Entries Tagged as 'Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations'

Last-Minute Gift Guide

December 17th, 2012 · 13 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Dinner: A Love Story, the Book, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

I don’t know about you, but this is the time when I suddenly look at the calendar, and then at the list of things I’ve bought for family and friends so far, and then at the list of things I still have to buy, and think, “Rut-roh.” How’s it all gonna get done? And how did I let this happen? In an effort to help make things a little easier, I thought I’d offer up a few suggestions for last-minute gifts here. Satisfaction guaranteed! – Andy

For the teacher who is dedicating him/herself, day in and day out, to the betterment of your child: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the patient cello teacher who — in just three months — has already made your life, and your ear drums, so much happier: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the soccer coach who not only volunteers her time three times a week to guru your kid, but also — true miracle — teaches her what off-sides means: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the mother-in-law who you love dearly but who could also use a little help in the expansion of repertoire department: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the 23-year-old niece, who was weaned on The Food Network and can tell her rutabaga from her kohlrabi: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the 23-year-old nephew, who still claims to hate tomatoes, prompting you to remind him — a 23 year old, grown-ass man — that pizza sauce CONTAINS TOMATOES: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the newlyweds, who want to learn how to make breaded pork chops together: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the lover of long walks, double rainbows, and three-alarm chili: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the guy who doesn’t know what else to get his girlfriend: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the wife, who is an amazing, loving mother and who works full-time and has recently begun talking about starting her own food blog: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the husband, who’s man enough to own a book called Dinner: A Love Story and who would appreciate knowing how to make a proper Manhattan: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the clueless bachelor guy, who should know better by now: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the new mom, who will relate to the chapter on new motherhood and then feel empowered and then just go off and make the Lazy Bolognese, only to be empowered further: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the desperate parents of picky eaters, who are secretly googling “can you survive on pasta alone” after the kids go to bed: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the holiday party host, who would appreciate how much cooler a present this book is when compared to another bottle of Yellow Tail Shiraz in a velvet bag: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the dog lovers, who whose faces will melt upon seeing the picture on page 51: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the person who has twenty bucks positively burning a hole in her pocket: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the Powerball winner who is looking to fill some shelf space in the new, 53-room mansion she just bought: 20 copies of Dinner: A Love Story.

For the committed Buddhist who, while not needing much in the way of material possessions, could still use a copy of this book, for real: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the new homeowner who’s definitely not a Buddhist and is looking for an excuse to fire up her huge, practically virgin, seventeen burner Viking: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the lover of fine food photography: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the cookbook collector: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the principled supporter of the book industry, who holds a special place in our hearts: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the outdoorsman: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the indoorsman: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the ombudsman: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the person who has resolved to stop stuffing face with jalapeno poppers when drunk: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the amateur sleuth: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the tool-and-die man, whatever that is: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the person who, as our 9-year-old just said, “draws pictures of turtles eating tomatoes”: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the person who reads the following sentence — “This book is for anyone interested in learning how to execute a meal to be shared with someone they love and discovering how so many good, happy things can trickle down from doing so” — and thinks, Dang, dogg, that hits me right where I live: Dinner: A Love Story.

For the thoughtful gift-giver who wants to buy a book and then have the author — like, I don’t know, Jenny Rosenstrach — sign a bookplate for said book and then give it to a good friend or relative and say, “Look, I got you a signed book for Christmas!”: Dinner: A Love Story. (Email her TODAY jenny AT dinneralovestory DOT com with subject line “Bookplate Request”; after 12/20, she can’t guarantee they’ll be sent in time for Christmas.)

For our slightly less ridiculous Gift Guide, click here.


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Not Chaos. Richness.

December 14th, 2012 · 7 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

When you edit the essay section of a parenting magazine like I did for four years, you get used to reading a lot of stories that start with what I liked to call the “breathless” paragraph. They usually go something like this:

It’s 7:00 am and I just realized I forgot to pick up the juice boxes for my son’s classroom party, which is a problem because I need to get to work in an hour because there are 176 unanswered emails on my Blackberry, 30 of which are probably from my boss, and I haven’t even showered yet which wouldn’t be such a big deal but I haven’t washed my hair in four days because I’ve been so preoccupied with the presentation I have to give next week, and don’t even get me started on my daughter’s birthday party on Saturday which I’m pretending isn’t happening even though every single one of the 22 kindergarteners we invited is coming and…why is my cell phone in my six-year-old’s lunchbox?

You get the point, right? I understand the impulse. It’s resonant and relatable and I have written some version of that paragraph dozens of times — on this blog and elsewhere. In fact, when I logged on this morning to write this post, that’s how I wanted to frame the fact that it’s the holidays and yet somehow have not sat down for a family dinner once in six nights. (And the next few nights don’t look so promising either.) I was going to talk all about my 36-hour whirlwind business trip to Austin; about the panel discussion I needed to prepare for which translated to dinner-from-the-freezer two nights in a row; about how I promised the girls I’d make them gingerbread cookies, so made the dough on Saturday, placed it in the freezer to chill for an hour, and, yet seven days later, there it sits, still chilling. You promised! One of my daughters shouted into the phone on Wednesday night, as I worked through my missed train home. “I’m sorry. We’ll do it later this week, I promise.” When I get home, the vintage gingerbread man cookie cutter I picked up in Austin in a fit of optimism sits on the counter taunting me. My life! So messy and chaotic! So incredibly rich with mess and chaos.

The news from Newtown redefines breathless. If I learn anything from it, I hope it’s to remember what matters.

Half-Finished Gingerbread Men
adapted from Martha Stewart

5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup dark-brown sugar
4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
1 cup molasses

Sift together flour, baking soda, and baking powder into a large bowl. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, blend butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Mix in spices and salt, then eggs and molasses.  Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Divide dough into thirds; wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour. (If you are a better person than me, you will not interpret this to mean “Refrigerate until cold, about seven days later, after national news event puts things in perspective.”)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into gingerbread men with gingerbread-shaped cookie cutter. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, and refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.

