Tuesday, December 22, 2009

i'll be home for christmas

...and stepping away from the blog for a bit. We're off to South Florida to spend the holidays with our families and hit the beach with this scampish gal. (She likes coconuts, as you can see.)

I'll be back with more dinner parties in the New Year. Until then, I hope everyone has safe and happy holidays filled with lots of good food and people you love.


Monday, December 21, 2009

last-minute christmas links

Still figuring out your Christmas dinner menu? Time's running out, slackers! Kidding, kidding...I still have to sort out what I am making. So far we've got ham, potato gratin, green beans, these biscuits, and a chocolate cake. Here's some links to help tie up all those loose ends:

Helpful holiday potluck tips and a delicious-sounding menu from the guys behind Brooklyn's Baked [via Food + Wine]

25 Christmas menus from French to Southwestern to Midwestern [via Bon Appetit]

Christmas menus of all kinds from brunches to buffets [via Epicurious]

A plethora of ideas over at Saveur, including five holiday menus and recipes for side and main dishes [via Saveur]

31(!) holiday desserts from Bon Appetit (toasted coconut souffles with cranberry sauce, chocolate-caramel macadamia nut tart) [via BA]

Friday, December 18, 2009

how to make mustard

Dan had the bright idea to make mustard for holiday gifts this year. At first, I wasn't convinced. Don't people want candy and spiced nuts, and other things you can tear open and eat right away? But then I thought about how many bottles of Dijon we go through in a year, and quickly changed my mind. Not only is mustard a surprising gift to receive, it's also very practical.

And for the gift-giver, it's also simple to make. It was much easier than any canning projects we have taken on, even though our mustard is also shelf-stable. Tracking down mustard seeds in bulk can be a little tricky, but once you have seeds, you're in business. All you have to is grind them up, then add some dry mustard, white wine, vinegar, water, and seasoning. A little ground tumeric is optional, but helps boost the color so you'll get a pretty, bright yellow condiment. The end result has a nice grainy texture and is on the spicy side, a bit like Chinese hot mustard. Over time, it mellows a bit, but when you first open the jar it definitely packs some heat.

You can keep the mustard in your refrigerator, but if you're giving it as a gift, it's best to make it shelf-stable by boiling it in water. Be sure to sterilize your jars and lids (boil them in hot water for 10 minutes, carefully remove with tongs to a clean, dry cloth) before you fill the jars with mustard. Once the jars are filled and tightly closed, carefully put them back in the boiling water for 15 minutes. This will seal the jars shut and preserve the mustard so you don't have to refrigerate it before you open the jars. (Like any condiment, after you open the jar, be sure to keep it in the fridge.)

Use your mustard to make vinaigrette, slather it on a hot dog or sandwich, to top roasted pork, make this pasta, or however else you like to eat it.

Grainy French-style mustard
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
(Makes about 2 cups, or 6 half-pint jars)

1 cup yellow mustard seeds
3 Tbsp. dried mustard
1 cup water
1/2 cup cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tsp. ground tumeric
salt and ground pepper to taste

In a spice grinder, coffee grinder, blender, or with a mortar and pestle, grind the mustard seeds until the texture resembles coarse cornmeal. Set aside in a medium bowl. Add the dry mustard, water, vinegar, white wine, and tumeric. Stir until combined.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

in defense of casseroles

Some people think that dinner parties have to be fancy, formal affairs. You know, candelabras, tuxedoed waiters, lobster bisque, and baked Alaska for dessert. In my book, dinner parties include barbecues in the backyard, pizza nights, church potlucks, picnics at the beach, sandwiches shared among friends. If a group of people is gathered around a table for dinner, it counts. Sometimes I may even serve said people a casserole...made with leftovers.

Last week, our friend Tom was in town for work, so we hosted a small gathering of his friends at our place for dinner. It was a Sunday night, the group was primarily (loud, obnoxious) guys, and I had almost half a turkey in the fridge left over from Thanksgiving. Turkey Tetrazzini seemed like the perfect plan. I crossed my fingers that no one would be sick of eating turkey.

Casseroles get a bad rap for everyday, weeknight eating, let alone for company. How can you not think of gluey canned soups, frozen vegetables in unnatural shapes, and canned fried onions (which I secretly like)? It's not exactly something people ooh and ahh over. But when you make a good old fashioned casserole from scratch it's a different animal entirely.

