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MEAT AND POTATOES MADE EASY

MEAT AND POTATOES MADE EASY

It’s the week before Christmas and chances are good that most people are just thisclose to either exploding or imploding, whichever comes first.  The sheer amount of nonsense and self-imposed misery people are willing to accept is mind-boggling – but we’re not here to talk about that.

*beat*

Well, yeah. My blog. I CAN talk about that. I sometimes think I might implode myself if I hear one more person whinging about the commercialization of Christmas as they head out the door to shop for more presents for little Esmeralda and little Heathcliff – well, pull up your big girl/boy panties and accept responsibility for your part in that commercialization. “They EXPECT presents/ my mother-in-law will judge me/I don’t want to be Scrooge” – oh, put a sock in it. No one HAS to be out there in the mall. If you really feel that way, declare your home a commercial-free zone. Little kiddies WILL get over your giftlessness. If your MIL has a cow, tell her to give it lots of hay and milk it every morning.

The worst Christmas I ever had – and I’ve had some bad ones – I had to return a present to the store because the intended recipient died before I could give it to him. If you want to give presents, don’t think that Christmas is the only acceptable time. You see just the right veeblefetzer that Aunt Hilda would love, but it’s only April? Get it and hand it over. Aunt Hilda may not make it to December.

Where were we? Oh. Yeah. Meat and potatoes.

Among the many headaches at this time of year is the need to feed a lot of people. You’ve already had spaghetti and lasagna and take-out and bags of lettuce with bottled dressing; now you need to come up with something a little more festive but also substantial. This dish works on all those accounts. And it can be prepped ahead and left in the refrigerator until time to roast it.

I saw a friend make a roast this way, the meat balanced on top of new potatoes, and I marveled at its simplicity. The seasoning idea came from an episode of Man, Fire, Food on The Cooking Channel. Roger Mooking visited Rancho Llano Seco, which is about 70 miles south of here, where they prepared an amazing porchetta roast on a rotisserie, allowing the pork fat to drip down onto oysters. The thought makes me salivate.

For this dish I used a boneless pork roast just under 5 pounds – not a tenderloin. Ask to be certain that the pork roast you choose is ideal for the dry heat of an oven; some cuts are better suited to braising in a crock pot. To fill the 8″ X 11″ baking dish took about four pounds of potatoes. You don’t have to use pork – you could do a whole chicken, leg of lamb, or beef roast, though because they don’t take as long to cook, you’d want to start the pan of potatoes in the oven about 45 minutes before putting the meat on top.

You’ll need kitchen string and a meat thermometer.

PORCHETTA ALLA LLANA SECO

  • 1 boneless pork roast, 5-6 pounds
  • 4 pounds new potatoes (use a thin-skinned type such as Red Bliss, White Rose or Yellow Finn; Russets or other baking-type potatoes will fall apart)
  • 2 heads of garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons whole fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (the type you get in pizza parlors)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Broth or stock

Put the fennel seed in a small dry frying pan over medium-high heat. Shake the pan every few seconds until the seeds begin to lightly brown, pop, and smell fragrant. When they are lightly toasted, remove them immediately. if you have a mortar and pestle, pound them in that; if not, use a spice grinder. If you don’t have either one, put the seeds in a sturdy plastic bag and whack them with a hammer to break them up.

Wash and thinly slice the potatoes. Stand them on edge in a baking dish large enough to put the roast on top of the potatoes and not have any hanging over the sides.

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Distribute plenty of chopped garlic throughout the potatoes; sprinkle lightly with salt and generously with freshly ground pepper. If you want, you can add another herb or two – thyme, rosemary, oregano, etc.

Unwrap the pork roast. This one was tied with string to keep it from flopping around. Snip and remove the string. DO NOT REMOVE THE FAT ON TOP! If the pork rind is still intact, leave it on too!

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The boneless roast should have a flap where the bones were removed. Pull it open, so that you have a long somewhat flat roast; if necessary cut an opening so you can unfold it like opening a book.

