Bask in the Blessings

Thanksgiving fits my musty, dated view of the world. I like Burl Ives, Bloody Marys and Mary Tyler Moore.

I also like cheese, especially super-cheesy Hallmark movies, where some stressed-out young woman returns to Idaho to care for her aging dad, finds the local cider mill falling into decay, and fixes both of them – her dad, the cider mill — while plucking some local hunk in a flannel shirt who doesn’t quite know what hit him.

To me, that sums up the holidays. The serendipity…the confusion…the rampant plucking.

Hey, remember back when I accidentally drank decaf coffee for a few days and thought I was dying? That gave me perspective like nothing else.

Now, I extra-appreciate Thanksgiving, and all it has to offer. It’s a season that seems suited to my pensive soul — a soapy full moon, the cursive clouds, the cotton hanging in the canyons on damp mornings.

Sweet November. Mother of months. A time for wistful thinking.

A million thoughts are pressing against my little brain right now. The wedding. The grandbaby. The third anniversary of my wife’s death, always a stain on our Thanksgiving weekends, our own dark Kennedy family moment.

Most of all, though, I bask in the blessings.

Smartacus arrives home today (note to self: Hide the charging cords and the White Claw).

Tomorrow, we’ll head for Santa Monica, where the lovely and patient older daughter is feasting 12 guests, four of them Aussies. The Australians will be our Pilgrims, newcomers in search of rum and roast bird. We’ll probably put them at the children’s table.

Ever met an Australian? You’d put them at the children’s table too. Between the Irish and the Aussies, there will not be a single shred of truth, or a smidgen of sincerity, all night long. But lots of laughs. Lots of liquor. Punkin pie. Predicting a photo op when Catty Cakes first mashes pumpkin in her mouth.

Everybody is bringing some family treasure — a side dish, a dessert, a story. Smartacus is bringing his famous stuffed mushrooms appetizer (so easy…recipe below).

Me, I’m bringing dad jokes and a double-whiskey smoked turkey juiced with a butter-brandy injector sauce.

Here’s my turkey story: With an old $50 gift card I’d discovered in a junk drawer, I headed off to Gelson’s, the Tiffany’s of Turkeys.

Who can afford Gelson’s, right? But I had this $50 gift card to defray the cost, and I hoped the turkey might be of a higher quality than those frozen bowling balls I usually buy.

I found a $57 turkey ($4.99 a pound) and thought to myself: “This is OK. With the card, I’ll end up paying 7 bucks for this organic turkey, which is bound to be extra moist and tasty.”

When I got to the checker, I discovered that my gift card had only $3 left on it, meaning I was now going to pay $54 for this turkey. By then, I couldn’t really back out; a line was forming behind me, and I’d picked up several other items that the cashier had already rung up and bagged.

I was trapped by my own rushed assumptions, something that happens now and then, as you might’ve guessed.

Such is life. Bask in the blessings.

As we speak, the $54 turkey is brining in sea salt. I talk to it, as you would any 12-pound mistake: “You’d better be good, you big stupid bird,” things of that nature.

According to the recipe for double-whiskey smoked turkey, you get the bird a little drunk first. I know exactly what you’re thinking: “Why waste good whiskey on someone you barely know?”

Which is an excellent point. Thank you.

Someone also suggested the other day that I keep White Fang in the garage on Thanksgiving, given her apparent lust for smoked meats.

As you may have heard, she snatched some oaked chicken right off the counter the other day, so overwhelmed was she by the smokey scent. She lost all reason, as wolves are prone to do.

Trust me, reason is overrated. Especially around the holidays.

At Descanso Gardens the other night, we basked in our blessings and longtime friends. A couple of us commiserated on how “you marry your friends,” in the sense that you have extremely long relationships with them, for better or for worse. Jim and Susy, Pete and Linda (aka the Leggy Dentist). The Kaul family. The Pettibones.

Someone also noted that most of my male buddies are four-letter words: Mark, Jeff, Pete, Gino, Alex, Dave, Doug, Jack…

Look, I am very fortunate when it comes to friends. Bask in the blessings.

Anyway, the Descanso light display is one of LA’s greatest seasonal triumphs. Like LA, it is not the least bit traditional or sentimental. Not a Santa to be seen. It barely seems of Christmas.

