As the end of November approaches Dylan (my husband) and I prepare for our traditional American Thanksgiving dinner party. At this party, we move our kids out for 24hrs and spend the day hauling most of our furniture up to the second floor so we can seat the close to 40 adults in our small Brockton Village house. How did this crazy tradition begin? Here’s a recap of our many years of hosting American Thanksgivings.
2001 – Foodie Newbie
Concord Ave. Apartment, 15 guests
In 2001, Dylan and I were just friends and roommates. He was an amazing cook and I was not at all an adventurous eater or much of an eater in general. But I learned to love food while living with Dylan. I used to tell him I was allergic to things because I was too embarrassed to tell him that I’d never tried olives, calamari, lamb or anything spicy! We lived in a small upper level apartment on Concord St. just north of Bloor in an apartment I adored. Dylan liked it too but he always complained about the tiny kitchen and how useless it was. I thought the kitchen was fine. It had a toaster and a frying pan and a fridge. What else did we need? He was always complaining that we couldn’t host a dinner party. It had never occurred to me that you could even host a party where dinner was involved.
We had amazing neighbours living below us and one of our best friends and her two roommates living right next door. One day in October, we discussed the idea of having Thanksgiving together, but as it turned out we all had other places we had to be for the holiday since this was back when we went “home” for Thanksgiving. However, we were convinced that our Thanksgiving dinner idea was going to be a big hit, so we decided to push our dinner forward a month and make it an American Thanksgiving Dinner (since Dylan has American roots). We used our collective tiny kitchens to pull the meal off and invited a handful of friends we considered to be part of our family. We were of the belief that sharing food is an expression of love (even in my case if was a peanut butter sandwich) and we were all eager to spread the love.
This is how it all began. That first year, we had about 15 guests. Our menu consisted of turkey, potatoes and some salads. We made everything and guests brought wine and desserts. The meal itself was traditional and very simple but delicious all the same and we felt like we achieved culinary greatness. The tradition was born! It seemed that every year afterward was in a different location because this was back in the day when we moved every year; a thought that exhausts me to no end today. But that’s what young people do, right?
2002 – Growing Closer and Growing a Palate
Ontario St. Warehouse – 25 Guests
The following year we lived in a big warehouse space on Ontario St. in the east end. Dylan and I were now a couple having moved beyond just being friends. My palate was evolving every day and under his tutelage now knew what good food really was. Hosting was something we were both getting fairly adept at; we were a great team and I could now see that having parties where good food was served was very satisfying. We had learned from the previous year that we could not afford to buy all the food, so this time we asked guests to bring a side dish and we made turkey, ham, and mashed potatoes. Of course we all had plenty of wine.
Guests brought sweet potato dishes and beautiful salads which we served on paper plates on laps. How fancy! This party was unique in that we all left at some point to go drinking and dancing at a bar down the street, the Dominion Hotel. But the party was not over! When we were done at the Dominion, we went back to the warehouse loft to devour leftovers and continue to drink and dance until we passed out. Our initial group of 25 guests dwindled to only about 8 by the end of the night. There were many memorable moments from this night but the most vivid is our ham. It was a spiral cut ham from Saint Lawrence Market, steamed for 2 hrs in a coca cola brine and then roasted for another hour in the oven with a mustard, brown sugar, and bourbon glaze that was to die for. We chased that ham for many years.
2003 – Married with a Sit Down Affair
Still in the East End, 25 – 30 Guests
Still in the east end but in a much smaller boutique loft we rented tables and made our third annual American Thanksgiving a sit down event. Mostly because the place was SO small that the only way to fit all the guests was to keep them seated. Clearly we had to go out dancing after this meal, well because, there was nowhere to move after we finished eating! This year I’m not so clear (too much wine?) on where we went or who all made it back for some leftovers and dancing.
Mostly what I remember from this meal is that we ate leftovers and soup for the entire month of December. We had spent all of our money in on a ham, a turkey and potatoes and booze. Our first December as a married couple was a lean month in a lot of ways, but it was completely worth it. Our friends were becoming incredible cooks and this meal went up a few notches with some very adventurous salads and sides.
2004 – 2008 – The Lost Years (or the Baby Tunnel)
Tiny Apartment in Parkdale, 2 Guests (or maybe 2 and 2 halfs?)
By November the following year we were back in the West end in a tiny but beautiful apartment in Parkdale. We sadly realized that we’d have to put our tradition on hold for the time being. We had a newborn this Thanksgiving and pregnant again the following year. So putting our dinner on hold we sat on our plans and dreamed big while we enjoyed American Thanksgiving dinners for two.
