Another Year, Another Thanksgiving Weekend

Another Year, Another Thanksgiving Weekend

Plus 2 Cases of Wine, 1 Case Champagne and 2 Large Bottles of Bourbon

Quite a few years ago, I was at a women’s Jewish event, where we were asked one-by-one to share our favorite holiday. My answer was Thanksgiving. I was the only person to proclaim a non-Jewish holiday. I felt half-rebel, half-outcast.

Thanksgiving has been “my” holiday for years. Stress is minimal because there isn’t any real expectation attached to this holiday except to eat and drink. And I’m really good at eating and drinking.

The guests around the table vary from year to year, with some coming just for dessert or just appetizers. It’s fun to have an excuse to entertain for three solid days, even if it does cost us the equivalent of a small vacation, as we host a houseful of out-of-towners.

Of course, as the years have gone by, the menu has had to change to reflect everyone’s evolving dietary needs: vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, diabetic or just plain healthier. I miss the corn dish made with cream and bacon. And the sweet potatoes-yam dish made with (never) too much butter.

I used to scour through the Bon Appetite magazines that my mother gifted me. Most have been tossed, but I kept the Thanksgiving editions because they are sentimental to me. And I hate to admit it, but the reason I’m not using their recipes any more is not my guests’ health requirements – it’s because I’m less ambitious. I want to spend less of my time with cooking and busywork, and more enjoying time with my guests. This year we have a couple of new people who are bringing their personal Thanksgiving favorites, which makes my life even easier.

While I toyed with the idea of listing the whole menu with links to recipes, I realized the only thing I really need to share is the tradition we now do before dinner. Everything else is probably similar to every other household. But, I think the pre-dinner activity is what sets us apart. In a good way.

The Before Dinner Drink:

We’ve been enjoying this yummy cocktail for a few years and if you haven’t tried it before, I urge you to run to your local Costco and buy a large bottle of Maker’s Mark, or whatever bourbon you like. And even if you aren’t a bourbon person, trust me. Santa’s Little Helper is great. I learned the hard way not to have one until dinner is ready to be served. Not exactly a light aperitif, but oh well. Thanks to Donna’s good friend, Marsha, for introducing us to it. Here’s the recipe, found on many websites:

Pour the big bottle of bourbon you just bought at Costco into a pitcher, throw in some cranberries, a couple of cinnamon sticks and a handful of whole cloves. Cover it and let it sit 24 hours. When ready to make drinks, pour over ice 3 parts of your delicious infused bourbon, 1 part triple sec, and top the glass with some 7-up. Dig up some cranberries from the pitcher to add as a garnish.

There are two other drinks I only have once a year. Eggnog, which I also wait for Thanksgiving Day to enjoy, and a holiday flavor drink from Starbucks on December 24th. 

It’s my favorite time of year.


Bubbles and Sparks on the Fourth of July

Bubbles and Sparks on the Fourth of July

Five Ideas, One Menu, 15 Movies and  a Couple of Other Odds and Ends You Can Do (No Kids Required)

Celebrate the Fourth of JulyI wasn’t happy when I realized that the Fourth of July this year falls on a Wednesday.

I don’t know about you, but I think the greatest decision of the late 20th century was the one that turned holidays like Washington’s Birthday and Memorial Day into 3-day weekends. It is unfortunate they did not make a similar decision with Independence Day. I suppose “First Monday in July” is just not as much fun as “Fourth of July.”

At any rate, it can be challenging to entertain on the Fourth in years when it falls on a Wednesday “hump day.” Most people I know are hanging around town rather than taking extra days off from work. What will you do? If you want simple, but good ideas (kids optional), read below. If you want really creative time consuming ideas, go to Pinterest.

The Fireworks

This is the first thing that comes to mind for most of us when we think of this holiday. (What? The Declaration of Independence? Who are you people?)

If you live each year for the fireworks, you’ll want to either take advantage of a big display in your community OR blow some up in your front yard (but only if it’s legal – unless you crave the extra excitement and flashing lights that come from breaking local laws).

This is a true American way of literally letting your money go up in smoke –  and who doesn’t love that?

I always make sure there are at least a few whistlers in my fireworks package. The reason is practical: For years, my son used the 4th of July fireworks to blow up fruit and vegetables. This bit was a hit with the other neighborhood kids. Now that he’s all grown up and isn’t home on the 4th, our fruit is relatively safe — but I admit to missing the chaos and excitement that always came with this holiday.

