Thursday, November 26, 2009

Room Enough On My Plate for Both Traditions and Adventure Even if a Little Gravy Gets on the Tablecloth

Today is a day that is one part precipice and one part plains for people like me.

Plains in that, just like every other day, I'll be looking forward to dinner and most of my decisions will be based around the snack caliber available.

Today is the precipice because it is a holiday dedicated entirely to food and enjoying it with your favorites. I got two days off of work AND an early close yesterday because everyone is just that excited about dinner tonight. And sales on Friday but I'll be in a vineyard at that point and about as far from a big box store as I can possibly be. If only they sold patience and belief in the best of human nature at Black Friday sales. Alas, yes, vineyard.

I'm writing to you from a little town nestled in the southern end of California wine country. A golden nugget of hills and greenery known as Ojai, about 15 miles off the Pacific coastline near Santa Barbara and Ventura. The Langsen family is most of the way toward moving a five-way existence down to four. Which is to say, Brother is in Boston, I am in the great American metropolis of Chicago and my parents are retiring to Florida and Cape Cod, depending on the season. That leaves the house I grew up in outside Memphis without much furniture, let alone beds, and a very snazzy For Sale sign in front (after a perfect last Thanksgiving there last year). To distract ourselves with the consistent family pursuit of Adventure! we have moved our family and foodie-centric celebrating to a place that is sunny, warm and with a generous pour policy.

In the words of someone who would know, "It's a good thing."

One interesting by-product of our relocation? We are not cooking. We will be eating (really well, apparently) but we will not be cooking. As a hardcore traditionalist and lover of chopping, mashing and wafting kitchen smells, it took me a few minutes to get my head around this new plan. On the one hand, Langsens say yes to adventure (particularly the kind with promises of lolling countryside, good wine and farmstands). It's like the third family commandment following "Langsens share" and "Langsens love school," the two most repeated phrases of my childhood. Seriously.

On the other hand, I want a turkey, some stuffing, mashed potatoes. And I really need the orange brown sugar vehicle through which I manipulate love from those seated at my table. A solution came to pass in the shape of two friends coming in from New York and Jaimeson returning from LA in one weekend. Friendsgiving it is. Menu planning commenced immediately.

Kat and Brad have been part of the extended TKTC family network since the week I never talked about in August. Sometimes when things are really really awesome, I let myself stand in their shade so long that I can't quite put the post together. Kat wrote about it here but the gist was that I made a friend on the Internet and she agreed to drive from New York to Cape Cod in August having never so much as spoken to me on the phone. Four couples (pictured above) from New York and Chicago cooking and drinking their way through a long weekend in the beach was incredible. J and I went to visit them in New York in September for an evening of cocktailing and dinner partying in Greenpoint. If you're keeping track, TKTC and the Internet are undefeated in the friends department. They arrived in Chicago Friday evening for some "city-shopping" in my kind of town.

Jaimeson had been on a big ole tour for the fall and walked in the door to house that smelled like turkey. I'd done most of the prep the night before and had placed an order for two of Dave's famous from-scratch pumpkin pies and two of Lisa' bottles. Molly made a warm crab dip and volunteered her oven and fridge. Jaime made palomas. Bob and Christina came bearing local brew and bread to be broken. We were in business.

Now there are things I can mess with on Thanksgiving and things I can't. I hadn't found a turkey concoction that obsessed me yet (though now I'm curious about Foodmomiac's) so that was up for review. I needed a green vegetable. Homemade green bean casserole was delicious last year but more intensive than I felt up to for a feast served in the middle of a busy weekend. I had some fresh cranberries and was open on that front as well. Non-negotiables: Stuffing (Dad's recipe), Mashed Potatoes (Mom's classic) and Sweet Potatoes (my love-mongering vehicle).

Turkey was good. Really good. It was basted with butter, pan juices, cider and cheap white wine so I'm not sure where that was going to go wrong in the first place.

The gravy was even better. I would make this turkey again just for that rich brown glory that plate after plate bathed itself in. Or just skip the food altogether and find an apartment with an actual bathtub.
The stuffing tasted like my Dad's, which is to say it is the best thing I eat year round.

The Brussels sprouts I would do differently. Two cooking processes in liquid left them a little overcooked. Thank God for Jaimeson who resurrected them with a rich broth (he also did all the turkey lifting and carving, kept my wine glass full, and was thoroughly entertaining on two hours of real sleep).
The cranberry compote was easy but overpowering from a mustard standpoint. Not something I would advise as a side dish but great on a leftover turkey sandwich.

The sweet potatoes gave everyone indecent thoughts and inexplicably started crooning "Sex On Fire" when I removed them from the oven. Which is to say, the recipe still works 12 years after its debut.
The mashed potatoes may have had a little more than a kiss of cream. They were incredible. Paula Deen, Ina Garten and Ree Drummond would have been proud.

{Lack of Picture is a victim of Gluttony}
Pie. Dave does pumpkin pie like no one else does pumpkin pie. And I know pie. I know pie so well that we gobbled it before the Gods swooped down and took it back to heaven. Or before anyone took a camera out. Here are two he made today so you get the idea.

All in all, we cooked, we ate, we sipped and then took it out to the patio and sat around the outdoor space heater on a divine fall evening. It was my feast. Made with my hands for people I love. And we ate Thanksgiving sandwiches and turkey soup for days after.

It was what I wanted and it freed up my senses to be here now. With people I love. Excited for dinner in a totally new place. I'm thankful for all of it. And you, too. I can feel your goodness from here.Happy Thanksgiving from Wicked Park (by way of California)!

{The pretty photos in this post were shot by Dave and that gorgeous camera of his. Thanks Dave... and Lisa for buying Dave a camera!}


nicoleantoinette said...

I don't think I tell you nearly enough what an incredible, mind blowingly great writer you are.

Amanda @ Cakes and Ale said...

Right now, I'm stuffed to the gills and can't even think about food... except reading that just made me want sweet potato casserole so badly.
Something is wrong with me!

RebeccaC said...

I am positively green with culinary envy. Still fighting the urge to reenact the entire Thanksgiving affair with a belated turkey dinner. Don't be surprized if you get an emergency call to bring your appetite to our place to consume the results soon.

TKTC said...

Nic: This made my week. Mostly because you ARE a writer and I take this as no light comment. feels good to say it all out loud.

Amanda: Sweet Potato Casserole is an aphrodisiac. And I don't know about you, but I always like to have one of those in my back pocket.

Rebecca: I like the idea of us getting all our gear together and making a couple pies in one sitting. Some high class snacks to nourish us along the way but a winter afternoon of baking just sounds like so much fun.

Yvonne said...

Thanks for the congrats! James came via a C-section. Her second. I might want to become a dula when I turn 60! I have had the pleasure of helping 16 girls in total through labor (just as a friend and coach) and am a HUGE fan of natural! I am one of those gals who like to tell 'child bearing' girls that I was ONE OF THOSE WHO FOUGHT FOR THE RIGHT to go natural and have daddies in the room. Have you watched the doc film 'The Business of Being Born'? Very informative.

Anyhow, I'd like to put my pumpkin pie recipe up against Dave's! Haha.
I posted it earlier. Did you compare ingredients? We should do a bake off! Is Dave on board?
Your turkey dinner looked delicious!

Chelsea Talks Smack said...

OJAIIIII like in the show Brothers and Sisters....god, i'm jealous. P.S. did you see the weird dreami had about you on facebook?!

Kristen said...

Your feast looks delightful. Crooning sweet potatoes were the highlight for me. ;-)