Saturday, November 24, 2012

all the trimmings

This Thanksgiving was among the most pleasant in my memory. There were only five of us: my pop, my friends S, G, and L, and me. I did all of the cooking and I was happy to do it. We ate well, hung out, laughed, there was no drama (what? on Thanksgiving? you're kidding). A good time was had by all, even my grumpy old pop.

I went upstate Tuesday afternoon with pops; loaded down with shopping bags full of ingredients, and started prepping for the big meal. Pop had ordered a 17 lb organic turkey from the farm up the road from him in Red Hook, New York, and it was there in the refrigerator waiting to be dealt with when we arrived. Late Tuesday afternoon, I washed the bird, reserved the neck and giblets, and put it inside two heavy duty plastic bags to soak in a brine made of 28 cups of water, 1 1/2 cups of kosher salt, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, a halved lemon, a handful of juniper berries, a couple tablespoons of coriander, a tablespoon or so of black peppercorns, and about 8 to 10 bay leaves. I made sure that it was submerged in the liquid, secured the bags, put it inside of a huge lobster pot, and then put the pot in the garage (it wouldn't fit in the refrigerator) where the temperature hung around the mid 30s. It stayed there until Thursday morning. I also cut up two loaves of freshly baked Pullman White Bread, removing the crusts, and two loaves of Challah for the stuffings I knew I would be making. I lay the cut-up bread, uncovered on parchment-lined baking sheets on the counter (the bread needs to get kinda stale and hard for the stuffings).

Wednesday I made a Spicy Cranberry-Apple Relish, a Cranberry Tart with a Polenta Crust, and a simple raw Cranberry Relish: One 12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries, a cup of sugar, the zest of two oranges, and some grated ginger; pulsed in the food processor to desired consistency - delicious and easy. I also put together a luscious Sweet Potato Gratin, which has become a yearly tradition. I roasted, steamed, and pureed the vegetables for a Butternut Squash Spoon Bread, and blanched green beans for a recipe I'd seen in the Times earlier in the week: Green Beans with Ginger and Garlic.

Thursday morning I started making stock from the giblets and some veggies. I followed this recipe for the Roasted Turkey with Pomegranate Glaze. All that was left for me to do was assemble the Bread Dressing with Dried Apricots, Pistachios, and Mint (I used dried cranberries instead of pomegranate seeds), as well as the savory Challah Stuffing with Fresh Herbs, Celery, and Crimini mushrooms. My pop had already prepared his Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Gingersnap and Toasted Pecan Crust (sorry, I don't know where he got the recipe, but it involves pureed pumpkin, cream cheese, egg yolks, and heavy cream, and it is sinfully delicious), so I was able to turn my attention to roasting the Turkey. 

G, L, and S arrived at around 1:30 with boxes of delectable goodies from a Greek bakery in Astoria, and a selection of cheeses, olives, and cornichons! G and L brought their camping equipment with them, committed to sleeping outside despite the fact that it would drop into the low 30s at night (cray cray!). So G went outside near the river (it's not quite a river, really more of a large stream) and pitched the tent. We Started eating at around 3:30 and kept going until we left for a candle-lit gratitude gathering in Rhinebeck that was to start at 8 o'clock, then we returned to the house for seconds of dessert and several episodes of Tattoo Nightmares (Pop's TV suggestion). 

I had a great time, I loved cooking and eating, I loved watching my friends and my dad enjoy all the food I made. I loved filling my father's house with love and laughter. I'm grateful that I got to spend the holiday with some of my favorite people. I'm grateful that I was far away from any holiday drama. This was truly one for the record books.

L & G down by the river

Thursday, November 8, 2012

angry white guys

Republicans have now lost the popular vote five times out of the last six elections. This is especially inauspicious for the GOP considering that a black man, who many still foolishly believe to be a socialist not born in this country was reelected after the biggest national economic recession since the 1930s. This election should have been a shoe-in for almost any opponent. And while some blame could be laid on a smug, unlikable, out-of-touch, billionaire, Mormon candidate with suspiciously absent tax returns, the real onus belongs to a party unwilling to accept the inevitable changing demographic of the electorate or an evolving secular and modern-thinking public.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in Maryland, Maine, and Washington, and a ballot measure banning same-sex marriage in Minnesota failed. The Senate now has a record number of women-elect chosen to represent their constituents, among them Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and vocal proponent of Wall Street reform. Wisconsin has elected Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay Senator, recreational marijuana use (not just medicinal) is now legal in Colorado and Washington state, Tea Party-backed candidate Joe Walsh lost to Asian-American, disabled, Buddhist, female, veteran Tammy Duckworth, and Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock (the rape guys) were easily defeated in their respective districts.

The results of this election should in no way imply that all of America is on board with the chosen trajectory of the nation. Take a look at the electoral map and note the broad red swathe up and down and side to side across this great land. A big portion of that big red pool is the America that clings to their guns and their religion and watches FOX News. More difficult to distinguish amid the extreme rantings of the Tea Party crowd are the other portion of that same red pool; sane and sober folks who honestly believe in fiscal conservatism and less government. Their party has betrayed them.

