My family is definitely non-traditional. In my lifetime, we have lived in four houses in three states, all in completely different areas of the country. My father has been a doctor, a lawyer, and some sort of business consultant (sorry Dad, I really have no idea what you call it) – and that’s just in my lifetime. My mom is a lady badass in the traditionally male-dominated field of medicine. My 13-year-old sister is into photography and writing fan fiction about talking cats (or something). We’re just too busy for big holiday traditions. To be honest, we sort of just shrug off Christmas most of the time. We don’t have a secret fruitcake recipe, passed down from generation to generation. We don’t do big family holiday get-togethers with kids’ tables and white elephant gifts. We don’t do blazing fires and chestnuts and caroling and hot cocoa. Sometimes Addie and I make weird gingerbread houses – Christmas in the Ninth Ward is a memorable example – but usually we just hang up a couple of dusty stockings and wrap presents in Wheat Thins boxes.
But what we lack in Christmas spirit, we make up for in Thanksgiving obsession.
I don’t think anybody in the world loves Thanksgiving as much as I do. I’m not sure how we as a family got so into it, but I know it has something to do with my mom, a Bon Appetit subscription, and her college roommates. Still, it’s grown to epic proportions in recent years as my interest in cooking has taken hold. This is a take-no-prisoners, no-dish-left-behind sort of deal. One year, when the last Thursday in November turned out to be the coldest, rainiest, windiest day yet, my mom spent 10 hours on our deck, smoking the turkey on a charcoal grill. We ate around 11 that year, but it was the best turkey EVER.
So this is serious. Planning begins the moment we wake up from our Halloween candy-induced sugar comas. We pull out every November issue of Bon Appetit since 1987 and lay them out on the floor, flipping through page after page of potatoes, stuffings, and pies until a menu takes form. We don’t mess around either – there might only be five of us around the table come dinner time, but there’s at least ten dishes in front of us. And an extra batch of stuffing in the freezer for later. It’s one of my favorite nights of the year.
And as that night is rapidly approaching, I’m finding myself a smidge homesick. I’ve been abroad for Thanksgiving before, but last time I was on a beach in Uruguay, eating barbecue with no idea what day it was. South American summer tends to make you forget it’s late fall back home. But here, the weather won’t let me forget that I ought to be thinking about whether to brine or dry rub my bird this year.
Luckily, my host family is as interested in having a taste (or twelve) of this amazing American feast as I am in cooking it. This Friday night, I’ll be serving up Thanksgiving Lite for a group of Swedes and Spaniards. It’ll be my first time cooking Thanksgiving alone, but I’m confident I can do it. To see my menu, read on!
I’ve decided not to fight the influence of the cuisine here – partially because I love it, but also because many of the ingredients I could find in any supermarket back home simply don’t exist here. Read: beautiful, juicy, butterball-style turkeys. Not gonna happen.
Turkey Breast Roulade with Sage and Chorizo Stuffing – as stated above, whole turkeys just don’t exist here. Turkey breast, however, is easily ordered and much more manageable when the diners aren’t used to accommodating 14-pound bird carcasses in their refrigerators. Looks like no wishbones for me. Also, chorizo stuffing? Great way to bring in some of my favorite Spanish flavors.
Green Beans with Balsamic Roasted Shallots – Green beans are classic Thanksgiving fare thanks to the Campbell’s green bean casserole thing, which I have actually never tried and hopefully never will. Upgrade from mushroom soup and weird onion crunchies to this sophisticated side dish! (Yes, the recipe was written by a Canadian, but the theme of this year is INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION.)
Truffled Mashed Potatoes – This is the one dish that has become non-negotiable at my house. We tried it once (I don’t even remember when), and it became an instant classic. I had a basic idea of what I wanted on my table this year – turkey, cranberries, yada yada yada. But I always know my potatoes will be this recipe.
Cider Gravy – It’s just good. Also my host mom likes apple cider vinegar, so I figured this would translate well.
Gingered Cranberry Sauce – I had a panic moment when I couldn’t find cranberries (fresh or dried) ANYWHERE in this city. Luckily, el Corte Ingles came through big time with the most expensive cranberries I’ve ever seen. But such is the price of tradition.
And, of course, the big finish: Pumpkin Pie with Maple-Bourbon Whipped Cream. Maple syrup costs almost SEVEN EUROS for a teeny little bottle here, so I told my host family I wouldn’t be doing the whipped cream. But something tells me I’ll cave and buy it – you haven’t had pumpkin pie until you’ve had it with this cream on top.
So as you can tell, I really pared down this year. (That’s not sarcasm, this is about 50% of the dishes I normally make. Note there’s no sign of the usual crazy second pie, or anything with sweet potatoes. No soup and salad course either.) But I think it really gets at the heart of my family’s Thanksgiving tradition – a lot of good food made simply for the pleasure of enjoying it with people we love.
P.S. Extra bonus brownie points to the person who can identify where I got the title for this post!