Thursday, September 30, 2010

ADDENDUM: Thanksgiving Itinerary of a Mad Woman

In light of my love of lists (see previous post), I thought last year's Thanksgiving To-Do List might come in handy for those of you planning a big party. Even if you’re not, this list is worth a good laugh. Yes, I am familiar with the phrase OCD.

Any fellow list-makers care to share (or confess) their secrets?

BTW, I did not actually cook all of this food. My family deserves much of the credit.

Thanksgiving 2009
November 26th @ 2pm
Guests: 15


Hor D’Oevres:
Samosas and Pakora
Cheese and crackers
Artichoke hearts: baked with parmesan, bread crumbs and egg, and sprinkled with Brianna’s salad dressing, boil artichokes ahead of time, and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees

Main Course:
Turkey – Amy
Stuffing (Whole Grain Stuffing with Apples, Sausage and Pecans, FW 2009 p 124) – Amy
Vegetarian Stuffing
Cranberry sauce (Really good! Cranberry with blueberries)
Day-ahead mashed potato - Amy
Spinach lasagna – Amy
Veggie dish

Dessert Course:
Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie

To Do List:

Weekend of 14th to 15th
Find stuffing recipe done
Get dishes from everyone else done
Find turkey recipe done
Farmer’s Market: Pay for turkey, Purchase sausage and a few other ingredients (maybe apples for cake and sage) done

Monday, November 16th
Get rugs cleaned
Put in Fresh Direct order for Monday, November 23rd

Sunday, November 22nd
Farmer’s Market shopping (make list; adjust fresh direct list accordingly
Update fresh direct order

Monday, November 23th
Fresh Direct order will come
Make sauce with Joan
Make Pumpkin bread

Tuesday, November 24th
Make facial appointment
Polish silver
Get whole wheat bread, vanilla from Zabars
Square tissue paper

Wednesday, November 25th
Get flowers
Make stuffing (don’t bake, refrigerate)
Make mashed potatoes
Brine turkey
Make dressing for bird (F&W)
Map out timing of bird
Get more kitty litter
Annette comes

Thursday, November 26th
Set table
Prep coffee
Set up cocktail table
Put away coats
Make turkey broth?
Rinse and dry
Put herb butter under skin (See F&W instructions)
Stuff bird immediately before roasting
10:30am to 11:30am – Put turkey in oven at 425 degrees with herb butter, add two cups of broth and carrots, onion and celery (45 minutes), cover stuffing area
11:10 am to 12:10 – Remove turkey from over and cover breast with foil, reduce temperature to 350 degrees (1 ½ hours if stuffed, 1 hours if not stuffed)
12:40 pm to 1:40 pm – Remove foil, add 2 more cups of broth. Roast until juices run clear and temperature is between 170-180, 160 in stuffing area (check after 1 hour)
1:30pm Set up hordoevres (throw artichokes in with turkey)
2:30pm Heat food
Make gravy
3:00pm Dinner
Whipped cream

Get mirrors?
Get tablecloths dry cleaned
Polish silver
Grocery shopping

Recipe Ideas:
Stuffing in F&W 2009, p 124 (day ahead and then bake on Thurs)
Do Day-Ahead Mashed potatoes with fried scallions (Wednesday)
Canyon Ranch butternut squash soup (This weekend)
Brussel Sprouts from 2007

NV Domaine Ste Michelle Blanc de Blancs (sparkling)
2008 Seven Terraces Pinot Noir
2007 Heron Pinot Noir
2008 Bodegas Montecillo Verdemar Albarino

• The turkey was really really good! I used recipe from Food & Wine, November 2009, p 153. Added carrots, celery and onions to the pan, and emulsified them for gravy. Don’t make gravy with too much chicken stock.
• Also think that the sausage, apple and pecan stuffing is a keeper. F&W, p 124
• Mom roasted turkey the opposite way: She covered it in the beginning and then took off foil to crisp. May try that next time.
• If stuffing is not hot enough and turkey is ready, take out and bake in oven at high temp.
• Don’t bother making any hor doevres if Kapoors are coming. We will just do Indian cocktail hour!
• Set up: Use desk for buffet table and counter for drinks.
• Don’t forget to buy cocktail napkins and plates.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chicken Soup: For The Love of Lists

When Mom had a dinner party she often threw off a ball of energy much like that of the Tasmanian devil. In a single afternoon, she would sweep through the grocery store, throw the ingredients together, run the vacuum around the house, and –voila!—a party was born. To a large degree, this blog has been a celebration of her spontaneity. After all, her ability to get things done on the fly was truly remarkable. There was poetry in her chaos.

