Thanksgiving menus always seemed contrived to me. The obligatory turkey, congealed cranberry sauce (please, not from the can!), stuffing (fat-infused carbs)…and all served in the name of giving thanks. For a feast of gratitude, I argued, why not serve what you are actually grateful to eat? Give me a thick Wagyu steak with red wine reduction, I promise I’ll be thankful. Or so I thought.
This was my logic until my father-in-law – our Thanksgiving chef-de-cuisine extraordinaire – got all foo-foo fancy on us in celebrating his annual culinary exploits.
“Everyone eats turkey…so we’re having lamb this year.”
“No common turkey for us…we’re having Fillet de Boeuf.”
“Turkey can be gamey…we’re having duck.”
Each and every year was delicious, original and gourmet. My friends salivated as I regaled them with the details of each dish. And I, embarrassingly guilt-ridden, sank in my chair, secretly wishing for unfussy turkey, humble ho-hum stuffing and pumpkin pie (even a store-bought one). Not that this deterred me from finishing the fine meal before me – that stupid I’m not, and I’ve been known to compromise my principles for duck.
Still, the family members sitting around the table made no notice of the glaring omissions, as they ogled over their sashimi salad (yes, sashimi salad on THANKSGIVING!). And instead of discussing what we were thankful for, all discussion was gobbled up by the attention-grabby food.
Was it the traditional fare I missed or the rhythm of celebrating with the same ritual foods each year? Well, maybe a bit of both. Time is fleeting, but associate a moment with a taste, and it can create an indelible memory. When it comes to the homey, often imperfect foods of Thanksgiving, it is those warming autumn flavors that comfort and welcome us home. Wagyu steak is divine; it just doesn’t taste like Thanksgiving.
This year will be an Italian theme (hey, Amerigo Vespucci was Italian and we named our country after him!), but I am promised my ritual Thanksgiving fare for Shabbat dinner. This is a good thing because my father-in-law’s cranberry sauce is even worth waiting an extra day for. It is perfectly balanced with citrus infusions, apples, and a good helping of liquor to intensify the flavors.
Here’s wishing you a delicious Thanksgiving to savor all that we have to be grateful for each and every day – no matter what you eat.
Papa’s Granny Smith-Cranberry Sauce
Yield: about 2 quarts
2 (12-oz) bags cranberries
1 cup water
1 cup orange juice
1 cup sugar
½ Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and cubed (½”)
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
Juice of ½ large lemon
¼ cup raspberry liqueur
2 tbsp. cognac or brandy
¼ tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup toasted pecans, broken up in to pieces (optional)
Dissolve water and orange juice and sugar in large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Then add all remaining ingredients except for pecans. Reduce heat to low, simmering for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When cranberries begin to pop, add pecans; continue cooking for another 5 minutes or until reaches desired consistency. Season to taste for sweetness, adding more sugar if necessary. Remove from heat. Cool and transfer to storage container. Chill until serving time.