“The value of a dish is the pleasure it brings you; where you are sitting when you eat it – and who you are eating it with – are what matter.” -Anthony Bourdain
It started like any other day, until I checked in on my Instagram feed. There was one picture after another of one of our culinary idols. A man who seemingly embodied the principals of Fat, Drunk and Fancy. A man who publicly lived life to the fullest, and inspired us in many ways. A man whose inner darkness seemingly overtook him. It was an endless stream of pictures of Anthony Bourdain. He killed himself in his hotel room in France, where he had been filming Parts Unknown. How could this be? How could somebody who not only shares our passion for a food experience, but who also understands that it’s not about the food but about the people you’re sharing it with, kill himself? It’s almost too much for our brains to process.
Over the last couple of days since the news broke, we’ve both felt such sadness and such loss. Our conversations are filled with memories of Anthony; different episodes of Parts Unknown and No Reservations, interviews in different media outlets, excerpts from Kitchen Confidential. But mostly, it’s about the feeling that we’ve always felt when we think about him. Anthony Bourdain was seemingly able to accomplish what we are trying to create at Fat, Drunk & Fancy – an unapologetic, real, unpolished community of people who came together over food to try new things and ask questions to learn from one another about living life on their terms.
In its ability to bring people together and make us feel safe, happy and comforted, I guess I’ve always thought that food saves lives. At least, this has been our reality; loving food so much and wanting to share it with people to create those experiences where you can learn more about people, their values and hopefully then more about yourself. And so, when this belief is shaken like it was by Anthony’s suicide, we find ourselves asking, “What are we missing?”. We don’t have that answer yet, but it continues to be one we are looking for and hoping to provide in Fat, Drunk & Fancy.
One theme that continues to come up as the stories of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain unfold, coupled with the staggering statistics in the rise of suicide over the last 15+ years is the role of community and real human connection in society, or rather, the lack thereof. On the Friday following Anthony Bourdain’s death, Sheryl Sandberg said to MIT grads, “I hope you will use your influence to make sure technology is a foray for good in the world. Technology needs a human heartbeat; the things that bring us joy and bring us together are the things that matter most.” Now more than ever, there is a dire need for a place where people feel like they are a part of something that is real. A place where there is empathy, honesty, courage, passion and love. We believe the thing that will bring these people to this place is the food, and the feeling you have around the kitchen table. In a way, I think that’s what Anthony Bourdain did for us – he brought us to a place where we felt we could be exactly who we are without apology, and he did it with food as the catalyst. Yet maybe this place and this feeling is what Anthony was missing for himself, and so we are doing all that we can to make sure that Fat, Drunk & Fancy is this place for someone else. We’re not pretending to be able to save lives, but maybe, if we provide that much-needed human heartbeat that we are all reaching out for, we can do some good for the world and those who long for that connection in the silence of their hearts and minds.
So I get a fair amount of crap from my lovely wife about my affinity for a certain cocktail: the black Manhattan. This is a drink I make at home (I’m enjoying one as I write this post actually) and order out whenever I get a chance (or remember). It’s also true that I have taught several bartenders across the country how to make this drink, simply because they weren’t familiar with it. That doesn’t make me special, it makes me a fan of the drink! So, how did this love affair with a particular libation come to be, and how can one do it at home? So glad you asked because I’m ready to share!
My first experience with the black Manhattan was two years ago in Denver. The location was Matsuhisa, a to die for sushi joint that is part of the Nobu Matsuhisa’s group of restaurants (yes, that Nobu). If you’re in Denver and are craving sushi, make your reservation now. I’ll wait.
So I was the first in my party to arrive, so I did what any self respecting traveler would do, I headed to the bar. There I perused the menu and settled on the “New Brooklyn.” My bartender informed me that the cocktail was better known as the Black Manhattan. One sip and I was hooked. Be sure to order one when you get there and get hooked as well.
