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Monday, November 10, 2014

Rally For Thanksgiving: Can I See A Menu, Please?

A great deal of American Thanksgiving lore exists, and I did my part in perpetuating much of it, dutifully wearing a construction paper hat or headband in the primary grades as I learned all about how the Indians and Pilgrims sat down together and shared a feast. I crayoned any number of smiling Pilgrim women holding platters bearing huge roasted turkeys at the heads of outdoor tables, around which were seated Indian men and women, also smiling. Imagine my astonishment when I found out--so very much later--that the First Thanksgiving was a far, far different affair than what I had been led to believe.

Basically, though, the sentiments of the Thanksgiving holiday remain the same, regardless of their iteration: Gratitude and Food. Let us give thanks and celebrate the bounty of our harvest/season. I don't have a single quarrel with either one of those, in principle. But let's do talk about The Food.

Thanksgiving Dinner's menu is, at least in my family, Untouchable and Fraught With Tradition. One year, I happened to think out loud about trying my sister Patti's recipe for turkey dressing (stuffing) which calls for sausage and apples. Things got Dark in a hurry, and I thought Jared would have to be placed in restraints. As a result, I don't mess with the main menu, but I've streamlined it and eschewed quite a few things thought of as Traditional and almost Required.

Spurred on by Dear Reader fauxprof, who suggested this sort of Food Topic, I've asked Jared to team up with me for this post about

Thanksgiving Foods That Need To Go

Jared

Not all Thanksgiving foods are created equally. Here are some that I am done with forever because they are stupid and terrible and not great or good. Also, Thanksgiving should not be referred to as “Turkey Day”. Ever. Unless you are some sort of child, hillbilly, vagrant, or pervert.

1. Cranberry Jelly Thing – The hell do we need this for? It wiggles, it jiggles, it sort of…melts(?) in your mouth in an unpleasant way. Cranberry relish is the Elite Thanksgiving Fruit Related Dish. If you want to ruin something, add some of this stuff to it. Brutal.

2. In-The-Bird Stuffing – Turkey, and sometimes a roasting chicken, are literally the only times in our culture where it is acceptable to stuff stale bread into the ass end of something and then eat it A WHOLE DAY LATER. You guys, say that out loud. Go on. I’ll wait. See? Just make “dressing” (which is an awful name for that). Nice, neat, delicious little hunks of glory. Line them up in a pan, slap them in the oven. Better yet? They’re delicious cold the next day. “I’m going to eat this cold buttstuffing for a snack. What’s that? No. No. I put this in the turkey’s rear about 36 hours ago.” 36 hour old buttstuffing? Uh…Pass.

3. Green Bean Casserole – “BUT JARED MY FAMILY LOVES THIS!” I’m positive that they do. Hell, I enjoy it just as much as the next guy. “BUT JARED IT'S SO EASY TO MAKE!” All right. My thing here is this: you can basically make it in 15 minutes any of the other 364 days of the year. I feel like Thanksgiving should be reserved for Elite Level Occasional Foods. I know that not everyone is a gourmet or whatever, but I think that anything that can be made in two steps with ingredients that can exclusively come from cans needs to be eliminated from the equation. I don’t know. Just seems sort of…generic. It is not an indictment on the folks that make, serve, or love this dish. It is an indictment – nay, a condemnation - of this dish’s presence at otherwise decadent food affairs such as holidays.

Nance

1. Casseroles. I understand that, in many cases, people are bringing food to large gatherings. It's easy to toss together a broccoli-rice-cheese thing or a scalloped corn thing. But casseroles are usually heavy and full of filler stuff like breadcrumbs and condensed soup and starches. They are also great at drying out, looking ugly, and sometimes being The Dreaded Green Bean Casserole or, worse,...

