Thanksgiving Update!

Thanks to Nonna Stella, we’re good to go.  We’ve been good to go for hours.  Nonna had these grand Italian-American get-together’s, and if I learned my way around the kitchen, it’s thanks to her.  Grazie mille, nonna, grazie mille!

This year’s main contribution?  It is all her.  We’re talking two different stuffings, a la Nonna.

1.  Arborio rice, walnuts, dried porcini, celery, onions, ground chicken sausages, and miso broth.

2.  Polenta, chestnuts, celery, onions, garlic, and miso broth.

The miso substitutes, of course, for chicken broth, and the umami it adds?  Priceless.

The birds are salted, peppered, buttered, and have some rosemary and sage, and are basted now and then with miso and mushroom broth.

Sides: Pigeon peas, fava beans, leeks.

And now we wait.


Thanksgiving Made Easy: Holiday Tips

This is really a no-brainer, connect the dots, easy-peasy holiday, which is why it takes place in most U.S. homes year after year without disaster.  It’s the club sandwich, Bloody Mary, bowl of cereal kind of cooking.  Add milk.

First, buy the bird or birds.  I buy two each year so there are leftovers to go with the good bread and bacon the first morning after the guests have returned to their homes.  You want to buy heirloom birds?  Go ahead.  “Heirloom” has no scientific or culinary significance, and hats off to the marketing people who came up with it, but at twice the price and the same flavor?  You’re better off getting a bird from Amish country in Pennsylvania.

Don’t brine.  Brining adds liquid, of course, which means that the skin won’t be crispy.  And, face it, next to the stuffing, it’s all about the skin.

Instead, add a lot of salt and cracked black pepper and tuck good Amish butter under the skin and cover with foil or cheesecloth and roast at 450 for about twenty minutes and then at 300 for three hours for 12-14 pound birds.  Baste with broth while roasting: Miso or chicken.

Stuffing?  Everything but the kitchen sink.  This year it’s Arborio rice, walnuts, dried porcini, eggs, celery, butter, miso broth, and chicken sausages.

Sides?  Cranberries, leeks, kale, and tiny pumpkins.

Start to finish, the prep is about 30 minutes.  Cooking, as noted, which is the use of the oven and quick stovetop for vegetables, is about 30 minutes.

IPA chilling.

Are we in Japan?

Of course not.  Don’t be ridiculous.  What I mean is: When we apply contextual understanding or appreciation of behavior and actions, what we come up with is a way of seeing the world that isn’t Western, per se.  Here’s one example: The situation is stressful, but you need not be stressed in it.  Ah, so des ne, very Japanese!

Take “Tokyo Story,” the 1953 classic.  Saw it for the first time last night.  Parents visit kids in Tokyo only eight years after the bombings.  What’s said isn’t what’s thought and so on.

With food it’s much the same: It is the taste of the the thing or ingredient that matters most, not its origin or place in history.


Although last night we’re talking thick pea soup with chicken sausages preceded by two kinds of Gouda grilled on dark bread.  If that doesn’t say Holland, what does?

But, again, the context has changed and so the meal last night was changed by its appearance at my home in the U.S.


Where To Eat in Boston/Cambridge & Updates

Giulia.  Done.  Best meal by far that I have had in this area in decades.  By far.

I was @ Giulia for dinner on Friday night, my first time there, I’d found it either impossible to get a table before or I was suspicious that a restaurant around here could execute decent Italian food.  But Friday, booking the Early Bird Special @ 5:30, the restaurant said: OK.

Once you get past the initial snootiness at the host/hostess podium, it’s funny how so many Boston restaurants regard Nose-In-The-Air attitude as part of the package, the wait staff was very attentive and well informed.  The room itself, brick exposed and with an open and long bar, is very pleasing to the eye, and the subdued lighting and good music of jazz and some white R&B add something.

The kitchen totally nailed it, start to finish.  Starting with white anchovies and chicken liver crostini and raw oysters and ending with pasta and little clams and pasta with guanciale.

Finally: A restaurant that is ingredient driven, focused, and simple in the best sense.

Meanwhile, in the world of food, my pieces on picnics on trains in Japan, late night dining in Tokyo, cocktails in Tokyo, and the outer markets of Tsukiji are all on their way to Serious Eats and Saveur, respectively.

Which leaves me time to finish my book proposal on Japanese home cooking, research Japanese seasonality in cuisine,  delve deep into my book on family life, and…return to Giulia.

The Ides of November

Yes, I know you know: 39 shopping days left until Christmas, where does the time go?  But I’m not worried and you shouldn’t be either, not when there’s the Internet and you can get something for that special someone within minutes without leaving your home.

