My Dad is picky about his labels. He claims Radical and sometimes Progressive, rejects New Age or Hippie. But whatever you want to call it, at his teeny-tiny, light-and-love-filled, first post-divorce house, Dan and I watched MacNeil/Lehrer and the occasional episode of Sesame Street, but otherwise TV was off limits. At times we felt deprived, but really our television was so old that watching it was more an exercise in annoyance than entertainment. And what my dad denied us in cartoons and sitcoms, he made up for in other (I would now argue, far better) ways. We were surrounded by words: atlases, encyclopedias, National Geographic magazines and my grandpa’s old medical references. I spent hours and days with books, and we ended each night in our tiny house on the couch, tucked in on either side of our dad for stories — lush volumes of folk tales, the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes’ capers, tales from Arabian Nights.
We had endless art supplies, a rickety swing-set and an ancient apple tree, card games and Legos, and curious old music boxes. We did homemaking projects as a team – together we picked out fabric and made curtains for each tiny room: brown and white tweedy ones for the living room, an indigo batik print for Dad’s room, and rainbow stripes for ours, to match the rainbow we painted huge across one entire wall. We had music, too – and lots of records that would play in the living room, inspiring the occasional dance party on our shaggy brown-and-white rug. At night, our bedroom door would be left wide open so that The Beatles, Afrikan Dreamland, or Bob Dylan could lull us to sleep.
Sometimes, when we were feeling bored, we would pester our dad until he got out his beautiful, handmade Mountain Dulcimer and played us songs from his (okay, pretty limited) repertoire. Kumbaya, Oh Susannah, and my favorite – Buffalo Gals. (This guy is not my dad, but the effect is wildly similar).
But the dulcimer days ended, abruptly and sadly, when for reasons I cannot even vaguely recall, Dan and I and our neighbor friend Sasha snuck the instrument out of its velvet-lined case in Dad’s closet and hauled it up our bunk bed ladder. Summit achieved, we sat along the edge of the bed, legs dangling over, dulcimer spread across our three laps, and tried to play it. Instead, we ended up toppling off the bunk, landing in a heap, the dulcimer’s wood making a sickening crunch as it was crushed beneath us.
The dulcimer disappeared after that, and I assumed it was gone forever, recycled or repurposed or just given away. But on Monday night, headed back up the coast after a wonderful day at the aquarium, the boys and I stopped to have dinner with my dad and Ben. There, tucked under the piano bench, I’m pretty sure I saw the long skinny box that once held the dulcimer. Maybe my dad is planning a greatest hits revival tour, for the sake of the grandkids.
(Or the sake of awesomeness. Or maybe just so we can all dance by the light of the moon.)
There was one time growing up that our television would be on for extended periods: when a 49ers game was being broadcast. I can remember Dan, with his Batman PJs and his hair all bed-heady mussed, kneeling in front of the television, as close as he could get, hands clutched in anxious fists. My dad would make guacamole for us, and put out chips and ‘dip’ for himself (equal parts spicy salsa and sour cream). He would yell “Come on!” at the TV, in either encouragement (Jerry Rice) or disgust (The Cowboys refs). During the commercials, we would play “Find the Lie” – a ‘game’ devised to teach us about consumer marketing. We were supposed to figure out what untruth we were being told, explicitly or implicitly. (This did not in any way prevent jingles from imprinting on our brains – but at least we were thinking critically about them.)
Back then, each 49ers broadcast would end with Dan cheering joyfully or crying inconsolably.
Actually. They might still end that way.
It’s been a while, but we’re headed back to the biggest of the big games. Here then, in honor of my dad and Dan, are some football-friendly, buffalo-tasty recipes. I don’t think you should skip this cornbread – but the dulcimer accompaniment is optional.
Go 9ers. And go Buffalo Gals, too.
(And if you want more football food options – Kyle made this Stromboli last weekend to accompany his football and beer, and it received rave reviews from all three of our resident Steelers fans … Gabe, if you’re reading this, this one has your name all over it. xo)
Buffalo Gal Chili
This buffalo-and-beef chili began life, if you can imagine, as a vegan black bean chili recipe of my stepmom’s – which deserves its own post and will get it, someday. It has wandered quite far away from the original, leaving behind a bit of brown sugar and some of the spices and taking on not one but two kinds of ground meat, as well as little hits of mustard powder and turmeric. This is not a firehouse chili, or a smoked-meat, cook-it-for-days, Southern family recipe chili. But it is a really delicious chili, that on the first day runs toward soupy but on the second day thickens into a suitable crown for a perfectly baked potato. It is a meal that you can throw together with mostly staple ingredients, where leftover beans and even bottom-of-the-drawer veg can find a good home. It’s a friendly and approachable chili, nothing mysterious or complicated. If it lived next door, it would happily spot you a cup of flour or an egg. Kids love this chili.
