Monthly Archives: February 2016

Almost as Good as Frozen!

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Second verse, same as the first

Gastronomically speaking, I grew up in a traditional Midwestern American home. My father, who worked long hours, would come home at 6:00 pm and sit down to a supper that my mom, who also worked long hours, had prepared for us. It was almost always some variation on a single theme: a piece of meat, some version of potato, a soupy vegetable (creamed peas, creamed corn, creamed carrots) and a slice of white bread, thickly slathered with butter. My Daddy was all about the butter; don’t even think of trying to pawn off that new-fangled margarine on the man. It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, but it was even worse to try to put one over on my Dad. He was a butter purist.

On rare occasions, Dad was willing to branch out a bit. A family friend sometimes had us over for tacos. These made Daddy’s bald head sweat, so he’d wrap a paper towel around his crown like a turban. It always got a big laugh.

Our dearth of culinary diversity wasn’t because of lack of imagination or skill on my mother’s part. It was what my father wanted to eat. For a guy who grew up eating mostly oatmeal during the Depression, he was surprisingly particular about his cuisine. He didn’t much care for hotdish (casserole, for you out-of-staters), and he had no time for that wonder of the modern age, frozen food.

Of course, everyone in our family who WASN’T my Dad knew that frozen pizza, TV dinners and sandwiches wrapped in foil were THE GREATEST THING EVER. So, on those rare occasions when our paterfamilias was absent from home at mealtime (up north deer hunting, or men’s night at the golf course), we got to eat delicious, packaged, highly processed food. Hurrah!

tv-dinners

That corn, tho.

In truth, I was never that crazy about TV dinners, those “full course” meals that came in segmented aluminum trays. They were available in varieties like Salisbury steak, turkey with gravy, unidentifiable chicken parts. And they always had that one little triangle in the corner containing a vegetable – usually corn – that was not steeped in cream sauce. Boo.

A better choice were the sandwiches wrapped in colorful foil, which you heated in the oven. There was the chuckwagon – a large, round bun stuffed with salami and cheese that was a precise representation of what the bold and hardy cowboys didn’t eat on the range. Alternatively, you could choose the torpedo sandwich, which was exactly the same as the chuckwagon sandwich, except it came on an elongated bun. Presumably it reflected the kind of rations that bold and hardy sailors didn’t eat on their submarines.

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The traditional chuck wagon, where chuck wagon sandwiches were not prepared.

The very, very best pre-packaged delicacy, though, was the frozen pot pie. It came in a trio of flavors: chicken (ambrosia!), turkey (poor man’s chicken) and beef (acceptable, if it was the only kind left). How eagerly I watched my mother remove each little aluminum foil pie tin from its box, stab the frozen top crust with a fork, set it on a cookie sheet and pop it into the oven.

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Before

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After

It went into the fire pallid and solid as stone; it came out golden brown – except on the edges, which always burned – and bubbling with delicious gravy goo.

There is a precise method to eating these things. You stab the top crust with a spoon, releasing the steam, then carefully peel back the crust in sections, like a surgeon cracking open a chest for a bypass. Carefully stir the innards, deftly plucking out the inedible bits (the little square carrot pellets and wrinkly peas). Spoon up and savor the gravy and chicken chunks, frowning a little when you accidentally get a mushy chunk of potato, which is harder to identify in the gelatinous mass and therefore may escape the vegetable culling.

Finally … the best part of all. At the bottom of the now-empty aluminum foil pie tin, one finds a treasure: the cardboardy crust with its sheen of gravy that has soaked into it just a little bit. Peel up the crust in chunks and, if you are particularly bold, eat it with your fingers. These were the greatest moments of my childhood.

potpiepan

The gift that keeps on giving

You can still get frozen pot pies these days, but they are a sad shadow of their former selves: even smaller, only partly filled with goo and worst of all, packaged in cardboard instead of aluminum foil bowls. Convenient for the microwave, perhaps, but you lose half the value of the meal. For in the old days, the little aluminum tin was carefully washed and saved for many useful purposes. I think we still have a stack of 50 of them in the cupboard above the sink.

