My First Thanksgiving: A Novella

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I come from a large family of adventurous eaters. For the great majority of us, excluding myself, there is no such thing as too spicy or too aged. I’m generally the only one to abide by the old “When in Rome” mentality of ordering fish and chips at the fish and chips joint- my mom will have the moussaka, thanks.

Except for holidays. On holidays our preferences run more toward the fiercely traditional, almost militant, idea of what turkey dinner should look like. Particularly if certain uncles are invited. There are no variations, no substitutions. For it to be truly pure, my grandmother, Kay, must prepare the bulk of it (or at least all of the things that aren’t just boiled vegetables. And they can only be boiled.)

Over the last couple of years my diet has presented a number of challenges to our holiday table that have really rocked the family to its core (I’m talking to you  Uncle G). The contents of the stuffing. The thickening of the gravy. The flake of the pumpkin pie crust. Changing them? What are we all doing here? What is the meaning of life? At first we were making all separate stuff just for me, to preserve the integrity of the Official Turkey Dinner for the sake of the rest of the family. But it was just too much work, so we had to switch everyone over. Sacred side dishes were now being altered on my behalf; suddenly no one was safe from my soggy stuffing.

But then my mom and I figured it out and it’s awesome again and nobody knows the difference.

I am a big fan of trying new recipes and cooking techniques. Especially when I’m entertaining. Unknown result + guests? So fun! I’m pretty sure Kay has actual nightmares about this. But seeing as I was in charge of Thanksgiving this year and was feeling emboldened by my Uncle Gord’s absence, and the fact there were only going to be 13 victims at the table, I thought I would switch it up and try some all-new recipes to see if maybe there were some traditional items that could be tweaked.

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My first ambition was to brine my turkey. This initial compromise of the main event itself, a bird I christened Ted Baker (after the host of my favourite food network show, Chopped) was immediately met with resistance from the team. At least three times, my dad begged “don’t do itttttttt,” when I mentioned my big plans. I finally asked him why and he said “… because my mom never did.” Huh. Leah took a more aggressive “NO, Al. NO.” but couldn’t give even a reason as legit as my father’s. I was partially stalled by this opposition, and by the fact that the brine required 72 hours soaking time (my personal hesitation was more to do with poisoning the whole family than breaking with tradition). I knew my grandma would just drop dead if she knew. She has poultry paranoia. But I was more curious than scared, and soon Ted was well on his way to brine-dom.

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The The Menu/Verdict:

Ted himself turned out very tasy. I didn’t notice a very different flavour in the meat from having soaked it with the vegetables/herb/seasoning mixture, but other people said they did. For this reason, I probably wouldn’t bother with the 3-day brine again, but I will do a dry brine next time or just a 24-hr one. What did make it worth it was that I got incredible gravy out of that thing. I was a little worried when Ted came out of the oven and it didn’t look like I was gonna have a ton of dark drippings to work with, but it was seriously flavourful. So I’d brine again just for that.

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Showtime!!! Unfortunately somewhere along the way I lost a bit of Ted’s skin.

DSC_1424Cornbread Stuffing with Bacon, Onions, and Apple (Food52)

The reason I chose it over the 4,350 other cornbread recipes on the internet is because the recipe for the actual cornbread didn’t include flour, so I knew that my final product would be the same as Food52’s. I was hesitant to rely on my old cornbread recipes because then I would need to sub out regular flours for gf and I didn’t want my little cornbread croutons disintegrating into mush once I combined them with all the other ingredients. It was pretty well received but if I made it again I would reduce the bacon and increase the apple. I was going for that Kraft Stove Top vibe and it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I missed my gran’s Irish potato/bread stuffing that we usually have so I whipped some up the next day to supplement our leftovers (potato stuffing is great if you’re a celiac, and if you’re not. But especially for celiacs. I wonder if it was invented because so many Irish people are celiac and they can’t have Stove Top? Not sure why I’m still so obsessed with boxed stuffing?)

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Grilled Brussels Sprouts with Chanterelles (Bon Appetit)

I was excited by the prospect of thick-cut applewood smoked bacon on our Thanksgiving table, so naturally I took it too far and decided to work it into another recipe in addition to the stuffing. These dirtballs (as my family calls them) were a big hit. I sautéed instead of the prescribed grilling, because I just had too many irons in the fire to be running outside tending the barbecue. The mushrooms were beautiful and an exotic addition to the meal. We never have mushrooms at Thanksgiving! Wild.

