Category: Holidays

Thanksgiving Dinner 2009 at the Occoquan Inn, Occoquan, VA

A slice of the fresh Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Pie, with whipped cream. Dessert first, right? Other available desserts were an Apple Cinnamon Cobbler and a Chocolate Coffee Mousse.

We’d been planning this trip for a while: Spending Thanksgiving with Mary’s youngest son, LCpl John Winckowski, USMC, just north of where he’s stationed at Quantico, south of Washington, DC. It fell to me to find a place for Thanksgiving dinner so I headed to Serious Eats out of New York City to ask the question:

We’ll be in the Potomac Mills area for Thanksgiving. Does anyone have any suggestions for a decent (i.e., comfortable, pleasant, not fast food) restaurant for 6 or so for dinner? Doesn’t quite matter if it’s a “traditional” Thanksgiving Day meal, although that would be preferred.

The first answer, from user Womandingo, included the following:

Alas, the Woodbridge area is not known for its culinary diversity. You might want to come a few miles north on I-95 to Occoquan, a really pretty place right on the river where there are some lovely little locally-owned restaurants … One really nice place in Occoquan is The Garden Kitchen – – I don’t know if they’re doing a Thanksgiving dinner, but I would be surprised if they weren’t … Check out the Occoquan Inn, another pretty place, that IS serving Thanksgiving dinner and taking reservations now – … I wish I could give you better information about the area around Potomac Mills, but, alas, it’s just not designed for gourmands – or even people who want to eat better than fast food … Good luck.

Womandingo is quite correct about the lack of diversity around the Potomac Mills Shopping Center itself. The area is loaded with chains, ranging from White Castle to 5 Guys, Denny’s to Chili’s and Applebee’s and just about everything else. It’s just not well-suited for anything close to a “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner, especially a dinner to share with someone who’s had mostly Mess Hall food for months at a time.

After a couple false starts I finally nailed down a noon reservation for us for Thanksgiving dinner at the Occoquan Inn in Occoquan, Virginia, for their limited menu from noon to 4 p.m., the only time the Inn would be open on Thanksgiving Day. Womandingo’s other suggestion, The Garden Inn, a block away from the Occoquan Inn, was closed for Thanksgiving.

A brass historical marker on the front of the Occoquan Inn indicates the older construction is circa 1780, although the framed copy of the ghost story next to the marker places construction in 1810. The building, the village itself, the river that runs through the valley behind the Inn … this is all authentic older America. Occoquan’s city hall is a converted one-room schoolhouse, one which is quite similar to the circa 1861 schoolhouse Briahna lives in.

We arrived at the restaurant shortly before noon and, as other guests headed behind the Inn to the river, we were the first ones seated. It turned out our reservation was for the table near the center of the front window, making for a beautiful view of the village. By 12:10, the Inn was packed with guests.

Mary, John and Briahna after being seated.

For the rest of this post, I’ll let the photos basically speak for themselves. This was a beautiful meal. If you have a chance to enjoy eating at the Occoquan Inn as we did, make sure you do. Thanks Womandingo!

While you may not think of shrimp as an appetizer for Thanksgiving, Mary’s family does follow this tradition. These were plump and flavorful shrimp, with a wonderful dipping sauce.

Marinated mushroom caps, with whipped cream cheese with bacon and balsamic. The filling was incredibly light and airy with a rich flavor.

Baby spinach salad with hot bacon dressing and boiled egg. The spinach couldn’t have been fresher or crispier. A Ceasar salad was also available, as were a Virginia Clam Chowder and a Blue Crab Bisque. Briahna and I had the chowder and while it’s almost impossible to get a good photo of, it was positively stunning.

The Traditional Tom Turkey Dinner with roasted turkey, stock gravy, baked ham (which wasn’t listed on the menu), country-style stuffing, sweet potatoes, whipped potatoes, crisp fresh vegetables and housemade cranberry sauce. This plate was huge, piled high, and quite simply, too much wonderful food to finish with desserts in-sight! Other available entrees were Roast Prime Rib of Beef with horseradish sauce, Baked Rockfish Supreme in an herb marinade with shrimp and wild rice, and Chicken Imperial stuffed with blue crab and a lemon Hollandaise sauce.

