Thanksgiving 2014 Dinner

Here's a picture of us before we got down to business.  The star of the show was the bacon shallot gravy.  It improved everything it came in contact with.  For the sake of all that is holy, you do not need to make 5 lb. of sweet potatoes.  I'm talking to you, 2015 Ginny.  But definitely use Chinese 5 spice and pistachios in the topping.  Also, try not to buy your ham at Costco, unless you have plans for all the leftovers.  Feeding ham to your family every day for a week is not a "plan."

Blurry but happy.

Blurry but happy.

Maddy and John made an excellent horseradish cream to accompany the roast--it involved heavy cream, Greek yogurt, scallions and lots of freshly grated horseradish.  It will be repeated.  Per Maddy's request we did Momofuku cauliflower and the meringue topped sweet potatoes.  Unlikely to make it onto next year's roster were the roasted sunchokes with balsamic and rosemary.  Tasty, not outstanding, and potentially using valuable stomach real estate that you should fill with mashed potatoes instead.  

Die, ham, die.  We are tired of you.

Die, ham, die.  We are tired of you.

Speaking of mashed potatoes--Yukon golds, more butter than cream, plenty of salt.  That is all.     

Sam was right about a salad.  Nobody needs it, and nobody should eat raw parsnips even if they are thinly shaved.  Not a keeper.

A dinner so epic, I have to bring it to you in installments....

This was the first year I consciously organized an appetizer course, even though Sam Sifton tells you not to.  He does approve of oysters on the half shell, and I will repeat next year but only after carefully inspecting the hinge area of each mollusk.  I had at least 6 that defied my efforts to pry them open.  We served them with champagne, lemon and a mignonette (Sifton says mignonette is passé but he can suck it).

Thank goodness for my sous chefs, Maddy, Sophie, John and Shirley who helped make the meal prep less work, and provided comic relief as needed (see last photo in post).

I think even Sam would approve of the eggplant dip pre-meal--light, flavorful and definitely not a gut-bomb.  Thanksgiving day, I was busy shucking oysters, but I can tell you it makes a decent breakfast on Black Friday after a run to the local yarn store.

We braved a Wednesday afternoon Whole Foods run for the oysters and the olives, surprisingly painless.  Ian lobbied for butter pecan ice cream "Maddy wants it" instead of vanilla and I shut him down immediately.  The poor, poor seafood department employees had to deal with folks trying to coordinate their holiday oyster orders, "can we come in Thanksgiving day and you can have them all shucked and ready to go?"  When I said I just wanted 30 oysters and that I would shuck them myself they gave me a couple for free.  I'm hoping that this gives me future street cred with said department.

Remember the last time you were happy?

The worst thing that happened to me today was having to bring the groceries inside, and the trip to Costco to get the groceries.  I'm not dealing with 5' of snow that is going to melt and cause flooding, my kids will be home for the holiday, and I didn't have to think twice about filling my cart with food.

Black decorating sugar, not mouse droppings.

Black decorating sugar, not mouse droppings.

I will fondly remember making pretzels with Sophie for distribution to her friends;   (People loved them, I should bring food in again); discussing the composition of mincemeat  (like spicy dried fruit) with Maddy and not regretting my decision to use paper plates for the Thanksgiving dessert course.  In the coming week the Christmas tree will be erected, the persimmon tree harvested, and if I'm lucky, I could deliver a new member to somebody's family tree on my call shift. 

The worst thing that happened to me yesterday was having to look into my young patient's eyes and tell her that her baby's heart had stopped a mere three weeks before her due date.  To tell her partner that, "Yes, that means your baby is dead," and to call her mother and repeat these words because I was the only one in the room capable of speech.

The shift from happiest job in the world to the saddest in the blink of an eye, and I am forever connected to this woman and her loss.  Her life changed in that moment, always divided into "before" and "after."  What, if anything, will bring her joy this holiday season?  

Reminding us all to be thankful if the last time we felt happy can be measured in minutes.

Happy Belated Pepero Day!

I went to Safeway with every intention of buying the ingredients for several winter salads featured in today's Washington Post food section.  Then I remembered throwing out a partially used bag of kale just two days ago.  The savoy cabbage went into a soup instead.

