Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

I don’t know about you, but I love Thanksgiving–a day for feasting and giving thanks for God’s good gifts.

Since there are relatively few truly American food traditions, Thanksgiving has always appealed to me–even though I realize that, of course, the historical origins of the holiday are not as clear-cut as they appear in the Magic Tree House Thanksgiving book:

(A very different story that’s actually true is Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving. It tells the story of writer Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote letters to American presidents to ask for the creation of Thanksgiving for 40 years!)

Anyway! Now that I’ve said that about loving traditional Thanksgiving food, I might as well confess that I’m not cooking a turkey. No one in my family likes turkey all that much, and they’re expensive, especially if you buy a free range heritage bird (which I’d like to try.)

I’m going to make a chicken instead, which I’ll brine for 1 hour in 2 quarts of water + 1/2 cup each of sugar and salt.

The other traditional Thanksgiving dishes–cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole–I can’t give up. Occasionally I read about “updating” Thanksgiving with steamed veggies tossed with toasted nuts, or roasted sweet potatoes tossed with olive oil, and it just makes me feel depressed. I don’t go so far as to include mini-marshmallows on my sweet potatoes–everyone, including me, is just as happy with some pecan streusel on top–but my green beans must be lovingly bathed in a cream sauce or Thanksgiving is not complete.

What makes your Thanksgiving complete, food-wise?

Here are some links to recipes very similar to the ones in my Thanksgiving recipe file:

Green Bean Casserole (Cook’s Illustrated)

Cranberry Fruit Conserve (Ina Garten)

Classic Bread Stuffing with Sage and Thyme (Cook’s Illustrated)

Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Streusel (Cook’s Illustrated)

And I wish you and yours a peaceful Thankgiving full of joy and gratitude!

(See you on Friday.)

Connecting/Celebrating

I’ve decided to take Sundays off from writing and, instead, post a single photo capturing some aspect of Sabbath–rest, peace, comfort, connection, praise, help–things like that. Today’s is about connecting/celebrating.

“Grandpa, hold me like this and then raise your glass!”

A Mouthwatering Work of Culinary Genius

So between my birthday (last month) and Tim’s (yesterday) and the book contract, we had the opportunity to do some serious celebrating.

Not far from us is one of the very finest restaurants on the East End. We’ve eaten there twice before (well, three times if you count the time we went only for dessert) but only during ‘Restaurant Week,’ during which they feature a different menu with smaller portions.

Each time was nonetheless thrilling–to put it in the form of an analogy:

GREAT HOME COOKING : NORTH FORK TABLE’S FOOD ::

is as:

is to:

The food at the North Fork Table is kind of in a different category from other food. There are a lot of reasons why that’s so, but all I can say for sure is that when I eat it, I’m thinking, “this is so good that it can hardly be for real.”

And this time–with the fuller menu–it was, if possible, even better. It’s almost embarrassing to admit how enjoyable this is because I think our culture doesn’t allow us to speak lyrically about food without branding us ‘foodies’ or ‘snobs.’ Improbable though it may seem, the atmosphere and presentation is unfussy. It’s just really good food.

And without further ado:

the atmosphere is beautiful...the champagne is beautiful...even the menu is beautiful!

tuna tartare for tim
house-cured charcuterie for a between-course treat
a second course of squab on butternut squash for tim
and a second course of locally caught striped bass atop brussells sprouts and parsnip puree for me
long island duck for tim
and humanely raised veal for me
I forgot to take a picture of the dessert before I decimated it...
and they sent us home with house-made mallomars.

One of the things I love about going there is how serious, yet joyful, everyone is about their work. They’re artists, and creating things of beauty–even if those things are edible and consumable and fleeting–consumes them. I love that. I’m grateful for them. I’m grateful for the bounty of where we live.

I’m grateful to the Giver of All Things.

And Now For Something Sweet (with a Recipe)

I do believe yesterday’s post ruffled a few feathers out there.

