Thanksgiving alchemy

On Saturday we had our Annual alterNative Thanksgiving Feast.  I always take some time to inform our guests about the true history of relations between the colonizers and the Indigenous people of North America.  Then we sit down together for a marvelous evening of delicious food and very fine company.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  I love the food and it is one of the few holidays that I have  some happy childhood family memories of.   My Dad and I had a very difficult relationship.  We all grew up and lived under the crushing weight of inherited trauma and unresolved grief that he brought into our family from his Muscogee (Creek) heritage.  Relatives outside of our family and friends saw the charismatic and charming side of my Dad, where we rarely saw that person.  But Thanksgiving was a good day, with lots of food shopping and preparation leading up to it.  When I make Thanksgiving dinner, I connect with those good feelings of anticipation and sitting down to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

One dish that I always make is Frank’s Pea and Cheese Salad.  Legend has it that when we were visiting relatives Back East, we were invited to stay for supper, but the cupboards were nearly bare.  My Dad went into the kitchen and made this salad from a couple of cans of Petit Pois, mayonnaise, cheese and an onion.  As the cousin who related this story said ‘Your Dad was a great cook and could make something out of nothing’.   The alchemy practiced by a cook can be magical.

This year as I cubed cheese and minced a shallot, I wept, and not because of Propanethiol S-oxide.  I wept because I never knew that charming and charismatic man.  I wept because I grew up afraid of him and spent too much of my adult life hating him.  I wept for the fury and rage that he had carried into our family and the brokenness passed on to him from his ancestors and the injustice from a white society that shamed him for his Native heritage.  I wept that I only came to understand and feel compassion for him many years after his death.

As I worked Frank’s magic of transforming base ingredients into a wonderful salad, the alchemy of pain and grief being transformed into peace and love happened too.

I served the salad in a dish with a rabbit running around the outside.  Cufv the Rabbit is the trickster in Mvskoke lore.  The shape-shifter.  The shifter of shapes and the shaper of shifts.  When we can reach for and embrace our deepest and darkest places, this is when true healing happens.  And the light shines where it never has before.

I hope that all who celebrate Thanksgiving had a wonderful, meaningful and delicious time.

Peace and love to you all.

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Silver service

I have a cool Facebook friend who recently shared a beautiful silver vintage dress and described it as a  “fine china and heavy silverware kind of dinner dress”.

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I have a non-vintage silver dress which is very similar and her words just stuck in my mind and captured my imagination.  I stopped at the Exeter Farmer’s Market last week with the intention of buying some fish.  I bought a couple of beautifully filleted pieces of Dover sole from the Gibsons Plaice Fishmonger stall.  We decided to make a  fine china and heavy silverware kind of dinner.

Just in case you’ve arrived looking for the recipe, here it is up front.  I find it irritating when I’m searching out a recipe and have to read through a bunch of superfluous stuff to get to it.

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Baked Fish Filets with Mushroom Stuffing

  • 4 large Dover sole fillets, skinned
  • 5 fl oz (150 ml) milk
  • lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon double cream
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • 8 oz (225 g) dark-gilled mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 oz (25 g) butter
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 level tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • 5 fl oz (150 ml) dry white wine or cider
  • 2 level tablespoons plain flour

First of all melt half the butter and all the oil together in a pan and fry the onion gently until soft and golden.

Add the mushrooms and cook until all the juices have evaporated and the remaining mixture is a dryish, spreadable paste – this will probably take about 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, then transfer all but 2 tablespoons of the mixture to a basin and mix with the parsley.

Next cut the fish fillets in half lengthways and spread an equal quantity of the mushroom mixture on the skinned side of each piece. Roll up the fillets from the head to the tail end and place closely together in a baking dish.

Pour in the wine or cider, place a piece of buttered silicone paper (parchment) directly on top of the fish and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a saucepan, blend in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring continuously. When the fish is ready, transfer it to a warmed serving dish, using a draining spoon; cover and keep warm.

Now add the cooking liquid to the butter and flour mixture, beating all the time to get a smooth sauce, and also blend in the milk.

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Then bring to boiling point, stirring all the time, add the remaining mushroom mixture, season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice and stir in the cream.

To accompany the fish, we made mashed potatoes w/ double cream and butter and buttered, steamed spinach with fresh nutmeg.  Ladle the sauce over the fish filets and et voila!

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Now back to the superfluous stuff.

We’ve been buying silver plated Old English and Dubarry flatware here and there over the past few years.  It mixes and matches very well.  We recently inventoried it to see what the gaps are and if any of it needed to be replated.  Steve wore his special anti tarnish gloves.  He is natural born butler at heart!

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We have the capability to host an elegant dinner party for twelve at any given moment.    However, this little dinner party was exclusively for a party of two.

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We used Dubarry flatware which combines Baroque and Asiatic influences to strike a beautiful balance between intricate detail and straight lines.  First appearing in the early 18th century, its inspiration lies in the elegant furniture of Thomas Chippendale.
Blue twill place mats, cream scallop edged dinner plates, white flax napkins and silver napkin rings completed the elegant table settings.

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We opened a bottle of 2014 Sancerre from our most recent Fortnum & Mason Christmas hamper that we’ve been saving for such an occasion.  Here Steve’s sommelier duties came to the fore.

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And here is the dress.  I bought it a few years back for my 50th birthday party from Jigsaw, one of my favourite places to shop.  It is elegant, very comfortable and makes me feel like a Greek goddess.  It isn’t really ombre, but looks it when it catches the light.

