Christmas, Food and Drink


I used to see my father-in-law and my sister-in-law from the first marital go-round whip up something with the livers while our holiday turkey cooked slowly in the oven. I knew they made pate, but what they did to make it appear remained as much a mystery to me as getting an accent mark over the final "e" in this blog post (cut-and-paste worked for the title). 

paté — there it is, but I can't seem to paste it where I want and I get a different font and when I do paste it, I'm sent back to the beginning of the post.


Cooking by myself, with only the assistance of my children, feels sort of like that. I have ideas, and I paid attention to *some* things, but now that we don't do the holidays themselves with certain parts of the family, I am on my own if I want to make

paté — here we go again.

I looked it up online: turkey liver

paté — sigh —

one message board discouraged the use of turkey liver for such a purpose, as it has too strong a flavor. A blog suggested using such massive amounts of butter that I felt sure eating the product would be unwise.

Finally I decided to fake it, based on what I remembered as best I could, and #1 Son offered to help, since he was in the kitchen helping bring about Christmas dinner anyway. It seemed appropriate that #1 Son should help me, since I ate my first


(that's getting tiresome now)

pregnant with him. After that I craved it, and I remember making a
homemade version in the blender. It was 1986 or 7, and it would be many
years before I had a food processor. I don't know if this version
really meets the definition.

paté — yes, the cursor went back to the start again, but here we go with the recipe:

Ingredients for Turkey Liver Pate (just imagine the accent mark this time)–

turkey livers as found in your bird, chopped in small pieces

one onion, chopped small (ours was medium)

half a stick of butter

one apple, peeled and chopped coarsely

We put all of this in a saute pan (not even going there on the accent mark, I hope you understand) and cooked until the livers were medium well, by my standards, then added a little red wine.


1/4 cup red wine

There were some spices, too:


Ground pepper

Cinnamon (a sprinkle)

Nutmeg (a little less even)

Fennel seeds–I had nothing to do with this, it happened behind my back and the only measurement admitted by #1 Son was "a few seeds."

I guess these were all actually there before the wine.

We brought this to a boil, then took it off the heat and added

1/4 cup half and half (though I must admit these liquid measurements are approximate)

We put it all into the food processor and let fly!

Then we put it in a bowl, because there are no small terrines here, Santa. You might want to consider that next year. We refrigerated it about an hour.

paté — wow, it was a long way back that time — was served along with cheese and crackers before Christmas dinner and declared delicious by all — well, except maybe Pure Luck, who ate some when I told him to close his eyes and then gave it to him on a cracker. "It's not anything I would seek out on my own."

Oh well.

This whole Christmas felt like a return to "home," as I realized I was doing things not to suit anyone else but because they were things *I* liked to do. I ironed a tablecloth, and I chose particular glasses that made one of my children laugh and another ask how to pick up such a long-stemmed contraption. I made gravy the way my former sister-in-law taught me, but fixed stuffing from a box just like my mother. We had a good meal and a rousing game of Apples to Apples over dessert.

We were six, my husband and I and the three children and their father.

We laughed until tears came into my eyes, more than once. We read the Christmas cards from far and near and looked at pictures of weddings and babies and cousins and friends and the grandchildren of schoolmates (well, not my schoolmates).

And it felt like 


not what everyone else would seek out on a Christmas night, but somehow right for us.

Food and Drink

Joanna’s Molasses Ginger Snap Cookies

***I made cookies for tomorrow's fair at Large Church, where they have a Cookie Walk. Over the years I sold Christmas stockings and ornaments with the Mother's Group, and even worked as the lunch cashier with Baby LP on my back. I hope they have a successful day tomorrow and that these cookies are a hit.***

This recipe came from a treasured member of Small Church; in my recipe file, they carry her name. A double batch made about six dozen.

¾ cup shortening (I used the butter-flavored Crisco this time–delicious!)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup molasses
1 egg
2 cups flour
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
½ tsp ginger

Cream shortening, add sugar, egg, molasses, then dry ingredients.  Form into a ball.  Roll in sugar.

Bake on a lightly greased cookie sheet at 375 degrees, for 9 minutes at most.  (Check at 7 or 8 minutes.)

Chez Songbird, Children, Crazy Busy, Food and Drink

Slow Cooking

Because I've worked every day since I returned from vacation, I took off early yesterday and have a full day off today. All three of my children are here, as well as #1 Son's new friend, Pretty Poet. She arrived by bus from Slice of the Big Apple yesterday.  We spent part of the afternoon looking at his baby pictures and most of the rest cooking another ridiculously complicated and delicious dinner. #1 Son is clearly his grandfather's grandson. Papa has always cooked for pleasure, studying with James Beard years ago in a class at Beard's brownstone, making every family meal an event. #1 Son and I thought up the menu, and he expanded it by including everything in the refrigerator that could possibly be a part of it.

