Aspen Princess: about plenty of food, family time and gratitude |

Aspen Princess: about plenty of food, family time and gratitude

“The New York Times said brining turkey doesn’t work. Apparently, rubs are in,” Mom said on the phone the other day.

“Well, they are wrong,” I say, trying not to sound too defensive. I mean, had she not tasted my turkey for the past five years? My bird gets a salt and sugar bath for at least 48 hours and is always moist. “I brine ours every year, and it’s moist. You know it’s moist.”

“Well, that’s what the article said,” she replied with a sigh. You don’t argue with The New York Times in my family. That’s just how it is.

I don’t mess around when it comes to my Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve been making the same menu now for the past five years because it’s that good. I only do it once a year and don’t see any reason to change it.

Everything has a distinct Southwest bent. We do an adobo turkey with red chili gravy; it’s a thick sauce made from dried ancho and guajillo chilis, with whole spices like clove, cumin seed, cinnamon stick, and all spice. You rub it all over the turkey and it creates a gorgeous red glaze. The chilis are nasty to handle and every year I practically mace everyone in the house when I roast them and then soak them in hot water to soften them. After that initial coughing fit, my skin will burn for hours afterward. Yes, I know I should wear gloves, but I never do, insisting instead on suffering like any good Jewish mother will do. And every year I panic that the sauce is too spicy and that it’s going to kill my bird and everyone at my table. I have visions of people sweating and panting, their tongues draped to the side of their mouths as they slide down their chairs and underneath the table onto their hands and knees where they crawl around, looking for a piece of gum or a glass of milk or a lemon to suck on, anything to relieve the fire I’ve set in their mouths.

But something happens in the cooking process that takes the spiciness out, leaving behind a complex but delightful range of flavors from the whole spices and a slight smokiness from the chili. It’s like a mole, but not nearly as bitter, and it does make the bird look so pretty. We save a cup of the adobo to make a red chili gravy that I sometimes imagine basting myself in, it’s that good. I’m not a gravy person, but this is (to borrow an expression of my brother’s that always made me a little bit uncomfortable) the nectar.

To complement that rich chili flavor, I do a blue corn and shrimp stuffing that begins with a skillet blue cornbread made from ingredients that would normally make me squirm, but organic shortening doesn’t sound so bad. I make it a day or two before so it crumbles easily. I always buy fresh shrimp which requires a lot of prep, de-veining and taking all those shells off, but it’s so totally worth it for the briney flavor it brings to the dish. It starts with the sofrito, the holy trinity of celery, onion and carrot. There is a lot of butter involved, like a whole stick. There is whiskey to deglaze, then throw in some herbs and mix in that blue cornbread and serrano peppers and you have a rich, flavorful stuffing that doesn’t feel heavy and compliments the turkey well. To round things out I do a cranberry sauce with pineapple and jalapeno, which takes the traditional dish to the next level with a little more sweetness and some spice.

This is a far cry from the homemade vegan soup and roasted vegetable kick I’ve been on for the past couple weeks, still trying to lose those last 5 pounds that will never, ever come off. After losing 14 pounds, this massive effort of trying to get to my goal weight is apparently about maintaining the weight I’ve achieved which, trust me, isn’t that impressive. I’m convinced I have very heavy bones. And no, you aren’t going to get a Thanksgiving column that doesn’t mention my weight at least once.

But this is Thanksgiving Day and not the time to worry about diet. This is a day for food and family and to reflect and have gratitude, so here it goes.

I am so thankful for my family. Family is what united Ryan and I from the beginning. Because we are both so close to our parents that we worried if we didn’t have a family of our own we would be totally lost once our parents are gone. That’s why we did everything we could, jumped over every hurdle, endured endless medical intervention over the span of four years, and took on some serious debt to start a family of our own.

I’ll never forget when I began to really worry about the cost of fertility treatments and my dad said, “You can’t put a price on a human life.” He has a way of saying brilliant and insightful things at the right time, but this little nugget of wisdom was a gift I will never forget.

I’m grateful my parents are happy and healthy, and that their success and generosity has afforded me this incredible life. I’m also grateful for my in-laws, a department in which I scored big time, who help me in countless ways, not only raising my gorgeous husband to be the person he is, but now, bestowing those Midwestern values on my own son.

I’m also pretty excited about my architects Steve and Isaac and our builder Rob who are going to help us create the house of our dreams in the upcoming year.

I’m also grateful for you, dear reader. Thanks for sticking with me all these years.

Or course the Princess is grateful for her beautiful pug, Gertrude. Email your love to

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