Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Meals Plans

This is the first Christmas since my daughter was born five years ago that we are not visiting or hosting my family or Mike's family for the holiday. I'm a bit sad in some ways, but glad of it in others. The holiday lead-up has been a slower one, with less external pressure to conform to expectations about when to have decorations up or go visit Santa (missed that one entirely this year thanks to the snow) or getting things done before traveling somewhere. Before December, I was feeling good about not over-scheduling us with holiday activities, though the first two weekends of the month still wound up jam-packed with back-to-back and even overlapping events. A few snuck up on me, like Annabel's dance performance at ScanFair and the German Saturday School's holiday party.

One aspect of our nuclear-family Christmas that I'm especially glad about is having complete freedom to decide on our holiday meals, without interference from or consideration of my parents or in-laws. Because it's just the four of us, I don't feel the need to go overboard with an abundant variety of side dishes and desserts or use conveniences in the name of expediency. Rather, I'm keeping things simple, wholesome, and mostly local, and incorporating my little family's favorites. Here's the plan:

Christmas Eve Dinner
Celery Root Soup
Fennel, Arugula, and Orange salad
Dungeness Crabs
Cookies of Near Infinite Variety

Since the kids will probably not like the salad (well, maybe Luc will, but Annabel won't), I'm going to serve them orange and apple slices in a bed of purple cabbage leaves. I think I'll make the grown-up salad with oranges instead of apples as suggested in the recipe. As tempted as I am to make a dessert, we have so many cookies from neighbors and that we have baked ourselves that dessert seems a little overboard.

It's just now light enough to see outside and it is snowing! again!

Christmas Morning Brunch
Biscuits and Gravy with Apple Sausage
Scrambled Eggs

I have been sneaking off with the kids lately to visit the Clinton Corner Cafe (formerly The Habit, Portland's first internet cafe, where I washed dishes and made grocery runs in exchange for free internet access when I first moved here) and order their biscuits and gravy. They make it with a pork-apple sausage that I'm going to attempt to replicate as a gift to myself for Christmas morning. Hopefully we'll get eggs from our chickens for our scramble, though we may have to thaw them first.

Christmas Mid-Day Snack
Gingerbread House Candy

We made our gingerbread house with this recipe from Diane, a fellow member of the whole grain baking email list, and it was fantastic--construction grade gingerbread suitable for snacking. I like making the house on Christmas day and then having it to munch on in the week or so afterward, instead of half-eaten by Christmas morning. I'm glad I pre-ordered candy from the Natural Candy Store...we would have nothing for the gingerbread house otherwise, with the weather keeping me from shopping this last week and a half.

The snow is really! coming down! I cannot believe it's been snowing almost everyday since December 15th. Crazy. I will have to get some more pictures today and put them up in my spare time. (We haven't wrapped a single gift--and we have to wrap presents that have arrived from the grandparents as well as those from us!)

Christmas Dinner
Roasted beet, Sunflower Seed & Gorgonzola Salad
Baked Potatoes with Butter, Bacon, and Yogurt
Roast Brussels Sprouts
Roast Leeks
Roast Beef
Gingerbread House
More Cookies of Near Infinite Variety
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (that New Seasons gave us for having to make substitutions to our online order) topped with Crushed Candy Canes

No recipes as these are all simple family favorites I do by rote. Again, I'll serve the kids purple cabbage with apples and oranges and raw Brussels sprouts. I cannot get my kids to eat cooked cruciferous vegetables, but they'll eat any of them raw.

Humungous flakes are falling rapidly and in quick succession from the sky! This would be picture-perfect Christmas Eve were in not the tenth day of snow here.

