A change of plans: 1984 and 1985, St. Marteeen in the Rain and another hot dog stand at a later date. Instead – Thanksgiving stories and menus. It seemed more appropriate.
Dinner Diary – September 9, 1984
By this date Bonnie was solidly my girlfriend. She may say that she didn’t know that, but there’s no hiding from the truth. We loved and cared about each other very much, enough to wonder about marriage. That was down the road a piece, but not a far piece. For now, we were having a very nice time together.
Mark and Chris are very old friends. Mark and I worked as architects and Bonnie and Chris worked together in a library. You’ll see Mark and Chris’s names in many of the diary entries. Bonnie and I enjoyed many meals at their home and Mark and I would drink, play guitar and all of us would sing; we actually sounded pretty damn good! One Christmas found the four of us walking through the streets of Princeton caroling. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously and from the applause of those who heard us and the shops that gave us hot chocolate and such we must have sounded pretty sweet. What, you don’t like sappy!? Come here and I’ll give you sappy.
Ah, that constant of change. In time, our friends moved a long way away. Unfortunately, but inevitably, not the last time this has happened. In this case, they were searching for something that Bonnie and I thought that they had here. That was our perspective. Obviously theirs was different.
In retrospect I like this menu. It’s nothing flashy, but has simple food cooked so that the flavor of the main ingredient is enhanced. The pesto is a basil pesto. The perfect time of the year for it, the tail end of the harvest. God, I love basil pesto. I could eat it with a spoon; use it on salads, lamb, fish, chicken, toast and ice cream. Do you think that I’m joking about the ice cream? I am most certainly not, though it’s not exactly basil pesto ice cream. I make a basil and lemon sorbet and Granité and use them in small amounts as a palate cleanser, the intermezzo in a multi-coursed meal.
Use some common sense in the amount of basil pesto, or any other ingredient, that you use in a dish. Unless you’re eating basil pesto with a spoon from the jar, you don’t want to taste only the basil pesto. Make the dish work as a whole, highlight something if you’re so inclined, but don’t put so much, in this particular instance, pesto on the pasta that you lose the flavor and texture the pasta. Of course there are exceptions. If I’m making crostini and topping them with some basil pesto, well yeah, I want you to taste the pesto first, the bread is second to it. Think about what you’re trying to say, what you want the flavor/taste to be, the textures and mouth feel to be, with the dishes that you’re serving. Think about it, use common sense, and don’t be afraid to fail miserably and hugely, you’re (probably) not going to kill anyone with your cooking. Think about what it looks like and taste the dish as you’re cooking it – you’ll be just fine.
A few lines back I wrote that September is the perfect time of year for the basil, the tail end of the harvest’ as it were. Some of the dates that our national holidays fall on are all wrong. In particular: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Actually Christmas can stay where it is; I’ll go along with December 25. It’s Thanksgiving that has got to be moved. To begin with it’s way too close to Christmas. There’s never enough days between the two to get everything done that I want to do without going a little crazy – crazy in a bad way – I want to hurt Santa. Thanksgiving is a harvest festival. It’s impossible to find a good ripe tomato in the northeast in November. So let’s move Thanksgiving to the end of September or somewhere around there so that we can really celebrate the harvest. The weather should be beautiful, fresh fruits and veggies will abound and the turkey will still be ready. We might have to move Labor Day.
Thanksgiving Dinner At Noon
I absolutely do not understand people who do not want to cook. Literally, I don’t get it. How could you not want to cook? My mother-in-law is one of those people. Bonnie, tells me that, at one time, her mother often made cream puffs from scratch but, I don’t believe it. She also tells me that her mother served her family Spam and would have them eating off of paper plates for extended periods of time – so I really don’t believe the cream puff story. Paper plates inside the house? A picnic inside the house?
Bonnie regales me with tales of the Thanksgiving dinners that her mother served. The invitation was for dinner at NOON. The act of ‘Dinner At Noon’ is one of those things that find Bonnie’s parents and me living on different epicurean planets. For Bonnie’s family dinner at noon meant that you sat at the table and began eating the main course at NOON. No appetizers, no alcoholic drinks (God help me), no before dinner conversation – no foreplay. Just sit down and eat. I do it differently: you arrive at noon, we have some appetizers, some drinks, nice conversation and sometime thereafter we sit down to dinner. Bonnie tells me a Thanksgiving tale, collaborated by her friend Alison, of the both of them arriving at the Brown Thanksgiving table at 12:07. NOT 12:00. The family was in fact eating, had not waited the seven minutes for them to arrive and they were almost hostile to Bonnie and Alison for their ill-mannered ways. Yikes! Bonnie’s family was kind enough to invite me to a Thanksgiving dinner, and I honestly thank them for it. The rituals that Bonnie had described were in fact true, SEATED AND EATING AT NOON. Bonnie had not told me about her two year old nephew, Michael, who was seated next to me. During the dessert course this brave young lad took his pumpkin pie in his tiny little hands, raised it high in the air and smashed it onto the top of his head, kneading the filling into his thin young hair – it looked like someone had shit on his head. I couldn’t help but gag, but then I don’t do diapers either. It’s been more than twenty years since that incident and now that Michael’s older I take great delight in relating it to his girlfriends.
