Tag Archives: cooking

Thanksgiving Gravy Haven

17212146_10154113844731266_1738394229619340222_oNow Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2018

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and trusts the power of the wilderness of our Montana Haven to inspire the wilderness of your unique mind!  Come find your voice this February…  For more info, and to contact the Haven team, go here!

February 28-4 (a few spaces left)
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 3-7 & October 24-28

Well, Thanksgiving is almost here and many of us fear the  gravy.  Fear NOT!  You don’t need flour.  You don’t need to reduce anything.  And for heaven’s sake, you don’t need some powdered packet from the grocery store.  I have been playing around with my gravy for years, and this is where I’ve landed.  It’s a commitment, but you will be having “some turkey with your gravy” by the time you take your first taste.  Enjoy, and remember to tell the people you’re with on this holiday what you appreciate about them.  And stay off politics!!!!!!!

Laura’s 20 years-in-the-making Delicious Coveted and Begged-for Turkey Gravy Recipe

(Not heart smart, but who cares.  It’s one or two meals a year!)

The secret to this liquid gold requires some prep time but it pays off.  Oh, does it pay off.  The idea is this:  you dice an abundance of vegetables and line the roasting pan with them, cover with a rack and rest the turkey on the rack so that the juices drip into the vegetables during the cooking process.  Then, while the turkey is resting, you puree the entirety of the pan ingredients, grease and all, in a blender, and that is your gravy thickener!  It should be illegal.  The base is your reduced giblet stock.  It’s so easy and no stress and no raw flour ick and no corn starch yuck, and no intimidating de-glazing and no gizmo-dependent grease/juice separating… I’m telling you.  It’s the BEST.  Don’t be intimidated by the prep work.  I chop all the vegetables for the pan and for the stock the night before and put them in respective zip-loc bags so that Thanksgiving morning, I don’t have to do any more chopping than necessary for other preparations, like stuffing etc.  I strongly recommend this.  I never used to do this, and always was stymied by how long it takes to do this prep the morning of.  Cuts down your turkey morning prep by an hour!

Lining the Pan with your root vegetable gravy thickener...mmmm.  GOLD!

Ingredients for roasting pan:  (if you do this the night before, put all of the vegetable out-takes (see parenthesis below) into a zip-loc bag for your giblet stock, so that you have 2 ziplocs– one for stock, one for pan)

Peel and dice:

1 Turnip

1 Rutabaga

1 Parsnip

2 Carrots (use the ends plus another carrot for giblet stock)

4 Yukon Gold Potatoes

Celery stalks (use the outer tougher stalks for giblet stock)

2 Shallot cloves

2 Garlic cloves

1 Leek (use the white part, and some of the green.  Wash and reserve the tougher top greens for giblet stock)

1 yellow Onion

4 crimini Mushrooms (reserve the stems for giblet stock)

1 cup chopped (Yep):  Parsley (Italian flat leaf), Sage, Rosemary and Thyme—fresh (use the stems/twigs for giblet stock)

1 stick Butter

1 cup dry white Wine

Ingredients for final touches:

Madeira

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Liquid:

  • Melt butter in small saucepan and add white wine.  Turn off heat once combined.

Lining your roasting pan:  (gravy gold)

  • Dump the diced veggies into the roasting pan.
  • Pour a cup or so of the warm butter and wine mixture from stove.  Salt/pepper.
  • Stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula so that all the veggies are coated. (you don’t want them to dry out during the cooking process, so remember to baste them as well as the bird)
  • Add any additional chopped herbs.  This should coat the pan about an inch thick. 
  • Put the rack on top of this, flat.
  • Put turkey on top and cover with additional butter wine, salt and pepper
Bird stuffed, racked, seasoned, ready to shed its love on its veggies below...
Bird stuffed, racked, seasoned, ready to shed its love on its veggies below…
Giblet stock for gravy base
Giblet stock for gravy base

Giblet Stock:

Ingredients:  (Don’t cheat and use canned broth.  This stock has a very specific flavor and makes the gravy sooooooo good)

Giblets (The gross stuff in the turkey cavity, but get over it.  Your hand is in a turkey cavity!  That’s already gross.)

1 tbs. olive oil

Whole pepper corns

Out-takes from all of the above vegetables and herbs (described in parenthesis above.  Best to put them in zip-loc bags while dicing the rest for the roasting pan the night before, to make prep time faster on Thanksgiving morning.)

Additional sprigs of rosemary and thyme, roughly chopped, stems/twigs included

1 garlic clove– crushed

1 medium yellow onion quartered

1 Yukon gold potato quartered

  • Heat a large saucepan, add olive oil, not butter—too greasy.  When hot, put in the liver.  This needs to be cooked through first.  Then deglaze the pan with Madeira—1/8 cup or so.  This stuff has a lot of flavor and you don’t want it to overwhelm, but it’s perfect for this feast.  Let it cook down—you don’t want the next ingredients to stew in pan, but to sear like the liver seared.  (you might have to add a bit of olive oil again to give it something to cook in)
  • Add the neck and other organs—brown
  • Now add the veggie out-takes plus the additional veggies/herbs described above.
  • Cover with water, a cup of wine, and add a few tablespoonsful of whole peppercorns and a few bay leaves.
  • The trick to any stock is to bring it to a boil, and then drop the heat down so that it is just simmering.  This is going to simmer all
    day.  If it gets too low, then add more water.  Taste it as it cooks to make sure the flavors are coming along.  Add salt/pepper to taste.
  • Keep to about 8 cups total

Gravy:  (drum roll…HERE IT IS!!!  My very own special, time-evolved gravy recipe!)

  • When the turkey is done, remove from the rack and let rest, covered in foil.
  • Remove the rack and put all the pan-liner veggies/fluids in a blender and puree
  • Put a large bowl (preferably one with a pouring spout) in the sink with a colander on top of it.
  • Strain the giblet stock.
  • Pour the stock into a small/medium saucepan—should be about 8 cups of stock
  • Add 3 tbs. or so of Madeira and lots of fresh ground pepper (a tbs. or so)
  • Cook down for a few minutes.
  • Now grab your whisk, and whisk in the puree, little by little until you get the right consistency. 
    Swimming in turkey goodness.  Now for the blender...
    Swimming in turkey goodness. Now for the blender…
    Veggies from roasting pan to blender-- pureed heaven
    Veggies from roasting pan to blender– pureed heaven

It is absolute magic and you never need any flour or anything else for thickener!!!  Secret shared!  Now pass it on to future generations!  Say you learned it from an old friend who wrote.

 

And here...it...is!
And here…it…is!
Gravy happiness.  Happy cooking to all!  May you share it with loved ones!
Gravy happiness. Happy cooking to all! May you share it with loved ones!

 

1 Comment

Filed under My Posts

Laura’s Best Winter “Food for the Muse” Recipes: Pasta Bolognese

While I am taking this time of dormancy to write, and enjoying what Haven Writing Retreats alums are saying about creativity here on my blog, I am also cooking up a storm!  It’s the perfect balance to the act of writing because while characters and stories dwell and grow in my mind, with food creation, there is an immediately met trajectory.  I create it:  people eat it.  Complete creative arc!  We will finish the Haven Winter Blog series this week.  I hope you are enjoying these musings on the creative process.  In the meantime…here is one of my very favorite things to create, perfected over many years of trial and error…never before written down.  From my kitchen to yours!  May it fuel your muse! Buon appetito!

Now Booking the Haven Writing Retreats 2016 Schedule

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23
Sunday-Pasta-Tagliatelle-alla-Bolognese-2-640

Bolognese Sauce

(with apologies to the people of Bologna– this is an American woman’s best stab at what you do, and will always do, much better than this lowly lover of your cuisine)

I have learned to make this sauce over the years from the family I lived with in Italy, to Italian friends along the way in Chicago and Montana, and by cooking it over and over and becoming its friend, as with all favorite recipes.  It is my go-to happy meal and my family’s too.  Cook it when you need inspiration, when you feel inspired, when you’re in the dumps, when you want to dance in the kitchen for half the day, when you just…need…to…remember what it is to delight in holding beautiful lovingly grown manna in your hands and turning it into a blissful creation.  Sharpen your knives, clear the cutting board and counter, turn on some great music, (perhaps a bit of vino), and let’s go!  I serve this on the first night of my Haven Writing Retreats!  …food for the muse…

Note:  This is for a gallon of sauce!  It will feed a lot of happy people.  You can also freeze it.  I use about a quart for a box of pasta.

To begin:   The Sofrito– which is the base for many Italian sauces and soups

sofrito

Sofrito Ingredients:

2 yellow onions

4 cloves of garlic → 2 tbsp minced

4 cups chopped carrots

2 cups chopped celery

1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

 

Additional ingredients:

1 6oz can tomato paste

2 cups organic whole milk

2 cups dry white wine

3 28 oz cans of Italian whole plum tomatoes, hand crushed

 

Meat:

4 slices very thick pancetta, cubed

2 lb ground pork (no spices)

1 lb ground beef

 

Step: #1:  Meat

Add olive oil to cover bottom of pot

Let oil heat but not smoke

Add cubed pancetta

Remove pancetta when fat is rendered and brown (should take about 4 minutes) with slotted spoon so the grease stays in the pot — Don’t burn

Add ground pork

Remove with slotted spoon once brown, leave enough grease to coat bottom (note:  you don’t want the meat to stew– you want it to brown, so add each meat so that it touches the bottom of the pan)

Add ground beef

Remove with slotted spoon once brown, leave enough grease to coat bottom (ditto)

Set all meat aside and cover with foil

Step #2: Sofrito (cooking process takes about 20-30 minutes)IMG_0125

Saute onions in pot at medium heat, add large pinch of good salt, [no pepper until end-- makes it bitter]

Once onions are transparent and beginning to brown, add garlic, stir, add carrots

Once carrots begin to stick to the bottom of the pot, add celery and parsley, don’t brown

Cook sofrito until all liquid is absorbed

Step #3:  Combine meat to sofrito, and add liquidsIMG_0135

Add all browned meat and can of tomato paste, cook 10 minutes stirring occasionally to avoid burning

Add milk and wine, let cook ~15 min or until liquids are absorbed and bubbling

Add the crushed tomatoes and remaining juice (I like to do it by hand rather than buying diced tomatoes.  It’s a feel thing.)Pasta Bolognese

Let sauce gently simmer for an hour, adding salt to taste during the processIMG_0141

 

 

 

 

Step #4:  Assembly:

Bring water to a rolling boil in stock pot, add salt

Cook pasta until al dente– This pasta sauce can be served with any hearty pasta.  I like papardelle, penne, and rigatoni the best.