Bake cookies 12 to 14 minutes, keeping an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn.

Photo credit: Ali Libfeld

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The Family Recipe Contract

December 10th, 2012 · 8 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Cameos, Chicken and Turkey, Rituals

Once I was half way through Alex Witchel’s All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia. With Refreshments I stopped underlining passages and moments that I wanted to remember. There were just too many. Witchel’s mother, a college professor and one of the few working moms in their 1960s suburban New Jersey neighborhood, cooked more out of obligation than joy (“Del Montes was her farmer’s market. Everything was in season, and syrup, all the time.”) but it didn’t matter. The aromas of her mom’s cooking signaled a “safe harbor” for Witchel and once she began losing her bright, spirited mother to dementia, she looked to the kitchen to reclaim her. As Witchel asks, “Is there any contract tighter than a family recipe?” We are lucky to have Witchel, a longtime repoter at The New York Times, guest-post for us today about Hanukkah memories with her mother. – Jenny

When I was growing up, I realized early that Hanukkah was a raw deal. No tree, no stocking, no cookies, no carols – and school was open, at least every weekday. Eight nights of presents were little consolation. The first and last nights were for the good ones like Candyland, or the plush, cuddly stuffed animal I had spent weeks coveting. The nights in between fizzled with unloved items like Pez dispensers or calendars for the coming year emblazoned with the name of my parents’ bank. The Hanukkah gelt, those gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins were okay, though they never lasted long enough to make much of an impression. Certainly not as long as that spinning dreydl which was such a bore it made jacks seem like an Olympic sport.

Yes, we always had latkes and they were always great. It’s hard to fry potatoes and lose.

Dinner on the first festive night was built around them; my mom usually made her brisket, which for me was the side dish to the latkes.

By the last night of Hanukkah, after a full week surveying our long faces, she rallied. Now there was sufficient distance from Thanksgiving, so she (more…)

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Holiday Gift Guide 2012

December 5th, 2012 · 90 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Children's Books, Gifts, Culture

Welcome to Our Second Annual Family Holiday Gift Guide. And by that, we of course mean gifts for New Moms, New Dads, Seasoned Moms, Seasoned Dads, Little Ones, Big Ones, Babysitters, Carpool Helpers, School Teachers, Cello Teachers, Art Teachers, the Nice Guy Who Brews You a Badass Cup of Coffee Every Morning…and even YOU! Read carefully and you’ll see what we mean.

English Premier League Christmas Ornaments ($10 for 3-pack). You could never accuse this family of rooting for the underdog. Last year, after Chelsea won the UEFA championship — establishing it as the best club team in Europe — our resident diehard Manchester United fans began to… waver. Phoebe started wearing her Wayne Rooney jersey a little less proudly, Abby started asking to watch Drogba highlights on YouTube, and six months later, I guess you could say we’re a full-on Chelsea household now. (Like the weather, this will change again soon.) We’re making the most of it while it lasts, though, and even bought a set of these for our pals Mike and Sara up in Portland, Maine, whose three kids are true blue Chelsea fans, through-and-through. Hang these with pride, my friends. — Andy

French Press (Le Creuset, $60). When I showed this to Jenny the other day, she said, “Do you want one?” And the answer was, “Yes and no.” Yes, I want one because it’s so cool looking and I love Le Creuset and am an inveterate coffee addict; and no, I don’t want one, because we have a French press already and I can’t really justify spending money for another one. But I am going to buy it for a friend or relative who loves coffee and I am going to secretly look forward to the day when our current, perfectly functional — functional: therein lies the problem — french press, I don’t know, maybe falls off the counter and shatters or is gravely wounded in the dishwasher. At which point: Yes. I want one. In cherry (pictured above). – Andy

Animal Stacking Game (Haba, $20). When the girls were little, playing board games with them was always one of those milestones I was excited to hit. Until we hit it…and I found myself spending long swaths of winter afternoons wandering through Gumdrop Mountains and Peppermint Forest, dying the slow painful death that is CandyLand. (Let’s not even discuss Pretty Pretty Princess.) But when this stacking game came into my life, things changed. Though still simple enough for 3-year-olds (you take turns stacking animals until it tumbles over), I found it to be actually calming, plus it didn’t take up an entire shelf in the toy “closet” (read: floor), it exercised my kids’ (and my) as-yet-developed patience muscles, and was the game that promised brighter skies of Monopoly, Mancala, and Apples to Apples ahead. (PS: And this was a major hit with my puzzle-minded 5-year-old nephew.) –Jenny

McEvoy Ranch Olive Oil ($24 for 375 ml — about 12 ounces) When I strike it rich with this blog that I write for free, no Porsches for me. Just garages filled with cases and cases of this olive oil, made in Petaluma, California and renowned for its bright, peppery finish. There is olive oil for browning your chicken breasts and tossing with your potatoes before roasting; there is olive oil that you use sparingly, to whisk into vinaigrettes or drizzle atop soups and pastas. And then there is McEvoy Ranch. Which is not only all that, but also the perfect  gift for your party host or daughter’s piano teacher or friend or person you like very much, who knows a little something about the finer things. I’ve only ever used the traditional blend, but I can’t imagine you could go wrong with their Olio Nuovo, made from just-harvested olives, or anything else they sell for that matter. –Jenny


