If you know me, you know fall and winter are my favorite times of the year. There’s nothing like the crisp air that causes me to clutch the hand a loved one (preferably a sexy man clad in Chuck Taylor’s and a chunky knit hat), falling leaves, candle lit evenings watching Christmas classics, hearty food & warm desserts that bear no guilt and general cheer from strangers.
My mother thrives during the Christmas season, which we kick off the day before Thanksgiving. It’s a big deal in our house in D.C. Preparations for Thanksgiving dinner create Cuban mayhem and everyone gets on everyone’s nerves. Dinner is served, the dining room table stays in a tact mess until the next day and then around noonish that Friday, the grubbing commences. Greedy grubbing, especially by my brothers.
But we wouldn’t have it any other way. It all started with a visit to Manhattan on Thanksgiving back in 1988 when my late grandmother was visiting from Havana. It was her 1st time in the Big Apple and our first time spending Thanksgiving away from home. The lights, the massive amount of people, the shopping bags, the smokey streets and dodging cabs were all so exciting. Abuelita was like a child being entertained for the first time.
Part of visiting NY on Thanksgiving meant one major thing could not be missed: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and a visit to the store at Herald Square. With 5 kids in tow and giddy 61 year-old grandmother begging to see the Christmas tree, the department store windows and the ridiculous sales inside Macy’s, my parents had little choice but to placate.
I’ve never forgotten that special day spent in New York. It was unique and filled with memorable iconographic images that represent that all Americana life.
Thanksgiving and Christmas have since been more than spectacular for our family. It seems as if the celebration gets more explosive every year. The food multiplies, the amount of friends that are invited, multiplies and the gift exchange gets more intense.
Though we’ve not been to the parade since that visit in 80s, watching it has been an agenda permanence. While Papi, sis and I watch the parade and gaze at the ginormous floats and cartoons, Mami is shuffling in the kitchen, making her magic work… I eventually make my way there.
This year wasn’t different in the way we prepared our food, nor do I suspect our Christmas prep will either. Some things just don’t change. However, I will implore and put my juju on Mami and entice her to look beyond her realm of comfort foods. There is so much out there to enjoy other than our Cuban classics and our Cuban-American fusion dishes I’ve come to introduce on the table.
The change of heart didn’t come too along ago, truthfully. After my friends over at Be Everywhere invited me to flip through the colorful pages of the Macy’s Culinary Council Thanksgiving and Holiday Cookbook, (Book Kitchen, 2011; $24.95 @ Macys.com) I was convinced it would be alright and deliciously appropriate to try new and soul satisfying dishes. Fortunately, my parents have always been receptive to my introductions– and this would be a perfect time to do so again.
Much like the parade, the Culinary Council at Macy’s celebrates the holidays in a big way. With the exclusive selection of 13 famous chefs, including Emeril Lagasse, whom I’ve appeared with on Planet Green, and the oh-so-fabulous Cat Cora, these pages are filled with simple, festive and accessible recipes for families (and single gals like moi) to make during the holidays. The book is divided by event: Thanksgiving and Holiday and sub-sectioned by celeb chef. That makes it easy to navigate.
I’m a bore when it comes to cookbooks. I love collecting them and staring at them, but am the biggest culprit at not ever cooking from them. But, the more I peruse the covers of some seriously crafted recipes and stories, I fall in love more and more with the idea of experimenting with others’ interpretations of classic dishes or new spins on every day ingredients. This particular cookbook is seasonal, so the recipes all have a harvest palate and warm tone.
After spending 3 days staring at the pictures, I came across a cocktail I couldn’t resist and a soup that resembles one I make every year. I got to the drink faster than I could get to the soup, only because I purchased a super green calabaza. Yes, minor fail, but I’ll let it ripen and make it as soon as its ready! The soup, shared by chef Rick Bayless, was appealing because of Latin influence. Mexican calabaza (squash), chipotle and Mexican canela… BOOM! Sounds amazing, right.
I have in mind the sexiest ingredients to add to his existing recipe. By no means am I bragging, but I can smell the awesomeness already!
So, since I didn’t get to make the soup for this particular post, I made the cocktail that much more special. This simple apple and rum libation is one for the keeping. Perhaps I was intrigued because it called for Honeycrisp apples, which are my absolute favorite –this from a non-fan of apples in general. But a Honeycrisp, I’ll have every day…it’s the right apple for a drink of this measure. I made 4 servings and all were sipped with a spirit of joy and appreciation.
A good alcoholic can drink can do that to you, especially if it’s not overpowered by the choice of liquor.
Chef Marc Forgione, a classic American cuisine cook, concocts a sweet drink that even my father would enjoy…Not too sweet, not too dry and holds a high perfume factor for the senses. To make it my own, I added a pinch of ground nutmeg and clove and kicked up the rum. Everything else worked how he intended it to be.
Oh yeah and one thing I failed at also… I used a Gala apple because two markets I went to were out of honeycrisps…. Imagine that. The honeycrisp probably offers a sweeter bite, but considering the apple cider and simple syrup, the Gala presented a good balance.
I was content and so were 2 friends. That means one of us had 2 at 11 this morning!
Tis the season!
* I was compensated for this review, however all opinions, stories, experiences and recipe modifications are my own. Always.
Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.
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HONEYCRISP APPLE SPICED RUM LIBATION (adapted from Macy’s Culinary Council Holiday Cookbook)
- simple syrup
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 1/2 cups apple cider
- 1 Gala apple or Honeycrisp apple
- 1 3/4 cups 9 spice rum
- 6 tbsps. fresh lemon juice
- ice cubes
- rosemary springs
- pinch ground nutmeg
- pinch ground cloves
Make simple syrup and chill. Pour apple cider into into tall glass or pitcher. Peel apple. Using a melon baller, scoop out 6 balls, being careful to avoid the core. Add the apple balls to the cider and set aside. Add rum, simple syrup and lemon juice to martini shaker. Shake well. Using spoon, remove apple balls from tall glass or pour apple cider, leaving balls in glass, into martini shaker. Shake drink well. Pour rum mixture evenly into six cocktail glasses filled with ice. Skewer apple balls with one rosemary sprig. Add one sprig to each glass. Serve immediately.