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Usually pajama parties take place at night with young girls staying up late, giggling, whispering, discussing boys and eating junk food. When I discovered that the temperature on Thanksgiving Day was …
Usually pajama parties take place at night with young girls staying up late, giggling, whispering, discussing boys and eating junk food. When I discovered that the temperature on Thanksgiving Day was to hover around 18 degrees and dip to 2 overnight, I declared to my sister, Janet, that we would be enjoying our little Thanksgiving feast, just the two of us, in our flannels. We would skip the whispering, boy-talk and dreadful, processed food, but we’d most likely laugh a lot because we always do.
When I awoke and came downstairs Thanksgiving morning, Janet was at her desk writing in her journal with Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” playing at a low volume. The house was warm, and Janet had made coffee for me and a pot of jasmine tea for herself. Normally I wouldn’t ask Janet what she was writing about, but I looked down and saw bullets, made by her pen, on the page. “Things I’m thankful for,” she said unapologetically.
I write in the morning as well and wouldn’t have thought of that subject, but I decided it was worth thinking about. I wrote about my relationship with my sister, our life in the country and the continual wonderment nature brings, two female cousins I hold dear, the joy of being retired, old and new friends, and our house, which has been a haven since we first walked through the front door more than 20 years ago.
It was liberating to skip the daily shower and have the morning unfold slowly, without the tension normally associated with the holidays. The day before, I had thrown cranberries, a cut-up orange and pieces of mango into a food processor with some fresh minced ginger, a drizzle of honey and a pinch each of ground cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg and pulsed it until all the ingredients were of uniform size, and I had a sprightly, piquant relish to cut the richness of the rest of the meal.
Janet moved to the living room to work on patchwork aprons she was sewing, entirely by hand, to be displayed at a local holiday show, and I headed to the dining room. By this time, Brazilian music was playing. I sat at the table and made pen and ink drawings of the fruits and vegetables we’d bought at the farmers’ market the preceding Sunday.
Then I walked into the kitchen and pulled out my knives. I filled a big bowl with cubed and sliced parsnip, fingerling potatoes, shallots, fennel, sweet potatoes and chopped fresh rosemary and thyme; added a healthy drizzle of fruity extra-virgin olive oil; and sprinkled the vegetables with a Moroccan spice mixture called Ras-el-Hanout. I tossed everything well and dumped it onto a rimmed baking sheet, spreading it out evenly, then roasted it in the oven until tender and the edges caramelized and brown.
While the root vegetables cooked, I served a breakfast of cheddar cheese and crispy pancetta omelets, lightly dressed baby arugula and spinach salad, and miniature knishes we had procured the last day The Fat Lady Café had been open before closing for the season. They had been lovingly handmade by the owner, Judith, and they were delicious. While Janet washed the dishes, I returned to the dining room table and painted with watercolors the images I’d drawn earlier.
A late morning nap seemed like a good idea, so Janet and I headed upstairs and lay on either side of our tortoise colored cat, Lucy, who purred so loudly when Janet stroked her silky fur that I had trouble falling asleep. An hour later, leaving Lucy curled up contentedly, Janet and I went downstairs to watch a movie with Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. The acting was superb—the storyline, not so much. I was prompted to get to work on our entrée, seared duck breast.
I made a simple sauce using mango chutney, fig preserves, a couple tablespoons of soy sauce, a drop of sherry and grated ginger. I kept it warm while I seared the cross-hatched duck breasts, skin-side down until the fat was crisp, crunchy and deeply colored. Janet set the table and waited expectantly, setting out our traveling Scrabble set, which we make use of during meals. I flipped the duck breast and continued cooking it while I brought over the cranberry relish and reheated the roasted vegetables. After the duck had a brief rest, I sliced it and lay it on a platter, pouring a little of the sauce over the very rosy pieces. I poured us each a glass of sauvignon blanc, and we clinked glasses and said, simultaneously, “Thanks for being my best friend.”
There are so many wonderful vegetables at the farmers’ markets this time of year that you have free rein to choose whatever you fancy to oven-roast. Consider carrots, parsnips, or fennel. The Moroccan spice mixture, Ras-el-Hanout, is available on-line or you can Google how to make it yourself.
2 medium sweet potatoes or yams, scrubbed, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into one-inch pieces
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into small squares the same size as the sweet potatoes
5 shallots, peeled, cut into quarters
2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into one-inch pieces (or you can use a handful of halved fingerling potatoes)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon Ras-el-Hanout spice mixture (optional)
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup or aged Balsamic vinegar (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly oil a large rimmed baking sheet. Place the cut vegetables in a big bowl with 1/4 cup of olive oil and toss well with fresh herbs and Ras-el-Hanout, if using. Season generously with salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables in a single layer on the baking sheet. If they are too crowded, you can use two baking sheets (changing positions in the oven half-way through cooking time). Roast until tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 30 to 35 minutes. If desired drizzle the vegetables with either maple syrup or balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately.