Sunday, August 15, 2010

Thanksgiving: not just for November

It’s no secret that I love Thanksgiving. I love it so much that I try to cook a Thanksgiving meal about twice a year – why limit such a delicious spread and the concept of giving thanks to a single day? So when I saw that the weekend weather was going to be cloudy and filled with showers – the perfect weather to cook a heavy meal - I made some last-minute plans to host a Thanksgiving last Sunday.

My last two Thanksgivings went down in Argentina (click here for the first and the second). Although both dinners turned out really well, finding the right ingredients was always a struggle and my shopping had to be done over the course of a week and about a dozen different stores. Certain things I compromised on – making blueberry instead of cranberry sauce – but I special imported French’s fried onions and a turkey baster both times, because neither of those items has a suitable substitute.

So imagine my pleasant surprise when, even in August, I only had to go to 3 places to get everything I needed in the good old US of A. First I called Bob’s Quality Meats in Columbia city and had them take a 14 pound turkey out of the freezer for me. Then I hit up MacPherson’s, the world’s greatest produce stand on Beacon Hill. Finally, I went to Safeway for the staples: pumpkin pie essentials, bread for dressing, fried onions, black olives and gherkins (a must in my family), and so on. The only thing I couldn’t find this time of year was fresh cranberries, but luckily I’m experienced making blueberry sauce. I also couldn't find a pumpkin from which to truly make pie from scratch, but there's always the fall for that.

Day 1, Saturday: Preparation

Thanksgiving is really a two-day cooking affair. While it can all be done in one day, certain things are easier and more delicious when prepared in advance. On Saturday I did my shopping and got right to work. I:

• Started the process of making perfectly good bread go stale
• Made ranch and tzaziki dip, plus cut up the vegetables for crudités
• Roasted vegetables for a carrot/cauliflower/tahini salad (a new addition to my standard T-day spread and not one I will repeat – it just didn’t “go” with everything else)
• Chopped and assembled a Waldorf salad
• Patiently simmered blueberries in water, sugar, orange and lemon juice, and ginger
• Soaked fruit in white zinfandel, vodka, and cinnamon for a light, summery spritzer
• Made pie crust plus 2 pumpkin pies and 3 tiny extra pies with leftover crust and filling (one of which Ryan got to eat that night since pumpkin pie is one of his favorites and I love a happy audience).

It was also Seafair weekend, so I took a break to watch the Blue Angels buzz our house a few times (we’re in the path between Boeing and Lake Washington so there’s a lot to see from our front porch). This is not zoomed in:

I was in the kitchen from about noon to 7 pm before heading out to a birthday party/house show. Suffice to say I was tired but satisfied with my progress.

Day 2, Sunday: Happy Thanksgiving!

I took it easy Sunday morning because the bird didn’t need to go in until about 1 pm and I could do the rest of what I needed to get done while it cooked.

Like most of my Thanksgiving dishes, I always make the turkey the exact same way: stuff it with an apple and an onion, rub sage butter all over it, baste it in a white wine broth, and cover it in bacon. There are usually 2-3 rounds of bacon for a total of about 2 pounds. Yes, it’s delicious to eat. Yes, it makes ridiculously good gravy.

While the bird cooked, I:

• Watched the Blue Angels fly their last show
• Roasted a head of garlic
• Assembled the stuffing (I make it with apples, celery, and pecans)
• Prepared the green bean casserole (fresh beans are a must!)
• Boiled and mashed the hell out of potatoes, served two ways: one buttery, sour creamy, and garlicky, and the other bleu cheesy
• Did some general clean-up and set-up around the house (I am a big fan of cleaning as you go!)

I didn't take a lot of pictures and my camera died right as we started eating, but my sister snapped this one which I like a lot. If you look closely there are a lot of details captured:

I love Thanksgiving dinner because most everything can be made ahead of time. The only real coordination needs to come at the very end, which has the potential to be a very stressful 30 minutes. This is the time the bird comes out and rests, the stuffing and green beans go in the oven, and the gravy gets made.

Gravy is a pain in the you-know-what to make. I spent about a year learning how to make and fix gravies, and while at this point I can almost always salvage a gravy gone wrong, there remains that nagging worry in the back of my head that it might go irrevocably wrong. The gravy is really the glue that ties the whole plate together. Let’s face it, without gravy, a Thanksgiving meal is incomplete. No pressure!

Luckily the gravy turned out perfectly, as did the rest of the food. Here's Tessa enthusiastically - and then self-consciously ("can I start??")- making the first plate:

About 10 of us sat around my living room, going back for seconds and thirds and giving thanks for, at my request, “trivial things.” (It always bugs me when giving thanks devolves into “I’m grateful for my friends and family and for this meal.” Those are good things but not exactly creative!)

I waited a few minutes before pushing pumpkin pie and fresh whipped cream on the crowd, which was enthusiastically received despite protests of “too… full….” Yep, just like Thanksgiving in November!

The next day K, M, baby J and I ate Thanksgiving round 2, and leftovers were generally enjoyed for a few solid days. I also produced one of the most delicious turkey soups I think I’ve ever made, the last of which is waiting to be eaten or frozen (the latter being more likely since it’s going to hit 95 today). All in all a Thanksgiving well celebrated.

For me, Thanksgiving has become a meaningful and important ritual. I’m grateful that people are willing to celebrate it as often as I’m willing to cook it!


AmberAnda said...

I love your willingness to have Thanksgiving at any time of the year! That sounds delicious. In fact, I know it was because I have been lucky enough to eat one of your early-January Thanksgiving meals. I don't need the works, but can I take a raincheck for the waldorf salad, stuffing (SO good), and summer spritzer when I return? :)

ElizaBeth said...

Amber - but of course! It's always a delight to cook for people who love to eat.