I know this because of what is on my stove.
“Is that even a real thing?” Chris asked.
“Yes, it’s Yiddish for rendered chicken fat,” I said. “You can’t fry meat in butter or bacon fat if you keep kosher. So, poultry fat. It’s good stuff.”
There is a pan of it on my stove because Grandma and Grandpa are on their way over the river and through the woods to our house. We got a phone call late last night from Chris’s parents: We’ll be there tomorrow. They’re spending the holidays with us this year, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s.
It’s going to be a lot of cooking.
I’ve already got two chickens in the oven, because leftover chicken is the Best Thing Ever when it comes to feeding hungry relatives, plus it makes the house smell good. This time around, my house smells even better because I pried the giant hunks of fat off of both chickens and am currently melting them over very low heat with garlic and onion and a couple of bay leaves and, for good measure, a handful of cranberries. Oh, and the livers from both chickens because my father-in-law loves chicken liver.
Years ago, my mother shared with me what she called “the world’s best recipe for chopped chicken liver,” given to her in dead secret by a friend whose cardiologist husband forbade her from ever making it for health reasons.
The recipe is this: render chicken fat, then saute a pint of livers in the rendered fat along with a chopped shallot. When the livers are cooked, chop them in the blender along with a sieved yolk from a hard-boiled egg and, for the unkosher, two tablespoons or more of heavy cream, and plenty of salt and pepper.
I don’t have enough liver to make a blender full, but I did toss the livers from the two chickens I am baking into the pot of rendered chicken fat. It’ll make enough for two or three Triscuits worth of chopped liver for my father-in-law. He’ll know I’m glad to see him, and then I’ll have a cup of liver-scented chicken fat in the fridge for when I cook Thanksgiving dinner.
Mind you, I don’t typically keep cups of melted chicken fat around my house. Among other things, it’s fantastically fattening and fantastically delicious, so, if you are me, you eat a lot of it (try it on toast instead of butter) and then you have to buy bigger jeans. I typically head this off by throwing away the chicken fat before it gets to my thighs. Not this time.
We’ve officially entered what Chris calls “the season of fat” and what I more elegantly, if less clearly, refer to as “The moveable feast of fat things.”
‘Tis the season of butter, of sauces and cookies, and too-rich cakes. No wonder Ebenezer Scrooge attributed the Ghost of Christmas Past to a bit of dinner — sometimes, I’m amazed that “eat until you hallucinate” isn’t in our cultural lexicon.
We don’t — or at least we ought not — eat like this during the rest of the year. It’s expensive, and it’s unhealthy, and it makes you, or at least me, feel terrible: bloated and gaseous. Ten and a half months out of the year, I eat whole grains and leafy greens and lean protein, and that’s what I feed my family, because I love them and I want them to be healthy.
But come the holidays, I’m frying up chicken livers and baking cookies.
Why do I do this? Because it’s traditional. But also because what we refer to as The Holiday Season is, literally, bookended with feasts. Not just the meals although it’s a big part of it. A feast, a festival, is a celebration — of food and friends, of family, and abundance, and above all, life, of the moment, the fleeting moment, right now, when we are together with the people we love.
As the holidays approach and we are faced with the shopping and the cooking and the gatherings with friends and family, many people also consider it a time to remember the less fortunate. It is not uncommon to find collection bins for items or money at local businesses. Local media sources remind us of toy drives and food drives (and more shopping to be done). The spirit of giving can truly become contagious at times.
While community generosity serves as a foundation for many nonprofit operations, that same generosity in excess can become a burden. So, when you are trying to come up with a way to help your favorite charity this holiday season, consider a few handy tips for good donor citizenship.
- Reach out and ask: Before you organize all of your friends and family to collect their unwanted clothing or to knit scarves or to bake cookies, CONTACT THE CHARITY. Many nonprofits have limited storage space, and while your intentions are wonderful, if even just a few other people had the same idea, you have just overwhelmed the organization’s staff. Call. E-mail. Find out what they actually need. And if you want to give clothing (or other goods in kind that consume tangible space) and they say “no”—accept the answer with kindness and then ask, “What is your greatest need at the moment?” And then listen. Needs at a nonprofit change—sometimes daily—but what doesn’t change is that there are always needs.
- The universal gift: When you are struggling with what to get that difficult person on your list, what is the best default? What comes in every size and fills every need? Money. And gift cards. The same goes with your favorite charity. As much as it may seem impersonal, your gift of cold, hard cash is about the best possible thing you can give. Every organization has non-sexy bills to pay—electricity, gas, water, phone/internet, and salaries. Yes, the salaries of the people who work at your favorite charity are often paid through donations. (There isn’t a charity fairy making up a payroll list, in case you were wondering.) Give the gift in honor of someone to spice it up a little. Or ask about options for a restricted gift. Heck, some organizations have possibilities for naming rights and sponsorships even for modest donations (think donor displays or those brick pathways with all of the inscriptions). And if you like the gift card option, just call and find out which cards and which denominations are best. Small denominations are usually good when they are given to clients as incentives, and larger denominations could help when shopping for supplies.
- Think outside of the gift box: What I mean by this is that your good intentions in November and December will be just as appreciated (if not more so) in January and February. Nonprofits often find themselves overwhelmed with good intentions in December and are then nearly forgotten once the New Year has arrived. So, instead of a Christmas or Hanukkah collection for your favorite charity, perhaps do something for Valentine’s Day. Or for no reason at all. But before you get inspired, please do follow tip #1…
Share your joy with others. Give big. Give often. But most importantly, give from the heart.
