"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

a happy Thanksgiving . . .

Josie at our 9-foot teak doors

Josie at our 9-foot teak doors

josie whistling with our canaries . . .

. . . whistling with our canaries . . .

josie at ease and growing so fast!

at ease and growing so fast!

josie at the harpsichord

at the harpsichord

josie papa george 2

josie papa george









having fun with Papa George

homemade turkey stock . . . our best kept secret for Thanksgiving dinner!

branches with fruit found around the pond with our 19th century "self-portrait" of Rembrandt

branches with fruit found around the pond with our 19th century “self-portrait” of Rembrandt

The day before Thanksgiving is the day that I dedicate to making the turkey stock for gravy. As I’ve learned, gravy and stock are two different things. The gravy is what you serve with the meal – but the stock is what goes into the gravy along with the last minute drippings when you’re almost ready to eat.

I read somewhere that if the gravy for your Thanksgiving dinner is full of robust flavor, whatever you put it on (the roasted turkey, stuffing or mashed potatoes,) will ensure that the entire meal will taste delicious!

Made sense to me so for the past couple of years, I’ve been fine-tuning the stock that I use for gravy. I used to take the neck and giblets out of the fresh turkey, saute them with some vegetables and add water to make the stock on the morning of the big day. But I’ve graduated to making the stock from roasted fresh turkey parts (sometimes wings or this year, drumsticks.) Instead of all water, I use half water and half chicken broth. Plus, I do all this the day before so that the house smells wonderful and the stock has a chance to be de-fatted overnight.

Because I’m also providing roast chestnut dressing and gravy for a second Thanksgiving gathering on Saturday, I decided to make double the amount of stock just to be safe. It’s not a good idea to run out of gravy as there’s little you can do about it at the last minute when that happens – and when it’s tasty, people seem to want more of it than you’d think! Been there, done that (run out, that is.)

turkey drumsticks for stockThis year, I browned and roasted three turkey drumsticks. Cut up a large vidalia onion, five stalks of leafy celery, 5 large carrots and browned them in butter in a pan with Bell’s seasoning and salt in a stockpot until the drumsticks were done. Then cut the turkey meat, placed it with the drippings into the stockpot of sauteed vegetables and added spring water to cover. Skimmed off any foam and then added two cans of Swanson low-sodium chicken broth. stock vegetables

Will now barely simmer the stock for a few hours. Taste for whether it needs salt along the way. When cool, will strain the broth and de-fat it after it’s spent the night in the chilly pantry. Tomorrow, it’ll be ready to go when the drippings from the roasted turkey are available.

When almost ready to eat, I’ll melt a stick of unsalted butter in a large pan, gradually add about 1/2 cup flour (for this double amount of stock/gravy) and whisk together to make a roux, add some stock to thicken, add roast turkey drippings, add more stock little by little until the gravy is the consistency desired. Taste and season with Maldon sea salt and cracked black pepper.

This may seem like a LOT of trouble to go to for turkey gravy. But in our family, the gravy is second in importance to the primary one – which is the roast chestnut stuffing (cooked inside the bird!) – and the actual roast turkey almost seems like an afterthought around our table (just kidding, sort of)!

Happy Thanksgiving one and all!

(and many thanks for reading my blog!)


a holiday salad, remembered . . .

peeled, seeded pink grapefruit, radicchio, dates and pistachio nuts. . . holiday salad

‘meat pies’ . . .

meat pies 1

On our trip to New York City to see “the King and I,” my daughter C. mentioned the meat pies that she and her husband were given to eat on their way back from Europe this past summer. This got me thinking about those traditional Cornish pasties and other meat pies that the British are so famous for and I began to think about various experiments that I could carry out for something easy to make and also would taste delicious (plus store in the freezer!)

So, rather than buy beef stew or other cuts of meat that would require long cooking in order to be tender, I chose to use 80% ground beef (otherwise known as hamburger.) The 80% lean to fat ratio has a lot of flavor and I can also buy it in smaller packaging rather than those humongous blocks of ground beef that they sell at the grocery store. I also thought large chunks of fresh mushrooms and plenty of vidalia onion would be sufficient, simple ingredients to combine with the beef.