Dinner Diary – Thanksgiving 1984
This is the first Thanksgiving Dinner in the Dinner Diaries. The dishes are pretty much the same as those served for Thanksgiving 2008. After all, it is Thanksgiving and that menu demands certain dishes doesn’t it. The menu is good; nothing flashy, but solid. There are many things that I’d like to bring to the menu, but so far I haven’t been able to convince other folks of the wonderous tastes of such dishes as roasted brussel sprouts with shallots and walnuts, succotash, grits, creamed onions, mushroom and leek ragu. You know what – I’m serving what I like regardless of what they want. I’ll ‘expand their culinary horizons’! Will I leave the dinner guests with nothing that they’d prefer? No, but they’ll be some new additions to this years menu.
As I wrote previously people tend to come and go from my life. A core of friends, but at least in my case, I feel that those that come and go make up a larger group than the core. The dinner guests here are a case in point. They are friends of Bonnie’s; Leo is now living in Colorado and he and Bonnie correspond at Christmas, Didi has since, truly, passed on and I don’t believe that we know the whereabouts of her daughter Leslie. Ah well, it was fun while it lasted and we have good memories of these folks.
As I wrote; there isn’t a lot of difference between the 1984 and 2008 Thanksgiving Dinners. I was feeling under the weather for the 2008 dinner and appreciated Bonnie and Cindy’s help with the meal. As you see, the diary entry contains much more information than 1984. It’s an analysis of what went right, what went wrong and how to do it better or as well, next time. My comments to you are in italics. Yep, I’m more than a little anal about this cooking thing.
Dinner Diary – Thanksgiving 2008 November 27, 2008
Cindy, Gary, Michael, Bonnie and me
– Cheese and crackers
– Melted brie and almonds on baguette from Cindy.
The appetizers could have had a little more zing to them.
– Duck Ravioli with Corn Relish
I bought a package of Lucy’s lasagna noodles and thinned them out on the pasta machine to make the ravioli dough. I stripped the skin from a duck breast, rendered the fat from the skin and poached the chopped up breast in the fat with fresh and thyme. It doesn’t take long to cook the duck, maybe 10 minutes or less.
Let the duck sit in the fat overnight in the fridge and drained it. Poached a fine dice of butternut squash in a little bit of chicken stock for just 3 minutes to soften it a bit. Mixed the duck, butternut squash and drained rum soaked currants for the ravioli filling. Cooked the ravioli for 6 to 8 minutes in boiling salted water, drained and served with my corn relish. Made the day before and cooked just before serving. This was OK, just OK. The filling needs to be juicier. Maybe just add the duck to the corn relish and serve with a sauce appropriate to the corn relish seasonings. Also, make sure that the ravioli are well drained before you plate them. Finish cooking them off in the sauce that you’ll serve over them.
Lucy’s Ravioli Kitchen makes great pastas (and other comestibles), including the sheets of lasagna noodles that I used here to make the ravioli. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that the duck breast is never going to be as succulent as duck legs confit. So from now on this is made with the duck legs confit. This was served as an appetizer at the table.
– Seafood Soup
This was pretty good. Bacon, with shallots sautéed in the bacon fat. The broth was a combo of milk and heavy cream, seasoned with salt pepper, fresh thyme and a bay leaf. When the broth is hot, but not boiling add chopped clams and cubed cod. Cook it for a few minutes, without boiling, to make sure everything is hot. Add crumbled bacon. Make the day before and reheat.
This is a nice little soup, pathway to many other dishes. Thicken it with a velouté sauce, some vegetables, a little more seafood and you’ve got chowder. Keep it as a soup, use different seafood and seasonings and it can go in a million directions. This is the joy of cooking, no pun intended. With all soups, stews, chowders ragus and the like unless an ingredient is going to go bad overnight I like to have them sit at least a day to give the flavors a chance to marry.
– Green Salad
– Apple and Fennel Sorbet
This didn’t work; you couldn’t taste the fennel (one half bulb, one Granny Smith), I added a little bit of simple syrup and less cream. Still too much cream, it coated your tongue. Made the day before.
Once again, as it often does, perfection has eluded me.
