! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanks For The Memories

It’s that time of year again—a time to gather family and friends, make some time-honored recipes and give thanks. I have so much to be grateful for that I hardly know where to begin.

First and foremost, I am grateful that I’m still here to celebrate the holiday. Having survived (over the years) three stomach surgeries, a small heart attack, esophageal cancer and a stroke, it’s a miracle that I can still be such a pain in the neck, but (fortunately for me) my family and (oh, so special) friends still want me hanging around and apparently, I have a lot of unfinished business.

My doctor seems to feel that I will “still be yakking it up, even as they lower me into the ground” (nice, huh?) and I am determined to keep talking (and writing) until such time.

I am thankful that I grew up with such a strong sense of family and what it means to be surrounded by love and support from a (very) colorful cast of characters. Thanksgiving has always provided fodder for stories over the years, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there was an entire book waiting to be written, if only I could find the time.

I am thankful that my grandparents were around during the “wonder years,” and that I had the great good fortune to grow up in a multi-generational household. We weren’t exactly the Waltons (Goodnight, John-boy) but we had traditions that I still hold dear and close to my heart. My mother’s parents were among the first in Binghamton to acquire a color television (yes, I’m that old!) and an instant holiday tradition was born. Dinner at Gramma Fay’s and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in living color.

Back in the day, relatives gathered from near and far to celebrate (my Gramma Fay was one of 11 siblings), and the laughter and tears of those huge dinners still reverberate today. My father’s mother, Gramma Helen, lived with us for a number of years and passed down family history, some incredible recipes and the importance of family values and a sense of belonging.

My Aunt Marcia, Uncle George and assorted cousins were in attendance, and are still around to reminisce and ruminate as I give thanks. Just this year, Aunt Marcia gave me my grandmother Helen’s “good china,” which I now use every day (after all, if I only dragged it out for “special occasions,” I’d be able to use the dishes 20—if I’m lucky, maybe 30—times!

My Grampa Mack was an extraordinary human being, and I am extremely thankful to have grown up with his amazing generosity of spirit. I sorely miss him (and the rest) to this very day.

Although my father has been gone a long, long time, my beautiful, talented, creative and loving mother is still going strong in Delray Beach, FL. She might not care to admit it, but she is, in many ways, directly responsible for me being the happy (and hapless) lunatic that I am today.

My sister lives in Canada now and celebrates a “Thanksgiving” that I don’t even pretend to understand, but it is impossible to get through the day without recalling one year in particular. Vicki was already in college when my mother asked for her help with the turkey. Apparently, Mom had asked said sister to take the bird out of the oven to cool.

Presumably, Mom intended that the turkey should cool somewhere inside the house (duh), but Vicki (for whatever reason) put it outside, where our German shepherd spied it, sniffed it and dragged it through the snow, happily chowing down. I don’t remember a lot of laughter in that moment—but we sure do chuckle about it now. Being the hopeless romantic that I am, I like to think that they are all looking down on these special occasions, laughing, crying and thinking about keeping the turkey indoors.

I do know that this time of year always conjures up memories that need to be written down before it’s too late. Are there Hanukkah stories to relate? You bet. Passover tales to be told? (Oy! Don’t ask!) All I can say is, if I’m not six feet under, apparently I’ll still be talking. As long as someone (yes, even strangers on the street!) wants to hear it (there are still plenty of memories to pass down to my nephew) I am on call. Hopefully, there are plenty of stories that have yet to unfold. Can’t wait to see what Thursday has to offer. One thing is sure, with my sister 1,000 miles away, the turkey is (probably) safe!

Monday, November 23, 2009

eat me

‘Grandma’s Kropetzl’ - a potluck recipe from the past...

A family recipe from the kitchen of Jonathan Fox

“Sense memory” is so strong that just a whiff of an old, familiar dish can send one reeling into the past. Such is the case with Grandma Helen’s Hungarian noodles and cabbage. Grandma has been gone a long, long time- but thanks to her ‘Kropetzl’ she will always live on... in our hearts, in our minds and in this case, in our stomachs!

There have been many special occasion over the years, that have required a delicious,covered, potluck dish. I find that holidays are, in particular, a perfect time to get out the family cookbook, leaf through the dog-eared pages and cook, cook, cook!

These days, only a lucky few have the wherewithall to conjure up a meal for the masses- and potluck has become more popular than ever. My grandmother’s special recipe, concocted in the old country out of ingredients found on the farm, has never failed me.

Cabbage, onions, noodles and spices are all that is required, so even at my most destitute, I have always been able to show up when invited, gigantic casserole in hand.

Herewith is Grandma Helen’s recipe, which I now serve in her own dinnerware, for your holiday feasts!

I don’t know how to make a small amount, so be aware that one can cut this recipe in half and still have enough to choke a horse.

The only ingredients necessary are:

three to four medium (or two very large) yellow onions. Two heads of cabbage. One and 1/2 boxes of Lasagna noodles. Salt and pepper.

Liberal use of butter is required. Remember, they didn’t live as long back then- but I would not substitute. Use the butter- your doctor will forgive you.

In a large pot, melt a stick of butter. Peel and chop (cry, if you must) the onions and slowly, lovingly, sautee the onions until they are very soft and begin to carmelize. (yes, it takes time- but if I can do it, so can you!)

Once this is accomplished, keep the onions on simmer and cut up the cabbage. It seems like a lot (because it is) but keep in mind that by the time you are done, the cabbage will have cooked down considerably. Add the chopped cabbage into the pot with the onions and cook the concoction slowly- on low/medium heat, stirring continually throughout.

While the cabbage is diminishing in volume (I did advise a large pot) put up a vat of salted water until it comes to a roiling boil. Adding a bit of oil to the pot will keep the noodles from sticking. Break the Lasagna noodles up with your hands into smaller pieces and boil according to directions, but keep in mind that you are using more than one package- and alter the cook time accordingly.

As the noodles are softening, continue stirring the onions and cabbage, slowly adding salt and pepper ( a little garlic couldn’t hurt) to taste. By this point, one should have a considerable amount of all three ingredients. Drain the noodles well (without rinsing) throw some more butter in the mix (what can I say?), add the lovingly prepared onions and cabbage to the pot. Stir, stir, stir, making sure that all of the noodles are drenched in the mixture. Taste. Add more salt and pepper until your taste buds come alive and head out to your party, confident that folks will think you’re a genius, rather than good old fashioned peasant stock.

My family has attempted substituting all sorts of noodles over the years. Stick to the plan, don’t ask why.

Serves 15-20 and tastes as good cold (the next day, or later that same night) as it does hot from the stove top. Serves the masses for pennies, which these days... really works for me!