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Well, we have a couple weeks, but we have to start planning. It’s the food writers’ holiday, for sure. I read five or six magazines cover to cover this time of year, ones that I normally skim through and cherry pick topics. I search websites for any new Thanksgiving trends. Are we dry brining or wet brining this year? Deep frying, oven roasting or smoking this bird? You don’t want to be all plaids and stripes underneath that apron. You need to know what is fashionable (the short trendy answer is no brine, with a citrus glaze).
It’s going to be an earthy Thanksgiving this year. I’m seeing lots of thyme, a must for all fowl, and who would make dressing without sage? Walnuts and pecans will be supporting cast members, even though nut prices are through the roof right now. Khaki is frustrated with the cost of pecans in one of those, “I don’t know what I’m going to do this year,” kind of moods. Meanwhile, I have a yard full if I can keep the wildlife away from them.
We have a raccoon named Jerry Cooney that comes out of the half-acre wood to fatten himself for the impending cold. Countless unnamed squirrels chase each other around the trunk of the fertile tree, taunting poor Thunderpuss, stuck behind a window, pawing at the pane. Will Possum comes after dark and takes any leftovers Jerry and the squirrels leave behind, but I think he’s more interested in our recycling bin. I told you that story to tell you that my mother should hurry up.
It’s all about the dressing
Let’s start with the salad dressing. Who has salad on Thanksgiving? This year we do. I need a base coat before I get to the heavy stuff. Here is the dressing recipe my mother-in-law, Carol, sent me a couple months back. It’s from a torn-out page of a book I’ve never seen, which claims this is the little black dress of salads. Use it as is, or dress it up.
You’ll need a large bowl and a large wooden spoon. Place a scant teaspoon of kosher salt and one peeled clove of garlic into the bowl. Use the back of the wooden spoon to grind the garlic until it practically disappears. Now fill the large wooden spoon with olive oil (usually about 2 tablespoons) and work it into the salt.
Here is the important part. Tear your salad greens and drop them into the bowl, but don’t toss it yet. You can do this up to an hour before, just cover the bowl with a damp towel. When it’s time to eat, toss the lettuce, adding in black pepper and the same spoonful of lemon juice. It doesn’t look like much, but it packs a punch and the oil makes it go a long way, comfortably making dressing for six or more servings.
Don’t be afraid to add more veggies last minute, however this isn’t the salad bar at Bonanza. Keep it elegant by sticking to chopped carrots and perhaps some red onion. You don’t need gobs of cheese, boiled eggs or crackers.
As far as the cornbread dressing goes, you know I have my rules. Rule 1: We don’t call it stuffing, and we only stuff it in our mouths. Rule 2: White cornmeal when making the cornbread. Rule 3: Double your eggs when making the cornbread. If your recipe calls for one egg, add two. Trust me. Rule 4: Cook your celery and white onion in butter, add green onion at the end. Rule 5: Serve giblet gravy and cranberry sauce, but don’t ruin Thanksgiving by pronouncing a hard “g” in giblet.
Fly me to the moon
I already know I’ll have two types of turkey for the big Thursday. At Thankstaking, we usually do a couple of chickens, brined and smoked. The trendy bird substitute this year is duck. Seared breasts can be served rare, perfect if you’re looking to get off the well-worn path. Keep in mind you will still need chicken or turkey stock for the dressing and gravy.
Drinking and politics
It’s important to establish dominance at the Thanksgiving table by pounding a sixer before arriving, figuring out the alpha in the room and taking an opposing view in a political argument. It’s the equivalent of punching someone in the face on your first day of a prison sentence. Seriously, though, the only politics spoken today should be Auburn/Alabama, MSU/Ole Miss or Tennessee/anyone’s cheerleaders, and those politics should be lighthearted.
It’s a day to drink, not a day to get drunk. At least not until the end of it. We will be serving wine, and not just one. Before the show begins, a light rosé will get you in the mood. We are also Prosecco fans at this stage of the game. Once the turkey is served, let’s try a (not sweet) German Riesling. I think that can handle the meat, sweet potatoes, green beans and cranberry sauce. If not, I’d try a Pinot Grigio over a Sauvignon Blanc, should whites be your thing.
If you’re into the gravy and not the cranberry sauce, California Cabernet is OK, but a Zinfandel may be better. Those dirty Pinot Noir bottles from Willamette are great at Thanksgiving (remember I said it would be earthy this year) and the California versions will be a little brighter.
For dessert, port could handle that pumpkin pie with the Cool Whip. If you’re having pecan pie, pass the bourbon. Maker’s Mark neat would do the trick or maybe a snort of Knob Creek.
There is no need to follow trends if you’re missing your childhood meals. Throw a ’70s Thanksgiving if you wish! Turkey fondue and afros!
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