Buyer’s Guide: Technology Gift Ideas

Let The Bloomsburg Daily help you find the perfect gadget for under the tree.

Christmas is right around the corner, but there is still time to find that perfect gift. It seems more and more these days, technology gifts are the ones most craved by just about everyone on our lists. There are still lots of people who want more traditional items, but gadgets seem to be the hottest and sometimes the most difficult to decide on. Keeping pace with the changes in the technology world is nearly impossible these days as new devices and gadgets hit the market with such staggering regularity it makes even a veteran tech watcher’s head spin. With that in mind, The Bloomsburg Daily has set out to create a guide to some of the hottest and most lusted after gadgets the tech world has to offer. Below are five of the hottest ideas out there across a spectrum of prices so you can decide just how naughty or nice your gadget lover has been this year!

Apple TV

One of the more misunderstood devices Apple currently has on its shelves, the Apple TV is really quite the marvel of technology. The Apple TV doesn’t actually store any of your music, TV shows, or Movies on it, instead it streams all of that wirelessly from an existing computer running iTunes. You do need a wireless network in your home along with a TV with an HDMI connection, but if you have those things you can use one cable to make all of your digital content available in a simple and elegant package. The Apple TV retails for $99.00 but it provides quite a bit of bang for your buck. Rent movies, buy episodes of popular TV shows, and even access content from Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo, and more from the simplest remote out there. If you are looking for something that transforms your ability to tap into your existing digital media on your TV, this might be the device you want to see under the Christmas tree this year.

The Kindle Fire

The Kindle line of eBook readers have been around for quite some time. If you’ve never used a Kindle I can honestly say it is a real pleasure to read on. Amazon has a huge selection of media to keep you more than satisfied. The new Kindle Fire is a step away from the original Kindles in a staggeringly big way. While it maintains all of the great eBook features it adds a whole host of new features that are more familiar to an iPad than the old school eBook readers. It is a killer device for watching movies, TV shows, and web videos. It has an App marketplace so playing great games is a click away and the integrated web browser built on the Amazon Silk technology is best in bread. The amazingly bright screen serves as the primary interface through touch and if you have an Amazon Prime account, you get unlimited instant streaming of over 10,000 movies and TV shows. The best part is at $199.00 it is hundreds of dollars less than the iPad.

The iPod Nano

The iPod Nano from Apple is a really interesting little piece of technology that does a whole host of things. The first thing you notice is that it is super small and can clip onto any of your clothes and you barely know it is there. With its touch screen it brings some of the features that iPod Touch and iPhone users love, but in a package that is truly amazingly small. The battery is rated to play for 24 straight hours on a charge so you can be sure that you have plenty of play time. The Nano adds an FM radio with live pause so if you are listening to a favorite song or program on the radio and you need to talk to someone, just hit the pause button and resume later. It has a built in Nike+ app and sensor that gives you real-time feedback on your workout, and you can upload data to the Nike+ website without the need to buy a sensor or special shoes. But, the coolest feature are the various watch faces that allow you to turn your Nano into a very smart and functional time piece. Just buy a watch band, like the iWatchz to turn your iPod Nano into the coolest watch on the planet.

iPad Kitchen Accessories

If you are one of the millions of people who already own an iPad there are some really cool new accessories hitting the market to make it even more functional to support all the things we want to do with it in the kitchen. The Belkin Under Cabinet Mount is a really cool little product that lets you attach your iPad to your cabinets in the kitchen while you cook. What we like about this mount is that it doesn’t require you to install it in any way. Another item for the kitchen is the Belkin Fridge Mount. This ingenious little mount lets you easily attach your iPad 2 to the fridge and with the wide array of Apps to support cooking, lists, and other daily tasks, this little accessory could be quite handy. The last iPad kitchen accessory also works with the Kindle Fire, it is the Belkin Kitchen Stand. What makes it a great idea for a cook is at $35.00 it holds your table in the perfect position and also comes with a no-mess stylus to keep your tablet clean when you have greasy or messy hands.

Belkin Mini Surge Protector & Dual USB Charger

This is a $12.00 gadget that I personally use every single day at home and when I travel. This compact surge protector not only gives you three outlets for your laptop and other items, but adds two built in USB ports fit for charging all sorts of other devices. I use it to charge my MacBook Air, my iPhone, and my iPad on a single outlet. Especially when traveling this little thing lets me leave two charger at home and still keep my devices powered.

