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Archive for December, 2008

All Sorts of Celebration


Sometime in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, the streets begin to empty, the stores shut down, the lights go on in houses, and we are in the quiet of Christmas week.  I love this point in the holidays, when silence falls upon the town and the hustle and bustle fall away. We snuggle, we settle in,  we celebrate.

At my house there’s feasting of various sorts, butternut squash soup, smoked duck breast, good cheese, dark beer, or, another night, crab cakes and lamb and scalloped potatoes and chocolate souffle. For some, there is  time for running and saunas and reading. For others, “Peter in the Pan” ( a misnomer I like to think indicates my three year old’s culinary interests) and more trucks than we know what to do with. And, for one of us, the unalloyed joy of chasing ducks. For all of these, we are most grateful.

Here’s wishing that our readers who celebrate Christmas had a merry one and that those who don’t find this quiet time rich in pleasures. Whatever form they take.

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Um, I don’t know if anyone’s noticed, but baby, well, it’s cold outside. Like snow day cold, like kerchief and cap and long winter’s nap cold, like the dog looks offended when I suggest that he go out cold, like effing cold.

So, I’m settling in. My slippers are in constant use. I’m breaking out some new pajamas. The larder is stocked and there’s a spare bottle of wine or two and a few DVDs around.  And I am making scramble.  Bring on the snow.

Scramble? Uh? What’s that?  You talking about that scrapple stuff they eat down south?

Scramble is a kind of Chex Mix on steroids, but somehow so much more than that description would suggest. It is, truthfully, an old family recipe. But one that has gone long neglected.

Last summer, when I was visiting my Mom, I borrowed the little hard-bound green linen colored notebook in which my father had laboriously written his recipes, many of which he had gotten from his mother-in-law, my maternal grandmother. Among them was the recipe for Scramble, a snack which I had entirely forgotten. But as soon as I saw the recipe, I remembered my diminutive grandmother standing in front of a roasting pan almost half her size and stirring up mound of cereals and salty stuff into a savory, crunchy snack. My grandfather used to scoop it into cleaned out margarine tubs and enjoy it with his late afternoon martini. Sometimes he added M and Ms, but to the rest of us this was heresy. We preferred our salt unadulterated.

Truth be told, I didn’t like Scramble that much as a child. I did like picking out the pretzels and sometimes nuts, but the rest I could give or take. I decided to make some up this Christmas mostly from nostalgia and to send off to my siblings to see if it stirred their own memories.

But for my adult self, it turns out to be surprisingly addictive, a wonder mass of savory saltiness with a pleasing blend of textures.  It’s great for grabbing on a quick, peckish pass through the kitchen and great for putting out (not in margarine tubs please!) with drinks. My children are more sophisticated than I was, I guess, as they are both quite happy to wolf it all down.  Nick recommends it for breakfast. First thing in the morning, he’s on his customary morning perch on the kitchen counter, batting his eyelashes and cooing  “Mama, could I have a little Scramble please?”

This is beyond easy to make, but a couple of caveats on ingredients. My grandmother’s  recipe calls for a “small box” each of cheerios, wheat chex, rice chex and pretzels. Well, in the greedy 21st century, I have no idea what the 1950’s (or so) considered a small box. And when was the last time you saw pretzels in a box? (Another memory flash of navy blue boxes of Mister Salty pretzels: I believe Mister Salty was a sailor — you know, an old salt). But my guess here of 4-6 cups seems about right for the amount of oil.  Speaking of the oil, I’ve swapped in canola for the Wesson suggested by the orginal recipe and that I believe was corn oil, with no discernible difference as far as my taste memory can tell.

Finally, the spices include garlic and onion salt, compounds that I’ve come to consider a bit of an abomination in recent years. What’s wrong with real garlic and real salt, for god’s sake? But hey,  it’s a snack mix; compromise your standards a bit.  I don’t think Alice Waters will be making any of this up. But I bet she wouldn’t mind some with a martini.

