Food for Thought

When I was a child I did not like Thanksgiving.  More accurately, I did not GET Thanksgiving.  It was boring; all people did was eat.  It was nice to get together with family but stuffing oneself to the gills as a purposeful end result was how I saw it and it seemed void of deeper intent.
As an adult I grew to take pride in contributing to holiday meals and even hosted my entire extended family at my very small rented homes or apartments.  I would slave all day, deliver a sumptuous meal with my own senses too saturated to eat and then collapse with a kidney infection the next day.  That was fun.
Like a good wine I’ve mellowed with age (insert eye roll here).  I have grown to appreciate the opportunity to reflect and give thanks as a more core focus than seasonal gorging.   It’s been on my mind and in my thoughts how attached our memories are to food.  On the eve of this Thanksgiving I find myself in a familiar quandary; do I stick with a tried and true annual recipe or step out of the box to try something new?  Simple question but with potentially perilous consequences not to be remedied for an entire year.
This was an example of inserting a new dish that has become a new favorite:  Chipotle Sweet Potato Gratin.  Perhaps having found soupy mashed potatoes with mini marshmallows the standard prior, and horrifyingly so, this dish liberated my palate to accept sweet potatoes as not only tolerable but addictive.
Why is it that the mere selection of the key Thanksgiving dishes bears so much weight?  So what if you try a new cranberry sauce and it doesn’t work?  I’ll tell you; it is not the same on any other day of the year.  There is no Thanksgiving ‘redo’.  I’ve had those and they don’t rank.  We develop sensory reference points for our food on holidays, especially Thanksgiving, without fulfillment of them annually it is almost like a partial holiday or a holiday missed.
A number of years ago we spent Thanksgiving with friends.  When divvying up dishes we’d each make we began to talk about the time to eat.  My friend said ‘no one eats in the afternoon; my kids can’t eat earlier than 5:00 p.m.’.  The priority was being together, not the time we ate (or so I thought) so being the hostess I swallowed hard and uttered a meager ‘oh…..okay’.
 Everyone in my household, old and young, cooks for Thanksgiving; by their choice.  One of our younger chefs thrust up their hand to make Grasshopper Pie this year.  I shuddered at the absence of pecans, pumpkin and mincemeat but there is no denying the lusciousness of this pie so it’s on the menu!
In my family we ALWAYS have eaten in the mid afternoon and as an adult continue to do so.  The morning is full of bustling in the kitchen.  Near misses with multiple cooks artistically and athletically interweaving one another like an awkwardly choreographed dance recital to meet the end dining time.  Football blaring on the TV, light hearted visiting and noshing filling the house with warmth and verve. 
I think Thanksgiving, more than any other food-borne holiday, can teeter when staple foods or routines are changed risking the feeling of a deficit.  It’s almost like muscle memory in a sport.   You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase ‘it’s just like riding a bike’ of course meaning once you’ve learned how to you cannot do it for 20 years and climb right back on.  I think Thanksgiving is the same but turned around; if it does not play out commensurate with one’s personal experiential vault of familiar foods, timing, and even participants, it does not feel the same.  In the case of the late day meal, it WAS much more relaxing to have the entire day to cook though the house felt empty and other than familiar dishes, it felt like hosting friends to dinner on any day of the year due to my holiday reference points. .
I did not come into this reflection head on.  It was more of a sideways consideration about what our household menu would include or not this year.  Suggestions of rogue pie types that clearly fall outside ‘our norm’ (one of which I agreed to but not without a second ‘security blanket’ pumpkin pie on the list).  I’m a flexible, open minded person with a serious case of wanderlust and compulsion to seek out new experiences.  The realization of my need to stick to an unconsciously accepted list of repeat dishes to define my holiday as one that feels authentic and true has prompted the realization of how we punctuate our lives with food memories.  As strong as physical memories, sight, hearing.
Certainly not a poultry glamour shot, this pic was of last year’s Thanksgiving turkey.  Though the photo does not do it justice, the turkey was so beautiful and perfect looking when pulled from the oven I had to take a photo.  What on earth would I ever do with that photo?  Who knows but it speaks to the impact of Thanksgiving food (at least for me!)
Maybe in this ever changing world, despite my attraction for all things new and different, I find solace in those foods predictable and give thanks for the opportunity to share them with a group of loved ones who have defined their holiday in kind.  I don’t know for sure but do know I too carry an imprint of what defines the texture of the true Thanksgiving holiday for me despite not being able to fully articulate it.
I would like to close this inconclusive ponderance by saying Thank You.  Overall this holiday reminds me how the most simple of things, health and mental well being (and maybe an occasional new lip gloss), are the most important things to me and for those I love.  I’ve always maintained time is the most valuable gift to be exchanged between people and for the time you’ve taken to read this I thank you and appreciate you.  For my American readers, best of the holiday, however you define it, to you and yours!  For those not tethered to your stove enslaved to this holiday for the next few days, thanks for stopping by and have a beautiful day!
What about for YOU?  What is the ‘it factor’ that makes Thanksgiving what is for you?  Are you flexible, mixing it up every year?  Or do you too have those unspoken cornerstones that make the holiday whole for you?


  1. says

    I'm like you… Thanksgiving was not my favorite as a child (it seemed like Christmas with no gifts) Now it is definitely my favorite (it's like Christmas with no gifts!) I just love a day about family being together where food IS the center of the activities. Toni, may you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family!

  2. says

    Hi Toni

    What a timely post, we really do need to think about our priorites, and what really makes Thanksgiving for us…..Your friends were lucky that you changed your meal time, we have always eaten mid afternoon as well, it gives you time to spend reflecting upon the year with your loved ones and fully belly.
    Your turkey looks delicious as I am sure it was.
    and I love that pic of the cranberries at the end, just gorgeous!
    have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving my friend!

