I understand why some people dislike oysters.  They can be chewy.  If you bite into one and look at the inside you'll wish you hadn't.  Raw, they are slithery, slimy, cool, snotty things. 

Still.  Oysters. 

The briny smell of a fresh pint of oysters hits me where it counts.  The love my family feels for the following dish is deep.  We have been making it for the holidays for nearly 40 years.  Non-oyster eaters and kids usually start out just eating the cracker part around the oysters, which is saturated with the oyster liquor.  Before long though, they've become converts, piling it on their plates and eyeing how much everyone else is taking.  Every year my sister dredges up the story about the time my brother-in-law ate all of the leftover oysters in a late night fridge raid.  It was a choice he was lucky to live to regret.

Scalloped Oysters

1 pint oysters (smaller=better, in this case)
2 cups coarse saltine crumbs (46 crackers... I told you we've been making this a while.)
1/2 cup melted butter
3/4 cup half and half
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
Freshly ground black pepper

Drain the oysters, reserving 1/4 cup of the liquor.  Combine the cracker crumbs and butter.  Apread 1/3 of cracker crumbs in the bottom of a casserole.  Place 1/2 of the oysters on top of the cracker crumbs.  Sprinkle with pepper.  Repeat with 1/3 of cracker crumbs, rest of oysters, and pepper.  Combine cream, oyster liquor, salt and Worchestershire sauce.  Pour over all.  Top with remaining cracker crumbs.  Bake in 350 degree oven until bubbly and top is brown (30 minutes).  Um, yum.
As a devoted foodie, I have read much of and by Julia Child including My Life in France, Noel Riley Fitch's Appetite for Life; The Biography of Julia Child , and of course Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I.  I can appreciate Child's enormous impact on American cooking.  She paved the way for the many cookbook authors and TV personalities that have come since.  She was truly a pioneer in cookbook writing and television.  However, (you knew that was coming), I find Mastering the Art of French Cooking tedious, inflexible and, dare I say it, boring.  I love to cook, but I haven't felt inspired to cook a single recipe from that cookbook.  When I read her recipes I try to remember that Child was writing for an audience that she assumed knew very little about cooking.  Her recipes are fool-proof, well-tested and explicit.  However, SIX pages for "French Baked Beans" (a.k.a. Cassoulet)?  This "nourishing country fare" includes "roast loin of pork, shoulder of lamb braised in wine, homemade sausage cakes, and beans cooked with pork rind".  And let's not forget to add the suggested goose confit or fresh duck, turkey or partridge.  Seriously, has anyone besides Julia Child ever made this? 
1. No, we will NOT be coming to the Ryan family get-together next Saturday...we'll be too busy packing for Jamaica!
2. We sit around and play Slamwich at the old kitchen table.
3. I watched the steam rising from the hot cup of coffee and thought: I shouldn't use so much creamer.
4. I hope my friend Scott's wife is going to be okay.
5. I'll take half an Ativan.
6. David Gregory's thick hair is effeminate, at least from my point of view.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to shopping at Sam's Club (not), tomorrow my plans include getting my new headboard and Sunday, I want to celebrate Christmas with the Devenney family!
1. Good times sometimes require medication or alcohol...or both.
2. I feel privileged to live in my home.
3. Sleigh bells ring to warn you that a sleigh is coming so that you don't get hit.  Romantic, eh?
4. My holidays are so perfect right now it makes me sad, a little. (My kids won't stay little forever.)
5. Once more, let gays get married already.
6. I am making all of these cookies and candies, and to what end?
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to Sam and Joe's piano recital, tomorrow my plans include my husband's office Christmas party and Sunday, I want to start wrapping presents!
Every December I order three cases of citrus fruit from our local Future Farmers of America; one each of navel oranges, tangelos and pink grapefruit.  I enjoy giving fruit to neighbors, family and co-workers at a time of year when it seems like we're all overindulging. 

Still, I find myself with a lot of fruit.  So I make this simple salad a few times a week. I crave it as the days grow shorter and the snow starts flying. Once I make a batch I can't stay out of it, finishing it off as I do the dishes.  Some easy additions are maraschino cherries, mint or minced candied ginger.  It's a wonderful accompaniment to a dinner full of rich foods. 

Sunny Citrus Salad
2 navel oranges
2 tangelos
1 grapefruit
brown sugar, to taste

Peel and cut the citrus fruit into supremes.  Cut the supremes over your mixing bowl to collect the juice.  (Ming Tsai demonstrates how to supreme citrus below.) Blend the citrus wedges with brown sugar to taste.  Keeps well refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Feeding a family more locally grown and processed food can be a challenge, and certain types of food are more difficult to find than others.  It is obviously impossible to find locally grown must-haves such as coffee, chocolate, nuts, olive oil and spices, and I don't give a second thought to purchasing them from local grocers.  I've found it's fairly easy to find local sources for fruits, vegetables, honey, maple syrup, beef, pork, lamb, chicken and eggs.  And every day I get a little closer to trying local, raw milk.  (I'll let you know how that goes.) 

