Fiona in January

Fiona in January

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Top 10...

Sitting here on a grey-ish looking Thanksgiving morning, being the only one awake in the house other than Max the Dog, I can't help but remember Thanksgiving pasts. So many of them, great memories, too-funny-to-ever-forget stories of cooking disasters, traveling mishaps and general bizarre happenings. I have been so blessed over the years to always be able to spend time with people I love on this holiday.

With that thought, I decided to put together a list of my Top 10 Thanksgiving memories. I hope they make you smile, cringe and reflect back on your own memories of this day where we should all take the time to a) remember just how much we have to be thankful for and b) remember to take the bag of gizzards out of the turkey before cooking.

Top 10 Thanksgiving Memories

1. When I was a kid we always drove up to Bucks County, PA to spend Thanksgiving with my Aunt Donna and Uncle Tom. The drive was as much as a part of the holiday as any other tradition. Dad would drive, Mom would be in the front seat and the three of us girls would be crammed in the back of (for at least 10 of those years) our Ford Tempo. We always stopped at Dunkin Donuts for a crate full of Munchkins and OJ...I swear it was the only way our parents could ensure we were quiet and contented for at least half of the drive!

2. On one of those car trips I mention above, we stopped at The Maryland House - about a halfway point and a huge rest stop/restaurant area. Dad always got coffee there and the 4 women in the car made a half-running trip into the restroom. One Thanksgiving when I was about 12 or so, it was particularly windy. We all made it back to the car (our hair standing on end in the gusts) and Dad put his cup of coffee on the roof of the car as he fished for his keys. In about 3 seconds the wind picked up the cup, tipped it upside down and flung it all over the windshield. I don't think anyone spoke for a good 30 seconds, we just stood there with our mouths open, then the hysterical laughter kicked in...poor Dad...hopefully he went and got another caffeine fix!

3. This is sort of a random quick memory. The only Thanksgiving I went "home" for after I left for college was the first one in 2001. We were sitting around the table at my aunt and uncle's house in PA and I was next to my uncle's brother-in-law Johnny (who happens to be a hair stylist I think). At the time my hair was bright white bleached-blond and spiked up on end...he looked over at my hair, kind of swept his gaze over all the spikes and said, "Honey - don't ever dye your hair another color, you can work that bleached blond!" I think Uncle Tom almost choked on his turkey laughing.

4. This memory is from when I was about 8 years old and we were staying up in PA. We kids were getting antsy and driving everyone crazy (not that uncommon), so Uncle Tom took us out to Burger King for lunch. At the time Pocahontas has just come out in the theater and BK had those random plastic commemorative plastic "glasses" for sale. We walked in the door, Molly (my 5 year old sister at the time) looked up at Uncle Tom with her gigantic blue eyes and said something like, "Wow, do you see those glasses? They're so pretty." 10 seconds later we all had a Pocahontas glass - which I swear we used until we left home! Mom might still have one or two lurking in the pantry!

5. Once I moved out to Indiana for college, it soon became evident that it was too long of a trip to drive from IN to MD or PA for Thanksgiving and then do it again 2 weeks later for Christmas break. So my sophomore year I was at a loss - what was I going to do for the holiday? Go home with my brother from another mother of course! My good friend Greg, who is like that brother I never had, invited me to his house in OH for Thanksgiving. It was also the hometown of my friend Stacy, so I split the time between their houses. That first Thanksgiving with them and their families will always stick with me - they just openly accepted me and made me feel an instant part of the family, I absolutely loved it and me going home with Greg for Thanksgiving and Easter became a solid tradition all throughout our college years.

Flashing back to one of the many Bucks County Thanksgivings...Uncle Tom always cooked the turkey outside on this giant grill, and it was always delicious - Bobby Flay would have been proud. I loved sitting out there on the porch railing chattering away at the poor man while he carefully basted the turkey. Once such year we were hanging out on the porch, watching the turkey skin start to turn a golden brown when we saw it. There it was, a gigantic LIVE turkey walking around the backyard! It came all the way up to the grill! Uncle Tom and I shared one of those "am I really seeing this" moments before getting everyone else outside to see it. Poor turkey - came to mourn the demise of one of its family!

