Diversifying your portfolio of fun

Following my fall from last week, the good news is my chin looks fabulous (if chins ever look fabulous). The stitches are out, and it’s almost healed. Doesn’t look like I will have a scar. The bad news is a few ribs took some of the impact, so I’m not able to play golf. I am grateful nonetheless. In the grand scheme of things, this is a tiny nuisance.

It rained today, and for some reason, if I can’t play golf, I’m always happier if no one is playing golf.

From the outset, one of my retirement strategies was to balance my activities and focus on building both physical and intellectual reserves. Think of it as diversifying your portfolio, except this is about fun not money. Not that money can’t be fun.

Reading, writing, cooking and artistic pursuits counterbalance golf and other outdoor fun. I figured at some point I would be reminded you can’t have it all. Being down for the count after my accident seems to validate my strategy. I’m annoyed I can’t play golf, but I have plenty to keep me amused at home.

I made a batch of no-knead bread. I’ve been experimenting with the technique, and I love it! The dough rises for at least 18 hours. We keep our home pretty cool, so it has taken more like 24 for mine. I noticed today’s batch had a better rise, as it has gotten a bit warmer. To get me started, I got Jim Lahey’s book from the library.

The book is great, but I probably won’t buy it. I’ve made it a few times now, and there are tons of free recipes for no-knead bread on the Internet, so I think I’ll make do with what I have. One more cookbook might make our whole house implode, and no one wants that.

The rest of the afternoon I hung out in the garage making coasters and listening to Amy Winehouse. The garage is exactly the same as the shower … I sound just like her. A super-pleasant afternoon.

As for the coasters, I have no idea what I am going to do with them. Some will be gifts. I just keep making them. The process relaxes me, and I feel happy as I’m out there puttering away.

I’m currently on a drink theme. They are coasters, right? I’m giving myself permission to go with whatever my brain comes up with. I’m not allowing that nasty bitch masquerading as my inner voice to stop me with her harsh criticism. My current approach is fake Shakespearean advice. I uploaded two new ones to the gallery:

  • Quench thy thirst with a pure and earnest alchemy of barley, hops, water, and yeast.
  • Behold the gift of fermentation, and seek ye the merry pleasure of beer, wine, and cheese.

A note for word nerds. Over the course of my entire career in corporate communications, we used the AP Style guide for grammar and punctuation. I adopted AP Style for my personal use, because I figured at least I’d be consistent. Even personal emails, letters to my mother. It’s a sickness.

In AP Style, one does not use the Oxford comma. That’s the last comma in a series such as beer, wine, and cheese. You will notice I used the Oxford comma. A hundred little communicators just dropped over. I decided the Oxford fit better with this style. So, guess what, AP Style? I’m over you.

One last punctuation nit. This is how I’m wired. There’s a comma after fermentation in the sentence above, “Behold the gift of fermentation, and seek ye the merry pleasure of beer, wine, and cheese.” That’s because they are independent clauses. The two parts can stand on their own, so they should be separated with a comma.

I forgot to add the comma when I made the tile. I know, big deal, but I do plan to fix it next time around. I guess that means I still have a ways to go when it comes to balance, but you know, baby steps.

The egg and I and early death

Dale and I want to live long and healthy lives, but we’re not obsessed with every study or every trend that purports to buy us more time. At some point, you just have to tune out the noise and go about your business.

However, this week’s headline about eggs got my attention. I remember when eggs were on the naughty list. Now they’re good again, but I was skimming the news and read eating more than three eggs per week increases your risk of heart disease and early death.

I was devastated, because I eat about three eggs a week, not realizing, of course, the clause about early death. I’m no stable genius, but I’m proud of my adult-like response.

Fuck it, I’m eating eggs.

I mentioned the sad egg news to Dale, and he said no! It was three eggs per day. Surely, he was wrong, but it turns out he was right. I misread the headline. I would never eat three eggs a day, unless it was a cheesy three-egg omelet, and I had no free will.

