Monday, December 28, 2020

Cooking for the Holidays

After voting on December 17th, 2020, during the early voting days of the Georgia Senate runoff election, I felt I needed a reward to have driven back again to Georgia from Nashville to vote. I stopped at the local nursery and bought a pretty Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera.)
Back in the lonely Georgia house I placed the plant near the kitchen window close to a holiday gnome. It made a lot of difference to the atmosphere in the kitchen. My cat Mitsouko was in Nashville but there was still something alive with me as well. You can see the picture in the heading. In Nashville I had left another flowering Christmas cactus in the enclosed back porch, next to another little gnome.
I sorted and gave away another 5 bags of books to the Goodwill, at least 200 or so, and then I returned to Nashville on Sunday December 20th. There was no hurry because I knew that as for Thanksgiving I would be alone at Christmas. For years these were such busy times and now having no planning to do was a bit strange. So as not to feel aimless at Thanksgiving I had decided to cook some turkey and trimmings. With the help of my blogging friend Mae of Mae's Food Blog who provided me with a recipe for fresh turkey parts I proceeded to cook a tasty Thanksgiving meal with plenty of leftovers. In the plate below from top left: herbed bread dressing, corn casserole, roast turkey with fresh cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes with Bourbon pecan sauce, fresh spinach with Boursin cheese next to garlicky mashed potatoes with homemade gravy. I had received a surprise package from my daughter Celine - imported mince pies from Wales. It rounded the meal quite nicely. (I had leftovers for a week.) (Click on collage to enlarge.)
When I returned to Nashville I decided that to keep busy for Christmas I would also cook a special meal. First I had to attempt decorating the front of the house as most houses on the block had bright decorations and lights. Last year my daughter Jessica had decorated the house with many strings of light on the shrubbery, but I was not very good at this. Instead I used lights just on the handrail and decorated the front door and windows. Below is the way the house was decorated last year.
Below is the way I tried to decorate it this year. I was afraid to place lights on the shrubbery since I was not sure how to connect all the wires.
Now I had to plan what my Christmas meal would be. Years ago my mother would make a delicious canard a l'orange - maybe I should try roasted duck with orange sauce as she did. In Atlanta I would have known to buy a duck at the DeKalb Farmers' Market, but in Nashville I did not know where to get one. I called the grocery stores Kroger, Publix - no ducks. Whole Foods did not sell fresh or frozen ducks. Then I thought of the huge market not far away, K and S World Market and International Groceries. I always find fresh dandelion greens there and a whole lot of vegetables, fruits and other items I have no idea how to cook.
I was there early on Tuesday morning with just a handful of customers. They had frozen ducks, four types even! I decided on the Buddhist style duck. Because why not. It had Chinese writing and I think Vietnamese as well. At $19.99 for a 6 pound duck it seemed a fair price.
Now I was in a quandary. Should I attempt roasting a Buddhist duck with a French gourmet recipe? Or should I try an Asian recipe? What a dilemma. I decided to compromise and roast it with Asian spices and then make an orange French sauce. I checked some of my favorite French cookbooks and some of my Chinese ones while listening to Christmas music. Finally after also researching on the Web I came up with an original Franco-Asian recipe for my duck.
First the duck had to be defrozen; it would take two days in the fridge. I baked a couple of cookie recipes with my free time.
On Thursday afternoon, Christmas Eve, the duck was defrozen. I boiled it for 1 minute in a large pot of boiling water. Then I pricked it all over (to let the fat get out.) When it was cool I sprinkled salt all over it. Then I set it back in the fridge, uncovered, until the next day - this is to harden the skin so it will be crispy. That evening my daughter, son-in-law, four grandchildren and my son-in-law's visiting cousins and their children came caroling to my front porch. Then I gave them cookies and they gave me a small rum cake. This is why I could not attend their Christmas, as the gathering was too large.
There was no need to wrap gifts to wee hours as I used to since we were not exchanging presents on Christmas Day. (We will exchange presents in January, closer to Armenian Christmas of January 6th.) I had not planned to get up early on Christmas Day but was wakened up at 6:30 am by some noise. I thought it was a car backfiring. While getting my coffee ready I could hear many birds chirping in the back yard. Quite unusual as there are never more than a couple of birds there and this sounded like an aviary. I opened the curtains and could not believe my eyes. The tree at the end of my yard was covered with birds - so many that the branches could not be seen. Then as I watched, mesmerized, they suddenly flew to a closer tree while chatting, whistling and making a joyful noise. I had seen bands of starlings before flying as a pulsating cloud but at a distance, in the sky. As from a signal they all flew even closer and landed on my back deck, covering it. The wood disappeared and the deck looked alive with hundreds or even thousands of birds. As some perched on the rail close to my window I could see that they were not black, but had a metallic iridescent dark greenish sheen flecked with little white dots - quite pretty.
