A sea of “Yellow Vest” protesters storm the streets of Paris. Tear gas flies on the US-Mexico border. We flock to Christmas markets and yet are forced to look over our shoulder. Tensions ratchet up in this season of joy. Is it any wonder we feel lost and confused and weary to the bone?
I stared out the window the other night drinking in the pure simplicity of a gently falling snow. The lights were low and the TV off, the only sound the tinkling of the ice as it swirled around my scotch. Is there anything we can do, I wondered? How do we shake these feelings of doubt and turn the page to a better place?
I, for one, take comfort in food. Thinking about it, shopping for it, preparing it for my beloveds. As the holidays race toward their crescendo, can we find a smidgen of calm in the culinary? Why not eek out an hour from the shopping maelstrom and create a little kitchen joie de vivre. One recipe, one tradition, one stovetop meander that truly fills the heart. Maybe it’s sugar cookies with the kids or a juicy roast chicken for your partner. Or perhaps the person who needs that pick-me-up most is you!
Why wait for Christmas day or the New Year’s hangover? Turn off the news and hide that cell phone. The emails can wait. Light the tree and cue the holiday music. Fill your home with the scent of a roasting bird and accompany the prep with a festive craft cocktail.
Not in the mood to cook? Throw on a scarf and your favorite wool cap and venture out into the cold. Visit your favorite greenmarket and stock up on fromage et saucisson, olives, paté and a crunchy baguette. My wife and I call these “Prosciutto Nights.” They come with wine and jazz and a little romance. Sure the kids intrude and the dogs pile on. So what if you end up in a rollicking game of Scrabble or a rerun of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”? Things could be worse.
If we collectively fill our homes with hope, we become so much greater than our individual fears. So on this, the cusp of a new year, let’s wed food to love and spread that message far and wide. It may not solve everything in one fell swoop, but oh what a delicious way to try.
Start with this simple and savory amuse-bouche, accompanied by a craft cocktail that is sure to warm the home fires.
Smoky Hand-cured Gravlax
This is the easiest thing you will ever prepare and I promise people will think you are a genius. There will be no leftovers.
- 1-2 lbs of fresh salmon, skin on
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- ¼ cup sugar
- A couple of tsp of smoked chipotle or spicy cayenne powder
- 1-2 tsp of cracked black pepper
- 1 tsp of vodka or similar
- Pat salmon dry and lay on wide flat plate, skin side down
- Rub just enough vodka on flesh to moisten. Use your fingers!
- Mix salt, sugar, pepper and smoky seasonings thoroughly in small bowl
- Spread generously over flesh side of salmon
- Flip and do the same for skin side
- Skin side down, cover well with Saran wrap
- Place in fridge and put a 1-2 lb. weight on top – anything that closely resembles a brick (a gallon juice container works well)
- Let sit for 12 hours, then drain accumulated liquids
- Flip and repeat with weight on top, skin side up
- After 24 hours, most juices will have been absorbed. Give it another 12 hours under weight, flipping every six hours or so
- After 36 hours, gently scrape excess seasoning off. Cut thinly on bias, place on board or plate and watch it disappear very quickly
Jingle Bell Margarita
Writer, animator and creative craft cocktail aficionado David Pitlik provides this merry take on the traditional favorite.
- 3 ounces fresh blood orange juice
- 2 ounces tequila
- 1 ounce Grand Marnier
- Pomegranate sugar
- Rub the rim of a martini glass with the edge of a blood orange slice
- Swirl the rim through a small pile of pomegranate sugar to coat
- Combine liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake vigorously
- Strain the cocktail into the glass, avoiding the rim
- Garnish with a wedge of lime and a few pomegranate seeds
- Toast in the holidays and enjoy!