Thanksgiving Turkeys

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‘The worst Thanksgivings are still pretty darned great’

Those of you who follow along with me each week already realize — no doubt because I’ve told you way too many times — that Thanksgiving is my very favorite holiday. (Speaking of giving thanks — thank you for reading, Favorite People.) See “Turkey Shoot”, “In the Kitchen with Dad (and the Coal Miner’s Daughter)”, “Flipping the Bird”, and “My Breast is in no need of a rub, thank you very much” for pieces stuffed with reasons why.

Is that a banana, or am I just glad to see it’s almost Thanksgiving?

And it’s not just me. I grew up with a whole passel of Thanksgiving Lovers. Why, one year we invented a holiday called “Veteransgiving” just so we could get together, calendar be darned. (I bet we’re one of the few families who’s celebrated Veterans Day Weekend with turkey and pie.) It was held at my Favorite Sister Laura’s, and it was One Fun Time.

I don’t have a photo, alas, of Veteransgiving. But here’s one from a Christmas during that same era, also chez Laura

Although Veteransgiving was a little unusual, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “turkey”. No, the Thanksgiving “turkeys” of my memory were these (in no particular order):

The Thanksgiving with the Sad Little Game Hens. Dude Man and I were freshly hitched and, for some reason which I cannot recall, did not decamp to a Family Unit for the holiday. (Maybe we didn’t get enough time off? Maybe we couldn’t decide which family to invade? I honestly can’t remember.)

What I do remember is that, instead of turkey — even a small turkey — I thought it would be a smart idea to roast two game hens. Seeing them on the platter with (of course) no stuffing and no gravy made me burst into tears. Trust me, a Thanksgiving spent sobbing into small poultry is no fun. The photo at the top of this story shows me smiling bravely through some such celebration-for-two. Though not the holiday I described. Too heartbroken for photos.

Me, trying to distract The Dude from the fact that we are having teensy game hens for T’giving dinner. Or maybe this is just another random photo I have from that apartment

The Thanksgiving eaten off TV trays in front of Dolly Parton. This was a holiday spent at the home of my Starter Hub. Yes, I was married before. Very briefly, but long enough to spend Thanksgiving with my mother-in-law Opal in the Ozarks. More shocking to me than the TV on all the time (after all, I grew up in a TV-loving household) was the fact that there was cornbread in the stuffing. (If you’re interested, and who wouldn’t be, you can read about This Guy in “My Polio-Shot Marriage”.)

No, I don’t have photographic evidence of the Dolly Parton Dinner. But I do have this evidence of 70s underwear-aversion

The Thanksgiving The Child wanted to spend in the City so she could see her friends. This was The Child’s first year away at college. She convinced me to spend my Very Favorite Holiday going through a buffet line at The Dude’s fancy-but-still-not-anything-like-home Club. Even worse than having to dress up was the fact that there were no leftovers. She never asked to do this again. See, she didn’t get to see her City friends — they were all away with their families somewhere else having a nice Thanksgiving, thank you very much.

The Child smartened up and started inviting friends too far away to go home to come to our Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving we had hamburgers and cranberry sauce. This was back when The Dude’s Dad was still with us. He was actually a pretty good cook — his popovers and baked beans were legendary — so we Whitmores were pretty excited to gather in Amagansett for the feast. He took a lot of care with the preparations, even asking World’s Best Cook Ever Aunt Eleanor (his sister-in-law) for advice on getting the turkey. She told him to get a fresh one, even where to get it.

One of the few photos I have of the Dude’s Pater. This is a nice one of him with The Child. No turkey, fresh or frozen, on the horizon here

So, Thanksgiving morning, we daughters and daughters-in-law are helping out, and someone says, while opening the fridge, “We ought to be thinking about getting that turkey in the oven, Dad. Where is it?” Well, he’d put that bird in the freezer. We rushed to the IGA, which, amazingly, was open on T. Day, but, not amazingly, had no more turkeys left. We had hamburgers and cranberry sauce. Which actually tasted pretty good, though New Family Tradition it did not become.

Now this is a New Family Tradition that stuck: cranberry-apple pie. Try it; you’ll like it

Well, I think it’s time to wrap this up. I’ve got the Big Beef in the oven, but have yet to make the piecrust. (Yes, I make my own crust. Only once a year, though.)

Time to freshen my Manhattan and have at it.

Here’s wishing you all a wonderful, warm Thanksgiving. See you next week when everyone but me will be thinking about Christmas.

May your turkeys be wonderful and not “turkeys” at all

Amagansett, New York. November 2019

 

Yes, some people can live by bread alone

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‘That craving for carbs simply must be genetic’

Some years ago, The Child (who was an actual child at the time), started fussing peckishly in her highchair while I was on the phone with my mother. “Hold your horses, Honey,” I said. Mommy’s getting you your bread and water.”

The Child, getting close to the age when she would demand bread and water

“Bread and water!” my mom exclaimed, spluttering with over-the-phone laughter. “Are you punishing that child?” She was astonished when I explained that B&W was The Child’s snack of choice.

Not much has changed since she was in a highchair. Snackwise, anyway

You see, everyone who shares The Dude’s genetic material — every one I’ve met, anyway — has this very same breadlike compunction. Wayne’s Older Bro Bill has the most extreme case I’ve seen. When he sails up here from Florida, the first thing he does when we loan him our ’91 Honda wagon is tool on over to Citarella and buy a whole loaf of their sourdough peasant bread. They only offer one uncut loaf per day (because normal people only buy a quarter — or at most a half) so Bill makes sure he’s at the door first thing in the morning when they open so he can grab it.

Yup. It is indeed a big ole loaf. And I can’t believe he eats the whole thing

Then the very next day he’s there, lurking around at opening time, again. That’s because he — with some help from The Dude and The Child — manages to wolf down that whole loaf in just one day.

Check out the photo at the top of this post, and you can admire The Dude’s wolfing method — chomping a chunk au naturel, while marching around the house. His Bro Bill, on the other hand, likes to carve off a slab (with the world’s longest bread knife, bought special for me one Christmas by Dude Man), cram it in the toaster, slather it with butter — and then march around. I sometimes hand him a plate. But then he leaves the plate somewhere outside, like on a lawn chair or a stair step, or perched on a surfboard. So mostly I skip it, since I’d rather find some crumbs than lose a plate.

Bro Bill, who remains one of my Favorite People, even festooned with bread crumbs

Needless to say, my method of cleaning after house guests leave rather than before they arrive, which you can learn about in “To Clean or not to Clean?,” was invented just for these occasions.

The Child loves bread so much that sometimes she orders a side of bread to go with her…bread

The Child, as eluded to before, has inherited this Bread Fixation. And she has passed it along to not only her BF but her Gal Pals. When they visit, which is not nearly enough, they head out first thing to score a Citarella loaf of their own. I swear to god I have never known such a contingent of bread-friendly skinny people.

I must say, aside from the crumbs crunching underfoot, it does my heart good seeing people enjoy a foodstuff so much. And at least, unlike my brownies (which you can find the recipe for right here), the crumbs are beige, and kind of blend in with the floor tiles. Except for the crunching underfoot, you wouldn’t know they were there.

No, this is not Citarella. Just the normal IGA bread aisle after 4th of July weekend — or after a Dude Relation Visit

Speaking of Breadlike Objects (the actual name The Dude and I gave to baked goods back in our early courting days), we have had a long history with same. To this day I go into a Proustian reverie when I bite into a cinnamon-raisin bagel, which was our car snack on the way to the Hamptons in our courting days.

Back in our dating days, skinny enough for many stops for bagels and coffee

We would stop at this place on 2nd Avenue right by the entrance to the Upper Roadway of the (then) Queensborough Bridge for fresh hot bagels and sort-of-okay pre-Starbucks coffee. This was such a long time ago that The Dude and I would fashion a “sippy lid” out of a plain old takeout coffee lid by tearing a wedge-like opening in it. (Where are our royalties? It was completely our invention!)

I still like to chomp into a cinnamon-raisin bagel now and then — the chewier the better — but I must admit that I enjoy watching The Dude and his fellow Bread Lovers chomp on their bread more than I enjoy eating it myself. They tend to go into a sort of food-induced trance: their eyes glaze over, and if it’s Bro Bill who’s indulging, make little murmurs of bliss.

But there is a treat that even Breadaholic Bill enjoys more than sourdough. A treat that makes him do a little happy dance while standing at the kitchen counter, spoon in hand. Specifically, it’s a treat that starts with “Haagen” and ends with “Dazs”.

The Child’s BF, enjoying what might possibly be the only rival to bread in The Dude Food Universe

New York City. November 2019

 

And then there were none

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‘How to make the world’s best brownies, bar none.’

I’m seriously distracted today. The Wayner and I are considering “downsizing” from our Manhattan home of nigh-on twenty-five years to a place that just became available in a highly-desirable building nearby. It’s adorable, filled with light; all the clever original casement windows face a gorgeous private garden. And so on and so forth.

The issue? It’s so small (the kitchen is six feet by six; but at least it has a kitchen) that moving there would take a major attitude adjustment, not to mention a pruning of possessions so majorific it would make Marie Kondo‘s head explode.

Eeensy-weensy isn’t the half of it

So, what to do?

Let’s make a batch of brownies, by gum! Nothing is easier — or more soothing. I have a foolproof method (it’s so simple, I hesitate to call it a “recipe”) that I’ve used even longer than The Dude and I have lived in this (sniff) apartment. It’s sort of adapted from an old Maida Heatter cookbook I have lying around somewhere (and will soon be donating to some library or other).

Here’s the recipe written down for somebody-or-other. Don’t worry; I will “translate”

Oh. Before I forget. The picture at the top of this post is not of anyone making brownies. Believe it or not, no one has ever “captured” me working my brownie magic. (I guess because it all happens so fast.) No, that picture was taken in the “old” kitchen of the Amagansett house. That thing on the wall behind The Child’s head is a stereo/radio gizmo with a flip-down turntable. The veritable epitome of Seventies hi-tech! (That and the faux woodgrain cabinetry are no longer with us.)

Another shot of us crafting cookies. Because why not?

Anyway. Enough with the Habitation Talk. On to the brownies!

Now let me start by saying that if you are a fan of fat cakelike brownies, stop reading right now. Just run out and grab yourself a box of Betty Crocker Brownie Mix. I’m sure it’s “perfectly good”, as my Mom would say.

But if dense, dark, and delicious is your brownie thing, you’ve come to the right blog.

Let’s jump ahead to the finished product, shall we? You will never see your brownies pictured this way — they will be gone too fast

So here’s what you do. Plop 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate into a bowl with a stick of butter. Put the bowl into a saucepan with some water in it. (The pan, not the bowl.)

Butter and chocolate happily merging in the saucepan of simmering water, eggs and vanilla at the ready

Note: 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate used to be 4 squares. Then Baker’s got all cost-cutting and decided to reconfigure the bar. So now you need to use half the bar, however many squares that is. I always forget.

Easy to remember: “Bakers” chocolate. Cause you’re “baking”, get it?

While you’re melting the chocolate/butter stuff, prepare the pan. I use a square glass one, but really any similarly-sized pan will do. Turn said pan upside down, mold a square of foil over the back, then flip the pan over and place the molded foil inside. (You do this because it’s easier to get a good foil shape that way.) Then use the wrapper from the stick of butter to butter up the inside of the pan. (You probably will need to use a bit more butter; so have two suitably-softened sticks handy.)

The prepared pan. Not pretty, but pretty darned effective at keeping those brownies from sticking. Oh, those flowers in that teensy vase are intentionally dry, okay? And hey! That vase just might fit in the new apartment!

Once your mixture is melted and you’ve stirred it so it’s smooth (yum! I’m salivating all over my laptop!) you remove it from the pan of water and add one scant cup of sugar. (The original recipe calls for a full cup, but my peeps like them better not so sweet.) After that, stir in a teaspoon of vanilla.

By now the mixture should have cooled down enough that you can beat in two eggs, one at a time. (If you add the eggs too soon, they cook. And who wants chocolate scrambled eggs?)

