24 November 2008


Many years ago, I had a friend who always organized a dinner around Thanksgiving time, with all of the traditional fixings, but with none of the traditions or expectations of a family gathering. Only women were invited (my son did make an appearance as honored guest when he was 7 weeks old and had just come home from the hospital a few days before), and the intent was to just have a nice relaxing time with friends without any pressure for a ridiculously clean house, fancy table decorations, extravagant food, or bickering relatives.

Each year the hostess would assign each attendee a dish to prepare. It was always well planned, and there was little stress. I wasn't much of a cook at the time, so I think I always brought something foolproof, like fresh fruit, or a salad, or deviled eggs. But one year, the usual hostess needed a break. She agreed to have it at her house and would cook the turkey, but she asked someone else to plan the rest of the menu. The stand-in planner was not nearly as organized. She waited until it was close to the time of the event and then simply told people to bring whatever they wanted.

There was almost a mutiny. How was that going to work? So, she revised her instructions. Her assignments were a bit more specific: drinks, vegetables, desserts. I was assigned vegetables and decided to be a bit more daring than salad and settled on a green bean recipe that I couldn't mess up: green beans with slivered almonds. Hardly even cooking: beans in pan, heat, add slivered almonds, and, most importantly, put in fancy cut-glass bowl that makes anything look special. I knew it was lame, but it fit the bill.

I arrived at the dinner with my veggies in hand. I hadn't made too much, as I calculated that nobody would be very interested in eating them anyway. As I went to put them on the table, I started laughing. My green bean dish took its place next to several other vegetable dishes, each different in execution, but all some combination of green beans. Green beans with mushroom soup & onions. Green beans with pinto beans & almonds. Green beans with wax beans. Green beans and almonds and crispy fried onion rings, mixed with sour cream. Green beans & onions and almonds held together by something undefinable. Green beans in a souffle. Green beans in a casserole dish. We all laughed at the variations and had fun trying the different recipes even if it did make for a lop-sided dinner.

That is how pot luck suppers go; you never know what anyone will bring but it always seems to turn out. And so it is with my virtual thanksgiving feast.

Litlove tried to make a traditional US Thanksgiving meal, but she found herself short on two things: time and the ingredients for thetraditional American meal. She writes that she is perplexed by the American combination of sweet and savory dishes -- noting that only an unseasoned palate, like that of her adolescent son, would think it starchy potatoes and marshmallows sounded wonderful. Instead, she opted to roast a chicken, surrounding it with root vegetables in the roasting pan. Sounds simple, elegant and delicious.

Emily does a turn at being a food historian in her post on Sweet Potato Casserole, discussing the evolution of her recipe from a run-of-the-mill to a no-fail, crowd-pleasing favorite that she is asked to make every year. I think it sounds wonderful, and I'm planning on making it this Thanksgiving. I love sweet potatoes and don't usually add sweet ingredients to them, but I think this sounds like it will be something that the family crowd this Thanksgiving will like.

In a post that eschews the meat-centered Thanksgiving table, Stefanie writes about how she and her Bookman have defined their own traditional Thanksgiving dinner while staying true to their vegan philosophy: they don't eat animals or anything that tries to mimic meat. Her tradition is an enchilada casserole. It sounds delicious. Unlike a turkey, this isn't something that you have to spend hours preparing. Stefanie also contributes a vegan pumpkin pie. I can't wait to make this one and I love her suggestion for chocolate bits on top (chocolate can go anything, right?), though I think that I will make real whipped cream, an indulgence that I only do a few times a year and Thanksgiving is one of those times!

So Thanksgiving, this year, is more about rest and less about the food, Courtney writes. I think that is a recipe for a great holiday. I think holidays should be about rest, relaxation, finding ways to de-stress and to remember that we sometimes need to remove ourselves from the worries of hectic lives. Courtney's recipe isn't a traditional Thanksgiving recipe, but a recipe that she is thankful for. I think her Steak, Ale and Cheese pie would be great to make when you tire of all the leftover turkey (and the wait for pizza delivery on Saturday will be two hours), or to make anytime during the cold, grey winter months.

