Saturday, November 27, 2010

It came and went

Thanksgiving morning dawned bright and clear. No wait, Thanksgiving morning dawned overcast and rambunctious. Actually, I have no idea how Thanksgiving morning dawned because I was finishing up the previous night's dishes, feeding the dogs, and tweaking the day's action plan, all the while slurping once, slurping twice, 24 oz of Peets should suffice.
By noon I had finalized the tables, arranged the chairs, delivered as much food as I could--gravy, pies, small container of sugar, pint of heavy cream, just in case, one more bottle of white and that cab I've been trying to move. I had prepped and glazed the ham and left it with detailed instructions about when to bring to room temp, when to preheat the oven and when to actually start cooking it.
I was off to take the dogs for their second walk. I could have saved the time and effort because the dogs can't count, but they can tell time. It doesn't matter to them how many walks they get, at 3, it is time to go for a walk and like a pack of head injury victims with no short term memory, they race around the house baying and shredding their toys, insisting that they haven't been walked. Of course, the walks are only ostensibly for them. I was the one who needed a 45 minute march around the fields to settle my mind and justify the amount of pie I planned to eat. I fed the dogs, washed my hair, only changed my clothes six times and by 3:45, I was over at the bf's with the whipped cream, onion casserole and broccoli all chopped and ready to steam.
The dogs were left behind and they hate Thanksgiving. All the food goes to someone else's house and they are left alone for six hours with the door to the back yard propped open letting all the cold air in.
The bf's family was all there. His sister and sister-in-law and I all worked seamlessly in his kitchen, chopping vegetables for the salad, measuring and heating milk for the mashed potatoes, rotating the different casseroles through the oven. We talked about books and recorded books and cooking early in the morning when the house is quiet and we can take as much time as we want to chop and measure and mix. They talked about their children and I tried to curb my impulse to chime in about my dogs. People who have children generally don't appreciate the comparison.
In case I have given the impression that the bf does nothing, that he is helpless or worse, unhelpful, let me correct that. He and his brothers like to have their "passive help" recognized. He stays out of the way, he agrees with me when I ask his advice, and other than that, he doesn't offer unsolicited suggestions or unwanted opinions. He says, "Gosh, that sounds challenging!" and "Wow, that looks great!" Every now and then, apropos of nothing, he exclaims, "You are amazing!!"
He also fried the turkey. There are so many things to love about a fried turkey. It doesn't require brining or stuffing, it is moist and delicious, and it is fridge to table in an hour. The only thing that is unlovable about it, is the open flame and 6 gallons of scalding, roiling oil. You could fry a turkey or you could defend your castle against bands of marauding Parthians. And it is not uncommon for the cold turkey upon contact with the hot oil to burst into flames. If any of that hot oil drips down into the propane, that starts a fire that is considered "beyond a homeowner's capabilities." You are cautioned against using marinades "which can cause explosions." The turkey fryer comes with 45 pages of warnings and statements of general alarm.
The bf and his brothers took the pot into the middle of the lawn where they watched it, monitored the temperature, regulated the flame and avoided burning anything down. They stood over it for an hour, in the cold wind and enveloping dark, sipping once, sipping twice, 24 oz of Guinness and your Turkey is perfectly done.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Dear Marg,
Can you explain how come I found this in my fridge in the middle of November?

Me neither.
Love, Elise

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Despite my better judgment and against all common sense gleaned from past experiences, I decided to participate in presenting a Thanksgiving. As I've noted, it's more than a meal, it's campaign.
I haven't taken responsibility for a holiday since my divorce 6 years ago. I've gone to someone's house, I've baked a pie. I occasionally listen to too many renditions of O Holy Night and race outside to string some lights, but I haven't actually taken one on and called it my own. But this year the bf is hosting his family, and I started to feel responsible. His kitchen is dirty, his house is a mess, his plates don't match, I don't think he owns a table cloth. Oh my God! He needs me!
A week ago I woke up at 4AM thinking about center pieces and it was too late to turn back.
But it was going to be OK. He is casual, his family is casual. I asked his sister if there were any family traditions I should be prepared for and she said, "Our only tradition is lousy food." I can do that. So I'd wipe a counter, donate a few napkins, light a scented candle and call it a holiday.
Thanksgiving is tomorrow and this is what I've done so far.
Visited the flower shop to choose vases, choose flowers, discuss arrangements and alternatives, "If you have the winter hydrangeas, then some of those with these small roses, but if you will only have these anemones, then the orangey roses, but not those salmon ones and then in this square vase."
Poured over cookbooks, designed different menus, wondered if serving mashed potatoes and dinner rolls would be carb overload, and if carb overloaded wasn't really the point of Thanksgiving.
Studied the hated November issues of several cooking magazines and pondered roasted vs. pureed parsnips.

Baked a practice pear tart and practice pumpkin bread pudding. (neither made the cut)

Pulled out all the matching table cloths and napkins I could find and set and reset the table with different combinations, trying to find one that was pretty and also hid the permanent stain on the only table cloth that was really large enough.
Carried the table cloths, napkins, votive holders, scented candles and eight chairs to the bf's house.
Braved Whole Foods where I bought a turkey AND a ham and some pomegranates for table decorations.
Scrubbed the stove, refrigerator and counters, vacuumed and dusted.
Cut some bittersweet to supplement the pomegranates, nuts, votive holders and flower arrangements because one of the tables had a few square centimeters not covered with decorations, and that table was looking rag tag and off-brand.
Baked two pecan pies.
Tried to find some of my old silver flatware to supplement the bf's.
Polished the silver.
And I fear I've left too much for tomorrow.
Love, Margaret

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Curried Carrot Ginger Soup

Hi there,

just a quick note to tell you about the soup I unvented last week. Well, I actually unvented it a few weeks ago, and re-un-vented it again last week. Curried carrot soup, idiot's delight.

