Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas "Presence"

Oh Lord, how shining and festive is your gift to us,

if we

only look, and see.

~ Mary Oliver ~

True enjoyment of these holidays (holy days) is what my heart wants this year, and so I’ve just done the strangest thing!

I hauled out the many Christmas decorations from the garage cupboard, stacked them all in the front hall, and then put all except two away again!

Instead of the usual holiday fuss, my old patchwork Santa and my jeweled tree are the only decorations in our home this year. I am giving myself, family and friends the most meaningful gift I can give, my full Christmas Presence! I am simply spending real time with them, looking through new eyes in a state of wonder.

Presence began with a spectacular lunch at the new True Food Kitchen with my oldest friend Alice--we met when only three. Our lives have been full indeed--of beauty and poignancy, and hardly what we expected. We love reconnecting to share what is meaningful now.

Afterward, we strolled through Roger’s Gardens, perhaps the most amazing nursery/gift shop anywhere, and right in our backyard. We admired and photographed the Christmas trees made from vintage earrings made by my talented friend Margaret Larkin to post here for you. Simply taking in the sights of all the beauty filled our hearts.

Yesterday, Ted and I took advantage of the Balboa Island Holiday Home Tour and walked two miles around the island to view the insides of homes we've been strolling past for years. What a festive treat!

The Victorian home on the left often wins the Sweepstakes prize. And each little garden patch was imaginatively decorated.

Last night, while listening to Christmas music and stirring in blessings and poetry, I made 34 sparkling jars of Sugar Plum Jam.

And today, for you, I made the following Pumpkin Fudge. So delicious and full of holiday flavor.

Tomorrow I will celebrate the holidays with lunch with my dearest friends at our Emergency Book Club.

Being present to the beauty of all our shared holiday decorations is the very best gift I can give this year to myself and to everyone else!


Some prefer this creamy spiced fudge to my Divine Chocolate Fudge, especially during the holidays. So easy to make and perfect for a last minute gift!

3 cups sugar

20 large marshmallows

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter

1 (6 ounce) can evaporated milk

2/3 cup pureed pumpkin (can use canned—freeze rest for another use)

2 tablespoons corn syrup

1-1/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 (12 ounce) package white chocolate morsels

1 cup chopped pecans, toasted plus 24 toasted pecans, to garnish

Line an 8- or 9-inch square cake pan, or the 8 cavities in a mini-loaf pan with parchment paper (preferably unbleached). Or, lightly butter a flat cold surface like granite or marble, or even a baking sheet. Set out a large rubber spatula.

Combine the first seven ingredients in a heavy-bottomed 5- to 6-quart saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly with a large wire whisk or a sturdy wooden spoon. When the marshmallows melt and the mixture comes to a boil set your timer for 12 minutes. Stir almost constantly until the buzzer rings. Now is a good time to stir in your wishes or prayers for those who will enjoy your Divine Fudge.

Remove from the heat and very carefully (it is super hot!) stir in the white chocolate morsels and nuts. Beat constantly until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is very smooth. Quickly pour into the prepared pan(s) or onto a cold surface, using a rubber spatula for spreading the fudge evenly and making a few decorative swirls in the top.

Cool overnight before removing from pans. If not making in mini-loaves, cut into pieces. For best flavor, serve fudge at room temperature. (I wrap loaves in individual plastic bags, clear mini-treat bags made by Wilton available in the candy making section at Michael’s craft stores.)

TO PREPARE IN ADVANCE: Fudge becomes firmer the longer it is stored and keeps beautifully at room temperature for up to a week, in the refrigerator up to a month, or in the freezer indefinitely.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What I didn't know

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

~ e.e. cummings ~

My friend Sheva asked me "What didn't you know at this time last year that you now know, that has made a huge difference in your life?"

What a fascinating question!

I certainly had no idea a resolution I would make for the New Year would throw open a series of doors of joy and connection.

What I resolved was to learn an inspiring poem by heart every week. Inspired by a book I happened to pick up, Saved by a Poem by Kim Rosen, I simply thought it would be fun to be able to tap into inspiring words, and that it would be good exercise for my brain cells.