So my contribution? I've never made a turkey and I don't know that I ever will. It really seems like too much for a small gathering, and I don't think I could handle cooking for a big crowd. (Note: my family = big crowd if everybody shows up.) Last year, I shared two of my favorite Thanksgiving meal side dishes - cranberry sauce and the thing I make with sweet potatoes and apples. I have the cranberries to make the sauce, but I'm the only one in my extended family that really likes cranberries, so I think I'll just make it for me. Earlier this month, I posted a recipe for Brussels Sprouts and Apples. I'm bringing the Brussels sprouts, Stef's pumpkin pie, and Emily's sweet potato casserole this year. My husband is making his Corn Souffle (1 can cream corn, 1 can corn, Jiffy Mix cornmeal, some eggs, some sour cream, jalapeno -- I know this isn't a recipe. I don't know his secret recipe.)

So, what will I bring to this virtual feast? Although I already wrote once this week on alcohol (usige, whiskey, scotch or bourbon?), I'm bringing wine, just as I am in real life.

A tradition in my family is that we always have champagne at any holiday celebration. I like sparkling wines, the drier, the better. My mother, who is a very good cook who never skimps on quality, likes a really sweet champagne. She buys the really inexpensive, too sweet champagne you find at the grocery. Sometimes I feel like I should buy her a bottle just for herself because I think you should drink what you like and who cares if it isn't rated highly in Wine Spectator?

But, as long as I'm responsible for bringing the libations, I will bring something I consider good, compromising a little on the sweet/dry issue. This year, I decided to bring a Spanish Cava, Segura Viudas Aria. It is a dry wine, but has a touch of sweetness. I think it will please. When I was at my favorite local wine store the other day, the store owner convinced me to buy a bottle of a sparkling Rose of Malbec, Reginato Celestina. Haven't decided if I'm going to bring it to my sister's on Thanksgiving, or save it for hubby and me to share on some occasion. For table wine, I'm bringing one of my favorite, anytime wines, Red Truck Red. It's a blended California wine that is medium bodied and absolutely delicious. No need to be a wine snob or to spend a fortune on this. Best yet, in Indiana, which has weird and archaic beer and wine distributor laws, it is readily available in the grocery store. I haven't tried Red Truck's white wines yet, but I bought two bottles of White Truck White as well. It's advertised as not having anything oaky about it, which I should like. Last, although it won't be my contribution to the party, I'm pretty sure that we'll end the evening with dessert, and coffee with either Bailey's or Kahlua.

So, what are you cooking, baking, buying, eating or drinking this Thanksgiving? Leave a comment or a link to share. I hope you have lots to be thankful for and enjoy your holiday!


Kay said...

We don't celebrate Thanksgiving here in NZ - we are such heathens!!! But if we did I think the good old traditional mutton roast with new potatoes peas and mint sauce ... hang on that's our Christmas Dinner ! But a favourite nevertheless.

Cam said...

Kay -- I love lamb. Your feast sounds delicious. Here in the States there is a distinct difference between lamb and mutton, mutton being an older sheep and it isn't easy to find. Lamb, too, is not very common in the area where I live, but it isn't impossible to get. When I was a child, my mom used to make my grandfather bring at least two legs of lamb with him when he visited. I like roasting it with garlic and herbs de Provence (the kind with lavender in it), served with a little crushed fresh mint. Mint jelly is common here, but I don't like it at all -- too sweet & overpowering for tender flavor of the meat. I'd love it if you'd share your specific recipe.

stefanie said...

What a magnificent feast! I laughed out loud at your green bean story. Thanks for putting this together, it sure was fun!

Emily Barton said...

With all the work you put into this virtual meal, I'm sure preparing a turkey would be nothing for you. (BTW, I've never made one, either, although I've roasted my fair share of chickens in my lifetime.) Happy Thanksgiving! (As you know, I'll be making sweet potato casserole, like I always do.)

Cam said...

Stef - Thanks for participating. I'm sitting a few feet from the pumpkin pie I made and am having to exercise restraint from eating it now. It smells so good!

Em - I know I couldn't ever carve a turkey, so I don't want to cook one! I'm boiling my sweet potatoes now. I'll have to let you both know how your recipes turned out at the hands of one who doesn't always remember to get or follow the directions exactly.