Thanksgiving

newengland.jpgWhen I decided to move across the country, my parents believed that I would quickly get over my folly of living in the Golden State and return to life in New England. Unfortunately for them, California felt like home the minute I crossed the border and I haven't looked back since. The only time I regret being so far away is at Thanksgiving.

It's all about the food and a fairly simple concept of sharing one's bounty. A day to give thanks for the good things in your life. Everyone eats too much, drinks too much, maybe says things they shouldn't, but in the end it's a holiday of inclusion. Even when I was single, I've never had to celebrate Turkey Day alone. Unlike Christmas, with its unwavering traditions, which usually include immediate family only, on Thanksgiving I've found it's "the more the merrier."

After 20 years, my parents still hope that I will return for a Thanksgiving. That they could travel here, never occurs to them. They know we're not coming, but that doesn't stop them from complaining about it. It's just too expensive and difficult. Every year travel horror stories on the news prove that it's not worth the trouble just to share turkey and cranberry sauce. Over the years, my family has come to indulge us with a Thanksgiving dinner on our early Fall sojourns East. Believe me, it tastes just as good in late October. They pull out all the stops and never fail to include the one item I still sorely miss – my mother's meat stuffing.

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sweet-potatoes.jpgdavidlatt.jpgIn our house Thanksgiving is the one day a year my wife is in charge of the cooking.  Because I work at home, part of my day-time ritual is to shop for and cook our dinners.  But for Thanksgiving, I’m her sous chef.  She tells me the menu and I prep the mise en place, so everything is ready for her.

Besides corn bread stuffing with Italian sausages, dried apricots, and pecans, a 24-pound organic turkey with mushroom gravy, home made cranberry sauce, string beans sautéed with almonds, oven roasted Brussels sprouts, and an arrugula salad with persimmons, pomegranate seeds, and roasted hazelnuts, she makes garlic mashed potatoes. 

This past year I’ve been experimenting with sweet potatoes.  I made them for her to see what she thought. With a light dusting of cayenne, after you’ve enjoyed the sweetness of the sweet potato, your mouth is surprised with a hint of heat that drives you back for more.  She agreed that the yams are delicious: sweet, salty, savory, “meaty” (from the mushrooms”), and buttery from the butter.  For Thanksgiving they’ll be added to the menu.

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turkeyLast month I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner and a Christmas dinner. The only thing missing was a crowd around the table. Why the feast? I was developing recipes for Roast Turkey, Brown Sugar and Mustard Baked Ham, Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Lightened Green Bean Casserole, a Holiday Salad (with pomegranate seeds and pepitas) and Harvest Apple Stuffing. I also created some recipes using leftover ham and turkey and for a few fun things you can make for the holidays to give as gifts like Peppermint Bark and Chocolate Chip Cookies in a Jar. The recipes were for Grocery Outlet and will be featured in a brochure for customers. 

Having never hosted my own holiday dinners for 10+ people, I learned a lot! I shopped for as much of the dishes as possible at Grocery Outlet, after doing my planning and creating shopping lists. Of course making lists of what you need to buy is important, but being open to swapping out ingredients if you find something delicious and on sale is a good idea too. I was planning to use dried cranberries in the salad but found pomegranates were a better choice at the time. 

When it comes to holiday meals, the main thing is to have an enjoyable time with your family and guests. If that means buying a pie instead of baking one, so be it! Concentrate on putting your energy into the things that matter most to you don't make yourself crazy trying to do everything. Most importantly? Have fun!

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ImageA couple of years ago I raised a pair of heirloom turkey chicks – a Bourbon Red and a Spanish Black. The Spanish Black Tom was roasted, the Red still struts and preens in my chicken yard. I’ve taken to calling him MOLE.

Along the way we gave shelter to a Narragansett turkey hen from Ilse and Meeno’s Sky Farm. (The hen, hatching from an egg that was shipped overnight from Amherst, MA, and slipped under a brooding Silkie.) The hen began laying eggs last year – none fertile.

This year in March, old Mole garbled and squawked all night long, and come summer, there were fertile turkey eggs in our coop. (I know this as I cracked open an egg with a partly formed chick inside-ugh.) Aside from laying eggs, the turkey hen had no mothering instincts. She was not interested in nesting.

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mashedsweetpotato.jpgThanksgiving isn't complete without some sort of sweet potato dish. There's the traditional marshmallow-topped sweet potato side dish or the classic dessert of sweet potato pie. Sweet potatoes are almost magical when cooked or baked. Their bright orange flesh turns soft and almost creamy. Roasting them heightens their natural sweetness even more. Many holiday recipes further improve upon the sweetness by adding brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup. With the holiday only one week away, it's time to start planning. I'll be making a few new recipes to add to my repertoire.

Sweet and savory flavors are the basis of many classic Thanksgiving recipes. This side dish strays from the typical in favor of something a bit more gourmet and savory. Roasted sweet potatoes are mashed with butter, cream, and maple syrup and then spread in a gratin dish. The mashed sweet potatoes are then topped with fluffy panko breadcrumbs, fresh sage, and chopped walnuts. It's then drizzled with melted butter and broiled, turning the top golden and crunchy. It's a side dish that's sure to please both sweet potato traditionalists and those looking for a new take on a holiday favorite.

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