Saturday, November 29, 2014

THANKSGIVING 2014 - MADISON

GIVING THANKS
We added a little blank booklet to our Thanksgiving table. It bore the title, "I Am Thankful For". Inside were a number of ruled pages waiting for each of us to take some time to consider how many lines of thankfulness we would fill. I looked around our table and started writing down each guest seated around our candlelit meal. Each person sitting there had brought something into our lives to be thankful for. Each person there had enriched our lives by their talents and their generosity. There was a wonderful meal spread out on the table, an abundance of food to be thankful for but the first thing we were thankful for were the ring of guests and the sphere of friends we've been giving through out our lives.

THE THANKSGIVING TABLE
Rick has always had an eye for flowers and the creativity to use them in unexpected ways. Our table was the beneficiary of his talent and imagination.
He combined miniature cabbages with cluster roses in a pair of fish bowls filled with orange slices, simple but elegant.
The rest of the house benefited from his vision and the aromatic characteristic of the roses that were scattered out from room to room.
When we did our first table for DIFFA's Dining by Design we had asked a friend of ours, Daniel Levy, to create a set of porcelain tabletop for the event. We needed place settings for ten. We loved Daniel's work. The set has stayed with us along with the blackened handled flatware by Patino Wolf. The glassware is a combination of vintage and new. The tall water glasses that we repurposed into our wine and Proseco glasses are vintage Bryce Apollo-Cerulean and the blue bottomed tumblers and water pitchers are straight from Bed, Bath and Beyond's Royal Dalton 1815 collection.
The colors and flavors of an autumn harvest were the inspiration for our place cards: a Bosc pear with a pheasant tail feather and a leftover sprig of leaves from our roses stuck into the meat of the pear.  A knife slice opened up a slit for the name card and our table settings were complete.














THE MENU
Thanksgiving is synonymous with turkey and we made one but for us Thanksgiving isn't complete without Rick's ham and biscuits. No matter how many guests it's always a whole bone-in smoked ham and a double batch of his cheddar biscuits. Emmy and I will eat these leftovers until there's nothing left but the bone of the ham and some crumbs from the biscuits. When we've reached that point in the life of our ham Rick freezes the bone and he'll make a ham and navy bean soup during the blizzards phase of January and February.
The preparation of the ham begins on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The trick to the ham is the glaze. Rick says it's never quite the same. He's got a recipe but he says he does a lot of it by eyeing the ham and feeling the ingredients as he pinches them between his fingers. Here's what he says is a close approximation of what he puts in the glaze:
2 cups of dark brown sugar
½ cup of Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon of ground cloves
1 teaspoon of whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon of whole Allspice
1 tablespoon of whole cloves
1 quart of apple cider plus an additional for the pan
He combines the sugar and mustard in a saucepan over medium heat and then adds the spices and cider and simmers the mixture until it reduces by about one quarter.
While this is going on I'm in charge of stripping the ham of it plastic and netting protective coating. Then I smear the ham with a healthy coating of Dijon mustard, score the ham with a crisscross pattern and spend hours trying to find the intersecting points in my crisscross pattern where I have to poke a whole clove. I'm a mustard mess by the time I finish my clove poking but it's worth it.
Since my hands are coated with mustard it's left to me to pick up the ham and put it in a deep baking pan. Here's where the one cup of cider is poured over the ham and then one half of the glaze is drizzled over the ham before it is shoved into a 350 degree preheated oven. He cooks the ham for three hours glazing the ham with the remainder of the glaze every twenty minutes then basting with the pan drippings for the remainder of the cooking time. The results are a beautiful ham with a touch of sweet and spicy, a perfect partner for his cheddar biscuits.
Rick's other specialty and a tradition for the holiday is his poached figs. This is another dish that stretches its hypnotic powers over your taste buds and won't quit until the last drop of its nectar has been consumed. You can top the turkey with these poached nuggets or ladle the resulting syrup over vanilla ice cream. We're all addicts when it comes to these figs. Here's the recipe:
1½ cups of sugar
1½ cups of water
1½ pounds of fresh figs, firm to ripe
Fresh rosemary sprigs
Orange peel
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 large jar
Place in a cheesecloth bag:
4 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary sprigs
2 bay leaves
½ tablespoon of juniper berries
1 tablespoon of whole allspice
1 4" long slice of orange peel
Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring this to a boil stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to a simmer for about 5 to 7 minutes until the mixture begins to form a light syrup. Add the cheesecloth bag to the mixture and allow it to simmer for an additional 15 minutes.
Add the whole figs and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes more turning the figs from time to time so that they are evenly cooked
Carefully remove the figs from the saucepan and place them in a jar. Reserve the syrup. Add the orange peel and rosemary sprig to the jar. Slowly pour the syrup and balsamic vinegar into the jar. When the figs are cool refrigerate them. You can do this well in advance of serving them. They'll keep like this for at least a week.
As accompaniment to the ham, biscuits and figs we did a brined turkey,
Brussels sprouts with bacon, gravy,
sweet Italian sausage dressing,
a bourbon pecan pie and an additional assortment of side dishes and desserts contributed by all our guests.
The best ingredient of our Thanksgiving meal wasn't something you could find on the table or come up with a recipe for, it was the conversation and the knowledge that we were joined to a larger community made up of not mere acquaintances but friends.














THE GALLERY
Grape Harvest II
Cy DeCosse, photographer
Represented by Verve Gallery, Santa Fe, NM

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