Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A stranger in a strange land*

Like the first Europeans to settle on these shores, my older son is giving thanks on foreign soil. And while it's sure to be strange for him,  I'm surprised at how odd I feel that he's not going to be here. I guess I could prepare myself only so much 'til Reality had it's charming way of hitting me upside the head.

I shouldn't be surprised really, I mean Reality's been having it's way with me for quite some time now. But does anything prepare a parent - a mom especially - for a the first child to head off to college? In another country no less?

No. Pure and simple, the answer is no.

With my mother-in-law's solid love and support, she and I brought him to Ireland, got him settled, shook our heads in wonder as he shopped for various sports jerseys, watched as he took the training wheels off his alcohol consumption - yes, it's legal for him to drink there - and generally marveled at his maturity.

I was prepared to cry the night before our flight home, but I didn't. I just didn't feel sad...I started to miss him the minute he wrestled himself free from my hug...but I was so happy, so proud of the man who got out of the car with barely a backwards glance. And I knew we were both ready for this next phase of his life to begin.

And while Ireland has always felt like Home to him, it's here - roughly 3200 miles away from our home - that tomorrow he will sit among other American students, most of whom are strangers to him, and between classes, partake of this iconic American holiday with Thanksgiving lunch served in a campus pub courtesy of the University's International Office's MotherHens.

How odd this must be for him.

With that in mind, and the bubbles reminding me to use that butternut squash and quick, I decided to make Thanksgiving Chili earlier this week. Yeah, it's a goofy name...but it's more of a riff on chili than it is Thanksgiving: The squash replaces the tomato chunks and the beer replaces the tomato sauce....

Here goes:

-Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
-Peel, seed and cube a hefty (~3 lbs) butternut squash - or just buy it done for you - and toss it in about 2 T olive oil, a nice sprinkle of salt, white pepper, ground cumin and dried sage.
-Place in single layer on baking tray and roast for about 15-20 minutes or until tender...but NOT mushy! on pan when done.
-Mince 3 large garlic cloves and chop a medium yellow onion and saute til soft in olive oil in a heavy pot.
-Add 1 lb ground turkey and break it up as you saute and cook it through.
-Season with 1 t salt, a half t white pepper, a quarter t each dried sage and ground cumin and a half t chili powder.
-Add the squash and all the drippings on the pan, 1 14-oz can butter beans (or cannellini) with their liquid, about 3/4 of a bottle of lager beer and 3 dried chipotle chilis cut into thin strips (use kitchen shears, it's much easier) and discard the really tough tops and some seeds - the more seeds you use, the spicier the chili will be.
-Optional Ingredient: Stir in about 10 pre-cooked chestnuts (halved).
-Simmer about 20 minutes and if it's too liquidy for you, break up 1 to 2 slices of bread and pop it in to absorb and thicken the sauce and simmer another 10 minutes to break down the bread.

This freezes well, so I set some aside for when my Dill gets home and gives me the lowdown on Thanksgiving in Ireland...

This Thanksgiving Eve, many friends are enjoying the relaxed company of their kids home from college...some others have an empty seat - because of work or school - just like me...So, if you're one of the former, would you give those kid(s) who walked in the door with tons of laundry and a hearty appetite an extra hug on behalf of those of us whose kids are still too far away? We'd really appreciate it...

And, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

*An update from the Auld Sod: My Stranger in a Strange Land opted to forgo the MotherHens' feast and chose instead to cook Thanksgiving dinner for his new chums! OK, so it turned out to be turkey sandwiches and stuffing and maybe pie too. Apparently the market didn't offer turkey parts for roasting, but Hey! Dill hosted 6 Irish lads and/or lasses for a taste of our tradition...and I know he gave thanks for having true friends around. And in a stroke of serendipity, the care package (with food and homemade peanut butter cookies, of course!) I sent just 3 days before - on the slowest airplane the USPS has - arrived 10 days early, on Thanksgiving Day. And for that tiny bit of home in his faraway dorm, I am grateful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's all about flexibility

And not the ballet or Pilates or tai chi kind either. After all, we're talkin food's about knowing your pantry: What's on hand and what does it taste like.

