Food Friday: Mrs. Patmore’s Time Travel Nachos


Lady Mary Crawley is ever so sylph-like and elegant. She looks as if she has never eaten a sandwich in her entire gloriously privileged Downton Abbey life. She appears to have wafted on from the inconvenience of Mr. Pamuk’s nocturnal death, through the reluctant courtship, growing love and untimely tragedy with young Matthew Crawley. She is now managing the fatstock sales of 1925 without capitulating to the siren song of the lowest common denominator: food. Or so you might think.

Lady Mary, leaving behind no more than a trace of her eau de cologne and the distant click of her ropes of pearls, has been glimpsed will-o-the-wisping through the servants’ hall on the rare nights of televised sport, when Mrs. Patmore prepares her renowned Time Travel Nachos. These are the nights when Mr. Carson takes off his white tie, and Mrs. Hughes loosens her stays, and Mr. Molesley lets down his dyed hair. Quick as a flash, Lady Mary samples the nachos, and then disappears back upstairs.

Mr. Barrow smiles knowingly, as he and Miss Baxter share a glass of beer, and put their hard-working feet up, enjoying the blend of hot cheeses, bean dip and the thrilling burn of the exotic jalapeño peppers. The times they are a changin’ at Downtown Abbey, and Mrs. Patmore is going to bring everyone’s taste buds screaming into the twentieth century. Just wait for their heads to explode when they get to the guacamole! So long, bubble and squeak!

Perhaps we should not share any of these recipes with Robert, (spoiler alert!) in case his ulcer blows again, but we common folk are rather fond of almost any dish that serves hot melty cheese, crispy crunchy corn chips with a slew of ingredients that could mirror the cast of characters at Downton for sheer variety and eccentricity.

The onlookers at a fatback auction are nothing compared to a hungry crowd that has gathered at your humble crofter’s cottage for the quaint American activity known as the Super Bowl. Lord Grantham, be forewarned. The game is afoot.

We here at the Spy test kitchens abhor soggy nachos, so we recommend making several cookie sheets worth of nachos for your Super Bowl activities. It means more time hovering in the kitchen, and maybe missing some of the commercials, but that is why YouTube was invented. This way, everyone will be sure of having nice hot, crisp and cheesy nachos. We bake ours at about 450° degrees for about 7 or 8 minutes. Don’t wander off!

Use a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil for an easy clean up. Daisy has enough to do already, and doesn’t need to play scullery maid to you rude Americans. This way you can keep a continuous conga line of nachos moving up from the Kitchens through to the Great Hall.

Hint: don’t overload the chips with toppings – you’ll avoid sogginess and it is so much easier to eat lightly dressed chips with your fingers. (Don’t forget to take off your evening gloves, first.)

Here are some toppings for your own Mrs. Patmore’s delicious game day nachos:

Corn chips:
Buy them, or be prepared to spend your day hunched over a frying pan.

shredded Cheddar
Monterey Jack
Colby cheese

pulled pork
shredded rotisserie chicken
crumbled Italian sausage
browned taco meat
grilled steak

avocado slices
chopped sweet or red onions
shredded lettuce (add after cooking)
refried beans
black beans
chopped tomatoes
sliced pitted black olives
diced green, red, and yellow sweet peppers
jalapeños (use fresh – don’t use icky pickled peppers)
fresh cilantro

To add after the nachos have come out of the oven:
shredded lettuce
sour cream

Mrs. Patmore also suggests strongly that Maryland’s Eastern Shore folks might enjoy this variation – crab and corn nachos.

8 ounces crabmeat
3/4 cup corn
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced chives
1 teaspoon mustard

Spoon into tortilla scoops;
top with shredded Monterey Jack, then bake.

Mrs. Patmore knows her business!

(The Dowager Countess has already had a platter delivered to the Dower House; Violet is always planning ahead.)





Violet: “First electricity, now telephones. Sometimes I feel as if I were living in an H.G. Wells novel.”

Food Friday: Hot Potatoes!


We have survived the first snowstorm of the season! Hurrah! And with the end of January approaching this weekend, it seems that we should be in the clear and maybe contemplating our spring wardrobes. Silly me, what was I thinking? It is still cold, and we still need good hot, peasant food to get us through the winter months.

The reality, I am afraid, is that February, although it is the shortest month and is packed with some festive and colorful events (Mardi Gras, the Super Bowl™, Valentine’s Day, Washington’s Birthday, Chinese New Year, and Linus Pauling’s birthday), it tends to drag its icy, leaden feet inexorably from one long cold dark night to another.

Pollyanna note: Just the other day I noticed that the sun is setting a wee bit later every day, which is an important dog wrangling detail in my life. Luke the wonder dog and I head out for our last afternoon stroll around 5, so we can watch the sun set over the river. Luke never misses it. Now it is still light when we scamper down the stairs at about 5:10. In December we were used to switching on the lights before leaving at about 4:45. Hooray!

