exciting stimuli was present. He acknowledged that he had made some mistakes, and set about trying to change them.

Something hit me as I watched that. And by “hit me,” I mean the sensation you might experience if your car was struck by a semi.

All my life I have lived with either a fear of failure or an obsession over my past or current failings. When in the throes of depression, I have often said that I am a mistake, a waste of breath, that my whole being is a failure. Owing perhaps to my father’s extremely high standards for me, or to my Evangelical upbringing, where a sin, any sin, cut you off utterly from the glory of God (hence the necessity of salvation), failure was always tantamount to a death knell for me. It meant I was fundamentally Unacceptable, that the relationship was irretrievably broken.

I have worked a great deal on that notion over the years, and I have made some progress, though not enough. I have told myself repeatedly that there is no such thing as failure. There is only the trial-and-error of life. You have discovered one more thing that doesn’t work the way you had hoped, so you now have an opportunity to try a different path, a different methodology. Try something radically different, or tweak the old approach just a bit and try again. It’s like a recipe that wasn’t successful; what ingredients need to be changed, what techniques need to be refined, to create a more pleasing result? It’s life as America’s Test Kitchen.

On today’s show, the fellow is in a wheelchair due to some crippling disease, yet he is able to train and control pitbulls. He saw that something he had done inadvertently, something in the way he had trained (or failed to train) his dog had cost his sister’s dog its life, and even though everyone acknowledged it was really the other dog’s fault for instigating it, he wanted to learn how to keep anything like it from ever happening again. He had made a mistake, and he owned it, but despite the great sadness it had brought to the family, he neither got defensive nor became consumed with guilt. “The path I took ended badly,” he said. “Now I need to learn what I need to do differently.”

It was precisely the right balance.

My life is not a failure. I have made choices that have brought me here. I couldn’t have gotten here any other way, through any other choices. Here is a good place, mostly, but now I want to go there. I see where my previous beliefs and actions have taken me; now I need to make new beliefs, take different actions, in order to get me to someplace else.

See? Television isn’t a total waste!

Categories: Body and Mind, Depression, Food and Diet | 4 Comments

Skookum

I have officially achieved coffee Nirvana.

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon Raven’s Brew Coffee Roasters, a marvelous coffee company in Ketchikan, Alaska. Easily the best coffee I have ever tasted. Extraordinarily high-quality beans, perfectly roasted. Even better, they’re big proponents of sustainability: they use shade-grown, organic, and naturally-processed coffee beans in most of their blends, and support small family growers through their buying practices.

aeropress Last week I stumbled upon the Aerobie AeroPress, an espresso and coffee maker that gives French press quality coffee without the bitterness or sediment. The reviewers, even jaded coffee connoisseurs, were going overboard in their praise (as one friend would say, “raving, foaming at the mouth, falling over backward”), so I ordered one, and made my first cup this morning.

It was, as I said, Nirvana. Silky smooth, full-bodied, rich, incredibly flavorful, and bringing out all the subtleties of the coffee as well as its strengths, even with cream added. A new shipment of Raven’s Brew arrived just yesterday. So today I had my old standby, Wicked Wolf. But I also ordered an old favorite, Skookum Blend.

When we read the Skookum Blend motto—“Halo Wau-wau, Muckamuck Kaupy,” which they translate as “Shut up and drink the coffee”—Adam was as fascinated with their use of Chinook jargon as I was. I had been familiar with only a few words and phrases before: tilikum (friend), tumwater (waterfall, literally “heartbeat water”), potlatch (the great gift-feast which underlay the Pacific Northwest Coast people’s economic and political systems), and of course hyas muckamuck (the “big dogs” who sit at the head table during feasts), but reading the Wikipedia article on the subject was nearly as stimulating as the coffee itself.

It even prompted Adam to write a poem about the coffee. The poem, appropriately enough, is called “Skookum,” which is Chinook jargon for “strong.” (I sent a copy of the poem to Raven’s Brew, but they must have never received it, or surely it would now be printed on their coffee bags or displayed prominently on their website.)

Here, then, is Adam doing a public reading of “Skookum,” from his forthcoming collection Identity Theft:

Skookum

by Adam Byrn Tritt

I had this dream.