Seriously, I don't really mind it much, and would mind it even less if our mailman would only please please please deliver our Netflix movies. I'm beginning to forget the plot of Battlestar Galactica and while White Christmas (1954), Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer (1964) and The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974...notice a pattern here?) were all shipped days ago, we haven't gotten any mail since Saturday! Whatever happened to
We are mothers and fathers. And sons and daughters. Who every day go about our lives with duty, honor and pride. And neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds. Ever. [Unless you happen to live in East Portland in the early 21st century. Your Christmas packages and sanity-saving DVDs will wait. Forever.]
Don't worry, Mr. Mailman, you'll still get your Candy Cane Cocoa mix. But ya gotta get here before we drink it all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cooking Up a Storm

We have been having a relatively severe winter storm here in Portland. In the 12 years I've lived here, I don't ever recall temperatures this low for so long or seeing it snow everyday for a week. Except for a quick trip on Wednesday to Growers Outlet, our local produce market, I have been home since going out to knit with friends on Monday evening. Stuck inside, watching the snow blow from the east and then the west, I've been keeping warm in the kitchen, cooking up a storm.

For dinner one evening, I brined a pork loin and then roasted it along with some cauliflower, seasoned simply with just olive oil, salt and pepper. A couple days later we put the leftover meat in the slow cooker with some canned tomatoes, green tomato chutney from my friend Harriet, molasses, wine, and oregano, and had lovely pulled pork for sandwiches. There was still some of that leftover and Mike had the idea to use it in a tamale pie. So, we managed three utterly different meals with one piece of meat.

Friday night's fish was pan-fried pistachio crusted halibut with not-so spicy yogurt. This turned out perfectly, crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside. I vastly simplified the yogurt, just swirling in a little fresh dill and lemon juice into homemade yogurt. I made fish cakes with the leftovers last night, adding a bit of It's Alive Sea Vegetable Sauerkraut to the mix along with finely chopped celery, homemade mayonnaise, dulse flakes, panko and a couple eggs. I dredged the cakes in panko as well, which gave them a nice crunchy finish with they were cooked.

For lunch one day last week, I satisfied a hankering I have had for pasta e fagioli for several weeks. In the process, I made a triple batch of navy beans and now have two quarts in the freezer for more soups or maybe dip. This morning, I came across this recipe for White Bean & Squash Soup, which I think I'll make next week. While I was cooking dinner last night, I baked two delicata squash and three apples for this curried soup I'll make to go along with grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner tonight. In another pan, I baked a celery root, several small cloves of garlic, and some Yukon gold potatoes for yet another soup that we'll have on Christmas Eve, I think. I figured that baking these vegetable would be easier and perhaps yield a better flavor than simply cooking them in broth. We'll see.

Over in the fermentation department, I finally got a quart of burdock root started. I have no idea if this is going to work, as I couldn't find any recipes. I just peeled the roots, cut them all to the same length, submersed them in a quart jar of salty brine with a little whey and some grated ginger, and kept the jar on the counter for several days. It's now in the fridge and I'll let it sit there for a few weeks before taking a taste. I love pickled burdock root, but the stuff they sell at the Japanese markets is full of chemicals and dyed fluorescent orange (burdock root is white). I also pickled another 5 pounds of beets, using my food processor to grate them instead of grating by hand. Thumbs up on the modern convenience. I was concerned that food processor would grate the beets too fine, but it actually grated a little thicker--more like a julienne, so I'm pleased. The packed jar did get a little mold growth on top while it sat on the counter, which hasn't happened before. I scraped off the top quarter-inch and it hasn't come back. When I bought veggies last week, I picked up a cabbage and some turnips to pickle, plus a few rutabaga to add to borscht next week.

I've done a bit of food gift prep as well. I made candied nuts, candied grapefruit peel, and cranberry-pumpkin-walnut breads. We ran low on sugar, so I didn't get the orange peels candied yet. A neighbor picked up a 5-pound bag of sugar for me at Winco yesterday, but I'm not sure now if I'll get to that before Christmas or not. We may just have them for our New Years Day open house instead.

