Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving at Mariandy's

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the United States. This holiday is unique to the Western hemisphere, mostly the U.S. (Canada celebrated their Thanksgiving in October). According to our history books, the first Thanksgiving in 1621 was a celebration shared by early settlers and local natives in Plymouth Colony (Massachusetts). The food at that celebration was native to the area. This is why we now typically include foods like cranberries, squash, and turkey in our traditional Thanksgiving meal - although I'm not sure that turkey was part of the original meal.

When I was growing up on a farm in North Carolina, we had a more localized Thanksgiving meal. Sure, there was turkey, but it wasn't unusual for us to have steamed oysters (fresh from the coast) or stewed venison if my Granddad or one of my cousins had recently been hunting. We always had sweet potatoes in the form of a casserole (with lots of brown sugar and marshmallows on top) or "pudding" or pie. We preferred pecan pie to pumpkin pie. I'm sorry to say that I don't remember my Mom making fresh cranberry sauce, and I think what we had (if we had any) was from a can. It was good, though.

Just before we ate, we'd all take turns naming things we were thankful for. My parents would name our family, our house, and our health. My gratefulness was more selfish and revolved around getting good grades in school, or new toys or clothes, and Carolina beating State in basketball. This became a sort of joke with my sister and I and I remember once she said she was thankful for Wonder Woman, hair spray, and leg warmers.

After the big meal (which was always in the middle of the day), we'd sit around for a while watching football, then go for walks in the woods or get the rifles out and do some target shooting. I learned how to shoot at the age of 9 and was quite the sharpshooter. In fact, I was often the one who "brought home the turkey" as I always won a turkey challenge at the annual Barker Ten Mile Turkey Shoot. (No, you don't shoot at turkeys - you shoot at a target.)

In the 1990s, when my parents moved to the beach, we ditched the turkey for a "Low Country" Thanksgiving meal. My Mom would get some oysters, shrimp, and clams from the local seafood market. You couldn't get any fresher, because most of the stuff was caught the same day as it was sold. She'd clean the shrimp and throw them in a big stew pot with the clams, corn on the cob, potatoes, some seasonings, water, and maybe a few other things - and bring it all to a boil. Meanwhile, my Dad would take care of the oysters, which would be served separately. Mom would make a broccoli salad and at least one sweet potato dish, and along with the usual pecan pie that would be our Thanksgiving meal. 

I decided to return to a traditional meal when I set up my house in Indiana. For several years now, I've taken the entire week of Thanksgiving off work in order to prepare the Thanksgiving Day meal. That's right, folks, we go all out in this house - and nearly everything is homemade "from scratch." I started cooking Monday night. First, I cooked the cranberry sauce. On Tuesday, I went to my favorite grocery stores up North (Whole Foods and Fresh Market) to get the last of our needed items. On Wednesday, I made the pumpkin pie and a loaf of pumpkin bread with creme cheese icing, and did as much prep work for Thursday as possible. Yesterday, I rubbed our Indiana free range turkey with some spices, then roasted it in the oven. While the turkey cooked, I made a green bean casserole, some cranberry pecan stuffing, a homemade French vinaigrette salad dressing, and an amazing hot cranberry drink. Just prior to the meal, I made my soon-to-be famous roasted garlic mashed Yukon gold potatoes, and prepared the salad. 

Up above is a photo showing some of the things I made. :-)

The meal was finally ready at around 5:30PM and was enjoyed by four people. The turkey was perfect - brown on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. The pumpkin pie was a big hit - I'll have to put my recipe for that on my Food for Thought blog. 

We have new Thanksgiving traditions now. We cook, we watch the National Dog Show, and we eat. We also play with our new tech toys. I will always remember Thanksgiving 2008 because I spent my cooking "downtime" playing guitar and drums on Rock Band. (The "from us/to us" Christmas present this year, a Nintendo Wii and Rock Band, arrived  early so we went ahead and set it up.) I'll have to do a separate entry on Rock Band sometime, because I think I may have found a new addiction.

But we also take time to think about all the things we're thankful for. This year, I don't have to look real far. I'm thankful for my family, my friends, my animal children, my job, my home, and for all the places I have seen and experiences I have had this year. 

I'm also thankful that someone else does the dishes. And that now, I can take the next few days and RELAX!

Monday, November 24, 2008

My latest obsession

I've become so obsessed with food lately that I thought I'd like to try a new blog that focuses solely on food. I feel like I need a separate place for this because the intent of Gypsy Roots is supposed to be more about daily life stuff. So if you're interested, check out my new Food for Thought blog. You can link to it from the Shameless Plugs section on the right. I don't know how long it will last, and I certainly don't have time to write every day. We'll just have to see how it goes.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Local food

Not too long ago, I was wandering through the produce section at one of the big chain grocery stores when I happened across an attractive display of apples. But it wasn't the apples that caught my eye so much as it was the sign above them. It advertised the apples as being from New Zealand.