A longing. A thirst.

I would go to the Pacific Northwest
And live among the tall trees.
Wake to cedar and coffee,
Fish for salmon,
Create.

I would learn from the Chinook,
Keep my mythos close to me,
Prosper from the green land,
Take life as pleasure.

I even learned their Trade Jargon,
The Chinook Wau-wau so much the
Creole of the Pacific Northwest.

I am called there but
It is a battle upstream
And I am exhausted,
Humpbacked,
Old.

I am too busy working to spawn.

Listen to me.
As we sit here across this table,
As I decide what to wear,
Think about how long my day will feel,
Taste the dry breakfast I eat of need
And not desire,
I sip the strong splendor;
My salvation in a cup,
My blessed Skookum.
As I listen to you drone—
Your day, our life,
How good it all is—
All I want to say is
Halo Wau-wau, Muckamuck Kaupy:

“Shut Up and Drink the Coffee.”

Categories: First Nations, Food and Diet, Poetry Sundays | 5 Comments

Seaweed and Soybeans

I did it, at long last. Made an authentic miso soup. It may be the best thing I’ve ever eaten. My recipe needs tweaking a bit, though I know what elements I want to tweak. I’m no photographer, but I’m going to post the photos I took of the soup-in-progress.

This recipe makes about five cups, which is about four modest bowls of soup. Double it if you like, but be warned—miso soup needs to be made and consumed fresh. Apparently it doesn’t store every well, even overnight, so only make as much as you’ll eat. The recipe is easily doubled or halved.

Technically, miso soup is miso paste and some kind of liquid, so you can put it in water and add veggies or meat and it’s still miso soup. But almost without exception, true miso soup begins with a broth called dashi. It’s made with seaweed and some sort of dried fish, unless you’re a vegan and then you use dried shiitake mushrooms. Some use both fish and mushrooms. So the first task is to make the dashi. The dashi can be made in bulk and supposedly keeps very well for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. So it’s the miso component that makes the soup an eat-it-all-now proposition. Many people therefore make up a larger batch of the dashi, then make much smaller portions of the soup itself. Many Japanese people have miso soup for breakfast, so they’ll just use as much dashi as they need for a small breakfast bowl and store the rest.

First is the water. Use filtered if possible; soup is only as good as the water its made from. Four to five cups. I used four and three-quarters, which during the cooking process reduced to about 4.5 cups.

Second is the kombu. Thick seaweed with a scent that is more musty than it is fishy, with a light coating of white Something on it. Dried sea salt? Mold? Who knows. Most directions say to wipe off the white stuff gently; one said Don’t do that, it’s essential to the soup! So as the white stuff wasn’t too thick, I left it.

The infamous kombu (before)

The infamous kombu (before)

How much? Answers range from “one large strip” to “two to four sheets, broken up.” So terribly helpful. Those master miso soup makers who allowed themselves to be pinned down said about 10 grams, which is about 1/3 of an ounce, which is about a four-inch (or 10 centimeter) square.

Soak it overnight. Soak it for twenty minutes. Don’t soak it. Bring to a boil slowly. Bring to a boil quickly. Boil for ten minutes. For God’s sake never, never boil it! Such are the varied instructions.

I soaked mine overnight, and tasted it this morning. I can’t see that the water tasted much different, so I’ll skip this step in the future. Start it in cold water (if I’d had a dried shiitaki, I’d have tossed it in too), and bring it the boil slowly over medium-low heat. When it just begins to boil, take it off heat. Most recipes say to remove the kombu at this point. The reason you don’t boil it is that it gets slimy. Well, even un-boiled, it’s quite slippery now, which is what yesterday’s poem was taking about. Use tongs with a good gripper on them.

The infamous kombu (after). Terrifying, ain't it?

The infamous kombu (after). Terrifying, ain't it?

Next, dump in the katsuobushi—that is, the bonito flakes. Bonito is a fish of the mackerel family, though skipjack tuna is used interchangeably. The fish is smoked and dried until it becomes like wood, whereupon it is shaved into these thin, curly flakes that look like pencil shavings. How much bonito? It’s up to you. One cup is a very good starting point, though some recipes double it, and one of the Japanese Iron Chef contestants threw in handful after handful.

