Autumn in New York? No, it’s Vacaville! (and…Happy Thanksgiving!)

You may already have an inkling of how much I love fall.  Cool weather, rain, sweaters–I love all of it.  And now, Vacaville is doing Mother Nature proud.  We are amassing quite a quantity of the most gorgeous autumn colors.  Hard to believe these pictures are taken here in Vacaville. Look how picturesque we are!  This could be some little town in New England.  I’ve heard that the fall color is diminishing in the eastern states due to climate change.  Maybe we’ll get to have our own fall color now.We won’t talk about the fact that the Christmas banners are already up downtown.  The city is probably just being efficient.  But look!  It’s just so pretty!Okay, last one, this time of one of my favorite haunts, the Vacaville Public Library (the old new library, as opposed to the new new library–I love them both).  Yes, we have two.  It’s fantastic.

I’m in the process of getting ready for Thanksgiving.  We are an intimate little group this year, so I tried to decide which of the usual side dishes should get the axe.  Due to extensive lobbying, all  have been spared.  There will be lots of leftovers, that’s for sure.  This way I won’t have to cook until about Tuesday!  What’s the line-up, you ask?  Well, hors d’ouevres are minimal–don’t want everyone filling up, what with all those side dishes on deck.  Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts and marcona almonds are the extent of the pre-dinner snacks.  Oh–and prosecco.  Then we move on to a little salad with pears and blue cheese, with shallot vinaigrette.  We have a jello salad, a vestige from 1967, that we cannot bear to part with (and plus it’s really good–it has a little wine in it!). Cranberries,  just the recipe on the bag.  Rolls–this year I’m trying the buttermilk dinner rolls from the Williams Sonoma book, Cooking at Home.  Sweet potatoes, corn pudding, creamed spinach, brussels sprouts with shallots, peas with bacon and garlic, traditional bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, the make-ahead gravy I made a couple of weeks ago that has been relaxing in the freezer,  and, of course, turkey.  The option of pinot noir or sauvignon blanc to wash it all down.  And then pumpkin pie or pecan pie.  Whew!  My waistband is tightening just thinking about it.  An embarrassment of riches, yes, but certainly nothing expensive or extravagant.

Thankfulness, certainly, is the theme of the day on Thursday.  Hasn’t been a great year, all in all.  But then I look around, and I see so many struggling so hard, and I am thankful we’re still hanging on.  Some months it’s by our toenails, but hanging on we are.  Jean Paul Richter (1763 – 1825) said that “For sleep, riches, and health to be truly enjoyed, they must be interrupted.”  So true!  Maybe these past few years have been our interruption.  Maybe we were a bit complacent, a bit spoiled, and now we are paying a price.  So let’s be thankful for any lessons we learn, however painful they may be, so that we don’t get in this mess again.  And be thankful for families and friends, the most important things of all.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Kindle Fire? Or Gin Lane??