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Cranberry-Orange Relish with Mint (Bon Appetit)

Those mavericks at Bon Appetit were just a little off with this one. Thankfully I made our traditional cranberry sauce to accompany the experimental one (I’m brave, but not brave enough to face the mob without the classic cranberry sauce that is a nonnegotiable requirement of any turkey dinner at my house.) I thought the relish got luke-warm to positive reviews (I always know when people refer to my cooking as “interesting” or “different” that I’ve missed), but next time I would rather put my energy towards elevating other basic dishes and stick with the recipe on the back of the bag for this one.

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Roasted Cauliflower with Parmesan

Because this Thanksgiving was as much about Leah being home for the weekend as it was the holiday, I thought I’d do some fancy cauliflower in her honor. I broke down two heads and spread them out on a cookie sheet to roast away with some sliced onion, garlic cloves, olive oil, S&P, and parmesan cheese. Another unorthodox thanksgiving vegetable! She approved.

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Old Standards

Rounding out the meal we had “Sweet Potato Supreme” (mashed sweet potatoes and yams with a topping of maple syrup, brown sugar, and toasted pecans), carrots, peas, mashed potatoes, and black olives (don’t know why these need to be on the table… they just do).

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DSC_1494Dessert: Pecan Pie with Cream Cheese Crust

This was delicious, however at this point we were all dying from such a heavy dinner. The filling was super rich and syrupy and sweet. I had to convert the crust into gf using my trusty Cup4Cup flour, and I thought it could have been a bit more pliable. The dough was very dry when I was rolling it out and I should have known to add more liquid, but I went along with it anyway and it still turned out okay. I would totally do this again and eat less dinner so I could fit more pie.

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Kay brought her classic pumpkin pie, which I probably still prefer to, well, pretty much any other food in the world. I also made one batch of buttermilk pecan fudge, which I’ve made several times and is indescribably good. Have you tried crack? It’s crack.

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Success! Overall it was a success. Nobody died from trying new stuffing, or from eating a three-day-thawed turkey, for that matter. I just got my Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit and am already planning out my Christmas menu (stay tuned for a spatchcocked bird).

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Note: This was so much work! I think about my gran doing it single-handedly with 30+ people coming over… a huge undertaking. As we got closer to sitting down to eat, I had more and more things on the go that needed to be cooked and garnished and steamed and rested and carved. It was a bit of a circus. For this reason, I enlisted the help of Jaime and Daniel to take all photos of the meal and its prep for the blog. I hope you enjoyed their artistic, at times downright avant-garde eye for food photography.

Some of my favourites that didn’t quite make the storyline:

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My Prettiest Easter Brunch

My Prettiest Easter Brunch

For Easter I thought it would be a nice idea to have a sophisticated brunch for my best buds that were gonna be home for the long weekend. I am lucky to have a mother who collects china, and friends who are always down for dressing up, so it worked out perfectly. I made a french toast raphael, with bacon, ham, and lots of fruit. We drank mimosas and ate blueberry lemon muffins that my mom whipped up while we waited for everyone to arrive. The food turned out and everyone looked divine, it was the event of the weekend and a who’s who of the best people in the Parksville/Nanoose area.

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After weeks of being of sad we needed to get outside and drink some drinks and play some tennis. We drank our drinks on the patio at the Beach Club in Parksville with some nachos… but I’m not even gonna report on those. Allow the picture of Will’s face below to illustrate how we felt about them.

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The Fish Shack on Granville

The Fish Shack on Granville

Fish shack is a restaurant owned by the Glowbal group in Vancouver, a chain of different restaurants that all the Joeys and Cactus Clubs wish they were. I went there last night, for maybe the 4th time, with Daniel, Megan, and Brenden. It’s great going out for dinner with Meg because she is always on time and it was a Saturday night and super busy so her and Brenden waited for a table for like 40 minutes, and then Daniel and I showed up and we got seated. Niceee. This place is unlike the rest of the glowbal restaurants in that the menus are just pieces of paper, the staff wear tshirts, and the food is served in little metal baskets. Rather than be mad you are there, every server I’ve had at the Fish Shack seems to be extremely enthusiastic about all aspects of my experience. Which is nice, I guess. Their little gimmick is to bring you tiny bread bowls of seafood chowder (obviously I’m out for that one). The guy we had last night wished us “good luck” every time he brought more food or another drink to our table. Was that “good luck” as in, “I hope you survive the raw oysters”? or, “good luck” as in, “you don’t look like a group of people that know how to eat food in a restaurant”? I don’t know. Maybe the funniest part of the evening was when Daniel decided he was going to have a healthy dinner and order grilled salmon with rice, and the rest of us got deep fried stuff. They brought out his food and it was very much a little piece of grilled salmon with a pile of white rice. He was confused and disappointed. He never learns- “when in Rome, Daniel!!!”Anyway none of that matters, because I can have real fish and chips in that place- battered, deep fried, chunks of any kind of fish. Or prawns. Or oysters. One more item wiped off my list of “Favourite Foods I Will Never Enjoy Again.” I forgot to take a picture so I include this picture of Brenden, my dad, and Daniel as a substitute. Aren’t they cute??

