A Memorial Day Grill Fest: Grilled Lamb Kebabs with Turkish Spices

The Unofficial Start to Summer

Across the country, not just the Flyover States, Memorial Day serves as the unofficial start to the summer season. Pools open and cookouts beckon. The grills get fired up (and yes, I too plan to partake of this). In that spirit, I am sharing with you a recipe I’ll be grilling today: Lamb Kebabs with Turkish Spices. But before I do that, I want to take a look at Memorial Day, the holiday, the one without the potato salad and 40%-off sales

From Whence It Came: Decoration Day

Memorial Day got its start as Decoration Day back in the mid-1800s (May 30, 1868, to be exact). It was designed to commemorate the war dead—people were asked to decorate the graves of soldiers who’d perished in the Civil War, which ended in 1865. Approximately 20 years later, the name changed to Memorial Day, but the commemoration remained the same.

In the ensuing years, Memorial Day, which was once celebrated on May 30 but is now the last Monday in May, became associated more with the start of summer fun than a way to honor those who lost their lives in conflict. While I see nothing wrong with enjoying friends and family, I do believe it is important to remember the real reason for the holiday—a way to recall those who made the ultimate sacrifice. So, sometime this weekend, think of them, whether at a service or just a silent pause.

Grilling—The Warm-Weather Cooking Technique Returns

Okay, I haven’t fired up the grill since October, but with warm, summertime temperatures having arrived, it’s time to break out the charcoal (yes, I’m a purist—no gas for this girl!) and start generating that live-fire mojo. One of my favorite things to grill is local lamb, in this case lamb from Russell Sheep Company of Eaton, Indiana. Diane Russell’s smiling face is one of my favorite sights on my weekly trip to Minnetrista Farmer’s Market Saturday mornings. Her lamb is delicious and it’s local! I’ll write about Russell Sheep Company some other time, so you’ll learn all about it. But one form of lamb she sells is kebab meat, which I use for the kebabs (and I’ve also used it for stews and curries). And to round out my menu today, I’ll grill some local asparagus as an accompaniment.

Lamb Kebabs with Turkish Spices

Serves 4

What You’ll Need

  • measuring spoons
  • cutting board
  • sharp knife
  • bowl
  • garlic press (optional)
  • plastic wrap
  • skewers


  • 1 lb. lamb leg or shoulder meat, cut into 1-in pieces
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried thyme (or 1 Tbsp fresh)
  • ¼ tsp sweet paprika
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (omit if you don’t like spicy food)
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cumin
  • 1-2 tsp ground sumac
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Pepper to taste

How To Make the Kebabs

Sorry, no pictures this time! I’ll add one after I grill them!

  1. In a bowl combine all ingredients except lamb. Taste for salt/pepper (add more if necessary)
  2. Pat lamb cubes dry and add to mixture in bowl. Toss to combine. Cover and place in refrigerator for about 4 hours
  3. Start a hot charcoal fire (direct high fire)—I said I was a charcoal purist!
  4. After coals have been started but before they are ready for grilling, remove lamb and thread onto 4 skewers (the flatter kind are best). When grill is ready, place skewers on grill and cook until a little charred (about 5-10 minutes). Turn occasionally to make sure that all sides get cooked
  5. Serve immediately.

And They Were Delicious!


Edited this post to show everyone my Memorial Day dinner!

The Amish in the Heartland

Given that a previous post on Kalona Supernatural discussed the Amish and Mennonite farms that supply them with milk, I thought I’d briefly chat about the Amish in the Flyover States.

I grew up in Berks County, Pennsylvania, part of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Though domiciled in a clichéd suburbia, I nonetheless frequently encountered Amish buggies on drives through the admittedly beautiful countryside. Amish (and their brethren, Old Order Mennonites) are certainly cultural manifestations of southeastern Pennsylvania, perhaps even more than their actual numbers imply. Lancaster County has built a veritable tourism industry based on Amish culture. But one can argue that the Midwest is a locus of the Amish, certainly as much as what is sometimes called “Amish Country”—Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and its environs.

Ohio—The Amish Capital of the United States

Yes, Ohio (especially Holmes County in the northeast), not Pennsylvania, is the Amish Capital of the United States. As of 2010, according to the U.S. Religious Census, 7 of the 10 states with the largest absolute numbers of Amish were Flyover States: Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois (the other states in the Top Ten are Pennsylvania, New York, and Kentucky). This is certainly unsurprising, as the Amish are a predominantly agrarian population and settle where affordable farmland can be found. Even in Pennsylvania, they are no longer found solely in traditional Pennsylvania Dutch country (Lancaster, Lebanon, Berks, and Chester Counties), as population pressures are driving land values up (and Amish out).