After that, stir in half a cup of flour. Scoop this delicious smelling concoction into your prepared pan and pop into a 325 oven. Use the middle rack. The recipe says to bake for half an hour to 35 minutes, but I start checking at 25 minutes. How do you know when they’re done? Well, when they look like this:

The brownies are done when the middle is puffed up like this. Or, if for some reason, they don’t puff, they’re done when a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean

Now, Pro Tip. Here’s the other reason you line the pan with foil. As soon as you can after removing the pan from the oven, carefully slide the brownies, foil and all, out of the pan and onto something heat-proof like a trivet. It’s not essential to do this — trust me, those brownies are going to taste great — but this does stop the brownies from continuing to “cook” from the heat retained by the pan.

When you’re ready to serve them, take a long serrated knife and cut the pan’s worth of brownies in half, then half again, till you have a bunch of squares. You might need to wiggle a knife under each one to release them, because no matter how well you pre-butter that foil, they’re so chewy-gooey they often stick.

Serve with ice cream, or not. If you have any left over (hah!) they freeze pretty darned well. I hope you have as much fun making these brownies as I have; they’re guaranteed to please.

You give the brownies; you get the gifts!

Oh — one more thing. And it’s very very important. Do not wash that bowl. There is sure to be at least one person around who will want to “clean” it for you.

The best part. Or at least The Child seems to think so

Okay. That’s all she wrote. For today, anyway. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go off somewhere and obsess about maybe-moving. Note that no offer has been made on this particular apartment — much less accepted. But the downsizing cat has been definitely let out of the worry-wart bag. Or something. Gulp!

New York City. September 2019

The Forty-Dollar Farm Stand

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‘Yes, we have no bananas’

I miss The Bonacker. Especially when I get a craving for corn.

The Bonacker was this crusty old guy who’d set up a card table on the grassy verge of the road near the power station and pile it with sweet corn that he’d haul over every morning in from, I’m assuming, his farm.

I don’t have a photo of The Bonacker, but he was a dead ringer (no pun intended) for my Grampa Henry. Come to think of it, I never saw them on the same tractor at the same time

I’m assuming he was a farmer because he sold corn. But other Bonackers (AKA “Bubs”) were baymen who, instead of hauling corn, would “haul-seine”) bluefish and sell them right on the beach. Actually, many men of the Bonacker persuasion did both. They also raked clams which their wives would make into clam pies. (I have never tasted a clam pie, and have no plans to do so.)

But I did taste — and savor — my share of Bonaker corn. I’d stop by The Bonacker’s on my bike and fill up my basket. I remember it cost 10 cents an ear. If you bought a dozen, he’d throw in a bonus ear. I also remember that we rarely had any left over. Which was sort of a shame, since Corn Salad is one of my favorite creations. (You can find the recipe, which is actually more of a “method”, at “Friends, Romans, Countrymen: lend me your ears”.)

As rare as Bonacker accents at my house — leftover corn

The Bonacker was so cool that if you forgot your money (which happened to me more than once) he would simply tell you to pay him next time. As for “telling you”, understanding him could be a bit of a challenge. The Bonackers, including “my” Bonacker, spoke a dialect that harkened back to the 17th Century when the first working-class English came over.

Bonackers left out pronouns, called each other “Bub”, and pronounced “ie” like “oy”. (That clam pie would be a clam “poy”, but I still don’t want to taste it.) They also used archaic English words like “wickus” for rascal, and “cattywumpus” for, well, cattywumpus.

Now, my Bonacker may be gone, but you can still find damn good corn out here at many a farm stand. My favorite — and not only because it’s close enough that I can still hop on that same trusty (now pretty creaky) bike to go score me some — is the one I (sort of) affectionately refer to as the Forty-Dollar Farm Stand.

The Forty-Dollar Farm Stand is run by surfers. Or at least farmers who surf — or who surfed at some point

I used to call it the Twenty-Dollar Farm Stand because, no matter what I bought, it cost twenty dollars. Me: “I’ll take that piece of cheese and those cocktail napkins” Farm Stand Guy: “That’ll be twenty dollars, please.” Or: “I’d like a pint of olives and some of that fresh mozzarella.” “That’ll be twenty dollars, please.” I’d hand over the twenty I’d tucked into my sneaker and off I’d go.

