11.23.2016

All I Care About Is Pasta


Did you know that in 1981, Calvin Trillin, a contributor to The New Yorker of over 50 years, launched a campaign to replace the national Thanksgiving dish from turkey to spaghetti carbonara. Listen to the marvelously perceptive and equally unexpected soliloquy as he reads from his essay here. Who doesn't love pasta and let's face it, not a bad proposition. Traditions aside.

Tomorrow launches, what is unequivocally, my favorite window of time in the calendar year. Well second. I love Octobers. Firstly, because this is the month in which I celebrate my birthday. Halloween and the opportunity to decorate my porch with artisan pumpkins and mums. I fill Waterford bowls will miniature squash to lend a pop of color. Last October of 2015, my now husband proposed on October 5, just a day after I turned 36. In short, that month is a superlative time of year. The close second, or neck-and-neck first rather, is Thanksgiving Day and that halcyon period hat stretches through to the twelfth day of Christmas. My local radio station begins to blast Eartha Kitt, ballads from the Elvis Christmas Album, and my favorite, Mariah Carey. Lights sparkle around neighborhoods. The days are shorter. There is usually, and it has finally arrived touch wood, a brisk nip to the air. Happy Holidays they say.

We officially kick off tomorrow with The Breyer family and our close friends who in the past decade have become an extension of our crazy clan. My mother prepares her established smorgasbord of gastronomic feats that include but are not limited to a massive, farm raised, organic turkey, broccoli casserole, curried butternut squash soup, roast potatoes (which have been coming around for more than 32 years), sweet and sour roasted beets, homemade stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy and a pair of other dishes that I am now forgetting but about which I will be sweetly reminded tomorrow. 

My vino enthusiast and master of ceremonies father lines the tables with bottles representing a wealth of vintners from choice destinations like Washington State, Italy, New Zealand and the likes. I am sure owing to his online wine subscription, some new places will make a respective appearance this year. The meal ends with my mother's famous carrot cake, pecan pie prepared with generous amounts of toasted pecans and corn syrup and like last year, a chocolate torte. There are toasts galore, small opportunities to account for that of which we are thankful and shouts at the football playing on the TV screen. I have said it before, the Breyer's make their best memories around tables and paired with food. I am sure that tomorrow will be no exception to year's past. 

As I spend a good three hours, give or take, in the car daily, and while my hands are meant to be on the steering wheel (and not furiously sending text messages, scrolling apps or checking email - as that would be very bad) I have discovered a keen affinity for podcasts. I must admit, a pair of years ago, I wholeheartedly poo poo'd them but now they are my lifeline. They fill my car and long commute with a wealth of inspiration, creativity, sometimes noise and familiar voice to keep me company in traffic. My mother practiced social work for many years before we children came along, and she is always an enthusiast for continuous self-improvement. Not only personally but on the corporate front as well. Today I listened to an episode of Gretchen Rubin's podcast which spoke to the power of leaving something unsaid at Thanksgiving. She asserts that by sometimes not doing or saying anything, one reaps the benefits. I recall being told as a child, if you haven't anything nice to say...

The wise women also spoke to being mindful of booze consumption. The timing could not be more fortuitous as I was at a bridal shower for a very dear friend this past Sunday, and spoke to a fellow guest about post-drinking anxiety. We both remarked that in college, when the flood gates invited a deluge, there was never any guilt or regret about the previous day's shenanigans. In short, so why now? They also spoke to the importance of asking meaningful and not anxiety inducing questions, like: "Congratulations on the wedding, when are you having a baby?" Or, "You're a senior in high school, where are you going to college next year?" Or, "How's the job search coming along?" Instead, they recommend going with an easy: "What's keeping you busy these days?" I absolutely plan to link these words into this holiday season's vernacular.

I tend to talk about being busy. Verbal diarrhea really. I dare not complain too loudly as I know that everyone and their brother are all in the same, fast moving, sometimes excessively laden, at times headed who-knows-where boat. I can be very hard on myself for not making time for certain things. Like exercise. Like spending time with my husband in the evening's without the iPhone in my hands or iPad in my lap. Like emailing friends as I used to do weekly. Like writing in my blog as I used to do multiple times per week. When I turned 37 this past October, I decided, in tandem with the compound effect concept, to make little changes, stand by them and be okay with them. And you know what, I am thankful for them!

I have started running after work for 20 minutes. Just 20 minutes. It's not the length I used to run every morning when I lived uptown but frankly, I don't care to wake up any earlier than I currently am and for me, the evenings are not the time for 5Ks. After photographing dinner, I am making a concerted effort to ditch the electronics. I don't even keep my phone in the bedroom anymore. My body wakes me every day at 5.45. Imagine that. Instead of emailing friends, I am now calling them, in my car during my commute home. Even if they don't answer, I get to leave a quick message *which my brother tells me is a dying habit by the way* and I am happy. My blog. I think of it every day and always prepare notes and anecdotes and narratives about which to speak. It doesn't always translate into publish and that's okay. C'est la vie.