Instead of making my own crust, I decided to try this first batch out using ready-made in the box Pillsbury pie crusts from the dairy aisle bin. I opened them up and used a soup bowl as a template for size and then rolled them out just a little before adding the cooled filling.

All the meat filling took was some care first browning the chopped vidalia onion, then adding the big chunks of mushrooms and resting that mixture in a bowl while I browned the ground beef in the electric skillet. Once the beef was almost done, I sprinkled on Lawry’s garlic salt and some coarse pepper. Added the mushrooms and onions back in and stirred it together. Once it was cooled, I tasted it and it seemed to lack enough salt. So in went some pinches of Maldon salt which I stirred in while still warm.meat pies 2

Since it would have wreaked havoc to try to fill the pie pastry with the meat mixture until the latter was completely cooled, I swept the floor and cleaned off the crumbs from the placemats on the table. When it was time to put everything together, I rolled out the pie crust rounds a little to give more room for the filling and put in enough of it so that the pastry would hold it, the edges rolled up all around the pie and then the roll crimped by hand in order to provide a double seal for the juices.

Small cuts with a sharp paring knife allowed for steam to escape from the pies and a light wash of egg plus water was brushed over the entire little meat pie. Then into a 375 degree oven. I baked the first batch about 20 minutes and then left it in about 8 minutes longer just to be sure the crust was browned enough but not burned on the bottom. They looked pretty good!DSCN8742

While the first batch was baking, I formed four more pies and covered them with a clean dishtowel. There was a small bit of meat filling left so I divided the leftovers into two individual serving-size ramekins for our supper tonight. To plump up the ramekins, I found a russet potato in the pantry, rinsed it off and put it into the oven to bake along with the meat pies. Later on, I’ll scoop out the baked potato when it’s cooked and mash it with some light cream and butter to put on top of the ramekins for a mini-shepherd’s pie for our dinner tonight.

The second batch of four meat pies came out looking pretty nice too – and the only reservation that I have about any of this is 1) of course how do they taste? and 2) whether there will be any left to freeze for return airplane trips after Thanksgiving.

We have been having glorious weather – temperate, sunny, gorgeous sunrise and sunsets. There’s something in this New England Fall air recently that is so delightful in these mid-November days. I wonder what it is?




“the king and I” . . .


When the Broadway revival of “The King & I” opened earlier this year, I noticed with some interest that it won four Tony awards: for best musical revival, best leading actress, best supporting actress and best costumes. Since it is one of the very few musicals that I grew up with, I thought it might be worthwhile to try and go see it. Soon after the Tonys, we got tickets for a show in November, six months ahead of time.

FullSizeRenderWell, this weekend, the time had come. It entailed a 4 1/2 hour bus ride to NYC at 8:30 a.m., getting a bite to eat and getting to Lincoln Center for the 2 p.m. matinee. Then, getting out around 5 p.m., looking for a taxi on a Saturday and getting to Port Authority bus station in time to make the long trek to gate 83 and the 6 p.m. bus back to Hartford via New Haven and New Britain, then transferring to a bus to Worcester due in at 10:30 p.m. If you’re reading this, your reaction might have been similar to mine – which was, “I sure hope this show is worth it!”

We arrived at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre where the cabbie dropped us off at the street level elevator that took us right up to the plaza entrance of the theatre. Inside was medium sized theater and our loge seats were located in the front row balcony center so close that we didn’t need the opera binoculars we had brought along. (Many thanks to George for treating us to these great seats too!) In fact, when the show began, the stage FLOOR extended out over the orchestra pit and it was like viewing a theatre in the round.inside the theater

I was relieved to see that Kelli O’Hara was singing the lead because she had won the Tony for leading lady. But as the orchestra played the overture, I realized for the first time that one of my all-time favorite songs from the movie “American President” (when Michael Douglas dances with Annette Bening) was originally part of the libretto for “The King and I” and called “I Have Dreamed.”

The entire cast performed at the same high level as Kelli O’Hara; the sets were incredibly beautiful and the energy of the entire ensemble was one of relaxed joy and pleasure in performing this wonderful show for the audience. Especially impressive was the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” ballet featuring little Eliza running away from the evil Simon LaGree – hopping gracefully on one foot. It was truly wonderful.

