Making a list, checking it twice

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We crossed our Christmas shopping finish line today. I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief; I’ll be working flat-out at the store until Christmas Eve selling Christmas goodies, putting the finishing touches on customer’s holiday meals with cheeses and bottles of wine. I feel good knowing that my bases are covered at home now. Because, of course, when I speak of Christmas shopping, I am talking about shopping for our Christmas dinner!

We met up this morning in Chelsea for brunch after S had a doctor’s appointment and then went to Chelsea Market to pick up groceries. First stop was Dickson’s Farmstand Meats. I want to make something porchetta-ish. The traditional porchetta is a pork loin wrapped in pork belly with all the spices inside then roasted, a volume of meat that would daunt even the most committed pair of carnivores. I knew we wanted leftovers (just not for the next 4 months) so I consulted with one of the women behind the counter about options – pork belly only, pork belly wrapped tenderloin, pork shoulder…she offered to cut to size, talked about the amount we would need. I needed to think about it and get the rest of my provisions now that I knew what options were available so I told her I’d be back in a few minutes.

Next, the Italian market Buonitalia to get semolina flour and dried porcini mushrooms for our Christmas Eve lasagna bianco. Naturally, because it was the week before Christmas and surely one of their busiest days of the year, their register system was malfunctioning, grim-faced staff trying to ring  up the growing line of customers, a manager clutching the counter and muttering into the phone. Eh, these things happen.

Manhattan Fruit Exchange is one of my favorite places to shop, one of my weekly stops for groceries. It comes the closest to replacing some of the great produce markets in the Bay Area (not even close, but the closest option I have available) with a huge variety of produce, from sea beans to quince to chiles to lacinato kale at not-fancy prices. I got baby artichokes and lacinato kale (cavollo nero), sprigs of rosemary and sage, king oyster and shitake mushrooms, sour oranges, red navel oranges, and little gem lettuce for the salads and seasonings and green parts of our dinners.

Another favorite, we walked through The Lobster Place to ogle the gorgeous seafood. It looks like jewels laid out on crushed ice, luminous under the lights. The fishmongers were breaking down whole salmon today, filleting them as cleanly as unzipping a dress. I love good knife work (and get pretty snippy about lackluster work). It’s something I enjoy practicing when I’m cooking myself and work hard to cut as cleanly and precisely as possible at work. I couldn’t resist a pretty little filet of pearly pink  fish to take home for tonight’s supper.

So back around to the butcher shop: I decided to get a pork sirloin roast with a beautiful white cap of fat, butterfly it, and as the late Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe’ Cookbook taught, “early salt” the meat with a herb mixture for a few days to infuse the meat with herby goodness. The counter woman found a nice sized one and then had a butcher with a sharp curved knife slice it open like a trifold wallet, fold it back up, and wrap it up for me. I also got a link of salt and pepper sausage for the lasagna.

I have a grocery delivery coming in the morning before work with some of the heavier things I normally order (truly, you can get almost anything imaginable delivered to your door here) like orange juice, eggs, bacon (for Christmas breakfast bacon oatmeal scones), milk and butter. It makes life a lot easier not to have to carry all of that home from the store but I can’t stand not to pick out my own meat and produce. I need to see how my fruits and vegetables look and smell,  and I don’t like buying a pig in a poke either literally or figuratively.

I may pick up something here or there if I happen to run across something interesting, and I’m sure I’ll bring home some cheese from the store but it is so relaxing to have it all in hand, to be cooked and enjoyed at our leisure but, there it is, Christmas shopping done with a bow on it. And I am deeply grateful for the luxurious gift of an overflowing refrigerator.

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White Christmas!

 

I wrote this in a message last week after I got to Alabama: “Another Life Skill I’ve developed for Coping with a Polar Climate is fleeing. I have been outside on a patio in Alabama this afternoon in a long-sleeved t-shirt (What!) tapping busily away on my computer. I even took my shoes off for a little while, not because it was that warm, but  really just because I could.”  Clearly I spoke too soon! We drove about an hour north to my parent’s in Georgia for Christmas and it’s snowing! It’s the first white Christmas I remember for a long time.

 

 

We had Christmas with my family this year, with four children at my parent’s house and my absent sisters in North Carolina and Vietnam via Skype. With all of us living all over the world, it’s hard to get everyone together in one place at the same time, but technology definitely helps keep us connected. We opened Vietnam presents on Christmas Eve here, Christmas morning in Saigon, and had a look at the stuffing Grace was making. She sent me a purple silk scarf from a factory she visited where silk went from silk worm to scarf right on site.

When we finally rolled out of bed late Christmas morning, my youngest brother Peter made all of us a Christmas brunch of sesame seed bagels with cream cheese, capers, red onions and smoked salmon. It was gorgeous and delicious. Peter is probably my most culinarily experienced sibling; we’ve been cooking together since he was about 12 and it’s not unusual to get a call from him that begins “Hi Christine, I’m in the grocery store and I was wondering…”. He remembers my making his birthday cake when he was 4 or 5 and being “very generous with the beaters.”

 

 

I got  a red spoon with  a little face in it for Christmas. I made giblet gravy and carved the turkey, burned my knuckle. I’ve been watching Cat play with a snowflake ornament on the Christmas tree and watching snowflakes fall outside. We are making a piñata for our Dad’s extended family reunion tomorrow, tearing up strips of newspaper and smearing them over a big balloon. Israel is trying to make it impenetrable since most of the cousins are extremely fit 20 somethings and is coming up with all kinds of concoctions to make the flour paste stronger. The rumor is that it’s going to look like Lord Voldemort. We’ll see what Peter comes up with.

 

We’re going to spend the day with my dad’s parents, lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins tomorrow. It’s a yearly event I always hope to be able to attend and look forward to. Then we’ll head into the slow pre- New Year week. Should be chill (and chilly).

 

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas.