Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving: Yes Virginia... It is a Real Important Holiday....And the Food!!!

A few days ago a friend I was out with made mention that she was getting overwhelmed by the holidays and all the flurry around them. She then said "As soon as December starts it's all over for me". I looked at her and said well, this week is Thanksgiving aren't you already a little overwhelmed. To which she replied, "Oh Thanksgiving isn't a real holiday". "It's just a day that people overeat and then sit around wishing they were dead and undoing their pants, while they watch sports".

I was shocked but as I asked around what people thought of this line of thinking, several concurred. They thought of Thanksgiving as a non significant holiday and a tradition celebrating American gluttony. I was actually shocked by this. I mean not one of them said, "I don't celebrate Thanksgiving". Not one of them said, "I am not going to overeat and sit around and watch the game". But it was more that none of it had any meaning for them that made me really shocked. I mean, if there if a real American holiday, it would be Thanksgiving in my book.

Not even the Fourth of July has as much clout for me. Thanksgiving is the original day set aside to remember how blessed we are not only in this land but in our lives. The fourth commemorates our country's independence and individual liberty. Thanksgiving commemorates our Country's very survival and Being as well as our individual and collective happiness. If the Pilgrims had not survived the winter and stayed the course in settling here. There would be no USA, no fourth of July, nothing we know as our country would be here.

Is it a made up holiday as we know it today? Absolutely it is! But what holiday isn't. The importance of any holiday depends on what meaning we attach to it. So that is what I set out to think about for myself and the following is what I discovered.

Thanksgiving means many things to many people. For me it is perhaps my favorite holiday. Bigger than Christmas, Easter, New Years, Halloween, etc. etc. And not just because of the food element although of course for me that plays a big roll. The reason it is my favorite holiday is because it makes me stop and ponder such questions as, where am I in my life and the process of living it? Am I happy? Who is important to me? Who do I love and how am I showing it? Who do I remember as being important to me in my past? And Who came before me and made all this possible? What memories and stories of those who came before me do I have? Am I aware of being grateful to them? Am I aware that because of them I have a better life? Am I loving those who are present in my life not just on this day, but everyday?

Thanksgiving is a looking back holiday yes, however it should also be a looking at the now holiday. It is in short a national day of reflection. Reflection over what we have. What we have been given. What we are grateful for and why. It is also a nod to the past. And all those who made it possible for us to enjoy what we have today. It sort of rolls the intention behind all national holidays into one, Memorial Day, Labor Day, The 4th of July, Veterans Day and so forth. Not because those should not be celebrated separately, but because all of them are about gratitude. And Thanksgiving is ultimately about gratitude.

So if Thanksgiving is about more than just national gratitude, how do we make it personal. Well we can make it about being together with people we love and care about. We can make it about celebrating family and friends. Maybe just maybe it's about taking a day and instead of looking at the glass as being half empty, choosing to look at it as half full. In short affirming the positive and the uplifting and sidestepping for a day the temptation to compare and despair and be resentful about anything.

And of course Thanksgiving is about food and bounty and celebrating that bounty. However, I think it's important to recognize that the original intention of celebrating bounty by the Pilgrims was to celebrate having survived a grim and deadly Winter and a hard year. It was not about excess. It was about working through whatever obstacles were in the way. It was perhaps the celebration of the original American work ethic and celebrating the fruits of that ethic. The same work ethic that has been driving this country ever since. Work hard, reap rewards and give back. Those values continue today.
So I think Thanksgiving should be a very meaningful holiday to us as Americans. Not only on a national level but also very much on an individual level.

So this year as you are sitting down to your feast in whatever fashion you might do that. Eating to much and watching the game. Gathering with family and friends maybe, or even just by yourself. Take a moment to be grateful.  Give thanks for something that means something to you. Make it personal and make it positive. Let go of fear, doubt, resentment, and anger for one afternoon and look at whatever God, the Universe or higher power energy you might believe in hath done. Acknowledge that just for you. And be grateful. Peace Ya'll!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Late Summer Yellow Tomato Sauce Makes For A Very Yummy Dish

It's that time of year again.You know my favorite time, Fall. The snap in the air happened last week. This time of year always reminds me of three things. Switzerland, College and the Shenandoah Valley, or the first day of school as a kid. I mean those are all random things I realize but the Fall brings memories from those places out. It's a time when we start to draw in closer as the chill demands we spend more time inside. It's a time of great transitional beauty. For the autumn leaves never linger too long. So they must be enjoyed when they happen. A lesson in living in the now. And of course it brings out the cozy fall and late summer recipes using the last of the season's bounty or relishing the new heartier crops which will see us into winter. For some reason tomatoes are a vegetable that transcends Summer and embraces fall. Moving from summer tomato salads and salsas to soup and sauces. And where there is tomato sauce there is Italian food.