Disclosure: Buying any of the items above by using our links will provide The Bloomsburg Daily a small percentage of the purchase price through the Amazon Affiliates program. Photo obtained via Flickr.

Food Allergies, the Holidays, and Non-Pecan Pie

Food and the Holidays go together. How to balance it with the rise of food allergies?

I should have known much better.  And yet I didn’t.

When purchasing chocolates for a realtor open house the other day, I read the ingredients carefully to make sure there were no nut products in them, as well as to ensure they weren’t processed with nuts.  It was all clear.  The ingredients included only chocolate, sugar, and dairy and there were no cross contamination warnings on the outside of the package.  I hadn’t bought them for my severely nut-allergic daughter to eat, but there were a few leftover in the bowl and I wasn’t listening when she asked later if she could have one. I must have nodded along and she ate one.  (Blame it on the stress of selling a house, I guess.)  When my mother looked at the individual wrapper after my daughter ate it, she saw in the fine print on the foil that it said “May Contain Bits of Peanuts or Tree Nuts.”

This is why parents of children with food allergies are more prone to panic and anxiety than most.  A wave of guilt and fear came over me as I watched my daughter for any visible hives or swelling.  I didn’t feel calm until several hours went by without any major symptoms.  The guilt was strong — I am always the one warning everyone else about labels and ingredients, pestering teachers and relatives about what she can and cannot have.  And yet, here it was.  It was me that put her in danger.

I am part of a growing group of parents dealing with food allergies, which have become increasingly common, especially among children.  According to The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN):

Food allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks a food protein. Ingestion of the offending food may trigger the sudden release of chemicals, including histamine, resulting in symptoms of an allergic reaction. The symptoms may be mild (rashes, hives, itching, swelling, etc.) or severe (trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc.). A food allergy can be potentially fatal. Scientists estimate that as many as 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies … Eight foods account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions. They are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy.

It is important to note that food allergies are not simply dislikes or even intolerances.  In someone with food allergies, the immune system mounts a response thinking the protein in the offending food is dangerous.  Food allergies are not something that someone can control and those making special requests aren’t simply being picky.  In the more severe cases, they can be deadly when anaphylaxis (a closing of the airway) occurs.

My daughter happens to be one of those severe cases.  She carries Epinephrine injectors at all times.  Two in a hip pack.  Two in my purse.  Two in the nurse’s office at school.  We go nowhere without it, and while it makes me feel safer to have it, food allergies are a very tricky thing. Something that you tolerated previously may send you into shock the fifth time you eat it.  And while Epinephrine generally reverses anaphylaxis, it doesn’t always work in certain cases and sometimes can require multiple doses.  To have food allergies is to live in a world of fear that something so pleasurable — food — can kill you in a few minutes time.

The holidays present special challenges, because so many of our holiday rituals and celebrations include food.  Class parties, holiday open houses, candy canes at Christmas tree farms, chocolate coins and Santas, platters of Christmas cookies, and bowls of party mix filled with nuts are all potential offenders.  And when you don’t know the ingredients or trust for sure that someone else does, it usually means restricting your child (or yourself) and not allowing him/her to have that cookie everyone else is enjoying.

As difficult as it is for the victims and families of those with food allergies, it is also hard for those trying to entertain them.  No one wants to put someone in danger, least of all a small child who just wanted to eat a cookie.  Fortunately, there are many strategies everyone can use to keep people safe from allergens.  There are also many wonderful products on the market that allow those with allergies to enjoy similar treats to what everyone else is having.

Christa Hobson from Bloom Naturally told us that her store carries many food allergy friendly products.  On the list are soy nut butter or sunflower seed butter, which can be used very successfully in place of peanut butter in candy or cookie recipes.  (Warning though! The chlorophyll in the sunflower seeds can react in some cookie recipes and the inside of the cookie gets a green tint.  It doesn’t affect anything and you can’t see it from the outside, but it’s shocking if you don’t know. Kids love it though!) In addition, they carry Earth Balance margarines for those with dairy allergies.  Coconut oil can also be used very successfully in baking recipes to eliminate dairy products.

Bloom Naturally also carries the Enjoy Life brand of products, which include chocolate chips that are guaranteed to be free of dairy and nuts. This is a big help when making a batch of chocolate chip cookies.   For those with wheat/gluten allergies or those with Celiac Disease, Hobson said, “We have a huge selection of gluten free foods, frozen foods, breads, baking mixes, and even things like gluten free pumpkin rolls for the holidays.  Also, make sure you know that genetically modified wheat can cause stronger gluten reactions, so organic and non-genetically modified products can help those even with gluten intolerance.”

In addition, here are some holiday food allergy tips.  If you are a parent of a child with food allergies:

  • Always bring some “back-up” treats or food, in case you can’t ensure the food is safe.
  • Go over the rules with your child (if age appropriate) before you get there.  Talk about how you will make sure the food is safe and what treats you have in case it isn’t.
  • With toddlers and preschoolers, vigilance is the only way you can ensure they won’t put something in their mouth that could be dangerous. This holds true for many things at this age and food allergies complicate it.
  • Politely inform your host or hostess that your child has food allergies.  Talk about what might be safe and what might not be safe.   If there are bowls of nuts on low tables, ask if he/she would mind if you move them up to be extra safe.
  • My experience is that you have to be “louder” about food allergies when your children are toddlers or preschoolers because they cannot articulate their own needs.  As children get older, they don’t enjoy being singled out in group setting, so I generally am a little more nuanced in how I talk with the host/hostess.
  • With an older child, walk around the party with him/her and point out the things he/she can have.
  • Always, always, always bring your child’s allergy medicine which can include multiple Epinephrine injectors and antihistamines.

If you are having a party or holiday gathering:

  • Label the food you serve.  If there are allergens in it (dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, nuts, shellfish), your guests would be very thankful if you would mention that on your label.  This is especially appreciated if someone with allergies is known to be on the guest list.
  • Separate treats with nuts from those that don’t have nuts.  Just putting things on separate platters can be helpful for those with allergies, because cross contamination can be a huge issue.  It takes only 1/100th of a peanut to cause a potentially life threatening reaction!
  • Don’t feel offended if someone asks you to put up a bowl of nuts or to go over ingredient lists.  Put yourself in their shoes. You wouldn’t want someone to put poison or a loaded gun in front of your child; for parents of children with food allergies this is no different.
  • Consider trying some substitute products in your tried and true recipes if someone with food allergies is coming to your event.  To have food allergies means getting excluded in many situations and I cannot explain the joy my daughter feels when someone thinks enough of her to make her a safe treat.
And finally, what would a holiday article be without a recipe for something delicious?  If you or someone you love has nut allergies and is missing your Pecan Pie, try out this allergy-friendly “Non-Pecan Pie” that is as delicious as it is safe for those you love with food allergies.  Your allergic guests (and their panicky mothers) will appreciate you making them feel both welcome and safe.

Brown Butter Non-Pecan Pie

Courtesy of Cuizoo.  If you have dairy allergies also, you can make a crust from a dairy free margarine and simply melt the margarine, rather than browning it in Step 4.  A gluten-free pie crust could also be used.  

Make one 9 inch pie

Butter Pie Crust of your Choice (I used this one)
2 cups of sunflower and pumpkin seeds (I liked the mix of both for better texture)
6 T butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup corn syrup (light or dark both work)
3 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
3 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Roll out pie crust into a circle with approximately a 12 inch diameter.  Carefully transfer to a 9 inchpie dish (not deep dish).  Trim off excess if necessary, leaving about one inch of overhang.  Fold the overhang under and decoratively flute or crimp the edges.  Using a fork, prick the bottom of the crust and place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to re-firm the butter.

3.  Place sunflower and pumpkin seeds in an even layer on a baking sheet.  Toast in preheated oven for 5-10 minutes until golden, being careful not to let them burn.  Set aside to cool.

4.  In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and allow to brown slightly.  You want it to be golden brown and smell fragrant, but do not let it burn or you will have to start over.  Remove from heat immediately after it gets to that state and whisk in brown sugar until well incorporated.  Stir in corn syrup, vanilla extract, and salt.

5.  In a large bowl, whisk the egg to break them up.  Slowly whisk in brown sugar/butter mixture (just a bit at at a time, so the eggs don’t curdle).  Mix well to make sure everything is incorporated.

6.  Remove chilled crust from refrigerator and pour toasted (and cooled) seeds into crust.  Pour pie mixture over top of the seeds.  Place pie pan on a baking sheet and bake the pie until the filling has set and it is a nice brown color, about 55 minutes.  Let cool completely before serving.  You can store this in the refrigerator for at least a day (mine’s been in there for two now and it is still great) — just bring to room temperature before serving.