Food and Drink

We’re lucky to live in an area where ”safe and sane” fireworks are legal to set off in the street, and our street always makes a big show of it. I’ve discovered that you can buy your way into your neighbors’ hearts by bringing out some sparkling wine to share with them. (The other way is to make sure you pick up your dog’s poop on their lawns. Better yet, mow their lawn once in a while.)

Be sure to purchase a couple of extra bottles of bubbles and some $1.92 champagne flutes to share. You can’t go wrong.

Most large cities and many smaller ones have their own large fireworks displays. This usually means getting in the car and driving to a park with a lot of people. Meet your friends there, bring a picnic dinner (don’t forget the bubbly) and enjoy the show.

To make it even more festive, you can add a hibiscus flower to the bottom of the glass for a very pretty look. I like adding four or five pomegranate seeds to bounce in the glass as I drink.

Invite your friends for an early dinner/BBQ. with the fireworks as the grand finale (which also works as a hint that it’s time to go home — DO make sure you serve your dessert before the fireworks).

SIMPLE MENU for Midweek Fourth of July BBQ

(This is especially easy if you have to work Tuesday and Thursday.) It is so easy, yet satifsying, you’ll actually be able to enjoy yourself and everyone will be happy:

  • Your favorite protein to BBQ (chicken, steak, salmon, etc.)
  • Cut up vegetables for grilling in a basket (cauliflower, mushrooms, squash, onion). Marinate in some olive oil and seasoned salt.
  • Small red potatoes, cut in half, seasoned with olive oil, crushed garlic, and seasoned salt. Grill in a basket.
  • Edamame salad: One bag frozen shelled edamame, one bag frozen corn, red chopped red onion to taste,  a lot of cilantro, and your choice of dressing (I use a Trader Joe’s cilantro salad dressing).
  • Egg salad with tarragon (keep mayo to a minimum, add some salt to taste)
  • Good bread
  • Purchased cake and berries, and/or ice cream

Watch a Movie

With scorching July temperatures, people clamor for a place where they can chill for a while – like an air conditioned theater. So it’s no wonder that the studios release blockbuster movies for Independence Day.  I’m more of a stay-at-home-on the-holidays kind of person, so binging on movies at home is good for me. Here are some patriotic movie suggestions for the holiday:

CH-AR-GE IT!

Go shopping – I hear that is a patriotic thing to do! Purchase a flag if you don’t have one or if yours is in bad shape. Check out the traditional patriotic shirts that are sold every year at Old Navy. There’s also this red, white and blue heart shaped necklace that is fun, or this very cool Sunnydaze hammock you can buy online.

Do Your Part

Research your community to see where volunteers are needed, either for clean-up, helping with a large event, or donations of food. If your parent is in a senior living residence, check to see if they need  Fourth of July help (or any other day). Giving to others in our community is one of the most patriotic activities we can perform.

Please leave any other ideas you have for how to spend the Fourth of July on a Wednesday. And remember, two drinks away is a good place to be.

Might-See TV

Might-See TV

I was born in the mid-1950’s, at the height of the baby boom. I have vivid memories of watching Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet in glorious black and white. My sister will confirm that as a child, I lived for the Fall Premiere issue of TV Guide, which I devoured and memorized and selected all the great shows I wanted to watch.

I loved television so much that I decided I wanted to work in production, and majored in it in college. I used to cut out early in the afternoons to catch reruns of Mary Tyler Moore and was only half-joking when I told people it was for research. And for a while, I pursued that dream, culminating in a behind-the-scenes job at The Tonight Show, as well as writing and selling a couple of sitcom scripts.

Of course, that was another lifetime ago. Why I left the wonderful realm of television production and entered the real world of working people is fodder for another post. The point I’m trying to make is that for a very long time, television was my LIFE. And I never got over the anticipation of the joys of a new season, sampling as many new series as I can and making the hard decisions when the networks would inevitably schedule three really good shows right against each other. Of course, those dilemmas did not last long, as the programs I fall in love with tend to die in the ratings.

Which brings us to the Fall 2014 season. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m finally growing up, but I’m finding very few shows that I care enough to DVR for an entire season. And that’s a problem, because I’ve been at home recovering from surgery — which means this is the first time in years when I’ve had the time to watch a lot of TV. As it turns out: it’s not so easy.

I have tried, but cannot get excited about all the series this year that are based on comic books. I love the look of Gotham, but that’s about it. The show is very well done, but there’s something missing. I don’t really care about the characters. They’re just … boring. Even the villains like baby Penguin Oswald Cobblepot and crime boss Fish Mooney just make me yawn. Needless to say, I haven’t even bothered to peek at all the other comic book series currently airing on the networks: The Flash, Arrow and Agent Carter.