This is one reason I ride my bike: Road rage at the Forty-Dollar Farm Stand. The more stuff costs, the more people want to buy it. I guess

But that was the old days. Now I need two twenties — one in each sneaker. (If the prices get any steeper, I’ll need to grow another foot — and I don’t mean in height.)

Fortunately, the items that cost the earth are usually things I don’t buy except once in a blue moon for a hostess gift — things like jams and pickles. And their pies. I haven’t seen a “clam poy” there, but their other pies are so pricey you might as well just pile some dollar bills into a crust with sugar and butter and eat that. Yum.

I’ve got to give the Forty-Dollar Farm Stand credit, though. Expensive though their items may be, they don’t sell anything that isn’t made or grown locally. Once, at a different, not-so-scrupulous farm stand, I was standing behind this Fancy City Lady when she held up a hand of bananas and asked if they were “local”.

Oh, and the F-D FS corn is still pretty reasonable (at least you don’t feel like you’re chomping on an ear made of money) — and absolutely delicious. Besides, what’s not to like about a farm stand with a dog named Blue? (See the photo featuring blue-eyed Blue at the top of this post.)

Shucking corn using a Mom-tested, Bud-fueled method

And, speaking of methods, you can find an absolutely foolproof way to cook corn by checking out “To Hell with Kale”. Honest to the Bonacker Gods, you’ll get perfect corn every time. (Hint: gin and tonic is involved.)

Wineberries. Which you cannot buy at a farm stand, even if you stuff your sneakers with twenties. But you can find them in my yard in August — if you are really nice to me

Amagansett, New York. August 2019

“What’s that smell?”

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‘There’s something rotten in the State of Illinois’

It rained this Easter. Which wasn’t really a problem, not for me anyway, since I don’t have any little kids to take on an Easter Egg Hunt. (More’s the pity.)

But I remember very well, being the Oldest Kid and all, what happened one time when it rained on our, er, Easter Parade.

But first, a word about Easter.

My family was Lutheran. Which is sort of like being Catholic, but stripped-down and rather basic — kind of like the black-wall tire of religions, or like being the Catholic B-Team. We were jealous of our cousins who were Catholic and enjoyed the full-on religious package; they got to have First Communion and wear fancy dresses and patent leather mary janes and hats with (gasp) veils and get sprinkled with Holy Water. They even got to kneel. (When you’re seven, you think kneeling is incredibly cool.)

I remember that purse. I loved that purse; I distinctly remember putting my collection envelope in there — and (gasp) am I wearing a hat?

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My breast is in no need of a rub, thank you very much

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‘When it comes to turkey, isn’t predictability the point?’

I’m sitting here watching raindrops pelt my newly-washed windows while consoling myself with yet another cup of coffee. I just got back from the IGA, where there were no brussels sprouts to be had. Me, noticing empty bin: “No brussels sprouts?” Store employee, noticing panicky face: “Later, Miss. (She gets points for that “Miss”.) We are waiting for the truck.”

But I did get Mr. Turkey. And he looks mighty fine indeed. Speaking of fresh turkey, did I ever tell you about the time The Dude’s Dad ordered one, then put it in the freezer? We had hamburger and cranberry sauce that Thanksgiving.

On my Quest for the Perfect Piecrust

Anyway. Yesterday, I was scouring my sources for the Very Best Piecrust Recipe, which to me is like the Holy Grail. (No matter how many times I make piecrust, I’m constantly on a quest for a Better Way. The last couple of years I’ve been adding vodka; not sure if it makes a difference, but it’s sure more fun.) Continue reading

Friends, Romans, Countrymen: Lend me your ears

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‘And I’ll show you how to make Corn Salad’

“Leftover corn? What’s that?” Would be what any member of the Henry Clan would say if you offered to share this recipe.

Because, when I was growing up, there simply wasn’t any corn left over after we were done attacking a big ole platter of ears.

Each of us could pack away more than one could imagine a normal child could consume. But it was my Oldest Younger Brother Scott who was the Corn Champion. His capacity for corn was so prodigious that my Grampa Peterson said Scott’s middle name should be “Sweet Corn”, and actually used to refer to him—in the summertime, anyway, when the corn was at its peak and Scott would eat the most—as “Scott Sweet-Corn Henry”.

