Thanksgiving Tradition

Looks like I have started my own tradition. I am posting Happy Lasagna Day on my Blog during Thanksgiving week for the third time since 2016. That year, my husband and I chose to spend Thanksgiving alone. Last year, although we enjoyed a traditional turkey meal with my daughter, son-in-law and the grandkids, I posted Happy Lasagna Day for the second time. 

This year we will spend Thanksgiving day alone, again, but not by choice. My husband and I are at high risk for the devastating effects of Covid-19 and we decided to stay safe at home. 

Rather than feel sorry for our isolation, I will relive the warm memories of family celebrations of the past by posting Happy Lasagna Day for the third time. Yes, my new ritual. 

Happy Lasagna Day

First posted on November 24, 2016

My husband and I are spending Thanksgiving alone—by choice. We had been invited out but graciously declined. 

After having three sets of houseguests in six weeks, we are happy to be alone. By the way, the house has never been cleaner. 

And we broke from the traditional Thanksgiving dinner—we are having lasagna. 

I love leftover lasagna as much or more than leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy. 

Over the years lasagna has become the ubiquitous casserole. You can find it premade in deli departments and frozen food cases in grocery stores. It’s the go-to meal neighbors bring over to neighbors on happy occasions (childbirth) and solemn occasions (sickness or death in the family). 

My love of lasagna goes back to my childhood when we visited Grandma in Jersey City. She lived in a second floor walk-up two blocks from my house. Who remembers what time she got up in the morning to begin cooking the lasagna and the rest of the meal, including homemade bread and a roasted chicken? As for the lasagna, she made the pasta from scratch. The tomato sauce (we called this gravy) simmered for hours on the stove. She used whole-milk ricotta and mozzarella cheeses that were made fresh at the Italian store down the block.  

Being the oldest granddaughter, I sometimes helped by assembling the multiple layers of the dish. First the sauce, the pasta in one layer, a few spoonfuls of cheese mixture (ricotta, parmesan, eggs, oregano and parsley), sliced mozzarella, more sauce/gravy and then I started over again finishing with the mozzarella on top. 

If the family ever had turkey for Thanksgiving, I don’t remember. 

In Grandma’ s cramped kitchen the men ate first—Grandma’s three sons, her five sons-in law and Grandpa. My cousins and I sat at the “children’s table” that was cobbled together with end tables and folding chairs. The women served and cleared and eventually sat down to dinner with the windows open to let out the steam from the kitchen along with the delicious aromas of the Italian Thanksgiving feast.  

So this Thanksgiving I am thankful for the usual, although not insignificant blessings, such as health, family, friends, but also for the memories that warm me and bring me back to Grandma’s table laden with her gifts and in the company of my extended family—some long gone but not forgotten. 

Wishing you a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving with Joyful Memories. 

Hedda Hopper’s Lemon Pie

When I first read that men thought of sex every seven seconds, I thought that’s me. No, not that I think of sex but that I think of food frequently. 

Even when I worked full time, I planned our family dinner each evening. Meal planning and cooking seemed more of a hobby that a chore. I enjoyed hosting parties and informal get-togethers. 

Food had always been part of my life. Descended from two ethnic groups that think of food as love, there is no doubt I was hit with a double DNA whammy. My paternal Italian family spent Sunday afternoons at grandma’s Jersey City house: her kitchen table laden with homemade soup, bread and pasta, roasted chicken, salad, fruit, and followed by store bought Italian pastries. Expresso coffee for the adults coupled with good cigars for the men. 

My mother’s Polish relatives lived in the New York City suburbs. Our less frequent trips to see them were also food centric: fresh and smoked kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, sauerkraut, boiled potatoes, red cabbage with sour cream, and a selection of homemade desserts, such as cheesecake, lemon pie and baked apples with ice cream. 

My mother was a good cook. I still have her three-ring binder busting with newspaper clippings of recipes, old cookbooks: The Art of Cooking and Serving by Sarah Field Splint, 1929 and educational booklets, such as The Herb-Ox Money Saver, 1949 and Sunkist Lemons: Bring Out the Flavor, 1939. Tucked into the pages of this last book is a typed recipe for Hedda Hopper’s Lemon Pie.

Now that I’m retired and there are only two of us to cook for, food doesn’t hold the same excitement. And I’m less interested in entertaining, if one can even do this in the time of Covid-19.  However, recently I read Bill Buford’s new book, Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking. After I finished Dirt, I still had a taste for more cooking stories. I dusted off my copy of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain that I never did get around to reading. Either Buford or Bourdain had mentioned Larousse Gastronomique, the “internationally famous bible of cooking.” That’s when I went on a pilgrimage to the bookcase on the second floor stacked with books that mostly were dusted but not read. 

On the bottom shelf stood The World Authority Larousse Gastronomique. It was the first American edition (1961) with 8,500 recipes. If I were to buy this book new on Amazon, I would spend $201.80 plus shipping. Okay, I am a Prime member—no shipping costs. 

On the third shelf, I found a basket with all my mother’s cook books and notes. 

What did this exercise teach me? First of all, the fact that I purchased Larousee Gastronomique reminds me how much cooking had meant to me. I’ll take the time to peruse this tome. Second, the trip down memory lane sorting all my mother’s cooking memorabilia challenges me to carefully sort her recipes and books. Maybe I would even try to recreate some of her dishes starting with Hedda Hopper’s Lemon pie. 

The World Authority Larousse Gastronomique, the Encyclopedia of Food, Wine & Cookery Hardcover – January 1, 1961

by Prosper Montagne (Author), Auguste Escoffier (Introduction), Phileas Gilbert (Introduction), Nina Froud (Editor), Charlotte Turgeon (Editor)

This is the internationally famous bible of cooking, the encyclopedia-cookbook which, because of its 8,500 recipes and the full information it gives on all culinary matters, has been accepted as the world authority. Ask any chef, ask any cooking expert. You will find a copy of LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIQUE in the kitchen of any superior restaurant anywhere in the world. It is a prized possession of every gourmet who knows French. But until now it has been available only the French language. Because of the complexities of variations in terms and measurements, it has never before been translated into English. Now, after three years of intensive work by a staff of twenty experts headed by two famous editors, it has been converted for American usage. LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIQUE contains in its 1,100 large pages 8,500 recipes from all over the world and 1,000 illustrations, many in full color. Also, there are descriptions of cooking processes; full details about all foods, their nature and quality, and how to cure, treat, and preserve them; the history of food and cooking; articles on table service, banquets, food values, and diet — in fact, just about every topic of culinary interest is covered. Though LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIQUE is the prime reference book of chefs, gourmets, and experts, it is equally useful and convenient for the home cook. All recipes except for banquet specialties are on a small-group basis, stated in simple terms for convenience in the home. For this American edition, all entries have been brought up to date, notable in the articles on the preservation of food. Entries are in alphabetical order and are fully cross-referenced under both English and French names. The illustrations in color, black-and-white photographs, and line drawings, many of which were made expressly for the American edition, show not only the appearance of the cooked dish but in many cases the intermediate steps of preparation as well.