Friends, Romans, Countrymen: Lend me your ears

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‘And I’ll show you how to make Corn Salad’

“Leftover corn? What’s that?” Would be what any member of the Henry Clan would say if you offered to share this recipe.

Because, when I was growing up, there simply wasn’t any corn left over after we were done attacking a big ole platter of ears.

Each of us could pack away more than one could imagine a normal child could consume. But it was my Oldest Younger Brother Scott who was the Corn Champion. His capacity for corn was so prodigious that my Grampa Peterson said Scott’s middle name should be “Sweet Corn”, and actually used to refer to him—in the summertime, anyway, when the corn was at its peak and Scott would eat the most—as “Scott Sweet-Corn Henry”.

The guy who dubbed my brother “Scott Sweet-Corn Henry”, my beloved pipe-smoking Grampa P

Scott could indeed polish off six or seven ears at a go. And that was when he was, like, five. He was also amazingly fast at consuming corn. I can’t remember what his record was (and is), but he could denude an ear in seconds. (Scott Pro Tip for Speed-Eating an Ear: corn-rotation beats the typewriter method every time.)

Me with Scott in his peak corn-capacity prime. I honestly don’t know where the heck we are. (Maybe the Badlands on one of our road trips?) But we’re looking rather Joad-like

It didn’t hurt that we had access to, basically, the Best Corn on the Planet Earth. When we were at the Henry Farm where my Dad grew up, some Henry Grownup would put a big ole pot of water on the stove to boil, then send us kids out to the cornfield to gather, then shuck, the ears. They’d get thrown in the pot, and presto! All that corn would just—disappear. (If you don’t have access to a corn field, I do have a corn-cooking method that is the next best thing, and works perfectly every time. It’s featured prominently in “To Hell with Kale”.)

That’s me, being toted by my Henry Uncle Mike. That’s my Aunt Susie next to him. We all look ready for some corn

So no recipe for Corn Salad was handed down to me by an Aunt or a Gramma or even a Mom. This was something I had to make up myself, after I’d grown up and turned into a Whitmore. (Whitmores like corn only so-so okay; though, in fact, The Dude can polish off a couple of ears—sometimes three— with admirable dispatch.

Whitmores have their own crazy food craving: bread. But that’s a story for another time

But Dude Man is the exception rather than the rule, corn-wise. There are Whitmores who have graced my table and refused an ear of corn. Even my personal Child has not inherited the Corn Gene. Here’s an actual text exchange from a couple of summers ago:

But that’s okay. I honestly don’t mind having a few leftover ears, since I can make Corn Salad. As I mentioned, there isn’t really a recipe; it’s more of a method. In fact, making Corn Salad is kind of like that old fable about “Stone Soup”. That’s the one where the starving peasant suggests making soup of of stones because that’s the only thing he’s got. (They were starving peasants, remember.) So he gets a big pot of water boiling and all his neighbors start throwing stuff in: a few potatoes, turnips, and suchlike peasant stuff. And voila! Soup. (There’s some moral here, about sharing, you see. Which if you read last week’s “He’s breathing my air”, you’ll see I already know a whole lot about.)

Basically all you need to make Corn Salad. Oh, plus some leftover corn

So. Corn Salad. Start with however much leftover corn you happen to have. You’ll need at least two ears to make it worth your while. Stand the ears upright in the bowl you plan to serve from. (Make sure it’s a pretty big bowl.) Cut the kernels off with a big ole knife. Then add some cooked pasta that you’ve rinsed with cold water. I usually “match” the amount to the amount of corn, but it doesn’t really matter. It also doesn’t matter what kind of pasta, as long as it’s smallish. (It’s fun to make it with orecchiette, since that means “little ears”.)

Then add a couple of generous spoonfuls of mayo. Splash in some white vinegar. Say, about a third as much as the mayo. (Again, it doesn’t really matter. Honest.) Now sort of toss the mixture with a couple of spoons till everything is coated. Salt and pepper to taste, and you’re good to go.

