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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | CENTERPIECE

Savoring Holiday's Many Styles

Whether Thanksgiving takes place on the beach, in the desert or in a chef's home kitchen, one thing is for sure: It's celebrated with a bounty of food, friends and family.

November 28, 1996|LEO SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A few relatives are coming up from Los Angeles, the teenage kids will be home for dinner for the first time in two months, and the turkey is turning a golden brown right about now.

It's Thanksgiving. A typical, um, boring Thanksgiving.

Oh, maybe not that boring--particularly if Uncle Herb can't digest the cranberry sauce again. But for most folks, it's pretty mundane stuff.

Just compare your Thanksgiving to that of the 43-guest Thanksgiving-wedding weekend the Feingold family of Ventura is up against. Or the 13th annual Thanksgiving at the beach planned by Ventura's Kris Pustina-Haldane and her family and friends.

Or how about that of the Simonds family of Ojai, who are out in the desert riding motorcycles? Then there is professional chef Neal Rosenthal, who for the first time in a couple of decades is having an exceedingly odd Thanksgiving--at least for him. Instead of feeding hordes from a restaurant kitchen or catering business, he will spend the holiday at home with family.

Carving Out a Cozy Spot on the Beach

Pustina-Haldane and her family are kind of like postal workers when it comes to celebrating Thanksgiving. They don't let the elements keep them from their appointed rounds.

"We've had rain where we've been ankle deep in mud," said Pustina-Haldane, owner of Franky's Restaurant in Ventura. "We had terrible wind one year where it did nothing but blow, like that prairie wind of the Old West where people would be driven insane."

This is not the stuff of Thanksgiving in a cozy cottage, but rather Thanksgiving at Leo Carrillo State Beach, along the Pacific Coast Highway at the Los Angeles County border.

Pustina-Haldane and her husband Bill Haldane have been bringing their son, daughter, friends and turkey to the beach since the family moved from Missouri to Ventura 13 years ago.

"It started when my son was 10 and we weren't going to be able to get together with all of the family," Pustina-Haldane said. "Two of his friends from a divorced family were going to spend Thanksgiving with us and we decided to go camping at Leo Carrillo because they could go surfing there."

The next year more guests joined in.

"We gathered a bunch of strays--people whose families were too far away, kids from divorced families," Pustina-Haldane said. "Over the last five years we've had three families and sundry other orphans. We usually smoke one turkey, roast one and we have friends from Louisiana who deep-fry a turkey."

The group, which this year will number about 13, also prepares yams, mashed potatoes and stuffing on a set of camp stoves. But aside from the stoves, there are few reminders of home.

"No phones, no TVs, no distractions of any kind," said Pustina-Haldane. The only comfort of home she misses, she said, is the kitchen.

"When it comes to clean up, you wish you could go to the kitchen or the dishwasher instead of hauling buckets of water and heating the water," she said. "The first couple of years we took down good plates. Now it's paper plates, but we do use good silverware."

Beyond the Call--Feast for 43, Then a Wedding

Party planning has become so detailed and hectic for Ruthann Feingold that she now has lists to keep track of her lists. Her brother has suggested that when the weekend is over, she look for a job planning events for a Fortune 500 company.

Thanksgiving for 43 guests would be one thing, but following that with a wedding two days later is above and beyond the call of motherly duty.

"My daughter, Ellyn, is getting married on Saturday," Feingold said. "We picked this weekend to have the wedding because all of my family and my husband's family are in New York, Delaware, New Jersey and Georgia. We decided if we ever were going to get folks out here for the wedding, it would have to be over the holiday weekend."

It's been more like a weeklong holiday for Feingold.

The first guests arrived Tuesday evening. Her husband's side of the family, surged on Wednesday. In all, Feingold last night expected to serve dinner to 22 guests at her home.

"I have had a lot of help," Feingold said last week. "I made meatballs about two weeks ago and put them in the freezer. I bought some Price Club lasagna and put it in a friend's freezer, and another friend is making chicken Parmesan. All I have to do is boil the pasta and make the salad."

Feingold is leaving the Thanksgiving meal to the Ojai Valley Inn, where the family has made reservations for all its guests. The Mandalay Beach Resort in Oxnard has the honors of hosting the wedding and dinner party.

"Everybody wanted to know what they should wear in California," Feingold said. "I told them I don't know, but whatever they wear it should have an elastic waist."

Coordinating Thanksgiving and a wedding has required much time and detail.

"It's like being in school, writing a term paper, doing all the research, putting information on index cards and then just wanting to hand it in," Feingold said. "That's where I'm at in my head; I just want to hand it in."

Dirt Bikes and Green Beans Out in the Mojave

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