Friday, December 31, 2010

Culture Clash?

When life gets hectic, as only life can around the holidays, strange things happen. Early Christmas morning, I open up the ‘fridge and as I’m ferreting out the ingredients for our Christmas morning breakfast, I see a horrible sight. Way back under the deli meats tray is my prized chocolate pie brutally bludgeoned by a beer. Initially angered, I could only collapse in giggles when I realize that beer and chocolate pie make an utterly funny pairing.

But Coors Lite? This is easy to explain, but then again, not so easy.
I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis . . . or Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale . . . or anything but lite beer.
Never do I prefer Coors Lite. Okay, okay. There is one situation in which I do prefer Coors Lite. That is when I host (or play) beer pong. There. I said it. I do play beer pong (sometimes) and that is the reason that a Coors Lite beer landed in my prized chocolate pie. Well, that and the fact that my refrigerator was obviously packed to over-capacity.

For the record, although an ugly wound persisted after the beer can was extracted, a generous serving of whip cream fixed the pie up quite nicely. The beer was unscathed.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Gift

Christmas time is here, and along with greeting cards, holiday parties, tree decorating, and lots and lots of great food, we all deal with gift giving. Society has long over-commercialized Christmas gifts and shopping, and we can easily lose the spirit of giving that embodies Christmas. However, I like to search through the torn Christmas wrappings and discarded bows and ribbons to find that nugget of Christmas spirit we all seek. This year I tell our family’s story of The Gift.

The story begins a few weeks before Christmas as invitations fly out to Christmas-themed parties. Both my twenty-something kids are attending the same gathering: An Ugly Christmas Sweater Party. Yes, wear that hideous sweater with garish yuletide motifs—a reindeer or a jolly ol’ Saint Nick. Extra bells or ribbons for adornments are a plus.

Now, my daughter has a particular problem or two. One, she finds it difficult to pick out clothing that is inherently ugly. Two, she ran out of time to scavenge the local thrift shops and second hand clothing stores. When her boyfriend’s mother volunteered to send her an ugly sweater, dear daughter said yes. A few days later, she received not one, but two ugly sweater candidates.

Well, apparently boyfriend’s mother has the same problem as daughter. The two sweaters she sent were perhaps a bit out of style. But they were not ugly. In fact, one was a soft red sweater with a fake fur collar. Would I wear this? No. But, at one point I am sure this sweater represented the height of wintertime elegance. The second sweater was a plain wool sweater-jacket with gold buttons. The shoulder pads screamed “no longer fashionable” and the straight cut was something, well, something my mother-in-law might like. In fact, daughter and I looked at each other and said, “Yes, Grandma would really like this. It’s perfect for Christmas.”

This red sweater-jacket was, in fact, in perfect condition. We took it to the dry cleaners for good measure and carefully wrapped it with paper and ribbon. On Christmas Day, Grandma opened her gift, fell in love with it, and immediately put it on. It fit perfectly. And it was a perfect Christmas sweater and a perfect Christmas gift.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Food Preparations

One year Christmas dinner was a thrown-together pasta, bread, and salad meal. My excuse was that we were in Cabo at the time. I don’t cook in Cabo. Other years we join the cousins at their home and my contribution is a pie or two. But this year Christmas dinner is at our house. I look forward to the planning and cooking. Indeed, hosting Christmas dinner is an honor.

Over the years I have relied on the Los Angeles Times Food editors as a source of great recipes and good food advice. The LA Times has perfected the turkey technique and I am now a fan. The recipe is easy and fool proof: dry brined turkey. Dry brining means that you salt the turkey with approximately one tablespoon for each five pounds of turkey, seal the bird inside a plastic bag, and let the turkey sit in the refrigerator for three days. The salt draws out the moisture, but the moisture and salt are then reabsorbed. When you roast the turkey, the meat stays moist.

Fresh rosemary sprigs
This year I’m adding fresh minced rosemary and thyme to the salt. We shall see, but this should impart a subtle rosemary-thyme flavor to the meat (not just to the skin). The turkey is sitting in the refrigerator, absorbing flavors right now. I just need to turn it and massage it once a day.

Another LA Times classic recipe is Mom Parsons’ Cranberries. I love this recipe. You can make the cranberries days ahead, stick them in the refrigerator, and forget about it. You start with a bit of sugar and water combined with whole cloves, allspice berries, and cinnamon sticks in a saucepan. When the sugar is dissolved, you add the cranberries and cook them until they just pop, about five minutes. You then add the zest of one orange—leaving your hands with the sweet smell of orange just to remind you of the yummy food coming your way soon!

Cranberries popping