Bonito flakes

Bonito flakes

Again, the recipes diverge wildly here. Boil it. Don’t boil it. Steep just until the flakes fall to the bottom of the pan, then remove. Steep for two minutes. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Thirty minutes in a roaring boil. I boiled the bonito for one minute, steeped it for two, then started tasting frequently, and decided that at ten minutes, it had gotten as smoky and fishy as I liked: pleasantly assertive, able to stand up against the strong flavors of miso, without being at all overwhelming. Under five minutes and I thought it was still a bit too bland.

Strain carefully. Voilá dashi!

Let’s talk about miso. There are lots of different kinds, but most recipes talk about white or light (shiru) miso, and red or dark (aka) miso. Some prefer the dark barley miso. Once you have tried different misos and know what you like, you can do what you like; apparently the majority seem to favor light only, though a significant minority like either dark or a mixture of dark and light.

The Best Miso in the World

The Best Miso in the World

Assemble your other ingredients. Tofu, wakame, and some scallions or leeks are a classic combination (and the one I chose to start with), but you can add just about anything your heart desires. Substitute shrimp or chicken for the tofu. Use any vegetables that appeal to you. Thin slices, small juliennes, modest cubes.

There were two camps on tofu style and amount. Most said 7 or 8 ounces, though some called for double that. Half said silken (very soft) tofu, the rest said very firm, and some of those said to press the tofu to squeeze out excess water. I went with the silken tofu. I couldn’t even get it out of the container properly, and certainly couldn’t cube it without it falling apart absurdly. It was the consistency of soft flan. Next time I’m going with very firm, pressing it beforehand.

Silken tofu. Shoulda gone with firm.

Silken tofu. Shoulda gone with firm.

Wakame is another kind of dried seaweed. Much less aggressive, quite pleasant. Some recipes said to use half an ounce, others a few teaspoons. I found 1/8 ounce (about half a gram) to be just about right.

Ready-to-use wakame

Ready-to-use wakame

I also used three fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly. I should have used four.

Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms

And I’ve only cooked with leeks one other time in my life, and then I sauteed them. Here’s how much I used:

Sliced leeks

Sliced leeks

So: Bring your dashi to a boil. Transfer one ladle of the dashi to a small bowl. Toss in anything that needs cooking longer, like leeks (or thinly sliced carrots, or julienned daikon radish). After a few minutes, toss in the wakame, crushing it in your hand a bit as you do. Add the mushrooms and anything that takes less time to cook. When everything’s done, remove from heat. If you’re using firm tofu, add it now. If you’re using soft tofu, put it in the individual bowls, otherwise it will fall apart as you dish it up.

Remember that little bowl with the ladle of hot dashi? That’s where you put your miso. I used a mixture of two parts dark miso to one part light, a scant half cup of it altogether. Whisk it together, then add it the soup and stir. (Still off the heat. Never never never boil miso. It destroys the nutrients immediately and it angers the miso gods.) It’s probably best to only pour half of your miso slurry into the soup until you taste it. Keep adding more until the soup tastes right. I found I needed the entire amount, but I could tell I wouldn’t like it to be stronger.

Did it taste right? Did it ever. This photo simply doesn’t do it justice:

Soup of the gods.

Soup of the gods.

What I did wrong:

  • I bought only enough bonito for one batch. I have enough kombu and wakame for about ten.
  • I didn’t cook the leeks long enough in the dashi. They needed to be softer.
  • I didn’t crumble the wakame when I put it in, which means that the pieces in the soup are just a bit too big. Some recipes say to rehydrate it in cold water, then chop it before adding it to the soup, but the same thing is accomplished more simply just by crushing the pieces. I didn’t realize how much larger the rehydrated pieces would become.
  • I didn’t use enough shiitake mushrooms.
  • I used soft tofu instead of firm.
  • I fretted too much.

That last note is important. This sounds like an overwhelmingly fussy soup, when it would really be quite simple if only I was secure in what I was supposed to be doing. But that’s the way I am: scrupulous and over-careful at the beginning, slapdash at the end. Let me see if I can give you the whole process in shorthand.

