Thanksgiving is steeped in tradition and in some ways this can be quite comforting. You may know exactly what you’re going to cook for dinner; or who will be sitting at the table. You might know which serving platters you’ll use, or which wine to bring if you’re not cooking. Yet, in other ways, tradition can be constricting. Dare you break up with your beloved cranberry stuffing recipe that’s served you so well these last ten years?
For us, it was equal parts honoring tradition as it was in breaking with it. We honored it with all-star recipes, and broke with it by having our turkey dinner on the day after Thanksgiving due to work schedules. And O, what a meal!
Keeping it local, we bought a fresh bird from Misty Knoll Farms through our local co-op. Weighing just shy of 12 lbs, our turkey lived a good life pastured outside before meeting its dinner-bound demise. When it comes to cooking, I follow Alton Brown’s method, circa 2008, religiously. While the method has, without fail, set off every smoke alarm in the house every year that we’ve done it, I find the end result well worth the trouble.
We also made our beloved sweet potato soufflé, which Travis contends is a dessert, but my family has always proffered as a side dish, and roasted carrots and parsnips tossed with a honey balsamic dressing. At some point in the day I started on gravy, too, because that’s just what you do with those creepy giblets and neck. But alas! What were we to pour the gravy on? So that’s how mashed potatoes found their way on our plates, too.
In the spirit of home-cookery, this week Travis sent me a fantastic article in the Atlantic that I hope you check out if you have a few minutes. It’s all about the myth of easy cooking and how the food magazine and media industry has built itself up on unattainable principles and outcomes, a byproduct of chefs adapting recipes from restaurants for home cooks and then calling them “easy.” The article gave me great perspective as I cooked my way through Thanksgiving preparations this week in that it’s never as easy as it looks, and it gave me permission to be more forgiving of myself as a cook.
For example, I have a love-hate relationship with pie dough. I can’t intuit when it needs another dribble of ice water, and I always make a mess rolling it out. This week, with my newfound perspective, I took the opportunity to give myself a big gold star each step of the way regardless of how it actually looked. So what if I rolled it into a shape that looks like something I drew in kindergarten? No one is going to see it under 10,000 calories of pie filling anyways!
My favorite insight so far though was watching a Thanksgiving-themed cooking show whilst wearing my new-life-perspective-on-cooking lenses. The meal this guy cooked up in half an hour looked fantastic — dressing made with bread from scratch, butternut squash gratin, smoked duck. How can you go wrong? But in watching the show, it dawned on me that watching a world where you can halve, peel, de-seed and chop up two whole butternut squashes in less than 5 seconds is like going to Disneyland. Just because you’re watching it with your own two eyes doesn’t mean it’s real! I don’t know about you, but it would probably take me the entire length of the TV segment to tackle two butternut squashes without losing any fingers.
So not only did we sit down to a wonderful meal (and a weekend’s worth of leftovers) but it was also an opportunity to reflect on the cooking itself and to appreciate how much time and effort it really does take to make a meal completely from scratch. And to remember that the joy is not just in the fifteen minutes it takes to wolf everything down, but the journey that it took to get there.