The Santaland Diaries

One of the best parts of Christmas in Bloomsburg are the annual Christmas shows that our own Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble puts on. BTE has a rich tradition of delighting locals and visitors each year with classics and contemporary shows that are great for the entire family. This year is no different with an incredibly funny and smart show written by humorist David Sedaris. David’s hilarious recounting of a holiday season spent working as an elf at Macy’s, The Santaland Diaries is the perfect antidote to that relentless Christmas Cheer. This one-man show is a holiday classic-in-the-making. Go ahead, indulge your inner Scrooge!

If you aren’t familiar with David Sedaris’ work, pick up Holiday on Ice or Me Talk Pretty One Day. From his biographical page,

With sardonic wit and incisive social critiques, David Sedaris has become one of America ‘s pre-eminent humor writers. The great skill with which he slices through cultural euphemisms and political correctness proves that Sedaris is a master of satire and one of the most observant writers addressing the human condition today.David Sedaris is the author of the bestsellers Barrel Fever and Holidays on Ice, as well as collections of personal essays, Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, each of which became immediate bestsellers.

Make it a point to head out to see The Santaland Diaries, by David Sedaris and directed locally by Elizabeth Dowd. This special early season showing is at the the Moose Exchange and won’t last long, running from December 8-11, 2011. Buy tickets at www.bte.org or email boxoffice@bte.org or call 570-784-8181 or 800-282-0283

The Santaland Diaries performance schedule

  • 
Thursday, December 8 at 7:30PM
  • Friday, December 9 at 7:30PM
  • Saturday, December 10 at 7:30PM and 10PM
  • Sunday, December 11 at 7:30PM

Disclosure: As an Amazon Affiliate, The Bloomsburg Daily earns a small percentage of any purchase made from readers clicking a product name and buying it from Amazon.

Holiday Memories Opens at BTE

BTE opened its Holiday season with the production of Holiday Memories on Friday with their Annual Food Preview. Each year, BTE kicks off the season by offering free admission to a performance for a single non-perishable food item. Not to worry, if you missed the kickoff on Friday, Holiday Memories by Truman Capote runs from November 25, 2011 until December 30, 2011. This wonderful series of stories has been adapted by Russell Vandenbroucke and is directed by Gerard Stropnicky. Try and make time for a performance this Holiday season!

“Oh my, it’s fruitcake weather!” Miss Sook, Truman’s older eccentric maiden aunt looks out her window to greet each holiday season. Her home-made fruitcakes will go to family and friends, and many to people she met just once, or perhaps not at all. Like President Roosevelt. Truman Capote’s stories of his childhood holidays in the Depression Deep South are filled with joy, love, family, poignancy, music, vivid characters, and entirely American grace in this funny, beautiful, and fast-moving stage adaptation.

Ensemble Member Daniel Roth as Truman, Ensemble Member Laurie McCants as Miss Sook, and R Tanner Lenhart as Buddy
Ensemble Member Laurie McCants as Miss Sook and R Tanner Lenhart as Buddy
Ensemble Member Laurie McCants as Miss Sook, R Tanner Lenhart as Buddy, and Ensemble Daniel Roth as Truman
Ensemble Member Daniel Roth as Truman

Thanksgiving Recipe: Cuizoo’s Famous Balsamic Vinaigrette

SaladNo one really wants to think about a green vegetable on their Thanksgiving table — unless it is green beans smothered in cream of mushroom soup with fried onions on top. But, come on, that doesn’t qualify as a vegetable.  You know I’m right on that.

The green vegetable is simply cast aside because the other food on the table is so compelling.  And my feeling is that I can have a vegetable any other day of the year.  But my husband doesn’t agree with that idea — he thinks that a table filled with turkey, potatoes, stuffing, bread, and gravy could use a little salad. And he is probably right.  Adding a nice big salad to the mix is a welcome addition, especially when the dressing is light and cuts through the richness of the rest of the table.

This is one of my most requested recipes — which always strikes me as very odd because it is the most simple vinaigrette you can make. And whenever I try to give someone the recipe, I never have any idea about amounts because I always mix it in the same bowl and add the ingredients until “they look right.”   This is the dressing that made my friend Kevin actually like salad after a lifetime of salad hating.

There are two keys to making it right… good quality olive oil and good quality balsamic vinegar.  And if you have to choose one, pick a decent olive oil and spend a little extra on the vinegar because a bad balsamic vinegar makes a bad vinaigrette.  And when you consider that you only use about an ounce for an entire salad, a large bottle lasts for quite some time and is much more cost effective than buying most bottled salad dressing.  It’s yet another win-win-win … more reasonable, tastes better, and better for you because you control the ingredients (As you will notice, I don’t add any Potassium Sorbate or Sulfiting Agents to mine…).