Now, I don't have anything against NZ . . . never been there, but the photos I've seen are beautiful . . . I have several friends from there . . . and I think Flight of the Conchords are hysterically funny. So please don't think I'm picking on NZ - 'cause I'm not. My point is that NZ is something like 10,000 miles from Indianapolis. Why does food have to travel that far? Seems to me that the apples would have to be picked prematurely . . . not to mention the carbon footprint it takes to transport them across the Pacific and then over the North American continent. Besides, there are tons of apples already here in Indiana. 

No one likes or enjoys "world food" more than me. When it comes to food, I'm definitely adventurous. In fact, if you asked my what my favorite foods are, I'd list among them Thai green curry, Vietnamese pho, Austrian Kasnudeln, and pretty much everything from the Mediterranean/North Africa/Middle East region with the exception of seafood.

I won't stop having my favorite world foods on an occasional basis, but when it comes to my everyday cooking, I'm going local. I recently signed up with Farm Fresh Delivery to have mostly local, mostly organic produce delivered to my house once a week. I can add to my standing produce order all sorts of local meats, dairy products, and other products. 

I've been a fan of Traderspoint Creamery for a long time - their low-fat vanilla yogurt is not only da bomb in my opinion, but has won all kinds of awards. Their dairy cattle are grass-fed and "hormone-free" and they make a lot more other delicious stuff, too (milk, cheese, ice cream). And they're just located over on the northwest side of Indy. 

Our Thanksgiving turkey came from Seven Spring Farms, located in Carthage. We also get eggs from there in our weekly Farm Fresh Delivery order. Know how to tell if an egg is fresh? Crack it open. The yolk should be a bright orange color - if it's more like yellow, it's been sitting around on the store shelves for a while. The eggs I got in my order last Friday were collected just two days earlier according to the date stamped on the carton. I can't get any fresher than that without having my own chickens.

There are all kinds of local options for food. Our beef and pork has recently come from Seven Sons and Moody Meats. My most recent local discovery is Local Folks Foods, which makes an amazing pasta sauce and fire-roasted salsa from Indiana tomatoes. They even make and sell their own organic whole wheat flour.

I can find locally-roasted coffee, locally made chocolate bars, local breads and granola, and of course, LOTS of local produce. I may not be able to get whatever I want year-round, but shouldn't we be eating what's in season anyway? 

Sometimes I have to decide between local and organic. I'd really rather have both, but this is not always possible. Still, I think that local is the better option, all things considered.

The prices are higher for some items, especially the meat. But I decided I'd rather eat less meat that's "local" and better quality, than cheaper, older meat from the supermarket that's been pumped with who knows what (read the labels sometime - it's scary) to make it look fresh. So while there are times when I may choose to eat something exotic, for the most part, I guess you can say that I'm going local.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Winter's approach

It's hard to believe that just a month ago these leaves were bursting with color. As I write this, it's 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 Celsius) outside. I just took out the trash and recycling bins, and had to put on a coat, hat, and gloves. (I almost wrote a statement of complaint, but then I remember how hot it was in Vienna this summer without air conditioning.)

For some reason I don't mind the cold - not really. I actually like my winter clothes a lot better than my summer clothes. I like wearing long sleeves. And flannel pajamas. And my black velveteen pants. I like being able to wear black every day if I want without someone advising me to wear pastels or "summer colors." I was never a summery, beachy sort of girl anyway. I hate wearing shorts. I hate being in the sun for very long. I certainly don't like the feel of sand on my skin. Ew. 

Give me winter over summer any day. Give me winter Sunday afternoons spent in the kitchen, making stews and soups and occasionally baking bread (which I make completely from scratch and without a bread machine), with the Colts playing (and winning) and everyone at home relaxing. 

I even like snow - as long as I don't have to drive. Being from the South, I'm the person you DON'T want on the road in front of you when any kind of winter precip starts falling. Sorry. But I *do* try to stay off the roads during these times. :-) 

I like walking in the snow. I like bundling up in layers and putting on my big coat and my Sherpa hat and boots (and sometimes, my snowshoes) and getting out there in it. There is nothing - I mean truly nothing - like walking in the snow at night, seeing the falling snow reflected in the streetlights, and feeling snowflakes falling on your cheeks. And then going inside and sitting by the fireplace with a big mug of hot chocolate or apple cider or mulled wine. 

There are things I don't like about this time of year. The short days are hard, especially when it's dark when you wake up and dark when you get home. But I just think of my friend Jaana in Finland, where they only have a few hours of light during the winter, and I stop complaining. 

