Low Cost, Low Crime Christmas

Good people with good intentions have lost their minds and priorities. They waited all night in front of the doors of a Wal-Mart on Long Island, committed to getting exactly what was meant to be gotten on the list. Before the doors opened at 5 am (??) the crowd started to lose control; feelings of holiday peace, love and happiness errupted into a lava hot and myopic pursuit of get-out-of-my-way-that-gift-is-mine.
The doors were never meant for bending. A man hired for the holiday to keep the place clean tried to hold the crowd back until they were meant to come in, and ended up dead under the feet of people with their eye on the sale priced prize.
That is ridiculous.
Think candy popcorn, a cellophane bag and a ribbon. Who wouldn’t be happy with that. It requires nothing more than a quick trip to the grocery store and I can guarantee there will be no fights in the bagged kernel aisle.

Popcorn for Peace:

Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of water, 1/4 cup of honey, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 cup of molasses, 3 tablespoons of butter, and 3 tablespoons of cider vinegar in a heavy saucepan. Stir just until sugar is dissolved. Simmer without stirring until the mixture reaches the hard ball stage (260 degrees or when a drop forms a hard ball in ice water.)

Remove from the heat and carefully stir in 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda (it will foam up and then go creamy).

Pour the mixture over 8 cups of popped corn. Spread on a greased cookie sheet to cool completely. If you really want to go nuts, toast almonds and pecans lightly in a pan, and spread them out with the popcorn. Cover everything with melted chocolate.

“You can make this”, Pumpkin Pie

If you are not preparing for Thanksgiving, I hear you. Thanksgiving is not for everyone. I am getting eye cramps already. If you are preparing for Thanksgiving, pony up and make a pumpkin pie.
There is nothing that is going to make the situation better in a store bought crust. If you don’t like making pie crust, make a shortbread crust–one cup of flour (sift first before measuring), one stick of COLD butter, cut into tiny bits, and a quarter cup of sugar with a pinch of salt. Mix the dry ingredients together, and then rub the bits of butter into the flour with your fingertips until you can’t see any more bits of butter, but not everything is exactly the same size. There will be some larger bits, and some smaller bits. Press this into your pie plate and bake at 400 degrees until just beginning to get golden. Remove from the oven. Make your filling:
Whisk together 2 whole eggs, 1/2 cup of sugar, 3/4 cup of whole milk, 3/4 cup of heavy cream, 1 15 ounce can of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix), 1 teaspoon of cinnamon,
1 teaspoon of ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of cloves, 1/8 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Pour this into the crust, and bake at 350 degrees until a knife comes out clean. Check after 20 minutes. Top with lightly whipped organic cream, or vanilla ice cream.

Thanksgiving menu

These are the questions I am plagued by this time of year: does everybody like poultry or would they really rather have fish, does the menu capture memories, hopes and dreams, is it festive, is it historical, is it local, is there enough variety, too much variety, does it speak to saying Thank You, is it GOOD ENOUGH? I try to pay no attention to this question. I say ask a different question. How about “am I having fun making this turkey” or, does it feel more like an itch that can’t be scratched?
It’s a plus having whatever you make–whether it’s mashed potatoes, art, or making out–be of high quality, but think too much about it, and those mashed potatoes won’t ever make it to the table. The dance shoes will live an I’m-not-ready-yet life in the closet.
I was struggling with this last night. I wrote everything I love on the page that makes me think of Thanksgiving. Pilgrims, big hats, potato chips and dip, roasted chestnuts, pureed butternut squash, duck liver pate, apple pie, creamed onions, stuffing with mushrooms and celery, cranberry sauce with candied ginger, string beans with caramelized shallots and toasted hazlenuts, brussel sprouts with bits of crunchy pancetta, cornbread, biscuits, sweet potato biscuits, oysters, and broccoli rabe (no idea on this one, but no editing allowed.)

And then I panicked. Then I asked what I wanted to happen: a feast. Tradition and taste sensations. A window into what I love.

And then I narrowed it down.

Starter: Either a big plate of garlicky, white winey mussles OR all three of the following:

a new red wine with roasted chestnuts and an Umbrian Pecorino. (tiny, because your people have to keep going)

demi tasse cups of a soup of roasted butternut squash with fried sage. (I have a minute but significant affair happening with fried sage at the moment–I try to get into a menu at every opportunity.)

