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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Everyday Should Be Thanksgiving Pt. 1

He who thanks but with the lips
Thanks but in part;
The full, the true Thanksgiving
Comes from the heart.
~J.A. Shedd

Brace yourselves, my pals, this is a loooong blog!!!

Last year at this time was a bittersweet one for me.

We sold our home.

While we were, of course, fortunate to sell it at a time when others could not sell theirs it did not make the leaving any easier. I was however bound and determined to make our last Thanksgiving in the house a memorable one, but wanted to keep the dinner a very intimate one.

So we invited our best "couple" over.
I say best couple because we happen to value both people as friends which is a rarity. You know how it is. Often you have a friend, like we do, and he changes life partners, like he did, and while you can tolerate them for your friend's sake, you don't really connect to them in a truly friendly way. But such was not the case with this couple, they are both truly our friends equally.

Here is something I wrote about that last Thanksgiving the day after along with the recipes I used. Although I did not take pics ... so Google pics, here I come...

Here are a couple of shots of the old homestead before the sale: front hall & living room.
What the hell, may as well share them with ya! Click the links to see the pics in my album

Living Room (view east)Dining Room cabinet detailMain HallDetail of 19th century  praying monkLiving Room (view west)Dining Room patio doors

Well, Thanksgiving has come & gone and as the Thanksgiving card that I gave my hubby exhaustively exclaims: "Days of chopping and shredding and baking and roasting, stuffing & serving, all for a half-hour turkey binge and a week's worth of dried out leftovers!"
Yep, that just about sums it up. Add flower arranging, dusting, table-setting, and apartment-hunting then you'll have an idea of the Thanksgiving 2007 experience for moi at the old household.
It's mostly a labor of love, anyway & a gift that I give to myself maybe even more than a gift to my guests. All except for the house-hunting part which I faced & face with dread & sadness. Dread because I know there is precious little in the way of housing in the rental market that I deem livable, spoiled brat that I've been so fortunate to become, & I dread how sad the lack of real prospects makes me.

Sad, too, to leave the beautiful home that we built with great care & love over several years. A love that resonates through every room, in every window, door, hinge & fixture; lovingly selected or designed with our collaboration and carefully constructed by warm-hearted artisans who poured their souls into their work giving this house a heartbeat, a real & palpable warmth felt by every sentient being who crossed over her magnificent threshold.

Like Pygmalion with Galatea, the feeling and reverence that went into making this house miraculously brought her to life. She was our creation, our child, an extension of union. Everyday we marveled at her beauty, her elegance, her grace. Everyday we discovered another angle to her lines, another aspect of her personality to delight us.

She is charming & big-hearted, trying always to accommodate her guests and make them feel welcome and comfortable; despite her seemingly formal facade, she is the opposite of cool & forbidding with her radiant light smiling upon you & her large rooms like arms wide open held out for a warm embrace. We loved her for her accessibility; all the more because, like all nobles with her beauty, structure and breeding, she could have been haughty & autocratic and, sadly, most people would have accepted her rebuffs as the natural course of things even as they were stung by them; but our girl was an egalitarian & knew to be grateful for her many gifts and not feel superior to those who were not as blessed.

Somehow, we sold her; because a house like this deserves a large family to shelter and succor; children running around inside her playing & dreaming, laughing & crying. We wouldn't provide that. We could use the money she brought us instead & finance the rest of our barren lives. (Excuse the melodrama but it is cathartic for me to write these words even if my depiction of our situation is skewed by my ridiculously emotional over-reaction to it.)

I think she is sad, too. I hear her groanings very late in the night but she'll soon get over her loss when the new owners arrive. I hope that we can do the same.

