A very Special Dinner

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

Imagine that a very special person will be visiting you soon. Maybe this is someone you were once close to, but life sent you along different paths. This is a person—or possibly a couple or a family—that you haven’t seen in a long time. Now they will become a guest at your home. You aren’t worried about the reunion. You will hug and have tons of news and memories to share. Conversation won’t be a problem!

Here is your challenge: you have to decide what meal you will prepare. You want to put out the best meal you can. You wouldn’t consider a catered meal, even if you could order a terrific restaurant meal. That just wouldn’t be personal enough. You want the meal to reflect your respect and affection for your old friend.

I used to have such a meal. The main recipe was given to me by a fascinating man I met only once. Dan Brennan was a novelist and professional tennis player who lived most of his life in Minneapolis. Before the US joined the Allies in World War Two, Dan traveled to England to volunteer as a fighter pilot for the RAF. Amazingly, he survived the war. He told me he married “a girl from the English countryside.” She was the source of the recipe for this pheasant dumpling pie.

That recipe looks a bit odd to me now. It includes a wonderful made-from-scratch white sauce with several store-bought ingredients (including Pillsbury biscuit dough from a tube, frozen broccoli from a box and a pie crust from a box mix). When I was a hunter the dish inevitably starred pheasant meat, but over the years I began substituting chicken thigh meat, and both were wonderful.

I always cooked this dish in a heavy crockery casserole dish. At the bottom of the pie was broccoli, carrots, onion and the meat. Everything floated in a white sauce made from pheasant stock, whipping cream, pimiento, flour and several whole peppercorns. (I came to regard the whole peppercorns as the secret ingredient that made the sauce work.) Chunks of raw biscuit dough were placed on top, then a double-thick pie crust went over everything. After baking, the chunks of dough puffed up and became flavorful dumplings. When I was learning to cook I saw nothing strange about the recipe. Although the cook was incompetent, the pheasant dumpling pie was never less than spectacular.

The dish was perfect for our special guests. It was something nobody could order at a restaurant. Pheasants have been prominent throughout my life, starting when I was three, so I never found a more appropriate dish to serve guests in my home. We entertained frequently. Half-jokingly, we referred to our little bungalow as Grooms Rooms, as if we were in the hospitality business. We even had that name on a signboard on the front of the house. Pheasant dumpling pie was the signature dish at Grooms Rooms.

The rest of the meal varied little over the years. We served our pheasant pie with baguettes of French bread, a good light red wine and wild rice cooked with nuts and bits of onion. You might wonder: shouldn’t poultry be served with a white wine? Yes, usually. But pheasant is not exactly a delicate meat. A light red seemed better to us. A frequent desert was pecan pie with cinnamon ice cream.

What would you serve for a really special guest?

 

 

 

 

Too Hot to Handle

I didn’t start cooking until I moved into my first apartment. My mom doesn’t like to cook and when I became a vegetarian at 16, the few things she could cook became out of bounds for me.  She had 2 cookbooks all the time I was growing up, Joy of Cooking and The Betty Crocker Cookie Book.  So I wasn’t surprised when she gave me a copy of Joy when I set up my first kitchen.  It wasn’t too useful for a beginning vegetarian so it was joined quickly by Enchanted Broccoli Forest and Laurel’s Kitchen.

I didn’t cook with too many exotic ingredients back then – nothing even remotely “different” made its way into my mom’s kitchen so I didn’t have any experience with the out-of-the-ordinary. I don’t remember the first time I cooked with a jalapeno or any other hot pepper, but it’s been at least 30+ years and now they are a staple at our house.

So you would think that I know better by now about handling hot peppers. Just one Mucho Nacho (a type of jalapeno).  I cut the seeds and inner veins out, thinking about the capsicum all the while.  Then I apparently turned my brain off, because after I dumped the peppers into the pan, I just kept working instead of washing my hands.  Within 10 minutes I had touched my lips in two places, licked a finger and gotten the juice under my thumbnail as well.  Paper towel soaked in milk helped the lips, held the thumb in the milk for 5 minutes and then drank the rest.  Aaaahhhhh.

What lesson do you wish you would learn? Or took you too long to learn?

 And does anybody need a hot pepper or two on Sunday???

Ben’s Rampage

I was sad to read in the Rock County Star Herald, a weekly paper from my home town to which I subscribe, that the Hills Crescent newspaper is ceasing publication. Hills is a small town southwest of Luverne, and the Star Herald, which owns the Crescent, decided to close it down. They promise that Hills and Beaver Creek news and issues will be covered in the Star Herald.

The Crescent was in publication for 126 years. It was started in 1893 and had 200 subscribers when it started. The first press they used was a Rampage brand press that had been previously owned by Ben Franklin! It was the oldest press machine in the US at the time. I think that is so cool! It only printed one page at a time. I have no idea where it got its name. It doesn’t sound like it rampaged at that pace.

