Monday, December 28, 2020

Cooking for the Holidays

After voting on December 17th, 2020, during the early voting days of the Georgia Senate runoff election, I felt I needed a reward to have driven back again to Georgia from Nashville to vote. I stopped at the local nursery and bought a pretty Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera.)
Back in the lonely Georgia house I placed the plant near the kitchen window close to a holiday gnome. It made a lot of difference to the atmosphere in the kitchen. My cat Mitsouko was in Nashville but there was still something alive with me as well. You can see the picture in the heading. In Nashville I had left another flowering Christmas cactus in the enclosed back porch, next to another little gnome.
I sorted and gave away another 5 bags of books to the Goodwill, at least 200 or so, and then I returned to Nashville on Sunday December 20th. There was no hurry because I knew that as for Thanksgiving I would be alone at Christmas. For years these were such busy times and now having no planning to do was a bit strange. So as not to feel aimless at Thanksgiving I had decided to cook some turkey and trimmings. With the help of my blogging friend Mae of Mae's Food Blog who provided me with a recipe for fresh turkey parts I proceeded to cook a tasty Thanksgiving meal with plenty of leftovers. In the plate below from top left: herbed bread dressing, corn casserole, roast turkey with fresh cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes with Bourbon pecan sauce, fresh spinach with Boursin cheese next to garlicky mashed potatoes with homemade gravy. I had received a surprise package from my daughter Celine - imported mince pies from Wales. It rounded the meal quite nicely. (I had leftovers for a week.) (Click on collage to enlarge.)
When I returned to Nashville I decided that to keep busy for Christmas I would also cook a special meal. First I had to attempt decorating the front of the house as most houses on the block had bright decorations and lights. Last year my daughter Jessica had decorated the house with many strings of light on the shrubbery, but I was not very good at this. Instead I used lights just on the handrail and decorated the front door and windows. Below is the way the house was decorated last year.
Below is the way I tried to decorate it this year. I was afraid to place lights on the shrubbery since I was not sure how to connect all the wires.
Now I had to plan what my Christmas meal would be. Years ago my mother would make a delicious canard a l'orange - maybe I should try roasted duck with orange sauce as she did. In Atlanta I would have known to buy a duck at the DeKalb Farmers' Market, but in Nashville I did not know where to get one. I called the grocery stores Kroger, Publix - no ducks. Whole Foods did not sell fresh or frozen ducks. Then I thought of the huge market not far away, K and S World Market and International Groceries. I always find fresh dandelion greens there and a whole lot of vegetables, fruits and other items I have no idea how to cook.
I was there early on Tuesday morning with just a handful of customers. They had frozen ducks, four types even! I decided on the Buddhist style duck. Because why not. It had Chinese writing and I think Vietnamese as well. At $19.99 for a 6 pound duck it seemed a fair price.
Now I was in a quandary. Should I attempt roasting a Buddhist duck with a French gourmet recipe? Or should I try an Asian recipe? What a dilemma. I decided to compromise and roast it with Asian spices and then make an orange French sauce. I checked some of my favorite French cookbooks and some of my Chinese ones while listening to Christmas music. Finally after also researching on the Web I came up with an original Franco-Asian recipe for my duck.
First the duck had to be defrozen; it would take two days in the fridge. I baked a couple of cookie recipes with my free time.
On Thursday afternoon, Christmas Eve, the duck was defrozen. I boiled it for 1 minute in a large pot of boiling water. Then I pricked it all over (to let the fat get out.) When it was cool I sprinkled salt all over it. Then I set it back in the fridge, uncovered, until the next day - this is to harden the skin so it will be crispy. That evening my daughter, son-in-law, four grandchildren and my son-in-law's visiting cousins and their children came caroling to my front porch. Then I gave them cookies and they gave me a small rum cake. This is why I could not attend their Christmas, as the gathering was too large.