I tried what the New York Times touted as the best chocolate chip cookie recipe ever, but we have been only mildly impressed. I cooked one batch immediately and a second 24 hours later and didn't notice any improvement. I do like sprinkling the cookies with salt before baking--salt and chocolate is a favorite combination of mine--but I'm not sure that these cookies are Santa-worthy. Today, I'm going to make more chocolate-pepper-espresso cookies and gingersnaps, which I know will please Sankt Nikolaus, as Annabel insist we call Mr. Bowl Full of Jelly this year.

Annabel and I have invited ourselves over to our neighbor Jill's house this afternoon to help her decorate sugar cookies. I haven't decorated cookies since I was a girl myself and know nothing about making icing or doing fancy piping, but Jill turns out beautifully decorated cookies every year, so we're going to learn from a master. Christmas morning, I'll bake the pieces for our gingerbread house while we open gifts and then we'll put it together after brunch. I ordered candy from Natural Candy Store this year, way ahead of time, so we didn't have to run around at the last minute looking for candy, which is especially fortunate as there's no running around for us with the snow we've got here. A neighbor with an SUV is giving me a lift to New Seasons this afternoon so I can pick up Dungeness crabs for our Christmas Eve feast and a few other provisions. Honestly, though, we have managed quite well with food during this storm. We ran out of milk, but I'm kinda used to working without fresh milk and have found that sour raw milk works as well or even better in cooking and the kids are happy to have yogurt in their oatmeal.

We got our tree and decorations up yesterday. I got into the habit of waiting until the last minute to put up the tree when Annabel was little and I didn't want to hassle with her over pulling decorations off for weeks before Christmas. Now, I just like waiting until the official start of winter before taking down the fall decorations and getting out wintry Christmas decor. I like fall and it seems like it gets a little short-changed with Christmas celebrations starting ever earlier. I'm bummed that we don't have any garland. I had planned on picking some up over the weekend, but the storm put an ix-nay on that idea. Maybe New Seasons will have some today.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Two Soups from My Imagination & Pantry

I just made a couple soups for lunch without recipes or much planning. The one preliminary was that I had soaked about a cup of wheat berries in water for about 24 hours, then cooked gently in water until softened...30 minutes? I don't know exactly, I was watching Battlestar Galactica (this fall's television obsession) while they cooked. I drained them and then sprinkled olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper until they tasted good, then put them in the fridge for some future use...perhaps a soup or salad? I wasn't sure at the time. All together, it took about 10 minutes of my attention over the course of a day to get the wheat berries ready.

Wheat Berry, Chard, Sauerkraut, & Beef Soup
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 stalks chard, stems chopped, leaves torn
1 pint beef broth
1/2 pint of leftover jar of tomato sauce
half of leftover pot roast, shreddd
1 cup soaked and cooked wheat berries
1/2 cup sauerkraut
salt, pepper to taste

Saute the onions and celery for this recipe and one below until soft. Remove half onions and celery. Add chard stems and saute for a few minutes, then add garlic and saute briefly. Add beef broth, tomato sauce, pot roast, wheat berries and chard leaves. Season, then simmer for 10 minutes, until chard leaves are soft. Add sauerkraut and cook briefly, just until warmed through.

Wheat Berry, Tomato, Sauerkraut & Bean Soup
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint frozen chicken broth
1/2 pint tomato sauce
1 15-oz can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup soaked and cooked wheat berries
1/2 cup sauerkraut
salt, pepper, celery seed, parsley

While sauteing onions and celery in one pan, begin thawing frozen chicken stock in a second pan. When there is 1/2-inch of liquid broth in the pan, add garlic. Add onions and celery from first pan. Once broth is completely thawed, add beans, wheat berries, then season to taste. Cook over a medium flame for a few minutes. Add sauerkraut and cook briefly, just long enough to warm through, but not long enough to softened. Serve!

The sauerkraut was an after thought, but I'm so glad I thought of using it, as it added both taste and texture to these soups. Like other sour foods, it brightened the flavor of the other ingredients, plus it added its own complex flavor. Because I didn't cook it for long, it remained noticeably crunchy. If I hadn't added the sauerkraut, I might have tried a little more balsamic. The kids slurped up the milder bean soup, while Mike and I enjoyed the more sour and complex beef soup. Mmmmmm...good!

