A few years ago, I purchased my first house in a beautiful neighborhood in Mount Airy in Philadelphia. There were many reasons I wanted a house: more space for my ever-increasing piles of stuff, an investment for my future, and “why not, everyone else is doing it,” were among my reasons. However, I also was excited by the idea of entertaining people in more than a tiny apartment. Perhaps I could even host a holiday dinner.
See, as I’m sure you’re well aware of, children tend to backlash against the traditions of their parents. And for a solid 10 or 15 years, Thanksgiving has been a non-traditional holiday for my family. My parents began to drift away from the turkey, stuffing, and sides. In fact, they even stopped hosting at their house. Our usual tradition was to go to Lin’s Dumpling House in Chinatown in New York City and have a feast. I think it began when my sister lived in Chinatown and we would come up to visit, but it remained a tradition for many years until the restaurant closed. After that, we would usually forgo Thanksgiving Day and instead go out a day or two afterwards, usually for ethnic cuisine. It was all very cool, very laid back, and very original.
Except apparently, I missed the family dinner. As is the case with any (healthy) family, our roles with each other continue to develop and change. I liked the idea of being able to provide for my family, especially (or perhaps solely) in the context of delicious food. So I planned a Pre-Thanksgiving dinner my first year at my new house, and I invited my parents and my siblings as well as several of my friends. I chose the day before Thanksgiving so that my friends wouldn’t have to give up their Thanksgiving plans to come to mine.
I also knew I wanted to have it as a sit-down meal in which all the dishes were on the table, as in days of yore. Even with my extra space, my house doesn’t hold too many people, so I knew it would be a squeeze. But some extra chairs and some run-off into the living room, and we made it happen.
As for the food, well, I knew I wanted to make most of it, but I also knew I couldn’t make all of it (not for 10+ people). So I solicited help from my friends and family to bring specific food items, while I worked on the staples. I cooked mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, some desserts, and of course, a turkey. Not only had I never cooked a turkey before, but I’m a vegetarian. Internet to the rescue! Should you be in the same boat as I and not be sure how to cook a turkey, might I recommend this video series.
Three years later, and I’m getting ready for my 4th Pre-Thanksgiving (though this time it’s a post-Thanksgiving). The guest list shifts a bit, but I am always delighted to have the people I love sit with me and share some delicious food. You might even say, I’m thankful for it.
Then you might accuse me of being horribly cliché.
I guess what I’ve learned is that even when I’m taking a radical tack in regards to how I live my life, I sometimes end up back where I started. That doesn’t always invalidate my journey; sometimes it brings me more in touch with who I want to be and what I want to do.
I’ll leave you with a few of my recipes that I like to make for my Thanksgiving-centric meals. Enjoy!
1 packet Dry Yeast (2-1/4 tsp)
1 cup milk
3 tbsp butter
1 egg (beaten)
2 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
3 cups flour
In a mixing bowl mix the yeast and 1/4 cup of warm water. Remember that the yeast will die if exposed to too much heat, so just make it warm, not scalding hot.
Melt the butter into the milk. Remember it can’t be too hot, so maybe just microwave it and let it sit for a bit.
In the yeasty bowl, add the egg, sugar, salt, and a cup of the flour. Add the butter and milk mixture and stir. Add another cup of flour and stir again. Add one more cup of flour and stir once more. It will be wet and sticky at this point.
That’s what she said.
Transfer to floured cutting board and knead for 5-10 minutes, adding a little flour if it gets too sticky. When it’s smooth and slightly elastic (the dough springs back into shape if you pinch it), coat it in vegetable oil and put in a bowl to rise. Cover with a cloth and put it someplace warm.
After about an hour or so it should have doubled in size. Plop it onto a large cutting board and lightly press it into a large rectangle. Try to make the dough as even as possible at this point so that your rolls will be of consistent size. Once it’s vaguely rectangular and even, cut the dough with a knife into 12 squares. Roll each of these squares into a ball.
I find that if I pinch the ends together and smooth out the rest of the dough square, I get the smoothest shape on top. Imperfections will come out in the baking, so try to get it as pretty as possible at this point. But also remember that you will be gorging on these later, so don’t worry too much about transitory blemishes.
Place the balls onto a baking sheet relatively close together. Cover again with a cloth and set aside to rise again for about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, set oven to 350 degrees.
When they’re done rising they should be touching slightly. Bake for 20-25 minutes. They’ll start to stick together a bit at this point, which is exactly what y0u want to happen. Test half of them for flavor, but try to save a few for the table.
I am completely improvising this right now, but that’s because I improvise it every year. It’s one of those, “everyone is about to sit down, time to make mashed potatoes.” So forgive me for the approximate measurements.
A bunch of red potatoes. Let’s say, um 5 to 20.
Some milk or soy milk.
Butter. No margarine for you!
Salt-n-Pepa (the group)
Boil or steam the potatoes for about 20-30 minutes in their skins.
Pull them out and drain if necessary. Leave the skins on and mash! Mash like the wind! Whistle “Suicide is Painless” if desired.
Throw them into a bowl or even back in the pot if you’re short on bowls. Add some milk to make it creamy. I’d say with 10 potatoes I usually add 1/2 cup to a cup of milk. This makes it creamy and easier to stir. Bonus!
Slice up a half stick of butter and drop it in. Let it melt in its potatoey doom.
Garlic powder! I used to think that fresh garlic would be so much better, but the powder works great. Keeps you from eating chunks of garlic. Actually, doesn’t sound so bad. In any case, add until you reach your garlic tolerance level. Mine is quite high.
Shoop a little of that Salt-n-Pepa into the bowl to taste. Twist it and shout “Primo mash for everyone!”
And that is my old family recipe.
Banana Oatmeal Cookies
My friend Rachel can’t stand these cookies, but everyone else seems to like them. She calls them mystery cookies. The best part about these cookies is that since they contain bananas and oatmeal, you can guiltlessly eat them for breakfast.
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter (room temperature or melty)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
5 ripe bananas, mashed
3 cups rolled oats
1 package of white chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Wet ingredients: Beat the butter and the sugar. Add in the egg and vanilla and stir.
Dry ingredients: Mix the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. If you want to go a bit overboard on the cinnamon, I think that’s just fine.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir. Mix in the mashed banana. Mix in the oats. Mix in the white chocolate chips.
Drop small spoonfuls onto a baking pan (I love me some silpats!). Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the outside is solid and the white chocolate chips are brown and the banana is caramelizing.
Traditional Thanskgiving Rice and Beans (Gallo Pinto)
Ok, this one is not so traditional, except in the sense that I always make this dish. It’s one of my favorites for any occasion, and it’s so easy to make. I adapted this from Jessica B. Harris’s cookbook, Beyond Gumbo.
1.5 cups of rice (cooked)
4 cans of beans (drained)
1 Bell pepper (chopped)
1 Medium onion (diced)
3 or more cloves of garlic (minced)
2 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin)
Salt (to taste)
Worcestershire Sauce (bottled)
Saute the garlic and onion in oil (in a big pot). When translucent, add the bell pepper. When soft, add the beans. After 3 or so minutes, add the rice. Add a tiny bit of cayenne, a fair amount of salt (depending on whether the beans were pre-salted), a healthy tbsp or 2 of coriander, and a ton of Worcestershire sauce. Really, I get about 3-4 Gallo Pintos out of one regular bottle of it, so just keep dumping it in (probably a 1/3 cup or so of it at least). Stir, let sit, and serve.
You can make it vegan just by making the Worcestershire sauce a veggie friendly option. You can also load it with bacon, but I’ve never tried that.
Have delicious times!