Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gala Parfait: The Thanksgiving Project

The older I get, I find that true pleasure is found in increasingly simpler places. Thanksgiving is the greatest example, a holiday based essentially around food has in many ways trumped my childhood passion for ghosts and goblins, presents and Noble Firs. Particularly in the past couple of years, I've noticed most of my peers set their sites similarly mellow and epicurean-based... Also considering the family aspect of Thanksgiving in a new light, preferring to stay in town and cook the meal themselves for a selected "family" of close friends; the "orphan Thanksgiving", all grown up.
I've had my share of colorful and diverse Thanksgiving experiences since first shipping off to Oregon for college ten years ago: A tradition Indian-cum-Southern weekend feast (yes, as in Gumbo the night before, Daal the night after); An all-vegetarian Turkey-less spread prepared with veggie friends; One year spent entirely alone and cooking a feast for one from scratch; and my sister's beautiful wedding, bringing me for that one year back home for the most memorable of them all. In the years I've lived in LA, I've been blessed to have some family just up the 101 and have spent four holidays now at my cousin Jeff and his wife Tracey's lovely home in Sherman Oaks. Hilarity always ensues with this bunch of nuts, be it from a shoplifting grandma, wisecracking father, potty-mouthed sister, videogame-crazed kids, or the cornucopia of inappropriate innuendos shared around the dinner table. And the food, prepared in a blend of our family's Czech Bohemian style and Tracey's family's own traditions is some of the best I've ever had. It is a new tradition I have come to cherish.
So in honor of my official favorite day of the year --and taking a queue from my friend Cat's touching super-8 group docu-music video a few years ago (all shot by various people on Super 8 of their own Thanksgivings)-- I give you a sampling across the globe (if you can believe it) from some of my most-trusted foodie friends showcasing their own merry little holiday feasts.
Napkins on your laps y'all, this may make you hungry!

Mary San Jose, CA:I decorated the table with things I got from a walk earlier that day... lots of plants and twigs.There is a real turkey and the Tofurkey - we always have both! My dad uses an electric carver, here's him using it. Pretty funny.We had 12 people and my mom makes most of it, but the other two couples bring things as well. It's set up buffet style and we drink lots of wine!
Ksenya New York, NY:Decided this year to pair back, re-focus on the basics, strip the overly elaborated ingredient list. Because if you can make something so familiar and mundane sparkle, well, then I figure you're okay.
Menu: Roasted Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Cranberry Sauce, Gravy, Roasted Garlic, Sautéd Kale, Pumpkin Pie.
Okay, now off for a turkey-leftover-apple sandwich piquenique.

Brooke Portland, OR:Everyone played their part and brought a dish that was special to them. That's the most exciting part of an Orphan Thanksgiving, being able to try something you may never have had otherwise.Sage rubbed turkey with cider gravy. It turned out beautifully, thanks to Erin.I made 2 pies for dinner this year, and 3 more were brought by some friends. My first was a classic Pumpkin Pie, with that sweet and creamy filling, just a touch of the spice that so perfectly represents this time of year. Top that with a dollop of vanilla scented home-made whipped cream? Belly heaven. Secondly, I decided on a twist to another standard T-day dessert and made a Texas Chocolate Pecan Pie. This is the only time I can justify the purchase and use of corn syrup. But hey, special occasions call for special circumstances, am I right?

Lani London, UK:So we cooked and ate all day yesterday. It was amazing. We feasted on Devils on Horseback (bleu cheese stuffed dried plums wrapped in bacon), Puff Pastry Canapes with two toppings: Mushroom, Bacon and Sage & Toasted Pecan, Cranberry, and with Rosemary...Herb and Lemon Roasted Chicken with Dripping Gravy (Turkey was massively expensive and there was only 4 of us!), Baked Sweet Potatoes stuffed with Caramelized Marshmallow and Toasted Pecan Streusel...Salad of Fresh Figs, Goat Cheese, and Chorizo on Rocket; Fresh Cranberry Sauce; Curried Fruit and Seed Rice Salad; Green Bean Casserole; Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Breads); Stuffing... We had Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Pie and Fresh Whipped Cream with Vanilla for afters. Lots of Red wine, Rum and lovely company!

Tom Denver Lutheran Hospital, Denver, CO:My Thanksgiving Dinner... Wish I was kidding, sadly not.

Ended up cooking a bird and ribs on Sunday... Clementines, Apples (both red and green), Onions, and Garlic... love that the bird has this whole cavity for flavor... couldn't fit the kitchen sink in this time.

Sarah Perth, Western Australia:Okay I basically forced my friend (who was already baking pies for his own little Thanksgiving celebration at work - we like to incorporate anything American into our office work places to make ourselves feel less homesick for a country that won't have us) to take photos of his dream boat pies so I could send them to you. His name is Cameron Roper and he has a blog on my blog roll about breakfasts he eats.

Catherine Portland, OR:Here ya are tiger. Two Thanksgiving cutting boards.
Love much.

Josh Los Angeles, CA:
Bachelor-don: A dinner in 2 acts
After years of varying turkey day configurations, I decided to opt out and go this Thursday solo.Meal
  • Miso-glazed tofu and eggplant

  • Dandelion and mustard greens
In retrospect, it sort of looks like a sad little un-turkey.Pre-meal
  • Coffee (Groundwork's "Bitches' Brew Decaf")

  • Oat groats (oatmeal before it's been split and flattened)

  • Soymilk (unsweetened, only for coffee)
Consumed while preparing the main meal.