Food Storage Inventory Online

As part of the Nourished Kitchen Pantry Challenge, I completed a fairly thorough inventory of most of the food we have in our house. It's hard for me to say how long all this will last. I expect the meat to last about a year from when it was purchased and I think we won't go through all the rice and beans we have stored any time soon. It seems we go through five pounds of cheddar cheese in a little under two months. I know that the 20 pounds of whole wheat flour will be used up within a month.

I have a lot of thoughts about our food storage that I'd like to share, but I must do some Lost Arts Kitchen business while I have these few kid-free precious moments this morning. More later.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Whole Foods Not So Wholesome Attack on New Seasons

Do you shop at Whole Foods? There are many good reasons not to shop there, but here's yet another one. Whole Foods has subpoenaed New Seasons financial records, marketing plans, documents related to plans to open new stores or improve existing stores, and other sensitive information about its business. The Oregonian weighed in on the matter yesterday.

Of course, this outrageously unfair, anticompetitive demand should come as no surprise to those of us who've paid attention to Whole Foods' business practices over the years. What concerns me is that a lot of people out there think that by shopping at Whole Foods, they're doing the "right" thing, buying organic food for their family. Perhaps in some areas of the country, Whole Foods is the one and only choice for those seeking organic food, but I doubt it. Given the way Whole Foods does business, I'd bet that every single one of its stores is within a stone's throw of another, smaller, locally owned health food store or food co-op. You may not know about it yet. It may not be right on your way home from work, but it's almost certainly there. Please, if you shop at Whole Foods, find your local alternative and shop there.

I no longer shop very often at New Seasons. I prefer to pick up produce at farmers' markets or People's Co-op, buy meat farm-direct, and get my groceries delivered to my door by Azure Standard. Still, I'm glad that when I still shopped at grocery stores regularly, I could go to a locally owned natural food store committed to selling local, organic products. After my run-in at Fred Meyers, New Seasons became the only place I grocery shopped for some time. I urge those of you who do shop at Whole Foods to stop supporting the Goliath and give David some well deserved support.

Monday, December 01, 2008

What About Those 10 Meals?

First, I want to remind people that if you haven't already done so, please subscribe to the Lost Arts Kitchen newsletter for discounts on upcoming classes, sustainable food news, seasonal recipes, and more. Now, on with the post.