It occurred to me that I might attempt a version of my childhood favorite using some of my Tastefully Simple products. And so, I present …

Perfectly Individual Parmesan Biscuit Pot Pies (adapted from this recipe)

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the guts of the stuff

  • Perfectly Potato Cheddar Soup Mix
  • 4 cups water
  • 1½ lbs. cooked, cubed chicken breast
  • 2 (14 oz.) cans mixed vegetables, drained (Hint: Or use only one can – less vegetables to pick out of the finished product!)
  • 2 tsp. Seasoned Salt
  • 2 Tbsp. white cooking wine (can be omitted; I only used because I’ve had a bottle of the stuff sitting in my cupboard for a few years)
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • Perfect Parmesan Biscuit Mix
  • 2/3 cup cold water
  • 2/3 cup finely shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1 tsp. Italian Garlic Seasoning
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goo ingredients

Mix together the soup mix and water and simmer for 20 minutes; add the chicken, canned vegetables, seasoned salt, cooking wine and onion powder. Cook until heated through.

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tasty goo in progress

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Prepare the biscuit dough as directed on package.

Pour the filling into oven-proof bowls, mugs or ramekins, filling them about ¾ full. Place tablespoon-sized chunks of biscuit dough on top of the mixture, enough to cover the whole top of the individual serving dish. Place filled bowls on a cookie sheet and put in the oven. Bake for 15-17 minutes or so, until the biscuit topping is lightly brown. Remove cookie sheet from the oven.

Melt 1 Tbsp. butter and stir in 1 tsp. Italian Garlic Seasoning. Brush melted butter mixture on the biscuit topping.

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Cheesy Biscuit Gooey Yummy

I’m not gonna lie. This isn’t quite as good as those frozen pot pies of yore. And to be honest, the biscuit topping was a little doughy on the bottom. But it was still pretty darned delicious.

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It’s All Relative

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Artist’s rendering of me on a Mohror back day

I am a great believer in heredity, for the valid scientific reason that it allows me to blame my forebears for all my undesirable traits. Thus, when I shamble around, as bent-over and hunch-shouldered as that famous bell ringer from Notre Dame, I can respond to the stares of my coworkers with a terse, “It’s the Mohror back.” Similarly, I can attribute the dour attitude that prompts such grumbling to my paternal kin. (It could be argued that my older relations’ somewhat dark perspective on the world owes more to growing up impoverished during the Great Depression than to having genes coded for grumpiness. But that doesn’t excuse MY propensity to kvetch – so I’m sticking with my theory. I was BORN this way.)

While my Dad’s side – honest, soft-hearted, generous, hard-working, good people, by the way – are usually the objects of my accusatory finger-pointing, today I am going to complain, in my Mohrorish way, about a legacy of the Welsh side. Specifically, funny knees.

Recently I had a conversation with my doctor on this subject. “In my family,” I explained, “our knees tend to migrate inward.”

The doctor nodded. “Yeah. Okay, that can’t actually happen, though.”

“But it does!” I was very firm on this point. What we call “Millie’s knees,” after the beloved aunt whose affliction first brought the issue to the forefront of our familial consciousness, is a real thing. How well I remember that day when I heard my mother, in the middle of dressing for the day, suddenly exclaiming, “Oh, my God! I’ve got Millie’s knees!” And so, now, do I.

The doctor had me stand. She ran her hands up and down my calves and knee joint as if examining a lame horse, then frowned gravely. “Well … you’re a little knock-kneed.”

“What does THAT mean?” I demanded with Mohror-like peevishness.

“Your knees angle in and touch each other, instead of facing straight on. But your kneecaps are in the right place; it’s your legs that are turned wrong.”

Oh.

