A Thanksgiving Tradition

It is not often that you’ll find me talking about my experiences in the kitchen here on this blog. Well, you might find me talking about my experience in the kitchen but that is just what it is: talk. I do not go into my kitchen very often and, when I do, it is generally for something simple like coffee, milk or cereal.

It’s not that I’m uncomfortable in the kitchen, necessarily. It’s mostly a consequence of being a bachelor. Cooking for one is about the most unrewarding task I can imagine. It’s inefficient, given that you can produce a meal for three or four using the same amount of effort and the same number of dishes as you do when cooking for one. Sure, I know some singleton’s that really enjoy themselves in the kitchen and find it to be relaxing and enjoyable. I am just not one of those people.

Thanksgiving is typically the one time of year in which you might find me in the kitchen doing something more complex than scrambling an egg or frying up bacon (two things of which I am mightily capable.) The reason behind this is that there are typically an assortment of pot luck affairs to attend and I find myself shamed into doing something more than bringing some form of frozen desert.

But, also, I really enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. I mean, really enjoy it. If I can, I will enjoy it many times before and many times after the actual Thanksgiving holiday. In the past week, for example, I made a special trip to Boston Market for a turkey dinner with all the sides and I took advantage of the turkey luncheon at work. It’s like practicing for actual Thanksgiving.

In that vein, I have another practice session to attend tonight. A couple of my very good friends are hosting an early Thanksgiving potluck tonight and I’m preparing the one dish of which I’m capable: sweet potato casserole.

At least, sweet potato casserole is what my mother calls it. The rest of the family refers to the recipe as “Pat’s Mom’s Sweet Potatoes”. The recipe entered Stafford family lore way back when I was in high school. High school was when the Stafford children began to invite various and sundry sweethearts to Thanksgiving dinner at Che Casa Stafford. Being steeped in Southern hospitality, these sweethearts would generally bring a dish to share.

This particular dish was brought to the table by Black Sheep’s high school girlfriend, Pat, using a recipe handed down to her from her mother. (Some of you know Black Sheep as “Frankenberry”. That’s another story for another time.) It was hugely popular and, for a number of years, thrust aside the simpler and more traditional sweet potatoes and marshmallows. Ever since that day, we’ve referred to the dish as “Pat’s Mom’s Sweet Potatoes”.

And, ever since Black Sheep and Pat broke up, mom has been trying to get us all to stop calling it that, especially since Black Sheep’s wife is not named Pat. Mother doesn’t seem to understand that, once the tradition is set, it cannot be changed. That’s why they call it “tradition”.

Anyway, it is my favorite Thanksgiving dish and it’s the only one I learned to make on my very own. It’s like sweet potato crack and I’ve never known it to be unpopular. I’m pretty sure it’s the only reason I have things like measuring cups in the house. I know it’s the only reason I own a potato masher. It’s that good. I make it at least once a year but have been known to make it twice in a season. It’s good for Christmas potlucks too.

From my Mama’s cookbook: (I just noticed that my mother titled her cookbook, “Your Mama’s Cookbook”. It reminds me of endless “Your Mama” jokes. I snicker at my own wit.)

    “Sweet Potato Casserole” (a.k.a. “Pat’s Mom’s Sweet Potatoes”)

    I have served this casserole for several years at Thanksgiving and will likely continue as long as I am able, as no one will allow me to change the menu. Double the recipe for a large group.

    Boil sweet potatoes until they are easily speared with a fork (estimate 1 large potato per cup for recipe).

    Melt 2/3 cup of butter and divide it.

    Mix together the following:

    3 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
    1 cup sugar
    2 eggs
    1/2 cup evaporated milk (like Carnation or Pet)
    1 tbs.vanilla
    1/3 cup melted butter

    Pour this mixture into a 2 quart casserole dish and then mix the following:

    1/3 cup butter
    1 cup shredded coconut (I use the frozen kind)
    1 cup pecans
    1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
    1/3 cup flour

    Spread this mixture over the first and bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes.

Happy Mother’s Day from the Baby Birds

It’s Mother’s Day and I’m here to fulfill the one request my mother made of me today: write something for the blog. Happy Mother’s Day, Ma.  This one is just for you.

