Who would have thought that a harvest festival, first celebrated almost four hundred years ago in Plymouth, Massachusetts, would come to represent hearth and home, family and friends (as well as, admittedly, sanctioned gluttony) so many years later? That festival, Thanksgiving, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November in America and on 12 October in Canada, is beloved by all – except perhaps by the turkey, the traditional centerpiece of the day’s meal.
The spirit of the holiday is to give thanks, a gesture especially important this year, as the world navigates new challenges and routines due to the pandemic. Every year – both good years and bad – Americans take time at Thanksgiving to remember that, despite whatever difficult circumstances they may face, there is always a reason to be grateful.
It has been said that gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the joyful following of that impulse. The existence of an official holiday honoring these blessings is indeed something to celebrate, whether it is an official public holiday in a country or not.
At its root, Thanksgiving is a non-religious holiday centered on food, friends, and family. Frivolity and fun are suitable accompaniments to this celebration since it is an occasion where one and all are welcome and “the more the merrier” axiom applies. In America, for instance, Thanksgiving is celebrated by more people than any other holiday.
A bountiful table is essential, typifying the generosity we give and receive in our lives. The foundation of a traditional Thanksgiving menu is a turkey, and each year more than forty million turkeys are eaten in the United States for that meal. But of course, rules are meant to be broken so any bird can suffice. Cornish hens are particularly succulent and a family favorite at our house. Some will forgo poultry entirely and serve a ham or even porcini lasagna.
After the turkey (or appropriate main dish substitute) is sorted, the fun really begins. The host can let his or her creativity determine the extent and breadth of the rest of the meal. Imagine a lovely starter of foie gras or a cheese plate, coupled with bubbly and good wine to whet the palate. Follow this with an array of side dishes which traditionally would include green beans, mashed potatoes, marshmallow-topped baked sweet potatoes (yes, you read that correctly), cranberry sauce and soft, warm bread rolls. Nobody will miss pudding after a meal like this; nonetheless your dessert must be equally spectacular. Offer the traditional pecan or pumpkin pie, or order up a fabulous cake. Despite their full tummies, your guests will continue to indulge. This is one day where excess is de riguer, an essential part of the event.
The combination of fun, frolic, food, friends, and family can be too much of a good thing. When the meal is over, you may find a sentient calm descend upon the gathering, or alternatively, a vigorous discussion. No need to worry about offending anyone however for, as Oscar Wilde has said, “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations”.
Why don’t you create your own Thanksgiving celebration this year? It may be smaller than you would like (given the current government restrictions), but can certainly be just as meaningful. In fact, it may be even more significant to celebrate during this time of disruption, to remind ourselves of what is important and for what we are thankful.
Here a few of our favourite recipes:
Marshmallow Sweet Potatoes - Recipe from Oprah Magazine
6 pounds sweet potatoes , skins on
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 cups warm whole milk
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 (16-ounce) bag large marshmallows
Freshly ground pepper , to taste
Preheat oven to 325°.
Cut sweet potatoes into 2-inch slices and leave skin on. Add to a large stockpot and cover with water. Cover pot and bring to a gentle boil for 30 minutes—potatoes should be firm, not mushy. Drain. Peel potatoes while running cold water over them. Mash in a bowl with a ricer or masher.
Put potatoes back in stockpot over medium heat and add cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter, and salt. Pour in the milk a little at a time. Mix well. Spread potatoes evenly into coated large shallow baking dish, leaving 2 inches for marshmallows. Add marshmallows on top in even rows. Bake for 30 minutes, checking frequently until the marshmallows are golden brown.
Artichoke and Mixed Mushroom Lasagna - Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
1.5 pounds mixture of white button and porcini mushrooms, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 8-ounce packages frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, coarsely chopped
1 cup dry vermouth
4 1/2 tablespoons butter
4 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
4 1/2 cups whole milk
2 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 7 1/2 ounces)
1 9-ounce package oven-ready (no-boil) lasagna noodles
1 pound whole-milk mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and garlic; sauté until mushrooms release juices and begin to brown, about 7 minutes. Add artichokes and vermouth. Cook until liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Melt butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour; stir 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until sauce thickens and lightly coats spoon, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 cups Parmesan. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and ground nutmeg.
Spread 2/3 cup béchamel sauce over bottom of 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Top with enough noodles to cover bottom of dish. Spread 1/4 of artichoke mixture over. Spoon 2/3 cup béchamel sauce over. Top béchamel with 1/4 of mozzarella.
Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons Parmesan. Top with enough noodles to cover. Repeat layering 3 more times, finishing with a layer of noodles, then remaining béchamel. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover with foil and refrigerate.)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake lasagna covered with foil 1 hour (or 1 hour 15 minutes if chilled). Remove foil. Increase temperature to 450°F. Bake lasagna until golden on top, about 10 minutes longer.
Author: Aparna Dubey