Working from a Joy of Cooking recipe, I started by making something called "creamed turkey." Yum yum! Basically, this is your Campbell's subsitute: shredded turkey in a thick, creamy roux made with stock, butter, flour, cream, and a drop of sherry. This mixture is tossed with egg noodles, sauteed mushrooms, parmesan and more butter, then baked in the oven until golden and bubbly. The recipe also calls for sliced almonds, but that sounded awfully strange to me, so I added breadcrumb topping instead. I also tossed in a handful of chopped parsley to add a bright, fresh touch.

Served up with mustardy French green beans and roasted cauliflower, everyone really did ooh and ahh and then scraped their plates clean. Not only are casseroles the type of homey food people appreciate, they're ideal for dinner parties because they can be made ahead. And according to The Joy of Cooking, Turkey Tetrazzini was originally created by legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier in honor of an opera star named Luisa Tetrazzini. So who says casseroles aren't fancy?

Sunday supper for Tom

Deviled eggs
Turkey Tetrazzini
French bean salad
Roasted cauliflower
Pound cake

Turkey Tetrazzini

(Serves 8 to 10 people)
4 cups diced turkey (white and dark meat)
1/3 cup flour
2 cups turkey or chicken stock
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, light cream, or whole milk
2 to 3 Tbsp. sherry
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 pinches of gorund nutmeg
8 oz. mushrooms, washed and sliced thinly (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup parsley, minced
5 1/2 Tbsp. butter
8 oz. egg noodles
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 13 by 9-inch baking pan or baking dish.

To make the creamed turkey, melt 4 Tbsp. butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour until it is smooth. Continue whisking for 1 minute, remove the pan from the heat and add the stock. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in the cream or milk. Bring the heat up to medium and return the pan to the stove, whisking constantly to get rid of any lumps. Bring to a simmer and cook for one minute. Add in the turkey and the sherry. Stir to combine. Cook for one minute more, then add the lemon juice, and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium skillet, heat 1 1/2 Tbsp. of butter until melted, then add the mushrooms. Cook, while stirring, for about 5 minutes. Stir the mushrooms into the creamed chicken. In a large pot of boiling water, cook the noodles until they are tender. Drain the pasta and stir it into the chicken mixture with the parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into the pan. In a small bowl, combine the parmesan and the breadcrumbs. Drizzle with olive oil and stir so the breadcrumbs are moist. Sprinkle them over the casserole and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until it is golden brown and bubbly.

French bean salad
I love this recipe, from Jamie Oliver, so much. It's the best way to eat green beans, which can be kind of boring.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)
4 handfuls of French beans, stalk ends removed
2 to 3 heaped tsp. good French mustard, to taste
2 Tbsp. good-quality white wine vinegar
7 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium shallot, peeled and finely chopped
optional: 1 Tbsp. capers
optional: ½ a clove of garlic, finely grated

Bring a pan of water to a boil. Add your beans, put a lid on the pan, and cook for at least 4 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put the mustard and vinegar into a bowl and whisk it together, then slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and add the shallot and capers and garlic, if using. When the beans are cooked, but still firm, drain the water and put the beans back in the pot. Pour the dressing over the hot beans. Serve immediately.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

bourbon balls 2.0

An interesting thing happened to me the other week. I got an email from an editor at Bon Appetit asking me to participate in a holiday bake-off with other food bloggers. The magazine is running a similar, virtual contest on their web site, but this was an invite to an actual event, with real food judged by editor-in-chief Barbara Fairchild and master pastry chef Franรงois Payard. Gulp!

Here's the thing: I can whip up a mean chicken liver pate, create my own cocktails with homemade mixers. But baking...not so much. Not to mention that my oven is on a tilt, so everything I bake comes out slanted on top.

But when opportunity comes a-knockin', it's best not to hide under the covers. Even if you're not, like, the best baker in the blogosphere. (Me: "I can't enter this! I can hardly bake!" Co-worker: "Uh, yes, you will enter this contest. Are you completely stupid?") After I regained my composure, I started thinking about recipes. I needed something that would A) travel well and B) be fool-proof enough that I wouldn't be a complete embarrassment.

My original plan was to combine a pound cake with a fruitcake. I envisioned a golden, buttery, slightly boozy cake studded with bits of candied orange peel, dried cherries, chocolate, and crystallized ginger. The end result was tasty, but fell slightly short of meh. Back to the drawing board.