Strain in colander

Add sauce to stock pot and warm on low

Keeping burner on low, add pasta, grated Parmigiano Reggiano to taste (a cup or so), fresh ground pepper to taste, and stir lightly until pasta is coated (this is key, and too many Americans skip this step and pile the sauce on naked noodles.  Bad form!  The sauce never really marries with the pasta.)

Plate and garnish with fresh chopped Italian parsley

Serve additional fresh ground pepper and grated Reggiano for people to add themselves.

YOU WILL HAVE VERY HAPPY PEOPLE AT YOUR TABLE…who will all know that they are eating food made with love.

Enjoy!

yrs.

Laura (and my daughter, Ella, who cooked this with me, took the photos, and recorded the recipe which had never before been written down…and told me a long time ago that my food was “made with love.”  High compliment.)

 

pomodoroNow Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

Leave a Comment

Filed under My Posts

Laura’s Best “Food for the Muse” Winter Recipes– Pork Tenderloin Wellington

pork_wellington

Pork Tenderloin Wellington:

A quick and easy meal that is sublime winter comfort food!

Ingredients:

Pork tenderloin

Puff Pastry—thawed but still cool (store-bought is the standard. It’s in the freezer section and it only takes a half hour or so to defrost)

2 cups dehydrated apples—not the totally dry kind (that’s me avoiding the word m**st)

4 tbs good mustard

8 slices prosciutto

1 tbs fresh minced thyme

1 tbs fresh minced rosemary

2 cloves minced garlic

1 egg lightly beaten in small bowl for egg wash

Procedure:

1)      Lay a sheet of wax paper on the counter

Cover with slices of prosciutto, overlapping a bit

Cover with another layer of wax paper

Roll thin and smooth with rolling pin

Remove top layer of wax paper

2)      Put pork (both slices of tenderloin) on the prosciutto, side by side

3)      Chop apples in food processor until size of…like a Tic tac or an Advil gel tab or like…half a sugar cube ish

4)      Add half the garlic, thyme, rosemary mixture to chopped apples and put between loins

5)      Roll prosciutto over loins tightly

6)      Flour another part of the counter

7)      Spread out puff pastry and roll out to fit over pork

8)      Add the other half of your herb/garlic mixture to mustard and spread over pastry

9)      Put prosciutto covered pork on pastry and cover tightly, sealing ends and middle seam with egg wash

10)   Brush with egg wash

11)   Use leftover pastry for decoration with cookie cutter designs, and brush with egg wash

12)   Cook in preheated oven at 375 until 140 degrees, (30-40 min.), or remove and rest 10 minutes

Note:  since meat likes to be room temp to cook, and puff pastry likes to be cold when it goes into the oven, you don’t want to pre-prepare this and store in your fridge.  Assemble it, cook it, and enjoy!  I’m serving this at my next Haven Writing Workshop for Haven Writing Retreats alums writing a book.  They’ll need the extra love!  yrs. Laura

*inspired by Alton Brown

IMG_0221[1]

Now Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats in glorious Whitefish, Montana:

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

Send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click here

1 Comment

Filed under My Posts

Haven Gravy Giveaway!

Thank you to all who participated in my Haven Gravy Giveaway! We had some very interesting submissions, all in response to the challenge: why do you want my fabulous turkey gravy recipe? The prize? (aside from the recipe, of course) is a discount to a 2015 Haven Retreat in Montana. I’m pleased to announce the winter: Laura Probert from Bethesda, MD who responded with a 500 word poem about why she doesn’t necessarily want my gravy recipe as much as she wants to come to Haven! She gets both! You can learn more about her great work as a physical therapist and coach here: Bodyworks. And find her here too!


My next Haven Retreat will be February 25-March 1.  There’s still room but it’s booking fast! Give yourself the gift of creativity, voice, self-expression, community, support and inspiration!  You do not have to be a writer to come.  Just a seeker.  Gravy not included.

Now for the secret revealed!

Lining the Pan with your root vegetable gravy thickener...mmmm.  GOLD!

Lining the Pan with your root vegetable gravy thickener…mmmm. GOLD!

Laura’s 20 years-in-the-making Delicious Coveted and Begged-for Turkey Gravy Recipe

(Not heart smart, but who cares.  It’s one or two meals a year!)

The secret to this liquid gold requires some prep time but it pays off.  Oh, does it pay off.  The idea is this:  you dice an abundance of vegetables and line the roasting pan with them, cover with a rack and rest the turkey on the rack so that the juices drip into the vegetables during the cooking process.  Then, while the turkey is resting, you puree the entirety of the pan ingredients, grease and all, in a blender, and that is your gravy thickener!  It should be illegal.  The base is your reduced giblet stock.  It’s so easy and no stress and no raw flour ick and no corn starch yuck, and no intimidating de-glazing and no gizmo-dependent grease/juice separating… I’m telling you.  It’s the BEST.  Don’t be intimidated by the prep work.  I chop all the vegetables for the pan and for the stock the night before and put them in respective zip-loc bags so that Thanksgiving morning, I don’t have to do any more chopping than necessary for other preparations, like stuffing etc.  I strongly recommend this.  I never used to do this, and always was stymied by how long it takes to do this prep the morning of.  Cuts down your turkey morning prep by an hour!