Stepping through our front gate on my morning walks, paper with poem clutched in hand, I practiced lines over and over for the 20 minutes it takes to hike my hilly mile. I began to notice that I returned home with feelings of expansion and well-being. This is very good, I thought.

Little by little I began shyly sharing a poem with friends. But I still had no clue what would begin to happen. You readers of my blog know that I began to share some quotes here and there in my writings. Soon after I posted this Valentine's Day blog I found a note from Nancy Barton, agent for Daniel Landinsky, translator of one of my favorite poets, Hafiz, thanking me for sharing his poetry. I was truly astonished. I had recently connected with Janet Conner, author of Writing Down Your Soul, when she spoke at our local Inside Edge breakfast, only to find we share a passion for Hafiz poetry and an acquaintance with the same Nancy Barton.

Meanwhile, the poetry I've memorized has become my most uplifting joy, and I can recite from deep in my bones. I am invited to speak more and more often and poetry just flows from me as the very best way to illustrate my feelings.

So, here is an early holiday gift for you. The first 75 people to sign up to dial in and hear four friends, Janet Connor, Nancy Conner, Neale Lundgren and me, share our most joyous poetry for 1-1/2 hours on what we call a "Mystical Poetry Love Fest" on December 7 will receive it free--no charge. Please do sign up early, and join us!

As I am cooking up some traditional side dishes (like the corn pudding below) while stirring in poetic blessings for our Thanksgiving feast this year, I am beyond grateful for the grace of the gift that came out of simply listening within and following my heart.

And, I am thankful for you, my dear readers. May you have the most blessed Thanksgiving ever!


For 8 servings

4 cups frozen corn kernels (about 19 ounces)

4 large eggs

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream

½ cup whole milk

1/3 cup sugar

½ stick butter, room temperature

2 tablespoons tortilla flour (masa harina) or white flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 6-cup capacity baking dish.

Mix together 3 cups of the corn and the remaining ingredients in a food processor or blender until almost smooth. Pour batter into the dish. Stir in the remaining corn kernels to distribute evenly.

Bake pudding for about 45 minutes until it is brown and the center is just set. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

To prepare in advance : Cool and refrigerate, covered, for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature for an hour or so, then reheat in microwave or oven until warm.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Feast of Friendship Redux

Welcome all my new readers who found my blog this year! I've had many requests republish my Thanksgiving blog from '09 containing the full recipe of my turkey, dressing and Champagne gravy. New side dishes to come!

Who are we truly most thankful for?

Thanksgiving Day is usually reserved for family reunions, but the next day, the celebration is over. Refrigerators are packed full of leftovers that may or may not be eaten. Your home and dining table still boast the bounty of fall décor. Perhaps one of the new orange poinsettias at the nurseries, or an autumn wreath on your front door.

Why not make the most of this food-focused holiday by creating a second party the next day? Plan a “Day After Thanksgiving” banquet for your best friends, your “inner circle,” those who graced you throughout the year with support and encouragement. Like all of us, they will love feeling appreciated!

Many years ago we started this tradition and it continues to this day. We list all those people who make up our “family of choice” and invite them to bring their favorite leftovers to our open house. We set out a fresh roasted turkey and a ham, re-plate our own leftovers, and supply beverages.

Such a heart-warming gathering! Conversation happens easily as people share their family’s traditional foods along with stories of the recipes and where they came from. Communion among your guests deepens and grows richer as the evening goes on, especially if you invite each guest in turn to tell everyone assembled what they are feeling particularly thankful for this year.

This is the most effective party yet for guests to really connect and bond. (If your guests are shy and you think this might put them on the spot, take turns welcoming each guest and telling them specifically why you love and appreciate them.)

And here is my greatest holiday suggestion for keeping clean-up easy:

These gorgeous lacquer chop plates are on sale at Sur La Table stores. Only $4 each, they lend elegance and a sturdy base to seasonal paper plates for those who may be dining from their laps.

They also make clean-up a breeze. (Yes, this really is a paper plate!)

Recent research by Russian scientist Konstantin Korotkov reveals that our brain’s highest measurable vibration is gratitude. During our long Thanksgiving weekend we may feel thankful and count our blessings, but do we really take advantage of this opportunity to express appreciation to all our loved ones?

