A Thanksgiving Message from “Mama Bear”

Dear sweet readers…. I want to start by thanking you for your readership and friendship over the years.  What started as a quest to hopefully become a widely-read, popular blog has yielded… well, quite frankly, almost no results to speak of in terms of internet traffic.  But, there’s a few of you out there who still read my posts and for you I am very thankful on this Thanksgiving day!

I write to you from a beachfront hotel.  It is a holiday when most people are with all their family, but I just can’t do that anymore.  My mother’s Alzheimer’s has progressed so much I don’t think she knows who I am anymore, much less whether it’s a holiday or not.  The rest of my family?  I love ’em, but for one family member in particular holidays bring out the absolute worst in behavior and attitudes.  I learned my lesson about that six years ago.  As I saw the look on my then-teenager’s face as he got to behold all the drama and emotional fuckery unfold at the hands of one person, I went into Mama Bear mode.  I swore then he would never have that look on his face again–at least not for that reason.  He is now about to graduate from college, and even though I can’t protect him from ever being hurt or miserable again, I can certainly protect him (and me) from dreading the holidays thanks to “family obligation.”

Ever since, our holidays have consisted either of traveling somewhere (usually a beach), or, having friends of our choosing come to visit and cook with us.  This year is the beach, as I mentioned.

Of course it had to begin with a stomach virus for me, but I think the worst of that is over.  I am good, really GREAT!  I’m quite peaceful and content, in spite of feeling a bit weak from the stomach crud.  It’s early morning and I can hear my son and Handyman both snoring and all is right with my world.  Bonus points for the fact that I won’t have to tolerate even a bite of turkey today, as we are having mexican food for lunch and italian food for dinner!  My little family of three people is juuuuuust right.

As promised, I did not host my holiday party this year.  I do not miss doing it, and, not one person at work said, “Awwww…. please do it again.”  So either they all hated the parties, or they were just tired of attending and either way, I’m good.  More time for my family, job, and hobbies.

Handyman is still here!  We will celebrate one year together on December 31.  His ex-girlfriend wrote his mother and told her we were having an affair long before we actually became involved.  They had completely broken up before we started dating.  She’ll never believe that, but I guess I can live with that.  I guess there’s nothing like a woman scorned to create historical fiction.

While I was nursing my virus today, I had a chance to go back and review some of my old posts about food.  I think it’s time I get back to that, since I have no more unpleasant romantic adventures to share with you!

We have much to celebrate in the coming weeks.  Have a wonderful, bountiful Thanksgiving!  A great Hanukkah!  A fantastic Kwanzaa!  A very happy Christmas!  A spirited winter solstice!  May you find all the happiness you can possibly stand during this holiday season!

 

Yet Another Turkey-Free Holiday

downloadI don’t like turkey very much.  I mean, if it’s all there is I’ll eat a little, but I don’t crave it.  I don’t sit around all year daydreaming about Thanksgiving turkey.  When the ads for them start I actually make this face where I jack up my top lip on one side–kind of like I just smelled an unexpected and absolutely raucous fart.  So, turkey is not on the menu at our house for Thanksgiving.  Here’s what are we doing instead for our turkey-free holiday.

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Apparently I’m not the only cat on the block who dislikes turkey–I found this graphic online and just had to include it in this post!

We’re a tiny family of two people, my son and I.  He has a girlfriend but she is spending the Thanksgiving holiday with her family since they are letting her go to Orlando with us for Christmas.   So, we only have to please the two of us.  Every year we usually do something special for our meal, and this year’s selection is crab.  Alaskan king crab legs, crab cakes, and arugula salad.  That’s the menu!  That’ll be plenty for the two of us, and we both love crab meat.  We’ll feast on that Thanksgiving day, then on Black Friday we’ll have his girlfriend over for another feast of, tentatively, crab alfredo.  Here’s everything you’ll need to join us in a turkey-free holiday!

Buying Crab

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A Maryland blue crab.