Ingredients for roasting pan:  (if you do this the night before, put all of the vegetable out-takes (see parenthesis below) into a zip-loc bag for your giblet stock, so that you have 2 ziplocs– one for stock, one for pan)

Peel and dice:

1 Turnip

1 Rutabaga

1 Parsnip

2 Carrots (use the ends plus another carrot for giblet stock)

4 Yukon Gold Potatoes

2 Celery stalks (use the outer tougher stalks for giblet stock)

2 Shallot cloves

2 Garlic cloves

1 Leek (use the white part, and some of the green.  Wash and reserve the tougher top greens for giblet stock)

1 yellow Onion

4 crimini Mushrooms (reserve the stems for giblet stock)

1 cup chopped (Yep):  Parsley (Italian flat leaf), Sage, Rosemary and Thyme—fresh (use the stems/twigs for giblet stock)

1 stick Butter

1 cup dry white Wine

Ingredients for final touches:

Madeira

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Liquid:

    • Melt butter in small saucepan and add white wine.  Turn off heat once combined.

Lining your roasting pan:  (gravy gold)

    • Dump the diced veggies into the roasting pan.
    • Pour a cup or so of the warm butter and wine mixture from stove.  Salt/pepper.
    • Stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula so that all the veggies are coated. (you don’t want them to dry out during the cooking process, so remember to baste them as well as the bird)
    • Add any additional chopped herbs.  This should coat the pan about an inch thick. 
    • Put the rack on top of this, flat.
    • Put turkey on top and cover with additional butter wine, salt and pepper
Bird stuffed, racked, seasoned, ready to shed its love on its veggies below...

Bird stuffed, racked, seasoned, ready to shed its love on its veggies below…

Giblet stock for gravy base

Giblet stock for gravy base

Giblet Stock:

Ingredients:  (Don’t cheat and use canned broth.  This stock has a very specific flavor and makes the gravy sooooooo good)

Giblets (The gross stuff in the turkey cavity, but get over it.  Your hand is in a turkey cavity!  That’s already gross.)

1 tbs. olive oil

Whole pepper corns

Out-takes from all of the above vegetables and herbs (described in parenthesis above.  Best to put them in zip-loc bags while dicing the rest for the roasting pan the night before, to make prep time faster on Thanksgiving morning.)

Additional sprigs of rosemary and thyme, roughly chopped, stems/twigs included

1 garlic clove– crushed

1 medium yellow onion quartered

1 Yukon gold potato quartered

      • Heat a large saucepan, add olive oil, not butter—too greasy.  When hot, put in the liver.  This needs to be cooked through first.  Then deglaze the pan with Madeira—1/8 cup or so.  This stuff has a lot of flavor and you don’t want it to overwhelm, but it’s perfect for this feast.  Let it cook down—you don’t want the next ingredients to stew in pan, but to sear like the liver seared.  (you might have to add a bit of olive oil again to give it something to cook in)
      • Add the neck and other organs—brown
      • Now add the veggie out-takes plus the additional veggies/herbs described above.
      • Cover with water, a cup of wine, and add a few tablespoonsful of whole peppercorns and a few bay leaves.
      • The trick to any stock is to bring it to a boil, and then drop the heat down so that it is just simmering.  This is going to simmer all
        Swimming in turkey goodness.  Now for the blender...

        Swimming in turkey goodness. Now for the blender…

        Veggies from roasting pan to blender-- pureed heaven

        Veggies from roasting pan to blender– pureed heaven

        day.  If it gets too low, then add more water.  Taste it as it cooks to make sure the flavors are coming along.  Add salt/pepper to taste.

      • Keep to about 8 cups total

Gravy:  (drum roll…HERE IT IS!!!  My very own special, time-evolved gravy recipe!)

      • When the turkey is done, remove from the rack and let rest, covered in foil.
      • Remove the rack and put all the pan-liner veggies/fluids in a blender and puree
      • Put a large bowl (preferably one with a pouring spout) in the sink with a colander on top of it.
      • Strain the giblet stock.
      • Pour the stock into a small/medium saucepan—should be about 8 cups of stock
      • Add 3 tbs. or so of Madeira and lots of fresh ground pepper (a tbs. or so)
      • Cook down for a few minutes.
      • Now grab your whisk, and whisk in the puree, little by little until you get the right consistency. 

It is absolute magic and you never need any flour or anything else for thickener!!!  Secret shared!  Now pass it on to future generations!  Say you learned it from an old friend who wrote.

 

And here...it...is!

And here…it…is!

Gravy happiness.  Happy cooking to all!  May you share it with loved ones!

Gravy happiness. Happy cooking to all! May you share it with loved ones!

5 Comments

Filed under Giveaway, My Posts

Haven Holiday Giveaway

Giveaway Basket-December 2013

Announcing the winner of the Haven Holiday Giveaway!

