Happy Thanksgiving

Dear readers--cheers and a happy Thanksgiving! May your day be filled with love, spicy aromas, mouthwatering food, luscious wine and sanity. If you can eat whatever you like without repercussions, skip the rest of this post. For those of you (like me) for whom Thanksgiving is both a glorious celebration of food and the most challenging day of the year, read on. This day will mark the apex of hospitality, the day when years of refining recipes yield a perfect meal, a celebration of plenty with overeating expected and glorified, a day coded with layers of family history, when sometimes the old scars get picked instead of happy memories shared, a day when those of us who must exercise discipline to maintain a normal weight struggle to feast without overdoing it to the point of self-loathing. Here are some tips to enjoy the day:
Pal up! Find a family member at the dinner who has the same problem of overindulgence and decide to help each other make good choices. If your family sabotages you, arrange to have a friend's cell number for phone support.
Gear up! Just as an athlete would survey the course and make a plan, figure out what is good for your body and what is not and strategize.
Put a circle around it! Allow yourself one plate of food filled as much as you want and a small dish for dessert, but not one bite or nibble more. Like eating in general, it's the nibbling that can add up, so no "cleaning up" in the kitchen that doesn't involve washing the dishes. You know what I mean!
Be in the moment! Slow down and eat each bite like it's the last one you'll have in this world--really enjoy what you're eating--slowly!
If all else fails, I'll tell you my secret if you promise not to laugh--visualize being a pig. I came to the painful realization over ten years ago that I just cannot eat chocolate sanely and in moderation, so I decided to not eat chocolate--one day at a time. When all my defenses are down, I use my power of imagination and visualize myself in a trough of chocolate, wallowing in every type of chocolate dessert and stuffing myself, getting bigger and piggier with every bite. The mental image is so disgusting that I want to make a better choice to eat something like pumpkin pie that I can eat sanely. As foodies, we live to eat, but like love, food should always be kind and never hurt us. There's a world of delectable food--and wine--to be savored, but let's eat and drink with gusto but not excess.


Winery of the Year Plus Harvest Stew Baked In A Sugar Pumpkin

Looking for a Thanksgiving recipe that celebrates fall but doesn't involve turkey? How about chunks of slow cooked pork stewed with yams, spices, vegetables and peaches? This recipe always gets rave reviews and looks festive presented in its golden brown pumpkin. Last Saturday's menu: I served sauteed mushrooms as appetizers, along with spanokopita and black olive tapenade, paired with the 2006 Forgeron Chardonnay. Entree was the pork stew below, garden greens salad, herb onion bread with two cheeses: creamy Bucherondin and Delice de Bourgogne. We were drinking lightly, so sipped our Forgeron with dinner and never got around to the red wine. The stew would pair well with the 2006 Merryvale Merlot.
spray olive oil
3 lb. boneless pork shoulder roast
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 medium skinned, chopped tomatoes (or one 14 oz. can)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 medium yams, peeled and chopped small (about 2 cups)
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
1 can corn kernels (about 1 cup)
2 peaches, peeled and chopped
1/4 bunch of parsley, chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 lime
1/4 cup cooking sherry
1 big Sugar or Cinderella pumpkin (about 10 lb. or two 6 lb. if large is not available)
3 Tbsp. melted butter
Spray Dutch oven with oil and put over medium high heat. Brown the roast all over then turn the heat to medium and add the onion and garlic. Cook, turning the roast over, for a couple more minutes, then cover the meat with water, add the bay leaves, put the lid on and cook for 3 hours or until the meat is falling apart. You may need to turn the heat down--the water should be simmering but not at a boil. Remove the meat to a plate to cool and carefully strain the broth, returning the strained broth to the Dutch oven. Simmer the broth with the tomatoes, pepper, potato and yams until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the corn, peaches, parsley, cilantro, oregano, cumin, lime and sherry. Remove the fat from the pork and break the meat into chunks into the stew. Stir and taste--add salt and pepper if desired, but you may like the flavor without them. In the meantime, cut the top off the pumpkin at an horizontal angle so the top will make a lid (and not fall into the stew). Scoop out the seeds and pulp from the pumpkin and brush inside with the melted butter. Spoon the stew into the pumpkin, top with the pumpkin "lid" and bake in 350 degree oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the pumpkin is soft but not falling apart. Serve the stew with scoops of the inside of the pumpkin. Serves 8.
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. butter
1 pkg. active yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 small onion, chopped fine
1 tsp. dill
1 tsp. rosemary, minced or ground
Scald milk, add sugar, salt and butter. Dissolve yeast in water and mix into the milk mixture. Add the flour, onion, dill and rosemary and mix well. The dough should be very thick but just stirrable with a wooden spoon; add a 1/8 water if all the flour can't be mixed in. Cover bowl with a wet towel and let rise 45 minutes. Heat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a bread pan with oil. Spoon the dough into the bread pan, cover with the wet towel and let rise about 20 minutes or until dough is just below the top of the pan (it will rise above the pan during baking). Bake 1 hour.

