Monthly Archives: May 2013


Happy Halfgiving! Or, how we came to celebrate Thanksgiving twice a year

(Skip the gabble; get ready to gobble! Go straight to the recipe for puréed sweet potatoes with Grand Marnier and buttered pecans.)

A sudden cacophony of pin-ball machine clangs, rings, and pings deluged the sunny room where I was working. I jumped in my seat. It was my phone, set to the most annoying ringtone possible. On the other end was the DH, at the supermarket: “Hey.”

“What’s up?”

“Did you mean to have yams and potatoes on the list?”

“Er…. No? Why do we need to have yams and potatoes?”

“How can we have Halfgiving without yams or potatoes?”

Let me explain: my family loves Thanksgiving. Not that we have a zeal for proto-American why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along historical fantasies. For us, it’s a celebration of fabulous late-fall harvest food and a momentary pause to recall the many blessings in our lives. (And if I keep saying the second part, maybe the DD and the DS will actually believe it one day!) We love Thanksgiving so much that not only do we celebrate Thanksgiving, we make more sides to join the leftovers in the days following Turkey Thursday (who needs Black Friday?) because even we recognize that it would be a tad crazy to try to make all the dishes we absolutely can’t do without on Thanksgiving Day itself. We love it so much that a few years ago, the kids declared that we also need to celebrate Halfgiving, six months after Thanksgiving. So every year, on the weekend following the fourth Thursday in May, we make Thanksgiving Dinner Lite.

So when the DH made his urgent call from the grocery store, I knew I had crossed the line. You see, I had planned on making the buttery fantail rolls that we all love, plus stuffing, so I thought that would more than take care of carbs for the four of us. What was I thinking!? Who am I to tamper with Tradition? Yams were duly, and speedily, added back into the lineup. It was really a no-brainer; we’ve been making these heady, citrusy yams for Thanksgiving since before the kids were born. And, yeah, yeah: technically, they’re sweet potatoes (so that’s the way I’ve labelled them in the recipe), but I grew up calling them yams, and between you and me, that’s what I’m going to keep calling them.

Here’s our final menu for Halfgiving 2013:

  • Grilled, stuffed turkey breast
  • Green beans with walnuts and dried-cherry dressing
  • Puréed yams with Grand Marnier and pecans
  • Buttermilk fantail rolls
  • Cranberry-orange sauce
  • Gravy

It’s not as extravagant as the actual holiday, but it tides us over until November when we can really do it up right. BTW, the DD and DS are still lobbying for Halfmas, but we’ve told them not to hold their breaths.


Recipe: Puréed sweet potatoes with Grand Marnier and pecans

Serves 5-6


  • 2 cups pecan halves
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, divided
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 4 large orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (like Red Dianes, often labelled “yams”), about 4 lbs.
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier, or another orange-flavored brandy liqueur
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar


Preheat oven to 325°F. Place pecans in a shallow roasting pan in one layer. Roast in the middle of the oven until fragrant, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven, and immediately toss with 1 tablespoon of the butter and kosher salt, stirring until coated evenly. (The pecans can be made up to 2 days ahead, cooled to room temperature, and stored in an airtight container.)

Increase oven temperature to 425°F. Prick each sweet potato 6-8 times all over. Place on a roasting pan lined with parchment paper or foil. Roast them in the middle of the oven until easily pierced through the middle by a fork, about 1 hour.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

As soon as the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel half of them them, and place them in the work bowl of a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier, ¼ teaspoon of salt, and 2 tablespoons of butter. Purée the sweet potato mixture until smooth. Scoop the purée into a gratin dish. Repeat with the rest of the sweet potatoes, Grand Marnier, salt, and butter. Level the sweet potato mixture in the casserole dish. (The sweet potatoes can be made up to this point a day ahead. Cool and cover before storing in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.)

Arrange the pecans in one layer over the top of the sweet potato purée, and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Bake in the middle of 325°F oven until heated through and pecans are slightly browned, approximately 30 minutes (or, 35-40 minutes, if starting from room temperature purée).

A foodie at the pro b-ball game

At the end of March, the DS and I went to the Oakland Warriors v. Portland Trailblazers basketball game with his swim team, which had reserved the Skybox. I’m not a basketball fan, but I figured I’d just go for the experience. The outing left an impression on me, but not because of the game play; what has stayed with me was what a whacky total-immersion cultural experience it was—kind of like going to Disneyland, but not as much fun—and the schizophrenic food messages embedded in it.

