Opinion: Holiday musings from a foodie
WHY WE LIVE HERE
Free Press Opinion Columnist
I love recipes. I read cookbooks cover to cover and like nothing better than to sit down with a new cooking magazine and a cup of coffee on a quiet Sunday morning.
Recipes are our history, and the locavore movement of the last decade really helped define America’s food culture by region. There is a huge movement in the South to save old recipes and techniques that have become what we know today as southern cooking — a combination of slave recipes brought from Africa, and the ingredients and spices available in the South at that time.
Of course, even southern cooking is vastly different from state to state and even town to town. Take a trip sampling gumbos across Louisiana and you’ll quickly see what I mean.
I’m currently reading James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock’s new cookbook, “Heritage.” Sean Brock’s Charleston restaurant, Husk, only sources ingredients south of the Mason Dixon line and has elevated southern cuisine to a place it has never been before in the global discussion of food. His reintroduction of heirloom varietals of peas and rice are bringing recipes back to original preparation standards, not to mention opening up a healthy discussion on the influence of African culture in southern history.
At the same time, Portland, Ore., has become a food-obsessed mecca, pushing the cooking world forward (I’d bet money the bacon craze started there), hitting on food trends, and just as quickly dismissing them faster than the rest of us can keep up. Kale is so last year.
A little closer to home, it’s exciting to see what’s happening in Denver’s food scene — with 40 new restaurants opening up this past July alone. I’d love to see some of that food culture spill over to the Western Slope, where so much of Denver’s food is sourced.
PREPARING THANKSGIVING MEAL
This week, I sat down with our family cookbook to organize our Thanksgiving menu. Fourteen years ago, my aunt gathered all the family recipes into a book she gifted to each of us. It is one of my most cherished possessions, and I love how so many different recipes from so many different places have been woven together to create our own unique family history. It’s also stuffed to the gills with my favorite recipes collected over the past decade from friends, magazines, newspapers, and websites.
Like many families, our Thanksgiving menu is made up of dishes we make every year without fail, as well as new recipes we introduce and try out. I have yet to hit on the perfect stuffing (or dressing as it’s called in the South), but of course I’ll try it again this year. We always make my mom’s pineapple yams, a recipe passed down from my grandmother that always makes me think I should don a house dress, whip up a martini, and watch a few more episodes of “Mad Men.” The yam recipe is the dish that I bring when invited to someone else’s Thanksgiving. In the early 1990s, we added our friend Marilyn Hammonds’ cornbread souffle to the lineup, which is consistently so yummy and simple that it has been passed on to many of our friends and extended family. My Aunt Cynthia, the genius behind the family cookbook, caused quite the scandal in the late 1990s when she actually made her own fresh cranberry sauce in lieu of the canned sauce. It took years of discussion, arguments and persistence before the can of jellied cranberry sauce lost its exalted place at the table and my aunt’s homemade sauce became the staple. Even my dad has made the transition, which is saying a lot.
My mother-in-law, Lynden, was a locavore long before it was a thing. Living in fertile, western Oregon, she cooks directly from her half-acre kitchen garden most of the year, adding either lamb or beef from their farm along with venison and elk harvested by my father-in-law during hunting season. Lynden taught me to can. She is also the queen of pies, whether it’s her famous rhubarb-custard pie in the summer or her pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I see no reason to improve either, and I have been using her pie recipes since I married her son 13 years ago.
Having a rather nomadic existence up until we moved to Colorado four years ago, I’ve experienced Thanksgiving traditions all over the United States and beyond. Of course, most Thanksgivings were spent with family, no matter where we lived. We’d spend two days preparing a huge meal, hanging out together, and watching football.
Twice I skipped Thanksgiving and went into New York City for the Thanksgiving Day Parade, an event worth doing once in your lifetime. In Louisiana, we had turkey gumbo instead of a roasted turkey as well as oysters and champagne. In New York of all places, a neighbor smoked our turkey. In North Carolina, we took up turkey frying — a tradition we brought to Oregon and still will do now and then for a special occasion. It’s delicious, fast and it frees up the oven for side-dishes. It also occasionally burns a house down. In 2003, I spent Thanksgiving (and Christmas as well) with 30 of my closest friends in a tent in Iraq eating turkey T-rations and canned cranberry sauce. What started out as a downer of a day ended up being pretty special as we all sat around sharing stories of our favorite Thanksgiving dishes from home. I’ll never forget Bubba Langley explaining to me how to make his grandma’s biscuits and cocoa syrup.
This year, we will spend the week of Thanksgiving in Crested Butte. The Mt. Crested Butte Ski Resort opens each year the day before Thanksgiving and skiing is free all day for everyone. Wanting to take advantage of a free Colorado ski day, I talked the whole family into renting a house last year in Crested Butte. We had so much fun, we decided to do it again. I aim to make this a tradition.
There’s also still a lot of great fall produce available in the valley, and I’ll add a few new recipes to the Thanksgiving table using what’s available and a little creativity. Who knows? One of those recipes could become a permanent part of our family history, weaving another strand into the fabric of our own western Colorado cuisine.
And maybe this is the year I’ll nail the stuffing recipe.
It’s why we live here.
Robin Brown, owner of West Slope Events, wants to know your favorite family recipes and is happy to share hers. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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