Thursday, November 29, 2012

Friendsgiving, etc.

The run-up to Friendsgiving was a week of late night cooking, walking, and knitting. 

I found out that 'towing' in London meant lifting a car onto the bed of the truck.

Kenz got busy with a scarf

Owen continued to to pull-ups for fun.
Owen and I walked through Burgess Park in the evenings, dressed as lunatics
Jim brought his son Hunter over for a visit with (streaky) bacon and eggs. 

Hunter's in the running for 'most adorable baby alive'

But, before long, it was time to get down to business. Kenz had begun pie crust and cornbread on Monday. I got the delivery of all the groceries on Tuesday morning; that night, she started the actual pies. By Wednesday, the stuffing prep had begun, and I went to get the Turkey on Thursday morning. We were having people over for Friendsgiving dinner on Friday evening (sacrilege by many Americans' standards).

Enough groceries for 18 people?

A friend emailed me, "A week of cooking for 30 minutes at the table..."

This wasn't our first rodeo, however we were still challenged with our 'economy of space' issues. Ironically, we had an overwhelming amount of food, but no actual groceries for regular meals the day before Friendsgiving; we ordered pizza the night before.

Owen and I mistakenly wore the same shirt on Thursday.
Kenz averaged 4 hours of sleep each night. Up late to cook, up early to study. 
Learning from last year's debacle, Kenz pre-ordered the turkey from Whole Foods in Piccadilly Circus back in September. We kept the receipt. We weren't going to be without a bird on the day, scrambling around to find some forgotten frozen butterball in the back corner of a distant Sainsbury's in Dulwich.

I arrived early on Thursday morning; the staff at Whole Foods were still stocking the shelves for the day. After ordering a round of espresso for myself (second of the day; I was running on fumes by this point), I asked the customer service rep where I should go to pick up my turkey. She asked for my name, cross-checked her 'list', and looked at me, dumbfounded.

"I can't find your name."
"Try Gibson; maybe my wife used her name."
"Still don't see it."
"Here's my receipt. It says this store."
"It sure does...oh, ordered this one. I'll go get it."

Exhaling the mild panic of thinking I'd be leaving the store without a turkey, I began to wonder what she meant by 'this one.' What, exactly, was so specific about the bird Kenz had ordered for us? How did this lady know which bird we'd gotten? And why wasn't it on the list?

At about that time, I turned to see four employees rounding the corner. Three of them were following the lady I'd spoken with. She was carrying what looked to be a large child.


"We had to see who ordered this one! Do you know how many people this bird will feed? Are you sure you have enough people?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
"Because it'll feed 20 people."
"I understand. We have 18 coming over."

They wound up giving me a burlap bag to carry it home. Usually they charge for the bag, but considering the fact that we'd just purchased the biggest, most expensive bird in the store's (albeit short, 6 month) history, they felt obligated to 'gift' me a bag that would actually carry the turkey.

Tom Turkey taking a seat on the underground

How is this going to fit in the oven?


We brined it for 20 hours
Kenz, along with a few classmates, 'borrowed' tables and chairs from her school. Of course, borrow, in this sense means sliding them under the gate at school and immediately throwing them in the back of a van. Longtime readers of this blog know that Kenz is wildly uncomfortable with anything that even hints at dishonesty; clearly her commitment to the success of Friendsgiving was strong.

Most of my Thursday was spent toasting bread, crumbling cornbread, tearing the toasted bread, combining both with onions, celery, a pinch of salt, and a cup of vegetable broth. I'd take breaks from stuffing loaves in order to clean the house.

This year was a personal record of 10 'batches' of stuffing

Quality Control

That's two batches
We were up until 2am on Thursday night/Friday morning, finishing pies, stuffing, and peeling potatoes.  I woke at 6:30am to take the turkey out of the brine and get it in the oven. We weren't sure if our calculations would be correct, and we wanted to make sure it'd be ready by 7:30 that evening. We were also hesitant to believe it would fit in the oven without having to get whacked in half.

It fit - just barely
As the turkey roasted, Owen and I finalized house cleaning and setting the tables up for dinner. Owen also enjoyed some videogames.