So, yes, eggs are still on the menu. I sometimes eat a fried egg on toast with just a smidgen of butter for breakfast, but I do fry the egg without fat in a non-stick pan. Soft-boiled eggs are a tasty alternative with the potential for cute accessories – special cups, plates, spoons, snippers and even cozies to keep them warm! It’s like a cult.

As for evening, I might make a spinach souffle or omelet. My sister taught me to make fluffy omelets in high school. For years, omelets and tacos were the only two things I knew how to make … limiting for sure, but at least I chose well. Regrettably, those were days when I knew not of what I ate, and I recall putting chopped Vienna Sausages in my omelet.

But onto better times! Behold, Spaghetti Carbonara, where raw eggs mix with Parmesan cheese and Pancetta and cook with the heat of the pasta. Another favorite is Caesar Salad. I make the dressing with a 1-minute egg, olive oil, lemon, garlic and anchovies.

One of our favorite egg dishes is something I made up. I actually have several recipes in the category of Made-Up Mexican. We call this one Huevos Dineros. I know the translation is wrong, dinero means money not dinner, but it just sounds funny to me. It’s a heartier dish than the Huevos Rancheros I make for weekend brunch.

For Huevos Dineros, I fry corn tortillas in vegetable oil until crisp. Two each, slightly overlapping on a sheet pan or other broiler-friendly dish. Top with homemade red chile sauce or canned enchilada sauce that has been warmed and doctored up with cumin, cayenne and whatever else suits your fancy.

Gently slide a lightly fried egg on top of each serving and cover with grated cheddar cheese. Broil until the cheese is bubbly. Use a spatula to transfer each serving onto a plate and add shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped tomato, maybe a few radishes and perfect slices of ripe avocado. Don’t forget a dollop of sour cream. Serve with salsa on the side.

You can always make it with two eggs each if you are all ungry like.

How do you like your eggs?

Pickled beet memories

Even though I grew up surrounded by California’s wondrous bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables, my mother did not like to cook and thanked the Blessed Virgin Mary every day for packages and cans. And, of course, she was witness to the Miracle of Swanson TV Dinners.

I don’t think I tasted a fresh peach until high school. Potatoes were powdered out of a box or the small white ones out of a can. Believe it or not, when I joined the Army shortly after high school, I considered the mess hall fine dining.

Back in the day, Mom frequently served canned pickled beets. A lot of people say yuk to beets, but I loved them! Now I buy beets fresh at the store or the farmer’s market and pickle them myself. But it’s kind of a pain in the rear. Today I had the brilliant idea of making them in the Instant Pot.

The grocery store usually sells beets in little bundles of three. I actually wanted yellow beets, but I didn’t like the looks of them so went with red. Gave them a good rinse in the sink and then peeled and diced them raw. I would guess it was about two cups, which I tossed into the pot.

I checked several references for cook time and liquids and found inspiration at Plant Based Instant Pot. I decided on 1/2 cup of water and 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar.  Tossed that in the pot and added a cinnamon stick, a few whole cloves, a few allspice berries and one tablespoon of maple syrup.

Popped on the lid. Made sure the pressure valve was closed and pressed manual, high pressure for five minutes. It didn’t take long for the pot to come to pressure, so I’d say less than 10 minutes all together. When the timer went off, I very carefully released the pressure manually.

They’re in the fridge now, but I taste-tested, and they are delicious! Next time I might add a bit of sliced Maui onion. Maybe a Bay Leaf.

Yesterday was whole roast chicken with Dale’s Maine-style potato stuffing and steamed baby broccoli. We’re going with chicken sandwiches on sourdough for dinner tonight , so I thought some sort of dark red or green vegetable would be good on the side. I’ve been craving beets.

What a perfect use for the Instant Pot. I wonder what else we can pickle the same way. Ginger? Carrots?

