Thanksgiving Rules of Decorum

The extended Smith-Duft clans will be gathering in Beaufort, South Carolina today to give thanks and then eat ourselves into food comas. It’s been quite some time since all of us have been together in the Low Country that spewed us forth, so I sent the following “Thanksgiving Rules of Decorum” out as a refresher to remind everyone how we roll at this most gluttonous of gatherings. Here’s hoping your family traditions result in similarly successful results.

1. Gristle may be sucked off bones at the table, but cracking bones to remove the marrow must be done in the kitchen.

2. If there are no pets in the room to blame, all flatulence must be held until such time as a particularly funny joke is told, and the accidental emission adds to the mirth.

3. The tube of cranberry sauce is a decoration, not a food. No touching!

4. You must clear your plate of all objects put upon it before beginning round two. Even stuffed tomatoes.

5. You may only hide peas within a roll if there enough rolls to ensure that everyone else gets as many as they want. If rolls run out, you must eat your pea filled roll before you leave the table.

6. No matter how you hold the fork, it is wrong. If anyone chooses to notice this fact, you must skip a round and look contrite while others eat.

7. Discussion of bodily functions should be reserved for the pause between main course and desert. Comparisons of bodily functions to objects on the table may result in a fork mishandling penalty and forfeiture of dessert rights.

8. If someone disappears for more than 90 seconds, everyone at the table must loudly enquire as to their whereabouts, and whether everything is okay in there.

9. No additional butter is required on the Stouffers Mac and Cheese, unless it touches anything green and you need to offset the effect of the vitamins and minerals.

10. You may not take the hambone out of the green beans and pass them on without taking at least six beans, and not hiding them in your roll. You may elect to butter them before eating.

Iowa Caucus Day 2016: Resource Guide

Marcia and I moved to Iowa a little over four years ago, at the peak of 2012’s caucus season. Within a month of our arrival, Marcia was interviewed and quoted in an internationally-syndicated Reuters article, after we attended a candidate rally on a whim. So we learned first hand that it’s easy to have your say in public when you live in a small state with a vast media enterprise descending upon you.

Marcia’s quote in the Reuters interview was thoughtful and balanced, but that’s not the norm, frankly, especially in hotly contested races like those unfolding now. A lot of the quotes coming out of Iowa lack balance as voters and campaign flacks attempt to sway others to their cause, and many other quotes coming out of Iowa lack thought because politics is primarily a gut sport in many areas of the State, like football, or deer hunting. Reaction and reflex matter more than deliberation and discourse, especially under the media’s unrelenting kleig lights — which many thoughtful voters are repelled by, even as they draw the most reactive voters into their beams.

By the time I left Iowa, I reached the conclusion that the caucuses are bad for America. That being said, were I still in the State, I would be participating tonight, because I consider voting to be a civic responsibility of all citizens, regardless of how I feel about the process. Marcia (who still works out of Iowa and has maintained residency there) and Katelin (who lives and works there full time) are planning to caucus tonight, so I hope they enjoy the evening and I look forward to hearing about it from them. The media army in Des Moines is largely based in the same building where Katelin works, so she’s getting to really see it all up close and personal. That’s an experience, if nothing else.

I wrote a lot about Iowa while I was there, with many of my pieces being tongue-in-cheek explorations into some of the State’s unique cultural habits and history. One of those articles — Iowa Geography: An Introduction — has recently gotten a bit of renewed online traction after Molly Ball of The Atlantic re-tweeted it a couple of time for her followers.

So in a spirit of helpfulness to those of you who may be either wondering a bit about, or wandering about a bit, of Iowa today, here are a few other articles that may help you get what’s going on, and why:

Iowa History 101

Why Iowa First?

Danny Allamakee’s Iowanfero (Cliff Notes Version)

Best Iowa Films

Universal Iowa Recipe

Des Moinsk, Iowaberia

Iowa Ranking Roundup

Popular Iowa Cocktails

Popular Iowa Wines

Great Iowa Novels

Great Iowa Music

The Iowa Decathlon

The Dinner

Alma rose at dawn to make the biscuits,
kneading lard into the baker’s flour,
rolling sheets and cutting discs for baking;
it took her just a bit more than an hour.