There is a japanese farmer at the market who sells fresh ginger every fall. This is really fresh, with soft white skin, moist and succulent with barely any difference between the skin and the interior. It's beautiful. I bought a chunk of it and a mess of fresh carrots.

Cut up the carrots, slice the ginger, chop some onions. Saute the onions and ginger with curry powder in some olive oil. When the onions are soft add the carrots and a bunch of chicken broth. I use canned. You would make your own from a local, free range, heritage bird. you could use vegetable broth if the vegetarians were coming. Simmer the whole thing until the carrots are soft, about 30 minutes or so depending on how small you chopped the carrots. Plunge the immersion blender in and whir the shit out of the fucker, as Bill Buford would say. add a dollop of heavy cream and some honey if the carrots weren't sweet enough and you are set.

I like to eat it with a french roll from La Brea, the kind that you buy frozen and "cook". If you ate bread you would no doubt make your own with yeast sauvage and hand ground grains.

Love ya, Elise

One good thing about Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the harbinger of eggnog season!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The case against Thanksgiving

Dear Elise,
You may have noticed that in the last several years it has become fashionable to declare your preference for Thanksgiving over Christmas. I hear it all the time and it seems to be based on the 3 F's of Thanksgiving, Food, Family and Football. There is this belief that Thanksgiving is so much wholesomer, all about real and transcendent values. The entire extended family around a table festooned with doilies, the local orphans invited in to partake of the food, family and football, a pick up game in the fallen leaves, everyone dressed straight out of the LL Bean catalogue, (J Crew is for Christmas, smug, vain, supercilious). Generosity, health, gratitude (it's right there in the name). While Christmas is vilified for the 5 W's of the holiday, Wistfulness, Wanting, Whining and "Winter Wonderland."
I'm not making a case for Christmas, I just think Thanksgiving has gotten off too easily.
Thanksgiving is great for the person who doesn't cook. For the poor schmo in the kitchen, it is Hell. A meal that takes 4 days to prepare and is then consumed in less than 40 minutes, leaving a pile of dishes that would rival the garbage barge for size and longevity. And don't get me started on laundering those doilies. A meal that insists on at least one and often 2 main dishes, .5 side dishes for every guest unless your number of guests is fewer than the date of Thanksgiving, in which case you need one side dish for every guest, even the guests who are under a year old, or taking all nourishment from a feeding tube. Every side dish requires a long list of ingredients and at least 3 steps. No baked sweet potato, steamed broccoli. No, it's sweet potatoes with orange zest, roasted apples and caramelized cider glaze. It's flash seared broccoli with blackened sage and smoked chili cream. This trend is continued in the desserts, pumpkin bread pudding with pumpkin seed brittle and roasted pepitas, pumpkin cheese cake with marscapone, bourbon and a gingersnap crust, pumpkin chiffon pie with chipotle in adobo and a mole whipped cream. A person who is lukewarm on Pumpkin can end up feeling a little neglected on this day.
But the Turkey is the main culprit of the meal. This is a bird that requires weeks of preparation. Why are we eating something that needs to be brined and or salted and or hung for flavor development. Something that needs glazing and shellacking, stuffing and spicing and rubbing, tenderizing, moistening and enhancing? We are required to do all that because of the 3 S's of Turkey, sere, stringy and strongly-flavored. Basically, Turkey is gross and the poor cook has to spend whole days trying to overcome that initial complication.
But the main reason I am coming out against Thanksgiving, is what it does to the cooking magazines. For the entire month all I can read about is This One Meal. It's as if preparing for Thanksgiving takes so much time and attention that for the rest of the month we just eat frozen pasta or cereal. And really, there are only so many things you can do with a potato. But we are exhorted to add basil, horse radish, gin or ranch dressing, and that's all from one article. Or eschew the potato in favor of turnips, parsnips, celeriac. If it's white and it can be pureed, it gets a page in the November issue.
The Turkey recipes run the gamut from "Fast," Turkey Breast Roulade, with cider, with dried autumn fruits, with bacon, with chipotle in Adobo, to "Traditional," the aforementioned brined, salted, glazed, even deconstructed, to the ridiculous, Turducken. Paul Prudhomme claims he can bone a turkey in 15 minutes. It takes me three times as long just to read the recipe.
I'm tired of pie crusts--rolled, press-in-the-pan, store bought, crumble, with vodka, with ice water, food processor method, pastry cutter method, chilled, blind baked, pre-baked, partially baked. I'm sick to death of pull out menus complete with a 6 day count down, especially since they never begin with, "Day 1, start drinking." I read it all last year and the year before that. I want some bold editor to say, "For Thanksgiving Menu ideas with recipes, check out last year's issue. Now here's an article on baked pasta and another one on dulce de leche cakes."
I could go on, but Thanksgiving is in less than 2 weeks and I have to go wrap my turkey in pumpkin leaves and bury it in hand crushed acorn shells.
love, Margaret