Aunties M & Em

Thoughts on Faith, Family, Food, & Fun!


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Turkey & Potatoes…Success & Failure

Well, Thanksgiving Day has come and gone.  I love everything about Thanksgiving…time spent with family, being grateful for what God has blessed us with, and, last but certainly not least, the food.  A couple of weeks ago, Diane at White on Rice Couple (one of my favorite blogs), posted about Thanksgiving recipes, both old favorites and new interpretations.  She got me to thinking about the most memorable dishes from throughout the years…both good and, well, not so good.

Several years ago, we decided that since we had all traditional Turkey Day dinners, we would try some twists on traditional dishes.  We were inspired by recipes we found on FoodNetwork.com, like Giada’s Turkey with Herbes de Provence and Citrus and Sweet Potato Gnocchi.  Dad followed the recipe for the turkey pretty much to the letter, except he opted to grill the turkey on his trusty Weber kettle grill.  It looked and smelled delicious!  Right on schedule, Dad pulled the turkey in the roasting pan from the grill, and set it on his grill-side table.  Now, I still don’t know how it exactly happened, but the next thing I know, the turkey and pan are on the driveway…breast side down.  A few irritated words and stunned moments later, Dad picked up the turkey, brushed off the teensy bits of gravel and brought it inside.  That was one of the tastiest birds I’ve ever had!  It earned the moniker “Driveway Turkey”, which we still use to this day when referring to any turkey Dad grills.  I’d say this is a dish that succeeded when it nearly failed!

That same year, I made the sweet potato gnocchi with maple cinnamon sage brown butter.  I had never made gnocchi before, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy they were to make.  The brown butter sauce, on the other hand, was a little trickier, and I’m still not sure I got it quite right.  We couldn’t find fresh sage at the grocery store, so we substituted basil…and boy, did it pop and sizzle when I added it the brown butter!  It kind of caught me off guard, but it was really cool.  Normally, we have leftovers of all the dishes we make, but the sweet potato gnocchi were gobbled up by everyone at dinner!  Success!  Hmmm…I think I need to make it again soon…

Before the Driveway Turkey and Sweet Potato Gnocchi, though, was the first dish we made that is not traditional for our family…the “fail” in this case.  It has become the stuff of legend…Dad’s brother, Jerry, was joining us for Thanksgiving that year…and not a year goes by that he doesn’t mention this dish in some way.  Let me turn this post over to Mom for more information…’cause I try not to think about it if I don’t have to…

Mmmmm…. Emily, we do need for you to make some more Sweet Potato Gnocchi!  It was truly one of the tastiest dishes I’ve ever had!

But now, for the stuff of legend.  Back in the 1990s…and I mean the entire decade… I worked for our local Head Start program.  I made some good friends there and learned to appreciate diversity and family cultures different from my own.

One year we were all talking about our favorite foods for the holidays.  My African-American friends said there are two soul foods that are must-haves for Thanksgiving: sweet potato pie and chitlins.

Now, I’d made sweet potato pie and it is delicious, but I didn’t even know what chitlins were.  My friends went on and on about how good they are and how it wouldn’t be the holidays without them.  So I thought maybe our family should also experience this ultimate soul food fare.

I got the recipe complete with extensive instructions about how to properly clean the chitlins before beginning the cooking process which, by the way, takes several hours. Yes, several hours of steamy goodness filling our home with chitlin anticipation.

According to Wikipedia.org, here’s what we’re talking about:  “Chitterlings (sometimes spelled as pronounced: chitlins or chittlins) are the intestines of a pig, although cattle and other animals’ intestines are similarly used, that have been prepared as food. In various countries across the world, such food is prepared and eaten either as part of a daily diet, or at special events, holidays or religious festivities.”