Every culture has delicious and hardy traditional potato dishes which ward away the gloom of the gelid polar evenings. The Brits enjoy bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, Cornish pasties, bubble and squeak, not to mention the exquisite chipped potato. The best British chips come from chippies – shops devoted to the fine art of deep frying chipped potatoes. I could wax poetical here about the sheer glory of a perfectly crisp, furnace-hot chip, dusted with salt, steaming in its paper nest, but I must not rhapsodize in the middle of a thoughtful piece of food journalism. Hot chips (and fries) are perfection. I actually sent some fries back at a restaurant the other night. Some people are wine snobs; give me an indifferent glass of plonk anytime, but be sure the fries are right out of the grease, please.

Baked potatoes are easily the workhorse potato dish that crosses all the international borders. Use Idaho, Yukon Gold, Russet potatoes, Red Ruby or even sweet potatoes for your meal. Some people fill double-baked potatoes with sauerkraut: http://www.all-creatures.org/recipes/potato-stuf-sauer.html
Calcium seekers fill their baked potatoes with blue cheese and chicken: http://www.iofbonehealth.org/recipes/blue-cheese-and-chicken-stuffed-baked-potatoes
The Potato Hut in Dubai will serve you baked potatoes stuffed with fajita, steak, tuna and mayo, BBQ, or veggie delight. They are also looking for fanchisees. I would suggest an English-speaking proofreader for their website, though. http://www.potatohut.com/order/

I don’t want to make any more runs to the grocery store on skittery, icy roads than I have to. Prudently, we have a pile of potatoes and a fridgeful of topping ingredients in case of snow, or ennui. Some evenings when Luke and I stumble back in the house we can barely think about dinner prep. We want to have a glass of that reviving plonk, and warm up under the down throw and return to Bill Bryson walking his way back to Little Dribbling. So here are some things to keep on hand, to minimize your travel time and to maximize your reading time: bacon, chives, sour cream, crème fraiche, smoked salmon, ranch dressing, fried onions, pulled pork, cole slaw, Burrata, prosciutto, crab salad, Cheddar cheese, and sprouts.

Also veggies: tomatoes, peppers, onions, avocados, and salsa! Leftovers! What a concept. Use up the leftover chili, taco meat, beef stew and chicken pot pie! Use it up! Make it do! (Thanks, BA for the fancy ideas: http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/cooking-tips/slideshow/top-baked-potato)

A plain baked potato, topped with good butter and fresh pepper can be a divine way to warm up, so don’t stress if you don’t have all the trendy ingredients. If you want to get fancy, you can. Or you can just root around in the fridge for some ideas, while also checking your sell by dates. Keep it warm and nutritious, because that’s what baked potatoes are.

More ideas: http://www.theyummylife.com/baked_potato_bar

“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.” ― Laura Ingalls Wilder

Food Friday: Winter Storm Warnings!


We are about to be blizzardized! And as much as I famously avoid the kitchen in the summer, I am strangely drawn to its irresistible warming, and soothing, and aromatic ways in the winter. It becomes a pleasure to prepare life-sustaining foods: to bake and braise, to baste and broil. I welcome any excuse, such as the oncoming storm, to bustle into the kitchen and turn on the roaring oven. It is the one warm room in the house, companionably accessorized with comfy chairs, newspapers and magazines, seed catalogues, snacks and an air of survival techniques.

I can see quite clearly in my mind’s eye the vat of homemade soup I will have bubbling merrily on the hob, solace for the snowy days yet to come. In the meantime, let’s make a tiny adjustment for a reality check; a steaming bowl of Lipton’s Chicken Noodle Soup may have to suffice. Because that’s all that is in the cupboard, and they are calling for a lot of snow,
Our options for going out have dwindled. While the first hyped storm of the season is aiming a wide and snowy path at us, let us contemplate the humble roasted chicken.

Everyone has a favorite roasted chicken recipe, and I firmly believe that you can never have too many of them, either. Mothers, uncles, best friends, registered dieticians, financial advisors, pre-school teachers and neighbors all have variations on this supremely cheering and practical meal. It is popular because it is just so good. We have heard all too many times the self-righteous food blog mantra that one should roast a chicken on Sunday night, so as to have enough leftover chicken to prepare and plan for a week of meals in a thrifty and hyper-controlled fashion.



Bosh! I cannot think of a better meal than roasted chicken with rice. When the desert island folks come to ask me what I want to take with me, I will say a nice navy blue Aga (it never hurts to ask), a fridge full of chickens, and a bag of good rice. Then I will have to rely upon myself to finally write that book to keep me intellectually stimulated as I sit, solitary but never lonely, in my carefully fashioned palm frond hut every night, eating roasted chicken, quietly contemplative, and appreciating the sheen of the golden chicken fat on every grain of perfectly formed and fluffy Basmati rice. I will write odes that would make Mr. Keats weep with blissful epiphany.

I doubt if the desert island folks have me on any list, so this isn’t happening any time soon. Sadly for me and for the oft-neglected field of poetry that praises the beauty and deliciousness of roasted chicken: sestinas of the elation that is manifest in the crackle of crunchy, parchment-like skin; couplets illuminating the surge of warmth and the ecstasy of the warm steam rising from the humble roasted chicken. You can see that this is a subject that bears much study and research.

And as we praise the chicken, and it perfect compliment, the bed of rice, let us not neglect the roasted vegetable medley: many folks enjoy tucking into some healthy, piping hot, vegetables along with their chicken and rice. (I would have included them in my desert island list, but one doesn’t like to look greedy.) There is so much one can do in the winter to keep the kitchen warm and inviting.