Lump crab meat typically comes from Maryland blue crabs.  I get my lump crab meat from Blue Crab Trading.   The reason I do that is because the crab meat you can find in North Carolina and in most grocery stores across the country is all pasteurized, and that’s not as good as fresh crab meat.  Pasteurized means it’s been cooked already, and that definitely subtracts from the flavor.  In a pinch it will do, but I’d much rather have fresh.  And hey, it’s only once a year.  Fresh is more expensive (fresh lump crab meat is about $32 a pound, jumbo lump crab meat is about $43 a pound, claw and backfin meat is typically about $22 a pound), but again, it’s just once a year.

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Could this be a photograph of the actual king crab I’ll be eating for Thanksgiving dinner?

The crab legs come frozen from Alaska, and the ones I ordered are from the king crab.  Blue Crab Trading had the colossal size king crab legs on special so I ordered 4 pounds of those.  The colossal ones average about a pound per leg.  Dang that’s big.  I’d hate to see one of those king crabs coming at me underwater, even though I know they are not dangerous!

For a less expensive option, you can get snow crab legs, which are smaller and more labor-intensive to work with in terms of extracting the meat.

Two pounds of lump crab meat, four pounds of crab legs, plus shipping and handling and everything was $195.  That’s a lot to spend, but it will make at least two meals (or maybe I should say feasts?)  And, I’m not doing a ton of sides or snacks–like I said, it’s crab, it’s salad, and that’s the fare for Thanksgiving.  The salad will cost me about $10 to make.  So, I’m splurging on crab.

How to Prepare King Crab Legs

King crab meat is so sweet and luscious on its own that all you really need to do is cook the legs.  No seasoning required, no fancy preparation necessary.  A butcher taught me a few years ago that the easiest way to prepare them is to roast them in the oven.  You don’t have to dirty up a big stock pot for boiling, and that’s always a good thing if you hate to wash dishes like I do.  I’ll thaw the legs in the refrigerator, then roast them in a 400 degree oven for about 6 minutes.

I’ll serve the crab legs with some melted butter (Irish, of course!).  No, I don’t do clarified butter.  What a buncha’ work just to be fancy about it, and I’m not about that kind of effort.  But, if you want clarified butter, here’s the recipe, just click here.

We also love love love good homemade cocktail sauce.  This is my favorite recipe from Alton Brown at www.foodnetwork.com:

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup prepared chili sauce
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon sugar
Few grinds fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sprinkle Old Bay seasoning

Combine all ingredients in a food processor.  If it’s not spicy enough, add more horseradish one half teaspoon at a time until you get enough fire in it!

What to Do with Lump Crab Meat:  Crab Cakes

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Paula Deen’s crab cake.

My son specifically requested crab cakes, and I am happy to oblige.  I love a really good crab cake!  My very favorite recipe is from Paula Deen.

1 pound crab meat, picked free of shells
1/3 cup crushed crackers (recommended: Ritz)
3 green onions (green and white parts), finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped bell pepper
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 egg
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
Dash cayenne pepper
Flour, for dusting
1/2 cup peanut oil
Favorite dipping sauce, for serving

I strongly recommend four things here:

  1. Use the Ritz crackers, don’t substitute any other crackers for this!
  2. Use red bell pepper instead of green for a sweeter taste and for a nice splash of color in the mixture.
  3. If you have time, make homemade mayonnaise.  It is so much better than the stuff from the jar, and you can see my recipe for it here.
  4. Don’t skimp on the oil–buy peanut oil and use it.  Don’t fry in anything else.

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients, except for the flour and peanut oil. Shape into patties and dust with flour.

One thing to note is that the mixture is going to be very loose, because it is mostly crab meat.  Some crab cake recipes are so full of breading and fillers that you end up with about 50% crab and 50% breading.  Not this recipe–it is all crab, with just enough cracker crumbs and mayo to hold it all together.  If you are having trouble getting the cakes to stick together, refrigerate the mixture until it’s very cold and then shape the patties.  If you’re still having trouble add a couple of tablespoons of cracker crumbs to tighten up the mixture.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, carefully place crab cakes, in batches, in pan and fry until browned, about 4 to 5 minutes. Carefully flip crab cakes and fry on other side until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Serve warm with preferred sauce, which for us is will also be cocktail sauce as described above.  You could also use tartar sauce but I prefer a nice homemade remoulade.  Click here for a tartar sauce recipe. Click here for a remoulade recipe.  In both cases, again, I recommend homemade mayonnaise.