A lot can be said, however, for a carefully planned and executed meal. And no one pulls this off better than my mother-in-law, Lenore.

About two or three weeks before any given holiday, Lenore sketches out a menu. She then whips up a batch of chicken soup for freezing. Within a few days of the festivities, she will cook the dishes that can be frozen or safely refrigerated and clean the house. On the morning of the big day, she wakes up to set the table with good china. Be it Thanksgiving, Passover, or Rosh Hoshanah, guests are always greeted by a serene hostess with time to visit. (It doesn’t hurt that she is flagged by her sister-in-law, a seasoned pro at last minute details.)

As much as I strive to emulate the spirit of Mom, a great deal of what I know about entertaining and cooking I learned from Lenore. For several years now, I have thrown a Yom Kippur break-the-fast party for roughly 30 to 40 people. (FYI, Break-The-Fast is when Jewish people cap off a day of sin-atoning starvation with a huge bagel nosh). Inspired by Lenore, I begin the preparations by writing a highly-detailed list. When the party is over, I usually jot down notes to myself, and file the list for the following year. I have done the same for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hannukah. (OK, I’ll admit, I just really, really, really love to make lists!!!)

The list-making may border on insanity, and Mom surely would shake her head with wonder. However, unlike my Mom, without structure I am an utter disaster. Such as this week, when I discovered at the very busy check-out line at Fairway grocery store that I forgot to bring my wallet, and had to call my husband to find said wallet to rescue me from angry Fairway cashier, manager and customers…thus narrowly averting riot on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. See? Disaster!

Practical benefits aside, grace resides in a good plan. And while, I always believed that an instinctive approach was the only way to express yourself through cooking, Lenore has proven me wrong. As she recently put it: “I love the science of cooking. If I carefully follow directions, I can create something entirely new. Something completely different from where I began.”



Lenore is best known for her chicken soup. While her soup does not require precise amounts, it certainly embodies the magic of science. After all, soup is the biology of fat, bones, salt and water that somehow creates a delicious antibiotic. Who knew?!

Making soup from scratch takes the large part of a day, but I think it’s totally worth it. I usually make soup once or twice a year, and then freeze the broth in smaller containers. The stock lasts me months, and reduces my grocery shopping list –and sodium intake— significantly. Also, making soup is insanely satisfying. Makes you feel like Ma Ingalls, stocking up for the big winter.

(As written in her daughter Jodi’s family cookbook)

1 stewing (or soup) chicken, cut in quarters to make about 6 jars of soup.
4 carrots sliced thick
3 stalks of celery sliced thick
Several sprigs of dill
3 onions cut in quarters
1 Tbsp of Kosher salt
1 parsnip
½ tsp of pepper

Rinse the chicken, put in a large pot and cover with water (maybe 2 quarts). Bring to a boil and skim any scum off top of the water. Add the vegetable, salt, and pepper. Simmer for about 1 ½ hours. Separate the chicken and vegetables from the soup using a colander, and add carrots back to the clear soup.

NOTE: I usually separate out 2 jars of soup, and about 6 smaller containers of broth.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Perhaps, it’s a bit late to bid summer goodbye. But –Hell!— summer is an attitude and it’s taken me until today to let it go. So here’s my swan song. My love letter to Block Island.

August was always the most magical month for my family. Every August, we loaded our car up “to the gills” (Jeanne’s words, not mine), and carefully backed it on to a ferry boat in Point Judith, Rhode Island. We then climbed to the top deck to eagerly search the horizon for our first annual view of Block Island.

If you know me, you have surely grown tired of my tales of Block Island. (It has been likened to Alyson Hannigan’s character in American Pie, “One time…at band camp!”) However, so many important moments of my life unfolded on this tiny island. This is where I learned to ride a bike, transformed jetties into cities, and experienced the pure joy of summer romance. It’s also where I first learned of my Grandmother’s death, and –most important of all— married Jeff, my sweet, gentle husband. It’s where we scattered Mom’s ashes.