Pear with organic local honey (something very appealing to me about raw honey and honey reapers)

The main deal:
Roast turkey
Warm bread salad with sauted mushrooms and leeks (make garlic croutons and toss with shrooms, thyme and leeks; saute the mushrooms and leeks separately.)
Brussel sprouts, braised in simmering water with olive oil, thyme, parsley, and a garlic clove until tender. Get your pancetta hot and crispy and then right before serving get the sprouts back onto the heat with the pancetta.
Mashed potatoes and celeriac with cream and butter
String beans with just butter and salt and fried parsley
Oven roasted shallots and onions with red wine vinegar, a pinch of sugar and teeny tiny bit fresh orange juice (caramelize the onions/shallots first in olive oil and season with salt and pepper.)
Cranberry sauce with orange zest (roasted in the oven as well, because of my crush on jamie o.)

a small plate of candied ginger squares from the highest mountain peaks of China for a surprise

Little pots of pumpkin custard with a creme brulee type top

Turkey secrets

I don’t like any secrets, but keeping cooking secrets is ridiculous.
“I know how to cook, but I’m not going to tell you about it.” What kind of sense does that make? Think about saying “I love you baby, but I’m not going to tell you about it.” It will give you cramps and make you constipated. Let it out.

Sear: Once you dry (never wash; just dry) the bird, you can leave it overnight in the fridge uncovered to dry out, to help the skin stay extra crispy. Season inside and out with kosher salt, and sear the bird in a big, heavy frying pan that has been given a good spill of olive oil, over medium heat. If you are worried about a 25 pound bird not fitting in a pan, don’t make a 25 bird. Use 2 smaller ones instead–they will cook faster and won’t have as much time to dry
out in the oven.

Medium oven temperature: Never higher than 350 degrees. A bird likes to roast slowly.

Keep it simple: Here is my mix for a 12 pound bird (double it for 2 birds): 2 apples, each cut into four pieces, 1 onion, 2 heads of garlic cut in half horizontally, sprigs of rosemary, sage and thyme, and one bay leaf. Shove the
herbs and garlic into the bird, and set the bird (once seared) into a buttered roasting pan. Add the onions and apples, and give it a good pour of delicious white wine.

Tie it up: You don’t have to, and there are a million ways of doing it, but wrapping the ankles together with a string is enough.

Keep the stuffing on the side: the turkey will cook faster and be safer. Bake the stuffing on the side in its own dish and then, if you like the stuffing in, then in the last half hour of cooking, shove the stuffing into the turkey.

Baste: and baste some more. Once you get the turkey in the oven, this is no time to abandon ship. Get the snacks out, sip on some Proseco, sit down and read the paper, but don’t leave the kitchen; you need to baste every 15 minutes. I know there are people out there saying every 30 minutes is enough. I’m telling you every 15. Use room temperature water until the turkey starts to make its own juices, and then use the pan juices.

Take it out on time: Cook the turkey to 155 degrees or when a small sharp knife, stuck in the thickest part between the leg and thigh is hot to your lip.

No freaking: This will just make you cry or stop you breathing properly. It’s only a turkey and with all the side dishes at Thanksgiving and all the gravy, you have plenty of room for error.

How do you choose?

I have no idea.
I fall in love at every turn with another carrot, or another potato.
Monday I am consumed with stuffing paper thin pockets of pasta with swiss chard and sheep’s milk ricotta and slipping them into a froth of butter and sage leaves as crisp as new ice.
Tuesday I only want swiss chard straight. With garlic.
And olive oil that was just pressed and moves the blood through me like it has never moved before.

As I open my mouth to say, “my heart beats for the single love of roasted apple tart”…before the week is out I am sipping on a demitasse of chocolate soup. And then there is the truth that after imagining every possible option for the Dinner on Thursday, I am exquistely happy with only a glass of wine and a beautiful cheese.
There would be a lot of people who say “SHAME!!” “Make your bed and sleep in it.” “For the love of peas, will you COMMIT?”
No can do.

(Try the chocolate soup. It is so worth saying yes to. Bring a pint of organic cream to a simmer and chop up nearly a pound of bittersweet Belgian chocolate. Pour the cream over the chocolate. You want to pour in enough cream so that the chocolate has the consistency of a loose mayonnaise. Continue to reduce whatever is left of the cream just a little longer. Pour the chocolate into shot glasses or demitasse cups and drizzle with the remaining cream.

The Butternut Crush

While other girls were busy falling in love with their chemistry teacher, I was in the vegetable aisle counting out my change for butternut squash. All rich and creamy, smooth and sultry and ready for anything–that’s my kind of dance partner. You could fry it up in a pan with chili pepper and garlic or braise it in heavy cream with a few leaves of fresh sage, or introduce it to some nutmeg and pecorino and stuff it in a ravioli. If you like it naked, there is nothing better than steaming it up with olive oil good enough to make you cry, garlic, thyme and shallot until tender and ready for a sprinkle of sea salt, more of the emotional olive oil and a shower of parmesan.
For a squash worth a headache and cancellation of an otherwise so so Saturday night, cut a butternut in half and season with salt, and a good rub of butter on the cut side. Roast at 400 degrees until just tender. Cut each piece in half again, and remove the seeds and skin. Cut into chunks. While you are waiting for the squash to be ready for you, reduce a pint of heavy cream with 2 cloves of whole garlic, a sprig of thyme and a sage leaf over a very low flame. When the garlic is soft, push everything through a sieve. Butter a casserole dish, and arrange the squash pieces with cream poured around them. Bake until golden. If you like a little extra, extra–fry up a few more sage leaves with garlic and homemade grated breadcrumbs. When the squash is out of the oven, sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top. This is great with pork chops and fennel.