Right before I spilled that mug of hot cider.

Right before I spilled that mug of hot cider.

Anticipating the upcoming onslaught of pumpkin spice everything, I baked a lavender lemon bundt cake.  I used the lemon Maddy gave me.  The cake is good in the way a tender poundcake should be, but the lavender flavor is lost.  Maybe I won't use lemon extract next time.  Maybe it's related to the age of my lavender which I only recently discovered during the spice cabinet purge.  Sophie said, "It's really good. It's mostly lemony but I'm still getting lavender."

Ian returned bearing many Korean socks, a rainbow stack of felt and cheap earrings.  He leaves again for San Antonio in short order.  The only thing I really wish he could bring back is ice cream from Lick.  Coconut and avocado curd anyone?   Avocados were a dollar a piece today, maybe I can find a recipe on the www.

I also bought the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit  which I will save for reading during my call shift Friday night.  My last shift on labor and delivery was rewarding early on, deteriorating in the last 30 minutes and leaving me emotionally exhausted and angry.  I'm hoping articles on perfect mashed potatoes and left-over strategies will be calming and inspiring.  

 

Subliminally pumpkin spice Bundt.

Subliminally pumpkin spice Bundt.

Highlights of the Week

A short post of some things that happened that we can look back on fondly:

Sophie: reading the Odyssey, finding these tights on sammydress, trying "miracle berries"

Maddy: creating awesome art like it's nothing, DJ'ing The Steam Tunnel, defiant zip-lock bag usage.

Ian: surviving 24 hour trip to Seoul, purchase of many, many cute Korean socks, appropriate documentation of trip on photostream.

Ginny: knitting this hat for Sophie, organizing my spice cabinet(s), learning the rope climb in time to crush the partner WOD at Tough Temple

Maddy wants you to know she did this with substandard tools.

Maddy wants you to know she did this with substandard tools.

Tonight it's fried chicken and onion rings because I am too lazy to put away the deep fryer from last week.  I've watched a lot of TV this week, currently burning through The Bletchley Circle, and Sophie and I are chipping away at the most recent season of Portlandia.

Ink drawing, freehand.

Ink drawing, freehand.

Things I should have been doing this week instead of watching TV: running, rescheduling dental appointments, not eating Halloween candy.  The cross-country banquet is tomorrow.  I organized it, but not without a huge amount of help from a senior mom.  I'm looking forward to it as well as looking forward to it being over.  Ian comes home late Sunday, but hopefully early enough for Sophie and I to squee over all the Korean treasures he will be bringing back.

My preferred medium, fried dough.

My preferred medium, fried dough.

A Most Excellent Surprise

Maddy and her friend John had a spontaneous visit this weekend.  We surprised Sophie by having John (who she hadn't met yet) pose as a church goer collecting extra Halloween candy.  The last time we surprised Sophie with a visit from Maddy was Christmas of 2010 when she arrived at the house bearing a stack of Twinkies.  The Lees like sugar-associated pranks.  One of the first things Maddy said when she arrived yesterday was, "This kitchen is so clean."  Her kitchen apparently sets the bar pretty low these days.  She also has a passive-aggressive roommate that wouldn't allow her to open a new jar of jam until the current jars were finished.  The same guy forbids zip-lock bags.  She's moving in December.

I had lured her with promises of poke and Spam musubi.  

Unfortunately I only get to keep the lemon.

Unfortunately I only get to keep the lemon.

We had a big vegetable curry, roasted carrots and a delicious winter cocktail: vieux carre.  This is a cocktail I really enjoy at home--easy to construct provided you have the more obscure ingredients and one I wouldn't order in a restaurant because I would be afraid of mispronouncing it.  I'm pretty sure it's the only reason to buy a bottle of Benedictine.

We watched several episodes of "Cutthroat Kitchen."  One of the challenges was making a cupcake in a microwave.  We immediately thought of mug cakes which are having a moment.  I'm sure there are hundreds of dedicated Pintrest boards and somebody somewhere is having mug cakes at their wedding.