By the way, I’m not completely dissing canned vegetables. You have to pick and choose. Beets and corn seem to survive nicely. To me, the worst canned vegetable is asparagus. But I bet you somebody out there has a happy canned asparagus memory, and they eat it to this day.

Simple needs, easily met

Tuesday is my favorite day of the week because it’s Chopped night on TV. I could watch it for hours. OK, I do watch it for hours.

I’m kind of a complicated person, and I’ve often joked my goal is simple needs, easily met. Sadly, I’m usually all about complex needs that are difficult to meet. Cooking in retirement puts me closer to my goal.

The slab pies continue to fascinate. I wrote author Cathy Barrow asking about reducing the size, and she said the recipes aren’t designed for round pies. She uses 1/4 sheet pans. I happened to notice 1/8 sheet pans do exist, and she agreed they would be perfect for her pies. Either cut the recipe in half and make one, or make two and freeze one.

I got my 1/8 sheet pans in the mail yesterday, and I’m at it again. This time it’s Cowboy Beef Stew Slab Pie with lard crust. I guess the “cowboy” comes from Ancho chili powder and coffee. Not that lard is a health food, but it’s not as bad as you think.

So many things to love about retirement, but cooking has to be among my favorites. I have more time to pay attention to what’s going on in the world, and it seems to me the world has gone crazy. The kitchen is my shelter from the storm. Something about chopping, mixing, weighing, baking, roasting, stirring and browning mellows me out. Plus, we eat well!

It’s a good thing my other favorite hobbies involve exercise.

I’ll try not to beat the slab pie drum again, but I did want to share an update about downsizing. The author provides metric weights for all ingredients, and I’ve found that to be super-helpful for cutting the recipes in half.

For example, the full recipe calls for 1/4 cup or 30 grams of all-purpose flour. I don’t have an 1/8 cup measure, but our digital scale does metric, so I just weigh 15 grams. Most of the crust recipes include versions for both one and two-crust pies, and the one-crust recipe is perfect for a two-crust pie made in a 1/8 sheet pan. Wow, say that fast three times in a row.

Cathy also tells you what steps can be completed in advance. I made the crust today – the dough rests in the refrigerator overnight. I also made the filling, as her pies call for chilled crust and chilled filling. The filling will also rest in the refrigerator overnight. Tomorrow, all I have to do is roll out dough and make pie! Splitting up tasks is also easier on the dishwasher.

The weather is cold by California standards, certainly by my standards, and it’s supposed to rain hard tomorrow. Crusty beefy pie sounds perfect to me.

Dale’s on tap to cook this evening. He’s making a breaded pork cutlet known at our house as Schnitzel on a Stick. It’s basically a pounded-out pork schnitzel made from a bone-in chop. Side dishes are steamed spinach and maybe some pan-fried potatoes (bratkartoffeln).

To drink? Dale just loaded the kegerator with Mirror Pond Pale Ale from Deschutes Brewery.

All that and Chopped. Clean jammies. A cozy fire. Perhaps a cat in the lap. Did I say simple needs, easily met?

Passport to beer

When it comes to beer, I’m no Brett Kavanaugh, but I do enjoy a brew or two. Many years ago, I drank Milwaukee’s Best Light, which was the cheapest beer available. I’d invite friends over and offer them a beer. Everyone was like, um, no thanks. Dale said it was time to upgrade my beer.

I switched to Bud Light, and that was my beer of choice for years. After living in Germany and collecting those gorgeous steins, it’s safe to say I love regular beer, but I believed it was fattening, so I mostly stuck with lights. About 10 years ago a friend suggested if I really truly loved beer, I should consider drinking the real thing.

Real beer has barley, hops, water and yeast. No corn syrup, no rice.

Not that beer is a health food, but one does one’s best to heighten the pleasure and minimize the downside. Lots of commercially brewed beer includes corn syrup and/or rice.