So after several cocktails, I had a new favorite. Obviously my intention was to bring this back home and enjoy it out and about, as well as while sitting on my couch. A few weeks later it was off to a local haunt to meet some clients and my lovely bride. Of course I ordered a Black Manhattan, but I was met with a puzzled look. Education time my friend! After a quick lesson and insisting that the bartender try the drink, a new favorite was available (Addams Tavern in Westfield NJ now makes an excellent Black Manhattan). Ever since I have been spreading the good word of this cocktail, much to my wife’s embarrassment!
So what is this lovely drink? It’s quite simple and only requires one addition to a well stocked home bar. Rye is the preferred base, but you can certainly use bourbon. I enjoy it with Bulliet or Angel’s Envy Rye. The second ingredient is Averna, a Sicilian liqueur that replaces the sweet vermouth that traditionally makes up a Manhattan. Two parts rye, one part Averna. A few shakes of angastora bitters and an orange peel, and you have a masterpiece on your hands (and in your glass). I typically enjoy mine with a large cube, but you can certainly enjoy it up if that’s your style. Please, for the love of all things good and holy, try it. Let me know what you think, and if you’ve become completely obsessed with it, to the point of annoying your spouse. Only then have you truly arrrived. Now to finish my drink…
Ever since we started this adventure, we’ve wanted to pound the pavement from a local perspective. A little visit to Facebook, and a post from the Cranford Patch, revealed a golden opportunity. A mere two miles from us was a new venture in day two of their soft opening. We wanted to grab a cocktail anyway that afternoon, so off we went to Cranford NJ. Were this a summer day, we could have easily walked, but it’s December and it was cold, so the five-minute drive was our option. As luck would have it, there was a spot directly in front of our destination. Behold, Yale Terrace Brewery.
The downtown brewery and tasting room is a welcome addition to Cranford. Among the countless restaurants, bars, coffee shops, Yale Terrace Brewery is a special treat, and kudos to the town for helping to make this happen. Other towns in the area should take note (Westfield, I’m looking at you). From outside you could see the stark green wall by the bar, and the accent walls (which we learned were created entirely of pallets that one of the owners broke down and finished himself), and a bustling crowd enjoying what we were about to become part of.
We were greeted warmly upon entry by the crew, as well as by the patrons who were there before us. We grabbed two seats at the hand crafted bar and were asked the standard question upon entering a brewery in the state of NJ, “would you like to take a tour?” Obviously the answer is yes, because not only is it interesting to learn the brewing process, but to hear the story truly relays the passion of the brewers themselves. Tom guided us to the back of the brewery, where a single still sat. He explained the process and the still they used that actually submerged the grain in a large metal device, best described as “a really big tea bag.” He also explained how most of the downstairs is taken up by the various beers in different stages of the brewing process. You could see the excitement in Tom’s voice and demeanor, this was his pride and joy.
Back to our seats at the bar (which had plugs, USB ports and hooks under the bar in front of our seats), and the next big question, “what would you like?” Being enthusiasts for all things food and drink, we made the obvious choice: everything! As luck would have it, one can order a flight of four beers, so we ordered two flights and selected virtually everything available from the blackboard at the center of the bar on the green wall. Our bartenders, Nick and Scott, were fantastic, great conversationalist and knowledgeable about the product. They also had a great dynamic between the two of them and worked well with us to coordinate our selections. We were presented with two boards and eight glasses, and the tasting began.
As we sat enjoying our brews, we observed patrons from all walks of life. Friends of the brewery, businessmen stopping in before heading home, a family of four with their dinner from Vinnie’s Pizza & Pasta which is conveniently located next door to the brewery, friends stopping in for a drink before a movie across the street, and the newlyweds reviewing the whole scene (that’s us). A true cross-section of this suburban New Jersey town.
As we moved on through our flights, we began a conversation with Pete, who with Tom and Vinnie (the owner of the pizzeria next door) made up the ownership group of Yale Terrace. Pete spent what felt like an hour with us, and the conversation was amazing as we learned about the home brewing and blind taste tests he and Tom would run with friends, the challenging regulatory landscape for breweries, and a tremendous history of brewing in New Jersey. His vision was to create a local brewery, much like those that existed prior to prohibition and the power of large breweries and distributors.