It’s true that my primary allegiance isn’t to the Republican party, or the Democratic party, or even to these United States of America. When it comes down to it, my primary identity isn’t “American,” even though that’s what my passport says.

My primary identity is “Christian.” As a Christian–a follower of Christ–my sense of justice for “the least of these” is offended by such things as giving advertisers unfettered access to impressionable children.

End of story, for now. On to something much less controversial and much, much sweeter.

Caramel apples.

Oh, yes. It is apple season. Just after went apple picking some weeks ago, we had an occasion that demanded some dessert. I too tired to make another apple pie, and was all set to make brownies and THEN! Then I remembered that an easy, fun apple dessert could be had by slicing up some apples, tossing them with lemon juice and serving them alongside some caramel, like so:

Salted Caramel Dip

(adapted from a recipe by Chef Claudia Fleming)

Place in a large saucepan:

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water

2 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup (no, it’s not the same as HFCS)

Cook over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until mixture turns a dark amber (about 10-15 minutes.)

Carefully whisk in (the mixture will hiss and bubble–be careful!)

1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream

1/8-1/4 tsp. sea salt

and whisk until smooth.

Allow to cool. Can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Oh, come on. You’re not going to tell me that this is unhealthy, are you? What about all the apples?

Besides, look at those ingredients again. Do they look a little better than this?

HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, SKIM MILK, CORN SYRUP, PALM OIL, SUGAR, BUTTER (CREAM, SALT), MODIFIED CORN STARCH, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, DISODIUM PHOSPHATE, SALT, POTASSIUM SORBATE (PRESERVATIVE),TBHQ (ADDED TO MAINTAIN FRESHNESS), ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS.

{I love that they call it “old fashioned.” Because anything old-fashioned clearly had to have TBHQ–a form of butane, by the way–“to maintain freshness”}

That’s what I thought.

Enjoy!

The Newest Fad Diet VS. The Vegetable Volunteers

Well, WOW. I would not have guessed that yesterday’s post about a wacky fad diet would’ve garnered so many page views. But it did, and I can’t help but wonder why. I rather hope it is because people are looking for a reason not to follow the latest “should & ought” from the newest guru. Nearly every day, it seems, someone tells me of some new approach to eating or not-eating or exercising or not-exercising and all I can say is this:

If I were still in the grip of disordered thinking and behavior surrounding food and body, the Internet would be a living hell. HCG diet! “The Plan”! “Paleo”! The Primal Urge Diet! HELP!

And yet? And yet–there is this:

My compost pile. An occasionally smelly, sometimes-ugly, always buggy home to the biggest, juiciest worms on the North Fork. The place where the scraps from our table become the food for next year’s food. Nothing goes to waste here. It takes care of two big problems:

What to do with trash?

and

How to fertilize the garden?

in one easy move. In this pile go the eggshells, coffee grounds, burned slices of toast, and forgotten leftovers. Here’s where I put the custard that didn’t come together quite right, the bread that went stale, and the yogurt that got moldy.

Here, everything, even the most putrid, vile stuff, is reborn into something new: dark, rich soil that feeds the garden and brings forth new life. And so it goes on.

And sometimes, there are unexpected graces:

This pretty little butternut squash grew from a forgotten seed discarded in the compost pile last autumn. There that little seed rested all winter until, come spring, it grew into a plant that bore another beautiful fruit.

In this ugly, forgotten corner of the garden (where the compost pile was located previously) a number of vegetables “volunteered”–they sprang forth from scattered seeds and persevered to bring something beautiful and edible and life-giving.

Oh, these little events–“random” butternut squashes, potatoes, and tomatoes growing from compost piles–don’t get much press, I know. But to me, they point beyond themselves to a story that’s much, much greater: it’s the story of beauty from ashes, a promise that somehow, the crazy, smelly, wasted and mixed-up bits and pieces of this world can be transformed, redeemed, into something that’s at once totally different from and organically connected to what’s come before.

Yes, indeed. There are glimpses of grace within and among and emerging from the confusing bits and pieces of this life, and they are worth holding onto.