For no reason at all, this year I couldn’t bear making a turkey, stuffing, potatoes, pie type of Thanksgiving meal. I did want to cook, though. My alternative criteria included strong flavors, vegetarian-friendly and not Asian (my usual inclination). The M’s: Middle Eastern, Moroccan and Mediterranean seemed wise (and had nothing to do with Turkey bird/country puns). I was finally able to use the restaurant cookbook, Moro, a 2004 Christmas present from my sister. Ultimately, I settled on the following:
Green Beans with Cinnamon Yogurt
Golden Rice with Cranberries
Pumpkin Flan with Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
I’ve never understood the guilt, family obligation, whatever that comes with celebrating the holidays. I just had a few other orphans over for mini slumber party, low-key Thanksgiving dinner. Where I get this apathy from became apparent when my mom called Thursday and mentioned that she was shirking a family celebration, herself. Those relatives all practically live in Portland so it’s not a long haul travel issue for anyone. It’s very much a case of why bother with things that are unpleasant or difficult (fine for family gatherings but it inevitably extends to concepts like going to the doctor, fostering relationships, exercising and eating well, career advancement and the like).
The best part of the conversation was when I asked what she was doing at that moment. “Oh, I’m baking cupcakes from a spice cake mix.” No harm in that though it only reinforces how cooking from scratch was, and apparently still is, exotic (the last time I went home for Christmas, maybe in 2004, my cousins had done a bit of home baking. Unfortunately, everyone was on an Atkin’s bender and in my mind Splenda and artificial lemon extract cancels out the whole scratch thing).
I was originally going to work Thanksgiving and then said fuck it. I didn’t want to be a martyr but losing a day’s pay also sucks. While I would prefer it to be metaphoric gravy, the last article I wrote could cover two day’s lost wages with a little left over so I took the initiative to be lazy. I probably should’ve worked yesterday (Friday) now that I think about it but I couldn’t get out of bed until 1pm. (Besides, I’m being positive and counting on some good news next week. It would be very strange to start 2007 with another new job especially since I already did the exact same thing this January. I think 2007 will have to be an entire do over of 2006.) So, I had more time to prepare food than I’d anticipated but it still took way longer than expected and there were a few flubs. But there always is.
For the fatayer, which is a pastry typically filled with spinach, I used a combination of butternut, carnival and acorn squash and ultimately hand mashed rather than pureed. Next time I would use all butternut because the other two were a real trauma to peel and I wasted over half an hour messing with them. The end result was probably a little chunkier than called for but that was no biggie. I doubled the recipe and played a little loose with the measurements due to the grams/ounces conversion and made round pastries rather than triangular ones. The strange thing was that I had more than half of the filling left over after crafting eight doughy orbs. Maybe I understuffed, though based on the illustrative photos in the book I was right on.
With the exception of peeling the squash (which thankfully, I did the night before) these were pretty easy to make. I whipped them up while guests were watching Iron Chef America. Don’t be scared off by the yeast, rolling and rising (I usually am), it goes quickly.
220g all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon dried yeast
100ml warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
800g pumpkin or squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into small chunks
½ garlic clove, crushed to a paste with salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
80g feta cheese, crumbled and mixed with ½ small bunch fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon, pinenuts, lightly toasted
sea salt and black pepper
To make the fatayer dough, place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Dissolve the yeast in the water and pour the oil into the water. Now pour the water into the flour a bit at a time while mixing. When all the water is added, transfer to a floured surface and knead well. If the dough is still sticky add a little more flour; if it is still crumbly add a little more water. Continue kneading for about 5 minutes until the dough is no longer tacky, but soft, elastic and smooth. Set aside to rest on the floured surface covered by a cloth.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. To start the filling, toss the pumpkin with garlic and olive oil, and season. Place on a baking sheet in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until soft. Remove and cool. Puree and taste for seasoning.
To make the fatayer, divide the dough in four and roll into balls. On a generously floured surface, using a rolling pin, gently roll each ball to approximately ¼” thick, making sure the shape is a rough circle about 6.5” in diameter. Put 1 tablespoon of the pumpkin and put a quarter of the feta (with oregano) and pinenuts on top. Moisten the edge of the circle with a little water, then lift the dough into the center around the triangle of pumpkin. With your fingers, gently squeeze the adjoining edges together until sealed. Trim the edges of the triangle of any excess dough and pinch together again.
Place the four fatayer on an oiled baking tray and bake for about 10-15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the dough begins to color, but not totally crisp.
I’ve always wanted to make a bisteeya (b’stilla, b’steeya, whatever) because I’m nuts for sweet savory combos. I can’t understand people who are grossed out by fruit and meat cohabitating. This Moroccan pie would kill them because it’s not even subtle like sweet and sour pork; this monster is strewn with powdered sugar, cinnamon and almonds. It’s a total dark meat danish. I was also drawn to it because traditionally the entrée would be made with pigeon or alternatively, squab. Two birds I’ve never tasted, but clearly it’s about richness, which seemed like a perfect match for dark turkey meat.
