Monday, November 28, 2011

Mixed Plate: Thanksgiving Eats, Sugary Sweets and Poultry Fight Club

My family was never one for big Thanksgiving celebrations, due to the fact our family wasn't particularly large (just me and my parents), and we lived far from aunts, uncles, cousins and the like. But for my childhood years in California, my parents had a lot of friends in the Los Angeles area who were in a similar situation as they were -- transplants from Hawaii, too far to go over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house for the holidays -- so everyone would gather at a friend's house, and it would be these great big potluck dinners of thirty people or more, grazing all day. It was a non-traditional mashup of Thanksgiving and Hawaii food favorites, and it was heavenly. When we moved from California to Arizona, we were further isolated, and Thanksgiving just became a nice long weekend with turkey being optional as my dad isn't a fan of the other-other white meat, and frankly, the holiday started to feel like just another day. It wasn't until moving to Washington where Thanksgiving started to mean something again. Proably because I don't travel to see family, and the need to be close to friends and loved ones, the holiday feels more pronounced. The Refugee Thanksgivings began, with us doing a couple of Turkeyday hostings for those unable to battle the holiday travel zoo, or we'd be nomads ourselves, wandering to different households who so graciously invited us to their tables to feast, which is one of the best ways to rediscover the best of what Thanksgiving is.

Turkey, before the carnage - Photo by Wasabi Prime

A checkered holiday past only made this latest Thanksgiving all the more  memorable, as it kicked up the Turkeyday celebration up a few notches. We not only celebrated across the whole holiday weekend, we started a whole week before. Some friends suggested a dinner at The Herbfarm, a well-known restaurant in Woodinville that's quite an eating experience, as most of their dinners are composed of 8 to 9 different courses, all paired with wines, and the dinners tend to go late into the evening, finishing up around 11 or midnight. It's not an everyday dinner, to be sure. Mr. Wasabi and I have gone a couple of times before -- once for a birthday and the second time for friends who had just gotten married.  And it's also nice when a group of friends who are usually accustomed to hosting a big  Thanksgiving meal, decide they don't want to fuss with a feast, but want to enjoy the holiday itself being relaxed and lazy, so fourteen of us gathered at The Herbfarm a week before Thanksgiving to have a celebratory pre-func meal. It was memorable to say the least, the courses are always exquisitely prepared, there's more wine than you can shake a stick at, and I thank the Turkeyday Gods that we were in the private room, as we are a colorful bunch. Traditionally, we all try to list the things we are thankful for, a nice way to celebrate the season. My "What I'm Thankful for" is that we were able to have a fantastic meal, have a wonderful time, and super-bonus -- we didn't get kicked out for being total berzerkers.

Herbfarm Thanksgiving Pre-Func dinner - Photos by Wasabi Prime

The week of Thanksgiving is typically like some movie montage, where it's akin to Rocky Balboa running up steps, punching sides of beef, all to the heroic underscore of a fist-pumping theme song. People are wrestling giant birds, rolling pie crusts, perusing recipe websites to the point where they crash -- America gets down with its bad self, rolls up its sleeves and enters the kitchen like a gladiator ready to do battle with a row of centurions, primed for victory. Except for me. Quite frankly, I didn't do all that much. I barely took out The Big Grownup Camera -- most of these photos, minus some prep items were all shot using the ol' iPhone. It's called a vacation. I like to take them sometimes. 

Hotpot Thanksgiving, and oh turkey, we hardly knew ye - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Because of the big whammy of The Herbfarm, it took the pressure off Thanksgiving Day-proper. So we threw tradtion to the wind, gathered at a friend's house for pizza, chili and snacks, but also one special dish -- a friend had been craving ginger duck hotpot, from when she used to live in Taiwan. It's a common comfort dish, but oddly hard to find (if anyone has a recommendation for a place in or around Seattle that makes this, please let me know). So our friend scoured the internet, tracked down a few recipes, and put together a delightfully rich meal experience that ensured that we would, indeed have a bird for Thanksgiving, but way better than turkey. I'm sorry, turkey, but duck wins out because it's so freaking delicious. It was also the centerpiece for what will be known as one of the more memorable Thanksgiving celebrations. And not without its own unique brand of entertainment, as hotpot instructions are delightfully written in Engrish. The day was devoted to watching all three Lord of the Rings movies (yes, director's cut), back to back -- twelve hours, if you're thinking of doing this. There was a lot of beer. There was a lot of wine. Our livers were put to the test starting from noon.There was also an inflatable turkey lawn decoration that met an untimely fate. Turkey MMA? Poultry Fight Club? Call it whatever you want, but to put it simply: Thanksgiving Day was Awesomesauce.

