My own personal yahrzeit, where I can always see it. (Taken with Instagram at Good Ink Tattooing)
David Segal, my father, loved Thanksgiving. Along with Passover, it is one of two holidays always spent with his cousins. If someone else was hosting that year we’d go and have a great time but we would also do the entire thing all over again when we got home to Vermont, inviting friends for dinner. Even if we were hosting we’d still do it twice— that’s how much he enjoyed this meal— carving up half of the turkey on Thursday and the other half on Saturday.
His strategy was to get a forty pound turkey from a farm over the mountain and build a fire so hot in the wood cookstove that shorts were the only practical attire for the day. After years of practice and maneuvering, I think we established that a forty-two pound turkey was the largest bird that could fit in that oven. He was adamant about how he roasted his bird— basting was a silly waste of time, the only thing you really needed to do besides keep your fire hot enough was flip your bird over so it would get crispy on all sides. Stuffing was an art, something he took very seriously, and if baked outside of the bird it was called dressing. Gravy was another art, something he thickened with arrow root. Chopped liver was a delicacy, a favorite in our house and among the cousins.
David Segal would turn one turkey into two full turkey dinners and soups for over a month, freezing the carcass and making it last. There would be turkey and rice soups, matzoh ball soup, bean soups made with turkey stock and as many different kinds of beans as he could find. For lunch, and sometimes dinner, he liked to make hot open-faced turkey sandwiches. For these he would keep a pot on the stove with gravy and pieces of turkey, pushed off to the side where the temperature was a little bit lower but where it wouldn’t take long to have your meal ready.
This is our first Thanksgiving without him. As I write this I have pumpkin pies cooling, cranberry relish in the fridge, turkey necks in a pot as the beginning of a stock, freshly-churned gelato in the freezer, and chopped liver made just the way he liked it in the fridge. One of the things I’m most grateful for in life is learning how to cook and bake from both of my parents. David Segal, that funny little man who loved his giant turkeys, left an enormous void behind in March. It feels even bigger today.
This is about a non-traditional (for most people) Thanksgiving food.
Chopped liver is not a sexy food. It’s not even something I’d be expected to eat, given that I really don’t eat animals. But there are exceptions. This is another food that my father held dearly. When we gather as an extended family for Thanksgiving and Passover, chopped liver makes multiple appearances. It is eaten by all ages. Even those of us who give gefilte fish wide berth will smear a little chopped liver on bread or matzoh. Among my dad’s cousins there are different versions, learned from the previous generation.
Since he isn’t here to do it himself, I made my father’s chopped liver this year. It is very simple and is quite good on bread. I borrowed the chopping bowl and chopper from my mother— the chopper originally belonged to my grandma Bea— and used ingredients from three farms around here. The livers are from Amee Farm, from turkeys raised by my friends and whose purchasers were not interested in the giblets; onions are from Golden Russet Farm; eggs are from my neighbors at River Bend Farm.
David Segal’s Chopped Liver
Hard boil eggs ahead of time.
Bake livers on foil until just barely still pink in the center, adding liquid released by livers to the bowl.
Chop onion and saute over low heat with a little turkey fat and/or butter until translucent.
Chop all ingredients by hand in a wooden bowl until they come together in a consistency you like. (Our part of the family likes a slightly course hand-chopped finished product, other people use a food processor. David Segal was not a fan of the food processor as a kitchen tool in general or a means of making chopped liver specifically.)
Salt to taste.
David Segal was a sneaky little man and he liked to have two bowls of chopped liver. That way he could have one hidden, tucked away in a refrigerator where it wouldn’t be found. It was his way of making sure he got to have some before it was all eaten by the cousins. If he wanted to bring out the second bowl to share he could, but he didn’t have to. I’m his girl, so even though I made a smaller batch than he would have (I only had two livers to work with) I still split it between two bowls.
Today is my mother’s birthday. She left yesterday to spend the weekend with friends in Montreal. Since I am not with her today, I sent her off with a box of birthday cupcakes: poppyseed cake with a lemon-cream cheese icing, topped with a piece of my candied ginger. One box fits sixteen cupcakes perfectly, but one cake recipe makes thirty six cupcakes. Which puts me in the terrible position of having extra cupcakes on hand.
David Segal, a man who was known to drive to multiple bakeries in opposite directions before anyone else was out of bed, always said: He who has baked goods shares baked goods. So I’ve been distributing them amongst my friends. I’m down to my last three, and I know who they’re going to tomorrow.
My parents were married thirty-four years ago today, on 7 October 1977. My mother has described the cake to me more than once but the only bits that I remember are Grand Marnier and chantilly.