And we should not overlook dessert. What could be a better way to end a perfect meal than with a bowl of warm, homemade chocolate pudding? I encourage this exercise, considering how many times I have walked Luke the wonder dog down to the river in the cold this week. He is wearing a fur coat, after all, and doesn’t realize how many layers I have piled on just so he can get all skittish and colt-like, scaring himself when the visiting gulls rise like a plume of shrieking, spinning harpies. I think I deserve a little warm pudding.


I should not complain, however. I am enjoying the novelty of bundling, and the layers, and the pink cheeks, and the warm meals I don’t mind the cooking in the winter. The kitchen is a cozy place these days. Enjoy any excuses you can find to hang around the reliable warmth of the kitchen oven. Soon, we too can virtuously re-purpose our chicken carcass into a pot filled with chicken soup. And Spring is just around the corner…

“Surely everyone is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a wintry fireside; candles at four o’clock, warm hearthrugs, tea, a fair tea-maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies to the floor, whilst the wind and rain are raging audibly without.”
― Thomas de Quincey

Food Friday: Winter Comforts


After a balmy-verging-on-subtropical Christmas season, the temperatures have finally dropped. I didn’t feel much like fa-la-la-la-la-ing while cherry blossoms were popping out and daffodil were sending tremulous green fingerlings up through the soil in sunny corners of the neighbors’ gardens. The Chesapeake Bay is freezing in spots. Things are looking cold! And now that the frantic and festive holidays are behind us, we can cozy up on the sofa under a wool blanket with the latest Kate Atkinson, while we wait for the new X-Files to begin.

I have been thinking a lot about comfort food, in my own limited Nigella fashion. Warm and slow, aromatic and familiar. And easy – no recipes, please. The fact that there will be leftovers is always the key to my heart – meatloaf tonight means a meatloaf sandwich tomorrow. Chicken parm tonight equals a bowl of leftover spaghetti for lunch tomorrow. Quid pro quo. Deus ex machina. It really boils down to the fact that I would rather not hunt and gather too many original meals. Leftovers cunningly packaged up in the fridge will be a wondrous by-product of the redolent aroma of beef stew wafting around and through the kitchen dust motes this afternoon. A hot, savory bowl of beef stew tonight, and tomorrow as well. Life is grand!

Now that the warm weather has evaporated, it is time to dust off some old favorites. It had been such a long time since I last made beef stroganoff that I had to look up a recipe. I relied on our friends at Food52 for their Skillet Beef Stroganoff recipe, although I altered it just slightly. I don’t care for mushrooms, so we fried up a small pan’s worth for Mr. Friday to add to his plate. I also omitted the brandy – because all we had was bourbon, and I cannot imagine bourbon-infused egg noodles. I’ll put it to the shopping list for next time. https://food52.com/recipes/14024-skillet-beef-stroganoff

I laugh at the Epicurious suggestion that says their beef stroganoff is a dish that can (and should!) be prepared in front of company – watching me dredge small chunks of meat and browning them for the roar of peer approval seems a little farfetched. But if you come back later this afternoon I will be painting, and you are welcome to watch it dry… Still, the folks at Epicurious are wise in their kitchen ways and you might prefer this version. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/beef-stroganoff-102134 It includes lots of paprika, which is a colorful addition, and the crowd might enjoy your artistic flaying about the kitchen.

A household staple of our youth was meatloaf. We have two ways to make meatloaf in our house – my mother’s recipe, and Mr. Friday’s mother’s recipe. The basic difference is that my mother’s calls for chopped raw onion and crushed Saltine crackers. Irene’s uses onion soup mix, bread crumbs and catsup. You know that Erma Bombeck and Peg Bracken are smiling down at us, don’t you?

I am sure you have a couple of family recipes yourself, so dust them off, and have a warm nostalgic dinner. You’ll thank me when you pull your meatloaf sandwich out of its Baggie at lunch tomorrow. It will fling you back to your fifth grade lunch period self when Susan Fricker is bound to torture you. Add a cardboard carton of warm milk and a crusty pre-sectioned, room temperature orange to to complete your flashback. Here is a crib sheet in case you have forgotten something crucial: http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/mom-s-meat-loaf

And here to jog your memory is some beef stew advice from Paula Deen: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/old-time-beef-stew-recipe.html

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
― Edith Sitwell

Food Friday: The Office Potluck


Don’t be a disappointment. You have a good imagination and at least a few rudimentary kitchen skills. Don’t be the one sad person in the office who “forgets” about the holiday potluck, and stops in at the grocery store on your way into the office that morning, and picks up a disappointing limp and colorless veggie dip tray. Pathetic. Instead you should be impressing the keeper of the privy purse with your hot hors d’oeuvres skills, your slight of hand with pastry, or your Boeuf bourguignon à la Julia Child. This is your time to dazzle!