Happy pop music with a driving beat, amplified to a mind-numbing roar, set the mood as we climbed up to the entrance of Oracle Arena. As we passed security, near-continuous chatter by an M.C. was layered onto the throbbing music so that conversations had to be carried on at a quiet shout. We were drowned in odors blasting from the fried-food vendors. Eye-popping billboards screamed for our attention. Basketball per se was sandwiched in between hula and maori dancing demos (it was Pacific Islander Day, coincidentally); peppy cheerleaders in small outfits shaking their things (and I’m not talking about their pom poms); stuntmen making improbable baskets after bounding acrobatically from a trampoline; couples encouraged to kiss, or audience members to dance, on camera; and lots of advertiser-sponsored breaks.

And here’s where the head-trip really hits a Cozy Foodie, and why I’m writing this post. Throughout the evening, we were bombarded with bizarre food messages. Let me set the stage. “Guests” are forbidden from bringing “outside” food or beverages into the arena. It’s an understandable precaution when a friend pointed out that it’s impossible for security to distinguish water from vodka, but Cynical Foodie that I am, I thought about the unfettered profit margins that could be wrung from the captive audience. Indeed, water went for $5.50 for 1.25 pints; prices went up from there. The food choices ran the usual gamut of fast food options: burgers, chicken tenders, pizza, fries, nachos, popcorn, beer, and soda. But while fans downed their greasy cardboard pizza, they gazed up at Lucky Supermarket’s full-color, bigger-than-life banners advertising healthy meal choices; during the game, the M.C. asked rhetorically which meal the fans would choose, but nobody could actually get any of those healthy meals at the arena. Lucky also sponsored a break where a fan was pulled from the stands: if he could make a basket, he would win free groceries, but the poor schlub missed all his throws. Seems like Lucky wasn’t so lucky for anyone that night. Meanwhile, McDonald’s parachute drops with coupons, and advertisements for 20 chicken McNuggets for $4.99, had people practically diving and wrestling in the aisles. And coupons for free 16-ounce smoothies from Jamba Juice if the Warriors won and kept the Trailblazers from scoring 100 points or more fed the frenzy of the home crowd.

The group of swimmers I was with eventually did find dinner at a small stand tucked behind a big column. Staffed by two African American women, it purportedly sold Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, but which were really just heros dressed up with a large slice of cucumber, shaved carrots, and some cilantro on top. A bunch of us opted for these as the best option. I ate my banh mi and was hungry again before the end of the game. When I got home, I snacked on leftover chicken fajitas in the quiet coolness of my kitchen with the lights turned down low, ruminating about this upside-down trip where I paid a lot to have a three-ring circus shot at me from point-blank range so that ads could then be injected directly into my inert, overwhelmed brain. Now that’s entertainment!

Obviously, I wasn’t the target audience for pro b-ball. I’d rather clear poison oak! …from around the base of that tree with the wasp’s nest! …(it’s not even my tree, or my poison oak!) …on a high pollen count day! …than go to another game. I’m only exaggerating a little. But if I ever do go to another game, say hello, you’ll recognize me. I’ll be the Crazy Foodie with the empty water bottle that I can fill at a fountain after I get past security.


Pancakes anyone?

King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour is the pancake of my eye

As I flipped pancakes on a recent Saturday morning, I was thinking about how much more baking I’ve been doing recently (skip the chatter, and go straight to the recipe). For instance, besides the pancakes, the day before, I made whole wheat walnut-raisin bread, and that night, the DH was going to be making pizzas, one with pepperoni and one with sausage and green bell peppers. Yeah, yeah, I know, pancakes aren’t baked; the actual connection is the main ingredient, flour (but I do keep the pancakes warm in the oven, wink), and when I think flour, I think baking.

A couple of different things led to this state of affairs. It all started last summer, when a friend shared a lemon muffin with me that she made with King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour (thanks, Michele!). We could’ve been in an ad, all exclamatory remarks: “You’ve gotta try this!” “This is made with whole wheat flour? No way! It’s so light, and the color is like regular flour!” Then she gave me a bag with a couple of cups in it, and I started playing with it. I began substituting the white whole wheat flour in muffins, cookies, and brownies, starting with just a quarter of what the recipe called for, then a third, and now, depending on the recipe, half or all the flour. Everyone—the family, my adult friends, the kids’ friends—continued to ask for my baked goodies (better than complements, I think), so it just encouraged me to try it in more recipes.