There was no need to wrap gifts to wee hours as I used to since we were not exchanging presents on Christmas Day. (We will exchange presents in January, closer to Armenian Christmas of January 6th.) I had not planned to get up early on Christmas Day but was wakened up at 6:30 am by some noise. I thought it was a car backfiring. While getting my coffee ready I could hear many birds chirping in the back yard. Quite unusual as there are never more than a couple of birds there and this sounded like an aviary. I opened the curtains and could not believe my eyes. The tree at the end of my yard was covered with birds - so many that the branches could not be seen. Then as I watched, mesmerized, they suddenly flew to a closer tree while chatting, whistling and making a joyful noise. I had seen bands of starlings before flying as a pulsating cloud but at a distance, in the sky. As from a signal they all flew even closer and landed on my back deck, covering it. The wood disappeared and the deck looked alive with hundreds or even thousands of birds. As some perched on the rail close to my window I could see that they were not black, but had a metallic iridescent dark greenish sheen flecked with little white dots - quite pretty.
The European starlings were introduced in the US in 1890 when 100 of them were released in New York's Central Park (now there are more than 200 million in N. America.) The common European starling from the species Sturnus vulgaris is called "Etourneau" in French. When they fly in unison it is called "une nuée d’étourneaux" but in English it is called "a murmuration." It sounds French but it is not. A murmuration is the phenomenon that results when hundreds, sometimes thousands, of starlings fly in swooping, coordinated patterns through the sky, as in an air show. It is impressive how rapidly the murmuration can change direction and fly intricate patterns, all synchronized. Then in an instant the flock left my deck, as in a well choreographed ballet, and flew to trees further away. Below are a couple of ancient engravings of the birds.
I had never seen them so close and felt it was an early Christmas gift - that it would be a good day. Then I turned on the News ... and saw that what I thought had been a car backfiring at 6:30 am was in fact a huge explosion downtown Nashville, about 3 1/2 miles from my house. The explosion destroyed part of Second Avenue, known for its night clubs, galleries, shops and residences; at least 41 buildings were extensively damaged. In the map below I placed a red cross where it happened and a green cross where I live. (Pictures courtesy The Tennessean.)
The Second Avenue of Nashville is a National Historic District. In the late 1800s the street was called Market Street. From 1870 to 1890 many buildings were constructed as warehouses and shops that sold the goods coming from riverboats on the Cumberland River. This is a tragic bombing on Christmas Day. The police have identified the bomber who perished in the blast, but found no motive yet.
I kept working on my duck, covering it with a dry rub made of Chinese spices, and then placing an orange, celery and garlic in the cavity. (Having no ties to close it I had to improvise with metal clips.) While it roasted I made a Sherry Orange reduction sauce (made with Sherry, garlic, orange juice, bitter orange marmelade, Grand Marnier and spices.) It did not take long to roast really as I placed it in the oven around 4:00 pm, turned it over a couple of times and I was ready to eat at about 7:00 pm. It was delicious. That will last me at least 4 days with leftovers. (I rarely eat meat - did not have a steak since summer 2019 and only 3 hamburgers this year.) I found out that the Culver Duck Company was founded in 1860 in the Amish Country of Northern Indiana. The ducks are all natural with no hormones, no nitrates, and are Free to Roam. The company has received certification under the American Humane Certified program.
To keep with the Franco-Asian theme, dessert was a French buche de Noel, and a Fortune cookie. My fortune said "Your golden opportunity is coming shortly." Splendid! Things are looking up ... hope it will be the same for everyone.
Have a Happy New Year! Wishing you a better 2021!