Our current town newspaper only publishes Tuesday through Saturday.  It is delivered by the Post Office, so we sometimes don’t get the paper until late in the afternoon. Were it not for the local court news and the comics, we probably wouldn’t subscribe. I envy people who live somewhere they can get a real paper every day.

What are your favorite and least favorite newspapers?

Objects of Fascination

It happened again. Husband and I were weeding in the front yard veggie garden when a car pulled up and the driver got out. He introduced himself as a new neighbor from down the block. Then,  he asked the inevitable question “What are those”?

By “those” he was referring to our metal bean poles. We regularly  get questions about them, what is growing on them, and why we use them.  It surprises me that those poles and their beans are such objects of wonder for people.  I like answering the inquiries.  I told the 3 and 5 year old neighbor children that they are the beans from “Jack and the Beanstalk”,  and that they should keep  a eye out for giants. They tell me excitedly whenever I see them that they are. Sometimes I tell people we use them to communicate with aliens. Some realize I am joking. Others just give me an odd look. Keep them guessing, I say!

What do you wonder about your friends, neighbors, and relations that you are are afraid to ask?

Oops!

After my father-in-law’s funeral last week,  Husband and his two siblings divided up the memorabilia. There was no quarreling or hard feelings or difficulties. Husband got lots of photos, an Ohio State sweatshirt, an acrylic painting of willows on the Sheboygan River that his mother had done years ago, and two beer steins that his dad and stepmother had bought in Germany and Austria.

We decided that our son should have the steins. He was back at the hotel when all this dividing up happened, and when we got back to the hotel I marched up to his room, a stein in each hand, knocked on the door, and enthusiastically announced “Bier Her!!”  A total stranger answered the door. I was at the wrong room on the wrong floor! The middle aged female occupant was very nice about it, and we laughed, but my did I feel embarrassed.

Tell about a time you were embarrassed. Any interesting stories about dividing up things after a funeral?

Questions and Answers

Because I have control issues, and because I am a better driver, and because Husband doesn’t like to drive our van, I do almost all the driving.  He says he doesn’t mind being a perpetual passenger.

Living out here means we have to drive long distances to get to places. There is something restful about driving miles and miles in a remote area. I can relax and clear my head. It also gives me and Husband time to have good conversations.  I am fortunate that Husband likes to do research, because when my mind is not focused on work or duties at home, I start wondering about things I see when we travel and ask Husband what the answers might be.   I should also add that when I pose questions, he won’t stop researching until he has an answer. I wonder about the music we listen to (What is the story behind Faure’s Pelleas and Melisande, and how many requiems did Faure write?”), or the terrain we are passing through, or any number of stray topics.

This trip, I somehow started thinking about General Custer, and what routes he took through ND and SD on his first Black Hills expedition. We were driving in the vicinity when we traveled to Denver, so Husband dutifully looked up the route on his phone. Then I started to wonder, “What route did he take to the Little Bighorn”?, since he left from Mandan where he was the commander of Fort Lincoln. Did he go straight west, or did he follow the river boat that took his supplies from Mandan up the Missouri to what is now Williston, ND, where the boat turned south on the Yellowstone River to get close to the Big Horn River. Husband looked that up, too. Custer probably traveled right through our town on his way to Montana. and met up with the boat after it got to the Big Horn.   This led to a lot of discussion on the use of flat bottomed river boats on the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers and the part they played in transporting cannons and equipment.

The only problem with researching while we drive through remote areas is the spotty phone service, but when you have hundreds of miles to travel, there is no rush to find answers, and every so often there is a cell phone tower.

What questions have you had lately? What would you like to research? How do you pass the time on long drives?

White or Brown?

Husband and I recently drove to Denver for his father’s  funeral.  Denver is a 10 hour drive for us, so we stopped in Newcastle, WY as a half-way point there and back. Newcastle is an old mining town, and still is dominated by extraction industries.  It has some beautiful scenery, and lots of wildlife. Mule deer wander around on Main Street. There are elk nearby.

We ate at a pizza and steak house the first night we stayed in Newcastle. I ordered a sirloin with mashed potatoes. The waitress asked me “white or brown?” I was a little puzzled by the question, but assumed that she was referring to the type of potato I wanted my mashed potatoes made from. It made me think that I was dining in a pretty fancy establishment that took such care with mashed potatoes. I  said “white”.  Imagine my surprise when my meal arrived with a nice steak and a lofty pile of mashed potatoes smothered in gloppy white gravy. White and brown in this restaurant refer to gravy, not potato varieties! I want only butter on my mashed potatoes, and I left the potatoes untouched and concentrated on my steak.

I talked with relatives at the funeral about my gravy debacle, and the only one who had experience with “white or brown” was a step-nephew  by marriage from Texas.  Something was lost in translation for me in Newcastle, but now that I know what the code means, I can order mashed potatoes with confidence!

When have things been lost in translation for you? How do you like your mashed potatoes? How do you make mashed potatoes?

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