Autumn Feast (Thanksgiving) 2015

The holiday spirit took over this November. We invited 14 people for a 3-course dinner at our cottage in the Catskills, and it was the most successful party we have ever hosted. I have so many memories of Thanksgiving pasts where frenzied hosts burn themselves on steamĀ and pot-handles, curse over last-minute gravy and cold vegetables, and knock over pilesĀ of pans in the sink. This time, we accepted the offers of everyone who wanted to contribute. And, we cooked almost everything in advance. I am a list-maker, and I set to it.

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Mini-cocktails in lovely glassware keeps the party festive and the guests steady on their feet
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My final notes, after a week of planning.

A week before the day, we built our menu around what we knew people would be bringing. One brought pumpkin pies & green beans, one brought a box of wine and a strawberry cheesecake from Junior’s, one brought home-made cranberry sauce and a tray of roasted vegetables, one brought 120 oysters & two sauces, one brought bite-sized smoked salmon & creme fresh blinis and a salad, and to round out the house-cocktail we had planned, another surprised us by showing up with his entire bar and bar-tending tools.

In the days leading up to the feast, Chris dry-brined two 12-pound turkeys in salt, rosemary and lemon, according to a recipe by Melissa Clark. I followed Mark Bittman’s recipe for make-ahead gravy (make a killer turkey stock, make gravy, store in fridge, reheat before serving and whisk in the turkey drippings = no stress and delicious). We had a vegetarian coming, and I made a vegetarian mushroom-thyme gravy from Food52. We made two vegetarian dips from Martha Stewart’s Appetizer‘s book. We made Alton Brown’s pickled beets. I stored it all in glass mason jars in the fridge. The morning of, Chris made a vegetarian stuffing (with all the bread, butter, mushrooms, apple cider, apples, and celery & sage, no one missed stock or sausage).

The day before, we rented bar tables, chairs & table cloths. The living room became the dining room, and the dining room became the bar. The bonfire in the forest became the oyster station. I picked a bouquet of dried flowers and berries from the yard, counted cutlery, chose serving dishes and stuck post-it notes all over them. I raided my boxes of pretty glassware, silver, and platters that I use on photo shoots. I boiled the napkins and ironed them, and at that point I knew I was about to go too far.

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The day of, guests arrived at 2pm, we started with oysters & cocktails. Dinner unfolded seamlessly. As hosts, we were able to enjoy the party with a minimum of last-minute details. Chris and I agreed on a bar-limit to adhere to before the turkey was carved.

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Uncle Ian shucked PEI Carr’s Oysters for hours beside the bonfire
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Fresh PEI oysters, with cocktail sauce, beside a bonfire, on an unseasonably warm day. It is an embarrassment of riches.
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I wish I had taken more portraits. At least Ro’s fluffy sweater, pink nails, and glowing smile stopped me in my tracks.
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Bartender Jon kept them flowing
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Two smaller turkeys instead of one large makes for more succulent meat.
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One thing I learned from Chris’s grandmother: do everything you can in advance.

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At the end of dinner, guests helped load the dishwasher and rinse for the next load. We had coffee and sweets, and went back out to the bonfire beneath the moon. The party was over by about 10 p.m., which served us well, because we did it all again the next day, and the next…. Oysters, and turkey sandwiches at Jon & Juliet’s house the next day, and on day three back to our house for turkey soup and bruschetta.

I snapped photos here and there. Mostly I seem to have taken photos of drinks. I was probably a little bit busier than I remember. But it’s a rare feeling after three days of hosting to feel more refreshed than tired, and I want to remember the keys, and repeat.

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Tradition dictates we move the party to Jon & Juliet’s house for day two.
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Me and my girl. She is squeezing a lemon over an oyster. I thought she might eat it, but she preferred to prepare them for us.

 

 

Food stories in New York's Hudson Valley and beyond from photographer Jennifer May