Forget friends and family! Without the traditional meal, it feels like any old dinner party.
You know how every November the cooking magazines are full of articles on how you should shake up the traditional Thanksgiving meal and make it new and exciting? Out with the boring mashed potatoes, in with the roasted smashed potatoes with chermoula! Forget a green salad – what about glazed leeks with pine nut salsa verde? And who wants to roast a whole turkey? Why not braise the turkey legs or serve a ham instead? (Yes, Bon Appétit, I'm looking at you.)
I used to think these ideas were great and wished my family would add some inventiveness to our Canadian Thanksgiving dinner – until this year, when we did. In fact, we reinvented it so much that it wasn't even Thanksgiving dinner anymore. We ate chicken with a Parmesan panko crust, basmati rice pilaf, roasted carrots, and a lettuce salad with roasted beets. For dessert we had bourbon pound cake with ice cream. In other words, it was like any other nice meal I'd have at my parents' house.We had to do this out of necessity. My mom and siblings run a wood-fired pizza company that usually shuts down at the beginning of September, but this fall, they stayed open until Thanksgiving (the second weekend of October in Canada). Its last day of operation was Saturday, and we have our traditional Thanksgiving meal on Sunday. My whole family was so exhausted from pizza-making – and coping with the death of a grandparent the previous week – that they had no energy left for a feast. Hence our 'lazy' Thanksgiving, made with ingredients we already had.
As usual the meal was delicious and the company delightful, but it wasn't until after the weekend that I was left with a sense of loss, as if something were missing. That's when I realized that, for me, Thanksgiving is very much about the food, and not just the lovely people who share the dinner with me. It's my one chance to taste dishes that I don't eat at any other time of year, and that is precisely why it's so special. Mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, the fresh free-range turkey from a friend's farm – I need these things in order for it to truly feel like Thanksgiving.
Even Bon Appétit admits that its publication is driven by a need to innovate content each year, but that it is difficult to improve on what we love. Tyler Kord writes,
"My advice is that there are 364 days a year that are not Thanksgiving, and if your family or friends or coworkers have a specific set of dishes that they want to make and eat on this one specific day, I’m not entirely sure why you’d want to change that. Traditions can be cool! Innovation is cool too, but food media (and this website is no exception!) needs to constantly innovate."
In other words, don't let food magazines push you to change something that's already fabulous. They're just doing their job, but there is nothing wrong with cooking the same thing year after year; maybe, like me, you need it to feel like the holiday is complete! It's just one meal out of 365, after all, so who cares about repetition?
So, this is my plea to you not to give up on traditional Thanksgiving this year just because you're tired or stressed or feeling like you should. And you can be sure that I'll make a big deal out of Christmas dinner, just to compensate for having missed out on the Thanksgiving that I never realized I loved so much. Never again!