January 28, 2023
Hello again, everyone - and welcome to the New Year!
First of all, it seems like a bit of a miracle that I’m carving up enough time to get to this monthly blog before January is over. Motivation and energy always seems to be in short supply in the immediate time span following the Holidays, and so far 2023 has been no different than years prior. But self-imposed hurdles can usually be overcome and miracles can arrive.
In fact, last year ended with a Christmas Day Miracle of sorts, which I can’t help but interpret as a promising omen for the year to come.
Please allow me to explain…
OK - I’m not much of a cook. For someone who has earned a living all these years in the hospitality industry, I’ve become somewhat adept at identifying food items that have been prepared both correctly and with a pleasing amount of inspiration. But my own bag of culinary tricks has always remained shockingly close to empty.
This year, for some reason it occurred to me that I’d never once attempted to make stuffing - a personal favorite of mine - my entire life. I’d seared and baked the turkey breast once or twice when I found myself preparing a holiday meal, but I never even contemplated the creation of an individual feast with all the fixings. With all the neighborhood grocers and bodegas so close by, why work on one’s day off? But still, my small epiphany struck a chord. I’ve never ONCE tried my hand on a recipe for such a famously simple side dish?!
For those of you who know my true age, this must seem especially preposterous…
I even joked to the cashier about this curiosity while purchasing my boneless turkey breast and a couple of potatoes. She suggested I head back for a box of Stove Top Dressing, which initially felt a bit beneath my standards. After all, I planned to “sous vide” the turkey this year, a small trick I’ve learned that practically guarantees the juiciest and most tender outcome possible. I’ve always luckily been home with the family for the holidays, but this was to be my third post-covid year of happily remaining in NYC; I felt the time had come to improve my game.
When I returned home, though, it dawned on my that my brothers Jeff and Tom had creatively bundled together a picture book of family recipes, and sure enough - Mom’s famous stuffing was right there. And the only ingredients I wasn’t confident about purchasing last-minute were the bread crumbs. So why not? I immediately returned to the grocery store; Stove Top Dressing had assuredly become well-known for a reason!
So on Christmas Eve I set about making myself a festive meal, with an eye towards watching “Christmas Vacation” while dining. (And please note - this was not nearly as dour or pathetic as it sounds; I’d been working SO MUCH the weeks prior that I was sincerely looking forward to being a bit sealed off from the world, even on a night like this, which feels meant to be shared with others. Every once in a while it’s nice to experience things a different way…)
Anyway - the upshot: the culinary critic in me would soon grade my effort as a solid B. The turkey itself was fantastic, flavorful and juicy - pretty damned close to perfect! And the one baked potato was probably the first time I’d ever been patient enough to wait for the cooking process to be complete. The Brussels Sprouts (and OK - they were the frozen kind, but still!…) came out great as well. This was a feast fit for a king!
But, well - I had to admit… the stuffing, while undoubtedly tasty, was… mushy! Those damned Stove Top ingredients didn’t soak up the measured water called for in my mother’s recipe. An honorable failure, but a failure nevertheless.
And damn… Why didn’t it even occur to me to try my hand at coming up with some kind of gravy?!
Still, though - I thoroughly enjoyed my late Christmas Eve meal while re-watching one of my favorite Christmas movies. No complaints here…
But here is where the Christmas Miracle comes in…
The next morning I get a call from my good friend - and acclaimed chef! - Scott Ehrlich. He had moved back to the East Coast a few months prior but we had both been too busy to catch up in person. He was now rooming with another mutual friend of ours from Martha’s Vineyard named Chris Gianfreda, a chef perhaps most famous for running a restaurant owned by the brother of James Taylor for several years. He’s cooked for James, Bill Murray, and a host of other island elites. Oh, and Scott himself has prepared meals for Barrack Obama - back when he was still President! Yes, these men are chefs in the truest sense.
And they happened, like me, to be uncharacteristically home alone this holiday season.
Perhaps they could swing by so we could all watch sports together?
I mentioned that, surprisingly enough, I had a fridge full of food, although this included a disappointingly wet version of stuffing.
“Well, we could fix that!!”
I also lamented my lack of foresight when it came to the holiday gravy.
“We could easily fix something up with whatever ingredients you have left over!!”
And literally, two hours later there they were, two unbelievably talented and well-known chefs huddled around my galley kitchen, turning my honorable failure into an amazingly delectable feast.
This was an unexpected miracle for sure!
And yes, plenty of wine was consumed, and I managed to shock Scott with a rumor from my previous season on the Vineyard, surprisingly withheld until now, which was that an ex-girlfriend of his is currently dating the aforementioned Bill Murray. Things have a way of going full circle, we all surmised, although at this point none of us are aware of how the circle began or where it ends.
In any case, a full day and night of friendship, great food and wine, and sports on TV was to ensue. This was, without question, a new version of the perfect way to spend a Christmas holiday.
Thanks, Scott and Chris!
And now, on to 2023…
May the miracles continue!!