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What’s for [Thanksgiving] dinner?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Six months ago I posted here with the intention of posting regularly. And then… nothing. So I’m going to try again.

There are plenty of memories associated with Thanksgiving. Here are three:

  • The surgeon who saved my life ten years ago is Canadian. In truth she’s been living in the US for a long time, but she still considers herself to be a Canadian, so I do too. Even though she’s the chief of the general surgery department at a very busy hospital, she always works on Thanksgiving Day so that her colleagues can spend time with their families.
  • We have some friends at church who used to be homeless. Their family consists of two moms (one heavily tattoed and pierced with multi-colored hair), five kids and a dog. They had a house fire and lost all of their possessions. Even after they got back on their feet financially, it took them a long time to find a landlord who would accept such an unusual family as renters. When they did, they were very grateful. So when Thanksgiving came around, the kids decided that they wanted to give away their dinner as a sign of their appreciation. They had seen a young woman with two kids and a dog with one of those “Please help — Homeless” signs that so many of us have become inured to, but these kids sure weren’t. One of the grandmothers wanted to buy them a Thanksgiving dinner, so they did eat at home, but as soon as dinner was over, they packed everything up and all got in the van and went and found that woman and her kids–and their dog–and gave them dinner. I love those kids!
  • When I was much younger, I tended bar. On the weekends it was a gay dance bar, very busy and very festive. During the week it was more of a Cheers! stop-in-and-have-a-drink kind of place. I usually worked on the weekends, but I’d work on Thanksgiving since I wasn’t going to go out of town like some of the other bartenders. There were basically two kinds of patrons in the bar on Thanksgiving night. One type was the ones who (like me) didn’t go to see their families of origin for the holiday. Maybe they lived too far away, or maybe they were estranged from their families, or… maybe they didn’t want to talk about it. They other type was those who had spent the day with their families. These ones would walk in the door with an almost shell-shocked look on their faces. They couldn’t wait to get to “their” place and to order a drink–frequently a shot, which they’d slam down as quickly as possible. This was in the late 1970s, a time when many queer people still weren’t out to their families–and those who were often had less-than-wonderful relationships with them. I admit: I did a lot of bartender therapy on those Thanksgiving nights, and I poured a lot of complimentary liquid therapy for those folks as well…

All that said:

Melinda and I are going to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving this year. We’ve gone there a number of times, mostly when Mom was still alive. My sister likes to make the dinner herself, so I won’t be a major contributor… which is okay every once in a while. As a matter of fact all that was requested from us is a Costco pumpkin pie. (Don’t get me wrong: I like Costco pumpkin pie!) One thing I will make is cranberry sauce or relish or chutney — I think something more-or-less like this, except that I’ll use candied ginger and add some finely minced cilantro after it’s cooled. (One year I made four cranberry dishes for Thanksgiving. My brother, who claims to dislike cranberries, ate all four of them and loved them.)

But that means two things: (1) that I’ll feel cooking deprived; and (2) no leftovers!

One year as we were driving home from the Central Valley at the end of a Thanksgiving weekend we decided that we wanted to have another turkey dinner at home, much for leftovers for turkey sandwiches. We stopped at the grocery store on the way and bought a turkey (obviously a fresh one) and some of the fixin’s, then proceeded home and started preparing it. Every year since then we’ve had our own at-home Thanksgiving after returning home–except that I’ve planned and shopped in advance.

The thing about doing this is that it doesn’t need to be quite as traditional as it would be if I’d made it on Thursday. It’s just a “thing” with us that we like super-traditional on Thanksgiving Day. (One year my sister used all of the traditional elements of the holiday, but not one of them was prepared in an old-fashioned traditional way–which is to say, in the way we’d grown up with: no one–including my sister–was satisfied with it.)

By the way, neither Melinda nor I grew up in a green bean casserole tradition.

So this year my plan is to prepare the turkey using the dry brine prep advocated by the LA Times Food’s Russ Parsons, but to spatchcock the bird like Mark Bittman. (NOTE: if you’ve never tried Tuscan-style chicken-under-a-brick you should!)

The rest of the menu will probably be mashed potatoes, stuffin’ muffins (dressing baked in muffin tins), and roasted Brussels sprouts. We’ll drink a bottle of champagne at some point before dinner, then drink a pinot with dinner.

I’m thinking about making a pumpkin bread pudding for dessert–because a Costco pumpkin pie is WAY too much for two people–or maybe I’ll make a pumpkin cheesecake brûlée! I do have a kitchen blowtorch.

Finally… despite so many terrible things in the world, we have plenty to be thankful for every day. We’re looking forward to a nice time with family, and then a nice time at home. I hope that you get to celebrate in some way too! Feel free to share anything you want.


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