Another fun thing Scott can do with food: make a clam talk! But no, clams don’t taste good in Corn Salad

But wait, there’s more! (Here’s where the Stone Soup analogy kicks in.) You have the freedom with Corn Salad to add as many tasty things as you please. I always throw in some frozen peas. You don’t cook them, just throw some in. As many as you like. And often I add some snipped-up black olives—those greek kind are really nice.

Want your Corn Salad to be a nice main dish? Add some drained canned tuna. This is one of my Summer Staples, since everybody seems to like it. Except once I caught a Bad Houseguest picking the tuna out of the bowl and popping it into her mouth. When I asked what in heaven’s name she was doing, she said she’d “had enough carbs that week”, and “only wanted the protein”. I handed her a can of tuna from the cabinet and instructed her to eat that.

If you’re lucky enough to have some of these, add them too. Though only right before serving—they don’t do well in the fridge

You can also add some snipped basil leaves. But again, don’t do this if you plan to refrigerate your Corn Salad. Like tomatoes, they’ll turn icky on you.

Okay. I’m hungry now. But I can’t make Corn Salad. Alas, I have only this one lonely ear.

My sad little leftover ear. Which I will take out on the deck to devour with suitable dispatch momentarily

Oh, and since most occasions that yield leftover corn also tend to be large gatherings, if you whip up a batch, you too can enjoy an extra treat—fun family moments like this one, captured at a recent Henry HooHah by my most marvelous sis-in-law, Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jenn. Happy End of Summer! May all your Corn Salads be tasty and bright!

Amagansett, New York. September 2018

Paradise by the kitchen light

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‘Meatloaf again. Or maybe chili this time.’

It’s my darned fault it’s been so chilly here in the Northeast. Not only did I stow my chili (speaking of ‘chilly’) pot away, but I put my meatloaf pans in mothballs. Figuratively, that is. It’s sort of like what happened last week when I took our big fat comforter to the cleaners. It snowed.

But back to the kitchen. When the weather’s cold, there’s nothing we Henrys like better than a big ole batch of Anything Made With Ground Meat. Of course, my Oldest Younger Brother Scott, being a Californian, scorns chili made with ground meat. But the rest of us slurp it up like gangbusters. (I’m featuring a photo of a large pot of a late great batch right there at the top of this post.)

When I was growing up, my Mom made chili a lot. Her recipe for chili was the same as her recipe for spaghetti sauce — except that the chili had beans. Continue reading

The Breakfast of Champions

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‘Some random thoughts on The Think Drink’

So. I’m walking into my apartment lobby and run into a couple of neighbors. Well, I didn’t literally run into them, which is a good thing because I was clutching an extremely large container of coffee. A venti quad skim latte, to be exact. Which is four shots of espresso and some frothy skim milk. It’s really big, and really good, if you like that sort of thing. And I do.

Well, after making some remark about coming by later to ‘scrape me off the walls’, my neighbors waltzed off to buy Christmas cards or wrapping paper or evergreen fronds. Or something. While I came upstairs to write this piece. (And sip my coffee.)

I love coffee. If some doctor told me I couldn’t drink it, I would have some pretty serious issues. I think it’s delicious, and I also think it gets your brain firing on all cylinders. I’m not the only one. Years ago there was an ad campaign for coffee with the tagline ‘The Think Drink’. And, to this day, Young Attractive Persons use coffee as a study aid. (See photo at the top of this post as proof; Attractive Person pictured is the son of one of my friends, preparing for a final exam.)

Proof that coffee fuels creativity as well as study. Note mug on table as well as spoons on noses

I grew up with Attractive Persons who were always drinking coffee. ‘Would you like coffee?’, ‘Coffee’s in the kitchen’ or even a simple ‘Coffee’s on’ was how one was greeted at the door. In fact, while digging out pictures for this post, I realized that it was a rare family photo that did not feature a Henry or Peterson adult clutching a mug. Continue reading

Flipping the bird

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‘The upside — and, alas, the downside — of Turkey Day.’

Bless his little birdie heart, that turkey up there looks like he’s flipping me right back. Well, I did roast him, after all.

