Wednesday, November 29, 2006

teatime haiku (hyphens and capitalization optional)

mini popcorn bags
steaming wonder in a bowl
butter flavored bliss.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's official!

I love brussels sprouts. I've had them twice since Thanksgiving. Yum!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving 2006

I'm currently waiting until "lunchtime" to have a turkey sandwich. Time to review A California Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, 5 PM
I arrive at Chef and Baker's house to do some cooking. The kitchen smells of cinnamon and apples. Baker asks me if I want anything to eat or drink. It takes all of my willpower not to ask for a fork and a slice of pie. Instead I call Chef, who gives me instructions about what to prep since he's still making his grocery store rounds. I am soon in tears. But the onions are beautifully minced.

Wednesday, 6 PM
Dinner break. Our night before Thanksgiving dinner has taken many forms over the years. Mostly, it has to be not terribly elaborate because it's a cooking break. It also can't be too heavy on account of the next day's excess. This year, we have freshly caught dungeness crab. We line the counter with newspapers and tuck in. Afterwards, I methodically make my way through the bowl of leftover Halloween candy. Oops.

Wednesday, 7:30 PM
The stuffing is done! Or, as I've recently learned, the dressing is done, because we don't stuff the turkey. This is my favorite dish of the meal, and I've been trying to learn how it's done for some years now. The thing is, every year brings a subtle change. I'm nervous that it's underseasoned since I forgot to taste it. But it looks pretty. And it's really fun to use one's hands to mix things up.

Wednesday, 8 PM
Chef is making his cranberry-orange relish with some tweaks here and there. I want to taste the relish, but Chef bans me from trying it. I grab a spoon anyway. I kind of like the relish this year, but I still prefer the canned stuff. Chef rolls his eyes at me and reminds me about the guests who loved the dish. Baker hands me two more cans of Ocean Spray.

Wednesday, 9 PM
Baker takes over the kitchen and makes buttered pecan pie. I've never made any sort of pecan pie, so this is new and fun for me. Baker is way ahead of schedule since she's usually at the grocery store at 9 PM the night before Thanksgiving buying pie ingredients. She confirms that we are having four pies this year. And pumpkin bread. There is a minor pie controversy. Birthday Boy has requested banana cream pie, but someone attributes apple pie to him instead. Who wins? The table. We're getting both! Incidentally, Birthday Boy reveals he doesn't like chocolate. I am in shock. I've heard such people existed, but I've never met one.

Thursday, 9 AM
The turkey has arrived. Chef and I get to work. Unlike many previous years, we easily locate the paprika. There were several years when Chef and I would scour the kitchen for it. Unable to locate the spice, we would make a grocery store run. This resulted in a severe oversupply of paprika. Possibly three jar's worth. Mum has placed the paprika very prominently on the counter this year.

Thursday, 9:30 AM
The turkey is in the oven. It's oatmeal and coffee and newspaper time.

Thursday, 10:15 AM
Westside arrives and brings a centerpiece addition. Dad completes the centerpiece, which is not so much a centerpiece as a side table piece this year. We put Westside to work right away scrubbing potatoes. I'm struggling to peel baby carrots. I am a new convert to organic squash. The beauty, the elegance, the lovely orange flesh.

Thursday, 12:30 PM
Everything has been going so smoothly all morning. We even break for a bowl of soup around noon. And then the great potato disaster. Chef, Westside and I struggle to peel hot potatoes. It's a funny sight. I pour copious amounts of liquid into the mash, but they remain dry. I cross my fingers that gravy can fix my mess.

Thursday, 1 PM
Baker and Birthday Boy arrive. We stash the pies away for safekeeping. The real chaos begins. I don't remember this hour exactly, except that there's carving, and water pouring, and me frantically dialing Holland because we're about to eat and she hasn't yet arrived. Dinner is early this year because the turkey cooked a lot faster than we had anticipated. Our timing is off. The stuffing doesn't brown like it's supposed to. The potatoes continue to concern me. The squash, though, is beautiful. I make faces at the return of the parsnip and brussels sprouts combination. And worst of all, Ocean Spray has redesigned its cans, making it impossible to turn out a totally can-shaped dish of cranberry sauce. Arugh!

Thursday, 1:59 PM
Holland arrives.

Thursday, 2 PM
We eat. Birthday Boy is a first-time Thanksgiving attendee. We ask him to rate the meal on a scale of 1-10. He skirts the question. It's his birthday so we're willing to let it slide. Instead, I ask him what the weakest link in the meal is. We all play the weakest link game. The potatoes are the first to leave the menu. I'm the first to vote them off. But the turkey and stuffing get high marks. I actually prefer the white meat to the dark meat this year because it's very tender. Holland and Westside support Chef's cranberry-orange relish and I fall in love with brussels sprouts...again. I loved them as a kid because they looked like baby cabbages to me. I guess the whole taste issue never made an impression. We've had them at our table for years now. Sauteed, steamed, quartered, whole, as individual leaves. I'm usually okay with them, but this year they are spectacular in their simplicity, attributable to good produce and good chefing. The broccoli is very snappy. I try to plate my food like a smiley face, but alas, there are too many food groups. I even try to include eyebrows and ears and cheeks but it ends up a symmetrical mess.

