Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Menu

Thanks to my friend Alison, I have remembered that I should post my Thanksgiving menu for those of my friends and family who like to keep up with such things. So here's what we're having:

Home-Cured Gravlax with Dill Sauce on Home-Baked Rye Bread (recipes from Saveur magazine and Jim Lahey's My Bread cookbook)

Norwegian Soup à la Astri
Simply Roasted Turkey
Gingered Cranberry-Fig Chutney (
Chestnut, Leek and Apple Stuffing (Gourmet)
Grilled Brussels Sprouts (
Sweet Potatoes à la Jennifer

Pioneer Woman's Pecan Pie (
Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie (

The only recipe I have not settled on is for gravy. Any suggestions?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

And You Thought *I* Was Difficult

OK, I know that I can be a bit particular about some (many) things, but this makes me seem like a veritable pushover. The message below seems to have made the rounds, so perhaps there is some question about its veracity, but even if it's not real it's a very funny (I think) example of micromanagement gone a bit far. Thank goodness I'm not part of her family!

From: Marney

As you all know a fabulous Thanksgiving Dinner does not make itself. I need to ask each of you to help by bringing something to complete the meal. I truly appreciate your offers to assist with the meal preparation.

Now, while I do have quite a sense of humor and joke around all the time, I COULD NOT BE MORE SERIOUS when I am providing you with your Thanksgiving instructions and orders. I am very particular, so please perform your task EXACTLY as I have requested and read your portion very carefully. If I ask you to bring your offering in a container that has a lid, bring your offering in a container WITH A LID, NOT ALUMINUM FOIL! If I ask you to bring a serving spoon for your dish, BRING A SERVING SPOON, NOT A SOUP SPOON! And please do not forget anything.

All food that is to be cooked should already be prepared, bring it hot and ready to serve, warm or room temp. These are your ONLY THREE options. Anything meant to be served cold should, of course, already be cold.

HJB—Dinner wine

The Mike XXXX Family
1. Turnips in a casserole with a lid and a serving spoon. Please do not fill the casserole all the way up to the top, it gets too messy. I know this may come as a bit of a surprise to you, but most of us hate turnips so don’t feel like you a have to feed an army.
2. Two half gallons of ice cream, one must be VANILLA, I don’t care what the other one is. No store brands please. I did see an ad this morning for Hagan Daz Peppermint Bark Ice Cream, yum!! (no pressure here, though).
3. Toppings for the ice cream.
4. A case of bottled water, NOT gallons, any brand is ok.

The Bob XXXX Family
1. Green beans or asparagus (not both) in a casserole with a lid and a serving spoon. If you are making the green beans, please prepare FOUR pounds, if you are making asparagus please prepare FIVE pounds. It is up to you how you wish to prepare them, no soupy sauces, no cheese (you know how Mike is), a light sprinkling of toasted nuts, or pancetta, or some EVOO would be a nice way to jazz them up.
2. A case of beer of your choice (I have Coors Light and Corona) or a bottle of clos du bois chardonnay (you will have to let me know which you will bring prior to 11/22).

The Lisa XXXX Family
1. Lisa as a married woman you are now required to contribute at the adult level. You can bring an hors d’ouvres. A few helpful hints/suggestions. Keep it very light, and non-filling, NO COCKTAIL SAUCE, no beans of any kind. I think your best bet would be a platter of fresh veggies and dip. Not a huge platter mind you (i.e., not the plastic platter from the supermarket).

The Michelle XXXX Family
1. Stuffing in a casserole with a serving spoon. Please make the stuffing sans meat.
2. 2.5-3 qts. of mashed squash in a casserole with a lid and serving spoon
3. Proscuitto pin wheel – please stick to the recipe, no need to bring a plate.
4. A pie knife

The June XXXX Family
1. 15 LBS of mashed potatoes in a casserole with a serving spoon. Please do not use the over-size blue serving dish you used last year. Because you are making such a large batch you can do one of two things: put half the mash in a regulation size casserole with lid and put the other half in a plastic container and we can just replenish with that or use two regulation size casserole dishes with lids. Only one serving spoon is needed.
2. A bottle of clos du bois chardonnay

The Amy XXXX Family (why do I even bother she will never read this)
1. A pumpkin pie in a pie dish (please use my silver palate recipe) no knife needed.
2. An apple pie in a pie dish, you can use your own recipe, no knife needed.

Looking forward to the 28th!!


November Update

Where does the time go?? It seems like it was just New Years Day a few moments ago, and here it is already almost Thanksgiving! Time really does fly. November has pretty much flown right by, possibly helped out by the fact that we spent a week of it in the US, visiting with our families, seeing some friends, and taking care of some errands. I finally got to see my niece's house in Connecticut, which caused an eerie sense of déjà vu, since the floorplan is almost identical to that of our house in Fairfax. Guess that American colonials are like that, though. It's a lovely house, and enormous, and set in among the woods just like our house was. I had forgotten that she has a cat before we got there, and had thus neglected to bring any allergy medication with me, but interestingly enough I did not find that I suffered any reaction. Same happened in DC while we were staying with very close friends in their new house and their two (amazingly beautiful) cats. Maybe I'm over my cat allergy at last.