Sprinkle the cut side with the toasted ground fennel, lots of chopped garlic, the teaspoon of hot pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.

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Put a hand under each end of the flattened-out pork and carefully snap the roast back together, fat side up.

If there is a rind (skin) on the roast, score it lightly with a knife.

Cut four lengths of kitchen string long enough to go around the pork cross-wise, and two pieces to go around it length-wise. Slide the cross-wise lengths under the roast, spacing them apart, and one by one tie them tightly. Then slide the length-wise strings under the pork package and tie those. Snip off excess string.

Pour stock into the pan to about 1/2″ deep. (You can see some jellied stock on the left side of the roast here.) Put the porchetta package on top, fat/rind side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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At this point, you can put the whole thing in the refrigerator as long as overnight. Bring it out about two hours before you want to roast it.

Here is a chart  from the National Pork Board detailing how long to cook pork. I usually figure about 25-30 minutes per pound at 325 Fahrenheit. This is where a meat thermometer comes in very handy.  I roasted this to 160F, then took it out of the oven and let it sit about 20 minutes, covered.

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All roasts will continue to cook for a while; they will firm up and be much easier to slice if allowed to rest after removal from the oven.

Snip and pull the strings off. Slice the meat. If the roast has a rind, remove it, put it on a cookie sheet and run it under the broiler (watching CAREFULLY) to crisp it; slice it and put it on the platter with the meat.  Although the roast looks really spiffy on top of the potatoes, it is much, much easier to serve if you put the meat on a separate platter from the potatoes.

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I think that you want a slightly sweet side dish like carrots, beets, applesauce, red cabbage, or parsnips alongside, as well as some sort of green like spinach, kale, or collards. This is a very rich dish; a big ol’ cheesecake for dessert would be too, TOO much. Some simple cookies and sorbet would be less overwhelming. And a big red wine or dark beer is appropriate.

Obviously the seasoning can be varied – one of those barbecue rubs that’s sitting around in your cupboard would work. A Mexican seasoning like toasted cumin seeds with garlic and oregano would be great, or a good curry mix. Google “dry barbecue rubs” and go wild. I particularly like the spice rubs suggested by Chris Schlesinger in Big Flavors of the Hot Sun.

SEX AND DRUGS AND ROCK AND ROLL AND FOOD

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I had fully intended to write a curmudgeonly post about measurements but I turned on Evening Jazz on NPR and thought about the CD that I intend to make someday of nothing but food songs.

There are a LOT of songs about food.  In some of them the food is incidental, like Harry Chapin’s “30,000 Pounds of Bananas.” It could have been “30,000 Pounds of Avocados” but that isn’t as funny as bananas.  “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” by Squeeze isn’t really food-y.  John Prine’s “Spanish Pipe Dream” mentions peaches as the solution to life’s problems, but it isn’t really the whole song.  “Werewolf of London” mentions beef chow mein at Lee Ho Fook’s and “Back in the USA” ‘s hamburgers sizzling on an open grill are memorable but not the point. And I really hated the Blues Brothers’ “Rubber Biscuit” as just plain obnoxious.  I mean songs where food is the point or the catalyst, though it might also be a metaphor for sex, and why not? Anyway, it’s my list. Make up your own list.

In no particular order:

  • Cook with Honey – Judy Collins
  • Memphis Women and Fried Chicken – T. Graham Brown
  • That’s What I Like About the South – Commander Cody
  • Cheeseburger in Paradise – Jimmy Buffett
  • Eggs and Sausage – Tom Waits

I was always eh, kinda want to like consider myself kind of a pioneer of the palette, a restaurateur if you will. I’ve wined, dined, sipped and supped in some of the most demonstrably beamer epitomable bistros in the Los Angeles metropolitan region. Yeah, I’ve had strange looking patty melts at Norm’s. I’ve had dangerous veal cutlets at the Copper Penny. Well, what you get is a breaded salisbury steak in a shake-n-bake and topped with a provocative sauce of Velveeta and uh, half-n-half. Smothered with Campbell’s tomato soup. See I have kinda of a uh…well I order my veal cutlet, Christ, it left the plate and it walked down to the end of the counter. Waitress, she’s wearing those rhinestone glasses with the little pearl thing clipped on the sweater. My veal cutlet come down, tried to beat the shit out of my cup of coffee. Coffee just wasn’t strong enough to defend itself.