We also learned their history, from growing up in West Orange, to the origins of the names of their beers, each an address of relevance from their pasts. Soon the walls will include the back stories of these addresses turned beers, and we can’t wait to return to learn more. Each of the owners has a full-time job, but it’s clear this is their collective passion. That passion is reflected in the quality of the product and the atmosphere throughout the brewery. This is a fun, comfortable and approachable place, certainly worth the stop before we headed out for dinner. There will be many return trips, and the rotating taps will make it a new adventure each time, but the welcoming atmosphere makes this a place you want to return to soon and often.
Beating the snow down the Garden State Parkway, we arrived at The Mission Inn for our 3rd Annual Cape May Christmas Trip, and were greeted by Wendy Collins, one of the Inn’s two owners. She welcomed us with a big smile on her face, saying “uh oh, here comes trouble” and hugged us like we were family. Shortly after we stepped inside and into the cozy living room, where there was a warm fire in the fireplace and a large Christmas tree next to it, Laura Shaddock, the Inn’s second owner came out to greet us. Again, big, warm, welcoming hugs all around. We all chatted for a little bit, catching up on the year’s events, before we went to our respective rooms to settle in and get ready for the “Afternoon Refreshments” (code: Happy Hour) that are served daily, from 4-5pm.
Nick and I headed up to the 2nd floor and to our room, the San Luis Rey de Francis. Styled after the California Spanish Missions, The Mission Inn is altogether different from the Victorian B&B’s known to Cape May. I actually had never stayed at a B&B prior to our 1st Cape May Christmas Trip in 2015. I’ve never considered myself a B&B kind of girl — they always seemed sort of stuffy to me. I pictured old Victorian homes, with a smell of must/nursing home in the air; fragile little tchotchkes as far as the eye can see; and the worst part – sharing meals (and God forbid, bathrooms) with strangers. Not my scene. Like, at all. The Mission Inn could not be further from this description. For starters, walk into the Inn and Laura and Wendy make you feel immediately like you are at home. There are three common rooms, including a veranda where you can enjoy breakfast or relax during the warmer months. There is also a dining room, which is another seating option for the tasty breakfast that you will enjoy during your stay. There is also the aforementioned living room with the fireplace, and then a large room that serves as both a living room/eat in kitchenette. In this last common room, there is a large table which serves as an additional option for breakfast, as well as several couches, another fireplace, a tv/dvd and a coffee table with a large tray featuring a massive jigsaw puzzle that changes with the season. This year’s puzzle was a 3D Santa Claus that had our little group working diligently during various free points during our stay. (Spoiler alert: We finished the puzzle!). In the kitchenette, you’ll find a refrigerator stocked with some non-alcoholic beverages like lemonade, but also some wine, as well as a selection of beers some of which are local to Cape May. Laura in particular is a beer aficionado, and has a particular fancy for sour beers. It’s always worth it to try one that she has in the fridge. You’ll also find an endless selection of teas, coffee, hot chocolate and the piece de resistance, a cookie jar that holds a never ending supply of Chef Leslie’s oatmeal and cranberry (or in some instances, chocolate chip) cookies. They are addicting and the jar is ALWAYS full. Consider yourself warned. As you move to the bedrooms, there are 8 in total; 4 upstairs and 4 downstairs. Each is modeled after a different mission and you only need to look above the entrance to your room to see the hand painted sign that displays the name of the mission after which your room has been designed. The paintings on the walls transport you to the mission in California. The San Luis Rey, for instance, has a mural on the ceiling that represents the partially collapsed Mission Chapel’s domed ceiling. The headboard in each room is handcrafted and designed to reflect the front elevation of the mission. There is a fireplace in each room, a king size bed with probably the most comfortable mattress that I’ve ever slept on and radiant heat in the bathroom, which is so very welcomed when stepping out of the shower. Seriously, it’s hard to not just hole up in your room for the entirety of your stay. However, if you did that then you wouldn’t enjoy the delights that are the “Afternoon Refreshments” (again, code for Happy Hour!), or the breakfasts that are served from 8-9:30am each morning. And oh, the breakfasts. They are not to be missed, and given that there is a 2 night minimum stay, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy them!
