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A Poorly Written Rambling About the Holidays to get to the True Meaning

3 Dec

I am never too devastated coming down from a great Thanksgiving; looking forward to Chanukah, Christmas, and the New Year allows me to enjoy the high that is holiday cheer for a whole extra month.  Normally, I anticipate this holiday season for a good four months (yes, I have often wished the holidays would come at the end of August.)  This year, however, I am a little unprepared for these holidays.  You see, the lag time between Thanksgiving weekend and Chanukah was a mere three days.  Still sated from that luxurious Thanksgiving break, I am not nearly starved of cheer enough to begin celebrating full throttle.  Usually, Chanukah starts in mid-December, and by then, I am ready for it.  I even began celebrating Shainamas last year, proclaiming it the first Sunday of every December, because I could rarely wait long enough for the traditional winter holidays.  This year, though, I find myself caught in a snowdrift of holidays, including the one of my own design, all too soon.  This rush is kind of a problem.  The biggest problem, however, is that I find myself wondering why, exactly, I have always so looked forward to these holidays–unlike Thanksgiving, the day of thanks, they lack a cohesive mission statement–for me at least.  Why do I love these holidays so much?

When I was younger, the holiday season meant two things: Christmas and Chanukah.  Don’t laugh, but even though I was raised fully Jewish, I always loved Christmas much more than Chanukah.  My mom is Christian, so we always did a big Christmas celebration, and I loved it.  Furthermore, growing up in a small, WASPy town, I never had many fellow Jews to pump it up for Chanukah with, so I just got psyched to see lit-up Christmas decor around town.

Don’t get me wrong–I still loved Chanukah.  It just got a little overshadowed.  But the smell of latkes frying (Mom always makes a great Chanukah dinner) and the hope of getting a great present at the Hebrew School grab-bag (something better than what I brought– socks with dreidels on them?  My mom always got awkward gifts for us to bring to the grab bag, leaving the recipients utterly shafted.)  Nonetheless, I always had fun with family when we would get together to light the menorah.  We learned the story of how the Jews found oil to light the lamp in the ancient temple, and that it burned bright for eight nights.  But we also learned, later on, that this was not a biblical story.  It was kind of a fairy tale.  And, ultimately, I felt used when I realized Chanukah was invented to make Jewish kids less jealous when Christian kids got to celebrate Christmas.  I still enjoy the message of hope that the Chanukah story provides, but I don’t feel so guilty being partial to Christmas.  Even though it has no religious meaning for me, Christmas always makes me feel pretty damn fuzzy inside.

Christmas…Why did I love it so much, growing up?  Why do I love it now?  Was it because we got all our presents on Christmas, unlike most Jews, who open one every night of Chanukah?  Maybe so, but I think it was something more.  Although Christmas, technically, celebrates the birth of Jesus, the holiday has taken on a more commercial meaning, which is pretty conducive to those of us who are obsessed with it but feel that Jesus may have just been a regular dude as opposed to the savior.  Christmas, for me, means so many things: cookies, Santa, snow, hot chocolate, fun songs, no school, and, really, above all, giving.

Each of the aforementioned attributes provides me a unique sentiment–making and eating cookies makes me happy; Santa once gave me hope that I could have anything I wanted (not so anymore…); hot chocolate comforts me; cheesy Christmas songs make me excited; and, of course, no school makes me even more excited.  However, the best feeling is giving to others.  I know this sounds cliche, but my favorite things to do during the holiday break are making meals for my family, and giving gifts.  Of course, I absolutely love getting stuff, but I never really feel like I deserve presents.  Knowing I have a good life, when others don’t have as much, I just don’t feel like I can ask for stuff as though it matters to my existence.  For me, giving is much better.  And really, that can simply be giving in the form of spreading happiness.

Gifts are great, but, like in every other aspect of my life, I always say it best with food.  What is your favorite cookie?  I always try to make a good assortment that includes everyone in my family’s favorites.  Sydney always wants to make these nasty wreath cookies made out of green cornflakes glued together with marshmallows.  

We also are a great team when it comes to gingerbread men.  I tried to make a cookie from my mom’s childhood last year, but I made the wrong kind…luckily, we can always fall back on “the thought that counts.”  I don’t know if my dad has a favorite, or maybe I am drawing a blank (Dad–if you’re out there, please comment with your preferred cookie!)  Madison likes toffee bark (as do I–that shit is amazing), and I’m pretty sure Grant likes the toffee bark and Gingerbread men.  Of course, we all like grizzlenuckles, and I really enjoy date bars.  What I am getting at, though, is that I just like to see every member of my family enjoying his or her favorite cookie.

