Baking, Cooking, Cooking & Eating, etc.

Planning for Thanksgiving

Just for the record — so that I am sure to give credit where credit is due — you must understand that the photos in this post are not — *NOT* — of my own, personal Thanksgiving supplies. They are courtesy of the content of our local Whole Foods Market. Seen there. Not bought. Just so we understand each other.

Now that we’re clear …


Thanksgiving is my holiday. It’s a little bit odd, seeing as how I’m the youngest of my family. Seeing as how I live far away. Seeing as how Philadelphia is cold in November, while sunny Southern California, where most of my family resides, is — well — sunny. But I’ve been doing Thanksgiving for most of my adult life. In college, it was as a refuge for students who couldn’t go home. Then it was for family and friends. Then, for the past couple of years, it has been mostly a family affair. Sarah and I got married on Thanksgiving, which makes it a sort of anniversary thing. And the fact is, I make a pretty damn good turkey.

The problem is that while I love doing Thanksgiving — while it’s a great excuse to cook for ten, or twelve, or once almost forty people — traditional fare is kind of a drag. Even a pretty damn good turkey is still really, really a turkey. It’s tasty, more or less, but the trick is not to make it good so much as to pick out a good one, then not screw it up. Then there’s the mashed potatoes, the gravy, dressing, some simple vegetable, bread, and pie for dessert. It’s all fine as far as it goes. But it’s so wholesome. So … boring.

Every so often, I’ll get it into my head to spice things up. One year, I did a turkey, then aloo gobi, pumpkin curry, and saag paneer. Want to guess how that turned out? That was the year that one friend brought her boyfriend, who was astonished that we didn’t have sweet tea, and actively offended by our lack of a working television. Apparently, there was some kind of game or something? Maybe? That was the year that another friend’s significant other walked outside to smoke a cigarette. And decided to stay there. And that was the year that my mother — at least I think it was my mother — took me aside and told me: Adam. Listen. Next year, why not take Thanksgiving off?

And so, duly chastised for my Indian-style transgression, subsequent Thanksgivings have been slightly less adventurous affairs. There were some glazed carrots one year, because they’re Sarah’s grandmother’s favorite. There was a pumpkin cheesecake, kindly supplied by my good, dear friend Beth. But that’s about as daring as it got.

And this year, I worry, is not going to be terribly much better. I’m feeling the itch again — the call of adventure. I’m looking to stray from the path, if only just a little. But for the most part, I fear that my audience will not be receptive. They seem to have some pretty strong ideas about what components are required for a meal to properly be called Thanksgiving. Plus my mother will be there. And she remembers my last Thanksgiving experiment.

So if I want to stray — and I do! — It will have to be subtle. No substituting leg of lamb for turkey, or making individual game hens (yum!). No fish, or gnocchi, or spaghetti and meatballs. Maybe something more like … changing the seasonings. Or playing — slightly — with dessert. I have already been warned — by more than one incoming guest — that pumpkin pie ice cream is no substitute for pumpkin pie. And that cranberry sorbet, while a perfectly acceptable palette cleanser, is no kind of dessert at all. And so I am left with a quandary: how do I bring that Thanksgiving excitement to the table, without also bringing on moans of bitter, bitter disappointment?

This is where you come in, gentle readers. What I propose to do here is give you two menus — one for the Thanksgiving meal itself, and one for brunch (which I have traditionally made for guests the next morning). And what I would like are suggestions — ideas for where I can tweak, shift or replace items to add a bit of variety, a bit of fun. If you like, we can make a game out of it — Plan My Thanksgiving! I can’t offer prizes (alas!). But good suggestions will earn my everlasting gratitude. For whatever that’s worth. So …

Thanksgiving Meal:

  • Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Walnuts
  • Green Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • Turkey (stuffed with apples, onions, and prunes for flavor)
  • Gravy (made from drippings, plus said apples, onions, and prunes)
  • Garlic Mashed Potatoes (perhaps with cheese, perhaps with a bit of truffle oil)
  • Bread Dressing
  • Kale Cooked with Bacon
  • Dinner Rolls
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Vanilla and / or Pumpkin Ice Cream

Morning-After Brunch:

  • Multigrain Pancakes
  • Turkey Hash
  • Bacon and Sausage
  • Fruit Salad
  • Coffee
  • Giant Pitchers of Bloody Mary

As you can see from the squash soup, I’ve already changed some things up a tiny bit. But still: help!