This year, truly express your appreciation for all the people who matter most.



I always baste my turkeys with butter and Champagne and here is my family's favorite preparation. Placing cheesecloth over the turkey to absorb the basting liquids produces the most gorgeous, tasty skin! A large, room-temperature turkey easily cooks in three to four hours.

For 16 servings with leftovers

1 fresh, free-range turkey (22 to 25 pounds)

½ stick butter, softened to room temperature

Salt and pepper


1 onion, quartered

2 cups cut-up or baby carrots

2 stalks celery, cut up

2 leeks, white part only, cut in half lengthwise and rinsed under cold water, then sliced

3/4 pound (3 sticks) butter, melted

1 bottle Champagne (if making a smaller turkey, use a half bottle)


2 medium onions, minced

1 1/2 pounds (6 sticks) butter

6 cups chicken broth

2 teaspoons coarse salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh (or 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon dried) sage, to taste

3 (16 ounce) packages herb stuffing mix. (I prefer Pepperidge Farm brand, crumbled not cubed)

6 or more stalks celery, including some tops, diced fine (measures 4 cups)

2 cups finely chopped fresh parsley


9 cups chicken broth

1 large onion, quartered

2 stalks celery, cut up

Stems from one bunch parsley

10-12 black peppercorns

1 cup fat from cooking the turkey

1 cup all-purpose flour

Spice Islands chicken stock base (for extra flavor if needed)

About ½ teaspoon KITCHEN BOUQUET for color, if needed

The day before the party, begin the stuffing.

In a very large Dutch oven, place the onions, butter and chicken broth and a few teaspoons of fresh or dried rubbed sage, along with 2 teaspoons salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer and stir until the butter is melted. Pour in the bags of stuffing mix, and toss lightly and quickly to dampen the crumbs evenly, then add the celery and parsley, tossing to distribute evenly. Taste to correct the seasoning, adding more sage if needed (I like a lot), and more salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to stuff the bird.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place the rack on the bottom position. (Use an oven thermometer for accuracy.) Remove the giblets and neck from turkey cavities. Rinse them and set aside.

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, combine the broth, cut-up onion and celery, parsley stems and peppercorns. Bring to a simmer. Add the giblets (except liver) and neck. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a slow simmer, and cook, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Add the liver and simmer about 15 minutes longer. Remove giblets and strain broth. Set both aside. When the giblets are cool enough to handle, cut them in small pieces. Using your fingers, pull the meat off the neck in shreds and add them to the giblets. Spoon a few spoonfuls of broth over them to keep them moist and refrigerate until adding to the gravy.

Have the roasting pan ready and waiting next to your work area. (I line my roasting pan with a foil roasting pan the same size that I can discard to save cleanup.) Take care that both turkey and stuffing are cold or at room temperature so bacteria won’t grow.

Rinse the turkey under cold water and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Turn the turkey breast down and season the neck cavity with salt and pepper. Fill the cavity loosely with stuffing and turn the turkey over, placing it on a rack in a large roasting pan, and tucking under the loose flap of neck to hold its stuffing in. Fold and tuck the wing tips under the turkey.

Season the main turkey cavity with salt and pepper. Stuff the turkey very loosely, as stuffing swells while cooking. Tie the legs together. This will partially close the cavity to hold the stuffing in place and give the turkey a more natural, compact appearance. Place the remaining stuffing in an oven-proof serving dish. (The stuffing from inside the turkey will be quite wet, and the stuffing cooked separately in the oven will be "dry.") Rub the turkey all over with the ½ stick softened butter. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

In a medium saucepan or glass measuring cup, melt the 3 sticks butter and add the Champagne. Cut cheesecloth so it measures about 17 inches square and has four layers. Rinse under cold water and squeeze dry. Place in butter and wine and let soak a few moments, then lift it out, squeezing it gently and leaving it damp, place it over the turkey breast and part of the legs.

Put the turkey in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Pour some more of the butter/Champagne mixture over the bird and lower the temperature to 350 degrees. Continue to baste in this manner for 2 more hours and using up all the basting liquid. If the roasting pan is getting dry, add a little of the giblet broth; if it is getting too full, spoon our some juices to keep the level below the rack.

