For much of my life I felt like the Scrooge of Thanksgiving. The holiday and its table left me cold.
I didn’t really see Thanksgiving’s appeal. The idea of setting aside a day to give thanks struck me as wonderful in theory. In practice, however, I saw Thanksgiving dinner as a heavy meal with too many dishes, few of which I savored.
One problem was the turkey. I’m just not a turkey girl. Even if I brine the darn thing and it’s super moist, it fails to tempt me (although I LOVE the leftovers!).
Another problem was the bustle in the kitchen, which made me feel ever so slightly claustrophobic.
If I absolutely had to go to family members’ or friends’ houses—if not doing so would hurt their feelings, that is—I would quietly join the eating throng. I would even contribute to the menu.
Whenever possible, however, I spent the day on my own—writing, going to the movies (theaters are NEVER crowded on Thanksgiving!), catching up on reading.
And I eschewed turkey when I could. I still fondly recall my long-ago Chinese take-out Thanksgiving. And eating chicken-fried steak on the fourth Thursday in November one year with friends at Threadgill’s in Austin, Texas, was one of the culinary highlights of my life.
I guess I must be growing older because for the past few years I have actually enjoyed the hubbub of this holiday.
It began, I think, one year when my friends Esther and Mac brought most of Thanksgiving dinner to my house. My family was away … so all I had to worry about was making a couple of dishes and enjoying the company of good friends.
Slowly I worked my way back to family Thanksgivings—and to cooking on Thanksgiving. This year is one of those in which I am in charge of the big meal.
I’m a teensy bit ruthless when my kitchen is THE Thanksgiving kitchen. I have clamped down a bit on my family members’ desire to eat every odd food they ever enjoyed at any Thanksgiving in the course of their lives.
Everyone gets to select one dish that has special meaning. (Sometimes the youngest generation is allowed two choices.) We try ONE new thing. And we prepare as much as we can in advance. We end up with a table that has plenty of variety without being overwhelming.
Not overdoing the food gives us a chance to enjoy the company we’re keeping. Amazingly, when I’m not exhausted from cooking I find that I actually like my relatives and want to cook and eat with them.
I even manage to find time to give thanks!
Today and Wednesday I’ll be offering a couple of easy dishes that might suit readers’ Thanksgiving tables. If you’re too busy cooking to read them now, fear not: you may serve them any time during the cooler months.
The first comes from my mother’s loving, cheerful aide, Pam Gerry.
Pam brings this appetizer every year to her family’s Thanksgiving celebration. The recipe has proven so popular among her relatives that it has traveled to a number of states up and down the east coast.
It’s easy to prepare in advance. I actually made it last week and divided the mixture in half before adding the final breadcrumbs and cheese. I added them to one portion and cooked it, serving it to guests. I froze the other half to heat and serve on Thanksgiving.
If you’re worried that an appetizer might be too much with your turkey dinner, do what my neighbors the Parkers do: have an appetizer/dessert meal the night AFTER Thanksgiving so the family can enjoy the extras without worrying about saving room for turkey!
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 large cloves garlic, minced
a tiny bit of extra-virgin olive oil (and/or butter) as needed for frying
1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to get the water out
1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained
1 cup grated Parmesan and/or Romano cheese, plus 4 tablespoons later
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 8-ounce brick cream cheese (light cream cheese is fine), softened
1/4 cup bread crumbs (I used panko crumbs)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a small frying pan sauté the onion and garlic pieces in the oil and/or butter until the vegetables soften.
In a food processor, combine the spinach and artichoke hearts. Pulse to make them very small. Add the cup of cheese, lemon juice, mayonnaise, cream cheese, and sautéed vegetables. Pulse again to combine thoroughly.
If you don’t have a food processor, chop the artichoke hearts well before beating them together with the rest of the ingredients.
Place the mixture in a 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the bread crumbs and remaining cheese.
Bake until the dip is brown around the edges, about 20 minutes. Serve with chips, sliced vegetables, or bread.
Makes about 4 cups.