Of course, I did not watch the Super Bowel, but I saw commercials for Bud Light bragging about not using corn syrup like Coors Light and Miller Lite. I think they all use rice. Not like it’s poison or anything, but I have come to appreciate the taste and quality of “clean” beer.

Dale was morally opposed to light beer anyway, so my switch was good news for him. We started buying microbrews, and there was no turning back. The interesting thing is I did not gain weight when I switched to the heartier beers. Maybe because you drink less of it? Or maybe light beer is like diet soda and can actually make you gain weight?

If I wanted a light mass-produced beer these days, I would go for Amstel Light, which is tasty and seems devoid of extra stuff.

For $15 each, we purchased beer passports, which encourage people to get out and visit local breweries. There are more than 70! Each brewery stamps its section of the passport, and after four stamps, you get a bottle opener. Sixteen stamps, and you get a pint glass. Fill up the passport, and they create a custom map documenting your travels.

So far, we have three stamps. We went to one brewery not far from our home and the other two within a 30-minute drive. Our practice to date has been to arrive around 2 p.m. and have one beer each. The breweries were great, the beer was delicious and we enjoyed talking to other beer aficionados. Our passports were quite the hit with some, although others were familiar with the program and have already filled up the pages.

While your area may not have a passport program, I’ll bet you have a good selection of local breweries. If you like beer, I encourage you to visit. Most have sampler glasses, and I was also surprised to see a good selection of beer in the 4 percent ABV range, which is quite nice for an afternoon beer. Another little retirement pleasure!

By the way, I totally get it if microbrews aren’t your thing. Beer preferences are often a mishmash of taste, culture, brand loyalty and memories. Do you have a favorite beer? What makes it special to you?

Super Bowel Sunday

It’s a windy, rainy day and a good one for hanging out in the kitchen. The weather report said occasional rain, but so far it has been occasionally raining steadily since last night. Oh, yeah, I forgot. It’s the Super Bowel. I hate football, so nothing there for me.

I was thinking this morning how much I love being retired and having the opportunity to cook from scratch and eat great food that doesn’t come out of a box. In the ongoing adventures of my cooking life:

  • I’ve temporarily stopped making yogurt. Two batches in a row failed, so I decided to take a break. I’m enjoying whole milk European-style yogurt from Straus Family Creamery. No thickeners or stabilizers or any of that weird stuff. The yogurt is advertised as pourable. I add fruit and homemade granola, and it works just fine for me.
  • Yesterday I made Butter Mochi. I had never heard of it, but a friend sent me the recipe, and I’ve been itching to try it. Wow! So unusual, but right up my alley. I like chocolate, but my tastes in food lean blonde. Butter, vanilla, butterscotch, caramel. Luckily, we have neighbors who will eat anything we give them, so it’s not hanging around pointing a gun at our heads. I think it would be a nice dessert for an outdoor barbecue party.
  • I bought the slab pie book. Today I am making chicken pot pie with leftover roasted chicken. I made the all-butter crust that worked so well last time, but I only made enough for one crust. I divided it in half and will make two small free-form rustic pies. The dough is resting in the fridge now. I’m cutting the filling by half, but I suspect there will still be too much, so I’ll freeze the rest. I love the recipes from this book, and it just doesn’t seem like it should be that hard to downsize. We shall see.
  • The Instant Pot is primed to make chicken stock, using up the frozen chicken carcasses we saved from previous roast chickens. I’m waiting on grocery boy to get back from the store with the leeks I need for the chicken pot pie. Seemed less wasteful to use some of those instead of onions in the stock. The stock takes about an hour in the Instant Pot.
  • Cannabis tincture! I am almost out of the batch I made last year. I’m using the Magical Butter Machine. You just add 1 ounce of decarboxylated cannabis and 2 cups of 190 proof Everclear. Set the temperature, push the timer button and four hours later, I have tincture. It’s cycling through now, and the machine makes the strangest noises, but it’s easy and safe.