  • All You Can Eat – Candye Kane
  • Everybody Eats When They Come to My House – Cab Calloway
  • Frim Fram Sauce – Nat King Cole
  • Peel Me a Grape – Diana Krall
  • Sour Cream – Pete Seeger
  • Guacamole – Texas Tornadoes
  • Blueberry Pancakes – Anne Bauerlein and Chip Mergott
  • Maple Syrup Time – Pete Seeger
  • Taylor the Latte Boy – Kristen Chewnowith
  • Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie – Jay & the Techniques
  • Gimme a Pigfoot (And a Bottle of Beer) – Billie Holliday
  • Root Beer for Breakfast – Vance Gilbert
  • Saturday Night Fish Fry – Louis Jordan
  • Betrothal – The Accidentals
  • Come on-a My House – Rosemary Clooney
  • Bacon – Mary Liz McNamara
  • Chicken Cordon Bleus – Steve Goodman
  • Tomato Puddin’ – Jeff Daniels
  • Butter – Megon McDonough
  • Church – Lyle Lovett
  • Strawberry Jam – Michelle Shocked
  • The Cuban Sandwich – Barrence Whitfield & Tom Russell
  • Rum and Coca-Cola – The Andrews Sisters
  • Alice’s Restaurant – Arlo Guthrie
  • Scenes From an Italian Restaurant – Billy Joel
  • Fudge- Robin Hopper
  • Hotcakes – Carly Simon
  • The Heartbreak Diet – Julie Gold
  • One Meat Ball – Dave Van Ronk
  • Home Grown Tomatoes – Guy Clark
  • Bottle of Wine – Tom Paxton
  • Jambalaya – Hank Williams
  • Raspberries, Strawberries – Kingston Trio
  • Pie – Debi Smith with Doc Watson
  • House of Blue Lights – George Thorogood
  • Green Onions – Booker T & the MGs
  • French Toast Bread Pudding – Christine Lavin

 

THE WOUND IS THE PLACE WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS YOU -RUMI

(Last December, you may recall, was a rough one in the news and for many people personally.  A good friend asked me to find this piece I wrote on my blog about surviving the holidays, as she thought it would be helpful for a friend of hers.  As we sweep into the heart of the holiday season, the squabbles are ramping up about this that and the other things; it’s a certainty that many of the public news squabbles will be served up on Thursday at family dinner tables along with the sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. It’s also a certainty than many people loathe this time of year but have to put on a brave face. I hope it helps the friend who reads it; I hope it may help anyone else who is dreading the holidays.)

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Christmas is when we gather up everything good in our life, all the warmth and the light and all the good memories, and draw it close and enjoy it as much as we are able to. We gather up our children, make food, light the lights, sing the songs. We come as close as possible for as long as possible. – Garrison Keillor, Now it is Christmas Again

It is now Christmas Eve in Australia and Europe. Some of you are beginning the last of the preparations for Christmas. So many of you are struggling at this time of year when we’re all *supposed* to be happy. I read your journals and I see illness, conflicts, unemployment, family problems, grief over deeply personal things that you’re powerless to fix. In addition, most people are still reeling in some way from the seemingly nonstop tragedies, large and small, that have hit us all recently.

