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How To Compose a Thanksgiving Menu

This is a pretty traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, cranberries, pie, gravy, seasonal vegetable medley… it’s a meal that many people look forward to every year.

It’s also one that many people dread every year. In this case, I’m not talking about the company, because that will be another article. As per usual, I’ll spend the weekends leading up to Thanksgiving (here in USAnia, anyway) talking about different aspects of Thanksgiving, very much including the emotional ones. But today, I’m just talking menu planning.

You see, no matter how traditional or un you plan to be, the meal needs planning in advance. So let’s break it down and figure out how to figure out what to serve your nearest and dearest for the holiday.

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How It Should Be Done

(Illustration of sukkah viaHWPS, where you can learn a tidge more about Sukkot, if you so desire)

Well.

Mr. Twistie and I have been the social butterflies of late. Parties, concerts, more parties.

Yes, we went to another party yesterday.

You see, the lead guitarist in Mr. Twistie’s band held a party yesterday in honor of Sukkot and his own birthday. Yep, same day. Kind of cool.

There was vegetarian barbeque (Lead Guitarist and his lady are longtime vegetarians) and a bit of a potluck filled out with some family favorites and store bought party treats. They’d set up a sukkah in their backyard where most of us sat… and the musicians headed into the garage for a jam session. Did you know Hotel California sounds kind of awesome on a clarinet? I didn’t until yesterday.

But the coolest thing of all about this party? I hung out for hours with people of every size, age, race, creed, and dietary persuasion and do you know what I heard? Not. One. Word. of body shame or food policing.

People did say they really liked a particular dish here and there. There was a lot of praise for the couple’s fourteen year old son who baked his dad’s birthday cake from scratch… and rightly so. It was a delicious cake. There were a couple people who turned down a slice of said delicious cake saying they’d had high blood sugar readings that day. There were people, myself among them, who passed on the meat substitute burgers and hotdogs. But there was no pushing to find out why, nor was there anyone who made a fuss about having to go meat free for one, single meal. I did hear the hostess point out a dish that one guest might wish to avoid because of an allergy.

And that was that. People took what they wanted and left what they didn’t without comment from anyone. Most people looked well satisfied with their meals, and there was certainly plenty to go around.

This is how it should be done. The people throwing the party offer up enough to go around, according to their abilities and their beliefs. Where appropriate and welcome, others share what they have to share. Those who attend eat what they prefer and leave the rest behind without complaint. Those who find something particularly delicious say so. People don’t spend the entire party complaining about their own or anyone else’s bodies. Health issues (allergies, chronic ailments that affect diet) are recognized, but neither trumpeted to the skies nor belittled. Everyone is allowed to make their own choices for their own bodies, and nobody makes a big deal out of it.

Instead of making a big bad thing out of food, there were people making conversation about other topics, people making music… even one lovely lady making a fabulous crocheted purse. She and I had a delightful conversation about our various crafty pursuits as she worked.

I just thought in light of my recent posts about constant harping in otherwise festive situations, you should all get a chance to hear about the case where the ideal happened.

Food Friendly May: What to Cook? What to Buy?

I think everyone who reads this blog on a semi-regular basis knows my feelings in general about homemade, handmade, and getting your hands into things being a big part of my personal philosophy of being superfantastic. I’m in favor, full stop.

But that doesn’t mean I’m a fanatic or that I don’t recognize that there are a lot of lives out there that don’t work the way mine does.

And so it is that I was glad to see a book like Make the Bread, Buy the Butter suddenly become not only a best seller, but a tiny sliver of a cultural phenomenon. There are things that are really, seriously better and usually less expensive when made by hand… and there are things where the hassle hugely outweighs any benefit to the average human being. Having someone come along and quantify which is which is kind of a cool idea.

In general, I think Jennifer Reese does a pretty good job of doing just that.

Note that I said ‘in general.’ After all, Jennifer Reese is one person with amusingly phrased opinions. Your mileage – like mine – may vary. In some cases wildly so.

It’s hard to argue with her assertion that buying eggs is cheaper, easier, and a lot less hassle with neighbors and local urban authorities than raising chickens in a backyard in the city. In fact, I think that could have gone without saying, though I certainly would have missed her colorful descriptions of her experiments in the matter.

On the other hand, her conclusion about chutney is that there’s no point in making or buying it because nobody in the world actually likes chutney. Again, her prose is highly entertaining, but I’ve got a brother with a two-jar a month chutney habit. He’s got a tamarind on his back, and I think he might well enjoy making his own. Reese describes making the Cordon Rose Banana Cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible as a frustratingly picky process that resulted in a mediocre cake that nobody could possibly enjoy. That’s the cake I throw together on a dull afternoon when overripe bananas go on desperation sale at my neighborhood grocery because it’s fast, easy, and extremely popular in my crowd. Also, her scones are wildly over-fussy (though I do understand she was trying to replicate an over-fussy scone from Starbucks), and she definitely over-complicates making vanilla extract.

Reese’s method for vanilla? Split the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds, put bean pod and seeds in small glass bottle, carefully measure the vodka, pour it over the bean and seeds, shake, let sit to do its magic. My father’s method for vanilla? Split the bean not quite in two, put it in the bottle of vodka, allow to ripen.

