We welcomed family and friends to the farm this year for Thanksgiving. It’s the quiet morning after and I can see the sun coloring the bottom of the horizon outside as the house sleeps. I enjoy cooking for my family. Besides the excitement of a large-meal challenge, cooking is one of the ways I express myself and do my best to add warmth to a welcome. I have found that I also enjoy celebrating scratch-cooking; both learning and demonstrating that it’s possible to connect with techniques and recipes that start the dish or meal at its very beginning.
This year was particularly gratifying for several reasons. As our guest list grew, we decided if it was going to happen at our place, it’d have to be in the barn. (instead of the nearby Fenn Valley Winery who has rented us their kitchen and banquet hall before), Long story short, while brisk at times, 20-some guests sat at a super long dinner table, in the company of two horses, overlooking the affair from their stalls. Guests young and old fed apples, groomed and even sat bareback for a post-dinner stretch.
The menu was very local. When I talked with Lee and Lori at Eaters Guild Farm in Bangor to reserve a turkey (free range, organic, happy turkey), I learned what produce they’d have. I began to imagine a menu based on what was available; brussels, carrots, kale, potatoes, rutabagas and more. When we had dinner at Salt of the Earth earlier in the week, I talked with them about bread for stuffing, and as we left, I had a mixed-bag of loaves on their way to perfect crustiness.
Last month, we bought a half-side of pork from nearby Evergreen Lane Farm, better known for their goat’s milk cheeses. We were fortunate enough to get some of their pork, and even more lucky that I got to assist neighbors Matt and Amy in the butchering, along with Sous, Brandon and Torie. I made breakfast sausage for the stuffing and Mole Asses Bacon went with the brussels. We also used one of my favorite cheeses, Poet’s Tomme (stout-washed cows milk) in the family-favorite Leeks Gruyere (gruyere no-longer).
I also embraced the concept of resting the birds more fully than ever before. It’s been a neighborhood discussion over many whole-chickens, and I’m feeling enlightened by the shift. Instead of trying to time the turkeys to the last possible minute, it was the opposite question of “how early can I cook them?” By setting aside the target of serving the turkey hot, (which is an impossibility anyway), I felt I could improve flavor with longer rest (at least the amount of cooking time) and free up the kitchen to focus on sides, with the oven and chef more available. This theory played out with great satisfaction, as the entire menu was managed with one oven, and everything was delivered at an enjoyable temperature. Sometimes it takes a decade to have an eye-opening realization like this one.
While many drinks were shared, when turkey hit the table, so did Hopivore, our harvest-ale with all-Michigan hops, from the Michigan Hop Alliance. I picked it as the perfect pair from a flavor point of few, bridging to the beer-brined turkey, before realizing how nicely it tied into what had almost inadvertently become a local theme.
I’m encouraged and grateful that this is all so possible. I don’t want to soap-box the local movement, or get so “foodie” that people get intimidated. I believe in sourcing quality as a higher priority than zip-code, but also believe that often times they’re one in the same. I’m so happy that higher quality, ethically-raised, nutritious, chemical-free food is getting more accessible than ever before, which ultimately brings it to more people and makes these farms and practices that much more sustainable.
As I ponder yesterday’s cooking marathon, and recall the familiar “what are you thankful for” toasts, I consider several things, which this morning, are food-focused:
– My family. You have offered unending inspiration and support in many areas. You’ve also been good eaters and allowed my cooking indulgences, willingly stretching you food-view when invited to.
- My long-departed friend and homebrew partner Mike. We opened a window to the world of beer together, well before we each found a door.
- The countless friends, chefs and brewers that have cooked with me, talked food with me, and shared ideas, techniques, advise and inspiration.
- The many people who believe that raising food and drink is a pursuit worthy of thoughtfulness and care. You accept larger challenges and smaller returns, but are gratified by the quality of experience over all else.
- My Mom and Dad for answering many of my questions with more questions, encouraging a perspective of curiousity and belief that I can figure something out. This includes responding to my panicked, college-age realization that I couldn’t cook, which meant I couldn’t “host”; with my first cookbook, so many years ago.
- My wife Ulla. Your razor sharp palate and willingness to endure my zealous pursuits are only part of your charm. You will always be my favorite person to cook for.
Thanks to all.