The Amish in Indiana

Northern Indiana (particularly Elkhart County) serves as Amish Central in Indiana, although they can certainly be found elsewhere. Indeed, I’ve seen buggies on US-35 between Richmond and Muncie; southwestern Indiana’s Daviess County is home to a quite sizeable Amish settlement. And, as in Pennsylvania and Ohio, there is a veritable industry focused on “Amish” tourism (in quotes because it’s typically the non-Amish that promote it).

The Amish in Iowa

When I lived in Iowa City, I went to Kalona (home of Kalona Super Natural) to get my buggy fix. Okay, I went once–I wasn’t missing them as much as I thought I might. But the day was lovely (a sunny, low-humidity June morning) and the drive was pleasant. Kalona is one of the centers of Amish (and Mennonite) life in Iowa, with Old Order Amish, New Order Amish, and Beachy Amish represented. Mennonites, from which the Amish are an offshoot, are also represented in the Kalona region.

And Food?

Well, the Amish are a farming people, hence Kalona SuperNatural getting their milk from them. There is an Amish cuisine, the likes of which William Woys Weaver extracts the truths from the (tourism-driven) fantasies in his delightful book As American as Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine. There are foods associated with the Amish, but they’ve certainly adapted foods and dishes of the English (as non-Amish are called) for their own (such as the Whoopie Pie, which has its roots in New England). I’ll be revisiting the Flyover Amish in the future!


Grown Up’s Hot Chocolate (for Two)

You can make a decadent hot drink with an actual chocolate bar instead of powdered cocoa. Indiana’s Endangered Species 72% Dark Chocolate1 (the one with the chimpanzee on the package) is used to make a delicious dessert-like hot chocolate that is more rich than sweet (and gluten-free). And it IS a dessert! This is inspired by the inimitable David Lebovitz. If you do like a sweeter drink, feel free to add some sugar; you can also use a chocolate with a lower cacao content (though that will remove some of the richness and sophistication of the drink).

What You’ll Need

  • cutting board
  • knife
  • measuring cup
  • measuring spoons
  • small saucepan (I used a 1-quart pan)
  • whisk
  • thermometer


  • 2.5 oz. (70 g) Endangered Species 72% Dark Chocolate, finely chopped (you can use another chocolate of the same strength, but it won’t be Flyover!)
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) whole milk
  • 1/4 cup (45 ml) heavy or whipping cream
  • rum, brandy, Cointreau, Himbeergeist, or some other chocolate-compatible spirit (optional)
  • sugar, if desired
  • Ingredients

How to Make Grown Up’s Hot Chocolate

  1. Add the milk and cream to the saucepan. Over medium heat, bring the milk mixture to about 160°F (70°C or 345 K if you are of a scientific bent); it will be steaming and hot to the touch.
  2. Remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. You don’t really need to take the pan off the heat, but it does lessen the possibility of the mixture coming to a boil, which you don’t want.
  3. Whisk the mixture until the chocolate is completely melted; you can do this on or off heat (it doesn’t take long).
  4. WhiskingChocolate

  5. Bring the mixture to a SLOW boil2 and turn the heat down to medium-low.
  6. Whisking constantly so that the mixture doesn’t burn, cook at a slow boil for two (2) minutes—this will thicken your hot chocolate.
  7. Remove from heat and divide between two heatproof cups. Sweeten to taste if you prefer a drink that’s a bit more sugary. Add about a tablespoon of liquor per cup, if desired, and stir.
  8. Enjoy!


Flying solo? Drink one cup and refrigerate the rest to be enjoyed the next day. Or drink both of them.

1According to the company’s website, this bar is gluten-free, certified vegan, Rainforest Alliance certified, and non-GMO to boot!

2By slow boil, I mean that you will see bubble breaking the surface, but at a gentle pace (i.e. not a rolling (roiling?) boil


Help for Endangered Animals—the Flyover Way!

A Chocolate Delight

I first discovered Endangered Species chocolate many years ago at Newark Natural Foods, a natural foods co-op in Newark, Delaware, where I lived for many years while working on masters and doctoral degrees at the University of Delaware. I was a life member of the co-op (and a volunteer as well), so I did a fair amount of my grocery shopping there. The little Bug Bites (0.35 oz. squares of milk or dark chocolate, with insect-themed cards to teach kids about bugs) were right by the register, so I HAD to buy one every time! The full bars featured delicious flavor combinations (dark chocolate and raspberry, anyone?) and showed a different endangered animal for each flavor. Once I arrived in Indiana, I discovered that the company (Endangered Species Chocolate) is based in Indianapolis!

