Sunday, November 27, 2011


John Baker presiding over my less-is-more-Thanksgiving table setting. 

My smallest Thanksgiving ever--just four of us this year.  I normally don't invite large crowds for dinner--six at most, and I always de-bone a turkey, roast it spatchcock-style, that is split up the backbone, pulled off the bone with the breast, wing, drumstick and thighs skin-side-up.  It's a good technique I once saw Julia Child do on TV and amazingly, I was able to copy it, and have been doing it ever since.  But this year, I wasn't in the mood, so I bought a turkey breast, and took it off the bone and decided to cook it "porchetta-style".  The inspiration for it came from the Food52 Cookbook and website, run by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubs. The recipe they prepared uses a traditional pork shoulder, but I thought the method might work for a turkey breast and it did.  Two days before Thanksgiving, I mashed up in a mortar and pestle, peppercorns, fennel and coriander seeds, rosemary, red pepper flakes, garlic, orange zest and coarse salt and turned it into a paste with some olive oil.  I then rubbed it all over the the turkey breast and under the skin, placed it in a bag and let it marinate for two days. I tied the roast into a tidy bundle, inserted fresh bay leaves under the strings (the photo you see above), and then covered the meat with slices of pancetta. It roasted low and slow at 325 degrees, for about two hours.  It was delicious, sliced so cleanly, and I was left with no bones, and happy eaters. 

Turkey breast, "porchetta style" before it's robe of pancetta slices

The rest of the menu was somewhat conventional:

corn chowder
mashed potatoes
turkey gravy
mushroom, leek and sausage stuffing
jellied cranberry-orange relish
Brussels sprouts braised with shallots, white wine and bacon
homemade rolls
lemon tart

I never make soup, but John Baker, one of my guests, suggested it was his favorite soup from a mutual friend of ours, and I made it.  The soup was excellent, a rich, if cholesterally nightmarish combination of bacon, corn, potatoes, heavy cream, and whole milk, with a few dashes of hot sauce and a sprinkling of chopped chives.  Everything else, dessert excepted, was from my hide-bound list of Thanksgiving favorites. We dispensed with the sweet potatoes and creamed onions (in my case, another rich gratin of leeks, baby white onions, scallions, shallots, and sweet onions).  Too heavy.

Pumpkin pie got aced out of it's traditional dessert spot in favor of an easy-peasy lemon tart.  Into a cooled, pre-baked tart shell, you add a blender-mixture of Meyer lemons (with their skins but sans seeds), a stick of butter, 1 1/2 cups fine sugar, and four eggs.  Into a 350-degree oven this simple dessert goes for a 30-minute baking.  The texture of the lemon curd for this tart is gossamer. The taste was out of this world.  I didn't miss pumpkin pie at all.  This recipe also comes from Food52 and variations of it have been used all over the Napa Valley (where it originated) for years. This one's secret was in using Meyer lemons. Good idea. It also made for a very pretty tart.  

Thanksgiving Lemon Tart

Spent most of Friday lying around the house like a lox.  Thanksgiving dinner is a marathon no matter if you have four guests or forty.  Over the past twenty years, I think I've cooked sixteen of them.  Obviously the key to success is to get all the food onto the table hot.  I'm rather tired of it, and so I'm announcing next year that I'm available as a guest for Thanksgiving.  

John always goes to Zupan's for flowers for my Thanksgiving table. Here's his beautiful 
arrangement for this year's dinner. 

Saturday I spent most of the day working on my top ten cookbooks of the year for my cookbook blog. Seven of the ten books have been written about, with three more to go.  Should have it up and running at by Monday or Tuesday of next week.  

At four, I quit my computer.  After enduring two rain-soaked days on Wednesday and Thursday, the sun shone brightly on Friday and Saturday  It was time to put up the Christmas lights.  Last year, Kyle put the lights up. This year, I had to do it myself. I dragged out the lights from the basement, pulled the ladder out of the garage and went to work adding more hooks to the gutter to fasten the lights running along-side of my driveway.  It never occurred to me to actually plug the light fixtures to make sure they all worked. I simply added the rain-gutter hooks, and attached the lights, adding another strand for a fuller light effect.  I plugged the lights in and only the center strand was working!!!  "The hell with it."  I just put away the ladder with a sense of self-disgust, and now I have three long strands of lights with only the middle section working.  I just went outside to take a photo, and noticed that half of one of the unlit strands was working.  Do I know why?  Hell no.  Next year, I'll invest in those newer LED lights and get rid of these silly icicle lights.  

The partially working Christmas lights hanging on the side of the house.  

Bit blissing out on his weekly catnip high at his scratching post. 
Really trying to keep him fixated on his post and not my couch arms.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


The last roses of the season were these Peace roses, which were growing out of one stem.  