In the end of this confusing sojourn into what makes me tick, I guess cookies are the answer.  Why do I look forward to the holidays?  The fucking cookies.  Some complex person I am, huh?  Cookies allow me to bring happiness to others; they allow me to savor winter and create memories.  So there…maybe all I need to get in the spirit of the holidays is a nice batch of cookies.


We Partied Like the Pilgrims When They Saw Plymouth Gin…I Mean Rock.

30 Nov

We carved the turkey.  We passed the gravy.  We gave thanks.  We posted our pictures on Facebook.  And then outsiders got a little jealous.  Your Thanksgiving looked epic on Facebook, people tell me in passing.  I can’t deny the truth in their words, so I concede that my Thanksgiving was in fact the most. epic. Thanksgiving. ever. period.  But, dear readers, as a blogger and as a college student so offended by the oncoming onslaught of finals that I avoid all school related tasks, I feel the need to relive that Thanksgiving by relaying it to you here on Getinmebelly.  This hero journey takes place over a five day span:

Day 1:

To pick up my friends, I drove the Camry

Round Cornell’s hilly roads–West, North, C-town.

Tomaso, Jim, Austin, Ethel, and me

To Ho-Ho-Kus would we make the drive down.

Some four hours later we got to my house.

Thence we ate clam chowder with my Mama,

While with wine our parchéd throats we did douse.

After TV, we donned our pajamas.

Day 2: Wednesday

On this day we did deliver food

To clients who ordered cinnamon buns

From yours truly, and the weather was good.

Too we picked up birds as did set the sun,

And sought out duck fat in dangerous lands

Also known as Fairway Supermarket…

Tomorrow we would make a feast so grand,

Three nice turkeys to the brining bucket!

We toiled with deboning duck and chicken

And turkey for the turducken, as we

Sipped martinis of all kinds and fuckin’

Ate Brillat Savarin with truffles, oui.

turducken prep

Day 3: Thanksgiving

I awoke to bake pies early that day,

And we ate bagels and watched the parade.

For three hours we prepped sober –such dismay!

sewing up the beast

Until noon when we broke out the “first aid.”

Beer tasting consisted of many brews,

Some lighter and blithe as the brisk fall day,

Some darker like my humor, but all hues

So beautiful and delicious–hooray!

As we drank, we cooked, no less skilled than norm,

And we turned out a feast so epicly.

A jell-o mold, turkeys, and pies so warm

Gravy, bread, veg–we ate and felt sickly.

I was thankful to have friends and the fam

To enjoy the holiday with and chill

And that my friend is skilled with a cam–

Ethel’s pics made our weekend look for ril’.

So here is a list of the things we made

Our food was so sexy, it could get laid.

  1. Malt Beer Brined Turkey
    This turkey recipe was from Bon Appetit.  It was amazing, but, no offense–I think ours looked better than the BonApp covergirl… 



  2. Duck Fat Roasted Turkey
    This was inspired by Chris Cosentino, who showed a duck-fat roasted turkey on the Food Network.  It looked amazing, and ours was great.
  3. Turducken with 3 stuffings
    The chicken had apple-cardamon stuffing; the duck had orange stuffing; the turkey had herb stuffing.  What can I say? It was gorgeous.  See footage of  the brainstorm below

  4. Giblet Gravy
    After making a stock with all our extra birdie parts, I made a gravy with the pan drippings, stock, cream, butter, Applejack, and giblets.  Yum.
  5. Herb Mashed Potatoes
    Nothing beats nice, rich mashed potatoes with rosemary and thyme!
  6. Sweet Potato Casserole
    Brown butter, cream, Bourbon, rosemary, maple syrup, brown sugar, hazelnut streusel.  Done.
  7. Buckwheat, bacon, chestnut, and maitake rolls
    Dark, dense little rolls with a whole lot of umami.
  8. Cranberry Sauce
    Funny story…so we had this cranberry compote left from last year in our freezer, and we defrosted it…and it was amazing.  So we served it again…
  9. Cranberry Relish
    My cousin, Olivia, always makes a killer cranberry-orange relish, so we got her to bring it again this year!
  10. Shiitake and Currant Stuffing
    Ciabatta, stock, butter, more butter, shiitakes, and currants.  Good stuff.
  11. Gluten Free Cornbread and Rice Stuffing
    Some of my family members don’t or can’t eat gluten.  This cornbread stuffing was great even without wheat!
  12. Gluten Free Biscuits
    Just another example of decent gluten free grub.
  13. Roasted Root Vegetables
    We went a bit overboard on these.  They were delish–sunchokes, rutabagas, acorn squash, parsnips, and carrots–but we made too many.  By overboard, I mean that our leftovers consisted of a huge bowl plus two tupperwares of these… 