The fact remains that everyday we have an opportunity to enjoy our lives should we elect to do so. Life in of itself is a great blessing. What does not kill us makes us stronger & we should be grateful for that strength, however difficult it is to forge the iron that helps us survive. So, I offer up a Thanksgiving Menu even though it's official day of celebration was 6 days ago. Planning and preparing this meal for my husband & friends really helped me through this difficult time. With the mantra "Everyday should be Thanksgiving!" reverberating through this beautiful house, here is the Thanksgiving menu I served on 11/22/07 (recipes to follow when I have the strength to write them):

Everyday Should Be Thanksgiving Day Menu

Hors d'oeuvres

Smoked Salmon Bundles w/ Roasted Asparagus
Crudite with Mascarpone Pesto
California Nut Mix with Wasabi Peas
Camarones al Ajillo

The Main Event

Creamy Cauliflower Apple Soup with Dungeness Crab Crouton
Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast with Citrus Butter and Turkey Jus
Chanterelle Mushroom "Gravy" w/ Shallots & Vermouth

The Sides

Truffled Smashed Potatoes
Shitake & Sausage-Apple Stuffing
Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding with Roasted Chestnuts
Vanilla-scented Roasted Yams Gratin with Cinnamon
Sauteed Blue Lake Green Beans with Parmagiano-Reggiano, Meyer Lemon Oil & Tarragon
Triple Cranberry Sauce


The Ultimate Pumpkin Pie
with Cinnamon-dusted Vanilla Ice Cream


The Triple Cranberry Sauce and "The Ultimate Pumpkin Pie" that I usually make for dessert comes from the November 1993 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.

It was my first year in San Francisco which I moved to from Manhattan to live with my then boyfriend now husband. It was, also, my first attempt at making & shopping for a Thanksgiving Day meal. I had never really been that interested in cooking although I have always been interested in eating but the meal was a resounding success & started my long journey into the land of the culinary arts.

I still keep that copy of Bon Appetit. It is food-stained and dog-eared but it remains in my reference library; thumbing through its pages has become a fond part of my Thanksgiving Day tradition even though I have long since committed the recipes I use to memory and always improvise my own variations on them anyway. keeps a database filled with recipes from current & back-issues of Bon Appetit & Gourmet. It really is an online treasure trove for cooks; not because the recipes are so delicious or innovative but because it is a kind of archaeological record of our food & cultural trends. Fascinating stuff for geeks like me! Here is a link to it:

The theme is Cal/Italian this year.
I try to stay within a specific culinary cultural style when I make these large dinners.
Makes the whole meal more cohesive and flowing...
The entire menu should serve 4-6 people.

Asparagus and Smoked Salmon Bundles

This is super easy & courtesy of Giada Di Laurentis.
If you don't like smoked salmon, use prosciutto, or thinly
sliced ham

1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed (about 20 spears)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
4 to 6 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon (1 slice per asparagus spear)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Lay the asparagus on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with rosemary, salt, and pepper. Roast until cooked and starting to brown around the edges, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to another baking sheet to cool.

Once the asparagus have cooled, wrap each spear in a slice of smoked salmon. Arrange on a serving platter and serve at room temperature.

Crudite with Mascarpone Pesto

Another supereasy dish to assemble quickly while your guests pile in...
The fish sauce gives the dish a little anchovy umami essence without the messiness of mashing
them. I try to save steps whenever possible when cooking in volume.
Just be sure to buy the best pesto you can.
It's very easy to make yourself, too, if you like
You can substitute equal parts sour cream & cream cheese for the mascarpone, if you can't find it at your grocers'.

  • 2 zucchini sliced in half lengthwise and cut into 4 inch batons (sticks)
  • 6 ribs celery cut in half lengthwise and into 4 inch batons
  • 2 cucumber cut in half lengthwise and cut into 4 inch batons
  • 20 baby carrot
  • 1 red pepper cut into2 inch thick strips
  • 1 yellow pepper cut into 2 inch thick strips
  • 1 head broccoli cut into small florets
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 10 crimini mushrooms sliced into quarters
  • 4 radishes cut into small batons
  • 1 package mascarpone, room temperature
  • 2 baguettes, brushed with olive oil, sliced into rounds & toasted in the oven until warm & crisp
  • 1/2 cup of fresh store-bought pesto
  • 1/2 teaspoon Thai Fish sauce (optional)

In a stainless steel bowl, mix pesto & mascarpone.
Add fish sauce, mix well.
Season with salt & pepper to taste.

Add to serving bowl.
Arrange raw veggies on a platter. Mangia.

