Happy holidays to all as we finish off this strangest of years in many, many generations. Hard times remind us of all that we have to be grateful for. Our celebrations were splendid, and small, in our four-person pod, but the food and drink were no less grand.
We went all traditional with standing rib roast (thanks to chef Champe Speidel for procuring such excellent meat, from Painted Hills, a co-op in Oregon), a beef jus, a kind of Barbuto-style potato (Yukon’s boiled then smashed and fried), shaved Brussels sprouts sautéed in the fat of two pieces of sliced bacon, and Yorkshire pudding cooked in beef fat and drippings.
A few important notes I’d like to mention on technique. The beef was first grilled, to be seared and flavored and then finished in a 250˚F oven, 15 minutes per pound and a half-hour rest (process shots from way back here). Perfect every time.
The jus: I made my 1-hour beef stock as the base: ground beef, vegetables, aromats, and gelatin. A fabulous technique from my book From Scratch, in which the powdered gelatin provides what actual bones would otherwise bring to the pot (sheets just as good here if that’s what you use). Jus was simply reduced stock, thickened with “bœuff manié”—beef fat and flour roux, basically.
The Yorkshire pudding should be made simply for the drama of the way it twists and folds like an elephant ear in a roasting pan, or explodes out of the individual molds. I still use Marlene Newell’s recipe, which I believe is in my book, Egg, made ahead. I cooked it while the roast rested.
Gifts on Christmas morning worth noting here…
Below, the most excellent Dingle Crystal company, based in Dingle, Ireland (a fabulous food town—go visit when the world opens up), is the last crystal company to cut their glass by hand. And they’ve started making martini glasses at last. That and Dingle gin—well, I can’t wait for a frosty martini in this heavy beautiful glass.
The books are some English mysteries for my Beloved (thank you Three Lives, your new, temporary location on West 10th between Bleecker and Hudson is lovely). My reading below. Mannahatta from Mom, a geo-history of Manhattan, from Ann, our favorite Graham Greene novel to read aloud during long car rides, and a new novel, The Sun Collective, by the amazing Charlie Baxter, whom I got to know at Bread Loaf recently. If you don’t know this writer’s work, both novels and short stories, I highly recommend.
Oh, and I’ve found some photos from our last trip to Dingle that show Dingle Crystal founder Sean Daly at work:
What we watched, and oh, my, God …
This is the best performance I have seen this year, and one of the best ever, a one-man delivery of A Christmas Carol, by Tony winner, Jefferson Mays, who plays some 50 characters during the 90-minute virtuoso performance. He takes on all the characters, but also narrates in third person as needed. It’s available to rent through January 3rd, and if you love the theater and you love astonishing performance, it is well worth the $57 ticket price (for us it worked out to the price of a movie ticket for the four of us).
This Dickens novella is sometimes picked with good reason as a perfect example of the form. Our dear friend, Les Standiford, wrote the fascinating story of how Dickens self-published it during a time of professional hardship (The Man Who Invented Christmas—made into a movie of the same name). The novella became a sensation, rejuvenated the author’s career and bank account, and is a major influence on how we celebrate Christmas today.
Up next: Soul, Wonder Woman 1984, and the Bee Gees documentary. [Update, 1/2/21: Didn’t love “Soul,” though did love the music, thank you Jon Batiste, and “Wonder Woman” is a mess, but the Bee Gee's documentary “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” is fantastic in showing the evolution of this multi-faceted, shape-shifting group of brothers who were wrongly at the center of the Disco backlash, also concisely described.]
What we’re listening to…
I’ve been obsessed with Bach’s cello suites for about 25 years, listening to them continually. I wrote my first book to them. I’m partial to Yo-Yo Ma’s performances. My wife Ann adores the Pablo Casals version, which Ma said resuscitated and popularized these dormant works.
Pianist Eleonor Bindman has recently arranged them for the piano and they are fantastic.
What we’re drinking …
My dear pal Les Jacobs remembered how fond my father was of serving Stingers, which seemed the height of sophistication in the early seventies. So, on Christmas night, a Friday, we did an Instagram Live post of this brandy and crème de menthe after-dinner drink. With one small twist that I thought quite good, thanks to a stocking stuffer from Ann. Ann wouldn’t touch the drink after I forced a sip on her. Sam finished his reluctantly, out of a sense of thrift, I believe. I savored mine, remembering my father’s love of them, and his love of entertaining. Miss you, Dad! (And happy 40th birthday Mom! What a day for a birthday! Love you!)
And finally, what’s for dinner…?
Chinese takeout! Yay!
Some great links to stories we’ve loved ….
Two food related obits, one on Lon Adams, the man who created the version of Slim Jim’s we know today, American charcuterie at its … well, I don’t know. RIP Lon nevertheless.
And White House chef to five presidents, beginning with LBJ, Henry Haller, apparently an excellent chef, but also a great manager and diplomat, qualities not often associated with chefs in the 1960s!
A bizarre and fascinating profile of the late founder of Zappos, Tony Hsieh in Forbes.
And this lovely piece in The New Yorker by Margaret Talbot on Joni Mitchell’s youthful artistry. I love the fact that Mitchell, unable to afford a quality guitar, was in fact able to afford the smaller ukulele, choosing quality over convention and size in the instrument of her art.
And finally, this hilarious video of an Australian family that found a koala bear nesting in their Christmas tree.
Happy New Year to all!