Friday, November 27, 2009

A Thanksgiving Post-Mortem

As much as I complain about Los Angeles, I realize how bratty that sounds when we have a late November day like yesterday. 77F & sunny. The sun is low enough in the sky at this time of year that it fades behind the large eucalyptus tree by noon, so that there is pretty, filtered light on the back terrace -- the flat stone area between the kitchen and my hut -- creating a perfect setting for a long Thanksgiving lunch table. Numbers dwindled at the last minute and we were 19 not 24. And last minute we decided to pull out two long trestle tables, cover them in a jolly cloth of large Quant-like flowers, and pumpkins and jars of red roses, olive & wheat. Despite the huge ficus hedge behind us, it did feel like Tuscany, where Mrs Smith's sister lives, and we marveled at our good fortune -- eating lunch outside at Thanksgiving -- while our English friends and families are weathering storms and cold and darkness by 4pm.

Me 'n the Maharishi with his smoked meats

Waking up at 4am was done in solidarity with the Maharishi who had a leg of pork that needed to be smoked. A smoked and roasted piece of pork isn't the same as a ham, but the cut of meat looked like a Christmas ham, if you can imagine that. He had already salted and cured a lovely piece of belly pork, given to him by his friend Neal, the chef/owner at Grace (they meet frequently to indulge their porcine fetishes), and that was in the fridge ready to be sliced thinly for roumaki. The turkey would only need 4 1/2 hours. By 4.30am we were both in the kitchen drinking tea and listening to Morning Edition (which included a most excellent interview with Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised Marcus Samuelsson head chef at Acquavit in NY).

First on my list was cranberry-pear-walnut sauce from the wonderful Food52. As we had four small children joining us, I omitted the brandy, but it worked beautifull nonetheless. Great fun grating silky smooth pears with a box grater, pear juice running over my hands.

Next, green beans. As my great challenge is keeping everything hot, I decided to choose green beans that could be served at room temperature and I modified Ottolenghi's haricot verts with orange zest & roasted hazlenuts (tossed with a little olive oil, hazlenut oil, orange juice, minced garlic, salt & pepper, chopped chives). The beans are cooked in batches, for just a few minutes, and then plunged into cold water, so that the glorious green color is preserved.

Okay, so the brussels sprouts were crazy. People that have never liked brussels sprouts will have a religious conversion over these babies. The recipe is adapted from Suzanne Goin of Lucques. They're cooked with pancetta and topped with golden, thymey breadcrumbs.

Back to Ottolenghi once again for the sweet potatoes. They are mandolined into 2mm slices and then tossed in chopped sage, minced garlic, salt and pepper, stacked like little armies, upright into a baking pan, topped with cream and roasted, gloriously for 45 minutes covered and 25 minutes uncovered at 390F.

The Maharishi really wanted carrots. We cut them into wedges, diagonally, cooked them in hot salty water until they were barely done and then tossed them in butter, meyer lemon zest (from our tree), lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper.

The Maharishi eschewed stuffing this year for a savory bread pudding, similar to the one found here but without cheese and instead of mushrooms, he used chestnuts. Traditional stuffing herbs -- parsley, sage & thyme -- were chopped and added too.

An impromptu table outside

Lovely friends brought appetizers: tiny risotto cakes, mini quiche, my mother-in-law's world famous cheese ball, a goat cheese and leek galette. And puddings -- a pumpkin tart made by Stephanie, and a ridiculously runny & yummy coconut meringue cream pie from Mrs. Smith.

The food was laid out on the kitchen counter and everyone helped themselves. We sat outside long into the afternoon drinking red wine (Coppola's delicious Director's Reserve) and feeling grateful. No major family fights. General pleasantry. The M, who's been on a raw fruit and vegetable & grilled protein diet for a month, slipped into dreamland at about 8.30pm from tryptophan and over-exertion, while watching "Elf". Doesn't that Zooey Deschanel have a pretty voice?


Anonymous said...

lovely lovely lovely .... would love to have been on that glorious patio! - kbc

sianey said...


Annabelle said...

a) Samuelsson just did a lecture/tasting here at Columbia about diversity of culture through food. I want to get his new book.
b) 4 am???

Miss Whistle said...

Annabelle -- I'd love to see Samuelsson speak. He's most inspiring.
And yes, you will find that I have become a frequent admirer of 4am!

Thanks so much for your comments.


Miss W

shayma said...

oh B, this is just a fantastic menu, everything from the cranberry sauce to the goat cheese galette, to your lemon-zest-from-the-garden fragranced carrots. what a lovely evening this must have been. this reminds me of meals we had outdoors in our home in Nairobi in November. We have so much to be grateful for, dont we? x shayma

ps i do love the Director's Reserve