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What Southern Folks Eat: A heart replete with thankfulness

By Stephanie Hill-Frazier Special to the Star

Thornton Wilder said, "We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” How excellent it is that we have a national holiday set aside specifically for us to focus on that.

This time of year, when the weather finally cools off and the sunsets get even more colorful than the leaves, brings with it a sense of relief. It signals that it’s time to gather together under one roof, to take a collective deep breath, and to experience some peace and comfort together. Though this year we may not all be able to gather together in large groups like we normally do, we can still do many fun things to remember how blessed we are in so many ways.

Let’s do a few things this week:

Let’s tell funny stories about when we were children

Let’s talk about Grandma’s caramel cake recipe 

Let’s compare notes on what we’ll plant in the spring

Let’s look at old photo albums and laugh about happy memories

Let’s share family recipes to create a family meal, even if it's postponed a bit

Let’s volunteer to help someone less fortunate than ourselves

Let’s let go of grudges

Let’s tell corny jokes and laugh together

Let’s not talk about politics

Let's be grateful for the simple things.

In short, let’s spend time this Thanksgiving season expressing gratitude for the people in our lives, the breath in our lungs, the food on our tables, the presence of friends and family, the memory of loved ones no longer present, and most of all, for the Creator who blessed us with it all. 

A table outside with turkey

"O Lord that lends me life, Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.“ - William Shakespeare

I’m thankful for each of you and the way you bless me with your encouragement, your ideas, your taking the time to read what I write and respond to it. You are a blessing to me.

To show how thankful I am, I'll share two new recipes that I hope you’ll enjoy trying out during the holiday, or anytime at all! 

First, this new way to make sweet potatoes is surprisingly delicious for such a simple recipe. I created it this week when pondering how to use up some jalapeños I had canned. If you don’t have any that you’ve canned yourself, you can buy them on the Hispanic aisle of your grocery store, or you can even mince up one fresh jalapeño. Remember to remove the seeds from a fresh jalapeño if you don’t want the recipe to be very spicy hot!

Cranberry pecan sweet potatoes

Steph’s Kicked-up sweet potato-cranberry casserole 

  • 6 sweet potatoes, boiled or baked, then peeled and sliced
  • ½ to 1 cup pecans, toasted in a skillet - when you toast nuts in a skillet, just place them in the dry skillet, and stir continuously over medium heat just until you begin to smell their fragrance, then immediately take off heat. 

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
  • 1 heaping tablespoon chopped pickled jalapenos
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Method:

  • In a saucepan or small skillet, combine all sauce ingredients.
  • Stir over medium heat until butter melts and sauce comes to a low simmer.
  • Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Butter the bottom and sides of a casserole dish.
  • Spread the sliced sweet potatoes across the bottom of the casserole dish.
  • Pour the sauce evenly over the potatoes.
  • Top with the toasted pecans.
  • Bake at 350 until bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes. 

Next, try these little dressing bites as an appetizer before the big meal, or as a snack a day or so after Thanksgiving to use up any leftover dressing you may have.

Sausage and apple dressing bites

Sausage and apple dressing bites

Makes 24

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound of sausage, preferably with sage
  • 1/2 small onion, about 2/3 cup
  • 2/3 cup minced celery (about 2 stalks)
  • 3 cups dried bread cubes
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 medium apple, peeled and minced
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp ground sage
  • 2 tablespoons chicken broth
  •  

Method:

  • Place bread into a large bowl. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray muffin tin with cooking spray, or generously grease with shortening.
  • Place the butter and olive oil in a skillet. Sauté the onion and celery in the mixture until tender; then add the garlic, sage and sausage to the pan. Break up the sausage, and cook until no pink remains in the sausage.
  • Add the sausage mixture to the bread cubes.
  • Beat the four eggs in a bowl, then add to the bread and sausage, along with the apple and chicken broth. Toss thoroughly, until everything is well-coated and mixed. 
  • Use a spoon or small cookie scoop to fill the 24 mini-muffin tin with the mixture. Gently press each scoop of the dressing into the pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until golden on top. Cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack. (May need to use tip of butter knife to loosen edges. Don’t allow to completely cool in the pan, or they’ll be more difficult to remove.)

Serve with warmed whole berry cranberry sauce for dipping, if desired. Enjoy!

Thanksgiving is the holiday of peace, the celebration of work and the simple life… a true folk-festival that speaks the poetry of the turn of the seasons, the beauty of seedtime and harvest, the ripe product of the year – and the deep, deep connection of all these things with God. ~Ray Stannard Baker

Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph." She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home. She is married and has three sons she is infinitely thankful for. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com.