Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Willpower Wednesday

 Tomorrow is a big day for foodies here, and a big twinge for some of us vegetarians. We may go through the year dealing comfortably with other people's eating habits, as we should; but the day we have to face a huge and obvious carcass can be trying. It's not an anonymous hunk, it's got wings and legs and you know exactly what it's suppose to look like.

 And then there are the other mealtime trials. Cooks putting bacon in the green beans, gelatin in salads or pies, people slathering whipped cream on the otherwise safe desserts before the vegan gets a slice. It's a like an obstacle course on the table, all while sitting with your family that loves you-- sometimes to death!

 This is why people go out to drink heavily on the Friday after. Family Drama is a flippant phrase that doesn't begin to cover the reality some of us face each winter.

While the vegetables served have always been the true heart of this feast for me, the other necessary element, sharing, is more important than the food, yet so bound up within the complex web of food-related memory and emotions, the simplest detail can set off a schism, fueled by family dynamics that seem impossible to change.

 Pumpkin pies-- who makes them now that the former family baker is gone, and do they spice them the way you like? If you bring wine, are you supposed to please the hosts or the other guests with your choice? Little rivalries can expand in the heat of the holiday oven. Siblings and relatives  push our buttons as we plan our gatherings. The imperfections in how we love one another rise to consume us.

 Some years can sail by with barely a flutter of dysfunctionality, some drag you down before you even get to Thursday, with a weight of discord you cannot seem to remove. You know it will be worse once you're there. It's like a sick TV show-- let's just stuff 20 people with unresolved issues into a room meant for eight and see what happens!

Don't forget to bring that wine.

 If you decide to give it a rest for one November, one December, you know you're going to pay. I've thought about doing that, this year, myself, with a weight on my chest as I contemplate it only because of my mother. For reasons I can't comprehend, she needs this from us, even though she will experience as much tension, as little pleasure, as the rest of us. It won't be nice, there won't be good conversation, there won't be a sense of togetherness, but only the appearance of that.

 Maybe that's all we can do, some years-- show up for the sake of showing up. Avoid our expectations of the event, good and bad, and try to be our calmest, kindest selves going in. Family, friendships, marriage, art, all require this of us, to keep showing up no matter what it costs. Investment through sheer time put in, which hopefully pays a dividend here and there.

 Or maybe it means I need to refocus, and shift my perspective. To be thankful that whatever tattered family rituals are wrapped around it, and however much of my pie gets eaten, tomorrow is just another Thursday, and in 24 hours, it's over again.

Peaceful feelings to you; today, tomorrow and all the rest of this November--


Monday, November 12, 2012

Neat Ideas from Other Foodies

 With all the crazy baking hype happening on the foodie side of the 'net, it's hard to decide what to make now, and what to make later, when life is calm again. I like to laze my way through old stacks of holiday mags, and re-read classic entertaining cookbooks, too; the other day I pulled The Silver Palate Good Times off the shelf and enjoyed it all over, letting it set little sparks in the cooking cave of my brain. Great way to spend some downtime if you don't start pressuring yourself as many of us do, come November.

 Don't go crazy overthinking it! Pick one or two stellar new items to make; get it done, then move on if you like.

 My tea bread, here, is a must for December.

 BUT-- here are a few great links from other blogs or sites, to give you a fresh outlook.

Beautifully shaped dinner rolls, enhanced with some of the seasonal fruit that they resemble. This neat take on a harvest presentation can also be applied to any fairly firm yeast bread recipe you are comfortable making. Cheese bread comes to mind, as does a fruity stollen dough, brushed with cream and sprinkled with orange or gold sugars to further "pumpkinise" the look.

 Here's a link to a gorgeously cool, but simple to make, fizzy drink for any party or special night, from The Cocktail Lady-- she's been on a quest to find the perfect drink for lo these past 269 days, and here, she just may have found it.

This is a link to a fine, more warming drink. We'll just have to get past the blog title, because it's a neat blog:

 And to go with the drinks, a trippy little dip that won't bloat you with high salt content, and is a bit different than the usual, from Sodium Girl:

Or, some spicy-sweet nuts that blow away prepared nut mixes, from Food and Wine:

 Then some beautiful vegetables that could MAKE the feast, in a twist on the standard recipe, from epicurious. They include two ways to serve.

