Sunday, November 30, 2008


Hindsight would be useful if only I could find some way to get back to the fore and to hold on to the sight. The earth does help by spinning and making for a calendar that works cycles, with seasons and holidays that happen year after year. But thirty-six years into this whole cyclical living experience and although I have spurts of taking excellent notes for next year, I still take them on whatever scrap of paper is closest at hand, which usually ends up in a stack somewhere, or else tucked into the pages of some-usually unrelated except I happened to be reading it at the time-book. Perhaps some great Google server will turn out to be the filing system I’ve been waiting for. Perhaps the dedication to local and season cooking that Renée and I have undertaken together will prompt me to get into that filing system just before this time next year. Perhaps we’ll turn this into a printed cookbook that I can peruse in the weeks and days before Thanksgiving in years to come.

Thanksgiving Hindsight

The Turkey was perfect. I remembered to cover it in bacon before I cooked at, and between that and the brine assured divine tenderness (with no basting necessary!). I also remembered to get out of the basement the enamel turkey pan with lid that I bought last year, and didn’t have to struggle one iota with unruly foil. Oh, and I bought 4 extra drumsticks when I picked up the turkey. I could have used just two, but the others will make good soup later in the winter.

It’s hard to mess up the ham.

I didn’t get around to making the cornbread and it was not missed.

There were too many sweet potatoes. I put in one mini sweet potato per person; I could have used half as many. The sweet potatoes were also so cooked they were hard to handle. I let them bake for 2 ½ hours. Half that would have been better.

I completely forgot to put out the cranberry sauce, and no one missed it! I discovered it around midnight when I was bringing in the drinks from the back porch. Luckily, it was really still the night before Thanksgiving so I gave half to Stephenie to take to her Thursday meal and I took half to Mac and Helen’s. There was way too much. The twenty of us at Mac and Helen’s didn’t even make a dent on the two I took. Two cranberry sauces should be plenty. The two best from this year were the cranberry orange relish from the side of the bag (12 oz cranberries, 1 orange with peel cut into 8 pieces, 1 cup sugar. Put half of the ingredients into the food processor, pulse until well chopped and blended. Repeat with second half. Serve cold.), and a ginger-port recipe I put together on the fly:
12 oz. cranberries
1 cup port
1 large (3 inch) chunk of ginger, peeled
3 shallots
1 cup brown sugar
2 T salted butter
Sauté the shallots in the butter until translucent. Add all the other ingredients. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for 30-45 minutes, until the cranberries are turned to mush. Cool and serve at room temperature.

The green beans were excellent—I made the green beans with bacon and chestnuts from one of my magazines—but I tripled the recipe and I could have doubled it.

The best stuffing was one with chestnuts and prunes. I bought raw chestnuts; scored them with an x then sautéd with oil for a few minutes about 30 nuts, then baked them in the pan at 300 for about 30 minutes. I peeled them while they were hot. Did this the night before, then Blanca broke them up into the stuffing when she made it. She also cut up about 1 cup of dried prunes, into buts the size of the chestnut chunks.

I ended up making only two salads, both without actually looking at the recipes I think I read. They were delicious, and just the right amount for the twenty of us. One salad used one box of Olivia’s baby arugula, 1 red onion sliced thinly, and 3 clementines peeled and with the pieces cut in half. I used a dressing with 1 part olive oil, 1 part rice wine vinegar, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp fresh pepper, 1 tsp. honey. The other salad used one box of Olivia’s mixed salad greens plus one radicchio cut up, 4 oz. blue cheese, broken into chunks, and about 1 ½ cups roasted walnuts. I roasted the walnuts the night before, spread out on a pan in a 300 oven for about 30 minutes. I dressed that one with my standard 1 part olive oil, 1 part balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp red wine vinegar, 1 tsp mustard, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp. fresh ground pepper.

The mashed potatoes, of course, were great. I made them early in the day and reheated them in the microwave just before I put them on the table.

The creamed onions were well worth the rather intense labor it takes to blanch and peel all those little pearls.

The pies were fantastic. I made the crusts the night before, then left them chilled (not yet rolled) in the fridge. The benefit of baking them while we ate was they were piping hot; the problem was that there were by then so many drippings at the bottom of the oven that we kept setting off the smoke alarms, and having to jump up and wave napkins at the offending beeps. Also, the berry pie would have held together better if it had had some time to cool. For the apple pie, I followed Renée’s recipe but instead of regular spices I used garam masala for a great twist. No one, and I mean no one, but me ate the mincemeat pie, but I have to say it was fantastic mostly because I came up with a brilliant top crust idea: in the food processor, I pulsed together 2 cups of pecans, 1 stick of frozen butter, cut into chunks, and ½ cup of flour. I piled that on top of the mincemeat and it was divine. It also helped cut the sweetness of the mincemeat. And, a guy in line at Trader Joe’s told me to check out John Doer (spelling? He said: like the liquor store…), a butcher in Newton who might actually make mincemeat!
On serving the dinner. I must remember to put one bowl of each thing on each table. This year we had three big tables in an L. Passing worked, but it would have been so much easier to just divide each thing into three serving dishes.

Fall Hindsight

At Thanksgiving, I used up the last of my farmer’s market shallots, red and yellow onions, and potatoes. I’d used up the last sweet potatoes a week before. If I’d bought more at the last farmer’s market, they’d easily be good for another month. I still have a few rutabaga, turnips, and parsnips at the bottom of the vegetable bin, but I could use many more.

The list of things I should have stocked up on over the summer is long, very long. What I’m most bemoaning are: Bags of blanched green beans; many many more whole berries and peeled and sliced peaches; bags of blanched spinach; bags of blanched kale and collards. I’m sure as winter progresses I’ll think of more.

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