The Independent Life of Hearts and Hands

I have a perfectly good reservation tomorrow at M. Wells, a more than good restaurant. An excellent restaurant. And yet.
I walked over the bridge to Brooklyn and starting feeling up the turkeys at Key Food. The ones in front were frozen. “HEY!!” I started looking for people with a name tag. “These are frozen over here. That’s not right to sell people frozen turkeys the day before Thanksgiving. It is 3 o’clock. That is not going to defrost for dinner.”
I don’t need a name tag. It is obvious who I am.
They have excellent customer management at Key Food.
The guy didn’t even lift a lip at me. He was even friendly-ish.
“Unfrozen are right behind those.”
“Oh.”
“Do you tell people that?”
“Sure.”
“Okay.”
I waited around a minute in case anybody needed unsolicited help and then decided I needed to buy one for myself. Just a little one; an 8 pounder. How could I not roast a turkey for Thanksgiving. And braise a few artichokes with leeks; maybe serve that with a little Camembert. Got to have a cheese course. And potatoes. I already have the cranberry sauce.
I walked my friend Mary home from school and talked her into taking the first half of the turkey tomorrow when it comes out of the oven. She told me there was no way she was agreeing to that. But Mary is tired, and I am way better at arguing than she is. She had ordered a chicken.
No way.
I said, “Listen, you take the turkey for the first act, whole for dinner. Give me the leftovers on my way home from the restaurant. It doesn’t make any sense that I wait to give you the second half, just because you want the second half. I am eating my turkey out of the fridge. You need yours for dinner.”
“I don’t need it. I have chicken.”
“Freezing a chicken is easy. Open the freezer and throw it in.”
“That is ridiculous.”
“No, it’s not. It is logical. It is just a matter of who gets which half.”
Mary has excellent friend management. She agreed with me.
We both went home happy. I get to cook a turkey and she doesn’t have to.

Hearts and hands have a life of their own.

Roast the Turkey

It would be easy to write about family, if you didn’t have to write the truth.
I have been trained to let truth go, like a balloon that slips from your wrist and floats away.

My senior year of high school my English teacher, Ms. Davies said to me,
“Faye, when you put your pen to the paper, you have to write the truth.”
I thought about it for a moment. “I can’t,” I said.

I thought about why I loved Ms. Davies. I loved her for her honesty. She was a little bit mean, sharp as a whip, loved words and used them better than anybody I knew. She had a sense of humor that could win wars. She preferred
wrap skirts with a turtle or whale motif, edged in contrasting fabric. She was on the edge of overweight. Her hair was cut into a highlighted, practical, perfectly formed shag with two curls flattened by each ear that never moved. I imagined she was afraid of nothing. She invited us all to her house and made cherry pie bars with a graham cracker base, a cream cheese filling, and a can of cherry pie filling poured over the top. She had a sweet tooth.

The truth in my house was not allowed. They didn’t like it.
It was too loud to hear and too ugly to look at, like car wrecks. That is why the police rope those things off.

My stepfather denied it. He was like Trump, or the former USSR, whom they told us, rewrote their history books.
My mother would flat out shut it down.
“I don’t want to know about that.”
My grandma would get you to watch her color TV. Or offer up cake. Her motto was, “just don’t think about it.”
In my family I am known as the one who doesn’t speak. I became the best at it.

My ex husband, when he decided to leave, preferred that I not mention it in public.

So.

All these years later, I hear
Ms. Davies talking to me. And I don’t know.

So.

I am going to make a video about how to cook a turkey.

To start:

Cranberry sauce is a perfect thing to make first for Thanksgiving. If you made it now, it will last at least 10 days in the fridge because of the sugar. A bag of cranberries costs $2.48, so if you have to throw the whole thing away, because it doesn’t turn out the way you want it, it is not going to kill you. Remember that. The only thing that can kill you here is if you forget you are cooking and leave the premises and the house burns down. If you undercook the turkey or you put too much stuffing in the cavity, you can feel like it is going to kill you, but even that is possible to recover from. So try to relax.

Cranberry sauce is also the perfect thing to practice getting crazy with, which on any front, either works or it doesn’t. It could give you great confidence in diving off the deep end and laughing at Tradition in the face, or you might just as easily find yourself holding on to Tradition like a baby holds his mother’s hand in the eerie dark of an amusement park after mixing candy apples and fried dough with ropy rollercoaster rides.