Follow-Up to My Peeps Rant

Following my Peeps rant from the other day, the bin on the right was given to me by Mary and Briahna this morning. Fortunately, it was a joke Easter basket, filled with Peep bath toys, a Peeps coloring project, a 24-piece Peep puzzle for 4-year-olds, and a few pounds of the creatures themselves. Behind it is my real Easter basket, which was better as far as I’m concerned. My response to Mary and Briahna at the Bin ‘O Peeps? “Peep YOU!”

Peeps; A Rant

At Beth’s wedding in May 2008, an army of Peeps readied itself for an attack on Minas Tirith …

The other day my daughter Briahna said the darndest thing. She said, “I like to leave Peeps out for about a week so they get stale”. Mary and I just looked at her funny. Why? Because she was actually serious about it.

Newsflash, Bri: Peeps are made stale. They’re stale marshmallows. Inside, they’re just weird. And the outer crust is as though they’ve been in the sun too long next to the untouched potato salad that smells like overused and underwashed wet feet.

That’s why I hate Peeps. They’re just nasty.

They even look evil. Look at that photo. I didn’t do anything to the Peeps in the photo to make them look evil. They just do. From Captain Quint in Jaws, those are “Lifeless eyes, like a dolls eyes”. And so many of them. They’re just … wrong. And evil.

Peeps belong in the wrong side of the stories of Lord of the Rings. There should be a movie titled Attack of the Killer Peeps. And to paraphrase Nathan Lane in Mouse Hunt, “Nostradamus didn’t see these things coming”.

And they are coming. This weekend. Peeps are coming in droves.

Beware of their cutesy inroads. Peeps Lip Balm. The Peeps Diorama Contest at the Washington Post.

Then there are recipes for cloning.

And Lord of the Peeps.

So don’t give me any friggin’ Peeps. Any Peeps given to me will be shipped to the home of a Toledo police officer, where the Peeps will be severely dealt with.

I kid you not.

Photos: Lenten Fish Fry Dinners, American Legion Post 193, Luna Pier, MI

A plated Lenten Fish Fry Dinner at American Legion Post 193, located here in Luna Pier, Michigan.

Coming out of American Legion Post 193 after shooting these photos, while still looking forward to having dinner there with Mary, my right foot hit the front edge of the bottom step out the front door of the place. The foot twisted around and all my weight went onto my toes as they rolled under. The sprain is one of the worst I’ve had. No, we’ll not sue! That would be nonsense. I’ll head up there sometime with some yellow safety paint for the edge of that short step as it’s definitely built wrong and is very deceiving. This is the second time I’ve twisted an ankle on it. Mary went in later to get dinners to go, and we ate at home. Even though she and I were able to share a quiet evening eating dinner at home, we were really looking forward to spending time with people there at the Post and will likely return another Friday for their company.

Fish Fry Dinners on Fridays during Lent. They seem to be everywhere, from restaurants having all-you-can-eat fried fish and seafood specials on Fridays, to just about every Catholic parrish hosting the dinners as well. Yesterday morning during their news broadcast, our friends at 13abc listed some of the participating churches in the Toledo area which are hosting these dinners from now until April 10th.

When I was growing up, Myer Elementary School would never serve meat on Friday in the lunchroom. It was always Cheese Pizza made in a sheet pan. The cheese was shredded too small, and we thought it looked like maggots. Still, it was good, as the lunch ladies made it fresh. I’d have rather had fish though.

So what are these dinners all about? Where’d they come from? From Wikipedia, an article titled, “Fasting and abstinence in the Roman Catholic Church“:

Contemporary legislation is rooted in the 1966 Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini … Current practice of fast and abstinence is regulated by Canons 1250-1253. They specify that all Fridays throughout the year, and the time of Lent are penitential times throughout the entire Church … Under Canon 1253, the local norms for fasting and abstinence are determined by each episcopal conference … Abstinence from all meat is to be observed by all Roman Catholics 14 years old and older on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays of Lent … Parishes in the United States often sponsor a fish fry during Lent. In predominantly Roman Catholic areas, restaurants may adjust their menus during Lent by adding seafood items to the menu in an attempt to appeal to Roman Catholics.

