In no particular order; my three favorite holidays are Passover, The Super Bowl and Thanksgiving. They all revolve around large meals in some way. Passover’s complicated restrictions on ingredients and Super Bowl Sundays inherit trashiness require a somewhat stifling framework, but Thanksgiving is where I go completely balls-out with the menu.
I’ve always loved the flavors of the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Turkey; stuffing; gravy; yams; mashed potatoes. As I grew up and more frequently ended up eating the meal at other people’s houses; other dishes moved into the regular rotation like macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole and collard greens. I always enjoyed the food, the atmosphere, getting up early in the morning to cook, the drinking and, especially, the guarantee of a Cowboys football game on TV. Even while homeless or among complete strangers I still managed to find comfort in the holiday. That whole time though, very little changed as far as the menu was concerned.
About seven years ago I went with my family to a large Thanksgiving meal held at the home of an acquaintance of my mom. It was a large, informal gathering with a buffet set up and everyone eating off picnic plates wherever they could sit. The family hosting the meal happened to be Laotian, and as such, had a huge spread set up, pretty much 50/50, with traditional American Thanksgiving fare and homemade Laotian food. Cranberry sauce, candied yams and turkey next to Pad Lao, papaya salad and spring rolls.
It was awesome.
I found the whole setup to be inspiring. Not just because of the unconventional (and delicious) food, but the informality of it made for a more hospitable (and football-watching friendly) environment. The next year I ended up at the Thanksgiving dinner of my cousins ex-husband, who happened to be a professional chef and my first kitchen boss. He made a gigantic and delicious spread of soul food, but the thing that i remember the most about that Thanksgiving was the sizable assortment of, for lack of a better term, castoffs from my family who (through divorce mostly) hadn’t been invited to the “main” family meals or just didn’t feel comfortable there.
It was a great meal, but it also reinforced a genuine feeling of family that transcended the typical definitions. My brother and I were reflecting on what a good time we had a couple weeks later when I referred to it as an “Orphans Thanksgiving” as a way of describing the brief community of outcasts we had created for the holiday.
The name stuck, and in four out of the last five years, we’ve held an Orphans Thanksgiving at one of my friends homes. The minimum requirement for admittance is being acquainted, and the theme has shifted every year depending on what my mood is in the month leading up to the holiday. The cast of attendees is always changing. Some years we party hard, some years we follow up football with sitting around the couch and watching movies.
The first year my theme was “First Thanksgiving”; where I only used ingredients the pilgrims ate, like rabbit and goose. The next year we did Northern Italian food; for no reason other than that it sounded good.
Year after that was Tex-Mex; where I crafted a vegetarian pumpkin mole sauce to serve over roasted pecan tamales. Last year I had Thanksgiving dinner with inlaws, but my wife and I put so much thought and effort into the the menu that it’s worth mentioning for the glazed turkey and duck confit Brussels sprouts alone.
This year the theme is M*A*S*H-Giving; combining traditional American Thanksgiving fare with Korean flavors and ingredients. General BBQ (who is hosting this year) and I did the grocery shopping this morning and it’s gonna be freaking amazing.
We’ll tweet on it all day Thursday and deliver a postmortem for next Tuesday’s post.
You probably already have a plan in place for this Thanksgiving, but regardless of that, you should keep in mind that despite the many traditions associated with this holiday, the only one that really matters is celebrating the abundance we have in this country with people we care about. You can strip away the turkey, all the traditional sides, the football games, the stupid parade- you can even remove your family from the equation and spend it with your friends if you would prefer- the thing that makes Thanksgiving so great is pigging out on what you want to eat and taking a moment to reflect on how good you have it.
Everything else is just trimmings.
Although; if they did get rid of the football I’d enjoy it less.