Mr. Friday was cursing our great distance from any IKEA, because he thought bringing Swedish meatballs to his office party would be regarded as exotic and generous. We soon dispelled him of that Lord Bountiful notion when we revealed the state secret about meatballs that my supervisor would bring back when I toiled for a print newspaper. She barely made it off the elevator on party days before every subtle soul from both advertising and editorial offered to help her with her parcels. An anxious guy from IT plugged in her Crock Pot. An accounting clerk gently re-folded the aluminum foil. The ad manager twirled some holiday paper napkins into an attractive spiral. All the while their gaze was fixed on the vat of glistening meatballs. These meatballs were the stuff of newspaper legend. Mr. Friday was amazed to hear that his favorite holiday smorgasbord food item was made with grape jelly! Let the holiday games begin!

More exotic, and labor-intensive, are Jamie Oliver’s Date and Blue Cheese Stuffed Meatballs. Consider your audience and your pay grade. http://www.foodnetwork.co.uk/recipes/date-and-blue-cheese-stuffed-meatballs.html

If you have a lot of time the night before, here is a tasty Crock Pot dish: Boeuf bourguignon. Bring some pretty little dishes so people get the idea they should be taking small samples, not dinner platter portions! http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/boeuf-bourguignon-104754

Plastic dishes: http://www.amazon.com/Tasting-Appetizer-Petite-Square-Plastic/dp/B00HWGSX8G/ref=sr_1_3?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1449771795&sr=1-3&keywords=small+plastic+serving+dishes+for+parties

And there is always the need for a good spinach dip – no office party is complete without one. Just check around to be sure that you are not stepping on someone’s toes here. Feelings can get hurt in an office if someone gets usurped. Find a good, crusty loaf of bread, too. http://www.chowhound.com/pictures/dishes-to-take-to-the-office-christmas-potluck-party/fresh-spinach-dip

Alternatively, easily win friends and influence people with a nice shrimp cocktail. Just be sure to ask about shellfish allergies! http://www.marthastewart.com/339900/shrimp-cocktail

Here is a dish that will serve for the dastardly first-thing-in-the-morning office potluck, or the more sophisticated luncheons. Quiche. Perfection. Easy to make, easy to transport, easily re-heated. The several million calories you will consume just thinking about it all morning might be detrimental, but it is time to stock up on warming, winter survival calories, is it not? Heavy cream be damned! Be sure to add nutmeg and don’t stint on the bacon, please.

This might be corny (or cheesy, depending on your tastes), but this recipe always gets hovered up at any time of the year. It just wouldn’t be Christmas at our house without some classic Chex mix, which we have adapted a wee bit over time.

Classic Chex Mix á la Middle Street
2 cups Corn Chex
2 cups Rice Chex
2 cups Wheat Chex
2 cups cocktail peanuts
2 cups pretzel sticks
1 cup Goldfish or Cheerios or even some extra Honeynut Cheerios
1 stick butter
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Lawry’s Seasoning salt – accept no substitutes
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 generous pinch of cayenne pepper

Heat oven to 250°F. Melt the butter in large roasting pan. Stir in the seasonings. Toss in the other ingredients and mix well. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Cool. Store in an airtight container. Best eaten warm. And often.

Trust me when I tell you that everyone has had it with Christmas cookies. Do not bake any more damn cookies. Do not bring any leftovers from your fifth grader’s dance school recital party. Do not buy any, even if you are being guilted by the nice ladies at the Episcopal Church Annual Cookie Bazaar. No. Instead, think of that dark and moody vegan artist who sits near the sports department. She’d love some of this fudge, and you’ll have a new friend. http://ohsheglows.com/2013/07/31/seductive-raw-chocolate-walnut-fudge/

Mr. Friday is bringing in a sausage and egg breakfast casserole, which is what we used to have on Christmas morning before the Tall One voiced his opinion about the ritual necessity for sausage balls. I like the sausage balls better myself, because they are easier to eat – no silverware required – which is a big plus at a buffet and on Christmas morning. The casserole requires at least a spork, which will keep everyone thinking about good manners at an office party.

The Pouting Princess recently commented that we are the type of family that finds our recipes on the back of the box. I resented the implication at the time, but upon a little quiet reflection, I think she might be right. We were given this recipe years ago, and when I couldn’t find my old tattered copy, naturally I Googled it. And it popped up from many places on the Internets. Which means quite a few folks may be trotting this into work next week. Check the sign up list!

Breakfast Casserole
1 pound sausage, cooked and drained
2 cups grated cheese (we like Swiss)
4 eggs
1 cup Bisquick
2 cups milk
½ cup diced onion, browned
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt, pepper
Pinch of mustard

Cook the sausage, and drain the grease on paper towels. Sprinkle in the bottom of a 13 X 9 pan. Or 8 X 8 – what ever you have hanging around. Scatter the cheese over the crumbled sausage. Brown the onions. Mix the eggs, milk, Bisquick, onions and dry ingredients in a bowl. Pour over the sausage and cheese. Bake for 40 – 50 minutes at 350° F. It’s not fancy, but it is satisfying, and you will look as if you care what your co-workers eat.

Be careful around the punchbowl, if you have a progressive company which will allow spiked punch. Those sales reps can be vicious vixen! And watch out for the mistletoe – your professional pride is at stake. The folks here at the Spy’s test kitchens will be nibbling on some grape jelly meatballs, quiche, and a lot of Chex mix, washed down with the finest Prosecco we can find. Cheers!

“What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.”
– Phyllis Diller

Food Friday: In Praise of Leftovers


This is a repeat of an earlier Food Friday Thanksgiving column, because we are still trying to recover from yesterday’s holiday feast. We hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving as much as you are going to enjoy the leftovers!

