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Friday, November 30, 2012

On Zester, On Muddler, On Bundt Pan, On Roaster



Photos of the Day


Oy, before it’s Christmas, I need to wrap up Thanksgiving. Truly, dearly I love each and every member of my family, but honestly, we went a little over-the-top this year.  

Starting with thirty people for dinner,

eleven houseguests, divided among three households 

5 cooks

3 cats 

2 infants including a newborn. . .

and a party planner. 

Making our pilgrimage from Boca Raton and Sarasota, from Cleveland and Detroit, from Dallas to Lincoln Park. . . and on to Evanston, we carried cakes on planes, packed coolers with pastry and produce, stuffed diaper bags with sippy cups, graham crackers and blankets. . . all to convene in my nephew’s kitchen, armed with recipes and carving knives. 

Savory rugelach

Because we could, we did: cook, bake, baste, simmer, stew and stir way-out-of-control.  

Not only did we roast a turkey, we grilled a breast, and bought a smoked turkey, too, because really you can never have enough, can you?

We shared the wealth (and expense) of an extravagant menu. We took obsessive and compulsive trips to the grocery -- remembering and forgetting item after item. One at a time.  Berries for the Bundt cakes.  Limes for the margaritas. Rosemary for the birds.  Cream for the pies.  Celery for the bloody merry drinks. 

Because we needed to, we divided our labors, disrupting three (no, make it four) kitchens, each according to the household where we were guests. 

In a flurry, we divvied up the meal-prep, two-by-two and much-too-much of everything in proportions that could feed Noah’s Ark. Two kinds of stuffing, two kinds of potatoes, two cranberry relishes, two vegetable casseroles.  Appetizers, breads, pies, cakes and sweets in multiples too numerous to mention. 

Because we dared, we set the table in the finished basement of my nephew’s elegant home in Evanston.  We rented tables (two-by-two), rented dishes and linens and even  hired a designer to make the setting outright spectacular.  And it was.  Candles glowing. Silver and crystal gleaming.  A chandelier hanging over the serving buffet?  A Thanksgiving banquet table (and fire hazard) worthy of a state occasion - a royal feast -- far, far from the original intention and gesture of our founding fathers and Native Americans.   
Table setting for 30
Ah well, so much for the Norman Rockwell version of our story, here’s what really happened.  

Control freak that I am, I served as the self-appointed sous chef, researched and devised a menu out of the pages of Bon Appetit and the website Food52 (where I now collect my recipes).  I “assigned dishes” to each of the participating cooks, each according to their preferences and culinary strengths. 

A little pretentious and intimidating?  Ya think?  

Susan
Expecting the Clash of the Titans in the kitchen, my nephews steered clear of our menu choices while their mother - my sister, Susan - and I hashed out our plan to tackle most of the meal, starting with separate runs to Whole Foods on Tuesday.  Susan (my only sib) and I have the longest history in the clan as it stands today.  I know from vivid memories of Thanksgiving Days past that she can be accident prone with a knife, so I know not to mess with her head.  Nonetheless, Susan and I think in perfect synch when it comes to cooking and together we whipped up our part of the meal quite compatibly and amicably -- and quite well, if I must say so myself. 


Matt, Mason, Wendy

Jeri, Ben (Ben & Jeri!) and Andy
Our gracious, most generous and patient hosts: Douglas --  my hyperkinetic nephew - and Ellen, quite the opposite in temperament -  started the tradition of our  family Thanksgiving Extravaganza a few years back.  The table has expanded and extended again and again, as our family has grown, now to include a new generation of married cousins  - their babes in arms and in-laws, too.  Add my husband’s cousins - and you have a houseful of us, before we even get started with Doug-and-Ellen’s family and friends.

Ellen

In all the clamor of a loud Jewish family,  Ellen is Irish and gently ribs us for carrying on the way we do about food.  Why can’t we ever keep dinner to one simple choice of each thing - why all this megillah?  And all the calls and emails back and forth. . . on and on for a month it goes.  Ellen claims no specialty for the holidays -- but she’s fine “for perfect comfort food” in her own right, and quietly bakes the most beautiful pies I’ve ever seen or tasted.  
Caramel apple cranberry pie

Sandy and flight-worthy chocolate cake


Douglas -- everyone should have a Douglas in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day -- on any day for that matter.  We joke about the “Douglas gene” - lament that it’s recessive in our children, and attribute it to my father who was the family neat-freak, running the vacuum after guests even when they were still in the house. Douglas has inherited the trait to extreme. Okay, maybe he’s a little OCD, but in a good way.  He trails you in the kitchen like Smokey the Bear stamping out forest fires; with wet towel in hand he mops and wipes and polishes surfaces, clear of every spec and splatter of grease and flour. Doug alphabetizes his spices -- removes them from their carrossel and wipes the bottles clean after every use. His refrigerator, his cupboards, his drawers are all wonders of organization.  And yet, as tidy as he keeps his home, he’s a good sport, ever-so-welcoming of people who come in to his kitchen, tear through his cupboards, - abusing his pots and pans, sharpening his knives, scorching his burners on a new stove, no matter.  He’s with you - and with his God -- rag in hand, cleaning up the aftermath.  