Pure Komachi Chef’s Knife ($10). We own a fleet of Wusthof knives that have served us well since we registered for them fifteen years ago. We have some wood-handled Forschners that our Uncle Mike gave us which, in a matter of seconds, can render a head of cabbage helpless. Last year, for Christmas I bought Andy a New West Knifeworks Fusionwood 8-incher, and when he first removed the thing from its red leather sheath, he looked like a Samurai warrior. In other words, we are pretty well-endowed in the blade department. Which is why it’s all the more strange that when I’m about to embark on chop-heavy meal prep, I get thoroughly depressed if my six-and-a-half-inch Pure Komachi carbon stainless steel chef’s knife, which we picked up a year ago as an impulse buy for TEN BUCKS, is in the dishwasher — or, more likely, has been co-opted by Andy. The Komachi — light, sharp, and seemingly molded to the exact specifications of my right hand — came in fun colors like pink, (more…)

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A Holiday Gift For You

November 30th, 2012 · 11 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Dinner: A Love Story, the Book

You guys have been very good to us this year. You’ve read my book, you’ve written the most thoughtful letters, you’ve spread the DALS word to your friends, you’ve trusted me with your own treasured family recipes. As a token of our gratitude, and in honor of the holidays, we are happy to re-offer a free copy of 121 Books to the DALS community. For those of you who weren’t able to download this back in the spring, 121 Books is a stunningly designed* collection of special children’s books that have seen us through the first decade of bedtime-storying, road-tripping, read-to-the-class-ing, and beyond. It features book recommendations from Daniel Handler, David Sedaris, John J. Sullivan, Pseudonymous Bosch, and George Saunders among many other literary lights, and all you have to do to own it is click on the link below. Please, for full glorious effect, try to print it out in color. And also, please please spread joy! Send this link to anyone you know who might need some help picking good books for holiday gifts this year. The offer is good for all of December.

Fine print? There is none! Though, OK, we do have to admit that this is a naked attempt to convince you to buy books for your kids and friends and, in general, to support the book industry, which is, of course, the industry that supports us. And hey! As long as you are browsing the shelves? I have a book you might like to grab on your way out. But no pressure. Or at least very little pressure.

Click here to download your free copy of “121 Books”

*Cover and interior design by Chelsea Cardinal.

Happy Holidays from the DALS team.

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Happy Thanksgiving

November 21st, 2012 · 1 Comment · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Chicken and Turkey, Sides, Salads, Soup, Thanksgiving

Wherever you are, however you celebrate, be safe, give thanks, and don’t forget the leftover sandwich.

Happy Thanksgiving from Team DALS!

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Thanksgiving Eve

November 19th, 2012 · 10 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup, Thanksgiving

 

My mother owns Thanksgiving. Which is another way of saying that she is in charge of the turkey. We are, of course, with her in my sister’s kitchen every step of the way, mincing onions for stuffing, browning anchovy-studded breadcrumbs for the cauliflower, shredding Brussels sprouts, rolling out our pate brisee, whisking Scharffen Berger into chocolate pie filling, and providing moral support (and sometimes actual muscular support) when the bird makes its dramatic entrance into the 400°F oven. Because I don’t get to cook side by side with my mom and my sister very often, Thanksgiving Dinner is like the World Series for people like me — a heavily choreographed effort that I have always felt is just as fun to assemble as it is to actually consume.

The night before Thanksgiving? Another story altogether. We are all arriving at my sister’s house at different times with different levels of hunger and desires. (Read: We are all arriving with our children.) And in situations like these I’m not sure which is worse: Cooking up a “quick meal,” which before you know it fills the sink with a truly soul-crushing pile of ketchup-streaked dishes….or ordering a sad-sack pizza because in all the pre-game hype leading up to the big day no one even gave Thanksgiving Eve a thought until the moment we arrived. No one owned it. (more…)

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Three Things to Do Now to Make Thanksgiving Easier

November 12th, 2012 · 12 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized

Given that I woke up yesterday at 3am worrying about how early I need to leave work on the day before Thanksgiving to make sure I get my pumpkin pie made in time for a seamless departure the next morning, now seems like the perfect time for the last installment of our series featuring Sam Sifton and his new book, Thanksgiving. As we head into the final weekend before the feast, we asked him for advice on planning ahead — more specifically, we asked him what three things he takes care of in advance to make the big day a little less stressful. In his (elegant, reassuring) words: 

Make Cranberry Sauce.

I do this on the weekend in front of Thanksgiving, usually on Saturday night, as a way to say to myself: This thing is starting now. I dump a bag of berries into a pot with some sugar and orange juice. I get that cooking and wait for the berries to start to pop and bubble. It’s the culinary equivalent of priming a pump. It gets me started. As the sauce cooks, I sit in the kitchen and make lists I should have made days and days before. I make lists of dishes, ingredients, guests, needs, wants and, crucially, jobs. By the time the sauce is done — and that, by the way, is when a goodly portion of the berries have popped and released the pectin that binds the dish together — I have a pretty good idea of what I need to get done in the next couple of days. I dump the sauce into a serving bowl, let it cool off and put it in the fridge under some aluminum foil. There’s that job, DONE. I cross cranberry sauce off my list.

Try a Brine.

Too many people come to the idea that they’re going to brine their turkey on Wednesday morning (even Thursday morning!) and that is a little late in the game. Better to make the brine on Monday night, tip the bird into it when it’s good and cool, and then remove it on Wednesday morning so you can dry it, first with paper towel and then in the cool air of the refrigerator. That way, when you do cook it on Thursday the skin of the bird is really and truly *dry*, important because then the heat of the oven won’t have to evaporate anything before it gets to work tanning and crisping the bird. Science! It’s a Thanksgiving secret weapon.

Make Some Pies.

Or ensure that someone is making them. It’s hard enough dealing with all the stress of cooking the savory side of the meal on Thursday when you’re also trying to bake sweets. That’s why pastry chefs get to work at three in the morning. The kitchen isn’t as hot as it is when the line cooks are in there, and the butter and lard in their dough doesn’t melt until it should. Make pies on Tuesday night. Make them on Wednesday. They’ll be better for your thinking ahead, and you’ll have more things crossed off your list on Thursday morning besides.