It is a wicked world in which the power of any individual to cause suffering is so great and the power to do good is so slight. – Garrison Keillor

I wish I had something magical to say that would make this Christmas joyful, or at least pleasant, for you all. This is the best I can do:

We had a perfect Christmas… We went for a long walk on the beach and then watched The Godfather II and ate hot-fudge sundaes. – Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions

I used to long for “perfect” Christmases because the Christmases I grew up with were anything but secure and stable. I never knew if something bad was going to happen that would make it sad, or make me feel guilty, or embarrassed, and so I had this fantasy about what I thought the perfect Christmas would be. I pictured a happy family enjoying Christmas carols around a perfectly decorated Christmas tree. I wanted singing and music, and I wanted snow falling and carolers at the door. I wanted a huge table set with linens and crystal and china, a lovely and bountiful dinner, and for us to spend Christmas night together enjoying looking at our presents and finally dropping off to sleep, knowing that all would be right with the world in the morning.

That didn’t happen.

We can build up our expectations for the perfect holiday, but if others don’t buy into our vision of Christmas it will all come crashing down around us, like the woman in this article from the New York Times. 

MODERN LOVE
A Holiday Built on Presence, Not Presents
By Carolyn S. Briggs
Published: December 20, 2012
My three vegetarian, activist, urban, multi-degreed, agnostic, adult children have rejected Christmas as a consumerist sham of a holiday, one in which they will not be participating. Oh, they’ll take the day off and drink organic wine, but they won’t be buying presents, putting up a tree, baking cookies, lighting candles or decking any halls. There will be no taking of a family picture for their card and no sending of that card or any other.

For me, Christmas is one of those fleeting but essential “aah” moments of generosity, family bonding and extravagance of spirit that psychologists tell us matter because they give us the opportunity to transcend, appreciate and feel outside of time. I don’t know about you, but I need that at least once a year.

When my parents were divorcing the winter that I was 15, there was no Christmas tree at our house. We waited for Christmas to come, and it wouldn’t, so finally my little brother and I pooled our paper-route and baby-sitting money, tucked the dollars and coins inside our mittens, and walked across town to buy our own tree. We carried it several blocks home, dodging ice and snowdrifts. When we arrived, we decorated the crooked tree on our own. The house was cold, but when we plugged in the lights, my siblings and I were filled with relief. Everything would be all right.

That year my father came home on Christmas Eve bearing unwrapped presents from the minimart where he worked: radios and alarm clocks and electric curlers. He left us sitting in front of the television with our pile of gifts, price tags still attached, and went to find my mother in the bedroom, where she had been for hours.

I remember feeling hopeful they would come out together in the morning and fix pancakes the way they always did on Christmas. It seemed possible and, for one blazing moment, probable.

Last Christmas, I relented to family pressure and agreed that my children and their partners did not have to come to us in Iowa. Instead, we would all get hotel rooms in New Orleans. I reserved a suite so we would have a living room for our holiday activities. A family friend would be in the area, too, so I invited him to join us for Christmas Eve. We were excited about the food and music, the atmosphere of a truly beautiful and one-of-a-kind city, and the mild weather.

There would be no homecoming, no wrapped gifts and no grandchildren to fill with Santa dreams. My grown children were childless by choice and vowed to remain that way. Desperate for a smattering of tradition, I ordered red (for the girls) and green (for the boys) Christmas stockings from Pottery Barn, and had everyone’s name stitched in lovely script across the white band at the top.

I e-mailed everyone promising a Christmas Eve surprise. Once we assembled, I would instruct each to write a message of love, appreciation, memory, prayer (O.K., not likely with this crowd) or best wishes for the new year, and we would stuff the stockings with these messages.

The sunny day we arrived in New Orleans, I was optimistic that Christmas in the Big Easy might be easy after all. We are a family of travelers, and exploring together is something we are seldom able to do anymore, and everyone loves a movable feast. One person brought a good supply of pot, though, which meant at least half of our party would be getting stoned.

Walking through the streets of New Orleans on Christmas Eve was a singular experience. There were palm trees wrapped with lights, ludicrously over-the-top decorations on shotgun houses, the smells of something deep and unctuous cooking in steamy pots, and block after block of pink and yellow flowers.

