I had been planning to make this for days, but never managed to get the ground turkey. Eventually I did, and these shu mai were the happy result. Normally I make them with shrimp and/or scallops, but for whatever reason I wanted turkey. I have learned to listen to my desires, for they are often smarter than I am.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, centering as it does around food. I usually take a day or three off leading up to it and cook my ass off, often making ten or so courses for whoever comes to visit. It’s my chance to stretch out and try some ideas that require special ingredients or techniques, and to make the best food I possibly can, in sequential courses, using my own ceramics, and try to nail all the details and timing for each dish. It’s also a holiday that’s relatively free of crass commercialism–although that appears to be crumbling in the face of earlier and earlier riot-inducing sales–but these things are easily avoided by not having TV and choosing not to shop in the days that follow the big meal. I think it should be about the food and the company, period. The timing also neatly coincided with the last Charcutepalooza challenge, which was more of a dare: show off, using any and everything we’ve done so far.
So I did. Eight courses, each of which contained some quantity of homemade charcuterie.
There’s a perpetual struggle between the ideas one might have for a dish or a meal and the realities that impose themselves on the execution thereof. Time, ingredients, fatigue, kids home from school with a fever–life has a limitless array of obstacles that can undermine our vast ambitions and bring them right back down to everyday dimensions. The trick is to retain some shreds of the original glory of the ideas before they got all sullied by the laws of physics and still get the food on the table with a minimum of delay.
The last couple of days have marked a change; the sun is higher and warmer, and things melt quickly when it hits them. There’s still a ton of snow all over the place, but even a thick coat gets greatly diminished by a few hours of sunlight; a half-assed morning shoveling makes for immaculately snowless paths by afternoon. Thoughts turn to seeds, and compost, and mulch. And dinner. A smidgen of foresight led to the welcome presence of some ground turkey defrosting in a bowl of water come dinner time tonight. That foresight did not alas extend to the other several items on the shopping list which I somehow managed to lose between the house and the store, but such is life.
In the summer, I always just walk outside and let the garden dictate what dinner will be. I love the constant dialogue with the plants, and the tension between my desire to efficiently dispatch them all at ideal times and the realities of their own schedules. As a result, I often try to make good use of the not-yet-ready in the form of sprouts and baby greens, combined with a few thinks at their perfect peak, and something else that’s past its prime. These days? I just open the freezer. Interesting it ain’t, but easy it assuredly is. And on nights such as last, when I’m not feeling super-inspired, a package of four semi-boneless quail can make the difference between a pasta phone-in and a real meal.
One of the nice things about not having turkey on Thanksgiving is that venturing into that realm of flavors mere weeks afterwards doesn’t seem crazy on account of everyone is sick to death of turkey this and turkey that and leftover sandwiches. Quail taste much better than turkey, and if there’s a way of having leftovers I have yet to figure it out. A four-pack is just enough to make a meal for us, and the only thing left is tiny, tiny bones that I throw in the stock pot on their own to make a little bit for adding to greens or sauce, or mixed in with other bones for a larger volume. They’re fiendishly tasty little birds.
I was going to got to my 20th reunion in Providence, but it didn’t work out. So instead some dear friends from Boston (one of whom predates college) came for a couple of nights, and festivities were in order. I didn’t have time to do multi-course extravaganzas, so I concentrated instead on making single-plate meals of high quality and opening serious wine to wash them down. It’s not the worst strategy.
My intermittent perambulations of area farmers’ markets are something I’m trying to make more mittent as I research some things for future projects. Recently, these more deliberate peregrinations made me the happy owner of a pheasant. Since it was a lovely cool evening, I roasted it on a bed of fennel, onion, and new potato. While it roasted, I took full advantage of summer’s influence on the various nightshades outside; I dug other potatoes, picked a variety of tomatoes, and grabbed a serrano pepper as well. The eggplants are coming along nicely, but need a couple more days to get big enough so that the first batch will make a substantial dish. I sautéed onion and pepper, then added chopped tomatoes, some smoked paprika, Espelette pepper and a few herbs and let it all simmer, covered, until the spuds were tender. I added a bit of salt and pepper and took it off the heat, leaving the lid on.