Let me remind you, I didn’t know what chitlins were even when I was cleaning them.  They were a little weird and slippery, but I kept thinking about how my friends’ eyes sparkled when they were talking about how good they are and so I moved on to the cooking stage.  I followed the recipe exactly with every ingredient my friends used and turned on the stove.  Soon this very, shall we say, “interesting” aroma filled the kitchen.  I thought that maybe it had to cook out of the chitlins…surely it would taste better.

Well, long story short, my brother-in-law Jerry was with us that year for Thanksgiving, we did have chitlins on the dinner table and, in the spirit of friends, family and cultural diversity, we all did take a taste.  Oh my word!  Let’s just say, we decided chitlins must be an acquired taste that we really didn’t want to acquire!

Every Thanksgiving the legendary chitlins get talked about and remembered.  I’m pretty sure they’ll be talking about them at my funeral and, who knows…maybe at the heavenly banquet table!

Even though chitlins may not be one of our cultural specialties, they are treasured and appreciated by many around the world!  I encourage you and your family to try something new for the holidays or any day.  You never know…it may become the stuff of legend!


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Crazy…Wacky…Tomato…Tomahto…

I’ve been on and off a diet to lose weight since I was 11 years old.  Back then my Mother counted calories for me, as well as for my Dad and herself.  She made it easy for us and we always had tasty meals.  In the 40+ years since then I’ve been on countless diet plans or programs.

A few years ago though a new wrinkle emerged in my dietary needs.  I became lactose intolerant.  It has been a challenge to navigate the world of American food where cow’s milk is a staple ingredient.

In the whole scheme of life though, being lactose intolerant is small potatoes compared to what other folks I know have to deal with.  Gluten intolerance, diabetes, nut allergies, and on and on…these dietary needs make life much more of a challenge and I must give credit to families for all they go through to provide healthy and tasty meals for themselves and their children.

My daughter-in-law, Jessi, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the spring of 2011. She had two surgeries, had to go on a low-iodine diet, and then endure a radioactive iodine treatment (complete with days of isolation) to get rid of the cancer. When she was pronounced cancer-free, it was a high-five-supercalifragilisticexpialidocious kind of day!!  Now just over a year later, she is back on the low-iodine diet again to prepare for a low-dose radioactive iodine scan to confirm her cancer-free-ness.  We are confident for a good report, but once again we are exploring the world of low-iodine cooking. 

It’s pretty obvious that on a low-iodine diet she can’t have iodized salt.  But I’ll bet you didn’t know that all sea salt and sea food from the ocean, as well as all dairy products and most soy products are also not permitted on this diet.  She can have the insides of a potato, but not the skin; an egg white, but not the yolk.  It’s very interesting and challenging to say the least.  The use of salt in pre-packaged foods is universal and since we don’t know if the manufacturer uses iodized salt or not, none of them are permitted. 

So Jessi and Greg are making everything from peanut butter to tomato sauce to chicken stock from scratch.  They are making some wonderful recipes, but it’s a lot of work.  I give them lots and lots of credit for all that work!  They are good cooks, but like most of us, they’re not used to making everything from scratch.  Yet, here they are doing it and doing it well.

We were happily surprised when, in the Low-Iodine Cookbook from ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, what should we find but our family’s absolute favorite made from scratch cake recipe!!!  It’s the very first recipe my Mother taught me to make and I taught it to Emily and Greg when they were kids learning to bake.  We call it Crazy Cake.  The Low-Iodine Cookbook calls it Wacky Cake.  Either way, it’s so delicious and so easy to make.  And it’s low-iodine!!!  Woo-hoo!!!  Here’s the recipe:

Crazy Cake

3 cups flour                 2 tablespoons vinegar
2 cups sugar               2 tsp vanilla
6 tablespoons cocoa   3/4 cup oil
1 tsp salt                      2 cups water*
2 tsp baking soda

Sift the cocoa to get rid of any lumps.  Combine all ingredients by hand using a large whisk. Don’t over mix.  Spray 9 x 13 pan with non-stick spray or grease & flour pan.  Bake at 350º for 30-40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out almost clean.  Don’t over-bake.