And here we are, the day after Thanksgiving. Post-parade, post-football, post-feast. Also post-washing up. Heavens to Betsy, what a lot of cleaning up there was. And the fridge is packed with mysterious little bundles of leftovers. We continue to give thanks that our visiting college student is an incessant omnivore. He will plow systematically through Baggies of baked goods, tin foiled turkey bits, Saran wrapped-celery, Tupperwared tomatoes and wax papered-walnuts.
It was not until the Tall One was in high school that these abilities were honed and refined with ambitious ardor. His healthy personal philosophy is “Waste not, want not.” A sentiment I hope comes from generations of hardy New Englanders as they plowed their rocky fields, dreaming of candlelit feasts and the iPhones of the future.

I have watched towering constructions of food rise from the plate as he constructs interesting arrangements of sweet, sour, crunchy and umami items with the same deliberation and concentration once directed toward Lego projects. And I am thankful that few of these will fall to the floor and get walked over in the dark. Of course, now there is the dog, Luke, so nothing much makes it to the floor.

I have read that there may have been swan at the first Thanksgiving. How very sad. I have no emotional commitment to turkeys, and I firmly belief that as beautiful as they are, swans are mean and would probably peck my eyes out if I didn’t feed them every scrap of bread in the house. Which means The Tall One would go hungry. It is a veritable conundrum.

The Pilgrim Sandwich is the Tall One’s magnum opus. It is his turducken without the histrionics. It is a smörgåsbordwithout the Swedish chef. It is truly why we celebrate Thanksgiving. Please keep in mind that the dark ooze in the illustration of the sandwich above this story is not my rich, homemade gravy, made after many hours of precise turkey basting. It is barbecue sauce, from a bottle, without which, no decent, self-respecting Pilgrim Sandwich (in our house) is devoured. And pray note the unique side dishes: corn bread and a spare pig-in-blanket. Round One of Leftovers vs. The Tall One.

This is way too fancy and cloying with fussy elements – olive oil for a turkey sandwich? Hardly. You have to use what is on hand from the most recent Thanksgiving meal – to go out to buy extra rolls is to break the unwritten rules of the universe. There are plenty of Parker House rolls in your bread box right this minute – go use them up!

This is a recipe for simpletons. Honestly. And was there Muenster cheese on the dining room table yesterday? I think not.

And if you are grown up and sophisticated, here is the answer for you. Fancy Thanksgiving leftovers for a grown up brunch:http://www.saveur.com/article/Menu/A-Brunch-For-The-Day-After-Thanksgiving

Here are The Tall One’s ingredients for his signature Pilgrim Sandwich:
Toast (2 slices)
Turkey (2 slices)
Cranberry Sauce (2 teaspoons)
Gravy (2 tablespoons)
Mashed Potatoes (2 tablespoons)
Stuffing (2 tablespoons)
Barbecue Sauce (you can never have too much)
Bacon (if there is some hanging around)
Mayonnaise (if you must)
Lettuce (iceberg, for the crunch)
Celery stalk (more crunch)
Salt, pepper
And now I am taking the dog for a run before I consider making my own sandwich.

“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. “
-Calvin Trillin

Food Friday: A Fabulist Friendsgiving


On Thanksgiving some folks enjoy football as well as the food and festivities. I am entertaining a fantasy gathering of my own devising – some writers and cooks who would bring an element of élan, as well as elegance, to any meal. I wasn’t alive for the Algonquin Roundtable. I was too young for Warhol’s Factory. I didn’t go to Harvard, so no Lampoon for me. And now, aging and terminally uncool, I live oh so far, far away from hipster Brooklyn to even qualify for a walk-on bit on Girls. I am sadly suburban. At least I can cast my own fabulist get together. Here is how Friendsgiving could be at my house.

“Food is an important part of a balanced diet,” announces Fran Lebowitz as she swings open the front door. The next one on the doorstep is John Cheever. “I’ve always had a great many cocktails before Thanksgiving dinner, and I have no intention of changing my habits until I have to.” He moves swiftly to the improvised bar in the corner of the living room. I hear ice clinking in his Delmonico glass.

A John Cheever Whiskey Sour
3 ounces whiskey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
3 ice cubes
1 orange peel
1 Maraschino cherry

Our wise and level-headed friend Amanda Hesser, from Food52, has this sage advice for a Friendsgiving meal: “Plan for your turkey to finish roasting 2 hours before dinner so you can carve it, arrange it on a platter, dampen it with some gravy, and simply rewarm it in the oven 15 minutes before you serve it. See how it lowers your blood pressure and frees up your oven! Sit down and have a cocktail with everyone!” Cozily, she and John Cheever have their stocking feet up on the ottoman, laughing heartily.

Hovering in the kitchen, and peering disappointedly into the oven at the roasting turkey is Calvin Trillin, “I have been campaigning to have the national Thanksgiving dish changed from turkey to spaghetti carbonara,” he says to an attractive dark-haired woman. “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti,” Sophia Loren confides. They clink their John Cheevers.


