Contributed by Hairee Lee
This November, in observation of the holiday, we decided to put together a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for some friends, before the in-laws show up. View more photos on our Flickr, read the recipes, or read more about the table setting.
Thanksgiving: the most American of holidays. More than the Fourth of July even, because it’s more personally ritualized, rooted in familial tradition. It’s a conspicuous marker for many American’s individual histories and their annual schedules—the temporal and spatial orientation of their lives, and a reminder of their mortality. And what better way to celebrate these bonds of love and the past and our hopes for the future than to sit and eat together, almost as if you’re taking into your belly love and past and hope to digest and make into a part of your material self? But I digress.
This Thanksgiving dinner takes place at Andrea's beautiful home. Andrea, a writing instructor at Harvard University, completely renovated the previous "crap hole" of a house. Where there used to be black encrusted floors, now lie gorgeous wooden floors the color of a fine cognac. Where the ceilings were lowered, the original vault ceilings have been restored. The rooms are sparingly furnished with pieces carefully chosen and deeply personal. Like her dining table from William Henry Furniture, Andrea’s first piece of furniture that is entirely her own, not something passed down by relatives or picked up second hand. But rather something she found, chose, and brought into her home. It means, for Andrea, a declaration of independence. Her home. The size and its central location in her house gives it a symbolic resonance that is the perfect (secular) alter for giving thanks.
My other dinner companions comprise up a motley crew of people from various parts of the world with various levels of familiarity between them: Laura Wilson, my very great friend and cook extraordinaire from Boston and Canada; my friend Nick Meletopoulos from Greece; Trinidadian American, John D’Souza; Melissa, the American and interior decorator for Didriks; and Andrea’s friend, Eliza, the vegetarian ((Sometimes, Vegetarianism seems like a whole other country to me with their foreign customs and strict rules for citizenship. Lovely people though.)).
Melissa sets Andrea’s table with a Libeco Home Vence linen café noir tablecloth and a Fjord celadon tablerunnerthat matches the posies of wheat stalks. The neutral colors are accented with pumpkin-hued Libeco Vence gold linen napkins that make me think pie, all kinds of pie. The muted fall colors set off the Simon Pearce Cavendish dinnerware and Match Pewter tableware beautifully. The visible weight of the white ceramic Simon Pearce bowls and plates and the warm, argentous glow from the pewter serving bowls and candle holders makes them irresistible to touch. Seeing me admire the carving knife and fork, Melissa informs me that they're hand-crafted in Italy by Berti and have Ox horn handles. The table is quietly luxurious and cozy. If I could wrap the table setting around my body, it would be like a fine, 4-ply cashmere sweater worn in twenty-degree weather.
Table’s set, but dinner, as usual, starts in the kitchen—partly because the dining room is busy getting beautified and photographed by Melissa and partly because I can’t resist sneaking morsels of dinner is various stages of cooking and getting to the table.
We start with shrimp and cocktail sauce, homemade with extra horseradish and dashes of Tabasco that gives it a thanks worthy kick. Thank you, Laura. The shrimps are served hooked along the edge of a Jars Ceramics Vuelta sky gray hors d'oeuvre dish, a long oval bowl tapered at its ends. A smaller version of the same dish is nested inside it containing the cocktail sauce, like a little pool of tangy deliciousness. The fish-shape and the cool, pale glaze sets off the coral tinted prawns. Andrea pairs the crustaceans with the first of seven wine selections from Lower Falls Wine Company, Argyle Brut ’06, a chilled sparkling wine from Oregon. Oregon. Nick and I share looks of masked snickering, but it’s actually lovely. Oregon!
When we finally sit down for dinner, Laura starts of off with butternut squash soup. It’s been pureed to a delicate and fine texture contrasted beautifully by garnishes of toasted coconut flakes, cashews, and spring onions. The deep yellow of the soup in the crisp white bowls makes me want to pick it up and tip back its contents straight down my gullet. But decorum overrules impulse. ((This would be like swiping my 4-ply cashmere sweater over my butternut squash soup mustache instead of using my napkin. Over-enthusiasm and social-moronism can sometimes look alike.)) For now.
