Here Come the Holidaze

Shortly, we will kick off that period of the year filled with the traditions of family gatherings, parties, and culinary treats that cause concern for anyone who is weight conscious. First comes Thanksgiving, resplendent with pumpkin pies, mashed potatoes and gravy, and all the trimmings. In no short order, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day follow this feast of a holiday. Interspersed, there are any number of office parties, neighborhood get-togethers, cookie exchanges, gifts of food, and maybe a fruitcake or ten. And, I, for one, am certainly not complaining! This time of year gives me a viable excuse to do the cooking that I love to do. Calories be damned; pass the eggnog (it goes so well with the mincemeat pie with brandied hard sauce)!

These are the times that the genesis of fond memories à la Norman Rockwell is laid around the feast as the turkey is carved. I love and look forward to all the time and effort that goes into the preparation of this feast. However, as an ironic twist, after spending the better part of the day basting, sautéing, boiling, baking, and mashing, my desire to actually consume the bounty is dampened. I've never been able to figure out this phenomenon, but I think it has something to do with olfactory overload. But, my consumption is of little consequence in comparison to the enjoyment experienced by my gathered family - that is the reason for the effort. Well, that and the fact that I enjoy the culinary aspects of these upcoming events, more for the preparation and planning, than for the feasting. My mother's inquiries of, "What can I do to help?" are more times than not met with a simple, "Nothing, Mom- I've got it covered." I don't think, that after all these years, she's ever really understood that, while it may be effort, it isn't work. It's pure enjoyment, it's my gift to my loved ones - it's my kitchen and I don't want to share. My wife has also indicated that I may have some control issues. And, while I don't miss help in the kitchen, I do miss watching my father's enjoyment of the feast.

Thanksgiving was my Father's favorite holiday, barring none. I don't think there was ever a man who so loved a roasted turkey. Darren McGavin's character in "A Christmas Story" pales in comparison. For my father, in defiance of logic, every Thanksgiving turkey was "the best turkey ever." How each surpassed the last was never really comprehended - it's not as if there was really that much room for incremental improvements over his 83 years. And, yet, each was always the best; we could anticipate the coming of the declaration shortly after his first bite was swallowed. As the makeup around the table changes, the one constant that I miss most is his unfailing barometer of roasted turkey excellence.

This is not to say that my father was a passive participant in the affair, content to only eat the feast. No, far from it. While granted, his kitchen assistance was generally limited to an occasional baste and the carving of the bird, his culinary contribution should not be neglected - after all, he made the eggnog. This eggnog, my mother swore, would "spoil your dinner" (never happened); this eggnog fueled a warm glow and represented a year's worth of cholesterol. My father's eggnog was, in combination with the turkey, probably largely responsible for after dinner napping. This nectar was not the stuff purchased from the dairy case with a shot of rum added for good measure. No, this was a concoction that reputedly came from colonial times in the deep south, complete with heavy cream from Bosak's dairy (so thick it had to be spooned out), freshly grated nutmeg, ribbons of orange and lemon zest, and a thick creamy head that floated like a thick, caloric cloud over the crystal punch bowl.

I have no doubt that he enjoyed the effort that went into the preparation of his contribution. I never heard a complaint about the time required and only a recurring hospitable, "Can I get you another?" against the backdrop of, "You'll spoil your dinner." However, in my opinion, munching smoked almonds and sipping that glorious eggnog in front of the fireplace never spoiled anything - it only enhanced the feast that was to come. And, this feast would no doubt feature the best turkey ever.

As we enter this season, I recognize that sometimes things become too hectic. There's far too much commercialism and far too many catalogs in the mailbox. We exert too much effort trying to make everything mesh with that Norman Rockwell vision with too few returns. We suffer from depression fueled by performance expectation anxieties. We lose focus and perspective on why we're doing what we're doing, of the memories and traditions that we are building as families and as a community.

And so, as we approach the kickoff of the 2006 holiday season, I make for you, dear readers, my holiday wish: may you not lose focus on the fleeting moments that we treasure, the moments that now only exist in our memories. I hope, no matter how much effort you invest in your holiday celebrations, you receive tenfold returns on that expenditure from the warmth and enjoyment experienced by those surrounding you. And, as I take a break from my own preparations, I'll sit with family before the warmth of the fireplace, lift my cup of eggnog, and offer you a toast that you too will enjoy "the best turkey ever."

My Father's "You'll Spoil Your Dinner" Eggnog

6 Eggs
3⁄4 Cup sugar
1 Pint heavy whipping cream
1 Pint milk
1 Pint light rum
Dash of aromatic bitters
Freshly grated nutmeg
Finely julienned zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon

Separate the eggs. Beat the whites until stiff; beat the yolks until a creamy lemon color. Fold 1/4-cup sugar into the whites; beat briefly until dissolved. Fold 1⁄2 Cup sugar into the yolks and beat until dissolved. Mix whites and yolks together. Combine the milk, cream, a dash of aromatic bitters, and rum. Fold this combination into the egg mixture. Allow to sit, refrigerated at least one hour. The mixture will separate, forming a head. Sprinkle generously with nutmeg and scatter zest over the top.

Serve with smoked, toasted almonds. Will spoil the dinner of 12.
Read More on Chef Geoff
Volume 2, Issue 23, Posted 11:11 AM, 11.02.06