I mentioned in my last post that my family has about 10 or so meals that we eat fairly regularly and Matriarchy asked me to share what they are. Here's a list plus my usual long-winded explanation about the whys and wherefores of what I do.
  • Roast chicken, usually with roast potatoes or steamed rice and some other roasted vegetables. In the interest of saving time and energy, when I use the oven I try to fill it with multiple items. Often I will cook some things I plan to serve the next day, like sweet potatoes that I'll mash and reheat or beets that I chop up for salad.
  • Roast beef with roasted veggies. The leftover meat is great for sandwiches, salad, or soup.
  • Pan-fried or roasted pork chops, with steamed or roasted vegetables. I have different quick pan sauces or marinades I use with pork, citrus-ginger, balsamic-honey-mustard, blackberry-bbq, etc.
  • Roast or grilled salmon or halibut with roasted or steamed vegetables. We eat a lot of these two particular fish because I can buy frozen fillets in 10-pound boxes from Azure. I am looking for sources of alternatives such as tilapia, cod, and mahi mahi that don't require a trip to the grocery store.
  • Quiche/Bread Pudding/Strata. Eggs and milk and/or cream combined with cheese, veggies, and sometimes a bit of prosciutto or bacon. When I have baby fingerlings from our garden, I just put those in the buttered quiche pan and pour the egg mixture over them. If I decide to make quiche with a crust, I make and freeze extra dough. When I have enough bread ends in the freezer, I make bread pudding or strata. I suppose these could qualify as different types of meals, but they're all pretty much the same with varying types of starch. They all make fantastic leftovers. For a lighter meal with no leftovers, I make frittata.
  • Soup made from leftover roast chicken or roast beef. I make broth with the chicken carcass or using beef bones I keep in the freezer and mirepoix vegetables (that is, celery, onion, and carrots, the classic French combination of aromatics used to flavor stocks, sauces, etc.) I always have on-hand. My family's favorite soup is Chicken-Corn Soup, which practically makes itself it's so quick and easy. The kids love this with noodles and when I have time, we'll make egg noodles from scratch.
  • Twice baked potatoes. I love these and practically lived on them in college. So easy and filling. I wash four russets, sprinkle them with kosher salt while they're still wet, then bake them for an hour or so. When they're just barely cool enough to handle, I scoop out the flesh with a soup spoon, mash it, then add grated cheddar, yogurt, steamed broccoli, asparagus, or some other leftover green vegetable. I put the skins in a glass baking dish, fill them, and bake for another 30 minutes. Another great leftover.
  • Lentil soup, with rice or alphabets pasta. Again, I make a big batch and freeze what's left.
  • Fish cakes made with leftover roast salmon or halibut, with steamed veggies.
  • Fried rice made with leftover meat and veggies (or frozen green beans and corn), a couple eggs, and miso.
  • Pasta with bolognese sauce. I make a big batch of sauce, then freeze it in quart-sized containers so I always have some on hand. If we make noodles for soup, I make enough for pasta night.
You may notice a pattern...almost everything I cook is good (or even better) the next day, uses leftovers, or can be added to something else. All four of us are home for lunch most days and I rarely make lunch--I just pull leftovers out of the refrigerator and reheat them. I say this as someone who used to have a serious aversion to leftovers and still turns her nose up at a lot of things (yuck on any leftovers with green beans). Now that I've figured out how to cook things that can be used in another meal or that actually improve overnight in the fridge, I love leftovers.

I don't rotate through these 10 meals every 10 days. Ideally, dinner each week follows a pattern of roast on Monday, eggs on Tuesday, soup on Wednesday, vegetarian(ish) on Thursday, fish on Friday, Italian on Saturday, and easy or fun on Sunday. Leftovers from dinner provide us with lunch the next day. A hypothetical week of meals would go something like this:
  • Monday: Oats for breakfast, egg salad or fried eggs for lunch if there are no leftovers from the weekend, roast chicken with potatoes and Brussels sprouts for dinner. Bake bread and make bagel dough in the morning. Roast chard for tomorrow's quiche while roasting dinner. After dinner, pick meat off the bones and start stock with carcass.
  • Tuesday: Boil and bake bagels first thing in the morning. Bagels & cream cheese for breakfast, chicken salad for lunch, and quiche with cheddar, chard, and prosciutto for dinner.
  • Wednesday: Oats for breakfast, leftover quiche for lunch, chicken-corn soup for dinner. Every other week, pick up raw milk and make Neufchatel cheese and yogurt.
  • Thursday: French toast and bacon (cook extra for dinner), leftover soup, twice-baked potatoes with broccoli and bacon.
  • Friday: Oats, leftover potatoes, roast salmon with cauliflower and wild rice.
  • Saturday: Pancakes with blueberries, fish cakes, pasta with bolognese.
  • Sunday: Big late brunch, no lunch. I'll cook a casserole or start something in the slow cooker early in the day if we're going to be out. If not I'll make something new or special, like sushi!
So, within that framework and those 10 basic meals, there's a lot of possibilities for variety, but I don't have to fish out recipes or buy special ingredients. Anything on that list I could make today assuming I have defrosted or already cooked the meat involved. This is the beauty of having a thoughtfully stocked pantry, fridge, and freezer. I never go to the grocery store anymore at five o'clock in search of some ingredient essential for that evening's dinner. I also don't have to make elaborate meal plans every week before I go shopping because 1) I don't go shopping every week and 2) when I do shop for fresh produce, I just buy what's in season that we like and work it into my basic plan.