The shame for Owen was that his band had scheduled a gig for Friday night, but hadn't put it on their calendar correctly. He found out he wouldn't be making it to Friendsgiving only a week prior. Naturally, he was heartbroken. Luckily, though, he didn't have to leave the house until the turkey had been removed from the oven. He snacked as we sliced.

'Stored' stuffing. Each foil has 5-7 loaves in it.
The entire week had been a slow crescendo of stress. As we drew closer, I began to worry that there wouldn't be enough room for everyone (my fault - I was the one who invited more than my allotted '5'), there wouldn't be enough food for everyone, the turkey wouldn't fit, the invitees wouldn't 'get along', etc. 

However, after the turkey came out of the oven, the stress seemed to melt away. We at least had a bird for everyone. And damn was it big! And juicy! 

Once Kenz returned from school, she set to work on the green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, and whipped cream. She only suffered one debacle - her first round of whipped cream didn't come out correct. She had to toss it and start again.

28 pounds of turkey!

Stuffing, rolls, and turkey

Friends began arriving at 6:45. Kenz and I finally had everything ready to eat about an hour later. The final count was 17 people, although not everyone made it in the group photo - we had an early departure and a late arrival. 

The Hunter Harper, ready for turkey!

Stephen, Jim, and Hunter

We wound up serving green beans, mashed potatoes (about 40 potatoes in all), 10 batches of stuffing, turkey, gravy, rolls, cranberry sauce, two pecan pies, and two pumpkin pies. No, we didn't have sweet potatoes with marshmallow on top. Sue us. We simply didn't have the time.

Our American friend, Jason, set a great example for how to load a plate.

Except for Dom, who had been at last year's feast, and Jason, who is an American, it was everyone's very first 'American Thanksgiving' dinner.
Kenz's school friends

Getting down to business

Kristel (center), having grown up in South Africa, had never eaten turkey or pumpkin pie. 

Steve and Matthew strategizing on plate filling

It got real quiet once everyone had food.

Jason also set the example for 'seconds'

Most everyone commented on how 'juicy' the turkey was. The following comments usually went something like: we never brine our Christmas turkeys - we usually just pop them in the cooker until they're dry and flaky.

There were also several superlative comments on the mashed potatoes. Kenz apparently fed many guests the 'best mash' they'd ever had.

"What's in the mash that makes it so good?"
"About two sticks of butter..."

We had yet another pot (the same size) of mashed potatoes. We also had twice as much stuffing sitting, warming in the oven. This is after everyone had at least one go at the food. 

Conversations were had

Debates ensued

Group photos were taken

Pie was consumed

Pie was exaulted

Matthew did us a solid: he washed every single dish.

"Sometimes I like mindless work..."
In the week leading up, Kenz and I had both commented (many times) to each other, "why are we doing this" or something of the like. We bemoaned all the cooking and cleaning (we had washed the same damn five dishes countless times, vacuumed the house four times, mopped, dusted - all knowing we'd have to do it all over again once everyone left!). We thought, for sure, that something was going to go wrong. Up until the day, we were sure that we'd made a huge mistake. 

But, then, once everyone had left, we were grinning from ear to ear. We both realized that the stress was pointless - the evening was a success! 

We were reminded that the success of the evening wasn't the food but the friends that came and shared it with us. We were thankful for the opportunity to share the feast with those who had sustained us this past year. 


Leftovers for 10+ days (and I gave out 7 bags of turkey!)

I had to take pictures of the house afterward, because I was so surprised it was this clean!

And, yes, we had 3am leftovers.


Several calls were made:

The Ruckers


The Ruckers made Big Mom's stuffing loaves!

I got a call super late from the Ethier/McDaniel/Ashburn crowd on Friday night

yes, i was in bed



Tommy participating in Movember...

Brain Sturz

My face, hearing that Dad and Kelly hit a deer on their way back from the grocery store...


Kara and Kelly on the proper Turkey Day

I chuckle every time I see this photo


Not pictured: Jim, Hunter, Lee

Happy belated Thanksgiving from ours to yours!
I hope you all enjoyed your holiday as much as we did. Thanks for reading and, as always, have a great weekend!