I will say that I am still watching last year’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and feel it got a lot better as the series progressed, so I’m giving Gotham a little more time. I just wish the characters were a bit more fun to watch, like the ones on Sleepy Hollow. I tend to avoid horror-type shows, but Sleepy’s over-the-top scripting and sense of humor hooked me last year. It’s like Scandal, only with the Founding Fathers and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

I have to laugh every time CBS touts Scorpion, its series about a bunch of crime-fighting geniuses as a huge hit. The show is overwhelmingly stupid and I will be surprised if it lasts an entire season. And I won’t even go near Stalker, thanks to all its fear-mongering promos. Between breathless reporting on ebola, terrorism and crime, I get enough paranoia on the local news. I don’t need it in my entertainment programming.

Maybe my ennui is rooted in the long, long, network roll-out this year – from early September for a few Fox shows into late October or even November on the other networks. NBC waited until Tuesday to debut its highly touted romantic comedy Marry Me. Thanks to the CBS decision to air Thursday night football, some of their new sitcoms and returning Thursday series won’t begin for another couple of weeks.

By the way: The Marry Me pilot was worth the wait. Funny and unexpected, with lots of energy. Casey Wilson and Ken Marino are adorable as the engaged, 30-something couple. If they keep it up, it will be the best of the three rom-coms on this Fall’s schedules (the other two being A to Z and Manhattan Love Story). I like rom-coms. They’re one of my many guilty pleasures. I’m watching all three, even if I end up hating myself for it.

Other shows I’ve been sampling this year:

Madam Secretary – Not as good as The Good Wife, but good enough.

Jane the Virgin – AWESOME pilot. Crazy concept, but they made it work. Jane (Gina Rodriguez) is a virgin who is artificially inseminated by accident and lives a real-life telenovela. It’s funny and charming and magical. I can’t wait for the second episode.

Selfie – This show, based on Pygmalion and anchored in the world of social media, is growing on me. I didn’t care for the way they characterized Karen Gillan’s Instagram-obsessed Eliza, but I actually LOL’d a couple of times watching the second episode, where John Cho’s analog Henry Higgins character gets hooked on Facebook. I was a fan of producer Emily Kapnek’s last series, Suburgatory, so I’m willing to trust her and continue to watch for a while.

Black-ish – This reminds me a lot of the Bernie Mac show, which I adored when it aired years ago. Not surprisingly, both were co-created by Larry Wilmore (who will be replacing Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central soon). ABC was smart to program it on the same night as Modern Family, The Middle and The Goldbergs – it fits right in. And like those other shows, it boasts a capable cast – from the parents (played by Anthony Andrews and the wonderful Tracey Ellis Ross) right on down to the kids (Marcus Scribner, Yara Shahidi, Miles Brown and Marsai Martin).

The Mysteries of Laura – The tone of this cop show reminds me a lot of Castle. It’s not going to win any awards, but Debra Messing and Josh Lucas are engaging performers.

Red Band Society – I did not expect to like this series set in a pediatric hospital ward, and it felt ironic to begin watching it following my recent surgery. I was pleasantly surprised by its heart and its winning cast (I would follow Octavia Spencer anywhere). The plots are outrageous (they let teens who need organ transplants out of the hospital whenever they want? And admit an undocumented teenage cancer victim for treatment without parental consent or insurance?), but once you suspend your disbelief (and get reeled in by the sweetness of the cast), it’s an entertaining hour.

How to Get Away with Murder – This is the one everyone’s watching, thanks to the Shonda Rhimes connection — and so am I. But I’m not yet at a point where I’m lovin’ it. But Scandal took me some time to warm up with, too.

It bothers me that the networks have nearly given up on programming anything on Friday or Saturday nights, preferring to air repeats of shows they run earlier in the week. It saves them a ton of money, I’m sure – but the result is fewer opportunities to take chances on something quirky or original. I understand that viewership is down, but I am also old enough to remember when Saturday night was THE highlight of the CBS schedule, with Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett generating huge ratings from every demographic (because these were the days when families sat down to watch TV together).

That’s why I’m so grateful for streaming services like Netflix. Last Saturday, I binge-watched something called The Peaky Blinders, which is a British gangster series set in the era right after World War I (kind of a UK Boardwalk Empire). All I can say is: WOW. And that I’m sorry for the lag between when it airs in the UK and when we finally get it here (the second series is running on the BBC now and it will likely be another year before I get to find out what happens next). I recommend it highly.

And ask you: What should I view THIS weekend?