At which point, Alma turned to make the stuffing:
sausage, cornbread, broth and butter, nuts.
She pulled the neck and gizzard from the turkey,
(which, with the heart, she thought the sweetest cuts).

She filled the bird and stitched it tight for roasting,
then with a jar of cloves, she dressed the ham,
and pressed the honey from the comb she’d purchased,
to sweeten up her famous candied yams.

While collards stewed in bacon fat and bullion,
Alma snapped the beans and okra too,
then shucked the corn, (the Silver Queen she favored),
which, paired with shrimp, went in her Frogmore Stew.

By sunset, Alma’s work had been completed,
the family blessed their meal on bended knees.
An awkward silence followed, ‘til her son said
“How come there ain’t no Stouffer’s Mac an’ Cheese?”

*****

A poem I wrote in 2010, resuscitated on this day of feasting and thanks. It has an autobiographical slant: when my sister and I were young, Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents’ house always featured a family-sized tray of Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese, which pleased us more than any of the “from scratch” things Grannies would make for us. It was such a food talisman for us that on the evening of our father’s funeral, as we struggled to find something to provide comfort, we made a tray of Stouffer’s and sat on the kitchen floor and ate the whole damned thing ourselves. Nothing else as comfortable as that.

These days, our Special Smith Family Thanksgiving Food Tradition is a sweeter one: Marcia’s Pumpkin Praline Pie, which combines the best features of both standard pumpkin and pecan pies in one deluxe pile of unmitigated goodness and joy. Om nom nom nom nom!! Katelin and my mother are in Chicago with Marcia and I for the holiday, and we’re currently in that digestive hiatus period between the main meal and the big wonderful pie-shaped food narcotic event to come. The Kool Whip is thawing . . . soon, oh soon!

We all have many things for which to be thankful, most especially the opportunity to spend time together as an extended three-generation family in our wonderful new home in Chicago. Here’s hoping that the holiday has delivered goodness to you and yours as well.

 

2016 Iowa State Fair Improvements

The State Fair is the largest gathering of human beings in Iowa each year (though we’re still out-numbered seven to one by the hogs), and it truly is one of those “you have to see it to believe it” types of experiences. That being said, you can always make a good thing better, so The State Fair Trust will be rolling out the following improvements to make the 2016 edition the biggest and the bestest and the Iowa-est-est edition ever:

  • Open Carry Night: first 10,000 admissions packing visible heat receive commemorative shoulder holsters, available in either Hawkeye or Cyclone colors.
  • Caucus Candidate Octagon Death Matches will be staged in the new Joni Ernst Castratorium.
  • Pole dancing is officially qualified for its own “Varied Industry” booth.
  • An animatronic Terry Branstad will greet visitors at the Iowa Craft Beer Tent.
  • The Sheep Barn will be replaced with the Rhino Barn.
  • The Des Moines Register’s Tattoo Pavilion will provide free tramp stamps with each validated Fairgrounds parking ticket; no henna here, but real, permanent ink!
  • Cannibal Corpse and Insane Clown Posse will headline at the Grandstand for East Side Night.
  • All food booths will offer cheese-wrapped, bacon-filled, batter-dipped, deep-fried Cavatelli de Burgo. On a stick.
  • There will be Big Boar rides at the Kid’s Activity Center.
  • A Lion’s Den Adult Entertainment Pavilion will be located adjacent to the Campgrounds.
  • The Sky Glider has been turned into a thrill ride by increasing its speed ten-fold and requiring running mounts and dismounts.
  • The Butter Cow has been replaced with an anatomically correct Butter Bull.
East Side Night in the Grandstand.

East Side Night in the Grandstand.

Universal Iowa Recipe

The Universal Iowa Recipe was compiled after hundreds of visits to dining establishments large and small, posh and plain, established and popup. It is the pure, raw, essential heart of the Iowa dining experience, boiled down into one fantastically easy-to-follow rubric.

