1125 Five Years Running

2006: 14 friends, 1 guest dog, 1 cat, 1 arm in a cast, 1 dropped cutting board, 2 sneaky surprise guests.


Photo by Keem

2007: 2 friends from Massachusetts and 1 from Illinois brave horrible holiday traffic to travel to DC, visit the zoo, play trains, and talk about DRUNK BEES.

Friends

2008: Day after Thanksgiving dinner, pork shoulder, colcannon, spinach quiche, fondue, queso, crafternoon

DSC_0052
Photo by Soy

2009: Eating pie at Village Inn in Davenport even though we’re all stuffed from actual Thanksgiving

Just like last year
Photo by Soy

2010: To the farm! Featuring Baby 80

Thanksgiving Friendos

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1124 Thanksgiving Prep

turkey

We’re leaving in the very wee hours of the morning to drive to Iowa to spend Thanksgiving with my family and also with the Wadsgreens – so tonight was very much about clearing the fridge, packing the bags, and doing a bit of meal prep since we’re likely to roll into Davenport just in time for dinner.

I would say that my grandparents are getting up there in years, but that would be an understatement. They’re old. My grandma was born in 1918, so her first Thanksgiving would’ve been just after Armistice Day. My grandpa was born two years later – his childhood on a farm in very rural Iowa might’ve looked like this:

1920' ish Iowa
Photo by drivebybiscuits1

This year we’ll have eleven at dinner: the two of us, my grandparents, my parents and my aunt Nancy, Eric, Jenn, Bill, and little Max. Mark will be celebrating with friends in California, but will be home for Christmas. Uncle Tom, Aunt Ann, and the little cousins will be with Ann’s family. Uncle Rich will be in Iowa City. There will be turkey and stuffing and Grandma’s mashed potatoes and butterhorn rolls. We will drink wine out of tiny glasses, and Grandma will fuss over the dishes if we don’t get the dishwasher started before she can get up from the table. It will be very warm in the house. These things never change, though this year I’ll be introducing two new dishes: sweet potatoes with pecans and goat cheese and carrot cake, both from Smitten Kitchen.

Part of the reason I love friend Thanksgivings so much is the lack of codified traditions. We each bring our own things to the table – literally and figuratively – and discard the things that don’t work. I love this. But I also love the traditions. I love the fact that our family recipes – boring and predictable as they can be – are ties to the past, to the years of shrimp cocktail before dinner, of being sandwiched at the dinner table between my aunt and my mom, of sneaking sips of wine after the meal. I argued against having a turkey this year, but I know I’d miss it if it wasn’t on the sideboard along with Mom’s cranberry sauce and the small cut glass salad bowls.

Going home for the holidays is expensive and time consuming – hours in the car, money for pet sitters and expensive tanks of gas and food on the road. Moods run thin, we eat too much, and sleep is compromised by unfamiliar beds. I dread the drive and the stress, and part of me will be relieved when we don’t have to make as long of a trip. At the same time, I treasure the years and years of memories, and look forward to the brief amount of time we’ll have with my family around the table. I feel tremendously blessed.

1122 Ramen

Like many middle-class middle Americans, I first encountered ramen noodles my freshman year of college. They were cheap, more appetizing than most of the cafeteria food, and could be prepared in one pot or, in a pinch, in a electric teakettle. I was vegetarian at the time, so I stocked up on the mushroom and tomato flavors whenever they went on sale – 10-15 cents per meal seemed about right, especially when I was making around $5/hour at my part-time job.

Maruchan for Days
Photo by C. Strife

It wasn’t until much later that I realized that ramen is meant to be eaten as a soup. See, I’d been boiling the noodles, draining almost all of the liquid, and then tossing the noodles with the sodium – I mean, flavor – packet, just like you do with macaroni and cheese. I didn’t realize that ramen should arrive in a velvety broth, nor that you could – and should – add in meat, vegetables, and basically anything else you like. Thanks to Tampopo and Tomukun, I have seen the error of my ways. I know to concentrate on the three pork slices, and that I should slurp my broth, even if it goes against my dad’s food rules.

Chilli Beef Ramen - Wagamama Filnders Lane
Photo by avlxyz

Tonight was my first attempt at making if not real ramen at home, then at least good ramen. I made a rich broth on Sunday by simmering beef and pork bones with vegetable scraps all day, so that provided the foundation for the soup. Into the warming broth went a handful of homemade pork meatballs, a thinly sliced onion, some ginger, and shaved sunchokes. When the meatballs were just cooked through, I added a packet of ramen noodles – but not the flavor packet.  We both added more seasoning at the table – pickapeppa sauce for me, and sriracha for Shane – to give the soup a bit of heat and funk.

All in all, a simple and delicious dinner, and one that I anticipate we’ll be making again soon – perhaps with different veg? shrimp instead of/with the meatballs? a fried egg?  The options are endless.