After reading Michael Pollan's article in the NY Times Magazine (online version, I admit) and then hearing the interview with him on Fresh Air last week, I want to cook more. I want to be part of a movement to keep cooking alive! But wow! Really cooking things takes a lot of time. The big meals we cooked this week reminded me of cooking on holidays. They felt like Summer Festivals of Dinner!

When we played D&D the other night with the kids and Snowman's good friend, Underhill, I planned to cook, but Pure Luck suggested pizza instead. Why? Because if we cooked, the boys and I, he could see we would never get around to playing!

Hubert Chopping things takes time (unless you are working with Hubert Keller).

Cooking sauce instead of simply heating it takes time.

Yesterday we made pesto to serve on tortellini, as well as red sauce with vidalia onion and grape tomatoes and fresh basil to serve over linguini. #1 Son created a vegetable dish of rainbow chard and baby carrots and more vidalia, with chili powder and red pepper flakes. We bought the chicken sausage and a big crusty loaf, and we didn't even make dessert, but the whole thing took hours. We sat down to the meal as if finally going to a long-awaited party, and every bite tasted delicious.

Washing up takes a long time, too, when you have spun greens in the salad spinner and used the food processor and cooked in every pot you own and served the dishes family style at the table. I got a load into the dishwasher last night then came down to finish cleaning up this morning.

I was, you see, exhausted, and the young people had gone out to a concert.

Another load is washing now, and I washed all the knives by hand and returned them to the knife block. A few stray pot lids remain in the sink.

I loved cooking with them, and I think one of the factors Pollan didn't mention is that in the old slow-cooking days, when you had to catch the chicken and butcher it yourself before you could eat it, people cooked together. Life centered around the home. Most of the time more than one person helped prepare the meals, at all levels of society. Now, not only do people commute and work long hours outside our homes, which means we take and perhaps need short-cuts in our more solitary cooking, we seem to be losing the art of the family dinner. I'm not sure how to overcome this trend. LP and I, when we are the only two at home, will sit in front of whatever is on The Learning Channel and eat together. Our kitchen table functions as my home office, and the big dining room table feels, well, big for two people. We're cozier perched on the sofa.

I'd like to thing it's eating together that matters most, but I'm beginning to feel cooking together counts, too. I'm glad my sons both know how to cook and enjoy doing it. Now we just need to bring LP along, too. Maybe we need to hand her a knife and let her simply start chopping.

Blogger Meet-Ups, Food and Drink

What We Cooked

After a busy morning in which I preached, then raced to my other church to hear Maine Celt preach, too (she did a great job!), Mary Beth, Light Princess and I came home for a post-church brunch with MaineCelt and her partner, the Piper, and God_Guurrlll who came in to hear both of us preach. (Pure Luck made himself scarce for this highly church-geeky meal, but Sam kept an eye on all of us from under the dining room table.)

At brunch we enjoyed the ginger scones MaineCelt brought along and also cooked the recipes below. Tonight we braised rainbow chard with red onion and roasted potatoes with shallots to go along with garden burgers and salad. Strawberry shortcake will follow soon.

But these I wanted to share with you, because they are so delightful.

Mary Beth's Mama's Magnificent Egg Bake

2 cups milk
6 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dry mustard
2 slices cubed bread (We had delicious Old Fashioned White from the Big Sky Bread Company.)
1 lb. Jimmy Dean Sausage (We used turkey breakfast sausage instead, to meet LP's requirements, but I enjoyed typing the words "Jimmy Dean.")
1 cup cheddar, sharp (I had some organic four cheese mix from Whole Foods handy.)

Beat eggs, add milk, salt and mustard.
Layer bread, sausage and cheese in greased 9 x 13 pan, pour eggs over, refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake for 45 minutes.


And we tried this, which I found at Barking Dog Shoes:

Pat's Blueberry Buckle

•    Preheat oven to 375.
•    Cream 3/4 c. sugar and 1/4 c. butter
•    Add 1 egg and 1/2 c. milk, mix well.
•    Blend together 2 c. flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt. Add to creamed mixture and mix.
•    Add 2 c. fresh blueberries and stir gently.
•    Spread into 9×9 pan that has been greased and dusted lightly with flour
•    Crumb topping: cut in 1/4 c. butter to 1/2 c. sugar, 1/3 c. flour and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Spread over top.
•    Bake 45-50 min. Cool  or serve warm with vanilla ice cream or cool-whip…and strong, dark coffee 🙂

I had beautiful Maine blueberries, but they were frozen. I'm not sure if the 8 x 8 pan or the frozen berries caused the trouble, but we had to bake it considerably longer than 45 minutes. Nevertheless, yummy!

