Monthly Archives: November 2013

Thanksgiving Menu(s)

Yesterday I decided I will not need to eat again.  Ever.

Iteration number one:

Paige’s excellent turkey, classic preparation, unstuffed

Whipped potatoes, richly buttered

Turkey Gravy with a twist (Paige adds a bit of garlic and turkey bits from the carving)

Stuffing Balls (classic stuffing prepared in muffin tins so each serving has crusty bits with a tender interior)

Then I brought:

a spiral-sliced ham, baked covered at 325 for 80 minutes then glazed for the last ten minutes with dijon and brown sugar (a TBLS of dijon and half a cup of brown sugar to make a thick paste– if it’s too dry add a tsp of water, not more mustard)

Classic mac and cheese, recipe in a future post

Intensely Garlicky Green Beans.  The jury is still out.  WAY too much garlic, but as I made them Shar and I could not stop eating them, they were that good.  The night before, I roasted the green beans at 450, tossed with barely any olive oil and a pinch of salt, until they were just starting to wilt and brown.  They sat in the fridge over night while I tried to figure out what to do with them. I had toasted almonds to top them with but that seemed boring, tame.  Paige had mentioned garlic; I had parmesan cheese… hmm.  So I melted half a stick of butter in a skillet, crushed three cloves of garlic and sauteed over medium heat in the butter til fragrant, then added half a sleeve of crushed Ritz crackers and a pinch of salt because it was wanting.  Tossed all that with the cold beans in a big pot over medium high heat until the beans were warmed through, put them in a casserole, and grated fresh parmesan cheese on top.  Brilliant– or ridiculous, you decide.  {(I-will-not-talk-about-eggs) Then for lunch today I sauteed the cold garlic beans in a skilled, topped them with two whisked eggs, cooked until nearly set, then sprinkled all with more rasped parmesan cheese.  Unreal.}.

Paige made pumpkin pies, of which I’m not a fan, and a stunning peach/raspberry crumble, using summer peaches she’d frozen.  I brought a couple chocolate/peanut butter pies, embarrassingly simple and candy-like:

(For one pie):  1.5 cups chocolate graham crumbs, 5 TBLS melted butter, 2 TBLS sugar, pressed into 10 inch pie pan, refrigerated

8oz cream cheese, 1 cup peanut butter (I used half peanut butter and half Jif chocolate peanut butter), 3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar, a couple TBLS milk, and half a tub of whipped topping (whip each ingredient in a mixer, adding each successive ingredient slowly until incorporated, until adding the whipped topping which you should be able to fold in).  Pour into the prepared pan, cover and chill until firmish.  Then cover with one cup whipped cream (heavy cream whipped with two TBLS sifted powdered sugar and a tsp of vanilla til firm peaks form), and garnish (I used chocolate shavings and Reese’s pieces).

This turned out to be better the second day, when the crust had softened a bit.

I realize that the type of cooking I like to do involves zero risk.  Things can be changed, the margins for error are immense.  Paige cooked the turkey, which could be dry or overcooked– it’s risky (hers was awesome).  A ham is not risky– cooked at low temperature, it’s just heating through, no seat belt required.  Macaroni and cheese can be adjusted as I make the sauce– very little risk of failure.  And the desserts– Paige took on baked desserts which leave no room for mistakes, whereas mine, the no-bake option, was no-fail, too.  There’s a metaphor in there that is making me uncomfortable and it’ll have to wait to be explored another time, preferably with an open bottle of wine.

Iteration number two is coming on Sunday; I’m still working out the menu, which I think may include a pumpkin cheesecake (oooh, without a net upon the wire).

1st Annual Thanksgiving Nostalgic Wax

In the couple years before my mom died I wrote her a letter about what Thanksgiving by then meant to me.  I said that as a kid I didn’t get it– the whole big fucking deal about a meal.  We were (and are, like most clans) a dysfunctional family, so if I happened upon a pre-Christmas commercial about Danny coming home for Thanksgiving from the war or the Peace Corps or some other sacred cow of an excuse for the favorite single male in the family to be gone, all it did was induce tears of regret for what we were not as a family.  In my view, this sentimental thing just did not happen for us, so why all the effort?  Why the crescendo of emotion?