We ducked inside a historic tavern for oysters on the half shell. (Oysters feel no pain, my suddenly seafood-eating children assured one another.) Later we dined at a long table, my family in our Sunday best, grown up and civilized, with cloth napkins on our laps. I felt matriarchal and humble and blessed. That Christmas transcendence settled in, and I finally relaxed.

When we returned to the hotel suite, I arranged the stockings on the fake fireplace, put out bowls of snacks, opened a bottle of wine, and gathered plastic cups from the bathroom. It was not elegant, but it was the best I could do. My friend called from the lobby; he was on his way up. I handed out the stockings, paper and pens. There was dismay at the assigned sentiment. They smiled at the stockings the way they would have smiled at anything outdated and useless, with pained tolerance.

My friend walked into the suite, and I’d be damned if he hadn’t brought a young woman with him. My friend is younger than I am, but this woman was probably half his age and wearing one of those stupid knit hats with the ties dangling on either side of her face. I would hate her for many things before the night was over, but that insufferable hat was the first thing I hated her for.

I clutched my pen and paper insistently, but the others had already set their stockings aside. Banter ensued, during which the young woman assumed the starring role of my Christmas Eve. She had a lot of stories. Some were about the desert. The stories went on and on until she loudly concluded, in an apparent epiphany, “I love rocks!”

This was sidesplittingly funny to some people in the room, but I’d had enough. I stood up and went into the bedroom portion of the suite and flopped down on the bed. My husband came in a few minutes later and rubbed my back as the party raged in the other room. It was Christmas Eve, and my family was stoned. Christmas was a bourgeois farce to them. I was furious at everyone, even at my sweet husband rubbing my back.

At midnight, I heard church bells, a sound that only exacerbated my disgust and self-pity. I jumped up, grabbed the coats of my friend and his young friend, and asked them to leave. It was the first time in my life I had ever asked anyone to leave my home, even if my temporary home was a hotel suite. Then I turned to my startled family and preceded to glare, scold and cry. The sober people tried to be conciliatory, but I was having none of it.

That night as I lay in my hotel bed, I did not move a muscle. I lay there like a dead person, eyes open, heart stone cold. My disappointment over this failed Christmas mingled with my sorrow that my parents never did emerge from their bedroom that Christmas morning decades earlier, arms around each other, to make us pancakes.

At breakfast the next day, Christmas morning, I felt strained and tight. No one liked me much. Conversation was conducted on all sides of me. I grimly ordered pancakes. My children were all staying in New Orleans, but my husband and I had a plane to catch. I loved Christmas so much I had destroyed it; I had choked my precious Yule puppy to death.

I have thought about my behavior all year, and I am resolved not to become the old person in the family who remains recalcitrant and claims outsize privilege with age. I am not going to guilt my children anymore for not giving me what I assumed they would be happy to provide.

I had hoped for grandchildren, and I wanted those grandchildren with glossy hair and pajamas sitting around my Christmas tree each and every year, but that’s not what I’m going to get. My children will bring kennels and leashes to my house, not strollers and car seats. They are going to be exchanging notes on dog food and doggy day cares, and they will continue to refer to their peers who are parents as breeders.

We are all going to meet at my daughter’s in Texas at the end of December. Even though we will never attempt a traditional Christmas again, we will have some winter holiday gathering where we eat bowls of faro and root vegetables topped off by a dessert of silken tofu lemon mousse. We will share stories of our lives and travels. The guitars will come out.

At some point, the girls and I will erupt in an argument, but we will immediately make up by piling into my daughter’s king-size bed to watch “Downton Abbey.” I’ll jump out of the bed when the dogs jump in, and this will make the girls laugh and ask me to please stay. And I will, of course. This year, there will be room at the inn for everyone. 

This at once broke my heart for the writer but also made me realize that we cannot expect others to know what it is we want, nor can we expect others to provide our happiness for us.