    this was only bowl #1

  14. Jell-o/Panna Cotta mold
    I made a random jell-o mold just for fun, so the top layer was lychee-cherry-pomegranate flavored, and the bottom was a cardamom panna cotta with almonds and sour cherries.  It really was a great old school throw-back.
  15. Brussels Sprouts with Guanciale and Mushrooms
    These were great.  How can you beat roasted Brussels with a ton of piggy fat?
  16. Apple Pie with Miso Butterscotch
    Inspired by the Momofuku cookbook, we made a miso butterscotch sauce to go with our pie.  It was a yummy combo.
  17. Bourbon-Chocolate Pecan Pie
    This pie is not for people faint of heart.  It’s rich, boozy, and intense.  But it’s great.
  18. Pecan Pie
    Certain people prefer plain pecan pie.
  19. Pumpkin Ice Cream Profiteroles with Brown Butter Glaze
    This was a nice change–pumpkin pie is nice, but these were fun and tasty.
  20. Gluten Free Apple Pie
    Just as good as regular, but the crust is more crumbly.

Ten Ways to Be a Kill-joy on Thanksgiving, as reported by NBC

21 Nov

I just skimmed this article on MSNBC’s website.  If you are a freak, these diet tips might be great for you.  But I’m pretty sure stuffing yourself to capacity is pretty much standard on Thanksgiving.  So here is the article with commentary by yours truly.

1. Eat breakfast! Don’t starve all day — you’ll overeat later.
Savings: 550 calories

We think that skipping breakfast will “save” calories that we can use later for the big meal. Not true! Meal skipping leads to overeating later — you start to eat, and then become over-hungry, with less control over your food choices, not more. Most typically, when the appetizers arrive, before the meal, the breakfast skippers grab some combination of a few handfuls of nuts (300 calories), chips and dip (250 calories) and/or a few pigs in blankets (250 calories) or other hot appetizers just to “tide” us over until the main meal.

Translation:  Start early!  Eat breakfast because your mom put out a shitload of scones and bagels and you’re making omelets to eat while you watch the parade.  This will not save you calories, but it’s a damn good way to wake up Thanksgiving!

2.Start with soup — chunky veggie or other clear soup fills you up so you’re not ravenous.
Savings: 250 calories.

A low-calorie hot liquid helps to fill you up, so you have a better sense of contentment on fewer calories. A cup of tomato-vegetable soup or consomme with julienned vegetables is satisfying — and a better choice than a cream soup, or even a salad with full-fat dressing (350 calories). It is the lowest-calorie appetizer choice (about 80 calories a cup), with the added benefit of extra fullness (many studies show that hot soup prior to a meal helps you eat less later on).

If you start with soup in my family, you’re getting Grandma’s creamy mushroom soup.  While this is an elixir of some very bad-ass gods, it really packs on the pounds.  I think the base for this soup is actually heavy cream.  So yeah, I love soup too, but come on–at least I eat a good soup, and I’m honest–it’s fattening!  Oh, and writer–you forgot that the opportunity cost of filling up on watery gruel defeats the purpose of saved calories.

3. Replace the fat in stuffing with low-sodium chicken broth and add a bunch of chopped vegetables to “dilute” the bread.
Savings: 250 calories.

Many recipes have 2 to 3 sticks of butter or margarine as the “liquid” to moisten the bread stuffing. Replace all that fat with equal amounts of low-sodium chicken broth (the boxed variety is fine — no need for organic) for extra flavor without calories. A cup of chicken broth is around 10 calories — compared with an ounce of butter at 100 calories. (A stick of butter/margarine is 800 calories.) Also, rough-chop celery, mushrooms and onions to “bulk up” the volume of your stuffing, without the calories of bread, so the calories per serving are reduced. By replacing the fat and adding more vegetables, you’ll save 250 calories per serving.