But as a young spouse, new to cooking my own Thanksgiving dinner, I had a wicked epiphanic sense of continuity and propulsion.  I was at the same moment 25 years old and 10.  I was peeling potatoes; I could SEE my mother’s super-soft pale hands as she turned potatoes toward her skinny aluminum peeler.  I was steaming my face above the open oven, checking the temperature of this bird as it emits that glorious buttery wall of heat; I saw my mother’s flushed face with a look of cheerful exasperation as she closed the oven door on her own turkey.  I wrote to Mom that the memory of her bringing forth this abundant tableau brought me closer to her every time I did the same, and the ritual of the turkey dinner became a sacrament.

Thanksgiving is this .  This remembering Mom’s Kitchen-Bouquet-browned gravy, the icy drafts of an old house in Tonawanda, NY swirled with the heightened fragrant warmth of a roasting tom.  The expectancy of people returning home, the anxiety of the same, the wish that we can-all-just-get-along, the hope that the adults will eat the mincemeat pie and save the cherry pie for us kids.  Thanksgiving is this elastic thread through time that brings us all together, all iterations of us, the young, the old, the gone, the future.

Thanksgiving is my nostalgic wax which,  like no other, buoys the past, calms and soothes the present, and lassos the future.  It has been, it is, and it will be: returning home.

Ok, Nearly Enough About Eggs

Last egg post for a while, PROMISE.

Some of the best, most loved food comes from poverty.  Chicken wings, pate, lobster, they all had very humble beginnings– they were the foods of poor people.  Scrapple, pierogi, meatloaf– same– foods that rely on effort and patience instead of high-quality ingredients.  In that same vein, this morning’s breakfast was the delicious result of scrounging for decadence without a trip to the grocery store.

Frito Egg Pie

4 oz ( 2 cups or so) corn chips

6 eggs, 1 tsp salt, 1 cup cottage cheese, 3/4 cup milk or cream

4 oz can chopped green chiles

12 oz shredded cheese (jack, cheddar, mozzarella, a mix, whatever)

4 scallions, chopped, white and green parts both

Toss the chips into a 2-3 quart greased casserole, mix the eggs and etc in a bowl and mix in the chiles,  dump over the corn chips, top with cheese and then the scallions.  Bake at 350 or so until lightly browned and no longer jiggly in the center, 40 minutes or so.  Serve with salsa and sour cream.  So good.

Apple French Toast (prepare this the night before)

3-4 apples, depending on size, tarter the better: peeled, cored, sliced thickly

Butter and Cinnamon

16 oz french (crusty) bread

7 eggs, 2 cups 1/2 & 1/2, tablespoon vanilla, 1 cup brown sugar

Liberally butter a 9X13 in pan, line with apples, dust the apples with cinnamon.  Slice the bread thickly (1 and 1/2 inch) and fit into the pan, cutting the bread ends as needed to fill in the open spots between slices.  Mix the eggs and so on until the brown sugar is dissolved.  Pour the egg mixture over the bread, and smush the bread down to allow it to soak up some of the egg stuff.  Dust the bread with cinnamon (lots) and cover tightly; refrigerate over night.  The next day, let it sit at room temp for at least an hour to get the chill off, then bake covered with foil for 45 minutes at 350, then take the cover off and continue baking for another 15.  Let it sit for 10 minutes, then dish out to include the apples and any juice/sauce with each piece.  This screams out for a drizzle of maple syrup or whipped cream or, fuck the diet, some vanilla ice cream.  Damn that’s good.

 

 

The Third Half

No one likes to be called middle-aged; surely that’s meant for OLDER people.  But what lies we tell ourselves!  I’ll be turning fifty shortly and it’s time I came clean.  This is not even the middle, this is the two-thirds mark.  I am 67%-aged.