  3. says

    There are a few must haves and those are the staples, turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing. I'm flexible on pies and on veggie sides. My family, we ate early afternoon as well. I tried doing the evening dinner but it stressed me out too much. Plus I don't want to be doing dishes as 7pm! I went back to afternoon meal time and it's so much better.

  4. says

    For me, it's all about being with loved ones – family and friends, including any strays that need a place to go. Beyond that, for the past 20 years or so I've always done the food (big surprise), inviting people to bring a special dish that complements the meal. I feel you need to have the basic things – turkey, potatoes, sweet potatoes, green veg, stuffing, cranberry, dessert – but beyond that I vary things up, changing my stuffing recipe, introducing a new dessert, etc. The one thing I never mess with is the roasted garlic mashed potatoes with heavy cream and butter – it's the only time of year I let myself eat something this decadent and my kids would kill me if I left it off the menu. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family Toni!

  5. says

    It is so true that we tend to define our holiday dishes and become nervous with the thought of changes. As I am a vegetarian and know many people that will only eat seafood varieties of meat, I am more used to changing it up a bit. My family however always need to see some of the classics 🙂
    Wishing you a wonderful holiday

  6. says

    Thanksgiving is family, plain and simple. Although it would be nothing without the turkey and cranberry sauce. Being Canadian, I am still getting used to Tgiving being so late in the year, though. And some of the American dishes wig me out a little (like the marshmallow topped yams…blech!).

  7. says

    I'm with Carolyn…no matter where or when we celebrate, it's all about being with family. Of course, we prefer all our traditional favorites and eating mid afternoon, so we can have a turkey sandwihc that evening…but sharing the holidays with loved ones seems most important. What wonderful reflections, Toni…we both has so much for which to be grateful~ Hope your holiday is wonderful! xo

  8. says

    Happy Thanksgiving, Toni. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and musings with us. I think I come from a different aspect since Thanksgiving is only now developing into a tradition. In fact, Hubby balks at my desire to mix things up and try new dishes on this day where the menu just shouldn't be messed with (in his view).

    For me, it's about sharing the bounty of the table with as many as I can. My in-laws had to cancel due to health reasons at the last minute so I've been on the phone trying to fill the seats with anyone who may not have a place to go.

  9. says

    Thanksgiving = family. Food is obviously a factor but it is the being together that makes the holiday. This year we are actually celebrating on Saturday and there will be no traditional dishes. We let the nephews pick there favorites. So far, we have mac 'n cheese and “superbowl” sandwiches on the menu. 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

  10. says

    Our Thanksgiving menu is the same every year. Every year we question this but in the end it remains the same. My favorite part of the day is being with family and not worrying about anything but being together.

  11. says

    It is about conversations for me…Thanksgiving dinner is a time to say the thankyou's you owe your family and friends. They may not be spelled out exactly as T-H-A-N-K-S but they can be expressed with every other word you utter while enjoying the family prepared meals. Like you, I have mellowed with age, I thought of Thanksgiving then as a tradition that will piss off grandma if not made according to what has been practiced.
    Thanks for sharing a piece of your mind and heart and a little gem from your kitchen recipes.
    Enjoy the holidays!

  12. says

    Hi Toni. Happy Thanksgiving to you with a special thank you from Aunty Choo. She'll remember you forever, making her the queen of her retirement home as she happens to be the only one of the few residents there who knows the word “Blog”. This day is pretty quiet over here but some of us have taken the opportunity to reflect on how lucky we are in so many ways. Some small thanksgiving dinners amongst close friends and relatives … happy to have each other.

  13. says

    Hi Tony, Happy Thanksgiving. Just turned the oven on to bake my pumpkin pies. I like the more traditional dishes, since they remind me of the first Thanksgiving dinner my husband cooked for me. We don't celebrate Thanksgiving like this in Germany. Since I moved to the US it is all about family and best friends coming together. Enjoy your day! Kirsten

  14. C.S. says

    Thank you for the reflections. I love (and feel the same way about) the counterpoint between the new and the traditional. :). Happy Thanksgiving to you – and boy does that grasshopper pie look good!!

  15. says

    What makes Thanksgiving so special to me (and always has), is that it's one of the few holidays that has nothing to do with “getting stuff” (gifts, candy, etc.) It's simply about being with family and reflecting on what we are thankful for. Definitely the least “commercial” of all the holidays imo, which I love. I'm not rigid about tradition, some years we eat at home, other years we go out to eat our meal.

  16. BigFatBaker says

    As long as there are potatoes, turkey, gravy and cranberries I am happy. I don't think there is one specific recipe that I have to have… I like to branch out. This year my family trying almost all new recipes because of me, haha. But I think, “keep it simple, stupid” is my general holiday motto. Nothing too fancy or crazy, but new flavors are appreciated.

  17. says

    Very timely…turkey and stuffing makes it Thanksgiving for me; I'm open to any other food change ups or time changes up. I also like it special–using the real china and crystal. Meal 1 yesterday was on fancy paper plates and plastic cups. We were an hour late (host forgot to tell us the time change), so we sat to eat at an empty table. It was not Thanksgiving to me. Meal 2 at my sister's was the real deal, even though she threw in all sorts of crazy new dishes this year :).

  18. says

    That grasshopper pie looks divine!
    I think the two items that make it Thanksgiving for me are my mother-n-law's stuffing and her chocolate pecan pie. Since I am from Germany, my in-laws' traditions are the only I know, but they are wonderful.

  19. says

    We grow into Thanksgiving, don't we? When we're young, its spell hasn't taken hold. Later, it's powerful! You have created a great tradition w/all the family cooking together!

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