rhymeswithplague said...

An excellent post that covers several interesting topics. I am in awe both of your cooking skills and of your visit by the starlings.

We had poinsettias growing in our yard when we lived in Florida, and I made st tell you that the plant you bought at the nursery is lovely but it is not a poinsettia (Euphorbia, it is what is called a Christmas cactus Schlumbeegera). Poinsettias are native to Mexico and Schlumbergera cacti are native to Brazil, I believe.

How terrible the Christmas Day bombing in Nashville was. I didn’t know that 41 buildings were affected. I am so thankful that only three people were injured because of the work of several policemen and policewomen.

I hope you have a happy, safe, healthy, prosperous New Year in 2021.

Terra said...

I have never seen a murmuration of starlings, what a nice Christmas surprise for you. I like the photo of them in the sky. We were on the same page for Christmas meal, we both roasted a duck. I found a frozen duck at a local independent market with the best meat department. Your Asian and French theme worked out nicely. Merry Christmas.

Elephant's Child said...

You saw a murmurration? Lucky, lucky you. You are right about the beauty of starlings as well.
I am very sorry to hear that you were close to the bombing - and grieve for the damage caused.
Your dinner(s) sound delicious. We are living on left-overs here too. It is high summer here and one of my traditions is to make a huge fruit salad for Christmas. I am enjoying it still.
And yes, here's hoping for a healthy happy New Year for the world.

Thérèse said...

Quel joli ballet/concert pour commencer ta journée de Noël. Et comme tu as su célébrer!
Vos étourneaux sont bien dodus par rapport aux nôtres.
Le pic de notre journée fut le long papotage avec nos enfants et leur compagne, une bouffée de fraîcheur dans ce demi-confinement. Comme les distances nous pèsent!
Heureuse fin d'année Vagabonde!

Susan Heather said...

You are so near to the explosion. I love the look and sound of your duck meal. Wishing you a much happier 2021.

Christine said...

I remember murmurations from my childhood, also having to be out of town before sunset as then the starlings flew in and took over the rooftops....the noise. . !
As I type I am watching the tiny snowflakes fall, too small to settle but so pretty. I hope 2021 brings you good health, stay warm and safe.

Marie-Anne said...

Chère Vagabonde,
Je suis impressionnée par tout ce que tu as préparé dans ta cuisine!!!Bravo, mon amie!!! Même si on est seul, on ne doit pas se priver des plaisirs de la cuisine et d'une bonne table! Très touchant que tes enfants et petits enfants sont venus te chanter les Christmas carols! La plante que tu as acheté n'est pas une Poinsettia (étoile de Noël) mais une schlumbergera, également une plante qui est characteristique pour sa floraison à Noël. (si tu passes par mon blog, tu verras une Poinsettia sur la boîte que j'ai confectionnée).
Quelle catastrophe cette explosion au coeur de ta ville! C'est vraiment affreux! Mais tu as de la chance d'avoir eu la visite des étourneaux dans ton jardin!!! J'en ai vu de très belles nuées mais pas dans mon quartier.
Je te souhaite une très bonne nouvelle année, pleine de bonne santé et de bonheur pour toi et ceux qui te sont chers!
Gros bisous,

Jeanie said...

I have never seen a true murmuration before. Maybe a small one; nothing like that. Yes, definitely a gift. The explosion is tragic but I am grateful the police were on it and there was no loss of life, apart from the bomber himself.

Your dinners both look delicious. The duck looks like quite a production and I love how you combined the flavors and techniques of two cultures when you made it. And loved that you had carolers from your family, too.

I think what you are calling a poinsettia is called a Christmas Cactus here. It's a beautiful plant and a wonderful idea to have something living in your home while you were visiting. I'm glad you went back to vote (among other things.)

DJan said...

I wondered how far you are from the explosion. It doesn't look very far at all! I'm glad you were not harmed, in fact that it seems only the person who set it up was killed. I love the look of that duck, and I would bet it was wonderful! Thank you as always for such a wonderful and thorough post. And I'm glad you are staying safe during this awful pandemic. :-)

rhymeswithplague said...

correction: “made st” should have been “must”

Vagabonde said...

To you all - Thank you for your comments. As for my plant I have no idea why I called it a poinsettia as I know it is a Christmas cactus. I went back and corrected the post, thanks for noticing.

Divers and Sundry said...

Thank you for making an effort to go back to Georgia to vote. Your Christmas cactus is a lovely addition for the season. I hope it does well for you. All of your food looks good, and the cookies are pretty. I don't decorate outside except for a door wreath, and your decorations look quite elaborate to me :) I've never eaten duck and don't remember seeing it in shops. The starlings are such pests! I want to go back in time and give a good talking to to that Shakespeare-obsessed group who introduced them here.

I'm sorry you were so close to the explosion!

Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Happiest New Year🎉

It is good to read you are all right. The birds being out like that, feels as if they were on your deck for their safety, being near a good spirit.

