Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving

If you are easily offended, a pastry chef, or anyone who has a picture perfect Thanksgiving each year with people beautifully groomed sitting around the table passing non stop compliments to one another...well then you might need to turn away now!

Since my mother passed away over 7 years ago, Thanksgiving has lost a bit of its polish.  My mother, who was the consummate entertainer, pulled off spectacular holiday dinners without even batting an eye or breaking a sweat.  It was not uncommon for us to have 25+ people each Thanksgiving sitting around tables adorned with Waterford crystal, Wedgwood china, and lavish floral arrangements.


While both of my parents were still living, I also hosted a few Thanksgiving and Easter dinners at my house and I adhered to the strict silver, crystal, china rules I had known growing up.  My children were beautifully attired for these events and I even managed to look pretty good myself when it was all said and done and the guests arrived.

But after my mother passed away some of the formality and Martha Stewart type attention to detail fell by the wayside.  Carefully basted turkeys gave way to deep fried, a la my brother, and green bean casserole dared to make an appearance alongside the traditional corn mother would be aghast at this!  We do still set a beautiful table, this year it will be at my sister M's house, and we do still behave with dignity (well most of the time anyway), but china and crystal have given way to fall colored pottery and lovely green glass goblets.

Thanksgiving has now become a holiday of culinary experimentation mixed among time tested family recipes, something we never would have done when my mom was alive.  No sir, Thanksgiving was a time when you could recite the menu in your sleep, when you could look forward to those tried and true recipes our ancestors had been consuming for was, for lack of a better word, a traditional feast.

And not only was it traditional, but it was also quite proper.  Emily Post would have seemed like a bit of a slouch at our house growing up.  My mother was born and bred a Virginian after all, while dear Ms. Post was from Baltimore...egads, a northerner!

This year, my mother is maybe a little miffed, but more likely smiling down on me as I decided to attempt two rather non traditional desserts for Thanksgiving...French Macarons and Pavlova.  The messy images of my kitchen (and yes that #*$% backsplash is still not finished, please Santa, all I want for Christmas is a tile setter who won't freak out when I show him/her my tiles!), are evidence of my crazed baking spree.

I broke all of the rules, making meringue on a rainy day, and making macaron on a rainy day...but hey, I never was very good at following the rules.  I figure that no self respecting French baker is waiting around for the perfect sunny day to make a macaron.  Heck, I've taken tea at Laduree in Paris on a day when it literally rained, sleeted, snowed, and the sun shone...all in a matter of about 3 hours, and they were serving fresh made macarons, so the rule must be meant to be broken right?!

I'm also not a stickler for perfection, so mine don't look perfect, but they sure do taste pretty close to perfection.  What's not to love about that crunchy yet soft cookie filled with dark chocolate ganache...yum!

I thought I would share with you a few conversations my daughter and I have had over the past few days.  I think they pretty much exemplify how far from grace, or at least the graces my mother instilled in us, we have fallen!

The first one is regarding her picking up a few things from Whole Foods for us on her way home.

HERSo, Whole Foods has effectively become a war zone. They now have three people directing traffic instead of one.

If there's something that needs to come from there that is for Thanksgiving dinner itself, I'd be happy to risk life and limb. Otherwise, all WF orders will have to be postponed for a weekend in Dec. (there will be a brief period of peace between this week and Christmas). All my shopping in the meantime will be done at the Safeway, which, honestly, isn't much better.

However, if there is something that must arrive by Thanksgiving, please send the list NLT Tuesday evening. I plan to go early morning Wednesday (my work at home day) before the unwashed (actually, let's be real - the Hyper Washed, Yuppie, Pearl Bedecked) masses arrive.

ME:   Your life is safe with us, we don't need anything!  If you need reinforcements, don't be afraid to call some in! ;-)

(moments later)  Ooh, I lied.  I need some organic fruit.  You can just get me a large, or maybe 2 large containers of mixed organic fruit already cut up.  Like one with kiwi, strawberries.  Just no melon.

I'm making pavlova so that Court *(my niece who is gluten free)* can have it too.  And I will probably make a flourless chocolate cake too.

What veggies would you like?  And I will pick up your crab cake *(for my pescatarian daughter)* on Wednesday. 

Thanks!  Love you!