And a spicy little number that throws out the usual cauliflower notions, from Cooking Light. Interesting, colorful, and tasty:

Different dessert dreams? How about these pretty, pale pear-pops spiked with Riesling? These could freshen everyone up after a dense meal, and still leave room for a thin slice of pie.

 Thinking of what you could do to shake up those traditional guests, now, aren't you?

 Peace in your planning, 

Friday, November 9, 2012

The White Stuff-- Sour Cream Ice Cream

 It's the second week of November, and my family has already held the secret meeting where they decide who will host the various holiday dinners of the next few months.

 Not me-- big surprise! I'm not upset, since I can't afford it this year anyhow. And if that small slight is the worst of the power plays that occur over these winter holidays, I'll be happy and grateful.

 You know how it is-- half of your family thinks your a) food, b) spouse/friends, c) living space, or d) religious ideas, are too weird to entrust a whole, important gathering to YOU. So someone else takes the lead, then bitches about how the load always falls on them. Or something like that. And you, or me in this case, are relegated to bringing the salad.

That's how it was for me in my twenties, until the one year I campaigned harder than usual to be allowed to bring a dessert. I brought a chocolate mousse cake glazed with ganache and sprinkled with dark cocoa-- and I haven't brought the salad since, unless I really wanted to in a given year.

 That is why I now spend extra prep time on finding a special dish to bring to each family party I attend. They forgive me for being myself, at least temporarily, and remember my pies, cakes, lasagna, or green bean salad fondly. I let it go, that they cannot understand why I want to be included in the discussion/decision. It isn't the only way to achieve harmony, but it works for me.

 I think I've found the perfect thing for this year's hell holy days: a rich, melt-in-your-mouth sour cream ice cream that would be perfect with just about any pie imaginable. And, as many of my new and old favorite recipes tend to be, it is both simple in concept and easy to make.

 The reason I stumbled across it so early in the season of frantic recipe searching, is that the hubby-man is conducting a coffee tasting of the newest Starbuck's Christmas Blend today, for his Coffee Master certification; and he asked me to find a dessert that would complement and bring out the flavor. The new blend, to be introduced in stores soon, is a lighter roast, with a fruity acidity that I immediately knew I wanted to showcase. We did several tastings, and the surprise flavor that blew us away, was when I dipped a finger into some sour cream leftover from a taco fest, and then sipped the Christmas Blonde brew. We agreed, it was a special match. But instead of making a cookie or cake with sour cream, I searched for an ice cream recipe, and found this jewel, that tastes as rich as cheesecake, putting the tangy sour cream flavor right up front.

 I've paired it, for Garrett's event, with a simple lemon biscotti studded with candied ginger; but the original article the recipe came from suggested a pairing with fruit pies, and I can't think of any pie or cobbler that would not be enhanced by a scoop of this. You could eat a bowl of this on its own, or with fresh fruit-- raspberries, pears, mango, sauteed apples. But if you want this to shine even brighter, put a scoop on top of a fruit pie, even a mince or pumpkin, and it couldn't fail on a walnut or pecan pie, a cranberry crisp, or instead of the usual whipped cream on top of rice pudding or any chocolate cake or custard.

 And now, I'm hungry! The recipe is from, and first appeared in the much-mourned food mag, Gourmet. My own notes follow.

Sour-Cream Ice Cream 
Gourmet | July 2009
by Ian Knauer
yield: Makes about 5 cups
active time: 15 min
total time: 6 1/4 hr (includes freezing)

1 (16-ounces) container chilled sour cream (full fat, not light or fat-free; they're too watery)
1 cup chilled half-and-half
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Equipment: an ice cream maker

Purée all ingredients with 1/8 teaspoon salt in a blender* until mixture is smooth and sugar has dissolved. Chill until very, very cold.
Freeze mixture in ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to firm up, about 6 hours.
Cooks' notes:
 •Cream mixture can be chilled up to 24 hours.
•Ice cream can be made 3 days ahead. Let soften 20 minutes in the refrigerator before serving. 
*Mari's notes-- I used a whisk to blend the mix thoroughly, and it wasn't difficult. The mixture is rich and soft, so do worry if your ice cream maker can't get it super firm. It will firm up nicely, in a covered container, in the freezer, preferably overnight, but give it more than the 6 hours suggested even if overnight isn't possible, just to make sure. There's nothing more annoying to try to serve, than not-set ice cream! Once firmed, it does need a little time to soften, as noted, but I'd check it at 10 minutes instead of 20, to be safe.
Enjoy, and have a great weekend--