I’m not one for devices.  I could lose my cell phone tomorrow and not miss it.  Sometimes I leave it in my purse and forget to check it for hours.  HDTV?  It’s very nice, but I was fine with LDTV.  I will, however, admit that I do love my iPod.  And now I have another love.  I got an Amazon Kindle Fire (birthday gift).  This morning it was 11:45 and I was still in dressing gown and jammies.  You know that engraving by William Hogarth, “Gin Lane“?  Okay, see that woman on the stairs who looks quite inebriated and seems to have dropped her baby over the railing (the parallel does not continue to her exposed bosom, however–it’s a cold morning and I was in flannel, thank you very much)?  That was me this morning.  But instead of a tin of snuff in her hands, imagine that she’s holding a Kindle Fire.  Kerchief askew, hair in disarray, goofy smile on her lips, environment a shambles…yup, me (well, maybe not the kerchief).  Although I was not loaded on cheap gin (this time), I did have a dirty coffee cup on the table, a full dishwasher, and kids wandering around, wondering what was for breakfast (“I don’t know–a cookie?”), while I browsed.  I reserved two books at the real library, borrowed one book from Amazon’s library, and got a free 90-day subscription to Architectural Digest. I listened to some of my music (it’s hooked up to Amazon’s Cloud, so all my music is automatically on my Kindle) with the surprisingly good speaker.  A waste of time?  Perhaps.  But so fun!  If you are thinking of getting one, at this point I certainly recommend it (it’s not been 24 hours yet since it arrived).  No, I don’t have any information on how well the battery lasts, etc. But it feels good in your hand–kind of heavy, kind of solid feeling.  I’ve never felt an iPad, so maybe that’s how it feels, too, but I don’t know.   It is intuitive to use (which is part of why I like the iPod so much), even for someone like me who isn’t a techie person.  So while some of its attributes (good hand-feel, ease of use) may be borrowed from Apple, the price is much better.  I will use it for surfing, some reading (don’t think I’ll ever give up on paper), and playing on Amazon and the library website.  With usage like that, $500 seems a bit steep for a notepad, which is I think about where the price starts for an iPad.  The Kindle is $200, which is more manageable.   Alright, well, I must put away the metaphorical rot-gut gin and attend to my duties, so that I can get back to doing…uh…other…things.

Yet Another Holy Grail: Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy

Autumnal scenery

Indoor autumnal scenery

And yet more autumnal scenery

Guess what I did today?  I made the gravy for Thanksgiving!   This recipe does not involve jarred or powdered or canned gravy that you enliven with…with…other stuff.  Rather, this uses actual turkey parts you roast yourself.  Is it cost effective?  Not particularly.  Is it worth every penny?  You bet your sweet bippy.

And yes, it is only November 10, but gravy can be kind of hard–it has to be done at the last minute, and it is subject to the whims of your drippings, your flour, your whisking, and your attention span (and maybe your pre-dinner wine consumption?).  When you are making a multi-course dinner for 11 of your closest friends, making the gravy right before dinner is served tends to be a teensy bit stressful.  Lumpy?  Runny?  Not enough?  The mind reels.  For the last few years I have followed the recipe in Ann Hodgman‘s Beat This for Chicken Gravy, except I doubled it (we are big gravy fans, and we like gravy with the leftovers, thank you very much) ad libbed it a little bit, and ended up with Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy.  This is a bit time consuming, but think how glad–indeed, how thankful–you’ll be that you’ve freed up all that pre-dinner potato mashing, cream whipping time.

First of all, buy some turkey parts, say up to a month before Thanksgiving.  This time I bought three turkey thighs and three turkey necks (mostly because all they had at Safeway was thighs and necks).  Thighs make a good amount of drippings, and I used the necks for the stock . You could use wings and giblets (not the liver), too, for the stock, or use drumsticks for roasting. See what they have at the store.

Flour lightly tanned from the oven

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.While you get the thighs ready, put 12 Tbl. of flour on a cookie sheet and put in the preheated oven for 8 minutes.  Remove from oven, stir flour to mix the browned and still white flour together, and return to oven for 4 more minutes. Set aside. Place the thighs, skin side up, on a rack in a roasting pan.  Spread them with a little butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put a little water in the bottom of the pan so that the drippings don’t smoke and scorch and make your oven messy, to boot. Roast the thighs at 425 degrees for about an hour, maybe a little more, depending on how big they are.

How your thighs should look when they are done (well, the turkey's thighs)

While the thighs roast, make the stock:  place in a large stock pot the turkey necks, 2 or 3 carrots cut in chunks, 3 sticks of celery in chunks, 3 large onions cut into slabs, 5 whole cloves garlic, peeled, 2 tsp. whole peppercorns, handful of fresh parsley, 1 Tbl. dried thyme, 2 tsp. dried sage, approx. 30 oz. chicken broth (canned is fine!), 4 cups of water, and 3/4 cup vermouth or white wine.  Bring to a boil, then let simmer for a couple of hours.  Skim the scum on the surface if you need to.  Let the stock simmer until reduced by about one-quarter. When it’s done, pour the stock and veggies through a sieve into a jug or bowl.  Press down on the veggies to get all the juices out, then discard the veggies.  Keep the stock handy.

