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Happy Thanksgiving!

The organic, free-range, anti-biotic-free Turkey was twenty-point-oh-one pounds, smack in the middle of the eighteen-to-twenty-two range that we had slapped our twenty dollar deposit on.  There were about five pounds of Brussels Sprouts, soon to be seared and dressed with a fig balsamic vinegar.  The Lord only knows how much potato was mashed.  For lunch there would be soup made the previous day, a creamy butternut squash puree, which took up all the carrots that needed to be used for the skillet carrots with onions and garlic.  There were two pies; pumpkin, made from a cheese pumpkin, that all the farms at the market said were the best for pumpkin pie (they were right) and apple-cranberry, to be topped with a pumpkin ice cream.  Surprisingly, the cranberries were found fresh at the market.

Carrots had to  be brought in by a guest, as did dish detergent.  But in the end, everything, apart from the carrots and the canned pumpkin for the ice cream had its origins within three hundred miles of our house.

We could go into detail about how J. Kenji Lopez-Alt convinced us that Brussels Sprouts could be amazing, if only just seared in the pan.  We could outline that we needed a veggie, and Molly Wizenberg’s recipe for skillet carrots came to the top of the list.  We could even wax poetic about the meaty flavor of the turkey, a flavor impossible to get from store-bought turkeys that only seemed to make turkey sandwiches better.

We could do that.  But that would only serve to miss the point.

Thanksgiving, for us, was a feast.  An absolute feast,  a long table, nine people, enough wine and beer to flood a small Guatemalan village, and more food than most of us would see in at least another year.  It was a feast in honor of tradition and autumn bounty and the hardships of our forebears.  It was a feast honoring the trials that we all undertook.

It started off at five o’clock in the morning.  Hannah, her mother and sister all went out to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade out by Central Park.  They sat on the wall on 65th Street and watched cartoon characters, inflated likenesses of puppets, and assorted shapes and colors dance across the skyline, painting the holidays across the gray buildings.

Kermit the Frog was able to be puppeted! Even that size!

When they returned home, there I was, two cups of coffee in me, cutting cubes of bread for stuffing.  When our friends Heath and Gen arrived, we had lunch: a Jamie Oliver butternut squash soup recipe that I had made the day before.  Of course, at that point, there was one last cup of coffee in me and no breakfast.  As I was in the midst of cooking parmesan toasts, the cheese started to stick to the pan (which is what cheese does) and I freaked out.  “GAH!  The cheese isn’t…it’s sticking to the pan!  The soup!  There’s…It’s not good enough and there’s…the Turkey isn’t even in the oven yet and…”  To which Hannah calmly (read: irritatedly, as she also hadn’t had breakfast yet) asked me to leave the kitchen.  I did, paced a little, calmed from my caffeine and hunger inspired tantrum, had some soup and immediately felt better.*

The turkey (20.1 lbs) was fresh, picked up the day before and jammed full of bread, mushrooms, onions, celery, apples, cranberries and butter, rubbed with butter, salted and peppered, and was thrown into the oven.  There it lived for the next four hours, looked at only once, to check it’s status.  It came out, golden, moist and finished.  Nine people couldn’t even finish half of the bird, there were probably a quarter of the breast left for sandwiches.  There is another five pound whole breast in the refrigerator.  As I write this, Hannah is making another loaf of bread for sandwiches.

Oh Lordy Lou.

But in and among the cooking, which is important for a food blog to note, there was community.  Clare (of BeerGoggins) brought a couple of beers and her fella Adam (also of BeerGoggins) showed up later with piles more beer from the Beer Room at Whole Foods.  There were probably six growlers of draft beers, two bottle of lambic (a raspberry and a cherry), and a Saison.  There was wine, oh was there wine!  There are cases upon cases of Nero d’Avola, Blaufrankish, Gavi and Gruner Vetliner.  There was hot buttered cider with bourbon.

I'll fix this caption when I know what this beer was.

