Thanksgiving plans across the country are being suspended and cancelled this year – our year of COVID-19, panic, existential dread, and group anxiety. Everyone’s expectations for relief and some reassuring holiday cheer have been dashed. And political divide within some families is driving the wedge further. How can we have a hopeful Thanksgiving?
Let’s try to cheer up and count those blessings we overlook every day. Luke the wonder dog and I went for our morning walk today. We go for the same walk five mornings a week. Today wasn’t much different from yesterday or the day before. But it was wintery cold for the first time today. There was frost on the grass. And I wore a hat and gloves and a nice warm coat. It was so unlike the walk we would have taken if we still lived in Florida. It is a joy to be wearing turtlenecks and sweaters again. For this I am grateful.
Our daily walks might seem to be a monotonous routine, but recently we trained a fellow quotidian walker to keep some dog biscuits in her pocket, to share with Luke, and he is overjoyed to see the old lady every day. His ears perk up and he strains eagerly to meet her on the path, where she kindly gives him a tiny dog treat – the size of a Flintstone vitamin. And then she pats his head, and tells him what a good boy he is. We all socialize for a moment and then go our own ways. We have made a tenuous connection, and the three of us are a little bit happier. Thank you.
Every couple of days I leave Luke penned up in the kitchen, with Alexa playing NPR, and a red rubber Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter, while I make a quick trip to the grocery store. After I finish writing this piece I will be buzzing out, mask in hand, with some reusable, locally-sourced bags, to pick up some wine for dinner, and a copy of the New York Times. While shopping I will make eye contact with a few of the other shoppers as we bob and weave and struggle to remember to keep our social distance. You have to smile with extra crinkling efforts these days, so people can tell you are smiling. Everyone seems to be trying harder. This is good.
Depending on the size of your pandemic pod, you might not be having much of a Thanksgiving feast. But you are always going to have a sinkful of dishes. No matter how much cleaning you do as you go along, there will be greasy pots, fragile glasses, gritty mixing bowls, slippery silverware and sticky beaters. For that we should be truly grateful.
I read somewhere today that Nigella Lawson, who is English, thought we should just have vanilla ice cream with a cranberry syrup on Thanksgiving. Sure. That’s just what we need to be doing – scrimping on dessert. I don’t think so, Nigella. (I mean, she butters her toast twice, for heaven’s sake!) Luke and I don’t walk five miles a day to have a measly bowl of ice cream for Thanksgiving dessert. On Thanksgiving we will be indulging in our favorite flourless chocolate cake. With whipped cream, thank you very much. Well, Mr. Friday and I will be. We’ll give Luke the treat of a peanut butter-stuffed Kong, but we’ll stay in the kitchen with him as we listen to NPR together. I can’t wait to hear Susan Stamberg’s annual recitation her mother-in-law’s recipe for orange cranberry relish. It is our Thanksgiving ritual. And then we will sidle over to the Group W bench for 18 minutes of song with Arlo Guthrie. And then maybe we’ll take a walk. Happy Thanksgiving!
Nigella’s recipe: https://www.nigella.com/recipes/ice-cream-with-cranberry-syrup
The Spy’s Flourless Chocolate Cake: https://chestertownspy.org/2012/02/09/food-friday-for-love-and-chocolate/
Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant Massacree: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/brief-history-alices-restaurant-180967276/
“Those who are not grateful soon begin to complain of everything.”
― Thomas Merton
This is no ma and pa business, yet it is. It’s located in Cambridge, yet most people, even those outside of Dorchester County, know about Simmons Center Market. Customers speak of parents or grandparents who brought them to this market when they were young and continue the tradition with their children or grandchildren.
Owner Ricky Travers attributes the success of his business partially to what this grocery/meat/produce/greenhouse/gift shop has chosen to carry in their inventory, partly to their willingness to change with the times, and partly in that they have served the area for the past 83 years.
But it’s not only their longevity that is of note. It is also that this business has been family owned and operated since Jimmy and Elizabeth Simmons, back in 1937 and on a shoestring budget, launched a small grocery store at 600 Race Street. The fact that Center Market is still around and prosperous is no small matter. According to Family Business Alliance research, family businesses account for 64% of U.S. gross domestic product. Yet, only 30% transition into the second generation, 12% into the third, and only 3% will be operating at the fourth-generation level and beyond.
Despite what the statistics say, at Center Market, it’s not unusual to find multi-generations working together on any given day. Travers, the grandson of the original Simmons, said he’s been ‘in the business’ since he was six weeks old, watching from a playpen as his mother worked. He and wife Rosi raised their four boys in the store, sending them off to an office/playroom when they got tired. Now grown, three of the four children work with their parents, making up the elusive fourth generation. Travers proudly jokes, “As Governor (William) Schaefer once said: You should grow your own help. To that, I say, ‘yes, that’s what we do.'”
