24 November 2009

everything but the bread

Seasonal flowers at Dean & Deluca in Georgetown last week

We're in the home stretch (for many things, really, including our half marathon a week from Sunday, but right now I'm talking about Thanksgiving).

Bought all the groceries except for the bread that will be elevated to stuffing. Made the cranberry sauce on Sunday. (Note: It smells very boozy when warm, but has just a hint of alcohol flavor once cooled. Certainly not kid-friendly, but very yummy.) Prepared the bay and sage salt on Sunday, too (fresh bay leaves and sage ground with kosher salt in a mortar and pestle). And picked up and salted the turkey last night. I'll pick up the bread at some point tonight, but that's the only remaining grocery item.

Our 14.7 pound heritage turkey, after a salty massage.

His sentence: three days in solitary fridge confinement, then execution by oven. (Yes, I have a slight obsession with Trader Joe's greek yogurt.)

Now just a little cooking and a little eating remain.

21 November 2009

recipes that didn't make the cut

I know I have written a lot about Thanksgiving, but for those of us who are domestically inclined, and who love to cook, Thanksgiving is our Superbowl. And, at least for me, it's so worth all the effort. And now my dear Kristen is joining us for the meal, in addition to Jenn, so it will be an even better party.

A few recipes have come in under the wire to join the menu (assuming Mark approves, of course):

Sadly, we cannot make all the recipes that I would have liked to, so here are some that sound fab, but for one reason or another did not make the cut:

My lists are all made. Got one shopping trip (Trader Joe's) down, and two to go (Ralph's and Wholefoods... plus a quick trip out on Wednesday to buy the bread for the stuffing). The last step is the run-of-show, which I'll map out today. I'm loving how easy it is to do all of this calmly, with just a little planning!

20 November 2009


First gift I ever made, and it was well received. Hooray!

19 November 2009

on the road... again

I have been singing the Willie Nelson song to myself all week, since I had barely three fulls days at home before traveling again. Fortunately, I'm in DC this week, which feels much more like home than the other places I've been traveling... though it has, amazingly, been almost six years since I moved away.

Given my short time at home, I didn't have time to fix Mark any sustaining food, or even to water the plants. (The outdoor ones of which, shockingly, are actually producing a fall crop of tomatoes that's fairly aggressive -- and they're doing so in almost complete neglect conditions; of course, the indoor ones are shriveling up and dying). The only thing I sort of accomplished was finally flipping through my Thanksgiving-themed magazines and pulling out the potential menu recipes, which, of course, I left back home in LA. Sigh.

(At this point in the blog, my 11th grade English teacher Mrs. Reynen would scold me for using so many interrupters! ... "...,shockingly,..." "..., amazingly,..." "..., of course,..." Apparently I revert to bad habits when I am out of my element.)

Despite my best efforts to delay finalizing the Thanksgiving menu, I've actually made pretty good progress, and things have sort of fallen into place on their own. Mark sent me a link for dry-brining a turkey, which was a follow-up to the article I read last year that made me want to dry salt instead of doing the full immersion brine. So we have our recipe. (Last year's immersion brine yielded a tasty bird, but it was just a tad rubbery.)

Last year's bird in the brine

Even better is this nugget from the piece:

My first major discovery came after several e-mails asking whether it could be done with frozen turkeys too, rather than adding three days of defrosting time onto the three days of dry-brining. It seemed like a good idea, so we tried it in the test kitchen and it worked perfectly.

So no longer do you have to buy your turkey a week in advance. Just rinse the frozen turkey in cool water (to start the defrosting process), pat it dry and salt it. Then proceed just as you would with a fresh turkey. By the time it's defrosted, it'll be seasoned and ready to go.

Since I don't really know whether our bird will be frozen, nearly-frozen or fresh when I pick it up on Monday, it's great to know that it doesn't matter too much for the actual salting.

So here is a complete status report on our Thanksgiving table, with links where appropriate:
  • Turkey: bird reserved, recipe selected (see link above)
  • Stuffing: repeating Gourmet recipe from last year
  • Turkey stock: made two weeks ago, stashed in the freezer
  • Gravy: exact recipe TBD, but basically just stock, drippings, roux, etc.
  • Mashed potatoes: Mark will make from the recipe in his head
  • Brussel sprouts: final recipe TBD
  • Other side dish: TBD
  • Cranberry sauce: from the can, unless Jenn tells me she wants the real stuff (frankly, I'd just as soon skip it)
  • Pumpkin pie: repeating Cooks Illustrated recipe, but maybe will do a real pastry
  • Whipped cream: recipe in my head
  • Wine: TBD, though we have a few good contenders already

So, basically, I've been a bit stressed over nothing. All the major components are planned, and it's too early to shop for most of it anyway. And I'm actually impressed that I got the stock done weeks in advance (same time as the great lasagne foray). So what this comes down to is a brussel sprouts recipe, when the truth is that I can make one up easily, and any other side dishes we may want but are not mandatory. The real task now is planning the shopping, and then the actual timing of the food prep. And to me that's the fun part. Yippee!

