Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pictures from Turkey Day, thanks to A.J.!!!

Welcome to Thanksgiving 2006 at the Schaefer House, built in the 1870's, family home of Willie Ann and Willie Fred "Ziggedy" Schaefer for over fifty years... now my home!

I put my houseguest from South Carolina, Kevin Pulver, to work setting the table.

Cooking occupied the majority of Wednesday and Thursday both. But that's a big part of the fun for me so I'm not complaining.

Wine and champagne cocktails helped guests keep body and soul together while they waited on the turks.

Dr. and Mrs. Ajay and Elaine Amar, with their sweetie (mitochondri)Yana. (Inside joke, sorry.)

That's twice now, Dr. Amar. It's officially a tradition. If we can get Aven Erdener back next year too, maybe I can do some matchmaking with Yana.

We had some hors d'ouevres while waiting.

Ellen, one of my friends at work, brought a delicious crab appetizer.

She also brought her adorable daughter Zoe, and husband Marcus (an excellent cook!) Marcus made a fantastic pumpkin cheesecake and a pear pie, too.

Here's me, holding Yana. Elaine is sitting on the couch. To the left you see Kevin, to the right you see Jana holding her son Aven.

Jana Erdener with Aven. Isn't he precious? (And she's awful cute herself!)

We had a good time even though the turks took their time.

Meanwhile, Kaan enjoyed a stroll in the backyard with his wife and boy. The weather was a balmy 77 degrees.

My back porch.

Charles Ponzio, another salsero, kills time with Elaine.

Fortunately we didn't have to wait too long. Here's my good friend and fellow scuba diver, Rich Ellmer, giving me a hand with the carving; Mitch is in the background.

Dusk was just setting when we got ready to chow down.

Here's the before shot:

Some during shots:

Thanks A.J. for the pictures-- unfortunately none of you this time. But just wait, in three weeks it's the Christmas Party, so I'll get some of you then!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Operation Turkey Storm, a success!

The best Thanksgiving yet, if you ask me. The secret is lots of prior planning! People laugh at my time schedule and my lists, but that (plus lots of help from my assistants Mitch and Kevin P.) is how things got to the table (mostly) on time. Many thanks to my friends who were able to attend, for their patience and good conversation, the highlight of the day for me. Thanks Kaan, Jana, and Aven (pomegranate soda and sparkling cider- yum!); A.J. for the photos, the wonderful breads, and the cranberry relish I liked better than my own! Ajay, Elaine, and Yana (mmm! champagne!); Ellen, Marcus, and Zoe (lots of treats!); Rich (excellent wine! carver king!) and Charles (lovely flowers and wine!)... and especially big thanks to Kevin, for all his help, and my honey Mitch (lots of hard work and patience there!)

Poor Kevin must have been bored, but I spent all Wednesday cooking. Got the chocolate tart finished; mashed the potatoes; braised the sweet potatoes; baked and frosted the spice cake; prepped the corn spoonbread batter; made a strata for the Thanksgiving breakfast (eggs, French bread, cheese, onion, mushrooms, and sausage with a white wine reduction sauce); sliced eight million or so shallots for the green beans' pan sauce, and tidied up the house. I had Kevin busy washing the globes on the front porch lights, moving tables and chairs, putting CDs in the player, and watering houseplants among other tasks. We did have time for an hour-long walk around historic Bastrop though, so he could see the local architectural highlights. After a quick shower I took him into Austin for 2-for-1 burgers night at Hut's (yum!) and then Mitch and I had two hours of salsa class to teach, while Kevin walked around the downtown area.