Travers is also proud to keep the traditions established by his grandfather while still appealing to the needs of his current customers. The store carries typical grocery items such as milk, bread, fresh fruits, and vegetables, as well as hard to find or popular things like King Syrup or Old Bay hot sauce. But it’s their selection and attention to meats that keep customers coming back. Says Travers, “If you come in wanting a half-inch thick steak, it’s cut while you’re waiting. Same for ground beef. We fresh grind ground beef multiple times a day. We make our own pork sausage. Our pork loin is fresh, antibiotic and hormone-free. You’ll never have to worry about it being frozen somewhere along the line.”
Freshness is why the store local sources for eggs and produce and why they rely on 25-30 Amish families from the Pennsylvania Lancaster County area for some other popular items. “I have a group that has a cheese facility,” says Travers. “I’ve got another that makes spaghetti, sauces, and noodles. Then there are the ones who can or jar apple sauce, peaches, pears, pickles, and jellies.”
That’s not to say that Center Market hasn’t made changes throughout the years. A gift and garden center was added next door to the store, which carries plants, birdhouses, wrought iron products, holiday gifts, and decorative crafts.
Grandpa Simmons would have approved.
Innovation has been a reason for its longevity. Center Market in 1945, became the first modern self-service grocery store on the Eastern Shore. It was a new concept and new way of shopping for people who, until then, were used to going in with an order and have it fulfilled by the person behind the counter. And it wasn’t exactly a hit. Gentlemen who didn’t appreciate the shopping carts and thought it made them look like they were pushing baby carriages would often pull the carts behind them.
The pandemic might just bring them back to a pre-1945 time where orders will, once again, be fulfilled by the person behind the counter. The family is currently working on a website that will allow customers to order and pay online for over 2,000 products from the store and then arrange for their delivery or pick up. “My grandfather, since he started, has always done home delivery. They used to do it on a bicycle. But this will be on a much larger scale. I’ve had our customers tell me, ‘I didn’t know you did this,’ or ‘why would I ever go spend another hour in a grocery store when I don’t have to because I can give you my credit card my order and you’ll bring it to the house.'”
The pandemic has also exposed the importance of years and years of establishing and cultivating relationships. “During the war,” Travers said, “my grandfather had to be resourceful to find products. It’s like that today with COVID. Certain items are extremely tight and hard to get, and you have to be resourceful. Vinegar was extremely tight. Recently, canned pumpkin was hard to find. At the beginning of the COVID crisis, we probably used ten or more different sources to find good items because the demand was high, and people were buying and in a panic mode. We were able to reach out and find other sources and continue to keep products in-house.”
One thing that will not be lost, at least not yet, is that this giant of a store is still just a country general store at heart. Enter, and you will take a step back in time and be surrounded by antique memorabilia. Jimmy Simmons was a collector who envisioned someday opening up a museum. Travers said his grandfather told him he’d been saving all of all these mementos and thought when Center Market was celebrating their 50th anniversary in 1987, it would the perfect time to display them. “So, we did,” says Travers, “and there were so many comments on it that we decided to leave it up. Everything here is original. There’re no reproductions. It was bought and used in the store, sold in the store, or has some connections to the store.”
Now, the market prepares for the holiday season. “For Thanksgiving, we do awesome fresh turkeys,” says Travers. “We’re the only one on the Eastern Shore that carry Honey Baked hams. We’ll have fresh sausage to serve for breakfast when the family is home. Then we transition to Christmas. In keeping with tradition, Center Market will be heavily decorated and festive, carrying everything from gifts to decorative crafts, from poinsettias, Christmas cactuses, and wreaths to vintage candy.
Grandpa Simmons would be proud.
Simmons Center Market is located at 600 Race Street in Cambridge and is open Monday-Friday 9 AM -5 PM, and Saturday 9-3. They deliver to Cambridge six days a week, North Dorchester twice a week South Dorchester once a week, the Neck district once a week, and Trappe, Easton, and St. Michael’s once a week. Contact them for additional information. 410-228-4313 or check them out on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Simmons-Center-Market-111650152235098)
We thought we had you stumped, but some of you guessed it! The tiny critter that we found along the woodland path was a pale green assassin bug nymph! While not as big as other assassin bugs, like the wheel bug, this bug makes up for size by using a sticky substance on its legs to help catch its prey. Clever.
This week, we are highlighting one of the last native flowering plants of the season. This shrub or small tree has delicate and vibrant yellow flowers.
