Austin’s a bit of an odd duck. According to the 2010 Census, young people make up a large part of the Austin population. Roughly 39.9% of Austin residents are between the ages of 20-40. And not only are they young, but they’re also displaced. Between 2000 and 2012, Austin has grown by nearly 200,000 people. That’s a helluva lot of young, newcomers.
This rush of Austin newbies is a unique phenomenon as far as Texas is concerned. In fact, according to Pew research, Texas is the “stickiest” state in the union. By “sticky,” the folks at Pew mean that the people in Texas typically don’t move around a lot. Nearly 78% of Texans stay where they were born, so like I said, Austin’s a tad odd.
I’m sure most us familiar with Austin aren’t exactly surprised by those statistics. You can’t fling an empty Lone Star can in Austin without hitting some hipster Cali barista or a New Yorker wearing colorful cowboy boots. But the number of displaced residents does make the holidays a tough time for a lot of Austinite newbies.
I guess if you’re new to Austin, you could grab some Chinese food on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Just try not to let your tears of loneliness fall into your Moo Goo Gai Pan. The extra salt will throw off the flavor.
Luckily for me and my wife, The Homegrown Revival decided to hold a special dinner on Thanksgiving, which meant that a few of us without immediate or extended family in the Austin area would have some place to go to celebrate the holiday. I wasn’t in the mood for Chinese or loneliness, anyways.
The dinner took place at Springdale Farm, which is an amazing little urban farm smack-dab in the middle of east Austin. Thanksgiving night was cool and calm, just the perfect kinda weather for a Thanksgiving feast. The HGR Team had converted one of the Springdale greenhouses into an ad hoc dining room. As my wife and I walked up to the greenhouse, Tink Pinkard, who was minding two wood-burning smokers, both of which were filled with heritage turkeys, greeted us warmly. Blueish smoke wafted lazily from the cast-iron pits, filling the air with the deep and heady smell of smoked fowl. We hugged Tink, and he pointed us in the direction of David Barrow.
David immediately stepped from behind his makeshift bar to give us another hug, and then he promptly pushed two drinks into our hands while explaining they were “alcohol forward.” David had made both drinks using Bone Spirits, a “farm to bottle” Texas Distillery. Leigh had the Gin drink garnished with pickled pumpkin, and I had the drink made with Moonshine and garnished with grapefruit. As I took the first sip, my grandfather’s voice inexplicably rang in my head proclaiming “That’ll put hair on yer chest, boy!”
Since we arrived a bit early, and The HGR Team hadn’t yet finished prepping the dining area, we languidly milled about in front of the greenhouse, sipping our lovely drinks, and enjoying the cool air. We greeted old friends and made new ones. We found Charles Barrow in the crowd, and like his brother, he immediately wrapped his arms around us for yet another big hug. Just before I finished my drink, we were let into the greenhouse, and the crowd filed in excitedly. We chose our seats, and each place setting was elegant and homey.
Chef Cote and her team started us off with a seafood clear chowder made of Gulf shrimp and fish. Okay. I realize I just used the word “chowder,” but that seems wrong. The word “chowder” just doesn’t do it justice. If you can, try to imagine if a bowl of velvety New England chowder and a bowl of in yer face Louisiana seafood gumbo got drunk on cheap Hurricanes during one Mardi Gras and had an illicit and torrid love affair. The result of their hot and sexy tryst in the French Quarter resulted in a wonderfully briny, smooth, ineffably clear broth. That’s what it was like. It was so wonderful it tasted like love had been captured and distilled into a liquid. We didn’t wait for a ladle to serve. To hell with ladles. We used our cups.
The lack of pretention and affectation of the first course was a signal of things to come.
Normally at The Homegrown Revival dinners, each course comes out separately because the focus is on the magnificence of the food, but this dinner was totally different. This was a Thanksgiving dinner. A family-style Thanksgiving dinner, no less. And how many grandmothers serve Thanksgiving dinner in courses? Mine certainly didn’t. Thanksgiving dinner should come out all at once so everyone has to pass dishes back and forth. It’s communal. It’s social. It’s family. And so it went.
Oyster mushroom dressing. Giblet gravy. Vegetarian lasagna. Roasted sweet potatoes with brown sugar. Turnip and carrot puree. Mashed ‘taters.
The dishes were passed back and forth between us like trapeze artists swinging across the big top. A little bit of this. A little bit of that. Hey? What’s that? No, I haven’t had that yet. Can you pass that plate? The other one. Yeah. Thanks. Here. Try this. No. It’s good. Really good. Can I have more stuffing? Whatta ya mean it’s not stuffing? It’s dressing? Fine. Just pass it. Get more of that. More! Ha! Wanna try our wine? Sure, I’ll try yours.
Every group of four or so guests had their very own heritage turkey. The birds came out whole, so we could all join in the fun of carving them up. Since they were heritages, they had less meat on them, but what they lacked in quantity they made up for in quality. Aaron Morris had done a wonderful job raising them. The meat was dark and ruby-red like a game bird. The meat was far tastier than any turkey I’ve ever had. Bold without being too gamey, it was the kind of meat that made you suck on the bones like meaty lollipops.
At one point during the meal, I noticed Chef Sonya Cote had joined us at the table to eat. That rarely happens at a Homegrown Revival dinner. Don’t get me wrong, Sonya’s always welcoming and utterly lovely at HGR dinners, but it’s usually pretty clear that she’s the chef making the food and we’re the guests meant to devour it. But not that night. That night we were all family, and after she made sure everyone else had been served, she joined us at the table to eat. My great-grandmother used to do the same thing at family holiday dinners.
As the night waned on, my hands covered with turkey juice and my belly full of food and spirits, we laughed and joked with one another, and I couldn’t help but think how lucky my wife and I were to be surrounded by such wonderful friends. Friends that had only been brought together because of The Homegrown Revival. Sure, they weren’t blood relatives, but in their own way, they’re just as special.
In Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem says “You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family.” I always liked that line, but I think I’d like to provide an addendum. We might not be able to choose our family, but the friends we choose are just as special because we consciously choose them, and oftentimes, those friends end up becoming family. No simile necessary in that last clause.
I’m not as pithy as Lee, I know. But I was happy that The Homegrown Revival held a special Thanksgiving dinner. It provided a way for us transplanted Austinites to experience Thanksgiving in a town not of our birth.
And for that, I’m very thankful.
So to David, Sonya, Charles, Sarah, Tink, Leah, Ellen, Deano, Melissa, Thorne, Glenn, Paula, Aunt Mary, Uncle Ed, Charles, Jill, and all the rest of the people at The Homegrown Revival Thanksgiving dinner, thank you for allowing me and Leigh to celebrate the holiday with you all. I hope we see you again next year.