Let me say a few words about tincture. As I’ve written before, I was not using cannabis while I was working. I had a mastectomy shortly before I retired and experienced neuropathic pain throughout the scarred area. The first thing I tried was Kikoko tea, which is a low-dose cannabis product. I love it. I wouldn’t say the tea cured the pain, but I felt really good and didn’t notice the pain. I started reading up on other cannabis products to see if I could get the same results cheaper.

Enter tincture. Tincture is either made with alcohol or glycerin. You can put a few drops under the tongue for quick results, although the alcohol-based tincture burns. That’s why I mix it in juice. Or you can even add it to a spoon of honey. It takes longer to feel the effects, and it does go through your liver, but the alcohol content is quite minimal, so I don’t worry about it.

I started with a few drops and added a drop a day until I got the right dosage. I was not seeking a high. I just wanted that pleasant feeling that starts when I feel myself starting to smile. One does build up a tolerance over time. After a year of one dropperful in the morning with my juice, I gradually increased to two dropperfuls. I think that’s about ½ teaspoon.

Tincture, to me, is nothing short of a miracle. I feel happier than I have maybe in my whole life. Granted, some of that is being retired, but I can feel the difference if I miss my dose. I tend to be very anxious about everything, and a small dose of tincture daily keeps those demons at bay. My neuropathic pain is almost non-existent. Some of that can be attributed to the cannabis cream I use as well.

For people who are curious about cannabis but don’t want to smoke it, I highly recommend tincture. Dispensaries sell it – if you live in a state where they have dispensaries. It’s worth getting a medical recommendation if that’s what it takes to purchase cannabis legally where you live.

My first slab pie

Although I don’t make dessert pies often, Dale and I both adore savory pies. There’s one with fresh summer tomatoes and basil with cheddar cheese in a biscuit crust. Oh, and the recipe from an old Gourmet magazine for broccoli and sausage pie with Swiss cheese and a whole wheat crust topped with sesame seeds.

My most important rule for pie making? Never trim the excess crust – just bulk it up so there’s more.

As a crust fanatic, I’ve made my share of winners and losers. I enjoy making pie dough, but there is nothing worse than screwing it up. I’ve done reasonably well since I abandoned fancy and reverted back to my old recipe with Crisco. But I’m all about continuous improvement.

I read about a new cookbook by Cathy Barrow: Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies. At first, it didn’t appeal to me, because slab pies are big, and there’s just two of us. But then I saw the book at the library, and I had nothing to lose by checking it out.

What a unique and well-done book! I curled up on the couch and read it from front to back. She talks about pie crust in ways I have never heard it discussed. She’s an excellent writer, who explains the art of making good pies in easy-to-understand language.

Cathy includes great ideas for substituting ingredients and tips for making it ahead, which simplifies the process … because as you know, I’m retired and quite busy! She also tells you how to freeze it and how to reheat it. Stuff you want to know but cookbook authors rarely tell you.

Oh, and it turns out crust is not just flour and shortening. Recipes include cream cheese crust, caramelized onion crust, rye crust and a host of press-in crusts using crackers, cornbread, potatoes and more. The book is really a crust-lover’s dream. My only complaint is that she says to trim the excess.

Slab pies look huge, but when I saw they were made in ¼ sheet pans, it seemed less daunting. I started with Curried Chicken Pie with All-Butter Crust. The filling includes chicken, cauliflower, carrots and sugar snap peas. This is the first time I made a successful all-butter crust, and it was the first time I put the pie pan on top of a pizza stone in the oven.

I have some things to learn about rolling the dough for this new shape, but is that not a beautiful pie?

Beautiful and delicious. We’re having it again tonight. I assume it’s only a matter of time before I break down and buy the book. If you love pie, I encourage you to explore this book. I learned so much and can’t wait to try another recipe.

