Redbook - Extreme Thanksgiving

Writer Elizabeth Jenkins wrote the article
on Extreme Thanksgiving Stories for the
Recipe Tester Michelle Polhamus and I each
have a segment about our stories.

2004 Thanksgiving. Cheryl, Kathleen, JP carving the
turky and I'm making gravy in the turkey pan.

Melissa Madeline walking through our living room
transformed into dining area

the kids table outside (amazing to see
how much they have all grown since 2004!)

We often alternate Thanksgivings between Indiana and California. When we are in California we are usually at my parents where my parents can easily fit 40 people seated in what my dad calls "Concourse A" in their house. Because we always have a lot of extended family members it makes sense to be in the house that accommodates everyone so easily.

But when Jason and I first moved to Ventura we wanted to host Thanksgiving in our home, no matter how small it was! It worked! Here is the story. (And next week I'll be writing about the homeschool Halloween party we host for 70 plus adults and children in our humble home. The Halloween party is not a seated meal and it all overflows into the front and backyard. It may be small but there is always plenty of food and wine to enjoy with good friends!)

Thanksgiving, Extreme Edition: The Craziest Holiday Traditions

You think your holiday traditions are crazy? Read about a woman who smoked a turkey outside — in Alaska — or the eat-a-thon at Joan Rivers's house, and other Thanksgivings served up with a heaping side of "You've got to be kidding me."

raw thanksgiving turkey
Photo Credit: Jonny Valiant

As an Army wife of 18 years, Michelle Polhamus, 42, has hosted Thanksgiving in Alabama, Colorado, Kansas, even Germany, no problem. But a few years ago, she found herself off the grid and out of her element — in North Pole, Alaska. Still, she wasn't about to let a little thing like the weather (38 degrees below zero) get in the way of a good meal, so Michelle and her husband decided to cook a 22-pound turkey in a free-standing smoker. Outside. On their front deck the night before Thanksgiving.

After tossing in apple and cherry wood chips, the couple bundled up at 6 p.m. — a balmy 2 degrees at the time — and placed the turkey on the grill. They trudged outside every two hours to monitor its progress, crashed at 2 a.m., and woke up at 8 a.m. on the big day to discover that it was smoked, all right...but raw on the inside.

"What we did that first Thanksgiving is considered a 'Cheechako' mistake," Michelle says. "A Cheechako is anyone new to Alaska who hasn't been through a winter." She salvaged the turkey by baking it in her oven for 4½ hours. "It was amazingly moist and wonderful," she recalls, "but I don't think I could ever repeat it...nor would I want to!"

These days, Michelle, her husband (Lieutenant Colonel John Polhamus, due home from Pakistan in time for Thanksgiving), and their three children live in somewhat-less-remote Fort Wainwright, AK. Visiting their parents in Florida and Tennessee — 7,000 miles away — isn't realistic at Thanksgiving, but they've compensated in other ways. "When you're on assignment, the military is the only family you have," she says, "so we extend invitations to other military families, and each one brings a favorite dish."

Michelle, an at-home mom, has gotten savvy about outsmarting the cold. She makes meticulous food-shopping lists because, she notes, "I don't want to go to the grocery store more than once. It can take 10 minutes to get your car warm enough to drive!" Yet the frigid temperatures do have their benefits: Their neighborhood begins to look a lot like Christmas in September, when people hang lights before it gets too cold. Also, the family's 12x12-foot screened back porch doubles as a walk-out freezer. "I make pumpkin pie and cheesecake pie five days ahead of time, wrap them, and leave them on a table," Michelle says. They're in good company; the turkey's out there too, bought in October before stores sell out.

Everyone watches football after dinner, then they head outside to a bonfire with hot toddies for the grown-ups and hot cocoa for the kids. The celebrations don't end there: The following day the family cross-country skis, rides dog sleds, and takes a dip in some local hot springs. And nobody mistakes them for Cheechakos.

Thanksgiving, Extreme Edition: The Craziest Holiday Traditions - Page 4


a giant cooked turkey with cranberries on a platter
Photo Credit: Frances Janisch
As a chef and caterer, Maili Halme Brocke, 42, is used to producing events in large spaces. The Thanksgiving dinner for 32 she's hosted with her husband at their Ventura, CA, home is much smaller in scale — it has to be, given that her kitchen, dining room, and living room total 500 square feet. "We're all together, no matter what!" she says, laughing.

To squeeze everyone in, Maili and her husband, Jason, move out most of the living room furniture the weekend before Thanksgiving. "We stack pieces in our shed and fill the laundry room with piles," says Maili, a mother of two kids, ages 12 and 11. "Sometimes pans or pots we didn't get to wash end up in there too!"

Finding places to serve food is a tad trickier: "I don't have room for a buffet," Maili says, "and there isn't space on the tables for gravy boats or side dishes, so I serve on the kitchen counters and off the stove, usually in whatever casserole dish or pot things were cooked in. It's actually good, because I keep the pilot lights on the stove, so it's like one of those warmer things. We move the turkey to a platter — and put the carcass in the oven."

Given the limited space, keeping people out of the kitchen isn't an option, though Maili doesn't mind: "I am one of those people who can talk and cook at the same time." There's just one thing she worries about: "Parking is a serious challenge!"

Thanksgiving, Extreme Edition: The Craziest Holiday Traditions - Page 5

Extreme Thanksgiving Recipes

haricot verts recipe
Photo Credit: Barbara Chernetz

Haricot Verts with Mint, Feta, and Roasted Pecans
From chef-caterer Maili Halme Brocke, Ventura, CA

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 3 minutes

Balsamic Vinaigrette
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp grainy mustard
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 cups olive oil
2 Tbsp water

Haricot Verts
1 1/2 lbs haricot verts or green beans, stem ends trimmed
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup roasted pecans
1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup Balsamic Vinaigrette (recipe below)

1. Vinaigrette: Add vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper to a blender. With the motor running, gradually pour in the olive oil in a steady stream until mixture starts to become emulsified. Add the water and continue to blend until completely emulsified. Makes about 1 2/3 cups.

2. Haricot Verts: Heat a large saucepan with salted water to boiling. Add haricot verts and blanch about 3 minutes or until beans are still crunchy and bright green. Immediately drain and rinse in cold water; pat dry.

3. In a large bowl, add the green beans, cheese, pecans, mint, and 1/3 cup of the balsamic vinaigrette, tossing to combine. Reserve remaining dressing in the refrigerator up to 1 week for other use.

Makes 8 servings.

here is the link to the complete article with the stories on Joan Rivers and more:



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