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I’d also picked up a bouquet from In Bloom Devon which sells flowers grown in a Devon field, entirely without the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers.  There are no air miles except for the ones traveled by the and bees and other pollinating insects who love visiting the flowers.

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For dessert, we stayed local.  Homemade meringues from West Country Meringues, organic double cream from Ashclyst Farm Dairy and strawberries grown at Balls Farm, Exeter.

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Eton Mess

We didn’t really have a proper silver service but it would be really fun to do one day.  Silver service (in British English) is a method of foodservice. This usually includes serving food at the table. It is a technique of transferring food from a service dish to the guest’s plate from the left. It is performed by a waiter using service forks and spoons from the diner’s left. In France, this kind of service is known as service à l’anglaise (“English service”).  There’s a guide here.

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Dandelions

When I was 5, my Mom and I returned home from somewhere and she said ‘Look at those dandelions in the front yard’.  I craned and craned my neck, but couldn’t spot any big tawny cats.  That’s when I learned about dandelions, the flowers.

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On Thursday mornings, I veer through the Exeter Farmer’s Market on my way to work.  Last week my colleagues laughed at my purchase of wild foraged dandelion greens and offered to let me weed their gardens.  I got them to use in a recipe from one of my favourite cookbooks, Potager by Georgeanne Brennan.   I’ve had this book since it was published  and the last time I made onion pancakes with dandelion greens and bacon was when I was living in California, the summer before I moved to Scotland in 1998.

I couldn’t remember the recipe and bought a selection of the smallest, tenderest ones I could find.  When I got home to my cook book, I found that I need a whole bunch, or I could substitute spinach, so I got a bag of spinach from the greengrocer.

Friday is the day that I volunteer at the local sports centre.  I love my walk up and back with a hedgerow and fields on one side and hand built stone walls with all sorts of plants and flowers growing from the crannies on the other.   Each week there is something new and last week, it was rain washed foxgloves and honeysuckles.

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And on a ledge high enough to be out of the reach of dog or fox urine, I found some lovely dandelions!

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I filled the pocket of my gym shorts with leaves and brought them home to add to my recipe.

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My market bought greens didn’t fare too well in the fridge overnight so I put them in some water, which perked them up somewhat.

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Steve got home that afternoon from a long and busy week working away and we reconnected and relaxed by cooking dinner together.  This recipe is easily halved, by the way.

Onion Pancakes with Dandelion Greens and Bacon

  • 1 cup/230g plain flour
  • 2 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ¼ cup/300ml milk
  • 3 tbsp/45g butter, melted and cooled
  • ½ cup/75g chopped green (spring) onions
  • Vegetable oil for cooking
  • 1 bunch dandelion greens or spinach, stems removed
  • 16 slices streaky bacon
  • 6 tbsp/90g butter
  • ¼ cup/38g finely chopped fresh parsley
  • Juice of ½ a lemon

To make the batter, sift the flour into a bowl.  Return it to the sifter, add the baking powder and salt to the sifter, and resift the flour into the bowl.  Beat the eggs and milk together in a large bowl until well mixed.  Stir in the butter, and then add the flour mixture. Beat the batter until it is smooth and free of lumps.

Heat a frying pan and grease it lightly with oil.  For each pancake ladle about ¼ cup of the batter into the pan and cook the pancakes for about 2 – 3 minutes on each side.  You should have about 12 thin pancakes in all.

Arrange the greens on a steamer rack placed over gently boiling water.  Cover and steam until they are tender, for about 3 – 4 minutes.  Remove the greens from the steamer and cut lengthwise into thin julienne strips.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon until it is crisp.  Drain on paper towels.

In a small pan, melt the butter.  Stir in the parsley and lemon juice.

For each serving, place a pancake on a dinner plate.  Place a layer of the greens and 2 strips of bacon on the pancake.  Top with a second pancake and repeat the layering of the greens and bacon.  Finally, place a third pancake on top.  When all 4 of the pancake stacks are made, pour some of the warm parsley butter over each stack.  Serve immediately!

We made grilled asparagus to have on the side.

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New tricks

My laptop has come over all poorly so I’ve been on our Samsung Galaxy tablet for the past couple of days.  I’ve just discovered that it has PS Touch which means that I can edit photos taken with the pretty decent inbuilt camera. I’ve just downloaded a WordPress app, so here l go!

Steve’s away, so I’m reading during dinner.   A cookbook holder makes a very good stand.  I’m rereading  ‘Alice Munro: Selected Stories’,  this month’s pick for my book club.   I read it last October,  but love her writing so am very happy to do so again.   It’s a different experience to read for a group and to write a blog post on a tablet.  Not sure I want to make a habit of blogging by tablet, but handy to know it’s possible.

Now for the picture.

I’m on a Protein Day, so tonight’s meal is steak with carmelized onions and diet coke in our new King George VI Coronation glass.

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Tada!

 

Replete

Steve is home too late for us to dine together tonight.  So I decided to treat myself to tempura battered fish and chips from The Horse, our local.

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I started reading The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff on the bus home this evening and carried on through my solo dinner.  Happy, happy, happiness is being just a couple of chapters in to a great new book. I want to read it fast and slow all at the same time. I already don’t want it to end, but can’t wait to see how the tale will unfold . . . . .

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And then I looked out of the kitchen window to see chimneys, rooftops and end of winter trees silhouetted against the clear and cold Western sky.  Other warm, lamp lit windows with people going about their evening.

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Lately, I’ve been feeling restless, on the cusp of a new horizon, like I am beside myself and don’t know quite who this new person is who I am becoming.  I treasure times like these when I am full and satisfied and happy to be right where I am.