Some of my most memorable Thanksgivings stand out due to their lack of traditional nature. Like most, I’m fairly wed to the Thanksgiving ‘Big 5’ of turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, gravy and cranberry sauce. I’m usually not ready to swap them out for something really different knowing this meal only happens once a year therefore leaving the departures notable.
One such memorable Thanksgiving for me was when I was in college in California and my maternal uncle hosted my grandparents and I to a full Italian spin on the Thanksgiving faire. As a child I really did not understand the cache of Thanksgiving; it presented itself as a gorging holiday with fairly uninteresting food to me coupled with weird things like ‘orange juice potatoes’ (sweet potatoes) and marshmallows. I never understood if the Pilgrims wanted to be friends with the Indians (our vernacular at the time) why on earth they’d serve them that deadly dish.
My uncle’s Thanksgiving was the first recollection I have of reveling in the feast. He was a very enthusiastic cook, brimming with passion about his menu. He was a lawyer and working in the California court system at the time. We dined at the home he shared with a colleague, also working for the courts and it was all very sophisticated, exciting and delicious.
Another memory that recently sprang to mind was a visit to the home of another relative (who may or may not be my mother) for the holiday. Said relative was also brimming with excitement over a fantastic recipe she’d found. The turkey is cooked early, stripped mercilessly from the bone, combined in a casserole with mashed potatoes and dressing and ‘voila’; one dish Thanksgiving. Though she will labor in the kitchen it’s not her passion and I feel, for her, the joy she felt must had to have been similar to the person who invented the canned soup casserole; nirvana. I was secretly horrified feeling it a travesty and wondering if the following year we’d all enjoy ‘Thanksgiving Smoothies’ where all the ingredients would be forced into the blender leaving a Willy Wonka beverage to be consumed briskly to end the holiday in 10 minutes or less.
All these shaping experiences lead me to my adult appreciation of the holiday. I married someone who loves to cook and had better cooking stuff than I did (and mine was good). Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday which he sees as a chance to dwell in the kitchen for days and experiment (always successfully I might add). It’s taken the full meal pressure off me allowing me to prepare a few dishes of interest and incorporate some new additions with some flair knowing the mainstays are covered.
This year my Mom and Step Dad will join us. In my mother’s defense, she’s now an avid reader of my blog as are a few thousand of her closest friends (Hi Ladies! Thank you for reading!). She will email asking where she might buy Seckel Pears and how to perfect a meringue so she’s redeemed herself from the discount Thanksgiving fiasco (and has prepared MANY years of the full spread too). Her contributions will have a Southwest influence which we all love. To play off of that I am making this luscious, simple Green Chile Scalloped Potato dish.
I love this side dish for many reasons, not the least of which is its versatility. It is a creamy dish but not overly so. One can make it as spicy as desired through the use of differing heat levels of chiles. Store purchased canned fire roasted chilies and pre-grated ‘Mexican blend’ cheese can be used if time is running short. It can also be bulked up and made into an entrée by the use of browned chorizo or other ground meats. For our meal I’m keeping the heat more mild to please all multi generational diners and not overshadow the dishes with more subtle flavors.