In other news, I made pesto. I always make mine with pecans because I think it makes a much nicer finished pesto than pine nuts and in recent years I’ve developed an allergy to walnuts. So pecans it is. Which is fine with me: they’re delicious. The basil came from the farm, the garlic was grown by a friend, and the cheese in tonight’s batch is 100% sheep’s milk pecorino romano from Italy. Yes please.
Friday was my father’s birthday. He would have been fifty-nine. Every year I would ask to make his birthday cake and every year he would say No, Judy (my mother) is making it. Last year he finally said Yes, and he was quite pleased with the finished cake.
We had a birthday dinner for him, our first without him, on Saturday. My mother asked me to make the cake. Based on the reviews of everyone at dinner I’d say even David Segal would have approved.
This is what I made: chocolate cake with raspberry sauce between the layers and a cream cheese-rum icing. I still have a chunk of it on my table, within eyesight right now, and am managing my dessert David Segal-style.
Pickling green tomatoes: that’s how I spent the evening of what would have been my father’s fifty-ninth birthday. While I was at the farm yesterday, I picked up 9+ pounds of green Roma tomatoes. Then, when I stopped at her house to pick beets, carrots, basil, apples, etc, my mother gave me a bunch of green cherry tomatoes. So back to pickling I went. I made up a big batch of brine, so there would be some leftover to use in other projects. I cold-packed the tomatoes, adding one clove of garlic, one tiny-but-super-hot pepper, and some sprigs of dill seed to each jar. For spices I added another 1/2 t. dill seed, 1/2 t. mustard seed, and 1/4 t. celery seed to each jar. In all I made 10 pints of these tomatoes, three with the cherries, seven with Romas, but had only eight of the little peppers so the last two are not spicy.
Since pickled green tomatoes are not my favorite delicacy, these will mostly be given as gifts. Which is fine— I enjoy the process of canning and get immense satisfaction from giving jars of things to other people.
This is the ultimate David Segal song. And it gets me every time.
There are many food preferences that I can deal with without any grumbling or judgements, but I just do not understand people who don’t like Pie. During a drive from the Thousand Islands region back to Brooklyn a couple years ago, I delivered a diatribe that lasted for probably twenty minutes about Pie. It may have featured my belief that baking a cake is all well and good, but if you want to tell someone you love them, you make Pie. Even if the situation isn’t as extreme as that, Pie is still more meaningful. Pie is sincere, heartfelt, comforting, unpretentious, and delicious. Pie is the best dessert treatment for most seasonal fruit. Pie makes people happy. My father called my mother the Pie Queen, possibly his highest compliment. This is a man who never gave false praise, especially when it came to food.
Today marks six months since my father died. It is cold and rainy and my driveway is still not usable. I’ve spent hours listening to Ray Charles and then switched to Richard Thompson, all while wearing my apron and doing the one thing that is most likely to make me feel better: baking.
These apples may not be the prettiest and most perfect, but they are fresh and real, grown without anything strange ever done to them: I picked them at my mother’s house. And when I was done picking apples, I walked behind the barn and harvested elderberries.
The apples and elderberries together made an amazing color— the berries started to stain the apple slices almost immediately, and this intensified after I added the sugar and stirred up the filling. Because this filling is a mix of apples and berries, I used a combination of cornstarch and tapioca granules as thickeners. The only other ingredients in the filling are the juice of one lemon and some cinnamon.
This is not an I Love You Pie, it is a Thank You Pie. Yesterday morning a friend went to Whole Foods in Boston with a list, then drove to Vermont and delivered groceries to me. He was coming up anyway, but his grocery shopping for me was a huge help. He even bought parrot food for my mother. Beginning to restock my fridge after having to throw out so much food because of losing power for days feels great. I once again have dairy, which means I can make some gelato base and begin to build up my inventory.
So here I am, in the woods, on a cold, rainy, and sad day. But I have pie. It’s a start.
It looks like I’m obsessed with quiches, but I swear that’s not true. Yes, they are delicious. Yes, I tend to fill them with green things. And Yes, I make them frequently. But that’s for two excellent reasons.
For the first time, I live alone— no relatives, no roommates. And while I absolutely refuse to let the quality of the food I make for myself and eat decline, it can be exhausting to make an entire meal every night. When I make a quiche, I have meals for days waiting for me in the fridge.
I’m grieving. For the first time in my nearly twenty-nine years, I completely lost my appetite. Food has always been my passion and obsession— growing, harvesting, making, serving, and eating it— and getting excited about it has never been something I’ve had to work at. Until March 7th. I’ve decided that right now if food appeals to me at all, I should go with it. People talk about defaulting to their comfort foods (my mother made several kugels when she started cooking again) and quiche is mine. When my father would look at a beautiful quiche my mother made, his face would glow with pride. Even though I know it won’t happen, it’s nice to think that he’ll show up to share mine with me.
My father died ten days ago. This is us in the mid-1980s.