more thanksgiving

So, my kids are at their dad’s until tomorrow; my husband’s kids are with their mom until tomorrow; tomorrow the hordes descend and we will have 7 people in a 1600 square foot house for 3 days heavenhelpus.

Today, though, we slept in (10), and have been puttering around all morning. The pumpkin is roasted for the pie, the Christmas cake is in the oven (recipe below), hubby is doing extensive research on the life of Saul Bellow after I read a review of his new book of letters in the NYTimes Review of Books.

We still need to wash sheets and towels, clean the bathroom, get the porch furniture off the, well, porch (and the tiki torches; tiki torches still out on November 25!), and I need to practice for hours to prepare for Sunday’s concert (Franck Sonata for PIANO and violin).

But a good day.

I’ve been thinking, as I putter, about the holidays past, especially those of my adulthood, and the wonderful friends I’ve shared them with.

JF and countless Thanksgivings (to her mother’s great chagrin) — we had a tradition of making butter cookies cut out in the shape of turkeys and elaborately decorating them with orange, yellow, red, and brown frosting; then we would make Christmas cookies together and she would take some home with her. Her mother, a terrific food snob, would refuse even to touch the cutouts, and if she wanted a pfeffernuse or springerle or schnecken which happened to be nestled under a cutout, would ask J to move the cutout out of the way for her. Last night J texted me for wine advice for the best stuffing recipe ever (New Basics Cookbook), and when we see each other we go to the bookstore and buy each other’s children books for Christmas, even if it’s August.

Tammyguck (Tammy + Chuck through the mouth of a 2-year old, now 20) — every holiday from around 1986 to 1996 was shared in one way or the other. We were there one Halloween evening while Guck had Phantom of the Opera on really loud on the stereo and some trick-or-treaters were afraid to come to the door. They live in California now (Tammyguck, not the trick-or-treaters); saw Tammy for the first time in 8 years last summer. She looks exactly the same as she did in 1986. Despite this, I was very happy to see her.

These thoughts lead me to thoughts of other wonderful friends, many of whom have gotten me through some pretty difficult times in my life — JK, MS, especially. I don’t know what I would have done without you.

One has only to click here to see some of the articles talking about how psychologically and physically beneficial it is to have close friendships. Even Oprah thinks so, so it must be true. They provide emotional support, honesty and advice and sympathy and recipes, they let you know that you are not alone in the world. I’m very lucky, and very grateful for my friends, and hope that I have been as good a friend to them as they have been to me.

And now for the recipes:

The Best Turkey Stuffing Ever, from The New Basics Cookbook

Cut a large loaf of bread into 1″ squares; spread in a pan for 10-12 hours to dry out. Put in large mixing bowl.


3 c. chopped celery, with leaves

2 c. chopped onions (good if 1/2 is a sweet onion)

in 2 T. vegetable oil over low heat until softened but not browned, ~ 10 minutes. Put veggies in the large mixing bowl with the bread.

Brown 1 lb. bulk sweet Italian sausage in pan from the vegetables, breaking into chunks. Add to mixing bowl.

Add to the bowl:

2 tart apples, cut into 1/2″ cubes

1 c. toasted and chopped hazelnuts

1 c. dried pitted cherries

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1 tsp. dried sage leaves

freshly ground black pepper.

Toss together.

Mix 1 c. tawny port (or Gamay Beaujolais, or Marsala) and 1 c. chicken stock.

Add liquid to dressing and toss, smush together with hands until “stuffing” consistency.

Stuff the turkey (but not until right before ready to put it in the oven), and put the remaining stuffing in a bowl and cover with foil.

Roast the turkey at 325˚ on a bed of celery ribs, carrots and onion, basting occasionally with melted butter + 3/4 c. tawny port or the wine you used above, every 15 minutes for the last hour. Roast the remaining stuffing for the last hour, basting with turkey juices once in a while.

Sheriji’s Christmas Cake (adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

This recipe has the unique and wonderful direction near the end; it’s how I recognize that I’ve found the recipe every year when I’m trying to remember which cookbook it’s in (I have several, dozen).

