Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Let the holiday season begin!

The holidays are here! I've never grown jaded or become "too cool for school" when it comes to the holiday season. I love the overplayed Christmas songs, the cheesy traditions, and ingesting all those empty calories. Fortunately I've found a kindred in my new friend Melissa, who spent the night a few times over the past several weeks on visits from her home in Fort Bragg. On one such night we went to the grocery store for something very sensible, and came home with all the fixings for gingerbread houses.

Getting Our Gingerbread On

A few of the many things going on here: two cans of
frosting, sour patch kids and dots, gluten-free animal
cookies, persimmon slices, wasabi peas, frito twists,
and a Trader Joe's lager. 
I help myself to some frosting...

...while Melissa indulges in some Fritos.
That wig is popular these days!
My house from the front. Notice the bison pet and the
sour patch kids lounging in the cupcake liner hot tub.
Melissa was convinced that hers was much, much better.
I admit that it was, though mine was much, much tidier.

Thanksgiving Warm-Up

Later that week, the Road B crew put on their annual massive Thanksgiving, which happens the Sunday before. Carson and I got all gussied up and made a trial sweet potato casserole to bring. Unfortunately no one told us about the 4 hour change in start time, so while we felt fashionably late, we actually showed up to an empty venue. A few drinks and some football later and we were back. The food was incredible! I skipped the long line for the meat table (four turkeys! ribs! a gallon of gravy!) and helped myself to heaps of the amazing vegetarian entrees. Eventually I went back for meat but it almost wasn't necessary. Here's a shot of one of the rooms (yes, there were two rooms of people, though this was the more crowded one).

Thanksgiving, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

For the actual Thanksgiving day celebration, Mary Anne and Howie were kind enough to invite us to their 20-year-long tradition of co-hosting with another family. This year it was at their house, and I helped Mary Anne menu plan. She wanted to pre-carve the turkeys like she'd seen Julia Child do, and I suggested we recruit Carson for his butchering expertise. He did not disappoint! He even wielded a hatchet when the butcher knife was nowhere to be found. Here he is while Mary Anne and her son Drew (note the incredible Terminator t-shirt) look on:

I made gluten-free cornbread stuffing for the birds, plus regular bread stuffing for general consumption. I also made a Chinese broccoli salad which was really fresh and crisp against all those other rich, mushy dishes, and of course, pies. I'm happy to report they turned out perfectly! I made one pumpkin and one pecan, both delicious. The crusts were a hit. I put them in the freezer before baking so they were as cold as possible per a trick I read online, and it really helped slow their bake time. This is definitely my go-to gluten-free crust from now on. Even two days later it was still tasty.

Carson made version two of the sweet potato casserole, this time swapping goat cheese for heavy whipping cream. That plus thyme and honey made one damn fine dish. We used my new mandolin to make superfine sweet potato slices and it was fun but scary. I can definitely see myself slicing off part of a finger one of these days.

Mary Anne sets a beautiful table, and in this case she set two for the 21 guests. I loaned her my dining table which has three leaves - its full length rarely sees the light of day so it was fun to use. Here's a shot of one of the centerpieces. The persimmons are from my tree:

Here are Lucy, Carol, and Mary Anne working on stuffing the birds:

Thanks to the butchering done the night before in which the backbone, wishbone, and some of the leg bones were removed, the turkey cooked for half as long and was simple to carve. 

The turkey was incredible! Very moist with crispy skin. The cornbread stuffing didn't hold its form at all but it didn't matter - it was delicious.

Here's the general scene right before eating. It was jovial to say the least. 

I remembered to get someone to take a picture of us before the wine, food, and conversation distracted us:

Before dinner we all went around and shared what we were grateful for. It got a little emotional and I was  moved and felt so blessed to be a part of this special tradition. I love Thanksgiving and can't imagine having a better place in Mendocino to spend this one.

After dinner, as is their tradition, we played charades. This is not a game often in my repertoire, and certainly not in Carson's, but we were good sports. It got competitive! After playing together for 20 years the regulars know each other and how to write tricky items that are nearly impossible for the other team to guess. I got lucky with my first one - the movie "Lincoln" - but my second one - the song "Anyday" by Eric Clapton - was a no go. Two minutes is an eternity when you're trying to figure out what sounds like 'any' and how to act it out. Carson nailed both of his. Too bad we were on opposite teams! His team won but we all had fun which was all that mattered.

All in all it was a really special and memorable day.

More Pie Experimentation

To ease myself out of the Thanksgiving spirit, I made one last pie. I had leftover pumpkin filling and wanted to try the cream cheese crust with regular flour. It looks beautiful here, and it tasted good, but for the amount of cream cheese and butter in that sucker it should have made my mouth much happier than it did. The elasticity of gluten is just too much for the cream cheese, and it was more chewy than flaky. Lesson learned! I'll stick to all-butter crusts when using regular flour from now on. 


Tomorrow Carson and I go to San Francisco to take advantage of an amazing "park sleep fly" deal in which we get a night in a pretty decent hotel plus 14 days of parking and an airport shuttle for $140 (almost too good to be true). It's a bit strange to live so far from the nearest major airport but that's what I get for moving to the country. Then on Friday morning we fly into Puerto Vallarta to explore the Jalisco coast for 13 days (!!). I will have my computer but we'll see if I manage to blog from there. Carson is dead-set on learning to surf, which fits nicely into my plan to sit on the beach reading one of the four books I'm taking. I can't wait!

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