At Thanksgiving we have to open ourselves up to new traditions and tastes, while being grateful. As we gather together, whether it is via Zoom or FaceTime, or if we are lucky enough to have a little family unit pod to call our own, or if we are stalwart singletons gamely firing up the oven for a modest roast chicken, we will all be considering the all-important side dishes.
My favorite dinner is a roasted chicken breast, with salt and pepper and some chopped onions nestled on top of the skin. And I like a side dish of rice and butter. It is the most comforting meal to me because it is what my mother prepared for my family birthday celebrations. With a little green salad, with a splash of a simple oil and vinegar homemade dressing. Modest and simple, and easy to put together.
Turkey isn’t all that different from chicken, except there is more of it, and it requires more ritual, ceremony, and expense. And people have so many opinions about how to cook it: brine it, roast it, deep fry it, inject it, wedge compound butter under the skin, coat with strips of bacon, smoke it, and spatchcock it. Mr. Friday spoke with some yearning about a new brining combo he’d love to try this year. The Tall One has enjoyed success smoking a few birds. I guess we will have to be open to the adventuresome cooks who are taking an interest in the assembly of Thanksgiving this year. They are also chatting, albeit casually, about stepping up our side dish repertoire. I find this more alarming. I like some traditions to be consistent and unvaried.
I read a listicle in Thrillist this week about the side dishes most preferred by each state. It was an eye-opener. I had never considered macaroni and cheese as a viable Thanksgiving side dish before. https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/most-popular-thanksgiving-sides-list-2020-zippia
Maryland, according to Thrillist, is a mac and cheese state. So is my adopted home, North Carolina. But Connecticut, where I grew up, is a mashed potato state. Bland and starchy Connecticut? It could well be, but add some good quality butter and a pinch of Maldon salt, I think you will find mashed potatoes the perfect accompaniment to roast turkey. And as divine as mac and cheese may well be, can you hollow it out to create a little gravy reservoir? Doubtful.
I suppose it could be worse, Indiana likes deviled eggs. At Thanksgiving? That strikes me as both odd and wrong. But I also believe that the only sort of hors d’oeuvres you should consume at Thanksgiving are the cashews you pick very carefully out of a silver bowl of mixed nuts, and a very 1950s-feeling relish platter, with celery, carrot sticks, radishes and gherkin pickles. You should get to the table with an empty belly. That is the best way to appreciate and consume your fair share of Parker House rolls.
We have a family debate every year whether we should have Parker House rolls or Pillsbury crescent rolls, not being very talented yeast roll bakers. We rely on Pepperidge Farm and Pillsbury every holiday season, but we forget from year to year which we prefer. Annual group amnesia is our most unfailing family characteristic. And if we ever move to West Virginia, Oklahoma, Missouri, or Utah we will fit right in, as they prefer rolls, which I assume means generic dinner rolls. South Dakota will clinch the argument for crescent rolls.
We lived in Florida for more than 20 years, and I can safely say that never once did we have sweet potato casserole. Lucky me. I’ve never lived in Kentucky, where broccoli casserole is a favorite side dish. It must be grim living in Kentucky.
Green bean casserole is the favorite in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. I like green beans as much as the next, but I draw the line at anything that uses a can of mushroom soup. Over the years I have politely moved green bean casserole around on my plate, or hidden it under a crescent roll. I find that cranberry relish is a wonderful agent for disguising discards.
I think stuffing and dressing are a personal decision – like religion or political party. I will not question you openly about your choice. That said, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New Jersey like stuffing, whereas Louisiana and Alabama prefer dressing.
We always mash potatoes. Some years we peel a bag o’russets (usually when we are testing out a new boyfriend or girlfriend), or we go wild and boil up some new, pink-skinned potatoes. We might need to try Alaska’s preferred side: hash brown casserole. That seems worth edging warily out of our stodgy comfort zone.
We are prepared to be a little adventurous with our side selections this year. I don’t think we will try the white gravy that is the fave in Arkansas, but maybe we will go out on a limb and have some Iowa corn with our dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, cranberry relish, and turkey. We will leave the mac and cheese, broccoli casserole, and white gravy for the devotees of regional cuisine.
Be careful out there. Here is a link to CDC guidelines for our COVID Thanksgiving: https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/cdc-recommendations-for-thanksgiving-2020-guidelines
“What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”
― A.A. Milne
The Adkins Arboretum is centrally located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, 25 miles east of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge at 12610 Eveland Road, near Ridgely, MD. For more information and their public programs please go here.