Block Island has also bestowed me with many friendships. The connections I formed there are countless, spanning from playmates to college buddies to fellow parents at the beach. However, perhaps the most precious and influential group are the folks we met at the Surf Hotel –a funky Victorian building located on the beach with a lobby brimming with porcelain dolls, and heavy mahogany furniture. The Surf was an acquired taste, appealing only to those who did not require amenities expected in 20th century hotels (Forget 21st). Yet I loved it. Mainly because of the eclectic group of people it attracted each year.

Our friends at the Surf included suburban families, urban couples, and elderly individuals. But none of that mattered. I would sit on the porch and talk to adults about real topics, be it art, politics, faith or just what made us laugh. It was as though the timeless quality of the Surf magically erased the barriers of age. I received my most valuable education from these friendships and their varied perspectives. Namely, that there are many ways to live well.

May my children be blessed with such a lesson.

One friend was Peter Heineman. An artist in Manhattan, Peter was constantly puttering around with various projects. He would walk the shores of Block Island for hours, scavenging bits of shells or garbage that struck his interest. Each year, he pounded out postcards on an old-fashioned typewriter and sent them off to friends and family back. Peter studied the world carefully through intense blue eyes.

When I was a kid, Peter was something of an enigma to me. He didn’t speak much, and told stories about his Depression-era childhood that often terrified me. I felt more comfortable around his wife, Marie, who organized amazing art projects for the kids and made you laugh until you cried. Yet, I later learned that Peter had spent those years carefully and lovingly watching my brother and I grow.

About five years ago, I was the lucky recipient of a Peter Heineman postcard. Typed in classic courier print, it read like poetry:

“when you were small it seemed you only ate one hot dog every other day. a casual observer might have worried some a tiny girl who subsisted on one hot dog every other day, but your parents never made a fuss about it and you grew up maybe even to eat a greater variety of menus. Now certainly at your New York [wedding] reception there was a plethora of food types. I certainly gorged myself as I usually do and have done. Born in 1931 depression baby people were thrilled that I cleaned my plate and looked around for more while other kids hemmed and hawed over oddments like peas or asparagus or clams or spinach. I was always happy to wipe my plate clean. Other mothers would say to their dispirited kids. “Look at Petey, boy look he’s eaten all his broccoli and liver! why can’t you be like little Petey?” might have worked as a kid, but it’s a hard act to follow in your 70s. but that’s probably something you don’t have to worry about. Best, P"

He had struck a chord. At the time, my own daughter was in a phase of eating one chicken finger per day, creating a whirlwind of anxiety in my house. Peter reminded me of something invaluable: This too shall pass. My mom was never a fan of forcing kids to eat, and I wound up loving food (sometimes too much). Peter held this history close to his heart.

Today, Peter is battling a rare cancer. Sad as I am, as I glance over this postcard, I am reminded of his singular take on the world and his quiet love for my family. He has made a difference, and for that I am thankful.


And, of course, there was the food. Block Island is a place for big, casual communal dinners, many of which we shared with Marie and Peter. Marie used to go clamming in the Great Salt Pond. She and my mom would serve Marie's slippery treasures iced on the Surf porch. (So gross, I thought).

In recent years, I have concocted my own recipe that incorporates clams, shrimp, tomatoes and zucchini. The combination creates a briny broth that’s wonderful with pasta or crusty bread. To me, it’s the perfect way to honor Block Island in its late summer glory. Clams are still widely available at East Coast farmers markets, so don’t be shy to try this one now.

Late Summer Seafood Medley

1 Tbsp, butter
2 plum tomatoes (cut into eighths )
1 zucchini (cut in 1 inch strips)
½ cup, chopped onion
¼ cup, fresh basil, coarsely chopped (optional)
1 cup, dry white wine
½ cup, chicken broth
Clams (roughly four per person)
½ lb of shrimp
Salt and pepper

1. Wash clams and set aside.
2. Peel, devein and wash shrimp, and set aside
3. Heat butter in deep dished frying pan on medium high heat, and add onions. Cook until translucent.
4. Add zucchini. Cook for 8 minutes or until softened.
5. Add tomatoes. Cook for 8 minutes, and then add half the wine. Bring to a boil.
6. Add clams and cover. Reduce heat to medium and let simmer, adding liquid as broth cooks down.
7. Once clams have opened, add shrimp. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes until pink.
8. Mix in basil, salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Serve in a bowl as a stew/soup. Or serve over pasta.
Invite a lot of friends and laugh.

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