For some strange reason, my grape hyacinths got a signal that it was time to come up.  Wrong.  
Try again next March. 

Another late bloomer in my Halloween-October garden, this yellow day lily.

On the phone with my pal Pat the other night, she complained, "you need to do another new blog entry."  Sighing, I told her not much is happening at the moment.  "Whaddayamean nothing's happening," she replied.  "You've got a new roommate and you just redid your landing on the second floor."  Well, I guess there are a few new things going on.

Yes, I have a roommate.  At 61, I am again, sharing my living space, this time with a 69-year-old grandmother.  Her name is Bev and she's very cool.  She drives a red Miata convertible (that's how I know she's cool). Bev, a life-long Oregonian, has been living in Hawaii.  But her youngest son and his wife, welcomed twin baby boys recently.  Both parents have big careers and Bev decided she wanted to be more involved her her grandson's lives.  Until the beginning of this month, she's been living with her son and daughter-in-law, but wanted some space of her own.  She answered my ad on Craigslist and we struck a deal.  The other candidates (including a newcomer to Portland, who was also new to the drag queen scene--I didn't want to discourage her, but I also didn't want a nocturnal creature as a roommate, and trust me, drag queens are nocturnal creatures). Bev has raised three children--two sons and a daughter, sold real estate and taught acting at the college level. She's a liberal Democrat, thank god, and we get along very well. It's cool sharing my house with her.  It's an ideal situation--Bev is busy with her grand kids and I'm home working in my upstairs office.  So far so good.

Upper landing TV room.

Bev's arrival has caused me to rethink the way the house was set up.  I had to move out a lot of things from the guest bedroom, where she's now ensconced until I finish the basement.  Once you begin to reorganize, other things suddenly demanded reorganizing as well.  My great grandmother's china was in the bedroom, and needed to move.  I suddenly saw the need to re-arrange all the china cabinets, which resulted in a far better result.  Now I don't need to pull everything out of the way to find something I use only once a year. The next thing you know, there's wholesale changes going on and a few weeks ago, I'm in my flop chair upstairs watching TV when I look around and notice the whole room looks drab.  So that got re-arranged, and with different rug and a new pillow in my chair, the place looks completely new.  It's now an even cozier space where I can relax, watch TV, read and chill.

There's usually a week in November without rain--and from Wednesday afternoon on, we've had sunny, pleasant weather and I could finally get out into the garden and pull all the annuals and put the vegetable garden to sleep for the winter. Those tomato plants were a twisted maize and needed to go.  The umbrella is now in the garage, and I should put the patio table and chairs there too--maybe sometime during this week. I've salvaged two large coleus plants from the front door and an unusally pretty pale green and copper-leafed geranium, which I couldn't allow to freeze. Repotted, it should last the winter and go back into the garden next sprint.

Thanksgiving is coming, and since we're only going to be four for dinner this year, I have a turkey breast, which I'll do a porchetta-style rub on the inside (capers, fennel and coriander seeds, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes), and let marinate for two days in the spare refrigerator in the garage.  Then I'll roll it and tie it up and cover it with pancetta and roast it.  I'm banishing sweet potatoes and creamed onions.  I found a terrific recipe for rolls that don't have to be fussed with--they're even ready to be heated for 10 minutes, so that became a no-brainer. I'll make a simple stuffing of sausage and mushrooms, some mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts with shallots and bacon, a new cranberry sauce--jelled from scratch, and for dessert--so long pumpkin pie--a refreshing lemon tart. I hope not to be staring at a sea of leftovers in my fridge for a week.

It's always difficult to be out and about with Beau and find myself hungry and in the mood to eat.  Food carts can be a great way to have a bite to eat and have Beau with me begging at my side, as was the case today.  I had gone to buy a new coffee/espresso machine and because it was a beautiful day, brought Beau with me.  On my way home, I saw this pod of food carts with a tent and pulled in.  Only two of the carts were open on this Sunday afternoon--a cart selling burritos/gyros, which didn't look to promising, and an Italian cart where I eventually indulged in a meatball hero.  Yowza, was this a great sandwich.  The bread was soft and crusty and came from a local Vietnamese bakery I often shop at for banh mi sandwich rolls.  Split, the roll was lined in provolone, and stuffed with three giant meatballs.  It was then given a generous splash of red sauce ("my Nanna's special recipe," said the kid behind the counter who comes from Lawrence, Massachusetts, which has a large Italian population in addition to being the hometown of Leonard Bernstein). He then topped this heart-attack-on-a-plate beauty with grated mozzarella.  OH-MY-GOD! The meatballs were very tender, the perfect combination of Parmesan, breadcrumbs, garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano, salt and pepper. This $5 feast was eaten in a heated tent with Beau at my side looking more than curiously at my every bite.  I happily burped my way home.

Happy Thanksgiving.