About the Company

Endangered Species Chocolate makes ethically traded, non-GMO chocolate. Their Mission Statement (taken from their website) shows a company that really wants to make a positive impact on the world:

“To have a positive impact on Earth’s species, habitat and humanity by providing resources through the creation, manufacture and sale of delicious, premium, ethically traded, natural, organic, gluten free, vegan and kosher certified chocolate products.”

Now, not all products are all things. Many flavors are NOT organic or vegan, for example, but the information about each product is readily available.

Each chocolate bar flavor teaches the eater about a different threatened animal. Unlike your supermarket checkout chocolate, you will WANT to read packaging here!

Giving Back

Endangered Species Chocolate partners with non-profits working on wildlife conservation. Currently (December 2014), those partners are the African Wildlife Foundation and The Xerces Society (which works on insect conservation). These are called 10% GiveBack Partners (ESC donates 10% of net profits) and organizations can apply to be selected.


Yeah, But Does This Chocolate Taste Good?

In a word—YES!!! Personally, I am a dark chocolate fan (80% cocoa or greater is my preference) and Endangered Species Chocolate produces a dark chocolate bar with 88% cocoa (and features a beautiful black panther on the package). This is really dark—only a hint of sweetness to counteract the bitterness. And it really works. I allow myself a square every morning for breakfast “dessert”—suck it like a lozenge to get the full flavor. Love this bar!

But the company makes a more standard, 72% cocoa chocolate bar, as well as 48% milk chocolate bars. While I’ve not had the milk chocolate, I HAVE indulged in some of the 72% varieties—the dark chocolate with hazelnut toffee and dark chocolate with espresso beans are fabulous!

Filled Chocolate Bars and Seasonal Flavors

Endangered Species also produces crème-filled bars, such as sea salt and lime crème-filled dark chocolate and blueberry-vanilla crème-filled. Some of the flavor combinations are quite inventive. And, for the holidays, they create some seasonal flavors. This season, indulge in Vanilla Chai, Peppermint Crunch, and Pumpkin Spice with Almonds (all made with 72% chocolate). I’m putting these in Christmas stockings this year!


Party Idea—Chocolate Tasting!

Okay, winter in the Flyover States can be a pretty long, often cloudy, and depressing affair. That’s why you might want to consider hosting a chocolate tasting party. Invite your friends who might be suffering from cabin fever to taste different varieties of Endangered Species Chocolates. You (and they) might discover some new favorite!


Gunthorp Farms and Leftover Cranberry Sauce: A Small Thanksgiving Post-Mortem

A Word about the Bird

This may have been my best turkey ever! Delicious flavor that didn’t NEED gravy (although gravy certainly wasn’t turned down!) This year’s bird was a Gunthorp Farms turkey, a fine-looking, pasture-raised 15-lb bird. Gunthorp Farms raises meat and poultry naturally, as opposed to an industrial model, and provides turkeys (and chicken, duck, lamb, and pork) to some of the best restaurants in the Midwest, including those of Rick Bayless. Starting out with quality poultry is one of the keys to a delicious Thanksgiving turkey.

I also roasted the turkey breast-side DOWN. The breast meat was unbelievably moist and the dark meat was perfectly cooked. Granted, you don’t get the Norman Rockwell picture-perfect bird, but I’d much rather have a good TASTING turkey than one that is dry, but photogenic. Which is why there’s no picture here.

Too Much Cranberry Sauce? Ideas for Using Up Leftovers

It happens. With your cranberry bounty from Wisconsin, you made plenty of cranberry sauce, like this one. But there is plenty left over, too. So, what can you do with leftover cranberry sauce? Lots of things!

  • Stir it into yogurt or oatmeal
  • Thin it with a little juice (or even a little water) and use it as a topping for ice cream, pound cake, cheesecake, or waffles
  • Make thumprint cookies (here’s a classic recipe), replacing the jam with cranberry sauce (which is, basically, a jam).
  • PBandC_Sandwich

  • And here’s a personal favorite of mine—use some in a peanut or almond butter and jam sandwich. I especially like natural peanut butter (crunchy!) on good homemade or artisanal bread with cranberry sauce