Monday, November 30, 2009

The End of November

First snow on the distant Blue Ridge Mountains a few days ago . . . herald of sights yet to come . . .

. . . when once again we can trace the beauty of a tree's framework . . .

. . . and, like children, delight in waking to new-fallen snow.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009


This is the cranberry gelatin salad (recipe below) that I made for Thanksgiving dinner. It's my grandmother's recipe and was always part of her Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

I almost didn't make it -- though it doesn't actually include Jell-O, there's still something a little odd about calling it a salad -- it seems so dated.

But I did make it -- and then forgot to bring it out till dessert time. (Freudian slip? Maybe.)

The thing is, where this "salad" comes into its own is at supper Thanksgiving night -- when you're really still full of rich food but you feel like a little something or other. And this combination of cool cranberry and pineapple, suspended in gelatin and crunchy with chopped celery and pecans, really hits the spot. Almost like health food after the dissipation of the big meal.

My grandmother served it with homemade mayonnaise -- possibly this is a Southern thing. I know my daughter-in-law from New York state was kind of appalled the first time she saw this. And I mostly omit it these days. But it's really tasty -- as long as the mayo is good and lemony.

I grew up eating a number of weird combinations that were called salads -- shredded carrots and raisins with mayo, canned pineapple with cottage cheese ... and mayo, Jell-O squares with canned fruit cocktail hidden in their depths... and mayo, a frozen square composed of fruit cocktail, whipped cream and mayo. All of these things included a leaf of iceberg lettuce as a base -- which I guess justified their being called salad.

Those were the days for wild invention -- the notorious Candlestick Salad was touted as fun for kids to make -- the banana as candle with a cherry or strawberry as flame and whipped cream standing in for melted wax. It was also suggested as a nice item for ladies' luncheons. But best not to serve it to gentlemen, one cookbook warned, as the fellas might make indelicate comments.

I wonder why?

Ba's Cranberry Holiday Salad

2 Tbs. plain gelatin
1/2 c. cold water
1 c. boiling water
1 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 c. crushed canned pineapple, drained
1 1/2 c. whole berry cranberry sauce
1c. finely chopped celery
1/2 c. chopped pecans

Soak gelatin in cold water 10 minutes to soften. Pour in boiling water to dissolve. Add sugar, salt, lemon juice, and pineapple. Allow to cool but not congeal. Stir in cranberry sauce, celery, and pecans. Pour into mold thatt has been rinsed with cold water and not dried. Chill till firm. Serves 8.
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Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Yellow Rose

It was one of three bare root roses I bought at a local discount store -- three for ten dollars. And the wrapping showed a beautiful deep pink rose. So I planted it at the foot of our front steps by the greenhouse door -- where I could look out the window by my kitchen sink and enjoy its lovely pink blooms. Only it turned out to be yellow.

But from its first bud in mid-May to its last bloom on Thanksgiving day, the yellow rose has performed valiantly and I've been unable to resist snapping its picture over and over again.

On Thursday the full-blown rose greeted our Thanksgiving guests as they arrived. Then, as evening fell, a high wind got up and stripped all but two forlorn petals from that last lingering bloom . . .

... so that our guests had a petal-strewn path for their departure. How elegant!

I still prefer pink roses -- but this particular yellow rose has won my heart.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Three Thanksgivings

Our Thanksgivings tend to follow a bit of a routine -- up early to get the turkey in the oven and scurry around cleaning and such so that we can be ready by noon to relax with a Bloody Mary and listen to the local radio station's broadcast (also a tradition) of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant Massacree," a song I loved when it was new in 1967 and which seems sadly appropriate now, forty-two years later. (Had to check the math on that -- has it really been that long? And who is that white-haired old lady in my mirror?)

In past years we've had a full house for Thanksgiving. In 2007, my brother was here, as were Claui's folks and our friends the Langsners with their daughter Naomi and her friend Matt. And of course, Ethan and Aileen (my older son and his wife) were here. We turned the dining room table lengthwise and added another to it to have room for all.

Last year it was the same cast of characters, minus my brother, but we decided to string together tables down the middle of the living room to avoid crowding.

This year's gathering was small -- Ethan and Aileen are in their new home in Atlanta and still settling in, Claui and her parents have gone to Arkansas to be with her sister, and my brother, who just visited, declined to stretch his stay into Thanksgiving. So we were seven -- and we all fit into the dining room.

Despite another oven malfunction (the turkey had to finish cooking on the grill and the sweet potatoes that were meant to be roasted ended up sauteed,) it was an excellent feast. We honored tradition -- but gave it some new twists.