So, was it worth it? You betcha! And we found a taxi back to the bus station by walking two blocks so that we could catch one of the cabs going downtown around 5:10 p.m. We sat in traffic for over 20 minutes but made it just in time to board our 6 p.m. bus.

And this morning, I discovered a recording of “I Have Dreamed” arranged by John Williams which he conducted and recorded with the Boston Pops Orchestra. I made copies of it to play in our cars and gave one to Caitlin for her trip home.

Sigh. Life is (so) good!

homemade cheezit crackers! . . .

DSCN8716Nobody in their right mind would make cheezit crackers from scratch, right? Wrong. Only someone whose granddaughter loves Cheezit crackers and then saw a cooking show where a Mom made them for her away-at-college freshman daughter would take it on. It looked easy enough online.

But there were pitfalls along the way. The dough, made with high quality grated cheddar cheese, unsalted butter, flour, spices and ice water needed to be blended in a food processor and then chilled for half an hour. That was the easy part, believe it or not. The process for rolling out and then cutting squares of uniformly thick/thin dough was more challenging. Making a hole in the middle with a skewer wasn’t hard. But then getting the little critters off the mat and on to a cookie sheet so they didn’t touch was, well, haphazardly successful.

The first batch was unacceptable because I hadn’t used a ruler to make the straight lines so that the crackers were uniformly SQUARE. They looked terrible, to be honest, but they tasted great! It must have been the Lawry’s garlic salt and pinch of cayenne that I added that gave the crackers a little kick!

The second batch was mildly more successful from an appearance point of view. I rolled out the dough and with a ruler, cut the dough with an antique crimp-edged rolling tool. That made the edges look nice but they still stuck to the sili mat when I went to line them up onto the baking sheets. This time, they didn’t stick together and they also tasted good – very cheesy, crunchy and with a bite at the end. I let them cool and then put them in plastic containers along with other goodies (dry roasted, unsalted nuts, dried fruit, giant Hershey bars, green tea and chai teabags) already packed into a USPS carton.

As I was making them, I swore to myself that this was the only time I’d go to this much trouble for so little return. After tasting them after they came out of the oven, I wasn’t so sure. Honestly, they taste so much better than Cheezits from the grocery store. I think I might make cheese straws with them the next time and forego the itty-bitty tiny squares. Or make bigger square crackers. Who knows? The aroma in our kitchen was heavenly when all was said and done!







annual crusade for chestnuts . . .

chestnut dressingRoasting chestnuts! Every November the crusade for chestnuts for the Thanksgiving turkey dressing begins. Through the years, these are the most important lessons I have learned the hard way and tweaked this year:

1) the chestnuts need to be fresh (this is not so obvious) because they dry out quickly at room temperature and also start to decay inside. That’s why it’s good to start 2-3 weeks before Thanksgiving week to work on these critters.
2) with a very sharp, strong paring knife, hold the chestnut with your hand cushioned with a folded dishtowel for protection; insert it at the top of the crown and insert the sharp point, draw the blade down to the bottom tip. Repeat on the other side all the way down. You now have slits cut into the flesh from crown to bottom. If your cuts are too shallow, you won’t break through the skin which is what you want to do in order to loosen the meat from the brown fuzzy skin inside the shell.
3) put prepared chestnuts in cold tap water and bring to a rolling boil on the stove
4) when it’s at a rolling boil, turn the heat off and let them sit in the hot water off the heat for 20 minutes
5) preheat the oven to 425 degrees
6) ladle out the boiled/soaked chestnuts onto a cookie sheet (some skins will already have split and you can see the chestnut meats peeping through.
7) bake/roast for about a half hour – the chestnut should be cooked through and creamy when you bite into it. If it’s hard, it’s not cooked enough – OR, you’ve overcooked it!
8) remove the roasted chestnuts from the oven and set on a heatpad; cover with a dish towel for 15 minutes to allow the chestnuts to steam a little longer while they cool.
9) even with this process, there will be about 10-20% spoilage in the chestnuts.DSCN8710

If you wait closer to Thanksgiving, the fresh chestnuts will have been sitting in the grocery store for 2-3 weeks before you cook them, dry out and increase the spoilage rate significantly. (I’ve found that it’s handy to keep the grocery sales slip in case the whole batch turns out to be inedible.)

