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Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

I know all of the planners out there pretty much know what they are serving for Thanksgiving by now. We have no idea what we’re doing for Thanksgiving dinner, but that’s by choice (because, skiing…). So no wah wah trombones here! And besides, we are spending the weekend eating fabulous food with family. Because it isn’t the day so much as what you’re eating, what wine(s) you’re pairing with what you’re eating, and with whom you are dining.

for kaweah it’s all about what she would like to eat

In case you are looking for recipes, ideas, or inspiration, I’ve compiled a selection from my archives that are as Thanksgiving as I get. As you well know, I am not a traditionalist. Just remember: variety is the spice of life!


Artichoke dip: This is a classic hot and cheesy dip to serve with crackers, crostini, sliced baguette, or even tortilla chips. Total winner.

Bacon-wrapped Boursin-stuffed dates: If you have some oven time and space, these may be some of the lowest effort to wow-factor ratio appetizers on the planet. I mean, we’re talking BACON. Don’t have Boursin cheese? No problem – stuff a little stick of Parmesan in there. Or a sliver of almond. Or don’t stuff the date at all and just wrap it in bacon and bake. If you don’t pit the dates, I do suggest letting your guests know, to perhaps save them some dental work.

Marinated mushrooms: These are best made ahead of time to ensure the mushrooms soak up all of the good flavors. Also super easy.

Sweet onion dip: I first had this dip at a little dinner party that Todd and Diane threw for me. I asked for the recipe right away and have been serving it to guests ever since. It’s called crack dip for a reason.

bready things

Angel biscuits: These are the closest biscuits I could find to the coveted silver dollar biscuits in southern Virginia. They go particularly well with Virginia ham (yes, that salty salty wonderful ham), but are fantastic with honey ham, in place of rolls, as well as straight up into your mouth.

Herbed-garlic knots: From Todd and Diane’s book Bountiful, these nuggets of bread are irresistibly buttery, garlicky, and bright.


Beet, chèvre, hazelnut salad with blood oranges: It seems the only salad mentioned at most Thanksgiving tables is a jello salad, and that makes me sad… and little ill. This is an especially bright and satisfying salad to add some color to the meal. All of the components can be prepped ahead of time.

Roasted cauliflower salad with olives and oranges: My girlfriend Denise served this at a gathering last year and I think I ate half of it (and there were 10 of us). Another great make-ahead dish that has elements of briny, sweet, tangy, and that earthy, almost buttery flavor of roasted cauliflower.

Shredded Brussels sprouts salad: The oft-maligned Brussels sprout is the star of this salad. Crunchy and fresh, it is paired with citrus, cheese, and nuts for a great combination of flavors and textures.

Shredded kale salad: I eat a lot of kale and I like it, but this is perhaps my absolute favorite kale salad and it is crazy simple. I like the version I cobbled together, but the original recipe from Oak is the one I always make. It’s fabulous.


Asparagus soup: Yes, soup! I don’t see it on most Thanksgiving menus, but it can also be tough to serve to large groups of people. Even so, if you have a hankering for soup, a simple asparagus soup purée tastes great and adds some nice green to the meal.

Cream of mushroom soup: There really isn’t anything more heavenly than a creamy mushroom soup and this one is chock full of a variety of mushrooms.

Potato leek soup: Maybe you aren’t a fan of mashed potatoes, but want a potato dish? Or maybe you ARE a fan of everything potato! This soup is easy to make and wholly satisfying without being too heavy.

Pumpkin soup: Everything pumpkin at Thanksgiving… but this sneaks in some additional vegetables, apples, and bacon. BACON.

Roasted butternut squash soup: In keeping with orange soups, here’s another squash turned into soup. It’s easily converted to vegetarian or vegan and includes apples.

Roasted carrot and ginger soup: A recent post and new favorite soup in our house. What makes this one so delightful is the warming ginger along with the sweet roasted carrots. Simple to make and a great recipe to make ahead.

vegetables and sides

Basic cranberry sauce: Sure, you could buy it in a can, but cranberry sauce from scratch is so ridiculously straightforward (and in my opinion, better tasting) that it deserves a little stove top real estate.

Corn pudding with green chiles: A New Mexican twist on corn pudding adds a little zing to your taste buds with chopped green chiles.

Mirin sweet potatoes: So maybe you don’t want sweet potato mash with marshmallow and brown sugar topping, but you still want sweet potatoes. Here’s a sweet Asian fusiony sweet potato recipe that calls for Mirin, honey, and butter.

