We’re in the Christmas mood here at Glover Gardens, and some of my colleagues have helped us get that way…
There was a hot chocolate bar at our work party last week, and my colleague who organized the party urged me to get there early and take pictures “for the blog”. Sweet!
The bar was a great idea and we may do something similar here on the 28th when we have our family Christmas. The hot chocolate was in a big crock pot, and there were all kinds of goodies to drizzle, dollop or adorn the sweet, steaming goodness. (Not pictured – whipped cream!)
Beyond enjoying a meal and the hot chocolate together, our little work party during lunch one day last week was really fun! Calling it a “wamily” (work family), the crackerjack team of party planners had organized activities that made the event a wonderful bonding experience. Our recreation during the celebration included decorating ornaments, a hilarious set of contests (I actually won the one in which you have one minute to draw a snowman on a paper plate on top of your head because the judge was impressed that I wrote “snowman” in cursive legibly) and playing board games together in small groups. One of my colleagues brought a new game, Codenames, and we were all instantly enamored. I ordered one right away for Glover Gardens, and Santa might have given a couple as gifts (shhhhhh!).
Another colleague, knowing how we feel about jazz here at Glover Gardens, sent a text to me one evening with a link to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Big Band Holidays performance (led by Wynton Marsalis) on YouTube suggesting that my family would enjoy it. Love it!
This music will definitely put you in the Christmas mood.
Holiday dinners are about tradition, traditional recipes and taste memories that carry meaning beyond anything our taste buds can comprehend; here are some from my family’s table:
The yeast rolls from “Mema’s” recipe, almost the basis for a religion (you know I’m right).
The stuffing/dressing. It.Must.Be.Right. There’s a whole, as-yet unpublished story about the evolution of the dressing in my family, a North-South conflict that threatened my parents’ marriage until it was resolved. I’ll come back to that later, but before Christmas, because I promised a dressing devotee that I’d document it.
That green bean casserole that no one should like because it has all those extra-processed ingredients – hello, “French”-friend onions from a can!!!??? Someone in my family always manages to sneak that dish in, and they all look at me to see if I will break into food-snob mode and castigate them. This year, I relaxed my standards and had a few bites at Thanksgiving. Surprisingly, the world didn’t stop spinning on its axis. Yet.
The faux cranberry-something in a can (another anathema to me, but hey, some of my loved ones swear by it, and so does Rick Bragg). To counter this abomination, I actually make cranberry relish from scratch, and I’m usually the only one who eats it. I’m ok with that.
Sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping (where o’ where did that come from???)
The fresh creamed corn made from a 75-year old recipe.
That last bit, the creamed corn, is the subject of today’s post. This is serious business.My Dad always made my grandmother Mema’s creamed corn (once she was finished making it; she’s been doing Thanksgiving for the angels since 2000). Dad earnestly took Mema’s recipe and made it his own. The documentation of her recipe is below, from a school project my aunt undertook years ago.
My aunt’s notes below the instructions are a testimonial:
This was the way I had eaten corn all my life until I married. It was a big let-down to try canned cream corn and I have made it a point to use this recipe often.”
I wanted to get the latest take on this, so in 2015, I asked Dad, via email:
Dad – I found Mema’s recipe for creamed corn (from Aunt Lynda). It used corn, butter, water, salt and pepper. I think you said you used cream instead, and white pepper. Is that right?
He was immediately forthcoming, as this was an important issue in the family:
Kim, last year I followed mom’s recipe to the letter and I’m sure you remember it had too much butter. This year I followed my recipe with just a lot of white pepper, maybe a tablespoon of butter and less than a cup of water. Much better.
Dad is gone now. I’m having a hard time believing that he will not be bringing creamed corn every year, or ever again. Last year at Thanksgiving (2016), because of an illness, he was out of the hospital but on a stomach feeding tube, and couldn’t eat – or even taste – anything, but he still made his famous creamed corn. Did I mention that this creamed corn is from scratch, starting with fresh corn on the cob and never, ever frozen or canned – don’t even think about it!