Now that that's done, I can just focus on going back home tomorrow night. I am SO ready to be home, and to have the long holiday weekend (with Jenn's visit -- yay!). As if I weren't homesick enough, Mammoth just sent out their weekly snow report... thanks for rubbing it in!

14 November 2009

the two-hour project that took weeks

I've killed the monster. Finally.

After weeks of piecemeal work, I finally finished our nephew Jesper's first birthday present... and, hey, only a week or two late! After various delays (didn't have embroidery floss to do the mouth, then F&S didn't have fiberfill, etc., etc.), and some rethinking of the strategy (the furry fleece I used completely hid the embroidered mouth, and so I changed to the toothy applique), I got all the final stages done in a flurry last night, and he actually don't look half bad. I'm only a little embarrassed to be giving him away as a present!

Laying out his facial features, which had to be sewed on before I could sew the whole monster together

Close-up of the facial appliques

Mark is a little attached. He doesn't want to send the monster to Jesper. I promised to make him his own.

The final product

We are visiting extended family in Florida after Christmas and need to bring gifts for the little kids. Maybe I'll be making some girlier repeats in the next month... or maybe I will just talk about it and never actually get around to it.

13 November 2009

whole foods to the rescue

I know that a lot of liberals are villifying Whole Foods these days, and even boycotting, because of an op-ed their CEO John Mackey wrote in favor of some major overhauls to our health care system. At first, I was a bit put off by his arguments, especially because his arguments seem so much in conflict with the beliefs many of us have that Whole Foods is a great place to work, with generous employee benefits -- and this belief makes those of us with liberal guilt feel better about shopping there.

What some people would have us do

But accusing Mackey of having a "far right wing agenda" just for questioning the system and looking for ways to reform (which is also what Obama is doing) is a bit ridiculous. (Though, clearly, he is not in favor of programs he deems "socialist." And his arguments that we should not all expect to have an intrinsic right to health care is clearly contentious. Still, our democratic system allows people to disagree, and we are hypocrits to cry foul only when it hurts our cause, but then demand our own freedom of speech when right wingers are pushing an agenda we on the left disagree with. And who can argue with his assertion that a huge part of our astronomical increases in health care costs are attributable to obesity and poor eating habits, which come at least in part from bad personal decisions? Michael Pollan wrote an op-ed to the same effect, and he wasn't villified. I'm willing to bet most Whole Foods shoppers agree with Mackey and Pollan on this point, but that doesn't make it into the boycott propaganda.)

Anyway, I have decided to keep shopping at Whole Foods. Partially because they sell things we like to buy and they're convenient, and because I want all the people employed there to keep their good pay and great benefits... they're not the ones with the strong, publicly-stated opinions. But the bigger reason (and the one which the boycotting liberals seem to forget) is that Mackey himself is only making $1 a year as Whole Foods CEO after making a widely publicized announcement about it, before the current recession began no less, as well as donating the profits from his stock options to charity. So me shopping there isn't making him richer. It's helping all the people who work under him, and I'm all for that. And frankly, I don't know why anyone who used to shop there wouldn't agree. But on to other things...

I wrote a few weeks ago about our dilemma around what kind of Thanksgiving turkey to buy... the Butterball, natural free range, organic free range or heritage -- listed in ascending order of expense, as well as my preference. And, with all of my recent slacking, I basically let the clock run out on the heritage option because all the farms sell out their inventory way in advance. But, much to my surprise, on my last trip to Whole Foods, I found that I could still order a heritage turkey in the store. (Interestingly, you cannot order them on their web site, though you can order the other types of turkeys.)

So... problem solved! We're having a nice, gamey, authentic-tasting turkey for Thanksgiving again this year. Either a Bourbon Red or a Narragansett. I hope it's a Narragansett, since Mark and I met trying to get Rhode Island voters to approve a casino for the ..... Narragansett Indian Tribe. There would be a certain harmony in enjoying a turkey of the same name for the first Thanksgiving in which we're hosting people. Of course, I may need to teach a few extra classes just to pay for it! But I think it's worth it.

A tasty looking Narragansett tom

12 November 2009

on the road

I am nearly done with my most complicated business travel yet: Monday morning pitch in Ft. Collins, Colo., Tuesday meeting with clients in Seattle, and Thursday presentation to clients in Ft. Worth. Fortunately, it has all gone well (knock on wood for the last meeting, which starts shortly!), and I get to go home tonight.

