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Being Thankful

It's the time of the year when we start counting down towards the end of the year. It's also the time of the year when we gather together to celebrate with our families all the joyous celebratory holidays. It can also be the time of the year that is the toughest for those who have lost loved ones and find our selves in what I recently learned is a category called "Adult Orphans." Becoming an adult orphan is a normal part of life's cycle. As we enter our 50's this is a normal part of our life, I get that. However it's how you deal with the situation that is the interesting part. Family as strictly defined is group of people related to each other -- but is that really the only definition of family? For me the answer is "no" that is not the only definition of family. As an only child with little family in the immediate area, my extended family has become my network of friends and my mom's friends. I'm very thankful for my family with whom I have reconnected after my mother's death, but for many years we were not close. My group of friends has become my family and by extension so have their parents. They are my source of strength, comfort and love and for this I am thankful. So before we sit around our Thanksgiving tables and each say for what we are thankful, I wanted to share this with you all now.

I am thankful for the treasure trove of recipes my mom left, most, lovingly hand-written on index cards. I am thankful for all the amazing Thanksgiving meals she made for me and dad. Mom was a really great cook and she eventually handed off her cooking duties to me as it became tougher for her to make a complete meal. After dad's passing it was just me and mom, and often we'd have our friends come over and she and I would cook together. Eventually I'd take over all the duties. She'd do some of the prep work and I'd do the cooking. One thing I never let her give up was her cranberry sauce. Here's her recipe and it really was simple and perfect. The sweet and acidic nature of the sauce was the perfect foil for the rich foods of Thanksgiving. She never deviated from this recipe and honestly there's no reason to do so. Here's her original index card with the recipe -- you can't go wrong! And by the way it's also great over ice cream!

I remember being a bit terrified the first time I made a turkey. I think every one is -- so much pressure. But as I always joked, if it was awful there were always the sides and take out was just a phone call away. So I bought my turkey, a nice 10 pounder, not easy to find a small turkey! I don't like the mess of liquid brining and really who has a pot or a bag big enough let alone room in the fridge! Dry brining with lots of salt works great, just make sure you season inside and out and keep the turkey uncovered in the fridge overnight so that it dries -- this will ensure a perfectly crisp bird! Overcooking is what makes the turkey dry, so if you cook it properly it should be juicy; and in case it's still dry, moisten with a bit of stock after you slice it. Here's a picture of my first turkey, lots of butter mixed and if you want to go a step further add sage and lemon peel, under the skin. This ensures moisture and taste seep into the meat and nice drippings result for making gravy at the end. I always add the neck and gibblets to stock to enrich the stock that will be used for making the gravy so don't throw out those parts, they are flavorful and useful! I won't be making the turkey this year but that doesn't mean that I don't serve as Turkey 911 for some. First time we went to a friend's house her mom made an enormous stuffed turkey, it started out well but somewhere down the line, her mom decided the turkey was done, took it out way too early then had a panic attack when she realized she took it out 2 hours too early or rather hadn't put it in 2 hours early enough. Now everyone knows I am a die-hard Cowboy fan -- no judgement please, and while I'm watching the game I can hear her screaming my name. So we un-stuffed the turkey, and put the bird back in at a higher temp and cooked both until they were done (that's what most chefs will tell you when you ask how them how long to cook something.) I could tell just by feeling the bird and seeing the color of the juices that it was seriously underdone -- which also meant that the stuffing would be dangerous so all needed to be cooked separately until done. Honestly I never mind the phone calls! I'm thankful that I have the cooking background so that I can answer those calls!

So this year though I am not cooking the bird, I will be making a lot of the sides to bring over to my friends aka my family. I love the mix of sides and everyone has a favorite. I'm thankful for the bounty of yummy foods that we've all contributed to the table. This year I will make roasted butternut squash and onions and walnuts, finished with a drizzle of high-quality balsamic vinegar. I also love to make brussel sprouts mixed with onions, pancetta and chestnuts, finished with a touch of cream and a sprinkle of parmegiano. First render out the pancetta until it's crisp then add shredded brussel sprouts and saute them with the onions in a mix of butter and olive oil until they are soft and slightly caramelized, add the chopped cooked chestnuts. Add a touch of cream to your liking and season with salt and lots of pepper. Sprinkle with a handful of parmegiano then put in the oven at 400F until it's bubbly and the cheese is golden -- maybe 15 minutes.

I'm also going to make a sausage, chestnut dressing. Mom always used Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix and never deviated! It really is the best, just add your own seasonings. In a pan saute onions,and celery in butter until soft, add some chopped pecans, then add the sausage (about a pound without the casing for a bag of stuffing) saute until brown. I also add some additional poultry seasoning about a teaspoon and salt and pepper to taste. Add all this to a bag of stuffing and put this into a buttered casserole dish. Moisten with 2 cups of boiling stock and bake in the oven at 350 F for about 30-40 minutes.

Here's my Wine 911 for the meal. I traditionally like to serve domestic wines but not always. What's needed, and is most important, is a wine that has good acidity because the meal can be rich and you need something that can cut through that richness. Bubbly is a great option, a dry, slightly floral rose sparkler like a dry Cava or Prosecco or a domestic Sparkling Wine. I think a dry still Rose not sweet, made in the Provence style, has the pretty floral notes and good acidity that will pair well. Other good options include aromatic white wines with crisp acidity, floral and citrus notes such as a Pinot Gris and there are some terrific ones from Oregon if you want to stay domestic or Alsace if you want an import. I also like either a Vinho Verde or Gruner Veltliner if you want an import. Red options should not be too ripe and intense as they can overpower the meal, and you want a wine to complement not over power. Here too a red should have acidity -- balanced acidity is what a good food wine should have. Pinot Noir especially from Oregon has brilliant ruby fruit notes and great acidity. Syrah and Grenache are other good choices. They have dark fruit notes lots of spice like cinnamon and lol say it with me -- good acidity. Malbec too is a great option it is a grape that is truly food friendly -- loads of red-fruit notes and great balanced acidity it works well with a cornucopia of foods and tastes. There are so many great wine choices, just remember the best wine is the wine you like! Wine for me, like food, is what I love to share with friends. I am thankful that my parents gave me this love of food and wine. They loved to share it with their friends and I in-turn love to share it with my friends. Happy Thanksgiving everyone, be thankful for what you have on your plate, your glass and in your life!

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