16 pound DiPaola from PQM. Stuffed and cooked for 5 hours at 325°. Rubbed the entire turkey with butter, I put cheesecloth and foil over the breast, basted the breast every 20 minutes or so and removed the cheesecloth and foil for the last hour or so. The turkey turned out well. Maybe this is the way to go.
This was a good turkey. DiPaola (no website) is one of our local turkey farmers (farmer?). Their turkeys are not organic, but they are not factory farmed, they’re fresh – not frozen, they cook up great and at this point in time I can’t afford $8 a pound for heritage turkey like a Bourbon Red. PQM is one of our local food markets and you can pretty much count on them for having what you need. I’ve been cooking turkeys for more than 20 years and have tried every conceivable method of cooking them except frying one. This method worked well and I’m sticking with it this year. My theory is that the cheesecloth retains the basting liquid, the foil retards the cooking and in the end you get a turkey where the legs and breast are finished cooking at the same time and the breast meat retains its juices.
– Bonnie’s WASP Dressing
No more need be said. Made the day before.
Actually, more does need to be said. Bonnie has to have her WASP dressing. For those of you that have forgotten that acronym stands for, White Anglo Saxon Protestant. Our group also calls it White Girl dressing. There is little in this dressing beyond bread. I abhor it because it’s rather tasteless and dull. It’s white bread, a little celery, a little onion, a little butter and a little broth. I’ve had to convince her to add salt and black pepper. I make it for her because I love her.
– Dave’s Stuffing
This is a good stuffing, maybe classic: pork sausage from Cherry Grove Farms, sourdough bread, onion, fennel, bacon, butter, chicken stock, apple and celery root. Made the day before, stuff the bird the day of.
Now this is a stuffing (dressings are cooked outside the beast, stuffing is cooked inside the beast). Very flavorful, it compliments the turkey and I like it – nuff said. In all the years that I’ve been roasting turkeys I’ve stuffed them. No one has ever gotten sick (I stuff the bird just before I cook it) and the flavor and texture that the stuffing takes on from being cooked inside the bird is heavenly. Cherry Groves Farm is one of the wonderful family farms that we’re blessed to have in this area of New Jersey: organic, grass fed lamb and beef, pastured pigs, free range chicken and their own cheeses. This year, for comparison, the pork sausage is from Ely’s.
– Cranberry Sauce
Just cranberries and sugar. Made by Bonnie the day before.
There is absolutely no reason for you not to make your own cranberry sauce. You can chop it in a food processor, add some chopped oranges and some cane sugar and let it sit for a day or two to marry the flavors. You can cook the berries atop the stove with a bit of water and sugar. Cook it until the berries burst and then cook it a little longer until it’s something like a jam. Yes, there’s a variety of ways that you can season this: oranges, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, Chinese Five Spice, make a chutney! Nothing on your dining table, nothing that you’re going to eat should ever have rings molded into it from the can that it came in.
– Mashed Potatoes
Three large potatoes for five people worked out fine.
I peel and boil the potatoes, heat up some milk and butter, mash it with an old fashioned non-electric potato masher and season with white pepper and salt. Add the milk/butter liquid a bit at a time so that you get the consistency that you want.
– Squash with Cranberries and Apples
From Cindy, good.
– Green Beans
Pan sautéed in a little butter and water.
– Pumpkin Pie
Made by Bonnie the day before.
– French Apple Pie
Made by Bonnie the day before. Very good.
Bonnie is the queen of pie crusts and pies.
– Vanilla Ice Cream and Whipped Cream for the Pies
HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!
I hope that you all enjoy your Thanksgiving festivities. The photo was taken by a dear friend, Mary Carol. And yes, it was posed. I don’t carve my turkeys in exactly that manner.
I’d be interested in hearing what you served or partook of for your Thanksgiving. Any interesting foods, any tofu turkeys (you are probably a member of PETA if that’s what you ate), are any of you not having a turkey, will there be any good stories? Let me know and I’ll let the rest of the world know. I must say that some of my dearest friends eat tofu and you are welcome to it, my portion too. Eat your tofu, you’re my friends and I’ll love you regardless. This is probably as close to being a parent as I’ll get.
I’ve yet to do it, but have always wanted to serve a Thanksgiving menu that’s closer to what the Pilgrims might have had: clams, oysters, lobsters and fish; wild turkey and quail; pork, venison; hominy and corn; corn pudding; squash, potatoes and cranberries. Maybe next year.
Don’t sweat the cooking and the food.
Enjoy the company; give thanks and a good meal will follow.
I will give thanks and I will enjoy the company.
I will still sweat the cooking and the food.
Next Week: 1985 Dinner Diaries, St. Marteen in the Rain, Spam and Tak-A-Boost and another hotdog stand