Calvin and Sophia engage Nora Ephron in a lively discussion about the mashed potatoes. She confesses in a conspiratorially fashion, “I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them.” A.A. Milne and Piglet are sitting at the kitchen counter, earnestly nodding in agreement. “If a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow,” they chime in. Giggling. Oh, my.


Martha, that showoff, has brought two kinds of stuffing. Which is a good thing, because I won’t eat the one with oysters. http://www.marthastewart.com/1038818/oyster-and-cracker-dressing Give me cornbread and sausage stuffing any day! http://www.marthastewart.com/337095/cornbread-and-sausage-stuffing Her apron matches her potholders and the curtains she has just installed in the kitchen. Jonathan Swift is trailing Martha rather closely. I hope he hasn’t knocked back too many John Cheevers!
“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster,” he murmurs knowingly into her shell-like ear…

In charge of the dinner rolls is James Beard, who pronounces over the hum of the cocktail enthusiasts: “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts!” He deposits a large breadbasket on the sideboard, and adds a dish of the best butter, too. He samples a roll, and nods approvingly, before gliding over to the bar.

Carl Sagan is holding court near the sideboard, slyly eyeing the desserts.“If you wish to make an apple pie truly from scratch, you must first invent the universe,” he announces to Neil Degrasse Tyson. Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad eavesdrop wildly. Too many John Cheevers in this corner of the room!

Apple pie, by Sam Sifton: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12320-apple-pie

Erma Bombeck and Julia Child stand by a bookcase, assessing our collection. “What we’re really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?” asks Erma. Julia, enthuses, “People who love to eat are always the best people.” Garrison Keillor, who is never a man to tolerate a moment of deadening silence adds, “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh, sweet corn.” He is smug when they assent.

As we walk in to dinner I heard Cesar Chavez opine to Woody Guthrie, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.”

Have a wonderful Friendsgiving!

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives
–Oscar Wilde

It’s Friday the 13th – Kitchen Disasters Ahead!


With Thanksgiving and Christmas and other major food fests coming swiftly at us, not to mention ritual workplace cookie-exchange season, our lives are about to get more kitchen-centric than usual. And more time spent in the kitchen means the odds of cooking disasters are greatly increased. There must be an insurance actuary who can give us the real statistics, but I would say that for every dozen batches of sugar cookies, at least 17% will scorch. For every ten turkeys roasted, 2.75 will be overdone. For every 144 dinner rolls baked, someone will forget 22% of the time that the recipe called for baking powder, not baking soda.

Life is about to get messy, and here are a few helpful household hints to get you through this Kitchen Season. Martha may have some fancier solutions, so be sure to look them up on her website. But I think more practical advice comes from my wise and sagacious friend Chris, who advises that you should always keep a Stouffer’s family-sized lasagna in the freezer in case of a major disaster. A word from the wise!

Too much salt in the soup:
Toss in a boiled potato, which should act like a sponge and soak up extra salt. If you don’t keep spare boiled potatoes hanging about, use a bag of instant rice – keeping the rice in the bag. Or you can cook the rice, purée it, and add it to your soup a tablespoon at a time.

Overbeaten egg whites:
Always add a few drops of lemon juice to prevent over-beating your egg whites. Note to self – keep lemons on hand.

Lumpy gravy:
Pour the cumbersome gravy into a food processor or blender and purée until smooth (you may need to add some warm broth). Be sure the lid of the blender is on tight – you do not want to wipe gravy splatters off your cabinets on Thanksgiving. Alternatively, try using a whisk. The beating should eliminate lumps and frustration. A spa treatment for the harried cook!

Burnt pie crust:
Cut off the burnt bits, or file them down with a nutmeg or cheese grater. They do things like that on The Great British Bake Off all the time! And if it is a sweet pie, you can never go wrong with the judicious application of artistic whipped cream. If it is a meat pie, try masking with some scrumptious bacon. Keep copious amount of heavy cream and bacon on hand.

Forgot to buy buttermilk?
Use regular milk, but add a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar to sour the milk.

Too spicy?
Dairy is always the answer. Cut the spiciness in a sauce, chili, or soup by stirring in plain yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk or cream. Add some dark chocolate to chili. Note to self: stock up on dark chocolate.

Sticky rice?
If it is only a little bit sticky you can toss it in a colander and rinse it under some warm water, and use your fingers to separate the grains. Remember that Julia Child believed that you can work miracles in the privacy of your own kitchen.

Overcooked meat?
The best way to fix overcooked beef or chicken is to add some liquid. Place the meat in a casserole dish and pour in a few cups of hot chicken or beef broth, cover it, and let it sit. This might not work at Thanksgiving (or Christmas) when people have rather stereotypical notions of how Norman Rockwell would serve the meat, but you are creative! Keep lots of broth on hand, just in case.

Too much salad dressing?
Put the salad in a clean bowl. Add more salad. Or you can run it in a salad spinner. Better yet, keep the salad dressing in a cruet on the table, and let folks dress their own salads. All the skinny minis will prefer it that way.

Broken Cakes or Cookies?
When the cake crumbles as it you take it from the pan, or the dog knocks over the platter where the cookies are cooling, snatch up as many as you can before the dog gets them, and layer the broken bits in parfait glasses, alternating with swathes of whipped cream and all that fresh fruit you are keeping for just such an emergency.