Dad was an amazing optimist; taking a bit of every dish at our 2016 Thanksgiving table of bounty, he made a to-go container that he froze for a time in the future when he would be able to eat again. That time didn’t come. He left us in June of this year, never having gotten clearance to eat normally again, never thawing and enjoying that belated Thanksgiving feast. I miss him every day. But I feel his presence every day, too.
But here I go digressing again. Let’s do the recipe! This year, I made the creamed corn myself for the first time in advance of our 2017 Thanksgiving celebration. Hoping not to create a family controversy, I made some minor modifications to update the classic recipe while preserving its simple elegance. Since no one noticed, I think I’m in the clear. The major differences were that I used cream instead of water, added a bit more of a savory taste with a small amount of sautéed leeks, and the secret ingredient – ground nutmeg.
Using the vintage corn scraper handed down from my father and grandmother, and with their recipe notes as a guide, I was deep in the heart of family taste memories when I made this dish.
Harvell Family Creamed Corn (serves 8-10)
8 large cobs of fresh corn
1 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup thinly sliced and chopped leeks
1/4 heavy cream
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg or about 50 scrapes of fresh nutmeg (preferred)
1 green onion, very thinly sliced
Shuck the corn cobs and wash off any stray silk. Use a corn scraper or knife to cut all of the kernels from the cobs, collecting them in a large bowl.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add the leeks and sauté for 5-7 minutes until they are soft and translucent. Add the corn and “corn milk” and continue to sauté on medium for 7-10 minutes until the mixture is thickened and the corn is soft. Add the cream, salt and white pepper and cook for about 5 more minutes until the cream has thickened. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.
Serve hot and garnish with the sliced green onion.
Note: The creamed corn will keep for several days in the fridge, so you can make it early. It won’t seem like a large amount, but it is very rich, so a small serving is just right.
The end product is a rich, creamy dish that makes you nostalgic for the old days when life was simpler, people were kinder and you could borrow an egg from your neighbor, even if you never experienced any “old days” in that way.
Check out my post about the usefulness of a corn scraperhere, and check out this other blogfor the deep-dive into the mechanics of the use of a scraper. And let me know if you make the Harvell Family Creamed Corn for your holiday table.
It’s New Year’s Eve! I’m looking forward to 2017 and all of the opportunities, challenges, connections and blessings it will bring. And I have to acknowledge that one of the big opportunities and blessings for me in 2016 was sharing a few thoughts, recipes and haikus with you in this blog – and the interactions and connections that spawned. Thank you!
There’s no time to create a compelling post at the moment – the Christmas tree’s undoing beckons!- so I will wish everyone a safe and happy celebration tonight, and simply repost a New Year’s Day Brunch menu from last year.
My recommended New Year’s Brunch Menu (which can also be a lovely New Year’s Eve menu if you’re having a party):
I love to decorate the Christmas tree each year and remember the where, when and who of each ornament. We have tinsel from my paternal grandmother’s tree dating back to the 50s, kitschy baubles we picked up to remember family holidays, ornaments from my mother-in-law’s native Germany, handmade treasures from craftsy folks and schoolchildren, and gifts from years and years of stuffed stockings and generous colleagues. Decorating a Christmas tree together and talking about the ornaments is almost like a family’s oral history. I woke up this morning with this haiku about the tree in my head.
Ode to My Christmas Tree
Decorated, you are evergreen memories, ghosts of Christmas Past.
We love our holiday food classics here at Glover Gardens, but it is also fun to mix it up a bit. At Thanksgiving this year, my Aunt-Mom (there’s a story for another time) did just that with these wonderful sweet potato “stacks” she found in Cooking Light. Yum! And look how attractive they are.
