Monday, November 22, 2010

Sage Advice

Thanksgiving is upon us, and soon the fragrances of turkeys roasting, pumpkin pies baking, and the scents of spice and herb will be wafting through neighborhoods. It is time to share some sage advice.

Many years ago when I established my own home, and started delving into some major cooking, I was always a bit disappointed in the dressing that I made because it never quite tasted like I remembered from my childhood.  But being young and "innocent", and taking the easiest route at the time, I kept buying the convenient ready-blended poultry seasoning that is available to all on our grocery store shelves, because quite frankly, that was what my Mom had always done, never questioning, never delving into just what went into that can. Blind trust. .rather naive of me, what can I say. .with age comes wisdom.

Over the years, I varied my dressing recipe, tweaking it until it had my own signature taste, but I still was never quite pleased with it, but began to think that as some childhood memories do, I was remembering it in more romantic terms, than it actually was.

Aren't These Graphics More Fun To Look At?
Then, somewhere in the past, I was reintroduced to the spice tins of my youth, and before. .vintage spice containers.  As a child, I was always fascinated by the various graphics that they used. I guess it is the "artist" in me, but whenever my Mom or Grammies would cook or bake, I would study the drawn pictures on the herb and spice containers.  I started looking for the tins I remembered, which immediately transports me down memory lane, and have also added some that I never got to enjoy before, which adds to the allure of the hunt.

They originally came in cardboard, which we now know today, doesn't keep them fresh for very long. .but let's be real. .the tins of herbs and spices today are either so loaded with additives to preserve them, and/or are also past their prime.

Herbs & Spices Used Traditionally in Autumn, have a tendency to be packaged in Orange!
One of my favorite tins is cardboard, with a metal top and bottom, and just happens to be "poultry seasoning". And, it is the very brand that my Grammie used!  Yes, it is still full, and no, I haven't used it. I did carefully slide the top open, and yes, the fragrance is long gone.  Sadly there isn't a year on the tin.

But, it does list the ingredients!  Sage, Marjoram, Pepper, Celery Seed, Coriander, Allspice, Savory, and Salt. 

And how does that compare with today's ingredients in poultry seasoning? Like a lot of things, each manufacturer has their own touch.

McCormicks uses Thyme, Sage, Marjoram, Rosemary, Black Pepper and Nutmeg.

Durkees prefers not to readily share their ingredients which makes me suspicious. Like I said, with age, comes wisdom.

Frontier Brand has two blends.  Their regular blend is Sage, Thyme, Dehydrated Onion, Marjoram, Black Pepper, Celery Seed, and Cayenne. 
Their organic blend consists of all organic ingredients as stated. Sage, Thyme, Dehydrated Onion, Black Pepper, Marjoram, Celery Seed and Red Pepper.

So my suggestion to you, is to do what I have done for years. Ditch the handy little pre-mixed stuff and make your own!  Delve into the fragrant world of herbs, and let your nose lead you into culinary heaven. 

I grow as many herbs as I can, mostly in pots so that I can bring them inside during winter, but I have a number of sages in the ground that winter over just fine.  I clip the leaves and dry them each Autumn, crumbling them and storing them in an air tight ceramic jar, to keep out light.  So keep that in mind next Spring, when planting season rolls around!
In the meantime, buy the individual herbs, either at an herbalist, or if you must, from the shelves of the grocery store, but buy the smallest tin you can find. Their shelf life isn't very long, no matter what the date on the can says.

Start with a 1/2 teaspoon of sage, and add a 1/4 of a teaspoon of the other ingredients, choosing from the lists above. .blend them together in a glass or pottery bowl, and take a gentle sniff!  Smell the individual ingredients to see if you would like to add more. (take a breath of fresh air in-between) I will suggest taking notes so that you can duplicate your favorite blend in the future.  This won't take as long as it is for me to write it all out, so don't think that you need a big block of time, unless you find it relaxing, in which case, take all of the time you want!

There may be some herbs that you won't be able to find in your grocery store anymore, such as Savory.  In that case, you can always turn to the internet and order some.  One source that I absolutely love is the Spice and Tea Exchange.  (thanks to my friend, Pam, who discovered their shop while on vacation in Florida! Thanks, Pammie!!!) You can order small amounts or larger ones, they ship quickly, and the ingredients are always very fresh and fragrant.
Here is the link to their Savory, just for ease in an introduction to the site.

Once you start making your own blend, you will never go back to the prepared stuff again, and don't be surprised if your family and friends will be asking for your recipe, or want to know what you did differently, because your stuffing will be declared the best ever!

Oh. .and if you make the traditional bread stuffing, do something that neither my Mom, nor my Grammies apparently never thought to do, but is SO good. .add a slice or two of dark pumpernickel bread to the mix. .not too much, because you don't want to overpower your seasonings or veggies, & mushrooms, only to enhance them.

Let me know if you tried your own seasoning blend, and how it came out! I'd love to hear what you used!

Wishing you all a beautiful and joyous Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The "S" Word

No, I'm not afraid to say it. ."SNOW"!  Yes, it is in our forecast for later this week. Sadly, I won't be here to see the first flakes coming down, and they aren't supposed to hang around waiting for my return, but the air will be crisp and clear with that hint of things to come, tingling your senses. And I'm going to miss the whole event. Drat.

I think that Mother Nature was giving me this gift to help me get over my post-Halloween doldrums. I didn't get to decorate, and because our town set Trick or Treating SO early last night, it was still light out when the kids came by. And more neighbors didn't decorate at all (at least we had lighted JOL's and our orange lighted arch!), and what is worse, didn't even hand out treats. What do you call a Halloween Grinch?

Seeing the forecast this morning, sent my heart soaring, then crashing when I realized the rotten timing, but then the most pleasant thoughts overtook my misery, tripping back down memory lane.

Being a child of the 50's, and living within a 100 mile radius of Chicago, I used to watch children's programs on WGN TV. .those of you who are familiar with their programs probably know where I am headed with this. . .

There was one program in particular that I watched, Garfield Goose. .he was a puppet of course, who thought that he was King of the United States, and his human, Frasier Thomas, was his Prime Minister.  Do you know how silly I feel writing all of this out? But again. .I was a child of the 50's. .we didn't watch people being blown up and mutilated on a regular basis.

Every year, at first snowfall, they would show an old animated short, called Suzie Snowflake.  They would also show it around the holiday season, along with another short, Hardrock, Coco & Joe, and an animated version of Frosty The Snowman. .no, not the half hour show, but an earlier cartoon rendition.

But my personal trip down memory lane doesn't end there. My Dad was the one who woke me up each morning to get ready for school, and on the day of the first snow, he would wake me up, singing the first few bars of that song. I would bounce out of bed and raise the shade to see just how much white was on the ground, and watch the delicate lace floating through the sky. .oh, how I loved that moment!  And I still do.  There is something so magical about it.

So for your viewing pleasure (keep your fingers crossed that I can get this to work!), I share with you, the original "Suzie Snowflake". (please turn off the music below)

Wishing you a delightful first day of November! The smell of snow is in the air! Aaaaaahhhhhhh