So, start trying them out early (1st week in Nov.); slit, boil and roast them so that the skins can separate from the meats and there is minimal spoilage. FREEZE the harvested chestnut meats until you actually make the stuffing on Thanksgiving day.

BTW, I sometimes scrape out the chestnuts from skins when they’re stuck but not spoiled so that what’s remaining are powdery bits of roasted chestnuts. I have a batch of these in the freezer already. One year, I discovered that this stuff is like “chestnut golddust” because although you can’t see it, it adds flavor that the whole pieces of chestnuts can’t provide on their own. So, that’s a silver lining with chestnuts that don’t come out of the shell easily!

Now you know everything I have learned about this pesky chore (that’s the only word to describe it) but honestly, on Thanksgiving day, when you hear the quiet moans of delight coming from an otherwise silent table, you’ll know it was worth it. In fact, I feel like It’s worth it every time!

take-along-food ideas for a bus trip to NYC! . . .

from "101 cookbooks" blog

from “101 cookbooks” blog

My daughter, C. and I have a bus trip planned to New York City in a couple of weeks. It’s a day trip to see “The King and I” musical production at the Vivien Beaumont Theatre in Lincoln Center. We’ve been looking forward to it for a long time – ever since it opened and won a Tony for the best revival music show on Broadway this year. We learned that Ken Watanabe who was also nominated for a Tony is no longer the leading man, but that Kelli O’Hara (who’s the REAL STAR) and a Tony winner for this show is still playing Anna. Hope to see her soon!

We don’t have a lot of time from when the show ends after 5 p.m. to make it to Port Authority and our return bus scheduled for 6 p.m. departure. So, we had to give up the idea of having a nice meal in a fancy New York restaurant before heading home. C. suggested that the smoked salmon (peppery and also maple-smoked) at Whole Foods might be a good idea to bring along since it would keep during our trip. That got us thinking about other things that might also travel well like rice balls and asian roll-ups.

Here are two ideas that Heidi Swanson posted on her blog – she’s a champion for healthy, light and interesting food recipes.

What seemed like a hardship (no time for a NYC fancy meal) has turned into a delicious-sounding adventure! And that’s a good way to have it, isn’t it?

from "101 Cookbooks" blog

from “101 Cookbooks” blog


the “downside” of anger . . .

Have you ever been mad about something? or at someone? I have and tonight I read an article that bowled me over with its insight and helpfulness. I could even say it’s a breakthrough in intellectual understanding about anger and potential underlying emotions. Once it’s understandable in this way, it lets us go. Hooray for that!

What’s the simplest way to short-circuit your anger?

edamame hummus . . .

edamame hummus 1

For lunch, I made edamame hummus from a recipe I came across this morning. Instead of frozen edamame, I used packed fresh, shelled edamame from Trader Joe’s that I happened to have on hand in the fridge.

edamame hummus 3Followed the recipe except for adding a little more water, used a Meyer lemon and hand ground coriander seed in a mortar & pestle because I didn’t have any powdered on hand.

I processed it in my small red Cuisinart processor. It labored a little bit and I thought it might have come out more finely pureed in either a larger blender or in the Vitamix. But, after tasting it and adding a tad bit liquid (olive oil & water) the texture and consistency seemed fine. I also used twice as much fresh chopped parsley as the recipe called for which gave it brightness. (Next time I think I’ll try using the Vitamix to see the difference it might make from this “little processor that could”!) edamame hummus 2

We ate this edamame dip with spinach/kale chips (pricey but worth it!) and thin halves of flax/bran pita bread crisped up in the toaster. A small bowl of clam chowder from the soup kitchen at Shaw’s and we were happy with a light lunch sans any processed lunchmeats or bread. YAY!

Note: what wouldn’t look appetizing in the gorgeous shino bowl (1 of 2) that Megan gave us two Christmases ago? (Thanks Meg!)


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