  1. Make dashi. Next time I’ll use 10 cups water, 20 grams kombu, 2 generous cups bonito. Put kombu in cold water, heat slowly, remove just before boiling point. Toss in bonito, boil for 1 minute, let steep for 10 minutes, strain. May be made in advance and stored up to 2 weeks before next step.
  2. Heat to boiling as much dashi as needed for your meal—one cup, a whole quart, it’s up to you. Toss in your veggies, etc., in the order in which they need to cook properly. If you’re using wakame, use about 1 gram per cup, lightly crushed as you add it to the soup.
  3. Remove from heat. Add your miso—I’d say 1 to 2 tablespoons per cup of soup—by taking some of the soup liquid and making a slurry with the miso, then gently adding it back to the soup. Taste and make any final adjustments. Serve.

The health benefits of this soup are profound, apparently. But the taste is even more amazing: complex, seductive, comforting, wondrous. Umami. It means “yummy” or “delicious” in Japanese, but is now recognized as the fifth taste. Veal stock is umami. Dashi is umami. You owe it to yourself to make some. It will definitely be a staple in my home for the rest of my life.

I read somewhere that Japanese households commonly eat miso soup with rice and pickles. Pickles? Like, kosher dills? Doesn’t strike me as a natural accompaniment, but I’m up for anything.

Categories: Food and Diet | 10 Comments

Learning to Swim

Disturbing dreams last night; in fact, they rattled me so much that I remember ordering the dream to stop at one point. Mom and Dad and I were all traveling, but they were going on ahead without me. We were able to keep in touch with each other from our various vehicles—they shifted from cars to motorcycles to planes—and I remember having “a few more things to do” before I could join them.

When they were on their plane, I could see it up in the sky, and its wings were suddenly ripped off, and the long cylinder started flipping and turning and swinging back and forth like some grotesque carnival ride. Then it stopped, clearly ready to plummet to earth, nose straight up in the air, and it started falling, heading right for me. I said, “Stop!” and made the plane freeze; it wasn’t that I was trying to change its (and my) fate, but I didn’t want to have to experience it in the dream. I wanted to go on to other dream-things.

And I did. There were several other sequences that I forget now, but there were also repeated images of me able to swim in what appeared to be puddles on the ground but which were surprisingly deep. They were the color of coffee with cream, and they were pleasantly warm but not at all hot. I swam bravely, boldly, with people looking at me, and I didn’t care, even though I’m pretty sure I was skinny-dipping.

When I got up this morning and looked at my Raven’s Brew coffee, I noticed the name of the variety: Resurrection Blend. Continue reading

Categories: Buddhism, Death, Dreams, Food and Diet | 19 Comments

Off to Africa?

In two days I’m heading out of town for the holidays. When Dad died in 1982, Mom and I couldn’t bear to celebrate that first Christmas without him surrounded by the same old familiar things, having to put on a brave face and either be endlessly consoled or, worse, not consoled. So we decided to leave town. We drove down to Williamsburg, Virginia, and did the whole Colonial America thing. They have quite a lovely holiday celebration, and it was just so odd and so different that we thought it would be just the thing. We could be quiet and mourn in our own way, talk or not talk as we wish, and broaden our horizons just a bit.

So I thought it was an appropriate thing to do for the first Christmas without Mom. No, not Colonial Williamsburg, but a road trip. I’m heading up to Norfolk, Virginia, to spend the holidays with my old, old, old friend Jim (he’s only half a year older than I; it’s just that we’ve been friends since the age of three). He would always come over to our house in Maryland on Christmas eve and spend the night, and then we’d all open prezzies in our robes the next morning. When we moved to Florida, he spent most Christmases down here with us.

Jim bought a house a few years ago, but Mom had been too sick for me to leave her for an out-of-town visit with him. Now that he’s trying to sell it (and with the housing market the way it is, you know that’s going well!), I wanted to see it at least once, and this seemed like the perfect time to do it. We’ll have our quiet little get-together, we’ll lift a glass to Mom, and we’ll find a balance between the old and the new.

