December 6, 2009

Thanksmas 2009

Hatched by Dafydd

Back when I was at university, I took judicial notice of an annoying fact about the major holidays: Nobody stuck around for them.

Take Thanksgiving; everybody goes home to his family, myself included. Same thing a month later for Christmas. Thus I never had a chance to attend parties with my friends.

My solution was typically convoluted and byzantine... I invented my own holiday, Thanksmas (decades before Seinfeld and "Festivus"); as the name implies, it falls anywhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas that most of my then starving-student friends could attend.

Back in those days, if you bought something like $50 worth of groceries at any supermarket chain shortly before Thanksgiving, they'd give you a free turkey. I would deliberately let all my supplies run low -- making quite a point of thawing, cooking, and eating everything in the freezer. I waited until I had nothing to eat left in the house; then, when I went to Ralphs or Vons, I would just barely top out above half a yard, usually after tossing in a few things I probably didn't need, like mechanics' soap or a box of tampons (I would donate the latter to the first female friend I met).

Having scored my turkey, I would shoe-horn it into the teeny (and now empty) freezer atop the tiny refrigerator, there to leave it however many days until Thanksmas. I invited friends over and we had a feast. Nobody ever left hungry.

But at some point, I got bored with cooking a turkey each time, especially as I became the go-to guy in my family to cook the Thanksgiving turkey; twice in a row was a bit thick. So I hit upon the idea of making each Thanksmas feast completely different from all others... and exotic to boot. Each year had its own theme -- wild game night, Spanish tapas night, Chinese night, shellfish night, baked night (meat pies, fruit pies, and homemade bread), and so forth.

2008 was the year of "all things Oriental that are neither Chinese nor Japanese;" since Sachi can make Chinese (her favorite *) or Japanese food in her sleep, we wanted a challenge. We had Korean jajangmyun (black noodle dish), Vietnamese spicy fruit soup (with tamarind), Thai curry, and some Indian lamb dish I can't quite recall. (For drinks, we served Mai Tais, but nobody got it.)

* Actually, Sachi now informs me that she has changed her mind, as is a woman's prerogative; her favorite food is now Greek.

This year, we spent a week together in Crete; and Sachi stayed an additional three weeks after I came home. Ergo, it seemed a no-brainer that we had to have... Crete night! Well, Crete and Greek night.

The menu was as follows:

  • Dolma (S) with homemade tzatziki (D);
  • Greek salad (S);
  • Cretan lamb pie, flavored with vegetables, tomato, and mizithra cheese (D);
  • Cretan seafood tagliatelle, with squid, octopus, shrimp, mussels, and oysters (D);
  • Cretan rabbit stifado (rabbit stew with veggies) (S);
  • Baklava (S);
  • Fig cake (the only thing we bought; the rest we cooked from scratch)

Baklava in perspective

Baklava, perspective view

I have to say that this turned out better than any other Thanksmas in recent memory; none of the food was off, everything was consumed, the guests practically devoured the tablecloth. Less than one dinner's worth of leftovers.

Baklava from top

Baklava, Busby Berkeley view

I had one near-catastrophe when I ended up with too much liquid in the seafood dish; but I was able to scoop enough out that it assumed its proper consistency before we added the tagliatelle noodles.

Sachi insists the best dish was my pie, but I really liked Sachi's rabbit.


Dolma (lamb and bulgar wheat wrapped in grape leaf)

Our misfortune, we didn't get any other photos of the dishes, not even the three main courses. So it goes.

For drinks, my friend Dewie (the pre-post-doc, I call her) brought some ouzo, which was a lot better than any ouzo we had in Crete. (It's mostly bathtub booze there anyway, and it's dreadful; it tastes like wood alcohol.) You pour a little bit of water into the clear ouzo... and it turns cloudy. Passing strange.

We also made rakomelo: You start with raki, a traditional eastern-Mediterranean "brandy" made from grape stems and leaves. The raki of Greece generally doesn't have anise in it, or at least not much; but the only raki we could find in Southern California was Turkish, and that's very heavily flavored with anise... it tastes like you're drinking liquid licorice! I didn't particularly like it.

We finally broke out the tiny bottle of Cretan raki we had, and that tasted a lot better; alas there wasn't enough of it for rakomelo, so we had to stick with the young Turk.

You make rakomelo by boiling raki with honey, cloves, and a cinnamon stick or two, which turns it into almost a liquour. It tasted good, despite the candy flavor; but I think I'll stick to port and my own recipe for apple martini.

I was astonished at how many bakalavas the guests ate. Sachi and I each had two pieces, but everybody else averaged about four or five! Considering that each piece is probably 100-125 calories, that dessert alone carries quite a hefty caloric price tag.

We were going to make a dessert out of unripe figs cooked in syrup, topped with a different kind of tzatziki -- one with mint instead of dill as the major seasoning -- and pomegranate syrup. Alas, speaking of seasons, figs were "out of ------;" so we had to blow it off. Hence the fig cake. Perhaps during the spring...

All in all, a very satisfactory Thanksmas!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 6, 2009, at the time of 9:03 PM

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