Saturday, November 28, 2015


On Tuesday morning, it dawned on me that I was living out a fantasy.  The whole going to a farm and getting a real turkey for Thanksgiving fantasy.  My friend, D, and I were headed about 35 minutes north to our friend Elizabeth's farm. I started nagging Elizabeth about Thanksgiving turkeys in May.  We met Elizabeth and her family through the farmers' market and absolutely adore her.  Every week, D and I enjoy our chats with Elizabeth and her daughter while we wait for the horn to blow to permit the beginning of sales.  She and her husband, Bryan, decided they would raise turkeys this year.  Ever since then, they've had to field questions from me about the turkeys.  They would creatively answer my inane questions.  After all, there are only so many ways one can answer And how are the turkeys this week?!  Some of my friends and clients found my interest in my turkeys rather macabre.  These are not my first locally-raised turkeys, but this is my first go-around with actually knowing the person behind the turkey.  Many years, I've tried to snap my fingers and have this experience.  What I hadn't given enough credit is the relationship that makes it all the more special. 

The drive up wasn't exactly my fantasy of covered bridges and frost-kissed brush, it's just a normal highway.  And D was so offended and shocked by something she heard Howard Stern say that she shared something exponentially more graphic and lewd.  But as we turned off the highway, and the road started to narrow and bend erratically around barns, I started to feel a little giddy.  The houses began to drift further apart and vast fields began to dominate.  As we pulled into Elizabeth's driveway, beautiful birds free-ranging rushed around and I parked in a bizarre position to avoid hitting them.  There was a peacock (or peahen?) perched on a pickup truck and a spectacular Royal Palm turkey on promenade.  A big collie, Puffy, greeted us and swiped her paw against our legs if we dared to stop petting her.  Elizabeth gave  us a tour of the farm and we loved seeing where so much of our summer produce grows.  Her garden is huge--probably 150 x 50 and provides a myriad of exquisite vegetables, fruit, greens, herbs, and flowers spring through fall.  A clearing walled-in by dozens, if not hundreds, of acres of corn fields. 
She invited us in for a cup of coffee, with the table bedecked in lovely Limoges china I knew you'd appreciate that she said as I couldn't help myself from turning the plate over to see the pattern name.  We got to learn a little more about her in her happy kitchen.   
I could tell she was a slightly uncomfortable with how much the turkeys cost, but she absolutely shouldn't have been.  After a while, we loaded our coolers with our turkeys and were off.  I managed to get us very lost on the way home, despite it being an easy route.  D has a fail-safe sense of direction and took over navigation and eventually we found our way back. 
If you're local or semi-local, you can get in touch with Elizabeth on her farm facebook here for your Thanksgiving turkey next year.
Smart, talented, and lovely Elizabeth
The rest of the day was spent preparing my turkeys to go in the sous vides.  The advantages to cooking your turkey sous vide are many.  One of the best being that carving is so easy because the bones are out--and because the bones are out, you have them to make stock before Thanksgiving.  So as my kitchen really began to smell like Thanksgiving with the stock starter in the oven, I quite gleefully hunkered down into the final push toward Thursday. 
I think my turkey had a boob job. This is one side of the breast
I like to start my stock by braising the backbone, neck, and vegetables
in a bottle of sauvignon blanc.  Deepens the flavor and color

Dressing prep

My sister and I were in communication all day regarding my mother.  My sister runs our family business (I say our because I clean the chandelier and run over with emergency toilet paper when they've run out) and needed my mom to come in and cover a shift in the evening.  I told her  I would only release my sweatshop labor if the tablecloth had been completed, to which my sister said well god damn it then if she's not done you're going to have to drag your ass in here and work! Someone needs to! The world does not stop because you're fucking obsessed with Thanksgiving! I said oh no! I can't hear what you're... and hung up on her.  My sister needed my mom to come in at 5:30, and my mom victoriously finished at 3:11. 

54 feet of fabric for the skirt, approximately ten inches wide
Is the tablecloth the very embodiment of couture perfection? No.  At least not to her.  She is furious with herself over an oversight in the pattern that causes the top to swoop down further into the skirt than she'd like.  I had to literally hide the seam rippers and scissors, because I knew she was champing at the bit to rip it to shreds. I am so tremendously proud of her for 1) finishing 2) accepting its imperfection.  I'll have it forever and am sure that someday I'll run my fingers along the swooping seam and it'll transport me to this wonderful time. 

