Giving Thanks with Food and Family
Like most kids in America, I grew up with the traditional Thanksgiving fare, and like most aspiring gourmands, I like to elevate classic dishes to new levels. Unfortunately, like most young people fresh out of grad school, I am broke. However, if the point of Thanksgiving is to be grateful for what you have, then this Thanksgiving I choose to be grateful for my vivid imagination and my family. I have always wanted to prepare an extravagant Thanksgiving feast for my whole family, both blood-related and adopted over the years. This is difficult for two reasons: funds and the fact that my family is spread all over the place. So below you will find the meal I would make if I had the money, and if I could get everyone I love into the same room for an evening. (For those of you responsible for bringing over a single dish to a potluck this Thanksgiving, check out my choices for some inspiration!)
Let me set the scene: There would be the lighting that every woman I know prefers (soft candlelight). This would be in lieu of the harsh but environmentally friendly fluorescents that currently reside in my apartment’s light fixtures. The wassail, hard spiced cider, and hot buttered rum would be flowing. My guests would arrive in style (the Pacific Northwest’s version of style. So a minimum amount of fleece, I guess), and my siblings and I would all get along. My older brother would even be on time!
Some soft Ella Fitzgerald mix would be playing on my iPod in the background. (I’ve heard this type of jazzy music is preferable at classy holiday parties, though I grew up with parents who got drunk on Thanksgiving and sang “Desperado” really loudly, so what do I know?) Everyone would bring a bottle of wine from a really good vintage year. And then, queue the audible gasps as I unveil each amazing course.
First, an arugula salad with roasted beets, squash and shallots with apple cider vinaigrette from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good. The vinegar would help prepare my guests to digest the rest of the meal to come, and it would definitely help to soothe the sore throat I would inevitable have by the end of November (even in my fantasy meal I can’t escape the fact that I would have a sore throat—it’s a certainty even my imagination can’t override). Further, the maple syrup in the recipe would add that extra touch of “autumnal yum” as Gwyneth puts it (in my fantasy we are on first-name-terms). Lastly, my brother and I would smile at each other across the table with red-stained teeth as we said that timeless line in unison: “Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.”
For the second course, a cauliflower soup recipe from Soup Night: Recipes for Creating Community Around a Pot of Soup by Maggie Stuckey. The onion, leeks and chives would provide a little boost to the creamy texture of the cauliflower, and the frigo (parmesan shaved and baked to look like stars) would give it an excellent crunch. Instead of saying “yuck, cauliflower is the worst,” my little brother and sister would eat it happily. My Dad would tell the story about that time he tricked my brother into eating stone cold soup during a freezing camping trip in northern Canada. Everyone would laugh, including my brother.
The main event would be a perfectly roasted turkey soaked for two days in a stout beer brine (an idea I was given by my lovely colleagues Gina and Candace). My dad would nod approvingly and say “abondanza!” in his crappy fake Italian accent that always makes us laugh.
The turkey would be accompanied by a cavalcade of sides, including a recipe celebrating the best that my Scandinavian heritage has to offer: Grilled Baby New Potatoes with Haricots Verts and Mint. From The Swedish Table by Helene Henderson, this dish would be an ode to my Swedish family, who don’t believe any meal is complete without the addition of potatoes. The mint helps to lighten this dish and bring balance to a table struggling under the weight of so many savory options.
Next up would be pomegranate jelly adapted from Wintersweet by Tammy Donroe Inman. I must admit that one of my guilty Thanksgiving pleasures is the canned variety of cranberry jelly that my stepdad introduced me to many moons ago. (As an aside, a jelly is by far your most stress-free option to bring to a potluck.) My pomegranate jelly would be a healthier option than the canned variety, and I would lighten it with some lemon to brighten the dish, provide acid and balance out the flavor profile of such an umami (read: savory) heavy meal.
For the two vegetarians in my family, I would make Pumpkin Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce and Roasted Pecans, a recipe I have tried and tested a few times from Katie Quinn Davies’ What Katie Ate. Check out her amazing blog, chock-full of delightful recipes here. She is absolutely right about making your own pasta: the elbow grease is definitely worth it.
And let’s be honest: the whole point of eating Thanksgiving dinner is the gravy. If the gravy isn’t good, there’s no point to the whole meal. My grandmother always made the most amazing giblet gravy, and Ree Drummond has an excellent recipe in her new cookbook The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays. The one thing I would add to this gravy is paprika, the spice my grandmother always added to give her gravy a bit of a kick. And if you haven’t heard of the Pioneer Woman, prepare to have your socks knocked off.
Last but definitely not least, my grandmother’s recipe for stuffing. I have read many, many recipes for stuffing. Most include extravagant ingredients to pump up the wow factor. But, even in this fantasy meal, I don’t think any of them could compare to my grandmother’s. Hers is simple: day old home baked bread, sage, onions, celery and butter. It would be a nod to her, and a way of involving her in the meal.
I would finish my culinary oeuvre with a Pear, Fig and Hazelnut Crisp (also from Wintersweet). As the saying goes, “what grows together goes together,” and it couldn’t be truer than with this dessert. Since people eat with their eyes first, my guests (and particularly my mother) would definitely be attracted to the rosy color provided by the fresh figs. The hazelnuts help to add depth and balance out the sweetness of the pear. My mother would say “Mums!” in her very Swedish way (it means “yummy”) and would dig in to the dish added to the menu just for her.
In the end, all I would really want out of a Thanksgiving meal I host is to make my family happy. I am so grateful to them for everything they have done for me in my life, and providing them with joy and comfort one night of the year would be a small way to give back. I hope someday this imaginary meal becomes reality. Until then, I’ll have to decide on one of these items to bring to our family meal in Seattle. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!