This week's Online Grapevine special is three highly-rated wines from Napa's Merryvale Winery, voted "Winery of the Year" by Quarterly Review of Wines. They are in the forefront of sustainable viniculture and have received many accolades.


Thanksgiving Wine Sale and Tofu Curry

This is the first Thanksgiving in 20 or more years that I haven't cooked the dinner, which is a bit sad for a foodie like me. I delight in going through my recipes and perusing Farmer's Markets to create the menu. But, traveling to see family is more important than anything else, so I'll be happy to be the dishwasher! As a kind of substitute, this weekend I'm baking Argentinian Stew in a big sugar pumpkin for a party of eight and making fresh herb bread. I'll post the photos and recipes on the blog. If it's sunny, I'll use my solar oven! I baked half an acorn squash and a spaghetti squash last week on a day with thin cirrus clouds. The temperature never rose over 200 degrees, but the squash was done after about 4 hours of cooking. In case you're interested, I bought my solar oven from www.sunoven.com and if any of the doomsday predictions come true--ie no more petroleum or I lose my job and they turn off the utillites--I'll still be cooking!
This lentil, rice and tofu combination makes a nice healthy meal with protein and fiber rich lentils. The lentil rice recipe makes a good side dish at Thanksgiving. Prepare the tofu curry for your vegetarian guests, though the turkey lovers will like this, too. The mild complex spices will perk up plain turkey and will go well with sweet cranberry sauce. Pair this tofu curry recipe with the 2007 Melrose Pinot Gris for white wine lovers, pair the recipe with the 2006 Eberle Côtes-du-Rôbles for red wine drinkers. Serves 4.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. minced ginger
1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. nutmeg
6 Tbsp. peanut butter
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 13 oz. can coconut milk
1/2 lime
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 cake of medium or firm tofu
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. Thai fish sauce
Cook the ginger, garlic, turmeric and cumin in the oil in a wide, deep saute pan for a couple of minutes over medium heat. Add the nutmeg, peanut butter, chili, lime juice, coconut milk, sugar, salt, and fish sauce and stir well until peanut butter has warmed up and mixed in with the rest of the ingredients. Add the tofu and simmer for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
1/2 cup dry lentils
2 cups rice
4 3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 Tbsp. butter
pinch saffron
1 tsp. ground clove
1 tsp. turmeric
Wash lentils and put into rice cooker or pot with a lid, along with the broth, rice, butter and spices. Heat on medium until it boils, then cover tightly and turn the heat to low. Simmer 1/2 hour. Fluff with a fork before serving.
This week's Online Grapevine wine discount special is either a 4 or 12 bottle wine sale with two Rhone blends, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Gris. These are perfect for Thanksgiving because the whites are crisp and dry to balance out the richness of gravy, dressing and butter. The Rhone blends will match well with Thanksgiving spices of cinnamon and clove and flavors of cranberry and sweet potato. The "Thunder" is 55% Grenache, 29% Mourvedre, and 16% Syrah. The Côtes-du-Rôbles is 47% Syrah, 29% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 4% Viognier.


Backyard Bowls + Holiday Wine Gifts

Fall is the best season in Santa Barbara, the air is crisp and sparkling, the temperature cool. The prevailing autumn breeze clears away any particles in the air and the specular reflections on water and foliage are sharp and dazzling as shards of glass. The lower arc of the sun backlights waves, sending rays of light that almost blind the eyes with their ferocity. Along with the angular intensity of the light comes a palpable, magnified energy in the atmosphere. One's inhalations become deeper, the air fills the lungs with a sense of well-being and the body is invigorated with the season. Looking up at gulls wheeling above the sand, one is aware of the enormity of space around and overhead, and there is a heightened sense of being alive. I have to be outside, I want to be out on my bike or walking everywhere. One of my favorite forays is to ride along the beach to State Street then up to Backyard Bowls to have one for lunch. If you think healthy food means something tasteless and bran-like, then you must try one of these. Chockful of nutrition, acai is a berry from the Amazon that has the most anti-oxidants of all fruit. Backyard Bowls crush and freeze acai to make a sort of melty sorbet which can be combined with fruit, nuts, granola, peanut butter, etc. My favorite is the Original with a bed of yoghurt with crunchy granola and fresh fruit. Each mouthful is an explosion of fresh goodness. Plus, it's served in a bowl and what can be more primal that eating from a bowl with a spoon? Think of the maternal love in the bowls of cereal you ate when you were a kid, bowls of ice cream (the ultimate comfort food), hot bowls of soup nourishing and warming on a cold day--bowls are the ultimate cultural symbol of nourishment. So to eat a backyard bowl after a ride past the powerful ocean, with the body and senses grateful for the keen celebration of life, is to be completely in the moment of gustatory bliss.
For those of you who are not in Santa Barbara, you can make a version at home. It's not the same, but will give you a small glimpse of how good this can be. The key is to find Sambazon acai sorbet. Fortunately, they have a search feature on their website. Use the best organic fruit you can find and top-quality yoghurt.
This week's Online Grapevine is about holiday gift ideas! Wine club memberships, wine gift baskets and select wines...