Douglas in his element: kitchen

My husband, Mal: the turkey roaster.  For as long as we’ve been making Thanksgiving dinners together -- and that’s a long time now -- he’s bee the designated hitter for the task. Because he’s never overcooked the bird - not ever,  it’s always done to perfection. As a physician, he’s seems the natural for the job of carving . . . even though he's not a surgeon, and so it’s done.  (Truth be told, on Thanksgiving morning, if he had his druthers, he’s be out there riding a bike along Lake Shore Drive; he doesn’t even care for turkey - we roast exactly one bird a year and that’s it.)  


Malcolm, turkey-roaster


David, Doug's bro

My nephew David: another welcoming and gracious host and fine cook - accommodates our family from out of town in his condo.  David is always ready, willing and very able to fill in, shop, cook as needed. . . I’ve never seen him break a sweat -- that is, until this year, when his oven went out on Thanksgiving morning.  He had undertaken the prep of all the veggies, as well as the menu choices of his house guests - my husband’s cousins, Sandy and Robert, who traditionally bring the gravy, soup and a surprise dessert. 



David and twins, Lauren and Zachary


Robert, gravy-maker


Without the oven, there was quite a flurry and change of venue  - whereby Doug and David “commandeered” the neighbor’s kitchen next door -- the neighbors being good friends and out of town.  

Nan
Matt and Mason, learning A-OK

Lauren and Mason

Long story short, it was a mess at times and much-too-much of a fuss, but the result and the family who came to the table made it all worth it.  Of course!   We may have alarmed the in-laws with all our antics in abundance, but hopefully we didn’t scare them away.  For the first time, we got to share the pure joy and wonder of our grandchildren together - twins Zach and Lauren, toddler Mason and new baby Ben!  Really, it doesn’t get any better than that: 


Great grand mom, Helene
Carin and Ben
Ben, rarely seen in PJs. . 


Until next year.   

The players:
The Hosts: Doug and Ellen
The Cooks: Susan, VH, David, Mal, Sandy, Robert, Carin
The Kids: Matt & Wendy, Andy & Jerry, 
The Grandkids: Lauren & Zach, Mason and Benjamin
The Grandparents: Susan, Jeanne, Mal, VH, Carin, Drew, Nan, Helene, 
Good Friends: Bob, Jean, Michael, Allie, Preston, Dwayne, Gina, Cameron, Evan


Bob and Susan

(A funny wrap-up email  from Doug in response to our search of a zester in his kitchen: )
Now seriously…I’m fine with my two Bundt pans and I’m also fine with my 2-rack ovens.  I do acknowledge that our bar was not complete without a muddler, so I purchased one…along with a new-fangled can opener…I dare anyone to try to use it successfully next time you all are here.

But to have been accused of not having a zester when I was quite positive I had one…now to THAT I took exception.  And worse, I was told it had to look like a rake or some such gardening tool…now that had me all muddled.  So upon inquiry at Williams-Sonoma for a proper zester, what do they bring me to?  Well, have a look yourselves at the attached pictures.    It’s a bird, it’s a (micro)plane, it’s Ultimate Multi-Zesteur!  Now in one of the  pictures, if I might please bring your attention to the end of the handle on the left…see right there…those circular doo-hickies…two sizes no less!  With those you may make your citrus peel curls in, not one, but two sizes. 

So I am writing to exonerate myself of the accusation that I did not have a zester.  To the contrary…I had quite the zester.  It seems it was not I, but everyone else that was muddled over my zester.

Now I am still in search of a proper roasting rack…so far all the ones I have found come with a roaster, of which I already have 3. Thanks, Doug

Zester in question

Thursday, November 29, 2012

To Write. Or Not. Every Day.



Photo of the Day


If it’s not a New Year’s resolution, it should be.  

If it’s not a habit, then it’s a good one to start. 

If it’s not something you care to do, then stop. For god-sake, stop. 

But if you’re a writer -- a real writer, then you know. You must. Write. Just keep the hand moving across the keyboard, no matter what or how painful the process.  Keep the brain working. No matter how foolish or dull you feel or how much drivel it seems you can produce.  You must.  Write. Write every day.

I do. For the most part. Almost every day, there’s an an article or some project waiting for completion on my desk. It’s work. Nice work if you can get it. But the fact that I’m working as a writer on assignment for others is still my cop-out. . . one vainglorious excuse for not writing for myself. Every day.

In my book, (and no, I am not working on a book)  writing on assignment doesn’t count for writing that’s true and fine and. . .and who am I kidding?  What I have here - staring back at me in black and white print  - is not indeed true or fine.  It’s a complaint. . . a kvetch, a rant about not writing.  

By my own admission - and negligence -  I have a “blog” that’s run dry,  gone fallow lo these many weeks. Blogger's block.  Like Peter Pan visiting Tinkerbell at her last gasp, I must "clap, clap if I believe" in fairies and tap-tap on the keyboard - my launchpad - from which perhaps someday I will take flight for good and write, write as if my very life depended on it.  Puzzling in a tumble of words. Letting them spill forth. Perhaps one day I’ll have enough scrabble pieces to fill the board.  

Or not. 

For here and now, blogging will have to do the trick.  Turning over a new page  Every day. 
It may not be the best, but it’s certainly not the worst way to pass the time.

And thanks again for stopping by.