My intention for the Mother’s Day blog was to honor my mother by typing up one of her recipes in this space. Given that it’s two hours later than I’d hoped to get this done, that may have to wait until a time in which I’m not utterly exhausted.  I may be able to find a suitably short recipe if you’ll give me a moment.

Okay, the following is not short but it is a good story and mentions my great-grandmother, Granny Holloway. She is the woman responsible for raising my father and it seems appropriate to honor her and my mother on this Mother’s Day occasion. I hope you enjoy it.

***

Granny’s Recipe For Feeding Baby Birds

My Harris grandparents loved parakeets and they had more than one pair during the years I best remember them. One pair they had in the 1950’s were named Ike and Dick after President Eisenhower and Vice-President Nixon. (My grandparents were ardent Republicans during the years when most Alabama citizens were rabid Democrats.) My grandfather doted on them. He taught them to say “I like Ike” and “Dickie Bird” and they flew around the house freely or rode on his shoulders.

Granny Holloway loved birds as well. According to Sidney, she always kept a red bird (cardinal) in a cage and had an uncanny way of finding young birds that had “fallen from the nest.” Perhaps Granny helped some of them fall but, however she found them, she successfully raised them to adulthood and kept them for her pleasure.

When our children were small, we raised baby birds as well – once two blue jays we named Jack and Jill, and once several starlings. Sidney remembered Granny’s recipe for feeding baby birds and they did well. We kept them in a cardboard box until they began to perch on its sides and then we moved them to the back porch.

When they learned to fly, they enjoyed perching in the trees in the back yard but would come back to the porch to be fed. Later they perched on the telephone wires in front and flew down the street to greet Sidney as he walked home from the college. Unfortunately, they began to fly down to greet others who did not understand their friendly intentions. Our mailman and our neighbor were terrified when the birds began darting down from the sky and landing on their head and shoulders.

Unfortunately, Jack drowned one day, apparently while admiring his image in a tub of water. But Jill and the starlings lived to fly off into the trees and become independent. We suppose they did, that is. They came less and less often to be fed and eventually they didn’t come back at all. We hope they adapted themselves to the wild and lived long and happy lives.

Granny Holloway was half Indian (her mother was either full-blooded Creek or Choctaw) and she must have learned Indian ways. (Sidney was fascinated that, while she was working outdoors or in her garden, Granny would often pee while standing straight up and without removing any underwear. I have read that this was an Indian practice. Apparently she was wearing no underwear that required removal.) It may be that her joy in raising birds was one of her Indian ways. Her recipe for feeding them was simple:

Boil one small potato in its skin and cut it up fine. Hard boil one (or more) egg and mash it up very fine. Mix the egg with the potato. Feed the mixture to the birds with a pair of tweezers as often as they clamor for food (just stick it down their throats). Occasionally give them a drop or two of water from a clean eye dropper.

Keep the birds in a cardboard box with newspaper lining the bottom. Add small strips of newspaper to serve as nesting material. Change the papers often. When the birds become active and seem ready to leave the box, move the box outdoors but away from cats. Continue feeding them as needed until they fly away.

By the way, we don’t recommend caging wild birds.

***

Thanks, Ma, for the story and the recipe and for raising all of us and the baby birds. I know we’ve all flown away but it’s nice to know we can all fly back again when we need to be bed.

I love you and hope you’ve had a lovely Mother’s Day.

How to Make Snow Cream

As keeper of a blog, I’m a little obsessive about how many people are reading what I write. I check several stat compilers several times a day to figure out who’s coming from where to read what. I don’t know why, exactly. I get maybe 20 people here a day. But it’s nice to know that people are reading what I write.

It makes me wish I had something more worthwhile to say, but what are you gonna’ do, right?

Anyway, I’ve been impressed with the number of international visitors. I had no idea. I apparently have a regular reader in Okinawa. (Konichiwa and thanks for stopping by.) I have readers come from England, Denmark, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, Israel…It’s weird. I truly feel I have so very little to say or, at least, have said very little so far. I suspect people knew me from my previous blog. They probably think I’m my brother, come to that.

I did have a visitor come from a Yahoo search on “how to make snowcrean“. Apparently neither they nor I know how to spell or how to type “snow cream”. I’ll have to correct that typo at some point, I suppose.

