With Halloween behind us, I can now focus my attention on one of my favorite holidays of the year. I love Thanksgiving, but the first few years I hosted this daunting meal it was not an easy task. I had an entire family comparing my meal to generations of cooks before me, and quite frankly it was easier to make a reservation and eat out, rather than tackle this challenge. But after a few Thanksgivings spent in restaurants, we decided it is simply a holiday we prefer to eat at home. It soon became my personal challenge to take on Thanksgiving with gusto. I knew I had to cook a turkey that tasted the same as the one I remembered from my childhood, that almost miraculously juicy inside and crispy skinned on the outside version my grandmother singlehandedly served up year after year. One of the most important factors when preparing a Thanksgiving dinner is planning all the accompanying dishes to finish cooking at the same time. Unlike other meals I prepare, where I inject a dash of creativity and change up the recipe each time, for Thanksgiving I longed to create exactly the same dinner each and every time. To me, it was important to devise a specific formula I now plug in each year. Nobody in my family (usually a culinary daring crowd) wants to try a newfangled recipe on this special day, but rather we all crave the familiarity of our traditional stuffing pulled from the bird, and while soft inside, it should be crusty outside with just the right amount of sage.
I almost always begin my cooking ritual two days beforehand. Ultimately, I consult my thick Way To Cook manual by Julia Child. This copy has dog-eared corners and frayed pages from the many times I’ve studied its trusty recipes. Each time I open the book out spills the collection of papers with scribbled handwritten messages and notations from my grandmother, aunt and mother and sends a barrage of memories to my kitchen at once. I begin the process. I make the homemade cranberry sauce two days ahead of time. The sweet potatoes are cut lengthwise and I add just the right amount of brown sugar, not too sweet. I bake two pies first thing in the morning of the big day. I rise quite early to get the turkey stuffed and prepared.
Last year I decided to prepare my Thanksgiving meal using the same recipes but brought a new feel to the dinner by designing my table a tad differently. Rather than my usual brocade tablecloth and traditional Blue Willow pattern dishes, I longed for something fresh and new. I took inspirations from the storefront window displays I had seen at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City. I loved the prevalence of gold and white I saw everywhere and it felt luxurious. I trolled my home for some new accessories and table ideas and eventually I had an “ah ha” moment when I came upon a cluster of small pumpkins we had picked up at the Milk Pail farm stand in Watermill.
After a quick trip to the paint store I nabbed a couple of cans of gold spray paint. I became a woman on a mission. Leaves were painted, sprigs of holly and the trusty little pumpkins sprayed, and my table was instantly transformed. It is simply amazing how much the shiny gold paint transformed my table, and soon enough I pulled out a collection of vintage German gold and white plates from the back of my linen closet. But rest assured, my turkey was the same, the dressing perfect, my grandmother’s gravy just the right consistency and mom’s caramelized Brussels sprouts all served up with bacon, yet on a fresh gold and white backdrop – now that’s tradition with a twist. With this year’s Thanksgiving just around the corner I have some new ideas brewing for my table, so stay tuned.