Maybe Poblano and Chorizo Slab Pie with a Hash Brown Crust?

Postscript: For second-night dinner, we found ourselves raiding the corners because … well … more crust. Then we had a whole middle to deal with, and that leads to the only downside of these pies. They are big. Even if you freeze the leftovers, it’s more pie than we need.

I’m still going to get the book. The recipes and instructions are fantastic, and I believe I can tinker with quantities to make a smaller round pie or even individual rustic pies, the kind where you just flap the dough over the filling. But if you have more people to feed, go for the slab!

Rainy day tuna

It’s a cold messy rainy day, and I’m thinking about tuna. I got to thinking about tuna because I love tuna and Dale was thinking about potato chips. If you put the two together, it adds up to a chunky tuna salad sandwich with just the right amount of mayonnaise and dill pickles or perhaps a creamy tuna melt with cheddar on sourdough and a side of crispy chips. Crinkles?

Perfect for a rainy day. Unless you’re thinking about tuna casserole.

That’s what I’m thinking about, anyway. I haven’t made it in years, but tuna casserole is on my brain now. I recall egg noodles, cream of mushroom soup, peas and a topping of crushed potato chips. Probably some cheese involved, and that can’t be a bad thing. I never met a cheese I didn’t like.

I looked through some of our old cookbooks and couldn’t find the combination of ingredients that spoke to me. So far, this recipe sounds the best. It’s a bit boujee compared to what I grew up with, but it sounds good to me. I would probably add some peas.

Certainly, there are those among you who do not care for canned tuna and are horrified by the thought of tuna casserole. It’s hard to fathom, but I know everyone has different tastes. I bet a bunch of us still love it.

I’m excited about making tuna casserole … but I don’t know, the tuna melt sounds good. Maybe with corn chips? I’ll probably cook tomorrow, since we are actually going out tonight (a rare occurrence). A new Asian bistro opened up not too far from our house, and it’s getting good reviews. Rain is forecast through the end of the week.

I tell you all this so you have time to send me your tuna tips. Thanks in advance.

Team-building with tamales

Dale and I love tamales and usually buy them fresh at the farmer’s market. However, we’ve been talking about making them ourselves and finally decided to just do this thing.

I like to research everything to death, and Dale flies by the seat of his pants. I pulled out the Diana Kennedy cookbooks and read up on the historic art of tamale making. I studied masa from A to Z, while Dale played computer games and thought about tamales.

He surprised me by sharing he spotted all critical tools and ingredients at the local market I’ve been to once. When did he go? Is this what he does while I’m playing golf? Cruising the markets looking for who knows what?

We were ready to make our trek to the market, when I asked about filling. He unilaterally decided to make a pork filling he’d apparently unearthed on the Internet. I might have liked a vote, consulted with Diana and others, but it sounded good to me, and it was one less thing I had to worry about.

The market delivered as promised. They had pre-prepared masa, husks and even a tamale steamer, which we bought because none of the other 10,000 pots we have would work.

For the filling, Dale braised a pork butt in the oven with not much more than an onion. After it cooled, he shredded it and added his homemade chile sauce. That’s all there was to filling. But then I didn’t make it, and I know chile sauce is messy work involving the rehydration of dried pepper pods. I find it in our freezer already made!

We set up the work station. Dough, soaked husks, filling. We began to prep and realized neither one of us knew how to roll these things. The masa was too thick, so we added a bit of juice from the pork butt to thin it out.

As for rolling, we were in hysterics trying to figure it out. The first one Dale made looked like a monster burrito, and I weighed it just to see. The mother of all tamales weighed in at nine ounces. I wanted to name it El Hefe, but Dale insisted on El Capitan. I mean, wrap it in a pizza and it could be on the menu at Taco Bell.

They got smaller after that, but I never did understand the art of the roll. Dale was better at it than I was. They were looking like tamales, and we were argument-free, when we began to discuss steam time.