On the way up I had already decided to stop at the Waffle House my brother Darryl and I so enjoyed on the funeral trip. But as I was planning, I ran across two new potential adventures. Continue reading

Categories: Death, Family, Food and Diet, Holidays, Spirituality | 6 Comments

Notes from . . . well, not necessarily the Dreamtime

I’ve been waking up lately with my head crammed with a bunch of disjointed thoughts. That in itself is not unusual; my head is a confusing place to navigate through. But they don’t fit neatly into a single blog post, and there’s not enough in any one of to make a post on its own, so I hope you’ll pardon the disjointedness.

*   *   *   *   *   *    *

I lost fourteen pounds last week.

I’m not, it turns out, a big proponent of weighing oneself religiously as a gauge to determine dietary success or loss. I’ve seen myself gain weight even when being scrupulously faithful to my plan, and lose weight when I’ve cheated. And gaining weight, or losing little or nothing, when I’ve struggled so hard, does nasty things to my emotional state. So I weigh once a week at most. When the weight loss slows down (it’s always fastest at the beginning of a diet, and always fastest with very heavy people), I may drop back to once a fortnight or once a month.

And I’m not even crowing about these fourteen pounds: it’s mostly water, which my body accumulated in response to the inflammation caused by the reaction to bread, and in response to the high levels of salt and sugar I consumed during the funeral trip. Continue reading

Categories: Body and Mind, Death, Depression, Dreams, Food and Diet, Healing | 4 Comments

Family Feast

My nephew makes a mean Bloody Mary. Everyone loved this year’s Craignog (which, after years of perfecting, I tweaked once again), but sometimes you want something less dreamy and pillowy, something to make your eyebrows stand up and take notice. Erik’s Bloody Mary, with the best swizzle stick (a skewer with small bites of celery alternating with stuffed green olives) and a boatload of ingredients, a couple of them secret, was amazing.

As was his turkey. Erik has, in the past few years, been bitten by the gourmet bug. He runs a successful pawn shop, then goes home to make schnitzel with chanterelles in a cream sauce. We compared notes on braised short ribs and osso bucco, and discussed his plans for a turkey stock once the carcass had been stripped, more or less.

It was a huge turkey, which often isn’t advised because they tend to be dry. He brined it for a day, and then stuffed it with herbs and lemons and oranges and apples and . . . I lost track, it’s a long list. And it was perfect: juicy, tender, richly flavored. It was masterful. I carved. Continue reading

Categories: Family, Food and Diet, Holidays, Shamanism | 5 Comments

Day Two

Yesterday was Day One in several significant ways. The Great Funeral Trip is done, and Mom is resting with Dad in Maryland. Now I have an empty house with all the chaos from the previous weeks still in evidence, and little time to make any sense of it since I have a bunch of work deadlines this week, not to mention Mom’s famous rum cake and my infamous CraigNog to make for the family Thanksgiving gathering.

I’m still at that stage where everything reminds me of Mom, or I say, “Mom would really love that,” or I turn to talk to her but see only a vacant chair or bed. I’m not sad or lonely, exactly, but I’m keenly feeling the lack of her physical presence.

At the same time, I feel a sudden push forward, the motivation and power to make some changes in my life that I have wished for or even attempted (and failed at) in the past. One, as I mentioned recently, is my trying to excise bread and other things made with flour from my diet. It ain’t easy. Wheat has opioids — opium-like substances that influence the brain’s endorphin receptors. These opioid peptides are physically addictive and cause asthma, obesity, and (as might be expected from a substance chemically similar to morphine) apathy.

It turns out that plants use different tactics to scare off attackers. Some plants contain poison; others just anesthetize their attackers, as wheat does with opioid peptides. Continue reading

Categories: Animals, Body and Mind, Death, Food and Diet, Shamanism | 7 Comments

The Florence (South Carolina) Waffle House

Florence stands halfway between New York and Miami and, more importantly for me, halfway between Palm Bay and the D.C. area. I have stopped there many times on previous road trips, though I honestly don’t recall it being the hotbed of “culture” it has become. I recall when the biggest hotel in town had an outdoor swimming pool that looked like a petri dish (a rather different kind of culture), and the main dining choice was a fried chicken joint that evidently didn’t change the oil in their fryers very often.