Then the full-on feasting begins: Turkey is carved and served on a Simon Pearce Cavendish platter; homemade cranberry sauce and gravy in a Match Pewter wide-rimmed bowl and gravy boat, respectively; scrumptious little balls of stuffing; roasted root vegetables; peas with caramelized pancetta and shallots; and the humble, but beloved, mashed potatoes. Let me come back to the meal in a moment.
We have seven bottles of wine to taste, so I decide to start my share of the work. I start with the Beaujolais Fleuri by Clos de la Roilette—a bright, young French wine, Andrea informs us, that is bottled in late summer and meant to be drunk in the fall. Lovely. The other red is R. López de Heredia Viña Cubillo, a red wine from Spain that is quite lovely, much deeper and drier than the Beaujolais. Several varieties of white also become available. ((Numerous bottles wines seem to grow out of Andrea’s table like a fantasy vineyard. Or like one of my favorite Bacchanalian feasts.)) One is a white burgundy from the Rully appellation which sounds—white burgundy, that is—counterintuitive, but again Andrea enlightens us that it’s simply a white wine from the particular Burgundy region (Rully) in France. There’s Bedell’s Chardonnay from Long Island, New York. Not bad at all; Melissa likes this one. And there also Fürst Müller-Thurgau. Andrea is particularly enthusiastic about this German white for its light, crisp mouth-feel that helps balance out the richness of the food. Eliza also like the fact that it’s dry, not as sweet for me at the Chardonnay or as grassy at the white burgundy. Thumbs up. When it comes to pairing holiday meals with wines, it seems like the rule of thumb is “to each his own.” And also to look closer to home. The wines from Oregon and Long Island, for instance, are example of vintage I would never have previously considered and surprisingly tasty.
While we’re trying all these wines we are, of course, enjoying the meal itself. I’m particularly fond of the pancetta in the peas dish and the stuffing, but the turkey is moist and the cranberry sauce, tart-astic. Everything is perfectly delicious. Or at least everything seemed perfect until another level of perfection was revealed with the introduction of the pies.
How were we going to get the pies into our already turgid, gluttonous guts, filled to the brim with thanksgiving goodness? In the words of Fat Bastard from the modern classic Austin Powers, says Nick, "Get in mah belleh!" And so we did, get it in our bellies, that is.
"This is the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever had. Ever." says John. "Get it in your belly!" I say. "Get in mah belleh!" says Nick. ((By this point in the meal, after trying several different kinds of wine and enjoying the alcoholic tipsy as much as the onset of food coma, Nick and I find this reference to Mike Myer’s classic endlessly amusing. "Get in mah belleh," gets repeated many, perhaps countless, times to our indefatigable enjoyment and, I fear, to the fatiguing un-enjoyment of our dinner mates.))
The entire dinner party is astonished to learn that this is the first time Laura has ever baked pies. If the magnificent feast she single-handedly put together hadn’t blown off all our socks by this point, the news about her virgin pie making status makes us all realize the wonder that is Laura’s magical culinary fingers for turning the dreary grocery into gourmet delights.
With the meal now over, let us rewind to five years ago. I was in London teaching chemistry and surrounded by Londoners who are by far the most socially frigid people in the world that I’ve met. Fast forward to the present. I’m having dinner with Andrea and Eliza, both of whom I only just met that night and have, over the course of the evening, learned about my romantic situation. Nick, who I’ve only known for two years, is someone I reconnect with after weeks of separation as if time never happens between us. There’s Laura who has become my closest and dearest friend after over a decade of being out of touch. And Laura’s friend John is fast becoming good friend. There are a lot of people in my life I’m thankful for, not the least of which is living in this country and being able to enjoy this fabulous holiday of theirs. American Thanksgiving has to be right up there with Christmas and my birthday. And you don’t even get presents on Thanksgiving!