Priceless blue and white artifacts from Home Goods Dynasty China,
look away Ellie this certainly qualifies as "bad" b&w.

The china was found on Craigslist in September. Service
for 12 for $60! My sister made the napkins
Though I asked this portion of the pattern not be included.
What the hell is this?

Twisted little fucker
The truth is that I always push to give holidays their due.  To some, holidays are just another day--and that's fine.  I don't think anyone should do holidays any certain way.  I sometimes wish I had a more nonchalant attitude about them.  For whatever reason, they are very important to me.  This Thanksgiving felt different because it is a transitional time in my family.  I can feel things changing and, of course, don't know where they'll go.  Overall, it's a very good time.  We often wait until years later to realize when times were good--often when it's too late to really celebrate them.  I learned this the hard way with my great grandmother.  A few years in a row, I mulled over the idea of having a Mother's Day brunch.  My GG, grandma, and mother could all be there together.  Well, the perfect time never came.  So I never had my perfect Mother's Day brunch.  Within a few short years, my GG had passed away and my grandmother was very sick.  I just hate myself for not having that brunch when I could.  It would have rained and my sister would have bitched about having to be here by 11, but in the end it would have been wonderful--or at least it would have happened.  It was a good time then and I couldn't see it clearly enough to know that it was worth a push to acknowledge. 
Since  I cannot go back in time and change that regret, I have a hell or high water attitude about holidays and mile markers now.  I've yet to regret it. 
By Wednesday morning, much of the food prep was done.  I planned it that way so I could casually enjoy the day.  Running errands, feeling the bubbling holiday energy, arranging purchased flowers, lunch with a friend...and...some grand theft floral. 
I had been eyeing these beautiful yellow crabapples since September.  I would check on them a few times a week to make sure they hadn't fallen due to frost or inclimate weather.  Usually by this time, crabapples are squishy and gross-looking.  This year, with our mild weather,  they are still looking gorgeous.  Unfortunately, these crabapples are not in my yard.  They are at the entrance to a neighborhood.  A big neighborhood where people come and go constantly.  If I had any shame or dignity, I would be much too embarrassed to blatantly go steal fucking crabapples from a neighborhood where I don't even live!  Buuuut I don't.  So on Wednesday afternoon, I pulled my happy ass up, rolled Barbie's window down so she could watch her pathetic father in action, and began snipping away.  Now, listen,  I didn't decimate the trees or anything.  You could hardly tell I even took anything.  Because I couldn't exactly keep a low profile, I opted to keep a high profile.  I waved at people driving by, yelled Happy Thanksgiving! to people running and walking on the adjoining path and just sort of held court there at the entrance to the neighborhood where I was stealing crabapples.  No one seemed remotely bothered. 
I was up late Wednesday, working on the flowers and the table.  I had a terrible time deciding on napkin folds.  Ultimately, I just opted for something simple that showcased my favorite section of the toile. 

Thursday was calm and easy and followed my schedule.  What was unbelievable was the weather.  It was almost 70F! Unheard of for the end of November.  It could have easily been snowy.  Having the fresh air from outside swirling through the house made the day all the more spectacular.  Because it was so perfect, my grandpa called to ask if we could delay so he could golf.  I was happy to oblige and give myself even more time.  So my guest list has fluctuated so many times--from seven to twenty one, that I just planned to cook for 100.   I ended up having the perfect number: eight.  One table, one conversation, a quick-moving buffet, and a manageable amount of dishes.  I was so, so pleased.  Especially for my mother.  The tablecloth was the star and every guest got to experience it.  There were photos taken and questions asked and accolades galore for her and I know she loved it.  Sewing is not something everyone can comprehend, because unless you've done it, it can be hard to understand just what skill and work go into it.  So she doesn't often get the credit she is due for her work.  But because this tablecloth was so visually commanding in color and form, it was awarded much praise. 

