18 November 2010


(Photograph copyright 2010, all rights reserved.)

As some of you know, I'm a bit of an advice column addict. I read them, I parody one of them, and I pay attention to what people say, especially when it comes to things that are bothering them in the moment. Having done this for a few years, I have to say that the more people are miserable, terrified, angry, and depressed right now, around Thanksgiving. Don't get me wrong, Christmas is just as bad for a lot of folks, but Thanksgiving seems to bring out the worst in most people.

I get it. I do. I didn't grow up in the best or safest situation, and holidays were awful when I was both a kid and a young adult. NO ONE had a good time. Ever. Not once. There was constant arguing and fighting, foul long car trips, the same people got drunk every year, and it was altogether an experience that left me pretty cold towards all of the holidays.

As I got older, I opted out. For a very long time, the best Christmas I ever had was one where I opted to stay at University, using my bus money to buy myself the groceries to cook what I wanted just for ME. I didn't care about presents, I had no interest in any rituals, and my only decorations were a couple of glitter garlands that were left over in a stationery store on Christmas Eve. I thought that was heaven. Silence on that particular holiday was the best gift I could have asked for. I vowed right then never to get roped in to someone else's drama again, and I've pretty much managed it.

I still see so many letters to advice columnists from people crying in pain over what really is only ONE DAY out of a year. There are fights over the guest list, over the recipes that are to be used, over who has to/gets to host, who has to travel, who hasn't got the money to travel, and the list goes on and on. Thanksgiving -  a day when we are traditionally meant to give thanks for what we have, has become a nightmare for many, many people.

This is the busiest travel week of the entire year in the U.S. It means that people who never fly will be flying. The airports will be crammed with tired, angry people, some of whom haven't got the faintest idea what they're about. They make it miserable for those that either have no choice but to fly or who do it all the time anyway and are irritated themselves as they slog through the nightmare that is an airport on a holiday weekend.

Let's not forget the hundreds of thousands of people who will be driving long distances to Mom's or Grandmom's house. Hundreds will die in accidents caused by snow, ice, storms, drunks, fog, morons that insist on texting at 70mph and so on. All so they can get to an overcrowded house to eat the same (usually dried out) bird with the same people that they have every year since birth.

Why not stay home? Why not start your OWN traditions? Why is it that families of all shapes and sizes have to travel to someone else's party? Why is it somehow seen as "wrong" to stay home and cook for the people that you love and are close to you both personally and geographically? Why do people put such pressure on themselves that they can't enjoy the day even if things go perfectly?

There are a lot of people this year who just don't have the money to travel, or who would be stretching a dollar until it screams just to be at the holiday table. Why should they have to deal with pressure and guilt trips if they can't  go? Let it be.

The letters show that people's personal issues come to the fore on holidays. People that have always fought will continue to fight. There are threats of canceling parties, refusing to attend if someone else is either invited or not invited. Screaming matches seem to be the rule of the day for so many people. One doesn't want to be in the same house with the family drunk/pedophile/jerk/nasty aunt/miserable granny/bunch of smokers/whiner, and so on, and another freaks out at the notion of NOT having those people attend.

I have to say that I simply don't get it. Thanksgiving is meant to be a holiday where people get together who care about each other. The mere fact of DNA is no guarantee of that, as most of us know full well. So why the pressure? My thanksgiving means surrounding myself with people I care about, that want to come to my home. I believe that we should make our families, not put up with people that we hate just because they're "family".

The Boy and I don't want to be responsible for making anyone do anything. We just want to see the people we care about around a table that has a great meal on it (and I haven't cooked a turkey in ages), with good wine and conversation and usually a great deal of silliness. We would never demand that anyone travel huge distances or bring ridiculous amounts of food to my party. If we couldn't manage the food on our own, we wouldn't be having the party in the first place, now would we?

There is no angst over recipes, china, the "right" serving dishes, the "right" table settings, the "right" way to do things in our house. We don't care how our guests dress. There's nothing formal about our home, ever.  People who care about us and who we care about know full well that there are no rules except to have a good time and not worry about anything being "perfect". We provide food, wine, music and a cat that occasionally likes to sit on laps. There's no specific time to arrive or leave. No one has to do dishes - The Boy and I can handle all of that.