Thursday, 3 PM
Food coma.

Late afternoon.
Pie and coffee time! We ditch the dining table and gather around the pie buffet to cut, plate, and eat pie. This is an awesome pie year! I start with banana cream pie and pecan pie. It's heavenly. One like candy, the other like air. I've not had banana cream pie before. It is so delicious! The pecan pie is worth every calorie (and even I was horrified at just how many there were). Next round are warmed slices of cranberry-nut pudding and apple pie with vanilla ice cream. Classics, but oh-so-good. The apple pie, especially. I graze on pumpkin bread with my coffee. I am full. Very, very full.

A lovely day. Yummy food, wonderful company. We have plans for next year already.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A California Thanksgiving

Erica is sleeping. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I'm sure someone ordered the turkey.

But what if no one did?

This was my first thought when I woke up yesterday. I spent the better part of my day trying to put the thought out of my mind, that we might have created shopping lists, sans the main ingredient. I imagined Chef showing up Thanksgiving morning, telling us we should get to work on the turkey and me asking him where it was, only to find out the mutual answer was "I thought you were supposed to get it." I tried to acclimate myself to the idea of Thanksgiving Chicken. Thanksgiving Game Hen. Thanksgiving Steak. Somehow it didn't have the same ring.

I finally called Chef to see if we were having turkey at our table (besides the construction paper version).

Thanksgiving Turkey it is.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bring on the Sauce

While at Safeway I decided to pick up the cranberry sauce for Thursday's meal. After I wandered the aisles for a while trying to figure out where this fine product might be, I found myself standing before the Canned Fruit section and happily, the whole berry sauce was plentiful. It was on the top shelf, but I managed to grab a can. But where was the jellied variety?

I resorted to reading the tags along the shelf, and to my horror, where the Ocean Spray Jellied was supposed to be, there was instead a gapingly empty shelf. Was the store really out of cranberry sauce mere days before Thanksgiving? In my blind panic I didn't think that question through, or at all, and though the aisle had at least six shoppers (well-adjusted people by the looks of them), my consternation about the missing sauce compelled me to do what any vertically challenged person does when confronted by a cranberry sauce shortage. I jumped up in hopes of catching a glimpse of one last can lurking in the depths of the shelf. In truth, I jumped several times because it takes coordination to scan a dark shelf while hurling oneself upwards. This went on for about a minute.

And then my rational self kicked-in, possibly on account of the well-adjusted peoples' strange looks. I asked myself, "Is the store really out of cranberry sauce when Thanksgiving is this Thursday? I think not. There must be an Ocean Spray display somewhere."

I found a display of whole berry and jellied cans. I bought one of each. I'm sure I scared some shoppers in the process.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Yes, it's just 7 days away!

I assembled place cards for Thanksgiving. This is a new thing and totally gratuitous since we're all friends, but while shopping with Holland, I spotted a turkey place card kit that we both agreed needed a home. Specifically, at our Thanksgiving table. After a lot of cutting and gluing I had on hand eight little construction paper turkeys. The project made me realize that my dexterity is not much improved from when I was five. Nor is my penmanship. Still, I went to sleep happy and with a parade of paper turkeys on my desk.

Cut to the next morning, when I evaluated said cross-eyed turkeys. They're quite large for place cards. To be honest, they would very comfortably serve as coasters, and if at Thanksgiving we used salad plates rather than oversized buffet plates, they might even qualify as mini-place mats. They are also brown and red and gold and white and yellow. Harvest colors, but bright. Like their wild cousins, these turkeys are not subtle. I started to wonder whether they would clash with the tablecloth, or the centerpiece, or worse yet, if they would just look weird since we tend towards grow-up elegant and not three-year old birthday party chic at our dinner.

