Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Menus and Meanings

I'm not flabbergasted anymore. I don't freak out anymore when I realize it's the week of Thanksgiving. Time marches on, and if we care to, we can make the most of it.

So I'm doing my usual pre-Thanksgiving cleaning, organizing, and attempting to finish studio things to free me up to focus on food prep, family, and [ugh] Christmas decorating. In the midst of all this, I'm also reminding myself of all the things I have to be thankful for where I currently am in life, in spite of the past few years and what's currently going on in the world. Have you thought about that? It's fairly easy to make a list of blessings and realize how much there is that we may take for granted.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share the menu tradition that's been in place in my family since I was a kid (with some minor alterations over the years). Obviously, there's the turkey. We have ours roasted in the oven (no fryers here), basted, stuffed, BUT we don't cook the turkey with the stuffing inside. We stuff ours with onions and celery after it gets an oil rubdown and some seasoning. I'm usually on stuffing duty, and I always prepare that separately, with some sauteed celery for a lil' extra crunch. I also like to use an ice cream scoop to nestle pretty round clouds of stuffing onto each plate, which drives my mom crazy ("why dirty up that thing- just serve it with a regular spoon!"). But I think it's a nice touch. Side note: apparently, northerners call it dressing and southerners call it stuffing (or is it vice versa?). Anyway, we call it stuffing.

Along with the main dish, being African Americans and Southerners, we partake in mixed greens, cooked fresh, not from a can. The only things that come from a can in our dinner are the gravy and the cranberry sauce. My mother washes and cooks turnip, mustard, collards, and kale together for a flavorful mix that gives a great contrast to the other dishes, especially if you add a splash of apple cider vinegar to them once they're on your plate. Next, there MUST be mac and cheese. Again, homemade. Made with loads of real hand-grated cheddar (and other varieties if I'm involved) cheese that's baked to create a crispy, bubbly topping. We fight over the mac and cheese and monitor the number of servings everyone goes back for. We've had mashed potatoes at others' homes for Thanksgiving, but mac and cheese wins out with our family. We also have cranberry sauce, which was only added in recent years at mine and my brothers' request. We love it as the other flavor twist that wakes up the turkey if eaten in tandem, or as a refreshing palette cleanser. Gravy to drizzle over the stuffing and/or turkey and crescent rolls are the finishing touches. Actually, the finishing touch is the apple pie, which, I'll admit, is usually store-bought. My mom makes an excellent sweet potato pie, and my sister-in-law and I can both make good apple pie (even homemade crust!), but we don't bother when there are all the other courses to attend to. And a huge cleanup. And a bare Christmas tree staring at us. Add some wine, and optional after-dinner coffee, and that is our family's yearly menu. 

How about you? What dishes are a must at your Thanksgiving feast? Do you call it stuffing or dressing? Do you have the meal in the late afternoon or typical dinnertime? I wanna know!

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