2009 – Setting the Stage
A house in Brockton, 2 and 2 little ones
We bought our house in October 2009 and knew it would someday be perfect for our feasts but not yet. Some walls had to come down before it would be open enough. The house we bought in the Brockton Triangle was divided into two apartments as it was a rooming house and it had many walls and doors. The kitchen on the main floor was tiny, dark and enclosed. That year we tore down a wall on the main floor to make one big room that would be suitable for a Thanksgiving feast even though we had a small horrible kitchen (again).
2010 – Pregnant (Again) but Back in the Game
Brockton, 25-30 Guests
The following year I was pregnant (again) but we were game to get our event back up and running. We had a new rule – no kids. We didn’t have to have this rule before because no one we knew had kids, but in three short years our little community of friends had tripled. We also became very organized about our meal plan. In our Evite everyone could list the dish they were bringing for all to see, so the meal became very balanced, but I think it also it inspired people to up the ante. If you saw someone was bringing their famous scalloped potatoes, then you were inclined to bust out your family’s traditional beet salad. More and more, the dishes our friends and family brought were special, unique, and made with enormous amounts of love and pride. This was no ordinary pot luck. Food sharing and gratitude had truly made its way into our Thanksgiving.
Now our meal was a formal sit down dinner that started at 7pm. We rented tables, chairs, place settings and everything! We turned our entire main floor into a beautiful dining room. We made TWO turkeys, plus ham and garlic mashed potatoes. Dylan started to get very fancy with his birds as well; this year we had a brined turkey, a bourbon turkey and a ham that we hoped would be as delicious as our warehouse ham had been years earlier. The night was a huge success! We ate a lot and drank a lot but we also worked A LOT! We served, cleaned, served, cleaned, drank, drank, ate (I think) and cleaned. I was pregnant and sober and exhausted by the end of the night. It was very successful; however neither of us could actually remember the evening because we had been working so hard.
After that year, one of our amazing friends decided that everyone missed out on being with US at Thanksgiving so he suggested hiring a server and offered to put himself in charge of collecting from friends that night. Everyone was happy to contribute to this in order to have me and Dylan relaxed and enjoying the night. This was an incredible gift and my gratitude continued to grow as we realize how truly blessed we are to have such wonderful friends and to see how important this event had become to them.
2011 – 2012 – Relaxed and Happy
Brockton, 32 Guests
The next year we completely found our groove. We had servers! – – Dawn and her teenage son who have been with us ever since. This proved to be the cherry on top! We had 32 people to our sit down dinner but Dawn and Chris kept food warm and moving and packed up leftovers and got dishes stacked and put outside in crates. They got desserts warmed and served and when we were done eating they took tables down and folded chairs and moved everything out onto the front porch for us. For the first time ever, Dylan and I sat down and ate the entire meal with our friends. When the floor was cleared a dance party was in order and that’s how the night went from there. The next morning Dylan and I stayed in bed and listened to the rental truck come and take all of our stuff away from our front porch. Gone were the days of stumbling downstairs after only a few hours of sleep to fold tables and scrape plates and lug chairs out at 9am! Bliss!!
2013 to Present – The Party and the After Party
Renovated House in Brockton, Maxed out at 36
The party continues to grow, but last year at 36 guests, we realized we’ve hit our max even after the renovation of our beautiful dream kitchen. Memories of terrible kitchens behind us, we are all about the future now. Those who are on the list and have been for years mixed with our new friends, who made it in under the wire before we reached capacity, are now the people who contribute to this event. What is emerging from the kitchens of our friends are divine dishes of harvest lasagnes, kale salads, stuffing and gourmet desserts. And finally last year we made a ham that was as good if not better than our market ham from years ago. The food is truly to die for and the party goes on and on into the night. Now we have what’s known as the after party, which includes people who don’t come to the sit-down meal but come after 1:00 am for the leftovers and the dancing. This is a tradition we knew had legs and we were so excited to have come to fruition. Our adults only, food and drink extravaganza for one night only. American Thanksgiving.
On How We’ve Grown
It has become a very special night for us and everyone is grateful to have a beautiful evening of incredible conversation and laughter with friends both new and old. The food is enjoyed and deeply appreciated. We have come a long way and have learned a lot about hosting and I personally have learned a lot about food. Our love for each other and this particular tradition grows each year. I am truly thankful.