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Archive for November, 2011

I have just finished today’s cook-a-thon in preparation for tomorrow’s celebration.  I’ve made stuffed garnet yams with pecan streusel, mashed potatoes that can be baked off in the oven, prepped the green beans, baked a gorgeous pumpkin roulade with ginger mascarpone buttercream.  I’ve chopped the leeks, mushrooms, and celery for dressing, made an apple crumb pie (and bought another gorgeous pecan chocolate chip one from our school’s fund raising activities), made my cranberry conserve and Mama Stamberg’s cranberry relish.  My niece and daughter are bringing other things, and I have a pretty short punch list of things to do tomorrow, so I’m in pretty good shape for the holiday.

The holiday?  I know that the original holiday was one of thanks for being saved from near-starvation (thank you, native American people).  In a show Ben and I are doing with our Revels Repertory Company, Ben says, “From pestillence, fire, flood and sword, we have been spared by Thy decree.  And now with humble hearts, oh Lord, we come to pay our thanks to thee.”  That sense of gratitude is what moved this country to declare a day of thanks-giving.  And so why has it become a holiday that is all about food – much of it bought, not prepared by our hands – and shopping?

Whatever happened to gathering around a roaring fire, telling stories with members of your clan who you haven’t seen in months or more, listening to lovely music, maybe taking a walk if the weather’s good?  I can not say that all my Thanksgiving holidays were like this.  For many years we celebrated at my aunt and uncle’s home in Newburgh, NY (or at my cousin’s in Rochester, NY, or at my parents’ home in Hamden, CT).  The den in each of those homes would get blue with cigar smoke, as the men puffed away, drank bourbon, and watched college football, while the women sat in the living room, drank cocktails, noshed, and caught up on all the family news.  Many years, my cousin and I ended up making most of the dinner as the cocktailing went on a little too long.  And yet, we would gather at the table, champagne would be poured, my uncle would carve, and we — descendants of poor Russian immigrants — would indeed count our blessings.

But now it is different, and not just because my aunt and uncle and parents are gone and I am the mom-in-charge.  At the risk of being branded “Mrs. Crankypants,” I have been so bombarded with Black Friday ads that I could gag.  I don’t need a large screen TV, thank you, nor a cashmere sweater.  And they aren’t on the list of anyone else I’m buying for this year.  And when I see that lunatic woman from Target gibbering about how she hasn’t slept in days because she’s so excited about the Christmas sales, I nearly run screaming from the room.  So even though you want me to get out of bed at 4 AM, I can assure you that I’ll be sleeping in on Friday.

Where did this madness come from?  I certainly support the idea of stimulating the sluggish US economy (not to mention, the crippled world economy).  I feel, however, like the traditional Thanksgiving holiday got turned, somewhere along the way, into a gluttonous pig-out followed by a massive shopping trip.  And I’m not sure how all of that happened, really.

Some of it has evolved, I fear, from people not knowing how to cook any more.  Things get bought, pre-packaged, rather than made; I’m not kidding when I write on my catering business’s Facebook page that I’ve gotten lots of questions about how to make gravy, not to mention how to make good mashed potatoes from ‘scratch.’  I was fortunate to learn this stuff from my grandmother and my mother (and then to have perfected it through opening a catering business).  I’ve made sure my children know how to cook, and I wish more of us did – both because it’s better for us and because it would cost us less money.

And what about the zombie-like commitment to shopping and running to the mall in a state of stressed exhaustion immediately after Thanksgiving dinner is concluded?  My friends, John and Connie, will be out skiing near their home in the mountains of Montana.  I hope that our friends, Margarethe and Reinhard, will be doing the same near Reno, NV, where they have a lovely home.  While my funky knee will probably suggest that a walk isn’t in my Thanksgiving plans, I do expect a soak in the hot tub will be.  We will be spending time with our relatives and friends, and visiting Ben’s parents the next day.  I expect that none of us will watch a single football game on TV, nor, I expect, will anyone in the family have an argument with another guest at our table. We may even go see Kermit and friends over the weekend, and we’ll all be singing “The Rainbow Connection” when we do.