2. Candied Sweet Potatoes. I have to second fauxprof on this one. What sad, thwarted Inner Child invented the marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole? It is called a SWEET potato already. (And please, restrain yourselves from delivering the sweet potato vs. yam lesson. It simply is not germane here.) It is a neverending source of bewilderment to me that restaurants all over the USA serve brown sugar with sweet potatoes as it is. Or cinnamon, even!   What on earth is next? Will there be a sweet potato bar with butterscotch chips and caramel sauce? Maple syrup and toffee pieces? This has to stop. Good heavens, if you even dare, look at this. My teeth hurt.

3. Jello. You know, I've just about eliminated all Jello from my life, and I have not missed it one bit. It hasn't been a part of my personal Thanksgiving, but it's often a part of big family Thanksgivings. When I was a little kid, I had several aunts who brought Jello dishes: one rather nice cranberry walnut sort and another not-so-nice orange one with shreds of lettuce and carrots in it that I still cannot understand to this day. Every once in a while, I get a craving for a lime Jello concoction that has cream cheese and pineapple in it, but I wait for it to pass since I am the only one who likes it.

4. Pies Other Than Pumpkin.   My love of pie is well known, but Truth be told, I do not like pumpkin pie. I make two of them, however, because when else do you make/eat pumpkin pie? Plus, everyone else likes it, so I just don't eat pie at Thanksgiving. There is no reason to make a lot of other pies and desserts and slave away. If no one liked pumpkin pie, then okay, I'd make something else. Sometimes, I just grab the whipped cream and have that with a little chocolate syrup. Or I eat someone's crust. "Nance, why not make pumpkin cheesecake?" you may ask. I don't like cheesecake, and Jared would hurt himself if there were no pie.

Basically, I'm fine as long as there is turkey (dark meat), plenty of gravy, and mashed potatoes. I'd even give up rolls--actually, I have, even when I haven't forgotten them--even though they are a great vehicle for two fine Thanksgiving accoutrements, butter and gravy.

Let's hear from the rest of you, Dear Readers.  What about all that food?

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12 comments:

  1. Thanks for choosing my topic. It's one I can get my teeth into. (Sorry.) I'm in total agreement about the various Jello salads, especially the one with shredded carrots and stuff in it. Last year I met a lady in the grocery baking aisle who was pawing through all the Jello boxes looking for celery-flavored Jello. I'm afraid that I blurted "good God, why?" Turns out to make that very salad.

    Have you ever encountered the dreaded ambrosia? I think it involves fruit cocktail and more of those darned mini marshmallows.

    Jared is right. Dressing, baked separately, and served with lovely, lovely gravy.

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  2. I cannot stand that green bean casserole thing. When I become Empress of the World it will be banned permanently. As will the candied sweet potato casserole mess. Both of those dishes are an abomination against all things healthy and tasty. Yuck, I say.

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  3. I've had two Thanksgiving dinners that were weird...

    Last year's was mildly weird. I flew back to Ohio and had two Thanksgiving dinners, but really neither was a Thanksgiving dinner. My mother's side of the family convened at my aunt's house, and because they're Picky and Weird, we ended up having crab cakes. Then the day after, I went to my dad's parents' house where we had a Thanksgiving/Hanukkah (Thanksukkah?) dinner of latkes and brisket.

    And why was that only mildly weird? It's nothing compared to the Thanksgiving I spent with my grandparents and cousin in Las Vegas. Grandma practically demanded that we go to the hotel's Thanksgiving buffet, but when we saw that there was a two to three hour wait, we hopped in the car and drove around until we found one of the only other options: Burger King. Grandma was pissed at first, but when we all put on Burger King paper crowns and stuffed our starving stomachs with Whoppers and fries, we all had a good laugh at the situation.

    - Mikey G.

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  4. I won't be present, but my sister has in recent years begun replacing true stuffing (with chunks of sourdough) with some sort of strange and tasteless rice stuffing.

    But, how can it be stuffing when it is made out of rice, I ask?

    Nobody cares to answer, and I am bereft.