Clare learned Backgammon on our brand new backgammon board.  Heath ran around with our camera snapping the photos you see here.  Albert amused himself with Heath’s stories of God-only-knows-what.  The air was thick with lies, fibs, stories, turkey, liquor and celebration.

Clare learning backgammon

There were snacks:  leek confit, goat cheese and baguettes and a hot pepper balsamic chutney with pita.  We ate all day and when it came time to have dinner, everything came right together.  We sat down, passed food, pigged out, slathered our insides with cranberry bourbon sauce and gravy, clogged our maws with stuffing, lusted after the sprouts, fell into ecstasy at the smells and tastes that mixed beautifully.  We grew heavy.  When we tried to engage Adam in conversation, he said, “Can’t talk.  Eating,” and returned to his hunched posture and his face firmly planted in his plate.

Fit for kings

We rested for an hour, drinking and talking.  Abbie did the dishes, Paula dried, Gen cleared.  I regretted the amount of food I ate that night, knowing that I had to eat all the more in an hour.  And when that hour was up, when the dishes were all done, we dirtied up more.

Before we started in on the pie, we tried Adam and Clare’s inaugural homebrew, named “Rye Are You Mad At Me.”  You will have to keep a weather eye on BeerGoggins.com for details on that.  My review:  Outstanding considering the issues that went into it.  I was there at the first and considering what we witnessed, it’s a miracle there was even a bottle of anything other than anger to pour.  But on a serious note, for their first go at home brewing, they made a very drinkable beer that indicates they will have huge success in future beer-speriments.

Mad Hops earns his title

Then there was pie.  Pumpkin made from a for real roasted pumpkin topped with homemade whipped cream and an apple cranberry pie with pumpkin ice cream.  I had the pumpkin pie.  Hannah had the same.  Adam and Heath, in an effort to out do each other, had one of each.  I can’t imagine they were terribly comfortable.  I certainly wasn’t.

Piiiiiiiiiiiiiiies.

In the end, Heath and Gen had to head out, Adam and Clare stuck around a bit to try to finish up the beers.  They ended up leaving with most of the beer they brought.  Albert and Paula sacked out on the couch and Abbie took to knitting.

We did what you do at Thanksgiving.  We rung in the holidays properly by celebrating.  We got full and drunk and happy and had wonderful food and camaraderie.  This is something that we feel many food blogs seem to forget about.  The meal as social event.  They talk about how to caramelize the sprouts, or how to get your cookies just right on the bottom, or what they feel like when they eat their waffles, but they seem to forget that we are social creatures and that our meals should reflect that.  In our dinner, we honored the food traditions from all over the world: Eat together.  Drink together.  Make merry.  And we did.

BUUUUHHHHHHHHH!

And I hope you did too.

*Remember:  If you’re cooking for 9 people or more, be sure to eat breakfast and plenty of it.  You’re working hard.  Otherwise, you’ll throw a pan out the window and scald your elderly neighbor who’s off to see her grandkids and possibly could call the police on you, which would not make for a happy Thanksgiving whatsoever.

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When we lived in Astoria there was a bakery called Saint Honoré, named for the patron saint of bakers, nestled inauspiciously right before the butcher shop on Ditmars Avenue, and frequented by customers who do not take sainthood lightly. It was a bare bones sort of place, not packed with rickety tables and chairs with uneven legs, but rather just two counters and a refrigerator with a glass door, partially blocking the kitchen from the cashier. There were no labels on the rows upon rows of tidy buttery cookies, patisserie, and impeccably towered cakes. And the proprietor and his sole staff member seemed to miraculously predict what it was that you would be inclined to order.