Other organizations also attempt to appeal to Roman Catholics by hosting their own Friday Lenten Fish Fry Dinners. Here in Luna Pier, where fishing is quite popular and fishing charters operate out of our in-town marina, American Legion Post 193 has hosted their own Friday Lenten Fish Fry Dinners for many years. These photos are from the dinner hosted for the public yesterday evening, and every Friday through April 10th.

Fresh-cut French Fries, not quite out of the cutter. These beautiful potatoes are Barbara Anns, supplied in 50 lb. restaurant-quantity bags by Smith Bros. Farms just a few miles from Luna Pier in Erie, Michigan.

Once the gang in the kitchen understood who I was and that I wanted some good photos so I could spread the word about these dinners, they were telling me all kinds of things about their operation there. The state had just come through within the last couple days for a health inspection, and the Post’s kitchen and processes didn’t receive a single “hit”. Not one issue on the inspection. The guys in the kitchen work quite hard to ensure a clean place, and it shows in the food they serve. They also told me that last Friday, February 27th, was the best night they’d ever had in all the years they’ve hosted these dinners.

A pile of frozen commercial Alaska Cod thaws briefly in a sheet pan for the evening’s dinners. All this fish would be served during a single evening’s fish dinner operation.

There were three dual deep fryers in the kitchen, countertop food-service-grade electric models that sell for $800 or so. With the cod, shimp and French fries all needing to be cooked simultaneously for these dinners I’m surprised there weren’t more fryers back there than there were.

The kitchen crew was starting with some fine-looking Alaskan cod. Filets were dredge in Young’s All Purpose Batter Mix, which is made in a small garage on Summit Street in Toledo. This batter mix is extremely popular, available at Kroger, smaller groceries, and Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops. Fisherman love the stuff. It works well and doesn’t overpower the fish while giving the fish a crispy coating that’s quite satisfying.

Shrimp arrives at the Post previously breaded from a food-service supplier. Unlike some breaded shrimp, the breading and sizings are rather consistent in the shrimp the Post is serving. Sides and condiments for these dinners include Cole Slaw from GFS Marketplace (with a hint of horseradish), a roll, and tarter and cocktail sauces for dipping.

I’ve mentioned before that Mary doesn’t really like fish. But with this dinner, she ate all of it. She seems to like lighter, more milder-tasting fish prepared well, and this dinner was certainly that.

A basket of shrimp comes out of one of the deep fryers.

The first pic of this post is a close-up of a plated serving of the Posts’s Friday Lenten Fish Fry Dinner. For that photo, the plating had been prepared by and was being held for the photo by this young lady. An admitted Luna Pier Cook reader (she high-fived me when I verified this was me), it was also her 20th birthday. Her dedication to the Post really shows when you consider that’s where she decided to spend her birthday evening. Of course, she absolutely hates having her picture taken …

Original Recipe: Pepperidge Farm Sage & Onion Stuffing

When I picked up Margaret Rudkin’s autobiographical “Pepperidge Farm Cookbook” from 1963 at an antique shop back in March, it was with hopes of finding some of the company’s original recipes.

Mrs. Rudkin, it turns out, did not disappoint.

My maternal grandmother used to make a seriously-good sage & onion stuffing. Grandma Liske probably did as well, although I was born a few years too late to find out. It seems to be a perennial favorite, with numerous variations appearing on my plate from various cooks throughout my lifetime.

The Pepperidge Farm pre-packaged version is by far the closest I’ve found to the from-scratch stuff … ing I’d enjoyed all those years. This year, after finding the original recipe for this stuff … ing on page 30 of Mrs. Rudkin’s book, I’ve been all gung-ho to finally make her grandmother’s version this year. She wrote about it in such a way that had me craving some:

Turkey time at Thanksgiving was a great treat — not because of the turkey, to my mind, but for the stuffing. I was so crazy about the stuffing that after the turkey was stuffed to bursting, an extra portion was wrapped loosely in a square of cheescloth and tucked into the pan alongside the turkey. The rich turkey fat sizzled round my little bundle, and when the cheesecloth was opened up, there was a crisp golden ball with a soft, spicy, fragrant center, all for me.