Nick and I like to really toe the line when it comes to our breakfast arrival. In fact, Wendy or Laura will typically send us off to bed (or more commonly leave us to put themselves to bed) saying, “So, we’ll see you at 9:29 tomorrow?”. Seriously though, did I mention the beds? They are just so comfy, it’s hard to leave them. Whenever you happen to make your way to breakfast, whether it’s 8:01 or 9:29, no sooner are you seated at the table, and in comes Laura and/or Wendy with a hot pot of coffee and a selection of juice for your choosing. By juice, we’re not talking plain OJ here, people. How about cranberry-pomegranate? Or blueberry-apple? The list goes on and on, and I have to be honest, sometimes I don’t want any but I have Laura or Wendy repeat the list for my own personal entertainment. Fortunately, they haven’t caught on to me just yet. Very shortly thereafter, in comes Chef Leslie with a plate of fruit so elegantly designed, you almost hate to eat it. Almost. During the first breakfast of our stay, we enjoyed a quarter of a pineapple, with the pieces carved out and resting in their rind. Also, some strawberries and a magnificent vanilla-y yogurt concoction for dipping. Our second breakfast included a poached pear, with dried cranberries sprinkled atop and again a yogurt-y goodness alongside. Once you’ve quite finished your fruit, your plate is cleared and in comes the main feature. We enjoyed an egg frittata over an asparagus purée with a roasted red pepper drizzle. It was accompanied by a blueberry breakfast sausage and a chocolate chip muffin. Delightfully savory, with a touch of sweet. The muffin was like a dessert – and I ask you, who doesn’t want dessert with breakfast? Dessert should be a requirement with every meal, no matter the time of day. Breakfast, day two, was french toast stuffed with strawberries and cream, and topped with powdered sugar, pomegranate perils and an orange slice. The accompaniment was bacon. Talk about dessert for breakfast – this main event was deliciously sweet, with a touch of savory. Two very different breakfasts, both with balanced flavors, an artistic touch and the perfect fuel before a day about town.
You’ll find that after a breakfast like the ones Chef Leslie features, you plan your day around being back at the Inn for Afternoon Refreshments, which begins at 4pm, daily. It is one of the many opportunities that you’ll have to spend time with Wendy and Laura, as well as socializing with other guests (if that’s your thing). It’s also another opportunity to enjoy some tasty little bites from Chef Leslie. Her deviled eggs are not to be missed, and they are sure to be featured at least once during your two night stay. We also enjoyed Leslie’s Famous Chili, which was perfect after a cold day, a spicy hummus, spinach dip, a cheese medley, antipasto – all delights that you would expect to find featured on any happy hour menu. Given our affinity for all things booze (we are Fat, Drunk and Fancy after all), we bring several bottles of wine to enjoy during Afternoon Refreshments, as well as a bottle of brown liquor for after dinner drinks. If you’re so lucky, and typically we always are, Wendy and Laura may even join you for a drink after you return from your dinner to catch up on your day and whatever other topics come about.
The breakfasts, the happy hour spread, the jigsaw puzzle, the cozy beds are all perfectly wonderful reasons to visit The Mission Inn. But it is Wendy, Laura and the feeling of home that will have you booking your next visit before your current visit is over, missing the Inn before you have even left Cape May, and have you finding yourself looking for reasons to sneak a weekend or a mini vacation in before too much time has gone by. Sharing the experience with whomever you consider to be your family only enhances the experience, and before the end of your stay, you will undoubtedly be adding Wendy and Laura to those who you call family, and we at Fat, Drunk and Fancy call, “famiglia”.