We used to walk often up and down the tree-lined streets of our beloved neighborhood, past the brick duplexes and their yards filled with statuary or small gardens with septagenarians shouting in Greek and smoking cigars, to the hill of Astoria Park sprawling generously to the East River looking across its grime from under the Triborough Bridge onto the endless ascent of Manhattan. Often these strolls would lead us back up Ditmars Avenue and on our way home the call of the creamy éclair (for me) or chocolate cigars (for Matthias) from Saint Honoré could not be muffled. And so, we indulged. Guiltlessly and with complete abandon, nothing could detract from the pleasure of their soft pastries filled with vanilla cream, at once so light and yet so very rich intermingled with the velvety chocolate smear those éclair seemed to wear like a beautiful scarf, effortless, and elemental.

squeezing out

We now live through days where strolls are not an option for safety reasons, no local business is remotely enticing, and our food arrives to our stomachs as a cumbersome burden lugged from Manhattan via an interminable stint on the L train. We yearn for those idyllic days in Astoria and the tastes, smells, and sights that made them so precious, but we are also armed with the tenacity to persevere and bring glimmers of joy to our Brooklyn home. And so, I learned to make pâte à choux, pastry cream, and chocolate sauce. These three became cream puffs, and we became happy once more.

open puff

They were all that we had hoped for. The pastry was neatly structured on its exterior, its small golden brown spirals rising to encase the hollow, webbed, eggy interiors soon to be injected with luscious, cool vanilla pastry cream. These cream-filled parcels were then adorned with a simple chocolate sauce drizzle, left to harden ever so slightly, and greet each bite in turn with lightness, richness, and depth. Or, as I like to think, they arrived at our lips as a little treasure from our cherished Saint. Honoré.

final puff 2

Cream Puffs with Vanilla Pastry Cream and Chocolate Sauce

Yield: 16 cream puffs

Adapted from Gourmet, March 2008, and Bon Appétit, February 1998

We recommend that you make the pastry cream first and get it in the refrigerator to chill while you are working on the pastry, this will seem to decrease the amount of time you have to wait to grace your lips with the finished product.

When the pâte à choux has cooled, inject the puffs with the cream using a pastry bag or a plastic bag fitted with a piping tip in its corner. Alternatively, you could use a serrated knife to slice open the puffs (keep the top and bottom still attached) and spoon in approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons of pastry cream into each puff, replacing its ‘cap’ when it is full.

When the puffs are now cream puffs, begin the chocolate sauce. Drizzle with a teaspoon over each and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.

For pastry cream:

  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Bring half and half (we used 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 cup heavy cream) to a simmer in heavy medium saucepan.

Whisk sugar, eggs, egg yolk and flour in medium bowl to blend.

Gradually whisk hot half and half into the medium bowl, in a steady stream constantly whisking so as not to scramble the eggs. Transfer back to the saucepan and whisk over medium heat until mixture thickens and comes to boil, about 5 minutes.

Boil 1 minute. Pour into a clean medium bowl. Stir in vanilla. Press plastic wrap or parchment paper onto the surface of pastry cream so that it will not form a film when chilled.

Cover; chill until cold, about 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Makes 2 cups)

For pâte à choux:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle. Butter a large baking sheet.

Bring butter, water, and salt to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until butter is melted. Reduce heat to medium, then add flour all at once and cook, beating with a wooden spoon, until mixture pulls away from side of pan and forms a ball, about 30-60 seconds. Transfer mixture to a bowl and cool slightly, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well with an electric mixer after each addition.

Transfer warm mixture to pastry bag (or a plastic bag fitted with a piping tip in the corner) and pipe 16-18 mounds (about 1 1/4 inches wide and 1 inch high) 1 inch apart on baking sheet.

Bake until puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes total. Prick each profiterole once with a skewer, then return to oven to dry, propping oven door slightly ajar, 3 minutes. Cool on sheet on a rack.

For chocolate sauce:

  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (preferably organic fair trade)
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1-2 teaspoons heavy cream

Melt chocolate, butter, and cream in a small saucepan stirring until liquid and combined. You may use a double boiler, but it comes together so quickly that I confess not to have bothered with the extra dishes.


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