Category Archives: New Beginnings

Gary Carter shares his experiences in relocating with his family to the Camas Washougal area!

Whatever Happened to Thanksgiving?

by Gary Carter
first published Nov. 1998

Thanksgiving is dead! Long live Christmas! The gods of commerce called for the head of Thanksgiving, one of America’s most important and original holidays, long ago — and the greedy, consuming public obliged.

We put aside giving thanks and bringing family together in order to take advantage of paltry discounts at the local department store. Forget the turkey and dressing, pass me the sales papers. It is amazing that we need three months to prepare for a one-day holiday. Now I can see you need a little extra shopping time for Hanukkah, since that lasts several days. But Christmas is just one day. And any way, it’s not about buying gifts, is it?

I’m not sure anymore, it’s been so long since anyone has shown me the true meaning of Christmas. I’m still trying to hold on to November being the Thanksgiving month. You know, telling the family you’re having the meal at your home, warming up the oven the night before for the turkey and dressing, getting the cranberry sauce ready, cleaning the house, and breaking out the photo albums. The grandparent would say the prayer before the meal, the family would eat and share stories. Dad would unbutton his britches and head for the couch. The football game would be blaring in the back. And for one day, all misunderstandings and squabbles would be put aside and the family would give thanks for what they had.

But things started to change about a decade ago. The Christmas season started a little earlier one year; then earlier the next year; then earlier. And before you know it, after you put away the Halloween candy, boom — out come the Christmas decorations.

The second day of November, as I made my way to the grocery store, I actually saw some people in my neighborhood putting up their Christmas trees. I almost wrecked. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t get my window down fast enough to yell, “It’s not even Thanksgiving yet!” Oh, the Pilgrims are probably spinning in their graves. But what are you going to do? Since this country lives and dies by the mighty dollar, you can’t change the direction commerce has taken our holiday spirit. But you can’t give in either.

How about reminding those around you about Thanksgivings past? If someone tells you in November to have a happy holiday say, “Thanks, and you have a great THANKSGIVING too.”

Above all, just don’t forget what our early settlers meant when they invited the Native Americans over for that festival of food and camaraderie centuries ago. And what was the meaning of that first Thanksgiving? If you don’t know by now, I guess you better get to that Christmas sale at the mall. Hurry, you only have 35 days until Christmas.

Talkin’ turkey

thanksgiving

by Gary Carter

There’s always a first time. Do you remember yours? The first time you cooked a turkey on your own, away from home, for the family?

From Julia Child to Emeril Lagasse, famous chefs have all confessed to their first forays into the holiday cooking realm, most to hilarious and disastrous outcomes.

And, for me, hearing those stories as I sat glued to television food programs over the years, only added to my dread and fear of cooking a Thanksgiving feast for the first time away from home.

I researched. I shopped. I planned. Still, the result was lackluster and full of pitfalls.

I had no idea how long it takes to thaw a big frozen turkey. In fact, it still seems like a crapshoot, as I’ve had a frozen turkey in the fridge for a week and it was still partially frozen.

But that first time, it only thawed in the fridge overnight, so it was still rock hard. I unwrapped the bird, covered it in butter and salt and pepper, and put it in the oven on 350 degrees.

What seemed like a day later, it looked done to me. Well, it wasn’t burnt.

My folks arrived first that day for Thanksgiving dinner, and my mom was inspecting the bird. She noticed a white thing on the side and pointed it out. It was a pop-up thermometer that just about melted into the breast. I had never seen one of those before. Oops.

Then, as my father was giving the bird the once over for carving, he looked into the turkey’s cavity and slowly pulled out a steaming bag. It was the giblets and such. “What is that?” I said. He tried to cover for me, but the game was up. All had noticed that I cooked the bird with the bag of guts and neck and stuff still inside.

To my family’s credit, they ate on this sad turkey. Eh, I’ve had worse. But, I believe my confidence was taken down a notch or two; as it was later in the meal when my “homemade” pumpkin pie was discarded wholesale by the family.

I had purchased a pumpkin, carved it, and used the meat inside for the pie. Think chicken pot pie with pumpkin. Seemed like a simple idea at the time … pumpkin, karo syrup, and a crust. A family member whispered to me the virtues of pie filling.

I like to think that more than two decades later, I’ve got the hang of Thanksgiving dinner and can be in a position to give advice and warning to those embarking on their first time. But you know what happens when you assume? I’ll leave it at that.

Keep it simple

I’m hearing that I need to rub under the turkey’s skin a compound butter made with chervil and raspberry-mango salsa and I need to tie the legs with organic hemp and stuff with a parsnip puree and panko bread crumbs.

Ah, that makes my head hurt. Here’s what I think:

Thaw the bird. Take the gunk out of the cavity and putan onion, an apple, and an orange in there. Turn the whole thing over, breast side down and put a can of chicken broth in the bottom of the roasting pan. Cook it low and slow, maybe even overnight on 200 degrees. About 40 minutes before the end, turn the bird back over, baste with butter and crisp the skin under the broiler to give the bird a golden hue.

Cooking the turkey breast-side down will almost always leave you with a moist turkey, and in my experiences, no matter how you cut it or season it, if the bird is dry, people aren’t satisfied.

The stuffing in the bird is usually the tastiest, but you have to know it comes at the expense of the bird’s juices. Make your stuffing in another pan, and you can’t go wrong with cornbread dressing anyway.

I just cook up three packages of cornbread in a big alumninum pan, and when the cornbread is done, pour on three cans of chicken broth, add boiled egg whites, some milk, chives, garlic salt, black pepper, and a few assorted other spices and put the soupy dressing mix into that warm oven for an hour or so. Simple, yes … but very good.

