Sunday, December 30, 2012

How Is Your Breakfast Conversation?

How is your family breakfast table conversation? For that matter, what does your family talk about around the dinner table?

Is it lively, with everyone tossing pebbles into the conversational pool? Or is the television on with everyone facing it? If the kids have grown up and left home, what do you talk about at the table? I really want to know because R.H. and I have settled into a habit of the television being our honored guest.

At breakfast I like to flip back and forth between the network news shows while R.H. prefers cable news. At supper I'd prefer House Hunters while he'd still prefer cable news or a football game or something from the Military channel. That's why I keep a book on the table to prop up before me.

A couple of years ago I made an effort one morning to turn off the television and have good conversation at the table after reading Leslie Brenner's fascinating book, American Appetite. A Frenchman that she interviewed told her, "It's boring to dine in America--there's nothing going on. In France, they're totally inseparable, dining and talking. Why does lunch on Sunday at my parents' house go on for three hours...? Because people are talking."

Here is what I remember of our conversation after we ate silently for a few minutes, watching the birds, squirrels and chipmunks feeding outside the glass doors.

Me, in sentimental tone: "I've been reading the early 1950's diaries of that Washington D.C. man about their first trip to Florida. They took two weeks and traveled down the east coast and back up the west coast, and it just really gives the flavor of the 'old' Florida. It's so neat."

R.H., in loud furious excited tone: "I know. Damn foreigners, they ruined Florida. Blah, blah, blah..."

Me, screeching: "Stop! Stop! I was just trying to have a civilized conversation. I don't want to listen to a broken record."

R.H., sulking: "Well, we just won't talk then."

That went well, don't you think?

Of course, I know that nothing like that ever happens at your house. And if it does, we can always blame it on that monster television for destroying the American family. But did it, really? If so, why did M.F.K. Fisher write this chilling description in the May 1948 issue of House Beautiful?

"...our boulevards are lined with an infinity of bad eating houses
filled with dead-faced people placed like mute beasts in their stalls."

What? Do you really think these mute beasts went home to a good home-cooked meal, angelic children around the table and suddenly turned into Ozzie and Harriet, conversation flowing like a merrily babbling brook? Maybe so. I know that when our grown children and their spouses are here for a meal, there's rarely a pause in the conversation. I love those meals. They take ages because no one wants to leave the table and yet I know that I eat less then than when it's just me and R.H. here alone, with the television on.

Easy, you say? Simply turn off the television? We did that this morning when we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of my homemade buttermilk pancakes that you've seen the pictures of here. But then we also had the Sunday newspaper to read.

What did we talk about, though? I'm trying to remember.

Oh, yes, we talked about how wonderful the Texas red grapefruit were, that we only get them this time of the year so we had to enjoy them now and about how Kroger's had them on sale now so we needed to go back for more. Fascinating conversation.

Lest I forget, we also talked about how much we like using the old Bakelite grapefruit knives to cut through the membranes. I had to get that in so you would look in the pictures to see them.

Seriously, what do you other empty-nesters talk about at breakfast or supper? Help us out here, pretty please. A new year begins soon. I would like for 2013 to bring more conversation to our table. Fair warning, young married couples: you'll be facing this question someday. Listen in or offer your advice to us. Go ahead, don't be shy.

(Don't worry, R.H. is not only the cameraman of this blog, he reads my rough drafts too. We won't get our feelings hurt. Well, he won't anyway.)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Carne Mechada

"I've spent most of my life doing kitchen battle, feeding others and myself,
torn between the desire to escape and the impulse to entrench myself further...
For even as I chafed at kitchen confinement, cooking had begun its long conquest of me.
Food had infiltrated my heart, seduced my brain,
and ravished my senses."
Betty Fussell in My Kitchen Wars

Betty Fussell, despite her sometimes ambivalence toward cooking, reached heights I have never attainted. And I'm certainly not going to at this stage of my life. But darn it, I keep thinking I can. Food memoirs like hers are among my favorite reading. Cookbooks are not only in my kitchen but beside my bed to be read like novels. I do keep trying but never more so than at Christmas. One recipe never fails and only gets made, for some reason, at Christmas. It is called Carne Mechada and my notes say it is from the November 1969 issue of Redbook. I no longer have the magazine but I remember the lovely young married woman the magazine featured in that issue because I have made it so many times since then. Here is the recipe, along with pictures that Defee took of the preparation.

Note: I usually double this recipe, but this time doubled it again...using 4 eyes of round!

Carne Mechada

1 beef eye of round roast
1 3 oz. jar pimento-stuffed olives, drained, sliced
1/4 lb. bacon, diced
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped fine
1 tablespoon drained capers
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 box Rachel Ray Beef Broth
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce

1. Using a knife with a long, narrow sharp blade, cut a triangle shaped tunnel in roast.
2. Mix together olives, bacon, onion, garlic, capers, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in bowl.
3. Stuff this mixture tightly into tunnel and save meat that is cut out to add later.
4. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat and sear roast on all    

5. Remove from heat and slice into 3/4" slices. [R.H. uses an electric knife for this where most of the stuffing stays in the slices.]

6. Keeping roast together, return slices to the Dutch oven, adding the meat that was tunneled out.
7. Mix together the tomato sauce and beef broth and pour around the roast.