What to Do With Lump Crab Meat:  Crab Alfredo

My son wants us to have a second Thanksgiving dinner with his girlfriend the day after the holiday, and I’m all for doing that.  He suggested a crab alfredo, and I’m good with that!  All that requires is to make a nice Alfredo Capturesauce, then gently fold in some of the crab meat.  Here’s a sweet recipe for that from Chef Geoffrey Zakarian:

Bechamel Sauce:

4 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch grated nutmeg
2 cloves
2 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fettuccine Alfredo:

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces dried fettuccine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup finely minced fresh parsley

For the bechamel: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium flame. Add the flour and whisk until the texture of wet sand is achieved. Lower the heat to low, add the nutmeg and cloves and cook for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the whole milk and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook for 3 minutes, season with salt and pepper and set aside.

For the fettuccine alfredo: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with salt. Add the pasta and begin to cook.

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the shallots and garlic until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the bechamel sauce, along with 1 cup of the pasta water.

When the pasta is 80 percent cooked, add it to the saute pan and simmer until the sauce is thickened and the pasta is al dente. Toss with the cheeses and parsley, and season with salt and pepper.

This recipe makes four servings, so I suggest 3/4 to a full pound of crab meat for it.   Gently fold it in so you don’t break up the crab meat lumps, and simmer for another 2 to 3 minutes until the crab is done.  (If you’re using pasteurized crab meat, you just have to get it warm, since it’s already cooked).

Arugula Salad

13993With all the rich crab meat, we need some lighter fare!  My son is not crazy about salad, except for arugula salad.  He loves it, so I serve it to get some vegetables in his stomach.  I’ve grown rather fond of it myself.  It’s easy to make, and unlike iceberg lettuce it has some nutritional value to it.

You’ll need:

  • shallot vinaigrette salad dressing
  • 1 package of baby arugula
  • 1 package of Campari tomatoes, cut into fourths.
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts
  • croutons
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese, or, finely shaved parmesan cheese

To make the vinaigrette, finely mince a large shallot.  Combine with the juice of two lemons and a teaspoon of salt.  Add 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar or champagne vinegar, several grinds of fresh black pepper, and then whisk in 1/2 cup of very good olive oil.   Make this at least 24 hours in advance so the flavors have time to blend.

Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over medium heat, just until they are fragrant.  Be careful–they burn fast!  Don’t take your eyes off the pine nuts while cooking.

To make the croutons, preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  Get some day-old bread, cut it into cubes.  Put the bread in a gallon ziplock bag and drizzle in some good quality olive oil.  Put in a generous amount of salt (maybe 2 teaspoons) and fresh ground black pepper.  You can also add 1/4 cup of finely minced herbs (rosemary and parsley would be good, but you can  use anything) and/or a couple teaspoons of granulated garlic.  Close the bag and shake like crazy to get the oil spread around and the seasonings distributed.  Spread them out on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.  Check them to see if they are nice and dry and crispy.  If not, bake for another 15 minutes and check again.  Keep baking until they are to your liking.

Assemble the salad:

Toss the arugula with enough of the dressing to coat all the leaves.  Put it on a serving platter or in a bowl.  Top with the tomatoes, pine nuts, croutons, and cheese if you have opted to include cheese.  I usually don’t include because my son isn’t crazy about cheese (which makes me wonder if he’s really mine?)

So there you have it… our Thanksgiving menu!  I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we do.  There is the possibility that I will include a dessert, but that is yet to be determined….

AFTER-the-FACT NOTE

I am pleased to report that everything turned out great.   The only “complaint” is that I bought entirely too much crab meat for two people and now I’ve got to get creative about how to use it up before it gets old.  The crab alfredo was a huge hit, it was really delicious and rich and my son and his girlfriend absolutely loved it.  I did end up doing dessert, making the key lime dessert shooters described here.  They turned out amazing, although I think a sprinkle of coconut in the layers might be a nice addition next time.