*disclaimer: If you happen to find yourself at the Inn during our yearly Christmas pilgrimage, all I can say is, #sorrynotsorry.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday to host. I mean let’s face it, I love hosting any event, but Thanksgiving in particular brings me all the warm and fuzzies. As with many of my childhood memories, my love for all things turkey and family goes back to my Grandparents. From the time I was born until I was 33 (with the exception of 1 year), I spent every Thanksgiving (and Christmas Eve) at my Grandparents house. It wasn’t until Nick and I moved in together and we sold my Grandparents house that I began hosting Thanksgiving in my home.
On Thanksgiving morning, I would wake up at my Dad’s house and we would watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. We would leave his house at around 11:15am, and walk into my Grandparents just before Santa Claus came down the parade route into Herald’s Square. The house was warm with the smell of the turkey in the oven. The dinner table was always set and waiting for all of the delicious food that would soon be atop it. Walking into the kitchen, there were appetizers and wine on the table. There was a calm in the house and everything was tidy. You’d never know that my Grandparents had just spent 3 days preparing a meal for 10-12 people. It was incredible and I loved it.
Many, many years later, when I was in my late 20’s, I started to help my Grandparents prepare/cook for Thanksgiving and finally learned the secret to their success. It’s all about the prep. My Grandmother would start on Monday by making the pie crusts for the Pumpkin and Apple pies and the cranberry sauce. On Tuesday she would make the pies. Wednesday was the busiest day – washing vegetables, preparing all of the other side dishes, cleaning out the turkey. Once Thursday came, all of the hard work was done and it was a matter of getting things into the oven at the right moment so that they would all get on the table at the same time. My Grandmother had been preparing a Thanksgiving dinner since she and my Grandfather were first married, and she had always run the show like this. Even when my Grandmother was still working, she would prep like this when she got home from her day job. And this was how they ran any holiday or family event. Anytime we were going to my Grandparents house, when we walked in that door, my Grandparents greeted us and were ready to host. It was how I learned how to host, and why I start the prep for Thanksgiving, or any family event, days before company is set to arrive. Once my company shows up, I want as much prepared as possible so that I too can enjoy the time together. La famiglia; that’s what it’s all about.
So, I’m sharing my tips/tricks to host a successful Thanksgiving dinner, but they are transferable ideas that you can use when hosting any holiday or family gathering. The steps are simple:
1 Create a menu
2 Create a shopping list
3 Prepare what you can in advance
4 Prepare your home
5 Sit back and enjoy your company
Without further ado, my Thanksgiving prep:
1 week before Thanksgiving:
Create your menu. I mostly make the same dishes every year, but typically like to add a new item or slightly alter one of my staple dishes. It all depends on who’s coming (i.e. are there any picky eaters?), and how many people I’m having. Then there are the dishes that are staples and I will likely always serve them just the way that my Grandmother did. In fact there was only one of those dishes on my table this Thanksgiving – my Gram’s Sweet Potato Bake. It’s fresh yams, with oats/brown sugar/butter/cranberries folded in, and then mini marshmallows melted on top. I had an Aunt who used to scrape all of the marshmallows off. She is no longer invited to Thanksgiving dinner.
Create your shopping list. I tend to write and re-write my list a few times so that all of the produce is together, all of the dairy is together, etc. If you’re not a Type A personality, then simply create your list however it works best for you.
Buy your Tupperware. Everybody likes leftovers! Make sure you have Tupperware that you can fill with leftovers for people to take home.
Take your turkey out of the freezer. Depending on the size of your bird(s), you may need to take it out of the freezer and put it into the refrigerator as early as Saturday. It typically takes around 24 hours for each 4-5lbs of frozen turkey you are thawing in the fridge.
Go food shopping. I can’t stress this point enough – go food shopping as early in the morning as you can. I tend to be there when they are opening the doors. Get in and get out. That’s how you survive the holiday supermarket crazies.