Jennifer Signore is a scientist turned writer, mother, and nonprofit professional. She has been volunteering since before she can remember and is delighted to have turned her years of experience into a rewarding career. She currently works as a freelance writer and fundraising consultant in Pittsburgh, PA, where she also channels her all-too-infrequent moments of free time into knitting, singing, and other creative ventures.
This is a variation on a classic Italian escarole and sausage soup, using radicchio along with the escarole to give a red and white effect. Use vegetable stock and vegetarian sausage in place of the chicken stock and pork sausage to make this a vegetarian meal. You could also put in tortellini in place of or in addition to the sausage or beans. Make sure to simmer the tortellini long enough to cook it through.
Christmas Greens Soup
1 small bunch escarole (or bok choy)
1 head radicchio
3-4 sweet Italian sausage links
1 can Great Northern beans or cannellini beans
1 clove garlic
1 quart (32 ounces) chicken stock
grated Parmesan cheese
Rinse and roughly chop the escarole and radicchio, removing the tough white centers. Chop the sausage into bite-size pieces. Drain (and rinse, if not organic) the beans. Mince the garlic.
Toss all ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil. Simmer until the sausage is cooked through and the greens are the consistency you like them (some people like them soft, while others like a little bite still). Adjust salt. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese.
(c) Magda Pecsenye
The ultimate fall meal, roasted pork tenderloin rubbed with mustard, thyme, and brown sugar smothered with apple slices. The pork cooks tender and juicy, while the apples and other ingredients make a sweet and savory crust that needs no sauce. If you have picky kids, omit the mustard.
Apple Pork Tenderloin
2 large apples
1 1/2 pound pork tenderloin
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Slice the apples (leaving the skins on) and put half the slices on a baking sheet to form a bed for the tenderloin. Salt the tenderloin, then put the tenderloin on the bed of apple slices and spread the mustard on. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the tenderloin (it will stick to the mustard). Press the remaining apple slices into the mustard/brown sugar mix to cover the tenderloin.
(c) Magda Pecsenye, christmased.com
A few weeks ago, Toys R Us announced that it was launching a “toy reservation service” for the toys it predicted would be the hottest toys of the Christmas season. Parents who place a reservation (with down payment) by October 31 are guaranteed a toy when they are released before Christmas.
Reading that story and thinking about it for a bit, I came up with the following conclusions:
1. You have to reserve by Halloween, which means we’re now officially rolling Christmas back before Halloween.
2. From the consumer point of view, this seems a lot like pre-ordering from Amazon. Except that most of the pre-orders I do are for books I know I’ll want to read, not toys I’m trying to predict if my kid will want three months from now.
3. Do kids always really want the “hottest toys”? What if you reserve and then on Christmas morning your kid’s all “meh”?
4. Arbitrage. Reserve now, then sell on Ebay for six times the price on December 22?
5. I wonder if there’s a limit from manufacturers on the number of toys Toys R Us can order, or if it would be possible for TRU to take enough reservations that manufacturers won’t have any stock left to sell to other retailers. If that happens, it could mean that TRU has essentially put Walmart, Target, and every other toy retailer out of business for the entire Christmas season.
6. From a supply chain perspective, this could make things far easier for toy manufacturers to predict and meet demand without excess.
What do you think about this? Would you do it?
On the one hand, in a lot of parts of the world it’s getting cooler and we feel like cocooning and just snuggling on the couch and watching sports while wearing bulky sweaters and elastic-waist pants. On the other hand, it’s the season with hot and cold running delicious foods and drinks and cultural pressure to eat a lot as part of traditions and celebrations. On the invisible hand, the end of the year is a time to power through our goals and set goals for the next year, so if we’re going to continue with athletics and taking care of our bodies now is certainly the time to do it.
Last year I had a big breakthrough about holiday food. I realized that there are some holiday foods that I absolutely love, but a lot of them that I’d been eating out of a feeling that it was That Time Of Year so I was supposed to eat that food. But I didn’t really love it all that much. So I made my policy that if I really wanted to eat something I would, but if I was just kind of meh about something I would politely refuse.
Guess what? No one cares if you don’t eat something. That was a big revelation. I wasn’t letting anyone down by not eating any given cookie or serving of stuffing or box of peanut brittle.
I gained no weight during the holiday season last year, just by only eating things I actually wanted to eat. (Genius, no? Eyeroll.)
So this year I’m ramping it up by pushing through with my athletic goals to the end of the year. I’m training to do a 10K at the beginning of November. (I can’t actually currently run 6 miles, but am working on it and will be there by the race day.) And I’ve got a few friends committed to running a 5K Turkey Trot with me on Thanksgiving morning.
I still need a push goal for December, though. I’m taking suggestions. Preferably for things that can be done indoors. (I have access to an indoor track and a pool.)
What’s your relationship with your body at the end of the year? Do you keep exercising? How do you feel about holiday foods? What’s something physical you’d like to be able to do by December 31?
So, what projects are you working on? (At this point we can assume that we still have time to finish them all, right?) Don’t forget to answer anonymously (with a fake name and email address) if anyone you’re making a project for might read this.
I’m working on (and am almost done with) this shawl for someone: Maja.
Then I have to do a few non-Christmas-related projects (people are still having babies!), and then I decided to knit a hoodie for each of my boys. (Yes, I decided this after I read my own post about having my shopping 80% done, because apparently I don’t like free time.)
And then I have to do our Christmas cards so I can send them out after Thanksgiving.
What are you up to?