Thursday went pretty smoothly if you ask me. Mitch attacked with the leafblower and made the outside shipshape and attractive. The only real hitch was those turks... I guess because I was roasting two breasts at once, it took about 2x as long as the people at Cook's Illustrated had predicted. Oh well, it didn't really matter-- we had a great group of people, and lots of champagne. I invented a "signature cocktail" for the party which I named the "Many Blessings" in honor of the day. It's a twist on a kir royale, using passionfruit juice concentrate in place of the creme de cassis. It went like hotcakes! And one benefit of freely-flowing champagne is that no one complains when the turkey is slow. My friend Ellen brought a cream cheese-and-crab appetizer, and there were lots of olives and nuts, so people were able to last the extra hour for supper. We sat down to eat at 6, and people lingered pleasantly over dessert, coffee and port until about 9:30pm.

One other goof-- I miscounted chairs and placesettings, so my poor guest Kevin sat at the corner, on a wobbly chair, with everyday china and silverware. He was a trooper throughout, though. He even helped with the washing up, that night and the next day.

A few things to note for next year-- less sweet potatoes! less stuffing! less spoonbread! Turks were a little dry, too. I can skip the spice cake (it was heavy and dry, surprisingly)... can even skip the apple strudel. The chocolate caramel walnut tart was a hit, as always.

Fortunately, AJ also brought a camera, which I'd forgotten at Mitch's. As soon as AJ sends me photos, I'll post them here.

Kevin left to go home on Saturday afternoon. What did I spend Sunday doing? Putting out dishes and decor for the Christmas party in 3 weeks! I love entertaining and if I could afford to have a big party once a month, I would. I do plan on a Caribbean party this spring, though.

Next weekend, we'll put up lights and finalize the menu, dishes, etc. The weekend before the party we'll get the tree (and ironically, the 17th which is the day after the party we'll take down the tree. Just easier, when no one will be around to enjoy it until January.) We leave for Mitch's parents' home in Vegas on the 20th.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Quickie Quickie!

Sorry, running around like crazy, trying to get work done so I can get out of the office. My friend Kevin is in town, I have a million things to do for Thanksgiving, and just wanted to post this picture real quick. It was taken two weekends ago at the Dallas Salsa Congress.

Last weekend Friday we were in Houston-- I met with one of our expert witnesses (a real hoot, we have a great rapport!) and then Mitch and I ate a huge lunch at Fogo de Chao, a churrascaria with a wonderful variety of steaks, pork, lamb and chicken. Then we headed to Reyna and Sergio's wedding, which was beautiful.

Sunday, back in Bastrop, Mitch and I spent several hours un-setting the dining room tables, moving tables into other rooms, and re-setting them (to accomodate the anticipated 16 people I had coming for dinner.) Ahhhh yes, you caught that past tense... yup, people have cancelled, and now we have the blessing-and-curse of fewer people. Blessing overall because we have a small enough group to all fit (tightly) in my dining room, together, instead of being split up. Curse temporarily because it means for the FOURTH TIME I have to un-set and move and re-set the tables! Agghhhh!

Oh well, going there tonight with Kevin; Amanda will join us for a bit, and I'll put them to work. Then she heads out to College Station for a little time with her sister before the holiday.

Happy Turkey Day everyone!


Thursday, November 16, 2006


As in... things are really cookin'! Work is heating up on the hearing front, getting lots accomplished (which only seems to make it clear how much more there is to do!) Found a stellar pediatric psychiatrist last night who I really enjoyed talking with, and I think will be an excellent witness for us. We had such a good rapport, I feel his communcation skills are great, and he seems to have a lot of integrity and experience (the 3 essentials of being a good expert witness.) I was at work until 8pm and the time seemed to fly all day.

Then I went home and fixed what might be my best lasagna yet to freeze for next week. I used fresh basil from my neglected basil plants and I'm excited to see how it turns out. I made the cranberry-pear-ginger sauce but was not impressed and might make it again. Two main problems-- very watery, and the pears get mushy and turn pink. I think if I make it again I'll use half the water, cook the berries longer, and add the pears towards the end of the cooling process so they stay firm. Or maybe cook them separately, lightly poached just to take the crunchy edge off, and stir them in just before serving. I had one really, really ripe pear that smelled awesome, but the other was a little on the crunchy side. I used Red Bartlett pears and the sauce tastes good, just looks too much like whole berries in a thin watery syrup. The flavor of the fresh ginger and the hint of cinnamon goes really well with the berries and pears though, so it's just a matter of tweaking now.

