I was fortunate enough to get an invite from Annie P. to her family’s Thanksgiving celebration this year. Her parents own a beautiful home in St. Helena, and every year the cousins and aunts and uncles and family friends descend upon their estate to enjoy their annual tradition. (And when you get that many family members together, it’s important to have buffers like me to distract people from picking arguments with their relatives.)
There are many cooks in the kitchen but the head chef (a professional) is Annie P.’s cousin, Care, a woman who glides through the kitchen with ease and excitement, frying up eggs for the whole family on the morning of Thanksgiving as oil splatters from the braised turkey on the adjacent burner. Meanwhile, there are two other turkeys that she is prepping to be served to the family: one stuffed and roasted, and the other rubbed and grilled.
I’ve already contributed my zucchini casserole to the feast, but I’m feeling somewhat helpless in the crowded kitchen so I offer to help with the place cards. In my own family’s Thanksgiving – which I haven’t attended for the last five years – I used to be responsible for designing the name places, so I was more than excited to contribute my semi-artistic talents for the cause.
Other family members have concocted mashed rutabaga, roasted Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, sweet potato haystacks, spiced cranberry sauce, leek bread pudding, apple slab pie, and their famous pumpkin pie with cognac.
And the wine… oh, so much wine. I provided some bottles from JAQK Cellars, including half a case of our Charmed Sauvignon Blanc 2012 Russian River. There’s Champagne and sparkling Mumm Rose, and the Pièce De Résistance, a 5L Del Dotto The David 1999 that Annie P.’s father purchased over ten years ago. I had more than a few glasses of that one.
Dinner is ready and the family gathers around the table outside, which is garnished with flowers and colorful place settings (as well as my fancy name places) and surrounded by outdoor heaters. I take my place and settle into my plate, nearly finishing my first helping by the time the patriarch is saying grace. As I chat with Annie P.’s relatives about the changing wine industry, the history of Thanksgiving, and the joys of dining outside in California in November, I acknowledge how lucky I am to be in this beautiful country celebrating the things that are most important: food, wine and family.