In addition to the above, I am thankful this holiday season for my wonderful, patient, doting, kind husband, Matthew. For my wonderful siblings, Keith, and Michelle. For Michelle's loving husband Mike and their adorable little guy, Our Uptown Bratwurst, Trey. I am thankful for my incredible parents. My mother, the architect of our family, and my father, the life of the Breyer's. I am thankful for my warm and inviting in-laws, and their extended family. I am thankful for my family around the world from Cape Town to London to Auckland, New Zealand. I am thankful for my friends, with whom I can pick up where I left off no matter how much time passes. I am thankful for new friendships that have blossomed via social media. I am thankful for those who return my voicemails. I am thankful for my blog followers and the many of who reach out to me. At a risk of sounding corny, I am thankful for the opportunities to grow as an individual. Heck, I am thankful for my new car, and podcasts, both of which make my road warrior life glorious in fact. What are you thankful for this year?

The Breyer's were originally Boca bound for this holiday season but owing to the pending Zika alert, we made a sharp u-turn and are now headed to the Big Apple. Be sure to follow our culinary gallivants and then some via my Instagram account, Beets and Bratwurst. As always, I cordially invite you to join in our journey. I promise to infuse this space with stories, humor, my verve and perhaps even, recipes you can create in your very own kitchen.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Beef Stew
Adapted from Hemsley + Hemsley

Goodies

3-4 lb beef shoulder (the most gorgeous is Nature's Place brand, Food Lion)
Knob of unsalted butter (again, the best I have found is the Food Lion brand)
2 leeks - cleaned and coarsely chopped
Lots of garlic - the more the merrier
2 sticks of celery - chopped
Generous squeeze of tomato paste
4 large carrots - chopped
1 punnet of mushrooms - I like baby bella
1 bunch of parsley - chopped
1 bottle of red - I like to buy a nice Cab. This last go around, I opted for Robert Hall straight outta Paso Robles
Kosher salt
Pepper
1 TBS Dijon mustard
*optional - chopped new baby potatoes

Elbow Grease

1. In your Le Creuset, or other ceramic vessel, melt a generous knob of butter on high heat. Now is not the time to skimp. Once melted, using tongs, gently place your cut of marbled beef in the butter bath. You are borwning your beef, which will seal the juices and ready this cut for braising. Generously salt and pepper the visible side. Let brown and flip. You know the beef is nicely browned when you have no issue using your tongs to flip it. Now salt and pepper the browned side and let the other side sizzle for 8 minutes or so. Once done, remove and transfer to another plate.

2. Turn the heat down to medium high. Now add your chopped leeks, garlic and celery to the mix. You want to let this sauté for around 5 minutes. Next, add the tomato paste, a generous pinch of salt and pepper and stir until uniform. 

3. Now add 1 cup of the bottle of wine and bring to a boil. Be sure to bring out your wooden spoon and scrape the lovely bits off the bottom of your dish. This is where the flavor comes in.

4. Go ahead and add the rest of the bottle, the mustard, your carrots, mushrooms and parsley. Give a big stir.

5. Put your meat on top, put the lid on, and throw it in the oven at 350 for 3 - 4 hours. You can also take steps 1 - 4, and carefully pour into your slow cooker. You can do high for 3 - 4 hours of low for 6 - 7 hours. You pick but remember, slow and steady wins the race.

Once finished, the meat will be falling apart tender. You can serve with mashed potatoes or noodles and because we are boring, we serve ours with cauliflower mash. You can even puree any type of squash like butternut or acorn. A dollop of chimichurri lends nice color and a pop of flavor. See preparation below:

Cauliflower Mash. Tastes almost just like potatoes and more South Beach Diet friendly. To prepare (a couple of ways): Option 1. Roughly chop a head of cauliflower, steam it for approximately ten minutes or until you can slip a fork in and out.  Throw the steamed cauliflower in the Cuisinart along with a pinch of kosher salt, cracks of fresh pepper, a dusting of fresh thyme leaves, the zest of a lemon and if you are being mindful of calories, a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil to bind and add texture. If you don't give a damn, butter, butter, butter. Sour cream works a charm too. Option 2. Roughly chop a head of cauliflower, steam it for approximately ten minutes or until you can slip a fork in and out. Throw the steamed cauliflower in the Cuisinart along with half a can of light coconut milk and a pinch of nutmeg. Puree until creamy.


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