You take that bird out of the pan when it’s done and let it rest, boil the leftover juices and some corn starch or flour/water mixture to thicken it and season it how you like it … gravy.

This isn’t rocket science, and it’s not going to impress a food snob seeking out the “root vegetable puree” or balsamic-turkey consommé. It’s good, simple, and easy. And it’s a crowd pleaser. If this is your first Thanksgiving feast, don’t fret. Take it from someone who’s taken the Thanksgiving walk of shame … just keep it simple.

A mom and pop shop, quite literally

by Gary Carter (part of the New Beginnings series focusing on my observations as I make the Northwest my new home)

It should not come as a surprise that crossing the Columbia will still find a host of family run restaurants, scratch-making everything, all with an eye toward local or sustainability.

And for many in the Portland area, once you find your pho place, you are loyal and you dive into the intricacies of their dishes. Because in authentic Vietnamese food, the difference of a few miles from where the cook or owner hails can be seen and tasted in the food.

But in this age of authenticity, this return to farm-to-table, this time of value in good, rustic food; it is a bright spot to see a real mom and pop commit to their culture and cuisine.

In Vancouver, on the busy Mill Plain Boulevard, one family is doing it right. And when we say mom and pop, that’s literally what is going on here at Pho Thanh.

Ming Huynh Bui, and his wife Tuyet Lan, met as refugees, packed in boats fleeing Vietnam during the war in 1975. He had fought against the North Vietnamese, alongside the Americans, early in the war and was captured and sent to the “re-education camps.” Five years later, he was released and found himself behind the wheel of a boat headed for Thailand. She had found a way to get herself the same direction. After a church sponsor helped the couple get to America, they married and settled in California.

The couple had three daughters. Linda Bui is one of them. She said that her father Ming worked odd jobs, with mom usually staying home to take care of the girls. After 20 years of working in different factories, and after moving the family from California to Portland, they moved to Vancouver.

Linda explained that one day at lunch, about five years ago, father Ming was eating in a small cafe on Mill Plain Blvd. and had noticed the owner was having a particularly rough day. She exclaimed that she wished someone would just buy the place. He stepped up, made her and offer, and did just that.

“He came home and told us, ‘well, I bought you a restaurant,’“ Linda said.

Ming had only known Vietnamese cooking by proxy. It was his wife Tuyet who guarded the family recipes and kept the pots boiling. “My dad didn’t know who was going to run the place or anything,” Linda said. “But he was determined to make it work.”

Soon, Tuyet put Ming in charge of the broths and soup. And if you know anything of a pho restaurant, the broth is the life blood of the joint. It’s the point of pride.

Linda said their small cafe, Pho Thanh, struggled in the beginning, trying to figure out what days and hours to stay open, what ingredients customers preferred. But in the end, it was the dedication to the scratch-made soups and other staples that kept the customers coming back. Dedication is the key word here, as mom and pop Bui work every day of the week, at least 12 hours a day.

Ming just laughs off the hard work, instead showing off his large boiling cauldrons of beef and chicken stock. “This one, it goes for 12 hours. Then we add a little of this, and we add a little of that. Green onions. Fresh ginger … and this one, we let it go 16 hours, maybe more,” he says, beaming with pride. “There’s no skimping.”

If you want to check out the fresh pho, you can find the Bui family cooking every day at Pho Thanh Restaurant at 14201 SE Mill Plain Blvd #A in Vancouver, Washington. Phone: 360.892.4788.

Trail Blazin’ … Part I

Trail Blazin’ … Part I
by Gary Carter

While the covered wagon was a big ol’ SUV, the trek along the Oregon Trail was just as rustic and filled with excitement and promise as that of the pioneers.

My little family and I packed up all our belongings, sold our home in Texas and gave away just about everything we couldn’t carry, and came to live among the evergreens of the Pacific Northwest during the summer of 2015.

“Come to the Northwest,” they said, “where the summers are cool and it rains.” Well, that was enticing enough as we in North Texas had just begun the tenth summer of a desperate drought where 110 degree days and 90 degree nights were the norm. I mean, it was so dry, cats coughed dustballs and tumbleweeds were too crackly to tumble.

For my little family, my wife Jan and two sons Bobby and Will, the move was highly anticipated as it was our first foray out of the confines of North Texas other than travel. We all suffered from wanderlust, to be sure, having visited all but a handful of these United States and Canada and such. But putting down roots, that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame.

Surprisingly, just after settling in the fine city of Camas, I instructed my youngin’s to “blend in.” Well, ya’ll are fixin’ to be surprised, but I believe our Texas accents gave us away. Everywhere. From the checker at Wal-Mart to the folks at the Water Department.

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

From what I gather, we’re not alone in that category in Camas. Seems the school district is bustin’ at the seams. There seems to be traffic congestion where there was nary a car back in the day. But like I keep saying, if you’ve got something good, people wanna share it.

Weeks before we settled on moving to Camas and putting down roots, it was a tweet I noticed by a local pastor at the Methodist Church. It was slightly political, and 100 percent genuine. There was thought and care put into what this woman was writing, and I was immediately drawn to her other writings. That drew me into Camas United Methodist Church and I knew my family would have to seek it out once we moved. Just a day after our covered wagon pulled into town, we were at a Sunday service listening to Pastor Richenda Fairhurst hold court.

The smiling faces and welcoming vibe was overwhelming. We had not felt that loving embrace in a long time. And for our family, it was time. We were transitioning to another chapter in our lives, after a time of difficult goodbyes and howdy-don’ts. We were looking for fertile ground for thought, for love, for inclusion, and for opportunity. My children sought more comfortable confines, pleasant scenery, and a wonderful sense of place. Me? I was seeking a home.

—- to be continued

covered wagon modern copy