Wednesday, October 15, 2008


It was the Canadian Thanksgiving here on Monday, which meant that I cooked a turkey and roasted a lot more root vegetables than usual.

It also meant that FDPG got into a tizzy of excitement about decorating the table and making crafts ("A party! I need to get special napkins! And make special little things for the table! And get some special leaves! And make something special for everyone! Do we have special dishes, Mum?"). That FDPG, she sure likes a holiday. You should see her at Christmas. And Easter. And St Patrick's Day. And Twelfth Night. And her birthday. And Valentine's Day...

People develop habits around holidays. FDPG has hers, I have mine. One of them is making cranberry sauce. But this is no ordinary cranberry sauce. I make a cranberry sauce that would give me a serious reputation if I lived in a fairy tale. It has all the usual things in it: sugar, water, fresh cranberries. But it's in the extras that this sauce becomes superlative: whole cloves, allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, and orange zest. It's fragrant; it's spicy; it's even good enough to be eaten right out of the container. The original recipe came from the L.A.Times recipe section, but I've, err, enhanced it since then (which is just a fancy way of saying I've quadrupled the spice requirements and tripled the orange zest suggestion). I've had it since 1997, when we still lived in California, and I was attempting to cook a turkey for the first time. The section was called "How to stuff and roast a turkey, plus other tips for panicked cooks" - and let me tell you, at the time it was right up my alley: it detailed how long a turkey needs to be cooked, depending on weight; gave some cranberry sauce recipes, from Madhur Jaffrey's to Mom Parson's; discussed the relative virtues of cream vs. milk in mashed potatoes, and other equally gripping topics. I've clung to that section, folded up in my recipe file, for 12 years. It's been dripped on, scorched, spattered, and dunked in the sink along the way. You'd think after 12 years I'd have the recipe memorized, wouldn't you?

Anyhow, as I was searching for that battered recipe section, I came across one of those Martha Stewart magazine inserts she hands out periodically, the ones that scream FREE GIFT! and usually have a few overly festive holiday ideas that always involve things I have to drive to Michaels to get because I never ever seem to have them no matter how many times I go to the #*%@ store (gosh, Sheila, do I sense a little bitterness and hostility here?), FDPG's eyes alighted on a little pinecone turkey with a few feathers stuck in its bum for good effect. "Oh! How cute!" she shrieked, "Can we make those?" I looked carefully at that pinecone turkey. I looked at the feathers. I looked at the pipe cleaner neck. It looked innocuous enough. "Okay," I said, "here's the glue gun."

And lo and behold but they were really easy to make. FDPG got a little carried away with the glitter, but they turned out well, even if I do seem to be picking super fine gold glitter off her face each meal.

I eventually found my recipe section and made the cranberry sauce. Here it is dripping atmospherically in the kitchen. I make it with the whole cloves, allspice berries and cardamon pods in the tea strainer. Why, do you ask? Well, gosh, one year I just threw those whole cloves merrily into the pot, with nary a thought for how I was going to get them out again afterwards. I can just pick them out, I thought. It'll be simple.

It wasn't.

And now I use a tea strainer. This one even holds cinnamon sticks.

And then, because things were going so well, FDPG and I dipped fresh leaves into melted beeswax. This is something we've seen at Waldorf fairs, and FDPG has always wanted to do it. So we did. They smell lovely, I have to say, even if the smoke from the dripping beeswax set off the smoke detector 6 times.

Happy Thanksgiving to all you Canadians out there. Hope you got the government you always wished for. Oh, wait, that's Christmas I'm thinking of, isn't it? I guess you'll have to make do with potluck then.

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