Parmesan gremolata smasher potatoes: Crisp potatoey outside and fluffy potatoey inside, all mixed with lemon zest, parsley, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. Crowd-pleaser.

Potatoes au gratin: Creamy, cheesy, buttery, utterly indulgent classic. Oh, and potatoes.

Roasted Brussels sprouts: I’m not giving up on pushing the Brussels sprouts. They say anything roasted with bacon is fabulous, but Brussels sprouts roasted with bacon (and shallots) is doubly fabulous. This dish has converted a lot of people.

Roasted butternut squash with Moroccan spices: I love this roasted butternut squash from my friend Kalyn. The Moroccan spices really bring out the sweetness of the squash and I find myself snacking on them straight out of the oven.

birds and non-bird critters

Dry-brined roast turkey: I’m not a turkey person, but if I’m going to serve turkey I think brining is the way to go. I prefer dry brines because they involve less mess and are relatively easy. The best part of this recipe is the defatting technique from Fine Cooking.

Miso-butter roast chicken: Let’s say a whole bird isn’t in your plans, but you want some kind of bird. The miso-butter in this recipe is so unbelievably good that you’ll want to save some for bread, or vegetables, or anything else you can think of. The magic is in the miso, butter, AND a head of roasted garlic. This phenomenal recipe comes from my good friend, Kathya.

Roast chicken: Not enough people to justify a turkey? Maybe you’re not a fan of leftovers (for shame!). Think of a roast chicken as a smaller, faster version of the turkey. And you can still get gravy from it.

Crusted roast beef: We all know someone in our lives who is a caveman and who barely tolerates Thanksgiving turkey. I’m always one for bucking tradition. If you have a red meat-lovin’ table, this beautiful crusted roast is sure to please.

Pan-seared scallops: Now that is what I’m talking about. You might be surprised to learn that my fish monger is crazy busy the week of Thanksgiving. This dish literally takes minutes (like, less than 10) to cook and it impresses EVERYONE. More often than not, Jeremy and I enjoy seafood for Thanksgiving.

Rack of lamb: Another non-turkey option that plates beautifully and takes a lot less time to cook than a whole turkey.

cakes and cheesecake

Carrot cake: This one is a low effort cake for a crowd if you want to bake it in a 9×13-inch pan and spread frosting on top. But you get more cream cheese frosting bang per slice if you make it into a layer cake – it just requires a lot more manhandling of the cake and frosting.

Chocolate bourbon cake: Chocolatey and boozy. Plus it looks gorgeous coming right out of the bundt pan. Easy to make.

Chocolate cloud cake: Flourless chocolate cake with a big hint of orange. It is rich with a sort of meringue top when baked. The crater that forms in the middle is the perfect vehicle for a giant pile of whipped cream (the cloud).

Chocolate pistachio cake: This is an awesome dessert that makes everyone say “wow” when you bring it out. Not a simple process, but certainly a delightful end product.

Lime cheesecake with blackberry sauce: Because your Thanksgiving dinner just wasn’t rich enough, you need some cheesecake in your life. This one is deceptively light on the tongue – maybe because of the refreshing lime flavor? People usually go back for seconds.

Pear upside down gingerbread cake: What better way to pair an autumn fruit with a holiday favorite? This one requires oven time, so it’s best to make it ahead to avoid competition with other oveny things.

Pumpkin cake with chocolate ganache and salt caramel cream cheese frosting: There’s that pumpkin again, but it’s the lightweight of the trio of flavors: pumpkin, chocolate, and salt caramel. Baking and cake-making skills are a plus.

White Russian cake: Inspired by The Big Lebowski, I turned the famed White Russian cocktail into a cake. Boozy and amazeballs. Definitely use the stabilized whipped cream (with gelatin) or bad things could happen.

pies and tarts and things baked in pans

Apple cranberry crisp: It’s hard to mess this one up. Prep ahead of time and pop it into the oven while everyone dines on the turkey (just set a timer for yourself, but you knew that). Wonderful when served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Chocolate bread pudding with hazelnut liqueur crème anglais: A decadent bread pudding made from buttery challah or brioche, soaked in chocolate goodness. Don’t skip the Frangelico crème anglais!

