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What I'm making this Thursday.
I rarely have the opportunity to put together a cohesive menu for a big meal, which is my own fault. For dinner parties, there’s always something on the table that makes no sense but that I made at the last minute because I worried I wouldn’t have enough food. The last few Thanksgivings, I’ve started with a clear idea that then spiraled out of control. I’ve been learning how to host a holiday, having left the cocoon of Long Island where that’s something for my mom and aunts to do. It’s hard work, making it all look so easy.
Not having turkey has meant almost too much freedom, and so I’ve had the experience of throwing out any semblance of tradition and making a jackfruit curry, as well as serving roasted garlic mashed potatoes amid a dinner that is otherwise drawing from Moroccan tradition. This mishmash ultimately makes me feel incoherent and incongruent, and though everyone ends up happy (and usually quite drunk), I remain in constant pursuit of putting together a perfect menu and sticking to it.
This year, I think I really know what I’m doing. I think I’ve got it down. My mom is coming to San Juan (today, actually). I want to make it nice, and I also want to keep myself under control. I wrote out a full menu of hors d’oeuvres, main dishes, and desserts in my Notes app while at the dog park—a preferred place and method for brainstorming—based on the things I always have in the pantry, the things I have in the pantry that are lingering a bit too long for my liking, and to balance out people’s varied interest in spicy food and preferred carbs.
It’s cohesive enough (the cohesion here being defined as “it’s to my taste”) while still adapting to what’s going to be doable for me and desirable for all. I did, after a strong martini at the Patchogue oyster bar, yell at my mom and husband that I’d be willing to “put butter and herbs under a dead chicken’s skin and roast it if it makes everyone happy”—but that’s not true. I won’t do that; it was just my paranoia about other people’s meatless holiday satisfaction (and the martini) talking. I’m not sure whether that’s how one even dresses a chicken for roasting, seeing as I’ve never done it.
Anyway, you see how cool I am under the pressure of hosting. Maybe I shouldn’t be saying any of this and letting you believe I’m a domestic goddess—though I’m pretty sure no one was operating under such illusions. I’m a domestic human, no more and no less.
I’m going to be testing out the hors d’oeuvres portion of the menu the weekend prior during a tree trimming get-together: local cheeses from Vaca Negra, the fig and walnut cake from Spain that I get at the fancy grocery store, homemade crackers, mushroom pâté, fire-roasted peppers with olive oil, caper berries, and lemon (inspired by chef Camille Becerra).
The holiday dinner menu will include at least two, depending on size, whole-roasted cauliflowers—one with harissa, the other drizzled with a tahini-lemon sauce. This will be the centerpiece. Around it will be classic mashed potatoes, skin on; roasted Brussels sprouts in a tamarind glaze; a big salad of kale and orzo with shallot-sherry vinaigrette and crunchy salad topping (the orzo being something that’s spending too much time on a shelf); a roasted sweet plantain purée with cilantro oil (recipe forthcoming—it could be soup; the way I make it, it’s more a cream); no-knead focaccia topped with caramelized onions. There will also be a rice dish, though I’m waiting for more inspiration.
For dessert, a pumpkin pie in a molasses shortbread crust—I don’t think there’s any better or easier recipe than this one for the filling, though I make a few changes—and my grandma’s carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I have a go-to carrot-ginger cake with lemon glaze, but this year, because my mom sent me many of my grandma’s handwritten recipes, I’ll be doing hers—a classic.
The shortbread dough and carrot cake I’ll likely make over the weekend; they’ll get put in the freezer until ready to go the day before. The caramelized onions, too, Israel will make in advance (they’re his thing). I’ll do the salad dressing and topping beforehand, as well, but I’m looking forward to spending a whole day cooking, Christmas music on, and then figuring out how to keep everything warm in a 20-inch oven that has just one rack. There will be martinis, of course, before we have some nice wines with the meal. I’m even going to write the menu down on stock paper for more elegance and my own satisfaction. I’m in pursuit of goddess status. I’ll let you know how close I get.
There will be no recipe this Friday, as I’m spending the week with my mom. Please look through the recipe index, though, if you need some inspiration. There will be three weeks of holiday desserts to come before the end of the year!
A true dream come true: I talked to Isaac Mizrahi about food and his wildly successful cooking videos for Harper’s Bazaar. I love that he views all of his creative pursuits as coming from the same impulse. This is the way!
Five Books asked me to recommend five vegan cookbooks, and I gave them some perhaps quixotic picks—but I stand by them! This is a good preview of my book, though I did this interview while exhausted (day before vacation) so brain is clearly a bit swirly.
Edible Long Island put out a special holiday issue, for which I wrote about having to travel home for Christmas after spending my whole life in the NYC metro area. (This is the second time an illustrator has been hired to draw my family.)
The Value of a Whale: On the Illusions of Green Capitalism by Adrienne Buller.
See above! Pre-holiday, though, I’ve been relying on things I froze before we left on our trip: a big batch of ayocote morado beans for tacos, chickpea tikka masala, marinara.