Ah, nuthin like a heavy snow in October to abruptly bring on the desire for foods with the cozy factor of a thick down comforter. That's why I needed - yeah baby, needed! - creamy clam chowder that snowy Sunday. And while I had a lot of the provisions, I knew I needed to run out for cream, clam juice and celery. What I didn't know was that I didn't have everything from the original recipe I devised...because someone had failed to restock the pantry! Uh, yeah, that 'someone' is me, she types sheepishly. Doh!

So cue Flexibility, 'cuz I wasn't settling for anything else for dinner.

Now I knew off the bat that I was gonna start with some substitutions. First of all, Jere doesn't do seafood, so I planned to skim away some soup before adding the clams, throwing in some frozen corn and calling it a day. And second of all, I had 2 (6.5 oz) tins of (Trader Joe's in case you need to find some) whole cherrystone clams that would replace the fresh ones. But the rest of it I had to do on the fly...

I'll give you my Original version and put the Snowy Substitutions in green.

Here goes:

-In a sturdy stock pot (but not your biggest, save that for the soup), steam 3 dozen fresh little neck and 1 dozen cherry stone clams in a half cup to a cup of dry white wine. Some may take their sweet time to open, but don't pry 'em and if any don't open they're bad so: Pitch 'em!!

-When done, put the clams in a bowl to cool and add 3 8-oz bottles of clam juice to the pot.
(Snowy Substitution: crack open your tins - using 2 was good, using 3 would be better! and I think I had better yield than using the fresh ones, but anyway - and drain liquid into same type of sturdy stock pot and add bottled clam juice. Oh, and I didn't get enough clam juice when I went to the store, so I fortified with chicken broth...big whoop.)

-Cut 2 large potatoes into about 1/2-inch on is our preference, but hey, who am I to stop you from peeling 'em if you like doing the extra work and getting fewer nutrients?...and simmer in the clammy liquid til just tender.

-Meanwhile, in your fave large soup pot saute about 4 slices of bacon (applewood smoked is the standard around here now) that you've cut into 1/2-inch lardons until the fat is rendered and they are crispy. Remove the bacon and set aside.

-As the bacon's cooking, remove the clams from their shells saving as much liquid as you can (it's the Good Stuff!) and cut the larger ones in half. (Snowy Substitution: the tinned clams were all the larger size so I cut 'em all in half.)

-Add 2 T butter to the fat and sweat 4 minced garlic cloves with 1 medium diced onion (Snowy Substitution: 1 large shallot for the onion) for a couple minutes to get 'em started then add 2 chopped celery stalks. (This is so the celery doesn't quite turn to mush.) Add a little - as in small pinch - salt and white pepper.

-When translucent, add 2 T flour to make a roux.

-Whisk in the stock from the potato pot (you could've either put the potatoes into a bowl when they were done or pour the stock through a strainer so they don't plop into the soup - it all depends on timing and how much room there is in the dishwasher).

-(Snowy Substitution: since I didn't use white wine to steam the clams, I poured in about 2 T brandy at this point to round out the flavors. Ya know what? A splash of tequila would work here too.)

-Add 3 sprigs fresh thyme (Snowy Substitution: mince the leaves of 2 fresh rosemary sprigs), 1 quart cream, 1 t hot sauce (Snowy Substitution: about a quarter t cayenne) and the reserved potatoes.

-(Snowy Substitution: if catering to a non-clammy crowd, now's the time to add about a half cup frozen corn kernels and pull out 1 or 2 servings into a smaller pot to keep warm. Hey, if ya wanna add the corn with the clams, Go for it! It's just a Variation on a Theme.)

-Add the clams and their accumulated juices, season with a touch more salt and white pepper *if necessary!!* The clams and bacon are already salty, so you may not need it. Simmer about 15 mins and serve either version with some of the bacon on top.

(Leftovers are really good and it freezes well too!)

After being so rigid about what I wanted to eat, I knew I had to be flexible in how I got there... Compromise comes in every flavor doesn't it? And it's tasty too! (Especially with the French Bread I had made earlier in the day...but I'll save that tale for another day!)