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Halloween Candy, A Second Life

November 9th, 2012 · 10 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

Wow. So many options for titles today!

  • What to Do With Leftover Halloween Candy
  • A Problem I Did Not Know I Had
  • Tips and Tricks for Making Candy Even More Unhealthy!
  • Why Talk Presidents When You Can Talk Peppermints?

Well, you get the idea. Yesterday I packed up whatever spooky outdoor decorations had not been destroyed by the hurricane and rooted around the girls’ treat bags to see what was left: Some Crunch bars, an orange Tootsie Roll, peanut M&Ms, a bag of pretzels, and about 20 Peppermint Patties. So I did what any self-respecting mother would do: I broke out one of the girls’ brownie mixes (in this case Ghirardelli), nestled in some patties before baking (submerging them in the batter completely is key), then turned my enterprising eyes toward the rest of the loot. (more…)

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A Few Thanksgiving Questions for Sam Sifton

November 8th, 2012 · 20 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Thanksgiving

As you might have gathered from Monday’s post, Sam Sifton is a man with opinions. (If you couldn’t already tell that from the subtitle of his book.) When it comes to food, opinions are good — but smart opinions are even better. We think Sam has smart opinions, and he was kind enough to take some time to share some of them with us. Here is Part One of his interview. (Part Two will appear next week: Three things you can do ahead of time to make the big day a lot less stressful.)

Andy: What is your policy on appetizers before the big meal? Do they belong, and if so, when should they appear?

Sam: I did not sit in my kitchen on Saturday night making lists, and deal with brining a bird on Monday night, and bake pies on Tuesday night, and spend all of Thursday cooking turkey, sides and gravy, then set a table appropriate to presidents and kings, so that you could come into my house and eat a pound and a half of nuts and guacamole before sitting down for the Thanksgiving feast.

I am an absolutist on this front. There is no place for an appetizer course in a proper Thanksgiving meal. You can serve oysters, because as Liebling knew, oysters don’t take up any space in the stomach. And you can serve a bisque because my father did, or you can serve whatever dish it is that you have always served in your family in advance of the meal. I am not here to tell you your traditions are wrong. They are never wrong. But really there is no need to serve an appetizer course. The scent of a roasting turkey is a good appetizer. On Thanksgiving, it is the best appetizer of all. But nuts? Cheese? A wee salad with dried cranberries and goat cheese? No. These waste valuable stomach space, not to mention forks and plates. They should be avoided.

What’s the single most important culinary element of the meal?

Bounty. That bird should be bigger than you need. There should be at least three, and ideally five, side dishes. There should be rivers of gravy and mountains of dressing. Pies should be visible in the distance, on sideboards, many of them. Bounty is at the essence of of cooking Thanksgiving well.

How do you add soul, or meaning, to the meal? I often find that, by the time we all sit down, with the kids and the dogs and all the chaos, with the food going cold, we never find that moment to stop and give thanks. How do you make that happen?

You stop the meal. You can’t surrender to chaos. You have to punch up through it and settle everyone down. Soul won’t just show up, after all. Meaning is not inherent to turkey, or yams. It needs to be summoned. Just wait for the moment when everyone, finally, is settling into their seats, and the dogs finding their place under the table. Stand up and tap a glass with a knife or simply raise a glass in your hand and keep it up there until everyone notices and stops talking. And then say, simply and with no apology, that you would like to give thanks.

I’ve been at Thanksgivings where everyone at the table has to stand and offer thanks for something that has happened over the course of the year. You do not need to do that. (In fact, please don’t.) But the host — or the person who has brought you all together — really should acknowledge, however briefly, the real purpose of the day. It is why you are here.

To whom or to what you give thanks is a personal choice. It might be a higher power, or the fact of the harvest. It could be simply the presence of your family and friends. It could be health or safety in the wake of this horrifying storm the east coast has just been through. It could be to those who made you, or made you possible. But to whomever or whatever, give thanks. Simply by its utterance, Thanksgiving provides the meal with a moment of grace. Look around the table now, into the eyes of everyone assembled. You see? That is what we’re looking for in this feast, ultimately: A moment of grace, born of Thanksgiving. Don’t forget that. It matters.

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10 Laws of Thanksgiving Dinner

November 5th, 2012 · 31 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Cameos, Thanksgiving

This has already been quite a month for Sam Sifton. In addition to being the national editor of The New York Times – and helping run the paper’s coverage of Hurricane Sandy, and the presidential election, and whatever other ever-changing, constantly-unfolding news story that pops up in the meantime – he is also a food columnist for the Sunday Magazine, the newspaper’s former restaurant critic, a recovered short-order cook, a husband, a father of two young girls… and, luckily for us, the author of a just-published book, Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well. Full disclosure: I had the pleasure of editing this book, which means I had the pleasure of reading it several times and, best of all, cooking from it last year, as it was taking shape. Jenny and I love this book (in Jenny’s words – and you can trust her on this stuff – “This feels like the only Thanksgiving book I’ll ever need.”). We love the simplicity of it (130 pages, 50 traditional recipes), the authority of it (do this, not that), the timelessness of it (real cornbread stuffing, butternut squash with sage). It’s so beautifully written, too. If I lived in Glasgow, had never laid eyes on a turkey, and cared not two whits about Thanksgiving, I could pick this up and enjoy myself. Most of all, we love the message buried within: Thanksgiving does not have to be a source of stress. We should cherish it, and aim to make it great. There aren’t many national secular holidays, after all, so let’s get a big group together and dig in, American-style. In Sam’s honor, DALS hereby dedicates this week to his book, beginning here with ten inviolable rules for the big day. We’ll follow it with more advice and a recipe or two, so stay tuned. And give thanks! – Andy

10 Laws of Thanksgiving Dinner
by Sam Sifton

1. Let me speak plainly: you are going to need a lot of butter. Thanksgiving is not a day for diets, or for worrying about your cholesterol. It is a day on which we celebrate the delicious. And there is precious little on a Thanksgiving menu that is not made more delicious by butter. (Note: It should be unsalted butter. There is something magical about a piece of toast with salted butter. But for Thanksgiving, you want the unsalted variety, so that it is you, and not the butter maker, who is in control of the saltiness of your cooking. Figure at least two pounds for the day.)

