My late grandma, a truly classy lady, is often on my mind, but November is when I think about her the most.
That's because "Nan," as nearly everyone called her, not only hosted legendary Thanksgiving celebrations every year (I wrote about these back in 2008; read about them here) but also marked her birthday each Nov. 29.
If she were still with us, we'd be celebrating her 100th birthday this year -- and she'd be the life of the party.
Because her birthday fell so close to Thanksgiving, we often made it a gala family occasion. We didn't necessarily celebrate on her actual birthday, though it sometimes worked out that way. What we had was a morning-after-Thanksgiving birthday brunch.
Sometime during the night, the tables that had seated 30 or 40 Thanksgiving guests would have been taken down. We'd be back to a single, center table running the length of the dining room. And the family members who had spent the night in Nan's guest bedrooms -- plus my family, who lived five minutes away -- would gather for this after-party.
I think the idea was that the other family members would cook for Nan, but it didn't really work out that way --you could never chase Nan out of her own kitchen. She'd be right in there with her finger in the pot. But the women of the family would make up a tasty brunch -- just what you want after a night of pigging out on turkey-n-trimmings, right? But our family never missed an opportunity for a big feed, especially when Nan was around to push third helpings on people.
I don't quite remember what we ate, though I'm sure it was good, given the slate of good cooks in my family. I have vague memories of an apple-stuffed French toast dish one year. (Below, I'm sharing what have since become two of my own favorites in the brunch category.)
I do, however, recall the beverage menu: Champagne. For the adults, that is. And do you remember the era of "fuzzy navels" (orange juice and peach schnapps)? I'm really dating myself here, but the adults drank those, too. As an under-ager, all I ever scored was some O.J.
So... this month I'm raising a glass and a plate to Nan on her centennial. Happy birthday, Nan. November has never been the same without you.
Stroll the Strip: Enjoy tastings and surprises while walking around to various Strip District businesses, or explore on a circulating double-decker bus. Start at Marty's Market, 2305 Smallman St., or at Pittsburgh Public Market, Smallman and 17th streets. 5 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29 with after-party from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Cruze Bar, 1600 Smallman St. Advance tickets are $50 for one or $75 for two; individual tickets at the door are $65. The event is open to ages 21 and older only. For information, participating vendor list or tickets: neighborsinthestrip.com.
The Twelve Cheeses of Christmas: Cheese class with tastings. 7 p.m. Dec. 1 at McGinnis Sisters, Monroeville. $20. To register: 412-858-7000. ext. 7.
Sonoma Goes Rogue: Communal-style beer tasting and six-course dinner. 7 p.m. Dec. 3 at Sonoma, Downtown. $75. 412-697-1336.
Blueberry French toast
- 12 slices day-old white bread, crusts removed
- 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
- 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
- 12 eggs
- 2 cups milk
- 1/3 cup syrup
- For the sauce
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
- 1 tablespoon butter
Cut bread into 1-inch cubes; place half in a greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Cut cream cheese into 1-inch cubes; place over bread. Top with blueberries and remaining bread.
In a large bowl, beat eggs. Add milk and syrup; mix well. Pour over bread mixture. Cover and chill for 8 hours or overnight.
Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Cover; bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover; bake 25 to 30 minutes longer or until center is set.
In a small saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch and water until smooth. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook and stir for 3 minutes. Stir in blueberries; reduce heat. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes or until berries have burst. Stir in butter until melted. Serve with French toast.
Serves 6 to 8.
-- "Taste of Home"
Greek-style breakfast pizza
This is less a recipe than a suggestion. I invented this for a brunch once when I had a leftover ball of pizza dough hanging around my freezer. You could top this pizza with virtually anything. Sliced green onions, artichoke hearts or pepperoncini rings would fit well with the Greek theme. But you could go Italian (sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and basil), Southern breakfast (cheddar and sausage), or traditional pizza (pepperoni, mushrooms and cheese), depending on the tastes of the crowd you're feeding.
-- Rebecca Sodergren
- Dough for 1 12-inch pizza crust
- 4 eggs
- Salt and pepper
- 3/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella, divided
- 1 can sliced black olives, drained
- 2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 1/4 orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
- 4 ounces feta
Shape pizza dough into a 12-inch or so disc and place on a greased pizza pan or stone. Bake at 425 degrees for about 12 minutes or until golden-brown. Remove from oven.
Meanwhile, beat the eggs, add a bit of water and some salt and pepper, and pour the eggs into a large, greased, oven-proof skillet that is slightly smaller in diameter than the pizza crust you have just made. Do not disturb the eggs after pouring (it will look as if you are making the first step of an omelet). When the bottom of the eggs has set, place pan in oven and bake a little longer, until top has also set.
Scatter 1/2 cup mozzarella over the crust. Invert skillet over crust so the circle of cooked egg falls on top of the mozzarella. (The mozzarella is there to help the eggs adhere to the crust.)
Scatter the remaining 1/4 cup mozzarella over the egg round. Top with olives, tomatoes, bell pepper, parsley and feta. Bake 5 more minutes or until toppings are hot.
-- Rebecca Sodergren
Rebecca Sodergren: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter: @pgfoodevents.