Maybe your parents shopped for genes at “Long-Lives-R-Us,” and you have a reasonable expectation of living to 100.  My parents were both gone by the time they hit 70, so getting to 75 will be part of the bonus round.

Like a lot of people, I spent the first 25 years saying “What the fuck?”  And the next 25 years were spent in part figuring out what happened the first 25 years.  I did get a few things done, like having a baby surgically extracted from my abdomen, getting a degree, moving state-to-state a couple times.  I saw some friends through some crazy stuff, and witnessed some shit for history books that will scare the grandkids (Katrina, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney).  The last 25 have been some busy years.

But what-to-do, what-to-do (thinky face, tap the forehead) with the third half?  I’ve got less time coming than I’ve had, and I want to spend it well.  No bucket list, no climbing mountains or skydiving.  Typical of me, I’m much clearer on the don’ts.

DON’T: worry about money, get drunk and watch Lifetime movies, spend time ingratiating yourself to people who think they are the most important persons in the room, grumble so much about work, get depressed about weight, try so hard to get the prince’s friends’ parents to like you, dwell on mistakes in the past, stress about the prince’s future.

DO: keep breathing.  Repeat.

The First Annual Deviled Egg-Off

So, I won.  Vania’s eggs were perfection, exactly what is dreamed of when one dreams of deviled eggs.  But my eggs were devilish, beguiling with heat; the judges were seduced by Sriracha.

Red Rooster (Good Luck) Eggs

Hard boiled eggs, peeled, halved, yolks in a bowl, mashed til fine with:

Mayo, twelve parts

Sriracha hot sauce, three parts

Dijon Mustard, two parts

Worcestershire sauce, one part

Measurements are approximate– everything is to taste.  Go easy on the hot stuff until you get an idea of how hot it is.  Fill the eggs at the last second.  If you want to garnish, a sprig of chive and a single dot of Sriracha is supercute.

Addendum:  How much mayo?  I have never measured.  If I had to guess I’d say nearly as much mayo as egg yolk.  A yolk is about a tablespoon, so if you used twelve eggs, you’d use (GIVE OR TAKE) 12 tablespoons or 3/4 cup of mayo.  It’s all about the consistency, how creamy and (SORRY) moist you’d like the texture.  So for twelve egg yolks, start with half a cup of mayo and add more if you think it needs it.

 

 

Poor Grimmy

Grim is a 27 lb all-black pig-pen dirty-rascal irritable-bastard of a cat.  We adopted him and Billy, the other feline, in 2004 when we were new to Maine and eager to establish home and routine with the prince.  So Billy and Grim are 9 years old and counting.  Billy is all white, blue-eyed, about 12 lbs, sleek; he’s lovely, tidy, good-natured, and willing to defend himself but not aggressive.  When the cats were still kittens, Billy endeared himself, sometimes cloyingly so, to each of us, but eventually settled upon the prince as his preferred human.  Grim took another approach to life.

For the first couple of years, Grim could be found in the basement.  In our house in Maine the basement was cavernous, dank, dusty, and cobwebbed, with what Mainers called a “French drain” running through it.  (We hadn’t been there long when we figured out “French” was a pejorative).  Grim would hide out in the dustiest places and emerge only for food.  He was a scrawny thing, a flyweight, skittish and anti-social; it was hard to keep him on a lap or a couch long enough to give him any attention at all.

They weren’t brothers, we knew.  And what we began to think and believe to this day is that Billy had a mother, for long enough anyway, and Grim did not.  In other words, Billy seems whole, and Grim doesn’t.

I am Grim’s preferred human.  Sometimes I think it’s because he knows I’m the mother.  Sometimes I think it’s because he knows I, too, am missing my mother.  Everyone else here still has a mom, living and involved and interested in the child, and mine’s been gone for 23 years.

