Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Advent: That “c” word is with us, for better or worse

The season ahead signifies a most incredible claim: that God does not live in the clouds beyond but right here, now, among us. Christians call it Advent, which means exactly that, Christ with us. It signifies the birth of a very human man, Jesus, who made outlandish claims to be the Son of God.

This Thanksgiving, a kickoff to Advent on the spiritual calendar, I am trying to think about all the human challenges ahead, about how I can resist hate and not become hateful, how I can listen more, and what in the end is really important. I want to consider more deeply, what brings me purpose, joy and a glad heart, you know, the stuff I’m “thankful for.”

I know it has something to do with this notion of Advent, that God is here with me in all the sordid places I have dragged Her and yet loves me even still.

God’s love–and grace– compelled me to write my manuscript No Religion, Too.  It urges me to better understand the divine while resisting the American brand of Jesus as represented by those who speak the loudest. It demands that I love even while seething against those who take the Lord’s name in vain every time they take to the stage, the radio, the internet or perhaps even in public prayer.

I believe God is with us, and I believe She is pissed.

These thoughts kicked into high gear after I read an email sent to the members of First Mennonite Church of San Francisco by Pastor Sheri Hostetler (Sheri plays a vital role in my life, sort of a spiritual tuning fork. I am the worst church member–something about never going to church plays a part– but Sheri treats me like a vital cog,  which is a bit like Advent: God with me).  As I read about the notion of Christ with us, I realized how uncomfortable I am with Christ–not the person, but the brand, which is often very confused. This is the challenge Pastor Sheri addressed when she wrote:

“Most of us would rather talk about Jesus, the historical man, than Christ. We feel on surer footing talking about Jesus the wise teacher, whose parables confound and delight us; or Jesus the compassionate healer, whose miracles of wholeness we try to translate into our life and times; or Jesus the revolutionary liberator, who denounced the political, economic, social and spiritual oppressions of his day and who was killed as a threat to Empire.

“But, as we approach the Christ-mas season, as we sing hymns proclaiming that “Christ is born today,” we are confronted once again with the “c” word — Christ.  Christ is a confusing concept for many of us. Just who is Christ? How is Christ different from the human person named Jesus?”

Which spurred me to wonder how we can ransom Jesus back from his kidnappers. I think I am not alone when I say, I want God with us and I want  this cooked up Christ dismantled.

This real Christ is confounding, to the point that the dark history of atrocities done in the name of Jesus “have made it very difficult for some of us to want to even claim Christ. So, on top of our confusion about who Christ is, we have to add our profound discomfort with the very concept,” Sheri wrote.

So this is my challenge this Advent season, a time when the ugly energy of hate and fear rises with a new American Theocracy about to come to power.

“I hear a deep spiritual wisdom — that if Christ-ians were to reclaim the true Christ, it might actually contribute to the healing of the world. That if we were to allow the true Christ to be born in us today, the world might change for the better. That if we were to more fully embody and experience the wise, healing, liberating energy that is struggling to be birthed today, we might see new manifestations of healing and hope,” she added.

Which again brings me back to where I’ve so often been in times of trouble. Here, present, waiting, listening for the touch of God coming near.

For this, I am forever thankful.

Interfaith effort equals acts of courage in age of intolerance

I spent my birthday being courageous and I didn’t even know it. All I felt was blessed.

Those who were paying attention knew Pope Francis was a true profile in courage from the moment he took the name he did and spurned the extravagance of the papal residence. We knew he had a certain fearlessness when he dived into crowds, kissed babies and generally scorned the high-security pope mobile that had long kept our pontiffs, like our presidents, out of our reach. But never have we seen the depths of his courage when Pope Francis humbly faced East, bowed his head and stood next to the Grand Mufti of Istanbul in November.

The act is so simple we might have missed just how courageous praying with those of a different faith can be, especially for the leader of the Church of Rome. But we can’t miss the violence carried out throughout the world every single day by ardent believers of various faiths who simply believe the only way to serve God is to kill in His name. What we believe and who and how we worship can get us killed any day in any country in the world. Such is the nature of divided religion in the 21st century.