2. Thanksgiving is a holiday that anchors itself in tradition. Which means: You should make turkey. Turkey is why you are here.

3. I’ll risk starting a brushfire by saying with great confidence that the two most important factors in any credible Thanksgiving feast are the cranberry sauce and the gravy. Debate that all you like. But they tie every element on the plate together, acting as frame and foundation alike. Cranberry sauce only enhances what is already excellent, and good gravy can cure almost any Thanksgiving ill.

4. You can make mashed potatoes lumpy with a fork or a masher device, or smooth with a food mill or stand mixer. And of course you can make them without peeling the potatoes, if your scrub the skins well. This makes for an attractive, rustic-looking dish. Indeed, the only trouble that should ever present itself when the subject comes to mashed potatoes and Thanksgiving is should someone demand that garlic or basil be added to the mix. Your response to this heresy should be brief and unequivocal: No. There is no place in the holiday for a mixture of garlic and potatoes, much less basil and potatoes. The flavors clash with the turkey and other sides. No.

5. Start serving drinks the minutes your guests arrive, no matter the hour. Thanksgiving is not a time to judge.

6. When hosting, do not be afraid to delegate.

7. Dessert need not be extravagant. It absolutely should not be experimental or overly cute. It must not involve individual tartlets or parfaits, nor marshmallows in any form. Save the chocolate for nights of depression and anxiety. Instead, focus on the proper execution of the American classics: apple pie, for instance, with a mound of whipped cream, or pumpkin pie with same. These represent Thanksgiving’s highest achievement. They are an explanation of American exceptionalism, in pastry form.

8. There is no “right” wine for Thanksgiving, no must-have grape or vintage, cocktail or spirit. Nor is there a “wrong” one, though I’d stay away from the low-end fortified stuff unless you are in a boxcar, hurtling west. What you want is a variety of grapes and vintages. Encourage guests to bring wines that interest them, wines that they would like others to try. Additionally, lay in some specialty items: beer for your uncle who only drinks Bud; nonalcoholic sparkling cider for the children; and plenty of Diet Cokes and ashtrays for those who no longer drink.

9. If you find yourself as a guest at someone else’s Thanksgiving, there is no finer gift to bring than a pie and a bottle of brown liquor.

10. As everyone takes a seat and prepares to eat, there is the delicate moment where you or someone at the table should ask for everyone’s attention, and offer thanks to one and all for being present, and for helping out. This is extraordinarily important. It is the point of the entire exercise. William Jennings Bryan wrote, “On Thanksgiving Day, we acknowledge our dependence.” I think that’s just about right.

Illustrations by Sarah Rutherford.

 

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Birthday Pie

October 24th, 2012 · 58 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

How a girl like me — a girl whose idea of the perfect food is a chocolate buttercream layered sponge cake, a girl whose childhood dinners were considered incomplete without a slice of fudge-frosted Entenman’s tacked on to the end of them, a girl who could eat this morning, noon, and night — ended up being the mother of a cake-hater like my 9-year-old? I’ll never know. What I do know is that on the big day, birthday pie works fine, too.

Cranberry-Apple Birthday Pie

2 9-inch frozen pie crusts, such as Pillsbury or Trader Joe’s (or if you have Martha Stewart’s pâte brisée in the freezer, lucky you!)
5 to 6 apples, peeled and sliced (about 5 cups)
1/4 cup fresh cranberries (or to taste)
1⁄3 cup sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
Juice from 1⁄2 lemon
6 to 8 dots of butter
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Lay the first piece of dough inside a pie dish. Toss the apples and cranberries in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice. Toss, then dump into prepared pie dish. Dot the fruit with butter, cover with second pie dough, using your fingers to seal it around the edges. Using a knife, cut a few ventilation slits in the top. Brush the crust with egg wash.

Bake for 40 minutes. If the crust is looking too brown before the fruit is bubbling out the side, cover with foil. Once the pie is cool, add candles. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

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10 Things I’d Love to Do for Halloween (But Probably Won’t)

October 18th, 2012 · 30 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

I tend to be very ambitious for Halloween — thinking about Halloween that is…two months before it’s an actual reality. But because the holiday falls so close to Abby’s birthday, I end up having very little energy left in the inspiration bank once its time to dig out the hanging ghost for the front door. To look at my facebook feed and Pinterest page, however, this does not seem to be a problem for the rest of the world — or at least the virtual world that I travel in. So in order to not leave you completely in the (creepy, scary) dark, I thought I’d present a quick Halloween inspiration hit list (what to read, bake, dress up as, play on the iPod) based mostly on other people’s ambitious ideas.

1) One thing I know for sure I won’t have to do this year is scramble to find treat bags, because the personalized ones you see above, which I ordered for each of the girls on their first Halloweens, are still going strong. Crushing to think that they’ve been around for nine and ten years respectively.

2) I found these Owl Cupcakes via Pinterest, traced it back to a site called Kara’s Party Ideas, but couldn’t find the specific post itself. No matter, the reason I love it so much is because looks like the baking-challenged among us (me) would figure it out without written instructions. Looks like all you need is your favorite cupcake mix, chocolate icing, M&Ms and Oreos.