You can cover for almost any natural cooking disaster with a good story, wine and whipped cream. But don’t serve undercooked meats or anything that smells odd. Use a meat thermometer. And get the Stouffer’s lasagna out of the freezer, and place it lovingly in the oven. It will be a memorable event, and it might well get you out of having to entertain all the relatives for a few years.

• Read the recipe before you begin cooking.
• Make sure you have all the ingredients or substitutions on hand. Check for lasagna.
• Set a timer.
• Don’t measure ingredients over the cooking pot or the mixing bowl. Gravity is a natural ally of cooking disasters.
• Always know where the dog is. Luke the wonder dog managed to snatch a slice of pizza from a china plate on the kitchen counter the other day. Without moving the plate! I didn’t even hear his doggy chortles of delight as he scarfed the slice down, and I was just in the next room!What an amazing skill set that dog has! Imagine what he could do to a plate of cookies, or a resting, recently roasted turkey!

“Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed. Eh bien, tant pis. Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile, and learn from her mistakes.”
― Julia Child

Food Friday: Cocktails from Beyond


At first I was going to put together a compendium of disgusting Halloween-themed cocktails that involved pumpkin flavored vodka, and chocolate martinis, olive and lychee eyeballs, and a lot of dry ice for special effects. Nonsense. I finally came to my senses when I wandered down the garden path of idle curiosity, which as you know, has a deleterious effect on cats. Instead I wondered about what we could offer to our favorite dead writers, should they come a-calling this Saturday night, when the adults will reclaim Halloween as their own. While not exactly the Proustian query posed by Vanity Fair every month, this is a broad survey of some writers I think would be amusing at a ghostly Halloween cocktail party.

Noel Coward said that the perfect martini could be made by “filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy”. Fill your glasses and join me on our ghoulish visit to a moonlight cocktail party. No enchanted cocktail hour would be complete without Ernest Hemingway, who tops every dead-writer-cocktail-survey I encountered. His poor mother. I have been to his house in Key West and skritched some of his cats with their polydactyl toes. The house has some admirable verandahs, which shriek out for a séance and Coward’s Madame Arcati inviting our favorite roués and decorous dead to join us once more for some ocean breezes and Bloody Marys. http://www.hemingwayhome.com/

“To make a pitcher of Blood Marys (any smaller amount is worthless) take a good sized pitcher and put in it as big a lump of ice as it will hold. (This to prevent too rapid melting and watering of our product.) Mix a pint of good Russian vodka and an equal amount of chilled tomato juice.
Add a tablespoon full of Worcestershire Sauce. Lea and Perrins is usual but you can use AI or any good beef-steak sauce. Stir. (with two rs) Then add a jigger of fresh squeezed lime juice. Stir. Then add small amounts of celery salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper. Keep on stirring and taste to see how it is doing. If you get it too powerful weaken with more tomato juice. If it lacks authority add more vodka.” https://www.thrillist.com/vice/ernest-hemingway-s-favorite-drinks-with-quotes-whiskey-wine-absinthe-bloody-marys

Bob your hair, rouge your knees, and get out your ropes of pearls. Scott and Zelda have arrived in Key West. The Fitzgeralds were very, very fond of Gin Rickeys. We can swoop around the porches, imagining our own jazzy music, swaying with the palm tress, drinking these sweet concoctions: http://on.aol.com/video/f–scott-fitzgeralds-gin-rickey-recipe-and-bukowskis-boilermaker-517940317 Whatever gin they have not reserved for their infant daughter’s night time bottle, we can spirit away to make Gin Rickey cocktails.

John Cheever’s specter conjures up a solemn progression of cocktails. Avoid him, because he will want to go swimming. Instead, let’s look for Evelyn Waugh, who is merrily mixing some of his favorite stingers at the bar. I can summon up the image of the angelic Cary Grant, ordering a round of them for the flock of church ladies, crowding his tête-à-tête luncheon with Loretta Young in The Bishop’s Wife. Stingers are deadly. Trust me. I have been stung.

Evelyn Waugh’s Stinger

2 ounces brandy
¾ ounce crème de menthe
½ ounce dry vermouth or bourbon

Directions: Shake with ice. Pour into a chilled martini glass or Old Fashioned glass.

Sad ethereal wraith Carson McCullers has been hard at it since breakfast. Her tea packs a deadly punch:

Long Island Iced Tea Recipe

1⁄2 ounce gin
1⁄2 ounce vodka
1⁄2 ounce tequila
1⁄2 ounce. light rum
1⁄2 ounce Cointreau
3⁄4 ounce lemon juice
Top with cola
Lemon wedge

Pour all ingredients except cola and garnish into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Shake, and then strain into a Collins glass filled with ice cubes. Add cola until color of tea. Garnish with lemon wedge. Serve with two straws.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was very fond of the Between the Sheets cocktail. This party could be getting interesting.