How does retail survive?  Right, I know: Men’s and women’s shoes, certain items of clothing, but books?  Music?  Gift certificates?  Bacon from Kentucky?

OK, sure, if you want that wine or spirits, it means, and I hate to say it, a conversation that can last up to a hour with a salesperson.

But by and large, it’s one website after another and with a little research the folks in our family will be delighted.

What am I talking about?  I’m talking about dried fruits and nuts from Bella Viva, bacon from Father’s, salmon from Browne Trading, cheeses from Murray’s, beef from Snake River or DeBragga, and of course Amazon for everything not nailed down.


Back in the Bean

We’re talking pizza, from the wonderful Otto in Harvard Square to the even more wonderful Posto in Davis Square, and when we’re not talking about pizza, we’re at home making turkey chili and burgers.  Keep it simple.  Please.  Keep it simple.

Much of my thinking about this and related matters was encapsulated in a piece in The Boston Globe this week on the difficulty that chefs and restaurant owners are having in this area in hiring cooks and waitstaff.  Let’s see: Ingredients usually not as good as what’s available to home cooks prepared and served by staff that isn’t highly skilled consistently.

You go ahead and drop $200 for dinner.  I’ll stick to pizza.

On a happier note, and still in keeping with home cooking, I ordered my birds for The Big Day.  Seventy dollars gets you two 12-14 pounders, one being the Whole Foods brand and the other Plainville.  I saw that Heirlooms are clocking in at about $75 per bird for 12-14 pounds, but you have got to be kidding.

Sausage, onions, mozzarella, and good tomato sauce on well baked dough from a Blodgett.  Trust me.

In the Soup

It has been nearly 72 hours since I have been back in Boston, and the whirligig of occurrences and the confluence of pithy matters?  Result: Fatigue, perseverance, a longing for pasta.

The menu has not varied much: Pizza, turkey cheeseburger, chicken and apple sausage sandwich on bread with sambal oelek.  The one new addition, influenced by Japan, is a really delicious, umami-rich dressing on mache and romaine hearts.

The dressing: A half teaspoon of good miso (Hokkaido) with bits of barley, a teaspoon of sesame paste, about an eighth of a cup of mirin, water to dilute.  Stir.  Wow.  Trust me: Wow.

Not that this nor the sparrows, screeching bluejays, and frantic squirrels compensate for what’s missing.

But you know what?  There is always something or someone missing.  That’s a kind of thinking that leads to some sorta phil-os-o-phy, y’know, y’know.  The idea being that contemplation is in itself the act rather than an action.  Apply that to all sorts of situations and you will find, you just might find, you’ll find, you get what you need.

After all, to the dramatic, emotionally charged among us: It’s called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and not Emotional Behavioral Therapy (EBT).

You can’t cook with emotion.  You need a plan.


This Taste Bud is For You

It’s been 36 hours in Boston, after 12 days in Japan, and of course this means pleasant disorientation, a big pot of hot coffee each morning, fatigue at five P.M., and full consciousness at 4:30 A.M.  Thank goodness, last night, for oven baked and panko crusted onion rings, a salad of mache and romaine leaves in homemade miso dressing, a turkey cheeseburger, and ice cold gin.  Oh, and “Homeland.”  Mustn’t forget “Homeland.”

Just when you thought there was no more to be said about paranoia, enter “Homeland.”

Meanwhile, here in the tropics of New England, with crickets chirping in November on the 6 A.M. walk, my taste buds gain vigor.

Coming from a country where religious-military principles are applied to food, it’s tough to adapt to a place where expediency and convenience dictate the terms.

By religious-military principles, I mean: Discipline, timing, raw power, and adornment chiefly to indicate rank.   Pragmatically, this means knife skills to create dishes are paramount; seasonality and even micro-seasons are critical; the ingredients are what matter most rather than the chef; and, if there is something on the plate it must have a purpose.

A Cure for Jet Lag

Oh, sure, a cure for jet lag.  Very simple: Embrace exhaustion, drink lots of water, take naps.

Meanwhile, post Japan, having arrived in Boston late yesterday afternoon, and made my way home by subway and on foot, it was hours, post fire, post pizza, before I settled in.

It takes at least a week before my taste buds lose the memory of food in Japan.  Until that time, everything tastes kind of bland.

So we’re talking pizza and pasta and prayers.

The Narita Experience

After picking up eki-ben @ 東京 Station–Crab & Pressed Salmon–it was time to get on the bus to the airport.  Clear skies, Fuji-san visible, so they stay, and a blissful delay so that I can enjoy my bento, purchased yesterday in Ginza, of yakitori, including tsukune, and a couple of cold ones.  Nice.  Very nice.

And now time to hit the road.