One of our key errands to do while in the US was to visit our storage unit and sort through it one more time to get rid of anything that we could not bear to part with. I had thought that we had some electrical things in there, but it turns out that those are all gone, other than some of my dad's lamps, which I can always rewire to work in a 220v setting. But I did manage to sort through the 40+ boxes of books in there and reduce their number by 11. Am I really ever going to read the complete works of Mikhail Bulgakov, in Russian, ever again?? I didn't think so, either, so off they went, along with some other books that I did not enjoy in the first place (it was particularly cathartic to chuck out Joseph Camillieri's book on the Chinese Cultural Revolution, since I hated that book when I read it at SAIS--in it he lauds the CultRev as a positive thing) and others that I've had forever, never opened, and figured never will. So now we are in a position to have this storage pod shipped to wherever we decide to ship it to, without worrying that there are things in there that we will not want.

No sooner did we relieve ourselves of some excess belongings, though, than we set out to add more belongings to our stash. Whenever we go to the US (or anywhere outside of China, really) we make frequent visits to bookstores and this trip was no exception. Now that I have a Kindle, however, I don't really buy that many novels or other general-reading books on paper, since there just seems to be no need (I'd make an exception for books that I think have some lasting merit, however, or that will look impressive on my shelf). But cookbooks are not really practical on a Kindle, so I continue to buy those in paper. But the prices at the bookstore are so much higher than they are on Amazon, and it's so easy to have Amazon books shipped to us in China, that we found ourselves choosing the books we wanted at the store, and buying them online on my iPhone before we had even left the shop. Ain't technology something?? Thus I bought several interesting new books: Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc, David Chang's Momofuku, Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible, and Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes (the last two were for J2 who sees himself reviving his baking career if we should ever open a restaurant in South Africa or wherever). One book I decided to buy on the spot, though: Jim Lahey's My Bread, which is an expansion of his no-knead bread-baking recipe that appeared in the NY Times in 2006. I have always bemoaned the absence of good bread in Beijing, and found that his recipe was a very easy way to satisfy my craving for bread with a crisp crust, moist interior, and good taste. No sooner did I got this book home, in fact, than did I start to try out the recipes, whipping out in the past week two loaves of his rye bread, a loaf of carrot bread, and a pizza bianca. The rye loaves were outstanding, really good flavor, great crust, etc, and the carrot bread is very interesting--it's made with carrot juice instead of water, so the bread is a shocking shade of orange, studded with currants and walnuts, with a subtler-than-I-expected carrot flavor. The pizza bianca, which requires the use of a pizza peel and pizza stone, both of which I have but neither of which I have used often up to now, also tastes great, but I think I need more practice with the peel, since the dough really is very moist and I found that it stuck to the peel relentlessly, despite my dusting the peel with a liberal dose of flour. As my friend Cindy would say, I had better keep practicing.

With Thanksgiving just a few days away I have begun preparations for our feast, which we have decided to hold on Saturday instead of Thursday. I bought my turkey at the market yesterday (RMB 250, still a mere fraction of what I paid three years ago at one of the expat shops) but I could not find cranberries anywhere. I imagine that all the cranberry stocks in the city are being madly wrapped up by the Americans, so I will have to go very early one morning to a store before others can get to the meagre supplies. It's amazing to me that the expat shop owners have not figured out that there are some things that they need to buy more of at certain times of the year to meet seasonal demand.

We continue to have unseasonably cold weather here in Beijing--the temperature has barely nosed above the freezing mark--but I am hopeful that this will pass before long and that we'll have a relatively mild winter. We have decided not to host a Christmas party this year, since we are saving money for our farm, which means that, unlike previous Novembers I have not been in a baking frenzy (other than the breads), which I have to say is a welcome respite.

That's all there is to write now; I'm off to my first Pilates class in two months. Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

First Snow!

This must be some sort of record--the first snow of 2009/10 in Beijing has fallen already, and it's only November 1! What's up with that? And yesterday, though it started off fairly cool, actually became pretty comfortable during the day, with crisp (looking) air to boot, although by the evening it was quite chilly and windy. I hope that it's true that the earlier the snow, the milder the winter.

Other than the snow, there are not that many things worth noting here. Tried out a great restaurant the other night with some friends called Meat & Wine. It's a South African chain, and they opened a Beijing branch some time ago in the Ch'ien Men 23 complex that is also home to Maison Boulud. The food was excellent, I thought, and the wine list was extensive though a bit pricey. The steaks were about as good as any I've had in Beijing, though they did not hold a candle to Peter Luger's in New York.

And speaking of Peter Luger's in New York, we'll be going there before too long. We have to take our home leave trip before the end of the year or risk losing the benefit, so we're taking a quick trip to the US on November 6, taking in the NYC metro area and DC to see our families and friends and do a quick catch-up. Will be very nice to see everyone that we can fit in, and apologies to those whom we don't manage to see!