Stock ingredients

Remove the rack and cooked turkey from the roasting pan.  Place the roasting pan on a low flame on the stove, and start to stir and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan (the “fond“).  If you don’t have enough drippings, which happens often, add some canola oil, a little at a time, until you have approximately 10 or so tablespoons of drippings and oil combined.  Increase the heat, keep stirring, and listen for the drippings to start to sizzle.  Using a fine sieve, start to sift in the

Heating the drippings

browned flour you made earlier, a few tablespoons at a time, into the drippings, stirring the flour and drippings into a paste.  Keep doing this until you have just about 2 Tbl. of flour left, and reserve the 2 Tbl. of flour.  If you are having a hard time making the paste (the “roux”), you could add a little stock to moisten things up and help make the paste.  When all (except the 2 Tbl.) of the flour has been incorporated, start to add the warm (or hot) stock, a ladleful at a time, to the roasting pan.  Start whisking, making sure to keep the growing gravy moving.  Lower the heat if necessary, and keep adding stock until the consistency is, as Ann

Finished product

Hodgman says, gravy-ish.  If it’s become too thick, add a little more stock.  If it doesn’t seem thick enough, sieve the remaining flour, a little bit at a time, into the gravy, whisking well.  Taste the gravy–more salt? pepper? vermouth? garlic powder? thyme?  Keep tasting til you’re happy–you’ll know what it needs.

Let the gravy cool, transfer to a freezer-safe container, and freeze until Thanksgiving (I wouldn’t freeze it for longer than a month).  Let thaw overnight in the fridge.  An hour or two before dinner, place thawed

Ready for the freezer

gravy in a saucepan. It may be much thicker now, so feel free to add some canned chicken broth, a little at a time, to thin it.  Heat slowly over low, then medium-low, heat. Taste for seasoning again.  Pour into a warmed gravy boat.  Be thankful.

Cider, Music, and Movies

Truly a delight, on a rainy November evening….

Some previous day, hopefully you went to Trader Joe’s and bought a bottle of their spiced apple cider.  And at some other point in your travels, hopefully you happened to pick up some Calvados (apple brandy from France).  Now all you have to do is heat the spiced cider in a mug (the microwave is fine–let’s not make more work here), and when it’s done, pour in a shot of Calvados.  I feel quite sure you will be pleased.

And while you are knocking back a spiked cider (or two?) maybe a little something on the stereo?  Maybe Christopher O’Riley‘s Out of My Hands (all piano music–get it?).  Or Tony Bennett Sings the Ultimate American Songbook, Volume 1.  His version of “The Way You Look Tonight” is so lovely, so wistful.  It’s one of my favorite songs, and so different from Frank Sinatra’s more upbeat version (even though I love that one, too).

What about something to read?  I just finished Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility, which I very much enjoyed.  Very F. Scott Fitzgerald-ish, what with an introspective, somewhat cash-strapped, heroine who is caught up in the world of wealthy socialites.  Kind of reminded me of the Nick Carraway character in The Great Gatsby.

Or how about a movie?  It’s still a bit too early for Christmas movies (well, at least for most people, myself not exactly included…), so how about something like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir?  Gene Tierney is so beautiful, and Rex Harrison so dashing (albeit crabby…), it’s excellent rainy-day/night fodder.  Or for something completely different, what about Keeping Mum?  Rowan Atkinson is an absent-minded vicar, Kristin Scott Thomas is his randy wife, and Maggie Smith is their charming, though rather homicidal, housekeeper.

So there you go.  You have all the information you need to have a relaxing, entertaining evening tomorrow night.  Enjoy!

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