Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanksgiving in Dublin.

A couple months ago, Rory asked me if I wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving. I brushed it off saying, nah it's just an excuse to eat lots and to be with your family. Since my family is in America, I didn't see the point (but who says no to a legitimate excuse to eat lots??) Rory responded, I thought that because your family wasn't here, it'd be nice to do something anyways so you wouldn't feel left out not celebrating it or being there with them. That changed my mind. Not only was it incredibly sweet and considerate of him to suggest, but Jess had just moved to London so she could easily fly over for the weekend and we could show the Irish how to do Thanksgiving! So we set it in motion. First I bought Jess' plane ticket having recently been promised a slight pay raise. Second, we invited all of Rory's family to eat with us. Third, we created a Pinterest board and the swirl of ideas and indecisiveness surrounding the menu planning promised endless possibilities of culinary extravagance. Despite all the hours spent on Pinterest, I didn't do that much planning. Feeding and hosting 4 other people I barely knew but wanted, and needed to impress along with Jess and Rory and pleasing myself was no easy task, especially with the pressure I put on myself, but for some reason it all worked out rather flawlessly. Rory was in charge of ordering the turkey (a proper, good quality, non-supermarket one) which he handled with a couple phone calls (in Ireland, it's pre-Christmas ordering period) and ended up ordering one heavy enough to serve 8-10 people and a spiced beef from Colm Leavy's Butchers in Stepaside. Yes, there is a place called Stepaside.
Throughout the week leading up to Thanksgiving, I would take advantage of my one hour lunch break and scrounge the shops of Dublin to see what Thanksgiving-esque items they had. Fall/Autumn decorations were definitely out of the question as Christmas decorations filled the shelves with red and green. Pumpkin puree was not actually necessary (you can indeed puree your own pumpkin) but was part of our "traditional Thanksgiving" theme so that was found at Fallon & Bryne. I planned on buying bits and pieces along the way because I didn't want to end up with one giant bill - our kitchen was missing some staple herbs and spices and such so little by little it would all add up. Rory initially said that he would pay for it all because he suggested it and we were cooking it for the pleasure of him and his family to eat it, but I don't think he had any idea of what a Thanksgiving dinner (plus cocktails and canapes) actually would entail - especially with two Ryan sisters cooking and doing the entertaining.
The weekend prior through to the week of, all aspirations and motivations for prepping and making things ahead of time dissipated into the cold, dark nights of winter dormancy. Even the Thursday of the 28th we had a work pool tournament after work since all of our American emails and meetings would be put on hold while they celebrated across the ocean. There was no turkey that day, just some free pizza and booze in a dark pool hall then a quick Skype call at night with my family and cousins making faces over the computer.

Finally Friday, and I had planned a PTO day for a full day of prep. Rory also had a day off and planned to clean the house top to bottom, with his bad back. He was on a mission though, and by the end of the day, the house was indeed sparkling and cleaned in places that hadn't seen the light of day in years - AHA just kidding. After helping to clean and making final decorations with the kids, I went to the store to buy the big grocery list while Rory went to see Santa. I spent the afternoon jamming out to some music alone in the house while I made mum's mushroom tarts, sweet potato hummus, cranberry sauce and the courgette and Stilton soup. I thought that was plenty productive! By that time, it was time to pick Jess up at the airport. Even with Rory's bad back, I was grateful for him driving and despite it being nearly midnight by the time we got back, we rewarded ourselves for our hard work and Jess's arrival with a Kick -Off-to-Thanksgiving-in-Dublin drink at our local Blue Light. It was a clear night with the stars shining brightly over the Dublin city lights below. Two drinks there, then back home for some frozen pizzas and a bottle (or two?) of wine....bed at 4am!

Regardless, the next morning was like Christmas morning, waking up in anticipation for the day to come. Rory surprised us with American bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, and bacon and eggs - he forgot the coffee - but loyally went back out to get it. Not only was it an American breakfast for an American day of feasting, but Jess had mentioned last night how she missed NYC breakfasts like bagels and lox in London.