I don’t know how old you “should” be before you lose your mom (for the record, Dad can be every bit the parent of which I speak; Mom is more commonly the more-needed parent, but there are plenty of dads out there whose children need them to not-die-just-yet).  I was 26 and I think I was too young.  I sometimes think that, like Grimmy, I’m not whole.  I needed my early adult life overseen for yet a while longer, I needed Mom there to say implicitly or explicitly, “you’re ok, you’re doing fine, I’m happy with you.”

Grim is grossly overweight, doesn’t groom himself like he should, and has a very narrow window through which he will give and receive affection (petting him properly requires the precision you never had playing “Operation” as a kid).  I have my own quirks, certainly: a lifelong nailbiter, compulsive, depressive, moody.  Whether it’s right or fair to attribute all of Grim’s and my shortcomings to being motherless is anyone’s guess, but I do believe that missing that parent set us both up for a measure of failure in life.

I remember thinking after Mom died that she would have, at any point, died for her kids.   But living for them– that’s the tricky part.  She was poorly parented herself, which made her a perfect candidate to become addicted to, and find comfort in, smoking.  The great thing about addiction is that whatever is lacking can be transferred to the need for the drug.  So all of Mom’s needs, and there must have been myriad unfulfilled needs, were sated just enough with the pleasure of cigarettes.  “Lavina’s on the phone, go get my cigarettes honey, will you?”  I still remember her ensconced at the desk, taking a pull on the smoke and laughing while she talked with her friend.  The smoking– this was her failure in life, the one that robbed me of her.

So my challenge in life is bald: to live longer than my mother did, to give the prince what I lack.  In order to best my mother, not in years lived but in years given to my kid, I have to survive another thirteen years.  It at once sounds both paltry and impossible.

Live By The Sword,

Die by the sword.  The old aphorism is biblical, and was meant, originally, to convey that if you choose violence you must choose it’s consequence, which is a violent death.  By now, the phrase has come to mean “choose your: poison, path, worldview, moral outlook or religion, creed, constitution, — and swear, live, and die by it.”  If you are a Buddhist, live by Buddhist ideals.  Pretty simple.

The mark of an examined life is living by one’s own ideals, whatever they may be.  If you call yourself a Christian, you should admit that your ideals include taking care of others.  This includes your children, of course, but it also includes your parents, and your neighbors, and people who are worse off than you.  To what extent do you do this?  Sometimes those who shout their ideals most loudly would do well to shut up and meditate on the discrepancy between what they’re broadcasting in very public forums, and what they do when no one is watching.  Look, I have no problem if you have no desire to take care of others.  I have no problem if your life is completely driven by self-interest.  Your self-interest doesn’t bother or hurt me a bit.  But it irritates the hell out of me when you declare with pride that you are some person of lofty principle and then violate those same principles, either without thought at all, or worse, with the hope that no one notices.  People notice, and you’re giving yourself and your principles a bad name.  Live and die by your sword.

If you consider yourself a conservative, it may be within your line of thinking that people take too much.  People are too quick to suck from a government teat, too slow to earn their own way.  Every one in this country has an opportunity and responsibility to fend for themselves.  Right?  If you are among those who believe that, I’m only sorry that I can’t truly even the playing field, and make you not-white, not-attractive, and not-that-smart.  But let’s go ahead and let you keep the advantages I can’t take away from you, and pretend that everyone’s not starting at different distances from the pot of gold.  If we all need to fend for ourselves, and you want to live by your ideals, don’t let your parents help you out.  Don’t let them get you out of credit card debt.  Don’t let them give you a down payment on your house. 

I’m sorry– What’s that?  They WANT to help you, which is why it’s ok for you to take-take-take, spend beyond your means, and enjoy a lifestyle you didn’t earn–?  So it’s OK for you to have nice things that YOU didn’t earn, but it’s not OK for those on public assistance to have the basics– food and medical– that they didn’t earn…?  When you demonize them you look like a fool, unless, and until, you are prepared to say no to every handout you’re offered.  Die by your sword: make your own way, and show the lesser people– the ones who may not enjoy being white, attractive, and smart,– what it looks like to work hard and succeed without entitlements and subsidies and wealthy parents.