And it takes all of one minute to make.

Cuizoo’s “Famous” Balsamic Vinaigrette (enough for one large salad)

3/8 cup olive oil
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, chopped finely
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Chop garlic clove finely and place in small bowl.  Add oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper and whisk well with a fork or wire whisk — until it is emulsified.  If not using dressing immediately, re-whisk before pouring over greens.

As a Thanksgiving treat, we’ve established a partnership with, Cuizoo. Cuizoo is a local food and photography blog by Kristin Camplese. For the rest of the week (and maybe in the future) The Bloomsburg Daily will be featuring recipes to help round out your table. The goal of Cuizoo is to get parents back in the kitchen and to do so in a way that makes families develop an appreciation for real food. Creative marketing has led us to believe that families don’t have time to cook, that we need processed food to provide short cuts, that cooking from scratch is hard, and that kids don’t eat vegetables. They tell us we are so busy that we don’t even have time to squeeze a lemon (so wouldn’t you rather buy some Real Lemon lemon juice-esque product?) and we are so incapable in the kitchen that we cannot make a ham sandwich for our child’s lunch (so wouldn’t you rather buy a Lunchable?). Each recipe we feature here has been carefully selected to help make your Thanksgiving even more delicious than it usually is.

Photo credit, Chris Dlugosz.

Thanksgiving Recipe: Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage

I’m thinking there is a guide to parenthood somewhere that I forgot to read.  Before I had kids, I imagined parenting to be similar to, um, living — except with children.  And I know that sounds simplistic and parenting is much harder than just living, but I guess I imagined that I would continue to do things that I enjoy, rather than things that I do not.  This isn’t making much sense, is it?

You see, there is an entire underbelly to our culture that I truthfully had no idea existed until I had children.  Festivals.  Apparently, once you have children, there is an unwritten rule that you must both enjoy and faithfully attend all festivals occurring within a 50 mile radius of your home.  These can include, but are not limited to, Fun Fests, Fall Fests, Arts Fests, Music Fests, Octoberfests (those I enjoy more), Jazz Fests, Spring Fests, Renaissance Fests (sometimes called Fairs), Apple Fests, Maple Syrup Fests, Strawberry Fests, Ice Cream Fests, Chili Fests, Winter Fests, First Night Fests, and Random Nature Event Fests.  Corollary events can include Carnivals, Public Easter Egg Hunts, Holiday Plays and Pageants, Santa Parades, and Bug Fairs.

And let me just make myself clear. I do not particularly like festivals. Maybe it’s the walking around aimlessly saying “Look kids, a donkey!”  Or maybe it’s the whiny kids who are generally just looking for the funnel cake stand. Or maybe it’s the same old Lion’s Club food truck.  Or maybe it’s for the simple reason that NONE OF THESE FESTIVALS SERVE BEER.

For example, this recipe for Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage could inspire an entire festival. There would be crafts for the kids that included painting a potato. There would be some sort of Scalloped Potato cook-off. And a potato peeling competition. That sounds fun, doesn’t it? And don’t forget about the food vendors. There will most assuredly be kettle corn, funnel cakes, and french fries. And some sort of random animal to visit — llamas, donkeys, reindeer, or horses (of course) are logical choices.  I can’t wait to spend my entire Saturday afternoon at the Scalloped Potato Festival, now that you mention it.

Actually, I made these scalloped potatoes the other afternoon when we were skipping out on some random festival.  It’s been fall (season of lots of festivals!), so I have already forgotten which one it was.  It is a wonderful, easy side to add to your Thanksgiving table with its simple but delicious flavors. The smoked sausage bastes the potatoes as they cook and you won’t believe how few ingredients you need. I questioned the idea of scalloped potatoes without cheese, but this really works. And made with 2% milk (which I did), it isn’t nearly the calorie and fat hog that some scalloped potato recipes are.

And I must mention that this is my dad’s recipe.  And I’m pretty sure he hates festivals too. That afternoon, I cooked and sipped a glass of wine while the kids played school (after helping me peel the potatoes).  We enjoyed a quiet evening at home and didn’t even miss the llamas — although I failed to tell them that they were even missing the llamas.  Evil mother.

Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage

Serves 6

6-7 medium potatoes, peeled
1 lb. smoked sausage (very important to get high quality, local smoked sausage for the best flavor)
Flour (1/2 T per layer)
Butter (about 1 T per layer)
Salt and Pepper
2 cups of 2% milk (approximately)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Slice potatoes thinly. Slice smoked sausage into thin rounds (or chunks, however you like it).

3.  Butter a 9 inch by 13 inch glass pan.

4.  In the greased pan, make one layer of potatoes.  Sprinkle 1/2 T of flour over the potatoes and season well with salt and pepper.  Break 1 T of butter into little pieces and scatter it over the potatoes.  Top potato layer with slices of smoked sausage.

5.  Repeat by layering potato slices, flour, butter, salt and pepper, and smoked sausage.  Your top layer should be potatoes.  (I made three layers of potatoes, with two layers of sausage in between).  On your final layer of potatoes, sprinkle with 1/2 T of flour, additional salt and pepper, and 1 T of butter (in small pieces).

6.  Pour milk over top the potatoes until you can start to see it come up the edge — it should be about 2 or 2 1/2 cups.  Using a metal spatula, press the potato layers down into the milk, so the milk mixes in well.

7.  Bake uncovered for about 1 hour and 30 minutes (mine took more like 1 hr. and 40 minutes).  Every 20 minutes or so, press the layers down with the back of a metal spatula again so the top layer gets saturated.  The potatoes are done when the milk is absorbed and the top is very golden brown.  Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving. (Helpful hint:  you may want to put a baking sheet underneath your baking pan, as the milk tends to bubble and make a mess of your oven.)

As a Thanksgiving treat, we’ve established a partnership with, Cuizoo. Cuizoo is a local food and photography blog by Kristin Camplese. For the rest of the week (and maybe in the future) The Bloomsburg Daily will be featuring recipes to help round out your table. The goal of Cuizoo is to get parents back in the kitchen and to do so in a way that makes families develop an appreciation for real food. Creative marketing has led us to believe that families don’t have time to cook, that we need processed food to provide short cuts, that cooking from scratch is hard, and that kids don’t eat vegetables. They tell us we are so busy that we don’t even have time to squeeze a lemon (so wouldn’t you rather buy some Real Lemon lemon juice-esque product?) and we are so incapable in the kitchen that we cannot make a ham sandwich for our child’s lunch (so wouldn’t you rather buy a Lunchable?). Each recipe we feature here has been carefully selected to help make your Thanksgiving even more delicious than it usually is.

Thanksgiving Recipe: Orange Marsala Cranberry Sauce with Sage

I make it no secret that I am a little particular about what kind of food I generally serve.  I wouldn’t call myself a total food snob, because I still enjoy a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese as much as the next person.  It’s just that when I cook, I rarely use processed or convenience items.

This morning I bought both Cream of Mushroom soup and Pillsbury Crescent Rolls.

Sometimes tradition wins out.  And sometimes it’s OK that you serve Green Bean Casserole and don’t make rolls from scratch.  Our Thanksgiving meal has a certain set of necessary items … anything “experimental” is fine, but you will not replace my grandmother’s Creamed Corn with Quinoa Salad.   Or decide that you are going to try something “new” with the stuffing — our table can only have my grandmother-in-law’s Portuguese Stuffing on it.  The mashed potatoes must be made from yukon golds and the gravy will be laced with Marsala.  You just don’t mess with the memories.

The one exception to that is the cranberry sauce, because no one in my family cares about it in the least.  They will take an obligatory bite, but I will eat it with a spoon.  This year I made a version with orange zest, Marsala, and sage (to meld with my Marsala-laced gravy).  If I thought anyone cared enough, I’d try to form it in the shape of a tin can, with the requisite ridges we all grew up with.

And I haven’t ventured to look at the ingredients on the Crescent Rolls yet, but what is Thanksgiving without some good old petroleum by-products in your bread?

Orange Marsala Cranberry Sauce with Sage

Make about 3 1/2 cups

1 quart of fresh cranberries, rinsed
3/4 cup Sweet Marsala, plus 1-2 T
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
Healthy pinch of salt
Zest of two oranges, finely chopped
2 t fresh sage, finely chopped

1.  In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, 3/4 cup Marsala, orange juice, brown sugar, and salt over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes until all cranberries have popped and mixture is thick.  Remove from heat.