3) How funny is this Awkward School Photo costume? (Via Cup of Jo.) My kids are going as Medusa (any leads on a snake headdress that doesn’t cost $35 are welcome) and a Detective (badge, hat, magnifying glass, my old trench coat, done). I really love seeing creative kids’ costumes, so please send them my way or share them on the DALS facebook page. You never know, I might be in my random-prize-awarding mood when I see something I go crazy for.

4) Costume ideas for Siblings (photo credit: imgur) I can’t imagine my two hyper individualistic little monsters agreeing on a theme costume idea (they each eat different salsas, for crying out loud), but you might have better luck. (more…)

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Bringing Home the Bread

September 14th, 2012 · 21 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals

The First Best Thing my father ever came home with after work was, by far, a Ford Granada. It was powder blue, four doors, with a white vinyl top, and when I hopped on the kitchen counter to peek out the window that overlooked our driveway, I remember saying to myself, Is this real? Did my father just pull into our home with a new car? No matter that the Granada epitomized the darkest days of late-70s American car design. This sedan was ours, it was new, it beat the hell out of our rickety old white Pontiac wagon, and in the big huge world of two siblings, two parents, and my kindergarten class, news didn’t get much more monumental than that.

The Second Best Thing that my father ever came home with after work was the soundtrack to Grease. My sister and I were playing in a back room with some of the neighborhood kids and I knew we were in for a treat when I saw the Sam Goody bag tucked under his arm. We had already seen the movie and knew the words to all the songs but there was jumping and shrieking when he made the dramatic reveal.  The fact that I was seven years old and obsessed with a movie where pregnancy and sex are routinely discussed, and that now, as a mom, I can’t imagine screening it for my 8- and 10-year-old, well, see above re: late 70s.

The Third Best Thing that my father came home with after work (which is another way of saying “for dinner” because he was always home in time to eat) was a freshly baked challah. Unlike the First and Second Best Thing, this was a gift I could look forward to fairly regularly. On his one-mile walk home from the Larchmont train station, Dad would swing by our local bakery – the one with the display case of chocolate éclairs and Napoleons and a roll of baker’s twine hanging from the ceiling –  and pick up a loaf. On most nights the challah was of the plain braided variety. But on special nights, it was a challah that had been studded with plump golden raisins. As soon as Dad handed me the loaf in the waxy bag, I’d slice up a still-slightly-warm piece, spread a schmear of Breakstone’s whipped salted butter on top, and let the happiness wash over me. Life was about as good as it could get for a girl wearing a velour warm-up suit.

Much as I like to think my delight was the main reason he brought home the bread every night (remember: my Dad was the philosopher who coined the famous food-happiness concept of “Absolute Value”) the ritual had actually been in place long before John Travolta was in style. Every Sunday morning as a teenager, my dad and his father, Phillip (who is pictured above with his brothers at his family table and who, like all my grandparents, died before I was born), would walk north from their 165th Street apartment in the Bronx to their local bakery on 167th Street. During the week, my grandfather was up and out the door before anyone was awake – he worked as a furrier in the Garment District – but on Sundays, he and my Dad would head out to do the Crucial Sunday Morning Job of selecting breads and danishes for the family breakfast. They’d talk about the normal stuff — school, my grandfather’s job — but the one-on-one bread-gathering mission was a reason to look forward to Sunday. As my dad recalls, it was the first time he felt like a grown-up.

The story of this ritual has taken on a misti-ness over the years, especially as I grow older and realize how valuable these select memories are and how crucial it is to keep the rituals associated with them alive. We do not have regular Friday night Shabbat dinner in my house like my father did, and in truth, if my sister didn’t organize Rosh Hashana (and Yom Kippur and Passover and Channukah) dinners every year, I’m not so sure I’d get them in the calendar myself. But on the days of the year that do not qualify as High Holy Ones, I somehow manage to feel connected to something bigger than myself. Like when I braid my first homemade challah with Abby using my second cousin Ronnie’s recipe (that’s my maiden attempt up there); or when I use a knife to peel an apple in one long strip, just like my mom told me her father used to do. Or when I secure the recipe to my Aunt Selma’s famous sweet-and-sour meatballs that she served at every family gathering growing up. Or back in 1994 when Andy and I had just moved to New York, and we’d meet after work at the corner of Smith and President Street in his up-and-coming Brooklyn neighborhood of Carroll Gardens. I can still see him walking up the block wearing his pleated khakis and Joseph Aboud tie, carrying his messenger bag and, yes, a loaf of crusty Italian bread from Caputo’s on Court Street. We’d head another two blocks west to Andy’s Hoyt street rental – a four-story brownstone with full garden, eat-in kitchen, all of which cost him and each of his three roommates $400 a month — and that bread would be the start of dinner.

Please head over to my second cousin Ronnie Fein’s website for the incredibly clear Challah recipe as well as a photograph of the challah without a weird bulge in the middle. It was my first attempt — cut me some slack! If I had read her braiding tips first, perhaps this wouldn’t have been a problem. (Also: forgive me that my bread is not round for the holidays.) Ronnie is also the author of Hip Kosher: 175 Easy Recipes to Prepare for Today’s Kosher Cook. Happy New Year everyone.


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The Dadoo Special

June 15th, 2012 · 14 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Dinner, Grilling, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy, Quick, Uncategorized

I remember this vividly. When I was six years old, I was in the basement of our house on Aldenham Lane, playing with my dad. Our basement was the kind of basement I feel bad that my kids don’t have today – a concrete floor, an old wooden workbench, high metal shelves sagging with caulk and stains and Maxwell House cans filled with screws, a queen-sized foam mattress, a pool table (with ivory inlays and broken slate), and a paint-splattered station where my older brother would lose entire afternoons building these intricate models of Spitfires and Messerschmitts. The kind of basement, in other words, where you could dismember GI Joe dolls in relative peace.

Anyway, we were sitting on the floor, building something with my Erector Set.

“Dad?” I said.

“Yes?”

“Is Santa Claus real?”

He paused.