Scramble

4-6 cups Cheerios or other multigrain “O” cereal

4-6 cups Wheat Chex

4-6 cups Rice Chex

4-6 cups thin pretzel sticks

2 lbs. mixed nuts

2 cups canola oil

1 T worchester sauce

1 T onion salt

1 T garlic salt

1 T celery seed

Preheat oven to 200 degrees

Combine cereals, nuts and pretzels in a large roasting pan. Whisk together oil, worchester sauce and spices. Pour over dry ingredients and mix gently.  Bake for two hours in the oven, stirring occasionally, until aromatic and crispy.

This can be eaten warm (and at least a little of it should be), but there will be mountains of the stuff, so store in plastic bags, glass jars or storage tins.  Give away a lot of it or find yourself overstuffed and with greasy fingers, yet unable to resist going back to the kitchen for another handful.

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So I had ideas for a lot of different posts this weekend. But after two days of non-stop holiday preparations of one sort of another, my brain and my typing fingers are way tired. So, before I go off to sip wine in front of the Christmas tree (while I enter the expenses in Quicken and finish my online shopping and think about the work week ahead, oy . . .) I’ll just remind that last year this time we did a post on ideas for food-related gifts in Ann Arbor.  Everyday Cook has closed in the past year, but all the other suggestions are still good.  Back later in the week with some real food ideas.

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So, first, a confession. I am notoriously lax about charitable giving. Like, way too lax for my current income level and social ideals.  This is one part residual poverty mentality from many years of graduate school, temp jobs and single-woman-with-an-Ann-Arbor-mortgage-hood, one part inertia and many many parts over-thinking. Have I mentioned my tendency to over-think?  The inheritance of twelve years as a card-carrying intellectual (see poverty, above) left me with a substantial book collection, the ability to deconstruct a film at the drop of a hat, and the curse of over-examination.

Witness my problematic relationship to food donations — such a prevalent part of the holiday season. What could be more straightforward than canned goods for the poor?  But first there is the questionable generosity of unloading the unused goods from my cabinet on the unsuspecting needy. Do they really want my snails and pork chili spice kit? If I haven’t used it in two years is anyone else going to want it? So, I think, I should stretch my charity dollars and go to Walmart or some such place and buy Really Big cans and boxes of non-perishable goods. Load up on peanut butter and baked beans. Enough to feed a family for six months for twenty dollars!

But wait.  Where do I get off trying to make these folks eat food I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole if I had any choice in the matter? If I don’t want to slap Jiffy on white bread for lunch, why should I foist this on anyone else?

I know, I’ll go to Whole Foods and select a few meals worth of things I would prepare for my family.

But wait.  My own extended familty is suspicious enough of my snobby tastes . . . what are these people who are going to recieve these donations going to think? Nature’s Path cereal? Where are the Frosted Flakes? What is this organic lentil soup crap? Where is the Campbell’s Chicken Noodle, for God’s sake?

I think maybe I’ll just bag this whole canned goods idea and give some money directly to some of the homeless out on these cold days and tell them to go get a good meal.

But wait, they”ll just spend it on drugs and alcohol, not beans and rice!

So maybe I’ll give to the centralized and efficient United Way and trust them. Except then a lot of the money goes for overhead, and I don’t have direct control over the distribution of my money. But the little charities are wasteful. Anyway (my old Marxist-leaning self reasserts herself) isn’t any kind of charity just propping up the system of capitalist oppression and inequity? We must drive things to the point of revolution! Give to charity? Hah! I’m going to sashay off to fancy restaurant meals while the unemployed freeze on the streets as gesture toward fomenting uprising! That’s it.

Clearly I’m going to have to buy myself a four dollar cappucino and think about this.

But.

It’s cold outside. And times are really hard for a lot of folks this year. My son’s Montessori school is doing a big drive for Food Gatherers.  My husband’s colleagues have a challenge on to collect 850 pounds of food. I pay so much attention to managing food these days, I should figure out how to extend the effort a bit. There are all kinds of ways to feed people.