Thankfully the Pope did not alone use the lens of the Thanksgiving holiday to draw attention to the need for peace among believers of different faiths. I know similar services likely take place all across the globe, but until my birthday this year I’d never experienced a Thanksgiving multi-faith service like the one I attended in a San Francisco synagogue, hosted by the First Mennonite Church of San Francisco and the Congreation Sha’ar Zahav.

I sat in awe as Jews wearing yarmulkes and Muslims wearing hijabs and Christians carrying crosses or rosaries and Buddhists sounding bells gathered together to celebrate their commonalities instead of their vast differences.

At times it felt like bathing in wisdom passed down through the centuries from all parts of the globe as Jewish poems, Muslim scripture, Christian songs and Buddhist practices were presented.  At least a half dozen languages were represented. Gay and straight were represented. Black, white and in between were represented. Young and old. Male, female.

At one point, as a Jewish cantor and a Mennonite song leader sang, I stared to the rafters where large massive beams held the protection over our heads and I felt for a moment transported. We were those beams, the various shapes, all connected powerfully into a force of collective strength by the One who transcends.


I had no idea that I’d be given the gift of experiencing just a slice of what heaven must be like on my birthday. It was a memorable present, one that exemplifies the high prayer of Jesus, “on Earth as it is in heaven.”

Because that’s the point of all this here on Earth right?

As it turned out, the simple gathering was anything but. After the service I learned how fractured, difficult and tenuous the planning of the entire event had been. Deference was paid to all. Great care and planning took place, and still some dropped out before the service. It barely came off.

As the service proceeded in its careful, easy pace, I knew that people die for courageous acts like these. I can’t understand why. Especially being there and seeing it for myself, I can’t imagine why we so often use religion as a tool of hate, violence and oppression. But it happens. We know this all too well. We live in an era of religious crusades, as if the first ones weren’t devastating enough.

Hating and killing and degrading are still so much easier than loving, empowering and respecting.

The Pope’s act and this service remind me that God’s mission on this Earth is the unleashing of heaven the way it was intended in the first place. Imagine how much easier that job will be when those God loves so much that She created us in Her image stop destroying that creation and begin to participate in the reclamation project. Because that’s the point of all this here on Earth, isn’t it?

Which is exactly why it is so courageous in the first place.

Jelly doughnuts a lot like fried bread

The best breakfast in the world is a simple one. You take risen bread dough (as my Grandma Deer would say, “eh… just get the frozen dough) smoosh it into little pancakes and then fry it in olive oil. Top with Ricotta Cheese and freezer jam. Perfecto! As I’ve said before, breakfast is a vital part of my day, and this breakfast is the top of the top.

It’s been my favorite since Nonie’ made it for as a kid and it’s still my kids favorite and will likely be their kids’ favorites as well when they get to the important task of providing me bambinas and bambinos like they are supposed to do.

I don’t usually mess with perfection, but I did this year. I decided to make Blueberry Jelly doughnuts. I had never done this before, and Christmas morning seems like an odd time to be experimenting, but if I could smoke a turkey for the first time on Thanksgiving, I could do this.

As it turned out, the experiment didn’t fall too far from the lab. What I ended up with was risen fried dough with jam inside instead of on top. I missed the ricotta.

They were good though. Just a lot more work.

Here’s the quick version for those wanting to try these at home:

First make your dough and let it rise:

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Then roll it out and cut a bunch of little circles into the dough:

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Put jam on half the circles:

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Paint the edges with milk, top with the other half of the dough circles, and pinch the edges tight. Then smoosh the pinches back into the dough so it looks more like a doughnut than a ravioli. It took me a while to figure this out, but toward the end they took on the right shape.

Take all the extra dough and shape it into a big fat glazed doughnut and top with fresh coconut, Effin Artist’s favorite doughnut. Think of it like a tribute. You can then mail it to me. Tribute accepted, thank you very much.

Let all this rise for another 30-45 minutes, then fry them in very hot oil. They go quick and you don’t want black, just golden brown.

Roll in super fine sugar as soon as they come out and you’re done. Serve hot or the next morning and the next morning after that.

Enjoy. But then go for a hike or a run, because these are not good for you in any way shape or form except they taste EFFin delightful.