Her:   Mooooooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Ok fine. I'll grab those. Do you want my flourless chocolate cake recipe? The only thing you'd probably need to buy is Cointreau or Grand Marnier.

I'm good with whatever on veggies. I'm not a huge fan of the corn with marshmallow (weird) but I'll eat the other corn. We made carrot fries recently which were delicious - I'll have to give you the recipe. 

Thanks for getting the crab cake! Love you, too.

I then had to explain that it is her aunt's sweet potato recipe that calls for marshmallows...not the corn pudding recipe!  So glad we paid for her to go to the "really" smart college! ;-)

But the fun didn't end there, while on gchat last night she and I were swapping dessert making war stories that went a little something like this!

While I was lamenting the fact that I had to make a redneck pastry bag from a freezer bag with a hole cut in one corner to pipe my macarons, she sent me a photo of her flourless chocolate cake which had apparently stuck to the pan.  She described it as looking a lot like tectonic plates.  After receiving the cell phone image, and knowing how brutal my family can be...we are talking memories like elephants and decades long ribbing, I replied with the following!
Me:   Umm, that would be a 8.0 on the richter scale!  Are you sure you want to endure the years long grief you will get lol?!

Her:  Ugh! I don't have time/resources to make another! What if I just bring it home and Court can eat some at our house? Squishy *(my kids call Mr. Tide Squishy...long story)* and the rest of us can eat the rest.

 Me:  LOL, no worries!  You could always turn it into a gluten free trifle!  Aunt Shelley was going to make one, but she may not have already made it, or you can just say the *&(( with it and bring it as is.  Tell everyone you were attacked by "occupy" Whole Foods and they messed up your cake!

Her:   They're *(meaning my family)* going to give me supreme *%@#. whatever, I'll figure it out. Maybe I can pretend it turned over in the car?

Me:   Yes, and then the ninjas came!  Just go arm wrestle someone in Whole Foods for the last gluten free dessert that is still standing! ;-)

Her:   Bloody hell, I'll just go get more ingredients and make another.

And there you have it, the perfect Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving experience!  At least my macarons and pavlova turned out fine...way better than the year I forgot and left the marshmallow topped sweet potatoes under the broiler too long and they caught on fire!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!


  1. Happy Thanksgiving
    to you and your sweet
    family, Kat! We arrived
    in Maryland yesterday and
    I promptly took to bed with
    the flu : ). Don't think Martha
    or Ms. Post would approve!
    I think your mom would be
    happy that you are all going
    to be together, which, in the
    end, is the most important

    xx Suzanne

  2. Kat Your Mother would be very proud. You are accomplishing much more for Thanksgiving this year thank I am! Your macaroons and pavlova will be hits of the menu!

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

    Love and Hugs

    Art by Karena

  3. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Susan and Bentley

  4. Oh I think your mom would love it all. She raised a terrific lady and sounds like she passed it along to her daughter. Enjoy and relax, that's what the day is all about. Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving. Hugs, Marty

  5. Happy Thanksgiving Kat!!!! Love your post.


  6. Ha!! Love it...and those macaroons look divine care to share recipe??

    Linda@Lime in the coconut

  7. Happy Thanksgiving! Love the chat between you and your daughter. Enjoy your day!

  8. She may not appreciate some of the changes to her menu, but your mother would love the fact that you are all sharing it together. Happy Thanksgiving! :-)

  9. Yep that's just the way life really is - the cake doesn't work and the grocery store drives you crazy. It's what was happening behind the scenes in Norman Rockwell's paintings, I'm sure.

    Your macaroons look amazing. You've inspired me to add them to my life list - I must make them some day.

  10. Sounds just about perfect! I hope you had a grand day!

  11. No matter how the times change, it's all about loving the memories in the making!

  12. Happy belated Thanksgiving, Kat! Cookies look awesome! My cheesecake was less than awesome :-(

  13. I can hear you in every word of these conversations!

    Happy day after Thanksgiving!!

  14. Yum - those little desserts look divine!

  15. Sounds like you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, Kat...we had 4 of us who are gluten free and four who aren't, so it made for interesting cooking...although it is always like that here!

  16. Your macarons look heavenly, especially with the chocolate! I'm not familiar with the pavlova, but I'm quite sure it would make me salivate too. Your Thanksgiving sounded wonderful and your conversations are just so much fun. xo ~Lili


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