Building up impossible expectations about the events of one day will inevitably lead to disappointment. We can get through any 24-hour period. We may need to excuse ourselves from the festivities to ensure our peace of mind, or we may need to join in with more enthusiasm than we actually feel. Or we may need to create our own version of the perfect Christmas, as Anne Lamott wrote. Hot-fudge sundaes, a walk on the beach, and watching an old movie with like-minded people sounds like an excellent day to me. We have a choice: feel miserable about all the fun we think other people are having, or choose to enjoy that day on our terms.

There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. – Leonard Cohen, Anthem

I wish for you peace and contentment, and the beginnings of hope and light getting in through the cracks. Merry Christmas.

HOW TO DO THANKSGIVING, ACCORDING TO ME

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The First Thanksgiving did not look like this. Sorry to disappoint you.

[I wrote this on my personal blog three years ago and some people seemed to like it. I’m posting it here because, well, I can. And because I’m still opinionated. Updated slightly from the original.]

Next week I will be cooking my 33rd consecutive Thanksgiving turkey. There have been other occasions in which a turkey figured prominently into dinner – sometimes at Christmas, a few times at Easter, and once a long, long time ago when we had my SIL’s uncle over for dinner. The actual total is probably in the neighborhood of 50, but for counting purposes, the 2013 model will be the 33rd.

Thanksgiving is the holiday for my family. We like Christmas but as with so many other people, for us it is a season fraught with sad and unpleasant memories, as well as expectations and spiritual significance for which there is seldom an entirely satisfactory conclusion for all parties concerned.

In this country there is an overload of angst about minute issues like stores who don’t allow the Salvation Army to solicit on their premises, who put the X in Christmas, and whether wishing someone Happy Holidays is insulting. I’ve made up my mind about the divinity of Christ issue but I don’t want to beat others over the head with it, nor do I wish to endure someone else yammering on with their feelings.

Further, Christmas is not just one day. It’s an entire season from approximately November 1 through at least January 1 and maybe longer, depending on whether you observe Epiphany. You will probably find yourself invited to all sorts of school plays and concerts, soirees, brunches, lunches, and parties at which there will almost certainly be people you’d normally cross the street to avoid.

Then there are the presents. It’s very nice to get presents but in recent years I have come out of the mall with a certain understanding of and sympathy for those people who suddenly go insane and start shooting in a shopping center. More than once I have gotten back to my car and collapsed behind the wheel, exhausted and nearly in tears, thinking, “Is this really the best way to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus?”  I no longer give Christmas presents so I have escaped this particular form of madness that envelops the country…. don’t even get me started on the entire Black Friday and Opening on Thanksgiving thing. Suffice it to say I don’t participate.

No, Thanksgiving is a better deal all the way around. No presents. No religious questions, save for the occasional dweeb explaining their version of the First Thanksgiving (to which the only appropriate response is “Uh-huh. Pass the cranberry sauce”). It’s about people you love, or at least tolerate,  greedily eating an enormous meal together and being thankful.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written you know I’m opinionated. Here are some of my opinions about Thanksgiving.

After the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, turn the TV off. If you can’t sit down to one meal a year with your family without watching football, your priorities are screwed up. If you feel so strongly about it that you must watch the game during dinner, go to a bar for Thanksgiving. They’ll have the TV on.

No appetizers. If you need appetizers, you aren’t doing this correctly.

Within 5 minutes of sitting down, a big fancy floral Thanksgiving arrangement meant for the dining table will be on a coffee table. Stick to little cheesy pilgrims and turkeys, especially if they were made by children.

Homemade cranberry sauce only. No one really likes canned. What they like is the sound of it sliding out of the can and the funny ridges. Canned cranberry sauce is fruit-flavored jelled sugar water. It takes ten minutes to make fresh.

All turkeys cook in about 3 1/2 to 4 hours. If part of it isn’t done (like around the legs/thighs), cut that part off and stick it back in the oven or microwave it.

