This year, I’m doing my best to get into the holiday spirit — or at least to curb my inner Grinch. I have resolved to stay away from those end-of-the-year triggers that traditionally set me on edge: the malls, the peppermint lattes, and those supermarket-side bell-ringers whose infernal tintinnabulations plague my shopping*. And I’ve decided instead to embrace those customs that actually do inspire cheer.
So I’m making my list (and checking it twice). I’m baking desserty treats filled with warm winter spices. I’m listening to Jethro Tull’s “Ring Out, Solstice Bells” (beware, video!). And I’m mixing up experimental batches of eggnog.
Yes, I said eggnog.
Chanukah is — alas — almost over. But the season of gift-giving has only just begun. As I gaze down into my crystal ball, the shape of the rest of December comes sharply into focus. I see cheerful holiday parties at work. I hear the clinking sounds of champagne toasts, shared with good friends. I smell the boozy spiciness of eggnog, sipped around the fire with family from far and near.
And above all — at all of these gatherings — I see presents.
I would appreciate it if you would all take the word ‘pumpkin’ in pumpkin mousse to be a metonym for a larger category, rather than a thing unto itself. I’m not trying to mislead you about the content of this dessert. You could, in fact, make it using a pumpkin. But this is a companion piece to my recent entry on winter squash purée. And as such, I feel it is my duty to inform you that in my version, there is nary a proper pumpkin to be found.
As I said in that post, the issue is not that I have any antipathy toward pumpkins. Far from it. But as I look out at the landscape of tough, warty, leather-skinned gourds at my culinary disposal, I find that there are lots of better ones — even to use in dessert.
As you consider this turkey breast roulade, I’d like you to think about two possible scenarios.
First: you’re having a small Thanksgiving. Maybe the budget is a little tight this year — maybe you got hit by the recent government shutdown — and the idea of flying to another state, and contending with a hotel, and managing the maintenance of hypothetical progeny is more than you can bear. And so you invite four or five friends, similarly stranded, to your house to share a meal, a couple of bottles of off-dry riesling, and — if you’re absolutely nothing like me — the gladiatorial rumble of two matched teams playing at American football.
It’s a comfortable Thanksgiving. Not elaborate, but enough.
So here’s the good-news / bad-news situation. Which should — by this point — sound like a pretty familiar situation to folks reading along at home.
The bad news is that once again, for the third year out of the last five, I’m not hosting Thanksgiving. I used to insist that Thanksgiving was my holiday. I used to beg, plead, and cajole family and friends to schlep out to Philadelphia from California, or Missouri, or wherever else to come eat turkey and dressing, pie, bread, and even curry — whether they wanted to or not. I insisted that you simply must make an appearance! It’s Sarah’s and my anniversary, and it we would be terribly offended if you stayed away. And then I had a grand old time cooking like a crazy person and sometimes confounding Thanksgiving expectations.
I had thought when my lactofermentation workshop was over that I would be done with the pickling posts for a while. I had thought that I might take a break, work on some other recipes, and give those of you out there who are neither attached to soured foods nor fascinated by edible bacterial processes a turn with some entrees, or desserts, or even some fresh, unfermented vegetable snacks.
But then I got to doing some pickling last weekend. You know — just for me. And I happened to have my camera on hand. You know — like you do. And I happened to take what turned out to be some very pretty pictures of cabbages, and turnips, and attractive jars filled with delicious, fermenting things. And then —
A thing called caramelized pork bits may, at first blush, seem a bit off the beaten path. But it makes perfect sense if you understand how it came about.
It used to be, occasionally, that I would pop out here with a recipe that was meant to be a weeknight dinner. I would make fried rice, or pasta with collards, or macaroni and cheese — stuff that could be thrown together, all filling and comforting, in something less than an hour from start to finish. It was the pickling that initially distracted me from making those kinds of posts (and so many others, too). And then — as Sarah likes to tell me — I got sidetracked from the whole project of making any kind of entrées for the blog at all.
Nobody ever asks me about the merits of toaster ovens relative to the pop-up variety. But it turns out I have an opinion on the matter. There is one key application that makes the toaster oven undeniably superior to its less capable cousin. And that is toasted cheese on bread.
By clicking through this site to Amazon.com, you too can be the proud owner of a proper, fully cheese-capable toaster oven. Which is a thing that I would highly recommend.
The first weekend of October was a golden weekend: sunshine poured down like balm onto trees turning tawny yellow, glancing off the curves of each singular leaf that floated down. I could not stop gazing at autumn gilding the world in front me.
Then the balance tipped. Monday morning the temperature dropped and the heavens opened and suddenly we’d begun the long slide towards winter. It will be seven months until I’m warm enough again. I came home from my morning walk dripping wet and dreaming of hot soups, hot chocolate, and hot water bottles.
I have to admit: I have an ulterior motive in making this particular post at this particular moment. Red hot pepper sauce is yet another pickle — one last ferment in what, one month ago, I called a systematic exploration of the nutritionally rich, biologically diverse, sometimes slightly stinky genre of fermented foods.
I said then that the series was part of the run-up to my pickling workshop. And my pickling workshop, dear readers, is this Saturday, September 28.