Thanksgiving… a Time for Thanks and Giving

Reflections in a mirror reveal the present. It is the holidays however that the mirror seems to reflect the past while giving you a glance into the future. I’m sure that most of us during this time of giving thanks also gaze into our souls that miss the loved ones we spent so many holidays with.

The Thanksgiving meal represents a blessing that brings our family and friends into the fold. It is the real beginning of the holiday season. The day brings witness to the special thoughts we have for those we haven’t seen (in many cases) for months or even years.  Friends and family travel from near and far to be with the ones they love and care about. Special is the pomp and circumstance that surrounds these festivities. It’s the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Football, The Classic Meal,  and of course the Decorations.

Ever since I was a little boy the Thanksgiving meal was Turkey, Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Green Bean Casserole, Jello Salad, Yams, and of course… Pumpkin Pie. Since the meal I remember there have been additions like ham with a sweet berry sauce, lamb in a whole grain mustard sauce, prime steak cooked to a perfect medium rare, cauliflower in a 4 cheese sauce, and for desert… pecan pie.

Also, we mustn’t forget the beverages. Thanksgiving week is the scheduled offering of Beaujolais Nouveau. This wine is released on the third Thursday of November at 12:01 am. It’s a wine that lasts for just 6 months but reflects the perfect pairing with Turkey. Delightfully light and fruity it is the ultimate reflection of the French vineyards kicking off the holiday season.

Other than the Beaujolais Nouveau the other perfect pairing wines  come from the Burgandy region of France or the Russian River area of California. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the chosen compliments to the above mentioned meal. The apple and fall fruits represented in the classic chardonnay (with a hint of oak and a whisper of fresh herbs and spices) enhance the vegetables, salad, and accompaniments.

To me the most elegant, graceful and pleasing wine to be served at this feast is pinot noir. The description would include but not be limited to a little black cherry, strawberry aroma, subtle earth, and mint. This harmonious symphony of flavors produces a balance between beverage and food that is heavenly. When you pair the correct wine with the perfect food, light in character but high in acid that exhibits the characteristics of said wine, you have a wonderful culinary experience that brings out the best of both the food and the wine.

The flawless Thanksgiving is one that begins with a hug and ends with a hug. It is a very special moment in time when the connection with those at the dinner seems like you’d spent countless hours with them over the course of the year. However, in many instances it is the first time in many months or years that you’ve gotten together with these family members or close friends.

Acknowledging how blessed we are in those rare moments where time stands still, is a gift unto itself. To share the love and friendship that is the link between generations, or just the human connectivity that is rendered on this very special day, is a reminder of how precious time is.

As the door closes and we wave goodbye, we often think of this:

If they came back tomorrow, we’d take them back today… because our world keeps growing smaller every second, minute, hour… they’re away.

Happy Thanksgiving to those we spent time with, those we miss, and those that wish they were here.

 

What we Love about this Time of Year…

 

This is my first holiday season I haven’t been in the restaurant business in the last 20 years. Typically there is the holiday guantlet which starts with Thanksgiving then morphs into Christmas Eve, Christmas, and the grand daddy of them all, New Years Eve.

When I was a manager I would have to create menus and staff properly to adjust for excess business and demand. Having these special occassions proceed without incident was an art unto itself. Each holiday brought a different challenge that revolved around first and foremost providing the guest with an unparalleled dining experience.

It takes just one guest to complain and the day is lost. However over the course of my career (which began in the early 70’s) and was put on hold because of college and my overture into the world of radio. I realized I had a gift for attention to detail and a love for the restaurant business which you can’t manufacture but is inbred into your soul.

The art of the business is constant eduction and the ability to determine your market. Besides the afor mentioned items it is the love of creating “the experience” that sets the restaurateur apart from the rest. Beginning but not limited to the atmosphere, the quality of the product, the chef to execute the menu, and the knowledgeable and trained staff to engage and deliver in a timely fashion. The combination of all of the above helps create a very special moment in time.

People will drive to the middle of nowhere to have an exceptional meal delivered by a trained staff in an atmosphere that enhances the environment around it.

One great example of this is “Candle in the Woods.” Located in a very small town in Athol Idaho near Coeur d’Alene, the Candle in the Woods chef (Dave Adlard) and his wonderful staff continue to create and amaze with a 12 course meal and wine pairing. Each meal is a statement of profound creativity with a running storybook about the creations and the pairings verbalized by Chef Adlard and the sommelier.

