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Admission: I should be planning what I’m serving for Christmas dinner this year–or at least thinking about planning it–but I’m just not there yet. Part of it is sheer laziness and part of it is being stuck with the ghost of Christmas past. I keep thinking about last Christmas, and how I surprised Mama by ordering these ridiculously expensive (but adorable and delicious) mini-latkes via mail order and serving them topped with a dollop of creme fraiche, some excellent Scottish smoked salmon, slivers of red onion and a sprinkling of capers.

This preparation was, by a long shot, Mama’s favorite way of eating latkes, and I’d have to agree. A topping of smoked salmon and creme fraiche blows plain old applesauce out of the water. We aren’t Jewish, but who cares? I’m not going to let a wee thing like religion come between my mouth and a latke. Something as heavenly as a fried potato pancake deserves devotion of all kinds.

At the time, I suffered a little sticker shock at the expense (and yes, I could have made my own latkes but ahem…lazy) but looking back on it, I’m so glad I served them. They delighted her. And it delighted me that they delighted her.

I don’t think I’ll be able to stomach serving them this year, even though last year, we decided that they’d become a new tradition. So I guess I’m in the market for a new appetizer for our holiday dinner–any thoughts or ideas, readers? Is there something you serve that’s irresistible or a beloved family favorite?

One thing that’s sure to be on the table is Miss D.’s beloved Honeybaked Ham. She loves it too much to restrict it to Easter. The ham is her spirit animal, but I usually like to serve another main dish for some variety–in years past I’ve done pork roasts, tenderloin roasts, racks of lamb (Hella expensive but feels so festive), even full sides of salmon.

Where I really seem to get stuck is on the side dishes. There’s usually potatoes in some form, because everyone loves a good potato dish, but I never feel very inspired by them, you know? And yeah, yeah a green vegetable of some sort…yawn.

If you’re looking for a side dish that’s a little different this year, consider giving this wild rice dish a try. I saw this recipe a few months ago and bookmarked it because it seemed…well…weird. Who roasts grapes? How is that going to work with the balsamic vinegar? Is it sweet or savory?

The answer to that last question is: a little of both. Roasting the grapes concentrates their sugars a bit, and the balsamic glaze is both sweet and tart–when you put them together, it’s really surprisingly good. I love the heartiness of the wild rice, and the pecans add a lovely, meaty richness. I’m not a huge fan of sage, but I have to say, I thought it worked here. If you are truly anti-sage, I think fresh rosemary would be brilliant in this.

I thought the contrast of flavors in this were kind of addictive. I ate it warm, at room temperature and even cold as leftovers and it was yummy no matter what. I think I liked this more than my husband, who thought it was a leeetle weird for his taste, but that just meant more for me. This dish is really pretty if you use both red and green grapes and it would look fabulous on your holiday buffet table. It’s particularly suited to poultry dishes, so if you’re one of those people who serves a holiday bird, definitely consider this.

As the holidays grow nearer, I’ll keep you posted on menu progress…heck, maybe I’ll just throw all caution to the wind and serve a big pot of spaghetti and meatballs or a groaning pan of enchiladas. I have a feeling that this year, anything goes.

I’m even baking dessert this year, which I never, ever do. Dessert is always my one purchased holiday item, usually specialty chocolates or a fancy tart, but this Christmas, my pie-loving husband has requested chocolate bourbon pecan pie. Yikes! Me + pastry usually = disaster, but I’m going to give it a shot. If it’s a bust, at least I’ll have a good story, right? But I am going to get some backup chocolates, just in case!

Hope you all are looking forward to the holidays, and even if you’re struggling a little like I am, I hope you can find ways to get into the spirit and enjoy the comfort and love of your family and loved ones.

Now if only someone would offer to do the wrapping for me…

Anyone?

Hello?