(A parent now, I know what he was thinking.)

He looked at me.

“Nope,” he said.

Cue sound of bowling ball crashing through giant pane of glass. The bracing, ammoniac sting of honesty like that! Wow. Damn! I still, to this day, give him grief for this. (Me: I can’t believe you just came out and said it. Dad: Well, what was I gonna do, lie?) This could be the adult in me talking, but I feel like I remember the room going all wobbly, like the staircase shot in Vertigo. Clearly, my dad did not believe in secrets.

Except when it came to his cooking. And by cooking, I mean the one meal he was responsible for making all by himself, from start to finish. His lone specialty was known around the house as The Dadoo Special, a name which, it’s true, does have a certain grandeur to it, but which – no offense, Dad — also sounds a lot like something a dude with zero chops in the kitchen would name the one dish he figured out how to make on his own. I loved the Dadoo Special. Partly because I loved my dad, but also because it did, in fact, feel special. It tasted really good, and appeared only in the warm summer months, when school was out and the Weber was up and running and the grown-ups enjoyed their grown-up drinks outside, in the woodchipped area out back, behind the azeleas, where my dad had set up – this was the seventies, after all, the era of lawn sports, mandals, and non-ironic mustaches – a freakin’ horseshoe pit. Looking back, the Dadoo Special was nothing more than a souped-up burger – a little sweet, a little spicy – that, amazingly, required no ketchup at all. I would tell you exactly how my dad made it…if he had ever let me watch him make it. The Dadoo Special, you see, was always prepared in private, behind closed doors, on a need-to-know basis only. And I, apparently, did not need to know.

“What’s in it?” I would ask.

“That’s a secret.”

“Seriously, dad.”

“Get out of the kitchen,” he’d say, and to stay and risk not having Dadoo Specials for dinner always seemed a risk not worth taking.

I still don’t know exactly what was in the things, and – since my dad probably hasn’t made one in thirty years – I doubt he does, either. But I do remember the taste, and the slight crunch of the onion, and feel fairly confident that I can recreate it – heck, maybe even improve upon it — here. We’ll be making these on Father’s Day, in honor of my dad, and in the spirit of openness. No more secrets, not in this house. – Andy

P.S. Re the photo above: Yeah, that’s a puka shell necklace I’m wearing. And yeah, that’s zinc oxide on my nose. And yeah, I’m wearing plaid JAMS. The thing on my dad’s upper lip? That would be a mustache. Viva los 70s!

The Dadoo Special

Okay, so the Dadoo is basically meatloaf on a bun. Pretty sure my dad used Heinz barbecue sauce, but the homemade stuff is better. (See our recipe for that on page 238 of Jenny’s book.) In a large bowl, combine 1 ½ pounds ground beef, 1/3 cup barbecue sauce, ½ cup of finely chopped Vidalia onion, a couple dashes of Worcestershire, and lots of salt and freshly ground pepper. Combine gently, as you want to preserve some of that loose texture of the meat. Grill over medium high heat for about 3-4 minutes per side.

Reminder: Tell me your favorite part of the book (not on the comment field of this post, but through the official contest survey) and be eligible to win some pretty awesome prizes. You have until July 9 to enter so get reading!

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Melt the Bunny

April 10th, 2012 · 17 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals

I’m beginning to think that parenting is just a lifelong excuse to turn anything into a celebration. Because if you really think about it, there is always something to celebrate.  The problem with this of course, is…there’s always something to celebrate, i.e. there’s always some kind of treat that — in our house at least — seems to be central to the celebrating. It’s the last day of school before spring break: By The Way Bakery cupcakes! You just rode your bike four miles: Mint chip ice cream! It’s Daddy’s birthday: Cherry pie! No cavities at the dentist: Pain au chocolat! It’s Passover: Matzoh brittle! It’s Easter….oh dear Lord, Easter. I think this holiday — which we technically don’t even celebrate — might have officially eclipsed Halloween as the biggest treat-o-thon in our family. It begins with the obligatory air-dried Peeps, then the neighbor’s Easter Egg hunt where we are lucky to come home with only a few chocolate eggs. (Woe is the poor soul who wins the 1000 Jelly Bean Jar contest!) And then there is the long-awaited treat-filled basket from Grandma, which, to the girls delight, always includes a ginormous chocolate bunny. A ginormous chocolate bunny that ends up sitting in his plastic case in the corner of the kitchen like a museum piece: So fun to look at, yet never consumed. This year, we decided to change that — instead of letting him get all dusty and sad, we melted him down to make the healthy-ish chocolate covered banana pops that you see below. They are easy, delicious, and just the thing to cap off our dinner on Thursday, when we plan to celebrate the dog’s third birthday.

Chocolate Covered Banana Pops

There is a recipe for these in my first cookbook, but you don’t really need official instructions. Before you begin, cut your bananas in half, insert popsicle sticks or halved wooden skewers (as shown below) and freeze for about 15 minutes on a flat surface. While bananas are freezing, melt down your bunny over low heat (removing all bowties and styrofoam accessories, please), whisking as the bunny shrinks*. (You can also do this in the microwave in a Pyrex for about a minute, depending on the size of the bunny.) When your chocolate has melted, pour into a deep measuring cup or a cereal bowl. Dip your now semi-frozen bananas into the chocolate and place pops down on a wax-paper covered surface. Quickly sprinkle oats, sprinkles, or chopped nuts on top before the chocolate hardens. Freeze until ready to eat, at least a half hour.

*I added water as mine melted to get to the right consistency, but usually even a drop of water or hint of steam puts the chocolate at risk of seizing, so only do this if absolutely necessary. My friend who works in a test kitchen surmises that the reason mine didn’t seize and get grainy was because the chocolate in the bunny was not, in fact, real chocolate.

The chocolate hardens fast, so add your toppings quick like a bunny.