I have never experienced more personal gratification in putting together a basket of love, spirit, and much good work– all from people who have touched my life.  Each of these people had an idea.  A far-fetched idea, some might say.  None of them let that get in their way.  What you see here is not just a bevy of incredible products, but hours of heart language, and miles of creative flow.  I want to thank all the  contributors.  Check out their information below and spend some time seeing what they do.  Maybe you have a “far-fetched” idea.  Maybe you long to bring it into reality.  These people hold the torch and say, “welcome.” 

Happy Holidays from Haven.  May you find haven during this magical time of the year. 

yrs. Laura

This gorgeous Giveaway basket includes:

A priceless collection of some of my very favorite things…to keep your heart hearth warm through the holidays and beyond…including a 10% discount on a Montana Haven Retreat in 2014!  Sign up here and win!

Welcome to some of the things I love!  I own all of these gorgeous creations and incorporate them into my life as often as I can.  They help me to focus, feel balanced, stay mindful, intentional, and grounded.  And they also feed my muse.  Each of these very special products has been birthed by powerful people who have come into my life and deeply inspired me.  I invite you to check out their web-sites and consider their creations in your holiday gift-giving.  And I encourage you to dig deep into your creative self-expression and follow your own passion wherever it leads you!

Giveaway Gift Basket:

A signed first edition hardback of my New York Times and international best-selling memoir:  This Is Not The Story You Think It Is:  A Season of Unlikely Happiness

2014 Montana Haven Retreat (selling out fast)!!!  10% off a retreat experience that will inspire your creative self-expression, nourish you, and re-charge your muse.

Great Northern Powder Guides:  10% off the cat ski adventure of your life in the stunning back-country of NW Montana.  A truly powerful Montana Moment!

Jessica Ricci Jewelry:  Silver Temet Nosce ring (Know Thyself)

BijaBody: BijaBody Nightly Beauty Tea, Deluxe Discovery Set with a sample of BijaBody’s protective Daily Body Serum and regenerative Anti-Aging Body Treatment, in a gorgeous, hand-make canvas bag

Clovis Jewelry:   Gold-filled Horseshoe Necklace

Glacier County Honey:  Two Montana-made large pine cone beeswax candles

Jennifer Schelter Yoga:  Inspirational Vinyasa Yoga DVD from one of the country’s best yogis.

JAMU Spa Products:  Ginger Spice Spa At Home (organic ginger massage and body oils and Balinese ‘boreh’ body scrub)

The Zen of Slow Cooking:  Organic whole and ground spice blends crafted for your slow cooker and designed to infuse a little zen into your kitchen.  Shopping list, recipe & zen reflection included.

And the randomly selected winner of the Haven Holiday Giveaway is: 

Heather Higinbotham who blogs at: http://justbegooddogood.blogspot.com/ and does wonderful work for Montana here!

Thanks to all of you who entered.  There are more giveaways to come in 2014 with more of my favorite things!

 

3 Comments

Filed under Giveaway, My Posts

The Anti-Martha Stewart


I have had my share of Christmas trees fall down in my forty-five years. Lost balloons. Fallen souffles. Cancelled flights. Burnt toast. Tough meat. Lemon cars. I wouldn’t call myself unlucky. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I can say that the butterflies of Christmases past have sort of flown the coop. In the last few years, I’ve mildly dreaded the Holiday season for all its glut and Amazon boxes and blow-up Costco snowmen and braggadocio holiday cards with “perfect” families in matching white linen on a beach…only for it all to end in a hemmorage of ribbons and bows and tape and wrapping paper, kicked into the mudroom and eventually burned.

I miss the little girl in me that used to sit in her window seat and gaze at the moonlit snow– who knew a holy night when she saw one. I’ve become resentful somehow of Christmas. In other words, I’d like to punch the Kay Jewelers people in the throat. It begins with the manic Black Friday and ends in buyers’ remorse and an overheated living room full of things you thought for a few weeks you couldn’t live without and turns out…you could. For a holiday that is supposed to be about love and wonder incarnate and stopping to honor it, I’m with Charlie Brown–Christmas has gone berserk. Mostly what I’ve come to resent is the expectation.

This year I’ve decided to rethink Christmas altogether. I don’t need to bully myself into feeling “the Christmas spirit.” It doesn’t need to be a season that erases pain and promises much of anything. It can be whatever it needs to be this year. I want to go lightly and untraditionally. I want to see if Christmas comes without ribbons and bows, Grinch-style. I got It’s A Wonderful Life over with last week. It’s just not going to be like that. We’ll fight over the Christmas tree. Ornaments will break. Somebody won’t get the latest in technology they’ve been begging for. Somebody will forget a god-child’s gift. In fact, this year, so far, I’ve done it all “wrong.” It’s the 12th and I haven’t bought one gift. I didn’t plan a Christmas photo shoot– in fact, our card shows the four of us with greasy hair standing on a marginally frozen lake, taken by a complete stranger. I didn’t get my paper whites forced so we’ll have those beloved white blooms in time for Valentine’s day. We’re not having our sledding party– we can’t afford it. There’s no snow on the ground anyway. And yesterday, the tree fell over.

