Arts & Culture

The Thanksgiving Hunter and Gatherer

I love cooking big dinners, especially when they come with interesting dishes or new culinary challenges.  Thanksgiving has been a favorite of mine for a long time, since I have in part not been celebrating the Jewish holidays for all … Read More

By / November 24, 2009

I love cooking big dinners, especially when they come with interesting dishes or new culinary challenges.  Thanksgiving has been a favorite of mine for a long time, since I have in part not been celebrating the Jewish holidays for all that long.   Even when I was college, I was whipping up elaborate meals despite limitations on space (one year it was a dormitory kitchen in the basement of the building) or even supplies (I forgot to buy aluminum foil so I improvised by covering my chicken, not a turkey, in applesauce, which by the way kept the meat moist and gave it a slightly sweet flavor).

Living in New York City poses its own set of challenges and provides a certain range of advantages.  I mean in New York, you can get anything and usually get it delivered (at least in Manhattan).  I’ve found that mostly to be true – that is, until I tried to serve venison for Thanksgiving.

A couple of years ago I decided that Thanksgiving was all about traditions.  Whether or not the legends of Pilgrims and Indians were anything like what we used to represent out of construction paper, glue and paper bags, my Thanksgiving table was going to be full of indigenous and local produce.  That was remarkably easy to procure in New York City.  I ordered my Heritage Turkey at The City Bakery and gathered my veggies at farmer’s markets.  But venison is hard to find in NYC, and the clock is always ticking.

Perhaps here is where I should point out that I start planning for this holiday weeks in advance.  I am totally a list maker and once the menu is set, I plot and plan on where and when I will procure what is required.  I dash around the City often picking up specialty items from various locations.  My grocery list is set by date and location.  But, even with the best of planning, there are always obstacles.

I had previously found venison at the 125th Street Fairway market, but around Thanksgiving they don’t restock specialty meats (like game) to make room for more turkeys.  This year, I played phone tag with “Raymond”, the Meat Department’s manager, for a week until he rudely told me no, they didn’t carry venison and would not special order for me despite previously telling me that he would do so if I would only call back later.  Apparently, this is a stressful time of the year for Meat Department managers.

Not having much luck with any other grocery store I called, I made my case to the next obvious choice – Facebook.  “Mia Rut still needs venison. Fairway has been giving me the run around for a week only to hang up on me now. Very annoyed,” said my status update.  Remarkably there were some good suggestions, including one from my uncle the hunter, who kept a bunch of venison tucked away in his freezer.  Too bad he didn’t live any closer.

So the search continues.  Time is running short, my money is running out and I think that our menu may have to be adjusted.  However, despite the lack of deer meat on our table, we have a slight variation to our theme this year.  We typically host a Thanksgiving Shabbat dinner, foregoing a big meal on Thursday in favor of a more communal Friday night (friends often share Thanksgiving with family, but will come over for Shabbat dinner the next night).

This year we are shaking things up by using traditional Thanksgiving ingredients placed into a traditional Ashkenazi Shabbat dinner – traditional flavors presented in surprising ways.  So instead of matzo ball soup and gefilte fish we are starting out with fish consume.  I even started testing out the more experimental dishes, and thus far they have had rave reviews.  Everything is homemade, even the cranberry pasta for the kugel (use cranberry juice concentrate instead of water) which was another feat of scouring the city for a pasta machine (that didn’t cost an arm and a leg). But feel free to weigh in how this menu sounds:

Corn Bread Challah Fish Consume Cornish Hens Roasted in Acorn Squash Butternut Squash Gravy Seared Venison Sashimi Cranberry Sauce Kugel Chestnut and Sage Stuffing in Baked Apples Roasted Pumpkin in Soy and Crushed Sesame Green Bean Gelee Mashed Japanese Sweet Potatoes with Kimchi Tzimmis Sorbet Shoo-Fly Pie Chocolate Cake