3/4 ounce brandy
3/4 ounce light rum
3/4 ounce triple sec
1/2 ounce lemon juice
Lemon twist for garnish


Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin set are cackling over a hot Ouija board in the corner. Their Whiskey Sours have been evaporating by the pitcher-ful. “I wish I could drink like a lady. I can take one or two at the most. Three and I’m under the table. Four and I’m under the host.” http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/fresh-whiskey-sours-recipe.html

Rushing out from the eternal New Yorker magazine offices in the sky, Mr. E.B. White shares his favorite Martini recipe: “Equal parts lime juice, apricot brandy, honey, and dry vermouth. Stir this all together (you only need a tiny amount of the whole business), then add 4 times the amount of gin. Plenty of ice, stir, and serve.” Wowser. Three martini lunches, indeed! http://paperandsalt.org/2012/03/08/the-cocktail-hour-e-b-white/

There is a whole lot of gin going on at this imaginary party. Since Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, Mr. Friday and I will chill a charming bottle of Prosecco, and sit on the balcony and watch the little hobgoblins and ghosts bob about in their Halloween euphoria. The ghostly writers and folks from my imagination are having a little shindig at the cemetery if you’d like to go out and meet them. They are just dying to see you.

“I began to think vodka was my drink at last. It didn’t taste like anything, but it went straight down into my stomach like a sword swallowers’ sword and made me feel powerful and godlike.”
― Sylvia Plath

Food Friday: Time Travel is All in Your Head


There are as many schools of thought about macaroni and cheese as there are pasta shapes. I am famously fond of Kraft Macaroni and cheese because, like Proust’s petite madeleine, it immediately transports me back to a Washington College dorm in the 1970s and I am cooking with Shirl. Cue Steely Dan! We don’t need a flux capacitor or a DeLorean to engage in a little slick time travel. We have cheesy special effects in our very own home kitchens.

But feed me a lumpy béchamel sauce and I am flung backward in time and am struggling in the Home Economics kitchen in Dolan Junior High, where I could not sew an apron, and they wouldn’t let me take print shop because I was a girl. I can still seethe with righteous adolescent resentment! http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/white-sauce-or-bechamel-sauce-40046

First, as I was taught in that nightmarish home ec class, you must add salt the macaroni water. And do not even think about adding oil to the water! I stopped Mr. Friday from making this egregious mistake last week. (Shop class must have addled his brain!) The salt flavors the macaroni (or the pasta if you are playing sophisticated grown up cook), and while he misguidedly believed that adding the oil to the water would keep the macaroni pieces from sticking together. What he didn’t realize is that it would be like slathering on a Teflon coating, and none of the precious cheesiness would be able to penetrate the tender, suggestible, easily transmuted macaroni.

In my youth I also entertained a fondness for Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese, found in the freezer section. I liked it best with a thick coating of black, carbonized cheese, scorched over the surface of the rectangular individual pan. I attribute this to cooking in a toaster oven, which could also make frozen pizzas taste hellishly good. I like some things burnt and crispy, and mac and cheese is a dish redolent with crunchy memories. Which is why Amanda Hesser’s Baking Sheet Macaroni and Cheese is brilliant! https://food52.com/recipes/2534-baking-sheet-macaroni-and-cheese Everyone gets a generous serving of crunchy cheesy goodness without the carbon build up.

Monday nights were mac and cheese nights when the Pouting Princess and the Tall One were still living under our roof. Sadly, they have flown the coop, and we are left to figure out something for dinner that won’t be too tempting – those 10,000 steps daily won’t get any easier if we keep scarfing down the kazillion calorie Velveeta mac and cheese from our childrens’ childhoods. Rachel Ray shows us the slimming way: http://www.rachaelraymag.com/recipe/skinny-fettuccine-alfredo/

Here is a recipe I pull up when we are throwing caution to the wind, and want a carb-laden dinner after having a rather too-vigorous Monday:

3 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups uncooked pasta (penne, elbow, ziti)
3 cups scalded milk
2 cups grated cheese (Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Munster)
1 cup grated Velveeta (we use Gruyère now)
½ teaspoon chicken bouillon (paste from a jar or that new Knorr Homestyle Stock)
A pinch of salt
A pinch of cayenne

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the butter. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. In a large saucepan, cook the roux for about two minutes, add scalded milk and chicken bouillon, stir constantly bringing it to a boil – just. Add grated cheese and Velveeta (or the Gruyère), lower the heat and cook until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy. Set aside. Boil the pasta in salted water, stirring occasionally, until done. Drain the pasta, and pour it into the saucepan with the cheese mixture. Let stand for about 5 minutes, stirring every once in a while. The cheese mixture will thicken as it blends with the pasta. We like to serve it with a little cloud of fresh shaved Parmesan cheese on top. And some black pepper, too.

I have always been a little leery of the Southern breadcrumb variations and other add-on ingredients. (I can be an obnoxious purist for the most inconsequential of windmills.) I also have doubts about the addition of truffles, lobster, pimento, crabmeat, Andouille sausage or jalapenos. But what can you expect from someone who would happily eat leftover Thanksgiving turkey on Pepperidge Farm white bread with Hellman’s mayonnaise three hundred and sixty-five days a year? Luckily the folks at About Food are a little more epicurean and open-minded: http://southernfood.about.com/od/macaroniandcheeserecipes/r/classic-macaroni-and-cheese.htm

We are linked to the past through some of our earliest recollections of meals and smells and people we love and unfolding events. Go rustle up a nice warm sheet of crunchy mac and cheese, invite someone over to dinner and make another happy memory. Cue Steely Dan.

“Part of the secret of a success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”
–Mark Twain