I used to do it all so well. Year after year. A Dickens-worthy Christmas party with a half mile of luminaria lovingly leading our guests up our snowy driveway. Live music and caroling and roast beasts laid out in my grandmother’s best china and silver on the diningroom table. Handmade cedar garlands splayed on the mantle, the olive wood creche placed lovingly in its branches. Pepper berries dripping from the crystal chandelier. Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters cued up for the kid’s race down the stairs, all filmed with a fully charged movie camera. Santa had special wrapping paper. My father’s 1925 Lionel train ran around the dining room while we read Truman Capote’s A Christmas Visitor. Gingerbread houses. Cookies from scratch with marbled icing. Neighborhood gifts (usually homemade jam) delivered by Flexible Flyer and smiling children in hand knit hats. Sing-along Messiah. It all sounds exhausting to me this year. Maybe those butterflies will come anyway. But I’m not forcing them to.

I’m just going to let Christmas carry me this year. Quietly. Little moments in pjs. A walk in the woods with the dogs, even if no one wants to come with me. I’m making CDs for people. That’s about it. Sorry if you’re on my list. In fact yesterday when my son and I were making Christmas cookies, we got so giddy we started using the dough on the other side of the cookie cutters. So along with our santas and stars and gingerbread men, we made cookies that look a lot like Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard and alligators. We almost wet our pants we were laughing so hard.

That’s what I want this Christmas to be. That’s my expectation: to expect nothing. And to trust that grace happens when we least expect it.

41 Comments

Filed under Motherhood, My Posts

Holiday Baking Panic

My Pear Brandy Applesauce

As I’ve written before on this blog, I am not much of a baker.  Mostly it’s because I’m too stubborn to follow directions (I know, my loss.)   I like to riff on recipes, and that can work beautifully on the stove-top, but not so much when it comes to measuring out ingredients that make things rise and lift and puff.  So this time of year, I do things like make applesauce and add pear brandy to it and think pretty highly of myself. 

NOT my Bouche de Noel

Yesterday, at school pick up, one of my children announced, inbetween “can we go get ice cream,” and “my boots fell apart and I had to duct tape them together, but that’s okay, they look pretty cool that way because I used purple duct tape”….this little benign morsel of holiday cheer: “We’re having a party in French class tomorrow, and I promised my teacher I’d bring a Bouche de Noel (otherwise known as a Yule Log– you know, with the meringue mushrooms.) That’s what I get for addicting myself, and consequently my family, to the Food Network.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. This after an entire day wrapping presents and putting up garlands. Fun in theory, until your back starts to hurt, and you start swearing at tape dispensers and can’t find the scissors for the fiftieth time. “You want to make a Bouche de Noel TONIGHT?” Yup, those little eyes begged from the back seat right there in my rearview mirror. Ugh.

Bouche de Noel is one of those things that I’ve planned on making one day. Like, when I have grandchildren or need to impress a visiting queen or something. It involves layering and rolling and whimsy and frosting prowess– things I aspire to have one day. But not last night. Last night I wanted to pour out a glass of vino and lie on the couch by the fire and watch old Christmas musicals like White Christmas. Still, I’m a sucker for the word “Yes” when it comes to delivering in the way of homemade goodies and my children’s wildest dreams…so to the grocery store we went (mind you, I’d just been to Costco, something I dread– I have a hard time with the smells of hotdogs and radial tires comingling).

And you know…sometimes you just can’t be that homemade kinda gal– not this time of year– not when you start to resent this season that is supposed to be about love and giving and receiving and “dreaming,” as my father used to say with a tear in his eye, gazing up at the Christmas tree. So I gave myself a colossal break– grabbed the Betty Crocker and the pre-made frosting and the whipped cream in a can and called it good.

My child said, “Oh, I feel kind of sad, not making it from scratch. We’ve never made a box cake before. It won’t be made with love.” Tough crackers, I wanted to say, but instead I said something like, “Well sometimes you need to give yourself a break. It’ll still be made with love. It’s all in the intention.” Then I grabbed another box of cake mix just in case, because I had zero confidence in this “loving” endeavor.

I’d seen Tyler Florence make a Bouche de Noel recently on TV and I recalled needing to make a sheet cake, and then cut it in half making thin layers to cover in whipped cream and roll. (maybe we could just get a bunch of Ho-hos and line them up, yes? No.) I remember something about the dough needing to be especially springy and moist (my least favorite word). It said right there on the box: “Moist.” This, as a result of putting the called for cup of vegetable oil into your cake mix, and no, not EVOO. So I grabbed a bottle of Wesson oil– something I hadn’t seen since about 1972. And off we went.

After dumping out two attempts, a few hours later, this is what we came up with. Not so bad. My kid made little French flags taped to toothpicks instead of woodland meringues and we smiled at each other, pleased. “You’re a lot different than you used to be,” he said. “You used to be more Martha Stewart-ish.” It’s true. “It’s important to have range,” I said. Thank you, in this case, Betty Crocker.

10 Comments

Filed under Food, Motherhood, My Posts

Extending THE SENTIMENTAL RECIPE CONTEST! Send in by 10/10


In my book, THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS, I include a recipe that I hold near and dear. Not because it’s particularly hard or original, but because of what it represents to me. It is the tomato sauce commonly made in the summer by Tuscans and put up in jars for the winter. They call it the Pomarola sauce, and for it they use the freshest tomatoes from as close to the sea as they can find. The goal: to capture summer.

