We went from “sweater weather” to “trying to somehow not touch the ice-cold steering wheel while driving” weather awfully quickly this year, it seems. Last year we didn’t touch the thermostat until November, and here we are with the heat on not even halfway through October. I wonder why I consider it appropriate to have a dozen light jackets I get to wear for five weeks in May and June and three weeks in September, but owning a mere three winter coats which I wear for six months out of the year feels like an embarrassment of riches.
All week Jeff and I have found ourselves looking up from whatever we’re doing to occupy our evenings, and discovering it’s somehow nearly midnight. When the sun sets before I even finish cooking dinner, it throws off my whole sense of time (in the summer I was almost always in bed by 11:30). I’m not judging myself for watching three episodes of Castlevania while eating Halloween candy under a blanket at 11pm, but I guess it’s probably time to start taking my vitamin D tablets again.
On Sunday, Jeff and I had a small Thanksgiving dinner with my sisters. A perk of having a smaller group is that the oven isn’t completely occupied by the turkey for most of the afternoon, so it doesn’t feel like a mad rush trying to get the other roasted items ready in the last 30 minutes while the turkey is resting. We made more food than was probably necessary for four people, but having a variety of options open since we weren’t making the traditional dinner was too enticing. We always start with a soup so no one gets too hungry waiting for the main; this year it was roasted carrot with coconut milk and turmeric, and jalapeño chimichurri on top for spice and acidity. I created this soup recipe years ago using roasted parsnips and heavy cream, but it’s easily adapted to be vegan or use other root vegetables.
We chose the slow-roasted oregano & fennel chicken with tomatoes (which we also made for our solo Thanksgiving last year) as our centrepiece, and it turned out wonderfully. The only changes we made were using olive oil on the tomatoes instead of butter since Maddie can’t have dairy, and roasting the garlic heads whole and taking them out of the skins afterwards to add to the dish. I suppose they don’t impart as much flavour into the tomatoes during cooking this way, but I halved them as indicated last time and it was just really difficult to get the cloves out in order to eat them. This dish is perfectly balanced and so satisfying to eat, and contrary to popular belief, cooking a chicken whole is pretty difficult to screw up: enough fat to brown the skin and plenty of salt to keep it juicy, and you basically can’t go wrong. I will note though that this cooks faster than the recipe says (I’ve made this three times and it’s always done after 2 hours).
Eating the roasted tomatoes and garlic with slices of sourdough is as good as eating the chicken, so I made a fresh loaf to go with the dinner. Since Alice doesn’t eat meat I made the mushroom walnut pâté from the Veganomicon as an alternative to the chicken. It uses crimini mushrooms cooked until soft with onion, thyme, and tarragon, and then blended into a purée with white beans, toasted walnuts, and some white wine vinegar. I also added a little fresh oregano to tie in the flavour of the chicken dish. The flavour was savoury but not overly rich or earthy, and it worked nicely as a contrast to the acidity of the tomatoes and salad.
The brussels sprouts we planted in our garden didn’t do as well this year as last year, but we still had some to cook. I made a variation of a dish in Six Seasons: brussels sprouts with pickled carrots and citrus vinaigrette. I opted to roast the sprouts instead, and skipped the cilantro and green onions, using just parsley to better match the rest of the dinner. We added chopped lacinato kale from the garden to make it into a more substantial salad, and used walnuts since I was already toasting them for the pâté. The pickled carrots are really great here— I’d only made them one day before, but I bet it would be even nicer if they’d had a few more days to absorb the brine. And, not because we needed them, but because Thanksgiving couldn’t possibly be complete without potatoes, I chopped a few and roasted them with some fresh thyme and rosemary until they were perfectly crispy brown on the outside and soft on the inside.
Dessert was an apple pie made with some of our remaining bounty/curse of apples from the backyard tree, and Jeff’s vegan pistachio ice cream. We sat at the table talking until long after dinner was over and dishes were done, and Alice flipped through my favourite cookbooks as I pointed out the best recipes while Maddie and Jeff disappeared to play guitar. I made sure to send everyone home with a container of leftovers, because another important part of Thanksgiving is eating the same food for at least 1 more day.
Meals the rest of the week were mostly about making use of the leftovers. On the holiday Monday, I made chicken noodle soup with what was left of the meat (after we’d had sandwiches for lunch). No recipe required, just begin with some aromatics— I used an onion and a yellow carrot forgotten for too long in the garden that was about the size of three normal carrots— then add some herbs, broth, and chicken pieces to cook for an hour or so before adding the noodles and any softer veggies like frozen peas or fresh greens. It’s always perfectly comforting, and a little different every time, depending on what seasonings you initially used to cook your chicken. We’d eaten all the sourdough at this point, but I pulled the remaining loaf of rosemary cheese soda bread (details here) out of the freezer to toast and eat on the side.
I also made a hummus out of the leftover white beans from making the pâté. White beans have a milder flavour than chickpeas, so I like to add lots of coriander seed and cayenne, and serve it with a healthy pour of fruity olive oil and good dusting of smoked paprika and more coriander. This made a good lazy dinner with some flatbread, veggies, feta, and pickled beets… and some of the pâté, once I remembered we still had some left.
It should be no surprise that Alicia Kennedy’s piece this week for Bon Appetit, about letting go of the ‘rules’ for throwing a good dinner party, was lovely— and pertinent. Many of these things had been on my mind as I prepared for Thanksgiving dinner this past weekend: as much as I love hosting, and creating a beautiful meal experience for my guests, in the past when we hosted larger groups I often felt left out of my own parties because I was too busy doing the work of prepping and cooking. We’ve gotten better over the years at doing things in advance so that we have more time to actually spend with our dinner guests, and although I’ve never much concerned myself with whether everyone has the correct glassware or if all the chairs around the table match, I’ve still had a hard time relaxing if I ran out of time to label everything on everything on the cheese plate, or forgot the toasted nuts for the salad.
“When we invite people we love into our homes, it’s only natural that we want to display our best—our best cooking, our best wine, our best selves—but we are doing so because we want our guests to feel taken care of, to feel safe, to feel nourished.”
When I’m browsing food websites or Instagram and I see elaborate table setups, complete with seasonal centrepieces, I am first inclined to feel impressed, but then find myself wondering, “Did it taste good? Did everyone have a nice time?” No one is coming to dinner in order to look at the decorative gourds (ok, not just to look at the decorative gourds). No one’s going to think the meal wasn’t a success if we don’t make our own ice cream to go with the cake, or if we place a pot full of curry down on a trivet instead of putting it into a serving dish. The pandemic has reminded us how much we value the opportunity to share with one another, and spend time together:
“after a meal is over, we linger at the table, pour more wine, bring out interesting spirits and liqueurs to taste. We luxuriate in pure presence.”
Striving for every aspect of a dinner to be perfect has never been realistic, and as the essay reminds us, while the meal is the excuse for us to get together, it isn’t the reason we do it.
Thanks for reading— if you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with someone new! I like providing this to you for free, but it does still involve time and effort, so donations I can use towards cookbooks or future treats are much appreciated. Anyway, adulthood is mostly a living nightmare but some parts of it are still good (if you disagree please do not @ me).