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The turkey will not be all one beautiful even golden-brown color when it comes out of the oven, and it will be a bit shriveled. It might remind you of Nick Nolte’s DUI booking photo. Those photos on magazine covers of perfect plump tanned birds? Those are photos of raw turkeys photo-styled with Kitchen Bouquet.

I used to always stuff the turkey but I have stopped. One, less time in the oven for the white meat to dry out. Two, I am convinced stuffing sucks all the moisture out of the turkey. While the stuffing that cooks inside the turkey is most righteous, it can still be pretty damn good cooked separately in a casserole and basted with butter and turkey stock.

Do not attempt to cook one of those super broad-breasted turkeys unless you deconstruct the bird, then cook dark and light meat separately. Otherwise you are doomed to have a super broad-breasted hunk of dried-out white meat.

The proper time for the first alcoholic drink is noon, unless you have an earthquake, in which case you may start immediately. This actually happened once. Be prepared in case it happens again.

No green salad unless it’s an exceptional one – say, spinach and arugula with blue cheese and fresh sliced fennel and persimmons. People will only take a serving of green salad out of politeness and then shove it around in the gravy until it’s wilted. Why give up plate real estate for an ordinary head of lettuce?

Food magazines have lots of “interesting” recipes for Thanksgiving, most of which seem to combine two or more vital elements of the meal into one dish, i.e. Brussels sprout-yam medley with cranberry crust. Feel free to serve those but be prepared to hear remarks like, “So, no regular cranberry sauce this year? Hmm, that’s interesting…” and having lots of the new dish left over. Thanksgiving is not the time to spring new foods on your family. They want what they had last year.

I’m not crazy about dinner rolls, either. They  fill you up too fast. If you’re going to have dinner rolls, get decent ones.

This is not the time for expensive imported Nicoise or Picholine olives. Get the canned California extra-large pitted black olives so the kids can put one on each finger. Hell, go ahead and put one on each of your fingers, then shake someone’s hand.

To carve a turkey: wiggle a knife tip in at the wing joint, pull off wings, and put them on platter. Dig around with a long knife at the thigh where it joins the body, detach the thighs, and pull the thigh & leg off. Slice dark meat off thigh and put on platter. Put the legs on platter. Make cut parallel to the table into the deepest part of breast meat, all the way to the bone. Then make slices from the breast at a 90-degree angle to that first cut. It will not be picture-perfect. It’s still turkey. They’ll eat it.

For special guests, sneak them bits of turkey skin.

Lots of hot gravy. This cannot be over-emphasized.

Ignore all those health and fitness columns that appear this time of year about how to have a healthy Thanksgiving dinner by skipping the butter and not eating turkey skin and having fruit salad for dessert instead of pie. Can we have one meal a year that we aren’t neurotic about?

No remarks allowed about whether someone really ought to take that third serving of stuffing. In fact, no remarks at all about anyone’s weight. I restrained myself admirably one year when one person said to me, “I wonder if I ought to say something to X about their weight…” but I wouldn’t count on any restraint a second time should the subject come up again.

Do not worry about the correct wine to go with Thanksgiving dinner. This isn’t the French Laundry. Put out a bunch of bottles of whatever you have. No one will complain that the 2003 Oregon Pinot Noir was incompatible with the sweet potatoes. Personally, I drink champagne.

Take a walk between dinner and dessert.

The correct interval between the conclusion of dinner and the first turkey sandwich is 30 minutes.

ALL THE EVIDENCE POINTS THIS WAY

Paula Deen’s fans are the most ignorant, uneducated, illiterate, uninformed, gullible, and blatantly racist group of people I’ve run across since the Tea Party.  It’s hardly a coincidence that most of them seem to be from the South and reinforce every negative image and stereotype of Southerners imaginable.