GROUP A: ANIMAL MATTER: Pick one:

  • One pound Niman Ranch pork tenderloin medallions
  • One pound Yoder’s Natural Farm free range chicken breast, cubed
  • One pound Graziano spicy bulk sausage

GROUP B: HEAVY STUFF: Pick one:

  • 16 ounces Barilla Cavatelli Noodles
  • 16 ounces Dahl’s Best Buy Tater Tots
  • 16 ounces of HyVee Sweet Potato Gnocchi

GROUP C: BINDING MATERIALS: Pick one:

  • 15 ounce can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • 15 ounce can of Del Monte Creamed Corn
  • 16 ounce container of Anderson Erickson Cottage Cheese

GROUP D: PLANT MATTER: Pick one:

  • One cup of halved Brussels Sprouts
  • Twelve asparagus spears
  • One cup of morels (in season) or other mixed fungi

GROUP E: SAUCES: Pick one:

  • One cup DeBurgo Sauce
  • One cup Marinara Sauce
  • One cup Alfredo Sauce

GROUP F: FLAVOR CRYSTAL INJECTIONS: Pick one:

  • One-half cup of Maytag Blue Cheese
  • One-half cup of LaQuercia Prosciutto Bits
  • One-half cup of crisped and crumbled pork belly

GROUP G: INCONGRUOUS WILDCARDS FOR CRITICAL CREDIBILITY: Pick two:

  • Caramelized figs
  • Vidalia onion rings
  • Butter brickle ice cream
  • Hot dog relish
  • Salmon roe
  • Mexican chocolate

INSTRUCTIONS:

Cook Group A items until well browned. Drain fat.

Cook Group B items per instructions. Drain.

Blend Group A, Group B, and Group C items in a large bowl. Pour into casserole and bake at 375 degrees until brown.

Roast Group D items under a broiler.

Heat Group E items on stove top, whisk in Group F items.

Lay Group D items atop the casserole made of Group A, Group B, and Group C items. Pour Group E and Group F mixture on top.

Garnish with two Group G items. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve while hot.

BON APPETIT!!

Serves four (in Iowa), or twelve (elsewhere).

Iowa Entrepreneurship

Iowans are famously clever people who spend the 11 months worth of horrible weather they experience each year sitting at their kitchen tables, staring into space, and thinking big thoughts about how to combine this with that to make something else altogether.

The fertile combination of creativity and craziness has blessed the world with a plethora of indispensable Iowa-birthed products, ideas and services, including the personal computer, the opinion poll, the trampoline, the screen door, the ethanol subsidy, buffered antacids, and the Eskimo Pie.

Lest you think that the wheels of innovation in Iowa have grown rusty, here are ten exciting emergent developments I expect to see, hear and experience in 2015 — if their creators don’t snap and start shooting up their kitchens before the business plans are finished:

  • A wind-turbine powered factory that processes post-harvest corn stalks into pointed sticks to put food on.
  • Gray’s Lake Casino Paddle Boats, with all proceeds going to build the state’s next crazy casino concept, and so on, and so on, and so on, scheme without end, amen.
  • A BBQ and brisket smoker that mounts on the back of a soybean-powered pothole-filling and road-grading machine.
  • Candidate Caucus Insurance, where candidates can buy policies that pay damages if Iowans miscount their caucus votes. Again.
  • Maytag Blue Cheese Tostitos Scoops With LaQuercia Prosciutto Power Flavor Crystals.
  • Winnebago Migrant Camper Vans, which are tiny one-room cells on wheels that farm owners can use to transport their unsuspecting laborers elsewhere when harvest season is over.
  • The Federal Subsidy Voucher Exchange, where you can swap your old, unused wind turbine tax credits for rails-to-trails grants, wetland building permits, and more.
  • The Ethanol Malt Liquor Law, which will require all bum wines and fortified brews to be made with 15% or more fermented corn products by volume.
  • The Universal Horn, a brass instrument that plays only three notes, increasing the probability of the Hawkeye Pep Band being in tune from the current 5% to a working functional average of 25%.