Thanksgiving

brussel_sprouts.jpgWhat exactly is the root of all this antipathy toward Brussels sprouts? Is it the color? Sometimes it's not easy being green. Or yellowish-green.

Is it the smell? You know what I'm talking about. Boil Brussels sprouts on your stove top for 10 minutes and the neighbors will begin to wonder which farm animal you recently adopted.

Is it your mother's fault? If she served mushy, water-logged, brown Brussels sprouts when you were a kid, it's not your fault that you hate them.

Let me attempt to ingratiate Brussels sprouts with you, especially since many of you will likely be cooking and/or eating them next week on Thanksgiving.

Though Brussels sprouts have been around since ancient times, they are named after the city of Brussels in Belgium, where they have been cultivated (and appreciated) since Medieval times. Brussels sprouts are members of the brassica family, so they're related to broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kolrabi, none of which are going to win any popularity contests. That's why Brussels sprouts taste like cabbage and are sometimes referred to as "mini cabbages."

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peterrabbitplateThere are ten of us for dinner this year, ranging in age from 2 ½ to 91. My granddaughter, who is clearly her mother’s daughter in terms of her young culinary interests, feasts solely on (in this order) pumpkin pie and cranberries. At least two other guests besides the two pescatarians opt for salmon. Five traditionalists dine on turkey and sweet potatoes. Everyone except the two-year-old has several helpings of green bean casserole, that holdover from the fifties that is about as healthy as—but even more delicious than—Twinkies. I have a large and lovely glass of the wine selected by my daughter-in-law and contemplate the table.

The plates are Fiesta, in shades—in homage to the season—of yellow, orange, and green, to mirror the last leaves on the maple tree outside the window. I have been careful, however, to make sure that my mother’s setting is pink. My granddaughter has a plate that features Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. She doesn’t believe me when I tell her that it used to be her Uncle Ted’s favorite plate. The water glasses—an anniversary gift—are from Spain; the wine glasses are from a set my husband and I bought for a housewarming party for our first home.

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wild-rice-003.jpgThanksgiving may be my favorite holiday. Families gather. And as they surround the dining table they celebrate and give thanks for all blessings, including the bountiful meal before them. When my mom was living, she prepared most of the Thanksgiving meal herself.

Trying to please everyone, she’d make baseball-sized dumplings and sauerkraut for my German dad, lump-free mashed potatoes for the grandchildren, sweet potatoes with a crunchy topping of melted marshmallows for her daughter-in-law, stuffing for her son-in-law, and lentils for herself and me. My brother wasn’t hard to please. I think he ate everything. And, of course, there was always a huge turkey. I am not kidding when I say there was hardly room on the table for our dinner plates.

Not to be forgotten was the wild rice. In Minnesota, where wild rice is plentiful, most cooks have favorite ways to prepare this “gourmet grain.” It seems my mom could never come up with a recipe that lived up to her expectations.

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maplebutter2Even more than Thanksgiving, the day after is nostalgia squared, or maybe cubed. Memories rush back from the day before. The turkey. The perfect pies. Seeing loved ones, yet missing absent ones, and being thankful to have both. But now, layered on top, is a day of leftovers that are often better the day before.

My morning after: stuffing in a circle in a skillet with sunny side ups in the center, a piece of pie before that gets under way, freshly made strawberry raspberry jam and angel biscuits.

This year I’m making homemade butter—crunchy maple butter to serve with them, and I’m sharing the recipe with you ahead of time so you see how quick and easy it is to make. And the flavor is definitely butter squared. Or maybe cubed.

All you need is to pour 3 pints of organic heavy cream in a stand mixer and begin to whip as if you are making whipped cream.
A man in one of my cooking classes asked me, ” How do you make butter?!”

I answered, “Do you remember anyone warning you that if you whipped cream too much it would turn into butter?”

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thanksgiving tableDon't feel sorry for us. We prefer it this way. My husband and I are both transplants. He's from Chicago. I'm from Massachusetts. Not Boston. Yes, there is a state beyond the Beantown borders. We have both lived in Los Angeles for over 20-years, longer than either of us lived in our home states. We think that makes us honorary Californians, but am not sure these days that's something to brag about. At least we still have the best weather, great wine and the option to go from surfing to skiing in the same day. Well, not for us in particular, but it's still a cool thing to be able to say.

Neither of us has blood relatives here. We are what we like to call "child-free." However, we do have family. Friends who mean just as much because we've shared each other's lives for the past 20 years. Kids we've watched grow up who call us Aunt and Uncle, which is a role we can handle. Some years they take us in, allowing us to bask in the glow of the holidays without all the strum and drang that would accompany actually spending time with our own parents and siblings. Even when there's drama, since it has nothing to do with us, it's more amusing than annoying and certainly never affects our ability to put away more than our caloric share of the meal.

We are in demand because we bring good wine, eat everything - if you're not cooking you can't complain about other people's holiday traditions - and don't expect to be entertained. We are boring, which is just what those who are dealing with family want at the holiday table. We are the Thanksgiving equivalent of the bomb-squad, the guests whose mere presence diffuses the tension for another day. It's much harder to fight in front of guests. God forbid there's a scene at the table. How embarrassing would that be?

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