Thanksgiving Cup-a-Joe

There were many Thanksgiving traditions in my home village of Hillburn; along with the preparation for a holiday dinner there was the beginning of deer hunting season, usually around the last week of November. Shotguns were brought out from closets and gun cabinets, buck knives sharpened, and a fresh pair of woolen socks was purchased. We kids were encouraged to gather acorns weeks earlier as well as hickory nuts and walnuts, both of which were encased in an outer husk and something of a mess to open. Actually, most folks preferred the store bought walnuts as they were easier to open and less messy than our local wild ones. We were also encouraged to collect the most beautiful red and rust colored leaves of maple and oak as well as golden yellow birch leaves, for decorations that would curl and darken in our homes. Baking started some days before Thanksgiving which filled the house with the thick sweet aroma of apple and berry pies. It occurred to me that morning coffee smelled best in November, perhaps it was the association with hunting season or pumpkin pie or perhaps it had to do with the chill in the air. It was a few days before Thanksgiving that Ricky Cramshaw and I first tasted coffee.

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We had debated this for weeks. It seemed to us that this thick warm wonderful aroma of freshly brewed coffee in the morning was an invitation to a sumptuous taste hoarded by adults. We asked my dad, Walt, why kids didn’t drink coffee. He thought about this and told us that as a boy he often drank coffee and supposed that it fell out of favor for kids as soda pop took over. So we asked him to brew us a pot. Walt put up some coffee in his G.E. electric percolator. We huddled together and studied the little glass top of the pot eagerly waiting for the first spit of caramel colored caffeine to strike forth, when it finally did we cheered. When it was ready he poured out two cups of the black elixir and set them before us on the round Formica kitchen table. He put a pint of cream and a sugar bowl before us and two spoons. He said, “There you go boys, there’s your cup of Joe.”

Ricky said, “I thought it was coffee?”

“Well sure that’s what it is.”

“Then why’d you call it Joe?”

Walt sighed and said, “Well, you see during World War Two our soldiers were called G. I. Joe and over in France they got to drink some very fine, very strong coffee.”

I asked, “Was it good coffee they drank?”

“Oh sure it was. It was fine Arabian and Turkish coffee, some of the best in the world. But they missed their American coffee, which doesn’t grow here anyway, its just brewed American style. So when they got a cup of American coffee they called it ‘Joe’, you know cause it was their brew for G. I. Joes.”

I leaned over and inhaled the deep scent rising from my cup of Joe. I said to him, “So this year I can have a cup of coffee with my apple pie on Thanksgiving?”

He said, “Lets say you taste a little of that first.”

I took hold of the cream bottle and poured some into the black coffee and watched tan clouds bellow out in the drink until it was all a tan brown color. Ricky shook his head, skipped the cream and spooned two teaspoon of sugar into his cup of Joe. Then he looked at Walt and said, “Maybe a little more?” Walt nodded. Ricky then shoveled three more spoonfuls into his cup. Now we were ready. I leaned over and raised the cup to my lips and sipped just as Ricky took hold of his and drank. I don’t know which one of us choked first but whatever we drank blew back across the table and sent Walt into tears of laughter. I can only describe it as the taste of a horrible mistake in side of my mouth. Ricky later said it was like drinking a poison Oreo Cookie. Needless to say coffee was not on either of our menus that Thanksgiving.

Ed’s Corner

I hear people discussing it in our co-op grocery store. Or while waiting to pick up their children from the school parking lot.

The fall –  how long it has lasted, how gentle the temperatures have been and the colors, especially those colors. The reds are so deep it seems like if you touched one your finger would just keep sinking in. And the yellows! Touch one and it feels like your finger might spark! And many trees are holding their leaves longer, releasing them not in a windy maelstrom of hundreds at a time, but slowly, sometimes in small groups; at times, one or two.

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There is lately, in the public school arena, much talk and strong feelings about the Core Curriculum: what should children know? Let’s test them! And then have teachers teach to the test, and then, be sure to test the teachers to make sure they are doing just that.

