The past couple of Thanksgivings, I have concentrated more on surviving than on celebrating. This sounds overly dramatic, but I have been known to fall apart completely during the meal preparation. Tears have been a ritual, almost always over the gravy which I have ruined on several occasions. And instead of enjoying the actual meal, I usually pick it apart, tearing down my own cooking, the recipes, and the ridiculous amount of work I've done (ALL alone, poor me!) (Never mind that my husband always does the mashed potatoes, and since the disaster of 2009, the gravy, as well.)
I'm not sure exactly where things went wrong. I used to love Thanksgiving. I used to love to cook. Once upon a time, I enjoyed trying new recipes each Thanksgiving. We almost always had friends over, but this was before we had kids. Somehow, perhaps during those years when I had two children in elementary school, the whole ritual started feeling like a giant wrecking ball aimed straight at my gut. I dreaded the days of preparation, the numerous side dishes, the things I'd inevitably forget (almost always the cranberry sauce!) and the horribly dry, tasteless turkey that would sit in the fridge for a week after the fact. I began to threaten my family at the end of each Thanksgiving meal with "Next year, we're going to Boston Chicken!" (Of course, they would have been DELIGHTED with such a turn of events!)
Well, I am changing the course of history this year. Thanksgiving will no longer go downhill. I am vowing to enjoy this holiday which was once my favorite.
How? Great question. I plan to try some new recipes!
Christopher Kimball, the creative force behind Cook's Magazine and The Best Recipe, has started a brand new magazine called Milk Street. The first edition is already out, and he has also posted recipes for Thanksgiving on his website. You can find them here: http://recipes.177milkstreet.com/rethink-thanksgiving
I plan on trying the Brown Ale Turkey, which is basted with a sauce containing brown ale (duh!) combined with melted butter, fresh herbs, and fish sauce! Sounds amazing to me, especially since I'm a massive fan of salty, umami flavors.
You can also check out his recipe for Pumpkin Tart. This differs from a traditional pumpkin pie in several ways. First, his recipe contains NO spices! The flavoring comes from cooking down the pumpkin and deglazing the pan with bourbon. (As you can see, this Thanksgiving is all about cooking with alcohol!) This tart has a thin layer of pumpkin filling, as opposed to the usual thickness of a pie. I plan to also make the usual spiced pumpkin pie (mine contains apple butter along with pumpkin) with a ginger snap crust.
In addition to experimenting with new recipes, here are a few more suggestions for reinvigorating your Thanksgiving.
1) Switch up your meal time. If you always eat in the evening, try a lunchtime meal, followed by a long walk or even a nap! Then serve dessert a few hours later, when everyone starts feeling peckish.
2) Ask for help. If you are typically a martyr, like me, this is going to take some effort. But cooking together with your spouse, friends, or children can be a part of your ritual. Your kids can learn some family recipes, and, most importantly, you can stop sweating like a house elf all alone in the kitchen.
3) Ditch the bitches. You know who they are: those soul-suckers who arrive at your home only to sneer at your decorating choices, complain about the drive, withhold all compliments, and yammer on about themselves, their ski vacations to Aspen, their brilliant offspring, and their fabulous taste in absolutely everything. It's your house, it's your holiday, invite the people you love who fill your heart with joy. Forget the vampires who suck you dry.
4) Lose the losers. Now I'm talking about the stuff no one really likes. For us, the sweet potatoes had to go. If it were up to me alone, I'd keep them, but no one else in my family really loves them. So I decided to go with mashed potatoes and stuffing as our 2 main carbolicious side dishes. (That rhymes.)
5) Do it your way. I like to start our day off with an appetizer course, eaten informally, standing around in the kitchen or watching the National Dog Show in the family room. This is finger food only, and a glass of wine, of course! The appetizers keep us nourished while we tackle the preparation of the main course.
I'd love to hear your ideas for recipes, traditional or not! Enjoy your holiday in your own way this year. Don't let anything stop you!