 

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Wild Rice with Roasted Grapes and Pecans

from Cook Fresh

serves 6

 

1 cup wild rice or wild rice blend

Kosher salt

2 cups seedless red and green grapes

1 tablespoon balsamic glaze, such as DeLallo*

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium shallot, finely chopped

1 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

 

Bring a quart of water to a boil in a 4-quart saucepan. Add rice and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir, cover pan and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook until rice is tender but the grains are not split open, about 45-55 minutes. If using a rice blend, follow package directions for cooking. Drain rice.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees.

Line an 8×8-inch baking dish with foil. Toss grapes with the balsamic glaze and roast until grapes are soft but still hold their shape, about 15 minutes.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook 3-5 minutes or until softened. Stir in the pecans and syrup and cook until syrup coats pecans, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the sage.

Add the rice, grapes, lemon juice and pepper to the saucepan and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

*If you can’t find balsamic glaze, you can make your own by boiling 1/4 of a cup of balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan until it’s reduced by half and syrupy.

{ 2 comments }

Humbuggery

November 29, 2016

It was pretty easy to spend Thanksgiving mostly in denial. It was a beautiful day in Hawaii, and the girls spent a good part of the day frolicking in the ocean and squealing every time a massive wave nearly bowled them over. They had enough sand in their swimsuits at the end of the afternoon that we almost could’ve made another beach.

We shared a leisurely breakfast with Daddy-o, and met up again for a sunset dinner in Lahaina, which was an ideal situation, since he could indulge in his beloved turkey dinner and I could thoroughly avoid eating it. We reminisced about Thanksgivings past, and I reminded him of the year Mama forgot about the pot of boiling turkey stock on the stove. She’d left the pot on full boil for nearly an hour as she busied herself with setting the table and laundry, and all of a sudden, she heard a sharp crack and a loud boom! The pot had boiled dry and gotten so overheated that it (and the ceramic cooktop on the range) cracked and exploded, sending remnants of vegetables and turkey parts airborne all over the kitchen. Insurance ended up covering it, but boy, was Mama mad! Daddy didn’t remember the incident until I reminded him what she’d said to the insurance guy when he came to look at the mess.

“This whole mess is due to sheer stupidity,” she said, chagrined.

“That’s okay, ma’am,” he replied. “We cover stupidity.”

There was also the Thanksgiving that we had a huge snowstorm the day before, and subsequently, our refrigerator died. Mama and I trudged through knee-deep snow, arms laden with casserole dishes of stuffing and Waldorf salad to the next door neighbors’ house, and what we couldn’t store there, we stuck in the snow in the backyard. Snow makes an excellent impromptu chiller for chardonnay and champagne.

It was lovely to laugh together about those stories, but there was definitely sadness there, too. Daddy admitted that it had been a hard day. Thanksgiving has always been his favorite holiday, and Mama always worked so hard to make him his favorite things and make the day special. This first one without her, even in a setting as lush and breathtaking as Maui, stung deeply.

We came home the day after Thanksgiving, while Daddy headed to Kauai for an additional week of warmth.

Then it was my turn to face reality, and boy, did it ever suck.

Perhaps I didn’t do myself any favors by insisting that we decorate the house for Christmas so soon after Thanksgiving, but in all honesty, I just wanted to get it over with. I wanted to do it for the girls, because they love the way the house looks all gussied-up for the holidays. It made sense to do it early, so they could enjoy it longer. It also made sense because my husband was post-call Monday, and offered to help me with the task (proof again that he’s a keeper).

What didn’t make sense?

How terribly, horribly, monstrously mean I felt on Monday.

I woke feeling growly and bitter, and the day went downhill from there. The microwave, which had been acting spooky for several weeks, decided to short out yet again. Hubs went down to test the Christmas tree, and only the top half of the tree would light. It’s one of those pre-lit jobbers and it did the same thing last year, but after some tinkering, we got it to work last Christmas. No such luck this year. The thing was a dead horse.

“Jesus, does anything fucking work in this house?” I grumbled.

