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Dec 07

The Christmas grandma forgot to cook. First printed in December of 2006 in The Examiner, an eastern Jackson County daily newspaper.

With apologies to author Clement Clark Moore who was thought to have penned  ’The Night Before Christmas’ in 1823. Here’s my take on this delightful Christmas classic poem…

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‘Twas the day before Christmas, when all through the house, the grandkids were running and chasing a mouse.

The stockings, hung by the chimney with care, were falling into the fire before I could get there.

Only one of the grandkids was nestled snug in her bed, while her brother and cousins danced and jumped on their heads.

Papa in his slippers, and I in my wrap, longed to settle down for a cozy afternoon nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, more grandkids arrived to add to the chatter.

Away to the coffee table I flew like a flash, put away vases, pictures and books before they were trashed.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow, meant more kith and kin would come soon with toddlers in tow.

When what to my aging eyes should appear, but a van load of college students with eight cans of beer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be Uncle Rick.

More rapid than eagles, the relatives came, as I whistled and shouted and called them by name:

“Now, Auntie! Now, Uncle! Now, Nephew and Niece! On, Grandpa! On Grandson! On Brother and Sis!”

To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall, Papa whispered, “Dash away! Dash away! Dash away all.”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, the hungry settled round the table ready to eat ‘til they die.

So up to the kitchen, I flew like a flash, threw open the empty cupboards and searched for some cash.

With a purse full of bills and no time to blink, I drove straight to the deli but was soon back at the sink.

There was no food to be had in our little berg; the shops were all closed, the keepers gone home. There was nothing to feed this hungry, wild herd.

And then in a twinkling, I heard in the drive, the screeching and stopping of each giant tire.

As I drew in my head and was turning around, down the chimney the Schwan’s man came with a bound.

A bundle of boxes he had flung on his back, and he looked like a St. Nicholas just opening his pack.

My eyes how they twinkled! My heart how merry! He had entrees, desserts, and even frozen cherries.

He had hams and turkeys, gravy and pie. Casseroles, pizzas, chicken, oh my!

A wink of his eye and a check of his supply, soon gave me to know there was plenty to buy.

There were scalloped potatoes, California blend veggies, green beans and corn, frozen fruits galore, peppermint ice cream and chocolate cake rolls.

He spoke not a word but went straight to his work and filled our fridge, then turned with a jerk.

And laying his finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod, into his yellow truck he rose.

I sprang to the task; serving up the stash, and to my guests gave a whistle.
They flew to the table like down on a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,

“Next year lady, buy your food ahead a fortnight (and don’t forget to cook)!”

Nov 23

Bread is king at Thanksgiving dinners. (From my archived columns, first published in The Examiner on November 24, 2011. The Examiner is a daily newspaper, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.)

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“Bread is the king of the table, and all else is merely the court that surrounds the king. The countries are the soup, the meat, the vegetables, the salad, but bread is king.”

– Louis Bromfield, American novelist, 1896–1956.

Thanksgiving Day is almost here, and dinner smells wonderful, yes it does, but nothing, absolutely nothing, has a finer aroma than light yeast rolls baking in the oven.

Each autumn, as the fourth Thursday in November draws closer, I think a lot about turkey and all the trimmings, including my Dad’s sausage-pecan-apple dressing, a green-bean casserole, fried apples, cranberries, mashed potatoes and turkey gravy, sweet potatoes and a large dollop of whipped cream atop a piece of luscious pumpkin pie.

A Thanksgiving feast could possibly be the most wonderful collection of food one enjoys during the entire year, but since childhood, ‘light’ yeast rolls have been my favorite Thanksgiving Day food.

Yours, too, or perhaps not? Some say yes, some no.

However, I know this to be true, at our house kids pop these heavenly rolls into their mouths like candy. Everyone else around the table eats at least two, and my husband would think the world came to an end if we served Thanksgiving dinner without yeast rolls.

The late Emily Post, renowned newspaper ‘etiquette’ columnist and author, wrote once “bread is like dresses, hats and shoes—in other words, essential!”

When families and friends break bread together, we are indeed sharing an essential food staple that has been a part of our world since the beginning of recorded time.

Bread is important. In fact, noted American chef James Beard once called it the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods.

