Friday, November 24, 2006
Thanksgiving has easily become my favorite holiday. There isn't the tussle and bussle and odd let down of the Christmas season, which seems to conjure up so much in its advent and wake. As another school parent I spoke with the other day said, "Thanksgiving is the last holiday that 'they' haven't commercialized." [If only Christmas were the same.]
THE BOYS LOVE TO HELP DECORATE and
PUT ON THEIR BEST CLOTHES (really!)
THE TABLE IS SET WITH CHAIRS FROM
ALL OVER THE HOUSE and OUR FAVORITE DISHES
Temple and I have had twelve Thanksgivings together, all but two in this house. They have each been different with a variety of friends and family, our children as they have arrived, and sometimes our parents, but always something resonates: food, fun, fellowship and celebration. I like to mix a formal, decorative table with campy decor (Beistle's turkey place cards are the best!) and seasonal treasures the children have made. The kids enjoy setting up the Indian and Pilgrim village each year with some original Indian toys made in northern Michigan that I got in the 1960s, as well as contributions they have made.
EACH CHILD CONTRIBUTES TO THE MANTEL ~
A MIX OF CRAFTS, SEASONAL & VINTAGE ITEMS
We did most of the table setting and much preparation in the two days before. However, the night before, at about 4:45pm, Temple shouted up the stairs, "we have ten minutes to get the pies that you ordered!"
"I didn't order any pies!"
"Yes you did, from Tenney Farms!"
And then I remembered on the way: I had a visual of checking off a number of varieties on a white sheet on a clipboard at the farmstand several weeks before. But in checking it off there, I had forgotten about it here. I rarely have time for making desserts--fortunately everyone brought one--and homemade pies sold at Tenney Farm are an excellent alternative (besides, it was the last day of the season and we wanted to throw a few in the freezer).
After the turkey went in the oven at around 8:30am (a 28 pounder), for which I came down to prepare the stuffing at 7:15, we had the entire morning to finish decorating, to organize serving dishes, the table, and everything. The entire family pitches in--especially my husband--and it makes it almost effortless but worth every bit of preparation.
THE EASIEST CENTERPIECE EVER ~ YOU DON'T NEED A FLORIST
I have never been able to arrange flowers very well and usually loathe the idea of buying a floral arrangement for a table. I've always managed to do different decorations at Thanksgiving, especially, when there are so many easy alternatives to flowers: cornucopias filled with Indian corn, a pile of squash, a Beistle turkey. This year, I had a cornhusk wreath from a while ago, plopped the pumpkin inside of it, and tossed around some gourds (painted with shellac) from our local farmstand, Tenny Farms. Oh, and I threw in some of those chestnut crabapples, too. In less than three minutes I had a centerpiece.
On our first Thanksgiving together, one of our older more traditional friends (who also liked to get a rise out of me) couldn't believe I had not ordered a table arrangement. The following year my father, perhaps trying to avoid another embarrassing moment (which I laughed off as it wasn't an issue for me at all), had an arrangement sent. It was lovely and it graced our table, but I far prefer grabbing my favorite pumpkins, gourds or corn.
THE GROUP AT TABLE ~ WITH APOLOGIES TO AUNT CYNTHIA WHOSE FACE IS NOT IN THE PHOTO
As I've found with many of our large get-togethers, 13 is a lucky number (our youngest Eli and his dad sat together at the far end of the table, which was stretched to full capacity). For the second year in a row we had a buffet for both the main meal and the dessert. With the "groaning board" of so many dishes, and a tight dining room (even the table was put at a diagonal to accommodate for all of the leaves), it works the best. It allowed for a cozy informality that I prefer, but paired with an elegant table to sit at, contributed the best of both.
Food is always a mix of traditional items and special contributions from our friends. Here is our 2006 menu:
~ Fresh turkey & gravy w/sausage, apple & cranberry dressing (I also added chestnuts this year)
~ Mashed potatoes (my husband peeled & prepared a great vat)
~ Butternut Squash (ditto)
~ Little Peas (ok, Petit Pois)
~ Creamed Onions (from Judy ~ freshly cooked onions, not frozen!)
~ Succotash (Rosemary ~ truly the most divine ever, and no lima beans!)
~ Cranberry Relish (made by Henry & Eli)
~ Cranberry Jalapeno Relish (from the Bills ~ sublime)
~ Canberry (the canned stuff)
~ Heirloom Applesauce (Henry, Eli, Addie et al)
~ Chestnut Crabapple Jam (ditto)
~ Parkerhouse Rolls (thank you, bread machine)
~ Pumpkin Bread (Mrs. Hrones' recipe, an older friend of the family that I knew as a child)
~ Apple Pie (from Henry, who made it at school ~ we ate Eli's for my birthday)
~ Cranberry Tart (Judy)
~ Upsidedown Cranberry Cake (Rosemary)
~ Pumpkin Pie w/Bourbon (Rosemary)
~ Pumpkin Cheesecake (also with a bourbon infusion! The Bills)
and the absolute "living end": Le Fromage du Turquie, a turkey cheeseball conceived and crafted by Rosemary!
Rosemary, one of the best cooks I've ever met (come to think of it, most of my good friends can cook), always has a great presentation in everything she does (and her kitchen will be in the March 2007 issue of OLD-HOUSE INTERIORS, and her pantries in THE PANTRY book). Her concept of a turkey-shaped cheese log was the perfect addition to the meal: homemade and shaped by hand, she even made the little white thingies on the ends of its legs.
JUDY CARVED THE TURKEY FOR THE SECOND YEAR IN A ROW WITH ARTFUL FINESSE, WITH HELP FROM HENRY
My husband, who hates to carve the turkey, looked around in a near panic for a volunteer. We had forgotten that Judy had done such an expert job of it last year--not only cutting up the bird in a surgical way (observed Dr. Bill Siroty, one of our guests), but layering the meat on a platter between layers of skin and fresh sage. The skin not only keeps the turkey meat warm but infuses it with a delicious flavor. [And she looks cute in that Amish-made apron.]
Meanwhile, Dr. Bill stirred the gravy and it was the first I'd made without lumps in a long time (either it was shaking the flour in water in a jar first, or his excellent stirring). His kitchen presence brought back memories of working at Barrett House many years ago in the early 1990s when they first moved here from New York. His partner, also Bill (Stelling), was the tour guide at Barrett and helped in the tea room on Sunday afternoons. Meanwhile, Dr. Bill could frequently be found in the kitchen washing dishes, as well as my husband-to-be, Temple.
COUNTRY FARE DEMITASSE CUPS by ZANESVILLE POTTERY ARE PERFECT FOR MULLED CIDER
THE KITCHEN ISLAND IS ALWAYS A GREAT PLACE FOR A BUFFET
ELI ENJOYED ARRANGING THE TURKEYS ON THE KITCHEN TABLE AFTER DINNER
LOVELY PARTING GIFT BASKETS
This year we had a silent prayer at the table. Temple and I later remembered our fathers who were no longer with us, and other family members, too. We were a group with diverse interests and much to laugh and talk about (and we all toasted the recent elections). We were so honored that some of our friends could gather here with us this year. I'm bound to forget a future pie order, but I will remember this always.