How It All Started

Bob Phillips

The title of this blog was inspired by one of my Spanish professor's at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Robert Phillips, who died in the e...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Chinese Thanksgivikkah

Lovely Lilly offers insistent
affection throughout
the day. She is also
the chief tripping hazard.
Thanks to Yaqin Sun
for most of the photos
in this post.
Where to begin? Thanksgiving is always a special day for us, but this year was unusually bounteous, and we are especially grateful. We were fortunate to layer many new elements on a day already full of fond traditions around food and friends.

The tradition has developed over the past decade or so, with the day spent at the ancient, rambling home of friends along the Matfield River a few miles away. Since our doglet would pose a choking hazard to their dog -- and she would also be an annoyance and a flight risk -- we leave little Perry at home. We always plan a mid-afternoon respite trip back to our house, because this is a dinner that we know will be hours in the making and more hours in the enjoying.

The turkey arrived at our house on Sunday, a special addition to our weekly milk delivery from Crescent Ridge in Canton. No thawing questions arise, as we simply keep this very fresh turkey well chilled in a picnic cooler until we are ready. One of this dairy's many regional partnerships is with Misty Knoll Farms in Vermont, which provides delicious, free-range turkeys while caring for the land in northwestern Vermont. As in the past, we bring the turkey early, to roast in a standard charcoal grill. The turkey is first rubbed with a paste of finely minced garlic, olive oil, and paprika -- something we have done for years at the suggestion of Jane Brody's original Good Food Book.
Overlapping pans and dishes were a hallmark of this day; a kitchen both vast and cozy was the stage for a dance of cooking, cleaning, tasting and serving throughout the day. 
The stuffing also follows Brody's recipe in a very general sense, and preparations began early. James put two loaves of whole-wheat bread in a large bowl some time Monday, leaving it out to stale. On Thursday morning, the slices were cut into cubes, to which was added chicken broth, chopped celery, local cranberries, chopped walnuts, a couple of local eggs, and a package of sweet Italian sausage. Although this decadent concoction is called "stuffing," it is baked outside the bird, in two large casserole dishes.

Although we were aware that Hanukkah and Thanksgiving would overlap this year, it was not until we heard a Thanksgivikkah story on NPR last weekend that we realized just how rare this would be, why it was happening, and best of all -- the culinary opportunities presented by this coincidence. We opted not to brine the turkey in Manicevitz, but we did try two other recipes.

The first of these was a sweet-potato noodle kugel; we have often made kugels with apples, and were intrigued by this variation. I neglected to buy cottage cheese (and would not dream of buying any on Thanksgiving Day itself), so substituted a package of cream cheese. In place of a food processor, our trusty potato masher made quick puree of the softened sweet potatoes, with virtually no cleanup required. We also substituted Honey Bunches of Oats for corn flakes in the topping, combining them with finely chopped pecans. We wish we had remembered that one of several vegetarians at our feast is also highly allergic to nuts -- we will make this dish a bit differently next year so that this is a vegetarian option for all present.

The other Hanukkah-related addition was latkes with cranberry-apple sauce, inspired by the menu mentioned above, but using our own recipes. For the latkes, we beat two eggs in a bowl, then simply peeled and coarsely shredded in a couple of pounds of potatoes in. Adding a half an onion, cut into fine, long slivers and a bit of flour, it was easy to toss together a batter. Rather than squeeze the water our of the potatoes using a sieve, salt, or other method, we simply squeezed each patty as it was formed , before dropping it onto a cast-iron skillet with hot oil, and pressing it a bit to flatten. The sauce was a variation on what we call "recipe" cranberry sauce, though I have learned to use a small amount of good, aged rum rather than a large amount of cheap rum. With a bit of cardamon, this was a very pleasing brunch item, popular with the entire crowd.

Of course no Hanukkah celebration would be complete without a menorah, which burned brightly through the meal and beyond. Keeping with tradition of course, the candle was small and specially designed so that it would need neither trimming nor extinguishing.
No Thanksgiving feast is complete without a "kid's table," a tradition I would rather have avoided if we could, especially since one adult was at that table, which we preferred to call the "youth table." James felt a bit guilty about this, but remembered that we were both at a kid's table as recently as our 40th year! In any case, the young ladies at that table did very much seem to be enjoying themselves.

Local seafood prepared by our hosts helped to fill the middle of the day, as we nibbled on bacon-wrapped scallops and clam pizzas, along with the latkes and delicious Chinese snacks. Rob had also prepared a special polenta, in recognition of the fact that the main dish at the first Thanksgiving was probably corn mush.

Those snacks were part of the other special dimension of this year's celebration was the participation of two students from China. Yaquin is a BSU student who has studied both coffee and tea with James, and who has been in the United States just over two years. Jane is our daughter Paloma's roommate at CSW, who has been here for just a few months. Since Paloma has been to China and is learning Mandarin, it was especially good that they were able to join us. We enjoyed their company and they enjoyed being part of this very American experience.

Shopping together on Wednesday, we had gathered ingredients for delicious egg rolls (much more flavorful and healthy than anything I have had in restaurants), stuffed dumplings, and rice pudding. Their food and company will stand out as a special Thanksgiving memory for many years to come. And because it is 2013, very traditional scenes such as the one below are already circulating on the Chinese Internet. It is a small world, after all.
But wait! Don't forget dessert(s)!

Earlier this year this image of a "piecaken" went viral on Facebook.
Pam was intrigued, and is always up for a challenge, but something just didn't seem right about this. When a recipe online was found that began with store-bought pie (what!?) she began brainstorming and recipe searching in order to make a piecaken from scratch that would also include traditional Thanksgiving flavors (and wouldn't look quite so gross). The quest ended with this recipe for a pumpkin spice cake and this one for a no-bake pumpkin pie. Both were made with pumpkin puree from a pumpkin, not a can. Two layers of the cake were baked, then the pumpkin pie (without the crust, so it was really pumpkin custard) was prepared using the same size pan. Parchment paper was placed inside the pan first to make removal easy. The custard was kept chilled until just before serving time, then was sandwiched between the two layers of cake. Finally the homemade cream cheese frosting was added to the top. It was one of several dessert choices, including traditional pumpkin pie, apple pie (pictured below with the piecaken) and bread pudding all made by our favorite teen baker, Clara; as well as a rice pudding brought by Yaquin and Jane. The piecaken was delicious! Flavorful, full of texture, and not too sweet, but still decadent enough for a special occasion dessert. All other desserts were also given high praise.

All in all an especially memorable Thanksgivikkah feast with fabulous food, and wonderful company.

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