I can tell when we are nearing the feast of Thanksgiving. My bride will move the good size pumpkin she bought for Halloween off the dining room table where it is beginning to sink under its own weight and bring out the blow up turkey balloon.
Correct, the balloon that is shaped like a gobbler who at the moment it reappears is actually a flattened bird of a different feather. Once more it will go over to Publix where it will receive the revival method administered by Our Flower Lady of the Helium so once again it can soar over the dining room table from its perch in our chandelier.
Many a guest has been rendered both surprised and speechless not to mention a bit put off to find that they would be dining with a blow up Mr. Gobbler hovering overhead. However my blondness never fails after all these many years to bring a certain deft charm and uniqueness to her legendary table settings.
Uniqueness can be a good thing in the food business, but sometimes it is not so good. There is an occasional feature story in Food Arts Magazine where chefs are asked to relate stories about certain dishes that were either successful or, as they put it so succinctly, “What do they know”?
I can relate to that myself both at home and when I had my restaurants. I’m thinking of the “What do they know” in particular. These were not failures unless you consider your teenage daughter pouting through the entire Thanksgiving meal over something so silly as not serving turkey on that thankful day.
It wasn’t as though I was subbing spam for the bird. Au contraire, my friends. I had ordered two magnificent ducks that I cooked with much love and a sauce of Grand Marnier a la Orange. In retrospect I would have been better off cooking the turkey and drinking the Grand Marnier.
The other “What do they know” incident happened when I planned a special Thanksgiving dinner at the restaurant and did a deconstructed sweet potato salad in place of the soufflé with the marshmallows crisp and slightly burned on top and oozing whatever marshmallows ooze all over the sweet potatoes.
I thought the salad was one of the brighter more flavorful dishes we ever put together at the restaurant. However, it came down to like or dislike and unfortunately a lot wound up in the dislike column. Too bad because now a couple of decades later it would be a) not unusual and b) bring tiny tears to the eyes of many foodies. They are such a grateful lot always in search of the next great trend.
Let’s say that today there are a lot more foodies around than a decade or so ago who are turned on to anything with the word heirloom in front of maybe a squash or a new dried bean that the Incas ate 600 years ago.
Consider the crossbred broccoli/cauliflower that works out well on your holiday plate along with something red like cranberries and a background musical accompaniment of Jingle Bells. How much more festive can you get?
This year we have daughter and granddaughter coming from Atlanta and good friends and part-time neighbors, Chattanooga’s Peggy and Bill White, joining us as well. And my wife is going to pick up a fresh turkey along with some helium over at Publix.
So, what’s on your shopping list?
Fresh Figs in Red Wine Sauce
I’m a super avid fan of fresh figs, Black Mission or Brown Turkey, although the Mission are tastier, and whenever they appear at Fresh Market or Publix’s, primarily as the “2 for 1” deal I quickly scoop them up.
It is a limited season and I try to take advantage because I cook up this simple condiment that just goes great with turkey or lamb or pork or sometimes over a wedge of soften Brie for dessert.
Recently it so happened that I remembered I had a half bottle of Mogen David wine that we had left over from one of the Jewish holidays that was sitting lonely and totally unwanted on a back shelf. It was the perfect foil for my figs adding depth to the sauce and bringing raves from the assembled guests.
12 oz fresh figs sliced
2 cups red wine (Mogen David optional)
1 cup brown sugar (less if using the MD or to taste)
1 teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon
Place all ingredients in a non-reactive pot (I like my Calphalon)
Simmer over a low heat or flame stirring often and gently not to break up the figs
until liquid thickens.
Take off heat. Let cool then refrigerate.
Keeps well for several weeks
Have an awesome holiday weekend.
(Charles Siskin is a former Chattanoogan now living on the Florida coast with his wife, Cookie. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)