"Thanksgiving is the purest holiday," says Katy Millard, chef/owner of Coquine, an unassuming corner restaurant that seems to rise from the mists near the top of Southeast Portland's Mount Tabor even on sunny days. No gifts are required at Thanksgiving, she notes, and commercialization is limited: "You can sell only so many turkeys and cans of cranberry sauce."
What's special is "just getting together, cooking food, sitting around the table and pausing for a minute, thinking about everything we have. The Pacific Northwest is a wonderland, so bountiful. I like that Thanksgiving remains very American — it binds us together as a nation."
The intersection of tradition and its opposite is the heart of Thanksgiving dinners hosted by Millard and her husband, Ksandek Podbielski, Coquine wine director and co-owner.
“I’m not that fond of turkey,” Millard says. “I myself have never cooked turkey for Thanksgiving.” She admits to guinea hens, chickens, geese and once a whole pig. “Last year we had turkey molé.”
After Coquine opened in July 2015, the couple’s “orphan Thanksgiving” expanded to include its extended-family staff.
"It's a big multicultural potluck. Restaurant people feel compelled to bring something special or different," says Millard. One year that was bigos, a stew with sweet potatoes and schmaltz, and another it was matzo ball soup. "It's what America's all about — including everyone and everything," she says.
Millard does have a soft spot for stuffing at the Thanksgiving table. "I grew up cooking with my dad and he always put out a traditional spread," she says. "I remember him mincing celery, onion, garlic. And the herbs – sage and thyme and parsley he grew himself."
Her father still makes this dressing every year at his home near Mobile, Alabama, where Millard grew up. "He roasts and peels the chestnuts. He makes his own chicken stock over two days. He bakes his own cornbread the day of. Stuffing is his 'white whale' and now he can't improve it" any further, says Millard.
"I make his stuffing now. I can't get the kind of breakfast sausage they cook with in the South so I substitute spicy Italian sausage."
— Jo Mancuso
Looking for more Thanksgiving tips? We asked a baker, a chef, a wine buyer and a fisherman. Read their advice below.
Stars For Dessert
Melissa Ward, owner of Sisters Bakery in Sisters.
“Plan ahead and enjoy the people.”
Wise words from Sisters Bakery owner Melissa Ward, who says she passes aprons to her Thanksgiving guests who are keen to cook — and dance. “We turn on loud music until dinnertime,” she says. At the table, guests pass their “wisdom around for the year — and then everyone falls into the food.”
Then “we take a walk after dinner and look at the stars.”
Cliff Davis, chef at Papa's Soul Food Kitchen in Eugene
Thanksgiving is about “letting the classics have their day to shine,” says Cliff Davis, the chef at Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen in Eugene.
The most important dish on the Thanksgiving table? Davis says it’s gravy.
Davis says the key to delicious gravy is infusing as much turkey flavor into it as possible — boiling the giblets and neck down for stock and using the fat from the drippings to make the roux. Davis cooks his for between five and 10 minutes before adding other ingredients. Et voilá: a gravy fit for, well, everything.
Gravy is “the best Thanksgiving condiment — you can put it on anything,” Davis says.
A Reason To Wine
Jamey Colbert, manager and buyer at Ashland Wine Cellar in Ashland
Appetizers, side dishes, turkey, dessert — there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to Thanksgiving flavors. So how does one pick a wine for one of the biggest meals of the year?
Jamey Colbert, the buyer at the Ashland Wine Cellar, says if you’re looking for a wine to meet most Turkey Day needs, go light and bright.
“Think Beaujolais,” Colbert says.
But you also don’t have to go textbook with your pairings, she says.
“Don’t be afraid. … Go with what makes you happy,” she advises. “And it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.”
Jeff Wong, founder of CS Fishery in Garibaldi
Fresh crab and artichoke dip is Community Supported Fishery founder Jeff Wong’s Thanksgiving go-to. While this year’s shutdown on crabbing due to high domoic acid level changed his plans, it certainly didn’t ruin them.
Oregon offers “such an amazing bounty” that it didn’t take Wong long to find a new star ingredient: chanterelles he picked himself.
In the Pacific Northwest, unexpected hiccups in your Turkey Day meal plan don’t spell the end of the world. Instead they offer the chance to try something new.
“If people take the time to forage in land or sea, there are so many opportunities,” he says.
— Laurie Isola