Louise made some wonderfully exotic befores to accompany my usual turkey liver pate, as well as a gingery cranberry sauce. Naomi and Matt brought an amazing assortment of cheeses and Justin made the sweet potatoes. I'll share the menu below. (For my friends in the UK -- our crackers don't come with party hats -- they are what I think you would call savory biscuits,)

Bloody Marys
Turkey liver pate
Marinated cauliflower
Cucumber and grape salsa with mint and fennel
Miso and walnut pesto
Rice crackers
Smoked almonds

Turkey basted with butter, red currant jelly, orange juice, and mustard
Dressing with celery, apples, and onions
Cranberry sauce
Cranberry sauce with ginger
Green beans with pecans
Sweet potatoes sauteed in garlic oil garnished with fried sage leaves
Green salad
Cranberry gelatin salad with celery, pineapple, and pecans

Frozen pumpkin mousse in a pecan crust
Assorted cheeses
Port, Coffee, Glen Rothes single malt Scotch

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

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Today I'm giving thanks for friends and family and all the wonderful things that fill my life in this very special corner of the world.

And I'm also thankful for all of you -- my blog friends who expand my horizons and remind me how small the world is becoming.

Happy Thanksgiving to all! I wish you could join us at our table -- wouldn't that be an amazing gathering!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Could This Be the Grave?

I returned to the Walnut cemetery yesterday, having been told by Nancy where to look for the Cantrell child's grave.

If I understood her correctly, it should be in this section, far at the back.

I didn't find any stones that said 'Cantrell,' but this little marker -- which may have been broken off -- with its uneven chiseled cross seems to be a likely candidate.
There's a field stone at the foot of the grave -- about three feet lie between the two markers. Just right for a small child.

To the right of this grave is another, somewhat longer --maybe five feet. It's marked with two rocks -- no carving.

There was no sign at all of a playhouse -- no rotting boards or anything at all. This may or may not be the Cantrell child's resting place.

But whoever it was, I wish I'd thought to bring a flower.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cloud Mountain

Setting autumn sun
Warms the eastern slopes; roiling
Lavender clouds rise ...

Looming high above
The wall of Blue Ridge Mountains,
Shapeless forms converge ...

For a brief moment,
I thought I saw perfection --

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Sunday, November 22, 2009


Scones are a quick (especially if you have a food processor) and easy treat. When my niece was visiting last weekend, she asked for my recipe so I decided to fix some for dessert.

As luck would have it, the oven in the kitchen was not working and it was too warm to fire up the wood stove. So I decided to cook them on the gas grill.

I put the wedges into a heavy iron skillet and heated the grill to 400.

They did pretty well -- a little overdone on the bottom but still delicious. The recipe is below.

Your family and friends will thank you if you make these.


(From The Gourmet Cookbook)

(I changed various ingredients to match what I had on hand)

1 2/3 c. all-purpose flour (I used bread flour)

6 Tbs. sugar (plus more for sprinkling)

1 Tbs. baking powder

¾ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 1/3 c. old fashioned rolled oats (I used quick cooking)

11/2 sticks (12 Tbs.) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons (plus a little more for the top) (I used salted butter & reduced the salt above)

Freshly grated zest of two large navel oranges (omitted due to a total lack of oranges – but it sure sounds good)

2/3 cup butter milk (I used half and half, replacing about a tablespoon of it with cider vinegar to sour it.)

½ c. finely chopped dried apricots (I used dried cranberries -- some pecans would have been a nice addition.)

Preheat oven to 425. Put rack in middle. Butter a large baking sheet.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt in food processor. (Or in a bowl if you don’t have a processor). Add oats and pulse to mix. Or just mix). Add butter and pulse (or cut in with pastry cutter or two knives) till mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea sized lumps. Transfer to large bowl and stir in dried fruit.

In small bowl, combine buttermilk and zest, then stir in to flour mixture with a fork, stirring just till a sticky dough forms.

Turn out to lightly floured surface; and knead six times. Pat into a 1 inch thick round, dusting surface with more flour if needed.

Cut into eight wedges and transfer to buttered baking sheet. Melt a little more butter and brush the tops of the scones with it, then sprinkle with sugar. Bake till golden-brown, 15-18 minutes.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Apocalyptic Sunrise

We do get some goodies in the sunrise department . . .

Straight out of the camera -- no fooling about with color enhancement -- honest!

It really seems as if the sky holds a message . . . and not just the old weather forecast, 'Sailor, take warning.'

What might the message be? The visual could use some audio -- great organ chords and a massed choir singing a Dies Irae . . . or maybe Leonard Cohen in one of his grimmer moods.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Betwixt and Between

One last rose blooms in a sheltered corner, a lingering breath of sweet summer time . . .

The greens from the garden are bug free at last! Dill and parsley, Georgia collards, and kale -- Black Tuscan and Red Russian -- sweet and delicious, all the better for having been lightly kissed by frost. . .

Eggs from the hen house, another flush of mushrooms -- oysters and shitakes, and fat potatoes, dark soil still clinging to them . . . the makings of a feast . . .

The temperature is falling and at last it's time for a fire.

Miss Susie Hutchins approves.
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Old and New

I love our rural county where old tobacco barns, seemingly held together by clinging vines, are common sights while innovation is cautiously creeping in --an energy-generating windmill at the high school caught my eye the other day and reminded me of the Chinese saying I've probably quoted before . . .

"Change is a dragon: to ignore it is perilous, to fight it, futile;
But harness it and ride . . . ahhh!

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