My answer? Trader Joe’s.  May not work for everybody, but I’ve got to tell you, twenty dollars assembled two very respectable bags of pasta, sauce, beans, soup, rice milk, peanut butter and dried fruit — all food that I would be happy to feed my own family any day of the week.  It’s not a perfect solution. It may not work for everybody. But it will feed some hungry people. I like that. I’m trying not to overthink it.

There’s no shortage of opportunities to donate food at this time of year, but if you’re interested in a place to start, check out the Foodgatherers site. Feel free to suggest other places in the comments.

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I am still swooning. At the Shadow Art Fair this weekend, we came across these lovely and inspired letterpress cards from Letterform, a graphic design studio with deep roots in Ann Arbor. When they’re not making greeting cards with foodalicious puns like “Shanks, Shanks a Lot” and “Whisking You a Happy Birthday,” Andy and Julie, graduates from the UM School of Art + Design, are making posters for Tally Hall or designing marketing materials for Found Magazine. They say they’re coming back to the Deuce, and we really want them to, because Ann Arbor could use some letterpress geniuses with a penchant for culinary puns,

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and an attention to the details of pleasing packaging.

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Check out their Nourishing Notes Flickr set, and once you decide that you simply must buy these either for yourself or someone on your holiday shopping list, go on over to their Etsy shop and do the deed. (Make sure to make your purchase before December 18 for delivery by the 25th.)

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One of my favorite procrastination techniques is to start on another, preferably food-related project, in order to put off whatever it is I’m really supposed to be doing. This weekend, I should really be focused on my own holiday gift shopping. Instead, I’m hanging out at my friend’s place, eating leftover noodle kugel, drinking coffee, reading stuff on the Internets. Soon, I’m told, there will be Bloody Mary’s. So, hmmm, maybe shopping can just wait a bit longer.

But perhaps you’re more disciplined than I am and are already half-way through your shopping list. Maybe you’re wondering what to get the food-obsessed friend or sweetie or family member on your list. And here’s where my food-related diversion project comes in: amidst sips of coffee and bites of kugel, we’ve been brainstorming about good gift ideas from the Zingerman’s Mail Order Catalog, which is where my friend works. (Read: we’re fantasizing about what kinds of things we’d love to receive. Hi, mom!) And what better way to assuage my guilt about putting off my holiday preparations than sharing some ideas with you all — or, better yet, sharing my Zingerman’s friend’s picks. To make it even a bit sweeter, they’re sharing a 20% discount offer for friends & family with readers of this here little blog. Sometimes, procrastination pays off.

Here’s the skinny: check out the online catalog–that is, if you don’t have a paper copy handy–or browse our picks below. If you find something to your liking, enter the code word PARSNIP when prompted for a discount code.

Here’s the fine print:

  • Ship anywhere in the USA, or pick up at Mail Order
  • Only good at Zingerman’s Mail Order — cannot be used at any other Zingerman’s businesses
  • Last date to order for standard shipping rates in 12/17.
  • You can order after, but S/H might be more expensive.
  • Last date to order for pick up on 12/24 is 12/22.
  • Expires 12/31/08.

With all of those formalities out of the way, here are our picks in various categories and price points. Enjoy browsing, and enjoy the discount!

Sweets and Beautiful Gifts

$12
Askinosie Bars from Missouri

$14
Antonio Mattei Biscotti

$16
Fruit Jellies from Northern Italy

$24
Hot Cocoa Coffeecake

$25
Preserved Figs from Calabria

$30
Béquet Caramels from Montana

$45
Candied Chestnuts

$50
Cunesi Rum Truffles

$55
Robert Lambert’s Rare Citrus Fruit Cake

Meat

$60
Finocchiona Salami

Spice

$12
Urfa Red Pepper Flakes

Marash Red Pepper Flakes

$30
Wild Fennel Pollen

Oil

$25
Roi Olive Oil

$25
Marina Colonna’s Citrus Oils

$29
Zingerman’s Peranzana Olive Oil

Vinegar

$19
Vecchia Dispensa’s 6 Year Aged Balsamic

$28
Agrodolce White Balsamic Vinegar

$75
PX Sherry Vinegar

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