And all candied fruits must be removed from the premises before beginning. It would truly be tragic if any accidentally made their way into this cake, for all involved, directly or indirectly.

Put 2 sticks of butter into your mixer and turn it on at medium speed. Allow to beat for a long time so the butter is really smooth and creamy.

While you’re waiting for this, sift together:

3 c. flour (I use a scant 3 c. of whole wheat)

1 tsp. each: baking powder, cinnamon, grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp. each: baking soda, mace, ground cloves

1/4 tsp. salt

When butter is smooth and creamy, add 2 c. dark brown sugar, and beat 3-5 minutes until lighter in color and texture. Scrape the sides of the bowl at least once so that you are sure all of the butter and sugar are fully incorporated.

Add: 1/2 c. dark molasses, and the grated zest and juice of an orange and a lemon.

When well blended, add the flour mixture in 3 parts alternating with 3/4 c. brandy in 2 parts, beating on low speed and scraping occasionally to make sure everything is worked in.

Then add, gently:

2 c. currants

2 c. raisins (regular or golden)

2 c. dried figs cut into small pieces

You can also add 2 c. walnuts and 2 c. dates, but I don’t like either of these, so I just leave them out.

Put into 3 8-1/2″ bread pans that have been well buttered. Bake at 300˚ for 3 hours. “The cake may appear done at 2-1/2 hours; simply ignore this.” It does say that if the cakes are starting to brown significantly at 2-1/2 hours you can make a foil tent over the top of them. I have done this.

Cool in the pan on the rack for an hour, then remove from the pan. Be very careful about this — they tend to fall apart.

These are good right away, but even better if you make in November, wrap them in cheesecloth, and brush the cheesecloth with brandy every week or so for a month to get them good and drunk just in time for Christmas.

Thanks for reading! I have almost 200 regular visits each day now, and am really enjoying the comments and conversation.

Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

May your turkey brown perfectly, may your champagne fizz delightfully, and may your J, Z, or Q be useful on a triple-letter or triple-word score.

Ah, scrabble. (Click on and watch — it’s one of the funniest things ever.)

12 Responses to “more thanksgiving”

  1. November 25, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    We are in a similar state of busy, and we aren’t having all those people over for T-giving, but we are for Christmas, which is even crazier in some ways. And I love love love the Franck Sonata. Richter/Oistrakh ismy favorite recording, but I have about five versions in my iPod right now. For this autumnal time of year, though, nothing beats Brahms late piano music, Opp. 116-119.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. November 25, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Mintz and Bronfman is pretty good, too. And Brahms Op. 118/6 — saddest, most beautiful thing ever written.

  3. November 25, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    I wish I had your music skills and the knowledge that goes along with that. Sounds like I’ll have to go exploring Brahms! But I’m glad I don’t have your large family gatherings. We might end up with 10 people for Christmas lunch and that prospect does not fill me with joy.

    Sheriji, you wrote:
    And all candied fruits must be removed from the premises before beginning. It would truly be tragic if any accidentally made their way into this cake, for all involved, directly or indirectly.
    I’m a vegetarian, and in Australia most “Candied fruits” are really gelatine based collections of food dye, so they’re off my menu, for sure. But what do you have against them? And you don’t like dates!.. or walnuts!! that’s crazy talk!!! 🙂

    • November 25, 2010 at 5:41 pm

      I’m actually looking forward to the “horde.” The two oldest are off at college and we don’t see them enough, and it’s fun now that everybody gets along vs. when my older sons were younger and fought ALL THE TIME.

      My extended family — siblings + spouses + children is close to 40 people, so 7 seems pretty tame. We at least have an opportunity to talk to each other.

      As for the aforementioned ingredients: candied fruits, taste, to me, like chemical-coated bits of plastic; dates either like something you might clean out from under your toenails or petrified ear wax (I’m not sure which, as I have actually consumed neither, but am just “supposing”), and walnuts are too bitter — they taste a little like feet. Or is that pecans? I tend to get them mixed up — one tastes like dirt, the other like feet; neither lend themselves, imho, to a good fruitcake.

