Spiced Pumpkin and Apple Soup

“So, what are you going to wear to Thanksgiving?” my sister asked as she sucked in her rounded cheeks to make model faces in the mirror. I glared back at her in annoyance. “I don’t know and honestly, I really don’t care!” Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so pissy but honestly, she had her priorities all wrong. How could she be concerned with what to wear? Who the hell cared? What she should have asked was, “What do you think they will have for dinner?”

Every year we spend Thanksgiving with my Aunt Sissy’s family. As my Uncle Jon’s wife, her clan was a bit removed for our direct blood line which automatically made them far more fun. The Bishops were a family of 5 strikingly tall, square-jawed children and always seemed to be busting at the seams with more uncles, aunts and cousins. Our sit-down Thanksgiving meal was easily 45 people with everyone in attendance. “AAAHHHH, Jamie-girl it’s so good to see you!!,” Mary, my Aunt’s sister and hostess, would scream as we walked in. Mary never talked. In fact, she screamed and laughed through every interaction which was both startling and infectious. Truly, at Thanksgiving we all talked like we were on an airport runway. My sister and I weaved in and out of the throngs of family members saying our hellos and how are yous, all the while sneaking bottles of Martinelli’s apple cider for the kids table. (Thinking about it now, the cider was already for the kids table. What can I say, my scarcity mentality has always been strong).

As the ladies bustled in the kitchen, picking at crispy turkey skin and getting the buffet ready, the rest of the party reconnected over multiple games of pool and a bit too much crab and spinach dip. Though I liked watching my older cousins lovingly scream and yell over missed or made shots, it was always the kitchen that held my attention. Mary’s kitchen was a thing of beauty. Shiny copper pots hung over the 8-burner wolf range which led to a deep white porcelain sink that looked out over Malibu’s coastline. Her two sturdy ovens produced such devastatingly delicious smells that every once in a while an uncle would stumble in and cry, “Is dinner ready yet?” Naturally the Thanksgiving staples were on the menu but as a family of foodies they loved to spice things up. One year there was tortilla soup with chunks of avocado. Another year, Bibb lettuce with pomegranates and champagne vinaigrette. And who could forget the curried sweet potato medallions with maple syrup glaze? For dessert, in addition to the requisite pumpkin pie with homemade whipped cream, there was always at least one pumpkin cheesecake and some sort of chocolate mousse thingy. (I recently asked my sister what she remembers of the dessert table. Her reply: “They never had pecan pie. It’s my favorite. What were they thinking?” So, I guess Thanksgiving attire wasn’t her only concern.) Yes, the Bishops were certainly a big family in size, stature, and, most importantly, in appetite.

When it was time for carving the three 20-pound birds, my father was summoned from his nap on the couch to do the honors. Do not ask me why my Dad, the least sociable, least related guy in the house was the bird carving man. Perhaps it was because he was the only man not glued to the football game or maybe because he was, again, the only man constantly hanging around the bird. Whatever the reason, when Mary wrapped a white apron around my Dad’s protruding belly, it was go time! In my Dad went, without a plan or specific direction, tearing up the birds and placing entire joints on the platter. And as if to sing out, “one for you, one for me”, with every steaming piece put on the platter, another one was thrown directly in my Dad’s mouth. He probably ate a good 3 pounds of turkey just carving it. And thank goodness for that safety net of an apron which caught all the flying juice, meat and skin that fell from his mouth. “Dad, stop eating the bird. There won’t be anything left!” I screamed. Now I knew there was no way my father could eat it all, but I promise you he made a significant dent. “Jamie, don’t tell me what to do! I’ve got it handled,” he sternly replied. “Handled straight into your stomach,” I continued to push. And here we come flying back to my fears of scarcity. But if we are all being honest, the man’s mouth was a Hoover and I was just certain he was minutes away from sucking up each entire turkey, bones and all.

Once the carving was complete and the saved carcasses wrapped in white trash bags as my father’s “soon to be soup” reward, it was turkey time. Kids and adults alike jockeyed for position in the buffet line, ogling the many hot, bubbling dishes that crowded the table. As we settled into our chairs in the large sunken living room watching the California sun set into the ocean, we gave thanks for each other, the amazing food, and for the generous chefs who made it all happen. Sometimes there were announcements of college acceptances, engagements, or babies but mostly we just sat together eating, drinking, and laughing way too loud.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Thanksgiving. Ultimately it’s a holiday centered on food, family, and consuming way too much of both. Not much has changed around my family’s Thanksgiving, though now Aunt Sissy herself, rather than Mary, hosts it and the Bishop children’s children have children. (Did you get that?) My sister still queries every year as to what I’m going to wear for turkey day and just as I did 15 years ago I shoot back, “I have no idea, Laura. I’m just thinking about the food!”

So truth be told I actually didn't spend Thanksgiving with my family this year. After 7 years together I finally conceded to go to Gray's family's house for turkey day...and I was not looking forward to it. Don't get me wrong, Gray's family are lovely people and I definitely wanted to see them. I just didn't want to miss MY family's Thanksgiving. Well as you know, marriage is all about compromise and so it was about time I made an appearance at the in-laws. The festivities were held at Gray's uncle and aunt's beautiful ranch style home in San Diego. Their backyard literally wraps around the entire house and on the left side is an amazing kitchen garden; A garden, in fact, that supplied the large Cinderella pumpkin centerpieces. Well, one look at the huge pumpkin on my table and I had to have it. I couldn't help myself. Gray's aunt graciously said yes and I immediately began laying out all of my cooking options.

Originally I thought to turn half the pumpkin into soup and throw the rest into a winter salad but the flesh was simply too soft to hold up. So, a giant soup it was! The pumpkin was also not as sweet as I had imaged, which is how the apples and honey made their way into the pot. I made this soup the day after Thanksgiving as a thank you to Gray's cousins who housed us for the weekend. When Gray's 6 year old cousin took a bite he said, "Wow, this is yummy. You are a really good cook!" Though I know he genuinely enjoyed the soup by his quickly emptied mug, it may have also been a ploy to get me down there next year. Well, it worked.

Spiced Pumpkin and Apple Soup

Serves 4

4 cups roasted pumpkin** 2 tablespoons of olive oil 1 red onion, chopped 4 cloves garlic, minced 2 gala or fuji apples, peeled and chopped 1 tablespoon butter, optional 2 tsp. cinnamon ½-1 tsp. curry powder ¼ tsp. nutmeg A dash of chipotle pepper powder (if you are a spice lover, add more) 1 ½ tbs. organic honey 4 cups organic chicken or vegetable stock Salt and pepper to taste Tamari roasted sunflower seeds, for garnish

**To roast the pumpkin, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Chop the pumpkin into large quarters and scoop out the seeds. Peel the pumpkin quarters and cut into 1 ½- 2 inch pieces for roasting. Mix the pumpkin pieces with a bit of olive oil and salt and roast for 30 minutes, until the pieces are softened and a bit brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a large stock pot over low-medium heat, add olive oil and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the pumpkin, garlic, apples, butter, and pinch of salt and cook for another 5 minutes until the apples begin to soften. Add the cinnamon, curry powder, nutmeg, chipotle, and honey and mix thoroughly.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a gentle simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and with a hand immersion blender or in batches with a regular blender, puree the soup. Once puréed, return to the heat and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper if needed. Ladle the soup into your favorite mugs and top with tamari sunflower seeds. Enjoy!

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