The European starlings were introduced in the US in 1890 when 100 of them were released in New York's Central Park (now there are more than 200 million in N. America.) The common European starling from the species Sturnus vulgaris is called "Etourneau" in French. When they fly in unison it is called "une nuée d’étourneaux" but in English it is called "a murmuration." It sounds French but it is not. A murmuration is the phenomenon that results when hundreds, sometimes thousands, of starlings fly in swooping, coordinated patterns through the sky, as in an air show. It is impressive how rapidly the murmuration can change direction and fly intricate patterns, all synchronized. Then in an instant the flock left my deck, as in a well choreographed ballet, and flew to trees further away. Below are a couple of ancient engravings of the birds.
I had never seen them so close and felt it was an early Christmas gift - that it would be a good day. Then I turned on the News ... and saw that what I thought had been a car backfiring at 6:30 am was in fact a huge explosion downtown Nashville, about 3 1/2 miles from my house. The explosion destroyed part of Second Avenue, known for its night clubs, galleries, shops and residences; at least 41 buildings were extensively damaged. In the map below I placed a red cross where it happened and a green cross where I live. (Pictures courtesy The Tennessean.)
The Second Avenue of Nashville is a National Historic District. In the late 1800s the street was called Market Street. From 1870 to 1890 many buildings were constructed as warehouses and shops that sold the goods coming from riverboats on the Cumberland River. This is a tragic bombing on Christmas Day. The police have identified the bomber who perished in the blast, but found no motive yet.
I kept working on my duck, covering it with a dry rub made of Chinese spices, and then placing an orange, celery and garlic in the cavity. (Having no ties to close it I had to improvise with metal clips.) While it roasted I made a Sherry Orange reduction sauce (made with Sherry, garlic, orange juice, bitter orange marmelade, Grand Marnier and spices.) It did not take long to roast really as I placed it in the oven around 4:00 pm, turned it over a couple of times and I was ready to eat at about 7:00 pm. It was delicious. That will last me at least 4 days with leftovers. (I rarely eat meat - did not have a steak since summer 2019 and only 3 hamburgers this year.) I found out that the Culver Duck Company was founded in 1860 in the Amish Country of Northern Indiana. The ducks are all natural with no hormones, no nitrates, and are Free to Roam. The company has received certification under the American Humane Certified program.
To keep with the Franco-Asian theme, dessert was a French buche de Noel, and a Fortune cookie. My fortune said "Your golden opportunity is coming shortly." Splendid! Things are looking up ... hope it will be the same for everyone.
Have a Happy New Year! Wishing you a better 2021!

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Georgia on my mind ...

Georgia is on my mind ... I have to drive back again next week from Nashville to my house in Greater Atlanta for the early voting of the senate runoffs. I already drove twice there to vote last month (500 miles round trip each.)
Georgia is also on everyone's mind because of this important election. Why is this election important? The Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper explained it well in their December 11, 2020 article: Here is part of it: "Why are the Democrats and Republicans flooding Georgia with more than $400 million in television ads? Why has Vice President Mike Pence visited five Georgia cities in two weeks? And why is President-elect Joe Biden taking a day away from building his administration to travel to Atlanta, as he will on Tuesday? It all comes down to Georgia's two U.S. Senate seats, both up for grabs in the Jan. 5 runoffs and now suddenly key to the early success of Biden's presidency. Control of the U.S. Senate rests on the outcome in Georgia." So you understand why Georgia is on everyone's mind right now.
Actually, "Georgia on My Mind" became the state of Georgia's official song on April 24, 1979 when Governor George Busbee signed it into law. Singer Ray Charles (1930-2004,) who had made the song famous, performed it on March 7, 1979, in front of a joint meeting of the GA Senate and House of Representatives. I remember watching him on television that day. The song was originally written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell in the 1930s; it was one of Ray Charles' (born in Albany, Georgia on Sep. 23, 1930) biggest hits. I watched him again, live, in 1996 when he performed it in Atlanta's Centennial Park during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Below are pictures of Ray Charles in Atlanta in 1979 (courtesy the AJC.)
Georgia on my Mind, now the official anthem of Georgia, has been a very popular song recorded by many artists, among them: Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Glenn Miller, Etta James, Eric Clapton, Peggy Lee, Tom Jones, Oscar Peterson, Willie Nelson, Dean Martin, Gladys Knight, Led Zeppelin, Leon Russell and many more. In 2003 Rolling Stone magazine declared it one of the top 50 greatest songs of all time. You can find a rendition of it from all these artists on YouTube. Below is an early rendition by Ray Charles.
My husband, two daughters and I moved to Atlanta in early 1973 when my husband was offered a position in the then Governor Jimmy Carter's administration. We lived there until the end of 2017. Now I live in Georgia part-time as it is still my main residence; I live in Nashville, Tennessee, the rest of the time. On my blog I have shown many photos taken in various parts of the state (and I'll show several in this post.) For my friends overseas I'll give some information. Georgia is located in the southeastern U.S. It was named after King George II of Britain and was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirtheen Colonies. Below are vintage postcards of Atlanta. (Click on collage to enlarge.)