Remove the cheesecloth. Baste with any remaining butter/Champagne mixture and cook up to one more hour, using a bulb baster to baste with pan juices every 20 to 30 minutes. If any of the bird is getting too brown, cover those areas loosely with aluminum foil.

Insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest portion of the thigh. It should register at least 170 degrees (some say 180, but I think that will overcook the bird). If not done enough, continue cooking for another 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the turkey from the oven. Move the rack to the center of the oven and bake the extra stuffing and any other side dishes you’ve made while you make the gravy. Insert the thermometer into the center of the stuffing. It should read at least 140 degrees, but if it does not, remove it from the bird and place in its own baking dish in the oven as well.

Place the turkey where you will carve it and cover loosely with foil to stay warm. Pour the juices from the roasting pan into a bowl or 8-cup measure. Let rest a minute while the fat rises to the top. Spoon the fat off the top and reserve ½ cup, discarding the rest. Place the ½ cup fat in a heavy saucepan with ½ cup flour and stir this roux over medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes. (Alternatively, if you wish to eliminate fat from the gravy, simply shake flour and water together in a sealed jar before stirring them into the simmering giblet broth and pan juices.) Some in our family don’t like giblets, so I use two bowls for serving the gravy, adding the giblets to only half the gravy.

TO PREPARE IN ADVANCE: The stuffing may be made a day in advance and refrigerated, but our family objected when I tried that once because they love to sample the warm stuffing as it comes together. Leftover turkey freezes perfectly and is great to have on hand for making soups, noodle dishes like Turkey Tetrazzini, curry, and enchiladas. Leftover stuffing and gravy freeze well. You may wish to make up your own frozen dinners with a little bit of everything for simple family fare in the coming weeks.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tasting San Francisco

Some people are born with many thousands more taste buds than others!


News of this recent medical research is confirmation for what I’ve suspected since childhood. I would literally shiver and even gag in revulsion when forced to eat foods like prune whip or liver. I truly believed I might die from a disgusting taste.
If you're a foodie like I am, I'll bet you have more than your share as well. My husband Ted (he claims to be my late husband, saying Paul von Welanetz was my early husband) loves food too, thank goodness. So, next week we will be off for our favorite gourmet getaway, a long weekend trip to San Francisco where we often admire a view of the bay from a corner room at the historic Mark Hopkins Intercontinental.

We like to leave our home in Corona del Mar early on a Friday morning so we arrive before two in time for our favorite dim sum (literally, “to touch the heart,” so I find it irresistible) at Yank Sing at 49 Stevenson St between 1st and 2nd. (A second, much larger location is in One Rincon Plaza, but we prefer the intimacy of the smaller restaurant.)
The moment we are seated, a glass pot of steaming jasmine tea appears fore us to sip while we choose small plates from an unending parade of passing carts. There are steamed dumplings (shrimp, scallop, lobster, chicken and vegetable, spinach, snow pea shoot with ginger, garlic, and sesame oil), fried tidbits (stuffed crab claws, shrimp toasts, egg rolls), or steamed white buns to fill with crisp Peking duck, scallions and tangy Hoisin sauce.
After eating our fill of this succulent light fare, we share a dessert of sesame balls and mango pudding, and emerge energized for a walk and shopping in nearby Union Square.

Saturday morning the Ferry Building Marketplace is the place to be. That’s when stalls of local vendors surround the city’s historic 1898 clock-towered structure now a permanent home to 40 plus restaurants and upscale food purveyors ( Since 2003 this has been turned into the shrine where the city’s population worships the region’s culinary delights.

Ted and I sample our way through the stalls. I can’t resist joining the long line at Primavera for one of their four or so Mexican breakfast entrees. Owner Karen Taylor studied with famed cookbook author Diana Kennedy in Michoacan, Mexico, and offers a delectable menu that includes chilaquiles with scrambled eggs and several kinds of tamales and the best tortilla chips ever.