Eventually, I ran through the recipes I usually make and that I wanted to substitute in white whole wheat flour, but I was on a roll. And when my friend Julie asked me what she could do with her new stand-mixer besides bake sweet treats, I thought of bread. Now, I used to bake bread here and there—mostly things like challah and standard 1½ lb. loaves for sandwiches—before I had the kids, but bread making mostly fell by the wayside as I focused on my two bundles of joy. The big exception is pizza, which the DH or I still make from scratch, including the dough. But I love (who doesn’t?) that heady, yeasty perfume and slight crunch of cutting open a fresh-baked loaf.  I’m lucky that there are many great bakeries in the Bay Area, and I occasionally buy beautiful breads from Semifreddi’s, my favorite local bakery. Taking a page from my book Twice As Nice, I’ve taken to stashing a few of their wheat panini in the freezer to use on the fly. But the local bakeries don’t stock a large variety of whole wheat loaves, so I started keeping an eye out for recipes for whole wheat bread, especially bread which I can then freeze and then later, defrost just as much as I need. Goody! More baking! I’ve continued experimenting with both white whole wheat and regular whole wheat flours, and I’m sure that I will be sharing some recipes in the future.

Here’s what I learned: substituting some or all the the regular white unbleached flour with King Arthur White Whole Wheat in everyday recipes works well. If it’s not at your local grocery store, you can get it directly from King Arthur’s website or from Amazon. Since the nutrition profile of white whole wheat flour is the same as regular whole wheat, it’s a great way to bump up the healthfulness and heartiness of everyday baking (including pancakes and waffles!). The white whole wheat flour, milled from white spring wheat rather than traditional red wheat (according to the King Arthur website), is heavier than regular white flour, so it’s very important to use proper measuring technique to avoid a dense or dry end result: loosen up the flour by stirring it around inside its container (I suppose sifting the white whole wheat flour before measuring it would be the foodie thing to do, but frankly, I’m too lazy for everyday baking), then scoop the flour into your measuring cup. Finally, use a butter knife to scrape off the excess—never tamp it down! For every ½ cup of regular flour, substitute ½ cup minus 1 tablespoon white whole wheat. The white whole wheat does add a “tan” and a subtle nutty flavor to the dishes, which I think actually makes things like pancakes taste better. But I wouldn’t substitute it in cakes, pie or tart crusts, and other delicate baked goods; after all, treats are treats are treats. Leave ‘em alone, I say. There’s plenty of other ways to make our everyday cooking healthier; an easy way is to start with these pancakes with ½ cup, 1 cup, or all white whole wheat flour!

Recipe: Pancakes

This is my pancake recipe; I’ve used it for years, but now I usually make it with 1 cup white whole wheat flour. I even make it with all white whole wheat, which the DD prefers. It’s a good recipe to experiment with, because you can easily substitute ½ cup, 1 cup or all the regular flour for white whole wheat. Just remember to use proper measuring technique, and subtract 1 tablespoon for every ½ cup!

Makes about 20 pancakes


  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1½ tablespoons sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup lowfat buttermilk
  • ½ cup skim or lowfat milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1½ tablespoon canola oil, plus more for greasing pans
  • 1½ teaspoon vanilla


Heat a serving plate in 150°F oven. Lightly grease a cast-iron double burner griddle pan with a little vegetable oil, and heat over low flame. If not using a cast-iron pan, after the pancake batter is ready, heat your preferred pan, greased a little vegetable oil, over medium-low heat until hot but not smoking.

Place all the dry ingredients into a medium bowl and whisk together; make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk just until smooth. Let the batter rest for a minute.

Fill a ¼-cup measuring cup about ¾ full for each pancake (about 3 tablespoons batter). Cook the first side until bubbles are forming on top, the edges begin to set, and the bottom is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook another minute. Grease the pan again as needed. Move the cooked pancakes onto the serving plate, keeping them warm in the oven until ready to serve.

Serve with your favorite toppings.