Last year, Shawn and I hosted our first faux Thanksgiving. We had hosted the real deal the year before, and it had felt a little like playing house in the best of ways, card tables set up in our living room (we are lacking a dining room) with my family piled around, and, as much as I loved going home to Momma’s last Thanksgiving, I missed the opportunity to cook and cook in my own kitchen, a slightly different ambition. And, while my Momma’s vegetarian Thanksgiving is inarguably the best vegetarian Thanksgiving around, cooking in our own little home provided an opportunity for some slight menu variations incorporating some of Shawn’s favorite things ever: a slightly adapted version of Bryanna’s fake turkey and stuffing.
Late last February, in the dark and dragging days of winter, some friends came over to feast. One friend who was in the same boat as me (having hosted the previous year, missing cooking) cooked a duck for the meat eaters. Another brought an amazing carrot soufflé. I cooked all our favorite Thanksgiving things, and we all drank wine, and there was much merriment. It was great to have the opportunity to cook and to give thanks with friends in a family-style setting, especially in those short days when winter had just about worn out its welcome. I promised Shawn we would do it this year, too.
Spring came early this year, then disappeared, then experienced a resurgence. The strongest effect of the earliest sunshiney days on me, personally, is that I found myself practically skipping off to the farmer’s market every week, eager to behold the springy delights that had surely sprung up into these warm days, ultimately crushed to find only last season’s overwintered apples kicking around. This weather has stirred a deep, almost crazy-making asparagus craving in me, and, while I would have preferred lemony roasted asparagus to sagey roasted carrots (I would prefer lemony roasted asparagus to pretty much anything these days), there was none, and this year’s faux Thanksgiving took on another level of meaning: celebrating overwintered (and the non-local, shipped up variety that I try to avoid) vegetables, autumnal bounty carrying us into these early days of spring.
Here is what we made:
- Mustardy cheddar gougeres
- Green salad with pecans, market apples, and blue cheese
- Garlic mashed potatoes
- Momma’s mushroom gravy (the best chunky veggie gravy ever — a recipe will appear here one of these days)
- Fake turkey (but with more flavor, done up in the slow-cooker)
- Roasted carrots, celery, pearl onions
- Cornbread stuffing (recipe to follow)
- Sweet potato pie
- St. Louis gooey butter cake (So! Much! Butter!!)
It was one of my favorite parties in recent memory, due largely to the fact that, finding myself slightly overwhelmed with cooking tasks and suspecting that I had bitten off more than I could chew a few hours before party time, I was able to successfully remind myself that only my friends would be coming, that I love cooking with my friends, that none of the lovely people slated to arrive would take issue with having a drink and standing, chatting, at the kitchen island while I scurried around. This is surely true of all our parties, but letting that realization sink in made the day of preparation and the party that followed exponentially more joyful for me.
Friends came bearing plants that brought wonderful, springy smells into our home. They mixed drinks, scooped gougeres, chopped mushrooms (thanks, Gary), told stories, ate and ate, paid compliments, and, at the end of the night, Shawn and Gary somehow managed to clean every last dish, pot, and pan that had been used, thus marking the first time in my adult life that I have hosted a party and woken up to a spic and span apartment the next day. I cannot overstate how wonderful it was to see that stove top gleaming in the morning sun, all that clear counter space. And thus, for the second year running, faux Thanksgiving provided many small opportunities for gratitude. In these early spring days, I am grateful for fall foods, dear friends, clean dishes, and the chance to create tradition and celebration at any time of year.
I am also extremely grateful that, in the week and a half following faux Thanksgiving, I have attended a barbecue, eaten ramps, visited flowering trees at the botanical gardens, and taken many a long and breezy stroll. Spring is springing, the CSA is starting soon, and fresh asparagus is right around the corner!