Thursday, November 29, 2012

Being Co-Chef

This post should have contained at least a dozen beautifully composed, good-enough-to-eat-off-the-page photos of this year's Thanksgiving feast. It should have featured a dry-brined turkey breast cut into juicy slices (before) and stripped to the bone (after), a heaping bowlful of the best mashed potatoes ever made, and a cheery spoonful of cranberry sauce. There really should be a montage of sweet maple-glazed carrots alongside a savory succotash, sandwiched between our famous rolls and my aunt's sweet potato casserole.

And you should certainly be wiping drool from your chin as you scroll through shots of the cranberry-apple crisp (demolished) and pumpkin cookies with browned-butter frosting. And the nouveau Beaujolais. And coffee and tea. And smiles, laughter, and bellies so stuffed we all practically rolled ourselves home.

I didn't bring my camera this year, and despite my usual blogger's desire to catalogue all the best food in my life I'm really glad I didn't. Because this year... I was co-chef.

Allow me to explain: I've been mommy's little kitchen helper for most of my life, spending time learning at her elbow and mostly getting in the way. I have always tried to help during the holidays and attempt to keep the general level of frazzlement as low as possible. But this year, with some independent cooking skills under my belt (and a new-found relationship with cookbooks), my mother asked me not to "help," not to be a mere assistant, but to actually share Thanksgiving duties with her.

I think I've never been so proud in my life.

And so, alongside this promotion, I decided to leave the camera at home and truly focus on the experience. J was there to crush crackers and provide comic relief, Perkins' nose twitched every time we pulled the turkey from the oven to baste, and we were joined by precious family members: a well-traveled aunt and uncle, a far-flung cousin, and Nana, the last remaining grandparent in our lives. It wasn't the time for intrusive snapshots and cheesy smiles. It was the perfect time for a small family celebration of all that is good in our world.

I guess you'll just have to take my word for the absolutely wonderful meal we shared, and perhaps forgive my vanity when I emphasize just how delicious it all was. There will be other meals to make and document, but this one will survive in my mind without the aid of photographic evidence. Something tells me I'll have no trouble remembering it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sweet & Sour

I love cranberries. Both seasonal and local (for me, anyway), they're the perfect combination of sweet flavor and lingering tartness. They're great for both cooking and baking, add a jolt of flavor to almost any beverage, and even turn everything they touch a vibrant red. Really, what's not to love?

Cranberries also make a lovely metaphor-for-life ingredient, and I'd be a pretty poor food blogger if I didn't point that out. We eventually learn to balance the sour with the sweet, gaining wisdom as we realize that daily life's flavor is enhanced by contrast and growth only comes as the palate expands. In adding a dash of color to brighten our own day, perhaps we improve someone else's.

I would love to share my cranberry-apple crumble bars with you --the inspiration for this post -- but I discovered my camera had zero battery power too late. I whipped up this tangy dessert in a hurry, combining a bunch of recipes and crossed fingers. I needed the outlet, needed to know that I could just hop into the kitchen and come out with something fabulous in a snap. And I did. But the only proof I have is a yummy-scented home and tomorrow's coworkers thanks to a set of batteries that lost their juice. The sweet with the sour indeed.