My Aunt-Mom says she doesn’t like to cook but is really, really good at finding great new recipes. This one can be found online at Cooking Light’s site here: Sweet Potato Stacks with Browned Butter.
Christmas Eve is tomorrow! Today’s the day that I stay home, get caught up on wrapping gifts, and bake, bake, bake.
I have a small TV in the kitchen, and it is almost always tuned to Turner Classic Movies (first choice) or the TV Food Network (distant second). Movie classics I first saw with my Dad 30+ years ago (when they were already old!) keep me company while I turn out the family classic recipes.
I’m in luck today because Myrna Loy is the Star of the Month and the lineup presents her in back-to-back features with William Powell, all day long. Woohoo! (It’s the little things.) Did you know that these two stars made 14 movies together? I have always been a fan of the Thin Man series but didn’t realize how many other times they were paired up, mostly for comedies, but with a few dramas in the mix. They’ve started already this morning with a crime drama, Manhattan Melodrama, which also stars Clark Gable. Heaven.
I’m all giddy because my mother-in-law is hosting the annual Christmas Eve appetizers and stocking fest and I’m only responsible for desserts, a great balance since the Christmas Day shindig and feast is here is Glover Gardens. My Friday kitchen lineup is below.
I like to serve these Raspberry-Nut bars at holiday parties with decadent partners, like drams of Chambord (raspberry liqueur).
Cranberry-Walnut Chocolate-Covered Cookie Mountains, luscious chocolate-chip cookies made decadent by dipping them in chocolate post-baking, a close second in my mother-in-law’s estimation. (Recipe not published yet, but maybe after today’s batch.)
The dressing. Even though we aren’t having turkey this Christmas, the dressing is a MUST. It could be a meal in itself. I’m going to try to finalize the recipe and publish it. Family recipes that are made with muscle memory because you’ve done it dozens of times are the hardest to document, don’t you think? Like trying to tell someone how to tie a shoe without demonstrating it.
If I have time, these truffles from The Irreverent Kitchen blog. Don’t they look good? Alicia, who publishes the blog, says they are really easy. And it looks like fun. I think I might be able to wangle a little help with them from the millennials who have decamped at Glover Gardens for the duration of the Christmas holiday. (We are filled with joy to have a full house this year.)
Some of the most alluring recipes I’ve come across in my years of cooking have been published in Wine Spectator. They are always perfectly paired with wine, described delectably and photographed beautifully, and I’ve been known to keep back issues for years, planning to make that picture-perfect meal a reality in my kitchen. Someday.
The December 23, 2002 issue had just such a meal: A Holiday Menu from Wine Country. Oh my, it looked good: White Bean Soup with Fried Sage, Pan-Roasted Duck with Root Vegetable Hash and Sweet Potato Puree…whee! I held onto that issue of Wine Spectator for a couple of years, revisiting the recipe and ingredients a bit wistfully from time to time while realizing that my everyday life with a small child didn’t really support making this super-sophisticated meal. But as they say, good things come to those who wait. I finally broke out that recipe for a very small girls’ night at my house during the holidays a few years later. It was just two of my closest friends and me, ready to cook, laugh, tell stories and maybe even cry a little (if necessary) in the little kitchen of my 1920s wood-frame cottage. Two of us were single moms at the time, and the third a “restaurant widow”: her husband was the managing partner at a very popular restaurant, and was never home in the evenings. All three of us were without children that night, for various reasons. “Like sailors on leave,” one of them said.
The menu from the magazine, billed as an easy holiday meal to make at home, was provided by the executive chef of Napa Valley’s Auberge du Soleil, Richard Reddington, who was described as wine country’s “hottest young chef”.
The last thing I want to do on a holiday is kill myself in the kitchen,” Reddington says. “I want to be done and I want the kitchen to be clean and I want to sit down with my guests for an hour and drink a glass of sparkling wine.”
