Monday, November 21, 2011

What Are You Cooking?

Every year, I wonder if we should have something different to eat for Thanksgiving. It is such an American holiday, and I feel a particular pull to at least do some of the "traditional" fixings. In years past, I have had a variety of "non-traditional" meals. Duck breast, ham, beef, maybe even enchiladas, not counting my years after High School being poor and without family at all, where I ate whatever was around unless invited to a family meal by friends or co-workers. Then there were the many years of holidays spent on the Florida coast where we gorged ourselves on fresh shrimp and crab for the holiday. I always felt like such a rebel, consuming seafood when everyone else was downing turkey or ham. It was always strange, though, when my mother insisted on her rutabaga being included. As an homage to her own family traditions, she picked one up faithfully every November and December and cooked it. Even with shrimp. Truly an odd arrangement.

I used to plan alternate family dinners for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I talked about Indian, Mexican, and more. I championed sweet potato pie, black eyed peas, even my mothers' beloved rutabaga. Yet I kept coming back to the basics. I love the flavor of a good turkey, especially slathered with an amazing gravy made from its own juices. The rich saltiness of the gravy goes so well with the meaty texture and flavor of the turkey. Especially with a kick of spicy-tart cranberry sauce on the side. None of that horrid canned stuff for us. No, I get fresh (as much as I am able) berries and cook them with a cinnamon stick, some cloves, and orange or pineapple juice as a sweetener to counter the sheer tartness of the cranberries. Let it simmer for a while for the flavors to marry and it is the ultimate partner in my turkey-gravy-berry trio.

I then look toward the sweet potato for my next hit. And Yes, I think food can be a drug, and I am totally addicted to the exquisite flavors of a fantastic meal! This isn't the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows floating on top like some fruity tropical drink stuffed with 16 umbrellas, sprigs of mint, celery, and seven fancy swizzle sticks that I make. I prefer the simple baked sweet potato with pastured butter on top, and a pinch of salt. Sweet potatoes and yams are already naturally sweet, so why add the cloying stickiness of commercial marshmallows to them? I can't think of too many other foods that are more revolting. I would personally rather eat fried crickets than the sweet potato/marshmallow sludge. I like the contrast of the earthy sweetness of the potato to the salt and creamy butter. It makes me feel grounded and whole.

Speaking of feeling grounded, I think pumpkin pie (homemade, of course) deserves a spot at the table. I have tried pecan pie, even a chocolate version which was amazing, yet it wasn't quite the same. The best pumpkin pie is consumed about a day after it is made, to allow the flavors to fully generate. I am a crust lover, preferring mine deeply tanned, while Greg loves his custard. Together we leave not a crumb behind. I would love to add a tart cherry pie this year, but sadly they are not available. It would be a spectacular counterpoint to the meal. At last, this is the majority of what we are having. My in-laws have ordered stuffing and carrot casserole from Furr's Cafeteria (*shudder*). Greg has convinced me to make a healthier and better tasting version of the carrots, so I will add that to the list. I may even whip up a few white potatoes for them (we eat them maybe twice a year), but again I may not. Now all I need is a bottle (or two!) of wine and we will be set! Too bad the in-laws don't drink. Oh wait, that means more wine for me, Hooray!!

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