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  5. Ted and Maya like candied yams, but they are fresh yams and there are no marshmallows present, which means it's different than my Grandpa's candied yams, which were canned and had mini marshmallows and were disgusting. Blech. I don't like yams (or sweet potatoes, if we're going there), so it doesn't matter to me. I make it for them, but I don't eat it.

    I LOVE cranberry sauce, which is REQUIRED. It's just cranberries, water, and sugar. I don't like the orange.

    That green bean casserole is just nasty, and thankfully I've only had to eat it once, at someone's house, which is how I know it's nasty.

    The rolls are nice on Thanksgiving, but they're better the day after, to make a little turkey sandwich for lunch.

    Pie...as long as it's not mincemeat or pecan, I'm fine. I do like pumpkin pie, but truthfully by the time dinner's over, I don't care if we have any or not.

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  6. J@jj--I think that's the reason why I don't lament pumpkin pie and can dismiss pie with such grace and largesse--I am too full from all of the rest of dinner.

    I am sadly at odds with you regarding sweet potatoes/yams and pecan pie. I adore sweet potatoes UNcandied, and pecan pie is a particular favourite of mine. And yes! Real, non-orange, cooked cranberry sauce, please, which I eat with turkey sandwiches and then, later, pork roast. Or toast. Rick makes the cranberry orange relish for him and the boys. (He even eats it on mashed potatoes! Horrors!)

    How do you feel about brussels sprouts?

    Gina--I have heard of rice stuffing, but usually in smaller fowl, like squab or cornish game hens or something like that. I'm with you: bread stuffing/dressing for turkey!

    Mikey--Burger King on Thanksgiving...Hmmmmm. I'd rather starve. Burger King food tastes like charcoal or cigarette butts to me. It's hideous. So...are all of these foods on your Gotta Go list, or...?

    fauxprof--Oh, no...thank you for easing the pressure on my by giving me a topic!

    I'm not a fan of the ambrosia for several reasons, the biggest one being the fact that it has canned fruit in it. I hate those flabby, awful grapes that are in canned fruit cocktail. The texture is so vile. The second reason is coconut. NOT A FAN. Finally, any time something is basically runny, opaque, lumpy, and a funny colour? Makes me think of vomit, and I am so incredibly juvenile about throwing up I cannot manage it. I've been steering clear of "ambrosia" since childhood.

    Ally Bean--I think so many of the odd dishes we have can be traced back to Campbell's Soups and Kraft Foods. Remember all those horrific concoctions they advertised during Christmas specials and the Thanksgiving Day parades? Scary stuff. I can get behind your campaign if you ban some of the truly terrible stuff.

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  7. Well, it's a given that we will always have too much food! Because we're a "mixed" family of gluten-free and gluten-full eaters, we tend to have two versions of some items (rolls, stuffing) or a mix of gluten-free and gluten-full items (e.g., pies), which adds to the excess.

    There have been many years that hubby has taken plates to his former workplace to co-workers who had to work or asked them to stop by on their way home and we let them load their "to go" plates themselves. You couldn't even tell we'd had extra partakers!

    The specifics ...

    Sweet Potato Casseroles--There is not a single person in our family who likes sweet potato casseroles. I myself only learned to like sweet potatoes 10 years ago and I eat them with just a tiny pat of butter. I have forgotten to say no brown sugar or cinnamon at restaurants before and have had to just leave the potato on my plate as the results were awful.

    Green Bean Casserole--Hubby has always liked that one. I have created a real, whole foods version of it since going gf, but not enough people like green bean casserole enough to bother making it and hubby doesn't complain when it's not on the table.

    Jello--One of the vilest things known to man in my opinion. I know that gelatin has health benefits, but not when it's Dayglo orange, green, etc. My late MIL was fond of the stuff. I was appalled to see every creation emerge from her refrigerator. The image of one red, white, and blue wonder is frozen in my mind.

    Stuffing/dressing--We can take it or leave it really. Mom insists on having some on the table.