Chocolate espresso pecan pie: Because sometimes you just really need pie in your life, but you don’t want the same old pie. Pecan pie with chocolate and espresso. No dozing at this dinner table.

Cranberry nut dessert: Super simple. Mix everything in a bowl, bake it in a pie dish. This recipe comes from my MIL and we love it. Almond flavors the cake which is dotted with tart cranberries and chunks of nuts (take your pick, but I make it with walnuts).

French silk pie: Silky smooth melt-in-your-mouth deliciously decadent pie. This one should be made the day before, but top with whipped cream just before serving.

Pear frangipane tart: If you love frangipane, this is for you. I’d suggest making this ahead of time (either the day before or the morning of). Dust with powdered sugar right before serving.

Pumpkin bread pudding: Another bread pudding, but this one is pumpkin to keep in step with the seasonal and holiday themes. And just like with the chocolate bread pudding, don’t skip the accompanying crème anglais. This one is bourbon crème anglais, because you can never have enough booze in your desserts.

other sweets

Butterscotch milk chocolate puddings: An alternative to the cakes and pies, this double decker pudding is a treat and a half. Topped with freshly whipped cream and a shave of chocolate, and you have the perfect ending to your Thanksgiving meal.

Chocolate espresso crème brûlée: Crème brûlées ought to be made a day ahead so they have plenty of time to cool and chill in the refrigerator. The fun part is when you bring the torch out to caramelize the sugar. The chocolate espresso crème brûlée is dark, so watch carefully to ensure that you caramelize the sugar without burning it beyond recognition.

Cranberry pâte de fruits: I just posted this recipe, but these wonderful little fruit jellies are a nice sweet and tart bite to finish your meal. Great palate cleanser.

Pumpkin crème brûlée: Pumpkin flavor in crème brûlée form. If you are expecting a super smooth crème brûlée, then make the chocolate espresso version (or the classic). This one incorporates real pumpkin purée and has a bit of a texture to it – but it’s a propos of the season.

Good luck, good cooking and baking, and good eating! May the odds be ever in your favor.

the acorn and the tree

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Usually when I get home to find the light on the answering machine blinking, I’m filled with dread. Who called? What new phone spam is this? But on occasion, after hitting the PLAY MESSAGES button, I’ll hear:

Hey! You dodo! This is your Baba!

Because terms of endearment shouted are always louder and happier. I also love how Dad identifies himself on the answering machine. He will then proceed to leave a hilarious message in which the Dad side wants to be conversational and yet the Professional side wants to be succinct and to the point. A single voicemail illustrates that internal struggle, but the entertainment value is through the roof.

I will get to see my parents in less than a week and I can already play out what Dad will be like. First, he’ll look at me and half-grin half-laugh as he reaches out to give me a hug. He’s going to suggest we get together and cook a nice meal with a GOOD bottle (or two) of wine. Dad will enthusiastically inquire about Crested Butte and the fishing there. He will ask where Kaweah is and when he can see her. Then he’ll start discussing the plan for lunch.

Dad and I are very different people, and yet we share many personality traits and mannerisms. The obvious ones I’ve known about for decades, but Jeremy will observe similarities that can make me cringe, beam, or both.

me and dad (1994)

You know that old saying that you become your parents? I don’t mind that so much anymore. As I get older, I think I understand where they are coming from a little better. At the same time, I wonder if they ponder the things that are looming larger in my mind as I age – things like mortality, life decisions, loved ones, responsibilities, relationships. Of course they do.

Ever since I was little, I have memories of my Dad giving me a sideways squeeze-hug and shouting (always with the shouting), “You dodo, do you know that Baba loves you?!” And I would answer, “yeeeeeeees” while rolling my eyes and waving him off so I could concentrate on my Saturday morning cartoons. Now when I’m with my parents, I sometimes find myself watching Dad while he’s taking off his trifocals to read a wine label 5 millimeters from his nose and wanting to run up and hug him and yell, “Do you know that I love you?!” I guess it goes both ways.

Dad and I (and when she was alive, Kris) have had a running joke – that we kids are the acorn, and he is the tree. Whenever I do something clever or stupid that my Dad would have also done, he points to me with a big grin on his face and says, “Acorn.”

And I kinda love that.

happy father’s day, daddy – i hope you catch lots of big fish

my mom

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the wonderful moms out there! I personally feel that every day should be Mother’s Day, because it is without a doubt, the most difficult job in the world.

thank you to all of the moms

I’ve written on occasion about my dad on the blog, because that’s pretty easy to do. My dad was my pal when I was growing up because he was a big kid at heart – he still is. He’s also quite the character. I am, to be sure, my father’s daughter. Our relationship has been fairly constant throughout my life.