Surprisingly, I don't want the GOP to disappear; we need a two party system in this country. Hopefully these next four years will give Republicans a much needed time out. The party needs to reevaluate and regroup in a way that they've never considered. In recent history, the GOP's knee-jerk response has been to go farther right; to gratify the demands of the loudest extreme fringe of their base. But as long as Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, Trump, Ted Nugent, and angry old men who argue with empty chairs continue to be the spokespeople for the party, they will fail. 

The once substantial and distinguished party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Eisenhower has morphed into an unrecognizable and acrimonious coalition reminiscent of a truculent NASCAR rally. Social issues need to be removed from their platform if they are to maintain any relevance whatever. Unless the most divisive voices of the right are silenced, and until the party abandons its self-righteous, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic attitudes and makes room for the undeniable diversity of this great country, they will quickly retreat into obscurity. In a rare moment of candid clarity, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who to my thinking usually gets everything wrong, got something very right when he said, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”

Sunday, November 4, 2012


A week ago today, New Yorkers were scurrying to prepare themselves for the superstorm that had already crippled parts of the Caribbean and was furiously barreling northwards to wreak havoc on huge swathes of the East Coast. Having anti-climactic memories of Irene from only last year being so crisply imbedded in our collective consciousness unfortunately proved a disservice to the region's preparedness. Sandy, dubbed "Frankenstorm" by much of the media, would demonstrate not only the awesome power of nature's forces, but also the profound vulnerability of humanity. Even to the advanced infrastructure of this major world metropolis. Even to us implacable and hardened New Yorkers.

All public transportation was suspended last Sunday evening; all the bridges were closed to all but emergency vehicles, and huge portions of the outer boroughs, as well as parts of Long Island and New Jersey, had imposed mandatory evacuations. Understand that for this "city that never sleeps" to have it's major arteries stopped creates acute restlessness, agitation, and worry. Thinking that these were extreme precautions put in place to make up for Mayor Bloomberg's much criticized unpreparedness during last year's freak October snowstorm, I went to sleep last Monday night listening to the tempest beat against my windows and the wind whip around the buildings, thinking it would all be over by morning.

Of course, you know what happened next.

Upper Manhattan sustained downed trees and was strewn with debris; store awnings, garbage cans, etc., but ultimately the northern half of the island remained unharmed. We never lost power. Six days later, some areas are still without power and remain in desperate need as the temperatures this morning were in the low 40s. Prayers and wishes for a speedy recovery go out to all who have been affected by the storm.

What was perhaps most interesting for me was waking up the morning after the squall to the news that Governor Chris Christie, key-note speaker at the recent Republican convention and campaign-trail super-buddy of Mitt Romney, was praising President Obama for his rapid response to the people of his state. It was as if I went to sleep in a storm and woke up in Oz.  To Christie's credit, when Steve Doocy of "Fox and Friends" asked if he thought Mitt Romney was going to tour the affected areas of New Jersey, Christie responded, "If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics then you don't know me." Of course, since then he's been being blasted on Fox news as a traitor to his party. But it's heartening to see bi-partisanship and, dare I say it, even humanity in someone who, up until now, I've found to be a boorish bully. While I'll undoubtedly continue to disagree with his policies, I'll view him in a new light going forward.

Another interesting turn in the aftermath of Sandy was Mayor Bloomberg's decision to go ahead with the New York Marathon as planned. While everyone agrees that, as New Yorkers, our resilience is unparallelled, Bloomie's insistence that we're "back to work and open for business" seemed especially compassionless considering, among other things, that the marathon starts on Staten Island, one of the areas most severely impacted by the hurricane. Bodies were still being pulled from buildings as the Mayor was touting the importance of tourist revenue pouring into the city. Certainly, businesses that have suffered financial losses as a result of the storm and the city itself could benefit from added revenue at this time, but logistically, diverting police and city workers to handle crowd control and hand out bottled water to runners as entire communities struggle to survive seemed pointedly callous. Eventually, the mayor's hand was forced by an angry public outcry, much of it from the visiting runners themselves, and the race was cancelled. Bloomberg's original decision earlier this week to carry on with business as usual clearly illustrated both the reasons why a business mentality might be a benefit in government, but more pointedly and importantly, how governing from a strictly business philosophy might lead to insensitive and unsympathetic decisions where suffering constituents are concerned.

We are New Yorkers, however, and like a great cosmopolite phoenix, we shall rise stronger and more determined than before. Until we've all recovered though, please continue to donate, volunteer, and pray for the communities and families who have suffered unprecedented losses from this freak storm. Aside from having our attention diverted for a few days from this maddening and seemingly endless election season, as I see it, two potential advantages have resulted from the devastation of superstorm Sandy: President Obama has been given the opportunity to look Presidential for the past six days as Romney has desperately scurried for attention, and climate change can no longer be scoffed at or ignored as an illegitimate topic.