Out of curiosity, I researched the history of bread and learned, to my surprise, that bread, beer and yeast went hand-in-hand in ancient Egyptian culture, where bread is thought to have first originated. Bread and beer were staples of every meal there. At some point, yeast was accidentally discovered when someone dropped it in the dough, as the story goes. Possibly someone had too much beer, but nevertheless, the rest is history. The Egyptian’s flat, hard crusty bread eventually evolved into light, heavenly manna from heaven.

Today when we think of Thanksgiving dinner, we know that bread is a major element in its own right, but it is also an ingredient in stuffing or dressing, whichever you choose to call it.

Inspired by this talk of yeast rolls and dressing, I decided to search for my Dad’s legendary sausage-pecan-apple dressing recipe and found Grandma’s “light rolls” recipe as well. Two undeniable stars of our turkey dinner this Thanksgiving.

After all, bread is the king of the table.

Note to readers: There are many yeast rolls recipes to be found, and you probably have your favorite, so instead here is my Dad’s aforementioned stuffing recipe in case you would like to try it for your next Thanksgiving dinner. It’s good.

Sausage Dressing with Apples and Pecans
8-10 ounces of sausage, chopped
14 cups dried bread, cut in cubes with crusts removed
1 ½ sticks butter, melted
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onions
4 large apples
3 cups pecans, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh sage
2 teaspoons dried sage
4 large eggs, beaten
5 cups turkey stock, maybe more if needed
Fresh chopped or dried parsley to taste
Dried thyme to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat baking dish with oil or cooking spray. In large skillet, cook sausage. Drain and remove, cool. In bowl, add bread cubes to sausage. Melt butter in skillet and add onions and celery and cook for a 3-4 minutes, add apples and cook two more minutes. Pour this mixture onto bread and sausage mixture. Add seasonings, mix, and finally stir in pecans.

Mix eggs in turkey stock and add to dressing mixture, stirring completely. Sometimes it takes more stock to moisten the mixture. Put in baking dish, cover with foil and bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is slightly browned and crisp, usually takes about 20 more minutes.

Serves 10.

Jul 01

Fourth of July memories– it’s really the patriotism we love, not the potato salad. From my archived columns, first published July 3, 2006, in the Examiner, an eastern Jackson County daily newspaper.

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”

–Erma Bombeck.

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Ah yes, I remember that “iffy” potato salad and the flies, too, at many a Fourth of July celebration of my youth.

The Fourth of July is a happy holiday bringing back delightful memories, but maybe it is more than the family picnics and fireworks that I remember and love.

Maybe it is the patriotism, 1950s style, not the potato salad, that makes it such a happy holiday.

For instance, one of the things I remember most about past Fourth of July celebrations is a television monologue given by the late great comedian Red Skelton in honor of Independence Day.

For younger generations who may not know this, Skelton was a comedian who rose to stardom between the 50s and 70s delighting audiences coast-to-coast with his weekly comedy television show.

After all these years, turns out I remembered very few details about Red Skelton’s then famous “Pledge of Allegiance” monologue. However, I do recall how much I loved his performance at the time.

If you search the Internet, you will find it easily, the YouTube video of Red Skelton’s Pledge of Allegiance, 1950 style.

Skelton tells a story about how his teacher Mr. Laswell of Harrison School in Vincennes, Indiana, felt his students had come to think of the Pledge of Allegiance as merely something to recite, something monotonous.

Mr. Laswell remarked to the students, “If I may, may I recite it and try to explain to you the meaning of each word?” He continued.

“I—meaning me, an individual, a committee of one.

Pledge—dedicate all of my worldly goods to give without self pity.

Allegiance—my love and my devotion.

To the flag—our standard, Old Glory, a symbol of freedom. Wherever she waves, there’s respect because your loyalty has given her a dignity that shouts freedom is everybody’s job!

The United—that means we have all come together.

States of America—individual communities that have united into 48 (now 50) great states; individual communities with pride and dignity and purpose; all divided with imaginary boundaries, yet united to a common purpose, and that is love for country.

And to the republic—a state in which sovereign power is invested in representatives chosen by the people to govern. And government is the people and it is from the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.”

Red Skelton’s entire rendition of Mr. Laswell’s speech is too long for this column.

However, I will share with you here his final admonition to his students, “We are one nation so blessed by God that we are incapable of being divided, which means, boys and girls, it is as much your country as it is mine.”

Yes indeed, it is this kind of patriotism that I love and remember, but not so much the “iffy” potato salad.

Happy Fourth! May it be patriotic and memorable, even if you can’t keep those pesky flies off the potato salad.

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