Cooking, Thanksgiving

My Mother’s Trunk Turkey

Driving with six kids 2½  hours through the woods to grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving got old. That’s when we were living in Worthington, a hilltown in Western Massachusetts. So we informed our extended family we were staying put but they were welcome to join us.

My parents took us up on our offer. They didn’t mind making the drive. But, alas, my mother didn’t trust that I could cook a proper turkey. So she volunteered to bring the turkey. I could make the rest of the meal. I wasn’t insulted.

My mother was indeed an excellent cook of anything that had feathers while it was still alive. And besides she wanted to contribute something to the meal. So I said yes even though the smell of roasting turkey is such a savory thing.

The first time, however, the kids and I were surprised when my father opened the trunk of their car and carried an aluminum pan of cut up turkey to the house. What no beautiful bird on the table?  Not this year.

One of the kids – I don’t remember which one – was the one who called it Grandma’s Trunk Turkey.

Of course, not to her face.

But the name stuck.

I should say my mother was a school cafeteria lady in those days. Serving food cut up in aluminum pans was part of the job.

Her trunk turkey, however, was delicious.

So it was Grandma’s Trunk Turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner if my parents came.

That changed when we moved to Taos, New Mexico. Sometimes I had co-workers over for the traditional dinner — by then I had learned to roast a turkey, even using brine one year — and other times we ate at friends’ or in a restaurant. We came east a couple of times.

Now that we are back living in Western Massachusetts, we will be hosting the Thanksgiving meal at our home. It will be a full house with family. Monday we picked up the turkey, which came from a local farm. It was a lot bigger than the 20 pounds I ordered by four pounds so there will be plenty of leftovers. Everyone is pitching in with side dishes — our granddaughter Ella is making biscuits — pies, and wine. 

I’ve done my research on the best way to cook this turkey. I now have a great pan and a high-tech thermometer. But part of me secretly wants me to put the cooked bird in the trunk of my car and take if for a spin before dinner. But only my mother could get away with that.

And Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate the holiday!

BOOKS: Hey, while I’ve got your attention …. THE SACRED DOG: This novel is not part of my Isabel Long Mystery Series although the setting is similar. Basically, there’s bad blood between two men. The title comes from the name of a bar one of them owns. I will be telling you a whole lot more about it from now until its launch date Dec. 27 and beyond. Here’s the link to learn more: 

FOLLOWING THE LEAD: Here’s the link for no. 6 in the Isabel Long Mystery Series:

PHOTO: That’s the bird I will be roasting.


Going Vegan

I was heading that way for many months, eating less meat, fish, chicken, and dairy, until I stopped. I feel better for it on many levels.

For decades I’ve been eating whole foods anyway— you know, grains, beans, vegetables, fruit with fish here and there. But during the past several years we expanded our diet, adding beef, chicken, and dairy from the local natural food store so it was the best quality. But meat is meat, I decided.
I saw the documentary, “Forks over Knives,” and read the companion book. Two ideas stayed with me. One is that if all the grain fed to fatten animals were used instead to feed people we would end world hunger. The other is that I want to eat a plant-based diet.
And, luckily I know how to cook tasty and satisfying meals from plants.
Do I care what other people eat? That’s their business. I am not a preacher. And, when I’m invited to eat at someone’s house, I accept without a fuss and eat with gratitude whatever is served. (I found many people don’t ask ahead of time if you have any foods you can’t or don’t want to eat.)
I admit it’s a bit of a challenge eating out. I study menus ahead of time online and seek those restaurants that offer a vegan dish, which admittedly are few, or ones who are happy to modify a recipe.  
So what do we eat at home? Grain, specifically, brown rice. Cooked and raw vegetables. Soy products such as miso, tempeh and tofu although not foods where soy is used to replicate animal food. Nuts and seeds. Fruit. Seaweed. They all make for good eating.

Terrible Tofu

Actually tofu isn’t terrible. But many people don’t give it much of a chance. My best guess is they think it will taste and act like cheese because it looks like cheese. Sorry, tofu does not have that power.

But tofu is a healthy food with possibilities. It is also high in protein and calcium. And it is vegan. 