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From Scratch

March 21st, 2012 · 26 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Uncategorized

For my grandmother’s 80th birthday, her best and oldest friend in the world, Midge — fellow bridge clubber, golf partner, drinking buddy, all-around Golden Girl — hosted a dinner party, on the Wedgwood china, in her big brick house on Forest Avenue. Jenny and I were in attendance, as were my father, two widows — Mary and Shep, both in their mid-eighties — and a couple of cranky daschunds named Maxi and Mini. These ladies were as old-school as they come, and though the most basic motions of life had grown difficult and their social universe had pretty much been reduced to the people at this table, they all had that twinkle in their eyes that said: We might be past our prime, but don’t be fooled, sonny. We could crush you in our day. Every woman there had raised kids, spoiled grandchildren, and all but one had lost husbands; all, including my grandmother, have since passed away. But that night, Midge turned back the clock. At 5 pm sharp, out came the Scotch. (These women couldn’t be bothered with wine — unless the Scotch ran dry, at which point: watch the f*ck out.) Then came the little bowls of mixed nuts, cheese waffles, and Bugles. By 6, we were feeling good, seated at the long, formal dining room table, and my dad was toasting my grandmother, whose chair was decorated with balloons. I don’t remember exactly what Midge made for the main course, but let’s say it was a foil-tipped crown roast with cooked-to-oblivion asparagus and instant mashed potatoes — and if it wasn’t, it might as well have been. For dessert, one of my grandmother’s all-time favorites: angel food cake.

My grandmother, it should be noted, was the daughter of German bakers. The woman knew from dessert. I don’t think she had a tooth in her head that hadn’t been violated by a dentist over the years, but that didn’t hold her back. She actually had a little silver dish by her front door that was filled, year round, as if by a benevolent god — I never did figure out where she kept her stash — with York mints and peanut M&Ms, jelly beans and mini-Almond Joys. When I think of her kitchen in the house my dad grew up in on Lincoln Street — before she moved into a one-story place later in life, as my grandfather grew frail — I picture two things clearly: the side-by-side freezer with two or three white-and-blue gallons of Schrafft’s ice cream, and an angel food cake, cooling upside down in its pan on the counter, impaled on the neck of a Dewar’s bottle. She’d serve this to me with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of Hershey’s chocolate sauce, and god, the way that slab of cake absorbed the ice cream, and held it there until fully saturated, kind of like a sponge? Please. Let me rephrase that: Please.

It made sense, then, that we’d have angel food cake for her 80th. The cake, this night, had been supplied by Mary who, at 84 or 85, still knew how to make some noise in the baking department, still knew the value of cake and ice cream on a birthday. This had just the right amount of toasty crunch on the outside, and just the right fluffiness on the inside. Jenny, who also loves a dessert, was impressed.

“Mmmmmmmmmmmmm,” she said. Maybe this was just the Scotch talking. “Oh my god, Mary. This cake is a-mazing.”

“Isn’t she just the best cook?” my grandmother said.

“She really is,” said Midge.

“Truly,” said Shep, who was wearing an awful lot of gold. “Always was.”

“Oh, stop,” said Mary, waving them away. These women were not limelight-seekers. “But Jenny, if you give me your address, I’d be happy to send you my recipe.”

About a week later, a letter from Mary arrived at our apartment in Brooklyn, addressed — of course — not to Jenny, but to Mrs. Andrew Ward. Inside was written, in slightly shaky hand, the secret recipe for this angel food cake. “Take one box Duncan Hines angel food cake mix,” it began…

For women of my grandmother’s generation — or, I should say, the women of my grandmother’s generation that hung around with my grandmother — from scratch meant something very different from what it means today. It meant: I didn’t buy this in a store. It meant: I cooked this in my own oven. It did not mean: I defied convenience and combined several real ingredients together to make this cake. Was it worse? Better? They didn’t care. To be honest, I didn’t get any of this “from scratch” stuff until pretty late in life, either, and I’m not going to sit here and pretend Duncan Hines doesn’t make a solid angel food cake mix. But there is a from-scratch version of this that we make for the kids that even I — a terrible baker — can pull off. It, too, goes great with ice cream. We never tried it out on Doris, Mary, or Shep, but something tells me they would have been impressed. – Andy

 

Angel Food Cake, from Scratch
From Cakewalk, by Kate Moses

1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’s sugar
1 cup sifted cake flour (or unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 cups egg whites, at room temperature (about 12 large egg whites)
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar

Move the oven rack to the lowest setting, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Bring the egg whites to room temperature about an hour before baking.

Combine the sifted confectioners’ sugar and flour and sift three times. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whip attachment, beat the egg whites on low until foamy, then add the cream of tartar, salt, and vanilla and increase the speed to medium. Whip just until soft peaks form, then, beating on medium speed, gradually add the granulated sugar a tablespoon at a time, beating until the whites form soft peaks but are not stiff.

Sift one quarter of the flour mixture over the whites and fold in lightly by hand using a rubber spatula, and repeat with the remaining flour in quarters. Turn the batter gently into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.

Bake about 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean and the top springs back when touched lightly. Invert the cake onto the neck of a bottle of Dewar’s (or a wine bottle) and allow to cool completely, 2 or 3 hours, before moving from the pan.

Serve with spring strawberries or with chocolate sauce and ice cream.

Photos courtesy of family archivists Earl Johnson and Douglas Ward.

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My How We’ve Grown!

March 16th, 2012 · 10 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Kitchenlightenment, Rituals

Related posts: Pork RaguGeorge Saunders Kid Book PicksAndy’s First Cocktail PostSchool Lunch-Packing Contract (our first post to go viral),  Salmon Teriyaki, Quinoa, NY Times Puts DALS on the Map.

And if you are looking for a way to say Happy Birthday, a pre-order would definitely do the trick.

Have a good weekend.

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