7. I am starting to realize just how many of my Thanksgiving memories focus on my Uncle Tom...he was always such a laid back counterpart to all of us rushing around prepping food and running errands that weekend...just sat back, enjoyed the chaos and took charge of cooking the turkey. Although one Thanksgiving when I was in high school, he was doing his customary grilling of the turkey and went to go baste it...with a plastic baster...which melted closed because the liquid was so hot! He brought it back in the kitchen to show us and cracked up laughing while he picked up the glass baster out of the drawer...and dropped it outside on the driveway where it shattered into a bazillion pieces. Oops? I'm starting to think Uncle Tom and I have a few things in common...finally I think we either went out and bought or found a METAL baster...which proved to be pretty much indestructible - success!

8. I have previously posted about the disaster of the first Thanksgiving I cooked post-college. My parents drove up from Oklahoma and a bunch of my friends were coming over to celebrate with case you missed it, here it is:

Throughout the course of the evening I:

1. Forgot to take the bag of giblets and neck out of the turkey.

2. Did I mention I STUFFED the bird with the disgusting bag of goo and the NECK inside?! You cannot even imagine how horrifyingly disgusting it was to dig into the (now overly dry) turkey to get the stuffing and have a steaming bag of turkey guts spill all over the pan, counter and myself. There was screaming had by all...followed by hysterical laughter.

3. I decided to ignore the fact that everyone wanted the canned cranberry sauce and make homemade...which I still maintain would have been delicious...if I had remembered to add the sugar. That was the most bitterly sour bowl of goop anyone has ever eaten in dare I say? The history of the world. The taste was indescribable.

4. When I pulled the bubbling sweet potatoes out of the oven (topped with marshmallows), I slipped, burned my wrist and turned the entire dish upside down where it splattered all over the oven, the floor and my younger sister Molly who had just come into the kitchen to see if she could help. She helped laugh and hunt down ice and aloe for my burnt wrist before she tried scraping marshmallow/sweet potato goo off her that's a good sister!

The best thing about that unholy disaster of a Thanksgiving was that we all laughed...didn't take it too seriously and ate all of the other dishes that weren't systematically ruined by me! It was a wonderful mish-mash of my family and closest friends. We all crammed around our tiny kitchen table, drank sparkling wine and mostly ate rolls and green bean casserole until we could justify tucking into the dessert and coffee while we laughed at the ridiculousness of the day.

9. Aaron and I had our first Thanksgiving together last year - it was a quiet one, just the two of us and because I was living in the Baltimore area and he was out here on the Eastern Shore, we decided to just buy a prepared feast and not worry about the cooking. The food was delicious, but the company was better! We had hardly spent much time actually alone at home at that point in our relationship - since we were both living with family members, the houses were always full - so it was a great time to just sit back, relax and enjoy each other's company. I'm looking forward to another Thanksgiving with him full of laughter, great food (I hope!), football and the best company in the world - Happy Thanksgiving to my husband, I love you!

10. Ok, now for the final and what might be the most memorable of all my Thanksgiving memories. I was 6 years old and we were up in PA (of course) and I kept asking for a ginger ale. My mom finally said ok and went to go get me one, I followed into the kitchen and being fairly short around high countertops, I couldn't see the glass. I just reached up and grabbed one, chugging down the soda. I remember vaguely thinking "this doesn't taste like ginger ale", but dismissing the thought and proceeding to down a fairly substantial Thanksgiving feast. After dinner, games and cartoons I was put to bed in a room with my younger sister Molly (only about 2-3 years old at the time) and we were each sleeping on a cot. A few hours later my parents, aunt and uncle were awakened by me violently heaving all over the place, freaking out and crying because I couldn't stop puking all over the cot, myself, my sister, her cot and even into our clothes piled in a dad threw open our makeshift bedroom's door and visibly recoiled, turned to a very sleepy Uncle Tom and said, "It smells like a (insert chosen expletive here) brewery in there!" As my poor mom and Aunt Donna attempted to calm Molly and me down, cleaning us and the room up, Dad asked, "Em - what in the world did you drink?" Still crying I answered, "I just had ginger ale!" and that's when the look of horror crossed my uncle's face..."She drank my beer - it was sitting on the counter next to a glass of ginger ale and when I went back to get it, it was gone! I just figured someone else had grabbed it, so I poured myself another one." I'm pretty sure he and Dad alternated between hysterical laughter, disgust, disbelief and guilt for a good hour.

That's a pretty impressive list of memories if I do say so myself...and I didn't even include my last Thanksgiving in Indiana with my great friends Josh and Ruthie, when we clogged the sink/disposal/plumbing and Dad and Josh had to disassemble the pipes under the sink to try to fix it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Day 6 - "Free Day"

Our 6th day in Disney was sooooo relaxing. We had seen/done everything we really wanted to experience at all the parks, so we spent a lazy morning at the hotel before heading off in search of a tasty lunch at Coral Reef in Epcot.