Maddy has been asked to contribute artwork to a Charlottesville publication, stay tuned for updates.  She made the mug sitting next to the lemon, but I am pretty sure her preferred medium is pumpkins.

not a cake

not a cake

Homecoming 2014

That dress we picked out at the end of the summer "just in case" was perfect for Homecoming. Sophie and some of her girlfriends enjoyed an Italian dinner prior to their fashionably late arrival at the dance.

This year she wanted to make sure you could "see that she was wearing make-up," wore high heels, and actually danced.  

The dapper gentlemen is Sophie's childhood friend, Logan who was in town with his parents who ran the Army Ten-Miler with us on Sunday.  He braved the dance with this gaggle of girls.  Sophie got home at 11 p.m., and we were already in bed.  I had a great race the next morning running a 1:15:42 and helping our master's women team to their 4th consecutive victory.  We celebrated with a late brunch at Le Diplomate where we conquered a seafood tower and a slab of foie gras with ease.

Here is an unrelated photo of the recent lunar eclipse/blood moon.  We woke Sophie up to watch, and she came out, looked at the sky for approximately 2 seconds and returned to bed.

Finally, an update.

I'm really glad that Aaron Silverman, chef of the acclaimed Rose's Luxury, let us know how the sausage is made.  I am a notorious hoarder of ethnic ingredients and had everything in my pantry I needed to pull this dish together.  I ate it for dinner and then every day for breakfast the rest of the week.  In Singapore when I wasn't eating kaya toast for breakfast I was eating nasi lemak--a savory breakfast dish with layers of salty/crunchy/sweet flavors.  These bowls are reminiscent of nasi lemak and a heck of a lot easier than making kaya.

Bowl of goodness.

Bowl of goodness.

I've been trying to be better about the cooking--I've made chicken gyros, pesto farro, chocolate chip cookie bars, homemade ricotta, kale chips, meatballs and granola bars this week.  When I was shopping at Safeway this morning the power went out, and I texted Maddy a picture of the darkened meat aisle with the caption "power out at Safeway, going to start looting."  She replied, "Saffron!"  

Luckily it must have been a very local outage because when I left the store there were no zombies in the streets, and I was able to ride to Giant and buy my meatball mix.  Speaking of zombies, I am watching the most recently available season of "The Walking Dead" on Netflix, and I can't imagine how sick of stabbing zombies in the head I would be during an apocalypse because I am super sick of watching other people stab zombies in the head.  

Other accomplishments this week include knitting two hats for Sophie's cross-country coaches, running 14.75 miles at a consistent pace, deadlifting 183 lb. ( which means if Ian is ever incapacitated  I can get him off the floor), and making an awesome playlist for Sophie's cross-country meet.

Kale chips with pesto farro and a bag of Costco pears.

Kale chips with pesto farro and a bag of Costco pears.

Feeling hot, hot, hot.

The hottest day of the summer snuck in just under the wire on the Saturday before Labor Day.  Sophie and her teammates braved the 95F heat and humidity to pull off podium finishes for the Varsity A boys (1st place), Varsity A girls (3rd place),

Vikings on the loose.

Vikings on the loose.

Sophie ran a PR and led the Varsity B girls to a 2nd place finish.  Must have been all the cowbell.

Eat her dust purple jersey boy.

Eat her dust purple jersey boy.

Labor Day Pie Contest

Lots of labor, came home empty-handed.  I am determined to win next time.  A savory corn and bacon pie took second place (Maddy texted me at the time "Corn and bacon?! How 1990.")  A plum pie took first, and the maker wasn't even there to claim her prize.  There were no third places--what the heck?  How tough would it have been to announce a third place?

Don't I look hopeful....

Don't I look hopeful....

No, the bacon-lattice pie didn't win.

No, the bacon-lattice pie didn't win.

Sophie was a more gracious loser, and she was anxious for the contest to be over so she could taste the winning pies.  The youth winner was a blueberry-mint.  She said, "It was good but you definitely couldn't taste the mint."  I'm kicking myself for not encouraging her to put some tarragon into the peach filling of her hand-pies.  I did overhear the judges commenting on how perfectly cooked her crust was.  We had store-bought Boston cream pie for dessert that night which was equally, if not more, exciting  for her.

Wake me up when September ends....