Make your cranberry sauce. I’ll never understand why people buy canned or jarred cranberry sauce when it’s so easy to make on your own. Take a bag of fresh cranberries (they’ll be all over the produce section of your supermarket the week of Thanksgiving), a cup of sugar, some orange zest, and a tablespoon or 2 of water and cook over low-medium heat until the cranberries burst. That’s it. No need to get fancy here because nobody eats it anyway! Also, leftovers are great on some Brie and phyllo dough. Or wrapped in a crescent roll. I digress.
Make your pie crusts. Another thing that’s so easy to make, but people buy them. It’s flour, shortening and ice cold water. That’s it! Once they’re made, wrap the dough in plastic wrap an leave in the fridge overnight.
Make your pies. Pumpkin, apple, whatever. Make it, bake it, let it cool and put it in the fridge until Thursday.
Wash and prep your vegetables. You can prep all of your vegetables (except potatoes) and put them in a ziplock with a few damp papertowels and they’ll be fine by the time you’re ready to make them on Thursday.
Dry out your bread for stuffing. Tear/cut your bread into cubes and put it in a 300 degree oven for 35-45 minutes until it’s completely dried out. Store it in a ziplock bag until Wednesday.
Clean your turkeys. Take the turkeys out of the fridge and get them cleaned up and pre-seasoned. Stuff them with paper towels, cover them with plastic wrap and put ‘em into the fridge until tomorrow.
Make your stuffing. No explanation needed here. You’ll be happy you already pre-washed and pre-chopped all of that celery and onion though.
Make any other sides. For 2017, I made my sweet potato bake, green been casserole (no cream of mushroom soup here!) and goat cheese mashed potatoes the day before Thanksgiving. Take a look at your recipes – you’ll be surprised how much you can do the day before. If you’re making brussel sprouts with bacon, cut up the bacon today. If you’re using breadcrumbs in/on top of any dishes, make those. If you’re making a signature cocktail, make that. There’s a lot you can do in advance and come Thursday morning, you’ll be happy you did.
Set your table. No explanation needed, but don’t forget the wine glasses and water glasses.
Gather your serving dishes, bowls, utensils. Most of what you’ve already prepared will likely be in the dish that you’re going to serve it in on Thanksgiving. That being said, you’ll need something for your turkey to go on, dishes or bowls for the vegetable sides you’re making, or for the appetizers you might be serving. And ofcourse, you need something to serve all of this food with! So grab the serving forks, spoons, etc that you’ll need for the day as well and put them on the table.
Review your recipes, create a schedule for the oven. Take a few quick minutes to do a once over on your recipes for the sides you need to make on Thanksgiving. Also, take a few more moments to make a quick note (mental or on paper) about what has to go in the oven at what time so that all of the food gets on the table at the same time. I am supremely lucky in that I have two ovens, and this year Nick smoked one turkey and fried one, so I had both ovens to utilize all day. If you only have one oven and have to roast your turkey, then you are definitely going to want to take the time to go through this step.
Put coffee into the coffee pot. No really, do it. When you’re in the middle of cleaning up the epic amount of dishes from dinner, you’ll be glad you did.
Put all of your dessert dishes, coffee cups into a convenient place. Again, so that you don’t have to go running around for this stuff after dinner.
Set up your bar. If you’re family is a bunch of boozehounds like mine, get your bar set up with mixers, bar ware, cups/glasses, etc. Pull the wine that you plan on drinking throughout the day, or for dinner, and put it out on the table.
And here we are on Thursday. All of the hard work is over! Take the morning to enjoy the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade with a cup of coffee and relax a bit. About 30 minutes before your guests arrive, start the music, light your candles (if using), open the wine, and put your appetizers out, if serving, 15 minutes or so before you expect guests. Things will get a little crazy as you start putting things into the oven and pulling them out, but at this point you’ll have people around to help you. While you’re pre-made side dishes are in the oven, cook your vegetables and make your gravy. Another moment when you’ll be glad you prepped them in advance!
More than anything else, enjoy the day with your family! That’s why you did all of the work ahead of time, so sit back, have a glass of wine and enjoy. Cheers.