My other complaint with this book? Endless tiny, wry jabs at weight. Over and over again she talks about how making something too often would result in her becoming hugely fat, which is – it goes without saying, but gets said anyway – a fate worse than the death it will result in with undue rapidity. I have a feeling if I went through the book with a highlighter and marked every anti-fat comment in it, it would begin to look like those scripts back in the day when I got the lead in the school play.

Still, those quibbles aside, this is a highly entertaining book with a lot of great, pithy advice in it. It’s brimful of instructions for making things that most people would never imagine it possible to make at home. Sure, we all know that we can buy pasta makers and that home baked bread is a possibility, even if we never try doing those things for ourselves. But how many of us seriously contemplate that it’s even possible to make our own Worscestershire sauce, let alone whether or not it’s worth the effort? When was the last time you considered making your own yogurt? Curing your own Canadian bacon?

Also, the book is refreshingly free from pseudo-spirituality of the kitchen and humorless political screeds. It’s about the practical, the fun of trying out new things, and the balancing act we all have to pull off everyday between the ideal and the reality of life.

I think Reese’s attitude is best summed up by this quote from the afterword:

“Almost everything is better when homemade. While this may have started off as an opinion (though I’m not sure it did), I would now state it confidently as fact. Almost everything. But not everything. Which makes me inordinately happy. Because I think it’s reassuring that you can walk into a supermarket and buy a bag of potato chips and a tub of rice pudding that are better than you can make at home.”

While I might personally put my rice pudding up against anything found in a tub at a grocery store, there are certainly other things that I find better – and even sometimes more satisfying – to buy than to make. If you’re looking to figure out which is which in your world, I highly recommend taking a good, long look at this book… and then deciding for yourself.

The Big Question: Luxury Tithe Edition

Ah luxury. It’s interesting how the definition changes.

Once upon a time, luxury for me meant a new Hermès or a call to my gal at Barneys in New York to get my hands on the latest and most exclusive Le Labo or Serge Lutens export.

Now luxury is toilet paper with anything resembling structural integrity.

Then vs. Now

 

Yet even in those heady days, I was still just a Career Girl in the newspaper industry.

What the dead tree biz lacked in job security it made up for in low wages, and my attempt to indulge in champagne tastes on a cava budget was not exactly effortless. Each glittering bottle of rarefied perfume, each instantly recognizable square orange box, represented weeks or months of sacrifices –most small, some large– in other parts of my life.

I call it my Luxury Tithe, a phrase I first heard from my friend Amy, author of the brilliant and sadly dormant Style Spy, as she diligently squirreled away a portion of her pay each week to save for a pair of Miu Miu sandals or a trip to her beloved Paris.

The eminently tithe-worthy Alexander McQueen Seasonal Satchel, click picture for link

I’m happier in Scotland than on the Seine and Miu Miu sandals rarely fit my feet (not that it matters since I refuse to support Miuccia Prada anyway after her fatty-firing opera stunt) but aside from the ideas of paying cash and not living beyond your means as just good sense, I had two reasons to start my own luxury tithe.

First, I knew my dream job –the real one, not the designated thigh oiler for Real Madrid (although if anyone’s hiring…)– has even less money in it than the newspaper industry, and believe me, very few things have less money in it than the newspaper industry.

I knew someday the reasonably well-paid party would end, and when it did I wanted to be able to walk away with an accessories wardrobe to last a lifetime and not a penny of credit card debt, which is exactly what I did.

Second, I wanted to learn the joys of living a discriminating life.

It’s painfully simple, but if something’s not extremely good, I don’t want it. I’d rather go without than have my fill of mediocrity or worse. It’s probably why I’ve lost so much weight in Mexico (well, you know, that and the cholera): Mangoes, fish and veggies are good here; pastry, meat and sweets are not, at least not to a palate that prefers butter to lard and thick ribeyes to thin strips of carne asada.

Television isn’t very good in America (it’s worse in Mexico) so I happily gave it a miss and the money I saved by not paying to have Real Housewives of a Culturally Declining Nation piped into Château Gâteau bought me a Paris-only bell jar of the shiveringly dry yet animalic Bois et Musc  (which smells exactly like my lynx coat after a post-prandial walk in the woods) and fuchsia Dolce and Gabbana heels in suede so buttery I want to spread it on toast.

Let’s turn this into a Big Question.

Right now my Luxury Tithe –pathetic as it may be– is dedicated to funding an exploratory trip to Buenos Aires to see whether the so-called Paris of Latin America is destined to be the next stop on the Miss Plumcake Expatriate World Tour.

Today Miss Plumcake wants to know whether you have a Luxury Tithe. If so, what’s the desired result? If not, what’s your preferred method of acquiring what you want?

Update: Now Twistie is Cooking With Gas!

You may remember not too long ago when I showed you all the new gas stove I was about to purchase? No? It looks like this:

and I was going to name it Hieronymous in honor of the fact that it’s a Bosch.

Well, my dears, today we are going to talk about the importance of seeing things up close and personal and having a good back up plan.

I have a new stove. It’s gas. It’s beautiful and fabulous and reacts to my every whim quickly. It’s just not Hieronymous. It’s Algy.

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