Or maybe I was just getting off at the wrong exit. This trip we stayed at the Red Roof Inn ($44 per night, or $49 if you want the Business King room with high-speed Internet), across from a massive shopping mall where all the fashionable women wore spiky-heeled pumps made from exotic animal hides with impossibly sharp toes that made me wince just to watch them walk. Up and down the street were chain restaurants and hotels and motels and strip malls and . . . well, that’s about it.

Florence’s nicknames are “Flo-Town” and “The Magic City,” though I think the only magic is the influx of tourist dollars to a city that is mainly a way-station. The Wikipedia entry says, “This 1997 All-America City finalist, with its historic homes and medical center towers, came together to form a cultural center for the northeastern portion of South Carolina.” I don’t buy it. The only thing of any historic importance that I saw was clearly the Florence Waffle House, right behind the Red Roof Inn, where we ate on our way up to the funeral in Maryland. Continue reading

Categories: Food and Diet, Humor, Travel | 5 Comments

Tasty, Tasty Poison

Bread and I are coming to a parting of the ways. I don’t know if I have a wheat allergy, or I’m sensitive to gluten, or if it’s those little yeasties that my system doesn’t like, but every time I binge on stuff made with flour, I pay dearly for it in the days and even weeks following.

I go in cycles. Sometimes I am scrupulously careful about my diet (not diet in the “lose weight” sense, though the proper diet certainly has that effect, but diet in the “eat what your body was evolutionarily designed to eat before the advent of agriculture screwed everything up and introduced us to new and wonderful diseases” sense). When I am in emotional survival mode, as I was for the last few weeks of Mom’s life, it all goes to pot and I eat bread and butter and chocolate and sugar and sometimes great hunks of meat.

This week I have been in celebration mode. That sounds terrible, considering I’m going to be officiating at Mom’s funeral in a few hours, but this trip really has been a celebration of her life. Everything reminds me of her. Continue reading

Categories: Body and Mind, Food and Diet, Humor, Travel | 4 Comments

Haute-but-Fast Cuisine

A friend writes:

I hadn’t been to a Burger King for months if not a year. So I was flabbergasted today when I saw that they actually now have little soda pop recommendations posted at their soft drink dispensers, as though it were a fine restaurant recommending the perfect wine to accompany your entree (i.e. fish, chicken or beef). Has anyone else noticed this? According to BK, Diet Coke goes perfect with the Veggie Burger (which was not even on the menu board), as well as their salads. Sprite is the choice if you have ordered the Chicken Fries. And if you order a Whopper, then of course Coke is the one. But Dr. Pepper is what you should drink if you are having the BBQ burger thing (whatever they call it, it has onion rings on top too). WTF? Aren’t their creepy TV ads bad enough? Some advertisement agency actually thought this up.

My friend continued: Continue reading

Categories: Food and Diet, Humor | 2 Comments

Damp Heat

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), health is defined as being in harmony or in balance. If a body is healthy, it is able to resist pathogens, or those agents that produce disease. When the flow of qi, one’s life force or energy, is unimpeded, there is harmony, balance, and good health.

When there are qi blockages — too much or too little qi — there is an imbalance, which can lead to disharmony and disease.

TCM has identified six pathogenic factors, also called the Six Pernicious Influences, the Six Excesses, and the Six Evils, that cause disharmony in the body. And boy, are they doozies.

Continue reading

Categories: Food and Diet, Healing | 11 Comments

The Infamous CraigNog Recipe

I’d like to say that the origins of CraigNog are shrouded in myth. And perhaps one day they will be, if I’m lucky. It has garnered some small measure of fame (or infamy) on the Internet thanks to the erstwhile denizens of the newsgroups alt.showbiz.gossip and later alt.gossip.celebrities, both of which are now shadows of their former selves thanks to vicious infighting and some rather spectacular meltdowns by a few unstable personalities. In its heyday, though, alt.showbiz.gossip was a glorious thing, full of sharp and intelligent conversation, surprisingly witty and sophisticated banter, and juicy inside information on Hollywood celebs and Washington politicos. Several well-known writers actually cut their teeth there, and a number of big name actors posted there regularly under pseudonyms.