Knock-kneesTechnically, this condition is called Genu valgum, which sounds like the name of one of the more convoluted, late-series alien conspiracy episodes of X Files.

torture device

The cure!

 

 

 

 

And apparently there are devices that can nudge your knees – er, legs – back into alignment over time. But the thought of strapping myself into one of those things produced a flashback to my earliest childhood. I was born rather substantially pigeon-toed. (Misshapen joints seem to be a theme with me, though I don’t think I can blame any long-dead Welshes or Mohrors for this one; it’s my own mutation, apparently. Hurray! I always knew I’d accomplish something in life.)

pigeontoed shoes

These were exactly as comfortable as they look.

Anyway. As a toddler, I was prescribed corrective shoes to wear overnights to cure me of this deformity. I still hold in my mind an image – probably my earliest memory – of the screws that held this contraption together. I didn’t wear them long, my Dad having decided it was cruel to subject his littlest one to this torture. Ah, there’s that Mohror soft-heartedness again. And since as an adult I only rarely trip over my own feet, I think he made the right call.

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Me, in 2050. Look how straight my knees are!

That’s why I will not seek treatment for my Millie’s knees disease. I’m going to assume I will eventually grow out of it, as I did my pigeon toes, without high-tech intervention. That failing, I will hope to live long enough to have my consciousness transferred into one of the gleaming, perfect android bodies that science fiction has always promised us.

Yeah. That’ll work.

 

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My Secret Identity

There’s an amusing commercial for ancestry.com in which a man who grew up in lederhosen discovers, via his DNA test, that he’s of Scottish, not German ancestry. So he trades in his Teutonic garb for a Celtic kilt. (To be honest, the sight of a grown man in either short pants or a skirt in this part of rural Minnesota would make for an uncomfortable scene, but I understand other parts of the world are more liberal about such things.)

I had a similar experience recently when the top boffins at ancestry.com’s DNA lab analyzed the goo I hocked into their test tube and declared that I am predominantly Scandinavian – 54%, to be exact. My “Western European” ancestry comes up a paltry 16% – presumably that’s the German, but it could just as well be French. Good God! Has the world gone mad?

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Here’s the thing:

Some Mohrors

Could these people look more Germanic? I don’t think so. 

Family tradition has always dictated that I am Irish on my mother’s side (borne out by ancestry.com at 24%) and predominantly German on my father’s side (with a side of Norwegian from my Grandma Mohror, though her maiden name, Bergley, defiantly comes up Scottish in Google searches).

The fact that I (or at least my sputum) actually derive from more Northern lands creates some awkwardness. You see, we’ve always attributed our least desirable personality traits to our Germanic genes. When my often taciturn father stomped around mad, or lapsed into one of his moody silences, my mother would shake her head and murmur, “That’s the German in him.” Of course, we also claimed the more attractive stereotypes of the Deutsche Volken: industriousness, ingenuity, punctuality, loyalty.

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The Kensington Runestone, which may have been carved by Vikings. Or Knights Templar. Or some local farmer looking to make some dough off the gullible tourists.

I grew up in predominantly Scandinavian rural Minnesota (Alexandria: Birthplace of America! If you believe America was discovered by Vikings, who took the time to chisel their experiences into a hunk of granite). The Norwegians and Swedes around me always seemed a clannish sort with strange customs (A crown of lighted candles on a little girl’s head? That can’t be a good idea.) and even stranger food traditions. I mean, lutefisk is fish soaked in lye, for heaven’s sake. Hello, lye is a deadly poison. Between that and the candle hats, I have to wonder if the Scandihoovians practiced a fairly brutal form of population control back in the day.

UncleOle

Great-Uncle Ole

So what am I to do with this new information? Buy a rosette iron? Start rolling out lefse every Christmas? Add a few more “uff das” and “ja, shure, yew betchas” into my everyday speech? I find myself in kind of an existential crisis here. Who am I, really, in the deepest essence of my being?

And most importantly, what the hell am I supposed to do with this T-shirt? tshirt

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