Kyle and I crave spice in our chili, but with little people on board it is harder to pull off. Though Jacob did recently eat his first piece of jalapeno, inadvertently and hidden in a bite of pico de gallo. He was not thrilled, but neither was he defeated. So maybe one day soon … In the meantime, the best way I have found to add heat to a single bowl of chili is to stir in several drops of ancho sauce from some ancho-bathed chipotle peppers (organic ones are not readily available canned, but it’s not too hard to make your own!). If you are cooking for heat-enthusiasts, you can chop an actual chile or two for the pot, to taste (remembering that the heat will intensify as the chili cooks).
Like most chili, this freezes well, so if you’re freezer-stocking this recipe is a winner. But the real best thing to do with it, is to serve it with cornbread the first night, and then over baked potatoes the next day (when it has thickened and come together in the most gorgeous way), perhaps while watching the game and crumbling up some corn chips …
I try not to be screechy and dogmatic around here, but I did want to say a word on meat. You can get organic, grass fed beef and buffalo at Whole Foods, and at many farmer’s market meat stands as well (if you’re in the Bay Area, we like Prather Ranch). This chili uses very little meat relative to many chili recipes, and I do think it is critical to use the very best you can get. Most ground buffalo is healthier, leaner, and a tad gamier than beef; you could certainly go all buffalo here, but if you’re not used to eating it, start with the blend and see what you think. We are (or at least, I am) not really meat eaters, other than the very occasional steak or our annual pot of beef stew, but we do like an occasional buffalo burger in summer. I joke that this 50-50 blend of beef and buffalo is “beefalo” – but apparently that is an actual thing! And not the thing I meant. Anyway. Meat is a huge issue, ethically and healthfully and environmentally. I’ll save my thoughts for another day, and will just reiterate – please buy the best-raised, best-fed, best-treated meat you can. It will taste better, be healthier, and have fewer moral complications associated with it :)
(Or, you can just wait for the original black bean version – I promise to get it posted soon.)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
4+ garlic cloves, to taste, peeled and chopped (or pressed)
3/4 pound of ground beef (85/15% fat, grass fed and organic if possible)
3/4 pound of ground buffalo (grass fed and organic if possible)
3 tablespoons chili powder (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon cumin
1 heaping teaspoon coriander
1 heaping teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice (we like Muir Glen brand)
3 cups cooked kidney beans, plus a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid (or approximately 1 1/2 cans, plus a tablespoon of the canning liquid)
Optional: diced squash, peppers, sweet potatoes, etc.
3 cups water (or stock)
Salt, 1 teaspoon plus more to taste
For serving: Greek yogurt, grated cheese, chopped green onions, chopped cilantro, adobo sauce or hot pepper sauce, and good crusty cornbread (see below).
Heat oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat, until it is getting hot. Add the onions and carrot, and saute for about five minutes, until they are browning and softening. Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds, or until fragrant but not brown.
Add the beef and buffalo. Cook until the meat is all browned, using a wooden spoon to break it up and turn it. Once the meat is browned, add the spices (chili powder through paprika). Heat for two or three minutes, stirring, until the spices are deeply fragrant and have totally coated the meat.
Add the tomatoes (with juices) and the beans to the pot, along with any of the optional veg if using. Stir and heat for a minute, until combined. Add the water or stock, and use your spoon to stir and scrape the bottom of the pan as you bring everything to a boil.
Once it boils, reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes. Then remove the lid, raise the heat a bit, and cook for about 15 more minutes, until the chili is starting to thicken.
Serve right away, or cool and refrigerate for serving the next day. Reheat gently on the stovetop – it is nice for chili to be thick, but you can add a splash of water or stock if needed so that it won’t burn on the bottom of the pan.
This keeps for a couple days refrigerated, and it freezes beautifully.
I already have a go-to skillet cornbread that my whole family is very fond of . That recipe also came via Jess, and originally from the wondrous Sam Sifton. We are fans of his controversial corn kernels, we have adapted it to include whole wheat flour, and we love it. Love. It.
