Thanks a Little

Recalling a few tasty tidbits that deserve our gratitude

I want to remember to be thankful for food. There's the great big gratitude—that I live in a society where food is delicious and abundant, that I don't struggle to put meals on my family's table, that we will never starve. I think about this now and again when I'm reading Time, or see a whole family crouched behind the father's cardboard Will Work for Food sign on an Interstate exit, or when my teenage daughter wants to talk about the Grapes of Wrath, which she read for English.

I can't help but remember my blessings on the last Thursday in November. These festive food thanks are usually vocalized by a male relative and greeted with hearty laughter, for luxury foods and second helpings and homemade yeast rolls and French silk chocolate pie and the option to eat candied yams with marshmallows or not, as you please, in this democratic world we inhabit.

I'm thankful I can feel the all-encompassing, aren't we privileged, gratitude—but it's too overwhelming to dwell on often. I'm grateful for the Thanksgiving warmth—but it exudes just once a year. So I put my best efforts on appreciating the little food wonders: the kind gestures, the tiny bargains, the neat tips and tidbits that are right under our noses, in our mouths, here in Knoxville. Thanks, y'all, for...

... the unfailingly chipper and benevolent ladies who staff the Hardees in Bearden at 5:30 a.m. on Sundays, particularly whoever taught me to order eggs "on the side" if you want a biscuit and egg served separately

... the superb breakfast served by Aubrey's to sponsor school groups; thick, savory bacon, creamy scrambled eggs, fluffy pancakes, real butter, real OJ, hot coffee—all for $5 per ticket, and at that the proceeds go to, say, the band or the cross-country team, not the restaurant

... the extensive cookbook collection available at all branches of our county library, particularly the Mitford Cookbook by Jan Karon (okay, she wrote about the fictional food and a real chef invented these recipes) and the Rachael Rays, because you can't find them discounted at the bookstore

... the bulk imported olives at Holy Land Market on Sutherland that are $5 per pound

... the lunch special at Red Lobster, which includes salad, vegetable, popcorn shrimp and so many cheddar biscuits you might pop for about 40 percent of what it would cost at dinner

... being able to pay less than a quarter for enough bulk spice at Three Rivers Market to fill a small shaker, and just a little more for pumpkin pie spice

... the chilled half-and-half on tap at Pilot, especially when applied to the Rainforest coffee blend

... the half-price drinks at Sonic from 2 p.m.-4 p.m. every afternoon, where I can get an extra large peach-flavored iced tea or Coke add lime over pelletized ice for under a buck

... the trick of cooking unsoaked dried beans (just rinse a pound, add a chili pepper, clove of garlic, and 1 tsp. adobo seasoning, cover with water plus two inches) in the slow cooker on low for 10 hours, and for about a buck you've got the equivalent of four cans of beans for other recipes—this I learned from one of the aforementioned library cookbooks

... the homemade pickles I received from Evelyn Wallace, a kindly reader, in response to my column on pickles, cucumbers and onions in a bread-and-butter spice mix. I'm going to use the jar to pickle my own hot peppers, too.

... the pumpkin muffins made by Little Debbie that include pumpkin from sustainable farms

... and last, but most important, thanks to everyone who will work this Thanksgiving so the rest of us are able to rush out and buy our last-minute ingredients—or so we can abandon our own kitchen, and come eat at their place.