Heat and humidity back with a vengeance.  Just in time for the first cross-country meet this weekend and my mileage ramp-up for the Army Ten Miler.  During the WOD I could barely hold on to my sweaty wall-ball, and I haven't left the house all day.  Poor Maddy, her new house does not have A/C.  It does have composting toilets that, thankfully, are not her responsibility to maintain.  I'm hoping she will help me build this in my backyard once the weather is cooler.  Maybe I'll nail that muscle-up before my 50th birthday.

Is it local? Not likely at $0.97/lb.  

Is it local? Not likely at $0.97/lb.  

With Sophie back in school I did use my relatively free time to make some good dinners including Yotam Ottolenghi's sweet corn polenta and his za'atar roast chicken.  The polenta I topped with a fresh tomato sauce.   You should definitely make the eggplant sauce if you have eggplant--Ottolenghi turned eggplant into a Lee family favorite.  With the tomato sauce it was more like a soup which suited Sophie just fine and packed well for lunching.  Will make again even though it's a pain to cut corn off the cob.  Sophie wants you to know that the number of kernels on the cob = the number of strands of silk.  We are grooming her for Jeopardy.

The za'atar roast chicken was easy and also delicious although Ian said "it's a bit fatty" and Sophie dissected hers with near surgical precision.  I think I will use split breasts next time.  If I do I will make the green tahini sauce because I think breasts have an annoyingly high meat:skin ratio.  Maybe if I bought free-range chicken without their genetically enhanced breasts this would be less of a problem.   The reason I omitted the sauce was because I  made the haricot vert and freekah salad which called for tahini and herbs;  and a half-teaspoon of pure maple syrup.   Really? Was Yottam just rummaging around in his fridge one day trying to use up the odd bits of condiments?  You could probably omit this and nobody would be the wiser.

Speaking of using stuff up, I had some almond flour and coconut flour hogging up freezer door real estate that I needed for Gatorade bottles so I made this "gluten-free, Paleo banana bread."  Except I added butterscotch and chocolate chips, because, you know, the freezer door thing.    I am doubtful that cavemen had access to coconuts or bananas, but I defer to the experts.  Awaiting the verdict from the post-workout teens before I put this recipe in the rotation.

I hear cavemen loved chocolate chips.

I hear cavemen loved chocolate chips.

A tale of two cakes.

The first week of sophomore year is in the books.  Sophie wore her new skirt and carried her new backpack and an old lunchbox.  I was allowed ~3 seconds of time to capture these photos.

Another blurry first day of school shot.

Another blurry first day of school shot.

New backpack.  I give it a month.

New backpack.  I give it a month.

The weather was unseasonably mild until the cross-country team's "runathon."  I made a couple of cakes this week: the apple graham coffeecake from "Good to the Grain" for breakfast and the Texas sheet cake from "Vintage Cakes" for the runathon.  Guess which one I had to throw away the leftovers and which one Maddy and Spencer ate out of the pan when they got here on Saturday?  It was not the whole-grain, fruit-topped number. 

Apple Graham Coffee Cake: delicious but didn't age well.

Apple Graham Coffee Cake: delicious but didn't age well.

Much to Sophie's consternation her teammates kept referring to it as "brownies."  It is most definitely a cake--sloppy and gooey in the afternoon sun..  I wish our pies had pleased the judges like this cake pleased a bunch of teenaged runners.  Spoiler alert, there were no blue ribbons for the Lees at the "Bake Bethesda a Pie" contest. 

Texas sheet cake.  Charmingly unsophisticated.

Texas sheet cake.  Charmingly unsophisticated.

Catheads and Dogs

Since I'm on call this Sunday, chained to a 30 minute radius of the hospital I decided to get some things done around the house, and by get things done I mean fall asleep in the hammock.  If somebody doesn't go into labor in the next 30 minutes I have no excuse for not tackling our Asheville blog posts.

Our favorite breakfast spot was "Biscuithead."  We earned a free biscuit by the end of the week--Ian's favorite was the fried green tomato biscuit while I favored the mimosa fried chicken biscuit.  As advertised, they are as "big as cat's heads" and the reason we didn't try out too many lunch spots in Asheville.  We had stellar dinners at Curate, Plant, Nightbelle, and Luella's. At Curate the following conversation occurred after we had finished most of a pitcher of sangria:

Me, "I think that's Ken Marino"

Ian, "Who's Ken Marino?"