When I was first starting my career, I loved business travel, and thought I was just so cool for getting to jet all over the place. (Especially because my first few trips involved visits to Marine Corps Air Stations Miramar, the former Top Gun and home of the F/A-18 Hornet, and Yuma, home of the harrier jet... along with some lovely military hospitality, and some time in the F/A-18 flight simulator.)

Me with the F/A-18 at Miramar in early 2003

Getting a good look at the Harrier at MCAS Yuma, in late 2003

Lately my business travel has been decidedly less glamorous (geek chic, anyway). And while I don't mind business travel these days, I will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid staying overnight somewhere. I have been known to take 6 a.m. flights (meaning a 4 a.m. wake-up) to avoid flying somewhere the night before a meeting, and arriving home well past midnight to avoid staying over after the meeting.

But this week, it was just unavoidable. Four nights away, in three different hotels.

But before I left for this marathon travel, I decided to get a little house-wifey, and make some food so that Mark would feed himself while I was away. The project: my first homemade lasagna. I'm not usually huge on Italian food, which is why it was my first, but I was excited to try. Secret weapons for added tastiness: homemade sauce with fresh herbs and heirloom tomatoes, an egg in the ricotta mozzarella mix to bind it all together, and fresh mozzarella slices on top.

I spent basically the whole day last Saturday in the kitchen, at least until it was time to see the new TGR ski movie with Ellen and Adam. Here is the progress and the yummy outcome:

Sauteing onions, garlic and carrots for the sauce base

The heirloom tomatoes that made up the bulk of the sauce (with one can of peeled tomatoes for good measure)

The new food mill that let me cook the tomatoes all together without first skinning and seeding them

The sauce starting its long simmer

The finished lasagna, made with Barilla no-boil noodles (In the future, I will allow more room for the noodles to expand, and won't lay them right up to the edge. But it was really delicious, despite the wrinkly appearance.)

I'm pretty sure I don't have to worry about Mark going hungry this week!

03 November 2009

so THAT'S what the kitchen is for!

Lately, the kitchen has been a fairly foreign place. Instead of serving as the canvas for inspired artistic creations, it has been the dumping ground for neglected sewing projects, multiple non-functional wine fridges, remnant food from our Joshua Tree trip, and various running goo products.

But Sunday we finally broke out of that non-cooking inertia with our favorite meal: lamb chops and risotto with madeira reduction. Mmmmm....

This was the meal that got us in a trouble a few months back, so we decided to cook it for ourselves, partially as a reward for completing our 11-miler training run, and partially because it just sounded delicious. The meal turned out pretty well, though the risotto was not my best work. Texture was good, and it was properly cooked, but the chicken broth I used was just not the right thing. My mistake: I should have tasted it before cooking with it. Fortunately, my idea to use 18-month-aged comte instead of parmesan yielded both great flavor and nice, cheesy texture, and drowning the risotto in madeira reduction covered up all the remaining sins. Overall, very happy with the food. The wine got mixed reviews... Mark really enjoyed it, and I found it a bit too alcohol-y. But I forgot all about that when we busted out the Graham's Six Grapes for dessert.


The girls enjoyed the leftovers...



02 November 2009

life is what happens...

... when you're busy making other plans... and traveling, getting sick, or getting wrapped up in all kinds of things.

Lately I am feeling not so much like a postmodern hostess, but like a postmodern failure. I'm not just behind on the blog, I'm behind on all the things that I would otherwise have to blog about.

Project: Sewing a doll for nephew Jesper's first birthday, this weekend
Status: Just cut out the pattern and fabric last night. Have not embroidered the face or sewed the body together yet.

Project: Fall crop of vegetables
Status: I let the seedlings die of neglect. Fall garden mission aborted.

Project: Finalize Thanksgiving menu
Status: My Thanksgiving-themed magazines with recipes are sitting in a pile, but I have yet to flip through them and pick out side dish recipes. (We've also given up on a heritage turkey by default... it's too late to order one.)

So... some definite instances of falling behind, and some downright failures. But, there have been some upsides of neglecting the domestic priorities. For example...

I got the swine flu out the way before the weather got colder, which would have no doubt made it worse.

I got an A on my first macroeconomics exam. Take that, community college

We took a really nice trip out to Joshua Tree for Edward's birthday, and saw our first wild tarantula.

And I spent a week in DC which involved some productive work meetings, some training runs (10 miles solo -- wohoo!), and a stand-up role for Mark at the lovely wedding of some friends.

At home, I may get to run at the beach, but the morning run was a pretty great way to see the sights of our nation's capital.

At a dinner with Cathryn at the Quill (fantastic spot!), I tasted my first Chateau D'Yquem, the holy grail of Sauternes. (Not the best year in history, but that's why it was *relatively* affordable, at a still-ridiculous $45/glass.)


And then Jeff and Lauren's lovely wedding.

So, we've had some good times, and a bit of stress. But I'm back on the wagon starting now! More soon...

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