Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 30, 2009

Grandma's Kitchen: Favorite time of year

By EDNA SHAFFER

I hope your Thanksgiving was a time of bonding with family and friends, feasting and giving thanks for our many blessings. This spirit of gratitude is the perfect springboard into Advent and the journey to Christmas.

For many of us, the world holds many anxieties and fears, yet we know life was pretty frightening on that first Christmas too. The angels addressed this with their first words, "Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy!" What better message for the year 2009?

Christmas always seems to come at just the right time to pull mankind back from the brink of insanity ... to invade our hearts and lives with a spirit of peace and hope.

When our emphasis shifts from ourselves to others the Christmas spirit becomes contagious. I see this every day in this community in the many ways we care for each other. The spirit is alive!

Last night we were laughing about our Thanksgiving experience last year. The extended family had been invited to dinner with our granddaughter Rachael, husband J.T. and baby son Helly in Traverse City.

It was a wonderful day, four generations were celebrating our baby's birth with a great Thanksgiving feast as a bonus. J.T. is quite a chef and had roasted one turkey with stuffing and was deep frying another since we'd all been anxious to try one fried. The food was bountiful and delicious and, while we were stuffing ourselves, the resident dog, a young Bernese Mountain pup, Oso, was snoozing peacefully in a sunny corner. (I bet you are ahead of me now!)

After dinner we took our coffee to the living room and about two sips later there was a huge clatter from the dining room. We all yelled, "OSO!"

Sure enough he had wrestled the fried turkey to the floor and was in doggie-heaven until he lost his trophy. He was a good dog to withstand those wonderful smells as long as he did.

We had lunch there last Saturday without incident. Oso has been to obedience school and lost some of his puppy-ness and has bonded with Helly, now 1 year old, who has learned to slip him little tidbits from his highchair tray.

I finally got out of the house for a few days. Daughter Molly, her daughter Sairy and I ate our way across the U.P. last week to their farm on the Keeweenaw Peninsula.

The weather was great, the U.P. beautiful and Lake Superior was, well, superior. It is always awe inspiring to me -- and a little scary. I lived on Superior for 15 years and have seen its swift and mighty power.

We took lunch with us, which got us as far as Marquette where we had dinner at an organic restaurant with grandson Nolan and his friend Lauren. Our visit was fun but we waited an hour for the food. Nolan and Lauren are presently students at Northern Michigan University.

We enjoyed being at the farm, no TV or computers. We drank lots of coffee in our jammies and had fun with the Dollar Bay grandkids and their mom Jenny. She brought a batch of five-minute bread dough, made with only 4 ingredients -- simple, hearty and delicious. We had taken two soups with us so we had lots of hot bread and soup. It was nice to take time off from cooking.

We went to our favorite nearby restaurant called The Feed Mill. It is in a converted house in the farming community of Tapiola. No fancy trappings, just good food and lots of it. The decor could be called "early feed sack" with other farming memorabilia groupings on the walls. They have books and toys for the children and the waitstaff is so nice and efficient, they make you feel like you are the only ones there ... come to think of it, maybe we were!

They treated us to some Reiska (Finnish bread) and they always have four or five kinds of homemade pies. We love going there because we always have leftovers to bring home. It's my kind of place.

I am having a hard time trying to figure out what recipe to give you that might be good for the Christmas holiday -- something healthy or something decadent? Maybe both.

I think this first one might be a keeper that you can use often because you can choose different ingredients for variety. I'll give you the list that we used. Okonomiyaki means "favorites" in Japanese, so feel free to use yours. You can use meat or go vegetarian. You can call it a pancake, patty or pizza.

Okonomiyaki

1 c. cooked chicken, chopped

1&1/2 c. napa cabbage, chopped (we used plain cabbage)

1/4 c. shredded carrot

3 green onions, chopped

1 small green pepper, cut in thin strips

1 small zucchini, cut in thin strips

3 eggs, lightly beaten

3/4 c. all-purpose flour

3/4 c. chicken stock

2 t. soy sauce

1 t. vegetable oil

1/2 t. sesame oil

Pinch of salt and pepper

In one bowl mix the chicken, cabbage, carrots, onions, green pepper and zucchini. In another bowl beat the eggs, add the flour, chicken stock and soy sauce. Pour the batter over the chicken and vegetables and stir well.

Combine the vegetable oil and sesame oil in a skillet over medium heat.

Pour the mixture pancake style in the skillet, cover and cook until brown, flip and cook other side, or fry in individual patties (we did). You may need to add a little more oil when you flip them. Serve hot. Makes 4-6 servings.

And here's where the decadence comes in.

Strawberry Ice Cream Cake

1 white cake mix

1/2 gal. strawberry ice cream

1 qt. fresh strawberries

1/3 c. sugar

Bake cake mix as directed for layers, but use whole eggs. Cool.

After cake has cooled put one layer on a freezer-proof plate. Allow ice cream to soften until its spreadable, frost the layer top with about 3/4 inch of ice cream.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and freeze three or four hours. Soften ice cream again. Uncover the frozen layer and add the top layer, insert about four toothpicks to hold it in place. Frost the entire cake with the strawberry ice cream. Freeze overnight.

When ready to serve, slice the fresh berries with the sugar. (Remove the toothpicks.) Spread a spoonful of berries and juice on each slice of cake. Makes 10-12 servings.

If you have frozen berries you can substitute them for the fresh ones.

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Parting shot:

May your Christmas be a time of joy and renewal. Thank you for the many ways you have blessed my life.

Edna Shaffer is a local mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who writes about cooking from the perspective of an older adult. She can be reached at coachngrandma@charter.net. For more Grandma's Kitchen columns by Edna Shaffer, log on to record-eagle.com/ednashaffer.