I also bailed on making the spiced pecans-- forgot to pick them up at the grocery and just too much other stuff to do. I'll buy spiced nuts and maple pecans at the Central Market next Monday and call it good.

The weather is delightfully chilly (50 now at 9:45am) and looks to be at least hinting at chilly for the Thanksgiving week, except Wed and Thurs which have highs in the mid-70s. At least it won't be 80! and the nighttime lows are in the 40s which is great-- dinner is at 5pm so hopefully it will be cooling off already.

It will be a CROWD for dinner so I'm having to totally rearrange the furniture to have room for the tables. Instead of two tables end to end in the dining, which only seats 12, looks like we'll have the dining table in the living room and two 6' folding tables in the open space between the living room and kitchen (the main hall down the center of the house.) Thus it will be like a T-shape. That will seat fourteen plus room for the two high chairs for the babies. To do this, I first will have to move the coffeetable into the library, and the brown chair and empire sideboard into the guest room (the sideboard can stay there because the Christmas tree will take it's spot in two weeks).

When I say the "main hall" down the middle of the house, this is what I mean (not the entry area, but this broad space in the foreground of the picture.) To the left is the dining and kitchen; to the right is the living room. I think the long "top" of the T (12' long, about 3' wide) will fit here.

Here's the living room and a little peek of the main hall area. The short "stem" of the T will be in this room. The window-opening, in the second picture, looks into the kitchen. (Originally on the exterior wall of the house.)

If we had a smaller crowd, we'd just eat in the dining room like we did last year.

And this is command central for Operation Turkey Storm.

We're leaving tonight for Houston. Our friends Reyna and Sergio are getting married tomorrow night at 5, and Mitch has a salsa promoters' meeting Saturday at 4. We'll run back to Bastrop and do the big grocery shopping trip that night, and probably move furniture around and re-set all the tables Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon I'll make the walnut tart crust and the apple strudel and freeze them. Ayyy-- lots of cooking to do!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Thanksgiving is right around the corner!

We just got back from Dallas for the Dallas Salsa Congress, which was tiring but fun. Took some great workshops (Melissa's on ladies' styling was my favorite; also enjoyed SantoRico's turn pattern and Ismael Otero's chachacha footwork class.) However it's back to the grindstone today, minus a little time for Thanksgiving planning.

So far I have ten confirmed guests for dinner on Turkey Day-- plus another 3-8 possibles. I'm going to start really cooking/baking for this extravaganza this Wednesday with the cranberry-pear-ginger sauce and the spiced pecans with rum glaze, both of which keep very well. I have blocked out all of Wednesday and Thursday of course, dedicated to the never-achieved, always-hoped-for dream of a Thanksgiving meal where everything is ready on time and dinner is served hot and all at the same time. Somehow it always seems one thing or another takes too long, and honestly trying to make a full dinner with only one oven is a bit ridiculous.

I'm not doing a full turkey this year-- instead, two turkey breasts, and a spiral cut ham. But this is such a holiday-ish picture I had to include it.

Of course, double the recipe for the stuffing. (There's never enough leftover stuffing.)

The green beans, without canned cream of mushroom soup or boxed french-fried onions.

The afore-mentioned cranberry-pear-ginger sauce will be a nice touch I hope.

The desserts are always my favorite, starting with the Dark Chocolate-Caramel-Walnut Tart which takes 2-3 days to make.

The apple strudel is fortunately much easier.

I'm not going to bore you with photos of every dish. My friend Kevin arrives next Monday and I'm looking forward to his visit. Should be a good holiday!