Many years ago (1998), at Reed College, there was a group of friends who liked to cook and eat and didn’t plan to go home for Thanksgiving.
We decided it would be more fun (and less expensive) to prepare a feast together and have a relaxing day in Portland.
At that first Thanksgiving there were 10 of us at Owen and Rachel’s apartment. On our menu the first year was salmon, mashed potatoes, vegetables and Kahlua milkshakes. Several of us were vegetarians and we were college students, after all. Part of the fun that year was that earlier in the week four of us had driven up to Seattle for the day in Owen’s aging Volvo station wagon and purchased the salmon at Pike Place market. The result was a delicious meal, a cozy and crowded apartment and great company.
That particular group of people never fully repeated itself, but by the next year our future Thanksgivings began to take shape.
In November of 1999 Erin and Wil were living off-campus in Eastmoreland and as they lived in a tiny house complete with a yard (did I mention it was tiny?) the decision was made that Thanksgiving would take place there. Our menu expanded that year to include a turkey as the number of carnivores was growing steadily. 1999 was also the year that the famous Chris Chen cranberry sauce debuted, quite a watershed year! In addition to cranberry sauce and turkey the menu included salmon, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls and pie. We listened to music, drank wine and enjoyed a lovely afternoon and evening together, though by the end everyone was too full to do much beyond lounging on the scant furniture. Thanksgiving 1999 ended on a very sad note when we learned that Wil’s dear friend from high school had died of brain cancer. Soon Wil was on his way to Texas to say a final good-bye and the rest of us were feeling a little more subdued as we explored Portland and started the on-going tradition of our post-Thanksgiving brunch.
The fall of 2000 was possibly our least successful Thanksgiving as we veered from tradition too significantly and found ourselves in a bit of a mess. Thanksgiving was hosted by our friend and classmate and her boyfriend and quickly turned from a gathering of good friends to a gigantic extravaganza with well over 25 guests. Both Rachel’s and Erin’s little brothers were in attendance (the great meeting of the Jesses!) and chaos of every kind ensued. There was most certainly turkey (possibly as many as three) and also pie, as well as cake. One or two crazy Australians, several rounds of ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ and much too much booze made this Thanksgiving memorable, but not particularly good. Ever since this Thanksgiving there have been no instances of break-dancing and no trips to the ER involved in our celebrations, we’ve had an excellent safety record.
The fall of 2001 found all of us, as the rest of the country, in a more sedate state. The guest list had narrowed significantly and our college years were behind us. We continued the post-Thanksgiving brunch tradition, often followed by a movie and all in all had a pleasant weekend.
From 2002 onwards Thanksgiving has taken approximately the same form, each year the location alternates between Michael & Jennifer’s house and Erin & Wil’s house (with the exception of 2004 when we repeated a year at Mike & Jen’s because Erin & Wil had just moved into their new home). While the guest list has varied each year, the core has remained the same and we’ve enjoyed many festivities with our parents in attendance as well.
At some point, Wil and Mike became the experts in charge of the turkey and they’ve turned basting and smoking the turkey into an art form. Joined by Chris and Pat, these four are the kings of the drumstick (which is why our turkey always has four drumsticks) and the stars of http://www.turkeytracker.com, the brainchild of Michael Weinberg with Chris Chen’s excellent probe building skills. We each have our areas of expertise, Jen is incredible with appetizers and beautiful table decorations, Chris makes cranberry sauce that is truly in a class by itself, Robin has contributed greatly to Thanksgiving both with the game Curses and her delicious cheddar pepper rolls. Larry, always much in demand, still finds time to visit us in the late afternoon, often bearing a bottle of vino verde with him. Pat makes the morning coffee for the turkey crew and can be counted on to share some excellent beer, he also provides us with the most delicious pumpkin cheesecake and has made an excellent pie as well (and would have continued, but I’m very territorial about the pie and don’t like competition). Our mothers and fathers have contributed many sides over the years, not to mention plenty of patience with our repeated singing of Mike’s Thanksgiving anthem: “Thermonuclear War and… Sex”. As previously mentioned, I’m (Erin) in charge of dessert and revel in my domain. Each fall I brush up my pie crust making skills and test out a pie or two before the big day. Past years have included sweet potato, pumpkin, apple, caramel apple, apple pear tart, lemon, chocolate peanut butter and chocolate peppermint. As I’ve learned over the years, chocolate desserts after Thanksgiving dinner are often too heavy. This year I’ll be making pumpkin pie and apple pear tart, served with plenty of fresh, organic whipped cream.
We’re excited to have our friends Katie & Gordon join us for the full celebration for the first time this year, they’ll be contributing several vegetable side dishes and sharing their beer expertise. My parents will also be in attendance and will bring sweet potatoes and vegan/wheat-free dessert and last, but certainly not least, our dear friend Sarah will celebrate her final Thanksgiving as an Oregon resident with us and she”ll be bringing her parents and some fantastic appetizers. I’m certain we’re in for another wonderful celebration!
As the turkeytracker.com site has grown and gained national attention, we had the idea to turn our Thanksgiving celebrations into something that would do more than fill our bellies and warm our hearts, this year we are collecting donations from our viewers and local businesses for the Oregon Food Bank and hope to do more and more each year.