This year would be the first Thanksgiving I’d be spending with my honey, and the first in my new home “village” of Oysterville, WA (pop. 14).
It would also be the first year I’d be spending it away from my family and California friends in decades.
I wanted to — needed to — surround myself with the new family and friends who have wrapped me in their warm circle.
And while we have had our crosses to bear, we are also blessed with good fortune, and wanted to share our bounty with those who have shared theirs with us throughout the year.
This adds up to a good number of people, and our modestly-sized home wasn’t going to work for all the thanks we wanted to give.
As it turns out, our little village of Oysterville has the perfect venue to hold a community gathering — the old Oysterville Schoolhouse.
Oysterville was not always a quiet ghost town — it was once a thriving commercial village, and housed the county seat (before it was stolen away by South Bend). The children of Oysterville — my sweetheart’s mother and three aunts included — were educated in the one-room Oysterville Schoolhouse.
Built in 1907, and used until 1957, the schoolhouse is now maintained by the Oysterville Community Club, and is available to rent for social functions, weddings, and Bacchanalian communal feasts (for which there is an extra fee, depending on how many goatskins of wine are served).
Because we’re not totally crazy, we decided upon a pot luck Thanksgiving. We would do the bird, gravy, stuffing and appetizers.
But because we are a LITTLE crazy, we decided to serve a 45 pound turkey.
And since it was to be an Oysterville Thanksgiving, it had to be an Oysterville bird.
Bird is the word.
When Dan found out our friends Kathy and Bob raised four turkeys this year, he said “I want one.” When Kathy warned him that the birds were in the 40 lb. plus category, he said “I’ll take the biggest.”
Bird-with-no-name was raised with love with his brothers and sister in Bob & Kathy’s Oysterville back yard. Monday morning, he departed for grassier pastures. Thursday morning he was in my oven(s).
I know. I’m still a little freaked out about it. (And I can hear my mother, whose own mother chopped the heads off chickens in their basement, laughing at me from here. And maybe that’s why I am the way I am.)
I seasoned both halves with lots of butter and Willabay Seafood and Poultry Spice.
Taking Oysterman’s advice, I roasted one half in a Reynolds oven bag in our gas oven (3 1/2 hours at 350°). It was moist and perfectly cooked, and unless you need pan drippings, there’s really no reason to do it any other way.
In keeping with the Oysterville theme, I made a goat cheese appetizer with fresh chèvre from our favorite local farm, LJ Ranch.
I blended the chèvre with some honey (also local!), cream, and spiced pecans, then rolled it in Willabay’s tart, moist Crannies.
And, of course, there were oysters.
Oysterman served up a a platter of a few dozen fresh on the half-shell, and a dish of alder-smoked, served with Willabay’s zippy Crannie Chipotle Finishing Sauce.
Next Thanksgiving may be the year I try oyster stuffing, but for this first-away-from-home-in-a-long-time, I wanted my Mum’s classic bread stuffing. I cheated a little by using Franz croutons instead of cubing a loaf of bread and waiting for it to get stale — which somehow only happens when you DON’T want it to.
IRENE’S BREAD STUFFING
9 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 onions, peeled and diced
12 celery stalks, diced
1 teaspoon crushed, dried sage
4-6 cups low-sodium canned chicken stock
1 13 oz. bag of Franz or other brand bread croutons
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped parsley
Melt butter in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Cook onions and celery until translucent, about 10 minutes.
Add sage, stir to combine, cook about 3 minutes.
Add 1/2 cup of broth, bring to a simmer, and cook about 5 minutes, or until reduced by half.
Dump croutons into a large bowl or roasting pan and pour onion mixture over. Add remaining broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring well to combine, until the stuffing is the consistency you like it.
You can use this to stuff the turkey, but I prefer baked in a buttered casserole for 45 minutes at 375.°
I made the turkey stock for gravy in advance, and used this gravy recipe (x3!) from my soul sister Ree Drummond’s site.
I also made a pan of roasted carrots and sweet potatoes, glazed in coconut oil and roasted at 375° for an hour (you can use pretty much any root vegetable — beets, potatoes, cubed winter squashes). There is not much that’s easier or more scrummy, and it was a nice, healthy option for the couple of non-meat eaters in the crowd.
Thanksgiving morning, I popped the birds in the ovens, made the stuffing and prepped the roasted veggies, while Dan commanded All Things Oyster. We flung the doors open at 1, the first guests arrived (and the first wine was opened) at 1:30.
All it needs is love.
Our generous guests brought mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, crab salad with Louis dressing, fruit salad with ambrosial dip, creamed spinach, fresh green beans with caramelized onions, more stuffing, rolls, and something called “Potatoes of Death” — decadent scalloped potatoes with Gruyere that could happily be your last bite on earth.
There were two different cranberry sauces, five different kinds of pies (made by Mom, friends, and daughter Shannon), and Dan’s favorite Peanut Blossom cookies, made by sister Ava.
No one went hungry.
The food may have been the centerpiece, but the act of creating one big, happy family for a day gave the spiritual sustenance.
The children present banned Minecraft for the day and opted for old-school — literally — filling the Schoolhouse’s chalkboards with their impressions of the gathering.
The adults contributed in all ways large and small, with food and wine, kitchen help, and warmth and connection (even — and maybe especially — during a last-man-standing game of Cards Against Humanity — surely an antidote to the occasional landmines of family gatherings).
Giving thanks for time with family, with Dan’s mom, and Yoko Sr.
There was also a bittersweet note — earlier this week, we learned that the mother of Dan’s lifelong friend, Yoko, who joined us for the day (and who is also named Yoko), passed away just days after Thanksgiving.
It left us feeling particularly blessed that we got to spend both a first and last Thanksgiving with Yoko Sr. She seemed happy and vital, and I hope she carried good memories with her as she passed.
As for me, my wishes are that the children present keep in touch with the friends they made over sparkling pumpkin cider and chalkboard games, that next year, we’ll need a 50 pound turkey to feed the gathering of thankful souls, and that the warmth of the connections made will be with us always.