The US state of Georgia has an area of 59,425 square miles or 153,909 km2. It is about half the size of Italy; population in 2019 was close to 11 million (including 6 million in Greater Atlanta.)
Georgia is known for its peanuts, peaches and pecans. Its poultry and egg production is worth $4 billion and its cotton is the no. 1 row crop value in the state. Below, two lower photos on the right are a cotton field and some cotton photos I took several years ago. In the center are a fresh bag of peanuts and a bag of pecan pralines I received this week from Southern Grace Farms in Enigma, Georgia. It is owned by the McMillan family who, for eight generations (since their Scottish ancestors came in 1774,) has been farming in South Georgia.
Georgia's terrain is very varied with farmland, mountains, coastal beaches, wild areas, swamps, numerous lakes, waterfalls, white water streams and a great river, the Chattahoochee. It truly is a beautiful state and offers a myriad of landscape to phogograph.
My house is in Greater Atlanta, in Cobb County, in the northwest part of the state. I love the sea but it is about a 4 1/2 hour drive from my house, about the same distance as from my GA house to the one in Nashville. The North Georgia Mountains are close though and there are stunning vistas in the Appalachian Mountains. Last year I traveled to Spring Mountain in Fannin County where the Appalachian Trail starts, then goes 2000+ miles to the state of Maine.
Atlanta, the capital city of Georgia, is the birthplace of Coca-Cola and home of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic site. Atlanta has the busiest international airport in the planet. The city of Augusta hosts the famous Masters Golf tournament and the city of Savannah is famed for its lovely historic architecture and leafy public squares. The University of Georgia founded in 1785 is one of the oldest public universities in the nation. In addition to Coca-Cola, Atlanta is the headquarters for several large corporations: Home Depot, Delta, Equifax, Georgia Pacific and UPS.
Even though much of the state was burnt during the Civil War it still has quite a number of antebellum mansions.
One historic house I usually visit at Christmas time for its decoration and in the spring for its quilt show is Bulloch Hall in Roswell, GA. I miss not visiting it this year because of the virus.
Having been born, raised and lived in Paris until I came to San Francisco in the 1960s (where I lived ten years,) most of my life has been in Georgia and I guess I am now a Franco-Georgian (the state that is, not the country.) I like its cuisine and cook many southern dishes. For example every New Year's Day I prepare the traditional Hoppin' John recipe with greens and corn bread for good luck throughout the year.
Other Georgia-themed songs are "Midnight train to Georgia" by Gladys Knight (an Atlanta native) and the Pips and "Rainy Night in Georgia" by Brook Benton, and so many others. One of the early songs I heard was "Georgia" by Elton John in 1978. Elton John lives part time in Atlanta in his luxury high rise condo in the Buckhead area.
What you may not know is that Georgia is the Hollywood of the South. In 2016 more major feature films were made in Georgia than in California (Black Panther, Avengers, The Ballad of Richard Jewell, Lovecraft Country, Ozark, Fast and Furious, Baby Driver, etc.) The Georgia Film Commission started in 1973 with Governor Jimmy Carter who recognized the profitable revenues from the Burt Reynolds' movie "Deliverance." The state offers quite advantageous tax incentives for film productions. Large studios are constantly being built in Georgia to accomodate the growth of this industry. It is not unusual to see actors in Atlanta and other areas. Actually I literally bumped into Clint Eastwood in Savannah some years ago. (See "Savannah's Book ... and Clint Eastwood." Below just two of the several studios. The Atlanta Studio Complex below was for decades the Atlanta Fairgrounds where I used to visit the monthly flea markets.
When I saw that the film "The Blind Side" starring Sandra Bullock had been filmed in Atlanta I had planned to visit local locations from movies and write a post, but then I realized too many films had been filmed here. With the film and television industries and a concentration of high tech companies in the state a more educated work force has turned Georgia blue (Democrat) to the fury of D. Trump. Television series are also set in Georgia like The Walking Dead, Sharp Objects, Stranger Things, Moon and Me, and Sweet Magnolias. I have not watched the Sweet Magnolias series but understand it is filmed in Covington, GA, where Vampire Diaries and In the Heat of the Night were filmed, as well. Looking at the Greek revival mansion from the series I remembered taking its picture several years ago while in Covington, see my post here "Spring in the Deep South, part 1." (The fictional town in the series is Serenity, South Carolina.)
Because of the coronavirus I have not been able to travel very far. For now all my trips will lead me back to Georgia until my house is cleared out - and that will take some time ... so Georgia will stay on my mind.
I'll end up with one of my favorite instrumentals of Georgia on my Mind. It is from my 2019 CD by the UK Peter Frampton Band.
The music we hear now is mostly Christmas Carols or Holiday Music. It will be a bittersweet season as we wish to enjoy it but are filled with desolation at the amount of grief our country and the world is going through because of the coronavirus. I wish you all a Happy Hanukkah, a Merry Christmas and a peaceful holiday season.
Stay safe, wear a mask and keep your distance.
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