Every single year I decide I am going to reinvent the menu and I get lost in a sea of wild ideas about turkey and everything that goes along with it. The thing is, when this happens, I am usually looking at the ceiling; way before the sun or reason has woken up. By the time I am at the stove, if I am truly honest with myself, all I really want is butter. I am telling you, butter, cream, salt and pepper is all you need. So start with the cranberry sauce. Go crazy with the cranberry sauce, and that will either cure you or, you know–more power to you–set you sailing.

I decided I would add apples, fresh ginger, dried figs and lemon. I started with a cup of cranberries, because I am super cheap. If it wasn’t going to work, I wanted the other half of the bag to try again. I added everything at once with a few drops of water, and about a third of a cup of sugar. I simmered it for about 10 minutes. I immediately had to add more water. After tasting, I added a few tablespoons of sugar. Cranberries just need sugar to work; there is no getting around it.

What I liked:

the figs. they were a sweet surprise every time I hit one. I wasn’t convinced though, that the seeds of the figs worked. They got in the way a little. I thought about switching to dates. The flavor of the figs cried on my doorstep, so I in the end, I kept them.

the ginger. I added too much. I am that person that decides if I love something, give me all I can get. That is a mistake. I had already added the ginger, so to slow the train down I added a few more cranberries, and kept it cooking for a little longer to temper the flavor. That worked.

the lemon. I would add a strip of peel (minus the pith) next time as well.

What I didn’t like:

the apple. Funny, that. Apple and cranberry are such a natural combination, but the thing about apple is, it turns to mush when you cook it, taking away the glisten from the cranberry sauce, and muddying the distinctive flavor of the cranberry, instead of supporting it. I am going to try adding the apple raw, after the cranberry has cooked.

Thanks

This Thanksgiving, Ferdinand and I are going out to eat. I have never been out to eat on Thanksgiving, so it feels like I am going somewhere I have never been. Like Aruba, or Copenhagen. I chose the most magical menu I could find. I am going to wear clothes I would never wear if I were cooking and I am going to eat everything they give me.
I am thankful for my boy who is becoming a beautiful man.
I am thankful for my best friends. They love me always. They don’t care if it’s muddy rivers or the sun melting over mountaintops. There they are.
I am thankful for my cooking. For reasons more than one, but this Thanksgiving, especially for the love it has brought me.

And I don’t doubt that even though I have pretty nice ankles and some good jokes, it was my cooking that hooked him. I roll out dough, throw meat on the fire, simmer soups, and wait for clams to pop with all I have got, just to see him smile.
Cooking brought my heart a home.

This week, I am going to make Thanksgiving for you and you make whatever moves you. Get your apron on.

xo

I have been thinking

In case you are wondering where I have been and what I have been up to, I have been trying to gain weight.
And I have been thinking.
I have been thinking about what the truth is. From the deepest place, the most quiet, and still place, where there is nothing to do but listen.

Maude

do you not know how to edit
when what you know is more than
you should say

how to keep your lips tight

when it has been made clear from the
beginning that there is no place
for noise

or truth

what you think
is a storm at sea
what you feel
is the earth about to open.

I don’t want to know
about the rumbling underneath your skin.

deny it

there is no need for climate change
for Goodness sake

stick to one yarn color.
slate.
not shades of orange from the inside of a flame
not the magenta of rose petals that they use to make a satin tube top
Definitely not the full black of a night sky
so dark you can’t see your hand in front of you when you hold it up.

the color of the night sky can’t be contained in a stitch.
orange breathes.
magenta bleeds.
you are supposed to hold that in.

eat it.

When I was nine

When I was nine and smoking cigarettes with Susan Berringer outside of her house in Wethersfield, she told me she got me a date with kid called Jimmy. I hadn’t asked for a date, but I agreed to it. She asked me if I had been on a date before. “Yeah,” I said.
It wasn’t entirely true, but another kid called Dameon, who had just transferred into my 4th grade class had passed me a note with yes or no boxes asking me to go out with him. I had checked yes and passed the note back. I hadn’t spoken with him since, but I figured it counted.