But my relationship with my mom is a different story. It has evolved over the years and we have both grown and changed in that time. It’s complex and I think that happens with mothers and daughters who are close and yet span different cultures, personalities, and ways of thinking.

mom at 18 (as a bride’s maid)

age 22

I love these glamorous photos of our parents from the 50s and 60s. I treasure them. When I was little I used to thumb through this collection of old photographs of my parents and other family members. That was another time, another place… far from me and disconnected from my reality. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I realized I was so much older than my mother in those photos. And it has always been evident to everyone that my mother is elegant and beautiful and I am a tomboy with no fashion sense.

posing with dad’s big catch (i’m the goofball on the left – my grandmother dressed me)

When I was a little girl, my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world to me. I adored her. When I was sick or scared or sad, she would pick me up and I would lay my head on her shoulder, my arms around her neck. Her arms were the safest place to be. Of course, I was fortunate enough to have two mothers: my mom and my maternal grandmother. The difference was that I could get away with ANYTHING with Grandma, whereas Mom could bring the smackdown at any time. And she did, because I was a very silly little girl. What I would come to understand in my adult years was the gift that my mom and grandmother gave me – the chance to witness such a loving and devoted relationship between a mother and a daughter.

christmas 1986 (mom and grandma)

People talk of teenage years and I remember mine well. These were not my happiest years. I was exerting my independence – I was confident, even cocky. Dad had taught me to move assertively through the world. He was quite western in his thinking for a Chinese immigrant father. Mom was more of the traditional Chinese mother and that is where we butted heads. Often. My 790 math score on the SATs was like a knife in her heart, “WHY? Why can’t you JUST.GET.IT.RIGHT?!” I defiantly played field hockey despite cries that it would cost me college admissions to ANYWHERE. In our day-to-day exchanges, I intentionally challenged my mom just to be confrontational. It was clear that we were very different personalities and I didn’t always think her way was the right way. She would get angry with me and I would get angry with her. I was a pain in the ass. And despite all of my belligerence, there were moments when she would be proud of me or happy with me and say, “JenJen, you will always be my baby.”

mom and dad going to a cocktail party in 1989 (my senior year in high school)

dancing over the holidays when i was home from school

Leaving for college across the country was a good thing. There were more struggles between my desire for independence and Mom’s desire to tell me what to do with my life – very much a cultural tug-of-war. I could not see it then, but now I know that my mom has only ever wanted what she thought was best for me. Whether or not it was the best for me is not the point. After my sister died, after I could see through the fog of my own grief, I watched my mom walk through life with a broken heart for several years. I do not have nor do I want children, but I can’t imagine something more devastating for a mother than to lose her child. We are a close family and Kris was an integral part of the jokes, the tears, the yelling, the laughter, the joy. That was when I began to understand my mom for the woman she is rather than the mother she had been to me all my life – two very different roles.

mom and dad in 2005

in rocky mountain national park

getting gelato in whistler

My cancer diagnosis came as a shock to me, but once I gathered my wits I said to Jeremy, “How am I going to tell my mom?” I did not want to do this to her, not after the grief she was still enduring over Kris. I wanted to protect my mom, but I needed to prepare her just in case. So when I told her over the phone that my results were positive for breast cancer, all I could hear was the quiet sound of Mom taking in a breath. Then came the questions and it was obvious that she was trying desperately to understand and cope. That phone call feels like it took place ages ago.

It is my hope that I have learned to be a better daughter over the years and not just because that is what I am supposed to do, but because I really love my mom. I started out very attached to my mother, as I think most children do. During my adolescence there was a clash of personalities and I was resistant to the traditional Chinese ways of doing things which probably hurt my mom’s feelings. It was my independence against her desire to have a say in my life. Adulthood is good for us on many levels, not least of which is to appreciate your parents as individuals and not as parents per se. There (hopefully) comes a point in your life when you finally see your mother for all of her flaws and weaknesses, strengths and vulnerabilities, struggles and triumphs, that make her more human and more precious than ever. And there is nothing like the squeeze of my mom’s arms around my waist when she tells me I will always be her baby.

happy mother’s day, mom. i love you. -jenjen