On Thanksgiving morning, Anthony and I woke early to catch an 8 AM Megabus to Burlington, Vermont, speed-walking the five long city blocks from Penn Station to the remote street corner where a bright blue double decker sat waiting for its passengers. As we had learned to do so adeptly since moving to the city, we quickly slipped into the crowd of sleepy, shivering New Yorkers and one by one filed onto the bus, eager to begin our food-filled, New England weekend retreat.
Six hours later, Uncle Jim and Aunt Deborah welcomed us to the sparkling, snowy wonderland that is Vermont in late November. To no one’s surprise, the topic of the next day’s dinner menu was broached immediately. Long before our vehicle had merged onto the highway, heading eastward toward charming Danville and the familiar farmhouse, we four foodies were deep into discussion on roasting strategies and side dish schemes. By our energy and enthusiasm, our unspoken vow was heard loud and clear: this year’s Thanksgiving feast would be one to remember.
The day of the feast dawned cold and bright. According to the schedule we had mapped out the night before, the first items to check off our to-do list were two delectable desserts: a pear cranberry crumble dusted off from the Sprout Diaries archives and an old-fashioned pumpkin pie made with real pumpkin (a can of Libby’s wouldn’t be caught dead in this kitchen). Fueled by strong cups of Brooklyn coffee, Thanksgiving 2013 commenced, with much grating of nutmeg and mincing of crystallized ginger.
Although Anthony and I somewhat spearheaded the dessert initiative, we were guided along by expert tips from Uncle Jim and Jennifer, another New England friend and the day’s fifth dinner guest. Among the many pearls of kitchen wisdom that I picked up that day was the realization that I had been making pie crusts all wrong. Do you know what wonders a splash of vodka can do to your dough? Try it, and you’ll never make a crust the same way again.
The afternoon passed in a blur of chopping, mixing, measuring and tasting. A wild rice pilaf came together with fresh sage and rosemary, toasted pecans and cranberries. Bright green brussel sprouts, cooked and seasoned simply, soon glowed like jewels in their serving bowl. A fiery orange Kabocha squash was roasted to soft, pillowy perfection then dotted with butter to bring out its rich, creamy flavor. An enormous pot of red cabbage, broiled the previous day in an intoxicating marinade of red wine, was reheated on the stove. The smells alone were enough to induce serious swooning.
The desserts and the side dishes were, of course, all prelude to the day’s main event: a pair of roasted duck. Anthony had mentioned offhand that swapping the regular ol’ turkey for a more gastronomically challenging fowl might be fun, and our ever-obliging Vermont hosts jumped at the suggestion. After many hours of trimming, steaming, roasting and glazing, the birds emerged from the oven looking too mouthwatering for even this vegetarian to deny. Yes, I sneaked a couple bites of duck along with my otherwise veg-friendly Thanksgiving meal, and I do not regret it.
At long last, as the sun slipped behind the snow-capped peaks of the Green Mountains and the first few constellations pierced the ice-cold black sky over New England, our dinner was served. Someone uncorked a bottle of Prosecco, followed closely by a selection of fine red wines of the French persuasion. The table was set and our aprons put away. With an appetite magnified by the memory of the long hours we had devoted to its creation, we heartily fell upon the feast.
It was, overwhelmingly, a feast to be thankful for. Thanks for the rainbow of color against the white plate. Thanks for the explosion of tastes and textures, and the ability to perceive them. Thanks for the lively conversation that accompanied it all, and the generosity of family, and the pleasantness of meeting new friends, and the stillness of the country, and the beginning of the end of a year of change and challenges and accomplishments. And, once our plates were scraped clean, thanks for a tart, gingery crumble and a perfect pumpkin pie.
How do you follow a meal as grand as that? There’s only one kind of breakfast I know that could be worthy of a Thanksgiving weekend: leftover pie, of course. And because, after all, we are now New Yorkers, might as well accompany that pie with a copy of the Times and another cup of strong Brooklyn coffee.