Susan’s father drove us to the movies by the Carpet Giant. Susan’s boyfriend and Jimmy were waiting out front. Jimmy had long hair and wore a black leather motorcycle jacket. I followed him into the movie. Right before the end of it he put his arm around me. He left it there for a while like a bag of cement, and then he took it back.

After the movie we walked towards I-91, the highway that cuts between downtown Hartford and the Connecticut River. I wasn’t sure what the plan was. We stopped at the barrier and watched the cars for a minute. “So where do you live,” Jimmy asked me. “I live in Hartford,” I said. “Whoa”, he said. “You go to school there?” “Yeah”, I said.

When we moved to Hartford, the general consensus in Wethersfield was that my mother was risking our lives. In the two years that I had lived there, exactly nothing had happened. Ken Noel had twisted the skin on my arm backwards and forwards at the same time, but nothing more than that.
Susan had blow pops in her pocket and she passed them out. Then she asked me how old I was. She knew how old I was, but I told her anyway. They all laughed. She was 11 then, so I suppose she felt a lifetime older, which made being 9 laughable.
She asked me if I would cross the highway. I looked at the highway and smoked my cigarette.
“Just go to the other side and come back,” she said.
“Okay” I said, and I ran.
“Oh my God,” she screamed at me, “why would you do that?”
“You asked me to” I screamed back. Cars drove past between us.
Susan grabbed onto the barrier and the boys took a step away from her. She laughed to break the tension. They broke a smile.
“Are you going to walk to your house from there or are you coming back?” I was miles from home. I wouldn’t have known how to get there.
I ran back.
“You are an idiot.” Susan said. We started walking back to the parking lot. Jimmy said, “You are pretty brave for a 9 year old. What is your name again?”
“It is Faye.”
“You wanna go out, Faye?”
“No” I said. “That is okay.”
After Susan’s father dropped the boys on the Silas Deane which was nowhere near a neighborhood, and before my mother picked me up, Susan told me I had hurt Jimmy’s feelings.
“How?”, I asked her.
She said, “You are such a nine year old.”
When we got home, my mother made a giant omelette and served it in the pan. I made a rabbit salad on Bibb lettuce with canned halved pears, cottage cheese tails, currant eyes, and almond slivered ears.

osso bucco


Taking on braising big boned pieces of meat can feel like you have just been handed the ropes of a sailboat on the open sea with nothing but thin soled boots to get you to the other side.
Don’t worry about it. First of all, you are in a kitchen. There is no figuring out how to collect fresh drinking water from the eyeballs of large fish in case you get caught in some kind of crazy storm. The panic that comes with osso bucco is way more manageable.
Things like:
how to sear
how to get the meat to soften up
or
the low, nagging hum of how to get that depth of flavor that will make you feel like it wasn’t a mistake paying all of that money for a piece of meat.

Start with your stock. Buy organic wings and bring them to the boil in plenty of water with a few stalks of celery, a carrot, a peeled onion, a leek, half of a seeded tomato, a garlic clove, bay leaf, parsley sprig and thyme sprigs. Let that go for at least an hour with a spill of olive oil, or butter if you don’t have good olive oil. (Get some good olive oil.)
Now the sear. Dust the shanks with flour. Give them a good slap so that no more flour than necessary sticks to the meat. Season the shanks on all sides with kosher salt. Kosher salt will give you the most control when you pick it up with your fingers; you are looking for a nice even coating. Get a heavy sauce pan hot on a medium to high flame. Give it a spill of olive olive where the meat will sit. Add the meat. Don’t touch or prod it or push it around. Just let it sit for a few minutes. If you have a nice sized pan, you may be able to get two or three cuts in there, but you don’t want to overcrowd. Now take a peek underneath. You are looking for a deep chestnut color. When you are sure you have it, flip and sear the other side. You may have to give the pan another spill of olive oil. When all the pieces are done, arrange in a roasting pan. Mop out the sauce pan with a piece of paper towel, using a pair of tongs. Dab the pan, leaving the crusty bits. Add a carrot, a stalk of celery, a clove of garlic, and a half an onion per 3 pounds of meat. When the vegetables are starting to stick to the pan, give them about 1 cup of delicious, deep red wine. Nothing sweet. Add about another cup of water, and bring to a simmer. Pour everything over the osso bucco in the roasting pan, adding a few sprigs of thyme, a few sprigs of sage and a bay leaf. Cover with parchment to fit the pan, and aluminum foil. Roast at 350 degrees.
Now you are going to make the soffritto, that will saute, watched closely, for about 40 minutes over a medium flame.
Finely chop two peeled carrots, 4 celery stalks, and two medium yellow onions. Saute in good olive olive oil with two cloves of smashed garlic, a sprig of sage, sprigs of thyme, and a sprig of parsley, until they completely collapse under the pressure of your tooth with no resistance. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Remove the bucco from the oven. Add stock to come about a third of the way up the meat, and all of your soffritto. Remove the large vegetables. Turn the meat over, and re cover. It will need about 2 and half hours total of cooking time, so at this point, you have about an hour and a half left. Check a few more times before it is done. I like to cut a small piece from one of the shanks when it is getting close, to make sure that it is fork tender. When you are there, remove the meat and set aside. Skim the fat from top of the sauce in the pan taste. It may need a little more wine for a bit of sharpness, or it may need a little stock to ease it up a little. You can mount it with a piece of cold butter to make it satiny smooth. Taste again. Pour over the meat and serve with a saffron risotto.