8. Cook, tightly covered, over low heat about 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until meat is fork-tender.

[Note: Since I fixed 4 of these roasts for our family Christmas party, I put all 4 in my large roasting pan, covered the meat with parchment paper and then covered the pan with aluminum foil, crimping the edges tightly. Then I used the "bridge burner" function and cooked these over the front and back burner. Normally, when I do 2 of these roasts, I use my large Le Cruset Dutch oven.]

If you want to thicken the sauce into a gravy, remove the slices to a serving platter and keep hot. Bring juices to a boil and stir in 1/3 cup flour mixed with 1/2 cup cold water, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Serve gravy with the sliced roast. I didn't do that this year, and yes, the sauce spread over the plate, but since I serve this with mashed potatoes it didn't seem to stop anyone going back for seconds and thirds. 

I did the garlic mashed potatoes with olive oil this year, for the lactose-intolerant family members, and left out any butter or milk. I also cooked frozen petite green peas with sautéed scallions and College Inn Culinary Broth/White Wine and Herbs. Instead of making the homemade mashed potato rolls that I used to do, this year I used the frozen Bridgeford yeast rolls, letting them rise for 4 hours. They were almost as good as homemade. And for a salad I fixed my standby large crowd salad of scoring English cucumbers deeply with a silver fork, slicing them diagonally and spreading out on a pretty platter, sprinkling chopped scallions over, chopped parsley, and topping with a simple olive oil and vinegar vinaigrette. 

I start making the Carne Mechada 4 hours early!

Then it was on to desserts, of which we only had pictures of the Viennese Sandwich Cookies I make every year. 

I have enjoyed seeing many of my blog friends Christmas dinners and hope you enjoy ours. Is your kitchen battle over for the holidays or will you have a big crowd for New Year's Eve? And then the Super Bowl cooking is not far off. 

People have to eat, don't they? And someone has to feed them!


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

So Fleeting

When we're children it seems that Christmas will never get here. We grow up and wait for it more patiently. At some point we realize that waiting is part of the gift of Christmas. R.H. and I waited a bit more impatiently this December because for the first time a new granddaughter would be coming here to celebrate Christmas with us. The day finally came and she arrived at Mimi and Pawpaw's house for the very first time.

There was a night of getting to know sweet Nora after not having seen her in several months, and of visiting with our son Defee and his wife Wallace after Nora went to sleep. The next morning we all spent the day getting ready for the rest of the family to come for dinner--and of trying to hold and play with little Nora every chance we got. And of taking pictures, lots and lots of pictures!

Wallace made the punch, Oprah's Vanilla Citrus Punch.

And R.H. took more pictures.

With Wallace's help, R.H. and I made Carne Mechada, four eyes of round stuffed with a mixture of chopped olives, onions, capers and bacon. Defee made pictures of this whole process and I will try to post those pictures and the recipe in a couple of days as it has always been a hit with our family. Meanwhile, R.H. took more pictures.

How could he resist that face? I'm sure you can guess that he took lots more, but we won't post all of them here. And soon other family members came, all except for grandson Luke who couldn't make it, and for Christy and Bryan who couldn't make the trip from Florida this time.

Grandson Alex arrived.

Grandson Drake came, and got stuck taking a picture with me.

Drake's brother Caleb came.

Their parents Gurn and Teen came and R.H. was so busy catching a quick photo of my camera-shy daughter-in-law, which is very cute, that Gurn is only in a tiny part of it.

 Zack and Laura came, but poor Bentley had to stay at home this time, what with a new baby in the house. (Bentley is our beautiful English Bulldog granddoggie.)

Sorry, Bentley, but even our Brown-Eyed Boy had to curl up in a nest outside the glass doors, and be content to look into the kitchen. Wallace said that his eyes look as if a person was in there, and she is right...there is. A person with a very old sweet soul.

The table got set and the food all prepared somewhere along the way. Would you like to see a picture of my pretty Christmas table?

See, I have been studying all my blogger friends like Laurie who do beautiful table settings. Now I must admit that I have only managed to accumulate 4 of these beautiful chargers to go under my Spode Christmas tree and the gorgeous, if I do say so myself, cranberry red and white Spode plates that I put on top of them. So for the real dinner we used only the Spode Christmas Tree plates. Maybe next year?

After desserts of my Viennese Sandwich cookies, custard chess tarts, and Costco's Red Velvet Cake, the evening wound down and eventually everyone went home except for Nora, her daddy Defee, her mommy Wallace, R.H. and I. We went to bed.

And do you know what came next? The next day they went home so that Nora could have her first Christmas in her own home.

Such good times but so fleeting. And I feel so bleak and bereft.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"We Wish You Well"

I love these wishes that were from the editors of Good Housekeeping in the December issue of 1951. R.H. and I wish them for all of you:

"We wish you well; we wish you very well."

"We wish that the hand of trouble be stayed and that you be surrounded 
by the evidences of living love."

"We wish the wanderer's return and the quarrel's ending,
and the mending of rents in the fabric of life."

"We wish you the warm fire and the familiar faces..."

"...the smell of spruce and the sound of music."

"We wish you one exquisite moment of pure happiness
and the ability to recognize it as it hastens past."

"We wish you the laughter of children, star shine, and peaceful sleep."

A Very Merry Christmas from Across the Way