Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 16, 2009

Foodie With Family: Fighting holiday crowds


I spend a good portion of the holiday season (and ready or not, we're in it now!) trying to avoid crowds. Although it seems a contradiction, I eagerly anticipate Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and everything in between for most of the year; the festive decorations, the vibrant colored fruits in the grocery stores, the eggnog, the music, the bright and tiny lights on festooned homes twinkling against the dark winter sky.

Just not the crowds.

Navigating a store that is packed cheek-to-jowl while trying to keep tabs on five kids who are dazzled by every jingling bell and battery operated widget they walk past (of which there are too many to recount) is an exercise in futility. I end up forgetting half or more of what I went to the store to buy because I'm every bit as bad as the kids. What's that? Oooh, a red 90th anniversary Kitchen Aid mixer! Come on, guys, it'll just take a second to look and I promise we'll come right back to the toy aisle.

But oh, the food! The victuals, or procurement thereof, are reason enough to brave the madding crowds. The cranberries, pomegranates, pumpkins, oranges, grapefruits, hams, roasts, turkeys, eggnog, green beans, wine, chestnuts and other crucial items that make up holiday feasts are the only reason I tackle shopping with anything resembling enthusiasm.

The boys inevitably go with me, which would normally be a handicap. Not in festive food shopping! Over the years, I've developed a game plan that uses their individual personalities and with extensive, cross-referenced lists in hand, organized according to store we attack.

Liam, who is naturally inclined to push his brothers around, pushes the cart in which Rowan and Leif have been strapped. (God bless the person who designed those shopping carts with plastic trucks, steering wheels and seat belts. And may God even more richly bless the genius who came up with disinfectant wipes in purse-sized packages.)

Rowan and Leif keep people distracted with sweet smiles and silly conversations while I grab the last yams from the bin. Aidan, because he can jump like a monkey, is in charge of grabbing cans from high perches. He can nab a bag of dried cranberries from the top hook in the blink of an eye.

Ty, because of his skinny profile and ability to weave in between carts and shelves and racks is the guy who scoots between two carts jockeying for a position in front of the meat coolers to lay his hands on the only honey-baked ham left in the store. And once my boy has claimed a ham, let no one try to take it from him.

And me? I stand there with my checklist and pen and the knowledge that at least this once, everyone has worked to get a meal to the table.

I hope that you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving full of food, family, friends and warmth. And no crowds.

Here are a couple favorites from our holiday table.

Fromage Fort is a traditional French way to use up the odds and ends from the cheese drawer. To make it, you blitz several cheeses with wine or spirits and other flavorings in the food processor to yield a creamy, spreadable cheese. You don't need to possess a dedicated cheese drawer, however, to enjoy this flavorful spread. You can choose to go with one type of cheese and it will be delicious, but you get a real depth of flavor when you combine several. My favorite combination is mostly white Cheddar with some Romano, Gorgonzola, Brie or Camembert, and Parmesan thrown in to round things out. If you go with cheeses from the blue family, be sure to use a light hand as they tend to overpower other cheeses easily. Fromage Fort is perfect with crackers or vegetables or spread on bread before being lightly broiled. Anyway you serve it, Fromage Fort is the perfect party food.

Fromage Fort (Strong Cheese)

This recipe is easily halved or doubled. (Or trebled if you are serving a regiment.)

1 lb. of a combination of various cheeses

1/2 or more c. dry white wine, dry sherry or good beer

1-3 cloves of garlic, depending on how much you love garlic

Freshly ground black pepper

Handful of minced fresh parsley, optional

Add cheese, wine, garlic and pepper to a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until the cheese is evenly chopped and spreadable. You may need to remove the lid and scrape down the sides several times. Transfer to a bowl to serve immediately or put in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Eggnog Dip is a favorite of the kids. Oh OK, it's a favorite of mine, too. I look for reasons to make this. Parties, birthdays, cold weather and loose teeth are among the justifications I have used to whip up a batch of this velvety, sweet treat. Whether served with squares of poundcake, strawberries or honey wheat pretzels for dunking or layered in a parfait with cranberry compote and angel food cake, this makes the holidays taste just a little brighter.

Eggnog Dip

4 c. whipped cream or thawed creamy whipped topping

1/2 c. eggnog, homemade or commercial

1/4 c. powdered sugar

1/2 t. orange extract

1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg

In a 2-cup measure, stir together the eggnog, powdered sugar, orange extract and nutmeg with a fork or small whisk until smooth. Pour over the whipped cream or whipped topping and fold in gently. Refrigerate for 30 minutes prior to serving.

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