2.  Stir in additional 1-2 T of Marsala, chopped orange zest, and chopped sage.  Store in refrigerator.  (Can be made 2-3 days ahead)

As a Thanksgiving treat, we’ve established a partnership with, Cuizoo. Cuizoo is a local food and photography blog by Kristin Camplese. For the rest of the week (and maybe in the future) The Bloomsburg Daily will be featuring recipes to help round out your table. The goal of Cuizoo is to get parents back in the kitchen and to do so in a way that makes families develop an appreciation for real food. Creative marketing has led us to believe that families don’t have time to cook, that we need processed food to provide short cuts, that cooking from scratch is hard, and that kids don’t eat vegetables. They tell us we are so busy that we don’t even have time to squeeze a lemon (so wouldn’t you rather buy some Real Lemon lemon juice-esque product?) and we are so incapable in the kitchen that we cannot make a ham sandwich for our child’s lunch (so wouldn’t you rather buy a Lunchable?). Each recipe we feature here has been carefully selected to help make your Thanksgiving even more delicious than it usually is.

Thanksgiving Recipe: Portuguese Stuffing

CuizooAs a Thanksgiving treat, we’ve established a partnership with, Cuizoo. Cuizoo is a local food and photography blog by Kristin Camplese. For the rest of the week (and maybe in the future) The Bloomsburg Daily will be featuring recipes to help round out your table. The goal of Cuizoo is to get parents back in the kitchen and to do so in a way that makes families develop an appreciation for real food. Creative marketing has led us to believe that families don’t have time to cook, that we need processed food to provide short cuts, that cooking from scratch is hard, and that kids don’t eat vegetables. They tell us we are so busy that we don’t even have time to squeeze a lemon (so wouldn’t you rather buy some Real Lemon lemon juice-esque product?) and we are so incapable in the kitchen that we cannot make a ham sandwich for our child’s lunch (so wouldn’t you rather buy a Lunchable?). Each recipe we feature here has been carefully selected to help make your Thanksgiving even more delicious than it usually is.

This is my in-laws’ famous recipe for the stuffing that is always served at their Thanksgiving table.  It has both Italian and Portuguese roots and is a highly spicy and seasoned dressing.  Don’t let the bottle of vinegar scare you off, it is used to slowly saturate the stuffing and most of it burns off, leaving just the spicy tang behind.  This stuffing is generally not baked inside the turkey, but instead in a shallow pan, allowing it to become brown and prevent a mushy mess. The key is making sure you don’t skimp on the seasoning.  My husband is our official taste tester and always says it needs more spice and more vinegar, applied in what we call “rounds” as it cooks down.  I’m not sure if it’s an acquired taste, as I learned to love it instantly — covered in gravy and occasionally mixed with a bite of cranberry, but I do know that most people who try it fall in love.

Makes a 9×13 pan

1 lb. Hot Italian Sausage
2-3 large onions, chopped
3-4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
6 or 7 celery ribs (with greens attached, if possible), chopped
1 or 2 bunches of parsley, chopped
Salt
Pepper
Italian Seasoning (about 3 T total)
Dried Fennel Seeds (about 2 T total)
Red Pepper Flakes (about 1 T total)
Cinnamon
Nutmeg
Allspice
16 oz. Apple Cider Vinegar
1 1/2 loaves of Italian Bread, cut or torn into one inch cubes, and sprinkled with a bit of water
Olive Oil

1.  Remove sausage from casing and cook in a very large non-stick saute pan over medium heat, breaking the sausage up into small clumps.  When the sausage is browned nicely and cooked through, remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain.

2.  Remove some of the fat that the sausage rendered, leaving about 2 tablespoons of drippings behind.  (Alternately, if your sausage was very lean, add some olive oil to make about 2 tablespoons of fat.) Sauté the onions, garlic, and celery with about 1/2 cup of chopped parsley, 1 t salt, freshly ground pepper, 1 t Italian Seasoning, 1 t fennel seeds, and 1/2 t red pepper flakes.  Cook for about 8 minutes until the onions are translucent.  Add about 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar, let it absorb and reduce for a minute or two. Remove mixture from pan and place in a very large bowl.

3.  Add drained sausage pieces and bread cubes to the onion mixture in the large bowl.  Season with additional salt and pepper.