The duck sounds like a perfect special meal. Orange sauce is divine with any meal (as is a good mustard sauce). I like orange sauce with roasted carrots.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

Most of us, especially those in the grandparent stage of life, had an “alone Christmas”. I love the way you filled your day; food is such a comfort. My whole intention was to stay busy and between zoom calls with many people, I was able to fill the hours. My DIL and son made us a wonderful dinner so I did not have to think about what to eat.

How horrible that you had to start off the day within hearing distance of that terrible explosion. We will probably never know his motive unless he left a note. We all must just be so grateful that notice was given and those brave policemen were able to get everyone out of the area. That no one died, is a miracle.

All those birds on your deck had to be a strange but joyful experience.

I hope that 2021 will be kind to you and yours and that we will all be living a Covid-free life at this time next year.

David said...

Hi Vagabonde... Wow! I am impressed with your culinary skills and your ambition! If I'd been on my own, I would have made a turkey sandwich for Thanksgiving and a roast beef sandwich for Christmas... I'm not much of a cook except for frying and grilling basic items. Haven't had a mince pie or a roasted duck in years. The last roasted duck I had that was really good was at a Polish restaurant in Chicago. K&S World Market sounds like a place where we'd like to shop just for different items not available in 'standard' supermarkets. Thanks for the info on the Culver Duck Co. That murmuration of starlings in your backyard was a real treat for sure! My wife and I love watching starlings going through their paces... It was lovely that your family stopped by for a bit of Christmas caroling. Our family is in Omaha NE...a long way from East Tennessee. We did visit them via ZOOM though. As for the bomb...sad for sure. I have to wonder what was going on in his mind...suicide that no one would forget I guess. Have a Happy New Year! Stay Safe and Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Linda P said...

I was interested to hear about the Armenian Christmas is 6th January as the feast of the Epiphany is one that our family mark as important, also a tradition in Italy that you will know about. How wonderful to see a murmuration of starlings. They have pretty feathers when you see them close up. I like the engravings you share. Your preparation and cooking for your special meals took time, but well worth the effort. So glad you were able to decorate your front porch, make cookies and hand them to your carol singers and also stayed safe. We heard about the terrible destruction caused by the bomb. Best wishes for the new year. May you and your family have a peaceful, healthy 2021.

Z said...

As others have said, that was a brilliant post and I loved reading it, apart from the dreadfulness of the bombing, which of course I'd heard about over here. Better things next year, I hope with all my heart.

Shammickite said...

I have never cooked a duck and always thought I would like to, as I have had roast duck at chinese banquets. There is a duck production company near me called King Cole Ducks, and they have open houses where they teach people how to cook duck recipes.... I think I will go when they open again (closed now due to covid). Yours looked very tasty.
Lots on the TV news about the bombing. You never know what's going to happen do you.... some very strange and dangerous people in this world, all wanting to make a name for themselves.
Wishing you a very happy, healthy and worry-free 2021, lets get that vaccine out for everyone ASAP and perhaps we can get back to a sort of normal existance.

Arti said...


I can see you're multi-talented... and a great chef too. Your duck looks great. What I find interesting is its name on the package, a "Buddhist Style" duck sounds like an oxymoron. I thought Buddhists don't eat meat as they're supposed to be vegetarians. :)
Anyway, love your Christmas decorations and all the goodies you've baked for the festivity even though you can't throw a family party.

We have European Starlings here too in Calgary, Alberta, but not now as Winter has set in and most birds have flown south. They are amazing to behold as your photo has shown... I haven't seen a murmuration so close and with so many birds.

Thanks again for all the posts you've presented here on your blog through the year. As always, I've enjoyed every one and appreciated the in-depth research you've put in to write them. Keep them coming! All the best wishes for a Happy 2021! :)

Cloudia said...

Perfect Holiday!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Duck can be a bit hard to find, although I'm lucky enough to have a couple of butcher shops near me that usually (not always) have it on hand. Or if I'm in the mood for breasts, I can order them frozen online -- although of course I have to plan all of that ahead of time. Anyway, what an excellent looking meal! Thanks. And bonne année!

Ginnie said...

Leave it to you, Vagabonde, to have a post, yet again, so chock-full of everything centered on this Christmas season. OMG. The food you came up with! I would love to be a fly on the wall in your house, watching you. HA! And now, we await the New Year, knowing it can go nowhere but...UP. Please stay safe and healthy. And may God have mercy! [My run-off absentee ballot was finally received and accepted on Dec. 28th, after having sent it via DHL on Nov. 27th!]