This kind of fall reminds me of a fleeting and wild thought I had years ago: every school curriculum, call it ‘Core’ or something else, should include, at each grade level, a course or set-aside time, outdoors, naturally, throughout the school year, in every season. Through interaction and experience with the earth – its seasons, customs, and rhythms – each child would have the opportunity to develop a true sense of place and belonging. Of course there would be a test, to be taken frequently:  a) Show up  b) dress for the weather.

My wife, Jill, attended Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. One day each fall the school’s chimes would ring out at 8 am, the signal for a tradition called Mountain Day. Everyone knew it would happen in autumn, but not when. On this day all classes were canceled, and students climbed up nearby Mount Holyoke for a day spent outdoors, sharing time in nature with friends.

I have often thought that in businesses, schools and such, the concept of a ‘Well’ Day’ is equally important as that of the ‘Sick’ Day. Strongly recommended in this ‘Well’ Day would be a nature component, visiting a nearby park or tending a community garden. A ‘Well’ Day might sometimes include taking your child out of school for the day to accompany you outdoors.

I have a feeling that incorporating ‘Well’ Days into the year will result in less ‘Sick’ Days being used.

Perhaps you have seen recently in the news that all REI stores will be closed on the Friday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.

And, the company is specifically encouraging its employees to get out into nature on that Friday!

Yea!, REI.

Why don’t you join me and all the REI employees as we forego shopping on that day too, and go outside instead?

Burning Bush

Cooking with Children, a Double-edged Sword

Cooking with children may seem like a double-edged sword. There is fun, joy, creativity, playful learning, etc. on one side and usually a big mess on the other. We all remember cooking together that resulted, among other things, in water being spilled all over the floor, in vegetable peels scattered around the kitchen or in the kitchen island covered in flour and little fingers coated with sticky dough. After recreating order from the chaos around us, we might be tempted to ask ourselves: “Was it worth it?” After short hesitation, our inner voice will hopefully answer: “Yes, it was.”

I consider cooking with children an investment into their future and mine. (Selfishly hoping that maybe one day I will be able sit down to a nicely set table and enjoy a meal prepared by my children.)

When I cook with children, on the practical level, I teach them a life skill. I am empowering the kids by giving them the ability to take care of themselves and possibly others. But on the way towards the meal, as they help to prepare it, they also learn where food comes from, how it is grown and what it takes to grow it. Those who know how long the road is from a seed planted on a farm to a dinner on our table, will appreciate the food, the environment and labor of those who work with nature to grow food.

Depending on your priorities, you may consider cooking with children also a real life application of math skills (when measuring, doubling or downscaling a recipe), a practice of eye–hand coordination (think chopping, grating etc.), lesson in cultural history (Where does bread come from?) and science (What does the yeast do?), or an exercise in finding balance, in this case between flavors, textures, aromas and colors. I like to tell myself that I am doing all of the above and thus contributing to my children’s wellbeing and holistic understanding of the world.

Before involving children as helpers in big cooking projects, it is nice to empower them by letting them create a simple meal they are able to make (almost) all by themselves.

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I ‘d like to share a recipe for a simple seasonal salad we made out of the season’s last baby greens harvested in our garden on an unusually warm November day. Children will be thrilled to get their hands wet when washing the greens, make the salad spinner spin and prepare the dressing using a low-tech shaking method. Have more dried cranberries handy than needed for the salad, some will get “lost” along the way.

 

Salad for the Fall Season

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For the salad:
6 cups of mixed baby greens (our mix included several types of lettuce, arugula, mizuna, and baby kale)
1 crispy apple, chopped into small chunks
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup walnuts, preferably toasted

Vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon thyme, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, put through a garlic press
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch of black pepper

Wash the greens, then dry using a salad spinner.
Put the vinaigrette ingredients into a small mason jar. Close the jar and shake for 30 to 60 seconds.
Place the salad greens and apple chunks in a bowl, gently toss with the vinaigrette.
Sprinkle with dried cranberries and toasted walnuts.

This salad makes a nice seasonal lunch, and although simple and easy to make, it is good enough to deserve a spot on your holiday table. Enjoy!