Favorite Thanksgiving Side Dishes

I am currently persona non grata in my corner of Steubenville. Not because of any advice I’ve been dishing out as of late, but rather because of what I won’t be dishing out next week: Thanksgiving Dinner.

For years, mostly because of the hassle of traveling 1280 miles, roundtrip, on Thanksgiving weekend, I’ve stayed in Steubenville for the holiday and opened my home to whomever didn’t have one that day. One year, that number was as large as 25. Another year, it was as small as four.

A few special friends, however, have always been around the table, and those are the ones  less than pleased about Chris and I going to my parents this Thanksgiving. (His family gets us for Christmas).

I’m looking forward to being with all my nieces and nephews next week, but I have to admit, I’m a little sad too. There’s no holiday I like better than Thanksgiving, and (in all humility) there’s also no meal I cook better than Thanksgiving Dinner. People have flown across the country for my mashed potatoes and stuffing. Some of those people also are under the impression that my gravy is a beverage. (“Just because something has brandy in it,” I tell them, “doesn’t  mean you can drink it.” They never listen.)

It’s not only the company or food that makes Thanksgiving special for me,  though. It’s also the chance to pull out all the decorating stops and set the most elegant table I can muster. In grad school, that wasn’t much. But here’s what we did last year.

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Beer and Bourbon Shepherdess Pie with Roasted Carrots

Warning: You are not about to view the best photos of food on the Internet. You may, however, be witnessing the best photos of food on the Internet taken at night, with a borrowed iPhone, during a dinner party for 10 adults and seven children.

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What you can’t seen in the above picture are 16 hungry guests, patiently waiting to pray (and eat!), while I took that picture. They really deserve a round of applause.

Regardless, although the pictures of the Shepherd’s Pie (renamed “Shepherdess Pie” by my friends) may not be anything to write home about, the actual dish was. Chris pronounced it one of my all time greats, and the rest of the guests at my Monday night dinner party seemed to concur. Continue reading

Pan-Fried Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, Bacon, & Brown Butter

Things are about to get awfully quiet around here. And I’m not going to like it.

Last spring, one roommate abandoned me for San Francisco—something about it offering more amenities than Steubenville. I know: crazy talk. Now, in a little over a  week, my other roommate will abandon me for a small apartment two blocks away (and a bit deeper in the local ’hood). Apparently, she wants to actually live with her new husband after they get married. It happens.

So, here I am, facing the impending winter and a whole lot of quiet. Accordingly, the melancholic in me has been thinking back to last fall, when the house was full up with girls.

Granted, getting all of us in one place sometimes felt like a minor miracle. Between travel, boyfriends, and work, it didn’t happen very often. But when it did, there was always food involved— like the crisp November night, when I decided to investigate what happened when you fry gnocchi in brown butter, then toss it with roasted butternut squash, bacon, sage, and pumpkin oil.

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Three Summer Salads

Sorry for the light blogging folks. I’m afraid it’s going to be what way for the next month or so. A major book deadline is looming, which means the unpaid blogging has to sit on the back burner until my professional obligations are met and the bills are paid. The good news, however, is that all this work right now is going to free up my schedule more in the late summer and fall, so then, I’ll be able to food blog to my little heart’s content.

In the meantime, since there is not much time for cooking or blogging (and because it’s hot!), I’m pretty much living off of three basic meals right now. I’m sharing them just in case you’re equally busy and could use a quick, healthy boost (and to prove that it’s not fancy macaroni and cheese and salted caramel and cashew ice cream cake around here all the time!).

1) Farro Salad, with Tomato and Feta, Serves 6-8

I am obsessed with farro these days. How I made it through 40 years of life without trying this stuff, I will never know. It tastes…hearty…and nutty…and so, so satisfying. Low in carbs, high in protein, it’s what you always hope brown rice will taste like, although it never does.

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No Bake Cashew & Salted Caramel Ice Cream Cake

It’s been a rough week around here. Not “people dying, children starving, hurricanes hitting” rough. Just “deadlines looming, plumbing breaking, house projects overwhelming” rough. Or, more simply put, “stupid first world problems” rough.

Then, of course, I—being the hyper-organized, super-scheduler, over-planner that I am—had to go and make it all the rougher by sweating and fretting about All The Things. And I do mean All The Things: All The Things I have planned; All The Things I don’t have planned. All The Things I need to do. All The Things I might not get the opportunity to do. All The Things that might change. All The Things that might not change.

It’s perfectly insane, and I am aware of this. But it goes with the territory of being me. The same organizing skills that enable me to juggle a dozen different writing projects, plan big, fancy parties, and keep a house looking all pretty like are the same skills that allow me to whip up my very own stress tornado—a whirling vortex of anxiety where I see All The Things forever and ever coming at me.

I’m actually a lot better about avoiding that vortex than I used to be. But better isn’t perfect, so from time to time, I find myself borrowing trouble from tomorrow, only to discover (surprise, surprise) that such borrowing is a very bad idea. God doesn’t give you the grace to bear tomorrow’s troubles; he only gives you the grace for today’s troubles…or sometimes just the moment’s troubles. All attempts to borrow beyond the day inevitably result in just more trouble.

Occasionally, however, they also result in Cashew & Salted Caramel Ice Cream Cake.

No Bake Cashew & Salted Caramel Ice Cream Cake

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Sweet and Savory Quinoa Salad

Dating in your 40s is a little like dating in your 20s. You still plan fun trips together and talk about cool new cocktail bars. But, you also talk about blood pressure and progesterone levels and all sorts of middle age problems that you barely knew existed in your 20s. You also wonder things like, “If we get married and have kids, will I live to see them graduate from college?” And, because of that, you do things for your boyfriend like make him a week’s worth of “healthy” lunches.

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Simple Blackberry Cobbler

A few months back, in the deep, dark, frozen recesses of January, a friend showed up at my door with two crates of blackberries in hand.

Blackberry CobblerApparently, he’d already dispensed about a dozen more elsewhere.

If you’d asked me before that January day if said friend had mafia connections, I would have unhesitatingly answered, “No!” Now, I’m not so sure—mostly because his explanation as to where the blackberries came from amounted to, “They fell off of a truck.”

Shifty. Very shifty.

Regardless, the roommates and I spent the next two weeks throwing blackberries into and onto everything we could think of: yogurt, smoothies, salads, crostini, and, of course, cobbler.

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Creamy Curried Lentils

Sorry there hasn’t been much food blogging these past couple of weeks. I’ve been traveling, traveling, traveling—including to beautiful South Carolina, where I gave a talk for the Diocese of Charleston—and writing, writing, writing—big project, ghosty one, all very hush, hush.

Both have been fun and helped pay the bills, but neither have allowed time for much cooking. Tuesday night, however, I finally had a couple hours alone in my kitchen and set about satisfying the craving I’ve had for all of my wandering, writing days…or at least the last 10 of them.

Creamy Curried Lentils.

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A Grilled Cheese Party

On Sunday, it snowed. Again.

On Sunday, my plans got cancelled. Again.

On Sunday, I wanted to throw knives. Again.

But, instead of throwing knives, I decided to throw something a little less deadly: A grilled cheese party.

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It was a good decision, requiring only a few good friends (who conveniently live within walking distance), plus all the bread, cheese, meat, and fixins I could scrounge up.

The pickeled and smoked jalapenos from last summer’s garden? Perfect. The leftover mozzarella from last week’s pizza disaster? You bet. The fig jam I picked up on an outing to Cleveland’s Westside Market two months ago and have been wondering how to use? Even better.

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Grilled Cheese Party Fixins

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