Bring it on, I say. Oh yeah, baby.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Easy being green, part 2

Yesterday I went to the monthly meeting of the Environmental and Sustainability Club at my company. This is a fairly new club that started back in April as a result of some employee feedback late last year. I had been reading about their activities when I was in Vienna, and had been really looking forward to participating upon my return to Indianapolis. So when I found out they were meeting, I crashed.

I was really impressed with some of the club's projects. There's an organized recycling effort underway (cans and plastic water bottles) and discussions are taking place with the vendor who services our cafeterias to ditch styrofoam for more environmentally-friendly food containers. A carpooling project is being piloted. A cardboard recycling project is being studied. But perhaps most impressively, a project is underway to plant a large "sustainable" garden in an area of reclaimed land on our urban campus. Here, in addition to growing some beautiful plants, we have the possibility of composting cafeteria food waste and other organic materials as well as recycling water by using rain bins. All while contributing something nice to the community. Can you tell I'm especially excited about this project?

One person reported on an event that the club was recently involved in. Over 600 lunches were served - in corn-based biodegradable containers (which in itself is cool). Food waste was donated for composting, and cans and bottles were donated for recycling. But the really cool thing was that at the end of the event, only 3 bags of trash were taken to the garbage bins. 

Three bags of trash for 600 meals. I'm thinking that's not bad. I'm really inspired now, and today, I sent my $15 check for membership to the designated person. So now I'm an official club member, and I'll no longer have to crash their meetings!

Misha's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

This is Misha, the grey tabby we adopted from the Southside Animal Shelter back in 2002. She's pushing eight years old now, although we don't know exactly how old she is (she was a young adult when we adopted her). 

She's a fat cat, with a purr as loud as a motor, and a super sweet personality.  She likes to give head butts and make "biscuits" on your tummy - that is, if she likes you. Sometimes she can be shy with strangers, and many times when people visit us, they don't even know we have a cat because she stays hidden. She loves being outdoors, loves hunting voles and mice - and for this reason (as well as reasons of safety) we prefer for her to stay indoors. Sometimes, though, she escapes. She likes to sit on the grass and watch all the action going on around her.

Misha gets along well with the dogs. She's known both Cody and Chelsea since they came to live with us, and to see them together you would never think they were of different species. They play, they snuggle, they kiss each other and sniff each other's butts. Sometimes they even talk to each other.

They say that cats have nine lives. If that's true, then Misha lost one of hers yesterday. She was attacked by our new neighbor's very large German shepherd. This dog was out for a walk with his teenage owner when he saw Misha (minding her own business, sitting in one of the flower beds in the front yard) and went totally berserk. The girl completely lost control of him and in an instant, Misha learned that all dogs aren't as sweet as her canine siblings.

I heard screaming, and when I opened the front door, I wasn't sure what I was seeing. Have you ever heard that expression "the fur flew"? Well, it did. As soon as it registered with me that Misha was the target of this very large dog's aggression, my mother instinct kicked in. I grabbed his leash and pulled him off of her, then helped our by then crying neighbor get her dog home and out of Misha's sight. Then I ran back to Misha, who was in shock, covered in mulch, and drooling something that had a little blood in it. She growled at me, so I just opened up the garage and let her come in. She hid underneath my car, out of my reach. I was unable to examine her without traumatizing her further, so I called our veterinarian's office to ask for advice. I learned where the closest veterinary emergency clinic is. But as I saw no additional blood and it appeared that Misha was becoming more calm, I decided to wait things out.

An hour later, I opened the garage door and she ran inside. When Cody and Chelsea saw her, they could sense that something was wrong. Usually they bark whenever they first see her,  but the barking only lasted a nanosecond. The three of them disappeared into the back bedroom, and under the bed. Curiously, I got down on hands and knees to peek under the bed to see what they were doing. It was as if they were trying to comfort her. Chelsea seemed to be licking her clean, and Cody was protectively spooning her. It was a sweet scene, so peaceful.

Misha spent the night under the bed. This morning she came out for a while to eat and get some water, and then she disappeared again. The good news is, she seems to have escaped the attack with only a few scrapes. But I can tell she has lost some of her innocence, a lot of her pride, and it will probably be a long time before she'll want to go back outside. Poor kitty.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Easy being green, part 1

Here in Indianapolis, we don't have mandatory recycling. Most people don't even recycle at all! Coming from a city where recyclables were collected curbside - for free - and then living in another city where recycling is required by law, made me a proponent of recycling. So why don't more people here recycle?

