Sunday, November 27, 2011

What is the light?

Having a food blog on Thanksgiving worked both for me and against me. On one hand, I felt ten times as much pressure to get everything exactly right--after all, the food that Jeff and I were preparing was not just going to provide an evening's worth of nourishment to the eight people we'd invited over, but was also going to be enshrined permanently as nourishment for the minds of billions of internet users. By that logic, maybe I should have felt a billion times as much pressure. Maybe it increases logarithmically.

On the other hand, I felt that our guests were more understanding of my ridiculous idiosyncrasies and pretensions knowing that they were being featured on The Dinner Takes It All. Oh, here's a little menu that I typed up for you to go with your place setting. No, it's not printed on edible paper. Hold on, we will finish this conversation just as soon as I get five or six more pictures of my plate fully laden with the eleven savory dishes we prepared.

Ah, there we go. But, overall, I think having a food blog only enhanced the quality of our Thanksgiving meal. I wasn't taking a picture of every single casserole as it came out of the oven or anything, so we still got food on the table at a reasonable hour. And, perhaps because I was performing under pressure, the food turned out much better for this Thanksgiving then at any Thanksgiving I've had previously on the West Coast. Jeff and I made twenty different things. Twenty! And, to my taste, the only dish that was even a little bit of a dud was the brussels sprouts, which didn't pick up their brown-butter/miso glaze quite as well as when I did a practice run a few weeks ago, and then got a little overcooked as I was trying to fix them. Well, ninety-five percent isn't too bad. Just kidding--this will haunt me for an entire year.

As Jeff and I were figuring out the menu, I did add a few San Francisco foodie touches: the miso in the brussels sprouts, some celery root pureed into the mashed potatoes, a fennel ice cream with "numbing" sichuan peppercorns. Other than that, we tried to keep things pretty much along the classic lines of turkey, stuffing, and cranberries. In particular, I wanted to highlight a couple traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dishes that were mainstays of the Thanksgiving table growing up. Hard-boiled eggs pickled in beet juice. Curly endive with warm bacon dressing. Fruit salad. Raw carrot and celery sticks. Lemon sponge pie. That last one is still a little bit baffling to me. Is it a pie? Is it a cake? Is it a sponge? Even the internet can't agree. I'm not sure everyone else quite appreciated these on the same level as I did, but oh that hot bacon dressing took me back, thick with flour and eggs, fortified with enough sugar, bacon fat and vinegar that it was not pulling any punches. I don't think they make dressings like that anywhere else in the world.

Regardless of whether or not our guests tuned in to the Central PA Meets San Francisco Bay theme of our dinner, they seemed to have no problem tuning in to the food. Stephen was particularly effusive, leaning over with an knowing gaze in between bites of his stuffing to remark, "Mmm, this is really good." "Oh, I'm glad you like it!" I replied, in between pictures of my fruit salad. Even more important than the quality of the food was the fact that we served more than fifty pounds of it. Isn't that what Thanksgiving is really about? Not the meal. Not the friends. Not the thanks. It's about the abundance.

And, oh boy, did our guests ever create an abundance of beverages in return. Champagne, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay... Jesse even brought a home carbonating device to prepare some spiked homemade meyer-lemon-hibiscus soda in the comfort of our very own living room. At least, I think it was spiked... I swear my hangover on Friday morning was purely food-induced. Fifty pounds! Regardless of the alcohol content, the soda was delicious, as was the similar Thanksgiving cocktail he prepared: carbonated white wine with a dollop of his companion Zain's cranberry sauce dropped into it. Who could ask for more?

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention Greg, here hiding behind the flowers he brought, who set our table and prepared some quite artistic place settings. Well, his job is working at a museum planning events for the San Francisco community. Who better to provide us with community-building artwork on Thanksgiving Day?

It's kind of a funny holiday, isn't it? That sense of community, the feast, the tradition, the Americana: it's a gathering around a table that you get only once a year, no matter how many dinner parties you throw. And then the food itself: cream, celery, root vegetables, thyme, butter, sage, cooked flour, squash, roasting, parsley. These flavors come in and out of your cooking, but somehow you never put them together in quite the same way as you do on Thanksgiving.

Before we started our preparations for the dinner, last Sunday afternoon, I half-jokingly said to Jeff: Thanksgiving dinner is a contest to have the best Thanksgiving dinner out of everyone in the entire country. After all, everyone is rushing around their kitchens trying to get the same meal on the table on Thursday afternoon. How does yours stack up? But after Thursday, I think I've reconsidered. Thanksgiving is a feeling, a set of raw materials, both culinary and spiritual. It's an opportunity that makes its way around this country only once a year. So when it comes around, you'd better make it count.


This is the first out of a couple Thanksgiving posts this year, because we ended up making a ton of great food. I'm going to do a recipe roundup for Thanksgiving in the next post... in the meantime, check out our menu!

1 comment:

  1. This looks sooooo good! Makes me wish I had people over for Thanksgiving this year...although the thought of cooking 50 lbs of food for any amount of people is daunting...