There are many ways, and many reasons, to celebrate Thanksgiving

Chasing Sunsets 056

It’s a community of sorts. Loosely knit, perhaps, but the armada of sailors and cruisers that descends on St. Mary’s towards the end of November each year is every bit as much a family as most of those with blood ties.

It’s Thanksgiving that brings this marine family together in a little town on the river between Georgia and Florida. It’s a time to share stories, good times and good drinks. They arrive each year. They come “home” for the holiday.

St. Mary’s residents have been hosting this gathering for Intracoastal Waterway voyagers since 2001. This year, it begins the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and ends with a pancake breakfast the following Friday. There are other events over the weekend and some of the vessels stay on for a few days. Cumberland Island is nearby; there is much to see and do.

Gypsy Cold - Winter 2010-11 086

Newcomers are welcomed by the old-timers with warmth and good cheer, greeted as new friends and immediately inducted into the “family.”

There is a camaraderie that is natural and unforced. The week’s activities center around the Riverside Hotel and its Seagle’s Restaurant and Saloon.  Boaters and townspeople mingle at happy hour, enjoy a chili cook-off  and consume dozens of oysters at a Wednesday afternoon free roast. They drink coffee and other libations, exchange anecdotes and tell tall tales.

Townspeople come to the harbor to meet the “boat people.” They offer “restocking” rides to nearby grocery stores and gift shops and they renew old acquaintances. They come to ask questions about the boats, to hear stories of adventure, to marvel at the hardiness (or the folly) of those who choose the sea over the comforts of land-based homes. Children view the boats with wide-eyed wonder.

Those who arrive early find dock space. Those who come later pick up moorings or drop anchor. There seems always to be enough room. Those who travel the Intracoastal Waterway routinely plan their voyages with a St. Mary’s Thanksgiving in mind. Others happen on the celebration by chance. Still others hear of it, and can’t resist the urge to see if it’s true.

Photo by Tony Alter/Flickr15714052278_913ff71a3c_zIt does not disappoint. Thanksgiving festivities begin along the docks, and drift into town each day. On Thursday, local resident volunteers arrive in the morning with home-cooked turkeys and hams. Side dishes, salads and desserts appear as if by magic, contributed by the boating community. Dinner is served buffet style, beginning just after noon, and it continues until the food disappears. There always seems to be more than enough — of food and friendship.

We pulled in at dusk:  It had been a long and chilly journey.  But fellow cruisers along the waterway had told us it was worth the effort. November is somewhat late for pleasure boats to be traveling on the Intracoastal Waterway, but 2008 was relatively mild, and we encountered few problems other than the loneliness of being alone for Thanksgiving.

How quickly that changed. Although we have not returned, we think of that special Thanksgiving often. It was, indeed, memorable — an event out of all proportion to the size of the town. We filled our stomachs. The experience filled our hearts.

Even old salts find solace in planting their feet firmly on the ground on occasion. This holiday in this town, with these special people, is a unique and lasting gift.Chasing Sunsets 054

All boaters travel on, but they leave satisfied, awed and thankful.

For more information on St. Mary’s, visit the city’s official website.

 

Pleasures and Pitfalls of Olive Oil

Recently, at a local farmers market, I stopped at an olive oil display and was transported – in memory – to my first encounter with the mystique of locally-produced olive oils. I learned that today, in Texas, there is not a “lone olive ranch” in the Lone Star state, but several. It seems this state is better suited for black oil than olive oil, but with time, luck and persistence, some olive ranchers are making a go of it. Texas A&M explains that climate is a limiting factor.

The oil pressed from trees has a long, rich history, and was commonly known as the “gift of the gods” by ancient civilizations. There is a bit of doubt about which gods first introduced olive oil to humans, and where exactly, but no doubt at all about its continuing popularity among Mediterranean peoples. That’s how I first was introduced to its wonders.

It was decades before the Mediterranean Diet became codified; EVOO, at the time, was not in the vocabulary of most chefs. But, even then, olive oil was something special among the “initiated.”

Photo by Adrienne Cohen
Photo by Adrienne Cohen

I have written about olive oil in terms of its natural properties, and as a regional, historical and cultural component of diet and tradition. The following piece first was published on Yahoo Contributor Network March 3, 2013. It was prompted by a news story confirming the health benefits of olive oil.

I’d like to share it again (with minor changes and updates):

Eating Well, Staying Healthy Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Many years ago, while vacationing at a Caribbean Island resort, my husband and I met a vivacious Italian couple at dinner. They were older, by decades, than we were at the time, but just as active, full of curiosity and fun to be with. They were swimmers, reef explorers and divers, and had come to enjoy the beautiful waters of the Caribbean. We met and talked, and because we had lived in France and traveled in Europe, we shared our experiences with them; they asked us about our life in the United States. We found we had much in common, despite the differences in age and geography.

One night at dinner, we tasted what that Italian gentleman called his “secret of long life.”

Olive Oil

Pressed from olives grown on his trees on his land, and carried from his home in travel flasks, he passed it around the resort’s community table for all to sample, and to savor, with our bread. I still recall the color, the scent and the flavor of that olive oil. The couple was justifiably proud of the golden elixir.

As “20-somethings,” we were enthralled. We were captivated by the setting; by the sun and the sea, by the activities and the bountiful food. We were charmed by the company. This pair

Olive Grove, Tuscany' Photo by Davide Rizzo via Flickr
Olive Grove, Tuscany’
Photo by Davide Rizzo via Flickr

of free-spirited, fit, fun grandparents enjoyed life every bit as much as we did. They were only too happy to meet new friends and share good times, good conversation, good food and abundant wine.

This incident occurred before the current popularity of all things Mediterranean, including the diet. On vacation, we two laid aside moderation: We overdid the activity as well as the food, the sun and the drink; and we paid the price upon our return home.

Not so our Italian friends. They maintained their routine. A simple breakfast of bread, with the requisite olive oil, and cheese; perhaps a soft-boiled egg, and black coffee. For lunch, a simple salad, with fish or fresh vegetables, fruit and bread, with olive oil. Whole olives, too, if they were available.

They walked, they swam, they dove; they relaxed.

Olives ready to pick Photo by Jocelyn Kinghorn, Flickr
Olives ready to pick
Photo by Jocelyn Kinghorn, Flickr

And then dinner — long, multi-course dinners. Soup, appetizer, entrée, roasted vegetables, salad — and bread. Always with the olive oil. Good conversation, much laughter. Much wine. And then dessert.

No, we never saw them again. But we never forgot that olive oil.

When I heard on ABC News that new findings confirm that the benefits offered by the “Mediterranean Diet,” in particular its emphasis on daily consumption of olive oil, include an astounding 30 percent reduction in heart attack risk, I thought of those Italian friends from long ago. I doubt that they are traveling this earth still, some 30-plus years later. But I would wager that they did so for many years following our meeting, always with enthusiasm, with smiles and laughter, and with olive oil.

Note: Now that I have discovered, and confirmed, that olive trees grow in Texas, I am planning an upcoming visit to the groves. I’m really looking forward to exploring the modern process of producing that “divine” oil.

Let’s all remember our veterans this November 11

It may not be a “long weekend” to celebrate good times, but try to take a minute on November 11 to remember American military veterans.

Source: Let’s all remember our veterans this November 11

Let’s all remember our veterans this November 11

Poppy by Jenny Downing via Flickr
Poppy by Jenny Downing via Flickr

Today we are a long way in both space and time from the beaches at Normandy, the air fields of England and the islands of the Pacific, from the Gallipolli Campaign and the battlefields of Verdun, and from Gettysburg and Appomattox. We are also, too often, emotionally distant from the world’s current hot spots.

We have come a long way from those “great wars” that so gripped the spirit and the determination of a people. In the intervening century and a half, Americans have become war-weary, uncertain about the “just” causes we embark upon, and tired of it all. Today, fewer than one half of one percent (that’s 0.4%) of the population get up in the morning to dress in a uniform of the armed services. We still have troops around the world, however, and some of them are still dying for their country.

Veterans Day is November 11 and, because it falls on a Wednesday this year, I can’t help but wonder how many Americans will even think of its significance, or consider the millions of veterans who have served in our nation’s military services. At 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, how many of us will stop what we are doing to give a moment’s thought or a silent prayer for those who serve in the military. It’s not a long weekend, after all, not really a holiday, and it’s easy to forget. But those who daily don a uniform, whether they serve at home or in a war zone, cannot forget.

At the World War I Memorial in Kansas City, an Assyrian Sphinx shields its eyes from the war horrors.
At the World War I Memorial in Kansas City, an Assyrian Sphinx shields its eyes from the horrors of war.