It is very difficult to find locally grown and milled grains.  Michigan is more of a fruit bowl than a bread bowl.  Still, we have a wonderful milling company less than an hour away in Chelsea, Michigan.  Chelsea is a bit of a bedroom community for Ann Arbor and has been the home of the Chelsea Milling Company, maker of Jiffy Mix, for nearly 120 years. I remember touring the Jiffy factory as a child, and they still give tours today! 

Jiffy Baking Mix is similar to Bisquick, and can be used to whip up pancakes, waffles, biscuits and casseroles.  Jiffy also has 22 other mixes, including Corn Muffin Mix, Blueberry Muffin Mix, Bran with Dates Muffin Mix, Pizza Crust Mix, Pie Crust Mix, and several cake, frosting and cookie mixes. 

Now I understand that the ingredients inside these mixes are not organic and do not come from local sources.  BuI I feel good buying baking mixes from a locally owned company, one that makes its own "little blue boxes" and employs Michigan workers in a time of record unemployment.

So tonight, I threw together a Jiffy Spoon Bread Casserole.  It is a simple, comforting dish that goes well with ham or roast pork.  Whenever I take it someplace I am invariably asked to share the recipe.  Thanks, Jiffy!

Jiffy Spoon Bread Casserole

1 pkg. "JIFFY" Corn Muffin Mix
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 can (8 oz.) whole kernel corn, drained
1 can (8 oz.) cream style corn
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs

Pour margarine or butter and corn into prepared dish. Blend in sour cream. In separate bowl, beat eggs and stir into casserole along with muffin mix. Blend thoroughly. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 35-40 minutes or until center is firm. Serve warm with a drizzle of maple syrup.
I've adapted a Rachael Ray recipe for Creamy Spaghetti and Beans and it is a terrific, quick weeknight dinner.  This is the sort of warm, soothing, carb-laden dish I crave at this time of year.  If you like bean soup or pasta fagioli, you'll really enjoy this dish.

I haven't seen many recipes like it, but I have heard that in some regions of Italy pasta is sometimes simmered and stirred in a small amount of broth.  The pasta sheds some of its starch into the broth, creating a creamy sauce.  Instead of boiling pasta in salted water it is cooked in a manner similar to risotto, including the addition of aromatics and the toasting of the pasta.  I break up the spaghetti because it is silly to try to toast foot-long spaghetti in a pan, let alone stir it in the broth.  My sister changes it up, using different vegetables and mushrooms, depending on the time of year.  I love pancetta, but it seems like this would be a great place to improvise with some leftovers.

Spaghetti in the Style of Risotto
5 to 6 cups chicken stock 
olive oil 
1/4 pound pancetta chopped into small dice 
Garlic, minced
1 pound spaghetti, broken into 2-3 inch pieces
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
1 bay leaf
1 (15-ounce) can small white beans 
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup grated Parmesan

Measure out the broth and warm it in the microwave.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large, deep pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and brown slightly. Next add the garlic and spaghetti and toast the noodles lightly, 3 to 4 minutes. Add onions and carrots, bay and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Soften veggies a bit. Add the wine and allow it to be completely absorbed. Add beans then add a few ladles of stock and stir the pasta. Keep adding stock a few ladles at a time allowing liquids to be mostly absorbed before adding more. When most of the liquids are absorbed and spaghetti is cooked to al dente, 12-15 minutes, stir in cheese. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve in shallow bowls and garnish with parsley and a drizzle of good olive oil.
1. You get one chance, and one chance only.
2. You've got a right to know where your food comes from.
3. It's always nap time somewhere.
4. Pizza Hut's Pasta in a Bread Bowl is ridiculous!
5. I feel more content than I have in a long time.
6. Okay, alright...goodnight!
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to drinking a glass of wine from a coffee mug, tomorrow my plans include buying ducks for Christmas dinner and Sunday, I want to give everyone a hair cut
My family ate this for dinner countless times while I was growing up.  This recipe comes from my mom's "Red Checked Cookbook", the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.  It was likely a 1970's edition.  This is a simple meatloaf, but it's long been my family's favorite.  We always baked potatoes along-side the meatloaf.

1 can chopped mushrooms
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoon Worchestershire Sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 1/2 cups soft bread crumbs
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
2 tablespoons catsup

Drain the mushroooms, reserving the liquid.  Add enough milk to the liquid to make 1/2 cup.  Combine the liquid, egg, Worchestershire sauce, seasonings and bread crumbs.  Let stand for 5 minutes.  Add beef and mix gently.  Add chopped mushrooms.  Shape into a loaf and place in a 13" x 9" baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  Top with catsup and bake 15 minutes longer. 

Let rest before slicing.  Makes excellent meatloaf sandwiches.