Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thanksgiving menu and other dilemmas


Each year there comes the time when each of us (those cooking, not those who are going to be guests of other cooks) has to buckle down and decide what to have for Thanksgiving dinner. What we decide has to do not only with what we remember as children but the memories we want to create for our family and friends. Shall we do the same things we remember form our childhood? Our grandmother's pumpkin pie? Our mother-in-law's stuffing? Green bean casserole? The sweet potatoes covered with toasted marshmallows? Or do we want to Martha Stewart-ize our holiday with honey-roasted chipotle-smoked turkey(not a real recipe), sweet potato souffle and fennel with sauteed cabbage. Not that I don't admire Martha Stewart. I give her props for building an empire after her divorce and giving new meaning to "Don't get mad, get even." She has great ideas and has encouraged a whole generation to gentility in entertaining. I often look to her books, magazine or shows for inspiration. My challenge (and yours) is to take our inspiration not only from culinary mavens like Martha, Julia Child, and the Barefoot Contessa, but to look to your own heritage and family history to build a menu that will arouse fond memories of the past and make new memories and establish traditions for the future.
There are some things that you family has to have for Thanksgiving - it might be the roast turkey, or the ham with pineapple rings and cloves, Aunt Edna's sweet potatoes or your Mom's apple pie. Our nation and families are changing. You could have a vegetarian at your Thanksgiving table. Your new son-in-law could be from Korea, or your daughter's friend from college could come from from Cuba, or Ethiopia, or Spain. You might have adopted children from Russia or Guatemala or China or have foster children from the black community. I think you get my point. Just as the first Thanksgiving was a melding of the Pilgrim's English culture and the Native Americans who were here, our own family Thanksgiving should model the heritage of our families, it members and the members of our extended families. Your menu is you family' s chance to celebrate all that is good about it, and to be thankful for the heritage and the food that you share at your Thanksgiving table. And isn't that what Thanksgiving is all about?
Note: The family pictured is not my own. How should you know? There is no music playing, or a football game on television. No one is arguing or sulking, or yelling. There is no dancing, or loud belches, or spilled anything in this picture. And would I have it any other way? Absolutely not.

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