A North Carolina Thanksgiving Hootenanny

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Every Thanksgiving I try to talk my friends and/or family into stuffing ourselves with something different than the same tired turkey, mashed potatoes and overcooked green bean casserole. Why, when we could spend half the day chatting around the table while we make shredded pork tamales while a molé sauce slowly simmers in the kitchen? Why, when we could have a fine spread of mezze and a nice big roast leg of lamb?

Sometimes I'm too quick to subvert the tried-and-true of tradition to the new and the unique. This might be a problem if I decide to marry and have children. Heaven help that woman, if she is hoping to bestow her young with names that have been in the family for generations--or just good solid names like "Elizabeth," "David," and "Robert"--for I intend to name my children after various cheeses of the world. My daughter would undoubtedly be named Brie. Sure, gradeschool might be a tough experience for little Munster, but he'll have his older brothers to understand and help protect him, since they will have had plenty of experiences to toughen up under the names Drunken Goat and Stinking Bishop. And who can forget little Baby Swiss, who will go by her middle name Gruyere, once she's old enough.

In any case I inevitably lose out over the Thanksgiving meal planning and this is probably a good thing. This year's turkey was fantastic, as was the rest of the meal. But let's proceed chronologically, shall we?

One of my sisters has lived in Asheville, North Carolina for the past year and a half. I finally made it down there, for Thanksgiving weekend, and quickly fell in love with the surrounding countryside and the local barbecue. When we arrived late in the evening my sister had generously prepared for us a large pot of Italian-style spicy mussels as well as some outrighteously good hors d'oeuvres: mushroom caps stuffed with bacon, cream cheese, and figs, served with a balsamic vinniagrette reduction. If she's not careful she's going to surpass her older brother as the chef de la famille. I wish she lived closer, in part so that I could more frequently benefit from such a potential rivalry.

We had Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, since it took us all day to drive to Asheville from D.C. There were about ten of us, and everybody helped out in some way. The next-door neighbor, a wine distributor, brought a delicious carrot soup, a bottle of fantastic red wine, and two bottles of expensive champagne. As much as we liked them, our pallettes were probably too unrefined to really appreciate it. I made a couple loaves of bread (see recent post) that turned out a bit denser than before, since I had only regular and not instant yeast on hand. I also made an apple and raisin galette that turned out alright, but tasted quite good the next day. There was much drinking and rejoicing, and dinner was followed by a passing around of the guitar.

The following day we did our best to walk off our prominent bellies by hiking through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I'm not sure how far we hiked, but if the soreness of my legs is any guide, I would say probably about 375 miles. Our chosen endpoint was the waterfall you see in the photograph above. There was much rejoicing. Jean-Jacques, my soon-to-be brother-in-law dunked his head in the freezing water to demonstrate his manliness, or insanity, or both, after which he yelped loudly "my BRAIN is FROZEN!!" (It sounds better with his Senegalese accent).

After the hike we were ravenous. Fortunately one of my sister's friends treated us all to an enormous meal of North Carolina BBQ (which tends to be tangy due to a larger ratio of vinegar to other ingredients) mac n'cheese, coleslaw, and potato salad. He picked the 'cue up from Ed Boudreaux's Bayou BBQ. It was fantastic, and if you're ever in Asheville I highly recommend it.

So it was a lovely vacation. I'm now retreating reluctantly into the ascetic shadowland of studying for law school finals, so there may not be too many posts in store until after December 9th. Expect a deluge at that point. I'm going to try and make everything between then and the New Year.

And for Christmas dinner I'm going to try and talk the family into a nice big sushi platter.


Anonymous said...

Asheville is one of our favorite destinations for a long weekend. It is great during Christmas. I love the food scene and the artistry there.

Anonymous said...

Where do you get your perfect French from?
I often go by 15 Church St. and dream of getting a room for a romantic evening with B. but it seems so silly given I live 10 minutes from there....!
Come on down! We have great bbq!

Kitchen Monkey said...

I wish my French were perfect! I've been surrounded by Francophones for years now. I used to date someone who is now a French language professor. My sister-in-law is from a small village near Dijon, and my sister's fiancee is from Senegal, but I don't see any of them often enough to stay in practice, and I haven't been to France since the summer of 2005. In other words, it's getting pretty rusty.

Oh how I look forward to some SC BBQ.

Ms. Gourmand said...

Epoisse is a lovely name! Saving the family names for children, I will bestow it upon my next female dog with the hope that she doesn't harbour the same smell. What should her brother's name be? Stilton?

Kitchen Monkey said...

As dogs are among my less favored animals, I would recommend naming it Velveeta, after my least favorite cheese.

Ms. Gourmand said...

Oh yeah! Great post by the way...impressive style as usual.

Kitchen Monkey said...

Well thanks. We aim to please. And Just for the record, I like dogs OK. They're just lower on the list of my favorite animals--except for Huskies, which are pretty high on the list. The rest of the canine species ranks somewhere between hamsters and grubs.

Anonymous said...

fabulous, as always! :)