California Nut Mix with Wasabi Peas

Like the others, not exactly a recipe.
But you have lots of cooking ahead so make these hors d'oeuvres mindless & easy.

  • Buy 1 lb. of your favorite dried fruit & nut mix.
  • Add 1 lb. of wasabi peas.
  • Add 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Place ingredients in a mixing bowl.
Mix thoroughly.
Throw it in a pretty bowl. Voila.

Camarones al Ajillo {Cuban Garlic Shrimp}

This comes courtesy of MySpaces's own residential Cuban cook, commenter extraordinaire & blogger, Tengo Wood. Visit his blog HERE for additional Cuban classics. It is truly a classic dish that is good served at room temperature or hot, your choice. You can make it the night before or early on the big day. It's grlic, chiles & olive oil still meld well with the Cal/Italian theme of this Thankgiving meal.

  • 1/2 cup pure Spanish olive oil or more to taste
  • 4 to 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2-1/2 to 3 pounds prawns or extra-large shrimp, shells and heads left on
  • juice of 2 limes
  • salt to taste
  • pinch of dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • dash of Tabasco sauce, optional *Trust me, it's not optional. Add two dashes, as a matter of fact*

  1. In a large skillet over low heat, heat the oil until it is fragrant, then cook the garlic, stirring, 1 to 2 minutes. Raise the heat to medium, add the shrimp, and cook, stirring, until they turn pink, 5 minutes. (If you prefer extra oil, add it along with shrimp.) Add the lime juice, salt, oregano, and parsley, and stir well. Correct seasonings and add Tabasco.
  2. Transfer to a heated serving platter and serve immediately, accompanied by crunchy bread to soak up the garlic-flavored oil.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Dungeness Crab Crouton

Another very simple but elegant dish that reflects the season. The creaminess comes from a small dollop of mascarpone at the end. There is no cream in this soup. You don't need it. The cauliflower when boiled & pureed has the creamiest texture all on its own. It really has a velvety mouthfeel. To make this more economical & vegan friendly omit the crab crouton & substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock. It will still be yummy, I promise!

For the Crab Salad

Note: Keeping this recipe very casually written. That's how easy it is.


  • Buy 3/4 - 1 pound of the freshest meat you can find, make sure it includes lots of claw meat.
  • Take 1/3 cup of lowfat Best Foods mayo
  • add chopped fresh tarragon, chopped fresh chives; all to taste
  • the juice & zest from half a Meyers lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 sweet baguette, sliced on the bias, brushed with extra virgin olive oil & toasted in a 350 degree oven until golden brown. (about 5-7 minutes)
  1. Mix the dressing well.
  2. Fold the crabmeat in being careful not to break it up too much.
  3. Slice up a baguette, spoon the crab mayonnaise on top. Garnish with sprig of tarragon or chives or both. Place on top of soup. Serve, Eat. Voila!!!

For the soup

  • 3-4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 leeks, white part only, washed well and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small potato, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large sweet (Vidalia or Maui) onions, cut in half & sliced thinly
  • 1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 1 head of cauliflower, chopped roughly
  • 1 apple, cored , peeled & chopped roughly
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives, for garnish
  • add fresh lemon to taste as a garnish, too much lemon will make soup astringent
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of low sodium soy sauce

  1. Heat a large saute pan. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil & 1 tablespoon of butter to the saute pan. When butter melts & browns lightly, add the slices onions, stirring to coat with the fat. When onions soften, add the sugar, stir to combine well & lower the heat to low setting. Allow the onions to cook uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring once every 5 minutes or so until golden brown. Add the soy sauce & stir it in. Then turn off pan & set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil in a heavy, large pot over medium heat. Add the leeks, apples, fennel and the garlic and stir. Add the potatoes and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the cauliflower, stock, salt, and pepper and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
  3. Using a handheld immersion blender, or in a blender in batches*, puree the soup. Add the 2 tablespoons mascarpone and blend again to combine. In a small bowl, stir the remaining 1/3 cup mascarpone to soften. Add to the mixture & blend, once again until well incorporated.
  4. Ladle the soup into serving bowls. Dollop the top of each of the soups with a dungeness crab crouton & sprinkle with chives.
  5. * When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

To Be Continued...

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