Will report back next week.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I think we've managed to simplify Thanksgiving this year. For one thing, there's no spreadsheet. Perhaps it's the fact that we've done this so many times. Or that we're having the meal at a house where it's not BYO dinner plates and stemware (yes, that would have been my house). I called Chef last night to see what else there was to do, and curiously, it's just shopping and cooking. Well, that and I've been tasked by the Baker to query my friends on their pie preferences. It's a party of eight this year, with one celebrating a birthday, so I suppose one will be the Birthday Pie. Someone else requested Crazy Custard Pie. I can't live without Cranberry-Nut Pudding. And Chef and I squabbled over whether Pecan or Apple would make the better fourth. I think we're trying to keep our ratio at 2:1. We shall see.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Real Stuff

I love mac and cheese, but I must confess that it's rare I find a version with real cheese that bests the boxed variety. On a particularly gloomy Friday night, my roommates and I decided it was time to expand our dining horizons, and so we headed to the Rock Bottom Brewery. My brewery food expectations were not high, but I was famished and it was clearly a hopping place. So hopping, in fact, that we waited 45 minutes for a table, which gave us ample time to study the menu. I was pretty grumpy by the time we were seated, but being a great believer in comfort food, or perhaps just feeling like it was winter and I wanted winter food, I ordered the Classic Mac n' Chicken. My mood lifted a bit when my Caesar salad appeared with beautifully shaved Parmesan floating atop crisp leaves. When an equally pretty ramekin of pasta topped with breadcrumbs arrived, I was further nudged out of my grumpiness. But it was my first bite of that pasta, a mix of chewy pasta elbows, buttery, well-toasted breadcrumbs, tender chicken, and just a sliver of still melting Parmesan, that put me squarely back into the land of happy.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I hadn't seen D in an entire year, so it was with great delight that we met up this weekend for some falafel and San Jose tourism. As usual, we planned our next Day of Eating, even while we sat polishing off a delicious dish of hummus. Berkeley brings out my ambitious self. The problem is, as much as I like trying new places, there are also places I adore and want to revisit. This doesn't work well for a day. Soon I suspect it will be a Weekend of Eating. Or a Week of Eating. On my last visit, before meeting up with friends at Zachary's Pizza for dinner, I very nearly had a two-pizza day, because D's suggestion was to lunch at Cheeseboard Pizza. Sadly the last pies had already sold out by the time we arrived, so we had even more fun selecting a couple cheeses and a crusty baguette from the Cheeseboard itself, and a merry picnic on the grassy median followed.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Taking Stock

I just looked in the pantry and found:

Butter: 0
Flour: 0
Eggs: 1 dozen (courtesy of the roommates)
Sugar: I can't locate any, but I'm hard pressed to imagine that there really isn't any sugar in the house. Wishful thinking?

I'm supposed to bake cookies, but with this pathetic showing, I don't know how it can happen.

Also MIA - chocolate chips, instant oats, raisins, cranberries.

What we do have: vanilla extract.

I'm going to the store.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Less than three weeks...

...until Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 03, 2006

More Bad Planning

I appreciate someone who organizes a large group dinner and who even works with the restaurant ahead of time to put together a menu with limited choices. It really helps to keep dinner moving. I was especially excited that a recent menu included three courses, all of which were an "either or" or in the case of the main course, "either or either or either or either." I finally settled upon the braised lamb shank. It was our first serious rain of the season and the restaurant had a cozy harvest feel. I wanted a hearty meal. And that's what I got, from the creaminess of the Caesar dressing to the massive dish of lamb accompanied by spinach (hooray!) and sweet potato gnocchi, to the final course, that proved my undoing. An overly-generous slice of German Chocolate Cake totalling three layers of cake and three layers of coconut, with an ice cream-filled tuile on the side, as if the cake wasn't challenge enough. I'd reached my limit. After five bites of cake there was nothing else to do but put an end to the eating. I really should have planned my meals better that day. It's hard to justify abandoned chocolate cake, even if lunch involved a cheeseburger and curly fries.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Pumpkin Meditation

Obsession of the month would have to be Ramen Halu. It's lucky this particular establishment has so few seats that almost every visit involves waiting in line for a table. Otherwise I'd likely be there every other day.

The menu is simple, three soup bases, two kinds of noodles, the combinations are fixed. Try as I do, I've not yet succeeded in having them substitute my favorite noodles in my favorite soup base. They do allow you to control the amount of fat and salt in the soup. I shudder to think how a more fat, more salt soup would taste. I usually request they dial back in both categories. But as much as I enjoy the soup, it's the chewy noodles that keep me waiting in line again and again. Totally different than the packaged variety, I favor the thick, substantive noodles that disappear all too quickly from the bowl.

On my most recent visit I decided it was high time I try the Halloween Special, which promised "bats and a full moon in your bowl." The noodles had pumpkin incorporated into them. I couldn't tell much difference between the pumpkin and regular thick noodles, save, perhaps, a slight sweetness in the squash variety. I was amused by the seaweed bats and the half egg that was the moon. The cheese was a surprise, and a bit odd to be honest. But the broth was worthwhile. And the fried pumpkin chips a nice touch, though they were soggy by the time I found them.

Next time I'm getting the halu ramen. And the time after that the shio ramen. And the time after that...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


4 hours.

0 trick-or-treaters.

5 mini Snickers.

M&Ms for brekkie.