Thanksgiving in Bend: Economical, Epicurean, and Local (with a side of love)

Thanksgiving in Bend: Economical, Epicurean, and Local (with a side of love)

I’ve always hated “orphan” thanksgivings. If you live in a decent-sized town more than a few hours from your parents, are over 30 and single, you know what I’m talking about.

The orphan Thanksgiving is a hallowed urban tradition where a mish-mosh of single people gather at a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and make awkward conversation with people they’re not likely to see again until next year, if ever. In my (somewhat crabby) opinion these dinners just throw everyone’s “singleness” into sharp (uncomfortable) relief and require a lot of drinking, plus a full day to recover from the ensuing malaise and alcohol poisoning.

During the holidays, I want nothing more than to be surrounded by people I know and love and instead, when I lived in LA, I often found myself picking at my turkey, gulping down mediocre California wine next to someone’s distant cousin, named Jerry, who seems to think that we have a love connection. 

Well, this year, I’m in Oregon. Woohoo!  The new boyfriend and my immediate family won’t be in attendance, due to logistics and plans that pre-dated my rather sudden relocation to Bend. 

Even so, my enthusiasm for the holiday is unfazed. Why? Because a few people from my surrogate family are headed to the Pacific Northwest so we can spend the holiday together: Jessica and Emmanuel and their toddler Samuel, plus Alex and Alec (well, Alec is a new Bend friend, because we need another guy and Alec is smart and funny.)

So after the initial giddiness of a “family” gathering with 3 old friends, one new one, and a baby, wore off, I realized, I have to cook for these lovely people.

That isn’t a complaint. There are fewer things I love more than feeding people I love. Work has been slow though, so I can’t go hog wild and spend willy nilly like I normally would for a dinner party. Aaaaand, I like food. I appreciate the occasional WT side dish, but I want dinner to be yummy, healthy and fresh — sourced as locally as possible.

So I’m giving myself a budget. We have 5 adults total. $125 seems reasonable. Can I make an economical epicurean Thanksgiving dinner, sourced mostly from local ingredients, here in Bend?

Well, since it’s freaking freezing (literally) at night now, all the farmer’s markets are done for the winter — Central Oregon has some produce limitations. Aaand, locally grown produce is definitely more expensive than Albertsons imports, so that’s an additional challenge.

I started with the turkey. With only 5 of us, a whole turkey is overkill… So, I called Newport Avenue Market this morning to explore my options. Greg was very helpful. I settled on a 6-lb bone-in turkey breast (should feed 6 – 8). Perfect. I asked about local turkeys and Greg said the best they could do was a breast from Sheltons in Modesto, CA. Free-range, no hormones or antibiotics… one of their website slogans is “Our chickens and turkeys don’t do drugs.”

I considered the heritage turkey option carefully, but unless I’m buying a whole bird from a local mom-and-pop farm, it doesn’t make much sense. And I don’t need a whole bird. So I’m going to have to settle for the drug-free California bird. At least it’s West Coast. And at $5.99 a lb., it won’t break the bank. A whole heritage bird could easily eat up my whole food budget. Sigh.

To make up for my sins, I cruised over to Agricultural Connections‘ snazzy CSA website. Hmmm. Their total offerings: potatoes, tomatoes, arugula, spinach, kale, microgreens, and mushrooms (crimini, shitake, portabella, maitake and chanterelle). For fresh dessert fruit, it’s basically quince, huckleberries, or apples. 

Which led me to investigate other CSAs in Bend. 

Google led me to Fields Farm on Pettigrew Road (out by Costco). I called and spoke to Jim, and reserved a Farm-to-Work small bag for pickup. Next week the small bag will probably have carrots, beets, potatoes, onions, garlic and greens (possibly arugula but probably not spinach). It’s 12 bucks. Jim said there will be additional produce in “the shed” where we can shop away when we pick up the bag on Tuesday. Selection still isn’t spectacular, but the field trip will be fun with out-of-towners. 

I’m thinking the menu will be simple, roasted root veggies and some sort of salad. We’ll see what Jim has next week.

I plan to brine the turkey breast using the Cook’s Illustrated* method (it’s all about the crispy skin)… and throwing together some sort of aromatic rub, possibly with a Southwestern flair. For sides, I’m still considering the traditional fare like stuffing and yams/sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. Hmmm. We’ll see.  Maybe tarte tatin for dessert?

So far, I’m well within my budget. We’ll still be under $60 with all the veggies and the bird. Can I do a locally-sourced epicurean dinner for 5 for under $100?  Oh wait, wine. Decent wine for 5 could easily hit the $60 range. I’m a sucker for French whites (and reds too) which is about as unlocal as you get, but I can’t help myself. Okay, Willamette Valley pinot noir and pinot gris isn’t exactly slumming it, but I still love a rich Bordeaux and a crisp Sancerre. High class problems, no?

So this Thanksgiving, I’m still an orphan in a way. I guess anyone without a brood of their own is considered an orphan, but having a kid in the house and three of my most favorite people on the planet gives me lots to give thanks for and makes me feel less orphaned and more, well, simply blessed. Call me whatever you wish, I just feel lucky to have people to cook for, a modest budget to spend and lots of love in the house.

*Recipes and pics to follow

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