some thoughts about Thanksgiving

some thoughts about Thanksgiving

It is suddenly Thanksgiving again, and some thoughts (and a receipt) crept into our heads.

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, created out of whole cloth by Presidential proclamations and based on an idealized history of Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a meal of thanksgiving many Novembers ago. (Things weren’t always so cozy between the two.)

The idea of a meal of thanksgiving comes from the Puritan and Pilgrim groups who emigrated from England to modern-day Virginia and Massachusetts. As religious people, they wanted to thank their God for the blessings of the harvest. This religious sense has evolved into our modern-day “official” recognition of a God to whom thanks should be given.

We’d prefer to use this sense to celebrate Thanksgiving as “a day of gratitude” for the blessings we have enjoyed over the past year. This year, we’re grateful for having paying jobs, each other, and relatively good health.

Still, it’s a holiday specifically about food. Thanksgiving began (and continues) as a harvest festival, a celebration of the bounty of a season’s farming. It’s also the biggest meal of the year in America in terms of how much food is actually consumed. The Thanksgiving menu of today is directly descended from the first recorded Thanksgiving meals; it’s remained surprisingly consistent over the years. (Check out this wartime Thanksgiving Day menu from the USS Wake Island, including cigars and cigarettes!)

Our Thanksgiving menu is much simpler: roasted bone-in turkey breast, turkey gravy, a pot of our rice, and a hearty green salad with dried cranberries, walnuts, and shredded cheese and balsamic dressing. For dessert: our Thanksgiving staple, Pumpkin Spice Rice Pudding. And your dessert? Our very first published receipt…for Pumpkin Spice Rice Pudding. Try it out; let us know what you think.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin Spice Rice Pudding ~ a newdeal kitchen receipt

  • Servings: 4 to 6
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

This has become a Thanksgiving staple for us. Using almond milk eliminates the dairy, while pumpkin spice provides the flavor of pumpkins without the prep work required to cook pumpkins. Warning: This recipe is time- and labor-intensive. Be prepared to give up an hour of your time, and be prepared to do a lot of stirring.

By Michael Reardon 

Ingredients

3 cups vanilla-flavored unsweetened almond milk

¼ cup brown sugar, packed

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon pumpkin spice

a pinch of kosher salt

1 cup Arborio rice

(optional) ½ cup vanilla-flavored unsweetened almond milk, for reheating

(optional) additional pumpkin spice and brown sugar as garnish

Directions

  1. Combine almond milk, brown sugar, vanilla, pumpkin spice, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to boil.
  2. Reduce heat by a half and stir in Arborio rice. (Note: Do not let the mixture boil over. Adjust heat level as needed.)
  3. Continue stirring mixture until most of the liquid is absorbed and the mixture becomes thick and smooth. (Note: This will take approximately 20-30 minutes and you must stir constantly during this time.)
  4. Let mixture cool. Refrigerate until serving.
  5. The rice pudding can be eaten cold or can be reheated by adding the optional ½ cup of almond milk and stirring under medium-low heat until the milk is absorbed. Garnish with additional pumpkin spice and brown sugar.
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the best-ever chili!

You think we’re about to drop a recipe on you? Not really.

The best-ever chili has no recipe. You have to be willing to put just about anything in your chili without much regard for measuring it. So this is more of a laundry list of ingredients and techniques than an actual recipe.

Let’s be clear, however: the only ingredient that we believe is mandatory in any chili is some form of chile pepper—fresh, dried, powdered, it doesn’t matter. Texas chili has no beans; vegan chili has no meat; Cincinnati-style chili contains cinnamon. Those are all fine examples of chili, but the best-ever chili must at minimum contain at least one form of chile pepper, in whatever form you can find.

Beyond this one requirement (and perhaps the inclusion of a little cumin) the ingredient list is yours alone. Ours always includes some form of an allium, whether it’s the old standby onion, or shallots, or garlic, or a combination. A mirepoix including celery, carrots, or bell pepper is great as well. Start by sautéing these chopped veggies (or others) in oil, stock, wine, beer, or some other liquid.

Once your veggies are transparent and soft, start adding any dry seasonings you may want to use: basil (!), dried coriander, and Mexican oregano are great standbys. Let those seasonings marry into your sautéed vegetables.

Then you can add wetter vegetables like tomatoes, as well as tomato sauce or paste, as well as any pre-cooked meat and any other liquids. (If you have dried chiles, this would be the perfect time to drop them in to reconstitute.) Add salt and black pepper to taste. We’ve also added tomato juice, tomato soup, and even leftover chili into ours.

Finally, just add love and a little time. It’s done when it smells like chili.

beginner’s mind, ordinary time

We start each day by cleaning the kitchen.

This is not just ancient wisdom passed down from the first Zen cooks. It is very practical and aesthetic advice as well. A clean kitchen clears the mind, refreshes the palette, ensures that all kitchen resources are available for the day’s work.

The act of cleaning the kitchen clears the mind. The first Zen cooks (along with other Zen practitioners) called this state “beginner’s mind”. It’s a great way to start the day. You start by looking at the mess left behind from the night before, and you despair how you are going to get this all cleaned up.