Testing this week is like nectar of the gods

I have to admit, caramel intimidated me a bit when this week started. It seemed temperamental… exactly the opposite of why I do this nonsense.

The first batch of caramel was …. well … something other than caramel. It was gooey and tasted ok but looked white and slid around so I just made it into a sauce and served it at Thanksgiving in an apple crisp where it was good, but hidden.

So I knew what I was up against… Not to mention, expectations were high. Folks came hard after the caramel sweepstakes mailing to be sent out at week’s end (for those playing along from home, EffinArtists.com sends out a mailing each week to whoever bribes us the best…errr…. is the lucky winner of a surprise package of whatever we make for our test kitchen). Apparently, their confidence in me was, well, incongruent to use a term I learned way, way back before failing out of grad school.

Anyway, I do not shy away from a challenge. If caramel was going to mean mug me, then it was on. “Let do this!” I shouted as I walked into the test kitchen.

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I’m not even done yet, but as you can see from above, I made that caramel my … uh.. never mind. Let’s just say park bench and try not to lose our PG rating.

A few days into this project and I’ve given those worries the beat down. This stuff so far is bomb.com! Check out this gooey, gooey goodness…

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I can honestly say these cookies are so good I decided to make a list of top five best all-time cookies. These are on the list, which is still under development. I’ve lost at least an hour to pondering it, recalling cookies from days gone by. That was a good hour though.. ummm…

The bottom line is this stuff has game. To my lovely family vying for the surprise package at week’s end, here’s the translation: You need to step it up. I want a visit. Especially on Jan. 1-5 for someone to go snowboarding with me. So call me and make plans, then get in your car and head north. That’s the trump card this week.

Who says bribes don’t work?

The neurotic obsession with leftovers marches on

I can’t throw things out. I just … can’t …. do… it. We don’t have a garbage disposal, so I scrape my wife’s unfinished plate (mine’s always clean) into my mouth instead of the trash can. She sighs… and maybe winces. I’m not sure. I’m too busy eating.

It’s so bad that last week I launched a poll with my family. I asked if they’d eat a carton of cottage cheese that had an eight-day-old sell date. The results were mixed, but I knew before I started what would win in my mind:

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I crushed that cottage cheese.

So this time of year is especially challenging. My kitchen was absolutely full of rapidly declining shelf-life foods. My neurotic need to consume, not trash, this food heightened. Still, I live for this. I approached my fridge like a Sherpa attacks Everest. With confidence. Bigger the challenge, the better. And this year, was a big one. Consider:

We celebrated my birthday the day before Thanksgiving. My daughter’s new significant other launched himself into the heights of family favorites. He gave me what I immediately pushed into the top five of all-time best gifts:


Ain’t it beautiful!

But it didn’t make my after-Thanksgiving mountain of leftovers any easier to scale. Because this wasn’t all he brought. Seven red crabs, two dungeness, this little salmon beauty and an even bigger, nastier more beautiful steelhead. I died and went to Atlantis.

So consider the leftover artiste` at work here… turkey smoked (with no idea what I’m doing), salmon filleted and smoked (my filet skills are worse than my smoking skills) all while making the massive Thanksgiving meal, and … crab, gutted and cleaned and all the carcasses made into stock, which is now happily in the freezer.

Not to mix my mountain-scaling metaphor here, but what the hell… this was my Picasso of hoof-to-head cooking … all with the single of goal of “thou shalt not waste.”

A first key move was buying a freezer off craigslist the day before Thanksgiving as a birthday present to me. One man’s trash and all that. Soon, the freezer was up and humming in preparation of my good buddy Dinner, set to be picked up next week. This key move set the stage for all that was to follow. Like my base camp at Everest (back to the old metaphor again…) or the canvas to my brush (using the Picasso one, for those keeping track at home).
Next, I stuffed that freezer full of fluff in true Poohian fashion. Nothing makes me happier than a stuffed freezer. It’s like yoga… “nowhere else to go, nothing else to do or undo…” just frozen in the perpetual present, not spoiling, not demanding attention, until I can use it properly. Zen.. karma… bliss…If it could be frozen, it froze. The turkey neck, wing tips, and a few parts I didn’t use in the stuffing went in, awaiting a chance when I want to make stock rather than have to.That was just step one. Here’s the litany of what followed:

– Turned the salmon into a decadent omelette. Turned the crab into Asian Won Tons. Turned the leftovers of both into the single best bowl of soup — crafted on the spot, flying without a net — that I have had in… well… since the last time I trekked down I-5 to nowhereville for Anderson’s Split Pea!

