Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Beloved Side Dish

The days before Thanksgiving are growing fewer and fewer, and the number of guests rises and falls as does my confidence. Not only is this holiday a heap of work the day of, but the entire week leading up to the festivities is crammed with back-breaking preparations: grocery shopping, decorations, soups need to be made, sauces concocted… Another thing to consider is time, not only is it a lot of work, but its an outrageous amount of hours, hours that I simply don’t have!*!@?!

You see, what these ‘festivities’ are doing to my stress levels? Something has to be done!
I reviewed the menu and decided that I would have to scale down on some of the higher maintenance dishes. Number one on the list, Brussels sprouts, sautéed in a port Dijon reduction and garnished with rustic shards of Parmesan. They are a beloved dish and have been a Thanksgiving staple for years, but replacing them with a simpler dish would lighten my load and also free up valuable space on the stovetop. Most everyone took the news well, all except for Aaron that is.

Aaron has been one of my oldest Thanksgiving devotees; he is also one of my favorite people to cook for on account of his spirited responses to each and every bite he takes. “Diggidy-Dog!>he says shaking his head after a mouthful of soup. After a nibble of salad, he jumps from his seat gyrating and shrieking Eurika! like an epileptic Elvis who has discovered something much more thrilling than electricity. It is impossible for me to write, without laughter, how it is that he responds to a mouthful of Turkey or stuffing for that matter. Foods of all sorts have a profound impact on Aaron, but it is the Brussel sprout that that has inspired the most heartfelt response.

Many Thanksgivings ago, when I first mentioned to Aaron that I was thinking about making sprouts he was more than a little skeptical. You see Brussels sprouts have never been his favorite vegetable. In fact, I’d go as fare as saying that during his childhood, he had a damaging encounter with the unsuspecting sprout and was now, years later, still experiencing post-traumatic stress. Aaron has an adventurous spirit however, and is a good sport, “I’ll give them a try,” he told me as if he had agreed to eat an insect.

It is Aaron’s original response to this innocent side dish that makes his later response so astonishing. After his first bite, he became quite, tilted his head down as if in prayer, and sat that way for almost a minute. Then, out of nowhere, possessed by some external force - good or evil it was hard to decipher - he popped out of his seat and began to twist around as if experiencing both pleasure and pain. Everyone at the table sat quietly half expecting a miniature alien to burst from his stomach and dance across the table. No such entertainment was on the agenda. When he had completed the unscheduled performance, he sat back down and continued eating, hepping and hollering with every spoonful.

At first I was surprised with how well Aaron coped with the elimination of the notorious sprouts, “I understand,” he told me, “but only because I know you’re going to make them.” The certainty in his voice was chilling. “ They‘re just too much work, I don’t have the time,” I reiterated. But, with a sparkle in his eye, and with the grin of a car salesman, he grabbed my hand gently and in a comforting tone repeated, “ I get it, I do.” He took a deep breath, “But I know you're going to make them.” His certainty must have been less creepy this time because I instantly began reviewing the menu in my head one more time, trying as hard as I could to figure out how I could squeeze in the adored sprouts.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Gourmet Math

Thanksgiving invitation created by Margeaux Mulligan, artist, mermaid, and all around nice girl.

Last you heard six was twelve, that was before Elijah's girlfriend had to work a double at the hospital leaving six at the unsavory number of thirteen. As of today, Jessica is moving back to Florida restoring six to the unsuperstitious number of twelve.

Monday, November 13, 2006

It Takes Two...

Favorite Pastime

What does a Brooklyn Peasant do when the weather turns breezy and brisk?
This past Sunday I headed out to the local grocery, making a quick detour to the new bakeshop, Joyce, for a black and White cookie. I picked up a few things at the store then headed home to partake in one of my favorite pastimes, making soup. I spent the entire day doing what I love, cooking and singing along like a goof ball to Etta James, Carmen Miranda, and Elvis Presley.

As four pots of broth gurgled on the stove top, I fluttered about the kitchen to the Big Band jive of Cab Calloway, It’s the jim-jam-jump with the jumpin’ jive, makes you nine foot tall when your four foot five, Hep Hep!

I seared, I shredded. I swung and I swayed to the swing of Billy Holiday, deep rhythm captivates me, hot rhythm stimulated me, can’t help but swing it boy, swing it brother swing!

I minced, grinded, rattled and rolled to Lightnin’ Hopkins, Wow Baby, I don’t know your name, but I do believe oh yeah, you can shake that thing come on, come on baby, wow come on baby shake that thing.

