I love to cook. Not so much just for myself, but for others – friends old and new. My family was all about shared meals, growing up we ate at least dinner together as a family almost every single night (my father traveled a lot but my mom, sister and I would always eat dinner together). Not “eat dinner together in front of the TV” as is the case for so many families today, but an actual multiple course, family style meal usually around our small kitchen table. Nothing too fancy, but almost always a salad and/or side of vegetables, some form of starch and a main course.
And around this table we talked about our days – my sister and I about our school work and activities, my father and mother about their work – problems they were working on, ideas they had had. During these conversations the discussion was never just one sided – it was always a discussion with even my sister and I being asked for our opinions, thoughts and ideas.
It is a bit hard to explain – and perhaps (okay almost certainly) not a typical family conversational style. We were (and are) a family of intellectuals. My father was a tenured college professor – but then left that soon after my sister was born (I’m the oldest, she’s 3 years younger) and joined industry. However he retains much of the air of a college professor – he’s published a ton of journal articles (more in fact than many professors) and a couple of text books and technical books. My mom had a long career as an independent computer consultant and programmer, she also taught computer science at some local colleges as we grew up (I learned flowcharting by doing the homework she assigned her classes – this was in the 1980’s keep in mind) I should note that while my father has a PhD (Chemical Engineering – and yes, he is very much the engineer – albeit one who also can very seriously write quite well) my mom “just” has a college degree, she did some graduate work but never got a graduate degree, instead she started working as a computer programmer right out of college. She hadn’t studied CS in college (but then in the mid-1960’s not many people did) but she worked on a great number of interesting projects. Wrote the systems for a major railroad to manage and track their trains (before I was born in the early 1970’s) and most of the system to run a university around the time I was born in the mid-1970’s).
Often our family dinners and the conversations they started would last for hours.
So, as a result, I love to cook – and I love to have people gather around my table. However while I was living in Chicago I lived in a very small, fairly cramped 1 bedroom apartment – I had a few dinner parties but only a very few. Then when I first moved here to the Bay Area we had nearly no furniture in the apartment in Berkeley.
However that is no longer the case – in my current apartment in Noe Valley I have a dining table which was custom made for me – a 7′ birdseye, curly redwood table with matching 7′ long benches made from a locally harvested redwood (which was either condemned or fell due to natural causes). The wood was air dried by the mill from which I purchased it for a year before they made it into the table for me. A truly magnificent table. Plus I have a desk from a different redwood which I can add to extend the table to nearly 12′ – giving me a table (and in a room large enough) where I can easily have 13-14 people for dinner.
So later this week I will be cooking a simple, local Thanksgiving dinner. My personal style of cooking is very much local and seasonal. I buy ingredients which are fresh and for the most part seasonal and then prepare them with generally simple preparations to bring out their flavors – trying to use only the best possible spices and other items (olive oils etc).
For Thursday here is my current planned menu (there is probably still room for a few more, if you are reading this and in the bay area, contact me, I’d love to meet you):
A 16 1/2 lb free range, Willie Bird heritage turkey. Probably simply prepared with sea salt & pepper, stuffed and roasted for 4+ hours (basting it frequently as needed). I may add a few additional spices to the rub.
Stuffing of fresh Acme sourdough cubed with sauteed onions and organic celery w/a light amount of spices.
(an additional side dish of stuffing prepared outside of the bird w/vegetable broth for any vegetarian guests)
fresh, simple cranberry sauce (water, sugar, cranberries)
roasted seasonal vegetables – local yams, parsnips, turnips, carrots roasted with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt
roasted halved Brussells Sprouts w/light asian chili dressing (Thai chilies & rice vinegar)
made from scratch pumpkin pie (roasted myself pumpkins, made from scratch pie crust)
And that may be it – I might add some additional dishes and I’ll be prepared to make a main course for any vegetarians who join us for dinner. I might also make from from scratch current scones. And I plan on having a variety of great teas and locally roasted coffee to serve with dessert.
But that’s the main menu. Very simple (almost too simple perhaps) dishes with only a few ingredients in each, almost everything from farms less than 100 miles from San Francisco or made fresh here in the city.
I know that many people make very elaborate dishes for the holidays – stuffings with meat, nuts and more. But to my tastes what says a special occasion for me is very simple dishes done just right – with ingredients that are full of flavor.
And, of course, we’ll save the complicated stuff for the conversations!