Bread

4.  In the very large non-stick sauté pan, heat a 2-3 T of olive oil over medium heat.  Take about 1/2 of the stuffing mixture and add to pan.  (I can usually split this recipe into two batches, as I have a VERY large sauté pan, but you might need to do do three batches.) Sauté the stuffing mixture in olive oil, stirring frequently, to allow it to begin to brown.  Add approximately 1 t Italian Seasoning, 1 t fennel, 1/2 t red pepper flakes, 2-3 T parsley, and about 6 T vinegar.  Continue to stir and brown, for about 20 minutes until the mixture is darkened and heavily seasoned.  As you cook, re-season with additional italian seasoning, fennel, red pepper flakes, vinegar, and salt and pepper.  Toward the end of the 20 minutes, add in a generous pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.  Repeat with remaining stuffing and add to a 9×13 pan as each batch is finished.  (This seasoning and frying process seems complex, but it’s really not.  In order to make the entire batch, I generally use about 3 T total of Italian Seasoning, 2 T total of fennel, and 1 T total of red pepper flakes.  And I generally go through a 16 oz. bottle of apple cider vinegar.  This seems weird, but as you fry the stuffing, it soaks into the bread and burns off, so you are not left with too much of an intense vinegar flavor. And whenever I ask my husband if it is nearing the correct flavor, he always indicates that I need “one more round” of all the spices, salt and pepper, and vinegar. It’s zesty for sure!)

Frying

5.  When you are finished browning all of the stuffing on top of the stove, add several handfuls of additional chopped fresh parsley to the stuffing mixture.  At this point, you can either refrigerate it (can even make it a day or two ahead if you like) or bake it immediately.  I then generally bake at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit, covered for about 20 minutes, and then uncovered for an additional 10 minutes.  (You just want to reheat it thoroughly and brown it more on top.)

Bake

Local Volunteers Prepare for TreeFest ’11

Members of Bloomsburg University’s Alpha Tau Omega fraternity Cub Scout Pack 33, and other volunteers help set up TreeFest Saturday morning, 19 November at the Caldwell Consistory.

TreeFest will be held November 25, 26 and 27, and December 2, 3 and 4.

TreeFest Heralds Holidays’ Beginning

Tree FestCelebrating the unique connection between the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble’s commitment of bringing live, professional theatre to our region and the Town of Bloomsburg, TreeFest once again heralds the beginning of the local holiday season. This year, TreeFest will be held November 25, 26 and 27, and December 2, 3 and 4 at the Caldwell Consistory, located north of the town fountain at 150 Market Street.

Tree FestThe celebration begins with the area’s growers donating over 140 trees, then hundreds of people including community volunteers, youth groups, florists and garden clubs set up and decorate the rooms and trees which are each sponsored by area businesses or individuals. TreeFest ends with the trees, decorations and other gifts going to area families in need, as identified by local social service agencies.

Throughout the event, a variety of entertainment is provided including school choirs, dance groups and folk musicians performing in front of a seasonal mural. Story times and art experiences for children are scheduled throughout both weekends. Visitors will be able to start their Christmas shopping at the dozens of professional craft artisans displaying their wares for sale.

But TreeFest has grown into so much more. A special Chinese auction, a children’s coloring contest and the raffling of a spectacular quilt are some of the other highlights. The gala Chamber After Hours is set for Nov. 29 beginning at 4.30, and the Rotary Christmas party takes place Dec. 1. TeaFest, an elegant Scottish high tea, will be presented by Sharon Duff at the Caldwell Consistory on Monday, Nov. 28 at 1:00 p.m.

First-year TreeFest chairperson Bonnie Crawford has enjoyed her learning experiences. “Seeing all that goes into putting this together, I never realized how many months of preparation it took,” she said. “Now I am just excited to see it all come together.” Crawford is quick to thank the many volunteers who contribute to TreeFest’s success. “I am also extremely appreciative of the fantastic people on the various committees. This is a truly dedicated team of volunteers who work countless hours to make this happen.” 

TreeFest counts on hundreds of volunteers over the two-week period, and children continue to be actively involved. Local schools participate in a Gingerbread house building contest, guides take young children on special tours, and students from Bloomsburg, Central Columbia and Bloomsburg University help in a variety of ways but most especially as part of tear down, clean up and tree distribution which mark the end of TreeFest activities.

Official parking behind the Columbia County Court House will be available on weekends. Bring your $2.00 discount admission coupon and visit www.treefest.org for specific hours.

Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble is celebrating 34 years of bringing live, professional theatre to the Bloomsburg and regional community. All TreeFest proceeds benefit BTE.

Article by Sam Bidleman
Photos by Marlin Wagner