America’s Second Most Popular Hot Dog Topping

I read a factoid in a magazine that American’s consume 1.5 pounds of sauerkraut  per person per year. I found this a little hard to believe until I read that it is the second most popular hot dog topping behind mustard. The popularity of this cruciferous vegetable isn’t because it is a fat-free food that is low in calories and packed with nutrients and fiber, but rather because it adds a bit of zing to a wurst, a Reuben or some other specialty from the deli.

I admit I am a fan of kraut on my dog but I also like it cooked into a variety of dishes.  One of our favorites is a Bavarian Sausage and Kraut Supper that I have adjusted to our tastes based on a recipe originally published in Cooking Light magazine. If you are interested, my take on the recipe is below.

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Bavarian Sausage and Kraut Dinner

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 4       cups uncooked egg noodles
  • 1       tablespoon olive oil
  • 1       cup onion — sliced
  • 1       teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 2       cups tart apples — peeled and sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups sauerkraut
  • 12      ounces chicken-and-apple sausage
  • 1/2    cup chicken broth
  • 1/4    cup sherry

Directions

  1. Cook egg noodles to package directions, omitting the salt and fat; drain and set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced onion and caraway seeds; cook until lightly browned.
  3. Add tart apples, sauerkraut and chicken-and-apple sausage. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in chicken broth and sherry. Bring to boil and then reduce heat to simmer until apples have softened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Serve over noodles.

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An Oasis for Folks and Fowl

Think of the word ‘oasis’ and it likely congers up images of small lakes amid vast hot and dry deserts – places where man and beast congregate around a source of fresh water in order to survive. There are many such places in the world  – the Nile River Delta in the Sahara, Al Hasa in Saudi Arabia, Lake Manyara in Tanzania, just to name a few. There are even some natural oases remaining in the US in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts in the southwestern States, but most natural American oases have long since been commercialized – picture Las Vegas, Nevada or Palm Springs, California. In these towns, they have long since crossed the point at which they went from water supplier to water guzzler.

Recently, though, while driving south towards San Francisco and Sacramento on interstate 5, it occurred to me that much of California’s central valley was once and still is a bit of an oasis. Prior to the Gold Rush of 1849, this area was comprised of over 4 million acres of wetlands that supported over 20 million water fowl. Today less than 5% of those natural wetlands remain but, rather than being pillaged for strip malls, casinos and golf courses, a lot of that land is now rice-farmed.

A Growing Rice 'Wetland' in the Sacramento Valley

A Growing Rice ‘Wetland’ in the Sacramento Valley

The annual process for a rice farm is to create fields enclosed by small mounds of dirt, flood the fields to a depth of five inches, plant the seed, grow the rice, drain the field, harvest the grain, mill the rice and repeat. In essence, it creates and harvests a managed wetland. The whole process makes highly efficient use of the available water supply to feed mankind and, in the process, creates habitat and a food supply for all those water birds that use the Pacific flyway year after year.

Two quick statistics speak volumes about just how much of an oasis these rice-planted wetlands create in the area of the central valley about 60 miles north of San Francisco and Sacramento:

  • For the benefit of North Americans, this area supplies virtually every grain of sushi rice consumed in the United States each year and is second only to Arkansas in overall US rice production.
  • For the benefit of North America’s waterfowl, this area supports the highest concentration of water birds on earth with up to 10 million birds using the region each year.

It seems a win-win for everyone.

As a passer through the valley on the interstate, all that rice and all those birds do not a meal make so we found ourselves in need of an oasis of a different sort – one that served lunch and a cold beverage! To be honest, unless you want franchised fast food, there isn’t much…until you come to the exit for Williams, California. Now, I’m not saying Williams itself is any great oasis. It’s not! It is an agricultural community of roughly 5000 people who describes itself on its own website as a gateway to other places. But, in downtown Williams, if you go to the 400 block of 6th Street, there are a collection of structures on two sides of the street that are well worth the stop.

Granzella’s has been a Williams establishment since 1976 and is an amazing oasis of all things Italian and more. They have a shop, a restaurant, a delicatessen, a sports bar, a pizza parlor, an ice cream parlor, a bakery, a banquet hall, a catering service and even a 42-room motel! You can taste samples of the many varieties of jams, olives, marinated garlic and other specialties they make or pack locally.

We picked up a muffuletta sandwich made before our eyes with imported Italian meats and cheeses and homemade muffuletta topping. After heading down the highway to a community park for an impromptu picnic of sorts, we bit into that sandwich. I wish I had taken a photo but, believe me, it was gone before  you could say muffuletta. It was fantastic!

And the muffuletta topping….well, suffice it to say, we are now looking for an excuse to head north to the rice-farmed oasis they call the Sacramento valley so we can stop in the local oasis they call Granzella’s where we can get our own one-gallon jar (or two)!

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An Unexpected Treat

Two years ago, almost to the day, we were crossing California’s Central Valley and came across Denise’s Farmers Market on highway 120.  It is a great stop – a wide variety of locally-grown produce at good prices and with a clean restroom to boot, if nature calls.

At the time, melons were in season so Denise was offering samples of all sorts of varieties that we had never heard of. One of these was the Sharlyn. If you have had a Sharlyn melon, you already know what a treat it can be. If you haven’t, imagine this. The Sharlyn is about the size and shape of a rugby ball. It has an outer texture like a cantaloupe although the skin is much easier to slice. The inner texture and color is much like a ripe pear. The flavor is somewhere between a cantaloupe, a honeydew and a pineapple – absolutely superb!

Once we had tasted this melon, we were hooked, but could never find it again in suburbia. We checked all the local groceries and most had never heard of it. We went on-line and investigated planting the seeds in our garden but concluded we couldn’t create the ideal growing conditions for the plant to prosper. Alas, the Sharlyn would just have to remain a special treat for those years when we just happened by Denise’s Fruit Stand in the month of June…until this year.

Yesterday, as we were entering our local market to stock up on the week’s groceries, I spotted a sign that said ‘Sharlyn $.99/lb’. I was giddy with glee as I searched through the melon bin for this seasonal pleasure. The bin was out but a quick request to the produce attendant found some more in the back; one of which went straight into our basket!

As you can imagine, that Sharlyn melon was sliced and ready to serve as soon as we arrived home. It is just as good as we remembered it. And, this time, we have saved some seeds. Maybe, just maybe, we can get it to grow in our garden. I’ll let you know next year. 😉

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