The decor in the place was really cool - a whole wall of the dining room is a huge aquarium complete with sharks, manta rays and sea turtles!

We were definitely distracted by the awesome fish while we ate...them...hmmm. We couldn't decide what to try for the appetizers so we got the Appetizer for Two, that way we could try everything! It had crab cakes with tropical fruit salad and tequila aioli, grilled shrimp with cucumber salad, BBQ beef tenderloin skewers, plus two tiny cups of creamy lobster soup, which Aaron sipped oh-so-elegantly.

While waiting for our entrees, we were visited by a gigantic sea turtle:

For our entrees I tried the Lobster Ravioli and Aaron went for the Seared Rainbow Trout - yum!

We topped off the meal with fabulous desserts: Almond Gelato and a very grownup chocolate dessert - Baileys & Jack Daniel's Mousse!

We spent the rest of the day shopping, laughing ourselves sick at my lack of expertise or even just passable skill on the mini-golf course and then saw Cirque du Soleil - it was a fantastic day and we ended it with what was arguably the best meal of our entire trip at Jiko, an African fusion restaurant in The Animal Kingdom Lodge.

For an appetizer I tried the Taste of Africa, which included four dips with housemade naan bread with other assorted breads. Aaron tried the Wild Boar Tenderloin appetizer and it was so delicious - had a slight venison taste and was so tender! We also go the bread with tamarind butter...which I couldn't seem to stop eating and am desperate to try to re-create the next time I make Indian food.

Our appetites were definitely whetted by the appetizers - everything was so delicious, including the South African hard cider we tried. For entrees I decided to eat duck for the first time and ordered the Seared Barbarie Duck Breast over a potato and spinace masala, chanterelle mushrooms, bruleed figs and a port emulsion sauce. Being as the only fig I've ever had until this was inside a Newton, these were incredible! I am a fig convert for sure! The duck breast was cooked perfectly medium rare and had such an incredible flavor...I had to force myself to slow down and savor every single bite.

Aaron became addicted to lamb dishes on this trip and when he saw lamb on Jiko's menu he had to try it. He ordered the Roasted Lamb Loin with heirloom tomato-chickpea salad, bacon vinaigrette and Kottumbari relish. It was tender and cooked perfectly - he loved every single bite...and I have to commend him, he absolutely HATES Fig Newtons (also the only kind of figs he's eaten) and was pessimistic about the fig, but he tried a bite of mine and was pleasantly surprised at the light and not overly-sweet flavor. Maybe we'll have to try fresh figs at home one of these days...

We were excited to try our desserts and weren't disappointed! Aaron had the Cape Malva Pudding - warm Cape Dutch cake with vanilla custard, mango and apricot sorbet. I went for the Cheesecake and Blueberries. It combined two of my favorite flavors: lemon and blueberries...yum! Creamy cheesecake made with lemon curd, dressed with blueberry coulis, blueberry compote and topped with a "bee sting". I asked our waitress and she explained it as a poppyseed honey crisp...outstanding!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 5 - Hollywood Studios

Our fifth day at Disney consisted of lunch at Epcot and then dinner at Hollywood Studios (previously called MGM). We didn't see/ride as much at Hollywood because its such a small park and there were sooooo many people, so the waits were really long.

However, Aaron talked me into riding the Tower of Terror and I have to was the single most terrifying experience of my life...and when you consider all the times I've broken/sprained/mangled my body over these past 27 years...that's saying something! To be fair, it was definitely partially my fault for thinking I could handle it...even though I know I hate the sensation of falling and am terrified of elevators. It feeds into my claustrophobia...but I figured one big drop - whatever. I can handle any coaster out there and have done free-fall style swing rides, so who cares?


If we had purchased the horrifying photo taken of us on the ride it would have shown that I basically ripped out a patch of my husband's leg hair (I was gripping that with one hand while my other hand had a deathgrip on my seatbelt), nearly threw up on the small child seated in front of me (I had to literally swallow it down) and had my leg up and braced against the seatback in front of me in a desperate attempt to stop falling! Oh and I half-cried the whole time.

No more Tower of Terror for me.

Thankfully the delicious French lunch I ate stayed in my stomach!