Ted can’t resist the yogurt at the Saint Benoit stall, especially the honey or fresh plum flavors. The pale pink crocks in which the yogurt is sold have plastic lids and make lovely souvenirs. We drive home with a back seat filled with treats including the sensational sesame glazed walnuts from Alfieri Farms and white cheddar from Point Reyes Cheese Company

For the first time we'll try some of Tony's Pizza Napoletana in North Beach. Tony won first prize in the World Pizza Cup in Naples for his pizza margherita.

Our tastebuds are off on a happy San Francisco adventure! We'll keep you posted!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Taste of Winter Romance

Autumn colors have an edge.

Shards of red and orange crackle

through the cracks and splintered ends

of summer's gentle arc.

~Pastor Steve~

Fall is in the air as I sip velvety warm cauliflower vichyssoise. Its comforting warmth and flavor bring a burst of one of my cherished memories.

Crisp autumn colors at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park.

Ted and I dined at a table for two in the huge, cathedral-like dining room, the only table at the base of an immense, twenty-foot arched window with a spectacular view of the hotel grounds, the forest with its bright autumn hues, and Yosemite Falls spilling down the dark, gray granite cliffs beyond.

I learned later the table is called the “Queen’s Table”, and I sensed the feeling of royalty being led to her throne.

We had only been dating for a few months. The setting was beyond romantic—it was a masterpiece.

During dinner Ted spoke earnestly of the depth of love he was finding in our relationship. When our desserts arrived, he took both my hands and asked, “Will you marry me?”

It has been twenty years now, and we returned a few winters ago to celebrate our wedding anniversary and to attend the legendary Bracebridge Dinner, one of the most sought after Christmas events in the world. A three-hour pageant of drama, music, and heraldry, it recreates the traditional sumptuous seven-course feast based on Washington Irving’s 1820 tale The Sketch Book about Christmas Day at Bracebridge Hall in Yorkshire, England.

This legendary tradition began shortly after the hotel was opened in 1927, and the program, re-written by famed photographer, Ansel Adams, is still being performed today by an elaborately costumed 100-plus cast featuring Christmas carols, Renaissance and Middle Age music, court jester, trumpets and revelry before Squire Bracebridge, his family, and 325 fortunate guests. It was once held only on Christmas Eve with tickets available only by lottery. Read about it and see lots of photos in this article from the San Francisco Examiner.

Our accommodations were a cozy cottage in the hotel’s surrounding woods blanketed by a light snow, and the dinner lived up to our highest expectations.

I have a special reason for telling you about the Bracebridge Dinner now. You won’t want to wait any longer to make reservations to attend this spectacular once-in-a-lifetime event. It used to be you would be placed on a waiting list for years, but with our current economy, reservations are still available. Performances and dinners are held this year on December 13, 14,16, 18, 20,24 and 25. Tickets and lodging packages are available at both the Ahwahnee and Yosemite Lodge. I promise you one of the most glorious holiday dining celebrations of your life! Click here for to make a reservation. Or, phone Yosemite Reservations at 801/559-5000, or go online at

Meanwhile, serve an autumn supper near a cozy fire of one of the best of the seven courses—this delicious and bracing winter vegetable soup! Follow it with creamy Stilton cheese and vintage port. Click here for more of the traditional Bracebridge recipes


For about 1 gallon, or 16 servings

(Freeze any extra, or share the bounty!)

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large Spanish or white onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 cups celery root (celeriac), peeled and diced

2 cups parsnips, peeled and diced

1 cup chopped leeks, thoroughly rinsed

1 to 2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 cup white wine or dry Vermouth

1 large head cauliflower, outer leaves and core included, coarsely chopped

3 quarts vegetable stock

2 cups (1 pint) heavy (whipping) cream

1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and coarsely diced

Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the first seven ingredients in an 8-quart stockpot, over medium heat, partially covered, for 10 minutes. Add the white wine, cauliflower and vegetable broth; bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes, until cauliflower is very tender.

Add the potatoes and heavy cream and cook about 15 minutes longer until potatoes are very tender. Remove bay leaves and let soup cool. Season the soup with salt and pepper, then puree in small batches in blender or food processor. Strain to remove any lumps and reheat to serve or transfer to storage containers. (Like most soups and sauces, the flavor is best the second day.)

The Ahwahnee serves this in tiny cups at the beginning of a meal with a drizzle of chive oil and a crouton made of cheesy polenta.