The date and time commemorate the World War I armistice that was signed in a rail car in the forest of Compiegne, east of Paris, at 5 a.m. on a cold morning in 1918. It became effective six hours later — at 11 a.m. local time — and was for a period of 30 days, subsequently renewed many times. It represented a “ragged” peace, made even more so because the final peace treaty was not actually negotiated and agreed upon by all parties to the Great War until June of the following year.

The day was originally known as Armistice Day, and it is celebrated in France and other European nations as well as in Canada and the United Kingdom, where it is also known as Remembrance Day or Poppy Day.

The world was ready for peace. Unfortunately, the peace that seemed so hard won did not last all that long. And there have been, since then, far too few moments of worldwide peace. Perhaps all the more reason to remember those who serve daily in our armed services.

Veterans Day Flag Ceremony - Photo by Loren Javler via Flickr
Veterans Day Flag Ceremony – Photo (2009) by Loren Javler via Flickr

Veterans Day is more than a day to honor the dead — that occurs, in somber tribute, on Memorial Day in the spring. Veterans Day is, rather, the time to think of those who wear the uniform in both peace and war, those currently alive and those who served in the past. Because it falls just after election day, it is a good time to talk to children about the duties and responsibilities of citizenship, and to speak about patriotism and pride.

If you live in a city or town that has any sort of military museum, monument or memorial, November is a good month to visit, to think about the rights and privileges we all enjoy due to the continuing service of our service men and women. It gives us all a chance to think about history, and to forge the future that will become our legacy.

How to know if you’re a food snob

 . . . and what to do about it!

Some people celebrate their snobbery, of course, by reading restaurant reviews before making a reservation, cultivating their knowledge of the proper wine to accompany a rare steak or a traditional Welsh rarebit, diligently identifying every ingredient and perfecting the most unusual preparation techniques.

That’s okay — absolutely! The joys of cooking and eating are individual pursuits.

But good food is found in unusual places and, at least sometimes, under the oddest of conditions — on street corners, in out-of-the-way neighborhoods, in unexpected circumstances. Good food is also found, commonly and abundantly, around a simple family dinner table, whether it’s a hearty soup, a warm casserole, a generations-old treat, or a weeknight family get-together. Good food does not have to be fancy, and it can also be fast.

Food, at its best, is a celebration. Breaking bread together is an honorable tradition in every culture around the globe. It’s not in a literal sense that sharing food is so important, but in the wider sense of sharing a small slice of life with other people, be they family members or strangers, along with the slice of beef, the slice of pizza, or the slice of pie.

It’s the connection that matters; food is the glue that binds us together.

I happened to catch the last few minutes of a Jacques Pepin cooking show recently on PBS and was transported back to the time I spent in Paris as a young woman. French food was so good; learning how to prepare it properly seemed so unattainable. And then I learned.

What I learned is that French cuisine, at its heart, is simple food. It’s crafted from simple ingredients, picked fresh from the garden, or purchased fresh from the market. It’s peasant food and, as such, often there are no recipes, just general guidelines. It’s meant to be shared, with friends and family, both the preparation of it and its consumption. It evolves naturally from what’s available.

Iconic French onion soup illustrates the point — humble onions and a bit of butter combined with dry bread and a some leftover cheese! It’s a classic. But, at its heart, it is simply a “make do” meal for times when no meat is available.

Although I never met him, I feel as if I know him. Jacques Pepin’s brand of kitchen reality resonates with me; he is the chef I would most like to spend time with in the kitchen, or have as a guest at my dinner table.

Yes, I know that he once prepared dishes for the presidents of France. I know that he’s a renowned chef, and that he has written cookbooks and mastered all the fancy kitchen techniques. I know all that, but as I watch his shows, and see him interact with his family and friends, I can’t help but appreciate how this 80-year-old chef views food, with a sparkle in his eyes, and a smile on his lips. It’s always a celebration.

“The love of food, and cooking, is passed down from generation to generation, with favorite recipes at the heart of every family. What do you say to that? Happy cooking!” Jacques Pepin.

I am convinced again that this is the way we all ought to approach food — in our own kitchens, laughing and sampling and experimenting — tasting as we go along — just the way Jacques Pepin does. My grandmothers did that too. They sampled food with their fingers, added a “bit of this and a pinch of that,” rarely followed a recipe exactly, and always let the “young’uns” lick the spoon and sample the pie crust tarts hot from the oven. They also learned to “make do” when necessary.

PBS stations around the country air a final 26-week series on Jacques Pepin, “Heart and Soul,” this fall. Check local stations for scheduling. Segments from a previous series, entitled “Jacques Pepin: fast food my way,” are available to watch online.