Then you determine to make a start…somewhere, anywhere. And you work your way through the mess at that point. You concentrate at the task at hand, making sure every dish, every bowl, every serving utensil is clean, refreshed, ready to work again.

This whole process is necessary to bring about beginner’s mind. But once you’re there, anything is possible in the kitchen.

The other thing to understand about cleaning the kitchen at the start of each day is that it is the unglamorous portion of the cook’s life. It’s messy, it’s hot, and sometimes you wonder just how the hell this stuff got caked on this spoon in the first place.

We call that “ordinary time”. (It’s named after the Christian observance of the weeks between Epiphany, Pentecost, and Advent, but our use is based on the meaning of “ordinary” as “everyday”.)  But it’s just as necessary as the “extraordinary time” of the cook’s life: the creativity, tension, and joy in the act of cooking food for others.

A beginner’s mind in ordinary time. It’s how we start each day.

By cleaning the kitchen.

what’s your niche?

what’s your niche?

As we agonized over whether or not to even write this blog, we did a lot of research about blogging and marketing and social media, and one of the insights that was hammered into us over and over again is that you had to have a niche – a slice of the enormous audience of the Internet who craved the solution to a problem they didn’t even know they had…until you (and only you) not only described the problem, but came up with a solution.

Some of the examples of “niches” can be quite interesting. Left-handed grandmothers who knit and who are Green Bay Packers fans? There’s a niche (and a blog and maybe even a product) for that.

So when we asked ourselves what our “niche” was supposed to be, we honestly couldn’t come up with one right away. We don’t claim to be experts about food, although Michael is a trained Natural Chef through Bauman College and Kathy is a trained medical assistant. We do have experience in what a lifetime of eating can do to your body: Michael has Type 2 diabetes, while Kathy has collagenous colitis. And we both have the other thing that everyone who blogs, markets, or does social media has to have: Passion. A passion for eating.

We still love to eat, because of the joy we get from eating something delicious. That’s why we also need to eat well, making sure our choices as healthy and as nourishing as possible. And we must make the commitment to do this at every meal – to eat well always.

Eat. Well. Always. That’s our tagline, our motto, our credo, our mission statement. And that’s how we found our niche:

People who believe “Eat. Well. Always.” is their motto, their credo, their mission statement.

Welcome to the tribe.

 

why a kitchen?

why a kitchen?

So we said in our last (actually first) blog post that we were setting the action of our little love story in the kitchen. Why a kitchen?

A kitchen seemed like the perfect way to describe this enterprise. After all, we’re not talking about restaurants. But, we’re also not talking about yet another food blog with endless recipes blah blah blah. We looked up the dictionary definition of the word “kitchen” and found six different meanings for the word:

  • A place where you prepare your food (and we’re gonna be asking “Where’s your kitchen?” very soon, so get your answers ready).
  • A cuisine; for lack of a better name, we’re calling our cuisine “legacy homestyle with a modern twist”. (Yeah, we’ll explain that better, we promise.)
  • People – both those we serve in a meals and those who may serve us. (Oh, and especially the two people writing this blog.)
  • The things designed for use in a kitchen. They can be as mundane as a whisk, as valuable as a Dutch oven, or as whimsical as a vintage Moo-Cow Creamer dispenser. We call these things “kitchenalia”, and we’ll be sharing some of ours with you.
  • A language of its own. (For example, diner lingo taught us that ordering two poached eggs on toast is translated as “Adam and Eve on a raft.”)
  • Finally and most importantly, a kitchen is about cooking – and we’ll be all about that as well, sharing recipes that we actually don’t call “recipes”. (As well as recipes that we do call “recipes”. Yes, it’s confusing, but hang with us – all will be explained.)

Our philosophy of eating can be summed up in three little words: “Eat. Well. Always.” We’ll talk more about that too. But the kitchen is where we’ll start.

 

what’s the newdeal?

what’s the newdeal?

This is not a food blog. This is a love story.

The main characters are interesting: a couple of aging hippies named Michael and Kathy, who meet through online dating. The angle: they live about 350 miles apart and have to drive to see each other on weekends. After a year of dating like this, they decide to get married.

Kathy’s co-workers and friends arrange a wedding shower, to which Michael is also invited. It’s a great party, full of laughter, tears, and (of course) plenty of food – but two of the shower gifts would change Kathy’s and Michael’s lives forever.

The first gift was wonderfully thoughtful: a personalized wooden recipe box filled with recipe cards. Some of the cards were blank while others had been filled in with recipes provided by Kathy’s friends and co-workers.

The second gift was an apron with a customized graphic on the front. Based on the photograph below, Kathy’s and Michael’s reactions to this gift were somewhat different:

what's the newdeal?

But check out the graphic on the apron. The title on the design says it all. (August 3, 2008 was the date of Michael and Kathy’s wedding.)

Detail of newdeal apron

So how can a box of recipes and an apron with a customized graphic change a couple’s lives? By reminding them of the subject of this love story: their lifelong love of food and how that love has ruled their lives, both separately and together.

Like any love story, there are ups and downs. You’ll hear all about those, and about those still, present moments which happen in between. You’ll also find out how we – Kathy and Michael – will share the gifts we received that day, now so many years ago.

We’re just shortening the title on the apron a little bit, and setting the action in the kitchen.

That’s the newdeal.