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Monday, November 7, 2011

Thanksgiving Inspiration


When I was a kid I felt overwhelmed by Thanksgiving. It just always seemed like so much food that we'd end up feeling sick at the end of it. When I was in college and learning about people starving all over the world, a holiday just devoted to eating seemed a bit like flaunting our wealth in the faces of the less fortunate of the world. Like many things in life, sometimes it takes being able to do something out of free will instead of obligation for you to appreciate it. I did enjoy the green bean casserole:

 (A Midwestern classic: can of green beans, can of cream of mushroom soup mixed together , french fried onions on top, put in the oven for a while.)

This blog shows someone attempting the kind of holiday meal I remember as a kid here and here. This post has some great retro Thanksgiving photos (like the one I featured above).

 In the past few years I've had different ideas about how to approach it. Our first Thanksgiving we did actually make an enormous amount of food, but we pretty much ignored tradition altogether. It was:
  • Goat cheese stuffed dates 
  • Tomato and basil brushchetta
  • veggie tray
  • butter lettuce salad with hearts of palm
  • cauliflower braised in white wine and anchovies
  • maple glazed carrots
  • mushroom bread salad
  • baguette slices
  • beef wellington
  • veggie wellington for my sister
  • chocolate cream pie
  • pumpkin whoopie pies, from One Girl

That was a bit ridiculous. The next year we tried to avoid making too much food, so we scaled back a lot:
  • Beef Bourguignon
  • Duchesse potatoes
  • simple salad
  • our friend brought buttermilk cheesecake with cherry compote (which was fabulous)
This year I am not hosting. My friend has discussed doing the very traditional New England approach - as in quince, buttermilk, all super old school ingredients and preparation. I have discussed doing an all out retro menu: jello salad, cheesy potatoes made with sour cream, the yams with the marshmallows and brown sugar, the ham with the pineapple maraschino cherries on it. If I did this I would also wear a totally fabulous apron.  No one ever seems interested in these ideas. I even say that there are actual made-from-scratch recipes out there which could stand in for these processed Midwestern dishes - like the green bean casserole recipe was featured in Cook's Illustrated once, but again there has been little interest.


I guess our thing is we don't like turkey much, and our style of cooking is different altogether from anything that was made when I was a child at Thanksgiving, so why not ignore all traditions? But then if you just decide you can do anything you want, what is there to help you decide what to make? It should feel festive in some way, or it won't seem special, but it shouldn't be incredibly stressful for the host either. I did read in the recent Martha Stewart Living magazine about a potluck Thanksgiving, and while this looked fun, I'd worry about whether things would go together or not. (If you haven't read that issue the 6 layer chocolate cake with salted caramel  and the sky high pumpkin meringue pie recipes are worth the price of the issue alone.)

Anyways, whether you go with a contemporary, traditional, retro, or even multi-ethnic or vegetarian Thanksgiving menu, I think it is really about getting together with people you care about and having a day where you relax and catch up rather than go to work. That is a nice thing. I think in my adult life though, I have felt that one other important aspect of Thanksgiving is that it should be fun and fairly low stress. The fact that I don't think it should be stressful is part of why I think there should not be rigid rules about what to serve.

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