I decided not to try so hard and just embrace the suck, as they say. I didn't need to show up with a fancy layer cake or some sort of elaborate yule log. I didn't need to bake at all. Instead, I would make something I already knew how to do, my tried-and-true holiday gift: bourbon balls.

To fancify my go-to recipe, I chopped up the candied orange peel I had made for the pound cake and added it to a gooey batter of crushed vanilla wafers, chopped toasted pecans, powdered sugar, cocoa, spices, and bourbon. The orange played well with the bourbon and cocoa, but the candy needed a bit more chocolate. Bourbon balls aren't the prettiest things in the world, they look a bit like dusty little rocks. So I melted some good-quality dark chocolate, and rolled the balls in it so they looked more like truffles. The final touch: a bit of candied orange peel on top. Festive, rich, boozy, who wouldn't want to eat one--or six--of these?

When I entered the Conde Nast building (a place that evokes a combination of fear and lust in magazine editors, including me) and took the shiny elevators up to the Bon Appetit culinary studio, I felt a bit amateur night. Oh, the desserts. There were fancy layer cakes, and a yule log with meringue toadstools, and the most adorable mini pies on sticks. There were also a few bourbon balls in the mix. One version included bacon. Gulp.

The contestants milled around, drank wine, and took lots of photos, as food bloggers do. The judging was more serious than I anticipated. The judges tasted each dish thoughtfully, marked scorecards, asked questions. In the end, I did not win. The prize, a trip to Las Vegas for Bon Appetit's food festival Vegas Uncork'd, went to a gorgeous confection of kabocha squash and shiso made by Marc Matsumoto of No Recipes. Shiso, people. Clearly, I was way out of my league. But the lovely Luisa Weiss of Wednesday Chef told me my bourbon balls were the only ones she has ever liked, so I felt vindicated in my own small way. And being in the company of so many talented, smart, food-obsessed people made me feel pretty golden.

You can see all of the entries here. Thanks again, BA!

Chocolate bourbon balls with candied orange peel
Inspired by the Lee Brothers’ hot spiced bourbon balls
(Makes about 30 balls)

3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 cup finely chopped candied orange peel, plus 1/4 cup for garnish
1/3 cup bourbon
2 Tbsp. honey
2 1/3 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers
2 cups dark chocolate, melted

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place chopped pecans in a single layer in a shallow baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until toasted. Sift powdered sugar, cocoa, salt, and spices into a medium-sized bowl. Add the pecans, orange peel, and crushed vanilla wafers and stir until combined. Stir together bourbon and honey in a small bowl. Gradually the add bourbon mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring until blended. (The mixture is ready when you can form a small ball in your hands and it holds together. If not, keep stirring, or add a bit of bourbon or water to moisten the mixture if it is too dry.) Shape the mixture into one-inch balls and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Chill in the refrigerator for one hour or until slightly firm.

To dip the balls in chocolate, melt the chocolate over a double-boiler until it is smooth. Dip each ball in the chocolate, rolling them so they are evenly coated. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press one piece of orange peel into the top of each bourbon ball. Once all of the balls are coated in chocolate and topped with orange peels, chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving. The bourbon balls can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to one week.

Candied orange peels
From Bon Appetit

(Makes about two cups)

2 large oranges, 1/4 inch of top and bottom cut off
4 cups sugar, divided
3 cups water

Cut peel on each orange into 4 vertical segments. Remove each segment (including white pith) in 1 piece. Cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Cook in large pot of boiling water 15 minutes; drain, rinse, and drain again. Bring 3 cups sugar and 3 cups water to boil in medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add peel. Return to boil. Reduce heat; simmer until peel is very soft, about 45 minutes. Drain. Toss peel and 1 cup sugar on rimmed baking sheet, separating strips. Lift peel from sugar; transfer to sheet of foil. Let stand until coating is dry, 1 to 2 days. The peels can be wrapped and frozen for up to 2 months.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Hard to believe, but it's already holiday gift-making time at our house. I usually make one or two edible treats like candy or jam or cookies to give to family and friends, but this year we're going a more savory route: mustard. Recipe to come later, but for now, more gift inspiration from around the web:

Homemade candy (candy cane marshmallows, turtle thumbprints, sugared cranberries) from Saveur [via Saveur]

A round-up of cookie recipes (biscotti, homemade Oreos, Russian tea cakes) from Smitten Kitchen [via SK]