Yes, I know not all people from the South are this way. But when Georgia Republicans like Paula Deen more than Martin Luther King, Jr. – it does not reflect well on the South in general.

APRICOT UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE, AND LET ME JUST SAY THIS ABOUT THAT

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So, you know. Paula Deen. I’m fascinated by the outpourings on her Facebook page and the Food Network page, which fall largely into one of two categories:

  • Everyone has said something at some point in their lives that they regret so you’re all a bunch of hypocrites

and

  • Black people say it so you’re all a bunch of hypocrites

which is at once both interesting and pathetic. Words have consequences, no matter who says it. It doesn’t matter if someone else said it.  The inherent racism in blaming black people for Paula Deen saying a horrible word takes a leap of logic that I don’t follow. There are very, very few comments saying I am extremely disappointed in Paula Deen and her abysmal attempts to “apologize.” I suppose that is because racism is still very much alive and well in America and the people who adore her and her Godawful cooking don’t really see what the problem is because, you know, she apologized.

(I’m gonna go out on a limb – not a very long limb, actually – and take a wild guess that the people making these comments did not vote for Obama, but hey, they’re not racists.)

The thing is, she doesn’t really get it. She doesn’t get how terribly offensive the things she says are, or how appalling her actions and defenses are. She doesn’t get how offensive the actions of her family re: pornography at work, dirty jokes at work are.  (For the record, I have no problems with porn or dirty jokes, but NOT at work.) She doesn’t  grasp the awful thinking behind the concept of hiring black people to dress as slaves at a wedding. She apparently believes that slaves were family. (In some cases, they actually were family, since some plantation owners took female slaves as their mistresses, and their wives were expected to ignore the babies that resulted.) She blamed her age for her words. News flash: other people born in 1947 include David Bowie,  Melanie Safka, Rob Reiner, Elton John, Barry Melton, Salman Rushdie, Meredith Baxter, Arlo Guthrie, Carlos Santana, Bob Weir, and Hillary Clinton.

In a few years she’ll be a trivia question, as has happened to a number of people who once were among the famous, and they themselves stepped boldly off that cliff into oblivion.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Cake.

My husband got a visit from the Dark Angel of High Cholesterol, so we have dramatically changed our eating habits. Rather than go on Lipitor, we are trying to control it through diet. I bought a ton of dried beans, grains, etc. and put them in nicely labeled jars where we can see what we have. The butter dish has been empty for a week; the mayonnaise sits unopened in the refrigerator. So far, so good.

The other day we invited some neighbors over for brunch. I saw a recipe for Apricot Upside-Down cake in Placer County Real Food and wanted to make that, but mindful of the amount of butter, I asked on another forum for help in cutting down the butter. While I didn’t get a definitive answer, I got enough to be able to wing it. The results were very good. I also accidentally cut down on the amount of sugar topping: I made the recipe without my glasses, and mistook 3/4 cup for 1/4 cup. The syrupy topping you get with a normal upside-down cake was minimalized, but it really didn’t need all that sugar.

APRICOT UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 8 apricots
  • 1-3/4 cup flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup low-fat or non-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375.

Lightly butter a deep cast-iron skillet. Place a circle of parchment paper in the bottom and butter it. Sprinkle honey & sugar on the parchment. Place pan on burner and heat until the butter is melted and the honey-sugar is warmed. Smear it around on the parchment paper. Cut apricots in half, remove the pits, and place them, cut-side down, on top of the honey-sugar. Set the pan aside.

Combine dry ingredients and set aside.

Beat butter, oil, and yogurt together.  Slowly beat in sugar and continue to beat until sugar is completely dissolved and mixture is smooth. Beat in egg whites and extracts until all is incorporated.

Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour. Beat until just combined. Pour batter over apricots and bake at 375 for 40 to 45 minutes until a tester comes out clean.

Remove skillet from oven. Immediately invert the cake by placing a large plate on top of the skillet and holding firmly in place. Flip the skillet and plate, letting the cake drop onto the plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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