      Sorry! Hope I haven’t ruined anything for you. :-}

      • November 25, 2010 at 6:14 pm

        40 people – OMG!!! That’s horrific.

        7 is indeed tame by comparison, but I’m really not usually comfortable with more than 3 or 4.

        Re. dates: I think it depends very much on how fresh they are and the quality. The best dates I’ve ever eaten came from Bam in Iran. I’m sure even you would have liked them 🙂

  4. November 25, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    and one other thing….Sunday’s concert (Franck Sonata for PIANO and violin). I guess you’re saying that you are the piano? I’d like to hear a little about the concert if you don’t mind saying. Is it a special occasion or “just” a regular event? What other items are on the program? Who is the violin…i.e. what relationship do you have with them? Are they easy to play with compared with other people?

    • November 25, 2010 at 5:56 pm

      Yes, I’m the pianist, and the piano part is WAY more difficult than the violin part; hence the capitals.

      It’s part of a chamber concert series in the town where I live; it’s the first time I’ve performed with this person, but he and I and his wife (a cellist) are doing a trio recital in January (Mendelssohn D minor, Dumky). The other pieces are what I call “flash and dazzle” — Wieniawski Tarantella, Paganina La Campanella.

      I’m performing again the next Sunday for the same series with a different violinist — 1st movements of Brahms 1st sonata, and Mozart G Major, 2nd movement of Beethoven G Major, and some cheese/schmaltz — Moon River, Radiohead’s Creep.

      Lots of notes to learn; keeps me off the streets. 🙂

      • November 25, 2010 at 6:59 pm

        I know someone who is a friend of Australian pianist Gerard Willems who is a Beethoven specialist. I have a recording of him playing the Emperor. I fantasise about what it would be like to have him for a father or partner – someone who can play with such delicacy and passion must be a man in touch with his emotions. And surely the house would be constantly filled with beautiful piano music, not with the sounds of television or rap music.

        But then I think…”maybe the piano music filling the house is actually him going over the same 2 or 3 bars hundreds of times….maybe someone who can play with such passion, flies off into a rage if there’s too much dust on his piano lid?

        What’s the reality of living in the house of a professional pianist? (well, the professional pianist, Sheriji, anyway, one could presume they’re not all the same!) Is it the heaven of my fantasy or the hell of my pessimistic suspicions?

        • November 25, 2010 at 7:49 pm

          I guess if you really want to know what the reality of living with a professional pianist, you would have to ask my husband. (tee hee)

          I think it’s actually quite a bit of both. When I’m first learning something difficult there’s a lot of repetition; I’ll hear him start to whistle along (he knows everything I play) and then I feel badly when I stop and go back and do it again and again and again.

          I never!!! fly off into a rage if there’s dust on the piano. WAY more important things to worry about than that. I might splunch around on the keys when I get really frustrated about something not going well and then break into a bar of Chopsticks, which is, I’m sure, entertaining for everyone.

          I also very rarely put music on to listen to — too much music in my work day. If my husband is home for a day when I’m going off to work he has the stereo blasting Mahler (or Bach, Wagner, Beethoven, Josquin, Diane Krall, Barbra Streisand, etc.) before I’ve gotten into my car, and it’s still going when I get home 5 or 6 hours later.

  5. November 25, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    We are taking it easy today. Relaxing . . if such a thing is actually possible anymore. LOL

    And we have not decided on music for tonight. Which could range from Zappa to Brubeck to Stravinsky. Suggestions always welcome. Enjoy your blog by the way. It’s nice to know some sane people are still out there in this world.

  6. November 26, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    That stuffing recipe is my absolute favorite! The chocolate fudge is also to die for in that cookbook, although it adds 10 lbs to my butt just looking at it…

  7. December 1, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    I love your wording in the thanksgiving post, also in the post about the kid murdering that girl. It’s really unbelievable what some people can do with there own hands. For those of you who have husbands/boyfriends, read my wordpress blog and act like you know what your talking about!! LOL http://www.byesline.wordpress.com

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