During the summer, we grill instead of roast. Like the oven, I tend to fill the grill to capacity and have a plan in mind for using whatever we don't eat that evening for another meal. Instead of soup, I made salad with leftovers. We also eat a lot more raw fresh vegetables during the summer and a lot less meat.

For the pantry challenge, I'm going to experiment more with using vegetables that I've fermented. Think borscht and choucroute garni. I also want to cook with beans more often than I do now. My kids love beans and I do make batches of black beans for them to have for quick lunches (or for Annabel to eat instead of potatoes as she inexplicably doesn't like potatoes), but I haven't gotten into making bean-based meals for the whole family. Anyone have a favorite bean dish to share?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pantry Challenge Preparations

I've been preparing for the December Pantry Challenge I wrote about in a post a few days ago. Next month, we will only spend $30 a week on food. The rest of what we eat will come from our pantry, freezers, and refrigerators. I've done a thorough inventory and stocked up on staples. Earlier this week I purchased 20 pounds of Bob's Red Mill organic white whole wheat flour, 5 pounds of BRM organic whole wheat pastry flour, and 10 pounds of BRM organic unbleached white bread flour, all on sale for $3.99 per 5 pound bag at New Seasons this week. (This is a pretty good deal on BRM flour--less expensive than 5-pound bags direct from Bob's.)

For fresh fruits and vegetables, we have about 30 pounds of apples on the front stoop along with a stalk of Brussels sprouts, 2 pounds of parsnips, 2 acorn squash, 2 delicata squash and 2 butternut squash. I have 20 pounds of Asian pears on order from Azure--they're a bit more expensive than apples or pears, but the kids love them and they keep well. Other than the occasional pomegranate (another kid fave), that's all the fresh fruit we eat this time of year, though I'm looking forward to the end of the month when oranges, especially blood oranges, come into season. I also have 5 pounds of beets (which I plan to ferment immediately), 5 pounds of carrots, and 5 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes on order.

For dairy, we will continue to buy 2 gallons of raw milk every other week, at $10/gallon (crazy, I know, but it's good stuff). I use most of that to make Neufchatel and yogurt. I have 5 pounds of raw milk cheddar and 1/2 pound of Parmesan coming from Azure. We used to keep a greater variety of cheeses on hand, but Azure doesn't carry stinky cheeses like Gorgonzola and brie. I could go get some if I really want it, but I don't find myself craving the more exotic flavors that my palate used to enjoy and I definitely don't relish the idea of going to New Seasons "just" for cheese (as I know much more would wind up in my cart). Rather, I find myself enjoying the simpler dairy products that I make at home: multitasking yogurt, tangy Neufchatel, and irresistible mozzarella.

With that and everything else we have in the house, I will hardly need to buy anything except some fresh green veggies. Just think how much time I will save not shopping during this busiest shopping month of the year. I loved that I hardly had any shopping to do for Thanksgiving and with the money we will save this month on groceries (and I may continue with this challenge in January), we'll be able to afford Dungeness crab for our Christmas Eve feast, something I look forward to immensely.

As I have become less and less dependent on the grocery store, I find that any extra time I spend in the kitchen is well worth not having to drag myself around fluorescent-lit markets full of stuff my family does not need. If I was the kind of person to keep track of such things, I believe I would find that I'm actually spending less total time on food procurement and preparation that I was a year or two ago. Some of that is because I have simplified meals. We don't eat the same 10 things all the time, but we eat about 10 basic meals most of the time, along with some seasonal and meat variations, special occasion menus, and the couple times a year that I made sushi.

What I am most looking forward to next month is planning meals solely around what we have at home. I believe this challenge will push me to greater heights of culinary creativity and to learn more of the ways of my grandmothers, who knew how to prepare meals from leftover this and that and throw together their pantry treasures into satisfying, healthy meals.

