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Friday, November 4, 2011

Zen and the Art of Thanksgiving

          Greetings, friends.  You know, I have tried to tone down the intensity around the Hideout, since that miserable post about my childhood.  The adjectives I've been trying to hit are mostly funny, often nostalgic, sometimes trendy, things that make you go, hmmmmm...  With Halloween behind us, we really begin to gear up for the serious holiday season, and with that in mind, I'm going to stray into the realm of the Public Service.
          Thanksgiving is twenty days away, the big feast holiday of the year.  This is the time when families gather, memories are taken out and polished like the precious keepsakes that they are, and food is eaten in quantities and combinations most people wouldn't consider on any other day of the year.  These are good times, but not everyone is in a position to partake.  We have a rather large family that usually gathers at our house, and it's going to be great, as it always is, but you know me, always thinking of those less fortunate...
          You may be a student far from home, unable for various reasons to make the trip home; or maybe you can only make one trip, and you want to save it for Christmas.  Maybe you just started a new job in a distant city and can't get the time off.  Whatever the reason, it's just you, maybe a new spouse, and a couple of friends, and you don't need a turkey the size of a Volkswagen beetle and a 55 gallon drum of dressing.  What's a body to do?  Well, if a body's smart, it will come right here to the Hideout where Mad Jack is waiting to enlighten you.  I've put my head together with the other denizens of the Hideout (and believe me, the world isn't ready for that picture!), and come up with a small yet still festive menu that will enliven the smallest gathering.
          This is a Cornish game hen.  Cute little devil.  Good with devilled eggs, too.  It's a hybrid produced in Connecticut in the mid 1950s by crossing the small Cornish chicken with a variety of other small breeds.  The result was an individual-serving chicken whose only function is to be eaten.  Sorry, I'm not trying to be callus here.  If I had to kill my own meat (especially something this cute), I'm pretty sure I'd be a vegetarian, but I don't, and I'm not, and I'll come to terms with that later.
          Right now, the task at hand is to turn that little bird into this succulent treat for the palate, and as you might imagine, I've got a recipe for that!  Now, I looked over a raft of Cornish hen recipes on Google, and what they all have in common is the level of fanciness attached to them.  They're out there with rosemary, lemon glazes, Chinese vegetables, elaborate stuffings, things that would seem to make preparing four of these a far bigger chore than stuffing one turkey.  I decided not to go that way.  Decades ago, I stumbled upon a game hen recipe that is simple, easy to prepare, and doesn't use a lot of ingredients that will mask the flavor of the bird.  Back in 1984 I began to collect my favorite recipes in a journal, and this was the second one I listed.  It's still good.

Herbed Cornish Hens
3 Cornish Game Hens
1/2 cup Chicken Broth
1/4 lb Softened Butter or Margarine
1/4 cup Dry White Wine
2 tbls Thinly Sliced Green Onions
1 tsp Crumbled Leaf Tarragon
1 tsp Finely Chopped Parsley
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder

          Thaw hens.  Preheat oven to 350'.
          Split each hen in half lengthwise and place in single layer in a shallow baking dish with skin side down.  Gently loosen skin from meat on each breast to form a pocket.  Pour Chicken Broth over.  Whip Butter in mixing bowl with fork until fluffy.  Stir in Wine and other ingredients, mixing well.  Place rounded tablespoon of Butter mixture in pocket of each breast.  Turn hens skin side up and pour remaining mixture over.
          Bake, covered with foil, in 350' oven for 45 minutes, basting with drippings every 15 minutes.  After final basting, uncover and broil for 15 minutes.
          Serves 6.

          A word about this recipe:  It assumes everyone will eat half of a hen, which gives each diner a breast, back, wing, leg, and thigh.  You know your guests.  Look at these birds when you buy them, and if you think some of your guests can eat a whole one, buy accordingly.  Just like turkeys, they're great cold, and you can make one sweet Hero from the leftovers the day after.
          Okay, it isn't Thanksgiving without stuffing.  Since this is a guideline for a small celebration, I recommend you buy a boxed one.  It is Thanksgiving, so get the big brand name; don't want one of your guests finding a piece of doggie kibble in the Great Value stuffing, now do we?  If part of the joy is making your own, game hens can be bought with giblets, and with 3 or more hens, you should have plenty.
          Now, the vegetable.  If you have a traditional family favorite, by all means, have at it.  If you don't, and you want to do something a little fancier than just putting a can of corn in a bowl, my main squeeze Bonzo offers this:

Green Bean Casserole
2 - 3 cans of Green Beans (use frozen if that's your preference)
1 can of Cream of Mushroom or Cream of Chicken soup
1 tbls Margarine
1/2 cup Milk
2 cans French's French Fried Onions

          Preheat oven to 350'.  Drain (or thaw) Green Beans and put into casserole dish.  Mix Soup and Milk in saucepan.  Add Margarine and heat until warm and well mixed.  Layer French Fried Onions over Green Beans.  Pour Soup mixture over ingredients in casserole and cover with foil.
          Bake at 350' for 30 minutes.  Remove foil and continue baking for an additional 10 minutes.  Remove and serve.  Serves 6.
          Don't forget the traditional Holiday side dishes; cranberry sauce is a given; our family's always been big on the black olives.  Devilled eggs always put in an appearance on our Thanksgiving table.  All that's up to you.
          And that brings us to desert.  Some folks like specific desserts for Thanksgiving.  Pumpkin pie comes to mind.  I like mince myself.  Of course, you can buy a pie ready made or frozen, and they're pretty palatable these days.  If you have a traditional recipe you make, Thanksgiving is the time, but if you don't, if you want to bake, and would like to try something new, my awesome daughter, Nine, brings her specialty to the table:

Coriander Fruit Crumble
1 tsp Butter or Margarine
1.5 lb Cooking Apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
8 oz Fresh or Frozen Blackberries, (thawed and) washed
2 tbls Soft Brown Sugar
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
Topping
1 cup Flour
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Butter or Margarine
2 tsp Ground Coriander
          Preheat oven to 350' (We're keeping this one-oven simple for you).  Lightly grease 2 quart baking dish with the teaspoon of Butter.  Put Apples and Blackberries in the baking dish and sprinkle with the Brown Sugar and Cinnamon.  To make the crumble topping, put the Flour and Sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl.  Cut the Butter into the mixture with a table knife.  Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  Mix in the ground coriander.  Sprinkle the crumble on top of the fruit and bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes.  Remove and serve.
          Nine has made this many times, and it changes a little with each incarnation.  It can be made in a pie shell, which makes it a bit less messy.  The apples don't have to be peeled, and it works equally well with Pink Lady, Gala, or Honeycrisp.  Of course, they do have to be cored and sliced.  For a sweeter flavor than the often-tart blackberries, use strawberries.  She has also made it with dark sweet cherries, and the "Fruit Medley" sold in the frozen food section.  It's all good.  She usually serves it with Cool Whip.  Vanilla ice cream, for a traditional ala mode has its attraction, and the flavor is rich enough to stand on its own.  She has recently teased us with a vision of this pie made with strawberries alone, served with chocolate ice cream.  We haven't seen it yet, but it sounds like something best shared by consenting adults.
          So, there you have it, my Holiday gift to those of you who aren't in a position to have a big feast:  A miniature big feast that will leave you just as stuffed and happy as those huge meals you used to have at home.  Really, I'd like to see everyone surrounded by loved ones at this time of year, but that isn't the reality, so if this makes your Holiday a little brighter, it was our pleasure.  Enjoy it to the hilt!
          I'm going to tentatively schedule my next update for November 11th, Veterans Day.  I will most likely not do another patriotic post.  I covered that on Memorial Day and in my recent essay on Stolen Valor, and it's hard to write something on that subject without getting political, which I strongly wish to avoid.  Most of you know that I am a decorated veteran who loves America, and we'll let it go at that.  Worry not, gentle readers, I'll pull something out of my a...  I mean, a carefully researched and technically hyper-accurate article of great social impact will appear in this space.  Yeah, that's it.  See you next Friday!

6 comments:

  1. Hey Jack!

    I have to apologize, I'm an awful responder when it comes to things that actually matter. Thank you for the comments, I look forward to them. I Don't have too many people writing, or commenting, to me, so every word from someone outside of this prison they call college is a gift I treasure.

    I have taken all that you've told me and thrown it into the vat of thoughts in my brain, I appreciate the advice and concern and fun. The only question left unanswered is what I should actually do :) Luckily I was let in on a closely guarded secret, and I know there is no direct answer to that, so I've stopped looking.

    I love this post, it makes me think of home and excellent memories, and and it makes me jealous that I won't be there to make more this year. I'm the student that can only make one trip, see. But thank you for the smiles, I might just try my hand at cooking this Thanksgiving! And secretly buy some turkey slices to make a sandwich when I burn everything.