Apple-Cranberry-Pumpkin Spice Cake with Orange Buttercream

I wasn't thrilled with my platters for the roasted carrots and parsnips, but didn't want the carved turkey to get cold while I was fussing with them.  Other than that, I was so pleased with how the day went.  It was casual and easy, but ceremonial and special.  My best friend, M,  was happy to fold into my family, and we didn't even argue politics.  My grandpa told his story about sneaking behind the Berlin Wall for lunch one day (the food was bad, the women were beautiful), and M showed us YouTube videos of a girl we went to high school with who is apparently a sensation in South Korea.  The prosecco flowed and we lingered at the table. 
I trust my friend and turkey farmer, Elizabeth,  so much that I took her recommendation on a different pumpkin pie recipe.  It was phenomenal.  L gave it high praise and said it's not "barfy" like normal pumpkin pie.  I've never found pumpkin pie to be barfy, but if you have, you may love this one.  The only problem with it is that the brown sugar makes it look a little burned. 
So--from turkeys to regret to barfy pie--that's Thanksgiving 2015.  Or I thought it was until yesterday when M texted me that she was making a feast after all.  She was at the grocery at 1PM and served by 7PM.  I helped with mashed potatoes in her cramped kitchen with insufficient bowlage, spilled shit everywhere as we worked on top of each other, and she topped my wine off whenever I turned my back.  We debated on whether muscular guys look better with big butts or small ones and she tried to tell me that Joanna Barnes was not in the original Parent Trap.  When we started doing the Spider Dance or how we think it would look,, I knew I wouldn't be driving home.  I was called on to carve her turkey and did a pretty good job for three-too-many glasses of wine.  I arranged alternate transportation home and woke up giggling.  Her Thanksgiving couldn't have been more different from mine in preparation, planning, and equipment.  And yet it was every bit as fabulous.  That's the beauty of Thanksgiving, isn't it? 
M's feast

Never too hungover to appreciate a beautiful sunrise

How was yours? How many people did you have? Who got the drunkest? 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

I will have much more to share,but wanted to pop in and wish you a very happy Thanksgiving! Can you believe that it's warmer here than it is for poor Janet in California?!
Whether your loved ones are crowding your table or filling your heart, enjoy your time and memories with them today.  Or tell them to get the fuck out of your way like I do but with a smile.

The tablecloth is finished! She hates it though and
can't wait to rip it to shreds.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sweatshop Linens and Holiday Hydration

Of course, things are not going perfectly as planned.  My parts are.  Other people are having more trouble.  Other people meaning my mother. 
Do you remember the whole scandal with Kathie Lee Gifford and the sweatshop? That was so unfair.  I don't believe she had any idea that her clothing line was being manufactured in a sweatshop.  I, on the other hand, am fully aware of the sweatshop conditions under which my labor is performed. 
Bread for stuffing.  I let it burn slightly so it would hold more firm when cubing.

I absolutely adore my mother.  But that doesn't mean she is immune from driving me fucking insane.  Every year, she wants--and downright insists upon making a tablecloth for Thanksgiving.  She loves Thanksgiving--she is the reason I love Thanksgiving so much.  She taught me the beauty of the fleeting color, appreciating the volatility of November, and the importance of family around a table.  What she didn't teach me is how to actually just get shit done.  Oh my god, the poor woman. Every year, there is the same drama.  Everyone in the periphery of my family knows about it.  Last week at the dentist, the hygienist asked me Soo...I hear we have another tablecloth in jeopardy...why can't she just finish it? Well, the short answer is that she's a perfectionist.  Perfectionists never finish things because--guess what--things are never perfect.  She obsesses over every single detail and has never said good enough.  Her work is undeniably spectacular.  When it's finally finished (five-ten years after the deadline), it will take your breath away. 
I got the fabric for her in MAY and I'm pretty sure she didn't touch it until September.  My instructions were please just do something simple.  Sew some panels together and let's call it a day.  What she heard, apparently,  was make me the Taj fucking Mahal of tablecloths.  In the skirt for this tablecloth there are 54 feet of fabric.  it's a pleated design, and therefore, a lot of fabric.  I am now using straight-up-sweatshop tactics to get her to finish.  Let's hope for the best...I have a backup, but I really don't want to use it.  
Regardless, I've had the most fabulous time preparing, chopping, fluffing, and drinking.  My Thanksgiving-prep cocktail is just about my favorite thing in the world.  It's so easy and seriously so good.  It will almost distract you from your missing tablecloth. 

I always roast celery, onion, carrot, and garlic to puree and
include in the gravy. It adds texture and deepens color.

5 carrots, 5 stalks of celery, 1 onion, and 6 garlic cloves. Tossed in olive oil,
salt,and pepper.  Roasted at 450 until burnished.  Add to food processor
with wine or stock to help liquefy. 