The guy who dubbed my brother “Scott Sweet-Corn Henry”, my beloved pipe-smoking Grampa P

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Paradise by the kitchen light

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‘Meatloaf again. Or maybe chili this time.’

It’s my darned fault it’s been so chilly here in the Northeast. Not only did I stow my chili (speaking of ‘chilly’) pot away, but I put my meatloaf pans in mothballs. Figuratively, that is. It’s sort of like what happened last week when I took our big fat comforter to the cleaners. It snowed.

But back to the kitchen. When the weather’s cold, there’s nothing we Henrys like better than a big ole batch of Anything Made With Ground Meat. Of course, my Oldest Younger Brother Scott, being a Californian, scorns chili made with ground meat. But the rest of us slurp it up like gangbusters. (I’m featuring a photo of a large pot of a late great batch right there at the top of this post.)

When I was growing up, my Mom made chili a lot. Her recipe for chili was the same as her recipe for spaghetti sauce — except that the chili had beans. Continue reading

The Breakfast of Champions

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‘Some random thoughts on The Think Drink’

So. I’m walking into my apartment lobby and run into a couple of neighbors. Well, I didn’t literally run into them, which is a good thing because I was clutching an extremely large container of coffee. A venti quad skim latte, to be exact. Which is four shots of espresso and some frothy skim milk. It’s really big, and really good, if you like that sort of thing. And I do.

Well, after making some remark about coming by later to ‘scrape me off the walls’, my neighbors waltzed off to buy Christmas cards or wrapping paper or evergreen fronds. Or something. While I came upstairs to write this piece. (And sip my coffee.)

I love coffee. If some doctor told me I couldn’t drink it, I would have some pretty serious issues. I think it’s delicious, and I also think it gets your brain firing on all cylinders. I’m not the only one. Years ago there was an ad campaign for coffee with the tagline ‘The Think Drink’. And, to this day, Young Attractive Persons use coffee as a study aid. (See photo at the top of this post as proof; Attractive Person pictured is the son of one of my friends, preparing for a final exam.)

Proof that coffee fuels creativity as well as study. Note mug on table as well as spoons on noses

I grew up with Attractive Persons who were always drinking coffee. ‘Would you like coffee?’, ‘Coffee’s in the kitchen’ or even a simple ‘Coffee’s on’ was how one was greeted at the door. In fact, while digging out pictures for this post, I realized that it was a rare family photo that did not feature a Henry or Peterson adult clutching a mug. Continue reading

Flipping the bird

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‘The upside — and, alas, the downside — of Turkey Day.’

Bless his little birdie heart, that turkey up there looks like he’s flipping me right back. Well, I did roast him, after all.

Many of you will have already seen this photo, which I posted on Facebook before The Dude carved Mr. Turkey up into succulent slices, but after I’d imbibed beaucoup de glasses of wine.

I decided to use it here (the photo, I mean) because A) it got a lot of reaction from my Internet Friends, and B) it gave me lots of good material, in the form of comments. (My opening remark came courtesy Judy R. Thanks, Judy!)

Other clever comments came from Mary Ann B H, who asked if this was “going to be my Christmas Card”, to which I answered “Great idea! If in fact I sent Christmas Cards”. And Debi F, who asked “Did you paint that thing? It’s perfect!?!?!” (No, Debi. No paint was involved in the making of this turkey. But I do have two words for you turkey cooks: convection oven.)

I’m needing all the help I can get with this week’s post because even though Thanksgiving is quite honestly my very favorite holiday (read ‘Turkey Shoot’ for five Rockette-solid reasons why it beats the stuffing out of Christmas), it is also exhausting.

No no, not exhausting. Pretty exhilarating, in fact

No no. Pie-making is not exhausting. Pretty exhilarating, in fact. Especially with Van Morrison on the Bose

It’s not the preparation that’s exhausting. I rather like the pie-making and vegetable-prepping. I even like the table-setting. In fact, those who honor me with their presence on this Best of All Possible Holidays know that I can be rather a Kitchen Nazi, hogging all the chores for myself. (Though this year I did let the Young and Fit haul out the extra folding chairs.) Continue reading