It was a wonderful day, but somewhere in the back of my mind I had an awful feeling that I had forgotten something incredibly important. I reviewed the day in my mind. Was it the coffee? No, I had brewed myself the perfect cup at home, then had a wonderful latte from Joyce. Did I forget to add an important ingredient to one of the soups? That couldn’t be it, the soups, all of them, turned out as expected. The day was a complete success, perfect damn it! It was as I finished the last minute seasoning of the soups that I was captured by Lester Young’s incredibly hip and relaxed scat intro in It Takes Two to Tango. It was then that I realized what it was that was missing from my nearly perfect day. There is only one thing better than spending the entire day alone cooking, and that is spending it cooking with somebody else.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Thankful Realization

I Can?

Every year at this time, the reality of what I have gotten myself into begins to sink in and I am overwhelmed with alternating waves of anticipation and fear, of exhilaration and desperation. This past week I had a realization; Thanksgiving is just around the corner! It is a realization that brings along with it a mixture of joy, because it is my favorite holiday, gratitude, because I am blessed with wonderful friends and family to share it with, and terror that I will lack the ability to make it happen.

I have been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for many years now and after each year I tell myself, and my grinning friends, that I will never ever do it again. Yet every year, when Thanksgiving rolls around, I have conveniently forgotten about my vow and I promise my friends that I will cook, “ but only for a few people this time, no more than six!”

It is never six. Six is always twelve and twelve is sometimes twenty-five. I’m sure plenty of people can handle cooking a three course sit-down meal for twenty-five people without losing their composure, I am not one of those people. As the guests start arriving I become a monstrous muddle of nerves, I refuse entry to the kitchen, and tell people not to talk to me. The balance between making it happen and letting it happen becomes impossible to negotiate and at more than a few moments through out the day I find myself asking, “how did I end up doing this, again?” It is only after the meal is served, and I glance over at my friends, fat, happy and lethargically sprawled about the room, that I find the answer to my question: I do it because I want to and because I can. I can.

This year, the sensible list of ‘six’ guests is currently at eleven. “But what about Jessica?” Margeaux asked me this past weekend,
“Alright, twelve, but her husband can’t come!”
I am determined not to let the number grow, but with two whole weeks left until Thanksgiving, anything can happen.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Honky Tonk Blues

This past weekend, nature was on the agenda. The plan: pick apples from a near-by orchard then spend the day making apple pie and apple butter. Sunday morning, having eaten an early breakfast, we- my mother, her boyfriend Dave, and Margeaux- piled into the car and headed for the Orchard. Zipping down 212 at fifty miles an hour with the bellow of Hank William’s Honky Tonk Blues pouring from the windows, we crashed into a racing deer. Well I left my home down on the rural route, I told my pa that I was steppin’ out and find these honky tonk blues... We struck the deer head on and she was tossed flailing into the ditch on the other side of the road. Margeaux screamed, and I took a deep breath and held as if I were about to dive underwater. “OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!” repeated my mother gripping the steering wheel. Yeah these honky tonk blues…My mother slowed the car down but kept driving, “ Pull the car over,” shouted Dave. She didn’t respond, “Viv, pull the car over” repeated Dave. She slowed the car this time and came to a complete stop turning the key to the ignition as she began to cry. Yeah the honky tonk blues…hey lord I got’em, I got the ho –eee—onky tonk blues...

I love the country but, deep down, I am an urban peasant and am deluded with romantic notions of nature and how it is that my life intersects it. Growing up in the city has lead me to believe that nature is something I can let into my life or not, something I can schedule in when it is convenient or postpone when it’s not. A daily run in the Prospect Park and I’m ‘tuned-in with the elements’, a day of apple picking and whalah, I’m rugged. No one in the car got hurt but the deer died within a matter of minutes. We did not go apple picking that day, scheduled or unexpected, romantic or realistically gritty, I think we had had enough nature for one day.

I’m gonna’ tuck my worries underneath my arms, and march right back to my pappy’s farm and leave these honky
tonk blues, yeah the
se honky tonk blues. Hey lord I got’em, I got these ho—ee—onky tonk blues…

Though we did not go apple picking,
we still needed some apples for the pie.

We dedicated our pie, made with store
bought apples, to the deer that was killed
that day.

May she rest in peace.

Bombastically Buttery Butter Crust


2 1/4 cups - sifted flour
3/4 teaspoon – salt
14 tablespoon
s – chilled butter cut into pieces
1/2 cup – ice water


1.) Cut butter into flour with pastry blender* until resembles coarse meal. It should be crumbly and should not resemble a paist and is inconsistent in texture. Do not over mix or your crust will not be fabulously flakey.
2.) Sprinkle mixture with ice water a little at a time and mix in quickly with a fork.
3.) Work lightly with fingers squeezing it together. You should be able to work dough into a ball, if not add more water. WARNING: It is important to work fast the mixture must remain cold.
4.) Cut in half. At this point you can roll out your dough on a lightly floured surface, or you can refridgerate for later.

* If you do not have a pastry blender (a hand tool for cutting butter into flour), you can use two butter knives. Use knives to, literally, cut butter into flour, taking time out to toss the mixture. Cut then toss, cut then toss. This method works just as well as any other.