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-Turned the crab into stock, which went into the aforementioned chowda. Go Sox. (For the sports fans, wasn’t Johnny Damon enough… Ellsbury, a yankee… really? FML!)

-Turned the turkey into traditional sandwich, followed by warmed-up plate with warmed-up fixins (love the Green Stuffing!) followed by the first quiche I’ve ever made in my life (it only took nearly half a century to get over the whole real men don’t thing…) that my parents (noted quiche eaters) lauded. The quiche used the leftover pie crust, half the leftover fresh spinach, the leftover heavy cream, some of the leftover cranberry sauce (really liked this… painted it on the crust for a savory pop!) more of the leftover turkey and plenty of the leftover cheeses.

– Turned the leftover quiche into breakfast. Turned the leftover cucumbers and tomatoes and Romano cheeses and leftover salami into a couple of antipasto plates, which are a staple around here.

– Turned the leftover spinach and basil and ricotta into a vegetarian lasagna, which I then turned 2/3 of it into the freezer for future dinners, perhaps a side dish to Dinner someday soon.

– Turned more of the turkey and peppers and onions into a smokey Asian stir fry that turned into lunch the next day.

– Tonight I’m turning the leftover sausage into an Italian meatloaf and the leftover sweet potatoes into a risotto, served with kale chips from the frozen garden if they aren’t doomed by this ungodly cold snap (says the very cold native Californian).

– I still have a little more smoked salmon that along with leftover bacon and leftover pepperjack cheese will become an EFFin delightful grilled quesadilla for lunch today or tomorrow.

That leaves: spinach, peppers and basil, which will become a vegetarian something or other Thursday night… likely employing some of the leftover cranberry sauce. Cranberry bran muffins tomorrow will polish off the cranberries and use some of the extra cream cheese. The remnants of the turkey will snacked upon impulsively, dipped into pesto, until finished. No worries there.

So far I have only had to throw out three stalks of celery that turned a sort of doughy color, two rolls that turned the color of the celery and half a bushel of Italian parsley. The leftover potatoes and root vegetables are looking like Benjamin Button… at the beginning of the movie sadly and may find their way into the trash instead of the oven. Overall, not bad.
Whew… I’m tired. But full. I gained four pounds. I’ll be out this afternoon in the frigid air on my bike to punish myself. I’m buying a 12 pound bag of organic brown rice from a gal off Craigslist who said she bought way way too many (don’t ask, she said… so I didn’t). So I’ll lug the rice in my backpack and pedal the frigid hills around here to burn the calories. Notice I had no worries about leftover desserts. I killed those, hence the four added pounds.

I love leftover stories. Drop me a line with your hoof to head adventures any time!

Farewell to a beloved Auntie

Family is big with most people. At least we all give it some pretty good lip service of importance. With us, for all its complications, family remains foundational to all we do. From the day my grandfather’s boat (see photo above) arrived at Ellis Island, family has been our focus. That’s what makes Thanksgiving so wonderful as food and family pretty much sum up the holiday — even this year despite my Clark Grizwald turkey.

Each year at Thanksgiving my ties to family weaves through the distinct aromas in the kitchen. Each year I break out the old grinder from my Nonie’s restaurant of years ago and mash the ingredients that will become our signature green stuffing. Every time I break out the grinder or heat up the ancient cast iron pan, I can’t help but think of the woman who distilled in me the passion for cooking and for our culture and … for family. Family most of all. She lived 95 wonderful years but I miss her as I grind away. I’ll never stop missing her.

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This year the memories are thicker for many reasons, but not the least was the loss right after the holiday of my beloved Auntie, who lost a four-year battle with cancer. She may have always been too dramatic, too loud and likely very difficult. But she always made me feel loved and she was my favorite. She will be missed. My mother is now the only one remaining of the old Italians of my youth who gave me such rich memories. I’m glad she is here to anchor her generation to mine and to that of my children.