Friday, November 28, 2008

T-Day Report

True to form, our plans changed midstream yesterday. Instead of simply roasting our turkey, Mike suggested smoking it. Great idea! The only downside was no roasting pan drippings, so the gravy was kinda weak. I bolstered it with sage, parsley, and lots of butter. The turkey was quite good, though. Nicely done, Mike!

The sweet potatoes were fantastic. I love plain roasted sweet potatoes and don't feel they need a lot of dressing up, but the ginger, touch of maple syrup, and coconut milk were nice additions. I might try molasses next time. I liked the stuffing recipe overall, but it didn't call for any moistening or binding ingredients, like broth or egg, that I am accustomed to using. I had some leftover chicken gravy, so I added that and a couple eggs. Who likes dry, crumbly stuffing?

The biggest disappointment was the green beans. I was totally winging it as the recipe I was trying to replicate is at my mom's house in Maryland and my mom is at her Winter Estate in Florida (this would be a double-wide in a trailer park full of snowbirds, lest you get the mistaken impression that their winter home is a Palm Beach McMansion), so no access to said recipe and I could not find one like it on ye ol' Internet. Plus, the kids were anxious to get out of the house just as I was getting the beans ready, so I totally slopped it together. Literally, I put frozen green beans, half a chopped onion, and homemade sour cream in a 9" x 9" baking dish, tossed it all together, topped with grated cheddar cheese, and put it in the oven with the stuffing and sweet potatoes. Mike, smart guy that he is, said that he liked them. And they were not bad, just too raw on the onions and I should've added some bread crumbs on top for texture. Oh well.

We did go on a nice walk, stopping at our neighbors to wish them Happy Thanksgiving. The kids and I had done leaf rubbings earlier in the day and wrote messages of thanks on them to people on our street. We taped them to the doors of people who were not home and visited briefly with everyone who was home. We returned to a nearly-finished dinner and set the table with the silverware my mother-in-law gave us a couple years ago that we almost never use, plus these tiny "escarglow" candles made with beeswax in snail shells that I picked up at Gossamer, and poured a sparkling riesling from our favorite German winery.

The best part of our meal, which I forgot until I was halfway through my plate, was the cranberry sauce. I didn't get the apple cider for the recipe I had planned to make, so I peeled and chopped two Fuji apples instead. I also added the flesh of the orange as well as the zest. And I spiced it slightly differently, using a dash of cardamom, cinnamom, cloves, and ginger. I accidentally managed to replicate my Granny's cranberry sauce! There's nothing like the taste of food that takes you back in time, is there? That sauce transported me across 3000 miles and 30 years, directly to the steamy warmth of my Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother's kitchen. Truly, it was just magical. There's a whole 'nother pint of it in the fridge and I plan to slather it all over my turkey and cream cheese sandwich today.

Lastly, the marbled pumpkin cheesecake didn't marble as well as I would have liked, mostly due to the lack of contrast between the pumpkin flavored cream cheese and the not flavored, but OMG it was really tasty! I added crystallized ginger to the pumpkin-flavored portion, but I don't think it improved the cake overall. The gingersnaps were quite good fact, we had real problem keeping our fingers out of the dough while it cooled to a slice-able temperature before I baked them. I'm not usually a cookie dough fan, but that gingersnap dough was yum! Definitely a keeper recipe and Mike tells me his mom loves ' I have a new food gift idea in mind, too.

After dinner and dessert, I played Uno with the kids while Mike washed dishes. Luc had terrific beginners luck, winning more round than Annabel or me. It was really nice to be home for T-Day this year...there were some stressful moments, like when I was about to start making the cheesecake and realized the beater for my mixer was missing (and still is), but overall, it was a low-stress, enjoyable day of wondrous aromas, terrific tastes, and family fun. Annabel and I went to bed early, like 8:15, and as she tucked in with me, she said to me, "This was a great day, Mommy." Who cares about not-quite-perfect green beans and missing beaters!