Monday, November 22, 2010

The shortcuts you can live with

You might be chopping onions or celery, or making pie crusts or wondering how to keep this in-law from boring that distant cousin or carefully selecting apples or thinking about table linens or any of a million pre-holiday things at your house. Or you may be thinking about picking things up at Publix. Or thinking, This holiday thing is bullshit: why am I worrying about this? Or getting ready to travel, or...there are as many possibilities as there are each of us. Inspired, as so many of us are, by Ms. Moon, here are some thoughts about how it works for me, along with love and hopes that the whole holiday/family/expectations thing works out well for you, too.

Africa is the starting point this year, or more accurately, returns from Africa. Having Katie home for the holidays took on a whole new importance when she was NOT home for them last year. But as big as that was, it was unexpectedly small by comparison. If you have a child of your own you know the simple pleasure and occasional heart-bursting, breathtaking, profound JOY of homecomings. We are missing one fine son for this year's feast but welcome the other home with exactly that breathtaking joy. You may have caught glimpses of him now and then, working hard just offstage to keep embarrassing typos and subtle inaccuracies out of Eat Here Eatery. He's home. In local parlance, The Baby Is Home from Africa. We have lots to be thankful for, but nothing touches this. Nothing comes close. The fuschia-bright basket of "Christmas" cactus on our back deck sings our happiness for us and connects us to the family of my dear old person, whose mother tended the ancestor of this cactus in her own garden. Dylan is home, and his grandmother's seasonal reminder of love is in bloom.

Job One for Dylan has been helping us figure out the menu, that list of dishes upon which the success of the Thanksgiving meal depends. And that list depends greatly on a delicate equation balancing what we want for Thanksgiving dinner against the shortcuts I can find a way to live with in order to get all those things on the table for one meal. If we must have pumpkin pie, what shortcuts can I take? I could make the whole thing from scratch (too time-consuming). I could cheat with a pre-made pie crust (not as good, not as good for us but work-reducing). I could cheat with a pie made by the nice ladies at Publix (not quite as good, certainly not as good for us, but opening enough time in my day to allow something else - perhaps homemade Meyer lemon meringue pie?) So: how discriminating ARE we? Can we tell the difference? If we have homemade whipped cream, will we really notice that it's a store-bought pie? And then the whole complex formula has to be applied to the other menu items. Each has its own variables. The solution to each equation is different, and each changes from one year to the next.

This year, the equation will work out something like this. The pumpkin pie will come from Publix; the lemon meringue will be made by hand down to the smallest detail, including juice and zest from lemons grown right in our own yard. The turkey and gravy will be strictly homemade. So will the stuffing. But the yeast rolls? Frozen. I have tasted Ms. Moon's Angel Biscuits and there is NO substitute. But if expectations are adjusted, no one is expecting the Angel Biscuits. Everyone will wait in reverential anticipation until the next time we're all together, when things are less hectic and the Angel Biscuits can be made without stress or heartache. (Don't tell my family, but this probably means the next time we share the table with Ms. Moon, whose hands hold the magic, here.) The macaroni and cheese will be made from scratch, but assembled on Wednesday evening. No one will mind if the pasta is just slightly overcooked. It's worth it.

And so it goes. The shortcuts I can live with as a cook whose ego is slightly overblown in the kitchen are the ones that make some downtime possible. The downtime looks a bit like watching the reflections of blue skies and drifting clouds in the shining sand on a beach where a man, a woman and a dog walk in peace, quietly savoring the joy. The Baby is home from Africa, and there is much for which to give thanks.

This may not be the last Eat Here post of Thanksgiving week, but just in case, love and blessings and thanks to all of you. I am more thankful than I can possibly put into words for the enduring generosity of each of you. Taking time to read each post, sometimes even spending more of your valuable time to share comments, opening your hearts to me this year: all these kindnesses have wrought gentle changes for me. I'm setting a place for all of you at the table this year. You're always welcome. Eat Here.


  1. Eat Here is my favorite restaurant ~ it's delectable! Each morsel tantalizes the mind and the spirit.

    Welcome home, Dylan, and I look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks. Love also to Mac, who will be missed this holiday season.

    Thanksgiving blessings to all:)

  2. We just LOVE you, Lulu: I do, and all my menfolk do, too. It's so hard to communicate to people who've never experienced Cafe Alcazar (or the Zanzibar - dear me!) what an amazing compliment you've really given, here. You are at the very heart of Eat Here.

  3. Michelle, I hope you had a lovely holiday with your dear ones. More Eat Here this weekend...I have some beautiful new photos of the sunset this evening.
    Love, love!

  4. Nothing wrong with a few shortcuts, so long as the cook is the only one who knows :-)

  5. Yes, shortcuts are good. :)

  6. Apparently I missed a couple of kind comments here: Suldog and Joan, thank you both for the read AND your perspectives. I hope the holidays were bright for both of you, whatever shortcuts you may or may not have taken. Love, love!


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