Many of you will have already seen this photo, which I posted on Facebook before The Dude carved Mr. Turkey up into succulent slices, but after I’d imbibed beaucoup de glasses of wine.

I decided to use it here (the photo, I mean) because A) it got a lot of reaction from my Internet Friends, and B) it gave me lots of good material, in the form of comments. (My opening remark came courtesy Judy R. Thanks, Judy!)

Other clever comments came from Mary Ann B H, who asked if this was “going to be my Christmas Card”, to which I answered “Great idea! If in fact I sent Christmas Cards”. And Debi F, who asked “Did you paint that thing? It’s perfect!?!?!” (No, Debi. No paint was involved in the making of this turkey. But I do have two words for you turkey cooks: convection oven.)

I’m needing all the help I can get with this week’s post because even though Thanksgiving is quite honestly my very favorite holiday (read ‘Turkey Shoot’ for five Rockette-solid reasons why it beats the stuffing out of Christmas), it is also exhausting.

No no, not exhausting. Pretty exhilarating, in fact

No no. Pie-making is not exhausting. Pretty exhilarating, in fact. Especially with Van Morrison on the Bose

It’s not the preparation that’s exhausting. I rather like the pie-making and vegetable-prepping. I even like the table-setting. In fact, those who honor me with their presence on this Best of All Possible Holidays know that I can be rather a Kitchen Nazi, hogging all the chores for myself. (Though this year I did let the Young and Fit haul out the extra folding chairs.) Continue reading

There is no ‘P’ in ‘Short Stack’

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‘Who knew a pancake could be so Proustian?’

I was thinking a lot about pancakes this past weekend. For one thing, it was Father’s Day — a day, like Mother’s Day, when the ole pancake griddle (or frying pan, which is what was used when I was Growing Up Lutheran) can get a real workout.

I can remember a time, not that long ago, when, as a young(ish) mom myself, I would rustle up a batch of pancakes not just for Father’s-or-Mother’s Day, but almost every Sunday morning, winter and summer — pretty much all year ’round.

My Garland, all shined up at that. This is the same stove that Julia Child owned, I'll have you; the one that's in the Smithsonian. Not this exact one, of course

My Garland, all shiny and ready for pancake-making. This is the same stove that Julia Child owned, I’ll have you know; it’s in the Smithsonian. (Not this exact one, of course)

I’d man (woman?) the griddle on my impressive Garland six-burner-and-griddle-topped stove, spatula and coffee cup in hand(s) while The Child polished off an impressive number of pancakes (five? seven? ten?) without benefit of butter, syrup, or even fork. The experience was rather like watching my Oldest Younger Brother Scott polish off sweet corn. (His talent for this inspired my Swedish Grampa to give him the nickname Scott ‘Sweetcorn’ Henry.) Continue reading

To pick. Or not to pick.

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‘A story about a lady out standing in her (strawberry) field. Oh, and a dog named Snoball.’

It’s getting to be That Season. When signs like these are sprouting along the highways and byways: ‘Pick Ur Own Strawberries’. ‘Pick Ur Own Raspberries’. Even ‘Pick Ur Own Rhubarb’. Later on this summer you’ll be seeing ‘Pick Ur Own Corn’. (Which I do love in its already-picked state; see my ‘To Hell with Kale’ for the Best Corn-Cooking Method on The Planet Earth). And come Fall, there will be, you can count on it, ‘Pick Ur Own Pumpkin’ signs.

Nah. I'd actually rather U did the picking. And I did the eating

To be perfectly honest, I’d much rather U did the picking. And just handed me a nice box of berries

In case you miss the ubiquitous highway signs (sometimes, for grammatical variety, spelled ‘U-Pick’, as above) there are data bases for locating Pick-Ur-Own places in your area. I ‘picked’ (hah) this highlighted one, because it’s Southern Illinois berry-picking we’re going to be talking about.

By the way, I’ve also seen ‘Cut Ur Own Christmas Tree’ (see example below). One can only wonder when we’ll see invitations to ‘Chop Ur Own Wood’? ‘Slaughter Ur Own Beef’? ‘Split Ur Own Atom’? Continue reading

Radio Days

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‘Did I just hear somebody say “sushi”?’