Bittersweet chocolate truffles rolled in spices [via Food & Wine]

Cheese straws and "12 Days of Cookies" over at Lottie + Doof [via L+D]

Bourbon balls
and chocolate-pistachio toffee [via Dinner Party Recipes]

Vanilla syrup (ooh!) [via Food in Jars]

Feel free to share more ideas in the comments!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

scenes from a dinner party

When it comes to dinner parties, this blog has turned me into a documentarian. The dinner party experience is so fleeting, so forgettable. You might serve a pasta dish that is so fabulous you're sure you'd never forget the recipe, and then a few months later you can't seem to remember what the heck it was in it, and whether you sprinkled pecorino or parmesan on top.

I've always been interested in what people serve for dinner and why, but now I want to get that recipe for the lamb and rice stuffing, I want to know your particular technique for making chocolate mousse, and, of course, I want to take photos of every dish as it lands on the table. How else will we remember?

If you wanted, you could go to a restaurant and eat the same dish, and sit at the same table by the window, and have the same experience again and again. As long as the restaurant is there, that experience will be there for you. But when you go to someone's home for dinner, or have people over for dinner, something will be different every time. Maybe the menu will be the same, maybe you'll eat off the same old plates, but something will be different. Those moments of shared food and shared community are so ephemeral.

But sometimes all of that documenting feels unnatural, even wrong. Maybe it's better to sit back and just enjoy an experience rather than over analyze it. Which is what I did a few weeks ago when we were invited to dinner by two longtime friends of Dan's parents. I had heard tales of dinners at Mike and Ella's house for several years, and of how Mike always puts out an absurdly delicious and large spread of food.

So five of us (me, Dan, his parents, and their friend Barbara) squeezed into a cab and headed north to the Bronx for dinner. My camera was in my purse but I felt a little uncomfortable about taking photos, as I always do when I go to someone's house. Sometimes I think it makes people feel a little intimidated, but really, all I want to do is capture and celebrate their work. Spending all day in the kitchen for the pleasure of other people should be commemorated in some way, right?

But this time, I decided to sit back. As the adults smoked and talked politics and kids and the inevitable thing that's on everyone's mind--the economy--I curled up in an Eames lounger and just sat back and listened. I noticed the leafy tangle of potted plants lining the windowsill, I smelled the veal simmering in the kitchen, I sampled the antipasto platter, an artfully composed mix of delicious, salty, oily things from Italian grocery stores on Arthur Avenue.

Yes, I snapped a few photos, I helped Mike stir the saffron risotto (people, he puts bone marrow bits in it...isn't that interesting?), but instead of thinking about the blog, or my Twitter, or whether the photos were in focus, I decided to drink it all in and commit it to memory. It's not every day that someone makes you homemade osso bucco, outside of going to a restaurant. The meat fell right off the bones, into a pool of savory, bright red sauce--gravy, as everyone calls it. It was simply delicious.

Being in the moment makes food taste better. But then again, Mike is a very, very good cook.

Dinner at Mike and Ella's
Antipasto platter
Clams with polenta
Osso bucco
Saffron risotto
Roasted asparagus
Apple pie from Sweet Melissa bakery in Park Slope and chocolate truffles

Monday, December 7, 2009

pumpkin mousse parfaits

If you're looking for a Christmas dessert, it doesn't get much easier than this.

When planning my Thanksgiving menu, I wanted a dessert that could be made ahead of time, and that was also a little different than the usual seasonal pie. You all know I have pie issues.

I thought about making my favorite chocolate-pear cake or a spice cake with cream cheese frosting, but a slice of cake seemed heavy after one of the biggest meals of the year. I considered investing in a kitchen torch to make pumpkin creme brulee, but decided that I didn't really need an extra gadget. But the custard idea stuck, and in the end, I decided to tweak it a bit and made pumpkin mousse.

The mousse, by the always-reliable Ina Garten, is easy enough, just pumpkin mixed with autumnal spices and a hint of orange zest, then lightened up with a good deal of whipped cream. A little bit of gelatin helps the mixture set a bit, but it still stays smooth and silky.

To gussy it up a bit, I layered the mousse with vanilla whipped cream and crushed ginger cookies, like a parfait. One tip: use a glass with a wide mouth, like a wine goblet or martini glass. My slender stemless champagne flutes seemed like a good idea but it was a mess getting the parfait inside of them, let alone in neat layers. I had to lick my fingers a lot during this process, and imagined Ina shaking a disapproving finger at me.