Probably because they just don't know how. I didn't know how either, when I moved here - I had to investigate. Through Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, I found out that you can take your newspapers and magazines to the little green and yellow bins that are in the parking lots of most schools and churches around town. From Google searches, I learned that there are a couple of places around Marion County where you can drop off your cans and glass and plastic bottles (#1 and #2 plastic only). I also found a place where I could drop off cardboard for recycling, and another place for taking your electronic and other items.

Eventually, I learned that for just $6.00 a month or so, Republic Services has a curbside recycling program.  I signed us up, and within just a few days, someone dropped off a little blue recycling box. There were lots of rules, though: magazines and newspapers had to be bundled; cardboard had to be broken down; and as usual, only #1 and #2 plastics would be accepted. Sometimes, even with weekly pickup, our box would be full to overflowing.

One morning after putting out the trash and recycle bin, I happened to notice that NONE of my neighbors had the blue bins. As I drove to work, I looked down the streets in my subdivision. Of the 100+ houses here, I only saw two other blue bins. I wondered: if people knew about the recycling service, would they pay the $6.00 a month? It makes me so sad to see how many bags of garbage people leave out for the garbage truck: it's not unusual to see four, five, six bags on the curbs. All that stuff just goes to the landfill. (I estimate that recycling has reduced our trash by one-third or more.)

Not long ago, we were notified that changes were coming to the recycling program "based on feedback from our customers." A few days later, a huge blue bin on wheels (larger than our trash bin! - see above) arrived, along with a set of instructions. We don't have to bundle anything anymore. We can just pitch all the recyclables into the big bin, close the lid, and not worry. They also take the cereal-type boxes now, which is reducing our contribution to landfills even more.

This is a great service and I wish everyone would use it. Although it was always FREE in the other places I lived, six dollars a month is really not that much. Those of you who live in the Indianapolis area and are interested, please visit Keep Indianapolis Beautiful's web site, click on the Recycle link, and you will find the info you need to get started. To my friends who are fortunate enough to live in places where recycling is mandatory, my hat's off to you. Keep up the good work. 

Monday, November 3, 2008

The day before

I'll admit it: I'm a Presidential election junkie. For the past two years, I've been following the news, watching the speeches, analyzing the debates and laughing at the mishaps and Saturday Night Live sketches. It's been kind of a rush.

Indiana is one of the states where you can vote early, so yesterday I headed down to one of the polling places to cast my vote.  I was quite surprised with the number of people waiting in line - there were probably a hundred people lined up out the door and around the building. Of course, there were also people passing out flyers and trying to get you to vote for their candidate (in addition to President, there are several state and local offices up for grabs). I wish they would not allow people to do this. For one thing, it's annoying. It's also environmentally unfriendly  - as evidenced by the huge pile of discarded flyers in a trash bin by the entrance. Anyway, by the time I get to the polls, I've already made my mind up and need no additional convincing. 

Fortunately, the line moved quickly, and soon I was inside the building. There I found that the line continued, with people coiled around like a snake, and the actual voting booths in the center of the room. There were several checkpoints, from ID checking to verification of registration, but it was a well-oiled machine and the poll workers kept the line moving. I marked my ballot, sealed it in the envelope, and was out the door. In all, the process took about 30 minutes.

I felt great afterward - and relieved. Now I won't have to stand in an even longer line tomorrow. I won't have to worry about taking time off from work, or getting a speeding ticket on the way to my local polling place before the very early closing time. I'm not sure why Indiana is one of the first states to close polls. But it is.

One thing's for sure, history will be made tomorrow. Being the Presidential election junkie that I am, I'll be glued to the news until the results are in. Let's just hope it won't take an act of the Supreme Court to decide this one because I'm not sure I can handle that again.

What will I do when this is over?!!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The long journey home

I said goodbye to Sydney on Friday. The trip home took about 20 hours (and that was just the flying time, not the waiting around at airports time). I had three flights, from Sydney to San Francisco, from San Francisco to Chicago, and then from Chicago to Indy. Ironically, although I left Sydney around 3PM Friday, I got home at 11PM Friday. Yet from the plane I saw day turn into night - twice. Such is the enigma of crossing the International Date Line.

Thankfully, my flights were all on time and pretty much uneventful. Well, there was the crazy lady on the flight to Indy . . . a first class passenger who was arguing with the flight attendant over his request to put her purse in the overhead compartment. She held up our flight at least 5 minutes, but we still arrived on time.

Despite the very long "day" I was unable to sleep. So I came home exhausted! I slept until almost noon today, and spent the better part of the day in my pajamas. Call it jet lag. It'll take me several days to get back on Eastern USA time.

I just went back and added some photos to the blogs I wrote while I was away. So you might want to go back and see them - starting with Asia's largest underground shopping mall.

It's good to be home. I'm not planning on going anywhere for a while. And that's just fine with me.