*To enhance the chocolate flavor, I use one cup water and one cup strong brewed coffee. This is a recently added option.

If you want to turn this cake out of the pan, be sure to use parchment paper on the pan bottom in addition to the non-stick spray.

This cake is delicious dusted with powdered sugar.  Almond flavored buttercream icing is also really good!

If you or a family member struggles with dietary issues, I wish you well.  If the Crazy Cake above is something you can eat, give it a try!  It’s really, really good and will put a smile on your face!


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The Wild Blue Yonder

Today is Veterans’ Day, a fantastic opportunity to thank the veterans in our lives, and to remember those who are no longer with us.  I would like to take this time to thank the servicemen in my family: my Papa, Uncle Jim, Uncle Jerry, Darren, Eric, Brian, Jordan, Christopher, and Jonathan.  (If I have left anyone out, it was not intentional.)  With this in mind, I wanted to share one of the things Steven and I did this year.

On September 16, we attended the Scott Air Force Base (SAFB) air show.  SAFB is located near Shiloh, Illinois, and holds the air show pretty much every year.  Including my college years, I’ve lived in this area for 16 years, and this was the first year I attended the show.  What on earth was I waiting for?!  It was amazing!

We had decided to attend the air show several days before we went.  The first thing I like to do when planning an outing is some research.  Having lived in this area for more than a decade, I already knew and understood the value to the surrounding community, but I wanted to get some more information on the show and the base itself.  The base was originally named Scott Field when it was opened in 1917, as one of the first aviation stations built to support the US effort in World War I.  From the start, Scott has enjoyed the support of the local community, who “hosted dances and receptions, established a library branch on the field, and invited soldiers into their homes for Thanksgiving dinners” (source: Scott Factsheets).   Scott Field, in turn, hosted its first air show, called Field Meet and Flight Exhibition, on August 17, 1918 and invited the public.  If you haven’t done the math yet, SAFB is celebrating its 95th anniversary this year!  Currently, Scott has roughly 7,900 active duty, National Guard, and Reserve personnel assigned.  It also employees over 5,000 Federal civilian employees.  The base also creates local jobs indirectly – more than 6,500 jobs!  I didn’t grow up in a military family, so I have always been intrigued by living so close to a military base, and what that means to the community.

The Air Show itself was very interesting.  Once we walked from parking to the show (it felt like a million miles, but I think it was just 2 or so), they had different planes parked on the airstrip, and you could tour some of them!  We walked through only one, a cargo plane, and the most surprising thing I saw was a pine tree-shaped air freshener!  I don’t know why, but it just cracked me up.  You could also get up close to lots of different planes, such as fighter jets and antique planes.  They even had Air Force One!  No tours through it, though…  Oh well!

The pinnacles of the show were the in-air demonstrations.   The announcer described everything, from the type of plane to the pilot to the maneuvers.  We saw a parachute squad, a B2 stealth bomber, and more.  The headlining group, though, were The Thunderbirds.  One word – Amazing.  Now, I’ve watched Top Gun dozens of times, and am always amazed at the maneuvers the pilots pull off in the film.  But to see, hear and feel it in person…wow.  There’s nothing like it.  In fact, my emotions caught up with me.  The announcer would talk about how the pilots might use a particular maneuver in combat, and the truth of it all hit me.  On that day, I was able to see the pilots complete maneuvers that they had been trained to use in defense of our country.  In defense of me and you.  All of a sudden, the tears came at the thought of their sacrifices…and not just the potential for the ultimate sacrifice, but sacrificing time with their loved ones while I was spending time with mine.

Attending the air show was an amazing adventure, one that I will surely repeat in the future.  If you live anywhere near SAFB (and we saw a bus from Kentucky), you should attend the air show at least once.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Note: For some reason, I can’t figure out how to upload my pictures from Flikr…so here’s a link to the set: SAFB Air Show 2012.