Fond, Yukon Cornelius, sweet potatoes, macerate, brine, not-so-interesting-parade, washing 600 glasses and crispy fall walks. In general, this about sums up Thanksgiving weekend for me. And this year was not much different, though it did involve maybe a few more creative cocktails and some Asian influences where the bird and accoutrements were concerned. And, as one of my favorite holidays, I did do some reflecting on holidays past.
I recalled my college semester in Paris where my friends and I sourced and cooked a pretty big (gluttonous) feast for some mildly amused (alarmed?) French hosts. It was really hard to find all the ingredients, but I am most surprised and impressed with my younger self’s ability to pull it off. I had only had one Thanksgiving of my own under my belt and as my mom was living overseas for a month, I was forced to ask for my dad’s advice on prepping the turkey. He advised me to “secure the flap” with safety pins, and “be sure to sterilize it first with alcohol.” Or maybe, he thought, some screws or nails could work. Well I did use safety pins (successfully!) and proudly served up several random highschool friends who had journeyed to Boston to sleep on our couch and watch my roommate have an epic fight with her boyfriend for several hours. That Christmas my dad’s sister gave me a trussing kit in my stocking along with some more sensible advice on handling large, raw birds.
But back to Paris…I had mentioned the slightly alarmed Parisians who greatly enjoyed and praised the food, but were stunned by the amount served. My host, though, ever useful, suggested we put the leftovers into the congealer. “The what?” I asked. “The congealer. It will allow this food to last a very long time.” I was mystified. What the heck was a congealer? As they had such innovative and useful things in Europe (Minitel!) I figured it was a magical kitchen device. “Surely you have congealers in the US?” “No, I have no such thing!” This went on a good while until we got a dictionary and discovered she was referring to a freezer. Otherwise known as a congélateur. Ah ha. Yes. We have those.
Most notable among the other Thanksgivings were the birthday years, occurring every eleven years (oddly). Apparently I was due on Thanksgiving and my mom got out of cooking that year only to have me arrive a week later. For my eighteenth birthday, while at school in Boston, I headed first to New York City to visit friends and then on to Long Island to spend the weekend with my Aunt and Uncle. During that brief stay in NYC I had the thrill of not only going out to some real bars, but headed home in the wee hours right past the place they were inflating all the balloons for the Macy’s Day Parade. The following day I took the Long Island Railroad out to Gilgo Beach for Thanksgiving dinner and a last minute candle stuck in the middle of a pumpkin pie.
The next time my birthday hit was the first year we had moved back to Denver. We had all manners of family relations coming over and had planned a ten course blowout dinner beginning with sweet potato gnocchi in sage, brown butter and ending in pumpkin ice cream with spiced nuts and bruléed marshmallow. It was festive and filling and very satisfying and my dad made me brulée marshmallows until they were done and then just melt the ice cream a bit with a torch until I finally took it away.
This year I was planning to head out of town, rent a mountain house, eat out somewhere. But it was not panning out and so we aimed, instead, for a simple meal at home. But not just the usual turkey. Something Asian maybe. And then our friends joined in and things got more complicated, but also shared in effort. And so with some shady guidelines we ended up doing this:
- Turkey: brined in smoked tea, orange peels, garlic, thyme, orange juice, brown sugar and salt. Stuffed with orange, onion and lemon and roasted super hot, then slightly low
- Roasted sweet potatoes: cut in wedges and dusted with ras al hanout. Served with a shiitake aioli.
- Mashed Potatoes: blended with cream, butter and cream cheese and topped with garlicky, buttery panko.
- Gravy: made with fermented black beans, ginger, garlic, shallots, orange peel, cilantro
- Sweet Potato Pie: supposed to have been bourbon, but ended up with rum and a spicy, gingersnap crust
- Cranberry curd
Our guests ended up bringing:
- Cauliflower gratin
- Salad: fried kale, kohlrabi, brussels
- Beet caviar
- Assorted, dreamy pies from Olivéa
- Some apricot creamy pie-shaped thing that has yet to be eaten
- More booze and mixers than anyone needs
I had given the guests a rule that nobody would be fiddling on their phones all night so we don’t seem to have any worthy photos for sharing. Alas, you must simply imagine that it was a sublime pairing. And next year I hit my next big decade smack dab on Turkey Day once again and have some big plans brewing…