    Gravy--Only mom and dad eat it.

    Cranberry sauce--Only mom and dad eat it, and it's the canned stuff.

    We have to have turkey (some like white meat, some like dark). We have to have peas. We have to have mashed potatoes. We have to have mom's deviled eggs. My salad has become a requirement over the years.

    We have to have an assortment of pies---my crustless pumpkin pie and coconut pies for sure. And my mom sometimes makes lemon meringue and my sister usually makes some chess pie.

    Even with all those desserts, they still want my brown sugar chocolate chip cookies (I now bake those after we eat so we can enjoy a warm one--a tradition that came about when I ran out of time to bake them everyone showed up).

    Needless to say, Thanksgiving is an extended affair at our house and lots of food gets taken home by everyone!

    I do love Thanksgiving. It's such a fun, relaxed event with my family. We alternated celebrating with hubby's family for years and, sadly, those were not relaxed events. That makes me even more grateful for our Thanksgivings now.

    Shirley

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  8. I don't actually mind Burger King, but we can agree to disagree there ;-)

    I actually enjoyed the crab cakes and the Jewish food. I don't need traditional food for Thanksgiving, and if I want it, I can hop on over to Whole Foods the week beforehand.

    This year for Thanksgiving, I'll be visiting Joanna in Southern California, and we're going to try out the newest branch of my favorite Chinese dumpling restaurant (I've only been to their Taipei and Hong Kong locations; we'll hope they do well in the US). And I think she also wants to get some Japanese food while I'm down there.

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  9. Mikey--Have a lovely time! It sounds like fun. A non-traditional Thanksgiving for you is a given.

    Shirley--See! Now you've spoiled everyone with the warm cookies. You're chained to that stove every year. LOL.

    Thanksgiving is a very relaxed affair here, too, because I'm flexible as to time and attendance. If the boys have a girlfriend's house to go to, then I'll change the time of my dinner, no problem. I just don't make it a huge deal. The last thing I ever want any of my holidays to be is Obligation. I always hated that with Rick's family. It sucks the Joy right out of everything.

    I love, love, love the idea of you and your husband having all his work buddies coming by and grabbing dinner plates. That's just wonderful. And so welcoming and generous. It sounds like you have Thanksgiving nailed!

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  10. I have to say that I was drooling over the sweet potato streusel picture - but I have a HUGE sweet tooth. Marshmallows? Brown sugar? Cinnamon? Bring it! Although I don't actually like the potatoes themselves very much (except as fries). Ha!

    My mom used to make a lime jello salad that everyone loved - cream cheese, chopped apples & celery. Really yummy. I tried to make it myself one year & it was just ok. Nothing special.

    I do NOT like stuffing OR dressing. I finally figured out that it's the sage - can't stand the stuff. Which is fine, as long as there are potatoes. I'm also not a huge turkey fan. I eat dark meat only & just enough to say I had some so I can get to the PECAN PIE. Or sometimes my aunt Marilyn brings Persimmon Pudding & my life is complete...

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  11. Bug--Oh, so it's YOU that eats that stuff. LOL.

    You know, you can make dressing/stuffing without sage. I did for years and years and years. And I, too, only eat dark meat, of which there isn't much on turkeys anymore. Sad.

    I share your love of potatoes. I could live on potatoes, period. So versatile and so filling and such wonderful vehicles for butter and gravy. Give me a baked potato, and that can be a meal for me. Okay, two. So good!

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  12. Many years ago, when I celebrated my first Thanksgiving stateside in a few decades (thought it was not forgotten amongst my ex-pat friends, just a bit different and not on a Thursday), my sister and I cooked together for a whole buncha people, and had a menu full of untold side dishes that were very worky and/or elaborate. In addition to the standard Thanksgiving staples, of course. The following year, remembering our utter exhaustion and the actual results in terms of what people ate, and what people ate second helpings of, I mandated that all we really needed was turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy.

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