Imperfect layers aside, this was the hit of Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law Judy, a dessert expert in her own right, absolutely swooned over it. Who needs pie, anyway?

Pumpkin mousse parfaits
Adapted from Ina Garten's recipe via Food Network.
(Serves 8 to 10 people)

1/4 cup dark rum (or water)
1 packet (2 tsp.) unflavored gelatin powder
1 (15-ounce can) pumpkin (not pie filling)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 extra-large egg yolks
2 tsp. grated orange zest
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (or seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean)
Sweetened whipped cream
8 to 10 chopped ginger cookies
Crystallized ginger, for decoration, optional

Place the rum in a heat-proof bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Set aside for 10 minutes for the gelatin to soften.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, granulated sugar, brown sugar, egg yolks, 1 tsp. of orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set the bowl of gelatin over a pan of simmering water and cook until the gelatin is clear. Immediately whisk the hot gelatin mixture into the pumpkin mixture. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream and vanilla until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture.

To assemble, spoon some of the pumpkin mixture into parfait glasses, add a layer of whipped cream, then some chopped cookies. Repeat, ending with a third layer of pumpkin. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. To serve, top with whipped cream and extra ginger cookies and orange zest, or slivered crystallized ginger.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

cranberry-lime sparkler

I always find it a little weird to write about holiday food once a holiday is over. Who needs a recipe for stuffing now, right? But the cranberry-lime cocktails I made for Thanksgiving will serve you well through December right into the New Year.

This nonalcoholic drink is made with spicy ginger beer (I like Reed's) and a homemade cranberry-lime syrup. The syrup is on the tart side because of the fruit, but also to balance the sweetness of the ginger beer. To make it, you bring a mixture of cranberries, limes, sugar, and water to a boil and strain it, producing a ruby red syrup.

"But Lisa," you say. "I want booze!" It is the holiday season, so if you're looking for something to dull the pain of yakking family members, expensive gift lists, or general seasonal fatigue, there are many ways to serve this drink with alcohol. You can replace the ginger beer with champagne or prosecco, or add a shot of something stronger, like vodka, gin, or light rum.

If you really want to be a hero at holiday parties, you could mix up this syrup, put it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, grab a bottle of ginger beer or bubbly and mix cocktails right on site. Which would be much cooler than the token bottle of wine. But bring extra--these drinks go down fast.

Cranberry-lime syrup
If you decide to omit the ginger beer, bump up the sugar to 1 cup and add 2 teaspoons powdered ginger to the mixture.
(Makes about 2 cups)

3/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 limes, washed and quartered, seeds removed
1 cup cranberries

In a small pot, combine the sugar and water. Stir until combined. Heat over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the limes and cranberries. Simmer until the mixture reaches a boil, stirring occasionally. When the mixture comes to a boil, turn off the heat and cover the pot with a lid. Let the syrup stand for 30 minutes, then strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove the berries and limes. The mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Cranberry-lime sparklers
(Makes 4 drinks)
Fill four Champagne flutes with cold ginger beer, about three-quarters of the way full. Top each glass off with two teaspoons of cranberry-lime syrup. Stir and serve.

To make the drink alcoholic: fill the glass halfway with ginger beer, and add one-half of a shot of vodka, gin, or light rum. Top each glass off with two teaspoons of cranberry-lime syrup. Stir and serve. You can also replace the ginger beer with prosecco or champagne and omit the spirits.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

thanksgiving by the skin of my teeth

'Twas the day before Thanksgiving and I was in such a good mood I could have skipped to the grocery store to pick up the turkey. After getting the bird and some flowers for the table, I walked the dog who we were dog-sitting. As we crunched through the leaves together I admired the colorful potted mums and squash lining peoples' stoops. I had my menu, I had everything I needed, and I was really looking forward to a full day of cooking in a quiet house.

Back at home, I pet the dog and ate a light breakfast. I set the table and arranged some flowers and greenery in my favorite vase. Feeling very Martha-ish, I topped each plate with ginkgo leaves foraged from the sidewalk. I put out votives, and polished glasses, and rubbed the spots off the silverware.