Dale’s sources, real or imagined, said 45 minutes. Diana (real) said two to three hours. That’s quite a discrepancy. We pulled out other cookbooks, and yes, it varied from 45 minutes to three hours.  How do you know?

We decided it probably depends on how many are in there and the thickness of the masa. The problem was I did not want to be starving at 8 p.m. waiting another hour because the masa wasn’t cooked.

I thought this would be the big fight, but we got through it without incident, probably because neither one of us was really sure about anything. It’s harder to pick a fight when you have no ground to stand on. We decided to make them early and then reheat when it was time for dinner.

The tamales took about two hours. They were probably too thick, and the rolling technique was inconsistent and weird. However, they were absolutely delicious! We had them two nights in a row and then froze the rest in their husks. A decadent treat we learned in Texas is tamales smothered in chili.

All in all, it was way fun. We laughed a lot because we were so outside our comfort zones. As retirement partners, I highly recommend taking on a joint project of some sort. Something where you have basic skills, but you are stretching them to new limits, so you learn together.

The whole experience reminded me of a team-building exercise from work, except you can use the f-bomb, and we got to kiss at the end.

Dead Milk Walking

Cooking is part of our retirement lifestyle – more affordable and overall a healthier and tastier choice. We make some incredible food, but we’ve also experienced epic failures over the years. There might be one in the refrigerator now. I’ll make Dale taste it and see.

He’s used to it. You know when the date on the milk has expired, but you think it’s probably still good? And you don’t really want to be the one to find out? We call that Dead Milk Walking. Dale’s like the medieval taste tester who determines whether we live or die.

Today it isn’t milk. Although I did have two consecutive batches of yogurt fail. I seem to be on a roll. The culprit is chicken liver pâté I made yesterday for our New Year’s Eve spread at home. I have strong suspicions it will be awful. I don’t even want to taste it.

I gently suggested to Dale he ought to check it out first. I think he’ll do it. If he likes it, I’m in. But if he declares it inedible, the pâté is headed for the garbage disposal. I can live with the occasional cooking failure, but I hate wasting food. Chicken livers were cheap, but that would also be nearly a pound of butter down the drain.

For the record, I don’t like innards, including liver. The exception is pâté. Oh, and leberknödel, a liver dumpling we used to eat in Germany.  I tried to make them once, and they count as an epic failure. I have fond memories of kalbsleberwurst, a veal liver sausage we enjoyed in Germany – especially when spread on hearty German bread. That’s it. No hearts, no gizzards, no tripe, no kidneys.

The pâté was easy enough to make. I rinsed and patted dry the livers, and then cooked them in a pile of butter with shallots, parsley, fresh thyme. Ignited some brandy and added that. A bit of red wine. Simmered it for awhile and then let it cool to room temp. Poured it into the blender and slowly added chunks of butter. I divided it into three little tubs, thinking I would freeze two … if they should survive the taste test.

So, here we are. Decision time. The rest of our feast is store-bought for a change and includes smoked salmon, which we purchased at Whole Foods (Ducktrap Kendall Brook got good reviews). A wee bit of sustainable White Sturgeon caviar from Sterling, a runny brie and a good California Blanc de Blancs Champagne. We have some crackers, and we’ll probably buy a baguette today. I make thin buckwheat pancakes for the caviar.

There’s plenty to eat. We don’t really need the pâté. When I gathered the food up for the photo opportunity, it looked like one of those picture puzzles. Which one doesn’t belong? It smells OK, but it looks nasty.

Our ritual is to spread the treats out on the coffee table using fancy dishes and watch a movie. I haven’t seen midnight in years.

THIS JUST IN: Dale tasted the pâté and declared it excellent! Now that the coast was clear, I followed suit, and I agree — it’s actually delicious. Nice firm texture but still creamy. It should be good on the crackers with a little bite of cornichon on the side.

Happy New Year! May things never be worse than they are.