Jolted by the Jamie jitters

I would like to give you a clear picture of what happened last night when I went to a book signing for Jamie Oliver–in town to promote his new book, “Jamie at Home”. Before leaving I took a shower. I can never trust myself not to get overwhelmed with love and emotion and go in for a kiss on each cheek–you have to be ready. What I should have been doing was writing myself a short speech so that when I got up to the table with my book after standing in line for forty five minutes thinking about NOTHING, all I could say was “I’m Faye. F-A-Y-E.”
He looked at me and said, “Bless your heart.”
I turned around and walked away. Can you believe that? Me, a candidate for out philabustering the philabusterers on the Senate floor because of my talent to go on like a freight train on a track with no end–could think of nothing to say.
Bless my heart.
Anyways, he wrote “Faye, love Jamie, X” in the inside cover of the book, and that’s good enough for me.
I’m inspired to make beetroot and pear salad and roast great loins of beef with potatoes and make my own mayonnaise. I may even dig up the grass up back and start planting seeds unknown to feed my family. Now that would be a miracle.

Liquid Love

It was one heck of a Tuscan marathon yesterday. Chicken roasting, Prada shopping, olive vineyard vista viewing, olive pressing, foccaccia making, chocolate orgy, of a day. I think I can say we loved it. As soon as we finished breakfast, we started cooking for lunch, wacking whole heads of garlic in half and out the side door to pick rosemary, marjoram, thyme and sage to stuff under the chicken breast before we shoved it in the oven and before we seared it. Because we could, we basted it every 10 minutes with white wine. We had it with a pasta tossed with fresh ricotta, toasted garlic, lemon zest, parsley, Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh arugula leaves, and a dessert of what I call Panna Cotta in truth is much more of our France’s creme reversee. (you can do what you want when you’re the cook.)
There was no choice but to leave all the dishes and make a run for it or there would have been no time to make it to Prada and then up the hill to the groves before the sun set, to the mill to be showered in a mist of olive oil passion and then a much needed break of coffee and sweet things before our pastry class at 6:30.
There is nothing that tops the chocolate room.
Silvio first gave us a chocolate of pure Vin Santo encapsuled by a crackly crystal ball of it’s own sugar, covered by a dark chocolate creamy shell, and flagged with 24 karat gold. Then chocolate in the shape of a demi-tasse, hazlenut covered in chocolate drage, and finally led us to a tap that poured pure, warm, liquid chocolate.
We made it home.
Puff pastry tortoises and Panbriacone for breakfast.

The election results in Mercatale

This morning I woke with Joy in my heart. Jonathan called me up from New York this morning at 6:30 am Italian time to tell me the news and I ran up to hug my friend Caroline and then drove down to the village, running into the bar with my hands waving, saying, have you heard the news?!?! The world has won!!!” and then I drank down my cappuccino without needing any sugar. No one can know where we will go from here, but what an amazing distance we have come.
I had a hard time keeping my focus on making scones and coffee–I just wanted to hug everybody. Still, breakfast was made and then we were off to the market in Umbertide to admire the fresh and dried porcini, onions braided together by their stems and tables bursting one after the other with artichokes, cardi, clementines, apples and greens of every sort.
It is a lovely day, a sunny, sun showered, beautiful day.
To each and everyone–to all who work for freedom and peace everywhere–at home, away, in towns, villages, living rooms, board rooms, and in the army, navy, air force and marines, I say thank you from one heart to another.

Wine and Weather

You can’t pick olives in the rain.  You can’t even pick olives in the fog, and so there are many frustrated farmers drinking an awful lot of espresso at the moment.  Yesterday, there was warmth and sun in abundance as Jairo drove the caravan of ladies off to Deruta–and I think the residual effects of that and the Cointreau in the whipped cream that topped the chocolate mousse, left them unphased by the rain this morning and ready to taste wine with an enthusiam that will carry them through Montapulciano, Montelcino, Pienza, and on through the Gregorian chants of the monks at Sant’Antimo.

I will have a fire ready to light for them tonight, and fresh sausages with cannellini and sage.