When time stands still in anticipation of the next course so perfectly prepared and served, it speaks volumes about the love those that produce the meal have for what they do. If a meal is constructed that constitutes a memory then you have a very special experience. Once in that environment you are captivated by the attention to detail and the nuance of design that transports you to places you’ve never been.

I speak of this restaurant as I have been a part of many holiday menus in many different restaurants. Typically restaurants are in full regalia exhibiting the best they have to offer.  Decorated to the nines with an eager staff in anticipation of serving a wonderful meal to delighted guests becomes the end game for these dedicated chefs and servers.

The Candle in the Woods prepares and executes their product as if it were their last, with the energy and focus as though it was their first. If you have a chance to engage in these amazing culinary delights that turns every meal into a holiday, then I would highly encourage you to make a reservation.

Over the holidays we are blessed to have friends and family to dinner with conversations that we may never forget. This kind of love and embracing family and friends is the wonderful culmination of a year in which most focus on all but what’s truly important… the connection we have with each other.

Anticipate in most high-end restaurants a departure from their typical fare. Most restaurants will serve a prefix menu offering add ons or other upgrades to the discerning guest. Beyond this realization is the fact that this menu (for the most part) has not been tasted by the staff and has not been seen by the servers but a short time before serving.

Most guests that go out for holiday meals are amateurs. They don’t know what to order and they don’t know how to tip.  They are there because of being  either too lazy to cook or are faced to comply by preasures from the family. They all come at the same time, somewhere between 6:30pm and 8pm. This is why I highly recommend preparing your own meal at home in your own time frame. Then you don’t have to deal with holiday traffic or a meal that is designed for fast delivery by a staff that really doesn’t know what they’re serving.

The exception to this rule is if you choose a place that is an amazing destination. Then, no matter what they serve, you will be awed by the environment and the fact that you just ponied up a vast amount of money for that one seflie that may or may not end up on the front of your next Christmas card. This type of memory may be worth it as you will not forget that meal at the Fairmont on top of nob hill decorated like no where else in that magical city… San Francisco.

No matter what the holiday is enjoy the fleeting time we have with each other and honor the people that are working. They miss their families and friends because they chose a business that revolves around special occassions for others. The moment they serve you, nothing could be better than the warmth of a smile to let them know they’re in the right place, providing holiday cheer, in a decorated environment that exudes the holiday spirit.

Winter is Coming

magic in nature bidwell park chico pazaz bakeware
Magic in Nature

We are nestled in our new digs experiencing something we’ve not witnessed in twenty years… four seasons. The fall colors are emblazoned with orange, red, yellow and the mercurial colors that become purple, brown, and finally baron stems. This change occurs when the heat turns to warmth which becomes cold and quietly morphs to freezing. The blink of an eye within natures window of time turns sunshine to clouds and rain to snow.

Two days ago a blanket of cotton balls covered the ground. At least that’s what the earth looked like. The trees held the snow in their bows against the verticle trunk that shot up to the sky. This wooden sentry I viewed as elegant, stoic, and determined in its will to carry the weight from percipitation froze in mid-air.

WIld life hide and hibernate realizing that the tides of winter now beckon them to sleep. Empty caves now became the residence for the bears exhausted and full-bellied. Other creatures foraged for food while keeping a keen eye for preditors including man.

Hunters and fisherman dot the landscape looking for food, a trophy, or both. Without a gun or a fishing pole in this area is like going to the beach without a chest full of beer. Most of the Orofino hunters have lived here their whole life. They consider the opportunity to hunt as a way to provide sustenance for their families. The Orofino men and women honor the animals by following the rules of the hunt and using every part of the animal for both clothing or feasting.

Living in an area that provides this much natural beauty along with the  resources of crystal clean water, plant and herbal remedies, and game, is a gift. However, to much that is given much is required. Learning the ways of nature in any area is a full time education.

There are many wonderful teachers in Orofino. None better than the people that have lived in this area their whole lives. This is an Indian area that respects the many customs of the local tribe, the Nez Perce. The Nez Perce Indians have lived in this area for over 11,500 years.

The Nex Perce Indians were partly responsible for the success of the Lewis and Clark expedition ordered by Thomas Jefferson. The guidance and protection (which began in Orofino) afforded these explorers by the Nez Perce Indians traveling in northern Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, ensured the successful discovery of a waterway that led to the Pacific ocean.

The locals are very adept at adapting to the upcoming winter months. They take the weather conversation in stride. Put the snow tires on, wear the coats which will protect you down to well below freezing, and look out for anyone in distress that may need your help. Why? Because these Orofino residents are about community and the beauty that is born from the understanding that when it all comes down to it… all we have is each other.