Prairie View

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Our DLM family gathered yesterday at Myron's house.

I like one Thanksgiving Day food tradition our family has developed over the past number of years: cheesy turkey chowder for the evening meal. We start with a recipe that includes turkey broth, to which are added onions, carrots, and celery, and bits of leftover turkey. Milk and cheese are added near the end of the preparation process, and perhaps a bit of thickening. Other cooked vegetable and gravy leftovers can also be added.

For the evening meal, the last few years we have all contributed whatever pickles or relish tray vegetables we had on hand. This year we outdid ourselves with the variety: sweet dill and regular dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, a mixed vegetable pickle, pickled beets, and, as an afterthought, the Korean and Japanese pickle jars from our breakfast table--kim chee and takana (mustard leaf pickles). The fresh veggies were sliced kohlrabi, baby carrots, sliced fresh cucumbers, and daikon sticks--from one of the biggest daikons our garden produced this year. It was probably about a foot long and three inches thick--one of the crispest, mildest radishes you can imagine.

The supper table also sported leftover tossed salad, cranberry salad, dinner rolls, and pumpkin pie.


In the afternoon we looked at pictures Lowell took on his last trip to India. He had returned from there only two days earlier. This time he had traveled in some of the major tea producing areas of the country. Each leaf is harvested individually by hand at just the right stage of maturity.

I've learned elsewhere that the same plant is used to produce green tea and black tea (which the Japanese call red tea). The difference is in what happens next. Both green tea and black tea go through a fermenting process before they're dried. Black tea is simply fermented longer than green tea. The garden mint tea, or meadow tea, many of us are used to is unfermented tea, from a different plant, of course. The other teas are produced on a shrub-like plant in the Camelia family, which is hardy only to zero degrees or so, Fahrenheit.

Lowell told us bits and pieces of the stories of people they met and/or visited. One was a former bootlegger who lived in a remote mountain area. He's a Christian now.

Driving along in another remote area, they came upon another driver who excitedly announced the presence of an elephant on the road just ahead. I had no idea how fearsome such an encounter can be, but the driver of the vehicle Lowell was in made haste to back up to give the elephant a wide berth. Elephants are quite capable of upsetting a vehicle and then stomping and destroying it and its occupants.


After dark, when the boys had gathered in from their outdoor adventures, some of us watched Food, Inc., the documentary on our food supply. If the audience comments were to be believed, the indignation factor was alive and well.

On a related subject, I heard recently about Tomato Land, a book on the commercial tomatoes grown in Florida. I haven't read the book, and may not have the title exactly right. If any of my readers wish to correct or add to this information, I'd be glad to have you do so.

The person I heard talking about the book mentioned the abundant use of pesticides in Florida especially, presumably because of the humidity that makes fungus diseases more of a challenge than is the case in drier climates. Some of these pesticide labels require a 48 hour waiting period before anyone enters a sprayed area. The market demands, however, make it unattractive to abide by that guideline, and the reality is that sprayers often operate while workers are in the field. They offer the immigrant laborers the courtesy of lifting the sprayer booms when they pass over the workers' heads. Retching and illness follows on the heels of the sprayer's pass.

Winter tomatoes from John Millers' greenhouses look better all the time, and tomatoes from our own garden in summer, even more so.


Fishing is the newest passion in the 12-and-under Miller boy crowd. That's probably why I saw a barefoot boy yesterday headed out the driveway at a good clip, fishing rod held aloft--on his way to join those who had already left, apparently. The weather was warm and sunny, with a stiff south wind, but not all of us would have considered it barefoot weather.

Some of these boys live more than three hours apart, but they regularly keep each other updated by long phone conversations on what they're learning and doing.

Joey has taken to referring to these cousin phone calls as being either from C & E or B & A--the initials of the fisherman brother pairs at the other cousin residences.

From one of his books, Joey has learned that catfish that can taste muddy otherwise can be made to taste very good by immersing the meat for only two minutes in boiling water. Then the meat is transferred to cold water and refrigerated for a period of time. For some reason, a grayish "sludge" layer develops in the bottom of the cooling container. At frying time, the water is discarded, and the fish is presumably fried or grilled or baked. Judy says the catfish they prepared this way was wonderful. Another trick Joey knows is to remove the narrow line of dark meat running through a fish fillet. That portion is very strongly flavored.

Myron told about a big catfish his boys knew resided in the spillway of Blodgett's pond. The boys had hooked it several times, but it was so big it kept snapping the fish line. So one day last summer they went back, armed with heavy duty line, and caught that fish in short order. The Arlington boys' Sunday School class fishing in another part of the pond gaped in astonishment, a switch from the smirks on display when Myron first asked if it was OK if they fished in the spillway.

They caught and fried the fish when their boy cousins from PA (or another eastern state?) were here. That big fish didn't taste as good as hoped--too muddy. As Myron recounted a small mishap while it was being grilled, we had to agree that the problem may not have been entirely in the fish's bottom-feeding habits. One of the boys approached the grill while he was holding a toad or frog. When he was very close, the amphibian escaped with a flying leap, and landed ever-so-briefly right on the grill where the fish was frying. It must have been uncomfortable, because he didn't stay long. What else might have transpired in amphibian stress responses is perhaps best left to the imagination.

Homeschooled children aren't the only ones who have the luxury of pursuing their passions widely and deeply, but it's a fact that being able to dispense with a day's worth of classroom work in a half day leaves a lot more time for such pursuits than many children enjoy. This is part of why I believe that homeschooling is often a wonderful option if giving your children a charmed childhood is important to you. An interesting natural environment, with freedom to explore it at will, is a bonus, of course.

I know very well that fishing is not the first passion my nephews have pursued, and it will hardly be the last, but every pursuit has helped make them the community experts, at least among their peers, on the subject of the moment. This is a very natural and healthy way to build self-esteem in your children--giving them opportunities to acquire skills and knowledge along the lines of their interests. When they're having fun doing it, it's stress-free for everyone. I wish I could say the same is possible for much of the learning that takes place inside classroom walls.


  • The mildest thing I can say about "Food Inc." is that it is very disturbing. It probably would not have been my first pick for after dinner entertainment. The rest of the day sounded very much like a Miller Thanksgiving!! Looking forward to being there to celebrate Christmas this year!!

    By Anonymous Dorcas Byler, at 11/26/2011  

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