Thanksgiving is early this year—Nov. 22—and so am I for once, with my annual list of some small measures and fine details that make dining locally such a delight. May the big things—ample food to eat, loved ones to share it with—reach ever more people in the coming year. Meantime, thanks for these small things:
• My bright pink T-shirt from being a judge at Child & Family Tennessee's recent benefit in Krutch Park. It reads "Make cupcakes, not war."
• Sure, I'm coming to the party a few years late, but the charro beans at Soccer Taco, with their smoky cooked-all-day flavor and pot-luck style occasional morsel of frankfurter or sausage floating in the rich red-brown sauce. And you can get them in place of refried, no extra charge.
• The Bearden Hill Fieldhouse's fresh-breaded, liberally seasoned, brimming basket of crinkle-cut fried pickle slices mixed with banana pepper rings. A snack for four or five to share—best tasting, best buy in town.
• A divine 99 cent purchase: the dark chocolate 1.58 oz. Trader Joe's candy bar filled with, um, something called "Speculoos" cookie spread. It tastes like Toll House dough, only classier, and the cookie spread comes in jars, too (I am not making this up).
• The multitudes of homegrown Caprese salads we've downed this year, with plants from Knox Feed and Seed, basil seeds from Walmart Seeds of Change, and fresh mozz from Earth Fare, all with my own special touch: Wishbone Italian. Oh, and our grad student family friend Tim, a burgeoning cook of necessity, who reluctantly gave one a try, and pronounced it quite good—"Only it would be a lot better without the tomatoes..."
• The chance to ponder and often lust after the "fancy grilled cheese" option of the day as described on the sidewalk sign outside Just Ripe on Union Avenue downtown.
• The glossy, crispy, garlicky side of snap peas at PF Changs, all the better in contrast to other establishments' wan, yellowing, cabbage-y versions that they still charge extra for.
• The pie bake-off and tasting recently held by Slow Food Knoxville to benefit Redeeming Hope Ministries, and "audience favorite" winner Jessica Hammonds (of Organicism Farms, that's right) being willing to type me the recipe that was previously only in her creative mind. I already know what I'll be doing with my smoked turkey leftovers, which means (another one for the list) I'm actually early on two things this year!.
Jessica Hammonds' Chicken and Gravy Pies
For the Gravy:
Melt 2 ½ tablespoons butter in a small saucepan. DO NOT BROWN. Whisk in 1/8 cup flour and cook until slightly bubbly (this just takes seconds). Sloooowly, whisk in one pint buttermilk until thick. Add salt to taste.
For the Crust:
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter (cut into pieces)
1 ½ cups sharp cheddar (shredded)
¼ to ½ cup ice water
In a food processor, pulse together flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter and cheese and pulse until mixture is coarse and blended. Sprinkle in water 2 tablespoons at a time until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed.
Divide into two disks. Turn dough out onto two large pieces of plastic wrap, wrap, and press into 1 inch thick disks. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
Roll each disk into a 14 inch round. Wrap one around a rolling pin and unroll over a 9-inch pie pan for bottom crust.
For the pie: Preheat oven to 425. Mix 2 lbs. smoked chicken, shredded, ½ lb. arugula, chopped finely, and gravy in a large bowl. Spoon mixture into prepared pie crust and top with pie crust top. Bake for 15 minutes or until browned and heavenly.