Seeing that coming to my site was going to get them no closer to making actual snow cream, I thought I’d help them out by asking Pop for his snow cream recipe. This is his answer:

Hey Choo.[One of my nicknames from Mom and Pop.] We have about three inches snow. Snow cream is probably best when made with condensed milk. Snow cream and cool aid and sugar and milk MAKES A GOOD ONE, Vanilla flavoring or chocalate is good with the condensed milk. I always experimented woth the portions=of milk, sugar and snow. Hope you make a good one, S** E**** and O**** were without heat for a few hours this morning. Goof luck with the snow cream.

I feel better now that I know poor typing is genetic and not something for which I am responsible. I also realize that the paragraph above gets your average searcher for snowcrean no closer to making it. Measuring, like typing, is not one of my father’s strong suits.

Because of this, I did a little searching of my own and found a few recipes for snow cream. One that sounds a bit like what Pop describes reads:

Sweetened Condensed Milk
Pure Vanilla Extract
Cut Mile with Real Milk or Water
Sugar
In a separate bowl, mix condensed milk, sugar and vanilla

Be forewarned. If you attempt to make snow cream, you too could lose your ability to type and spell.I assume that “Cut Mile” above means “Cut (Condensed) Milk”. It’s only an assumption, however.

BTW, I suspect the above recipe requires some amount of snow as well. Authentic snow cream usually does.

I remember that, on the rare occasions it snowed to any depth, we used to go out to the farthest reaches of the yard with a bucket to collect the freshest, most pristine snow we could find. We would do our best to keep our footprints out of the snow as long as possible, just so we’d have clean snow for snow cream. Inevitably one of my friends would come along and tramp through the yard to have us come out and play and, inevitably, we’d yell at them for messing up the yard.

They probably came down just for the snow cream. As far as I know, Pop was the only father in my circle of friends that made snow cream. One of these days, I hope to be able to pass the tradition along to my own kids.

Until then, If you find yourself snowed in and looking for snow cream recipes, I hope the recipes above come in handy. Just remember the one important piece of advice my father always passed along when it was time to make snow cream:

“Watch out for the yellow snow!”

Pig Candy

Hey, Mike, here’s a bacon recipe for you, just in case you, you know, get tired of eating your bacon straight up.

Thanks, Ma, for suggesting the recipe the other day on my post about Chocolate Bacon Candy Bars. After some digging, I managed to find the recipe and thought I’d share with everyone. I hope to put up all of mom’s recipes at some point and this gives me something to put on the blog without actually having to come up with something on my own! You’re the best, Ma.

Without further ado: Pig Candy.

Okay—if you just can’t stand calling this Pig Candy, you can call it Glazed Bacon. Either way, it tastes great. Thanks to Fred Thompson, the Weekend Gourmet for The News & Observer, for sharing this recipe. He suggests sprinkling the bacon with about 1-and-a-half teaspoons of red pepper flakes, but I found that to be way too hot. I suggest you sprinkle a few of the strips very lightly with cayenne pepper and sprinkle the rest with brown sugar alone. You can decide then what suits your own taste without ruining a whole batch.

    16 slices (about 1 lb.) of high quality bacon
    1/2 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar (or more)
    Cayenne pepper (optional)

Prehead oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a broiler pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil and place a wire rack (or the broiler rack) on top of this. (Yes, you really should do this or you will be cleaning that pan into next year.) Put a little oil on a paper towel, and rub the wire rack lightly with it. Arrange the bacon in a single layer on the rack. Evenly sprinkle the sugar (and pepper if you decide to use it) on top of the bacon slices.

Bake until the bacon is uniformly very crisp and very brown. This will take 30 to 40 minutes. Remove bacon from the rack onto a plate. After the bacon has cooled somewhat, you may pat away any remaining grease lightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make pig candy. One of you loyal readers (either of you is fine) will have to make this and either let me know how it is or feed it to me. I suspect the effort is beyond my bachelor skills at this point. I don’t foresee myself taking up cooking any time soon.

It is bacon, however, so it might prove worth the effort.

Stay tuned for more of Ma’s (plagiarized!) Recipes. She stole put a whole bunch of supposed family recipes and family anecdotes together in a cookbook for all of her children as a Christmas gift in 2007 and I think them worth sharing.