Kitchen Zen

November 25, 2014

Those days when you have to crank out a whole bunch of dishes for multiple meals, serving multiple guests over multiple days, one day being a holiday, another day being a birthday?  That was today. Surprisingly fun and relaxing. Spent the day alone in the kitchen, in a zone.

I had spent a few hours yesterday finalizing the recipes and making the shopping list.  Then nearly two hours at the Coop last night shopping. Ninety percent is stuff I’ve made for past Thanksgivings, but that doesn’t seem to make any of these tasks go faster.

Here’s part of the food haul and Jim trying to figure out where it’s all going to go:


Got it all stashed.  Talk about a clean slate… all ready to start cooking first thing in the morning (today). Calm before the storm.


So, today. Jim took off, Peter was overnight at a friend’s. I made coffee, turned on NPR, put my hair up and put on an apron. Excited.

Got the pecan pie out of the way first thing.

I’ve made this so many times, but it’s still a wild card. The crust-making remains a challenge–though this time it was uneventful–and it’s always anyone’s guess if the pie will set up. I panicked and left it in a little long, forgetting to tent it toward the end to prevent burning.. So a bit over-baked. And it’s definitely set.


Then Frances’ cranberry sauce; this was a huge hit last year. Here’s a shot of the ingredients…it’s the orange zest and rosemary that make this so amazing:


And I like the way it looks in the pan; it is the easiest thing in the world to make and just explodes with flavor:


Next, a new thing–Carrie’s cranberry salsa, which will be an appetizer on Thursday. Ingredients include jalapenos, scallions, lime, cilantro, sugar…. it’s totally addicting.


Looked like this when done:


Let’s see…. next was a marinade for the green beans… this one I’ve made for about twelve years?  It’s got maple syrup, mustard, balsamic and olive oil. Just before serving I toss on roasted pecans and scallions.


Then my grandma’s favorite (and we thought everyone ate these things, but I’ve never run into anyone else who does), Harvard Beets… sugar, vinegar, cornstarch… that’s it. Very zingy.


Then the best of all… another new one that I picked from the guys who do the Bitten Word blog. The recipe is from the current Bon Appetit and it looks wild. First you start with rainbow carrots:


They and some thinly sliced lemon will get tossed with a marinade of grated garlic, olive oil, maple syrup, harissa (super hot chile paste), cumin seeds, s&p.


On Thursday, the carrots will go in the oven until they are deeply roasted. If it works, I think it will be insane.. the marinade is so unusual.. hot, sweet and exotic.

I also did a bunch of prep for Wednesday night’s birthday dinner and Thursday’s feast… washed and cut vegetables, organized ingredients and supplies… oh and made a cake and a frosting. As I ran out the door to get my mom settled into her hotel, I suggested to Jim that he frost the cake. Poor guy, as accomplished as he is in the kitchen, he has very little experience frosting a cake. I won’t say he ruined this thing, but I will say it’s gross looking:

my cake jim's frosting

I left him with a single layer chocolate cake and a bowl of vanilla frosting. He opted to cut the cake in two and layer it. That is what you are looking at….  don’t ask me what happened, but it’s falling. He describes it as calving. At press time, the cake is being held together with toothpicks and there is now a full-on fissure down the middle.

Sure it will taste okay.

With all that stuff done, we can focus tomorrow on Chris’ birthday and Jay’s USA homecoming (they arrive tomorrow). Biba’s meatloaf on the menu, since that was such a hit a few weeks ago. And weirdo cake. We’ll also start the brining.

Thursday we’ll prep the usual Thanksgiving dishes–turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, but will have many hands on deck.

Welcome Little Maple

November 25, 2014

Redwood Barn called last week and said our maple had arrived. We didn’t expect to see it until January, so we were excited. It’s a coral bark maple and we picked it up today. The label says:

Vigorous, upright, deciduous tree with bright green leaves, turning golden yellow in fall. Bark is coral color. Grows 20-25 feet tall by 18-22 feet wide.

Wait, what? I actually thought it would be smaller. (Maybe I should have titled this Welcome Big Maple.)  We’ll see how this goes.. at least they’re slow growing.

For now, it’s a tiny little one gallon, planted near the front door (about 10 feet from the front door.. uh oh):


For scale, here’s Frances.


And that white stuff around the tree? Shells.. coral…and a few choice rocks:


The shells and coral were collected from beaches all over–Dillon, Brazil, Palos Verdes, Monterey, Mexico, Hawaii. The rocks, probably Sierra. Until two days ago, they sat on shelves in decorative ceramic bowls, trays, cups.. some little shells sat in bigger shells. It was getting a little out of hand. During the bookcase reorganization project last weekend, I’d gathered them all up, put them in a baggie, and wondered what I’d do with them.. until today when I decided they’d make a nice garden embellishment.

Think it works?