Gentle readers, you should know that there are definitely different definitions of “easy”. Easy, it was not. Tasty, it was. Might as well drink that sparkling wine while you’re making the dinner, because it will be a while before you get to the finish line.
In my little kitchen with my two girl-buddies, there was a frenzy of chopping and chatter, and it took us a couple of hours to get the meal made. We had a marvelous time, uncovering the meaning of life and praising the fiber of root vegetables as we sautéed each of them individually before mixing them (they don’t cook at the same rate and might get mushy if crammed together in a pan). We also praised ourselves for being smart and sophisticated enough to appreciate root vegetables – no bourgeoisie, we! We exclaimed over the richness of the pureed sweet potatoes as we laid crispy-skinned pan-fried duck on them and began the devouring.
We drank our wine and told our stories with the desperate urgency of moms who only have a night off a couple of times per year – and of course the kids took center stage in all of those stories.
We knew were were the luckiest gals in the world that December evening, with our wine, our stories, and our fiber-laden root vegetables. I cherish the memories of that night, with that meal, and those ladies. One of them has left us and is now cooking with the angels, and I imagine her in heaven savoring the super-crispy duck skin with the rich, smooth pureed sweet potato and crunchy, root vegetable hash without worrying about the calories. If you’re interested, you can read more about her here, but grab a cup of coffee first, ’cause it’s a long one.
Gather some friends and try these recipes one day when you have time. They won’t be quick and easy, but you won’t be sorry. Here it is again: A Holiday Menu from Wine Country.
A former colleague and friend shares my love of garden and cooking and home and holidays, and makes frequent posts in Facebook of his flowers, food and fabulous decor. I have his permission to share this gorgeous photo of his dining room. Isn’t it elegant? And yet simple? And what a great idea to decorate the chandelier to bring a little green into his silver and white theme.
Here’s what he said when he posted this photo and others on November 21 (before Thanksgiving):
so grateful to be able to celebrate thanksgiving and christmas with loved ones. ~front room –d.o.n.e – silver and white theme
yes, i know it’s really early, but when you feel the spirit you just go with it. i always say find your own joy and rock on!
I couldn’t agree more. Thank you, my friend, for letting me share your beautiful dining room and more beautiful thoughts.
I was inspired to make a rosemary wreath by another blogger (see yesterday’s post) and it worked! It is a lovely way to dress up the old standby party dish of cheese, salami and olives. I decorated the wreath with marinated piquant Peppadew peppers, but cherry or grape tomatoes would work just as well.
Here’s how to do it. You’ll need to have access to a large a rosemary plant.
Snip about 30 sprigs of rosemary, one inch long or less. Remove the side sprigs so that each length of rosemary is only one stem. Lay the longer sprigs in a circle on a round platter and secure with florist’s wire. Tuck the shorter ones in around the circle to even out the wreath.
Rosemary wreath (see above)
9 marinated cherry peppers, cut in half sideways
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
8 oz. of your favorite white cheese, cut into cubes (I used Havarti dill)
8 oz. sliced salami
Place a small container with toothpicks in the middle of the platter, then surround it with salami slices inside the wreath area. Arrange the peppers in groups of three on the wreath to resemble holly berries, then add the cheese cubes to the wreath. Scatter the Kalamata olives across the whole platter.
Below is the original wreath from Home is Where the Boat is, shared by Sara from Last Night’s Feast.
Did You Know…?
Sweet piquant peppers called Peppadew are originally from South Africa and were discovered in the early 1990s. Peppadew is a trademarked name and the peppers can be a little hard to find. Bon Appetite published a recipe with them a few years ago and got loads of letters from disgruntled readers looking to make their Pimento Mac & Cheese, so they followed up with the article Where to Buy the Elusive Peppadew.
Peppadew peppers resemble (but are not the same as) cherry peppers, which is another name for pimento peppers. Pimentos resemble (but are not the same as) red bell peppers.
Any of these wonderful peppers can be used in this recipe.