Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 14, 2009

Foodie with Family: Reluctantly sentimental

By Rebecca Lindamood

"Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please to put a penny in the old man's hat;
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny then God bless you!"

This old nursery rhyme chokes me up. I can't help myself. I picture a scene ripped straight from the pages of Dickens: an elderly pauper on a Victorian street corner begging for pennies to feed his sickly grandchildren.

I don't normally think of myself as an overly sentimental person. But there is something about Christmas that -- coupled with an overactive imagination -- really fires up my reluctant sentimentality.

It was mid-December when I scooted down to the grocery store with my eldest who was just over 2 years old and I was great with our second child. As we entered the store our eyes were drawn to the food pantry barrels set up just inside the entrance. I took a moment to explain to my boy that the brightly colored barrels were there to be filled with food for those who couldn't afford to buy it themselves. He was enthusiastic, so we passed through the store with an eye to what we could buy to donate.

At that time, Liam's grand passion in life was chicken-and-stars soup. You know the kind; a red, gold and white labeled major brand. You could say the soup made his days merry and bright. To him it was a natural choice. He wanted to load those barrels with chicken-and-stars. I looked at the soup prices. The major brand, Liam's favorite, was twice the price of the store-brand soup. I explained to Liam that we could buy twice as much for people if we bought the unfamiliar label. He agreed. And that's where I was hijacked by sentimentality.

Without warning, my clear-headed thinking got very swimmy. I pictured tousle-headed children that looked remarkably like my own in worn clothing exclaiming with joy when finding a can of the red, gold and white labeled soup. I fought back at my hormone- and holly-induced attack of the wishy-washies.

"You worked in advertising, fool!" I said to myself, "You know that they'll be thrilled for the soup no matter which kind you put in." I took a couple deep breaths and asked Liam how many cans of soup he thought we should buy. He chose the only number he reliably knew -- 20. I reached for the store-brand soup cans and continued on through the store.

And to this day I don't whether the Christmas spirit was playing tricks on me or whether my heart overpowered my brain that day, but I do know this: the generic brand cans that I had loaded in my cart were red, gold and white when I got to the register. And I may not be sentimental, but I can take a Christmas hint. I bought the soup. And the best present of that entire season was the excitement on my little boy's face as he tossed the red, gold and white cans in one at a time.

I pray that you will all experience memorable joy throughout this holiday season. I hope loved ones and comfort and good food surround you. I do believe this one is a cinch, but I also pray that the snow will fall abundantly on Christmas. And I thank you for another year of reading Foodie With Family and playing around in the kitchen with me.

The position of honor held by the red, gold and white soup has since been transferred to the boys' current favorite. Refried Bean Tacos serve as lunch many days here, but are significantly more difficult to stick into food pantry barrels. While this is indeed the season for fancy finger foods and slow-cooked roasts, you need to have a couple last-minute, stick-to-your-ribs numbers handy for busy days, too. This fits the bill admirably and comes together in mere moments.

Crispy Refried Bean and Cheese Tacos

Ingredients per taco:

1/4 c. refried beans

2 T. shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

1 flour tortilla

A pinch of garlic powder

Non-stick cooking spray

Optional for serving; salsa, sour cream, sliced green onions and Ranch dressing

Spread the refried beans over half of the tortilla. Sprinkle the beans with cheese and garlic powder. Fold the bare part of the tortilla over the beans. Spray both sides lightly with non-stick cooking spray and place in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Cook for about 3 minutes per side, or until the flour tortilla is crisped and deep golden brown. Transfer taco to a cutting board and slice in half. Serve with desired optional toppings.

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What kind of food columnist would I be if I didn't give you at least one party food recipe to grace your holiday buffets? A lousy one, in my opinion. This one is also a favorite around here. They never last long enough to make it to the table!

Bacon Stuffed Mushrooms

1 lb. medium fresh mushrooms

8 slices bacon, diced

1/2 c. minced onion, or use part green onion

2 T. minced fresh bell pepper

1 t. salt

1/8 t. fresh ground pepper

3 ozs. goat cheese, room temperature

1/2 c. fine dry, plain bread crumbs

Clean mushrooms. Remove and chop stems; set aside.

Fry bacon in heavy skillet. Remove with a slotted spoon and set on paper towels to drain. In bacon drippings, saute onion, green pepper and chopped mushroom stems until tender; drain. Add salt and pepper.

Put cooked bacon and vegetables into a bowl, crumble in the goat cheese and mix gently. Press mixture firmly into mushroom caps, mounding a bit. Place bread crumbs in a small bowl. Turn filled mushroom caps upside-down and press gently in the bread crumbs to coat tops. Place crumb side up in a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish. Bake, uncovered, 20 to 25 minutes at 400 degrees.

For a heartier helping of Foodie With Family, go to www.foodiewithfamily.com or Rebecca's new blog, www.icouldeatthat.com. Write to Rebecca at rebecca@foodiewithfamily.com to share your adventures and favorite recipes. For more of Rebecca's Record-Eagle columns, log on to www.record-eagle.com/rebeccalindamood.