There it is … me wanting one of those same balls of freshly-roasted stuffing.

But dagnabbit … now I’m sick. Flu-bug, or some such nasty thing.

Hense the bags you see here of the commercial goods, which according to Mrs. Rudkin should still have been derived from her grandmother’s method.

Maybe I’ll make the original for Christmas dinner. That is, if I don’t have pneumonia or something.

Of course, Mrs. Rudkin also dealt with the age-old problem of dealing with grandmothers who simply knew how to cook:

My grandmother didn’t use any measuring spoon for the spices — she gauged the amounts by tasting and sniffing.

Doesn’t that just drive you nuts? “Grandma, can you show me how you make that?” “Certainly dear, but I never measure anything.” “Well gee grandma, how the HELL do you do that then???”

Mrs. Rudkin talks about something else that’s quite similar, part of her learning about this stuffing recipe:

When the big day came, the kitchen table was cleaned, a bowl of cool water was placed on one side, a large empty bowl was placed on the other side, and in the middle were thick slices of dry bread with the crusts removed.

Each slice was dipped into the water and then squeezed out thoroughly.

Why it had to be dried out for days and then wet again was a mystery, but whoever figured it out was mighty smart because the moisture was just right.

It’s a grandmother, Margaret. No explanation will ever be given. It’ll just drive ya’ knuts.

She continues:

The moist slices were crumbed by rubbing between the hands, and then salt, pepper, sage, thyme and finely chopped white onions were added and tossed well together.

Melted butter was poured on and everything tossed together lightly with a fork.

This then begs the question; Why, when this process, and the recipe at the bottom of the same page (shown above) both use crumbs, do today’s pre-packaged stuffing mixes, including Pepperidge Farms brand, use cubes of dried bread?

Mrs. Rudkin explained:

In a bakery you never know exactly how many loaves to bake, so you are almost sure to have some left over after the orders are filled.

I remembered how much I loved stuffing, so I decided to make some from the extra bread.

But fresh bread crumbs have a certain amount of moisture and will not keep long without molding.

A dried product which could be packaged seemed to be the answer, but there were problems galore. We had to find a way of drying the product and still keep the aroma and flavor of the herbs. We finally solved it by making a special machine for our Pepperidge Farm Stuffing.

The packaged stuff … ing is like the original, her grandmother’s recipe. Only different.

For a very good reason

The first recipe below is what Mrs. Rudkin developed as a measured and simpler version of her grandmother’s recipe for Sage & Onion Stuffing, with the bread crumbs intact. The second recipe is one of her many ideas for Thanksgiving leftovers; Turkey Loaf. One of these days I’ll see how this turns out. Sounds pretty darn good to me. Anyone have scissors? I gotta get these bags opened …

Mrs. Rudkin’s Pepperidge Farm Original Sage & Onion Stuffing
1 large white onion
1/2 teaspoon powdered sage
2 cups soft bread crumbs
4 tablespoons melted butter
salt and pepper to taste

Chop the onion very fine.
Mix with the bread crumbs.
Add the powdered sage, salt and pepper, and mix well.
Add the melted butter and toss with a fork.

After-Thanksgiving Turkey Loaf
(serves 6 – 8 )
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

2 eggs, slightly beaten
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 package Pepperidge Farm Stuffing
1-1/2 cups turkey or chicken broth
2 cups cooked turkey
2 tablespoons parsley
1 tablespoon minced onion
2 tablespoons minced green pepper

For the sauce:
1 can cream of celery soup
3/4 cup milk

Mix together all the [first eight] ingredients in order as listed.
Turn into a greased loaf pan, 9 by 5 by 3 inches.
Bake at 375 degrees F for 30 to 40 minutes until firm.
For the sauce: Blend the cream of celery soup with the milk in a saucepan.
Simmer for about 2 minutes.
Pour over the loaf.