Setting a new table. (food, week of 11.25.13)

Pomegrates and pears

18 years ago this week I was heading to Jackson, WY to celebrate Thanksgiving with my sister and her new husband chase Bernard.  As married readers know, there’s no Thanksgiving quite like your first Thanksgiving, the first time you attempt to meld whatever traditions were cultivated in each of you and initiate those of your own.  Bernard and I shared our first joint Thanksgiving as guests of my sister and her husband.  We weren’t even dating at the time, yet we both think of it as our first holiday together.

Right after they married, Margaret and Rick lived in a 1970s condo not far from the Jackson town square.  The condo had carpet, 1970s appliances, an apartment-style open kitchenette, and no dining room.  There was scarcely a guest room, but that didn’t stop Rick’s mother, Mary, her boyfriend Stewart, and me from swooping in to “help” celebrate the holiday week.

Margaret pictured her first Thanksgiving perfectly in her mind: Crisp white linens, embroidered with her initials.  Magazine-worthy place settings, using all of her newly acquired crystal, silver and china.  A traditional meal – with no store-bought shortcuts – presented in proper serving dishes.  Salt cellars.  Beeswax candles.  A centerpiece with pomegranates.  Cocktails at 3:30, dinner at 4:30. A rousing game of Dictionary after dessert.

Rick was from Andover, his mother a schoolteacher.  They were practical, not prissy, and would likely have been happy with Chinet instead of Limoges.  Bernard, hailing from Santa Fe, was even less formal than Rick.  We Southern girls are a special breed, however, which is half of the reason Margaret invited me to be there for the big turkey day (the other half, of course, is that she also envisioned her sister, the maid of honor, marrying the best man from her wedding).

We had the recipes for Big Julia’s dressing, Peggy’s bread, and my mother’s turkey, cranberry relish and peppermint chocolate roll.  The table would be beautiful.  We would be the stuff of postcards and memory books.

That 1970s stove, however, had other plans.  Its oven would have had a hard enough time keeping an even temperature without Mary’s opening the door every 15 minutes to see how the turkey was progressing.  Mary, God bless her, was not a cook.

Despite starting preparations around 8 a.m., by 5:30 p.m. all the wine was gone and dinner still not on the table.  Bernard and Rick make a trip to Albertson’s for Stove Top (which they both preferred anyway) when they realized we were all about to spend a hungry Thanksgiving.  The turkey finally popped its timer around 7:30, and at some point we ate.  I don’t remember playing Dictionary.  The next morning over mugs of hazelnut coffee, while Mary fiddled with her famous (inedible) turkey soup, Margaret leaned over and whispered, “maybe next year we’ll go to Club Med for Thanksgiving, just you and I.”

The irony, of course, is that my sister’s perfect first Thanksgiving was actually perfect, a classic memory of a newly forming family adapting to its new shape. In the 18 years since that first celebration, my sister and I have adapted to many more changes, some together, most apart, always connected.  To this day we say, “Close the oven, Mary,” whenever one of us tries to rush a dish’s baking. When Bernard asks, every year, if we’re making turkey soup while everyone else is out Black Friday shopping, I can still smell that oddest of concoctions and feel warmth in my heart.

For all these things, I am thankful.

Happy week, and happiest of Thanksgivings to each of you.

menu and grocery list 11.25.13


Week of November 25| 2013

bell peppers

Sloppy Joes | Pickled AssortmentLet’s be real: I probably won’t use a recipe to make Sloppy Joes.  Actually, I won’t make the Sloppy Joes, Bernard will.  And since he prefers having a recipe to get him started, here’s one from the Pioneer Woman (say what you will, her recipes are solid).  We have a variety of pickled things hanging out in the refrigerator – cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini relish – that I’ll serve as sides, as if Sloppy Joes need sides.

funky chicken

Chicken Orzo StewI made this up one night when the kids were hungry and I didn’t feel like going to the store (I know, surprise, right?).  We all liked it:  Boil some skinless boneless chicken breasts (one per person) and carrots in a couple inches of water.  Remove the chicken when it’s thoroughly cooked (shred-with-a-fork cooked) and skim the water, saving the carrots (chop and return to pot).  Cook some orzo in the strained water (add broth if necessary) until the water is all absorbed and pasta is cooked (10 minutes, ish).  Stir in shredded chicken, some heavy cream, and grated cheese.


Pot Roast | Mashed PotatoesTied with chicken ‘n dumplings for the ultimate comfort meal, pot roast with mashed potatoes is uncomplicated and delicious.  This pot roast recipe calls for oven cooking, but you can also use a slow cooker.  I will add some fresh turnips in the roasting pan, too, just because I have some.  If you need a recipe for mashed potatoes, Tyler Florence’s Velvety Mashed Potatoes will do the trick, whether or not you use Yukon Gold potatoes.

sweet potatoes

Baked Sweet Potatoes | Braised GreensTrue confession: I ‘bake’ sweet potatoes in the microwave, 6-8 minutes each.  I serve them with butter and salt.  The end.  Delta Sol Farms has had bags of mixed braising greens that have been delicious.  Sauté them in some olive oil, cover halfway with chicken stock, cover and cook until tender and liquid gone.  Add some garlic and dried hot peppers for some extra flavor if you want, but it’s not necessary if the greens are fresh.


 Green Salad | Chez Panisse Almond TartMy mother rarely ate dessert, unless it was real crème brûlée or Nana’s chess pie (for which there was no recipe card in my mother’s green recipe box, dammit).  Anyway, when she wanted something rich and sweet for dessert, she served a simple green salad (no recipe needed, but if you want some tips, Jamie Oliver’s are good ones) for dinner.  That’s it.  Sounds odd, but really it’s not.  David Lebovitz’s blog post on the almond tart (includes the recipe) is as entertaining as the tart is delicious.  The tart’s tricky to make and takes time, but it’s a holiday weekend, right?  Enjoy it!