Me, "I'm going to ask him if he's Ken Marino."

Me (to Ken), " Sorry to bother you but are you Ken Marino?"

Ken, "Yes I am"

Me, "Thanks, I thought so."

He then walked over and said, "Is that it?" and proceeded to chat with us for 5 minutes.  Nice guy, and if you haven't seen Party Down or Children's Hospital you may not know who he is either, but he's worth a look.

Luckily for our waistlines, all of the above restaurants required a 3 mile round-trip walk to downtown.  We hit Oskar Blues brewery on our way home from hiking in Pisgah National forest.

There we sat under a corrugated tin roof and watched the rain lash down, happily sipping the world's most alcoholic sampler.  It included Ten Fidy--their deceptively smooth stout with a whopping 10.5% ABV, and Ian's new favorite Old Chub--a nitro Scotch Ale (8% ABV).  

What could make for a better trip besides food, beer and the mountain air?  Getting to see an old friend.  Karen drove over from Fayetteville and spent a couple of days bagging waterfall hikes with us.  This could be the start of a beautiful tradition.

Superfood

The most remarkable thing about this dinner is the fact that Sophie walked to the fishmonger with me to purchase the salmon.  We were going to ride our bikes, but "that makes my legs really tired."  I hate driving to this fishmonger because they only have two parking spots, and they are always full unless you've walked the mile and a half.  After choosing a passionfruit soda Sophie elected to wait outside because she hates even the smell of fish.

I pan fried the salmon and then made a pan sauce of sautéed cherry tomatoes, zucchini and basil, a little butter plus a splash of vermouth.  Sophie just ate the sauce after confirming I didn't cook it in the same pan as the fish (I totally did).  

Her legs were not tired last weekend at the cross-country time trials where she ran 2:20 faster than she did last year earning a top ten finish,  Her coach gave her a shout out on the cross-country mass email, confirming that all the hard work this summer has paid off.  Her summer reading is completed, we bought what we hope is an indestructible binder and a new back-pack, and she is ready for sophomore year.  

Soaking up the culture.

We headed into DC two weekends ago to check out the American Cool exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery which led to a shake at the Shake Shack across the street which led to wandering to the Mall.  We walked through the Wyeth exhibit at the National Gallery of Art and the sculpture garden.  I am pictured below showing my appreciation for a large metal square.

We had a snack at The Source where a really awesome bartender (John?) concocted a mocktail for Sophie and then made her a different mocktail gratis when he saw she had finished the first.  He also only charged us $3 for both mocktails.  I can appreciate the $12 craft cocktail with fine spirits but it kills me to pay $8 for a glorified glass of fruit juice.  Sophie and her friend Leah brought their own seltzer to a pancake house the other day so they could DIY some egg creams with their chocolate milk.  I digress, but not really.....we continued down the street to Daikaya for more snacks where we enjoyed a beautifully crafted but teensy portion of ahi poke.  

DSC_0104.jpg

Nonetheless, it was perhaps not $5/bite delicious.  I had a black sesame panna cotta that I am anxious to replicate at home, and Sophie had fried chicken and rice balls.  As I read this, I am realizing that Ian's request for chicken katsu for his birthday dinner may have been inspired by this meal, or maybe it was seeing Duke Kahanamoku in the American Cool exhibit.

Daikaya, home of the $10 tablespoon of poke.

Daikaya, home of the $10 tablespoon of poke.

Birthday dinner Hawaiian-style.

Plate lunch.  Even without macaroni salad, Ian's birthday dinner captured the essence of this quintessential local meal.

I purchased the kimchi and seaweed salad.  The chicken katsu, katsu sauce and ahi poke were home-made.  The katsu recipe was allegedly from L&L Drive-inn, plate lunch Valhalla.  The poke recipe is from my head because anybody who loves Hawaii as much as I do knows how to make a decent ahi poke:

Ahi poke

8 oz. of sashimi-grade ahi cut into 1/2" cubes

soy sauce

sesame oil

sliced scallions

sesame seeds

Korean chili (gochugaru)

Mix all together, adjusting amounts to your taste.