The Dude and I grabbed some sushi last night. (Why is it that one ‘grabs’ sushi, I wonder?) And, as I deftly dipped a chunk of inside-out California Roll into a little dish of sodium-reduced soy sauce, I was transported back, in a rather Proustian tasting-the-madeleine-like way, to one of the very first times I ever had sushi.

It was in Chicago, back in those golden years of traveling around the country on somebody else’s dime. I was working in advertising, natch. On this radio project that involved interviewing people who had lost their money because they were silly enough to be carrying actual money instead of American Express Travelers’ Cheques.

We were using this interviewer named Alan Kalter (he got to be pretty famous as an announcer on Letterman, but, trust me, this was way before that). Anyway, Alan was in a glass-fronted room talking to a group of losers (er, people who’d lost their money) while the producer and I watched and listened and prompted him (via a tiny wireless earpiece mic) to ask certain questions, or to get the interviewee to repeat a phrase more clearly or loudly.

See, we were recording the interviews so we could piece together some ‘it-could-happen-to-you’ radio commercials. So we needed certain phrases, like ‘I lost my money’, ‘My vacation was ruined’, and, of course, ‘I wish I’d been carrying American Express Travelers’ Cheques’ to come out nice and crisp and clear. Continue reading

The fruitcake gene

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‘You either have it, or you don’t’

Have you ever heard someone say ‘Fruitcake isn’t my favorite, but that sure looks tasty’? Or ‘A slice of fruitcake might make a nice change from pie’? No. It’s usually more like ‘Fruitcake! Blechhh. I hate fruitcake’.

Fruitcake is so frowned-upon that there are even jokes about it. You’ve heard the one about there really only being one fruitcake in existence? That it just keeps getting re-gifted? And there is the ‘fruitcake’ pictured at the top of this post. It will ‘never ever get stale’. Basically because you blow it up like a whoopee cushion. And then you don’t eat it.

The 'Fruitcake they'll actually want to get', seen as served. At least you won't have to wash the plate

‘Serving suggestion’ for the ‘fruitcake that never gets stale’. At least you never have to wash the plate

But I have a confession to make. Continue reading

Leftovers

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‘A few stories that got pushed to the back of the fridge’

I know, I know. It’s Christmas Season. And has been since around Halloween, it seems. And while I like the tinsel and the lights and the music (well, except for ‘Little Drummer Boy’) and, most of all, the sensationally savory scent of evergreen, I’m just not quite ready to let go of Thanksgiving.

For one thing, I have a big ole pot of turkey soup to ladle out. But that’s it for leftovers of the edible kind. Absolutely nothing else is left: not the stuffing, not the mashed potatoes, not the non-powdered-sugar gravy, not the cranberry sauce. And especially not the pies. Which were basically gone by breakfast on Black Friday. (Incidentally, I like to think it’s called ‘Black’ Friday because everyone is sad because the pies are gone.)

Pies, left to right: cranberry-apple, apple, and pumpkin, pre-feast, in the Pie Keeper, AKA laundry room.

Pies, while they still existed. Left to right: apple, cranberry-apple, and pumpkin. In the Pie Keeper, AKA the laundry room

And for another thing, Continue reading

In the kitchen with Dad (and the Coal Miner’s Daughter)

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‘Why it pays to taste while making gravy. Or baking pies.’

Anybody who knows me, either in person or through the Virtual Universe, knows by now that Thanksgiving is my all-time favorite holiday. You can read how and why in last year’s ‘Turkey Shoot’. But if you’d rather just keep reading this, I bet you can guess that Awesome Food is one of the reasons T’giving wins the Holiday Sweepstakes, at least for me:

I’m not going to bother posting a picture of what I consider the absolute best part of this best holiday meal: the gravy. Because, delicious though it might be, gravy just isn’t all that photogenic. Neither is stuffing, which I also adore. Go figure.

Anyway. This is a story about gravy and cherry pie and my Dad and the Coal Miner’s Daughter. Continue reading