I rubbed salt all over the turkey, I made cranberry sauce and cranberry-lime syrup for cocktails, I baked sweet potatoes and mashed them with butter and maple syrup. I made pumpkin mousse and vanilla bean-flecked whipped cream. Everything was going so smoothly, almost too perfectly. And then I started to feel a little strange around two o'clock. My stomach gurgled and churned. I decided to take a break--I only had one more task on my list, making cauliflower soup--so it wouldn't be a big deal to watch a little TV, right? I curled up with the dog to watch some vintage Roseanne reruns. Waves of nausea passed through my body and I started to worry.

Feeling sick has become a part of my life, so I can't say this was totally shocking. I have colitis, a chronic auto-immune disease that affects the intestines. This is a food blog, so I'll spare you the details, but it sort of feels like having food poisoning. Colitis isn't triggered by stress, or food (although I went gluten-free for awhile), or anything specific. Medicine, like cortiosteroids, can help but there is no cure. It's not even clear how I got colitis in the first place. But I have it, and luckily, I've been feeling pretty good lately. Except the day before Thanksgiving (and my birthday), of course.

Dan came home that afternoon to find me wrapped in a blanket in the fetal position. "We can go out for Thanksgiving dinner," he said. "NO!" I said, clutching my stomach. I didn't care how sick I felt, we would not eat at some crappy diner on Thanksgiving. "Everything is done except for the turkey. And the stuffing, and the brussels sprouts. Uh, and the soup."

The doorbell rang and Dan ran down to retrieve an arrangement of sunflowers, sent by my mother-in-law. "Don't work too hard today," read the card. I laughed. And then I cried a little. Relegated to the couch, I decided to skip out on the family dinner at Tabla. I wanted to spend the last night of my twenty-eighth year eating fancy Indian food in a pretty restaurant. Instead, I picked at a bowl of rice, chugged Pepto, watched Notorious on HBO, and felt very sorry for myself. Luckily I was with someone who is very empathetic.

By Thanksgiving Day my nausea had passed but I was in so much physical pain I could hardly stand up straight, let alone get dressed or brush my hair. Happy birthday to me! Luckily, Dan, wonderful, sweet, ready-to-swing-into-action Dan, grabbed a spoon and started cooking. He rubbed the turkey with butter and herbs and we laughed at the pale, naked bird slipping around in the pan. Into the oven it went and soon the house was filled with the aroma of browning butter and rosemary. Text messages from friends started rolling in, asking how the cooking was going (argh), wishing me happy birthday. (Sorry for not responding, guys.)

I leaned over the kitchen counter and read him the stuffing recipe as he pulled out a pan and started browning some bacon. Wanting to be useful, I chopped an onion and a few sticks of celery. It felt good to lean into the knife, to focus on something else instead of my stomach. I found myself reaching for ingredients, bending down to grab an extra pan, snapping back into familiar pre-dinner action. I started to feel a little better. And the house started to feel and smell like Thanksgiving--like my grandmother's house before we sat down to dinner. I could make my own holiday too. Even by the skin of my teeth.

I washed my face and brushed my hair, put on a loose-fitting dress and some slippers. The doorbell rang and Dan's parents came up. Seeing them and the looks of concern on their faces immediately put me at ease. The turkey was almost done, the apartment was aglow with candles, and here was family. Everything would be okay, whether I had an appetite or not.

And you know what? It was okay. Better than okay, really. I handed out cranberry-lime-ginger beer cocktails and we settled in for the evening. The turkey was moist (and I didn't butcher it!). I made gravy without lumps. The sweet potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts were delicious. The cranberry sauce produced rave reviews. The stuffing was a little dry, but no one seemed to care. We skipped the cauliflower soup completely, but no one cared about that either. And everyone said that dessert--pumpkin mousse parfaits--was the perfect end note.

I only ate about a bite of everything, but that was okay. I did it. I cooked my first Thanksgiving and I was able to sit at the table with everyone, something I doubted I could do the day before. I said a silent prayer of thanks for that, but mostly, I am thankful for my husband, who jumps in to help without complaint and does the dishes. I'm thankful for my family and friends, whom simultaneously worry about me and cheer me on. I'm thankful for our little apartment and the bounty of food that always fills our table. And I'm thankful that I didn't burn the turkey!

All's well that ends well, even when I didn't think it would.

Thanksgiving 2009
Cranberry-lime sparklers
Foie gras with cornichon, homemade mustard, and crackers
Turkey and gravy
Mushroom-herb stuffins
Mashed sweet potatoes
Roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and lemon

Cranberry relish
Chai tea
Pumpkin mousse parfaits


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