You must serve chicken katsu with plain white rice, and I like to put a layer of thinly sliced white cabbage beneath the chicken, you know, for fiber.

Gun Slinger

I decided to delve into my birthday cookbook: Around the World in 80 Dishes.  I will make some gado gado tonight and we will have Singapore Slings.  It definitely won't be the same drink I remember from the Raffles Hotel--cheaper by far and sadly, not pink.  You are supposed to refrigerate grenadine after opening, who knew?  

We will do without this time, but I would love to make some of my own bitters and grenadine in the future.  

Sophie had a great time at Otakon, and has asked me to teach her how to sew so she can make more costumes in the future.  We made this bag today with minimal frustration.  Stay tuned for pictures of her recent adventures.   Cross-country practice started this morning; I am hoping that the sophomore parents get assigned desserts for the upcoming pasta dinners.  Freshman parents were in charge of pasta, and that got boring pretty fast.

Sans grenadine.  Not so pretty.

Sans grenadine.  Not so pretty.

If you have read this blog for any length of time, you will realize that baked goods are my forte. Today Sophie is going to have a trial run of her hand pies that she will use for the upcoming pie contest.  Her friend, Leah, is coming over and will get an impromptu cooking lesson. This recipe for Persimmon cake caught my eye this weekend while I was perusing the A.O.C Cookbook at Barnes & Noble.  I doubled the recipe so I could use up some of my frozen persimmon puree, but, wow, 7 sticks of butter?!!  I whittled that down to 5 with good results.  It seems to be fine without the maple walnuts and creme fraiche, but it would be a stupendous dessert with them.  Right now it seems like a great cake to snack on or eat for breakfast, and will accompany me to our staff meeting tomorrow.

Sophie and I had a piece when the cake was warm out of the oven, and she said, "you really can taste the cardamom."  She is right, and it's my favorite thing about this cake.  I did have to cover the top with some foil the last 20 min of baking because it was browning too quickly.

I am listening to her making pie crust with her friend and thinking that she may have been paying attention over the years after all.

Too fast.

It's August tomorrow.  Sophie has three more weeks of freedom until her sophomore year.  I convinced her to sign up for the "Bake Bethesda a Pie" contest.  I've entered too, and if there are blackberries left to be had at Homestead Farms I will make a blackberry pie.  If not, it'll have to be peach.  I think Soph will make some sort of hand pie.  The winners of the kids' division in past years have made, in my humble opinion, clunky chocolate-centric pies utilizing pedestrian ingredients like Snickers.

Hopefully not the last berries of the season...

Hopefully not the last berries of the season...

Today she and I made pork buns. I used a premixed flour I got at H-mart.  It's easy to work with and has performed well for me in the past.  Here's what we filled them with:

Ground pork 1 lb.

1 cup pickled mustard greens (found this in Vietnamese store), diced finely

1/2 medium onion, diced finely

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tbs. freshly grated ginger

2 tbs. minced rau ram (or cilantro)

Stir fry vegetables until onion is translucent in a wok with about a tbs of oil.  Add the pork and continue cooking until pork is completely cooked and beginning to brown just a bit.  If there is a lot of juice, keep cooking until mixture is almost dry.  Remove from heat and stir in the minced rau ram.  Allow mixture to cool while you prepare the dough.

Fill buns and steam for 15 minutes.  Serve with a little soy sauce/balsamic mixture (I do about 50/50) that you have sliced a green onion into.  I'm going to take a few to work tomorrow for lunch--you can reheat easily in microwave.

My garden for the most part, continues to tank.  The tomatoes are all wilting, the zucchini has been killed off by squash vine borer, and the cilantro went to seed in a New York minute.  The peppers and Korean sesame have somehow survived.  Oh, and the sunflowers I planted from seed are about 5' tall.  I need to remember this next April.

It killed me to walk down the streets of Asheville and see thriving gardens that were probably watered with bong water.  Lots of hippies in Asheville, but really good biscuits, hiking and beer too.  More on this later with photos.

Not my garden.

Not my garden.