Thanksgiving Food and Thanksgiving Context
Plus, a cocktail to kick things off
Thanksgiving is a week away and you might be thinking about your menu, among other things (I talked a little bit about those other things, like spending the holiday alone, not traveling in Monday’s newsletter). I’m a vegetarian and have never cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner so I’m here to recommend some favorite dishes from Friendsgivings and Thanksgivings past (the lack of Friendsgivings this year is a real bummer).
This year (and in general), I wholeheartedly recommend making a meal you’ll love. Don’t make certain dishes out of obligation, make thing you’ll look forward to eating after hours in the kitchen. We’ve also talked a lot about the global pantry, the white gaze in food media, and celebrating cuisines from all over this year. Thanksgiving recipes still tend to use a pretty narrow range of flavors but there are ample ways to mix things up.
An alternative is ordering most of your meal. Many local restaurants have special pre order options, like Hunky Dory and you can certainly outsource dessert by ordering a pie. Restaurants really need your support right now. You can always cook some stuff and order some stuff.
If your Thanksgiving plans are costing you less this year (no plane ticket, no new outfit), I’d encourage you to donate some groceries or money to a local hunger related organization. Venmo a free fridge, sponsor a family’s meal, or send a check to a friend or family member having a hard time.
Now, on to the dishes.
Here are menus/newsletters from Thanksgiving 2017, 2018, and 2019, which were very different years.
Remember to use veggie stock in sides if you have any vegetarians in your midst!
This stuffing is our family favorite. The caramelized onions can definitely be made ahead. The leftovers are so good with a fried egg on top.
The herb sauce on the sweet potato roast brightens things up (and slicing the sweet potatoes thinly adds an element of danger to the day)
I made these crispy roasted potatoes for Seder and would love them for Thanksgiving. They get so crispy and the leftovers are amazing in a breakfast skillet with eggs.
The Salad is a perfect Thanksgiving side/actually delicious vegetable dish.
I love this salad as an alternative to roasted Brussels sprouts.
Cranberry sauce can be made ahead of time and it’s one of my favorite parts of the meal. I love the leftovers too.
Also, my family always does appetizers for Thanksgiving. Mostly because we don’t eat till around 6 and we get hungry. It’s something simple like mixed nuts, crudite and hummus, cheese and crackers. Last year my aunt had sour cream and onion dip from the packet and it was the best. Storebought is fine!
Jill’s Apple Crisp recipe is easy to scale up or down depending on your party size (you can even use a small baking dish to make a few servings). Don’t forget the vanilla ice cream.
I don’t love pumpkin pie (my family is not a pie family) but I do love chocolate. I think Thanksgiving desserts need to be in small pieces because you don’t have a lot of room. I like a few cookies or pieces of a blondie as a final sweet treat.
We’re still picking our desserts this year but I would love classic blondies, these snickerdoodle blondies, these caramel blondies, chocolate chunk oatmeal cranberry cookies, tahini blondies, or maybe something with pecan (Tilden makes these really good pecan squares). Desserts can almost always be made ahead either the day before or the morning of. These mini desserts are also quite cute if you’re driving by and dropping things off at people’s home.
You’ll want wine, which I recommend ordering from a local wine shop. Many stores have special Thanksgiving packs with traditional and non traditional options. If your group is smaller, maybe you can try some new stuff. And it’s fine to have leftovers.
If you’re in New York, I recommend ordering from Bibber and Bell, Irving Bottle Shop, Vyneyard Wines, or Peoples Wine in Manhattan or Urban Grape in Boston. Many of them deliver or even ship!
This year, I’m going to be making a pre dinner cocktail that I first tried in a workshop with Sarah Tracey for German Wines. It’s a fall spritz with cranberry bitters, ginger syrup, sparkling wine, and sparkling water. Get the full recipe here.
If a different Thanksgiving is bumming you out, you can absolutely try a new dish/menu. Make a big lasagna, homemade squash ravioli, enchiladas, tahdig, dumplings (with frozen wrappers), turkey chili, a big pot of soup and the most luxurious grilled cheeses. It’s up to you.
If you still need food inspiration, check out Sohla’s Thanksgiving Menu, June’s Budget Thanksgiving, Rick’s sweet heat stuffing, What’s Gaby Cookin’s Thanksgiving Hub, and Nik Sharma’s brussels sprouts with labneh, and the Kitchenista’s famous mac and cheese.
Now, some Thanksgiving ~context~.
Begin your meal with a land acknowledgement and make sure to support indigenous communities year round, especially as Covid has devastated many of these communities. I’m writing this on Canarsie and Lenape land. There are great Indigenous Tiktokers and there is so much to learn. This article is a good place to start.
I took a US history seminar in college where we spent most of the semester on research papers. One girl did hers on the topic of Thanksgiving and its role in American Civil Religion. It was the first time I heard the term, which has stuck with me ever since. Basically, if being American was a (secular) religion, the flag is its symbol and Thanksgiving is Christmas, or the equivalent major holiday (July 4th is also big). Like most religious holidays, there’s a heavy element of myth making involved, that evolves with contemporary circumstances (click through for individual stories).
Thanksgiving wasn’t popular or nationally observed until another period of division: The Civil War. Lincoln made it a more widespread holiday to promote unity and the idea of a bloodless colonialism. Here’s some background from this Smithsonian article.
This mythmaking was also impacted by the racial politics of the late 19th century. The Indian Wars were coming to a close and that was an opportune time to have Indians included in a national founding myth. You couldn’t have done that when people were reading newspaper accounts on a regular basis of atrocious violence between white Americans and Native people in the West. What’s more, during Reconstruction, that Thanksgiving myth allowed New Englanders to create this idea that bloodless colonialism in their region was the origin of the country, having nothing to do with the Indian Wars and slavery. Americans could feel good about their colonial past without having to confront the really dark characteristics of it.
This year, as Covid continues to worsen, there’s a huge reluctance to cancel Thanksgiving. Politicians are hesitant to even utter the phrase, even though it would absolutely be the safest choice. This adherence to tradition speaks to how central this meal and the story it tells us about our nation’s founding is to our culture. Thanksgiving celebrates a mythical America that can get through anything, a city on a hill. In 2020, America is a disaster, many are dead and many more are struggling.
Of course, I’m not suggesting we give up. I hope we have a future worth celebrating and I hope we can all take a little bit of time to recharge, eat well, give back, and practice gratitude next week.
Thank you for being here!