    Happy holidays, Jack. You are really a fantastic person, stay strong, never doubt.

    -McKay

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  2. Welcome back, my young friend! Finding your comment was an unexpected treat. Given the tone of your remarks, I will set aside my resolution not to bother you any more. You tell me when I become annoying.

    You know, I don't really know you. I fell out of your sky a few months ago, and all I know about you is contained in a few blog entries. I would never presume to tell you what you should do; I don't even tell my own children what to do. That said, our situations are remarkably similar, and I can tell you what I did. I was born in 1948, and raised on books, movies, and documentaries about the glory that American arms had accrued during WWII. Every child I grew up with had a parent or uncle who took part in that great conflict, and given the nature of San Diego, most of them were sailors or marines. Not surprisingly, then, the navy was my service of choice, and I "knew" that would be my career by the age of 12. I enlisted almost the first day they would take me, and immediately discovered that I had made what remains to this day the worst mistake I've ever made. My solution was to tear up the blueprint. I served out my obligation, learned what they were willing to teach me, earned my Honorable Discharge, and started over. I have made a lot of decisions I wish I could have back, but that was one I've never regretted.

    Five years after I got out, I met the woman I describe with the same phrase you use about your fella: The love of my life. Everything I do is for her, including embarking on a new career at the age of 43 so that she could retire; she has heart disease, and the daily grind would have killed her by now. She is all that matters. One job or another, so what, the only time that matters is that which we have together. If you ever want to talk about any of this outside the public forum, click on my picture in the sidebar. It will take you to a new window with a link to my e-mail. I'd be honored to hear from you.

    But I presume too much. If you want to have a little more fun along the lines of this post, Bonnie has posted her memories of our first Thanksgiving at www.thetylergang.blogspot.com. Y'all come on over, ya hear?

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  3. I discovered your blog yesterday, and I've already forgotten why I discovered it (old mind). I put it on my Facebook page for others to enjoy. I hope I beat everyone else to the punch at my favorite gathering for Thanksgiving. Looks like this year we'll actually be with family in Mississippi for Christmas, but we have another family of friends who gather both days at Magnolia River Bar & Grill in Magnolia Springs, Alabama, where we retired over three years ago. The sheet for Thanksgiving will likely go up after a big benefit we're having at MRBG this coming Saturday for our friend, Jamie Tyson, who is fighting Cancer and needs help with her medical expenses.

    My blog posts and anything else I write on have a hard time sticking to just one subject. I am wondering if you have ever read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" just because Zen is in the title.

    I'll really try to look in on your blog often since I really liked this post about food, which I like very much for more than its nutritional value.

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  4. Hello, and welcome! I'd guess you found me because I posted a comment to Living Maedeans Style, which I see on your profile that you follow. In any case, always good to welcome a new visitor. I'm afraid I'm strapped for time, as I'm getting ready for work, but I didn't want to let your support go unrecognized. I'll get over and visit you as soon as possible. In the meantime, if food is your main interest, most of that appears on our family blog, www.thetylergang.blogspot.com; this is where I go to rant and reminisce. Thanks for your support, and I'll visit your site soon. BTW, I'm a Taoist, so Zen may have a little different meaning for me...

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  5. Okay, I decided to actually look up Zen and read some about it. When I gave my bro-in-law a book as a gift, I read it first, and I liked it very much. Apparently lots of others, 5 million or so, liked it also. I think the entire book is on the internet, but I'm still thinking I may buy myself my own copy instead of reading it @ http://wendellmaedeantravelblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/thanksgiving-of-2010.html

    Remember I said I couldn't stick to one subject? Loved reading that music is your religion. It's closely associated with mine also. What would living and the world be without it, BUT that simply is not possible. Am I right?

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  6. You very much are! Music is made by more than drums and pianos, and did it not exist, the soul would create it from the songs of birds and the rhythms of waves. Be sure to drop in for my next post, when I plan to elaborate on the whole "Music is my religion" philosophy. I'm hoping to run with that next Sunday. I could probably squeeze it in earlier, but I don't want to be up against a deadline as I come to the conclusions.

    I do remember what you said about not sticking to one subject. We should have a contest; the "theme" of the Hideout is whatever I'm in the mood to make it when I get time to post. Drop in frequently; you're always welcome, and you never know what you might find...

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