Monica New York, NY:Just arrived at my sister's house. The early part of these holiday meals is the frenetic time, with everyone hugging, talking and eating an assortment of appetizers including traditional Italian cured meats and all the family favorites. A tasty happy time; we talk and somehow make it to the table for the "real meal." how do I have room for it?After hours at the table we're still here, now enjoying the persimmons and cupcakes. And of course apple and pumpkin pie.
That's it from NY, Nathan, hope your day was as happy and tasty as mine.

Cat Chicago, IL:Thanksgiving with the fine community of Lovely, a bake shop in Chicago, IL. This bake shop has the best atmosphere of any coffee shop/bakery, near or far. (P.S. they serve Intelligentsia!) For Thanksgiving, Lovely's interior was rearranged into three giant tables for the 30+ dinner guests, consisting of Lovely employees and friends. The owners, Brooke and Gina do a toast to a lovely dinner.A buffet of various food brought by everyone and made at Lovely is served along the counter. People wait patiently to begin eating.My favorite items on the menu:
Sweet Potatoes covered in toffee (and I think a little chocolate)! Stuffing made with croissants! We also had everything from yummy Brussel Sprouts to Cranberry Pizza! Everyone had two plates full of food, except Paul who was very smart and saved a good amount of room for dessert!Dessert!Everyone helped with dishes, and set up the storefront tree.
A few of us went on a walk around the neighborhood (that I don't remember...) :)

Megan Tucson, AZ:A week before the big day, I sat down with a stack of my favorite foodie magazines and feverishly went through all the Thanksgiving Menus and recipes trying to figure out what I was going to make this year. I like to try and out-do myself each year with a new, exciting and wonderfully tasty dish. I was assigned a side dish but decided on my own that I wanted to make a dessert as well. While flipping through Food and Wine, I found a dessert that I knew was the one! Pear Tarte Tatin with Red-Wine Caramel! It looked divine, name made it sound fancy and recipe sounded fairly easy. One recipe down, one to go.
The day before Pie and Wine Night [ed. note: this is my sister and her good friend Abby's annual pre-Thanksgiving pie-making tradition] I was going grocery shopping to get all the ingredients for our recipes and I decided for my side dish to just go ahead with the old classic fall-back, Cousin Beth’s greatly comforting Corn Pudding.When we got to the party, the family was gathered around the amazing appetizers my aunts prepared (green chili/cream cheese tortilla pinwheels, a fruited baked brie and a spiced fruit and cranberry compote poured over soft cream cheese and served with crackers).The dinner menu included: Sage buttered roasted turkey with classic sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, potato dumplings, gravy, dinner rolls, corn pudding, Brussels sprouts, “the” cranberries, and sweet potato casserole topped with candied pecans. Our family’s holiday meals are always starch heavy, but oh so good!We were blessed with being able to eat outside, in the back yard this year in short sleeves and almost 80 degree weather. We were thankful for the perfect weather, food and company.After letting our food settle, briefly, we dove head first into the dessert course. It was very hard to decide what kind of pie to have. The offerings included: Classic Pumpkin, Fresh Baked Apple, the Pear Tarte Tatin, Pumpkin Chiffon and Blackberry!

Elizabeth Sherman Oaks, CA:Fresh sage and unsalted butter is rubbed underneath the skin of the bird. Later, it will be buttressed in bacon and basted in pure maple syrup. The result is a sweet and savory, moist bird. And the bacon? To die for...Some years, I drop the kolachy filling with a pastry tip, and they are all perfect. Some years, I refuse, and go for the handmade look. This is was one of those years, and I think the bleeding, carmelized poppyseed is beautiful, a representation that life is never perfect. And who wants it to be, anyway? The best part of ditching the pastry bag is licking your fingers in between each spoonful!

Me Sherman Oaks, CA:
As favorable as last year's dish was, I wanted to try a different recipe for my Brussels sprouts side dish this year. Intrigued, I decided on a Food & Wine featured take, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberry Brown Butter by Dean Fearing (recipe here).Ready!Beth's bacon-"buttressed" bird.. The moistest, sweetest, tenderstedest turkey I've EVER had!The spread.Maybe my favorite... Helene's See's Scotch Kiss topped candied yams.And of course plenty of Beth's kolaches (the best thing to come from 'my country' after peach dumplings!) along with the pumpkin and pecan pies and berry crisp!
Thank you everyone for your participation! It warms my soul to see everybody's special traditions (or break from) and signature dishes. Let us keep up the community of good eating! I'd also like to dedicate this post to the memory of Count Solen, a special spirit I am truly thankful for who left us Thanksgiving weekend. I know he is watching us from his perch on kitty Olympus, smile-squinting down at us mortals.. Big love, little dude! x


  1. Wow!! I can't decide which feast is the most tempting (except the hospital plate)! Thanks for bringing this all together for our pleasure!

  2. Nathan! Standing-Freaking Ovation to you! We're all so blessed to be part of your life, and a sweet morsel to your "Meat..." Well done, my friend!

  3. C'est Bon! I think the only bad part about Thanksgiving is the post-holiday come-down. What a bummer not to have such amazing food and company year-round! x

  4. This post makes my heart feel all squinchy and happy. Great job Nathan, and everyone! yay thanksgiving!

  5. Oh my dear goodness. This post just simply made me glow with warm happiness. What a gorgeous life we all live.