But. But. Like Jess I was intrigued by this recipe from Melissa Clark – “honey whole wheat” is sort of a siren song to me, promising as it does a particular kind of sweetness and crumb that I love even over and above the standard “sugar and white” kind. After eyeing it in Clark’s book for a while, I decided to carry forward when Jess had such smashing success.
On Jess’s advice we used a 10-inch skillet, to up our crust-to-crumb aspect and thin out our slices. We also opted to add a cup of frozen sweet corn kernels, thawed and drained – Jacob has a real thing for those corn kernels in his bread, and I didn’t want to disappoint him when making one of his favorite things. It breaks up a kind of cakey crumb in a way that some people will love and some people will hate. I tolerate it because my kids are crazy for those little yellow pops of kernel, but otherwise I might omit it. You can do as you like.
This is an excellent with-dinner kind of cornbread. It is also nice toasted and spread with plum jam. We came close – very close – to burning this one, torching the edges when I missed the beep of the oven timer, and I found it none the worse for wear. But we do like a crispy edge.
I used Greek yogurt in place of sour cream, because I didn’t have sour cream on hand, and I went ahead and replaced the 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour with more whole wheat. Next time I might try using some all-purpose, just to see what happens to the crumb. But I have no doubt that we’ll be making this one again soon, either way. Thanks Jess, and Melissa, for such a beauty … and for the awesome trick with the butter, too.
1 cup cornmeal
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole sweet corn kernels, either fresh or frozen (of frozen, thaw under warm running water and drain very well)
1 cup Greek yogurt (full fat, such as the one from Straus Family Creamery)
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup grade B honey (yep, I’m still crazy for the wonderful Avocado Honey from Lynne Bottazzo)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Heat the oven to 375 F.
Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl mix the yogurt, milk, honey, eggs, and baking soda. Gently toss the corn kernels with the dry ingredients until coated, then add the wet ingredients and fold in gently until just combined. Set aside.
Heat a 10-inch cast iron skillet over a high flame until very hot. Put the butter in the pan and gently swirl to coat the bottom and sides of the skillet – the butter should sizzle, brown a little, and melt very quickly. When the butter is almost all melted, remove the skillet from the heat. Continue swirling gently until the butter is completely melted, then pour it into your reserved batter. Gently fold in the butter, then scrape the batter into the hot skillet.
Bake until the top of the bread is golden brown and the edges are crisp. They will pull away a bit from the sides of the skillet when the bread is done – 25 minutes was well cooked for me, but Melissa and Jess suggest 25-30. A clean toothpick in the center of the bread is a good test.
Serve warm, with chili and butter. Leftovers make a nice breakfast, revived in the toaster and dolloped with jam.
Perfect Baked Potatoes
Russet potatoes are not something we usually eat, but they are the best for baking – so, about once a year, we bake some. The skins on russets are thicker and crisp up nicely, while the starchy interior gets pillowy and billowy and just barely sweet when baked. Some people wrap potatoes in foil to bake them, but I prefer to rub a little oil and salt on the outside – you get a crispy skin that hints at french fries, while the inside remains reliably fluffy. Since we like to eat the skin, I use organic potatoes and scrub them really well. A pile of mushrooms cooked in a knob of butter (maybe even with a little truffle salt and oregano) makes an excellent topping. But the usual contenders are also nice – at our house, that means some combination of Greek yogurt, butter, cilantro, sharp cheddar, steamed broccoli, or if we have it, leftover chili. (See above).
Russet potatoes (one per person, or as you like)
Preheat the oven to 425 F and line a baking sheet with foil.
While the oven heats, scrub the potatoes in soapy water, rinse well, and dry. Trim away any blemishes. Rub a little olive oil onto each potato, and then sprinkle with salt. Poke each a few times with a fork, and then arrange them on the baking sheet so that they’re not touching.
Bake for 50 minutes, or until the skins are crisp and you can poke a fork all the way through the center. Serve warm, with leftover chili and other excellent toppings.
Note: for my kids, I cut the potatoes open, flatten them, and then mash the insides with a little butter. This lets the steam out and cools the potato a bit, and also makes it more accessible. They eat the mashed up “fluffy” part, and then eat the crispy skins. They prefer to have their non-butter toppings on the side, but someday they’ll figure it out :)