Welcome to our holiday special! You may have noticed Erica and I decided not to do our regular back-and-forth for the last two weeks of 2021. But there were still a few stray thoughts I wanted to share as we clear the decks for 2022. Buckle up, because this is a long one...
I don't know how I feel about Dry January. Next month, something like 40 million people will temporarily quit drinking alcohol for the entire month. It seems to help a lot of people reset after the holiday season, and great for people who make non-alcoholic drinks for a living. (Like us!) But I've still always felt left out.
I have a hard time making sudden changes, especially where my health is involved. It's why I started making non-alcoholic drinks in the first place. It's also why I wrote this essay about Dry January. The short version is, I think we could learn something from the way bears hibernate about how to build good habits for the long-term. If you get a chance to check out the full piece, I hope you'll let me know what you think.
Is there such a thing as leisure time during the holiday season? If so, all of mine has gone toward prepping for family gatherings, and boy do I have a lot to say about the food I cooked and ate over the last couple of weeks.
The classic Bolognese lasagna recipe from Daniel Gritzer at Serious Eats (including his slow-cooked ragu) has become an annual tradition, in part because I can do most of the work ahead of time and there's some flexibility in how to cook it on the day. Only a few variations have evolved over the years:
- I swapped in about 1/3 pound of the meat for mushrooms, and next time I'll push it to 1/2 pound. The variation in texture is so nice!
- I fundamentally disagree with a recipe calling for 1/2 a bottle of wine. Get a bottle that's not for drinking, and use it all!
- The recipe calls for a "pinch" of fresh grated nutmeg in the ragu and the bechamel. I grated almost an entire nutmeg seed into the ragu, and the rest into the bechamel. I still wanted more.
- Next time, I'll punch up the ragu with a bit more acid when I add the cream. Any excuse to use my Tart Vinegar.
- Because oven time on Christmas Day is a hot commodity, I usually can't get a full 35 minutes at 375 just before dinner. Instead, I'll do 30 minutes at 375 when I can, and finish it with 5 minutes under the broiler (Pizza Camp style) just before we sit.
- For those wondering where Erica comes down on all this, she likes Alison Roman's "Very Good Lasagna" recipe. (More on her below!)
For Christmas Eve, after a lifetime of Italian "seven fishes" feasts, I had a blast eating my uncle's Cuban food. The roast pork and the boiled yucca with red onions, all marinated in a mojo made from fresh bitter orange and lots of garlic, were particularly memorable. (If you're looking for a recipe, I'm sorry. In my family, a list of ingredients is about as good as you'll get.)
Tiramisu is another thing that I enjoy making, but for some reason I insist on baking my ladyfingers from scratch and I cannot get them right. If any of you have a good ladyfingers recipe, I'm borderline incompetent and desperate for help.
As for the dessert itself, I like Alison Roman's recipe. (Her again!) It's not really "authentic" in its use of cream in place of egg whites, but I don't really care because it's delicious — and that's about as good of a segue as I'm going to get into...
Erica sent me Lauren Collins' recent profile of Roman in the New Yorker this piece about a week ago now with a bit of a warning that it might give me a bit of agita. As you'll see, she was right.
The piece pulls at the threads of Roman's brush with "cancellation" last year, and looks at her place in the endlessly messy conversation about who gets to cook what. Erica and I have each messed around with our own cultural heritages to develop our sodas, and have talked a lot about the tricky double standard each of us feels held to in that context.
If there's a hopeful message to be found in the profile, it's that there's no room for creativity or self expression without making a bit of a mess. As long as we're sensitive to that, and able to learn from our mistakes with compassion, maybe the mess doesn't have to be such a scary thing.
It seems I've gone on for way too long, and I suppose I ought to save my love of Station Eleven (both the book by Emily St. John Mandel, and the new show on HBO Max) for next year.
So here's where I'll leave it. Somehow 2021 was even more batsh*t than 2020, and we can't believe you all stuck with us through all of it. We can't do this without you.
Now let's get excited because next week, we can all look forward to Erica kicking off the New Year, marking the one year anniversary of the leisure diaries, and launching her new leisure sodas! (Sorry if that's too much pressure, Erica. You're going to do great.)
Until then, have a fun and happy New Year. Stay safe and be good.