The CraigNog recipe became an annual posting, and it won new fans each year. Now the recipe seems to have gotten a life of its own in other Internet quarters. One happy evangelist, in the midst of a discussion of (I believe) quantum physics, told me how wonderful this stuff was and asked if I had ever heard of it. When I told him that I created the recipe, he practically writhed at my feet in a frenzy of self-abasement. (That’s my favorite line from the Noel Coward play Blithe Spirit, by the way.)

Once upon a time my father was the tax consultant and informal business manager for a boarding kennel run by a lesbian couple, Lois and Caroline, who quickly became family friends. I even worked for a few years at their kennel, which they called a country club for pets long before that sort of hyperbole was fashionable, first as a lowly cage cleaner, later as the supervisor of their cattery, and finally writing their ads and brochures. One year they invited our family to their home for a quiet little Christmas party, and Lois made an eggnog quite unlike any other I had tasted. In fact, it seemed to be mainly eggs, milk, and bourbon. Lots and lots of bourbon. I finally wrestled the recipe from her, dutifully made it, and was disappointed to find that it was nothing like the concoction I had so loved.

So I made my own. Continue reading

Categories: Food and Diet | 8 Comments

A Turkey Tale

Put my girth together with my love of wordsmithing and you might surmise that I am a fan of gastronomic literature. And you’d be right. The biggest and best remains dear M.F.K. Fisher, whose five-volume work, The Art of Eating, remains a potent delight even 52 years after its first publication. (I believe the guest room in every home should have three books on the nightstand: The Art of Eating; The Complete Saki—the collected short stories of H.H. Munro; and E.F. Benson’s wonderful Lucia series.)

Today I discovered Richard Gehman. Or, more specifically, his 1966 book The Haphazard Gourmet. Or, more specifically still, two essays/recipes from that book, one for a bean soup that sounds amazing, and one for Morton Thompson’s infamous Black Turkey. And, as Thanksgiving is next week, and you’ll need time to shop for ingredients, I thought I’d post the turkey recipe now.

Next week you’ll get my award-winning CraigNog recipe. (OK, the award was given at an office party, but everyone who tastes it says it should get medals for its audacity, so there.)

Settle back, kiddies, this is going to be a long one.

A Brief History of the Black Turkey

Gehman’s one failing in his incredible Thompson Turkey piece is that he fails to give a nod to writer and wit Robert Benchley (of Algonquin Roundtable fame), who introduced the recipe to a hungry public. In point of fact, the Thompson Turkey’s true origins are shrouded in myth. There are three different versions, variations on a theme.

The first goes like this:

The Thompson Turkey is a creature of myth—a reductio ad absurdum of Thanksgiving cooking. Thompson, if my usually unreliable memory has not failed again, was an American newsman of the hard-fisted drinking tradition. Indeed legend has it that he was not sober when he developed the recipe. The story of the turkey and its recipe were spread by fellow journalists of similar ilk.

Nope. Thompson was a novelist and screenwriter, not a hard-bitten journalist. But I like this writer’s style:

You will not find the recipe in the Betty Crocker cookbook; in fact, you will be hard pressed to find it at all. . . . This is not surprising. It is not the sort of recipe that is devised by a chef. No, it is the sort of thing created by a man cooking, a man who cooks not at all save for very special occasions when he creates insanely complicated concoctions. Cookbooks are created for people who cook every day and not for lunatics who cook once a year.

This second version of the recipe’s origins is the one most frequently recounted. It goes like this:

Rumors persist about this recipe. This blackened turkey is part of the 1930s legends associated with Harold Ross and The New Yorker’s team of contributing writers. First thought to have been contained in a manuscript given to Robert Benchley by Morton Thompson, this highly seasoned and ultimately blackened turkey pops up every year.

Perhaps to console his conscience (Benchley, it is said, lost Thompson’s manuscript titled The Naked Countess), this recipe became part lore, part recitation, and part of an annual holiday toast that Benchley included in his repertoire. We provide this to perpetuate the traditions of blackened holidays and crusty family stories. Continue reading

Categories: Food and Diet, Humor, Worthwhile Reading, Writing | 27 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.