So onto the food...we ate lunch at this great French restaurant over at Epcot...mostly because we couldn't find another restaurant we wanted to try at Hollywood other than where we were eating for dinner...and we had seen the restaurant earlier in our trip and wanted to try French food. Needless to say we weren't disappointed!

I was on the hunt for amazing cheese, so I had to order the "Assiette de fromages de France" (assorted cheese plate) and Aaron has never had Escargot, so he tried it...and loved it! I was in cheese heaven with an incredible goat cheese and brie...and two other cheeses I completely forget the names of...oh well, the goat cheese and brie were the best!

We both ordered the same main course - "Plat de cote de boeuf au cabernet avec pates" (beef short ribs braised in Cabernet with pasta, pearl onions and mushrooms). It was incredible - the meat just melted in my mouth!

Before we ordered dessert, we got a visit from a furry little friend...

I was in the mood for chocolate, so I tried this absolutely incredible chocolate cake...whose french name is completely escaping me...but Aaron went with the "Crepe a la pomme et cannelle, glace vanille, caramel jus de pommes", which is a crepe filled with cinnamon, apple, vanilla ice cream and apple caramel sauce. Both were delicious and our stomachs were groaning by the time we made it out of the restaurant and back on the boat headed over to Hollywood Studios!

After I recovered from the "incident" at the Tower of Terror, we had a great day! We ended it with a late dinner at the much-lauded Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant with incredible 5-star American cuisine. It is a meal we still talk about!

For appetizers I tried their Creamy Mushroom Soup and Aaron had the Tuna Tartare. He maintains that the Tartare was one of the most incredible and perfectly balanced dishes he's ever eaten!

The appetizers were so delicious and beautifully presented, we couldn't wait to get our entrees! I had the Sterling Silver Pork Chop topped with smoked gouda and apricot preserve served over napa cabbage, bacon and potato hash with an apple cider jus. Aaron went for the braised Lamb Shank served over a creamy cheesy polenta. Delicious!

After that incredible meal it was so hard to choose desserts - all of the desserts looked so tempting. We wanted to try something "different" so I went for the Grapefruit Cake, which is apparently one of their signature desserts and consisted of light layers of yellow cake with a fresh grapefruit cream cheese frosting. Aaron had their "Chocolate Three Ways", which turned out to be a dark almond buttermilk cake layered with milk chocolate truffle cream and a white chocolate chambord. Wow.

Thank you Brown Derby for an amazing meal!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Magically Delicious - Day 4

On our fourth day at Disney we spent all of our time in Magic Kingdom...I was so excited about this park! Mostly because as a kid, that's the park you really focus on. The one where so many of the great Disney characters are represented and well, Cinderella's castle is there!

We started out the day in Fantastyland and just went through the entire park counter-clockwise seeing and riding everything we wanted. Sadly the Mad Hatter's Tea Party was out of commission, but we were able to be sufficiently creeped out by the Small World ride. Officially the scariest ride in Disney!

For lunch we decided to do something lowkey, but still tasty and try The Plaza restaurant. We both ended up ordering the same thing!

We tried the Vegetarian Sandwich, it looks deliciously hearty with fresh mozzarella, hummus, basil pesto, cucumber, roasted red pepper, lettuce and tomato packed onto fresh foccacia bread...definitely didn't disappoint. We didn't miss the meat at all! We also tried their Creamy Tomato Bisque and found it to be delicious.

We headed off to explore the rest of the park and finished up our day at Tony's - a restaurant fashioned after the one in Lady and the Tramp. It had beautiful decor, dark woods and an Italian theme and the food was phenomenal. Our waiter was definitely the best we had the entire trip!

When it came to trying appetizers, I had to get the Zucchini Fries and Aaron went for the Fried Calamari...yum! We also tried their fresh Italian rolls with garlic olive oil...who could ever turn down fresh baked bread?

For our entrees, Aaron jumped at the chance for more of his favorite: seafood! He tried the Seafood Diavolo, which included linguine pasta with clams, mussels, calamari, shrimp and salmon in a spicy tomato sauce. I decided to go for seafood also, but in a slightly different way and tried the Catch of the Day (which happened to be salmon) served over orzo pasta tossed with pancetta, roasted garlic and seasonal veggies. The whole dish was drizzled with a maple balsamic glaze, which added a delicious richness to the fish.

Dessert was definitely a high point. Aaron had their take on Tiramisu and once I saw the Pistachio Creme Brulee on the menu I knew I had to dig into that! Both were delicious, but Aaron's presentation had a little more of that Disney "magic" to it.