November 26, 2022

COLUMN: To eat, I mean, each, his own

The next six weeks will be the greatest show of our history, legacy, creativeness, traditions, ingenuity, expectations and disappointments.

No, it’s not about advancements in medical science or how to financially handle the holiday expenses with inflation. It will be about our holiday recipes and how much they can differ from everyone else.

This is what social media sites should be full of through New Year’s Day; a comprehensive exchange of everything that can be made this time of year.

Thursday is the first round of recipe and tradition with Thanksgiving. Every family probably has their own traditions on top of what we as a society have perceived as the meal to be, and that is what makes it so great. Not every family has a turkey. Not every family that has a turkey prepares it the same way. I’ve had some wonderful smoked turkey.

I have much respect for cranberry and turkey mainly because of a Colorado sandwich shop I ate at early in my career that had a thin spread of cranberry jelly on a turkey sandwich. The two are a great couple.

Years ago I had wild game turkey given by a friend. The bird was small and had more dark meat which had a more “game” flavor than I was used to. But it was a more natural bird compared to the common grocery store turkey that I have had no problem with either. Dry meat turkeys can be disappointing and there isn’t enough gravy to make up the loss. (Gravy is an art, not a science)

The years we have had ham, I have been researching the kind of glazes that go great with ham. Cherry and pineapple are great fruits to use. And you don’t have to baste the ham with the mix. I’ve seen some where you put a large spoonful over the sliced ham when serving.

Another suggestion I have done every so often is including a turnip with the potatoes that are to be mashed. The place I saw the suggestion explained a turnip as a potato with built-in pepper. Makes sense as it added flavor to the potatoes. if you are from the South, including sour cream in the mashed potatoes is common.

Stuffing also has its diversity. I miss my grandmother’s homemade dressing using a variety of intentionally stale breads (black rye bread is seriously underrated) and some oysters. There are also some excellent stuffing recipes that include a hint of apple and or raisin and goes well with most pork roasts.

I have also tried hard to stay away from wanna-be whipped cream. I won’t state a brand name. I have since purchased heavy whipping cream. Making your own, with a bit of sugar, can’t be beat.

Winter-like weather also brings out the chili recipes, a tradition of my family to have on Christmas Eve. I’ve been told a true chili does not have meat in it making it a spicy, bean soup. The beauty of chili is its diverse recipes. But it’s hard to beat my favorite chili which includes using ground beef and ground pork. For a pound of each meat, I brown the meats in about one cup of beer. Do not use a “light” beer. You need something full flavor, but not a stout. I don’t taste the beer in the final product, as the beer seasons the meat. I also use dark red kidney beans and chili beans.

New Year’s Eve has been more of a time of appetizers for me rather than a full meal. I do give credit to my parents for me eventually liking oyster soup. It’ a family tradition on the last day of the year I grew up with. No one else in the family takes me up on it. A great way to prepare many appetizers is using an air fryer; which was a great gift this year from my daughter.

My kryptonite is pickle wraps, which seem to have been at every high school graduation reception I’ve been to in my life. I didn’t think it was possible to go wrong with anything ham included, but when combined with cream cheese and dill pickles, it just turns me off. When my own kids graduated high school, a dear family friend brought pickle wraps to their reception only to know if I could be in the same room.

Like Superman, I stayed away.

Happy eating the next 40 days. Be thankful Thursday.

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.