 

Baby It’s Cold Outside… but Maybe Not?

Yesterday I booked a trip to Orlando for Christmas.  My son and I wanted to go somewhere tropical formickey-mouse-snowman-christmas-510x640 the holiday but all the resorts were outrageously expensive and I didn’t have $5 thousand lying around to burn.   So, I booked one of those time share deals–pay $250 for three nights, and in return I have to go through a time share presentation.  Ugh.

That was really our only option for the budget, because the resorts charge outrageous prices that time of year.  I guess it’s because they can–apparently we ain’t the only cats who avoid family at Christmas.

That sounds awful to say, but it’s true.  And I’ll tell you the history.

When I was 18 years old I leased apartments to work my way through school.  I would volunteer for the Christmas Eve shift every year just so I had a reason not to go to my parents’ house any earlier than I had to.  It wasn’t because of my parents, though.  It was because of a certain other person in our family who had to make a scene.  Every.  Single.  Year.  It was like Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were on their calendar marked, “Show My Ass in the Biggest Way Possible.”  The holiday was so miserable that I fantasized about growing up, moving away, and spending Christmas alone.   If it wasn’t arguing about something it was a crying fit about a dead dog.  It was always always always something.  Oh, and it happened at Thanksgiving, too.

I loved Christmas.  It was my favorite holiday of the year.  I lived for it, decorated, shopped, wrapped, baked….but then that person would have to make their scene each year and so it was often anticlimactic and disappointing.

I grew up, finished school, and moved away.  I came back for Christmas, and it still happened.  Once I had a child, though, I stopped traveling at Christmas.  As I told everyone, “Santa will come down our chimney for our son–you can be here with us if you like, but he’s not going to travel at Christmas.”  With that came a wonderful thing–peace at Christmas.  My son was the focus, and I did not go to see my parents and engage in the drama.  They would come and visit us, leaving the drama starter at home.

I got to decorate, shop, wrap, bake, etc.,. to my heart’s content, and I got to see Christmas through the wonder of a child’s eyes.  It was magical.  In 2009 we moved to North Carolina.  And we were close enough to my family that we were able to visit for Christmas.  We didn’t have much of a reason not to.

The first year, we went for Thanksgiving.  While we were there had an early small Christmas celebration.  I’ll give you three guesses what happened, and the first two don’t count.  Yep–the Scene Maker started with their antics.  But, there was one critical difference between this time and all the times before…

…I had to see the impact of it in my son’s eyes.  I had tolerated it all those years and was used to it, but he had never had a miserable or unpleasant or drama-filled holiday in his life. He was 12 at the time and caught in that odd space between being a child and a teenager, and the confusion and tension I saw on his face was just heartbreaking for me.

The next year, we visited the family for a short time just before Christmas.  And yes, it happened again.  The drama was something that my father was so used to he simply said, “You know ____ always has to show their ass.”  And that look on my son’s face?  There it was again.  I can’t begin to describe it accurately, but it was one of disturbance, pain, anxiety, confusion, and sheer fright.

It killed me to see that.  And at that moment I made up my mind:  there would never be another holiday with my family.  It was one thing when I had to take the abuse but it was a whole other can of worms when I had to see my son get hurt.

One of the most frustrating things about this whole situation is that my parents–my father in particular–is an enabler.  Come one, come all, even if you do act like an asshole.  Ruin our holiday and we’ll accept it as a normal occurrence.  If it were me I’d un-invite the offender until s/he could learn to behave.  But, that’s not how it works at Dysfunction Junction.

I see my parents several times a year.  I love them with all my heart.  But, I just cannot spend a holiday with them anymore.  This year we’ll travel through there on our way to Orlando and spend a night or two, and deliver a few gifts, but there will be no Christmas festivities with “the whole family.”  I just can’t do it.  On this Christmas Day I will be in the company of someone I love more than anything–my son.  I’ll be dancing with Mickey Mouse to the tune of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and avoiding drama at all costs.