Saturday, November 29, 2008

Portions, Age, and Heat: How i learned to recook the thanksgiving's of my youth

Grandma Starkey (see earlier post for her on rowboat), as she got older, would unknowingly, increase the size of some ingredients in dishes as it became harder for her to see/read things with a high degree of granularity.

On one occasion, this included a pumpkin pie with whole cloves in the mix instead of ground cloves. it was a treasure hunt to eat the pie and pick out the cloves without letting her see you were doing it (she could still see well enough to scold!)...if you missed one of those little nuggets of pain, you had a big hot and spicy surprise in your mouth as punishment. These thanksgivings though, when everyone was still around and alive, are always in my mind every year when I go to cook my own thanksgiving meal. It is a continuum.

Growing up in the midwest, thanksgiving food was always a bit cold, bland and ill timed. Then again, almost all central Illinois food was (is...) always kinda like that....

Anyway, i digress...when Jeannie and I moved to Seattle in 2001, I was sick for two weeks and we were living in crappy corporate housing right near pike place market and i watched the food channel for two weeks straight. (didn't waste money on cable when we lived in Chicago.) A connection was made and it started with seeing all of the crabs at the market...and watching Emirll...i wanted to make crab cakes! (it's still an obsession of mine.)

Fast forward to our first thanksgiving in Seattle later that same year...many crab cakes later. Remember, we knew no one when we moved friends. But as the year progressed we slowly made connections with a few people, and being that we weren't near our families, we decided to have thanksgiving at our house and invite all of the people that we knew up to that time...which was about 8 people. Inspired by my new found love of making things that i actually wanted to eat...I took it upon myself to create the most perfect of all thanksgiving meals and correct the errors and missteps of the past.

Hot food, timed perfectly, delicious turkey, and real mashed potatoes like i'd seen on TV.

So...that year, i brined a turkey (i'd never even roasted a chicken before) for the first time, bought a couple of used crock pots, small chaffer from the restaurant supply store and proceeded to kick the shit out of myself for two days trying to get everything perfect for our 8 guests. I was exhausted...i used crappy pans, a dull knife, just bad tools...but it all worked. everything was hot, nothing was gummy, there was no jello in the cranberries (not judging!...just wanted to try the real thing!), the sweet potatoes were beautiful, the roasted pumpkin and mushroom soup i'd been reducing for over a day was thick and beautiful..i'd never had soup like that before. I was also wiped out, my legs were killing me, i'd burned my hand in more than one place, sliced my thumb ,and was generally beat down just like the potatoes (although i used a ricer for those)

But the food was awesome (at least that's what they said to my face...) And thus a tradition was started. Since then, every year, we have invited our old friends and new friends to our house to eat dinner and to watch me stress out as I throw down the hardest things I can muster to cook, with the best ingredients I can find. i have wised up a bit though and i do ask people to bring certain things...but every year i also try and find new ways and new recipes and new techniques so that i can experience the exhilaration of doing something i've never done before by creating a meal that our friends (our guest list has more than doubled in size) will walk away thinking that it was the best thanksgiving meal they've ever had.

And the food is always hot and the cloves are ALWAYS removed from the pumpkin pie, when we have it...I, myself, prefer pecan or macadamia nut pie...)


Z_gal said...

We missed you guys this year, but took a page from your book and hosted a random but lovely assortment of friends at our place. We even took up toasting...
You DID make an amazing first T-Day meal, and your take on the whole thing expanded my thinking on what's possible for an otherwise very traditional meal.
I hope you and Jeannie had a great Thanksgiving!

Tankboy said...

Oh man, you make me want to fly to Seattle next year with your mouthwatering depiction of your feast!

McTodds said...

Wish I would have been there. This was my first ever Thanksgiving with no home-cooked food due to one set of grandparents in assisted living (we had cafeteria thanksgiving on thanksgiving day), and another grandmother who just has the country club do thanksgiving for the family. The only homecooked thing I had was midwest-pumpkin-pie-sans-cloves (and I always think of your grandmother's clove pie when I eat pumpkin pie - it makes sense, ground cloves are wayyy spendy)