To end on a lighter note, I ask you… do you recall Green Eggs and Ham? Of course you do, if you of a certain age. Remember how disgusting it sounded? We all agreed with the guy in the book, “not in a car, not on a bar… I will not eat Green Eggs and Ham…” or something like that.

But Dr. Seuss had it right, and the green eggs and ham were delicious. Well, so too is GREEN thanksgiving stuffing. This Italian recipe goes back with my grandmother at least half a century and it is amazing how good it is. This is the only stuffing I eat. The grinder still drips stuff all over the floor and counters and that’s fine with me. I still grind the turkey giblets and whatnot because my grandmother knew what it was to be poor before she was successful and never lost the basic fundamental of using everything. And I still miss her every time I make it.

Green stuffing? Wonderful. Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without it.


News from the EffinArtist test kitchen

We start with an interesting commentary on contemporary life. Just last month pumpkins were as ubiquitous as hair on my back. Now the produce guy tells me there are none in stock. Ten days before the biggest pumpkin holiday of the year and a major grocery has nary a single pumpkin. This just shows how far removed our “food” culture is from actual food. The demand for carving and tossing food is more important that actually eating it.

It makes me more serious about the new ethos that says if you aren’t willing to do what it takes to obtain your food, you shouldn’t eat it. Granted, I just had a cow sent to the slaughterhouse … see photo below… (he looks a little pissed if you ask me, but then again, wouldn’t you be..?)


and while someone else did the honors of execution and hanging and cutting, I made up my mind that I WOULD do it. In fact, next year, I’ll likely ask to find a butcher I can be somewhat more in the process. Likewise, I don’t enjoy tearing the dingy off crabs, but I did it. By the way, my steer — I call him “Dinner” –is now hanging. Dinner came in about 200 pounds overweight (typical a cow in our family would be overweight… but I guess in cow speak its a good thing).

Anyway, before I dive into the pumpkin stories of the day, a thought… speaking of the hairs on my back: My bride did me the favor of shearing me the other day. At my feet was a pile of wool. How is human wool different from sheep’s wool? This seems like a renewable resource that should have a market. Reduce, reuse, recycle and restore, right? So… The Effin Artist Italian Wool Company?

OK… on to the kitchen!  Don’t worry. Know.. wait I mean NO (big difference!) shearing takes place in the kitchen.

This week we have THREE pumpkin projects:

The first, a test pie in preparation for Thanksgiving is already underway…

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This is a beauty. We are going to make a few minor tweaks for the holidays, but this particular combination of pie and filling, culled from the ranks of pie genius, is divine. My biggest complain about pumpkin pie is its too sweet. Not this, full of complex flavors like ginger, cinnamon, and flaky crust. The whipped cream provides the sweetness and can be dolled out by the individual. Our holiday guests will get the chance to chime in, so expect reader reviews soon. We’ve found in person reviews to be a bit kinder than the cyber-kind… not sure what that it is, but my friend told me my recent photo mad me look ‘intimidating,” which he says will scare off publishers. Maybe that has something to do with it. As for scaring publishers, I told him. “You want me to look like a punk? I ain’t no punk.” He said I need to recognize my audience and environment has changed of late. I’m considering that. But I digress.

Project two is our very own invention: a pumpkin empenada. Typically these are sweet, like brown sugar pumpkin turnovers. But my sugar buzz from buttermilk week lingers like a bad hangover, so I’m moving this into the savory realm. Ours will be filled with meat and herbs to offset the sweetness of the brown sugar and pumpkin mix. Stay tuned.

Project three is a return to our foundational elusive artistry: Chocolate, which is the damn point of this whole thing when I’m not chasing after the next shiny thing like a meth addict in the throws of a big one. This will be a pumpkin chocolate truffle.

A fourth bonus project could be in the offing, but we’ll see.

Let the Pumpkin Games Begin! 

To UNSUBSCRIBE call out to the universe for cosmic assistance… what’s that?… oh the universe just called back. She said “no.”