Off to SuperTarget we went, in search of a new microwave and crummy, pre-lit tree. And while I should have been grateful that my husband was on hand to help me haul two giant boxes onto carts and into the house, I was foul. Just refer to me as She Who Seethes Through the SuperTarget.

“You’re being awfully quiet,” my husband said to me in the car.

“What the Hell do you expect me to be chatty about?” I snarled back.

We got home, got the tree up, and I went downstairs to gather the rest of the holiday decorations. I could only find half of them. This happens to me every year. I think I’ll remember where I’ve stowed every Christmas knick-knack, but inevitably, I forget. Usually, it’s annoying. This time, it threw me into a full-fledged rage. I slammed through the house, cursing mightily. My husband wisely hid out in the study until I’d located the elusive box of stuff.

A few hours later, my husband looked at the freshly decorated tree and said, “That’s a good lookin’ tree, honey.”

“It looks ragtag as shit,” I spat. “But to Hell with it. I. don’t. care.”

While my¬† husband picked the girls up from school, I unpacked the new microwave. I wrestled the behemoth thing out of the box, stripped away all of the styrofoam and packing material and…no instruction or operating manual in the box. Nowhere to be found.

This was the last straw.

“AAARRRGGGGG!” I hollered, and began kicking the old microwave out of frustration and spite. Kick. Kick. Suddenly, I couldn’t stop. Kickkickkick.

Which is how my kids found me when they arrived home from school. Yelling like a lunatic and kicking the heck out of a defunct kitchen appliance.

“WE ARE TAKING THIS SHITTY NEW MICROWAVE BACK TO THE STORE RIGHT NOW! I AM SO TIRED OF EVERYTHING BREAKING IN THIS STINKING HOUSE! I MEAN IT, IT’S GOING BACK RIGHT NOW!”

The girls looked at me, wide-eyed. They exchanged a sideways glance and hustled outside with the dog.

“Honey, it’s okay,” my husband said softly. “It’s okay. We can take it back. We can do that. I can do it right now. But…I bet I can find the instruction manual on the internet though, okay? If you want me to try to do that first?”

Suddenly, all of the steam and fury seemed to leave my body and my brain in one big whoosh. I leaned into the kitchen counter, exhausted.

My husband crossed the room and wrapped me in a hug. “You miss your mom, huh?” He patted my back. “I’m so sorry you’re missing her today.”

Cue the waterworks.

“I’ve been ROTTEN today,” I sputtered. “I’ve been rotten and an absolute beast and I’m sorry. I’ve just felt so mad–so mad!–today. And I’ve just spent all that time feeling mad and being awful when what I really was is sad. God, I’m so stupid. How hard was it to admit I was sad? I wasted all day being mad instead. I wasted…a whole day. Jesus.”

“Maybe you had to feel mad first, before you could feel sad,” my husband said.

“You’re just being nice to me,” I sniffled.

“Well, whatever it is,” my husband said, “It’s okay.”

And maybe it is, but why did I have to make things so hard?

Are things always going to be this hard?

Am I going to have to exhaust a bunch of other emotions before I can actually reach the one I’m really feeling?

How many bloody carcasses am I going to leave in my wake this holiday?

Don’t know. Can’t guess.

I guess we just have to sit with this, this first year. To hope that we can feel what we need to feel, and still try not to ruin everything.

So we go.

Hoping for the best.

Expecting Humbuggery.

{ 8 comments }

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 24, 2016

 

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Happy Thanksgiving from the Talusani family! Wishing you all a warm, loving, stress-free and delicious holiday.

 

We will spend the day on the beach and sharing delicious food and sharing memories of Mama, who loved Thanksgiving so much. I love this picture of her; she had that turkey baster for over 40 years! It’s now my turkey baster, and while it will never be the same without her, I’ll think of her every holiday when I dig it out of storage.

 

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Mozzy wishes you a happy holiday, too!

wagging

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