Monday, November 17, 2003

The Dirty Secret of Thanksgiving

Gourmet cooks should savor Thanksgiving: a chance to show off culinary skills to a captive, appreciative audience....a time to spoil loved ones with the fruits of their gifts and passions. Our ancestors originated the occasion solely to prepare a lavish annual feast to give thanks for God's goodness to their harvests. No American holiday is more associated with delicious, aromatic food shared with family and friends.

And Thanksgiving is big business: it's the top shopping period for grocers. Newspapers, gourmet magazines and culinary websites publish thousands of trendy twists on the traditional recipes. FoodTV has been celebrating Thanksgiving since...well, since Halloween was over....with homey programs festooned with autumn leaves, golden turkeys and every conceivable take on stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce.

The dirty secret of Thanksgiving is that hosts and hostesses everywhere quietly dread cooking for their guests. Read a few comments from my Tuesday morning womens' group:

"Thanksgiving is so, uh....complex" she sighed, shaking her head. "There are only 8 of us, but everyone wants things a little differently....their own way."

"Fun?? My sister and I cook for 50 people. What's fun about that?" one exclaimed with a good-humored laugh of resignation.

"My in-laws quibble over gravy every year," I elaborated. "There is a giblet gravy group, and a non-giblet gravy group. And they make sniping comments about the other group every Thanksgiving."

"It's a big mess afterwards," several women nodded. "And who really helps us clean up? It's a lot of work."

"To my family, it's not cranberry sauce unless it has the wavy lines from the can" I added.

My brother-in-law Bob, my family's colorful rebel, used to insist on serving ham at Thanksgiving. A top-quality ham...honey-roasted with all the side dishes, generously prepared and served. My mother, always one to stand her ground, would make a turkey, bring it with her on a platter and serve it at Bob and Teri's house. Made them both angry with the other, but they both got their ways. Ham for the rebel, turkey for the traditionalist. We all had to be sure not to take too much ham lest we offend Mom. Truth is that they never liked each other much, and the Thanksgiving dinner became their annual battleground.

Our ideas of the perfect Thanksgiving feast are taken from our mothers and grandmothers. They never had to make tofu pesto turkey for vegetarian relatives. They didn't make accommodatons for others...Thanksgiving was roast turkey with their family stuffing recipe, mashed potatoes with brown turkey gravy, dinner rolls, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, yams with butter and assorted candy-like toppings, perhaps a jello mold salad, pumpkin and mince pies, followed by coffee for the adults.

Now I admit that many of the recipes in the November 2003 issue of Bon Appetit magazine sound a tad exotic (and even silly) for most family Thanksgivings....haricot verts (translation: green beans) with goat cheese and warm bacon dressing; succotash soup wih black pepper croutons; autumn trifle with roasted apples, pears and pumpkin-caramel sauce; cranberry-port gelatin with crystallized ginger and celery; country-style bread dressing with dried apricots, pistachios and mint; roast turkey with parsley pomegranate glaze; balsamic-roasted acorn squash with hot chiles and honey.

I once heard a pastor preach that "Life is change, so get used to it. Life changes." Wise words, indeed, although too radical for most families at Thanksgiving. However, wouldn't some compromise in our Thanksgiving dinner expectations be a wonderful way to express thankfulness and gratitude to our families, our hosts and to God this holiday? And how about helping clean up after the festivities, too?

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