Normally November is the busiest time for cooks and food writers – we cannot get enough of making plans and menus for Thanksgiving and the December holidays at which we gather together. This is not a normal year. We are all dancing as fast as we can to hold onto our fraying sanity, while wearing masks and keeping everyone else at arm’s length. Unless we are very comfortable with Zoom, there won’t be any holiday parties. The only plus is that we won’t have to talk about the election with our uncles. But wouldn’t it be nice to see them all again?
We are opting for a smaller, less boisterous Thanksgiving. At which we will earnestly ask for blessings for everyone, and will remember jollier times. Like the Thanksgiving where we ran out of chairs and the children were relegated to a coffee table. And how, like clockwork, we almost always manage to forget the green beans until after the parade of food from the kitchen to the table has begun. Our cast of characters will be smaller this year. We always have a couple of mashed potato specialists, but only one master baster. We will suffer pie-wise, because Courtnei brings the only acceptable pecan pie. And Julia is in charge of the corn bread stuffing. It just won’t feel the same.
One Thanksgiving in Florida we ate outside, because it was a pleasant temperature and there were lots of wriggling children. We fired up the fairy lights and moved the stereo speakers out onto the back porch. It was an adventure to eat formally, with candles and sterling, and the ancestral china, and tinkling crystal outside, not because we were minimizing the spread of germs. Outside dining is an option for some folks this year. Everyone brings a covered dish, a blanket and some hand sanitizer. (Can I suggest from personal experience that you leave the good china inside, and go for the everyday? It will be dark, after all.) It will be challenging, but I bet we see some clever Instagram feeds of families breaking bread while bundled up. And think about grilling a turkey breast instead of deep frying an entire bird – you can spend even more time outdoors: https://www.101cookingfortwo.com/grilled-brown-sugar-rubbed-turkey/ Added extra: the white wine will chill itself.
So start your low-key Thanksgiving planning. Be innovative. Instead of forgetting the green beans this year, why don’t you try roasting some Brussels sprouts? https://www.wellplated.com/oven-roasted-brussels-sprouts/
If you are going to be a smaller family unit this year, how about making your life easy? Roast a chicken. You can still eat drumsticks: https://food52.com/recipes/17568-barbara-kafka-s-simplest-roast-chicken Then you can splash out for some really nice wine, and make a labor intensive and decadent dessert involving choux pastry, chocolate and creme pat: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/choux-pastry/
A dose of romance could liven up a holiday spent at home. Lots of candles and a brace of Cornish game hen, wild rice, roasted Brussels sprouts, chocolate eclairs, with fewer dishes to wash. Take a nice meandering walk in the cold, and have an evening streaming comforting Hayao Miyazaki films. Find something to make yourselves happy. And in 20 years, you’ll have something to remember when this chapter is all over.
With COVID lurking around every corner these days, we have to be flexible and learn how to pivot. Maybe next year we will be back to normal, while listening to the uncles still droning on about the election. And won’t that be grand?
“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”
― Oscar Wilde
The University of Maryland Extension is offering the wildlife Management Online Course for Spring 2021, available online only, beginning Feb. 1, 2021 through May 15, 2021. Registration for this online course opens Nov. 1, 2020 and can be accessed at https://2021wildlifecourse.eventbrite.com.
This non-credit course does not offer formal in-person classes and has no prerequisites. Participants will work from the comfort of their own homes, using their own land, a friend’s, or public lands. Instruction includes ecological concepts such as predator-prey relationships, biodiversity, hazards and diseases, habitat assessment, managing forests for wildlife, and more. Ultimately, the course provides tools to develop the framework for a wildlife management plan.
The course fee is $150, and includes a copy of Wildlife and Timber from Private Lands: A Landowner’s Guide to Planning and Common Native Trees of Virginia Tree Identification Guide. Participants will receive a flash drive of the text and appendices at the end of the course. A certificate of completion is awarded when all requirements are completed.
Sample lessons are available at https://extension.umd.edu/wildlife-course, including an opportunity to try identifying animal tracks. The site also provides detailed course information and frequently asked questions.
For more information, contact Nancy Stewart, University of Maryland Extension, Wye Research and Education Center, P.O. Box 169, Queenstown, MD, 21658; phone 410-827-8056, ext. 107; or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Check for details on our website today and mark the November 1 for open enrollment on your calendar.
Happy Mystery Monday on this Halloween week! Today’s mystery is just starting to show its color despite most plants going dormant for the winter. This forest floor denizen has purple spots on its leaves and is bright purple underneath. What is it?
We had a great response to last week’s mystery! The mystery fruit was the native persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), one of the last fruits to ripen in our region. Right now, the fruits are very astringent, but come November and frosty weather, these fruits will be pleasantly orange and very sweet!