The First Feast Project, Part 9: Pulling it All Together

Reader Contribution by Kiara Ashanti
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Roasted duck

With only a few days to go before Thanksgiving, I still needed to get a duck, turkey, and the seafood items. I knew all along I would not be going hunting for a turkey. As I mentioned in Part 2, it’s too expensive in Florida to go on a guided hunt, and I’m not experienced enough as a hunter to go into the woods of Florida on my own.

The turkeys for dinner were bought at Lake Meadows Naturals, a local farm that raises turkeys, chickens, and ducks. Bribery is the operative word for how I convinced the friend in charge of cooking the turkey to leave Butterball alone. I promised to pick up the difference in price between a grocery store-bought turkey and a farm-raised one. The difference in price was about three dollars more a pound than at a mass-market grocer.

With the turkey handled, it was time to get the duck. Hunting season for waterfowl starts late if you want it in time for Thanksgiving. The season opens on November 21st.  My hunting guide was already booked for the first day, so on day two I was up at 3am to drive an hour to go hunting on the St. Johns River.

The hunting went exactly that way it did for my first three hunts for deer and wild hog. I, nor the dozen or so hunters I knew were in the area, saw much of anything. From 5am through 11am, I heard the sound of a shotgun blast only ten times. I did, however, donate quite a few pints of blood to the local mosquito blood bank.

The annoyance I felt was quite high. I wanted to place the meat items on the table with my own two hands, but I must admit I felt quite the failure. It felt more like the universe throwing me a bone with the deer and hog, than a real hunt. The message, at least to me, was clear: Stop pushing your luck. I cut my losses, and drove back to Lake Meadows to buy a duck from the farm.

Seafood Ingredients

The left me with only the seafood to get.

In the time of the Pilgrims, North America was a wild and untamed land of bounty. The seas surrounding Plymouth were teeming with fish and seafood beyond what the native Indians could hope to harvest. Lobsters were plentiful in 1621. You could find them washed up on the beach or in the shallows. That is not the reality of 2015.

In Florida if you want lobster, you have to dive for it. If you are lucky enough to live in Key West or inclined to drive there, you can snorkel for lobster. If you live in Central Florida, like I do, you have to dive 60 to 70 feet down into the ocean to catch them.

I do not know how to scuba dive. I’m also not the best swimmer in the world. Throw me in the water with point A to get out, not far away, and I’m good. If something goes wrong in the middle of the ocean, miles from the land, I’m toast. Plus, cod and striped bass are not native to Florida.

So away to the seafood market I went.

Lombardi Seafood Market has been a fixture in Winter Park, Florida, for the last 50 years. It is the go-to place for all things seafood, if you are trying to stay away from the grocery store. I sent an email to the market, detailing my project and the items I needed. The staff found the project intriguing, and gave a helping hand at showing me which items to buy.

One thing I needed to be careful about was that even at a local seafood market, there will be farmed, or imported seafood from overseas for sale. I needed to stay with wild-caught, or at worst farmed in open sea nets.

If you are not familiar with this type of fish farming, it is not a farm at all. It is more of a wild corral where the fish are kept in their natural habitat and allowed to eat their natural food sources. No antibiotics, no dyes, and no substituted food sources. Lucky for me, Lombardi’s had wild-caught cod, clams, and lobster.

Pulling It Together

With two days to go, I was anticipating the feast to come, but first we had to cook everything. No small task considering that we had a large feast of foods. In total, we ended with 24 different dishes and desserts for 13 people. It took 48 hours to bring everything together. Most of the First Feast foods were cooked by me. Seeing the eyes of everyone bulge out as I walked into the house with a large storage container, holding all the wrapped dishes was a sight to behold.

The friend hosting the event asked, “Where are we supposed to put all of this?” My answer was simple: “In our bellies.”

Everyone laughed, but many a face had some anxiety as we got closer to sitting down and eating. I have no doubt as we blessed the food that some of those prayers were that I didn’t send anyone to the hospital.

Next time, everyone will have a little more faith in me. The dinner was a resounding success. Favorite dishes of the night were the smoked lobster, and cod, the duck, turkey, and bacon-wrapped butternut squash as an appetizer. More important, everyone enjoyed both the venison and wild boar ham.

The guests that did not know I had hunted for some of the foods skipped the crazy looks and instead asked about the process. I was able to regale them with the story of my frustration. It also felt good to have open mind on why wild-caught is better than factory farming. I also admit to a feeling of “I told you so” to those that thought it would be a disaster. But it is all in love.

The part of the night, however, is one I expressed to everyone. The holidays are not a great time for me. For various reasons, too sad to bother mentioning, I have hated the holiday season for the last decade.

This year, I had something to look forward to and be excited about. I had a smile on my face again. I owe this to friends, despite their reluctance on some things, indulged me in my wild project. Not everything turned out exactly the way I wanted, but isn’t that like life? The lesson in Thanksgiving — indeed all of the holidays — is simple: Be thankful and enjoy what you do have.

And do it with the friends, and family that you love.

First Feast Dinner List

• Roasted Venison Shoulder-in crock pot.
• Cajun Roasted Turkey
• Fried Turkey
• Roasted Duck with Raspberry sauce
• Smoked Cod
• Wild Boar Ham
• Smoked Lobster
• Fried Clams
• Succotash
• Stuffing
• Collard Greens
• Bacon Wrapped Butternut Squash
• Macaroni and Cheese
• Raspberry brownies
• Amaretto cake
• Rum cake
• Sweet potato pie
• Sweet potato chips
• Roasted Chestnuts

Kiara Ashanti is originally from the cold state of New Jersey. He attended college in sunny Florida and graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Speech Communication. He loves taking on new projects and is the author of over 200 articles ranging from trading securities, politics, social policy, and celebrity interviews. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog postshere.

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