Now I was raised in a Southern American home. Not an Italian American one. And like most Americans in the 1960's and 70's we did not know from Italian food. Spaghetti and Meatballs or Red Sauce and Lasagna were the dishes that we really knew about. There were others like Chicken Parmesan and of course Italian Salad dressing via the "Good Seasons" dressing mix. But for the most part Italian food in all it's glory was not a known quantity unless you lived in the northeast or near some Little Italy in some larger city.

As I have said before on this blog my Italian food epiphany came when I was in Switzerland. It was there as a young man I made acquaintance with a a lovely young family from the Italian part of Switzerland who took me under their wing and taught me all about making delicious Italian food at home. Lasgana and Spaghetti were never the same. And the new dishes like polenta and gnocchi gained a place in my appreciation of all things Italian.

Now while I learned a great many new things I also learned that spaghetti sauce has various incarnations ingredients and flavor profiles. But the classic sauce that American Italian home cooks transformed into what we know today as American Style Spaghetti and meat sauce was a sauce called Bolognese sauce. Classic Bolognese sauce which is credited to the city of Bologna in Italy is a rich vegetable laden tomato sauce flavored with wine into which is incorporated ground veal, pork or beef. It's rich hearty consistency makes it perfect with tube pasta such as penne or long flat noodles such as tagliatelle and even in some versions has a touch of cream in it to enhance it's rich meaty flavor and mouth feel. It is pretty much what we as Americans would consider Spaghetti sauce or Ragu although our version bears little resemblance to the original sauce.

I have been a fan ever since I first tasted it and have tried over the years to come up with a version that I can call my own. This version I believe takes a solid version of this sauce and turns it a little bit on it's head with the addition of yellow tomatoes as a base for the sauce. I first encountered yellow tomato sauce when I ate at Butter in NYC. I thought it was very cool to see this contrast in color with what we normally think of as Tomato sauce. As many of you who read my blog know I am a big fan of color in food. I love it when food make a statement by merely showing up on your plate. And making spaghetti sauce with yellow or orange tomatoes will certainly achieve that for you.

The other element that I like to add to this sauce is the use of Italian Sausage in the sauce instead of plain old ground beef. I just think it gives the sauce a lift. And to balance the sweetness of the yellow tomatoes I like to add touch of vinegar to give the sauce a background flavor. And of course to add richness a good measure of olive oil.

So here is my humble recipe. It's not fussy I don't remove the skins from the tomatoes or strain it or anything crazy. But it does require a little prep and patience. I hope you enjoy Ya'll.

Forrest's Yellow Tomato Bolognese Sauce for Pasta

  • 4 lbs yellow and orange cherry tomatoes, larger cherry tomatoes cut in half (skins will not be a problem if you use larger tomatoes you will have to blanch and peel them.
  • 4 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery minced
  • 6 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 teaspoons fresh basil chopped divided ( some for garnish)
  • 1/2 cup white or vermouth
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  •  1 pound ground Italian Sausage or sausages removed from the casings.
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil
  • 1/8 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese divided
Heat oil in a medium sized sauce pan. Add onion, carrots and celery and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes. Then add the garlic, and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until garlic blooms and all else has begun to soften. Add tomatoes, basil, wine and salt, and stir well to combine ingredients. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat for 1 hour, 15 minutes, stirring frequently to help break down the tomatoes. You can use the back of a wooden spoon to help break down the tomatoes as they cook.
In the meantime in another pan cook off sausage and drain the fat off. hold till ready to combine.
Once the tomato sauce is done cooking remove from heat. Divide the sauce 1/2 and 1/2. Take the one 1/2 and place in a blender. Whirl till smooth then with motor running slowly add the vinegar, the parmesan and the then the olive oil. Process till smooth.
In a pot combine the pureed sauce with the remaining sauce and stir in the sausage and cream. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Reheat and serve over your favorite pasta.Garnish with more fresh basil and cheese.  Enjoy Ya'll!!