DUTA said...

ן'm utterly impressed by your culinary skills! As someone who eats to live (not live to eat) I do nevertheless greatly enjoy reading about delicious food prepared by others - everything about it: ingredients, spices, process etc...

The explosion in Nashville is a tragic reminder of the world we live in: vicious and violent.

Wishing you a Wonderful New Year, a year of good health, prosperity, and satisfactions!

Nadezda said...

Dear Vagabonde,
I heard about this explosion in Nashville. And immediately I thought of you. I also cooked a duck for Christmas. I defrosted it all day and then cooked it with spices and sauce.

I wish you health and happiness in the New Year. May he be kind to us, bring peace and quiet.

Goldendaze-Ginnie said...

Good morning and thank you for leaving a comment on my blog.
You certainly keep busy and it was interesting to go through so many emotions ... delight in viewing your beautiful house decorating, hunger brought on by the yummy recipes that you shared ... awe and jealousy with the HUGE flock of birds that came to visit and then, lastly, sadness to hear that you were so close to that bomb. Whew, I'm exhausted but still have enough energy to wish you a Happy New Year.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

What a fabulous meal. I've never made nor eaten duck, but it sounds exquisite. Such a beautiful meal, too.

bill burke said...

A wonderful post. A beautiful meal, I never tried duck but it does sound good. Wish you a happy, healthy and peaceful 2021.

DeniseinVA said...

A fabulous post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, though obviously greatly saddened about the bombing downtown. Thank you so much for sharing your festivities, from chef skills to wonderful decorations, everything. Happy New Year!

Joared said...

Your holiday dinner looks and sounds delicious -- very ambitious. I especially like mince pie but haven't had any good mince for years. Mostly the mince pies sold, and not many seem to even have them, are not truly mince -- more like raisin pies my mother used to make. An independent market that sold only prime meats used to make mince each holiday but have never seen it anywhere else and that family closed their business years ago.

I thought of you when I heard of the Nashville explosion. Glad you didn't live any closer and that no lives lost other than the perp.

Glad you voted in Georgia. Lovely Christmas Cacti. Interesting experience with the birds.

Wishing you good health, prosperity and happiness in this new year.

Colette said...

Wonderful photos! Best wishes for a Happy (and safe) 2021.

Carola Bartz said...

I love that you cooked such elaborate and delicious meals for yourself. I hadn't have duck in years, but I remember how tasty it is. That your daughter's family came by singing carols is so sweet - but perhaps also a bit bittersweet since you were not able to join them. Maybe the fortune cookie message means that you are getting the vaccine soon!
All the best for 2021, stay healthy!

Kay said...

Your Christmas cactus is blooming so beautifully. Ours hasn't even started. I don't think they know it's winter since it's warm in Hawaii.

Thank goodness you were safe and far enough away from that explosion. What a scare!

All our holiday dishes look absolutely scrumptious!

Hels said...

I probably would have thought that the lights on the handrails, front door and windows would be straighter and therefore more attractive. But the strings of light on the shrubbery turned out very festive.

David M. Gascoigne, said...

The last time I was in France I had the best duck confit I have ever had in my life! My fervent hope is that the Democrats can win one of those two races in Georgia, and two would be beyond expectation. I will so glad to see the end of the orange disease that has infected America for the last four years. COVID almost pales by comparison.

Bohemian said...

Your Christmas Cactus is Beautiful! This is the first year I haven't had one. Now I suddenly have an urge to try Camel's Milk! *winks* We have International Grocers here but I don't think I've ever seen that in any of them.

Magic Love Crow said...

Hi Beautiful Soul.
I want to wish you a happy belated Christmas!
Thank you for the great post! That surprise of all the birds, was amazing! Wow! What a gift! Your duck turned out fantastic! I loved reading your fortune!
I am so sorry about the bombing! So horrible!
I think you decorated the front of the house beautifully!
My mom has the same Christmas cactus as you!
Wishing you a healthy, peaceful, happy and loving 2021!!
Big Hugs!

claude said...