To me the Pomarola sauce captures much more than that. It is a symbol of a year in my life in which I found my heart language in a place and a family far from home. It is a symbol then, of finding home inside myself in a time of my life when I was morphing from child to adult. It is with this heart language that I went into the “rest of my life” and it was this heart language which I revisited with my daughter 21 years later (a few years ago). I had longed for it for all those 21 years, aching for it, naming it as the most important year of my life, yet not granting my return. I had realized a few dreams, some of which felt within my control: Getting married, having kids, building a home in Montana. Writing books. But I couldn’t seem to get those books published.

So after years of longing for it, I realized that I needed to stop basing my happiness on things completely outside of my control. I could write the books, and I could submit them for publication, but the rest was out of my hands. I decided to embrace the freedom of this surrender. And I started to look at the un-realized dreams of my life that I COULD control. Going back to Italy, with my daughter, to live with this wonderful family, was just that.

So I booked it and went.
One afternoon, my Italian host mother, Milvia, showed us how to make this sauce, how to can it, what to look for in ingredients. It was magical.

Little did I know that my new philosophy of surrender would be put to the test in a way I never dreamed, when my husband announced he wasn’t sure he loved me anymore and wanted to move out—this just two days after my return home from Italy.

There began a season of my life depicted in my book, THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, wherein I got the chance to practice what it is to embrace the present moment in a place of creating, not wanting. Of claiming responsibility for my own well-being despite what was going on with my husband. Of focusing on beauty and freedom and even joy. On p. 295 you will find a scene in which I make this sauce with my children, shopping for just the right ingredients, and spending the day up to our elbows in tomatoes, garlic, onions, basil, parsley. carrots, celery and pots of boiling water. On p. 300 you will find the recipe.

In re-visiting those pages now, six months after my book’s publication, I find it not coincidence that we came up with twenty-one jars of sauce. Instead, it feels quite deliberate, subconsciously. As if each jar represented of year of not claiming a dream that was completely within my control, and focusing so hard on another dream that was not.

So I pass on this message to you, in the form of a recipe. What is your Italy? What do you deprive yourself of that you CAN create in your life? What place do you long to re-visit in your life? So often I find that there is the nurturing element of food attached to our fondest memories and even our wildest dreams. Afternoons in a kitchen with a grandmother, a holiday feast with family in town from far-away places, picnics on a beach, a particular glass of lemonade. I’d love for you to share those sentimental recipes here. And a scene or story that shares why you hold that food, that memory, so dear.

The winner will be randomly selected and will receive a free signed copy of THIS IS NOT THE STORY OU THINK IT IS. I look forward to this sharing. Yrs. Laura

My Italian Family’s Pomarola Sauce Recipe
This is a light sauce that is the epitome of the summer harvest and is usually canned to capture summer in the middle of winter. It must be made with the freshest Roma tomatoes to get the right consistency, preferably from somewhere close to the sea.

Sauce for one pound of pasta. Serves six.
2 1/2 pounds unpeeled ripe Roma tomatoes
1 onion
1 clove garlic (Americans generally use more garlic than is the Italian custom.)
1 stalk celery- just the white part, not the leaves
1-2 carrots (depending on how big they are)
3-5 leaves basil
3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley- no stem
A pinch of salt
A pinch of white sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Cut tomatoes in half. Cut vegetables into small pieces. Rough-cut basil and parsley with scissors. Put all ingredients into stockpot. Simmer, covered, very slowly until the carrot is soft and can be easily mashed with a fork (about an hour and a half). Then pass everything through a passatutto, or food mill– a wide-mouthed hand-cranked strainer. Keep turning the passatutto until only the seeds and skins are left. Then put the sauce back on the stove until it reaches a boil. You may need to cook it for a bit longer to ensure desired consistency.

If you’d like to make a big batch of this sauce for canning, then adjust ingredients proportionately, adding an extra hour or so before passing the ingredients through the food mill, and after returning the sauce to the stove. Working with eleven pounds of tomatoes at a time is a good amount.

At this point you can serve or keep it in the refrigerator for a week, or put it in jars. Use the ones that have a self-sealing lid– which pops as the sauce cools and provides a vacuum seal, making it possible to store for months. The wonder of this sauce is in its fresh ingredients and its simplicity.

Here’s a blurb for my book written by my dear friend and literary hero. If you haven’t read his “Brother’s K,” you simply must.
“With amiability, wit, and a modicum of self-pity, Laura Munson’s memoir reminded me of the twenty-one jars of organic tomato sauce she and her children hand-made. A chapter is like a jar lid: if it doesn’t pop as the contents cool, the seal is faulty and the sauce is worthless. Exhausted from their all-day effort, mother and kids sipped hot chocolates and listened as twenty-one jars cooled. To their satisfaction, they counted twenty-one distinct pops. In reading this brave memoir I counted about the same.” —David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K and God Laughs & Plays

14 Comments

Filed under Contests! Win a signed hardcover of THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS!, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts

Pimenton Obsession

Every once in awhile, I get obsessed with something. It usually involves aroma. When I was a teenager it was Christian Dior Diorissimo perfume, because it reminded me of my grandmother, and then it was Halston lotion, because it reminded me of my best friend. Then I turned to Opalescence Borghese lipstick– I think I still have some somewhere. And then in college it was Grey Flannel men’s cologne. I used to spray it on my pillow because it reminded me of this amazingly handsome guy I knew—that and gin and tonics which for a short time in college, meant: freedom and sophistication.

