Reflections on Thanksgiving, 2011

Straddling a small suitcase that just fit under the seat in front of me, full of prepped food on a packed Chinatown bus to Baltimore, the day before Thanksgiving. The same suitcase taken back to NYC, now filled with leftovers and food gifts from Florida. A grown Swedish man carving his first turkey, after learning how on YouTube. So much food that we had to bring in another table to put it on. The light-filled apartment, 60 degree Thanksgiving weather, something always bubbling on the stove.

*****

Curtis and I went to visit my sister Clarissa and her husband Henrik in Baltimore. My mom met us there, and had practiced her roast turkey with truffle butter with my sister Almira’s family earlier that week. Clarissa, a fan of making sweets since high school, was in charge of the pies. She will always be in charge of the pies, though she forgot a few weeks before Thanksgiving what she was actually going to make. “Pies! You’re making the pies!” I insisted. “Or else there’s no dessert!” As I did last year, I promised to do the sides. Curt and I would go shopping at Union Square Greenmarket, figure out the best looking produce, and plan from there. This year, since we weren’t hosting, I had to figure out recipes that I could deep prep at home, that would pack up and travel well on a Chinatown bus. Clarissa just moved into a new apartment, and I didn’t know her kitchen set up, or how many pots and pans I’d be able to use. The more I could do beforehand, and the less I needed kitchen space when I got there, the better. So these recipes were planned with these criteria in mind. All of my prep work was done the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, as we traveled on Wednesday. So these are dishes that stand up to prep work from a day or so before.

*****

Roasted Butternut Squash soup

The one dish requested was the Roasted Butternut Squash soup that I did several times last season, and served as a starter last Thanksgiving. For traveling purposes, I just roasted the butternut squash and scraped out the soft butternut squash and put it in plastic containers, so we weren’t traveling with liquids.

*****

Spiced Butternut Squash with Tupelo honey inspired by Eric Ripert’s Avec Eric.

When I tasted the dish right out of the oven, I thought there might be too much spice – I could barely taste the butternut squash, and could only note the pepper. However, after the dish cooled down a bit, I tasted again and it was delicious. I made this dish in full before traveling.

*****

Glazed Carrots, courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens, 75th Anniversary Edition. The cookbook was a gift from my sister Almira and her husband Paul in my early days of cooking. The recipes are easy and fast. Some of them are less successful, relying on shortcut techniques that don’t get the full flavor out of hot chocolate, for instance. But this glazed carrots recipe – a pound of carrots, a tablespoon of brown sugar, a tablespoon of butter – reminds me of Steel Magnolias “cuppa cuppa cuppa” recipe, so easy you don’t need to write it down. It’s lovely and simple, and lets those beautiful, massive carrots from the greenmarket stand out. I also made this dish in full before traveling.

******

Red Salad, a dish apparently served in the Dominican Republic during Christmas and other holidays. Curt and my mom love beets, so this was for them. Again, a dish I was able to make in full before traveling. Leftover beets became borscht when Curt and I got back (but that’s for another entry).

*****

Sweet Potato Biscuits. This dish actually went against my desire to make side dishes that were a) recognizable as vegetables; b) could travel well and c) be prepped two days before. However, every “make ahead” recipe with sweet potatoes required turning them into a puree. Perhaps I should confess here that sweet potatoes are not my favorite vegetable. I didn’t grow up with them, and when I was introduced to them in adolescence and early adulthood, they were often served to me in a cloying pie or casserole. Recently I was watching The Chew, and while I have an affection for all of the co-hosts, seeing Daphne Oz drizzle maple syrup all over a microwaved sweet potato made my mouth fill with saliva to balance all the sugars rushing in. And she’s the healthy one!

Nevertheless, I’m trying to re-experience vegetables that I haven’t loved in the past, and as it’s certainly the season for sweet potatoes, I thought I’d give them another try. Not wanting to settle for a sweet potato casserole, I attempted Sweet Potato Biscuits. I could make the biscuit dough beforehand, roll it out, cut it into biscuit rounds and freeze it before I got to Baltimore. But I accidentally added too much liquid (how am I supposed to measure 7/8 of a cup, Bittman?!), so my biscuit dough was too wet to roll out. Fortunately, Bittman has a solution for this, and conveniently for me, the solution was right above the sweet potato biscuit recipe: Drop biscuits. I put the drop biscuit dough into containers and brought it as raw material. After the turkey came out of the oven, my mom and Clarissa dropped the dough onto the baking sheet and we baked until golden brown. A few days later, when Clarissa was making turkey soup, I suggested we drop teaspoons of the remaining dough in, so it became turkey and sweet potato dumpling soup. Delicious! The dumplings had a beautiful, substantial texture.

*****

The active use and re-use of scraps, bones, and innards. Imagining and reinterpretation based on what’s in front of us. Tongues as measuring spoons. Creating Filipino fiesta meat rolls embotido and morcon in the days following. Beef liver and pork fat. Gravy. Sips of an aged Sciacchetrà from Curt’s and my first year anniversary celebrated in the Cinque Terre, now with more tobacco and fewer honeyed notes, yet still smooth, special, unlike anything else I’ve ever tasted. Much to be grateful for.

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