Lefty’s in Parksville

Lefty's in Parksville

Jaime and I chose Lefty’s this morning as a little throwback- we used to walk there for breakfast ALL the time when we were in highschool and would have parties at her moms house and invite like 10 guys over and drink illicit booze and play cranium. We would always split a “traditional” the following morning and feel really grown up and awesome. Since we are women now we decided we should probably order two things (but still share them obviously), so I got the gfree french toast (finally!) and she ordered the traditional and we were gonna divvy them up. The bacon and eggs came with toast all over the top of them, so I ended up just having french toast. Such is the life of a celiac that orders gluten free french toast and a regular breakfast and then says at the end “and the toast cant touch anything!” and the waitress says “well obviously” and then the plates show up with regular toast all over one of them.

Wait and Celiac: Victoria Edition

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Daniel and our Tour Guides on a Seaside Excursion

To kick off reading break we drove down to Victoria to see my girl Jaime (J. Mo), her endlessly charming boyfriend Mark (and all of my other best friends from Parksville that I never get to see), and to see what we could find to eat around that place. Our first stop was “The Joint”- a little place on the inner harbour that has a big g-free menu and some really, really good gfree pizza on homemade crust. I could have had pasta if I wanted, but instead I opted for a huge slice of hawaiian (!!), and it was delicious. The most pizza-y pizza I have eaten in some time, and a perfect snack to prep us for wandering around downtown Vic (windiest place in the world). For dinner we went to a new pub, Yates St. Taphouse, and my dinner wasn’t very exciting and my options were very limited (a little bowl of prawns in garlic with cherry tomatoes), but they are a pub and they just opened and the server promised they were working on getting gfree bread, pasta, etc.

The real treat was our breakfast the next day (and getting to stay at Jaime and Mark’s apartment obviously, and having Jaime wake us up so cheerfully/urgently). We went to Shine Cafe and waited like an hour because they are very popular. I insisted on the Blanshard location because the rumor online was that they had gfree french toast (unprecedented). They didn’t, and it was briefly disappointing but was soon made acceptable by the raspberry-banana pancakes that I got instead:

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So they look like pancakes, and probably boring ones to a regular-pancake eating person, but they were really fluffy and crispy around the edges and not corn-mealy (sorry Roundel Cafe), and the fruit in them was soo good. I couldn’t eat all of it but if I had taken the leftovers home with me I would be finishing them off right now.

There’s not a lot else to report about this occasion other than Jaime got really drunk at the Yates St. ($6 doubles that she forgot were doubles), and we played a great game with our friends called “Cards Against Humanity.” She hated it.

Sweet Obsession on 16th

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Here’s Leah holding up the sign that everyone pretty much ignored. “What? There’s no sign on this table! Lets stay until 10:30 with our 6 month old baby!”

As usual this post is about trying to go to one place but ending up at a different one. Last night Daniel decided that he should take his three girlfriends (me, Jody, and Leah) out for dessert because it was friday night and we weren’t doing anything. So we went to True Confections on Broadway/Alma, and it was packed like it always is and the disinterested hipster told us it would be a half an hour wait so we drove around trying to think of somewhere else to go that wasn’t Dairy Queen. Daniel is not a fan of driving around when we have no destination.
We parked back in front of our house and I said “this was worse than not going out at all!” So Daniel quickly thought of a place we had never been, only I had been there before, with Jaime, and they didn’t have a single thing I could eat. It is a cute little bakery/pastry shop called Sweet Obsession, and this time they had three dessert choices for me! So we decided to stay.
But then the girl said it would be a twenty minute wait. And it was probably more like a half an hour. There are only a couple of tables, and they were mostly occupied by moms and babies who didn’t want to ever leave even though Leah and Daniel were loudly saying “it’s time for that baby to sleep, don’t you think?” “if I had a baby it would be sleeping, for sure!” “etc” (it was like 10 pm at this point). So we didn’t come out ahead in terms of time, but we came out ahead in terms of cake. Because it was delicious and the guy was SUPER nice and gave us a sample while we were waiting and then gave us two slices of something to take home because they were closing.

verdict: we will go there instead of True Confections when we want cake now. They were half the price and twice as nice. Why are those True Confections guys so grumpy? ps. I had black and white chocolate mousse but I COULD have had a lemon or hazelnut merengue with cream, or a flourless chocolate cake. And that’s about all you can ask for in this day and age.