Lots of desserts, drinking, and more pie - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Not to say I did absolutely nothing, lounging around like Jabba the Hutt, enslaved Muppets at my beck and call. Which isn't such a bad idea -- next Thanksgiving, perhaps. I made pie(s). I made fudge. I even made a post-Thanksgiving full meal, turkey with all the trimmings. I think I need to be on medication, I cannot stay still for the life of me. I made a brown butter pear tart, which was just a way to whittle down our copious amounts of pears. I wanted to try something new with the typical pumpkin pie, so I made a blend of pumpkin and sweet potato, which I have to say gives the texture a slightly lighter, but grainier mouth feel. Not bad, just different. One small roasted sugar pumpkin to one peeled and boiled sweet potato was my ratio, and then I used this recipe on Epicurious for Caramel Pumpkin Pie. I have to say, adding a caramel sauce to the pumpkin mixture is, as Charlie Sheen would say: Winning. It's sweet, but a dark, rich sweetness that sets it apart from the typical pumpkin pie. I did cheat on the whipped cream, getting the canned stuff, because the dessert needed to travel. I didn't want to make the whipped cream and have it deflate by dinnertime and I don't have one of those fancy whipped cream chargers. And let's face it, after lots of beer and/or wine, whip-hits and dispensing whipped cream directly into a drunken maw is pretty fantastic.

Thanksgiving at Wasabi's house, with an extra side of gluttony - Photos by Wasabi Prime

We still had turkey, it was just the day after, because I am a compulsive crazyperson and can't stay out of the kitchen. I brined and seasoned a 14-pound bird, did my typical dismembering of parts, as it's just easier for serving and I keep the carcass for soup later, and made sides based on whatever the CSA box had delivered. I made a sweet potato and roasted squash mash, potatoes with green beans in a mustard dressing, and shredded Brussels sprouts and caramelized onions cooked with bacon. And plenty of gravy and cranberry sauce. The main thing is always the cranberry sauce and turkey, as that is Mr. Wasabi's favorite thing in the known universe. It was a total UnRecipe Thanksgiving, as there was no measuring or recipe-following. The meal literally just happened. Short of the pie, which needed internet inspiration, everything else was made by the power of winging-it and cooking with what we had. Which I suppose is appropriate, as the Pilgrims didn't have Martha Stewart or the internet back in the old school Plymouth Rock days. And if they did, it would be a miracle of Divine Providence that they ever got that meal off the ground, because damn, there are a lot of choices over what to make for this hearty meal of thanks -- no wonder people feel overwhelmed.

Oh  Fudge - Photos by Wasabi Prime

And yes, I made fudge. Because that's so Thanksgiving, right? My mother can be credited with the drilled-in idea that you don't show up anywhere empty-handed. It's the Asian Way, along with being good at math and playing the flute, piano, and/or violin. Since I stink at math and am not musical, I play my one and only cooking card. We had a couple of Thanksgiving invites, and feeling bad we had to decline on one dinner, I wanted to make sure we showed our appreciation for the invitation, so nothing says "thanks for thinking of us," like a few sugary lead-like bricks of peanut butter and chocolate fudge delivered early. The second half of the batch went to the dinner we attended. Because nothing says "thanks for letting us wreck your house like a bunch of drunken hooligans," like fudge. Well, at least it was nicely-wrapped.

Pomegranates to the rescue (of my gut) - Photos by Wasabi Prime

All this food, all this debauchery. And what's left to do but try and cleanse one's sytem from all the earthly delights. I seeded a couple of small pomegranates, thinking I'd reserve the arils for salad or as a garnish, but instead it's been a great detox snack and topping for yogurt. We're awash in leftovers, but I'm definitely hovering around simpler fare to pace myself for the holiday food season that's now in full gear. Hope everyone else had as much fun over the long weekend and are just as excited for the rest of the holidays!

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