Yet, it will take your breath away — the giant oaks cloaked in a churchly light. The flower beds glow like stained glass, while women on stilts parade around with bulbs attached to their ostrich-like feathers.

If Christmas were staged by semi-stoned French circus performers, this is exactly what it would look like.

But seriously, you should make a point of this forest full of lights. They serve wine and hot cocoa too.

Speaking of the French, one of my favorite stories about my daughter’s wedding happened after everyone spilled out on the sidewalk following the reception…one of those moments where everything seems possible.

Forty of my friends and family headed out for a nightcap at Jameson’s, a popular Santa Monica saloon. When they arrived, there was a line out the door. One of my beautiful nieces, declaring matrimonial martial law, veered around the line and marched up to the bar.

“Forty beers!!!” she told the bartender, who gulped, not just at the request, but at the nerve of my niece, and the sight of my niece as well – an adorable redhead in a slinky red napkin.

Of all my nieces, Melissa is the Frenchiest, probably the most like my own mom, a double-whiskey of a woman.

“OK then,” the bartender blurted. “Forty beers.”

Minutes later, Melissa and her sister walked out to the sidewalk tables with 40 bottles of beer. As Charles de Gaulle himself said, you cannot prevent the French from being French.  

Which reminds me: Thanksgiving celebrates the extra mile we go for family and friends…the blessings…the bottles…the zany and audacious moments.

Bask in them.

Info has gone out for Friday’s Harvest Hike. Lots of interest, so please understand if you didn’t make the cutoff. Because of bar limitations, we can only take so many folks along. Many more hikes ahead! Also, wanted to let you know we just got new shipments of gin & tonic glasses in the company store. Please support this enterprise with a purchase of a book, t-shirt or set of handsome glasses: https://chriserskinela.com/gift-shop/. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Smartacus’ stuffed mushroom appetizers:

Remove stems and rinse 20-24 large white mushrooms. Mix together 3/4 cup grated cheddar, 1/4-cup plain breadcrumbs and 1-pound Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage (or a similar brand). Spoon sausage-cheese mixture into each mushroom (use your fingers to shape them into place). Place on foiled cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Note there is no pre-cooking of the sausage or anything else. Everything cooks together.

10 thoughts on “Bask in the Blessings

  1. Your posts always make me want to return to LA. I too love Descanso Gardens. Enjoy your beautiful family and friends this Thanksgiving. Have a great one. I will be making those stuffed mushrooms!

  2. It would not be the Holidays without Smartacus’ stuffed mushrooms! Now we can add a drunk turkey and 40 bottles of beer to the mix, and it’s a party! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your wonderful family and bonus Aussies! Cheers, Chris. Thank you for every magical word you write, week in and week out. Your posts are something I am truly grateful for this year.

  3. The mushrooms are going to be on the Christmas appetizer table!!!
    Have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving.
    Tomorrow would be my father’s 100 birthday miss him like crazy but know he will be with us all
    At the table. 🙏🏻❤️

  4. The pics of the garden light show reminded me of the same at the chateau gardens at Azay Le Rideau (spelling optional) in the Loire valley in France. The chateau’s back wall dives into the Indre River, and the gardens wrap around the river and side of the chateau. Music is in the air, the lights swarm the trees and scintillate on the water’s surface, the chateau glows and rears darkly into the night sky, and the effect is transformational. Descanso could be that kind of thing, for some; or merely dazzling. Descanso seems a good lead-in to the big day tomorrow: family, lights, turkey, camera, action!—The annual light show in which the illumination coming from the shiny, radiant faces around the table dazzles all. Sun glasses will not protect you, but the attendant laughter will keep you unfocused, as will the sight-numbing effect of the Tryptophan and the various libations. The grand toast? “A la famiglia !”. Turkey down, bottoms up !

  5. Thank Smartacus for his very easy to prep stuffed mushrooms. I might add pine nuts to my prep for some add’l crunch. Wishing you and all your readers a fabulous Thanksgiving.

  6. Happy Thanksgiving to the Chris Erskine Family, Extended Family, Honored Australian Guests, and Extended Gin & Tonic Society Family. I give thanks to God on this day for the great freedom loving people of this world. God bless you all.

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