During my first pregnancy, it was Orange blossom room spray from L’Occitane. It made my husband’s eyes sting.  The whole house was thick with it.  At one point, I was so addicted to it, that I just started spraying it all over my body even though technically it was room spray. Now I can’t get near the stuff.

Then, more recently, it was this Mexican cocoa candle by Pacifica.  I’m not really a scented candle person, but this candle is insane.  Makes you feel like you’re in an opium den only the drug is chocolate and somewhere someone is eating spicy, and a little bit feral, Mexican food in the barrio nearby and it’s probably Hemingway or Steinbeck or Frieda Khalo.

When I splurged and spent a night at the Park Hyatt in Milan, one bath with Laura Tonatto’s special line for that marvelous hotel had me stalking the housekeeping cart until I had a year’s supply.  Two years later, I still keep an empty bottle by my bathtub just to open it up and take a whiff.  And not I’m not being paid by anybody to endorse these products.  Though, Signorina Tonatto, if you’d like to advertise on my blog, feel free.  Especially if there are free samples involved. 

And then one day last summer, I met Pimenton. It’s not just a smell, or a flavor. It’s food for the senses and the soul. It takes a simple scrambled egg and soars it toward the heavens. Throw it in the Crock Pot with your roast and…six hours later…shenendoah. Got some ground chuck and some canned beans and tomatoes? Forget chili powder—use this stuff. People will think you are an exotic gourmet. Making a lime, mango, red pepper relish for fish or grilled sweet sausages? Add a few shakes of Pimenton and you’ll feel like you just spent the afternoon in a Spanish fishing villiage. I can’t not use Pimenton. My family calls it “that thing that everything tastes like now.” I love it so much I keep it on my kitchen window sill just so I can look at it. When I travel from the small mountain town where I live, I steal into specialty food stores and stock up on the stuff like a junkie. If you’ve never tried, it, here’s what it looks like.

Here’s what I learned from a quick twirl around the internet.
About Spanish Smoked Paprika – Pimentón (taken mostly from Latienda.com )

When Ferdinand and Isabella in the monastery of Guadalupe received Christopher Columbus at the completion of his second voyage to America, they were astonished when he presented them with paprika from the New World. The biting sharpness of some of the peppers took their breath away, but that did not stop the monks from cultivating them and soon the peppers spread throughout Extremadura. But it was not until the 17th Century that pimentón, the crushed powder from the red spicy pepper began its general inclusion in Spanish cuisine.

Today the finest paprika powder in Spain is made close to the original monastery garden in the fertile alluvial soils around the Tietar River in La Vera where the climate is mild and the rain is plentiful. Here the farmers cultivate different varieties of the paprika genus Capiscum annum, each with varying degrees of pungency.
The harvest begins in the fall where entire families go out into the fields to harvest the little peppers and place them in drying houses where they are smoke-dried with oakwood which must be about five times as great as the amount of the paprika to be obtained. No other wood may be used if the genuine pimentón de la vera is to have its typical taste. The farmer has to go into the smoking house every day for two weeks to turn over the layer of peppers by hand.

Finally the peppers are milled by electrically powered stone wheels which must turn very slowly since friction heat affects the color and flavor. It comes in three varieties: sweet and mild (dulce); bittersweet medium hot (agridulce) and hot (picante) and normally keeps for two years.

The precious powder is indispensable, for many types of Spanish sausage such as chorizo and lomo pork loin. It adds the absolutely perfect taste of authenticity to paellas. It crosses into regular American cuisine as a seasoning for barbecue pork, rich beef and lamb stews, kebabs etc. Pimentón de la Vera is unique – it is only a distant cousin to the Hungarian paprika that is used for Eastern European dishes. Although it is not generally available, even in many gourmet shops, there is no substitute for use in authentic Spanish cooking.

Capsicum peppers used for paprika are unusually rich in vitamin C, a fact discovered in 1932 by Hungary’s 1937 Nobel prize-winner Albert Szent-Györgyi. Much of the vitamin C content is retained in paprika, which contains more vitamin C than lemon juice by weight.

Paprika is also high in other antioxidants, containing about 10% of the level found in açaí berries. Prevalence of nutrients, however, must be balanced against quantities ingested, which are generally negligible for spices.

And since we’re going into fall, here’s a recipie from the New York Times that I can’t wait to try:

Smoky Quick-Cooked Kale
Yield 4 servings

Time 20 minutes

Ingredients
1 1/4 pounds kale (about one bunch)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon pimentón de La Vera, preferably agridulce
1 tablespoon lime juice
salt and pepper to taste
Method
1. Remove tough stems and center ribs from kale. Stack half of the leaves and roll into a cigar shape, then cut crosswise into very thin strips. Repeat with remaining leaves.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until hot, then add shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and pimenton and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is softened, about 1 minute.
3. Add kale and cook, tossing very frequently, until tender and bright green, about 5 minutes. Stir in lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.
Source: The New York Times

12 Comments

Filed under My Posts