We don't always have guests for Thanksgiving. One friend hosts an open house instead of a massive meal, and that's always a fun time. Last year, we were invited to a friend's house, but couldn't make it because The Boy had H1N1 and we were quarantined. It was all right, though. He wasn't desperately ill, so we made a good meal and watched a couple of movies. The year before, the weather was lousy for driving, so we had a gorgeous pork roast and relaxed on our own.

I think that, with all of the misery and angst that goes into holidays right now, we should all step back. If you don't want to see your family for whatever reason, then DON'T. If anyone is going to judge you for it, who cares what they think anyway? If they weren't upset about this, it would be about something else, so let them be as nasty as they want. THEY'RE the ones with the problem, right?

Have a good holiday and relax, everyone. Remember that it's only one day out of an entire year and try not to get involved in drama and agony that will taint relationships for years. We're headed out of the country for a nice long holiday this year. It's going to be great. We'll be virtually unreachable - and we aren't taking computers with us, so no one can e-mail. I suspect it'll go down as one of the best holidays ever, and that's the way I like it.

13 November 2010

Cauliflower - The Best Veg On The Table .... And A Poll

(Photograph copyright 2010, all rights reserved.)

This post is in response to quite a few requests for the recipe for my favorite favoritist cauliflower recipe. I LOVE this dish. So does everyone else that tries it. It's a little fiddly to make, but it's so good, you won't care.

I got the original from the The New York Times over a year ago. I make it a little differently, in the interest of faster cooking, but it's essentially the same recipe.

(To the writer - please accept my humble and grovelling apologies for changing your recipe. It's wonderful, and it deserves to be spread around a bit more, don't you think? I promise that I am not a professional cook or in any way making a nickel from what I write.)

Here goes.

Cauliflower with Almonds, Capers and Raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

1 medium head of cauliflower, washed, trimmed and cut into 1" (or so) florets
1 1/2 teaspoons butter

Set aside.

3 tablespoons bread crumbs (I use panko, and a little more than this)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil

In a large oven proof pan (I use cast iron pan for this), saute the bread crumbs in the olive oil until lightly browned. Remove from pan, set aside, then wipe out pan with a paper towel.

3 tablespoons slivered raw almonds
Salt and pepper to taste

Add the almonds and s & p to the pan and brown. Set aside and wipe the pan as before.

2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar if you like it better.)
1 teaspoon water
1 tablespoon of capers, drained
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, minced
1 teaspoon chives, chopped fine

In a small saucepan, simmer these ingredients until the raisins are plump and soft. Set aside.

(I don't always have fresh herbs on hand. I've substituted a little minced shallot for the chives, and used dried herbs instead of fresh to fill in what I don't have. It still works, but the flavor is not as intense. Use your judgment, and pick the flavors you like best to concentrate on.)

Now....the fun part.

Saute the cauliflower with the butter in your big pan until slightly browned. Put the whole pan in the oven, and roast until the cauliflower is tender-crisp.

When the cauliflower is done, put it into a large bowl and add almonds, raisin mixture and lastly the bread crumbs.

The original recipe calls for the head of cauliflower to be sliced rather than separated into florets. As far as I can tell, this would mean browning each slice on both sides and then putting it into the oven which would mean a whole lot more work in the end. I freely admit I'm a short-cut goddess in the kitchen. Separating the head of cauliflower into florets means less time cooking and it's easier to serve family-style.

Most cauliflower recipes call for massive amounts of cream or cheese. I think those are far too heavy to be served at a big meal like Thanksgiving or Christmas. There's enough going on on the table without adding something that's going to hit everyone's stomach with a thud. The other down side is that those recipes completely disguise any flavor the cauliflower has of it's own - and it has a nice one.

Need I mention that this has FAR fewer calories and MUCH less fat than the standard gratin?


Now, I posted this in response to Pooham's poll on Slate. She asked everyone for their favorite side dish for Thanksgiving dinner. Pooham, I hope you don't mind, but let's ask the same question here.

So give, everyone: What is your favorite side dish for any holiday dinner?