I tend to use tofu two ways. I add cubes of it to miso soup. Then, there is stir fry. For that, I cut the tofu into squares and fry them in a skillet so their surface gets a nice crisp. I sauté the vegetables separately before I add the fried tofu. I serve the stir-fry with a splash of soy sauce or another tasty sauce. Sometimes I pan-fry squares of tofu before simmering them in a soy sauce-flavored broth. There are certainly plenty of recipes to be had on the zillion cooking sites found on the web.

Tofu is easy to come by. Most supermarkets carry it packaged. I prefer firm or extra-firm because it holds its shape well. Once the package is open, tofu should be stored in a plastic container with fresh water. Refrigerate.

Of course, tofu contains water. Let it drain on toweling before cooking it.

I have made my own tofu. We were living in a cabin with no electricity, phone, running water nor indoor plumbing. It was a phase in my life when I had a lot of time on my hands. I ground the soybeans by hand and used nigari, which is magnesium chloride. I recall the tofu was very tasty. I will have to try making it again.


Brown on Rice

Our family has been eating brown rice for years and years, and well, years. Whole grains are the mainstay in the food we eat, and we have brown rice five meals a week at least.

We usually ate short-grain, cooking it in a pressure cooker so each grain is open slightly. But our brown rice-eating habits changed after a gift from our friend, Howard, who mailed us two pounds of a Koda Farms’ Kokuho Rose Heirloom medium-grain rice. It is tasty enough to be eaten alone.
The rice is grown by the Koda family at their farm in California. In the late ’20s Keisaburo Koda and his family settled in South Dos Palos in the San Joaquin Valley, where they grew rice. During World War II, the Koda family was sent to an internment camp and the farm was stripped bare in their absence. Afterward, the Koda family rebuilt their farming operation. The third generation has since taken over.
Koda Farms sells varieties of brown and white rice, plus rice flour. Their products are available in natural food stores across the country but unfortunately none are nearby so we order directly from the farm. As their website notes, “it’s not for the unmotivated.” The farm doesn’t accept plastic. It does checks and money orders. So you have to email your order and where you live so they can factor in shipping costs. They email back the total cost and you send a check. You definitely need to plan ahead.
We order 20-pound bags and be forewarned, shipping isn’t cheap. But we use about four cups of rice a week and the bag lasts three months or more. The rice comes with ample instructions to cook it on the stove top or in a rice cooker. Then, there is the delightful postcard included in the order, with the hand-written note from Robin Koda stating, “Thank you for your discernment.”
In all, it’s a fulfilling purchase.

An update: Since I wrote this blog, Koda Farms has changed the size of the bags to 15 pounds, which fits snugly in one of the U.S. Postal Service mailers. The shipping costs have dropped as a result. I am waiting for my latest shipment to arrive any day now. I am down to may last two cups.

Proof of the Pudding

Bread pudding is a wintry tradition in our house. It’s a homey dish that uses leftover bread. Mix it with milk, eggs, dried fruit and nuts,

let it soak and bake. Done.

Years ago, I bought a fluted mold from England to bake my bread pudding. I swirl melted butter inside and then sprinkle it with a little sugar. The mold gives the pudding a nice shape.

The idea is to reuse bread in a creative way. Of course, when the six kids were home, we didn’t have leftover bread. So, I bought bread, cut it into cubes and either let it dry out or bake in the oven for a while to accelerate the process. I actually do the same now, since there are only the two of us, and we don’t eat much bread. I prefer bread with substance like a sourdough or whole wheat. I also use so-called raw sugar found in our local natural foods store.

I don’t measure when I make bread pudding. (The same goes for pies.) But for the purposes of this blog, I did, more or less, when I made bread pudding to take to a Christmas Day dinner. Here goes.

5 cups bread, cubed and dried
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
3 cups milk
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup almonds, cut lengthwise
1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins

Place cubed bread in a large bowl. Mix in 1 cup sugar, milk, beaten eggs and 1/4 cup melted butter. Add spice, nuts, and dried fruit. Press the mixture with a wooden spoon to break down the bread a bit. Let sit 15 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, prepare the mold as I described above using the rest of the melted butter and sugar. If you use a baking dish, butter it.

Bake the pudding covered at 350 degrees for an hour or so. (I set the mold in a pan of water.) Let the pudding cool completely before unmolding. If you bake it in a dish, cut it in squares.

Now what in the heck does it mean “the proof of the pudding is in the eating?” To truly test something you need to experience it first hand. In other words, don’t take another person’s word for it. That includes baking bread pudding.