Sounds pretty sappy and boring, you’re saying?  Maybe so — but I’ll take it over the madness at the mall, any day.  I’m taking back my Thanksgiving — and if you want to join me, I’ve got enough leftovers to go around!

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Here it is Thanksgiving time, when everyone’s got a recipe for the perfect turkey or how to make a pumpkin pie your family will remember.  I have been cooking Thanksgiving dinners for years, and I’ve got those tricks down.  And while I’m going to try something different for one of my desserts this year (a pumpkin roulade with ginger butter cream, thank you, Ina Garten) I am a nut (no pun intended) for cranberries.

I don’t know how it started, but I dream of ways to use the garnet-colored gems, one of the chief exports of Massachusetts.  I am so crazy about them that I’ve visited Cranberry World (run by Ocean Spray) and last year, dragged Ben to a cranberry festival in Onset (just off Cape Cod) so that we could watch cranberries being harvested.  I make cranberry vinegar, I make muffins and breads and cakes and salads with cranberries, put it in stuffing if I don’t have to deal with picky eaters, and more.

Next time you drive by a cranberry bog, remember to say a silent thank you to the cranberry farmers who worked hard to get those little beauties on to your table.  They’re nature’s perfect little package of deliciousness and are packed with vitamin C, and they form a most versatile component for your holiday cooking.  I love Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish (and I’ll be making some tonight, most likely) – a real gift to those of us from Jewish heritage who think that horseradish improves everything, and merging it with cranberries is a totally cool idea.

But — just in time for the holidays — I also make my own cranberry conserve, which I developed after fiddling around with ‘typical’ holiday flavors.  So here’s my little Thanksgiving gift to you:  a recipe for knock-their-socks off cranberry conserve, sure to make your holiday table a little cheerier.  Enjoy!

Cranberry Conserve

1 large package fresh cranberries
1/2 C. dried cranberries
1/2 C. fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 C. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 peeled, diced tart apple
1 large grapefruit, peeled, seeded, diced (membranes removed)
zest of 1 orange
1/2 c. dried currants
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
2 sticks cinnamon
1 tsp. dried ground cloves

Cook cranberries over medium heat with orange juice and sugars, covered, until they start to pop.  Add remaining ingredients, and cook for another 20 mins. over low heat, stirring about every five minutes.  Add
1/2 c. port
Stir and continue to cook for another 20 minutes.
Adjust spices and cool.  Remove stick cinnamon.  Enjoy!

 

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A Little Vacation

It started out as a little time off.  I have managed to acquire a number of consulting and part time jobs — and something (or in this case, a number of somethings) is definitely better than nothing, so I have jumped into all opportunities at full tilt.  And I wasn’t sitting around thinking, “Gee, what should I write about today?” 

But then I got into over-thinking.  I didn’t want to go negative and share my frustration and disgust as I watched politicians and pundits haggle over what should happen with the economy, the pile of Republican wanna-be’s who think they can do better, or the stock market’s latest roller coaster ride.  Maybe I was succumbing to Flower’s maxim to Bambi: “If you can’t somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”  Or maybe I wanted to appear upbeat and cheerful — which is my usual persona — even though the State of Affairs in the world made me ill.

And then I got back into the “what do I have to say to the world” mindset that has caught me at various times and silenced me — at least in print.  It was my friend, Sally, who pushed me into this arena a year and a half ago;  now I need to push myself back out and emerge from the long sleep to reclaim the voice that went to sleep for a while. I always go back to that quote, attributed to Gene Fowler:  “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

There’s no blood dripping onto the keys at the moment.  Just fingers flying and brain firing on all cylinders, words translated into finger motion, and thoughts coming forward once again.  The genie’s back out of the bottle, folks.  Comin’ at you!

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