Last year at this time, I was too obsessed with the election to even give Thanksgiving a second thought when I flipped the calendar to November. Then I was too bogged down in existential despair to think about menu items. And then we all got a stomach virus the week of the big day, and all of our food went uneaten.
But now, well … the existential despair is just sort of humming along in the background like terrible white noise, and so I am free to focus a great deal of my mental energy on things like mashed potatoes and cranberry relish and soup courses and ALL THE PIES!
Yes, yes, I know my husband is the one who typically writes about food and I am the one who typically writes about, you know, existential despair, but in this city and especially at this time of year, we are all food experts.
I always like my Thanksgiving meal to reflect a blend of tradition – turkey, obviously, but also stuffing, yeast rolls, pumpkin pie – and new recipes I am excited to try – a spicy pumpkin soup, a warm crab dip, an artichoke casserole.
Some of the latter group are not successful. I made some kind of oyster dressing one year that managed to combine all of the sliminess of oysters with all of the crunchy, bitter notes of burned toast, both underdone and overdone all at once. Another time, I made a cake with cranberry filling that fell apart in huge chunks, leaking cranberry ooze all over the counter and down the cabinets until the kitchen looked like a murder scene. During my childhood, my mother tried to re-create some tomato aspic from her childhood, and it might have been a faithful representation, but I am horrified by savory Jell-O, and so it haunts me still. And my mom and I still joke about the year we spent Thanksgiving with her cousins in Des Moines. Bless their hearts, but we’ve never had a blander meal.
It is, though, the blend of these things – the comforting, nostalgic old and the sometimes horrifying, sometimes delightful new – that makes memories and family bonds stronger. I like making the same old sage-and-onion stuffing every year; I also like trying new things and celebrating the successes that will make it into the regular Thanksgiving meal rotation going forward but also laughing (or crying and then later laughing) at the failures.
This year, I think I’m going to experiment with a mirliton casserole and a chocolate-pecan pie with bourbon whipped cream and leave the turkey and sides to my husband. My mom always makes the bread, and I think if I made the crust, Ruby can handle doing the pumpkin pie filling all by herself.
The best part is, with all of us in the kitchen, warmed by the oven and a few glasses of wine, the existential dread disappears, leaving us all full and content, at least for the afternoon.
What are your go-to Thanksgiving recipes, and what new ones do you want to try?