Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving 2006

Texas is such a strange state, truly more a state of mind than a state of union, in many, many ways. When I moved here, in 1983, one could still buy "roadies" at drive through liquor barns...nevertheless, the area in which we ended up buying a house was, and remains to this day, "dry"...meaning I can’t buy so much as cooking wine at my local grocery store, nor are there any places where I can buy any sort of liquor in my neighborhood. Accordingly, because I required Grand Marnier for the cranberry sauce, and dark rum for the sweet potatoes, and because I wanted to serve wine with our Thanksgiving feast, when I left work at 2:00PM on Wednesday I drove straight to Sin City, my appellation
for the community just to the west of the dry residential area where I live, where I can buy wine, beer, and yes, even hard liquor.

I’d been wandering around inside Sigel’s for maybe all of five minutes when I spotted two of Mike & Chris’s best friends from elementary school, Jon and Dan. It brought me up short for a moment to realize that at 21, they have as much right to be there as I do. We quickly established that despite the difference in generations, we were looking for the same beer (Dogfishhead 120; we had to settle for 90, though). I invited the guys to drop by later that evening to see Mike & Chris, made my purchases, and continued on my way.

At my house, the kitchen smelled wonderful. Alex & Chris, who’d flown in from Chicago on Monday night, had blanched the pearl onions and were peeling them. The sweet potatoes were in the oven, baking, the very first step in the multi-step process required to produce the delicious end result: a concoction of sweet potatoes, rum, butter, ginger, cream and chopped walnuts. Anthony was out shopping for a tub in which to brine the turkey; after finishing the onions, Alex began cutting up two different types of mushrooms for the stuffing. I brought out wine glasses, then sliced some bread and set out crackers and various cheeses.

We ate leftover homemade spaghetti from the night before, and munched on bread and cheese and crackers. Eventually, Mike and Chris showed up, then Jon, Dan, and Kevin, and much, much later, the boys’ longtime friend Abby and her boyfriend, both in from college at Iowa. There were kids in my kitchen, and kids in my living room, where there was a cheerful fire in the fireplace, and there was much laughter and the sound of voices talking late into the night.

On Thursday morning I rose early and began cooking the cranberries. I used a plane to shave some zest from a couple of lemons to add a bit of texture, and I added a bit of Grand Marnier to enhance the flavor. While the cranberries were jelling in the refrigerator, I poured the cooled, blanched, peeled pearl onions into a large pan, added enough chicken broth and vermouth to cover them halfway, and then added a bay leaf and sprinkled a bit of thyme over them, before slow cooking them on the stove top them for 20 minutes or so. Eventually, Chris got up and began prepping the turkey, and Alex joined us, finishing the stuffing and also braising the brussels sprouts.

At 2:00, the bird was removed from the oven, and after it had rested a bit, it was time for Chris to get a carving lesson from A.

At approximately 2:30, we sat down to eat:

Braised Brussels sprouts
Creamed onions
Sweet potatoes w/ginger, rum and walnuts
Cranberries w/Grand Marnier
French salad
Brined turkey
And for desert:
Pumpkin & pecan pies