I've had so much to be thankful for in the past year with this big move to Portland. So for Thanksgiving I wanted to be surrounded by my "new family." My old friend Tricia had called me right after I got to Portland in July to ask if she could come for a visit at Thanksgiving. Of course, I said yes. And then I wanted Jean-Francois, a friend of many years, who I first met in New York at least thirty-some years ago. John Baker, a Portlander I've known since the early 90s, was invited. And for my newest friend, I asked Kent Watson, who is executive director of a publishing trade association I joined out here. Kent was a good sport to be the brunt of teasing by a bunch of gay men. J-F brought his partner, Jay and John brought his partner, Darren. To keep Beau company, John and Darren brought along his favorite girlfriend--the lovely Penny (a two-year-old Chocolate Lab who makes Beau forget what a super slacker dude he really is).
Preparations began several weeks ago when I attempted to find turkey parts in my local markets for my turkey stock. No such luck--not at Safeway, Trader Joe's, or Fred Meyer. I called around the to the few butchers in the area and nothing. I finally found turkey wings at New Seasons Market, and this year's stock was incredibly flavorful with its onions, leeks, celery, carrot, parsley, clove, and pepper corns. I asked Tricia to bring out NPR's Susan Stamberg (by way of Craig Clairborne's NYTimes recipe from 1959) recipe for an unusual and really delicious frozen cranberry side dish (uncooked cranberries and a small onion are chopped together before you add sour cream and prepared horseradish. You then freeze it and let it thaw for an hour before you serve it. No sugar, and really delicious-it's an unusual cranberry preparation). I made Claiborne's classic cranberry-orange relish with almonds, because--it's the only cranberry recipe I've ever used.
Tricia is wheat intolerant, which set off a quest to find a cornbread mixture without flour that didn't require sugar. The Oregonian was helpful with a suggestion for something called Pamela's Cornbread mix. Only it was out-of-stock everywhere I went. We finally settled on Bob's Red Mill mix, which is delicious, but a bit on the heavy side. The rest of the stuffing recipe (a variation on stuffing I've made for years), had leeks, sausage, mushrooms, celery, parsley, fresh sage, thyme, salt, pepper, eggs and turkey stock. It was just a tad bland, but improved in flavor with an overnight sit in the refrigerator. The gravy had to be made with cornstarch instead of flour, but it was delicious. I also roasted Brussels sprouts, and of course, we had to have mashed potatoes. I once found a recipe on a woman's magazine for something called "Grand Champion Dill Loaf," a fragrant and impressive bread that you braid, which looks like a cross between a brioche and challah. I've baked it unbraided, added scallions instead of white onion, and changed many times over the years. Lately I've taken to turning the dough into individual rolls, which as a vehicle for a perfect turkey sandwich.
Jean-Francois called on Wednesday morning with an offer of a honey-roasted baked ham. "Okay," I said, wondering how I was going to get all this food on the table at once. I'm an Thanksgiving veteran, but I hadn't cooked for this many people in years. He also generously announced the addition of a cheesecake! I always make a pumpkin pie, and again because of Tricia's gluten-free needs, I decided to make pumpkin ice cream with toasted pecans (Tricia's helpfully suggested sauteing the pecans in butter and salt--a great call--and after the tally of calories in this meal, certainly not caloric overkill!).
Years ago, I watched Julia Child remove the carcass from a small turkey (no more than 14 pounds). She then broiled it for 45 minutes and roasted it an additional 45 minutes. The result is a perfectly cooked turkey that is a snap to carve and with breast meat that is incredibly moist and tender. Most people look at it with dismay, preferring the look of a traditional, picture-perfect bird that is uniformly dry, but does have it's photogenic qualities. My mother was appalled that I would abandon tradition no matter what the results. I've been preparing my Thanksgiving turkeys this way ever since. I now remove the thigh bone, which facilitates the carving of the thighs. There's very little waste, and I've got the carcass for turkey soup.
Thursday arrived with a typical Portland rainy season monsoon. It rained all day long. But dinner was lovely--up there with the very best of previous Thanksgiving feasts (though I did miss my New York family--Karole, Laurele and Carl, whom I've been sharing Thanksgiving with since 2000). We were awash in Oregon Pinot Noirs. No drama, lots of laughing and eating and drinking, and enjoying the antics of the dogs, sharing stories, teasing and making fun of each other. My kind of Thanksgiving. A very special day.
We had unusually gorgeous weather all week (by Portland standards). Tricia rented a car, and she drove me to markets, we antique-shopped in the Sellwood area of town, and spent Wednesday vi sting Powell's main bookstore downtown, and then window-shopped our way through the Pearl district with it's beautiful boutiques in amazingly dry weather. Gordon, the gut who trims my huge laurel hedges, took advantage of the dry weather to get the job done, give my huge cedar tree in the back yard a trim and cut back the holly tree which was threatening to strangle the side of my house.
Tricia left at 5:15 am on Friday morning to return to New York. I got up with her, to pack some turkey and ham for the plane, and with a deep hug, sent her off in the dark for the airport. I put away all the dinner dishes from the night before, answered e-mail and took Beau out for a long walk because daylight brought the most amazingly beautiful day--a gorgeous winter-blue sky with cottony clouds lazily drifting by. Beau dragged me through puddles from the previous day's storms, stuck his nose in every bush and shrub we passed, thrilled to be out in the sunshine. Back at home, I decided to take a long nap (something I never do). I woke up ravenous and ate a big breakfast. To this indulgence, I added a long stay on my couch, watching movies--Paul Rudd's sweetly sly and funny performance in I LOVE YOU MAN, then Janet Leigh with Robert Mitchum in HOLIDAY AFFAIR.
Is anyone paying attention to THE GOOD WIFE, the TV series starring Juliana Margulies? I missed Tuesday's episode because of the final of DANCING WITH THE STARS (a cheap and guilty pleasure--I picked Donnie Osmond to win and it was the right choice). I went on the CBS website to get caught up. This is a very well-done show, a complex show that is at once a smartly written legal drama that has a fascinating and topical backstory. Margulies plays the wife of a disgraced big city DA (Chris Noth), who may or may not have been set up to be blamed for corruption. What taints his guilt or innocence is that he's also been caught in an affair. Margulies plays the shell-shocked political wife, who is now stared at and judged by the media and the public, who goes back to work in a law firm while her husband languishes in jail trying to establish his innocence. Some of the cases she's working on are impacted by her husband's knowledge of them. Margulies leads an excellent ensemble cast as the politico's wife, humiliated by her husband's fall from grace and his betrayal. Good to see Christine Baranski back on TV too as a smartly sharkey senior partner who likes to think and projects herself as a supportive mentor of the younger female colleagues in the office.
Tricia bought Norah Jones' new CD, The Fall. It's a strong collection--a little country. She's not someone I always like--but this new effort has been playing constantly all weekend.
My day of sloth is over. Time to go outdoors and prune a neglected shrub.
My first Portland Thanksgiving was pretty special. I hope you all had a spectacular holiday too!
Time to unpack Christmas!