Skinny bitch say what?  I’m very sorry, but if you think broth can take butter’s place, you are probably the type who is running on a treadmill as you eat Thanksgiving dinner anyway.  This is a miserable idea.  I am actually thankful for the pure memory I have of a truffle butter loaded stuffing I made a couple years ago.  It’s called stuffing, not un-stuffing!

4. Alternate your alcohol. Have a drink, then a seltzer or diet soda — cut your calories in half.
Savings: 500 calories.

Alcohol contains a whopping 7 calories/gram — almost as much as fat (which is 9 calories per gram; protein and carbs are 4 calories/gram). It’s a long afternoon/evening when people tend to imbibe more than usual. Cutting just two to three mixed drinks from your celebration will cut 500 calories. An average Mai Tai has 350 calories; a martini, 225 calories. Also — no one knows what is in your glass (a common worry among people). Another tip: If you’re a wine drinker, you can alternate as above, or choose to make a “spritzer” through the evening — half wine and half seltzer — that cuts the calories.

Really.  First and foremost, I want to know who makes Mai Tais on Thanksgiving day (besides, maybe, Sandra Lee).  While I understand alternating with water to keep from going into a coma, I want to remind everyone that falling asleep drunk on Thanksgiving commonly gets written off as “attack of the tryptophan,” and is therefore totally acceptable.  Turkey is by far the greatest scapegoat man has ever created. Why don’t they serve turkey at college parties?  Passing out drunk would technically not exist!

5. Use a tablespoon to serve yourself instead of a ladle! Built-in portion control.
Savings: 800 calories.

Compare a tablespoon in serving size to a typical serving spoon — about one-third to one-half cup. With two kinds of creamy potatoes, stuffing, creamed spinach, cranberry sauce and all kinds of other family favorites, like macaroni and cheese, downsizing your serving size with a tablespoon saves you about 150 calories/dish.

No matter what you do, your plate will still be full.  And you will refill it.  Exhibit A:

a little nibble to start!

6. Skip the skin. Cut the calories in half per serving. Eat the meat you like — very little difference in calories of dark and white meat.
Savings: 300 calories.

For a 6-ounce serving of turkey, taking off the skin saves about 300 calories. It doesn’t make much caloric difference whether you eat white or dark meat — what does save the calories is skipping the skin.

This violates everything that is good about food, you crazy health-freak!  I mean, I know it’s your job to report on health, but the skin?!  The skin!?  A turkey dies to feed your skin-and-bones family who apparently doesn’t eat much, and you don’t respect it enough to eat that beautiful skin?  That glorious crispiness we rub with butter and honey and salt, just to make it brown and beautiful…you just throw it away?  This troubling thought makes me question the meaning of life.

7. De-fat your gravy. Even a ladleful can be a calorie-bomb.
Savings: 200 calories.

Fat-free gravy can be full of flavor. Cook your turkey with enough time to cool the pan juices and make your gravy — after dumping the hardened fat that rises to the top. Or, use a gravy separator to get rid of the fat.

Gravy: Thanksgiving::Lube: Sex.  The gravy helps things go down better, OK?  And slippery fat is awfully helpful in the equation.  Besides which, it’s fucking delicious.  Let me tell you what my gravy-making process involves: I make a stock with the neck and aromatics all morning while the turkey roasts and renders deliciousness into the roasting pan.  I then sear and chop up the giblets.  I take the roasting pan and skim off the excess fat and deglaze with sherry or port.  That is the only point fat should be taken away.  Then, I add a bit of flour and the gizzards back to the pan I seared them in and cook the flour.  I scrape the roasting pan into that pan and then add my strained stock and let all this simmer until it reaches perfection.  Then, I ADD BUTTER.  Ha!

8. Lose the crust. Make your favorite pumpkin pie filling, and put in small ramekins. Bake until firm. Top with some chopped walnuts or a swirl of whipped cream.
Savings: 200 calories.

The crust is fat laden, and most people don’t even miss it. This works for apple pie as well — put the apples in a small ramekin, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, and bake. Another way to save 200 calories is swap out a slice of pecan pie and have a single-crust apple pie with some walnuts mixed in instead.

Whoa.  Butter, lard, and a little practice, and you can do anything!  Especially make pie crusts…There is nothing better than a crisp, buttery crust holding that hot, meltingly delicious apple filling at the end of your meal.  End of story.

9.  Choose a simple potato. Baked white or sweet — as nature intended — without a casserole filled with extra fat and sugar.
Savings: 250 calories.