Food and Drink

Summer Festival of Meat Loaf

Some of you have heard the story. Some years ago, while I prepared a menu for Christmas dinner for the extended family, I sought a secondary main course that might suit simpler tastes, particularly those of the youngest cousin, who must have been 7 or 8 at the time. I asked my husband what he might like, thinking I would hear “turkey,” because he’s not a fan of ham or of the prime rib planned for the rest of us.

But he said, “Meat loaf.”

And I said, “But this is supposed to be a festive meal!”

And he said, “I think meat loaf is very festive.”

I must admit that meat loaf did not form a staple in my cooking. I tried it when Pure Luck and I were dating, because it’s a favorite for him, but after the Event of the Suicidal Meat Loaf — a Martha Stewart recipe cooked on parchment paper on a baking rack, set aside to do whatever it is they do before you cut them, which somehow upended itself on the kitchen floor, after which he took me out to dinner — well, I lost my nerve.

Until he told me he believed in the festive nature of meat loaf, and I decided to try again.

Thus came into being the Festive Holiday Meat Loaf celebrated in various forms by our family over the past five or six years. (We’ve even made a turkey version for non-meat eaters.)

When I shared this tradition with St. Casserole, and she mentioned it to her husband, Mr. C, he misheard and thought she said something about the “Festival of Meat Loaf.” We try to celebrate it when I go to visit them, and there has been great hilarity at that festival, particularly the year the potatoes got locked in the oven overnight.

Today, with our non-meat eater out of town on a youth trip, I have prepared the Summer Festival of Meat Loaf, in honor of Pure Luck’s return. As is true of most of my recipes, there are eccentricities and variations in the preparation of the Meat Loaf, but it will always and forever be festive.

Below please find my recipe, adapted from various sources and strongly influenced by one’s intuitive cooking style:

Summer Festival of Meat Loaf

Ground beef, the 85% fat kind because a nice man at the meat counter once told me that was best, approximately 1.8 pounds because that’s how they sell it, and since the recipe calls for one and a half, adjustments are required.

Bread crumbs, 1.5 cups (I used the Progresso plain version)

Milk, 1.5 cups plus a smidge because it was the end of the carton

2 eggs, because the recipe in Betty Crocker called for 1 but this is more meat

1/2 a Vidalia Onion chopped small, but not exactly fine, Vidalia being the key to a SUMMER Festival of Meat Loaf

Salt, sage and dry mustard–rather indefinite amounts, poured into my hand first, less salt than Betty Crocker suggests, but more sage and mustard

Ground pepper–much less than called for because the pepper grinder doesn’t work very well

Worcestershire sauce–something like a Tablespoon, but really a little more

Garlic salt–a sprinkle, because I forgot I had real garlic and am just seeing it now

Mix all these things together by hand. I take my rings off, because it would not be festive to find them in the meat loaf later.

Remember that old Martha Stewart recipe that jumped off the ledge and consider the possibility of cooking this immense meat loaf on the roasting pan. Mold it into loaf shape and then remember why you used parchment paper. Get out a loaf pan and hope for the best.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1.5 hours.

We had cooked teeny tiny carrots with a little olive oil and slightly mashed red potatoes with butter, a teeny bit of salt and fresh ground pepper. Pure Luck likes his with ketchup, but I prefer a little barbecue sauce.



Church Life, Food and Drink, Photos

Herewith, the cake.

Cake Party 002

Apocalypse Chocolate Cake with Oreo Buttercream Frosting, as prepared for the Cake Party portion of the Holly Jolly Fair at First Parish Church.

(It's all gone now.)

And because dparkram asked so nicely, herewith the recipe, long ago published on my old blog, with a hat tip to Camera Obscura, who gave it to me in the first place.

Chocolate Cake for the Apocalypse (or any day your mood could use some elevating)

One Chocolate Fudge box cake mix
One 4-serving instant chocolate fudge pudding
8 oz sour cream
4 eggs
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. water
1 1/2 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Grease and flour a Bundt or tube pan. (I use the spray with flour and it works very well.)

Mix everything but the chocolate chips on low for one minute or until completely mixed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix on medium for 2 to 3 minutes until very smooth, scraping as necessary. Batter will be very thick. Fold in chocolate chips by hand.

Pour into the pan and bake for 45 – 50 minutes, or until top springs back when touched lightly and sides are starting to pull away from the pan. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes.

Run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan and either turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely, or turn out onto a cake plate and slice yourself a warm piece. Add a glass of milk and you’re all set!

Now, it's a plain-looking, though rich-tasting cake, so for a fancy occasion, such as a Fancy Cake Party, consider adding a glaze of some sort, or try this:

Oreo Buttercream Frosting


  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream (I substituted half-and-half.)
  • 3 Oreos, coarsely crushed


In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter.
Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium
and beat for another 3 minutes.

Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for
1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.

Fold in the crushed Oreos and frost the cake.

(Though you may be tempted to sit down with the bowl and a spoon.)

Chez Songbird, Children, Food and Drink, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Thanksgiving

Secret Ingredients

"Is it weird for you," I asked Snowman, "to have your day turned into a sermon on the same day you're having the day?"

He looked at me, puzzled, as we began the drive home from the community Thanksgiving service. "Huh?"

"Well, that sermon, or part of it, was all about our day today. That was about you, the two strong men wrestling with the food processor stuff."

"If you can get something for a sermon out of a broken food processor, I guess that's why this is your job."

My job, indeed, includes a large measure of reflecting on the practical and seeking the message in it, trying to parse the secret ingredients. I'm thankful that a lot of what I do goes on inside my head. And although I enjoyed the two days of preparation for Thanksgiving, I'm particularly thankful I don't have to cook all day every day, especially given the overwhelming fatigue that hits me after being on my feet for an extended period of time, a reminder of how changed I am by rheumatoid arthritis.

Although perhaps "changed" is not the right word. I don't accept it readily enough for it to be change. I'm adjusting, unwillingly, but the moment of giving over still comes later than it probably should, when I simply cannot stand up anymore or worry that my wrists will not support the dish or pan. Still, I want the dishwasher loaded "my" way. God bless Dos for asking me which way I liked the silverware to go in–handles up, the way my mother taught me, naturally–for I was then able to let her load in my place.

The day unfolded with the background sounds and images of the parade, the dog show ("Look, there's a Berner!!), and "Miracle on 34th Street," with what seemed to be a floor full of dogs in every room, though there were only two.

When we sprawled around the living room after dinner last night, my children, Dos and I, we could truly say everyone had a hand in the meal. Together we trussed the turkey with kitchen twine, together we schemed and peeled and processed and pressed and rolled and stirred the apple pan dowdy (even Pure Luck, who cored, quarted and chopped), together we mashed and set the table. Light Princess and Anime Fangirl contributed place cards. The Father of My Children arrived with roasted vegetables and took the major responsibility for carving the turkey, even finishing the job after dinner before taking his leave.

We even dared to use the food processor one last time, well worth the effort at getting it open again when it yielded turkey liver paté.

When the gravy seemed doomed to fail, we began again after consulting over the stove. The old bottles of Gravy Master produced nothing, so we turned to molasses. Snowman took over stirring the second batch, and told me it didn't taste quite right. "Too floury?" I tasted, too. It really tasted good, I might have been happy just adding a smidgen of pepper and a pinch of salt. But then I remembered their Papa's secret ingredient: he always adds jam to sweeten the gravy.

I reached into the refrigerator for blueberry preserves, but the young people denied that jam could ever be in gravy. I knew I had the secret ingredient right, but decided I could make a substitution in the face of their objections. For on the shelf above the counter sat a jug of beautiful maple syrup. Soon we deemed the gravy "perfect."

I haven't written much about Dos over the years, because the relationships of young people can be ephemeral, and I don't want to leave anything behind to hurt or embarrass anyone, but as #1 Son's girlfriend of almost three years, she feels special enough that I must say how dearly I've loved having her with us this Thanksgiving. When others flagged, she chopped more rutabagas for the Rotmos. When we needed to truss the turkey, she cleverly followed the directions we found on the Internet.

And when people began to look around for second Thanksgiving, I found her sitting beside #1 Son on the couch with a big Ziploc, smiling. "It's turkey, and everything that goes on it!"

"It's Thanksgiving in a bag," I replied with a grin, realizing it must be the turkey and stuffing once on the platter, the rest tucked away in Tupperware.

"It felt like the right thing," she said.

I nodded in complete agreement. The whole day felt that way, though it contained fewer people than usual, and I had worried I would miss cooking with my sister-in-law, the one who knows how to cook everything just the right way. Instead of assisting her, I found myself coordinating the efforts of the younger generation.

And maybe that's the real secret ingredient, sweeter than maple syrup, the flexibility to try doing things a different way, surrounded by the people you love.