The cooking commenced around noon, with the guests supposed to be arriving at 3. Ambitious? Maybe. It whizzed by in a blur: I don't even know what happened or who did what, but Rory was incredibly amazed at how calm we were and there were no loud words or screaming in the kitchen. We were in our element. First things first was the turkey, which Jess (and her Italian-Thanksgiving experience)
was in charge of. Rory went to the store three times for more things that we needed and generously kept us hydrated with gin and tonics (gorgeous gin that Jess brought over for him, since they first met over goblets, literally goblets, of gin). Kale chips were baked until crispy and seasoned with garlic pepper, carrots and celery were cut to be dipped into the sweet potato hummus, and the cheese and crackers were set out to warm to room temperature. The mushroom tarts I had made the night before were suspiciously missing, so in the last minute we decided to make some more with the leftover bread and mushrooms. Team effort, guys.
Emeril's spinach, artichoke, and brie stuffing (aka dressing) was quite the feat of steps to assemble, but it is a Ryan favourite that literally leaves you stuffed. The white tiger bread (ROAR) hides its chunky white carbs under dark vitamin-packed green spinach and savory artichoke....and cream....and a pound of brie.
Jess made the desserts - pumpkin and apple pies and homemade honeycomb ice cream.
Rory made his crispy roast potatoes, rightfully bashed, and mashed the sweet potatoes.
We had to push back the guests arrival half an hour as we ran upstairs to change and look somewhat presentable.

I made some last minute name cards with Thanksgiving jokes:
"Why did the turkey cross the road? Because the chicken had the day off."
"Why didn't the turkey have any dessert? Because he was already stuffed!"
"Why did the turkey join the band? Because he had drumsticks."

Somehow, quite seamlessly, it all came together. Bottles of cava were popped just as everyone arrived. The table, with it's secret yet glorious extending capabilities was moved into the front room and decorated with American candy and candles. I don't know what anyone expected, but from their reactions, their first Thanksgiving exceeded all expectations. It was an exhausting day, exasperated by too much food and drink and laughs, but nothing that the Thanksgiving stretch couldn't temporarily cure. Classic favourites like Catchphrase and Gestures were a hit for those remaining and the Irish tried to teach us 30 Seconds, but there was definitely not enough brain power for that by that time. I'm not exactly who lasted long enough to eat dessert - late night dates, babies, and falling asleep on the couch broke up the party - however there were only one slice of each of the pies leftover in the morning.

I had only met Rory's family a handful of times before and we were meant to have get-to-know-you drinks prior to Thanksgiving, but those were cancelled so I was a bit anxious to impress - not only as his girlfriend, but as a host to their first Thanksgiving. Jess had only met Rory once before, but given a couple large gins and she was the life of the party - chatting away to everyone. Sure, they are really easy to get along with, but I'm so glad that she was there with me and even better, she wasn't awkward and silent (who, Jess??)

Was it a success? I think so. Was it extravagant? In the typical Ryan way. Are they all coming over for Christmas dinner? Highly likely. Was it worth it? Definitely. The very few leftovers and the overflowing bag of empty wine and beer bottles are testament to it all.
Made Collaboratively by Jess, Rory & Shauna:

Mum's mushroom tarts
Kale Chips 
Carrigbyrne Farm St Killian's Camembert and cream crackers
Sweet Potato Hummus with Crudites 

Courgette and Stilton Soup with garlicky unused stuffing-bread croutons

Jess and Rory's Turkey and it's juices gravy made by Niamh

Emeril's Spinach, Artichoke, Brie Stuffing
Ottolenghi's Roast Squash with Red Onion and Tahini
Shauna's Crispy Parmesan Broccoli with Garlic and Chili Flakes
Made up Cranberry Sauce with Rosemary and Sumac
Rory's Roast Potatoes
Mashed Sweet Potatoes (no marshmallows)

Libby's Pumpkin Pie
Martha Stewart's Apple Pie
Jess' Homemade Honeycomb Ice Cream

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