Happy Thanksgiving 2011
Who needs tradition? We need institutions, habits, customs, and rituals to mark our important occasions. And we need the tradition of Thanksgiving to mark and celebrate our harvest and give thanks. But more than that—we need some things to remain the same. Year after year. Year in and year out. I do not need to “change up” Thanksgiving. Admit it, how many times do you have turkey and stuffing and all the fixings during the year? Why would we want to “change up” Thanksgiving if we hardly ever celebrate and eat and give thanks for the things that compose this fine holiday?
For years I have fought against tradition—mainly because I found the turkey a difficult thing to wrangle. But last year, after telling my tale of woe to a friend of mine in an email, she wrote back and told me what to do. Her knowledge and wisdom have changed my life forever. It is a small thing—but one that makes my family’s wish for turkey dinners a dream come true. “Why don’t you,” she wrote, “do what I do and buy one of those turkeys that are already stuffed and frozen? They do not need to be defrosted—you just take them out of the freezer and put them in the oven.” Now, preparing the turkey is not quite as simple as she said. You still have to take the plastic wrapping off, and remove the plastic bag of innards (which is placed in a conspicuous spot for easy removal). I do plaster my turkey generously in butter—but that is it! Okay, I peer at it from time to time and baste it, just to do my part—but I don’t think it even needs that.
The best part? The stuffing is good. The turkey comes out brown and crispy and tasty, and I do not have a major meltdown. I also have one of those meat thermometers now that helps me judge when meat is done by the temperature gauge so I do not kill my family. I do have a suggestion for the meat thermometer people though. They need to invent a thermometer for paranoid cooks that indicates clearly that “this is the temperature you need to reach in order not to poison your family.” I would find that immensely comforting, but until then I will cook everything to a temperature of 360 degrees (yes, I am kidding, even I know I would be serving a big lump of coal at this temp).
What got me thinking about tradition was an article in the Saturday National Post. On the front page of the Food, Book, and Entertainment Section was a story called “Your Complete Visual Shopping List for Thanksgiving.” The food writer suggested that you take the page to the grocery store, buy the food shown and use Bonnie Stern’s “delicious updates of next weekend’s classic dishes”.
I then turned to page WP13 of the Toronto newspaper as instructed and lo and behold, Bonnie Stern provided a menu and recipes for a Nordic Thanksgiving! In her little blurb before she got into the actual recipe accounting, Ms. Stern admitted to just returning from recent travels in Scandinavia where she was inspired to (and these are my words) ruin Canadian Thanksgiving by suggesting that we have roast celeriac with herb crumbs, rye berry salad, roast turkey breast with dill and lemon and marzipan kuchen with peaches and plums! Has the woman no shame? These recipes on their own for other occasions are probably wonderful, but I say uncategorically and with great righteousness—do not sully the traditional turkey and stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and green bean casserole, cranberries and pickle platter, coleslaw and Jell-O salads, and pumpkin pie with the requisite whipped cream!
Ms. Stern says that Denmark and Sweden do not have big Thanksgiving celebrations—so why then is she taking a page out of their book? I say, stick with the tried and true (now that I have become an aficionado of the tried and true) and forget “changing up Thanksgiving”. No lamb or ham or prime rib or roast pork or turkey breast with dill and lemon for me. Let tradition live on with those staples of turkey and stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.