We’re traveling to Virginia for Thanksgiving this year. Friends of ours are in their final year of the med school process and are unable to go home for the holiday. As long as we’re home for Christmas, I’m up for a Thanksgiving adventure. The Kids have the whole week off these days, which is so very nice and makes travel possible.
I cook Thanksgiving dinner. If we’re in Augusta, with the big extended family, we go potluck style. If we’re just with my side of the family, I cook. When my parents first divorced, I was 14, and though my dad is an excellent cook, he hadn’t a clue about any more than turkey carving.
That year, we had a small turkey breast, dressing, green beans (probably canned), and mashed potatoes (always homemade). It wasn’t fancy, but I made it all. It sort of went like that any time we were with my dad. As I learned to really cook, side dishes were added and recipes a little fancier.
Fast forward a few years, and Dad, who lives in Chicago, requested a warm weather destination for Thanksgiving. To Naples we drove. I offered to cook. After a teeny tiny protest, everyone agreed. The turkey would be a joint effort, done in the oven and on the grill, but I’d do the rest. I requested mimosas and a little company in the kitchen.
I don’t know about y’all, but our Thanksgiving dinner typically consists of the same basics: turkey, dressing/stuffing, something sweet potatoey, cranberry sauce, green beans, gravy, mashed potatoes and bread. We have added many things to the basic menu, but the standards remain.
Can we talk about the standards for a minute? As for turkey, most people like it, but unless you really jazz (or mess) it up, it’s just a basic main dish. Dressing is very subjective. There were years when we had several types, including cornbread and oyster dressings. Then there’s the question about stuffing the bird with the dressing, changing its name entirely. The dressing I make is a simple bread, butter, celery, onion, and seasoning mix. Gravy should never come out of a packet. It’s easy to make. Let me know if you need a recipe. Another thing that should never happen is canned cranberries. It takes all of 20 minutes to cook a bag of cranberries with a little sugar and either water or wine. If you want to impress a crowd, add orange zest or ginger. How many of you actually like sweet potatoes? No, not fries. The stuff families serve on holidays. I heard all three of you say, “I do!” and watched you look around at the dozens of others who were silent. I hate to diss the sweet potato casserole, but more than three quarters is left after every meal. I’m extra sensitive about mashed potatoes, though. Rice is not a good substitute. Period.
I’ve added garlic-bacon Brussels sprouts, ginger carrots, pumpkin cheesecake and salted rosemary rolls. I’d gladly share my recipes if I knew them. As long as you don’t mind throwing in a bit of this and a little of that, we’re in business.
In preparation for next week, I called our friend Monty. “I need y’all to get the turkey for me, please. That’s the hardest thing to transport. I’ll get everything else, but unless you are buying a fresh bird, the turkey will need days to thaw.”
“Days? This is a commitment!” He was shocked.
It sure is. The whole meal is. I’ve been cooking all day. After all the tasting, I may not be a bit hungry, but when I look around and see my people gathered around the table waiting to eat, I’m reminded of exactly why I love cooking for them. I’ll take a glass of wine, though. Cheers! Happy thanksgiving to you and yours — even if you do serve cranberry from a can.