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Take your place at the table


Thanksgiving has come and gone for 2012. This one was probably one of the best in my (not so great) memory. It wasn’t huge and crazy, and it wasn’t teeny tiny, but it maintained both social and intimate qualities, friends and family. I didn’t go too far overboard with the menu (some may argue that), but there was still enough for the all-important turkey sandwich fixins leftover. Most importantly, I was - and still am - quite cognisant of all that I am thankful for. During the toast, I looked over the room - the beautiful, beautiful room, filled with some of my favorite people in the world, filled with wonderful food and wine, our dogs, a fire in the fireplace - and tears welled up in my eyes. I was warm with love and happiness. And a calm that I rarely experience.

Of course there were minor dramas. Of course some people wouldn’t or couldn’t eat or drink certain things on the menu. Of course there was that frenetic energy in the kitchen right as all of the food was coming out to the table. Of course some people didn’t want to be seated next to certain guests and there was also that mysterious adjustment to the seating chart. Of course there was a monumental mess to clean up. 

Of course, of course, of course. 

But then there also were these moments: The moment Maggie showed up, before she began to decorate and turn the living room into a dining room - we both plopped down and took a breath to reflect on our previous Thanksgivings together and toast with a glass of sparkles. The moment Fred made me take just thirty seconds of time to dance with him in the hallway before we went to sit down at the table to eat. The moment I looked across the table, all decked out in my grandma Janie's ruby china, and felt so proud. The moment my mom was so into our game of charades that she was excitedly shrieking her guesses for both teams. The moment Nadia traded her five-inch black Gucci heels for my knitted socks and Crocs to go on an after dinner hike with the gang. The moment we all sat down in the den, after the meal, after charades and after the hike, to bask in the pleasure of a wonderful day and finish it off with Home For the Holidays and one more glass of lambrusco.

The turkey, the stuffing, the potatoes, the gravy, the pie - yes, they were present and delicious. But what I will remember about this Thanksgiving, what stands out from the turkey, the potatoes, the gravy and the pie, are those moments shared with those people. And that can never be duplicated. Not the moments.

And for that, for what we all gave one another, I am so very thankful.


*In addition to the very traditional menu we served this past Thanksgiving, there were a couple wild cards in there. A couple of dishes where I felt the urge to flex a bit. Usually this comes in the form of a soup. And though I heard a little hemming and hawing about this soup being on the menu, and how it would make everyone too full to truly appreciate the presumed star of the meal, the turkey, I made it anyway. As we all began to eat something pretty awesome happened: I immediately got three or four shouts from the other end of the table about how amazing the soup was. And the praise kept coming. Go figure.

I’ve already got the Christmas menu pretty much planned. The soup for that one will be an oyster stew, but this chestnut soup would be just perfect for your Christmas dinner.

Chestnut, Celery & Apple Soup with Sage Oil

Makes 6 to 8 servings
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 shallot, peeled, trimmed and thinly sliced
3 small McIntosh apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
3/4 pound peeled fresh chestnuts (from about 1 1/4 pounds chestnuts in the shell) or dry-packed bottled or vacuum-sealed peeled chestnuts
2 quarts chicken stock 
1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons of cream sherry
8-12 fried sage leaves
2-4 tablespoons sage oil
Heat the oil in a stockpot or large casserole over medium heat.  Add the onion, shallot, apples, celery, bay leaf, thyme, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the onions and leeks are soft but not colored.  Add the chestnuts and chicken stock and bring to the boil.  Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, skimming the surface regularly, for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the chestnuts can be mashed easily with a fork.  Add the heavy cream and sherry and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes more, then remove from the heat and discard the bay leaf and thyme.
Puree the soup until smooth using a blender or a food processor, and working in batches if necessary, then pass it through a fine-mesh strainer.  You should have about 2 quarts soup.  If you have more, or if you think the soup is too thin -- it should have the consistency of a veloute or light cream soup - simmer it over medium heat until slightly thickened.  Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning.  (The soup can be cooled completely and stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or frozen for up to one month.  Bring the soup to a boil before serving.)
Serve topped with a couple of fried sage leaves and a drizzle of sage oil.

One year ago: Divinia's Tea Sandwiches
Three years ago: Bouchon Beverly Hills


Read the original on: F for Food

F for Food, Elliott Shaffner

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I write about all things food. And wine. There is often wine. I eat and drink and write my way through recipes and restaurants everywhere I go in the world, and in my kitchen.