Friday, November 12, 2010

The case against Thanksgiving

Dear Elise,
You may have noticed that in the last several years it has become fashionable to declare your preference for Thanksgiving over Christmas. I hear it all the time and it seems to be based on the 3 F's of Thanksgiving, Food, Family and Football. There is this belief that Thanksgiving is so much wholesomer, all about real and transcendent values. The entire extended family around a table festooned with doilies, the local orphans invited in to partake of the food, family and football, a pick up game in the fallen leaves, everyone dressed straight out of the LL Bean catalogue, (J Crew is for Christmas, smug, vain, supercilious). Generosity, health, gratitude (it's right there in the name). While Christmas is vilified for the 5 W's of the holiday, Wistfulness, Wanting, Whining and "Winter Wonderland."
I'm not making a case for Christmas, I just think Thanksgiving has gotten off too easily.
Thanksgiving is great for the person who doesn't cook. For the poor schmo in the kitchen, it is Hell. A meal that takes 4 days to prepare and is then consumed in less than 40 minutes, leaving a pile of dishes that would rival the garbage barge for size and longevity. And don't get me started on laundering those doilies. A meal that insists on at least one and often 2 main dishes, .5 side dishes for every guest unless your number of guests is fewer than the date of Thanksgiving, in which case you need one side dish for every guest, even the guests who are under a year old, or taking all nourishment from a feeding tube. Every side dish requires a long list of ingredients and at least 3 steps. No baked sweet potato, steamed broccoli. No, it's sweet potatoes with orange zest, roasted apples and caramelized cider glaze. It's flash seared broccoli with blackened sage and smoked chili cream. This trend is continued in the desserts, pumpkin bread pudding with pumpkin seed brittle and roasted pepitas, pumpkin cheese cake with marscapone, bourbon and a gingersnap crust, pumpkin chiffon pie with chipotle in adobo and a mole whipped cream. A person who is lukewarm on Pumpkin can end up feeling a little neglected on this day.
But the Turkey is the main culprit of the meal. This is a bird that requires weeks of preparation. Why are we eating something that needs to be brined and or salted and or hung for flavor development. Something that needs glazing and shellacking, stuffing and spicing and rubbing, tenderizing, moistening and enhancing? We are required to do all that because of the 3 S's of Turkey, sere, stringy and strongly-flavored. Basically, Turkey is gross and the poor cook has to spend whole days trying to overcome that initial complication.
But the main reason I am coming out against Thanksgiving, is what it does to the cooking magazines. For the entire month all I can read about is This One Meal. It's as if preparing for Thanksgiving takes so much time and attention that for the rest of the month we just eat frozen pasta or cereal. And really, there are only so many things you can do with a potato. But we are exhorted to add basil, horse radish, gin or ranch dressing, and that's all from one article. Or eschew the potato in favor of turnips, parsnips, celeriac. If it's white and it can be pureed, it gets a page in the November issue.
The Turkey recipes run the gamut from "Fast," Turkey Breast Roulade, with cider, with dried autumn fruits, with bacon, with chipotle in Adobo, to "Traditional," the aforementioned brined, salted, glazed, even deconstructed, to the ridiculous, Turducken. Paul Prudhomme claims he can bone a turkey in 15 minutes. It takes me three times as long just to read the recipe.
I'm tired of pie crusts--rolled, press-in-the-pan, store bought, crumble, with vodka, with ice water, food processor method, pastry cutter method, chilled, blind baked, pre-baked, partially baked. I'm sick to death of pull out menus complete with a 6 day count down, especially since they never begin with, "Day 1, start drinking." I read it all last year and the year before that. I want some bold editor to say, "For Thanksgiving Menu ideas with recipes, check out last year's issue. Now here's an article on baked pasta and another one on dulce de leche cakes."
I could go on, but Thanksgiving is in less than 2 weeks and I have to go wrap my turkey in pumpkin leaves and bury it in hand crushed acorn shells.
love, Margaret

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