sugar, sugar

My sister is coming. She is not really looking after Ferdinand; Ferdinand is 6’4” and 17 and he goes to bed about four hours later than I do. He also lives across the street from me. But I don’t like the idea that if he needs something, and I am away for a few days, there is no one in my house. So I asked my sister to come and I am trying to figure out what to cook.
The truth is, my sister likes candy. Candy, cake, cookies, pie, ice cream, you know, sugar. She is like me. And like me, she doesn’t like to eat a lot of it, but it makes her happy to know it is in the house. She gets excited by the visuals. So maybe I won’t cook so much as arrange. Because sure, homemade is great, but when you grow up in a house where if you wanted sugar, homemade was the only sugar you were going to get, there is an unexplainable thrill you get from a pack of Oreos.

Back to Betty


When I was seven, I decided to teach myself how to bake with my mother’s 1958 edition of the Betty Crocker cookbook. My mother had friends over one night and they were all sitting in the living room; I came in crying with a saucepan full of cement.
“It’s a rock,” I said. My mother took a look in the pan and was unimpressed. “You used flour instead of sugar–I’ve done that; just try again.” Then she turned to her friends and said, “She is working on her caramel filling.”
My mother knew she had little time and less patience, and so she offered books; Greek Mythology, Are you there God, it’s me Margaret, Simplicity Sewing Skills and Betty Crocker. I slapped the Betty Crocker on the table for support and was sucked in full throttle. I read the fine print. It was a Come to Jesus.
In the Betty Crocker test kitchens, they loved their food, and their outfits were full on serious. White shoes, white stockings, white dresses, white hats, and white aprons. There was a buzz of camaraderie, confidence, sensible directions and a tangible deliciousness that floated from the pages into my swelling, seven year old heart.
I now know that Betty Crocker was a sales pitch for Gold Medal flour and all I can say is, it was a damn good campaign. I learned how to make caramel sauce and I memorized the tips.
Tip #1: always bring something unusual to a dish. It was implied that this would keep your man happy. I don’t mind that. It was also implied that it was the to way to make cooking your own. That is vital.
Fast forward to last Saturday night. I was in the homestretch of dessert, which was that apple tart tatin with creme anglaise. Common knowledge calls for a baking apple for this kind of thing. Ditch it. Say what you want about golden delicious, but they are the best for a tart tatin. I would stand up and compete with that. You are also supposed to cook the apples on the stove top for about 30 minutes. No way. Are you making it with apples or applesauce? Make your mind up. 15 minutes tops on the stove to caramelize, before they go in the oven. There are chefs who would close shop if they had no vanilla bean for the creme. I say, keep your boots on; in America, unlike France, we have beautiful extract. Truth: It will never give you what the bean gives, but it will take you halfway. For the other half, my go to Faye Standard, the bayleaf. Throw it in the warming cream along with an unpeeled knob of fresh ginger. Autumn in Anglaise.
Thank you, Betty.