Go plain for the potato — and sprinkle with fresh or dried herbs and seasonings, including ground pepper and chives. Skip the butter, cheese and sour-cream mix-ins — and the brown sugar in sweet potato casseroles (brown sugar is not a “health food” and has the same calories as white table sugar). Use some of your de-fatted gravy on top for extra flavor.

Or, you can take some rum, which nature intended sugarcane to be used for, and add it to a puree of sweet potatoes, brown butter, maple syrup, nutmeg, and thyme and put it in a deep casserole covered with hazelnut streusel.  But you know, whatever suits you, dude.  I mean, if that potato still sounds good to you, that’s fine.

10. Take a 30-minute walk after eating, instead of a nap.
Savings: 200 calories.

This might be the hardest part of all. Most people want to go directly from the dinner table to the couch! Avoid that and grab a walking partner to take a 30-minute walk. It will aid digestion as well. It’s initiating the walk that’s the problem. But everyone finds that once they’ve started the walk, they’re very glad they’ve done it.

This plan is probably only viable for those with access to Kryptonite or methamphetamine.  I guess I’d go on a walk if I had a Segway, but I don’t.  And I’m pretty sure if the pilgrims went for a walk, they would have gotten lost or scalped by Squanto.  It just wasn’t meant to be.

If he's gonna sacrifice his life for you, eat him. And do him justice.

Seven Days. How Do You Say Thanks?

19 Nov

How do you say “thank you?”  As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us have begun the cravings: turkey, stuffing, veggies, pies, and more await us in just one week.  But have you thought what you will be thankful for, when you raise that glass of Riesling for the toast?  That mug of Hennepin?  I have.  This year has been a stressful one, and without certain people and hobbies, I probably would have lost my mind.  I will be cooking my Thanksgiving dinner in honor of the people and things that made my year spectacular at first, and then bearable in the end.

Since last Thanksgiving, I have had a crazy year.  I loved my first year at college, and I finished it alive and well (wink/nod,–we are giving thanks, right?).  Last summer, thanks to some connections from my Dad’s friend, Andre Tamers, who imports wine from Spain, I got the opportunity to cook in some restaurants in Galicia.  When the summer ended, I got a great start to my sophomore year at school, thanks to my friends and suite-mates.

Also, someone I know started brewing craft beer, so I got to learn a lot about the theory of that over the past few months.  I am thankful for such opportunities.  On another note, I did have a stress-filled and shitty semester, and my parents and siblings were very helpful at convincing me that the shit in life is all worth it.

Heavy stuff aside, there is food that goes with these thank-you’s!  This year, my table will be a zoo of twenty-plus people.  That means lots and lots of delicious, home-cooked food.  Our current plan involves two roasted turkeys–one malt-brined and one smeared with copious amounts of duck fat.  We also have the goods for a turducken.  Let’s just say there are many birds to bone, and few cooks who swing that way.

this turducken i made a couple years ago was fun to make!

As for side dishes, I’ll be making buckwheat rolls with bacon, maitake mushrooms, and chestnuts; sweet potato casserole (don’t deny its omnipotence); mashed potatoes with a million pounds of cream and butter; stuffing with shiitakes and currants; cranberry sauce; and…my existential Jell-o mold!  I just can’t resist making that jiggly tower of sketchiness.  Flavor TBD.

not sure if i can top this in terms of color, but i have a funny feeling ours will taste better...

Beverage pairings will not only include some wines from the Rioja region (a nice, rusitc flavor) and dry Rieslings (crisp and fruity), but a whole separate beer menu, devised by my dad and me:

Hennepin, by Ommegang Brewery; Prelim Fail Ale, by Under the Bed Brouwerij; Dogtoberfest, by Flying Dog Brewery; Pennant Ale 55 and Brooklyn Lager, by Brooklyn Brewery; Pumking Ale, by Southern Tier Brewing Company; and Gorges Smoked Porter, by Ithaca Brewing Co. will all grace our table.  I can’t wait.

a colorful and delicious selection of beers

If you think I forgot about dessert, get ready for my diabetes-inducing dessert menu: pumpkin ice cream profiteroles with maple glaze, pecan pie (one with bourbon and one without; my younger sister does not like spiked food), and apple pie with miso butterscotch ( ; ) thanks, Chef Tosi of Momofuku).

So yeah. Thanks, everyone, and I can’t wait for you all to enjoy this food!  Details to follow!