I’m all for banishing dry poultry so I ended up poaching three turkey drumsticks as my base. This did prove tricky because all the recipes I found used chicken parts (the only turkey version I saw called for ground meat and that’s just wrong) which would require shorter cooking times. I was thinking I could simmer the drumsticks in an aromatic broth for maybe two hours but it dragged on all afternoon.
I adapted a recipe from The Traveler’s Lunchbox, who had already adapted it from various sources. Mine was definitely a mishmash. In a nutshell, you simmer dark bone-in meat in broth steeped with saffron, ginger, cayenne and cinnamon and onions. After the meat is cooked and removed, you boil the liquid down and add beaten eggs mixed with parley and cilantro until the egg is firm. Almonds are toasted, chopped and tossed with cinnamon and powdered sugar. To assemble the bisteeya, you layer lots of phyllo dough (warka for purists, but I wasn’t trying to prove anything) and butter and create layers of sweet almonds, shredded turkey and herbed egg and fold the phyllo sheets around the filling to create a big blobby pie. Then you bake until the pastry turns golden. That’s it. If it wasn’t for the turkey taking an eternity to cook, this would’ve been a fairly streamlined operation.
Admittedly, mine looks naked. I didn’t go the extra step and sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top. By this point, I’d already had enough to drink that presentation had lost importance and only two people were eating it anyway.
I also needed something green and crunchy to balance the starchiness of the menu. These super easy vegetables did the trick. They look kind of grotesque in the photo, though.
1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste with salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
14 ounces Greek yogurt, thinned with 1 tablespoon milk
1 ½ pounds green beans
sea salt and black pepper
Mix yogurt, garlic and cinnamon. Add salt and pepper to taste. Boil beans for 1-2 minutes, drain and toss with yogurt.
At the last minute (ok, the night before but that’s cutting it close) I decided we needed a side starch so I made do with things on hand and bastardized this Golden Basmati with Apricots. I used jasmine rice rather than the recommended grain (I only had half a cup) and dried cranberries instead of apricots since that was what was in the cupboard. It came off without a hitch and seemed more seasonal with the berries anyway.
I didn’t want to fuss with a crust so pies were out of the question, but this seemingly straightforward Pumpkin Flan with Spiced Pumpkin Seeds turned out to be a real pain in the ass. You’re essentially making a flan and combining a custard with a can of pureed pumpkin. Easy right?
Er, no. You’re supposed to push the mix through a metal sieve, but there was no way all of my goop was squeezing through the holes. Nowhere did the recipe say to discard solids either, so I spent at least 45 minutes fussing, forcing, trying different mesh strainers to no avail. I eventually gave up, and threw the remaining cup of too-thick batter into the dish as is. At the rate I was going the six-hour set time wasn’t going to be until after midnight (which ended up being fine since we weren’t ready for dessert until after 12am anyway). Not only did the flan not gel completely, it wouldn’t come out of the dish. I ran hot water over the back of the pan until it finally plopped out in an oozy block. I didn’t take a picture because it looked like shit.
Food aside, I’m always baffled how these types of evenings progress. Originally, there was a loose plan to play board games and watch hot gay teen hustler flick, Mysterious Skin (a perfect double feature would’ve been Brokeback Mountain, but that doesn’t air on cable until this Sunday. Though we did get a little unexpected man-kissing when we randomly clicked on original Cronenberg Crash, [I love how the decade-old website still exists] not cheesey Oscar Crash. I still think it’s weird how Elias Koteas ended up in all these arty flicks because I can only think of him as skinhead Duncan in Some Kind of Wonderful, which happened to be on TV today) but none of that happened. Five bottles of wine and a pack of Kools (I’m still not clear on the whys of how a friend started carrying menthols. For the record, I’ve only been smoking one-to-two cigarettes a week rather than a day so I figured a holiday binge wouldn’t kill me) will cloud good judgment.
Somehow we got sucked into the truly amazing, Kirikou and the Sorceress on the Black Family Channel (this French animated film is bizarre and charming in its utter un-American style. Without spoiling the story, it’s kind of about a precocious brave baby that’s born walking and talking and saves his village. That doesn’t sound terribly enticing, but one of my friends ended up having Kirikou show up in her dream the next night. It sticks with you). Next thing you know, I was watching the kind of crap that I’d normally chide James for putting on like Control, and marveling at Willem Defoe’s weird beauty. Then it was 6am and I was unable to turn off VH1 Classics, showcasing the hideous slightly before my time Rush, as well as the hideous firmly within my era Soundgarden. Somehow the night always ends with VH1 Classic (I have photographic reminders of how I practically cleared a room with my dancing to George Michael’s “Monkey”).