Don't bother with this if you're in a rush. but if you have some
spare time it's a nice touch. Just whisk it in to your finished gravy.

I usually use the timer on my phone, but with so many dishes to juggle,
this makes it a little easier.  Plus, no flour stuck on my phone.  

Cranberry relish + gin + Sprite Zero, in whatever proportion you'd like.  Mine is about 1.5 shots of gin, 2 Tablespoons of cranberry relish, and topped with Sprite Zero.  Enjoy until you're singing along to a Mariah Carey song.  Slow down once you're doing an interpretive dance along with a Kate Bush song.  

Do you have any gravy tips?  Have you ever managed a sweatshop?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Where Time Stands Still

It's rare--or impossible, I guess--for time to stand still.  I am all for forward movement and embracing the new (that's my story anyway), but there is something undeniably special about places where time changes little.  Where I live, almost nothing looks the same it did when I was a child.  Sometimes as I'm driving past a strip mall or a bank, a vision of the field or farmhouse or forest that used to live there will consume me.  Probably as people 25 years older than I felt when they would drive past my suburban childhood neighborhood.  But what belongs and what doesn't is often seen through a rather selfish lens.  At least for me. 
Those twinges of sadness pale in comparison to the joy I feel when I pull up to Carfagna's.  

Carfagna's has been there forever and nothing has changed.  It smells the same, they have the same inventory, the aisles are still tight, the butchers still wear those coats, and the parking lot is always a disaster. 
There are charming and engaging ladies at the cash register, and men to carry your bags to your car.  The wine guy either likes you or he doesn't--he'll let you know.  If he likes you, it is hard to get out in less than 45 minutes.  He likes me and I like him.  I look forward to seeing him and hearing about his newest buys.  He perpetually tries to convince me I'll like this Chianti and sells me on the love story that goes into any good bottle of wine.  I still don't like the Chianti that much, but feel a part of the vivid imagery now attached to the label.  The meat counter is always busy and you will always have to wait.  Do yourself a favor,  don't come if you are in a rush.  Sure, the line will move quickly.  But you'll miss the butcher banter behind the counter, the perfectly sculpted shampoo-set in front of you, the happy labels on all the Italian imports, and the symphonic aroma of olive brine, freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, starchy pasta water, and simmering marinara. 

A very light line
The Map

It is, absolutely, my favorite store.
Forgive me, environment. I still get the plastic bags here because I love them
'tis the season

Does bourgeois olive oil taste better? I'll let you know.
Aunt Patti's Favorite.
Hands down, my favorite balsamic.  
Occasionally, if I can be coaxed and inspired,  I will make rolls or biscuits for Thanksgiving.  I find them rather annoying, and their tendency to burn (rolls) or smoke up the oven (biscuits) is often more emotional turmoil than I'm willing to endure.  So for the inevitable buuuut it's not Thanksgiving without rooooolls!, I always have bread and dipping oil to appease.  I make this dipping oil often and I'm sure I never make it quite the same.  It need not be exact.  I always use a food processor, but I suppose you could hand chop all this too.  If a food processor is not on the scene, I might roughly chop the ingredients in big pieces, let them infuse the oil, and then strain out.  You don't need to be mincing rosemary for hours on end. 

Sundried Tomato Dipping Oil

2ish cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3-5 sundried tomatoes
6-10 manzanilla olives (with pimento is fine)
12 inches of rosemary sprig or sprigs (if a man is to cut, send him with a ruler, inches can be highly subjective)
3-5 oregano leaves
2-4 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
1ish Tablespoon kosher salt
1ish teaspoon sugar
1 large garlic clove or 2 small
Combine all ingredients in food processor.  Let sit at least overnight or for several days in the refrigerator.  Remove from refrigerator about five hours before you wish to serve. Taste to check for salt/sugar.  You can always dilute it with additional olive oil. 
I needed to fill this platter, so I minced additional sundried tomatoes for more
color. From June 2011.
For the wedding last month
The first time I went to Carfagna's was with my Aunt Patti.  She bought me good olive oil and showed me the map of other shoppers' Italian roots.  She asked one of the butchers all sorts of questions--pretending she didn't know the answers.  He cheerfully answered, making eye contact with me.  He was in on it.  One of the memories for which I am most thankful.  I feel like I'm walking right back into it every time  I visit. 

Do you know of a place where time stands still?