1121 Leftover Galettes

A quiet and laid-back day today. We slept in, then went to Comet for cappuccinos and a shared raspberry-almond pastry. Shane took advantage of the nice weather and unstructured time to do assorted moped errands and projects. I ran, then spent the rest of the afternoon on the couch with knitting and MI-5.

Neither of us were particularly hungry for most of the day – a side effect of last night’s dinner – so instead of making something new for dinner, we made the most of fantastic leftovers by using them to fill buckwheat galettes. I wanted to try this recipe months ago, but while I got around to buying the buckwheat flour, I didn’t get to making the galettes until today. The main reason? You have to make the batter an hour or two in advance. That’s really not a good reason, but it’s the best excuse I’ve got. Regardless, they turned out to be an excellent vehicle for such luxurious leftovers as thin slices of Broadbent ham with minced stuffed mushrooms or pumpkin risotto. I’m not sold on the galette recipe – I think I’d prefer a little less buckwheat – but I am sold on this dinner.

Breton galette and cider
Photo by Anina2007

Recipe:
Buckwheat Galettes from Simmer Down!

1120 “Thanksgiving”

I love Thanksgiving, and I love that nearly every Thanksgiving since 1999 has included at least one bonus Thanksgiving dinner – not the comprised of leftovers type, but the type where you’re surrounded by friends and loved ones who are not bound to you by genetics or tradition. I wrote about this in my zine last year – I love the way that we’ve invented and reinvented traditions while playing with the idea of family. I love that some years there are just a few of us far from home – and some years our house is bursting at the seams with good food and good friends.

Last year we were new in town, so we broke with tradition and instead had a Bosnian feast with friends in Chicago for Kim’s birthday. This year we both wanted to resuscitate the tradition, so in October, I sent out an email inviting friends to a potluck Thanksgiving dinner. When we didn’t hear back from many people, we decided to just have an open house – come when you can, bring something tasty, and everyone will go home full and happy. Little did we realize that all but two of the people we invited could make it, meaning that at 8pm we had run out of both plates and seating. By oh my goodness, was it wonderful.

There were so many good things that I can’t begin to recount them, but I do want to tell you about the two dishes we made. First, a pumpkin risotto which used up the last of the weekend’s pumpkin. I misplaced one of the onions – I think it must’ve just gone in early – and I would omit the white pepper next time, but otherwise the dish was a total success. The recipe claimed that it served 6, but at least 15 small portions were spooned out, leaving at least 2 for leftovers, so I would guess you could happily feed 8 hungry people if you want to give it a try.

And second, oh my word, the stand-out recipe of the evening and possibly the fall: Smitten Kitchen‘s sweet potatoes with pecans and goat cheese. Candied coins of sweet potato topped with a sort of Waldorf salad, except sub a sweet red wine vinegar for the mayonnaise, and sub dried cranberries for the apples. It was exquisite. I’m so glad we made a double batch, and I can’t wait to make more for my family’s Thanksgiving next week.

Recipes:
Sweet Potatoes with Pecans and Goat Cheese from Smitten Kitchen
Pumpkin Risotto from Food and Wine

1119 Vegan Molasses Cookies

I went to my first A2 crafty meet-up the other night at Pot and Box, a sweet shop focused on “beautiful, ethically-sourced and responsibly-serviced flowers and plants.” I’d heard a lot about the space and its owner, but hadn’t been until a new crafty vegan friend invited me to the night of craftiness. Her invite provided the perfect opportunity to try a bit of vegan baking while making molasses cookies, which I’ve been craving for a while.  Are we vegan?  Not even remotely.  Are we considering going vegan?  Not a chance.  But that’s no reason not to incorporate vegan and vegetarian recipes into our diets and repertoires – especially when they can be surprisingly delicious.  Yes, I said it.  Surprisingly delicious.

We’ve both long been skeptical of vegan baked goods.  What about the butter! The eggs! The full-fat dairy!  Baked goods made with substitutes for those things – margarine instead of butter, light cream cheese instead of full-fat, skim milk instead of cream – are often so sad that we both had a hard time imagining tasty baked goods lacking dairy altogether.  I had a vegan cupcake at Sticky Fingers last summer and oh boy, BORING.

Our skepticism was challenged last month, though, when we devoured peanut butter chocolate chip cookies at a potluck – and then discovered that they were vegan.  These cookies were fantastic – delicious, chewy, and super flavorful.  We ate at least half a dozen between us, and I immediately had to request the recipe.

So it was with cautious enthusiasm that I tackled these molasses cookies.  The blog photos looked great.  I had flaxseed meal on hand, so I didn’t have to worry about grinding flax seeds.  The batter was spicy and sweet, a little crumbly after being chilled, but sticky enough to roll into balls the size of small walnuts.  I baked them up in two batches in the toaster oven, giving them about 9 minutes instead of 6, and they came out soft and chewy and totally delicious – and even better the next day.  I’m sold.

Recipe:
Classic (vegan!) Molasses Cookies from Hell Yeah It’s Vegan!