Magnifique post Vagabonde !
Tout d'abord, je te souhaite une bonne année 2021 si le virus le veut bien et surtout une bonne santé.
Noël fut spécial à la maison, Mon médecin m'ayant conseillé de ne pas faire de réunion de famille, nous avons passé Noël sans les enfants et petits enfants. Nous sommes deux cas à risque, Philippe n'a plus un nez mais un véritable hôtel des courant d'air depuis sa troisième opération en été 2020.
Je jour de Noël nous avons été invités chez sa soeur car ils étaient seule eux aussi.
Pour le 31 et le 1er, seuls également, j'avais cuisiné des cailles fermières à la sauce foie gras.
Vendredi nous allons au Mans déposer vite fait les cadeaux de Noël des enfants, surtout chez mon second fils qui ne fait pas trop attention aux réunions de personnes.
Merci de tes deux derniers passages sur mon blog. J'ai été très peiné d'apprendre la disparation d'Abraham Lincoln.
Porte toi bien ! Je t'embrasse.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

And a Hopeful New Year to you too my dear! I am inspired by your happy attitude. You celebrated with joy during what was a a difficult Holiday Season. Especially for all of us “of a certain age” (and a family tree with too many people for a safe gathering for us as well). Until recently we have been fortunate to visit with part of our family safely distanced outdoors, but the Holiday season coincided with the start of the cold rainy season and that’s no longer possible. We too were limited to porch visits and tried to “make merry” anyway. You did a better job of it! .... Thank you for sharing the beautiful meals you made and the decorations... and most of all for the attitude!

PS. And for voting! Go Georgia!!! This morning (the Wednesday after) looks good!

Vicki Lane said...

Your house loos beautiful and the duck makes my mouth water. Thank you for making the drive (twice) to Georgia to vote. I am still elated over the victory!

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

As always, a fascinating post and lovely photos.
Glad to hear that you and your neighbours weren't hurt in the bombing though the damage to the area does look quite severe. When we lived in Spain, ETA would sometimes set off a bomb in the town early in the morning and we discovered that it's amazing what you can sleep through.
Good to see that you cooked such beautiful meals for yourself over the holidays!

Dee said...

Dear Vagabonde, I so enjoyed this posting. The pace of it and the simplicity also of your Christmas spent there with the food that reflected, to me at least, the Oneness of all. I've been a vegetarian for 41 years and so have tasted no fish or fowl or bovine for all those years. So I really can't imagine what the duck tasted like, except for appreciating the spices and the orange!

I so hope that this year brings you many opportunities for growth in the human spirit--a spirit filled with the wonder and generosity and compassion and love of life that is so much a part of your essence. Peace.

Marja said...

Sorry a bit late but I hope your 2021 will be a good one. I am amazed with your cooking skills. Here in NZ it is summer with Christmas so people are on holiday mostly and many usually have a BBQ on the day. Very simple but that suits me well as I am a bad cook. Love the decorations as well.
What a beautiful word murmuration and it fits the dance of birds well. It must have been be a gift. So sad though about the explosion. A beautiful card at the end. I haven't seen snow for a long time.

Roderick Robinson said...

I'm astonished there were duck recipes for Buddhists. Aren't they into reincarnation? Mind you, if you are thinking of coming back better to be a duck than a member of the Trump family.

I don't think we've ever had a turkey for Christmas, most often Beef Wellington. This comes with a French sauce (A historical jeu de mots) which you make by first making another French sauce with an entirely different name. I'd have loved a couple of slices of your canard à l'orange but, boy, it sounds truly labour-intensive.

I reckon if I'd been on my own I'd have bought something that came in a can and spent the saving on a Ch. Latour 1968. Then re-read Gros Calin by Romain Gary. The funniest book in French I've read.

Jenny Woolf said...

That market looks absolutely enticing! we just don't have places like that in Britain. And your cooking looks splendid! (Maybe it's your French heritage). It is sad that you couldn't join your family, but you were wise not to do so. I'm sure they were really sad not to be with you too. I hope that 2021 is an improvement too, and that you have been getting along okay since you wrote this post a few weeks ago. I too am finding that there are now weeks between my posts.

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